Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Wed, 14 Feb 2007

You know your computer is old when...

...the BIOS battery dies. This just happened to me. I was having to set the BIOS date and time when I started up, but I had a spare battery (good old CR2032!) and now it's fixed for another few years. I'm not sure how long I've had the motherboard, but the Duron 1200 CPU has been around for nearly six years according to this comprehensive list.

I've had a few issues with the computer lately, mostly down to my earlier mishaps. I managed to get printing working again after bypassing the official way of installing CUPS. I still have a few issues including the screensaver not turning the monitor off. Yesterday Firefox stopped working completely. It seemed to be due to some sort of file corruption, so I ended up re-installing it. I also lost sound from the web via Flash and Realplayer, but that's still under investigation. Perhaps when the next version of Ubuntu gets released I'll try a fresh install in hope of fixing all these niggles, but I shall be careful to preserve all my user files. I'll just have to re-install a whole load of stuff. The graphics card is going to have to come out as it's making a lot of noise whilst not giving me much benefit. I just hope this doesn't mess things up again. I could wait until I do the re-install to be safe.

I just took delivery of a smart new DVD player. It's a Sony DVP-NS76H. I've not bought Sony stuff in the past, but this got a good rating from Which. I've plugged it in with a composite video cable to the TV and it looks good so far. Next steps are to make it multi-region, which may need my One4All remote, and set up my Harmony remote to work with it. My old DVD was an Acoustic Solutions unit that came from Richer Sounds many years ago. It has worked fine and is being passed on to someone. The Sony has features like HDMI and progressive scan, but these will not work with my current TV. I'm holding off buying a flat screen for now. The price/quality ratio should improve and settle down in a couple of years.

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

Wed, 07 Feb 2007

Free the music

Very interesting post by Steve Jobs on the Apple site. Basically he is saying that the use of DRM on music could be scrapped if the big music companies would agree to it. They already sell x10 as many tracks on CD as on-line with no protection at all. Removing the DRM would allow music from any provider to be played on any player, as long as the format is supported. OGG Vorbis would be my preference. There's even a new chip that can play it with less power usage than previously. There are already a number of places where you can already buy DRM-free music, sometimes in much better quality. Despite what some people say 128 kilobit MP3 is not CD quality. When I listen to music I ripped in that format several years ago it sounds noticably worse than more recent rips in 190 kilobit OGG Vorbis, at least on my Grado SR60 headphones . Now I'm using FLAC to preserve the original CD quality, but still have to sort a way to transcode it for portable use.

I have a new toy that is a clone of the Powerball. It's an exercise gadget in the form of a gyroscope that works your arms. There's a thriving community of users who like to see who can spin it fastest. I'm still struggling to reach high speeds, but we're running a league table at work. It seems to be more about technique than strength.

We've seen some very low temperatures this week. It was -7C as I drove into London today. Not quite as cold as our holiday destination. The forecast is for heavy snow tomorrow, so I intend to stay at home to work.

[14:29] | [Music] | Comments | G

Mon, 29 Jan 2007

Giving Something Back

As a Linux user I am used to not having to pay for most software. An exception is Turbo Print that I needed to make proper use of my Canon printer. I have no objection to paying for software I regularly use and intend to make financial contributions to some projects this year.

There are also lots of free on-line services I use. Some of them (Google, del.icio.us) have big companies behind them making loads of money from advertising. Others are much smaller scale, but provide great services. A notable case is last.fm. I've used them since they were called Audioscrobbler to log what music I've been listening to. I quite often use their streaming music service to hear music their algorithms say I might like and am using their new gig guide to get advance notice of events I might like. To show my appreciation I have now become a subscriber. It only costs a few pounds a year, but gives me access to a few extra services.

In other news, I'm still trying to fix some things that broken on my PC when I installed the graphics card. I can't print now as CUPS died and I lost the settings when I re-installed it. I did manage to fix atd so I can finally play with ZapDvb as a TV/radio recorder. An unrelated issue is that I have lost the ability to upload to this server from home since it was moved to a new box due to being hacked. Not sure why that is.

On the hardware front I have just got a monitor upgrade due to work replacing all our old CRTs with LCDs. I've had a 17" Iiyama Vision Master Pro 400 since I got my PC and it has served me very well. I've now moved to it's bigger brother, the 19" VM451. Now I can run a higher resolution. It's big, but my Ikea Jerker desk accomodates it well.

On Saturday I built a PC purely from bits I had lying around that may serve as an upgrade for some friends. It's only an Athlon 800, but still much quicker than what they have. I tested it with a Kubuntu live CD and it worked well, but I may have to install Windows for them to reduce the support load on me. They will be getting my old Iiyama screen.

[09:15] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Fri, 19 Jan 2007

Upgrade Woes

I'm still working on sorting out my PC after installing the MX400. I've now established that it's only my account that's broken, so I may just move all my files and build it again from scratch. At least on Linux it's relatively easy to recover the settings for each application as they are all stored as files rather than in a registry database.

I'm even having second thoughts about whether to keep the card in that PC. I need to run more tests, but it doesn't seem much quicker and it adds to the system noise due to it's fan. I gain up to 32MB of system memory, but that's offset by the new DIMM anyway. Maybe I should try to find a slightly more moderm card that gives real benefits, preferably one with passive cooling.

On the subject of nvidia I was listening to LugRadio on the train today. They were speaking to someone from the Nouveau project that is trying to build open source drivers. That's a tricky task due to the lack of public technical data. It will be even trickier if they want to support all the generations of cards. Perhaps I should go for open hardware.

Of course I could build a whole new PC with much better parts for not much money, but I'm trying to resist the temptation. To encourage my greener lifestyle I was given a subscription to Ethical Consumer magazine. Most of the companies I would generally buy from do not get rated well, but then the reviewers have very strict criteria. In a lot of cases I will have to go for the least evil affordable option.

[13:56] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Thu, 18 Jan 2007

Upgrades for Free

Rather than buying/building a new computer I'm trying to get by upgrading what I have. The advantage of this method is that there are people out there who have spare parts I need left over from their own upgrades. I've been placing some ads on the local Freecycle and on my Multiply Market. I also advertised some of the kit I've had lying around for years that is too old to get any money for. This week I managed to get rid of a fair bit and, in exchange, I gained some useful parts. These consisted of an extra 256MB DIMM and a couple of graphics cards. The nvidia MX400 looked like a good option for my main Linux box as it's old enough to be supported by the motherboard. It may not give a huge performance leap over the on-board graphics, but it frees up some memory. The Matrox G550 will go in the Win98 box that the kids use.

I've had a few issues with the MX400. After it didn't initially get me into KDE I did some digging and found out it needed the legacy driver. I think that is working, but I now still have problems getting KDE to start consistently. I sometimes get a desktop with no toolbar or window title bars, but did once manage to get everything looking as it did previously. I need to learn more about how it all works. There are various guides that give you a series of commands to run to make something work, but they don't always explain why it works.

On the upgrade front I'm still on the look-out for a better CPU. I should be able to fit something at least 50% quicker than my 1200 Duron. That will help speed up my current project to convert some Freeview recordings to DVD format.

[14:08] | [Computer] | Comments | G

A Year in Books

I've just been updating my list of what I've been reading recently. I did quite well for books last year, even if a lot of it was re-reading some old favourites. After reading the Douglas Adams biography I decided to go through my collection of his books. It was enjoyable to read them again. I did a few biographies and travel books that were great fun. I generally do most of my reading in the half hour before going to sleep, but things speed up if I'm doing a lot of plane or train travel. I got a couple of new books for Xmas, but still have quite a few at home I haven't read. I don't bother with the library these days.

I generally go for books that are fun and/or interesting. I don't have time to waste on the vast number of books that just seem to be there to pass the time.

[13:49] | [Review] | Comments | G

Wed, 03 Jan 2007

Software Patents

The idea of patents, as I understand it, is that an inventor gets protection for his idea at the expense of revealing exactly how it works. He can then exploit it for a while and reap the benefits. This system is being abused by companies to stifle competition by patenting anything they can think of. It seems that a lot of software patents are totally insufficient for anyone to replicate the process, but can be used to milk licencing fees from others. In some cases companies buy a patent just so they can do that. without producing anything themselves.

I'm no great expert on the subject, but I am convinced that software patents are a bad idea. Lots more reading at Wikipedia (check other references if you need to). Those writing free software cannot afford to patent their ideas or fight legal battles over them. If an idea can be shown to have been in use by others before then it cannot be patented. If I have anything wrong here then I am prepared to be corrected.

This post was inspired by Jono Bacon reporting on a petition on the PM's site. When I signed this morning there were 200 signatories. Now it's nearly 500. That still pales next to the one saying that the PM should stand on his head and juggle ice cream with over 2000! Anyone who cares about the future of software, especially Free Software should sign this, provided they are a British citizen.

[20:30] | [News] | Comments | G

Long Live the Amiga

I've just been reading an interesting article on The Inquirer about the current state of the Amiga. It seems there is a new version of the OS, but the hardware to run it is no longer in production. Looks like another in a long line of fiascos.

Many years ago I bought a second-hand A500 Plus and had a lot of fun with it. Working from floppies became a bit limiting so I moved to the A1200 when it came out with a mighty 200MB hard drive. That machine went through a series of upgrades culminating in a 68040 processor with 128MB of memory. The drive was swapped for a 1.7GB 3.5" that sat outside the case and I had a x2 SCSI CD, all powered by an old PC PSU. I could even run a Mac emulator for things like Compuserve and some games. And then Doom got ported! It was all fun, but the Amiga was suffering from lack of development and I eventually gave it up for a Windows PC (PII/350 with 128MB memory and 8GB HD). I managed to sell all the Amiga stuff for a fraction of what it cost.

My home computing history goes back a lot further to my BBC Micro, but that's a different story.

Now I'm happily running Kubuntu Linux. There's something of the feel of the old Amiga community, but with much better prospects for a decent future. The main problems are likely to be things like getting drivers for new hardware and support for new media formats or web services. Recently I've been thinking about getting a cordless phone that can also link to the PC for use with Skype or some other VOIP, but there seems to be a lack of support for that. I still don't intend to resort to using Windows, of any sort. I do have a PC running Windows 98, but that's only to run some old games for the kids.

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

Mon, 25 Dec 2006

Xmas Day Blues

"I woke up this morning, excited kiddies on my bed..."

Well, something like that. We've had a day of present opening and good dining. The kids have overdosed on new toys. Power Rangers and Doctor Who are the main themes, with a dose of Scalextric. Memories of my childhood there. Then it's settle down for the TV treats, except there's not much new there. There's a couple of kids' films that we've had on DVD for ages, so the others are watching Some Like it Hot.

My special treat was to buy a new guitar from a local shop I've been wanting an acoustic for a while. I feel the need to learn some new technique and songs. I shall be exploring the many on-line resources for hints and tutorials. I would like to find some local musicians to play with.

I have to work a couple of days this week due to using up my holiday allocation. At least the traffic will be light when I drive in. I'll just wish everyone a happy midwinter feast and an intruiging new year.

[17:59] | [News] | Comments | G

Wed, 20 Dec 2006

Haven't the Foggiest

There's been a little bit of mist/fog about in the mornings this week. Some people seem to think that this means they must have their fog lights on. The Highway Code is quite clear on this. Fog lights (front and rear) are only to be used when visibility is 'seriously reduced', i.e. when people other drivers would not be able to see you clearly otherwise. I have emailed the local radio stations in the vain home that they might mention this on their traffic reports when they are saying there is fog about.

Don't get me started on those people who always have their front fogs on to try and intimidate others. And what is it with those who drive around with front fogs and side lights? Trying to make up for their general dimness?

[09:48] | [Motoring] | Comments | G

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