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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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Thursday, 31 May 2007

interviews, music and caffeine freedom

I've had a strange couple of days. Yesterday was a long slog, as it involved a day of interviews, starting at 9, and finishing just shy of 7. It was an amazing learning experience - I didn't feel out of my depth, which was my main concern before embarking on it. In fact it was more the logistics - ensuring the interviews didn't over-run, and making sure the right people came in at the right time (despite some administrative errors) and the lack of time to do anything else that caused the problems...

I felt rotten this morning - perhaps something to do with the pokey little meeting room I was in for much of the day, since the air-conditioning didn't work, and we had to have the door closed - so I stayed off work. It did give me the chance to put together a song for 'b3tavision' (note: it's a b3ta site, so it's not for children!). The song - my second 'europop style tune' of the year, although this time limited to two minutes - sounds a bit like this:

jamelopoeia - the seaside shuffle.mp3 (2.8MB MP3 @ 192kbps)

Tomorrow's June.. I have decided to spend the month not drinking any caffeinated beverages. This isn't a problem with tea, since I only drink rooibos tea, but I do like a cup of coffee in the morning, and if I need a bit of a perk up during the day. I've been trying to cut down of late, so I'm hoping for no symptoms of detoxification!

That's all I've got the energy for at the moment.. best get to bed. I have the next four days off work (hooray!) so it'd be good to make the most of them. There are a only couple more bits of editing to do on the podcast, so it'll be ready to go soon!

Posted by james at 11:23 PM

Monday, 28 May 2007

Nightshifts and trivial USB pursuits...

A flooded Wardown ParkA whirlwind blog entry for today.. a damp Bank Holiday Monday off work. The wet weekend has, unfortunately, caused the Luton Carnival to be cancelled, which is a shame. Considerning the state of Wardown Park (which is on the floodplain of the River Lea) I'm not really surprised.

I'm currently on a recovery day from my nightshift the night-before-last. I actually got plenty done overnight, and it was a propitous time to move the contents of my desk to the 'specialists enclosure' for my return to work tomorrow.

My decision to delay my sleep until last night was unusual for me, but it meant that I had the full day yesterday to attend to various bits and pieces - the loft now has a fluorescent light (thanks to Freecycle!) but I think I'm paying for it today. The recent record breaking attempt to stay awake for over eleven days makes my thirty-eight hours seem a bit lame, though!

I've been playing with MyChingo today, as a way to leave voice messages on one of the email groups to which I belong. One of my fellow members is having trouble typing at the moment, so it seems like a good way of exchanging messages.

Oddly enough, the Mac Mini doesn't have a microphone input, so I had to improvise with my iriver. I'm quite surprised that it doesn't, what with voice messaging being such a major part of internet communication, but I suppose there are plenty of low-priced usb microphones available that do the job well enough.

I've also been a little distracted by trying to get webcams to work on the Mac. I bought a really cheap Tevion webcam from Aldi (1.3megapixels for about twelve pounds.. a bargain I ended up being unable to resist!) I can't remember if I got it working with the excellent macam open-source Mac OS X webcam driver, but it worked fine with the Logitech and another 'Pixpart' webcam.

However, when I pointed the cameras outside during daytime, the image was completely washed out, almost as if the iris/shutterspeed couldn't be set small/quick enough to compensate for it.

So the idea of monitoring the front of the house with CCTV (in these security conscious days) has had to be shelved, despite having downladed some really rather good image capture and storage products (such as Oculus). The Tevion webcam now lives in the studio, and produces some decent images of quite how untidy it is at the moment! (sample pic to come.. we're going out imminently!)

Posted by james at 2:33 PM

Friday, 25 May 2007

preschool, go home and recycling

A kind-of ad-hoc entry for today.. the previous few days have been fairly intensive at work; in fact, they were my last as a supervisor, since I'm going back to being a specialist for six months on Tuesday.

It's been something of an unusual day - Beth and I both volunteered to help out at Eleanor's pre-school today. They like to have parents involved in the session, but one of the members of staff was away, so Beth was filling in for them.

I had a great time, doing my full range of silly voices (although I'll never really match Kenneth Williams in his days of Jackanory!) while reading stories, and being asked by the cheeky staff to lead the children in singing songs (I took requests, which included "Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer") while they set up the sports day equipment. To be honest, the whole morning was made easier by the fact that there really isn't a bad little'un among them, and they all seem to get on really well. Raynham Way Pre-school is definitely one of the best in Luton!

This evening, after collecting a fluorescent tube and fitting for the loft from a kind freecycler, I harvested another couple of tubs of lettuce, and made a start on the tedious job of thinning out the carrots. So many little bits and pieces to do... I still haven't made a proper list!

Listening to...
As I type, I'm listening to the Go Home Productions 6 Music Comic Relief mix which is available for a limited time at their MP3 page. I discovered this after getting the wonderful "Pinnochiohead" song stuck in my head (Disney mashed up with Radiohead? Wonderful!).

Well, it's a busy day tomorrow - Beth's going into London for IVF in the morning, and I'm going for a nightshift starting at 10pm, covering for a colleague who can't make it. I'll take the opportunity to move the contents of my desk, since I'm starting my new/old job on Tuesday.

Luton events..
On the 2nd of June, Luton's recycling centre is having an Recycling Open Day, which sounds like a brilliant idea.

Speaking of which, it was interesting to read on the front cover of the Herald and Post that - after going into some anecdotal detail (!?) of the national coverage of reported mistreatment of staff at Pratts Bananas in Luton - the company offer the public an opportunity to visit the site... I wonder how many folk will take it up (especially since it doesn't appear that they even have a public-facing website...)

Posted by james at 11:59 PM

Tuesday, 22 May 2007


I'm not one to travel on the tubes too much, which is why I don't have an Oyster Card (I don't see the point of paying the £3 deposit if I'm never going to use it). However, I was rather incredulous when I got an email this morning that read (in part):

For example a single Zone 1 Tube journey is now £4, while the equivalent Oyster journey is £1.50.

The last thing I want to do is get caught out like a hapless tourist (you've got to feel for 'em!) if I need to make a journey across London, so I was rather pleased that the email went on to promote the Free Oyster Card offer, of which I have made good use. I think they're quite limited quantities (100,000 from what I read) so if you want one, now's your chance.

Posted by james at 11:43 AM

Sunday, 20 May 2007

seaside, software and.. er.. something to do with lighting.

Lenni at the seasideOnce again, a small bundle of links and anecdotes has built up - not least from a day out at the South Coast, since I've not really had enough time to write a blog entry!

We had a lovely trip down, and the weather was wonderful, giving Lenni, Jon and me the opportunity to enjoy the sea breeze and the waves. Chris brought the cuddly toy "Tails" down with him, since his Beavers troop like to have photos of him/it in interesting locations, and - with Jon's help - we took a couple of snaps.

Despite a dreadful journey home (London Bridge was closed and a we ended up in a queue of trains at Blackfriars; at Farringdon, a platform announcement told potential travellers that the train was fast to Bedford, to which the driver responded over the train intercom with "That's the first I've heard of it." Suffice it to say, we were turfed off the train at Kings Cross, but another one clanked into the station shortly after, so we arrived back in Luton about three-quarters of an hour later than planned) we all had a lovely day, thanks to Mother, and the children were really good.

listening to...
I've really been enjoying the mildly eccentric, yet utterly compelling - not to mention quintessentially British Who Boys album: The Good The Bad and The Who Boys. If you like your drum'n'bass and mashups infused with English humour, you've got to check it out! Mind, it's for grown-ups, though.

I wanted to find a piece of software I could use to burn ISO images; I didn't have to look much further than CDBurnerXP Pro. It's well-programmed, simple and, best of all, free!

It seems that Mac OS X doesn't really have much image manipulation software in-built; there are some excellent image correction tools in Preview, but to resize pictures you have to download an application. There are some good ones at www.yellowmug.com, along with some fine free utilities, too.

In other news, Neil 'Britcaster' Dixon played Summer In Britain on his fine A Minor Technicality podcast yesterday, without any request or bribery from me! It was great to hear it being given an outing, although it's brought home how much I need to make some more music (that's nearly two years old!) or at least work on uploading my back catalogue... once the next North South Divide is out, I'll make a start. Again!

Finally, a quick line about my new favourite household gadget - LED lamps! Although the prices are still quite high, they're extremely economical to run, and, judging by the brightness of the spotlights at the Bluetones gig, they can certainly hold their own against conventional lighting. Here's hoping the price comes down soon.

Right.. bedtime for me. Two more shifts (and a nightshift as a favour) before I start working more regular hours. I'll still be starting at 8am, but finishing at 6, which will hopefully give me a bit more time in the evening to do things...

Posted by james at 9:30 PM

Saturday, 19 May 2007

scratch and play...

Having seen it mentioned on the BBC News Technology feed (that I receive on my iPAQ with good old pRSSReader), I finally got round to downloading Scratch today, to show the children what they can do with this interactive multimedia toolkit thing.

I really am impressed with it, and Christopher has taken to the way the software works extremely quickly. The brilliant thing about it, beside the rewarding spectacle of getting little sprites to do entertaining things, is it cannot fail to improve skills such as logical progression and Cartesian co-ordinates (to name but two).

There's not really much to catch up on over the past few days... Chris and I have had our hair cut, I've had some busy days at work, and this evening I worked on editing down the recordings for the next podcast. Beth's making a good recovery, with lots of colourful bruises to show for her trouble...

I'm taking the children to Sussex tomorrow (praying for some clement weather, although I'm sure it'll be fairly warm, even if it's not that dry) as a train-based adventure, and for a catch-up with the Bexhill contingent.

Something I stumbled across today was the macam - the open-source Mac OS X USB Webcam project.. when I get the chance, I might investigate that further.

More, I'm sure, when it occurs to me... it's quite late now (and you can tell I'm not making much sense!), so I ought to head to bed!

Posted by james at 1:12 AM

Monday, 14 May 2007

breakfast and incidents (audioblog)

Breakfast and iRiverI had intended to record an audiojournal this morning, while I enjoyed the breakfast offerings of The White House. The journal was recorded, and breakfast was eaten, just not under the circumstances I'd expected...

audioblog14052007.mp3 (1MB MP3 @ 32kbps)

Posted by james at 2:58 PM

Sunday, 13 May 2007

twittering and things to do on the mac..

So.. I've been playing around with another bit of Web2.0 - this time, it's Twitter, and it's quite the addictive little toy (Well, it is at the moment!) with text messages and things. I suppose I consider it exhibitionism for those with a short attention span...

(I'm at www.twitter.com/syzygy, incidentally).

Having a kitchen telly is quite handy... while Beth's recording Dalziel and Pascoe (I could never get into Sunday Night Drama) I'm currently watching Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's Perfect Night In (yet another Channel 4 compilation show) while creating a blog entry.. I'm using a Belkin USB capture card and VLC to stream it from the studio. OK, so it needs another computer to be on (I can't afford a Slingbox just yet!) but it's another use I'm putting the Mac Mini to...

Posted by james at 9:44 PM

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Too much Justin Fletcher and bad singing on children's telly?

Justin! Fletcher! He gets everywhere!Children's Programmes Justin Fletcher has performed in:

  • The Tweenies
  • Tikkabilla
  • Toddworld
  • Something Special
  • Jimjam and Sunny
  • Shaun The Sheep
  • Chicken Run (the film)
  • as a CBeebies presenter
  • Springwatch/Autumnwatch
  • Boo!

OK, so maybe this is evidence that we have too much Children's TV on (!) but I mainly spotted these because his voice irritates me a bit, which makes it quite easy to identify! I guess this raises the question.. are there that few British Children's TV presenters - along with an inexplicable clutch of stand-up comedians - that he ends up appearing in so many programmes?

Arnie/Barney. An Early Worm at close range, anywayEven further down the barrel (OK, so maybe I'm being a bit unfair now!) comes the singing talents of some of the voice actors. Take, for example, The Early Worms.

Here's an excerpt of their 'Wiggle Song' () , which I consider to be painful listening. Is one of them singing off-key on purpose (so as to encourage the less tonally talented tot to sing along?) or was this a fairly fundamental failure at the audition?

They're not too big, and they're not too toughI would like to redress the balance if possible, by extolling the virtues of my current favourite - Wonderpets. It has the most wonderful semi-classical musical score throughout, and a dialogue which I'm sure takes a leaf out of Charlie and Lola's book(s). It's really charming (and I currently have a potentially very embarrassing ringtone on my mobile phone!)

NickJr currently have a free-for-view episode of Wonderpets online at the moment (certainly in the UK), so here's your chance to tell me how wrong I am!

Wonder Pets ringtones

Wonder Pets Phonemp3 (161kB)amr (21kB)
Wonder Pets Phone Songmp3 (244kB)amr (32kB)
Wonder Pets Phone Ring+Songmp3 (344kB)amr (45kB)

Posted by james at 11:17 AM

Friday, 11 May 2007

Radio wrongness?

As you're no doubt aware, I have a passion for radio, and there have been a couple of things that have piqued my interest of late which I'd like to share with you.

The first was a report in a local paper about the prosecution of a pirate radio operator.. not much unusual about that, except his transmitter was rebroadcasting a French Radio station to the people of Brighton! Apparently he had quite a following.. (thanks, Jon!)

Then there's The Big L.. it is on-air legally, but has recently had some (shall we say) interesting media coverage, which included being featured on Channel 4's Get Your Act Together With Harvey Goldsmith. If you get the chance to watch it (I have a recording if you're interested) I would certainly recommend it, since it is hilarious in some places, and cringingly quirky in others - no doubt the effect the editors wanted to achieve.

Not wanting to be swayed by their rather negative portrayal on TV, I thought I'd give the station a 'good listen' and I have to say I was surprised at what I heard. Despite the comments and advice given by industry professionals both during and after the show, they seem hardly to have changed anything, even to the point where (this morning at least) the internet radio player still didn't work, nearly a month after the programme was recorded!

They have absolutely no 'station sound', with each DJ seemingly bringing their own jingles, many of which sound like they were originally recorded in the 1980s, and in nearly a day's worth of listening, I only perceived two ad-breaks. The music? Well, there's certainly much less* heavy a-list repetition than Virgin Radio and their apparent obsession with Snow Patrol and The Kaiser Chiefs but the near-random zipping from Elvis to Mika was a little hard to keep up with for much of the time, and the DJ banter became a irritating (much as it does when I occasionally listen to Radio 1).

All in all? I really want them to succeed - their premise of musical freedom and 'old-time sounds' is a laudable one - but I can't help but be swayed in favour of the TV coverage.. these are some deluded people, who could find themselves off-air before long. I hope they don't, for the sake of everything that used to be good...

*(for 'much less' read 'no apparent')

Posted by james at 6:10 PM

Thursday, 10 May 2007

a few random bits of stuff

Not so much a blog entry, as a collection of interesting internet finds and some odd bargains that if I don't relate now, may be consigned to my poor memory and won't entertain me any longer.

I'd better get on with those first - the good thing about working Bank Holidays is that the Sainsbury's Local round the corner closes early, and therefore puts cheapo stickers on the things that will be going out of date. As a result, I bagged myself a couple of 'ready meal' cord mornays reduced from £2.75 to 29p (I'll have to bring some mixed vegetables in to microwave, but that's hardly going to break the bank). There was a special offer on these items, though - two for £5, and this was dealt with by the checkout computer being programmed to subtract 50p from the total of the two items (since they would have added up to £5.50). Despite the yellow sticker, it still chose to take 50p off the price, leaving me with the princely sum of 8p to pay; so two cod mornay meals for 4p. (Suffice it to say normally I wouldn't buy my lunch there - how on earth people can afford daily to purchase their meals from Pret or the like, I just don't know! Fortunately, I have a very talented Beth who can put all kinds of nice things in a tupperware pot and keep me alive.

This only springs to mind because today we popped to get some cookies from Asda (a dessert treat for the children, you understand..!) and I saw that one of the bags of five double-chocolate chip cookies had a spare standard chocolate chip cookie hiding at the back. None of the other bags offered Free Biscuits(?), so we made the most of the free sample! Six for the price of five.. not quite such a bargain, but still not bad!

I've seen a number of interesting websites around Luton of late, the first of which was above the window of a local bus; www.greenstat.org.uk gives surfers a chance to rate and comment upon their local greenery. Despite living in a neglected urban sprawl, there are some oases of open space in Luton, so I took the opportunity to sing the praises of Memorial Park (something of a secret, considering it's never really busy!) and Stockwood's well-maintained walled garden.

There's also a very useful - and quite telling - survey of the quality of Luton's eating places in Luton, as part of www.foodscores.co.uk, a nationwide study of food hygeine. Christopher's school has a reassuring four stars...

Finally, Beth's been taking part of a 'mix tape' arrangement with some other internet folk; some of the CDs she's received have not had tracklistings, and it's sometimes hard to make out the lyrics, so I can type them into Google and work out a song's title and artist. Enter Tunatics, though, a frighteningly accurate piece of software that you run, hold a microphone up to the speaker, and it analyses the tune, comparing it to its database. I was most impressed, and will be installing Tunalyzer (wow! An application that's been written for Mac first!) this evening.

There y'go... plenty to be playing with. As for the next couple of days? Trev and I are hoping to do some recording tonight, too, so another North South Divide will be on its way soon.. and from what I've already read, it promises to be quite the amusing podcast. I'm off work until Sunday, so with any luck, I'll get some decent studio time between now and then.

Posted by james at 6:48 PM

Sunday, 6 May 2007

rock and roll deafness...

Last night, we went out for the first Saturday night out in Luton in what must be years.The Live Room, at Charlie Browns Nightclub, is just North of the railway station in Luton, and claims to be Luton's first industry-standard live 'venue' - certainly in over a decade!

Three bands were performing live - two local acts, and the splendid Bluetones.

First up were Toy Drum, a melodic indie band, who performed some catchy tunes, although some of us thought they were very similar to each other. () From their flyer, they offer "free transport to non-Luton gigs" which sounds like a good idea, certainly for a less established band.

Next, came The Suspects, who, quite apart from the very passable songs they sang (), had the strangest performing layout I'd ever seen. Although the drummer was at the back, the two guitarists stood either side of the front of the stage, alternating vocals between them, leaving 'pole position' to the bassist (with no microphone) who spent much of his time looking at his instrument, as did we. They all seemed a bit, well, off their collective faces, too, which didn't help with the distraction.

Anyway, as the temperature gradually rose in the building, despite large fans suspended from the roof, the main act for the evening finally arrived - Mark Morriss, with his genial stage presence and his small gathering of skilled musicians, performed some classic songs () - much like Crowded House, you'd be surprised how many you recognise - and a few of the more recent singles, which are excellent songs despite their lack of chart success.

The stage was small, and the venue fairly intimate, but the music for the whole evening was very, very loud. Maybe it's my age, or maybe it's that I am very keen to maintain the use of my ears for work and leisure, but the fact they're still ringing twenty-four hours later should remind me to bring ear-plugs next time. It does raise the question 'why does it have to be at such a high volume?' but when a thirty-five year old asks that, more often than not, a comment might be made about his age...

A few cameraphone pictures of the gig:

Toy Drum at The Live Room, Luton
Toy Drum
The Suspects at The Live Room, Luton
The Suspects
The Bluetones at The Live Room, Luton
The Bluetones
(click for slightly bigger)

There's only one other event I'd very much like to attend in the near future (save for some live comedy - there seem to be comedy nights popping up all over the place these days!), and that's the remarkable sounding Radioworks exhibition, which takes place under London by (all accounts) and I would be very disappointed to miss!

Posted by james at 9:26 PM

Thursday, 3 May 2007

lettuce, elections and Flash...

My first garden produce!I really ought to post more often.. despite working three (soon to be four, tomorrow) seven o'clock starts there's been plenty going on.

This evening, for example, I picked the first produce of the garden - I washed it carefully, and had some tasty lettuce with my (otherwise quite processed!) tea.

Finally, the carrots are starting to pop out of the ground, their spindly leaves showing that at least a few have made it! I was worried for a while that the greedy blackbirds who make short work of the treats on our small bird table had eaten them (as I have the suspicion that they have nibbled the sunflower seeds on the right... there are a couple of shoots, but I've planted more this evening, having stocked up the table with wild bird food!)

It was polling day today, too, although I understand there were some logistical issues; since there is a move away from using schools as polling stations, many of the newly designated venues weren't aware that they were to be used until a couple of days before the event. I also heard that one school had set aside an area to be used, only to discover that they were no longer required! We're electing who, now?

On other matters, during a less-than-inspired evening in the studio earlier this week, I continued my search for a Flash-based shoutcast stream player, much like the XSPF web music player that I've used on this blog from time to time, except handy for such delights as Image FM and many others (well, for as long as they'll last.. see here [thanks, Em] for a broadcaster's perspective on what the money-grabbing 'music' industry is doing to a service which could actually benefit them.. don't get me started!)

Anyway, Draftlight's Minicaster looks good, and is free! However, I couldn't actually get it to work on my Shoutcast stream. Something to play with during a dull moment, I guess.

I would also really like to think about creating a content management system that I can use to upload my music. It should, in theory, be really simple, since I'm putting practically the same thing in every time, but there doesn't seem to be much else out there, apart from the established sites which limit the number of my songs that can appear in one go (some of which don't quite comply with their terms of use, either..)

I'm definitely a fan of the use of Flash as a media player, though - Sky News, for example, seems more 'reactive' than the BBC's news website, because you don't have to wait for a painful Realplayer plug-in to load (or install it at all, which would be even better!), since its videos are - with YouTube as another obvious example - encoded into a high-quality Flash movie right there on their website. There are tools out there - why can't people use them?

Posted by james at 9:33 PM

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