January 29, 2005
Tax Returned

I spent nearly all day doing my tax return for the year ended 2004. Most of the time taken was trawling through my files trying to find out how many pence I earned in interest from my bank accounts - and how many pence I earned in share dividends. Both of these things added up to not very much at all. But it still took me nearly all day.

This year I decided to not only “file” my return online - but I “filled” it online too. For the last few years I have used TaxCalc self-assessment software. This year I used the Inland Revenue’s very own web-based system.

Self-asessment tax return.

I like leaving it to the last minute. And it feels good knowing that the government owes me money …

Posted by jag at 11:47 PM | Comments (12)
January 28, 2005
Mobile Interactive TV?

There’s probably a lifetime of things to say about ordinary life in London in the few days since my last posting - but there’s not enough room here to go through them all - and for this I apologise. (Actually this is a lame excuse for not taking enough pictures to tell a story around recently!)

But there are some things that possibly verge on being so remarkable that are simply worth capturing and sharing at this particularly geeky stage of development. And one of them is “Mobile Interactive TV”.

Yesterday - one of my friends wheeled in a couple of hi-tech “boxes” and rigged them up to a standard set-top TV aerial/antenna like the kind you get in Argos or Dixons. He twiddled around with a few of the knobs, buttons and dials on the boxes, pushed the “broadcast” button - and proudly announced that he had just set up his own “TV station”. He then walked away a few metres - and pulled a strange-looking mobile phone out of his jacket and “tuned” it in to the signal being broadcast from his makeshift “TV station”.

A portable, makeshift digital TV station.

And hey presto: he was watching a “home-made” TV channel between the palms of his hands.

It all looked too easy. When I asked him how it worked - he said “This is DVB-H - digital broadcast TV for mobile phones!

Not video-streaming. Not fuzzy, blurry pictures. Not cabled up to an aerial or a set-top box.

Just a crystal-clear, high-definition, wireless broadcast TV channel. The fact that it was being viewed on a mobile phone implied that the GPRS/3G capability of the phone could be used as the “uplink” to the TV station over the Internet. Fuelling the imagination into thinking about lots of possibilities in the field of mobile interactive TV broadcasting. But more importantly - demonstrating the possibility of using short-range radio spectrum to provide localised (and location-relevant) interactive TV applications.

Broadcast-quality, interactive digital TV on your mobile phone.

Posted by jag at 11:03 PM | Comments (7)
January 22, 2005
Winter Blues

Over the last few days I’ve read & heard some media reports about this coming Monday being, statistically, the most depressing day of the year. Frankly, I’ve been too busy to notice a low in the trajectory of moods in either myself or those around me. So busy that I don’t have any fresh pics - and I’m having to trawl through my photo archives to look for a picture to post here.

It’s always helpful at times like this to think about good things to come. Approximately, exactly 6 months ago it was the height of Summer here in London. A time when we Londoners love to go play in the park. In my opinion, London’s urban parks are the best in the world.

London’s urban parks are the best in the world.
(Only six months to go until the height of summer.)

Posted by jag at 08:22 PM | Comments (19)
January 18, 2005
Stolen Laptop

Travelling home. Slough to Ealing Broadway - and then a short walk to Route 83 bus stop near Ealing Common. On the way - there is a side-street upon which stands a large and old tree. It’s about 7pm. It’s dark - and as I cross that street I can’t help but notice an A4-sized flyer in a plastic ring-binder sleeve pinned to the tree:

£500 reward for the return of a stolen laptop.

The person who posted the sign is “desperate” for the return of his “rather old” stolen laptop computer. So much so that he is prepared to pay a lot. Probably more that the laptop itself is worth. The data on it is obviously more important to him that the computer itself. Isn’t this always the case these days? I am supposing that it wasn’t backed up - for if it was - he probably wouldn’t be so desperate. I know exactly how he feels - and I feel a little sense of pity.

My advice to all modern-day city dwellers: always assume that your computer is dispensible. Make sure you backup the data regularly. And frequently. And NEVER leave your valuable data in your car unattended. (Apologies for being so patronising.)

In his note - he even appeals to the person who might have stolen the laptop from his car - stating that he is not “interested” in involving the Police. Alas - somehow I doubt this guy will ever get his data back.

Posted by jag at 11:59 PM | Comments (11)
January 14, 2005
Junk Servers

Every so often I receive those “global” emails from the office IT department announcing that there will be downtime on the office servers at the weekend in order to allow for upgrades, overhauls or server replacements etc. I have always wondered what they do with the old servers that are replaced.

This morning I caught Route 79 down to Alperton as usual and the “bus-hopped” onto Route 83 to get down to Ealing Broadway. On the way I gazed out the window at the back of the upper deck and happened to notice an old pick-up truck on the Hanger Lane Gyratory (one of the most “hostile” traffic roundabouts in London). It was loaded to the hilt with what looked like old servers. Piles of them in their full, beige-coloured, glory. Being exposed to the elements on the back of a truck like that implied, in my mind, that they were being scrapped.

Truck load of junk servers on the Hanger Lane Gyratory.

Posted by jag at 08:54 PM | Comments (15)
January 12, 2005
Street Cleaner

Although there are a few that stay open until 11pm - most of the fruit and veg shops on my local High Street close at around 7pm. And regular as clockwork - there’s a guy from the Council’s street cleansing department subcontractor patiently waiting for the shops to shut down before he gets to work. He just stands there with his sweeping brush and trolley. Patiently waiting outside the next store to close. Waiting for the shop workers to remove their wares from the public pavement (sidewalk) before he gets into action. Which almost invariably involves sweeping up squashed tomatoes, mangoes, cherries and lychees. It’s always the same guy. He looks to be in his late twenties. The shop owners must get to know him quite well - because he just stands there - sometimes in the bitter cold or driving rain. Just waiting . Sometimes he smokes a cigarette whilst he’s waiting. I have seen him many times - and the way he just stands there is very distinct: he is expressionless - and adopts a very serene sort of posture - but always makes eye contact in a fashion that is slightly disturbing. Standing motionless for as long as takes me to pop in at the last minute to grab a few groceries before closing time.

Street cleaner patiently waiting for the fruit and veg shop to close.

Posted by jag at 09:22 PM | Comments (8)
January 09, 2005
Cruising NW9

The stormy weather Friday night kept me awake most of the night. I thought the roof of the house was going to blow away at one point! The gales continued into Saturday morning - but the brightness and intense sunshine of the morning was too compelling for us to stay sheltered indoors - and the Saturday morning chores of grocery and supermarket shopping took priority as usual. Our nearest large supermarket is Morrisons (previously known as Safeway) - but there is an even larger ASDA (part of Wal*Mart group) which is a few minutes drive away. And that’s where we went after picking up our weekly batch of fresh fruit and veg on the High Street.

Ms.Route79 drives us to our local ASDA (Wal*Mart) store.

The drive to the ASDA supermarket takes us through a maze of narrow suburban residential streets that make up the bulk of my North West London neighbourhood of Kingsbury - which is in postal code area “NW9”. What better an opportunity for the Route79 school of amateur filmmaking to start the year with a “back seat of the car” short film of the Route 79 tribe navigating the neigbourhood streets on the way to our local ASDA. With Billy Idol’s White Wedding as the audio dub track - I think it works quite well. For those who know the area - or have memories of the area - the video footage is comprised of sequenced clips of Ms.79 driving her car - with me on the back seat holding the camera and filming through the rear windscreen (hence the horizontal window heater lines in the imemdiate foreground). The streets driven include Rugby Road, Princes Avenue, Beverley Drive, Kingsbury Road (our High Street), Stage Lane - as well the ASDA car park - and then finishes off with a quick clip of Honeypot Lane. Along the way you’ll notice the leafless suburban trees and spectacular winter sunshine and blue skies over North West London.

If you have the patience (and preferably broadband or cable Internet access) - then why not check it out for yourself:

Download the video by doing a RIGHT-CLICK and “Save target as” here.

It’s a WMV (Windows Media Video) file with a running time of just over 4 minutes - which at a bit-rate of 340kbps results in a file size of just over 10 megabytes. (Sorry about that - but it’s the furthest I could compress and down-rate the video without losing so much quality that would render it useless). You should save the file to a folder of your choice - it is NOT designed to be video-streamed - you should download it all before attempting to play it. Like I said - if you have a fast Internet connection it will only take a few mins to download - but if you are on dialup then you’ll have to go and make yourself a cup of tea. Like a decent cup of tea - I think it’s worth waiting for - so when it’s downloaded - double-click on it, make sure you turn up the volume REALLY LOUD, and enjoy riding through the streets of our little part of North West London as you accompany the Route 79 tribe on a shopping trip to ASDA!

Do play it with the volume turned up LOUD and the bass turned right UP. Even though the music is from 1985 - it should still get your foot tapping!

Posted by jag at 02:58 PM | Comments (26)
January 05, 2005
Wrong Focus 2

I posted a article almost a year ago called “Wrong Focus” - which was an attempt to get a snap of my bus at one of my local stops. It was a great example of how the camera’s autofocus subsystem lets you down by targetting the wrong thing. In that case it was the twigs of a tree between my observation point and the bus.

Well - it happened again. The bus is different - but the perspective almost the same:

It’s great to be back on the bus after the holidays.

Posted by jag at 08:25 PM | Comments (15)
January 04, 2005
IKEA Tea Lights

I was in IKEA the other day. I live so close to an IKEA store - it’s practically a local corner shop. I have to admit that I quite like IKEA - in small doses. Anyway - whilst I was there I couldn’t help but notice huge mountains of those bags of tea-lights. They’re all over the place when you get into the “market place” part of the store.

Seeing them made me remember someone had mentioned them in a blog I was reading the other day - can’t remember which one right now - but it was written about in a kind of satirical, parodied fashion. Is this because EVERYONE who goes to IKEA comes back with a bag of 100 tea lights that they never use? We did the very same once. On our very first visit. That was years ago - and we still have that very same bag of tea lights in a cupboard somewhere.

Does EVERYBODY go home with a bag of tea-lights after visiting IKEA?

I think it’s the psychological effect that in-store arrangements of products into “mountains” or huge piles or clusters of the same thing cause an urge to compulsively buy the product. I notice that IKEA do the same with their energy-saving light bulbs. With the tea lights - I think it’s also the fact that they’re only £1.50 - and you get 100 of them in a bag. Not bad eh? - I’m sure they’ll come in useful next time there’s a power cut. Oh - and they’re called “Glimma” - which sounds quite cute.

Posted by jag at 06:38 PM | Comments (21)
January 03, 2005

If you scroll down this page far enough you’ll notice that some photo thumbnails have appeared in my left-hand sidebar. These are thumbnails of the last few photos uploaded to my Flickr Photostream. I set myself up on Flickr a few days back and have slowly started to upload my pics to it - and have organised a few themed sets as well.

Posted by jag at 06:40 PM | Comments (2)
Happy 2005

Who would have believed that we’re halfway through this decade already?


Despite a possibly sombre start: A Happy New Year to everyone.

The atrium at Brent Cross Shopping Centre - NW London.

Posted by jag at 02:57 AM | Comments (16)

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