Monday, 28 February 2011

A weekend away (sorry long post!)

This weekend Mrs Stace and I took a trip to the UK.  I had some shopping to do, and as my parents were going down to see family as well I thought it would be nice to try plan my trip coincide so that we could have a family get together.

The trip started interestingly – we got 20 KM’s from home and had to turn around as we had forgotten the car documents.  If we had have been staying in The Netherlands I would have risked the fine of not having them on me.  But with three countries to drive in I thought that I had better get them…

We reached the Euro Tunnel and things started to get boring…  The journey from the French border control to the UK border control (200m or so) took 40-50 minutes…  We wondered if the UK border control agents are completely ashamed working so closely to the French agents who are courteous, pleasant and speedy – as opposed to the UK agents who are slow, grumpy jobsworths.  We were in a Dutch car, with me sitting on the wrong side.  Passed them a Dutch passport for Mrs Stace and a UK passport for me; the first question was ‘Why are you going to the UK?’ This was followed by ‘Oh, I see UK passport you are just going home, where have you been?’  Going home?  In a Dutch car?  ‘No I live in the NL, we are going to the UK to visit family.’  Why you can’t just say ‘I have a UK passport so I am allowed to go there’ I am not sure…
By the time we got to where we were going it was very late and we were exhausted.

The next day we went speaker shopping.  Mrs Stace, my mum and her sister went shopping and my father and I went to demo the speakers I was thinking of buying (expect a review soon).  An hour of listening to all types of music (a nice mix of rock, classical, trance, pop and vocals) and we brought them (along with an extra amp to power the low frequency drivers) – sorry I go into geek mode with the stereo system :)

After meeting up with Mrs Stace and the rest for lunch we went to pick up the speakers.  We piled into the shop and they brought them up from the basement.  Mrs Stace went into shock at the size of the box that came up.  Then I went into shock when I saw that it said 1pc on the side – I started to panic; I may drive a Volvo estate, but it’s only a little V50!  We managed to get the boxes to the car (using a trolley from the shop – at 33kg per box we couldn’t carry them!)  Thankfully with the seats folded down they *just* fit into the car (maybe 10cm to the side and enough room at the ends to fit the box for the amp and our little suitcase.  Phew…

That evening we had a family get together, at my aunt’s house with nearly all the family there (including my cousin who I have not seen in a few years).  It was a great night, a real laugh – going down memory lane and talking about old family holidays.  There were only two spoilers for the evening.  Mrs Stace and I were still shattered from the travelling – it seems that getting up at 4:30 (UK time) driving 60 miles to work and back, doing 4 hours (and forgetting to drink due to trying to get everything in the office completed) and then driving for 9 hours to get to Leicester is not a good idea...

The other was something that I have not had to deal with for some time now…  These days I get warned by my friend who works with me that I let my mannerisms come through too often.  I relax too much and have basically stopped caring about the rumours. Sitting in my aunts living room with everyone there that all came back to me and I spent the night trying to figure out how I should be sitting, talking, what to comment on - what not to comment on.  It was like being back at my parents’ house before telling them last year.  It didn’t spoil the night, but it was exhausting –  and when already shattered it didn’t help.  We left early so that I could drive back to my other aunts safely and slept as soon as my head hit the pillow.

The next morning I woke up with a hangover.  Slightly unfair I thought seeing as I hadn’t drunk for days!  A leftover from the exhaustion and dehydration I think.  A couple cups of tea, and we left for a day’s shopping.

I had arranged to meet up with Lisa this trip, so dropping Mrs Stace off at Waterstones, and after picking up a packet of paracetamol I walked to the Clock Tower of the city I grew up in to meet someone for the first time in about 20 years – when I was young teenager that was always the meeting point…

I met Lisa and her daughters and we went for a drink and chat at Costa (where when they say large cappuccino they mean *large* - I drink large cups of coffee at home, but nothing compared to that!).  We must have spent an hour or so nattering – I hope that it was not too boring for her daughters – and then went to buy a couple of scrap books.   It was great to finally meet up – just a shame that it was on such a rushed weekend!  Hopefully we’ll have a chance to meet up again the next time we are in town.

I met Mrs Stace at Waterstones – with a nice selection of books to add to our collection – we went to pay (picking up along the way a Mouse and Gruffalo soft toys to put on top of the new speakers).  A healthy jacket spud later and we went clothes shopping.  Mrs Stace introduced me to a new brand (well new for me…).  Zara – she likes their clothes and I spotted a nice lilac canvas skirt that I will order online here soon.

A meal with my aunt, her husband and my cousin and his girlfriend (who I haven’t seen for a couple of years) and again a night of chatting, catching up and talking about life the universe and everything.  It got quite late and as we had a lot of driving to do the next day I dropped a hint of how tired I was (felt awful for doing that, but we really needed to be rested before leaving).

The next morning we had a nice cooked breakfast (thanks to my aunt) loaded the car (best bit of 3D puzzling I have done in a long time to get everything in).  The border crossing this time was easy – the French border control saw that we had passports and that was enough (why are the UK agents so useless?).

After we got home we just ate some soup (neither of us wanted anything substantial) and chilled (well I unpacked the speakers, I couldn’t wait :P).  Today has been setting up the stereo, tidying the cables and chilling.  Back to work tomorrow!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

I can do without those moments!

This weekend has been a little more stressful then I would have liked... 

My neice has said that she wants a radio controlled car for her birthday.  As RC cars used to be a bit of a hobby of mine we offered to get one for her.  Or rather I offered to rebuild the one I brought when I was in Uni (it's got to be better than buying a throw away one).

So Saturday we were in the local model shop to get the bit's that we needed (wheels, battery, speed controller and as she wants a pink convertable we have had to replace the Escort top with something sporty that we can paint).  We got all the bits needed and I last night I started with the rebuild.  All went well, everything easily removed was cleaned (down to the chassis, but not dismatelling the mechanical bits - I don't have the instructions to put the diffs and AWD transmission box back together :p)

Until this afternoon...  I got the rolling chassis finsihed and was putting in the receiver and speed controller...  New new one doesn't fit...  The connections are all wrong - so it's back to the shop to see if there is another one...

And then the other stress...  I was dressed this evening...  Watching TV whilst Mrs Stace was washing her hair.  Suddenly I get an SMS - 'Your mum and dad are here, can you skype us please'.  Holly crap...  Sent an SMS back - can I call?  My laptop is not set up (good excuse I thought, though it was also a lie). Got another SMS - we wanted to show your parents how easy it is to skype.  Crap.  Rush upstairs and scrub my face clean, quickly change into jeans and t-shirt.  Then try to find my web cam.  It's not anywhere I was looking.  Crap!  In a rush I got my small laptop I use in the train (I have a DTR and an ultra portable - but the DTR has no build in webcam).  No Skype installed.  Crap!  Try to download Skype.  Need my username and password.  Which I forget...  Crap!  Really starting to stress at this point!  Got a reminder sent (at least I have an IMAP account to my email on this machine) and managed to log into Skype and download the installer.

Panic over, called my uncle and got my mum on the screen - who asked my just how long my 10 minutes were!  I could hardly tell her why it too so long with my aunt and uncle listening in on the conversation!

Phew, breath and relax...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Two trip week

Well that is a very stressful week over.

The review process has started.  It’s going fine, but the first is taking time and I’m worried a little about it.

Other things have taken time and I’ve done a few hours of overtime most days.

And then there was the two nights out as Stacy.

Tuesday I went for a meal with a friend.  Finished work, late, got to his to get changed – as I was running late I had to get changed in half my normal time.  And managed it!  Male to Stacy in less than 45 minutes is a record for me!

When we were ready I drove to the café, whilst he cycled (he had to get some cash).  Now, at this point I was a little nervous.  The café where we were going is not that far from the office.  And, even worse, was on the route from the office to the train station.  I manage to find a parking space, got changed into my boots (I don’t drive in heels!) got out of the car and thankfully the only colleague coming down the street was the friend I was meeting :)

Went to the pub, and had some drinks and ordered the food (and very nice it was too!!!).  At some point, as I have a bladder the size of a pea I had to break the toilet barrier.  I have had a discussion or two with my therapist about why this is such an issue.  Both the issue that some people make of it and the issue in your head; he explained it pretty well…  And also said in no uncertain terms that it’s simple – Stacy goes to the ladies, male me goes to the gents.  Anyway, it was a complete non-issue in the café…

All in all it was a good evening, the only issue being that I had to cut it short as I had to get my kit ready for the outing the next day.

The next day I don’t know what happened, but I went in to a major downward spiral.  I don’t know what it was that set it off, but I was checking new blogs and suddenly I had a ‘What the hell are you doing moment!’  Complete with a cold sweat, shaking and inability to think / do anything.

Now, I know that I was going to see some friends for the first time, and that his mother in law was also going to be there, along with his kids.  After getting my hair cut we were supposed to be going out for a drink.  I guess it was a full night.  But I was not ready for the panic that morning.

I took some of my herbal pills (first time on about 6 months I think) and calmed down a little.  Went through the day (no idea what I was doing in the office any more), played some table football at lunch and lost completely as I had no idea what I was doing.  Took some more pills and tried to complete the afternoon.  Then it was time to get ready.  Only I procrastinated.  Too much…  I was left myself with little time to get changed again.  I left the office went to my friends place and when I stopped outside had a little panic attack.  And I really do not know why…

Luckily I beat my previous days record of getting ready (not that difficult as I did not do my hair – no point in filling it with mouse and hairspray when someone is about to cut it is there?).  I had managed to get myself back on track, just.  Then when putting my shoes on and I noticed that one area of my foot was a lightly different colour to the rest.  Damn.  First time I’ve had a ladder when I was in a rush.  As quick a change as possible (always carry a spare pair :p) and I was off, but late again.

Got to the house, thankfully once I was outside of the city traffic still flowed quickly just in time to see S get back from work.  Apart from me being stressed to the hilt it all went well.  I got compliments from everyone, and a joke from his mother-in-law (they told me you were coming as you today and that I had to be OK with it).

His youngest daughter, who is just learning to talk didn’t notice anything.  His other daughter was a little distant at first – and asked her mum when I was out of the room ‘Why is daddy’s friend a girl now?’  Her mum explained that sometimes people are a girl on the inside even when they are a boy on the outside, or vice versa.  She was a little unsure, but generally fine.

I got my hair cut, and had a chat with his wife whilst she cut my hair, and he put the kids to bed.  His wife did a wonderful job on styling my hair.  Normally she cuts it and quickly does a Stacy style, and then styles it for male me (as it’s normally Male me that goes).  This time she went to town on the styling.  I was over the moon with the result.

We discussed some technical issues he has at work, and he gave me some great searching tips using SQL Server Free Text Search for a home project and then we went out for a quick drink (by this time we were quite late, so it had to be a quick drink unfortunately).

Odd thing is that except for a slight feeling of nausea before going into the café everything was fine when out and about.  At no other point was I worried about what I was doing.  We had a drink, a chat and had a really great time.  I relaxed completely and can honestly say he really knows how to make you feel like a lady.  On issue is he refused to allow me to pay!  We stayed longer than we thought we were going to (time flies and all that).  So whilst he paid I put the bathroom fear to rest and we left.

Got back to his place, thanked his wife again for doing my hair and left for home.

All in all they were two great nights, wonderful for my development – and something that I really have to do more.

And now I can try to relax :)

Monday, 14 February 2011

No more crappy room!

Well after a long wait our department finally moved today.  So I spent most of it without a running computer, running between rooms with handfulls of stuff, or in meetings completely unprepared as I had no computer.  Still we are now in a room with better accustics, air conditioning for when it really gets too hot, a giant whiteboard that I am going to try and encourage people to use and...

Room for the table football that we brought as a department a few years ago, but have not used for a couple of years due to lack of space.

I have a few busy days coming up, going for a meal with a friend tomorrow - his local pub turns into a restaurant on Tuesday evenings and tomorow they are doing something special.  So Stacy is going out again.  I really have to get out more.  Except for visiting my therapist I rarely go out as me - it's the one thing that I think I have to work harder on to get some confidence.

Which is good, because on Wednsday I am having my hair cut as Stacy for the first time, the wife of a friend cuts it for me.  So I am eating there, having it cut and styled, and then I'm going out for a drink and chat with him.

Two trips in two days.  Scary, but I'm looking forward to it.  I just have to pack.  On the bright side, I have my outfits picked (one per day).  I wonder if I'll change my mind and end up taking two anyway...

And here are a couple more shots that I took whilst playing last week:

This guy sits on an elephant in the living room.  A present from India from a colleague.  Details: 20second @ f32, Sigma EXDG 180mm Macro 1:1 lens.  I found my tripod :)

And this guy sits on some of our long drinks glasses.  They were brought from BHS about 10 years ago - we were walking through the shop as a shortcut when we saw them.  We have tried to get some more, but to no avail.  So we try to be very careful with them :).  Details: 10 seconds @ f3.5, same lens as above.

I'm really enjoying playing with the camera again - especially now that I have found the tripod so I can do more long exposure shots.

If the weather holds I may take a trip and try and get some shots of the buildings that keep my feet dry in our lake :)  Some of them (espcially the older ones) look amazing!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Attack of the 15" Mac

Well I've now had my first Mac experience and it survived :)  And so did I...

First things first the problem that my father in law was having...  As far as I can see he was doing everything right to connect it to his network, the difference as far as I can see is that the window for connecting in OSX is smaller than in Windows, and he was not pressing the button on the router at the right time to connect it (I dislike his router, in order to be user friendly it has a terrible interface - it's got a MAC filter but rather than entering it you put the router into discover mode and then try to connect so that it adds your MAC address to the list).  Yes I did get the irony writing that sentence.  It has a MAC filter that Mac's don't like.

Anyway, the plus side is I had the problem solved in about 2 minutes.

The machine itself...  Well I can see that it is beautifully made (I should also say that it was not a MacBook as I was told, but a Pro).  I like metal machines, my home laptops are also aluminium - but sheet not billeted.  It feels well put together, the chiclet keyboard has a great feel to it, and everything feels just solid.

OSX...  Well whilst I don't think it’s bad - I also don't see it as anything better than Windows 7.  Just different…  I was expecting a much better experience setting everything up and was rather dissapointed.  Maybe I had too high expectations.  It wasn't bad, just not what I was expecting.  Especially the 1.5GB system updates (I thought that was a Windows thing?) followed by another round of updates (again, I thought that was a Windows thing...)  And it had to reboot after the updates (I was having serious Deja Vu issues at this point ;p)

All in all it's an OK machine.  Except for the screen - I don't know if it's because I am a coder, or because I like photography and have a lot of high res pictures; but I like a lot of desktop real estate.  It doesn't have to be a physically big screen, but I want pixels!

Put a real resolution on the screen (and a BluRay drive) and I may actually be interested in buying one, as long as I can duel boot into Windows (hey I am a .Net developer by trade).  With a decent screen and drive I would even pay the premium for the machine – at that point I could see the value for money.

I guess I must be a minority of Windows user though...  I haven't had a virus since I had SQL Server 2000, and I do not have any admin work - although I do admit to wiping all machines to remove the crap manufacturers infect their machines with - my ultra-portable Sony is so much faster now I have removed the 15,000 Vaio 'applications' - but you can't blame MS for that.  I ruin my own DTR machine by using it as a test bed for lots of things.  As a result I do a reinstall every 12 months or so.  But Mrs Stace’s Vista machine (She's happy with it and doesn't see the need to upgrade to Windows 7) has not been reinstalled since I set it up about 5 years ago.  Except for backing my photos up to multiple external drives, but trust me that would happen no matter the system!

My brother on the other hand has one of the most infested machines I have ever seen.  Give Mac's a decent market share and I can see him doing the same if he had one of those :)

Thanks for the comments yesterday all.  I think that Lynn and Ariel hit the nail on the head.  They are machines, nothing more, nothing less.  There are fanbois (deliberate mis-spelling) for all systems, and all of them are annoying.  Especially when they refuse to help as they did in the office this week (Jerica, absolutely agree – that’s just not cool).

Well I have it out of my system now :)  Back to fun stuff this afternoon.  I still have a load of new Macro shots that I have to copy from the camera :)

Oh one last thing.  The Apple Magic Mouse is cool!  Now to try and find some Windows 7 drivers for it...

Saturday, 12 February 2011

What I hate about Macs...

Weekend, and I should be looking forward to it.  There is 6 nations rugby to watch, and time to relax and get over the cold (the sleepyness has started to pass, but the nose and gunge has just started - how's that for a pleasent mental image on a Saturday morning!).

But...  Instead I have to go and play tech support for my father in law.  I got a email from Mrs Stace this week that he had bought himself a new MacBook and it refuses point blank to talk to his wireless network, could I help.

I said 'No, I don't use Macs - I haven't a clue'.  But was told in no uncertain terms that I know more than anyone else.  Bullhuey I say.  But it seems I can't get out of it...

So why do I hate the MacBook?  Well two things. I personally do not feel they are value for money.  For half the price of a White MacBook you can get a vanilla machine with better specs (maybe not as good battery life...).  I don't mind spending money (ask Mrs Stace :p) but I do like to feel like I am getting value for money.  Last time I was laptop shopping (a couple of years ago now) I couldn't do that with a Mac.  I could spend an extra 100 euros and have a slightly lower spec Apple machine, or I could save the money and have an Asus (Still alluminium, carbon fibre and good looking) .

But, apart from what I see as lack of value for money, my biggest issue with the Mac is other Mac users.  Not all I of them I know - so if it's not you please don't get insulted - but a few vocal ones.

There are a few people in the office that use Macs so I asked for a quick 101 on connecting to wireless networks.  What was I told 'It can't possibly be the Mac, they never go wrong, it must be a problem with the network'.  What pretentious crap!  Forget the 4 windows machines that talk to it, first attempt with no problems, and the three phones (two android and one iPhone!) - they took a little more work but got there in the end.

No if there is an issue it must be something other than the machine as they are perfect.  Saint Steve says so.

*That* is what I hate about the Mac!

(Appologies to all those normal people out there with Macs, but I had to get this out of my system!)

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Damn throat...

In my last post I made a reference to my last trip to my therpist.  I have since been writing the post in my head, with the plan on posting it tonight.

Then my body decided that it would be much better to get ill instead!  And so my head is blank, my tonsils hurt (title is somewhat of a misnomer!) and I just want to collapse on the sofa.  So that is what I am planning on doing.

It's really annoying - I have some nice shots to get off if the camera, a post trapped in my head, and some free time on my hands as a planned thing at work was cancelled due to an issue with one of the systems I have nothing to do with.  What do I want to do with this free time? Sleep...



Sunday, 6 February 2011

By popular demand...

Possibly reposted from before but...  Here are three shots from the neighbourhood for Melissa and Calie :)

These two sit side by side on my living room wall in silver coloured frames at 50*70cm (well that's a lie - but they will do tomorrow!  They are currently leaning against the wall waiting for me to mount them).  They are a couple of the views across the lake where I run.  It's man made, when I first moved to this town it was still a sand quarry - it's only really the last 5 years or so that it's started to resemble a recreation area (and was probably only finished 2.5 years ago - before then it was half recreation and half work site!).  Both shots are taken with the Canon 5D, shot one using the 180mm fixed focus Sigma EX DG 1:1 Macro lens, the second with the 70-200 EX DG lens @ 70mm

Though I will admit to playing with the colour of the second to make it match the first :) (for the wall, not here...)

And this one I still have to get printed at some point...  looking down the road I live on, across the road from my house.  At the bottom of the slop there is a Singel used for keeping the area dry - I live at the bottom of a 6.5m deep lake :)  This was also taken using the 5D and 180mm lens.

Melissa / Calie I hope that this is what you were hoping for :)  Here's hoping for more time to get the camera out again this week for some new shots!


Yearly reviews

Well it’s been another stressful week; I had to give input for a review that was very difficult.  When I am normally asked for this type of thing I start with something positive and then give improvement points.  This time I could not do that, I had no positives.  It’s a position that made me extremely uncomfortable and so I spent the week in total stress about it.

On Friday I just went to the person’s manager and had a chat with him, going through my thoughts.  It was actually a very good chat, and there were points that he wants to come back on when he has more time.  He has also asked me to speak to him directly whenever I have any issues to stop me getting as stressed as I was this week.  We’ll see what happens there…

I also have to start actually doing reviews this year.  I have the first two coming up - in fact this afternoon is going to be taken with reading up on the review procedure so that I can start preparing tomorrow afternoon...  Not looking forward to it, The first two are going to be easy (in fact I have a great team so it should all be great), it's just that there is something very nerve racking about giving a review to someone else.  Almost worse than worrying about my own review...

I also did something stupid this week.  My boss told me of a documentary on Dutch TV about a 16 year old girl, who has been living as a girl since she was 6.  She has been one of the subjects of a long term photo documentary that Mrs Stace’s newspaper has covered for the last 10 years, so I was aware of the background story.  It was online so I had a look.  Bad idea, whilst it was a very good documentary, not sensationalist, it also left me in quite an emotional state.  Maybe I should have saved that for after work…

The car has also managed to annoy me this week.  After spending a small fortune on it for its service a couple of weeks ago it decided to break on me the very next day…  So a trip to the dealers to get the error code read, and had to order a new part – which has to be fitted tomorrow.  Grrr…

It was therapy week again – after the heavy session last time this week it was really great.  But that’s a story on its own…

And finally – Friday I had the second round of having my face zapped.  Less painful that the first in most places, but where there are clumps of hair it still hurt like hell, and my eyes still streamed from the upper lip!

The bright side?  The effect is amazing – I have swathes of face that is hairless now; the effect has been *very* good - the woman doing the zapping commented on how little regrowth there was (excpt for the upper lip).  And this time, as there is much less hair, I’m not red raw from it.  I could even wet shave the very next day.  Here’s hoping it’s even better next time…