Thursday, 27 September 2007

Keeping up Appearances

Dear Diary....

Well, I'm trying to keep up the habit of writing more regularly, but in truth not a great deal to say. The weather has turned cold and autumnal, though for the last couple of days has been bright - as I write this the low sun is streaming into the railway carriage. If the weather holds until the weekend I may need to make another pre-sunrise excursion with the camera. Of course as we head into winter, and the days become darker, this will become easier, at least without having to get up too early.

Had a nice lunch yesterday with Henry, one of the very few who has made the jump from "client" to "friend". Truth be told, I've been feeling slightly under-the-weather all week, so bangers, mash and gravy was just the ticket to warm my aching limbs.

Jacqueline has started going to the gym once again, though I dashed her plans last night by not arriving home from the client's until quite late. I had promised myself that I would not stay late at the client's any more, but there you go...

At some point soon I am going to have to make a decision on their renewal offer. I am thinking about it a lot, and all other things being equal it is clear what I'd like to do, but the trouble is that all other things are not necessarily equal....

On the plus side, I have finally found an online French grocery with whom I have been able to replenish stocks of my wonderful Soft Cashmere tea. Ordered last Thursday and arrived yesterday, and at what appears only to be quite a nominal markup on the supermarket prices. I noted that these guys can also supply the shower gel, shampoo and conditioner that I consume and that are part and parcel of every trip to France, although it has to be said that after the summer holiday I've still got about a year's stock of all of these.

We had a gardner come round in an attempt to tidy up. I've always found gardeners very hit-and-miss - or to put it another way we had one guy who was excellent, and all the others have been crap. So, deliberately leaving this guy under no illusion that there would be follow-on work if we were impressed, I said to him that I wanted tolimit my outlay in the first instance to £100, and to see how far he got. I'd have thought that was sufficient incentive for him to do a decent job (there's probably at least £300 worth of work to be done in the garden) but it appears not. Even our thriving magnolia tree was left with a "tuft" on the grounds that the guy couldn't reach the very top. As it happens I have got a telescopic lopper which will finish the job nicely at the weekend, but the point is that I'm not the professional gardener here!

So we're almost back at square one, inasmuch as although the front has been tidied we're still left with a back garden requiring lots of TLC (trimming, lopping and cutting!) Looks like I'll have to get busy with the cutters myself, although this is a disposal nightmare and will take out a weekend. Or, do we just keep looking?

Ah, time to hunker down for a little kip before the train gets into London.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Rambling on...

We had rain for the first time this month yesterday, and what rain! We'd ventured out, en famille, to the Purbecks. However following a leisurely morning we didn't leave the house until midday, and so didn't get over there for an hour or so.

The plan was to go and have a walk along the cliffs, but what with the time of day etc. our first stop was to a pub on the outskirts of Wool for Sunday lunch! After we'd finished, we headed down to Lulworth Cove and we did actually do some walking, although the sky was very grey and becoming greyer - we had around an hour walking around - until ultimately we were basically walking in cloud along the cliffs. I didn't fancy getting drenched by the not-far-off downpour (especially the bit about sitting in the car for an hour, driving home with steaming wet clothes) so we quit while we were ahead. We were fortunate to have just started driving home before the *real* rain arrived!

But wonderful to be there nevertheless. Obviously it was quite blustery, so was were able to stand and watch the power of the waves as they crashed on the bottom of the cliffs, and it was amazing to watch the way the birds caught the air flows up the cliffs to soar above us, seemingly with no effort whatsoever.

Contrast this with Saturday, when we had a beautiful day all round. To give Jac some peace, Alice and I went out for a walk in late afternoon, which ended up taking us 3 hours! I did pull up an OS map beforehand and thought I knew where we'd end up, but seem to have got it all a little wrong, probably adding a good three of four miles to the journey. We started off going up a bridleway, and really for the whole of the first half of our walk we avoided any roads - the bridleway even turning into fields as we progressed. Ever prepared, the GPS was left at home, so too was the compass, and my own OS map of the area long since disappeared (I'd checked the OS Site on the web when at home) I did get a little concerned that we were actually walking the right way - especially when we wandered through a field of grazing cows - but the signs were just about frequent enough to ensure that we didn't stray far.

Until we hit the road up at Redlynch, therefore, I wasn't quite sure where exactly we would end up. And when we I did recognise the surroundings, I realised that we were a good ten- or fifteen-minute drive from home. Clearly our walk was far from over, although having said all this Alice was loving it and not at all concerned about how far we had to walk. Making a brief pit-stop for ice cream, we headed back home, again via back roads and along the river in Downton. Lovely - we were certainly ready for supper (vegetable pizza) when we got home!

Life outside of weekends only barely tolerable at the moment. The plus side is that the bank balance is steadily increasing, the bad news is that I need to give most of it to the taxman in a month's time! Boo-hoo.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Action Man

Following on from yesterday's activity I must add that after the blog entry was written I climbed onto the roof (twice!) to fix the weather station (it has been showing zero wind speed for a couple of weeks now, basically because it got crudded up), *and* I mowed the front lawn.

Despite this abundance of activity, I didn't get anywhere near as much done as I'd planned - I have three or four months' worth of letters to scan and shred, and I shall be praying for good weather so that I can get the back lawn done at the weekend.

In the vein of "sorting things out", one problem that has niggled for some time is now fixed. As any observant reader might have spotted, this site has a contact form hanging off its front page. Basically, when someone fills out the contact form, the web server sends an email to my address. The only thing was that the people who host my email account kept on rejecting these emails. Plus, despite evidence that their servers were at fault, their support people were either unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

Clearly an email address that is not allowed to receive email is of limited use, so I finally got around to approaching my business's host, even though the work would have been paltry. Their support guy really helpfully showed me how to do it using their servers - and what's more at no extra cost - and lo, web forms appear in my inbox once again. Ah, the appliance of science...

Heading up to London today to fulfil the boring task of earning money. Whoopee!

Monday, 10 September 2007

Tour of Britain

I've just spent a lovely Monday off work - rare for me unless we're on holiday - to watch the Tour of Britain, which this year passed through the New Forest only a few miles away from where we live. We decided that Bolderwood would be a good vantage point, and although it was quite overcast it was a good opportunity to put the new camera through its paces.

Following on from our visit to the Tour de France, we were prepared for something somewhat smaller, although despite the fact that the roads weren't totally closed like they were in France, there must have been an entourage of a good twenty or thirty police riders escorting the cyclists.

Anyway, amidst some beautiful countryside, the sun popped out and just a couple of minutes later the Tour went through, a two-man breakaway (identities unknown, I'm afraid - my cycling knowledge isn't quite that extensive) leading the Peloton by a couple of minutes. In yellow, and at the head of the peloton surrounded by hisT-Mobile teammates (in pink), is the promising British talent Mark Cavendish, who won the prologue yesterday (and who in fact went on to win today's stage too).






Not bad, even if I do say so myself. Actually the sun made all the difference - I took some "set up" photos during the cloudy spell and it could almost have been a different day. Anyway, good luck to Mark Cavenish, who at just 22 looks like he's got a very bright future ahead of him.

I mentioned yesterday that stuff had been going on at the client's. Apart from the day-to-day stuff (they're working me very hard at the moment), they have offered to extend my company's contract for another year. It wrong-footed me somewhat, because they have made the offer extremely early - there's still a while to run of the current contract. So, good news...

Or is it? Well, that's what I've got to think about over the next week or so. And its not easy. Without boring with the pros and cons, suffice it to say that there is a sufficient number of cons to maybe make me think that enough is enough.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

New Camera

I mentioned last time out about the new camera, and I finally prepared a couple of images. The images have been processed with a package I found called Bibble. I liked this one so much I paid for a license!
First off, the day after the camera arrived I headed over to the New Forest - very early in the morning at 7 o'clock. I'd promised myself to do this for years, and the opportunity of Jacqueline and Alice being at Grandma's, plus the new camera, was I guess like the spring tide. Anyway, the fresh sunlight in the otherwise deserted forest was beautiful, plus it gave me an early chance to use the camera in totally manual mode. Plus, of course, the obligatory ponies...




Then, I managed to take a picture of the beautiful Maisie...



...and finally, we went canoeing on the Beaulieu River last Sunday, and paid a visit to Buckler's Hard afterwards. I particularly like the way the overcast sky has come out - not the best "photo" weather but very true to life.




Probably not the best photographs I've ever taken - there is clearly a learning curve with these SLRs - but the camera is very impressive.

More stuff to report, especially developments at the client's, but I'll catch up with all that next time.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Back to school

Ah, well, the summer holidays are over and Alice went back to school yesterday. Or so we thought... It must have been quite comical but Jacqueline took Alice up to school only to find out that yesterday was a "Teacher Training" day, and that she was to have one last day of holiday.

I don't know what these Training days are all about, perhaps when I was at school the teachers were untrained? Or, worse yet, perhaps they were fully trained before they got their jobs? Still, I'm sure I needn't worry - by the time Alice sits her GCEs she (and presumably all other children) will automatically score 100% and will be labelled a genius.

It is beautifully sunny this morning (very appropriate for the first day back to school) although there is a definite autumnal feel to the air. Still, it is warm in the rail carriage so I can just bask in the sun up to London. Life with the clients is manic as ever, though there is a partial tube strike this week so I don't plan on hanging around their offices if I can help it.

I'm still very happy that I got the new database up and running at the weekend, although as it happened there was little respite. Just a couple of hours later I was installing a patch onto the web server, rebooted it and when it came back up one of the disks had failed. Fortunately, despite the annoying beeping, the disk was part of a redundant array, so I set it off to rebuild itself and, so far, it looks to be ok.

Before I settle down to my basking, I must just mention Sunday. In a big change to our routine I planned a session out canoeing on the Beaulieu River in the New Forest. It was one of those Indian-style canoes, and all three of us fitted snugly into it. Great fun - I wasn't sure how Jacqueline would take it but she loved it too. Alice was..... Well, let's just say I now know the meaning of ballast! Seriously, she seemed to enjoy herself also - although it is very hard as a parent not to keep droning on about how "I never got to do things like this when I was a kid".

Following the two hours of fitness (and boy did my shoulder feel it on Monday) we drove to nearby Buckler's Hard, where we were just in time to take some afternoon tea at the hotel there. Well, all that hard work deserved some reward!

Took the camera out with us, playing with a uv filter on the lens. But to be honest it was too overcast for the filter, and when I looked at the images later the filter had simple tinged them all blue. Plus, I had been playing around with the camera, shooting night photos, a couple of days earlier, and had forgotten to reset the ISO setting. So the first few photographs (and in fairness to myself I did notice quite quickly) were taken at ISO 1600! But it is a learning process, this is my first SLR after all. The lesson I take from this is to pay more attention to the information in the viewfinder in future.

All-in-all, though, an excellent day out. Even in the evening when we were watching tv, knackered, but could still feel the salt on our faces.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Progress

Yippee!

A blog or so ago I alluded to having some problems with the office computers. Dead as a dodo.

Well, I bought a couple of replacement servers very cheaply, on eBay. I mean, if you know anything about computers, the old one was a Pentium 3 800MHz desktop with a whopping (maxed-out!) half gigabyte of RAM. It did have a large hard disk, but that was about all. Anyway, this has now been swapped out for a twin P4 2.8GHz blade server running on 2 1/2 Gigs of RAM. A very decent upgrade. The server in question ran the database behind many of the applications used in the office, including this blog. Consequently everything has been offline since pretty much the end of June. Blog entries - few and far between as ever - have been stored offline in that wonderful medium known as email.

Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey, and over the course of the last month or so I have been bringing the new servers up to speed, bit by bit. Now, one of them is finally ready and is once again running a database. I've just spent the last half-hour uploading all of the offline blog entries, and we're ready to roll.

Next, for the second server, whose destiny is to take over the administration of the LAN from anoter beat-up old box, this time a PIII 500MHz. Plus, of course, since the new server is a blade server, just 5cm high, there's a fairly big space saving too. Something for another day, I think...

The only other thing technically was that my bloody laptop got a virus infection. First one ever! It showed my current virus software was just not up to the task, so I need to find another product. Finding an Antivirus package will be easy enough but I use this laptop for all sorts, so maybe one of those firewall-type packages may be appropriate. (I use ZoneAlarm on the office desktops but this isn't supported on the laptop's operating system.)

On to more electroniccy things, I have just bought my very first digital SLR camera. There are lots of knobs and dials and I have also got a hefty instruction manual which tells me what they all do. Of course, the camera has a point-and-shoot mode, but half of the fun is learning how it all hangs together. Right now I'm starting to learn about filters, lens extenders etc. etc. - and am realising that buying the camera was only the start...
On the suject of photography, I haven't put any pictures up for a while. First, here's one from that flight in the Pyrenees:


Yes, it really was that beautiful. Not forgetting, of course, our primary reason for visiting the region, the Tour de France




Must publish some more photos once I master the new camera!