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Jonathan's blog

Teleport Replay

My digital television provider, Telewest, has made available its new service, Teleport Replay


This new service allows users to access the past weeks' television programmes, on demand. Telewest records several programmes for a select number of channels including the BBC and Bravo. This is breakthrough technology for the home user, there is no local recording device in the home, all this is streamed down the fibre optic backbone of the Telewest network.

I love being able to forward, rewind and pause the recorded TV programmes.

There is no additional cost to the consumer for this service, unlike the Telewest TVDrive which is a soon-to-arrive Personal Video Recorder (PVR) package for recording TV direct to a home device. This looks like a really exciting development which might overcome my PVR, Evolution TV blues.


Monty on MouseCam... caught on camera

Click on this image to watch the short video (4.3MB progressive download)

alternatively, the full video (30MB progressive download)

At least I've answered my question from yesterday...

How does Monty manage such a feat and allude escape?

MouseCam confirms my belief that the mousetraps are rubbish... watch the beginning of the video and see the mouse enter the trap.... and a few moments later, exit! oh dear.

Say 'cheese' - baiting, trapping and webcams

After four months of trying to catch a lone mouse, I've taken to stepping up the challenge of catching him alive. In fact he's been living with me for so long, that I've named him Monty, and worse, he's started to become more of pet than a pest.

We all have different views and opinions, but four months ago I took the decision to catch the mouse using a humane mouse trap. I seem to have the most determined, craftiest mouse ever since records in crafty mouse behaviour began.

Each night, I have baited the traps, yes, four traps - and now, using two different types of trap, with a variety of different of bait, including chocolate, cheese and the latest bait, peanut butter.


Each morning I wake to find a half eaten chunk of chocolate sitting at the other end of the room, with the trap still set! Even when I set the trap in the most precarious position (so that trap door is more sensitive to movement), Monty still manages to grab the bait, leaving the trap still set. I've steadily increased the challenge, from small, easy to carry bait, to larger more awkward bait to carry. Whatever I've tried, Monty has been successful. It doesn't matter if the bait is wrapped, Monty will happily unwrap the Christmas tree chocolate, leaving the wrapping neatly shredded in a tidy pile. The chocolate inside, is found several human strides from the shredded foil.

A good question is 'How does Monty manage such a feat and allude escape?'

This brings me onto my next campaign... EvoCam which is a superb piece of software that captures still frame images and creates timelapse videos where their file size is incredibly conservative (see some earlier timelapse video work with EvoCam during the Pirate BBC Essex project

Here I can at least capture the moments of Monty's visit and how he escapes whilst I am sleeping. Check out MouseCam - if you spot him... you'd better yell!

I'm still not sure what the best bait for catching Monty is, peanut butter is where I am now.. I dislike peanut butter ordinarily, but I suppose it doesn't much matter what I like or not.. it's what Monty likes that matters most. Has anyone had any experience of seductive bait for mice? Any strategies for catching mice are welcome.


Domain Name Transfer, painful experience

Having been a loyal customer with for the past three years, and been a strong supporter of their Control Panel and Technical support services, I have chosen to transfer this domain, to

My two reasons for doing this are:

  1. are cheaper to re-register each year
  2. has a better control panel which supports numerous creation of sub-domains.

The Easily control panel only allows 3 subdomains to be created, although they will be upgrading this capability shortly to allow users to submit more.... hopefully infinitely more.

Rather disappointingly, you may have noticed two days downtime for whilst this process was in full swing.

The process involved in transferring a domain name is not particularly complex, but involves several organisations working together.

Both Easily and 123-reg responded well to the initial request, the transfer is still in progress and should be complete in the next 3 days. However, since the WHOIS record was updated with new Nameservers for, the domain hosting company hadn't created a record in their name servers pointing my domain to my server.

I was dismayed when the 123-reg technical team didn't respond to my initial emails requesting support. Their 50p per minute telephone number wasn't working either. In the end I bombarded their team with emails asking for help, until someone replied with some advice.

Sadly the advice suggested I should wait the 5 days for the transfer of domain name as it was 'preferred' that their nameservers weren't amended until the process had completed - nevermind the fact I was running a live website that hadn't expected to be unavailable for so long.

The upshot is that the team have kindly pointed the sub-domain to the right server, and we are back online once again. Welcome back, campers!

I am still waiting for the full transfer or domain name from one company to another and access my new control panel, but at least my visitors are active once again.

It reminds me once again to get the best package with the right level of support, anything else just won't do.


egoSurf - you know you want to

egoSurf appears to be the work of one person, totaling nine hours over the Christmas period.

We are your typical webmasters. Ego maniacs. We need to be stroked in many ways. Hit counts, page views, bandswidth usages, and, the whole grail of them all - an excellent ranking in search engines.

Think he means, Holy Grail. There is some truth in what he says... not sure about ego maniac description however!

Give us a search term, tell us your web sites (domains, resources etc), and where you want to look, and we go do the hard work. We'll query your search engine of choice, then check what results point back to your domains. For each 'hit'??, you get egoPoints.

So, I have searched for me using egoSurf. I have 7524 egoPoints at present... does that mean if I become more 'visible' to Google and ranked higher in their searches for my keywords, I'll increase my egoPoints?

Hmmm. Could be handy this... especially as the scoring system is easier to see whether your Search Engine Optimisation work to gain a better Google ranking has had any effect. Since Google rankings are between 1 and 10... small changes / improvements just can't be represented... whereas egoPoints would perhaps give a better indication because of the wider scale... maybe? Needs to be explored some more. Interesting nevertheless.


The iWipe - give your Apple Mac a new lease of life

Whilst looking on the Internet for bathroom accessories, I stumbled across this:-

See the how-to on building one for yourself.

Hmmm. Not a bad price either.


Better than sliced bread?

Well I'm not sure... though it comes close. Some weeks ago, Ultranaut, Mark Constable pointed me to an extension for the Firefox web browser, called Web Developer Extension.

I love the 'Edit CSS' panel on the left hand side which allows you to modify the CSS style-sheet and see the changes in the main browser window. Clearly this doesn't actually save the changes you make to the web folder, but it's an example of a tool which allows you to model your changes and for learning about the CSS language.

There are a whole heap of interesting plugins available - I really need to spend some time looking through some of these.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

I continue to become more interested in approaches to developing software the open source way. In our Ultralab community we are currently debating what constitutes true open source software, something Ultralab aspires to do, but we aren't there yet and there is lots yet to learn and comprehend.

I re-read the The Cathedral and the Bazaar, an interesting set of articles which explains Eric Steven Raymond's experience of modeling his own software development project on the Linux model of evolution. You might find it interesting too....


I anatomize a successful open-source project, fetchmail, that was run as a deliberate test of the surprising theories about software engineering suggested by the history of Linux. I discuss these theories in terms of two fundamentally different development styles, the "cathedral'' model of most of the commercial world versus the "bazaar'' model of the Linux world.

I show that these models derive from opposing assumptions about the nature of the software-debugging task. I then make a sustained argument from the Linux experience for the proposition that "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow'', suggest productive analogies with other self-correcting systems of selfish agents, and conclude with some exploration of the implications of this insight for the future of software.

Core Breakfast Seminar - Open Source tools

I presented a seminar about Open Source software tools today at one of Core's Breakfast Seminars. I was warmed by the enthusiasm shown by the attendees, some of whom I recognised from last years' NAVCON conference where I presented several workshops. The participants included school principals, teachers, ICT technicians, software developers and some folk from local commerce.

We attempted a SubEthaEdit session as a means to collect information about participants, their professional interests and what they were hoping to gain from the seminar. A few issues arose with that, which is a lesson to never assume everything will work just fine even though I've had very successful experiences many times previous.

I progressed by talking about what open source tools are out there - you can see those I mentioned in my presentation, I used webnote as the tool of choice.... it means I can present, finish and leave my presentation available for the participants to follow up later. It all works.

An interesting discussion was held about the proprietary vs. inhouse (custom developed tools) vs. open source arguments - some valid points raised here. One question centred around what support there is for users of Open source software when the going gets tough and the technology fails at a critical moment. Typically there is no call-out or telephone support, so what happens then? It was interesting to note that some participants had experienced fast responses from open source communities with solutions and fixes, some not necessarily from the development team but from the user-base.

A good discussion was held about the challenge of appropriating a range of tools and how these could be tied together is becoming an ever increasing issue we need to solve. Single sign-on, LDAP are becoming more and more essential as time passes by. It was clear the same pain was felt by many participants in the room. Where is the solution? Why hasn't a tool which empowers users to do this without needing a computer science degree been developed yet?

Hopefully participants left with ideas for what tools they have at their disposal and a greater understanding of integrating open source solutions in their workplaces.

Thanks go to Vince, Krissie, Stephen Powell, and Jedd for their assistance with making all this happen.

12,000ft views: skydiving in New Zealand

Nick and I left Christchurch and headed off to Queenstown today looking for fun and adventure. Two hours into the journey, through some stunning scenery, I tasted my first glimpse of what was to come. Yep... as apprehensive as I was, I went skydiving. Never before had I considered such an activity. My sister Catherine has done it for charity, and survived - it looked spectacular from the film she had had recorded.

Once in the light aircraft, there was no way back, the only way down was to leap out of the aircraft door. It was a tiny single prop aircraft made from metal no thicker than a tin can... the smallest aircraft I've flown in. In fact the worse bit was kneeling next to the closed door without being strapped onto anything. In fact, I felt the most vulnerable as I was the only person left in the plan who wasn't wearing a parachute... the pilot had one, and my tandem jump instructor had the one which was to take us both safely to ground. Hmmm, things weren't looking too good at this point I thought.

The leap from from the doors was petrifying, and the feeling of falling lasted for a split second. The 30 second freefall was thrilling until the parachute was deployed (just at the moment I was thinking the ground is racing ever closer.) You do get that feeling of going thrusting upwards at the point the parachute is set... and yes, huge stresses placed on the equipment and you, but the buzz and thrill just increase massively before reaching eventual calm and tranquility and you have the scenery to admire.

Landing was awesome... a gentle glide downwards followed by an almost stationary landing. It was a terrific buzz and would recommend the jump to anyone who gets the chance. A bit pricey... and I probably subsidised the solo jumpers a little... but I'm not counting... I'm in New Zealand to be worked hard but to have a little bit of fun too.


Welcome to New Zealand, but we'll check you out first

Just arrived in Auckland, New Zealand and greeted by customs officers who did a more than thorough check of all my baggage and possessions. Luckily, I escaped having to drop my trousers and the full body search - phew!

It was an anxious moment as the officer pulled out a strip of paper which has some chemical property that is able to identify traces of drugs. A worrying thought... had I brushed past anyone while I was in Bangkok or earlier where traces of drugs could have transfered to my bag and worse... could drugs have been planted at any point during my travel.

In such situations this this we always tend to think of what could be worse... being accused of drug trafficking in Thailand was one of them! Still, these NZ guys were fairly rigorous...

My computer bag and luggage holdall were turned inside out... seams examined closely, pockets, clothes, all my CD's and DVD's were investigated and examined using a computer. I was asked all sorts of questions designed to intimidate... like, "This is your last chance, are you absolutely sure you are not carrying illegal substances?" to which I replied, "no" - I was then presented with a form as a last chance opportunity to declare anything I shouldn't have.

After determining I wasn't carrying anything illegal, nor was I trafficking any drugs, I was able to re-pack all my belongings and continue my journey towards Christchurch on the next available flight - having missed the original flight.

Digital Creativity Roadshow 2005, a moment for reflection

It's all been a bit of a disaster on the blog front - but here's the first blog entry since landing in Phuket, Thailand, two weeks ago. I have travelled here with Matthew Eaves on a project jointly supported by the British Council, Ultralab and Apple. The aim has been to work with children from Pattani on a digital creativity project with the intention of bring together communities of children as part of the Connecting Futures outreach work that has been very successful.

Matthew and I had intended to work in Pattani, but with the current unrest aimed towards westerners, it was felt safer that we move the venue to Phuket. Two workshops had been arranged during the two weeks we had been invited and used the well-respected SummerSchool format where the participants gained new skills with using digital video cameras and iMovie software. Of course there was more to learn than just the technology... this is about process and collaboration, judgements and decisions, planning, execution and performance.

Even though we already know lots about children making movies (our research in digital creativity work using the SummerSchool format stretches back over the past 6 years) there were still several surprises.

Curiously enough, the children's capacity to write their own soundtracks to their movies was staggering. We had emphasised how audio clues are significant in setting the mood of the film... and there are many examples in the films produced over the past two weeks to evidence participants using sound to amazing effect.

We chose to film a 'reflections' piece where individual pupils spoke of their experiences over the past 5 days. What was exceptional here wasn't just the comments the pupils made, but their confidence to speak in front of the camera. Quite astonishing really since children in England are often quite reserved and come across quite shy when confronted with such a situation.

One girl, Rus, commented, paraphrased below...

"I now understand how TV is made, I can now make TV"

We've had a fantastic learning opportunity here.. there is lots more to tell... and hopefully, as I venture further, to New Zealand, I will be able to piece that together in a more cohesive form. Matthew and I are just heading out to meet with Gerard from Apple Asia (flying in from Singapore as I type), a key individual who supported this event - and at the eleventh hour. He wants to know more about the work of Ultralab and the digital creativity work particularly, and explore how we might develop this relationship in the future.

The photograph on the left is pupils from the week 2 of the workshop. Take a look at some more photographs.


Now Get Out Of That - Scout Day Hike

Five boys from our scout unit, 3rd Billericay Orion Troop took part in the annual Now Get Out Of That district hiking event. This is an opportunity for boys to practice and demonstrate their map reading and on-the-ground navigation skills during a short 6 mile hike. Apart from the rather tricky navigation, the scouts have to prepare and cook a hot meal for lunch - our boys opted for a pasta dish in a bolognese sauce. Leaders were stationed at checkpoints along the route to monitor the boys progress.

It was a very satisfying experience watching the boys demonstrate all they know and understand with maps, compasses and grid references. Although this wasn't a competition, nor was it a race, our boys made it to the finish first despite being the second from last group to set off. They set themselves a consistent walking pace and showed great maturity. Well done!


Success! with Plone and Feedparser

Today (Friday) ended with the perfect start to the weekend. After weeks of misery, (well, okay, it wasn't that bad was it Richard?) together we solved the issue with Universal Feed Parser working as a module within Zope (Plone) using Python. Firstly, what is Feed Parser?

Feed Parser is a Python module that downloads and parses or processes RSS, Atom and CDF syndicated feeds. The Feed Parser module gives Zope (Plone) the ability to bring RSS feeds from external sources into its environment. So as we gear ourselves up for releasing the new Ultralab website, this is a significant step forward.

Our problems stemmed from an error message which Plone reported whenever we tried to access the Feed Parser module...

import of feedparser is unauthorized error message

This error only affects Mac OS X Server that has multiple versions / instances of Python installed. What we have discovered is that the Feed Parser module was installed using a version / instance of Python running on the server which was different to the version / instance that Zope and Plone use. A key learning moment is understanding that Zope modules must be installed using the same version of Python as the Zope environment is using.

Take a look at a sneak preview of the new website.

Ultraversity Team Talk

Mark, Greta and I (pictured from left to right) met today to discuss progress with Ultraversity's new Cohort 4 community / portfolio space. This is a new venture using the Plone 2.1 content management framework - configured 'out of the box'. We believe Plone has far more to offer than just managing content. Plone's major strength is the permissions and workflow model which underpins its operation. Understanding this rather complex model is a major feat in itself and probably demands a better user interface to be more useful. I dream of building a permissions model using a drag and drop Flash interface where users are moved into groups structured as Venn diagrams. Do Venn diagrams have any limitations?

Interestingly, Stephen Powell and I reflected on the complexities of Plone, and after some discussion, arrived at the conclusion that you can't have it both ways, simplicity and complexity, which sounds a bit daft. What I mean is - having a tool that can be understood and used by the masses, yet powerful enough to provide a solid set of permissions that is capable of niche and specific demands.


Ok, I just don't get it...

What is it about a pineapple that girls think they are to die for? Am I missing something?

If you've received a pineapple as a gift... I (think) I need to know about it!


Optorite Laser Mouse

Every so often I get the chance to play with some new piece of kit... call me geeky, but it's kinda fun. This time I have an Optorite Laser Mouse from Kinnovation to play with.

The mouse looks rather sleek and space-age. Although slightly bulky, it's not really a portable mouse as such, but one you'd have by your side on a work surface. However, from an ergonomic perspective, this one ticks all but one of the boxes. The thumb sits comfortably in the curvaceous groove, with a click switch just above it. The index finger and third finger rests beautifully above the right and left mouse buttons. A roller ball switch sits between the two mouse buttons.

I'm hoping Kinnovation begin work on a mouse for left-handed people... something that I believe is a essential - we simply don't do enough to cater for people's individual needs. Maybe the company have left handed mice for sale, but this isn't obvious from the website.

One other thing that I like about the mouse is its weight... it weighs very little. The lightweight design makes using the mouse a dream. Tracking is very sensitive, but this is easily adjusted by the operating system's control.


Little Britain Challenge Cup 2005

Between 8th and 11th September, COINS entered a yacht for the Little Britain Challenge Cup sailing event for companies involved in the construction industry.

Here are some photographs from the three days, though sadly most of it was spent waiting around due to a distinct lack of wind. The team consisted of employees, guests and clients of COINS, some with lots of sailing experience, some with very little. All in all, we learnt lots - with me in a new position on bow, I learnt how to set the spinnaker, gybe the spinnaker, prepare the genoa for hoisting, as well as on lookout for other boats during the start procedure.

Our best result was 3rd! (but that was for the quiz held on the opening night!)

Now that we have a good feel for the event, we are looking forward to taking part next year.


Gina's Endometriosis Fund Raising Barbeque

Gina Revill organised a fantastic fund raising event for the Endometriosis Society which took place yesterday afternoon till late at Lambourne End Farm.

A good friend, Ian Terrell ran the charity auction - it was excellent fun watching people bidding for items, some of the more popular items included a jar of Scrumpy cider, electric guitar, wine, scooter and a sheep's skin. The whole event raised £600 - well done Gina! A quiz night is being organised for early in the new year.


Hot fridge anyone?

I've always wondered whether fridges could be made more efficient...

This fridge uses excess heat from the condenser (usually on the back of most household appliances) and directs this to a 'hot plate' situated on top of the unit.


Google Talk

Okay, so Google have just released their latest service, Google Talk - this is yet another Instant Messenger chat service but with computer to computer voice telephony as well. I'm slightly concerned that Google is looking like another Microsoft or Tesco - a one place stop for all your needs. In some ways this is nice... take Apple's iLife suite of applications... I enjoy having them all work seamlessly together - but I'm not sure I'm ready for Google to rule the (Internet) world, just yet.

Interestingly enough, the uptake of IP telephony has been slow, apart from local telephone networks set up in offices, yet we've had Skype and Sipgate for some time now. If you remember the take up of Google's search engine several years ago, this could spark a real shake-up for BT and other telephone providers if the same success if achieved with full release of Google Talk.


Stephen Heppell's RetroBlog

Stephen Heppell has begun a RetroBlog... a blog that looks back at the past and places some of Stephen's thoughts and thinking into today's context.

Take a look at some of Stephen's writing over the last decade and his reflections on what progress, if any, has been made on topics including technology, learning, school design and the Internet.


Digital Creativity Bus, draft proposal

Last week I completed a draft proposal detailing some of my thoughts for the Digital Creativity Bus. I would welcome your thoughts, ideas and suggestions please. This is a great opportunity to build something so seductive and engaging for all who use the bus... we might only get one chance to get this right.

Download the draft v2 proposal paper

Ramsgate Regatta 2005

Spent last week sailing onboard Cracker. It was an eventful week-long event, starting the week tanked up with crew members, and by Monday, dropping like flies. This was partly due to getting hit across the head by the mainsheet block attached to the boom. It all became quite lively as the rescue boat was called and I was taken to shore where the waiting ambulance took me to A&E. All fine now - my head was glued together! ... but people don't hang about with head injuries it seems. In fact, it was all quite reassuring how quickly help is on hand if the need arises.

A few days later, I was back on board, meanwhile the team were doing very well despite losing Bill earlier in the week too. We won plenty of Ramsgate Regatta glassware, enough for one each, reaching the dizzy heights of second place on the final day.

Thank you Stephen, Carole and the rest of the team, including newbies Rob and Terry. It was another fantastic sailing event, despite everything! Check out the IRC Class 3 race results.

More photographs still to come...


You know you're a geek when....



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