Tag Archives: Toys

Welcome To The Future

I’m posting this using my new HTC Incredible Android phone, which I received on Friday and spent the weekend playing around with.

It’s already overloaded with apps and nonsense,which I will no doubt remove soon.

This WordPress app is good though. I’m typing on the on-screen keyboard with the phone propped on my wallet to give it an angle and keep it in landscape mode. So far, so good, but its clear you couldn’t use it for long written pieces. I’ll have to try using the voice recognition feature to dictate a post next time.

I also need to figure out how to change all the various bleeps and vibrations for all the different notifications. Loving it so far though – glad to be free of AT&T. Haven’t found anything I miss from the Palm Centro yet.

Razorblade Kisses

This post was floating around in my drafts for ages. Then recently I’ve just got around to sorting out my photos, so the attending slide show is ready.

I’m not your regular hairy bloke. That’s not to say that I’m an ethereal blonde-eyelashed Eloi, but I definitely have trouble growing a beard. When things of that nature started  growing, I wondered for a while what would happen if I left it. Another kid at school did just that and ended up with just two bunches of bristles, on on each side of his chin, which brought to mind (just now) Wells’ description of the Martians:

In a group round the mouth were sixteen slender, almost whiplike tentacles, arranged in two bunches of eight each.

That put paid to any thoughts of seeing what my face would look like unshaven. Even any attempts to grow sideburns resulted in some sparse and gappy growths which petered out as they approached the hair proper.

Time passed.

In 2002 I got the part of Benedick in a production of Much Ado About Nothing. One of Benedick’s traits is that he is a bit rough around the edges, rougher especially than his fresh-faced friend Claudio, to whom he refers disparagingly as “my Lord Lackbeard“. Unfortunately, my friend Mike, who played Claudio, doesn’t so much have 5 o’clock shadow as 9am shadow, whereas I had trouble sprouting something visible in three days. We didn’t want to use false beards, or dodgy dabbed makeup, so we just kind of worked around it. He’s shorter than me, so I guess it worked alright. Lovely voice too.

Time passed once more.

In 2007, Cassie wanted to see what I would look like with a beard. A reasonable request, I guess. Check out the capabilities of the new catch. So, in the month before Xmas, I stopped shaving. When I travelled to LA and she saw the result, she was pleased I had tried, let’s put it that way, and on Xmas Day after most of the festivities in Orinda, I repaired to the guest bathroom to end the experiment. The purification was documented here.

As you can see, it was only a passing fancy, not worth pursuing.

My slow follicles do have advantages. I don’t need to shave every day; twice a week is sufficient. This means I can spend more time on it and make it a grooming ritual rather than a hasty necessity. I use my Dad’s old razor, a metal Simplex safety razor which takes standard blades (actual blades, not cartridges). I’ve been fascinated with this since I was a child. He didn’t use it as far as I know; I think (and hope) that it belonged to his father. I remember playing with it as a child, pretending to shave – without a blade in it of course that would be crazy ha!

I bought a pack of Derby blades from Amazon – $15 for 100 blades. Amazing value, considering each one lasts for about 4 shaves. It could be more if I sat it in mineral oil after use. I have a badger-hair brush from the tobacco shop on Victoria Street. For soap, I go between a quickly rubbed-in cream when I’m in a hurry, or this wonderful West Indian Lime soap from Trufitt and Hill. It smells amazing, has this iridescent texture, and the current jar has lasted well over a year so far.

I’m not the most image-obsessed man around, but I do like these small efforts. And it seems so much more elegant than a plastic hunk of markup sold by CGI and yelling – although I probably wouldn’t think that if I had to shave everyday. Doing things the old way is fun when you’re not forced into it. Like making soap. Or cooking.

Wonderfully Mellow: WonderCon 2010

I seem to be following these things around. When I lived in San Diego, I was able to go to ComicCon twice, and now in San Francisco we have WonderCon, run by the same people, but a bit smaller and mellower, as it turns out.

Of course, my buddy Brian, being a makeup artist and therefore an “industry person”, gets free passes for himself and an entourage, so all I have to do is lay out the lilo and have guests for the weekend. Brian, Stacey and their Golden Retriever Camden arrived Friday afternoon, and we had a pleasant weekend of geekery. (They were supposed to come up on Thursday, but Brian had a short-notice job applying makeup to Ernest Borgnine and Mickey Rooney).

WonderCon is much smaller that ComicCon, much less crowded, and the big names like DC and Marvel don’t have huge staged kiosks. In a way that made it better, because it allowed the smaller publishers and artists to stand out more. We did our usual wandering and browsing, Brian adding to the Kinney Hoard Museum of Action Figures, and then picked out some panels and talks to go to. Again, because of the smaller scale, it seemed easier to get to more of these interesting events. Of course, some of the panels were huge draws, such as the Arkham Asylum Forensic Psychology panel (“Is The Joker psychotic or psychopathic? How does that affect the law? Should he be in prison or the asylum?”). The huge line running round and round the corridors put me off that. There was also a big buzz about Dr Who, so any mention of that brought the fans running. We chose smaller stuff.

Creator’s Rights was a useful panel about how artists and authors should approach publishing, with horror stories of unscrupulous publishers ripping artists off. The upshot seemed to be to get someone (anyone, if not a lawyer) to read any paperwork and keep your trademarks. One panelist said to just post your work to a blog, and then use a Print On Demand service like Lulu.com to publish physical books yourself – your rights would be protected. What does a publisher bring to the table anyway? Brian was interested in this because he has a story that he wants to publish as a comic book (as part of a wider continuum of “product”) with an artist friend of his. I think they just need a kind of pre-nup.

Wandering around, I saw a short line leading up to Max Brooks, who was signing copies of his comic book Recorded Attacks, as well as anything else you wanted. I love his zombie books, so I took the opportunity to buy a copy and get it signed, and he was very friendly and charming, making a note in the book that the UK was my home – there was a recorded zombie attack in the North of England in Roman Times. That’s what Hadrian’s Wall was for. When I told Cassie of my nice encounter with the nice man, she asked if I had “asked him to sign my balls”. Such a classy lady.

I was interested in the Special Effects Makeup Demo, if only because I wanted to see what Brian would say about the guy’s technique. It seemed pretty good – he got a volunteer (with a revealing neckline) to have a nasty neck wound attached. While he did the application, makeup, and final oozing blood, he talked about techniques, materials and took the opportunity to play a trailer of some crappy zombie cowboy movie he did the effects for. I’m all for the little guy doing it for cheap, but jeez.

Following straight on from that was a demo of body casting, with one volunteer having her arm done in plaster, another having half his face (and beard) done in alginate, and a third having his palm done with silicon rubber. The presenter, in his bowler hat, (necessary) eye patch and leather apron, looked very much the quirky Con-attendee. He used a pocket watch to time his talk, which was pretty cool, and answered questions about materials, costs, tricks and techniques.

Saturday evening we had pub grub and pints at The Irish Bank, which I’d not visited before. It was originally called The Bank Of Ireland, but had to change its name after a complaint from the financial institution thousands of miles away. Fools.

The next day, after some freshly baked croissants, we hit the Con again. First up was Spotlight On Max Brooks, with my mate Max talking to a big room full of fans. Sitting behind the usual long front table, he said he didn’t like being alone, so he asked members of the audience to join him. He then aimed most of his talk, which covered his career, the status of the movie of World War Z (script due “in a month or so”), the GI Joe comic and so on, at a 10-year-old boy in the audience, which was really cute. Brian asked a good question about why the audiobook was abridged: because you have to pay all the different performers. It’s the same reason the movie will have to be big – it’s a global epic, with many settings, characters, and individual stories. He was really funny, frank, and informative – definitely his parent’s son. And just about a fortnight older than me!

The presentation by the Bay Area R2-D2 Builders Club was fascinating. They have all built, or are building, are are continually improving, full-sized functional radio-controlled models of the Star Wars R2-D2 droid (or variations thereof). The examples on display were astonishingly detailed, this one even including the hologram projection feature. The talk gave some tips about materials, costs (a lot), time costs (a lot), and impact on family life (a lot). I wish I had that kind of dedication, passion, skill, money, time and a workshop. If I made myself a droid (which I won’t, especially after the stress of the zombie collars last year), it would be one of these, only in Rebel orange and white. Perhaps a Death Star maintenance droid would be more possible – a radio-controlled car with a box on top. Lick of paint.

As a final treat we went to a very interesting panel on Local TV Horror Hosting, with discussions of history, method, anecdotes about the crazy people involved, and so on. They showed a short video about a few of the local heroes of the scene, including The Ghoul, Vampira, and Bob Wilkins. I had a flash of remembrance when seeing Zacherley – I thought he had been the model for one of the Horror Trumps cards I had when I was a kid. But when I checked I remembered the model was actually Lon Chaney (father of Wolfman Jr) in Tod Browning‘s London After Midnight, with his top hat and teeth. The idea was very popular up until cable TV and VCRs became so big – local stations would show mostly-rubbish old movies, topped and tailed with these hosts making terrible puns on creaking sets. For most people, this was the only chance to see these movies – they weren’t in theaters any more, and VCRs weren’t around yet. Their styles were very different – Vampira of course was the wasp-waisted scream queen, The Ghoul was wacky and over-the-top, with tonnes of props and fireworks, and Bob Wilkins (my favourite from the short clips we saw) was very understated, sitting in his rocking chair and making dry, disparaging comments about the films he was showing. Local cable stations still have similar hosts, but they are no longer so popular. But podcasts give them the chance to go back to their radio roots, and YouTube and Vimeo can open up audiences. Nice history, hopeful future.

Bit of a rant. There is a lot of genre-spanning in the geek world (“I span all genres, they call me the genre spanner” “Well, they call you the spanner”). You can’t mention Joss Whedon without a certain amount of squealing about musical episodes, puppet episodes and so on. The recent hit book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has given rise to a sequel by the same author, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and plenty of copycats. A new movie about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is coming soon. Adding “zombie” to any profession or character opens up Halloween costume possibilities in the way that “sexy” still does. I think it’s all a bit fan-servicey and predictable. Within a year, we’ll have Puppet Zombie Benjamin Netanyahu: Vampire Hunter, The Musical: On Ice! (Holiday Special). And then where will we be? I’ll tell you – I don’t know, but this kind of pandering recycling does seem rather lazy.

Anyway, this Con was a lot of fun, and far less stressful than ComicCon last year, probably because I didn’t have to dress up as a domesticated zombie this time.

Downscaling My IT Operations

My desktop computer has been playing up for a while. After it was shipped to the US, I managed to blow the power supply because I didn’t know it was non-auto-switched. I got the PSU replaced, but like someone’s back after a minor rear-end collision, things were never really the same again, Doc, just sign here, cheers thanks.
A series of problems manifested themselves. I would press the power button, and nothing would happen. I would press the power button, the machine would get through grub and then freeze on the Ubuntu logo. Or it would freeze partway through the drive check it kept wanting to perform. Other times it would boot up, connect to the network, and operate for hours, but then freeze at some random point when I was in the middle of doing something important, like playing Nexuiz.
When it froze, I found that neither pressing the little reset button or holding down the power button would work – I had to use the PSU switch on the back.
After some poking around and asking some questions, I was told that it may be the memory that was at fault. So I downloaded the Memtest86+ ISO file, burned a bootable CD from it, and rebooted then machine from that. The program found multiple errors, so I bought some new RAM sticks from Crucial. It was pretty simple to figure out which type I needed, because although the Crucial System Scanner only works with MS Windows, they had a tool to figure out what manufacturer and model my motherboard was. I bought the maximum 4GB, and when they arrived, I opened one stick and tested the box with it.
No luck – it still froze at the same places.
This was getting tedious, so I called Castro Computer Services, a few blocks down the hill from my apartment. I had checked their reviews on Yelp, and they seemed pretty good, and this feeling was reinforced when I dropped the machine off. An unassuming front window with blinds and a couple of screens showing screensavers hides a large workshop with big tables, those high stools you remember from the science labs at school, tools in racks, and machines being worked on, as well as a Yorkshire Terrier and a big parrot. I brought the machine in at the weekend (desktops are heavy!) and explained the various symptoms. Yesterday I got a call saying it wasn’t good news – my motherboard was dead. My drives were still OK, and all the other various parts are probably OK too. So, question: Do I want to build a new desktop and start again?
Perhaps not. I’ve been thinking about downsizing to a laptop for a while. Why do I need a big powerful computer? I don’t do video editing or music production, apart from the minor dabbling which doesn’t need much horsepower (think OpenShot, SoX, and espeak). I don’t really play games anymore, apart from some MAME, and the above mentioned Nexuiz. The former doesn’t need a powerhouse, especially for my older favorites like Strike Force, Robotron 2084 and Defender, and the latter can be scaled back to provide fast action without all the glow, shadows, particles and rippling water (I keep the blood splatters though, otherwise where’s the fun?). In addition to all this, space is limited in our apartment – at least space for a big desktop is limited. A big desktop needs a big desk. We have a smaller desk in the living room, but that has Cassie’s Macbook and papers on it. My big desk that I bought in San Diego takes up a big load of space in the bedroom, and it’s just not really justified anymore. I still have my nice widescreen monitor, keyboard, mouse, external drives and so on. I can plug those in if I need them.
So. A laptop. It just so happens that a few days ago I finally received my free Dell Mini 10v from Comcast for being such a good little customer. I was going to put it on eBay, and then buy another laptop with the proceeds plus some more, but the situation has forced my hand somewhat.
So it was that last night I spent a couple of hours setting up my shiny new black 10″ laptop. It came pre-installed with MS Windows XP, and I couldn’t resist playing Space Cadet 3D Pinball for a few minutes. I read around before breaking the seal on the box, and it appears that Ubuntu will install fine. So that might be a project for the next week.

Because we all now how well I deal with these ongoing IT projects.

On The Phone With Apple, Windows Help (iWoe Part 3)

I arranged a support call with Apple about my iPod woes. I filled in the form online, then I got a call from Texas straightaway, and I was connected with an agent. The options only let you choose Mac or Windows, so I had to explain the fact I’m on Linux in the little comment box.

I was put on hold for a bit while the agent got an expert over to help. The only hold music I could make out was Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground. I couldn’t hear the rest of the music, because of a horrific rending, whooshing sound, which I though was just the line, but when the agent came back, I could hear them fine.

In the end, the expert said he couldn’t support Linux software, so all he could do was suggest I reset  the device using Menu+Center button. Ideally I should also Restore it as well, but to do that I need a Windows machine with iTunes and a net connection. I can’t do it at work, and Cassie’s MacBook only lets me format it as OSX.

I did ask whether the problem of showing “No Music” while at the same time having only 50GB free (consistent with the amount of music I transferred) was something that has showed up before. He wasn’t able to help, saying that the standard method of Reset and Restore were the only things he could suggest.

I guess I’ll ask around at work to see who could restore it for me. There must still be some Windows users in SF somewhere.

time passes…

I gave my iPod to a colleague, who said they could restore it for me on their Windows machine at home. Great!

At 23:30 that night I got a call from said colleague, asking me to talk them through the process. I did so, eyes closed, from memory, and at the end of a tense process, she said it was all done. She dropped it off at my desk the next day (in a Ziploc bag for some reason), and I tried to sync it with Songbird that evening.

It seemed to work. First I just sync’d a couple of playlists, rather than the whole thing. Then when I was confident it would work, I sync’d the whole thing. I think a result of that decision was that I have multiple copies of some songs on the iPod, depending on how many playlists they were in. Not a huge problem, but one to be solved at some point. For now, I just like having a working iPod in my pocket.

Restore An iPod Without Windows, iTunes Or A Net Connection

This is a continuation of an earlier post about getting music onto my iPod in Linux.

After all the to-ing and fro-ing with various music software, my iPod went a bit strange. It showed all my music files on there, with album art where I had added it. But if I tried to play a track, the ‘play’ symbol would appear in the top right, but the time bar would not move from 0:00 and no sound would come out. After pressing ‘pause’ and ‘play’ a couple of times, the iPod would crash, showing the Apple logo before restarting and showing all my tracks again.

I decided that doing a hard reset and wiping the iPod clean (called a “restore” in Apple-speak) would be a good idea. How to do that. Well, according to the help files, you need the following:

  • either a Windows PC or a Mac
  • the latest version iTunes
  • a net connection

Cassie has a Mac, but from what I understand, I didn’t want to restore my iPod to Mac format, because I need it to be formatted as FAT32 to allow Linux to connect to it. So I needed a Windows PC.

I have admin rights on my work WinXP laptop, so I brought it home, installed iTunes and tried to connect the iPod. Unfortunately, probably because of the way the laptop has been set up to access the company WAN, I couldn’t get a net connection at home. So I tried it at work, and still couldn’t get a net connection, despite being able to access the web.

The most frustrating thing about problems like this is searching for your error message, and finding forums at the manufacturers site overflowing with people with the same problem, but no way to fix it, and the manufacturer not stepping in to help.

So, how do you restore your iPod when you aren’t running Windows or a Mac, you “don’t have a net connection” and you don’t have iTunes. After some searching, I found this great set of instructions: Jose Mousetrap: How to repair / restore iPod firmware on linux.

I followed the instructions, and apart from a couple of minor quirks, they seem to work. I have reproduced what I did here, with the minor changes I had to make.

First unplug your iPod and run this command:

% sudo fdisk -l

Then plug your iPod in, wait for it to mount, then run:

% sudo fdisk -l

again, and note what has changed. You should have another drive added to the list, such as “/dev/sde”.  Now run the following, and select the options as described:

% fdisk /dev/sd* [where * is the device representing you iPod, as noted above]
n   [make new partition]

At this stage I could not create a new partition, becase it said there was something already there. What the hell, I thought. I opened Gnome Partition Editor, selected /dev/sde and wiped it. Back to fdisk. I ran the following commands, then selected the commands as below to create the partitions.

% fdisk /dev/sd* [where * is the device representing you iPod, as noted above]
n   [make new partition]
p   [primary]
1   [first partition]
[just press enter -- default first sector is 1]
5S  [5 sectors -- big enough to hold 32MB]
n   [make new partition]
p   [primary]
2   [second partition]
[just press enter -- default first sector is 6]
[just press enter -- default size uses all remaining space]
t   [modify type]
1   [first partition]
0   [first partition has no filesystem; ignore warning]
t   [modify type]
2   [second partition]
b   [second partition is FAT32]
p   [show partition map]

Device Boot    Start       End    Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sd*1          1         5     40131    0  Empty
/dev/sd*2          6      3647  29254365    b  Win95 FAT32

w   [commit changes to disk]

This creates two partitions on your iPod, sd*1 for the firmware and sd*2 for storage.

Then download the right firmware for your iPod from this site. The file you download will be an IPSW file, which can be opened with an Archive Manager. Extract it somewhere convenient. Note the name of the firmware file.

To install the firmware to the iPod type this command:

% sudo dd if=FIRMWAREFILENAME of=/dev/sd*1

BE 100% CERTAIN YOU TYPE THE RIGHT SD*1 NAME! For example, don’t try to install iPod firmware on your computer hard disk by accidentally typing ‘sda1’ instead of ‘sde1’, unless you like reinstalling your operating system.

To format the storage partition type this command:

% mkfs.vfat -F 32 -n "ipod" /dev/sd*2

This creates a vfat partition of F32 type named “ipod”.

Unplug your iPod. Reboot if necessary. You should see a picture on the screen telling you to plug it back in for charging. Do so – hopefully all should be fixed, it will automatically mount.

(end of instructions)

All seemed to be well. I had an empty iPod, which mounted nicely in Banshee, my new music player of choice. Banshee is now the default in Ubuntu, and it works fine, and fits in well with the scheme of the OS, without adding extra weird controls and stuff. I’m not bothered about skins.

Time to do a sync, after some quick housekeeping.

  1. Run Songbird to organize tracks
  2. Run MusicBrainz Picard to tag untagged tracks
  3. Run Songbird again to be sure – use the Find Duplicates and Find Ghost Tracks tools to clean up the database
  4. Run Banshee, updating the library from scratch to ensure I had a clean sheet.

I ran Banshee and tried to sync the tracks across. Banshee looked like it was working – about half an hour to sync 7500 tracks across. Then I clicked the ‘Eject iPod’ button. “Ejecting iPod” appeared. But then Banshee decided it needed to sync everything all over again. Another half an hour.

When it had finished, and the iPod was ejected, I checked to see what tracks were on the iPod.

Nothing. Empty. Godammit.

To be continued again. Fun this, isn’t it?

Songbird, Amarok, Ubuntu and iPods

This is a marathon rambling one about iPods, MP3s and my struggles to get the two together. It’s been sitting in my Drafts folder for ages, and recent events have made me finish and publish it.

When I first got an iPod (white 20GB color model in 2004), I was still running Windows on my PC. Apple’s software, while bloated and jarring a bit with the look of Windows, remains the best way to sync your Windows music collection with your iPod, no question. The playlist functions are great, and for a while, it really did “just work” – plug in the iPod, iTunes started and synced up. All was well. I also like the way I could drop whatever badly tagged MP3 I wanted in my music folder, and iTunes would see it, and file it in the correct artist folder. I would check the “Unknown Artist” folder regularly to re-tag stuff.

Then I switched to a Linux distro, Ubuntu, after some earlier dabbling with Mandriva back when it was called Mandrake. I had to find a new way to sync my iPod with my Linux box, and there were several choices.


Amarok was the first choice I tried. This was back a couple of years, so it was an earlier version. I notice there is a new one out now – Amarok 2.2 – which may be totally different from the one I tried.

It looked kind of OK, but had a strange way of dealing with playlists. When you double-clicked on a file in your library, it didn’t just play it, but created a new current playlist with that track as the only member. It’s a bit blurry now, to be honest, but I remember it had some unusual and unpredictable UI behavior.

It couldn’t watch a folder for new files and file them correctly, but you could manually ask Amarok to “manage files”, which would rename the files according to the tags. This was very useful at one stage in particular.

With the correct plugins installed, it was apparently able to sync to an iPod. In common with most FOSS music player software, Apple iPods needed special treatment, unlike all the other DAPs. Typical. Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to figure out how to sync. There seemed to be a possibility to just copy playlists across, but I wanted to set up playlists on my PC, and have them mirror across to the iPod, just like iTunes used to do.

I tried searching online, in the official help files and elsewhere, but I have to say there was little help to be found – a symptom of getting the user base to write the documentation. In the end I decided to try something else.

Sidebar – Removing duplicate music files using Amarok on Ubuntu Linux

One thing Amarok did let me do was remove a ton of duplicate files from my collection. I got into this situtaiton because of another great Amarok feature – the ability to copy files from the iPod to the PC. I did this to make sure I had everything in one place, because I wasn’t sure how many files on the iPod were already on the PC. There were definitely files on the PC that weren’t on the iPod. But this created 4000 duplicates! 75% of my collection! Uh oh.

After some thought I came up with this solution. Using Amarok, just use the cool “manage files” feature, which renames your files according to their tags. Renaming your files can also mean moving them, because you just rename them with path information according to Artist, Album and so on. I switched on the “overwrite destination” function, so that when multiple files with the same tags were renamed, they would just overwrite each other, leaving one. By doing this, and testing it first, I was able to get rid of all the duplicates.

Songbird from Mozilla version 1.0

After leaving Amarok behind, I started to use Songbird for a while, because I already used and liked Firefox and Thunderbird (and more recently Sunbird), so it seemed natural to collect the set. It had a plugin installed by default for iPod support, and it seemed to do almost everything I wanted (although not everything that iTunes could do).

Cassie had bought me a new iPod for Xmas 2008, a black 120GB “Classic” (you know you’re getting old when what you remember as the standard model is now the “classic” version). I plugged it in, and Songbird mounted the device and allowed me to synchronize. Sync works like iTunes. You can sync all files and playlists, or a selection of playlists, or manage your files manually. I like to sync all, for simplicity’s sake.

But as time  went on, Songbird started to irritate, and then annoy, and then frustrate, and finally anger me. It seemed like every time I clicked a control, it would take ages to respond, to the extent that Ubuntu would do that lovely “fade to grey” thing it does when it’s struggling to respond. Mounting the iPod started to take several minutes, when it worked at all. The UI is OK, but the default is very small text, and irritatingly small controls, and while I could have installed any number of “feathers” (skins), I took the easy route and gave up on it.

Sidebar – “Party Shuffle” on Songbird

Songbird allows the creation of regular playlists, and smart playlists with the usual filtering features. There’s no “Party Shuffle” on Songbird yet. There is an add-on called “Party Shuffle” which claims to implement this feature, but all it seems to do is generate a one off random playlist according to some rules. What I want is the following:

  • Random selection of songs
  • Filter by tags (e.g. only songs in genre X)
  • Allow drag and drop of other songs you think of while playing
  • Allow view of upcoming songs
  • Allow removal of songs from queue
  • Auto-update of playlist

Perhaps there’s some way to do this using a combination of a normal playlist and a smart playlist.

This has been discussed at length in various places, so it’s definitely something people want.

Organizing music files

Amarok does this already, as described above. Basically I want software to use the MP3’s ID3 tags (Artist, Album, Track Title etc) to rename the file and it’s path, effectively moving the file into the appropriate folder. Some people don’t like their music software to do this, because they want to manage it all manually. I’d rather let the machines do the filing, with guidance and minimum intervention.


EasyTAG says it can do this, but I find the interface far too complex, and the possibility of renaming all the files incorrectly has stopped me from testing this too far.

Songbird 1.2

The latest version of Songbird, 1.2, has the ability to watch a folder, and add any new files that appear to the library. It can also shift files around according to their tags. Great! Just the functionality I want. Sadly, all the other problems remain, so while I leave it installed to organise my library from time to time, I won’t be using it to sync with my DAP.

Musicbrainz Picard

This clever thing doesn’t rename files and put them in correct folders, but it did a great job of correcting my tags. It reads the files and makes a digital fingerprint of each one. Then it matches them against the Musicbrainz database of tags, and allows you to easily retag a load of “unknowns” with the correct artist, album and so on. It was a bit tricky to understand at first, but once you try it with a few files, it becomes very simple to use.

Once the files are renamed you can use another program (like Songbird 1.2) to automatically move them to the correct folder.

A Problem

But all of this experimentation meant that something very odd was wrong with my iPod, which led to some angry words.

Continued very soon.

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep

There’s lots of talk about Twitter at the moment, so here’s my two cents worth penny’s worth one Expat Trading Token’s worth.

  • I like it, I use it. If you don’t like it or don’t use it, fine. End of.
  • It sounds stupid” – OK, don’t use it. You’re probably right, and we’ll all thank you when this blows over for your incisive thoughts. Well done.
  • “What use is it?” – None, some, or plenty. Take your pick.
  • “Most people on Twitter are just saying nothing in a big cloud” – partially true, completely the point. Move along.
  • If you have the word “marketing” in your bio, I will block you.
  • I don’t often use the “@” reply thing, but I do use it sometimes. Some people’s twitterstreams are full of simple “@[insert name here] LOL!”, and they use it all the time. Fine by me.

Many people have tried to write dictionaries and rules of etiquette for Twitter, a lot of which have been bullshit attempts to codify something, and thereby claim it. “Oh yeah, I compiled the Twictionary” – piss off. Most people don’t use these words, and the etiquette thing is even worse. Some people think it’s rude not to follow everyone who follows you. As far as I’m concerned, I follow people I find interesting, whether I’ve met them or not. But I like to have been introduced, physically or otherwise.

It was very interesting to follow people’s reactions to the US Presidential Debates, live, as an auto-updating Twitter stream. It seemed that 75% of the people commenting were Democrats. There were also many bots – programs out there posting regularly, created purely to snark. My observation was that most of these were Republican.

I like Graham Linehan’s take on the whole Twitter.

Ignore those grumpy luddites in the broadsheets and elsewhere, who don’t understand it, can’t be bothered to learn how it works and are frightened at the prospect that people are entertaining themselves in a way that doesn’t involve accepted media forms.

My first post (not keen on using the term tweet) was in August 2007. My usage patterns have varied since then, as it has faded in and out of usefulness. I usually use the web interface, as I post from work. I also use Twitterfox, Motwit on my phone (which shows up as “web” in the stats below), and I will be trying TweetDeck soon. Here are a few interesting views, created by the myriad tools out there.

This post’s title comes from the wonderful, uplifting and tender song by Middle Of The Road, posted in my playlist on the “musical Twitter”, Blip.fm. Let’s see what the chattering late-to-the-party journos make of that.

Ubuntu On The EeePC, Part 4 – An Ending?

The story so far: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

After the events of Part 3, I went to CVS and bought a $14.99 1GB USB stick in the shape of a panda. I had a choice of panda, tiger, or frog, or SanDisk Cruser infected with U3, and of course I wanted to avoid that. Over the weekend I got it home, used gparted to format it to fat32 (painless), ran unetbootin to install the Easy Peasy ISO to it (also painless) and hit the EeePC.

I plugged the stick into the EeePC, turned it on, and hit ESC until the boot device menu came up. I selected the USB stick to be the boot device, the Easy Peasy logo came up, and the LiveCD install ran. Then it asked me a few questions like user name and timezone, then the install process began.

Then about about halfway through, I got this message:

The installer encountered an error copying files to the hard drive:

[Errno 5] Input/output error

This particular error is often due to a faulty CD/DVD disk or drive, or a faulty hard disk. It may help to clean the CD/DVD, to burn the CD/DVD at a lower speed, to clean the CD/DVD drive lens (cleaning kits are often available from electronics suppliers), to check whether the hard disk is old and in need of replacement, or to move the system to a cooler environment.

I tried reburning the ISO to the stick with unetbootin – same error, different percentage progress. I tried burning a different Ubuntu-on-the-EeePC ISO (Eeebuntu) to the stick, with the same result. I went back to Easy Peasy, with the same result, but a further percentage. I used the 4GB SD card in the side of the EeePC instead of the Panda drive to boot from, still no luck.

So what’s the frickin’ problem? Anyone?

Ubuntu On The EeePC, Part 3 – The Sickening

The story so far: Part 1, Part 2

Charlie Stross, a sci-fi writer of some regard, talks about installing a new Linux OS on his Asus netbook, and again I am inspired to give it another go. Where was I?

Unetbootin woulnd’t work, that was it. So just to confirm I gave it another try, installing it on my Ubuntu dektop with the Debian Package Installer, making sure to install the dependencies. This time when I ran it, it worked fine, giving me the config screen to allow me to choose my ISO file. In the background, I’d been downloading (via bittorrent) the new Easy Peasy distro, which is the new name for Ubuntu Eee.

Unetbootin tells you to make sure the USB stick you are going to use for the ISO installation is formatted as fat32. OK, I opened gparted (the Gnome Partition Editor) and had a look. A strange thing, the USB stick, an Integral 2GB blue thing, appears as two devices in Linux, mounting itself as two drives. One of them contains a single file, U(something).exe. Both drives appear to have the same amount of space available, 1.92GB. What’s going on? In gparted, I was able to unmount and format one of the drives as fat32 as required. The other I couldn’t touch.

I left it as it was, ran unetbootin, selected the Easy Peasy ISO file and the correct USB drive, and let it do it’s magic. Once it was installed on the stick, I pulled it out and plugged it into my EeePC. I switched on, pressing the f2 repeatedly to get it into the setup screen. There, I chose the boot options, making sure the USB stick was top boot priority. Then I restarted. Fingers crossed!

“Invalid system disk. Remove and press any key”. Bugger.

I suspected this was due to the two devices issue – maybe the EeePC was trying to boot the device without the ISO on it. It didn’t give me a choice. So could I remove this other device, leaving a single 2GB device, mountable as a single drive? Gparted wouldn’t allow it. Fdisk see two devices, which you can’t merge.

I bit of googling around about this issue told me that this phenomenon of two drives is a result of some software built into the stick itself called U3, which helps with some autorun issue with Windows, allowing the stick to autorun applications or something. I don’t care about all that shite, get it off my stick.

There is a bit of a fuss about U3 on the net, with the idea of a drive purchased coming with extra software that installs itself. I found that for a long time there was no way to get rid of this software, until the creators SanDisk published a tool which could remove it. But of course, this would only run on Windows or Mac, everyone else can just sod off.

No wonder the stick was so cheap, and once again teaches me not to buy anything from f**king Dixons.

This tool seems to work though, so I came to work this morning with the intention of running the tool on my work Windows PC - in between shifts, obviously, while my colleagues wait for their turn at the pail of water. I downloaded the tool, stuck the USB stick in, ran the tool, and it said “Please insert a U3 smart drive”. The ‘Next’ button was greyed out. The tool wasn’t recognising my stick. Why won’t it recognise my stick!?

Sod it. This lunchtime I’m going to go out and buy a new USB stick from somewhere. I have myriad sticks lying around, but they’re mostly freebies with 128MB or 256MB- not big enough. I’ll crack this yet. BoingBoing Gadgets has covered other compact netbook Linux distros in the last couple of days, so it’s obviously the thing to do.