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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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Wednesday, 29 December 2004

Christmas and webcams...

It's been a busy Christmas - fun, but tiring. I'm in the gulf between Christmas and New Year, with a few days of work to bring 2004 to a close.

I don't think we've managed to see the whole family in one Christmas for, well, years! From pre-Christmas drinks at Dad's to a struggle round the M25 to see Pete, the children were inundated with gifts, and we all shared laughs and treats, so I would rate it as a success.

Hopefully my 2005 resolution - which is to see more of the family - will be sustained, especially now I'm going to be doing shifts, which means a few more "days off".

Back to Christmas, though - my present from Beth was an extra-swiffy new mobile phone (a Nokia 5140), which - if I'm honest - she gave me shortly before Christmas so I could get the fiddling out of the way before the celebrations began. As ever, she underestimated my abilities to muck about with the radio, torch, camera, voice recorder, infra-red, games and compass (!) Still, it means that I captured some lovely moments - see below.

I received all sorts of other wonderful gifts - thank you to everyone for making this probably my favourite Christmas in living memory.

And so to work... I have one more 12-hour shift until 2005 starts - it's something I'll need to get used to, now I'm doing my Supervisor job. There's not really been much going on at work, thank goodness, so I've had the opportunity to close down some old jobs and - more importantly - move the contents of my desk to the 'supervisor' area, so that people know I've stopped doing what I used to do!

Something that has distracted me somewhat, however, has been the cult of the controllable webcam. I first saw a discussion on them (and how to find them) on the Something Awful forums - essentially, all you need is a search engine and a handy list of default titles and links to search for (www.xs4all.nl/~rufussan/wonder/camshoe.htm, for example). Here are some of my favourites so far:

See how many you can find!

Links of the day

Posted by james at 7:05 PM

Thursday, 23 December 2004

Pre-Christmas plumbing.

It felt good only to work three days this week, although it didn't help much that I was working until 10pm on Wednesday. This was mainly because a fairly important but ancient system had decided to have hard drive failure, and it wasn't a trivial job to persuade it to recognise new disks.

Still, it's been a much more relaxing Christmas Eve-Eve(!), and I'm definitely in the mood for the festive season, and a week off work. One of the tasks I've been meaning to carry out for months (isn't that always the way) was the replacement of the valve that controls the water flow into the cold water tank. The old one (pictured right after a brief wrestling match to remove it from the tank) was annoyingly loud for long periods as it refilled turbulantly. More of a problem, though, was the fact that it regularly didn't shut off properly, so there'd often end up being a substantial spray of water out of the the overflow onto the terrace. manky valve

If I didn't send Christopher up to flush the toilet (he likes his 'special jobs') to give the valve another opportunity to close, this was set to continue until - and this was troubling, I felt that the underside of the polystyrene lid of the tank was wet, so it had almost overflowed the tank!

Christopher and I dispatched ourselves to B&Q back before the summer, and appropriated a new valve and extra-large orange ball (Christopher's choice!), and I'd been waiting for a reasonable (mild weather, mainly) opportunity to carry out the replacement.

To cut a long story short, the replacement of the old valve proceeded very well - even connecting the mains pipe to the outside of the valve caused no problems, after a little persuasion with PTFE tape! However, I was perplexed when, once the tank was full, the cold water tap in the bathroom could barely offer a dribble. Fortunately, the shower and the hot water were OK, but the toilet cistern wouldn't fill, and the bath only ran hot.

Unfortunately, I didn't have much time to figure out a solution, as we were due to meet up with Cath's and Dave's families at Dad's shortly after lunch, but in an attempt to gain some wisdom from the 'net, Beth posted a request for advice in the Digital Spy Forums that she looks after.

All this was forgotten about when we arrived at Dad and Rita's house, though, as, once the others had turned up, the mulled wine and hot snacks were served, and the children dashed round the ground floor, enjoying playing with each other and nearly breaking things.

The exchange of gifts was amusing - Martin had brought a Father Christmas costume, and having popped outside with bags of presents that we'd all brought (plus a potato each for Tilly and Christopher, as a bit of a joke), and the full Santa performance was offered - even to the adults (much to our eventual embarrassment - see right!) We all had an entertaining time, and it was all too soon that the sky started to darken and late afternoon turned into evening, and we had to go home.

Poor old Santa..

The reality of the cold water problem returned to the forefront of my mind whe we arrived back at the house. Fortunately, though, a couple of users who were, or knew plumbers had replied to Beth's plea for help, and the first - and simplest - suggestion I tried (which assumed the flow of water was blocked by air bubbles from when the tank had drained, pushing water back up the pipe would hopefully free the trapped air) worked perfectly. In fact, it was made even easier by the fact that the bath tap is a mixer, so all I needed to do was put my hand over the outlet, turn the hot tap on, and then the cold tap. A few encouraging gurgles (and some fiddling with the basin cold tap, too) soon gave way to a good flow of water, and a feeling of relief that we didn't have to go to the expense of calling a plumber out two days before Christmas!

It's certainly renewed my faith in the "internet community"!

Tomorrow, of course, is Christmas Eve. We've got a few things planned, including early nights for the children and regular checks of the NORAD Santa Tracking website.

I'm having so much fun this Christmas - I'm sure having children makes it that much better!

Posted by james at 9:19 PM

Monday, 20 December 2004

Two hats, two working days.

I'm sure this Christmas is approaching in a much more satisfying way this year. With Cath's wedding bringing the family together, lunch for Beth's Grandparents on Saturday, an enjoyable Christingle service yesterday, lunch with my old department (possibly for the last time ever?) today, and, of course, the surety that next year I'll still be working just where I want to be, it's provided a mental state where I'm content enough to celebrate Christmas in just the right way, perhaps for the first time in years (bearing in mind I worked two out of the last three!)

The weekend was chilly, but the company was warm - as I mentioned, Beth's grandparents celebrated fifty-six (!) years of being together with a meal at ours, followed by a drive across town to see Beth's great-aunt and uncle at her folks'. In the evening, we had an informal soir?e with Suzi and Andy. OK, so actually, it we a few bottles of Stella in front of the Father Ted Christmas special - still hilarious even after all these years - and discussed the units of measurement of pizza value-for-money (which is expressed in square-inches per pound, which sounds a little like inverse pressure. Don't be fooled) and many other things.

On Sunday, Beth prepared lunch for her folks (she's cooked a lot just recently, although I'm certainly not going to complain - the chicken was delicious, and she can make a mean pastas bolognese; did I mention how lucky I am to be married to her?) and we attended the church's Christingle service in the afternoon. If there was any less enjoyable aspect to the weekend, it was that Christopher came down with a (fortunately short-lived) bug on Saturday, and spent much of the morning on the sofa. Hopefully, though, that's the worst of the ailments over between now and Christmas!

Oh... just a word of warning. Christopher's found the button to record outgoing messages on the answering machine, so expect something surreal if you find yourself listening (13kB MP3) to it.

Back to work tomorrow and Wednesday - with any luck when January comes, I'll be able to eschew my "specialist" job, and focus on some serious supervision... I'll believe that when I see it!

Links of the day

That was a bit of a 'games' special, wasn't it! Something less timewasting next time, I promise!

Posted by james at 9:27 PM

Thursday, 16 December 2004

Festive decoration

Another Thursday (it comes round so quickly!) and another day off. We spent the afternoon putting up as many Christmas decorations as we could fit in the lounge without risking too many bumped heads, and assembling a new tree, which we've inherited from Beth's grandparents, who don't have the space now that Grandma needs a little help to walk around.

It looks wonderful, but photographs don't really do it justice - the main thing is that the children enjoy it. Christopher can't leave the tree alone, and we've had to put the switch for the lights well out of Ella's way - she's a crafty little thing.

Christopher and the Christmas Tree

I try not to be too greatly affected by the pressure of getting Christmas presents and cards ready for Christmas - there are a couple of little bits that I'd like to get for the children and Beth, but as is the tradition of the Useless Husband, I'll probably end up doing it at the last minute!

I'm actually quite looking forward to taking Christopher to church on Christmas day, to hear the full Christmas story - we've seen the crib scene, and discussed what on earth they were doing in a stable, and who the supporting characters were. It really brings the story home to be able to share it with a small child with no preconceptions, as it's taken at face value without prejudice, which infectiously removes the tired old cynicism of thirty-something years of being on the planet. And it's a fine story. I never liked King Herod, but apparently he does have a following (they're called the King Herod Appreciation Society and there's a Radio 4 programme on Saturday about the man, although I'm sure there was more than one King Herod...).

Onto Friday, then, followed by a weekend of celebratory lunch (it's Beth's Grandparents' anniversary on Saturday, and Beth's cooking them a meal), church (it's Christingle on Sunday) and hopefully the chance to catch up with Cath and Martin after their wedding. At which point, there'll only be six more doors to open on the utterly bizarre GE advent calendar (it has to be seen to be believed - I don't think I've ever seen anything less festive in my life! A picture's on its way)

Links of the day

  • www.singalongwithme.com : Little animated cartoons, and MIDI performances of children's songs - perfect to keep your baby or toddler entertained without having to learn the tune on the keyboard! (Thanks, Cath, for the link!
  • www.despair.com/demotivators : Anyone who's worked in an office has seen those twee and fatuous motivational posters - perhaps you, like me, have managed a little non-permanent defacement for comedic value. No need any more, with these framed plaques.

Posted by james at 7:52 PM

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Busy busy busy

There's been a lot going on, considering the interview, Cath and Martin's wedding, visits to and of friends, and the weekend being capped off by an enjoyable couple of hours of internet radio (something I like to do on occasion, with Jon - super playout software writer - either in the studio or way down south; it was the latter for yesterday's effort).

The photos I took at the wedding can be found among my erstwhile (you know, I've never knew what exactly that meant) collection, and the I'm hoping, although baby Luke slept through much of the celebrations, our children will have some fond memories of probably the biggest family reunion in years - and possibly the last for many more, as Mary and Roger will be leaving the UK in January for the Antipodes.

I'm a little disappointed that I haven't written my blog lately, but the anticipation of the wedding and the apprehension of the job interview (which took place on Friday) made for more pre-occupation than I could lay aside to chronicle the events. In the event, though, both went rather well - I spent about an hour and a half in a small office being grilled by the managers, shortly after which I was spoken to on the phone to let me know that I'd been successful.

So, unless things take a sudden turn for the worse (I have yet to receive a response to the email I wrote to my old manager saying that I would not be returning to TV land) I'm hoping to be in radio for the foreseeable future, which is rather exciting. It's only just beginning to sink in.

I've got plenty of links to share, so I shall stop here. Hopefully between now and Christmas (only ten days time? Wow!), I'll be able to keep this a little more up-to-date.

Links of the day

  • www.globalspec.com/trebuchet : An addictive, physics-based challenge, which involves pinging things. Surely the best sort...? (thank you, Sunshine, for the link!)
  • www.hamsterfight.co.uk : The homepage of a band called (not surprisingly) Hamster Fight, of which, Doug - an ftlfm DJ - is a member. I rather like the music they make.
  • www.lowmorale.co.uk/creep : (it's a bit huge - sorry!) Probably one of the most beautiful internet animations I've ever seen, although the soundtrack helps. (thanks to Elin for the link!)
  • www.hamncheez.com/media/flash/o_incomodo.swf : Award-winning Flash fly-swatting whimsy. (thank you, Cath, for the link!)

Today's minipic: A trend is emerging - the arrangement of garish Christmas illuminations, including inflatable glowing snowmen and other brightly coloured light pollution outside people's house. Even the weekly free newspaper is offering £200 for the 'best'. There can be no competition - this one, on the Farley Hill estate, is breathtaking. Unfortunately, the photo doesn't do it justice, both due to the sheer brightness, and because it doesn't show the animated display on the lawn. If you find yourself in Luton during the Christmas season, it's definitely something to be experienced.Bright lights!

Posted by james at 10:07 PM

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

Critical point...

Well, this is it. On Friday afternoon, I'll have done all I can to ensure I remain in Radio; in the light of Mark Thompson's ominous announcement, there's nothing set in stone anyway, but the sale of BBC Broadcast (to whom I might be returning, depending on the outcome of the assessment and interview) is among the most probable of the end-results of the potential disembowelment of the BBC. What will be will be, I suppose.

Carnaby Street LightsThe last week has offered plenty to take my mind off the uncertainty - Monday evening was the departmental Christmas Meal, held at Masala Zone, just off Carnaby Street. The Christmas lights on the main thoroughfares were rather ingenious - spherical frames with CDs hung down (see the photos either side), and the food in the rastaurant was delicious.Carnaby Street Lights

Yesterday night was the department party, a raucous, but entertaining affair in a small (and very, very full by about ten o'clock) basement venue. Three bands performed - all of them made up of Radio Resources staff. The music ranged from a very talented jazz-funk band (350kB MP3), formed by a small clutch of my engineer colleagues to a colourfully clad 'covers' band, consisting of a team of trainee studio managers. The beer was free, and we all had a fine time, although I didn't arrive home until late!

The weekend was relaxed, but enjoyable (once the washing had been done!) - our friends Suzi and Andy came for Sunday lunch, and we watched the second half of the brilliant Neverwhere (we'd enjoyed the first three episodes over two years ago!) once the children had gone to bed.

We have an interesting one ahead, too - Cath's wedding is sure to be unusual, and we're visiting some friends on Sunday, so it'll be quite social. I'd better make sure there are batteries in the camera!

Links of the day:

  • www.onspeed.com : OnSpeed, an unfortunately named service that's rather innovative - if you're stuck with dial-up, but want to download texty things (like email) faster, this service will, for a couple of pounds a month, make life a little easier. (It's no good for MP3s and streaming video, though)
  • www.duckaid.net : More Band Aid-related wrongness, this time from an old work colleague's (unofficial) radio station. A bunch of folk from Chiltern FM - where I used to work - have contributed to this (including the brother of one of my friends), and should, by rights, be ashamed of themselves!

Posted by james at 8:58 PM

Friday, 3 December 2004

Stage one complete...

It would appear that the work on the application form was successful (so far!) as I have an interview next Friday.

I know the people who will be interrogating me - I don't know if that will help or hinder the outcome.

Not much else to report, really. There's excitement ahead with Cath's wedding a week tomorrow, and Christmas not long after that, but - as long as I manage to avoid the craziness of the shopping centres - I hope to enjoy a lull this weekend.

Link of the day:

  • www.bandaiddilemma.net : I'm well aware that I've harped on about this song far too much of late, but this site has a novel suggestion. Buy the CD and support the cause, but then destroy it in the most interesting way possible. I may have to participate - watch this space.

Is it just me, or is there a bit in the middle of U2's number one "Vertigo" single that sounds remarkably like the chorus of "Invisible Touch" by Genesis? Perhaps... (179kB MP3)

Posted by james at 10:08 PM

Wednesday, 1 December 2004


I don't know why, but the last few days have left me feeling as if I haven't had all the sleep I need; I'm having seven hours a night, and, although I have to leave the house quite early tomorrow to take the car for a service, I should be able to catch up (as long as nothing finds a way to distract me, as always seems to be the way when the hour becomes late).

Work, therefore, has been something of an effort - today wasn't wholly productive, but it wasn't too busy, either (someone else was honing their supervision skills), so I took the chance to walk down to Oxford Street to see the lights. I'm sure it's normally a little more, well, evenly spread; this year they've put a series of clusters of eight searchlights, with coloured beams varying from red to blue being cast into the night sky. Impressive, yes, but not so much for the shoppers standing next to the tall scaffold arches on which they perched.

Apparently, the've taken "The Incredibles" as the theme (which, I'm guessing, probably involved a substantial amount of sponsorship). Festive, yes, but in no way representing the traditional Christmas season. That said, considering the main point of Oxford Street is to involve oneself in a mad scramble for the 'right' present in any of a number of immense, but immensely busy department stores, it's not wholly inappropriate.

Oxford Street Searchlights

Regent Street LightsRegent Street conformed a little more to the standard of multicoloured lights draped across the road. I didn't venture too far down - it would have been folly to 'excuse me' my way through the thronging hordes, only to encounter them on the way back, but I guessed that the motif carried on around the bend. In many respects (the familiar winter chill - it's allowed... we're in December - only beginning to become one) I was glad to return to the relative tranquility of the office.

It's the Radio 1 Christmas Party tonight. I had an invite, but it starts at 9pm which is, considering how I'm feeling at the moment, not long before bedtime. I've got drink, food, good music and intelligent conversation at home, so that's at least one up on the 'do'. There's the team meal next Monday evening, and the 'company' party on Tuesday, anyway, so I won't be without a celebration. I'd better catch up on my sleep for those!

This has been something of a link-free blog entry. Hopefully the pictures will in some way make up for it!

Links of the day:

and if you can find any kind of connection between those three links.. I'd be very surprised!

P.S. There's a new film out soon, called "Robots (the movie). Is it just me, or do they look remarkably like the characters from the BBC Children's programme Little Robots?

Posted by james at 8:36 PM

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