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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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Saturday, 24 February 2007

overambitous? A spectrum of delights..

Much of the non-work part of this week has been spent in the studio - unfortunately, I've not really been as productive as I'd like (why is it that the music in my head vanishes when sat in front of a keyboard?) I should be a little more proactive - perhaps a little more uninhibited, too - and take the opportunity to hum, 'la' or mumble into my iRiver when the muse strikes! I'm working on a few projects at the moment.. there's a song I've been working on for a little while (the melody, chords and words are there but I think I've bitten off a little more than I can chew with the arrangement; I don't really write many slower tempo songs, and I want it to be a powerful rock track).. then, of course, there's the long-neglected podcast... I'm also involved in the Audio & Music Festival's radio station, which - although it'll be fun - I have a rather ambitious feature I'd like to produce. Not to mention the jingles.. and another one-off project that's in the pipeline...

With all these interesting and creative things to do, I find myself wondering why I find myself pootling with things that aren't really important.. take, for example the TV tuner card that was surplus to requirements during a computer upgrade. I've been looking into using VLC's excellent streaming abilities to broadcast TV onto the computers around the house.. I finally got it working (using Christopher's PC, since it's next to the telly cabinet, and the video out of the VCR) just before the children went to bed...typical!

With the proceeds of a recent eBay sale (did I mention that I'm intending to leave it a long time before I do that again?) I have finally succumbed to the lure of a memory upgrade for the Mac Mini. 512MB was never going to be enough to support two simultaneous sessions, especially with all the other bits and bobs running in the background. I've also bought a larger hard disk to use as external, network-based storage. Getting it formatted (which I need to do, since it's an external drive, and OS X can't do it over USB) has been something of a challenge, though, since the Macs to which I have easy access at work are too old to support hard drives of greater than 128GB (d'oh!)

Whch reminds me.. I must create an inventory of all the Mac software that I have installed and cherish (not least because I'll have to install them all again if anything dreadful happens!)

Wow.. tedious blog entry, this, isn't it? Unfortunately, I'm going through rather a geeky stage in my life at the moment - it's really great to be keeping up-to-date with all the latest technology, but it's a kind-of 'stay at home' hobby, I suppose...

I think this might, in no small part, be due to the fact that a major part of my job at the moment is customer liaison - either answering the phones (just what one might imagine a supervisor's role is!) or sorting out the pickles the department seems to find themselves in more and more often these days. Consequently, when I'm away from work, I've not really got the energy for interaction with anyone except for family and close friends... sad, isn't it!

Speaking of work - and the last bit of housekeeping before the links, honest! - I 'd like to bring this to your attention. The Government are currently planning a bit of a reshuffle of the radio frequency spectrum allocations - the list of who gets to use what frequencies. One of the ideas is to capitalise on some potentially lucrative frequency ranges, one of which is currently used for radio microphones. This could result in the use of standard, previously licence-free microphones being illegal.. you'd be surprised how many places this could affect (from churches to West End Theatres).

Hot on the heels of the rather popular Road Charging petition, someone has created one for this particular issue, and I'd really appreciate it if - after careful consideration - you and anyone you know who might be interested would sign it.

It's here: petitions.pm.gov.uk/PMSEspectrum

Eenough of this doom - time for some cheery and odd links!

Links of the day:

  • invisiblerecordarchive.blogspot.com : You can never have too many collections of strange music. No, honestly!
  • luton.gumtree.com : I was having a look at some old blog entries and linked to a 'new' venture by - this is the result.. disappointing, isn't it!
  • www.le.ac.uk/cc/dsss/docs/print-driver.shtml#lan : since more and more PCs are being built without parallel ports (and floppy drives!) getting your old printer to work with it will need extra bits to be bought to make it work. If you've got a router with a mult-port hub, you can pick up a second-hand HP JetDirect print server for less than a tenner on eBay.. it's really easy to set up on XP, and this is how... It's what I've done with Beth's parents' printer (when I have time to install it!)
  • Posted by james at 10:06 PM

    Saturday, 17 February 2007

    doorstops and resurrections..

    It's been a bit of a mixed day for technological goings-on!

    With the relative success (albeit temporary - solder is such a soft metal!) of a power connector repair to Beth's brother's SatNav still ringing in my ears, I took it upon myself to upgrade my lovely iPAQ to the shiny new Windows Mobile 5 without the use of a safety net (or, to be more specific, without reading the manual properly).

    The hope is that they've finally worked out how to make their Pocket Internet Explorer less woeful, and to take advantage of the persistent storage feature (which means the thing won't keel over if the battery goes flat! Only took 5 versions of Windows for Pocket PC for them to realise that's a bad thing!)

    Anyway, it would appear that I rushed into it, somewhat, preferring the (on reflection, rather foolish) infra-red data connection to the standard combination of cradle and USB cable... suffice it to say, the first bit happened, and the iPAQ went into its most basic mode, cutting off the IR link.

    I'm now hoping that, when I get to the office on Monday, the software will see the iPAQ at the other end of the cable, and things will go OK. Otherwise, off it goes to the fixers again!

    While I was rummaging about in the loft, looking for a box suitable to pack a printer in (I have just sold my second ever item on eBay.. I'm sure I said 'never again' last time... it's such a hassle to get the packaging, shipping and everything sorted!) I discovered a dead Linksys WRT54G router.

    Sometime last year (or even the year before?) it had just stopped working, much to Beth's consternation, so we hastily procured a replacement, and - being unable to throw anything away, I cast the duff unit into collection of 'things I might get round to having a look at'.

    The main symptom with the router was that the red 'diag' light was constantly on, and it wouldn't actually start doing what it should. It just so turns out that this isn't so unusual - or fatal! Looking at a comment on one of the first blogs I encountered that mentioned problems with this popular brand of router, there was an issue where the power supply just couldn't deliver the current required to start it up.

    So - I found a spare 5V supply and... yup... it started working again! I took full advantage of this newly restored router by trying out one of the many extended firmwares that can be found at www. wrt54g.net (Linksys released the sourcecode as Open Source, so any clever person could have a go at improving it) and eventually chose Thibor's version. It worked jolly well, so I've adopted some of the settings on the main router, which has been - if slightly less creative than working on a song - an interesting diversion.

    Ooh, yes. there was something else I was going to add about cable TV, but that can wait until tomorrow..

    Quick links of the day

    • www.onguardonline.gov/tutorials/index.html#tutorials-wireless : The US Government's website designed to help with wireless security - some useful (if fairly baisc) videos there.
    • Chocolate Rice Crispy Cakes made by Lenni and Chriswww.eatwell.gov.uk/trafficlights : The UK Government's (or rather the Food Standards Agency) new campaign to promote healthy eating, using coloured circles. We saw this on a billboard when we walked up to Asda earlier to pick up the ingredients to make chocolate rice crispy cakes (click on the pic to the right to see the remainder after teatime.. Lenni's were the ones with monkey heads on top; Christopher went for the more conventional candied fruit!)

    Posted by james at 11:27 PM

    Tuesday, 13 February 2007

    tags and cheese

    Another brief one after two rainy, harrassing days at work!

    I've been playing with a most wonderful piece of software to create a list of the MP3s we've got; it's called MP3Tag and I really can't fault its versatility.

    Not only can you transfer an MP3 tag from the way the filename's formatted, but it can create rather complicated html reports for sorting them all out. You really don't need much else to sort your MP3s out - it can even add those rather natty pictures that can be displayed on some mp3 players.

    Woo.. I'm off until next Monday now! Fortunately, it's half-term, so plenty of time with the children. Yay!

    Link of the day:

    Posted by james at 9:52 PM

    Friday, 9 February 2007

    snowy and worky

    It's been a strange, cold, calm couple of days - Christopher's school was closed yesterday, because of a three-inch snowfall overnight, but I stumbled into town, arriving twenty minutes before the coach, which took me into work.

    Work itself was rather bizarre - our theory was that people had a bit of a lie-in and didn't turn up to work until about 11.30, since it was relatively peaceful until about that time, at which point all three phones rang constantly for nearly half-an-hour!

    Still, that'll probably be it for this year. Strange how the UK has a 'snow day' - often just the one - but it still causes chaos.

    pop music
    A long long time ago, a bloke called Stephen Duffy (now writing with Robbie Williams) was in Duran Duran until they got signed. A long, long time later, he and Duran Duran's keyboardist, Nick Rhodes formed a band called "The Devils" and made some jolly tunes. They've even got a Myspace page.

    That's about it, I'm afraid.. I'm tired now and should've been in bed ages ago, instead of ripping a few more CDs to the burgeoning MP3 collection (we're up to 5000 songs now!)

    Posted by james at 10:51 PM

    Monday, 5 February 2007

    plenty to do...

    Since I am in the middle of an almost unprecendented four days off work, I thought I'd turn my hands to a few bits and bobs that have needed doing. Take, for example, the bunk beds that we bought for Eleanor's room - while Beth took her grandfather for a hospital appointment, Lenni and I set to assembling the tightly packed collection of Danish pine, and - being something of a seasoned master(?) of flat-pack furniture, it wasn't too challenging a job to complete! (click the picture for a larger image of the builder at work! The hat was her idea...)

    Yesterday was a wonderful day for getting out into the back garden - a weak sun warmed the air, and there wasn't a chilly breeze to counter it; while I reassembled the compost bin (well, nearly - it had blown across the garden during the strong winds, and I've still not found the lid!) and cut down some of the brambles around the shed. This was, in part, inspired by the Alternative Kitchen Gardener) podcast, which is new, although it's presented with a familiar voice - Emma, from the Emma And Pete Show 'couplecast' (as I believe they're known).

    The winter pansies have sprouted, which is encouraging, since I think they'll bring some much needed colour to the end of the garden closest to the house - I could spend at least another afternoon out the back doing bits and pieces.. it's just a case of finding the right time!

    Well, that'll probably do for now... no links today since I'm on my studio PC, where Beth has spent a successful evening entertaining some internet radio listeners with her disco classics and household tips... you can't say we don't get up to some unusual things of an evening!

    Posted by james at 11:58 PM

    Friday, 2 February 2007

    hot fuzz..

    How on earth did I miss out on all the excited anticipation of Hot Fuzz? It's out in a few weeks time, and it's got Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and a bunch of other famous people including Olivia Colman, who's lovely and has been in all kinds of other films.

    It's definitely on my list of flims to watch... it'll probably end up being on DVD, though!

    Posted by james at 11:07 PM

    Thursday, 1 February 2007

    mac shoutcasting.. the saga continues! (techie!)

    techy stuff
    Having drawn something of a blank - despite Jon's fine efforts - with persuading MuSE to behave as I'd like it, I spent much of last night looking for alternatives.

    For such a trivial thing as getting the "icy-icq" messages to work, I didn't think it was worth spending $40 on Nicecast, and although Audion is (now) free, it can only stream an MP3 playlist. I couldn't get MacAmp Lite to work, either (what is it about Mac software being abandoned?)

    Looking through some discussion boards, I discovered that my best option may be DarkIce, although once again, its documentation is horrifically limited, and it gave me - yet another - late night of struggling!

    Fortunately, though, there were some resources to help me (from http://lists.dyne.org/muse/msg00849.php):

    To get Darkice to work on Mac OS X, I installed the Apple Developer Tools (which gives you gcc). I also installed fink (http://fink.sf.net) which is a ports and package install system for OS X.

    I installed the following packages:

    • libvorbis0
    • libvorbis0-shlibs
    • libogg
    • libogg-shlibs
    • lame
    • lame-shlibs
    • lame-dev

    I am using a pre-compiled version of Jack from http://www.jackosx.com, which comes with a nice GUI for starting the Jack audio router. But command line version from http://jack.sf.net compiles from source fine too.

    Then to compile darkice (/sw is finks install directory):

    ./configure --with-lame-prefix=/sw --with-vorbis-prefix=/sw --with-jack --without-alsa

    It would be nice to have Jack and Darkice as Fink packages, I will look into it.

    So, I downloaded and installed the rather marvellous Jack, although I had to add this:
     export PKG_CONFIG_PATH=/sw:/usr/local:/usr/local/lib/pkgconfig
    to my .profile, so it could find the "jack.pc" package when had been installed. Then I was able to run the "./configure" line above without any further problems.

    But.. it all went wrong again. There was a rather nasty error when trying to compile it using make
     DarkIce build error on OS X: Util.cpp:263: error: floating constant exceeds range of 'double'

    Fortunaetly, once again, help was at hand at http://www.archivesat.com/DarkIce_live_audio_streamer/thread1824620.htm

    Essentially, on line 263 of src/Util.cpp, there's:
    if ( s == str || val == HUGE_VAL ) {
    The OS X implementation of linux doesn't have that as a constant, so it advises that it is changed to:
    if ( s == str || val == LONG_MAX ) {

    Finally it worked, although I had to wrestle even to get the man page to display, so I could see what the darkice.cfg configuration file needed to look like. To achieve this, I cheated, and did:

    cp /usr/local/man/man5/* /usr/local/share/man/man5

    And we had a winner! Finally.. after several hours of struggling, I got it working. There's a very important bit about aggregrating the soundcard ports in the Jack manual, so if you've got a Mac Mini, and have come across this blog entry in the same harassed state as I was last night, I would definitely recommend you take a look.

    radio bit
    http://www.future-of-radio.co.uk : interesting advert for a new enhancement to radio listening... slideshows as you listen. Reckon it'll catch on? (Or just be mostly adverts?)

    Posted by james at 12:13 PM

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