Journal – November 2006

This is one of my longest journal updates for a while. This month has been particularly busy, because I’ve had a holiday in Bournemouth with some friends, my Dad’s had an eye operation, I ordered a new TV, and we had a complicated job to do at work. Plus there are mentions of DVDs, news stories and other bits and pieces as usual. So I hope you enjoy!

Friday November 3, 2006

November’s here, and the weather’s turned a bit nippy since it started, but with lovely blue skies and sunshine. Work’s been pretty quiet, but a colleague has just had a baby and now has 2 weeks off, which means he’ll be back the week after next. Which could mean my Bournemouth trip still goes ahead – but neither my colleague nor I will be in work on Thursday and Friday next week if that happens. So it’s not 100% certain, but possible.

At home, it’s been our builder’s last week, and he’s done a great job with the 2 rooms downstairs. The lighting in both rooms is great now (nice and bright, with a couple of nice picture lights), each room has a nice fire (which you can have on as a fire, or just have the light on in it), and the new floor is much better than the carpet and floorboards we had. He’s still got things to finish, and he’s got to put shelves up at some point, but the main stuff is done.

Now that my corner’s done, I’m looking into getting a new telly and surround sound system, and some places online do packages of both. The TV will be a 32″ LCD Freeview HD-Ready one, so I’ll be up-to-date then. Once I get all that, I’ll be able to watch lots of stuff in 5.1 Surround Sound, including Doctor Who, which should be very interesting. The Series 2 DVD is out later this month, so I’ve been rewatching the brilliant first series. This week Doctor Who won all 3 awards they were nominated for at the National Television Awards (Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Drama). Very well deserved!

Not much else to report really. The news has been a fair amount of doom and gloom, but in happier news pumpkins from Halloween are proving useful at Paignton Zoo for animals to play with or eat. We did get a couple of trick-or-treaters at home, but we just have all the lights turned off and pretend we’re out. We’ve got nothing to give them.

I expect we’ll get lots of fireworks this weekend of course. And, all being well, this time next week I’ll be in Bournemouth. My mate’s now started his split year, so he’s down to 3 modules instead of 6, which should be much easier for him to manage.

Thursday November 9, 2006

I’m happy to say I was able to travel to Bournemouth after all, and I’m writing these entries after I’ve got back. The journey there was fine on the train. And the Travelodge is good too, even if mobile phones seem to deactivate the entry card sometimes. The room was nice and clean, with a double bed all to myself. It had a TV too, including films you could buy for £6 a day, but I didn’t do that. I didn’t have any meals there either. It’s easy to get to the town though – a straight walk down the street in less than half an hour, although you do have to cross by a couple of roundabouts, which don’t have lights for pedestrians, which isn’t very helpful.

After I arrived, I joined my mate SM at an Exec Meeting – basically a student committee. Some of it went over my head, of course, but it was interesting to see it. Now that he’s the elected disability officer, he’s also organising a meeting this week, and is getting lots of interest via his special email account – he also has an ordinary student email, plus his personal Hotmail one, so he’s got 3 accounts to check! A bit like me (BT, Bush Internet and Hotmail), but the Bush one doesn’t get used much now, so doesn’t really count.

So I’ve been helping him check his emails and reply to them over the weekend. Not easy with his laptop, as his touchpad is very sensitive to clicks, as can be the keyboard it seems, so a few blank or incomplete emails were sent in the process!

SM also has a bit of trouble with the keyboard sensitivity, which was almost to his cost this weekend. He has a couple of French contacts on MSN Messenger, and attempted to start a conversation by saying “Salut” (for “Hi”). But he missed off the A! And given that his MSN status was “Getting Excited Now”, she would have seen the message “Getting Excited Now says: Slut”! That’s given us a good laugh, and I must remember to wind him up about that in future! He did correct it very quickly, mind you, and she didn’t mention it when she chatted to him later. So she either didn’t notice, or did and realised the mistake, or saw it and didn’t understand it, luckily.

I also saw the photos from his holiday with his friend T in Spain earlier this year, and they seemed to have a good time.

Anyway, after his meeting we went to Dylan’s Bar at the uni, and had a couple of drinks and a game of pool – not easy without any chalk, and the cue tips weren’t great. But a few interesting flukes did result from it. There was very loud live music in the upstairs part of the bar, so it wasn’t too hard a decision to play pool in the downstairs bit (called D2).

Friday November 10, 2006

My mate’s cousin SP arrived after an hour’s flight delay on Friday, and we did a quick shop at Asda before he landed. By coincidence, he met someone he knew on the plane, who gave us a lift back to SM’s flat with the shopping. We had a fairly lazy afternoon, and had a Domino’s Meltdown pizza for tea (it’s a fairly hot pizza, but with 3 levels of heat, so we played it safe with level 1). And we played some poker too.

We went up to Dylan’s Bar again later, which was a bit quieter without the live music, and met one of SM’s friends who also knew SP as well. He showed us a glasses game that has nothing to do with glasses – he asks you how many glasses there are, but you actually have to count the words he says when asking you instead. Not easy to get at first. SM’s friend T arrived in time to join us for that game.

We also had a couple of games of pool between the 4 of us. Me and T played against SM and SP for one game, and my side won (admittedly because they potted the black early by accident, but it’s still a win!). It was quite interesting chatting to SP about the band he’s in too. It sounds like they do some good covers (Guns ‘N’ Roses, Eric Clapton, etc), and he’s got good taste in music. One of his favourite guitarists is Joe Satriani, and I must try and listen to more stuff by him (I only know Surfing With The Alien). He also sells music via his own shop, on eBay, and on the Amazon Marketplace (where you can see if people have lower prices than you, and can adjust yours accordingly – a very good idea). T and SP agreed to share the floor in SM’s room – which was made more comfortable thanks to a blow-up lilo SP brought with him.

Saturday November 11, 2006

Our group was completed when P arrived today. It was a little bit last minute, as he asked me to book somewhere for him on Tuesday. I found the Wenrose Guest House near the Travelodge (as the latter was full), and booked him in there for £31 (just for one night, as he had to go back on Sunday for college on Monday). It was easy for me to find in order to meet him anyway, and he said it was good there. He got on well with the lady who ran it – she gave him a key for when he got in late that night, as she usually locks up at 11pm. He just had to lock up again when he got in. Not much news to report from P really, other than the fact he’s doing a business admin course at the moment, which will involve a work placement at a local disabled forum. He’s doing fine anyway, and we have said I’ll have to visit him in Portsmouth sometime.

After we met in the afternoon we had lunch at a pub by the pier. I had steak and ale pie, which was very nice. We then had a game of crazy golf, which was good fun, and had pizza for tea that we had bought at Asda. After going back to our places to get changed (not entirely easy for P as the foreign taxi driver got a bit confused, thinking the name of the guest house was the name of the road), we all met up in town that evening to go to a pub and then a nightclub, which was a good night. The 70s floor in the Elements nightclub had some good music for a while, but then got rather too cheesy, and the DJ played Brown Eyed Girl twice within half an hour for some reason. So we went back to the other floor with all the more repetitive dance stuff.

By about 2am we were starting to have had enough. SM had wanted to stay a bit longer, as he had been waiting to go clubbing for months, but the rest of us felt ready to leave. It took a little while though, as we had to wait for a while at the cloakroom for our jackets – they had lost someone’s coat, and all 3 people there were looking for it, when one could have stayed to deal with everyone else. After that we all went our separate ways for the night.

Sunday November 12, 2006

T and P had to leave today, so we made sure they went first. That morning me and P had a long walk by the beach while catching up with what we were each watching and listening to these days. That’s because he had to check out of his guest house by 10am, so he would have been a bit stuck for things to do otherwise. If it hadn’t been for that, we’d have had more of a lie-in, having not got to bed until about 3am the previous night. T and P both had trouble on the trains as well. The doors wouldn’t open at the station where P had to change trains (Southampton Central), so he had to get off at Southampton Airport and get another train to go back 1 stop, and I gather T had a bit of a delay on her trip too.

In the afternoon SM, SP and I decided to have another game of Crazy Golf, which was a bit quicker with only the 3 of us. We also went down to the arcades, and I actually beat SM at air hockey, 3 games to nil! They were close games though. That evening we decided to try a meal from the Chinese takeaway down the road from SM’s flat, and it was delicious. We then had another game of poker (I’m still getting used to all the terms like flop, blinds, etc, but SP knows all of that because he plays poker online now), before settling down to watch Die Hard With A Vengeance, with 2 tubs of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream between us (Apple Pie & Dublin Mudslide, which were ok, but not as nice as other flavours I’ve had).

Monday November 13, 2006

SP left today, and SM had a lecture in the morning, so I met him at lunchtime. We went back to the same pub we had eaten in on Saturday. I had something called Hickory Chicken this time, which involves chicken, bacon and cheese, and was rather nice. It was SM’s birthday today, so I paid for that. We had another game of air hockey that afternoon, which I again thrashed him at. I don’t quite know why I’m doing so well at that all of a sudden! He had a lecture at 4pm for an hour, so I stayed in his room watching Countdown and Deal Or No Deal. A friend of his, M, met us at 5pm from a drink, and we had Neighbours on. She’s studying Art & Design at Bournemouth and seems like a nice girl.

That evening we went up to Dylan’s with SM’s 2 flatmates, who are both cool. One works for the BBC, in radio mainly – behind-the-scenes stuff, but he does do some presenting too I think, for local radio in Southampton. He’s also done work for BBC Radio Five Live, but didn’t enjoy that as much, as it’s not so much of a ‘family’ feel as working for a smaller local station. Me and SM had burgers in there for our tea, as we hadn’t eaten since lunchtime – they ran out of burger buns and had to use bread, but they were still nice.

Tuesday November 14, 2006

SM and I met up to have a KFC today before I got the coach home. We’ve also been to McDonald’s and Burger King over the last few days, as well as the 2 pizzas from Dominos and Asda, so we’ve done most of the fast food stuff. We also made a couple of trips to the Shakeaway milkshake place over the weekend, as we couldn’t miss them out.

I also popped into HMV before meeting SM to stock up on DVDs:

So that’s pretty much my time in Bournemouth, I had a great time. And now it’s back to work for 3 days. Nothing much happened there in the 3 days I was away, given that my colleague was also away. And there isn’t much to report from home either to be honest, other than the fact that we still haven’t got round to fixing our TV reception yet.

I naturally wasn’t paying lots of attention to the news during my time away, but the biggest story last week was the verdict of Saddam Hussein’s trial. He was sentenced to execution by hanging, to the delight of Iraqis who had been oppressed by his regime, and the anger of others who support him. Saddam constantly shouted out “God is great” and things like “Down with the invaders” while the verdict was read out. He had dressed up smart and obviously wanted to make himself heard, as he knew it could be his last major public appearance. He has a right to, and will, appeal, but if the verdict is upheld, the hanging will take place 30 days later.

Friday November 24, 2006

It’s been a while since I wrote in here last. There wasn’t much to report in the few days after I got back from Bournemouth, as they evidently managed alright at work in my absence. This week we’ve done a little bit on cheques, but I haven’t had to do much for them. 

I have learnt a valuable lesson over the past 2 weeks as to why PDF is better than Word for printing though. We had a couple of mathematics booklets, advising teachers on how to teach addition and subtraction (book 1), and multiplication and division (book 2). These booklets have covers and introduction pages, but the bulk of them are full-page tables, for each class year. And their main elements are pictures in the right hand columns, illustrating the concepts being explained in the left columns.

This is where it gets complicated, as there were a few issues. Normally we can convert files to PDF for production purposes. But not in this case. It became apparent that different people had worked on the various images (grids, number lines, fancy illustrations, etc), because they’d all been done in different ways. Some were fine – just straight graphics they had done and pasted into Word. But some were done using Word’s own picture-editing tools, and the users were being far too clever and too complicated.

In particular, they were putting text boxes inside the images. When converting to PDF, those text boxes were disappearing, and there were far too many for us to manually correct them. Also, curvy lines over number lines – showing addition for instance – were created not with curves, but with circles. The users had drawn circles, then used another circle to block out most of the first one, leaving the curvy line on top.

So this forced us to use Word for printing. And that was an issue because the booklets were to be printed on A3 sheets (double-sided), which are then folded to make an A4 booklet. But all the pages are separate in the file, so they need to be imposed, as we printers say, so that they’re laid out on A3 sheets as we want them. What’s more, the pages weren’t A4 size either (210 x 297mm) – they were the American Letter size that Word often defaults to (216 x 279mm).

If the pages had been A4 and if we could have converted them to PDF, we could have imposed them on A3 sheets using software we have called DynaStrip. But Word cannot impose files in that way, so we had to try to get one of our colour copiers to impose them as it did the job. It’s possible, but fiddly. And this is where another problem came in – tables. Tables in Word are notoriously annoying if you make them too complicated. They may look ok on screen but, as I found out, different printers will then treat them in different ways. Headings and text can jump pages, and edges of tables can be missing or messed up. And if one table goes out of line, all the others following it also get confused.

What it came down to was a lot of trial and error with both printers, fiddling with paper sizes and other things. The new colour copier can saddle-stitch, meaning it folds the pages and staples them for you. So we found out how to make it do that, and thought we were on a winner. But no, Word strikes again!

Because we wanted 35 copies, we told Word to send that many. Now, any normal program will send one copy and tell the printer to reproduce it 35 times. But Word’s technology is such that it sends 35 separate copies as one file, and this makes the copier virtually grind to a halt.

The long and short of it is that we couldn’t print them on A3 as they originally wanted. We printed them on double-sided A4 pages and got them spiral-bound instead. They had to live with that, seeing as they wanted them urgently in the first place. That’s the other lesson I’ve had – urgent jobs are often the most difficult!

On a happier note, we’ve now rebooked our Christmas dinner at work – it’s now at The Vanilla Pod instead of Café Mambo, on Friday 22nd December. I’ve ordered steak, as I’ll be having turkey 3 days later anyway.

But away from that, I’ve actually had today off from work. This is because I escorted Dad to the hospital this morning. He was due to have an operation to replace the lens in his eye, as removing the old lens would remove the cataract he has too. So I got up after 5:30am, and we were picked up by hospital transport around 7am. We got there for 7:30am, and found that there were other patients as well, who of course all start talking to each other about the various problems with their eyes. It turned out that they were doing about 6 cataract operations one after the other, as they don’t usually take long. They’re done under local anaesthetic, and the patient has to wear a patch over their eye for most of the day afterwards, in case anything gets in their eye without them being able to feel it.

Dad was seen by his doctor prior to and during the operation – he was one of the eye doctors at my school so he remembered me too and said hello. Dad was last in, but also one of the quickest out, because they couldn’t do it. He has an unstable lens, so the doctors didn’t want to take the risk. That’s fair enough, if a bit frustrating.

So he’s got to go in again tomorrow (I’ll go with him again), to see another doctor who has more experience with these things. The hope is that he’ll operate on Dad on Monday, so I’ve booked that day off work too. It’s lucky I’ve got enough holidays left. He’s still got a patch over his eye though, because they had given him the anaesthetic before looking in his eye. But he’s getting around at home well, which isn’t surprising given that he knows where everything is here. I took a puzzle book to keep me going today while we were waiting, and it looks as if I’ll need it tomorrow and Monday too. So that’s going to be handy, and I’ve been doing well on them too.

At home, we’ve got our TV reception fixed, after we called in the guy who fixed up our new aerial earlier this year. All that our builder had done was put the aerial into the wrong socket on the booster box – UHF (for radio) instead of VHF (for TV). So we’re fine now. And that’s meant I’ve ordered my new TV, which my parents are paying towards for Christmas. I’m getting a Sony KDL-32V2000 – a 32″ HD-ready Digital LCD TV – from Comet. It looks great online, and has been getting nothing but rave reviews, because of its many options for adjusting the picture and its overall good performance. I’ve learnt my lesson on checking reviews after the fun and games I had with my hard drive recorder! That’s been sitting in the back bedroom for a couple of months now, so I hope no dust has got in it to muck it up again!

I’m also getting a home cinema system with it – consisting of a DVD player and a 5.1 surround sound speaker system, again from Sony. So my PS2 won’t be needed as a separate DVD player, although I’ll probably keep it as a backup. I haven’t played games on it for ages, as I found that concentrating hard on games made my eyes quite tired. Surfing the web doesn’t have that effect, as I’m not straining my eyes on it so much. I might still need my Philips digibox for my hard drive recorder though, because the recorder isn’t digital on its own, and I’m not sure if it’ll record digital from the TV yet. But even if it does, using the separate box will let me watch a separate channel on the TV if I want to. The TV will also still receive analogue transmissions.

All of that’s coming on Sunday, the only free day around Dad’s hospital stuff. I don’t know if I’ll be able to use the surround sound speakers properly to start with, as I’ll probably need to get the rear ones put up on the bookshelves behind me, and that might be something our builder has to do whenever he comes to decorate and do the other bits he needs to finish.

I have been watching some of my new DVDs. I enjoyed seeing the full Dara O’Briain stand-up show. 24: Season 5 is brilliant, like the previous seasons. And I’ve also received Doctor Who: Series 2, having pre-ordered it many months ago. I haven’t watched it yet (that’ll be after I’ve finished 24, but before the Christmas episode comes on), but it already deserves every merit. And not just because it has fancy 3D moving-image packaging.

In a landmark venture between the BBC, 2Entertain (their DVD publishing people) and the RNIB, the Doctor Who: Series 2 DVD has audio navigation! It’s the first time it’s been properly done on a mainstream DVD – possibly even any commercial DVD. Series 1 had audio description already (and very good it sounded too) but, as with all discs that have this feature, blind people can’t see to find it on the menus, and not all players have an Audio button the remote to make it work.

On these new DVDs, it tells you what it is when you insert it e.g. “Doctor Who Series 2, Disc 1”. The Series 1 DVDs did that too, but for this series, after the copyright and logo screens, a voice tells you to press Enter if you want audio navigation. If you leave it alone, you get a normal all-singing, all-dancing menu (identically laid out to the first DVD). But if you press Enter, you get told that you can use the arrow keys to navigate, and the talking menu loads. Every menu screen tells you how many options there are, and then every option you highlight is spoken.

It’s fantastic to see us visually impaired people finally catered for with a DVD like this. If the BBC can lead the way with things like this, that’s great. I can’t see it becoming widespread to be honest, much as I’d like it to be, because it’s really useful, but it’s still great to see, and deserves a special mention.

I’ve also bought a bit more music online. I decided to look through iTunes’ selection of one-hit wonders, which proved to be quite interesting. I’ve also made my own Christmas CD out of the Chrishtmas songs I own, so I don’t have a compilation where I have to keep skipping songs I don’t like so much.

Other than that, Children In Need raised £18 million, a record for the night. That included over £2 million from Radio 2, double their previous record, thanks to their auction and music marathon and other things. But well done to them anyway. The telethon itself  wasn’t very good, QI on BBC2 was the best part of the night. McFly opening the main show with I Wanna Hold Your Hand was never a good omen, but it is for charity, so I can let them off doing a dodgy cover I suppose.

As for the news, the big story this week has been the apparent poisoning and, after about a week, the death of a former Russian spy. Apparently he said something against President Putin, which may be why he was killed. He was poisoned at a dinner, it is believed, but the Russian he met denies poisoning him. Reports have also been very contradictory as to what may have caused his death, with some suggesting radiation being found in his system, so it’s not entirely clear what happened.

And the main sporting event at the moment is The Ashes, being played in Australia this year. We beat the Aussies last year, but that doesn’t look at all likely this time! The games are played when it’s night time here in the UK, so when they closed this morning, Australia were 602-9 declared. And England were 53 for 3, which is rather pathetic!

And that’s pretty much all I can think of. I didn’t think I’d end up writing this much! It’s amazing what springs to mind when you sit down and start typing. I’ve got my TV coming on Sunday, which is something to look forward to. And hopefully Dad will have his operation on Monday, it would be nice to get that out of the way.

Saturday November 25, 2006

I went with Dad to the hospital this morning for 10am, which turned out to be the time for emergency appointments for the eye clinic. In fact, a number of people had all been booked in for 10am, which got a bit confusing.

We found the right place pretty easily, and got there a bit earlier than 10, so Dad got in pretty quick. The first guy who saw Dad told him that they were expecting him at 8am, but he would call the doctor who Dad was due to see in the first place. That doctor came up about quarter of an hour later and saw Dad. He said it was lucky that Dad didn’t come in at 8am, because the operation he was already going to do on Monday was cancelled at 9am. So they are going to go ahead.

Yesterday’s operation was cancelled because Dad’s lens was unstable. There are small strings holding the lens in place in the eye but, because of Dad’s other eye problems, these were very small and delicate. Touching them from the front would most probably have caused the lens to fall into the eye and blind him.

So instead, they’re going to come in from the back to remove the lens (and thus the cataract too), which will be done by laser. They’ll remove the vitreous jelly from his eye and clean it up at the same time. Because they’re coming in from the back, it’ll have to be under general anaesthetic. This will also probably mean that they’ll have to strap Dad down in his hospital bed, as he has got violent when waking from general anaesthetic in the past. He doesn’t remember it, but the nurses have told him in the past. It’s just his survival instinct kicking in, and he doesn’t have any control over it.

The other slight complication is that they can’t replace Dad’s lens afterwards, unlike the normal cataract operations. So he won’t have one at all in that eye. But he will be able to see better, providing he wears dark glasses to filter out the extra light that will be entering his eye. Otherwise it would be too bright to see anything. That’s a normal effect after cataracts anyway – noticing brighter light – but without a lens the effect is more pronounced.

The success rate is 80% (they would never say 100% for any operation anyway), and if he didn’t have it he would be blind within 2 years (Dad’s left eye has been virtually dead for many years now, they can’t do anything with that one).

So it’s definitely worth doing. He’ll have to stay in overnight. So I probably won’t have to take him in Monday after all, if I’m going to have to come straight back anyway. He can get a taxi in and get the driver to help him to reception, and they’ll help him after that. So I’ll probably go to work on Monday after all. But I might need to have Tuesday off to bring him back home. We’ll have to wait and see.

I’m just glad they can do it – I had a horrible feeling they might not want to take the risk. But the doctor obviously knows what he’s doing (he was trained at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London for a start), and Dad’s said a few times already that he’s a very nice man, answering all his questions. So it’s all looking good.

Tuesday November 28, 2006

Dad’s back home now – I collected him from the hospital this afternoon, so I’ve only been in work this morning. His 2½ hour operation yesterday went well. They took the lens out of his eye and cleaned it all up, including clearing out the vitreous jelly that people have in their eyes (it’s a bit like the appendix, though, in that it doesn’t do much). 

Dad can already see better than he could before, which has made him very happy. But things are still a bit blurry at the moment and his eye will be sore for a while. And everything’s got a bit of a mauve tint for the time being. He’ll have to put lots of eye drops in for a few weeks while the eye settles down. The healing process will take a long time, but at least there’s already some good results.

He’s got to go back for a quick check-up on his eye pressure tomorrow, which has gone up a bit as a result, so I’ll leave work early to help him around again. Later on, they may even be able to do more corrective surgery, but they need to wait for the eye to get better first before they consider anything like that. It’s amazing what they can do these days.

Dad hasn’t got any complaints about his stay there. He says that everyone was extremely nice and helpful, and the food was very good. The National Health Service gets a lot of stick in the media sometimes, and they have a lot of government targets and regulations to meet. But despite all that, they are doing a fantastic job, saving and improving people’s lives every day. People just don’t appreciate it until they, or someone they know, needs their services.

On a musical note, it’s sad to hear that Alan “Fluff” Freeman has died aged 79. He was a very popular radio DJ for many years, hosting Pick Of The Pops among other things. I’m not old enough to have heard his shows, but I know he had a very good taste in music, and a good personality overall that drew the listeners in. If there is a heaven, he’ll certainly get them all rocking up there!

So that’s it. At least Dad’s operation is over with, which is what we all wanted.

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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