Jul 302009

Although Edinburgh is a small city, there are a huge number of things to do. If you’re only here for a few days, here are my top ten things you have to do!

Edinburgh Castle from the Vennel

Edinburgh Castle from the Vennel

1. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh is internationally famous for its Castle built on a crag of volcanic dolomite rock at the top of the Royal Mile and overlooking the whole city.  Go before 1pm and get a good view of the ‘One O’Clock Gun’ which fires every day except Sunday. See the Scottish Crown Jewels, the beautiful chapel, the huge Mons Meg cannon and much more. If you are here during the festival (August) you may be able to catch the Edinburgh Military Tattoo on the Esplanade.

2. Ghost Tour

Edinburgh has about 6 tour companies who do history and ghost walks of the city – but they vary in quality. My advice would be to avoid the free tours – they don’t go anywhere you can’t go on your own and will waste a few hours of your day! If you do decide to take a free tour, check your guides credentials early – see if they really know about the city or are just going to feed you a script! The other tours are all good – Auld Reekie, Mercat Tours, City of the Dead, Mary Kings Close, The Witchery Tours – you won’t be disappointed with any of them! City of the Dead is, of course, the scariest by far! Disclaimer: I user to work for City of the Dead (tell them Lesault sent you!), these views are mine and not necessarily those of City of the Dead!

Arthur's Seat

Arthur's Seat

3. Arthur’s Seat

A beautiful Highland Landscape only a few minutes walk from the centre if Edinburgh. A climb to the top isn’t too hard (if I can make it, anyone can!) Arthur’s Seat is another extinct volcano, it’s in the beautiful Holyrood park and gives an amazing view of the city. If you don’t fancy climbing all the way to the top, you can get similar views from the Salisbury Crags which are a good bit lower and a much easier walk. Also worth seeing is the ruined St Anthony’s Chapel perched above St Margaret’s Loch. Take a sandwich with you and enjoy the view of the city and the Firth of Forth to the north.

4. National Museum of Scotland

If you’re after a bit more culture, you can’t beat the museum. The Story of Scotland’s land, people and culture. The adjoining Royal Museum is slowly being reopened bit by bit after its renovation and promises to be an amazing attraction in 2011 when it fully reopens. See Dolly the sheep (although, once you’ve seen one clone you’ve seen them all!), Viking and Pictish artifacts and more modern exhibits like Jackie Stewart’s Formula 1 Car.

Palm house - Photo by Lawmurray

Palm house - Photo by Lawmurray

5. Royal Botanic Garden

If you like plants and the outdoors, you could easily spend a full day here looking at all the exotic plants. It’s free to get into, but it’s worth paying the small supplement to get into the Victorian Palm House and the other glasshouses which join onto it. There’s a petrified tree nearby which is really interesting and I especially liked the Chinese Hillside, although there are many themed areas to visit.

6. Camera Obscura

A fantastic exhibition of Illusions and Holograms just outside Edinburgh Castle.  One of the largest exhibitions of holograms in Europe – there is plenty to see on the way up the stairs to the Camera Obscura which sits on top of the building and is a landmark in its own right. The Camera Obscura was the height of Victorian technology and has been entertaining visitors for over 150 years. A mirror and system of lenses project a moving image of edinburgh onto a round table in the centre of the room. You get a humorous and knowledgable guided tour of edinburgh without moving from your seat. Fabulous views of the castle, city and Forth.

7. Roslynn Chapel

About 40 minutes by bus (Lothian #15) from Edinburgh. The Rosslyn Chapel has been made very famous recently by the Da Vinci Code book and film so it tends to be much busier now than it was a few years ago, but it is definately worth the trip. See how many ‘Green Man’ carvings you can count, and find the carvings of maize which prove America was visited by the Scots before Columbus!

8. Bus Tour

One of the best ways of seeing a lot of the city and to get from place to place is with a bus tour. The buses leave from Waverly Bridge near the train station. My advice it to choose one of the tours with a live guide rather than one with a prerecorded tour and headphones. The live guides know their stuff, are witty and can answer any questions you have. Check out which attractions each bus takes you to and choose the best one for you – you can get on and off the bus as often as you like in a 24 hour period and can go round the route as many times as you want. I still try to do one of these tours every year or so and always learn something new.

9. Edinburgh Zoo

A short bus journey out of the City Centre will take you to Edinburgh Zoo. Over 1000 animals, the Zoo specialises in rare and endangered species. The Budongo Trail lets you get really close to Chimpanzees, there is a penguin parade which is worth seeing. My tip is to see teh feeding of the Steller Sea Eagles – these are huge birds of prey and extremely impressive when in flight. The rhinos are huge too – see if you can catch them fighting!

10. Surgeon’s Hall Museum

Open weekdays 12pm-4pm (with longer hours during the festival), this is the weirdest museum I have visited. It presents the history of surgery with emphasis on Edinburgh’s contribution. There is also an exhibition of sports medicine, a Sherlock Holmes exhibition, and a history of dentistry. But, my favourite part is the pathology museum – all sorts of diseased body parts in jars! Brilliant! Plan for about 2 hours to see all the exhibits.

11. Walk around the Old Town

Ok, I said top-ten, but you’ll do this one anyway getting from place to place. Edinburgh’s Old Town is amazing – it’s the reason I like Edinburgh so much. The main street, the Royal Mile, runs from the castle at the top, to the palace at the bottom. Many narrow ‘closes’ branch off from the main street and are worth exploring. Check out the views you get between the buildings, often you get a stunning view of Arthur’s Seat, or the New Town. I especially like how the Old Town is on so many levels with so many bridges.. go and explore!

Jul 302009


On the recommendation of @tinyblob on twitter, I subscribed to graze.com‘s healthy-food-in-a-box-by-post service. They offer a variety of fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, savoury snacks, natural treats and olives, all packaged in a brown card box (100% recyclable, made of wood from a sustainable forest) -” just real food, no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives”. You choose what days you want boxes delivered each week and they post them out to arrive on the day you specify.

They have a nice system where you can browse the foods they offer and ‘bin’ any items you don’t like – fresh pineapple went straight in the bin for me! – and they won’t send you any of that item. You can also tell them you love particular items and they will send you more of that thing.

Each box is  nutritionally balanced, and tailored to your likes and dislikes. My first (free)box should arrive on Tuesday and another on Thursday. I’m looking forward to eating healthily for a change!

I’m getting healthy food sent to me by graze.com. This is supposed to make me healthier, but now I don’t even need to walk as far as the vending machine!

Get your first Graze box free by entering my ‘Feed your Friends’ code D2W5PT5 at Graze.com

Jul 282009

Often when you buy a new PC or laptop, you don’t get the operating system on CD in order to reinstall it if you hit any problems. Instead, they have a hidden partition on the hard drive which contains all the system software – if you need to restore the PC, you hit one of the function keys while the computer is booting and it takes you into a recovery program. If you wipe your hard drive, though, you can lose that partition and you’re left without an operating system.

If you bother reading the manual it’ll probably have instructions for creating recovery media – you really should do this as your first action, it’ll save lots of messing about later.

Suppose the worst has come to the worst, you’ve deleted the partition and haven’t burned any recovery disks.

vista_labelOn a PC which comes with Vista installed, you’ll find a blue, green and pink sticker on it somewhere with a 25 digit product key (XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX). If the sticker mentions the brand of your PC (Dell, Advent, HP etc) then you have an OEM version of the software. If it doesn’t you probably have the full retail version and likely have a boxed Vista installation disk somewhere.

In my case, I had an Advent OEM product key. I had a full retail version of Vista (Home Premium Upgrade version) which I had bought to upgrade an XP machine a while ago. The good thing is that the Vista installation disk actually contains all versions of the OS – the product key supplied with the disk is what determines which version of the software you can install. I tried installing Vista using the OEM product key from the bottom of my laptop, but it was rejected as not being a valid key!

After much trial and error, I found a solution. A non-profit organization called Neosmart have produced a Vista recovery disk which is intended to allow you to restore from backups if you don’t have an installation disk. It appears to be the installer from the official Vista disk repackaged. It doesn’t contain any of the files which would be required to install a complete working Vista system though.

Windows Vista 32-Bit (x86) Recovery Disc

Download the iso file from the link above (you may need to Google to find a working download link) – it’s about 120MB in size,  and burn it to a CD using your favourite CD creation software – I used the excellent and free InfraRecorder and boot your failed PC from this disk.

Vista Recovery Disk Welcome Screen

Vista Recovery Disk Welcome Screen

Choose your language and location and then take the install option. You will be prompted at this point for your product key. At this point, eject the recovery CD and insert your Full Retail disc. Enter the product key from the sticker on your PC (don’t use an illegal one – it probably won’t work and you’ll soon have black helicopters circling your house, and guilt is a terrible thing to live with anyway)

The product key should be happily accepted and the Operating System will install as normal. Once the OS has installed, follow the wizard and set up your Admin user etc.

Once you are at the desktop go to the start menu, right-click on ‘computer’ and choose properties. Scroll down to the Windows activation section and you should see something like ‘3 days until automatic activation. Activate now‘. If you have an internet connection try activating by clicking the link – in my case this did not work. If this happens to you, choose the ‘automated telephone line‘ activation method. This will involve calling a toll-free number and entering the 54(!) numbers from the activation wizard using your phone, then typing the 48(!) numbers read out to you on the phone – this will result in an activated, legal copy of Vista.

Vista Phone Activation

Vista Phone Activation

Now make an image of your freshly installed system so you don’t have to go through all this next time!
– I recommend Driveimage-XML

Please leave me a comment if you found this useful!

Jul 152009

A couple of years ago, I got a Nokia N-95 mobile phone with a piece of software installed which would read 2d barcodes knows as ‘QR Codes’ (The QR stands for Quick Response). QR Codes were developed by Japanese corporation Denso-Wave in 1994 and were initially used for tracking parts for a car manufacturer. They can store 4,296 alphanumeric characters (or 7,089 numbers) – much better than the standard 10 digits you get with a ‘normal’ barcode.
The codes are very popular in Japan as most people have a smart phone, and any smart phone equiped with a camera can read and decode the matrix. They are used to store URLs, phone numbers, addresses etc. and are often seen next to contact details in adverts in magazines. They can even be used as billboard adverts to be read at a distance. This allows mobile users to access your website without typing in URLs.

A giant QR Code linking to a website, to be read with a mobile phone.

A giant QR Code linking to a website, to be read with a mobile phone.

Photo by Nicolas1981

It occurred to me that 4,296 characters is easily enough to write a short, informative description of a place of interest, and include a URL which could be clicked for more information.

This would integrate nicely with a blog where you could have a post describing a place and its history, other interesting areas nearby etc. The excerpt could be encoded as a QR code and printed as a sticky label (as small as possible so it is not intrusive) and stuck on a post/wall/information board at the physical location. This would allow any visitor to the area to read the excerpt without an internet connection. The excerpt would contain a link to the full article on the blog and the comments fields could be used by visitors to record their experiences and recommendations of other places to visit.

As more mobile phones have the ability to read these codes, I think this could be a really useful tool for visitors to a city. A nice crossover between the physical and virtual world!

Jul 142009

WordPress have released a bug-fix update to WordPress which fixes many bugs and tightens up security which was allowing certain plug-ins to leak information to unprivaleged users. Not all plugins were affected, but it is recommended that all WordPress users upgrade at their earliest opportunity.

There are reports that the dashboard in the new version is much faster than in 2.8.0, but I haven’t noticed a huge difference. I used the automatic upgrade path without any problem – all my plugins worked fine after the upgrade and the theme is unchanged.

Jul 102009
German style jeweller's saw frame

German style jeweller's saw frame

I think it would be extremely satisfying to turn a length of plain silver wire into a beautiful bracelet, so it’s time to try making my own silver jump rings. I’ve ordered a Jeweller’s saw, blades and (for fashion reasons only) a clip on loupe from TickInTime. Tickintime has been great so far, he quickly answered my question about combined shipping costs and invoiced me about 2 minutes after I asked for a total price. If they arrive safely, he definitely gets my vote as a top EBay seller.

I’ll hopefully be able to find some silver wire in town and will take Daws‘ suggestion of using knitting needles as mandrels. 144 blades should keep me going for a while, but I really have no idea how often these extremely thin blades will break.

Classy looking loupe!

Classy looking loupe!

I didn’t order any files yet, and I suspect there will be burrs on all the cuts which will need to be removed – I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Having looked at the price of silver wire online, it looks like I’m not going to save any money by making my own links but I am really looking forward to making everything from basic materials.

I’m off to sit by the letterbox an wait for the postie.

Update: 09:33 11/07/09 Items have been shipped – more great service!

Update: 10:00 13/07/09 Items arrived safely! – thanks Tickintime!

Jul 082009
Byzantine Chain in Sterling Silver

Byzantine Chain in Sterling Silver

A schoolfriend of mine who now lives in Australia has recently been posting some extremely impressive photos of silver jewelery he has been making from scratch. He has designed his own workbench with various size mandrels for winding his own silver wire to make links for his chains. He has been experimenting with many different patterns of joining the links to make some beautiful and intricate jewelery. He has inspired me to have a go myself. Rather than winding and cutting my own links, I thought I’d buy a bunch of links to see if I enjoyed chain making.

After spending a few hours online looking for good reviews of link makers, I settled on the DragonFly Company who had lots of positive testimonials and are based in the UK. I ordered a small batch of jump rings – 200 x 2.75mm x 0.8mm in sterling silver (about £12 including postage). While I waited for them to arrive, I bought a clasp and two pairs of jewelers’ pliers from Helios Fountain which also has a huge range of beads, baubles and bling which I might use in future projects.

2 days later, my package from the Dragonfly Company arrived – A DVD box-sized cardboard box containing a tiny ziploc bag of 200 super-shiny silver jump rings which it turns out are hand made to order and then tumble polished before they are sent out. I also received a very cute dragonfly charm as a free gift – nice touch! and all safely wrapped in tissue paper.

I’d been looking online for sites which would explain the different chain patterns and picked up all sorts of tips on the best way to open and close the links. There are hundereds of sites dedicated to chainmaille which show many different patterns of chain. I decided to bite the bullet and go for a reasonably complicated one to start with, a Byzantine chain.

Following the diagrams at Maille Artisans, I struggled to hold the tiny ring with the pliers and dropped the whole thing on numerous occasions but, after spending a bit of time with it and building up some muscle memory, the whole thing got a bit easier and actually became quite relaxing. As the weather was so nice, I popped the tiny chain, the links and the pliers in the cardboard box and headed out to Greyfriars’ to sit in the sun and finish the chain. After a few hours work, it was complete – I’d used all 200 links without wasting any and the chain fit perfectly round my girlfriend’s wrist.

I’m delighted that my first chain was a success, and after tidying up a few dodgy joins it looks pretty professional. I’m now looking for something else to make – possibly a necklace with a couple of different patterns or a chainmaille ring.

I’m also trying to decide whether it is worth the effort of making the jump rings myself, or just continue buying them from a professional who knows what they are doing and makes links with a precision saw and very tight tolerances. I think it would be very satisfying to know that I had made every part of the chain… anyone know how to make silver wire from a lump of silver?

Do you have any suggestions for a nice challenging second chainmaille project? Leave me a comment with your suggestions!

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Jul 072009
Lesault as a Zombie

Lesault as a Zombie

Filmmaker Antony Lane is attempting to revolutionize the way films are funded here in the UK, by putting some life back into an almost dead film industry. In a quirky new concept Antony has launched an epic film fundraising website called “THE INDYWOOD MOVIE PROJECT“. His goal is to independently raise the £100,000 budget needed to make his debut feature film “INVASION OF THE NOT QUITE DEAD” which is already being tipped as one of 2010’s most anticipated horror movies. In only 60 days of fundraising he has already raised nearly £8,000

When the project originally launched In November 2007 Antony was able to make headline news with his Guinness World Record attempt at a zombie gathering in the city centre of Cardiff, this made national TV news, giving the project a huge level of media attention.

Some of Hollywood’s top film-makers have backed Antony’s enterprising film project including Kevin Pollak, James Gunn, Lloyd Kaufman, Tom Savini, David Hess, Leslie Simpson, Warwick Davis and the infamous Ken Russell who has agreed to take on the role of consulting executive producer.

“Invasion Of The NOT QUITE Dead” has already become a cult sensation across the internet even before entering pre-production, due to a year long marketing campaign which has reached out to the Zombie fans of the world, giving them nothing more than a poster and synopsis, but at the same time whetting their appetite for more. Within less than a year of promoting the movie Antony has managed to get the film advertised on two of Europe’s leading online DVD rental stores as well as being featured on several theatrical blockbuster lists for 2010.

Classed as NOT QUITE a Zombie movie, fans of the genre will not be disappointed with the direction Antony has decided to take with his new Zombie horror franchise.

On the fundraising front, Antony has teamed up with visual arts studio DESTINATION CREATION to give every customer to the project a complete photo Zombie makeover, making it the only place on the net to get yourself transformed into the undead without getting covered in makeup – all for only £20 including a pre-order DVD, or push the boat out and be a VIP Executive Producer for £150 and get a role in the film.

The Project also plans on raising money through business sponsorship, product placement and to sell 1000 limited edition pre-order DVD’s.

“Since my pre-order customers won’t get their movie for a while I want to offer them something in the here and now, which is why I am offering them a chance to appear in the movie and to also receive exclusive merchandise, not bad for the price of a DVD.” Antony Lane

Other filmmakers that have come on board to help Antony include Hollywood Special FX artist RICH KNIGHT (Beowulf), Make up artist CORRINE BOSSU (King Kong), and Emmy award winning composer Misha Segal who will be giving the film a very chilling score.

Antony has began to negotiate with some of the industries biggest names in horror, including: TOM SAVINI (From Dusk Till Dawn), DAVID HESS (Last House On The Left), EZRA BUZZINGTON (The Hills Have Eyes), LESLIE SIMPSON (Dog Soldiers), WARWICK DAVIS (Leprechaun), DAVID BAILIE (Pirates Of The Caribbean), ANTHONY HEAD (Buffy), and SEAN PERTWEE (Dog Soldiers).

Shooting has been scheduled for early 2010 at various locations around Kent, Cardiff, Grimsby and the Isle Of Scilly where the movie will be set. A teaser trailer is scheduled to be filmed in August 2009.

The film will have an official London premiere on Halloween 2010, before being shown at top film festivals worldwide, including Cannes.

One week before launching the project Antony and Ken Russell auditioned a celebrity for a role which was also filmed for a documentary that will air on BBC 2 in August.

“We hope that this unique and quirky idea will catch the heart and minds of people around the world and will help us to independently fund our film and put the Kent film industry on the map.”

David Lesault was the 10th person to pre-order a DVD and receive a zombie make-over. He was delighted with the results and is eager to see the finished movie. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to be involved in one of the most exciting films of recent years – if you , too, want to show your support, please visit www.theindywoodproject.com and get treat yourself to a DVD and a makeover!

Jul 072009

A quick note on amending the template files for the WordPress ‘Now Reading‘ plug-in to work with the LightWord theme. (Tested on version 2.8 only)

As per Rob’s excellent documentation, the problem is in the following section of the default Now Reading templates:
<div class="content">
<div id="content" class="narrowcolumn primary now-reading">
<div class="post">

I followed his instructions and the problem was solved easily:

  1. Create a now-reading directory in your Lightword theme directory and copy the default templates into the new folder (\wp-content\themes\LightWord\now-reading\)
  2. Edit  author.php, library.php, search.php, single.php and tag.php (sidebar.php already works) as follows:

Once in each file, in the first few lines, change:

<div id="content" class="now-reading primary narrowcolumn">

To read:

<div id="content-body" class="now-reading primary narrowcolumn">

That’s all there is to it. Hopefully this will be of use to someone – if it is, leave me a comment to let me know!