On Musical Kleptomania

The pop world has exploded. At least, if you’re a 13-year old girl who likes the music of Katy Perry and Sara Bareilles.

You see, Perry has just released a new song called ‘Roar,’ which some musical aficionados, as well as some tablodish websites, have noticed sounds a little like Bareilles’ ‘Brave’.

Oh… My… God.

Someone decided to copy someone else. And if you don’t think the two songs sound that similar, listen to this rather convincing layering* of the two songs by PopCultureBrain.

So Katy Perry, who I believe liked Sara Bareilles’ original song, has written one which sounds like the two could be played together all the time.

Maybe it’s just Perry providing the writers of Glee with a new song they can really do as a mashup without any hard arranging, but I digress.

You’ll notice the title of this post is On Musical Kleptomania. That’s because regardless of this particular situation, musicians have been copying each others’ ideas for centuries. It isn’t just a new pop sensation.

Music, after all, is a culturally-driven craft or art form, like painting. If person does something which works really well — like developing a new way of painting a tree — person B is likely to copy that same style

The same is true of music. If someone invents a new style, melody or chord progression, someone else comes along and copies, or at least pastiches, the same successful style.

So now you’re wanting proof?

As a music graduate (yah, didn’t know that, did you?) I could choose any number of examples from millennia of music. Every composer from the ancient greeks to the latest pop stars has taken a tune they liked, tweaked it, and made it their own. Sometimes publicly, sometimes not so much.

Stravinsky, as well as being the musical genius whose premiere of The Rite of Spring caused riots at its Paris debut, was also a known musical kleptomaniac. Towards the end of the nineteen-teens, Stravinsky used a whole ream of musical examples from other composers in his Soldier’s Tale, as well as some of his later works.**

Another person known for their musical kleptomania is George Frederic Handel. He often reused musical tunes from other composers, taking melodies from other works and working them into his own compositions. (Even if you’re not a musician, that last link should give you examples you can easily identify as identical.)

Moving on.  If you’ve ever heard If I Had Words by Jonathan Hodge (sung by Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keeley in 1977) then you’ve also heard the theme of the Maestoso from the second movement of Saint Saëns third concerto — often known as the Organ Concerto. Hodge pinched Saint Saëans’ famous tune, and made it his own for this 70s’ hit.***

Then there’s the Chopin prelude which found its way into Barry Manilow’s hit Could It Be Magic?… the list goes on and on and on.

And that’s long before we even examine composers like Haydn and Mozart — and composers even further back in history — who willingly reused their own tunes again and again in new compositions to keep wealthy patrons happy by using their favourite tunes in new works.

What am I saying? Borrowing other people’s tunes — even repurposing your own — isn’t a new trend. It’s been going on for years and years.

Besides, some of history’s greatest songs — and pieces — have been stolen from other musicians.

* It’s worth noting at that some people are calling this a mashup, but actually, I think mashup isn’t quite the right term. I prefer my mashups to actually be mashups, rather than two songs layered on top of one another.
**The actual list of pieces Stravinsky ‘borrowed’ other composer’s tunes from is expansive. I don’t think we’ll ever truly know how many tunes he picked up, magpie style, from other sources and wove into his music.
***It also made an appearance in the film Babe: Sheep Pig, itself a shameful adaptation of Dick King Smith’s excellent book The Sheep Pig. You should read it to your kids if you have some, as it’s far better than the film.



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(Twizy) Fun With Nikki And OVMS


As some of you may know, I own not one, but two electric cars. In addition to our daily driver (a 2011 Nissan Leaf used by my wife to travel a ~80 mile trip every day to work,) I tootle round the local area in a 2013 Renault Twizy. It’s cheaper to run than our other car: the ‘long-distance only’ 2008 Toyota Prius, which now costs £65 a tank to fill up.

It’s a fun little vehicle. Technically a quadricycle under european law rather than a car, the Twizy has a top speed of 52 mph, a battery capacity of 7 kilowatt hours (6.1 kWh useable) and two seats.

Devoid of all the usual accoutrement you’ll find in a modern electric car, the Twizy is decidedly basic. But its central driving position, RenaultSport-designed chassis and awesome handling characteristics make it arguably the best all-electric quadricycle on the market today.

Better still, it’s available from just £6,795, plus a monthly battery rental dependent on your expected mileage.

While such luxuries as doors, windows and bluetooth will cost you extra, the Twizy does come with several must-haves for any modern vehicle: airbags, a crumple-zone, and an onboard-diagnostics port.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Unlike the Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe, the Renault Twizy has no factory-options available to allow you to remotely monitor your car’s state of charge, predicted range, or location.

Thankfully, there is an aftermarket option courtesy of the Open Vehicle Monitoring System.

Open Vehicle Monitoring System Hardware

Originally designed for the Tesla Roadster, but now available for other non-connected plug-in cars like the Vauxhall Ampera, Tazzari Zero and Think City, the OVMS system hardware enables you to remotely monitor and control aspects of your car.

There’s even a branch of the project working to add the Nissan Leaf support, giving Leaf owners an alternative to Nissan’s OEM Carwings system should they want something other than the £99 yearly subscription after three years of ownership have passed.

A few months ago, I got my own OVMS system and recently put it in my Renault Twizy. I extensively documented the OVMS kit and how to install it in a Twizy on behalf of Zero Carbon World, so go and read this article if you’re curious on how to do it yourself.

While I’ve enjoyed being able to check on my Twizy’s state of charge and location using the OVMS iPhone app (and find local charging stations in range thanks to beta-testing the next-gen OVMS app with open charge map integration) , the OVMS system offers so much more with a little extra work.

Twizy OVMS on the iPhone

In its most basic setup, the OVMS module talks to the free-t0-use server ran by the open-source OVMS community. The iPhone or Android app then polls the server for the latest status report from the module.

When set up correctly however, the OVMS server keeps a log of the car’s movements for the past 24 hours, including GPS logs, battery health reports, and usage stats.

With the correct perl modules running on your computer, you can connect to the sever using a client perl script and retrieve these logs.

From there, you can look deep into your car’s health, your trip status, and even plot the route on a map.

Since the process of installing the perl software is a little in-depth, I’m not going to go into details in this post (although if other folks need help I may do one in the future). Instead, I’m going to assume you’re already familiar with perl and point you at this how-to, which should explain everything.

So I’ll skip forward now, and assume you’ve installed your sever software (I did mine on an Ubuntu 13.04 box). I’ll also assume you’re familiar with utilisation of the ./cmd.pl script within the OVMS server implementation.

Using the command below…

./cmd.pl 32 "RT-GPS-Log" >gpslog.csv

….you can retrieve the GPS log and put it on your server. Then comes the fun, putting it in your favourite spreadsheet to analyse the data. (You can repeat this with the other time-stamped logs too)

The raw logs need some tweaking. In addition to needing the odometer reading converting from 10ths of a mile to miles, and voltage from millivolts to volts, I was able to pull out some interesting data from a trip I made yesterday.

With myself and my son on board, I headed out on a 33.6 mile jaunt with a fully-charged battery pack. Being a Saturday afternoon, the roads weren’t particularly busy, so I was able to keep just at or below the speed limit appropriate for the road type I was on. (I did a lot of single-track roads too.)

When I got home, the car reported it had 7 miles estimated range remaining.

The Fun Little Maps

Here are the logs, cleaned up, and turned into some nice graphs, and here’s a nice little GPS map made by GPSVisualizer.com and everytrail.com from the cleaned-up GPS Log from my OVMS system.

OVMS Twizy Test Trip.

If you prefer the information in a slightly different format, the following analysis, prepared by utrack.crempa.net adds extra detail, including speed versus elevation, average speed etc.

Like the everytrail.com map above however, the utrack analysis relies on the GPS integrity of the data collected by the OVMS server. If the car moves out of GPS or GPRS range, it doesn’t always accurately report location. And that can lead to some tracks not exactly replicating the route I took.

In fact, the lat-long logs come out about 3 miles short of the total trip distance recorded by the car’s odometer. Given where I was has known cell-phone signal issues in the area, that’s hardly surprising.

SOC, Battery Voltage, Temperature

If we turn back to my own cleaned-up spreadsheet of the pertinent data, you’ll see that the battery pack’s State of Charge (SOC) drops steadily throughout my trip, from a peak of 98.3% down to a 27.08%. This equates to a usage on my trip of 71.22% of the Twizy’s battery capacity.

Odometer, SOC, Voltages, Battery Temperatures

(Although I haven’t plotted it, you can see from the data where in my trip power consumption was at its highest by the rate at which SOC was dropping. Cross-reference this with speed and altitude, and it should be possible to figure out where the most demanding parts of my trip were. Should I make this trip in the future, it could help me make better choices about route planning and driving styles.)

Now onto voltage. While overall pack voltage and average cell voltage does follow a downward trend throughout the trip, you’ll notice there are a few places on my trip where voltage drops and then rises again.

This can be explained by looking at the speed and altitude data. Voltage generally drops climbing hills or accelerating, while it recovers on downward stretches or under constant speed.

Given I ended the trip well before the battery ran out, you can see the voltage drop is consistent with a healthy lithium-ion battery pack. With modern chemistries, it’s unusual to see a major drop in voltage until the battery is almost empty.

(It’s also worth noticing that the overall battery voltage is plotted on the lefthand Y axis, while cell voltage is plotted on the righthand Y axis. Because the scales are different, it makes them look out of sync with one another.)

Had I ran the battery until it was 10 percent full, I would have expected to see a much larger voltage drop towards the end of the trip.

The really interesting bit however, is how the battery temperature increased with every mile driven.

At the start of the trip, the Twizy’s battery pack was at a fairly cool 6 degrees Celsius average temperature. By the end, and after a few hours of use, it has risen to 19 degrees. For reference, the outside ambient temperature during our trip yesterday started at 6 degrees C, and had fallen to just 4 degrees C by the time we finished.

Speed vs Altitude Vs Mileage

My prediction is that it would have exceeded 20 degrees C had I driven the car till empty.

What now?

The data I’ve collected from the OVMS system so far gives me a great insight into how my Twizy is operating. In addition, the raw logs (you can find them here in zip format) give you a little more information about the car, including the battery health, and any strange variants in the battery voltage between cells.

On a geeky front, that gives me an excellent way of checking how healthy my Twizy is. But it also can be used as a tool to make me a better driver.

Moving forward, my plan is to implement SmartThings technology in my Twizy to give me absolute control over how and when my car charges. The idea? To get my Twizy to charge at night-time when electricity is cheaper, and for it to cut off charging before reaching 100 percent.

This is a recommended practice in all larger electric cars if you know that you’re not going to need an entire full charge to do your day’s driving. It helps keep the battery pack healthier, and saves you a little time when charging too.

The work there has already started, thanks to Pieter in the Netherlands has already written a neat script which enables him to switch a power outlet on and off at the right time.

I’m also going to try and write a cron job on my server, so that the logs are retrieved automatically every day and converted to the required .CSV format.

Anything else? Yeah. As a freelancer, I sometimes drive the Twizy for work. Which means I can claim mileage expenses back.

By using a little careful planning, I think I can get my Twizy to automagically submit my mileage reports. How about that for coolness?

And of course, the ultimate hack for any self-respecting Mac Geek: Using SiriProxy to parse data from OVMS using my voice.

“Siri, Charge my car” ;)

“Siri, Is my car plugged in?”

“Siri, how full is my car?”

The possibilities are truly endless, but I fear beyond my meagre hacking abilities.


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Horsemeat Scandal: A Reason To Shop Locally?


If you live in the UK, or follow the news, you’ll know all about the Horsemeat Scandal.

Simply put, back in January horse DNA was found in various supermarket dishes claiming they were made with Beef. At first, the traces were small, but soon escalated as more and more Supermarket ready-meals, burgers, and other meat-based products were found to contain more than an inconsequential amount of equine bits.

The mainstream media, as you might expect, galloped to this story with all the enthusiasm of a young Colt going outside for the first time. The stories were fast, hard, and shocking. Tescos, Aldi, Lidl, Sainsburys, and even upmarket waitrose and community-focused Co-Op have been effected affected. Each had to withdraw products from the shelves after horse DNA was found in products promising 100% Beef.

Local shopping for food.

Is it time to ditch the Supermarket?

It’s been over a month since the original story broke, but there’s no sign yet of it ending. Just the other day, the FSA announced it was extending tests to include kebab meat and gelatine.

Already, more and more consumers are swearing off meat, saying the idea of eating the cousin of last year’s derby winder just isn’t cricket.

I’ve refrained from posting anything to date, simply because I’ve wanted to see how this pans out. But after a month of watching and thinking, I’m ready to add my thoughts to an already overcrowded stage.

Taboo? But hardly uncommon.

First of all, eating horse, while culturally taboo here in the UK, isn’t exactly unusual. Many cultures eat Horsemeat as a regular dish, and according to Wikipedia, over 4.7 million horses a year find their way to the table in countries from Central Asia to Europe and South America.

In other words, eating horses isn’t as rare as we’d like to believe. Nor does it necessarily make us evildoers.

Yes, as a species, humans eat much more beef than horse. (If you’re curious, we ate an estimated 56.5 million metric tons of Beef and Veal as a world in 2010)

The world is getting more crowded

We’re living in a world with increasing obesity and population. We can only feed just so many people with the resources we have — one planet.

Rearing animals for meat is very carbon intensive. In fact, for every pound of beef you get to the table, another 10 pounds of grain are needed to grow that beef. In other words, raring cows for meat is a carbon-intensive process. And if we ate less meat, the world would be a better place, both in terms of global hunger and in terms of environmental wellbeing. And that’s before you account for methane production from a bovine’s rear end.

These sausages are made on-site

Local butchers make their own sausages.

As food stocks get lower and lower, we as a society need to understand that rearing certain animals for meat will become untenable. We’ll be eating more vegetables, more pulses and grains. And we’ll be getting our protein from smaller animals which are less carbon intensive.

How small? Well, it’s inevitable that we’ll reserve mammals for special occasions, and just go for the protein kings: Insects.

But I digress. In a world where energy is precious, and food is precious, I can also see a future where we do start eating animals that are culturally taboo today, provided we can cope with the physiological impact of eating a horse, or a donkey… or even our dearly departed pet.

Shocking, isn’t it? I can’t say I’d want to eat an animal I’d loved and cared for its entire life. Certainly not my dogs, or a pet cat.

But is this sentimentality what’s got us into this muddle in the first place?

Can you really stomach where meat comes from?

My good friend Robert Llewellyn and I have talked at length about meat eating in the past. Like me, he’s a liberal minded individual who has spent his fair share of time working with animals.

Like me, his own guilt often pushes him in places he’s not necessarily comfortable with. Like dealing with meat-eating. He eats meat. I eat meat. But we both feel a little apologetic about it, in a kind of middle-class liberal guilty way.

But Robert has managed to overcome this with a simple test, something he’s proposed several times and I’ve come to agree with.

My local Butcher

Are you as comfortable with where meat comes from as your butcher is?

If you can hunt (or rear) an animal, kill it, watch it die, skin it, butcher it and cook it, then you deserve to eat meat.

If you can’t do any of the above, then perhaps you should be vegetarian.

So what about you? Could you eat meat that you’d killed? As a kid, I remember seeing rabbits and pheasants hanging outside the door. Often gifts from the local gamekeeper, they would hang there for a few days until animal was ready to eat. Then they were butchered, cooked, and eaten.

And they tasted good.

Since then, I’ve worked as a mom to introduce my kids to as many different dishes as possible. They’ve eaten rabbit and hare. They’ve eaten ostrich. They’ve eaten a whole collection of game and fish. Not just your standard british fare of chicken, pork, lamb and beef.

And I’ve made no bones about where the meat comes from. If what my kids are eating was once a small, cute bunny rabbit, I say so.  And we talk about foodchains.

Do you really need meat?

These days, we try to spend a fair part of our week eating no meat at all. We have vegetarian-based dishes, which I hope reinforces the notion that meat isn’t something we as humans need. Essentially, we try to have a flexitarian diet. (Now there’s a fancy word)

More veg, sir?

You could eat more veg, you know.

We suffer no dire consequences, and actually, I feel much better when I stay off the meat for a few nights, although the lure of pork pies and sausages mean I normally fall off the wagon if I stay meat-free too long.

For health reasons too, it helps me. I’ve got Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). In my case, it’s caused by ten years of HRT battering my Liver, but I have to be sensible about the qantities and qualities of meat I eat.

So, eating less meat, or none at all, could actually improve your life. Try it.

Supermarkets don’t help

Before Supermarkets anonymised our weekly shop, we went down our local high-street  where everyone knew you and your business.

Admittedly, the latter bit wasn’t always welcome, but you generally knew where the food came from. Where it was grown. Who the butcher was. And when things went off or tasted bad, you told them the next time you visisted.

Supermarkets have changed this. We’ve become removed from where our food comes from. It arrives on neat little shelves in hermetically-sealed packages with best before and use by dates.

A lot of the time, that food has been flown around the world to get to you. It’s used a ton of carbon to get there, and gets pumped full of things designed to prolong its shelf-life.

In order to deliver the prices consumers want, and the consistency they demand, supermarkets have to do some crazy things.

They have multiple suppliers, with food going from place to place to ensure it reaches the supermarket in the best condition without incurring high overheads.  Even the staff in the supermarket can’t tell you where that piece of beef came from, or where those potatoes were grown.

Only a little barcode gives the game away: a little, incomprehensible code which tells a computer somewhere where this food came from before it reached your cart.

That’s not accountable. And it’s not user-friendly.

Essentially, the prices we pay at supermarkets are terribly under-inflated and completely unsustainable. As a society, we’ve got used to not paying the true price for food, and not caring where it comes from.

If it’s tasty, looks good, and lasts a week, that’s all we care about.

Lowering prices artificially isn’t new though. Anyone who remembers the Milk price crisis from the 90s will remember that supermarkets almost destroyed the UK milk industry because of undercutting prices and refusing to pay a fair price per liter of milk collected from UK farms. I know. my dad worked in the industry.

We just need to make sure the same doesn’t happen to our other foods.

The solution? Make friends with your highstreet.

I hate supermarkets. They’re big, noisy, impersonal, and full of screaming kids, rude people and stressed staff.

So for the past three years, my wife and I have spent our weekends doing an alternative type of shopping: the high-street.

My local greengrocers on Gloucester Road, Bristol.

Gardener's Patch, Gloucester Road, Bristol

And by this, I mean Gloucester Road in Bristol, not a street full of so-called ‘highstreet brands’.

Gloucester Road is how the UK used to be. There are lots of small, independent shops, all selling their own little specialities. There’s a fishmonger, a number of butchers, greengrocers and bakers. There are a smattering of hardware stores, and even an independent games retailer.

Every Friday or Saturday, we make an old-fashioned shopping list on our new-fangled iPhones. Then, on Saturday morning, either I or my wife head out early and grab the bargains.

Our butchers of choice (T&PA Murrays) are wonderful. They know us well, and give us free marrowbones for our dogs. They have a great selection of fresh, local meats, cheeses and condiments.

A weekly shop there, including meat for three or four days, sandwich ham, dog-training meat, cheeses, and jams costs us between £50 and £70. That’s for four people, and two dogs.

My local butchers can tell you where the meat came from. They can tell you what was in it. And then we use that fresh, local, organic meat to cook our own home-made dishes at home. No sauces, no packets, and no unexpected surprises.

Similarly, our greengrocer (Gardener’s Patch) is equally blessed with a good selection of fruit and veg. Because they go with local suppliers who don’t or can’t go with supermarkets, the prices are low too. Three large bags of vegetables and fruit for the week (two pieces of fruit a day for four packed lunches, five times a week, pus extra for snacking) costs us around £20-£30, depending on season and what we pick up.

While not all the fruit and veg is local, slow, or organic, a sign proudly tells us what comes from where.  That means we can decide to buy new potatoes from Eygypt, or last year’s Desiree from Somerset.

So that’s £100 for a weekly shop, for four people. Or £25 each. I think it’d be tough to replicate that at my local supermarket.

As for coffee and tea? We use our local shops for those too: TwoDayCoffee for organic, fairtrade, locally-roasted beans, and ATTIC Tea for our teas.

You’ll feel better too.

And while I patronise the local supermarket for the stuff I can’t get anywhere else, our food habits have got immeasurably better. We have an American-style fridge Freezer, which used to be full of all manner of frozen food, and a fridge which used to be full of diet coke.

These days, the freezer has a few emergency things in it, like frozen peas, ice blocks, and the occasional piece of meat we’ve not consumed yet.  Our fridge is an alladin’s cave, full of fresh cooked meat, cheeses, vegetables, and fruit.  And when we get time, the milk is always from a local organic store who get local organic milk from a local organic dairy.

Give your local high-street independents a go.

Local Delis are a delight.

(it tastes better too)

Oh yes, I know what’s coming. I’m an over-privileged, self-aggrandising, middle-class snob who has the time (and money) to go on some sacred hunt for her food every week.

I disagree.

I’m someone who has made time to cook, someone who knows what it means to taste food which hasn’t been prepared by someone and then put in a jar. Someone who knows and loves to cook fresh meals, soups, pies, quiches and makes her own chips.

I’m a busy mom. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes I have to get take-out. But make your own home-made pizza once in a while (we did at the weekend) — and I think you’ll never want Dominos again.

In essence, if you give yourself permission to shop around, you may surprise yourself.

To boot, you’ll stop worrying if that’s Charlie the Champion in your burgers instead of Bertie the Bull.

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My Poor Sore Toe Do Hurt

While I was a wee laddie, growing up in the deepest parts of the Waveney Valley, my parents spent many hours teaching me about the countryside around me. In fact, they both taught me everything they knew, from how not to get stung by nettles through to identifying different birds, plants, and insects.

It’s hardly surprising. After a career in dairy farming, my mum and dad had spent every single day either on the farm or in the garden. They missed nothing in the natural world.

Mum and Dad.

My wonderful parents

I know how jumping spiders caught their prey. I knew how to spot early signs of Myxomatosis, a too-often deadly disease which was a massive blight on the rabbit population of my youth.

But perhaps one of my more fun memories of my mum and dad’s keen natural history interest was the infamous Emperor Moth incident of 1989. Since that one takes some explaining — not to mention a great deal of amusement at the expense of my oldest sister — I’ll save that for another day…

My parents weren’t the only ones giving me such incredible tuition. Once a month or more, I ventured to Wheatfen, the home of renowned teacher and naturalist Ted Ellis, to help carry out conservation work on this beautiful, important reserve. While I never met the late Ted Ellis — he died before I started helping there — I got to know his wonderful wife Phyllis Ellis MBE, a retired teacher herself who still lived in the tiny cottage on the marshes . Despite her senior years, still headed out to the Marshes to help with conservation work and bring us volunteers her famous soup, bread, and chocolate concrete.

Phyllis Ellis MBE. Photograph From Flickr, Wheatfen Tribute Site

Phyllis Ellis MBE. Photograph From Flickr, Wheatfen Tribute Site

Why, you wonder, am I telling you about all these influential Natural History experts in my life?

Because of my toe.

When you’re a kid, especially one with a musical ear, nothing helps you memorise birdsong quite as quickly as making up different phrases for each call.  And I’m certainly not alone in this one either.

For centuries, countryfolk have made up different names or put words to bird calls as a way of memorising them.  For example, in Norfolk, you may have heard of the Yaffle, the folk name given to Green Woodpeckers because of their laughing call. (Children of the late 70s and early 80s will also know this name from the wonderful Bagpuss, a show I still adore to this day.)

Others will know of the Pewit, more commonly known as the Lapwing. Like the Yaffle, it was given its name due to its distinctive, ‘Peeee-wit!’ call.

(They are also tenacious creatures, and bomb-dive any perceived predator, especially dogs who venture too close to their ground-based nests and young.)

This leads me nicely to the wood pidgeon, whose distinctive call is normally described as being something along the lines of: ‘ My poor sore toe do bleed! My poor sore toe do bleed! My poor sore toe do bleed! Look!’

There are other variants, but in our family, the one above has prevailed, sometimes replacing the word bleed with the word hurt.

Now it’s time to come up to the present day. As a mum, I’ve failed in my attempts to teach my kids about the world around them, especially the natural one. But I do pride myself in trying to be as fun a mum as possible.

So, a few weeks ago in Bristol, I was trying to keep child number 2 happy, while playfully embarrassing child number 1 — a stern 10-year old who thinks anything I do is embarrassing.

Child number 2 — and eventually child number 1 — and I started to skip. And then I started to chase them and life them both up together, the pair giggling in shock, awe, and embarrassement that even aged 9 and 10, I could lift them both up together.

And then it happened. I either landed wrongly on my right little toe, or my daughter did. Either way, pain shot through my foot.

At the time, it felt more like a bruise than anything else, and turned a wonderful shade of black, then purple, blue, and red over the next 24 hours. An acquaintance of mine, a retired doctor, said it may be broken but hinted very little could be done about it.

Stupidly, I didn’t strap the poor toe to the good ones.

So here we are, two weeks later. The bruising has gone and the swelling is much reduced. But for some reason, the pain is still there, and my toe looks… well. Wrong.

Broken Toe? It sure hurts like it.

Two days ago, I started strapping the toe, and started taking the pain seriously. And today, I’m going to find myself heading to the nearest medical facility for a check-up.

As with any grown-up kid, big or small, the task them became one to tell my mother, when next ringing her, what I’d done.

Alongside the genuine concern for my health and a plea for me to ‘get it checked,’ my mum couldn’t resist singing me something very simple.

‘My poor sore toe do bleed! My poor sore toe do bleed! My poor sore toe do bleed! Look!’

I smiled to myself as I said my goodbyes. Even after all these years, my mum cares for me just as much as she did when I was little.

Thirty-three years later, I’m a mother myself. But it’s moments like these which remind you what a big impact being a mother can have on not only your life, but those of your children.

And it reminds me that wherever we go, whatever we do, those experiences are ours to keep, forming our very identities as we continue down the path that is life.

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If Zach Wahls Where My Son, I’d Be Proud Too

Zach Wahls is a 19 year-old from Iowa. He has a good GPA, is studying Engineering at University, and happens to be a very eloquent speaker.

Here he is speaking about the family he grew up in, his identity, and how the Iowa House of Representatives should not allow Join Resolution 6 to pass.

For those who don’t know, Iowa is currently trying to pass a law to end civil unions in Iowa. Since GLBT marriage is still prohibited in the U.S., this would end all legal unions for GBLT couples.

As a member of the LGBT community, I do hope that Iowa choses the right path and not the wrong one. And as the wife of an American citizen, I can never see us and our two wonderful, beautiful daughters ever move back to the U.S. until we have the same rights and privileges as everyone else.

To help fight this bill, you can donate to ActBlue, an online support fund to help Democratic action in Iowa.

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2011: Ditch the Resolution, Live the Change

it’s that time of year again, isn’t it? The time of year when we hold a glass in our hands to toast the new year and a head full of things we say we will do, No Matter What.

But unless you’re one of the few people who acts on New Year Resolutions I want you to try something simple: Ditch resolutions. Forget them.

Instead, I’d like you to just do something different, rather than make promises and plans you won’t keep.

Let me give you an illustration:

Earlier on today I was teaching my youngest daughter to ride a bicycle. I can’t remember learning to ride but I know I learnt before I went to school. And I love being on two wheels. I find it instinctive. My youngest daughter didn’t.

I watched as she wobbled, part screaming with excitement and part with fear, as I helped her move forward. She was so desperate to ride her bike that she was thinking too hard. Her arms, outstretched, tried in vain to push the bike in the right direction.

“Look where you want to go”, I told her. “Don’t think about riding. Think about where you want to go”.

It worked. Within ten minutes, she had gone from tentative wobble to confident laps of the field.

So what does my daughter learning to ride her bicycle have to do with new years resolutions?

The act of doing something.

Thinking about a resolution is great. Everyone needs to think about their actions. But thinking too much is just as dangerous as not thinking at all. So is giving in to prejudice, fear or ignorance.

July this year marks the 10 year anniversary of a change I made to my life. It’s a change I’m glad I made. I could have procrastinated. Instead, I listened to my heart and it was one of my best decisions in 31 years on this planet.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m just as bad as everyone else at procrastinating. My weight? Higher than it should be. Have I procrastinated about losing some? You bet.

Working less? Yes, I’ve thought about that too. But In the past few weeks I’ve learnt to play. To have fun, for myself and not feel guilty about it. Becoming a mom seems to have helped me realise that sometimes I just need some time for myself.

I’ve also realised that my actions have consequences. I’m no-longer one half of a DINKY household. I have to feed, clothe, bathe and entertain two georgeous children. It’s scary and wonderful. You would think that being a mom has made me more cautious. No. It’s made me appreciate life even more.

So if you have a change you’ve been meaning to do then go ahead: Make the difference. Live the change.

It could be using less power, eating more healthily or even just spending more time walking your dog. The biggest changes often come from the simplest of ideas.

By all means, think long and hard about what you’re going to do in 2011. But once you’re done with the thinking DO IT.

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Changes are Afoot

Well folks – it’s been a long time.

We’re undergoing some serious changes to our servers and even working hard to bring aminorjourney.com back from the brink. So stick around, and we’ll push a new site on you just as soon as we can!




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The shortest test-drive ever.


Last week I was one of the lucky few to get a ride in a REAL 2011 Nissan Leaf – but sadly not behind the wheel. (More on that later) – but for now, here’s my very quick review of the Nissan Leaf Test Mule. A Test mule is something that automakers do to test out the drivetrain of a new vehicle by putting it in an already existing model. 


I had fun. And I went round the course a bit quicker than the guy who was meant to take me around to show me just how fast it could go. I also didn’t knock over any cones like the BBC Click team ;) 





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TWiE Episode 14

It’s terrible of me – but I’ve been lapse here on aminorjourney.com. 

I’m re-jigging a few projects, but in the meantime, please do watch last week’s TWiE – which was a great episode. You can see the full selection of episodes at www.thisweekinenergy.tv. 

In the meantime, please feel free to watch the episode below. 



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EVcast 310

EVcast 310 – A great show with Michael Craner, Michael Thwaite, Mike Boxwell and held together by Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield.
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