The big drive west

Just thought I’d leave a little note to whoever reads my blog that I’m not going to be around for a few days. I’m driving home for Christmas, as Chris Rhea once famously sang, and should hopefully be back on 1st Jan. So don’t expect me to be updating my blog in the meantime – regardless of how interesting life may be for me, I suspect internet access will not be at my fingertips the whole time!!

God bless you all, and have a great Christmas!

Frozen frog, anyone?

I’ve just been out in the garden, because I noticed that there was some ice on our pond. I knew the temperature was supposed to be somewhere in the minus figures last night, but I didn’t expect the ice to still be there! Still, I got a bit of garden cane and started prodding at the ice, generally breaking it up a little whilst trying not to disturb the fish as much as I could! Then I went over to look at our other pond. I’d kinda forgotten about it, largely because there aren’t any fish in it to worry about. The ice was really thick on that pond though, I guess because it hasn’t got any running water at the moment. So I started prodding there too, trying to break the ice. I reckon it must have been a good inch thick in places! What was even more surprising was that as soon as I started bashing it, two frogs appeared, trying frantically to get some air! So of course I tried even harder to break the ice, and made a few little open areas in various parts of the pond. The frogs got a breath of air each and vanished again, presumably satisfied for now. I’m just amazed that they can survive down there, and that they aren’t frozen themselves! After all, I’ve no idea how long the ice has been frozen over. I didn’t expect frogs to be able to hold their breath for days on end, I thought it was just a few minutes at a time, but for the ice to have got that thick it must have been an accumulation of a couple of days. Poor little frogs. I’m gonna have to make sure I go out regularly now to make sure they can breathe!

Getting into the film industry

I produced my first DVD today. I’m very pleased with the results so far, despite a small problem with the navigation in the added extras section. For those who don’t know (or haven’t read my previous blog post), I’ve been composing music for Anne-Marie’s Christmas play, The Birth Of The Christ. Today I finished everything I had been asked to do, and have two CDs and a DVD to show for it. The DVD contains the opening and closing credits sequences, complete with their specially-composed soundtracks, plus images of the posters and programmes I designed. I composed the closing credits theme first (though it was intended to be the opening music originally), which is like Star Wars meets Indiana Jones, then composed the opening theme yesterday, which is more like Pirates Of The Caribbean meets Back To The Future! Oh yeah, and many thanks again to Phil for the loan of the keyboard, it all sounds quite good!

Making the DVD was quite fun. Originally Anne-Marie was going to use a Powerpoint presentation for the credits sequences, but I figured I could probably do one better than that, so put my Mac to work. While the music was composed on my PC using a combination of MusicTime Deluxe (a score-based program) and Jazz++ (MIDI sequencer), I recorded the final result onto my Mac via Audiocorder. Then I created the title sequences in iMovie, combining the visuals with the audio, then put them together as a DVD using iDVD. It was all remarkably simple to use, I was quite impressed. It would have been even more seemless if I had had a faster computer – OSX Tiger wasn’t really designed to run on a 1Ghz machine! Still, it coped admirably, and never hung up or was too busy to allow me to do other things, it just took a while to render the video. I also used iTunes to burn an audio CD of the music, though this didn’t give me any nice friendly options, which was a little disconcerting. Still, it all worked, and both the DVD and the CDs work in both my computers, Anne-Marie’s laptop, and her cheap DVD player – if it plays in that, it should play on anything!!

Getting Christmassy

It’s all getting very exciting here in Wiv. Today Esther came home from town with a few nice festive goodies, namely a Christmas tree and some trimmings! Amazingly she got the lot for under £20, which is far less than I’d seen anything at either Tesco or B&Q (no Tesco Value Christmas trees – I was amazed!). We’ve set it all up now, with one of my sets of fairy lights on the tree in the lounge, and my other set in the hallway and in the porch window. Unfortunately we’ve only got two CDs of Christmas music, and we’ve listened to them both quite a lot today and we’re getting a little tired of the same old songs. Still, the Christmas cards are beginning to come in now, and we’ve even got our first house present under the tree!

Apparently my keyboard has been breeding. It has to be said, there are more keyboards in the house than there were a couple of days ago, but I’m not sure that’s entirely the fault of my little Yamaha keyboard! As some of you may know, Anne-Marie’s church is staging one of her Christmas plays this weekend, for which I have been asked to provide music. I’ve already composed the theme music for the opening credits, and done a few bits and bobs for between scenes, and now I just need to compose something for the end. But I’m not altogether satisfied with the sound my keyboard produces, so I’ve borrowed Philippa’s. Hers makes a much nicer piano sound, though now that I’ve been using it for a couple of days I’m not sure the rest of the sounds are a vast improvement. I still very much miss the Yamaha SoftSynth I used on Windows ME a few years ago – that was a fantastic program, even supported XG MIDI (which is far more realistic than normal MIDI synthesis). Unfortunately, that software doesn’t work on Windows XP or Mac, and I haven’t got time to install ME anywhere just so that I can use the SoftSynth. Ah well, I shall just have to settle for something slightly less than perfect on this occasion, and hope no one notices too much…

Minis with big futures

I went to a Colchester Mini Club meeting last night! It was soooooo much fun! They meet up at a pub in Fordham Heath, and there were about 12-14 of us there last night, all talking about Minis for two and half hours! I’ve not had that sort of conversation in years! I did feel like a bit of a beginnger though, what most of them were talking about was far above and beyond what I know about. Many of them are in the middle of project cars, everyone seems to be doing something to their Mini. Which is great, it just means I’m going to have to try to keep up! I was asked several times during the course of the evening whether I had any ‘plans’ for my Mini, and I had to think up something that I could do to it! Actually I have had some plans, albeit small ones, lurking at the back of my consciousness. I’d quite like to fit some crystal headlamps, and some clear indicator lenses at the front. I need a new front bumper, as the one on there at the moment has a bit of dent in it from the previous owner, and I could do with some new wheels to replace the bog-standard ones the car came with, which don’t hold the road particular well and don’t look very impressive either. I’m tempted by the idea of fitting a proper dashboard, and I’d like a sporty steering wheel too, and of course I’ll be fitting a few chrome bits and bobs from Lulu after Christmas. Still, none of that measures up to what some of the guys last night were talking about – engine conversions, subframe modification, engine transplants, hefty wheel spacers…

I did get a few things out of the evening though, so it was definitely worth going. I got a couple of car stickers with the club logo and web site address on, and a 2006 calendar with pics of all the club cars on each month – mine’s featured on August! I also made friends with a guy called Darren, who owns a rare British Racing Green Mini Italian Job (most of them were red, white or blue). He’s already tricked out his car with a sporty engine, neons, LEDs, enormous ICE system, and probably much more besides. But he’s got a squeeky fan belt as well, so I’m going round to his place on Saturday and we’re going to do our cars’ fan belts together! Finally, my Neddy will sound healthy again! It also means I’m making contacts, which means that if I ever do want to do anything serious to my Mini, I’ll know people who will be able to help and point me in the right direction. In return, I may be able to help with the club web site. Incidentally, I’ve been thinking about redesigning the original Minipix web site (the one with the Mini icons), so that at least it’s there, even if I don’t have time to add Minis to it any more!

Man or mouse?

Neddy has a severe case of the squeaks. The fan belt has been slipping for a while now, but just lately it has got really bad. I did go to Halfords to try and get a replacement, but they said they’d have to order one in. Although to be honest, I’m not sure I could fit it even if I had bought one, as I don’t currently have a Haynes manual to tell me how to do it! From looking at it, it doesn’t look like something as simple as just taking the old one off and putting the new one on – I suspect I’ll have to remove part of the fan too, which would actually require me having a lot more tools to hand than I currently own. Suffice to say, I suspect this will mean a trip to a friendly garage to get them to fit one for me, much as it pains me to give in. On the other hand, I’m planning on going to the Colchester Mini Club meeting tomorrow evening, so maybe someone there will be able to tell me what to do. I’m looking forward to that, actually, chatting with other Mini folk!

Tonight, however, was orchestra. The rehearsal went quite well today, and we had more strings than I think we’ve ever had in all the years I’ve been here! We had three first violins, two seconds, a viola, and me on cello, plus a clarinet and a flute. We’re making a fairly passable sound already, which is really encouraging. We’ve got a concert on the 18th Feb, which although it sounds a long way off actually only leaves us four more rehearsals! Scary! And I’ve also been persuaded to premier my cello composition that I did in my first year. That should be fairly exciting, although I need to rewrite the middle section of the piano part as it’s currently rather boring, and it needs a name too! Still, I’m sure that will come in time. Speaking of music, I really must finish writing the music for Anne-Marie’s play, which is being performed in a couple of weeks’ time…

A partridge in a pear tree

Well, it’s the first day of December today, just in case any of you hadn’t already noticed. That’s another month gone by without me really noticing! Thankfully I’ve been fairly busy today so I haven’t had much time to dwell on it. I’ve been busy at work on various web sites, all of which has been very satisfying. I also spent a good couple of hours yesterday evening playing with Adobe Illustrator, wading through the help file and figuring out how various things work. It’s so powerful, I’m sure it’s gonna come in useful for something!!

Not a lot else has happened today. I sat and watched 2 hours of daytime TV, as per usual (Neighbours, Doctors and Murder She Wrote (replacing Diagnosis Murder)), and I’ve just eaten a jam donut. Very nice. I have no plans for this evening. Might go and see Ellie. Might watch a film. Might play computer games until the wee hours. Might take over the world from my bedroom. Unlikely, though – my bedroom’s too small.