Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Sun, 25 Oct 2009

Stuff I'm playing with

I'll admit to being a fan of Google. I use several of their on-line tools including Gmail, Calendar, Reader and GTalk (mainly as a Jabber client). I keep an eye on their Labs for their latest developments. I heard about Wave when it was announced back in May. It sounded like a combination of email, IM and wiki. It wasn't open to the public at first. I registered an interest and eventually got an invitation a couple of weeks back. I thought at first it had come from a friend, but it looks like I was one of the lucky 100,000 who got added. That allowed me to nominate eight others for invitations. Those mostly went to on-line contacts who I thought could use them.

So far I've only played a little with Wave. A 'wave' is a bit like a persistent IM conversation that you can add people to or even make public. Anyone can edit any previous post/'blip'. I see this as useful for brainstorming sessions where a group of people want to produce an outline specification for a product. You can paste in various content such as images, videos (from Youtube) and maps as well as some special gadgets. Bots can be written to automate certain aspects. Simon introduced me to his bot that translates all updates into 'Swedish', but they could be useful to add links and standardise format.

Wave could be a useful tool in general if enough people use it. Email has been around for decades and there are hundreds of applications to use it. That's a lot of inertia to overcome. Personally I need to use it more in real situations to see how useful it can be.

I Installed Mozilla's Ubiquity ages ago, but hadn't made a habit of using it. At its simplest if gives you a command line in your browser that lets you perform operations like search and starting an email based on the page you are viewing or text within it without having to open more windows/tabs or copy/pasting information. A more intriguing use is to perform all sorts of changes on a web page such as translation or changing elements. There are various videos that show what it can do. I was inspired to try it again by this blog post. I had some problems with the latest version locking up my whole desktop, but the latest beta is working better. Like Wave it requires a change in mindset, but could make lots of jobs easier and quicker. This talk includes Ubiquity, along with some other cool stuff Mozilla is working on.

Like many people I am a bit lax about making backups. I've got loads of pictures, documents and other data on the PC that is not stored anywhere else. I've been lucky not to lose much in the past, but a hard drive can crash at any time or a PC be stolen. I've got some of it on CDs, but have not been rigorous in backing up the latest data. I have used rdiff-backup to back up to the web server I use, but that has some issues when the server and client software are on different versions.

Ubuntu introduced Ubuntu One on-line storage service recently. You can have 2GB for free or pay a monthly subscription for 50GB. The free account is enough to store my documents so I've been trying to get that working. I've installed the client and it worked at first, but has been getting confused when I added multiple folders. You have to copy data to a specific folder and cannot just use symbolic links. Currently I can't get it to stay connected to the server or synchronise any files. Perhaps I need to somehow reset the client and start again. Ubuntu are selling it more as a service for sharing files, but it has potential as an automatic back-up too. The next version of Ubuntu due out next week has it included as standard, so may work better.

[14:43] | [/Internet] | Comments | G

Mon, 12 Oct 2009

Keeping chickens

For a while we have been thinking of making use of some of our spare garden space by keeping some chickens. We don't eat meat, so it would just be for the eggs. From what I've read four chickens could give us two dozen eggs per week, which is far more than we need, but could supply friends and family.

We finally made up our minds after a visit to Thorne's Poultry Centre, which is only a couple of miles from us. They have lots of breeds, but we don't want anything fancy. We may even go for former battery hens.

The plan is to fence off some rough ground. It seems 6 foot is the normal height. I think we need some strong mesh buried in the ground to stop anything digging its way in. There's a large apple tree there, so I'm deciding whether is should be in the run or not. I need to weigh up the risks of predators using it to get over the fence. For a hen house I'm going to convert an old playhouse that the kids don't use any more. That seems to be plenty big enough and can be fitted out with a perch and next box.

As usual, I am worrying about all the things that can go wrong, but there is plenty of advice to be found on-line. I'm going to have to join one of the forums, such as Backyard Chickens or The Poultry Pages.

I'm open to any hints and tips or suggestions of books etc. I saw that my friend Wulf has chickens and he suggested that we wait until the spring, but the family want them sooner, even if it means a lower egg yield for a while. We need to work out who will look after then when we are away as we don't intend giving up on holidays and going totally over to The Good Life (a classic of my youth). Actually there used to be a large, if dilapidated, hen house here until we knocked it down to make room for our new house. My other half's grandfather grew a lot of his own food here some time ago.

We hope to start preparing the chicken accommodation soon, so you can look forward to some more chicken-related updates here.

[21:39] | [/Garden] | Comments | G

Thu, 08 Oct 2009

Steve Lawson and Michael Manring at Round Midnight 07/10/02009

I'm pretty familiar with Steve's work, having seen him live a couple of times and having a few of his albums, but I knew less about Mr Manring (no, we wasn't in Dad's Army). I had heard that he was an iconic figure in the bass community (yes, there is such a thing). This blog post indicated he was something special, so when I heard they were playing together in London I reserved a ticket at Round Midnight.

The venue is a conveniently short walk from Kings Cross. I was surprised at how small it is and, unusually for a music venue, it is not in a basement and has windows to the street on two sides with late shoppers looking in. I settled with a beer and a burger on a cast-iron bar stool and waited for the music to start.

Steve was up first playing some of his tunes that I know and a Bruce Cockburn cover I didn't. It's amazing the textures that a single player can build up with skilful use of effects and loops. Then Michael joined him and they jammed for a while. It's mesmerising to see two top musicians playing like that. There didn't seem to be much eye contact, they just do it by ear.

After a break Michael returned to play his own music and it was amazing. There are some musicians who just seem to have complete mastery of their instrument to make it do whatever they like and he is one of them. The use of harmonics and his Hyperbass's levers to change tuning made for a unique sound. I know he played Selene and Helios. The latter was one of the most amazing performances I have witnessed.

The show ended with another duet and ended with the audience wanting more. Steve promised they would be back next year, but I think they might need a bigger venue.

Someone was videoing the show, and using some arty angles, so that may appear on-line at some point. Meanwhile, Benjamin Ellis has uploaded some great pictures and Steve posted some recordings of a previous gig that may give you a flavour of it.

I was thinking back to how I caught on to the whole solo bass scene. It started when someone lent me a crappy bass to see how I got on with it. I decided I want to stick with guitar, but whilst trying to learn some tunes I found various sites, such as, and then found some podcasts by solo bass player Jeff Schmidt. I think it was via one of those that I found Steve Lawson and got to know him a bit through discussions on Twitter. He really like to engage with his audience and it obviously worked with me. I'm sure I'll be going to more of his shows.

[21:05] | [/Music] | Comments | G



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