Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Fri, 31 Aug 2007


I just read that it's Blogday, if you squint at the date. So here's some I find interesting:

Apparently you are supposed to tell the people you link to that they know, but I may not bother. I'm up for suggestions of other blogs to read, but I'm trying to keep my feeds under control. Google Reader is still serving me well.

[15:25] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 17 Aug 2007

Skype Gone Wrong

I've used Skype for a while now. I don't often use it to call phones, but it's there as a way to talk to certain people. It's been generally reliable with very little down time, but yesterday something went wrong. The connection keeps dropping and I never see all my contacts. We use it at work to keep in touch with our various offices, but that has not been viable during this issue.

They have been good enough to keep us up to date with progress. I'm intruiged by the remark: 'This problem occurred because of a deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software.' I wonder what suddenly went wrong. They use P2P technology, so you would expect it to be fairly robust, but there must be some central control.

Of course I would prefer to use more open technologies, but you sometimes have to go with the crowd. I'm still on Jabber, via the Google Talk network, but am not using their software, so I can't do the voice chat. I would like to see more of my contacts using Jabber, but it seems they are mostly committed to Skype and MSN.

[08:27] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 06 Aug 2007

Roll your own social network

An article on Wired today mirrors my own feeling on the social network phenomenon. We should not be tied to a certain site to host all our content. The article mentions XFN as a way to show who you know. I've used that for years and a few friends do too, so that it is possible to map our network, but you need to have the right tools. They don't mention FOAF, but that does not show much sign of hitting the mainstream. I first heard about it years ago and have maintained my own file, but it's beyond the technical abilities of many people unless they can auto-generate a file using tools. I have wanted to generate some parts of this site from my FOAF file, but have yet to get around to it.

Meanwhile, my site brings some of my external feeds together via their own web gadgets.

If you have a presence on various services then it is possible to bring them all together using something like Mugshot, but this does not address the point raised by some commenters on the article, that there is no easy way to restrict access to content outside the 'walled garden' of a network like Facebook. There would have to be some form of access control using user accounts, or better, OpenID with automatic recognition of users via the FOAF file. This is beyond my web programming skills for now, but maybe someone else has some ideas.

For those reading the feed, this site does allow for comments, so feel free to click through and leave your thoughts for general consumption.

[14:12] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 14 Jun 2007


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] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 09 May 2007

Wanna be in my gang?

I've played around with a few social networking sites. My current preference is for Multiply. I wanted something that allowed me to restrict access to certain content and it had to be easy to use so that my non-technical contacts could use it. I have various friends and family on there, but they don't make much use of it. It's a shame as there is great potential for sharing photos and news with people you don't see all the time. At least they get to see my pictures and other stuff. I've started a couple of groups there for various purposes, but again the other members do not contribute much. Maybe they are scared to. Personally I love the fact that I can share my thoughts with the world, but I realise that for others this is a leap into the unknown.

I also looked at Orkut. That's part of the Google empire so I didn't even need to register separately, but I was underwhelmed. It didn't seem to offer much. I've not even bothered with things like Myspace as that seems to be more about getting as many contacts as possible, regardless of whether you know them.

My latest candidate is Mugshot. This is a different animal in that it acts more as an aggregator, but can host groups and comments. You can use it to combine updates from a variety of social sites such as and I was attracted to it as it is produced by long-time Linux people Red Hat. It's all open source, so it should be possible for users to improve it. I've not worked out what skills are required for that yet.

Of course, to test out a social network you need some contacts. So does anyone fancy a play?

I managed to accidentally hack the site when I first tried it. To register you have to let them send you an email with a sign-up link. Trouble was that my link took me to someone else's profile where I could see their private details. In this case all I could see was their email address. I reported it to their support. It seems that they were caching the information and that, on rare occaisions, you would see the old data. They reckoned that once you had activated the account then this could no longer happen, but they have made changes to avoid it in future.

[13:03] | [] | Comments | G

Tue, 13 Mar 2007

Dropping MSN

I've used various instant messaging applications over the years. I used the Yahoo one for a while as I have had an account with them for yonks. Then it seemed that more people I knew were on MSN, so I used that, but I've never liked their clients. A friend got me onto Jabber a few years back. This really appealed to me as it was a totally open system with a wide selection of clients. I've used Psi on Windows and Linux. It's a nice, simple interface that does the job. I later switched to Kopete on Linux as it integrates with the KDE address book. To allow me to talk to people on MSN I used a couple of services (transports) that act as gateways betweem Jabber and other networks so that I could do all my chat in one application. These have been generally good, but sometimes they have problems when Microsoft change something. This week the one I was using stopped working altogether. I'm taking this as an opportunity to drop MSN altogether. For work purposes I use Skype. It's not an open system, but it's so simple to install that I can use it with family as well.

I know MSN has all sorts of 'features' to make chat more 'fun', but I just find them annoying. speech and video can be useful, but I can get those via Skype, although video is not available on the Linux client yet and I don't have a webcam at home anyway.

So if you want to chat with me I would prefer that you use a Jabber system. The easiest way to get on there, if you use Windows or already have a Gmail account is to use Google Talk. They are using Jabber so it's very easy to use any of the clients. There are also plenty of public Jabber servers you can use or even install your own if you have the facilities.

So goodbye MSN. I just need to check around to see if I still have any references to my account there.

[09:11] | [] | Comments | G

Sat, 10 Mar 2007

Pushing Semantics

I recently dsicovered Lemonrock that provides lists of local music gigs. They have a lot of nice features and recently added Google maps of the venues. This immediately made me think of GeoURL. They already have the venue coordinates in the page, they would just need to add the appropriate code to the header for it to be used by external applications. I've proposed this on their forum, but they don't see a benefit. Any suggestions on ways to sell the idea?

I did my own GeoURL/Google mash-up by extracting links of members' sites on the Herts LUG site with some Python. The important bits of this were found on various sites, but it was still fun and educational to put together. I'd like to do more of this sort of thing, but need to think of some projects.

[21:06] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 29 Jan 2007

Giving Something Back

As a Linux user I am used to not having to pay for most software. An exception is Turbo Print that I needed to make proper use of my Canon printer. I have no objection to paying for software I regularly use and intend to make financial contributions to some projects this year.

There are also lots of free on-line services I use. Some of them (Google, have big companies behind them making loads of money from advertising. Others are much smaller scale, but provide great services. A notable case is I've used them since they were called Audioscrobbler to log what music I've been listening to. I quite often use their streaming music service to hear music their algorithms say I might like and am using their new gig guide to get advance notice of events I might like. To show my appreciation I have now become a subscriber. It only costs a few pounds a year, but gives me access to a few extra services.

In other news, I'm still trying to fix some things that broken on my PC when I installed the graphics card. I can't print now as CUPS died and I lost the settings when I re-installed it. I did manage to fix atd so I can finally play with ZapDvb as a TV/radio recorder. An unrelated issue is that I have lost the ability to upload to this server from home since it was moved to a new box due to being hacked. Not sure why that is.

On the hardware front I have just got a monitor upgrade due to work replacing all our old CRTs with LCDs. I've had a 17" Iiyama Vision Master Pro 400 since I got my PC and it has served me very well. I've now moved to it's bigger brother, the 19" VM451. Now I can run a higher resolution. It's big, but my Ikea Jerker desk accomodates it well.

On Saturday I built a PC purely from bits I had lying around that may serve as an upgrade for some friends. It's only an Athlon 800, but still much quicker than what they have. I tested it with a Kubuntu live CD and it worked well, but I may have to install Windows for them to reduce the support load on me. They will be getting my old Iiyama screen.

[09:15] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 09 Oct 2006

Spammed to death

I get a fair bit of spam. As I have my own domain I'm a bigger target than most individuals. I've avoided some of it by directing some standard addresses that I don't use to a black hole address. I still get a lot to my personal address. I can't be sure where this has been taken from, but I suspect that someone may have scanned the PGP public key directories. The mail server I use is running filters that pick up most of the spam and tag it as such, so I can easily filter it. I just have some issues with Kmail filters on my IMAP email. Basically it insists on marking the non-spam as being read, so it's hard to pick up on what is new.

A more recent problem is that the spammers are faking addresses from my domain in the From. So I am getting lots of emails bounced back at me now. One of these days it will become impossible to use legitimate email as nothing will get past the filters.

Meanwhile, I've been continuing my open mapping efforts. The map of Arlesey is coming along nicely, but I haven't found time to get out and do all the minor roads. I've been too busy building new shelves in the study and gardening. This week I have the PFGM AGM and a Herts LUG meeting.

[14:48] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 22 Sep 2006


In order to get going on the Openstreetmap project I am having another go at using the Acer n35 PDA/GPS I borrowed before. I looked at various dedicated GPS units, but they were either too expensive or too limited for my requirements. I wanted something that would allow me to collect lots of traces whilst travelling, but also give me navigation when I need it. I'm having to compromise on battery life, but I don't expect to be out walking for hours with it. It has some advantages over my Palm, such as the option to add wifi, but it may take a while to adjust to different applications.

So far I have submitted a couple of traces of Arlesey around my house. I'll venture further afield as I get the time. I'll also be using it when out in the car, but this requires that I find a workaround for the GPS opaque windscreen on my Zafira. I'm hoping that an external antenna will work somewhere in the car. I may also buy some extra software called GpsGate that will allow me to log GPS traces even when using the navigation software. Their basic version is pretty cheap.

I'm still learning how to edit the traces to give the correct mapping information. There are lots of options for the type of road etc. There's also the issues with mapping things like post/telephone boxes, bus stops, parks, lakes etc. I'm hoping that I can build a useful map of my area that can be used by local organisations without all the expense and legal complications of the commercial alternatives.

There are a few other people in the area who are doing some mapping, so perhaps I will team up with them some time to cover other towns and villages.

[17:31] | [] | Comments | G

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