Saturday, November 25, 2006


Bye Bye Tony

And another team member bites the dust. Tony is off to join the small army of rich IT professionals working in the financial sector. Good luck, mate.

Here're photos from the the leaving drink at the Walkabout (Reading this time). The 3 amigos here (Martin, Tom and Tony) are all ex-Microsoft. [Vista's build-in red-eye fixer works a treat!]

Great idea at the walkabout is £10 for a bucket of five 375ml VB stubbies in ice and a prize-winning scratch card. Sadly every prize happened to be a stick-on moustache...


and me...


Friday, November 24, 2006


Damned MCPs #2

Just finished exam 223 and failed AGAIN (66.2% with a 70% pass mark, down from last time's attempt of 68.1%). This time I fell apart over "Managing Cluster Resources" and again lack of preparation let me down. The two weeks just flew past and before I knew it the reset was only a day away. So only a month left to complete an MCP before the New Year...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Gone, my crowning glory

I've finally given in and let the dentist pull out one of my 1st molars (my bottom right). I had been putting it off for months now since my last check-up. I had become complacent as every 6 months I would be given a clean bill of health. This time the dentist took some fresh X-rays (as the last set were getting old) and spotted a cyst under my molar. So instead of leaving with a smile, he wanted to book me in for an extraction and implant (oh, and a filling but that's trivial).

I think I went into shock - partly because the price tag on the implant went into 4 figures but also because this would be the first time I'd had an adult tooth taken out. The only surgery I'd had before was two different visits to the Battenburg Avenue Clinic for extractions when I was still a kid with milk teeth back in Portsmouth. They used gas then - no local anaesthetics and trying to avoid thinking about what was going on. A golden age...

A month passed by and I still hadn't booked myself in. A letter arrived from the dentist reminding me that little problems can become big problems. My wife had a check-up and Dr Greg gave her a printout of my X-ray to influence my decision to come in. Greg is nothing if not persistent. A month ago I emailed him to say I was still interested and asked for a quote for the work, which they duely sent. November came and my tooth started niggling which is usually a good sign that time is catching up with you. So I gave in and booked a session for after my return from Newcastle. Needless to say, any niggles had completely faded away before then...

I was not looking forward to losing that molar - we went back quite a way together and had had a few ups and downs. As a teen, I hardly ever brushed my teeth - I can recall (with horror now) being able to scrape plaque off my front teeth with my nail. So dental work was common for me and the molar needed some work in the mid 1980s when I was living in Swansea (a filling and a few pins to stop it falling apart).
A decade later and I am on my honeymoon in sunny Cornwall, suffering from toothache. On our return, our local dentist in Woodley did some root canal work and fitted a crown - the crown was fitted so well that she had to drill through it later to clean up an infection. (Unlike Greg's crown on one of my other teeth that was defeated by a Christmas Eve Quality Street toffee...)

Now twelve years on from that and the whole tooth has gone (well, almost... there's a small piece still deep in there that, I am told, the body will absorb over time). I was brave - I actually turned up and hardly broke in a sweat the whole time. I must be getting used to this. Of course, I have more treatment in 3 months to start off the implant work and 3 months after that to put a fresh crown on top. Finally, a course of therapy to get me through the trauma of paying bazillions of pounds for the work.


Sunday, November 19, 2006


What is a supper club?

This question has been mildly intriguing me since I saw the Great Muppet caper recently where Miss Piggy asks Neville (John Clease) to recommend a good restaurant - which is he does but qualifies it by saying "but that's really more of a supper club." This is repeated when Neville later tells his wife Dorcas (Joan Sanderson) what he was doing - she says "but that's really more of a supper club." and he says that that was what he had told them. So was this some sort of running joke in the film? What on earth was a supper club?

And today I actually ate in the Coco Mos Supper Club in Newcastle and was none the wiser. According to WiseGeek, "A supper club is a restaurant and a club combined, usually rather high end and typically only open for service in the evening." Wasn't too high end - it let me in. Looking at a flyer I picked up on the way out, they offer "sophisticated entertainment" from 10pm until late so I missed it. Will I never experience the true ambience of a supper club?



Off to Geordieland

You might think it funny considering where I could get sent to but I really looked forward to going to Newcastle to see one of my customer's customers. A big city, just south of Scotland, and far enough from Reading that I can get there by plane!
It was only a day trip so I flew up on Sunday night and settled in to the Gateshead Holton {fantastic view from my window}.

Walking round Newcastle's riverside was weird - the Tyne Bridge is REALLY high. In the photo you can see 4-story buildings under the road. At the end of some of the roads, there are vast arches that you only expect in Bladerunner-style SF films.


Friday, November 17, 2006


Best song ever ... since the last best song ever, anyway

Dragonforce - "Through the Fire and Flames" is awesome. Melodic/speed/power metal at its best (like I'm an expert but their website says so and therefore it must be true).



Vista goodness

I've been at Microsoft for 37.6% of my life now so I've seen a few products go out through the gates (any pun you think you see is not intended). Many years ago I used to get excited about new products - I remember being the only person in my unit running Windows NT while my colleagues stumbled on 16-bit ignorance. Nowadays I get a bit blasé about it - how can you keep getting excited after a dozen versions of Office?
So I have finally succumbed to the internal marketing and installed Windows Vista on my trusty Dell laptop. Setup went well although I was slightly worried by the "this may take a few hours" information - it was an upgrade (rather than the light-speed installation you could do on a freshly-formatted disk) and watching next-gen progress bars can be fun...
Sadly, although the machine has enough power in the disk and CPU departments, it fails on the most important resource - graphics. If you don't have 128MB of video memory then you're not going to get the sweet stuff that the evangelists demonstrate at the shows. Despite that, it does look fancy - but then every new generation of Windows looks fancier than the last. It's amazing what you can do with coloured pixels on a flat 2D screen and you sometimes wonder "why didn't it look THIS good LAST time when the hardware hasn't changed?" So what will the NEXT version of Windows look like? And why can't it look like that now?
And what has made me go "ooh, pretty!" so far? Of course it's the little things, like the Recycle Bin graphic (which looks like a glass of ice cubes when full), or the ability to see Disk I/O in Task Manager and tell which BASTARD process is making the machine grind (yes, that's you, Search Indexer {{BANG}}). There's basically more of everything - more information, better icons, proper zoom in Paint (1/8 to 8x), Media Centre edition is now built in (to Ultimate edition, anyway), and so on.
I received an email from our IT department requesting that I keep my desktop machine running Windows XP as it was "less than an optimal candidate" for upgrading to Windows Vista. Keeping machines like mine back in the stone age would mean they would have a large enough pool of test clients for security patches and the like (we eat our own dogfood). How I laughed - I want SHINY and I want it NOW, even if the machine will be dragged to its knees (I can always use the laptop...).
So, everybody, start saving up! Not for Vista but for the super graphics card and the gigabytes of RAM that will make your eventual purchase of the new Windows something you will really appreciate. Remember, shiny is good.

No, I cannot spell "shiny" properly. This blog has been a major trial for me...

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Sunday, November 12, 2006


A greenhouse? At my age?

It's that time of year where our Avocado plant has to be brought into the house to prevent it turning into a stick when the frosts come. Since being planted from a nut way back in the late 90s, the avocado has struggled on against scorching sunburn, parching drought, messy infestations and munching vermin. In fact the infestations (which crap waxy gunk on all surfaces directly underneath, such as carpets) were the deciding factor in leaving it out in the garden. Of course, the plant would need some help so we've bought it a cold greenhouse to stay in.

I've learnt so much about cold greenhouses in the last few weeks in a desperate attempt to convince myself I wasn't sentencing the poor, innocent plant to a Siberian existence. For example, this is why there is a dustbin of water in the greenhouse - during the day the sunlight will warm the air within the greenhouse and therefore warm the water in the dustbin; during the night the heat of the water will slowly radiate away into the cooling air within the greenhouse to offset the cold a little. I'll keep the greenhouse zipped up all the time too to keep the scarce warmth inside.

Currently its a balmy 15°C and warm nights ahead so nothing to worry about just yet.

Compact Walk-In Greenhouse



Cold November Rose

Here we are in mid-November and there are still roses blooming. Admittedly we haven't really had any harsh weather yet - a couple of light frostings but nothing really cold - but I would still expect less greenery and flowers than there are. I even saw a fly and a wasp at different times today.
I'm sure the rose is the same as in my July blog but looks much paler.


Friday, November 10, 2006


Damned MCPs

Just finished exam 223 and failed (68.1% with a 70% pass mark). "Troubleshooting, Monitoring and Optimising" let me down which is kind of funny as that's my job role. What I hate is failing by one question (each is about 2%) when the last thing I did was dither over a 50-50 choice. I had two questions where the range of answers were basically the same but I wasn't sure which of the two remaining choices was right. Being the risk-averse sort of chap that I am, I chose a different answer for each question so that I was guaranteed one right. If I'd been a bit more confident and gone for the second choice twice, I would be celebrating instead of drowning my sorrows in champagne.

But that is just distracting from the real problem - lack of knowledge. Next time I'll actually finish reading the training manual and blow the exam away. Have to do this before Christmas so that I can keep up my at-least-one-a-year record going.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


John the Fungus Man

One thing that always amazes me is the variety of fungus in the woods. The trees themselves are often dull in comparison - there are only so many shades of brown and green before you start yawning. When walking through the woods, an interesting tree is one that has grown in weird and wonderful shapes. Fungus, on the other hand, is weird and wonderful to start with. There seems to always be a new fungus that I haven't seen (or at least taken a photo of) before. In Highwood we even came across some green puffballs (after the waning batteries finally gave up, of course). Sue gave them a helpful tap with her shoe and sounded revolted when a cloud of green spoors puffed out and drifted on the breeze. My days of poking messy nature are long gone!



Saturday, November 04, 2006


Bye Bye Tom

And so the exodus continues...

What, no Macca?

Mike, Martin, Tom, Tony, Chris, Lars (and me holding the camera)

Here we are after a now-traditional hit-and-run on the West Cornwall Pasty shop, The Cove, at Covent Garden. Ex (or soon-to-be-ex-) team members at these farewell events now outnumber those unwilling to move on. Martin, Tom, Tony and Chris are (or will be soon) city slickers wondering why the rest of us don't join them. It does make me wonder, truth be told.

The first pub of the night was the Punch and Judy on the Covent Garden market square. Despite it being early November, it wasn't too cold sitting at an outside table (unless you were a wimp...) but we did decide to move on after a couple of pints to warmer climes.

Next stop was the Porterhouse which is a fantastic place. Basement has a small band playing behind-and-above the bar; ground and first floor have loads of space for socialising and drinking. The place was pretty packed - good sign that it's a decent place - and the bars had a range of their own brews (I went for strawberry beer - lovely!). Will definitely put this pub on my places-to-drink list.

A couple of drinks later, we decided to move on to another bar. I'm not sure why we did this as it could be assumed that every other pub on a Friday night would be just as busy but what do I know? After much random walking down roads we reached Leicester Square and off down a side street where the bouncers decided that groups of blokes were not on their list. I didn't think we looked that bad. So we piled into the nearby "Imperial" - very busy and we had to split into two groups - but decent enough (see below).

Chris and John Lars and Tom Tony and Chris

Sometime after 11, the light-weights decided to leave before the underground went to sleep - I wasn't too worried as the last train back to Reading was 2:36 so nothing to worry about. Not surprisingly, when the rest of us eventually left the pub - it WAS closing at the time - the tube was closed so I pulled out my trusty street map and started walking. The trip was a leisurely 3 miles, including a Subway break for supplies (why do their staff try and start a conversation with you? Is it part of their training?). On reflection (that is, using AutoRoute the next day), it could easily have been just 2.5 miles and not therefore necessitating me running the last few 100 yards to catch the 01:36 train with a minute to spare.

On the train back, my pleasant book-reading was interrupted by a couple of strangers putting the world to rights over large bottles of lager. I don't mind idiots so much but when supposedly bright people start spouting crap, it really gets on my nerves.

I must remember to keep some change in my pocket - there are times when having a few quid spare can come in handy. When catching a Reading night bus and all you have is a fiver, for example. I would say "Live and learn" but I know that I don't - two of the last few night bus rides have necessitated me going in the Coopers pub to buy a bottle so that I could break up a note and pay the driver. Hmmm, this is starting to cost me  :-)

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