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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, 31 October 2007

studio bits, workmen and colds...

Lots to catch up on - let's hope I can remember it. It's been quite a busy couple of weeks, with painters sorting out the ceiling and the hallway, and some more remedial work slowly helping the house return to a pleasant place to live. We've ordered the carpets - I only hope they arrive once the kitchen walls have been sorted out. Thinking of which, I ought to call Facilitas tomorrow...

I've also been rather extravagant in some terms, with a new mixing desk for the studio (I decided on the rather wonderful Yamaha 01X as the 'best fit' for my needs) which communicates digitally with most sequencing and music creation software. A slight crinkle in the plan was that the maximum length of a firewire cable is about 4 metres, so it would require a substantial move of the furniture to enable a cable to run to the PC's postition under the stairs.

As a result, I thought to update the processing power of my studio computer, so I've invested in the bits to make a 'silent PC' - ebuyer had a quad core processor and a rather smart-looking motherboard, which fits quite nicely inside an Antec 'silent' case. All the bits arrived on Tuesday.. except the mainboard. I called to ask where it was and they eventually admitted they'd lost it in one of the warehouses! Fortunately, they had another, so they sent it on for 'next-day' delivery, and I managed to spend an evening getting that all up and running. It's lovely and quiet, although I don't think I can believe the temperature report in the system monitoring software.. the CPU's not gone above 30 degrees C. Maybe the rather impressive Scythe Ninja heatsink is working rather well!

There is an awful lot of work to do to sort the studio out - it's been used as a storeroom and generally neglected while the floor was left uncovered; I've made a brief list before (I think):

  • Sort the curtains out; there is a set of long, old, green curtains hanging up at the moment that could do with replacing with some fabric retained from that which went on the wall
  • Tidy up the door; I'm really keen to get a slab of profile foam (or at least bits to make up 186cm x 76cm) and then cover it with some more material... but I'm not sure where I can find some for not much money!
  • The children and I pulled the cables back from under the stairs - now I need to decide how to populate the patchbays with new wiring. I've written up an inventory of what I might need - now it needs to be organised so that the 'normalled' connections are arranged as logically as possible (for example to connect the wall sockets by default to the eight inputs of the mixer
  • Everything will need to be moved out of the studio to put the new carpet down. This will no doubt require the removal of the skirting boards, but it could be worse! I think there will probably be an awful lot to throw away, too!
  • Finally, I have to set the computer up to be able to make use of all the new connections and technology. The 01X is extremely sophisticated, and I want to make the best of all the facilities. Because there are only two analogue outputs, my plan is to retain the GadgetLabs 8/24, and use that to connect the outboard (compressors, effects units etc) effectively as 'AUX'es. We'll see how it all goes... I think I might be running out of rack space, especially if I put my 1/4" tape machine in there (it does tend to dominate the rack!)

So.. what else? We had a good half-term - because of the work to be done, in the house I took a little leave, and the weather was dry enough for us to get out and about a little. I think we've all been through the first cold of the autumn - let's hope there aren't too many more! We're off to a fireworks display this evening - otherwise it's just business as usual! (Don't get me started about work.. it's been utterly frantic, and - although I've now got the permanent specialist role, I've been asked if I'd help on a project up in Birmingham, which will certainly be interesting).

A couple of interesting or entertaining links to finish with, then..

Posted by james at 10:19 PM

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Workmen, lights and potential sales...

It's been a busy week so far.. I'm on my way home after a fairly standard Wednesday of meetings, and having taken yesterday as leave to help Beth with the carpenter and electrician.

Yup.. the house is finally coming back together; the kitchen ceiling is complete again (using boards from the downstairs toilet - nothing beats a bit of recycling!) and the kitchen floor and under-unit plinth have been reseated/replaced. There is, once more, power in the studio, and most of the tiles have now been replaced. I've been musing on getting some rather novel LED lights to spice up the look of the place, but the really good value ones (here) wouldn't be bright enough. The alternative (a set of four remote-controlled colour-change downlighters like these) is a little out of my budget, though!

There's plenty still to do - more carpentry and tile replacement on Friday, and the decorators will be here next Monday and Tuesday to sort out the surfaces. Then will finally come the carpets - probably the biggest upheaval, since it means clearing all the appropriate floors! Maybe it'll be done by Christmas... I hope so!

I found the documentation for the studio building project on my old website - quite useful, since I could direct the carpenter to Kewmill, from where the studio's ceiling tiles had originally come. I guess I could use my blog to help me document the reconstruction; there are a number of things I need to arrange:

  • Work out a new studio layout. I'm considering using Google's Sketchup 3D design software to move the various bits around - the most importance issue is
  • A new mixer. My current muse is a Yamaha 01X - it's little, but it's all digital (apart from the mic pre-amps) and can be used with Logic for automating mixes and other things. If I get one of these, I might add a Behringer DJ mixer, which can be installed into the work surface in front of the monitors, to make Image FM broadcasts a little easier!
  • The 01X has a firewire interface. Firewire cables have a maximum length of 4.5m - this could cause major issues having a PC under the stairs, so this leaves me with two options: [1] build a new 'silent' PC that can be installed in the rack in the studio and connect the kit to it. This is quite an expensive task, although considering I had to mix down 'Shopping High' in two goes, I might need to upgrade the PC anyway... or [2] move the studio console around to minimize the length of the firewire cable. This would likely cause the desk to be moved to the wall on the hall side, and consequently mean a great deal of modification to the cable run behind where the rack is now.
  • One way or another, the entire studio's going to need to be cleared so that a carpet (and some more underboard) can be laid. Then, the contents need to be put back in the order at the top of the list. Perhaps it'll be done by Christmas? I hope so - not least because Jude has some more recording sessions coming up, and it would be really good to be able to mix them down in the new-look studio!

Lots to do and think about!

I completely forgot to mention that on Saturday, while Beth was up in Stafford, I took the children out and about for much of the day. We took a walk down to the big roundabout on the way to town to find a geocache (seeing their faces when they see a treasure-chest of trinkets is a joy) and in the afternoon, we visited People's Park, to check on our cache and to have a picnic (Eleanor's request, and a good one, since it was so lovely out!) Christopher found that one of his schoolmates and his younger brother was there, and they all played very well together. It's lovely that we have such sociable children.

The Linux project is tough.. with some help from the ever-reliable Jon, I've got a few more avenues open to me, but it's going to be a big challenge. I spoke to the project manager today, and he's happy for me to continue until I reach a complete dead halt! Speaking of projects, I may be seconded to a fairly substantial project in Birmingham, which will be interesting, because I've spent the last nearly-fifteen years in a support role. I've not worked on project work before, so it'll add a string to my bow!

Oh, and in case you'd not already seen it (thinking of the announcement tomorrow)
it appears that Television Centre will shortly be put up for sale. I'll be honest, I don't have a particularly great affection for the building, having worked there for a few years, but it does raise questions about where they'll be making TV programmes! That said, BBC Resources, who look after the studios, is about to be outsourced, so I daresay other arrangements will be made.

I think that's about it for updates. More over the weekend, I'm sure!

Posted by james at 8:43 PM

Thursday, 11 October 2007

The technical revolution...

A couple of bits of ingenious technology - and not before time...

www.dysonairblade.co.uk : it's a great improvement to those dreadful hand driers that mean you end up having to wipe the rest of the water on your jeans (or is it just me?) I've used one in the last couple of months and was very impressed.

www.ebulbshop.com/...unnecessarily_long_link.../ : Finally - they've developed a compact fluorescent bulb that you can dim. We'll take three!

Posted by james at 9:51 PM

coach crash, crumpets and comedy.

For the second time in my commuting history, an Arriva 757 coach has been involved in a crash on the M1. I guess, considering there have been over 100,000 trips up and down the motorway in that time, I guess it's not too horrific a statistic, but the fact that there was a fatality in this incident, and I believe it could have been the same driver and coach with which I travelled home last night certainly brings it home.

As one might imagine, it was something of a trial getting into work this morning - since junctions 1 to 4 are oncoming only, all the northbound vehicles had been stuck, including most of the coaches; moreover, the traffic slowed to the usual rubbernecking crawl past the scene of the accident, so in the end I arrived in the office an hour and a half later than normal.

I'm sure there'll be more information on the way home - with any luck the motorway will have reopened, and I'll not be home too late. I'm sure I'll let you know.

On lighter (more culinary?) matters...
Barry Norman's pickled onions. You couldn't make it up. It's clearly a labour of love, but movie critic to onion pickler? Now that is a career move. It's pickling time with pickling Barry..

Kerrygold are apparently offering free crumpets and a sample of Kerrygold buttery stuff. Strictly one per household, but I left my name and address after dialling 0845 6521400, and may end up with some food on my doorstep in November. It's worth the risk.

Anything else to report? Not much, save that the Peter Serafinowicz Show is on BBC2 tonight - he's been all around the YouTube world and played small (but significant) parts in almost every comedy that's worth its salt.. now he's finally got his own TV show. It's amusing - I guess it still needs to find its feet and its niche (so to step into a corner?) but I'll definitely be watching it again (not least because he's been in a lot of programmes with the fabulous Olivia Colman, and there's always the chance she might turn up!)

Posted by james at 4:10 PM

Friday, 5 October 2007

Weekending things

Firstly, I've changed my web browser's homepage. Despite the fact that Firefox and Safari both have a search toolbar thingy, I always like to open up my browser on something clean and simple (and quick to load!).. sometimes it's iGoogle, but mostly it's the minimalist front-screen of bog-standard Google.

So.. what's grabbed my attention? Well, it's the environmentally aware Blackle.com; it's the same site, except with an ecological slant - if it was displayed on a standard 'CRT' monitor, it would save a small amount of electricity. Since modern flat-screen 'TFT' monitors have back-lights, and it's simply that the pixels 'let the light through', there's no great benefit, but it's a good reminder to be more careful with energy use.

A brief footnote to the expectation that's been building up over the week - I was successful in my interview, and have been offered a permanent Systems Specialist position, which is what I was hoping for. It feels a little strange, because this is my second stint at it, and I'd always had half an eye on going back to the 'main team', but this is my job for good, now!

On a slightly sourer note. While looking through the latest BBC News on my iPAQ as I sat on the coach heading home, I saw this story - a company being taken to court by (please excuse the bilious polemic) jobsworth scumbags who pander to the whims of a capitalistic 'music' 'industry' for playing their radios in what amounts to a public place. I have written to my MP about this. (You can read my letter here)

Now, I shall calm down and try and enjoy a peaceful weekend!

Posted by james at 9:05 PM

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

they might be videos..

As a midweek treat, here is a small collection of They Might Be Giants videos - tracks from their latest album 'The Else'.

Ronnie Hazlehurst died a couple of days ago; I'd either forgotten or didn't realise that the the rhythm of the theme tune to Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em is morse code, spelling out: Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em! That kinda beats Barrington Pheloung by a few years..!

Posted by james at 8:46 PM

Monday, 1 October 2007

Wicksteed Park, Radio 4 Comedy podcasts & Surrealist Headline Generation...

The Rollercoaster at Wicksteed ParkYesterday was a fantastic, if exhausting day out for Christopher and me; the scout troop to which he belongs had organised a trip to Wicksteed Park, near Kettering, and we caught the coach at half-past nine on Sunday morning, along with a number of other families, to drive the 40 or so miles up the A6 there. Despite it being the weekend, a fairly warm day and the last day of the summer season, we were very fortunate that the park was really quiet - we didn't have to queue for any of the rides, and could wander freely all over the place. We had our fill of all the attractions, including several rides on the rollercoaster, and a record four goes on the (horrible, but I couldn't face seeing him riding it on his own...) Pirate Ship. Chris was really taken by the Laser Tag - despite the loud music and flashing lights, he absolutely loved being able to run around and zap the 'rookies' (as we referred to the new players, after we'd had what must amount to twenty games!)

Today's been a busy day, but in a completely different way; Beth had some scans to attend (one in London, and other at the L&D), Eleanor had her first full day at school (she was most excited by the prospect of School Dinners!), and Christopher went to school as usual; I had the house to myself.

While listening to the rather entertaining BBC Radio 1 Anniversary shows from the weekend, I got busy wrestling with trying to get a RAID card to be recognised by Red Hat. It seemed to work OK, but frustratingly refused to boot after that... a lot of work (and jelly beans eaten, which didn't do my head much good!) for very little gain. Still, I'm certainly learning more about how Linux gets put together!

Speaking of BBC Radio shows, I heard some excellent news about Radio 4's Friday evening comedy (the likes of The Now Show and The News Quiz) are now officially available as podcasts! They had been trialling the idea during the last-but-one series of The Now Show, and it's clearly been successful.

Links of the day:

  • thesurrealist.co.uk/standard.php : A random London Evening Standard headline generator, based on the displays that are daily put up outside newsagents. It typifies why I don't read the thing... (thanks for the link, Trev!)
  • www.baynhamtyers.com/contraptionII.html : A wonderfully ingenious contraption, made with household items, created and filmed by some students with the objective of going 'viral'... clearly it's worked!

Posted by james at 7:30 PM

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