Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Sun, 09 Sep 2007

Travels and Tunes

I spent last week in and around Tel Aviv for work. This was my first visit to Israel, even though I've been working for an Israeli company for about ten years. I flew with El Al, which involved much more intense security checking than any other airline I've flown with, but wasn't quite as intrusive as I had feared.

As you might expect, it was pretty hot there, but I was not out too much during the day. Mind you, it stayed warm in the evenings too. My impressions of Tel Aviv were of a busy city that is building a lot of new high-rise buildings, whilst still having a lot of older, very tatty areas. It seems to be generally safe to wander around. The only real sign that something could be wrong are the plain-clothes armed guards outside many buildings such as some hotels, shopping centres and restaurants. I was asked once if I had any 'guns, weapons or bombs', but it was with a smile.

I ate pretty well there. Lunch was from some very good sandwich and other fast food establishments. Dinner varied from a slice of pizza from a street stall to a very nice meal in one of the nicer hotels. All this was at lower prices than what you would expect in the UK.

There were lots of signs of religion. There was actually a mosque near the hotel, but not many other obvious signs of moslems, but all sorts of variants of the jewish faith were to be seen in the way people dressed. A large proportion do not wear any special clothes, but many men wore a yarmulke (skullcap). There seemed to be several varieties of the more orthodox branches, each with their own style of dress. Alongside this you have a fair number of very obvious lap-dancing bars and sex shops. A 'tourist guide' I picked up in the hotel had a map of the city surrounded by 'escort agency' ads.

I didn't get enough time to really experience the country, but I've at least had a taste of it. I didn't get a chance for a guided tour from one of my Israeli colleagues that might have exposed me to more local culture, but I still managed to dine at some less touristy restaurants that didn't even have an English menu.

I got back in the early hours of Friday. I managed to get a few hours sleep then I was out in the afternoon to play in a short gig with Secret Bass at the Multiple Sclerosis Trust in Letchworth. I didn't get much chance to rehearse, but it went pretty well. Malcolm has written his own review.

Sunday was spent with the family at Marston Vale for an event called Woodworks. This was generally a celebration of the use of wood in crafts, but also included various other crafts and environmental stalls. There was also some live music from folk bands. I got in some more drumming at workshop by Chris Puleston. He runs a drum circle near here, but has a different performance style to Malcolm. He did a pretty good job of getting the audience to play along.

[21:10] | [Travel] | Comments | G

Fri, 31 Aug 2007


I just read that it's Blogday, if you squint at the date. So here's some I find interesting:

Apparently you are supposed to tell the people you link to that they know, but I may not bother. I'm up for suggestions of other blogs to read, but I'm trying to keep my feeds under control. Google Reader is still serving me well.

[15:25] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Wed, 29 Aug 2007

More Book Reviews

I'm still logging my reading on my booklist. You can see the latest listed down the right side of my page. I've managed over a dozen so far this year, which is good going for me. I still have a backlog to get through. We have a 'library' at work of books people no longer want and that has provided a couple of reads for me. I'm generally into not buying so much stuff these days, so that is perfect for my needs. The problem is that I am less inclined to get rid of my own books, but I ought to clear the shelves a bit. If I'm honest then there are plenty that I will never read again, but there will be some that I can imagine re-reading. Besides, Tanya likes to re-read things like the Pratchetts and the kids may read them one day. I like the idea of minimalist living, but my hoarding instinct is stronger.

[12:46] | [Review] | Comments | G

Fri, 17 Aug 2007

Skype Gone Wrong

I've used Skype for a while now. I don't often use it to call phones, but it's there as a way to talk to certain people. It's been generally reliable with very little down time, but yesterday something went wrong. The connection keeps dropping and I never see all my contacts. We use it at work to keep in touch with our various offices, but that has not been viable during this issue.

They have been good enough to keep us up to date with progress. I'm intruiged by the remark: 'This problem occurred because of a deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software.' I wonder what suddenly went wrong. They use P2P technology, so you would expect it to be fairly robust, but there must be some central control.

Of course I would prefer to use more open technologies, but you sometimes have to go with the crowd. I'm still on Jabber, via the Google Talk network, but am not using their software, so I can't do the voice chat. I would like to see more of my contacts using Jabber, but it seems they are mostly committed to Skype and MSN.

[08:27] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Mon, 13 Aug 2007

Backing Up

It's been my intention for a while to make a proper back-up of my files. I have used various methods such as CD-R, DVD-R, external hard drives (various sizes) and even copying to a remote server, but some files were too big for these. So I bought myself a new Maxtor 320GB USB drive. That's bigger than my combined existing drives. I chose this one based on it being the cheapest large drive in PC World and I happened to have vouchers to spend there. It's nothing exciting to look at, just a large blob with some cables, but it at least runs nice and quiet.

I haven't quite achieved my back-up aims due to a couple of issues. Firstly, the drive is formatted as NTFS. It seems that this is supported on Linux these days thanks to the NTFS-3G project. I installed that and can indeed read and write to the drive. The next problem was that I could not copy files with certain characters in the names. It was suggested on the LUG IRC channel that I set the locale for the drive to something using UTF8. I added a line to my fstab, but the drive was being mounted from settings elsewhere and not using that. By unmounting it and re-mounting with a different location I was able to resolve that for now. So now I can copy my files, but Konqueror complains about not being able to copy certain attributes. I'm not so worried about that as long as the files are copied. I would like to set up a script to do incremental backups, but have had problems with both rsync and rdiff-backup. I think these could also be related to the destination filing system not having the same capabilities as what is used in *nix.

There are some alternatives to explore. I could create a tar file (makes it trickier to get files back out) or re-format the drive. I need to be sure that the latter will not break anything. I had another drive caddy that would only detect drives formatted in FAT32. I'll concentrate on just getting the files copied for now.

I'm open to suggestions on how to back up efficiently. Feel free to leave comments here.

The LUG meeting last week was a bit quiet. Only five of us, so we just chatted. I expect others are on their holidays at the moment.

[13:04] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Mon, 06 Aug 2007

Roll your own social network

An article on Wired today mirrors my own feeling on the social network phenomenon. We should not be tied to a certain site to host all our content. The article mentions XFN as a way to show who you know. I've used that for years and a few friends do too, so that it is possible to map our network, but you need to have the right tools. They don't mention FOAF, but that does not show much sign of hitting the mainstream. I first heard about it years ago and have maintained my own file, but it's beyond the technical abilities of many people unless they can auto-generate a file using tools. I have wanted to generate some parts of this site from my FOAF file, but have yet to get around to it.

Meanwhile, my site brings some of my external feeds together via their own web gadgets.

If you have a presence on various services then it is possible to bring them all together using something like Mugshot, but this does not address the point raised by some commenters on the article, that there is no easy way to restrict access to content outside the 'walled garden' of a network like Facebook. There would have to be some form of access control using user accounts, or better, OpenID with automatic recognition of users via the FOAF file. This is beyond my web programming skills for now, but maybe someone else has some ideas.

For those reading the feed, this site does allow for comments, so feel free to click through and leave your thoughts for general consumption.

[14:12] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Sat, 04 Aug 2007

Prince O2 Arena 20070803

My first time seeing Prince and my first return to the big tent since Y2K. The venue has been totally rebuilt inside. There's a load of restaurants, but they were all full when we got there. There are also some empty units and space for more to be built. We got take-away burgers upstairs, but could have had pizza, stir fry or other options. Not cheap, of course, but it filled us up.

The arena itself is pretty big. Capacity is 20,000, but the top levels, above the private boxes, are very high up. We were down on the lower tiers and had a good view of the central stage. The stage is in the shape of Prince's 'symbol'. Those down on floor level might not have been able to see everything as the stage was above head height and the screens were up near the ceiling.

We were expecting a support act, but none materialised and the main act took the stage at 8:45. The band appeared from beneath the stage. There were two keyboard players, female drummer, bass 4-man horn section, two backing singers and two apparently identical dancers. To start with the band played some instrumental New Orleans-style jazz with the horn players taking turns at solos. Then the man himself rose up though the centre of the stage to deafening noise. He wandered around the stage singing Satisfied from 3121 before getting things rocking with Cream. During his cover of Play That Funky Music some bloke appeared on stage and I expected bouncers to chuck him off, but then others came up from a roped off exclusive area next to the stage. They proceeded to dance, badly, with Prince and the dancers. I'm not sure what they did or paid to deserve this honour. Luckily they only stayed for one song.

He went on to play extended versions of an assortment from various albums, but he did disappear whilst the band played What a Wonderful World. He did Lolita and Black Sweat, with Prince playing bass, from 3121, Kiss, U Got the Look, Lets Go Crazy and Take Me With U from Purple Rain. One one encore a backing singer did Gnarls Barclay's Crazy. He kept us waiting for the final encore, but appeared with his purple symbol guitar to play Purple Rain and finished with Guitar from the new Planet Earth album that we were given as we entered and I'm listening to now.

The sound could have been better. It was loud, of course, but the vocals were indistinct and everything was a bit 'mushy'. He played a lot of guitar and did it excellently.

He does put on a good show with lots to keep your attention. He seemed to enjoy it too and kept excouraging the audience to sing and dance. When he finished at 10:45 the house lights came up, but most people did not want to leave as they knew he had come out again at the first show after some people had left, but it was not to be. Eventually we were told to leave and were home a couple of hours later via tube and train.

[12:18] | [Music] | Comments | G

Mon, 30 Jul 2007

Cambridge Folk Festival 20070728

This was my first visit to the festival. I'm not really a folkie, but I like to hear a good live band. I've not even been to any other festivals, apart from the odd free one. If they were all as civilised as this one then I might go more often, although I had a couple of issues. The facilities were good. It started off dry, but there were boards down to get you around most of the site. There was a big camping area that looked more like a family camp site than some of the festivals I've seen pictures of. There was entertainment for kids in a quiet area.

The main festival area was a big field with three big tents for the stages. Two of these were open at one end so more people could see the acts. The problem was that all the available space outside was taken up by small camps consisting of folding chairs, rugs and assorted other furniture. Some of the rugs had been pitched inside the largest marquee, which reduced the available area for the audience. Some of those on the rugs were not even watching some of the bands.

I saw:

There were various acts wandering around, not all of the musical sort. It made for an entertaining day, but not a cheap one. The tickets are not too bad, especially if you can do all the days, but you have to pay extra for an essential programme. You can't buy a one day ticket for young children, but at least it cost less than a one day adult ticket. There were lots of food vans, but prices were a little high. I expect they have to pay well just to be there. I might consider camping there if I could get on the site, but for a whole family it would be a lot of money. The standard camping fee is for a small tent and we would need more space to be comfortable for four nights.

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

Fri, 27 Jul 2007

Buying a better you

I'm sure I'm not the first to think this, but it occurs to me that the current trend for carbon offsetting is something like the medieval practice of paying monks to pray for your soul to get into heaven quicker by spending less time in purgatory. Maybe I'm just being cynical. It is a good thing if rich people use some of their wealth to enable the less well off to have a better, stustainable, lifestyle.

I read a BBC report on patio heaters yesterday. It attracted the usual crank comments about 'enviro-fascists' and 'attacks on freedom and choice'. I particularly liked the one asking if would be asked to stop exhaling altogether. Well I think the world would be better off with a few less of these Daily Mail readers, so they can feel free to stop breathing. Everything we do has a cost and some are just not worth it for the sake of being a little more 'comfortable'. If it's cold outside then put on a coat.

I wonder if the government has calculated the environmental cost of all the patio heaters, shelters and other construction that's been put in to cater for all the smokers who have to stay outside. At my workplace a path has been built through the shrubbery to the smokers' refuge at the far end of the carpark. So that's less greenery and more concrete.

It would be better if the smokers could give up their dirty habit. As well as the effects on others of what they exhale the production of cigarettes is causing a lot of damage too.

[14:26] | [Environment] | Comments | G

Mon, 23 Jul 2007

There is another

When I rebuilt my PC I transferred the old parts to the system that my kids use. They have been running Win98, mainly so they can run some old edutainment titles. I tried getting 98 to use the new hardware properly, but have not had much joy with it. So I decided it was time they got a proper OS. I thought about installing Ubuntu, but why not try something slightly different?

Mepis looked interesting. I had a live DVD that I booted up in the QEMU virtual PC. Mepis comes with a lot of stuff that I would want already installed such as Real, Flash and Nvidia drivers. I had to download the latest ISO as the other PC does not have a DVD drive. It booted up fine and worked pretty well as a live CD. I just had a few issues with the install program. It seems to get confused if you try and run anything else whilst it's running. The window does not refresh. It seemed to be taking ages to format the old 8GB drive, but did eventually manage it. There were only a few options to go through before the actual install. The choice of locale may confuse people as it just gives the abbreviations, e.g. en-gb and (I think). When that finished I rebooted and..... nothing. It POSTs, shows the usual BIOS stuff, then just sits there. Booting up the live CD showed that the OS stuff seemed to be all there. I did opt not to have GRUB, but I didn't think I would need it if I wasn't going to dual boot. So what could be wrong? I may try to install again and include GRUB.

My plan for the edutainment stuff is to install Win98 in QEMU, or possibly VirtualBox on the main PC. It can be handy to have a Windows system available once in a while. I have the old laptop with W2K, but that doesn't come out very often.

I had a go at sorting my Canon inkjet yesterday. I took the print head out and tried several cycles of soaking it to try and clear the black nozzles. It's slightly better now, but I may have to try something more extreme. I was going by this guide.

[08:44] | [Computer] | Comments | G

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