Category: Personal

Stuff happening in my life

I went to the dentist and bought a pianola

I went to the dentist and ended up buying a pianola. A pianola (player piano) is an automatic piano that plays music from rolls of paper with holes cut in it, like a computer punch card. Most dentists do not sell pianolas and focus almost exclusively on dental health and plastic surgery but we found ourselves uncharacteristically early for our appointment so popped into a nearby charity shop and there I found it.

I wasn’t aware that I had always wanted to own a pianola until I learned they were completely air powered, kind of like a huge wooden stringed accordion. The manager of the charity shop urged me to “seize the day” and realise my one-minute-long dream because it was taking up a lot of space in her shop and nobody else wanted it. She was at least honest enough to tell me it took five men to move it in so it would be quite a job to get it home.

I called a piano moving company who sent just two men and a young lad whose job it was to open doors. The two men were admittedly very large – easily the combined volume of five smaller men, though costing me less to employ. They did an excellent job so barely two days after first seeing it, I had a pianola.

I looked around on ebay and Facebook to figure out how much money I should pay the charity shop for it but they’re basically free because they take up a lot of space and nobody else wants them. So, I just gave them £30. All in with the delivery costs it was around £150.

State of disrepair

I watched all twenty videos there are about pianola restoration on youtube to become a complete expert in pianola restoration and started taking it apart. The main problem is that most of the eighty-five+ rubber tubes have completely perished and fallen down into the keys, jamming them up too. Some of them have previously been replaced with clear vinyl tubes and those look ok. The eighty-five little key actuator bellows are seemingly in good condition. One or two of the eighty-five hammer mechanisms aren’t working quite right. And every one of the eighty-five keys are dirty. The eighty-five+ strings look ok – none of them broken or rusty. The whole thing is surprisingly tuned kind of well, just one tone down. Knowing little about pianos I’m going to assume that means it has been dropped only once since it was last tuned. The hammers have deep string grooves in them and everything is a bit dusty. No signs of it having been stored anywhere damp.

While researching other pianolas for sale, I actually found an old listing for this very one by the original owner – they’d failed to sell it and given it to the charity shop. I contacted her and learned that her grandad had bought it new over fifty years ago and they’d had some restoration work done on it about 25 years ago. It’s been kept indoors the whole time – never seen a damp cellar or garage! Amazing luck.

Looking inside I found a label showing its manufacture date as February 1938.

Anyway, I’ll post a bit more as I go along.

Northern Quarter Open Mic: Ethan

So I went to the Open Mic night at the Northern Quarter bar in Huddersfield last week for the first time and saw an act that was quite upsetting. Turned out to be just a guy doing his act but at the time I was actually kind of terrified. A unique experience. Meet Ethan.

Ethan is a gaunt, serious looking chap, wearing glasses, a long dark coat and a baseball cap. He keeps popping out for smokes all evening and generally seemed a bit jittery. Towards the end of the night he gets called up on stage.

His first song is a slow spoken word cover of “Fever” over a strange noisy electronic backing track, during which he paces nervously around the small stage. For his second song, he kneels down behind a small duffel bag, holding it open towards himself and staring into it.

Through the largish PA system blares an oppressively loud droning noisy low note. His words are distorted by the bass but from what I can make out this is a desperate man unable to care for his family, reaching the end of his tether. He’s been staring into his bag the whole time.

And suddenly I think: has this guy got a gun in his bag and is he going to shoot himself? The loud bass line is upsetting enough, booming against my chest, but now I’m actually a bit concerned. I’m near the open door and I start kind of planning an exit! My heart is racing!

The noise builds and builds and I’m wondering if I’m going to have a panic attack. Then at the peak, he quickly reaches into the bag and pulls out a white papier-mâché mask/helmet, puts it on his head and starts writhing around on the floor.

So Ethan is obviously a genius. But I think the fact I’ve never seen him before, so didn’t know what to expect, and that I was already nervous myself from having performed earlier meant his act landed just “perfectly” and I was quite terrified.

I spoke to him after and excitedly told him my experience but he barely allowed himself a smile. Was I ruining it by acknowledging it? Or was I just the weird one?

Lily was our dog. She moved in at nine years old in March 2010 and died 12 February 2016. She had separation anxiety, which meant she was at our feet twenty-four hours a day (literally – she slept on the end of our bed). Luckily, it wasn’t too difficult for us to accommodate her – every single one of her 2,169 nights she slept in a bed with one or both of us. In any given week, she probably spent a maximum of 2 hours without us (though usually with a cat or two). She made us smile and laugh every single one of those days and I’m going to miss her dearly.

Louisa wrote something about her too, over on her blog.

Google Poetics: once in darkness

Google Poetics is a project to record the beautiful poetry that Google’s autocomplete feature sometimes writes.

Inspired by this recent example, I recorded a song the lyrics of which are entirely Google autocomplete suggestions.

Don’t tell your audience you’re ill-prepared

I sometimes hear conference speakers admit they only finished their slides minutes before their talk started. Or I see them the day before admitting that they still have to write the whole thing.

Whether you’re presenting at a huge national conference or a smaller local group, this is simply disrespectful to the people who take the time to be your audience.

The only reasonable explanation I have for why people do this is that they’re trying to manage expectations. Concerned it won’t go well they make as if it was a last minute job, even if it wasn’t. If it does turn out to be a disaster then, well, they didn’t try hard. If it’s a success, even better! They just threw a great talk together without any effort.

But when a speaker admits this kind of thing, all I hear is that they don’t care enough about my time to prepare and for some inexplicable reason, they’re terribly proud of themselves for it. Bragging about it almost.

Not all talks require major preparation but even the shortest and most basic require proper consideration.

Not everyone has time to prepare in-depth talks but if you know that’ll be a problem for you, perhaps you shouldn’t agree to speak in the first place.

If you do find yourself ill-prepared though, might I suggest that you don’t let your audience in on it.

Don’t be proud about wasting their time.

That just makes it worse.

Condenser microphones don’t like humidity

I bought a Behringer B5 condenser microphone a couple of years ago to record my acoustic guitar. Add in a second  dynamic mic I already owned and a little two channel USB preamp with phantom power and it sounded really nice.

Then after a few months the condenser mic started picking up some interference.  It was a weird kind of rumble but with a kind of radio tuning sound, and the odd pop and click.

I tried changing channels, switched power supplies and cables but nothing helped.

Finally I came across a forum post describing a similar problem with the cause being humidity. Apparently condenser mics don’t do well in humid conditions and my office is a little damp. I’d left my mic out of its case a couple of times in these conditions and it got damp. The silica gel packet that came in the case should have been a clue.

Anyway, I popped my mic in my electric oven set at 30C, left it for 30mins and now it’s as good as new! Phew.

UPDATE: Faulty capacitors

This problem reoccurred not long after the treatment and I found the real solution was to replace the capacitors in the microphone. I replaced the original “Rubycon” caps with these equivalent Panasonics,  though you should check the ones you have in yours in case they’ve changed the design – I’ve seen a few photos of boards and they do vary.

Original Behringer B5 capacitors

Original Behringer B5 capacitors

Replaced Behringer B5 capacitors

Replaced Behringer B5 capacitors

Animal Abolitionism and Rationality

I was listening to a Philosophy Bites interview with Gary Francione about animal abolitionism. Animal abolitionists argue that animal welfare reform is nonsense and animals should not be regarded as things to be owned and used. He’s very compelling and his apparently clear reasoning is quite convincing.

During the podcast Francione explained the philosophy of Peter Singer, considered the founder of the animal rights movement. Singer essentially argues animals don’t understand death therefore they don’t suffer knowing it’s coming so killing them is not causing suffering.

Francione doesn’t agree and counters by arguing that the animal would obviously prefer to live rather than be killed.

At a first look, this seems to be clear reasoning but in actual fact it’s a bit of a switcheroo. Singer says it is ok to kill animals because they cannot reason about their own death. Francione says that if they could reason about their own death, they’d prefer to live, so killing them is morally wrong. But Singer’s argument would not apply to an animal that could reason about its own death!

By instilling the animal with the power of reason, Francione transforms it into an animal that Singer would not support the killing of anyway. Singer’s argument only applies to animals that cannot reason in that way!

So we should eat meat?

It’s important for me to make clear that I think Francione’s argument for veganism is probably stronger than Singer’s argument for eating meat (or at least stronger than my own understanding of Singer’s argument at this stage). Beyond the theory,  it’s not really possible to avoid unnecessary suffering to an animal during the meat production process. And any suffering at all is arguably unnecessary, since most people do not need to eat meat to survive. It’s not quite this simple, but I think Francione is broadly right.

I still eat meat though. I’m generally quite careful about the source of my meat, and often eat vegetarian wherever I can’t be sure of the source but I’m still not really convinced I should be eating meat.

Yet I still do eat meat. It’s easy to say humans are rational beings and how that separates us from other animals, but how many of us actually live rationally? Clearly I don’t!

Open source pasta sauce

Pasta sauce

This is my pork and beef mince pasta sauce recipe, heavily inspired by my Grandma’s recipe. I cook it in a casserole dish with a lid in the oven for about 4 hours. This is not quick food, but it’s well worth the wait and this recipe makes about 6-7 big portions, suitable for freezing.


  • 500g pork mince
  • 500g beef mince
  • a little olive oil
  • 2 onions
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 4 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 x 140g cans tomato purée
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • Couple of fists full of fresh basil leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper


  1. Chop the onions and fry them in the olive oil for 5 mins (don’t brown them)
  2. Finely chop and add the garlic and fry for a few more minutes
  3. Add the pork and beef mince, fry on a high heat until it’s no longer pink
  4. Tear up the basil into little bits and add to pot
  5. Add everything else, mix well and bring to boil
  6. Put lid on pot, put in pre-heated oven at 150 degrees Celsius
  7. Cook for 4 hours, stirring once an hour or so

It’s interesting to taste the sauce as it cooks – it really does get better and better the longer you cook it. I used to cook it on a regular stove top but it required almost constant stirring to avoid burning so now I cook it in the casserole dish. Maybe your stove can go lower than mine. A friend tried it with a slow cooker (after frying everything on the stove) and said it works just fine but I’ve yet to give that a go myself. My Grandma used to just sit and stir it all day.

If you like it wetter, add some passata. You can probably leave out the brown sugar – I’ve not really been able to tell a difference with or without it myself.

Serve with some pasta, with plenty of Parmesan cheese and black pepper.

UPDATE: I’ve changed the recipe from 1kg pork mince to 50/50 pork/beef mince after some feedback from friends, and some experimentation of my own. It’s a lot tastier like this and it turns out, this is actually what my grandma used to do!

UPDATE: I’ve changed the recipe, switching out the “mixed dry Italian herbs” for actual real fresh basil leaves. My mum told me that’s what my Grandma used and it really makes a major difference to the flavour.

Lily suddenly not sure if toilet roll is toy

Lily eating toilet roll

Domes on Mars – Pathfinder Mission

The recent NASA “Curiosity” mission that just landed reminded me of something I did the last time a robot was exploring up there.

It was July 1997, and I was 18 years old and relatively new to the Internet (having been knocking around it for only a couple of years at that point, by my recollection). I was a keen computer artist, using Lightwave 3D at the time.

So when the Mars Pathfinder robot landed and made big news, it was only natural that I rendered some domes onto the first photos they published and put them on the Internet, claiming them to be “The images NASA doesn’t want you to see”.

Much to my surprise, the counter on the free webspace I had with my Demon Internet dial-up account quickly starting increasing. Many hundreds of thousands of hits, which was a lot in those days (as it took 20 minutes just to connect to the Internet and the only way to find things was with gopher and downloading a photo was something you left running overnight and it all cost so much money, unless you used stolen “Red Hot Ant” free dialup numbers which everyone did all the time).

Anyway, long story short, it attracted lots of attention. I was interviewed live on some American crackpot Art Bell radio show (Atlanta’s WGST Planet Radio). I told them I found the images in the bins round the back of NASA). It was in magazines (well, one). And I became rich and famous and banned from ever visiting Mars.

Anyway, the Internet Archive has a copy of the text and I managed to find this one image some daft consipiracy website had kept a copy of. And here it is in all it’s glory.

And there began my long career of being a dick on the Internet.

UPDATE: The Way Back When machine is able to show my original site now and it has all my silly explanation of the origin of the photos (plus this bonus photo shows a figure stood in the distance)

UPDATE: I found an old backup of the images, plus some wireframes of the rendering I did to make the domes

UPDATE: I found an old issue of “Connect” magazine a friend gave me at the time, back when magazines still existed. Connect was basically just a list of links to funny stuff on the Internet this week and they reviewed the site in their Conspiracies section.

Killing and butchering a chicken

At the weekend I killed a chicken, and Louisa and I plucked it and then Louisa butchered it. It was one of a few chicks that turned out to be male, so his fate was to be killed and eaten by us.

This was the second chicken I’ve killed myself (for food or otherwise) – the first one took a bit of mental preparation but this one was a bit easier.

He has a pretty good free range life, was killed quickly and we’ll waste very little of him (we’ve already had a soup made from cooking his carcass in the slowcooker).

Louisa has written up the experience in more detail on her blog.

Here are some photos – you might consider them a little grisly.


Inside Google Plus

Steven Levy interviewed Google’s Bradley Horowitz about Google+:

Wired: Some users are chafing at Google’s insistence that they provide real names. Explain the policy against pseudonyms.

Horowitz: Google believes in three modes of usage—anonymous, pseudonymous, and identified, and we have a spectrum of products that use all three. For anonymity, you can go into incognito mode in Chrome and the information associated with using the browser is not retained. Gmail and Blogger are pseudonymous—you can go be But with products like Google Checkout, you’re doing a financial transaction and you have to use your real name.For now, Google+ falls into that last category. There are great debates going on about this—I saw one comment yesterday that claimed that pseudonyms protect the experience of women in the system. I felt compelled to respond, because I’ve gotten feedback from women who say that the accountability of real names makes them feel much more comfortable in Google+.

Notice that Horowitz did not answer the question, and what he did say was just ridiculous nonsense. Steven Levy at Wired didn’t seem to notice, or care.

Horowitz tries to make us think that we need our real name when making a financial transaction.  Thousands of years of currency proves that is not the case.

Horowitz then goes on to blurrily equate making a financial transaction with sharing videos of cats on Google+.

And then the cherry on the top: Google+ protects women.

This was the closest there was to a serious question in the whole interview and Horowitz just laughed out of his arse at it.