What's Daddy doing with that Big Orange Thing

A poem to celebrate the fascination of a toddler, before it disappears...

I want to know what's happening!

I want to know what's happening!

So there was I, cutting the grass.
And there was he, slapping the glass.
He was slightly forlorn as I paced the lawn,
Following me close with each pass

He wanted to see the machine 
Making grass look so short and so green.
Delighted to see the big bin
Where dad chucked the grass cuttings in.

On the window he slapped,
Applauded and clapped,
With a very wide grin 
He couldn't keep in.

I've never felt quite so adored 
Doing jobs where I'm usually bored.
Feelings of great fascination;
A young boy's complete admiration.

I'll enjoy this, it won't last forever;
One day daddy won't seem so clever.
So I'll take all I possibly can
Of the innocent love of wee man

Into the Great Wide Open

I haven't written much during the first year of bambino's life, so this post comes a bit out of the blue. But then we're about to embark on a big new chapter (more later) so maybe now's the right time to start filling in the blanks.

You can't possibly encapsulate over 12 months of parenthood in one short posting, but this post is about this weekend, which was magical.  

After months of threatening, last weekend our wee man finally decided to start letting go of daddy's hand and begin walking solo. Tentatively at first. Of course.

But by this weekend his confidence, and the weather, was good enough for him to go it alone on the green outdoors. This was firstly significant for the fact we are leaving, so I'm pleased he got chance to use the green. I'd always known when I moved here it would  be a brilliant place for kids, so in fact a part of me is a little sad we'll be leaving it behind. 

trying to get up a run

trying to get up a run

But secondly this was significant because it was also quite emotional. As a developmental step, our wee baba is now capable of being independent outdoors - that's a pretty big deal. And quite amazing to see him take his first few exploratory steps in the great wide open; and absolutely loving it to boot... Soaking up the fresh air and the crunch of ripe grass underfoot with excitement and abandon.

If he loves the outdoors, he's going to love what's coming..

Great Management Quotes

“The first people had questions and they were free. The second people had answers, and they became enslaved.” - Wind Eagle, American Indian Chief

“If you don’t like change, you’ll going to like irrelevance even less.” - General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

“It makes all the difference in the world whether we put truth in the first place, or in the second place.” - John Morley

“The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.” - Herbert Agar

“Great leaders build a workforce for the future. They are human capital developers. Great leaders always ask themselves: “Am I prepared for what’s next?” They invest in themselves by constantly learning.” - Jonathan Fietzer

“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends” – Walt Disney

“It is not a question of how well each process works; the question is how well they work together.” – Lloyd Dobens and Clare Crawford-Mason

“An ability to embrace new ideas, routinely challenge old ones, and live with paradox will be the effective leader’s premier trait.” – Tom Peters

“The highest challenge inside organizations is to enable each person to contribute his or her unique talents and passion to accomplish the organization’s purpose.” – Stephen R. Covey

“It is never too late to be who you might have been.” – George Eliot

“Leadership is a combination of strategy and character.  If you must be without one, be without the strategy.” – General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

“Trust becomes a verb when you communicate to others their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” – Stephen R. Covey

“I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life.  The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.” – Mark Twain

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but what you should have accomplished with your ability.” – John Wooden

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” – Anatole France

“For every failure, there’s an alternative course of action.  You just have to find it.  When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.” – Mary Kay Ash

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison

“Strategy gets you on the playing field, but execution pays the bills.” – George Eubanks

“A life isn’t significant except for isn’t impact on other lives.”  - Jackie Robinson

You can suck a futon mattress down for packing

One of my most popular blog posts concerns shrinking a memory foam mattress down in size by creating a massive vacuum bag from a mattress protector bag.

I've done this several times now and it works a treat.

Recently I had to pack and store a futon mattress. So I thought I would try the same trick. I didn't even bother to create a valve, but simply taped up most of one end of the bag, and then Placed the vacuum cleaner through the remaining small hole into the back. So simple, so effective.

Within a few minutes the mattress was about half the size and I taped it up using gaffer tape and parcel tape (some bits of gaffer snapped because my seal wasn't so good).

Here's photographic proof :)

Transient

Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony in Danny Boyle's own words

If you download the Olympic 2012 Opening Ceremony album - "Isles of Wonder" - there is a foreword by Danny Boyle that explains the concept of the opening ceremony. I thought it was very helpful in understanding what the point of his spectacular was - and underlines, in my opinion, just how successful it was; here it is:

 

At some point in their histories, most nations experiencea revolution that changes everything about them. The United Kingdom had a revolution that changed the whole of human existence. In 1709 Abraham Darby smelted iron in a blast furnace, using coke. And so began the IndustrialRevolution. Out of Abraham’s Shropshire furnace flowed molten metal. Out of his genius flowed the mills, looms, engines, weapons, railways, ships, cities, conflicts and prosperity that built the world we live in.It was a revolution that filled the world with noise,smoke, prosperity, pain and possibility.

In November 1990 another Briton sparked another revolution – equally far-reaching – a revolution we’restill living through. Tim Berners - Lee invented the World Wide Web, and built the world’s first website. He took no money for his invention. This, he said, is for everyone.

Just like the Industrial Revolution, the digital revolution is turning the world upside down, taking music, books,shopping, conversation, information to places that they never went before.

But flickering in the smoke and noise and excitement, you can sometimes glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring nation that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem.

And that it will be for everyone.

Danny Boyle

Artistic Director

London 2012 Olympic Games

Opening Ceremony

 

Recipe for awesome Pea and Ham soup

I'm afraid I tend to cook by instinct and taste, so what I don't have is a completely prescriptive recipe measured to the nearest gramme. ☺ If you need to follow a recipe like that, you need to look elsewhere. Otherwise, do what I do, and taste what you're making and judge what to use as you go along.

With that out the way, here's some of the best Pea and Ham soup you'll ever make.

Ingredients

 

  • Dried Peas - soaked (the quick variety usually take about two hours to soak)
  • Onions - about the same amount as you have peas
  • Turmeric - a couple of teaspoons - optional if you don't have it
  • Cumin seeds - again, optional - but if you have them, a teaspoon or so
  • Coriander leaf - fresh or dried - fresh is obviously best; add enough to make a difference but not to overpower
  • Chilli powder - as much or as little as you like
  • Black pepper - lots
  • Garlic - loads - at least several bulbs, maybe double
  • A teaspoon or two of English mustard
  • Ham, bacon or lardons; smoked or unsmoked whichever you like about 1 Quarter the amount of peas
  • Marigold swiss vegetable bouillon stock powder - seriously, this is the best stock you can get, use it in everything
  • Olive oil

 

Method

Prepare the peas according to the packet (this usually means soak and rinse for a few hours).

Dice onions into small cubes if you haven't bought them pre-diced. Warm the pot with a few spoons of oil olive oil and start sauteing the onions. Also add the garlic, ham, and turmeric. Keep stirring and sauteing to start caramelising the onions. 

After about 5 minutes of good sizzling, add everything else (except the stock powder) and stir is together. I usually keep this going on a the heat for a minute or two before then adding boiling water. 

Reduce to a simmer and keep stirring. Stir in a few spoons of stock powder. Keep tasting and adding as required. Remember that over time and as it cools the soup will taste more salty, so don't go too mad, just keep tasting. But make sure you add enough. Leave to simmer for 30 - 40 minutes, but keep checking on it and tasting. Add more pepper if needed. 

Serving

Usually I part blend mine with a hand blender, just to remove any chunks (especially if you used lardons). Served, of course, with home made chunks of ciabatta bread.

Delish. 

 

Please forgive me - it's fossil fuel...

This household is about to buy a new car, a supermini, and it won't be electric and it won't be a hybrid.

Before you yell, no-one is sadder about this than me.

As an early adopter and general planet-hugger, I already switched to a diesel car with double the MPG (and diesel particulate filter) a few years ago. So, the prospect of a car that is cleaner still and costs about 90% less per mile is a very tantalising idea. [By the way, I won't even enter a debate on the stats and benefits of electric - if you want a decent argument on the topic, follow Bobby Llewelyn on twitter or read his blog - he knows his stuff.] 

So, firstly, the car is not for me, but my better half; so ultimately it's her decision and has to fit her needs. I will only drive it occasionally. (Unless, perhaps, she was getting a car that was faster than mine, in which case I might hanker after it all the time :-) But she's not.)

Secondly, electric cars currently just don't suit our needs. A lot of criticism comes the way of the current breed of electric cars, most centred around range, which is typically 100 - 140 miles on a charge. For many, many people who are based in towns and doing lots of short trips and school runs, this type of vehicle would surely meet their needs. However, it just so happens that our life doesn't follow that pattern - in fact we both have long distance journeys to do as our main journeys (so not only can we not share one car, but we need two). Turns out those journeys are beyond the distance of the average electric range and we also don't have the necessary charging means at the other end. I think an electric car would be brilliant to have - but we need a simpler life. (I reckon that's true regardless.)

So, much as I believe that electric cars represent a realistic future and can deliver some cracking performance, the current range limitation rules them out of our driving pattern for the time-being. Next time round might be a possibility though.

Now, what would be a good alternative for our lifestyle is a hybrid car, which combines fossil fuel and electric power to deliver more MPG and extended range when there is no battery power. Volvo, for example, have just announced an S60 saloon than can deliver about 125mpg and drive 1000 miles on a tank. Awesome. Truly Awesome.

The issue with this breed of cars basically comes down to cost and choice. There are not that many models available at the moment and they are also beyond our current target budget (and form factor) of a super-mini. I can pretty much guarantee that if Skoda produced a hybrid Fabia at Skoda prices, it would be a no-brainer purchase.

But they don't. No-one does. 

So, that leaves us going for a conventional fossil burner. Another requirement is to have an automatic, which also limits the choice and price - and in the end the best all-round value vehicle we have found is the Skoda Fabia with 7 Speed DSG auto box (a beautiful piece of equipment in its own right, complete with "flappy paddles" as the girls on Top Gear would say). Better still, the auto is actually more economical than the equivalent manual! I am confident it will be a smooth and economical drive, as I have the 6 speed DSG on my Octavia and it's nothing short of fantastic. These cars must be popular as the waiting list is currently 4 - 5 months.

Once again, it will be a step change in economy and lower emissions compared to the car it is replacing - so it's all in the right direction. I hope you feel forgiving. 

 

Fixing the desk-spaghetti

This weekend I decided to tackle the mounting cable problem on my desk. Which was somewhat serendiptous, as at the moment I'm also involved in a project at work about "workplace transformation" that also happens to include small desks over-run with cables.

The problem arose because I had a "laptop refresh" at work from a Dell to an HP and consequently could not use my existing docking station. (Over the years I have come to love the simplicity and tidiness a docking station provides, especially at home.)  The company does not provide docking stations, but I was fortunate that my last work and personal laptops were the same model, so I had my own dock.

Anyway - the cable problem was getting out of control with power cable, monitor cable, network cable, USB printer cable, USB wireless keyboard adapter, mouse cable, microphone cable (for VOIP calls), USB webcam cable, and 2 x audio cables - one for my TV/Monitor and one for the cinema system. Practically every slot on the PC was used up, and unlike the old Dell, the ports on the HP Elitebook are spread round 3 sides of the machine, so it's all exceedingly messy when it's all wired up.

Thankfully my desk is a home-made affair: a slab of board strung between two walls mounted on batons. I'm no DIY expert, but this setup has done me proud since 2003. So, there is no problem drilling it, making holes in it, or generally sticking things to it. It already has several holes to take cables from the top to the underside; and also has plenty of plastic trunking already screwed underneath along the back to keep cables tidy. I even have a small cisco network switch mounted to the underside to provide me with four network ports. 

However, so far I have not had any trunking on top of the desk, because I've not had that many cables needing to trail across it. That's changed with the new laptop, as well as the addition of docks for my blackberry and iPhone. 

The piece de resistance in sorting all my required cables out on top of the desk is some trunking I have used many times in my recording studio from studio-spares

This trunking comes in different sizes, but the great thing is you can stick it down with the built in double sided pad, or screw it down. You can cut it to size and it is very easy to insert and remove cables even in situ. I mounted some of this along my desk edges (side and back) and also from front to back underneath, so that I could bring audio cables out to the audio ports on the PC. It has made a huge difference. 

My other trick was to mount a USB hub on the wall (just using "no more nails" double sided tape) behind my TV/Monitor, which is also wall mounted. This means only one cable running to a USB port on the laptop, back to the hub. Then all the devices are plugged into that, such as printer. All these cables are almost totally concealed now. Result.  

 

How to suck a mattress down to size

AN UPDATED NOTE: quite a few readers have contacted via the comments with questions about their own situation - will it work with this mattress so-and-so? Am I doing it right?  Why can't I get my back to shrink?  etc. etc. PLEASE NOTE - if you want to ask a question, please contact me via the contact form rather than post a comment, as these go unseen, and there is no way for me to reply to them. 

This article was written for memory foam mattresses. If you are trying it with a sprung mattress, I suspect it won't work. (But it does work with a futon! ) If you want to buy the items used, just try eBay. I did!


I recently had the challenge of transporting a king size memory foam mattress. The choices seemed to be hire a van (or removal company) or somehow ram it into the Skoda Octavia in the hope it would bend and fit. I wasn’t over-keen on that option as it would mean leaving little room for anything else in the car.

Rewind and little, and the mattress originally came rolled up in a vacuum packed bag and box (which expanded with great amusement when sliced open). Could I therefore repeat this feat of wizardy and reverse the great unfolding? Well, I do like a challenge, especially when science is on my side.

I was inspired by those “vac pac” bags you can get that: you suck the air from a sealed polythene bag with your favourite dysonomatic and compress the contents down to an n-th their size. Seemed like a perfect solution but it didn’t take long scouring the internet to discover vac-pacs don’t come in that size (and if they did, they would cost a pretty penny).

So I figured I could make one. I ordered a king size mattress polythene bag, as used by removal companies for protection. That only cost a couple of pounds. Then I ordered a small vac-pac bag off eBay, which also costs under 2 pounds.

I wrapped the mattress in the large bag and sealed with gaffer & parcel tape. I cut out the valve from the vac pac and taped it to the inside of the large bag and sliced a hole to bring the valve through; and again, taped it up as airtight as I could. (see picture)

photo-1296346771034.JPG

Then, with the help of my able assistant, we attached a vacuum cleaner and began sucking the air from the mattress bag. It compressed beautifully. We kept going (somewhat startled by how effective it was) until the mattress was thin enough to start rolling; stopping every once in a while to listen for leaks (very obvious hissing!) and sealing them with parcel tape. Then I rolled the mattress and stood it on end. The bag was still a bit leaky so we continued vacuuming while I wrapped it in tape to keep the roll shape intact.

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It worked a treat, you can see the mattress loaded in the car and also 24 hours later when it was unpacked, still pretty much roll shaped! Gotta be one of the best 4 quid I have spent!

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