Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Fri, 27 Jun 2008


I'm not sure I should admit to this, but my PC has been running a much less than full speed for some time. I noticed that my dnet client was running a lot slower than it used to. I hadn't noticed other stuff being particularly slow, so didn't give much thought to it.

I did some investigation today and found, via /proc/cpuinfo, that my CPU cores were running at 1GHz instead of 2.4GHz. I did some searching around and posted to a thread on < a href=>Ubuntu Forums that seemed to relate to it. Within minutes I had a response suggesting I add an applet that let you control CPU frequency scaling. That particular applet was for Gnome, but I found KPowersave for KDE. This lets me select various modes, but I just set it to Performance and all is well again.

I guess that I may have been using a little less electricity whilst the CPU was throttled down, but I don't think it's a large part of my usage.

What I wonder is how this came about. My PC was running Ubuntu for some time at full speed, but someting changed to switch it to low speed. I don't have the logs to prove exactly when this happened, so can't relate it to anything I did.

I was thinking of writing a post titled 'Are RSS feeds killing commenting on blogs?'. If you only read sites via their feeds then you probably won't even see the comment part of each page. I've had comments on my site for some time, but get very few. I know that a few friends read the site via the feed. I don't know how many strangers visit. I think that comments are valuable as they make the whole thing interactive. I often click through to posts on feeds to see the comments. So if you want to say something to me about a post please add a comment. It may be useful to others.

[22:02] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Sat, 21 Jun 2008

CU See Me?

I had been thinking for a while of getting a new webcam. I have owned a couple, but none of them seemed to work on Linux. One may have died altogether. I mainly wanted it to use with Skype, so consulted the list on the Ubuntu wiki. Various Logitech units seemed to do well so I checked them out in PC World. I don't buy much there, but I was passing and had a voucher. I found a Quickcam Communicate STX Plus (what a mouthfull) for 20 quid. It even came with a headset, but that is less useful given my non-working soundcard input.

On plugging it into my PC I expected to have to do some configuration, but it worked straight away in Skype, including the microphone. I was also able to stream it through VLC. It gives a nice picture even in low-light conditions. I'm very happy with it so far. The base of the camera is designed to sit on top of an LCD, so I thought it might not work so well on my CRT, but then discovered that it is flexable and so can be bent to the required shape.

My other 'hardware' upgrade this week was to get a new computer chair. My old one was found in a skip at work and was never that great. I was finding that the lack of proper back support was causing me pain. So I picked up a Nominell in Ikea. I got a green one just because it was in the sale and saved me a bit. Mind you, we bought a load of other stuff in there as we generally do. This one is totally adjustable for tilt so that I can make myself sit upright or slouch.

With reference to my previous post on carbon footprints there is a great article on the Register about what would be required to actually make this country independent of oil. It would require major changes to how we get and use our energy. Taking the TV off standby and getting a little wind generator on your roof is not going to make a real difference.

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

Wed, 18 Jun 2008

Frugal Driving

Even before fuel prices started going mad I was trying to drive economically. My commute is about 30 miles of motorway and 10 of London dual-carriageways. That generally takes anything from 60 to 90 minutes with odd exception of much longer when the traffic gets totally messed up. So at best I am averaging 40mph. I drive a 2004 Vauxhall Zafira 1.9 Turbodiesel. The official fuel consumption figures are Urban: 37.2mpg, Extra Urban 55.4mpg, Combined 47.1mpg. The only way I have to check mine is by calculating from how many miles I get from a full tank to when I when I next fill it and I was getting around 47mpg. I try to keep a light right foot with minimal braking and gentle acceleration. I was doing 65-70mpg on the motorway and keeping to limits in town.

Recently I have been trying to improve on that. The main change is going down to 60-65mph. I still go over that if I need to overtake and not hold up the rest of the traffic too much. Going up hills I may slow a bit more. The result has been figures of 50 and 51mpg on the last two tanks. That is saving me nearly a penny per mile. The thing is that it probably doesn't make much difference to my journey time. For a fair bit of the motorway travel I can't even get up to 60mph. Those who do overtake me will just reach one of the several pinch points a bit sooner. So they may save a couple of minutes, but that's no big deal. I find driving a bit slower less stressful. I don't have to do too much overtaking. I try to go slightly quicker than the trucks so as not to slow them up, but also pass a few cars.

I would like to do even better, but that may require more radical methods. The so-called hypermilers go to extremes like coasting with the engine off and making major modifications to their cars. I would be prepared to invest some money on car parts if the payback time was reasonable. What I could really do with is a computer as featured on many cars that tells you the mpg at any given time so that I could adjust my speed, but I'm not sure I want to go much slower. I could try removing the roof bars that serve no real purpose, but I don't know if it would make a measurable difference. Any suggestions?

Another aspect of my driving is trying to help the general traffic flow. The first rule is good lane discipline. Often I see the overtaking lane full and the middle empty. Then someone will take a chance on speeding up there. I try to keep things moving at junctions. When it's busy then any dawdling can mean many people missing a change of the lights and spending more time burning fuel whilst getting nowhere. When the traffic starts speeding up after a slow patch I try to get away as quick as I safely can. Others leave huge gaps and so don't help the jam to clear. I'll often move into a slower lane where there is a big gap and let others get past me. I doubt that I make much difference, but if more people drove a bit less selfishly then it could.

The biggest difference I can make is by driving less. I am trying to do this by working from home more. In my line of work that is easy to do and saves me 2.5 hours of daily travelling. My employer is being fairly accommodating about this.

We hear a lot about carbon footprints and there are various sites that will calculate yours. The Carbon Account uses details of your mileage, meter readings and flight details to give a visual impression of how you are doing in certain aspects. I've just started using it. It's scary how big a contribution even a flight within Europe can make. I've done a lot of flights for work in the last few years, but not so much lately. We might do one a year for family holidays, but will look at other options such as the train. We recently took the train to Edinburgh and it was very convenient apart from a bit of waiting around. It was quicker than driving and no more expensive. Flying would have involved getting to and from the airports and probably not saved much time.

[21:40] | [Motoring] | Comments | G

Thu, 12 Jun 2008

Herts LUG 20080611

A good crowd in for this month's talk by Jason of UK Free Software Network, an ISP who help fund free software projects. He was talking about Phorm, a company who provide targeted on-line advertising by using equipment at an ISP to monitor your web browsing. Everyone in advertising wants to gets the 'right' ads to people, but this is going a step too far by intercepting data they have no right to see, ethically and legally. They say that they anonymise the data, but that doesn't make it right. There are some reports that they have been up to some dirty tricks, such as replacing other peoples' ads and using cookies under other names. I've not read much on this myself, but there is plenty of information out there. It was interesting to get the perspective of someone in the industry who wants to protect his customers. He's trying to make a living, but not at the expense of selling out his customers.

My ISP, Virgin, are one of those trialling Phorm. I've not seen anything from them on it. There is supposed to be an opt-out, but can we trust them?

A lot of us already sacrifice some privacy to get some benefit. I have a few loyalty cards that get me some payback in exchange for giving away my shopping details, but it could be tracked to some extent anyway. Sites like Gmail and Facebook target ads based on your communications and habits, but you accept that when you sign up. You mean you didn't read all the terms and conditions? Phorm is different because they look at everything. There are technical options, such as working via a proxy, but these are not available to everyone. With the government wanting to track our on-line habits too, to prevent terrorism (allegedly), using encryption may just draw attention to you and cause you more grief. If too many people do it, then would they ban it? It's happened before in some European countries. France had restrictions on encryption for years. I would like to see more people using encryption for everyday communication. We could do with easy ways to encrypt traffic to mail servers, so that the spooks cannot even see who we communicate with. If anyone wants to do some keysigning I'm always interested. I did some a couple of years back, but not much recently. My key details are here.

We need to fight to protect our right to privacy or the terrorists will have won.

[22:22] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Tue, 10 Jun 2008

Beat Camp 2

Sunday was spent in the glorious sunshine over at Malc's for the second of his Beat Camp workshops. This time their were more people I didn't know from other drum circles. We were learning some new tunes by master drummer Mamady Keita. We did three songs. I did a fair bit of kenkeni playing. I enjoy coordinating different patterns with each hand, but also played all the djembe parts and breaks. It will take a while to learn them properly, but this was a great introduction. Malc has written up his own report on the day.

I took along my Zoom H4 to record some of it. Someone else already had his H2 set up on a fancy tripod. I was using a mini Gorillapod after managing to break the tripod that came with my H4. The results sound pretty good. I was having some battery issues, but I think that may be due to my rechargables getting on a bit. I ought to get some new ones and a decent charger as I use them a lot. I was going to edit and post one of them, but I'm having some issues with Audacity playback and don't have another working audio editor installed.

[21:50] | [Music] | Comments | G

Wed, 04 Jun 2008

Mixed Music at Darbucka

As mentioned before I've been following the antics of bassist Steve Lawson and enjoying his music. When I heard that he was playing at a convenient bar in central London I was eager to get to the gig. He even offered free or reduced entry to those who contacted him beforehand. Darbucka is not far from Kings Cross Station, which suits me nicely. When I arrived Steve greeted me by name, having recognised me from my on-line avatars. He was setting up, along with drummer Roy Dodds. I noticed that the drum kit included a Hang. I'd not had a close look at one before and he was nice enough to let me have a play with it.

I got myself a beer and some food then settled into an armchair to await the music. I soon got chatting with Wulf and Jane who introduced me to a few other people. It seemed that half the audience were bass players. Steve opened the evening with a new piece, but had some issues with his Looperlative cutting out. I think he may just have hit the wrong switch. Next up was ukulele player Lloyd Davis. He did some good versions of some classic old songs. He was followed by Steve and his new wife Lobelia. She's a stunning singer and Steve works magic with his bass and loops. They performed some originals and covers. Their Love is a Battlefield can be heard and seen here. The originals were great too and I bought their live CD. Finally, for me, was Miriam Jones. Another stunning voice, she sang some nice folk-tinged songs. The final set was Steve's trio, but I had to leave in order to catch a train home. A shame, but I had still enjoyed a great evening of music. I didn't get to hear the Hang in action.

There are some pictures on the event page. I'm amazed how well they turned out as it was very dimly lit in there.

There were a lot of Twitter users at the gig and they have been Tweeting madly about it. I have already connected with several of them. It means more when you have actually met the people. Unfortunately Twitter is being abused by a few people. They seem to follow thousands of people in the hope that some will follow them and see whatever spam they are posting. In some cases they just seem to be on an ego trip of collecting names. I tend to block these people as I can see no purpose in them following me.

[22:00] | [Music] | Comments | G

Sat, 24 May 2008

Zooming in

I've been lacking a practical way to do any audio recording for a while. I have an iRiver audio player that can record, but it's a chore to use. A while back I read about the Zoom H2. This looked like a great device for recording via its multiple microphones. Then I saw the H4 that can also have instruments plugged into it. It also includes four track recording with built-in effects. That looked like the gadget for me. After my usual dithering over buying a new gadget I ordered mine last week.

I've had a bit of a play so far and it's looking good. I've recorded some acoustic guitar using the microphones. That shows up my lousy playing. Also recorded the kids doing their stuff. I've been wanting to do that for a while. I've also had a brief play with the multi-tracking. The preset effect settings tend to be a bit extreme. I need to work out what I need, but have never gained much experience of that sort of thing.

One thing I was not totally sure about was how well it would work with Linux. The answer is, pretty good. You get to select whether it should be a USB storage device, to let you read the SD card, or as a USB audio interface. Both work, but the former is a slow way to download data. For audio I was able to select it as an input in Skype, Audacity and Jokosher. This means I have been able to do speech on Skype for the first time in ages. I have issues with the recording apps. I somehow have Audacity set up so that it will not play back and Jokosher is very unstable. I ought to look at getting Jack and Ardour working, but that seems more complex than it should be.

Now I have this gadget I have more incentive to work on my playing and actually work out some pieces to record. I also want to do some recording of my drumming, including our group sessions. When I have something I'm happy with I will upload it somewhere, probably to my Multiply site as that allows for limitless uploads.

For help with using this device I am using several on-line forums:

I've updated my music page to reflect the current state of my collection. Nothing very flashy, but I'm sure I should be able to do something interesting with it all.

[21:53] | [Music] | Comments | G

Sun, 18 May 2008


I generally like to play with new versions of software, but had not got around to looking at the latest version of KDE. Version 3 has been slowly evolving for a while, but this is quite different. It adds some new features such as 'widgets' that you can rotate, but I'm not sure why you would. I installed it and was given the choice when logging in as to which version I wanted to use. KDE4 seemed to ignore my settings for what applications run at startup. I also had to configure the new Kopete. The K menu is different. You have to click through different levels to get to most applications. It certainly looks like it could offer some nice visual tricks, but I'm not sure how they would benefit me. I generally run things like my browser in full screen mode and so rarely see the desktop. or any widgets that may lurk there. V4.1 is due fairly soon. Maybe that will make it more usable and I can try it again then.

One feature I like to use on KDE/Linux and on Windows is to have applications that minimise to the tool tray. This is especially useful for things like email and instant messaging clients as I will generally only look at them when something happens, like receiving a message. I may sometimes open an IM window just to see who is on-line. Then it is very useful if I can click the same icon in the tray again to make the window close. None of the Windows seem to do that, but the Linux ones generally do. Unfortunately they are a little inconsistent in their behaviour.

If I click the tray icon when the window is either closed or hidden then I expect it to come to the front. Kmail closes if the window is open and hidden, but other KDE apps behave as above e.g. Amarok and Konversation. I think that consistency is very important and hope that the KDE teams are looking at this sort of thing.

The other new thing I've been playing with is Firefox version 3. This was included in Ubuntu 8.04, even though it is still a beta. The main obvious new feature is that the address bar is more intelligent. I often used the history to start typing a URL to go to a page I often visit, but now you can type any part of the page title to get it back. If you click to show recent history it does not show as many pages as it used to. I miss that as I would often use that list to look check back at recent pages I had visited. Unfortunately this version is less stable than version 2. It frequently crashes when I am entering text on pages. This happens most often on Twitter. I'm still having fun with Twitter. It is more intimate than blogging and I have had a few exchanges with strangers that would not have happened otherwise. So if you are not already Twittering, why not?

[13:58] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Sun, 11 May 2008

Cool sites

Nothing much to report, but here are some cool sites I have found lately:

You can follow my bookmarks over on I'm interesting in following others who share my interests.

[20:43] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Wed, 30 Apr 2008

Hardly Heron

I may have mentioned that I was thinking of doing a fresh install of Kubuntu Linux when the latest version, 8.04 (codename Hardy Heron), was released last week. That's okay in principle, but it makes for a bigger job as I would have to do some fiddling to get all the applications I use installed and working again. I thought I may as well try out the upgrade.

The upgrade process went very smoothly. It prompted me about whether I wanted to overwrite some setup files. That was a bit confusing as I am not used to the way it displayed the differences. I didn't think I had applied any special settings and so accepted their versions. After an hour or so I was prompted to reboot. As I feared I ended up at a console prompt rather than the graphical log in screen. This has happened previously. I managed to get KDE working via startx by reverting to the free nvidia driver. Eventually I worked out that I could use an older version of the X config file and got the log in screen back. The second issue was a lack of sound. This was not a bug, but there seems to be an extra fader in KMix that does not appear in my session and it was turned down.

So everything that was working before is more or less back. Improvements include being able to set decent screen refresh rates for all users and having them stick next time. I have yet to test sound recording.

[21:04] | [Computer] | Comments | G

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