Good stuff

I'd like it on the public record that R.E.M.'s Lifes Rich Pageant is a fantastic album. Especially at 2:30am. Ahhh...Flowers of Guatemala...


As Rafael points out, ESR is a complete moron. Wow. I've always thought ESR was a somewhat smart and sensible person, but it turns out he's an arrogant twat. Useful to know. Let me see, between the TLA Overlords we have RMS, who is an idealist who takes things to extremes others find uncomfortable, but is logical, consistent, coherent and tolerant. And we have ESR, who is...yes, a complete moron. I think I'll hitch myself to the Free Software wagon...

I hate hardware.

I hate hardware.

I was just doing my morning email check this morning, finished listening to an album, and just before I started another I noticed a slightly odd noise coming from the PC. Opened it up, couldn't identify any obvious source of noise, until I noticed...the fan (I have a Shuttle ST62K - it only has one fan) wasn't spinning. Just sitting there.

It occurred to me that the system had seemed rather sluggish for a couple of days, so I suspect the fan had not been spinning for about 48 hours, and my CPU had throttled itself down to some absurdly low speed in order not to melt. A big round of applause for modern CPUs, folks. So I took the scientific approach...I blew on it, sacrificed a screwdriver to the Great God Of Hardware, and rebooted. All seemed well until about half way through the boot process, when the fan stopped spinning again. I changed the fan speed setting from 'smart' to 'low'. Rebooted. Got five minutes into using the system, poof, stopped again.

So I took the case off again, unscrewed the little assembly that keeps the fan in place behind the rear heatsink, unplugged it from the motherboard, detatched the fan from the assembly, and cleaned all the dust off it. Then cleaned all the dust off the rear heatsink. Removed my sound card so I could plug the fan back in, reassembled everything, booted up...poof, stopped spinning again.

Screamed at the walls for a bit.

Was briefly tempted to see how long the system would last without any kind of active cooling before something died a horrible heat-induced death, but then sighed, disassembled everything again, and plugged the fan into a different header. Rebooted, and it seems OK so far. So it seems the CPU fan header on the motherboard has developed Cranky Old Person syndrome for no apparent reason. Sigh. Just as well it has two more headers and only the one fan, really.

Bloody Lions lost the West Division final, not aided by some terrible umpiring. So we get called for pass interference for brushing a receiver's hand on a ball that's thrown five feet over his head and out of bounds, but they don't get called for barrelling full speed into the receiver's back on a clean pass over the middle? OK...whatever. Good game, but sheesh, CFL umpiring needs a serious kick up the ass.


There's something weirdly cute about the BBC News website's five word headlines, shorn as they are of all context, adverbs and, frequently, pronouns. One of today's is my new favourite:

UN begins quake vaccination drive

I didn't know you could be vaccinated against earthquakes! Isn't progress great?

Time sink

Oh, wow - I think I just found my next time sink: the Linksys NSLU2, with Linux.

I'd been planning on getting a Mac Mini or a mini-ITX PC to use as a dedicated web / mailserver machine, but now I want to use one of these instead! The NSLU2 is a little appliance made by Linksys which is intended to be a poor man's NAS - basically you plug one or two USB hard disks into it, then connect it to your router, and you get an SMB shared drive. Simple. Happily, though, it's massively hackable: you can put Linux on it, and it turns out to have an oomphy enough CPU to do quite a lot of stuff. I'm now imagining having two of these things - one to be my dedicated server, and one to use for its intended purpose, but with the Linux firmware so I can attach three or four drives and do RAID5. That one would store all my media and also act as a backup store for the other machines on the network. And all a lot cheaper than buying full-blown machines. This should be fun!

Have to wait till next month before I can afford 'em, though - sigh...


I don't know quite what prompted it, but I've made a major change to the way I handled passwords over the last couple of days. I used to remember an assortment of quasi-random passwords for really important things (my GPG certificate, user and root passwords, PayPal etc). For other things I tended to use one password I've been using for everything for about eight years - with a couple of numbers thrown in sometimes, but usually not. I've mostly been careful to keep the trash password off anything with money attached, but even so, if you could guess it you would have been able to impersonate me in quite a lot of places...and probably wreck the Mandriva Club site. So I finally got my arse in gear and rectified this situation, with the help of Gpass, a very nice and simple GNOME password manager. It simply stores username / password pairs, with a name and description, in a database which is Blowfish-encrypted via a master password. Since the only thing you have to remember is your master password, you can make it nice and strong and just spend ten minutes memorising it. So now absolutely everything for which I have an account has a different, utterly random password, and Firefox is set not to remember any of them. Much safer than the way I had it before. It's something I'd definitely recommend; it takes a few hours to set up, and it's a bit of pain migrating things over, but it's definitely a better way to go. Just make darn sure you have the gpass database backed up several times in different places :)

geeky thinking

So I've just started re-archiving all the CDs I have here as .flac instead of .ogg (this didn't seem important when I had $50 speakers, but now I have several hundred $ worth of headphones, it is). Half way through, though, I decided I also wanted to replace the .oggs on my Neuros with higher quality versions. Re-ripping the CDs to .ogg seemed a bit silly and long-winded - surely there must be a way to go direct from the .flacs to the .oggs?

Of course, writing a little bash command to do it via flac and oggenc would be fairly trivial. I'm lazy, though. And it would be less trivial to preserve all the tags. And it just felt like an itch that someone must have scratched before.

So how do you Google it? It's not immediately obvious; running all the immediate ideas (ogg flac converter, etc) through my mental pre-google filter it was obvious they were likely to return a lot of chaff. So I had a geeky thought moment. There's a kind of de facto naming convention on *nix for little tools to convert anything from one format to another: foo2bar. So instead I Googled flac2ogg. And my geeky brain was rewarded; I hit this fairly good Python script right away. This is one of the many leaps geeky have been trained to make, and the other 99% of brains don't...

In other news, I had an absolutely crazy night playing pool. We usually go out to a local bar (Numbers) on Saturday nights; my partner drinks and plays the little touch-screen video game machine, and I play pool. It's a winner-stays-on system, and I usually wind up getting maybe three or four games a night, winning half of them. Tonight I had a crazy fourteen game winning streak. It only ended when I made a crazy shot on my final ball, taking it all the way along the long rail on a sixty degree angle shot, but brought the cue ball back across the table and nudged the 8 into the centre pocket on the same shot. Otherwise I would've still been on the table, I think. Just a charmed night. Heh.

Howie Weinberg is killing music

I had an interesting evening. I listened to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists' 'Shake The Sheets' on my nice headphones, and noticed it sounded like pants. I took a look at it in Audacity, and it's been massacred in the mastering. this is a masterly explanation by a fan of Rush of how a lot of modern albums are absolutely killed in the mastering stage of production; basically, the average volume level of the music is massively increased in order to make it sound VERY LOUD ON THE RADIO, which causes the bits that really are loud (especially certain drum hits) to be 'clipped' (cut off when they go above the maximum volume you can put on a CD) and thus distorted. I mailed Ted, who surprised the crap out of me by replying in about five seconds and saying I should get in touch with the guy who mastered it. He mentioned one guy but the record itself credits someone else, Howie Weinberg. I did some googl^H^H^H^H^Hresearch, and it turns out our Mr. Weinberg has a surprisingly extensive track record (see the PDF discography), quite a lot of which I own, and one of which is the exact Rush album that was excoriated in Rip Rowan's article. So I took a look at all the other albums he's worked on that I own, and it turns out that Howie Weinberg is single handedly killing music.

The earliest stuff of his I have is from the early 1990s; The Smashing Pumpkins' Gish and Siamese Dream, Jeff Buckley's Grace and PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love. These are all pretty well mastered recordings. There's certainly no obvious evidence of the systematic compression and clipping I saw on Shake the Sheets and Rip Rowan saw on Rush's Vapor Trails. However, the rot seems to set in around 1996. From this point on, the albums he mastered - Garbage's first two albums, PJ Harvey's Is This Desire?, the Pumpkins' Adore and others - start to show obvious signs of systematic compression and clipping. From 1999 onwards, everything he's touched is basically hideously mastered crap; Vapor Trails, Shake The Sheets, PJ Harvey's Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, the Pumpkins' Machina, Zwan's Mary Star of the Sea, the Deftones' White Pony, the White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan, Franz Ferdinand's You Could Have It So Much Better...the list of great albums this man has murdered seems to have no end. Possibly the greatest single improvement to modern music would be to slap a court order on the guy preventing him from being within a mile of a recording studio...


Been tinkering with my hardware lately (oo-er, missus). Switched my router from an SMC to a Linksys WRT54G, as I was having annoying network issues - the HTPC would stop talking to my partner's PC every so often, nothing could ping the laptop...just annoying weirdnesses. So far the Linksys seems to have fixed all these problems, so yay for that.

Also got a new hard disk. My other one (Samsung) seemed to be dying; I'd wake up in the morning to a message that /home had been remounted read-only, and look at the logs and see DriveReadySeekComplete errors, which I've only otherwise seen caused by dodgy CD-Rs. Not good. So I swapped in a Seagate 7200.7, my favourite drive for a while (I used a Samsung in this system as they're supposed to be quieter, but it didn't seem so to me), and used the 2006 Discovery Live CD to mirror everything over onto the new drive. Handy thing to have around :). Now let's see how long it'll stay up for...

Also more headphone news. I was lucky to find a guy in Vancouver who wanted to trade his Eytmotic ER-4 canalphones for a pair of Grados - any Grados. Since I'd just upgraded from SR-80s to HF-1s, this was a match made in heaven. Especially for me, since the Etys are substantially more expensive than SR80s. I'd wanted to try canalphones for a while, but couldn't justify spending the money just to see what they were like, so this is great. So far I'm really enjoying the isolation and detail they provide, but having Things stuck in my ear canals is still somewhat disconcerting and uncomfortable. I'll use 'em for a few weeks and probably sell or trade them on if I still can't get used to them.

VOIP phones

So I've just been helping Eugenia (from OS News) test out this - a cheap USB Skype / SIP phone. We had a bit of trouble with Gnomemeeting, but as far as the phone goes, in OS X the speaker but not the mic works for Skype; in Linux, both the speaker and the mic work. Take that, Apple! :) I'm thinking about picking one up myself'll sure be nice when gnomemeeting and gaim voice really start to pick up speed.