Portable Music

March 5th, 2019

For some time, my portable music needs had been satisfied with a Sansa Zip Clip player and Soundmagic E10 headphones, but the breaking of the Sansa meant I needed to revisit that.

My current phone is a Huawei P-Smart, the previous Motorola having broken, got fixed and then given to my better half, because there was a delay fixing the Motorola (in the end, easy and cheap) and I needed a phone: The Huawei, however is not ideal for a number of reasons:

1) It comes preloaded with too much tat. I’m quite zero-tolerance on un-neccesary apps and add-ons, something I’ve always done with PCs and continued with phones.

2) It can’t take a second SIM and a micro-SD, like the Swift 2 I dunked in the cut.

Still, it was cheap, and the battery lasts well, but:

3) The headphone output is just shockingly bad. Indescribeably bad, it sounds flat and lifeless unless you enable some Huawei proprietary shitty processing software, and when you do that, it seems to have a active dynamic range compression that actively compresses loud(er) sounds down in particularly clumsy way. It’s painful to listen to.

So the obvious choice of giving up on a seperate player and using the phone seemed to be out. I did fancy the award-winning Cowon Plenue D player, but £200 seemed a bit much given a few expenses of late.

The answer presented itself: Soundmagic’s new offering, the E11, comes in a Bluetooth version. That way, the crappy phone just presents a bitsream, someone that is competent can handle the D-A conversion, and I don’t risk tearing the headphone jack off the phone in my pocket, and if I end up with a phone with no 3.5mm jack (unlikely for a while, I’m too tight), no problem.

I’m a convert. I had my doubts, but the headpones are light and comfortable, the battery life seems OK, and the sound is as good as the wired E10s, all for considerably less than half the price of the Plenue D. Hell even the slight background hiss I’d noticed during my recent hospital stay turned out to be from the oxygen pipe I was wearing….

A Greater Kneed

March 4th, 2019

I’m less mobile yet again. Attempt 3 at controlling the large swelling in my trousers has occurred, with an overnight hospital stay and my knee being cut open, so I’m once again at the mercy of Homes Under the Hammer, and trying to stave off the boredom, and also I’ve not been out on the bike for months (the possibility of injury and/or aggravating the problem being an issue).

Once again, excellent care from the NHS, excellent staff, and what really was just minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.

I do, however, feel I need to revisit an old blog post, and perhaps apologise to Stuart Berry, or at least moderate my argument?

Some of my arguments have lost their edge due to tech, of course. Connectivity is cheaper, WAPs are no more expensive, and manageability has got a lot easier (though you may pay for it- e.g: Meraki). Devices are better at handling connection issues and captive portals- the whole thing has matured.

My argument that 3G is cheap is probably stronger now- competition drives down mobile data such that I now pay £10/month for more mobile data, calls, and texts than I use, but I did miss one key thing: the hospital I was in had wildly varying mobile coverage: in the ADCU, where I spent 1 day in August, has zero coverage for O2 or Vodafone, but the ward I was on this time had workable 3G. If it hadn’t had that, the free wifi (which incidentally, works very well) would have been very useful to keep in touch with my better half: I’d warned her to keep an eye on email. This is probably a consequence of the building being quite old in places. From personal experience, mobile providers will charge outrageous sums to install micro-cells or similar in buildings.

It’s worth mentioning that the on-bus wifi I mention in the old post is useable now, too. As technology moves on, things get more useable. I remember vividly trying to get useable dumb-terminal access working over mobile data in the mid-late 90s, where you were lucky to get 9600 bits/second.

Bloody Useless Council

March 4th, 2019

Against my better judgement, I’ve become more active on Facebook. Under a pseudonym. I’ve got drawn into local groups, and there’s a predictable theme in many of them, something that reminds me of an old Alexei Sayle joke that I can’t find a Youtube clip for.

I’ve been using this toilet for 6 weeks and no-one from the council has been round to flush it for me.

The theme is largely “it is all the council’s fault”, where “it” could be anything from bus price rises, homeless and beggars, crime rates, to empty shops, to anything fucking else, to be honest.

I’m all for taking Walsall Council to task, but let’s be realistic here. People imagine that the council is rolling in cash from “all our council tax” (oh, apart from the proportion of that spent in overseas aid, apparently, despite that being proved as bollocks from the accounts), people think the council can approve or deny planning based on a whim, and that they control rent and business rates.

So then. Here we go:

1) Buses. Buses are run by private companies. National Express, mostly, round here, with a few others- notably Arriva in Staffordshire. They set the fares, and buy, maintain and run the vehicles. The bus stops are maintained by the West Midlands Combined Authority.

2) Homeless People. There’s no council housing. Thatcher sold it off, and councils haven’t been able to build houses for years; the only social housing gets built by housing associations. You can thank the Conservative government’s austerity measures and the bedroom tax for the fact that social housing is in short supply and expensive, and for the cutting of social care too,so the council’s powers are very limited. As to taking over empty buildings- as they don’t own them (see below), why should they take them over? If you owned a empty office lock, would you want it taken over and used as a shelter, or would you want the opportunity to rent it at a market rent?

3) Empty Shops. Shops shut down because there’s not enough money being spent to sustain them, plain and simple. The reason that you don’t have enough shops, or the wrong sort of shops (fast food, charity shops, pound shops etc etc), or no shops at all is called capitalism and market forces; if there’s not enough money coming in, then they can’t pay the rent and rates and their staff. (see 4 below) The shops that do survive survive precisely because people use them, enabling them to make money. You might want a nice focaccia bread and olive shop in Park Street, but unless it stands a chance of making money (hint: it doesn’t), then you’ve got fuck all chance of that. Retail is in decline and changing everywhere. There’s fewer butchers and bakers because we all buy from the supermarket; there’s fewer record shops because of Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify; the list goes on.

4) Rent and Business Rates.

The council should cut the rents and rates so shops could afford it.

The council do not own most of the shops. They do own the Saddler’s Centre (and they will in all likelihood be criticised for buying it, in the future, when the shops are all empty), but that’s about all. The majority of shops are owned (and therefore have rent set) by property investment firms like London & Cambridge. Business rates are set by Central Government, so no chance there, either. Also:

They built all those new shops at [location] and they’re all empty. Waste of council money.

Whoever built it, it sure wasn’t the council.

5) Begging. Again, the cuts in social care, the reduction in addiction support programs, and the basic all-round selfishness of our society means that some poor fuckers have nowhere else to turn. It’s funny how the people most offended by this are so often a close intersection with the bastards that voted for it.

6) Planning.

They shouldn’t allow planning permission for [x] because there’s too many of [x] and [optionally] I don’t like [x].

Typically, X will be a fast-food outlet or a takeaway.

Thankfully, councils don’t have the power to refuse planning on the basis that you don’t like something.

They granted planning for [y] and that ruined [z]

[y] might be an out-of-town shopping centre, for example.

Since national government reduced council’s powers on planning, they couldn’t refuse a reasonable request, so the developer of [y], if he’s clever, can just do it. All that troublesome red tape that we got rid of, see? Red Tape. That stuff that stops people doing exactly what the fuck they like, regardless off the impact on others? Better off rid of it.

I’ve not done an Evil Overlord post for a while. Evil Overlord 22: people who mindlessly blame the council for stuff they aren’t responsible for get to man the phones there for a few months.

It feels wrong to be be defending Walsall MBC, but I just wish people would get their facts straight and perhaps just think.

Moderate Behaviour

February 25th, 2019

I’ve been trying to find alternatives to the awful choice of radio stations, so mixed in with the music I’ve found some downloaded stuff from the BBC, courtesy of the wonderful get_iplayer software, and also the IRL podcast, from Mozilla.

The episode I listened to this morning explored moderation: the process of people approving (or not approving!) content posted online.

This is a bit of a hot topic lately, there’s increasing pressure from governments and others to regulate the web (and social media in particular).

I’ve discussed this before, of course, and I generally get a bit ranty about censorship (and, as the podcast pointed out, moderation and censorship is a close-run thing).

Moderating even a Facebook group or small forum can produce a considerable workload, and not moderating it can rapidly cause it to degenerate into a shit-show. Moderating an entire platform like Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter is almost unimagineable.

There was an angle I’d not thought about before: because computers are not good at judgement calls (like deciding if a particular photo is offensive or illegal), then you need humans to moderate, and these humans get subjected to the full, unfiltered onslaught of whatever the Internet throws their way, and have to deal with that, and the psychological problems that might bring.

As the social networks are companies that need to make money, those humans need to be cheap; so they turn to the Philipines, for example- a very different culture to the west, which introduces another set of problems.

So- who, if anyone, should moderate what we see? My personal choice, as an adult, would be “no-one”, but even if you think content should be policed, is a low-wage young filipino with minimal support the answer?

Monkey Business

January 20th, 2019

A few jobs have unusually taken me away from my desk to sites around the UK for a bit of network monkeying; the realisation that the old Cisco switches in use at most of them were starting to fail (pretty crap, huh? I mean some of them are only 15 years old!) meant a site visit. This also meant tidying up rats nests of cables, removing old PBXs, changing the IP range so it was actually not duplicating real addresses in Japan (I kid you not), and in the case of the two most remote sites (in Belfast and Edinburgh) migrating phones to a new PBX and SIP, retiring the 15 year old Nortel switches that may cause Mr Sublimeproduct to have a breakdown if he even hears the command LD 49. This work had already happened elsewhere, but the hassle of a required overnight stay to complete the work meant all the work was combined into one visit there.

My last trip to both of these sites involved short notice, expensive flights, with an uncomfortably early start, and a LAN switch as hold luggage in one case, due to the aforementioned failure of one, so it was nice to be boarding one of those toy planes at a relatively sane time with all the business types.

Edinburgh first, and fairly straightforward. New switches in, config errors fixed, everything on a nice new RFC1918 net range. A quick re-use of the old switch to set up multiple IP phones quickly:

Steal someone’s desk. A little bit of “switchport mode trunk”, and Bob’s your auntie’s live-in lover.

then a night in a hotel.

The next day was smooth too, with the only surprise (but it shouldn’t be, really) was BT’s refreshing, innovative approach to mounting a PBX in a rack:

Innovative brackets, lads.

Still, as it was only going in a skip, no worries 🙂

Belfast was a similar story, except the PBX was shoddily bolted to the wall with the screws rounded off, rather than propped up on timber offcuts, and in the evening, having a hardier colleague with me, we managed a pint in The Crown Liquor Saloon (and got a seat!).


January 7th, 2019

The post title is a play on the RDS station name (GrtHits) for Greatest Hits Radio, the latest brand of Bauer Radio to foist itself upon the West Midlands 105.2 FM frequency, and so force it’s way into the many thousands of cars that don’t have DAB radios.

Back in the early days of this blog, I was pretty happy when Kerrang! launched on that frequency, then whinged about one presenter, then disappointed when Absolute Radio got the frequency, after a brief spell as Planet Rock, before that too got pushed off to a ropey, low-bitrate, not-receiveable-in-the car DAB slot.

I’d just got used to Absolute, and could put up with turning it off if they played Oasis, and now they’ve moved my cheese** again.

It’s not *awful*. The music is 60s/70s/80s/90s pop. From the Bauer website :

[engage marketing bullshit filters]

We deliver the most popular music for 45-64 year olds, reflecting the life stage of our listeners and keeping them informed and up to date with the latest news and information where they live. We play the greatest hits from the 70’s and 80’s with a sprinkle of megahits from the 60s and 90s thrown in for good measure. Classic songs that stand the test of time and sound as good today as they did when you first heard them.

Well, I’m right in that age group, and the music is age-appropriate, but it’s just so bland. Lots of very middle-of-the-road pop, and an overall feel of a old-school local radio station of the 90s, with a breakfast DJ, Simon Ross, who calls himself “Rossie”. There’s something wrong about nicknames for the over-40s. In fact, the MOR pop was more bearable during testing, when we didn’t have to suffer the presenters.

Given that Radio 2 has replaced one tedious DJ with an actually more tedious DJ, looks like it’s back to the SD card full of MP3s.

**I’m not posting it again.


December 31st, 2018

Today represents fifteen years of me blogging. Like many things, I’m doing much less of it as I’m nearing 50 :-). Blogs seem to have become deeply unfashionable, but hell, I wasn’t fashionable in 2003. I’m sad to note that The YamYam seems to have stopped working, though not as sad as to remind myself that one of the best blogs (and a really nice guy I’m pleased to say I met a few times) is sadly gone; the local online community seems to be shrinking.

Looking back on this blog, what’s changed? I’ve got more left-leaning, politically, in direct contravention of the old saying, but if anything, politics itself has got less interesting and more frustrating, and seems pointless.

I *think* I try to be a bit less angry generally, although I still have the occasional rant. The one thing I’m deliberately steering clear of on that front so far is Brexit, purely because that does make me really rather angry and sad. I have a number of thoughts on that that may or may not ever reach the “Publish” button, simply because I’m tired and depressed of the whole thing.

I’ve become less vocal about Linux, Open Source, and the failings of Windows, but then Windows has got better (yes, it really has). I’m still *using* Linux, because it’s just easier and does what it is told, and runs well on an antique laptop. There’s been an increase on posts about fixing the Lupo as it ages and some of the bits like electric windows and sunroof need attention, but less car spannering, and more bike spannering, as a rule.

There’s certainly less of my output here now- what might have been a short blog post all those years ago now tends to be a tweet- which is a shame, as here, I control it and it has permanence that Twitter doesn’t provide, unless you look quite hard.

Anyway, I’m waffling. Happy New Year, and as Dave Turner said

Here’s to 2019 not being a total trash fire!

A Place in the Sun

December 6th, 2018

[note: this is retrospective, posted after the event. It’s also had a title change, and some of the more ranty bits removed, for a possible future post]

We’ve been away. Lanzarote, more specifically, Costa Teguise. A resort we’ve been to before, and it largely caters for British tourists (Germans too, but there’s a strong bias to UK tourism).

Very nice it was too, but I have to say the sheer amount of loud televised football and the near-total ubiquity of lager became a bit frustrating after a while; the upside being that you can get a full English and a pint for very little money, and enjoy it in the sunshine. The majority of the bars are run by English ex-pats using that handy freedom of movement thing.

What’s more, for perhaps the last time, we got to do this via a totally frictionless (and by frictionless, I totally mean that- step off plane, wave passport in general direction of border control, collect luggage, step into sunshine) border (crossed with our newly renewed not-fucking-blue passports), enjoying cheap, easy travel to the sun with no queuing. We paid for things with cards like we were at home. For the first, and maybe the last time, we used our mobile phones just like at home, roaming charge-free onto the local telco’s network and not giving a single fuck about charges per megabyte, so we didn’t even have to search out bars with wifi (though they were plentiful). Of course, we got a shit rate for our Euro currency, but low prices over there helped reduce the impact of that: Euro/Sterling rates were as close as makes no odds to 1:1 (actually 1.1 Euro to 1 GBP), so at least the exchange rate was easier than when we first visited when it was around 1.4-1, and a (400ml, typically) beer varied from 1 Euro to about 3, depending on location and time of day. Eurofizz lager, of course, but in the sun…

Compared to our last visit I’m a little less mobile (especially as I twisted my knee the night before we went), so there was less walking up and down the prom, though we did manage a few shorter strolls, only resorting to a taxi once (which was also amazingly cheap).

Not the most adventurous or exciting of holidays, I’ll grant you, but low stress, warmth, sunshine, and (relatively) low cost.


November 15th, 2018

I discovered that the French for catflap is “chatiere”. This I discovered from the instruction manual.

Our return home from a gentle pub crawl (only 3) in Walsall was greeted by QT, on the front doorstep. Now, QT isn’t that bright, but he usually manages the cat flap. Shortly afterwards, Kitty announced her inability to get in by banging repeatedly against the flap and had to be let in.

I had a look at it. It’s about 7 years old, and opening it up disproves the adage that cats are clean animals, so I carefully clean it, lube it, and put it back. QT exits, and it doesn’t register his chip. Looks like it’s fucked. A temporary mod of tape to allow access for anything, and off to Amazon for a new one. There’s a large array of chip-reading flaps, now, but I just bought the updated version of what we had, not feeling like any potential door modification.

So then; programming the cats into it. I knew the old flap was a bit tired- yellowed from UV outside, cracked from getting knocked, but I’d been putting it off because I have a long memory, and aversion to injuries, and don’t like stressing my children.

As it was, leaving the old flap in place, assembling this one inside, using a long extension cable, a bit of patience, and (critically) realising the reader works upside down, and the fact the cats are more settled and older now, meant this passed without any fighting, and just a little initial suspicion of the new device has passed, and the cats can roam without having their food nicked again.

Desi Pubs, Part 2

November 14th, 2018

A day off presented the ideal opportunity to continue our Desi pub tour, so once more, we caught a bus out to West Brom, continuing onwards to Smethwick and The Red Cow. Indian barbecue lunch, and then off to The Ivy Bush (on a very crowded school-chucking-out-time bus). A walk up Spon Lane South

crossing 2 lots of canal (the old and new main line) and the railway, and passing under the Oldbury viaduct works on the M5:

M5 Oldbury Viaduct work from Spon Lane South

There’s a lot of transport in a tight space here: the Metro is only just up the road too. Lots of history too; Chance Glassworks, the canals, and the lovely Kenrick Building.

A interesting crossing of Kenrick Way, and The Island Inn, and finally, a non-Desi pub stop in West Brom: The Sandwell, before a bus home. Our bus mojo was working today, our only significant wait was 17 minutes for a bus home from Walsall.