Friday, June 27, 2008

Public Service Announcement x 2

A few words of wisdom borne of my own experiences.

1. Last year I bought a Dell PC. It came pre-installed with McAfee security software.

After a while I noticed a few websites I use - including a forum I share with friends - were loading woefully slowly. I mentioned this to my friends. It ran fine for them.

In the grand scheme of things this was no big deal, so I grinned and bore it.

Recently I got rid of McAfee, and installed the free version of AVG Anti-Virus. Suddenly the web browser is running like a dream across all sites.

At a guess, I suspect McAfee was doing some sort of real-time (sic) validation of embedded content such as adverts.

My recommendation, ditch it.

2. E started off as a really bad sleeper, but after a few months became capable of sleeping soundly for upwards of twelve hours. Fantastic.

Alas, as the early summer mornings arrived this year, they triggered a dramatic change. Suddenly she was waking as early as 5.30am and announcing herself to us, usually with a cry of 'Beebies'. Not good.

K picked up a tip on one of the mummies forums she frequents. The advice was to buy a Stay In Bed Bunny Clock.

My immediate reaction was this was an overpriced gimmick. But sleep deprivation makes a man desperate, so the purchase was made.

When it arrived, my cynicism grew. It feels like it was put together for 50p in some SE Asian sweatshop.

Within days, my cynicism was dispelled. The idea is devastatingly simple yet effective.

The clock is a very basic LCD unit, attached to an illuminated face, split into two halves, only one of which is illuminated at any given time.

The top half shows a little bunny, backpack on, out and about on a sunny day. The bottom half shows the same bunny tucked up asleep in bed.

The time each half is illuminated can be altered.

The child needs simply to be told it's OK to get up when bunny is up, but if bunny is sleeping then they should stay in bed.

I guess this works better for some kids than others, but with E it was an instant success.

She now bounds into our room at a mercifully civilised hour, and usually proclaims 'Bunny is awake'.

I can't guarantee success, but if you are a sleep deprived parent seeking a panacea, this is definitely worth a gamble!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dutch Deflated

The Dutch are on fire right now, but I can't see them winning the tournament. Teams that come out the blocks so quickly have a tendency to burn out in the knockout stages.

Damn I'm good!

The above quote was me, a few days ago. Tonight Russia eliminated Holland in a game that made a mockery of the odds on offer.

I had a very small bet on the Russians at 9/2 on Betfair, and when they scored, I decided to experiment with my first ever lay off of a bet, which came good when Ruud van Nistelrooy snuck in at the back post with a few minutes to go.

Another tool added to the betting locker. Guaranteed winning is good!

The Russian's were just too good in extra time, and Guus Hiddink's record as an international manager just keeps getting better.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Winding Down

Mega project live. Defects under control. Propped up in front of the TV - glass of red in hand - watching Euro 2008 quarter finals, and skimming hundreds of unread Bloglines entries.

One of the sizeable backlogs belonged to Las Vegas and Poker, and I was genuinely astounded to see WSOP Event 33 had already been won.

Event 33!! I was dimly aware the WSOP was underway, and I've noticed a marked upturn in search hits for live webcasts or streaming, but Event 33. I just can't get my head around it. I've lost a month somewhere.

For the first time in several months I can contemplate an almost free weekend.

Plans so far encompass - repairing the long neglected lawn, ironing(!), and family time.

E is growing up so fast right now, and I do feel terribly guilty about missing a lot of time with her. Some days our only communication has been by phone - which leaves me feeling like a character from some 3rd rate Hollywood cheese fest.

One of her fascinations is aeroplanes. When she sees one flying overhead, I'll ask her where it's going.

She looks at me like I'm daft. 'To the airport daddy.'

I've taken her over to Edinburgh Airport a few times since it's possible to get really close to the runway and the taxiing planes. Close enough for her to wave to the pilots.

There's also lots of open ground for a kickabout when she gets bored with the planes. If there's one thing she has, it's energy in abundance.

Which is partly why this story really struck a chord.

The Royal Highland Show is held on the land beside the airport. This unfortunate little boy was playing in the same area where we are happy to let E run free.

Stories like this always make me feel terrible for the family, but it's a discomforting feeling to have such a direct link to our own activities.

I'd hate for E to become a McDonalds guzzling couch potato, but at the same time she can scare the living daylights out of me with her fearless approach to play. She always want to swing higher, spin faster, or come down the playpark chute head-first, backwards, or both!

While we always try to make sure she is safe, I think I'd rather have an energetic and independent child, pushing her own boundaries, than a cosseted, over protected, cotton wool child.

Like so many things in life, it's all about striking a balance, and finding the right compromises. Which is earier said than done.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Calm Before The Storm

In a slightly surreal place today. After six months of hard grind the mega project I've been working on passed it's final development cut-off today at 2pm.

Green for go. No more IT Iron Man for me.

Which meant a comparatively leisurely afternoon in work, and a generally satisfied feeling inside, coupled with some unease about the impending go-live.

I amused myself thumbing through a brochure on drugs that had been distributed to every desk.

It's supposed to be a guide to parents on how to deal with discussing drugs with their kids. High production values, glossy pictures, details of drug types, nicknames, modes of usage, side effects, etc.

If anything I thought it looked just a bit too glamorous.

Given that at thirty seven I'm the second oldest person on the team, and the average age is under thirty, it was receiving a less than reverential reception.

Many comments along the lines, 'There's a fault with this catalogue. They forgot to include the order hotline number, or website address.'

It should be fortuitous timing that Saturday is supposed to be a lads day out - drinking commencement scheduled for 1pm, with an end date likely to be some time in the wee small hours.

Unfortunately mega project is deployed into the production system at 10am on Sunday morning, and my attendance is required. No all day session for me.

We bed it in on Sunday, roll it out to the users in time for the Monday morning call surge. I'm anticipating a couple of days of frantic activity whilst hoping for a swift return to a more rational lifestyle.

So I'll need to content myself with a few afternoon beers and an early night. Partying can wait for a little while.

Contentment tonight came in the form of Euro 2008. The protagonists Holland and France; the football sublime; the atmosphere rocking.

The Dutch are on fire right now, but I can't see them winning the tournament. Teams that come out the blocks so quickly have a tendency to burn out in the knockout stages.

Another highpoint of the tournament is finally getting some value from my Sony HDTV system. Much as I could merrily strangle John Motson, the picture on the BBC HDTV broadcast is fantastic.

Ultra clear, vibrant colour, no smearing, and there's an appreciable depth to the picture. Just a pity there's so little HD content available right now.

No doubt that will be changing over the rest of this year, and with many more people gaining exposure to HD during Euro 2008, there's likely to be more demand for additional content as the difference in quality becomes obvious to non-geeks.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Oil Crisis Hits Home

I've been feeling a little smug as the credit crisis wreaked havoc on the financial markets.

Unlike our esteemed PM, I not only talk the prudence talk, I walk the prudence walk too. So our finances have been pretty much oblivious to the unfolding crisis.

Mortgage woes. Increasing rates. Declining choices.

No problem. We are on a long term fixed rate mortgage that's already overpaid.

Negative equity worries.

We paid a big deposit on the house.

Job security fears.

I'm freelance, so perpetually at risk. No change there. The mortgage over payments would give us a couple of years repayment holiday if required.

Reduced opportunities for credit.

We don't have any need for loans, and I've got enough credit on my cards to buy a very decent car. Mainly courtesy of Egg who gave me a £15,000 credit limit without offering me the chance to request a limit during the application process. A sign perhaps of the root of a lot of the current problems.

So, from a purely selfish perspective, all good. If anything the credit crisis might be a chance for me to exploit a buyers market.

The oil crisis isn't quite such a non-event for me. We are a two car household so rising prices are bound to have some effect.

Yet the big car is a very efficient diesel, and the little car is primarily used to get me to the train station for the commute to work.

Which means a relatively limited impact on me so far.

That may be about to change!

I'm pretty keen on environmental issues, so I should be glad that some people seem to have reached a tipping point and are ditching the car in favour of public transport.

The only problem being on my route to work there's already no spare capacity. The last thing I want after another crap day at work is a rugby scrum just to get on a crowded train for the journey home.

You might think the obvious solution is to run more trains, but there are track capacity constraints.

The best solution is to make the existing trains longer. A lot of the trains on my route are three carriage, when the platforms are built for six carriage units.

I suggested to the rail company they might want to lease more trains. They told me they can't afford it. Which makes me wonder what it takes for them to make a profit, when they've already got the punters crammed in like this...

The commute to work
If the oil crisis means more of the above, I might finally start to have some sympathy for the average motorist, so long as they promise to stay in their cars!