Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sidebar Update

I spent a little time revamping my sidebar this evening. In recent months, I’ve found myself reading fewer blogs as there have been more demands on my time and I wanted to adjust my own page to better reflect what I am actually reading these days.

Hence, I’ve moved the best-written of my previous favourites down to a section of ‘recommended reading’, as I still browse them from time to time just to see what’s happening. I’ve also removed the Left-Field Perspectives blog as, although I enjoy a good debate, I rarely have the time or the energy to prepare an informed comment on any of his posts these days – plus I recognise that until I can conclusively disprove the existence of God, I’m unlikely to make much progress in changing his worldview anyway. I still enjoy the writings of Charlie Foxtrot though and surf over in that direction from time to time, but alas his blog is a lot like mine and doesn’t really rate an entry on the recommended reading list.

So anyway, the new, leaner, meaner ‘Blogs I Read’ list now consists of just four entries. The first is Gay-Dad is written by my kind-of brother-in-law; he’s the partner of Brett’s brother and is a full-time house-husband, raising the child that he and Kevin (his partner, Brett’s brother) adopted in 2004.

The second is The Aimless Ramblings of Zefrog, written by Nicholas Ze Frog himself, another member of the Chorus who also runs our marketing activities.

The third entry is Slightly Lost in the World, a blog written by a partner in the Marsh and Malone design company who I first met last year when he attended a committee meeting I was at. When I learned sometime later that he had a blog, I started reading it and have never stopped…

Finally on the list we have the Virtual Bookshelf blog written by Jessica, a long-time friend, who runs an online bookshop.

Interestingly, but perhaps inevitable, given the pressures on my time, I notice my attention swinging away from entertaining blogs written by strangers, to more mundane daily journals written by the people in my life. Even more than email, reading about someone’s life in their blog is a great way to keep up with their life.

What is Smart?

In the end we had a great time last night. The enjoyment was presaged by a wardrobe crisis, though, as the invitation described the dress code as ‘smart’ and I wasn’t sure what counted as ‘smart’ to a modern gay man. Traditional etiquette has it that this means a lounge suit, but I think that in practice there are very few birthday parties where you would be expected to wear a suit these days – plus the fact that the only suit I have (that I would be seen in!) meant me wearing shoes which were at work, so unavailable. In the end I tried to go for the ‘trendy-casual’ smart look by putting a suit jacket on over jeans and a plain sweatshirt. I think the jacket was a tiny bit too formal for the look I was after, but it was close enough and all I had, so I went with it.

Brett was in a similar quandary but when I vetoed his stonewash jeans and shirt as ‘not quite smart enough’, he plumped for one of his work suits with an open-necked shirt. I think he looks hot in a suit though, so I wasn’t complaining…

David W had hired a small club venue off Picadilly for his fortieth birthday party. As we entered we were met by two tanned young guys in loincloths who were handing out the champagne (what a lovely meet-and-greet!) and we joined a group of other chorus members lounging on sofas by the bar while those who had been invited to the earlier meal finished their dinner. Once the tables had been cleared, the disco started up and there were plenty of gay anthems on offer. David even made an appearance done up as Elton John at his most outrageous and escorted onto stage by the two loinclothed waiters á la Graham Norton. He did a rather good performance of a few of Elton’s songs for us to much acclaim.

By the end of it all we were very merry and even having to endure a replacement bus service between Waterloo and Wimbledon on the way home didn’t spoil the evening for us.

Today has been one long social event. We were up around 9:30 as Ping was expected for brunch and we duly headed up to Café Rouge. We had rather poor service today from a new waiter and, as he wasn’t even French, he couldn’t even be said to add to the ambiance of the experience. Afterwards Ping and I had a walk around the gardens at Cannizaro House while Brett got on with organising his life. When we got back to the flat Brett said my sister had called and her and Andy were likely to be dropping by. I’d promised to show Ping the photographs I’d brought back from my parents a few weeks back, which he seemed to enjoy – even suggesting I show him some of the rest of my collection of memories from yesteryear!

Rosie and Andy arrived shortly thereafter though and in the end we all spent the afternoon playing Trivial Pursuit. On the whole, a lovely Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

London Life

Well the week is over already. Come to that, so is half of the weekend! Where does the time go?

It’s been a fairly busy week at work; my new workstation finally arrived on Wednesday and I’ve spent most of the rest of the week setting up the virtual machines I need. It’s going to serve a dual purpose. As well as some of the machines being configured for penetration testing of our network, I’m setting up an entire test network which will emulate the main features of our corporate network. This means that, at long last, we can test out new software and new policies without running the risk of damaging the live network.

Also on Wednesday, my new TomTom arrived. I’d been talking about buying a SatNav unit ever since my nightmare journey up to Bedford a few weeks ago and, last weekend as I was in the depths of my technophilia, I sent an order through for the TomTom Rider – the version of the product designed for bikers; it’s waterproof, comes with a Bluetooth headset rather than an internal speaker and has a couple of extra bike-friendly routing features. The rationalisation for spending the money on it is two-fold: firstly, unless you know all of London VERY well, it’s just not possible to drive and navigate yourself effectively – even with a pre-planned route printed out beside you. Secondly, I’ve been cycling to work less and less in recent months because I so often have something on in the evening after work. Self-navigation is even harder on a bike, so I don’t want to ride to the event, which means either coming back to work after the event, getting changed and then cycling home (which typically adds an hour to the journey) or skipping the bike altogether and training it into work on a Travelcard. With SatNav on the handlebars, that isn’t really a problem any more; so long as I have some semi-decent clothes in my panniers that I can put on over my cycling gear (and some deodorant!) I can cycle wherever I need to be AND come home via the most direct route. Result!

So anyway, most of the week was mundane, but we had dinner with John G and Nick B from the Chorus last night, so that Brett and Nick could talk over some aspects of Chorus business they are sharing. It was a lovely meal in their lovely house (when I see their place, the desire to buy ourselves grows!) and it went on until the small hours. Something we must do more often!

Today we have been doing some metaphorical spring-cleaning. Brett, who is struggling to keep up with the workload of both his job and his various Chorus responsibilities (well, mostly Chorus stuff, actually) really needed to get organised and be a bit more efficient in his handling of paperwork, so it’s been a day of tidying desks, sorting through piles of paper (and binning large quantities of it!) and relocating the filing cabinet into the spare room, now that it is truly spare again. Brett still has a day or so’s work getting on top of the mound of his paperwork, but already the organisation feels good.

Tonight we’re off to party with another Chorine; David W’s 40th birthday party is on at some fancy-sounding spot in Mayfair. Tomorrow we have brunch in Wimbledon planned with Ping and possibly even an afternoon of cycling with Jeremy F, who has recently bought himself a new bike. Should be a fun-packed day!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Title in Probate

Not a lot to blog about in my life at the moment. Was a bit under the weather yesterday with a nasty headache and grouched my way through the first half of Chorus. The second half perked me up though; some of it was taken up by the presentation of the Chorus’ new corporate ‘identity’ (which I actually rather like and is certainly more ‘us’ than the last one that was proposed.) I also briefly introduced myself to Slightly Lost who is one of the design partners who have been working on it.

After that we started learning a very upbeat number ‘All Girl Band’ (Oh, how we revel in our campness!) which cheered me up no end. I was still feeling worn-out when it was all over, but I managed to be civil all the way home.

Today was more of the same at work; still feeling productive. Tonight has been household chores – one has to make sure the place in a decent state for the cleaners, after all.

Finally, with such paltry pickings of my own, let me point you to this article [fairly ‘work-friendly’ but contains a number of prominent swear words!] which I picked up from The Register’s comment for your delight, delectation and, quite frankly, jaw-dropped incredulity.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Computer Overload

The weekend has rather gotten away from me…

Friday night Brett and I had dinner down in Wimbledon, which was a pleasant change from routine and gave us a chance to catch up after a week where we’ve barely seen each other beyond a kiss goodnight and the morning ablutions.

Saturday was a bit domestic, with laundry and dishes all getting washed, as well as me spending a lot of time being geeky; Brett has an HP computer which, while a little underpowered, is still a decent machine. I’ve been upgrading it this weekend so that it can run virtual machines for my penetration testing environment. That has required a couple of trips up to PC World for supplies, but we now have a very usable second desktop computer in the house. (OMG, I’ve just done a quick total and realised that there are currently seven computers in the house, of which only two are doorstops – all the other five are gainfully employed!)

Most of today has been spent scanning the photos I picked up from my parents last weekend. It’s a pretty tedious job, but satisfying now that I know I have backup copies of them. (Isn’t it funny how, ten years ago, before digital photography, it didn’t worry me that the negatives and only prints I had of photographs spanning decades was in a single cardboard folder, subject to random damage or destruction. Is it just because I am now wiser about the value of backups that I keep a separate copy of all my pictures away from the flat, or is it just because I can.)

Anyway, at some point in the future, I intend to put most of the photographs online along with a narrative. Until then, however, you can get a quick preview of the first batch here on my photoblog.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Best Laid Plans

The day in Leeds yesterday was a long one; I didn’t get home until 9pm, but it was a fairly successful day; 90% ‘Congratulations’ and only 10% ‘Whoops, should have thought of that!’. It was fairly intense work though – I bought sandwiches on the way up to the office from the station and basically didn’t stray further than ten yards from the IT room for the whole time I was there.

On the train journey in the morning, I got quite a bit of thinking done and roughed out a couple of project plans to work on later, so on the whole I felt pretty righteous.

Today actually started with a hospital appointment – it was the follow up with the dermatologist after my visit in November last year. A quick look at the mole and the photo from the file and we agreed that I would have to find something else to die from, as this clearly wasn’t anything to worry about. Jolly good.

Work was engaging, if a little annoying when I had to deal with a project manager casting around to find someone to blame for her lack of ability to properly scope and budget a project. I rather have the urge to have a quiet word with her boss, but then maybe better to let sleeping dogs lie. I’m sure she’ll think more carefully about infrastructure costs in the future…

The social calendar is in flux at the moment. Tomorrow is in the diary for a poker game, so tonight Brett and I needed to do some serious clearing up in the flat. I don’t think we’ve washed any dishes since the weekend because of a succession of late nights working on one thing or another for both of us. However, in the course of confirming who was going to be coming along, it turns out that pretty much no-one was going to be able to make it so, with a certain sense of relief, I cancelled the evening and am now looking forward to a nice relaxing Friday evening… albeit surrounded by dirty crockery.

The upside was that, not having to get home on time, I was able to accept a last-minute invite from Leeds’ John G for a drink after work. We’ve been trying to meet up for lunch for months, but between his schedule and my schedule we’ve never quite managed it. He was in Edinburgh yesterday when I was in Leeds, but today it turned out that his training course in London was actually a two-day thing, so he was unexpectedly in town for the evening. We met up in the Dogget’s Coat and Badge and had a pint. John M appeared too – I think they must have been introduced at the performance of You’ll Do For Now in July and subsequently kept in touch through Out – and after finishing our drinks we went for a bite to eat on Gabriel’s Wharf. All very pleasant – although I feel that I ought to not feel quite so light-headed after only two pints of lager, even on an empty stomach! What a lightweight!

Finally, on totally different note, I feel rather sorry for Dick Cheney at the moment. After his accidental shooting of a friend the other day I could see that the satirists would get some decent comedy mileage out of it, but seeing so many Democrats flocking around and wringing political points out of the unhappy situation is really rather sickening. No-one has suggested it was anything other than an accident on a private outing, so you’ve really got to be stretching things to link it with Cheney’s actions or obligations as Vice-President. Whatever I’ve got against Dick Cheney’s politics and policies, my heart goes out to him for having nearly killed his friend while they were supposed to be out enjoying themselves together. Give the guy a break. How would you feel!?

The only thing that needs to happen now to really make this an example of the New American Dream in action is for Harry Whittington to make a full recovery and then sue Cheney for millions. That is the American way, after all…

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

And I Love Him

I think it’s becoming a theme of my blog, maybe a signature line, but once again I have to say: it’s been a busy few days…

Work is feeling productive again – plus I have a new toy to play with, as my Network Security kit arrived yesterday. I’ve been busy configuring the virtual machines and additional tools in my spare time. I’ve also managed to successfully sort out our application for the new .eu Internet domains (although if I’d realised what a detailed set of rules I had to follow, I’d probably have passed it all to Marketing to deal with!) There’s the new mail server installed in Edinburgh which is going live tonight too; lots of positive stuff.

Tomorrow I’m in Leeds for the day (OMG, what an early start that involves!) to do several deeply geeky things as I was the one on the team with the earliest opening in his diary. Still it will give me a few uninterrupted hours on the train each way to spend as I will (the likely options are reading my current novel, doing more configuration on my Network Security kit or memorising Chorus music with my rehearsal MP3s.

Brett and I actually skipped out of the Chorus rehearsal at half-time last night. While the music is all very nice, I still really haven’t got any enthusiasm for it. I’m wondering whether I’m suffering LGMC Fatigue (a recently recognised malaise of people who have been in the Chorus for a few years who get drained and lose all enthusiasm as a result of the continual pressure to learn music and choreography to a deadline.) I may yet drop out of this concert and take a back seat for a season.

Today of course was Valentine’s Day and I was at my most Scrooge-like. Not quite crying out ‘Bah, Humbug!’ but I was certainly thinking it as I saw people in the streets with red balloons and bunches of roses (all specially overpriced for the special day) and the restaurants all cramming their tables-for-two tightly together to get the most out of their special (extra-pricey!) menu of slushily titled dishes. The whole thing is a barefaced exercise in crass commercialism and guilt and I will say no more about it.

Except perhaps to thank Ping for buying me the Long Way Round DVD as a Valentines Day present, which was very sweet of him.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Weekend of Friends and Family

On Friday that trip up to the parents’ place was fairly smooth and we made it for mid-afternoon. We were swiftly out at PC World though, choosing them a new computer and some broadband gadgetry. Early Friday evening was spent configuring it, but later on I ended up on the sofa like a beached whale – probably as a result of the enormous dinner the parents had cooked for us. (“You’re still growing lads.” “Yes, father, but no longer in an attractive direction!”) As a result we ended up watching a couple of documentaries on English Folk Music which mum and dad were recording from BBC Four; not my normal choice of viewing, but we did spot that the Chorus’ rehearsal venue, Cecil Sharpe House in Camden, featured several times as a centre for the art.

Poor Brett was suffering from the cold a little bit, as my parents’ house has never been warm and, now that they have got two cats, the policy I was brought up with of always keeping doors shut to keep in the heat seems to have lapsed… I’ve promised him we can visit them in the summer next time…

Saturday morning Brett spent with his comics while I spent with the computers and then after lunch, Brett drove us down to North Wales to visit Phil & Sue C. He coped fairly well with me nagging him about his driving technique, following his first lesson with a qualified driving instructor last week…

On the whole, all was well with Phil & Sue, although Phil’s commitment was clearly failing with his current company; they have recently been taken over by an American conglomerate and have subsequently been through a succession of management changes which only seems to have achieved the virtual closure of a previously successful engineering company. Having fought for the survival of his branch and his team, Phil is now left wondering if it was worth it, as they don’t have the manpower to properly handle the contracts they have to fulfil and no clear corporate strategy to drive them forward.

Sue seemed to be in better shape, as the Deputy Head of her school, although it sounds like she has her own trials with a Headmaster waiting out the last twelve months to his retirement and a power-behind-the-throne school secretary jealous of her position…

Saturday evening we drove over to Leigh to hear the Haydock Male Voice Choir perform; this was a bit of a nostalgia trip for Brett as he had visited Haydock with his High School Choir back in 1980 and stayed with one of their members. (Kind of spooky to think that he visited so close to me twenty-five years before our paths actually crossed!) Anyway, the show was a good traditional Male Voice Choir performance and during the break Brett got chatting to some of the members who had sung with him all those years ago.

Sunday morning was brunch for friends; it seemed the best way of getting to see more of the people I wanted to see without having to visit them all individually, as we just didn’t have time in a weekend. Chris and Michelle called-off with food poisoning at the last minute, but that just meant there was more scoff for the rest of us (Chet, Pod & Jenny joined us.) It seems like not much has changed though; Pod has moved back to St. Helens and is now teaching at a RAF facility somewhere around Wolverhampton. There was an interesting ‘Year Book’ idea floated though, in preparation for the round of 40th birthdays which will be on us in a few years. I’ll have to see if I can make some time to spend on developing it…

More mucking about with computers followed Brunch and then we were back on the road for the drive back to London. In fine London style, it took us three hours to drive the two hundred miles from St. Helens back to the M25 and then a further two and a half hours to drive the twenty miles across London itself (we got snarled up in some sewer works on the A4 which had traffic at a virtual standstill for ages!)

On the upside, I found ten wallets of photographs of my Long Haul travels with Saga that I’d forgotten I ever had, so there was a big hit of nostalgia this morning as I was looking through them. I’ll have to get them scanned and put up on my website for you. (Don’t hold your breath for them any time soon, though!) Right now, though, time to go to bed; a non-stop weekend means a tired Liam. Zzzzzzz….

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Educational Value of Disasters

It horrifies Brett, but I actually really enjoy watching the Air Crash Investigation shows on the Discovery Channel. Despite what I suspect he thinks, I don’t have a death wish; I actually find them reassuring. If you haven’t seen one of the programmes, they reconstruct a given ‘incident’ and the investigation which follows to find out what happened; perhaps not as thrilling as an episode of CSI, but fascinating nonetheless. Seeing how aircraft and pilots fail, it continually brings home how well engineered modern airliners are and how resourceful pilots can be when it all goes wrong. And in even the worst air crashes, there are usually some survivors (and those that don’t at least have the benefit of dying quickly!)

Nope, I find the show both reassuring and entertaining.

I mention this because watching Air Crash Investigations was pretty much what yesterday evening consisted of. Work had been long and hard and I didn’t fancy the trek up to Islington to Gay Gordons, so I went home instead while Brett went for drinks with one of his former colleagues who has just started work in the City.

Today we are driving north to the parents’ for the weekend. I have a couple of old mini-firewalls from work to take along. I am hoping that I’ll be able to set up a VPN tunnel between their computer and my own so that when the regular calls for support come in, I’ll have much more access to their which will certainly make things go more smoothly. We shall see.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hyperactive Social Life

Too busy!

Spent last night organising a trip to the parents’ place, planned for this weekend. It was intended to be a chance to catch up with all the old school crowd but it’s now turning into the first of two PC Support visits as well, as the folks want a new computer and broadband. Tonight as well as keeping tabs on work, I’m trying to organise the week before my birthday. I think there must be cheap flights from the States on offer in March. Kevin & Chris (the brothers-in-law) are going to be here for the week and today I got an email from Curtis saying he was going to be in town from Chicago, Thursday through Saturday, so it looks like we’re dining out every night up to my birthday. Wehay!

Bizarrely, Curtis also happened to see our photo when he was leafing through a copy of the Pink Paper his friend had brought back from a recent London trip! It’s a small world sometimes!

The last few days have been busy at work as Monday evening, a repairman managed to totally trash our server in Santiago resulting in us having to restore everything on it from backups. A bit of a bind, as the machine in question serves as mail server for all of our South American offices too. Still, this evening things seem to be running smoothly again on that front.

Last night Chris C (the old school-friend, not the brother-in-law) was complaining that my blog had been a bit bland of late. He’s right… I still keep seeing news articles and posts on other blogs that I want to write about, but I just don’t have the time to do them justice. Think I need to scale-back the social life a little; I seem to have too much to do in too little time. Grrr.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Jack Kilby, 1959

After a couple of weeks of not achieving stuff at work and, in fact, hardly even being in the office, it was nice to have a really productive day today; feels like I’ve regained the initiative. One meeting left me slightly daunted though; there’s a very good chance that there is going to be an AWFUL lot of work to be done on our telecoms systems in the next three months.

On a side note, I finally – after about three weeks of trying to find time – got my hair cut today. Yeay!

Chorus this evening was pleasant enough, although I’m still not hooked on the repertoire…

Had a rather sad phonecall from Owen just before we went in, though; he has just been dumped by a guy he has been seeing for a while and is quite cut-up about it. One of those things that come out of the blue just when you feel everything is going so well. Looks like lunch on Wednesday is could be a bit heavier than usual…

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sunday in the Park

So Rich’s meal turned out well; everything I ate stayed down and didn’t give me any grief! It was good to catch up with people too; it’s been a while since I’ve spoken in depth to either Martin K or Jeremy F so we all did some catching up. Didn’t get much chance to chat to Rich himself, which rather reminded me that we haven’t seen much of them for a while.

Today has been good; late start, got bills paid, watched some TV then realised it was a really nice day, so we went out into the Village for lunch and had a stroll around Cannizaro Park afterwards. (Never been to Cannizaro before and it’s actually really lovely – we’ll have to go back in the summer when there are leaves on the trees and the bushes are in bloom!)

Early evening we went down to watch Memoirs of a Geisha which was very nicely detailed, visually beautiful, but a little overlong.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Nearly Human

It’s been a pretty weird few days.

I went into work on Thursday morning even though I was feeling a bit rough. By early afternoon I was sitting in a haze of fatigue and head pain so I came home and slept for a couple of hours on the sofa. (An added bonus was a speeding ticket lying on the mat when I got home. Damn!)

Friday morning I was feeling somewhat improved, which was good as I needed to accompany Brett to his driving test. The minimal driving that I ended up doing really took it out of me though and by the time he set off for the test, I was snuffling and full of cold again. When he got back from the test (he failed, but was sanguine about it) I just got him to drive us straight home and I fell asleep on the sofa again. Yesterday evening is a bit of a blur; I remember watching various TV shows but being definitely ready for bed at 10pm.

Today the cold seems to have cleared, in that I haven’t been sneezing and only occasionally coughing, but I had the sinus headache, dry mouth, queasy stomach, body-temperature control thing again. After suffering a little while first thing, I eventually found the migraine pills the doctor gave me last time and took one. I think it worked, although it took some time – probably because I hadn’t eaten anything all day – but the headache eased an hour or so later and while my appetite didn’t exactly return, at least the nausea passed and my head cleared somewhat so I’ve been a little more myself this afternoon.

I had to miss singing with the Chorus at their gig at the Museum of London today, which is annoying, but having eaten a little bit now and drunk quite a lot of tea, I’m feeling human enough to attempt to join Rich C for his birthday dinner down Brick Lane. I’m planning on taking it easy though, so small portions and no alcohol for me please…

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Home at last

Not a bad day today – although the cough of yesterday gave way to sneezing and a very runny nose; not ideal in a classroom environment.

The course continued to be fascinating; today it was UNIX hacks and backdoors predominantly. (I can now say I’ve played with Back Orifice and several of it’s charmingly named add-ons!) I did excellently in the final exam, scoring 88% and received a distinction for it.

The trip home was far better than the one to the course. I followed a somewhat longer but simpler route home; following the North Circular around to the South Circular and thence to Wimbledon. An early night is called for I think, as I can’t really not go into work tomorrow. Hey ho.