Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Wed, 20 Dec 2006

Who needs Windows?

I've been running my main PC on Linux for about 18 months now and don't miss Windows at all. I still have 98 on the second PC, but only so the kids can play some simple games, and use XP at work. I quite often find that I miss certain Linux facilities when using XP, but rarely the other way around. I've seen all the hype about Vista, but there's nothing that really grabs me. Why should I pay hundreds of pounds for something that will place so many restrictions on what I can do? It's possible to get all the 3D tricks on Linux if you want them and have the necessary hardware.

Ubuntu has served me very well. Almost all the software I need can be easily installed from their repositories. They also have have friendly forums (fora?). I still need to work out how to do a few things, like transferring home video to DVD, but I'm generally happy. I still don't think it's suitable for everyone. Games will be an issue for the forseeable future, but I don't play them.

In some cases Linux can be easier to install than Windows. I am tempted to try installing something lightweight, like Xubuntu, on an old PC I have to see if it could be made useful.

What I could do with is a more powerful PC. My old Duron 1200 is getting on and I have to wait a while for some things to run. I've put out some requests for certain items that would let me upgrade this PC to keep it running a while longer. To use the nice new stuff, like dual-core processors will mean starting from scratch. A faster CPU, some more memory and a graphics card could transform what I have without costing a fortune. If my request on Freecycle gets answered it may even cost nothing as people may have them hanging around after they upgraded. I have my own pile of old hardware that I have offered, but there are no takers yet. Some of it may have to be dumped, but I will re-use what I can.

[09:03] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Tue, 19 Dec 2006

A Pair of Giants

A couple of culture giants have died recently. Today I heard that Joe Barbera left us. Apparently H&B produced over 3000 episodes of 300 cartoon series. I probably saw a fair few of them in my youth. Most of them were not that great. The Flintstones was just a cartoon sitcom. They pioneered the use of standard body parts to make for rapid production, but it made it less interesting to watch. I guess the same sort of thing is happening now with computer animation. Once they generate the characters they can churn out hundreds of episodes for not much money. The greater legacy is in things like Tom and Jerry, one of my all-time favourites. The combination of animation and music has rarely been matched. The nearest equivalent would be the excellent Animaniacs. I enjoyed an Xmas edition of Pinky and the Brain with my kids just yesterday.

The other recent loss was Ahmet Urtegun whose Atlantic Records brought us so much great music, including the mighty Led Zep (nice Xmas card there).

At least both those men lived long enough to achieve their full potential. Nobody gets to live forever, but some leave a legacy that endures.

[13:12] | [Entertainment] | Comments | G

Sat, 16 Dec 2006

Deskstar in a Coma

Many years ago I decided to upgrade the 8GB drive in my PC to something bigger. I went for a 46GB IBM Deskstar. Probably cost about £200 at the time. This worked happily for many years, but did get a bit flakey in later life, so I replaced it with a massive 250GB that cost about a quarter as much. I also bought an external USB drive case from ebuyer. I used this to copy data off some older drives, but when I tried the Deskstar it didn't seem to recognise it. The drive case is made by Safecom. It's basic, but was fairly cheap. I just had a look at the buyers' comments here and found one by Ron Hope suggesting that for a Deskstar you should ignore the jumpers settings to set master/slave etc and just remove the jumpers. The manual said the drive had to be set to master. That got it working straight away. So thanks Ron and perhaps people will find this article if they have similar problems.

[16:01] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Thu, 14 Dec 2006

Herts LUG 20061213

Last meeting of the year and I think there were nine of us. Average attendance is up significantly this year. There was the usual chat and then Malcolm, suspiciously smartly dressed, gave a little presentation on the benefits of SCO Caldera Linux to ruthless corporate dictators. This turned out to be an excuse to commit serious violence on innocent manuals and CDs. Power tools were used. As a piece of performance art this was great fun. Certainly a nice way to end the year.

James (going to do your page soon?) turned up late after his Java teaching duties to make a rare appearance. This turned out to be very productive as he managed to get a wireless card working on Mandriva for someone whose name I either don't know or have forgotten.

The free timestamping service I mentioned to Ian can be found here.

[16:43] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Mon, 11 Dec 2006

Compassionate Monks

I'm not at all religious, and not particularly 'spiritual', but I have an interest in other cultures. I found out that some buddhist monks would be performing some of their ceremonies at a local school and thought it was worth a look. I took my daughter along for the experience. It was more like being in church than a musical event. The monks came out to the sound of some huge horns that really shook the hall, carrying pictures of the Dalai Lama and of their own spiritial leader, a young boy who is in the 'care' of the Chinese authorities. Some of the monks from the Tibetan monastry escaped to India and founded a new one there.

They performed various ceremonies. Some were just chanting and meditation, others had dancing in incredible costumes with some great masks. The 'music' consisted of the big horns, some smaller versions, cymbals, drums and bells. Not a great deal of melodic variation and not the sort of thing I would want to listen to in isolation, but atmospheric. A British woman gave an introduction to each rite to give us some idea of what was going on.

The audience of maybe 150(?) looked to consist of many people who looked as you might expect a British buddhist to look, with an average age of older than me. I enjoyed it as a novelty and a cultural experience that I might only otherwise see on a TV documentary. I could appreciate the dedication needed to memorise the routines.

The day before I indulged in some more familiar musical exploration in a housewarming come jam session at Malc's new place, an isolated bungalow in the depths of Bedfordshire. I had a good drum and played my guitar (too) loudly. I was quite pleased with the sound my Gordon Smith+Peavey were making. I don't often get the chance to crank it up. I also took part in a 'play a song on the acoustic' session, but was frustrated by not being able to play any whole songs, let alone sing along. I need to play more at home to learn some new tunes. I have my heart set on getting an acoustic to encourage me to just pick it up and play.

As I was doing a fair bit of driving around I recorded some more traces for OSM to fill in some gaps in the rural roads.

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

Fri, 08 Dec 2006


One of the pet hates of motorists over the last few years has been the use of wheel clamps and the extortionate fees charged for getting them removed. Up until now we have been unaffected, but this week it caught up with us.

My other half went shopping in Stevenage with a friend. They parked in the free carpark by the cinema, intending to use one of the restaurants there later. When they got back with the shopping they had been clamped. They obviously look out for people parking and walking away then pounce, without giving those people any opportunity to remove their cars. Of course they charged a lot to remove it. As it's private land there doesn't seem to be much chance of appealing. It would be easier against a council.

I can appreciate that carpark owners do not want their spaces taken up by people who are not spending their money there, but this response seems to be totally out of proportion. We will not be going to that cinema or the nearby restaurants again in the near future and will let them know this. Bedford and Hatfield are not much further away. If either of my readers is likely to go there then I hope they heed this warning.

I needed to get that out of my system. Meanwhile, I've managed to read a fair few books this year. I've been inspired to re-read my Douglas Adams collection. I've just completed the Hitchhiker 'trilogy'. I'm not really reviewing them, but I'm logging them all on my book list. The Amazon links will all contribute to the school if you use them. I'm hoping that my affiliate links will raise a few quid from Xmas shopping.

[14:36] | [Motoring] | Comments | G

Sat, 02 Dec 2006

On the map

I've been participating in the OpenStreetMap project for a few months now. I've added quite a few roads and footpaths, mostly around Arlesey. Recently they have revamped the map, so it looks and works a lot more like the Google one. Last night I was at the work Xmas party near Covent Garden. I printed off the OSM map of the area and it was complete enough for me to plot a course back to King's Cross Station. There were a few street missing, but I didn't get to add them due to lack of time and wariness about hanging around dark London streets with a GPS. I did try getting a signal on the train to plot the track, but the carriages don't seem to allow for that. Ironically, I was listening to David Bowie's Earthling album on the PDA and up came the track 'Looking for satellites'. I did manage to plot a bit more of Arlesey when I got back and that has been uploaded. It may be a while before those updates appear on the map.

[12:32] | [OSM] | Comments | G

Fri, 17 Nov 2006

The Flaming Lips, Hammersmith Apollo 20061113

I've been wanting to see the Lips for a while. I missed out when they played the Albert Hall earlier in the year, but I made sure I got tickets for this one. We started the evening with dinner at a small Japanese rstaurant off Leicester Square, followed by too much icecream at Hagen Daas.

I've only been to the Apollo once before when we saw Björk 3 years ago. It's a proper old-fashioned rock venue. An old theatre that's looking a bit tatty with a grand foyer. We were up on the circle, but not too far back.

Support was from Midlake, who I'd not heard of. They were okay, but, as usual, the support band sound was lacking. I'd probably enjoy them more on CD. They remind me a lot of Grandaddy. I actually have a free copy of one Midlake track that was being handed out as we went in.

The Flaming Lips were another matter altogether. They started with giant balloons and massive confetti cannons. I thought the aliens and santas were a bit pointless, but dressing the crew as superheroes was neat. They played a lot of the new album plus some Yoshimi, Soft Bulletin and a couple of old tracks. There was lots of audience participation, culminating in a Bohemian Rhapsody karaoke in one of the encores (better than it sounds).

By some coincidence the gig was also attended by the Israeli instructor on a programming course I am taking at work.

This review is adapted from the one I posted earlier to

I'm currently listening to Radiohead's National Anthem to restore my faith in music after seeing this.

I've been giving some thought lately to reorganising my digital music collection. I have loads of CDs, but do most of my listening on the PC. Over many years I've converted my collection to MP3 and, more recently, Ogg Vorbis. Some of it was done in 128kb/s CBR MP3 and sounds a bit flat these days, especially on my Grado headphones. I've thought of re-ripping it all to Ogg, but there may be a better alternative. Now that I have a much bigger hard drive I could to it in a lossless form, probably FLAC, so that there is no loss of quality. Then I just need to find a way to convert it to a more compact form for portable use. I could try writing something that would automatically transcode any new music. I just want to avoid ever having to rip it again. I shall have to look into keeping a backup copy in case of catastrophic disk failure.

Last night I was at a birthday party for someone I drum with. She lives in Ridge, which is a small village a stone's throw from South Mimms. She works there at a research centre for Cancer Research. I had an interesting chat with one of her colleagues about the usefulness of protein folding.

[13:36] | [Music] | Comments | G

Sat, 11 Nov 2006

Herts LUG 20061108

Our LUG speaker this month was Rob talking about how he got LPI certified. He did pretty well considering he has a new baby and is suffering from a lack of sleep. I remember those days. He's 'flogged' it. There was also a general discussion about email and the problems of spam. Some of the talk about managing mail servers went over my head.

I didn't seem to write anything for the meeting last month. LordElph talked about how the GeoGraph site is run on Linux. He is also a fellow participant in the Open Streetmap project. He's mainly working on Baldock. I keep adding bits and pieces of places I've been, but haven't had the time to finish off Arlesey. It would only take a day to map the remaining streets, longer to do all the local footpaths.

Talking of Baldock, we were there in Tesco today and were having a snack in their cafe when we were joined by an old soldier who had been out collecting for the poppy appeal. He was a very sprightly 84 and had been at the Normandy landings among other campaigns. There can't be that many of his kind left. I am very much anti any sort of war as they are generally due to the failures of politicians, but I admire those who had to fight, regardless of whether they wanted to be soldiers.

[17:16] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Sat, 04 Nov 2006

Easy Edgy

I've been putting off upgrading my Kubuntu (a variant of the Ubuntu OS), for a while since they released the latest version, Edgy Eft. I've heard of people having problems that left them with an unusable system, and I have experienced this myself on an earlier version change. Last night I decided to go for it. I ran a couple of commands and the system proceeded to download about 900 packages. That and the actual installation took around three hours. I had to run the upgrade command twice after it stumbled on a file, but apart from that it was all smooth sailing. The scary part was rebooting to see if the system came back up. And it did!

There's a few obvious changes in the look of the system. Windows and the backdrop have changed. Starting the system seems slightly quicker with new-look screens. Some of the applications show obvious new features. Kopete (multi-protocol messager) is showing MSN avatars and shows the MSN gateway as a separate account. Amarok (audio player) can now play the streams from There's also Firefox V2.

I've had stability issues in the past. It will be intesting to see if this version reduces those, but so far, so good.

[16:33] | [Computer] | Comments | G

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