Meanwhile, things are moving again on the flat-buying front (after a brief period of stagnation). I've now got to the final stage of my mortgage application (after they realised that they hadn't sent me the necessary form), by doing a budget analysis. This means filling in a form to specify how much I spend per month on discretionary items, e.g. food, clothing, phone, comics. They'll then add this to the amount I spend on fixed amounts (e.g. credit card payments), and what I would spend on a mortgage, and see how much I'd have left over from my pay cheque. This remainder presumably needs to be above a certain threshold. Anyway, I've sent that back, so I should get a final decision from them pretty soon. I think it should be fine, since I don't spend a thousand quid a month on Cuban cigars or anything like that :)
I've also arranged a survey for this week (one where they tell me the results, as opposed to the bank's valuation). Only £350, which is less than I was expecting, so that's good. And I had a letter from my solicitor, saying that he's still waiting for a draft contract from the vendor's solicitor. That's not quite so good, but at least it means that they're not waiting for me (given that I had a couple of calls from the estate agent asking for progress reports), so I should be ready to exchange contracts whenever they are. And I phoned the landlord this week. He was pretty laid back, and said that he only needs a couple of weeks notice to amend the contract, rather than us needing to activate the two month break clause. So, that means I can wait until I have a completion date before I talk to him again, which requires less guesswork on my part.
Yesterday was Picocon, which was a lot of fun. It's certainly more relaxing to be there when I'm not involved in organising the thing, and I thought it all ran very smoothly (although I'm guessing that there was a lot of frantic running around by the committee behind the scenes). Some interesting panels, given that I haven't ready any books by any of the GoHs. And I enjoyed "Paycheck" (the film in the evening). It's not going to be a genre classic, but it was fun. If I had to describe it in one word, I'd say "MacGyver".
Looking ahead, the main other thing on the horizon is my MSc project. Still no luck with my student card - I had an email from the school office on Jan 16th, saying that it would be sent to my term-time address, but there's been no sign of it. I emailed them back this week and told them this, confirmed my term time address, and offered to come into college to pick it up, but they haven't replied.
Admin problems like this do frustrate me. I wonder whether it's tied into the London Weighting issue (the issue they were striking about last year). However, I'm reluctant to say "You're doing a bad job - have a pay rise!" More generally, my enthusiasm is waning for this. So, a modification to my strategy. My previous plan was to work full-time in the office up until the end of January, then part-time from February to May (initially 4 days per week at work, gradually reducing that). Then full-time on the project from June->September, and probably not go back afterwards (if I start a PhD in October). My new plan is to stay full-time at PMSI until the end of May, then take some time off between June and September (possibly just out of my holiday allocation), and resume work again in October; I'll consider the next step in more detail once I've got the results through.
Part of the reason for this is that I'd like to get my finances into a decent state, particularly after the expense of moving house. Being unpaid for a few months wouldn't really help with that! I'm also happier at my job than I was before I started the MSc. It helps that I'm keeping reasonable hours there, but I think there's also an issue of self-image. In the past, I've had the attitude of "I am a genius, with the potential for greatness, and I'm wasting my talent here". But after doing the MSc, I'm starting to think "I did very well in the areas that correspond to my work experience, and I did very badly in the research areas. So, maybe I'm supposed to be where I am."
Coming back to the project itself, I got a bit sidetracked from the Dawkins book ("The Blind Watchmaker") over the last month or so, but I'm reading it again now. And I have a couple of other relevant books in the queue: "The Extended Phenotype" (also by Dawkins) and "The Origins of Life" (Maynard-Smith). On a less academic note, I've bought a couple of books about DirectX 9 programming (particularly from a VB.NET perspective). Although the graphical interface is only a small part of the project, it would be nice to make it impressive. I'm also planning to write a utility program (with a similar interface to a 1st person shooter like "Doom") that will check whether furniture will fit into a given location. The idea is to guide a sofa up the stairs to my new flat, rotating it where necessary. This should then avoid problems when I turn up with a van full of stuff. This is of course inspired by Douglas Adams (in the first Dirk Gently novel), which was the thing that first got me interested in a career in IT.
I also bought "How to get a PhD", since I haven't given up on the idea completely, and I'm also hoping that it will be relevant to the MSc. One interesting quote from that:
This is in fact the aim of the whole exercise: to get you to the level where you can examine others' PhDs with authority. Thus clearly you must have the professional skills and you must know the standards that are required. Two immediate corollaries of this fact are:
* If you have to go along to your supervisor after you have done your work and ask if it is good enough, you are clearly not ready for a PhD, which is awarded as a recognition that you are able to evaluate research work (including your own) to fully professional standards.
I'm definitely not at that standard yet! Mind you, the book also talks about PhD students being overawed by their supervisor (since the supervisor has the doctorate that the student is trying to achieve). I think that will be less of a problem for me, now that I know an increasing number of people who are finishing their PhDs, so I'm used to relating to them as "Fred" rather than "Dr Bloggs".
Incidentally, how heavily are other people being affected by the MyDoom virus? I'm getting about 100 emails a day because of that (either copies of the virus sent to me, or bounces from attempts that were sent in my name). The odd thing is that the majority of those are to non-existent email addresses, e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org. I receive them at the moment because I own the entire domain, and get my email via POP3, but once I get my email through SMTP (to Exchange) they'll all get bounced. Ah well, it doesn't take long to delete them, so it's not a huge problem.
Anyway, I now have an impressively thick stack of comics to read, so that should take care of the next few hours, while I'm waiting for the Sky repair guy to turn up. I also have the "Freaky Friday" soundtrack - I was most impressed that they included the 30 second karaoke version of "Hit me baby one more time", although it probably helps if you've seen the film to get the right context for that.