24 January, 2018

Squall hits Dorking...

Rainy Dorking
...taken out the office window... :0

15 January, 2018

Rainy Redhill

Rainy Redhill
...oh man...I am wet and cold...didn't help that I couldn't really get off to sleep last night either (being tired always makes me feel colder)...for some weird reason my brain was just locked in a loop of saying "Hey Google" and getting back unsatisfactory responses, finally gave up trying to sleep at about half past four - no idea how I'm going to get through today - with lots and lots of tea most probably...

11 January, 2018

Ceefax is dead...

Radofin TAD 100 Teletext Adaptor
Wow, and just like that, Ceefax is dead...

I had thought that this had all come to an end with terrestrial switch off back in 2012, but actually a couple of little bits kept on pinging out content - it's still not (quite) the end...

Back in the day, when teletext (with a small "t") launched, you needed a set-top box to decode it from the terrestrial signal waving around over our heads - I remember hopping into (probably) our Renault 4 with my Dad, with it's lovely creaky campsite style seats and heading somewhere into suburban London to find an independent retailer who actually had one of these strange new decoder boxes (you could also buy a decoder box for the BBC A I seem to remember)...

Anyway, even though this was in the days before tape-based video recorders became established in the mainstream (so I couldn't at the time have drawn the comparison) it was roughly the size of a VHS player. The RF/Coax cable went in the back from the aerial on the roof and another one hooked you up to the TV.  The "remote" control was on a 2 or 3 meter wire that plugged in at the back, so it almost reached all the way to the sofa.  Press a combination of 2 magic buttons and slide a big buff slider or two into "teletext mode" and suddenly words appeared out of thin air...!

I can only really liken it to a very, very early version of the internet (but all done with UDGs in migraine inducing primary colours held in a rigid format)...you could interact with the content in two marvellous ways - either type in a new page number, or hit "Reveal" to make invisible content appear. Amazing! There was one very nice feature though, pick a channel, invoke the decoder, then going to page 888 would "minimise" the "browser" window and display subtitles (where available)...

Even back then though I remember finding it such a pain to browse, if you wanted to go and visit, say, page 800 on Teletext to get some funny jokes or hidden pictures behind a riddle you had to wait while it ticked through *every* *other* *page* of the 999 available on the way before it would (hopefully) load...

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, it's not quite the end...a few cable channels are still (apparently) keeping up text pages (Channel 5, Nickelodian, Syfy channel to name but a couple), and some bright spark has figured out that the teletext signals got recorded on VHS tapes and has worked out how to decode them from old recordings of It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Benny Hill. There is also the teletext archive here...if you are feeling particularly sentimental...bye bye teletext, gone, but not forgotten...  ;)

09 January, 2018

Rescued a Piplup...

Rescue Piplup
...very early this morning, abandoned and slightly run over (in the darkness and rain) in the car park of East Surrey Hospital (so this is definitely a rescue Piplup)...Luckily Piplups have a thick coat of fur and (a bit like penguins) are very happy in the cold weather, so it was really only the "being hit by cars" bit that was bothering him. He is sat happily on my desk at the moment, and I'll be making a snug nest of paper towels to bring him home to be looked after by the kids from now on...just hope he gets on with Litten Mittens and Beatrice!

07 January, 2018

Virgin Superhub - unable to connect - solution

Google Wifi
It's fair to say that we've been struggling with a few problems with our Wifi recently. Actually, when I sat down to think about it, I realised that we've got into a routine of re-booting the router probably once per day for the past year. It all began when 3 new devices arrived in the house last Christmas (and they just keep on coming) - it seems to have turned into a bit of a conveyor belt of one device kicking another off or stealing all the bandwith until the poor old Virgin Superhub just can't cope any more and collapses in a heap (requiring the off/on treatment).

The solution - a shiny new router from Google - it comes with everything you need in the box, you plug it in (power-wise), use the included bit of Cat5 to go out from the "Modem mode" slot on the back of the Virgin hub (it's the bottom one - clearly labelled) and plug it into the little hole on the Google router with a picture of a globe.

Next it's installing a small app on your telephone, choose a google account, give the new Wifi network a name and a password - and that's it! Connect your devices up (this took by far the longest) and - fingers crossed - the wifi has been super stable ever since (and reaches effortlessly all over the house, as a nice side-benefit).

So if you are, like many people on the Virgin Broadband forums, struggling with their (not quite up to the job of running a modern home) hardware, give it a try! It also auto tunes to the quietest frequencies to give you maximum bandwith over the air and allows you to turn on safesearch just for certain devices (I set up a "Kids tablets" group) plus I was able to switch off all internet to the kids devices after 7pm on School nights. Next thing is to set up a guest logon (which you can throttle down so it doesn't eat into the family's performance).

Overall very impressed.

03 January, 2018

Redhill Platform zero is open!

Redhill platform 0Redhill platform 0
...and it only cost fifty million pounds!  Are we still wondering why the rail fares have gone up again?  Actually, in my neck of the woods we don't actually have a fare increase this year, but this is only because we have been bearing the brunt of the increases for the last decade or so while everyone else got off lightly (comparatively) - so at least someone thought of Reigate and Redhill residents for a change... ;)

Anyway, I have already noticed a tangible difference to my journey, from now on we won't have to wait for the service that precedes my train (from Tonbridge) to pull in to platform 1 first, it now terminates on platform 0.  Although as a result the Reading train now goes a lot further up platform 1, so I will have to change the place where I sit!

23 November, 2017

The Pixel 2 XL camera...

...is astonishing in low light (it was black, and I took the shot while walking)...pin point and very little noise.  Amazing.

21 November, 2017

The Perfect Digital Marketing pie...

If you are running a website (or 5), as I do - you will know you need access to a lot of analytics.

There are a number of free products - One in particular everyone will know - the universally adopted Google Analytics.  GA can take you an extremely long way to a delicious conclusion.  Sadly, today it can't take you quite as far as when I first started with Blogger (back in the days when everything was transparent), but even back then, Google never got you all the way to the end of the story.  Some clever kitchen magic was required.

Using my Nigella voice - it is essential to source the finest ingredients, only then can you can start to bake the perfect digital marketing pie...So, once your website framework is in place -

Start your recipe with a few hearty spoonfuls of Sessioncam - Two of the most excellent features are the automatic error reporting (which handily includes the exact message - be it a 404 from a referring site or a "You must enter a valid email address" from one of your site forms, things you may never otherwise be aware of), a drizzle of struggle score - this is a fuzzy logic one, but so useful - where are visitors getting lost on the site, scrolling up and down looking for what they need?  Next - pour in a generous amount of heat maps, going page by page, not forgetting a sprinkle of scroll reach visibility and visitor focus over time, which objects do visitors just miss?  Which objects do they spend time looking at, which objects get the most clicks?  What are the most successful user journeys?   All of this is essential for raising page performance and improving usability for future visitors.

Stir into the mixture a generous serving of Leadforensics - probably the best IP database I have ever encountered, light on the page load, 99% accurate (across the globe) - always deliciously reliable.  Set up a series of trigger reports (very simple to do) for each of the Sales team members to fire an alert each time one of their clients visits the site, set up a competitor alert to spot them as they are coming in for a cheeky slice, and set up a trigger for keen new companies consuming a lot of pages.  Perfect both for nurture and hot new leads.  Make sure the mixture is light, fluffy and well blended, picking out those management macbook users looking at pricing and implementation pages just to put the cherry on the warming lead.

Finish the perfect digital marketing pie with a crunchy Salesfusion topping - Here we tie things together with cookies, either from opted in emails or form fills that, for those keen enough on the recipe to sign up for emails or white paper downloads we can start to get into the area of marketing automation...

I could go into more detail, but it's best if you just take a slice and discover the delicious taste for yourself...

Redhill Platform 0 latest news

Redhill Platform 0
So, latest update, over the weekend they have pulled back all the track ballast (perhaps it was just there to compress the ground a bit - but it doesn't seem to be required in most cases) and dug quite a way down into the soil - perhaps 2 feet - and now a whole load more ballast has arrived in little bags (so it is *just* possible they were wasting their time).  Also the mystery of the step access has been solved, the large pole on the platform now supports a railway traffic light system (all wrapped up in black plastic), and a shiny new set of stairs has come into being around the lift shaft...

15 November, 2017

Quite a long week...

Driving in the rain
So, I've just completed quite a long week - Last Tuesday Flyingpops finally went into Gatwick Spire to have a bit of corrective work done on her breathing tubes. The surgery itself took roughly the length of time it took me to watch one episode of Star Trek Discovery (about 50 minutes), everything went extremely smoothly, but it left her feeling dizzy and understandably a bit battered and bruised - none the less, we were discharged a couple of hours later and I carefully drove her home and popped her into bed - where she (pretty much) stayed for the rest of the week.

Having had prior warning that this would probably be the case, I had taken those few days off as holiday and thus suddenly plunged into the world of never-ending school runs, playgroups, shopping and swimming lessons. Yes...a nice, relaxing "holiday", the only respite was the couple of hours in the morning between dropping Annabelle at pre-school (and Thomas and Poppy at big school) and picking Annabelle up again at lunchtime - and even that promptly evaporated when Annabelle wasn't actually at pre-school, but had other activities planned.

This was not the worst of it though, when my holiday ran out we still had a few days to cope with where Flyingpops was still not allowed to drive and I had to put in my hours at work. Even though favours had been called in and arranged weeks in advance, as soon as Flyingpops knew the actual date of the surgery - everyone that had promised to help with the school runs ended up letting us down, just what we didn't need in the circumstances.   More (last minute) favours were hurriedly arranged and I ended up taking the car to work - seemed the only sensible solution at the time. 

However, the simple fact of the matter is - driving between Earlswood and Dorking in the morning and evening during the week has become a living hell.  It is a car park the *whole* way. I must have done something in the region of 60 hill starts on my way into the office yesterday, on the way back I decided to try skipping the main roads and the back roads are just as bad, the only section of road that actually moves at any speed at all is the tiny section through Buckland - all of Reigate, all of Redhill and certainly all of Dorking are just gridlocked. Ironically my train going through Betchworth (closing the level crossing) causes massive tailbacks there too.  Since I last did the commute this way it has become a super stressful way to start and end the day - so it was actually with quite a sense of relief that I picked up my ticket at Earlswood railway station this morning and sat down to watch a movie on my telephone, waiting for the train to take the strain...

01 November, 2017

A gentle introduction to RPGs...

Warlock of Firetop Mountain
So Thomas and I have started out on role playing games (in a very small way).  I decided that the best place to start was probably at exactly the same spot where I began,  which was with "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain" which I picked up in 1982 at one of the excellent school book sales at Bishop Gilpen Primary School in Wimbledon, probably while wearing a pair of grey shorts...somehow or other (and this astonishes me) that original book is still in one piece, and is still in my possession 35 years later (despite the hundreds of times I read through it) - so some thanks is due to Penguin for their excellent publishing.

We've only done a few pages so far, but Thomas has taken great delight in writing up his character sheet and drawing out the map (as far as we have got) and I have to say, his style is bold (practically fearless in fact), I will have to take this into account when we progress, the next steps will be Lone Wolf, then into AD&D...although a brief session of Call of Cthulhu would put an end to that behaviour almost immediately... ;)

Amazing skies this morning...

Foggy Morning in Earlswood
Foggy Morning in Earlswood
Towards the Asylum
...reminds me that this is why I love walking to the station early in the morning...it's like being on another world at times... ;)

31 October, 2017

Happy Halloween!

New Porch and Halloween decorations
...and just a glimpse at our new porch, which is confusing the cat no end when it tries to escape through the old front door... ;)

Interesting sights of Dorking #7 - Horse Drawn Charabanc

Horse and carriage in Dorking
Horse and carriage in Dorking
...just trotting down the high street!

30 October, 2017

Redhill Station Platform Zero - Roof almost complete

Redhill Platform One
Thank you to the change of clocks for having some light to take the picture with...still no actual track for the trains to go along though...

Oh and in the underpass they have definitely been knocking things down, so there is very probably going to be a flight up steps up from there after all...

26 October, 2017

Mittens the explorer

Mittens in the garden
So Mittens has had her first few adventures exploring around the garden - outside she is a different cat - exhibiting a 50:50 ratio of behaviour between ALPHA PREDATOR and episodes of terrified skittish flight. So we have to make sure the back door is clear in case she decides she suddenly needs to flee some terrifying invisible foe.

A good, if painful, example was last Sunday, Annabelle had been put on the naughty step for stealing Poppy's pens and screwing up her drawings (poor Poppy) Mittens got panicked about something and flew towards the stairs - got within two feet of a stropping Annabelle, thought *A LOT* better of it and started back-pedalling (but was going so fast she simply couldn't change direction in time) and collided with the Kallax Bookcase by the door.

We found her later, hiding in the litter box looking cross.

25 October, 2017

Thomas - spreading his wings

8 years ago
So it already seems to be starting to happen (and is, of course, inevitable). On holiday in Cornwall I counted at least ten occasions when Thomas basically vanished - sometimes for over an hour - he'd made a new friend (or two) and was off happily surfing with them, or he had just taken himself for a wander on his own to poke around the rock pools (mostly fine) we had a few "Hrm, Thomas has been a while...oh there he is" moments, but largely okay...Once or twice he integrated himself with a little group of 5 kids and they just hung out in the games room in the Club house trying (one at a time) to borrow pound coins from the various parents to be able to play (just one more) game of air hockey or whack-a-mole.

At home, over the last month or so, on four(?) separate occasions - a little friend of his that he used to go to school with has appeared at our front door (so clearly already being given a much longer leash by his family) and asked if Thomas can go out and play. Finally, last Sunday we said yes. So off he went, completely on his own, having to cross one road without any adult supervision.  Flyingpops issued him with her old iphone so he wasn't completely out of touch (he rang once to check a certain movie was okay to watch - which it was) and an hour later (when pinged to come home) he reappeared promptly at the front door.  Because he had been good - we allowed him to return for another half an hour, but drew the line at letting him come back on his own once the sun had set, so I walked over to pick him up (it's only a couple of minutes away).  According to the parents he had behaved himself and they would be pleased to have him again.
Playing in Priory Park
This seems to have happened incredibly fast although, judging by the photo I took of him in Priory Park trying out his first pair of proper shoes, he never did seem to suffer much in the way of separation anxiety.

Saturday night, Thomas and I chilled out in the master bedroom, just the boys. We played Mario Kart and we laughed at people eating increasingly hot chilli peppers on YouTube then we watched the underrated Disney movie "Atlantis" (which is great). We shall have to try and do a bit more of that.

Sunday morning, he crept into our bed for a cuddle, something he hasn't done in a great deal of time.