Lock up your sons and daughters!

Carry On Teacher
Carry On Teacher

OK, in a rare “about me” post, and a break from the deluge of film reviews to come: hear this!

I am going to be a teacher.

Scared yet? Let me get specific. I’ve managed to wangle my way onto a course in Secondary Education with Computing at Strathclyde University, hopefully resulting in a PGDE. I applied late and went for interview a couple of months ago. I didn’t make the grade for the highly-contested last two places, but I was persistent. When I got back to the UK this week, I contacted them again and asked if there had been any drop-outs or no-shows.

I guess there was.

Today I got a call asking me if I could start on Monday. This will be two full weeks into the educational calendar so I’ll have a lot to catch up on. At present my biggest concern is finding somewhere to live. The commute from Perth, where I’m staying with the folks, isn’t too long of a day but it’s far too expensive in the long term. Chances are I’ll end up staying with family for a couple of weeks.

The nature of the course (few weeks at uni, few weeks at a school, repeat) means that I won’t necessarily be based around Glasgow for the entire duration of the course. Not helpful when trying to organise a rental agreement. I guess I’ll find out!

However, what I can say is that I’m really looking forward to it. OK, so it knocks my travelling on the head for a while but perhaps that’s a good thing. Given that I should get the course for nothing having been “resident” in Scotland for over three years, and that I can get a full student loan to top up my dwindling savings I could even come out of it a little better off than I went in.

It’s a new challenge and something I’m really excited about doing. Career prospects aren’t too bad at the end, either – I’ll still have all my IT history as well as a new qualification. I may even go on to do a PGDE in Primary Education at some point and cover all the bases. See how this one goes first, though.

So expect a few posts about the course, being a mature student, life in Glasgow and more film reviews as the next few months progress. Don’t worry, I will update the travel blog from time to time and I intend to go abroad during the holidays as long as I can afford it.

Now, how many laptops do I need to take with me?

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Geekiest post ever

Installing Microsoft Windows Vista

Well, geekiest post from me at any rate. Probably.

My last two work days have been hectic to say the least. It was a relief when I handed my mobile in (then got it back and instructed to turn it off before putting it in the box) so I knew I wouldn’t be getting any more calls.

So what have I done? Out of the goodness of my heart, I fixed one of the child care worker’s laptops. It was stuck in an endless loop after downloading some updates. Yes. Vista. A quick Google came up with countless people with the same issue. And the only solution from Microsoft was to not let it happen in the first place. Well done, Bill.

In fairness, they did have three fixes on the website but none of them were any use as they all essentially led you to different paths to use the rollback function in Windows. Which wouldn’t work. Every time I tried it, it fell over. I think one of the files was corrupt.

I eventually ended up hacking together several fixes I found on the web. First off, booting to a Vista DVD allowed to be get on via a command prompt, run a disc scan and patch the registry as per some instructions I found on a Technet bulletin.

This allowed me to actually get into Windows “normally”. However, as several critical system files (a whole three that I was told about whenever I tried to run anything) were buggered, nothing would start. I couldn’t repair Vista with an install from the DVD as it was from Business edition and the laptop had one of the multitude of Home editions on it.

Besides, and here’s a clever thing, you can’t run a repair install (i.e. a restore-over-the-top of the system files) from a DVD boot as you can with XP. And 2000. And NT. And 95. And ME. And 98. YOu can only run this “upgrade” as it’s called from within Windows. So if you can’t get into Vista, or Vista is pooched to the point where you can’t run anything within it, you’re screwed.

Thankfully, it was recognising some devices shoved into the USB ports including my memory stick. So via a command prompt, I copied over versions of the files it was whinging about from Dave’s laptop (also running Home Premium) which allowed me to run the “Upgrade” option from the DVD he had for his machine. Not before copying all his files sideways and off the C: partition, of course. Can’t be too careful. That was a memory test in itself, trying to remember how to use xcopy.

Bloody hell, Vista takes a long time to install. I ended up leaving it overnight.

Finally, ta-da, bootable laptop. I then put SP1 on. Another overnighter. Then the 30-ish patches that sit on top of it. That ran most of the day.

After approximately 20 hours of processing (rough guess as I was asleep for a lot of it) we had a working laptop. Well, working and crippled by Vista.

I know I bash Vista a lot. And after this experience it honestly does deserve it. Every time you want to do something system-y it asks if you’re sure. Only the prompt doesn’t always appear at the front of the screen – it lurks behind other windows so you don’t know what’s holding up the whole process.

Oh, and I installed OpenOffice on Ben’s laptop as well. On an old 2000 box it takes less than 5 minutes. On Ben’s pretty new Vista laptop it was over 20. W…T…F?!

Another lad had less luck. His new Sony Vaio demonstrated its magnificence… by displaying a small green LED and making a quiet “whirr” when powered on. And that was it. And it wouldn’t switch off. That one’s heading back to the UK for a warranty repair.

Incidentally, what’s happened to Vaios? They used to be sleak and sexy. Now they’re chuggy big things in flexible, cheap-looking cases.

Next big job was to supply the hotel with a second PC. It would have to be an old clunker, but the child care manager was happy enough with that. Anything so she didn’t have to engage in armed combat with the hotel manager to get onto the main PC. Where he is usually busy playing Space Invaders or shooting zombies.

Allegedly.

This took ages. I picked an old Windows 2000 box at random and set it up. Thankfully it still had an Office license on (version 2000), so no need to explain to another person that OpenOffice is just the same. The only hiccups were in getting the data off the main PC onto it, and converting her emails. The main PC runs XP and Office 2003.

Now there is a conversion utility for going 2003 -> 2000. But you don’t need it. Simply create a new PST file (File… New) in 2003, and select the option to make it Office 2000 compatible. Copy all your existing mail into this new set of folders, copy the new PST file onto the Office 2000 machine and run a simple Import.

Oh, yeah. The copying. The second PC wasn’t in a convenient place to have a network cable draped to it so I dug out one of the handy-dandy wi-fi dongles that Netgear include with their wireless routers. We’ve got a ton of them kicking about. I ran the disc, it installed, no problems. Nice little gadgets.

Problem 1 – no wi-fi. Someone had “knocked the router off the stool or something, I think” according to the hotel manager. Which reads to me that he did it… unless he happened to find it on the floor in which case I’ll believe him. Either way, this came with a weird symptom – the wi-fi broke.

OK, that’s not what’s weird. What’s weird is that when I logged onto the router it told me it was a Netgear DW834. When clearly on the case it says it’s a DW834G. The only difference between these models is that the G has wi-fi capability. There were no options in the menu for wi-fi or anything. Bizarre.

A quick scan on the internet told me that one problem is the wi-fi card inside the router being knocked loose. This isn’t an issue with v3 upwards, as it’s built onto the same board. But the v1 and v2 have a separate little daughter card.

So, easy. Open it up.

Not so easy. In their infinite wisdom, Netgear decided to use stupid little bevelled star-shaped screws instead of something nice and simple. No tool I’ve ever found will get these damn things open.

So I resorted to a subtle blend of psychology… and extreme violence (points for spotting the reference if you’ve got this far through the post!). I got one of the staff to help me rip the bottom off. Then clipped off the spare plastic and undid the screws with a pair of pliers.

Sure enough, the daughter board was loose. A quick shove and all was wi-fi with the world.

Next, to transfer files. I found out the hard way that even though the 2000 box pretended to install my USB stick, it crapped itself when I tried to access it. So dragging them from a share on the old machine… nope. Same problem. Open folder, no icons, machine craps out.

Next option, push files using shared folders over the network. Nope again. Every couple of meg (and I had slightly over 200 of them to shift… zipped) I got an error that the network location was no longer connected. Maybe I was overloading the wi-fi, or 2000 just couldn’t keep up. I don’t know.

Final solution (no, I didn’t gas the PC) – memory stick into XP box, copy data, walk through the snow to office, copy data to CD, back to hotel, load from there.

*Phew*

In amongst all this, I also sorted out a fax for one resort, fixed an Outlook error elsewhere, reconfigured email in Switzerland, had a printer delivered to an area child care manager, tested a phone line in Les Gets (it was broken), configured and sent out three routers, sorted remote desktop access on a contract manager’s PC, repaired a damaged Word install, flattened my desktop PC and passed it on to a colleague, got Twhirl running under Ubuntu on my laptop using the now non-beta Adobe AIR, documented far too much stuff…

…and developed a cold. Just in time for heading home.

Bugger.

As ever, I’m glad to be popping home for a short while. I’m definitely glad to be getting a rest. It’s been a lot of work here. But never boring! And it looks good on the CV.

Yes, I still have some stuff that’s not done, but it’s nothing too important and a lot can be done from the UK. Still, I’m out of time and no need to worry. In 12 hours from now I’ll be in a minibus heading for Geneva Airport.

And I’m really looking forward to it. I need a comfy bed to curl up in and someone to feed me hot fruit juice!

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Cool blue

I just have to say a quick “thank you” to the beautiful Leah for the dinky birthday present she sent me last week. Blue, starry fairy lights. USB-powered blue, starry fairy lights. Seasonal and geeky!

I wish I had a camera. Not just to show you what they’re like dangling around my monitor, but to show you the office window from outside in the dark. While I’m sat here I don’t notice how bright they are. I only spotted last night that once the office lights are off, the whole rooms glows blue. From the street it looks like an alien abduction is taking place!

So thank you, Leah. You’ve helped brighten our office up! Nicely complimented by the pink snowflake screensaver on my Ubuntu laptop as well.

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Whisky-cam

Johnnie Walker

I have a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label on my desk. I more or less live in this office so it makes more sense than keeping it in the apartment I share. I was thinking of having a picture per day of the level in the bottle so you could judge my mood… but I don’t have a camera with me.

So you’ll just have to take my word for it. It went down quite a bit this evening.

Thankfully for celebratory reasons.

Geek warning: I don’t know PHP. I don’t “code”. It’s the one thing I don’t do. I hack away at other people’s script, and adapt and change it but I don’t code from scratch. We have an ap I set up last year using some script from the amazingly wonderful resource at Maian Script World. I hacked and cobbled and messed with it (with some help from the original author who was incredibly helpful) and we got something that kinda did what we wanted.

Then this season I found they wanted more.

So I hacked and cobbled and messed and now i have a very happy catering manager. I fear I may be H-C-M’ing a bit more to put the final touch on it before I depart in December.

The downside? We have a web-ap supplied by another company. Apparently they quoted £10k for this functionality online. I’ve given it to the company as part if my incredibly low monthly pay-packet.

Arse.

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Unwanted work colleagues

Two year old cross heifer
A fat heifer. Yesterday.

This is an offshoot of today’s Scaryduck Vote-Winning Story-A-Thon. Scary’s tale of a useless, loud-mouthed office heifer reminded me of someone who left our employ about 6 months ago.

Let’s call her… Lisa. Not to be confused with the other two Lisas here, one of whom departed of her own free will (and is gorgeous) and the other who still works here (who is also gorgeous). No, this Lisa was a minger of the highest order. And the world’s greatest bullshitter. Sadly also the world’s worst trainer which is a shame, as that was her job.

I was first introduced to her when I joined the company 4 1/2 years ago. I had to sit through 2-3 weeks of her training courses to gain some knowledge of the software I was working with. I’ll tell you, the things she had done in the past… Very impressive for a rather unattractive woman with the figure of a huge beachball full of half-set jelly.

Far be it from me to insult people based on their size. As anyone who knows me will vouch, I prefer a lady with the fuller figure. In fact, I have dated women larger than this person. But it’s the individual who makes a difference and Lisa was a fat, ugly, annoying bint. As opposed to a cuddly, pretty, fun-loving person – which she would have been with someone else’s brain in there.

Anyway, over the course of the years she fed us so much bull crap I began to think she was trying to grow roses in the office. A handful of examples:

  • Her dad had trained the SAS in sniping
  • Her dad had been a fireman
  • In fact, her dad had done so much that I doubt he held a job down for more than 3 days at a time
  • She was once an Olympic-standard swimmer until she broke her back in a freak gym accident when a qualified trainer forced her to bend over too far
  • She was developing a brain tumour
  • Her ex-fiance’s dad was the owner of KLM and bought her a £50,000 engagement ring which she returned when they broke up
  • He also bought her a Ducatti seven billion cc motorbike as a birthday present when they were on holiday in Italy. She test-drove it on the Ducatti test track
  • She got caught speeding on said bike, but the policeman who pulled her over said he’d let her off if he could have a go. He turned up on her doorstep a couple of days later
  • Her gran lived in a crappy house in a crappy area, but kept over a hundred grand under the mattress
  • She got Bon Jovi to sing Happy Birthday to a friend of hers at a gig once

There was more. I’ll spare you.

What amazed me was the vast amount of negative feedback we got from her training courses. “Spends more time over lunch than she does on lessons” was one. “Far too much time talking about herself and not enough on inventory management” another. My old boss tried to get rid of her, I believe. For some reason she never shifted.

I spoke to customers on site who wanted training but wouldn’t come back if they were getting her. A waste of money, in their opinion. The only person who remotely equalled her in terms of customer revulsion was the MD at the time.

Like someone else on Scary’s blog comments, she also always believed she was in on the joke when usually she was the butt of it. I was unfortunate enough to sit opposite her for about a year, putting up with her endless butting into conversations and humming bloody pop songs.

One day she leaned over my partition and said, “Iain? Can I ask your opinion?”

Quick as a flash, my mouth responded before my brain had time to come up to speed.

“Yep. You’re fat, you’re ugly and you smell.”

Deafening silence. Broken briefly by Stuart’s jaw hitting his desk and Jason spurting coffee up the wall.

I have gone down in legend for that. Even the PA’s mum knows me as “the guy who told Lisa she was fat, ugly and smelled” and I’ve never even met the woman.

Sadly (ha!) she was kicked out on what has since become known as Black Friday, when they culled about 10 of our staff. Unsurprisingly, we had a sudden upsurge in training very shortly after she departed. Enough, in fact, that over 2 weeks as a direct result of customers knowing they’d not be getting her we made enough profit to cover her termination settlement. Think how much we’d have made if we’d binned her 2-3 years earlier.

It seems like every office has one. I can honestly say I’m glad we no longer do.

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