Friday 21 August 2009 - JohnieBG moved again
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Just over a year ago the blogging/journal aspect of this website moved to johniebg.org. For a whole bunch of reasons the blog is now moving again. This time to a hosted blogging service. johniebg.org is now shutting down and johniebg.net (this site) will remain and will become the focus of my creative writing efforts.

Come visit JOHNIEBG.ORGSo if you are here to catch-up on all things 'real' in the johniebg world then head over to blogspot, it contains all blogs for 2009 onwards. I am keeping this site (johniebg.net) as the journal archive, so will be importing blogs from blogspot (Ed: somehow) at the close of every year for that year. So johniebg.net will always have value (in small circles) as the home of the journals.

It seems amazing that johniebg.net has now existed for seven years. Mmmmnnn, note for diary, what to do about the one decade anniversary of johniebg.net?

As blogspot also takes comments I hope to hear from you soon. Click here to go there and find out what I am doing now.

Thursday 15 August 2008 - JohnieBG has moved
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The time has finally come. I have bitten the bullet and moved lock stock and two smoking style sheets over to johniebg.org

Come visit JOHNIEBG.ORGIt has been a while coming. The complaints about not being able to comment and of there not being enough posts finally wormed its way home. So I now have a fully operational WordPress site that will be the home for my blogs from August 2008. And from which I can post to the site itself, via email and even via my Blackberry. There are already a number of posts there from the beginning of this month so I hope to see you there.

In the meantime this site will exist as it is - as an archive. I am two thirds of the way through the bestseller that will never be which is why there are no short stories, I am busy writing a big story. Eventually I hope to integrate it all into the one site and move johniebg.net to point to the same place as johniebg.org But for that to happen I have a lot to learn about WordPress and themes.

Hope to see and hear from you soon.

Thursday 29 May 2008 - The art of being unemployed
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So far 2008 has not proven disappointing or uneventful. Even in some part the good intentions and lifestyle decisions that I made on New Years eve are starting to play out.

But it did not start like that. In February I finished the last of the technology roll-out. Which had been the focus for my last contract with a firm of insurers based in London but with their IT centre situated in Bristol. Having also resolved a number of their long term crippling technical issues and also demonstrated during the course of the year my all round expertise, they were keen for me to stay on indefinitely. The end of the roll-out though meant that my travels and freedom to schedule my own time were now at an end. Now I would be required each day to make the 132 mile round trip to Bristol and sit everyday at a desk in an intermittently air conditioned office.

The people that I have worked with at the insurers have in the main been good people, especially those in Bristol. But sitting at a desk all day working for a company that has very little actually going on and therefore little to engage, was not for me. Eventually this and a whole bunch of contributing factors I won’t mention, drove me to resign on the 2nd day of April. Four weeks later on the last day of April I said goodbye. Well I didn’t because I ended up working in Birmingham my last day fixing a Citrix issue, but I will eventually get to Bristol to say goodbye.

Giving up a well paid job is not an easy thing to do, it almost goes against every instinct for survival we have in the modern world. In making the decision there were no great reserves of cash on which to rely on, I had about six weeks of back pay from my agency to come and that was it.

But I felt trapped working for this particular firm and needed to find some way out of the day to day routine of banal processes. Each afternoon in the warm still air of the office my eyes would get heavy and the remainder of my working life would flash before my eyes. I would picture myself at fifty five sat in the same chair crusty and grey and grumpy and wondering what might have been. Needless to say the whole experience was pretty depressing and I think in a small part explains why I jumped ship with little in the way of cash reserves and no prospect of future employment on the horizon.

During the four weeks that led to my departure I made vague overtures to my peers and managers about looking for something that would give me an opportunity to manage technical teams, which is a real ambition of mine on a long term basis and something I have done frequently as a contractor (in IT parlance contracting is the same as freelancing). But something I had no real clear path or plan with which to achieve this. My plan was vaguely based around changing my CV to give emphasis to my history of management, upload it to Monster (an employment website) and sit back and wait for the calls.

I did and there were a few calls, but little around managing and nothing of any real interest. I think the highlight of the prospects was working as a third line engineer for an anti-virus company. Not at all what I wanted. As the last week of my contract emerged I was admittedly feeling a little concerned but nothing I hadn’t seen before. Having worked as a contractor for the best part of twelve years I knew you actually seldom hear about jobs until you are actually on the market and available.

Literally the day before I left I did get a call. It seemed my CV had hooked just the job. The requirement was for a Technical Account Manager working in Basingstoke (nineteen miles each way through leafy picturesque forests). The role was defined as working for a facilities management company and required managing four engineers at a customer site and managing and maintaining the customers expectations. It was something I had essentially done before for two years while working for Novell on their major accounts team. This job would be a challenge but not so much technically but in the realm of judging the account management aspect. But nothing I didn’t consider myself capable of.

The interview went very well. Which was no surprise as ordinarily I do interview very well. My interviewers were the current Account Manager and the current Account Manager's boss - the contracts manager. The contracts manager was leaving, the account manager was becoming the contracts manager and therefore they needed a new account manager. And therein lay my problem – I would be working for the old account manager come new contracts manager.

My career has involved some interesting highlights that have included eighteen months working in Asia and the Middle East, the Bank of England (which isn’t as interesting as people seem to think although I did once watch 100 million in crisp new notes get laddled into a furnace because of a printing error), global financial organisations and Novell - which some may or may not consider a highlight.

Correspondingly I am confident but not arrogant, very experienced and come across very well in interviews mostly because I am all the above. Oh and I am a pretty decent fellow in the main. After the interview the outgoing contracts manager phoned the agency and said I was exactly what they were looking for and the lead candidate. They had one more guy to interview but then it would ultimately be down to the outgoing Account Manager, the guy that would be my boss, to make the decision. As it happens I knew the last guy they were interviewing and also knew that they had initially not even considered him for interviews. The last interviewee was a good guy, amiable but essentially a second line support engineer. I felt confident, especially as one of their requirements was a very thorough all round knowledge and experience.

The other guy got the job. I was stunned, especially as the stated reason given to the agency was that they felt the other guy was more ‘hands on’ as the role would require filling in for engineers when they were off. I am ‘Mr Hands On’. So much so I had been sitting there imagining myself in the role and working scenarios where I would force myself to not be hands on and focus on the managing aspect in the job title.

But such is life, you shake your head and move on. It was only a few weeks later in another interview that I guessed at the real reason why I didn’t get the job. Admittedly the reason is a little vain but it was not me that actually came up with the idea, it was another manager that was interviewing me, this time in London. This manager (for a firm of lawyers) was moving up the chain of command and was interviewing someone to replace him as the operations manager. Perfect again, I thought. But at the end of the interview he said to me: ‘Can you tell me why I would hire you when you are obviously better than me!’

‘Shit,’ I thought. I subsequently gave him a answer around my not being political and not wanting to do anything other than technical things or manage people doing technical things. So I would never have any intention of outshining him either deliberately or unintentionally. The world of senior management just does not appeal so I would never be a threat. I got invited for a second interview so he must have at least in some part been convinced. I was telling the truth.

But it did get me to thinking why I lost the technical account managers job to someone less experienced and less technically adept. At least I would like to think the reason I didn’t get that job was because I was better than the guy I would be working for.

After a week of unemployment and having been turned down for the account managers job I was starting to worry (getting the first call from the Lawyers was over a week away). I was not getting as many calls as I had expected. Certainly not as many as I am used to getting. What was wrong?

I got another call. This time from a female consultant, unusual in IT recruitment from my experience but a welcome change because the women tend to be far more amiable. She was looking for someone to work in Milton Keynes. As it happened I had been in Milton Keynes the day before which had been a round trip of 120 miles along the A34 and meandering country roads behind slow moving lorries. So I wasn’t interested in the journey and as it turned out the role was pre sales. And that is something I am just rubbish at, I can’t sell. But we did get to talking. During the conversation she mentioned that my CV demonstrated excellent experience but was short in one key area - I didn’t have any detail of my technical knowledge on my CV. The CV read well, she said. But you were left wondering what actual technical skills I possessed outside of the job descriptions, which only alluded to skills. This was especially important as many agencies don’t employ technical recruiters, so it is critical the technical detail is listed in the CV so it can be matched against the job specifications provided by the employer. This explained why I wasn’t getting calls.

Ironically as a contractor I used to have an abundance of the technical detail in my CV but after leaving Novell I assumed my CV spoke for itself. Surely I had to be good at technology to have got these jobs without having to list the specifics untidily on the page. So before leaving Novell I had removed the technical detail. Having not really had a great problem finding a job after Novell it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with this new cut down non-technical version of my CV.

But sat here a year later nobody was calling. I immediately spent two days re-adding the technical detail. Making sure it was consistent with my skills and what I wanted to be doing. I then reposted my CV to Monster at the beginning of my second week of unemployment and waited expectantly.

Nothing happened at first. It doesn’t usually as it takes a few days for the CV to filter through the system. I now know it is likely that Monster is used as a central source from which CV’s get sucked out and down to other sites. The technical detail (which I didn’t have before) also then gets lifted from the CV and placed into databases as key search parameters. Then recruitment companies and their armies of recruiters search these databases.

By the time two weeks of unemployment came to a close I had just one call based on the new CV, which was to interview at the lawyers mentioned above.

It is at this juncture I should probably mention the good lady Priddeesh, the light of my life, who is not Indian or Asian for that matter. She just works as a nurse with lots of Asians who’s native languages do not involve contorting the tongue and palate to form her actual last name, which is French in origin. When they do try it’s like watching a trailer for the latest alien movie – all teeth and drool. As a consequence everyone has settled on Priddeesh as a less traumatic alternative.

Priddeesh was and continues to be supportive in my decision to resign from a well paid job. But like most of us takes comfort in the day to day routine of job security (as much as that is in the modern day) and being able to plan ahead knowing each month there will be a monthly salary. Which by the way as a nurse she would be the first to admit is not as bad as people have been led to believe in the press. It’s just not as much as you might expect of a position that requires as much education and training, and commitment. But its not that bad either.

As suppotive as Priddeesh is, there have been a few moments where the air at home has lay thick with worry. Mostly from her lack of comprehension for the mechanisms of IT recruitment, which operates on an almost completely different level than any other profession. This has resulted in the good lady Priddeesh remonstrating on just two occasions that I was not doing enough to find a job and that I should start visiting agencies and making sure they know I am looking for work. Try harder was the message, which is basically the same thing my dad used to say when quoting Thatchers mantra about jumping on your bike to find work. Otherwise dear Priddeesh's concern for my employment status has mostly been about diligently sending me via email a list of opportunities she has highlighted from the web. Which I should point out is more a consequence of her ability to wile away hours searching on the internet than her considered opinion I was not doing enough. Of course she would be totally unaware most of these advertised positions she emails me are bogus and designed to attract your CV so they can call you and pester you for contacts from previous jobs.

And who could really blame her. Everyone that does not work in IT is generally unaware of what a complete dog eat dog industry IT recruitment has become. Anyone in the industry looking for a job is simply a commodity (which will later turn out to be ironic). Everyone is an inanimate resource from which recruiters make a profit by aligning specific resources with companies that need specific resources, with no thought that the resources are living breathing humans.

During the later part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st there were huge amounts of money to be made in IT recruitment. And there is still good money to be made but 911 and the worlds current economy means there just isn’t enough to go around.

So apart from a very few exceptions I have generally found dealing with IT recruitment agencies to be like dealing with a pack of hungry dogs – everything is sweetness and light until the food runs out. You just have to make yourself seem appealing enough as a commodity for them to place your CV in front of the employer. The minute you find a job with a different recruiter or your CV is not in contention you become the lowest of the low. Seldom do I get calls returned, or get notified if I was not successful at an interview. Having to take no call at all as, 'No you didn’t get the job.' Often I get the phone slammed down on me when telling an enquiring agent I am just not suitable for laying network cabling in Mongolia, or Essex, or Kent, or Canterbury (I live west of London). On one occasion I even turned up for a Support Manager interview, only to find the position was actually for a desktop support engineer (Which is like being asked to manage a football team to find out they actually meant clean the lockers - no disrespect to desktop engineers, most of us were one once). There is just so little that is professional about the whole IT recruitment thing.

So finding a job is a matter of having the best CV you can muster and posting it to as many IT jobfinder websites as possible. And then waiting and getting through the whole process.

The changes to the CV paid off in week three. My CV was put forward to three companies in addition to the lawyers.

During week three I had my first interview with the Lawyers in London, mentioned above, which went very well. They came back straight away and asked for a second interview which would put me in front of the IT Director who had the final say so. Another agency came back to tell me their company wanted to interview but couldn’t until the HR manager came back from holiday sometime in June. And another also wanted to interview in week four. The other job I was put forward for I have so far heard nothing about and probably won't.

So in week four, this week, I had two interviews lined up. One of which was a second interview. Which was good. The only problem being that these were jobs that not only focused on my core experience in solving technical and critical issues but also focused on Microsoft technologies. Of course I have worked a great deal with Microsoft technologies through the entire length of my career, right from the moment I saw my first Windows Version One in 1984 (it could only open one window and supported 16 colours). But my technology focus has been Novell products, a one time competitor of Microsoft’s.

Over the weekend between week three and four I spent long hours reading back through my Windows Server, Exchange and Active Directory study guides (if you don’t know what any of that means don’t worry, knowing will not change your life).

Ironically while I was head down studying Tuesday in week four I received even more calls from agencies all wanting to put my CV forward along with one for another position at a Commodities dealer in central London. This came out of the blue and right from the start 'sounded' right.

Literally 30 minutes after confirming they would be sending my CV to the Commodities people they came back wanting an interview. As it happens I was interviewing in London Wednesday afternoon (Lawyers) and Winchester Thursday afternoon. So their window of opportunity was Wednesday morning or Friday. They came back with Wednesday morning.

Wednesday and the unexpected interview with the Commodities IT and HR Manager went extremely well as did the interview at the Lawyers with the IT Director that afternoon. So much so the Commodities company made me an offer as I was buying tickets for Priddeesh’s birthday from the Adelphi. They would confirm the financial aspect and the contract on Friday. And today the Lawyers also came back with really positive feedback but could not financially put a stake in the ground until next week.

Of the two jobs I have to say the Commodities is the favourite, not just from the fact they came back first. But because the job offers an opportunity to do what I do best and to also get involved in technologies I am not familiar with, along with those I have not touched for ages but love doing, such as programming.

Tomorrow hopefully I will be set to work at the Commodities company from next week, but you never know. Strange things do happen, I could still be waiting on other interviews and the lawyers next week.

Friday 2 May 2008 - National singles day
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The lack of posts to this site aside, I thought it was high time I broke free from the fiction writing frenzy of the book to offer a few pearls of wisdom in the name of grammar.

Which anyone that knows me of old will find a little surprising, as historically I have struggled. That is until 2006. But then I decided nobody was going to publish a book written by somebody that didn't know their plurals from possessives, so I studied.

Fortunately as I began my study endeavors I was sitting next to the prophet during work hours. The prophet being a fountain of all knowledge. Nobody knows quite how he came by this knowledge because he seems to spend all his time sat at a desk - either at work or in the pub. But history has repeatedly shown he does have a grasp on many aspects of life and importantly for this conversation - grammar.

The foundations for my current understanding of grammar were laid one slow afternoon during the later months of 2006. During which the prophet kindly detailed the occasions when apostrophes should be applied to the written word. I subsequently went on to read several books on the subject as well.

It should also be noted that I do not ordinarily watch weeknight TV. But the good lady priddeesh has a love for all things trash, especially when she has a OU essay deadline looming. Which is partly how I came to be watching the apprentice last night. There are a whole bunch of other complicated reasons which I will not bore you with.

The episode I watched was number six of the current season, in which the two teams were tasked with coming up with an idea for a new greetings card in an already saturated market. The reason I am writing this blog is because one of the teams came upon the idea of a 'national singles day'. And therein lay the problem.

During the task the team spent almost four hours trying to work out whether there should be an apostrophe in or around or after the word: singles. Which has subsequently sparked a fairly interesting debate, in fairly small circles. To the point that in the subsequent show hosted by Adrian Chiles 'The apprentice: You're fired.' They had the head of buying for Clinton Cards state that the apostrophe must go before the closing 's' I.e. single's

So here we come to the crux of this post - the application of my sum knowledge regarding the need for an apostrophe: you don't need one. Here is why:

Singles is plural. It is not possessive. It is talking about a collection of single people: plural. You could argue that the statement is possessive because it is referring to a day for singles and therefore possessed by them. But that is stretching the point to levels of stupidity for my mind. One which now seems to be debated by several Universities renowned for their standing in the field of English language. Who do not seem to agree with each other. Even the Editorial staff at the 'Times' struggled!

For me the rule of thumb is: if the path is not obvious and you have conflicting rules keep it simple. Here I don't see any fine line. It's a bunch of single people. It's a bloody plural.

I wonder whether I will hear from the prophet.

PS What a plonker Kevin was. And how shocking to see the white alpha males gang up on the last Asian girl: Sara Dhada, with no substantive evidence for their arguements. They didn't even work with her on that task. She will go because she doesn't stand up for herself but I think not before Lee and Alex, hopefully.

Tuesday 1 April 2008 - Life living
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Time flies. I seem to remember doing something similar last year. It is amazing really. One minute it is New Years eve and you are making all sorts of wild lifestyle promises and before you have chance to do much of anything a quarter of the year has passed. Which reminds me, I must shave soon.

Life has been busy. I think there is something about the first three months of a new year that gives you a belief that you have all year to do everything, and then you don't.

The first eight weeks professionally were spent cleaning up the roll-out to completion. Which encompassed Belfast which was recorded here, three weeks in Birmingham where I spent long nights trying to re-animate the dead (electronics systems). Which involved watching Rambo movies with the security guards while waiting on open heart metaDirectory surgery to heal (there was very large screen in reception for the movies).

The hunt for the missing green suitcase came to a conclusion. If you didn't get to read the bit where it went missing, here is a summary in under nineteen words: returning from Belfast my suitcase was packed with all - including computer, which I then left on the coach.

When chasing down such things as large green suitcases I typically scour the web for lost property phone numbers and ring them. Initial contact with First Great Western seemed promising with a scheduled delivery the next day courtesy of the one pound I spent on insurance, but there was no subsequent knock on the door.

Of course all subsequent calls then resulted in blanks as my suitcase seemed to spend the next week stuck in the back of some lost property van, which in the process seemed to transfer ownership from First Great Western (FGW) to the First Group. Not a great leap you might think but despite both occupying a large part of Reading station (different floors) and their respective staff spending their working days bumping into each other. Nobody at First Great Western knew the First Group existed. To the point even holding a ticket that clearly stated courier (First Group), departure (Heathrow) and destination (Reading) - three staff at Reading 'Lost Property' looked me flat in the eye and denied any such service (coach or rail) had existed in the last seven years.

So I traipsed back to my office and via the internet managed to track down First Group lost property located in the basement of Reading station (you can't miss it as you leave the multi story, if you are looking for it).

And then at the beginning of February we had the Superbowl – wow. The beauty of the NFL (for anyone that is unaware) is the game essentially plays as chess with shoulder pads (with very big and quick chess pieces). The game consists of four quarters, each of which contain 15 minutes of playing time. Stoppages, time-outs and commercial breaks mean this can take three hours to play out. I cannot remember the last time an NFL game felt like a drag, and do often recall that the game hardly seems to have started before we are in the third quarter.

As such – after watching incredulously at LOST S04E01 (was that written during the strike?) I sat down and watched the Patriots take on the Giants – the occasion being the 42nd Superbowl and the 15th I have watched since the very first in Edinburgh. In spread beating parlance I guess the Patriots were 3 point favourites. The Giants won courtesy of the 'throw' and then the 'catch' both completed in the same play. Incredible and definitely worth checking out, I expect it is on youTube somewhere.

Finding employment has been slow, but then I have been looking for a specific type of job – one I don't have to spend three hours a day commuting to and back from. I did a four hour daily commute for seven years and it almost drove me insane. Having worked with people that have spent twenty years commuting four hours daily I have to say I don't know how they managed it. The only trouble with the master plan is that the M4 corridor is very densely populated with IT people, which means every appealing vacancy in and around Reading is inundated with candidates. There have been a couple of bites but having promised the holders of my current contract I would not move on until I finished the roll-out, I have only really just started. I am also really looking for something that involves managing people doing IT instead of doing IT myself. It is time to pass on the knowledge.

Otherwise spare time has been spent writing the great novel of this lifetime (at least the first great novel of this lifetime – I sincerely hope there will be more) which is fortunately not about this life. The journal for the book writing is recorded elsewhere here and is soon to be updated. So far we are up to 32,000 words and over one hundred pages. So we are just under a quarter way through. It has been tough but also hugely rewarding.

Had the opportunity to watch Borat the other day. As with 'The Office' I am not a huge fan of comedy that makes you laugh while cringing. So I spent half the movie peering around the living room doorway. My favourite bit was near the end when he found the Pentecostal Church. Quality. A whole congregation leaping around like chimpanzees while the preacher danced around screaming: 'Jesus is my master, do I descend from monkees: Noooo.' More dancing like chimpanzees: 'As sure as I stand here today my friends I am the product of gods design. Amen!' (ed Or words to that effect – watch the movie) This was followed by lots more dancing around and then people shouting out load and babbling in the pretence of talking in tongues. Which is absolute rubbish. It just made them sound even more like chimpanzees. Oh the irony. (ED For the record the author of this blog acknowledges it is very unlikely man actually evolved from chimpanzees. That is fairly clearly defined in biological circles that study hereditary DNA. But it is very likely that chimpanzees and humans evolved from the same line of DNA and definately were not automagically manifested by a glowing caucasion in a magical garden).

By the way, anyone here breathless in expectation of CPU and GPU based water cooling – I am sorry. I haven't had time to order it yet.

I know LOST has a history of starting the season slowly – but DAMN! Out of six episodes there was only one that was even slightly entertaining (time travel), and now we have a poisonous gas factory and a bloody temple. How much more are we going to fit onto one small island (well two but they are still small). I know the writers do audio blogs (the technical name for which escapes me), but I wonder whether they are still doing that, or are they too embarrassed? I must check and see. I think disabling the Poisonous gas factory episode was an all time low – 40 minutes of utter tripe.

Read my favourtie book of the year (so far) the other week while taking a week off: 'Let The Right One In – by John Ajvide Lindqvist' One that will stay with me for a very long time. It is labelled as horror but is essentially about two twelve year old children coming of age, except one of them is a 200 year old vampire. Can't recommend this highly enough. You can read my Amazon review here.

Was there anything else I was going to say ... probably.

Thursday 28 February 2008 - GeeksVille: Fighting the noise
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Previously in Geeksville: While standing in Game during December 2007 yours truly was taken by the latest incarnation of Unreal Tournament. But when eventually installing it found the graphics system on my PC was not up to scratch. Thinking little more of this inconvenience the game was filed away on a shelf for some later date. Until that is, mysteriously finding myself buying a new graphics card and PSU while wasting away the early hours of Boxing day (2007). The resulting additions did turn my PC into a some sort of graphical nirvana but also changed the peaceful quiet of this study into something resembling a busy helicopter launch pad.


Having played the entire stock of games that adorned my study shelves at maximum resolution and having been suitably impressed. My mind was soon drawn towards locating the source of this incredible rise in volume. If the pitched whine came from the Graphics card (GPU) then it had to have one hell of a fan screwed onto the back. Either that or the chassis fans were causing me problems in keeping the increased ambient temperature down.

Having had my fill of graphics excellence I pulled out the 8800GTX and put back in my old ATI, rebuilding the PC from an image I had created last year. This was done in the full expectation that without the powerful GPU, noise levels would return to their previous 'hush'. I was disappointed, they remained the same. Which eventually drew me to the conclusion the new PSU might be playing a part in all this noise.

The old PSU had been a 350W unit, which for the passing reader is suitable for powering a basic PC configuration. But the latest graphics cards require a lot more juice – reviews of the 8800GTX stating it would require something a lot beefier - in the 600W range. My research for a PSU back when I purchased the 8800GTX had been sadly cursory. It seemed to me PSU's were much of a muchness. At the time my requirements were: was it powerful enough? Did it support the twin PCI Express which was required to power the 8800GTX and lastly: was it quiet? As the name of the PSU I selected was 'CoolerMaster' and also stated 'super silent' operation I didn't for one moment hesitate when adding the 650W beast to my eBuyer basket.

Modern electronic equipment can generally be considered as to be pretty reliable. So essentially with my old PC running all the same equipment except with a new PSU I concluded the continuing noise was down to the extra power consumption of the 650W PSU. And the lack of any real cooling in the Dell chassis – which had once been a Dimension 9150. So I began to plot, mostly around finding a chassis that was specifically built with cooling and silence in mind. Surely a cooler, better ventilated chassis would have the PSU running quieter?

The Antec P182 chassis. It looks this good in real life.My research quickly brought me to the Antec range of base units and in particular the P182 – it's whole two tiered design having been crafted with quiet operation and maximum component cooling in mind. Additionally the P182 has soundproofed panelling, super quiet chassis fans and air filters that also work as sound dampers.

This all looked very promising as I pulled the gun metal grey new arrival from its box sometime towards the end of January.

The first problem I had with building this super quiet machine was in transferring the components of my old Dell chassis into the gleaming new Antec chassis. This initially went well with the PSU and Hard disk drive relocated into their respective cages in the lower tier of the Antec unit. Then it would be a simple process of switching the motherboard into the new, connecting power cables, plugging in the 8800GTX, finally the SoundBlaster audio and Bobs your uncle – away we go. Except of course Dell, despite professing the Dimension 9150 to be 'ATX' compatible, at no point in their documentation state their proprietary inclinations. Which means that the Dell ATX motherboard did not in anyway match the 'standard' expectations of the Antec chassis's ATX motherboard seating. Which in turn meant I either needed a new motherboard or would have to revert back to the old chassis.

I had already completed some research on motherboards – which general consensus currently holds the nVidia 680i Sli as king of the roost. It also ticked off all my requirements including supporting current memory configuration, CPU and PCI express. As well as future plans for a quad core CPU (much more power efficient that its Pentium predecessors apparently).

The nVidia motherboard along with a compliant CPU heatsink and fan arrived in the post three days after the Dell ATX failed to fit. The whole building process then started again in earnest.

Except that the Antec two tiered chassis is just a little taller than normal. Which meant that the CPU 8-pin power cable just would not reach its relevant connector at the top of the motherboard – no way no how. This was discovered at 3PM on Saturday afternoon. Thirty minutes of research ensued which led me and the mildly intrigued Priddeesh towards Maplins: Basingstoke.

With Priddeesh in charge of Sat Nav and me at the helm. Basingstoke was achieved with little issue. But as Sat Nav hailed our arrival we seemed to be in an unlikely venue for Maplins – the town centre. After trudging around the Basingstoke paved streets for thirty minutes it was discovered, after a brief but thorough interrogation of the navigator. That dear, beautiful Priddeesh had only entered the first part of the post code into the Sat Nav: 'I couldn't remember the last bit!' She pleaded.

A quick call to 118118 soon revealed the full postcode and a few minutes before five and some eight miles back down the road, we stepped across the Maplins threshold. Soon after that we acquired an 8-pin CPU power extension cable amid their PC components section.

The top tier of the chassis - housing all the key stuff except the HDD and the PSU.Back home peering into the Antec chassis the extension cable was fitted and the final matter of the HDD LED, POWER and RESET jumpers were connected. The gleaming and impressive rebuilt base unit was then proudly carted back into the study. Power was applied, monitors were connected to both of the 8800GTX DVI outputs as were keyboard and mouse to the USB ports. The power button was pressed and with breath captive in lungs - amazingly all kicked into life with no issues whatsoever.

There were immediate issues with XP though which mostly revolved around it not dealing very well with suddenly having a different motherboard and chipset drivers. I rebuilt XP from scratch and thereafter it ran with no problems whatsoever.

After a brief configuration period all the GPU intensive games were re-installed and the 8800GTX was given a very thorough workout – a happy ending you might think?

No chance – the noise was dampened and not so harsh – but the unmistakable whine of the 'CoolerMaster PSU' was still there droning away over the quiet hush of the chassis fans. At the same level I would say, as the same PSU had been in the old Dell chassis with the original ATI GPU. Not a harsh whine anymore but definitely a noisy bellow.

Still reluctant to actually buy another PSU I spent some time configuring the Antec chassis fans hoping I could get the ambient temperature down to a level that would allow the PSU fans to throttle back - as they clearly stated they would on the box. Over the course of the next three days I baselined the CPU, GPU and ambient chassis temperatures in different scenarios using different chassis fan settings. In the end it needed all chassis fans maxed out to even slightly impact the 'CoolerMaster' PSU fan. The final nail in the 'CoolerMaster' coffin though was in its remaining in 'bellow' mode through all cadences of the CPU, GPU and ambient temperatures.

I bit the bullet and after some thorough investigation this time came across: www.quietpc.com and from there, after further investigation, ordered the Nesteq 500W PSU. One of the reasons for dropping on the wattage was deciding that my single HDD, 2xCD/DVD configuration didn't really need a 650W PSU, despite various website claims to the contrary. It seems the actual core requirements if you read the nVidia specifications state a 450W PSU as minimum for the 8800GTX. The Nesteq 500W was also certified as very quiet by QuietPC and supported twin SLI for the 8800GTX.

Replacing a PSU in the Antec chassis is no easy thing, it basically requires you pull absolutely everything out and then after swapping out PSU put everything back in. But it was worth it. The whole Antec system running the 8800GTX now runs with nothing more than a quiet hush even with the CPU and GPU pushed to the maxiumum – hoorah.

This picture shows off the two tiered design of the P182 - although here with the troublesome 650w PSU still installed. The big dark chunk in the middle with all the yellow cables attached is the 8800GTX. The chassis has a cavity at the back which allows for cables to be trailed out of site to alocation near where they are needed. Hover your mouse of different areas of the picture to find out what different bits do.

For those interested in the Antec P182 config: the lower PSU chassis fan runs at LOW, the back fan runs at MEDIUM and the top spoiler fan at LOW. This gives the best combination for drawing out the HDD and ambient chassis heat to and through the PSU at the base while using the back and top to draw heat from the motherboard and GPU. The top also drawing out the filtered heat from the CPU fan.

Peace has been restored. But having decided now that I need to get the CPU and GPU processors consistently below 40 and 50 celcius respectively - I am going the water cooling route. Check back circa the end of March to find out just what difference the 'Zalman Reserator 2 fanless water cooling' had to offer the johniebg quiet PC experience.

Wednesday 20 February 2008 - Writing Journal Chapter Seven
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When we look at the dynamics of a story presented in a book the whole can usually be broken down into several distinctive stages. There are commonly considered to be twelve stages in popular fiction, four of each place neatly into the first, then second and third act which roughly equate to the beginning, middle and end.

The first stage, at least for the type of story I am writing, and the stage I discussed in the last journal is about presenting the characters in their normal world. The second stage and the one I have almost finished writing is more of the normal world with a hint of what is to come – having your protagonists walking along the cliff edge so to speak.

Which all sounds nice and simple. Here is an excerpt from the plot outline I wrote for the final section of stage two – the bit I am currently finishing off:

'The girl seems striking to Sarah, there is an immediate connection.'

Now that seems very simple and nicely clear as it did when I wrote that portion of the plot back in November last year. This scene is a pivotal moment for the whole book and the following sequence something I have been looking forward to writing since I first came up with the idea while stood outside Boots in the local town centre.

But the thing is and as I am currently working to finesse – your great work of prose cannot hold a line that simply states: 'The girl seemed striking, Sarah felt an immediate connection.' Well I suppose you could but I guess the book wouldn't be very long and it wouldn't make for much of a read. It seems the trick for writing a good book and more importantly keeping a reader involved for just over three hundred pages is to almost never tell the reader anything, just give them as much detail as possible and then leave them to reach their own conclusion. For instance detailing for the reader what is striking about the girl, without specifically stating that she is striking. And then leading the reader to the impression Sarah makes a connection without explicitly stating there is a connection, is bloody hard and why I am sitting here writing a blog about it and not actually writing IT.

That said, this was always going to be a learning process and it has at no stage disappointed - once more the difference between constructing short stories and the intricate planning and building of a novel are reminded to me every time I start up openOffice to edit or create a new chapter from new.

Which leads me nicely onto the next key topic: the creative process. Which has been another revelation for me over and above my usual writing habits.

Up until embarking on this journey I only ever pick up a pen to doodle – usually in meetings at work. I am the owner of many notepads though, which are often purchased with the ideal of constructing story points and ideas onto their pages. But all the stories that I have previously written have existed entirely in my mind – no need for notepads.

In the case of this book I realised the whole thing could not effectively be kept in my mind – reliably at least, so I created the plot outline. This was achieved digitally through keyboard as with everything else. But with that done I have found that knowing what you want to write is only half the battle, knowing how you are going to put that on the page is entirely another. For instance the following is the detail from the plot outline that summarises the section that I have just finished writing:

'The two go shopping. Dialogue on the random factor who will drive. They have one car – nominally Sarah's. She is standing outside HMV after a tiff with Adam, looking at an advertisement in the window of Boots.'

As it happens in story terms this section is meant to fill roughly two thousand words and is immediately precludes the section discussed above with the 'striking girl' and 'Sarah making a connection'.

Knowing in advance what it is I have to write has been the great bonus of the outline but the drawback is I often find sitting down infront of the computer and firing up an empty page a difficult medium to then transform 'The two go shopping' into a section of the book that tells you more about the characters, drives the story and sets up what happens next. Or when we consider: 'She is standing outside HMV after a tiff'. Somehow, you have to craft a scenario that still tells you more about the characters but also manufacture a scenario where they remain believable within the character, remains plausible within the story but allows you to separate them within the story for a while so you can initiate the catalyst for all that follows. Of course there is also the small matter of making it readable and interesting.

During weekdays, finding time to think this all out has been a major stumbling block.

Fortunately we live within two miles of a Borders and spending Sunday afternoons, as we did when trying to work out the start of the first chapter, has been a great way of getting minds eye away from a blank page on the screen to a creative mindset sat in the upstairs Starbucks. For each of the two main sections that followed the opening with Sarah and Adam at home, the core framework – the throwing the clay onto the table and giving it shape has been accomplished with notepad and pen scribbling furiously amid the sound of expresso steam and scraping chairs. It should also be noted the ever handy Priddeesh came up with a brilliant, royalty free 'tiff' concept while allegedly studying addiction.

For all the challenges, this is a hugely rewarding process. One that I hope to repeat often. Key in the enjoyment has been creating characters that feel real and putting them into different scenarios. It really is something to have thought up a character, plotted what they are like, having brought them to life and then seeing their personality defined on the page. Already I am starting to think forward to when the story is finished and the characters journey has been told. My mind at some distant part of my conscious is thinking – what could happen next?

Saturday 9 February 2008 - A man named Lionel
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One of the men that has had the greatest impact on my life, probably the greatest – would be a South African now resident in Sydney.

To think that I met this man in 2003 will occasionally lead me to think what the hell I had been thinking for the previous 36 years of my life. But I guess like most people I had spent my time knowing stuff, without really knowing the precise semantics. And had been perfectly happy in that state of affairs.

It is difficult to really quantify in simple words what it was that Lionel taught me, I guess at its most basic it was an ethic to understand what made something happen without accepting that it just happened. Which may seem extremely obvious to anyone reading this, but ask yourself:

Where does tap water come from? Okay so we might answer: 'pipes in the ground'. But what puts the water in the pipes? A pump presumably, but where is this pump and where does it get its water from? Just the rain? Does the water arrive clean? We probably have to face the fact that some sewage is regenerated into drinking water, do we know that for sure? If so what do they do to make the water drinkable regardless of whether its origins are rain or sewage? I don't mean we can assume they sprinkle in some chemicals and pass it through a filter, I mean what precisely happens. Which means we must know what properties these chemicals possess that make them specifically good at allowing us to take rain water and sewage, and prepare them for drinking. What happens at the molecular level that makes the water drinkable? We should probably consider that untreated sewage would contain a wide variety of bacteria, and if we drink that bacteria we might feel very ill or possibly die (we might but will not digress at this point and ponder exactly how bacteria would kill us). So the chemicals probably bond to the bacteria and kill them, but how do they bond? What element of the chemical allows this bonding process to happen and what element then kills the bacteria?

This is how Lionel taught me to look at information – to never assume that something just was. It was originally taught to me within the context of how I met Lionel, which was in my first days as a Novell employee and thus the original teaching was undertaken within the realm of software support. An unusual forum one might think for a life changing experience.

I should probably at this juncture point out that Novell are (at the time of writing) a software company that have made their name through the production of quite brilliant computer networking software and the equally capable support of this software through their in house teams of support engineers.

During the seven years that preceded my meeting Lionel in 2003 I had been working freelance - specialising in supporting Novell technologies. Amongst a list of very satisfied customers who all willingly contributed reference to my CV were the Bank of England, a large firm of lawyers and a major Asian airline, not withstanding two years at the MOD - so I knew a thing or two and I guess is why I was hired.

But I didn't of course - I knew enough to earn me a good wage in the big wide world but when aligned with the elite of Novell I realised very quickly that I knew next to nothing.

I could of course go onto describe exactly how Lionel then taught me the mental aspect of relentlessly chasing down a question to its resolution through its ultimate point of origin. But that would be overly contrived and complicated. Just load up Kill Bill 2 and skip forward to the scene where David Carradine waves Uma up the long steep steps after demonstrating his flute playing skills. What then unfolds between Uma and Kung Fu master Pai Mei is a good analogy of what being trained by Lionel was about – it was painful.

At first these skills were simply applied in the technical world - within the realms of software support and managing the needs and frailties of technical infrastructures. Environments that failed for every reason in this world not related to Novell software, but as customers paid a considerable amount of money for the services of Novell Engineers, and so highly regarded were they, that you were held accountable for every problem until you had chased down that issue to its ultimate cause. Of these issues I would estimate that 20% were caused by bugs in Novell code, 30% in badly supported third party software that just happened to interact at some point in the food chain with Novell and 50% were down to the indigenous support staff not being trained by Lionel.

Novell is now part of this life's history but the approach to chasing down questions grew in my mind from something to be used in fixing technical dilemmas to a tool that could be used to better understand life. And let's face it, who couldn't do with a little better grasp on the semantics of the world and people around us.

So it slowly dawned on me that I might use this knowledge to work out a few of life's little conundrums, and if we were going to look at life's conundrums we might as well start with the big daddy, so to speak: god.

But do not fret, god is not the topic of this. The path of that quest is well documented elsewhere here, with current conclusions available for all to read in the first three chapters of: 'A Voice of Reason' essay.

The 'Voice of Reason' at this time is unfinished because my quest for god, having dwelt on evolution, genetics and popular religious history for nigh on two years. Has now taken me to the realm of the human brain. The reason it has been so long since I posted the last chapter of the 'Voice' is because I have been busy studying how evolution came up with something so simple as the neuron and wonderfully complex as the brain. And all that results – including the last great mystery of homosapien: consciousness.

From all the information I have so far, once I have finished working out how the brain, connectionist networks, a dizzying array of chemicals and the mind could come up with a concept of god, I will be moving onto quantum physics. Which seems to be where all the answers are.

So what you might ask? Well that is precisely the point. I could blether on about questing for answers to better understand your place in society and life, finding yourself and purpose. But that would be contrived and boring. Working with Lionel equipped me with an outlook that changed my perception of information, allowed me to blink and see through the fog of constructs that keep us ignorant. I saw the world through different eyes and increasingly see things for what they really are. Which has ultimately changed the course of this life and everything it subsequently accomplishes. So what? I just wanted to acknowledge that.

Wednesday 23 January 2008 - Belfast, Notes and Chesil Beach
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Last week the roll out took thee to Belfast, which had been a destination that caught the eye when I first took a look at the roll out schedule. It was a place I had never been, had never occurred to me to visit, but now I was going, I was quite intrigued. Mostly as you might imagine because I grew into a world where our government held the IRA and not Osama as the worlds number one terror threat. As such for much of my life, Belfast has held a similar place in my mind as cities like Lebanon. But now people have outwardly stopped killing each other I was quite eager to head over there – it has been years since the office was last firebombed.

Despite being tempted by the ferry – I will avoid being on moving aeroplanes if it doesn't complicate life too much – I did eventually choose Aer Lingus which made the travel day preparations relatively simple. In that the ever obliging Priddeesh (having booked the day off to study) carted me the 40 miles along the M4 to Heathrow and despite Aer Lingus printing the wrong gate number on the boarding card, which caused two trips through security. I was in a position to kiss Belfast tarmac within four hours of leaving my house and within five I had been regaled on Northern Irish history and its religious contexts by the taxi driver - completely without prompting I promise you, and found myself sitting in the hotel bar sipping Guinness and reading Notes on a Scandal.

Which meant that by the time another English punter turned up at the bar fairly late in the evening and asked the barman which teams were playing football on the TV, the barman repeated the question to me across the length of the bar, because I had been there the longest and had exchanged a few pleasant words with him during the course of the evening. The only trouble was that his guttural northern Irish: 'Do you know who is playing on the TV' sounded remarkably like: 'Take him outside and shoot him'. Which was a little startling, but seeing the look of shock on my face he dumbed down the speed of his speech and all proceeded without further incident.

Much Guinness was consumed by myself during that night, which did not require any roll out type work on my part, and not having consumed Guinness since it started tasting too bitter post the shift of production back across to Ireland, I had a great time sat in my corner reading and sipping away.

Apart from the fact most of everyone talks with the same sinister guttural accent, Belfast turned out to be remarkable, for just how unremarkable it was. It pretty much reminded me of any provincial city you might find in the UK, save for an extraordinary number of Churches (Protestant and fairly plain) and Chapels (Catholic and dauntingly intricate in construct). The only other thing that set it apart was the busy expansion of the city, in aspects such as city centre accommodation and the growth of commerce. Which put me in mind of English city growth during the later part of the 20th century. As a friend once said to me, as we looked from high across the London city scape: 'You can tell the wealth of any city at any time, by the number of cranes that fill the horizon.'

Belfast on the roll out stakes went well - despite a rarely known backup device. And the journey home passed without incident, save for leaving my suitcase and works computer on the link bus from Heathrow to Reading. Fortunately the works computer is a clapped out old Toshiba and the suitcase only contained the Toshiba (saves lugging it through security), an old jumper and a few pairs of once worn grundies. Despite initial optimism the suitcase has so far failed to turn up.

For me Belfast will be remembered for lunch in the 'Crown' on Thursday before completing the roll out and for the books I read during my journey to, during and the return. The reading started with 'Notes on a Scandal' which was very enchanting and totally tragic, and 'On Chesil Beach' which was beautifully written, contained probably the most captivating opening chapter I have ever read, but essentially read like a short story padded out to a short novel and failed to engage during the middle section as you might expect from such an endeavour.

You can read reviews for Notes Here and Chesil Here, for which your votes extolling their usefulness would be very much appreciated (it keeps me in the good graces of Amazon).

Tuesday 22 January 2008 - Writing Journal - One
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Establishing character is supposed to be the first thing you do in a book – detailing the primary protagonists in their normal world before you plunge them into the story. So when I say that I have just finished the first two chapters of 'the book': which currently has the working title of: 'Stealing Innocence', I mean to say I have just finished the tough process of introducing two of the major characters.

When writing short stories the general outline of a vague plot sits in my mind and gradually emerges onto the page, with all kinds of unplanned but wonderful and weird things occurring somewhere between the start and end. When the idea for 'stealing Innocence' first burst, quite literally, through my mind, I immediately realised there was just so much information sitting in this biological memory that I didn't want time or focus to erase or at least fade. So I sat down and outlined the whole plot quite literally chapter by chapter. Despite being quite a tough process it not only accomplished a documented whole but was almost like a first pass at writing the story. It has allowed for so many touches to be woven into the whole and so many extra story and character elements, that creating a plot will be something I always set out to do, although I suspect will always be the part I look forward to the least.

Having finished the lengthy process of creating an entire plot outline it then took a while to actually get the 'voice' of the story set correctly in my head and actually start writing. The popular approach for first time story or Novel writers is the first person narrative, as this overcomes many obstacles presented by tense and story mechanism. Its limitation is that the story almost entirely revolves around the narrator and therefore can limit the plot. As 'Stealing Innocence' is a story that focuses on separate viewpoints from a female and male character, I needed to write in a third person 'omnipotent' perspective so there was no confusion as to who in the story is the current focus. I spent most of last year working on the omnipotent viewpoint and is one that still presents some challenges, but hopefully as we ease into the story these will not manifest in the requirement for quite so much revision.

So with plot and viewpoint sorted it was then the simple matter of beginning the story – but having spent two months dreaming of the characters, their personalities and interactions, I just could not get a sense for how I wanted the opening sequence to start – the first page being a fairly important one. So I pulled all my favourite books form their shelves and checked out the first chapters. But was still stuck. So we went to Borders and sat in Starbucks with a collection of bestsellers and the critically acclaimed and read their first chapters. Somewhere during this process I found myself reading the first chapter of 'Notes on a Scandal' and 'On Chesil beach' and was respectively amazed at what a distinct image we got for Sheba from just a few descriptive references and how mesmerising and real Ian McEwans characters were in the first chapter – and something clicked and I was off.

4000 words almost two weeks later may not seem like a lot of output. But in creating these first two chapters it has felt more like a subtle sculpting process than a writing one as words, paragraphs have been shaped, cut, moved and re-written to define characters, mood and physicality.

During this process it occurred to me that despite a good feeling for the characters in my head, including some visual elements, it would be real handy to actually have pictures of them. As our minds are largely image driven it was then not too difficult to cross reference the image of the character in my mind to a known movie star. The only problem being that a central character is an eleven year old girl which conjured some issues in specifying my child star criteria in Google

So now I have a montage of photos sat on the wall above my monitor that includes : Adrien Brody, Tea Leoni (as she was in the 90's), Michael Bhein (Abyss) and eventually playing safe opting for Dakota Fanning as the girl. It really does help being able to look up and see the characters, I think.

Now that these chapters are finished and we can head out into the story proper there is huge satisfaction to be had in possessing the first twelve pages of the novel and a very clear feeling for the people around which the story will evolve.

So – Sarah and Adam Sawacki (working surname) now live. Onwards we go.

Sunday 6 January 2008 - Another New Year
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Not that I am begrudging this life another year of course, but ... here we are again. Although we don't have to worry about writing the wrong dates on cheques anymore - hoorah.

New year resolutions are not really my thing but each new year does naturally herald feelings of hope and optimism. As such I have 'goals' that I wish to attain during the forthcoming year. For instance I would very much like to have moved house before the next twelve months elapse.

Of course purchasing a house requires a mortgage and paying mortgages means finding employment, and employment longevity for me means finding something that will keep me interested long enough to warrant getting up and commuting every morning. Which can be a problem - having attained more than everything technical that I have ever desired or wanted, outside of full time technical authoring which probably won't pay enough right now. So it looks like employment means venturing down the 'management' route.

Not that I am currently unemployed, I simply work for myself. Which in modern parlance means I am a contractor. Contracting is good for the soul - in as much you tend to work for a company as if you were a full time employee but unlike a full time employee management seem to hang off your every word and you do not tend to get involved in politics - mostly. The downside to contracting is that you can be working fifty miles away for three months of the year, three counties away for six months and five miles away for the other three. So I guess the solution is full time employment and right now that must be about long term stability via location and challenge. As technology doesn't represent a challenge anymore, I guess the challenge will lay in managing technical people - which I have been doing for years as a contractor. Or managing a whole infrastructure, which will mean a small to medium sized business. We will see.

Unfortunately moving into a new house will also require selling and moving out of this one - which isn't even a house but a two bedroom apartment. In fact a two bedroom apartment that currently resembles a warehouse more than an ongoing domicile. This sorry state of affairs is a direct consequence of the paraphernalia the good lady Priddeesh and I seem to have accumulated in our lifetimes. Which mostly incorporates books, DVD's and for Prid a whole bunch of Open Uni study guides and clothes she seems to spend more time looking optimistically at than actually wearing. Which means we will need to box and pack and find storage for at least half the stuff we own if there is to be any chance of passing the current abode off as anything anyone might view as somewhere they might want to live.

One of my other goals this year is to finish writing at least one book, which is going well and is documented in varying degrees elsewhere here. If only I could control my desire to have everything end with themes of redemption and manifesting bloody huge angels - always problematic when trying to close a story.

Another goal is to get fitter and drink less. By fitter I mean try and incorporate some form of exercise into my weeks which experience has taught requires routine. And by drinking less I mean getting out of the habit I formed during my years at Novell, of drinking during the week. It is one thing to proudly proclaim that you never drink at home, it is entirely another to realise this is because you trot round to the pub five evenings a week.

When I left Novell I stopped socialising with the Novell heads on a regular basis. Not because I was glad to be rid of their company but I was nominally either in Bristol or some remote part of the country during the week. But what did happen is that the pub visits during the week mutated into keeping a few beers in the fridge of a night. Which can very easily turn into a tricky seven day a week habit.

It is also about this time that some part of my conscious reminds me that another year has passed since the end of my marriage. One of the most traumatic periods of this life is now eight years past. It is hard to comprehend sometimes. If you spend the best part of a decade living with someone, that experience will become part of what you are. Which means when it is no more, part of you can seem like it is missing.

Over the long haul you look back and see the ruptures that existed in the relationship that were there for a long part of that relationship. But at the time you think you are in 'love' and hope that somehow truth will prevail. The irony is that truth usually does. But often a personal truth will mean that your life is meant to unfold elsewhere, with someone else.

As much as I was head over heels back in the day, I also very often felt like a fish out of water - this city boy never did become accustomed to the people and ways of the country. The truth of this life has been about what happened after that traumatic year of 2000. So it is with fondness that I recall the good times and with a tender heart that I recall the wounds we both inflicted in trying to negotiate the ruptures. The ex Mrs Potter is by all accounts married, happy, successful and churning out babies - I wish her only the best.

As far as hobbies go, where do I start. For some reason I have a desire to build another computer, this time a state of the art gaming machine that makes no noise whatsoever. I have a great urge for some reason to build one with a water cooling system - I blame it on the recent brush with the noisy nVidia card.

Having thoroughly enjoyed our year long attendance of the book4, Priddeesh and I would also like to start a book club. The book4 of 2006 was great fun and much missed now no one else in the book club is talking to each other (you can read about that here). The current plan is to create a book club website with an online forum that is focused around once monthly meetings in the real world.

Hobby writing projects outside of my book writing endeavors include finishing the Voice of Reason 'god dialogues' and a fictional account of Mary's (ed. mother of a chap called Jesus) life based on historical knowledge I have gleaned about life in the time and what her life might actually have entailed - assuming of course that a god never managed to come up with some method for bonding his divine DNA with a humans and spawning the human son of god, and then subsequently thanking Mary by ascending her physically into heaven without the inconvenience of death. Beam me up Scotty.

Of course there is also the ongoing Vine reviews for Amazon. Am up to a top 1200 ranking - the excitement is palpable.

At some time I also want to become proficient with Photoshop using my recently acquired but seldom used Wacom tablet. The aim is to reproduce a famous painting using a montage of photographs taken by yours truly - with the result looking like an authentic and beautiful photo - which I will then print to canvas and spend my days marveling at. We will see.

Everything that I put to this site in words during 2007 is now currently available from the journal archive. This is all the blogs posted in 2007 presented in chronological order, so you read it as it happened. Which is cool. There are also a whole bunch of photo/picture icons to accompany the blogs that are visually significant of that moment in time. You can check last years journal out here.

Have a good one.

Tuesday 1 January 2008 - Geeksville: nVidia 8800 GTX
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It is funny how these things start. First of all I was in 'Game' the other day allegedly researching gifts for this past Christmas, when I set eyes on the latest incarnation of Unreal Tournament (UT). If you do not know what that entirely means it is one of the premier first person shooter (FPS) games of the last decade. If you don't know what a first person shooter is, then I feel fairly certain you will understand very little of what follows.

My favourite FPS games of the last two decades remains the Quake franchise but previous incarnations of UT made some serious inroads - it is fun and quick but ultimately never feels as real, and therefore not as engaging as Quake.

To quantify: bigPete and yours truly have literally spent months going head to head in UT but have been Quaking for years.

But as I stood in 'Game' the other day, the tantalising prospect of the very latest in graphics offerings and the 'fun' aspect of UT game play was too hard to resist and at twenty quid, beyond temptation.

When I eventually installed UT I was in for a shock. Firstly the intro sequence was breathtaking, and if the actual game graphics were anything like that it would be stunning. Within UT I eagerly setup the video and audio, configured the keyboard controls and started an ad-hoc deathmatch. I was in for a bigger shock: the graphics were so poor I can only equate it to watching a black and white movie under water. After several hours of tuning the graphics and resolution settings – which meant that at best the images on screen were slightly better defined but slowed to a juddering frame be frame rendering.

It slowly dawned on me that my computer, or more to the point, my graphics card was just not up to the job.

My primary machine, and the one I do all my meaty graphics stuff on is a Dell Dimension 9150. It runs a duel core 2.99 Ghz processor with 3Gb Ram and a Radeon 9600 series graphics card with 256Mb ram. Which is to say my computer is no slouch. But I have had it for just over 18 months now and I guess games have moved on in that time. Resigned to having wasted 20 quid I popped UT onto the games shelf and moved on. That was 24th December.

The conscious mind is a wonderful, mysterious thing. On boxing day I was sifting through some specifications I had put together for bigPete a few months back, when he was looking for a new graphics card. For some reason I suddenly found myself reading the recommendations and then inexplicably at Amazon checking out prices.

The graphics card industry used to be diverse but now it seems our choices really come down to whether you're going to buy an ATI or NVIDIA solution. Occasionally something new appears, but in this world of DirectX conformity, all seems to boil down to one of these two. And having been buying electronics now for almost twenty years it is more a relief to have your decision process narrowed to two quality vendors. At this precise moment in time the industry, including those that judge and review graphics hardware lean towards NVIDIA. As my last three cards have been ATI this is where I headed.

The top of the range NVIDIA card appears to be the 8800 Ultra which comes in at just under 500 quid, which is more than I am ever going to pay for a graphics card. But in the reviews for this card almost all state that it is only slightly better than the 8800GTX.

Historically I have always brought the card that offers the best performance in relation to cost. Which means that you get the card home, installed and find that it does everything your old card used to do and a little more, giving a wow factor but when you try to fully ramp up the graphics settings everything comes to a grinding halt just like your old card. So I was looking to get the best card I could with just a cautionary glance at price. Not that it isn't a factor, but if I couldn't get a card at value that did all I wanted, I just would not be getting one.

The interesting thing about buying an NVIDIA card is that they sell their technology to other vendors – so other companies buy the core card, add in their own branding and tweak the specifications, throw in a few games that didn't sell well and hey presto we have a rich, diverse and very confusing marketplace, albeit the same core technology. So I decided OEM was the road for me: no bundled software, no gimmicks. Just the card manufactured by NVIDIA and the cheaper for it.

The NVIDIA 8800GTX OEM comes in at half the cost of the Ultra and a ton less than any bundled implementation of the same technology. As ordered from www.ebuyer.co.uk the abbreviated and understandable part of the specification is: Multi core SLI GPU's (which I think means there are multi processors), 768Mb Ram and dedicated video and shader processors, support for up to 16x anti-liasing and two DVI monitors running max resolutions of 2500x1600. Basically we are talking state of the art home kit at this moment in time.

Of course I didn't understand what a lot of the specs. meant other than the reviews raved and the price seemed unbeatable. And it was, still is. Researching the technologies revealed that the SLI part simply means it has multi graphics processors hooked into the one board which means it needs a whole bunch of extra power supplied via SLI cables from a super powered power supply – which of course I didn't have.

A quick check of Google confirmed this and now committed to this path added the 650w, multi SLI compliant 'coolmaster' power supply to my order. Which of course bumped up the price by another three score.

When it arrived the 8800GTX took my breath away, not least from the size of it which roughly equals the distance from the tip of my fingers to the crook of my arm. It is huge. It also looks really cool and you can understand the modern trend of buying transparent computer chassis. The card fitted exactly into my tower with no problems and once the PSU was swapped out for the 'coolmaster' I held my breath and turned it all on – it all powered up like a dream. Old drivers were uninstalled, the new ones installed.

There was one immediately obvious difference. This super powered graphics card runs very hot. Which means everything that keeps the inside of my computer cool, has to work that much harder. Which means my previously quiet desktop now sounds like a deskfan on the lowest setting while doing ordinary stuff like this (typing) and when ramping up the graphics via something like Quake4, it sounds like a desk fan on the highest setting – or a harrier jump jet taking off, I haven't decided which yet. So if karma computing is your thing then a 8800GTX probably is not the path for thee.

Quake has always been the benchmark for gaming hardware, and the current incarnation is Q4. On my old card I could only ran this at 800x600 with the graphics quality set at medium. I could run it at 1024x768 with the quality set at low but that was really only for online gaming where my only need was graphical speed in order to leverage myself into spreading bigPete's digital intestines across some random arena.

So ... this first thing I did with my new desk fan was to set the graphics on Q4 to 1920x1200, the maximum allowed by my 24” monitor, push the quality slider right over to ULTRA, set all graphics options to ON, turn on anti-liasing at a hopeful x4 (for starters) and see how we go. Having saved and restarted, the game took precious seconds to load and ... WOW!

These are both produced using the 8800GTX so they are not great examples of the before and after scenario. But they do show the difference between running at 800x600 in medium quality and 1920x1200 Ultra. The differences are in the quality of the light and finer detail: check on the visors and the definition of the smaller components. You have to consider that each of these pictures is cropped from a much larger whole x4. The fact they initially appear similar is testament to the power of the 8800GTX. A better reviewer would reinstall the old card to do a before and after, or would have thought of that before doing the upgrade. Such is life.

So far I have re-installed UT and all the games purchased this year and maxed them out graphically. They all look stunning, save except for the latest incarnation of UT, which is ironic, which I guess relies on the functionality of DirectX 10 in Vista (I run XP) to really add shine. Half Life 2 also surprised me. It looks stunning, but it looked stunning before, running it at the maximum resolution just seems to bring out the textures but everything still seems 'angular'.

So then. I now have a computer that is discernibly louder but I cannot tell whether that will hinder my writing efforts as I have not written anything save for this since installing the 8800GTX. I am guessing my preference for Moby or soundtracks by Michael Nyman playing in the background while I write will mask the sound, and if not I will switch to entering blogs and writing the masterpiece on one of the other three computers (2 x laptop and 1 x Win XP multimedia station) scattered around the house. The old card is being kept in reserve just in case the sound resulting from the 8800 GTX becomes more of a hassle than the benefit of jaw dropping graphics.

ED.
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Sony Vaio Notebook Computer

The PSU which sucks in air from a small space below The HDD cage. In this configuration holding just the one SATA drive The 8800GTX which runs very hot. The filtered cavity through which air is sucked into the chassis. The other fans draw the air across the motherboard and core units to help keep them cool This is the CPU heatsink and fan. Underneath is a small chip that generates a huge amount of heat. The RAM slots. In this case 2 x 1Gb and 2x512Mb. Both currently running at a fairly rubbish 533Mhz. The motherboard supports speeds much higher. This rear fan sucks heat away from the motherboard and 8800GTX This top fan sucks out heat channelled by the heatsink and fan. The soundcard - soundblaster of course The very important motherboard manual. Tools for screwing stuff in. The top level cage for holding hard disks which I don't need because I only have the one hard disk The DVD/RW/CD and the DVD/CD The wall. It is painted a sort of primula - pastel yellow. Cable ties - which any engineer will tell you are the lifeblood of techie things. The lower tier fan. It sucks air from the front, through the HDD cage on the right and out towards the PSU. Part of the  motherboard packaging. There was lots of it. More of the wall. Above here are some scary pictures.