Archive for December, 2007|Monthly archive page

Embarrassing new year confession

Someone was sure to spot this before me, so feel I should admit this now.

I’ve posted to this blog for just over a year, and have had 2,500 hits.

I posted this video onto YouTube six months ago, and it’s now been viewed over 2,700 times.

It doesn’t get much better when you realise I’ve had 23 comments to the video as well, that’s better than I’ve managed in this blog.

Maybe I should start a new career as a YouTuber (that sounds like a strange breed of potato!).

Happy new year everyone.


Ubuntu notebook from Dell!

Looking at what was around in the new year sales online, I came across this interesting Dell notebook

It’s an interesting concept, a custom built ubuntu notebook from a ‘big name’ provider – The spec is reasonable for the £329 (just £100 more than an Asus eee!).

Intel® Celeron® Processor 520 (1.60 GHz, 533 MHz FSB, 1 MB L2-cache) – N-Series
1 Year Base Warranty – Collect & Return
Ubuntu Edition version 7.04
15.4″ Wide Screen WXGA (1280 x 800) Display
512MB 667MHz Single Channel DDR2 SDRAM [1×512]
80GB (5400rpm) SATA Hard Drive
N-Series – Intel® Media Accelerator 950 Graphics Up to 256MB shared graphics memory
Fixed Internal 8X DVD+/-RW Drive for N-Series
6 cell Lithium-Ion Battery (53 Whr)
1 Year Base Warranty – Collect & Return

Am I tempted? Not really, though it’s an interesting product. I’ll have to persuade any of my geek friends to consider buying one so that I can test it out. Would half a gig ram be enough to run Ubuntu effectively given that it’s supporting a load of additional hardware?

BBC iPlayer has launched

In August I wrote about the BBC iPlayer Beta, and about my disappointment in two main areas.  Firstly, the fact that it was for the Windows operating system only, the other being that the p2p software technology was not clearly advertised as such.

My concerns continued to grow, a friend exceeded his download limit on his broadband service shortly after he downloaded the iPlayer, unaware that leaving the machine on overnight to download the tv programme also allowed people to upload the file from his machine as well.

But on Christmas day, the live iPlayer was launched, and came with a pleasant surprise, a ‘simple’ streaming option through a flash player (not even Real Audio, which much of the BBC Radio and BBC News content uses).

The advantage being that this streaming service is not platform dependant.  I’ve been able to stream Doctor Who on my mac laptop at a decent enough quality and fullscreen, despite my average bandwidth being well below the 1Mbps recommended by the BBC.  OK, I can’t download programmes, so am limited to BBC programmes shown in the last seven days, but it’s a useful service, and not downloading programmes saves my bandwidth and hard disc space.

This innovation, plus the Archers podcast which has now become required listening almost justifies the BBC license fee for me (and the new series’ of Doctor Who and Torchwood could cinch it).  Now if in addition all DVD’s sold by BBC Worldwide had a .mp4 ‘FairPlay’ version of the programme on the DVD (see the BBC news article here) then I wouldn’t have to use Handbrake to transfer the DVD’s I have legally bought to play on the digital media platform which I choose.

Santa’s techie sack

Santa has been and gone to my house, and I’ve had some techie, and techie related gifts.

PC and PC Related

The USB 2 PCI card and memory arrived, and I now have a souped-up PC. I’ll be posting more later, though generally I’m pleased with the improvements in the system, but want to add a couple more bits and pieces.

The one thing that I am very pleased with is a monitor stand for my flat panel monitor – click on the link for more information from Amazon.

This is a really simple piece of ‘technology’, but it really does work. The space to slide the keyboard underneath the monitor has given me a lot more desk space. I’ve got my DAB radio on one side, and the various bits of paper and notepad on the other.


Santa has been very good to me, with enough books to keep me going through to the summer, especially at my current reading rate.

There was just one ‘techie’ book however, and this is a massive tome at 462 pages. Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park’s Code-breaking Computersis an in-depth looks at the work of the first programmable computer in the world (yes, I know there’s a good argument that ENIAC was the first, but see this book for a good discussion of the arguments around this.)

Silly Gifts

Finally, friends from Luton sent me I-Cy a very silly but also very good MP3 speaker. The flashing LED’s beat in time to the music, and if you flick its nose or tail it responds accordingly ‘in one of eight moods’. If not plugged into an iPod, it sits there and flashes and giggles to itself – worryingly good fun!. It’s not exactly an Aibo, but it amuses me, and in fact I’ve just moved it to the right side of my new monitor stand to keep me company.

Most of the rest of the holiday will be spent working on my final End of Course Assessment (ECA) for the Open University – and catching up on my reading.

Christmas Project(s) updated

Just a quick update on what has become two separate Christmas projects.

Advent 3100

This is my desktop machine, five years old now and I have to admit showing it’s age. It’s so old in fact that there are no pictures on the web- amazing.

The original plan was to upgrade the memory, fans, and install a USB2 PCI card which I had lying around. When I opened it up however I remembered that I had an 80 gig hard disc installed but unused, when three years ago I thought I had a hard disc problem.

Memory has been ordered, and the ‘old’ disc has been slaved. I couldn’t find the USB2 card (it’s in the house somewhere, but a check through my usual gadget bins hasn’t recovered it.

The big disappointment has been the fans. There are two in my system, one for the power supply, the other over the CPU. Unfortunately these are not easy to remove, the one on the CPU appears glued on, and the Power Supply fan is embedded in the PSU. So no matter how speedy I upgrade the machine, it’ll still sound like an asthmatic cement mixer.

I’ve found an excellent, but simple benchmarking program here which I’ve run on the system. Before optimisation, the global rating is 1172, let’s see what it’s like after my tweaking.

Toshiba Satellite 1800


This is a Celeron laptop which I’ve inherited, and am currently refurbishing to give to a VIth form student as a work PC. The major problem with this machine is the incredibly slow speed. It’s got a 1 Ghz Celeron processor, not fast I know but it should be quicker than it is. The biggest handicap is, I feel, the memory, with just 128 Mb, the swap file is constantly churning (it has a legal copy of XP on, but it would have been much, much better with Windows 2000. My parents have a laptop of a similar vintage, and it runs their games and simple word processing with no problems.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time stripping this laptop down and building it back up again. I’ve gone as far as I can with the software (I’ve installed Trillian, rather than MSN Live Messenger for example.

I’ve got hardware on order, another 128 Mb memory should be easy to fix, and be here tomorrow. I’ve also bought a wireless PCMIA card, the cheapest place amazing being Amazon for a Belkin card (Frustrating though my Beklin router has been it’s done me (fairly) good service.

Running the same benchmarking software gives the current system a paltry rating of 652 – but in reality the performance is significantly less than half that of my desktop machine. Worryingly, with absolutely nothing running on the machine the CPU is running at an 11% loading. My desktop hardly registers anything – so the laptop is a little breathless

So my ‘inner geek’ is being very well looked after at the moment, as I type this I have three screens staring at me, one running diagnostics on the laptop, the other playing Torchwood DVD’s, and the one I’m typing this one.

Maybe not exactly everyone’s idea of a relaxing Christmas, but it’s working for me at the moment.

(Miss) Prism

(continuing the Oscar Wilde theme)

When I read the Web Worker Daily article about site-specific browsers I couldn’t see the point.  After all, it seems the antithesis of web browsers with multiple tabs.

But I downloaded Prism, a product from Mozilla, configured it for Gmail using the most minimal browser, and voila! I have Google Mail, the application.  Create a shortcut to my quickstart, have it on my dashboard on my MacBook.  Brilliant.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve ‘lost focus’ on gmail when surfing the web, having it as a stand alone ‘application’ really works for me.

The only snag I’ve found it that when you open a web-link, it stays within the ‘application’.  Of course, you want this sometimes when within the application, but not when you’re clicking on external links.  Still, can’t have everything I guess.

Email – some statistics

Due to the way I file my emails (never delete anything!), I’ve got full records of work emails sent and received.

As far as possible these reflect ‘real’ emails, not those generated by moodle forum postings etc.

In 2006 I received 5105 emails, and sent 1712.

In 2007 I received 5509 emails (7.8% increase), and sent 2,050 (16.4% increase).

Assuming a 5 day working week (ha!), and a 50 week year (as there’s still two weeks of 2007), in 2007 I received an average of 22 emails a day, and sent  an average of 8.2 emails a day.

I’m sure I’ll be posting something over the Christmas break, but my posts will not be work related.  So I’ll take this chance to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Quick cam connect – a quick (cam) update

I’ve been meaning to blog for a while about my experiences with the Logitech QuickCam Connect which I bought a while back.  I’ll post some pictures over the Christmas break, when I’ve got time to do a compare and contrast with my old web cam, but overall I’ve been really pleased with it.

The in-built software works well, and  I’ve had web-chats with others using MSN Messenger with few problems.  One thing that the camera seems to do particularly well is work in low light, being illuminated by a low voltage room-based light bulb is fine.

Two minor snags, one which I can work out fairly quickly, the other is due to the age of the machine.  I’ve not got the in-built microphone to work yet, but I think that’s because I’ve not identified it correctly.  The other is the relatively slow refresh rate, but that is because it’s connected to a USB 1.1 port.  I’m planning to upgrade my machine over Christmas to have four x USB 2.0 ports, so this should solve the problem.

The next Oscar Wilde, maybe not

I’ve just received the marks for the open university creative writing course that I completed over the last year.

I passed with a ‘Grade 4’ pass.  I was just one mark off a Pass 3 in the overall coursework, but because I didn’t submit the final assignment, this isn’t a great surprise.

My Overall Examination Mark was 57%

The Overall Continuous Assessment Mark was 54%

I’m not disheartened, I enjoyed the course and it’s taught me a lot about creative writing.  I know that Arts based courses will never be the easiest for me, but it’s still a good portion of the 300 points I need for my ‘open’ BA.  I just need to complete the archeology course I’m doing now (another ‘to do’ during Christmas), and I’m completed.

A short history of blogging

I’m sure that this was posted a while back, but it’s been recently been brought to my attention by this blog.


So according to this, I’m stuck in 1999!  I think this is a little cruel, but probably has a germ of truth in it. 

I’ve never twittered, and only the occasional YouTube video has my name next to it.  So I guess I’m stuck somewhere around 1999.

I’ve never checked before, but there are a huge number of books about blogging out there.  No One Cares What You Had for Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog seems to be one of the better ones, at least the title made me laugh, and maybe if more bloggers used the ideas in it, it may avoid the criticism applied in the image above.