Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Wed, 28 Jun 2006

Claim your Identity

You hear a lot about identity theft in the news, but I'm not sure this is an answer to that issue. People who are registered on lots of on-line services may lack a way to publicly state that all those digital identities belong to a single person. They may also want to proclaim that they have nothing to do with other people who may share their name.

One option that has just launched is claimID. You validate that you name is associated with your email address and then you can list all those sites that relate to you. The site works nicely with some Ajax type features to allow easy maintenance. It also allows for XFN relationship links. There's also a link to MicroID that has related aims. My page is here. I'm not sure this gives me much more than I could do by putting the links on this site, but I'll have a play anyway.

Another web feature someone pointed me at was on no-www that basically says that sites should not use the www prefix. Mine doesn't need it anyway. Ian thinks that their philosophy is flawed, but the web technicalities are beyond me.

Meanwhile I have finally joined the cult of the Jerker. This is actually a desk from Ikea. The wonderful thing about it is it's versatility. You can configure it in many ways and add shelves to supoort everything. Mine is pictured here, but I still need to add some parts and to arrange all my kit. We also bought a small desk from them for the kids' PC. The result has been to clear some space that was taken up by the huge table we had before and we also gain some valuable storage space.

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

Sat, 24 Jun 2006

Eels at the Astoria

I've been listening to Eels for a few years, but had not seen them perform live apart from on TV, e.g. Later, so I wasn't sure what to expect from this gig.

We got the train down to London. Had a quick dinner in the Smollensky's burger place just up from the venue. Nice food. For some reason there were a bunch of goths hanging around outside the Astoria. I'm not sure they were there for the gig. We went upstairs and positioned ourselves right in the middle. Unfortunately all the seats were taken.

First up were female keyboard/drums duo Smoosh. They made a nice racket, but I couldn't understand a word of the lyrics due to the usual dodgy sound. The stage was very bare with just the instruments and flight cases piled up at the back. I guess there is just no spare space there. The support kit was cleared pretty quickly and then the lights went down...

First on stage was a very tall 'security' guy who checked the place out and then called out the band. E and his fellow guitarist came on with guitars blaring out noise like a squadron of helicopters. Both were in military jumpsuits and sunglasses with E sporting a flying helmet and goggles. The drummer was done up like Fidel Castro. They then went into a rapid series of great songs, most of which I recognised. The 'security' man was actually part of the act and introduced each song with some cryptic statement and danced along with some martial arts and boxing moves. He also played some percussion, keyboards and guitar. Unusually there was no bass player apart from at least one song where E played bass whilst the guitarist sang.

They really rocked! Over about 100 minutes they played loads of songs including a lightning version of My Beloved Monster and covers of You Put A Spell On Me and That's life. Smoosh came on and danced through an encore of Cancer For The Cure. I thought the gig was over when the lights came up and the PA started playing an instrumental version of Saturday Morning, but then the band came back on and played that song themselves.

It was a more theatrical performance than I expected. E hardly spoke and let security man go and slap hands with the crowd and feed them squirty cream(?). This didn't detract from the brilliant music and they even managed to make the lyrics clear enough. I have to say that I have never heard so much use of feedback at a gig.

I don't bother taking my camera to gigs, but there are already plenty of pictures up on Flickr. I've not yet found videos of this gig, but others from the tour are on Youtube and again and again.

[14:15] | [Review] | Comments | G

Tue, 20 Jun 2006

Planet Spotting

We are still learning to use our new telescope. The problems are with getting the sighting scope lined up, using the fine-adjusters properly and keeping the telescope steady. I may need to consult someone with more experience of these things.

We were told that Jupiter was in a good position for viewing at the moment. Sure enough, a bright object was visible to the south before any stars appeared. I set up the telescope upstairs with a chair to sit on. Eventually I got it lined up. We could clearly see at least two of the moons (possibly Europa and Callisto). There may even have been a third (Ganymede?), but it was difficult to be sure. Jupiter itself was a white blob with no hint of the stripes. That might have been different with our more powerful eyepiece, but that would make it harder to get the planet in view. Tilly and Bob both had a look too. This was the first time any of us had seen the moons of another planet for ourselves.

My admiration for Galileo has increased as he was able to use a much less powerful telescope to make detailed observations of Jupiter's moons. He probably had less light pollution spoiling the view.

Update: I was able to track the position of Jupiter and it's moons using KStars, part of the Linux KDE project. I also have AstroInfo on my Palm that shows less detail, but is useful when I am travelling. Both are free (speech and beer).

[13:08] | [News] | Comments | G

Tue, 13 Jun 2006

Google does Linux

Recently Google released their photo editing/management package Picasa for Linux. There was some outcry in the community that this was a token gesture as it used Windows emulation rather than being properly ported, but if it encourages people to consider Linux then it's a good thing. I have tried it and it seems to work much as the Windows version does.

Today I see that they have now released a Linux version of Google Earth. From what I've read this seems to be a proper conversion, but may not quite have the look of a native application. I shall have a play with that too, but I expect my old PC may struggle a bit with the graphics. I keep checking the prices of new hardware and it just gets cheaper. My rule of thumb in the past was to consider a CPU upgrade when I could double the speed for under 100. The problem now is that I would need a new motherboard, memory and cooler as well. It would probably be worth building a whole new PC rather than upgrading what I have. Even that is pretty cheap. I just priced up a system and it came to under 350.

Update on the previous post. MP3 playback is now working in Amarok, but I'm not sure what has changed. I tried installing the recommended packages, but they seemed to be there already. Last night I was listening to the Digital Planet podcast whilst sweating off a few pints on our exercise machine.

[09:04] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Mon, 12 Jun 2006

Ubuntu Dapper

As previously mentioned I have had a few issues with Ubuntu. Well I installed the new version a week ago. I could not just upgrade as I wanted to re-partition the drive to get all my data on seaparate partitions to the system files. Installation was easy, apart from me having to figure out how to partition as I wanted. The latest CDs can be booted to give a working system with an install option, so you can play with various applications. They even include some media files to try out.

There are new versions of many KDE and other applications, but I have not seen much benefit for what I need.

Some of the issues I have so far are:

Other people have reported improved performance, but I have not noticed much difference when starting the system.

[13:25] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Fri, 02 Jun 2006

Climate Chaos

I watched the second part of Are We Changing Planet Earth? last night. David Attenborough put on his serious face and acted naive as various scientists told him how doomed we are.

It's scary stuff and something has to be done. There was a quote from the NZ Greens about politicians planning ahead as if we lived on an infinite flat earth with limitless resources. The fact is that we live on a small planet and when we mess it up we have nowhere to go. Global warming will lead to more extreme weather, displacing or killing millions of people. As millions in the second and third worlds demand their modern luxuries the change will accelerate.

Everyone can do something to help, and if we all do something it will make a difference. Many of the things people could do either cost nothing or will save them money, it just requires a little thought. Ultimately we may have to do without some things. I won't list all the standard tips here again. They can be found in plenty of places.

One of my favourite quotes is, 'we don't inherit the world from our parents, we borrow it from our children'.

[08:02] | [News] | Comments | G

Mon, 29 May 2006

HD, so what?

I've only seen HD TV in action a couple of times. The first was in Harrods and the second in a Sony shop this weekend. There's no doubt the picture is impressive with far more detail than a normal TV, but can they not find any demo material other than what looks like commercials for holidays in exotic locations? I'd like to see footage of action sports, wildlife or spectacular films. I hope that Sky have plenty of good stuff for their HD subscribers, if they can supply enough boxes.

I know a few people who are getting the new service, so I will see what they think. Of course they all have large plasma screens to view it on. I do wonder if it would make any difference on something the size of our 28" CRT. I'd like something bigger, but prices need to drop a bit more. One of the Sonys was UKP4000! I know you can get much cheaper plasmas, but I will want something that gives a quality picture with reasonable power consumption and lifespan.

I doubt we will see HD in our house for a few years yet, especially as we don't consider it worth paying the extra for a subsription service. Our Pace Twin Freeview box suppiles all the channels we really need with no monthly cost apart from the TV licence.

We got around to watching MI:2 this week. It's a load of silliness, technologially and actionwise. I thought it was a bit obvious that the motorbikes in the final chase switched to off-road tyres when they left the road. IMDB has a long list of other goofs.

[22:19] | [Gadgets] | Comments | G

Thu, 18 May 2006

Ubuntu Issues

Ubuntu Linux is generally pretty good. I can do most of want I want from my computer with it, but I do seem to get a few strange issues. The latest was last night when it refused to start KDE. All I could get was a text mode log-in. The error messages said it was having problems with the NVidia driver. I re-installed that and all was well again, but why did it happen? Thanks to the Herts LUG team on IRC for their suggestions. I resorted to using the Windows PC to get on IRC, but could have used irssi from the terminal.

Other issues I have are that some keyboard functions are not working (Ctrl-Alt-Fx to switch sessions and can't get a sign), some issues with sound and the odd time when it doesn't shut down properly or just locks up. I can see on the forums that some of these are common, but others are not mentioned.

The next release, Dapper Drake 6.06, is due out next month. I'm considering a clean install with that in the hope that it will be better. There's a lot of new stuff there so it will be interesting to play with those.

[08:20] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Wed, 17 May 2006

Open Discussion Day

This Friday has been proposed as Open Discussion Day to promote the use of open standards for digital communication by not using proprietary instant messaging systems. I may not be able to participate due to having to communicate with people for work.

There is an open standard we all use called email. It allows any internet user to communicate with any other regardless of their ISP, operating system or email software.

Instant messaging is another matter. There are lots of competing systems such as Microsoft's MSN Messenger, ICQ and AOL's AIM. As far as I am aware these cannot talk to each other so if you have friends on different systems you need to run multiple clients. Each jealously protects it's protocol, in part to make sure users can only use their client software with it's associated advertising. I've only really used MSN and although the client has lots of tricks up it's sleeve for graphic and noises I find it very annoying to use.

There is an alternative to this mess. Jabber has been around for about six years as an open standard. Anyone can run a server or write a client for it that suits their needs. There are plenty of public servers that allow you to create an account for free. Free client software is availble for just about any platform. My preferences are Psi on Windows and Kopete on Linux. If your friends insist on using the proprietary systems then there are 'transports' available on some Jabber servers that allow you to talk to them from your Jabber client. You won't get all their 'winks', 'shakes' or other annoyances, just the text and possibly their smilies. If you want your messaging to be secure then there are options to use SSL to the server and even GPG encryption.

The only major protocol that cannot link to Jabber is Skype unless that has changed recently. Work is ongoing to implement the Google Talk voice protocol on other clients. There are also other open VOIP protocols.

The easiest way to get onto the Jabber network is to use Google Talk. This uses Jabber for IM. It can also be used from Gmail in a browser, but may require you to select US English as the language.

If you want to try it out then set up an account somewhere and contact me as 'steevc' at either gmail.com or netmindz.net.

[13:03] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Mon, 15 May 2006

Strawjam 20060514

I really enjoyed the last jam for Malcolm's birthday. This one was preceded by a walk though the local bluebell wood. Then it was down to business. A different combination of instruments this time. Malcolm had brought his bowls again and also a selection of flowerpots, kitchen bowls and other noisemakers. Tony had some drums and an accordian. Another Ian was there with a very nice old Gibson SG and his Marshall, but had forgotten his cables so ended up sharing my Peavey. The rest were on assorted percussion. There was some straight african drumming, but the rest was a series of extended jams. My favourite had accordian, flowerpot and minimal guitar in D. I made a couple of recordings on our iRiver. These will not be as good as Malcolm's DAT, but give a flavour of the vibe. I haven't done any editing and there is some talking over the start plus ambient noise of birds and small children.

When I'm improvising on the guitar I generally stick to simple chords and scales. There is rarely time to work out anything complex and I lack the musical knowledge to do it on the fly.

There are a few pictures on my Multiply. Much as I'd like to run my own gallery and audio archive they offer a simple service with enough capacity for my needs.

[14:37] | [Music] | Comments | G

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