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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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Saturday, 29 September 2007

moblog : 29-09-2007 at 19:32

We're enjoying our first afternoon with Amelie - our third niece - in the depths of Didcotshire. Pete, Lisa, their little'uns and Mother are here, too, so it's something of a party!
Here's a photo of me pretending to look competent with a four day old baby!

moblog image

Posted by james at 7:32 PM

How to moblog with Movable Type on a Mac ... maybe! (Techie)

Well, I think I've finally done it. It's possible - in the UK - to write a blog entry via text message (or MMS for entries with pictures)! if you're using Apple Mail and the free Movable Type blogging tool. Here's how...

  • Send an email containing the blog entry (as an MMS) to an unused POP3 account with the blog entry. You'll need this so you can create an Apple Mail rule to process emails only to that account (it's the easiest way to do it. You can, I guess, modify the rule so it's looking for something like "moblog:" in the message body, though).

  • If you just to use an SMS, I can heartily recommend aql.com - you can text +44 7766 404142 with an email address followed a message, and it'll send it on for the price of a standard text.

  • Next, a bit of Applescript needs to be written to extract the message from the email, and save attachments. Here's my script that does that, based on one I found by Luke Jaeger. The most important bits are:
    set OutputFolder to "Macintosh HD:Users:james:moblog:cache:"
    set this_file to "Macintosh HD:Users:james:moblog:cache:message.txt"
    since these are the locations the shell script will be looking in to sort out the blog entry and pictures, and
    do shell script "/Users/james/moblog/moblog.sh"
    which is the location of the shell script that sorts out the blog publishing. text version here

  • So next, it's shell script time. I created a directory called moblog in /Users/james, and a subdirectory within it called cache in which to put the working files. Then I created a shell script, which also needs to tidy up the text, since it seems to be in UTF format (arrgh!), so it needs an awk script to help with that.
  • Finally, you'll need to put a copy of mtsend.py, a very useful bit of python script by Scott Yang, in the moblog directory, since it's referred to by the shell script. So that everything's nice and tidy, I put the mtsendrc configuration file in the moblog directory as the rest of the scripts.

  • Finally, you'll need to make a message rule in Apple Mail to run the SaveMailAttachmentsToMoblogCache script... and with any luck, it'll work.

There's no doubt that this is a horrendously convoluted way of posting Movable Type; I guess I could use something like Fetchmail to avoid having to use the terrifying Applescript (never again if I can help it! It makes very little sense, and any bit of mis-coding it encounters will doubtless crash the application you're trying to run it on...)

Posted by james at 10:20 AM

Friday, 28 September 2007

moblog : 28-09-2007 at 15:55

My first attempt at a fully automatic moblog.. autumn is certainly here, as I wander home with Chris. Wind and rain, with frost expected at the weekend. Reassuringly British. So are roadworks! Here's the current view from the Vauxhall Way bridge.. easy to suffer 'cone blindness' attempting to navigate it, especially since there are no reliable road markings!

Enough from me.. I hope this publishes, through the miracles of Applescript, shellscript and Python!

moblog image

Posted by james at 3:55 PM

Radio 1 cart player...

I'll be honest, I'm probably finding this just a bit too much fun...


It's one of the many little features on the BBC Radio 1 (and others) website to celebrate their 40th birthday.

(I especially like the noises it makes - just like a real Sonifex - and the fact that you have to fast-forward to the beginning to start it again, even if you'd removed the cart.. nice touch!) Cartplayers are still very much beloved by 'traditional' radio fans, despite not sounding nearly as clear as digital.. I'll not go into details about the DJ who wanted to bring his cartplayers to the new studios when the station moved a couple of years ago..!

Posted by james at 12:34 PM

Thursday, 27 September 2007

2007 St Albans Beer Festival

It's been a little while since I met up for a drink with my friend Percy, whom I first encountered in the mailing list of the inimitable whatshouldiputonthefence.com, so when the opportunity arose to meet up at the St. Albans Beer Festival - since I'd never been to one before - I was sure to take it.

Many of my friends had attended festivals big and small, so I had some idea of what to expect, but when I arrived in the main hall, having negotiated the merchandising stands, it was a lot more straightforward then I'd imagined. Essentially, there were two large rows of kegs (is that the correct term?) stacked three high; one stretching across the main floor, and the other on a raised stage. For our £2.50 entrance fee, we received a complimentary programme, which contained lots of adverts and a list of the beers available.

Over the next couple of hours, we sampled a small selection of the beers based on whim, the interestingness of the name and places that we know. We had half-pints of:
Percy and me at the 2007 St. Albans Beer Festival

  • Percy : Apley - Bridgenorth (a tasty, mild beer)
  • james : Brandon Royal Ginger (tinged with a wonderful ginger flavour)

  • Percy : Daleside - Duff Blonde (almost tasteless! Duff by name?)
  • james : Church End - P Reg (another mild beer - nicer than the Duff!)

  • Percy : Mighty Oak - Mauldon Gold (a generally pleasant session beer)
  • james : Dark Star - Autumn Equinox (hoppy.. tasty, with a little backbite)

  • Percy : Alehouse St. Albans - Simplicity (Percy's favourite of the night - lemongrass aroma.. mmm!)
  • james : Butlers - Butlers Oxfordshire Bitter (Another fruity bitter - nearly as nice!)

  • Percy : Otley - O1 HD (From a pub in Pontypridd, where Tom Jones used to drink, apparently)
  • james : White - White Gold (From a brewery in Bexhill-on-sea. I'd not realised there was one!)

  • Percy : Alehouse St. Albans - Nine Above Zero (strong, strong beer with a deep bitter taste)
  • james : Garton - Chocolate Frog (dark opaque, chocolately, strong.. a fine way to end the evening!)
  • I made it home - late to bed for work today(!) but I made it in, reassured that despite being Thursday, I'm not working tomorrow, because of the interview on Monday. Speaking of which, I will be hearing whether I got the job on the 5th of October... a little while to wait, but in the mean time, I suppose it's business as usual. Well - not for the next four days, since I've got a long weekend off!

    Posted by james at 10:48 PM

    Wednesday, 26 September 2007

    geocaching in Luton..

    The children after hiding our geocacheThere are a few little secret hiding places around Luton, containing tupperware boxes, (in theory) only able to be found by means of a GPS system..

    Chris and I really want to do this one, since it's right in the heart of Luton and only a short walk from town (although we must remain covert, so as not to attract the interest of geomuggles...) I do wonder if using Google Maps is cheating, though!

    Anyway, we have finally added ourselves to the ranks of geocache concealers, with Crawley's Revenge. It's certainly not a mature cache yet (we're going to have to pop back soon to change the biro for a pencil, for example) but it's already been found twice since we hid it at the weekend.

    On the subject of which, I have to confess to being something of a fraud. That 'moblog' was, indeed, created and sent from my mobile phone, but it was a manual task, when I got home, to copy it from an email that arrived on my Mac into a blog entry and upload it on this occasion.

    I'm sure you know me well enough to realise that that's not quite good enough. Which is why I've started work on an automatic process. I'll say little more until I've finished it, save to give my reaction to the 'English-like' language system of Applescript, being as it is the most appropriate means to export information from Mail. After about three hours - over a couple of evenings -of creating a script that managed to display a dialog box and then crash Mail, I was about to give up. Suffice it to say I finally managed to bodge some sample scripts together that seemed to do the job, and will be doing the rest using good ol' shell script...

    Finally, welcome to the world, Miss Amelie Hart! Cath gave birth at 2.17 this morning, to a healthy baby girl (7lb 4oz) and both are doing very well. We'll hopefully be able to go and see them all in the next couple of weeks. What are the chances? All four of us now have a son and a daughter!

    Posted by james at 4:36 PM

    Monday, 24 September 2007


    Well, the interview went OK. I certainly didn't crash and burn, and I think I answered all the questions until they asked (begged?) me to stop! I won't find out for a couple of weeks, though, since one of the candidates is on holiday. So, I'll just continue doing the job I'm doing until I'm told either to continue or desist.

    To lighten the mood, here is a small selection of British road systems with which one can terrify overseas visitors. If you have any further suggestions, please drop me an email or comment!

    road systems we know and love

    The Magic Roundabout - Swindon's original 'magic roundabout', built in 1972 to confuse residents and visitors alike. (Wikipedia page)

    The Plough Roundabout - Hemel Hempstead's beautiful gyratory of doom, built in 1973. The great thing is you can go both ways round the lush green island in the middle. (Wikipedia page)

    The Gravelly Hill Interchange - Junction 6 of the M6. It's my idea of a fun road. That said, I think I went on it last week on the way home from Birmingham, and, although beautiful, it wasn't at all frightening the way I did it. (Wikipedia page)

    Posted by james at 9:21 PM

    Monday morning...

    I have to say, despite an accident on the M1 this morning, and circumstances conspiring to require that my interview be postponed (fortunately only until 3pm today - otherwise there wouldn't have been any point in coming in!) it could have been a lot worse. I remember being roused from my dozing by the tumultuous rain as it struck the top and sides of the stationary coach - quite a storm, as the reports would have it.

    On other matters, Beth has just told me of some good news for mobile phone users.. I think I have nearly ten phone connection cables already, and I don't want any more! My mac has a mini-USB cable plugged into it all the time, and Beth likes to use it to charge her Motorola Razr. Meanwhile, I have at least three different Nokia chargers to decide between..!

    Posted by james at 11:33 AM

    Sunday, 23 September 2007

    moblog : the new playpark in People's Park

    There we were, thinking Memorial Park was Luton's greatest secret.. this is new and appeals to all ages. With the wooded area up the hill (where we have hidden our first ever geocache - more on that soon, no doubt) -a wonderful place to spend a warm Sunday afternoon. We'll definitely be back.

    this blog entry was created on my mobile phone and sent through the miracle of wireless communication...

    Posted by james at 3:34 PM

    DAVE! (and angels)

    Eleanor as an angelSomebody clearly shares my sense of humour. UK Gold 2, which tends to rerun episodes of Men Behaving Badly and Only Fools and Horses - and some more recent, entertaining comedy, too, was rebranded as UKG2, UK G2 (with a space) and is now UKTV G2. I'm sure you see the pattern.

    Another renaming is on its way, though. What would I call a TV channel if I had the choice? Probably something like Dave, I suppose. Well done, Flextech, you have appealed to my sensibilities!

    Scarlet Cross of Christians with a sense of humourOn other matters, I've recently been made aware of Richard Dawkins's campaign to unite the athiests of this world with his "Out" campaign. I saw a retort that it might be a bit like herding cats, which I can believe! I'm a Christian, but I've never really wanted to put a logo on my blog; not least because the web is terrifyingly full of what I consider to be rather embarrassing shows of sentimentality, unargued dogma and terrifying humourlessness. Until now. It's only a bit of light-hearted photoshoppery, but I kinda like it.

    There I am saying all this, but Lenni looked a picture today for the celebration of Michaelmas at church! I definitely tread the middle ground of tradition, myth and modernity, and that's the way I like it.

    We're off to the park now, to enjoy some wonderfully fresh air considering it's now autumn. Then all too soon, the week will begin again.

    Posted by james at 12:51 PM

    Saturday, 22 September 2007

    busy weeks and shiny web links..

    It's been another busy week at work so far; it's hard to concentrate on anything else, although I've agreed to work on a separate project which will certainly challenge me! On the face of it, it is quite a simple proposition - devise a method to install some specialist software on a standard build of server. The twist is that the server has Red Hat Enterprise Linux on it, and I've not had a great deal of experience of customizing installs.

    The developer of the software has given me some very useful tips to getting started, so as long as I can devote some time to it (and with plenty of looking on Google!) I think it'll be possible. Something to do instead of pootling around on Facebook in the evening!

    I don't believe I linked to the rather marvellous secret Google Earth Flight Simulator that Trev mentioned on his blog a couple of days ago. I have also become aware of the next big thing to follow Flash - Microsoft's Silverlight . I've not tried it yet, but apparently it's capable of much greater quality video and - as something of a departure from their recent outings (Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Maps only work on Windows and Internet Explorer) - it's intended to be platform independent, even to mobile phones.

    So.. what else? Oh yes.. last week I went to Birmingham for a day of software testing and server tweaking. Normally I suffer the disappointing peformance of the UK's train service, but I gave hiring a car for the day a go on this occasion. It's quite convenient, since the airport's car hire centre is only ten minutes walk away. However, the delays on the roads out of Luton and into Birmingham, the parking charges and the fact that I couldn't do anything except listen to podcasts during the journey were enough to persuade me to return to the a customary delays in Leicester for my trip up there on Tuesday.

    I also have a job interview on Monday - for the job I've been doing for the past three months as a temporary attachment. Apparently there are five of us vying for three positions, so it might be quite competitive, but as long as I approach it in the right way, it should be fairly straightforward. The only slight crinkle is that the position I filled previously has now been 'moved' to another department, so I have no idea what I'd do if I didn't get the job. Probably the same sort of thing, just not in an official capacity!

    Links of the day:

    • www.stoppedclocks.com : from the people that brought you www.werenotafraid.com comes a website celebrating - unusually (but isn't that what the internet's about) - stopped clocks.
    • developers.facebook.com : With Facebook growing beyond all belief, it's good to know that creative folks can contribute to making it more interesting. That said, considering the number of application requests I get sent (and end up ignoring) now - it could be almost intolerable if the site becomes awash with half-written apps.. I suppose we'll have to see how it goes...

    Posted by james at 5:17 PM

    Tuesday, 18 September 2007

    First day at school...

    Chris and Lenni, ready for school!We now have two students in our family! It was Lenni's first day at school today, and she has been very, very excited about it for weeks. It certainly was no disappointment, either - when she left at quarter to twelve (a short day for the new starters) she was very excited and keen to return tomorrow.

    It's at times like these that I'm glad I have Mondays off, since it means I can walk the children to and from school, and be part of their schooldays as well as the weekends and holidays.

    Of course, there's always the worries about whether the school is 'good enough' for the children (in terms of teaching and the behaviour of fellow pupils) but both Chris and Lenni are enjoying their lives as pupils, so I'm fairly upbeat at the moment. It's choosing the right secondary school (is there one in Luton?) that's the tricky bit.. and it comes round so soon!

    Posted by james at 9:19 PM

    Monday, 17 September 2007

    Our holiday in County Durham...

    Finally.. a brief account of our holiday, not least so I can remember what happened!

    We took a leisurely drive up along the M1, then onto the M18 to join the A1(M). We popped in to see Trev and his two daughters � it�s always great to see the children getting on so well. Despite our holiday destination being only 50 miles south of where it was last year, it made quite a difference to the journey time; once we left the A1, it was a short drive � the satnav taking us through a beautiful North Yorkshire village called Richmond, which sat on a winding hill road offering amazing views of the Pennines � to our holiday cottage near Cleatlam.

    Strathmore BarnsWe arrived at a small cluster of converted barns on what turned out to be a working farm. The barns had been completely refurbished by the farm owner; each of the four holiday cottages had a photo album documenting the vast project which was certainly a labour of love. The accommodation was very comfortable, and Christopher was very pleased to have the four-poster bed (despite the princess-like state of it, we were a little concerned that Lenni might get a little lost and ultimately fall out � she ended up having her pick of the twin beds in the next-door room). They both loved the bubbly bath, though � it had a jacuzzi setting, which caused the bubble-bath to foam up almost over their heads!

    In fact, the cottage was wonderfully equipped throughout � it was just a shame about the smell from the bulls who lived in the shed behind the barn and the rather ingenious wood/paper burning heating system and the flies (which seem to be fairly usual for this time of year) which meant we couldn't really open the windows.We can�t fault the helpfulness of the owners, who lived next-door, though � they did so much to make our stay as pleasant as it could be.

    Sunday was a gentle start for us � our main objective was to make it to a supermarket to stock up with food. The nearest (in Barnard Castle) was a Morrisons � it had the town�s only car-park which had rather exorbitant parking prices for a Sunday. The town itself was rather unremarkable � it was only as an afterthought before we attempted the supermarket that we headed toward the castle itself. I�m really glad we did, though � while Beth did the shopping, I took the children for a play around the castle�s outer walls (the prices to go in were, once again, a little high) and then we wandered down the hill to the river walk, enjoying the sight of the river Tees as it rushed over the rocks as it flowed through the valley. There was a folk festival nearby over the Bank Holiday weekend, but unfortunately we didn�t have the opportunity to visit it.

    On Monday, we had some friends over for lunch; the children spent some time playing in the small play-area at the front of the barns. Unfortunately, our barn was the only one without a direct line of site to where they were playing, but I�m always happy to keep an eye on them while they have a run around. Funnily enough, two of our three neighbours were also from Luton � what are the chances of that? They came up together and shared the larger of the barn complexes, which had the option either of remaining separate, or could be merged by opening an adjoining door. No chance of getting away from Luton, eh?

    We took a trip northwards early(ish!) on Tuesday, hoping to make it to Ikea so we could have a wander around and enjoy their bargain 99p breakfast (I�ve still not tried the meatballs yet, though!). We arrived a little before the store opened, though, so we took a bit of a meander around part of the immense Metro Centre while we waited. Beth�s very keen to come back (without the children so she can have a meander!)

    Penshaw MonumentAfter the (mainly window-shopping!) retail therapy, we drove over to the Penshaw monument to see if we could fly some kites that the children had coloured in from the top of the hill. We couldn�t believe it, though � there was next-to no breeze at all! Still, they enjoyed the amazing view (with a wind-farm to the north and countryside all around) and when we descended, we visited the playground at Herrington Country Park where we knew the children would have a wonderful time, since they so vigorously cavorted around it last time! The weather held out � in fact, it was positively warm, and I don�t think we could have picked a better day to be outside!

    Somewhat ironically, we then took a trip toward the coast, to enjoy our second visit to Funshack. The children have always enjoyed indoor play areas, and this one was no exception; the food was quite good value, too. Regardless of whether we were indoors or out, they slept well that night!

    On Wednesday, we took another trip north-east to visit the remarkable Beamish museum with our friends who lived nearby. It truly was a world away from the hectic modern age, especially when were were able to participate in a tour of one of the drift mines there. I think the older I get, the more I feel the need to preserve these memories of Britain�s past, be they in museums, battle re-enactments or just stories from those who have lived through the wars, since I believe they risk the same extinction as any endangered creature, and to be without them would mean we would be missing out on the richness of our past..

    The children loved to run around, experience the sights and smells and unusual domestic arrangements (although some of the houses from 1913 reminded me of my Grandad�s home in Portsmouth) and � as you�ll see from the gallery � we managed to capture some fine memories.

    Lenni with a falconOur main intention for Thursday was to go to Thorpe Farm � it was quite a cool morning when we set off, and, since it was only about 15 minutes away, we arrived soon after it had opened for the day. We�d been to our local farm (Woodside � where the prices have unfortunately increased substantially) several times, and were used to its compactness and organisation, so when we saw the huge expanse of farm estate that greeted us when we arrived, it was a little daunting. However, as the morning wore on, the sun came out and the children really enjoyed everything that there was to do there (except, perhaps, for stroking the bunnies, who weren�t really in the mood for it that day!) We loved the falconry display � I recall now that as a boy, I really loved peregrine falcons because of their amazing hunting abilities, and speed of flight. If you get the chance to see falconry, it�s definitely well worth it for the �whoosh� as the bird swoops down overhead to get the swinging lure�

    Normally, when I'm on holiday, I like to take a walk in the evening, but I think it might have been the driving that had taken its toll during the other days, since it was only on Thursday evening that I felt like taking a walk. I was on the hunt for a geocache just outside the grounds of Raby Castle. I found the correct location, but couldn't find the geocache, which was most frustrating! It was starting to get dark, so I made the two-and-a-half mile walk back to the house with a tinge of disappointment, but feeling much more healthy for it!

    We were going to go swimming on Friday morning, but we couldn�t find the pool in Aycliffe (despite some instructions from a man at the community centre where we ended up) so we opted for a trip to the seaside. Our town of choice was Seaham, since we knew there was a beach there, and, wearing our �mock crocs� we paddled and drew in the sand, and generally had a lovely time.

    We took one more trip to our friends� in the afternoon, and visited the Riverside Park, near Chester-le-Street. Once again, it was a warm (if breezy) day, so plenty of opportunity for the children to get exercise - in this sense, we've been generally very lucky with our holidays over the past couple of years!

    We had done most of the packing on Friday evening, while the finale of Big Brother played itself out (a television choice made since it wasn't too much of a distraction!) and on Saturday morning, we left earlyish and drove home. We had encountered a traffic jam on the way there, but - once I'd worked out how to do it without ending up just one junction closer to the congestion - the satnav helped us out! The trip back was much easier, though, and by mid afternoon we were having a cup of tea at Beth's folks, our holiday done and dusted for another year.

    Posted by james at 2:25 PM

    Sunday, 2 September 2007

    summer holiday...

    Wow.. what a week! I'm going to find it hard to chronicle the holiday, but I'll probably try and write something tomorrow.

    For now, though, there's a selection of holiday photos in the gallery.

    Posted by james at 10:11 PM

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