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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, 25 April 2007

webbys and urban folklore...?

I received an email today, reminding me to cast my vote in the People's Voice Webby Awards for 2007. Being something of a regular traveller on the superhighway, I though it was only fair to make my mark on the sites that had the most impact on me:

  • Guardian Unlimited (connections - podcasts)
  • Rathergood (connections - weird)
  • Miniclip... hmm... or Zwok... a really tough decision, but I think Miniclip wins because of Christopher's love for Club Penguin! (entertainment - games)
  • How Stuff Works (features - best copy/writing)
  • BBC News (media - news)
  • Guardian Unlimited (media - newspaper)
  • Virgin Radio (media - radio)
    (This last one demands an explanation, I think! Because NPR is in the lead, and Virgin Radio are second, the votes are more likely to count for Virgin, so has the better chance of bringing this award to the UK. Oh, and because James Cridland is a top bloke.)

On other issues, I was told - I'm not sure by whom - a while ago, that if you're just a bit too far from your car to use your remote central locking fob thing, you can make it unlock by holding the fob next to your head and pushing the button.

I'll admit, I've not done any scientific research into this, but from my limited experience, it seems to work (certainly better than holding the fob up in the air) but I have no idea why. There's no mention of it on Snopes (probably the most comprehensive urban legend site on the 'Net) - anyone else had a similar experience? And, like cheese, who came up with that strange idea? Answers on a postcode...

Posted by james at 5:56 PM

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Luton Scouts - St George's Day Parade 2007

While I remember, here's a quick snap - taken by Beth - of Christopher, smartly dressed in his Beaver uniform (with his hands in his pockets!) during the 2007 sea, land and air Scouts of Luton. He very much enjoyed being part of such a spectacle - the first, maybe, of many.

Christopher, with his hands in his pockets, during the 2007 Luton Scouts St George's Day Parade

Hopefully I'll be able to attend it next year, depending on how the shifting sands of work go...

Posted by james at 6:02 PM

Vista disappointment, overnights and a brief worrying moment

I can see this entry becoming a bit of a dull techie one, I'm afraid.

For now, though, the other bits! I had a strange Sunday - the three colleagues and I, who made up the duty weekend shift, realised that the only way to carry out a four-yearly safety inspection of one of the production areas was to throw all hands to the pump and carefully co-ordinate all the testing, from the wiring insfrastructure to the individual pieces of kit and their associated power leads.

We took 'lunch' just before two, and we were met in the office by a couple of strangers who had been invited up by one of my colleagues. To cut a long story short, I got talking to them, and it turned out that one of them was a fairly well-known stand-up comedian - Patrick Monahan. It turned out that he, and the lady who runs the monthly comedy club across the road from our building, were making the most of my workmate's technical connections to carry out some vox-pops for his forthcoming Edinburgh Fringe show.

The remarkable thing was that I only realised I recognised him when we started talking about his web presence, at which he mentioned his name (handy have an eponymous website!) since he'd presented a number of the Creation Stand-Up Comedy podcasts (which used to be good, free, fun, but, apart from some brief previews, are charged-for now) and it was then that I realised I had heard his voice a number of times before.

He was a very friendly chap, though, and we had some good banter; a good way to make the lunchtime go by!

I didn't really have much time off on Monday, since I was in work last night on a 'specialist' nightshift - a large number of fairly critical items needed to be replaced by their supplier due to a manufacturing defect, and I was asked to come in and check every single one of the dependent bits of kit (the best part of forty mixing desks and ancillaries) to ensure they were behaving.

Added to that was a couple of rather tantalizing challenges, one of which was left for me by our best engineer ("Little Cook" as he's affectionately known due to his slight resemblance to Dan Wright.. well, OK, he has a daft mullet, too), and by ten past eight I was just about finished (in every sense!)

I'm hoping for a fairly early night tonight in order to catch up with my sleep - since it was a 'one-off' but I have a few days off coming up, so that'll certainly help.

techie bit
Over the course of a couple of quiet (read 'uninspired') evenings, I thought I'd give Windows Vista a go, having successfully installed the rather excellent (and free, since it's still in beta) VMWare Fusion. Since the implementation of video is fairly limited (next-to no 3D acceleration and heavily emulated graphics) the performance score was a rather disappointing "1":

A rating of '1' for Vista's Performance on VMWare Fusion

Without the shiny features of Aero (here's a rather breathtaking video of it in comparison with the Beryl Linux desktop), there really isn't much difference between this and a version of Windows XP with IE7 and the latest version of Windows Media Player installed. In fact, with all the rather paranoid questions it keeps asking (it seems to me that Microsoft have obviously gone all-out to ensure the system integrity is maintained, to the expense of the user experience), I can see why user demand has forced Dell to start shipping XP again...

Finally, I was just about to head to work last night when OS X decided to apply a security update. Fool that I am, I gave the Mac the chance to reboot just before I went out of the door, and it hung for a terrifying time; when I went into 'Verbose mode' it turned out that it was indeed waiting for "diskarb" to start up.. but by the time I'd reached the other end of the M1 it had finally started up OK.

So many things to worry about! Speaking of which, I'd better go and water the garden...

Posted by james at 5:44 PM

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Extreme Gardening!

It's been a lovely day again today... still no sign of any rain, which is a little frustrating - especially since it's supposed to be the season for April Showers, but it meant we've been able to spend plenty of time outside, or at least with the windows open!

Beth and Lenni went off to the theatre today, to see the Disney presentation of Beauty and the Beast (a late birthday treat), so Christopher and I had some excellent time together. We played with K'Nex (following the instructions on a YouTube video to make a semi-automatic elastic-band gun thing), popped to the library and sowed some carrot seeds (at home, not among the books!) before playing some of his computer games with him... a happy, varied day all in.

The garden .. annotated!In fact, once we'd turned over the remainder of the vegetable patch and planted the carrots and beans (a little early, I know but it's been mild, and I live in hope!) I took the opportunity to clear the last bit of 'fallow ground' to put the remainder of the sunflower seeds in; I was fairly unequivocal about the process of getting rid of the weeds, stones, brambles and bits of old shrub that I don't getting in the way of my 'new stuff'... I think there's something very therapeutic about gardening, when it's done assertively. And wearing gardening gloves. Now it's all done, though, we wait (and water regularly!)

Sleepy Lenni in her Belle costumeWhen Lenni came home, still dressed in her 'Belle' costume, clutching a big plastic rose, she was exhausted - it was just her kind of experience, and apparently just like the animated movie. Beth had ordered long enough in advance to get front-row seats, so they had a really good view of the action, too. I really hope she has some good, lasting memories of it, just as I hope Christopher can recall some happy childhood days - hopefully like today!

Back to work tomorrow, followed by a one-off nightshift for St George's Day, then a few days off during which I'm really hoping to get back into the studio. I've done next to nothing for the past fortnight, which has been rather frustrating.. I've been meaning to upload my entire back catalogue (or at least that which isn't embarrassingly poor!) to my website, but it's one of those things that I've added to the list of "things to do when I have time.."

Still, I've managed a couple of blog entries this week, so that's not such a bad thing!

Links of the day:

  • www.1-click.jp : I don't know why, but this really makes me laugh. It's not even really well made... brilliant though.
  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mqv5hXuIgi4 : A bit of a rare treat.. an hour of a Mighty Boosh live performance, by the wonders of YouTube. There was I, thinking the videos were a maximum of ten minutes long.. (thanks, David!)

Posted by james at 8:32 PM

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

recovery and gardening

I made it back to work yesterday, and made it all the way through a shift, which was something of a relief. Fortunately, it was only a single day, so I'm home again today, looking after Lenni for the most part, since Beth's down in London for an appointment.

On my journey to work yesterday I was wide awake - for once - so I worked out a plan for the 'growable' parts of the garden based on recommendations by Beth's Mum and Dad and Emma. We made a start on it today, after Beth kindly bought some seeds from Wilkinson, with clearing a space by the 'arch' at the end of the 'second level' and planting some sunflower seeds. It's the perfect place (if they take!) because there's sun there most of the day - we just need to make sure they're kept watered.

The lettuce and rocket is struggling a little - I might fill it out with some more seeds - but the carrots are coming next; while Lenni's out for the day with Beth on Saturday, I'm hoping to do that with Christopher.

A few links I've stumbled across during the course of the past couple of days. Remember Steorn for example? Well, they've revealed a little more about their new technology, but it's still somewhat shrouded in secrecy. There's a video here which explains where they are now... hopefully we'll hear more by the end of the summer. I'll certainly be keeping my eye on the New Scientist magazine..

Finally, if you're in the market for it, there's a free Family Railcard (valid until the end of July) offer available, thanks to the Daily Mail - you'd better get in quick, though, since it closes on the 24th April.

Have a good day!

Posted by james at 6:22 PM

Monday, 16 April 2007

sick day and associated (lack of) productivity..

It's been a bit of an odd day for me, since I found my energy levels slowly disappearing over the weekend, to the point where I could do little else but sleep after the children went to bed last night, to counter the achiness and sore throat. As a result, the idea of a twelve hour shift was a little too much, so I've taken today off to attempt to recuperate, and spent much of it sleeping. Maybe I'm fighting off a bug, or perhaps it's my body's response to the onset of early season hay-fever, but I really dislike being unwell, so I'm hoping a good night's sleep tonight (and some antihistamines in the morning - it's great that they've come down in price so much over the years.. back when I really suffered, they were almost prohibitively expensive!) will prepare me for a return to work tomorrow.

techy Mac stuff (again)
Still, I finally managed to install webmin this afternoon - this was intended to help me back up my Mac Mini to the removable hard drive in case of disaster .. there were some very useful instructions here, which assumes you're using Mac Server, but works just as well on a standard OS X 10.4 installation. I selected the latest versions of the ancillary software, but didn't encounter any errors (probably for the first time ever!) which was good, since I don't think I'd have had the energy to fix it if it had gone wrong.

I was also sent a link to a rather interesting part of the new Harvard Observatory website, which gives visitors the opportunity to take a 'photograph' of what might be (or could become) a black hole. I've set it going - hopefully I'll have an email in the next couple of days with the picture. Definitely one for Christopher if it works!

Well.. I'll let you know how I get on at work in the morning. It's still a very strange situation there - although I can't go into any details, suffice it to say I used to have eight engineers in my team, and now I have three. Was it something I said?

Posted by james at 5:53 PM

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Outdoor life..

Christopher and Eleanor and their vegetable patchIt's been an amazing April so far, giving us plenty of opportunity to spend time outdoors.

We had our second sowing session on Saturday morning - planting some more lettuce and rocket in another square metre of the bed that we cleared a month or so ago. Our first batch has popped up in part, but since it's been so dry, I've not put as much effort into watering them as I guess I should, so we're lucky to have what we do! Now that there are two sets to look after (we'll hopefully be planting some carrots next week, too) I'm aiming to water them daily if it's not raining.

Chris and Lenni playing on the logs at Ashridge EstateIn the afternoon, we took our first trip to the wonderful Ashridge estate near Tring, and wandered through the forest as the children played on the logs that surrounded the place. Because the trees formed a dappled canopy, on the whole it was lovely and cool.

While uploading one of the more 'artistic' (!) photos onto Flickr, I noticed that there's a new feature, which enables you to place the pictures onto a map so you can find everyone else's that were taken around there. It's a bit of an onerous task to do the ones I've already uploaded (and there aren't that many) but such, I guess, is the richness of Web2.0!

(as always, click on the pictures for bigger versions!)

Link of the day
While listening to Radio 4's A World In Your Ear the other day, I heard about a rather innovative approach to recycling - it's called Container City. Certainly a better use for those huge containers than dumping them in a field and putting adverts on them!

Posted by james at 5:32 PM

Friday, 13 April 2007

Flight of fancy

Chris and Lenni underneath a shiny plane!We'd been intending to visit the RAF museum at Hendon for ages, and finally got our chance today.

Quite aside from it being free and only 20 miles down the motorway, we'll definitely be going again, because there's just so much to see. There are two enormous halls of aeroplanes, and dotted around within and without them are attractions such as the flight deck of a large jet and a control tower simulation.

Harrier Jump Jet!Some of my favourite planes were there - most notably the amazing Hawker Siddeley Harrier 'jump jet' (which must have been harder to control than a helicopter!) and the Eurofighter Typhoon of which we also rode a computer simulation machine (although I'm not sure it was worth £2.50 a person, it all -hopefully - goes to museum funds!).

There were also children's activities laid on in a miniature 'science museum' where they could dash from one experiment to another, or be led through a half-hour 'course' about various aspects of flying in a section of an old Dakota aircraft.

You can tell I enjoyed this, can't you! We all drove back up the motorway tired and happy - and well-fed; the restaurant was excellent - having only scratched the surface of the exhibits (not literally!) so we'll definitely have to go back. I can imagine it gets really busy during the school holidays and warm weekends, but since it's all pretty-much indoors, there's no reason we can't go any time of year.

Posted by james at 7:59 PM

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

kickabouts, penguins and incomprehensible Japanese text..

Since Beth was out much of the day (her Grandfather's hospital appointment went OK, although apparently he looks like a Simpson at the moment!), and Lenni's staying with her Nana and Grandad overnight, it's given rise to some proper 'Daddy and Christopher time' today... something of a rarity since he's at school much of my downtime during the week.

Apart from a kickaround on the grass this afternoon, we spent a fair amount of the day sitting together playing on the computer. He's really into Club Penguin at the moment, so I've been helping him earn the 'coins' to buy cool stuff for his igloo.

This afternoon, Christopher found "Dwarf Complete" (I think it's called) linked-to from the phenomenal eyezemaze site, and we spent much of the remainder of our time together trying to solve all the tantalizing puzzles - finally celebrating a victory just before bedtime!

At that, the Easter Holiday's come to an end for me, really.. back to work tomorrow (although I have tickets to see It's That Jo Caulfield Again with a colleague in the evening, so that'll take the edge off a little!)

Posted by james at 9:47 PM

Monday, 9 April 2007

googly eyes

We've probably had one of the most restful Easters on record.. considering that it's reputed to be the busiest weekend of the year for traffic, we decided to restrict our travels to the local vicinity. Memorial park (as I'm sure I've mentioned before - it's our park of choice for just such a reason) was almost deserted, so we enjoyed kicking a football around and cavorting around the playpark.

We also popped over to see our talented friend Tamara this afternoon. She has a collection of miniature Smurfs that, unlike Transformers and My Little Ponies, haven't been regenerated, so I think they retain a charm for children today much like the original Dinky toys from when I was little. Suffice it to say, the children loved them (and in fact, Lenni specifically asked for them, recalling having played with them on our last visit, but being unable to remember the name!)

Since blogging about 'Tanks' in a previous entry (I have to say, 2dplay.com's version is one of the most fun I've seen) I resurrected Worms Armageddon to show Chris what Beth and I used to play.. not the most romantic of courting activities, but it seemed to work! To get it to run on Windows XP, we had to apply an update but it was fairly painless and worth the hassle. While Beth and Lenni are out tomorrow, we're going to try a multiplayer game... boys and their toys, eh?

Speaking of which, completely out of the blue, Christopher asked me to take a photo of him this morning. After sending it to his computer, he made this: three.flash-gear.com/eye/eye.php... - most amusing!

Back to work on Wednesday... there's a lot to talk about. If my boss is back from leave, anyway!

Posted by james at 10:08 PM

Friday, 6 April 2007

try this for size, mate..

A silly game for Good Friday: www.weebls-stuff.com/games/Moon+War

The multiplayer game doesn't work all the time, but it's a nice twist (literally) on the classic Tanks (or GORILLA.BAS!)

Posted by james at 12:25 PM

Things I don't have time to do [techie]

See, if I were a proper geek, I would have installed Bootcamp, which means my Mac mini could run Windows XP just like a bog-standard PC (what's the point in that?), spent a bit more time playing with VMWare Fusion Beta to get a version of Vista to run properly in a window on my Mac desktop (I, er, think I ran out of everything, which resulted in my having to reboot the Mac within five minutes of starting up the virtual machine).. oh and just to complete the set, have a play with the OSX86 project, which can turn a PC into, er, a Mac.

Oh what fun.

More practical are the ideas I've been having to turn my MacMini into a network (or even internet) accessible PVR (personal video recorder), though. To do this would require a video capture card that's Mac compatible (and doesnt' cost a small fortune) and several weeks of playing with a piece of software like MythTV.

More down to earth, though, is the everpresent need for me to sort my website out! With the incidental music I've composed for the podcast, the little bits of silliness I've noodled with when friends have popped over and other pieces of work in progress (not to mention the old stuff that isn't either on my Myspace page or OffWight) I've fallen a long way behind in showing off my mediocre musical talents!

So, this blog entry isn't so much of a to-do list (if it was, it would be pages long, and include putting blinds up, rewiring the video feeds to the studio so they don't make everything I record hum, finish sorting out the vegetable patch.. I could go on and on!) just an admission that I'm much more likely to play with geeky toys than do anything constructive (like write my blog!)

I started to use my iPAQ's "task list" to keep track of all the things I'm supposed to be doing, but that's fallen by the wayside. Time for a(nother) relaunch, I think!

Posted by james at 10:41 AM

Thursday, 5 April 2007

"When I say Ikea, thou shalt not say.."

Discounting the first two half-baked attempts to experience the Swedish megalithic shopping phenomenon that is often wryly mocked, today was my first proper Ikea retail experience.

If I were to start my own business, I would take a number of tips from them - OK, so the Milton Keynes store has only been open a year so still has that 'just opened' feel, but the showroom seems comfortable and accommodating, the breakfasts are only 95p (!) and there's a free creche which both Lenni and Chris enjoyed.

Maybe, since it was a fairly quiet morning before the Easter holiday, I have a rose-tinted perception of the experience, but we got what we needed - and nothing more (save for a couple of 39p toys for the children as souvenirs) mainly owing to Beth's excellent preparation, and only spent about half the time going against the arrows!

That's about it for the news.. there's lots going on at work, but it's either too tedious to type about or just too indiscreet. I have a few days off coming up, though, and it's going to be a busy Easter weekend - there's a Good Friday service in the morning; Saturday is Eleanor's birthday, Sunday is Easter and Monday we're finally going to pop over and see Tamara, Lenni's Godmother, who is one of the many, many of our friends and family who we simply don't see often enough!

Right.. before I go - a quick link:

  • www.solidworkspilot.com : Paper plane throwing over the internet - it's simple, but addictive. Go on - challenge me!

... and despite my best efforts, I can't avoid a couple of YouTube links (although you're going to have to click to see them, because putting the little screen things on this blog makes all the text entries look insignificant!)

  • Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip : The next big one-hit-wonder 'thing' and I first heard it over a week ago. Ooh.. finger on the pulse!
  • Classic Pebble Mill Pop 'performance' : In some ways, it's lovely to see things unravel like this, and conversely to appreciate a live band when they do bother to play on live TV (despite my colleagues at work and their poor opinion of television sound mixes!). I especially liked the 80s hair in this clip, and would encourage everyone to model themselves on it.

Happy Holy Week!

Posted by james at 9:25 PM

Sunday, 1 April 2007

kid! carpet!

The Suitcase Circus
I popped over to Bristol on Friday afternoon (note to self : never try and drive to Bristol on a Friday afternoon.. it seems to be when most people book their accidents!) to see Kid Carpet (finally!) play live at a strange little venue - The Cube Microplex.

The gig was entertaining, although the first two acts were odd, to say the least! Actually, I think that's what I love about Bristol - it really is such a cultural melting pot, and makes Luton look like Philistia! It started with a performance by the Suitcase Circus, which was an unusual puppet show, made from bits of rubbish (a Burger King straw dancer, a pair of socks - well, half-socks - and a potatosack acrobat).

Le Pants
This was followed by a comedy-burlesque-ironic performance by Le Pants. This was a singing and dancing performance (think a small scale Goldfrapp doing an OK Go!) which was entertaining, although at points, I didn't know where to look. Which I think might have been the point.

Kid Carpet at the Cube Microplex, BristolFinally, the highlight of the evening (we didn't stay for the last act, I'm afraid!) - my first Kid Carpet performance. Elin and Rob - who kindly put me up for the night and let me beat them at Singstar and Buzz (heehee!) - had seen him at least three times before (once at his album launch in a multistorey car park - cool!), so knew what to expect. He certainly didn't let us down, with an energetic, engaging performance which tempted many of the audience out of their flip-up seats to dance at the front of the stage. His finale was "You Can't Stop The Pop" which got everyone bopping as he shouted into a Fisher-Price cassette recorder. Which is why I like Bristol. It means I can write things like that. (And I'd much rather spend a fiver on a night out in a small venue than spend the best part of £50 on a stadium gig where you only see the artist on a telly!)

There are a few more pics in the gallery.

Posted by james at 12:36 PM

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