29th January

For something stupid like the third week in a row I went shopping and didn't buy anything. There is nothing left that I can be bothered to want. Which isn't a bad thing - except in the sense that having super powers would mean having to do an extra wash because your costume would shrink if you put it in with everything else. Or something - I don't really understand washing machines. All I know is that you should never never never stand and listen to your washing machine while it works its magic because you will panic every time it stops because it sounds like it has died painfully. So all I ended up with was stuff from Sainsbury's and a painful shoulder (and I had the painful shoulder when I went out). It goes back about fifteen years to a time when I was dumb enough to stand on a swivel chair.

Another weekend ends and what was it for? Five days wished away to get to this. Five more days to wish away until the next one. All rather pointless really.

 

28th January

I've spent the last couple of days watching the last half dozen episodes of The New Series. I'd not seen any of them between transmission and DVD and had mixed expectations. I confess I didn't bother with "Father's Day". I remember really not liking it and even though I found "Aliens of London" a hell of a lot better second time around I didn't feel like giving FD another chance just yet. None of the five was anything less than fant... great. Stripped of the heightened expectations of their original showings, they stood up as more enjoyable than I remembered. Of course, I did at the time say that "The Empty Child" as (and I quote) "the best one yet. Ever." But of the five that was the only one I really liked. The only one I really wanted to see again. Having watched them all again I'm now looking forward to the Second New Series in March. Which is stupid really as I know I won't like it until I watch it again in November.

But that was just a distraction. Or an attempted distraction. Each episode distracted me for its exact duration and no more. I am utterly lifeless and there is nothing I can do about it. Most of the time I can barely move. I need pills. I need drugs. I need to move to go to the doctor's to get them. Flaw in the plan. Forget it.

 

25th January

We had a team meeting yesterday morning. It was unremarkable (except that I was minuting it so had to listen to everything) apart from the 80s pop soundtrack. Our departmental supremo has an admirable liking for coffee and so holds these meetings in the on-site Starbucks rather than some drab little conference room. So we're discussing whether various antiquated applications will need fat terminals rather than being delivered via the thin client while trying to ignore that song - you know the one - it was a big hit twenty years ago - ooh what was it called and who was it by?

I saw this story on the Beeb site -

Music mogul Simon Cowell has been criticised by a US gay rights group for comments made about contestants' sexuality on talent show American Idol.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said it had raised concerns with broadcaster Fox over the remarks.

Cowell told a male contestant to "wear a dress" in the first episode of the fifth series, while fellow judge Randy Jackson asked one: "Are you a girl?"

The group said it was worried about the show's attitude to "gender expression".

"Last week we heard and voiced concerns about the 18 January edition of American Idol - specifically, the producers' decision to turn a contestant's gender expression into the butt of a joke," said spokesman Damon Romine.

"We've spoken with Fox and have entered into what we hope will be a productive, ongoing conversation about the show's representation and discussion of sexual orientation and gender expression."

It troubles me. It may be that GLAAD do a lot of good work. Somehow I doubt it. I first heard of them when they threatened to organise boycotts of one of Kevin Smith's films. Smith gave then a substantial "donation" and they went away. That sounds more like a protection racket than a human rights organisation. Their use of the word "productive" in the final paragraph makes me think they're after another big cheque to drop their protestations.

 

20th January

The omens weren't great. I woke up from a dream about our call handling software (which I would be forced to use in a few short hours) and heard a storm outside.

Last night I was watching a Columbo episode and saw a car with a 133 number plate. Damn the rule which says TV shows don't count. Then I saw one on the way to work. Or at least I think I did but the cunt in the car only had one headlight (and compensated by having it on full beam) so I was too dazzled to see it clearly. The next car was a 33 and that made me lose any confidence. It happened so fast that 13 and 33 could've been merged together in the glare. Or something. It is the supreme pointlessness of the game which make such strict adherence to the rules essential.

I spent the whole morning trying to make sense of a procedure which the Direct Debit team do in Microsoft Access. One of our things at the moment is trying to write test scripts to check whether current processes can be exactly replicated with the new Thin Client hardware. As far as I could figure, the team gets a .txt file which is extracted from a mainframe. They import this into Excel, export it into Access, import another text file into Access and... well that's about as far as I got. You and I are probably thinking the same thing - it is beyond the wit of mankind to export from the mainframe directly into Excel and do so in a format which renders the Access queries unnecessary? If the question has ever been asked it hasn't been asked by or of the right people. So they go through this absurdly convoluted process every week or month or however often and no one with the authority to ask "Why?" has even a tenth of the knowledge necessary to understand what is done. So it is done today because it was done yesterday and tomorrow they will do it again because that is what they do.

Then, after luncheon, it was time to bite the bull by the horns. I tried hiding behind a column in the hope that no one would see me but we were spotted by one of the four over-promoted simpletons whose ineptitude has earned them the scorn of every right thinking member of staff. AussieGuy was sat at the desk of a "problem" case. Someone who stands out as being the worst of the worst. Someone who they cannot sack so have to accommodate. There was a BIG notice on the back of her chair telling people not to sit on it. It is specially configured (or something). He was also told not to move anything on her desk as it might cause trouble. Meanwhile, I was sat on a six-desk bank which had two other occupants. People who promptly went home at three o'clock. Do you begin to see how their poor management works? They have untrained people taking phone calls while the trained people are allowed to leave early to get their hair done or just because they want to.

I was rubbish at dealing with phone calls. Really awful. It isn't that it is a difficult job - just one that needs practice. You need to know what to say to the recently bereaved who are upset that we keep writing to their late husband. You need to know how to deal with a Scouse woman who is calling from a stinking phone box and wants us to call her on her mobile so we can ask her mother if it is ok to speak to her daughter. That confuses on so many levels. You need to know who does one within the building and on what numbers they can be contacted. You need to be able to cope with the aching tedium of the job. So I just tried to understand what they wanted (I was particularly bad at writing down policy numbers) and bunged them through to what sounded like the right team. It was a shitty couple of hours and the only redeeming feature is that the time went by pretty quickly (which disproves that song of Madonna's which AussieGuy has regularly mutilated by singing along to). We've learned from this that the job needs people skills and departmental knowledge. I have neither. New starters get a week's training. I had two minutes (and that was only because they have new phones). If I fucked it all up it is their fault not mine. They were warned.

Fortunately, I'd had the foresight to arrange a pizza night with the rest of the Geek Clique. I got AussieGuy to book the restaurant as that's a phone thing but I did the hard bit - the emailing and... the rest. Emailing is more time consuming and complicated than you might think. Obviously. Here are the minutes.

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We exchanged gifts. ShirtGuy gave me a Ricky Gervais XFM compilation. I've heard he's terribly good on the radio but haven't quite got round to listening to him. iTunes has been collecting his weekly podcast but... I have too-much-stuff issues. I gave him his old name placard. It sat upon his monitor for years, identifying him to passers by, and recently unearthed when we cleared our stuff out of the project room. He was moved.

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I told him about the workshop we held on Thursday to try and explain stuff to the peeps. Angel started out by addressing them and explaining that this was important (etc). He then excused himself as he had another meeting. He got up and was asked "Are you going to do up your trousers before you meet them?" I had to ask the person why they were looking at his groin but before she could answer Angel quipped "Heh heh heh - the cave door's open but the bear's asleep heh heh heh". He has no shame.

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TheArtist recounted a story which brings up the best mental image since... oh it must be ages. During the big move, ITguy had a box of stuff to get from one part of the office over to his desk. Legend has it that he looked down at the box, looked all around him in case anyone was looking, and then pushed the box along the carpet at amazing speed. It is interesting what so towering an intellect (and so towering a man) will do when desperate not to draw attention to himself. I'd say it failed since everyone who ever knew him has heard the story. Now you, vicarious fans as most of you are, have heard it too.

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AussieGuy has a new catchphrase which we've all embraced keenly. It involved you placing your thumb between index finger and middle finger, pointing the thumb at someone and saying "Your mother". In South Africa this is the worst insult imaginable but thankfully we're not in South Africa so we can use it as and when it finds safe passage into conversation.

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AngryDave came out with perhaps the most shocking news of the night. I still don't know whether I entirely believe him but part of me knows it sounds so utterly true that I must believe. Everyone in the building has moved to a new home. Some have moved from one end to the other, others from one floor to another. Only the pensions department have stayed where they are. Not to be left out, someone has decided that the pensions department will all move round by one bank of desks. In a circle. For no reason. That doesn't just mean people moving - PCs, cabinets, personal effects - all will have to be moved a few feet just so they don't feel left out. It's pathetic. And that's why I believe him.

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AussieGuy almost debuted a Birmingham accent while we waited to be seated but chickened out at the last minute. We must persuade him to try it sometime next week. If it is half as good as his Manchester one it will be richly comic.

So it was a full day.

 

17th January

The call came out about half past nine. Would anyone care to volunteer to do a stint on The Phones. M'colleagues did the decent thing and took a bullet for the team. I demurred for several reasons - high on the list being that I've had this off-and-on-again cough/chest/cold thing since between Christmas and New Year and my voice has a tendency to vanish if used too much. Ask ITguy who was trying to understand an issue I'd found but every other word out of my mouth was missing.

The UFC's big announcement was that Royce Gracie was returning to the Octagon for the first time since July 1995. Gracie dominated the early UFC events with a style that was years ahead of its time. Facing largely single-discipline (or no discipline) fighters, he took them apart as he cruised to easy victories. His only "loss" was at UFC 3 when he came out for a fight but was deemed unable to compete. My theory about this was that if he'd retired in the locker room they would've needed another opponent for Harold Howard, trouble was they'd already used one of their two alternates and the other was needed for a later fight. The Gracies were heavily involved in the UFC organisation and I'm guessing Royce took the hit and accepted a paper loss to avoid further problems. Anyway, that's all ancient history. He's coming back to fight Matt Hughes and he's going to get taken apart. Gracie in his prime wouldn't last against Matt Hughes so an old and rusty Gracie doesn't stand a chance. The world of MMA has evolved so fast that the fighters of a decade ago cannot simply return and expect an easy ride. Ken Shamrock found that out (and so did his face) and so will Gracie. It isn't even an age thing - Gracie is younger than Randy Couture. It will headline May's show which suggests four straight months of UFC shows. If Bravo can be relied up to maintain their excellent coverage we're in for some good Sundays.

There are few things more annoying than cyclists who ride just outside the cycle lane. What is the point of giving them a (bright green) lane of their own if they're going to treat the outside edge of that line as if it was the kerb? And I don't mean weaving in and out of the lane - this was straight and consistent riding. You can't help some people.

Including me. I've had American guru Tony Robbins encouraging me for three days now and nothing is sticking. Everything would make perfect sense if it wasn't me we're talking about. I'm irredeemable.

I've also realised that our leader - our inspiration, our mentor, our icon, our hero and even our god - ITguy - looks like IG88 from The Empire Strikes Back.

 

16th January

Does the same thing strike you as struck me when reading this story from the Beeb website?

An independent college is becoming the first in Britain to make Mandarin Chinese a compulsory subject.

The move at Brighton College, in East Sussex, was said to reflect China's position as the fastest-growing economy in the world.

Mandarin Chinese will join French, Spanish and Latin as a core language for 13 to 18-year-old pupils.

New head teacher Richard Cairns said he would join the first classes in September to learn the subject himself.

"One of my key tasks is to make sure pupils at Brighton College are equipped for the realities of the 21st Century," said Mr Cairns.

It's an interesting idea even if the logic is flawed - China may be the 4th largest economy in the world but teaching its language ahead of Japanese (2nd) and German (3rd) seems a bit strange. But the thing that really stood out is that Mandarin joins French, Spanish and LATIN as core languages. Latin?? Is a thorough knowledge of Latin really equipping them for the "realities of the 21st Century"? Where does ancient Rome come in their list of the world's largest economies?

 

14th January

I'm pissed off. Or just disappointed. The only thing I've tried to do this year is get some recons. They are a pain in the arse to get because you can't just buy them - you have to send tapes to the dub-site and that means buying videos (do you know how hard it is to find decent brand blank tapes these days?), going to the post office, getting two lots of postage (one for sending, one for receiving) and so on. The reason is that no money can change hands (or they risk the BBC stopping turning a blind eye to it) so I have to do everything except actually copy the tapes. Which takes ages and is fiddly and that's why I've not done it for about three years. So I finally get everything together, send them off and all is fine. Except that the postie doesn't leave the returned parcel somewhere safe, he takes it to the sorting office. The same postie who regularly signs for recorded mail on my behalf. The sorting office only stays open until midday (11am on a Saturday) so I had to wait until the weekend and make a special trip out to get it. Fine. Whatever. I get the tapes home and one is cracked. No real problem - I only need the VHS for the time it takes to copy them on to a proper home entertainment format. I put each tape in in turn and none of them have any sound. Lots of pictures but no sound. Fucking great. I've spent twenty quid on tapes and postage and envelopes, far more time than you would think getting everything together and wasted the first half of a Saturday morning for something that doesn't work. I've emailed the dubber (who I don't actually blame for any of this) and I have no doubts the rules of the recons site will mean he tells me to send him the tapes back and he'll make new copies. I don't think I can't be bothered - everything turns out shit if you are foolish enough to try - so why waste more time and money?

The moral of this story is that it doesn't matter how big or small something is, if you try you will fail. Or if I try I will fail. Pronouns aren't the issue here. Anytime you try and do something which is essentially unimportant, the disappointment of it going wrong is so much more depressing. Not that I need a reason - just waking up irreparably damages every day.

Later - things get more annoying with an eBay purchase that I can't pay for (PayPal says the seller cannot accept payments at this time) which will no doubt lead to accusations of non-payment and all that eBay crap. And it looks as if Silvervision won't be releasing the Superstar Billy Graham DVD (something about BBFC cuts which seems odd) so I'll have to get an NTSC version from somewhere.

I think I'll go and cook an awful lot of pasta and watch a Columbo.

 

13th January

I watched the first episode of "Crime Traveller" last night. I hadn't seen it since it first went out in 1997 (following, if memory serves, the highly successful first series of Jonathan Creek) and I always felt it was undeserving of the critical slaughter it has received ever since. It is a curious mixture of the very good and the very bad - the time travel premise is nicely controlled. They have their rules and they make enough sense that we can understand an aspect of something that is fundamentally non-understandable. There are weaknesses - Holly and Slade have to be back at the machine at the moment they left or they get caught in a technobabble. But surely Holly and Slade are already at the machine in their earlier versions at that moment. So technically there should be two of each at the moment of departure and two of the same person causes a technobabble (which isn't good).

I remember each episode would drop references to places and people and things and the payoff would be seeing Holly and/or Slade causing those events during their subsequent temporal sojourn. What I didn't remember was how the writer was no David Renwick. Episode One gives us a locked room mystery - a man shoots himself in a room locked from the inside. Everyone heard the shot at o'clock but everyone is accounted for at that time. Baffling - call in Jonathan Creek to explain it all. Sadly, the solution doesn't involve anything clever at all - the killer used a silencer at five-to and the shot everyone heard wasn't the fatal one. The killer stood behind the door when everyone rushed in and snuck out when they weren't looking. He then sauntered back and pretended to arrive on the scene. Um - that means he didn't have an alibi. Why shoot someone and make people think it was a different time when all you're going to do is hang around the crime scene anyway?

The biggest problem is that Slade is so damn unlikable. Played by someone who was probably in Eastenders, Slade spends the entire episode smugly taking credit for things while Holly stands by his side not saying anything. Holly is really rather good and I'm not just saying that because Chloe Annette was at the height of her powers in 1997 and dressed like she knew it. The rest of the cast is the hardboiled chief (a woman, but the same character you've seen a hundred times before), the obnoxious idiot and the sweet and innocent young detective who was no doubt voted "Most Likely To Be Tied To A Railway Line By A Villain" while at police school.

But at the end of the day its faults were those of most police dramas and its strengths were the time travel elements that were unique (give or take the odd series I can't immediately remember) to this series so I'd say it doesn't deserve its poor reputation. Unless of course it goes massively downhill (even in 1997 I found it a bit repetitive as it did the same thing every Saturday for eight weeks) in which case I'll delete this and do what SFX did as part of their "Does X deserve another chance?" column - write NO in twelve foot high letters. Possibly with a burning text effect to boot.

 

11th January

I think I've reached a point where I dread everything. I dread waking up in the morning, dread going out to work, dread getting to work, dread absolutely any kind of meeting or appointment, dread going home, dread going out anywhere, dread doing anything, dread not doing anything, dread holidays, dread the end of holidays. It's like I'm living in constant fear of the future full stop. Which, combined with my matching guilt at absolutely everything that ever happened in the past and my worrying about absolutely everything in the present means I waste so much energy being irrational and indiscriminate that I haven't the time or the ability to do anything of use. A fact which provokes guilt, worry and dread (as applicable) whenever I stop to think about it.

 

8th January

I'm pissed off with Lycos at the moment. My incompetent hosts have been "experiencing problems" with their statistics since the 29th December so no numbers or referrals have been available since then. In addition, their FrontPage extensions seem extremely unreliable - the last update had to have each file uploaded manually (which is why there was nothing as complicated as pictures included). I'd move to another hosting company if I had the slightest idea of how to do it. I know how sign up with someone new, I know how to cancel my account with Lycos, I know how to upload the site somewhere new but I have no idea how to transfer the domain name (etc) to another company. Maybe Lycos will get better - they used to be good - but there seems to be a physical law that a company gets to a certain size by being quite good and then cannot cope with how many customers they now have. The company becomes crap and never stops being crap.

I'm not pissed off that United drew 0-0 with Burton Albion. It's partly because Burton deserved a draw, partly because I'm soft enough to like the "underdog does well" angle and partly because its the first game I've seen in ages which didn't feature the sort of cheating which has become the norm in football. Most weekends we see teams like Arsenal and Chelsea who dive whenever they can, challenge every decision regardless of merit, cynically foul (then greasily protest their innocence) and who have turned the game into just another European league (but without the overt racism on the terraces). Its easy to forget that there are still teams who play football the way it used to be played.

On a lighter note, an unnamed Doctor Who forum is currently debating the merits of raising money to hire a psychic to track down missing episodes. The suggestion was not a joke and a worrying number of people have said it's a good idea.

 

6th January 2006

We said goodbye to our home today. That little project room in which we've toiled for the best part of fourteen months is no longer ours. Our oasis, our base camp, our domain. All gone. Handed over to a project code-named "Eric". We are being moved upstairs to sit with our new team mates. Lord only knows how we kept the room for so long. Technically (though almost no one actually realises this) our project ended in July so we've been lucky to keep the room for six bonus months. But from Monday we'll be out in public with everyone else.

But fun can come in strange places. AussieGuy is giving up smoking again. To aid his quest he's been sucking on a plastic cigarette-substitute. The result is a hilarious jazz set of cough/sneeze/snort/hiccup/wheeze/gasp/burp noises. Never the same sequence twice. Occasionally he'll preface it with a "I've got the hang of it now..." before launching into a fit. Marvellous stuff. I'd buy it on CD if I could.

I watched the New Year's Eve Pride show last night. General consensus was that it was a good show and there were parts that I liked but overall Pride leaves me cold. There are lots of things I don't like - their use of a ring instead of a cage, their weird rounds (first round is ten minutes long, any subsequent round(s) only five minutes), the way the judges try to score the entire fight instead of breaking it down into 10-9/8/7 rounds, the waste-of-time freak show matches and the quietness of the massive crowd. Plus, Wanderlei Silva is just boring every time I see him. Pride may officially have the best fighters in the world but for whatever reason I enjoy a bad UFC more than a good Pride show. In any case, champion vs champion I don't think Pride has any great advantage. UFC doesn't have a 155lbs champion so ignore Takanori Gomi, equally Pride doesn't have an equivilent of UFC 170lbs champion Matt Hughes. The two could fight in Pride (where there isn't a Commission to strictly enforce weight limits) and Hughes would take him.

Dan Henderson vs Rich Franklin (185lbs) - I'd pick Franklin because Henderson struggled with Murilo Bustamante and Franklin is a heck of a lot better than that these days.

Wanderlei Silva vs Chuck Liddell (205lbs) - I don't care that Silva hasn't lost in 6 years - a healthy Chuck would beat him in 2006.

Fedor Emelianenko vs Andrei Arlovski (heavyweight) - Fedor, obviously, but Arlovski is getting better all the time and is probably now in the top four in the world (along with Crocop and Mark Hunt (who beat Crocop on NYE).

I don't know why I got onto that subject. Still, at least it wasn't pitiful self-misery.

I finally found a Dilbert calendar this evening. Not worth the anxiety attack I had while out but it was a small ambition realised. I don't remember outside being quite as scary as it is nowadays. But then I don't remember inside being this scary either.

 

2nd January 2006

I had another psychic moment while out shopping today. A brief glimpse into the near future which might prove (a) I have the ability to unconsciously lift the veil between now and (pause for a few minutes) now or (b) I have started thinking as cynically as the people responsible for the thing.

And the worst part about it is that it only concerns a calendar. I went all round town trying to find a Dilbert wall calendar. I had done the same last week for a desktop one and eventually found one at the absolute bottom of a huge and disorganised pile in Borders. Naturally I didn't delve around looking for it - I simply looked with a Holmsian eye and saw what looked like a familiar shade of lilac. There was just enough of Asok's ear showing for it to be worth moving the thirty or forty boxes stacked on top of it. Well, history wasn't about to strike twice. I have space for three calendars. That is to say there are three gaps which must be filled or there will be a patch of bare wall and lots of drawing pin holes visible. I already had Doctor Who and Are You Being Served? but needed one more. I couldn't find Family Guy, Little Britain concentrated too much on later, crappier characters and I was wandering between stores when I thought I'd have to settle for my back-up plan. The twelve-month collection of mostly ugly men that is the 2006 Manchester United calendar. The Roy Keane question came up - the problem with calendars featuring real people is that something might happen during the year to make their appearance unfortunate. That's why I wouldn't even look at this year's WWE calendar in case Eddie was in there. It was then that I thought "I'll get it if Roy Keane is January" for whatever reason. And when I looked a few minutes later he was indeed January.

I hadn't looked at it before - why would I? - it's fairly obvious what it is going to be like. 2005's but with a bit less optimism. That pretty much sums it up. So either I correctly predicted a 1-in-12 bet or it was a more mundane piece of logic that unravelled so fast I didn't even feel it.

Crap story, no payoff.

Unlike Jonathan Creek which has hardly left my DVD player since Christmas. I'm well into the fourth and final series (high quality so obviously going to be left in limbo because everyone is too successful now) and it has been almost entirely fantastic. Just being able to watch lots and lots and lots and lots of a particular series is something I used to be able to do but which, of late, just hasn't happened.

Tomorrow of course is back to Reality. The first steps along a featureless, hopeless, empty desert with nothing to look forward to apart from having ones bones pecked dry by vultures.

Not that any vultures would come near me at the moment - not with a cough which resembles the moment the alternative Professor Stahlman penetrated the Earth's crust, and occasionally the lava flow with followed it. Last week I had something strange in my neck/throat/mouth which saw pain move erratically along a line from just above the collar bone to right within a particular tooth. Very odd. I've obviously got something completely fascinating. I'll probably end up in a text book after I'm gone.

 

1st January 2006

Click here for what will go down as one of the more bizarre sporting moments of the year. It's about half way through so stick with it through all the Japanese commentator waffle.

 

Mock up cover - original not available