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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, 26 January 2008


I was commenting just the other day on the fact that our dear old Kodak DC265 still takes some wonderful photos (they're not very high resolution, but they tend to be perfect for websites). Some of my favourites - be they artistic shots of places I've been, or badly written signs - are on my Flickr site, although I don't really go there very often to enjoy them!

What I wasn't expecting, though, was to receive an email saying that one of my pictures had been chosen for an on-line tourist guide! There's a Web 2.0 travel guide called Schmap.com that features photos and descriptions of popular destinations, and it appears that out that one of the photos I took during my trip to Stockholm has been included in it! Here's a preview of what the guide looks like:

My photo is on the Gamla Stan (Old Town) page.

Since I'm a mere amateur (in terms of almost every discipline, be it photography, music or parenting!) I'm more than happy to share my work, which is why I'm such a fan of Creative Commons licencing. I'm still flattered that they chose one of my pictures, though!

I have to admit, though, I'm very tempted by the Canon EOS 400D as a replacement for our old Kodak, since it's just that little bit more versatile than most 'point and click' cameras you can buy nowadays - and will hopefully take just as good pictures as our 8-year-old classic! (I've had recommendations also to buy the EF 50mm 1.8f lens, since it can make some excellent photos for the price). Something to save up for...!

Posted by james at 4:11 PM

Angels and root beer..

Well, it's certainly been a crazy couple of days - no sooner had the bunfeast/beanfight of the birth subsided (it was great fun - and definitely a 'once in a lifetime' experience!) than I had a nightshift at work; another favour to fill a gap in the schedule, which will hopefully contribute to my studio fund...

Today's a recovery day - in more than one sense! - so there's not too much going on. Excitingly, I received my Angel today.. by all accounts, it looks like a mobile phone battery, but - as Exradia claim - it is designed to reduce the coherent radiation that risks causing damage, so it's doing no harm, at least!

I also received a t-shirt (as modelled by the stylish individual to your right - photography by Chris Hart!) so it's certainly worth a few lines in my blog to get the word out, at least!

It's certainly been a period of serendipity and fortuitousness. I was wondering through Asda the other week thinking "I haven't had root beer in years.. they just don't do it in the UK, I guess." What should I spot the other day, but a six-pack of the wonderful stuff. Even better, nobody else in the house likes it, so it's an occasional treat for me, and I know it won't disappear! That said, it's not just I who have a penchant for it - there's a website dedicated to root beer and its availability in the uk at www.root-beer.co.uk.

Back on the subject of music.. I've mixed down one of the four demo tracks that Jude have recorded over the past four or so months(!), but there's a lot more to do. I'm also four weeks into the rather excellent Audiomasterclass.com, which has - at least - given rise to some of the deficiencies in my studio set up! Much of the first few modules has involved microphones and pre-amps, and it's been a struggle to achieve the quality required! I was actually quite surprised that the Yamaha 01X has such poor mic pre-amps, which add a large amount of hiss when you turn them up! I'll get through, though - there are plenty of ways to skin a cat, and I think I'm experienced enough in speech recording to be able to get a reasonable sound. I suppose I'll find out when the assessments come back..!

Posted by james at 3:35 PM

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Well done, Beth!

Beth and EmilyI know I'm well behind on blog entries, but I thought I'd write a quicky to say well done to Beth on the birth of her third surrogate baby - Emily - who arrived at 8.35pm today, and weighed 7lb 5 and a half ounces.

Both Beth and the little'un are doing very well, and the parents - who thankfully made it down in time for this one! - are delighted and humbled (as am I.. Beth's a remarkable woman).

It was our first 'home birth' - something Beth had wanted for both of ours, but was unable to have because of complications - and a real family occasion, with twelve of us in the house at one point! The midwives were lovely, and it's a great relief to me to know that all's well, after months and months of waiting.

More soon, I hope - I'm working a nightshift tomorrow, which is fortuitous, since it means I can do the school run, so with any luck, and a bit of peace and quiet, I may be able to catch up with all the other things that have been going on.

Posted by james at 9:26 PM

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The first long commute of 2008...

All in, it's been a bit of a nightmare trip home this evening. It appears that there was an accident on the North Circular west of Brent Cross, which caused the traffic leaving or attempting to circumlocute central London to back up almost as far as the West End. As a result, I'll not be home until close to 9pm, that's 3 hours 'door to door'. Still, it doesn't happen very often, and I had enough to listen to (Radio 4's hilarious Bleak Expectations, Guardian Unlimited's Prime Minister's Questions, Digital Planet from the World Service and David Maister's excellent Strategy And The Fat Smoker business podcast) to make the journey - for want of a better word - more tolerable.

It's been a busy day in the office today - Wednesdays tend to be my meeting days (Tuesdays are for 'catching up' after the weekend, and I tend to be the only specialist in for the Friday 'rush hour'), but I've also taken on a new engineer to mentor, so that's taking quite a bit of time. Although my days are fairly well filled with things to do, unfortunately I tend to squander the evenings somewhat; once I'm home and eaten, it's about half-past eight and I don't really have the impetus to spend an hour in the studio, preferring to tinker on Facebook, or fine tune the PCs (I've managed to map a drive to my mac away from home using PuTTY and a handy port forwarding guide .. cool, but not all that much use!)

I'll hopefully have some time over the weekend, though - and I don't have to get to bed by half-past nine (some hopes!) on Friday, so maybe I can hide myself away and continue mixing one of the band demo tracks then. I have also finally signed up to an on-line music production course called Audio Masterclass - once again, I'm running a little behind on the course, which is made all the more frustrating because despite my noodlings, I haven't taken the chance to download the training materials to my laptop or ipaq, since it makes great sense to study while I commute! Hopefully I'll have time to achieve at least that objective tonight!

Posted by james at 9:45 PM

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Radio Birdsong is back (for now)!

While reading the news of Digit alone, which reported on the disappearance of OneWord (such a shame!) and Core (like every other GCap station except national, so not so much of a shame...) it was mentioned that the Birdsong Channel is back. Hooray!

It's been the mainstay of test transmissions since just before Classic FM was launched, and has proved popular with thousands of listeners as an alternative to music and turgid lowest-common-denominator drivel. Make the most of it, though, because it'll doubtless be replaced soon - and at very little notice.

Surprisingly, though, the newsletter doesn't mention the disappearance of the excellent Fun Radio from Sky Digital and from all the regional digital multiplexes except London. It's one of the mainstays of our family listening (along with CBeebies Radio, Virgin and Classic FM), especially at breakfast time, so I'm very disappointed that they have decided to narrow the opportunities to enjoy it.

I guess it's down to money and marketing.. just one of those things, I suppose...

Posted by james at 7:51 PM

Make your own bird feeder stand .. from bits and pieces!

While Lenni was attending a birthday party, Beth, Christopher and I went for a civilised cuppa at one of the local garden centres (for what it's worth, the coffee wasn't brilliant.. it came from one of those combined grinding/brewing machines, but it tasted a bit like it had been standing around).

We had a bit of a browse around - not least to buy some replacement fat balls for the winter - not the squirrels! - and to find another bird seed feeder to replace one of the two that the children received from Father Christmas, which didn't 'sucker' to the lounge window successfully, and broke on the terrace.

The replacement we found had a hoop on the top, but - of course - that meant we needed to find something from which to hang it. The feeder stands in the shop, constructed from galvanised tubular steel, were £20, which wasn't really justifiable, considering we were only there for a cup of tea, so, when we got home, I set about making my own out of bits and pieces I could find around the place. Here's what I used:

  • a 2m plank of 10cm x 2.5cm rough cut wood
  • a 1.5m length of domestic copper plumbing pipe (15mm outside diameter)
  • a galvanised wire coathanger
  • some 5mm x 40mm zinc woodscrews
  • some weather-proof woodstain to preserve the wood
  • a drill & bits (including a 14mm wood bit) a screwdriver and some pliers.

I cut the wood into two identical lengths of approximately 70cm, and two lengths of 10cm, and, after painting them with preservative and allowing it to dry and drilling pilot holes, I screwed the two shorter pieces at each end of one of the longer bits. Then I determined the half-way point along both longer lengths, and placed the 'bridge' piece at right-angles over the one I'd not used, yet, putting four screws towards the corner to hold it in place. A very simple cross-member base.

Finally, I used the 14mm bit to make a hole down the centre, easing it out a little to make a tight hole for the pipe, and persuaded the piping in, using a hammer. Then it was a simple case of bending over the hook at the top of the hanger with a pair of pliers so it would fit inside the top of the pipe, and twisting the ends over to make loops to hold two feeders.

The children helped me with the painting, drilling and hammering, and we were all quite pleased with the results (see below, and click for bigger). I only hope that I've situated the feeder stand away from the danger of cats, and I've not used any ingredients that are bad for nature. It'd be typical if it turns out that birds are allergic to copper or something! Unfortunately, it was dark when we put it out, but I'm sure we'll find out soon enough if it's good enough to tempt the birds closer to the house... especially since there's bathing and drinking facilities available, too!

Lenni, with power tools!Chris, with a hammer!Our do-it-yourself bird feeder. In the dark.

Posted by james at 6:27 PM

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Microsoft and movie...

I was most amused by the videos at www.stayathomeserver.com; it's an advert for Microsoft's Windows Home Server, and viral marketing at its finest. My favourite is the 'computer expert' clip. "Everyone gets a cup, by the way."

You can see a copy of the book here. Brilliant, and worthy of CES, where I believe it was being distributed...

Beth sent me a link to a forthcoming film that I'm very much looking forward to seeing. It's called Be Kind Rewind, and from the write-up it seems to have just the right blend of surrealism and comedy to appeal to me.

The fact the writer and director is Michel Gondry - who directed some of my favourite pop videos - endorses it even more, so I'm certainly looking forward to seeing it when it comes out. I'm hoping it'll be as compelling as Being John Malkovich, which I would certainly recommend if you like unusual films!

Posted by james at 9:00 PM

Luton's Great Outdoors

I was having a bit of a tidy at the bottom of the stairs when I discovered a booklet that I saw in the library in the autumn.

It's a consultation document for Luton Borough Council's plan to improve the rights of way across the town; unfortunately, the date to comment on the proposals has passed, but it's still a very good read and I think I filled in the survey on-line! (I hope I did...)

Anyway, it's worth a read - you can find it here:

With the blue sky that greeted us this morning, it would be a shame not to make the most of it!

Posted by james at 10:40 AM

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Internet Radio.. a petition

As you're no doubt aware, I've long campaigned for better rights for radio against those money-grabbing corporations who want to squeeze every penny they can out of those who would bring their music to the people.

While browsing James Cridland's fine blog, I found a petition to the office of the Prime Minister requesting that they investigate the fees that are charged to internet radio stations to broadcast music on-line.

As ever, the MCPS/PRS are taking all they can, and it's more than I who thinks it's unfair. Please take a look at the petition:

and sign it (like my good friend Jose did!) if you agree.

Posted by james at 9:45 PM

Bacon, Guinness, Coaches and a return to work..

It doesn't seem to be that long since my last blog entry, but almost a week's gone by! We had a lovely trip to Sussex on Saturday, popping by Vanburger's Bacon Crematorium (best bacon sarnies in the world!) on the way, meeting up with Jon and Lisa to make it an extra-entertaining gathering, before driving to my Mother's to exchange present (just in time before Epiphany and the last day of Christmas!) Unfortunately, with the gusty wind and intermittent rain, a trip to the seafront wasn't really in order.

Beth was kind enough to buy a pair of return tickets to Dublin for me for Christmas - a bargain from Ryanair for �2 each return! Unfortunately, since she's in the late stages of pregnancy, she wasn't able to fly; since my Dad had expressed a wish to come with me on one of my occasional travelling jaunts, he was an ideal choice for a companion. I'd never been to the Republic of Ireland before, and was intrigued to find out what it was like - Dad had been to visit his wife's relatives in Carlow, south-west of the capital, but hadn't been anywhere else.

We weren't in any rush as we walked to the airport - the free shuttle-bus saved a good fifteen minutes of rather dull trudging - which was to our benefit, since the plane was half-an-hour late (according to Dad, a tradition with Ryanair). The flight went well, though - it was interesting to watch the flight path, which took us over Northampton, Leicester, Derby and Liverpool before heading over the Irish Sea just beyond the tip of North Wales. I'd not realised that Dublin wasn't far from the coast, and it was only 12 euros return for a 30 minute drive into the city centre.

Here's a rather interesting map of the path we took - unfortunately our trip back wasn't recorded because the battery on my ipaq ran out... (once again, courtesy of gpsvisualizer.com):

Impressive Church (of Ireland)Anyway, after taking a bit of a wander around the Trinity College / Temple Bar area (some striking churches) we took to tourism; it was 4pm by that time, and we were concerned that the city tour buses wouldn't be running (or we couldn't find them) so I asked my satnav where the Guinness Visitor Centre was. It was a mile and a half north, perpendicular to the river - I'm quite glad we walked, since it gave us a chance to see the inner reaches of the city by all accounts. It reminded me a little of Glasgow, although last time I was there it wasn't really finished. The people were nicer, though, and there seemed to be a Spar or Londis shop on every street (so plenty of oppportunity to buy Kimberley biscuits - not so oft seen on the mainland - as gifts for the children!)

Waterfall in the Guinness Store Visitor CentreThe Guinness factory was excellent - since it was twenty-to-five when we arrived, many of the visitors had already left, and we had a great opportunity to look around. The exhibition was very well laid-out, with clever projections to illustrate the preparation and brewing process, and videos of the master brewer explaining everything clearly. My favourite bit (apart from the tasting area, obviously!) was the waterfall in the first exhibition area - it was spectacularly noisy, textured and colourful.

Once we'd completed the tour, and watched a remarkable video about the skill of the cooper, we trooped to the top floor, which was high above the plant, and gave a 360 degree view over the now-dark town. A free pint of Guinness awaited us, which was sweeter and smoother than I've had before. In summary, it's an essential part of a first visit to Dublin!

A pint of the good stuffAfter a brief taxi ride back to the Temple Bar, we looked for somewhere to eat, then - on the recommendation of the driver - settled in the Palace Bar for a traditional pint in a Proper Irish Pub. It was quiet and covered in wood inside, with countless miscellaneous items, including rather unflattering sketches of folk, antique 'notices' and a hurl, hanging from the walls and ceiling. This gave us just enough time to return to the bus stop (I can't extol enough the benefits of satnav, even by foot!) and take the coach to the airport.

A brief aside - if I may - on the coaches. I regularly commute between Luton and London on the Arriva-run Greenline 757. I've also taken the coaches into and out of Stockholm and Dublin, and they have both been cleaner, more spacious, more comfortable and the air conditioning actually worked. On our last trip to the airport it was rather enjoyable to be serenaded by Country Mix playing through the radio, and on every occcasion the drivers have been patient, polite and wiling to take the time to explain (in English). Compare that with some (a blessed few) of the frankly odious drivers I - and other travellers - have to contend with, and it's almost embarrassing to think about the experiences of visitors to the UK.

Speaking of Arriva, their Christmas present was to raise prices again, and to stop selling the 'ten tripper'. Why? I have no idea, but it has entirely removed any flexibilty from my commute, since I don't work enough days to justify an annual season ticket (since I work four days a week), and a day return would increase my journey costs by �2 a day, and causing me to have to walk home from town. So now I book my tickets in advance using EasyBus - I am happy to spend £2 a trip for this barely adequate service, since they have done me no favours over the past six years of travelling with them.

So.. we were back at Dublin Airport, and it was only while we were waiting for the flight (late again! I guess the half-hour delay had percolated through the rest of the day's trips, although we were on a different aeroplane on the return journey) that I realised how massive the airport was.. but how deserted! I'm guessing during the peak holiday season it can get far busier, not least because there were large display boards advertising Terminal 2 being built, and ready in 2009. Luton Airport (the map link is to the same scale as that of Dublin!) has grown beyond all recognition in the time I've been in Luton, taking upwards of fifteen minutes to walk - at a reasonable pace - from the check-in area to the departure gate, but Dublin's taxi-way, apron and runways just seemed so much more expansive. I suppose, being Ireland's primary airport, it's not much of a surprise, really.

By midnight I was home - sorting out shower coming out of the overflow above the terrace; this was caused where the Christmas Tree box was hanging over the cold water tank in the loft, stopping the ball-cock reaching its zenith... oops! - and preparing for my return to work today. I'm working from home tomorrow, since Beth has a scan - but Thursday and Friday will be business as usual. Yup.. 2008 has certainly started in style!

(You'd not think so considering the traffic on the way to work this morning.. the motorway was so jammed up, I ended up nearly an hour late into the office!)

Posted by james at 9:42 PM

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

interfaces to review..

A couple of quick links while I recover from a short run of nightshifts...

  • www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/djw30/dasher/handhelds.html : This is Dasher. It's an ingenious new kind of user interface, which takes some getting used to, but saves having to use a keyboard to type! I've installed it on my iPAQ, to see if it's actually usable! I heard about this during a 'user interface special' edition of BBC World Services' Digital Planet podcast.
  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjxHgsdKEJk : secondly, here's one of Christopher's current favourite series of YouTube Videos - it's a man called Michael Mozart, and he's recorded reviews of past and present (and rubbish) toys. They are funny.

Posted by james at 9:53 AM

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

First post..

I'll do my best to collect my various thoughts, since it's half-past five on New Year's Day and I'm a hundred and fifty minutes (clockwatching? Moi?) from finishing my third of four night-shifts to help plug a gap in staffing over the Christmas period.

We've had a lovely Christmas, with just the right combination of family time and visitations. The children, as always, have been utterly spoiled with wonderful presents (thank you to everyone who gave them gifts.. "thank you" letters are on their way, honest!) Unfortunately, Beth's brother is still not well, so we've all been very concerned for him. Seeing the New Year in from a hospital bed certainly puts my situation in perspective, and I wish Rob all the best for a quick (and complete!) recovery.

Onto slightly better news, I'm excited to report that Wood, the seventh and latest edition of The North South Divide comedy podcast has been unleased upon an unsuspecting internet. I'm pleased with how it sounds.. you can download it here (28MB MP3), or even (if you've got Flash.. hasn't everyone?) play it on your browser:

Hope you enjoy it.

In other news, well, I've not got too much to report, I'm afraid.

Yesterday, I came across a CD of Harry Hill's The Story of the Meeting of the First International Recipe Card Top Trumps Society which was bizarre and hilarious at the same time (so true to form) and couldn't help browsing his website. I can recommend his choice of "Trombolos" (apparently 'the best trombone solos in the world ever') if you want to sit open-mouthed at musical wrongness. Comedy.. it's all in the timing.

I was intrigued by a link in a Tweet the other day - Enter Three TV sounds like a good opportunity if you want to be on telly. I daresay you have to fit most of the 'Big Brother' criteria, though... can't see me getting on TV, since I'm over 35!

Before I sign off on this first blog entry for 2008 here are a couple of additions to my podcast feeds (to replace some which have sadly gone by the wayside over the past year):

  • hydepodcorner.libsyn.com : Mat Hyde's Hyde Pod Corner - home-made comedy, tunes and an improvised epilogue, all put together to make something very entertaining.
  • topicalpish.com : A new Celeb Scandal podcast from the Gary Dring, who's also responsible for the fine Clever Little Pod.
  • www.colonel-radioshow.co.uk : The memoirs of Colonel Crabtree-Smythe, interviewed by Sage MacKorkadale. Strange, surreal and not for the faint-hearted.

There's been a lot of great comedy on the radio of late (not least Radio 4's Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show.. one of the few I have to be careful when listening in public, since it causes me to laugh uncontrollably!) - so plenty to keep me amused while I'm on the nightshift.

Finally, I was sad to hear about the death of Kevin Greening. I believe he was one of the finest DJs of his generation, although he was never really recognised (or wanted to be) as such. There is a great tribute to him at the planetbods.org website.

Posted by james at 5:25 AM

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