jfs: (Default)
We're planning to put on a show in the Autumn - depending on the venue, either a 1 week preview in October followed by 3 weeks in Jan / Feb or 3 weeks in November. To discuss, we usually meet for coffee in the middle of town, but time pressures this week meant that we thought we could delve into the joy that is a Skype audio conference.

What's the first rule of any conference? First check your equipment.

So 7:30 came around, I joined the conference, I could hear everyone perfectly. Could they hear me? Not so much. A few text messages (because you can't IM someone who's in an audio conference with you) and checking my headset leads me to believe that my microphone is kerput.

Aware that there are 3 people waiting on me to sort my shit out, I dig through the box of bitstm that every geek has to find my spare microphone. This, unaccountably, is not in the box of bits.

So, I would like to thank Skype and Apple for inspiring / allowing me to download the Skype for iPhone app, install it on my phone and join the conference (15 minutes late, but still there) using my phone, essentially, as a working microphone.

We are living in the future ...
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Dragonfly Love - The Film from The Dragonfly Love Project on Vimeo.

Awesome, not just because it's funny and very colourful; awesome because all the footage was shot on a cameraphone - the new Nokia N8. Worth clicking through to the Vimeo homepage and watching it in HD.
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I found a new feature of my phone yesterday; one that a cursory google tells me is completely undocumented.

iTunes has a feature called 'Genius' which allows it to suggest music that you might like based on a tune you've selected. Highlight a song in your library, click the Genius button and it builds a playlist of 25 / 50 / 100 songs that are 'similar' to that song.* (I don't know if it's doing 'similar' in the same way as Pandora - analysing the tune, or as Last.FM - looking at other songs that people who like your track like, though my gut is that it's more like Last.FM ...)

This feature has been part of iTunes for a while now, and you've been able to set up Genius playlists and transfer them to your phone when you sync - set some parameters (I have an Electronica one, for example, which will look at all of the songs of that ilk on my phone and choose a selection) and go.

But my phone also has voice control - very useful when I'm listening to music and my phone is buried in my pocket to be able to press a button on the microphone and say 'Call Tim'. You can also say 'Play [playlist]' or 'Play [artist]' and so on.

Yesterday I found out that if I activate voice control and say 'Genius this' when I'm listening to a particular track, my phone will create a 25 song playlist based on the track I'm listening to at the time, and start playing it.

I'm inordinately pleased with this.

*This process involves sending details of your music library to Apple. It's opt in, but don't do it if you're unhappy that Steve Jobs will then know of your deep and abiding love for Rick Astley.
jfs: (Default)
Some of this will be old hat to some of you, but I've just finished running our regular 'What can you learn in 15 minutes' day - this one about Web 2.0.

It's a pretty simple format. Get 10 or so presenters, and ask them to talk about one thing for 10 minutes - it's kind of like the 'Pecha Kucha' concept, only because we're actually trying to teach rather than just perform, we don't make people use PowerPoint, and we don't make them auto forward their slides.

The aim is more to inspire and inform than to teach, but there's a whole heap of penumbra stuff going on as well to do with promoting ourselves as a service.

Anyway, today we were streaming the presentations live, so people who couldn't make it to the hall could watch them. As well as the committee of the conference I gave a paper to last year on running sessions like this, there were several of the people in the Library school here watching too. As one of our presenters was talking about Twitter, I thought that I really should Tweet something about it. So I took a photo, uploaded it, and gave it the #ucl hashtag.

When I searched for the hashtag, I found the tweets that the library school were publishing. So I started talking to them, answering questions, getting feedback from the people on the live feed and passing it to the presenters. It _really_ opened up the day for me - put another layer of value onto what we were doing.

And while I was watching one of the presentations, I was sorting out a meeting with the people from the library school about running a similar sort of day but with much wider participation from academics across the University.

So - twitter - not just for twits!


jfs: (Default)
A few weeks ago, Amazon started selling the collected works of George Orwell online for the Kindle. It cost $5 and was bought by Cory Doctorow, amongst others.

There is one delicious irony in each sentence in the paragraph above, given what occured next.

It appears that the collection was published by a firm which specialise in packaging up out of copyright books for new formats. A firm that operates in a country where Orwell's works are out of copyright. However, they were sold in the US, where his works aren't, and won't be until 2025 (assuming the current Life+75 doesn't get extended by Disney again to protect their ownership of Micky Mouse ...)

The controllers of Orwell's estate complained, and rather than negotiate, Amazon simply stopped selling the package.

Fair enough? Well, despite what I may think about the current copyright system, that's not an unreasonable way for Amazon to act. Nor is it particularly ironic.


The first delicious irony is that Amazon customers who had bought the collected work of George Orwell, including of course Big Brother, (E2A: Binidj rightly points out that Orwell wrote 1984 - mea culpa) found that the next time they synched their Kindle with Amazon, the collection became an un-book. Amazon reached into the Kindles of their customers and deleted the collection from the machine, offering nothing except a refund of the $5. The collected works of George Orwell were deleted without a trace by a central controlling agency.

Double plus ungood.

The second delicious irony?

Cory Doctorow's Kindle.

If you don't know who he is; he's one of the most prolific activists for rewriting our approach to copyright. He's a big supporter of Creative Commons. He's one of the two main people behind BoingBoing.net. He's featured in XKCD. He's even written a novel, Little Brother, about surveillance and sousveillance which you can download for free and read on whatever device you'd like.

As a work colleague just pointed out; if I were to write a script that deleted Big Brother from everyone's Kindle, I'd probably get it to avoid Cory Doctorow's, just in case he didn't notice.

This one should be fun to watch.
jfs: (Default)
Last night, I found a lovely feature in Dreamweaver CS4 which should allow any website to have a CMS element; allowing other people to edit the web pages through their browser. Fantastic for collaborative work such as the Circus of Marvels website.

This morning, I googled for more information. It's called Adobe InContext Editing, so of course, I searched for 'Adobe ICE'.


Adobe ICE is completely different software. It's collation and database software for 'security consultants' collating information 'in the field', often in 'hostile environments'.

Have a look at Adobe Spy.

I haven't been quite this amused since I found a job advert on the CIA website for a spy.
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So, if you make a Freedom of Information Act request to the Post Office for a list of all their postboxes, and then a seperate FOI request for their last collection times ...

And then you plug that data into Google Maps ...

What do you get?


A lovely website that enables you to put in the first part of a UK postcode and get a map showing you where the post boxes are there.

And in the best Web 2.0 way, if there's an unidentified postbox on the list, you can add it to the map yourself.

(I know, I know - who uses the post any more? But it's useful for those occasions where you might need to.)
jfs: (Default)

Years ago, there used to be a book you could get which told you which carriage of the tube to stand in so that you'ld be nearest to the exit you needed for the station you were getting off at - for those who aren't used to the tube, this can literally save you 5 minutes or so at each station if the tube is crowded.

Now it's available as an iPhone / iPod Touch application for £1.79.
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You may have heard of this from other people, but there's a movement out there to get Cliff Richard's 'Mistletoe and Wine' to the number one spot at Easter. All you need to do is buy a copy of the song before the end of Saturday.

Partly because Cliff has had a UK number one in every decade since the 50's bar this one, and there's only this year to go.

Mostly because it's funny, and actually starts to make a mockery of the charts (and, incidentally, prove the power of the Long Tail).

So - if you've got 79p spare, why not get a Christmas song in the charts at Easter?
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I have a two-monitor setup here at work.

One of my monitors is currently displaying my computer at home. Just because I can.

The connection isn't quite solid enough to stream video or audio over, but then I'm doing it using http://www.logmein.com, which is a completely free service. It's perfectly acceptable to edit text or run several other applications.

I don't care about jetpacks and food-pills. I'm living in the future right now.
jfs: (Default)
You know, I think the banks are a lot to blame for phishing phone calls and emails.

They tell us that we shouldn't give out details of our account, or our security questions without knowing who we're giving them to, but have you ever actually tried to challenge one of them when they phone you?

I know I've blogged about this before, but I had a conversation on Wednesday that went something like this.

My phone rings. The number is withheld. I answer.

Them: "Hello - this is Barclays. We need to clarify a few details. Can I get you to answer some security questions first?"

Me: "That depends. What is this concerning?"

Them: "I'm sorry, I can't tell you that until you've confirmed who you are."

Me: "I'm not answering any questions until you can confirm who you are. What's my account number?"

Them: "I can't tell you that until I can confirm who you are. What's your date of birth?"

Me: "I'm not answering that until you can confirm ..."

etc. etc. ad infinitum.

The worst of it is that they always seem so affronted that I'm daring to question them. Yet I'm pretty sure that if I rang up and said "my identity has been stolen and I think it was because someone rang up and asked me for my date of birth and my mother's maiden name and they said they were you so I gave it to them" they'd say that I was the one at fault.

The banks need to catch up. They need to stop asking us to go to paperless statements, but then demanding to see original copies of our last statements before proceeding with a mortgage application or bank loan. They need to work out that trust is a two-way process and that if they want us to be careful with our identity, they need to work out some secure way for us to identify them.

If they want us to be more secure, they have to be more secure too.

In the end, I said I'd call the person back. He said "Here's my phone number" at which I laughed, and said I'd look up the Barclays Customer Service number on the web - if I didn't trust him enough to give him my details, I wasn't going to trust any phone number he gave me either.

I think he thought I was paranoid.
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Go to Google and log in using your Gmail account. Then do a web search.

Now, next to your search results, there are two new buttons; one to promote the item upwards, one to remove it from your search. And those choices are recorded, so if you log in again, they will influence the results you get in the future.

Google are now allowing you to customise your results. That's a major step forward in using a search engine, but which follows on seamlessly from some of the implications (and specific predictions) in the Long Tail.

More information here.
jfs: (fireworks)
It's okay to enjoy jazz if it's played on a Theramin, right?

The inherant geekiness of the instrument overcomes the jazziness of the jazz?


Another of the TED talks, and well worth a watch - needs sound to appreciate it fully.

(I found this through a link from the Procrastineering Blog by Jonny Lee Chung, who pointed me at Ken Moore's blog. He's built a theremin using a Wii-Remote.)
jfs: (penalty)
But please don't click on it if you're scared of spiders.

jfs: (Default)

I've been asked this several times, and thought it would be a good idea to post a step by step guide to how to record something your speakers are playing (like, say, a radio programme or the soundtrack to TV that's being streamed) and saving it as an MP3.

These instructions are for Windows XP - I may well create instructions for the Mac when I've got time (cos I have one). If you've got instructions for Linux or Vista, I'd be pleased to add them and credit you.

So, here we go; not the only way of doing this, but the cheapest I know of:

1. Download and install the most up to date stable release of Audacity.

2. Download the LAME MP3 Encoder, extract it and put the lame_enc.dll file in your Audacity program folder: (C:\Program Files\Audacity)

3. Open Audacity, go to Edit: Preferences.

3a. Under Audio I/O change the recording device to your sound card. I don't know what your soundcard is, so you might just have to try all the options there. It won't be the one that says 'Microphone' :-) Also change the channels to 2 for stereo sound. Click Okay.

3b. At the top-right of the Audacity window, there's a dropdown which probably says 'Rear Input'. Change that to 'Stereo Mix'.
4. Click on the big red record button then start your iPlayer / Listen Again / Whatever you're trying to record.

5. When it's done, click on the stop menu and go to File: Export as MP3. The very first time you do this Audacity will ask you where the lame_enc.dll file is. See 2, above.

Hope this helps. If it doesn't work on your set-up, post a comment. I don't promise to do desktop support for you, but I might know the answer.

Edit: [livejournal.com profile] maleghast suggests AudioHijackPro for the Mac. It wins on the ease factor but loses on the 'cheap' - it's currently $32.

jfs: (boy with cat)
Many people don't know that there was a pilot for "24" - the series with Keifer Sutherland - made in 1994.

This web site has unearthed a snippet from it, and put it online.

Work safe, and really, really worth checking out.
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Apple announced the upgrade of several of their iPods yesterday. Unfortunately, they also withdrew the iPod I wanted. It's still available on Ebay, but I won't be able to get the back engraved like I could with Apple.
Still; you rolls the dice, you takes your chance.
What's interesting is the iTunes Genius feature announced, and now available through iTunes 8.0. Allow iTunes to send details of your iTunes library to Apple anonymously, and you can switch on the Genius function.

Once that's done, pick a song in your library, click on the Genius button, and iTunes will suggest a 25 song playlist based on that song, all from your library. (It will also open a side pane saying "here's lots of related songs available in the iTunes store that you don't have", but render unto Caesar etc.)

So far, it's pretty good. I can see why most of the songs are on the playlist I chose, starting with "Central Reservation" by Beth Orton:

Central Reservation (Original Version) Beth Orton
Hit --Sugarcubes
Number 1-- Goldfrapp
Fear --Sarah McLachlan
Take My Hand --Dido
Not A Pretty Girl --Ani Di Franco
Cuts You Up --Peter Murphy
A New England --Billy Bragg
Movin' On Up --Primal Scream
Talk About The Passion --R.E.M.
One --Cowboy Junkies
Home --Sheryl Crow
Stay (Faraway, So Close!) --U2
Sweetest Decline --Beth Orton
Long Legs --The Magic Numbers
Winter-- Tori Amos
Love And Anger-- Kate Bush
Caramel --Suzanne Vega
London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do) --Heather Nova
Missing --Everything But The Girl
You're Not The Only One I Know --The Sundays
Fly Me Away --Goldfrapp
Electrolite-- R.E.M.
Wise Up --Aimee Mann
Last Goodbye --Jeff Buckley

Now, that's a perfectly acceptable playlist for the afternoon. I hope that the same facility transfers to my old 30Gb iPod.
jfs: (Default)
Ganked from Seth Godin's blog - a mashup for YouTube allowing you to see all the videos posted on a searchable subject, arranged on a timeline.

jfs: (Default)
Since Pandora.com suffered an extraordinary rendition from these shores, I've been a little lost for music to listen to at work - 6Music plays the tunes I like, but I really can't stand Radio DJs. (Not that 6Music's DJs are bad; in fact, they're really the best of a bad bunch. More often than not, though, I want to listen to music - especially when I'm working - not people speaking. I find music far easier to tune out when I need to.)

So after some friends recommended it, I've started listening to Last.FM. It takes a different approach to Pandora - rather than being based on the underlying musical genome of a song, it produces tunes based on what you've listened to on your iPod, through iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc, as well as other people's recommendations.

At first listen, it's actually better than Pandora. Try as I might, I couldn't educate a Pandora station to my favourite musical genre; strong female vocalist, complex lyrics, interesting music. Tori Amos, Kate Bush, k d lang, Ani Di Franco. No matter how much I cajoled or caressed the listings, Pandora would play the occasional male vocalist and while I have nothing against men singers in general, that just wasn't what I was hoping to hear. And Last.FM seemed to realise that almost immediately. Listen to Ani and related artists, and I wouldn't hear a male voice for the next two hours.

So today, I branched out. Male, politically aware, vocal quality not necessary, lyrical beauty a must. That's right. I typed the nom de plume of the Bard of Barking into the search box and settled back to listen to some socialist singing.

And the first song up was Kylies new track "Wow".

Back to the drawing board?
jfs: (Default)
But maps are getting more and more interesting ...

http://www.mysociety.org/2007/more-travel-maps/ is a great site showing an interesting mashup - taking the Department of Transport's offices in London, the Flash based map has a slider to see how long it takes to get there by public transport at rush hour. So if you are only willing to commute for 45 minutes, where can you live?

That's only half the question, of course; once you know where is within your desired commuting distance, where can you actually afford to live?

There's a London bias to this, obviously, and as they point out, you can't (yet) set any point in London. But it's an interesting approach to accessibility and, as more and more data becomes publicly available, we'll see more (and better) applications like this.

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