View from the Potting Shed The Revd Gareth J M Saunders' weblog Sun, 22 Mar 2015 07:00:22 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Managing overlay icons for Dropbox and TortoiseSVN and TortoiseGit Sun, 22 Mar 2015 07:00:22 +0000 Continue reading Managing overlay icons for Dropbox and TortoiseSVN and TortoiseGit]]> I imagine like many involved in web development, I rely heavily on a number of version control applications: I use Dropbox, Subversion (SVN) and Git.

For years I’ve used the TortoiseSVN client for Windows. It integrates with the Windows Explorer shell making it quick and easy to manage your version controlled code within Explorer.

I like that I don’t need a separate full-blown application that acts as an interface between the code on my PC and the SVN repository; I like that I don’t need to use a command prompt; but I love that TortoiseSVN adds overlay icons to tell me the state of each file (is it up to date, changed, added, etc.?).

These folders are all up to date, and in sync with the SVN repository.
These folders are all up to date, and in sync with the SVN repository.

Recently I’ve started using Git at work and so I’ve also installed TortoiseGit which does something similar.

This is the Bootstrap repo cloned to my PC.
This is the Bootstrap repo cloned to my PC.

And of course Dropbox does the same: it shows you which files have been synchronised with the cloud, and which are in the process of uploading.

My Dropbox folders are up-to-date, synchronized successfully with the Cloud
My Dropbox folders are up-to-date, synchronized successfully with the Cloud

The problem

The problem, though, is that each of these applications uses multiple overlay icons but Windows only uses the first 15.

TortoiseSVN and TortoiseGit both use the same nine icons:

Nine folder, each has an icon on top of it such as ticks, crosses or pluses.
TortoiseSVN and TortoiseGit both use nine icons.

Dropbox uses eight icon overlays. If you have OneDrive installed (which you will if you use Windows 8 or above) then it uses three. And Windows itself uses a few to indicate offline files or enhanced storage.

That’s 22 icon overlays, and like I said: Windows only uses the first 15.

So, inevitably you end up with some icons missing, and depending on which these are it can make life just that little bit harder when trying to figure out quickly whether a file is in sync or not, or whether it’s not even been added.

That means you need to make a choice about which icons you want to use and which you don’t.

How to fix it

The most straight-forward way to do this is by editing the Windows Registry.

The icon overlays can be found in the following key:

Computer \ HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SOFTWARE \ Microsoft \ Windows \ CurrentVersion \ Explorer \ ShellIconOverlayIdentifiers

It turns out you can safely rename the folders which will reorder the icons. The folders are just containers for the real information contained within them.

1. Backup

Export (backup) the ShellIconOverlayIdentifiers folder in its entirety, in case you need to restore it later.

2. Prioritise which icons you need

My current preference is for the following:

  1. 1TortoiseNormal
  2. 2TortoiseModified
  3. 3TortoiseConflict
  4. 6TortoiseDeleted
  5. 7TortoiseAdded
  6. 8TortoiseIgnored
  7. 9TortoiseUnversioned
  8. DropboxExt1 (green Synced)
  9. DropboxExt2 (blue In progress)
  10. DropboxExt5 (red Sync problem)
  11. DropboxExt7 (grey Folder not synchronizing)
  12. EnhancedStorageShell
  13. SkyDrivePro1 (ErrorConflict)
  14. SkyDrivePro2 (SyncInProgress)
  15. SkyDrivePro3 (InSync)

You can use whatever naming convention you prefer. I rename the original folder names with a number prefix and an underscore, e.g. 01_1TortoiseNormal. Folders that I want to drop to the bottom I prefix with a simple x, e.g. x5TortoiseReadOnly.

In regedit it looks like this, with the unprioritized icons dropping to the bottom of the list.

List of registry keys
List of registry keys

3. Restart Explorer

  1. Close any Windows Explorer windows.
  2. Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open Task Manager.
  3. Look for Windows Explorer listed under “Background processes”.
  4. Right-click it and select “Restart”.

Your taskbar will disappear a couple of times as the Explorer process is restarted, but you should now see all the overlay icons you want within your folders.

(Currently I’m having issues with OneDrive — formerly SkyDrive — but as I don’t rely on it for too much I’m not that bothered, to be honest.)

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Using Akismet on WordPress Multisite Sat, 21 Mar 2015 09:46:16 +0000 Continue reading Using Akismet on WordPress Multisite]]> Akismet is a WordPress plugin for dealing with comment spam. It’s pretty good and simple to set up:

  1. Sign up for an Akismet plan (from free for a personal site, to $50 per month for enterprise).
  2. Use the API key generated to activate your plugin.

The API key (like a license key) is in the format abcde1f23456.

And that’s fine if you have only one site, but if you’re running WordPress multisite then you don’t want to have to activate Akismet individually for each sub-site. That’s just tedious.

Wouldn’t it be much better if you could just add the API key once?

Akismet doesn’t offer that option within the user interface on Multisite. Undeterred, I went in search of a way to do it.

How to do it

The wonderful folks over at WPMU DEV have a really useful blog post from July 2013 about how to do this: How to use Akismet on WordPress Multisite with 1 license key.

The good news it’s really simple:

  1. Open wp-config.php in your favourite text editor.
  2. The WPMU DEV article recommends that you add the API code  below the comment /* That's all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */ but I prefer to add it below the define() block for Multisite. But you can add it where you like, really.
  3. Add the following code define('WPCOM_API_KEY','abcde1f23456');
  4. Save wp-config.php and upload it to your site.

Your wp-config.php file will then look something like this:

/** Multisite */
define('WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true );
define('MULTISITE', true);
define('SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', false);
define('DOMAIN_CURRENT_SITE', '');
define('PATH_CURRENT_SITE', '/');
define('SITE_ID_CURRENT_SITE', 1);
define('BLOG_ID_CURRENT_SITE', 1);

/** Define API key for Akismet in WordPress Multisite */

Like many things on this blog I’ve added this here primarily for my own reference, but I hope it helps you too.

The real credit on how to do this, of course, goes to Sarah Gooding from WPMU DEV: thank you.

Happy spam-free blogging!

]]> 0
Viewing Trello label titles on cards Fri, 20 Mar 2015 23:25:34 +0000 Continue reading Viewing Trello label titles on cards]]> It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Trello.

I use Trello pretty much exclusively on Google Chrome, as there are plenty of plugins written to extend its capabilities; far more than for Firefox, which surprises me a little.

One of my favourites is Scrum for Trello, which allows me to add Agile story points very simply. My new favourite is this: Card Color Titles for Trello.

Default labels

In Trello you may set an unlimited number of labels. Originally, there were only six, organised in the order of the original Apple logo.

Here are the labels that Trello themselves use for their development board.

Trello label names
Trello label names

When applied to cards, the labels appear as coloured bars at the top of each card.

Trello development board with standard labels.
Trello development board with standard labels.

The problem is, and particularly now with unlimited labels, it can be difficult to remember what each colour means—especially if you use different labels on different boards.

Card color titles for Trello

That’s where the Card Color Titles for Trello plugin comes in: it adds the name of the label to the label.

Labels, colours, titles—it all makes sense now
Labels, colours, titles—it all makes sense now

I’ve been using this for the last week and it has been so useful, particularly at work where we have labels for MoSCoW prioritisation. It has made re-ordering cards so much easier and quicker.

It’s definitely an extension to add if you use Trello on Chrome: Card Color Titles for Trello on Chrome web store.

]]> 0
Write! (beta) — a distraction-free text editor for Windows Sat, 07 Mar 2015 21:13:12 +0000 Continue reading Write! (beta) — a distraction-free text editor for Windows]]> Write! A distraction-free text editor for Windows. Here it is showing the navigation bar.
Write! A distraction-free text editor for Windows. Here it is showing the navigation bar.

A few months ago, while I was editing some documents in Markdown, I came across Write! — a new text editor (still in beta) that is being marketed as “writing instrument for digital age [sic]” and a “distraction-free text editor that does not suck”. So I downloaded it and took it out for a spin.

I like it, but…

For the most part I like Write! It’s clean, it’s fast, and it has a minimal set of usable features that don’t get in the way.

It’s like a prettier Notepad but with a spell checker, a navigation bar on the right-hand side (like Sublime Text), and a basic understanding of Markdown (so you can make text bold, for example, by typing **example**).

I have a couple of issues, though, which prevents me from using this as my text editor of choice for writing.

Proprietary format

My main niggle is that by default Write! saves to its own proprietary format. This is a zipped, XML-based file format (.wtt), and as far as I can tell this isn’t compatible with the OpenDocument text (.odt) format. The simple document above (showing the first chapter of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings) contains the following files:

  • document.xml — the actual document, plus some meta data such as word count.
  • history.xml — an undo history.
  • package.xml — this seems to define the package format and encoding (UTF-8).

You can export to PDF, OpenDocument, plain text, and three flavours of Markdown (Textile, Markdown, and Wiki) but that has more of a disruptive workflow than simply tapping Ctrl+S every few minutes.

Similarly, it would be great to be able to associate Write! to open certain file types, such as text (.txt) or Markdown (.md, .mdown) files.

Not full Markdown support

By default I tend to use basic, vanilla Markdown rather than Textile or Wiki). By default Write! is configured to support a mixture of the other two. That’s not a problem as a quick visit to the settings will put that right.

Write! settings dialog
Write! settings dialog

But Write! only supports a small subset of Markdown:


  • Headers prefixed with hash (# for H1, ## for H2, etc.).
  • Unordered lists using minus (-) and plus (+).
  • Numbered lists.
  • Links (but you cannot easily edit the link, text or title).
  • Emphasis (italics and bold) using asterisks (*) or underscores (_).
  • Automatic links in the format <>.
  • Backslash escapes, e.g. \*literal asterisks\*.

Does not support

  • Setext style headers (underlined using equal signs or dashes).
  • Blockquotes.
  • Unordered lists using asterisk (*).
  • Code blocks — 1 tab, 4 spaces or three backticks (“`).
  • Inline code using single backticks (`.example {}`).
  • Horizontal rule.
  • Images.
  • Automatic links for email addresses, e.g. <>.

Cannot type with help window open

This seems to be a basic requirement that has been overlooked: if I tap F1 to bring up the help text (shortcuts and markup) I cannot keep the help window open while typing into Write! If I start to type I get an irritated ‘bong!’ sound from my PC.

Surely I should be able to refer to the help text while typing.


If Write! supported at least:

  1. The ability to select which format to save to by default (even on a document-by-document basis); (MUST)
  2. The ability to open certain file types in Write! (MUST)
  3. Full support for Markdown. (MUST)
  4. Ability to type while referring to the help text. (SHOULD)

then I would without a doubt use this text editor for all sorts of small writing tasks, such as writing documentation, journalling, text editing, etc. Until then, I’ll just keep updating the beta and see what gets added in the future.

For me this is definitely one application to keep an eye on but it isn’t for production use quite yet.


What is nice is that you can vote for future features from the website’s Feedback link. One of those suggestions is to save in plain text format; I’ve just submitted an idea to fully support Markdown.

]]> 0
Changing the Divi projects custom post type to anything you want Sat, 07 Mar 2015 01:48:20 +0000 Continue reading Changing the Divi projects custom post type to anything you want]]> I’m currently building a website for a friend of Jane, using the Divi theme from Elegant Themes. The website is for a holiday property letting company. This post explains how I changed the built-in Projects content type to Properties, and how you can change it to anything you want.

The problem

Divi is a great theme to use: it’s very flexible, it’s responsive (so it works equally well on smartphones as well as huge desktop monitors), and it has the easiest, drag-and-drop editor that I’ve ever used for WordPress.

Divi comes with a built in content type called Projects; WordPress calls them ‘custom post types’. I use this content type on my own website to list the various projects that I’ve been involved in over the years.

As you can see from the WordPress admin menu ‘Projects’ appears on the list beneath Posts, Media, Pages, and Comments:

WordPress menu with Divi installed shows Projects
WordPress menu with Divi installed

Divi also ships with a number of attractive ways to display your projects using its Portfolio and Filtered Portfolio modules. You can even display these full-width or as a grid, such as this:

Demo of Divi's Filtered Portfolio module displayed as a grid.
Demo of Divi’s Filtered Portfolio module displayed as a grid.

These are exactly the features that I’d like to use on the property letting website:

  • Keep properties separate from pages and posts, using a custom post type.
  • Display all properties in a grid.
  • Allow users to filter properties based on the categories that are assigned to them.

So, I want all the features of Divi’s built-in Projects custom post type, but I don’t want them to be called Projects. I want them to be called Properties.

Use a child theme

First, I strongly recommend that you use a child theme when customising Divi (or indeed any other WordPress theme). A child theme inherits the functionality and styling of another theme, called the parent theme, and allows you to make local customisations to it which will not be overwritten when the theme updates.

Elegant Themes have a useful walkthrough on how to create a child theme, and why you should be using one.

The WordPress Codex also has useful information about child themes.

How to do it

This very useful post on the Elegant Tweaks blog: “Change Divi Projects URL-permalink” got me started, and about 95% of the way.

I copied the code, added it to the functions.php file in my child theme, and set about editing it.

remove_action / add_action

In a nutshell the code from Elegant Tweaks does two things:

  1. It defines a new function — called child_et_pb_register_posttypes() — that will redefine the characteristics of the Projects content type.
  2. It removes the default Projects custom post type contained in Divi, and replaces it with our one in the child theme.

This last point, I believe, is simply to be tidy: rather than clumsily overwriting the existing ‘project’ custom post type it gracefully removes the old one, and creates a redefined version in its place.


In that Elegant Themes post the author was only concerned with changing the URL from /projects/ to /photos/. So in his example, the names used in the WordPress admin screens still referred to projects: Edit Project, Add New Project, etc. But I want to change these too.

In the code for a custom post type these are referred to as ‘labels’ and are defined in the $labels array. This is what my code looks like now:

function child_et_pb_register_posttypes() {
    $labels = array(
        'add_new'            => __( 'Add New', 'Divi' ),
        'add_new_item'       => __( 'Add New Property', 'Divi' ),
        'all_items'          => __( 'All Properties', 'Divi' ),
        'edit_item'          => __( 'Edit Property', 'Divi' ),
        'menu_name'          => __( 'Properties', 'Divi' ),
        'name'               => __( 'Properties', 'Divi' ),
        'new_item'           => __( 'New Property', 'Divi' ),
        'not_found'          => __( 'Nothing found', 'Divi' ),
        'not_found_in_trash' => __( 'Nothing found in Trash', 'Divi' ),
        'parent_item_colon'  => '',
        'search_items'       => __( 'Search Properties', 'Divi' ),
        'singular_name'      => __( 'Property', 'Divi' ),
        'view_item'          => __( 'View Property', 'Divi' ),

As you can see, something I find useful is to list the elements alphabetically. Personally, I find it easier to work this way; your mileage may vary.

Obviously, if you are customising this for your own requirements simply edit this to reflect your needs.

Custom post type options

Next, we define the arguments to be passed to the register_post_type function. These define not only how the custom post type is used but also how it is displayed in the WordPress admin menu: where it sits and what icon it uses.


The most important option here, for our purpose of customising it, is the 'slug' key. You must set its value (in single quotes) to whatever you need it to be. In my case 'slug' => 'property'. I’ve highlighted this in the snippet below.

Just make sure you don’t set the slug to the same name as an existing page.

Menu icon and position

One useful new addition to the code provided by Elegant Tweaks are the options to set the menu icon and where it sits on the menu.

As these are properties I decided to use the home dashicon.

House icon

I also decided to move it up a bit, from beneath Comments to immediately below Posts. WordPress uses numbers to specify where custom post types should sit, e.g.

  • 5 — below Posts (this is where I want it to appear)
  • 10 — below Media
  • 15 — below Links
  • 20 — below Pages
  • 25 — below Comments

A full list can be found in the WordPress Codex.

So, here is the code I now have; I’ve highlighed these new menu options plus the ‘slug’ (how it will appear in the URL):

    $args = array(
        'can_export'         => true,
        'capability_type'    => 'post',
        'has_archive'        => true,
        'hierarchical'       => false,
        'labels'             => $labels,
        'menu_icon'          => 'dashicons-admin-home',
        'menu_position'      => 5,
        'public'             => true,
        'publicly_queryable' => true,
        'query_var'          => true,
        'show_in_nav_menus'  => true,
        'show_ui'            => true,
        'rewrite'            => apply_filters(
            'et_project_posttype_rewrite_args', array(
            'feeds'          => true,
            'slug'           => 'property',
            'with_front'     => false,
        'supports'           => array( 'title', 'editor', 'thumbnail', 'excerpt', 'comments', 'revisions', 'custom-fields' ),

Register the post type

The next line now does the grunt work and registers this custom post type with WordPress.

    register_post_type( 'project', apply_filters(
        'et_project_posttype_args', $args )

This tells WordPress to apply all of these options to the ‘project’ custom post type.

Because we are redefining this existing custom post type (by changing the URL, the menu labels, the menu icon and position) it means that everything else (the default project page layouts and portfolio modules) will work as expected without any further customization.

Categories and tags

The rest of the code I left untouched. This code defines the categories and tags to be used with the projects/properties custom post type.

How it looks now

Adding all the code (see below for the complete script) this is what my WordPress admin menu looks like:

Divi theme now with Properties instead of Projects
Divi theme now with Properties instead of Projects

That’s now working as I expect it. Job done.

Complete code

Here is the full code that I have in my child theme’s functions.php file:

function child_et_pb_register_posttypes() {
    $labels = array(
        'add_new'            => __( 'Add New', 'Divi' ),
        'add_new_item'       => __( 'Add New Property', 'Divi' ),
        'all_items'          => __( 'All Properties', 'Divi' ),
        'edit_item'          => __( 'Edit Property', 'Divi' ),
        'menu_name'          => __( 'Properties', 'Divi' ),
        'name'               => __( 'Properties', 'Divi' ),
        'new_item'           => __( 'New Property', 'Divi' ),
        'not_found'          => __( 'Nothing found', 'Divi' ),
        'not_found_in_trash' => __( 'Nothing found in Trash', 'Divi' ),
        'parent_item_colon'  => '',
        'search_items'       => __( 'Search Properties', 'Divi' ),
        'singular_name'      => __( 'Property', 'Divi' ),
        'view_item'          => __( 'View Property', 'Divi' ),

    $args = array(
        'can_export'         => true,
        'capability_type'    => 'post',
        'has_archive'        => true,
        'hierarchical'       => false,
        'labels'             => $labels,
        'menu_icon'          => 'dashicons-admin-home',
        'menu_position'      => 5,
        'public'             => true,
        'publicly_queryable' => true,
        'query_var'          => true,
        'show_in_nav_menus'  => true,
        'show_ui'            => true,
        'rewrite'            => apply_filters( 'et_project_posttype_rewrite_args', array(
            'feeds'          => true,
            'slug'           => 'property',
            'with_front'     => false,
        'supports'           => array( 'title', 'editor', 'thumbnail', 'excerpt', 'comments', 'revisions', 'custom-fields' ),

    register_post_type( 'project', apply_filters( 'et_project_posttype_args', $args ) );

    $labels = array(
        'name'              => _x( 'Categories', 'Property category name', 'Divi' ),
        'singular_name'     => _x( 'Category', 'Property category singular name', 'Divi' ),
        'search_items'      => __( 'Search Categories', 'Divi' ),
        'all_items'         => __( 'All Categories', 'Divi' ),
        'parent_item'       => __( 'Parent Category', 'Divi' ),
        'parent_item_colon' => __( 'Parent Category:', 'Divi' ),
        'edit_item'         => __( 'Edit Category', 'Divi' ),
        'update_item'       => __( 'Update Category', 'Divi' ),
        'add_new_item'      => __( 'Add New Category', 'Divi' ),
        'new_item_name'     => __( 'New Category Name', 'Divi' ),
        'menu_name'         => __( 'Categories', 'Divi' ),

    register_taxonomy( 'project_category', array( 'project' ), array(
        'hierarchical'      => true,
        'labels'            => $labels,
        'show_ui'           => true,
        'show_admin_column' => true,
        'query_var'         => true,
    ) );

    $labels = array(
        'name'              => _x( 'Tags', 'Property Tag name', 'Divi' ),
        'singular_name'     => _x( 'Tag', 'Property tag singular name', 'Divi' ),
        'search_items'      => __( 'Search Tags', 'Divi' ),
        'all_items'         => __( 'All Tags', 'Divi' ),
        'parent_item'       => __( 'Parent Tag', 'Divi' ),
        'parent_item_colon' => __( 'Parent Tag:', 'Divi' ),
        'edit_item'         => __( 'Edit Tag', 'Divi' ),
        'update_item'       => __( 'Update Tag', 'Divi' ),
        'add_new_item'      => __( 'Add New Tag', 'Divi' ),
        'new_item_name'     => __( 'New Tag Name', 'Divi' ),
        'menu_name'         => __( 'Tags', 'Divi' ),

    register_taxonomy( 'project_tag', array( 'project' ), array(
        'hierarchical'      => false,
        'labels'            => $labels,
        'show_ui'           => true,
        'show_admin_column' => true,
        'query_var'         => true,
    ) );

    $labels = array(
        'name'               => _x( 'Layouts', 'Layout type general name', 'Divi' ),
        'singular_name'      => _x( 'Layout', 'Layout type singular name', 'Divi' ),
        'add_new'            => _x( 'Add New', 'Layout item', 'Divi' ),
        'add_new_item'       => __( 'Add New Layout', 'Divi' ),
        'edit_item'          => __( 'Edit Layout', 'Divi' ),
        'new_item'           => __( 'New Layout', 'Divi' ),
        'all_items'          => __( 'All Layouts', 'Divi' ),
        'view_item'          => __( 'View Layout', 'Divi' ),
        'search_items'       => __( 'Search Layouts', 'Divi' ),
        'not_found'          => __( 'Nothing found', 'Divi' ),
        'not_found_in_trash' => __( 'Nothing found in Trash', 'Divi' ),
        'parent_item_colon'  => '',

    $args = array(
        'labels'             => $labels,
        'public'             => false,
        'can_export'         => true,
        'query_var'          => false,
        'has_archive'        => false,
        'capability_type'    => 'post',
        'hierarchical'       => false,
        'supports'           => array( 'title', 'editor', 'thumbnail', 'excerpt', 'comments', 'revisions', 'custom-fields' ),

    register_post_type( 'et_pb_layout', apply_filters( 'et_pb_layout_args', $args ) );

function remove_et_pb_actions() {
    remove_action( 'init', 'et_pb_register_posttypes', 0 );

add_action( 'init', 'remove_et_pb_actions');
add_action( 'init', 'child_et_pb_register_posttypes', 1 );

Final thoughts

Like many things on my blog I’m primarily putting it here for my own reference, but if you find it useful — or would like to suggest improvements or additional features — please leave a comment below.


Friday 20 March 2015

I meant to say this in the article above. Sometimes WordPress gets a bit muddled when you play around with custom post types.

The way to fix this is to go to Settings > Permalinks > Save Changes.

That’s enough to flush the permalinks and your custom post type should work. I had to do that a couple of times while figuring out how to do this.

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The wait is over, time now to lose the weight Sat, 28 Feb 2015 12:02:24 +0000 Continue reading The wait is over, time now to lose the weight]]> Dumbbells

Between 2006–2007 I lost six inches (15 cm) off my waist, through a combination of changing what I ate, lifting weights, and regular cycling. My motivation was to get fit in anticipation of our IVF treatment working and us having children; we now have three.

Fast forward seven years and sadly I’ve put it all back on again. A combination of being on the parent-of-twins’ sleep deprivation programme, two back injuries (from lifting babies and pushing buggies), two neck injuries (what happens when twins jump onto your head from behind), and last year’s episode of meningitis.

Back in September my GP told me not to push myself: meningitis takes it out of you. He predicted that my stamina might return in January or February of this year. Now we’re approaching the end of February I feel it’s time to start working myself a little harder. The fact that it’s Lent — traditionally a time of increased discipline — should also help.

My plan is that I’m going to start gently and gradually build up my level of fitness. My immediate ground rules are:

  • Drink more water
  • Go to bed earlier (sleep is really important)
  • No chocolate
  • No fizzy drinks
  • Lift weights (dumb bells) 2–3 times a week
  • Cycling 1–2 times a week

I have to admit to feeling a little nervous. I know that I’ve done this before, but back then I was younger and I didn’t so easily experience the back and neck pain that I can now. I’ve never really been good at pacing myself, it’s time for a crash course (I guess, without actually crashing).

I’ll report back with my progress.

]]> 1
Isaac vs Daddy Sun, 22 Feb 2015 22:22:44 +0000 Pocket Tanks for Windows 8.1
Pocket Tanks for Windows 8.1: Isaac 372 – Daddy 0

Isaac (4) challenged me to a game of Pocket Tanks for Windows 8.1 the other day.

I think he’s getting good at it.

Isaac 372 points — Daddy 0

]]> 0
The boys ‘helping’ me with my studies Tue, 17 Feb 2015 08:23:15 +0000 Continue reading The boys ‘helping’ me with my studies]]> Boys on the desk
Reuben, Joshua and Isaac ‘helping’ me with my studies


For the next few days I’m on a course at work looking at DSDM Atern agile project management. It’s certified, so I have exams on Wednesday morning (foundation) and Thursday afternoon (practitioner).

When I got home last night, after dinner, I decided to sneak upstairs and get about 45 minutes of study in before the boys had to go to bed.

It turns out Reuben, Joshua, Isaac and monkey had different ideas and came to ‘help’ me study.

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NYCGB alumni in Sheffield Sun, 15 Feb 2015 17:21:32 +0000 Continue reading NYCGB alumni in Sheffield]]> NYCGB alumni in Sheffield (Photo by Rob Colbert)
NYCGB alumni in Sheffield (Photo by Rob Colbert)

Last weekend I travelled down to Sheffield to meet up with about 40 other alumni of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain ()for a weekend of singing, reminiscing and a lot of laughter.

Last year we had our first get-together and concert in Spitalfields in London, and decided that this year we ought to meet in “the north”.


I arrived in Sheffield on Friday afternoon, after a five hours’ train journey south to reach the north; remarkably there was a direct, cross-country train from Cupar to Sheffield.

After buying a hat (to replace the one I accidentally left in my car in Cupar) and having been accosted by a couple of “chuggers” both on my way to and from Marks & Spencer, I made my way up the hill to Broomhill to check in at the Rutland Hotel on Glossop Road.

Rutland Weekend Wallpaper
Rutland Weekend wallpaper

The room was… interesting. A kind of modern, 70s retro with a photograph of a giant woman’s head on the wall behind the bed. Other friends staying there reported similar photographs in their rooms. I guess you can never really feel lonely in those rooms.

In the evening I met up with my friend Simon (aka Goose) and we took a walk over to the Ranmoor area of Sheffield to meet up with more friends (Mike and Rachel, Duncan, Simon W) at the Ranmoor Inn on Fulwood Road, and yet another friend (Sworrell) at the Ranmoor Tandoori a few doors down.

What fun and jolly japes we had. Although, the chicken dopiaza wasn’t nearly as good as from our local Indian restaurant (the signature onions were not cooked enough). I finally crawled into bed around 01:30.


Rehearsals began shortly after noon, in St Mark’s church, Broomhill which was conveniently right next door to the hotel.

It was so good to catch up with people, some of whom I’ve not seen for 15 or 20 years. And yet we just picked up from where we left off, and soon the years disappeared and there we all were like teenagers again sitting in rehearsals… and misbehaving!

I sat on the back row (of course!) between my good friend Andy and a guy called Will who left the National Youth Training Choir last year. It was so good that we had alumni there from all eras of the choir, from when it started in 1983 right to last year.

Ben Parry conducting our rehearsal
Ben Parry conducting our rehearsal

There is something wonderful about creating music as a choir, creating something out of nothing using only our voices. There is something intimately personal about that because our voices are so unique to each of us, and in the choir we listen to one another and blend our voices together in music. And there is something magical about the sound that NYCGB makes.

We rehearsed for about four hours and I must have smiled and laughed through most of those 240 minutes. The small, informal concert that we put on at the end of the day (which I meant to record but erm… forgot that I needed to press record TWICE on the Zoom H2 digital recorder), even with so little rehearsal, still sounded better than every other choir that I’ve sung in… even when we busked elements of it (I’m looking at you, page 7 of “Butterfly”).

Our programme:

  1. My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land—Elgar
  2. L’amour de Moi—arr. Swingle
  3. Wie Liegt die stadt—Mauersberger
  4. Sourwood Mountain—Rutter
  5. Three Shakespeare Songs—Vaughan Williams
  6. And So It Goes—Billy Joel arr. The King’s Singers
  7. Butterfly—Makaroff
  8. The Bluebird—CV Stanford
  9. Shenandoah—arr. Erb

Songs rehearsed but not performed

  • Hymn to St Cecilia—Britten
  • Evening Song—Kodaly

In the evening we piled back to the Rutland for dinner, which I didn’t particularly enjoy but at the end of the day it wasn’t about the food but the company. We inevitably retired to the bar for more chat, memories, and laughter and I finally found my bed sometime after 02:00.

More photos are on the NYCGB alumni site.


Survivors' breakfast
Survivors’ breakfast

The following morning the survivors’ met for a hearty breakfast before returning to our own particular corners of the UK.

Goose kindly dropped me at Sheffield station where I caught the train to Edinburgh… and stood most of the way due to a lack of seats. Or rather, it had a lot of seats—it’s just there were other people sitting in them.

Many thanks

A huge thanks to everyone who made the weekend possible and such a success. Thanks to Ben Parry and the staff at NYCGB HQ, particularly Emily. Thanks to Mike Jeremiah for his local knowledge and helping finalise the venue. And finally thanks to all the alumni who gave up a weekend to relive their youth.

Next year…

Well, that was fun. Let’s do it again next year. I propose back in London. Maybe we could even get the Royal Albert Hall. It would be fun to perform there again.

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Backpack hack Wed, 04 Feb 2015 22:51:51 +0000 Continue reading Backpack hack]]> Cabin Max Tallinn
Cabin Max Tallinn – Flight Approved Backpack for EasyJet & BA hand luggage

About a year ago I bought myself a new backpack, the Cabin Max Tallinn, for about £25. The reviews were favourable (average of 4/5 stars) and when it arrived I was delighted with it: mainly because it was more compact than the large rucksack that I bought for a trip to California about a decade ago.

I packed it and headed off to Glasgow and then London to seek my fame and fortune attend the first NYCGB Alumni choir singing day. It was a timely opportunity to road test the bag.

That four day trip identified two main issues. This wasn’t quite the bag that I thought it was.

However, I don’t like throwing stuff away, and I don’t like sending stuff back because it’s not 100% what I want it to be. This bag was about 95% the way there. I like the whole computer hacker culture (not to be confused with the illegal ‘cracker’) so…

Open zipped pocket

Zipped pocket that I've now sewn up
Zipped pocket that I’ve now sewn up

The first issue was that in the middle compartment there was a small, meshed pocket with a zip. I looked at that and thought it was the perfect size to store a passport, for example.

There was one small snag: the top of the zip wasn’t sewn down. So even when the zip was closed you could still slide items into the meshed pocket beneath the zip.

Who designed that?! It was like a shirt pocket with a redundant zip sewn into the top seam.

I wrote to Cabin Max and asked if this was a fault or a feature. It turned out to be a feature. I told them this was ridiculous and whoever it was I corresponded with agreed and said that she would pass on my feedback.

So I got my sewing kit out and completed the job: I sewed the zip down so that when the zip was closed it was… well, closed.

No inner straps

Cabin Max Tallinn inner straps
Cabin Max Tallinn inner straps

It wasn’t until a later trip last year that I realised there was another problem: if I didn’t pack the back completely full (as I had done for the London trip) then my clothes and whatever else I put in the large, main compartment just rattles around in there.

What this bag was missing, that every other rucksack or suitcase I own has, were straps inside that would allow me to tie down whatever I place into the main compartment.

So today I added my own. Having bought a couple of quick release tie-down straps online last week—the kind that people use for strapping things to their golf caddies (I believe)—this evening I measured them up (using the straps in my giant rucksack as a template) glued them in and sewed them down. Job done.

This weekend I’m heading to Sheffield for the second NYCGB alumni concert. I’ll report back how I get on with my two alterations to my bag.

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