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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, 24 December 2007

Too many browsers...

I have been saving up a few links to post about over the past week or so - some amusing videos, a little more incorrect music (actually, I'll not be letting you off on that count - sorry!) and some links to distractions for those Festive lulls.. if any actually happen!

Unfortunately, since I click links on the mac mini, my work laptop and the 'virtual PC' on the mac, my history and favourites get a little untidy, so it would appear that some have gone missing...

We're pretty-much ready for Christmas. I took last Tuesday and Wednesday off work in an attempt to finish off the last-minute shopping, and we've done a fair amount of family visitations. For once, then, it's not all come as a horrific shock. In fact, I was happily wandering down Oxford Street last Friday buying Beth the last of her presents, and I had them all wrapped before the weekend came to a close.

There have been a couple of equipment failures over the past week (given how much electrical and electronic kit we have in the house, it's not too much of a surprise) - the most irritating of which was the power supply for the external hard drive on the Mac. Since my 'virtual Windows' was running on it, the fact that the hard drive just stopped responding didn't do it any good at all, so I ended up having to start from scratch, which was a little frustrating.

Then there's one of the almost-new PC monitors in the studio. I switched the main plug on to find that the right-hand screen simply wouldn't switch on. I called up Acer on Friday morning, who were very co-operative - they gave me a number and a reference for DHL to collect it. Annoyingly, though, when I tried it again on Thursday evening, it behaved... in fact, it's only done it once more since then. I gave Acer's technical support line another call this morning to let them know that the fault was intermittent - I'm hoping that they can recreate it!

Most trivial was the kettle, which stopped working this morning. Fortunately, the queues in Argos weren't too horrendous, so Beth popped in on the way back from the other side of Luton (she had a midwife's appointment, and I went to donate blood - my 25th donation, so I received a certificate and a natty llttle badge pin.. hooray!) We weren't without tea for long!

The evenings have been jam-packed full, though. I'm slowly getting used to the Alesis - it has some gorgeous sounds, and I was able to compose some short themes for some sketches that will be in the next (and long awaited) North South Divide. I had most trouble sorting out the opening scene.. it was written to include some big-band jazz.. something I would find a bit of a challenge to arrange in Logic. Fortunately, it was one of those moments when I'm glad I'm an almost compulsive sound recordist! I remembered when I listened to some of my colleagues performing some be-bop jazz in the social club.. all it took was a bit of speeding up, and it was pretty-much ideal! It's just a shame it'll not be out before Christmas... there's not *that* much left to do, but it'll be an evening's work, including one more recording session.

We met up with Trev, in fact, on Saturday - Cyril's Nut Hut in Long Eaton is roughly half way between our respective homes, and the children spent a happy afternoon playing together. Like most indoor play areas, it's based in an industrial unit - it's not the biggest one we've ever been to, but like many family-run businesses (I'm guessing it was in this case), the service was good, and we felt generally well-looked after.

Lots going on, then - and it's no surprise that the children are excited about Christmas. Christopher accompanied me to the blood donor centre this morning (while Beth took Lenni to a midwife's appointment) and couldn't help expounding on the fact that it was Christmas Eve already...

I promised some bad festive music.. this time it's the result of Sky One's Christmas party.. apparently the budget was blown on arranging a recording session for the attendees of "Do They Know It's Christmas" (362kB MP3). Ouch.

Finally for now, a couple of game links - first off, a very short-lived one (or should I say a late posting!) - Christmas Escape. It expires on Christmas Day, so enjoy it while it's there! (thanks, Sunshine!)

Then there's Bamzooki - Christopher's new favourite game. It's a CBBC game, but is much more than a TV spin-off. It's hard to explain, but it's basically a construction kit for creatures, based on 'limbs', elasticity and oscillations to make them move. It reminds me of some software I played with for a while a couple of years ago, but can't for the life of me remember! It's great fun, though.

Well, I'd better sign off now before we run out of Christmas Eve.. A very Happy Christmas to everyone who's read this far!

Posted by james at 4:40 PM

Friday, 14 December 2007

Petitions, Phones and Purchases...

My new Alesis QS6The end of another week's arrived, as has my newly arrived Alesis QS6... I asked for it to be delivered to work, to save Beth having to hang around for it, but didn't quite reckon on how unwieldy it would be to take home. Still, some improvisation with gaffer tape converted the cardboard box into a handy 'carry case'!

With eBay auctions, there are questions that sometimes need to be asked.. I suppose it's something one learns. On this occasion, I should have enquired whether the keyboard had been used in a smoky environment... since it arrived a little, well, musty! I'm hoping, having vacuumed out the insides and wiped the top with a cleaning cloth, it'll freshen up eventually, but that's a lesson learned! It makes some great noises, though, and will certainly help me with the bits of the North South Divide I've still got to do...

Onto more serious matters. My dear friend Jon lost his beloved tabby cat in an unfortunate - and avoidable - incident. I'd not realised that most anti-freeze smells attractive to cats, and it was by finding some that Jazz ended up dying, which is a real shame.

There's a petition on-line to request that the ingredients list be changed to avoid the risk of poisoning cats and children - petitions.pm.gov.uk/Antifreeze-Kills; I've signed it, and would encourage you - if you're able - to do the same.

Finally, on a slightly more bizarre subject, I was invited to take part in an unusual survey today. There's a new product on the market that claims to "neutralise, at its source, the potentially harmful biological effects of radiation emitted from mobile phones, wireless networks and other electronic devices". It's called Angel™ from www.exradia.com, and, from what I can see, it's basically a noisy RF transmitter, which endeavours to prevent the coherent radiation (even at GSM frequencies) from being absorbed by organic matter.

There's no proven link between RF/EMF radiation and cellular damage, but this is being released as a scientifically proven preventative device. Whether it's a genuine gadget or a sociological scam, who's to know.. but I may get one to try, and I'll certainly report on the results!

Have a good weekend.. I have a few days off work now - not least to make sure we're all ready for Christmas!

Posted by james at 11:51 PM

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Lenni's debut performance?

I was fortunate enough to have the day off last Friday, not least so I could go and watch Lenni, performing in her school nativity. She was cast as a 'cockerel' in the play "Is The Baby In There?" - OK, so it wasn't Mary or an angel, but none of us really minded!

What we didn't realise was that the three cockerels not only had the most lines in the performance, but they had a pivotal role, with lots of 'cock-a-doodle-do's! This meant that Lenni occupied centre-stage for much of it (you can see I'm bursting with pride here!) They even got to do their own little dance, which you can - hopefully - see below. Lenni's the little'un in the centre, if you couldn't already guess!

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

(I apologise for the quality - we bought a DVD of the performance, which didn't really do it justice, unfortunately, being out of focus for quite a bit of the time. Oh, and a piece of advice for anyone thinking of investing in a digital camcorder.. they're much like movies - if they go straight to DVD, they're probably no good at all!)

Back to work tomorrow.. I took a day off today to recover from the departmental Christmas Party. It's not often I have an irresponsible night out - and probably won't be again for a good while! Then, it's the weekend, followed by a mad rush to try and finish the Christmas Shopping!

Posted by james at 10:37 PM

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Weekends toward Christmas...

Our Christmas Tree.. 2007There's plenty that I should be doing with the weekends off heading towards Christmas, like writing and sending cards, helping to wrap the presents and generally keeping the house in a reasonably manageable state. However, there's so much going on, that it's hard to keep focussed on the preparations - so once again, I think I might be letting the side down with cards this year...

Today, for example, was 'putting the Christmas Tree up' day, which we had to fit in before a trip to Ruislip to have our first Christmas Lunch of the year with some of Beth's Surrogacy friends. Despite the torrential (and insistent) rain, it was still lovely to see the swans and geese on the reservoir over which the "Waters Edge" restaurant looked - I daresay it'd be a wonderful place to walk in warmer weather. As an addendum to the comments from the website that reviewed it, I felt that they did very well to serve Christmas meals to nearly 80 people, making sure the children got theirs first (always a bonus!) and waitering in a very calm, friendly way. The food itself was hot, and good value for money, and inside the restaurant was tidy and accommodating. If anything, I'd suggest that the main entrance was a little better signposted - we practically circumlocuted the place in the pouring rain to try and find an unlocked door when we first arrived!

The only other news is that the studio is, on the whole, operational again. I'm using the process of mixing down the long-awaited(!) North South Divide podcast as a means of acclimatising myself to the new kit - audio travels between the PC and the mixer in very strange ways, and I'm trying to make the most of the processing power of both.

My rusty Roland D5As I returned the studio equipment to its original home, I discovered another casualty of the flood - my beloved (antique and very well-loved) Roland D5 keyboard shorted the power supply when I tried to switch it on. On closer inspection (click on the photo for a larger image) I saw that the main board and some of the internal structure had rusted, so it's destined for the tidy tip, which is a shame. Since it was my only keyboard, and therefore fulfilled the roles of MIDI controller, gigging keyboard and general sound module for mucking about on, I had to find a replacement that could do the same, without spending too much. With the help of Trev - a veritable expert on such things, I found a very economical keyboard on eBay, and, despite the lure of the rather gorgeous Korg Triton LE (which goes for about four times the price second hand!) I bid for, and won, an Alesis QS6, which, to be honest, I don't know much about, but seems to be ideal for the tasks at hand.

Back to the weekend, and tomorrow holds a birthday party to which Eleanor's been invited, and the annual Christingle for all of us - hopefully I'll get plenty of other bits and pieces done as well!

Oh, and finally - while I remember.. after all the effort to put food out for the birds, it seems that the crafty grey squirrel that I've had to shoo away from the suet balls dispenser hanging half-way up the garden, has worked out how to unhook it, and has stolen the thing. They're not to be underestimated, them squirrels.

Links of the day:
A couple of YouTube videos that were posted on Facebook and made me chuckle:

Posted by james at 9:24 PM

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

podcast! danger!

I heard an interesting radio article about the dangers of podcasting, with Radio 4's You And Yours's Liz Barclay. It's well worth a hear if you want to understand the risks. I ought to confess that after I'd heard it, I plugged my iRiver into my laptop to download it, only to realise.. it had been on the radio! Well worth a listen, though...

Podcast danger!:

(borrowed from Radio 4's hilarious "Listen Against" radio type of comedy programme)

Posted by james at 10:26 PM

Carpet kid..

Well, it's looking better in the studio, after a week (on and off) of moving the contents out into the guest room, which has had some of the space reclaimed now there are carpets throughout the rest of the house. Save for a visit from the electrician to install a new light fitting in the downstairs toilet, things have somewhat returned to normal! We've all been beset by colds and bugs this week, with Christopher suffering to the extent that he didn't have the energy to attend cubs on Monday, Eleanor having sniffles and a cough, Beth feeling even less energetic than the pregnancy normally leaves her, and - for my part - a thick head and a 48 hour case of the hiccups!

Princess Petals IVWe've not let that deter us, though - there's been plenty going on. On Saturday, we took a trip to Pets At Home to buy Princess Petals the fourth (having had two goldfish of that name and a still-going 'FurReal Friends' cat; it's Lenni's "pet name") and some much needed lighting for the tank. They were selling some rather sweet little LED spotlights for �5, so we bought three and a power hub, which amounted to about as much as it would have cost to replace the original RENA lamp. We chose a white, red and blue spotlight, and they cast a gentle but attractive glow in the tank, which we like and I don't think the fish are too bothered by.

The children with Father Christmas at Harrods, December 2007It was something of a 'first' for Christopher on Saturday night, since he had his first sleep-out with the Cubs. It was 'The Giant Sleepover' in the Arndale Centre (or 'Mall' as it is now known), and when I left him there at seven in the evening, I think Beth and I were both worried that he'd not recovered completely from his cold and wouldn't enjoy a bit of an adventure. Fortunately, though, he was cheery when Beth picked him up on Sunday morning (which was more than could be said for me, since I was really suffering from.. well, something!) and had had enough sleep to cope with another busy day. After church we drove down to London, and took a bus to Knighstbridge to visit Harrods for a meeting with Father Christmas. It's amazing that they offer this free 'service', although I think we had to buy tickets in the summer! The children had a good time, though, and received some little mementos of their trip (and a photo each.. I guess that's how they make their money!)

Monday was - as always - back to school for the children, and I made it my intention to install the carpet in the studio. I needed to buy some replacement boards from B&Q, but fortunately the carpet company had agreed to supply some more underlay to replace that which had mistakenly been installed on the stairs (we'd decided against it, but I don't think the fitter was aware). Despite the frustration of breaking(!) the carpet-cutting knife and - even moreso - having to work around a heavy rack that I couldn't wheel out of the room because it was connected umbilically to the studio's structured cabling, I finally had the carpet down before the end of the day, so I was quite pleased that I'd achieved my objective. Pleased but achey!

Newly carpeted studio...Once again, the week is whipping by, and it's hard to keep track of what's been going on. The weekends are certainly starting to fill up, too, but I'm definitely looking forward to next Friday, which is my last working day before Christmas.

I've got quite a few little links to share - mainly audio gems, such as Chegger's Podcast, which has been created to promote an interactive quiz game (warning: loud noises!) that features the legendary(?) Keith Chegwin. He's an affable presenter, with some entertaining anecdotes, although I'm always put off by how similar he sounds to his sister (Radio 2's Janice Long)!

There's another contender for Christmas number 37, too. RadioToday, a site that keeps me up-to-date with the many of the goings-on in UK radio, announced that a bunch of commercial radio DJs got together to record a festive single. It's a cover version of Shakin' Stevens's "Merry Christmas Everyone" and, well, it's certainly a modern interpretation.

You can hear a snippet here:

..and if you're crazy enough to want more, just let me know.

Home, then.. it's Wednesday (which is Heroes night, hooray!) and I only have to work one more day before a four-day weekend. Yup.. I've taken Friday as a leave day, since it's Lenni's school play and Christopher has a disco in the evening. I'm sure I didn't go to discos when I was at primary school.. how things have changed (and how old do I sound?!) Then, I only have four days left to work before Christmas, one of which will be after the departmental Christmas Party.. I hope I survive it!! More from me soon, if I'm not spending every available hour sorting the studio out!

Posted by james at 9:05 PM

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