Friday, 22 May 2015

So I'm, trying to juggle 3 jobs.

The first is, of course, shutting down the lab side of my business. There's kit to sell (some sold already) materiel to dispose of and a need to do some manufacturing for one customer, some custom work for another before it all goes. And a butt-load of paperwork to sort, file, recycle etc.

Then there's my development job. It's very different in a way, from so many things I've done, yet at the same time draws on physical chemistry, engineering and instrumentation experience as well as development process experience. Love it, get a little frustrated by it, wish I were doing it full time (2 days/week isn't anything like enough to acheive what's needed in the time frame) and really glad to be onboard.

Finally job number 3, managing  the main shared lab facility. Again there's not enough time, though in a few weeks that will be less of a problem. The biggest frustrations are a mix of IT (because everything is done in the cloud, it's all remotely managed and I can't 'just' fix it now & work) and trying to sort out someone else's quality system. Even though I respect and appreciate the originator of that system very much, it had them working hours into the night and is hugely labyrinthine and deeply customised, and at the same time basic good practices weren't always followed (like marking obsolete documents as such when issuing updates). And there's no 'logic' to the system that allows one to locate all temperature monitoring documents in a single subsection etc.

So I went and made a coffee, having had a less-than-efficient morning trying to print a copy of a record document and top up liquid nitrogen containers. The window to the kitchen was open the out-door scent coming in was fresh and cool. It's not all bad then. :-)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Francis Bacon and the masters

Is the title of an exhibition at the Sainsbury centre for visual arts in Norwich. I know this because my mother, in her great generosity, passes over her copy of The Week magazine, which summarises the news by drawing from a  wide variety of both British and international sources without significant political or obvious cultural bias.

To illustrate the article on this exhibition they had, side by side, The Crucifixion as depicted by Bacon, and the picture that inspired him by Alonso Cano. Granted both pictures were small in print, but one of them appeared to be a finely crafted image with expressive use of light and shade, carefully detailed and and with emotions poured into form, while the other looks like the bored doodling of a teenager who is depressed after listening to heavy metal. I'll leave you to guess which is by whom.

To quote a quote from the article "But there is in some cases 'not obvious relationship' between the exhibits" (the inspiration and Bacon's work). And "Many of these connections are 'tenuous' and among all the masterpieces it is 'easy to forget about Bacon altogether'". I feel quite guilty for finding this so pleasing.

The magazine is often drily humorous with the comments it extracts for an article. The obituary for Keith Harris (he had a ventriloquist act with a green 'bird' called Orville) was completed with a quote from Harris made to Louis Theroux, who had asked him how he felt about Orville and their 25 year relationship. "I created a monster, in a funny way" Harris replied. "He made me into a household name, but he put me into a pigeonhole".

And finally.

In an article regarding the performance of Twitter as a listed company, Lucy Kellaway of the FT was quoted as saying that CEO Dick Costolo spouted nonsense: "As we iterate on the logged-out experience and curate topics, events, moments that unfold on the platform, you should absolutely expect us to deliver those experiences to the total audience." The observation was made "What better way to undermine a brand dedicated to 'saying things snappily' - it's like discovering the Burberry chief Christopher Bailey secretly buys his clothes from Primark."

That was the week that was. ;-)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ever hear a noise that distressed you?

Maybe distress is the wrong word, but when you're sat in front of your laptop and can hear a hard drive going flat out when the machine is apparently idle, if you're IT-inclined it should make you very worried.

Putting my ear close to said laptop made me no wiser, and the noise, if anything, diminished. It seemed to be coming from off to my right, but small rooms with hard walls like this office can reflect sound, making it bounce and seem to come from elsewhere.

I stood up & the noise diminished. It MUST be the laptop.

Sat down, seemed to be coming from the printer off on the right (printers don't normally contain hard drives, especially when they're nasty budget units from HP) but listening closer suggested the source wasn't the printer.

Much perturbation.

Finally tracked it down.

It's the electric clock, and it makes the noise when the second hand is descending, so there's about 30sec of hard-drive style noise, then a slightly gritty quiet. Had me fooled for about 3 weeks of 2 working days/week.

At least I've managed to get the office wirelessly networked now, so we're not tripping over cables and passing stuff around. Next step will be a NAS for file storage and backup and (hopefully) a mono laser printer so we stop burning cash on ink refills in the HP.

This is the job where I have IT input. In the other, for various reasons, the organisation has decided to use 'cloud computing', which kinda works and kinda doesn't. It's like 1995 all over agan with sluggish behaviour, sometimes unreliable apps and never being able to find your stuff when you want it. But they will probably pay me, eventually.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Silence isn't golden (it's just silence).

2 of my favourite bloggers have both posted pieces about silence, neither of which I've really read yet. Blogging has just dropped off the radar for me recently, and I've been silent because I've not been saying anything here. i.e. there's nothing clever about it from my end.

So I'm re-shaping my life a bit more: beginning to shut the business, trying to mentally juggle 2 jobs outside of that, doing more guitar playing, more amp building, more running, more work on the house, more life elsewhere. Photography happens sometimes too, though I'm slacking on the darkroom side of the committment to that particular craft, so images are stacking up on my hard drive waiting for creative input.

Here's a couple of recent pics: Chesterton Windmill in Warwickshire.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

There's an imbalance somewhere.

Among the many friends I have through facebook (numbers of which I keep trying to reduce) there are 2 guys who have both, quite independently, posted up about being depressed in the last 24 hours. I know both of them from the same mountainbiking circle, and we share many of the same friends.

One of them had a large number of affirming and positive (if sometimes shallow and thoughtless) comment. The other had none.

I don't understand how one of the guys could be so overlooked to the point of seemingly being ignored - and his situation is much more 'desperate' if that's the right phrase, though with depression that can have little to do with it - than the other's.

People are odd. I suspect there'll be a raft of posts now the duck is broken.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Just thinking about how hard it is to build people up.

When, if you were offering directions to get somewhere, the advice you'd give is "you'd be best not starting from here".

Friday, 24 April 2015

So today Ben goes again

Down for 6 months hard labour in Turkey - I think we're going to miss him more this time round.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Next years adverts

Not surprisingly, I'm starting to receive ads encouraging me to book a ski holiday for next year. It's not going to happen, but that doesn't stop me wishing.

In other news, I'm having the bizarre experience of Ben borrowing my car for a couple of days while he completes his training before heading off to Turkey as a mountain bike guide at the end of the week. It shouldn't feel strange, but it does.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Am I about to get a new phone?

My Motorola RAZRi has been running Android 4.1.2 Jellybean for 2 years. It did an update just a couple of months after I'd bought it, and that was that, which would bother some. Most of the time it's been fine, since it did everything I expected when I bought it and that was just what I'd wanted.

Recently I'd heard that 4.4.2 Kitkat was being rolled out, with mixed reviews, but with an improvement in performance for many users. Hopefully it won't brick my phone like it has some.

Anyway, it's about 450MB, downloading now. Guess we'll find out soon enough.

Update took about 20min download, then 20min install. Fonts and some icons are different. Swiping seems slightly smoother, but some functions seem laggy. Text message appearance has changed, and all ringtones seem to have been reset to something hideous.

Time later to dig around.

Identikit management?

There is a certain sense of amusement that the lab here is now being managed by 2 guys in their early 50s, both balding with short grey hair and grey goatee beards. He's taller than me though.

Last week I started the first of my new jobs, and this week I start the second. It's not clear what I'll be doing yet, but voyages of discovery have often been interesting.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Change is in the wind

So I'm tidying and filing at work right now.

Came across a couple of booklets from my friend Gunvor, from my last working visit to Stockholm in 2009, for a place called Sigtuna. It's another place I'd love to visit when there was opportunity, along with a few days in Stockholm itself, but there's so much to see and so little time.

We were also talking about returning to Austria again, and our last time there was literally the week before I went to Stockholm. There's a side of Austria that I've not yet seen, away from the tourists and mountains of the west.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Another 9 days left.

Ben is back next Wednesday, and suddenly we're going to have to remember that we aren't young, free & married any more. And we'll need to clear his room out. At least he's getting lots of board time in before the return, judging by facebook. I'm just a little jealous, since I know my skiing career is finished, but it's OK really.

So summer has kind-of started here already too. Just wish I could enjoy the idea of a 20mile MTB ride in the evening after work.


Or not. He's back home with us now, having finished 1 week early. 3 1/2 hours and 200 miles of driving later, we got back late this afternoon from Stanstead.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Now here's an interesting thing - answers to prayer pt.1

Business has been lean recently, and between us we'd recognised things couldn't go on like they have before we ran out of money. So yesterday, not feeling terribly spiritual (recovering from a nasty cold, which Chris now has badly) I spent the day praying & fasting to ask what we should dofor the future.

There weren't angel choirs, flashes of lightning or signs in the heavens so much as a sense of "it's up to you - what would you like to do". Chris's feeling is that for all the work we have done we've had very little back and it's just not worth it, so I've pretty much committed to finding a job for, at least, some time. And that's fine - I don't really have an interest in marketing myself as the business any more, and self-confidence levels are pretty much ground-floor now.

This morning I've had 2 offers of work, for 1 and 2 days a week. 1 was semi-expected, although so often the semi-expected offers never come off that I'd pretty much stopped expecting them to be more than wishful thinking. The other was completely unexpected, and very useful.

The grace of God at work.

Now the question is what to do with what remains of the business? I am very thankful to be in this position.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Tonight the cold has fully landed.

Sinus pressure my old friend,
You've come to hurt with me again.
Because of mucous softly seeping
Filled my tubes while I was sleeping
And the pressure, that was planted in my brain,
Still remains
From the cold of springtime.

Funny how feeling crappy should make me poetic, lyrical even.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

For the first time in almost a year.

I've walked and prayed round the Heyford Park estate. Can't escape the connection that's there, even though we've moved on and have begun to heal.

But I must say that the last few months have not been kind at all. Roads closed, dust & dirt everywhere, seemingly more empty houses, huge mountains of rubble from all the buildings that have been chewed up and spat out to make way for the new builds. This must be such a difficult time if that's where home is.

Did someone post a comment, then change their mind & delete it?


Firefox is doing odd things

Just had some strange behaviour: a refusal to download linked content from a website and a complete failure to use the purchasing system on the Sigma-Aldrich website. Worked fine in Opera, which makes me wonder whether it's not a fault in Firefox so much as people developing for Chrome browser and marginalising FF.

How could you worship more through music and song?

Is a question asked on the lent course we're doing as a church.

The obvious answer is to sing along to worship CDs more often, though I'm not at all convinced that's actually any kind of worship at all. But theology of worship aside, it had me wondering about the sort of music and songs we use in church, and particularly, my part in playing and helping lead worship through what and how I play.

I'd like to let you into a secret - most Christian 'worship' CDs make me feel icky and out of kilter after a while.

Some, usually those recorded at events that are about more than just singing like Stoneleigh bible week etc have the longest legs, possibly because the actual intent is about worshipping together. Others, including albums from some very well known, awarded and feted international 'stars' of CCM much less so. The latest album from a certain Irish group that I really badly wanted to like was so loaded with emotional stress and tension that it felt like a needle being pushed into my mind, and I couldn't even listen all the way through first time round.

Maybe it's my fallen, un-redeemed character that needs a bit of the nasty to feel OK?

Over-production, a common problem when people are seeking 'perfection' or 'excellence', doesn't help either, producing a form with nothing to criticise and nothing to inspire either.

So after listening to 'worship' for a while I might bung on some Thin Lizzy or Joe Bonamassa in the car, just to wash away the cloyingness and emotional pressure that seems to come through. It's not that I don't want the presence of God - far from it - because God's presence doesn't come or go for me with the music I'm surrounded by (provded I don't go filling my head with evil). But there's something, rather like cello music, about music from certain 'worship' artists that presses buttons and makes life harder instead of better. And I appreciate that not everyone feels like this, and will love the stuff I can't bear.

So yes, it makes me wonder what I might do differently, or whether it would be more of the same as I presently do? Would I always be under tension and stress, straining, trying, reaching, stretching to touch God as it so often feels from the way the examples I've given, or would I be at peace, relaxed and happy to be in God's presence? For that matter, is it possible not just to be relaxed, at peace and happy, but to be soaring with and enjoying God, of sometimes feeling joy so strong you want to laugh - and that happens too, sometimes.

Probably a good job I'm not playing this Sunday. ;-)


Monday, 16 March 2015

Just trimmed out a few more frozen blogs from the blogroll

Kinda sad to see them go, really, but after almost a year of no activity I reckon the 'owner' isn't coming back. C'est la mort I guess.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Playing electricians roulette

I'm tweaking an amp I built back in '06 to change the tone, hopefully to be a bit crisper and less congested in the mids, which means lots of swapping out components, testing the thing with the chassis open to errant fingers with >300V running through.

Fun times. :-)

Well, I survived..... so far, anyway.

It feels good to be doing something technical again, using a different side of my brain & learning.

This amp was based on a Fenderised version of traditional 12AX7 + EL84 designs with a negative feedback loop to give more headroom & help it stay clean for longer. I tried different values of resistor in the NFL (current value about 116K) but reducing to 48K caused a volume drop and increasing to 220K seemed to produce some kind of resonant overtone and reduce the 'singing' quality of the amp. Removing NFL altogether gave very little clean headroom, and it was just flabby & tubby. In the preamp stage I'm using 15K cathode resistors, and had a coupling cap only on the second triode, so popped a 1uF cap on the cathode of the first triode and added a 470pF cap across the 100K resistor coupling the 2 gain stages together.

Between the 2 tweaks it's popped a bit more sparkle into the amp and reduced the mud somewhat while keeping it cleanish at a reasonable volume level. If I could run it through a 12" speaker it would be quite loud, but it's about to go into a dead Marshall MG30 combo that's been laying around (thanks Ben Morris, if you're reading this). Maybe it will even get an outing to church tomorrow. :D

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Windows skype - so good they made it twice.

A few days ago I grumbled about Microsoft trying to get me to sign into skype twice, using a microsoft account, and how annoying that was. Well, smartie-knickers here hadn't realised that there are 2 versions: one that runs from the desktop in a window and one that runs full screen (for tablet users?) from Start.

It's still irritating, that they should impliment things this way, but pleasing that skype does, in fact, work perfectly fine still when launched from the taskbar. How very curious though, to have 2 versions of an application installed which apparently don't share user information with each other. I suspect if one tried to use that as a way of having different users from a single machine then there would be a breakdown and cross-contamination.

In similar vein of odd software behaviour, I and other users have noticed that when processing images in DX Optics pro, then importing images into lightroom, sometimes the images would come across with bizarre colours and tones, bearing no relationship to what we had produced. This would happen unpredictably, and seemed to have no connection with any editing we did in DXOP

The answer was obscure, yet obvious.

When output from DXOP was imported into lightroom, if the same image had already been edited in LR then it imposed any filters to the imported image that had been applied to the  RAW image. It seemed to do this regardless of image format, so DNG, TIF and JPG files were all affected similarly. Moving to the develop module of LR and then hitting the reset button *for each DXOP-processed image* seemed to fix the problem completely without also resetting any edits made to the original RAW file.

 An undocumented feature, to borrow a Microsoft euphemism, that would have been useful to know some time ago, before I deleted a lot of terrible-looking images that were probably perfectly good. At least I know NOW.

Anyway, onward and upward.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Salisbury Cathedral

A few shots from last week.

Mike 4D - the first image was taken just after we got off the phone.

When I took the early morning pictures it was very cold, and the grass around the building was quite crunchy underfoot. After a while my fingers lost all feeling, and I was glad to get back to the hotel for a hot shower and breakfast.

Monday, 9 March 2015

I'd love to use Skype, but.......

This could be a rant, but I'd prefer not to do that, at least not yet.

A while back Skype asked permission for a major update - fine - and now requires me to have a microsoft account before it will give me access to the software. Not so fine. There's usually an escape route with this kind of arrangement, but this particular update doesn't seem to allow it, and rather than dig through trying to find a way to use skype, I'm simply not going to bother. I don't want to use it badly enough to create a microsoft account.

It's sad that, after so long, big tech companies don't get that users don't want to be the product. It's not as if I hadn't needed to sign up for a skype account anyway, so why make me jump through more hoops and sign further license agreements? I'll keep Skype on the Macbook because that still works without the faff (and without upgrading).

Will Frankenstein's monster ride again?

I was pointed toward a blog recently, via a facebook conversation where I wondered whether there was a difference between the meaning of the words 'Disability' and 'Handicap' (I appreciate one is favoured over the other, yet to me they say exactly the same thing). Said blog did not provide an answer, though I confess not to looking terribly hard beyond reading the description and the most recent post. It is a modern fashion to be offended by and sensitive to labels, usually on behalf of others, though not in this situation, and one that I rather think we should reject.

But anyway.

The first article was discussing various artists that had suffered a late onset disability including Goya, and while scanning through I came across the following:

"Nor should we ignore the wider context of Romanticism that saw artists and writers turning away from the rationality of the age in favour of raw nature and emotion.   Goya called a 1799 print “the sleep of reason produces monsters”.  It was in this context that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1816."

Was Goya an Emo? I wonder if this has anything to say about our present age of rationality?

Monday, 2 March 2015

Monday evening in Salisbury

So this week I start training at Porton Down for possible deployment to Sierra Leone on the Ebola screening program - dependant (I suspect) on the performance I manage while training. Almost everyone else on the course has experience in health service labs, so I'm the odd one out as far as that is concerned, and naturally the guys running things want to make sure I'm not either a dumbo who will spray everyone around him with Ebola, or a jihadist after a cheap ticket.

The guys seem a nice bunch. Amenable, intelligent, friendly, it takes a certain kind of person to works well in a pressured clinical environment.

So today, after introductions, picking up scrubs (gowns that will be worn) and clogs, we talked about the history and characteristics of Ebola virus, then assessing the risks of handling samples and methods to mitigate them, finishing off with working and living conditions in the various centres to which we might be deployed. None of it is scary, all sensible and practical, pretty much how one would hope things would be worked out by people with experience and knowledge of local conditions.

We're off for dinner shortly, and I've got quite a lot of reading up to do when I get back.

 My deployment has been declined, and I'm OK with that. Life now goes on, if not exactly like before, then with a little more personal understanding and experience.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Funny how small things please.

For example, this week I replaced the Lexmark C540n laser printer that sat on my desk with another Samsung laser (CLP360, if you care) because the cost of keeping the Lexmark going was stupid and occasionally it would fail to pick up paper properly, requiring furcling around and restarts.

But it's not just having a new printer that makes the difference - this thing takes up half the volume of the Lexmark. Suddenly there's more space, a feeling of not being hemmed in and a pleasant airiness to my right. The Lexie was a bit of a beast when I got it, and after opening the box I had one of those "lummie - what am I going to do with that?" moments. Print quality was a step up from the last Sammie printer (and is better than this one) which made me forgive the bulk somewhat, but its appetite for toner was voracious compared to how much printing I actually did, and after 3 years it must have cost more than double the original purchase price in toner. Over all I reckon this cost me fully twice as much to run as the last colour Samsung.

So good riddance - I won't be missing Lexie one bit.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Kill apathy!

Just received by email:

"Here are FIVE HABITS that kill apathy and keep us flourishing in all the in-between-moments of life.  Click here for more"

 Sorry, but I can't be bothered to visit your web site.

Expedia can be impressive.

For various reasons it seemed like a good idea to pop their app on the phone a while back, though as I described recently when trying to actually book travel. it caused some frustration. However having just had another look while idling away a time of waiting, I discovered our recently booked itinerary was available in all its glory. There is little to beat actually carrying printed copies of documents, but having the electronic versions available 'live' could be incredibly useful.

I'm also reminded of our trip to Italy some years back, where our hotel had closed and we needed to re-book mid-trip. This would have been so useful then, though I hope we don't need to do that again.

Monday, 23 February 2015

I'm starting to realise what a potentially marvellous tool for travel google maps can be.

In September we're off for a few days to Osuna in Andalucia, southern Spain, so it seemed like a good idea to have a small 'explore' in anticipation. When looking at a map of an area, clicking on the name of a town or place will draw one in close, offering the options of either seeing local photos or using streetview to expore the area in question. It already feels like I know the area a little, and much of the area looks lovely in a dry, rocky and hilly way.

Very much looking forward to this trip now.