Thu, 13 Dec 2007
Herts LUG 20071212
Another second Wednesday at the LUG and it's Xmas party time. That meant a huge amount of
finger food and another great quiz from Rob. This was
enormous fun, but would have been bewildering to non-geeks as we answered obscure Linux questions
and tried to match up O'Reilly book covers with their titles.
We were a bit down on numbers, but still enjoyed ourselves. What's more, my team won again. I am now
the proud(!) owner of a
that also tells me the temperature. It's a USB hubb too, so does have a real use.
We also had an account from James of his participation in a budget car rally to Italy.
His team had pictures of several LUG members plastered on the car.
After a long wait I finally received my copy of the latest Radiohead
album. I've had the download for a couple of months, but today I got the Discbox. This represents my first
new vinyl in over 20 years. There's the standard CD plus another of extra tracks, then the album on
two 45 rpm records. It is very lavishly packaged in a
heavy gatefold with a slipcase.
There's booklets full of the usual 'art'. It's a nice thing to have, but maybe a bit decadent. Annoyingly it's
too tall to fit on the shelf with our small vinyl collection. This occupies a mere 30cm as opposed to Malc's
impressive collection (link removed due to it messing with my stats).
This is currently dwarfed by a collection of around 3000 discs that he is minding for a DJ friend. I wish I
had time to listen to that much music.
Mon, 10 Dec 2007
I just figured out why my bookreview plug-in was failing when I clicked on a book. It was expecting
the egrep command to be a different place to where it lives on this server. I edited the code and it
works now. I'm still working out what details to include in my reviews and how to layout the pages, but I've
added my latest couple of reads.
Bask to Bassics
Please excuse the pun. Although I've been playing the guitar on and off for many years I've
been thinking about trying the bass for a while. I suspect that I will never be a great guitarist,
but I think I might have the makings of a reasonable bass player. There's also the hope of finding
more outlets to play as there is probably an excess of guitarists out there. My good friend Lance
has been kind enough to lend me a bass that his son started playing, but abandoned. It's a bargain
basement job, but enough to start with. I've hardly played bass before, so I have to get used to
the differences from a guitar. Firstly it's heavy. Then there's the big left hand stretches required
around the low end. My hands are fairly big, but this feels like playing a giant's guitar. There's also
the dilema of how to play it. I don't have any suitable heavy-duty pelctrums, so I'm using thumb and
fingers. I've already developed a "blister
on my thumb". (Thanks to Ian for pointing out the reference).
I don't have a proper amplifier, but my old Peavey may do for practice as long as I don't blow the speaker.
Played acoustically it can be hard to hear the notes properly.
I'm trying to figure out various well known bass lines. Single line stuff should be fairly easy to follow,
but the bass can sometimes be buried in the mix. I've been listening anew to some music to try and hear what the
bass player is up to. I'm on the look out for any on-line educational material. I have some old Guitarist magazines
that may have some tutorials. I'll have to get around to learning to read bass clef properly as I don't like to
rely on tab.
I still have hopes to do some home recording. I've not found a way to get sound input working on my Ubuntu
system since it broke, but I would have to get something better at some point anyway. There are dozens of
sound cards and interfaces available, but Linux support is patchy. My requirements as I see it would be
for something with build-in microphone pre-amps to reduce the amount of stuff I need, although I realise that
may involve compromises. I'm not sure I need multiple inputs for now, but it may be possible to expand, e.g.
by using several USB interfaces. The Edirol UA-4FA
is appealing for £100, but it seems that not all features are supported. An alternative approach occured to
me whilst reading about the Zoom H2 portable
sound recorder. Apparently it can operate as a USB sound device, but would also be handy for recording away from
the PC. There seems to be a sight sterling tax as it costs more here that the US$200 transatlantic price would
suggest, but that seems to be a common phenomenon with musical equipment as well as in other markets. You still
get a lot for your quid. It seems everything electronic is getting incredibly cheap these days, but you can still pay
silly money if you feel the need. Even conventional instruments are available for ridiculously low prices thanks
to the low paid chinese workers. I feel sorry for anyone in Europe trying to compete, but there's never been a
better time for musicians on a budget.
Fri, 30 Nov 2007
I've been trying out some more plug-ins for my Pyblosxom
- Book Review is very similar to the Book List one I had before. It also uses a text file to store all the text,
but has some extra fields and can generate a page for each book with the link using the ISBM. Unfortunately the
latter is not working for some reason. I'm looking into it.
- There's a simple one that gives links to all the other pages. That's something I didn't consider until I
cut the number of items on the front page.
- Plugin-info just lists what I have installed. It could be useful for
- Recent could be the most useful. It lists recent items, including comments.
I don't get many comments and there's a problem that stops me getting email notifications when a new one is added.
The first time I used this I saw I had a couple of comments. Appropriately enough they were on the subject of
One thing I still want to do is to get the site URLs rewritten to something shorter. The main page should really
just be at www.bagofspoons.net. I understand this means some set-up in Apache that I need to work out. There's other
things to sort out when I find time.
Thu, 15 Nov 2007
Herts LUG 20071114
Down to Stevenage for the monthly chat. I was interested to
see a Panasonic Toughbook (very rugged looking
laptop) and a neat Palm emulator
on Tony's Nokia N770. If I could get one for my PocketPC then I wouldn't need to carry
two PDAs around. I still haven't migrated some of my data or found substitutes for
some of the apps I use. Malc showed up later
to talk about his attempts to recover a dying hard drive. One suggestion was to bang
it on a table if the heads were stuck.
Several people were interested in the new Asus Eee PC.
It's a mini laptop with a flash drive for not too much money. I don't really need a powerful
laptop and probably wouldn't want to take one on holiday, but this is much more convenient
and powerful enough for internet, photo editing or watching videos. A big plus is that it
runs Linux. I can't justify one just now, but perhaps it will encourage a new wave of budget
devices. Or they will just bring out a better one for the same money in six months.
My software revelation of the week is that Skype released a
client that does video! It's a beta, but that's never stopped me before. I have it installed,
but have yet to try the video feature. Otherwise it looks the same as the previous one, i.e. a bit
lacking in features, like showing contacts by group, that I liked before. I don't have a working webcam
myself. Recommendations for something cheapish that works on Ubuntu are welcome. Other interesting new
software this week was Miro. It's a sort of RSS reader for video.
You can subscribe to various feeds and get the latest editions. Some of it is even in HD, but the
examples I tried were not that impressive on my 19" CRT. One day I'll move to a nice 22" widescreen
Sun, 11 Nov 2007
One Million Gnodes
This is geeky, but I don't care. I've been contributing processing power to
Distributed.net for many years on a variety
of computers. My current dual-core Athlon is probably equivalent to a dozen of the
old machines I started with, plus the software has been optimised to get more out
of the hardware. I had switched to Folding@home
as it seemed to be of more practical use, but I was having problems with it crashing
out and losing many hours of work, so I switched back to the Dnet OGR project.
There's also the RC5-72 code-cracking project, but that seems to have already proved
that it's not currently viable to brute-force the code. After a few years they haven't
even managed 0.5% of the keyspace.
Anyway, today I finally reached the milestone of
one million Gnodes on OGR-25.
I can see there that I've been running it for over seven years, but at the rate I'm running now I
could do the same work in about eight months.
I'm not sure how long this project has to run. There are a lot less contributors these days,
but I estimate it could be done within the next six months. There has been a
hint that a new project
is coming along soon. I feel a certain loyalty to this group, so I will be looking out for that.
There's an argument that we shouldn't be leaving computers on and running them at full capacity
to run projects like this due to the increased energy usage. I have my own dilema about this, but
I think I compromise well by not leaving my computer on all the time and by saving energy in other
areas. The Windows F@H client has the option to not use all the available CPU. That's a good
way to compromise and also keep the computer cooler. I understand that this is trickier to do
on Linux. Dnet does have the option to only use one CPU core, which should keep the power usage
down a bit, but I'll keep my PC on full steam for now. It helps keep the house warm in the winter,
but probably not by much.
My contribution to these projects may actually be almost insignificant next to that of the
many Playstations that now run them. Their multi-core processors seem capable of very high
speeds. I'm not planning on buying one, but we have been considering a Nintendo Wii purely for
family entertainment. The problem may be in actually finding one. They seem to be in very short
supply in the UK. Ideally I'd like to use vouchers from my credit card to buy it, but that limits
the options futher. For example I couldn't find any Argos stores with them in stock. Any suggestions?
Sun, 04 Nov 2007
I've mentioned before that I don't really like closed social sites like Facebook.
I shouldn't have to force friends to join whatever site I'm on just so they can see my updates.
I could ask them to subscribe to the feeds of all the sites I use, but that's asking a bit
much and their list will not stay up to date for long. I've been exploring some sites that
let me build a single feed from all my sites.
Mugshot does this fairly well,
but has some limitations. It only allows linking to certain sites plus one blog. It has some
nice social features like groups that all you to have a joint feed.
FriendFeed offers very similar facilities, but
not groups. What attracted me there is the option to set up feeds for friends who don't
want to join themselves. They call this 'Imaginary Friends'. Others may call it cyberstalking ;)
They also don't allow for multiple feeds from sites they don't directly support. I'm on
their support group, so I will be pushing for things like that.
The big news in social networking this week was Google's announcement of
OpenSocial. I'm not fully clear on it's
capabilities, but I gather that it would let developers write applications like those
available within Facebook, but they could be used on any site that implements their API.
We shall see how it develops.
Over the weekend I've done an overdue update on my site. I was a few revisions behind
with PyBlosxom. This version doesn't offer
any radical changes, but is supposed to fix some bugs. I've taken the opportunity to
reorganise the directory structure to make future upgrades simpler.
I'm also playing with some plug-ins. I've had comments for a while, but only just
set them up to email me updates recently. I'm not fully convinced that always works.
I've also finally added one for static pages, i.e. pages that are not tied to a date.
I intend to use these for things like saying something about myself and things I want to
be always easily accessible. I've started with transferring a lot of the content from the
right-hand side to a page linked from the top right. I'll tidy that up later. This should
resolve an issue a friend was having in tracking links to his site. He was finding hundreds
from here as my friends list appeared everywhere.
I still intend to generate my About page from my FOAF
file when I find the time. I've seen some other places doing this, so I may be able to copy
Big thanks to Will for his help in getting my
static page working. He wrote the plug-in and is the main PyBlosxom man. We chatted on IRC
to sort it out. I love the fact that you can have direct access to developers on free software.
We found we had a common love of Philip Glass and I suggested he check out Steve Reich.
Sat, 27 Oct 2007
Today I bit the bullet and upgraded my main PC to the latest
Kubuntu version 7.10, aka Gutsy Gibbon.
I've had some bad experiences in the past with upgrades, so I was wary.
My wariness was justified. I had taken the precaution of backing up my data.
I ran the upgrade from Adept, which downloaded the appropriate utility. It
downloaded about 1000 packages, but locked up whilst installing them. After
asking around on the IRC channels I killed it. I was then left with some
process that kept trying to install packages int he background until I killed that
too. Then I ran the upgrade from the console and it seemed to run fine.
One reboot later, with new log-in screen, I had my system back, but without
sound. I had to install some more modules to get that back. Then I noticed that
I was only using one core of my AMD X2 CPU. That was due to having some 386
modules installed. Now I seem to be fine apart from it saying that a package needs
updating even after I did it.
I've been getting through a few books this year. See the latest comments on
my book list.
I've mentioned changing my blog over to Wordpress, but I'm having some second thoughts.
If I could fix a few things I could be tempted to stay with Pyblosxom. Those things would
- Setting up some static pages for doing the 'about me' and other stuff. I might derive the
former from my FOAF file
- Getting it to email me when a comment comes in. It's a pretty rare occurence, but I believe
it should be possible
- Being able to post via the web. I did play with a simple version of this ages ago, but I think
that there is a new one. I need to get the latest version of Pyblosxom anyway.
Thu, 25 Oct 2007
Philip Glass and Patti Smith 20071019
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I've been a fan of Philip Glass's works
for a few years now, although I have not managed to collect many recordings yet.
I'm not even sure where I started with him, but must have heard the music in various
films and other places. He's doing a series of concerts to celebrate his 70th
birthday, so I really wanted to get to see him as there may not be another chance.
I could have fancied Music in 12 Parts, but I thought that my other half would not
last the four hours. An alternative was a performance, with Patti Smith, of some
Alan Ginsberg poetry. I'm not really into poetry, but thought I would take the chance.
I initially assumed that the venue was the Barbican,
but it was actually St Luke's down the road. This is
a former church converted to a performance area. We went to their crypt cafe in hope of decent
food, but they were only serving sandwiches. The performance started, as promised, at 7:30pm.
We were seated on the balcony, itself an impressive steel structure. There was a stage with a piano
and very subtle speakers around it. You barely need amplification in a venue that small.
PG and PS entered to great applause and lauched into the first poem with PG playing one
of his dances that I know well. It was actually one of Patti's poems, but the words
washed over me as I revelled in hearing one of my heroes play the piano with me having
a great view over his shoulder. There was more poetry and som chat from Patti. It seems that
they were both close friends of Ginsberg and she had some nice anecdotes. We enjoyed her
presentation style. PG then played a few solo pieces. His annoucing was very stilted. I'm
guessing that he does not often do public speaking. The pieces were some I didn't know, but
were very much of his style. I thought that he was going to stumble in the first. I think that
at his age this can be pardoned and he kept going well. Patti then sang some of her own songs
with her guitarist, both on acoustic guitars. Then I think there were a couple more poems to
finish. It was all over by 9pm.
I would have preferred to just have PG perform his works, but this was a satisfactory
compromise and a new experience in general.
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