Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Thu, 14 Jul 2005

Watching the news as it happens

From the high vantage point of our office in Wembley we can see a large section of London including the new stadium. Today someone noticed that a building over that way was on fire. Apparently it's a CD/DVD plant. Large clouds of probably toxic smoke blowing away from us. More details at BBC News.
[15:12] | [News] | Comments | G

Mon, 11 Jul 2005

Free Skype minutes today

Skype are offering free credit on their SkypeOut service today. It's only a few minutes worth, but as I didn't have any before it's useful for me to test it. There are supposed to be some other offer days this month, but I don't know when. I don't have that much personal need for international calls generally, but I use Skype to talk to some family and at work.
[13:35] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Sat, 09 Jul 2005


Many months after I first heard that ntl would be revising their broardband tiers to give 2Mb for the price I was paying for 700kb, it looks looks like I have been upgraded. I had considered calling them to get it done sooner, but I didn't have that desperate a need for the extra speed. I just download 100MB of updates for Ubuntu and noticed that it was doing over 240KB/s.

My first experience of being on-line was with a Teletype (an ancient device that was more mechanical than electronic and just printed everything on a roll of paper) and an acoustic coupler (a bit like a modem except that you put the telephone handset into a pair of rubber cups and the data was sent as audible noise). That probably managed a few bytes per second at best. Later I owned various modems starting at 14.4kb and working up to the heady heights of 56kb. So now I'm getting over 30 times that speed. The upload speed is a fraction of the download. So it's still going to take a while to send large emails. I wonder if this is just a tactic to stop people sharing large files.

[21:07] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Thu, 07 Jul 2005

A Terrible Day

I was working at home today when I heard that there had been explosions on the London Underground. Initial reports said this was due to a power surge, but then I heard that a bus had blown up and it became obvious that something sinister was going on.

I'm fortunate in that I'm fairly sure that nobody I know was hurt today, but my sympathy goes out to those who have lost someone and to those who will bear the mental and physical effects for the rest of their lives. It often seems with a disaster that you hear plenty about the dead, but less about the survivors.

I hope this doesn't result in knee-jerk reactions like the USA did back in 2001. If we all have to change how we live then the terrorists have won. See Bruce Schneier's comments for a reasoned look at how terrorism should be handled. London is riddled with CCTV cameras, but that didn't stop this happening. Would ID cards have made any difference?

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

Tue, 05 Jul 2005

Imported Video into Linux

One of my projects I have to do some time is to get all the video we have on tapes from the camera onto DVD. I aim to do some basic editing so make it watchable.

Kino is a simple DV capture and editing suite. All I had to do was make the Firewire devices accessable and it worked. Now I have to work out how to get it into a suitable form for writing to DVD. There seem to be tools around that let you do menus and other fancy things.

[21:44] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Mon, 04 Jul 2005

More Ubuntu Progress

I had a play with my old TV card the other day. First I tried the old faithful xawtv, but it's looking a bit dated now. Ages ago I used something called KWinTV, but that has now become KDETV. This has a nice interface. It took me a while to get the sound working until I worked out that you could tell it to use ALSA. I had similar problems with playing audio CDs, but got it working. I still have a problem in that I can only seem to have one program using sound at any time. Some will refuse to start if another audio program is running. Others start up, but remain silent with no errors popping up.

I had a problem with an encrypted email crashing Thunderbid. I've not see that before. Out of interest I had a play with Kmail. This handled the encryption well and has some nice features like showing the spam score of each mail. It should also integrate better with other software than the Mozilla programs do. I want to see if I can synchronise my Palm address book with the one used by Kmail. It makes a lot of sense to only have to enter that data once.

I watched a bit of Live 8 at the weekend. I remember watching Live Aid and have seen quite a few similar gigs on TV since then. The only one I've been to was the Freddy Mercury tribute at Wembley. I think the novelty has worn off a bit, but there were a few good performances. I still fail to see the point of Dido. I thought the aging rockers at the end did a good job. Nice to see Pink Floyd together again.

[08:17] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Fri, 01 Jul 2005

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson ***** (out of 5)

Bryson is best known for his travel books, of which I have read a few, but also writes on various other subjects. His Mother Tongue about the English language is very good. The current review is on his book about science, more specifically about what we know and how we came to know it. It seems history is full of people who got it totally wrong or got it right and were ignored or derided. He also makes much of the fact that there is a lot we still don't know. The subjects range over the origins of the universe, the nature of matter, the planet we live on and the origins of life. Some of it is a little depressing when he writes about how vulnerable life on Earth is and how our species has made a mess of things, but a lot of it is inspirational. He writes a lot about the people who discovered various things. As always his style is very easy and enjoyable to read. I was continuously wanting to quote sections to others.

I learnt a lot of new things from this book and it filled in some gaps in areas I do know about. If this had been a textbook for science at school I would have enjoyed it even more.

Although the book looks thick it's a relatively easy read and there's over a hundred pages of notes, bibliography and index that most people will probably not look at.

I'm now reading Prime Obsession about an unsolved mathematical problem. It's slightly less mainstream, but I like numbers.

[16:29] | [Review] | Comments | G

Wed, 29 Jun 2005

Ubuntu + KDE = Kubuntu

As not everyone likes Gnome, there is a part of the Ubuntu project that implements KDE. Installing it was a matter of running a command and accepting some options. It actually said there were some errors with some of the packages, but everything seems to be working nicely. It picked up my existing configuration that I had been using on Knoppix. For some reason I just prefer the feel of KDE, but that's probably because I have been tainted by years of Windows.

I sought medical advice on my shoulder and the opinion is that it's been strained. So I'm on painkillers, heat packs and rest. I've not suffered an injury this serious that I can remember, although I picked up a few aches at Aikido. I've managed to get through nearly four decades with no broken bones.

You may have noticed that the site is wearing a Make Poverty History band. I saw a few other sites doing this. It's a bit of Javascript that you can see in the page source and use on your own site if you like. I thought the Girl in the Cafe drama at the weekend put the point across well, even if it was an unlikely scenario.

[22:22] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Ubuntu Progress

I spent a while trying to get various things working last night. I had some success with RealPlayer (that I use for BBC radio) and Skype (for free internet phone calls). Both of these had problems on Knoppix with their sound. It wasn't all plain sailing. RealPlayer needed me to edit /etc/esound/esd.conf to disable auto-spawn and Skype needed me to install kcontrol (KDE configuration). Google and the Ubuntu forums were a great help. I would have been stuck with out them.

Other things I need to look at are audio (Ubuntu comes without MP3 support due to licence issues), digital images (organising my camera pictures), scanning, video (possibly Xine), personal accounts (GnuCash does the job) and various other stuff to keep the family happy. At some point I want to get into digital viedo and audio, but that's for when I have more time.

Weather news: big thunder and lightning storm last night. Then it poured with rain.

[08:45] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Tue, 28 Jun 2005

Trying a different Linux

I've had a good play with Knoppix and it came pretty close to being what I wanted. Installation of additional applications was simple and I could manage the system well. There were just niggle like the sound not working properly. I had read several opinions that Knoppix was really designed as a Live CD rather than to be installed. The real buzz seemed to be around Ubuntu. This is also based on Debian, but comes in Live CD and installable versions.

So I downloaded the ISO, burnt it to one of my old CD-RWs and fired it up. The installation program is purely text mode rather than the flashy graphics that others use, but it's all very logical. I was able to select what I wanted to do with my existing partitions. I elected to keep my /home partition. After copying all the packages across the system rebooted and spent some time preparing them all for use. This part could do with a progress bar so you have some idea how long it will take. Eventually I got a graphical log-in screen. The system starts up with some pretty grahics and various noises. Personally I prefer my PC to only make noises when it's really necessary. It uses Gnome as it's front end rather than KDE, which I'm more used to, but there is an option to install that.

The initial menus are fairly sparse with a single option for each type of application, unlike Knoppix which overwhelmed you with choices. I only had time for a brief play so I ran Firefox. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had retained all my bookmarks, cookies and even the extensions I had previously installed. Now I just need to install the various other applications I need.

So far, so good.

In other news, we decided to try a little bit of tennis with the kids in Bedford Park on Saturday. This was going well until I overstretched myself trying to return a shot and went crashing to the tarmac. I grazed several placed on my right arm and my hip. The shoulder is very sore, making just about any use of it painful. That will teach me not to show off

[08:44] | [Computer] | Comments | G

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