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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, 26 November 2007

King of the toolkit...

With all the little (and maybe not-so-little?) practical tasks that I've done over the past couple of years, I've found myself using a particular tool over most of the others. Undoing nuts, collars, loosening jubilee clips and holding things tight so I can adjust the other side - they're like a combination of pliers (with the grippy jaws) and a spanner (with the adjustable nose), and I've never really been sure what they're called.

A scan of Google tells me they're called Water Pump Pliers .. or Plumbing Pliers .. or even Tongue & Groove Pliers.

Suffice it to say, the carpets are now down, and the house certainly feels warmer. The dishwasher's plumbed back in (which is what prompted this entry!) and the mac's back in its home. Unfortunately, there's still an outstanding issue - the studio carpet was supposed to come with underlay, but the fitter used it on the stairs (which doesn't, strictly speaking, need it) before we realised it. Thus, when he left, there was a roll of carpet waiting to go into the music room, but the all that remained of the underlay ended up at the tidy tip. I'm sure we'll be able to sort something out, but it's not great news. Othewise, though, we're heading back to normal home life!

Posted by james at 8:50 PM

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Cold out, but busy inside...

A kitchen cleared ready for the carpet fitter...It's been another pleasant weekend, with a trip out to an indoor play area called Big Space in Harpenden yesterday afternoon (it gave the children an opportunity to run around inside, since it was bitterly cold out and about!) and general tidying today, in preparation for the carpets to be fitted in the morning. As you can (hopefully!) see in the photo, the kitchen has been pretty-much cleared; I just hope he turns up tomorrow!

I'm well aware that I need a little more exercise, but as winter closes in around us (no complaints here - I quite like it cold, but prefer not to suffer drizzle while I'm trying to get fit!) I have taken to more cerebral pursuits. Both the Nintendo DS and Wii have games available for them for brain training (Brain Age and Big Brain Academy respectively) but there's a rather intriguing on-line game that's free to play, and offers a slightly different slant on it.

www.brainarena.com is an internet-based brain training game, where there are a number of 'leagues' of difficulty. To progress, the shortest time you take to answering 40 quick-fire questions correctly over the course of a week needs to be among the top 1000/500/250.. (it goes down the harder the game gets) for promotion to the next league.

I'm down to 43rd place so far, so I'm fairly confident I'll make the cut - I'm finding the current questions quite easy (but it hasn't stopped me trying to improve my position!)

Speaking of mental stimulation, our favourite Christmas catalogue (better even than the ones from I Want One Of Those and Hawkins Bazaar) is Mindware - there are some ingenious present ideas in there, including a hydrogen powered car!

Posted by james at 7:07 PM

Saturday, 24 November 2007

While I remember...

There are a couple of other little bits from the past week that I ought to chronicle, just so I can remember them!

potential prosection...
On Monday, Beth and I took a trip to Stevenage once the children were safely at school, to make some progress with the Christmas shopping. We did well, I think (especially since there are also quite a few birthdays around this time of year, too!) but I was a little troubled on the journey there. I pulled out to overtake a 'slowcoach' doing 35mph on the 40mph zone leaving the town, to see one of those mobile speed camera vans pointing at me. I'm now waiting with bated breath to see if I get the first speeding ticket (and licence endorsement) of my driving career... such a shame.

broken internet... the conclusion!
In more optimistic news, our Broadband now working as it should. I installed a replacement router, and carried out a health check on all the PCs in the house. Speaking of which, Beth's laptop is now working properly! It appears that the Generic Host Processes for Win32 services error message was being caused by an unreliable - and unbranded - PCMCIA network card. I replaced it with a Linksys one that I happened to have spare(!) and it's been behaving ever since! However, the broken internet symptoms were still there. Every time I tried to download anything, it would get to about 800kBytes, and then stop, taking the whole house's internet connection with it. As a result, I had to download my podcasts overnight, when nobody else was using the internet - most frustrating.

Anyway, I finally decided to make another call to Bangalore. Previously, they'd asked me to disconnect everything from the router and see if the connection improved. I plugged it into Beth's laptop, and had a full collection of pings back from Google - no problem at all. £2 of my money spent to conclude that it was probably the router. This time, I connected my Mac to the cable modem directly, and tried to download the updated version of VMware Fusion - 170MB would have taken all night if I'd left it going. I called the Virgin Media helpline again, and eventually got through to someone who talked me through the usual caper - turning everything off and back on again. Once we'd got past that, he asked me to get the unique MAC address of the cable modem, and the NTL number. I told him it had a MAC address, but no NTL number, to which he responded with surprise. I told him it was a Terayon TJ210 and he replied that it should have been replaced when we had our broadband upgraded, since it's too old to cope with the high speed internet connection we now have. It's no surprise - we started off with 192kbps, I think! (Incidentally, there's an interesting list of all the cable modems here)

The upshot of this is that we're back online, with a tiny little replacement cable modem (an ntl:250), and - for now - we have a technologically robust house. I'm thinking of going to static IP addresses (to make the network harder to hack) but that's for another day.. we'll stick with wireless MAC filtering to start with... but enough of this tech speak.

music and radio and the perils of PRS
I was reminded, while tidying the lounge this morning, that I'd received a letter back from Margaret Moran responding to my concerns about PRS. She wrote:

Dear James Hart

Further to the representations I made on your behalf to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in regards to the concerns you raised with me, I have now received the enclosed acknowledgement.

Please be assured that as soon as I receive a substantive reply I will be in touch with you.

In the meantime if you require any futher assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.

There was also a copy of the acknowledgement:

Thank you for your letter of 8 October 2007.

The Department aims to respond to your query in full by 16 November 2007 at the latest.

In the meantime, if you have any interim queries, please do not hesitate to contact us on 020 xxxx xxxx

Well.. it's now the 24th and I've not heard anything - I will certainly keep this blog up-to-date with any reply I do eventually get!

Posted by james at 1:40 PM

The Harlequin Ladybird

I was reminded last week, that the UK is currently suffering from an unpleasant invasion. The Harlequin Ladybird originally came from eastern Asia, but was introduced to the USA to control aphid infestations. It arrived in the UK in 2004, and has started to overthrow the native population, because of their rapidity of breeding. And because they're eating the native ladybirds, which has a knock-on effect on the ecological balance, we're suffering from the increase of other pests. Nasty.

www.harlequin-survey.org is an excellent resource to enable the public to identify this pest - I've printed out the ladybird identification sheet and put it up at work. I think I might print some more out for the children. I think we spotted some last time Beth and I both took Lenni to gymnastics. I must log it...

Posted by james at 10:31 AM

Friday, 23 November 2007

More on radio and music..

Once again, I've got a bee in my clich´┐Ż - and it's the same bee as a month or so back. It turns out that the Performing Rights Society are sending letters out to businesses, informing them that, if any employee plays music (including the radio) where other colleagues can hear it, the business requires a licence to be able to do it.

So, in the case of BBC radio, the licence fee payer is paying for the music to be broadcast, and then - if they want to listen at work without headphones on - to pay for it again. In case you're interested, here are the fees: www.mcps-prs-alliance.co.uk/SiteCollectionDocuments/PPS%20Tariffs/Tariff%20I.pdf, which - for a large company, could certainly add up.

This really doesn't seem fair, and I have written the following letter to our in-house newspaper to make my feelings known. Since it could be quite a controversial issue, I wonder if it'll be printed:

I've just been made aware that the Performing Rights Society is sending letters to businesses to remind them that, if a radio is played in an office or factory, a PRS licence is required.

I believe this is unfair, since - in the case of the BBC - the licence fee payer has already paid for the music to be broadcast, but now they (or the business for which they work) must pay for it again to listen to it.

Moreover, if I want to listen to, say, 6 music at my desk (without resorting to antisocial headphones) does the BBC have the appropriate PRS licence to allow me to? If so, it's another burden on the licence fee payer to give me what now amounts to a perk!

I really feel that this doesn't make any sense - especially since radio by its very nature benefits the music industry by promoting the music that they're selling... it seems a long way from the days of "Music While You Work."

How many times will the licence-fee payer have to stump up for that Spice Girls single, even if they have no intention of buying it..?

Maybe it'll fall on deaf ears, but it's worth making the point.

On a cheerier note, there's some great comedy on at the moment. With the hilarious return of Never Mind The Buzzcocks (Thursdays at 9pm on BBC2) and the consistent genius of QI (Fridays at 10pm on BBC2) on television, there are also a few entertaining programmes on the radio, like the spoof review programme Listen Against (Wednesdays at 6.30pm on Radio 4). It has a Chris Morris feel to it, which appeals to me
. I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue (Mondays at 6.30pm on Radio 4) is also back, so I often have something to look forward to hearing on my way home from work! As long as there isn't any music that other people can hear...

Posted by james at 9:09 PM

Thursday, 22 November 2007

notes from a small mind...

Well, another week's already coming to a close, and I'm just about conscious enough to write a quick blog entry!

Last weekend was - on the whole - a relaxed affair; I led the morning prayer at church on Sunday morning, which was quite fun - the children both had little parts to play during the talk, and the sparse congregation on this chilly autumnal morning seemed to appreciate it.

During the afternoon, as well as entertaining the children, Beth and I worked on another 'cheeky children' calendar for next year, using the more whimsical of the photos we've taken of Chris and Lenni and adding silly captions.

Speaking of Chris, he's taken up playing The Sims 2, spending much of his time designing families and houses, some of which have some remarkably imaginative designs. It's great fun to watch him create.

It was my birthday yesterday, which was lovely, since Beth had saved up all the card and presents until I arrived home from work; in fact, my boss let me go a little early, so I was able to spend some time with the children at Beth's folks' before we had to get the young'uns home to bed.

All in all, though, it's a busy old life, and there doesn't seem to be an enormous amount of time of an evening to sort things out - I'm looking forward to Monday, when the carpets arrive, since it'll mark the near completion of the work that's needed doing to sort the house out. Then, the various rooms can be repopulated and space can be made to move the contents of the studio out so I can recarpet and reorganise it... as always - lots to do.

Some links to while away the days..

Posted by james at 9:45 PM

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Things to do...

Yesterday was another lovely Monday off - there's been a continental chill in the air (lovely!) but we managed to get a few bits done.

The main jobs today were to fix Christopher's glasses (fortunately it was only a tiny screw in the arm that came loose; I wish I had some fixing resin), do a little birthday shopping (lots of our nephews and neices were born this time of year!) and replace the taps in the bathroom sink (a task best carried out on a weekday, in case a plumber is required!)

After buying an essential basin wrench from B&Q (although Screwfix sell it for less, I couldn't have made it there and back in time for the school run!), I set about the first pair of taps, and was rather pleased that I'd finished them by the the time I had to take Chris to cubs. They look quite good, I think, and - most importantly - turn off very positively!

We've been having all kinds of trouble with the internet of late, too, so I'm also planning to swap out the current router (a popular Linksys WRT54G v1.1 running Hyperwrt 2.1b1 + Thibor15c) with our 'spare' - another WRT54G v1.0, running DD-WRT v23 SP2, to eliminate yet another potential cause. Despite having spent twenty minutes on the phone to Virgin Media last week, the situation hasn't improved, and we're regularly completely disconnected from the internet for up to five minutes at a time.

I was invited to a pub quiz last night, up in Sandy, with my mate Nik. A couple of his friends had dropped out, so I thought I'd drive up to join him. Not having a great deal of experience or expertise at such things, I was most surprised to discover that we came third! (And before you ask, there were about ten teams..)

Unfortunately, when I arrived home, I discovered that Eleanor's goldfish (Princess Petals) had leapt out of the tank she shares with Silver Spy and it was far too late to save her. Since the light broke in the lid of the tank, I had taken to leaving the lid off so the fish could have some natural light. It's a shame that such a trivial thing led to her demise, but the children took it well, and - as soon as the kitchen's back to normal - we'll replace her, and sort out the light!

So there's definitely plenty to do - I have some audio to edit down, and sound effects to find, too. It's just finding the right place to start!

Posted by james at 9:03 PM

Saturday, 10 November 2007

broken boilers and general upkeep...

Yet another busy week, but with plenty of highlights to go with the intense working time I've been having of late.

On Monday, for example, Christopher was invested into the Cubs. He had been in Beavers for the past year, and I'm really pleased he's been committed enough to continue, since it's a great opportunity to mix with people other than those with whom he attends to school. Speaking of which, we had a parent-teacher consultation on Monday afternoon, too; save for his handwriting (like father, like son, eh?) he is doing very well indeed, and his class is a slightly better balanced one than last year. I'm afraid it's not a brilliant school he's going to, but I guess they're trying their best under the circumstances, considering some of the families who send their children to that school. Unfortunately one of the other teachers in his year was having such a bad time with her class that she's left - I consider us fortunate that Christopher wasn't caught up in that debacle.

It's also been a week of more work on the house - the plasterer's been to patch up the downstairs toilet and the bit that remained in the kitchen, and the decorator has returned to paint the kitchen walls. In fact, all we need now is carpets (and to throw a LOT of stuff out!) and a bit of electrical work to install the new light fitting in the toilet - I'd do it myself, but because it's an area that contains water, an electrician has to be brought in - and the house will be back to 'normal'.

I've also bought some surprisingly inexpensive new taps from Screwfix for the bathroom sink; I took the opportunity to buy some for the downstairs toilet, too, since the current ones are terrifying in there!

My other household mission is to put low-energy lightbulbs all over the house; apart from the studio (which has ten!), there are only seven incandescent lightbulbs left in the place. We recently replaced the dimmable candle bulbs in the lounge with some really rather new Megaman 'dimmerable' bulbs, which are available at a good price from Engenia. Up to now, (and much more widely available) you could only really get bulbs that dim by multiple presses of the power switch, which isn't really ideal. So, what do we need to replace? Firstly, the spotlights at the top of the stairs to the kitchen: I have plans for these. We have new fittings, and I'll be ordering some energy-saving spots for them, since we do use them a lot. Then there are the spotlights in our bedroom and the downlighters in the kitchen. They'll best be LEDs, I think, since Compact Fluorescents don't last quite as well if they're only left on for a few minutes at a time. However, I'll need to think this through, since most LED downlighters (the 1Watt and 2Watt ones, certainly) aren't bright enough to compare with a halogen spotlight. Any more powerful and it could end up being expensive!

There's a website about all this kind of thing here. There's clearly lots to think about - and lots more to do. Mostly tidying, though.

Today's been a lovely 'day off', though. The children played with Play-Doh this morning, while we pottered around; then, after lunch it was a bit of shopping before we all popped over to see Beth's grandparents. After some hilarity watching their favourite programme (You've Been Framed) it was bedtime for the children, and - well, I came downstairs and started this!

Other news in brief: Trev and I have recorded almost all of the next North South Divide, and I'm gradually getting to know the 01X in the studio - so I can use it for basic studio functions, to start with. I daresay I'll be documenting the thought processes (so apologies in advance for the tedium!), having taking the operating manual to read on the commute to work most mornings this week! Jude's demo is on the way to having been completely recorded; we did the backing vocals after work last night, so all that's needed is to trawl through all the takes listening out for the best ones, some keyboard and synth lines, and then to take some time to mix it all down. Hopefully by which time, the studio will be fully working, and I'll know what I'm doing!

Wow.. this feels like it's been a bit of an epic. I'll hopefully update it more frequently in the next week or so.

Posted by james at 11:00 PM

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