Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Sun, 15 Jul 2007

Jerking around

I really like my Ikea Jerker desk. It has two high shelves and three swiveling shelves for the monitor, printer and scanner. This keeps everything to hand and tidy. I was even considering getting an extra shelf for possible recording equipment. I just went to check on the carrying capacity and found that the Jerker is not to be found on their site! There's something called the Fredrik, but there's no mention of extra shelves. I see that others have noticed. No doubt the seond-hand value of Jerkers will now rocket. How many other pieces of office furniture have a shrine?

I may pop to the Ikea near work to see if they have any old stock that I can grab. I also need to ask if they will ever have their Benno CD shelves in oak finish again. I bought a couple along with some matching bookshelves for my study, but need a couple more to handle the expanding collection and fill up a wall. Unfortunately it seems that finish was taken off the catalogue due to some production problems. I was told it would be back soon, but it's still not on the site. It would be a shame to have to get some that didn't match.

This whole Ikea episode started when I wanted to check if the Jerker shelves could support an HP 2600n Colour Laser. Our old Canon i455 inkjet seems to have clogged black nozzles, so I was looking at the options. Colour lasers have got very cheap now. I'm not so bothered about printing lots of photos, but the kids will want colour prints. This model can also work on a network, which may become more important at some stage. There seems to be a driver for it, but it's not mentioned over at Turboprint. There are a couple of other printers in the same price range so I will see which has the best support.

[11:21] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Thu, 12 Jul 2007

Herts LUG 20070711

This month's talk was by David Honour on the subject of producing music using free software. I took along my guitar, some speakers and assorted cables in case they were needed, but it turned out they were not.

David and Malcolm had built a small recording studio in our meeting room with PC, PA system, electric piano, microphones + pre-amp and an assortment of percussion and string instruments. There were around ten of us there. David was using an assortment of software hooked together with JACK. This makes for a powerful system as you can combine a drum machine, sequencer (driving soft synths) and effects. Ardour was used to record the results. This does involve being careful to start all the right programs in the right order and to ensure that they are all connected correctly. That looked to be a little prone to error, but the results were impressive.

For my own musical experiments I may settle for something simpler. I still think that Jokosher has possibilities if I can get it all working. I tried to record some guitar this week, but couldn't even get the audio to record. Something is not set correctly somewhere in my system.

I had slightly more success with getting video from our camcorder into the PC. I'm using Kino. It recognised the camera, but I could only control it when running as root. I hope to resolve that. A bigger problem came when I tried to export some video. I thought I would try Xvid, but I never get the file. It seems there is some issue with either Kino or mencoder. I will look at upgrading Kino. I also tried some other formats. VCD worked, but DVD got errors. Any of these should work with my DVD player, but I will go for whatever gives the best quality to capacity ratio.

My wonderful remote control has been playing up lately. Various buttons stopped working. At the weekend I took it apart and cleaned the contacts. They are very basic, just a rubbery button with some conducting material that touches a grid on the cirecuit board. Finger grease may get inside and mess it up. It's much better now.

I finally got rid of some redundant kit. Firstly I sold my old motorbike! It's been sitting in the shed for years, but still runs well. Then I posted my spare computer bits on Freecycle. I had lots of responses, but they went to someone just up the road who is ivolved with Electroshare, a volunteer group who pass equipment on to needy causes. He said that my PCs would be going to a school for the deaf. That's perfect as far as I am concerned.

That's enough catching up for this week. I always find that there was something else I meant to write, but it can wait.

[18:00] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Wed, 04 Jul 2007

Arcadia

I first heard of this play whilst reading Brian Eno's diary. It sounded interesting as it featured discussion of mathematics, including chaos theory. It was broadcast on Radio 4 as the Saturday Play last weekend. You can listen to it there for a few more days, but that page will get overwritten soon.

The Wikipedia page has some links to various articles about the play and the mathematics.

I listened to it yesterday and it was great fun. It switches between the early 19th and late 20th centuries, with both played out in the same room of a country house. The people in the later time frame are trying to work out what went on in the earlier. This gets a bit confusing in parts as the switches can be very rapid and radio lacks the visual cues as to who is speaking. It made me laugh in places due to some witty dialogue. The mathematics is not too intrusive, but made it more interesting for me. I worked out a couple of the twists before they were explained, but others caught me by surprise. I may have missed some of the subtleties, but then there is so much going on.

The acting was nothing spectacular. Fairly typical radio/stage acting where everything is overstated, as opposed to the naturalism you get in most TV. I would still be interested to see it on the stage.

On the technical front, I recorded the broadcast via my Hauppauge Freeview card using ZapDVB to set up a timed recording and convert it to Ogg Vorbis audio. I listened on my Acer n35 PDA using GSPlayer. Free software and formats all the way. The resulting audio quality was excellent.

[12:58] | [Review] | Comments | G

Fri, 29 Jun 2007

I don't want an iphone

I'm sure Apple's new toy will be delightfully shiny and fun, but I won't be rushing to get one when they eventually reach the UK. I don't have an ipod either. I've not had a desperate need for a portable music player and have got by using my various PDAs. One of my issues with the Apple products is that they have too many restrictions on what you can do. I find it frustrating that technology is opening up so many possibilities, but certain parts of the industry insist on locking the user out. This is why I prefer to use more open platforms where anything is possible as long as someone writes the software for it.

So as far as mobile phones are concerned I am keeping an eye on the Openmoko project. With luck there should be something to buy this year, but they have been having some issues. This release appeared yesterday and clears up a few points.

[09:48] | [Gadgets] | Comments | G

Fri, 22 Jun 2007

Faith Schools

I signed a few of the petitions on the Number 10 site/ One of these called for a ban on government-funded faith schools. 3191 people signed it and now you can read the response. Basically, they dismiss it.

I am increasingly of the opinion that religion should be kept out of schools. We can't stop it in homes, but the government should not be encouraging the isolation of children from society in general. By all means teach them what the various faiths are about, but also teach them about the wonders of science and give them a chance to make up their own minds.

A quote I've seen used by Richard Dawkins is repeated here:

"good people tend to do good, evil people tend to do evil, but for a good person to do evil–that takes religion."

Sounds about right to me. I won't bother quoting the obvious examples from just about any faith. I'm sure most religious people are good, but you can be good without believing in fairies or whatever.

[22:54] | [Culture] | Comments | G

Sat, 16 Jun 2007

A New Hope

So I built the new PC using the parts I planned on. I went for 2GB of memory as it was just so cheap. Assembly was pretty easy. The processor slipped in and the supplied AMD heatsink has a lever to make clipping in place a screwdriverless effort. The harder bits are the mechanical ones, getting the board and drives screwed in. Then there's the usual fiddly bit of attaching the case wiring. Maybe, one day, someone will make a single connector version. The motherboard has plenty of spare headers for things like serial, midi/joystick, digital audio output. Finding the appropriate backplates may be tricky. It all worked first time. I may still have to tweak the BIOS, but nothing major is wrong.

It's running from my old drive with no re-install. Everything is working so far, but I have been unable to get the non-free nvidia driver to work. I tried Envy, which is supposed to sort it all out, but that didn't work. I've also tried making the changes manually, but there seem to be some files missing. I really need this if I'm to use some of the fun stuff like 3D games and Google Earth. It might even let me try the latest 3D desktop gimicks.

The PC is pretty quiet. I can just hear the CPU fan plus the hard drive when it's working hard. With dnet maxing out both cores it runs at a steady 40C. General usage feels quicker. I spend less time waiting for things to happen. My stats should show a healthy increase. Converting an MPEG to Divx ran about 4x quicker, but was only using one core. I would hope that annoyances like a Flash web site left running in another user session will have a much smaller impact than previously.

I hope that this PC will keep me going for a few years. What is likely to come along that will require much more power? I guess things like Photosynth may make it to the desktop and suck up all available processing power. If Moore's Law holds then I'll be able to afford an upgrade when the time comes.

The first computer I owned had 16kB of memory, a 1MHz 8 bit processor and used audio tape for storage. A lot has changed, but it still takes me about as long to type this much text.

[21:32] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Thu, 14 Jun 2007

Facebook

After some comments from Bigpresh I have joined Facebook. It's got some neat features, such as tagging people in pictures and lots of optional add-ons. I've linked to a few people now and there are many others I know on there. The numbers just seem vast. Even a search for a rare surname often returns loads of people, so finding people can be tricky unless they are friends of a friend. A limitation is that you cannot see much there until you join up. This may be to reduce spam.

I will still keep my Multiply page as I can't face trying to persuade friends and family to learn another system when they haven't got to grips with that one. There will some duplication of contacts, but Facebook seems to encourage more activity, especially among the geekier element.

[22:21] | [Internet] | Comments | G

Herts LUG 20070613

Only seven of us this month. Due to a lack of a main speaker I suggested that people could do a short talk on whatever they had been playing with recently. I kicked off with my impressions of Jokosher. Conversation rambled around MIDI, audio compression and sundry current affairs. Someone whose name I need reminding of had some videos demonstrating the latest technology that the dreaded Microsoft have been previewing. It's called Photosynth and is simply stunning. It's about how you can view photos. It's hard to describe. Just watch the videos and gasp in wonder. I had heard of it via my friend Imel. I wonder if the free software people can match it. I really need to organise my pictures so that I can find what I want. We also talked about Second Life. I've heard so much about it, but have yet to try it. It seems that it can be run on Linux.

I built my new PC, but have only booted it from an Ubuntu CD to test it. I'm in the process of backing up some things before I transfer my drive. I've not had a proper impression of it's speed apart from some impressive figures from the Dnet benchmarks. It looks to be 5 or 6 times faster than my current unit. I hope to get moved over before next week. This PC really seems to be slow these days. I suspect that there are issues with my user profile that are causing problems. I may strip it right back and gradually copy things back in an effort to fix this.

I'm reading a book by Stewart Brand about the concepts behind The Long Now. Good stuff. See the book list for details.

[22:14] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Mon, 11 Jun 2007

Another Gig

Following our success at Little Berks the agents of Secret Bass made their second appearance of the year at Hertford Fun day. This was a bigger event in nice surroundings. It went pretty well. The first of our two sets had a few mistakes, but the audience may not have noticed. The second was much better. I got to play the big dun dun drums on one of the songs. I find I don't really get nervous at these events. I just sing and play as best I can and hope people enjoy it. It might be difference if money were involved and I would definitely be more nervous if I were playing guitar as mistakes tend to be more obvious.

Malcolm has more images and words on the event.

I've made slight progress on my recording studio. A friend gave me an old DJ mixer that I can use as a microphone pre-amp and to switch between different signals. I've played some more with Jokosher, but it needs more work before it's stable enough for serious use. I also had a brief play with the Hydrogen drum machine. This looks like great fun and is simple to use. I just need to learn how to make decent drum patterns that I can use as a backing.

I've also ordered the parts for my new PC that should arrive today! More new on this later.

[10:36] | [Music] | Comments | G

Fri, 08 Jun 2007

For Dawkins's Sake

It seems you will never stop people believing in fairies, but it's frightening that some of them have the political and financial power to build a whole museum to push their beliefs. People are spending a lot of time trying to make the facts of our world fit a story in an old book. Judging from their displays they don't think much of 'human reason'. So how do they reason out their theories?

The internet is full of this sort of thing. Some of it makes for amusing, if disturbing reading.

For a bit of fun I spent a while on a Does God Exist discussion. The believers trotted out the same old stories, but I got bored with it after a while. Much as I'd like to make them see sense, I don't have the patience.

[19:12] | [Culture] | Comments | G

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