Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Fri, 22 Aug 2008

Updating the reading list

I've just caught up on logging what I have been reading recently. I need to check if I have omitted any books. The list is here or you can see the latest ones in the sidebar. I'm using an add-on for Pyblosxom that requires entering the details in a slightly contrived style. It uses more comment and category fields than I really need, but I haven't tried to change that as yet.

I also added in some earlier books from the previous add-on that used a slightly different file format. I probably could have scripted something to do that, but it took less time to do it manually. I know I lose geek points for that.

[22:13] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Thu, 21 Aug 2008

My Stack Overfloweth

In my quest to learn more about the art of programming I have been listening to the Stack Overflow podcast by Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood. These two seem to have a lot of experience between them and are applying it to developing a new Q&A site for developers. They are both entertaining talkers as well.

The Stack Overflow site is still in closed beta, but I managed to get in on it. It's simple, but impressive. It uses cool technology like OpenID, but can be used without registering. Users can allocate ratings to all questions and answers, so the good stuff should be easy to find. There is a complex reputation system, with badges, to encourage people to participate. So far I have submitted a couple of questions about use of wiki and email to manage information and received lots of good responses. It will be interesting to see how it evolves when opened up to the world.

I'll be interested in hearing about other good podcasts on programming and other technical subjects. I enjoy listening to them when driving to work. I still need to get myself a car radio that can play from flash media. I still have to burn an audio CD, which limits the duration of what I can listen to and sometimes plays up. I don't think I can bring myself to buy anything that does not support Ogg Vorbis. I'm not as principled as some people I know when it comes to only using open formats, but I still like to support them.

[21:18] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Greenish Holiday

There are a number of reasons people go camping. A major one is cost, but a side effect is that it can have a lot less environmental impact than other sorts of holiday. We take a car full of stuff with us, but that should produce a lot less CO2 than flying. This year we only travelled about 100 miles to Kelling Heath in Norfolk. This was the biggest camp site we've been to, but also one of the best. Far better than the Haven site we visited. It consists of 250 acres of woodland and heath with spacious camping pitches and many static caravans and lodges. The facilities were pretty good. We used the outdoor pool. The indoor one meant paying a lot for use of the heath club and that was over the top for kids. We only ate in one restaurant once as we did a lot of cooking and ate out. We did use their cycle hire a couple of times to explore the area. This was the first time we had cycled with the kids and they coped well, even if the small hills could be tough on little legs. I really ought to do more cycling.

We also visited the beach and some of us swam in the sea. It's really not too bad once you are in. I was intrigued by the huge amount on flint on the beaches and elsewhere. No wonder they build their houses with it.

Some other UK sites I've been to do not offer much, if any, recycling facilities, but this one had plenty of bins. A few people need to learn what you should put in them. I was also impressed to see solar water heating for the showers. That seems a perfect application of the technology. I'm considering it for our house as gas prices shoot up.

I made sure I turned off as much as possible at home whilst we were away, including the water heating and even the Wii, but that only uses a few Watts. I don't think it made a huge saving, but there is no reason to not do it. I think it will barely show up in my logs at The Carbon Account.

We didn't drive much whilst we were there and so did no more miles than I do in a normal working week. Economy on that tank was pretty good at around 50mpg. It's been slightly worse this week, but that's probably down to London stop-start driving.

[21:05] | [Environment] | Comments | G

Wed, 06 Aug 2008

Singing in the rain

Last Saturday I attended a singing workshop with Dafna Dori from Jerusalem organised by my friend Malcolm. I don't really consider myself a singer, but with what I've been doing with the drumming group I am getting a feel for it and would like to explore the possibilities. There were about 16 of us there including my daughter and another young girl. The rest ranged widely in age. We did some fun warm-ups and then proceeded to learn three Jewish songs. There were the challenges of unfamiliar pronunciation and scales, but we seemed to do quite well. For the last song we also learnt the circle dance that goes with it. I'm not sure what people would think of us all dancing around in the wood outside the studio singing in Hebrew, but I enjoyed it.

The fact is that these songs are religious, but I didn't feel too uncomfortable singing them. That may have had something to do with them being in another language, but they were fun to sing. I don't particularly enjoy singing hymns on the rare occasions that I'm in church, but then a lot of those are pretty boring. There is plenty of spiritual classical music that I enjoy, but the words, if any, are often in other languages. Ultimately it is the quality of the music rather than the message that tends to move me. I can be moved by lyrics, but generally because they reflect my mood or inclinations.

I recorded the session on my Zoom H4. It was not ideally placed on the floor with a small tripod, but worked pretty well. I then had the challenge of editing over an hour of material to extract the songs for people to listen back to. I've done some previous editing with Sweep, but that was very slow and took up most of my memory. Ardour would not even load the MP3 file, but that may be due to a lack of add-on. I didn't try Audacity at first as I have been having issues with getting sound on play-back, but this time it worked and was very easy to use. I noticed that it used a minimal amount of memory. I just did the basics of cutting out the songs and saving each as a file without playing around with effects, but that is something I need to experiment with. It's not something I have ever done much with. I need to find time to check out some of the tutorials out there, but I expect there is no substitute for experience. There is an interesting set of screencasts on using Ardour.

Whilst writing this up I have been listening to free tracks from the new Byrne/Eno album and bassist Kev Cooke. All good stuff.

[21:42] | [Music] | Comments | G

Sun, 03 Aug 2008

Another OGR milestone for me

Back in November I clocked up one million giganodes on the OGR-25 project at Distributed.net. That took me about 7 years. As predicted (roughly) I have doubled that in just over 8 months thanks to a speedy dual-core processor in my main PC. It would have happened sooner if I had realised that my PC was not running at full speed and had implemented a proper shut-down script so that I did not lose work units each day. I was a little optimistic in how long the project had to run. Current projections give it almost another year, but I think that does not take faster computers into account. I wonder how many people will upgrade in that time. I certainly do not intend to do so unless I suddenly find myself with enough spare cash for a faster CPU. I could get something 25% faster for well under £100, but I doubt I would notice the difference for normal usage. If I were building another PC I would probably look for something that used less power rather than ultimate clock speed. I've not bothered keeping up with what's new in the processor world for a while, so I don't even know what the state of the art is. These days software is more interesting than hardware.

For reference, the earlier slowdown may only have affected apps like dnet with a high nice value as the PowerNow daemon would ignore them and assume that nothing important was running. By setting the '-n' flag in its defaults file I got back to full speed. I used a script from here to make sure the client shuts down cleanly. I could have been losing several hours of work in the past. I've at least learnt some more about the workings of Linux through all this.

[21:23] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Wed, 30 Jul 2008

Back to Bassics

I'm a bit knackered after a late night/early start/long day sequence, but here goes with another exciting post for my loyal reader.

Last night I returned to Darbuka for another gig by bassist Steve Lawson and singer Lobelia accompanied by drummer Ray Dodds. Support was again from ukulele strumming social media man Lloyd Davis playing some great old songs.

This time Lobelia and Steve each did some solo songs. Lo used some very night (bare) footwork to loop her guitar and voice. One song was pure voice and wonderful to hear. Steve gig a great cover of She Sells Sanctuary (on the seashore). Ray joined in with some great drumming and percussion on assorted hardware. Finally they all played together, which lent a new flavour to songs I feel I already know well. I chatted to them all as well as another bassist, Simon Little, who I met via Twitter and sat with during the gig. He's played with some well known acts and is doing his own solo work that I just obtained from his free podcast and am enjoying now.

I bought Lobelia's solo CD from a few years back. It features some songs I've heard live, but in much more conventional arrangements. I have to say I prefer them as performed now. I look forward to some more new material.

I had some cool musical experiences on the internet over the last week. Firstly I watched Steve, Lobelia and others perform at another gig via a live video stream on Ustream.tv. This included a chat forum where I could exchange messages with other viewers and people at the gig. That was fun. A recording of the gig is up now. This was followed on Sunday by them performing some songs at home and uploading them to Phreadz where others (with beta access) could post video replies. That was enjoyable too, despite some technical issues.

At work the other day a friend lent me a CD by Martin Simpson. Nice bit of folk with nifty guitar playing. I used QCD on my Windows PC and it did its usual thing of posting the tracks to Last.fm. I subscribe to an RSS feed there of gigs within a reasonable distance. Within an hour it included some of his. Sites like Amazon recommend music etc based on what you buy, but this was based on what I was listening to and with less commercialisation. I doubt I will go, but others would find that information useful. I've been alerts to gigs I have attended via this service. Each gig has a page where people can post comments and link to pictures etc. I've been on Last.fm for over four years and just clocked up 20,000 tracks. That's what I have listened to on the computers, but I do most of my listening like that. I often use their music streaming services to find new stuff. I was on one based around what people who listen to ELO like when I passed 20k.

My last cool musical link of the week is King Crimson Live. You can buy downloads of various concerts, but they also give away the odd track via a podcast called Hot Tickle. Cool or not I love a good bit of Prog.

[21:28] | [Music] | Comments | G

Wed, 23 Jul 2008

Gas Works

I've been thinking that I need to learn some new tunes on my guitar, so I was poking around on Youtube and found a series on the tune Classical Gas (a song with its own web site!). I've done the first couple and it's not sounding too bad, although I think I am missing a few notes that he doesn't properly describe. I'm also consulting some tab versions that I found. I've not learnt many tunes from video, but it's handy for getting the fingering right. I'll see if I can learn the whole thing, but that may take a while.

Youtube has loads of musical tutorials for all types of music. There was nothing like that when I started playing. The guitar magazines I bought didn't even come with CDs (or equivalent) so that you could hear how a piece was supposed to sound. Total Guitar was a revelation when it appeared with a CD. Now they do DVDs and video files on the CD. Budding musicians have never had it so good.

I'm also trying to learn a few classical piano pieces by the old-fashioned method of sheet music. I find that a totally different mental exercise, but the results are enjoyable. I also get some benefit from coaching my kids on their respective instruments.

I'm on the lookout for any local musicians who want to cooperate. I'm listed on a couple of musician sites, but the replies I've had have been from bands who need someone with more time to commit. There's a new site dedicated to the arts in my town. I've been in contact with them about setting up a noticeboard for finding people to work with.

If you are really lucky I may eventually post some recordings when I've polished my technique and gained some studio skills.

[14:03] | [Music] | Comments | G

Mon, 07 Jul 2008

Close to home

Being a fan of web sites with a physical location I've felt the need for something that would tell you what sites relate to your local area. Groups Near You does this fairly well. You can add sites and match them up to an area on a Google map. There's no log-in, but it uses your email address to confirm changes and then that site is restricted to that email account. Some real potential if people add enough sites. I did a couple. It's a shame they don't make use of GeoURL to pick up the location of a site and then publish that data on their pages. Maybe I should mail them.

My other toy of the last few days was MyBlogLog. It's a Yahoo service that gives you some nice visitor tracking features for your site and lets you build a 'community' around it. The stats are nice, but I'm not totally convinced yet. I mainly joined in order to check out how their FOAF data appeared on the FOAFster visualisation tool.

identi.ca has been much improved by allowing you to see all your replies in one place. People had replied to some of my 'dents', but I had missed them. I've picked up a few followers who share my interests. These spontaneous communities are fun.

[22:06] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Thu, 03 Jul 2008

Opening up the microblogosphere

I know, horrible word, but new worlds need new language. I've been playing with Twitter for a while now. It's fun and I've made a few friends there. I even found a nice client in TwitterFox that lets me keep up with my updates from within Firefox. But there are some issues. The site is still struggling with performance issues, so sometimes it doesn't all work. The ability to post from XMPP/Jabber/GTalk has been down for weeks. I've been seeing a lot of the Fail Whale when I go to the site. Another issue with Twitter is that it is a closed source system.

This week I found out about identi.ca. It looks like a Twitter clone, but lacks a lot of the features. That should change as it is running on open source software. I've not checked it out myself, but I expect a few people will be. That means that more people could set up their own microblog sites. The problem then is that the network will be fragmented. They have an answer to that in the OpenMicroBlogging specification to allow messages to be sent between services. I'm not sure if you can actually do that yet, but it's a good sign.

Other good signs are use of OpenID for those who don't want yet another password and FOAF to make the data accessible. It also works fine from my IM clients. There is a lot of work to do there, but I have high hopes. I've even linked up with one of my Twitter contacts there. I've picked up a few followers for unknown reasons. I'm unsure of their motives. The same thing happens on Twitter as an attempt to get attention.

My other new web presence this week is at Whoisi. This appears to be similar to FriendFeed, but with some crucial differences. There is no ability to log in. Anyone can create and edit an account for anyone they choose and associate feeds with it, but they have no ownership of it. That sounds like anarchy, but we shall see. I've seen mention of them keeping history in case of vandalism. On FriendFeed I created my own feeds for friends to track their various accounts, but that was private to me. I could do the same on Whoisi and then anyone could follow them. Is that a good idea or an invasion of privacy. Some people might not want their various on-line identities to be linked. If they are not already making the connections public then I will not do so. You can still select a group of people to follow, but that setting is only stored as a cookie or as a private unique link that you need to save. As with identi.ca, some people I know are already there. The site will suit those who don't want to have to set up more accounts, but lacks conveniences like RSS.

I don't actually sign up for every service I hear about. There have been a few I have checked out and then not used, but generally I only sign up if I see a real use. I have my core of useful sites linked from the homepage of this site.

[22:00] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Fri, 27 Jun 2008

Acceleration

I'm not sure I should admit to this, but my PC has been running a much less than full speed for some time. I noticed that my dnet client was running a lot slower than it used to. I hadn't noticed other stuff being particularly slow, so didn't give much thought to it.

I did some investigation today and found, via /proc/cpuinfo, that my CPU cores were running at 1GHz instead of 2.4GHz. I did some searching around and posted to a thread on < a href=http://ubuntuforums.org/>Ubuntu Forums that seemed to relate to it. Within minutes I had a response suggesting I add an applet that let you control CPU frequency scaling. That particular applet was for Gnome, but I found KPowersave for KDE. This lets me select various modes, but I just set it to Performance and all is well again.

I guess that I may have been using a little less electricity whilst the CPU was throttled down, but I don't think it's a large part of my usage.

What I wonder is how this came about. My PC was running Ubuntu for some time at full speed, but someting changed to switch it to low speed. I don't have the logs to prove exactly when this happened, so can't relate it to anything I did.

I was thinking of writing a post titled 'Are RSS feeds killing commenting on blogs?'. If you only read sites via their feeds then you probably won't even see the comment part of each page. I've had comments on my site for some time, but get very few. I know that a few friends read the site via the feed. I don't know how many strangers visit. I think that comments are valuable as they make the whole thing interactive. I often click through to posts on feeds to see the comments. So if you want to say something to me about a post please add a comment. It may be useful to others.

[22:02] | [Computer] | Comments | G

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