Dear Diary... September 2006

Friday 29th September - And You Know What You're Gonna Do When You Go To The Moon?

I'll explain the lengthy diary entry title a bit later in this missive, but it's been getting through the week and managing to get through shed loads of PC induction sessions for all the new first years. In between all that, I've had to try and fix some PCs that really are ready for the proverbial knackers yard and solve a problem we've been having with Adobe Creative Suite 2. This might be a handy tip for all you techie people out there, particularly if you use Zenworks like we do, so anyway:

It turns out that even if you install CS2 without Version Cue (highly recommended as it really mucks up stuff in Windows and even MacOS) in the preferences for all the CS2 apps like Photoshop, In Design etc, it still says "enable version cue workgroup management" or something similar. Now this might sound fine initially until you realise what the side effect is. And that side effect is that if you save a file in any app and forget to give it a name, it doesn't automatically append the right file extension, so you can't open it later on unless you rename the file. Now common sense may prevail if you're pretty technical and work that out, but when you're dealing with less technical people it just wouldn't do.

After much trawling to find out where the option to turn Version Cue off is, it actually isn't saved in any of the individual application's preferences (which we bring down via Zenworks prior to the application launching - as we also have to control the licences for CS2 as well). I eventually located the file in the user's profile in Application Data/Adobe/Workflow/settings.xml. If you turn Version Cue off in one application and then examine the XML file, you can see that it's been changed accordingly. So now all I had to do was make sure was that this settings file was copied down for each of the CS2 applications when launched, and - badabing! It works - perfectly. It also shows that our modular approach to application launching which we've adopted this year actually works really well - no having to faff around modifying the mandatory user profile every single time, but instead just changing what launches with the application, keeping the profile small and user logins quick. And after the first two weeks, everything works superbly thus far.

I decided to take up two of my four steps I mentioned in the previous diary entry - and so went off to Music Zone on the way home from work Tuesday night. I even had an idea of what I wanted to buy too because for weeks I'd been humming one tune in my head - namely Muse's Supermassive Black Hole. I think it's mainly because the guitar intro to it just sounds so dirty when they performed it live on some Top of the Pops farewell special on BBC Interactive the other week, and as such I just wanted to sample it on record and see how it played. So managed to get the limited edition CD for not much money, took it home and cranked up the volume. And boy does the aforementioned track sound good! It's really really lovely - the guitar is just so crunchingly dirty and the production values are excellent throuhgout. It certainly gave my biwired Mission m73s a bit of a work out, that's for sure. And the rest of the album is pretty darned good as well, so I definitely felt it was the right thing to do. I've also now realised I need to find their Feeling Good CD single 2 because apparently it's got a good cover version of The Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" on it...

And as for the other thing I mentioned about disconnecting myself? Well, I decided to take a week off in the middle of October and just have that week to myself. I might even decide to take myself away for a few days and just relax somewhere nice and just be away from everyone and everything. To ensure I'm completely incommunicado I'm even going to ban myself from taking the mobile phone with me and resist the lure of any Internet access of cyber cafes wherever I go. I just think sometimes that you need to appreciate the other things in life apart from being sat in front of a screen typing away your thoughts... and so I'll be working out a plan where to go, what to do, and I'll probably take the digital camera with me to probably plan all the thoughts in my head and picture them. So many thoughts and memories and so little time, so I really need to think about making myself some new thoughts and some new memories that will be a part of the innermost me. As you can see, I've been thinking a lot.

And as such I just needed to wind down when I got home from work and as such it was time to whack on some Henry Rollins - his spoken word stuff is just fantastic. I really love the sketch he did as an Encore on the A Rollins In The Wry CD, as it talks about women crying for no reason and how it drives men mental. I love the way Rollins rants at the end: "I am organised! I have all my CDs in alphabetical order! I get to work on time. I know how to fix my car. You are just this emotional creature. That's why you'll never be president! That's why we don't let let you run the company! That's why you'll never drive a spaceship to the moon, because you know what you're gonna do, when you get to the moon? You're gonna cry, that's what you're gonna do! You're gonna cry, you're gonna freak out! And you're gonna paint something some gay-ass colour!"

Hence the title of the entry now. So much in that sketch is so bloody true in terms of me. Yes, I am organised. Yes, I have my CDs in alphabetical order, and yes, I so do get to work on time. As for fixing a car? Not a chance. But still...

Monday 25th September - Tough Week and Even Tougher Month

Well the first week of term is always a bit manic at work to say the least (I'm master of the understatement here) as it was just a mass of students enrolling and asking what to do. Thank heavens we now have our colleague on our Help Desk, who has been really good to have aboard and help out with many a student coming in and simply forgetting their password, or missed their induction session and haven't a clue what to do.

And that's where I come in - been doing inductions for students! I've been racking up quite a lot of time spent in a dropin room with up to 30 students at a time giving them the basic gist of how everything works. And to be honest that's been good for them as they definitely feel it's advantageous to know things and find out what they need to do in terms of printing, in terms of their email and things like that. And for the first time in years we had Architecture come along and be part of the mix - which was good to see. At least now they have a few less things to ask about which should considerably reduce the workload of all of us.

Every day and every night at the start and end of it we've been lugging the enrolment PCs etc back and forth, so it was nice for everything to be over this afternoon and for us to shift stuff over and get things back to normal. And by the end of the day all the tables and desks had been moved so it could be going back to be a gallery again like it should be. Was in a way also a partial way for me to have some closure in the fact that we don't have to be constantly on call to support anything bad happening left right and centre.

So what I have got for the month ahead? Some tough decisions, to be honest. I firstly have to get all the induction sessions done, and that's probably going to be for the next week or two at most, which is going to be a bit on the tough side for the throat. I was feeling a little dry and sore today after the second session, but I managed to keep the larynx suitably refreshed to keep going.

And then there's other, more personal stuff, which is going to be much much tougher. I don't really want to say too much here but let's say it feels like the beginning of a new chapter in my life and in a way also weird because I've been so used to the way things have been for so long. However, with that comes also a new found confidence and independence, and also the fact that I'm going to really achieve some goals for myself, and they are:

  1. Continue to lose weight. At the start of the year I was completely horrified to find that I was a mammoth 14 stone 3lbs and I didn't feel very nice at all. Through hard work, healthier eating and exercise, I've brought that down to 12 stone 7lbs. Ideally I'd like to hover around the 12 stone mark and I think that if I continue to be sensible dietary wise, eat more fish and lean meat and less chocolate and the like, I can get there and achieve so much. The fact that I'm on the last hole of my belt and that maybe one day I'll be going back down a jeans size is going to be a big incentive. And if I achieve that, I'll be mightily proud.
  2. Spend more time with family and friends. I feel lately I've neglected that a little for various reasons, which isn't fair on anyone. I also know deep down that you should look after friends because they'll look after you and that you should enjoy their company, have a good time, and just generally be you. I'd like to apologise to a few of my friends at this point for spending less time with them than I should have had lately...
  3. Disconnect myself for a while. I've long had a thought that what I really need is a break away from work and everything. Not having a holiday this year in the summer really disrupted the flow, and even if it just means a week off in November not exactly doing anything as such, I'd just rather take that time and just do a few things for me. Something like getting all the Christmas shopping done and going over to Sheffield for the day so I can go there and Meadowhall, for example, or maybe just taking a long walk down by the sea (better wrap up warm though) reminiscing of the times I used to spend on the North Wales coast as a child. I need to do that for sure, I think. There's so much in my head going on that maybe disconnecting is the way to do it (and ironically I have Disconnect by Rollins Band playing on the CD player right now, believe it or not)
  4. Rediscover my musical passions. Okay, granted, I still care about music, but I've not been to a concert for ages, and I'd just love to let myself go and really go mental. I'll have to see if there's anyone on that I like and just go along, even if it's on my own, and just enjoy the whole thing. And definitely a few visits to Vinyl Exchange just have to be in the offing - I so need to get some CDs to listen to and to rock to. Granted my collection is pretty large already, but...

So there you have it - so much to do for me and so little time. But if I achieve at least two out of that list by the end of 2006, I'm going to be pretty happy. Almost as much as seeing City win on Saturday and then see the Europeans absolutely tank the Americans in the Ryder Cup. Shot of the weekend? Well for absolute perfection, Paul Casey's hole in one to clinch the foursomes game he was in 5 and 4, but for raw emotion, Darren Clarke's pitch in at the 16th to ensure a 3 and 2 win in one of the morning foursomes. In a true sporting moment, his close friend Tiger Woods was the first to congratulate him and their embrace was just special. Bearing in mind Tiger had lost his father to cancer earlier in the year, and Darren had lost his wife to cancer six weeks earlier, for them both to appreciate their play and to be sporting summed it up perfectly for me. And if Darren's not up for Sports Personality of the Year this year, then there's something wrong!

Monday 18th September - The First Day For The Rest Of Their Lives

Well today is the usual first day of term manic madness, and all the students are back and in force. For many it's the first day of the rest of their lives, and to be honest these days it's quite daunting. Not only are there the mere £3000 tuition fees per year to comprehend having to pay back in a few years back when you start earning enough, but there's also the student loan, and general financial hassle that you don't need on top of all the studies that you have to do. I was thinking while setting up the PCs that are used in the enrolment sessions that it just seems so much to take on for people. I certainly envy them, I envy their creative talents and minds and I kind of wish that I could have gone through and been degree-qualified, but there you go.

So apart from all that, it's been a complete contrast in other things. City just don't be able to win at the moment, after inviting a few relations around to see us lose 1-0 at Reading, we put in a much better performance at Blackburn, dominate proceedings and yet lose 4-2. Clearly we're not taking our chances, and that's a worry, especially in terms of the fact that we didn't do too well at the back end of last season either. Maybe it's me, but something needs to happen soon in terms of the team clicking. We're missing a good striker, and that's certainly something that one of our new singings (Bernardo Corradi) certainly is not. He just looks terrible and doesn't seem to have it in him, which is not good. At all. I'd like to be proved wrong, but part of me thinks how much of a mistake it was having to let Andy Cole go to Portsmouth, c'est la vie I guess. My only consolation was that Arsenal won at Old Trafford simply because they wanted it more. That did cheer me up I have to say.

A weird thing happened over the weekend too. My phone line went dead! And this is the even weirder thing: broadband is still up and running. Go figure! Well, actually, I have. I have a sneaking suspicion that when BT did the migration move of my broadband to Sky, that went well, but someone's gone a bit mental at the exchange and unplugged a phone cable and not a data one, so as such although dialling the home phone does ring out, the phone doesn't sound. And if you dial out, just a click and nothing else. So I was at least able to report the fault online, but so far it's still outstanding, and BT reckon like I do that it's an exchange issue. Now I can understand it completely if nothing was working, but it's just very odd and weird indeed how that decided to come about. Nonetheless, I hope it gets fixed soon because I do need to make some calls, not least to my cousin (congratulations on your news if you're reading this).

So what else is new? Well, the new series of CSI starts in the US this week and they've actually got John Mayer playing two tracks off his new album! Super cool. Well, it would be, however the record company in their infinite wisdom have released "Continuum" in the US already and there's no UK release for six weeks. Rather annoying that especially as I wouldn't mind buying it right now. His albums "Room For Squares" and "Heavier Things" are both excellent and if you can track down either of them cheap (I think Room For Squares is cheap at your local Fopp last time I looked) then it's well worth getting. There's just some lovely guitar work on there and John's voice works well too.

And because I can, I've whacked on Rage Against The Machine's classic first album at full pelt. You know what? It hasn't lost anything and rightly retains its status as a classic album for me. Just play it and find out for yourself.

Sunday 10th September - Where Did The Heat Come From?

Is it me, or is it really warm and muggy today? I was heading into town and all I could feel was the heat from the windows and the severe closeness of the air around me. It felt horrible and my advance planning of having some Coca Cola Zero in the house was a very wise move, so it seems. I got back and decided to grab a few glassfulls of the stuff to keep me going and indeed to keep me hydrated.

After seeing England actually win once more in a one day cricket match and level the series at 2-2, so not a total disaster really, I also was thinking about how many pointless reality shows that there are on television, and how Saturday nights are just being swamped by them rather than a good drama or a film which would be worth staying in for. I don't know what's worse, although I have to admit that I can't stand Graham Norton whatsoever and so How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? was never going to get that much feedback from me. And in truth, it's only because some of the auditions are so laughably bad that X-Factor is even worth any consideration. And even then it's just too many people trying too hard to have their five minutes of fame. Boring! Can I please have my idiot tablets now that I need to watch this kind of bobbins rubbish?

Things were so much better just a while back when Doctor Who made Saturday evening telly more than watchable - now I'm not a big fan, but when you have good talented actors, a good script and Daleks, then you're in for a winner. Not least as well that David Tennant (stop swooning now, ladies!) and Billie Piper's chemistry worked as well, and that David looks to be a pretty good Doctor, not least with the smart jacket and trousers, and sneakers (it just seems to work for some reason). But at least Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is back, and that's always fantastic for that shoutability factor. Mind you, I think if I was the second contestant, I too would have took the £16K and ran, as I didn't know the answer either. Like Chris always says, you either know them - or you don't.

Saturday 9th September - All Systems Go!

Sat in this morning and patiently waited for Parceline to knock on the door. I'd put on some tunes and also chilled out by watching some of the motorsport highlights on Motors TV, as well as generally tidying around the house a bit, and then at 11am, there it was, a nice delivery of a nice new router for yours truly. Excellent! The bloke from Parceline did tell me that it was virtually all that they were delivering all morning to people (well, at least he was anyway) so it was time to plug in and see what happened.

And.. it works! I disconnected the router, took out the backup 56K modem out of the PC, wired up the router, connected it up, fired up the PC, checked the router configuration, and badabing! Everything is go. I was quite pleased on the whole too because when I signed up with my old provider for broadband a long while ago, BT said to me that the most I could expect was 512K, and that's what my provider gave to me. So imagine my surprise when I looked at the router and it told me I was getting 2MB connection speed. That made me pretty happy, I can tell you. And then I checked to see if that was a true speed, and yes it was.

So far so good. The router itself just seems the same as other Netgear ones I've used in terms of reliability, and the wireless stuff tends to work just as well (I tried out one of the PCs in the office that has a PCI wireless card in it) and you can even lock it down so that only certain wireless cards can actually connect to the router, which is a very good way of locking things down - not least because not only does the network address need to be the exact one, but also there's the fact that and the password has to match. And I can still send/receive emails via my main account so things are good - to be honest I won't be using the free @sky.com email address but it's there in case of emergencies, I guess.

Thursday 7th September - The Sky's The Limit (Or Soon Will Be)

I rang Sky customer services up when I got home from work and was expecting them not to have good news. But far from it! The representative explained to me that mine was one of some 3,000 orders that although had been raised through provisioning and that the migration was going to take place etc, it turned out that the company who ship out all their routers didn't play ball and lost the orders in their system. Turned out that some Sky management had basically kicked butt somewhere and told the supplier in no uncertain terms to ensure the kit got out as soon as possible. So the rep told me that I'd be expecting a delivery from Parceline on Saturday or at the latest Monday with the router. Woohoo!

Now here's where it gets spooky. A few hours later I get a call from one of the customer services management at Sky. Turned out their managers were ringing the customers who had the same problems as me and were not only apologising for the delay in the order being shipped, but also offered the first month free as compensation. I could have argued for more, but to be honest that was quite fair of them and getting Parceline to ship on a Saturday is more expensive as well so they were bearing the brunt of those costs too. As it turned out I was watching Lancashire throw away a good chance of beating Essex in the Natwest Pro40 game - it all fell to pieces once Mal Loye had been caught.

And best of luck to Jenny, our ex-knit and weave technician, who came in today for her leaving do, which was nice - a good spread of food from the staff in the department and a good mix of people to wish her luck as she does her PGCE and becomes a teacher. I'm sure she will do well and achieve her mission, and she's a really nice person to boot - so she deserves it. If you're reading this Jen, keep in touch!

Wednesday 6th September - Scraping By On 56K

Watched the England game tonight, and was actually looking forward to it quite a bit after the drubbing of Andorra. Having also watched the Scots beforehand get a very useful win in Lithuania, I was just hopeful that England could do the business and make it six points out of six against Macedonia. Well, they did, but the performance wasn't just up to standard really. It was below par and I think primarily this was because the likes of Lampard and Gerrard didn't click, and it was mainly left to Owen Hargreaves to do a fair chunk of the midfield work. Mind you, Peter Crouch keeps scoring doesn't he? I can't believe that he's got so many in the last few games, but nonetheless he works hard and earns his goals, so can't say fairer than that.

I had a tough couple of days at work really - been starting to roll out all the student desktop images and although a few of them had been done, what was holding us back was the ridiculously slow network speed when deploying an image via Zenworks imaging. On a 100MB connection everything works, but on 10MB? Absolute nightmare to be honest. The PCs being imaged would occasionally crash with decompression errors, and you'd also get around a 50% success rate of them being imaged properly, where with a 100MB connection it works flawlessly and every time. Starting from the top floor of the building, it was mainly the 8th and 6th floors that had just been about done. There's still rooms on the 5th and 7th, 4th, ground floor, second floor and another building with two rooms to do, and I'm just hoping that we can manage to temporarily get the connection speeds increased to be able to roll things out smoothly. Then there's a move of the printers all to a new room we're having. Oh what fun and games!

And talking of fun and games, I'm typing this but not uploading it to the web space as yet. Why? Well, as you know I am migrating to Sky Broadband, and despite the activation date being today, as yet Sky's router hasn't turned up. Because of the way that they have configured their broadband connections, you have to use their rebadged and reflashed Netgear DG834G router to work with it - you can't just use any router otherwise I'd have plugged my existing one in and used that. So I've been expecting a card through the door from Parceline, but nothing. So I rang up Sky and asked them what was going on, and they said that they would get someone to look into it for me. There were rumblings over web message boards that a certain number of orders had been lost in the system - just hope mine wasn't one them!

So in the meantime it's going back in time to the days of 56K modems - yes, you know, when dialup was just that. Thankfully I have a Conexant PCI modem for back up just in case the proverbial poop hits the fan, and after plugging that in, getting a temporary dial up account from Orange (formerly Wanadoo) and getting going, at least it meant I could snag any emails and just do the odd bit of basic browsing, but nothing more. And when you're used to having a reliable 512K connection it can get a little, how can I say it, annoying? Still, I'll keep you all posted what happens.

Sunday 3rd September - Imagine All The People..

It's been a good week and a nice weekend thrown in to boot. At work we finally got all the images ready to roll out for the student build and proceeded to do most of the main drop in room in a few hours of multicasting and then doing all the steps we need to do post-image. In reality it worked really well and hopefully we'll be on schedule to get everything up and running before the start of the year: that's the plan, and if that means I might have to work a little later than planned, so be it really. It's also been a big help having our new starter with us to lighten the load a bit, so much so that all the memory upgrades have been done, and even given one of the suites a bit more memory to boot as well with what we've taken out, so there's something I guess.

Anyway, went out yesterday with a few people, not least my friend Dan, whose birthday it is today (have a great one, squire!) - met up with him and five others who I know either from my retro gaming days or in fact have been involved in other things related to that, and much chat and beer ensued (as it usually does). Ended up walking from Piccadilly train station in the rain to Joshua Brooks, and the plan to watch the football in there would have worked nicely apart from the fact that all their bitter had gone off, so a quick scout round by yours truly later and it was a swift move to the Lass O'Gowrie, and we got a table right by the projector screen showing the football, so that was good, and indeed the Lass' usual standards of many a real ale on proper hand pumps, just like it should be (definitely I should be a member of CAMRA - all I need know is the beard, apparently).

So the game came on and shock of all horrors, England didn't just beat Andorra as expected, they looked much more confident and actually played better as a team. One thing I've been impressed already with Steve McClaren is that he seems to care a lot more about what happens on the pitch, more so than him being second in command to Sven. His bold move to drop David Beckham and strip him of the captaincy is working really well so far, and just to further prove a point, Jermain Defoe scored twice yesterday, both of them well taken finishes. If that doesn't put to fingers up to Sven to say that he should have gone to Germany, I don't know what does. Without Rooney in the team we also looked a lot better, which proves at least my theory (and Dan's too) that he is an overrated player, big time. Okay, granted, it's Andorra, they're not exactly going to set the world alight as a footballing nation, but you can only beat what's in front of you, and it wasn't even a case of England cruising either, they wanted more and for it not being that the Andorran goalkeeper pulling off some good saves, it could have been nine or ten quite easily. Still, you take a win and clean sheet any time and it's now to see if we can do the business Wednesday night in Macedonia, so hopefully that'll work really well. And as it's on Sky, it means I can watch it, yaay!

Talking of which, the next step in my migration to them as a broadband provider is underway. Having successfully negotiated the difficult step of getting the MAC code from my current ISP, who to be fair were really good about it, it's now up to Sky and BT to effectively do the changeover which should be Wednesday this week, and I'll have to see how good and how reliable it is. Because of the demand, as you'd expect, Sky are giving people codes so that when you ring them up you have to quote the code in order to be able to have your broadband request processed. This in a way is good and means that by me signing up my interest as soon as, it also means I get to be almost first in the queue. It also means that my monthly costs will go down to £5 a month rather than the £23 I'm paying now, and of course there's also the wireless router which hopefully should be delivered very soon. It's a rebadged Netgear DG834GT, and normally Netgear routers are rock solid reliable as well, so fingers crossed that everything should do as it should. I'll be a bit sad to see my current Actiontec router be retired, but I have a possible use for that - as my brother gave it to me I might just pass it on to my uncle so that he can use it for his ISP, just in time for when I do his upgrade - then chuck a wireless card in the one the kids use. That might be very useful, actually.

Anyway, back to yesterday. After the game had finished we noticed there was a piano underneath the projector screen, and it worked too. It also turned out that Barry (aka Tomsk) was actually quite good on the piano, by all accounts he'd been taking lessons. So after some very nice instrumental versions of some well known Commodore 64 tunes, which was great fun, he then belted out the piano instrument of John Lennon's "Imagine" almost completely spot on and faithful. So a few of us (including me and my rubbish singing voice) attempted so sing along, and when we got to the chorus bit, first off one of the bar staff joined in with the "Well I'm not the only one" line, and then as it neared the end of the song, a woman sat at the table next to us with her male friend joined in as well. Of course Barry didn't realise this as he was concentrating on getting things played, but we all gave him a clap and cheer at the end for his virtuoso performance, and so did some of the people in the pub. If you were there, contact me please! We'd all love to hear from you :)

So then off to Babylon for lots of nice food. Dan and I used to hang out there regularly when he was studying at University down there, and so it was a blast from the past for him at least. Mind you, everyone else was also suitably impressed as well so that definitely made for happy people all round. After saying my goodbyes back at their base for the weekend I made my way home, but it was a great afternoon and evening, and so good to catch up with you all, so thanks to Dan (well obviously) for inviting me along, and also to Neil, Jason, Paul, Barry and Glyn for making up the gang of seven and generally making yesterday so brilliant. Not laughed so much in ages, I have to admit!