Yearly Archives of: 2011


The Tricky Decision Of What To Wear To Your Work Christmas Party


I’m sure you’ve been in the same position yourself. Your company Christmas dinner is just a couple of weeks away. The invitation says “dress smart” and the girls in the office have spent what seems like hours talking about the fancy dresses and shoes they’ll be wearing. They’ve also talked about how disappointed they’ll be if any of the guys don’t look like a million dollars. But like me you’re not bothered about that sort of thing – clothes don’t change you on the inside which is why you wear jeans and t-shirts all the time.

You have a wardrobe full of clothes. Ok, I admit it, I have a couple of wardrobes full of clothes. Anyway, the way I thought I’d deal with this situation was to put it to the vote. So I sent the following picture to the girls at work and asked them to decide what I should wear. Click below to see the full sized picture then tell me what you’d go for:

Christmas Outfits (click for full sized picture)

I was secretly hoping the white suit would be the outfit of choice but, no doubt for their amusement, the most popular choice is the Geek, followed by Mr “Caught In The Act”. Interesting!

And yes, I do have too much time on my hands! 😉


Sunshine In North Wales

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Always nice to take a trip to North Wales to visit our friends Ben and Anna. Every time we’ve gone it’s been beautifully sunny so I just assume that’s what it’s like all the time. I have no evidence to the contrary!


St Andrews, A Trip Down Memory Lane


I spent a good few years of my life going to school in St Andrews so took a trip up to meet old friends and wander around. It was incredibly foggy but that just made it more atmospheric!


Belated Birthday Cakes Photo Casebook


It’s been a long time since I put together one of my infamous photo casebooks but I figured I’d waited long enough. So despite trying to keep my birthday a secret from work they found out (damn you Facebook!) and as a result I needed to make the fact that I didn’t buy any cakes up to them…

Birthday Cakes Photo Casebook

As always, if you don’t happen to work with me then the next time you see me in the street, stop me and ask me for the birthday cake that is rightfully yours!

Interesting note: washing lipstick and mascara off is much harder than I’d have guessed.


An Experience Only Counts When It’s Shared


I’ve always tried to have a positive outlook on life and make the most of it when I can. To that end I’ve made a point of spending as much time as I can doing interesting things be they climbing mountains, riding a mountain bike, sitting on tropical beaches, eating at nice restaurants (and some rubbish ones), going to see good (and bad) bands, fishing small rivers in the middle of nowhere, camping in beautiful surroundings, being torrentially rained on while camping and a thousand other things big and small. Rather than spending a life watching TV, staring at a computer screen (now doesn’t count as I’ll switch it off when I’ve written this), I’ve always wanted to go outside and live a life full of experiences.

But experiences alone aren’t what drive me. What matters to me is sharing those experiences with someone else and it’s something I’ve only recently realised I do.

Whenever I go hiking on my own my mind seems to switch into “training mode” and I use it to test and improve my fitness. I’ll have one earphone in listening to podcasts and push myself to my limit (to firstly see what it is) then I’ll keep pushing until I’ve gone to the top, back down and am taking my boots off at my car. I don’t even stop at the summit, I just keep moving along, resting when / if I need to. Sure I’ll take some pictures and admire the scenery, but to me it’s training – all physical and mental.

Contrast that when I do the same hike with someone else. This time there’s no earphones. No test of fitness. No pushing myself (unless I’m hiking with Nick who’s always fitter than I am). And I definitely do stop at the summit. When I’m on my own the objective is the mountain, but when I’m with someone else the aim of the day is to spend time with that person and enjoy that time with them.

Experiences only last a fleeting moment and they’re gone for ever. But the memory of those shared experiences is what stays with you and if I can sit having a pint with that person years from now and re-live them (like getting stuck in a bog and having to crawl out of it) and laugh then that’s what counts. That’s why I love taking photographs – you can capture a shared moment and relive it for years to come (click below to see a full-sized picture of ‘The Many Hairstyles of John’):

Team Photo Montage

I suppose it comes back to the way I make “important” decisions. I picture myself lying on my deathbed decades from now going over my life in my head while staring at the ceiling. When I need to decide something now I try to see it from that point of view – knowing that my life had been lived and I can dispassionately make the right call. In the same way I ask myself what memories will stand out for me? It’s not the mountains or the beaches or the camping or the food or the drink or the bands or cleaning out that blocked sink. It’s not the things themselves, it’s the people I spent those times with. It’s them I’ll remember and the places and events were merely a backdrop to that most important and easily overlooked thing in the 21st century – human contact.

So the next time we’re out for a drink or something to eat, hiking up a mountain, buying a new pair of shoes while I complain that my eyes hurt from the bright store lights or anything else, remember that it’s not a race or a competition for me and what we’re doing doesn’t matter so much. I’m living my life in the moment and sharing that experience with you. And to me that’s all that matters.


A Rest Is As Good As A Rest


The last couple of years has been an absolute whirlwind – mainly in terms of work. Jumping out of the fire into another fire (still looking for that frying pan) meant I’ve barely had time to relax, put my feet up, work on my own software projects, chill out and forget about the pressures of work. So I took a couple of weeks holiday and, going against tradition, decided not to do anything. No foreign travel. No road trips. No plans. No agenda. Just not working and taking each day as it comes.

A Self Portrait Relaxing In The Garden

I reckon I’m getting the hang of it. I should do this more often. 😉


John’s Background Switcher 4.4 Released!


It’s been far too long since I last released a new version of John’s Background Switcher and that’s mostly been as a result of my having precious little free time to work on it. I guess the problem with developing freeware is that working on things that pay the bills (i.e. my normal job) will always be the higher priority. Anyway, my New Year Resolution this year was to dedicate more time to JBS and to build a Mac version so to start making good on that promise 4.4 is now live.

What started out as a bug fix release turned out to include a few new much-requested features and several more languages. Firstly, if you’re running on Windows 7 you can now opt to override the logon screen with your current background (have a look in ‘More Settings’):

Set The Windows 7 Login Screen

You can now customise the fonts on postcards, polaroids, the calendar and anywhere else JBS uses fonts. Since you might want to use different fonts in different places you’ll see font buttons in all the right places in ‘More Settings’. While you’re there take a look at the ‘Montages’ section and the drop-down list highlighted below:

Straight Montages

Also you can opt to have the postcards / polaroids placed at random angles (the default) or all straight (although still at random positions). It’s strangely refreshing to have them straight after all the years of them being at different angles!

Since you could choose a random picture mode I thought it would be handy to choose random processing effects, random snapshot scrapbook backgrounds and so on. Look out for the rolling dice – you’ll find it in most places:

Random Effects

In terms of languages JBS is now available in Russian, Finnish and Hungarian in addition to Japanese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese-Brazilian, Spanish, Traditional Chinese, Polish and Slovenian. Oh and English!

There are a host of bug fixes and other tweaks and changes so check out the full release notes for details. And then go and download John’s Background Switcher!


A Long Weekend In North East Fife

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I took a trip back home over the Royal Wedding weekend to catch up with friends and family. We were blessed with great company and great weather – both of which were most welcome!




When I was a young lad I had an insatiable thirst for knowledge (actually I still do, but more so back then). I read books on everything I could get my hands on – from insects to spiders to atlases to books about space, science, just about anything. I wanted to see what was outside my door and understand everything around me and in the pre-internet, 3 TV channel age that it was, books were the way to go.

One of the books I read that stuck with me was about tsunami through the eyes of a scientist who investigated them and was trying to design ways to defend against them. I think it was actually called ‘Tsunami’. At the time the word ‘tsunami’ wasn’t particularly well-known with the term ‘tidal wave’ being used in its place. Prior to reading the book my mental picture of a tidal wave (tsunami) was of a giant wave (like the sort of thing a pro surfer rides) breaking over land, carrying with it some boats and debris, then just dumping a load of water where previously there was land – I knew that Britain was once connected to Europe by a landmass that was flooded courtesy of a tsunami in the dim and distant past so figured that was the outcome.

On reading the book it turned out I was completely wrong about virtually everything I thought I knew.

Back then there was pretty much no recorded film of a tsunami. This is long before personal video cameras, never mind mobile phones. So the scientist spent his time visiting places that had just been hit and one of his frustrations was seeing the incredible damage caused but having to rely on eyewitness accounts to try to make sense of what actually happened rather than seeing it for himself. Since tsunami are as likely to strike at night, without warning and kill most of the people who encounter them, his information was sparse.

But the things he found to be consistently reported by all people who survived tsunami were then forever embedded in my psyche and came back to haunt me when watching footage of the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 and the recent tragedy in Japan. The first thing I learned was what a tsunami actually is.

Most tsunami occur when an earthquake causes a shift in the ground at the bottom of the sea. We’ve all seen pictures of an earthquake at a fault line splitting roads in two and pushing one side metres up in the air. Tectonic plates don’t care if they’re on dry land or at the bottom of the sea so if one occurs down there and a few miles of ocean floor suddenly finds itself raised upwards then a huge volume of water (all the water above the plate that’s shifted upwards) is displaced in a very short place of time. This causes enormous waves to start propagating outwards from the site of the shift. Except it doesn’t look very big to the observer on the surface.

Normal waves out at sea are caused mostly by the weather (either the wind, warm water mixing with cold or other similar actions). Even large waves are only really on the surface so are at most a few metres in height. However the wave generated by an earthquake starts at the sea bed and stretches to the surface. So instead of being a few metres in height it could be a couple of miles in height. Since earthquakes happen very quickly the resulting wave will be moving at serious speed – up to hundreds of miles per hour. Yet at sea you wouldn’t notice a tsunami wave at all – it would appear on the surface to be a normal wave or waves (there are usually multiple waves generated).

Things get scary when the tsunami waves approach land. As a 2 mile high wave reaches land the depth of the water reduces and this causes a huge build up of water while the wave slows down. Think of a bunch of runners sprinting along a road when they hit a deep muddy section. As they do this they slow down and the faster runners still on dry land quickly catch up and pack together with those wading through the mud – the density of people keeps increasing and it gets pretty crowded. Then when runners get clear of the mud they all spill out at once. In the same way the volume of water moving towards shore starts to build up and that’s where the first and only warning sign is.

The book talked about one telltale sign a tsunami was on its way. Suddenly, without warning and without any noise or fuss, all the water on the beach disappears in a matter of minutes. It’s like someone’s pulled the plug and the sea has drained away. When I watched footage from the 2004 tsunami I could see people standing on the beach looking out at shipwrecks suddenly revealed wondering what was going on. The book I read said in no uncertain terms that if you ever found yourself seeing a similar phenomenon then you should run for high ground as fast as you can, because what comes next will kill you for certain.

The reason the water drains away comes back to that huge wave building up as the tsunami slows down. Water starts to pile up and the usual ebb and flow at the beach gets halted so it all runs back out to sea. Shortly afterwards, instead of a huge surfers wave hitting the beach as I’d imagined, water just starts flowing and flowing and flowing carrying huge momentum. It picks up debris and destroys everything in its wake – particularly man-made. It’ll carry boats, ships, trees, cars, houses and it’s relentless. The scientist often found boats deposited several miles inland and he realised that when the water has extended as far inland as it could, gravity would kick in and it would flow back out to sea again. Some of the debris would be left in place, some of it dragged miles back out to the sea.

Until I read the book I’d imagined a single perfect wave crashing down on the shore. Afterwards I understood the mechanics of what was happening and how instead it made sense to think about it as a surge of a huge volume of water destroying everything in its wake. That there was very little you could do to predict or battle against it. And that your only warning is the sea disappearing. That stuck with me for 20 years.

Watching the footage from the 2004 Boxing Day and recent Japanese tsunami was horrifying for obvious reasons. But to actually see what I read about as a child unfold in front of my eyes knowing the damage it was doing was both fascinating and terrifying. Fascinating because as a child I wanted to see what a tsunami looked like. Terrifying because I was actually getting to see what a tsunami looked like. And it was every bit as bad as I’d imagined.