Saturday, October 15, 2016

Zines and the importance of poo

For many years I bought up zines whenever I saw them in my local independent record shops (hey, remember that concept?).  I loved them, but to my mind at the time they seemed to portray a world I would never be able to either fully understand or be a part of; I read (and squinted at, for the print was shite) pages and pages of in-jokes, personal digs at folk I’d never met and sneering reviews of local bands who appeared to have done nothing to earn such derision apart from not being part of the zine-creator’s tiny circle of friends.  And for a long time I thought that this closed-door attitude entirely and fairly represented punk rock.  

Then I found Real Overdose, well more to the point I found Wolfie Retard, an affable fellow who played bass in an Ipswich band called LoveJunk.  Wolfie’s zine was called Real Overdose and while it contained a fair amount of daft stuff that I didn’t at once identify with, it never portrayed punk rock as something that I had to be invited to enjoy.

Real Overdose was the kid in class who you’d be happy to sit next to during a lesson, and who was cheerfully chat about whatever you fancied without at any point telling you that you were wrong because you didn’t wear proper punk-rock shoes, or had the wrong haircut.

Before Real Overdose I thought punk was about leather jackets, adventurous hair and questionable personal hygiene. After Real Overdose I realised that even though I didn’t like The Exploited, and wore long-sleeve tee-shirts devoid of any sort of skull-motif, that I probably was quite punk rock.  I realised that punk isn’t a thing that can be defined in any way; there’s no checklist that one has to complete to achieve the status of being ‘punk’.

Looking back I wonder if the problem wasn’t the way punk was portrayed to me; it was more likely the case I coloured my opinions with my own externally-imposed prejudice.  No idea where my preconceptions came from though, most likely the NME and The Word.

But this isn’t just another rambling damp-eyed thought-piece where some grey-haired duffer mumbles into his pint of mild about an undying allegiance to an alleged scene, nah, not at all.  When I was given the brief by the honourable editor of yon Lights Go Out zine I was asked to explain why I find the word ‘Poo’ (and all associated toilet-humour) so amusing, and I think the reason I’ll always stifle a titter when I hear a fellow beast of the earth guff ‘n’ trump is that (much like punk-rock) bog-humour is a leveller.  If we choose to unclench the buttocks that society tries so hard to keep sealed shut (with an unending list of things we should fear) and let out a little Tommy Squeaker I’m sure we’d all feel better.  Much like the ability to pick up an instrument, hit it, and then form a band, the ability to express ourselves through our bowels is something we all share and can glory in without external permission.

Originally published in Lights Go Out zine issue 27.

Monday, June 20, 2016

How I added 2tb of storage to my Macbook Pro

So I bought a Macbook Pro without looking at storage...

I love my Macbook pro.  That probably doesn't need to be said, but I do.  Well, actually I mostly love it.  External storage is a problem.

I professionally supported Microsoft products for well over a decade but after making the decision to drop the IT support side of my business I wanted to stop using Windows entirely.  Trying to use hardware an software that was trying to be all things to all people was proving too frustrating.  So I bought my Macbook Pro in 2013.

When choosing my Macbook I chose the Macbook pro because it has a SSD (solid state) drive, something which at the time was not incredibly common.  The first few days after I made the jump from Microsoft to Apple were a dream.  This was a laptop that ran like a dream.

The Macbook pro storage problem.

The SSD hard drive fitted in my Macbook pro sure was fast, but after just a few days I realised that I had potentially made a huge mistake in buying an Apple machine with an SSD hard drive.  The problem was that the hard drive on the Mac was only 128gb.  When choosing my first Apple computer I didn't think 128gb was a problem.  I had a stack of 6 massive external hard drives connected (via a hub) to my Windows computer and so local storage never seemed to be an issue.

But of course the Mac OS (operating system) handles storage differently to Windows computers.  For reasons I neither had the time nor the particular inclination to figure out my new Macbook just wouldn't play nice with my external drives.  They would randomly eject, fail to save data, corrupt.... you name it they did it.

I had a 2tb NAS (network attached storage) drive elsewhere on my network but transferring data to and from it was heinously slow.  The NAS worked fine as a backup drive for Time Machine but was useless for anything else.

The other problem with the way the Apple operating system handles storage is that it creates a HUGE file of temporary data.  This data is what enables Macs to 'wake up' really fast.  Apparently you can switch it off, but I leave my machine on all the time to having it wake fast is really useful.  But it was a problem, these temporary files were occupying more of the SSD drive than anything else.  In fact they still do today, below is a screen shot of my the storage status on my Mac.

You see that big yellow 'other' portion?  Well a lot of that is the temp files that allow my machine to wake from sleep swiftly.

The other problem I was having was that every time I imported video from an SD card to edit in iMovie the OS created multiple copies of the footage.  After just a few weeks of Mac ownership my hard drive had a handful of MB left of storage and was totally un-usable.  Even when I deleted iMovie projects the multiple copies of the movie files remained in place.  Eventually I resorted to using a bit of software called OmniDiskSweeper to track down these unwanted files and kill 'em.

Out of desperation I bought a 1tb external portable hard drive.  It wasn't a Mac specific external hard drive but from what I could figure out at the time my Mac should be able to handle pretty much anything.  It didn't.

I experienced the same problem with an portable external drive on my Mac as I did with the big stack of external drives.  The drive would dismount (disappear) constantly.  If I wanted to save to the drive or access it I had to unplug it then plug it back in again.  The final straw was when the external hard drive corrupted and I lost several week's worth of InDesign work.  This happened at the worst possible time, it was just a few days from the deadline for a very long project I had been working on for a big client.  No software could recover anything from the drive and because the drive was external it was not backed up by Time Machine.  I was livid.  So I gave up on the shitty portable hard drive.

As a quick aside I have since learned that if you are using an external drive that you want backed up by Time Machine then you need to make sure that drive isn't on the exclusions list in your Time Machine settings.

If you're saving work to an external drive on Mac OS and want your work backed up by Time Machine make sure your external drive isn't listed on the Time Machine exclusion list.
I got desperate.   I even bought some software that claimed it could reliably connect my Mac to the Amazon S3 cloud storage system.  If this software had of worked well it would have effectively added a hard drive of limitless capacity to my Macbook Pro.  The software was 'alright' but I was at the mercy of my Internet connection.  I'm with Virgin Media and when the kids get out of school, or when there's any other type of demand on the system my Internet connection slows down considerably.

How to fix the external storage problem on a Macbook Pro

I considered getting a big SD card and leaving that permanently in the SD card reader on the side of my mac.  There were two reasons why this solution wasn't going to work.

  1. I need that SD card reader to import video footage
  2. SD Cards are about as reliable as a condom at a hedgehog orgy
I toughed it out with my Mac and just put up with horrible lack of storage for about two years.  I decided that I would buy a desktop Mac with a HUGE hard drive one day and that would be the solution to my problems.

One day a video editing project landed on my lap that I quite simply wouldn't be able to take on unless I bought a new computer.  My Macbook Pro was just as fast as it was the day I bought it.  Now that I was regularly clearing away unwanted files using OmniDiskSweeper I even had a nice bit of spare space on my internal SSD.  Unfortunately the amount of video footage heading my way was far larger than my SSD, let alone the spare space on my SSD.

The answer came in the form of a portable hard drive that claimed to be specifically for Mac.  I was highly sceptical.  The price was much lower than any of the Mac specific external hard drives the used the Apple only Thunderbolt connection.  A LOT lower.

I've been using this new portable external storage on my Mac for a while now and it's amazing.  In fact it's so good I leave it plugged in all the time.  Even when I travel with my Mac I leave the drive plugged in and take it with me.  It has given my old computer a new lease of life.  It always stays connected, is incredibly fast and surprisingly small.

I set up a new iMovie catalog on my external storage and can now edit as much video footage as I wish to without bunging up the internal hard drive.  Happy days!

So what is this amazing external hard drive for Mac?  It's a Western Digital WD My Passport for Mac.  I bought the 2tb version for around £70, but there is a smaller 1tb version going for about fifty quid.  There's also a 3tb version for just a few quid more.  

The cheapest place to buy these external drives appears to be Amazon, click here to get the best possible price right now...

The photos below show what the My Passport for Mac looks like attached to my Macbook Pro.  I keep my Macbook in a protective shell, which is why it's dark grey in the photos rather than silver.  I attached the drive to my mac with some really good strong velcro.  I bought a really short USB 3 lead not just to keep things tidy, but also because travelling with a long lead between the Mac and the external hard drive was just asking for trouble.  Long leads have the tendency to get caught on things!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The first forty years of me!

Somewhat to my astonishment today marks the completion of my first forty years on planet earth!  I've never really thought about how I would feel at forty years old, partly because I try and live in the present but also because it always seemed quite far away.

I feel very blessed to have the friends and family I have.  Being 40 years old doesn't feel any different to being 20, 30 or (probably) 50.  It just means I've had 40 years of fun, and here's to (at least) the next 40 years!

The image below is the birthday card that my dear friend Graham Birks made for me.  We first met twenty years ago, and this card is made up of photos he has taken of me over the years.  Starting top left is a photo taken of me when we all lived in the nurses' flats near Ipswich Hospital.  Bottom right is a photo of me laying on the dance floor at Graham's wedding a couple of weeks ago.  I wanted to share this photo with you, not out of self-interest, or any other egotistical reason.  I wanted to share it because it's quite simply one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received.  What a lovely thing for an old friend to have done for me.  Thank you Graham, you are wonderful.

Click for a larger version

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Amber Court (Grange over Sands) Menu

Chinese Takeaway Menus are where?

Takeaway menus aren't something I've massively focussed on with this blog over the years.  The content here is random, but is usually along a theme, so why am I posted about the menu for The Amber Court in Grange over Sands?  Well I'll explain why this menu is here shortly, but for those of you who have found this blog post while searching for the Amber Court Menu here it is. So if you want to know why I've posted this menu then scroll down for the explanation.

Oh, and if you have found this information useful please feel free to buy me a pint...

Amber Court menu page 1 - click to enlarge
Amber Court menu page 2 - click to enlarge

The Amber Court Chinese Takeaway menu - why?

A lot of the posts on this blog are experiments in SEO ranking.  If I find a keyword or asset within a niche that has almost no competition to rank I can rarely resist the urge to get a page ranked, just for fun.  I try to be helpful at the same time, which is why I have pages on how to fix dishwasher errors and how to fix faulty Baxi DuoTec boilers.

Last week I was on holiday with my family in Grange over Sands, in Cumbria (the Lake District).  One evening we fancied getting a Chinese Takeaway instead of cooking.  There are two Chinese takeaways in Grange over Sands, so we used Google to try and find a menu for either takeaway.  We failed.  I was amazed that all we could find were Trip advisor (and similar sites) with many contradictory reports for both establishment.  It would have been vastly preferable to choose our Chinese Takeaway based on the menus, but in the end we took pot luck and chose The Amber Court (on Main Street) based on, well, based on nothing.

The food was good.  But how come the owners of either Chinese Takeaway in Grange over Sands haven't put their menus online?  It's really not that much of a challenge these days.  Admittedly I would believe this because I am involved in Internet Marketing on a daily basis, but I'm amazed that some business owners still haven't grasped how to exploit the Internet to bring themselves new customers.  At the very least takeaway owners can start a Facebook page and upload their menus.  It's that easy.

This blog post is by no means an attack on The Amber Court, the staff were great, the food was lovely and the prices reasonable.  I'd heartily recommend a visit if you find yourself in Grange over Sands.  They do have a copy of their menu online here, but they haven't linked to it from anywhere, and in terms of SEO it's never going to rank.

Failing to rank your own business isn't just a matter of failing to bring in new business, it's also potentially putting your business in a dangerous position.  If your competitors can rank pages for your brand above your own website then the first information potential customers see will be out of your control.

So to conclude I posted the menu for The Amber Court primarily out of a desire to help anyone else in the Grange over Sands area who is looking for the menu online.  But secondly I posted this menu to show just how easy it is to put useful information online.  I scanned the menu using my iPhone then wrote this blog post.  It took a handful of minutes.  Anyone business owner can do the same.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Werrington Skatepark - Peterborough

Werrington Skatepark in Peterborough.  Weird colour cast courtesy of Instagram

Warrington wa-hoo!

When I found out there was a twin bowl skatepark near my in-law's house in Peterborough the question wasn't if I would skate it, but when.  Like a lot of skateparks I've visited recently I couldn't find any reliable information online to tell me anything about Werrington Skatepark, least of all where it actually is.  Skateparks cost a lot of money to build but despite all the brilliant planning and campaigning that goes into getting a skatepark built no thought appears to be given to publicity.  I guess they rely on local knowledge, but if you're not local finding these amazing places gets challenging.  Which is part of the reason I'm writing this blog post.

After a bit of meandering driving about the place I found myself in a giant carpark behind a Tescos, scanning the horizon for any indication of where Werrington Skatepark might be hidden.  As it turns out (like a lot of skateparks) this skatepark is part of a larger recreation ground.  One of the things I like about Peterborough is that being a new town the green spaces appear to have been given a fairly decent prominence when the planners did their thing.  

There's a huge car park really close to Werrington Skatepark that appears to be originally meant for users of the nearby sports field and the large green spaces dog owners use to empty their bowels.  The dogs' bowels that is.  The car park has a gravel surface, and loose gravel and skateparks do not mix.  Before I could skate I had to spend about half an hour picking out lumps of stone from the bowls, hossing them into the surrounding grass.  If you're not a skater you might not know this, but hitting stones while skating brings proceedings to a halt with the type of brutal efficiency that can loosen teeth.  Not good.

Werrington skatepark is like (almost) every other public skatepark I've flailed about in.  Filthy.  If you're new to this skating lark I highly recommend you spend a bit of time before hopping on your board just wandering about the place looking for stuff that might cause you to come a cropper.  I know that local councils work hard to keep parks clean, but unfortunately there's always wronguns who don't give a shit for your safety and think nothing of peppering lovely smooth surfaces with smashed glass and gawd knows what else.  Money, there's always money on the ground at skateparks.  No idea why, there just is.  I digress.

Werrington Skatepark review

Werrington skatepark is a thing if true beauty.  There are no bowls anywhere near where I live (Ipswich) so this was my first experience of bowl skating.  The skatepark is split into two large bowls, one much deeper and longer than the other.  I spent most of my time in the smaller, shallower bowl.  Partly because I'm about as graceful as a rat carrying a hornets nest on my board.  Partly because there were shallow puddles in the 'deep end' of the larger bowl.  

Skating in the wet is heinous, but most of the surfaces were dry enough to skate.  I realise it's pointless talking about the weather then reviewing a skatepark but I mention it because skating a park with damp patches is quite restrictive.  You can't relax and use all the surfaces, so you can't get a proper feel for the place.  This winter has already taken enough of a toll on my setup.

Both bowls have metal coping around about 90% of the lip.  Each bowl has a 'roll in' area, with a smooth curve meeting the ground level, rather than the right angle of the lips with coping.  This was a nice touch that allowed an old duffer like me to skate into a bowl for the first time without filling my trousers with fear poo.

The designers of Werrington Skatepark have put a nice amount of thought into the area immediately surrounding the bowls.  There are a couple of low transitions near the entrance to the park that make up quite a neat little mini ramp.  There's what I guess would be called a grinding block with a nice run in that I had some fun with.  Surrounding the back of the largest bowl there's something I've never seen at a skatepark - a wavy track of concrete that looks almost like the sort of 'tabletops' you would see on a BMX track.  No idea what they're for, but I had some fun pumping up and down them.

Werrington Skatepark also has a little shelter, which apparently is supposed to pump out music from a local radio station, but it wasn't working when I was there.  I'm not sure I get why some skateparks have shelters.  If it's raining then you don't skate.  Simple.  Sitting in a little shelter and watching while a skatepark gets more and more wet and un-skatable just sounds miserable.

I absolutely loved Werrington Skatepark in Peterborough.  If this was near me I'd probably spend almost all my skating time here.  I always skate early morning so had the place entirely to myself.  So I can't comment on how busy this skatepark gets, but unlike most parks I don't see how this place has something for everyone.  If you like bowls and steep transitions you'll love it.  If you're a scooterer and want to spend 99% of your time at the skatepark standing on the coping then you might have more fun elsewhere.   

There's a huge skatepark across Peterborough at Stanground that appears to have a lot more variety than Werrington Skatepark, but hey, maybe that's why Werrington got a bowl.  Whatever the reason Werrington is a bowl park I've very glad it is.  What a brilliant place.

Werrington Skatepark map

To help other folk find Werrington Skatepark I've added it to Google Maps. Ignore the fact the skatepark doesn't show up on the satellite view, it is there, I promise.

Werrington Skatepark photos

Please don't rip off my photos without asking.  Just get in touch, I won't bite (hard).

Werrington Skatepark video

This video ain't a showcase.  I occasionally video myself skating to try and figure out where I need to improve.  I'm posting this video as footage can often paint a more visceral picture of a skatepark than photos alone.

This blog post inspired me to create a new blog about Peterborough Skateparks, view it at

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Acropats - the kid's toy that grows with your child!

A good friend of mine has turned the patent he invented into a fantastic creative toy called 'Acropats'.  My daughter has had the prototypes for Acropats for a couple of years and really loves them.  They're one of those amazing creations that grows with your child.  Not just as the creators friend, but as someone who encourages innovation and creativity I heartily recommend you buy a child a set of Acropats!

It has been fascinating seeing how my girl's interaction with these toys has developed as she has grown up.  When she was tiny she enjoyed the tactile nature of Acropats, as her motor skills improved she was able to start linking the figures together.  As my daughter's creative side blossomed Acropats became a construction toy.  I love seeing what she's going to build next.

Since getting our set of Acropats they have always been 'in play' in some way.  I very much recommend buying a set.  The price is a lot more reasonable than a lot of other toys and they've lasted a LOT longer than some of the 'big brand' toys that have been bought for my girl.

Buy Acropats on Amazon...

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Felixstowe Skatepark - there will be blood

Felixstowe Skatepark

Skateparks in Suffolk are great, so is Felixstowe, usually...

This morning's father / daughter skatepark adventure lasted 11 seconds. We arrived at Felixstowe skatepark with the place to ourselves, she promptly fell off her scooter and landed on a bit of glass that cut the palm of her hand.  We cleaned up in the baby changing room at Morrisons but mutually agreed to abandon play.   Although the cut on my girl's hand was clean it was bleeding pretty well.

My daughter and I have been waiting for what seems like a long time for the rain to clear,and the ground to dry out so we could go skate, so we were both a bit gutted that the careless stupidity of someone else stopped us.

The last time I skated at Felixstowe I spent an age clearing up bits of glass and other detritus, I think I might take a broom with me next time and do everyone a favour but having a whip around the place.

And that right there is one of those moments when I realise I'm both an adult and a parent. I'm back from a skate session and talking about my desire to do civic housework, rather than talking about the rad moves I busted on my board. This might also be because RAD moves aren't really my forte.

My girl is fine. She's very much the type of child that doesn't let a little thing like minor injuries in the pursuit of fun put her off anything.  One of the personality traits she has inherited from me.  One that I admire, but does trouble me a bit.

All things considered Felixstowe skatepark is still my favourite skatepark (so far).  We're yet to visit the skateparks in Stowmarket, Hadleigh, Bury St Edmunds or Woodbridge but the layout of the Felixstowe skate park is going to take some beating.

Felixstowe Skatepark - albeit with some profane graffiti photoshopped out.