Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Thu, 05 Apr 2007

Upgrade Dilemas

The internals of my main PC are getting on a bit. My Duron 1200 is way behind today's dual core chips. It can run most things I throw at it, but is very slow when it comes to things like converting video files. I've been thinking of building a new PC, but there are savings to be made by upgrading this box as the drives are more up to date. I've just seen a couple of bundles that seem possible candidates. Both use mATX boards that would fit my Antec Aria and have on-board graphics that may be adequate for my non-gaming needs:

Both are around UKP200, which seems reasonable for an upgrade. Both chips use about the same power (65W), but these benchmarks show the Intel chip being considerably quicker in all fields. The Intel set has half the memory. It looks like another UKP45 to bring it level. There are question marks over the supplied heatsinks. Would they fit in my case and are they quiet? I'd pay a little extra for near silence. Intel have some new chips coming this month, which implies either that I could get that set for less or get something quicker for the same.

I've never been on the cutting edge of PC hardware. I've always bought chips near the low end of the range for a better price/performance ratio. I've also not bothered overclocking as reliability is more important than getting a little more speed. If I can find the spare money then I think I will be making the change soon. I'll probably take the opportunity to do a fresh install of Kubuntu after the next version is released.

If anyone wants to make any recommendations I am open to suggestions.

[13:48] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Wed, 04 Apr 2007

Two Achievements by Others

Jono Bacon, of LugRadio fame, did his bit for Comic Relief by promising to record an album within a 24 hour timespan if at least £1000 was pledged. Well that amount was exceeded and he has done the deed. The results are available for free download from his music site. It's a mix of acoustic pop and some thrash metal with a little cello accompaniment. I think he's done a nice job and raised some money to boot. Download and donate.

A totally different achievement was a new rail speed record by our friends the French. Whilst we have been complaining about our trains they have gone and built something that can travel at nearly half the speed of sound. I know that real passenger trains will not be going that fast for a while, but their's still manage 300km/h. If they can get more people to travel around Europe by train rather than plane then it's a very good thing. I know which I'd prefer, as long as the price premium was not too excessive.

Another amazing bit of engineering that is still underway is the 57km rail tunnel under the Alps. That may also encourage people onto the rails for that route as it cuts the journey from Zurich to Milan by 90 minutes. The Swiss have been trying for years to cut the number of trucks travelling through the country.

[21:51] | [News] | Comments | G

Sat, 31 Mar 2007

A Good Evening at the Keyboard

I had a productive evening yesterday. I had a reply from the author of the ZapDVB digital TV recording software. He welcomed my offer of help in improving the English language text displayed by the software, so I did some editing of the language file and sent it back to him. He says that a new version is being worked on.

I've made a few recordings with ZapDVB, but they take up a lot of space at around 2GB/hour. I had thought about converting to DVDs, but as my new DVD player can do DIVX I thought I could use that instead. As mentioned earlier I was playing with mencoder to do this. My first attempt produced a file that played on the PC, but was rejected by the DVD player. I managed to find some options that worked. Playback on the TV is a bit blocky, but may be acceptable. It's mostly going to be stuff for the kids and they are not as picky as me about picture quality.

I've been having some thoughts about using some sort of Jabber bot to do some remote administration tasks, e.g. notifying me of comments on this site. I've had a look before to find an example that I could use as a basis. My latest find was gozerbot. It's written in Python and already has a comprehensive set of plug-ins. With a little help from their IRC channel I got it working on my PC. I need to investigate further into how to write my own plug-ins.

It's amazing what you can achieve if you don't spend all evening reading slashdot ;)

[21:46] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Fri, 30 Mar 2007

Mmm, Chocolate Jesus

American Catholics are up in arms about a NYC gallery proposing to display a chocolate model of Jesus on the cross over Easter. The Catholic League has a great rant about it. I wonder if they get as angry about all the tacky Jesus and Mary plastic sculptures and pictures you see so much of in Catholic countries.

We will be celebrating Easter with some tasty pagan rebirth symbols.

Comments seem to be working and some are getting blocked by the filter. With help from my friendly server admin I now have the ability to remove unwanted comments.

[09:12] | [News] | Comments | G

Wed, 28 Mar 2007

Comments Off-line

My comments are not working at the moment. I am trying to get the comment spam plug-ins working, but something is wrong. It's making use of the Akismet service, but gets a time-out when it tries to verify my key.

For reference, here are the steps I have taken so far to make comments work:

I'm making enquiries on the mailing list and may also try the IRC channel.

[13:28] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Firefox History Tip

These days I keep very few bookmarks in Firefox. There are a few there for sites I visit every day. The rest are in so I can access them wherever I am. Even for sites I do have in bookmarks I quite often access them by just pressing F6 and start typing the URL. One problem with this is that my history has quite a few URLs that I have mistyped. I used to think you could only get rid of them by clearing the whole history, but I recently read that pressing Shift-Del would clear one. Not only that, but it works on web forms too for text that Firefox remembers for you.

I've had some issues with my right hand due to using the mouse so much, so I prefer to use the keyboard when I can. Lots more shortcuts for Firefox here. I should try and learn a few more, taking account of the differences on Windows and Linux. If I am using the mouse I like to use mouse gestures as this reduces the number of clicks required. There's a few gestures I use, but again I ought to learn some more.

The general problem with all these shortcuts is that you don't always realise that they are there unless you read the documentation, and who does that? Another recent revelation was KDE's Katapult. I now use that a lot for launching certain applications.

[08:45] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Mon, 26 Mar 2007

Read-only Comments

The new comments system has already attracted a few posts from friends. Some have even been kind enough to test my anti-spam measures with some witty texts. Unfortunately they do not seem to be blocked, so maybe I need more set-up. This has also revealed a small problem. I don't have rights to delete comments as they are written to files whose owner is apache. It would seem that what I need is a password-protected web page that allows me to select comments for deletion as that should have the same rights. I shall look into how that could work. Pyblosxom doesn't really have any web interface for controlling it. You have to make use of SSH and FTP to update files. I could also do with something to allow me to monitor comments as they come in. There is email notification that I ought to try.

I gained a new toy today. It's an ancient (1999?) Toshiba T8100 laptop with a screaming PIII/600 CPU and a massive 128MB of memory. Hey, it was free. I have plans to use it as a media player on my network for streaming radio and possibly video. It's got Windows 2000 on it that I may keep for now as it would do for my Windows-only jobs of programming the home automation and the multi-remote. I'll still be trying out an Ubuntu live CD on it to see how it handles it. I suspect that something lighter, like Xubuntu may be more suited.

[12:46] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Super Service, with Reservations

My Logitech Harmony 655 multi-remote is a great gadget. It allows us to get away with using a single remote most of the time. To set it up you have to log into their web site and configure everything, then the site downloads a file which is transferred via USB to the device using an application installed on the PC. Unfortunately this application is not available for Linux so I have to make use of a Windows machine.

I was trying to set it up for my new DVD player yesterday when I found that I couldn't get into the screen that lets me re-program the buttons. I sent them a bug report. Later that afternoon I had a reply to say it was fixed. This was on a Sunday! They had fixed it, but something else had gone awry and I had lost some other settings somehow. I've reported that too. I also inquired about whether there will ever be a Linux version of the software.

The most serious problem I have had with this device is that the up/down buttons for changing volume and channel have become very intermittent. This would seem to be a hardware issue that I may be able to resolve by opening it up, but for now I have just added those functions to the programmable buttons alongside the screen.

[09:10] | [Gadgets] | Comments | G

Sat, 24 Mar 2007

Comments Please

As of now this site can accept comments. I needed a little help from Ryan on the Pyblosxom mailing list, then I sorted the rest by checking the log files. I've installed some anti-comment spam measures. We will see how effective those are.

[21:03] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Fri, 23 Mar 2007

PS3 Out-Folds the Rest

I should have checked the stats before pondering how the PS3 would do on F@H. 15,000 PS3s are managing more TeraFLOPS than around 200,000 PCs of various types. Impressive. We shall see if the enthusiasm lasts. There's discussion in various places about how energy efficient the PS3 is compared to some PC platforms and it seems it's not as good as far as gaining F@H points. There are people out there who have large numbers of dedicates machines running this sort of project. I just saw an example of one whose electricity bill is nearly triple mine. I can't afford that and would find it hard to justify unless I knew the electricity was from a renewable source. Maybe when I build my own wind farm I'll set up some PCs to use the excess power. Meanwhile, my puny box will be turned off each night.

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

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