Dear Diary... December 2004

Thursday 30th December - The Two Sides of Christmas

Well, as ever, there are always two sides to Christmas: the nice side, where I've had a lovely time so far and have enjoyed myself, and the not so nice side, where millions of people are homeless and have lost their loved ones in one of the worst disasters in history. Such a comparison in the last seven days that it's really been difficult to think about things in a clear way without thinking of what a contrast there is in the world, but I'll try.

First off, Christmas for me personally has been very nice. I always like to see people's happy and shocked faces when they receive a nice present, and it's for me what makes it. Of course, I did receive some nice ones too, mainly DVDs (understatement) but also a few CDs, some clothes, and the usual stuff we all get which we all need such as some Lynx. As for the DVDs though, I think everyone got me one this year, well it seemed like it anyway. Stuff such as That Peter Kay Thing, Peter Kay Live At Bolton Albert Halls, CSI Series 1 Part 1, Bill Bailey Part Troll, The Missing, Mystic River, Dark Crystal, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - The Videos, A Bug's Life, Mike Bassett England Manager, and so on. I'd also received some vouchers for HMV so I got myself CSI Series 1 Part 2 on DVD and Johnny Cash's "American IV: The Man Comes Around" CD. About time, eh?

Had an excellent Christmas dinner at my mum's (because she makes an excellent one, and it saves me doing it) and also my auntie did us breakfast at her place along with other members of the family, so that was nice. Also put in my uncle's new DVD writer for the PC, and after a few initial glitches when writing, a change of IDE cable and an update of Nero seemed to do the trick when doing stuff, so that was good. Must admit as well that it was also nice to pop round to my sister's on Boxing Day, where the pool table in one of the rooms was being well used by me, my brothers, my sister's husband etc and having a good few games on it - yours truly racked up a five game unbeaten run which is no mean feat as a lot of the family are pretty good. Must be the pool shark within me eh?

But nothing could prepare anyone for the horrible disaster that started on Boxing Day - an underwater Earthquake that caused tsunami waves all over South East Asia. These waves at their peak were hurtling at some 2000 miles an hour and up to 30 feet high, and wherever it struck, the sheer power has just decimated places in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and a lot of other countries around those areas. When you see amateur video footage of some of the waves crashing in, and the sheer power sweeping people away, it makes you wonder just how anyone actually managed to survive the sheer force of those waves. Certainly a lot of places where people go on holiday were also hit too.

And there was the most stark contrast of all. On the one side, families from the likes of the UK being ferried home to their safe, comfortable, warm beds back home and being able to get away from the tragedy. On the other side, the many local people who live in the likes of Phuket and Galle who are now homeless with no possessions and having to rely on aid slowly coming in to be able to survive. It for me just shows how much of a gap there is between the well off and the not so well off in the world, and that above all else has angered me somewhat. Why didn't some of the westerners stay and help out in the relief operation, or at least help the locals dig the mass temporary graves of those who were dying and festering away all over the place? It makes you wonder just how the "every person for themselves" clause seems to work in situations like this. The sort of people who can afford to go to Thailand and Indonesia are just those who don't always appreciate just what their money does when they pay for their holiday, and rather than help those needy people who made their holiday happen until those tragic events, are now turning their back on them in their warm blankets on their safe flights back to their large houses and two cars.

In the meantime, I urge everyone reading this to donate some money, no matter how small, to the Disasters Emergency Committee, (click the link) who are co-ordinating the aid donations on behalf of the likes of the British Red Cross, World Vision, Save the Children and so on. Their web site may be down, but keep trying. You can donate online too so it'll only take you a few minutes to make a difference to someone's life and help them try and restart their lives from the terrible loss. You never know, one of those people killed could well have been you if you were there, and for those people who now have to face up to the fact that diseases like typhoid and cholera could well be a reality after the putrid smell of dead bodies haunts the air.

Everything nice this Christmas for me has paled into insignificance for the helplessness I feel for those who were either swept away by the waves, or whom have survived but are now either without loved ones or orphans if their parents have both been killed. I wish their was something more I could do at times like this to make a difference, but nonetheless I'm sure any good natured soul will be able to appreciate the sheer grief and helplessness of those people caught up in such a terrible disaster.

Thursday 23rd December - Christmas Comes Early

Well, it's two days to Christmas, and although it's not really felt much like Christmas at all this year (not just me either, everyone seems to be feeling that way) it's been a pretty nice run up nonetheless. I went out for a nice meal with some friends of mine on Sunday, and I just couldn't resist the nice large rump steak that was to be had - and cooked just the way I like it as well. The atmosphere was relaxed, the conversation flowed and overall it was a good night too. Plus I gave them all their pressies and they insisted we all open them there and then, so I guess it was Christmas come early - and it was! I got a fair few DVDs from them all (thanks folks!) and it was really nice. That did make me feel much more in the mood, I guess.

And you thought I was going to wind down at work? Not a chance! Especially today, where we've been doing some essential maintenance on our email server, and not just that, one of our network printers died. I reckon it was due to the power being off at the weekend, and when the power came back on, it might have surged. Whatever it did, it killed the network card adapter inside the printer, which was a bit bobbins. So being the resourceful chap I am, I dug out a spare USB external Jetdirect box, hooked that up to the printer, set it all up and had it back up and running later in the day. Mind you, it did mean the day went quick and with Christmas Eve hopefully being an early finish it should be a nice wind down tomorrow so that everyone can just relax and enjoy the festivities.

And another reason Christmas has come early? Well, the BBC has announced the dates of transmission for the next series of Superstars. YES! I can't wait. I'm so looking forward to it, especially as the men's and women's champions of 2003 are coming back to defend their titles, along with several others that took part. Sure, there's only three men's heats this time, but there's also a masters final as well as the men's and women's finals, so we'll still get six quality programmes of sport and entertainment. The Americans haven't had theirs running for a while, so it's up to us to keep the spirit of Superstars alive. Cue classic theme tune, and we're back. If you'd like to know who's taking part this time around, this link will help you. And of course the rather lovely Suzi Perry is co-presenting it again. Even better. Christmas has come early for me.

Saw the Christmas special of Strictly Come Dancing and I have to say that I was so glad Jill Halfpenny won - because she was quality, she has a nice personality (proper Northern lass) and not only that, her and her partner Darren seem to have the chemistry together. Nice to see Natasha back, although her partner Brendan was being a complete idiot to say the least and they didn't seem to work as well together - hence the fact they didn't do so well. Not often I'd agree with the judge Craig, but this time he got it absolutely right. But what was entertaining most of all was Aled Jones dancing to a song he sang - Walking in the Air! Although do note that he didn't sing it originally on the Snowman animated movie, that was actually Peter Auty. Aled re-sang it and recorded it as a single around 1985. A good one to test your Christmas trivia out on your friends, that one.

As this is probably going to be the last diary entry before Christmas, have a wonderful time whatever you do, I hope you get lots of nice presents and don't get too drunk and do what that idiot City player Joey Barton did..

Thursday 16th December - New toys to play with

Well, being such a gadget freak (aren't we all at heart) it was a case of having much fun with the main new toy at the Towers - the new graphics card that I'd won on ebay. I was quite lucky in that I got it for a good price, it's a good specification, and it also has the added bonus of doing video in, so I can do video capture of old stuff on video and (eventually) whack it on to DVD as a good backup. So off I went and installed the card - it all went well, installed the relevant drivers, did some routine tests with Direct X and Open GL stuff and it seemed to pass without any problems whatsoever. I even tried good old Quake 2 on it where it flew very well indeed and showed off its power.

That done, it was then time to try and do some video capture. I disconnected the video recorder, and realised that I didn't have a lead to hook up from the video recorder to the video in of my graphics card - so a quick trip to Asda later and I found just the job - a SCART socket at one end, and three phono (yellow video, red and white for audio) sockets at the other. The SCART end also had a switch, too, so you could go either way. I hooked it all up, tried to do some capture with Windows Movie Maker and I couldn't see or hear anything. I then pressed the switch on the SCART end, and bingo! There was audio and video without any problems. So I did a quick test file and encoded it with that software and all seems well, it worked without hassle and the quality seems okay for now. Of course eventually I'll be able to capture stuff and then whack it on to DVD - I picked up the DVD writer from one of my local suppliers today as they had it on offer, and as I'd been paid, it was too much of a temptation not to have one really. Might have to try some stuff out with it in terms of writing to it, but so far all seems well with the new toys.

Apart from that, I've also been having a long hard think about where I want to go in terms of my writing. Sure, I'd like there to be more from me and I'd love to be able to churn out a few short stories for the masses to read as well as be able to submit stuff to magazines and books et al - you know, see how it all goes freelance in a way. It might just be good practice as well in terms of writing things and seeing how they go from an author's point of view. And of course being boosted by some of my poems making the BBC Manchester website some time ago, that definitely made me think more about the whole writing thing and what I should do. Realistically I know time's against me and I can't really spare the time for a novel, as good as I'd like it to be. So maybe shorter stories or ones that are only a certain number of words might be the key for me - and go from there. My actions do need to speak louder though.

Sunday 12th December - Bunged up and bungling blues

Well, not soon after the update to the site on Monday, I felt a lot of coughing coming on, which gradually got worse on Tuesday, and by Wednesday had developed into a real full blown nasty cold. On the way home on Wednesday, the bus was also stuck at a junction for almost three quarters of an hour too - sod's law when you want to go home and rest and relax, you can't. So by the time I did arrive back home it was gone 6pm and I was feeling a bit rubbish to say the least, so off I headed to bed with a warm drink for a lie down and a sleep. And I couldn't sleep - my back was aching. It felt like all that coughing had caused me some pain somewhere, but thought I'd see how I went.

Woke up on the Thursday morning and felt awful, so much so that I had to ring work and tell them I wasn't coming in. Not the thing I like to do, as I'd rather work wherever possible and not just be off sick for the sake of it, but it needed to be done. I was cold one minute, warm the next, and I was either coughing or snuffling out all sorts of rubbish. And it wasn't very nice to look at when some of it was a red colour. I'll leave that to your own devices to work out what it was. So since Thursday I've been mainly asleep in bed, taking hot drinks, making sure I do all I can to get shut of this horrible yukky virus in time for Christmas. Only thing is though it's definitely a massive bug going around - my mother, father and brother have all come down with something as well - coincidence? Maybe, could be someome at my sister's wedding had a bug that we call caught, but nonetheless, it's pretty nasty and I'm glad that it's almost over with now and I don't have to worry too much about it. Just make sure I take what I need on board, and I should be okay. Even ventured out to Asda for some bits of shopping this morning, so if I can make that I reckoned that work tomorrow is a possibility. Might have to take it easy but I'm sure I'll be able to manage.

And typically City didn't help the cause, with a 3-2 reverse at Middlesbrough Monday night and then a home loss 0-1 to Tottenham. Ironically I was going to take my dad to that one (what with him being a Tottenham fan and all) and I'm sure he would have enjoyed himself, especially if the result was the same. Still, the game by all accounts wasn't that exciting, so we both saved money and instead just had to do the old death by Teletext in-vision on Saturday, which is always a killer. Every time in-vision updates, you think that you've scored and when some other team come on, it's a nightmare to try and wait and see if yours are next. And when it is, there's that possibility of it being a goal for the other side, too. Not nice. At all. So I guess that's why they call it the Blues then, when supporting City. Because you sure feel them sometimes.

Monday 6th December - All change!

Well, it's all change here at the Towers, as the new look v3.0 is here for you. Why the change? Well, the FAQ and the front page should explain it, but whilst browsing the web I couldn't help notice that there were so many sites which weren't that easy to read. When I saw how hard it was for people to read mine, I thought it needed a makeover, so I selected a new colour scheme, revamped the menu bar by doing a scan of my own handwriting in blue pen and then tweaking the image to look good, and then set to work to amend all the pages so that they all looked the same. Didn't actually take that long, really, and I was pleased with the end result. I must remember in future to think about everyone when designing a web page and making it readable for all, not just a few. Even the menu buttons looked a bit too small, so hopefully that'll work better too. Like or hate the new look? Contact me and let me know.

It's also all change as far as the family are concerned, as my sister tied the knot on Saturday. Hooray! It was a really nice service, not least as when she was walking down the aisle, the church was just lit by candles and nothing else, which made it quite idyllic. My brother had to rapidly get to the back and put the lights back on though for the remainder of the service, or else trying to read the order of service would prove just a tad difficult. Even then, when it was time for Jerusalem, no one got the end bit right and everyone was just muddling their way towards the end (me included, I should add). And as a neat idea, after the ceremony at the side of the church is an annexe where wine or orange juice was being served to celebrate, which was good. I also got to meet some of my relations, and one of them only lives around the corner from me! And I didn't even realise. Hmm. Must make a mental note to ask her over for a coffee sometime.

Then on to the reception, and while some of the guests did their best with the karaoke (let's just put it this way - I left it well alone) the DJ clearly thought he had some talent, singing along to Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love With You" (which was the "first dance" song) while the two of them smooched through it. And then he kept trying to sing with the different tunes. I could tell how rubbish he was when my father and uncle asked for the uber classic "Hi Ho Silver Lining" by Jeff Beck. At first the DJ thought they meant "Hi Ho Silver" and picked Jim Diamond's theme tune from Boon instead (try this link - a MIDI version of the tune is under the B section) - as soon as it was played myself and my mother's friend realised it was completely wrong, so she went and had words with the DJ, and eventually he got the right one so my father could belt it out. Much better than some of the attempts at any rate, but as a DJ you should know the difference, and he didn't. Utter utter rubbish!

Forgetting how good Max and Paddy is, check out the new Peter Kay John Smith's advert here. Totally totally classic. As has Max and Paddy, not least when they were in prison on Friday and ultimately got their revenge on someone in one of the funniest sketches I've seen - even beating their A-Team spoof in episode 2!

Thursday 2nd December - All Wrapped Up

Yaay! I officially finished my Christmas shopping today, and got the final two presents off my list of twenty nine people (yes, twenty nine!) - namely my brother and his girlfriend. My brother, as great he is, isn't the easiest person to buy for but after a chat with him last night I had an idea as to what to get - so it was off into the City Centre after work and just blitzed what I had left to get. And I picked up at the same time all my big freezer shop on the way home - thereby saving me two trips out. And as I've been wrapping presents as they've come along, I've not had to worry about spending hours doing a shed load of wrapping. And I'm well known for really making my presents difficult to open, well it adds to the suspense doesn't it?

I guess as well I'm glad I don't have to face the onslaught of mad people shopping left right and centre for all sorts - especially if they can't find what they really want. Such as a Playstation 2. You try finding one if you can - it's like Mission Impossible! And it's always on a Saturday that all the mad rush is at its most hectic - something I will be avoiding anyway, but not least this Saturday as I've got the rather nice occasion of my sister's wedding to go to - which will be lovely, I'm sure. A winter wedding might seem a bit odd, but it means all the church can have candles lit and it looks kind of romantic. Naturellement, snow would be too much to ask for, but at least there'll be a lot of people there to enjoy it, and that's the main thing isn't it?

In a flash of inspiration I was going through my pre-recorded video collection (ie: proper releases) and to my utter delight I remembered I had plenty of F1 stuff on video, that isn't on DVD yet. I think once I have a capture card for the PC along with a DVD-writer, I seriously think some remastering is going on. (Yes, I could of course buy a DVD recorder and do it that way, but they are all in silver which sucks. Can't someone please make a nice black one for people like me?) Anyway, the 1982 F1 season review is one I'd definitely put near the top of the list - some great races, and Clive James' excellent narration almost makes the absence of Murray Walker's commentary bearable. It's a good video, and if they bring it out on DVD, a must have. Ah well, something else to add to my ten squillion things on my wish list.