Thanks Chain Reaction Cycles!

Look how happy our baby is with his new little bike:


It arrived in a box yesterday along with a letter from Chain Reaction Cycles:


“Dear Baby Wood,

We noticed that your daddy got a nice new bike delivered from our website and you were excited by this, so we wanted to send you a bike of your own. Hopefully you will be big enough to start riding it soon.

Chris R – Tech Team Leader”


How lovely!

They did all of this in response to a tweet I had sent a few days earlier, which was proving rather popular:


So that was some good tweeting!

31 “likes” on twitter (so far). That’s after Chain Reaction retweeted it. It seems like the likes came from random customers and cycle fans up and down the country. 31 likes seems to be well above average for @Chain__Reaction‘s twitter stream, and 31 likes is very good going by my standards. My best performing tweet ever in fact! So much for my years of tweeting witty and insightful commentary on tech and maps and things. They all just got beaten by a picture of my baby!

Anyway, what a great surprise to receive! It was addressed to “Baby Wood” which caused some amusement when the courier showed up. I didn’t open it at first in case my wife was planning some sort of surprise I wasn’t supposed to know about. But no! It was a surprise from Chain Reaction Cycles.

As you can see, the baby can be balanced upon the saddle just about, but he’ll need to grow a bit before riding it properly. …Or maybe I should get him training early. See if he can learn to cycle before he learns to walk!

Keyboard Letters Game

I made an online game for my 8 month old baby to play. If you are a baby you might like it too! :

>>> Keyboard Letters Game <<<

Maybe I should come up with a more imaginative name for it, but the idea is, he can bash the keyboard and big colourful letters pop up on screen. It also reads out the letters (put your sound on). Here is a video of him in action:

keyboard letters video

[Update: source code is on github]

Our little boy is 8 months old now. For quite a while he’s been interested in my laptop. He’s interested in any new objects, but I think he’s also seen me typing away on it, and wants a bit of that action. He impatiently tries to reach for my laptop whenever he’s nearby.

I realised he’s a bit young for this still. As you can see in the video, he’s whacking the keyboard quite violently with his whole hand. In fact we have a toy with a just one big button, and he’s still developing the coordination needed to press that, so he definitely doesn’t get the idea of pressing individual keys on the keyboard, but he does seem to be making the link that keyboard whacking makes sound and colourful things happen. Unfortunately he’s also very good at somehow finding weird and wonderful keyboard shortcuts I never knew existed, for dropping out of fullscreen mode, and opening settings etc.

For his age, I’m getting some ideas for simpler games I could develop which just bring light colour and sound based on approximate location on the keyboard he’s whacked.

When he’s a bit older I imagine this might help him understand typing and also letters of the alphabet, particularly as it reads out the letters. Mind you, I’m told they don’t teach the reading of the alphabet in the same way any more in UK schools :-O   Do I need to make a “synthetic phonics” version of this?

I actually made this game for the first time when I was helping out with IT in a junior school. I must have been about 15/16 years old at the time, and I made all kinds of experimental things in BASIC running on Acorn computers (odd things we had in schools at the time). So this is a reimplementation of 20 year old idea!

It’s nice that we can do this kind of thing on the web these days, although doing this with javascript is probably quite a messy bodge-job with nasty browser compatibility considerations compared to doing it in Acorn BASIC. It makes me wonder how I would get on as a 15 year old learning to program in modern times. I don’t remember exactly how I did speech synthesis 20 years ago (system call-out to do a *SAY "HELLO" command perhaps). On the web I didn’t actually know this was possible. On a whim I googled “speech synthesis HTML5” thinking “Nah surely it’s not…” but it is! Speech synthesis is available for calling in javascript on modern browsers! Might have to have some more fun with this!

…if my baby doesn’t destroy my laptop first

UK passport photos for 39p

photo_boothI recently had to get some UK passport photos printed for my baby. This has extra fun issues, like getting him to look at the camera, and not having a hand visibly holding him. But even for adult passport photos…  I have a nice camera. It feels like paying a £5 for a photo booth is wrong. So I have used the following approach …because I’m cheap like that.

At boots you can print a single photo for 39 pence, and a single photo is big enough to fit eight little UK passport photos within it. Bargain! We just need to prepare a picture like this to print:

(There’s our little lad!)

The trick is to get the pixel ratios right. The other trick was to realise that boots photo machines crop photos a little bit at the edges, and they actually automatically crop more if you give them an image with a lot of blankness, hence the decorative leafy border on this image to prevent this. This skinflint Yorkshireman has done the trial and error so you don’t have to!

Passport photos template image <<< (right click ‘save as’)

So you might make use of this file as a template, and edit it to put your own passport photo image, but you’ll have to do some clever resizing and cropping and positioning using image editing software. The overall photo file here is 3264 x 2448 pixels. Your mugshot photo image will need to be sized 738 x 949 pixels, but don’t forget there’s rules for how big the head should be within a passport photo. So this means within that image you need the head to be ~660 pixels tall. In fact it’s easiest to take that as the starting point.

So the steps are:

  • Take your photo
  • Make a copy of the file
  • Resize it so that the head is 660px tall
  • Crop it to frame the picture nicely and to exactly 738 x 949 pixels
  • Save that
  • Open the template image and copy your image onto it
  • repeat for all 8 positions

Finally put that image on a USB key/SD card and take it to boots. When you come to print, select “6×4 From: £0.39”

And there you have it… 8 passport photos for 39 pence!

The new (baby) normal

We had a baby boy! Quite a while ago actually. I announce these things on facebook and twitter these days:


He’s a healthy normal baby, but I’m not sure I even remember the “normal” I was referring to in this tweet. Life without a baby feels like a long time ago.

We had a lot of preparation for the birth. Hypnobirthing classes in particular lead us to be hoping for a “natural” birth. Really we just wanted a “normal” birth. Following the procedure women have followed for 200,000 years seems like a good way to do that. We learned that things like inductions and epidurals were to be feared and avoided. …and then that’s what we got!

The due date was nicely ahead of Christmas, but the baby didn’t come. The relatives all arrived (including my wife’s family from Brazil), and the baby still didn’t come, and so the date for “induction” was set… for Christmas eve! Weeks earlier my brother joked that if the baby arrived on Christmas day, we’d have to name him Jesus (pronounced “yay-zuss”. It’s a relatively common name in Brazil) but the joke was starting to come true.

Our un-normal birth timelineWe had a booking for Christmas lunch in a pub, involving no small amount of pre-booking and pre-payment, but the relatives enjoyed that without us. The hospital served turkey, while we waited for the induction drugs to take effect, but the baby still didn’t come

…until boxing day. But the contractions were more regular than normal because of the way induction drugs work. After hours of that, my wife opted for an epidural, the most kick-ass of all the pain killing options, but not the most casual of options since it involves a heavily gloved up sterilised anaesthetist inserting a needle in your spine. This was no longer natural.

And the pushing wasn’t working so eventually the birth took a final spectacular deviation from the normal. We were given various cautions and asked to sign permissions and disclaimers for a C-section operation. I was asked to put on doctors outfit. Finally, under the glare of some massive operating theatre lamps, surrounded by medics, with some help by forceps… our baby was born.

We got him home a few days later, and I remember enjoying a big family meal. Catching up on the Christmas celebrations we’d missed. And on the evening I sent that tweet, I was joking of course, but it actually did feel like things were getting back to normal in some ways. Back on track for the normal experience of being new parents.

We had a check from a midwife at home, who weighed the baby, and seemed happy he wasn’t losing too much weight. But we weren’t too sure if the breast-feeding was going correctly, and we now know he had not really been feeding properly at all. He was having a few short guzzles of a few seconds, whereas a proper breastfeeding “latching on” period would be at least a minute of non-stop sucking, more like ten minutes or longer. This seems obvious to us now, but somehow all the midwives advising us, had not spent long enough to put us right on this.

The result was that he was getting more and more hungry, just the next day after being told his weight loss was not a worry, we took him to the doctor because things were not normal. He was mega grumpy and had dry-looking lips. The GP said it didn’t seem normal, and sent us back to hospital to be checked. The paediatricians told us he would need to be fed through a tube in his nose to bring his weight back up. That definitely felt like a serious deviation from the normal again. We ended up staying in hospital for two more days feeding the baby and re-establishing breastfeeding. That just happened to correspond with new years. We saw in 2016 watching the London fireworks from the tall balcony at Whittington hospital.

So Christmas and new year felt pretty frantically un-normal for us. Since then we’ve hit a whole sequence of other interesting challenges. Breastfeeding was the big one. That’s a story for another day. In general looking after a little baby, understanding his behaviour, knowing how to make him sleep or feed or stop crying, is constantly shifting challenge. He’s growing so fast that each week the goalposts move. The process seems designed to evade any attempt at containment in a predictable manageable cycle.

So no, things are not really back to normal. But I do feel like we are now getting to grips with a new normal, in which we need to be constantly ready for new challenges, and take them as they come. We’re sleeping more and relaxing into parenting more now.

…And we’re taking these smiles when they come too:


Going to be a dad

Big news….


That’s our 11 week scan. My wife’s starting to show a bump, and we’ll be getting a 20 week scan pretty soon, at which point we find out if it’s a boy or a girl.

Recently I’ve been doing grown up things like getting married and getting a mortgage. I’m even thinking about learning to drive. But this… this is very grown up. I’ve a feeling it’s going to change my life a bit.

The main advice from friends so far seems to be… get in some sleep now. I’m well practiced at staying up late at night, but that’s because there’s an internet full of irresistibly exciting activities out there. Or sometimes I’m just catching up with work, which also throws up some irresistibly fun coding challenges at times. …but I think maybe these habits and hobbies will be about to change.

I’m not really a morning person, and I believe small children are generally morning people.

A few months back my big sis came to visit with their 1 year old. I was woken by crying at 6a.m. …which was fine. It’s new and exciting, and I rushed downstairs to join in the baby fun, at which point my sister said “OK. You play with him. I’ll go back to bed”

Playing with my nephew is great fun, but I quickly found the challenge was to keep him interested in things. At one year old I can present him with a fairly mundane household object, like a plastic milk bottle for example, and he’ll be excited and fascinated by it for a few minutes, but then he’ll want a different object to play with. Now if you rule out the objects which will break if they’re dropped, or be destroyed by slobbering, or be a swallowing risk, well there’s still quite a few things around the house, but after an hour and half I think we’d identified all of them!

But of course an hour and half is the end of playtime anyway because he’s onto the next thing which is probably milk, then sleep, then the cycle starts again (with a few nappy changes thrown in). Spending time with my sister, I noticed this cycle is surprisingly short, and relentless. It doesn’t stop, or synchronise conveniently with the adult’s three-meals-a-day, or any of the other normal routines.

So on this occasion I handed him back because he was crying, and my sister identified it was time for milk. It was about 7:30, and I felt shattered. I went back to bed and slept through till about 10:30 (meanwhile my nephew would’ve gone through another couple of sleep, play, milk cycles) Exhausting!

So yes. A new adventure for me and my wife! Baby’s due near Christmas time :-O