Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Wed, 12 Jan 2005

Who wants a Mac Mini?

To be honest I could go for one, if I had some money to throw around. It is cute, but there are alternatives. I just saw this at Cheeplinux. I don't know anything about the company, but for the approximate price of the Mini you can get something with a DVD re-writer, wireless keyboard and mouse, a much bigger disk and a card reader. It's not as fast, but it's probably fast enough for non-gaming use. I'd be interested to know how quiet it is. That's becoming one of my priorities for any future computers. My old PC is making a real racket here.
[21:46] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Keeping a diary

When I was living in Germany I kept a diary that I can go back to and cringe over. I keep thinking I should start it again, but of course I can't be satisfied with writing in a book these days.

I tried a diary application on the Palm, but it was awkward to use and the Palm is not great for entering lots of text.

Recently I thought that I could do something in email. I spend most of my waking hours in front of a computer and email is convenient. My thought is that I would mail myself, possibly using a dedicated account. Entries would be automatically date sorted. I could even encrypt to prevent anyone else getting at my secret thoughts.

An extension of this would be to then extract the emails and convert them to some easily searchable format.

This is a diary for private thoughts. Anything public can go on here or Multiply.

[13:10] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Synchronicity

Strange coincidence on the radio coming home last night. I got in the car and Classic FM was on playing Verdi's Anvil Chorus in it's traditional form. Tuned over the Radio 4 and listened to the amusing The Consultants, then flicked around for something else. A show was just starting on Radio 2 and kicked off with.... the Anvil Chorus, but this time as performed by Glenn Miller. Slightly different style.

A couple of times in the past I would be flicking around the channels in the morning and find the same song playing on both Virgin and Xfm.

[13:04] | [Music] | Comments | G

Thu, 06 Jan 2005

My first LUG

Last night I finally got around to attending a meeting of the Hertfordshire Linux User Group. It took me a while to find the venue in a community centre tucked away down a back road. When I got there I found a room full of geeks (not a derogatory term) with a selection of PCs running various forms of Linux. I spent a merry couple of hours having some interesting conversations and was even able to help someone to install Firefox.

I'm still finding my way with Linux, but this looks like a good resource for local help.

[12:17] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Mon, 20 Dec 2004

Don't let your computer be idle

Many people do not realise that their computers can spend most of their time doing nothing. They are just waiting for you to press a key or something. It's only when running games or other intensive tasks that the processor is really pushed.

Various people have had the bright idea to use this spare capacity to solve difficult problems. One of the best known projects is SETI@home that analyses radio signals for signs of alien intelligence. I ran that briefly, but have dedicated much more time to distibuted.net (mathematical proofs and code-breaking challenges) and grid.org (medical research). I've clocked up several years of processing for each of them.

I don't get paid for this or anything, but I like the feeling that I am contributing to possibly worthwhile causes. I've recruited others to the cause and am always trying to bring in more people. For grid.org I started a team called Whizz for atomms (a Gerald Searle reference). Feel free to join us.

I know some people will worry that these programs could pose a security risk, but I'm very wary myself. I check various forums for any potential issues before installing anything. I've not heard of issues with either of these. Some people have found that they can affect their PC performance, but I've not noticed this. Mail me if you have questions.

[13:29] | [Computer] | Comments | G

The Skype's the limit

Bob has been thinking about trying some form of VOIP (internet telephony) to save on his phone bills. I had heard good things about Skype so he installed that. They offer fairly reasonable rates to most countries and free calls to other PC users. I installed it on my Linux box too. That worked, but needed some help from the forums to get the sound working. We tried some PC->PC calls, but it kept having problems with delays that gradually got worse. The sound quality was good though.

Simon pointed me at 18866 who offer 1p UK calls and similar internation rates on a normal telephone. That may be worth a play to cut our bill, but it's never that massive anyway.

[08:29] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Mon, 13 Dec 2004

Have a safe internet Xmas

Bruce Schneier is one of the world's top computer security experts and a man who talks a lot of sense. He has just published his updated list of ways to keep you computer and data safe here.

I go along with most of that, but I'm not quite as paranoid as him. Maybe I've been lucky or I could have been hacked without knowing about it. My move to Linux should help matters a little, but I still need to be careful.

Generally the internet is fairly safe if you stick to sites you know with good reputations. Have a read of his hints and you should be okay.

Let's be careful out there.

[18:53] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Thu, 09 Dec 2004

Converting to Linux

I've been working almost entirely with Linux as a main OS for a couple of weeks now. It's stable and does what I need. It's a learning experience. I have to work out how to install things, i.e. packages, compiling from source etc. I'm even getting my various peripherals working.

Mozilla provide Firefox (web) and Thunderbird (email) as I was using on Windows. Both have reached version 1.0 now and work well.

OpenOffice continues to satisfy my word processing and spreadsheet needs.

GnuCash replaces Quicken to the limited extent I use it.

gPhoto talks to my Kodak digital camera. I'm still sorting out a tool to organise the resulting pictures. My Sipix webcam does not seem to be very well supported on Linux.

Psi works in the same way as on Windows for Jabber, MSN and other chat networks. As with my email I can use GPG to keep my communications private, as long as the person at the other end uses it too.

My Canon i455 printer is partly working using a driver for a different printer, but it comes out a bit faint. There is no specific driver for mine apart from the commercial Turboprint. I used that on the Amiga many moons ago. I may consider it if there is no alternative. I need to get the scanner working, but I believe my Epson is supported.

I've been trying some simple programming using Python. It's a neat little language that I want to learn. So far I've just done a bit of encryption, but one day I may write proper applications with GUI etc, just for fun.

So generally it's going well. The rest of the family can use it without having to know it's not Windows. The kids still have a Windows 98 PC for games and web. The other PC is still awaiting fixing, but can be persuaded to boot when needed. I have lots of data on there that will not fit on the others. I need to invest in bigger disks, but that's for after Xmas.

[13:21] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Tue, 23 Nov 2004

I'm still here

Just in case my reader thinks I've dropped off the face of the earth, here's a quick summary of what's been going on. The main home PC is still playing up, so I've been using the Linux box some more. It's happily running Firebird, Thunderbird and PSI with added GPG. I'm learning a bit more about how to run a Linux box.

Since I am using IMAP mail and using web tools for links and news I am not tied to any one PC. That makes life easier.

I gained a further signature to my GPG key last week. The previous one made me part of the 'strong set'. This is the main group of users who are linked by mutual keysignings. This puts me just five steps away from someone like Linus Torvalds (creator of Linux). One of the latest del.icio.us links is to a site that works out the connections.

I bought myself a new case for the Palm from Brando in Hong Kong. Good prices and speedy delivery. This case should resolve the problems I had with the battery getting discharged when a button was accidentally pressed in my pocket. I also went for a new stylus with built-in pen. That's about as much hardware as I can afford at the moment.

[15:35] | [News] | Comments | G

Tue, 09 Nov 2004

Time to dump Internet Explorer

Microsoft's browser accounts for about 95% of internet usage, but it has lots of bugs and lacks many features. There is an alternative. For some time I've been using browsers from Mozilla. You may know them better as Netscape, but this is the open source version that is being very actively worked on. I have happily used their internet suite (browser, email and web design), but more recently have switched to their newer browser, Firefox. Today Firefox reached version 1.0. It's a wonderful tool with features such as pop-up blocking, tabs and an ever-expanding selection of extensions to add even more goodness. Go to their site for more details.
[13:37] | [Internet] | Comments | G

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