In Business

I guess it’s pretty clear that I don’t really blog any more. There have been more important things going on for the last year or so and I don’t really have my finger on the Linux/Open Source pulse these days, so there’s no great incisive commentary for me to make on what’s been going on, there are people far better informed to deal with that stuff, like the Open Rights Group for example. If you really feel the need, you can absorb my devastating barbs of social comment via Twitter. I’m @adamdsweet. You’re not missing too much though. Regarding blogging though, the world moved on to other things and so did I.

About a year ago, along with some business partners, I set up my own business as I’ve been threatening to for some time. Although I tailed off some time before that, that’s the primary reason I’m not much of a blogger these days.

My company, Transitiv Technologies Ltd, specialise in Linux and Open Source support. We do a lot of network monitoring in particular, but lots of other things too. So, to end this shameless plug, if you need training, support, development or consultancy for Linux or any Open Source application we support, then please give us a call.

Phone This Guy

419 email  received today:

“Hello,

I am quite aware of the impact strange e-mails like mine do have on persons especially when they are unsolicited for, I must therefore apologize for intruding.

However, I am getting in touch with you as regards the assets of a client (deceased) who you share the same family name. He served as a contractor for Jiyeh Power Station Lebanon until the power station was bombed by the Israeli air force during the Israel-Lebanon conflict in 2006 (leading to his death).

I am Geoffrey Owen. I work as an investment adviser for an assets management firm. It is our responsibility to locate the family of the deceased and pass on the assets by intestate succession. I advise you to contact me ASAP seeing that the assets are about to be confiscated to the Her Majesty Treasury if nobody comes forward for it.

I patiently await your response. I can be reached at 011 (44) 787 228 2424 or +(44) 787 228 2424 for further discussion

I appeal for your tolerance if my message is contrary to your moral ethics. Thank you.

Yours Faithfully,

Geoffrey Owen.”

I would love somebody to phone this guy.

Quiet Times and New Beginnings

I’ve haven’t blogged for some time for some time and as I don’t use Twitter I guess to many it might appear that I’ve disappeared but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I got made redundant last summer as the company I worked for went into administration after I’d been there only for about 8 or 10 weeks. I haven’t had much luck with jobs since I left my first post-grad job, I’ve had to job hop a few times to avoid redundancies that were sweeping through some of my previous places. That last job hop, while done for the right reasons turned out to be a worse move than staying put. So, in between job hunting, I set about starting my own company and I hope to be able to announce it soon. Woohoo 🙂

In the meantime, the clues are out there, check them out and if you have any need for a Linux sysadmin give me a shout.

Passion Star Interview on The Milk Bar

While of work this week, I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Jason Forrest and Zoe Turner on The Milk Bar about my band Passion Star. The show came out yesterday and you can have a listen here. The interview is right at the end around 55 minutes but there are Passion Star songs played throughout the show. If you’ve not listened to The Milk Bar, show should give it a listen.

It’s funny how stuff to do with Passion Star crops up every now and again, I’ll get an email from a fan, or one will add me on Facebook or somebody I don’t know will approach me in the street or in a bar and ask me about it. It seems so long ago now, it’s easy to forget I’m still the same person.

While on a shameless, self-promotion spree, you can:

  • Read more about Passion Star here.
  • Download MP3s of many Passion Star tracks here.
  • Join the Bring Back Passion Star group on Facebook.
  • There even seems to be a Passion Star page on Facebook. Not sure where that came from.

Otherwise, I bought the passionstar.co.uk domain in January with the hope of doing something with it in the future, but for now it lies dormant, merely pointing at my website holding page. Should there ever be anything there:

http://www.passionstar.co.uk/

In the meantime, go listen to the Milk Bar interview and maybe download some Passion Star MP3s while you read the Passion Star story.

Thanks to Zoe and Jason for having me on the show 🙂

Portable Ogg Player Required

As I sit here at the beginning of a long overdue week off work, stranded in Rugby after working late to finish a project and getting my car locked in the car park, my thoughts turn to my recently deceased 16 GB Cowon iAudio 7. I loved that thing. It was a fantastic player, near enough 60 hours continuous playback (honestly), tiny and like the rest of the iAudio range, it plays Oggs and the sound quality was excellent. None of that iPod bullshit for me 🙂 We were planning to marry and raise a family.

My romance with Cowon started in 2006 or 2007 when I was looking for a portable media player that supported the Ogg format, which offers better quality and smaller file size compared to MP3 and is unencumbered by legal bullshit. On a recommendation I bought a Cowon iAudio X5 and was delighted with it, even though I never actually watched any movies on that ‘larger than anybody else but still quite pokey by today’s standards’ colour screen I paid unnecessarily for. It finally died last year when I dropped my bag on the connector which was propped upright, meaning it could no longer be attached to the charger or a PC and I’d just bought a replacement battery for it, having worn out the factory fitted one.

I drifted for a little while, with various vain attempts at glueing it back together making it worse until I came across this post by my evil twin Felim Whiteley about the iAudio 7. After asking a few suspicious questions I decided to buy one and was really, really happy with it, even more so than the X5. It works on Linux, it shows up as a USB storage device, it’s tiny, lightweight, the battery really does last the advertised 60 hours of playback, it plays Oggs and the sound quality is way better than an iPod. Then I dropped it last week and it wouldn’t turn on any more 🙁

Having destroyed the screws with an over sized screwdriver, I had to get my dad to drill them down so I could prize it open, but having done so and re-connected the on-off button to the internal mechanism, either the fall did more damage than I thought or the drilling/reconnecting process damaged other stuff. It turns on but the screen is corrupted, it doesn’t play anything and well, the casing looks pretty shitty after being drilled in each corner. And I can’t find anyone who stocks a replacement. The last one was £116, but they’re out of stock now and so it seems are everybody else. What appears to be the replacement in the product line is the iAudio 9 (sometimes referred to as the i9 to differentiate it from the Cowon S9) and it seems to start around the same price as it’s predecessor, but is larger, less attractive to my eye and has half the battery life (though 30 hours isn’t bad, if they’re as honest with this one a they were with the iAudio 7).

So, the purpose of this winsome ramble is to solicit opinion. I need a new Ogg/MP3 player. Smaller would be better, Ogg playback is essential, looks not so important, 12-16 GB preferable, sound quality should be very good, battery life should be more than 24 hours, must show up as a mass storage device on Linux and understand when you copy new tracks to it without using some bullshit media player to update an internal database before it will notice you added new songs.

Specifically though, I’d like to hear your recommendations, particularly from owners of other Cowon models, other manufacturers who support Ogg and maybe, with hope in my heart, from anyone who has a 16 GB Cowon iAudio 7 they would like to sell 🙂

Guess I’m going to end up buying an iAudio 9.

Number 5 is Alive

Thought I’d better raise my head above the parapet to say I’m alive and well. Don’t think I’ve blogged in nearly 6 months despite saying last time that I would try to blog more frequently. I’ve clearly failed, but it’s not because I don’t like you 🙂

For the most part the last few months have been more or less occupied by working and renovating my house, which is now pretty much complete (the garden doesn’t count…). More than anything though, I think I’m just out of the habit of blogging, so while before I used to think about blogging something fairly soon after it happened, these days I don’t and then the (arguably) blog-worthy detail is gone as the days merge into one another. I don’t think I’m alone in that, most people have migrated their public thoughts to Twitter. I haven’t done that, after publicly declaring it to be pointless web 2.0 cack, I’m still hoping for the novelty to wear off while I wait patiently to be right, without a Twitter account.

Well anyway, no doubt I won’t blog again for another 4 or 5 months, so until then I bid you farewell and leave you to feel happy for me that Wolverhampton Wanderers secured another season in the Premier League 🙂

It’s Been a Long Time

I haven’t kept you up to date very well. It’s been 4 months since I last said anything of any note here. 4 months. Some might argue that I’ve not said anything of note here ever, but I’d like to think otherwise and in any case, that’s not the point.

Where on earth have I been for the last 4 months? I’ll try to blast it out in some kind of chronological order.

I’ve:

  • Had a new BT Business telephone line installed which resolved the problems experienced here at the cost of around 100 GBP. My ISP waived the migration fees and put me on a new, cheaper tariff, which was nice.
  • Felt proud as my team, Wolverhampton Wanderers, return to the Premier League as champions.
  • Left my previous job and took 2 very much needed weeks off before starting my new job. It was good to decompress for the first time in over a year.
  • Been to V Festival 2009 at Weston Park, Staffordshire and the most fun I’ve had in years. Really, I had a blast.
  • Earned the nickname of ‘Inappropriate Boy’ for many of the reasons I enjoyed myself at V so much, mostly to do with lacking any kind of social acceptability filter between the things which pop into my head and them pouring out of my mouth to enormous personal comedic satisfaction. Nobody was offended thankfully and it was taken mostly as intended – a bit of maladjusted cheekiness.
  • Moved house, down to Rugby in Warwickshire. BT Business contracts are 1 or 2 years. Umm. Not sure how to solve that problem without paying an enormous settlement fee. Apart from the people I work with, I know one guy in the area. Not sure how I’m going to avoid being single for the rest of my life in a strange town where I don’t know anybody.
  • Started a new job as an Open Source Consultant.
  • Been to Mönchengladbach. Met some dazzlingly intelligent, friendly people. Very impressed.
  • Organised LugRadio Live 2009, the last ever one. An awful, arduous process beset by impending disaster at every turn. As if every other year is any different. We seem to have the hang of this now, which is a bit late 😉
  • Been ill, just a cold.
  • Moved back to Wolverhampton to bridge a gap between houses. My house is currently being renovated so it wasn’t comfortable, but I was only there for a couple of days at a time.
  • Been to Yorkshire for a week.
  • Been ill again, unknown cause. Suspected stomach bug, felt like death for 4 days then miraculously started to feel better. Relieved.
  • Ran and attended LugRadio Live 2009, which despite all my complaining about the planning and organisation, actually turned out very well. It was great to see everyone there again. Unfortunately, I still haven’t worked out how not to get completely destroyed beyond all reasonable recognition on Friday night and then spend the rest of the weekend feeling so ill as to be barely human and even less functional as one. Bruno Bord is one of the funniest, most intelligent human beings alive.
  • Watched the finished version of Ubuntu UK Podcast presenter Tony Whitmore‘s LugRadio documentary – Don’t Listen Alone: A documentary about LugRadio, for the first time. Utter, utter brilliance. I’d seen a few draft versions before and they were fantastic, but the finished version was incredible and was liked universally. It took a total of 2 years to complete end to end. I can’t think of any other superlatives to heap on him, so, Tony, thank you. It’s fantastic. You’re a legend.
  • Accepted that there may well be another LugRadio Live show, not an event, just a live show, provided somebody else, such as you, organises the event.
  • Went to OggCamp. An excellent event and great fun. The combined Linux Outlaws and Ubuntu UK Podcast live recording was really good fun, very engaging. It was strange being in the audience watching other people do what I’d been doing the day before. I look forward to it next year 😉
  • Turned 33 🙁
  • Went to Dublin for a week and got very little sleep, not as a result of having fun.
  • Moved to a new house in Rugby. Nice place, shame about the heating.

So, you see, it’s not that I don’t love you or anything. I’ve just been a little pre-occupied with changing jobs, moving house repeatedly, travelling and organising the best Open Source conference which will never happen again. Things are about to get back to normal though, but not until after I:

  • Go to Devon for the weekend for my best friend’s birthday celebrations and probably make a fool of myself again.
  • Go back to Dublin for another week.
  • Go to Mönchengladbach for a long weekend to celebrate my company’s 10th anniversary.
  • Move house again probably.

Once all of those things are done, I will probably start to pay you the attention you deserve. In all seriousness though, the last 3 months have been absolutely crazy. I’ve never been so consistently occupied by real life stuff going on and changing under my feet than the last few months, so bear with me. Thankfully, I don’t feel unduly unsettled, I’ve just rolled with it and got on with it to be honest. Maybe the maturity which is lacking in my sense of humour is there in other areas.

Maybe catch up again soon?

Good Days

After my last blog post quite a few people have been in touch to check I’m ok… and I am. Genuinely. It’s been a difficult, stressful few months but I’m back in the saddle now, in fact I’ve been positively buzzing for about a month. I don’t know whether it’s the good weather or the fact I have a fantastic new MP3 player after a few months without one, but I’ve been feeling back to my usual intelligent, witty self, even on not such good days. That last post was probably the first very good day I’d had in a long time and for the record, the day after was just as good, as have most others since.

So, thanks to everybody who cared, I really do appreciate it.

Dark Days, Baby

It’s been a difficult time recently, a lot has happened and you’ll have noticed my tail off in blogging. In the last few months I got a cat, bought a house, broke up with my girlfriend, made my first Ebay sale, thought I was cracking up, didn’t crack up, thought I was cracking up again, been miserable, been happy, slept a lot, not slept very well at all, wished I’d become a plumber, had a depressed 4 day hangover, been unsociable, thought I was the loneliest, saddest individual ever, thought I was weird, thought I was great, had a good laugh and watched too many films.

Today has been a good day. Work has me under pressure quite a lot, we’ve got some big things going on and it’s burning me out. I’ve not taken any holiday yet and we’re half way through the year, I’ve found it difficult to switch off and get to sleep, which is a problem I encountered before when I was working too much and not taking any holiday. I’ll lie awake, half asleep but never actually drifting off, with my mind processing solutions to things I’m doing at work. Not a good state to be in on top of a major relationship break-up.

Today was a good day because my sleeping pattern slips at the weekends, without having to get up in the morning I’ll work into the early hours on things that I don’t get to do in the week, then you get up late and feel terrible all day. Last night I made myself stop and go to sleep at a normal time, so today I got up at a normal time and went out shopping with my new MP3 player in the bright, warm sunshine. Warm, sunny weather always makes me feel better, so today I felt much more like the bright and confident individual I am, with an added bounce in my step thanks to the fantastic sounds in my ears. These days come only once every 2 months or so recently. I’ve always envied people who have those days every day.

There have been some pretty dark days over the last 3 months, but today was a good day. Let’s hope tomorrow is too.

Thoughts on the Nokia N96

…Or the Nokia N96 for Sony Ericsson owners.

I’ve had a Nokia N96 for about 4 or 5 weeks now and I thought I’d share some feelings on it. My last 3 phones have all been Sony Ericssons and I was very happy with them, but I wanted a phone that was a bit more capable, had more storage, good web connectivity and an established eco-system of 3rd party apps. The last Nokia I had was a monochrome screen 8310 back in 2003.

First of all the edited highlights:

  • Symbian S60 3rd Edition Operating System
  • 16 GB Flash storage.
  • 5 MP camera.
  • Native BBC iPlayer application.
  • Wireless LAN.
  • 7.2 Mb HSDPA 3G connectivity.
  • GPS maps
  • Built in FM and Internet radio receiver and DVB-H digital TV receiver.
  • USB Mass Storage device mode (ie it shows up as a USB disk on your computer which works on Linux).
  • The keypad slides out from under the display, there is a multimedia control keypad which slides out from the other end and puts the display in landscape mode.

After using it for 5 weeks my opinions in quick bullet point form are:

  • Horrible keypad, feels nasty and either I can type faster with 2 thumbs than it can detect or the keypad design makes it easy to miss keys (the alphanumeric keys are in rows of 3, with a single piece of plastic per row of keys).
  • Battery life is 2 to 3 days without making any calls and with bluetooth and wireless off. My Sony Ericssons lasted around 6 to 7 days, though this is a smart phone and they weren’t.
  • If you make around 45 mins to an hour of calls after a full charge, your battery life is almost gone.
  • The phone bleeps only once when your battery is going, it doesn’t vibrate even in silent mode, which means most of the time you won’t realise before your phone switches off.
  • It’s a bit large but not overly so, it’s not uncomfortable to carry.
  • The keypad lock is unlocked when you slide the keypad out, which happens quite easily in your pocket, that said, I’ve not made any accidental calls I don’t think.
  • If your battery goes, it seems to reset your alarms to how they were set the last time your phone switched off. I overslept for work by an hour yesterday as a result.
  • Silent mode doesn’t vibrate by default.
  • Meeting mode beeps when you get a call or message and doesn’t vibrate. There isn’t a quiet mode which vibrates and rings and sounds your message alert quieter than in normal mode.
  • When viewing the main screen, the right hand control key, usually back or exit, is dedicated to the iPlayer which means if you press it once too often when navigating back from the sub-menus you start iPlayer and it goes away for a few seconds before asking you to select a connection to the Internet, you have to exit that and then exit the iPlayer. I would much prefer to dedicate this button to some other tool as the iPlayer already has an icon on the main screen and an entry in the applications list.
  • Viewing your call log, then calling somebody from the list and ending the call dumps you back at the main screen but leaves the call log open in the background, seems an unnecessary waste of memory. I don’t need it after making my call or sending a message.
  • The interface or applications aren’t particularly fast, it feels pretty sluggish at times.
  • The web browser freezes the phone for around 30 seconds or so when rendering some pages.
  • The handset crashes occasionally, about once every week on average. About 4 or 5 times in the first 2 weeks, but none in the last 3 weeks.
  • Email seems to work well from my own mail server, which never did on my last Sony Ericsson.
  • The network selection tool seems a little clunky and the iPlayer doesn’t always seem to use the one you selected.
  • You need to use a wireless LAN connection to stream programmes using iPlayer, though you can use the 3G connection to browse programmes using iPlayer, it will just tell you to use wireless LAN when you want to watch or listen to something.
  • Clicking the red ‘end-call’ button in any application take you back to the main screen without closing the application you were using. This is a double-edged sword I’m not used to after 3 Sony Ericssons. It’s an unnecessary memory hog and quite often, if you check the open applications by going into the menu screen, choose options and then show the open applications, you will find a few open unnecessarily, on the other hand, it means you can flip around between applications without starting them each time you want to go back to one.
  • The space button and predictive text’s ‘change word’ button are switched compared to Sony Ericssons. I’m almost used to this already.
  • You can’t lock the phone with Menu * like you can on most phones.
  • The wireless network scanning tool, once running, is constantly scanning unless you turn it off again. Not sure if this is a good thing or a waste of battery. It’s visually irritating. Turning off scanning doesn’t seem to disconnect your WLAN connection as that’s another option. That seems to be a good idea.
  • The wireless LAN supports WEP, WPA, WPA2 and will see your hidden network if you punch in your SSID manually, though it seemed to forget it later on and I had to put it in again. I ended up making my WLAN visible instead of entering the SSID every time.
  • The backlight behind the buttons below the screen ‘breathes’ periodically to let you know the handset is still on, in the same way an Apple notebook does when it’s suspended. I quite like this and while I wonder if it’s a waste of precious battery, you can turn it off though it’s the only way of knowing the battery hasn’t gone without pressing buttons every few minutes.
  • Haven’t really used the camera much, it seems ok.
  • Haven’t used the maps. I should look at whether it contains a route planner or not and whether it would be of any use in assisting the Open Street Map project.
  • You don’t have to record your own voice commands for voice activated dialling. I just connected my bluetooth earpiece, pressed the button on the earpiece, waited for the beep and said the name or the person I wanted to call. Don’t know how it decides which number to call if you have more than one number for a contact.
  • The phone came with episodes of Top Gear, Dr Who and The Mighty Boosh, in formats optimised for playback on the phone and on a TV using the TV out cable. That’s pretty cool. I deleted Dr Who straight away 😉
  • I haven’t tried the TV out.
  • It came with a car charger. Which is pretty cool. Probably because you need to charge it up every 2 days.
  • I installed an Ogg player called OggPlay and an SSH client called midpssh. OggPlay has crashed the phone a few times and you can’t run things like top in midpssh because the machine I’m SSHed into says my terminal isn’t wide enough. I haven’t tried it with the screen in portrait mode.
  • I didn’t know until 30 seconds ago that there is as version of PuTTY, the popular Windows SSH client for Symbian phones. I’ll have to try that.
  • The bundled ear phones work with OggPlay as you would expect, but none of the integrated multimedia controls, either on the handset or on the earphone cables work with it. You are restricted to using alphanumeric keypad buttons to control the application.
  • The built in media player doesn’t support Ogg and all of my music is in Ogg Vorbis format. I knew this in advance, so it was no surprise.
  • Of course, decoding Ogg files on a device that doesn’t support Ogg canes your battery life as it has to be done in software on your device’s processor, but I think I did get 3 hours playback from a fresh charge which is similar to my sadly defunct Cowon iAudio X5 MP3 player, which did support Ogg.
  • There is a tool to autoconfigure your phone’s network settings. Don’t know whether this is specific to my network provider.
  • Configuring the phone’s settings seems a bit convoluted. I spend a lot of time searching for certain settings and then can’t find them again later.
  • There are some decent games on the phone, but most of them seem to be time limited demos.
  • General navigation is ok but navigating any kind of menu requires far more clicks than seems to be necessary, either that or I’m too used to the Sony Ericsson way. When constructing a new SMS messages for example, choosing the recipient is unnecessarily arduous and it doesn’t give you a list of recent recipients.
  • There is a built in PDF viewer, word processor, spreadsheet and presentation creator. I haven’t used them but I guess they’re good for document viewing and I assume they are Microsoft Office format compatible to a certain level. The built in notes application is a lot better than on my Sony Ericssons. There is also a zip file manager, currency converter, sound recorder and a version of Real Player, none of which I have used.
  • I haven’t really used the built in radio much and there is no DVB-H broadcasting in the UK.
  • The filesystem layout seems confusing when you get down to it. There is an identical file system layout per storage medium (ie flash, built in memory and memory card if you have one) and on each file system there are a number of directories with similar names, suggesting similar function, but I don’t understand the logic which determines that my videos go in ‘Video clips’ rather than ‘My Videos’ or which puts one picture taken on the phone in ‘Pictures’ and another in ‘Pictures/200812/2008A0/’. In ‘My Videos’, there are a whole bunch of preinstalled video files and an empty directory call ‘Preinstalled’. The logic eludes me.
  • Turning on the phone from a cold start seems to wake the phone up, but doesn’t always turn it on fully most of the time. It seems to go to a white screen and then fades out to preserve battery. You have to press the power button again to make it prompt you for a PIN. After entering the PIN, it turns on fully. It has only turned on fully from a cold start once without requiring a second press of the power button and that was about 15 seconds ago. Every other time, it took 2 presses.
  • The phone forgets time and date if the battery runs out. This is probably a good thing since it could be several hours or days between the battery running out and it being recharged and turned back on but as the battery life is short, it happens a lot which is pretty irritating. It would have been nice to switch off and retain enough battery to maintain the internal clock unless the battery entirely exhausted before being recharged. Perhaps they didn’t do this as it would shorten the already short battery life.
  • The web browser is ok, nothing more. That may be more to do with the screen size, memory footprint restrictions and input method restrictions compared to a regular PC or laptop than the browser itself.
  • I believe you are charged a on a more expensive tariff if you use the phone’s 3G connection with a PC or a laptop. I think you can do this using the bundled Windows software, but I don’t run Windows. I haven’t yet checked whether you can do this under Linux. I could with my Sony Ericsson, I think I used the USB cable, but I only discovered this as I was backing it up in preparation for migration to the N96.
  • Nokia do a music download site. I’ve not used it, but browsing there, the website tells me my device (Firefox under Ubuntu Linux) is not compatible, though the N96 is so I guess it doesn’t work unless you’re using a Nokia device. I believe the music is in Windows Media Audio (WMA) format using Windows Media DRM, so I won’t be buying any of that shit.

I think that’s all of my thoughts so far. I may sound pretty unhappy with it but I’m not. Bits of it I find really uncomfortable to use. Bits of it I found really uncomfortable but am now used to. Other things will always get on my nerves I think but your brain tends to work around the problem until you automatically do so without thinking about it. It only bothers you when you move to another platform, which is probably my problem in some cases.

Some of the main features I bought the phone for, I’ve not used yet, like the maps. I’ve already filled the storage with my music collection and I’ve used the wireless LAN and 3G connections satisfactorily. It will use full 3.5G at 7.2 Mb if you can get a signal for it. I can’t that where I live, but I can elsewhere.

In general I would say it’s a very good phone if you want all the features and you’re willing to either  pay the high monthly line rental fee, take a long contract or pay hundreds up front for the handset to get one and you’re comfortable with the Nokia way of doing things. I’m not so familiar with Samsung, LG or Motorola phones so I’d like to see what theirs and Sony Ericsson’s equivalent models were like before I’d say this is the smart phone you want. I didn’t like the Sony Ericsson I was offered at all, though it wasn’t a smart phone of this kind and I certainly didn’t want an iPhone.

The major nags for me are the fiddly navigation around the menus, the unnecessary amount of questions to answer when trying send an SMS or make a call, the annoying dedicated iPlayer button which keeps getting pressed by mistake, the file sytem layout which makes no sense and dreadful battery life. The battery life really is a problem.

On the plus side, having an Ogg player, an SSH client, 16 GB of storage, wireless LAN and a 7.2 MB 3G connection are great. It’s a shame that OggPlay doesn’t support the handset’s multimedia keys or the headset’s controls. I just have to see what the maps application is like before I decide whether I’d buy this hand set again given the chance.

Get Simon Burke Home

A few weeks ago Jenny and I were lying in bed watching an episode of Channel Five’s ‘Locked Up Abroad’. The episode featured the story of Sarah Jackson and Simon Burke. In early 2007, Sarah, having got herself in debt with a threatening and abusive drug dealer had agreed to go to Peru and smuggle cocaine back with her in exchange for clearing her debts. She invited her friend Simon on the holiday to unwittingly provide an air of legitimacy for her trip. Simon was unaware of the real reason for the trip.

Towards the end of the trip, Sarah excused herself from Simon and returned to the hotel room where she took delivery of the cocaine and hid it inside her suitcase. At the airport she sent Simon to the information desk to enquire about his luggage which had gone missing on the flight over there while she checked in. Sarah checked in ok but was stopped because of a suspicious passport. When her bag was searched the police found the cocaine. Simon, unaware of this, returned from the info desk to find her and was taken by the police into a room where he saw Sarah and the cocaine. Simon’s shyness and stumbling speech convinced the police that he was involved despite Sarah’s protestations that he was innocent. The police footage taken during the search and shortly after the arrest shown in the show demonstrate just how dumbfounded and terrified Simon was. Nevertheless Sarah and Simon were jailed for 18 days together before being separated and sent to different prisons. Simon was sent to a violent, nightmarish men’s prison while Sarah was sent to a women’s prison which had much in common with a busy day care centre.

The Peruvian justice system is so overwhelmed that only 1 in 8 inmates of Sarah’s prison have been convicted. It took 10 months in prison before the police accepted Sarah’s confession and statement of Simon’s innocence and Simon was freed in November 2007. However until Sarah’s is convicted, the police are retaining Simon’s passport as he is still a witness in the Peruvian courts and potentially, still a suspect. As such, Simon was stuck in limbo in Peru, awaiting the outcome of Sarah’s trial so he can be allowed home.

I watched this show a few weeks ago as I said and I decided to check up on what happened to the case, I remember Jenny and I watching the show cringing and thinking how awful it must be to be trapped in limbo like that. I thought the show might have been recorded last year or something and was horrified that Simon is still stuck in Peru a year on from his release, visiting court regularly while he awaits Sarah’s trial. I couldn’t believe it, he was such a nice, honest, genuine guy. His only mistake is to be unwittingly caught up in somebody else’s scam.

What amazes me is that apart from the Banged Up Abroad episode, how little mainstream press this case is getting. The guy is clearly innocent and yet is being held in a country with no means of supporting himself. He is staying in the spare room of a Peruvian family waiting to be cleared. It has cost his family £10,000 and he has lost 2 years of his life and still counting for doing nothing wrong. It doesn’t even bear thinking about. The whole thing touched me so much I decided to get involved. I’ve never met Simon but the story really upset me.

After being refused a petition by http://www.number10.gov.uk/ on the basis that it is a Home Office issue, you can sign the petition to campaign for Simon to be allowed to return home at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/send-simon-home.html

There are 2 Facebook groups dedicated to campaigning for him to be allowed to return home. If you’re on Facebook, search for “Get Simon Burke Home” and “Send Simon Home”. While the petition and Facebook groups will have little affect on the Peruvian government or judicial systems directly, the campaign for greater media exposure that these things are aiming for will hopefully push the otherwise ineffectual British Home Office and British Embassy in Lima into working harder to get Simon sent home.

A few people have asked why he doesn’t just jump the border by illegal means or whether he would return to Peru if allowed home. He says himself that he doesn’t want to jeopardise his case. If he were caught trying to jump the border he would be screwed. He has no wish to avoid the legal proceedings he is involved in, he just wants to clear his name and get back to his life.

There are 2 local newspaper articles featuring the case here and here. Read them if you will. Simon has been to court several times since they were published, despite one article claiming he may soon be released.

You can watch the episode of Banged Up Abroad at Channel Five here though I’m told you need to sign-up and it requires Windows Media Player. If you find it affects you in the same way it did me, then why don’t you sign the petition and join the Facebook groups which are keeping his spirits up and are the focal point for people trying to raise the media’s awareness of the case.

Now I’m not prone to this kind of thing, I’m not the type for campaigning like a teen soap character who is always fighting for some cause or other, but I just felt really bad for the guy and I was really surprised that he was still stuck in Peru.

In any case, I wish Simon the best I hope he is allowed to return home soon.

UPDATE 22/11/2008: Simon’s innocence was confirmed by the Peruvian courts on 24th November 2008 and is now free to return home, pending application for the return of his passport and should be home by Christmas. Best wishes my man.

UPDATE 17/03/2009: Simon is still in Peru as the prosecution has appealed despite Simon’s acquittal. Looks like he could be there for several more months. You can vote to ask David Miliband, the UK Foreign Secretary about Simon’s case here or donate to the cost of Simon’s living expenses here. To date it has cost Simon’s parents around £20,000 as he receives no income in Peru, anything you can add to offset those costs would be gratefully received.

Keep up to date with Simon’s case by joining the Get Simon Burke Home group on Facebook here.

UPDATE 09/10/2009: After 2 and a half years, Simon’s case has been completed and all paperwork finished, he is now free to return home and should do so on Sunday 11th October 2009. It looks like there might be quite a large welcoming party 🙂 You can find out more on Facebook here. Best wishes mate, good to have you home 🙂

UPDATE 12/10/2009: Simon is now back home with his family in England.

Get the Ubuntu Dell Inspiron Mini 9 with the Windows Spec in the UK

I’m going to buy a netbook and I’ve been waiting for the Dell one since May or so when it was announced. When it was released it was Windows only. Now the Ubuntu one is out in the UK, it is slightly cheaper but the SSD is half the size and the webcam is lower resolution. What the hell is that all about? I want an SSD one so I can throw it in a bag and take it anywhere without worrying about the disk, otherwise I’d have bought the Advent 4211.

The Windows one has a 16GB SSD and the Ubuntu one has an 8GB SSD. The Windows one has a 1.3 MP webcam, the Ubuntu one is 0.3 MP and is only 30 GBP cheaper. Now I know the SSD size is roughly based on what the OS requires itself, but *I* need some storage too, around 8 or 10 GB. What are they doing, maintaining the illusion that Linux is cheaper than Windows by providing lower specs for the Ubuntu one, to account for the fact that Windows is discounted by Microsoft and is subsidised by all the craplets which come pre-installed?

I’m hopeful that this is just a kind of phased introduction, but I want an Ubuntu system with the same hardware as the Windows version soon or I’m just going to go buy an Asus Eee PC 901, but I like the Dell machine. Although the Eee spec is actually slightly better, the Eee has a smaller keyboard and doesn’t look quite as nice. I also want accessories like a carry case. You can get accessories with the Ubuntu Mini 9 in the US and you can customise the spec in almost every way. Why not here?

To make my feelings known I set up a Dell IdeaStorm post asking for just this and you can help. If you’ve been waiting for the Ubuntu version of the Dell Mini 9 too and were dismayed to find it with a lower spec than the Windows version, you can promote the point here, though note that it requires a sign-up. If they don’t match the specs and offer accessories like a carry case soon, I’ll just go and buy the Eee 901, it’s just cheaper if you go to the right place.

The Other Kind of Radio

Woo, I had a text message read out by Scott Mills on Radio 1 at about 09:15 today about the song ‘Inní mér syngur vitleysingur’ by Icelandic band Sigur Rós.

No, I can’t pronounce the title either, but the song itself is, to quote myself, blissful. I’ve bought the album but it’s not arrived yet. They are playing in Wolverhampton on 4th November but sadly it’s already sold out 🙁

Phone Decisions

After taking some opinion and weighing up specs, features, functionality and expandability, I decided to get a Nokia N95 8GB. My mobile provider didn’t have any and couldn’t tell me when they would so I requested my PAC code and prepared to move to somebody that had them for the same monthly contract.

However, it then struck me that the N96, which supersedes the N95, is due out in October, so I decided to hang on in there and reduce my tariff to £10 p/m while I wait for the N96 to hit the shelves. When it does I will return to my regular tariff and upgrade my handset to the N96.

Many thanks to everyone who offered advice 🙂

Phone Choices

It’s that time of year when Jenny and I are due a mobile phone handset upgrade. I have a few choices:

First thing is fuck the iPhone. DRM encumbered, no 3G access pile of arse. Secondly, fuck the Treo, Windows Mobile with Word and Excel pile of arse. I want a device that will be friendly to my other devices and don’t require you have all of your other hardware and software from the same manufactuer, like Windows, Outlook and iTunes. I run Linux, so anything with DRM or uses proprietary methods to do normal things, like sync with your PC or copy stuff to your phone etc is out. I want as many open or at least commoditised standards as possible, like SyncML, Bluetooth and no Windows only applications to do use your phone.

So my requirements are thus:

  • Decent camera.
  • Reasonable amount of storage and uses standardised external storage.
  • HSDPA connection, faster the better. Bonus point for being able to use this from Linux.
  • Doesn’t crash frequently.
  • Uses open or commoditised standards like SyncML, Bluetooth and plays nicely with other devices.
  • Good bluetooth handsfree support and voice activated dialling.
  • Free car charger would be nice.
  • Isn’t an endless siege of misery to migrate to.
  • Built in GPS would be nice.

I appreciate that I’m not going to get all of these.

A Blackberry sounds nice, but I don’t need push email and I want a decent camera. My last 3 phones have been Sony Ericsson and I’ve been very happy. Phone shows up as a mass storage device on Linux, bluetooth works and they didn’t crash very often. The C902 has 3.6Mb HSDPA modem built in. If I could use this as a net connection from Linux them I’m already sold, but I have seen a few people say that the C902 crashes and hangs a lot and the 5MP camera has a crap flash. I haven’t had a Nokia since before colour screens so I’m not familiar with the models these days. I was offered a few models, but Aq tells me the high end models which use Symbian S60 are crashy, though they do have a lot of third party apps and generally play nicely with other devices. Sony Ericsson on the other hand tend not to have that many third party apps and in Aq’s words, “Whenever you want your phone to do something it doesn’t already do, you hit this giant wall with Sony written on it.”

So, pending a fantastic Nokia model (people say the N-series are good?), I like the idea of the C902, mainly because it has the built in 3.6Mb HSDPA 3G modem. Most others don’t seem to. However, the major drawback with the C902 is that we are being offered refurb or returned handsets, which suggests to me that a lot of people are returning them, I would assume that this is because they crash a lot and I’m not sure a factory refurb is going to solve that problem. So I think maybe a Nokia N-series with Bluetooth, decent storage, a decent camera and built in 3G HSPDA modem that I can access from Linux and GPS would be nice. Failing that, the Sony Ericsson C902 unless you scream at me not to touch it. It would help if migrating from Sony Ericsson to Nokia and taking all of my contacts, photos and messages wasn’t an endless siege of pain also.

I lazily solicit your opinion and don’t go on about how I’m wrong about the iPhone.

On Sincerity

Something struck me today and though I’ve always felt this way, I’ve never consciously been aware that it was anything more than another unlabelled facet of my set of morals and values. I prize sincerity in people almost as much as anything else. As much as I may be one of the most sarcastic people I know, I am also sickeningly honest and sincere and I demand this of the people around me. In almost all cases, honesty seems to be the best policy above all else. If you tell the truth, then you don’t have to lie further to maintain the original lie, you don’t have to remember that you lied in the first place and as much as they may not appreciate it initially, most people will come to value you for your honesty and trust you as a result. If you lie, it will probably come out eventually and in the worst possible way.

I like old people. I’m a pretty impatient guy these days and as much as I may foam with frustration when trapped behind somebody who consistently does 10 or 20 mph less than the speed limit when I have to be somewhere, so much so that I can almost feel my skin blister with irritation and despite the fact that I may rage inwardly, a la ‘Falling Down’, at our bewildered looking, slow moving, bestactacled, wheely-basket carrying, tortoise-necked, supermarket-aisle blocking elders, I do in fact like old people. I have met many that I didn’t know that were so sincere that it melted my heart. I remember an old lady on a tram-stop bench in the Prague suburbs, next to a supermarket that offered my friend Dan and I, on a hungover morning after, some strawberries she had picked herself, despite the fact that we were a pair of groggy looking youths and I had blue hair at the time, which most Czechs assumed meant I was a heroin addict (this was in the first post-communist years and looking ‘different’ marked you out). Only a year and half ago, I was offered a Hammond organ by someone whose father was due to come out of hospital and had to have a bed in their front room, which meant the Hammond had to go. When I collected it, I met his elderly mother who thanked me dearly for doing them a favour by coming to collect it at such short notice. I somewhat cheekily replied that I was there as there was something in for me too. While my tongue had been firmly in cheek and the assembled helpers laughed appreciatively, I still feel a hint of shame that this sweet old lady offered me such heartfelt, emotional sincerity for taking away a prized family possession to enable their ill patriarch to return home and I reflexively shrugged it off whith a cheap gag.

Today I decided that I liked the man who works in my local Chinese retaurant. While be-suited, managerial in position and of course obligated to be polite to the customers, he has a honest face and isn’t over-friendly with the farewells. The restaurant is in a pretty low-market part of town and only half an hour earlier we watched as one departing guest offered an entire table of 12 out for a fight. Although the man who works there only smiled and said goodbye as we left, I think he appreciated our good manners when we thanked him. I might be on a different planet here as it’s an everyday thing, but I liked his genuine smile and his sincerity.

So anyway, the point of all of this flowery word arranging is that, at LugRadio Live, it never fails to amaze me how many people travel from all over the UK to be there and to be part of it all. The atmosphere was great this year and so while it sounded cheesy even to me when I said during the closing segment that we wanted to thank you all for being there, that you’re the reason we hold the event and why we decided at the Friday night party that this couldn’t be the last year, I genuinely meant it. You’re an amazing bunch of people, all of you and I’m glad to know you.

To conclude this misguided, scrambled stream of things everybody else takes for granted anyway; in the most eloquent of way possible:

Be excellent to each other.

I’ll see you next year for LugRadio Live UK 2009.

Looking For a New ISP

I use a business ADSL line at home provided by my employer, but since I’m changing jobs, that’s going to go away so I need a new ISP. My blog and mail are also hosted at work, so they will have to hang off the end of the new line while I change and configure my new hosting. My current ISP is, well, work, as an Entanet reseller and I’ve been exceptionally happy with Entanet, but business lines aren’t cheap so I’m not going to migrate it to my private telephone number.

So, I solicit your opinion. I need the following things:

  • Static IP
  • No blocked ports
  • Free setup and activation

Now I know these things are provided by a lot of ISPs and certainly my previous ISP before I got a business line provided my company, Freedom2Surf, do this and so do pretty much all of the other Entanet resellers do, so this isn’t a problem really.What makes the choice difficult are the following:

  • I’d like ~800KB upload speed which is only available on the business connections with all of the above, as I’m going to have to host my blog and mail on the end of this line for a week or 4
  • At least ~50GB download allowance, preferably with extra allowances off-peak
  • Around £25 on an ongoing monthly basis, ignoring discounted months up-front

Extra bonus points for being able to provide extra no-NAT IP addresses either cheaply or at low cost. F2S used to charge £5 for an extra IP, I can’t see the situation now. Freeola (Entanet reseller) are offering 8 IP no-NAT free and are the clear winner at the moment, but none of them offer an 800KB upload without paying for the business package, which is on average a third extra.

Answers to this Dear Lazyweb in the comments. I’m willing to listen to people telling me to get cable, but Virgin Media support are said to be clueless, though if the price versus speed ratio is high enough that it’s worth me junking my BT line and ADSL kit for a wireless cable router, then I’ll think about it and hope I never have to speak to them. Ooh and Entanet and therefore their resellers are trialling 24Mb ADSL, though sadly my exchange isn’t due for this til 2011.

It’s a Happy New Year

Well, it’s been ok so far, but I have reason to be optimistic. I’ve been feeling really run down during December, feeling quite ill even, with no sign of any cold or flu like symptoms. But, since around Boxing Day I’ve been feeling better, aside from an unscheduled intake of alcohol one evening and too many late nights and early afternoons (which weren’t alcohol related).

Well, I generally don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, but I have 2 main plans for the early part of this year and I’d say they are modest by most standards, which means they are achievable.

  • Enforce a strong sleeping pattern

I’ve never had a much of a sleeping pattern, due to leaving school and becoming a musician, followed by being a student again, I’ve always slept when I felt like it and got up when I felt like it, with the exception of working days. So, having a predilection for working on computer related challenges in the evening and being of the dog with a bone variety when it comes to finishing things, come the weekend I tend to start something and then keep going until I’m satisfied with my progress enough to call it a night and go to bed. This might be somewhere between 1am and 5am. It gets later the longer I go between having to get up to go to work, which in turn means I get up later the days afterwards. The longer this goes on, the harder it gets to break out of it and the worse you start to feel, so I plan to force my fingers from the keyboard by a specified time, organise myself for the following day and then go to bed by a particular time every night. Hopefully, this will see and end to the boom and bust attitude I have towards productivity and sleeping and the withdrawn figure people are becoming used to seeing.

  • Change jobs

Yeah, I’m looking for new job. There’s no special reason why I’m looking to leave my present job, just that I’ve been here for a few years and I feel it’s time for a change to continue developing my skills and refresh my approach and now is a good time for my employer also. Ideally I’d like to work in a reasonable sized company where there is an existing team of network/system admins or technical staff. I look forward to playing with lots of new hardware toys, learning to use certain technologies that I’ve not had much experience with yet and becoming more adept at programming.

If I find the right job then it will be a great year as I tend to catch fire when I am enthused by a new challenge. Here’s to 2008.