Minor update

I’m still waiting for Irish Broadband to contact me about an installation date, so I’ve had four days away from a computer. And so much has happened.

Apple to use Intel Microprocessors beginning in 2006 Christ. This had been rumoured for a couple of weeks now (and a couple of years before then), but still… wow. John Gruber suggests that Apple may not transition to x86 chips. But then again, he also discounted the possibility of Apple releasing the iPod Shuffle and last week attempted to debunk the rumours of Apple switching to Intel. But this is so completely huge that it’s easy to understand why he was a litle skeptical. Apple say they’re looking at completing the transition to the Intel chips by the end of 2007.

Nintendo Revolution’s classic Nintendo games will be free Nintendo, who have been keeping quiet in this round of “Our console will have hi-def” “Ours will massage your feet while you play!” have dropped a bombshell in the form of massive amount of backward-compatibility for free! They will be releasing almost every game they published for their previous consoles as a free download, available from the launch of their new console, the Revolution. This includes things like Ocarina of Time, GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Zelda II and one of my favourite games, Uniracers (Unirally over here). Miyamoto (the creator of Mario and Zelda) has said that he’s tired of sprawling epic games and is appealing to developers to create something unique and fun (but not neccessarily huge or big-budget) for the Revolution. I guess this is Nintendo paying attention. Update: Full list of games available for download

My copy of Difficult Questions about Videogames was waiting for me when I arrived in work today. This should give me plenty to chew through for the next couple of days, at least until GTA:SA and God of War arrive and start soaking up all my free time. Update: A few pages in, and I’m convinced of something that I’d always suspected - Kieron Gillen needs to find himself an editor.

Movie release calendar

Warning!

This is still very much beta - use at your own risk

Today, I set about teaching myself the basics of web scraping, with the intention of putting it to some good use. Coincidence or providence, I read Kottke’s post about creating an ical for summer movie releases, and immediately thought of a personal itch I could scratch.

The Irish Film and Television Network provide a list of Irish Theatrical Releases, but this is just one big flat HTML file that is only marginally helpful. It still relies on me to remember to go to their page and see what’s out and when. It would be much more useful if this information was somewhere I tend to spend a lot of my day looking - say, my calendar program - and even more helpful if it was somewhere I could carry it around with me - say, my phone.

Well, now I can. Using various combinations of bash, sgrep, awk and sed, I created a script that will automatically grab the ‘releases’ page of IFTN.ie and export it as an .ics file, which can be read through iCal/Sunbird, and from there, synched to my phone.

You can grab the .ics file here: http://www.fuckcuntandbollocks.com/dorkus/irish_releases.ics

If you find this useful, please let me know.

And now the caveats:

  1. IFTN’s listing page is braindead. I can’t help this, and my script can’t predict its unusual behaviour. For example, why does it have two release dates for “Kicking and Screaming”, one on June 3rd, the second on July 29th? And why does it randomly have two “2005"s after “Fever Pitch”?
  2. This is my first real time creating a .ics file. I ploughed through RFC 2445 for pointers, but I might have commited some mortal vcalendar sin without knowing it.
  3. Bug reports to the usual address

Update For my next trick, I did the same for videogames using Eurogamer’s release dates. Grab the calendar file here: http://www.fuckcuntandbollocks.com/dorkus/irish_game_releases.ics

BBC Backstage

Tim O’Reilly suggests that at least part of the reason for Amazon and Google’s success comes from their open API. This allows people to access their information in ways that fit people’s individual needs (“rip, mix, burn”), giving them a massive advantage over monolithic proprietary apps. He gives the example of their own use in O’Reilly - they monitor the ‘technology’ section of Amazon’s books for how well their books are doing, their prices vs. their competitor’s prices, what new books have been released and so on. With Google, we’re seeing this as it happens as people continue to extend maps.google.com to tie in with other services, such as Flickr, producing Geotagging.

Well, the BBC must have been listening. Yesterday, they launched BBC Backstage, which is set to provide a one-stop-shop for all of the BBC’s web content, from their RSS feeds to their Search API (not available yet). Most interestingly for the casual user (read: non-developer), they’re also using this as a way to track the ways in which people are using the BBC website, such as providing a way for people to provide their own “external links” for stories, or giving stories del.icio.us-style tags.

I look forward to seeing what sorts of things people come up with.

Pongmechanik →

As part of the exhibition going on in the Digital Hub, there are a bunch of games set up in the old Medialab building - for example, Eyetoy hooked up to a large projector screen, World of Warcraft and Halo 2. But the star of the show, for me, was a mechanical version of Pong, which seems to be doing the rounds among the game festivals in Europe.

Pongmechanik

Bleedin' Spyware

I’m putting it down to a momentary lapse in concentration.

Esat told us our line went ‘live’ on Friday, so I spent a while trying to remember what my username and password was. I must have spent a good half hour trying various combinations (It turns out the username goes in the form of $username@iolbb, not @iolbb.ie as the salesman told me).

So when I finally did get the right combination, I was so thrilled at having broadband at home again that I left the laptop for a few minutes to go bop around the room. I must have bopped for less than 10 minutes before I realised I’d left a Windows machine connected directly to the internet.

Too late.

And so, my first few hours of broadband are being spent de-fucking my laptop. It must have five different types of spyware on there, and no one tool is catching it all. Although, loathe as I am to admit it, Microsoft’s Antispyware has, so far, been the best, having already caught four things. There are still a couple of other things left on there, if I’m reading windump and ‘netstat -ao’ right.

I hate the internet.

Digital Ireland →

The BBC are reporting that Irish cinema is set to go digital with the announcement that all cinemas in Ireland are to have their traditional film projectors replaced with digital projectors.

I would love to have some dates on the rollout of these kinds of things. Major directors like Michael Mann and George Lucas aside, ‘digital filmmaking’ has been relatively slow on the uptake. Perhaps this is the kind of kick in the ass it needs.

Personally, I’m thrilled at this. Aside from the technical issues, such as flickering and scratches and disjointed sound (which happened at the screening of Hotel Rwanda I saw in UGC - completely jarred me out of the movie), the major improvement I’m hoping this will bring is a quicker turnaround on movie releases here. Ireland traditionally has to wait in line to receive film reels as they do the rounds. For large films, such as the recent Hellboy or Incredibles, this wait can be as long as six months.

With digital filmmaking eliminating the needs for individual reels to be printed up, it eliminates that excuse.

Although I’m sure we’ll still have to wait in line to download the 1TB that will make up the movie.

Mac Mini

Poor Apple.

There wasn’t one thing mentioned at Macworld that wasn’t already revealed on the internet already. By way of ‘punishment’, Apple decided not to show the webcast live, but rather only offer it after a couple of hours. This is completely understandable, since there were a couple of major announcements which had been completely ruined by over-zealous fans who have now crossed the line into breaking the law to find out what the announcements would be ahead of time.

Having watched the Macworld speech, I’m fully convinced that Apple are one of the few technology companies in the world that “get it”. I remember someone describing Tim O’Reilly as a visionary, because since it takes 18 months to write and publish a book, he has to be constantly thinking “What will people want to read about in 18 months time?”. I think the same could be said of Apple - they are thinking ahead of time, to think “What will people want to be doing with their computers in 18 months?” rather than reacting to current fads.

Introducing the Mac Mini

I’ve taken to using our G4 in work as my main workstation. Initially, I just wanted it because it looked neat and would finally make my desktop look classy. But recently, I’ve fallen in love with the power and the flexibility it provides. To make matters worse for my bank account, I’ve started toying with the idea of buying myself a Mac for home.

Previously, the two offerings I could afford (eMac and iMac) have been, well, slightly out of my taste range. The previous generation of the iMac was beautiful, and I would gladly have bought one of those, but the current version hasn’t blown me away.

I don’t think that my situation is that uncommon. Which is why the Mac Mini is the smartest move I’ve ever seen Apple make.

The Mac Mini retails for EUR519 (but you can get it for EUR378 if you know someone who works for Apple who will help you out with their massive 27% discount). Let’s just think about this for a second: EUR519 for a powerful, small, quiet computer? Before Christmas, I paid over that for an iPod and iSkin for my girlfriend. An iPod with the exact same amount of storage! This alone is an amazing feat, but there’s more.

##Beauty is not caused. It is.

No other technology makes people coo quite like Apple products. And not just engineers or techies either - ordinary people. My mom took a look at an iPod and understood the intrinsic value of the design that went into it. If my mom can appreciate the design and craftsmanship, that they can work so hard to create something that looks so simple, then you know they’ve won out.

And there’s not a single person I’ve spoken to that hasn’t been absolutely bowled over by the Mac Mini.

First, there’s the size of the thing. I think Apple invented a new size rating: “Bewilderingly tiny”. Add to this Apple’s traditional clean lines and uncluttered interface, and you’ve got something to leave people impressed and design aficionados breathless.

Add to this the power of that little box - more powerful than my main workstation, a silver G4.

But the really amazing part is the versatility. At that kind of price range, it’s become less a case of “Can I really justify buying a Mac” to “Where in my life could I use this Mac I just bought?”

A Mac for the Living Room, a Mac for the kitchen…

Personally speaking, I’m most interested in using the Mac Mini in the Living Room - as a Home Entertainment Centre, and – providing I can find the right kind of Firewire/USB TV-in card – PVR. And I find it hard to believe that Apple didn’t have this use specifically in mind for the Mac Mini. The size comparisons are right: roughly around the same height as a video or DVD player.

I had been thinking about doing something similar with my XBox, chipping it to allow it to run one of the many homebrew Media Centre solutions, which would allow it to play DVDs of any region, DivXs, all my MP3s and so on. My main reluctance to this comes because of two important factors:

  1. I have real trouble with the idea of an XBox as anything other than a “games station” As much as Sony and Microsoft try to reposition their products as the all-in-one home entertainment solution, I have real trouble accepting this. The idea of navigating my files with a controller seems completely alien to me. This probably reveals more of my rapidly-oncoming middle-age than I’d like.
  2. The XBox is too damn noisy for anything other than playing games

Enter the Mac Mini.

It’s small, “Whisper quiet” and doesn’t look out of place beside my video and DVD player, and offers an array of features unmatched by any of the other offerings.

Oh, and it’s a kick-ass computer too.

Recording Windows Media Streams

Yesterday, my housemate was on Newstalk 106, a national radio station, to talk about Ladyfest Dublin, which she’s involved in. Being the naive-yet-helpful type, I offered to record this for her and mp3 it, so Ladyfest could offer it as a download on their website. In the process of doing this, I downloaded 16 different pieces of software, most of which were completely useless for the job I was trying to do. That’s why I’ve written this, to help anyone else trying to do something similar.

By the way, if anyone has a simpler way, please let me know.

Once bitten, twice shy

My previous experience of mp3’ing a radio show involved recording it to tape (yes, I still use tapes), connecting from the headphone jack on my stereo to the ‘line in’ jack on my laptop, and recording that. Unfortunately, this resulted in a really crackly mp3, full of static. So I figured, this is the 21st Century, there has to be an easier way to do this.

And being cheap, the easier way had better be free.

A thoroughly modern, convoluted solution

Newstalk offer a Windows Media stream of their live broadcasts. I used the shareware Net Transport to record the stream. I believe the shareware version will only record 15 minutes of a stream, but I didn’t check this out. Once it had recorded the stream, I exported it as a 2.14MB .asf file.

Next, I used asftools to create a .wav of the stream. However, the .wav it created was only 2.12MB, while the actual recording was approximately 14 minutes long. Clearly asftools uses some weird codec that, despite downloading 20MBs of codec packs, I just couldn’t find. Their website wasn’t much help either. It addressed the problems with the .wav files asftools creates, but suggests it’s “a codec problem”. So I’d have to find something else.

After searching for a good hour or so, I finally stumbled across [http://www.dbpoweramp.com/](DB Power Amp Music Converter). This was able to read the busted wav, and export it as whatever I liked; a .wav or a .mp3. I was finally getting somewhere. Since I still had some editing to do on the source before I put it up as an mp3, I exported it as a “proper”, 145MB .wav.

I opened the .wav file in audacity and from there, was able to trim off the useless bit I’d recorded at the beginning. I also added a nice little fade-out, for good measure. Audacity was able to export this as either a .ogg or a .mp3 file. As much as my nerd side wanted to put this out as a .ogg file, my sensible side told me that we were going for as much cross-compatibility as possible, so I exported it as a 12MB .mp3 file.

You can hear the mp3 on the Ladyfest website

del.icio.us

For the past few months, I’ve become increasingly fond of del.icio.us. Plugged into any half-decent RSS reader (liferea being my RSS-reader of choice), it becomes an invaluable tool to help me stay on top of my game, exposing me to tools and advice I probably wouldn’t normally have stumbled upon.

But until recently, I never saw the point of signing up for an account. To me, it was a link exchange - whoop-di-doo. I don’t really have enough to contribute to something like this, I don’t tend to come across things by chance that other people would find interesting. Finally, in the depths of last night, I realised its true purpose and how I could help make it better whilst simultaneously scratching many of my own personal itches.

When I browse around on the internet at home, there’s a lot of stuff that I just don’t have time to check out on anything but a ‘high’ level. I’m generally up until 1am, winding down by chewing email for a while and seeing what’s happening in the world, but it’s absolutely impossible for me to keep my concentration levels high for some of the things I come across. For instance, last night I came across a link that explains the Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do), but it being almost 1am, I couldn’t really digest the information. Since it’s nigh-on impossible (or at least, a whole bunch of work) to synchronise my bookmarks list at home with my workstation in the office, I began the process of emailing the URL to myself, to check it when I got into work today.

I stopped before hitting the “send” button as it finally dawned on me. I realised that I was completely ignoring the fact that I’d just gotten this link from del.icio.us - it would always be there. If only some bright spark could come up with a way for me to keep a track of all the stuff I liked on del.icio.us – one giant all-encompassing bookmark – where I wouldn’t need to maintain a file on a number of seperate machines.

But wait! Some bright spark already set this up! If I set up my own del.icio.us account, I could add the link to it, and have it available no matter where it was. I’m almost certainly pointing out the obvious to some of you here, but to me, it was like someone had finally removed the forest and I was able to say “Oh, there are the trees”.

This also has a number of other knock-on effects. Now, when I want to show someone something cool I’d seen that they might be interested, I don’t have to go digging through all the various machines I use, I can just point them at my del.icio.us account.

It also has the added advantage of making my bookmarks infinitely sortable. In Firefox, I have a “useful stuff” folder, where I dump, well.. useful stuff. This is to stop me getting confused “hmm.. where is that useful linux drum sequencer program I found? Is it in ‘linux’ or ‘music’?". Now I can have it appear in a filter for ‘useful’, ‘linux’ and ‘sound’.

Like I said, this might all just sound like the most obvious thing in the world to you all, but I’m glad I finally caught up.

Getting Things Done with Ecco

Inspired by Merlin Mann’s amazing 43 folders, I’ve recently become more and more obsessed with Getting Things Done. This is at least partly due to the fact that circumstances have changed, leaving me with an increased workload and the increased possibility of spreading myself too thin. Using the basic principles of Getting Things Done (or at least, the ones I can pick up from around the place, because it’s absolutely impossible to get my hands on this book in Dublin), I’ve managed to ensure that I’m consistently more productive. And even times when I’m not so productive, I’m still completely focused on what needs to be done.

To this end, I’ve found some pieces of software very useful. First is the Vim Outliner (nice, but too basic for my needs - I feel as if I’m wasting a small-but-significant amount of time wrestling with the software), then there’s TomBoy (will be an indispensible piece of software (especially now that it’s been hooked into Gnome’s new finder-lite), but is still too early a release to be useful for me), and now finally, Ecco.

I read about Ecco on various posts about Getting Things Done. People were saying that they still can’t live without it, despite the fact that it hasn’t been updated in enough years for it to fall into the “ancient history” category, in internet-years. I downloaded it and gave it a go, and found that it almost perfectly suited my needs.

It manages to present the things I like about the Vim Outliner (the ability to “outline” my goals, obviously) in an well-structured way. You can easily throw a goal together, give it a “todo” date (which combines with its built-in calendar to give you a quick overview of your day’s tasks) and easily mark things as done. Once something has been marked as done, it then moves into your “completed tasks” tab, so you can take it out of your TODO list.

It could almost be the perfect piece of software for my needs.

Almost.

My setup here is strange. My primary workstation is a Debian Linux machine, but since a large part of my job includes supporting Windows clients, I also have a Windows 2000 machine on my desk. I have a monitor for each, and thanks to Synergy, I can control both using one keyboard (stolen from an old iMac, because I love the action of the keys) and mouse (a Logitech optical mouse). And this causes problems with Ecc

Because Ecco is quite old, and isn’t quite optimised for today’s operating systems (and kick-ass TCP keyboard/mouse controllers), it barfs every so often. When I give it a date for the TODO, the mouse and keyboard go unresponsive for a couple of seconds. When I click somewhere I shouldn’t, same deal. It’s like Ecco prevents my Windows machine from accessing the network while it’s performing some task. And perhaps that’s the problem - a misconfiguration somewhere that’s causing Ecco to try and access a network share or something.. I’ll try to look into it.

For now, it’s a nasty problem that’s driving me away from Ecco.

Today, as a last resort (and maybe some over-optimism), I tried running Ecco on Linux using Wine. It went well, despite missing some of the features I liked about Ecco on Windows (like the ability to pull in highlighted text from any application), and I would have been happy to live with it, if it hadn’t been for the fact that Ecco crashes each time I try to access the address book in Linux. Since my Inbox is my address book, I rarely use this feature. It’s just knowing that simply clicking on that link would be enough to crash the application I’d rely on most.

Like Chinese Water Torture, it’s enough to drive a man insane.

If you want to try out Ecco, it’s available for free download from compusol