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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, 26 February 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - The Movie!

Hitchhiker's Fillum LogoI've just spent a lunchtime in openmouthed perplexity... I had no idea that they had been working on a film version of the great Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy!

I discovered the trailer (and a rather fine internet-only alternative one on the UnderGround Online website), and, although it was difficult to put mental images of Simon Jones and Geoffrey McGiven aside, I could feel a degree of familiarity.

For a short while, I was a bit concerned about the Hollywood treatment of such a fine institution, but the directors have a fine pedigree - they were, for example, responsible for the amazing "Right Here Right Now" video by Fatboy Slim.

In fact, their official website has a very impressive collection of typically British surrealism in video form - check out their cinema for half-an-hour's free entertainment (at least!)

I really can't wait to see the film, now... anyone want to come along?

Link of the day

  • www.esuvee.com : Do you own a Junior Monster Truck? Here's a US website that tells you how to not kill yourself and other people with it. My advice? Sell it and buy a proper car. Or a bus...

Posted by james at 2:03 PM

Tuesday, 22 February 2005

AACPlus (Techie)

My old friend Jon mentioned HE-AAC* in an email to me, and all it sounds rather impressive.

It could well be the 'next' MP3, as far as high quality compressed audio is concerned, as - from what I understand - you can get great-sounding audio through a dial-up connection.

There are a few internet radio stations - such as Radio Paradise making use of the system, and I'd love to do an Image FM broadcast in AAC+ format at some point.

Unfortunately, though, the only products available that can stream HE-AAC (otherwise known as AAC+ or AAC Plus, which is the CodingTechnologies brand name) are commercial and quite expensive. I was toying with Helix Producer, which has recently included capabilities, but it's really rather complicated (and command-line driven) and, after two hours of hacking around with only a one line error message as a clue to what I was doing wrong, I gave up...

So for now, the players are available (winamp v5.07 and later supports it), and encoders (Nero has just introduced it, and the versatile dbPowerAmp can do it, too) but it'll be a bit of a wait until someone with much more time and talent than I do can create a cheapo streaming engine for everyone to use!

Link of the day

  • www.tuner2.com : A directory of AAC+ radio stations. Wow - they sound amazing!

*(link found at www.drunkenblog.com)

Posted by james at 11:24 PM

Monday, 21 February 2005

Sunny day - not snowday.

A pleasant day off today - it's been threatening to snow, but the sun's out at the moment, keeping temperatures above zero, so any flurries have no hope of settling. If there's such a thing as a snowbow, today's the right day for it!

Beth and I braved the chill to walk into town to sort out our mortgage and then, infused with the heady thrill of fiscal matters, donate some blood. I can't believe it's been 8 months since I last went - they specify at least 16 weeks between donations, so I've got no excuse.

Back home, now, there's not much else planned for the afternoon, so we're relaxing in the lounge. I suppose I really ought to do some tidying...

Link of the day

Posted by james at 3:04 PM

Sunday, 20 February 2005

Petals around the rose

I don't know why, but I stumbled across an online 'game' called Petals around the rose the other day - it's one of those really abstract challenges, involving five dice and the instructions that:

The name of the game is important. I will roll five dice and ask you to guess the score for the roll. The score will always be zero or an even number. Your mission is to work out how the score is calculated.

It took me about half an hour (and the story of Bill Gates's experience) but I worked it out eventually. I'm glad I did - I'm the sort of person who can't go to bed until I've worked it out!

Links of the day

Posted by james at 9:20 PM

Saturday, 19 February 2005

tummy bugs and free time...

My week off (using some leave saved over from last year) began a little prematurely on Thursday - I'd been awake much of Wednesday night either dealing with Ella's sickness or my own; we appeared to have come down with exactly the same stomach bug at the same time!

By Friday evening, though, I was feeling much better - it's a bit of a shame that I can't account for much of the goings-on of those days, because I was semi-conscious on the sofa for much of them.

Ella's not back on her food yet*, although she tends to go through periods of light eating, but as long as she keeps nibbling, and dashing around with her usual cheerful ebulliance (which returned this morning) we're not too concerned.

As her cognitive skills (52kB MP3) improve (along with a craftiness that I'm sure belies her age!) I can't help but realise we've got two proper children now... no evidence of babyhood left - which might explain why Beth's so keen to hold all our new nephews and neices!

So - to a week off. I'm hoping to embark on some musical projects while I'm at it, although Beth and I have some serious 'spring cleaning' to be done while the children spend a day or two at their maternal grandparents.

my dodgy webcam feedThat's it, really. I don't think I've mentioned the latest installment in my web server 'improvements' - a live webcam feed that keeps an eye on the studio 24 hours a day (when it works!) It's the sort of thing that sometimes helps, too...

Links of the day

I'm afraid all of these links are themed - and not particularly correctly. This is simply my attempt to collect them into one place. If you like people making fools of themselves on the internet, please feel free to click. Otherwise... you have been warned! (It's all rather too Broadband-friendly as well - sorry!)

*Ella was obviously reading over my shoulder when I wrote this a little after lunch - she ate almost all her tea, and half of Christopher's!

Posted by james at 2:21 PM

Wednesday, 16 February 2005

Courses and reward

Even though it's been cold, it's still really good to get out and about - the children (especially Ella, who will do her cute toddling run until she can barely stand up - and even then complain bitterly about having to go back into her pushchair) benefit from the opportunity to stretch their legs, and we all get some relief from the four walls.

Yesterday was one such day - Cath invited us down for a cup of tea and a walk to the park, made all the more inviting by Mother being up to visit as well (and buying biscuits!). Christopher always enjoys chatting to his aunt and grandma, and baby Luke gets a lot of attention, too, which hopefully takes some of the strain off Cath!

I had Monday off, too. It's very rare that I'll spend a whole day at home, but Beth had some bits to get in town, and the children had been out and about the day before, so I wasn't too bothered about entertaining them in the lounge and the studio (where we often end up!)

Suzanne came over in the evening, to watch Look Around You with us, and afterwards we popped downstairs to have a bit of a music practice. It's been so long since we played and sang together (our last recorded session was in July!) but we still enjoyed a bit of a sing, covering the standards (That's just me, Devil City) and other random snippets. Here, for example, is Suzanne's interpretation and my unfortunate murderation of Britney Spears's Lucky (510kB MP3) - persons of a nervous disposition are advised not to listen. I really do massacre it.

Yesterday evening was a little more low-key, not least because I had a 5.45am start for work. As part of my new role as supervisor, I've been sent on a number of training courses. Today's involved learning now to carry out appraisals, which is something I'll need to do in the next few months. Compared to the "management effectiveness" course last week, which only served to knock half of the confidence out of me, this was very encouraging and useful. It included a training video written by Anthony Jay (who was responsible for the genius of Yes, Minister) and some friendly fellow delegates, who, unlike those who attended the previous course, all were 'plebs' like me!

Digital Radio yay!When I returned to the office, for lunch, I was rather surprised to see an email from the head of the division, telling me I had won the 'employee of the month' award! For my exertions, I was awarded a rather attractive digital radio. I'm not used to getting praise, so it was quite awkward, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless.

All in all, an interesting, rewarding day!

Posted by james at 9:39 PM

Tuesday, 15 February 2005

PC upgrades and hammering

Fallen TreeThere's been plenty going on - I've just not had much chance to document it, which is rather frustrating. Take yesterday, for example, when the next-door neighbours rang the doorbell to ask if we'd noticed the tree in our back garden? Er... no - I hadn't. It turns out that the man on the other side of their house had been digging up his garden and dislodged half the roots of their forty foot fir tree, which toppled across their garden and ours! There's a tree surgeon due today to take it away, which will be something of a relief - click on the picture for (much) bigger.

The weekend was spent at work, rebuilding all the PCs in 1Xtra so they have the latest version of the playout software on them (a long overdue job that I've been waiting months to do - thank heavens for weekend shifts!) The job went very well indeed, although the only negative report I've had so far is that half of the machines have Radio 4 screensavers on them (oops!)

hammering 1hammering 2Over the weekend, Beth found a toy on special offer at the Early Learning Centre which really appealed to both of us. I remember doing 'hammering' as a child, and this differed hardly at all from the version we used to play with, which just goes to show some toys are timeless! Christopher showed an amazing adeptitude from the start, and can express himself much better with shapes than with pens and pencils - see the pictures either side. Having seen a few episodes of the programme A Child Of Our Time, it's reassuring to see that - for example when Christopher doesn't include arms in his creations - our boy is completely normal!

Links of the day

  • www.foon.co.uk/farcade/hapland : sometimes the seemingly simplest puzzles can be frustratingly tricky. (It took about an hour for me to finish it - if you need a clue, give me a shout!)
  • www.orisinal.com : honestly, I don't spend my whole life playing games! Yet another fine puzzle/game site (thanks, Sunshine!)

Posted by james at 9:54 AM

Wednesday, 9 February 2005

Streaming media and things...

Just a quick entry to document the progress of 'rich media' on the internet - there is so much of it going on.

First, there's "Podcasting" - MP3s that magically and regularly appear on your PC - like those listed at podcasting.net.

Then there's the concept of an on-line promotional media package... like They Might Be Giants have done with their new CD. It's amazing in its own right - regardless of whether it's advertising a product, as it's wonderfully crafted.

Posted by james at 9:35 AM

Tuesday, 8 February 2005

Limited Travels

I haven't written much for a while - I'm sure I've missed out plenty of notable moments (for example, reporting on the loss of Christopher's first tooth, which he didn't make a song-and-dance about until he learned about the 'tooth fairy'!)

Football boyIt ws a busy, enjoyable weekend - I took the children into town on Saturday afternoon, to look for birthday presents for Beth (remarkably early, especially for me) and it was followed a family trip to Oxford on Sunday to see Pete, Lisa, Jordan and little Eden. She's still in 'tiny baby' mode; I can't believe how quickly Luke's grown and this certainly put it in perspective. Pete and Lisa are tired but still came into the back garden to play football with Jordan and Christopher (who's really showing signs of being a talented goalkeeper). Ella seemed content to push a wheelbarrow of leaves around the garden as footballs zoomed past her.

Friday was interesting, too - I didn't get home until quite late, since I'd been asked to go on a 'home visit'. A religion and ethics correspondent had moved house and needed all her home studio wiring set back up, and a new soundcard installed on her computer. A colleague and I took a hair-raising minicab ride through the rush-hour traffic eastward, and we didn't return to the office until long after my shift had finished. It's good to get out and about, though - today I'm attending a company Open Day in Reading.

The Wedding Present Finally, yesterday was a fairly average day - there was loads going on in the office, and I managed to attend yet another fine 6music hub session. This time it was The Wedding Present, who've been around for as long as I can remember (although I can't recall any of their major hits!) They seem like down-to-earth people, but when they played, there was a chemistry that showed just how established and experienced they are.

With perks like this, how could I not enjoy my job?

Links of the day

Posted by james at 6:30 PM

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Manic Wednesday

It's been a strangely manic day - enjoyable in a way, but frustrating in many others. I *think* I'm doing an OK job as a supervisor - it's really rather difficult to tell, as I don't get a great deal of feedback from the engineers - heaven only knows what they say about me behind my back. I'd never want to be seen as some kind of 'David Brent' type of creature! The management tend to leave me to my own devices, too, preferring to communicate by email, which isn't ideal, but gets the message across, I suppose.

Being as it is my first blog entry since Monday's "Look Around You" new series on BBC2, I thought I'd offer my review. At first sight, I thought it was an awkward, wooden programme, lacking the edge and surrealism of the first series. However, having seen it again, had my brain's jukebox hi-jacked by the frankly awful yet catchy songs that were featured during it and looking through the online archive of early-80s shows, I feel it was definitely worth watching. Much like Alan Partridge, the humour is best recalled - I've been using the phrase "I don't know... I just.. don't know" at work today.

Of course, there are five more episodes to go, so I'd urge a with-holding of judgment (and a healthy pinch of salt taken with the BBC Discussion Board. Goodness, I sounded like the Mail On Sunday magazine then. Sorry.

I stumbled across another 6music session today - this time by a band called The Dears; the songs were a little maudlin, although perhaps it was because the lead singer was feeling a bit rough. I can't complain about the fact it was free music, though!The Dears

Link of the day

  • www.skype.com : Beth recently installed this on her PC, and I was rather impressed - I'm sure I mentioned this Voice-Over-IP client in a previous blog entry; it's far better than I was expecting. It's also fairly good value for money for some international calls (apparently you can call mobile phones in the US for 1.3p a minute, although the caveat that some operators charge their customers to receive calls, which isn't quite so good.

Posted by james at 7:54 PM

Tuesday, 1 February 2005


We had a bit of a 'going out' day yesterday, enjoying the mild weather with Cath and little Luke in Watford. I'd forgotten how huge the Harlequin Centre is, with a fairly wide range of shops for us to browse through, once we'd walked most of the length of the High Street.

Before we came home, we had a few bits to pick up from Asda, and I noticed for the first time that there was a picture warning on the trolley handle - see the photo to the right. I only mention this because I think it's a little unfair that the picture representing the 'right' way of doing things features a woman, and the person pushing the trolley with children climbing all over it is a man. What are they trying to say? Am I over-reacting? (It's OK - I'm not going to be writing a letter to the manager. Well, not about that, anyway. I've been intending to jot a note to the store manager about the fact there's nowhere to store a push-chair when a trolley's needed, and it's impossible to push both; that's fine for people who've driven up to the store, but no use for those of us who prefer to walk).Trolley Sexism?

Link of the day:

  • www.nbc.com/nbc/.../theoffice_preview : They've made an American version of The Office - this is the trailer. There's plenty of discussion of the rights and wrongs of this interpretation on the Digital Spy forums. Me? I thought it was passable but mainly pointless.

    Posted by james at 12:26 PM

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