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Sabbatical, Day 3

“Yes!” shouted Rebekah, hurtling her fist into the air as if into orbit.

There would be no school for a second day running. I had checked the BBC Essex website at 7:30 this morning. The children’s school appeared in the long list of those shut again today.

Even Mark was happy. Yesterday, Rebekah had been thrilled not to go to school, but Mark – ever the self-motivated swot at four years old – had been disappointed. Today, however, he was pleased. “I can play in the snow again,” he said, contentedly.

And that pleased me. So often he is like me. In my youth, I barely had a childhood, I was so serious. If Mark were actually learning to enjoy play, then that had to be a good thing.

Not such a good thing for my sabbatical studies, though. After sending a parcel back at the Post Office (we thought we were getting a bargain on a Wii console from Price-Drop TV but no, it was only accessories) and buying Buttercup Infant at the pharmacy, I joined the rest of the family at the Green for more fun in the snow. Debbie knew how to get me there: bring your camera, she said. Well, that would be better than yesterday’s frozen extremities.

It went well. I’ve uploaded a few photos to my Facebook profile for those of you who are ‘friends’ on FB, albeit without cropping or any other shenanigans in Photoshop Elements.

Mark on his sledge tray, 3rd February 2009

Mark on his sledge tray, 3rd February 2009

Not only that, Rebekah got invited back to our next door neighbour’s house for several hours. Result! 

So mid-afternoon, I got back to typing up my thoughts on The Starfish And The Spider. I felt rather tired, though, and even now around 9:30 pm I still haven’t finished. I’m at 2500 words, which all the more means that when I post this on the blog, it will be in a series of chunks.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering about the weather and the next few days. Today was supposed to be three or four degrees above freezing, but little of the snow has melted. There is still a lot of snow that has been compacted to ice underfoot. In particular, I’m not just looking at the five-day forecast for Chelmsford, but for the Peak District too. I’m due to be at Cliff College next week for a course. It starts at 9:15 am next Monday, and I’m hoping to travel on Sunday and stay overnight at the college beforehand. So far, I’ve emailed once and phoned twice but still not got it set up. But I hope the weather will have subsided sufficiently by then to make the journey viable. I shall need to take a fair amount of stuff with me, making a public transport journey impractical. dsc_0062

Anyway, the good news is that the school will be back open tomorrow, so I hope for fewer distractions then, apart from our weekly Tesco delivery. I’ve just sent in our order via the wonderful My Supermarket site. It allows you to compare prices with other online supermarket delivery services. You can easily check the cheapest version of the goods you want to buy. Also, you can find recommendations for lower calorie versions of your desired food. If they only added a tab to search out fair trade items, it would be near-perfect.

Anyway, that’s my shopping tip for the day, which is hardly the reason anybody reads this blog. So I think I’ll sign off and say, “See you tomorrow.”

Deo volente, of course.

Here Cometh The Laptop

To date in my computing life, I have worked entirely with desktops. We have two in the study. One is the old Windows XP machine that so slowed to a crawl despite tripling the memory and regularly defragging the hard drive that it is now mainly the children’s. Their school uses XP, so it makes some sense.

The other is our nearly-two-years-old Windows Vista PC. We bought it a fortnight after Vista was released, due to the dire state of the XP computer. Like many people, we have discovered considerable disadvantages to Vista. We can’t use the quick upload tool to Snapfish when we want to upload digital photos for printing. Having said that, some things are nicer in Vista. What’s more, now I’ve doubled the RAM to a ridiculous 4 gigs, it runs at a decent speed. I can’t put in more RAM with a 32-bit operating system, however.

But in a month’s time, I start a three-month sabbatical. I shall be away for three weeks of that time. One of the places I am visiting, Cliff College, assumes in the emails it sends out that people will arrive with wifi-enabled laptops. Likewise, I shall be spending time at Lee Abbey on a photography course, so having a laptop on which to manipulate some shots will be handy.

Hence I have desired a laptop for a little while. Thankfully, my accountant has worked his usual magic this year and there is enough around in my tax rebate to afford a modest model. This week I paid the princely sum of £341 to Tesco for a machine that was being discontinued, the Acer Aspire 5720. Ideally I’d have liked a bigger hard drive than 160 GB, and I can expand the 2 GB of RAM easily enough.

Tonight I set about beginning to adapt it for my purposes. Off came a raft of software: a load of arcade games for a start, swiftly followed by Microsoft Works and the 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007 – I have that on the Vista desktop and don’t intend paying through the nose again. So once I’d downloaded and installed Open Office 3.0 off came the MS products. The only disadvantage to OO is there isn’t a UK English version.

Next stage will be to replace the bloated and expensive trial version of McAfee Security Centre with some free security products. (Not as bad as Norton, I know, but it’s still £50 a year I could do with saving.) Gizmo’s Tech Support Alert website is full of useful reviews. I’ve started to read up on anti-virus, anti-spyware and software firewalls. The XP machine had a number of freebies on it, but I may not choose the same products. I shan’t be downloading emails to the laptop, because that will create a sync problem with the Vista desktop, but I shall read my Gmail on it and use that while I’m away.

I have also downloaded and installed Paragon Partition Manager Express so that I can carve out a separate partition early on where I can install Ubuntu Linux. Having failed miserably to get Ubuntu to run within Windows using wubi.exe on Vista (although it does happily on XP), I’d like to do a proper install, if I’m brave enough.

I shall also buy a large memory stick for moving stuff over to the Vista desktop. (I’ll also sort out the wireless network between them, I trust, but often a memory stick is quicker if the wireless plays up.) 7dayshop have some bargains: this looks like a bargain, 16 GB for £15.49.

Before I go away, I shall probably get some pay-as-you-go mobile broadband. There is a good review of available services in the February 2009 issue of Personal Computer World. Vodafone comes out best for performance, although they charge the earth if you exceed your data allowance.

So that’s my little personal project with which to begin the new year. Any thoughts on my plans are welcome. What are you up to?