Long time no write…

It seems like so long since I wrote an entry in my online diary – hence this short entry I guess.

Nothing has really changed; although I'm working on a cool new project at work this week – a LAMP based website for a car dealership. LAMP = Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. It's nice to work on because it's something new 🙂

My "little laptop that could" at home has had some minor brain surgery this week – it's memory has been trippled from 64Mb up to the heady heights of 192Mb (Yay!) – it can now run more than one application without having a heart attack.

Ummm… what else? I've been using Yahoo Messenger to chat with friends around the place for the first time in ages over the last few days – which I guess is why I've neglected this blog. It's been great to get back in touch with people.

Today's news is that we're off to see the latest Harry Potter movie at the cinema this evening. I'm desperately hoping it will be better than the last one…

I really must get back into the habit of writing in here.


Back from Holiday

I'm back at work this morning, and waiting for a process to complete on a remote server – hence writing an entry in this blog.

Last week was absolutely fantastic. Here's a quick rundown of the week;

Saturday Travelled up, and arrived in Newcastle Upon Tyne for the family reunion (via a Holiday Inn hotel for the night). On a count up there were something like 60 of us in the room, covering 4 generations of one line of W's family – with a huge family tree on the wall, and photo boards of all members adorning the walls. It was a great evening – capped by a group of the uncles and aunts singing traditional "northern" folk songs. I'm still humming "When the Boat Comes In" now.

Sunday Most of the day was taken up with a picnic in the park in Jarrow, followed by a bus tour of the various places our ancestors had lived and worked in and around the area. We left Newcastle in the afternoon to travel north to our cottage for the week – at Newton By The Sea, about 20 minutes from Alnwick. Settled in, walked on the beach, and went out for dinner together at the local hotel.

Monday We were all out fairly early and walked to the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle (via a pub, of course). The walk was around 4 miles, but taking the coastal paths meant it took quite a while – identifying seabirds, plants and so on as we went. The castle was pretty majestic – you could only imagine how big it must have been when it was originally built. Ironically, it turns out it wasn't used for long – one of the Lords built it during the wars of the roses, and effectively built the castle backwards – meaning he could escape out to sea from a protected inlet. The Lord it question was captured and killed before he ever got a chance to barricade himself in.

Tuesday In the morning we travelled down to Hadrian's Wall and visited the remains of "Housesteads" – one of the more impressive forts that existed at intervals along the wall. The "star attraction" at HouseSteads was the excavated latreen block – which has remaining largely complete and untouched for over 1000 years.

In the afternoon we visited the remains of the Roman settlement at Vindalanda, where there are still archeological digs going on. You may have heard of Vindalanda in the news; it's where they have found the wooden tablets with Roman writing on (things like Party invites, childrens homework and so on). The while site was huge and amazing – and they have only uncovered about half of it so far. The most interesting thing for me was the museum holding the artifacts they have uncovered – they have actually found a crest from a roman helmet (the hair bit that goes on an officer's helmet) – it's the only one found so far in the world.

Vindalanda gave you a real insight to Roman life – walking through the remains of the high street with shops, guesthouses, and family homes…

Wednesday Wednesday was Harry Potter day. We went to Alnwick Castle. Anybody who has seen the Harry Potter movies, or Robin Hood Price of Thieves, or any number of other movies, will instantly recognise Alnwick Castle (out of interest, the locals pronounce in "Annik". It was an amazing place, and seemed strangely familiar as we wandered around the quiddich pitch 🙂

In the afternoon we wandered around Alnwick, and visited "Barter Books" – quite possibly the best second hand bookshop I have ever seen – the size of a large supermarket. Needless to say I came out feeling a bit poorer than I went in.

Thursday All holidays have to have a "lazy" day, and this was ours. My father in law went off with his relatives to visit a seabird colony on a protected island, while we walked down the coast to a pub for a lazy lunch, and I had quite possibly the biggest ploughmans ever seen by the human eye.

Friday Our last full day in Northumberland was taken up with a visit to "Holy Island", otherwise known as "Llindesfarne", and to "Banburgh Castle". I couldn't resist buying a couple of bottles of Meade from Llindesfarne – but then they did invent it there, so it was kind or a "requirement" 🙂

The castle at Llindesfarne was something of a disappointment (in my opinion) – it was effectively a 16th century castle turned into (internally) an 19th century townhouse – and there was little or no information about how the castle originally looked.

Banburgh Castle was an entirely different proposition – the "Northumberlands" still live there, and it remains largely preserved as it would have looked in the 1400s – complete with halls full or medieval weaponry, and collections of artwork and rugs adorning the walls. I kept expecting the actor Brian Blessed to march around a corner in full chain mail bellowing something or other about "God and King Richard"…

Saturday A final walk along the beach in the early hours of the morning before coming home!

On the Road Again

I went for a run this morning – the start of my training for the 5K runnning race W has entered me into during July. I set off at about 7:30am, and did about a 2 mile lap around town, deliberately going slowly to avoid being too knackered towards the end – I didn't stop to walk though, which was good 🙂

I have the rather boring aim of being able to run for 30 minutes in time for the race – meaning I should be able to run around the course fairly easily without stopping (of course, the hidden agenda is that I will go off training and pushing myself really hard once my base fitness is a bit better – see how fast I really can do 5K).

It's weird, I know if I stick at it for a while and get a bit better at it, I'm going to be okay at running (well, okay for me). I used to be pretty good at cycling, but the only hangover I've got from that is big thick legs – which of course are the anti-thesis for running. Of course it doesn't help that I'm carring about half a stone around my middle that doesn't need to be there either.

So – away from my mad running attempts, what else is going on today?

We're off on Holiday next week to Newcastle (upon Tyne) in the north of England. It's going to be a great chance for a break and I'm really looking forward to it. I just have to get through the rest of today and tomorrow at work, and I can look forward a week off. Plans at the moment are to take a couple of books, and maybe my laptop to play chess against (in reality, I may just take my Palm organiser, because it has Chess on it).

While we're in Newcastle, we're actually staying in a little cottage on the east coast. I'm just hoping that we don't try and do too much while we're away – I'm looking forward to the rest really.

If you're wondering why I'm writing this boredom inducing tome in the middle of the afternoon, it's because I am defragmenting the "virtual hard disc" in a "virtual machine" – and if you're wondering what that is, look up VMWare on the internet.

Middle of the Week

For some reason I find myself writing this in an old copy of Microsoft Works on my old steam powered laptop. Some people probably think that because I am a software developer in the daytime, I have some kind of amazing computer system at home… well that's sort of true – we have have a very clever setup of old hardware.

Perhaps I should explain as quickly as possible (attempting to not send everybody to sleep). I typically use my old laptop – it's a 266Mhz Toshiba Satellite; about a tenth of the speed of a modern family PC. I run Windows 98SE on it, because that's just about all it can handle. To make matters worse, my little laptop only has 64Mb of RAM – enough to run Windows, the virus killer, and not much else 🙂

W has a 1.5Ghz Toshiba laptop that gets a bit of a thrashing – she does her family tree research on it, so typically has as many as 10 applications open at once. It's got XP on it, and is actually pretty good (but still only half the speed of your typical machine today).

In the back room we have a "file server". I coin the phrase very carefully though – in reality it's an ancient desktop machine that W was given, with a large(ish) hard drive from a computer that packed up, and a CD burner robbed from another machine I used to have… It runs Win98, and has a new HP LaserJet 1010 hanging off it.

Connecting all this stuff together is a Netgear hub, and a Belkin 54G wireless ADSL switch/router – which means I can sit here typing this in the lounge watching the television.

Although I constantly winge about my little old laptop being a bit crap, as long as it can browse the net (thankyou Firefox), and play chess (thankyou Fritz 5), I'm perfectly happy with it. It even stretches itself to web development from time to time via Textpad and SmartFTP…

All of our computers are protected by AVG Antivirus and ZoneAlarm – and of course the Wireless router has a hardware firewall in it.

Asleep yet?

I guess it's time to add a few words about what happened today in the office.

Finally, I am nearing the end of development on the big project I have been moaning/worrying/bitching about for weeks in this blog. Principal development was basically finished today, but I need to test the entire thing properly, and add validation code throughout the project (to stop users doing things like entering 32nd January into date boxes).

At lunchtime today we went to the "Dog and Badger" public house and the MD shouted everybody a drink and a meal – it was appreciated by all, and gave everybody a chance to meet the new bloke that's started in our office. He seems to be settling in fine.

God this is boring, isn't it. There must be something more interesting that I've been up to…

Aha! – I drew a picture the other night! For the first time in probably four years, I sat down with a drawing pad and drew a picture of some woman in a magazine. It was okay, but it's obvious I'm a bit out of practice. I'll probably get W to pose for me to get some more practice – I might even upload the results to this blog if enough people ask to see the drawings.

p.s. I just discovered that the word processor in Microsoft Works 4.5 puts carriage returns in where word-wraps were… is that crap or what?

First entry for a while…

I'm constantly amazed how many people read this blog, and sometimes guilty that my entries are somewhat patchy in frequency… perhaps it's because there has been so much going on just recently?

On Thursday night last week we had friends over for a meal, on Friday night we had more friends over for a meal, then on Saturday we ended up doing nothing (something to do with getting to bed at 3am on Saturday morning). Sunday was taken up with a visit to Oxford for W to take part in the "Walk of Life" in St Giles, then yesterday it was back to work and something like normality.

This week I am basically counting the days down until we go on holiday – we're off to Newcastle in the north of England next week for a family re-uinion (W's Dad's side of the family). In true holiday fashion, the weather in the UK this week is amazing – touching on 30C, but I'm betting while we're away next week we will have the biggest cold snap in history.

At work at the moment I am working on the same humungous project that I've been working on for months – and it's getting closer to "go-live" slowly… I wasn't helped yesterday when VMWare crashed on me and I lost 4 hours worth of programming (I know, I know, I should have saved)… reminds me of a joke about Jesus in a programming competition and the power cuts out with 5 minutes to go… of course Jesus wins because "Jesus Saves" 🙂

Anyway – time to go do nothing for the rest of my lunchtime I guess…

The BB Experiment Continues

With little or no advertising on the internet (basically, a couple of newsgroup postings), people seem to be finding their way into the forum I built for Big Brother… except of course nobody is bothering to take part.

I kind of anticipated nobody would be bothered with posting anything – mainly because Big Brother is amazingly boring, and nobody really wants to admit to watching it… the telltale of course is that the picture of "Shell's" bum has nearly a hundred hits as I write this. How predictable was that?

My normal work has gone pretty well today – I've broken the back of one of the more difficult areas of the workflow system I have been working on – but the internal mechanics of it really are starting to resemble one of those mainframe wiring looms from a Cray… (if you haven't seen one, think cooked spaghetti). In reality, the design is quite simple and elegant – there's just a LOT of it, and it's using simple ideas on a large scale.

Changing subject wildly, last night I spent all night fixing somebody's computer for them – they had got hold of a second hand Win98 machine – I had intended to re-install Win98 on it, but discovered their CD was damaged, so basically had a huge cleanup operation on my hands… it's amazing what crap people install on PCs (or perhaps I have a hangup about hard drives being clean and tidy?). Anyway – following several hours sorting it out, I removed tons of software, cleaned up the registry, de-fragged it, sorted out a browser and internet connection, and installed AVG Antivirus on it to protect them from nasties. I suspect the machine will only be used for webmail anyway, so it's not really a problem.

Tonight I'm hoping to have a bit of a relax with my other half – although I might find myself doing some screen grabs for BB to see just how shallow the visitors to the forum are 🙂

Big Brother is Back

Yes, that's right – the mind-numbing phenomenon that is Big Brother is back on our TV screens in the UK, so I have decided to make a website for it 🙂

If you visit http://www.pluggedout.com/bigbrother you will see the forums – feel free to join.

I'll keep the forums up and running during this series of Big Brother. If you see any good pictures on the internet to do with BB, feel free to post them to the "Pictures" forum on the site.

Anyway – I better get on with some work!

Yahoo Messenger Rocks!

I have just installed the latest version of Yahoo Messenger on my computer at work, and have to say I've not been this impressed with a piece of software in a long time…

It's suddenly apparent that Yahoo have not been sitting on their hands for the last year. The new version of Messenger has all kinds of new toys in it – skins, thumbnail photos of contacts, animated avatars, streaming radio stations, integrated games to play with your friends… the list goes on.

It is seriously cool 🙂

All I need now is for people to message me to try out the new toys on offer – remember, it's jonbeckett73 you need to send a message to! (I'm online all day at work anyway).

Today at work things are decidedly slow. We are running very much on a skeleton staff because lots of staff are either on-site or on holiday. Upstairs it's just me, AB and DW looking after help calls and plugging away on development work… there are a couple of outstanding helpdesk calls, but nothing too serious.

I wonder how many radio stations Yahoo are broadcasting? Just recently I've joined the e-music website and started downloading MP3s from them to play at work. It's only 9 dollars a month, and you get something like 40 tracks for that. Pretty good really. I've already discovered a couple of really great Indie bands that I otherwise wouldn't listen to – "Helicopter Helicopter" and "Sugarcult". Go check out http://www.emusic.com and see what you think. It's pretty amazing value really – just remember that they tend not to carry the dross from the charts…

Blog Version 1.6 Breaks Cover!

After a long coding session last night, I got the templating system up and running in Blog, and incremented the version number to 1.6.

You can get hold of the download from the blog homepage (http://www.pluggedout.com/index.php?pageid=3).

For some reason I was "on it" last night – the code was easy to write for a change. Some days I find I can do things really easily, and I remember all the loose ends; other days I really struggle and can't see the most obvious of bugs. I guess we're all human.

The incarnation of blog you are looking at here is actually version 1.6, although it has a couple of hacks in it to do the RSS feed – I will be folding that into the original source – probably this lunchtime (i.e. in 5 minutes time).

Have fun, and I'll think of something non-computer related to write later 🙂