Did you get any good presents?

A belated Merry Christmas, and a timely Happy New Year to everyone. I hope you had a great Christmas, and got some good loot?

We have had a fairly quiet time this year, with Elaine and I choosing to stay at home for our first Christmas as a married couple. It wasn’t quite the romantic affair we had hope for though, as our kitten Stitch thought it would be fun to try and drag the entire contents of the table onto the floor. We stopped him just before a full glass of champagne went over the edge. He then went upstairs to reek havoc, so we had to bolt our dinners so we could keep an eye on him. As soon as we poked the last bit of food down our necks, he immediately settled down on the sofa for a nap, his job as Bringer of Mayhem successfully completed for the day.

On Christmas Day, my Mum and her husband John came round at about 10.30pm for a video chat with our family in Canada. It was great to see my Aunt Jackie and Uncle Derek. I can’t remember the last time I saw my auntie, and I haven’t seen my uncle since he came to the UK 16 years ago, so it was a real treat. Hopefully, now we have the link working, we can keep in touch more regularly, though the time difference makes it a bit awkward to get everyone together at the same time.

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I got married!

On Saturday 30th October 2004, I married my lovely wife Elaine. The ceremony at Nuneaton Registry Office went without a hitch, and the reception and party at The Hare and Hounds in Keresley was excellent. The food at the Hare and Hounds was exceptionally good, and everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves enormously. A huge thank you to everyone who helped organise the wedding (especially Elaine, who did a lot of the work herself), and to all the relatives and friends who helped make the whole thing so enjoyable. A big thank you to Russ, my best man, for his calm support and good humour.

We had a great time on our honeymoon, staying in a superb Poacher’s Lodge in Griffon Forest, just outside York. We spent most of the time relaxing, but had a some great days out in Scarborough, Whitby, York itself, and the excellent Black Sheep Brewery in Masham.

I’ve put some photos of the wedding and honeymoon on my Mac.com web space. If you were there on the day, and took any photographs with a digital camera, please let me know. I’m trying to gather as many pictures together as possible.

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I’m getting married tomorrow!

I’m marrying my lovely girlfriend Elaine on Saturday 30th October 2004 at 2pm. After the reception and party at the Hare and Hounds in Keresley, we are off on honeymoon on Sunday. We are going to stay in a log cabin (complete with four poster bed, six foot jacuzzi, wide screen TV and DVD player) in a forest outside York for two weeks, which we are both really looking forward to.

I will be back in my office on November 15th 2004, so if you want to contact me, please wait until then.

Thank you to Elaine for putting up with me for so long, and actually agreeing to make the arrangement permanent. I love her to bits.

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Staggering home

A big thank you to Ben, Damian, Dave, Kristian and Russell for joining me on my Stag Night on Saturday. It was a low key affair (not even close to matching the debauchery of Elaine’s Hen Night), but I had a great evening. Good company, a few beers (actually quite a lot of beer by my standards [1]), and a good curry at the end of the night. What more can a man ask for? Cheers, lads. Top evening all round. It was also a great relief to wake up on Sunday to find that not only did I have a very mild hangover (it barely qualified for hangover status [1] at all), but also that I wasn’t naked and chained to a lamppost in the city centre.

Thanks to Ian as well for making up for his absence by supplying me with a 9 pint barrel of Stella. You are forgiven.

[1] I am a complete wuss when it comes to alcohol. Usually, even a couple of pints will reduce me to a groaning wreck sweating next to the toilet for most of the following day.

I am officially evil

Yes, alright. I’ve sold my soul to the devil, and added a few “Link Exchange” entries to my links page. These are links to sites that I have no real interest in, but putting a link on this site means I get a reciprocal link elsewhere, which could increase my traffic and search engine ranking. I’m not sure if these programs actually work, but it’s worth a shot.

Don’t hate me.

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I love Aikido me

I had a really good class at Aikido this week. It’s great to be back training again. I’ve been back on the mat once a week for a few months now, after a break of over two years. When I started again in the summer, I was shocked at how much I’ve forgotten over that period. This week I felt a little bit of my old flow creeping back. I’m stilling aching a bit more than I should after a full class, but I’m definitely getting stronger, so fingers crossed that all the physiotherapy and daily exercise has paid off.

When I achieved my 2nd Kyu (Blue Belt) back in 2001 I felt really fired up, and I was starting to get a really good flow to my techniques. It was the first time I had been able to start changing my actions depending on the reactions of the Uke (the attacker). This is (in my opinion) one of the key skills in Aikido. Before that stage, if the technique I was going for didn’t work, I was left floundering and at the mercy of the Uke.

I’m still have a lot of work to do to get back to that level and beyond, but on Wednesday’s class I felt a little glimmer returning. I think the key is that my body is dropping back into the movements with less conscious effort, freeing me to concentrate more on the reactions from the Uke, and less about where my own feet are. Also, I was working with two very different Ukes. Though both of them are 6th Kyu (White Belt), Sam is very loose and flowing, while James is stiff and intractable. This gave me a great insight into the mechanics of each technique. With Sam I could concentrate on the flow and speed of the technique, while James forced me to concentrate on the tiny movements and details that add real power to the techniques.

Also, Sam’s own techniques are very loose and open, to the point of being sloppy at times, while James tends to over analyse the mechanics of a the movement before he even begins. It was very enlightening to feel the effects of these different styles, and immensely rewarding to be able to give them both suggestions and corrections to help them improve.

I’d love to be able to attend the course with Sensei Hayden Foster on 23-24th October, but that is only a week before my wedding. I doubt I will have the time, and I know for a fact that at the moment there is no way my body could cope with 7 hours of Aikido in two days.

Switchable style sheets

I have recently implemented switchable style sheets on this site. This allows you to choose the the appearance of the site from the alternatives I have made available (there are three different style available at time of writing). Take a look at the styles block on the right hand side of the page, and select the look you find easiest on the eye.

Your browser should redraw the page with the new style as soon as you click one of the links. If some of the content looks a bit jumbled, try reloading the page. Please note that I have only tested these styles using browsers available on Mac OS X (primarily Firefox, Camino, Mozilla, Safari, Omniweb and Internet Explorer), so you may encounter unexpected results if you are using Internet Explorer on Windows.

The method used for switching the style sheets is a (very) slightly modified version of the technique described by Paul Sowden on in his Alternative Style article on A List Apart.

The grey style is based (loosely) on the look of John Gruber’s Daring Fireball web-site. Despite my best efforts, I can’t get this layout to work properly in Opera 5 for Mac, so my apologises if you are using that particular browser.

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Discussion forums are now available

New to the site are the discussion forums. There are public boards where you can post comments and feedback on my illustration, and bug reports if you encounter any problems with the site. These boards are open to all, but will be strictly moderated.

If you register for a free account, then you can join the more general, members only discussions on illustration, media and techniques, graphics software, computer related topics, and video games. These will be less strictly moderated than the public boards, but I will delete anything I deem to be offensive or provocative. My decision is final, no appeals. I may add more specific topics, depending on popularity.

The forums are powered by the Open Source phpBB project. Combined with Dreamhost‘s superb administration features, setting up the boards has been a quick and pain free experience, though I think I might be tinkering with the appearance for a while yet.

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Problems with image blocking

A number of visitors to this site have reported that none of the images display correctly; for example, all the thumbnail images are show as broken links.

In every case that I have been able to investigate, the problem has been caused by 3rd party Windows security software like ZoneAlarm and Norton Internet Security. For some reason, these applications seem to consider the use of images within form submit buttons are a security risk and prevent them from loading.

I can see no good reason for this, as there is no content on this site that could be considered harmful. The HTML used on this site is perfectly valid, and conforms to W3C standards and (where possible) accessibility guidelines. But I don’t want visitors to be prevented from using viewing the images, so I have tried to get round this problem by using Javascript to control the image display.

As a consequence, when you first visit the image browser, you may see the page reload as it switches from the default HTML form control to Javascript control. My apologies for this, but it should only happen the first time you visit the page. After that, a cookie is used to temporarily store the correct setting. If you reject this cookie, you may see the reloading behaviour more often.

If you do have problems with images being blocked, make sure that you have Javascript enabled, and reload the image browser page. If this doesn’t work, then you can either add my site to your “trusted zone”, or consider temporarily disabling your overzealous security software.

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