Category: personal

Long time, no dotjay: an update

I’ve not written a proper post in ages. I’ve not written anything for over a month. I have several posts in the works, some of which follow up on previous posts and promises I made quite a while back. Anyway, this is an attempt to make up excuses for being so quiet.

Excuses, Excuses

So, I’ve been particularly busy of late and have needed to prioritise a load of things. I’ve missed an entire month of blogging and my feed reader just hasn’t had a look-in recently.

I guess it doesn’t help that I’ve been trying to juggle several projects, many of which are just for fun and aren’t going to help me retire early:

  • General work projects (including various improvements to the business site).
  • A resource for website owners about what makes a good website. A long-term “educate the masses” project I’ve had in mind to start, but just not found the time to do much towards.
  • Developing a Web application that archives Google News Alerts (primarily for archiving “Web accessibility” items at the moment).
  • Redesigning this place. It’s coming along nicely actually (some of you may have noticed a few minor additions and changes), but not enough to warrant another blog post about it yet. I’ve been toying with the idea of putting up a temporarily redesign before the Autumn Reboot, but I really can’t be bothered.

Web

Things seem to have been brewing while I’ve been procrastinating busy. I see Oxton is back blogging several times a day (how do you do it, John?) and it’s good to have him back again. Meanwhile, Tommy has retired from blogging. I for one will miss his posts, but I understand his reasoning for closing the blog. I hope that one day he’ll come back in one form or another. At long last, Vigo has started a blog, which I’m sure will be a source of much entertainment. Over at Accessify Forum, I have been recruited to help out with moderating duties.

Work

Business is busy but has seemed quite unfruitful of late. I’ve had one client being messed about by Demon Internet (no surprises there) causing delays. Grrr. Another couple of projects have just been slow-going.

I’ve also been brainstorming and looking at how to develop the business and bring in a little more bread and butter. It’s seemed that no matter how much I do, money is tight and I feel unproductive. I have been considering making the jump and getting office space. I love working from home, but I think that an office would be a far more productive environment for me. Except, finding an office wouldn’t be so hard if it wasn’t for…

Going home

Some of you will already know that we’re now planning our move down to sunny ol’ Devon, where I was “drug up”. There are a couple of personal reasons for the move, which I won’t go into now, but it’s probably for the best. I’m just a little concerned about the impact it’s going to have on the business.

We’ve driven down to Devon twice in the last two weeks to visit family and make plans. Jo’s been trying to find jobs. It’s quite a long way to go (over five hours by car each way) so it’s been quite a stressful time. Hopefully things will be easier once things have been planned out.

Health

I’m not exactly the healthiest of beasts, but I’ve been feeling even less healthy lately. I’ve also found it difficult to concentrate on things. I really need to exercise more, but also need to tie myself to the desk to get on top of work. It’s a vicious circle really.

I remember a few months back several people around the blogosphere began a routine of blogging their activities in work/play/exercise. I promised myself I’d try harder to be more active and I began monitoring my exercise. I did quite well for a while, but other things have taken over lately and I’ve let it slip. Of course, it hasn’t helped that the local council have closed the nearest swimming pool and my bike is absolutely knackered.

Over the Summer I’ve been getting out to play football, rounders or Frisbee with mates, which has been good, but I’ve not been able to do that lately. Hopefully, when we’re settled in Devon, I’ll get more active again. I like running too, but York’s city streets doesn’t really compare to the Devon countryside.

Photos

I’ve started taking more photos, if for nothing else but to inspire me. Photography was always something I wanted to be good at, but has never been something I’ve really applied my mind to. I try to take photos wherever I go now, and try not to care too much if they’re a pile of crap. I actually wanted a new camera but purchasing said camera was foiled by my bank, who decided to close my credit card account without telling me.

Moan, moan, moan

Yeah, I know I must sound like a right old moaner, and I suppose I am. But hey, I can moan if I want to. Things will start getting easier once this move is out the way. It’s just been one of those slow periods.

Stupid Things

I'm sure we've all completely embarrassed ourselves from time to time… during random moments of stupidity… or when talking about things that we're really not sure we know anything about. Well, inspired by Jo's last post, here's a few things I feel mightily stupid about.

Quoting the Jon…

“Copper Spaniel” – When writing an answer on the March Party quiz sheet this weekend. The annoying thing is that I knew there was something wrong with it when I wrote it down! When it came to marking, the team marking our sheet queried our answer. Everyone laughed at me. =(

“I wasn't alive last century.” – When talking to Jo about how the kids that she looked after at the nursery weren't alive last century and what a scary thought that was.

“Shall I run her over in the car and bring her back?” – When talking to Jo about taking a friend somewhere in the car.

“I forgot about guinea pigs.” – You know, I have no idea what I was on about with this one either.

“Hey, we could grow a beard!” – When talking to my mate Nick about us growing beards… but the concept of two people growing one beard is quite funny.

And I'm sure there are other stupid things I've said, but I can't think of them right now… I'm sure some old friends from school will be able to remember many times of stupidity on my part.

Quoting others…

Having recently dug up parts of my old personal website, here is a small selection of fun quotes from acquaintances (who shall be protected by anonymity):

  • “The universe is just one big pudding.”
  • “Can you get a menstrual cycle from Halfords?”
  • “I cannot come on a weekly basis.”
  • “Consider an electron in a one-dimensional, square potential well.” – Take a three-dimensional object, make it two-dimensional and then consider it to be one-dimensional? You wonder why I had difficulties with parts of my university degree?
  • “I'd hate to be a lesbian and be pregnant.”
  • “Imagine they're cows, only spherical.”

How about you?

Have you recently embarrassed yourself through your own stupidity? Is there something stupid you once said that still embarrasses you when you think about it? C'mon! Confess!

The New [Media] Meme

Yet another meme… so soon after the Musical Baton?! Yeah, thanks a bunch, Pete!

Anyway, why is this a “literary stick”? It's a meme by him. Maybe this should be a media meme? Maybe I should start an @media meme to entice people into the pre-conference networking opportunities that lie in wait on the @media 2005 Flickr group. Maybe not.

Random five songs

The first five songs played when I put my entire digital music collection through Winamp on random:

  1. Searching (Erykah Badu – Baduizm live)
  2. Days Like This (Van Morrison – Days Like This)
  3. Another Place To Fall (KT Tunstall – Eye to the Telescope)
  4. Like Suicide (Soundgarden – Superunknown)
  5. Dynamite: I Am Your Animal (Gong – Camembert Electrique)

Current book I'm reading (or pretending to read)

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman (currently on loan from the kind Mr Urmston).

Last movie seen in a cinema

The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy (at Vue, York).

Five people to hit with a big, knobbly media stick

  1. Tommy Olsson, the new face of accessibility. (Another Baton)
  2. Matthew Bookworm Pennell (Me, me, meme)
  3. Kate Monkey, Monkey, Monkey… (And my favourite colour is, like, totally fuschia…)
  4. Karl Moggy
  5. The permanently tangential Rich Pedley

Update, 03.06.2005

Hmm, there's a Meme-o-meter for this one.

Musical Baton

I've been passed a musical baton by Tommy, and I've been meaning to post about music for ages, so here goes nothing.

Total volume of music files on my computer is…

14.5 Gb, if you don't include my own raw recordings (17Gb if you do).

The last CD I bought was…

“Hypertension” by Jon Gomm.

Song playing right now…

“Please” by Nine Inch Nails (good job I'm not writing this in a couple of minutes time).

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me…

  1. “Disolution (The Clouds Disperse)” by Ozric Tentacles
  2. “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry
  3. “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin
  4. “Karmageddon” by Nick Harper
  5. “Disarm” by Smashing Pumpkins

Five people to whom I'm passing the baton…

  1. FairyJo
  2. Patrick H. Lauke
  3. Pixeldiva
  4. Meryl
  5. mogplayer

My apologies if you've already been “batoned”.

Manic Month, Part 3

The sun setting over the Grand Canyon, Arizona. Here’s the final part of my traveller’s tales. Having covered Christmas and our time in Phoenix, it’s time to tell you about the Grand Canyon and the holiday aftermath. Then, I think it’s about time for some proper Web Design ramblings after this one! Anyway, my manic month has passed and I’m just about caught up with things. And so, I am now officially…

Back to Reality

We drove up to the Grand Canyon on the Friday of our stay in Arizona – it was New Year’s Eve. There were seven of us and a shit-load of luggage in our 8-seater Chevy! We visited Sedona on the way north. You’re getting into real red rock country around there, so we stopped and went for a walk around with the bears and the coyotes. We also tried to visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross, an amazing looking place with a cross design set right into the gap between these two rocks. The place had closed an hour earlier than advertised for New Year, so there we were trying to figure out how to open the electronic gates leading up to the place. We didn’t feel quite so stupid after a convoy of other families came to visit and someone came out to tell us it was closed.

It started snowing as we headed further north. It was so fine in places, like white dust blowing across the road – I’d never seen anything like it. We got up to the town where we were staying, just a couple of miles from the south rim. We found our hotel, settled in and were nearly too late for dinner. After our meal, we wanted to go sit in a bar or something and see what was happening in the way of New Year celebrations. The bar, appropriately called the “Wintergarten”, was closed for the winter. Marvellous. We were told at reception that a hotel down the road still had its bar open and that another hotel was running something at $20 a head.

Party central (sarcasm) for New Year.

With a party of seven, we decided we’d try our luck at this other bar… where we doubled the number of people already there! By 11pm, we began to out-number the other people in the bar, so we decided we’d head back to our hotel, get some champagne or something, and celebrate ourselves. Asking at the reception, we were told that we couldn’t get any alcohol because the rest of the staff had gone home for New Year. In fact, we couldn’t get anything at all. Just when we thought all was lost and our faith in the famous American hospitality had let us down, we met a lovely couple who’d come from another state (I forget where) for a holiday. They too were looking for something to do to celebrate the New Year. We went outside and threw some snowballs around for a bit, but soon headed back in because it was so cold! The couple were staying a few doors down from us, and when we all went back to our rooms to watch the New Year in on the tele, the guy came around with one of two bottles of wine he had brought with him for us to share. Our New Year was saved! We thanked him and toasted in the New Year with the wine. My girlfriend and I had been together for two years on that evening, so we had a double celebration.

The next day, we headed to the south rim of the Grand Canyon hoping to take a hike down a little way, but the snow the night before had made it unsafe for even experienced hikers to go. We had to settle for a walk along the south rim path and take in some of the awesome sites! It also gave us another chance to visit some gift shops for presents to bring back. At one shop, we met the guy who’d given us the bottle of wine for New Year and thanked him again, but we never got to repay him or anything – we intended to send a bottle of wine over to their table at dinner, but we never saw them again.

It was quite an experience walking along an incredibly icey path so close to the edge of an 8000 foot drop! Some people were having snowball fights, which was quite scary to watch at times. The view down the canyon was incredible though – little trees and bushes covered in snow for the first few hundred feet and then the red rock appeared, broke and twisted right down to the black rock where the Colorado flows. On our way back to the van we saw some elk amongst the trees, and we stopped at one of the viewpoints to watch the sunset before heading back to the hotel.

On the Sunday morning, our last day at the Grand Canyon, I had one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’d never been up in a helicopter before and I was really looking forward to going for a flight over the Grand Canyon in one. And that’s what we did. It was a strange feeling at first – almost like being in a tin can in the sky. The amazing thing was when we flew over the south rim and the canyon opened up below us. Of course, you don’t actually change altitude at all, but your stomach disagrees with you no matter what you say to it. One second you’re over luscious green forest, the next there’s an 8000 foot gorge opened up below you. We were taken all the way over the canyon, saw a few points of interest, flew over the north side of the canyon (which was closed for winter) and then back to the airport. What a way to start our last day there!

We spent that afternoon on a bit of a trek on a path which was now safe to go down. Of course, this would have been absolutely fine if my trainers actually had any grip whatsoever. But they didn’t. Parts of the path were still covered in slush from the snow, so I didn’t feel like going too fast! My girlfriend had hurt her ankle the day before, so by the time we had reached two-thirds of the way down to where we were headed, the rest of us were on the way back up. We headed back up too, but in taking our time we had managed to get some nice photos. A chill-out in the hot tub and a nice meal rounded off our time in the Grand Canyon quite nicely.

We spent Monday driving back south to Phoenix for our flight in the evening. We managed to find time to stop off in Sedona again, and actually managed to make a visit to the chapel we’d seen on the way up. We got back to Phoenix, returned the van and checked-in for our flight. Nothing much to note about the airport – we were quite unimpressed with the duty-free really. We cunningly grabbed some grub at the airport so that we didn’t have to eat too much of the food on the plane. I intended to spend most of the flight sleeping, but it just wasn’t happening. Flying back from America is so much harder – I must’ve got a grand total of two hours sleep. Still, I managed to watch a couple of films I hadn’t yet seen.

Well, that’s the end of our American adventure. I’ve got a few souvenirs, which included a bag of Oreo cookies but I’ve eaten them. And I also got some mixed fruit mentos. A friend sent me over some from Canada once and I loved them, so I had to get a few packs to bring back. I know you can get them in Europe, but I’ve never found them here in the UK! There are still some of them left. No, you can’t have one. Can anyone tell me why Americans buy Hershey’s chocolate? It’s disgusting! I don’t know why we brought any of that back. Of course, we brought back some less edible souvenirs too!

Upon return to London, we stayed there again for a couple of days to try to get over jet lag before heading back up to York. News reports about the tsunami hit home. As we were in Phoenix for a holiday, the newspapers were all we knew of the tsunami and its impact. Back home watching BBC News 24 really helped us to understand the extent of the devastation and how it had affected the whole world.

A couple of days rest and we were heading back to York. But the manic month didn’t end there for me. After a few days in York, it was time to head down to spend some time with my family – it was my Dad’s 80th birthday. You wouldn’t know it, y’know! Anyway, a bit of a break at home was just what I needed. I was still not over the jet lag and up until gone three in morning. Unlike most geeks, I’m in bed by midnight most nights now. Which is strange, because I normally get my best work done in the wee hours of the morning.

Anyway, I’m now back in York again, and it’s back to the grind! I’ve slowly been catching up on e-mails, blogs, forum postings and the backlog of work. I’m hoping to clear as much as I can in the next two or three weeks so that I can make a start on a couple of new projects I have in mind. But more on those another time.

No speeding ticket yet!

Manic Month, Part 2

A hot air balloon sporting an image of a cowboy on a horse In the previous part of this multi-part posting I wrote about our Christmas lead-up to our holiday in the States. And so, the next instalment is here, taking us on board a Boeing 474 747 to Phoenix for eight days in Arizona. We managed to cram quite a lot into those eight days, so for now I’ll tell you all about our time in Phoenix and leave telling you about our time in the Grand Canyon for the third and final part.

Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Nights

They can’t have much liked the look of the seven of us at Heathrow – we got taken aside for a thorough search through our luggage before we were allowed to check-in. Still, good to know that extra precautions were being taken – better than being sent back home again mid-way through the flight.

News of the earthquake and tsunami in South-East Asia reached us soon after take-off while flicking through the channels of on-board entertainment. The impact of the disaster didn’t really sink in when reading the newspapers in Phoenix, the death tolls reported on the front page rising with each day. I actually felt quite cut off while in Phoenix. The USA Today newspaper at the hotel was about our only source of news – we didn’t turn on the television at all while there.

I don’t like flights much and I had never been on a flight quite that long before. It was a smooth flight though and the in-flight entertainment helped the ten hours pass quite quickly. We landed late afternoon on a warm-enough Phoenix Sunday for our four days at Tapatio Cliffs – nice! We were all tired on that first extended day, but one night’s sleep is all that was needed to sort out the jet lag (although the trip back was a different story).

One of the first things I noticed (well, being my first time in America) was the hospitality – everyone’s really nice to you, especially in restaurants. Of course, one of the next things I noticed was the automatic service charges – mind you, I heard that they generally add a tip to the bill in the States for large parties, which we were. Also noted was how much saltier foods seemed while over there – an American taste? Funnily enough, I noticed a lot of “lo-carb” foods while I was out there, which I had never seen much of at home in the UK, only to find ads on TV and products in Tesco upon my return.

We spent our first couple of days settling in and figuring out what we were going to do for the rest of our stay. We spent some of the first day walking the desert tracks on the outskirts of Phoenix, while others went playing golf – the real reason for choosing Phoenix I think. We also spent some time chilling in the hot tub. One girl told us how she liked our accents. Actually, we had a few people tell us that over the course of the holiday. Not sure that we were the ones with the accents though!

On our second day, we went to the Heard Museum of Native American art (passing a ““Shea”:http://www.mezzoblue.com/ Boulevard” on the way), while others played more golf. It was an interesting museum with a lot of atmosphere. Some of the exhibits told some poignant stories of how badly the Native American peoples were treated by the government – taking their land and interfering with their cultures. There was some amazing art on display. After going all the way around, we spent quite a while in the museum shop picking out souvenirs and presents to take back home. There were some absolutely beautiful things in there – art, textiles and baskets, jewelry, pottery, music and books… I think this was one of the only shops we went to where everything was authentic Native American art and craft – no “Made in China” stuff as we found up nearer the Grand Canyon.

Back at the hotel, we had a really nice meal in a French-Italian-Mediterranean restaurant called Different Point of View. It was up on top of this huge hill and had a great view of Phoenix. While we were there, I noticed this really odd display of red lights on the skyline which would fade in and out. I had noticed it when we left the airport a couple of days earlier, so I thought it must have been something to do with the air traffic control. We never actually figured out what it was though – if anyone knows, please do tell.

Of course, while we were in a big American city, we went to a mall for the compulsory shopping experience – another chance to get presents and souvenirs! We noticed a lot of cars, big cars, and hardly anyone walking in down-town Phoenix. We thought it a little wasteful – a bit like the towels in our room getting replaced every single day despite our following the hotel’s “towels on the floor get taken away” policy.

Our final day in Phoenix had to be the best. We were picked up at 7am from our hotel and taken just outside Phoenix to the Sonoran Desert for a ride in a hot-air balloon before breakfast. Due to the cloud cover, it took us a while to find somewhere to launch from, but it was so worth the wait! We had such a great view of the desert, the mountains and of parts of Phoenix. It’s a bizarre feeling, being up in a hot-air balloon. I could hardly feel it as we took off – you could just see the ground drop away from you! At one point, an ascending balloon below us forced us up into the cloud. It was absolutely amazing. You couldn’t see anything but pure white in any direction. After an hour or so up in the air, our pilot landed us in the desert for a champagne breakfast! So, now I’ve been up in a hot air balloon… and I’ve got a Certificate of Aerostatic Ascension to prove it!

After that fantastic experience, we headed back to the hotel to relax. I chilled in the pool while the girls went for some spa treatments and the others went to play yet more golf! I’m not one for golf really… and I’m pretty enough as it is! Our last evening in Phoenix took us on another trip out into the desert. The night before, we had booked a trip out in a Hummer to go star-gazing, but it had to be cancelled due to cloud cover. So we went on that last night instead and it was great. The Hummer is an amazing vehicle and a lot of fun I’d imagine. Our driver took us over some land just outside Phoenix that had been set aside for off-roading. We stopped and an astronomer was there with a telescope set up to show us a few things: we saw Saturn, the Seven Sisters (Pleiades) and the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to our own. Our driver also had night vision goggles so that we could see the desert flora and fauna, but it was the wrong time of year to see much of the wildlife.

So, that brings me to the end of our time in Phoenix. In the next final part I’ll tell you about almost plummeting to my death down the Grand Canyon, our surprisingly quiet New Year celebrations and the trip back to reality.

Manic Month, Part 1

Five joined roundabouts The last time I managed to get any decent amount of work done was mid-December. This is not a good thing by any means. Well, at least, it doesn't seem such a good thing now with the amount of stuff I have to do to catch up! Anyway, an interesting few weeks ensued, which helpfully took my mind off of work.

This was going to be one long post, but it's taken me quite a while to type up, so I have split it into three parts, this first part covering the week leading up to Christmas.

Driving Home for Christmas

My mini-adventure started out with the drive down to Devon with my girlfriend for a week of Christmas-ness with family. It didn't really start out the way I meant it to go on. We decided to visit a couple of friends on the way south and having got “lost” trying to get to Banbury (we were meant to be on the M1, but the road signs disagreed), we then got flashed at by a speed camera when trying to make up some time.

We finally made it to Banbury an hour late. After an evening of catching up and an overnight stay, we sampled the delicious delights of Woodstock (no, this one's near Oxford), the ridiculous roundabouts of Swindon and the beautiful (if rather samey) buildings of Bath.

It was nice to get back to my home town of Barnstaple. It was time for my usual manic Christmas shop, as I hadn't yet sorted out any presents other than my girlfriend's. Other than that, our week in Devon was quite relaxing. A friend from Australia visited us for a couple of days before Christmas, so we took him for a few nights out and got to see a few more old friends who were back home for Christmas. And, of course, there was the obligatory carol service.

Christmas Day was quite busy for us. Our flight to Phoenix was on Boxing Day morning so we had to drive up to London straight after Christmas lunch. Christmas morning was opening presents and packing them up again soon after for the drive up to London. Father Christmas must have lost his sleigh while he was delivering presents – while we were packing, a yellow Sea King rescue helicopter flew over the house with him waving at everyone. I hoped he finished his rounds!

Me in Christmas hat with a glass of bubbley! We had an early Christmas lunch with my family – the classic turkey with lots of stuffing, chestnuts, pigs-in-blankets… Of course, someone had to drive up to London – that was me. I was permitted to have one small glass. Oh, and we had a white Christmas – just as we sat down to eat, it started snowing.

After lunch, we set off for London to have another helping of family Christmas before flying out for eight days in the Arizona sun. As expected, the drive up to London was quiet and uneventful. It did give us the chance to listen to some of the CDs we got for Christmas though!

Reuniting Friends

This is a fairly mundane entry, but while looking at my referral log today, I found that someone has found the November 5th Web Solutions website by searching for “Jon Gibbins -Dr” on Google. My entry on Friends Reunited tells people to find me by Googling for “Jon Gibbins -Dr”, as that'll find me quite easily.

The “-Dr” bit is because there appears to be a Dr Jon Gibbins at the University of Reading.

Anyway, I think this is the first time anyone has found the site this way. So, if it was you, get in touch!