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21 December 2005  

Cooker parts in edinburgh

12:00 AM

I was just looking through the visitor stats for my site, and checking the search engine referrals. Turns out someone had visited my site after searching for 'Cooker parts in Edinburgh'. Intrigued? I was.

Well, it turns out it was my Visual Studio launch blog that made me Google's third highest ranked site (searching the entire web) for Cooker Parts in Edinburgh. Well, I did include the word 'Edinburgh'. And the word 'parts'. But not the word 'Cooker'. Or Cook. Or Cooking. Although to be fair, I did mention Yorkshire Puddings.

So, on that basis, and no doubt more so now that I've produced this blog posting, my site is reknowned as one of the best sites for Cooker Parts in Edinburgh. Fantastic. Shame I'm not based in Edinburgh and don't sell cooker parts, really, isn't it?

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20 December 2005  

'Twas five days before Christmas

11:22 PM

and all throughout the house, Jack was wandering about, banging his shins off everything and swearing under his breath.

Why, you may well ask.

Because all the bloody lights had gone off at 10:30pm, that's why. Lacking a handy torch, or indeed anything to light a candle with, my first task is to inspect the fuse box, carefully situated in the kitchen cupboard, behind the pots and pans, behind a wooden screen and of course in the dark.

This of course makes it a bit trickier to find the darn thing, let alone check whether or not any of the switches have tripped. So, what could I use to make light? No means of ignition, no torches. The answer is of course reminiscent of those adverts you see at the cinemas these days. Yes, that's right. My mobile phone. Open it up and the light off the screen was sufficient to peer into the cupboard and determine that all the fuses were indeed on.

So far, so bad...

The next step was to look out of the window. Many of the houses nearby had lights on, which was making me think that there was something wrong with just our supply, until I noticed that our neighbours didn't have any lights on, and more tellingly the streetlights directly in front of our house weren't on. Aha, a power cut methinks.

This is of course the down side of living in Whickham, compared to Low Fell. For those of you not au fait with the geography of Gateshead, Low Fell is right in the middle of the built up area and is never affected by this sort of thing. Whickham is on the edge of the built up and rural parts of Gateshead and we seem to have power cuts two or three times a year. But on the other hand, it's a nice area, and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of drive-by hoodies or whatever they call it these days.

So, what do you do in a power cut? Well my first thoughts are that this pretty much scuppers any chance of watching the telly, and the same goes for updating my blog. Second thoughts are that I should maybe report that we're having a power cut. So out comes the mobile phone again and I start to shine it on the Yellow Pages to find the local electicity cuts number.

At this point, I should maybe point out that we have high-tech cordless answerphones with different base units dotted around the house - which of course work when they have electricity connected. Fortunately, I've still got one of the old hand-cranked jobbies (well, actually it's a push button touch tone phone, but it feels old) in the study and so off I go to ring the electricity people.

Their automated service tells me to push 5, for some reason, and then starts telling me that owing to some problem with a power line being down, various parts of Dunston and Whickham are experiencing power cuts. Fine, at least they know about it and are going to do something about it. The power should be back on by... 1 am apparently.

1 am? Ow. Two small children, nappies to change, bottles to warm, milk to keep cold, and that's before you even consider the four tons of frozen food we've got in to tide us over Christmas. I'm thinking that with the fire on, we'll have some light in the front room, the cooker's gas, so I can maybe warm a bottle of milk in a pan of hot water, and if the electric is back on for 1am, stuff in the freezer shouldn't have defrosted.

But what if it's not back on by 1am? It's going to be a nightmare repeating all the food shopping this week. That's why we did it earlier and bunged the lot in the freezer. Okay, maybe my mam has some space in her freezer. Not likely, but worth asking. So I phone her up with my wonderful low-tech phone, but she's out. Darn.

Anyway, back to more pressing matters. I need to do the let there be light thing as my shins can't take much more punishment. So by this time we've found candles and I'm scrabbling around in the kitchen drawers because I'm sure there's a lighter in there somewhere. No luck. My good lady wife is going to have a go at lighting the candles from the gas fire.

Not ideal, in the dark, really. But fortunately the lights have come back on so it's a bit easier to see things when it comes to looking for a lighter or trying to light the candles or... hang on a minute, the lights have come back on. And more importantly so has the telly. Fantastic. I'll just shove everything back in the kitchen drawers again, then.

And that was it, really. Well, keeps you busy, don't it?

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Designing for Dyslexia Article

5:42 PM

Okay, I've written an article on Designing for Dyslexia which basically aims to show what to do to make sites more accessible for dyslexic users. I'd appreciate feedback, either comments on the blog or posted back via my Contact form.


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16 December 2005  

Who, me?

11:21 PM

Welcome to the 2005 edition of getting to know your friends. What you are supposed to do is copy this entire blog entry and paste it onto a new blog entry that you'll post. Change all the answers so they apply to you, and then publish! Leave a comment if you do this.The theory is that you will learn a lot of little (random) things about your friends, if you did not know them already.

What time did you get up this morning?

Twenty past seven-ish, waking up at about ten to eight.

Diamonds or pearls?

Neither. Not really a jewellery person.

What was the last film you saw at the cinema?

Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire

What is your favourite TV show?

Pretty much any comedy/quiz show. Particular favourites at the minute are posh nosh and QI

What do you usually have for breakfast?

I don't usually. When I do it's most often a bacon sandwich at work. Mmmm... bacon.

Favourite cuisine?

Quite a fan of Japanese Teppan-Yaki restaurants, and of Heartbreak Soup (a restaurant on Newcastle Quayside). Or Indian. Tex-mex. Traditional English. Chinese. Italian. Whatever.

What food do you dislike?

Anything too greasy. I quite happily like fried food, but not if it's still too greasy.

What is your favourite CD at the moment?

VERY much depends on mood. Probably Kaiser Chiefs 'Employment' but I'm also listening to a Christmas Hits compilation in the car. Or if my 2-year old is in the car, 'Nemo's Birthday'. But that's an anti-favourite of mine.

Morning or night person?

Look at the time I normally post these things. Apparently I don't turn to dust during daylight hours but if I didn't have to go to work I'd never find out.

Favourite sandwich?

Probably the aforementioned bacon and mushroom breakfast sandwich. What a way to start the day.

What characteristic do you despise?


Favourite item of clothing?

My Little Britain Fat Fighters T-Shirt. Not that I've ever really worn it. When (if) I finally get round to posting that, you'll see why.

If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would it be?

A cruise around (what's left of) the seven wonders of the ancient world. Although maybe I'd leave off the Hanging Of Gardens of Babylon just for now...

What colour is your bathroom?

Kind of a white/cream type thing.

Favourite brand of clothing?

CandA. Or Burton. Or maybe St Michael. As with the person I nicked this off, I don't do labels.

Where would you retire to?

Somewhere near a city (for access to shops, cinemas etc) but a bit more rural for day-to-day life.. The Northumbrian coast maybe. Or alternatively anywhere in the Lake District. I love the Lakes.

What was your most memorable birthday?

Was thirty this year. But I think the one that sticks in my mind was my 21st. It was a monday night and I was working in a pub in Lancaster that night, with one other person. I found out that night we shared the same birthday and she happened to be 40 that night. Not that it's the one I've done the most on, but the synchronicity makes it memorable.

Favourite sport to watch?

The noble art of football. Newcastle United. Not always the same thing.

Who do you least expect to complete this?

Don't know who reads my blog. Other than those people who've commented on it. Um... I least expect Terry Pratchett to comment on it. That'd be a big surprise.

Person you expect to complete it first?

Pixeldiva. Since she'd done it before me.

Person who is least busy?

Out of who?

When is your birthday?

8 April. Which I share with Kofi Annan, Izzy Stradlin, Julian Lennon and Buddha.

What is your shoe size?

12. And no, I'm not a clown.


Two cats. Einstein and Darwin.

Any new and exciting news you'd like to share with us?

Not that I can think of, no. Sorry.

What did you want to be when you were little?

Bigger, mostly. But if you mean career wise, I always wanted to be a writer. Which means if people are being entertained by reading this, then I've kind of succeeded. I'm just not being paid for it. Bugger.

What is your favourite flower?


What date on the calendar are you looking forward to?

22nd December - big night out with the lads before Christmas, and no work the next morning.

One word to describe the person who you snaffled this from?


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11 December 2005  

Arsenal and the missing sense of gracious defeat

12:59 AM

This post is in response to various rants online from Arsenal fans about how we were lucky, how Shearer is dirty, and will hopefully explain how to lose with good grace

As a Newcastle fan who was at the match this afternoon, my impression was that we struggled to get near Arsenal in the first half, but for all their slick build up play they failed to capitalise on it. We gradually got more into the game nearer half time and even ventured forth once or twice.

In response to the various 'the referee was crap' 'the referee was a homer', 'that was never a sending off' type comments, I'd say:

  1. Both teams had the same ref
  2. You play each team home and away once apiece, so even if he was a homer (and I disagree), these things should even out
  3. It shouldn't have been a sending off when Jenas got done at Highbury. Nor should it have been when Bellamy got sent off at Highbury. Both were rescinded but it's not much help after the event. So again, these things even out, yeah?
  4. You only ever spot the wrong decisions that go against your own team. There were also poor decisions in the match in Arsenal's favour.

To follow the 'it's just not fair, the ref should have done this' (or 'that' or 'the other'). Refs don't always get every decision right. Shearer should have been booked earlier. He wasn't. Ref got it wrong. On the other hand, McFadden handled Ameobi's shot on the line at Everton. No pen, no sending off. Shearer's header was over the line at Wigan. No goal. Did I complain about crap refereeing? Well, yes to be honest, but my main gripe was with the team. If a decision doesn't go your way, you can moan about it or you can keep working and let your football do the talking. Guess which one is more likely to work.

When Wigan reserves played us off the park and knocked us out of the League Cup, did I complain because the penalty that won them the match was a bit soft? Did I hell. They deserved to win and good luck to them. I would have been disappointed in myself if I didn't have the good grace to recognise that.

Not long ago, Arsenal would have been good enough to beat us comfortably, even with a few dubious decisions. For all the slick play, they didn't have a cutting edge, and once they'd lost the midfield early in the second half they never really got back into it (until we started to panic because we were winning).

We won for one simple reason. We scored, they didn't. End of.

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09 December 2005  

Christmas (The Bah Humbug Express)

12:19 AM

Well, after taking time out to tell the delightful pixeldiva that she was entirely wrong to hate Christmas, I have to eat a small slice of humble pie. Not a large piece, no, I still love Christmas, but I've had one of those days and I'm feeling all worn down and grumpy about the whole thing.

Unusually enough for a bad day, there was no great stresses at work - sure it doesn't beat relaxing by the pool with a cocktail, but I can't find many vacancies for that kind of work. I got home, had my tea, put Bryn to bed and everything was going perfectly smoothly.

So what went wrong?

Christmas, that's what. Or rather it being the time when I thought I'd finally better get round to writing my reams of Christmas cards. Well, when I say reams I'm meaning twenty to thirty. Although to be fair this doesn't include colleagues - there's a donate money to charity thing to buy a goat instead. Where we're going to keep the goat once we've bought it, I've got no idea.

And I'm one of those people who can't just put "Merry Christmas love from Jack" on a Christmas card. No, that seems too impersonal. I've got to write out something slightly different for everyone. Okay, it's not necessarily witty, it's not necessarily inventive, but at least you know I've taken some time over it.

And then comes the great "Hunt-The-Address-Book" game. Which basically involves trying to work out when we were last likely to have used it, what that will have been for, and then emptying out all the cupboards onto the floor until it turns up.

Of course, now me and my friends are more and more settled down, there's the whole issue of children. Say I'm sending a card to my friends Mary* and Billy. They've got a child or children. I remember that child was called something like "Arthur James". Or is it "James Arthur". You see the dilemma? You can't go round telling your friends you can't remember the order their children's names go round.. not if you want to keep your friends anyway. So that requires a fair bit more head scratching before we can progress.

* All names were changed to protect the innocent

Fortunately I've already done the Christmas shopping and wrapping otherwise that would have been a whole new rant on its own. As it is it's only a little one. Christmas is the time of goodwill and stuff, yeah? So how come when you're in the shops everyone without fail is bad tempered and irritable. Christmas spirit my arse. If you can't be bothered to show a little kindness, compassion, thoughtfulness and demonstrate a little patience at Christmas, then what's the point? Why bother with the festival at all? I'm not saying you have to do the whole "baby Jesus" thing because there are plenty of non-Christians celebrating Christmas as a festival of being nice to people. That's the minimum I expect if you take part in the Christmas thing. So you can all buck your ideas up, 'kay?

Oh, and one more thing. Did any of you realise that if you hoover your Christmas tree lights up and get them wound round and round the mechanism that it stops them from working? You did? Yeah, to be honest we could have guessed too. It's not the sort of thing you do deliberately is it?

Oh, and to cap it all off, I was warming a bottle of milk in the microwave for the little 'un, obviously set it for too long, and it exploded. The teat was nicely melted, the door of the microwave was popped open and every surface in the kitchen - and I mean every surface: from the ceiling to the insides of pans, sides of cupboards, top of the cooker, clean dishes and so on - was covered with small warm droplets of milk. And then, right, then, it's bin day tomorrow so I've got to go and put the bin out at quarter past midnight and it's really rather cold out there.

Bah. No doubt I'll forget to post the cards next.

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07 December 2005  

Visual Studio 2005 Launch

9:00 PM

Well, I've just spent today at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange for the launch of Microsoft's product line of Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and BizTalk 2006, and I thought I might as well tell you about it.

Before I get into the meat of the topic, I'll just quickly comment on the venue and the menu. The venue is a nice building but having been to events in Edinburgh before I was expecting something more like one of the grand buildings just off Princes St. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice building, but it wasn't near to any part of Edinburgh I recognised and could have been AnyTown. You could obviously blame the fact I've never really been outside the tourists parts of Edinburgh for this, of course.

And credit to Microsoft for putting on such a spectacular lunch spread. There were all sorts of inventive dishes, including something which was like a vol-au-vent, but with Yorkshire Pudding instead of pastry. No, really. So I didn't know what anything was meant to be but it was all jolly nice which was the main thing.

There were a number of speakers, but unfortunately I didn't take note of their names, so I'll just have to give you my opinion on them. Fortunately, those nice Microsoft people have made available downloads from the conference so you don't just take my word for it. Please bear in mind I may have misheard or misunderstood, so don't just take my word for it - double check with Microsoft.

The capabilities of both SQL Server 2005 and BizTalk 2006 seemed impressive, but they didn't directly relate to me as much as did Visual Studio 2005 and so it was hard to remain focussed on these. This event, in common with other similar events, suffered slightly from the problem that it's difficult to remain concentrated on something that doesn't directly relate to yourself, when there's a guy talking at the other end of the hall, even if you can hear him clearly. I'm not suggesting there's a better way of doing it, because clearly the scale of the event would have prevented everyone from sitting together around a few PCs, I'm just saying that's the way it is with these things sometimes.

Visual Studio 2005

One of my main gripes with Visual Studio 2003 was its tendency at times to strip out closing / characters so <br /> would become <br>, and also the way it would capitalise some elements and restructure the HTML that you'd written. One of the reasons I was interested in VS 2005 was that I understood I wouldn't have these problems.

In fact, it's fair to say that there was a lot more to VS 2005 than just fixing these things. The Visual Studio 2005 'Team' option (the top end of the suite) has a lot of additional new features, most of which had me nodding my head and thinking "mmmm...nice." What was also particularly impressive was the fact that express (i.e. cut-down) editions of SQL Server and Visual Studio are available for nothing - at least for the next year. Visit Microsoft Express Editions Page.

There's the:

  1. Team Foundation Source Control, which allows you to check work items in and out, but you can also set policies, so things can only be checked in if they satisfy certain criteria. Nice.
  2. Shelving function which allows you to store a project as is (without checking it in) so that you can take a break from it temporarily and return to it later
  3. A whole lot of architect tools which remind me in look of Visio but have been designed for specific purposes.
    1. Application designer
    2. System designer
    3. Logical datacenter designer
    4. Deployment designer
    5. And more are being developed by Microsoft and third parties, or you can build your own designers to suit.
  4. Code Analysis features, which to be honest I didn't really follow but sounded interesting
  5. Integrated Unit Testing which allows for data driven testing and demonstrates the parts of the code that have been covered by the testing
  6. Integrated Debugging, allowing debugging on more securely tied-down environments
  7. Code Profiling, which allows you to find out how long certain functions take to run etc

Please note however that there are different versions of Visual Studio Team edition, depending upon whether you're a 'solution architect', a 'software developer' or a 'software tester' etc and so all features may not be available in all versions

We were then given a demo of some of the testing features, including a scenario where one test is manually performed on a web page, recorded using a macro, then some of the parts of the macro (the input data) are replaced by information coming from a database, and then the whole bundle is run repeatedly at 30 times a second, simulating different users in terms of connection speeds and different browsers to perform load testing on the system. Now that's a handy thing to be able to do. Of course, I'm guessing this is only available in the 'software tester' version, but nonetheless it still looks good.

There have also been some enhancements to the .NET framework, with the launch of 2.0. While it seemed to run very slowly during the demo, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt (for now) and assume it was just "one of those things".

It now has a nice new feature for smart client applications (windows type software that can check for updates automatically on web servers), and you can test what applications will be like if they are running on environments with different security settings. Other added functions are that it incorporates site map functions, login controls, data controls and user profiles as new objects so you don't have to write these all from scratch if you want to use them. You can also use 'master pages' which I guess is a little like templates that update automatically - if you update the master page, all the sub pages based on that master page will show the latest version.

So what did I think overall?

Overall, I have to say I was genuinely impressed with the features on offer. Of course, there's still the possibility that I'll have problems coding XHTML with it, or some other similar issue, and obviously the launch event is only going to focus on the nice new shiny features and not try and pick fault with their own product. For that reason, I'll reserve judgement on how good the product is until I've had a look at it, but it's fair to say I'm impressed with the features I was shown.

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