Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Sun, 02 Oct 2005

Secret Drumming

For some time I've been wanting to do something musical. I dabble on the guitar and piano, but lack anyone to collaborate with. Saying that, I have been teaching Tilly the piano and accompanying her when she plays the violin she has just started at school.

Through the Herts Linux User Group I met Malcolm who is involved with Secret Bass drumming group. Today I got around to attending a meeting. This involved finding a small village in darkest Hertfordshire down twisting lanes, but I got there. The venue is a wonderful straw-bale structure in the woods.

There were six of us there with myself as the only complete beginner. I was taught the basic techniques and we worked on a Senegalese tune they had picked up from another group. I was pleased to find I could pick it up quite fast and even keep up with the others. Someone had brought along a small metal drum that he started to demonstrate and a jam ensued, complete with some dancing. Then we did a bit of Swahili singing! I know it all sounds a bit new-age, but I really enjoyed it. I'm sure my hands will be sore tomorrow.

I intend to go along again.

[21:56] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 31 Aug 2005

Summer Holiday 2005

We went camping with another family at the Haven Seaview near Weymouth. We chose this as a family friendly site, but it turned out not to be. The tent area was very basic with no showers and very basic toilets/washrooms. There were better facilities as short walk away at the main complex, but even these had problems. The showers were not that good. On the plus side there were outdoor and indoor swimming pools, that we used once, a restaurant with affordable food, an entertainment bar (with insufficient seating) and amusement arcade. Their main focus seems to be on selling static caravans for thousands of pounds. Our main complaint was about the lack of control of some rowdy campers. Several large groups set up around us and we had to put up with loud music until late at night, bad language, mini-motorbikes and free-roaming dogs. I could put up with that at a motorbike rally, but not at a family camp site. Luckily the kids slept through the worst of it. We made several complaints with little result. We shall not be using Haven again. The other family left a day early as they had had enough.

One thing we can't blame them for was the strong winds one day. After sheltering in the complex all morning we returned to find our tent about to blow away. One guy rope had snapped and others had pulled out of the ground. I managed to secure the tent using all available pegs, but a few things got wet. The tent was really flexing in the wind and one metal pole got a bit bent. Meanwhile, the sturdy frame tents didn't budge. A few others fared worse than ours. In the end we managed to repair the damage.

Weymouth has a very long beach with all the usual attractions. The beach slopes very gently, so you have to walk a long way out for a swim. It was fine for the kids to play in the sand. Nearby is an excellent Seal Life centre. Next door to that was the fun Pirate Mini-Golf. Tanya had an impressive round with two holes-in-one.

Durdle Door is a beautiful spot, but not such a good beach for the kids. It is reached by a steep path down the cliff and consists of a pebbly beach and a sharp drop-off into the sea. Fun for strong swimmers.

We had a great day out at Monkey World. It's sad that they have to rescue so many apes and monkeys from bad treatment in homes and the 'entertainment' industry. They are really well cared for there and the staff really care about them. The kids loved it. They have a huge adventure play area as well. We adopted some of the animals for the kids as it's a very deserving cause.

Many years ago I used to visit Lyme Regis with my family. It's a small fishing port famous for it's fossils. It hasn't changed much. There's just no room for it to grow. It happened to be their Candles on the Cobb day, a charity event attended by a very large crowd.

Our final day was spent at Lulworth Castle. It's a restored ruin with extensive grounds. The main attraction for us was a jousting display, but we also enjoyed the 17th century dancing and the petting zoo.

[09:57] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 12 Aug 2005

Escape from Canada

I had a productive week in Toronto and so was allowed the come home a day early. A few hours before the flight I heard that there was a strike at Heathrow, but my flight still seemed to be on. Nic and I got to the airport early to find that it had been delayed 24 hours! I'm not sure what was going on, but as well as the crowd of confused passengers there were lots of cops, TV cameras and then a couple of SWAT-type guys armed to the teeth.

We both managed to get transferred onto a Canadian Airlines flight that left an hour later than we were meant to. Unfortunately this meant travelling economy! At least it meant getting home that night. So I spent a short, uncomfortable night on an aging Airbus with no personal video screen (what's the world coming to?). I had been thinking of watching Hitchhikers on the BA flight.

Heathrow was busy when I got in, but at least I didn't have to wait in the huge non-EU passport queue and found my case as soon as I got to the casousel.

What could have been a nightmare was not too bad in the end. I'm back with my family again.

And big congrats to big Al on his first-born son.

[19:41] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 05 Aug 2005

I have Freecycled!

Like most people I have old stuff lying around that I don't need, but it's too much hassle to sell it. The problem is that I find it very hard to throw things away that others could use. Then I discovered Freecycle. It's a network of people who are giving away things they don't need. You can also put out requests for things you do need. They operate through a series of Yahoo Groups for each area. There are several near me, including one around Letchworth.

I've got some spare materials from our housebuilding project and decided to see if anyone wants them. Last night someone came and collected a long piece of plastic pipe that was left over when we laid our electicity main. It's just been in the garden for a couple of years. Then last night I found out that the local scouts are trying to get rid of all their old stacking chairs. I'm sure someone could use those, so I posted a message about them.

I intend to try and dispose of some more stuff soon.

I ought to get rid of the motorbike I no longer use, but I'd prefer to get some money for that.

Reduce, reuse, recycle and Freecycle!

[08:14] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 03 Aug 2005

Water, water everywhere

A while back I heard Anita Roddick on the radio talking about how she never buys bottled water as it's overpriced and wasteful in resources. Since then I've asked for tapwater in various restaurants without problems. I just saw another article on the subject at the NY Times. It points out that you might not want to take the chance in some countries, but generally there's no harm in drinking your local tap water. We now have units to cool and filter tap water at work instead of the old containers that were delivered saving a few lorry trips. At home we have a built-in filter and use it to fill a jug for the fridge. Tastes fine to me. I only buy a bottle if I'm desperate when out and about. Maybe there should be more public drinking fountains.
[13:49] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 14 Jul 2005

Watching the news as it happens

From the high vantage point of our office in Wembley we can see a large section of London including the new stadium. Today someone noticed that a building over that way was on fire. Apparently it's a CD/DVD plant. Large clouds of probably toxic smoke blowing away from us. More details at BBC News.
[15:12] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 07 Jul 2005

A Terrible Day

I was working at home today when I heard that there had been explosions on the London Underground. Initial reports said this was due to a power surge, but then I heard that a bus had blown up and it became obvious that something sinister was going on.

I'm fortunate in that I'm fairly sure that nobody I know was hurt today, but my sympathy goes out to those who have lost someone and to those who will bear the mental and physical effects for the rest of their lives. It often seems with a disaster that you hear plenty about the dead, but less about the survivors.

I hope this doesn't result in knee-jerk reactions like the USA did back in 2001. If we all have to change how we live then the terrorists have won. See Bruce Schneier's comments for a reasoned look at how terrorism should be handled. London is riddled with CCTV cameras, but that didn't stop this happening. Would ID cards have made any difference?

[21:06] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 04 May 2005

May the 4th Be With You

One again George Lucas has missed the perfect release date for a Star Wars film. Let's hope this one is better than the last two. I grew up with the original films and these prequels have been too full of talk and mumbo jumbo.

Meanwhile, I'm off sick today after major sniffles and sore throat struck yesterday. I hope it's not the flu that I had recently returning. That was horrible.

For those in the UK, don't forget to vote tomorrow.

[11:12] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 21 Apr 2005

Our wasteful civilisation

This article links to a couple of interesting things.

One is a programme (The Energy Gap) on Radio 4 that I missed at the time, but was able to listen to on-line. A UK family tried living on the same amount of energy as one in India. This meant cutting electricity use by 2/3 and sourcing food from local sources. They may have gone to extremes by having a solar panel fitted, using camping lamps and using less heating. They pointed out the wastage from all the low voltage adaptors that are left switched on all the time. I gather they reverted to some of their old ways when the experiment was over, but I hope they learnt something. The programme should be there for a couple more days.

The other is a list of statistics about how much more of everything the average home in the USA has. More TVs, baths, cars and bigger houses. I'm not sure if the UK is going quite to the same extremes. A lot of new houses are not very big, but we still have more gadgets. They point out that some devices that get left on standby can use more electricty overall in that state than when they are switched on.

Of course there's lots of things everyone can do to make a difference. Turn off lights and other devices when not required, don't boil more water than you need, re-use carrier bags. It all adds up. Oh, and try driving a bit slower. That seems to be a hard one for a lot of people. I've been taking it a bit easier lately and getting a few more mpg. Makes for a more relaxed journey too for the sake on taking a couple of minutes longer.

[18:06] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 01 Apr 2005

Goings on

It's been a few weeks since I added anything here. I'm sure you've all been eagerly awaiting an update ;)

We took a week off work to visit my sister in Edinburgh. Friends and family will be able to see the photos at my Multiply site. The geek aspect to this visit was that I was able to meet up with some people for a keysigning. This was facilitated via Biglumber. This is a site for those interesting in keysigning to advertise the fact, along with their location. I signed keys for four people and am gradually getting their signatures on mine. Managed to have a brief chat with them before dashing off for a great veggie meal at David Bann.

I had my first bit of guestbook spam this week. It's deleted now to deny them any benefit. Spam seems to be generally getting worse. Some is being filtered by the mail server, but Thunderbird picks up most of the rest.

After my earlier deliberations I bought a new digital camera. It's a Canon Powershot A400. It's near the bottom of the Canon range, but I was going for economy. It offers 3.2 megapixels, a 2x zoom and lots of features like movies, sound, panoramic shots and much more. It will do for our family snaps. I'm trying out KimDaBa as a simple photo management tool. It lets me classify pictures according to location and subjects. The Gimp is handling the image manipulation nicely.

[20:42] | [] | Comments | G

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