Tag Archives: Technology

System76 Lemur Ultra Laptop – Initial Review

I received my replacement laptop from System76, after the first one arrived with sodding great crack in the screen. I’m tossing together an unboxing video, and that should be done this evening, where you can hear my nasal dulcet tones describing the various holes.

I’m actually using the laptop itself to create the video. I recorded it using a Sony Handycam, which records MTS files. These are apparently a bit weird and proprietary, but luckily the Linux non-linear video editing app OpenShot can open and edit them. This is also a good test of the speed and responsiveness of the laptop. OpenShot appears to be quite simple, but it’s clear that some of the operations are tough on the laptop – especially the live preview. Maybe I can turn those off.

The laptop is good, all told. The case is plastic, and quite light, but seems sturdy enough. I haven’t done enough typing on it yet, but the keyboard is pretty good. The trackpad is great – very responsive, and the two-finger scrolling is very useful. I had to switch off the tap-to-click feature, for the obvious reason of unwanted clicks. The screen is nice and clear, with the resolution high enough for my needs.

It gets from boot to desktop in way less than 30 seconds, which is impressive to me. I’ll time it properly later. This is probably due to the SSD I upgraded to, instead if sticking with the HDD. Less space, more money, but the performance is great.

I’ve not used it for much apart from the video editing and web browsing so far, but the Unity interface is very smooth and responsive, which is a big change from the little Dell 10v that this laptop replaces. I like having a keyboard launcher built-in to the OS – just hit the Super Key (with the Ubuntu roundel logo rather than the Windows one) and type a couple of letters of the app you want, and it appears ready to start. Easier than using the trackpad. You can also open recent files and perform searches using this method.

As soon as I got it started, I performed an update to get all the software up-to-date. I also replaced Firefox with Chromium, removed Thunderbird, and installed a few more of my favourite apps.

I’ll get the video together and upload it soon. OpenShot is a bit of a learning curve, and I find myself going to forums to get answers quite a lot.


Laptop Decision Tree

New Laptop Decision Tree

The time had come to get a new laptop. My little Ubuntu-running Dell 10v just wasn’t cutting it, and Cassie wants her MacBook for her own stuff.

The following chart illustrates my journey.

Laptop Decision Tree

graph created in GraphViz

First question was what OS I wanted. I definitely don’t want Windows for obvious reasons. I currently run Ubuntu, but the little 10v wasn’t that great for running the full Ubuntu, so it was using Lubuntu instead. I don’t want to get mired in Apple products any more than necessary, so Linux it was. But did I want to install it over the top of something else? Did I want to pay the Microsoft OEM cost just to overwrite it? I know that someone managed to get a refund on Windows by not letting it start when they turned on their new computer, but I don’t have the moral fibre for that.

I wanted preinstalled as well, because there are still issues with some hardware, so it’s safer to get the vendor to set it all up. There are a couple of small vendors that make laptops like this, so after some reading of reviews and forum threads, I decided on System 76. I double-checked the features and prices, had a good chat with one of their sales team, and then bought a System76 Lemur Ultra 14″ laptop.

time passes…

I received my new laptop yesterday, and I actually made an unboxing video, which I was going to edit together using OpenShot (it can deal with Handycam MTS files, apparently) when I got the new machine going.

Unfortunately, when I peeled off the screen protector and switched the machine on, I saw that there was a huge 5″ crack across the bottom left corner of the screen. As it continued to boot, I could see that the right-hand half of the screen seemed OK, and it was displaying the desktop, telling me the wifi had been detected, and asking me to select my language. The left-hand side was totally busted up and broken and displaying psychedelic patterns. Pretty, but not what I was hoping for.

I raised a ticket with System76, and they are sending me a new machine. They’ve raised a ticket with UPS, who delivered it. The box didn’t show any damage though, so I’m not sure what will happen there. Anyway, I’ll get a new laptop, then send this one back to them. I’ll keep you posted.


Great Power, Responsibility Etc.

Cassie is starting a new documentary project, and there’ll be lots about that on here in the coming months. She has an old Sony PD150 MiniDV camcorder, which was quite the thing back in the early 00’s. (That will be going up on eBay soon, so if you’re interested, let me know.)

Tapes and Standard Def no longer cut the mustard, so we had to get a new camera. Cassie is the expert here, but I’ve had a pretty quick induction to the features and requirements of documentary film making from a technical standpoint. We went to a couple of camera stores, and it seemed that one option would be to get a high-end DSLR, rather than a dedicated video camera. This was because you get better light sensitivity in a DSLR than in a comparably-priced video camera – ISO settings over 10,000! In addition, a DSLR would provide us with a good camera we could use for other things, like taking pictures of our dog. Very important. In addition, the form factor was something that Cassie wants to explore in the documentary itself, so there’s an added bonus.

After much deliberation, we went into Calumet and bought a Canon 5D Mark III, plus extra batteries, memory cards, and a stabilizer rig with shoulder pad and pistol grip, to allow you to hold it like a camcorder.

After talking to the very helpful Zachary in Calumet for a while, before buying the 5D, we went to The Pork Store Cafe and had lunch with some folks we haven’t seen for a while, and to let the decision settle in our minds. We did some research on line, and the weird thing is, the camera isn’t on sale yet. All the usual review sites just had previews and tentative hands-on posts, rather than actual reviews. The Mark II was very successful and got great reviews, so we’re sure it’s going to be great, but it was coincidence that we happened to be buying the latest sought-after camera on the day it was released.

We set it up at the weekend, and I played around with it some, but we haven’t yet put it through its paces. Neither of us are photographers – Cassie is a videographer, and I piddle around. But now we have this amazing thing, and frankly I’m a little daunted. Reading some of the comments on the review sites, it makes it seem like if we don’t put this thing to the very best use, then we are not worthy of owning it. Apparently stats-quoting gearheads with kit lists in their forum sigs have the monopoly on owning stuff like this. Well, screw you. We bought one of the three available in the store, and we’re not even professionals! In fact, this is the first DSLR I’ve ever owned! My Dad had an EOS500, but I never used it. What’s ISO?

I think this is a symptom of the usual classic Petty guilt. We have this amazing ability to feel guilty or unworthy when we have something good. Basically, Cassie and I will try to get the best out of this significant purchase. But don’t you dare suggest we shouldn’t be allowed to have it.

How 37-Year Olds Consume Media

By Matthew Petty (37 years and 2 months)

This has been a bit of a thing recently (read: “about 3 weeks ago”), although my delay in posting this means I’ve missed the boatwagon a bit, but never mind eh? Caveat – the fact I disagreed with the previous attempts at this tells me to state that despite my use of the word “we” throughout, I actually mean “me”. YMMV. We Are All Individualsâ„¢

We have nicked (quite) a few of the sentences from this chap – he hit the nail on the head and we see no need to change what we agree with. Yes, yes, laziness and plagiarism, piss off.

Since we grew out of the demographic that Radio 1 is aimed at approximately 13 years ago, and since we don’t want to submit ourselves to the reactionary mitherings of Wogan and so on (he’s the voice of our parents after all), Radio 4 is the way to go. We listen to the radio a lot, but generally only talk radio like Radio 4 and NPR (now that we live in the US). We have plenty of music to listen to otherwise, and there’s always Last.fm and Pandora for around the house. We let our car’s Sirius satellite radio subscription lapse when we realized we didn’t need (or want to pay for) 150 channels of highly-focused music, talk and sport that we never listened to. Even if Patriot Radio is hilarious, and even if she wanted me to keep it just so she could listen to the Grateful Dead channel on the freeway.

We don’t watch that much television. Sometimes a series comes along which grabs us, but we can rarely be bothered to play catch up with everything. Others seem to like “keeping up” with DVD box sets and Tivos, but we feel that if we miss out, it’s not the end of the world. We watch several cooking and lifestyle shows if they happen to be on when we’re relaxing and in need of distraction and kid ourselves that it isn’t their aspirational qualities that attract us. We can’t use iPlayer because we live in the US, but it’s not so much of a problem.

We buy newspapers when we move house, to use as wrapping, but otherwise all our news is got from the radio, and from online sources. We no longer feel that print media has any inherent advantage over electronic, especially given their compromised position on advertising and the powerful political and business influences of their owners. We feel that the free sheets were a blight on the landscape, physically, intellectually and aesthetically.

We’re tired of all the bullshit about labels and DRM and people being treated like criminals for wanting to listen to stuff in their own way. We advise people not to buy from iTunes, but to buy a physical object and rip it. We’ve bought music on vinyl, tape, CD and downloaded it too – and we’ve downloaded from P2P to get hold of the stuff we already own on tape and vinyl, to avoid having to pay for it again. We’ve bought a few odds and ends from DRM-ridden shops like iTunes, and we regret it. We still have the remains of our collections of vinyl, and tape compilations that friends made for us many years ago. We no longer own a dedicated CD player, but our amp and speakers are still god for piping noise from iPods and PCs. We own a last-generation smartphone and a current-generation iPod, as well as a little SanDisk gadget for clipping to the shirt.

We are wary of the “walled garden with barbed wire fences, a gator moat, sentry towers and opaque immigration policy” that the iPhone represents, despite the attractive face it presents. We would like to go the open route – when the is current contract is up, we may get a G1 (but we hear stuff about that too). We remember when our town had the area code 0234, then when it changed to 01234. We remember when London’s code changed from 01, to 0171 and 0181, then to just 020 (and we can’t understand why some people still think it’s 0207 and 0208). We absorbed the changes without too much fuss, because we knew that technology and expansion and progress means change. We remember answering the phone with the number. We remember leaving messages for friends with their parents or roommates. We remember not having a phone at all in one college house, an incoming-calls-only phone in another, and a payphone in a third.

37 years olds are adept at using the internet. Many are victims or veterans of the dotcom bubble. Friends Reunited introduced us to social media and reconnected us with everyone we ever lost touch with from school. We deserted Friends Reunited when it became clear that it was just the same people we didn’t regret losing touch with in the first place. We tried each new network when it arrived. MySpace is a mess full of hipsters with the same old sleeve tats. However, it’s useful for keeping up with friend’s bands and other stuff like that. We don’t believe that there will be many more “MySpace Bands” who break through using the site for grassroots support, but won’t be surprised when the print media trumpets it when it does happen.

Facebook is for baby photos, wedding photos and party photos. People who put up baby photos seem to get most of their adult interaction via Facebook. Women who put up wedding photos look forward to the day when they can put up baby photos of their own. Married men have more married friends to hang out with. People who post party photos keep a close eye on the relationship status and are keenly aware that their profile picture makes them look better than in real life.

The above is lifted almost directly from Dan Wilson – thanks Dan – but I would add this. We are a bit exasperated that people seem to believe that Facebook is the internet. There were all the tools that Facebook provides before Facebook existed, they just weren’t all in one place for easy access. But now everyone is in there, and it’s great at first. This means that we have many friends in Facebook, which is like a big bright room with harsh lighting, salesmen watching everything you do, billboards everywhere, and people clamoring for your attention everywhere you look. We also have a smaller group of friends outside of Facebook, in various forums, blogs, and independent sites everywhere, and we wish we could take our Facebook friends by the hand and show them the “real” web.

Twitter is great. It is the most immediate form of semi-interactive communications we use at the moment.

We have (board) game nights with friends, which started with Trivial Pursuit, but when that got a bit tedious and tense, we switched to Taboo, which is much more fun. As children we had Sinclair ZX81s and ZX Spectrums, Texas Instruments TI99/4As, Commodore VIC20s and C64s, BBC As, Bs, Electrons and Masters. The song “Hey Hey 16K” was written for us. We have MAME set up, and play many old games with hearty helpings of rose-tinted hindsight – Defender, Robotron, Smash TV, Strike Force, Galaxian, Galaga, Asteroids, Bombjack – many of them for about 30 seconds before realizing how unreliable a reviewer nostalgia can be.
Modern games are great, but we don’t have a powerful enough PC to do them much justice, and we can’t justify a full-on console. We may get a Wii, which we will invite our friends round to play.

Mathew Robson
We have no idea why a lad who should be w*nking, drinking Merrydown cider in a graveyard and listening to Radiohead is writing plausible memos for an evil merchant bank. At his age we hated Thatcher and thought that a Labour government would make everything better – and now we are in the unpleasant situation of being an expat watching the Labour government go under, while the unutterably smug filth of the Tories wait in the wings to take their place. We did our work experience at Halliburton Geophysical (truth) and a local screw and bolt merchant. We still listen to acid house when we need the energy to do the laundry.

In a later post, perhaps I’ll address all the gaps in this, and analyse what these statements actually say about me. No TV, hardly any radio? A bit true, but not that true. Add this to the increasingly voluminous “To Be Continued” file.

Updating Fire Eagle Location Using Plazes And SMS

In the spirit of following through, here’s an update on the auto-location thing I was writing about last week. I asked a question on the Fire Eagle website about how to update via SMS, and I got a helpful email from one of the Fire Eagle team, the man himself, Tom Coates, suggesting I use Nokia’s newly acquired German-based location service, Plazes.

Plazes will allow updates from SMS, and it can update your Fire Eagle location. So after reading the Privacy Policy, I signed up. Another login and password for my list. Still, I’m following Bruce Schneier’s advice on all these passwords, so it’s not too much of a problem.

Once I’d signed up, I asked Plazes to “plaze” me. This used a slightly different method from Fire Eagle, which just asks for your address and then parses it in a similar way to Google Maps. In contrast, Plazes asks for a location name, like “My Office” and then tries to ascertain a location. It then asks you to fill in the address gaps. It calls these location names “plazenames” and stores them, and allows a “plazename” to have a history of who has been there. This location history is something that Fire Eagle doesn’t provide, instead only storing the current location. Plazes allows you to set your locations to public or private, but still, I think I prefer the Fire Eagle model.

“Plaze Me”, “Plazenames”, I’m not sure about these words. They require more effort to say, because of the “Z” sound requiring more pressure in the mouth. It makes me want to say “plazenamez” and you end up sounding like Timothy West in that Tales of the Unexpected where he turns into a bee.

Making up new words for your users to adopt is a bit awkward. “Google” has become common due to it’s simple ubiquity. I use Twitter, but I don’t like saying “my tweets” preferring “my twitter updates”. “My Tweets” sound like something Fergie would sign about. It reminds me of that extremely irritating series of adverts for NatWest bank in the UK, which kept saying that other banks’ branches were being closed and turned into “trendy wine bars”. They kept repeating this in the hope it would become a catchphrase. They even went as far as having an actor (playing another banks customer) say to camera, “…and now my branch has been turned into – you got it! A trendy wine bar“, at which point he was joined by a huge mob of extras yelling the catchphrase like this was a margarine commercial or something. If enough people yell it, it becomes a catchphrase? Nope, doesn’t work like that, sorry. Never mind the fact that wine bars weren’t trendy any more at that time. Ad companies. So wrong. So smug. (end of ranty digression)

The idea was to set my location in Plazes by SMS, then have Plazes update Fire Eagle. I set this up easily with the Fire Eagle authorization.

I first updated my Plazes location from the web. I called the location “PB San Diego” and gave it the address. I set my location as this place, and it showed up as 401 B Street, San Diego. Correct.

NB: this is a published address for PB, and the fact I work there is in the public domain. No-one cares, but it’s out there.

I then checked my location on Fire Eagle, and something was wrong. The location was set to 1198 4th Avenue, which is the same intersection (4th & B), but the wrong building. It’s across the street, and not where I am.

Next I tried an update to Plazes via SMS. I texted “at pb office on 401 b street in san diego” to the Plazes SMS number. I got an SMS response after a few seconds (I wonder if I can turn that off?) which read, “You’ve been placed at PB San Diego on 401 B Street”. I checked the Plazes website location, and it’s correct, with the exact correct address. But when I checked Fire Eagle again, I found the same problem. It’s shifted me across the intersection.

Plazes integration to Fire Eagle is broken. Something about how Plazes communicates addresses to other sites is mixing the address up, or “paraphrasing” it in a way I don’t like. I’ll perhaps try some other addresses, but at the moment, I won’t be using this method.

Peter made a good comment about the previous post on this subject.  He said that this was like “voluntary tagging” in reference to the tags they attach to criminals to track them. Big Brother and all that. It’s a good point, but not a worry for me in this case. Centroid will only send the location SMS when I set it to, and only when I specifically tell it what address to send. Fire Eagle doesn’t keep a log of locations, and can be set to forget your location after a period. The privacy policy is sound, as one would expect from a member of the Open Rights Group Advisory Council.

Updating Fire Eagle Location Using Palm Centroid

Image by Dan Taylor (CC licensed)Yahoo!’s new location-aware service, Fire Eagle (named after the marvellous Ze Frank’s Ride the Fire Eagle Danger Day segment of his year-long the show) is now available to the public. Being the sort of person that signs up for new webby stuff, I had joined a while back out of curiosity, using some freebie invite that was floating around. I used my existing Yahoo! account to sign in and get going. The system basically lets you tell it where you are, and then makes that information available to third-party developed applications that you choose. Various applications are already available, allowing you to contact friends when you’re in the vicinity, plan trips, find services, and various other meatspace trickery.

It was immediately clear that I don’t have much use for it at the moment, not being a particularly mobile type of person. I have about 3 or 4 main locations, and the rest of the time I’m in transit, and do not wish to be disturbed. I also don’t have many friends or colleagues who would use it. People who flit back and forth from London to San Francisco may get more mileage.

You can update your Fire Eagle location using a web interface, GPS with the right tools, and for while you could use popular microblogging site Twitter. By sending a direct message to Twitter user firebot, you could update your location in much the same way as you can be sending a message to gcal to add events to your Google Calendar. Unfortunately, firebot is apparently down because of Twitters IM service being down. I would like to find a way to update Fire Eagle via SMS. If the Twitter firebot worked, it would be possible to update Fire Eagle via firebot, because you can update Twitter via SMS.

I’ve been playing around using a new program on my Palm Centro called Centroid (formerly called TreoSpot) which is a clever bit of freeware that uses the GSM cells to figure out where you are. As you roam around, Centroid records the GSM cell IDs (aka GIDs), and allows you to set alerts to appear when you enter or leave a particular cell. In busy areas, you change cells a lot, sometimes even bouncing between two or more GIDs just while sitting at your desk (as is happening now to me). The software deals with this by allowing you to assign several GIDs to a Zone, which you can assign alerts to instead. I have about 5 GIDs grouped together into a Zone called ‘Work’, and when I enter this Zone I get an alert saying “Welcome to work”. Well, I don’t really, but you get the idea.

A key point here is that the GIDs themselves don’t fix your location – this is not a triangulation system. You can set physical locations for GIDs and Zones, but this information is not used in this case. Centroid just knows what you tell it – this set of GIDs is known as “Work”, this one is known as “Home”.

As well as set alerts to appear, you can also tell Centroid to send an SMS based on your location. So, the idea was as follows:

  1. Set a Centroid Zone with a number of GIDs around a location, e.g. Home
  2. Set Centroid to send an SMS to Twitter when you enter this Zone.
  3. The body of the SMS would be a direct message to firebot, updating your location: “d firebot u 999 Letsby Avenue”* (u means update)
  4. Repeat for any other Zones you might want.
  5. Profit!

If all went well, Centroid would spot that I was in the Home Zone, and send an SMS to firebot on Twitter, which would then update Fire Eagle. This would be accepable with a few updates per day, with a cellphone plan including lots of free messages, but any more than that and it scould get expensive. Again, I think I would be a light user of this service.

I currently can’t see another way to update Fire Eagle via SMS. I’ll keep looking.

*The policeman’s house, geddit? And there’s more: Lancashire Hotpot in the name of the law!No dammit, Irish Stew! Irish Stew in the name of the law!

GeoURL – Physical Website Locations

Check out other websites based near me in the real world…GeoURL

You Will Feel The Need To Vomit

OK, so the possibility of nuclear destruction our friend the atom, slow or fast, is bad enough, but how about the possibility of sonic destruction?

Hawkwind discussed it in their chilling classic, Sonic Attack. Well, I say ‘discussed’, I actually mean recited a tract of Moorcock apocalyptic barminess over a backing of overdriven synth noodlings and feedback. Effective in headphones, while lying on the floor in the dark, brain stewing in acid, or so I’m told…

The US military have long had an interest in so-called ‘non-lethal’ acoustic weapons. But some people believe other research looked into, shall we say, non-non-lethal applications. But they’re just nutters and crackpots surely?

Perhaps not. During that wellspring of negative creativity, The Cold War, accidental discoveries were made which brought the possibility of a functional, and truly terrifying, sonic weapon into range. French scientist Vladimir Gavreau’s experiments nearly killed him and his fellow researchers, the ‘infrasound’ of about 7Hz produced by their apparatus coming close to destroying their bodies from within.

As well as the physiological effects of unusual sound, the psychological effects should not be ignored. I used to share a house with a couple of girls when I was at college. Sound good? It wasn’t. One of them had the CD single of ‘Dreams’ by eye-hiding cod-soul warbler Gabrielle. It was the only CD she owned, and she set it to repeat. And repeat. In those weeks, I knew how Manuel Noriega felt.

And finally, what about the subconcious? What about the sentient? What about a sound, or a piece of music, that wants to live? That wants to propagate itself, through whatever channels it can, before becoming the only sound in existence? Impossible, you say. Nonsense, you sneer. Well, laugh now, because The Human League’s The Black Hit Of Space is waiting in your record collection…

“I knew I had to escape. But every time I tried to flee, the record was in front of me.”