Since a team was being entered at work I decided to get off my backside and join in doing 10km for charity in May. Support would be appreciated:

A couple of months ago I'd never really run before, so this is a bit of a new thing.


Kindle news aggregator

Reading news on the Kindle is very convenient, so long as you don't have to do it through the web browser.

I had tried Instapaper, and that's OK for individual pages, and then I tried Kindlefeeder, which is OK for RSS and Atom feeds. But I wasn't happy with the delivery format of Kindlefeeder, or with the other limitations of both services, and I thought "it can't be that hard to write an aggregator that combines features of both, can it?"

It turns out that it's not that hard at all, in particular thanks to the Perl modules XML::Feed and HTML::ExtractMain.

Here is the beta version of what I've temporarily called KRAG - Kindle RSS AGgregator.
KRAG is a system which takes your favourite news feeds and sends daily updates from them directly to your Kindle. For example, it can collect all of the previous day's updates from news sites, webcomics, and so on, and send them to your Kindle in time for your morning commute.

Where this differs from other, similar, services is that KRAG puts all of the updates into "periodical" or "magazine" format, with a section for each updated feed. You can then view older updates using the Kindle's "view back issues" feature.

Depending on the settings you choose for each feed you add, KRAG can also follow each entry's link to get the full story, and include that in the update. This means that for feeds taken from news web sites, you get the full story delivered, rather than just a brief summary.

Be gentle with it. I might open-source it at some point; at the moment it is a bit hacked-together.


I wrote a short story for K one day (well, over two nights), put it on my Kindle and read it to her. Then I procrastinated for a couple of months about adding pictures, but finally decided that any pictures are better than none, and just got on with it.

She's enjoyed it and asks for it again from time to time, so it's done its job.

Since this is the age of THE INTERNET, I thought why not publish it. Last night I took the plunge and published it through Kindle Direct Publishing.

Even though the KDP dashboard says it's still publishing, it turned up on the Kindle Store earlier today: The Story of Ida Know eBook. It's a bit scary to put my own name into the Amazon eBook search box and find something I made within the first 10 results - it feels rather like I have stuck my neck out a lot.

As of this moment I've sold 1 whole unit that wasn't delivered to my own house. If I can get all the way to 24, I can say "dozens of people have read my book".

If you've got a child aged somewhere between 4 and 8, they might like it, so why not help me get to dizzy double dozen heights and stump up the 86p for my book. (I get something like 26p of that). Even if you have no Kindle, there's a reader app for iPad, iPhone / iPod Touch, Android, and PC.

Update: Now also selling over here on in paperback format.

Baby tips

I'm no expert on babies. But here is what I think I know.

As the due date approaches, prepare a few extra meals and freeze them. The extra stock of quick meals will be useful when things are a bit hectic.

Water birth appeared to be much more comfortable.

Midwives can be pushy, some can be stupid, some can be brilliant. Most are trying to do their job. Bear in mind that being pregnant isn't an illness and their word isn't law, and it gets a bit less stressful. Also the word "no" helps occasionally.

Breastfeeding is normal, and if it hurts at all or there are any problems then help is available and should be sought immediately (though you may have to really push to get competent help).

Carrying with a proper sling is both good for the baby and convenient, and isn't hard to learn. A proper sling is one which supports a baby's weight correctly. I'm told that is a good site.

Instead of battling to put the baby down during frequent naps, let them sleep in your arms (both of you). So find plenty of books to read. Don't fall asleep on the couch with the baby on you, this is very unsafe - hence the books, to keep you awake. Or TV, but a slightly older baby will be woken by voices and so on. When reading books, a Kindle is handy since you don't need to hold the pages open - no hands required.

At night, co-sleeping is best. My own terrible track record for sleep is utterly unrelated.

Minor axe to grind: A baby is not an object to be controlled or put in a corner out of the way while you get on with your life. So "crying it out" and all that BS that revolves around scheduling a baby like it's a bus is a load of horse crap. A baby is a person. A trainee human. They rapidly develop their own personality, drive, preferences, thoughts. They can't communicate yet but if you watch them very closely you can try to follow what they are doing and try to help accordingly. They tend to, but don't always, want frequent close contact - from both parents. That means you have to pay attention to them. A lot. Your life will change. It's not bad.

A tip heard third hand: If someone offers to help, accept but be specific. For instance if you are holding a baby and your mother-in-law asks if they can help, say something like "yes please get me a glass of water" or some other specific task, and say exactly how you want it done. Otherwise you're going to get help that doesn't help, like putting extra laundry on when not asked (shrinking clothes or whatever).

Another tip heard about: If someone offers to buy stuff, ask them to put the money aside so you can use it when you have worked out what you need. Otherwise you'll end up with 20 outfits that fit for 5 minutes. And a good car seat is expensive.

Get second opinions for anything a health visitor says. They aren't very good at reading graphs.

As the baby gets older, start introducing simple signs (e.g. milk, eat, more, all gone) while speaking - one sign per sentence or fewer. This allows the baby to communicate a little before speech is available, and seems to reduce frustration. It also seems to help speech development. Obviously I'm biased, but it has been very useful.

Baby-lead weaning is brilliant. No messing about with purees and all that. I'm told that the book should be consulted as there is a lot of misinformation on the Internet.

Anyway, that's all I have at the minute.

RT#1022 Glow-in-the-dark picture

Request Tracker in action. I hope K likes the result.

Nice to finally get some use out of these luminous paints. Really the biggest drawback with them has been that the red glows only very briefly (the green and white last longest), and that they dry white, not clear, in daylight.

Also nice to find a use for one those colour-changing-LED butterflies I had picked up in a bargain shop for no good reason.

Sat Apr 02 00:58:15 2011 aw - Ticket created

Make a glow-in-the-dark picture for K. Maybe a small black canvas with glowing paint for a flower, grass, stars etc, so it looks all black in the daytime. An LED butterfly with just the LED and clear parts on the visible side of the canvas would probably look good.

The paints glow under UV light (checked with the blacklight) and fluoresce a little after the light is off too. Maybe use some UV LEDs round the edge of the canvas
Sat Apr 02 00:58:25 2011 aw - Priority changed from (no value) to '800'

Sun Apr 03 00:14:49 2011 aw - Comments added

UV LEDs are quite expensive and may or may not work:

  Q) Is this product suitable for making UV paint flourese (glow) from a distance of 10 meters? Thanlks Meat-Head

  A) No sorry this product does not support that.

Instead, have glass painted the butterfly (badly). It turns out the glow-in-the-dark paints dry white, not clear, so that's going to be awkward.

Since the butterfly sticks out so much I thought I'd make more of the picture 3D.

Have started a gerbera daisy shape built from lolly sticks and toothpick bits, centred on the hole the butterfly LED section comes through.

Waiting for the PVA to dry.

Looks pretty bad so far, maybe it will be better painted.

Not sure what to do for the background / rest of canvas, maybe out-of-focus field of flowers.

Tue Apr 05 20:59:43 2011 aw - Comments added

Looks OK painted. Went round the edges in glow green. Background is out-of-focus flower field. Made the mistake of mixing glow colour with background; had to overpaint sky to stop it swamping the picture. Grass is still swamping the flowers a little when glowing.

Need to replace the LED in the butterfly with either white (dimmed) or red.

Wed Apr 06 21:27:37 2011 aw - Comments added

Not replacing the LED on the grounds that it probably won't get turned on much, if at all.

Sky overpainting seems to have done the trick.

Flower and butterfly canvas - day.jpgFlower and butterfly canvas - night.jpg

Thu Apr 07 20:21:59 2011 aw - Comments added

Up on K's wall in a spot she chose.

Thu Apr 07 20:21:59 2011 aw - Status changed from 'open' to 'resolved'

Please wait

Please wait for the green light before crossing the street.
Please take a ticket.
Please wait here to be served.
Please wait until D. wakes before we do music, K.
Please wait for the next train.
Please mind the gap.
Please wait, A., I'll feed you in a minute.
Please wait 15 minutes to allow for propagation.
Please hold for the next available operator.
Have a snooze, K., we'll be in the car a while.
Please wait 4 days for funds to clear.
Please wait while we process your request.
Please wait for security checks to complete.
Please wait while I sort out the change mat and a nappy, D.
Please allow 7 to 10 days for delivery.
Please wait 1 month for HR to process your paperwork and issue your staff card.
Please wait while the training material is downloaded to your back office PC.
Please wait while I finish this job and I'll read you a story in a second, K.
Please wait another 30 years before owning your home.
Please submit payment now.
Please wait a moment while the computer applies these updates.
Please queue here.
Please wait.
Please wait.
Please wait.


I was recently sent a link to "focus: a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction", and read through the free HTML version (the one linked via the table of contents).

The ideas of focus, reducing distraction, and prioritisation are very important, and it was good to see a clear and coherent description of why they are necessary and pointers to ways of thinking to achieve them. Ignore the parts which stress how terribly middle-class and privileged the writer is.

At work I occasionally just turn off email and get my head down on a single task for a set time, and keep my inbox clear by importing nearly everything into Request Tracker and use that to prioritise jobs. Without doing that, my stress levels rise and I start forgetting to do things, which leads to more stress, and so on. Here is the tool I wrote to import email: "RT Email Import".

So far so good. It's all very well reducing distractions and prioritising, as that reduces stress and results in Things Getting Done. But when it comes to deciding what Things should be Done - working out long term goals - the whole "what do you want" question stalls me completely.

Doing things I "like" seems rather pointless and self indulgent and so it's hard to focus on those without feeling like I'm wasting my time. Art is ultimately functionless (especially if it's crap) and so squeezing something out of my artistic sphincter also feels like a waste of time. I'm not enough of a nut to think that I'm a special and unique snowflake with any higher purpose. The only meaningful things to work towards are those which provide a positive benefit to at least one other person.

What the "focus manifesto", Aleister Crowley's law of Thelema, and many many other things have in common is the idea of someone having an ultimate purpose in their life. The Great Work is to find it. I guess the problem I have with that idea is it's a load of navel-gazing bollocks. Focus on what's good and useful for yourself and others, and anything else is fluff.

Blog moved

To escape the tyranny of Google this blog now lives on my own hosting, built offline using Movable Type. As a result I can now keep my own backups and have a bit more control in general.

Short story

Really short. One I wrote today. Published in honour of the date.

John awoke with a guilty start. He'd fallen asleep on the couch again, and Emily was always telling him that was bad. He sat up, expecting a scolding, but instead was greeted with silence.

He looked around blearily, and his eyes widened. He didn't usually remember falling asleep, but he definitely didn't remember going out anywhere, and this wasn't his house. His had small rooms and sombre furnishings; this was a large living room, with two white armchairs and a couch neatly arranged around a fireplace. Cheery orange and yellow cushions caught the bright sun shining through the large bay windows. The air was heavy, warm, and still.

Getting up seemed to take an inordinate amount of effort. When he finally stood up, he noticed a thin layer of dust on everything in the room, even where he had been lying. The carpet felt thick and warm under his bare feet.

The silence pressed in upon him. Curious at the lack of noise - a novelty, as his house overlooked a motorway - he walked to the window and looked out. A neat lawn greeted him, bordered by high suburban bushes and topped with a bright blue sky. The shrubbery was inordinately tall and thick, and seemed to tilt in towards the house. Nothing moved.

Determined to find out where he was, John turned around and looked for an exit. The front door, on the other side of the fireplace, was a white, cheerful affair with large textured glass panels letting in the light, but it appeared to be locked. He turned around and walked through the open doorway opposite to find a bright yellow kitchen with black and white tiling, and an equally locked back door. The rear window overlooked another lawn, although this was bordered by looming trees, and much darker. Frustrated, he returned to the front room, the kitchen linoleum alternating between warm and cold as he passed through the shadows cast by the trees.

In the corner of the front room was a staircase. He briefly considered looking upstairs, but dismissed the idea not only because of the implied rudeness to his unknown hosts, but because he spotted the outline of a door in the wall at the bottom. The thought of abandoning exploration and calling out a greeting entered his mind and quickly left again, chased by the oppressive silence.

After a great deal of pushing the door suddenly opened without a sound and John fell through, the thick carpet cushioning his landing. He got up to find himself in a similarly shaped front room to the first, and though the arrangement of the furniture was a little different, the decor remained very similar. Here the flowers on the wallpaper were red and pink roses, not white.

The bright colours pressing in upon his eyes, John made his way to the window. The carpet felt no thicker, but was heavy with sensation, enveloping the soles of his feet as he moved. He began to notice a change in the silence - it had a solidity to it, as if in preparation for sound. The view from the window was identical to the first house, and still nothing moved.

Frustrated, he turned and headed for the front door. The dust hung in the warm still air, illuminated by the sunbeams that leaned in through the textured glass. Looking through he indistinctly saw the hedges casting shadows suggestive of three figures - two large, one small. Although unmoving, the figures throbbed with potential. He fumbled with the door, and was almost relieved to find it as locked as the first one.

Opposite the wall he had entered through was another staircase, with another door at the bottom. As he approached he noticed intricate carvings on each baluster, the shapes suggestive of smiling faces. The air behind him began to take on an oppressive feeling, as if he were being followed, but a hurried glance proved otherwise. After significant exertion the door opened silently and, though he was prepared for the sudden movement, he still fell through.

The thick, dusty carpet held him uncomfortably close. John carefully stood up on leaden limbs, his skin invaded by every carpet fibre touching the soles of his feet a little too long. The bright cushions of this room seemed especially offensive, and his head began to ache. Squinting against the insistent sunlight, he stiffly made his way directly to this house's front door. On the walls, faint faces formed by the spaces between the flowers leered at his passing.

Behind the textured glass there was nothing but greenery. The dust hung in the air as the sunbeams forced their way through, and for the first time John noticed the quiet sound of his own breathing. It seemed oddly slow and laboured. As before, the door refused to open. He felt a change in pressure to one side, and apprehensively turned towards the window, the glare of the sun narrowing his eyes.

As his vision cleared he saw three approximately human figures - one small, two large - on the nearest edge of the lawn. They were a little too rounded, neckless, and still. He overcame his fright long enough to see that they looked like oversized matryoshka dolls, with glossy, cheerful painted faces. They were tilted forwards such that they leaned into the window, all facing one spot behind the couch. He felt a heaviness in the air in that spot, and ran for the open doorway he had come through, back to the previous house.

Immediately the heaviness of the air increased, and with the change in the air, the solidity of the silence moved into sound. It was powerful but barely audible, as if it were a very loud noise very far away. The wall faces stared with barely contained mirth as John barreled through, his bare feet still silent on the clutching floor.

As he ran, something flickered in the corner of his eye and he turned to look at the second room's couch. Just behind it stood a five-foot figure, too ovoid and too still to pass for human, its glossy face tilted towards him, its wide grin threatening to burst out of its paint. Beyond it, a much larger figure was frozen mid-lean, peering in to the side of the window.

The sound gradually became louder as he kept running, on to the first room, until he recognised it as a continuous scream. The first room was darker now, the sunlight blocked by a dozen glossy faces pressed up against the window, staring in. He wanted to add to the scream pressing in from all sides, but his mouth refused to co-operate. The carpet greedily sucked at his feet with each step he took until he could no longer move and stood, mute, in the centre of the room.

Movement flickered in the corner of his eye, and he fell into darkness.

John awoke with a guilty start. He'd fallen asleep on the couch again, and Emily was always telling him that was bad. He felt a familiar weight next to him and slowly opened his eyes to a small room with sombre furnishings. Sighing with relief, he sat up, which seemed to take considerable effort, and turned to apologise for drifting off again.

Expecting the stern expression that usually preceded a scolding, he was surprised to see a placid face leaning over towards him instead. Her bright, glossy smile mocked him as his world sank back into black.