Tuesday, January 31, 2006

DB2 goes free...

... well... DB2 Express Edition does, anyway.

As reported today on The Register, you can now download DB2 Express-C for free and use it on x86/x86_64/PPC Linux and x86/x86_64 Windows. Combined with the release of WebSphere Application Server Community Edition, this is an exciting step and provides developers with the tools to build enterprise apps for free, scaling up to IBM's full WebSphere and DB2 offerings.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

First outing with the EF 50mm

Church path
Originally uploaded by andyp uk.
We'd been planning to go further afield today, but instead stayed near to home. Might get the chance to visit some gardens or other attraction tomorrow. This is one of the first shots I was really happy with using the new lens. Lots to get used to with the improved aperture and lack of zoom.

Camera goodies

Although I usually try to get a lie-in on a Saturday, the front door buzzer woke me - the postman had a parcel to deliver.

Rewind: Yesterday, I ordered some new kit for my camera from Warehouse Express - a small Lastolite reflector for flower photography, a Canon RS-60E3 remote switch, a Canon EF50mm f/1.8 II lens, and a hood and filter for the lens. About half an hour after clicking submit on the order, I had a call from Warehouse Express explaining that the lens and filter were out of stock - did I still want to go ahead with the order and they would send on the items in about a week when they were due in? I said OK, since the postage costs were not going to change. I understood that there was an extra charge for Saturday delivery, but I didn't pay for that since I figured that I could wait an extra few days.

The upshot is that I was expecting a reflector and remote switch on Monday, and the lens and other bits a week or so later. So I was pretty happy when it all turned up in one package this morning! I also appear to have a Hoya Super HMC Pro filter, which I didn't think was the quality that I'd ordered (I thought I was getting a basic filter). Kudos to Warehouse Express - I'll be using them again.

I'd been looking at getting a lot of this stuff on ebay. The EF50mm can be found for around £60 on ebay, but usually shipped from Hong Kong with another £15-£20 postage and a 7-10 day shipping time - so not much different from the price I paid, and it would take longer to arrive. In the end, I'm happier with the service I got from a UK-based company.

I've not had a chance to give the kit a proper workout yet, but I'm looking forward to going out later to get some shots. I'd read some reviews of the lens, so knew roughly what to expect. My first impressions of the EF50mm f/1.8 are that it is small; much nosier focus than either my existing EFS18-55mm (the kit lens that came with the EOS 350D) or the EF55-200mm; but early results of inanimate household objects suggest that it is very sharp. It is my first prime lens so I guess it will take some getting used to.

Time to change my kit bag. I've been carrying the 350D around in a medium Crumpler Ben's Pizza bag, large enough for the camera body with lens attached, and the second lens. With three lenses and sundry other accessories I may have to move up to the rucksack I bought last year, which I've not had to use yet; or make a tough choice before going out as to which two lenses to take with me.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Java, Eclipse, SWT - a blog

I just discovered that Joe Winchester, of Eclipse Visual Editor project fame, has a blog. I shall have to follow it.

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There's a new article on IBM developerWorks entitled Generic message retry and requeue with WebSphere Message Broker V6. It describes how to use the Timeout nodes in WMB v6 to implement periodic retry for message flows. The article was written by Stephen Cox from IBM Hursley. Well done, Steve - excellent piece. If you are interested in Broker topics, it is well worth your time to have a look.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Sametime 7.5 screenshots

Exciting announcements from Lotusphere - Ed Brill has posted screenshots of Sametime 7.5 on his weblog.

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Lotusphere 2006 begins, and developerWorks blogging

I can't be at Lotusphere, but I'll be able to follow the goodness via Kelly's blog and photos. I know there'll be some great stuff coming from our Lotus team.

Incidentally, to pick up a comment James Governor made last week (I'm a little late in responding)... I think developerWorks is a great place for IBM employees to be blogging. It is a focal point for our products and technology. Microsoft bloggers have blogs at MSDN, so why shouldn't we have them on developerWorks? I'd agree with Richard's point that it seems a bit strange to need to get a developer ID to leave a comment, but sometimes you do have to register to leave comments on other blogging sites. As a techie, I'd actually consider it something of a badge of honour to have a developerWorks blog. I guess it makes some sense to make some of our blogs, particularly from strategy and VP level, more accessible directly from ibm.com, but I'm inclined to Richard's "so what?!" view of this issue.

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Weekend wanderings

We visited Wakehurst Place this weekend. Wakehurst is an offshoot of Kew Gardens - we're members at Kew, and get free entry. It is a lovely estate with some great walking opportunities (up and downhill, unlike many other gardens). The manor house itself is quite attractive. Another major feature is that Wakehurst is the home of the Millennium Seed Bank, where they are aiming to preserve 10% of the world's flora in seeds by 2010. We both agreed that we need to visit again as the seasons pass - it looks like it will be really beautiful in spring and summer, and the walks through the trees should be great in autumn.

Some photos, more to come (and more on Flickr - check the large sizes too):

Walled Garden Millennium Seed Bank Manor

Picked up the debut album by Thirteen Senses for a stupidly tiny price in Tesco - very mellow listening. Also picked up a bargain copy of Midway Arcade Treasures for PS2, so I spent a bit of time yesterday afternoon revisiting arcade classics like Gauntlet, Defender, Spyhunter, Joust and my personal favourite, Smash TV. Some of them seemed much more difficult to play than they used to be - it could have been the controller over the keyboard. I certainly wouldn't have spent as long playing if I didn't have unlimited opportunities to continue (i.e. "new coin") in most of the games.

As Darren mentioned over on eightbar, one of the internal IBM podcasts at the moment is Battle of the Bands. I listened to the most recent episode this weekend. I think I'm going to have to start buying some of the albums by the artists involved - in particular, I really enjoyed a track by Lisa Swain. The quality of all of the bands is just so high, it has been very difficult to choose my favourite tracks so far.

And now, the week begins in earnest.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Wireless networks are all around me

I got home this evening, opened my laptop, and instead of connecting to my home wireless network, Access Connections roamed me onto another network. I was pretty surprised that there was an unsecured wireless network in the vicinity. I live in a small block of flats. Scanning for networks, I discovered four others, two of which had public names, and one of those had encryption disabled and no security. Not only that, but the router had no password enabled. Clearly I didn't do anything to harm the network, instead I quickly got Access Connections to connect to my own network (no name advertised - check; high encryption - check; secure - check; strong passwords set - check).

I'm now in a bit of a quandary as to how to proceed. People tend to come and go around here, I don't know everyone in the block, and I don't know who this network belongs to - the network name doesn't give anything away. Do I put up a sign on the noticeboard to tell people to check their wireless security? - surely that's alerting anyone who walks through the hallway that there is bandwidth waiting to be grabbed. Do I knock on the front door of every flat asking if they have a wireless network that I can help them to configure? Or just leave it?

Why isn't DB2 more popular?

There's a great article on The Register today talking about the profile of DB2. Did you know that the largest OLTP databases in the world are hosted on DB2?

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Today on IBM developerWorks...

Making an early start to my blogging today, I'd like to draw attention to a couple of the latest articles on developerWorks:

  1. Hursley superstar James Taylor has an article on Verifying WebSphere Message Broker V6 without using the toolkit. Thanks for the acknowledgement, James - I checked through some of the scripts included in this article at an earlier stage, it should be a very useful article if you have just installed WMB v6.

  2. Krishnakumar Balachandar has an article on Using WebSphere MQ with WebSphere Application Server Community Edition. This is a topic I've been following for some time, so it is particularly nice to see the labs putting out some material on this. This makes WAS CE an ideal platform for building web applications to interact with an existing WebSphere MQ or Message Broker infrastructure.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Fedora or SuSE

I went through the Linux Distribution Chooser test. Apparently I'm either a Fedora or a SuSE man - not a surprise since my Linux history started about 8 years ago flipping between SuSE and Redhat, and has progressed to Fedora.

Monday, January 16, 2006

WebSphere Message Broker Toolkit v6 fix pack

Just a quick entry to mention that the first fix pack for the Message Broker toolkit has been released.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Playing with Flickr

This weekend I revisited some photos I took last year. I'm really pleased with my winter photography so far, but I decided to liven up my Flickr account with some more colourful photos. If you do go visiting my photostream, do have a look back at the snowy shots from Poland too, I'm really proud of them.

Floral carpet Summer's gone Daffodil on black

Another reason for the flower photos is that I've been reading a book called Photographing Plants and Flowers. It's a nice book about techniques for capturing flowers. Among many other interesting topics, it talks about changing backgrounds digitally, so I've tried a couple with plain coloured backgrounds as an experiment.

As I've blogged before, my RAW package of choice is RawShooter Premium. The image manipulation software I use is The Gimp, which is free and generally very good... However, in creating the plain background versions of my old photos, I did encounter a problem. I needed to create a large (3000px, 300dpi) image. On Windows, this caused The Gimp to hang up 3 times, each of which required a reboot. I tried playing around with the cache and memory settings, but to no avail.

In the end, I switched to my Linux workstation. I had multiple applications running, and The Gimp still flew. Admittedly that box does have twice the memory of the laptop, but I was still amazed. What it doesn't have is any kind of application for uploading photos to Flickr, so I went looking for some. The first option was some scripts for Nautilus in GNOME, but I wanted something a little more sophisticated. I found Glimmr, an application written using Mono. It is small, and looks good - but unfortunately hasn't been updated since the Flickr API changed in the middle of last year, so doesn't actually work. The project looked dead, but then I found the author's blog where he talks about resurrecting the application. Not sure if or when that will happen.

I know that F-Spot supports Flickr upload, but I've never really enjoyed the user experience - although I do know that I need a good photo browser / tagging / cataloguing application. See the Introduction to F-Spot article in GNOME Journal.

Finally I found jUploadr. This is written in Java, based on SWT, and is cross-platform. It could be the perfect application. I'll be giving it a try over the coming week. Initial indications are that it is very nice indeed - and it works.

In terms of GNOME integration, there is also Gnickr - making Flickr a virtual filesystem in GNOME. I've not tried it yet. I found mention of it on this interesting page of Flickr tools - too many to look at in one day.

Whilst I'm recording interesting Flickr articles, I should also mention that I found one about making Flickr work with Gmail and Picasa; tips for beginners on Flickr; and basic guidelines for tagging on Flickr. All worth a look.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

A Wikipedia antidote - and an IBM joke

Demonstrating that I have a sense of humour (and I'm sure most of my colleagues do, too), I'm going to share this link to the Uncyclopedia's page about IBM.

I know that Wikipedia has been getting a lot of bad press lately, but I've personally never had too many problems with it. The Uncyclopedia is a fun parody, though. When you arrive, you are greeted with the message:

Welcome to Uncyclopedia, the content-free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

... it seems to be rather well put together, so far.

Warning: some of the content may be offensive. I've not dug too deeply, I went straight for the IBM definition. The definition of Linux (or rather, DorkWare for Dweebs) is pretty amusing, too :-)

(I first picked up news of the Uncyclopedia over on James Governor's blog)

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Changing my mind about Thunderbird

Thunderbird 1.5 is getting on my nerves.

As I mentioned earlier, the News and Blogs (aka RSS/Atom) support is much enhanced over 1.0.x... but having used it for a few hours now, the interface really sucks. It really should be simpler to add, delete and organise feeds.

Not only that, but in 1.5 the News and Blogs folder defaults to loading the web page for each feed rather than displaying the textual summaries, so you have to be online all the time. I've got a web browser for looking at the web pages if I want to. You can change this (the non-obvious series of clicks is right-click News and Blogs -> Properties -> tick "By default, show the article summary instead of loading the web page") but you don't seem to be able to do it on a global basis for all the feeds you already subscribe to; you have to go through the list in Manage Subscriptions, edit each one, and tick the article summary option.

I know there are dedicated applications like RSS Bandit available. On my Linux workstation I use Liferea, which is really nice. I wanted to continue to use Thunderbird, since I already use it for newsgroups, and for managing IMAP accounts. At this rate, I'm rapidly going to lose my patience.

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Reasons to buy a UPS

About midday yesterday, I found that I couldn't connect to my webmail. I run SquirrelMail on my Linux server at home, pulling email from about 7 different accounts I have dotted around the Internet, and aggregating it all for me in one place. I have a DynDNS address where I can access my server, so that my email is always available. If it is unavailable, it usually means that my home ADSL connection has gone down, or there has been a power cut and something hasn't restarted properly.

Yesterday, it turned out to have been a power cut. I got home to find that my entire home network was down, wireless wasn't working, my workstation hadn't restarted at all, and my server was unable to connect to the Internet since the router was refusing to connect, for some reason.

I don't have a UPS. I know, I know, I really should have one. I've just never gotten around to spending money in that direction. Not only that, but I'm not sure I have enough space under the desk, and every time I look into it I get confused about what I really need. A neighbour recently gave me a conditioned power supply with a single plug on one side, and 4 standard power sockets on the other, harvested from an office that was being closed down... but that just has surge protection rather than a battery backup.

Yesterday's failure was fairly bad, but not catastrophic. I run Linux Software RAID on my workstation, so I have two copies of my data and I'm not terrified of data loss there (yes, there are backups too). My server is not RAIDed, although it probably ought to be. These days it just runs my mail, web and news servers really - there's not a lot else I need from it.

The workstation failed to restart twice, but I think that was partly down to the ADSL connection still being down and various services (like NTP synchronisation) hanging. I also had a very strange problem where the X server didn't want to come back up at boot time, complaining about missing fonts. Once I'd ssh'd over from the server (which restarted and recovered from the ext3 journal without problems) I was able to kill the hanging boot services, and start X from the command line. Note to self - remember that you can check the status of the RAID array by looking at the contents of /proc/mdstat and using mdadm to force synchronise the members if needed.

Finally, the router. It simply wouldn't connect to my ADSL provider. A simple reboot fixed that problem, and the wireless connectivity too.

So I'm in the market for a UPS. It needs to support two machines as a minimum, and also to be Linux compatible. Oh, and not to cost a fortune... I need the rest of my money for a new lens for my camera...

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Thunderbird 1.5 is out

My Windows e-mail, news and RSS client of choice, Mozilla Thunderbird, reached 1.5 release status today. I just installed it, and it seems to work fine. There are no immediately-visible changes when you first start it up. The Options dialog is of course now similar in style to Firefox 1.5, and the extension update mechanism is also inherited from Firefox. The Manage Subscriptions dialog has been extensively updated - you can now import OPML files, and create folders for your feeds, which is a big benefit. I guess I have to spend some time reorganising my subscriptions.

There is more coverage of the new features here and here.

Unfortunately quite a few of the extensions that I use are not currently compatible with 1.5 (NestedQuote Remover, Signature Switch, Move Search Items, View Headers Toggle Button, and compact folder), but hopefully they will get updated soon.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Hostile commentary on Google Pack

Seems not everyone shares my lukewarm enthusiasm for Google Pack - Paul Thurrott doesn't like it very much at all...

I think he's being overly unfair - I still hold to the opinion that it is a good "one-click" (-ish) way of getting a bunch of essential software onto a machine, and potentially for keeping it updated. I just don't think that all of the software is the stuff I would choose to include in such a pack.

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Adobe Lightroom squares up against Aperture and RawShooter

There is increasing coverage of Adobe Lightroom, a new RAW workflow tool. This follows a lot of noise about Apple's Aperture application. I've not lost much sleep over Aperture, mainly because I don't have a Mac - and although they are very desirable machines, I'm not expecting to go there any time soon[*]. Also, some of the coverage of Aperture has been more than a little mixed in the levels of praise, for an application that puts such a dent in the wallet.

Lightroom sounds interesting, since it will run on Windows as well, and Adobe clearly already have a lot of experience in digital imaging. I like the look of the application. The layout reminds me a lot of my RAW tool of choice, RawShooter Premium. The features are tempting - Lightroom can work not only with RAW files, but with JPEG, TIFF and PSD... JPEG at least is something I would use, and probably TIFF too. The Greyscale Mixer and the number of processing options are exciting - with RawShooter I sometimes have to switch to The Gimp for some post-processing. Of course, pricing hasn't been announced yet - if it competes favourably with RawShooter, I might even be tempted.

[*] I'm sidestepping the fact that none of these apps run on Linux, which they clearly could do if the writers made an effort... it's just disappointing.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Flickr Scout

Using the new Flickr Toy, Flickr Scout, I discovered that two of my photos have been featured in the Flickr Interestingness pages in the past month. This is the area you can browse through to find the "most interesting" photos for a particular day. Unfortunately, due to competitive pressures one of them has since dropped off the list, but it was still very cool to find that my photos are making that much of a splash :-)

Deer in the snow Yellow flower - Kew

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ThinkPad T60 announced and previewed

I'm happy to hear about the ThinkPad T60 (this is a link to a preview article). A dual-core model with a max of 4Gb of RAM and a larger hard drive. I won't miss the parallel port. I do wonder why I really need a Windows key, but never mind. I wonder how long it will before we are issued with them internally...

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I don't need most of this stuff anyway

Jean-Francois raises an interesting view on Google Pack over on his blog Life in Technical Sales. I'm not as brave as him in that I don't want to remove my Google account (yet). He's right that a lot of the pack is redundant - to me anyway, since I was already a Firefox user, for example. It is a nice way of getting the latest "essentials" onto a new PC, though.

Incidentally, it looks like I was wrong about the screensaver, it can reference files on a network drive. The only disappointment is that it always works through directories of pictures in the same order, so there isn't that much variety. I do like the Collage look, though. I wonder if there is an alternative photo screen saver that would allow me to have something as nice as the collage, with the variety of randomisation, possibly with Flickr support included...

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Google Pack

So Google have announced the Google Pack, a bundle of software that Google provides free-of-charge for Windows PCs.

As a fan of Google, one the one hand I think this is a good thing - getting Firefox onto more PCs, for instance. However, I'm not keen on the idea of the cut-down version of Norton Antivirus, so I've excluded that from my download options - I'm going to switch my home laptop to AVG Antivirus Free Edition in the next week or so (although I'm a bit nervous about trying to remove Norton, I have heard horror stories). I was also interested that it includes Ad-Aware SE. I'd previously been an Ad-Aware user, but have recently switched to Microsoft AntiSpyware Beta... although I've not installed it on my home laptop just yet. Of course, Google couldn't possibly have included that, so Ad-Aware is a good alternative.

On the whole, running the Google Updater was a very pleasant experience. I didn't get prompted for a reboot, and it detected Adobe Reader, Google Earth and RealPlayer as already installed and updated them to newer versions for me. I also like the Screensaver, which in my opinion is nicer than the pictures screensaver that MS provides. The only irritation is that it does not allow you to include photos from network drives, so I can't use it at home with my entire photo collection - it lets you add the UNC location or mapped drive to the list of folders, but after you click OK it silently removes it again, which is a shame.

One comment on the Ars Technica article I linked above:
The apps included in Google Pack will supposedly be updated automatically, and Page trumpeted the fact that there's no nagware included—you won't be bugged for upgrades, and you won't have to worry about the programs in Google Pack changing your system settings without your approval.

... well, that depends on your view of what your system settings consist of. It did add RealPlayer and others to my Desktop, Adobe Reader Speed Launch to my Startup folder, and Picasa into the Run key in the registry (which in some ways is more evil, since you have to know to go looking in there). It also added itself to the Startup folder as well, of course - but I'll leave it there for now.

On the whole though - quite a nice new freebie. Worth a look.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Message Broker File Extender now supports v6

Fixpack 1 for WebSphere Message Broker File Extender (MBFE) is now available. It adds full support for WebSphere Message Broker version 6, among other useful features and fixes. There are also some additional Technical FAQs available on the support site.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Feeding my Pratchett obsession

Having finished my holiday reading three days too early, I managed to find an English-language copy of another Pratchett in Tesco in Bielsko-Biała last night - Going Postal (it was between that, The Wee Free Men, and Night Watch... all of which are way down the line in chronology terms, but time and choice was limited - so I've jumped 24 novels ahead). Impressions so far are very good, and I'm only up to chapter 3. I was kind of surprised to discover chapters, though, since the first four Discworld novels didn't seem to have them. I guess times change, after 20 years. Moist Von Lipwig is shaping up to be a very interesting character, and there have been some gems of humour already which suggest that I'm not going to be disappointed by this book.

For those readers bored with literature, my usual non-holiday ramblings should resume within the next 48 hours.

Apart from a few last minute errands and packing today, I've been wrestling with a Lexmark Z601 printer which doesn't want to print colour. Last week I emailed Lexmark support, with little hope since this is a relatively old (2 years at least) model and I can't find much about it online. Today I received a very polite and helpful email, two pages of A4 once printed, which had a variety of useful pieces of advice about how to perform hardware tests and additional cleaning tips. Sadly it still isn't working properly - after cleaning I get colour sporadically for about 2 pages, and then it stops again. I'm beginning to suspect that the colour cartridge is dead, although I'm assured that it is new. Oh well. Still no progress on the Canon vs HP issue I blogged about a couple of days ago, either.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Spyware in Windows DVD software

Snowing again today. Snow is forecast until the end of the week. I don't object to it - ordinarily I don't get to see it, and rarely as much as this - the only other time was when I visited Saariselkä in Finland 5 years ago.

Weather update over and done with, on to the main point of this post.

Whilst trying to setup Windows XP on a new PC for my in-laws, I've been doing my best to stick to free or open source alternatives to commercial software. So I've naturally gone with OpenOffice.org (the Polish version), AVG Free Edition, etc..

One of the things we wanted to do the other night was to watch a film on DVD. I have a full copy of PowerDVD but sadly that's somewhere at home in the UK at the moment. The Windows version of VLC displayed the menu, but would not play the film - it crashed with an exception. After searching around, I found Cliprex, which claims to be totally free DVD player software for Windows.

WARNING - Cliprex is filled with Spyware. Fortunately I'd already installed Microsoft AntiSpyware Beta, and it detected and removed it as Cliprex was installed. Cliprex then also refused to play the DVD, thus sealing its fate of immediate deletion. I recommend that everyone should avoid Cliprex, based on my negative experience.

As an interesting aside, MS AntiSpyware also picked up a number of bits of spyware from two partitions of the old Windows 98 disk I'd installed into the computer in order to transfer data. It does seem to be pretty effective.

The solution in the end was to purchase and download the InterVideo XPack for DVD which allows DVDs to be played through Windows Media Player. I realise that this is largely to do with the DVD encryption stuff not being royalty-free, but it was annoying nonetheless.

Apart from that hiccup (and the issues between Canon cameras and HP printers I mentioned before), everything has been plain sailing so far and the new system is working out well.

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

A new year dawns

Snow games
Originally uploaded by andyp uk.
Actually it started nearly 24 hours ago. Happy New Year, glad to have you as one of my readers

We had a great time out in the mountains yesterday, just walking and admiring the views. Since then things have thawed a lot - temperature around 4C today, it is amazing how quickly the snow is disappearing considering how much of it there was. I'm just not used to such things.

In the past three days I've read three books by Terry Pratchett: The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic and Equal Rites. I recently read Mort, and it re-awakened a long-lost interest in Pratchett... I'd read The Colour of Magic when in my teens, loved it, but never read any others. Now I'm almost desperate to dive straight into the next one in the Discworld series. Very funny, and an easy read, perfect in my case for holidays and time out. In case you've no idea what I'm on about, here are some Amazon links:

Ho well. Back to Blighty soon...

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