But how did you know...?

Just logged in from my hotel, and loaded some mapping software to check a route. And up comes my location. How does the mapping software know where I am when I don't have any GPS hardware plugged in? Suddenly remember that this is Microsoft software, which has some sneaky code that looks at IP address, locally visible wifi networks and can sometimes use this to work out where you are. Still, a bit scary when you aren't expecting it. What would someone make of this if there weren't tech aware? Probably convince you that the computer was posessed. Suddenly starts to explain why there are all these idiots on youchoob cutnpasting comments about "you must repost this five times in the next hour or you will dye!". etc.


Passing notes

As I left for work today, I obsessively checked my mailbox, and picked up a hand-scrawled note which read as follows:

a neighbor

Which puzzled me immensely.
Why leave an anonymous note like this? If you don't know my name and vice-versa, you could at least give some indication who you are, like "your neighbors at number 73". But, why wish someone a happy memorial day? Although it has been apropriated as the unofficial start of summer, it's technically there to remember the fallen, hardly a cause for celebration. And, why drop me a note for memorial day, and not for Christmas, New Year, Easter or MLK day? My paranoid mind began wondering if this was some subtle dig, or the start of some kind of campaign. Was the note poisoned with some invisible contact poison? Perhaps it is just a child. Maybe I shouldn't worry, or bother making a blog post about this. But it's just odd enough to be disturbing.

Lara Croft Copycats

I awoke early (this dratted sunlight in the summer mornings) to hear a report on the radio about the perils of tomb raiders. When will this madness end? Surely society needs to come to its sense and ban this sick computer games which are encouraging our children to obtain crampons and head over to Angkor Wat to steal this priceless artifacts. We must deal with this computer game menace immediately! Where's Jack Thompson when you need him?

Actually, there's a new TR game out, and I tried to obtain the demo last night (sometime next month or the one after, I hope to have time to try it out). It started downloading from the official site, and was crawling along at 40KB/s. That would take forever (it's a big old bunch of bits), so instead I grabbed a legitimate torrent of the demo and had arrive significantly faster. Why isn't this the default transfer method? With the host as a seed, it should be at least as good as the HTTP version, and usually better.


Mental Detritus

The following have been on my mind lately:

This picture sums up Digg for me (I seem to spend far too much time browsing digg, given that it is populated by idiots). Most popular: political news, dressed up as hyperbole and conspiracy theory, mixed up with -- OMG! KITTENS!

The Sunday puzzle last week was "hi-ho": to find two two-word phrases where each word has four letters, the middle two of which are "hi" and "ho". Regex fans may find this more convenient to think of as "?hi? ?ho?". I immediately thought of two answers: 'chip shop' and 'chip-chop'. Alas, I was being too British, and the desired answers were 'chip shot' (a golfing term) and 'ship ahoy). This week's puzzle is to take the name of an European race, drop the first letter, add a 'b' and get a group of people found mainly in Asia. Should take you no more than two minutes of listing European countries.

I'm still unsure whether this clip from the Goodies (a youchoob embed, RSS fans) is a work of genius, or something much more sinister. Certainly, the parody of the ultraviolence of Clockwork Orange is maybe a bit harsh for their audience, but no one seems to mind. And it was 30 years ago.


Ere mum, got any mandies?

Subsequent to my previous post, I got a message from MandS telling me that there was a delay in my order, since they don't seem to have any gift vouchers around. Exactly what sort of idiotic institution runs out of gift vouchers? Useless...

And since you were asking, by analogy with Courts Martial and Attorneys General, the plural of "Doctor Who" is Doctors Who, and not anything else you might have thought.


Doctor Hugh

I could think of nothing to get for my mother for her birthday, so I resorted to ordering her mands vouchers online. From St Michael headquarters, I received a confirmation message which read "Thanks for your order, Anchor". Well, that's very kind, but most people call me Hugh, or Mr Anchor. Well, technically Doctor, since you ask, but that's not necessary. Doctor Hugh? And the Daleks!

[I did quite like the little motif recently, "I'm travelling with the Doctor"
"Yes, but Doctor What?"
"Just the Doctor"]

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of a party

In response to misheard quotations, the best ever was the subject of a libel action, and the subject of a correction in the guardian's Corrections and Clarifications:
"In an article headed "Black and Blue" yesterday, we interviewed Patty Boulaye about her intention to stand for the Greater London assembly as a Conservative. The interview took place in Conservative Central Office. In the course of the article, we quote Ms Boulay, a prominent Black actress and singer as saying, "This is a time to support apartheid... I mean people say, "Why didn't you support it when it was in government?" Because it would have been the fashionable thing to do. This is a time to support apartheid because it is unfashionable. What Ms Boulaye actually said was "a party", meaning the Conservative Party. At no time during the interview was apartheid mentioned"


Every MP3 player I have ever owned, 2003-2007

An anonymous commenter recently asked "by the way, which mp3 player did you go for?", presumably a reference to a post from about two years ago.

This rather unprecendented level of interest had led me to document in excruciating detail the various bits of electronic gizmodery that I have owned in the name of progress.

Various personal radio/cassette recorders, 1987-2002.
Right, technically these weren't digital by any stretch, but they began my interest and set the standards. When I was a teenager with a weekly paper round, I needed something to listen to while I trudged round the streets of a Kent village, my only other enterainment being to try to target the papers through the letterbox to hit the yapping dogs. So a combination of tapes of shows recorded off Radio 4 the previous week and various erratic walkmen rip offs did the trick. Special commendation also has to go to a couple of Panasonic radio/cassette devices which served me through my entire graduate life, being used pretty much every day to give radio accompanyment to my research, for up to six hours a day. I still have the last one of these. They would eat two, or even one AA battery at a time, and they lasted for weeks at a time. This was a standard of battery life that I would not see again for a long time.

A cheap CD/MP3 player from Walmart, 2003-2004
My first MP3 digital music player was this device, for all of about $30. It seemed like a good idea at the time: you could put many many hours of stuff onto a single CD, burn CD-RWs with new things to listen to, and so on. It was pretty good, and saved my sanity multiple times while I was trekking around the US looking for jobs in 2004 (when you are stuck in ORD and just cannot summon up the will to even read a newspaper, it's good to have something to listen to). The downside was that it ate up batteries rather too quickly, and was a bit too bulky: you couldn't really listen to it while walking around because of the CD spinning around (it was probably fine, but it just didn't feel right), and it felt off to have something quite that large on a plane. Also, the user interface was a bit clunky, and it could only seem to read a few characters of a file name. So it made it rather hard to keep track of which files you had already listened to, when listening to audio books or recorded radio shows.

Lexar JumpDrive player 2004-2005
So I looked for something a bit smaller, and something which I could easily move things onto and off of as I had listened to them. I settled on the JumpDrive player, a neat arrangement which could play mp3s and wma's from off a USB key drive (but only those made by lexar). This was actually really good in many ways. It ran off 2 AAA batteries, and lasted quite a long time. I liked the navigation system, and it was easy to put things on and off it. The only disadvantages were that you couldn't fit too much onto the 512MB stick I used it with, and I had to reencode files down to lower bitrates to get a decent selection on it. Oh, and it had no FM radio. A radio isn't that important in the US, when most of the stations are rubbish, but it is absolutely vital when travelling to the UK, I find. Anyway, I wanted to move up to a big grown up hard disk based MP3 player that I could put all of my music on, so...

iaudio X5 player, 2005-
I bought an iaudio player. You are forgiven for not having heard of them. They're a not so well known Korean manufacturer who make actually really good players. This one had video before the iPod did. Of course, you find that the video is small and jerky, and so nothing more than a novelty, but it's still a nice idea. The reason I picked this rather than an iPod or even some of the other reasonable alternatives (Creative, iRiver), is that it has a good user interface and mounts as a hard drive. It's funny that although people list all the features of a gadget, they rarely pay attention to the user interface, which is vital if you actually want to use these features. This device has all the bookmarking, resume, and fast seeking options that I wanted in a digital media player (see previous posts on this subject). It has the obligatory FM radio, but it also has the best radio UI I have ever used: you can easily automatically search and store the local radio frequencies (handy when you travel a lot), and switching between preset stations is instantaneous, just by clicking back/forward. It's just a really nice, well done interface compared to the many dreadful interfaces I have suffered in my life. It mounts as a USB mass storage device, meaning that I can manipulate files on my hard disk, then run an rsync while it is plugged in. But, sadly, this is not enough for me. The one failing of this device is battery life. It has an inbuilt rechargable battery intially, it would last about 10 hours of use between charges, but with time this has dwindled to around 4 hours. That's not really enough, but even with the longer battery life, I found that I was still rationing its use while I was travelling, which seems to defeat the point. So...

iaudio G3 2007-
Most recently I have been using a 2GB iaudio G3. It's a thing of magic and beauty. I'd prefer 4GB to 2GB, but I can just about get by with 2. See, I noticed that although I could carry around (almost) my entire music collection in 30Gb, actually, I almost always would listen mostly to audiobooks and recorded radio shows (harking back to my paperround days), so I should just focus on those. Since I liked the X5 so much, I knew that I would like the G3: it has a similar interface, although in greyscale instead of the "color sound" of the X5. It also mounts as USB mass storage, and so I can still rsync to keep it up to date. The radio interface is also good, although changing stations takes an appreciable second or two. But -- this is great -- it stores the frequencies in a file called radio.ini which is a text file that you can just edit, which is smart. The reason that I go with this device is that it runs on AA batteries, unlike most of the modern fancy flash players, so you can carry around a supply of batteries and know that you'll never be stranded. Not that this is too much of a problem -- it can last for up to 40 or 50 hours on a single battery. That's a long time! When travelling in Europe recently, I was listening to it a lot as I travelled around -- probably 24 hours over the course of a week -- and the battery barely noticed. Unfortunately, this model seems to be about to be phased out; I just hope that the manufacturers make more removable battery powered players, with larger capacities.

And that's it... well, except for the fact that I recently bought a new car based GPS navigator device (a Garmin nuvi 350), which includes MP3 playing capabilities. This just underlines the importance of good user interface. All the players mentioned above use the file/folder approach to navigate, which works great for me. This new device navigates based on artist/album tags in the files -- which seem to be all over the place in the files I put on it to test. It's absolutely impossible to navigate around, which is a bit of a worry for an in-car device. Fortunately, the GPS part is great, and that's what I mostly use it for. I have no idea how people with digital players which use id3 tags and have 30GB of music manage to find what they are looking for.

Well, you did ask.


A rather strange edit in this week's NPR "Sunday Puzzle": there's a chunk missing -- it's round about the 4 minute 30 point in the podcast version, but it was also the same on the broadcast version. The answer to one clue is given in respondse to a different one, so one answer and one clue are missing. You'll probably have to listen to the whole thing to understand what is going on, though.

So, your puzzle of the week: what is the missing answer and missing clue?


Puns in search of a feedline

Two dreadful puns in search of a feedline:

"Deflay de mouse!"

"In an arrrrrrrrrrrrrr-tree!"

Fill in the rest yourself, or else I will.



I mentioned to Vince that being on myspace means that we all have a friend in tom (warning: it shouts).

He retaliated by creating an entire song on the subject.

Rush now to listen, before the digg effect uses up all the bandwidth.

Or see their myspace on er, myspace (warning: makes no noise at all).


Compare and Contrast

Nosey parker shop assistants ogling for smut are 'unsung heroes' according to FBI.

Moral of the story: never leave your sekrit plans to take over the world in the hands of bored shop workers who are barely making minimum wage. It's common sense really.

That's why the Illuminati have their own well-paid IT department.


Hatting Update

I thought it had been rather quiet on the bank robbery front of late, and then I noticed that there was another raid just this week, again not far from me. this one was in Cedar Knolls/Hanover, pretty close to a WalMart.

In related news, I am currently rereading "The Mad Hatter Mystery" by John Dickson-Carr.

Lastly, why is it that The Kaiser Chiefs are so concerned with having low standard deviation? In my trade, that's considered a good thing.


This week's youtube recommended diversion is 'Gemberling', which you vaguely heard of a few weeks ago but never got around to looking at. It's quite OK. An ideal diversion when in your office on a saturday afternoon waiting for a conference call program committee meeting to get started an hour later than you were expecting as you eat your cream cheese sandwiches and satsuma.


Probably bindun

Supergrass' "Alright" to the tune of "My Way".

Or was this done on ISIHAC a decade ago?


Spot The Similarity

Your challenge for the day: can you spot the similarity between these two songs?

Bjork - Earth Intruders

When You Wasn't Famous - The Streets (contains sweary words!)

Of course, there's always the possibility that the similarity, mild at best, is entirely in my head.

Party Like It's 1997

May 1st is a momentous date, the date of the 1997 UK General Election. The first time I could vote in a national election (although, I don't remember who it was I voted for). A time of exuberance and optimism. There's something great about an election like that: a time of uncertainty, a time to wipe the slate clean. It's inevitable that it will be followed by gradual disillusionment as the same old disloyalties and betrayals are committed by new politicians. So that's why on May 1st 2007 I'll be celebrating those old memories and ten eventful years by rewatching the BBC's satirical coverage from that night. It probably won't be very good.