Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Tue, 25 Dec 2007

Wii wish you a merry Xmas

Well it's Xmas day, we've watched Doctor Who and eaten too much cake. The hit of the day is our new Nintendo Wii. We thought we might not have one by now due to the general shortage of units in the shops, but one came up in a charity auction at work and I won without paying much over RRP. So far all we have is the standard pack withe Wii Sports plus the Wii Play games that came with an extra remote.

I've not played much with consoles of the last few years and so am very impressed. The motion-sensing remotes are very intuitive and the graphics look fine on out old TV even though it's only using composite video. Sound is in Pro Logic through the surround system and sounds good. The games are fun for all the family. I look forward to getting something more involved, but fear that this will eat up all my free time. There are annoyances such as the safety warning screens that keep appearing warning you to use the wrist straps and take breaks. They get boring fast. I bet their lawyers insisted on them.

I've not been reading up too much on what is available and worth getting for the Wii, so I am open to suggestions. I know a few of my readers have them. Leave comments or email me if you prefer.

I'm still messing with the bass. I've found some good sites for instruction and inspiration. These include:

I've still not done any recording due to on-going problems with Ubuntu and my hardware, but today I discovered that I could record in Audacity as it was using OSS rather than ALSA for input. I might try doing something with that in my days off this week.

I did a few updates on this site recently. I removed some non-working external links and fixed my favicon that was being diverted by the static page plug-in. On the static page front I have added a few more about my music, computer and green activities. Only the first has much content for now. I shall write up the others as I find time. Those pages also allow for comments if you want to use them. I'm happy to take emails, but comments can make the site more useful if they contribute information on the topic.

I'll probably write again soon, but I'll say happy new year now anyway.

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

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 USB-powered clock 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.

[13:00] | [Computer] | Comments | G

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.

[21:58] | [Site News] | Comments | G

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.

[21:35] | [Music] | Comments | G

Fri, 30 Nov 2007

More toys

I've been trying out some more plug-ins for my Pyblosxom site.

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 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.

[21:44] | [Site News] | Comments | G

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 Linux 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 LCD.

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

Sun, 11 Nov 2007

One Million Gnodes

This is geeky, but I don't care. I've been contributing processing power to 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?

[11:59] | [Computer] | Comments | G

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.

[19:40] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Fresh Py

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 their code.

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.

[19:39] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Sat, 27 Oct 2007

Funky Gibbon

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 be:

[22:26] | [Computer] | Comments | G

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