A while back, I bought a Dell Inspiron 1100 for home use. A few months later, Dell recalled a load of Inspiron power packs, though fortunately not those for my model. They have now released another warning about batteries causing burns on people's desks. It comes to something when you have to monitor the safety of your laptop, as well as everything else.
I've been thinking about piracy a lot recently. On the news this morning, the BBC reported that the music industry is experiencing a massive boom in sales, both through record downloads (an increase of 400% over last year) and CDs:
The race for number one and demand for digital music players will push sales to an all-time high, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) predicted.
Such a shame piracy has destroyed the music industry, isn't it? I'm starting to get really annoyed having to sit through a FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) presentation before every film I watch at the cinema or on DVD. On top of this, I watched a Bill Bailey DVD at the weekend, and had to sit through another patronising dramatisation about piracy at the end of the DVD. Yes, I know piracy is a problem; but perhaps the solution is to reduce record company and record shop profit margins per CD (e.g. record shops take about 30% of the cover price of a CD; the artist and/or writer gets about 10%). Give people what they want: cheap, easy-to-download music they can play wherever they want and get fair use from. There should be more places like Bleep.
Here's an interesting dilemma, on that subject: I have some friends who have a 20 year old video taped off the TV of nursery rhymes, dramatised by actors against painted sets. I think it was some one-off special. The point is, they have recently had this transferred to DVD, so their daughter can watch it, as the video was wearing out. Their daughter loves it. The video is no longer available, and it hasn't been released as a DVD (and probably never will be).
Technically, this is piracy; but should this deny their daughter the opportunity to see this programme? I can still read books my dad read when he was growing up, and can give my children's books to my daughter. But I have no right to do this with TV programmes I watched as a nipper. The difference is perhaps that books can last forever, while multimedia erodes over time. It won't be long before you can't even buy a video player (in the same way I am using an ancient turntable to play my vinyl, as new ones as so specialised they are extortionately expensive). So all the videos I have will be obsoleted, with no legal way for me to make backups of them. Sad that our culture has become so throwaway, with responsibility for preserving the past in the hands of commercial companies who would prefer to sell the profitable parts of it to us again (endlessly), and discard the rest. I know this isn't a radical or new thought, but it continually depresses me to watch culture transmuting relentlessly into commerce.
I was browsing my old email today (actually looking for an address to send a Christmas card to) when I came across an email to a friend, dated 17th November 1994, explaining how I'd been setting up my first home page. There are a few interesting points to note: my first exposure to the web was via lynx; I still called it "the world wide web"; I had to explain hyperlinks to my friend; my view that the web/internet would be commercially important one day turned out to be right (it was by no means self-evident at the time); and I ended up doing pretty much what I said I probably would, even though I'd only been using the internet for about two months when I made the prediction. Anyway, here's the quotation:
I'm setting up my home page on the world wide web. If you want to have a look, try opening a package like netscape, xmosaic, mosaic or lynx, Once you get in, do one of the following:
* Type 'g' if in lynx
* Click on 'Open' if in netscape or xmosaic or mosaic
When you get the little box, or the prompt at the bottom of lynx changes to a 'URL to open', then type in
That should connect you to my home page, which has got exciting things to go to. If you point at the underlined words and click on them with
the left mouse button, you'll be transported to exciting locations across the world. I might even set up a lit crit type page within it, and stick some interesting addresses in it, to save you the hassle of having to look for them yourself. I spend at least an hour a day 'surfing' - I reckon it'll be an important skill in the future, as businesses will realise that the web and the net are full of pertinent business information, and will need people like me to find it, or write programs to find it.
Do you ever get this: you think about an obscure actor or film, and next thing you know they are on television? I think they are called "coincidences", but sometimes I wonder. E.g. I was thinking about Lou Diamond Phillips the other day (you know, the one out of Young Guns (I think) and those other bratpack films normally starring Kiefer Sutherland, whose film career mysteriously seems to have ended). Can't remember why. Next thing I know, I'm watching Numb3rs (which is OK, but seems desperately far-fetched, to make the point that maths can help make sense of a senseless world). And there's Lou, playing a sniper (on the side of the police, but with a hard cold view of the world, ironically at odds with the humanity of the mathematicians, who are generally seen as cold and hard). Funny.
I like these photos and think they are amusing. I may try to work them into a presentation soon.
I've been trying to complete my work with Ruby on Rails on XAMPP (ROROX - I know the name will catch on). Was nearly there, then the bastards went and released version 1.0 of Rails. Have got all the latest source etc., recompiled everything, extracted it into a XAMPP add-on, and moved all my applications to it. Took one evening, and as soon as I get some spare time, I'm going to put it out there. On the subject of Rails: might try to write a submission for RailsConf. Just need to think of an interesting slant.
Really nice blog entry by Jonathon Schwartz. I will surely be quoting this baby. Particularly this:
"Opening up Solaris and giving it away for free has led to the single largest wave of adoption Solaris has ever seen - some 3.4 million licenses since February this year (most on HP, curiously). It's been combined with the single largest expansion in its revenue base. I believe the same will apply to the Java Enterprise System, its identity management and business integration suites specifically. Why?
"Because no Fortune 2000 customer on earth is going to run the heart of their enterprise with products that don't have someone's home number on the other end. And no developer or developing nation, presented with an equivalent or better free and open source product, is going to opt for a proprietary alternative."
r0ml Lefkowitz's blog has an entry which links to the open source licence statements in the Microsoft Windows release notes. Haven't been able to find them any time I wanted to, so r0ml has done me a favour. r0ml makes the point that this sort of makes Windows "hybrid open source"; I like to make the same point when I'm explaining open source to people.
A few things have prompted me to think about how open source is gradually being recognised as "enterprise-ready":
So open source is (slowly) gaining more acceptance in the mainstream (enterprise). My feeling is that it's not so much acceptance as recognition: I reckon most decent/big companies use open source somewhere, whether they know it or not, and this wave of interest is simply highlighting the fact that executives have realised this and are formalising casual use. Open source was there all along: big companies are only just now admitting it.
Last week I was off work, so I took the opportunity to do loads of programming and administering computer systems :) This included:
I've spent a fair few evenings over the last week on my FlickrLilli search engine. The idea is to provide an easy-to-use, fast interface to the Flickr search API, and in particular to enable license-based searches. The reason for this is because I use Flickr a lot to find images for presentations, but to keep the intellectual property issues clean, I only use CreativeCommons licensed images. Because our presentations are CreativeCommons licensed themselves, and we are a non-commercial organisation, I can use any CreativeCommons licensed image, providing I attribute it and respect the share-alike provisions of the images.
So, I've completed the first version, and it works well. However, I was under the impression that the API allowed searching by multiple licenses simultaneously, which turns out not to be the case. This means the current interface only allows searching by one CreativeCommons license type at a time. Which is crap.
I've altered the back-end code to do a search across multiple license types simultaneously, returning all matching images and a total number of matching images, but the problem here is that paging gets screwed. This is because you have to fetch a page of results at a time from the Flickr API for each license, whereas the paging in the application should be across the combined result sets. The only way I can think of doing this is to keep track locally of which page for which license I am currently at so I can query at the right place in the API, and build the results output page using slices from each result set I'm tracking. This seems like a fairly tricky problem, and I've only just started addressing it. For the moment, the single license search restriction remains. Even in its current form, though, it provides a feature (license-based searching) lacking from Flickr's default search engine, so it will still be useful for me at least.
I'm installing Ubuntu Breezy at home, and thought now's the time I should review music players for Linux. I've been using Rhythmbox for a while now, but being obsessive about having well-organised files with perfect tags, get a bit miffed that I can't fix nasty tags when I spot them.
I tried out Banshee, but it is pretty much the same as Rhythmbox, barring the facility to correct tags. However, these changes aren't written to the files, but only stored locally. So the file still has the bad tags.
The next I tried was Quod Libet. Never heard of it before, but first impressions are great. It has practically the same interface as Rhythmbox (which I quite like), but with the added facility to directly edit tags on files. So I can tweak to my heart's content. It's also got a feature to normalise track volumes as they play, which I don't think is in Rhythmbox. The only downside is that it seems to load the track list slightly slower than Rythmbox or Banshee and be slightly less responsive. I'm going to stick with it and see how I get on.
All of these things install from the "Add Applications" option in the Breezy menu. To get mp3 support, you'll probably need the gstreamer-plugins-0.8-multiverse package.
I urge those of you who like good music, and aren't averse to electronica, to get hold of some Autechre tracks. They are the greatest electronica band ever, as far as I'm concerned, and I remembered this today as I was listening to their epic "Second Peng" on the bus. I consider several of their tracks to be the most beautiful and/or melancholic music ever made. They're easy to get hold of, too, as you can buy their entire back catalogue from Bleep. Go on, treat yourself.
I really like Pandora: personalised radio stations, playing music similar to music you already like (determined by a funky relevance-like algorithm), customisable as it allows you to mark songs you do and don't like, and with (limited) skip forward if it throws out something really duff. Over time (the theory is) it should align itself to your tastes while still surprising you. I've used it a fair bit, and it has come up with a fair few nice tracks I hadn't heard before, plus played quite a lot of my CD collection.
Good news is, they've now released a free, ad-supported version. Go on, sign up. It's well worth a listen if you're bored of your music collection, has an attractive and intuitive interface, and is completely legal.
It requires Flash, and if you're having trouble getting the Flash player to work with Ubuntu Hoary, see this previous post.
Barely two weeks ago I wrote about my plans to write an ecommerce application under my new nooq imprint. Blow me, if someone else hasn't had the same idea. Spot the uncanny similarities to my idea, not all of which I articulated in my blog post:
I promise I didn't read this before I made my blog post! They've obviously put a lot more work into this than I have, and had the idea a while ago. Nothing to stop me giving it a blast too, though. They've also released their Liquid templating system as open source, which could be a nice way to write Rails templates.
In other news: I investigated getting hold of nooq.com, but it turns out it's been grabbed by some bizarre company in the US which makes names up for its customers. Are there any combinations of letters, representing real words or otherwise, which have not yet been snapped up? Before long the world will be filled with companies with websites like "appapooh.com" and "klokkaspok.co.uk" because there are no real word domain names left.