Monthly Archives: August 2007


People who know me will be aware that I’m quite partial to the occasional espresso coffee.[1] To ensure that I can start the day properly, I’ve had a series of wonderful devices over the years. The first serious one was a Briel which I got about nine years ago, and this was followed by an all-singing all-dancing super automatic bean to cup Gaggia machine a few years later.

After years of regular use, the Gaggia decided to die, after the extended warranty had ended, naturally. So, I revived the Briel, which continued to do its less automatic, but otherwise quite satisfactory thing. Until recently, when the pressure seemed to drop, or some such. And yesterday, I found out why: it had sprung a leak from somewhere in its high-pressure innards. Given its age, trying to get it repaired didn’t seem like a very good idea, so I made an unusual Saturday afternoon trip into Newcastle to look for a replacement. After some dithering, I got this shiny Gaggia Cubika, which should do the job.

Gaggia Cubika

Gaggia Cubika

It’s a funny thing, but each new espresso machine has different characteristics. This one is much fussier about the grind of coffee used – it needs to be a lot finer than the Briel would accept to create a proper espresso, which means that my regular brand of ground coffee will have to be replaced. I can grind my own, but the grinder I have isn’t all that good, so I can see some more shopping coming up. It did take a few attempts to get it right, which means I might still be buzzing a bit…

The new machine comes with no less than three coffee filter thingies – one for a single shot, one for a double shot, and one to hold coffee pods. I’ve ordered some pods to see how well they work, but mostly i suspect I’ll be using freshly ground coffee, which works out a lot cheaper…

[1] Best. Understatement. Ever.


I’ve had my main home PC for over four years now, and it’s been chugging along reasonably well. But lately, as I’ve been spending more time with Photoshop, I’ve had a bit of frustration with performance[1]. Not only that, but the hard disk was a bit suspect – even after a thorough defragging it was slow, and every so often the computer wouldn’t start the first time.

Now, ideally, I’d replace the thing with a new super fast dual-core monster, but the price of the kind of computer I’d like to have is a wee bit more than I can spend right now, so I decided to compromise. Yes, it was time to install an upgrade or two.

First came that dodgy hard disk – I decided to replace the two old disks (one 80GB[2] and the other 40GB) with one larger one. After some dithering, I bought a 300GB Seagate beastie. I would have settled for the 200GB version, but as it was just £10 more for the extra 100GB, and for twice the size of cache, I went for the bigger one. Installation and data transfer was a moderately painless operation.

Next was the memory – I’d been running with 1GB of RAM, which was quite respectable four years ago, but isn’t really enough for serious Photoshoppery. As it happens, the maximum RAM for this box (a Dell OptiPlex GX260) is 2GB – not quite as much as I’d like to have, but quite affordable from those nice and remarkably efficient Crucial people.

And finally, I replaced the DVD-ROM drive with a nifty DVD writer (of the all varieties, dual layer kind).

And I’m pleased to say that the computer seems quite happy with its new toys, and Photoshop performance has improved noticeably. That should keep me going for a while longer…

I did have some fun after changing the hard disk. Microsoft Office 2007 pretty much died on me. A full reinstall was needed, and that only worked after running the Windows Installer Cleanup Tool. That was fun. Once it was reinstalled, it behaved nicely and picked up all my settings from my profile.

But the most entertaining bit was a little Microsoft joke involving my sound card – a Creative Audigy thingy. When I ran Microsoft Update to update my reinstalled Office, it offered me a new sound card driver, which in a moment of weakness, I allowed it to install. This turned out not to be the best option. While it appeared to install, I no longer had any sound. And the volume controls were all disabled. Mutter.

So, I tried to roll back to the previous driver. This resulted in some very pretty and entertaining blue screens. Now that was fun. Eventually, I managed to get into the computer in Safe Mode, where I could disable the device and delete the driver files Windows kept trying to reinstall with unfortunate results.

After that, I was able to install the latest driver from Creative, which reinstalled the sound card properly without any of those amusing blue screens.

All good fun. :smile:

[1] Photoshop CS3 is a bit of a resource hog…
[2] An upgrade I added when the PC was new

Dragon and pigeons

I took this picture of the war memorial in Newcastle’s Old Eldon Square a few days ago. While I’ve seen the memorial many times, this is the first time I’ve looked really closely at the statue of St George and the Dragon. I’ve zoomed in quite closely to reveal the details of the dragon and his feathered friends.

Dragon and Pigeons

Dragon and Pigeons


Yes, it’s yet another silly internet quiz thingy, which I found at the always entertaining Look at This….

Your Superpower Should Be Invisibility
You are stealthy, complex, and creative.
You never face problems head on. Instead, you rely on your craftiness to get your way.
A mystery to others, you thrive on being a little misunderstood.
You happily work behind the scenes… because there’s nothing better than a sneak attack!

Why you would be a good superhero: You’re so sly, no one would notice… not even your best friends

Your biggest problem as a superhero: Missing out on all of the glory that visible superheroes get

Robert Rankin – The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code

Woo hoo! It’s the latest Robert Rankin book! This one starts at the end, with the headless corpse of Jonny Hooker found floating in an ornamental pond, then rewinds a week to tell the story of how he got to be in such an unfortunate state.

Lots of the usual silliness follows. We meet the real rulers of Earth[1], an imaginary friend who is a little too real, and learn the dreadful truth about Robert Johnson’s previously unknown last song. And remember to watch out for the Air Loom Gang.

Quoting lines, or going into more details about the plot would be moderately pointless. If you’re a Rankin fan, you’ll either have read it already, or you’ll be wanting me to shut up about it while you wait for the paperback to come out. If you’re in the latter camp, you’ll miss out on the, err, interesting soundtrack CD that comes with this edition. This begins with the probably quite inevitable

It’s a tradition, or an old charter. Or something.

It’s all the usual Rankin stuff – ridickerously silly jokes, every bonkers conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard, and a few more besides, and loads of fun. If you haven’t read him before, now would be a good time to begin.

[1] Including Elvis, naturally

End of the line for GNER

BBC NEWS | Business | National Express wins rail route

And so we approach the end of the East Coast main line farce. And overall, I think this should be a reasonably good result. For a start, it doesn’t involve Virgin[1] or Stagecoach[2]. And GNER’s management will not be anywhere near the operation. I hope that the existing train crews have a smooth transfer to the new operator[3], especially the nice people who serve breakfast at hideously early hours of the day.

I am a little concerned that National Express have committed to pay the government £1.4bn over eight years, as it was a similar arrangement that brought GNER down. This will no doubt be funded by yet more fare rises, mutter.

[1] Who have also lost the cross-country route, which should lead to improved services when I go to Leeds
[2] I’m not keen on them, either
[3] And I hope the inevitable new uniforms aren’t too naff

Tower Bridge

This is another picture I took on my recent visit to London. A group of us took a trip on a boat down the Thames from Westminster to Greenwich. We’d just passed Tower Bridge when I spotted this reflection in Martin’s sunglasses. There wasn’t time to zoom as close as I would have liked, so this is a close crop and I had to enlarge the image to make it usable, but despite that, I think it’s turned out quite nicely.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge


Yesterday, I finally managed to get round to turning up for one of the monthly gatherings of the Newcastle upon Tyne Photography Meetup Group. Well, it was in Saltwell Park, so I couldn’t really miss it.

In all, four of us turned up, including John (the organiser), Steve (better known as ILuvNUFC, and the man behind the excellent Look At This and another John, who’s been in my Flickr contacts for a while.

We wandered around, took pictures, tried to avoid the rain[1], and took some more pictures before going our separate ways.

Here’s one of the pictures I took. It’s a duck.



[1] Saltwell Towers turned out to be more useful than the tree we chose, which seemed to have a leak. Shocking.