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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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Sunday, 22 June 2008

Diamond (but avoiding the Jubilee!)

(finally finished on the 1st July.. oops!)

It's been a lovely weekend so far; Beth and I had a wonderful, relaxing (on the whole!) day in London yesterday.

After dropping the children at Beth's folks (they were excited to have a 'sleepover' too; their chosen acoutrements on this occasion were a pair of bongos and a pack of playing cards.. who needs technology, eh? Well, OK, they took a DS and a Leapster as well!) we drove into Central London and parked the car at work. After lunch at The Montagu Pyke (formerly 'The Moon Under Water' - perhaps the name changed because there's another by the same name on Leicester Square!) - probably the place we've eaten most on our days out in town - we discovered that both The British Museum and The National Gallery were ten minutes walk away! We're hoping to take the children on a sight-seeing trip into London during the summer holidays, so this afforded us a good opportunity to see whether there was enough to keep a nearly-nine year-old and five year-old occupied for an hour or so. In fact, I don't think I'd ever visited them - when I was younger, I daresay they weren't free to enter, and it's only as I approach middle-age(!) I have an appreciation of the amazing artifacts (such as seven thousand year old Egyptian statues) and sheer scale of the paintings that I've only seen as postcard or poster prints.

We then drove around the ring-road to the O2. I'd never done the Blackwall Tunnel before - and if I can avoid doing it again, I will! In fact, the 'southbound' tunnel is newer, and it's only the long wait in the sunshine so that the myriad confluences of traffic can be ensured a steady flow through the tunnel itself (being as it is the only crossing of the river in the area) and the general featurelessnes of the area that made it unpleasant. The journey home was worse, since the older of the two tunnels includes some sharp bends and very narrow lanes that makes it a claustrophobic experience that requires lots of concentration - tough at that time of night!

But I've skipped ahead a little.. when we had arrived and parked up (the £20 parking fee, though expensive, was still less than return tickets on the tube or shuttle bus - added to the inconvenient closure of the Jubilee Line that weekend it seemed the least-hassle option) it was interesting to see the 'Millennium Dome' (as it was) at close quarters, since it was still a chargeable attraction when we'd previously visited. Now, it's a fairly generic entertainment centre, with all the usual suspects (Nandos, Pizza Express, Starbucks) but still a pleasant indoor venue for a night out - ideal, I guess, for the locals!

Beth and me in the O2 'chill out' dome thingWhat piqued our interest, though was the O2 'chill-out zone' - an inflatable dome (within the Dome.. how cool is that?) with a cushioned floor, beanbags strewn and music playing quiety, intended as an escape from the busy walkways outside. It was free to use, and had surprisingly few people inside; Beth and I bought a Saturday paper, and spent much of the time before the concert relaxing in there! There's a photo of us in there to the right..

The O2 Arena from the upper balconyWhen we entered the Arena, we found our seats, high on the balcony, quite a long way from the stage (see the picture, right, for an idea of the size of the place! The absolute top of the photo represents the equivalent seats to ours on the opposite side... click, as always, for bigger). But the sound was excellent, and we could see everybody - just Neil Diamond and his band for the whole concert - well, either on stage or on the huge video monitors. The performance was excellent, though, with some classic sing-a-long songs and some tracks off his new album. A couple of things struck me while we were there, though; although there was a fine brass section, the copious quantities of strings that accompanied many of his early hits was played by two keyboardists - I guess to save on costs, and because digital orchestras are of excellent quality these days. I also spent quite a while trying to work out where the cameras were that were filming the singers 'straight on' for the large video screens as they stood on the stage, since the audience filled the area immediately at the front of the arena, and it would be awkward (to say the least!) to negotiate them with a large broadcast camera! I concluded that, just behind the sound desk (several tens of metres back!) there were a pair of cameras with a very, very long zoom!

So, a fine, fine concert, and, apart from the interesting route home suggested by the satnav (mainly involving lots of revellers around the place) an excellent day, leaving us tired and happy, and a lifetime ambition achieved (for Beth, at least!)

Posted by james at 11:17 PM

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

More things to do with an i600...

I can cheerfully assert, without any fear of unsurity, that the Samsung i600 is my favourite mobile phone so far! OK, so it's not perfect, but I've found some really useful - and free! - tools that help me do things I really need to do, so I thought I'd list them briefly here:

  • RareEdge GMobileSync - We have recently moved over to Google Calendar for our family organiser. This brilliant bit of (beta) software enables us to carry a copy of our schedule around, and synchronize with the on-line version whenever we add changes. If there's any little foible it's that, despite every attempt to prevent it from doing so, the phone's Calendar software puts ten minute warnings in front of every entry, so at ten-to midnight (so just before an 'all day' event) we'd both get a merry tune playing. Fortunately, going to Start -> Settings -> Sounds -> Other Sounds and setting Reminder to 'none' prevents any undue interruption to sleep!

  • PocketNotepad - A 'Notepad' style text editor that Windows Mobile for Smartphone simply doesn't have! It requires an extra tGetFile dll to run properly, but it's only tiny. A simple tool, but essential - especially when the Mail software keeps refusing to send emails... speaking of which...

  • VITO CopyPaste - Windows Mobile for Smartphone has no copy and paste functionality! This is an interesting, fairly useful piece of software that sits in the background and waits for a long press on the OK button. In conjunction with PocketNotepad, it's excellent. However, I'd always recommend saving any document ro email before copying it, since I've managed to destroy a messageI spent a while writing when I selected it, held the OK button and it evaporated, never to be pasted again!

  • Ghisler Total Commander - A versatile piece of software that has a file explorer with far more (much needed!) functionality than the installed version (file extensions are just one example), registry editor and ZIP file creator/extractor.

  • SK Software SKTools Lite - A multi-purpose housekeeping tool for Windows Mobile for Smartphone. I used it, for example, to flush out the calendar before synchronizing it with Google Calendar. It can also tidy up orphaned files and do more common things like clearing out caches. With such a small amount of on-board memory, this is a very useful tool for a power user.

  • HubDog - A podcast downloader / RSS feed reader / content aggregator / community(?) for Windows Mobile. This is the best of what seems, unfortunately, to be a fairly scarce bunch of podcast programmes for Windows Mobile. I've managed to install it and set it up to find my favourite podcasts, but when it comes to playing them, I'm trying to get the hang of it. My belief (such that it is!) is that if an IT engineer like me can get it working without resorting to the instructions, it's an intuitive, usable application. I'm still not quite there - when I click Playlist -> All New Audio it loads a massively long playlist file into TCPMP, which includes some very old audio and quite a few links to files that no longer exist. At the moment, then, I'm still using Juice on the mac and downloading them to the iPAQ for my trips into and back from work (not least because I broke the cheapo headphone adaptor for the i600 already!)

The only thing I'm struggling with is getting some decent GPS software for it. I tried VITO SmartNavigator, but, when I finally got it to match with the GPS, I couldn't get any kind of grid reference off it.. CoPilot Live looks good, but it's a full SatNav (I already have one on the iPAQ) so a little more than I need. Another quick browse reveals that Efficasoft GPS Utlilities looks promising, and is a reasonably price, so I shall give that a go.

The only other software I've paid for is Opera Mobile. Pocket Internet Explorer is quite rubbish, and Minimo, though excellent on the iPAQ, doesn't work properly on the i600.

I've finally got a 3G SIM card - I hadn't realised that I needed one until I spoke to Orange on the phone; they referred me to the Orange shop, who told me to call the Customer Services line (who had sent me there in the first place); I duly did this, and was dispatched once again to the Orange shop where I was able to buy a new SIM card for £5, which was, rather happily, added to my pay-as-you-go credit.

So that's an update on my shiny, a little scratched (but rather addictive) mobile phone! Except to say that I have completely neglected to mention one of the reasons I created this blog entry in the first place.. check out Joiku's WMWiFiRouter - a way to turn a mobile phone into a WiFi Hotspot! How cool (but just a tiny bit pointless!) is that? I may just have to give it a go, though!

Posted by james at 10:41 PM

Saturday, 14 June 2008

sports day and course...

I've not really been writing so much in my blog of late, but I will try to bring it up to date with the chronicles of the past couple of weeks since we came back from holiday, although it will be in no particular order, since I'll have to write as I recollect!

Most notable of the family outings was a trip to see Cath and Pete and their respective families in Oxfordshire; Cath had organised a 'sports day' and, on one of the warmest days of the year, we gathered a tree-lined corner of the local park and had some great fun. The children loved running about with each other - I'm sure I've mentioned before how wonderful it is that they all get on so well, and Cath and Martin brought along some food for us all to eat - the journey home was a tired and happy one. There are some pictures in the gallery (click here to see them) - my favourite, though, is below. since it captures the enjoyment we all shared.

The Gherkin from Tower 42Much of my week has been spent in The City; I have been sitting on the tenth floor of the spectacular Natwest Tower, in the shadow of the even more impressive Gherkin (there are some photos in my new 'random collection 3' album, studying rather cool HP Blade Servers. The course has been, well, a little unusual; had there been a little more scraping away of the 'sales spiel' and with a little better execution of the worked exercises (which involved automated installations of Windows on virtual servers in western America.. the distance didn't slow the process down, but the number of reboots certainly did!) - one of which had to be carried out three times because the software was out of date - we could have been done by the end of today! However, we covered a fair amount when we could hear over the revolutionary 'turbine' fans cooling the huge enclosure!

Work's been rather busy of late in any case, which has made it a bit of a wrench being away from the office. I have become involved in creating the specification for the new playout system that'll be rolled out for the combination of all the services (News, Radio and World Service) that will eventually collide when all the buildings are finished. There have been lots of meetings, going into the details of the requirements and adding my concerns and opinions based on the support point of view. It's quite a change from the day-to-day support work I've been doing, so it's good experience.

So, what else? I have tried to make the most of studio time, but with so much to do (the list has grown no shorter since the beginning of the year!) it's been hard to work out where to start. I'm hoping to take a day off work in the next couple of weeks to spend a whole day working on some of the outstanding projects.

I suppose the main reason I haven't written much of a blog is because I haven't really done much else! Obviously, I've been tweeting with the minutae of my daily life... you can see a collection of each day's goings-on here: www.mus-ic.co.uk/dailytwitters

Link of the day
I've not done one of these for a while... but this is rather odd:

  • spaceyideas.com/todonnalovebob : I actually saw one of these photos near my office the other day, but didn't pick one up. If I see another, though, I shall certainly type the number in here.

Posted by james at 10:23 PM

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Pictures from our holiday...

I've finally sorted through the 400-odd(!) photos I took over the holiday (not to mention those taken by the children, since I thought it might be nice for them to take a camera with them) and uploaded the most appropriate ones to the gallery. You can find them here:

To add a little colour into a fairly desolate blog, here are some of the highlights (click for bigger!)


Lenni and Chris paddlingLenni on 'Donkey' at Crimdon Park Pony World
Chris on 'Monty' at Crimdon Park Pony WorldKite flying at Penshaw
The Harts outside Hart Village

Posted by james at 9:39 PM


 
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