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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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Friday, 29 February 2008

Lenni as Pippi Longstocking

Here's a pic of Lenni in all her finery! I'm sure you'll agree, Beth did a fantastic job of dressing her up, even to the gravity defying pigtails! She had a wonderful day, which is the main thing.

Posted by james at 9:34 PM

Daily Photo of the Day: City

Since it's February, and by the time I get home of an evening, the outside world doesn't offer too much in terms of things to photograph, I thought I'd take my camera to work with me. This was in the hope that I could have a wander round the beautiful architecture and constant movement of Central London during my lunch hour and maybe capture some unique angles.

As it happened, two of our systems stopped working properly simply on account of the fact it was a leap day (one of which was written just under four years ago, so you would've thought it had been dealt with!) and we had a visit from an HP engineer who needed chaperoning - and as much knowledge gleaned from him as possible.

I did manage to take a few photos, though - one for the weekly TWiT TechGuy photo assignment, a rather nice one of the airport control tower, and this one, which Beth selected as my photo of the day. It looks quite effective at this size (I have no idea where the six-point light flares came from!) but you can see how rough it actually was if you see it at full size...

Click for bigger..
though it's probably best if you don't!

Posted by james at 8:59 PM

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Daily Photo of the Day: Mr. Nelson

Another late arrival home this evening, so after having something to eat (thanks, Beth!) a bit of geekery and generally not enough time before bed, here's today's photo.

Lenni is dressing up tomorrow, for her school's celebration of World Book Day (which is actually on the 6th of March, but they've obviously got other things planned for next Friday!) Since she's a fan of the wonderful Pippi Longstocking, Beth's put together some striped tights and a patchwork dress for her to wear, and popped out earlier today to buy a pet monkey.

So I give you (Lenni's version of) Mr. Nelson, enjoying a good book on our 'pizza picnic' blanket:

Mr. Nelson
(click for bigger)

(This was my first attempt at setting different auto-focus points.. yet another cool function that I'm going to have to learn more about!)

Posted by james at 10:27 PM

Cheap PVR and Geek Music...

I've just received an email shot from Bigpockets.co.uk, advertising a 'build it yourself' PVR (hard disk video recorder) for what seems like less than £20!

You can see it for yourself here: www.247buyers.com/mailshot/270208. Unfortunately, the chassis (a real bargain at £8.99) is currrently unavailable, but from the impressively rapid response to my enquiry, they're processing more stock. I may just have to buy myself one!

In other news, I was made aware of the musical works of Jonathan Coulton during a one of the TWiT podcasts earlier in the week. Would it be uncharitable to describe him as the musical equivalent of Scott Adams? I'm going to have to download some of his tunes, anyway. One of the songs he wrote is featured as the 'victory theme' to Portal, the addictive puzzle game from the HalfLife 2 'Orange Box' set. I may have to buy it, since the reviews certainly sing its praises... although my family may never see me again, since I tend to get quite, well, obsessed!

Posted by james at 10:01 PM

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Daily Photo Of The Day : FISH!

I was a little late home today, so I didn't really have much time to compose an arty photograph with lights, and shiny things, so I had my tea and took some pictures of Princess Petals and Silver Spy. They're active little things, and the camera was struggling to focus much of the time, so it took a while to get even a half-decent photo. Anyway, this is FISH!:

I'm a fan of strange footnotes, so here's one:
www.unilever.co.uk/ourbrands/cookingandeating/articles/marmite_guiness.asp : Marmite flavoured with Guinness? I'd love to try it...

Posted by james at 9:43 PM

Growing vegetables is fun!

The front cover of 'Growing Vegetables is Fun!' issue 1I heard from my podcasting friend Emma today, and she told me that she'd just sent the first edition of her 'bookazine' to the printers.

It's a half book / half magazine aimed at children between five and twelve, called Growing Vegetables is Fun, and - certainly from how the front cover looks - it's professionally presented and promises to be entertaining. It comes with ten packs of seeds, which is certainly a good start to any gardening project!

Growing Vegetables is Fun will be on sale at supermarkets and garden centres from the 19th of March, and will cost £9.99 - which, considering the price of children's magazines and comics these days, is a bit of a bargain!

I wish Emma lots of success with this venture.

Posted by james at 9:14 PM

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Web 2.0 - so much to see and do.

Here are a few of my favourite things.

  • www.lkozma.net/wpv : Pete sent me a rather intriguing link today - Wikipediavision displays a near-live geographic record of updates to the immense collaborative encyclopedia at wikipedia.com. It's so tempting to click the links and learn something about the obscure subjects that are being updated...
  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwMj3PJDxuo : Kind-of like a Flashmob, but odder; improveverywhere organised over two hundred people to freeze at exactly the same time for five minutes. The reactions are just priceless. I would love to be involved in something like this. (thanks, Cath)
Other things that people were talking about at work today:
  • www.alfalima.net/phpbb/viewforum.php?f=2 : One of my colleagues has just started building a prototype Digital Radio Mondiale transceiver, and it brought to mind the Shortwave Pirates to which I used to listen when I was a teenager. Seems they're still going strong - I guess it's only a matter of time before they go digital!
  • www.pcidatabase.com : This is an amazing resource.. if you have a driver disk, but you're not sure what exactly it's for, or if you've got an unknown device, and all you've got is the Manufacturer and Device codes, this website could help you identify it. Of course, the next challenge is to find the driver...

Posted by james at 9:38 PM

A daily photo project...

Now I've got my new camera, I've decided to try and take at least one photo every day. If the best of the crop passes muster, I'll post it up to Flickr - otherwise, I'll probably just leave to languish in a hidden corner of my gallery. However, I'm afraid I am honour-bound to inflict them upon you. For as long as I can sustain it.

So to commence, here's yesterday's. It was taken outside St Mary's Church in Hitchin, and I've called it "Men In Black." I'll be honest, I'm quite pleased with how it came out:

Today's isn't so good.. taken on a whim, since, when I arrived home I looked up and saw the only constellation I could name (apart from The Plough, but everyone knows that, right?) With a long exposure time and a home-made tripod, I took this picture of "Orion".

So.. what underwhelming delights await tomorrow? We'll just have to wait and see...

Posted by james at 8:25 PM

Sunday, 24 February 2008

The Garden Plan for 2008...

(Final one for today, honest!)

We decided a good way to spend a Sunday Afternoon was to plan what we'd try to grow in the garden this year. Here's what we came up with:

Garden Layout 2008

It was a warm enough day to embark on some of the preparation work and planting, but there's always the risk of frost between now and - well - June! I sat down with the children, and we made a list of what we wanted to plant, and referred to the pack instructions (and a website from where some of the seeds have come - www.alanromans.com) to organise when we'd do the work. Here's what we concluded:

Plant out onions
Soak parsley
Prepare parsley pots
Sow sunflowers

sow parsley

Early March
Sow lettuce

Middle of March
sow sprouts
sow carrrots

Early April
Propagate beans

Mid April
Propagate cucumber
Sow nasturtiums
Sow peas

Late April
Sow rocket
Plant out cucumbers

Early May
Plant out beans

So this afternoon, we turned over the sunflower patch, and the two lower planting tubs, and put the seeds and onion bulbs underground. Lenni filled some pots up with compost for the parsley, and Chris helped cover the unused tub with a black bin bag, ready for the sprouts.

After giving the garden a good soaking (with the help of some rain) and hanging some CDs from strings to dissuade our garden visitors from nibbling the seeds, we retreated inside for hot chocolate and the usual Sunday afternoon baths. Still lots to do - but a positive start, and, most importantly, we had fun!

Posted by james at 11:22 PM

Here come 123 podcasts...

They Might Be Giants is - as you doubtless already know - one of my favourite bands. They've built up something of a reputation recently, for creating excellent children's music (including the theme tunes of several Disney TV programmes). The children love "No!" and "Here Come The ABCs" the latter of which came with a DVD with video interpretations of almost all the songs. They're definitely worth having if you have children (or are an ardent fan like me!)

Well, true to the modern idiom, John (Flansburgh) and John (Linnell) appear (in knitted toy form) in a video podcast series that accompanies the US release of their latest CD: "Here Come The 123s" - which is released in the UK in a few weeks time. Chris and Lenni have watched every episode at least four times, but we have all agreed that a track called One Dozen Monkeys is the hit of the album so far. It's short, catchy and typifies what They Might Be Giants is good at.. I'm sure they won't mind if I share a tiny version of it here:

from They Might Be Giants Friday Family Podcast
Subscribe here in iTunes: phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=268647482
(or here for other podcatchers: feeds.feedburner.com/TheyMightBeGiants)

Posted by james at 8:07 PM

Tech toys (for TWiTs?)

I've only recently discovered the podcasts (or netcasts) from the TWiT (This Week in Tech) network; there are shows on all sorts of geeky subjects (from Windows Weekly to a syndication of Leo Laporte's "Tech Guy" radio show), but most are entertaining and compelling - and quite long!

My favourite is The Daily Giz Wiz, an irreverent, comedic look at gadgets - and at less than fifteen minutes long, it's an easy one to listen to!

As a result of this continual stream of geekery, I've discovered some rather useful things that I'd very much like to try - if I get the chance. Take, for example, Viddler. Net At Night had an interview with the founder, and he has some fantastic ideas to expand the realm of user-generated video, including putting comments at a particular place during a video, and the ability to create 'video feedback' for blogs. With the rise of Seesmic (a personal video aggregator.. like YouTube on steroids) and Qik (broadcasting live video from a mobile phone to the internet), The temptation to broadcast to the world is great, but the fact that I need a haircut is all that I need to temper my ill-considered aspirations!

Sainsbury's, through the trees of Bancroft Gardens, HitchinThen, there's Picnik. This is one of the new generation of 'online applications' - its user interface is breathtaking, and it's a free way to manipulate and correct photos for upload to image hosting services, or just general purposes.

In fact, this weekend, I collected together some of my least poor photographic efforts and uploaded them to Flickr. But it was late on Saturday evening, so I didn't take the time to get to know Piknik (shame!)

As you might know if you've arrived here after reading a tweet, I've also set up an automatic Twitter Post plug-in (from chopstixmedia.com) that sends a tweet whenever I create a new blog entry. On those very rare occasions that I get round to it!

So, that's pretty much a round-up of the computer gadgets ... but I'm sure there'll be more!

Posted by james at 6:48 PM

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Half-term week of novelty...

I've done three things over the past few days that I'd never done before. The first - a bit of a treat for me (especially on top of the new bike!) - was that we've finally invested in a proper camera. The Canon EOS 400D was ordered frorm Amazon, along with the well-reviewed 50mm lens (an emphatic thank you to everyone who offered advice and encouragement!), and arrived on Friday. The difference in quality between a Digital SLR and a compact camera (OK, so it's an old one, but it's still one of the best I've used) is remarkable, not least because of the size of the photosensor.

I thought I'd take a pair of photos of our most willing model to demonstrate.. the first with our beloved Kodak DC265; the second with the EOS 400D. Click to see larger versions...

Lenni, taken with a Kodak DC265Lenni, taken with a Canon EOS 400D

There are - as you might imagine - a lot more photos to come!

The second 'first' was that we made bottle rockets. It's been years since I've wanted to make one; the weather conditions and a handy cork, bike pump and inflation needle happened to turn up at the same time, so we made the most of the sunny morning yesterday and had a bit of a play with water. Beth made her photographic debut with the new camera; here are a few pictures that capture the fun! (Click to see the full-size pictures in the gallery)

Bottle Rocket Building...Stand clear for take-off!Bottle Rocket In Flight...Bottle Rocket Landing...

Obviously this was a really primitive first attempt - the rockets didn't have fins, so, once the water had been expended, they span in the air, and came back down without much finesse (excuse the pun). Next time, perhaps... (and if I can get hold of a water dispenser bottle.. well..!)

Finally in my "first time" experiences this week, I held a guinea pig for the first time. Beth had wanted cavies (as they're commonly known) for years, and since she's no longer intending to have any more babies, she wanted some more helpless little things to take care of!

So there are now six mammals and two fish living in our house! I shall close with a couple of pics of the newest arrivals:



Bit of a picture extravaganza, this blog entry! Can you tell I've got a new camera..?

Posted by james at 6:30 PM

Monday, 11 February 2008

Adjusting bicycle cable-fed disc brakes...

One of the first things that needs doing with a new bike - especially one that's not very expensive - is to set up the gears and brakes. I'd played with derailleurs before, so that wasn't too tough (although the cable for the front gear was a little slack, so it simply refused to go into top gear when I first had a go!)

Since this bicycle has disc brakes - both sets of which were rubbing rather noisily on my first run round the block (with a merry "Zing! Zing! Zing!") - I had to turn to the good ol' internet to find out how to adjust them. There are quite a few comprehensive guides to bicycle maintenance, but I thought I'd add a quick entry to the mel´┐Że, not least to remind me.

Now I know how it works, it's quite simple to adjust IS mounted disc brakes:

bicycle disc brake adjustment

Essentially, the two hex-socket bolts are where the braking system is mounted to the frame. These should be tight, and don't adjust.

The upper (green) adjuster, when twisted, changes the angle of the brake system to the central disc. To set this, move to a position where you can see the path of the disc past the brakes, and turn the adjuster one way or the other until the fixed brake-pad is parallel (and hopefully clear!) of the disc.

The lower (red) adjuster, when twisted, (seems to) change/s the distance of the moving part of the brake from the disc. It's almost like a 'centring' adjuster. Fine tune the adjustment of this, while spinning the wheel, until you can hear minimal - or hopefully no - contact between the brake and the disc.

It seemed to work for me, anyway.. it's much quieter, and - of course - this means I'm using less energy. For some reason, I'm still arriving home exhausted, even after a two mile thrash, but I can't blame the brakes any more!

Posted by james at 10:12 PM

Hedge Trimming!

What better way is there, on a warm Sunday afternoon in February(?) than to do some tidying up of the garden? Beth's parents came round yesterday to have a good go at the two rows of beech hedges either side of the drive, and, with the help of a rather serious garden shredder, we managed to get both of them (save for a little bit that we're saving till next weekend!) down to less than six feet tall. It makes a huge difference, especially since they're not in leaf yet.

Here's a pair of before and after shots, as demonstrated by our ever-willing model (although, as you will no doubt spot, I have cheated somewhat!)

Tall hedge (and Lenni!)Shorter hedge (and Lenni again!)

Posted by james at 9:37 PM

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Quick! Catch up!

I was rather shocked to see my blog front page was almost completely blank yesterday, such is the infrequency that I have been updating it of late!

There are, however, extenuating circumstances.. here's an audioblog all about most of them...

audioblog10022008-48k.mp3 (4MB MP3 @ 48kbps)

The highlights (such that they are) include:

  • my new (foldable!) bike
  • Music for podcasts
  • Beth and her hospital visits
  • Resultant work and leave
  • My audiomasterclass course assignments
  • Gadgets.. including a gorgeous little Micro ITX PC
  • Freecycling

A podcast to mention (finally!) while I remember - and I can't believe I hadn't included it before! - is FrequencyCast, at www.frequencycast.co.uk - one of the few UK podcasts that combines techy stuff with light-hearted humour. It's a great listen, and I would very much recommend it to gadget freaks and digital dinosaurs alike!

I shall leave you (for now!) with a couple of photos of Chris and Lenni, as they enjoy themselves in the unseasonably warm February sun.

Chris, playing Swingball
Lenni, with her pink football

Posted by james at 11:34 PM

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