Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Mon, 29 Dec 2008

Gadgets on Linux

A couple of family members got new MP3 players for Xmas. They don't need loads of GB of storage and the budget was tight so I picked out the Samsung U4. It offers 2GB of music plus an RDS radio in a very compact unit. A plus point was support for OGG Vorbis. The problems started when I plugged it into my PC to upload some music. It doesn't use the usual UMS storage protocol. I did get a 'USB Imaging Interface' in Konqueror, but it seemed to be read-only. A bit of research revealed that it uses Microsofts MTP instead.

Someone suggested Gnomad2 might support it. Indeed it did, but could not handle playlists for OGG in the version available from the Ubuntu repositories. I thought things were going to get complicated when something led me to find out that Amarok has a driver for MTP built in. It was merely a matter of adding a new media device and I could simply mark music for transfer then just synchronise. I'm sure I can teach the family how to use that and then they can manage their own music. Another victory for open formats and open source.

To supply them with some extra new music we made use of the Amazon MP3 Store offer of £3 of free music over Xmas. When they first opened I thought it would be unusable due to requiring software to download the music, but they support multiple Linux distributions. The software was easily installed and worked perfectly. I've held off from buying much downloadable music due to most having DRM, but there seem to be multiple stores offering MP3 files now. Prices vary a lot. Some albums are available for as little as £3, but others cost almost as much as a CD. Bit rates of 256 or 320kbit should give adequate quality. I can see myself buying more music like this. I like my CDs, but accept that they generally stay on the shelf once they have been ripped. Downloads can be considered greener too.

We still gained more bits on plastic in the form of several new DVDs and Wii games. Downloads do not fulfill all digital media requirements yet. I've seen some sites saying you can download Wii games on your PC to burn to DVD for a fixed fee. I doubt that these are at all legal.

There is plenty of music available to download, legally, for free. The problem is in finding the good stuff. Via subscribing to a band member's Youtube feed I was alerted to a free EP by Jo Webb & The Dirty Hands. Despite the song titles these are not covers, but are some great slices of pop that I have been enjoying. I may well buy their upcoming album. I also plan to buy some more music by Steve Lawson soon.

[19:11] | [/Gadgets] | Comments | G

Mon, 22 Dec 2008

All I want for Xmas...

I'm not totally anti-Xmas, but I do feel that it has turned into a commercial event rather than its origins as a mid-winter family festival (I don't go for the Christian aspects). The result is mountains of crap that will end up in land-fill before the next year ends. I've tried to reduce my personal impact by asking for either second-hand/charity gifts or contributions to my guitar amplifier fund. I've also managed to make one present myself. I'll try to do more for next year. My kids will still get a pile of toys, but I would hope that these will get well used. I've tried to get some that use rechargeable batteries as I dislike having to buy lots of disposable ones.

Some of the family may not agree totally with my sentiments, but I'll just try and do my bit to make Xmas a little greener, as I do with many aspects of my life.

On a different topic, I watched V for Vendetta last night. I thought it was a very intelligent film that happened to include some nasty violence. It was a twist on the 1984 scenario and very British for an American film, even though the two leads were not Brits. I've not read the comics, but I understand from the IMDB FAQ that it diverges a lot from the original stories. I've read very few of that sort of comic, but would like to if I find the time. I'm currently deep into Anathem that involves a bit too much philosophical discussion. I'm hoping the action will pick up before the end.

[12:01] | [/Environment] | Comments | G

Sat, 13 Dec 2008

Smart enough phone?

I'm not a huge mobile phone user. My PAYG account costs me a couple of pounds each month, so there is no point getting a contract that would cost a lot more, but it means I never get a cheap new phone. My current Samsung was second hand and is on its last legs. The aerial is broken and the battery does not last long. I'd like a nice smartphone that would give me some internet functionality, but can't justify the cost of £200+. Yesterday I read about the BenQ E72 on The Register. For around £100 it seems to offer most of the features I would want:

It lacks some things like a big screen and 3G, but I'll accept some compromised for a good price. The reviews suggest it's not great for power users, but they can probably justify the cost of an iPhone or Nokia n99999. I just want to gain some functionality I don't have at all and can live with it being behind the bleeding edge.

The main issue I can see is with the headphones. I use my PDA for music, but want to be able to get by with carrying just one device. For the rare times I need GPS I can take the Acer. I also ought to look at syncing data to my PC. I think that the newer Windows Mobile the BenQ has is supported on Linux. So is there any reason not to get one?

[16:12] | [/Gadgets] | Comments | G

Being social

A couple of months back I write a couple of posts trying to express what I thought about some of the social networks out there. As I am likely to keep using some of them for a while I thought I would write up how I was using them.

Facebook seems to be the hot place these days, but I still don't like it much. It's tricky to link into from the rest of the web and does a poor job of telling you what has been updated on the groups you are in. I have 26 contacts there. All are people I know well. I don't post much there directly. It comes from feeds on other sites. I do play around with some of the applications such as Blog Networks and Visual Bookshelf.

My preferred site for sharing with friends is still Multiply. As most of the family on there I can share pictures with them safely. Most of them rarely post anything. I post stuff several times each month. I've got 23 contacts there, all friends and family.

Several people at work were on LinkedIn, so I joined that. It has my career details, but I'm not seeing any benefit for now. It has groups and Q&A sections that I don't really use. Perhaps it will be useful the next time I'm looking for a job. I have 50 contacts. Almost all are with my current employer.

One of the phenomena of the last year or so has been microblogging. Basically it's about posting short messages about what you are currently doing, but has been expanded to allow for sending replies and direct messages to people. I played with Twitter and gained a few friends as contacts. I also followed a few of the on-line celebrities. I've since trimmed my list to 10, but am followed by 45. Some of those are bots or people just trying to boost their numbers. Putting the word 'guitar' in my profile seemed to attract several in that area. I've blocked some of the more extreme marketeers.

Fairly soon after joining Twitter I heard about Identi.ca that was doing similar things, but in a much more open form with open-source software and open protocols. I've met lots of interesting people there and had some good discussions. I subscribe to 35 and have 46 subscribers. They have just introduced the ability to block, but I've had a lot less marketeers there than on Twitter.

For music I love last.fm for recommending me bands and supplying great streaming in whatever genre suits my mood. I've got 11 friends there that include a couple I have never met. There's not much communication going on there. There used to be a way to see when friends had posted, but I can't find an equivalent in the latest version.

For a few years I've been logging sites I'm interested in on del.icio.us (I don't approve in the change of URL). I keep an eye on what my contacts are bookmarking and that often leads to interesting stuff. I follow 9 and have 11 'fans'. 5 fall into both camps. I'm up to well over 3000 links now.

I've looked at various sites for aggregating feeds to allow me to track what friends are up to on sites I don't use. Friendfeed is pretty good and allows for commenting, but I don't get many of those. I follow 5 and have 7 subscribers (2 mutual). whoisi is an alternative for those who don't like having to create accounts. I use it to follow 9 people, but can't see how many subscribe to my stuff. There is some duplication from Friendfeed, so I may drop some to keep things manageable.

There are a few other social sites I use where I have a few contacts, but don't gain much from doing so including Slashdot and Youtube.

I don't have massed of friends to connect with on-line and a lot of my friends are not interested in doing so. I also am not into mass-friending strangers just to get the numbers up. I use these sites to get some real benefits in keeping up with friends and gaining useful news and information. The most useful sites are Multiply, Identi.ca, last.fm and del.icio.us.

[15:56] | [/Internet] | Comments | G

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