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Archives for 2009

Rationing my mince pie consumption

December 5th, 2009

In previous years I’ve had problems with excessive mince pie consumption over the Christmas period. So this year I am limiting myself to just twelve (12) mince pies (ones bought by myself that is, there is no limit to the mice pies I may consume when offered by other people – don’t want to appear rude!). I am recording it here so it is public knowledge and as a reminder to myself.

Tesco have a by-one-get-one-free offer on packs of Mr Kipling mince pies at the moment, BTW.

Unidentifed artifact

December 2nd, 2009

What is this?? I found it inside a Knorr chicken stock cube:


Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it’s not ground up chicken. Going to send it back to Knorr so their scientists can analyse it. Could be an important discovery.

Adding similar songs from LastFM to your MPD queue

November 30th, 2009

Here’s a cute hack which uses LastFM to find songs similar to the one currently playing in MPD and add them to your playlist: more-like-this.rb.

To use it just run more-like-this while MPD is playing and 10 similar songs will be appended to the playlist. Give it a numeric argument to add a different number.

You’ll need a few Ruby gems for this to work:

gem install librmpd scrobbler

So, yes, I’ve finally switched from Amarok to MPD. Sadly after the greatness of Amarok 1.4, each new release takes giant backward steps in usability – at least for my use cases :(. GMPC is OK as a client, and I’m really liking the programability.

Newbury and Donnington Castle

November 28th, 2009

Despite the weather forecast threatening two drops of rain all day today it was nice and sunny when I got up so I decided to venture down to the other end of Berkshire: Newbury. Unfortunately, just as I arrived there it clouded over and got a bit miserable, but at least it didn’t rain. Here’s a picture of Newbury if you’ve never been:


Mostly I only know about Newbury because some people were very keen to bypass it when I was a child. I don’t really know why: it’s not that bad. I would suggest that they pedestrianise their town centre though.


This is Donnington Castle a few miles outside Newbury. Unfortunately it was ruined by the parliamentarians in the civil war after a siege. How thoughtless: looks like it would have been a really good castle.


This is the Newbury bypass itself. I remember the protests being on Newsround! Not sure what I think about this: I like countryside but I also like engineering :?. The bridges over the bypass, one of which I am standing on, apparently won the Concrete Society’s Overall Award for Outstanding Structures in 1999. Ooo.


This is Snelsmore common: a nice wooded area. I do like woods this time of year! Apparently there are ponies living in here but I didn’t see any.

A few more photos here.

In summary: an OK day out but I probably wouldn’t go there again.

Getting GRUB2 to dual boot Debian and FreeBSD

November 27th, 2009

Just installed FreeBSD 8 on a spare partition of my computer. Was planning to use the Debian-installed GRUB to boot it, but when I went to edit GRUB config files they had changed beyond recognition. GRUB 2, it seems, is very different to GRUB 1. For the benefit of anyone else who has a similar setup, edit /etc/grub.d/40_custom and add the following:

menuentry "FreeBSD" {
   set root=(hd0,1,a)
   chainloader +1

Make sure you edit the root parameter to the partition where you installed FreeBSD. Remember that “real” partitions are numbered 0,1.. and UFS partitions go a,b.. and you need both.

Now run update-grub2 and /boot/grub/grub.cfg should be generated from the config files in /etc/grub.d. Verify that FreeBSD menu item has been added and reboot.


November 22nd, 2009

The weather has been terrible this weekend here in Berkshire: very wet and windy. However, the forecast promised sunshine this afternoon, so being optimistic, I decided to go for a walk up to Marlow. I really had fun, despite getting a little cold and muddy. First I went through Maidenhead Thicket, which is a nice wooded area by the A404.


Here’s a mushroom which I found. Lots of mushrooms around at the moment but mustn’t eat them as they might be poisonous.


An hour or so later on I’m walking through Bisham wood. It’s a bit eerie as all the leaves are gone and it’s starting to get dark.


I’d originally planned to go and visit Bisham abbey but it was getting a little too dark and cold so I decided to go straight to Marlow. I’ll leave the abbey for another outing.


I really like Marlow. You might remember I’ve been here before on my way to Henley. I defy anyone to visit and not think it’s one of the loveliest English towns.


Marlow has, by any standard, a rather fantastic bridge. This is the only bridge in the town and separates the Berkshire side from Buckinghamshire.

A few more photos from my walk here.

Afterwards I got the train back home to Maidenhead. Oh, the happy Marlow train! It trundles back and forwards all day; always on time and with a smile on its face. Even when the rest of the FGW network is in meltdown the Marlow train is always punctual.

While it’s been raining and winding outside I’ve been thinking about going on holiday next year. Since I really enjoyed by trip to Prague earlier this year, and especially my ride on the vlak, I’m thinking about getting an InterRail ticket and riding around on some European trains for a week. But where to go? When I first thought of this I decided on a route which seemed good in theory. However, the discovery that physical distances don’t correspond well to train travel times (especially in Poland for some reason); and the discovery that the cost of two single plane tickets isn’t much different to a return ticket caused me to reconsider my plans.

So I’m now thinking of visiting: Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest in that order. Have any of you readers been to central Europe? Where is good to visit? Where should be avoided?

Washing machine woes

November 15th, 2009

My washing machine has developed an unfortunate fault where the drum will slowly fill up with water at the rate of about one inch per eight hours. This happens even when the machine is switched off. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the mechanism as it will happily drain away again when it’s switched on.

In my experience most washing machine problems are the fault of the carbon brushes, and one must only replace these and everything will be fixed. However, I am suspicious that this fault may be caused by a “loose valve” and the carbon brushes are largely innocent since I can hear a steady dripping even when the machine is turned off. This discovery of this new component has shaken my previously solid understanding of washing machine design.

Maybe it’s time to call the landlord…

UPDATE: The engineer is here, fixing in progress

UPDATE2: The engineer is gone and claims fixed. Apparently the problem was a “pin” in the three-way cold water inlet valve had become lime scaled and broke. Hard water is apparently a problem in these parts. So there you go.

Staines: not my most inspired day out

November 15th, 2009

Today I decided I would go for a walk down the Thames to Magna Carta island near Runnymede. For the location of such an important event in British history it’s surprisingly difficult to find. Perhaps part of the confusion stems from it not actually being an island, as a map shows. I had predictably left my map at home in the rush to catch a train to Windsor. The monument is also nowhere near it which doesn’t help (and donated by the American Bar Association – eh?).


This is Eton: nice place.


This is Datchet: also nice but somewhat spoiled by being right under the Heathrow flight path. It may not look it, but this is actually very close to where I work in Langley, Slough – head out of the village and you can see it peeking over the fields.


Here’s one of those planes. Unfortunately, there are many pleasant looking places south of the M4 that would be very nice to live in were it not for the planes. Doesn’t seem to do much to dent the property prices though.

I had originally planned to head back up to Windsor after visiting Magna Carta island but faced with my failure I determined to do something useful with my day. But where could I go now? Staines? With a name like that it’s bound to have something worth visiting…

Staines is an odd place. I think it doesn’t want to be called Staines for some reason and therefore refers to itself as Spelthorne. Dear Staines tourism board: this is very confusing for visitors without maps who may end up having a “help! where am I?” moment, and Staines is not a place you want to be lost in.

Staines is, however, a great place to spot shopping trolleys in the river:


A Thames Path information board alluded to the existence of a Staines museum. Rather excited I went on a hunt for it. It is not well signposted. Turns out it is actually hidden within Staines library. Although even the library is cunningly concealed as a car park:


Sadly both the museum and library are closed on Sundays.

Staines gave the world Lino, and for this we are all thankful. This statue in Staines town centre celebrates its greatest export:


Afterwards it’s a quick train ride back to Windsor.


Abandon all hope.

Important safety warning

November 14th, 2009

I just brought a shredder so I can securely destroy sensitive documents. It’s rather good fun!

After unpacking it I dutifully read the safety warnings. Unfortunately, I am confused that the product seems to have a dual function as a toaster. Cannot work out where to put the bread: slot is too small!


Instruction manual has been securely destroyed to prevent information leakage and further confusion.