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The life and times of james Hart: his family, his music, life in Luton and his occasional escapes onto the internet.

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Thursday, 29 May 2008

away...

We've taken the half-term as our annual family holiday - the third up here in the North-East; I'm writing this as we reach the last full day of our week here - a week that has been spectacular in terms of the weather, and entertaining in so many ways.

We do love it in this part of the world - once again, we're on the southern border of County Durham. Rather than renting a cottage, we're in a static caravan just 50 metres from the sea - I can see it as I type this.. perhaps I should attempt to rise early enough in the morning for a last opportunity to photograph the sunrise over the North Sea.. some hopes!

So.. what have we been up to? I'd love to be able to link to some of the (many, many!) photos I've taken of the various places we've been, but I've not yet tried ShoZu (http://www.shozu.com) which seems to be the best of breed for such things to upload the best to Flickr or the like, so it'll have to be a textual description only, untill we're home and I can sit down in front of a decent sized screen (I'm typing this on the i600) to embellish the account!

On Sunday, we were invited to the Christening of Beth's third surrogate baby - a simple service where Beth was appointed Godmother, with a celebration at the parents' house afterwards. The children have had the chance to stretch their legs every day, in fact; the weather has been wonderful, although extremely breezy to start with. It wasn't until the Monday we were able to try out the beach - at the bottom of the cliffs (down nearly a hundred rickety steps!) - not the most pleasant of beaches, but when the tide was out, there appeared a stretch of sand which was perfect for paddling, sandwriting and playing with around the rockpools in the relative shelter of the cliff-face. We also took advantage of the swimming facilities on the site - there was certainly plenty to do without having to go too far!

We went a little further afield on Tuesday - to the immense MetroCentre in Gateshead (www.metrocentre-gateshead.co.uk) where we had a relaxed amble around, and were treated to a free show by 'The MetroGnomes' (http://www.bebo.com/metrognomes) called Oriental Magic.
On Wednesday, we made a return visit to Funshack - the biggest indoor play area in the NorthEast - and the most badly written signs! (fair game for the excellent 'signs that fascinate and intrigue' Facebook group!)

I ventured out on Wednesday evening for some geocache hunting. Save for a short, sharp shower, the weather was perfect for the pursuit of three hidden treasures. In the end, I found two of them - the third was among some trees (notoriously bad to get a fix, and despite revisiting the site on the way back, I didn't want to risk stumbling through the dark to attempt another search). The nature was spectacular, though - I believe I saw a family of sparrowhawks, and saw all manner of flora on my way round. Then there were the works of civil engineering genius - a tall, brick-clad viaduct in Crimdon Dene itself, and a view from the top of the nearby hill of a wind turbine (one of three that grace the nearby countryside) - all in all, an idyllic evening (and back in time to watch England beat the US in a friendly football match on the TV!)
On Thursday, after another swimming session, we thought we'd give Lenni and Chris the chance to try something they'd never done before (nor have I!) - an afternoon with the Crimdon Dene Pony World (http://www.crimdonponyworld.co.uk) - a really friendly place, where both of the children had an exciting, happy time.
And so the week has rocketed to a conclusion, and all too soon, it'll be a frenetic morning of packing, then a long drive home.. more about our holiday then, I'm sure...

Posted by james at 9:45 PM

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Busy weekend!

Another weekend catch-up blog entry.. although to be honest, it wasn't much of a liberating one. On Saturday, I had agreed to a day at work, preparing and then restoring servers either side of some safety testing in an apparatus room. It turned out to be a bit of a race against time, with a twelve-hour shift followed by an hour and a half when I arrived home; Sunday was spent sporadically checking in with work, since there were some issues with both the database and data servers... I'm just thankful they didn't try to do the other apps room, since it could have been catastrophic! All-in-all, though, it was quite a stressful time.

I had much of Sunday with the family, though, and how could I resist a romp around the garden, while the sun shone? We watered the plants, and did a little weeding, although on review, this year's vegetable yield is looking really poor so far, since we managed to do the sowing before the last cold stretch of the winter. But given a temperate weekend, I'm sure we'll turn the earth over, and put some more seeds down. Yet again, the sunflowers have gone completely wrong; maybe we'll have to plant them somewhere else, snce there were so many weeds still around from when the bird feeder was there.

Lenni had fun with some improvised parachutes - we built a filing cabinet for Beth's coursework before lunch, and had plenty of plastic bags left over . Chris found some flowerpots that he put in a pyramid, and tried to knock down. Who needs telly or computers?

I ought to mention Sunday morning, though.. Chris called me into the church hall, to show me something. It was definitely a 'proud parent' moment, as he demonstrated his new-found capability, and rode his bike from one end of the hall to the other. He'd clearly been quietly practising, and - along with his gradually improving 'scoots' home from school, gave him the skill he needed to provide such a rewarding revelation. I'm sure it won't be too long before Lenni follows in his tyre tracks.. and then? The world is our cycle path!

But now, the week's begun again; I tried, yesterday, to do some musical work in the studio yesterday, but didn't get a huge amount done; when I don't feel too creative, I busied myself with 'sorting things out' - doing some cleaning in the kitchen, replacing the appalling SCART splitter I bought from a pound shop that's been connecting the PVR to the Neuros OSD and the TV (sounds like a lot of three-letter acronyms, doesn't it?) oh, and other things that I can't recall.

To make the week seem a little brighter, here are some picture and video highlights from the fun part of the weekend!

Chris playing 'demolish the pots'Lenni letting looose a parachute




Posted by james at 8:16 PM

Monday, 5 May 2008

At four with nature...

We've had a lovely family weekend so far - our first full one all together for a little while. With a bonus day, since it's a Bank Holiday, and some warm, if humid, weather, it made good sense for us to get out and about.

On Saturday, we took a picnic to our regular countryside haunt - Ashridge, and went for a gentle walk to see if we could find a geocache there. As happens all too often, though, we got close, but - probably due to its small size - its discovery eluded us. I still got some great photos of the children and the bluebells, though (see below and, as always, the photo gallery).

Chris and a treeWe're the kings of the castle!Lenni - up highA sea of bluebells among trees..

We went swimming on Sunday afternoon, so some more exercise for us, and today we took a drive up the M1 to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Beth had taken the children before, and they'd enjoyed themselves - when we arrived and had finally found somewhere to park (even the overflow carpark was nearly full, requiring some creative abandonment to avoid a long walk) I could certainly see why! The expanse of well-cared-for grass, the eye-catching sculptures and, of course, the sheep overlooked some sumptuous green scenery, which was shrouded in the morning's mist. We weren't there for too long, so I'm hoping for a return soon - maybe when we're back Up North for a week at the end of the month.

Here's a cute little video of our young'uns in the wild!





Back to some degree of normality, tomorrow, though.. I'm still very much enjoying playing with this i600 (it's what I'm using to type this blog entry as Beth does the driving home - definitely much quicker than the iPaq's 'soft' keyboard, but not quite as quick or accurate as touch-typing) but when I end up spending an evening writing a shell script to create a dynamic playlist so I can stream recently downloaded podcasts (and ultimately BBC radio 'Listen Again' programmes, transcoded to MP3 from RealAudio), I get the feeling I should be doing something a little more constructive! More on the mobile in due course, I'm sure, though...

Posted by james at 11:58 PM

Quick note: Neuros OSD and the joys of stream_fuse

Just in case you didn't see the comment on my earlier entry about my experiences with the Neuros OSD, here's some useful (and up-to-date) information from Michael Gschwandtner, who developed stream_fuse:

Hi james,

great article. But you should note that the stream_fuse server you are
referring to no longer officially supports the TORFU (1.xx) Firmware of the
OSD. I already moved on to the Arizona (2.xx) Releases. The instructions on
installing and running can be found here
http://wiki.neurostechnology.com/index.php/StreamFuse

Doctor Who on the i600If someone is still desperately searching for the stream_fuse for TORFU
images use
http://crypto.tznetz.com/dload/stream_fuse/stream_fuse instead.
But i really don't recommend it

In fact, the latest version of stream_fuse is more versatile than ever; the bitrate, frame rate and size are all configurable, so it's possible for me to reduce the stream to work really well over the internet, and have the best possible quality on the mac, simply by using a .pls file to link to the stream.

I'm deeply grateful to Michael for his efforts - with how many other products do the developers get in touch with feedback as helpful as this?

Oh, and Lenni and I watched Doctor Who on my mobile phone via the Neuros last night.. how cool is that?

Posted by james at 10:54 PM

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Quick note: i600 MAC address and turning off inadvertent dialling..

i600 MAC address

If you've got a Samsung i600 and you want to find out what MAC address is, so you can register it with your wi-fi access point if it's set up for MAC address filtering, just dial

*#1546792*#

It will present a menu. Choose Version -> PDA Version and scroll down all the way to WLAN (so not Bluetooth, which I did last time!) .. that's where the MAC address will be displayed.


Turning off cellular data when there's no wi-fi

If my i600 can't find a wi-fi connection (or can't find it in time!), it'll dial up a GPRS connection, which - certainly since I'm on a pay-as-you-go arrangement - costs money, and is very very slow.

To avoid this happening, I change the settings for GPRS thus:

Start -> Connections -> More -> GPRS -> Orange Internet

Cange the Connects To menu item
from The Internet
to WAP Gateway

Obviously, this stops it from connecting to the GPRS system entirely anyway, so I need to put it back if I want to browse when I'm out and about...

Speaking of which, I'm not sure what's going on with 3G access. The phone claims to be 3G capable, and the little '3G' logo pops up every now and then (although not in the house, despite being in the Orange 3G coverage area) there doesn't seem to be any way to connect to it. Something to look into if I need it at any point!

Posted by james at 11:44 AM

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Windows Mobile Smartphone review: The Samsung i600

Beth's just bought herself a new mobile phone. My beloved iPaq hx4700 had decided to stop working (it does this about once a year!) so I had started to research replacements, in an attempt to combine a mobile phone, a PDA and an MP3 player, to save me carrying three separate bits of kit around with me! Beth was looking for workable alternatives to the Apple iPhone (she quite fairly believes it would seriously frustrate me because it's so 'closed' - I'm a born tinkerer!)

When she came across the Samsung SGH-i600 Smartphone (Orange branded, but unlocked - it appears - and SIM-free) on Amazon, she was very much taken with the specification; it has a little keyboard, wi-fi, and all kinds of other things.. all for £130 - a bargain, compared with other Smartphones. In fact, she ordered one that evening, and, since it arrived in just a day or so, has given it to me for a few days to evaluate it. Here, then, is my review.

The Samsung i600 : what it can do...
Here's my review of the Samsung i600. I based it very much on my expectations of what I would want from a replacement for my iPaq - a stiff challenge, really, since it's still one of the best performing Windows Mobile PDAs, offering a rare VGA (480x640) screen and a fast processor. The way I thought I'd organise this is by setting the criteria; what the iPaq does, and how (so far!) the i600's managed to achieve these tasks, and then give the benefits and the deficiencies. So..

  • Surfing the internet:
    iPaq hx4700: Microsoft Pocket Internet Explorer, and Minimo - for multi-tab browsing.
    i600: Microsoft Pocket Internet Explorer. Minimo installed, but wouldn't run. Because PIE is so appalling, I have had to download Opera Mobile, which isn't free, but looks really good.

  • MSN Messenger:
    iPaq hx4700: MSN Messenger pre-installed.
    i600: Windows Live Messenger runs on the Pocket Internet Explorer browser, but frankly, it looks rubbish. Fortunately, there's a piece of software called Fring, which can do most instant messenger clients, including Windows Live Messenger and Skype (see below). This worked really well

  • Skype:
    iPaq hx4700: Skype for Mobile installed - works well
    i600: PocketSkype wouldn't install; once again, Fring came to the rescue. It even does voice calling - really very good.

  • Radio / Audio / Video
    iPaq hx4700: Windows Media Player 10 mobile pre-installed. RealPlayer and The Core Pocket Media Player both installed without issues; I'm able to listen to BBC Radio - including Listen Again (RealPlayer) commercial Radio (Windows Media Player) and Shoutcast streams (betaplayer) and watch videos, including from my Neuros OSD.
    i600: Windows Media Player 10 mobile pre-installed. RealPlayer installed using some instructions on the excellent modaco http://www.modaco.com website (you can find them here), but crashed whenever I tried to play anything.Some good news, though, came when I found a first-class resource for streaming radio on PDAs - pdatuner.com. I found links to BBC Radio that would play on Windows Media Player. The Core Pocket Media Player wouldn't install at first, until I found an excellent link to the Smartphone version. So - it's possible to watch TV on the phone! The pre-installed software (PacketVideo Videoplayer) is fairly limited to playing the videos recorded by the onboard camera

  • Google Maps / TomTom Satnav:
    iPaq hx4700: Google Maps for mobile installed and works; TomTom 7 installed and works with a bluetooth GPS unit
    i600: Google Maps installed and works with a wi-fi connection. However, it can't get a clue of where it is from the cellular phone network; apparently the handset isn't supported. It can, however, attach to a bluetooth GPS system, with a small amount of fiddling with Bluetooth manager (creating an incoming Serial Port once it's partnered with the GPS). TomTom 7 could work, but it needs some clever trickery with virtual cursor software (like SP Helper, which puts a virtual mouse pointer on the screen that you can move with the direction keys).. I don't have a storage card yet, so it's too soon to tell if I can get it going.

  • Network drives and system tweaks:
    iPaq hx4700: Windows Mobile 5 comes with capabilities to make connections to Windows shares, which is really handy for getting files on and off it, and playing MP3s from the mac. PocketPuTTY installs and runs, and the iPaq also comes with Windows Terminal Services; I can connect to a PC at home, and remote control it over a tunnelled SSH connection (cool, huh?). I can use PHM Registry editor to edit the registry, and FTPView for FTP connections.
    i600: I couldn't find a way to map network drives; PocketPuTTY would install, but crashed, and Windows Terminal Services isn't installed (and isn't really suitable anyway, because it relies on the ability to move a mouse about!) I downloaded and installed the free TotalCommander, which has registry editing abilities. There is an integral FTP client, which seems to be the only way to get files on and off the phone in real-time. It's also possible to set the phone to use the storage card as a USB storage device, so you're not reliant on ActiveSync to get data onto it.

  • RSS and podcasts:
    iPaq hx4700: I've tried a few bits of software, including pRSSreader, but each seems to suffer from corruption far too easily - maybe because I do a lot with the SD card, including removing it regularly. There are some fresh candidates available here and here - I'll have a go at them, and report back. I've also been recommended to try Mobile Bloglines, but from my first cursory glance, it seems only to work online, so it's reliant either on a wi-fi or a cellular data connection. I tend to download podcasts to the SD cards using Juice on the Mac... seems to work OK (as long as I remember to take the SD card out of the reader before I dash off home!)
    i600: This comes with an RSS Reader and a Podcast downloader installed as standard. How cool is that? I'll give them a go as soon as I get hold of a microSD card - I've ordered a rather inexpensive 2GB card from valueshop.co.uk - only £8.59 including postage.


So, what do I think of the i600? On the whole, it's a good contender - especially for the price - although I would say it needs to do a little bit more to be a suitable replacement for the iPaq. It has an excellent camera (for a phone!) with reasonable video recording performance, too. It can do all the usual things the latest breed of mobile can do, including playing MP3s, multimedia messages, and - of course - surfing the GPRS and 3G cellular networks.

But that, I'm afraid, is where the downsides start..

The Samsung i600 : the minor irritations...

  • Wi-fi turns itself off after a couple of minutes.
    This is annoying - potentially expensively so. If you're surfing using a wi-fi connection, and then stop, the screen dims, and after a little while, the backlight goes off. Then, the wi-fi network switches off. This also affects Fring, too, and I've not found a way to keep it on permanently. The media players, however, seem to keep the wi-fi connection alive, though - I shall do some further research.
    The risk is, then, if you're surfing the internet and the wi-fi connection goes to sleep, it can end up dialling the internet using the cellular network. I think I've used a bit of credit like that! I can see why wi-fi wouldn't be permanently on - it could certainly end up draining the battery - but this is definitely a potential inconvenience.

  • Key slipping
    It might just be me, but I'll be running through the menus, using the navigation cursor and the 'soft keys' either side of it, and either my big fat finger will slip or it'll go back to a completely different menu or the home screen without any warning. Fortunately there's a little 'messages' button that'll return me to the text message was writing, otherwise the 'back' button generally does the trick.

  • It's not a Pocket PC.. not a Windows Mobile device - it's a Windows Mobile Smartphone.
    This means it can't - and will never - run some of the software that would seem to be ideally suited to it, even with SP Helper. Webby is a fine example - a free mult-tab browser that simply crashes when you try to run it. Why? The answer's here.

  • The clock stops!
    This is a minor annoyance, but one nonetheless. When I switch on the keylock, sometimes it stops updating the clock on the display. I really can't see any reason for this.

  • Special character passwords don't work properly..
    This is a rather odd one. My instant messenger accounts have strange characters in their passwords; when I try to log in, and use the 'text input mode' button to enter the symbol I need, it either inserts the character into the username field (in the case of Fring) or just ignores my pressing of the 'text input mode' button! I've noticed this doesn't happen when, for example, I configure email accounts, so I might have to take this back to Fring as a bug report..

  • No headphone socket
    You have to spend a fiver on an adaptor to convert the rather flimsy looking (but hopefully robust!) micro-D connector into a socket capable of using some headphone better than those supplied.

I've been looking into the newer version of this phone - the Samsung i780 - and it really doesn't seem to offer a huge amount more; it has a slightly larger, touch-enabled screen, and internal GPS, and Opera (a $24 piece of software) installed as standard, but it doesn't seem to address the issues in the comparisons above. However, I'm sold on it - and, since the price was reduced even further to £99, once it's arrived, Beth and I will have one each! I would recommend this phone to anyone who wants a versatile smartphone, with a bright display, plenty of accesssories available for it. Better than an iPhone? Less swish, definitely, but it's a fraction of the price, not locked to O2 and it can do 3G.. maybe Beth was right to dissuade me!

Nokia 5140, Samsung i600 and HP iPaq hx4700
a Nokia 5140, Samsung i600 and HP iPaq hx400 side by side

Posted by james at 10:06 PM


 
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