Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Wed, 23 Apr 2008

Paper Chase

I've been trying to clear out some old paperwork at home. Anything vaguely important tends to get filed in a binder or chucked in the filing cabinet, but it builds up over time. A lot of stuff goes out of date, so I chucked old insurance documents, TV licences and more. It would be great if we could get by with less of it. I could scan some documents, but that will require working out a way to file it on the computer so that I can find stuff. It would be neat to set an expire date so that something could clear out the redundant items. Any Linux solutions?

I'm looking at ways I can cut down the paper I need to keep. I found out that I can get my next TV licence by email. I already get the itemised phone bill on-line and get a small discount in exchange. I bank on-line and have started just saving the statement pages instead of printing them. I rarely need the printouts anyway. Other suggestions are welcome, via comments would be good.

We just got a new Yellow Pages, so now I have to recycle the old one. Nationally these must represent a huge amount of waste. The thing is that I hardly ever use it. Most services can be found on-line these days. The domestic phone book is even less useful. Why do I need an address book full of strangers? I'm not in it and and neither are many of my friends. I'm not sure you can opt out of getting either book as they just get delivered to every house by default.

I've tried to opt out of some junk mail, but still get a fair bit. It wastes my time to sort it all for recycling. I tend to rip out the envelope windows as I assume they do not belong with the paper collection. I'm not sure that bit of plastic is really necessary. I only keeps the contents slightly cleaner, but why bother?

Don't get me started on the amount of paper wasted at work.

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

Sun, 20 Apr 2008

Indoor Drumming

Last night I played another gig with Secret Bass. This was a charity event to raise money for stained glass window at a home for MS sufferers in Essendon. I actually did a fair bit of practice for this one and was somehow more nervous than at previous events. This may have been due to playing before an audience who had paid to be there and in an enclosed space, rather than the open air where I had performed before. We were last (top?) on the bill after Irish dancers, Indian dance from Bizia + students, dinner and the village handbell ringers. The nine of us were dressed up in a range of outfits of varying degrees of 'Africaness'. The set went down pretty well with the audience who clapped along and gave us some loud cheers. There were even cries of 'More!' as we finished the last song, but we had nothing else prepared and it was getting late anyway.

I really enjoyed this performance, even though I made lots of mistakes. I managed to add some solo rolls during one song. One difference to previous events was the sound. Outside the sound just disappears, but in an enclosed space you can really feel it. Some people told me how impressed they had been by the sound and the music. It is not something you get to hear much live in this country. I admit that we are mere amateurs of this art, but I hope we can impress some of the flavour of African drumming. Malcolm has done his own write-up of the event. I'm not sure if any of the photos taken will be available on-line.

[21:19] | [Music] | Comments | G

Tue, 15 Apr 2008

Björk at Hammersmith Apollo, 20080414

We previously saw Björk perform at Hammersmith in 2003 on the Vespertine tour. Then we were about six rows from the front. For 2008 we were back again for the Volta tour. The day was marred by some public transport issues for Tanya. First she had trouble getting a train to London due to signal issues, then her underground train was stopped for a medical emergency. She completed the journey by taxi. This meant that we had to rush a quick dinner in Smollensky's, rather than something more relaxed.

There was a big queue outside the venue, but it moved fairly quick. Some people were obviously a bit over-excited as a couple seemed close to blows over some issue. We went straight to our seats half-way up the circle, not far from where we sat for The Flaming Lips. I thought that Toumani Diabaté, was doing a set, but the stage was occupied by Leila doing some DJ stuff with various spoken recordings and beats. Not really my thing, but I quite liked it when she played Peggy Lee's Is That All There Is and Danny Kaye's Inchworm at the end. This was much better than the noise set that served as support last time and had the audience booing.

The stage was already set up for the main act, but we still had to wait around 30 minutes. Then the lights went down and on trooped her all female Icelandic horn section followed by the rest of the band. Then the lady herself. They launched into Earth Intruders. We got Hunter (one of my favourites) and Unravel, then Toumani came on to play kora on Hope. The next track threw me as I had never heard The Pleasure Is All Mine with a regular band, but it was good. The next guest was Antony Hegarty to sing on Dull Flame of Desire. I don't much like the song and was not that impressed by him, although he does a good vocal vibrato. That was it for guest, despite Björk's remark that there would be 'many'. There were more tracks from Volta and some old favourites. Army of Me and Hyperballad were amazing with lasers firing and some body-shaking bass. These were contrasted by Vökuró (just harpsichord) and Anchor Song (brass). As expected she finished with Declare Independence where everyone rocked out. The audience could have taken much more, but it was getting late.

I'm amazed by her energy. She is the same age as me, but can still rock and still belt out those amazing vocal effects. I wasn't too sure about her costume with pompoms on her hear and shiny frills. She was barefoot as usual.

There was a lot of use of the Reactable to create audio effects. I expect there will be a version you can run on your PC in a few years.

Other reviews and some pictures on Björk's site and last.fm.

I had another musical close encounter this week. I created an account on Orkut to check it out ages ago, but was not that impressed. I had a quick look the other day and saw I had been visited by Joe Elliott of Def Leppard. I guess he was looking for his deceased guitarist.

[17:45] | [Music] | Comments | G

Fri, 11 Apr 2008

Google Docs

I seem to have adopted several of Google's products for running my on-line Activities. I have an iGoogle page where I have assembled various gadgets that let me see at a glance what is happening on Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed and others. I also use it to access my Gmail and Google Calendar. I find that keeping some of my data on-line is convenient when moving between home and office. It might be better on my PDA, but I haven't worked out how to synch PocketPC.

I have a couple of applications for a spreadsheet that I can access from wherever I may be, so I decided to check out Google Docs. The spreadsheet seems fairly capable, if a little slow. I've not tried the graphing options. You can export to various formats, including open ones. This has the potential to be another threat to Microsoft's monopoly, especially where people want to collaborate on documents. Office is far more than more people need anyway. It's amazing how far web applications have come in the last couple of years. I remember being amazed when I first saw Google Maps. Google are trying to get more of the market by providing the Apps platform where they will host applications written by others. There will be costs involved, but it's likely to be cheaper than rolling out your own hardware in many cases and more resilient to load spikes. I'd love to play, but need to find an itch to scratch.

I was just discussing the issues of being a non-Microsoft user with a colleague. It causes me a few issues with connecting to the office from home, but I have something that works. He considers the MS tax to be worth paying for the sake of less hassle. Ironically we were discussing this using the non-free Skype chat, but that's one of the compromises I have accepted. To get some stuff done I have to use a few non-free applications.

At HertsLUG this week Malc was educating us on the OOXML situation where MS have managed to force their 'standard' through the ISO. This seems to have been ignored by sites like the BBC. We still have a chance to make our opinions on this scandal heard by writing to the politicians, but I don't know if this will affect the outcome.

Also at the LUG I had my first hands-on with an Asus EEE. It was slightly bulkier than I expected, but is very neat. I'm not sure I would use the default Xandros GUI, but it seemed to handle the applications well. It even had Penguin Racer and Frozen Bubble installed. I gave the BBC iPlayer a quick try, but couldn't get it to do full screen. I don't really need a big, full-featured laptop, but one of these would be handy for when I'm away from home and want wireless internet and the ability to do various tasks, like photo editing or hacking.

[14:05] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Thu, 10 Apr 2008

Lacking Time To Compose Updates

I have a number of things that I want to blog, but have been short of time. Last week I was skiing in France. Had a lot of fun. I may blog more about that. I've almost finished another book that I need to review. Then last night I was at HertsLUG where Malc gave a good talk on the issues with OOXML. I also had a chance to play with an Asus EEE there. I want one.

I am more active on my Twitter account as that is easy to update from web or via IM, but only handles short messages. For the blog I have to compose a post in an editor and FTP it. I like to take the time to think about what I want to say, but sometimes end up rushing it. So if you want the latest news follow me on Twitter. Or just take the RSS feed here for the infrequent posts. Comment if you want to respond publicly.

Oops, too many http in a link there. I'm writing this in nano via ssh.

[13:19] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Wed, 26 Mar 2008

Talking to musicians

When I started messing around with the bass I searched around for tutorial material on-line. There is plenty to be getting on with for now. I also found a podcast by a solo bassist called Jeff Schmidt. The podcast and his blog give a great insight into how he works and what drives him. Some of his music is free to download, such as his Ruiner Severhead side project, but I was also able to buy a download of his album for about £2.50 through CD Baby. That's a real bargain and he gets most of it. He's not making a loving from his music yet, but I hope it at least pays for his studio toys.

Jeff is very engaged with his audience through his blog and on Twitter. We have exchanged a few comments on both. Through him I found another bassist, Steve Lawson who is based in the UK. I could have seen him play at a local gig, but couldn't make it. I have also communicated with him, mostly on Twitter. Today I was doing so whilst listening to one of his albums that he made available for free download. I shall be checking out more of his material and hope to catch a gig. Interestingly he is also subscribing to some of my feeds. I hope he finds something of interest there.

I realise that the internet has been playing a big part in helping bands get to their fans without having to deal with record companies. People like the Arctic Monkeys have used services like Myspace to do this, but I haven't really got into that. It's happening on Facebook too, but I'm not sure that is why people are using that service so much. I find it more interesting when the artists use their own sites and more open services, like Twitter, to reach out. It does require them to be technical, but may reap benefits.

I need to get on with my own musical projects. I don't aspire to reach a mass audience, but I should have some chance of reaching a few people by using the same technologies as the above virtuosi. Check them out.

[21:56] | [Music] | Comments | G

Tue, 25 Mar 2008

Keeping the family happy

I run Linux on my home computers for a few reasons. One was that I was getting tired of the restriction that Microsoft inflict when you run Windows and another was to support the principles of the free software movement. It has generally gone pretty well. I can do just about anything I want, usually without having to buy any software, but there are a few specific pieces of software that will probably never be converted to Linux. I can generally get by without these, but sometimes I get pressure from other members of the family. We have a few Windows 'edutainment' titles that I haven't tried to get running. Then my daughter decides she wants to have another go at the Bamzooki designer that she used when we still had a Windows PC.

I said I would see what I could do. I managed to install it using Wine, but it gets an error when you try to open a file. I used Wine-doors to install DirectX 9 that it needs, but that didn't help. I've Googled the error I got, but didn't find anything that looked useful. It's hard to know how to proceed.

There are other options. I could to up a Virtual Machine of some sort so that we could actually run Windows within Linux. I'm assuming that could handle the 3d graphics. I don't really want to get into dual-boot as that means rebooting the PC just to run one application. So I am after suggestions on ways to proceed.

In other news we just acquired a bigger TV when my dad got himself a 40" LCD. So we have moved from a 28" to a 32" CRT. It's a very nice Toshiba Picture Frame that was state of the art about six years ago. It even has built-in Dolby Digital that I am using with my Freeview box. The old TV has moved upstairs. I would quite like a nice flat screen, but can't justify the up-front cost, even though it would save us a bit on the electricity bill.

The TV got a good workout over the easter weekend as we have various friends and family over who all had a play on the Wii. That was good fun. We even had some four-player tennis action. We have a couple of new games that I will report on when I've checked them out properly. One friend was playing some Pink Floyd tunes on my acoustic guitar. I tried accompanying on my bass, but could only really manage some root notes as I followed the chords he was playing. I need to find some people to play with more often to build my skills.

[21:00] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Wed, 19 Mar 2008

Open Social Networking

Social networks have been one of the boom areas of the net in the last few years. I've been quite glad to see people making use of the internet as a publishing medium rather than just consuming what others produce. I know it results in a lot of junk, but then you don't have to read it all. It used to be that you would have to set up your own site to do this, but the social networks have lowered the bar so that anyone can do it. It still seems that many are not that interested in doing so. I started using the Multiply network a few years ago as it seemed to offer some nice facilities. I managed to get a few friends and family to join, but few of them have ever posted anything. One of the most attractive features was that you can say exactly which people or group can see any item. This is essential when posting family pictures. Multiply keeps plodding on, but shows no sign of becoming better known. I assume they have enough members to keep them going from their Google ads.

Of course Facebook is the big name of the moment. It offers lots of useless 'toys' for people to play with. I joined to see what is going on, but mostly just use it to keep up with what my friends are doing. It doesn't really seem aimed at those who want to write longer pieces like this. I see that they are offering more control over privacy in a similar way to Multiply, but I wonder if people will bother. There must be some who get to regret posting certain items that get seen by employers or others who might not appreciate them.

The problem with all these systems is that you cannot easily change to another unless you can persuade all your friends to do likewise. Transferring your content is likely to be tricky as well. This is why I would prefer to use this site where I have full control. I just have to persuade my less technical friends that they should get into things like RSS so that they can get notified when I update. There's also the issue of privacy. At the moment everything here is public and so I have to be careful what I post. Implementing any sort of access control requires more technology. What I would like to have would be something like OpenID for logging in with access restricted to those I have added to my FOAF profile (they have a new wiki). I doubt I could do this using Pyblosxom, but am reluctant to move to anything more complex for now. So the family stuff will stay on Multiply for now. It's too much work to get them all to migrate to anything else.

Meanwhile, I'm keeping an eye on the more open technologies. Don Park's XFN spidering tool is coming along nicely. The output you can see for my site is still fairly basic, but the power of using this data is revealed by making use of the OPML file it creates. If you load this into something like Google Reader you automatically get a full set of feeds for my sites and those of my friends. This is just from adding a few tags into the HTML code. Enough sites are doing that to make it useful. There are plenty of people working on these technologies, but it probably doesn't have the commercial potential to attract the big money. How can you force advertising on people if they don't come to one central site? I still wonder if that is a viable source of income to justify the huge sums that are being paid to buy up sites like Bebo. But what do I know?

So have I achieved anything by this post? I'm not sure, but I quite enjoy writing it. I probably need to plan what I write more.

[22:12] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Sat, 08 Mar 2008

XFN

I've written previously about using open methods for creating social networks. I still believe this is the way to go. Sites like Facebook are very convenient, but they come and go. People move on when something better comes along. I have this site as a hub for my internet activities. I incorporated XFN ages ago. The problem was that the data was not at my root page. Instead my blogroll appeared on every page of the blog. That caused an issue for a friend who found hundreds of links to his site coming from every possible page on mine. That made it hard for him to track who was linking to him. So I moved the blogroll to a static page about me. That was still not what I really wanted, but whilst I was sorting out my URLs I took the opportunity to set up a proper home page. It's still a bit messy, but it contains a list of sites that represent me in some way and a list of friends. All of these contain XFN data.

I have a few friends who have XFN links on their sites that link to mine. There can just be issues if we do not agree on what is their base site. That generally just stops the links from being properly reciprocal.

In case you don't know XFN, or XHTML Friends Network is a way to embed data in web links that indicates your relationship with the owner of that site. It is not directly human-readable, but can be read by software to map out social networks. Some examples of this are:

I would like to see something that could produce nice network diagrams. Perhaps that can be done with software run on my PC.

A number of social sites are including XFN data to link to homepages and contacts, including last.fm and Twitter.

There is a very good article from last month that goes into lots of detail on this subject.

If you want to join in with this game then drop me a link and we can coordinate our efforts to best effect.

Finally, I am just including a link to my Technorati Profile to get the blog linked with the new URL. This is topical as the link includes XFN data to indicate that it is my profile.

[22:34] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Tue, 04 Mar 2008

Rewriting the URL

I've wanted for ages to make the URLs on this site simpler. This can be done using Apache's mod_rewrite, but I wasn't sure if that was installed here. I just found out it was and have created a rule so that everything hangs off bagofspoons.net/blog. This may have caused a lot of old posts to reappear on the RSS feed. Sorry for any inconvenience.

[14:39] | [Site News] | Comments | G

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