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The life and times of james Hart: his family, his music, life in Luton and his occasional escapes onto the internet.

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Thursday, 30 October 2003

Handy (and free) iPAQ software (techy)

For the benefit of other iPAQ users, here's my current list of installed (and almost exclusively free) software:


I use most of these fairly regularly - because the iPAQ 3760 only has 64MB of memory, it can end up all being used up on software, so there's no space to put data. The above software takes up about 13MB - at a push, I can uninstall the things I don't use quite so often, but there's generally enough space.
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Posted by james at 10:05 PM

Wi-Fi Hotspots and iPAQs (techy)

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I've enjoyed being able to access the internet from all over the place - I now have a wireless network card which plugs into the Compact Flash caddy of my iPAQ. The battery runs down a little more quickly, but as long as I remember to charge it before I go wandering, I generally get about an hour out of it.

There are a number of communities forming, with the intentions of either creating a mini 'internet' through connecting wi-fi networks together - (www.communitywireless.org) or collecting information about unencrypted (or shareable) wireless connections around the place (www.warchalking.org)

Currently our wireless internet connection is encrypted, but I intend - once I have made sure that sharing our connection would not put our data at any risk - to create a web page which I'll place in the SSID (the network identification that gets broadcast), as a kind of 'advert.'

Places to surf.


I'm fortunate that, just a couple of yards from the bus stop where I catch my coach home, there's a hotspot that I can use to connect to the internet; it means, now I've got the MSN Messenger problems sorted out (see later in this dull blog entry) I can let Beth know when I'll be home, and check my email.

Here's a couple of locations I've found open connections:

  • Nr Allsop Arms, Gloucester Place, London just north of the Marylebone Road junction
  • Marylebone Railway Station

I'll add more in later blogs as I find them. There are quite a few places - generally caf?s - that offer 'paid for' internet connections (see the rather impressive map thing at www.zdnet.co.uk/specials/wifimap/) which I won't be including, though.

MSN Messenger miscellany


So, to MSN Messenger problems. As of the 15th October, Microsoft stopped allowing people using a certain (older) version of MSN Messenger from connecting to their server, due to lots of - guess what - security flaws. Unfortunately, the version of MSN Messenger installed with the iPAQ used the old system, so it stopped working.

It took me a good while to find a new version - at one point I thought it didn't exist - but now there's a specific page in the "Windows Mobile" section which explains nearly everything.
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Posted by james at 9:29 PM

Wednesday, 29 October 2003

Debut

The company for whom I work has a social club, which has many off-shoots including many sports and performing arts subsidiaries. I'm a member of the music recording section, and as such, I am in contact with other like-minded people, with the occasional opportunity to attend talks by industry experts and the like.

Back in the middle of October, a request was sent by one of the organisers of a series of 'creativity sessions' to ask for members' help in providing a musical accompaniment outside the venue before and after, to invite people in, bring attention to the event, and emphasize the unique nature of the sessions.

I was keen to get involved - especially since Suzi is a talented singer, and it would have been a fantastic first outing for monster gratis. However, it happened to be the week that Suzi was going to Scotland with some friends, so couldn't participate.

This left me with a dilemma - do I let the opportunity pass me by, or make my first ever solo performance? The only criteria for the sessions was that the music had to be acoustic, which wasn't a major problem, as I can play the guitar. However, I've never had much practice at singing and playing at the same time, which could result in significant embarassment. That said, the venue was amazing - the lower ground floor reception of a unique building in Aldwych - and it would certainly be a piece of history if I could say I sang and played there.

Fortunately, there was one fifteen minute session available (the others were half an hour, which I thought would be too much for my nerves and fingers!) at half-past eight on the Wednesday morning.

I chose four songs; "That's Just Me", "Devil City", "What Do I Have to Do?" and "When Baby Comes To See Me", and did as much practice as I possibly could before the event. It had been a long while since I'd spent any length of time with my acoustic guitar, so my fingertips were a bit painful after a few evenings of solid practising.

Three out of the four songs were ones I had written, but that still didn't stop me needing the lyrics in front of me, in case my concentration on making sure I was playing the right notes distracted me from what was supposed to come out of my mouth. The fourth song (What Do I Have to Do?) is a long-time favourite of mine - it's originally a Kylie song from 1990, typical of the Stock Aitken and Waterman productions of the time, and I can't explain my affection for it.

The performance went reasonably well - I could be heard above the clattering of the main door to the car park, the 'ding' of the lifts and the general hubbub of people passing. I took the opportunity to bring my minidisc recorder with me (I tend to bring it with me everywhere, if I'm honest!) but unfortunately, I stashed my bag behind where I was sitting, so the singing is very indistinct - if anything it demonstrates the amazing acoustic environment in which I was playing.

There were plenty of mistakes - I don't envy those musicians who perform in front of a willing audience of thousands; they can't just stop and start again when they play a wrong chord!

You can hear a short extract of the performance here (size: 292k)

I plan to upload the full versions of the performance when I have a little more bandwidth (the two renditions are 11MB each!)

All in all, though, I think it was a success. Nothing was thrown at me, and the lady who was handing out leaflets while I played seemed fairly appreciative. She even bought me a coffee, although this was before I started playing!

So now I have performed live - in spite of the nerves and apprehension about the performance, it definitely inspired me, although I think it'll be a while before I take up busking...

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Posted by james at 6:00 PM

Saturday, 25 October 2003

Flat Pack Furniture...

Christopher and I decided, while Beth was out in Oxford, and her parents were looking after Eleanor for the day, to build some MFI type furniture, bought for Ella's bedroom.

We started shortly after lunch, and continued until it became dark; we had to break off for some tea before we both collapsed from exhaustion.
Unfortunately, we didn't finish the job - having finished the wardrobe, the glueing of the drawers in the chest was a long, slow process which we left until the morning. Suffice it to say, though, it's all together, now, Ella's clothes are no longer strewn around her bedroom and neither of us suffered any kind of injury!


Here's a collection of photos, taken as we were building the furniture.


Christopher in (or on?) a half-built wardrobe.
Christopher in (or on?) a half-built wardrobe.

Pinning down the wardrobe's back panel
Pinning down the wardrobe's back panel

The (nearly) completed wardrobe
The completed wardrobe

A miscellaneous collection of ingredients
A miscellaneous collection of ingredients

Christopher and handy stick
Christopher and handy stick

Posted by james at 9:00 PM

Tuesday, 14 October 2003

Saving a PC - james's simple guide (techy)

This blog is intended as a reminder (for me!) of the things to do before 'rescuing' a broken Windows installation to avoid losing too much information. I'm going to be doing a complete rebuild of a co-worker's PC later today so this'll come in useful for me - perhaps it will for you.

Preparations

On many machines, there are two partitons created - one for the operating system, the other for data. This is handy, as any of the bits listed below can be moved to the data drive to be redeployed at a later time. If partition changes are required, or there isn't a data drive, I have a 64MB USB memory drive that should be large enough to handle most of the information on the PC, even if it requires a couple of 'empties' into a laptop or other machine.

Watch out for viruses, though - if the PC has been crippled by one, some files transferred to the memory stick, or in existence on the data drive may be infected as well. Doing a system scan before (if possible) and after is advisable. A free java on-line system scan may be found at Trend Microsystems' Housecall site.


Software Inventory

First off, compile a list of installed software and attempt to collect all of the installation media, if it exists. Check with the user whether they still want each item, and set an expectation of the probability of each application successfully being reinstalled.

To find installed software, check out:

  • The 'installed software' catalogue, in Start -> Settings -> Add/Remove Programs

  • The Start menu - Start -> Programs (and subfolders)

  • The Program Files directory - C:\Program Files\ - (and subfolders)

  • Other folders on the system drive.

User Data


If there's a data volume, with any luck, most of the documents created by the user will be on there. If not, it's essential that a comprehensive search takes place for files the user might need. Run a search for:
  • *.doc

  • *.dot (Word doc templates - watch out for viruses!)

  • *.xl? (Excel component docs - watch out for viruses!)

  • *.pp?

  • *.jpg

  • *.jpeg

  • *.txt

  • other extensions of data created in other applications

Clearly, some refinement of the list of documents returned is required (it's possible to copy from the 'Found Files' list) as there are plenty of example documents created when software is installed.

Next, make a copy of essential Windows user data:

  • Outlook or Outlook Express mailbox and folders
    This will be a file called Something.PST, or a folder containing a bunch of .dbx files. If Outlook can be run up, the location can be found in the Tools -> Options -> Maintenance -> Storage Folder

  • Outlook or Outlook Express personal address book
    This generally has the file extension .pab and is sometimes stored somewhere in C:\Documents And Settings\{username}\... or C:\windows\profiles\{username}\...

  • Internet Explorer Favorites
    This is generally a folder called Favorites, and can be found in C:\Documents And Settings\{username}\... or C:\windows\profiles\{username}\...

  • Desktop icons and wallpaper
    Once again, this is generally found in the profile directory (and sometimes C:\Windows\Desktop and, in the case of wallpaper, found by right-clicking the desktop, selecting Display Properties and looking in the desktop tab. If it says "Internet Explorer Wallpaper" it can generally be fouind in C:\Program Files\Application Data\Microsoft\Shared Data (or similar)

  • Anything else
    There may be saved games, or other application data that the user specifically wants to keep.

It's also worth bearing in mind that if software is installed elsewhere than the C: drive, because the registry will be obliterated, a great deal of it might need re-installing.


System Data

There are a number of configuration items stored on the PC that the user might not be able to recall, and which might cause serious problems if the PC is re-installed and the information has gone away. These include:

  • Printer driver information
    If there's a printer installed, it should be fairly clear what it is, but it's worth checking to make sure that the driver is appropriate, and there aren't any others installed

  • Internet Dial-up details
    These - if appropriate - can be found in the Dial-up Networking folder in the My Computerwindow. Right-clicking each connection will reveal the username and phone number - the password will be concealed with asterisks. Revelation by Snadboy is a very useful tool for retrieving this information.

  • Email account details and password
    This can be found in Outlook Express - check Tools -> Accounts and use Revelation to reveal the password

There may be account names and passwords required for other applications(for example ws_ftp) which will need retrieving before the system is deleted.


Device Drivers

To make the reinstallation a bit easier, it's often very useful to know what hardware is in the PC - the likes of

  • display driver

  • sound card

  • modem or network card drivers.
    (most importantly for connecting to the the internet to download other drivers!)

With any luck, the user will have media with the drivers on - otherwise it'd be handy to have a quick look on the internet before the rebuild (or on another PC - it's worth bringing a laptop along in case) to collate the information. Even if the drivers aren't available, information on the manufacturer and type of various devices would be useful.


All done?

It's worth having a quick check to make sure everything's safe and as it should be before destroying the C: drive. From then... you're on your own.


Comments...

If you have any suggestions of ways to improve this guide ? or there are any obvious inaccuracies, please leave a comment, or email me at blog@mus-ic.co.uk
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Posted by james at 9:20 PM

Fun with iPAQs (techy)

One of my colleagues became a little fed up with his iPAQ - in many ways, I can understand why. It all comes down to Microsoft's half-competent attempts to make all their systems run the same way. The ActiveSync software that is supposed to keep a PDA up-to-date with a desktop system is painfully unreliable - my record for duplicate entries is six (I'm not sure I need quite that many contact details for Beth!) and I have occasionally missed appointments because they haven't replicated properly. I'm sure I (and many of my other colleagues) are doing someting not-quite-right, but it's frustrating sometimes.little ipaq

Anyway, to cut a long story to about the same length, he lent me his iPAQ, and I'm using it now... the screen on mine is a bit scratched in a critical place for, erm, one reason or another. What to do with mine, then?

I'd been meaning to install Linux on an iPAQ since I first heard that it could be done, but I was aware that it was a risky business and could - if done abysmally enough - render the device completely useless. In my cavalier "I've got a spare... at the moment" attitude, I downloaded the HOWTO instructions from mstempin.free.fr and prepared for the worst. All in all the operation was a success, although the instructions were written in a rather purist "not even using Windows to help with the installation" way, which made for a number of challenges. Here's what it told me to do, essentially:



My enthusiasm for all things Linux significantly outweighs my ability, and - by way of an excuse, I guess - having a fairly old PC installation, I couldn't get the darn thing to see the internet once I'd managed to get to the bare bones installation. It was getting rather late, as well, so I gave up and went to bed, knowing I'd regret in the morning staying up as long as I did.


The next day I had another bash at it - this time trying to use a Windows PC. I discovered that there was such a thing as a USB driver to connect to a Linux iPAQ; a company called Bahia21 allows free downloads of it Fantastic news. During a quiet time at work, I managed to make a connection to the iPAQ using my Windows XP laptop, but couldn't get it to see the internet, not least because there's a big company firewall in the way, and I didn't want to get into trouble.


When I arrived home, I tried it with my Windows 98 laptop - it kind-of worked, but networking isn't Windows 98's strong point, and in the end I gave up, While I was looking for hints and tips on the internet, I came across the site I'd been looking for - http://opie.handhelds.org/download.php which had available a full Linux installation including Opie, specifically designed for my iPAQ, which could be installed in exactly the same way that the 'bare bones' version was. After waiting three-quarters of an hour for it to be transferred through the slow serial cable to the iPAQ (once again, it was geting late - why is it that these discoveries always take place just before one is about to give up?) I set it to install, rebooted and there it was - a fairly basic, but operational replacement for PocketPC 2002. Here's a rather blurred and tedious "before and after" photo of the screens.

iPAQ before and after


I think I like the Linux version better (although it doesn't have ActiveSync, there are downloads available that can connect to Windows) but I still need to get round to making it connect to the internet to downoad all the extras (such as ftp clients and the like).


Something for another day, perhaps..
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Posted by james at 9:10 AM

Sunday, 12 October 2003

Children - growing up fast!

Shortly after Ella's birth (over six months ago, now!) I created a simple website to put photos of the darling little thing on. As with many of the best intentions, it's not really been kept up-to-date; after about three weeks I stopped putting pictures on it.

Seeing as this is as good a place as any, I thought I'd post some pictures of our two wonderful children. At least there are no irritating pop-up adverts on this site (although it makes up for this by taking ages to load - sorry!)

Here they come, then...


ella in a pretty bonnet
Ella in a pretty bonnet (Jul 2003)


smiling ella
A smiling Ella (Jul 2003)


sleeping ella
A sleeping Ella (Sep 2003)


hungry ella
Ella and her bottle-holding skills (Oct 2003)


ella encounters reflection
Ella encounters her reflection (Sep 2003)


christopher and crane
Christopher playing with his crane (Aug 2003)


christopher and godfather
Christopher and his Godfather, Paul (Jun 2003)

This, hopefully, won't be a unique event - once I have a collection of good photos, I'll put them up here.

How are they doing? Well, we've been a little worried about Ella - she seems to suffer from reflux, and, having also had a bug last month, her weight went down below the 0.4th percentile (that's to say 99.6% of babies in the UK weighed more than her at 5 months!) It's been rather strange, though, as she is as cheerful and energetic as one would expect a six-month old to be - in fact, possibly moreso, just like her brother. Having seen a consultant, we've put her on a 'stay down' formula, and combined with a voracious appetite, she's made great progress over the last few weeks. She's also been waking up less at night - which is a bonus!

Christopher is doing well, too He's still attending pre-school three mornings a week; because he turned four in August, it would have been unfair to plonk him straight into school, as he would have been by far the youngest. But he's got an amazing imagination, and can work out some fairly tricky problems, which is good to know. He had his pre-school vaccinations last week, and has been a little under-the-weather since. This isn't really surprising, as he had six different vaccines (if you count the controversial measles/mumps/rubella combination as three - we decided to go ahead with it, but that's not to say it wasn't - and isn't - nervewracking).

I am in no doubt that I am incredibly fortunate to have such wonderful, friendly, well balanced children - it's just a shame I have to go to work and miss much of the week with them. Speaking of which I'd better finish this entry and get some sleep...

Posted by james at 9:59 PM

Sunday, 5 October 2003

Post-holiday...

We arrived back from Norfolk on Friday, having spent the best part of a week in a converted barn, and driving around the moderately attractive countryside and small townage.

It was our first 'family' holiday; now Christopher's four, he can enjoy more of the attractions (he loved playing in the arcade in Hunstanton) and Ella, although she's not been very well, was portable and generally distractable enough to make it worthwhile and (when she didn't cry through the night) enjoyable.

Here are a few photos of the holiday - the weather was wonderful almost throughout, especially at Sunny Hunny!


A view of the barns from the car park.
A view of the barns from the car park.

The converted barn we stayed in (not including the iron!)
The converted barn we stayed in
(not including the iron!)

Inside the barn - lots of wood and brick.
Inside the barn - lots of wood and brick.

Christopher 'doing his thing' on a bandstand in Hunstanton
Christopher 'doing his thing' on a bandstand in Hunstanton.

A sunny day, but a deserted beach in Hunstanton.
A sunny day, but a deserted beach in Hunstanton.

Posted by james at 7:23 PM


 
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