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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, 30 November 2005

Yay! Combination DAB radio & MP3 players...

The Pure PocketDAB 2000Pure, the manufacturers of some fine digital radios, have recently released the PocketDAB 2000 - a personal DAB receiver combined with an MP3 player - and recorder!

It's only that and the Perstel DR-301 that do this at the moment (as far as I can see). This latter one doesn't have "L-band" reception - which may cause problems if the UK starts using them (kind-of like getting a radio without medium-wave these days), but costs £50 less:

Price comparison:

Pure PocketDAB 2000£180
Perstel DR-301£145

I'm not sure what I'd get if I had the money... it would probably be the Pure, though.

Posted by james at 9:30 AM

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

Mighty Boosh tickets competition...

Win tickets to see The Mighty Boosh live - www.mondaynightlive.co.uk/competition.html (This competition is open until the 28th December 2005)

Posted by james at 2:17 AM

Monday, 28 November 2005

General Technology Failure at line 1...

What a week it's been... I suppose it's a factor of the modern life in which we're immersed, since there's an incalculable number of bits of electrical and electronic equipment dotted around the house, any (or all) of which can take exception to the idea of continual function.

In order of irritation, then, we have:

  • The starter in the strip light in the guest area (still needs replacing)
    The kitchen kettle (£6 well spent in Asda on a replacement)
  • The stop button on the microwave - rendering it utterly unusable, since it's a grill/oven, too (repaired with some dismantlement and araldite)
  • Beth's PC, which blew up at a moment co-incident with a lightning strike, causing a minor burn on her finger (still needs fixing.. she's on her laptop at the moment)
  • The burglar alarm - this was worst of all, since it decided to go off ever half-hour last Wednesday, starting at about 5.15am. (back-up battery replaced on Saturday evening when we risked going loopy - although I'd booked an alarm engineer for Monday, the thing was causing so much noise and disruption, either internally or externally depending on how we left it, that I didn't see any harm in taking a crash course in alarm maintenance and working out what - amusingly - the woman at the other end of the phone when I made the call to Premia Alarms had suggested was probably the protagonist).

    Things have calmed down somewhat since then, but there's plenty of scope for more technological malfeasance...

    I'm in the middle of a three shift run of nights... it's not quite as bad (so far) as my last set, but I'm glad it's the last one tomorrow!

    Lenni and JordanOh - and I completely forgot to mention that last Sunday we went for lunch with Pete, Lisa and their two little'uns; we were really spoiled at The Royal Standard with fine food and good service, so it's only fair that I give it a mention. Thanks for that birthday treat, Pete!

    Christopher, when he's not at school, has taken to playing with 'virtual lego' - there's a rather neat site called Lego Factory where you can design and "construct" your own model, and then buy the bits to make it. It's certainly saved him having to tidy up his bedroom floor, although we've not gone as far as actually ordering any of the models he's designed, especially since I'm sure he's got the bricks already. Somewhere...

    Links of the day:

    • www.animalyawns.com : A website devoted to.. yes! Animals yawning! Why?
    • virgindigital.com : The latest tantalisingly tricky quiz to spread its challenging tentacles across the internet... I've found a rather rubbish eleven bands - out of the 75 'pictured' in analogic form - so far.
    • www.darkwood.demon.co.uk/PC/meter.html : Ever wanted to have little audio meters on your PC screen, like the BBC have? Well, long no longer - here are some rather cute little applications that do just that, displaying the level of whatever you've selected on the 'record' side of the mixer. Great fun (if you like that sort of thing!)
    • /ipaq blog

    • www.kasuei.com/wifigraph : A cute (and free) little application for wi-fi enabled PocketPC 2003 PDAs that displays and logs wireless networks
    • pocketputty.duxy.net : finally - a version of the excellent PuTTY telnet/SSH terminal for PocketPC. It doesn't support tunneling (yet!) but it's a fine application nonetheless.

    Posted by james at 6:24 AM

    Wednesday, 23 November 2005

    technopodcasts and digital radio rants...

    /podcast blog
    Sub $100 laptopI've started regularly to download the BBC World Service's Go Digital podcast, which offers a digest of all the groovy technological advances across the world; it's kind-of like Radio 4's The Leading Edge, but (fairly obviously) it has more of a global development view - like the very cool sub-$100 laptop that the MIT have developed in co-operation with the UN.

    /radio blog
    On the subject of emerging technology, I've just heard that a new type of radio technology, able to receive 'international' standards of digital radio(including something called "DAB-2" which is being rolled out in Australia)

    What this basically means is that, in the same way there are different standards for television pictures, the current run of DAB radios are capable only of receiving the current set of UK signals. In fact, they might not be able to tune into some of the newer group of frequencies that may become available (the so-called "L" band).

    The thing is, DAB-2 is AAC+ compatible (as I've drivelled on about before, it provides a much better sound at lower bit-rates, so you can effectively get many more - and better sounding - stations in the same space), so it could be that, with the take up of DAB in the UK, a fairly substantial trick could be missed.

    The main issue I (and many other - often a lot more vociferous - digital audio afficionados!) have with DAB, y'see, is that many radio stations are a bit too low quality - BBC7, for example, runs at 64kbps in mono, whereas it comes out of a digital television box at 192kbps in stereo (trust me - it sounds a lot better!). With digital radios up to now, the MPEG decoder is 'hardwired', which is why the new "versatile" ones are so exciting, since as technology improves, so can the radios (as long as the encoders and transmitters can be upgraded too!)

    I understand, incidentally, that the name "DRM" (Digital Radio Mondial) is soon to be reduced just to "DR", since it could easily be confused with Digital Rights Management.

    Still, it'll all shake down eventually, I'm sure - although I expect the imminent introduction of HDTV will capture the media's attention a lot more, since people seem to be more interested in telly...

    Posted by james at 11:38 AM

    Tuesday, 22 November 2005

    Indian cuisine and wind-up DAB

    Just a brief entry (really this time!) since I'm half-way through that four-day shift...

    Last week, I went for lunch with my Dad - I'd intended to take him to a 'leisure complex' type Indian Restaurant (you know the sort... high ceiling, modern design and fairly standard food) in what we affectionately term "the Monstrosity". As I was on my way to meet up with him, I passed a little pub-style restaurant, with blackboards outside where one of the staff was cleaning the windows.
    The 'critical reviews' on the boards lauded the food, and as I was reading, the window-cleaning man asked me whether he could help. I mentioned that I was meeting my Dad for lunch, and that I was considering going to Mumbai up the road, and asked him why I should visit his restaurant instead. He said "Come on in, and if you don't like it, you don't have to pay." Well, I can say that Papa J's Indian Tapas Restaurant certainly lived up to expectations and because it's real Indian food, and they have a very reasonable (£4.99 per head) lunchtime menu, and the proprietor is friendly and helpful (certainly to an Indian cuisine novice like me!), I'll definitely be going back. If I can find someone else who likes Indian food!

    /Radio blog
    Woo! New toy! Bring together the wonders of Digital Radio with the ecology of clockwork - and you get this wonderful device: the Freeplay Devo. Want one!

    Two more days to go until my next day off... not that I'm complaining!

    Ooh.. I've just received an email:
    South China Morning Post podcasts has played your song [monster gratis] Summer In Britain. Find out more about this PodShow at music.podshow.com/music...
    ... OK, so I've not heard it on any of the podcasts I've downloaded today, but it's nice to have a mention!

    Posted by james at 11:31 AM

    Friday, 18 November 2005

    SBES, blind rage and a free book!

    It's the end of another busy, strange week; once again, I appear to have had another five days off in a row.

    Yesterday, though, I was half on-duty, since it was the annual radio professional(/geek?)'s exhibition: SBES, and it presented plenty of work (and ex-work) colleagues, suppliers and hangers-on on whom my faltering 'networking' skills could be practiced. There was plenty to see, but I always go with a hope that "next new thing" in broadcast technology will be there; this year was something of a disappointment, I'm afraid. Moreover, among the ranks of stalls seemed to be a few companies whose main selling point was "20 years of consistent performance" - or "we've not changed our product range, our technology nor our marketing style in two decades"... which is kinda sad, isn't it?

    The week has gone by extremely quickly, in fact... pushed on, perhaps by the continuing saga of The Peugeot Garage And The Not Quite Perfect 807, where they finally took the car away to replace the two torn blinds (in my opinion, a manufacturing defect) only to return it with only one repaired; the other had been in a shipment that had been signed as received but never actually turned up. I think I might have to write a book about my experiences... or rather, you can expect a blog entry!

    Well, a busy weekend ahead - during which we're hoping to buy an old, well-loved and, most importantly, fully-paid-for car, followed by a mammoth 7 days out of 8 working (including three nightshifts!)... I ought to make the most of the family time while I have it, then!

    Links of the day

    • www.andrewsmcmeel.com/godsdebris : It's not often that a free book turns up (legitimately!) on the internet, but this one's even more valuable, since it's written by Scott Adams, the man who created Dilbert. Get it while you can!
    • www.wilflunn.com : How could the mainstay of crazed inventor roles in 1980s childrens' programmes not have a website? This, dear reader, is it, and a fine read it is, too! (thanks, Cath!)
    • www.thechestnut.com : (on the subject of which...) an affectionate collection of 1980s children's programmes. That memory lane is going to need to be widened...

    (oh, and the nice Bluggcast aliens played my tune in their latest podcast.. hooray!)

    Posted by james at 10:26 PM

    Tuesday, 15 November 2005

    car surveys and comedy

    I've been working, so nothing of any consequence to report in that sphere. However, there's plenty else going on - on-line, on the telly and, of course, on t'wireless.

    Oh yes - the telly. I couldn't help but be made aware of BBC2's Top Gear 2005 driver satisfaction survey - guess which car came in at 157th out of 157?

    /comedy blog
    A fine series of under-rated (so, er, not Little Britain, then ... I'm a little worried that it might be the 'difficult' third series, but I'll happily reserve judgement) comedy is back - Peep Show returned to Channel 4 last Friday at 10pm (darn.. I missed the first one!)

    While browsing a fresh and interesting comedy forum - The Comedy Café at Trev's Shed - I was led to a new comedy Podcast project called Paint Your Headphones... it's a little dark, but quite amusing. Their intention is to use this as a springboard to bigger things - I'm beginning to think there isn't enough emerging comedy on the radio or TV, since it tends t be a little too 'safe' and polished.

    Perhaps Community Radio syndication is the way ahead?

    Comedy music - intentional or not - is rather good for me, too. Take this interpretation (6.5MB MP3) of Led Zepplin's rock standard Stairway to Heaven by the Young At Heart Chorus. (Thanks for that, Elin!) It really is 'Marmite' music, but when I'm in my seventies, I fully intend to do the same. With, say, a Sugababes song.

    /radio blog
    Well, Image FM happened... a little frustrating that some of my pals couldn't listen, and I encountered the usual handful of technical (and operational!) difficulties, but I made it to the end of the hour with most of my nerves intact, at least! Jon's show, was - as ever - spectacular, and I'll certainly give it another listen when I post it onto the site (hopefully this weekend, given enough time!)

    While browsing alternatives to "friendcasting" - using aggregated streams from various friends' ADSL lines (not the same as Peercasting, which involves the listeners sharing the bandwidth) - it appears that most streaming services are prohibitively expensive. www.radiostreamer.com seems a lot more reasonable - $11 for 25 users at 32kBps is jolly good.

    The frustration we're finding is that hardly any media players support pure AAC+ streaming (Windows Media Player doesn't do it; RealPlayer only supports the RealMedia stream version) - so you're stuck with Winamp, really.

    I have a plan, though - I will try and find a Shockwave/Flash AAC+ player, so no separate media player is needed hooray!

    Enough from me... linkies and then bed. Busy day tomorrow - the car's getting another trip to the garage (this time to fix the blinds - I have no other comment to make at this point), I'm going for lunch with my Dad, and Beth's having a girls' night out. Add to that the school run, and the day's long gone!

    Oh - while I remember, my poor little iPAQ has broken... it's off with the doctors' now. The whole 'sending it back to HP' shenanigans involved spending a good twenty minutes on a Real Time Chat with a helpdesker - quite convenient, in that I could get on with a bit of work while he or she went away to find some more diagnostic suggestions. It's been collected, and I'm looking forward to the triumphant (and hopefully utterly repaired) return.

    Really going now...

    Links of the day:

    • www.omn.org : The Open Media Network - an alternative to BitTorrent... this could be interesting (but time consuming!) (Thanks to the Bluggcasters for the link)
    • www.sound101.org : What's the worst sound in the world? Find out if you agree, by participating in this rather painful survey!

    Posted by james at 10:16 PM

    Sunday, 13 November 2005

    Family weekend!

    It's been a wonderful family weekend so far - yesterday started with a breakfast treat out, followed by a trip to Toys-R-Us so that Christopher could by the last two 'pocket money' Transformers of the set for which he'd been saving up.

    Baby llama at WoodsideAfter a 'make your own sandwich' lunch, we made the most of what would appear to have been the last mild day in November to take a trip to Woodside. I guess that's the a major thing I miss about Christopher going to school - spontaneous family trips to the farm (especially when there are few other people there!) were great fun.

    We had a good time nevertheless - we enjoyed catching up with all the animals (including a some new arrivals, like the really cute baby llama you can see to the right).

    The rest of the day was spent variously relaxing, playing and catching up with the housework; when Beth and her mum did the pensioners' lunch, there were plenty of potatoes left, so I took it upon myself to make some Traditional Hart Family Potato Cakes for which I have invariably needed to call Mother for a reminder of the recipe. This time, I thought I'd 'go it alone'!

    my attempt at potato cakesThey're fairly straightforward to make, although I think the method definitely needs a little refinement. Essentially, though, this is what I did:

    • make a load of mashed potato (with real potatoes, of course), mashing up half a pan of potatoes with about half a mug of milk, a couple of dessert spoons of butter and a little salt & pepper.
    • Empty the mash into a bowl to cool, and when it has (or while it cools), grate about 100g of cheese into the mash.
    • I put a bit more milk in to get the mash a bit more creamy, and to cool it down more quickly. This might not be such a good idea, though, since it requires more flour to get it doughy.
    • Once the potato is cool enough to handle, it's time to pre-heat the oven, to 'hot' (gas mark 8, 230 Celcius).
    • Thoroughly mix in enough self-raising flour until the mixture is just no longer tacky... it should be one big lump
    • Put this lump onto a floured work surface, and roll it to between 50mm and 75mm thick (they rise in the oven!)
    • Cut out discs of potato cake, turning each over to rub flour on the topside, and pop it onto a greased baking tray.
    • Put a full tray into the oven on the top shelf until slightly browned - to 'keep them coming' another tray can put in further down, and moved upwards when the last batch are cooked.
    • Remove the cooked cakes, and leave them to cool a little - this stops the insides from being too tacky, so that the lid can be sliced off and buttered
    • Serve on a plate - you can even put in a small slice of cheese, too

    If you can offer any improvements on the recipe, please email me! Oh, in respect of which, I've had to disable comments until I can find a way to stop spam hammering my web server (which is the main reason it stops working!). The email address is blog (at) mus-ic.co.uk, if you didn't already know.

    We're off to a birthday party this afternoon - Tilly's fourth! Before I go, though, I took some lovely photos of the children over the past few days - Christopher lost a tooth on Monday, so I wanted to capture it, and Lenni had her first ever pair of 'clip on' earrings...

    Lenni - all dressed up! Christopher - king of the castle! Lenni in her car-seat

    Of course, tonight's the latest installment of the Image FM radio experience - I've spent the last few evenings doing the technical and creative preparation for it, and Jon's made some excellent modifications to the Playout system, so hopefully it'll all go smoothly!

    Posted by james at 12:07 PM

    Thursday, 10 November 2005

    food, cars and comedy

    A fairly brief blog from me - I have no idea what's happening to all the time, especially since I've spent much of the last week off work!

    Form what I can recall, though... I attended an entertaining FTLfm bash (a kind-of get together of internet radio folks) on Saturday; it was the usual mix of housework, family time and noodling around in the studio on Sunday (I've been doing a little preparation for an Image FM broadcast next Sunday (the 13th). There's some fairly amusing stuff planned, so I think it's worth a listen.

    Monday brought yet another trip to the garage with the car - this time to sort all the electrics out that didn't work properly when they changed the brain. It was another frustrating morning, since I have a feeling they're grossly understaffed there - with only one technician and a laptop to deal with all the Peugeots that come in (the Ford operation seems a little more extensive).

    Hopefully, though, by the end of the month, all the niggles and reasons for the lease company to make the handing-back of the car difficult, will be put to rest. Once it's all over, I can see myself writing a fairly long, tedious and heartfelt blog about the pitfalls of car leasing schemes. You have been warned.

    Beth and her mum in the kitchenBeth and her mum were in charge of preparing a pensioners' lunch at a nearby church yesterday - they put their recently achieved Food Hygiene certificates to good use, preparing a very tasty meal (I ate some of the left-overs at work today - food, not pensioners, I might add - very tasty!)

    radio bits:

    Fans of The Mighty Boosh (the surreal world of Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding) will be pleased to know that a live tour has been announced, and - perhaps to promote it - they're appearing on BBC7's comedy club from Monday to Friday next week, between 10pm and midnight. I'm definitely looking forward to it.

    Links of the day:

    Posted by james at 7:13 PM

    Thursday, 3 November 2005

    school, telly and technology (woo!)

    Another eventful week - for a start, Christopher started school; he seems to have taken to it with a reassuring enthusiasm, and has returned home with stories of King James and Guy Fawkes; there's actually been some decent TV on, and I've attended rather an informative session at work about the Digital Communication Revolution.

    Back to Monday, when Christopher started his first week at school - it was an upheaval for us all, from getting up that bit earlier (well, on my days off anyway!) to tramping the 25 minutes to the school and back twice a day. But it's definitely been worth it, since Christopher has come home with tales of generally positive experiences. It's really weird (even moreso for Beth), moving so radically from the symbiotic life that we shared while home-educating to Christopher becoming much more self-reliant.

    Every time he leaves us in the morning - if it is I who am dropping him off - I try and leave him with an encouraging thought (such as "nobody is better than you - and if they say they are, you have every right to reply 'meh...'") but for the rest of the day, I can't help but concern myself with thoughts of how he's getting on. We'll all become accustomed to it, I'm sure.

    If you've not seen Broken News on BBC2 at 9.30 on Monday evening, and you liked The Day Today, you're missing out on a real gem. Much like Chris Morris and Armando Ianucci's work of genius (yeah, I do go on about them a bit!) I'll come into work the next day and not be able to take the Breakfast News programme seriously. Well worth watching.

    Oh, and Never Mind The Buzzcocks is back, just before it, and as entertaining and disrespectful as it always was.

    Finally, I attended a 'panel discussion' session at work today - this is something that the company's really good at, if one can set aside the time to attend them. This particular one was called "The Digital Communication Revolution" and featured three experts in the 'New Media' world of Blogs, Podcasts and (I'd never heard this phrase before) folksonomies - which is basically 'tagging' (just shows, even a geek like me can't keep up with the jargon!): Euan Semple (the Knowledge Manager for the BBC), Neil McIntosh (the deputy editor of the very popular Guardian Unlimited) and a business communications specialist, Neville Hobson.

    radio bits
    I stumbled across a gem of radio comedy last night - it's called Mastering The Universe (Radio 4, 11pm on Wednesdays), and it's a very incisive lecture (again, a feature of modern radio comedy) about how to get ahead through passive aggression. Dawn French does a fine job of pretending to be cantankerous.

    Genius has finally made it onto Radio 4, too - I wasn't convinced about the first show (not least because Paul Daniels annoys me a little) but tonight's (Thursdays, 6.30pm on Radio 4) with Richard Madeley definitely had me giggling shamelessly.

    On more technical matters, Pure Digital have launched their first personal DAB Radio/MP3 player/recorder ... they're getting closer to audio Nirvana! (hmm.. all I desire is a CompactFlash card with a DAB receiver in it to go in my nice new iPaq and I'm made!)

    From ukradio.com's news:
    Prompted by the Mont Blanc disaster a few years ago, a recent EU mandate requires that long tunnels (over 500 metres) must have an emergency broadcast system that will automatically change the in-car entertainment system to the emergency channel. There are over 2000 tunnels in Europe that will require such a system.
    The first tunnel to have TunnelAlert installed will be the Rotherhithe Tunnel in the UK, which is expected to go live early in the New Year.

    I would never have thought of that. Perhaps the EU is useful for something...

    random thought
    Pint glasses - they always used to be straightforward - a tall'n'thin one for lager, and squat with a handle (and little squarey bits) for ale. I was having a pint or two with Jon over the weekend when I noticed that every brand (and even each variety, such as the 'extra cold' ranges that seems to have doubled the quantity of little tap things behind the bar, even though they come from the same barrel as the 'normal' lager) seems to have its own special glass. I really don't understand... it's hardly an advert, is it? I mean, you're drinking the stuff already. Any ideas why this is?

    Enough from me - there's a weekend off imminent, including a party (woo!)

    Links of the day:

    • www.belt.demon.co.uk - Want to make your stereo sound better? This website (although a little untidy) certainly gives some novel suggestions. How about a CCU Ring Tie tied onto soft furnishing to make music more enjoyable?
    • www.coorslight.com/iceswipe : A tricky but entertaining drawing game - OK, so I've regularly shown my poor mouse control skills up at i-sketch! (Thanks, Cath!)

    Posted by james at 9:43 PM

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