Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Review

2010 was a very eventful year for me! Not much in quantity, but definitely high in quality! A complete change of home life and work life; both of which for the better!

My first child Ethan was born in April and I've taken many photographs of him and regularly updated Twitter and/or Facebook. It must be an interesting experience being a child today as their daily lives are regularly documented on social networking sites and phone camera photography. I was very much looking forward to being a Dad, but nothing could have prepared me! Now it is the end of the year I couldn't imagine life without him. Flicking back through the photographs I took when he was first born I can't believe how much he has grown!

In July I was made redundant which came as a real surprise to me, I remember one of my work colleagues saying to me "is this your first time?". The good news of this was I got to spend 3 months at home full time with Ethan. I also got to spend some interesting time in the Job Centre in Shettleston, I fondly remember two occasions, the first was being taken to the back of the centre behind thick glass and accompanied by security for an interview on why I missed my signing appointment (I'd been for a job interview in Edinburgh) and my wife being ejected from the Job Centre as she "wasn't a customer" when accompanying me for one of their interviews.

In November I started new work in a completely different industry, one I already had an interest in but didn't know existed commercially; TV recommendations. I think I've settled in quite nicely there and am now working on a customer project.

Despite all this, sadly 2010 ended on a more solemn note as my paternal Grandfather passed away over the Christmas period after a short battle with Cancer. May he rest in peace. Unfortunately, Ethan never got to meet his great grandfather in person and sadly I couldn't arrange to visit before he died.

To summarise:

Best Part: Ethan's Birth
Worst Part: News of Being Made Redundant
Weirdest Part: Being sent a Christmas Card by my ex boss after not hearing from him since August.

Christmas Lights 2010 - 8

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kef KHT 2005.3 with Onkyo TX SR-608

After wanting surround sound for a long time I finally took the plunge with an Onkyo TX SR-608 AV receiver and a KEF KHT 2005.3 speaker package. I originally wanted the Q Acoustics 2000 gloss black cinema pack with speaker brackets, but after speaking to the good people at Home Cinema Centre Edinburgh I found out there were supply difficulties at Q Acoustics and the KEFs would be at the very least equivalent and probably much better.

I wanted wall mounted speakers so my son could not disturb or knock them onto himself when (later) toddling about.

This blog details my experience of the speakers and the setup so that it can be shared with others in similar situations and also so I remember!

My TV is mounted on a long wall above our fireplace and as it was undesirable to have the centre speaker between the TV and fire surround so I was forced to position it above the TV. I angled it down toward the listening area. The left and right speakers have been mounted at the same centre height as the TV which itself is centred about 2 meters from the ground, but equal distance from the TV about 1m away from the centre. The TV is directly in front of the listening/viewing area. The rear speakers were slightly more tricky as they cannot be positioned equidistant from the listening area, but mounted on the side walls as close to the back wall as possible and at the same height as the front speakers.

Everything was finally wired up on Christmas day and all I can say is Wow! This setup is far better than the Rega Brio/Q Acoustic 1010i setup it replaced and I reckon better than the Rega Brio/Tannoy MX3 combo before that.

I first ran the Audyssey 2EQ speaker calibration with a tripod mounted mic, took about 20 minutes and I had to position the mic in 3 different locations. I opted for left of sofa; right of sofa and then a standing position about a meter in front of the sofa for Xbox purposes. I accepted everything it said and I put Star Trek (Blu Ray) on and jumped to the scene where the star ships jump to warp speed toward Vulcan. A nice test of the Kube 2 subwoofer this kit comes with. I also tested with the Christmas Doctor Who which conveniently has a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack from BBC One HD!

I have neighbours so my number one concern was balance of subwoofer level with volume of vocals from the centre speaker. After a few days I settled on the following options:

  • I turned the subwoofer crossover to maximum on the Kube 2 and set it to 80Hz on the Onkyo setup.
  • I overrode the Audyssey 2EQ determined speaker crossovers to 80Hz (as the KEFs use 80Hz crossovers).
  • I set the subwoofer level to -15dB (from -7dB) on the audio menu and then adjusted the volume dial on the Kube 2 to a level where the bass was there but neighbour friendly.
  • I adjusted the centre speaker level to 0dB (from -1dB).
  • Dynamic EQ: OFF
  • Dynamic Volume: OFF
  • For the moment I'm not using any of the THX settings as I found the voices clearer with unprocessed Dolby Digital (Doctor Who) and DTS (Star Trek) whilst keeping the bass and surround levels at a more reasonable level.
Very nice piece of kit and I am sure to update this blog with more settings as I tweak them. There are an awful lot to dial in...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How bailouts work

Thought this was brilliant! It is taken from the blog Bits and Pieces.

It is a slow day in a damp little Irish town. The rain is beating down and the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt and everybody lives on credit. On this particular day a rich German tourist is driving through the town, stops at the local hotel and lays a €100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night. The owner gives him some keys and, as soon as the visitor has walked upstairs, the hotelier grabs the €100 note and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher. The butcher takes the €100 note and runs down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer. The pig farmer takes the €100 note and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of feed and fuel. The guy at the Farmers’ Co-op takes the €100 note and runs to pay his drinks bill at the pub. The pub owner slips the money along to the local prostitute drinking at the bar, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer him “services” on credit. The hooker then rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the hotel owner with the €100 note. The hotel proprietor then places the €100 note back on the counter so the rich traveler will not suspect anything. At that moment the traveler comes down the stairs, picks up the €100 note, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, pockets the money and leaves town.

No one produced anything.

No one earned anything.

However, the whole town is now out of debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism.

And that friends, is how the bailout package works!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


In August 2010 I was made redundant from my work of 8 years at Virtual-Mirrors Ltd (also known as Innova Clothing). We were given the news on Monday July 26th during our usual weekly meeting. Frustratingly a decision had been made to cease trading the week before (July 22nd) without informing the staff so they all worked afterwards oblivious. On the Monday Patrick Gardner (Managing Director of Virtual-Mirrors Ltd) assured us he was going to try to find a buyer for Virtual-Mirrors but told us there was no money to pay our July salaries. He gave himself 2 weeks to let us know.

This post describes my state of mind and how I coped over the following few months.

I was in shock at this news; it was my son's first day at nursery and we'd planned everything except this. After calling my wife I wondered into my bank to ask what help I could receive, not much it would seem.

We were never told why Virtual-Mirrors (VML) ceased trading (and will never know), something to do with a failed Harvey Nichols presentation I believe. My immediate reaction was to get myself on the market and either start my own business or see if I could slide into a similar role.

That afternoon my wife and I went for a walk around Drumpellier Loch this was good to clear my head and I was soothed by the fresh air and the Cygnets. During this walk I received a call from Patrick explaining he'd been over gloomy during the meeting and he had a "good afternoon" talking to his shareholders. I sent a short essay to Patrick explaining why I'd worked for Virtual-Mirrors with some ideas I had for its future and was asked in for a meeting in the office. We talked about the potential and Patrick seemed to suggest it could solve a lot of problems.

By this point I was really beginning to believe a buyer could be found and I could continue working for Patrick/VML. I had a feeling of optimism.

However, to keep my options open I had a CV which I'd prepared after university so I dusted it off and added some of the work experience I'd gained at VML. Since I had worked from home with VML, I knew I'd need to work 5 days a week in an office which meant putting my son into full time nursery - an additional (expensive) cost along with commuting. Foolishly I added these costs onto my previous salary and started advertising for a higher salary. I got some response, but not a lot.

Over the following weeks I worked on my CV and generated various renderings and a portfolio of some of the graphics work I'd completed all on the same computer and in the same room as I'd worked previously. I even had "lunch breaks" during the same hours when I worked from home. To stop this, after completing work on my CV I halted further graphics/rendering work and took a step back from my main computer. This gave me a much better opportunity to clear my head.

I was also beginning to really worry about our existing debt, so I called various companies and explained the situation; they were all very nice and most of the companies (except BT) offered a month (or more) breathing space with bills. We really needed my salary.

Personally, I hate wasted effort and since January I'd been rewriting VML's visualisation code and adding new enhancements which I was really excited about - but none of this had been realised on VML's shop website. The potential of not seeing this work to fruition was upsetting me and given hindsight probably my main reason for helping Patrick where possible.

Until hearing news, my wife and I took regular walks around Drumpellier Loch. After a week we received an email stating something is possible and we could be paid our July salaries in the middle of August. I requested confirmation whether this would actually happen to which I was told it was more of might - but maybe not. Basically it was a 'non email' giving Patrick another week. During this uncertain time I had kept in touch with some colleagues; however, it was clear each had been told a slightly different story, we talked to each other and found there was no clear truth as to what was happening or future plans. I met up and got to know some of my ex-colleagues on a more personal footing which was a good experience - and I think helped.

On Sunday 15th August I received a text message from a coworker explaining P45s were being sent out. I contacted Patrick who explained he was preparing to officially make everyone redundant as the prospect of a new buyer was not likely. Patrick told me he was going to try and sell the tailoring technology, I asked about the visualisations where I was told nothing had been advertised about this area of software since our meeting in July. It was at this point I realised I'd been spending 3 weeks hoping and helping VML for nothing.

By this time I'd started Infant Massage classes with my (then) 4 month old son which helped divert my attention away from redundancy.

On Monday 17th August I met up with a recruiter in town who discussed my CV and employment options. Whilst I was still very much in shock, this helped me come to terms with my unemployment and so began my job search. I created a LinkedIn profile and updated my CV.

By now my wife had returned to work from her maternity leave and I was for the first time ever, a house husband with a baby. I signed on for Job Seekers Allowance and at the end of the month we'd arranged a meeting with Glasgow City Council regarding our finances.

Our representative at Glasgow City Council was very helpful, gave great advice and I walked away feeling much better. We opened new bank accounts which felt like a fresh start and for the first time since marriage my wife and I had our incomes (albeit mine a benefit) paid into the same account!

Around this time I started to evaluate my salary expectations and balance them against the market. I lowered my salary desire and took a much more constructive attitude to job seeking. I managed to get two job interviews one of which led to a second round of interviews.

Toward the end of September we had a family weekend camping break away in Cobleland (Aberfoyle). This was really refreshing - although I tainted it by filling our diesel van with petrol. I put this down to stress and eventually got over the cost. I returned from this trip to go immediately to a second interview in Edinburgh.

Unfortunately I was not successful for either of the positions I'd interviewed for.

During October not much happened on the job front, but I had significantly improved my state of mind. I realised I was loving time at home with my son and took active steps to move my computer out of my 'manden' and into the living room. This also helped me get over VML as I no longer felt like I was working from home when using the computer. All work software was removed; Innova prints and business cards removed; desktop backgrounds changed and I installed games on my PC. October also saw my redundancy payments arrive which helped me finalise my time with Virtual Mirrors. I started to enjoy life and time with my son. I found it hilarious on one occasion when my wife was kicked out of the Job Centre because she accompanied me to an interview there. During October I had a number of calls from recruiters but nothing seemed to materialise.

During November I received a call regarding a job in Paisley, it looked very interesting and I wanted to be put forward. This led to a phone interview on Tuesday 9th November for which I was invited for a face to face interview the following Friday; however, during the Tuesday afternoon the first recruiter I met in August contacted me about the very first job I wanted to apply for and I asked to be put forward again. I got an interview for this new position on Thursday and received an offer that afternoon which I accepted. I had to cancel the Friday interview and so commenced a new stage of my life!

Looking back I thoroughly enjoyed by time with my son and often said if I had to be made redundant, I would have chosen exactly then. I received a lot of support from my family for which I am very grateful for, but it still took sometime for me to properly realise that there are far worse things that could happen.

The week before I started working for my new employer we put my son in full time nursery for three days. Whilst I'd gotten used to doing housework in the past few months, I found these days very difficult, the house seemed too quiet and I lacked enthusiasm for housework, games or TV. I would have hated the last 3 months like this. I am glad I had my son to keep me company and play games.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cobleland Camping September 2010

For the September weekend this year Louise and I decided we should go away - this would also be my first holiday of 2010 and a welcome break since my redundancy. We opted for Cobleland Campsite which is a short drive away especially since it would be our first camping trip with Ethan!

We travelled up on the Friday which started poor due to me accidentally filling the van with petrol rather than diesel and calling to have the van towed to a decontamination centre in Polmadie. It would appear to be quite a common mistake if a company can run a facility 24 hours a day just for this... A very costly mistake which I eventually got over. This only delayed us by 4 hours which wasn't too bad. We arrived at the campsite late on Friday around 9pm when it was too cold to sit outside, but I set up the Gazebo, table and chairs ready for the following day's barbecuing.

This break also gave us our first test of the new pull out bed we'd designed and built over the last few months. The bed worked fine - a few teething issues, but nothing that can't be solved. We were also testing a new water filling system with an external filler cap which I fitted last week.

The Saturday was warm and we mainly spent the day lazing about; later that night we played a travel version of Monopoly which was incredibly fiddly. Louise won, but I suspect this may have been due to her accidentally dropping the bank's pile of cash onto her own. Though Louise does claim she lost a 500 out of it...

During the night the temperature dropped to below zero which was a worry to us since we had Ethan in the van, thankfully the insulation did its job and the inside temperature stayed reasonable (admittedly we did shore up some of the doors and windows with blankets). We'll be fitting a blow heater later in the year which will make a big difference.

Cobleland Campsite September 2010 - 01

Sunday morning was outing day where I got up very early and took a few pictures of the van at sunrise, got a few good pics with the moon in frame too. We travelled up to Aberfoyle where we parked and had a walkabout with hundreds of other tourists wondering why people went there - all we could find that was useful was a butcher and a co-op so we could restock the van for dinner and fry up breakfast the next day. The weather was incredibly good - people were wondering around in shorts and T-shirts which was bizarre given the overnight temperature. We then travelled over the Dukes Pass and around the Forest Drive - mainly to stop to have lunch, but the chilli for nachos we planned was still frozen so we had to cook it in the oven, instead we completed the drive and on around Loch Achray for another nice place to stop and eat. Here we got out with Ethan in his camouflage dungarees and assisted his steps in the grass!

Sunday night wasn't as cold as Saturday, but we were up early as I had an interview to get to in Edinburgh. I BBQd breakfast then packed away the van.

Other than the start it was a very relaxing weekend!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Twitter for News

I've been reading Twitter now for some time and have found it increasingly useful for obtaining news and information relevant to me. For example I've got a better feeling about what events are happening in the city where I live and other significant events. I also subscribe to many RSS feeds using Google Reader.

As an experiment I've removed many of my subscriptions in Google Reader and subscribed to people who have similar interests as me (and a few breaking news feeds) to see if I can live without Google Reader for my daily news fix.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Barry John Williams is on LinkedIn

I've just created a LinkedIn profile for myself. I'm very impressed with LinkedIn which is a social network for professionals. Through some business contacts I've met over the years I'm able to access hundreds of people similar skilled to myself. This also helps in my current employment position as I can find desirable companies much easier and quicker than Google.

I like to keep my CV and LinkedIn profile separate (barring introduction and previous job) as I'm constantly changing my CV, but perhaps I should put all my projects on LinkedIn too...

Here is the guide I used for setting up my profile: Ten ways to use LinkedIn

Quick plug for My LinkedIn profile.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Innova Clothing is Dead


I've been working for a company called Virtual-Mirrors Ltd (also Innova Clothing) for 8 years; a digital clothing project where women could be scanned; browse virtual images on a clothing catalogue style website changing styles and fabrics to taste and then having that garment made specifically to fit their bodyshape.

I worked on the website visualisations and alongside had visions of using tools like Microsoft Kinect to bring this technology into the living room. My idea used motion tracking to provide a virtual mirror catalogue with live cloth to preview the garments on your avatar with facility to order them directly. Another gimmick was a garment studio to allow you to have fun making your very own garment from smaller components of all the styles (even though it probably could not be sewn).

Alas, this has all gone to waste as I received notice the company has run out of money and can no longer fund development so it looks like none of this will ever be!

I wrote the software behind these visualisations and the web service to composite these images together (you could see different garments with each other on the same bodymodel). The modelling work for the styles and cloth were performed in 3D Max and rendering via Renderman.

I've created a portfolio of some of the work I've done for Virtual Mirrors (or more recently known as Innova Clothing) and uploaded them to Flickr! for prosperity.

Looks like time to spend some quality time with my 3 month old son whilst my wife goes back to work!

In the meantime, here is a plug for my CV which contains more detailed descriptions of the work I did along with the portfolio images.

Farewell Innova Clothing / Virtual-Mirrors Ltd it was fun!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Latest reply from John Mason MP ref Digital Economy Bill

As I understand it, they will drop all controversial parts of the Bill and only proceed with non-contentious issues. They do not have time to debate controversial issues. It is only at second reading stage which is relatively early on. If the Party Whips are deciding things, I think that means just Labour and Tory as they do not have much regard for anyone else!

We had a similar situation with the Child Poverty Bill this week and the Equality Bill is also going through the same process. Although they were further on.

I will certainly keep an eye on what is happening.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Response from my local MP ref Digital Economy Bill

I received a response from my local MP, John Mason MP. Some good and bad points, first John "will generally vote against Government measures to curtail debate" which I take it as John Mason will vote for a debate before the bill is passed.

Sadly though, it looks like the SNP are following the lead of Pete Wishart MP who cannot be acting independently in this matter as he is contracted to the music industry and therefore has commercial interest in this bill being pushed through.

Pete Wishart MP (Digitial Economy Bill section) on Open Rights Group Wiki

This is a stock reply as my wife filled out a form via 38 degrees ( and received exactly the same response.

Thanks for your email.

As I am not the SNP's spokesperson on this subject I will be guided by the line the Party is taking. Our spokesperson is Pete Wishart MP. I will certainly feed in the comments you are making as our group considers its position.

My own comments would be that I agree this should not be rushed through by the Government. I have seen a number of pieces of legislation during my time at Westminster that have not been properly considered or given adequate time for debate. You can take it that the SNP MPs including myself will generally vote against Government measures to curtail debate.

On the question of copyright I think there is a balance to be struck. It is long established that writers of books and composers of music should be protected for a certain length of time. If this did not happen, presumably no one would be able to afford to write a book or compose music. However, I do agree that such protection has to be reasonable.

I must admit I am very suspicious of the motives of huge companies like Google and Yahoo. Their primary aim is maximising their profit and I fear a lot of ordinary people get hurt in the process. Just as censorship applies to films at the cinema, I do think there needs to be some control over the digital economy. Facebook seem to have been taking a somewhat irresponsible line recently. If individuals and companies cannot exercise some degree of self-control, then I think there is a role for government to get involved.

I hope this explains my thinking a bit, however, I am certainly not an expert in this area. Feel free to come back to me on any point.

Yours sincerely

John Mason

Member of Parliament for Glasgow East - Ball-Pàrlamaid airson Glaschu an Ear
Scottish National Party - Pàrtaidh Nàiseanta na h-Alba
888 Shettleston Road, Glasgow G32 7XN

Blog migrated to Blogger Custom Domain

I've been holding off migrating my blog until I'd read up on everything. I created my blog years ago before Blogger (it was not owned by Google then) could host a blog on a domain other than and have been using Blogger's FTP service since.

Google are removing this method of Blog publishing from the 1st May and today I went ahead to use their new migration tool. My blog URL has had to change from to, but it works and took less than 15 minutes. Google goes through and updates my old blog (still at to add redirects so links will always work and point to the new location. I was considering moving to Wordpress, but my hosting company doesn't support MySQL or PHP with the package I use.

Thumbs up to Google for making this straight forward and retaining all my old posts and links!

Now I want to change my blog template...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This blog has moved

This blog is now located at
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Don't rush through the Digital Economy Bill

I’ve just written to my MP telling them why I am concerned that the Digital Economy Bill could be rushed through without a full Parliamentary debate.

Will you write to your MP too and tell them why the government shouldn’t rush through these draconian laws.

It only took two minutes:

Monday, March 15, 2010

I'm an Idiot

Whilst randomly flicking through XKCD and came along the following cartoon which reminded me of something which happened a few years ago to myself:

Sometime in February 2003 (possibly 18th Feb):

Came in from work at 6:30, sat down to watch Star Trek on BBC2. After Star Trek, realised I was hungry and had a look in the cupboards, not much selection, but enough to make a nutritious meal. But, no bread, that means no breakfast tomorrow and no packed lunch - I could go to Safeway to buy a takeaway curry, a few bits of frozen food and some bread. Right off I go.

Safeway - pick up a full basket load of stuff, buy it and catch the train back home. No keys. I left them on the desk in the flat, ok, spare keys, on the bottom shelf of the TV Cabinet, damn. Ok, phone a friend, battery is dead on phone, don't know any phone numbers....

Right, back to Safeway - sorry we are shut - ok then. Get back to flat, security door locked. Leave food in garden, get neighbour to buzz me in. Try to break in using movie tricks, failed. Ok, to the police station. "Sorry, gone are the days we can break your door in, but here is the phone number of someone who will". Hmmm

(Brainwave). All my phone numbers are stored on my work machine which is switched on and running VNC. Need to find somebody with an internet connection - VMLs technical directory, excellent. Internet connection not working properly.... found a computer that works. The "2" key and "w" key not working, both are required for connecting to computer - use desktop icons as a resource for "cut and paste" to create URL and Password. Connected. Phone friend and arrange to stay over.

Collect frozen shopping from Garden and take it to friends house. At last somewhere to sleep. I left the tinned food and pizza in the garden. I made sure that I left it in the back garden which doesn't get the morning sun, therefore remaining cold from the nights frost!!

Go to letting agents, agency has moved to a different location. Ok then, walk some more. "We don't hold the keys here you'll have to go to our head office in Canniesburn Toll". Right, begin long walk to East Dumbartonshire (found a bus that goes there, hoorah).

Finally I get back in. And food is still in the garden!!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Quick Review of 2009

Wow! It is February already and I haven't posted anything on my blog for a while... I better post a quick overview of my 2009. I like to make postings like this as I use the blog as a kind of diary for me to read over in years time.

2009 saw my increased use of Twitter and Facebook. The result of which is decreased blogging.

In May I had my Gallbladder removed, I've had pains which I can trace back to when I was 15 at school. Severe enough for a number of visits to A&E, one of which they noticed unusual blood enzyme levels the investigation into which diagnosed my condition. Whilst this investigation started in 2008 I only requested to be added to the waiting list in February 2009 and had my operation a few months later in May (delayed to the need for an MRCP scan). They called me up and asked if I could go in on a particular Friday, this would have meant missing my prebooked showing of the new Star Trek movie so I requested I have it one week later which they agreed to!! It took a number of weeks for me to fully recover, but I have never felt better! I never realised how much pain I was in until it was gone!

As a bonus I got to watch the Star Trek movie twice at the Imax as I won tickets through Forbidden Planet too!

When our campervan conversion insurance was due we were asked if we had our V5 document updated from "Panel Van" to "Motorhome", we hadn't so we lodged the change request in with the DVLA and were asked to appear for an inspection at the VOSA inspection centre in Bishopbriggs. We got our updated V5 a few weeks later with our camper conversion now official! To celebrate this I treated the van to a some new overhead cupboard fascias and a rebuild of the frame structure to make them more sturdy.

In July we took a 3 week Campervan holiday through Europe to Spain.

On return to Scotland we found out Louise was pregnant which we were both delighted at. Our due date is in May 2010 and I cannot wait! Since then we have slowly been getting pieces together and converting our back bedroom into a nursery, this also meant I get my own room which I have dubbed a Manden. I can now put my posters up on the wall without Louise complaining! We now have loads of baby stuff and a few outfits.

On October 23rd, the company I work for had their official launch event - we had had a few false starts before this event so it was difficult for me to pluck up the enthusiasm prior to this, but I was surprised on the day itself and happy to see everything finally being made available to the public.

We spent Christmas 2009 at my brother-in-law's house in Bristol and enjoyed a snowy walk through a nearby park.