Dear Diary... March 2006

Wednesday 29th March - Rollins and RAID

Monday night was one of the best nights I've had in ages. And why? Well, for the sixth time in Manchester, I got to see Henry Rollins do his spoken word thing. And yet again he thoroughly kicked ass, even though the Academy decided he could only go on stage at 8-30pm and do a two and a half hour show, which is short for him (no really!). Anyway, there was too much for me to remember over that period, but there were plenty of highlights that made it all memorable, such as the incident when he was on the plane from New Zealand to Australia and because of the book he was reading, someone saw it fit to report him to the Australian authorities as a terrorist. His reply was published on his web site and also on the national press and kind of made him a minor celebrity in Oz for some reason..

He also mentioned about his trip on the Trans Siberian Express between Moscow and Vladivostok, where you are literally shoved into a carraige, and the food made him throw up, and how when you do throw up what you think about and also when to make sure you aim so that you don't make a complete mess. Odd subject that, but true. He even got recognised when he arrived at the destination by the taxi driver who said "Yeah, I saw you, with all that red paint on, screaming 'I am a liar!' at the top of your voice". Hehe.. he also mentioned about this radical Christian group in the USA who are giving true Christians a bad name, and how another group has formed to stop these radicals disturbing funerals by surrounding them in Harleys. Surreal stuff. Not to mention the many other tales he had which really just were good fun and wonderful listening: and his impersonation of a Brummie had me in stitches too. I even picked up the Talk Is Cheap Volume 4 2-CD set for a fiver from the merchandise stand, good value for money or what, eh?

Anyway, spent most of today working on one of our specialist PCs we have in the office. It turned out when I was trying to use it to do a task which is normally straightforward, it hung. Eventually after much soul searching I discovered the problem, which was twofold: first off, as new hard disks had been put into this Serial ATA RAID array, they were of a certain size, and accessing a disk beyond a certain point can freeze XP. So, just to be sure, I applied every critical update, and also updated the driver for the RAID card, and between them it worked. So I did a full verify of the array to be absolutely sure, and everything was working again. Only snag was it was 3pm by this point and so I had plenty of other stuff to do for the rest of the day. Still, you live and learn a bit, not to mention knowledge gained is knowledge earned elsewhere, that's what I reckon. Back to it...

Sunday 26th March - Mothering Sunday

That it was, so it was off to my Mum's for a brew and a good old natter to catch up with things with my mum. It was good to talk (as ever) and she really appreciated the present I got her, so I was showing her how that works along with keeping things simple (a lot of people are in the same boat as her, technophobes) - that worked pretty well in the end. I also decided that today was the time to get some exercise done, so I actually walked it to my Mum's and back, and then a bit further as well thrown in. Whether that is going to be enough remains to be seen, but I don't mind a good long walk. Must get to North Wales again sometime and do the walk I did a few years back from my holiday jaunt as a kid, Towyn, all the way to Colwyn Bay along the coast walk/cycle path. Something to check out, methinks.

Anyway, I was well annoyed with the game yesterday. City lost, I expected that, but I didn't expect Chelsea, and especially Didier Drogba, to cheat so much. Their second goal was clearly handball by him (he even admitted that himself) and as for his diving, part of me thought that he should have been in Melbourne competing in the Commonwealth Games somehow! Still, it was also annoying because earlier in the week against Newcastle in the FA Cup it was a similar tactic, and from one of our former players, which probably got my goat even more than Saturday. Even Newcastle's manager said that the player wouldn't have done it if he was at City...

Thursday 23rd March - Return of The Superstars

I was busy channel flicking on the Monday night before I went to the football (see below) and I came across a brand new free sports channel on channel 442 on Sky, called ESPN Classic. It doesn't show new stuff, mainly classics from the old sports archives. But many historic sporting moments nonetheless are on there and I'm sure that having great re-runs of the European Cup finals are enough to entice any football fan to enjoy them - in a day when diving was something that was rare, unlike in the Chelsea - Newcastle FA Cup game last night...

Anyway, did a bit of flicking through the schedule, and to my utter joy - Superstars! Yes, the proper classic show - in full, too. Monday night's showing was set immediately to record on the Sky+ box and immediately decided to hit the series link button for true posterity. I watched both that and Wednesday's back to back, and I can tell you that it was just as good as watching when I was a nipper. So I got to watch the 1977 and then the 1978 European final, David Vine, Ron Pickering et al, marvelling at all the events in the Ahoy Stadium in Rotterdam inlcuding the scary as hell one lap cycle time trial around a steep banked wooden track, and the steeplechase, where in the 77 final Keith Fielding came out with "it's a damn bloody shame" after winning the steeplechase only to see Ties Kruize come second and therefore win the European title, a title he jointly won with Brian Jacks in the 1978 final.

With notebook in hand, I jotted down the event scores and final scores for the 1978 final as they were shown on screen, and submitted them to the maintainer of about the only Superstars website there is, so hopefully he can make use of it. It also made me notice a few things about the show back then: not all the competitor's attempts were shown in each event, and in the 1977 final there was none of the football tournament, scandalous really. Mind you, they did have ten events to cram into an hour, and it was quality stuff throughout. Seeing Keith Fielding kick ass in the cycle race and indeed then give 110% to win the steeplechase just showed how seriously athletes took it in the day. As for Brian Jacks, he was probably robbed in the 1978 final as there were only nine events and no gym tests. Whaaaat? He'd have won that easily and therefore probably won the title, but there you go. But everything was there in essence: the classic theme music, the moments of excellence and failure (Lynn Davies on the obstacle course spring to mind here) and indeed the cameraderie between the competitors, with Jacks and Davies encouraging each other on to push themselves, as shown in the weightlifting and the cycling.

I can't wait till next week's two instalments, both I think from the 1979 British heats so that means Daley Thompson against Brian Jacks in the gym tests, a classic seminal moment that. It's so good to see that someone has realised it's not just me who likes the classic stuff like this. I wonder when the BBC are going to have another series? I just needs to be done!!

Monday 20th March - Out We Go..

It was horrible watching the game tonight, it really was. Not to mention I felt like I'd wasted twenty three pounds because although we tried our hardest, with all the players we had out it just wasn't enough in the end to actually be able to beat West Ham. Add to that we shot ourselves in the foot several times in terms of the game, not least when Jihai Sun got stupidly sent off for raising his arms against West Ham's Matthew Etherington. Although an old fashioned 50/50 challenge, in this day and age raising arms with any intent (and the ref, although having an absolute shocker for both sides, actually got this one right) just isn't the best thing to do. To be fair to Sun though he did apologise to his team mates after the game, which was something I know our manager Stuart Pearce was pleased to see.

Ironically with ten men we played better, and it was only our own fault not stopping the game as a West Ham player was injured that play carried on, we got caught in possession and it was 2-0 to them. Despite a great late goal from Kiki Musampa, it wasn't enough and as injury time wore on I knew we couldn't do the equaliser at the death, we'd done that in the last round and so it was too little too late and out we go. Best of luck to West Ham, although sod's law says they will get Chelsea in Friday's draw somehow...

Had a good weekend really, didn't do that much per se but did at least spend a few hours managing to chill out and get a few things done as well as a bit of a shopping trip out to Birmingham, which was pretty okay, albeit rather cold. I didn't buy anything too much really but gave myself plenty of birthday and Christmas presents ideas (yes I am one of those sad people who plan and buy early, probably because I can). I still can't quite work out that odd structure on the outside of Selfridges, is it meant to be art or just something odd that people can marvel at? It beggars belief really. Picked up the old classic PC game Buggy for a pound in Poundland, good fun I had with that when I got home, and that was it. Also, I had to put up with lots of Man U fans on their way down to watch them against West Brom on the train down, thank heavens I reserved my seat in advance!

Thursday 16th March - Leave It All Behind

Well, who was an idiot today? Me. I lost my holiday card at work, I knew I had 3 days left and had to go and sort out a temporary replacement so I could book one of the three days worth of leave left (tomorrow, as it happens, got some stuff to do). But also I feel like I'm going to use the remaining days break to try and leave behind any hassles or stuff at work that I'm feeling at the moment. I just don't feel very secure in terms of what's going to happen, not just that but there's a few things bugging me at the moment and when I get home I know I have to switch off and think about other stuff, which is what I've been tending to do. It also explains the lack of activity in terms of site updates too, most likely, so I'm trying to play catch up a bit and get things sorted out.

Mind you, I did take some time out to watch the West Ham - Bolton replay on Wednesday. I have to say I was glad West Ham won 2-1 after extra time, it meant that either way both teams would be more tired out for their league games on Saturday and our cup match with the winners on Monday. I was also glad West Ham won, I don't mind them, they like to play football the proper way and show plenty of good skill as well, not just hump it forward. And I can't stand Sam Allardyce either which probably has a fair bit to do with it. Take that game for instance, he was whining about the ref not flagging West Ham's winner as offside. Well, all the TV replays proved that Marlon Harewood, the West Ham striker, was clearly onside and scored a good goal. It's obvious Allardyce has been taking lessons out of the Alex Ferguson Book of Press Conferences, one of the unwritten rules is that when your team loses, blame everyone except yourselves.

Tuesday 14th March - Round Six Here We Come

As I'm typing this I've just got home from the City of Manchester Stadium having seen my beloved Manchester City do the business against Aston Villa, and to be honest, a deserved victory. After what happened in the original tie though I was taking nothing for granted and so my dark grey fleece jumper I've worn in the last few times I've been and watched City win was on - and a good job too cos it was rather cold to be honest. A cold weather night which for me even needed a hot chocolate from the concession stand before the game to get me properly warmed up for the competitive action ahead.

Good job too: it was a cold night, but soon made a lot nicer by our first goal, lovely ball from Albert Riera and Samaras got it, ran into the box, had his shot saved, but the rebound went straight back to him and he tucked it away very nicely for 1-0. The downside of that was he was victim of a horrid challenge from one of the Villa defenders who insisted on using Samaras' back to have a stud scrape. Very nasty, wonder what the referee (who I should add was appalling!) thought if he saw it? As a result he had to come off at half time and we chucked Siberski on. Within five minutes of the second half though a low cross from Joey Barton had the Villa defence floundering, the ball was driven back in by Riera and a touch from Vassell made it 2-0, yaay. Even with Villa scoring a goal back it wasn't enough and so it's the sixth round next Monday night against either Bolton or West Ham (they replay on Wednesday so we'll soon know who we get.)

One thing I have to say too: the atmosphere was the best I've heard at a City game in a long while: we really got behind the lads, and I'm sure that they will have noted that. The crowd were at full volume and it made me feel in odd way that I was back at Maine Road, stood in the Kippax when I was younger, cheering the heroes on to another victory, it was that sort of feel. Not to mention some good cameraderie with the opposing fans and there you have it, pretty much said it all. I can only hope I can get a ticket for the next round and indeed to be able to cheer them on at that same volume and intensity. You never know, it could just be our year!!

Sunday 12th March - Argos Staff Are Slower Than Super Aguri F1

I'd been to visit my mum in the week and she told me what she'd like for her Mother's Day present (two weeks time over here.) Anyway, what she was after was in the Argos catalogue, and so it was located online on the Thursday evening and then reserved at the nearest branch I could get it from - the Hulme one which isn't too far from work, the idea being I could go straight from work and collect it. Neat idea, I thought at the time.

As I headed there on the 85 bus from work, which was completely rammed with commuters making their weary way home after a long week, I got off the bus and walked through the car park to the Argos store. And you could tell straight away this was going to be a long haul effort. First off, no quick pay kiosks, so I couldn't just use one of them to type in the reservation number, get it all paid for and collected. Second, waiting in the queue took ages, not least because customers in front were ordering lots of things and asking lots of questions about every single item. I don't begrudge that normally, but when they're questions that you should have asked long before you got in the queue to pay, then that's different.

And the final insult? I was just about to see the woman on the counter, and walk towards it, when she said "that's it, I'm on my break now!". What really good timing - not. Not least when there was a queue of people there who were more upset than me and really did feel a bit of anger, and as the queue got longer, did any of the staff actually take responsibility and actually jump on a counter to rectify the situation? Nope. In fact, when I eventually did get served, the person who served me was more concerned about going home in two minutes' time than actually give proper customer service. It was lucky that I'd actually got the reservation all with me, and once I'd got served there was no queue at the collection point and I was out of there in two minutes from that point.

But that's not the problem: the problem is that the queueing for the paying of items was still there with many people quite aggrieved at having to wait considerable amounts of time. I felt lucky at getting out in the time I did - eighteen minutes. Yes, that's sixteen queueing and paying, I've never even waited that long during the busy Christmas period in any other branch. Clearly something has to be done - the staff were impolite and inconsiderate, not even a thank you and goodbye from the woman who served me at the collection point, and i general their attitude left a heck of a lot to be desired. I can wholeheartedly say not to visit the Manchester Hulme branch of Argos unless you cannot get the item you want from any other branch. If the directors of Argos are reading this - I would suggest you close the store down until all the staff are trained properly in customer service. If I gave such appalling service then I would be fired, simple as.

Watching the Bahrain Grand Prix this morning, which was excellent stuff for a change, proved something else. Although the Super Aguri team did considerably well in getting to the F1 grid for their first race, their race pace was really slow, and something they will have to work on in the next few months. Their problems were not helped by a faulty fuel rig mind you which did as much damage as the useless tyre airgun that ruined Felippe Massa's chances in the Ferrari. It was a great scrap between Schumacher and Alonso, with the second tyre stop for the Renault proving crucial - they almost came to the first corner side by side, but Alonso held his nerve really well. And I was gutted for Jenson Button that he couldn't get past Kimi Raikkonnen at the end of the race - he was just 0.6 seconds from a podium position. Still, the pace was good from the Brit and despite an appalling start he didn't do too bad. Roll on Malaysia next weekend, especially if the qualifying is as good as the new style this weekend - now that's what we want to see more of!

Thursday 9th March - Tedium

It's been tedium this week to be honest, primarily because I've been doing a lot of routine tasks for people but not least because late on Friday we had to replace our A4 colour printer in our main computer drop-in room. The old one just conked out and didn't play ball very well in terms of being able to print anything: it just ended up printing blank pages instead which proved costly for our students. So we put the new one in, but the old driver for the old printer would throw up an error page after every print. So guess what I've had to do? Yes, go round all the PCs that print to that printer and update the driver. Unfortunately there's no easy way of not only automating driver updates, but ensuring that the driver actually does what you want it to do afterwards (there's normally a couple of settings you have to tweak) and so you end up finding the least time used was doing each PC individually. Yawn.

I've juggled doing those PCs along with solving a few other problems along the way for people, which is always good as it keeps the work interesting. That said though I really still am feeling very low from any proposed moves that might be happening in the future, and the one thing I really dislike is uncertainty, I like to know where I stand in terms of work. At the moment nothing is guaranteed and as a result I don't feel very motivated whatsoever about the jobs in hand. It's taking a lot for me to really feel to be able to get going and do what I feel I can do.

Not just that either, but I spent some time this week on a specialist PC one of our academic members of staff uses for sculpture work, it resulted in chucking in a new SCSI Ultra 320 hard drive, which thankfully downclocked to the Ultra160 that the controller onboard uses, and installing everything on it that was needed. It did at least feel a lot more reliable than the old hard disk, which although badged an IBM was actually a Fujitsu in disguise (say no more really, those who are in the know will know the signs if there's one of those in your rig.)

Sunday 5th March - Inconsistency Strikes Again

Indeed it proved the same yet again watching my beloved blue shirted heroes. On paper, we should easily beat the bottom team and send them back to the Championship from whence they came. And certainly getting there in freezing conditions and having the day brightened up by two excellent goals from Georgios Samaras (cue new chant of Feed the Greek and he will score) certainly made for me feeling very happy at around 1-45pm.

And then for some reason we went into pathetic overdrive - playing rubbish for eighty minutes and being lucky that Sunderland only scored one - could have easily drawn. Sunderland scored a goal and it was 2-1 at half time and rather than press home the advantage we'd gained and go on to more goals, instead what we saw was a mismash of all sorts going wrong. We had no urgency and were sat on the back foot for most of the time. Sunderland missed a golden chance near the end which they should have scored, really, and so the City fans started singing "That's why you're going down.." To be fair to the Sunderland fans they excellent in great ripostes as well and said back "That's why we're going down.." in return. We didn't play well and in truth winning 2-1 flattered us, although three points in the bag certainly will prove helpful as we aim to try and qualify for Europe either through the league or in the FA Cup - hopefully I can get tickets for the replay!

Wednesday 1st March - Beware The Ides (Or Something)

Everywhere in the country apart from us has snow. What is it with Manchester in that there's often rain, but it's very rare that it snows. Maybe the hills around us in the Peak District and the Pennines have it all. Not sure, but it seems surreal seeing all the snow everywhere else on the country on GMTV this morning. That said, some parts of Norway were three feet under in just twenty four hours, so I guess we should be thankful for some small miracles, that said.

Don't know if you saw Celebrity Fit Club last night, but it was clear to me that Anne Diamond needs some sort of professional and psychological help, she clearly isn't bothered with the weight loss plan and is just using her gastric band operation to disguise the fact that she isn't trying hard enough like the rest of them are. It's a real shame because quite rightly the other contestants have seen it as cheating - which it technically is - and they're all there to support each other to try and lose the fat. But if she wants to really try, then she shouldn't snap every time someone tells her the truth, granted that there's no love lost particularly between her and Carole Malone, and that's an understatement to say the least. Even that nutter of a marine Harvey Walden IV sounded really peed off with Anne.. and that's one person you don't get on the wrong side of.

I spent a fair amount of the day re-writing some technical documentation I have and it proved to be ultimately worth it - especially as I was testing the documentation at the same time to ensure it all worked. Not without any interruptions of course from other members of staff needing assistance, not that I mind of course, but it just made the day go quite quick anyway. I guess at the moment it's just getting everything prepared and ready for summer's upgrade where we hopefully get some new kit to change over. Be interesting to see how everything works in reality I guess. Still, I know there's plenty on and so it's time to knuckle down and get into action...