Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Wed, 26 Mar 2008

Talking to musicians

When I started messing around with the bass I searched around for tutorial material on-line. There is plenty to be getting on with for now. I also found a podcast by a solo bassist called Jeff Schmidt. The podcast and his blog give a great insight into how he works and what drives him. Some of his music is free to download, such as his Ruiner Severhead side project, but I was also able to buy a download of his album for about £2.50 through CD Baby. That's a real bargain and he gets most of it. He's not making a loving from his music yet, but I hope it at least pays for his studio toys.

Jeff is very engaged with his audience through his blog and on Twitter. We have exchanged a few comments on both. Through him I found another bassist, Steve Lawson who is based in the UK. I could have seen him play at a local gig, but couldn't make it. I have also communicated with him, mostly on Twitter. Today I was doing so whilst listening to one of his albums that he made available for free download. I shall be checking out more of his material and hope to catch a gig. Interestingly he is also subscribing to some of my feeds. I hope he finds something of interest there.

I realise that the internet has been playing a big part in helping bands get to their fans without having to deal with record companies. People like the Arctic Monkeys have used services like Myspace to do this, but I haven't really got into that. It's happening on Facebook too, but I'm not sure that is why people are using that service so much. I find it more interesting when the artists use their own sites and more open services, like Twitter, to reach out. It does require them to be technical, but may reap benefits.

I need to get on with my own musical projects. I don't aspire to reach a mass audience, but I should have some chance of reaching a few people by using the same technologies as the above virtuosi. Check them out.

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

Tue, 25 Mar 2008

Keeping the family happy

I run Linux on my home computers for a few reasons. One was that I was getting tired of the restriction that Microsoft inflict when you run Windows and another was to support the principles of the free software movement. It has generally gone pretty well. I can do just about anything I want, usually without having to buy any software, but there are a few specific pieces of software that will probably never be converted to Linux. I can generally get by without these, but sometimes I get pressure from other members of the family. We have a few Windows 'edutainment' titles that I haven't tried to get running. Then my daughter decides she wants to have another go at the Bamzooki designer that she used when we still had a Windows PC.

I said I would see what I could do. I managed to install it using Wine, but it gets an error when you try to open a file. I used Wine-doors to install DirectX 9 that it needs, but that didn't help. I've Googled the error I got, but didn't find anything that looked useful. It's hard to know how to proceed.

There are other options. I could to up a Virtual Machine of some sort so that we could actually run Windows within Linux. I'm assuming that could handle the 3d graphics. I don't really want to get into dual-boot as that means rebooting the PC just to run one application. So I am after suggestions on ways to proceed.

In other news we just acquired a bigger TV when my dad got himself a 40" LCD. So we have moved from a 28" to a 32" CRT. It's a very nice Toshiba Picture Frame that was state of the art about six years ago. It even has built-in Dolby Digital that I am using with my Freeview box. The old TV has moved upstairs. I would quite like a nice flat screen, but can't justify the up-front cost, even though it would save us a bit on the electricity bill.

The TV got a good workout over the easter weekend as we have various friends and family over who all had a play on the Wii. That was good fun. We even had some four-player tennis action. We have a couple of new games that I will report on when I've checked them out properly. One friend was playing some Pink Floyd tunes on my acoustic guitar. I tried accompanying on my bass, but could only really manage some root notes as I followed the chords he was playing. I need to find some people to play with more often to build my skills.

[21:00] | [/Computer] | Comments | G

Wed, 19 Mar 2008

Open Social Networking

Social networks have been one of the boom areas of the net in the last few years. I've been quite glad to see people making use of the internet as a publishing medium rather than just consuming what others produce. I know it results in a lot of junk, but then you don't have to read it all. It used to be that you would have to set up your own site to do this, but the social networks have lowered the bar so that anyone can do it. It still seems that many are not that interested in doing so. I started using the Multiply network a few years ago as it seemed to offer some nice facilities. I managed to get a few friends and family to join, but few of them have ever posted anything. One of the most attractive features was that you can say exactly which people or group can see any item. This is essential when posting family pictures. Multiply keeps plodding on, but shows no sign of becoming better known. I assume they have enough members to keep them going from their Google ads.

Of course Facebook is the big name of the moment. It offers lots of useless 'toys' for people to play with. I joined to see what is going on, but mostly just use it to keep up with what my friends are doing. It doesn't really seem aimed at those who want to write longer pieces like this. I see that they are offering more control over privacy in a similar way to Multiply, but I wonder if people will bother. There must be some who get to regret posting certain items that get seen by employers or others who might not appreciate them.

The problem with all these systems is that you cannot easily change to another unless you can persuade all your friends to do likewise. Transferring your content is likely to be tricky as well. This is why I would prefer to use this site where I have full control. I just have to persuade my less technical friends that they should get into things like RSS so that they can get notified when I update. There's also the issue of privacy. At the moment everything here is public and so I have to be careful what I post. Implementing any sort of access control requires more technology. What I would like to have would be something like OpenID for logging in with access restricted to those I have added to my FOAF profile (they have a new wiki). I doubt I could do this using Pyblosxom, but am reluctant to move to anything more complex for now. So the family stuff will stay on Multiply for now. It's too much work to get them all to migrate to anything else.

Meanwhile, I'm keeping an eye on the more open technologies. Don Park's XFN spidering tool is coming along nicely. The output you can see for my site is still fairly basic, but the power of using this data is revealed by making use of the OPML file it creates. If you load this into something like Google Reader you automatically get a full set of feeds for my sites and those of my friends. This is just from adding a few tags into the HTML code. Enough sites are doing that to make it useful. There are plenty of people working on these technologies, but it probably doesn't have the commercial potential to attract the big money. How can you force advertising on people if they don't come to one central site? I still wonder if that is a viable source of income to justify the huge sums that are being paid to buy up sites like Bebo. But what do I know?

So have I achieved anything by this post? I'm not sure, but I quite enjoy writing it. I probably need to plan what I write more.

[22:12] | [/Internet] | Comments | G

Sat, 08 Mar 2008

XFN

I've written previously about using open methods for creating social networks. I still believe this is the way to go. Sites like Facebook are very convenient, but they come and go. People move on when something better comes along. I have this site as a hub for my internet activities. I incorporated XFN ages ago. The problem was that the data was not at my root page. Instead my blogroll appeared on every page of the blog. That caused an issue for a friend who found hundreds of links to his site coming from every possible page on mine. That made it hard for him to track who was linking to him. So I moved the blogroll to a static page about me. That was still not what I really wanted, but whilst I was sorting out my URLs I took the opportunity to set up a proper home page. It's still a bit messy, but it contains a list of sites that represent me in some way and a list of friends. All of these contain XFN data.

I have a few friends who have XFN links on their sites that link to mine. There can just be issues if we do not agree on what is their base site. That generally just stops the links from being properly reciprocal.

In case you don't know XFN, or XHTML Friends Network is a way to embed data in web links that indicates your relationship with the owner of that site. It is not directly human-readable, but can be read by software to map out social networks. Some examples of this are:

I would like to see something that could produce nice network diagrams. Perhaps that can be done with software run on my PC.

A number of social sites are including XFN data to link to homepages and contacts, including last.fm and Twitter.

There is a very good article from last month that goes into lots of detail on this subject.

If you want to join in with this game then drop me a link and we can coordinate our efforts to best effect.

Finally, I am just including a link to my Technorati Profile to get the blog linked with the new URL. This is topical as the link includes XFN data to indicate that it is my profile.

[22:34] | [/Internet] | Comments | G

Tue, 04 Mar 2008

Rewriting the URL

I've wanted for ages to make the URLs on this site simpler. This can be done using Apache's mod_rewrite, but I wasn't sure if that was installed here. I just found out it was and have created a rule so that everything hangs off bagofspoons.net/blog. This may have caused a lot of old posts to reappear on the RSS feed. Sorry for any inconvenience.

[14:39] | [/Site News] | Comments | G

Sun, 02 Mar 2008

WinterDrum

Yesterday I attended my first WinterDrum event in High Wycombe. This was an opportunity to participate in workshops with some of the best drummers around. I was there for the African drumming, but there were also sessions for steel drums, Japanese Taiko, singing and dance. I did a session in the morning with Nansady Keita from Guinea. His English is limited, but his drumming was incredible. He really pushed me technically. Two hours of solid drumming was hard work, but I was smiling all the time. In the afternoon I was with Hans Sutton learning more about playing dunduns. These are the backline in African drumming. That was fun too. I just hope I can remember some of the rhythms I was taught.

In the evening there was a concert featuring many of the tutors, some with their pupils, although I did not perform. It was an amazing evening with some outstanding playing. You can see some pictures over on my Multiply site. That ended around 11:30, so I was pretty late getting home. It was a great day. I shall have to do more events like this.

On the web front I finally gave in to temptation and joined Twitter. This is a 'micro-blogging' service where you can let people know what you are up to right now. As opposed to here where it takes me a while to put together my thoughts. Twitter has some nice features like being able to update via Jabber. You can also tag messages as replied to what others have said. I have a few friends using it and have also connected with bassist Jeff Schmidt who I have been following on-line. There are other ways to post your status, such as in IM systems or on Facebook, but Twitter just seems more useful. It is another possible distraction, but I shall see if it is useful or entertaining.

[21:59] | [/Music] | Comments | G

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