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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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Monday, 29 August 2005

internet audiofest...

In some ways I'm glad the cricket finished yesterday - today's my only day off for a couple of days, and I wouldn't want to have been glued to the TV watching the climax of the Fourth Ashes Test - it was hard enough concentrating on work before the edge-of-my-nails conclusion!

Beth told me yesterday that the Dutch Big Brother has just started, with one of the contestants due to give birth in six weeks... how the housemates will cope with being stuck in an open-plan house with a newborn for up to five weeks is anyone's guess!

In other news, I'm starting to get into Podcasting (or more often than not Blogcasting - audio blogs), having stumbled across blugg.com, the entertaining ramblings - is that a bit harsh? - of two, erm, space aliens in London. I could realistically spend all day listening to podcasts (there are loads at podcastdirectory.com, podcastalley.com and podcast.net) but they'd be vying for my time with all the BBC Listen Again offerings!

Finally, being a bank holiday, Radio 1 are playing their fantastic Ten Hour Takeover which, although not as freeform as I'd like, is still a fantastic listen.

Links of the day:

Posted by james at 9:02 AM

Saturday, 27 August 2005

windy weekend (or not)

Just a brief one, really; it's the second day of my weekend shift, and I'm not feeling too good. I'm guessing it's the delights of the amoxicillin doing its job.

It's a bit of a shame I'm working today and tomorrow, since it's Wind Weekend across the country, celebrating (and extolling) the benefits of wind power. More details can be found at www.embracewind.com/weekend ... maybe there'll be another one next year?

On the subject of visiting power stations, it's a bit of a shame (although not at all if you were to ask Beth!) that Dounreay nuclear power station is being decommissioned, now - it would have been worth the traipse all the way to the top of Scotland to see it. With all the current work going on with nuclear fusion, though, it might be interesting to attend one of the Public Visit Evenings at Culham Science Centre.

I didn't realise that there was a separate police force for the protection of nuclear sites and materials... I can't see the same happening for wind power.

Links of the day:

Posted by james at 3:44 PM

Thursday, 25 August 2005

Lots of sitting down involved...

Not much to report, really - it's a 'work' week this week! I've got appraisals to organise, which I'm not really looking forward to, even though I'm quite a firm believer in the idea.

That said, I've the (Bank Holiday) weekend to deal with all the paperwork involved, and all the other bits and pieces that go with it. Who'd be a manager, eh?

Christopher KartingChristopher had a bit of a treat yesterday - the Vauxhall Recreation Club organised some mini go-karting for children between 4 and 9 years old. I was a little concerned that Christopher might not take to it (having seen him sruggle with the Playstation games involving a steering wheel) but after a couple of minutes he was in his element. OK, so the system they applied was utterly arbitrary, but of the eleven children there, he came fourth in the 'races' they held.

Beth finally persuaded me to see our GP about my chest pains yesterday - I've been sent for blood tests (which I did this morning) and will eventually be referred to a rheumatologist... who knows how much good that'll do! I also had an emergency appointment with the dentist because where I had my crown fitted is giving me a bit of pain. The result? My first course of antibiotics in over 15 years. D'oh!

As a friend of a friend once said - you can avoid the dentists for years, but once you have treatment, there'll always be something else wrong. Perhaps they come from the same school as car mechanics. (Although I really hope not!)

Telly stuff

BBC Worldwide have just announed that episodes of Doctor Who will be available on little cards that can be plugged into modern mobile phones so you can see episodes on the tiny, tiny screens. I think that's pretty cool.

Actually, I've really been enjoying the chance to lie in bed and watch The Mighty Boosh on my iPAQ, which is hardly cinematic widescreen, so who am I to comment?

On the subject of Doctor Who, it's just been announced that K9 (like Orac, but less perspex and more doggy) will be making an appearance in the next series. (Thanks for the link, Percy!) I'm also really looking forward to the episode written by Stephen Fry. Woo!

Finally, on TV matters (there's far too much good stuff on at the moment... when am I going to find time to make music?) the incorrect science programme Brainiac returns to Sky One tonight at 8pm. We're still not quite sure whether it's suitable for Christopher (it does involve a good deal of wanton destruction), unlike Discovery Channel's How It's Made which is straightforward, interesting and educational (currently on every weekday at 5pm on Discovery).

Links of the day:

  • musicxp.net/tuning_tips.php : Tune up your music workstation.. quite handy for me (except for the fact that I can't resist putting stupid computer games on there, too...)
  • www.3hive.com : A rather impressive blog containing links to free MP3 songs from across the internet. Not so much 'never buy a CD again', rather 'why not listen before you buy'.
  • www.hamsterfight.co.uk : HamsterFight - a fine musical act, they've not hit the bigtime yet, but they do make some good tunes. (OK, so one of the band was at the bash in Bristol on Saturday, so free plug :D)

Posted by james at 11:00 AM

Sunday, 21 August 2005

Cars, Bristol and puzzles

It's been a crazy busy weekend - in fact, it's looking like there's something going on, be it work or social, practically every weekend between now and our holiday in mid-September!

Friday brought something of a frustrating morning... the car was approaching 12,000 miles, and therefore service time (the little spanner on the display was flashing - always a worrying prospect). I'd arranged a courtesy car at the car fixing shop, so I could pick up Beth and the children from Christopher's swimming; they're rarely anything special and in this case it was a little two-door 206 that brought something of a challenge to fit the car-seats in. I had to push my seat right forward so Ella's legs could dangle!

What amazed me most was when we were leaving the swimming pool car park, Ella - completely unprompted - said "Don't forget seatbelt!" Considering that I'm normally extremely consciencious about it (and that the 807 has an irritating "ping!" noise that alerts the car's occupants) the fact that she had the perceptiveness to know - from behind - that I'd forgotten to put my seatbelt on was remarkable!

To complete the original story, shortly after we arrived home, I received a call from the car fixers to say that the lease company had not authorised the work - apparently they'd already done that service when we'd only just done over 6,000 miles a little after the car's first birthday. So it was straight back out the door (via the bottle bank) to drop the courtesy car off again. That's the second time they've inconvenienced me with their inflexibility... I'll know to call them first next time.

I went on a bit of a jaunt yesterday - my pal Elin invited me to a party in Bristol, and, through the miracle of Megabus-type travel, I could easily accept.

Although the trip takes just under three hours, the converted double-decker buses they use are comfortable and air-conditioned - the only downside is there's nowhere to charge my ipaq, so I had to rely on constantly retuning the radio for entertainment... barely a hardship, I know!

As the bus was leaving London, I couldn't help but notice a car with what I could only guess at being the ultimate in anti-theft devices. The registration number was printed in big black characters on the roof of the vehicle... it didn't look like a minicab or police car but what an easy way to identify it! I think Beth might have a thing or two to say about my doing it on our car, though...

JC's Revenge in Bristol City CentreWhen I arrived in Bristol at about half-past four, I wandered through the city centre, and my attention couldn't help but be grabbed by a rock band playing loudly outside a pub - I subsequently discovered they were JC's Revenge. It was good music - unusually, one of the songs was called Daphne Blake - and set the mood for the evening up quite nicely; I've always liked Bristol for its culture.

Bristol BashI caught a bus to Clifton, which is where the gathering was to be, and when the other attendees arrived (they'd spent the afternoon at Bristol Zoo) I shared in the silliness (involving post-it notes) until the early hours. I'll admit that I was suffering a little for it this morning, but still, once in a while isn't too bad.. I hope!

Before I left, I was tuning around to see what radio stations were about, and heard Radio 19 - one of the first community radio stations I've encountered. The intention is good, but the delivery's a bit hit and miss - early in the morning they played back a recording of a gig the previous night, but later on it was quite a disappointing mix of a presenter who couldn't really string a sentence together without falling back on clichés that it seemed he was barely able to recall and a collection of the turgid middle of the road music (think Queen and George Michael's - Somebody to Love).

Conversely, I'd completely forgotten that the Ern and Vern show on BBC Three Counties Radio was so slick and amusing - well worth a listen on a weekend lunchtime if you like incorrect radio, presented by two men who really should know better.

Links of the day: (frustrating puzzle special)

Posted by james at 10:36 PM

Thursday, 18 August 2005

alert, hearing and JCBs (naturally...)

sky news has an interesting story - apparently you can register for alerts about terrorism ad things, giving early warning of transport disruption and the like. If it works, it'll be rather useful. I signed up at www.police.uk/services/mb.

I had a hearing test - my first since childhood, I think... fortunately, it seems quite normal (I'm surprised to discover that although I tend to use my left ear to listen to things, my right ear is more sensitive.. actually, having spent the best part of 25 years with an earphone of some sort stuffed in my left ear, it's not so shocking, really!)

Link of the day

Posted by james at 7:13 PM

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

the future of rock (kind-of)

It's been an interesting few days - the weekend already seems like a long time ago, even though I spent it working.

Saturday was a productive 'get things done' day - there were only a few of us in, and we work very well as a team, so managed to tackle quite a few long-standing jobs; Sunday was much quieter - I busied myself with writing a VBScript application to monitor the temperature in the apparatus rooms, which was something of a departure for me.

In fact, I haven't done any programming in years, which may have been why it took so long to get it working (documented and fool-proof) but it seems not to be causing too much trouble with false alarms or PC crashes...

Monday was a 'spare' workday - I went in to attend the monthly management meeting and left for home after it had (finally) been adjourned.

In fact, today was my only (full) day off in the seven days to Friday, but we made sure it was packed with interesting things to do, including taking Christopher to his swimming class (half-past eight is an early start!) visiting Hemel Hempstead for some general shopping and popping past Toys'R'Us for Christopher to spend some of his birthday money.

I think he spent it quite wisely, after some discussion about what he could afford, using just over half of it on some Transformer-based toys.

Me and my new Ibanez GAX75When we returned home, I addressed a long outstanding issue - one that even Beth has been quite communicative about - the fact that my electric guitar, much as I love it, is old, out of tune and sounds dreadful.

I had asked around at work what guitars people recommended, and one of the colleagues I respect most musically suggested the Ibanez GAX70. It's a lovely looking guitar, and I've been keen to have a go on one since then.

On a whim, then, we drove up to Milton Keynes to pop into the Sound Control there for a play with the little beauty; well, the GAX75, the same guitar but with a clever D-tuner thing. No contest - I had to have it, and so it's now taken up residence in the studio, usurping the long-loved 20th birthday gift from my university mates.

Now, of course, I have to think of a name for her...

On more ecological matters, I heard a report that there's a new kind of central heating boiler, using "fuel cells" - an electro-chemical reaction, rather than combustion, reducing carbon dioxide by up-to half. They're not cheap, but hopefully the price will come down as people take them up.

Before I pop to bed - work tomorrow - I've been taken in by the Ashes... is this year's the most exciting ever? The match that finished on Monday was gripping; it certainly provided a distraction from the management meeting! Beth still thinks it's a boring sport, though...

Posted by james at 8:28 PM

Friday, 12 August 2005

Busy week

I don't know where the week's gone - Monday and Tuesday were workdays, and Wednesday started with a trip to the dentist's to have my shiny shiny new crown fitted ("Don't get mugged" said the dentist... "Why? Is it gold?" I ask. "No." Er.. right). I'm not going through the whole 'root canal' thing again if I can help it, though, shiny tooth or not; my next appointment's in February - is 2006 really less than six months away?

We went practically straight back out again to the park to try out Christopher's bike, then took a picnic lunch to the downs for some kite flying. I say 'flying' - I struggled with a two-string stunt kite while Beth ambled to the shop to buy a single-string one for the children to play with.

My colleague from work was amused (why do I consistently confess my inadequacies to my workmates?) since he's something of a kite expert; perhaps I should have researched some stunt kite tips before embarking on frustration and sunburn (my record was about 45 seconds of flight, incidentally). The children enjoyed themselves, though, taking it in turns to hold onto the string of the rainbow coloured kite that we did manage to get into the sky, or rolling down the long slopes of the down.

I would've joined them had I not been so achey - I think I'm fighting off a cold. Oh, the good news is that Beth's wisdom tooth has improved, so she's well on the way to recovery - not such a bad thing, since today is the zenith of that Big Brother thing.

Cute little barn owl at WoodsideOur last stop on our outdoor day was Woodside, to catch the tail end of a birds of prey display. Everyone has dreams of a wealthy lifestyle - mine would definitely include an aviary, or at least a large copse with owls and other things that flap and make bird noises.

It was very busy, so we didn't stay long - it was a shame we only caught the end of the falconry, as it was most impressive to see the eagles with their impressive wings circling the crowd, but the children were starting to get a little weary by that point anyway.

Fortunately the extremely hot day that was predicted for today never happened - in fact, there's some rain expected for the weekend, which will do the dry earth no end of good. I'm working, so no complaints from me...

Links of the day:

Posted by james at 10:42 PM

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Tuesday landings

The weekend seems like it was weeks ago - it was crazy busy, with a trip to Cath on Friday, a visit to our friends in North London on Saturday, before Jon arrived on Saturday afternoon.

By this time, unfortunately, Beth's wisdom tooth had started to inflict some severe discomfort on her, and although she struggled through Christopher's birthday, it wasn't quite the same celebration for me, seeing her suffer so. Hopefully Chris had a good time, though, with more presents than I've ever see a little boy get! (A heartfelt 'thank you' to everyone who helped make his birthday!)

I was back to work yesterday, back on the usual day shifts; Beth's been prescribed some antibiotics to sort out her tooth (soon, hopefully!) and things are back to normal. I wasn't expecting the sun to have set by the time I arrived home last night... not too much of a surprise, given that we're well into August, but I think I'll eschew those Christmassy feelings for now!

I don't think I've paid so much attention to the space shuttle's return to earth as I did today - perhaps there was more interest in the media (and in the office - coverage was on the big telly all morning). The physics involved is mindblowing, considering the optimum difference in speed between the shuttle being in stable orbit and the commencement of its plummet earthbound was only 180mph (a 1% decrease in speed), the intensive planning of the approach and the glide to land - if you can call a descent twenty times faster than a commercial airliner a glide - no wonder they had to do it literally 'by the book.'

You can watch footage of the re-entry (shame it was a little before dawn) on Nasa's website here (RealMedia).

I'm quite excited - Conrad from Jude and I are going to see the Tractenburg Family Players next month - yay! In fact, he and Joanne are making great musical progress, working with an emerging rock band... I ought to start working on more stuff, while Jude is on temporary hiatus; it's finding the right sort of time that's the hard bit.

Well, I'm off tomorrow - I think I'll attempt a "PC-free day" - haven't had one of them for a while! The weather prospects look good, so with any luck we'll be able to head to the park and Christopher will be able to practice on his bike. Or we could just go up to the Dunstable Downs and fly a kite. Combining the two, though ambitious, would be folly.

Oh.. The Smoking Room is on BBC Three now (Tuesdays, 9.30pm) - in spite of the nicotine, it's a very, very clever comedy.

Links of the day:

Posted by james at 9:42 PM

Friday, 5 August 2005

radio revolutions & tall buildings...

I was going to say that the shape of radio is constantly changing; in fact, the bit right in the middle (the clock radio, the car stereo and the builder's ancient boombox) is the same as it ever was. Around the edges, however, is turmoil...

GnomeJust this week, for example, I heard about two new products - both in the 'portables' market.

The first is an offering by BSkyB - The Gnome - a wireless extension to the the satellite receiver (I'm not sure about whether it can decode its own streams, or you'd have to select it on the Sky box).

It's orange, and triangular, and is coming in October... I think it's a great idea, but how is it better than some FM wireless speakers connected to a Sky box?

Acoustic Energy wi-fi radioNext, from Acoustic Energy, purveyors of marvellous loudspeakers, comes the imaginatively titled AE Wi-Fi radio. There are a growing number of wi-fi 'media stations' such as the Squeezebox but they tend to rely on both a server (containing the MP3s) and an available input to a stereo or some headphones. The Wi-Fi Radio, however, first much more into the domestic DAB Radio world (although, dare I say it, without quite as much style).

If I had £200 to spare, which would I buy? Probably the Wi-Fi Radio for the variety of stations available (hopefully one day it'll support AAC+!).

Nobody really knows which way radio will end up going - with Podcasts, audio-on-demand and webcasts being available off-PC, and with a DTT box costing less than £30, offering 27 radio stations, who knows what people will be listening to in five or so years time?

Back to reality - I had a proper night's sleep for the first time in days yesterday... it was blissful (although morning came too quickly!) A nice relaxed weekend ahead - Christopher is 6 on Sunday, and Jon's coming to visit tomorrow, so we'll have a chance to catch up and discuss voicetracking and how best to implement it in the rather super Playout software.

Links of the day:

  • www.projectrebirth.org : A website documenting the construction of the Freedom Tower in New York. The site includes a collection of time-lapse photographs of the building site, that'll look more impressive as the work continues...
  • www.suntimes.com/output/news/cst-nws-tall26.html : Chicago's next skyscraper - the Fordham Spire. Now that is beautiful architecture; apparently it will be quite environmentally friendly, too, much like the Swiss Re building. (thanks for the link, Heather!)

Posted by james at 11:25 AM

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Nearly six...

I can't believe my boy is going to be six years old in only a few days' time! It doesn't seem like any time since he was a tiny baby, and now he's a complete person, with opinions, ideas, aspirations and fears. I'm glad we've got plenty of photos of him as he's grown up, although we don't take nearly as many as we used to. In fact, Ella hasn't really had the onslaught of photography that Christopher did, and there is a shameful lack of framed pictures of her around the family... I must do something about that! (Klick.co.uk here we come!)

It's been quite a busy nightshift so far, although nothing too taxing (yet!) I've still not decided what I'll do when I get home - it'll be hard to resist going to bed, but I think it's probably best if I try to stay awake until nine or ten tonight.

Links of the day:

Posted by james at 5:46 AM

Tuesday, 2 August 2005


This set of nightshifts is definitely taking some getting used to, although I am certainly not as sleepy as I was at this time yesterday. It's remarkable how early the sky starts to lighten (there's no need for street lights after about 5am at the moment) - I'm making sure I venture out for a wander at least once a night, although it tends to be only as far as one of the other offices. It would certainly be interesting to see how busy Oxford Street is at four in the morning...

I arrived home at about half-past ten yesterday morning - the timing was almost perfect, since I was halfway through my twenty minute walk from the bus stop when Beth drove past, taking Christopher home from his swimming lessons (he's really taken to the week-long 'intensive' course at Harpenden pool) and gave me a lift the rest of the way. I was in bed by eleven, intending to rise at five...

Sleeping during the day has been the hardest challenge, I think - I woke every couple of hours. I think I might be a little more settled today, though - we'll see!

Links of the day (or night)

  • www.milkandcookies.com/links/26951 : Mr T says: Treat your mother right. And I agree. (needs Quicktime)
  • whomix.trilete.net/?wmid=subreadremixreviews&remixid=98 : An outstanding morphing of all the Doctor Who themes of the past into one track... really evocative of the 9 ages of The Doctor. It's featured on the whomix site, which exists in celebration of forty years of the distinctive theme tune, and contains more remixes and reworkings than you could shake a sonic screwdriver at...
  • www.ubu.com/outsiders/365 : A collection of "an MP3 a day" incorrect and outsider songs, for which any but the hardiest listener would require a crash-helmet to listen... you have been warned! (I, on the other hand, really like them, although I do draw the line at William Shatner).

Posted by james at 5:06 AM

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