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Tax

I’m halfway through the week of tax returns hell and I’m starting to feel a little tired, but I’m making steady progress and hope to reach the end intact. It’s always a bit of a stressy time, but there’s a very nice carrot at the end – the traditional trip to the pub. This year seems a little bit more down to the wire than last (which was a breeze), but in previous years we’ve sometimes still been doing tax returns on the 31st, thanks to clients not supplying the information in time.

The online revolution has made things a bit easier, though. Gone are the days of traipsing down the tax office with loads of physical copies of tax returns, and handing them in without even getting a receipt – now you get submission receipts after you send the returns electronically. Gone too are most of the fears of incorrect calculations, as the online software now gives you its own calc based on the figures you enter, which you can check against your notes.

So it’s a little bit less pressurised and a little more efficient. Vive la revolution.

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Q&L

My South African houseguests are leaving tomorrow, and it’s been very cool to have them around. Quinton, who’s my friend Sarah’s brother-in-law, researches leopards and set up The Cape Leopard Trust. As of yesterday, he has the word Doctor before his name and PhD after it, following his storming performance at the viva for his thesis. Awesomes. He’s also quite a personality – a passionate and eloquent speaker about his subject of choice, promoting conservation and raging against the tabloid instincts of various TV shows about animals. His wife Liz is lovely, too – clearly someone who really inspires the kids that she teaches. So it’s been a pleasure to host the couple, doubly so because beforehand neither my wife Jo nor I quite knew how it would go, having never met them before. It’s been kinda like a school exchange that could have gone either way but really worked.

Maybe sometime soon we’ll be able to go to South Africa and see the leopards for ourselves – apparently their behaviour is very much like upscaled versions of our housecats, which sounds bloody cool. But even if that’s a way off, I’ve definitely gained new insights into animal behaviour and how both the urban and rural parts of South Africa work. I’m very glad that Quinton and Liz came to stay. It’s been a lot of fun to have them stay with us, and I’ll be sorry to see them go.

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Leopards

Tonight, houseguests arrived. I had never met them before, and so it was a bit of a leap of faith. My friend Sarah’s brother-in-law and his wife had to come to Bristol for his PhD viva, and so he needed somewhere to stay. Given that Sarah has been a beyond-awesome help to me in the past few months, I thought that it would be pretty cool to offer them accommodation while they’re here. I was very worried, of course. Quite beyond the issue of potential personality incompatibility, I was more than worried about the whole stammer thing. It’s pretty bad at the moment, and so I was anxious about giving the wrong impression.

Happily, we seem to have got on very well together (hell, maybe I’ll see the opposite Facebook posts later), and I’ve been fascinated to learn about the Cape Leopard Trust that Quinton runs. It’s given me another perspective from my sheltered Western life into how things happen further afield. His stories about how animals are trapped and killed in South Africa have given me a lot to think about. I reckon that Jo and I should try to be much more active in this particular field, as both of us love animals and there’s so much more that we could do if we spent more time on this issue. It’s yet another motive to get the whole novel thing sorted, to try to gather a bit of influence to make a difference. And on that subject, Sarah’s editing suggestions are so good. This new draft is turning out to be crazy-strong, and that’s both scary and brilliant.

It should all be finished in the next couple of days. And then the real work begins.

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Mac #2

I’m hoping not to turn into one of those insufferable Apple fanboys who can’t stop bleating on about their goddamn Macs, but the ‘new tech is awesome!’ feeling hasn’t gone for me yet. Today I managed to connect my new MacBook Pro up to my big telly, and after sorting out a couple of slight technical issues which required a bit of looking around the internet to find the answers, it worked perfectly. I may well, therefore, be able to ditch PS3 Media Server as a streaming solution, and instead just connect my Mac straight to the telly for big screen viewing. It seemed to handle basic 1080p video files just fine, so I’ll throw something really evil at it and see how it copes.

I also loaded the holiday videos from my HD camera onto the Mac, and will play around with iMovie to see how it compares to the video editing software I’ve been using on my PC. The problem with the latter is that my PC isn’t really powerful enough to piss around with HD stuff – it tends to have a coronary. So it’ll be cool if iMovie is good and allows me to manipulate the footage to my satisfaction.

I haven’t tried Garageband yet, but allegedly my Rock Band 3 keyboard will connect up just fine if I have the right lead (a Midi-to-USB cable, apparently). So, much amateurish noodling will hopefully soon commence.

I do, of course, also have a novel to write, and I’m midway through the Scrivener interactive tutorial at the moment. It already seems like a powerful and bloody well thought out piece of software, and I’m very much looking forward to testing it out properly over the coming days when I get some quiet time.

Tonight, though, I’m off to a party. I’m so going on a diet on 1 Jan 2011.

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Mac

Today I bought a MacBook Pro. It’s a purchase intended to help my writing, as it means that I won’t have to take my work laptop home or struggle with my mediocre desktop. I’ve downloaded Scrivener, which is supposed to be the best writing software for novelists, and while I’m currently struggling with the Mac operating system, OS X, I’ve been rather impressed with my buy so far. Is there anything more satisfying than opening Apple packaging? It always contains credit for the team which designed it, and when you open it, you always feel like you’re some high-end consumer, privileged to experience the design therein.

My Grandpa’s inheritance money paid for this laptop, and I know that he would have been very happy to have helped me buy the machine that is to play host to my next novel. I can’t wait to write it, and I know that I’m going to do him proud. 2011 is going to be a great year for me, possibly the most important of all, and I have a big smile on my face while thinking that Grandpa is responsible for giving me the tools to write what I think is going to be a bloody brilliant story. More on this in the near future.

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A Trivial Matter

Christmas dinner with the in-laws is done and was very nice indeed, so now I’m just waiting for the arrival of the rest of my family for the big party we’re having this evening. It should be pretty epic – there’s going to be Kinect on the go with Dance Central and Kinect Sports, and doubtless a load of Rock Band 3 later on. Also a massive amount of present-opening, drinking, and then the game of Trivial Pursuit to end all games of Trivial Pursuit.

After the debacle of last year’s Trivs which went on forever (it’s probably still being played somewhere), for the 2010 spectacular we’re having a timer of 2 minutes on the questions, and rather than segregating the teams into family groups we’re going to randomly draw team captains who will then have to pick their teams from the personnel available. I pity the poor person who gets chosen last (a real playground flashback, this), but it should make for an entertaining game.

Merry Christmas everyone. Right, enough of blogging, I have to get back to my drinking. I’ve already set the V+ Box to record Doctor Who, of course.

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Chrissiemass

Merry Christmas, everyone! It’s very close to the time when… er… Santa will fly down… er… non-existent chimneys in this 21st Century landscape of new builds, and give everyone presents. Yeah. And today I finished work for a while so that I can drink loads of wine with the in-laws, play Kinect Sports, and write some rubbish. Hooray.

Kinect Sports is rather funny. My brother-in-law and I played the Track & Field event in multiplayer this evening, and were profoundly knackered by the end of it. The game’s hardcore fans are going to be MACHINES in a few months’ time: superfit warriors, capable of laughing in Usain Bolt’s face. Me, I’m far more interested in amazing the crowd by raising my arms than setting superfast times. Though I have encountered some rage-quitting in online table tennis, which was rather satisfying even though I didn’t gain the ranking points as a result. Unbeaten. Oh yeah. Though, to be honest, I haven’t played anyone good yet.

Tomorrow promises to be a food-fest. We have goose, and turkey, and hopefully shitloads of roast potatoes, and everyone’s coming round my house in the evening for drinks and Trivs. It should be a good day, and I’m hoping to unleash the embarrassment of Dance Central upon many of my guests. Consider it the entrance fee.

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