Journal – April 2006

It’s time for another set of entries from my journal. We’ve now got broadband at home for the first time, I’ve got some equipment to help me do my job from Access To Work, and I’ve attended another printing trade show with my work colleagues. There have also been more DVD and music purchases, the return of Doctor Who for its second series, and various other bits and pieces as usual. So I hope you enjoy!

Saturday April 1, 2006

It’s been a fairly busy week at work, with work on things like e-billing (setting up the facility to email people their council tax bills and other items), and getting back into jobs that were put on hold during the financial year end work. But there was also a strike over pensions on Tuesday, although I wasn’t involved, and nor were most other people in my department. Dad did stay at home, but only because there was nobody else in the office where he works. If there’s another strike, however, he’ll go in regardless, because he doesn’t want to keep losing a day’s pay each time.

Also at work this week, a number of us have got job evaluation questionnaires to fill out. It’s something all councils have to do, just to check everyone’s getting what they should be. Not everyone is checked, but a substantial number are being looked at in order to make the best comparisons. Most people’s salaries hopefully won’t change, and even if they go down, they might not notice as they still get the incremental costs of living every year. Mind you, it still doesn’t help with the rises in utility bills that are happening everywhere (water, gas and electricity).

Anyway, the questionnaires themselves are fairly hard. There are multiple choice questions about our duties, working environment, problem solving, creativity, etc, basically asking you what you have to do as part of your job. It’s fairly easy to tick a box on the scale each time, but then you have to write evidence of it, so they can understand what we do, though it’s not easy to explain things in writing sometimes!

The questionnaires first go to our department manager, who checks it over and can correct what we’ve said if we’ve got something a bit wrong. It then goes to a panel who discuss each case individually – there are a number of panels, and about 20 people are assessed each day. We can fill those surveys out in work time, so I’m not wasting my weekend on it, which is just as well…

…because we’ve got BT Broadband! I installed it on Wednesday night and it works great. It means a few more wires for the worktop, but that doesn’t matter. It was very easy to set up, as the CD they supplied talked you through it with an audio/visual Flash animation. The router connects your computer to the phone line, but to prevent the broadband signal interfering with your telephone calls you also need a microfilter, which splits the line for you.

The speed is very fast, as you would expect. For example, I’ve downloaded Skype, which allows you to make free calls over the web. my best mate’s got it, so it’ll be much cheaper for us to talk to each other. The download for it is 9.5Mb. Over my old dial-up connection, that would have taken about an hour. On broadband, it took about 45 seconds!

So my computer’s all up to date, now that I’ve downloaded updates and activated Microsoft Office. It’s also opened up the web much more – I can watch videos and listen to music much more easily. I’ve set up my own radio station on the BT Yahoo! Launchcast service, so it will play only the artists I like, and it will also suggest other artists based on my preferences. If other users have similar tastes, then it will play tracks by artists they like too. If I don’t like it, I can tell it never to play them again.

This computer doesn’t just download music fast, it rips music off CDs at a hell of a pace too! Now I’m online, I can copy my music onto my hard drive, and it downloads the information for me. It even downloads the covers! So if I’m in Media Player or, even better, the Media Center, it’ll show the CD covers, so you can easily see what the CD is at a glance. It doesn’t work for all CDs, of course, but quite a lot of them. So hopefully it won’t take me long to do them all.

It’s also very useful for videos e.g. news, music videos, Flash animation, etc. I’ve already watched the next episode of Two Pints Of Lager & A Packet Of Crisps online, as the BBC put them on the website a week early. The quality is very good, and it’s a useful service.

So I’m glad we’ve finally got around to it all. There’s nothing else to report from home really, although I’ll hopefully be getting blinds in this room to block out the sun soon. We’ve found someone to do that in the online version of the Yellow Pages. But that’s about it.

Friday April 6, 2006

It’s been another busy week at work. We’ve been setting up a new email service which allows us to use HTML, so we can now format our messages better, emphasising bits and making it look neater, rather than just the plain text we had before. We can also fax now – we send an email, putting the fax number in a special email address provided by an outside company, and their system converts and sends it automatically.

And then there was IPEX (the International Printing Exhibition), a print, publishing and media technology show hosted at the massive Birmingham NEC. It’s an event that happens once every 4 years, attracting companies and visitors from all around the world. And 4 of us including myself went up there on Thursday, driven up by a couple of people my manager knows who were also attending.  We were going to get a coach for us lot from the council, as 12 people were originally going to go, but as there was only 4 of us in the end it wasn’t necessary.

The show is huge. It uses 11 halls at the NEC, covering an area of 127,000 square metres! There’s a shuttle bus from the car park to the building, although we walked as it’s not that far. Inside, the corridors between some halls are so long that there are flat escalators (travelators) you can stand on, or you can walk along them to go a little bit quicker.

And the exhibition itself is amazing. The technology available today is so clever. Hardware and software were both shown off. Equipment included presses, collators and folders, to name just a few. My section and department managers found quite a few things they were interested in – the key is whether they can afford them, and whether it’s commercially viable. It’s better to buy into an existing market than create one. Some of the press makers are adapting slightly now – because of digital print, there is much more that can be printed on paper without using a big press. So they’re adapting presses to print on other materials e.g. plastic and film.

It took about 3 hours to get there and 3 hours back. I was picked up by my manager from the Town Hall car park in Torquay at 6:30am! And we got back home at 7pm, so not too late. It was a good experience to see everything, although if you’re going there on business, you really need to know what you’re looking for, and then try to find it!

Not much to report at home, other than a guy calling round to measure our windows for blinds. I didn’t see him, but Mum and Dad reckon he’s perfectly nice. He’s from a blinds company not far from us, and we should get them all fitted in 2-3 weeks hopefully, which means I’ll get blinds in my study at last. It’s annoying when the sun shines in sometimes. My blinds will be blackout blinds to block out all the light – best for seeing computer screens – but they will be cream in colour, not black themselves.

There’s been a fair amount of stuff in the news this week. Britain’s first case of bird flu (the H5N1 strain) has been found in Scotland, with other birds being tested. There isn’t a huge risk to humans – it’s only those who are in close contact with infected birds. Eating properly cooked meat or eggs is fine. But the media like to create a bit of panic.

In happier news, scientists have transplanted bladders into a number of patients, without the body rejecting them after a period of time. Great news in itself, but even better when you hear the organs were grown from the patient’s own cells. The patients had cells taken from their diseased bladder, and they were grown around a mould. The cells just kept multiplying and formed the organ again. Ok, it’s probably more complicated than that, but it’s pretty clever stuff. They’re now trying to create other organs in the same way. It could be a significant medical breakthrough, so let’s hope the news continues to be good.

The big pensions ‘A-Day’ occurred this week, which nobody seemed to know about until the day before when it was mentioned on the news. Basically, there are no more limits on how much you can put into pensions each month. The limit is now about £1.5 million over your lifetime, and you can put as much as you want in at any point, and it’s all tax-free. If you go over the limit, though, you’re heavily taxed (55%) when you take it out. There are other rules, but that’s the main one people know about.

In the music world, this week’s number 1 single is the first to get to #1 on download sales alone. Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy is rubbish to me, but lots of people seem to like it. When downloads were first included, they would only count if the CD was released at the same time. Now, the CD has to go on sale the following week. So, the song got to the top spot without selling any CDs – they’ve now gone on sale since Monday.

In a sadder piece of music news, Gene Pitney was found dead in his hotel room. He was 65. He had been on tour, and was in no apparent ill-health. His recent shows, including those he did at the start of the week, had been getting rave reviews and standing ovations. His death isn’t suspicious though.

And that’s about it. It’s Good Friday next week, so I’ll only have a 4-day week at work. Although that might turn into 3 if I have Thursday off – I’ve got 2 days holiday to use up by the end of the month, and I’ve just got to work round my section manager’s times, as he’s off a few days as well. And it’s the Grand National tomorrow, so we’ll see if we can pick some winners – not for money, just for a laugh.

Thursday April 13, 2006

This has been a nice short 3-day week – I’ve used my last 2 holiday days on the Thursday and Tuesday around this Easter Weekend (as we already get Good Friday and Easter Monday off anyway). So I get a 6-day weekend, and a couple of 3-day working weeks each side!

Work’s much the same as ever. But I have got my new computer stuff, funded by Access To Work. There’s a keyboard with large print characters, a widescreen 20-inch monitor (like I have here at home), and Dolphin‘s LunarPlus magnification software. It’s all very helpful, and the software is great. It not only magnifies, but you can change the colours in any combination you like (an inverse, or negative, display is fine for me). You can customise it for specific programs, and even situations within programs, such as preview screens or dialog boxes for instance. So when the command prompt is opened, I’ve set it to revert to normal colours, as it’s white on black anyway. And when print previews are shown, it’ll also go back to normal colours, so I can see the previews as they’re meant to be seen.

There were 2 sets of stickers with the software as well for putting on keyboards, in order to give you large characters. As my new keyboard at work has large characters anyway, that didn’t need them, so I used one set on the Mac next to it, as I use that sometimes too. And I’ve taken the other set home to use on this keyboard that I’m typing this on. It’s hard to get them dead straight on the keys, but I’ve done a good job of it, and it is now much easier to see specific keys. I don’t look at it much, as I’m a quick touch-typist, but it’s still handy when trying to find keys I don’t use often.

The news this week actually starts with something cheerful. A 12-year-old girl has just had a successful operation on her heart to get it working again. When she was 2, her heart had grown to twice its normal size, and wasn’t functioning correctly. So doctors transplanted a second ‘piggy-back’ donor heart into her, and she had been on drugs since then to stop it being rejected. Fast forward 10 years, however, and her body was starting to reject the donor heart. The only option the doctors had was to remove it and get the old one going again. And it worked – her old heart is now recovered and strong enough to work properly. After a 4-hour operation (half as long as expected) and a few days recovery, she’s now starting to get back to normal life. So that’s very good news.

Selfridges have launched a sandwich costing £85! The main, and most expensive, ingredient is a special type of meat (Wagyu Beef) that is flown in from Chile to Heathrow at 5:30am every morning, so it’s as fresh as possible. There’s black truffle mayonnaise and all sorts of other stuff, it’s a big sarnie and a healthy one. And they’ve had some interest from people. Can’t say I’d want it though!

Elsewhere, parts of Kent had heavy snowfall early in the week, Marks & Spencer have seen a sales revival, and 3 people were taken to hospital after 14 storeys of scaffolding collapsed at a building site in Milton Keynes.

So I can now have a relaxing weekend. I’m hoping to finish copying all of my music CDs on to my computer this weekend. But even more exciting – Doctor Who’s back! Woohoo! The Christmas special was brilliant, and the new series is looking to be even better. And I’ll be able to see the Confidential documentaries on BBC3 this time around. So that’ll keep me happy.

And that’s about it. Time to get full up with turkey and Easter Eggs once again!

Friday April 21, 2006

That’s another 3-day week over with, and there’s nothing much to report at work.  Other people are using up their days from last year too, like I’ve just done. It was nice to have a relaxing Easter with those extra days off. It’ll be the May Bank Holiday soon too, so that’ll be another 3-day weekend.

Home’s pretty quiet too, but I have won another two £50 cheques on the Premium Bonds! Mum got the same too. And I’ve finally finished ripping all my music to this PC. But I will back up all the songs soon, so that’s something else to do.

I’ve also finished watching the Only Fools & Horses box set – the interviews on the documentary disc are interesting. It’s rare to see Nicholas Lyndhurst being interviewed, so a 25-minute extra of him talking about the show is a great bonus. I wish he’d do one for Goodnight Sweetheart, they’ve been interviewing other people on the DVDs. Still, there’s 3 series of that left to come out, all through this year, so there’s still time. He is quite a reclusive person, but very interesting to listen to.

I’ve also placed a new Amazon order, which I haven’t needed to do for a little while:

TV itself is fairly good for a change. Top of the list has to be Doctor Who. I’m so glad that’s back for another 13 weeks. Great start last week, and this weekend they’ve got a werewolf and Queen Victoria to contend with. It looks like David Tennant and Billie Piper are both going to be in Series 3 as well, which is great. And I can watch the Confidential documentaries on BBC3 this time, which is even better. Other than that, there’s the return of Have I Got News For You (it’s 31st series!) and The Smith & Jones Sketchbook, a show following the same idea as The Two Ronnies did before.

ITV, meanwhile, have launched ITV Play, another one of those silly quiz channels. We’ve already got Quiz Call (run by a subsidiary of Channel 4), and other channels do quizzes during the night (e.g. FTN‘s Quiz Night Live). But they’re all the same – ridiculously easy questions, encouraging people to ring in and spend 60p or more per call on the off-chance that they’ll get through to the studio and win the money.

Of course the shows are dragged out to maximise revenue for the broadcaster, and that’s the only reason they do it at the end of the day. The presenters have to try and be excited about sitting around doing nothing – it must be so boring for them. I suppose the puzzle factor makes some people enjoy watching, but there usually isn’t any hard work involved. A question might ask something like “name a female singer”, and there’s a list of 6, each being worth different amounts of money. The question itself is easy, but you’ve got to be lucky to get one of the answers exactly.

I say the questions are usually easy – FTN’s Quiz Night Live is notorious for the opposite. I don’t know if they still do, but up until recently they were regularly doing “Add The Numbers”. There’s a sentence displayed on screen, and you have to add up all the numbers. For instance, it might say “Seven plus six minus ten divided by two”. All you have to do is add the numbers. But the answer wouldn’t be 25 (10+6+10+2) or 1.5 (the actual answer to the sum). Oh no, it would be in the thousands. They use roman numerals and all sorts of other stuff in there. So it’s just a guessing game at the end of the day. There were a lot of complaints on web forums like Digital Spy, so I don’t know if they’ve stopped conning people like that. But anyway, I’ll leave it at that, as there’s nothing else to mention at the moment.

Friday April 28, 2006

It’s been a pretty quiet week at work, but I have a new username from IT now. I’m finally being transferred to a Printing-specific user ID, rather than a Financial Services one, and about time too. It’ll be interesting to see if I lose access to anything important as a result.

And now we get a 3-day weekend, as it’s the May Day Bank Holiday on Monday. It’s a good time of year with Easter followed by the 2 Bank Holidays at the start and end of May.

Not much to report at home, although I got the Amazon order I listed in my last entry. I’ve listened to the Skynyrd album and watched the DVD, and they’re both great. As for my computer, I’ve downloaded some Photo Story software from Microsoft, which is free for genuine Windows users. They’re doing a few offers like that. A special piece of software verifies that you’re using a genuine version of Windows and, if you are, you get access to some free downloads and other support on the Microsoft website.

I don’t often talk about football, but it’s great that West Ham have made it through to their first FA Cup final since 1980. They also qualify for Europe next year automatically. They’ll be playing Liverpool, who beat Chelsea in another amazing win over the weekend.

And talking of sport, the BBC are dropping Grandstand over the next couple of years. They’re still going to show just as much sport as before, if not more, but the Grandstand identity is seen as outdated. Sport is no longer confined to Saturday afternoons in front of BBC1, now that multi-channel TV and the internet are so popular.

Weird magician David Blaine is doing another odd stunt. He’s going to live underwater for a week, in a glass tank in New York. He’ll have tubes carrying nutrition and air of course. At the end of it he’ll remove his oxygen line and try to break the world record for holding a breath. I’ve never really understood him.

And while many consider Blaine to be an idiot, there was a much bigger one this week. A number of suspicious packages were found in London, with nails stuck in them. Understandably these were assumed to be nail bombs, so areas were sealed off, parts of London came to a standstill, and the police and bomb squads were called in. But they were harmless. And the woman who put them there? She claims they were part of an art installation! What a load of rubbish. It’s stupidity, not art. Just calling things art doesn’t allow you to get away with stunts like that.

And that’s about all I can think of. Nothing too exciting this week, but at least we get a longer weekend!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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