Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Oh To Be In Love

I've got to say I'm very impressed with O2 now (see what I did there?). After the initial iPhone debacle, I've had no problems with them since, so I've taken the plunge and changed my ISP from Demon to them aswell.

Having been with Demon for yonks (probably 15 years or so), it was surprisingly unemotional leaving them - after all I was paying £23 a month for download speeds under 1Mb, suffering customer support from Bangalore (seldom needed thank goodness), and to cap it all they've just been bought by Cable & Wireless, our principle competitor for the product I've helped develop during the past seven years.

Having taken the plunge, migrating to O2 was very easy; Demon issued the MAC code without any fuss, and from then on I was kept updated on the progress of my order by text and email on a regular basis. The wireless router was delivered a few days in advance and connected to my existing network without any problems, then last Monday, as promised, the connection was transferred to O2 - a simple case of moving the phone line from my wired router to the new wireless one. A few tweaks on the PCs and everything was back up and running - including browsing the net on the iPhone while I'm sat on the loo.

Despite the fact that Demon ask for a month's notice, and invoiced accordingly, they cancelled my account that evening, so I've been unable to check the old rhayader mail, and it is now bouncing. I think the only mail that went there was spam and a few mailing lists that I don't care about, but pretty poor of Demon nevertheless.

During the course of last week, the connection to O2 "trained" itself to establish the best bandwidth available. By this weekend it had settled on up and download speeds over twice as fast as on Demon - given that we live two miles from the exchange I guess that's pretty good. Best of all, as an O2 mobile customer, I get a £5 per month discount, bringing the fee down to £7.50. And customer support is a freephone number to UK based staff.

Now that I've finally adopted wireless networking I've reconfigured the Roberts Internet Radio to connect that way too. I've shied away from wireless until the security improved, something that the WPA2 protocol seems to address well, but unfortunately I discovered that the Roberts only supported the rather weak WEP standard. Happily, selecting the update firmware option on the radio downloaded the latest updates that includes WPA2 support.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Family Snapshot

I've grown up believing I was part of a very small family; both my parents were only children, so there's never been aunts, uncles or cousins on the scene. I did have two great aunts but between them they only managed to provide me with a single 2nd cousin.

A few years ago I started researching my family-tree, but as this was before the online tools and services were really established I didn't have a great deal of luck. In fact I encountered so many cold trails I began to imagine my ancestors only came down from the trees in the late 19th century.

Of course, things are very different now, and sites like ancestry.co.uk and thegenealogist.co.uk have brought together all manner of census, birth, marriage and death, and parish records for easy access in one place - albeit at fairly hefty subscription prices. I've been using the latter, but will probably change to Ancestry in due course, as it seems to have better global coverage. Nevertheless, I have been able to go back a couple of generations on the families of three of my four grandparents - my Mother's father remains a complete enigma, having disembarked from a ship in New York in 1931 and disappeared from the radar for ever. Curiously there is no record of him being born in the UK either, so I guess he was just passing through during the 1920's.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to join GenesReunited.com to see if it could throw up some new leads. The results have been impressive; immediately I found somebody who had researched a tree that included my father's grandfather and great uncle, the two brothers that according to family legend fell out in a big way, resulting in one of them adding an 's' to their surname Sandy to disassociate themselves completely.

Yesterday I made contact with another researcher who turns out to be living in Queensland, Australia and is married to a 4th cousin on my maternal grandmother's side. He has managed to trace the line back ten generations to a chap called John Bidlecomb who was born around 1660 in Fawley, Hampshire. Pretty impressive stuff when you think about it; that's before the Plague and the Great Fire of London, and only just after the death of Oliver Cromwell and the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. Even Kronenbourg beer was yet to be tasted.

So in 350 years and nine generations, my Mum's family line has migrated about six miles as the crow flies.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Oh joy! That worked - how about with a photo I took of young Oliver
this morning?

Long Time Coming

Five weeks on from the iPhone debacle, I finally have one. So this
will be brief - I want to see if I can send an email straight to

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?

Crumbs; it's July 31st and I'm in danger of only making one blog post this month - I'll try to get this one under the wire.

So, where have we been and what have we been up to? Well, as you can see from the picture we take life here on the Ranch very seriously, always ready to marshall the herd or defend ourselves from a marauding attack of Navajo braves - although they are quite a rare sight in north Tonbridge these days. OK, actually this was us before going to our friend Lee's 40th birthday Cowboy and Indian themed barn dance. The last time I went to a barn dance was in the lower refectory at QMC in 1985, but I'm pleased to report that my snake hips are still moving well. On a more cautionary note, somebody nicked one of my water pistols while we were there; another sad statistic in this country's growing gun crime problem.

Talking of birthdays, Mum was 137 earlier this month. She doesn't look it of course. I thought it was about time I retired her old Windows ME PC that has served her well for so long, but without an obvious hand-me-down from my collection to give her I went with a brand new cheap and cheerful box from ebuyer. I can't work out how they can make any profit when they sell an Acer Vista based PC for £135 (+ another £15 for extra memory) yet it's a perfectly suitable machine for internet, word processing and photo storage. Whether it survives as long as the last one is another matter.

A couple of Sundays ago we took Lin's parents to Hastings - the first time I'd been there in twenty-odd years I would think. I did sail past it during our dayskipper practical a few years back and it looked quite nice from a couple of miles out, but then after three days at sea sharing a 37ft yacht with four other people even Dungeness B Power Station looked welcoming. Actually, we parked up at the fishy end of Hastings, and I'd have to say it had a certain charm about it, but I don't think I'd like to go there when it gets really busy.

Well, I have eight minutes to make my deadline, so I have no time to report on my latest box of tricks; a High-Def media server. Until next time.....

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Communication Breakdown

Like thousands of others I received a text message from O2 yesterday morning to let me know that the online upgrade shop was now open for those of us eager to upgrade to the Apple iPhone 3G. Since my Sony Ericsson K750i was starting to show its age, and I'd never got around to getting an iPod, I thought this was an ideal opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

Needless to say the O2 website was a little slugish as I navigated through the screens; typing in my current mobile number, waiting for an upgrade code to arrive via text (which for some reason I didn't have to enter onto the web page), and finally providing my credit card details before pressing the "Send" button. Well at least I think I pressed it, as there was no immediate feedback, just the same screen staring back at me. After a couple of minutes it jumped into life with the message "There has been a problem, blah, blah, blah, please try again". So I did; several times.

After a few similar outcomes I decided to do something useful with my life for an hour or so, before returning to find a page saying the upgrade shop was currently unavailable. Mmmm, surely O2 knew there was going to be a huge demand for this launch and could have taken steps to prevent the meltdown.

I checked back a few times during the day to find the same message, before finally being presented with a page saying that the entire stock of iPhones had sold out. Well, obviously I was unlucky; I'm sure that we all had an even chance. At least that's what I thought until I asked around colleagues and friends this morning; I know it's not a major controlled survey, but of the five people I know who tried to order yesterday, two were successful and three were not. Those two are currently customers of other networks, while the three losers are already with O2.

Obviously a coincidence.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Chocolate Girl

There's a commonly used adage "Don't believe everything you read on the internet". whilst this is clearly the case when it comes to emails from Nigeria, medical miracle cures and tips on bringing up babies, it is important to remember that there are plenty of things you should believe.

One such example is that the most pointless piece of household gadgetry you can own is a chocolate fountain machine. I recall reading the results of a survey some months ago that came to this conclusion, so when Lin said that her Mum had always wanted one I felt obliged to veto any attempt to buy one for her birthday. Clearly, this had not discouraged Jan, as when Robert Dyas had one on clearance at under a tenner, she snapped it up without hesitation.

The machine was duly unveiled at Sunday lunch yesterday, and carefully assembled without the aid of instructions (hence the giveaway price). The first thing to be aware of is that you have to fill the machine with a special type of chocolate (purchased separately) that has the correct viscosity when the fountain is operating at its normal temperature. Alternatively, you can use any chocolate of your choice, melt it and add an appropriate amount of oil to achieve the same consistency, but in the absence of any instructions we were unsure as to what sort of oil to use and how much to add - I guess it wouldn't have been Castrol GTX.

Having filled the bottom bowl the machine was powered up. With a gentle whirring noise, the chocolate was sucked out of the bottom and with Archimedean mechanics pushed to the top of the fountain whereupon it cascaded over a couple of concentric domes to complete its round trip to the bottom bowl, ready to start the process again. And that's it. I guess it would have been more impressive if the chocolate had fallen evenly around the fountain, but despite lots of tweaking with the screw-in feet and careful examination of a spirit level (not supplied) we couldn't stop the thing listing to one side. As a result it tended to fall down this side like rain pouring off a shop awning in high winds. Whilst most of the chocolate made it back to the bottom bowl, some splattered off course and invariably found its way onto Jan's top where it joined previously spilt specimens of the Sunday lunch in a scene reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock canvas

By now Emma had shown great interest in the fountain and was offering strawberries into the flow of chocolate. Of course, like any three year old, her attention and control were not of the required standard and before long her fist was buried in the fountain and chocolate was running down her arm to her elbow and onto whatever was beneath her - the table cloth, carpet, the cat.... Within a few minutes Emma looked like she had been bog snorkelling all morning

the worst part is cleaning up afterwards - I'm not sure whether this refers to the fountain or the people who happened to be in the same room when it was turned on, but I can imagine the thought of that would discourage people from getting it back out of the cupboard. Of course, as Jan suggested it could always be used as a fondue centrepiece, except appropriately, that was the runner-up in the survey.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Home By The Sea

Just back from this year's early summer trip to Cornwall. For me this was my 12th year staying at West View House in Trevone (a couple of miles west of Padstow) but for Lin and her family I think this was somewhere in excess of thirty years. Despite this relative inexperience on my part, I can certainly appreciate why they've kept going back; the village is incredibly peaceful in June and my morning strolls to the village store at times reminded me of similar scenes in the Caribbean, with the expansive sky and azure blue sea. On the other hand, towards the end of the week the walk was more like trying to wind surf off Cape Horn such is the unpredictability of the Cornish weather.

One thing immediately obvious from my walk compared to previous years is the number of properties up for sale. I'm not sure if this is speculative residents trying to make some money before the market collapses or second-home owners starting to bail out already, but I spotted half a dozen "For Sale" signs for the Jackie Stanley estate agents alone. Maybe in a few years time the locals will finally be able to afford to live there again.

I can't say the holiday was particularly relaxing; with nine people including Emma, Oliver and their seven-month old cousin all in the house it was hardly peaceful (day or night), and mealtimes had to be planned with military precision to keep everybody happy. We did, however, manage to escape the chaos on a few occasions (the others prefer to stay within touching distance of the beach or the tea pot) and venture further afield. On the Monday we went to Dairyland, a few miles east of Newquay, a farm attraction recommended to us by our local vicar in Tonbridge. Cynically I could say it's a working dairy farm that supplements its income by charging the public to come in and see the cows being milked - a theme park with real cow dung, if you like. But that would be more than a little unfair; what they've done is take all the aspects of the farm and wrap them into an educational, child-friendly and, where appropriate, hands-on package. On top of that they've added the "Bull Pen", a huge indoor soft-play area with multi-level climbing activities, ball-pits and warehouse high slides.

Emma absolutely loved the whole place, and even I had a lot of fun negotiating all the Bull Pen features with her. So it was just as well that our admission ticket allowed us to re-enter free for a further seven days - we returned on Tuesday and Thursday. Perhaps our enthusiasm would be curbed a little if we had been visiting during the school holidays - judging by the size of the car park it was probably only a quarter full during our visits.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Is There Anybody Out There?

Young Oliver has been quite demanding over his first few weeks. Being such a lightweight he didn't have the strength to feed for too long, so it was a "little and often" regime. Day and night. At about eight weeks we started to introduce some formula milk into his diet, which made it much easier for me to help out in the rota. With the night time feeds taking their toll on Lin, I took over the late shift so that she could get a decent stretch of sleep in readiness for a rude awakening somewhere around 4am.

So I've found myself with an hour or so either side of midnight to fill waiting for Oliver to stir. A few months ago I started a project to archive all my old Hi8 camcorder tapes not DVD; this covers a period from around 1991 to 2000 and includes a whole gamut of holidays, weddings, parties and general malarkey. So I've been catching up on that task, but rather than going straight to DVD I'm capturing onto the PC so I can dust off my Adobe Premiere skills and produce an end product of slightly better quality.

In a similar vein to my last post, this has been an interesting window into my past, into what feels like a previous life now. There is one particular sequence from the Bahamas 97 trip that really brought back how great those times were. We'd all been down to Love Beach for the day, enjoying the snorkelling on the reef just offshore (I think it was the time Martin and I encountered an eagle ray at close quarters; quite spectacular) and we were enjoying a Barcardi Anejo & Diet Coke as the sun began to dip lower in the sky. Martin and I are filmed standing at the water's edge, drinks in hand, with the waves gently lapping around our ankles, gazing out to sea and having a good chat. Watching for that brief moment I realised how simple life was back then and how much more responsible I have to be now. But perhaps more than anything I realised I'm down to the last dribble in my one remaining bottle of Anejo at home, with no prospect of going to the States or Caribbean in the near future to replenish my stocks.

Please, please, please, if there's anybody out there who stumbles across this page and knows how to get Barcardi Anejo in the UK, please let me know. Otherwise, if we get some decent weather I'll have to drink Pimms.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

For Absent Friends

Well it was only a matter of time before the presence of this little blog would permeate into the blogosphere; I'd kind of hoped I might build up a half decent collection of semi-interesting posts before I released it on the unsuspecting world, but I accidentally blew my cover by posting a comment on my good friend PT's considerably more mature (in age, if not content) blog Now What Happens?

Pete posted up an entry in response that is full of reminiscence and reflection, echoing a sentiment that I have increasingly felt recently. I'm not having a mid-life crisis because I am extremely happy and content with just about everything at the moment, but I still find it hard to accept that it's the best part of 25 years since the halcyon days at Queen Mary College where so many of my most valuable friendships were forged. A seemingly insignificant decision I made in late 1983 to join the drama society and audition for the Christmas panto was an embryonic moment that through a series of events and associations has defined my circumstances today. Life would have been very different if I hadn't been so keen to dress up in tights that day.

As Pete says, for years we used to virtually live in each other's pockets, especially during the period when we shared an office at Intourist, yet we've only met up twice in the last eighteen months or so. It's pretty disgraceful really, but now we're separated by half the M25 and M3 motorways, it's not so easy to pop round for coffee. Fortunately in this hi-tech age it's so much easier to keep friendships going, so on the odd occasions we meet up we don't have to spend hours catching up on things. Of course it's not just Pete who I've neglected; from Dorset to Dubai, Milton Keynes to Munich and all over the Home Counties there are countless friends I've seldom seen since Emma was born, but when Oliver arrived on the scene the cards, flowers and gifts still arrived from them all by the truckload. I guess this kind of loyalty is the benefit of the many years we spent building the friendships - not that I'm taking that for granted.

It reminds me of a card I received from a girlfriend back in 1984. She had carefully handwritten the following verse, something that struck me as very profound and wise for a seventeen year-old.

Time sifts our friendships and our friends,
For time alone can be the test.
And with the passing of the years,
We lose the false and keep the best.

And when, beyond the distant hills,
The setting sun of life descends,
We find God's greatest gift has been
The love of true and faithful friends

She dumped me two weeks later.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Spirit of Radio

It was my birthday a few weeks ago. That's alright, I probably forgot yours too. Anyway, the family all chipped in and bought me a Roberts Internet Radio; the WM201 for those who are interested. I'd never really explored the world of internet radio before but having a dedicated device that does not require the PC to be on appealed to me, and this particular model is fully stereo and supports both wired and wireless networks.

It takes a lot for a high-tech gadget to impress me these days, but I have to say this little box is the business. You register the device at the Reciva website and set up a profile of favourite radio stations while you're there. The next time you go to the radio, it updates itself with these settings to give you shortcuts to each of those stations. You can of course still use the radio to search for new stations by name, genre or geographical location, but using the web site is a lot easier.

I started by searching the rock genre, with particular emphasis on progressive rock. Amongst a generous selection of channels, one stands out over the others: the curiously named Delicious Agony. The first three tracks I heard were by Peter Gabriel, Yes and Kansas - all of which I own and could easily play myself if I wanted, but somehow hearing a radio station playing my kind of music was more satisfying.

There are some very wierd spoken-word stations out there too, dealing with all sorts of topics ranging from the paranormal to abnormal. Yesterday eveing, whilst trying to calm Oliver after a feed, I flicked through the kids genre looking for baby friendly music. I found a station called 101 RU Lullaby, which sounded promising, but in fact seemed to be broadcasting some Russian bloke singing about his cabbage harvest accompanied by a detuned harmonium. Since this had very little calming influence on Oliver I jumped to my favourites list and chose Beach House Radio, a Spanish station I stumbled upon that plays a mix of chillout, dance and electronica - not the sort of thing I'd normally listen to, but it's very relaxing and always seems to send Oliver into a blissful sleep.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pray Lewd

Tap, tap, tap. Testing, testing. One-two, one-two. Is this thing working?

Well, good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to my blog. I've been meaning to do one of these for ages, but as a fully qualified procrastinator I've never found the time, which is a shame as I'm sure amongst my varied interests (music and video production, sailing, pub quizzes, The Bahamas, and so on) I would have found plenty to blog about.

But that was then; well pre-2005 to be accurate, when Lin and I were the classic double-income, no kids couple, able to enjoy our indulgent lifestyles without a hint of parental responsibilities. Fast forward to today and life is very different - a three-year old daughter and nine-week old son mean hobbies and interests are pretty much on hold and holidays extend to Dorset and Cornwall rather than Dubai and The Caribbean. Not that we're complaining - we count ourselves very lucky to have managed to pack so much in before starting our family, even if it might not have been the original plan.

So why Ranch Lines? Well, our lovely little house is affectionately known as The Ranch by our family. When I say little house I should say bungalow, and perhaps not so little after the extension that went on in 2005/2006 - I notice Google Earth has up to date images now. I'm not going to give you any details as you may be undesirable and come round and nick the garden furniture.

And Pray Lewd? Well this entry is hardly the real deal; more of a prelude of what's to come hopefully. Pray Lewd is a challenging piano piece by Jim Steinman - I can play it a bit - but not half as well as this guy.