Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Christmas Present For Grandma and Granddad.

SOC's and FOC's Grandparents on wifey's side are now both in their 90s. For nonagenarians they are both doing very well and, while they don't understand technology they do have ideas of what can be done. Granddad asked if his Super 8 home movies could be put onto DVD for him for Christmas. I had a think, with FOC present, and suggested I would need a video camera to do it - something I don't own.

A couple of weeks later, out of my hearing, he asked wifey if he could buy me what I needed to convert his home movies - for my Christmas present. This meant he was serious - but I don't want a video camera! So what to do? I asked FOC and she said she had one but it was to tape and I would need to then copy them using cables and software and it was messy. I then thought about our newly acquired Lumix compact camera. I had not explored it's video capabilities but what were they? I tried a couple of videos of Dylan in the snow and was surprised that they are VGA or QVGA specification. Interesting, but how to get them to DVD for the average DVD player. I sourceforged and found DVD Flick for DVD Authoring. So first thing is to take those videos of Dylan and put them to DVD and see DVD Flick work. It worked a treat and has a selection of inbuilt menus for multiple titles (chapters). I tried the final DVD on the playstation and his DVD player and they worked. Things were looking good.

I fetched a few movies and the projector and screen and set about the first one. Mounting the compact camera on a tripod beside the project and as near to the projection source as possible I then zoomed in to capture the image. I JUST managed to fill the screen of the camera (it's 4 times optical zoom) with the projected image but was losing out on colour. Over several days I played with lots of settings and eventually bumped in to a setting that is not on the menu - that of exposure. I set this to -1 and started to get the results. I was also projecting onto less than A4 (I had abandoned the aged screen) as this reduces pixelation. Also my compact will only record for 15 minutes before stopping the recording so I found it necessary to record some in 2 chunks and then 'splice' them together later.

Obviously I made the movie 'lead in' blank of the tape longer while I fiddled with getting the camera started and the same would happen at the end so I planned on removing them by Windows Movie Maker (WMM). Problem is that Windows Movie Maker doesn't recognise the file format (mov) that the Lumix produces. I picked up Any Video Converter - Free (AVC) from and used it to convert the mov format files to mpeg2 which WMM will recognise. AVC gives you the ability to edit out sections of the recording - except I couldn't get it to work so I continued to use WMM and WMM does give the ability to add titles where ever required and also gave me the ability to splice bits together.

Having finally produced the 'titles' (or 'chapters') it was time for DVD Flick. I was really surprised by how DVD Flick smoothed out the flickering images and enhanced the colours. Problem is the projector's chattering is carried through on the sound and DVD Flick needs a soundtrack. At each title (11 so far) I have edited the screen title and the time index of the tumbnail (so that the added title shows) as well as added a new soundtrack (mp3) from a CD I own and removed the original soundtrack. It was at soundtrack level that I found a bug. If the soundtrack is shorter than the movie then DVD Flick just unloads itself and any unsaved changes are lost. I used 'Audacity' to add all my soundtracks together to get one large enough to cater for all my videos.

A few years ago I paid for some movies to be put to VHS professionally for him and comparing the results I feel my efforts have produced the better results. Oh, and cost less as NONE of the software I used cost money - Many thanks to the open source world (and rather unusually Microsoft!).

One cost I did incur though was an extension hard drive as this process is, by necessity, disk hungry and the old laptop is about full - well was anyway.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The freeze sets in....

The weather forecast is grim. Snow and ice for 'weeks'! Not looking forward to it. The freeze last year took our early broad beans and hopefully this year I have cloched early enough.

It doesn't look like I will be going to the allotment for a while and running out doors looks and feels positively treacherous!

It looks like walking with Dylan, who loves biting the snow, and the gym is now the agenda for a while.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Nearly first week on the allotment

I went to the allotment 4 times this week to try to make a start. The natural light, commitments, the temperature and the mains water to the loos having been turned off have curtailed my visits to a maximum of 2 hours. Hard work? Hardly - just great fun.

Tuesday I lifted the beetroot and carrots. It amounted to about 50 pounds of beetroot and about 70 pounds of carrots. Both taste great and I am a true lover of beetroot - but this may prove a little too much this year! We have also been eating carrots in most every known way but, as yet, we are maintaining a healthy skin pigment!

Lifting the carrots revealed a whole lot of leeks which, as I cleared some of the brambles revealed even more.

I also found a row of turnips which will come in handy sometime.

Wednesday I started to try to tidy up the plot to show the allotment committee that we are serious. The secretary was saying that people wait on the list for years and then when they have been given a plot they pay their rent and never show up! WE don't want anyone thinking we are not enthusiastic! But Wednesday was also a frustrating visit because there are so many things that need doing there is a temptation to start them all and finish none.

Friday saw a shorter visit where we decided to do some proper planning so we can focus properly on the next task in hand. On Wednesday I had started to define the path and bottom corner of the allotment and that is where we start our proper effort.

We also decided to move the strawberries - some to our garden and some to a 'out the way' bed. These strawberries are perpetual fruiting and have a lot of bud on even now.

But today it has snowed for the first time this year and that may mean less done for a little while.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

First day at the allotment

The previous occupant of our plot quit the allotment rather abruptly and left a lot of things behind. We haven't identified everything yet but are trying to 'tidy up'.

I have started by moving some of the blue plastic out of site and gathering up the bags with compost that have been left sitting around and consolidating them into the compost heaps at the back. I have also been clearing brambles from along the back fence and consigning them to the council bin as they don't compost at all well.

Amongst the things left on the allotment is a poly-tunnel which has 3 young vines in. We are still deciding whether this stays or goes.

After that I have been clearing some of the surface weeds and seeing what lurks below..
Various brassicas are still there in various conditions.

There is a patch of carrots and these are gigantic. I suspect some could enter the 'Dibley Village Rude Vegetable' competition.
There is a patch of beetroot and mostly of a good size.
A raspberry pretending to be a bramble.
A gooseberry bush - no babies I'm pleased to say.
Autumn fruiting raspberry. And what's more...
it's still in fruit.
Various fruit trees, but only 2 are labeled - A Granny Smith Apple and a Conference Pear.
7 or 8 trees in all, but mostly too close together.

Not sure what this is so we need to 'look it up'.

So I brought a little home with me while we decide how to store the carrots and beetroot.

On top of all this there are currant bushes as well, but I missed out on photos of them!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Digeus System Optimiser

I run Windows Vista SP1 with a 68gb Hard Disk installed. I don't like Vista (like so many others) and it really wants reinstalling. People talk about reinstalling like it's no big deal, but I hate the idea. Why? Well we are using 60gb of that 68 and that all needs to be backed up first and then check you have all the installation media for all the packages you have installed (quite a number) , then start the install of Vista (a couple of hours with a fair wind) then patch Vista (a couple of days with a fair wind) then install all the packages (a day or so) then retrieve the data - and finally reset all those packages the way you like them again. And in the meantime....  no pc!

The thought appals me - and my family even more. The solution is to do what is possible to keep Vista working and perform and protected.

I have just returned from holiday to find this email waiting for me:-

Dear The Mole,

I would be honored if you’d take the time to review our product on your blog.
In exchange for an unbiased review, We will provide a copy of the product for free!
We will also place link to your review from our product's page with your logo.

The review may be written in any language you want, min 100 words. You are free
to get photos and sample description from our site:

If you use Facebook, Twitter, Digg or MySpace, please add this tool to your bookmarks.
The button for adding to bookmarks is located here:

Here is a brief information about our product:

Digeus System Optimizer 8.2

Digeus System Optimizer is the smartest way to solve computer problems and 
protect your valuable data. This easy-to-use software helps you eliminate 
system crashed, prevent computer problems, and restore your system to 
a healthy state.

Here is a list of tools included in suite:

* Digeus Data Encryptor
* Digeus Disk Space Analyzer
* Digeus Drivers and Programs
* Digeus Duplicate Files Finder
* Digeus Icon Manager
* Digeus IE Manager
* Digeus Junk Files Cleaner
* Digeus Memory Cleaner
* Digeus Multimedia Settings Tweaker
* Digeus Optimization Wizard
* Digeus Privacy Protection
* Digeus Process Manager
* Digeus Registry Cleaner
* Digeus Registry Defragmenter
* Digeus Repair System Settings
* Digeus Service Manager
* Digeus File Shredder
* Digeus Smart Uninstaller
* Digeus Startup Manager
* Digeus System Customization
* Digeus System Info
* Digeus System Security Tweaker
* Digeus System Speed Optimizer
* Digeus Unnecessary Files Cleaner

Download and install System Optimizer 8.2:

Learn more what is included in System Optimizer 8.2:

Looking forward to hearing from you. 

Alise Johnson
PR Manager
Digeus, Inc

I had to say the idea sounded a bit attractive...

It offered the ability to get more from my present installation without the reinstall.  I downloaded it, installed it and started to play....  

First thing I decided to try the junk file cleaner and therein hangs a tale. It kept crashing about my ears. I persisted - cos that's the kind of guy I am and eventually found a few things.  It was crashing because there were too many files for it to handle. (I found in excess of 66,000!). Why did I have so many? I had a gut feel that it was caused by HP Update and using the startup manager disabled it. Lo and behold - the files stopped being created.

I then, through windows, removed the application to prevent a recurrence. After that the junk file cleaner ran without any issues BUT and it's a BIG BUT it listed the zero length files and included, the C:\BOOT directory BCD.log1 and 2. These are system files and I would hope that they are adequately protected but I certainly would not recommend deleting them! and therein lies a warning - SOME programs have empty directories and zero length files as an 'in case' and removing them could cause the application to crash so treat this list of files as a guide and not a safe list of files to delete. If you delete a file that causes a problem then it's on YOUR head not Digeus' and that goes for ANY optimisation software. 

I chose to run this one 'type' at a time and found little else that was controversial although 'sorting' by file size is alpha numeric so '729 bytes' is greater than '1,101,124 bytes'. This ought to be sorted.  Additionally I would like to see an 'export' button throughout the system so you can print the results and review them off line (and if you are geeky enough) use an editted version of the results to create a batch file - but certainly to review off line in a spreadsheet or similar would prove useful.

One nice thing about this software is that it moves the 'deleted' files to the recycle bin and asks if you want to empty it first. If you leave the recycle bin's contents in tact then you can test the effect of the deletions you have chosen by rebooting and testing the applications and 'restore' any files that you shouldn't have deleted before clearing the bin.

I reviewed the services in service manager and liked the presentation and prompts to help me see more clearly the options and found it clear and concise and took the opportunity of turning off a couple of services.

I then looked at the duplicate files finder. This works by comparing file dates and times and sizes - so files with different names [ e.g. jpg and a(1).jpg] are identified. I liked this feature BUT CARE IS NEEDED. It sees duplicates across user profiles so where two user profiles use the same software you could end up rendering one users software inoperable.

The disk space analyzer is nice and concise and gives a very immediate picture.

One thing I struggled with when I first got Vista  was the scheduled tasks.  There are a lot set to start too frequently, but the windows interface is less than explanatory and to see a pretty face put on the front of scheduled tasks would be nice - maybe later?

I have not tested the entire product and I certainly would not encrypt my disk for anything.

The product does claim to work on all windows platforms from 95 to Windows 7. 

On the whole - if used with care - I liked this product despite the bugs and despite some of the interesting spelling - it really needs to help the less experienced more though and I would suggest that there are some areas where the 'select all' feature should not exist or carry a severe warning about the possible use.  

If you would like to try the product you can download a trial and if you would like to review it after contacting Digeus using the email address alise.johnson AT then you may also be able to qualify for a free copy.


Thursday, 25 March 2010

Rant on Hollywood explosions!

If there's one thing that annoys me then it's the way Hollywood using exploding vehicles! They don't explode! If they exploded like Hollywood vehicles do then we wouldn't be able to drive them around safely!!

In order for an explosion to occur then all the right components must be present in as close as possible the right quantities throughout the mixture. Petrol requires air in it to burn and that is what petrol does - it burns! In a car engine the fuel and air is premixed in the correct quantities to cause the mixture to burn rapidly in the combustion chamber. Note the word 'combustion' NOT explosion. It burns so rapidly, turning a small amount of fuel and air into a very large volume of hot gas that people talk of an explosion - but it's combustion.

Now if you set fire to a petrol tank it will burn rapidly and will heat up the metal around it and could cause the tank to rupture spilling burning fuel everywhere - but it will not explode. If you do this to a larger vehicle or vessel the same thing will happen.

There is a seemingly contradictory element to this... If you weld an empty petrol tank it could very well explode! No, it may very well combust so rapidly and with so much force it will rip the tank to shreds and throw shrapnel around.  As good as an explosion anyway. This is because the tank is NOT empty but an 'empty' tank enjoys about the correct mixture of petrol vapour and air. So if you find yourself wanting to weld a petrol tank then fill it with water first!.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

To blog or not to blog?

Today we are told that we should enjoy a 'web presence'. But why? Having read blogs by friends and not-friends I seem to see many different reasons. And why should we read them?

As I gain more experience from blogs I see several reasons for both.

Some people write blogs because they feel they should but they ponder hard about their blogging and come up with blogs that are interesting, entertaining or both. Some blog interesting ideas and some blog anything - seemingly just because they can. Some use it to seek popularity or to be reassured about their popularity. Some blog quietly while others are constantly prompting us to read their blog. It just leaves me wondering why there are so many reasons to blog. Myself, I think of blogging as a way of recording my thoughts and if they go unread then they were my thoughts anyway.

And why to read the blogs? This one is for me just as big a question. I am a slow reader and reading has always been hard work. I recently re-read a sentence 4 times before I realised the word was 'four' and not 'hour' and suddenly it made sense. When reading is like this for you you do not read everything put in front of you. If I see a friends blog post I will scan the first paragraph and if it doesn't catch me I will give up - sorry! Even if it does I may give up before the end anyway. Mary will read over my shoulder waiting for me to scroll down. I may be asked 'Did you read?' and I will ask for the gist and then maybe go to read it for myself.  Having read will I comment? Why do people comment? I will comment if I have to something to say at the time. Because I haven't commented doesn't mean I haven't read. I don't feel I need to leave my footprint in the sand just to say that I have been there. I probably enjoyed it, or I didn't finish it. I was always told ' if you don't have something to say then say nothing' and that's what I do. But I see so many comments that seem sycophantic, popularity grabbing - 'Please, I read it sir/miss!'. I am told that it's my badly developed social skills and so I apologise to all.

To all the bloggers I enjoy may I say "PLEASE keep on blogging" - for the main part I do enjoy them but don't leave my footprint to say I read them and apologise but I would miss them if they weren't there.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Reflections on a birthday...

What did I want for my birthday?  I don't have so many things. I could do with another laptop, a digital camera, memory for my laptop, a new scroll mouse, a day riding heavy horses - the list is endless, but what did I want for my birthday?

Well truly none of them. It was my 55th and I had always hoped to retire by my 55th and I had achieved it. What I wanted for my birthday was surprises! Small surprises. I wanted a happy day, not just for me, but for my family too. I wanted memories of a day enjoyed.

Was I disappointed?  Certainly not! Having just finished an excellent book I was looking forward to starting another and a good book always leaves you with a warm glow for a while.

An early start and out for a walk with Dylan in a magical wonderland of snow made a fantastic start to the day.

We returned home and opened presents. T-shirts - probably the most useful item in my wardrobe as they layer in winter, go in the gym and are great for summer too. One had a Haynes manual cover reproduction on, one was a 'popeye' and a plain one - all absolutely great! Books, always a welcome present. Sweets and snacks - Liquorice, jellied fruits, dates, wine gums - you name it and all low fat! Toys and snacks for Dylan and other things. All great and really appreciated.

I then squandered time on facebook while people got ready but we were running late so rather than stress and rush we rescheduled the day to have dinner before we went out.

We then went, with Dylan, to Monsal Head to go for a short walk through the Dale and along the trail, where he played with his new toys in games of 'fetch', before returning to the café at the head. They should have been closed but they gave us tea and hot chocolate and cake for Lizzie.

It was then getting too late and we returned home to sandwiches, cake and a video followed by a final walk of the day Dylan. Finally, a brief spell on facebook replying to the many birthday wishes from my facebook friends. A truly lovely day with lots of memories.

Regrets? Forgetting the camera for the first walk of the day AND the trip to Monsal Head. Also it was a shame that the café had no scones and jam, but it was the end of the day and we did get tea.

So did I get what I want for my birthday? I most certainly did - and in spades! And Many thanks to everyone who helped to make it so!

Saturday, 30 January 2010


Dylan had an accident last night. He woke Mary about 5:30 who thought nothing of it. He later came to me and I got up. When I came down I found he had had an accident all over his bed - and only his bed.

I put him in he garden and set about cleaning up which wasn't too arduous a task. I then let him in and it became apparent that he was terrified of me! Why should this be? It was his first accident in more than a week and we are still learning about each other. I hadn't spoken harshly to him in any way because I could see he knew he had erred and was remorseful. So why was he terrified of me? I took him his walk and he was as good as gold and we both seemed to enjoy it, but when we got back in his tail went down and the terror showed itself again.

The only logical conclusion is that the previous male in the household in which he lived was violent with him and he doesn't know to trust me yet. It has really made me so angry, I just cannot describe.

We had wondered why he had become a stray and I would have asked the previous owners 'Why?'. I think I know why now and if I ever met the previous owner I really feel like punching his lights out - and I abhor violence.

Friday, 29 January 2010

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

Walking in the woods by the light of a full moon brings a magical fantasy world to life.

It is some years since I have walked regularly in the dark evenings, but Dylan and I now walk the woods regularly. Tonight we enjoyed a clear sky and cold wind. The shadows thrown by the moon were long and clear and the light bathed the ground in a greyness of contrast. The path through the woods became less clear than the overcast nights we have been walking in and several times had me wondering the way I should go. Dylan guided me along the path with unerring and caring ability.

We heard voices. Youths. And they were on the path we were destined to follow. What would we find when we came to them? These teenage voices were laughing and joking as they celebrated the start of their weekend and as we neared them it became more apparent what my fear of them was. I braced myself and tightened Dylan's lead and hoped I was wrong and as we passed them, warily I found to my delight I was wrong and Dylan didn't jump and give them dirty footprints. He said hello to them and they to him, but he kept his dirty feet to himself.

Tomorrow there will be a pile of drinks cans and bottles in the wood where they met and on examination it will be found that 9 out of 10 are soft drinks cans. I wonder if they all know what they are all drinking or whether, under cover of dark, they drink what they want rather than what they think their mates expect them to?

Gatherings of young teenagers are all too frequently labelled as 'youths' when all they are are young people looking to socialise. Stick them in a youth club! That will curb their freedom and inhibit their socialising! We met and gathered outside such organisations and it didn't do us any harm and it annoys me that people brand these youngsters as criminals in the making. There will always be bad ones but most are just younger versions of ourselves and deserve the trust and respect we wanted.

It was a lovely evening and a lovely walk that left me thinking of wolves baying to the moon.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sssshh - It's a secret!!

My daughter was expressing her levels of appalledness by a recent exercise they were asked to do at school and it does, in my opinion, make you start to question the intelligence of some people.

One of the things they were asked to do in this exercise was to write their secrets into their workbook. Horror was expressed by many of them in class, although the vocal ones seem to have been mostly girls. They challenged the teacher and refused to do it.

In my opinion this raises other questions, but what did the teacher expect? Girls seem to have more secrets than boys and I would expect the boys to have taken the approach I would have done. I would have made something up along the lines that I would expect my peers to have written. The fact that we all would have done the same thing invalidates the exercise anyway.

Girls are 'more honest'?

If we take this exercise logically it is one that cannot be done.

If the secret is written down then it is not a secret any more hence it no longer fulfils the requirements of the exercise!

It does bring to mind a management training exercise I was involved in some years ago. There were about 12-15 of my colleagues around a table and we were given the exercise. A group of visitors were trapped in a pothole and we were running the rescue team from a remote location. There were men, women and children in the trapped group which included some elderly and unfit. We had to decide the order to bring them up to safety as they could not all be saved and some would die.

I was appalled at this and said that I wouldn't be involved in this and that we, as a team should leave it to the chaps on the rescue team to make those decisions as they would have the greatest information and that we should support them with whatever resources they needed.

The reaction of the rest of the group was that I was wrong, the exercise said that we had to do this. I still refused - I was adamant that I would not even PLAY at being god and controlling who should live or who should die. One of my colleagues turned to the trainer and asked him to tell me to get involved properly. I remember that the trainer said nothing but shrugged his shoulders and turned to face the window. I suspect I had played right into his hands! Was this what the exercise was about? When people saw that there was another way they started to join my side and by the end of the exercise there was only the person who challenged the trainer left on that side of the table.

I wonder if the class missed the purpose of the secrets exercise?

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Thoughts on Kindle

Before retiring I worked in the 'Security Printing Industry' and was heavily involved in the provision of software and other technologies for the distribution of 80% of the UK's gift vouchers. There have been and still are logistical problems of how these can be replaced by gift cards but they are being and will be replaced by gift cards. To ignore this fact is to try and stop the inevitable. It has happened through time immemorial that things get replaced by newer things. Sometimes we feel that it is being forced on us as consumers by the manufacturers and we kick hard against it.

Sheet music gave way to 78 rpm gramophone records. They in turn gave way to 33 1/3 and 45 rpm records and I am sure everyone was annoyed that they would have to replace their gramophones with record players, but eventually they did. In the early 80's the CD came along and I for one refused to get involved. The CD has stayed and reluctantly I do now use them but just as the order of the day becomes to download direct from the web.

As we know the publishers are now pushing Kindle. Why? Because they can cut out all that messy ink and paper, the wholesalers, the bookshops and become even more profitable.

But consider the download market today....  The Arctic Monkeys established a precedent. A successful popular hit and no record label involved! They cut out the recording company totally.

Software will become available and standards published that will enable anyone to publish their own book on the web without resort to a publisher. Arguably this can be done in PDF format today and could have been done over the last so many years, but Kindle offers bookmarking and pagination management techniques that make ebooks more manageable to the reader. Also small portable readers are becoming available.

Is this a good thing and what would be the impact?

Well first is the disappearance of the paper book but publishers are already pushing for that.

Second will be there will be no editorial control over accuracy of non fiction material which could be a serious issue.

Thirdly violence, sex, racism etc in fiction could go on uncontrolled, but in reality agencies could be set up to watch for this and shut it down within guidelines that could be as draconian as was deemed relevant.

But another important impact would be in spelling.  Yes, spelling. We all read typos in publications and wonder how they got through but that's after proof readers have found many, many more and had them corrected. Self published books would leave errors that would be read and believed to be the correct spelling. That thought is abhorrent. But think on this....  Books that are self published and have plots and story telling techniques that are hugely popular! How will the publishers look on Kindle then? But if the books are written entirely in text speak - what will that do to the printed/published word? Books in text speak WILL happen and that fact alone will aid their popularity.

I can make several cases FOR Kindle. Travellers can take all the books they want on holiday abroad. Positive? Yes.  Short sighted people, like my 90 year old father in law, could have readers that vary the contrast and brightness as well as variable sized fonts.

But the down sides are far more and they are being gathered together in 'Dusty Old Books' so I won't go into them here.

Ebooks, of which Kindle is one emergent standard, are bad I believe and we should resist them. I will, but I know the tide will come in and the spot in which I stand to make my defence will get covered by that tide. I also believe that the tide will move slower than Kindle and the publishers want because the 20 year old generation is not 100% behind it and they need to be before the 30, 40 etc generation will become convinced.

Let's hope that paper books remain with us for the next 50 years or more and let's try to perpetuate them.