Dear Diary... April 2006

Saturday 29th April - Snooker Loopy With The Red Button

Well, it's almost the end of the month, and after a week back at work, I'm really glad that I've got the Monday off as a Bank Holiday. I've been really mad busy over the last week or so, mainly due to the fact that it's been deadlines all week and students have been really stressed out, despite the help that myself and my colleagues can give. I suppose for a lot of them also it's down to the fact that the final degree shows are in June and they want to be sure everything is absolutely right and spot on for the task. As for me, it's just a relief to get the week over and done with.

I've not had much chance to catch up on anything in the week either really, I've got home and just felt a little drained and really the most I've wanted to do is to sit down in front of the telly, and thankfully with the World Snooker championship continuing this week (thank heavens for the red button eh?) it's been not too bad, with plenty of shocks along the way. Who would have thought Marco Fu would make it to the semi final, and who would have thought he'd have made a comeback against Peter Ebdon and almost win it from 15-9 down? That certainly was exciting stuff this afternoon for sure. I was just happy that it's made a nice change that not the same people are in the semis and final year on year, and of course for Shaun Murphy the Crucible curse of the defending champion first time round not winning next year rang true as well. I just hope the final is as exciting..

Moving on from that, I was also interested to see last week that many people were surprised that Arsenal made the Champions League final. I wasn't. In the end they deserved their win and the penalty that Villareal had given was scandalous, so it was nice to see Lehmann save it and do justice for them. And with Middlesbrough again coming back against the odds, it means an English team in both European finals, highlighting the strength in depth of the top flight these days. I just wish Manchester City could at least learn how to grind out results as we chucked away a 1-0 lead at home against Fulham..

Saturday 22nd April - Break Over!

That's that then. My Easter break is over and it's back to work on the Monday hopefully a bit more refreshed and full of life in myself. Generally speaking, it's been a week where I got some bits done and relaxed a lot too. For example yesterday I did some cleaning in the house, and sorted out the washing for next week, meaning that the weekend is mine to do as I need to. I also put my usual lottery tickets on, and the fortune must have been smiling on me last night as I watched the Euro Millions draw on Challenge (timed it perfect after seeing the new look Bullseye on Challenge+1) - and to my surprise two of the numbers came out. This meant I needed one of the two lucky stars drawn to win anything. The first came out and that wasn't what I wanted, but the second lucky star was, and it meant I had won. Okay, so it wasn't lots, but £8-40 is better in my pocket than someone else's, isn't it? As the ironing board was on its last legs (I've had it almost four years now) I decided to cash in the winnings, go to Argos this morning and get a new one which was £8-99, so the win almost virtually paid for itself.

And if I was a betting man, I should have put some money on the Scottish Grand National that took place today. I had a funny feeling about the winning horse Run For Paddy, because of the trainer being an ex-jockey (Carl Llewellyn) and it was his first win as a trainer, riding the horse himself. A right epic run in though and it won by a short head after over four miles of stamina sapping action. If only all races were this close. Interestingly, there's not many horses who have won the Grand National at Aintree and then gone on to win the Scottish National at Ayr, they're normally two to three weeks apart from each other which generally makes it quite difficult. Indeed, the last one to do the double was.. Red Rum! Say no more really.

Monday 17th April - Good As My Word

Well it was tempting to eat chocolate on Easter Sunday, but I didn't. I was also very good when I went out for a meal on Saturday night, it was a friend's birthday and a few of us had a really nice time at the Beefeater Quay House in Salford Quays. The menu has actually changed a heck of a lot and now promotes a lot more healthier eating, with options available for all sorts of potatoes, pasta, salads and not just the steak and chips anymore. The ambience felt nice as well, really relaxed how it should be, and plenty of nice food to be had. My salmon linguine was lovely with the salmon cooked how it should be, and for those of you that cook fish, it's very easy to get salmon wrong and for it to taste dry, rubbery and horrible. So all in all it was a nice night, and something to generally wind myself down after Manchester City lost yet again in the league. I just don't know what's happening to us at the moment except we're playing rubbish. And we're away at Aston Villa next so we definitely need to win that one methinks.

Been also working on a couple of things as well, namely to try and sort out a new coffee table for the front room. The IKEA Lack one is all very well, and it's cheap, but it also gathers dust and bits like no-one's business, and when you polish it you can hear the crunch of the coiled paper that forms part of the hollow centre of the top section of the table. I'm going to hit a few furniture discount places I know and see what they have, I don't want to spend a fortune but I would like something nice that fits in with the character of the room. And anything with glass in is a total no-no due to having relations with kids in the family, I wouldn't want them to break the glass and injure themselves. It's something I've always borne in mind when purchasing any sort of furniture in that it has to be durable and a bit kid-friendly, just in case.

Did you catch the Manchester Passion on Friday? For someone non-religious as myself, it was quite intriguing to see a story like that retold live in the streets of Manchester with contemporary music by the bands of the city. And above all, in a rather odd way, it worked really well, with most of the famous bands represented and the songs coming in at the right time. The only big major downer was the reliance on Robbie Williams' "Angels", a song I hate with a passion, because of a million clueless fans singing along and saying how much it touches them and all that rubbish. And besides, he isn't even from Manchester, he's from Stoke-on-Trent, which is a bit of a difference of some forty miles away, not good really. I'm quite sure that plenty of Manchester bands would have made something a bit more to the point that would have fitted the timing and scenes well. Still, nonetheless a brave attempt to be something different.

And this time of year means the one thing - yes, the World Snooker championships. Well, you kind of knew that was going to be on somehow, and with the red button giving you coverage of both tables live, then it has to be a definite plus for all us fans. Because of the red button, I was able to see John Higgins get knocked out last night by Mark Selby, who played really well to win, and then switch to the other table to see Steve Davis really giving Andy Hicks a lesson in tactical play, something that wore Hicks down and made him miss shots you wouldn't normally. In this day and age where youth is everything in a lot of sport, the fact that at almost 50 Davis can still cut it with the world's top players, he's still in the top 16 in the world (in fact when he reached the UK Finals last year he was a high ranked as 3!) and also can pull of superlative safety shots, if nothing else, is an example and inspiration to any young snooker player. And of course he can't lose anyway, as soon as he gets knocked out he'll be back to his second job as pundit for the BBC, crafty eh?

Thursday 13th April - No Chocolate For Me This Easter

Normally for me at Easter, there'd be a case of eating quite a few bars of chocolate, but not this year. As part of my continuing mission to lose weight, I've decided to keep at it and so not eat chocolate where I can help it. Although it might sound a bit preposterous, it's one of my vices that I know makes me put on weight, and if I can manage to eat sensibly along with a bit more exercise (and certainly pushing the Dyson around when cleaning the house burns a few calories - more than you'd think actually), then all well and good, to be honest. At the start of the year I almost cried with anger and shame when I weighed myself - 14 stone 3 lbs, way too much, and that is around two stone plus overweight. I knew then that I had to be more sensible, not eat too much, and where possible, try and cut the portion sizes down as well as eat stuff that would make me feel full so the hunger pang isn't there as much - well that's the theory anyway.

With me being off work this week it's given me chance to get a few things done that I've needed to do, but also to relax a little and reflect on how things are personally with both home, work and other things that I normally think about when I have the time. I've also realised as well more than ever that I moved house into my current surroundings at the right time - which was reinforced this afternoon. On my way home, I passed one of our local estate agents and saw a house for sale. Now that's not exactly earth shattering I grant you, but it was a house that myself and the family used to live in quite a few years ago, I lived there between 1977 and 1982 if I remember right. And as for the price - wow! Considering where it is, it just goes to show how much the housing market has changed and also how much of a difference it makes over the course of a few years in that newer buyers are having to go to different areas where they can afford property. Soon, everyone wants to be there because of the price, the area as a whole becomes more desirable - and bing! Up go the prices and it's a case of finding somewhere else to start on the property ladder. Quite scary when you think about it.

Great treat for us Superstars fans last night on ESPN Classic, the 1977 World Final. Okay, so John Conteh and Gareth Edwards didn't exactly set the world alight with their performances, but it was a titanic scrap between the two pole vaulters, Kjell Isaksson and Bob Seagren, and that's how we like it, when there's great scraps on between the top men, even with the controversial bike race where five laps were run instead of four, which benefitted Isaksson to some degree. Mind you, next week is the 1978 World Final and the 1981 Women's Final is on at some point too, about time we got to see some of them really going at it too. Just when are the BBC going to see sense and get another series in the production line for this year?

Sunday 9th April - Out With The Old, In With The New

As you might have gathered, a whole new look has transformed the site. So why did I decide to do it? Quite a few reasons really. Firstly, using frames for a menu is really old hat these days and although it worked pretty well on the whole, in truth it's rather out of date, even with my own handwriting making the links a bit more personal, it just seemed, well, good for the time and it was therefore time to move on. So after working hard throughout the week moving staff IDs over and indeed sorting out a few things at work, by the end of Friday I felt sufficiently motivated to try something new. And I managed to find that in abundance, thanks to a rather nice template from Andreas Viklund, no less. The new design is based on his andreas08 template, but with some tweaks by me in terms of the colours and also some of the layouts. For example on the main page I set a separate header format for the disclaimer text at the bottom, stuff like that, but in essence I kept the design intact. Because it looked easy on the eye, was mostly blue, and also managed to be neat and tidy.

So, upon choosing the design, I came up with another slight hassle, in that I needed to clean up some of the HTML on the old pages, not least with the style and formatting and getting rid of all the redundant font tags. Thankfully, a utility I already installed on the box called Handy File Find and Replace did that nicely, so I was able to change the code on all the pages very quickly indeed. And once I'd got rid of all the tags, it was than a pretty easy task to develop a blank page for each section with all the menu etc intact, and then to copy and paste the text in Dreamweaver, keeping all the links and so on without too much hassle. In some cases, I checked over the diary pages and removed anything I didn't think should belong there anymore, such as old file links and stuff like that. That done, I then set about the next task, checking and testing the pages locally in Mozilla Firefox first before commiting myself to the upload to the site you see before you now. I hope you like the new style, and that it still keeps in spirit with my personal pages. Certainly the content hasn't changed one iota and I've decided to try and write more so that you can see before you the end result. Don't know how that'll work out in practice mind you, but you never know.

And did I win the Grand National? No, I came second. I honestly thought that Hedgehunter might have the class to be the first horse since Red Rum to win back to back Nationals, but alas it was not to be. At the last he was there with Clan Royal and the rather stupidly named Numbersixvalverde, but the latter had less weight and was so able to pull away and win. I did get two finishers in my three bets though, as Brave Inca got round in eighth place, and Haut de Gamme fell at the 20th, and so I suppose it wasn't too bad on the whole considering the amount of money some people in the bookies were betting on the race (and ultimately losing). Someone said I should have gone each way, but at odds of 11/2 it wasn't really worth it. Interestingly, I took the prices for the horses in the morning, and by the start of the race, their odds had all dropped, and so if any of them had won I'd have been quite nicely positioned in terms of winning prices and all that. Just something to note for when you have a go at the National next year, eh?

Wednesday 5th April - Ennio Morricone and Morrissey? Believe It..

One of the things that really surprised me when listening to the new Morrissey album (must get round to doing a review maybe) is that one of the tracks "Dear God Please Help Me" has a string arrangement by none other than soundtrack legend Ennio Morricone in there. That was a surprise in itself of course, but what was more surprising is that the arrangement works perfectly with the tune. Kind of reminds me of "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" this track does, but certainly it's one that definitely stirs you in all the right places. In fact the whole album is doing that for me right now, so it's definitely good. Not quite sure if it matches the excellence of You Are The Quarry just yet, but nonetheless it's got to be better than that download track which made it number one in the singles chart based on its downloads. It also proves that no one buys singles anymore, if 31,000 is enough to make it up there.

Anyway, been a bit busy really managing to archive some stuff from the Sky+ box onto the PC and then on to DVD. I know, you might ask, why don't I buy a DVD recorder? Well, this way I can edit out the adverts, do menus and so on, and make it look quite nice. It was quite easy in the end after I got myself a decent length s-video lead, I just hooked up the s-video out and the audio out of the Sky+ box to the video in on my graphics card and the line in on my sound card, set up Nero Vision Express to capture the video and then I could edit it, do the menus etc, make a disk image on the hard disk and then burn it as and when needed. In essence it works pretty well, it takes the time doing the capture obviously, but once that's done, you're away. I suppose it's flexible for me too in that if I want to put more on to DVD, I can. It's just nice to know as well that the output from s-video is good enough quality and certainly playing back my disc there was hardly any difference from the original recording. Most excellent news that.

Monday 3rd April - Wireless Springtime

Back to work today after taking Friday off - mind you, I got a bit of a chance to relax on Friday before getting out to sort out a home wireless network for a friend of my uncle's. They'd got a wireless router and wireless USB network dongle but needed someone to put it all together so that it worked well, and indeed so that it would also work with AOL as their provider. Setting up the router itself was fairly easy, even managed to turn on 128 bit WEP encryption without any hassle. However, with all the settings correct, the router wouldn't auto connect to AOL - once it did, it was fine and the USB wireless dongle worked flawlessly on the PC and the laptop that was available.

I did a bit of checking on the manufacturer's website, and it turned out there were several firmware updates for the router, one of which fixed any supposed AOL issues. So, downloaded and upgraded the firmware for the 3Com OfficeConnect ADSL router to a recent release, re-did all the settings as the firmware upgrade reset them all, and then had to find one setting that said "dial on demand" and change it to "auto connect". That done, everything worked properly and it even played ball with AOL's own software and browser, connecting happily and using the Internet via the proprietary stuff. I also configured Mozilla Thunderbird to work with AOL mail, which after a bit of persuasion and settings changes also sent mail correctly via its SMTP server too, so that was a big plus. Just a shame that they have to do things so differently, but still: got it working and that was the main thing. I guess being IT literate does have its uses sometimes...

Bit like today really. I'd been planning to sysprep an image that we use for these special workstations which are used for purchasing supplies, paper etc from the many "stores" around the building. I'd tried in vain on Thursday and nothing worked, until I decided to approach it with a fresh mind this morning, and soon realised what the problem was. For some reason, the workstation I was using decided it was going to be a Standard PC HAL, rather than the ACPI which I actually needed. Microsoft actually tell you that you can't sysprep a Standard PC if you're going to use the image on an ACPI PC (hmmm.. joy). So I basically did a repair of Windows XP SP2 on the workstation I was working on, and during setup I pressed F5 so I could force the HAL to be ACPI. That worked fine on the workstation, I did all the minor other bits I needed and then went through the sysprep paces. I imaged it, imaged it back onto the target workstation, and everything worked, even the custom graphics and sound drivers which I needed. The only thing was that the touch screen didn't play ball but I soon fixed that by a driver install. Yaay me.

And when I got home it was the 1981 Superstars final on ESPN Classic. Woohoo, more excellent stuff. Not least seeing Keith Fielding kicking serious ass and winning quite easily in the end from Andy Ripley, probably helped by winning the first three events on the trot of course, and then showing his cool in the shooting, where he and Mike Hazelwood both scored fifty points out of fifty and so went into a playoff. Fielding hit the bull again but for some reason the nerves got to Mike and his shot went off before he was in position, as he'd set the gun up wrong. Ouch! He was understandably gutted after that. Still, it rocks!