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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, 30 July 2007

Disappearing from the airwaves...

Beth had left the free Luton On Sunday open on a middle page for me to look at yesterday, while I was checking my emails; co-incidentally, I found a recent comment posted on an blog entry from 2005...

The story goes that some people took offence at comments made during a phone call on the occasionally (and - I might say - refreshingly) risqu� Ern and Vern Saturday show, and the show has been suspended for the summer. Of course, the BBC is paying close attention to its output at the moment, but I do worry that the politically correct brigade is not only misrepresenting the BBC but causing such summary action.

The anonymous commenter suggests:

Please register your desire to reinstate Ern and Vern by either sending your support by way of email petition to:


and/or writing to the Station Editor at BBC 3CR (address on BBC website) and Tim Bishop, Head of Regions at BBC Norfolk.

Although - with any luck - the show will return, I think I probably will write a letter, if only to make the point that there are people who like a bit of adventurous entertainment as a break from the blandness that seems to pervade local radio.

Posted by james at 7:03 PM

waiting and TVs..

It looks like the 'steady state' of this blog is a weekly update of what's going on in the family. I tend to document the minutiae of life with Twitter, since it only takes a couple of lines, but I do keep forgetting to link to the more interesting websites I encounter.

The week's been a fairly busy one - Belfor made their final visit, to clear out the carpet from the studio and remove all the beyond-economical-repair items (mercifully few, to be honest, but without PC monitors and a mixer, and with the furniture moved to one side of the room, my studio activities remain somewhat limited). Now we wait for Crawfords to co-ordinate the reconstruction work and supply the money to replace the carpets and flood-damaged items. Considering this happened shortly before all the floods hit west of here, I can imagine we're part of a long list of administrative tasks...

The roadworks around here are continuing apace - I found a very interesting link to a M1 project page with a photo gallery of the bridge demolition works. I would have loved to have seen it at close quarters, but a brief drive around last Saturday evening didn't really afford a decent view, so I'm glad of a chance to see what went on. Ironically, the main delays in my coach journeys to and from London are being caused by congestion in the heart of London - although the motorway can be slow at rush-hour, I sometimes have to wait 45 minutes for the coach to arrive at the bus stop, by which time the traffic on the M1 is at least a little lighter.

Lenni and Chris playing Bejeweld 2 on the the new TVSince the speakers stopped working on the TV in the lounge, we've been looking out for a fairly economical new television. Beth discovered something of a bargain on the Ebuyer website - a 37 inch flat screen television for £400 - comparing that with over £1500 for an equivalent Sony product, it's a good deal. Having read up a little about high definition TV, it seems that 720p (720 visible lines) is fairly good quality - not quite at the standard of 1080p, but the picture's good when - for example - I play an HD AVI from my laptop through the VGA input. Christopher and Lenni love to play computer games together on this giant monitor, too! (see the photo to the right)...

It's been a bit of a TV content-fest of late, in fact - I received an email inviting me to try out Joost on Friday, and finally managed to reach the end of the queue for the BBC iPlayer beta yesterday. Despite being 'on-demand' TV services, they work in different ways - Joost requires to you watch the TV using an application on your computer, while iPlayer actually downloads the shows and uses Windows Media Player (either on a PC or a portable media player that supports that kind of licencing, I believe) to play them. The quality's about the same on both, though, and the range of shows is - of course - limited to the content that's available on each service (with no noticeable crossover).

I'm wondering what it would look like played onto the big TV - to be honest, being a Virgin Media subscriber, and having access to their on-demand services, the appeal is quite limited to me.

In fact, I was musing upon the whole idea of 'downloadable media', especially in terms of podcasts - the audio medium on which anyone can create and publish content; in short I believe there'll always be a place for conventional "switch it on and see what's playing" radio, since too much choice can be a little overwhelming. More on this in another blog entry, I'm sure.

Links of the day:

Posted by james at 6:42 PM

Saturday, 21 July 2007

results and catch-ups...

Just a quicky for Saturday morning - it's the end of a fairly productive week, although there have been the usual frustrations at work (my current challenge is not to be the path of least resistance, but be able to prescribe a straightforward process to get things done... easier said than done with a large organisation!)

I'm rather confused.. I was sure I had mentioned Supercook's Bake in a Box cake. It's about £2 to buy, but it has a "try me free" label on the sleeve; all you have to do is send it off (once you've cooked and eaten the cake.. it's kind-of critical to the integrity of it!) The one we chose was quite tasty, but resembled more of a muffin than a cake. We all devoured it quite quickly (it's supposed to serve 12, but it was quite crumbly, to be honest, so we all had a reasonably sized lump each).

Anyway, the cheque for £1.79 arrived yesterday, so once we've paid it in, the cake will have been free!

I definitely wrote a piece in a blog entry about the selling of a fairly important bit of radio spectrum. Number 10 have responded, and have issued a fairly unspecific response - mainly that they will appoint an agency(?) to oversee the allocations. I only hope whoever it is has a sensible head on their shoulders.

A quick update on the flood clear-up. Once again, the rain has fallen and I'm sure the recovery companies are rushed off their feet. Take, for example, the company that hired out the drying equpment - we first requested its removal two days ago, but they've been unable to send anyone. Hopefully it'll be gone this morning.. otherwise it'll have to be moved to the studio.

Monday brings the building repair agents... hopefully they'll make a list of the reconstruction work that needs doing, and shortly after that get on with it; we're also getting a call from our man at Belfor to assess the Beyond Economical Repair things. The work to remove the asbestos is taking place on the 10th August, We're expecting a mandate for the carpets soon - we're a little concerned that it's not quite enough to cover fitting... I guess I just didn't ask enough questions while the man was here.

We've got friends coming to visit today, so I'd better get this uploaded and make a start on tidying Christopher's room with him. Have a good weekend!

Posted by james at 9:00 AM

Wednesday, 18 July 2007


A little bit of light relief, I think...

I never tire of telling my colleagues about The Big L - a most unusual radio station I've mentioned at length in previous blog entries. Well, some of their number have made a song and video, and it can be seen here: www.youtube.com/profile?user=TurnOnThePirates.

I really have no idea what to make of it. Or quite a few other YouTube videos, for that matter. (I might add, these people are my colleagues...)

Posted by james at 2:10 PM

small voice... big internet.

It's been an odd day.. the main activity at work was to give one of the managers from World Service an introduction to the studio and playout systems we use, and it went very well indeed. It was very useful that he already had an insight into some of the kit, since it's being installed in the new studios next door.

Right in the middle of our conversation, though, I got a rather concerned call from Beth, saying that a man from Belfor wanted to speak to me, about something I wrote on my website. Good heavens!, I thought - what could have resulted from something I published from my little corner of the web? I have to say, as I waited for an opportunity to return the call, I was a little worried that I'd be speaking to the legal team about something I'd published... I'm not really used to getting feedback from folk I don't know!

I called the number she gave me, and had a very useful conversation with a gentleman called Warren, who wanted to discuss my experiences. The head office in the USA had encountered the previous blog entry, and he was asked to have a conversation about it with me. He explained that, since the floods in Yorkshire, Belfor have had ten times the volume of calls, which is unprecedented in their history, and has meant all staff have been working extremely hard to keep up with the demands on them. I explained that my writing tends to be a commentary on the situation as I see it, and certainly not meant as a complaint against Belfor..

Still, the drying equipment appears to have done its job, and is waiting to be collected - that, save for co-ordinating the rest of the work - will probably complete Belfor's involvement. Hopefully the communications will stay open, though - I'm still waiting for a call from the asbestos removal people - strictly speaking, nobody's allowed into the studio until the door's been sorted, which could cause further problems.

Furthermore, Crawfords - the loss adjustors - have said they've requested a list of 'beyond economic repair' items from Belfor... nobody's been to our house to check them, yet... especially the studio. I shall chase this up this afternoon.

With Nationwide, Crawfords and Belfor all being involved at various stages, it's hard to keep track of who's responsible for organising what! With any luck, though, things shouldn't fall through the cracks, and life will be able to get back to normal soon. Throughout this, I certainly acknowledge that we're much better off than so many others, who aren't even able to return to their homes yet!

Posted by james at 1:53 PM

Monday, 16 July 2007

carpet, energy and mysterious flowers..

carpet, right?We had a visit from the carpet assessor this morning - the next stage in the 'flood recovery project'. It's a long, slow process, with plenty more visits from plenty more people still to come! He measured up the various areas that require more carpet - under other circumstances he'd determine whether the carpet could be cleaned, but since much of it had already been removed, this wasn't an issue.

He now has to contact the insurance company to confirm that the claim can go ahead (I expressed surprise that it hadn't already, but apparently it's fairly 'normal') and then we'll get a mandate through the post that'll enable us to use a selection of carpet vendors to supply and fit the replacement carpets.

My main area of concern is still the studio, though - despite several calls to Belfor, there has still not been any proper drying equipment in there. They've not sent a technician out to move the existing kit since the 'all-clear' was given about the asbestos in the ceiling. Once again, I'm expecting a call back this afternoon. I won't hold my breath.

It's not a sunflower.. so what is it?Onto other matters. I mentioned in passing the strange goings-on in the sunflower patch during a previous entry; when we dropped the children off at Beth's folks', Beth's Mum showed me an almost identical plant that had grown in their garden. Guess what - it was also just below a bird feeder! So my suspicion is well-founded: the wild mustard flowers are what resulted from birdseed being kicked off the birdhouse!

Suffice it to say, they've now been dug up and replaced with peas (once again, courtesy of the Alternative Kitchen Garden!)... I'm hoping the right amount of sun and rain will give them a fighting chance against the birds and slugs!

(click the picture for a larger version)

Finally, for the time being.. I was having a conversation with someone yesterday about fuel cells being used to replace conventional central heating systems. I first heard about it a couple of years ago, and I'm surprised that - despite some extensive searching - there aren't any systems generally available yet.

Orbo LogoOn a similar topic, nearly a year ago I mentioned Steorn's public announcement of their new energy generation (conversion?) systems. Orbo seems to make at least some sense, and - with their very public approach to development, it might satisfy those conspiracy theorists who claim that oil companies can - and do - silence those who suggest alternatives.

Despite the looming threat of global warming, I'm hoping for a brighter, more environmentally sound future.

Posted by james at 3:10 PM

Sunday, 15 July 2007

still here, but I need to get out (in the garden) more..!

It's been a fairly straightforward week, really - so I've not had much to write in this ol' blog. On Thursday I took a trip to Birmingham, to visit the team up there. I really like the environment, and they're a very friendly bunch - oh, and the bits and bobs I wanted to work through with them went quite well. All-in-all a worthwhile trip, despite the usual unreliability of the trains!

Colourful gardenWith all the rain we've been having (this afternoon's thunderstorm has recently passed overhead and is making its way northwards) and the occasional sunshine inbetween, the garden is really thriving. The colours are wonderful, especially the striking orange of the nasturtiums and the bright green of the carrots. I keep popping outdoors to clear the weeds away - oh, and on Friday evening I had a good hack at the hedge at the front, since the unidentifiable plant that grows within it had sprouted high above the top, and was looking very untidy. Two brown bins full later and I had at least cropped the worst bits off!

The rest of the evenings have been spent either noodling on my guitar (I'm using the H4's amplifier emulation, and struggling to make a decent noise) or playing on the Mac. I've installed Ubuntu on a PC at work, just to keep up-to-date with the latest developments of Linux (oh, and maybe play with the rather swiffy Beryl desktop manager thing. I'm very impressed with it, not least because it even looks good on a 2GHz Pentium 4 with 256 MB memory and a 64MB graphics card. Considering I've not managed to get even half of the Aero effects on Vista even on the latest PC we've bought, it just goes to show there are some really clever open source developers out there.

The same, I'm afraid, can't be said for me, though. Since VNC is painfully slow, I've been struggling with trying to open up a remote 'X Windows' session on my laptop, tunnelling through SSH. Xming seems to be the best way of doing it, but I'm struggling with the configuration over a proxy server.

Still, I could always make my current pointless activity even more convoluted. I can remote control a Windows XP session run inside VMWare Fusion on the mac, using Terminal Services tunnelled through PuTTY. It's really simple ... all you need to do is, on an SSH session to the mac, add an SSH tunnel on port 1999, to port 3389 on the home network address the virtual Windows session runs on... login on PuTTY, then open Terminal Services.. connect to localhost:1999 and it works a treat.

I really should get out more, shouldn't I? We had intended to go to Hyde Park for a game of rounders with some other internet sorts, but Beth didn't feel up to it, so we dropped the children at Beth's folks for the day and just pottered around, doing some shopping and generally relaxing. I drove out to Ashridge in the evening, to enjoy the peaceful natural surroundings and have a bit of a play on my guitar. With some field recordings I made out there and the spectacular sounds of the thunderstorm earlier, I've got a fair amount of audio to upload to the Freesound Project. Unfortunately their FTP server seems to be down at the moment, so it'll have to wait...

It's the last week at school and preschool for the little'uns tomorrow - we've also got the carpet people coming tomorrow to take a look at the requirements for the kitchen, hallway, landing and stairs. The drying equipment's still in, but we're not using it nearly as much now... hopefully they'll get round to returning my calls, but - as I mentioned before - there are a lot of people in much worse circumstances, so I'm not going to be too impatient. Another busy week ahead, then...

Posted by james at 8:00 PM

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Cassiobury Park

A brief entry tonight, since I'm all worn out after an afternoon at Cassiobury Park in Watford with the family and Cath, Martin and Luke.

We had a wonderful time, enjoying the forest area with its little rivulets, the playpark and the paddling pool. There's a scattering of photos - as always - in the gallery.

Chris, Lenni and Luke on a bench in Cassiobury Park

It's an amazing place - a hidden gem, really, considering it's so close to the town centre. Well worth a visit.

So.. another week is on the way.. and finally the rain has returned!

Posted by james at 8:23 PM

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

Some tall delphiniumsAs I mentioned in a previous blog entry, today was the day Mother and I went to the Royal Horticultural Society's Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

The whole day - which turned out to be wonderfully warm and sunny, though not overwhelmingly so - was a sensory overload of colour, scent and texture, with displays of familiar plants (though so many varieties!) and exotic show gardens.

After a short delay due to extremely busy trains and not finding each other at Clapham Junction, we met up at Hampton Court railway station shortly before midday, and caught the ferry along the Thames to where the show was being held. It was only about quarter of a mile, but it was perfect weather for a trip on the water! Once we had checked in and were settled, we sat down in the shade near the information kiosk for a quick picnic lunch, and then investigated the first of six or seven marquees on the site - the Festival of Roses.

That has definitely inspired me to try my hand at growing roses - perhaps in one of the beds towards the back of the garden (especially since what were supposed to be sunflowers turned out to be weeds! Thanks for the research, Liz!)

We then made our way past all the show gardens, many of which won awards, some of which were sponsored by wine producers and a couple of which made me wish we had a flat garden.. see the video below for one of my favourites!

This excellent Flash FLV player can be found at: www.jeroenwijering.com/?item=JW_FLV_Player

Incidentally, I'm hoping to create a slightly longer YouTube video with highlights from the trip and an audio commentry, but - as always - these things take time!

We weren't far from the floral marquees by that point, so we visited most of them, stopping outside for some fresh air on occasion (despite being out of the sun, it was still warm and humid inside the giant tents!) - there was a live band playing in one of the food areas, giving it something of a festival feel.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust standOne of the stands was rather unusual - it was dedicated to the plight of bumblebees, which I hadn't realised are facing extinction due to the loss of their native habitat, mainly in farming areas. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust was set up to raise awareness of the decline in a number of species of what should be fairly common bees.

The Daily Mail Darling Buds of May marquee was host to a strange and compelling selection of gardens, including an orchard with chickens (and pigs, I understand, but there weren't any there when we visited) and a Kent Oasthouse (which could be won in a competition, apparently).

After spending some time in the Heritage marquee, which displayed some of the more traditional 'breeds' of plants, and has the intention of keeping them available despite the immense number of more modern (and, it would appear, colourful and hardy - compare, for example, the heritage delphiniums with this year's prizewinning breeds) versions of the same flower, we walked back along the path flanking the marquees, past countless people ambling along in front of their their "Wheelieboxes", and taking in the amazing selection of garden-related products for sale.

These ranged from giant step-ladders, through hot-tubs and summerhouses to some terrifyingly huge and opulent statues... funnily enough, though, I still haven't seen a bird-bath!

A view of the Thames near Hampton Court PalaceOnce we had returned to the entrance - with plenty left unseen (for example the garden created by Alton Infant School) it was time to walk back along the bank of the river to the railway station, to catch the train home. Fortunately - after all that walking - we found seats this time!

All-in-all, it was a fantastic day out, and I'm very grateful to Emma for making it possible, and Mother for coming all the way to Surrey with me!

There are lots more pictures in my on-line photo gallery (including a few unusual ones I took at Vauxhall Station on my way there) - and the BBC Gardening website has some excellent interactive 3D tours of some of the gardens, too.

Posted by james at 11:58 PM

Friday, 6 July 2007

a week gone.. a weekend ahead..

It's been a very very busy week at work - I feel like I've achieve a few bits, though, which is something of a relief. A very strange aspect of the week has been the commute, though. Over the past few days, I've been arriving at work up to twenty minutes earlier than average (in fact, sometimes I don't get in until ten past eight!) but the journey home has been extended by upwards of half-an-hour. This may well simply be because they've narrowed the northbound traffic to three lanes between junctions nine and ten, but it goes to show how much a change like that can make!

More news about Luton that came plopping into pRSS Reader on my iPAQ earlier was that it seems that the runway extension project has been halted. BBC News reports it here, and it's interesting to see how London Luton Airport puts a positive spin on it.

In many ways, I'm quite pleased that the runway's not going to be replaced (funny... I thought it was only going ot be extended..?) since it will contribute in some small way to reducing the amount of aircraft pollution. However, how it might affect Luton's job market is another question.

I've been struggling all week with the rather excellent (in theory!) Make Your Mac an ISP guide. I've reached the stage of trying to install postfix, but it seems to be missing a library from somewhere. Unfortunately, the forum seems to be broken, so I can't even ask for help there... any Linux/BSD experts out there willing to give me a hand?

Still, I can forget about it for the weekend, since I'm off to the Hampton Court Flower Show with Mother tomorrow, having won tickets in a competition on the inspiring Alternative Kitchen Garden podcast. We're hoping to go to Cassiobury Park on Sunday afternoon - so I'm praying for the sunny(ish!) weekend that has been predicted.

No pictures or audio on this blog entry, I'm afraid.. I was going to post the first couple of 'jam' recordings I've made on my H4, but they're not terribly good. Practice makes perfect, though, eh? I've also done some work on a few sketches that might be featured in The North South Divide episode 8 (we've got number 7 pretty much laid out.. just need to get down to finishing the writing and recording it!) so it's not all been work, sleep and fiddling with the Mac!

(I got a text from Mary today saying that if you type Bexhill Colonnade into Google Images, Lenni and Chris turn up in the second photo! Now that is why the internet's cool.)

Posted by james at 9:43 PM

Monday, 2 July 2007

traffic, traffic, traffic..

Since it was launched, I've found the Highways Agency's Real Time Traffic Info service an indispensable help to warning me of problems on the motorways and main roads.

Over the past few months, there have been a small collection of new traffic reporting services emerging:

  • www.trafficradio.org.uk is a new DAB radio station provided by the Highways Agency, with live updates and long term information. A fair amount of it is pre-recorded audio (mentioning, for example, the M1 widening) but it's regionalised and - since it's the Highways Agency, I'm guessing it's accurate!

  • www.keepmoving.co.uk is a little more unusual, with eyewitness reports of jams and free text alerts for a user-editable commute.

Of course, with both of these one risks the same issues as listening to the travel reports on the radio - especially commercial stations from my experiences. Many radio travel services are subcontracted to third parties, such as AA Roadwatch and fifteen minute apart bulletins can't always keep track of the changes on the roads. It will be interesting to see how things go, though - I'll certainly report back on the text messages I get!

One more travel related link: www.transportdirect.info - I came across this by chance while looking for other sites. Its main selling point is that it can compare driving with public transport. I shall have to research that further!

Posted by james at 9:17 AM

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