Dear Diary... May 2005

Sunday 29th May - Triumphs and Yet More Triumphs

After I'd typed Wednesday's diary entry I settled down to watch the European Cup Final (none of this Champions League nonsense for this oldskooler). And some game that turned out to be, didn't it? At 3-0 down everyone was writing Liverpool off, but I kept thinking "well if Man City can come back from 3-0 down in the FA Cup, with ten men, then surely Liverpool can give it a go and maybe give their fans a bit of hope". They did have to score first though, and they duly delivered with a great captain's goal from Steven Gerrard, followed a couple of minutes later by an excellent strike from Vladimir Smicer. I must admit I went mental myself when that went in because the two goals in succession had shellshocked Milan, and it was now very much game on. The penalty save and Xabi Alonso's awareness to follow up just added to the drama, and the comeback, to be fair, even eclipsed the one Man U pulled on Bayern Munich back in 1999. Extra time loomed and more chances went for either side, although Liverpool were hanging on a bit and were knackered, not surprising seeing as some of the effort being put in was immense.

I hate penalty shoot outs, they just seem so unfair, but at the same time it's often been the only way to decide a game before it gets played all night, and with the local time in Instanbul already gone midnight, you somehow knew what was going to happen. Especially when Jerzy Dudek started doing a Bruce Grobelaar, wobbly legs and all. Must have helped though as Milan missed their first penalty and had the second one saved by Dudek quite well. Liverpool kept their nerve, and even John Arne Riise's penalty wasn't that bad - just that the goalie saved right. And then the pure happiness of everyone as Andriy Schevchekno missed Milan's final penalty was a joy to behold. All of a sudden, the pressure and the relief came together and it was the fifth time for Liverpool to be champions of Europe (although admittedly they didn't have to win the league the season before this time around.)

That was pretty exciting, and in a different way so was Friday night as I headed off to Night and Day for a gig I'd been looking forward to for ages. No Hope In New Jersey were headlining, but it wasn't them I'd actually come to see. Nope, Hooker were there as main support and as they were so good last time I saw them I thought it was the perfect opportunity to check them out again (and get hold of their second mini album at the same time). It was pretty quiet in Night and Day when the first support band came on, and no wonder, it was just dirge and not very good. Much better, however, were Lookin. They were a nice tight three piece with some decent tunes, some of which can be downloaded off their website, do check them out as their sound was tuneful and with some catchy melodies too.

But then Hooker just blew everyone else away. I'm serious. It might have only been the main support slot and around a 35 minute set, but let me tell you this: it's a serious contender for my favourite concert this year, only PWEI's unbelievable Birmingham gig betters it. Tight and compact they played, with many a good tune off both their mini albums. "Dirty Mess" was particularly good, making full use of the pause half way along just to keep everyone guessing then rocking into the main part at around 500mph. Other highlights were a really bouncy "You And I" with it sounding much more in your face than last time, and the really sublime "Shake It Up" which chugs along with such momentum and tunefulness that you really want to bounce along with it (and believe me I almost did). Nonetheless I found my voice and belted out the words to "Like It My Way", still my favourite track and performed with absolute gusto. And if you want anger mixed with passion, then "Lay It On You" is your baby, with "What You Are" close behind, Zoe's voice never sounding better there as it carries the wave of emotions with just the right amount of post-riot grrrl attitude and punkiness mixed together. Plenty for the crowd to be ecstatic about (and they were), plenty for the watching people to enjoy, and plenty for me to write about. Didn't stick around for the main act cos it was getting late for little old me, besides it was only going to be a let down (posts to the Hooker's message board seem to echo this sentiment). Why hasn't the whole world discovered this band yet? Check them out, I urge you. Now.

Wednesday 25th May - I've SUSEd it Out

This week has seen me on a three day fundamentals course for SUSE Linux, and at first it did seem a little unusual to be doing stuff on a non-Windows OS. But, do you know what? The more I got to try it out, the more I really enjoyed myself. The course was held at one of our offsite places for training, just the other side of Old Trafford cricket ground, which meant a bus into town and then another one back out of town. Can't complain though as the journey was nice and smooth whichever way I took. Lots of little things I picked up upon were plenty of command line goodies to do plenty of administration stuff at low level, and how impressive the KDE Linux desktop now looks these days. I just had to try Mozilla Firefox on it, and it's just as impressive there too. I must admit by the end of the course I really felt I'd learned something on it and could even try experimenting on a PC at work to see how things would look on a non-Windows environment. Okay so it's more of a geeky OS than some but even so, plenty of programs work very well with it and I'd really like to give it a /bin/bash (sic).

Was the Monaco GP last weekend too, so as you can imagine I just had to watch that one. I recorded it in the end as I was off out watching Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and so when I got back I decided to watch the recording. I have to say Jenson Button was really good in the commentary box and I'm sure if BAR ever get another ban during this season I think ITV should definitely call on his services, the insight he had into the grid and also the possible strategies were most excellent to note, and it enhanced the commentary somewhat, with him enthusing how Alonso managed to hold on so well with completely knackered tyres and on the closeness of the racing there - almost as good as last year's epic with Jenson heavily involved. ITV even caught up with the legend himself (Murray Walker of course!) there and he had a good few words to say as per usual. Can't beat the man when it comes to anything F1 - and the enthusiasm was there as much as ever.

So what did I make of Episode III? Well, better than I and II (not hard) but still doesn't touch the original and proper trilogy back in the day. At least the plot's a heck of a lot better and the effects haven't just been added in for "we can do CGI because we can" sake. Of course Yoda stole the show as ever, but why wasn't there more of everyone's favourite cuddly Wookie? Criminally underused, Chewbacca was. Actually talking of Yoda, I did a command alias in SUSE Linux on the course, so whenever myuser typed yoda the system would proclaim "much disk space have you left" which I know, is geeky, but it was funny and certainly made the instructor smile as well - so all power to me methinks. Ironically having clocked Tony Hawk 3 on the PC the other day too, the first character you unlock is Darth Maul. Hehe, just had to go skating around with the lightsaber ;)

Sunday was also Morrissey's birthday so I took a quick stroll out of town to Salford Lads Club, just to pop by really and to see if anyone had been there. Well, if they had you wouldn't be able to tell as there was no Morrrisey fan-graffiti or anything like that, just a few kids walking up and down the street to the local corner shop - and considering the incessant rain during that day it really wasn't a surprise, actually. But I just had to get the piccy taken in true diehard fan style, makes a nice change from the shots I did with a friend there back in 1993 that I still have in the house somewhere.

Wednesday 18th May - Pride in the DVD Battle

It's been a mad week so far this week, with deadlines for students left right and centre, and plenty of stressed bunnies everywhere. Surprisingly though, I've been quite calm about it all, possibly because there just isn't anything else I can do other than to make sure everything works as much as possible - and that's how I look at it now. Besides, there's a mission I have on at the moment, and that's configuring Mozilla Firefox to be locked down quite a bit so that people can't mess with it and browse the web. The kiosk mode configuration someone made with very heavy detailed instructions is all well and good, but there's certain things that we want people to be able to do. I've got pretty far anyway, and have managed to hide the menus so users can't see them and therefore do anything with them. So far, so good.

The weekend was pretty nice though all round: went out for a very nice meal with friends out to Frankie and Benny's Friday night - always good, although had to book the one in Salford Quays because the one in Manchester was fully booked up. Says something though if that's the case. Thoroughly enjoyed the mushroom alfredo, the New York chicken and the cinnamon waffle and really pigged out a little. And why not? Got some very nice presents from them too so that was even better: just got to sit down sometime and listen to them all and watch them all. There was even a magician doing some magic trickery that was going around the place too, definitely added to the ambience and made the mood even better for all concerned, yaay.

And then off to York on Saturday for the day to escape for a while. Nice reliable train journey there and back, and it's an hour and a half from Manchester that way, much easier than having to drive and then get a park and ride effort. That said, the day was quite warm and hence full of tourists and local folk doing their shopping. And much to the locals' annoyance, even a couple of branches of Subway now. Not so good. Took a walk around the minster (indeed later on there was a wedding going on and it was all church bells and lots of nice cars - fingers crossed whoever it was that was getting married) and then around the town walls for a while. Headed around the city itself with some of the nice old streets and to my utter joy found the Cat Gallery shop - if like me you love all things Rosina Wachtmeister, you should pay it a visit. As it was, I couldn't resist and had to get this item: the Micio and Micia snow globe, which also plays a tune if you wind up the musical bit at the bottom. The guy in the shop told me he'd already sold a couple that day and it was a good job that they'd got some more in stock. A shame there wasn't that many Rosina prints while I was there, but I'm sure I can always order them.

I continued on past some of the old Tudor places that mainly were now shops or pubs and headed towards Clifford's Tower, which is one of the old parts of the castle remaining. The stairs to get up to the entrance were very steep, and inside you had another very steep spiral staircase if you wanted to walk along the top turret. The views though were so worth it, especially the North Yorkshire Moors and various other local landmarks along the way. Got some good images of the surrounding areas from up there with the digital camera too, so that was good. Walked around the castle museum too and that was pretty good, got out just in time though as a massive party of schoolchildren were just about to enter and I wanted to relax really. Went and had lunch and found this really nice pub that did most excellent food: if you're in York, check out The Punch Bowl. You'll be glad that you did. The cajun chicken I had was one of the nicest pieces of chicken I've ever had, seasoned to perfection and even with a bit of salsa on the side, too. Set me up nicely for the rest of the day and the journey home.

On Sunday, I went to HMV, now I don't normally always buy items in there as normally the prices are a little expensive - but there was a bit of a CD sale on, and some people kindly got me some vouchers for there so I could treat myself. I managed to end up with a few CDs, a PC extreme sports collection of games including Tony Hawk 3 for peanuts, and the Manchester City DVD Pride in Battle, which has highlights of lots of derby games from the late 1960s onwards. One major problem though: the disc refused to show the menu or the opening copyright warning on my trusty Pioneer DV646A DVD player! If I searched by title number (title 2 is the main progrmame) it worked. How odd. After two or three return visits to HMV I asked the assistant to test out the replacement disc, and it worked fine on their Samsung player in the branch. It's most likely a compatibility issue with the player, but very strange, as all previous Manchester City DVDs (all released by Fremantle Media) all work fine, and the PC also seemed to like the replacement disc without too many problems. I do think it's something in the mastering though, as even a backup copy with DVDShrink also replicated the same error as well. The fact that the disc also made a bit of noise (even in the PC) told me something. Methinks a complaining email is coming along.

Wednesday 11th May - The Lipoma Of Orpheus

Well my birthday was pretty nice on the whole, got several very nice presents, amongst them all of Season 3 of CSI on DVD, which pleased me immensely, and I had a really nice meal last night - some Quorn pieces with spanish chicken sauce and some rice - simple but very nice and wholesome, so can't complain one bit. I guess although I was worried I might feel a little old now, actually it didn't feel any different whatsoever and just felt like another day to me. Must admit though it was nice that several people mailed me to wish me well on the birthday, and even some phone calls and visits from the family as well. Awww.

What wasn't so nice though was that I had to visit the doctor's earlier in the day. A few weeks back I went to my local GP as I'd started to develop a little lump on my back, and thought best to have it checked out to make sure nothing was amiss. I'd had some antibiotics and although the lump had gone down, it wasn't down enough. So back to the docs yesterday and to see what the matter was now - and sure enough within around a minute he'd identified it as a lipoma (Google that if you want to read more). In a way I was relieved as it wasn't anything more sinister or serious, and even better news was that the doctor's surgery I go to has a minor surgery every couple of weeks where they can do removals of such. So next month I'm (hopefully) booked in to have anaesthetic and to have the thing removed. Not always the thing you want to do, but if it gets rid of the lipoma with minimum fuss and less pain to me, then I'm sure it'll definitely be worth it in the end.

Oh, and to make the birthday complete, Chelsea panned Man U 3-1 - at Old Trafford. And they were the better team to boot, not some flukey win. But the real test for Chelsea will be next season to see if they can retain the title, only the really good teams tend to do that and I have a feeling it'll be much more difficult for them. And as a City fan I can proudly say we're the only team this season to beat them in the league, and not concede a goal against them in the league either. Roll on Sunday - can we qualify for Europe?

Monday 9th May - I (almost) Feel Officially Old

Well, it is my birthday tomorrow so that'll add another year on and make me thirty three - although to be honest once I'd passed thirty I kind of stopped counting anyway. For me it's just another day now, and I'm not even that bothered about taking the time off work either as I know I can always relax and unwind when I get home and spend the rest of the evening having a nice time. Sad, I know, but I guess the next biggie for me is in seven years time and that's when I guess I'll either want to be really youthful again or just start becoming older and more grumpy (mind you I'll keep the sarcastic side of me whatever happens, methinks).

The weekend was pretty good: had to stay in and wait Saturday morning for the Sky engineer to come out: you see the Sky+ box had developed a rather annoying feature in that every few minutes large vertical bands of faint black were making their way across the picture, clearly visible and definitely offputting when wanting to watch the telly. I rang up the technical number and told them that it was unwatchable and that the best solution would be to send out a replacement box. Engineer came, saw the fault, Sky+ box swapped, the same one but seemingly a new model number. I'll give this till the end of the week and if the same problem persists, it'll be time to tell them to either give me a box from another manufacturer, or else I'll go higher and put a nice big complaint in writing. I don't usually, but I feel I should if defective kit's to blame then I should claim.

Then on the Sunday after I'd recorded a couple of things onto DVD that I'd captured from old video recordings of stuff, I thought I could sit back and watch my masterpieces, and with that in mind I noticed that in the weekly paper, amongst all the local things you get shoved in it was a flyer for the new Pizza Hut Express that's opened up near my mum's, so I thought I'd try it out and went for a medium cheese feast with cajun chicken and sweetcorn. The blokey on the phone said it'd be 40 mins so you can imagine my surprise when 20 minutes later a nice piping hot pizza was delivered to the door. Bonus eh? And that tasted rather good and freshly prepared whilst I admired the handiwork - well sort of. The audio and video were out of synch. Bah. A couple of hours later and it was all back to normal: turned out that the latest update for Nero Vision Express kicked out the A/V synch when using Smart Encoding, and so much so that Ahead actually released a patch for it: if you're suffering the same hassles, I suggest clicking this link.

Thursday 5th May - I Wanna Be Elected!

Well here in the UK it's the General Election today, quite odd how it had to be called on 05/05/05 (go figure, hmm?) but nonetheless everyone's running around asking for your vote, with megaphones blaring with last minute campaigning going on. Still, I got up this morning and nipped into the polling station on the way to work - and it was actually quite busy, too. The good thing was that the process was as nice and easy as ever, and within 30 seconds I'd done my task and I was out of there. I guess if you don't use your vote, then you can't really complain if someone gets elected in your area whom you don't like. But nonetheless I'm sure a lot of people will be trying to vote for their local MP who does the most for their area and who actually listens to people. Ironically the Lib Dems pulled a right faux pas in my local constituency, with their candidate seemingly being a bit of a dodgy bloke, hair slicked back with a little ponytail at the back (I know, I know) and he just seemed not to be the person you'd want to elect.

And work's been hellish to say the least with two of my colleagues on a course this week, it's just left three of us in. And sod's law duly dictates that everything that can go wrong does, so we've been running around a lot sorting out problems, managing printers and stuff like that. I'm so behind with my current tasks that I'm seriously considering coming in early tomorrow to at least get the PCs that deal with the print queues ready for tomorrow morning's drop-in rush. Mind you, I did manage to configure two printers correctly this morning, and they're all ready to go for whenever. I suppose it's just one of those things, but nonetheless by the time I've got home I'm just really tired out. Thank heavens for the new Nine Inch Nails album, which has been getting incessant play since I purchased it earlier in the week, typical Asda price of £9-77 though!

Tuesday 2nd May - Bank Holiday Clouds Have A Shaun Murphy Silver Lining

The Bank Holiday Monday came and went and everyone hailed a new World Snooker Champion in Shaun Murphy. Fair play to the lad (well he's only 22, a spring chicken compared to me anyway) he stuck at his task very well and played some excellent stuff near the end, especially the epic 40 minute 22nd frame which had more twists and turns than the Monaco Grand Prix. I just was holding head in hands when Matthew Stevens went to pot the blue with the left arm - what was he doing? A sentiment echoed by both Steve Davis and John Parrott in the BBC studio straight after the frame, and definitely that was a turning point in the match for me. Mind you, not the first time Stevens has led well in the final only to get beat 18-16, Mark Williams did that to him in 2000 coming back from 13-7 down. Just goes to show doesn't it?

And although it was cloudy outside even with the odd thunderstorm to contend with (bah) the snooker did at least make an entertaining day's viewing, and indeed the first day's viewing on the latest addition to the AV rig - a Sky+ box! As I mentioned last month, I finally succumbed to the plunge, and took advantage of their current online offer where you pay £99 for the box, the installation is free, you get a month free, and if you have a normal Sky box in another room, it's a mere £10 per month for the extra subscription (which is pretty standard with any Sky setup for a second box anyhow). Got a phone call at around 7-45am whilst I was in the shower to let me know the time of arrival would be around 12pm to 1pm. So it was a nice surprise when the team of two installers arrived at 11-10am, and set to work. Because the Sky+ box actually takes two satellite cables (so you can watch one channel and record another) it means three cable runs in all, two to the Sky+ box, one to the Sky box in the bedroom. Even better was that because the previous owners had left behind the ancient old Cable and Wireless box in the bedroom, the installer just ripped out the cable inside the box, and threaded the new cable through the box from the front of the house, meaning one less hole drilled. Excellent. Within an hour, the dish was up at the side of the house, the cables were all connected (yours truly labelled all the SCART sockets to make it a piece of easiness) and up and running I was.

Only one slightly annoying foible sprang to mind later on when giving all the connections a quick run through. When I had my Nokia Freeview box connected to the video, it would be able to both display and record widescreen signals, and indeed play them back widescreen to my television - which proved most excellent for doing recordings of Full Metal Challenge or Superstars for example. However, the video now always defaults to full screen when connected to the Sky+ box, no matter what I set in the Sky+ box. A bit of a root on the web found the answer: turns out that digital terrestrial and digital satellite set different pins on the SCART socket to indicate widescreen, hence the Scart Control option in the system menu - with it turned on the TV detects widescreen fine, with it off, the TV doesn't. However, this means that if I wanted to record anything from satellite for friends that don't have Sky or access to UK television channels, even if I've recorded it on the Sky+ box's hard disk in widescreen, it won't play ball. Apparently it could be controlled by software onboard one of the controllers within the Sky+ boxes, or someone even did a hardware hack for it which involved a bit of a modification to the Sky+ box, not for the faint hearted I can tell you. And I know it's not the SCART lead to blame as the same one was used connecting the Nokia Freeview box to the video - and that worked every time. Looks like a DVD recorder might be under investigation (which I was planning to do at some point this year), but only if it can record widescreen from the Sky+ box. Possibilities...

Needless to say as well the box is silver. The installers did tell me that a black one is as rare as rocking horse poo (work it out for yourselves kids) and so it's the only silver thing in the rig downstairs. Still, the optical digital out is a nice touch, hooked that up straight away to the TV/SAT optical input on my Sony STRDB780 AV amp, and it correctly detected the optical signal and that it was mostly broadcast PCM 48Khz - turns out it's mainly Sky Movies (which is not on the subscription) that does 5.1. Still, when other channels get round to doing it that'll be good, and of course I can say to the Sony to do ProLogic II Movie mode for any input coming through the optical input for the Sky+ box, which actually worked pretty well. Ha! If at first you don't succeed, cheat!