Thu, 04 Feb 2010
Jamming at the Plough
As previously mentioned I've been mostly
playing my acoustic guitar since the band project dried up. I've been keeping an eye on sites like
musofinder and Bandmix for possible
collaborations. With my general lack of time it would have to be something local and not require too much commitment.
I also subscribe to updates from the Lemonrock gigs listing site to see what's going on
locally. I noticed there were 'Jam sessions' at a pub the other side of Hitchin.
The listing said it was an Open-Mike, but I thought I'd have a look. I practiced a couple of songs and took my guitar along a just before Xmas.
The pub is slightly off the beaten track down some tiny roads. It took me a while to found as I foolishly didn't use the sat-nav.
When I got there I found the organiser Rick getting set up. He said it really was a jam session and to bring in my guitar.
He plays ukulele, mandolin and violin. Other people turn up each week, mostly with guitars, but we've had banjos, saxophone and
didgeridoo(!). The music varies between Irish and other folk tunes, sixties pop song, blues and other genres. I've done a few rock songs I
know and people join in. Generally people have chord/lyric sheets that you can use or I just watch others for the changes.
I've even been doing some singing. I'm not great, but I'd like to improve. There are other people in the pub, but I don't feel
Some weeks are rehearsals for the pub 'band', the Ploughmen. I played at one of those
where there were more songs I knew. It's all good practice, but I could do with improving my chord repertoire and technique. I'm
looking around for a teacher to get some lessons. They are a friendly crowd with some good players, including a member (still) of
the band Matchbox who had a hit in my youth and a director of a UK guitar company who plays a mean guitar and banjo.
I need to find some more songs to learn and share with them. I'm trying to find some that stretch me a bit. I did The Eagles'
New Kid in Town this week and just about made it through after trying to throw in a few twiddly bits. Song suggestions are welcome.
I try to practice a few times a week, but am also helping my son learn. His piece this week is Green Day's Good Riddance that I
would like to play myself.
I've just splashed out on a few guitar accessories. I've had the same strings on my guitar for ages, so got some more sets.
Although I have multiple devices to tune my guitar (in Zoom H4, Korg Pandora and Roland amp) I lacked something convenient for
tuning the acoustic and so bought a Korg AW-2G. It's a very neat gadget and seems to work well.
I used to have a Korg tuner years ago, but sold it when I didn't think I'd be playing much acoustic. This is better as you just clip it
on and it picks up vibrations through the guitar. I bought from Strings Direct who got it to
me today even though I only ordered yesterday afternoon.
Mon, 11 Jan 2010
And Another Thing...
I must have been reading and listening to various incarnations of the
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for nearly 30 years now. I've re-read all the
books, listened to the radio series, watched the TV series and film and played
the adventure game. I'm currently reading the books to my daughter. Sadly
Douglas Adams died tragically young and so didn't get the see the (disappointing)
film completed, or finish the third Dirk Gently book. Now the H2G2 series has been
continued by Eoin Colfer whose Artemis Fowl books my daughter also enjoys.
This volume continues
the adventures of Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian with more Vogon encounters, some
deities and various other species. The style is similar to that of the later DNA books
with lots of extra little details. It was enjoyable, but lacked a certain spark.
I felt there wasn't enough of Arthur. Maybe I identify with him, Sign of middle age?
It's worth a read if you have read the others, but may be confusing if you haven't.
Friends can borrow my copy.
I'm currently reading Terry Pratchett's
This time it's about football and is also fun. Full report when I find time to finish it.
In parllel I'm also reading Cory Doctorow's
Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town.
I have this as an ebook on my phone from Feedbooks. It's
there to pass the time when I and stuck somewhere with nothing else to do. It's a good, geeky
read about our evolving society, with some magical elements.
I hadn't owned much in the way of portable computers until recently. I've owned
a number of PDAs, including Psion 3a, Palm IIIx, Palm Zire 71, Acer n35 and my current
Benq E72 'smartphone', but could never justify the cost of a laptop PC. A couple of years
back I was given an old Toshiba laptop (Pentium III 600/128MB/6GB) that enabled me to
program my house control system. That system seems to have stopped working. If anyone wants
to try and do something with it then let me know. More recently I acquired a slightly newer
HP laptop that is much more usable and gives me the ability to play video on the TV via the
S-Video port. If I can get it networked up then it may find a use as a general media player
in the living room.
Ever since the Asus EEE PCs appeared I have fancied one. They have come a long way since then
and are now very capable PCs, even though they are a lot less powerful than the average desktop.
Their advantage lies in being very portable. I'm a lot more likely to take something the size of
a hardback book with me than something that weighs as much as a couple of house bricks and needs
a large bag. I went for something at the lower end of the market in the form of a
The price was reasonable and was sweetened by a £20 cashback offer from which I just received the
cheque. The specification is fairly standard, N270 Atom CPU, 10" LCD, 1GB/160GB. Battery life
seems pretty good, but has not been tested that much yet. The first real use it got was as
a DVD player on our skiing holiday. I could have ripped DVDs to the drive, but didn't have time
to our new Xmas movies before we departed on Boxing Day, so bought a cheap DVD/CD-RW drive on
ebay. The built-in speaker is a bit weedy, so I also got an
It's only mono, but charges via USB, is pretty loud and very portable.
We were able to watch our
DVDs using VLC, which generally worked well, but did
give some audio stutters. This was using XP. I really wanted to get a netbook with Linux, but the
options are more limited these days. I fully intend to install some form of Linux on it, but have
not found the time. I know that Ubuntu has some issues with the wireless, so may consider other
distros. I need to do some research. Meanwhile, the Samsung is getting a lot of use as
a way of accessing the web in rooms other than the study.
Our other major hardware acquisition recently is a Wii Fit
board. This is another clever device from Nintendo. We're exploring the included software that
includes all sorts of exercise routines and some games. It lacks the ability to put together a
full programme of exercises to form a routine, but I understand the new 'Plus' software can do
that. We may buy that if we find we are using it enough. We also got the
Mario & Sonic Winter Olympics
game that can use the board. I find the Wii games so intuitive as you generally just have to
move to play the game rather than dealing with tricky button combinations. I just wish I had
more time to explore the games we have, but the kids get a lot of fun from them.
Wed, 16 Dec 2009
by Benjamin Ellis prompted
me to think about how dependent I am on Google for my daily use of the internet.
These are the Google services I use and some possible replacements:
- Search - Google's flagship service and also the easiest to replace. I use it out of habit, but there are plenty of other search
engines out there. It seems so long since I relied on Yahoo! or Alta Vista. Google have added lots of enhancements to their search
over the years that make it even more useful. I don't know how well the others have kept up
- Gmail - I have Gmail set up to pick up emails from my own domain and to send as if it comes from there. This is convenient for
picking up email at work or on my phone. I don't generally give anyone my Gmail address. I could use the Squirrelmail web interface on the server, but I have to log in each time and it's fairly limited. I used Mail2Web in the past, but not checked it out lately
- Reader - This is my main way of keeping up with news from dozens of sites. I first got into RSS via Newsisfree and then Bloglines, but
moved to Reader once they overcame the initial performance issues. I could revert to the previous sites or run a local application. I like
having my feeds on the web so I can keep up wherever I am
- Google talk - I don't use Gtalk much for chat, due to few contacts and not at all for voice calls, but the client is convenient for telling me when I have incoming email. I've used other Jabber/XMPP servers in the past and could revert to them and use other software, e.g. Psi on Windows, for IM. I use Kopete on Linux
- Calendar - Google's calendar is very neat. It's easy to set up repeating events and you can set up extra calendars to share with others. It also syncs nicely with my phone. I was using the Kontact calendar before, but synchronising that with anything else was tricky. I've not looked at other web calendars lately
- iGoogle - I use this as my home page to pull together the various Google services I use, along with some other news sources and gadgets
for weather, comics and other stuff. Before this I used a Yahoo home page, but that was more limited. I could probably create my own version
on my web server if necessary, but my HTML skills are not brilliant
- Wave - I've not got beyond playing with this. It's not essential yet. It's functions could be replaced by a combination of other tools such
as email, IM and wiki, but nothing combines them like Wave
- Maps - Google Maps were a revelation after using less dynamic sites like Streetmap. It's so quick to navigate and handy for plotting
a route. I'd like to use OpenStreetmap more, but it lacks detail in many areas. Some towns are very well mapped, but that is generally
due to a keen mapper living there. I've added to my area and will continue to do so when I find time
- Youtube - This is hard to replace. There are other video sites, but this is the one most people use. It's full of useless crap, but has lots
of gems. I've made much use of it to see musical performances and for guitar tutorials. Hard to avoid when so many sites embed videos
from there. I've never posted a video there myself. Any I have are generally aimed at friends and family, so get posted on Multiply
- Profile - My Google Profile pulls together links to my many on-line personae. Much of its data was derived from FOAF and XFN
data on my site, so they could replace it, but not as a way for people to find my via Google. It drives the recent social search feature
that lets me search for content from people I know
- Analytics - I use this to check how many (few?) visits this site has had. It's aimed at those hosting Google advertising, so I only use
so will not detect those who have it disabled. I can access full statistics via the web server's logs, but that's a little less user
- Picasa - This photo site is convenient for its tight integration with the software of the same name. I'm starting to use it a bit for pictures
I want to link to from elsewhere, but those could be hosted here. Family pictures which I want to restrict access to go on Multiply as it
has the best privacy controls I've found
- Documents - I have a couple of documents on here for logging things like car fuel economy just so I can update from wherever I am.
These could fairly easily be replaced by other web services or I could just store them on my phone
- Sync - Just after I got my Windows Mobile phone Google added support for ActiveSync. This was very convenient for synchronising
contacts and calendar. I hate having to enter such data manually into multiple devices. I'd prefer a Linux-based phone, but Google are
taking over that niche too with Android
- Orkut - I toyed briefly with this social network, but you have to go where the crowd is. I managed to get a lot of people using Multiply and
still like it, but Facebook has become the default for many. My issues with Facebook could take up a whole other post. For now I use
it to keep up with what friends are doing. I'd prefer to use Friendfeed (owned by Facebook) or an open alternative
- Chrome - I've installed it on one PC, but not used it much. I'm pretty happy with Firefox and its add-ons
There are a few areas of my on-line life that are not dominated by Google. Microblogging is covered by identi.ca and Twitter, links
by Delicious, but I might be tempted if Google offered alternatives with the same coverage if they integrated with their other services.
One of the reason I use so many Google services is the integration between them. It's still limited, but has great potential. It tends to work
less well with services they have bought up rather than developing internally.
So could I give up Google, if only for a limited time? I think I could, but I would probably miss it. I'd love to see all the services I want offered
as open source/protocol options. This would free us from having to use a single provider and even allow us to host them ourselves.
I could host my own microblog (status.net), photos (Gallery), IM (Jabber) and others, but there would be little integration and there's
a fairly high maintenance overhead.
This post was partially composed in a Gmail draft in my lunch hour so I could finish it at home.
Sun, 13 Dec 2009
A Christmas Carol
There have been many versions of this Charles Dickens story and I've seen a fair few of them.
I may well try to catch the Muppet version over Xmas.
Today I saw the new version starring Jim Carey.
Director Robert Zemeckis uses the same motion capture techniques as in Polar Express to create a
very realistic computer animation. At times you almost forgot that it was not real people on screen,
but there's still the 'uncanny valley' to cross
before it can be totally convincing. There were plenty of shots that would be impossible in the realistic
world. It was very obviously made to be seen in 3D with lots of things rushing towards the 'camera' and
wild journeys over the London rooftops, but we saw it in 2D. As far as the story goes I understand it stays
very close to what Dickens wrote, but I have never read it. The dialogue certainly seemed authentic. The acting is
perfectly adequate. I'm not a fan of Carey when he acts zany, but he was very good in The Truman show and
he also plays this fairly straight. I see he did a lot of voices apart from Scrooge.
I saw the film at the Sunday morning Kids' Club at the Letchworth
Broadway in the company of a load of kids between 8 and 11. The story isn't really aimed at kids and
the film is very wordy. I think they enjoyed the action sequences, but some of them found parts scary.
I think it stands up as a telling of a well known story and shows off the state of the art in animation.
It's worth seeing, but not really for kids, even if it is from Disney.
Sat, 28 Nov 2009
Sat, 14 Nov 2009
Muse at the O2
Standard rambling introduction: I first heard Muse about 10 years ago
when xfm were playing Muscle Museum and Unintended. I wrote them off initially as Radiohead imitators,
but they have carved their own niche over the years. They remind me of bands like Queen who would produce
mini operas with loud guitars. My other half is also a fan, along with a broad swathe of the general
population. They can sell out large stadia in minutes.
This was my second gig at the O2, after Prince. This time our seats were in the upper levels. I'd heard
that these were not good for vertigo sufferers and we happened to have one with us. She coped well, helped
by having a seat with a barrier in front of it. We were at the far end from the stage. So a long way away, but
at least we got the front-on view. The O2 facilities are pretty good. Loads of restaurants and bars. It's
a long way from anything else, but the transport links are reasonable.
Support was by The Big Pink who I knew from their
single Dominos. They reminded me a bit of Depeche Mode in their industrial phase. It was hard to make out
any lyrics. They were a bit annoying in using really bright lights behind them that shone straight at us.
Maybe they are just really ugly and don't want to be seen except in profile.
The stage set consisted of 3 huge towers that I thought initially were just backdrop. The muse set started
with nothing else visible on the stage and the towers lit up like tower blocks and then video of people
marching up stairs. Then the middle parts dropped away to expose the band up on these high platforms.
Later they would drop down so they could use the whole stage, but went up again later. The drum kit
would rotate at times. The band played a storming show with hits from across their career, including
early song Unintended. The light show was amazing with green lasers filling the hall and lots of
projection on the towers. I've seen a few bands not using conventional rectangular screens. It's visually
interesting, but not so good for clearly seeing them. We had a good sing-along to the hits. Unlike the McFly
gig I took my daughter to the sound was not deafening. The level was about right, but not enough to drown
out the people who insisted on chatting all the time behind us. Can't they just enjoy the music?
Overall I thought it was a great show for a big venue. I still like to see a good band in a small hall,
but my other half likes to see the big names. The next day Muse announced they are playing Wembley Stadium
next September. I'm sure they can do that well as they did recently, but do I really want to go?
Due to train problems the rest of our group drove to Cockfosters and got the tube from there. We managed
to get back there despite the band finishing at 11. It took a while to get onto the platform due to the huge
crowd, but then it was an easy journey. I don't know what we would have done if we had missed the last train.
From Cockfosters it was an easy drive on empty motorways to drop off one person at Luton then home to
Arlesey by 1:45. Luckily I was able to have a lie in.
I heard about this 'unconference' from
Steve Lawson. He didn't make it in the end due to pending baby.
I don't normally get to technical conferences as they are generally too expensive for me to fund and
my work don't send me to any. This one had the attractive price of £1.40, although the suggested fee
was higher when it came to booking, but with profits going to charity. I thought it would be an interesting
experience and so took a day off to go down to the Reuters office in Canary Wharf.
I have to say that Reuters looked after us very well with ample food and drink laid on. They have
some nice looking offices with a large room that was used for the conference. I didn't really know
many people there and so plonked myself at a random table. I was expecting to hear a series of talks,
but the format consisted of someone introducing a topic (politics, news etc) and then we discussed it
among those at our table and should post a tweet with our thoughts. At my first table were people from
The Guardian, Reuters, the Open University and other organisations. We had some wide-ranging discussion
around the topic. Later I met up with my former colleague @TiaAzulay
and some new people, including @edent for a different discussion. For the
final topic Tia and I were with @mattbuck_hack and
@alexhughes of @drawnalism
who were drawing the event. You can see the results
here, including one
I made my first appearance on Audioboo elaborating
on a comment I made in the politics discussion.
The day ended with a panel of twitterati luminaries summing up the state of the twittersphere (not sure about
the new language). Common themes from the day were that Twitter is not very representative of the general population
and that there is more to journalism that just reporting what is happening. I think that the simplicity of Twitter
and open alternatives like identi.ca means that they can be used in many ways. The 140
character limitation can be a pain. You can't explain complex topics and so conventional writing on blogs and elsewhere
is still needed.
After the panel people milled around drinking and chatting. I didn't get the names of everyone I met, but I know
I talked to these folk, @paulafeery,
I left with my head buzzing from all the cool discussions I'd
had. I have to plans to start any sort of internet or Twitter-based business, but I do want to play more with
the technology. I just need to find the time.
Mon, 09 Nov 2009
The title refers to the code-name of the latest version of Ubuntu Linux
that was released late last month, also known as 9.10. I ran an upgrade on my system, after backing up, and
it ran very smoothly. The 1.5GB of packages took about 20 minutes to download (bit faster than my old modem)
and the install was all done in under an hour. The system restarted cleanly and all looked well.
The KDE apps look a little different and there are some new options for decorating the desktop. I don't bother
as I'm always running full-screen apps. Amarok has been updated with improved
podcast support. It's still not up to where the old V1.4 was before the re-write, but getting better.
Kmail seems a bit more stable and less likely to stall when reading my inbox.
Gwibber seemed messed up, so I installed Choqok micro-blogger. It lacks there
combined timeline, but is otherwise nice. I had to re-install MythTV, but it picked up the old settings and is
I still have problems with losing sound when multiple users are logged in. I seems to come back eventually, sometimes.
The more serious, new, problems is random X Server crashes. I've seen this most when a third user logs in. Their session
crashes with minimal messages in the log. I don't know if it's related, but I now see two sessions for each user when I run
w, one for startkde and another for kwrited. I've not found any other references to this.
Overall I would rate this as a reasonable successful upgrade. The PC was not un-usable at any point, but the crashing
sessions are a concern. I'll try and work out what might be causing it, but I'm not great at this sort of diagnosis.
Sun, 01 Nov 2009
Up - 3D
<< 1 2
The posters for this film seem to have been around
all year, but today we actually saw it. This is the first 3D film I've seen at the cinema. I remember
seeing some 3D western on TV as a kid and my daughter has a Barbie DVD with a 3D version. Both used coloured
filters as these are the only way to do it with a conventional TV without extra hardware. The current crop
of 3D films in cinemas use polarised glasses that do not affect the colours. Sky are experimenting with
3D TV, but that will require a new TV. We still have a CRT (very nice Toshiba), but may consider a flat panel
when we can get HD Freeview. I'm not considering 3D at home for now.
After the usual boring adverts we were instructed to don our glasses and had a couple of trailers for
other animated films (Christmas Carol and Battle for Terra). Both had lots of 3D content such as spaceships or
snowflakes. The effect is startling at times with objects appearing to come out of the screen. At other times they
just give more depth to the image, but there is sometimes more of an impression of layers.
Before up we had the usual Pixar short. This one was called Partly Cloudy, a cute, wordless story about storks
delivering babies that they get from living clouds.
Up itself is a poignant tale of an old man who feels he has not had the adventures that he and his late wife
had planned. The sequence that shows them meeting and growing old together is quite touching. Events inspire him to
take an adventurous trip to South America by attaching balloons to his house. He accidentally takes a boy scout along
with him and they have lots of adventures that I won't spoil. There are plenty of laughs and thrills along the way.
The animation is amazing as always. It doesn't aim for total realism, but some shots look very natural. The 3D is
fairly subtle with not too much thrusting of objects towards the 'camera'. Pixar always
seem to come up with the goods. Original stories, quality animation and a lack of slushy sentimentality. You should
see this film.
Going to the cinema at peak times is getting very expensive. It was £36 for the four of us, but I think there is
a premium for the 3D films. There was some confusion over whether we were to keep the glasses. Apparently we can use
them again and get a discount, but some ended up in their recycling bin. If you buy food there it soon adds up, but
I expect that they hope 3D will attract more people. It certainly seemed fairly busy there this afternoon.
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