Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Fri, 23 Mar 2007

Back in the Herd

I've been having some problems with Folding@home on my home PC. Apart from it taking weeks to process a work unit due to not being on all the time and just being generally slow, I've had several units crash out, so wasting several days of processing. I've not found a workaround, so for now I'm putting this PC back on It has no benefit to medical science, and I'm not totally sure about it's benefits to anyone else, but at least my PC is contributing to something. I hate to see a processor idle.

I changed my start-up script to swap things over, but when I rebooted I ended up at a console. It took me a while to sort it. It seems that it was actually due to an update I had run earlier which had not completed properly. Running 'apt-get -f install' fixed it. has achieved a few things. It has cracked a few encryption challenges and has calculated some optimum Golomb rulers, but the latest challenge seems ambitious. They have been working on the RC5-72 encryption challenge for a few years and, at current rates, will take another 1000 years to cover all the keyspace. Of course the key may be found in the first 1% and computers will get faster, but I think this already shows how hard a task it is. I think they have less contributors than in the past as many have moved to other projects. Looking at their stats on the platforms in use, it's amazing to see the variety. There are even some old Amigas still processing.

Maybe I'll look at Folding@home again when I have a faster, probably dual core, PC. The F@H client is gaining the ability to exploit all cores without the user having to set up multiple instances. Dnet has had that for several years, as I found when I ran it on an old dual CPU server. It will be intesting to see the results when Sony release the F@H client for the PS3.

I've been looking for a while for a way to convert programmes I've recorded from Freeview to a more compact format. I was thinking of DVD, but as my player can do Divx that may be suitable. I remember when that first appeared and the fun we had converting DVDs. I ran some tests with mencoder and that looks promising, even if it lacks a GUI. I was going to convert a programme from last night for the wife to take to work, but Channel 4 changed the schedule at the last minute.

Minor excitement in the garden today when a sparrowhawk took out a dove. I missed the kill and it flew off before I could get my camera.

[15:19] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Wed, 21 Mar 2007

Evangelical MP

I'm not really into politics. When I get a vote I generally go for the 'greenest' party. In our area there is rarely a Green candidate and the Tories have a large majority, so it's only going to be a protest vote anyway.

Our MP is Tory Alistair Burt. I don't know much about him, but I suscribed to his feed on TheyWorkForYou to see what he speaks about in the Commons. His latest was to close for the opposition in a long debate on the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. I'm not going to read the whole thing, but he declares his status as a council member of the Evangelical Alliance. If there's something that scares me more than a Tory, it's a Tory who thinks God is on his side. Obviously I think it's great that the UK gave up slavery, but from what I read in the Radio Times about a programme I didn't watch, William Wilberforce pushed for it to save the souls of the British rather than to save the Africans. It also said that he considered it more important to convert India to Christianity. I'm sure he was a good person, as are most Christians, but I do wonder about their motives sometimes. I've not read up on the history of slavery, but I have the impression that lots of Christians managed to justify having their own slaves, but then the Bible does not condemn the practice.

What I have gained from this is a secondary, redundant, reason not to vote for Mr Burt.

[13:16] | [News] | Comments | G

Tue, 13 Mar 2007

Dropping MSN

I've used various instant messaging applications over the years. I used the Yahoo one for a while as I have had an account with them for yonks. Then it seemed that more people I knew were on MSN, so I used that, but I've never liked their clients. A friend got me onto Jabber a few years back. This really appealed to me as it was a totally open system with a wide selection of clients. I've used Psi on Windows and Linux. It's a nice, simple interface that does the job. I later switched to Kopete on Linux as it integrates with the KDE address book. To allow me to talk to people on MSN I used a couple of services (transports) that act as gateways betweem Jabber and other networks so that I could do all my chat in one application. These have been generally good, but sometimes they have problems when Microsoft change something. This week the one I was using stopped working altogether. I'm taking this as an opportunity to drop MSN altogether. For work purposes I use Skype. It's not an open system, but it's so simple to install that I can use it with family as well.

I know MSN has all sorts of 'features' to make chat more 'fun', but I just find them annoying. speech and video can be useful, but I can get those via Skype, although video is not available on the Linux client yet and I don't have a webcam at home anyway.

So if you want to chat with me I would prefer that you use a Jabber system. The easiest way to get on there, if you use Windows or already have a Gmail account is to use Google Talk. They are using Jabber so it's very easy to use any of the clients. There are also plenty of public Jabber servers you can use or even install your own if you have the facilities.

So goodbye MSN. I just need to check around to see if I still have any references to my account there.

[09:11] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Mon, 12 Mar 2007

Global Warming Swindle

I've still to finish watching this programme, but it looks like the 'truth' is coming out. On first viewing it had me a bit worried as a series of scientists told how the worldwide hysteria over CO2 was misplaced. A chat with Ian last night put my mind at rest. It looks like Channel 4 have let someone with a political agenda have 90 minutes of prime time to push their ideas.

There's a small discussion going on over on my Multiply page. I've persisted with that site in parallel to this one for several reasons. Primarily it makes it easy for me to post pictures for friends and family to see, whilst allowing me to control who has access. I've got around 30 contacts on there, most of whom are not very technical and will not want to get into things like RSS. It gives them an easy way to post content, but most of them have been a little shy so far. I've also started and joined a few groups there. I've looked at a few other social networking sites, but Multiply still seems to offer the best match for my requirements and has a reasonable signal to noise ratio. If anyone wants to join my contacts and gain the ability to post comments on my posts there then don't be afraid to join up. You don't have to expose any personal information you don't want to and I have had no problems with spam or other annoyances there.

[09:07] | [Environment] | Comments | G

Sat, 10 Mar 2007

Pushing Semantics

I recently dsicovered Lemonrock that provides lists of local music gigs. They have a lot of nice features and recently added Google maps of the venues. This immediately made me think of GeoURL. They already have the venue coordinates in the page, they would just need to add the appropriate code to the header for it to be used by external applications. I've proposed this on their forum, but they don't see a benefit. Any suggestions on ways to sell the idea?

I did my own GeoURL/Google mash-up by extracting links of members' sites on the Herts LUG site with some Python. The important bits of this were found on various sites, but it was still fun and educational to put together. I'd like to do more of this sort of thing, but need to think of some projects.

[21:06] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Fri, 09 Mar 2007


For some time I've wondered whether I should look at getting comments working on this site. I tried and failed on an older version of pyblosxom, but it may have improved since then. I would obviously have to investigate the anti-spam options. One problem with comments is that those who read the site via RSS will probably never see them.

So what do you think? Except you don't have a way to say here ;) There's the guestbook, or you can email me. Either you know my address or you should be able to work it out.

[13:02] | [Site News] | Comments | G

Wed, 07 Mar 2007

Arctic Circling

It's been a while since we last went skiing. This time we went for something a bit different and went to Ylläs in northen Finland, Lappland if you prefer, inside the Arctic Circle. It's not a very high resort, but it's latitude ensures it's cold enough for plenty of snow. In fact we had been seeing temperatures of -25C there a few weeks before we went, but it warmed up to a more bearable -12C. Unlike the Alpine resorts they had plenty of snow early on and a little more came during our stay.

Getting there was a bit of a trek as we had to go from Heathrow to Helsinki on BA then catch an internal flight on Finnair to Kittilä, so that was a whole day of travelling. We stayed at the Saaga hotel. We had a nice appartment, but didn't do much cooking. We had their generous breakfast and dinner buffets, but the latter could get a bit repetitive with variations on fish in a sauce or reindeer. Their SaagaCarte restaurant had a much better selection, but at a much higher cost. They also had a good pool and a gym if you felt the need.

They have quite a few ski runs, but nothing too exciting. In fact their black runs are more like a red elsewhere, but you could ski all day with hardly any queues on really good snow. Nothing was too carved up. The kids had a few lessons and were soon accomanying us up to some of the middle runs.

Overall it was an excellent holiday and we could well consider going back. If you don't want to ski their are several companies providing snowmobile, husky and snowshoe expeditions, but these can get expensive for a family. We didn't see the northern lights at all and missed the lunar eclipse as we were travelling back.

[21:17] | [Travel] | Comments | G

Tue, 06 Mar 2007

Saving the planet is hard

There were a couple of interesting programmes on TV last night. Unfortunately they clashed, but my faithful Twin dealt with that. One was a Panorama about Newsnight's Ethical Man and his efforts to cut his carbon footprint. This was fairly light stuff, but highlighted the problems of making a real impact. I've been following his blog on and off. Interestingly he was due to get a free wind turbine to try out, but this was cancelled at the last minute as it would only save him about 10 a year. The other was Dispatches on 'Greenwash', how the whole green issue is being distorted by government and industry. I missed the first half, but they were saying that the government has no chance of achieving it's targets of cutting greenhouse emissions, especially as they are prepared to accept massive growth in car and plane use. They seem to think that improvements in vehicle efficency will balance this out, but that seems very unlikely unless we all converted to really efficient cars, but then the impact of building all those cars would outweigh the savings.

I've blown my carbon budget this year on flying to Finland to go skiing. More on this later.

If you want to let the Chancellor know that you think he should increase the incentives to drive a greener car then Friends of the Earth have a suggested email you can send to him.

[12:54] | [Environment] | Comments | G

Tue, 20 Feb 2007

Two 10k in One Day

We all have our own little personal scoresheets to see how we are doing. Personally I'm a little too obsessed with statistics and numbers in general. Today I achieved similar numbers in two completely different categories.

The first was to pass 10000 tracks on All that means is that I have listened to that many audio tracks whilst using software that talks to this site over the last three years. I do this using Quintessential with a plug-in on Windows and the wonderful Amarok on Linux. also provide a nice music streaming service that can match your tastes and bring you new music.

The second milestone was achieved on my new Powerball that just arrived from Amazon (ordered Saturday on free delivery). I hit 10353rpm after getting 9992 on Dad's a couple of days ago. That puts me top of the office league for now.

Just got the father-in-law a new TV so he can have Freeview. To keep things simple (single remote) I found one with it built in. It's a rare item as it's not a flat panel, but a good old 4:3 CRT. It's this Bush, but does not match the picture. It's old technology, but half the price of a similar size LCD and does what he needs. So far it seems good. It takes a few seconds to come on, but it found all the channels. I've set him up a restricted list to exclude all the shopping and pop stuff. EPG is okay, but he may not use that much. He was renting a TV and video from Box Clever that we asked them to take back, but they have told us to keep them. It's obviously not worth them picking them up as I doubt they would use them again. I hate to think how many old TVs are being dumped in the stampede to the latest fads. Mind you, I was awestruck by the sight of this 70" rear-projection in the Sony shop. It was just enormous. Their 52" LCD was a little more manageable, but still big and lovely.

[13:06] | [News] | Comments | G

Fri, 16 Feb 2007

Regional Reports

My new Sony DVP-NS76H DVD player is looking good so far. I made a slight mistake in my last post. I am using a component video cable, not the inferior composite. The picture is rock solid. I tried some old Divx films I have on CD and those played perfectly, apart from me needing to manually adjust the TV aspect ratio to make them fill the screen. For audio I'm still using half of a free stereo cable to carry the digital signal to my Yamaha amp and it sounds fine.

Today I made it multi-region. Most of the mentions of this on places like AV Forums said to use a OneForAll remote, but I couldn't get mine to do it. It seems you cannot just use the standard Sony unit. So I tried an alternative of using the demo version of OmniRemote with a special configuration on my Palm. A few screen taps later I was playing my region 1 (Canadian) Harry Potter with no problems.

Things are less good on the Powerball front. Mine is suffering a problem where the screen locks up, so it's going back to John Lewis. For reference it's sold under the name 'Strength Ball'. I've now played with an original Powerball and there is a significant difference. The Powerball is much smoother in operation. It also has more functions on the display, so I think it's worth the extra few pounds. Both are made in China/Taiwan, possibly in the same factory, but maybe one gets more attention.

[22:10] | [Gadgets] | Comments | G

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