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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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Sunday, 22 February 2009


This is, as much as anything, a test to see if Leopard (OS X 10.5) has installed OK (something I've been threatening to do for a little while, now) and the blog still works!

My little mac mini has been in the wars a little since I bought it nearly three years ago - during the memory upgrade process I managed to dislodge the fan sensor from the main board, and the DVD drive no longer works - but otherwise, it has survived well, and was due for a bit of an operating system upgrade.

I used a piece of software called Carbon Copy Cloner to create a complete image of Pip's hard drive both for future reference (there are some specific configurations that I needed to apply, for example when setting up the web server) and in case it all went horribly wrong.

The installation went OK, and I was mightily impressed with the Migration Tool, which managed to repopulate practically all the applications and user accounts - the only issue was that I chose 'james' as my first account, which meant I couldn't copy the account from the disk image... creating a new administrator account sorted that out, though.

There was a minor(!) annoyance - Apple Mail decided to carry out an upgrade of my email, which made all the messages disappear from the folders! Fortunately, I wasn't the first to experience this - there's a post on the Mac OSX Hints forums that helped me sort it out. There was a problem with the junk mail filters - resetting them seemed to do the trick.

I followed the instructions on www.diymacserver.com to install Apache2, MySQL and PHP5; I'll be continuing with the excellent guide to setting up an email server when I've got everything running as it should be.

I needed a few bits from my 'backup' files - not least some of the items in /etc/httpd/extra to make the minisites (like blog.mus-ic.co.uk!) work, but it wasn't long before the main website was up and running (hooray!)

The most recent struggle, though, has been this blog! It uses Perl to save entries and publish pages, but the critical link between the blog engine and the database was missing. Fortunately, it was as simple as looking at the error message, visiting the download page for the module and following the instructions to get it working; I don't think I've needed the XCode Developer Tools (the means by which software that works on Linux can be compiled for the Mac, since it runs Darwin, a form of OpenBSD Unix) so much in years!

That's where I am now.. it looks like the Gallery is still broken, but I'm hoping it won't take too long to fix it. Then, it's dansguardian (which should be fairly straightforward, since there are some comprehensive instructions on the documentation page) and I think I'm done!

I have written a few shell scripts that run on a schedule (using cron), such as one that creates a digest of my daily Tweets, and another that backs up the databases; I'm hoping I haven't missed out on anything that I used to rely on!

When this is all done and dusted (and I'm fairly pleased it's only taken about a day - my studio PC would take substantially more time to get 'just so'!) I will be able to upload some photos from yesterday - Eleanor took part in a cheerleading performance along with her gymnastics club, and we also took full advantage of the warmth and sun (while it lasts!) to go to the park and enjoy the snowdrops (me!) and a run around (Chris and Lenni!)

Posted by james at 3:02 PM

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Wii and Bubble Clock...

Nintendo WiiHalf Term has started in some style, especially now most of the snow has subsided - just some compacted ice remains in shady areas (evidence, perhaps, that Pykrete is a workable idea!). We drove up to Milton Keynes yesterday, to the Parcelforce depot to pick up our Nintendo Wii. I love the concept, since it's a little more physically active than those games consoles that just exercise the thumbs; I've become rather frustrated by the Eye Toy on the Playstation 2 (which has, until now, been one of few ways to exert oneself with a games console) since its sensitivity can be really poor on occasion, and it needs perfect lighting to work properly.

Right now, Eleanor's playing tennis; Christopher is becoming expert in bowling, we're all going to have a go at the Wii Fit later on in the week, and I don't think I've had so much exercise in ages (the few miles I walk as part of my commute don't really account, since that's not so aerobic, and certainly doesn't use my arm muscles!).

Of course, it doesn't stop us from getting out and about as well - I'm aware that some consider the Wii to be a poor alternative to 'proper' exercise, but at this time of year it can be quite hazardous underfoot, and it's quite nice to stay indoors!

Yesterday, though, we popped into the centre of Milton Keynes after we'd picked up the parcel, since we'd not been there for a while, and I quite like the layout of the shopping centre, since it's well lit, with wide walkways and generally a pleasant atmosphere.

The Frog Clock in Midsummer Place, Milton KeynesOne of the highlights, though - I would even call it a 'draw' - isn't in the main shopping centre, but at the far end, in an unusually laid out mall called "Midsummer Place." As well as boutique shops, an Apple Store and Lego Shop, there are several pieces of public artwork dotted around it, including one by the escalators that lead to the car park. Created by Kit Williams, I find it a most wonderful piece of civic art; it moves with mechanical patience, carrying large golden spheres from one end of the structure to the other. On the hour, though, a wonderful change takes place - a haunting, mystical tune plays, and the frog, that normally sits dormant at the top of the structure, starts to move, with a lily pad fanning out behind it, and then the frog starts to blow bubbles onto the walkway below, which is often crowded with children, keen to enjoy this.. I was going to say 'novelty' but in the nearly nine years it's been there, Christopher still hasn't got tired of it (and nor have I!)

I was surprised to see that there isn't a YouTube video of this wonderful timepiece, so took the opportunity to upload one - I'm still moved by the sheer innocent joy of the children, gathered together to witness and, indeed, become part of the performance. If you get the chance (or end up in Milton Keynes for any reason!) it's worth having a look; for now, though, I've put below the video of part of the 'on the hour' spectacle, which I recorded on my i600 (so it's far from HD!).

Over the next week, I've used up some of my remaining leave, so I'll be able to share more of the half term with the family. I'm hoping everyone's colds and coughs will subside over the next few days, but it doesn't matter too much, because we can have plenty of fun at home!

Posted by james at 12:07 PM

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Dramatic Chords..!

I have (or am involved in the creation of content for) quite a few websites - my blog, my main music page, The North South Divide and Twitter. Some, as you've doubtless already noticed, get updated more often than others.

Last year, I came across two amusing sites - instantrimshot.com, which, as the name suggests, presents a button to generate a comedy "badoom-tish!" which often follows a poor joke, and sadtrombone.com, which makes that well-known "wah wah wah waaaah!" slide trombone accompaniment to any comically disappointing situation.

I thought I might add my own take on this - inspired by this and the hilarious "dramatic chipmunk" Youtube video - to create a button that can be clicked to create instant accompaniment to a moment of comedy tension.

Thus, I give you:

Hopefully it will spread through the internet like the other two; I'm considering contacting the sites' owners to see if they fancy sharing links... it could be a great success, it could be a failure - we just.. don't.. know (cue dramatic music).

For dramatic chords, click on the chipmunk, then.

Posted by james at 1:09 PM

Friday, 6 February 2009

new song demo: 'no advice'

It's been quite a busy day at home and at work - especially with all the snow we've had, but I've been able to make it to work on the three days I was scheduled to be there, which is a bonus. Yesterday, Beth had an appointment at the Orthotics department of the hospital, so I worked from home. This avoided rather an unpleasant commute (in fact, once again, the coaches didn't run in the morning) and when the children were in bed, I had some time to spend in the studio.

I've posted up a track I managed to write and record to the music section of the main website - it's still very much in the embryonic stage, and I still have all my synths to configure to my satisfaction, but sometimes it's worth just eschewing the sequencer and playing 'live'...

no advicejamelopoeia - no advice [2:35]

jamelopoeia - no advice.mp3 (3 MB MP3 @192 kbps)

This is very much a 'demo' version - something that started as a blank piece of paper at 8pm and was complete within two hours can be considered little else! It was recorded using my Rode NT-1A microphone, acoustic guitar, and the piano sound on the Alesis. I'm finding Adobe Audition to be a very quick and effective way of getting audio recorded - drop-ins are easy, and, although it doesn't have the richness of effects or strictness of tempo that Logic offers, I find I can record and fine-tune things quickly with it.
The song was inspired by a message from a friend on the Twitter  microblogging site, who was awaiting with apprehension the results of a college test; I'm not entirely sure what the intention or sentiment is, and the song is somewhat formulaic (certainly for me) in structure! I have been a fan of the Home Made Hit Show  podcast for a number of years, and used this brief period of lyrical lucidity to apply some of the ideas they've brought to the songwriting sections of the show. I might just submit this as my 'first' home made hit...

Posted by james at 10:45 PM

Monday, 2 February 2009

Snowday 2009!

As I've probably already written in the past, it's been my habit to work Tuesday to Thursday at work, with some email checking on Monday (to go with the weekly shop, some housework and some time with Beth), and longer days the rest of the week.

Today was slightly different, though - it's 'snow day': the worst, I understand, for fifteen years, to the point where even my commuter coach was cancelled. The children's schools were closed, too, so we've been having fun in the warm at home playing boardgames (how traditional!) and out on the green by the main road.

We had great fun - Chris made some giant snow blocks using the glass recycling box, Beth and Lenni built a little snowman and I created a tall sculpture to keep an eye on the traffic as it slowly drove past.

There are more photos in the gallery, but here are some pictures to make my blog a little less neglected! Back to work tomorrow, I suppose (although there's not much sign of the snow abating between now and then!)

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