Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Sat, 27 Oct 2007

Funky Gibbon

Today I bit the bullet and upgraded my main PC to the latest Kubuntu version 7.10, aka Gutsy Gibbon. I've had some bad experiences in the past with upgrades, so I was wary. My wariness was justified. I had taken the precaution of backing up my data. I ran the upgrade from Adept, which downloaded the appropriate utility. It downloaded about 1000 packages, but locked up whilst installing them. After asking around on the IRC channels I killed it. I was then left with some process that kept trying to install packages int he background until I killed that too. Then I ran the upgrade from the console and it seemed to run fine.

One reboot later, with new log-in screen, I had my system back, but without sound. I had to install some more modules to get that back. Then I noticed that I was only using one core of my AMD X2 CPU. That was due to having some 386 modules installed. Now I seem to be fine apart from it saying that a package needs updating even after I did it.

I've been getting through a few books this year. See the latest comments on my book list.

I've mentioned changing my blog over to Wordpress, but I'm having some second thoughts. If I could fix a few things I could be tempted to stay with Pyblosxom. Those things would be:

[22:26] | [/Computer] | Comments | G

Thu, 25 Oct 2007

Philip Glass and Patti Smith 20071019

I've been a fan of Philip Glass's works for a few years now, although I have not managed to collect many recordings yet. I'm not even sure where I started with him, but must have heard the music in various films and other places. He's doing a series of concerts to celebrate his 70th birthday, so I really wanted to get to see him as there may not be another chance. I could have fancied Music in 12 Parts, but I thought that my other half would not last the four hours. An alternative was a performance, with Patti Smith, of some Alan Ginsberg poetry. I'm not really into poetry, but thought I would take the chance.

I initially assumed that the venue was the Barbican, but it was actually St Luke's down the road. This is a former church converted to a performance area. We went to their crypt cafe in hope of decent food, but they were only serving sandwiches. The performance started, as promised, at 7:30pm. We were seated on the balcony, itself an impressive steel structure. There was a stage with a piano and very subtle speakers around it. You barely need amplification in a venue that small. PG and PS entered to great applause and lauched into the first poem with PG playing one of his dances that I know well. It was actually one of Patti's poems, but the words washed over me as I revelled in hearing one of my heroes play the piano with me having a great view over his shoulder. There was more poetry and som chat from Patti. It seems that they were both close friends of Ginsberg and she had some nice anecdotes. We enjoyed her presentation style. PG then played a few solo pieces. His annoucing was very stilted. I'm guessing that he does not often do public speaking. The pieces were some I didn't know, but were very much of his style. I thought that he was going to stumble in the first. I think that at his age this can be pardoned and he kept going well. Patti then sang some of her own songs with her guitarist, both on acoustic guitars. Then I think there were a couple more poems to finish. It was all over by 9pm.

I would have preferred to just have PG perform his works, but this was a satisfactory compromise and a new experience in general.

[21:11] | [/Music] | Comments | G

Mon, 15 Oct 2007

Mythical TV

I've been using ZapDVB as a simple TV and radio recorder via my DVB/Freeview card. It's generally worked well, but has let me down a couple of times lately for no obvious reason. It has some nice features, like being very unobtrusive and converting radio recordings to Ogg Vorbis, but it's a bit limited if you want more of a 'Media PC' where you can watch TV and choose to record at any time or select what you want to record from an EPG.

I've heard a lot about MythTV. It can be a full media PC if you want or can be used on a normal desktop. I followed the Ubuntu guide to make it do everything on my PC and let me use it as normal. You can get clever and have one or more dedicated 'backend' machines doing to recording and processing, but that's more than I need. Much as I'd love to have a dedicated media PC, and another for music making, I can't really justify the expense, space requirements and power consumption just now.

I had a couple of issues with the install and set-up. Firstly I couldn't configure my TV card. This turned out to be incorrect tables in the database it uses. I forced the re-install of those and it worked. Then it took me a while to get the right set of channels with appropriate EPG, but now it's working.

The GUI is very oriented towards a set-top box using a remote control with everything running full screen and simple menus. You can use it via the keyboard, but you have to learn what all the keys are. I'm still finding some. There's a list in the documentation. I also need to work out how to do things like converting recorded files to other formats and getting access to stuff I've recorded in the past. I need to read up on plug-ins and themes that might help.

I did a bit of music performance at the weekend. My kids have been attending the Bedfordshire Music Saturday Music Centre at Biggleswade for a few weeks. They can do various activities for a few pounds a week each. They both show encouraging signs of musical ability that I want to foster. The last session was a special one where adults were encouraged to bring instruments. About ten did and an orchestra was formed from the kids and adults to play a piece written by one of the music staff. I took my electric guitar to have any chance of being heard and ended up playing some chords on the middle east flavoured tune. It was good fun. I hope there might be some more opportunities for me to play.

Ages ago a friend gave me an ancient Alesis Microverb that he had lying around. It lay around my shelves for a few more years until I passed it on. Last week it bounced back to me. It's not worth much on ebay, but I thought I should at least check that it worked. I linked it into the effects look of my Peavey and fired it up. It's actually quite fun with reverbs from a small room to an 'infinite space'. I expect it could be even more impressive in stereo. I may as well hang on to it and see if it can find a place in my 'studio'. Not that I will come anywhere near the scale of Malc's racks. I expect I could do most of what I need with software effects, but some hardware may add an extra flavour.

[21:53] | [/Computer] | Comments | G

Thu, 11 Oct 2007

Listening to Rainbows

I downloaded my copy of In Rainbows last night. I've listened to it a couple of times, but it was whilst working so it did not have my full attention. It's definitely Radiohead. It is not a massive change of direction by any means. That's not necessarily a bad thing as what they were doing was good to my ears. I'm happy with it so far and will wait to see which tracks grow on me most.

I've seen some comments around about the bit rate of the files. I've not confirmed myself if it is CBR or VBR. I can't see any reason why it should be the former. Is there any software or hardware in use that doesn't do VBR? It's going to give you slightly better quality for a given file size. I'm fairly sure that the old BBC Beethoven downloads were something like 128kb CBR, which is just silly, especially for classical music. I accept that your average listener would not know what I am on about, but I think it matters. They may have been brainwashed in the past that 128kb in some form was 'CD quality', but it isn't. Higher rates definitely sound better to me, but I would struggle to tell a CD from anything over 200kb. As for recent claims that MP3 and other lossy formats only contain 10% of the information, that's rubbish too. Most of what they get rid of is what you can't hear.

There's a lot of rubbish talked about audio quality in general. A recent Slashdot story generated a lot of discussion of 'audiophile gadgets', from $7000 speaker cables to $500 volume knobs, to magical digital clocks, to system upgrades over the phone?!?. Various examples listed here. I'd love to have a reasonable set-up to listen to my music on, but I'm not sure I could bring myself to spend more than a few hundred on a CD player, amp and speakers, with some reasonable cables. Still, I suppose it's not a crime to take peoples' money if it is given willingly.

[21:56] | [/Music] | Comments | G

Tue, 09 Oct 2007

Rainbow Time

I just had an email update about the Radiohead album that I ordered. The download is available from tomorrow. I had concerns that it would be in some locked-down format that I might not be able to play on Linux, but...

THE ALBUM WILL COME AS A 48.4MB ZIP FILE CONTAINING 10 X 160KBPS DRM FREE MP3s. (their caps)

Shame it's not Ogg Vorbis, but you can't have everything. I expect it to be on the file-sharing networks withing seconds of being available. Personally I wouldn't care if it had watermarking to identify who bought that copy. That sort of protection does not infringe on my ability to listen to the music how and where I wish, but would identify those breaching any restrictions on sharing.

I shall report further when I've had a chance to listen. It's LUG tomorrow night.

[21:12] | [/Music] | Comments | G

Fri, 05 Oct 2007

Musical Fun

A couple of weekends back Malc held a little party at his country estate. Lots of music was made that included me doing some singing and drumming. I was impressed by some great dancing and singing by Justine. I took the kids and they enjoyed it, but that meant that we had to leave early, so I missed a few turns. Malc has listed the performances. I uploaded a few pictures.

The big musical news this week was Radiohead suddenly announcing that their new album is imminent after months of teasing us with reports from the studio. They even issued a series of coded messages before the announcement. The big deal is that In Rainbows will be released as a download next week and as a box set of CDs and LPs in December. You can set your own price for the download, but the box set is 40 quid! (Not Quids). It will be interesting to see what people will pay when given the choice. Sucker that I am I went for the box set, but I get the download too. I wonder what format it will be in and if it will be usable on Linux.

Sticking with audio, but on a different front, Skype announced a new version of their Linux client. It's still a couple of digits behind the Windows one and so still lacks the much-lusted-after video feature. It's supposed to offer better audio quality, but I have yet to test this. There have been major changes to the GUI. The menus have gone, but you can get at most of them via a non-obvious button. One thing I preferred about the old Linux version over Windows was the way it showed groups. It showed all contacts in shrinkable groups rather than one group at a time. Now there is no sign of groups and I can't see how to hide those who are off-line. I use Skype mainly for keeping in touch with people at work, but make the odd voice call. Video will be useful to see the new baby in the family, but I will have to use my Windows laptop for that.

[18:11] | [/Music] | Comments | G

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