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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, 31 July 2006

summer holidays and the plant challenge

We've had another proper summer holidays day today - we went to visit the Three Locks in Soulbury, which was a wonderful combination of nature and humanity; Christopher really enjoyed helping push the lock gates open and shut for some friendly narrowboaters, we attempted (and failed, unfortunately) to find a geocache nearby, then went for a return trip to the wonderful Walter Rothschild collection in Tring.

Foolishly, I didn't have the presence of mind to take any photos, and I couldn't find it in myself to make a sound-seeing tour (or 'audiotour' as I prefer it), but we had a great time, and I was exhausted by the time we arrived home.

Once I'd perked up after a cup of coffee (thanks, Beth!) I set to trying to complete the bamboo screen on the patio. The battery ran out on my drill before I could mount the middle pole, which has some 2x2 wood to which I will attach the centre of the screen, but at least I've prepared the mountings on the brick wall, so I'll not further risk unpopularity with the neighbours!

When the children went to bed, though, I did a little work on the small collection of growing things in the garden. We bought some plants in a sale at Christopher's school, so I thought I'd install them properly in the tubs by the stones area. I would consider myself an extremely ham-fisted gardener, so it'll present a fair challenge to keep the plants alive (especially since it's hard enough even to water them every day). Keep watching the garden picture gallery (and this blog) for the continuing saga.

Barry, a year old and thriving!Beyond the shed is still something of a wilderness, but even that has its benefits - there are some sweet blackberries growing there, and the apple tree has borne fruit (albeit crabapples!)

I'm feeling somewhat optimistic about the survival of the plants - my first ever venture into the world of houseplants - Barry (the aloe vera plant you can see to the right) has thrived so much in the office that I've had to bring him home. He's now in a tub of his own, guarding over the studio, and - more importantly - still alive over two years since I bought him!



little plants

the wilderness


click photos for bigger..

Posted by james at 11:09 PM

Sunday, 30 July 2006

barbecue, alpaca, pylon...

It's been a busy summer holiday so far - the children certainly have no opportunity to be bored! Up to three times a week we're going to the library; there's a reading challenge on at the moment, and Christopher has grasped it with both hands (and both eyes..), not least because there's a secret agent pen for him if he can complete three cards of six stamps, each of which is received when he returns a book.

little alpaca!His reading and writing is definitely improving, which is encouraging, especially since his verbal language skills are already well developed, and he's keen to communicate (often through blu-tacked up signs in felt tip) with the written word.

Yesterday was Beth's Dad's 60th birthday - there are lots of decade birthdays this year, in fact: Dad turns 60 in just over a month, too, Mother is 70 a few days later, and - as I understand it - Rita was 50 a couple of weeks ago. Beth's Dad's birthday co-incided with a barbecue, to which all the members of the church were invited. It was a friendly enough occasion, but I was very taken by the baby alpacas in the field of the farm where the barbecue was held.

pylon!At one corner of the field there was a pylon; it was a fairly standard structure, but I've always been taken by the wonderful symmetry, combined with the noise they make. There's a really tall one just before the Dartford Crossing that attracted my attention last time I went Kent - according to the wikipedia entry it's higher than the BT Tower.

There's more trivia on pylons at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pylon (including an interesting article on a pylon painted pink, that I'm sure is still on Google Maps).

As always, there are more photos in the gallery (and the best of them end up in my flickr collection)

Slightly more troubling in the countryside, Beth discovered that there's a risk of encountering a rather nasty waterside invader giant hogweed. Something to be aware of, especially since we're hoping to visit a waterway tomorrow.

Link of the day:

  • www.takeitapart.net
  • : Instructions for dismantling various items - some simple, some complex. If it's mentioned, it's probably quite useful! (thanks, Rob!)

Posted by james at 11:35 PM

Friday, 28 July 2006

podcast meetups and synths

Podcasting's a great invention, although even now, nearly two years since the idea was conceived, I think it appeals to a minority audience. This was typified by the last weekend - I met up with a small cabal of Britcasters on Saturday, after a fairly positive practice in Kent, who differ almost entirely from their counterparts in mass-production radio.

On Tuesday, too, I met up with Paul and Judy (from Total Podcastrophe) and their daughters; they're on holiday from the US (via Iceland!) and spent an evening exchanging stories and experiences from both sides of the Atlantic; a great opportunity to get to know the people behind the voices I enjoy listening to.

Yes, they're performers, creatives, but so much more down to earth, with tens or hundreds of listeners rather than tens of thousands (which even Ricky Gervais can barely claim to have since his show has gone subscription only). In fact, many of the listeners are podcasters themselves, therefore generating a subculture of people who understand and appreciate the concept.

Perhaps with the (somewhat controversial, according to many in the field) birth of Podshow+ will come a greater awareness of the concept, so that 'small podcasters' (such as I) may benefit from the potential greater audience. It's interesting to see that, these days, advertising is investing more in the internet than radio and newspapers - although I never intend to make a living out of podcasting (as an article in the latest Podcast User magazine discusses), I think I'd be content to make use of its growth as a medium.

If not, I can always turn back to my occasional musical endeavours. I spent Wednesday evening working on my MIDI set-up. I was hoping at least to set up the cabling, channels and perhaps create the basis of a tune. In reality, I couldn't get a signal to the patchbay, eventually discovering that I'd been a little overkeen with the cable clamp at one end, shearing both wires and shorting them. Oops!

In the time I had remaining, I checked on the internet to see if there's any software to help to edit the sounds on my Roland D5 and Yamaha TX81Z (the EMT-10 sound module isn't really that programmable). Despite being nearly 25 years old(!) you can still find some bits available:

So to the rest of the week, then... I'm working on Friday, taking Saturday off because it's Beth's Dad's 60th birthday, and then another day of work on Sunday. Lots going on, then.. more about that, I'm sure, when it happens!

Links of the day: (incorrect alert!)

  • www.holotone.net : An extensive, diverse collection of weird and outsider things

  • bentrecords.blogspot.com : More focussed attention, this time - a compendium of links to various strange music. The sort of thing my kind of parties are made of!

Posted by james at 7:03 PM

Thursday, 20 July 2006

heat heat hot

Another week's nearly over - already! The days off evaporate quickly, and work's been packed to the gunnels with challenges, especially since there are big changes taking place at the moment, and we're trying our best to keep a handle on them.

It's all very interesting, though, and presents a fantastic opportunity to learn; considering the temperature has been reaching 33 degrees C in the office, I've tried to get all the engineers out into the new areas, which have the benefit of working air conditioning, and buddied up with some of the guys I line manage to hit a few jobs. So it's been rewarding in many ways, despite the heat and tiredness brought about by some fairly poor nights' sleep.

Tuesday was complicated - we had to go to the county court to have some parental responsibility bits sorted. The British bureaucracy system doesn't really do unusual situations, so it took us two hours to negotiate something as simple as a parental responsibility application.. more details on the oddities of British law if you're interested. It's all sorted now, though.

As I trundle back up the road in yet another coach with only the benefit of "air conditioned" in the signage on the side, I have a few days off to look forward to. Tomorrow's fairly free, save for being Christopher's last day at school, and a bit of Asda shopping; Saturday promises to be a busy one with a rehearsal in Kent followed by an evening in Oxford, and then Sunday's a little less defined. Just how I like it - and in the shade, if at all possible!

There are a few bits of interesting tech news that I've heard about - first off is some fairly good news. For less than £20 on eBay, you can buy a wireless transmitter for your MP3 player, that sends the audio to the FM radio in the car (or anywhere in the near vicinity), but you're not allowed to use it. A report in Computer Shopper suggests that Ofcom are reconsidering the allocations of licence-free frequencies, which would be really useful.

There was something else, but I've forgotten what it was. It's the heat.

Link of the day:

Posted by james at 8:32 PM

Saturday, 15 July 2006

last of the seven plus four...

Cleared patio areaWell, I've really enjoyed the past week - it's zoomed by, but we've managed to keep on top of the housework, school runs and shopping... and even spent a few evenings in the studio making music. I'm in the early stages of making a fairly mellow, ambient tune, and I also made a bit of silly music for one of the podcasts I listen to.

But now it's Sunday night, and the last few days are just a distant memory, since I've been thrown into the usual trials and tribulations of work for a rather terrifying four day weekend!

Cobbles and benches...On the upside, though, we've made some progress on the garden - most of stage two has been completed; the cobblestones and bench at the bottom level (see the left-hand photo - click for bigger) has been joined by a cleared patio, the likes of which I thought I'd never see again. In fact, we did a little more this time, cutting next-door's overgrown shrub right back so we can put a bamboo screen up to avoid the uncomfortable and constant buzzing of dangerous-looking insects around the hedge. I've got one more upright to bolt to the wall, and then, save for sweeping, the patio will be habitable once again!

Not much else to report, save that everyone's doing well, and that, despite being caught up in the whirlwind of life, I'm getting plenty done. Hopefully Trev and I will be back on the trail of the lonesome podcast soon, and I've got another band rehearsal next Saturday (and an informal Britcaster meet-up.. it's going to be a long day!)

Here's what's been going on my iRiver this week:

Posted by james at 9:59 PM

Sunday, 9 July 2006

birth and video

Baby Lucy - Beth's second surrogate birthWell, if you're not already aware, Beth had another record labour (although the paperwork doesn't do her justice - it was certainly less than an hour and a half!) with an early morning drive to the hospital at half-past six on Friday morning, and she called me less than an hour later saying that she was OK, and so was Lucy, who'd arrived shortly before she phoned me!

Suffice it to say, the parents hadn't even finished packing the car, let alone started the four-hour journey down, having been alerted just before we left the house - but they made it without too many problems, and were overjoyed to see their newborn daughter.

Despite a fairly straightforward labour, Beth had to stay in overnight, so Saturday started with me having the children to myself - breakfast was accompanied with My Little Pony videos on YouTube.

It wasn't long before we discovered the hilarious www.mylittletransformer.com - a primitively animated (and voiced!) fusion of both Christopher's and Lenni's favourite toys. Their favourite episode is the rather slapstick "It's-A-Me!", causing Lenni to shout "It's-A-Me, Mario!" at various intervals during the rest of the day.

When I told Christopher than anyone could submit a video to YouTube, he was inspired. His idea was to combine Transformers with Lego, and we worked on a short storyline. I explained that the video was made up of 'scenes' and, after the hassle of installing a driver for Beth's old Quickcam Messenger and putting together a makeshift tripod using bits of a pair of microphone stands (and blu-tak!), we captured the various shots on the fine VirtualDub.

After lunch, we recorded the sound effects in the studio, and I pieced it all together, with a rather appalling bit of PaintShop Pro animation at the beginning and the end (sorry!) - the results of Christopher's first ever video short are below. Very 'six year old' I'm sure you'll agree!

Click for bigger!

It's been an enjoyable weekend... I'm off until Friday next week, to aid Beth's recovery, so maybe I can make some music! "We'll see" as my Dad used to say; some things never change..

Posted by james at 6:42 PM

Friday, 7 July 2006

unsafe pavements and strange street furniture

Dangerous footbridgeThere are strange things afoot nearby; I was asked by Beth to contact the local council about a rather dangerous area on the footbridge that we take when walking Christopher to school.

The bridge takes us over the main road, twenty-five or so feet above the trees that line the road and the dangerous traffic; the problem is that two of the railings are missing, the ideal size for a small child to walk through!

For one reason or another (OK, we'd been up since twenty past six, rushing Beth to the hospital!) we were up against it getting to school, but it didn't help when, on our way, we discovered a triangular inspection cover on the footpath, which had tipped, half-falling into the hole below. And wow, did that hole go down a long way (I couldn't see the bottom!)! All I could do was prevent people getting too close to it, by stretching a discarded tree branch across the part of the path that approached it; the cast-iron cover was unbelievably heavy!

Odd mast thing near the former Vauxhall factoryThere was a drainage company van parked on the other side of the road, so when I returned from dropping Christopher off (and on the way to Lenni's pre-school) I popped down to ask if they'd be able to sort it out, since they'd raised a couple of similar covers on their side of the road earlier, so clearly had the right equipment. However, when I popped up there later on, it was still off, but my tree-branch was still there. If, on the school run on Monday, it's still in the same state, I shall photograph it, and contact the council. It's a potential death trap!

On other matters local and odd, in the last couple of days, a new pole has been erected on Vauxhall Way, alongside the end of what remains of the car factory there, and the main road. Having done a bit of Googling, it would appear that it's a 3G mast (there are two grey metal boxes nearby, too); it's just a shame they've given up the idea of disguising them as trees. I saw another one near Sainsbury's in Bramingham today, too.. they're ugly. Yuck.

Posted by james at 9:15 PM

Thursday, 6 July 2006

heat treatment...

It's been remarkably hot over the past few days.. when it's not threatening thunder, the humidity is high, and the sunlight is strong; I finally got round to buying some blinds for the kitchen, to save the bread from being toasted in the breadbin.

Where we live, the houses are three storey townhouses, and with tiles to waist level on each floor, and then windows above. The block faces west (near enough) so the poor old fridge is struggling somewhat of an afternoon, since the tiles act like a storage heater, radiating the heat under the work surface.

Still, at least we're not getting roasted! It's a shame that it's just too hot and sticky to manage any more of the garden.. I'm itching to have a go at the bush on the patio - I shall have to borrow some electric trimmers and knuckle down at some point.

podcast bits...

  • dr.sin.tripod.com/podcast.htm : I only recently discovered this comedy podcast - there were some fine moments, with some amusing characters (I very much liked Annie Nightinjail) and songs. Looking at the cast list, perhaps Trev and I could do with getting more people involved! Hopefully, there'll be another North South Divide in the next few weeks.

Link of the day:

Posted by james at 1:28 PM

Saturday, 1 July 2006

festivals and freecycling...

Thomas Dolby at the o2 Wireless FestivalThe week's sped by and I've not taken the opportunity to write about the fun on Sunday; I was kindly invited to the o2 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park, to see the likes of Thomas Dolby () , Goldfrapp () and Depeche Mode () sing and play.

With four stages (and one especially for o2 customers, of which I can't count myself as one) to choose from, there wasn't a dull moment; we saw Matisyahu on the Xfm stage, and Cord on the Myspace Fender stage, both of whom put on rousing performances.

I even manged to catch the last quarter of an hour of the England-Ecuador match, which I was pleased about!

In an attempt to reduce, re-use and recycle, I've taken the plunge into Freecycling; I think it's a brilliant idea, and yesterday I donated a child's bike and a folding dining table to good homes. It's fairly painless, really - especially when they collect!

Finally (sorry - this is turning out to be a long blog entry, isn't it!) I've invested the last of my overtime money in a much-desired piece of kit. I'm finally the owner of an MP3 player... it's a 20GB iRiver H320, which is a fairly rare beast these days, since they've stopped making it. The beauty of it is that it's got a stereo mic in, so I can use it to record band practice, recitals by the children and - although I've not actually mustered the courage to do so - my own voice and music.

It's a bit fiddlier than the ubiquitous iPod, but its features are amazing - MP3 recording, radio, picture viewer and, if you download Rockbox, you can even play Doom on it! (I installed Rockbox, but the interface is a bit rubbish, and it only seems to record in WAV format, so I'm back to the standard iRiver features for the time being!).

I bought my iRiver for about £140 from Amazon, but it's worth bearing in mind that it's the American version, so you might need to buy a plug adaptor!

links of the day:

Posted by james at 12:46 PM

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