Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Mon, 27 Feb 2006

At last, the car of tomorrow

For many years I have been frustrated by the motor industry not making any major improvements in fuel economy. At best the average car might be a few percent better than one for ten years ago. Our diesel Zafira manages up to 50mpg (5.5 l/100km). That's about 30% better than our old Rover, but probably largely down to being a diesel. Even the much celebrated Toyota Prius can only manage something around the mid sixties, depending on how and where you drive. If you drive mostly motorway it would not be that high as the petrol engine would have to run all the time.

Today I read about an intruiging car from a company called Loremo. They seem to be a small company in Germany who are developing a car that can manage a staggering 180mpg (1.5 l/100km)! Unlike some of the concept cars you see this looks reasonably practical with capacity for up to four passengers, but I expect those in the back would not have much room. The economy comes from using a small (15 kW / 20 HP) diesel engine in a very light (450 kg) package with very good aerodynamics. Obviously it's not going to be the quickest car on the road (0-100km/h in a leisurely 20s), but they reckon it can get to 160km/h eventually, which is quicker than anyone should be travelling on UK roads.

There's an alternative model with a much more powerful engine that manages about half the economy for those who feel the need. Both are reasonably priced, but will not be available before 2009.It's in the same sort of ballpark as the Smart ForFour, but weighs about half as much.

It will be interesting to see if they get to market on schedule, if at all. Maybe the technology will filter up to cars in general and we can all look forward to using less of the increasingly expensive go-juice.

I'm making an effort to use metric measures at the moment. It's difficult as so many aspects of motoring in the UK are stuck in the imperial age even if we buy our fuel in Litres. Changing all our distance and speed signs would be a major undertaking and would cause much confusion.

I recently read an interesting site on the history and statistics of which side of the road various countries drive on. That's another thing that's unlikely to change in a hurry.

[21:41] | [/Motoring] | Comments | G

Thu, 23 Feb 2006

Another IM Option

I recently read that Google's Gmail web mail application was getting a new feature that added their Talk instant messaging. Today I found out that I could use it just by changing my default language from UK English to US English.

Google Talk uses the Jabber protocol. Since they opened up their network to link to any other Jabber server I can send messages between my Google Talk account and my main Jabber account. I've not actually used Google's client. I use Psi on Windows and Kopete on Linux. I now have another option for times when those are not available.

I don't have many contacts who use Jabber, but there are ways to use it to connect to those on MSN, Yahoo etc. You just lose the useless things like sending pictures, sounds etc. I ought to try linking to MSN from Google some time. One of my reasons for using Jabber is to support open standards. I use Ogg Vorbis for my music for similar reason. You just have to accept that most of the world is still using proprietary systems.

If anyone wants to play with Gmail or Google Talk, then drop me a mail. I have 100 available invitations!

[13:08] | [/Internet] | Comments | G

Tue, 21 Feb 2006

Another Freecycle Giveaway

Last night I gave away a couple of girl's bikes to someone who had put a request on the local Freecycle. My daughter had outgrown them, so they will be going to someone's twin granddaughters. We got both bikes second hand, so they will be giving joy to yet another set of owners. At the local dump you can see bikes being thrown in the skip, which seems such a waste. If more people used Freecycle then a lot less stuff would get thrown away. There are over 300 people on the Letchworth list and nearly 800 in Stevenage.
[13:19] | [/Local] | Comments | G

Sat, 18 Feb 2006

The value of backups

Following my writings on the subject of backups I had been having a few issues with my Linux system crashing. I suspected a disk problem so I ran fsck. That seemed to find lots of things that needed fixing. Unfortunately it also seemed to make one of my partitions unusable, namely /home. Luckily this was one of those I had backed up. I was able to copy all the files back from the remote server and, after a couple of false starts, now have a working system again.

My drive is one of the infamous Deathstar models from many years ago. I didn't know of that issue when I bought it. At 47GB it was a big step up from my 8GB drive. Now I can buy something five times the size for well under UKP100, so it may be time for an upgrade. I was in need of more space if I'm ever to do any video editing. Now that I have added a speedy USB2.0 card I could get an external housing for the old drive and use it for quick backups. If it actually dies then it will not be too expensive to get a new one.

My backup article prompted a post in my guestbook from the owner of Jumpstation. This fellow Linux user found me via the GeoURL system that tags web sites according to their physical location in the world.

[14:36] | [/Computer] | Comments | G

Wed, 15 Feb 2006

Testing my feed

This is just a quick test to see if my feed contains the article bodies. I lost them after my recent upgrade. I found out last night that there had been an update since then to resolve this. I've upgraded again, so let's see if it works.
[12:51] | [/Site News] | Comments | G

Tue, 14 Feb 2006

Backing up my Computer

Backing up your computer data is a waste of time, until something goes wrong. I've been pretty lucky so far and managed not to lose anything really important. I've never had a hard disk suddenly die. Backing up is one of those things that I keep thinking I should do. I have burnt data to CDs in the past. To be even safer I keep them somewhere other than at home, so even if there was a fire I would not lose it.

What I really wanted was a way to create a safe, off-site backup that would keep track of my latest files. I have access to a remote Linux server that has plenty of disk space so that looked like a good place to put it. I tried various tools:

Konserve is a friendly little program, but I found it too limiting in specifying which files I wanted to back up. I want to be able to exclude certain files and directories within the structure I was backing up.

Sbackup looked more promising. It's GUI lets you select files to include and exclude. by location and size. The problem was that I just couldn't get it to connect to my remote server. This has to use an encrypted connection, which is what I would want anyway.

The real geek choice is rsync. It's a pure command line tool that can do incremental backups to anywhere you like. I just didn't get as far as reading all the necessary documentation.

Then I read this article about rdiff-backup. It sounded like a friendlier version of rsync. It's even written in Python, but I'm not sure I'll be hacking it just yet. It requires the program to be available at both ends of the connection, so I had to get it installed on the server. Then I found that the version available to Ubuntu was too old. It was very easy to install the up to date one.

Running it is pretty simple. You specify the source and destination and away you go. Either end can be remote, so you can also use it to back up a web site. It automatically uses ssh, so communication is as secure as you are likely to need. I worked out how to use public keys to remove the need for passwords. To exclude files I just create a text file with a list in it.

So far I have backed up several gigabytes. Actually this was more than I intened as I accidentally included some big directories. This can take a very long time as my NTL broadband is a lot slower to upload than it is to download (256kb vs 2Mb). I think the longest one took 41 hours! As it is incremental it should be much quicker in future as only changed files will be sent. When I want to restore anything it's just a matter of copying it back as everything is stored in it's original form.

My next step is to automate the process so that I don't even have to think about it. That requires a little planning.

[20:27] | [/Computer] | Comments | G

Sat, 11 Feb 2006

Non-belief

I just read this article that backs up a lot of what I've been thinking lately. It should be required reading for all those irrational people who insist on believing in bronze age, or older, fairy tales. Thank Dawkins for those who are more enlightened.

The word 'atheist' should be redundant. We don't have special words for people who don't believe in astrology or ghosts, except maybe 'sensible'.

Meanwhile I expect the muslims will be storming the US Supreme Court where Muhammad is also depicted. As the Koran seems to forbid any pictures of real things I hope all those protesting muslims have no family portraits at home and do not allow themselves to be filmed.

[19:45] | [/News] | Comments | G

Thu, 09 Feb 2006

Face of the Prophet

It seems that my earlier suspicions about this 'scandal' were not far off. The infamous cartoons have been around for five months, but only recently seem to have caused major problems. They even appeared in an Egyptian paper without causing riots.

Those wanting trouble have used them as an excuse. Let's get back to real issues that matter.

More details, including the cartoons, at Wikipedia.

Inevitable profiteering elsewhere. I heard that some flag sellers in muslim countries have been doing good business too.

[21:03] | [/News] | Comments | G

Mon, 06 Feb 2006

Book:33 1/3 Led Zeppelin 4 by Erik Davis 3/5

The name of this book cannot be properly written in ASCII text as it actually consists of the four runes that appear on this classic album. Technically the album doesn't have any name, but it seems the band felt they could sell millions without any writing on the outer cover.

I must confess I don't actually own a copy, but my sister did. I have a few other LZ vinyl albums, but don't have anything set up to play them on. I'm not sure my kids have ever used a 'record player'.

This small book is an extended essay about the 'meaning' of the album. It delves into the obsessions of the band, especially Jimmy Page's with the occult. It proposes various theories about each song and how, together, they tell a story. He also writes about those who think it is a work of 'evil', full of satanic messages, some recorded backwards.

On the other hand, it may just be a great rock album, but there's tracks on other albums that I prefer to some of these. Stairway to Heaven has acquired a status way beyond it's musical quality, but I'm not above playing in on my guitar now and then. Mr Page still rates as one of the best rock guitarists in my opinion.

The book is a brief, but fairly interesting read. For more details of the band's depraved lifestyles see Hammer of the Gods

[20:52] | [/Review] | Comments | G

The Healing Drum

Lately the whole family have been suffering from colds and infections. I nearly didn't go to the latest Secret Bass session, but I was eager to hear about Malcolm's African adventure. Once I was drumming I seemed to forget about my cold and aches. I'm not a believer in things mystical, but it seemed to do me some good, at least for the duration of the session. Eleven of us there, dwindling to four by the time I left. There were a few new rhythms to try out and lots of pictures to see.

When I got home I had another go at some multi-track recording. I've been playing with Audacity, but last time I tried it I had problems. It turned out that by switching to mono recording I had encountered a know issue with tracks after the first breaking up. I found some comments on the Ubuntu forums that put me right.You can hear the results here. Not that impressive I know, but it's a start.

I've been following the current news about the outrage in the Muslim world over some cartoons. I've not seen them, but can they really be that bad? Surely a few pictures cannot be worth people dying for. I suspect that people with extreme agendas are using it as another excuse to attack the 'west'.

[20:34] | [/News] | Comments | G

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