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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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Saturday, 31 July 2004

getting there slowly...

After another evening's bashing away at various bits of the configuration, I think I've just about managed to get this version of the blog to look like the old one. [Note: only one carriage return after this paragraph.]
(Although I do wonder whether I should have broken new grounds with a new design, I've concluded that 'one step at a time' is probably the best way of getting this done). [Note: two carriage return after this one and subsequent paragraphs.]

So, what's still bothering me, and will therefore need to be sorted on my next evening of tapping at the keyboard?

  • I don't seem to have managed to get comments to work. I'll try it one more time on this entry

  • There seems to be loads of whitespace above and beneath each line - I haven't been able to find the bit of the cascading style sheet that deals with this, yet.

  • The archived entry seems to have the old template attached to it - I would have thought the 'rebuild site' would have sorted this, but it doesn't seem to be the case.

  • The last stage is to import the contents of the bblog database into this one. And make the system re-render all the pages. Last, but definitely not the most trivial of bits to do.

At least the page loads that much more quickly, though - most impressive. I think I'll shop here again (in spite of the difficulties!).

Posted by james at 11:59 PM

Saturday stuporstore

Another week over - in fact, as I sit on 'my' sofa after lunch, we're almost half-way through Saturday already. It doesn't seem like any time since I was driving towards Kent with Joanne, but that's a week ago already!

Last night I was out with Nik (and, for a short time, his girlfriend Jemma, before she caught the train back to her parents for the weekend) and we trundled around central London. It's amazing how busy it gets, especially considering the warm weather - drinks are expensive in town, so we sufficed with a coffee in Starbucks before I caught the 10pm bus home.

The day was busy - I was the only member of the team in, but things didn't start going awry until about four o'clock (typical for a Friday). I was pretty much done by 6, though, so I didn't miss too much.

I'm sure a link to this Preparing For Emergencies parody site has made it into every inbox in the UK - it's certainly annoyed the government (yay!) and had a lot of newspaper coverage. Thomas Scott has been responsible for quite a few web curiosities, such as the amusing, but chiefly pointless Semaphore Ninja flash game and International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Some people have just "got it" ...

Hmmm. I'm having trouble motivating myself now - after a brief flurry of activity this morning (clearing the remainder of the patio so that the furniture could go out there, and finally clearing the garden waste off the terrace - something of a nightmare, considering there's no way to the front door without going through the house) it's all I can do to stay awake.

Ella was sick last night - she's brightened up a lot today, but we're guessing she's caught the same thing as Christopher had. Hopefully that'll be an end to it, then - I'm on a course next week, and wouldn't want to have broken-food-mixer stomach so far away from home.

This afternoon we're probably going to drive up to Bletchley - a small town that's nearly been eaten up by Milton Keynes, which boasts a plentiful supply of charity shops, and, as the residents desert the town for the giant shopping centre at the weekend, not too many people.

I haven't got much planned for the evening, so I'll probably try to make the most of a few hours in the studio - plenty to be done, not least upload the latest Image FM audio and photos onto the website, and work on some production that's been long overdue. Or I might just end up working on my new blog, and chatting on Messenger...

Posted by james at 12:54 PM

Thursday, 29 July 2004

day-off objectives ...

Well, I can't say I've completely done everything I intended to do today, but it's certainly been a jam-packed day - there's nothing worse than wasting a day off, but the temptation's always there, especially after a (comparative) lie-in!

So... I admit it. There are still four bags of garden rubbish and a large number of brambles on the terrace. We didn't make it to the tidy tip, as we had a trip to B&Q followed by an afternoon at Beth's parents for Beth's Dad's birthday.

Which brings me nicely onto objective number two - the replacement of the valve that feeds the cold water tank. It's the noisiest, leakiest thing in the world (nearly) and desperately needs replacing. Christopher and I popped into the loft after lunch to plan the job, but having spent just two or three minutes in the stifling heat, there was no way I was going to carry out the task today!

A mere ?6.50 later we had arrived home with a new valve (I have no idea how I'm going to attach it, but I can assure you that the mains will be off, and the tank will be drained beforehand!), huge orange ball and roll of PTFE tape. Now to wait for the next drizzly weekend (or whenever I pluck up the courage!)

It's been a fairly 'internet-free' few days, actually - not many links to choose from, although I've been trying to do my inbox filing on-and-off over the last few days. From over 500 items to none at all (and lots of new folders) - I can only guess how long it'll remain like that.

Back to working on my fledgling (and slow-forming) new blog, then...

Posted by james at 7:42 PM


For my day off, I set myself a couple of objectives - the first was to clear the patio half-way up the garden so that we could put some furniture, kindly donated by Beth's parents, up there.

Christopher and I started off by sweeping the terrace just outside the lounge, and then I ventured into the urban wildlife preserve that was once the main part of the back garden, to clear away some of the brambles that had grown up to block the way. It put me in mind a little bit of Sleeping Beauty; with gardening gloves, secateurs and spade, I beat a path to the large pile of leaves, grass and undergrowth that used to be a patio and barbecue area.

Two hours later, having been spiked several times, at least the patio was clear (three bags full) and a large pile of brambles had assembled on the terrace. It's been a warm morning, but gardening's excellent exercise, and I don't think I caught the sun too much.

There are some pics in the mini random photos gallery.

Christopher popped in not long after we'd arrived at the patio, to make some cupcakes for his Grandad, whose birthday it is today.

So a busy morning as it is, then!

Posted by james at 12:01 PM


It doesn't seem like I'm getting very far with this - especially at 800x600.

Still.. there's always tomorrow. And I might tear myself away for long enough to spend some time with the family!

Posted by james at 12:07 AM

Wednesday, 28 July 2004

wrestling match

Computers are time vacuums - it's official. I've been working on my new Movable Type blog, and it's amazing how long it takes to pick up the basics, and then tweak it from 'out of the box' (which is a bit conservative and boring) through 'completely broken' to 'pretty much how I like it.'

I'm at the 'completely broken' stage now. If you really want to see what state it's in (and I'd be interested to find out if it's any quicker - I can't see how it couldn't be!) it's at: http://www.mus-ic.co.uk/weblog.

Apart from that, I've been working - oh ... my pet server's alive again (yay!) - it turned out that all the rather scary looking errors weren't caused by an exploded hard disk; it was a connector at the back that hadn't been pushed in properly. It took the project expert manager man from VCS to explain it. I feel such a fool.

Nothing else to report, I'm afraid. It's been sticky and warm, but not as intensely hot as that weekend last year that I remember getting off an air-conditioned train and feeling like I was standing right in front of a completely working radiator. That may have been the last time Christopher and I went Down South... hopefully we'll be doing it again in the next couple of weeks. That'll be great fun!

It's late, and there's another day off ahead, so I'd better make the best preparation for it that I can, and try and tear myself away from the Great Blog Rebuilding Challenge.

Posted by james at 10:38 PM

Monday, 26 July 2004

distance over time

It's been another mixed up day; as I sit on the coach, the sun is streaming in - amazingly high in the sky for the time of day - through the left window, while grey menacing clouds drift over London to my right.

Work's been bit like that, too... the server I've been gently coaxing back to my way of thinking has decided to stop working (again), I've had yet more phone calls with a media manager in a situation born of misconception and misinformation that has certainly been brewing for longer than I've been with the department and there have been a long list of odd jobs that I've been trying to deal with inbetween. Busy, therefore, but varied.

Poor Christopher - he came stomping down the stairs this morning (it's what he does) at a quarter past six to find his bin to be sick in. He's such a good lad, and to see him suffering from any kind of malaise moves me in a unique, achey way. The same, of course, goes for his sister - especially to think back a year ago when she wasn't feeding properly. I'm hoping that this is just a minor bug, and that his aching head and tummmy recover in the next couple of days.

He wasn't well yesterday, either, but we did manage another of our 'father and son' projects - this time to tidy up the little wooden cabinet in which my studio computer resides. The problem was that the rear of the cupboard was closed, and pushing the computer far enough back to enable the door to shut caused far too much bunching of the cables, which led for a while to a really bad picture on my studio monitors. The airflow inside the box wasn't too good, either - there's a fan at the front, but nowhere for the air to go.

We systematically removed the contents of the cabinet, and then set about attempting to remove the back panel. It turned out to be easier (but noisier) than we'd thought, as a 'secret' screw (covered with a circular wooden dowel) enabled me to loosen a panel, and it was a case of hitting it in the right place with a hammer and screwdriver (yup... I can be quite savage when I need to be) that the glue was dislodged and the panel fell out. I was expecting it to have some kind of dovetail or tenon joint, but it was fairly straightforward. We scrwed the back panel onto the top (as it was previously open, and covered with an antiquated CD jukebox that I've had for three years and never managed to get to work) and set to repopulating the cupboard with the necessary cables.

A disaster befell us shortly after lunch - Christopher took great pride in announcing to Beth that I'd blown the four-way extension lead up. I'd tried to mount it, using a pair of slightly protruding screws, to the top of the cabint. However, the 'bracket' was nothing more than a cross-shaped hole in the plastic, so I had to raise them up a great deal to angle the extension block so it went on. I was a little over-keen to 'click' it into place, and inadvertently pushed the screw right into the innards of the mains block, shorting out two of the connectors. When I turned the power on, there was a 'bang' and a brief shower of sparks. Fortunately, the main fuse didn't blow, and the only casualties were the mains block and a rather blackened screw top.

It gave us the excuse, though, to wander up to Asda to buy a new four way block (for the princely sum of ?1.87) and for the children to enjoy quarter of an hour in the playpark on the way home.

As I remember, we also tried to get my (bought for a bargain price but broken nevertheless) Wavefinder to work. Almost since Beth bought it as a gift for me it's been unreliable - not least because we live in such a poor area for reception, but it seems it's a fairly poor design, and there's a good chance some of the components have exploded. I'll stick to internet radio stations and my NTL box (which, for some reason, refuses to play Radio 4) through my beloved and battered cordless headphones.

So much fun to be had with technology, eh? When it works...


Posted by james at 6:51 PM

Saturday, 24 July 2004


Just a quick one this evening - like so many Saturdays, this one has disappeared far too quickly!

Joanne (from Jude) and I drove to sunny Orpington to join Conrad and a new drummer (also called James) for a practice session.

The motorways were busy on the way there - not really too much of a surprise, considering it's the first weekend after the break-up of school, and the weather was extremely warm - which meant we arrived three-quarters of an hour late. There was still time to run through (and introduce to James) three songs, all of which I recorded an uploaded to the sound archive in their rough-and-ready way. James is naturally a 'rock' drummer, so we all had to play that much louder to keep up with him! It was a good, if not a little warm, session though.

We were fortunate to have a swift, trouble-free journey back to Luton, though, which gave me a chance to spend a little more time with the children before they went to bed. Unfortunately, Christopher had been a bit sick during the afternoon, and was running a temperature; we're hoping it's just a brief thing (he was a little tired but otherwise completely back to normal by bedtime).

Hmm.. this blog seems to be taking ages to load (compared with the main website and gallery - I'm seriously considering changing to Moveable Type, which is used for a few blogs I know. Of course, it'll take time to swap over - but my fingers are crossed that it'll be an improvement!

That's about it, really.. more tomorrow, I'm sure!

Posted by james at 10:35 PM

Friday, 23 July 2004

more retro-type yabberings

Not only am I in my own demographic (well, I think so), but I seem to be in my own generation at work. Some students were having a conversation about Captain Planet and I had to admit that I had no idea who he was [or that apparently the theme tune was written by Phil Collins]; there's a large gap in my children's television experience - I can name all the Fimbles, and know what the Shiny Show is, but anything between the Mysterious Cities of Gold and rugrats TV is beyond me. Neither the students nor the rest of the engineers seemed to know who Captain Zep (Super Space Detective ... with cardboard filmsets) was, though. Was I imagining it? That said, we found common ground in the unrealistic CGI of Knightmare.

"Where am I?"
"You're in a room!"

Apart from that brief period of whimsy, it's been practically non-stop at work - I have done more yabbering today (in the course of my job, I ought to add) than normal. Conversations were had with the aforementioned vacation students (typical that I was in that generation of university attendees for whom an opportunity to work during the summer holidays wasn't available *snort*), media managers, senior editors and people training me to use the internet to connect into work. I'm surprised I got anything done. But today was rewarding in its way.

Last night, Joanne's PC was finally repaired - Christopher helped me swap out various bits until we managed to identify the offending article. I had a spare CD-writer (having looked on the internet for confirmation that the old one is something of a lemon) and, having installed the free Open Office - in lieu of a Microsoft Office licence, as it's pretty much compatible - I shut down and went to bed. I can only hope it switches back on.

Tomorrow, it's band practice day - I'm going to be in Kent with the rest of Jude trying out a new drummer. We'll not be leaving until half-past ten, so at least that'll mean a bit of time with the children.

So to the close of another week, then. I'm tempted to go to Paris - they've closed the motorway along the Seine and turned it into a beach. They'd never do that with the M1 past Luton, though, more's the pity (as I've often said - I don't think we could live further from the seaside than here!) But I'll probably make it as far as Kent and then come back.

Two links from the day's daft office emails:

Have a good weekend!

Posted by james at 8:36 PM

Thursday, 22 July 2004

blasts from the past..

It's been a moderately straight-forward day off, with a trip to the park (see the Mini Random album for a picture of an exhausted little lad) and, after lunch, a gentle stroll round the local garden centre. It's good to get out during the day... even if it's only for fairly conservative activities.

On other - much more trivial matters - is there nothing new out there? They've already revamped Scooby Doo and Thunderbirds... but who on earth came up with the idea of remaking The Magic Roundabout? It's out in 2005, apparently, and will be completely computer generated. The trailer has out there, too, if you've got a handy copy of Windows Media Player.

Speaking of things that (perhaps) should never have been regurgitated, apparently William Shatner is soon to release a new CD - his first since the late 1960s. If you've never heard his rendition of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", you are one of the lucky ones. Apparently, though, this star-studded album (called "Has Been") is all-new, apart from a troubling cover of Pulp's "Common People" which he sings with Joe Jackson (who, incidentally, has really riled me recently with his remarks about smoking).
Tenuously linked with things that are bad for you, apparently more people suffer from kiwi fruit allergy than previously thought. I proudly count myself among this number.

Finally - returning to more familiar territory than health issues (thanks for the link, Beth!) - is Scarlet FM really the most rubbish radio station in the UK?

Posted by james at 10:19 PM

Wednesday, 21 July 2004

Wednesday already?

Not much to report, as the workday takes me from tumbling out of bed to the few hours I have in the evening, before bedtime comes so quickly, and the whole thing starts again.

For the past couple of evenings, I've been trying to repair a friend's computer that seems to be refusing to co-operate. It was all going so well until the hard drive controller decided to reject any notion of a CD-ROM, and, like a fool, I concluded that I'd done something wrong with the installation - I started again, but the same thing cropped up - most upsetting. I've never let a computer beat me yet, though - and this won't be the first. grits his teeth and prepares for a long and tedious battle with technology.

I've been able to play with some cool stuff at work - as part of a problem I've been looking at, I managed to assemble almost all the bits to make my own little 'playout system' which is quite fun to play with - it looks like the kit they've got in the studios, so my colleagues can try things out without having to wait until the real thing is free. It's a shame that I haven't got the last stage - the audio decoders - so it's a bit quiet...

Until recently, I'd forgotten that I had one of those tiny cameras that's easy to carry around and photograph random things. Now, though, I intend to throw a bunch of the pictures I take into the wonderful piece of kit, but I think I want one. Or, failing that, one of these. Actually, they're still quite 'young' techonologically - requiring a PC to be running a special application all the time; I'd much rather have one that connected to my Linux webserver - or - better still - had its own hard disk that you could fill up with whatever you want.

Yay - a day off, tomorrow! I won't, however, be building one of these with Christopher in the back garden. Or underneath the flightpath of Luton Airport. Perhaps we'll find something else to do!

Posted by james at 9:21 PM

Tuesday, 20 July 2004

reunion and radio

I've not written much over the past few days, in spite of how much has gone on! It took a few days to recover from the sedation - in spite of the relief of having the all-clear. This - of course - means another visit to my GP, to investigate other possibilities. Sounds like fun...

At least it meant that I could spend the day with the family - I'm not sure what we got up to, but it was my last opportunity to walk Christopher to pre-school, and we played "Scrapheap Challenge" with Lego while Ella was asleep. Our challenge? To get a duplo train to complete a circuit of the railway track, using his lego, which fortunately includes a couple of 'custom' pieces, with springs and gears that ultimately spin lego axles at various speeds, so we just needed to find a way to apply the turning force to the wheels. Hopefully he learned something - I have to admit enjoying playing with Lego, even though I'm 32!

Saturday was a busy day - Jon popped up to visit (we were playing Radio Stations that evening), and accompanied us to my sister Cath and fianc? Martin's house for an afternoon of pizza and family reunions. It was phenomenal - seventeen of us - all of my brothers and sisters, their respective partners and offspring, my mother and - of course - Jon. Thanks to him, of course, the opportunity arose to have a group family photo - possibly the first since Beth and I were married. The gallery has all the pictorial evidence.

We arrived home and, while the children - exhausted from a run round the garden on probably the sunniest day in July so far - went to bed, Jon and I set about preparing for the Image FM broadcast that we were going to do that evening. As ever, everything was really last minute, but we made it througbh the fours of internet 'webcast' without too much incident. Annoyingly we had a 15 minute dropout during Jon's show, but I will fine tune all the technical kit before next time (yes... I probably said that at the end of the last one as well!) Check out all the Image FMs we've done in the sound archive

Some family friends popped over on Sunday afternoon, and we all visited the Stevenage Brewsters - a family restaurant with its own children's play area. It wasn't too busy, but there's always the concern that the children will end up being injured or intimidated by rambunctious play of other children. Ella, though, enjoyed walking round the outside playpark and climbing the smallest of the equipment - fortunately, it was clear as most of the children preferred the challenge of the larger apparatus.

Another weekend rapidly came to an end, then - this one closed with some exhausted children (and parents!) - in fact, it's amazing that it's Tuesday already.

I was on the coach trundling up the motorway when I saw a couple of unusually painted buses, both empty save for a capped driver - they were signed as "Location Diners", and I could only imagine what sort of eating environment a bus might be! I guess it's a bit like a marquee on wheels. Thank heavens, therefore, for the website! Thinking of this, if I were to open a restaurant or takeaway, the first thing I'd do is put the menu on the internet, as there's nothing more frustrating that not being able to find the menu in the copious kitchen drawers.

Enough of my moaning! Unrelated links of the day...

  • It's the official "watching paint dry" webcam... http://www.mirimgs.com/webcam/paint.html

  • Want to know what time it is anywhere in the world? Find out (nearly) instantly with a handy collection of sundial webcams. So not that much help, then... http://www.planetary.org/mars/earthdial/index.html

    Posted by james at 4:25 PM

    Friday, 16 July 2004

    Image FM ... a shameless plug

    Every now and then, Jon and I like to play "Radio Stations".

    This Saturday (the 17th) is no exception... once we've arrived home from Cath's housewarming party (after the children have gone to bed) we'll be making a bad noise on the internet... find out more here. Mind you, we'll just miss taking on the might of Bexhill High School's short-term radio station, which comes to an end today. It's worth listening, while you still can, to the imaginatively titled Bexhill FM...

    As for life in general? It's trundling on - Christopher and I had some good Lego building time, where we played "Scrapheap Challenge" - trying to get a Duplo railway train to go around the track under its own power. I hope he enjoyed the engineering challenge as much as I did!

    It was back to work this morning - I faced an inbox full of emails, and an untidy desk... it'll take me most of the day to catch up! Still, nothing terrible happened while I was off, so perhaps I'll be able to relax this afternoon (although I'll probably get distracted with 'show prep' at lunchtime)...

    Posted by james at 9:32 AM

    Thursday, 15 July 2004


    At least that's over. I took one of my infrequent trips to hospital yesterday, for an investigation into my inexplicable (and inconsistent) night-time abdominal pains. My doctor considered the likelihood of a duodenal ulcer and made me an appointment with the outpatient department for a bit of a poke around with a camera on a stick. I wasn't looking forward to the ordeal, but, with the appointment card, the hospital sent a leaflet explaining what would happen. I opted for sedation, which meant that Beth would have had to drive me home, and I wouldn't have been able even to operate a kettle for 24 hours afterwards.

    I was expecting to be awake during the process, but within about four seconds of the sedative being applied, I slept, not waking until over half-an-hour afterwards. When I came to, I didn't feel too bad, but I have had to ask Beth to remind me what I did and said - although I am aware that nothing was found, I still can't recall receiving the paperwork, or even being told.

    The worst part of hospital treatment is the waiting, but in this case I was seen about fifteen minutes after the appointment time, which is something to be celebrated. I guess it's quite hit and miss, but somtimes my faith in the health service is boosted by experiences like this. My fear of hospitals, though, is unabated!

    So.. back to the drawing board as far as my mysterious tummy discomfort goes. It's not Tietze's syndrome (which was suggested by my previous GP), and it's not an ulcer ... I take one paracetamol before I go to bed occasionally, and that tends to give me a good night's sleep. Puzzling.

    Still, it means a couple of days off work, so more time with the children! I've been working with Christopher on his photo gallery - he requested that it should be found at www.christophersgallery.co.uk, so I popped to Simply.com to register it for about ?7.00 for two years. He was very pleased, and has decided on how it should be laid out ('Lego Island' and 'Family Photos') and what photos should be added.

    On other matters, I had, until recently, no knowledge of the East India Company whose flag was said to inspire the USA's Stars and Stripes. I'd never even imagined that a company could run a country!

    Posted by james at 9:35 AM

    Monday, 12 July 2004


    OK, I have to confess... it's happened again. A little while ago, Beth bought me a computer game - one of her friends had been playing it, and recommended it to her. If I could be said to have any weakness (no... please don't start making a list!) it would be my inability to stop thinking about something like that until it's finished.

    It's been a fine family weekend, nevertheless. We attended the Raynham Way Community Centre's Summmer Fayre on Saturday afternoon, at the beginning of which Christopher, with the rest of his pre-school, sang some songs (short and low-quality mp3 excerpts here [218kB MP3] and here [134kB MP3])

    A few photos of this event are in the gallery.

    Apart from that, we ended up staying in a fair bit, because of the rain - we watched more Discovery Channel on Sunday - our favourite programme is currently Scrapheap Challenge, which contains plenty of light-hearted ingenuity.

    The only other activity of note was Saturday evening, when Beth and I drove up to Stratford to see some of her friends, who'd arranged a get-together up there. Although we'd been invited, we werent intending to go, but on a whim (and Christopher's request to stay at Nana and Grandad's) we set off at about six, and arrived just before half-past seven.

    It was a pleasant surprise for them to see Beth, but these things never go as planned - a fair percentage of the evening that we had was spent in the company of a recently immigrated Cuban lady who was clearly desparate to enroll us on one of those motivational schemes, as a young, intelligent (and presumably naive) couple. I wasn't, unfortunately, going to make it easy for her, and between us Beth and I (well, OK, me, really, using my standard technique of apparent stupidity and tangential questioning) managed to grind her down to the bare facts - who she was working for, what exactly she was trying to do, and who had put her up for this (her rather suspicious husband-to-be, it would appear - a weasly, unsettled-looking man with whom I immediately formed a close mistrust).

    Here's a long yet informative article by someone who's been 'bitten' by this company - my knowledge of the technicalities is very limited, but it's interesting to discover how they work... hopefully I can pass on these 'caveats' about making such a decision.

    Well... I've been writing this blog entry (on and off) for about four days, so I'd better get on and post it!

    Before I do, though, here - as ever - are my personal favourite web distractions from the past few days:

    • http://www.smalltime.com/dictator.html - Computers are getting smarter all the time... they can even guess what dictator or sit-com character (eh?) you're thinking of! How handy.
    • http://www.inmemoriam-thegame.com/gb/gam1.htm - In Memoriam: the computer game I've been playing (which, thankfully, I have now completed!). It's an ingenious and - at the moment - unique experience, involving emails, internet searchs (which often, irritatingly, return 'spoiler' pages among the results!) and fiddling around with a PC for hours on end. Just my kind of tea, then! If you'd like to borrow the game, please let me know!


    Posted by james at 8:45 AM

    Friday, 9 July 2004

    Technology, eh?

    Friday comes around so quickly. Work's been bizarre - on and off all day I've been trying to break the server that's been causing me so much trouble this week, so I can email the errors to an expert, and it's decided to start behaving itself. Typical.

    I think I might try and become a Cisco Certified Network Administrator - perhaps the exam I took (and passed) a month or so back has given me a new encouragement to study? I'm not sure how I'll fit the time in, though - Beth is working on an accountancy course, and she's finding it hard going. Why? Well, I quite like doing network bits and pieces, and I carried out a test on BrainBench* today to see how much I'd learned from working (and occasionally playing)with computer networks. I didn't quite pass, but it's encouraged me a bit.

    It's worth mentioning in passing that Siemens Business Services have 'won' the bid to buy BBC Technology (my previous employer). This leaves me in as much uncertainty as before, but one way or another I'll be staying with 'the Beeb'. The ideal would be for a permanent position to become available where I am now, so that I can continue doing this wonderful job. Less attractive, as propositions go, would be to move back to my job in TV, which would be under the auspices of BBC Broadcast. I'm enjoying radio while I can, in the meantime.

    Well, the weekend's here, and there's not much planned. That's just the way I like it - especially now the sun's re-appeared (if only briefly... I suppose it's only July!)

    Here's what I've dug up on the huge and odd internet today, then... on a musical/political theme.

    Tony Blair was in a band when he was a student... Ugly Rumours
    So was John Kerry... The Electras

    Have a fine weekend!

    *Brainbench are doing a 'special' at the moment, where all the tests are free. This is only until the 11th of July, though, and there's always the chance that they'll harvest all the addresses and cause all manner of spam.

    Posted by james at 8:31 PM

    Thursday, 8 July 2004

    Family day

    Well, as I expected, today has faded into evening extremely quickly. We've had a lovely day, from the walk up the hill to Christopher's pre-school, through watching Ella stumble around the lounge as she practices being a toddler, to a lunchtime 'picnic' at Beth's parents' house; the weather wasn't quite conducive to sitting in a field - in fact, it's been fairly tempestuous round here, with thunder and lightning earlier (but fortunately no power cuts).

    As a result, we've been indoors for much of the rest of the day. Christopher and I have been playing with Lego - we tend to build Robot Wars-style models, although we don't limit ourselves to smashing-and-bashing machines! With Ella's rapid development, and new 'features' appearing day by day (she can say "hello" and "bye bye" now) it's all too easy to forget about how quickly Christopher's growing up, but the time I spent with him this afternoon was an epiphany. Over the time he's been playing with Lego in his bedroom (the safest place for everyone, as it's well away from Eleanor, and he gets ten or fifteen minutes 'quiet play' before bedtime) he has become very adept not only at putting the bricks together, but actually creating representations of what he has in mind.

    This afternoon, then, he build a robot entirely autonomously (save for a little advice from me about interleaving bricks), which is the first time I think he's done this. Once we'd finished it, I asked if he'd like to write about it in his new blog; he said 'yes' but also wanted to take photographs of the robots to put in a 'gallery.' The rest of the afternoon was spent taking pictures of the models in various places, and preparing a gallery to display them - we were both pleased with the results.

    (In case you were wondering, Christopher's robot was Lifter, although he also developed the rather ingenious start/stop system for Psycho's actually rather hazardous clockwork spinning blade. He was responsible for the names, too.)

    Another day nearly over, then. Here are today's little web-oddities...

    Oh.. and before I go - you can now access this blog using: http://blog.mus-ic.co.uk, and the gallery by typing: http://gallery.mus-ic.co.uk.

    I would add that the people who look after my domain forwarding (http://www.virtualnames.co.uk) played no small part in helping me get this sorted, and I'd recommend them to anyone who's thinking of registering a domain, as they're very helpful and patient (considering my ability to ask dim questions!)

    Posted by james at 8:30 PM

    Wednesday, 7 July 2004


    I'm afraid there's not much exciting to report for the last couple of days. It's rather strange, though, that today has had all the hallmarks of late autumn, although the strong wind has been plucking green leaves from the trees, and the rain bounced off the pavements in much the same way that November drizzle doesn't. Fortunately I avoided the intermittent downpours on my way to the homeward coach after what felt like an interminably long day at work. Some days are like that, I suppose - I only wish I could spend them at home!

    A couple of Beth's friends from the North-East popped by for a visit on their way into (and back out of) London, and yesterday evening was spent with them, pizza and most of a bottle of wine. I'll be home fairly late tonight, but this is all part of an investment in tomorrow, which I'm spending with the family.

    Hopefully there'll be more of a story to tell, then!

    Before I go, though, I've only just read about SpaceShipOne and its successful launch today. The most amazing thing for me is that it cost a three-hundredth of the price of a space shuttle, according to an article on TechRepublic.com. Who needs NASA?

    Posted by james at 8:04 PM

    Monday, 5 July 2004

    office warmth

    Another sunny day in Central London - the weather people predicted showers, but I saw none. It's actually perfect out at the moment, with a cool breeze, some wonderfully fluffy clouds and enough shade to avoid sustained sunlight. If there is a downside (and we Englishmen are experts at finding something to complain about!) it would be that the hermetically sealed office in which I work seemed to have had air-conditioning failure, so the fans were blowing warm are about, and everything ended up a bit muggy.

    My boss and my opposite number are both on holiday this week, so I've got my fingers crossed that no major crises arise... I have my spares at hand in case of emergency, and a couple of keen colleagues who I'm sure would bail me out of trouble if everything went horribly wrong.

    It's been an uneventful day so far, though, with a few things needing to be organised and some broken bits to be tested, packed up and sent back to Germany.

    Annoyingly (although probably not unfortunate in terms of my productivity, given my irresponsibility!) MSN Messenger hasn't been working all day, so my usual brief recreational conversations with Beth and various other on-line friends haven't distracted me from the task at hand. I daresay I'll get home and it'll work perfectly.

    Quick links for today: ChangeDetection might come in handy - it checks to see if a web page (like this one) has been updated, and will send an email to whoever subscribes to the service. It's free, too, although - as usual - I wonder how they are sustained. I found it at the Half Man Half Biscuit website, a band who've been around for decades making unusual yet amusing music (John Peel has often featured them on his show).

    I played this game for a bit, too... fun, certainly for a while. I'm terrible when it comes to computer games - I try to avoid playing them if I possibly can, especially if they're long and involved, because I can neglect everything to get to the end!

    Nearly home, now; Tuesday tomorrow. I could never get the hang of Tuesdays.

    Posted by james at 9:54 PM

    Sunday, 4 July 2004

    A soporific Sunday

    Well, I can't say I've achieved much, today... last night was quite a late one for rehearsals, and, since lunchtime we've all been sitting around in the lounge watching programmes about Boeing 747-400s and building things out of scrap metal, both of which were found on the rather educational Discovery Channel.

    Christopher and I have also been playing with my little webcam - I've been trying to sort out the internet feed for the website for a while, and have finally motivated myself to get it sorted. Next time there's a recording session happening in the studio, you can be sure (with everyone's permission!) that it will be streamed onto the web, should you wish to witness it.

    Ella's taking more and more steps, although she can still move a lot quicker at a crawl. She alternates between hands and knees, and hands and feet. Christopher, in his usual whirling dervish dashing around the place often knocks her over, so we have to ask for some restraint as she finds her feet.

    Before I wander down to the studio for the evening, I saw this in someone's signature file on a bulletin board earlier and was quite impressed:


    Apparently it works by making the .jpg extension run a little script, which in turn uses an on-demand image creation tool to customise the picture. Neat, but I'm sure it'll be overused soon, if it's not already been so!

    It's the final of the European Championships today, but I don't think I'll set aside any time to watch it; I might put it on in the studio.

    I'm off now... to do very little in the remainder of this half-asleep Sunday evening and to take something for my occasional, yet traditional Sunday headache.

    Posted by james at 6:54 PM

    Saturday, 3 July 2004

    Sunshine-and-showery Saturday

    The day started quite restfully, with Christopher and I (or is it me? No. Definitely 'I') making a trip into town; my coach season ticket entitles me to free local bus travel, so we took good advantage of that and his under-five status!
    We wandered round the (now thankfully non-smoking) Arndale Centre in search of soap, salad, rechargeable batteries and a wallchart of the world. We were just over half-successful, picking up the food at the Tesco Metro, and availing ourselves of something of a bargain at Maplin - where we bought 12 NiMH AAA size batteries (perfect for remote controls and my cordless mouse in the studio) for ?13.

    After a tasty vegetarian lunch (provided by Beth on behalf of Jude band-member David), it was rehearsal time, when we practiced three of the songs in our small repertoire. Christopher joined us on the recorder (kind of!), and the afternoon came to an end all too quickly.

    Tonight, it's monster gratis band practice, with more of an acoustic style (about which I'm sure the neighbours are pleased!)

    The weekend goes so quickly... just time for a couple of links: The world's smelliest plant is a good way to start. Possibly.

    And to finish, for all you retro game fans, how about downloading some Abandonware... software that's over four years old, and no longer supported by any company? I'd be lost in nostalgia if I had the time! For now, I think I'm going to try and set up a RealMedia stream of tonight's studio session.
    AUTHOR: Sunshine!
    URL: http://
    DATE: 07/07/2004 15:29:42
    It most definitely is Christopher and me....you'd say The day started...with Christopher making a trip into town, and The day started...with me making a trip into town, so the correct form is to combine them to Christopher and me making a trip into town. It *does* sound awkward, but it's correct.

    Sounds like a fun day, regardless....the pedantic Sunshine

    Posted by james at 7:09 PM

    Friday, 2 July 2004


    I really don't know where this week has gone! It's been quite busy, with plenty going on, but I can't see how it ran out so quickly. Perhaps there was a leak.

    Work's been busy - as usual - although my boss and one of my colleagues are both off on leave next week, so I have a feeling I might be in charge. Scary! Hopefully nothing too untoward will take place, though; nothing that a few arbitrary (but well-documented) decisions couldn't sort out...

    This weekend will hopefully be quite relaxing, although I've got a music rehearsal with Jude tomorrow afternoon, and a monster gratis practice in the evening. I daresay Christopher and Ella will want to join in the fun - or at least play with the wires that are strewn around the studio...

    On other (less interesting) matters, I downloaded a new internet browser for my laptop yesterday - it's called Firefox and it was created by the same people who made the old Netscape browser before it went all rubbish and kept breaking. Firefox, however, is rather impressive - it's quick, and it doesn't do some of the nasty things Internet Explorer can end up doing.

    I also downloaded the accompanying email software - Thunderbird - to replace Outlook Express, but it was extremely slow, and I ran out of patience in the end. Something to bear in mind if you're thinking of moving away from Microsoft...

    In an attempt to answer the question about reflections on which I mused a couple of days ago, I ended up visiting the "Last Word" section of New Scientist's on-line magazine. There are some amazing little fact and tricks, including this one, which makes long multiplication so easy:

    an example of Russian Arithmetic.

    I was most impressed... there's an explanation of how it works

    And with that... I'm off to bed.

    Posted by james at 10:53 PM

    bus stop

    I'm typing this blog at a bus stop. Technology, eh? That said, I'm using my laptop, because my iPAQ's wireless network card seems to be broken...

    More later - I promise!

    Posted by james at 7:08 PM

    Thursday, 1 July 2004

    open farm

    It's been a busy but enjoyable day off from work - I'm working four ten-hour days at the moment, to give me an extra chance to spend some time with the family mid-week.

    Christopher went to pre-school; he and I walked up the hill, talking about why nettles sting - something I am a little more sure about than elementary physics(!) - and when I returned, I spent some time folding clothes and pottering with Beth and Eleanor. Doing anything with clean laundry is something of a challenge with Ella about, though - she loves to pick everything (fairly systematically) out of the washing basket and arrange them randomly on the floor. When I arrived home, though, Beth had been keeping her and the clothes apart, which led to one of the most impressive tantrums I've seen in years. I didn't realise one-year-and-two-month-olds had the co-ordination to carry off such a performance - except when I came into the lounge and made a stupid noise, which started her off laughing, and the whole thing came to a tearful but unconvincing end.

    We went to an open farm this afternoon, which was as much an eye-opener for me (I don't think I've seen a full-grown pig in real life for over twenty years!) as for Christopher. There were plenty of baby animals - including a two hour-old chick, and some unstable-looking calves - and even Ella seemed to enjoy herself. [updated] There are a few pictures of our outing in the gallery if you'd like to see them.

    A couple of links, to finish with... neither of which make much sense. Take this one, for example: a petition to vote for Dave Prowse to be prime minister.

    The other is for a company called Poke who appear to be moving to something called "Biscuit Building" in Shoreditch. There website doesn't say what they actually make or do, but to celebrate their relocation, they've created their own version of Tetris, but with biscuits.

    Back to work tomorrow... and who knows what the weekend might bring? Hopefully less thundery showers, which brought our trip to the farm to a slightly premature close!

    Posted by james at 7:30 PM

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