Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Sun, 29 Apr 2007

Fawning Around

I decided yesterday that it was time to upgrade my Kubuntu system to the latest version 7.04, codenamed Feisty Fawn. This was slightly easier to do than in previous upgrades. Instead of having to use the command line I was prompted by the update system to upgrade. I went through a few screens and then the upgrade kicked off. It ran for a couple of hours, but then I got what I had dreaded, an error screen. Something had gone wrong late in the process. I was prompted to run dpkg at the command line. This prompted another long series of processes that installed all the packages. Eventually it completed, but there still seems to be one package that's broken. Generally the system seems to work, but a couple of things are not right. I've lost sound in Firefox again, but I do have Flash 9 now, so more things should run. KDE has a slightly different look to it. Amarok has gained access to the Magnatune library. There's also a new version of Frozen Bubble!

So not perfect, but could have been worse. I will probably do a fresh install some time, but will probably wait until I build a new PC.

I will be able to afford a new PC if I sell my motorbike. With help from my friend Dave I have finally got it in decent running order. I took it for a brief ride today and it's running very nicely. I shall be placing an ad soon.

Shock news on the distributed computing front today. Grid.org have ended their public project. I'm amazed that they have done this without giving plenty of notice. Many people have invested in systems to run this project and are going to feel a bit put out. I have never run a dedicated system for it, but have still racked up well over 5 years of processing on various PCs. Recently I have moved away from it to things like Folding@home. The aims are similar, to find ways to fight disease, but they support more platforms such as Linux. I would encourage others to run these projects to help them find the answers sooner.

[20:47] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Fri, 27 Apr 2007

Code Guardian

Several years ago I found a great bit of computer animation by Marco Spitoni called The Hunt. The dialogue was a bit ropey, but the models and animation were excellent, making for a very cinematic experience. Now, after six years, he's come up with a new one called Code Guardian. This is a second world war epic featuring a giant Nazi robot attacking the US. He seems to like big machines, but this also features some pretty good human models, all in a vast set. Again the dialogue is ropey, but that's probably because English is not his native language. They even mispronounce the title. But it's still very entertaining. I'm not quite sure what is going on in the last sequence. You can download it from his site, but it took me a few hours to get the 160MB file.

[21:40] | [Entertainment] | Comments | G

Thu, 26 Apr 2007

Porcupine Tree, The Junction, Cambridge 20070425

As previously mentioned I went to see this band last night. My friend Simon was kind enough to take me there in his Lotus Elise. That made for a fun ride down the country lanes. I reckon it's about 15 years since I last went to The Junction when I first saw Living Colour. The area has changed a lot since then. We had to wait a few minutes for Mark who had got us the tickets. He used to be in a band with Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree.

The audience seemed to tend towards men in their fourties, or older in some cases. In any case it was packed in there. We missed the support, but didn't have to wait long for the main act. They played for about two hours including all of their new album that entered the charts at number 31 this week. They seemed pleased with that. I didn't know their material apart from what I had found on-line. It's what I'd call 'serious rock'. Very technically competent without being too showy. There was lots of use of projected video, largely of dysfunctional kids. I can't say I picked up too much of the lyrics, but I gathered that it was not the happiest stuff. Possibly similar stuff to Radiohead, but then I don't know what Thom is on about much of the time. I go for the overall sound and in this case it was pretty good. There were some odd time signatures, 6/8 for one song and something I couldn't work out in a fun instrumental in the encore.

So I enjoyed it. I may look at giving their work a better listen some time.

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

Wed, 25 Apr 2007

Synergysm

Lots of people work with more than one PC on their desk. It can be a pain to keep swapping keyboard and mouse, especially if one of them is a laptop. Last Year I started using Synergy, which lets you use one keyboard and mouse to control them all. You tell it how the screens are arranged and then moving the mouse off the side of one screen transfers control to the adjacent PC. They can even share a clipboard, although I have occaisional problems with that feature. I've used it frequently with my Linux PC and a Windows laptop.

A slight niggle was the lack of a GUI on Linux, but now I read that such a thing does exist and is called QuickSynergy. I shall have to give it a go.

It's been pointed out in the article above, and elsewhere, that you should be aware than all keystrokes are being sent unencrypted over the network. Not an issue on my home system, but could be on larger networks. Apparently SSH can be used to avoid this.

I'm off to a gig tonight. Seeing Porcupine Tree in Cambridge. I don't know their music that well, but a friend of a friend is best mates with their main man, so I'm on the guest list! That's a first for me. I was checking out some of their work on Youtube. Sounds good. From what I've heard I would file them near Muse and Dream Theater, i.e. very technically competent rock, perhaps even verging on Prog! That's fine by me as long as it's done with feeling.

[08:18] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Mon, 23 Apr 2007

Got to have some spares

Someone on The Inquirer has been clearing out his computer junk. I've go a fair bit myself. Under my desk are a couple of PCs, one an ancient AMD K6, the other a more useful Athlon 800 that I put together from spares. I also have a few boxes of assorted parts that I might find a use for. There's one box of stuff I definitely don't need, but can't bear to throw away. I have most of it listed on my Multiply site for people to browse. Some went to people via Freecycle. There just comes a point where nobody wants some of it because it's just not generally usable. Some will use an ancient PC as a firewall, but that's a power-hungry way to do it. I certainly couldn't justify leaving a PC on all the time. I rely on my router to protect me and that is only on when the PC is on.

I know others with even more antique kit. Maybe they hope it will become collectable. I did see that someone sold an old Apple II for over $1000 recently, but you have to have the really rare stuff with all the original manuals etc to get that sort of money.

So what's the oldest bit of computer kit you have? Mine is probably a Logitech digital camera that does around 100 kilopixels in shades of grey. I even have the box for that.

[12:57] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Fri, 20 Apr 2007

Feeling Feisty?

The latest Ubuntu was released yesterday. Version 7.04, codenamed Feisty Fawn. I fully intend to upgrade, although I have been pondering a fresh install. Maybe I should wait and see what is still broken. Something that broke a while ago was sound in Firefox. There was always a problem with Firefox either taking full control of system sound or not getting it at all. I was just taking a look at The Ubuntu Guide on Feisty and spotted a bit about Firefox sound under installing Flash. You install alsa-oss and tweak the firefoxrc file. It worked! Not only is sound working, but I can even have that and Amarok playing at the same time. Linux just became more usable.

Something that's not working, but has in the past are the video news items on BBC News. A window pops up, and I briefly see the Realplayer controls, but then that area goes blank. I know some people don't like having things like Realplayer and Flash on their systems due to the lack of openness, but I have to keep the family happy.

[19:48] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Thu, 19 Apr 2007

Catch the car crooks

According to the BBC less than half of drivers caught on speed and traffic light cameras get fines and points. A third cannot be traced. Surely it is more important to catch that third than to just put up more cameras. If they can get away with speeding then they are likely to not be paying insurance or road tax either. I begrudge having to subsidise them. I bet that a fair few have false number plates and so someone else may get the blame for their offences. Perhaps if they are detected more than once on a given route then the police could go out and trap them. The roads are dangerous enough without these idiots.

I've never been done for speeding myself and am unlikely to be as I don't speed. I'm more concerned about cutting my fuel consumption so I drive up and down the A1(M) at around 65mph. A lot of people overtake me, but I still pass a few and it all evens out at the regular slow points, so I don't think it costs me more than a couple of minutes on my journey. It's generally less stressful than trying to drive fast. If you want thrills then get them away from the public roads.

I've just seen a separate story about turning pig fat into diesel. Another crap idea from the oil industry and not appealing to a non-meateater like myself. The meat industry itself uses vast amounts of energy and the animals emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases. The whole biofuels from plants idea is not viable either. We should be growing food to feed the world rather than to keep our cars going and there just isn't enough land to grow enough fuel for everyone.

[22:07] | [Motoring] | Comments | G

Wed, 18 Apr 2007

People with guns kill people

So there has been another major incident in the USA where someone has gone on the rampage and killed a lot of people. That's tragic, but it brings up the old issue of gun control. Rumble has had a few words on this and I agree with him. There is no need for the general public to have guns. The US gun lobby will keep up their mantra of the 'right to bear arms', but is it really worth it when you consider how many thousands die there every year by the gun. The gun lobby say people need guns for protection, but I wonder how many lives are saved that way? It seems nobody managed to stop the latest mass killer before he killed himself anyway.

Of course you can distort the statistics for humorous reasons.

[08:38] | [News] | Comments | G

Mon, 16 Apr 2007

Converting TV to Divx

I'm happily recording TV on my Freeview card, but the files are a little big at around 2GB/hour. I've done some playing around with converting to Divx and now have a little script that converts to a reasonable looking Divx of around a quarter of the original size. The only problem is that the resulting files always play back in full screen (4:3) rather than the original widescreen (16:9) as the big versions (in MPEG) do. I've been reading various sites, but the mencoder manual says that it is possible to get the right aspect ration as long as you play back in mplayer. I've tried the example options at the bottom of this page, but got a 'FATAL: Cannot initialize video driver' error.

For reference my script is:

mencoder "$1" -ovc lavc -lavcopts vpass=1 -oac copy -ffourcc DX50 turbo -o "$2"
mencoder "$1" -ovc lavc -lavcopts vpass=2 -oac copy -ffourcc DX50 -o "$2"

It uses two passes to improve the quality a little. So any ideas on what I should add to fix the aspect ratio? For now I am concentrating on generating files to play on the PC, but I will keep in mind that they may also get played on a Divz-capable DVD player through the TV.

I've had more contact with the author of ZapDVB. When we changed to summer time it started recording an hour later than I wanted it to. He pointed out that I had to run tzconfig to set my system's timezone. That fixed it.

Of course I also need a new TV one day. This one looks about right if someone wants to buy it for me. Apparently it burns about 1500W, so it will keep us warm too.

[22:21] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Thu, 12 Apr 2007

Herts LUG 20070411

Rob gave a good talk on Blender. Very good of him to still do this after being seriously ill recently. I've not played with 3d rendering since my Amiga days. Things have moved on since then with real-time previews and lots of other stuff, but it's still a specialist field that requires lots of work to get good results. Not sure I should get into that when there are so many other things I want to do. I've not been well myself. Got one of my heavy colds this week, so staying at home to rest.

Rob's talk ended with a viewing of Elephants Dream, a short film showing what Blender can do. I played a part by managing to install VLC on Nicolas's laptop so we could play the AVI.

Just finished reading Brian Eno's Diary. This was a great fun read. Gives lots of insight into the life of this artist, including his family life. I need to update my book list, but I need to decide what I'm reading next first.

I was tidying the garden at the weekend. That's a neverending job and I can never control all of it. At least I can enjoy watchinhg the wildlife out there from my desk in the study. We're having fun watching our tadpoles in the pond. Someone gave us a whole bucket of them to start us off. We did have a frog, but there was no spawn this year.

[12:15] | [Computer] | Comments | G

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