28 November, 2017

Dorking Sunrise


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.

24 October, 2017

Mittens' operation

Annabelle with pet carrier
So Mittens is growing up fast. Already at least double the size she was when she first came home. Last week she had her operation to prevent lots of baby Mittens from arriving and has since been feeling a bit sorry for herself - Unusual amounts of time curled up asleep on Thomas' bed/hardly performing any vanishing acts, not always appearing precisely where you are about to tread, causing dizzying pirouettes to avoid kitten death.

When she first came home, we had one hell of a time trying to get the little collar on her to stop her licking her stitches. She fought us tooth and claw and yowled like we were murdering her, it was a bit like trying to muzzle a face-hugger.  It didn't help when Thomas pulled it far too tight in an effort to keep it on. Flyingpops ended up stuffing a glowering (and positively bristling) kitten back into the pet carrier, and speeding back to the vets (while I mopped up everyone's blood) - who, of course, popped it neatly on and gave Mittens a pat.

Unfortunately, it appears that a side effect of a cat that cannot groom itself is that it evolves (fairly rapidly) into a smelly, scruffy ball of uneven fur that is quite unpleasant to be around. So, having learned (eventually) to carefully secure the collar ourselves we have only been forcing her to wear it at night - thankfully we are almost at the end of her recuperation and can soon throw the item to the back of the cat cupboard and forget the wretched thing ever existed.

23 October, 2017

Annabelle and the My Little Pony knife incident

Rockpooling - Cornwall - 2017
So this happened while we were staying in Widemouth Bay Holiday Village over the summer largely speaking a very positive holiday - once we had all got used to being confined to the rather small (for 5 people) accommodation.  Everyone calmed down a lot when we could spread out a bit so we spent quite a bit of time on the beach, as you can imagine)...

Anyway, on one of the occasions upon which we were tripping over each other in the apartment we hit an Annabelle flash-point.  Basically, Flyingpops had bought some craft to keep the girls busy, these lovely "colour your own" backpacks - not these exact ones, but this sort of thing -
Colour your own bag kit
-so anyway, the girls are sitting on the carpet, colouring away happily, and I have to warn Annabelle a few times to be careful with the pens - as we were in rented accommodation and I didn't want her colouring in the apartment.  After a few such admonishments (as she got too close to the wall or furniture) I thought I would just check what the back of the box said.

They were permanent marker pens (of bright primary colours) - by this time, Annabelle was proudly swinging her bag about running unpredictably around the white-walled apartment building and touching the walls with her (now) brightly coloured fingers.  I did one last check for danger - and yes, if I touched the coloured-in rucksack the bright colours came straight off onto my fingers - particularly the bright green one.

At home, what would have been merely annoying, in our holiday home, was grounds for paying for the place to be redecorated.

When I put the bag up high (just to give the ink a chance to dry a bit) - MELT DOWN.  Full on tantrum, kicking the floor and furniture, hitting her sister, screaming at the top of her voice - but the cherry on the top - Flyingpops had long since locked herself in the bedroom claiming she had a headache - was coming back from the bathroom to find Annabelle has (in a state of barely controlled fury) pulled a little bench over,  opened up the cutlery drawer, taken out the biggest knife she could find  (a very large bread knife) and was wobbling around and jumping up, still screaming at the top of her voice, trying to use the knife to hook the bag from the worktop!

What on Earth are you supposed to do in that situation!?  Not sure how I wrestled the knife out of her hand and got her off the stool without serious injury to either she or I, but somehow I did.

I think next time we need to read the box first.

17 October, 2017

Machine Learning, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

Listened to a really good episode of the TED Radio hour podcast on my way into the office the other day. Clued me in to a TED talk by Sam Harris (he's written a number of books that were New York Times best-sellers and is also a credited as a neuroscientist and "armchair philosopher") - basically the talk is about the (as he sees things) inevitability of a super AI evolving (computers are already routinely teaching themselves to learn to do new tasks without human assistance and doing better than their original human programmers), however it tends to be just one thing at a time. When they do learn things they tend to learn to do them very well - play "Go" or chess for example - computers are unquestionably better than humans now at playing these games.

Cars are rapidly learning to drive themselves - people have been involved, but largely the computers are using trial and error in simulations like Grand Theft Auto (where they can't kill anyone real) to learn to drive around complex 3D environments without having a crash. Eventually (and soon) most computer scientists agree computer AI's are going to be doing a lot of the work humans do, are going to be able to perform research unimaginable a few years ago (once the internet of things really happens - already my 'fridge at home is connected to internet) - computers are going to start solving problems humans didn't even know to look for. Looking through millions of variables and tie together say (I pick a few random things here) - the number of times I'm opening the 'fridge making the temperature fluctuate, the fact I have eggs in there from a certain farm, data from an automatic stool/urine sample taken when I visited the bathroom, data on how aggressively I apply the break in the car when driving (if I'm still allowed) and find a pattern of behaviour/things that reliably predicts (for example) I'm in the early stages of developing a brain tumour. Imagine what an AI is going to be able to do once it has all the data on the planet and just starts rapidly looking for patterns -

Things unpredictable and previously non-testable can all come together once we have this huge matrix. Anyway, I digress into the (equally fascinating) subject of big data, the talk is really about making sure we don't do a couple of things (and why) -

  • Get into an uncontrollable arms race between competing AIs (President Putin and Elon Musk agree - I'm sure scientists over Russia are working away on the problem as I type and Google are open about their developments) 
  • Allow ourselves to unwittingly settle into the position of the ant, if the AI is put in the positional equivalent of a team of construction workers - normally not a lot happens, construction workers don't tend to hunt down ants they just live alongside them, but if we have even a slightly differing priority at any point the AI just runs all over humanity without a second thought like a busy guy with a job to do sat in a big JCB 
  • Ignore what we are getting ourselves into - effectively - compared to the sum of current human ability - we are busy setting about building ourselves a god - and to use Sam Harris' words "the train has already left the station" - it's coming and it will be real within the next 50 years.

Very interesting stuff, you can watch the video here - What happens with humans develop super intelligent AI - or listen below -

Redhill platform 0 update

Redhill platform 0
So a bit more in the way of progress, you can now see the extent of what will presumably be the covered area of the platform (spoiler alert - it's pretty much the same as platform 1 and 2), still no evidence of stairs up from the tunnel though, I wonder if it will be a new foot bridge above instead?  That may explain the large metal column you can see on the left of the picture above (click to zoom in if you want a better look)...

16 October, 2017

Red Sky in Dorking, commuters warning...

Red Sun in Dorking
...plus it was getting a bit windy earlier on...looks like I have commuted to red Mars....

Not that I'm short of things to write...

...nice ideas bubble up all the time, but about 2 weeks ago I came up with a notably brilliant idea - I can clearly remember thinking "Oh that's hilarious, what a great blog post that is going to make! Note to self to work that into something when inspiration is low" and then something distracted me and I promptly completely forgot quite what it was - leaving me only with the massively frustrating perfect nagging knowledge that I have let a wonderful idea slip away into blackness...

ARSE.  *Every* time now that my mind wanders off for inspiration I go back to this blank space first, I wonder if this is what writers block feels like?