London UK Linux/podcaster meet up – Thursday Feb 26th at the Mulberry Bush pub (near Waterloo station)

London UK Linux/podcaster meet up – Thursday Feb 26th at the Mulberry Bush pub near Waterloo station from 6pm

In celebration of Scott’s visit to the UK, we have decided to organise a meet up. Confirmed attendees so far are Scott Newlon (mintCast), me (mintCast/Linux Luddites), jesse (Linux Luddites), Matthew Copperwaite  (The Dick Turpin Road Show) and Alan Pope (Ubuntu Podcast)

The plan is to have a relaxed and informal evening of drinks and conversation. We’ve reserved a booth with a table that should be perfect in a really nice pub on the South Bank, a few minutes from Waterloo Station. Everyone is welcome so please spread the word!

Directions to the Mulberry Bush

Leave Waterloo via the original main entrance in order to head towards the South Bank.  The main entrance is found by turning left after coming through any of the ticket barriers, and is at the far end of the concourse beyond platform 18, on the right next to the lost luggage.  Head through the glass doors and down the stone steps, if you find yourself on a bridge you’ve gone the wrong way, come back and look on your left for the glass doors.

Once down the steps head to your left, cross some zebra crossings and generally follow what is likely to be the main crowd towards the traffic lights to cross York Road.  The aim is to stroll along Sutton Walk, the pedestrian walkway under the blue lattice bridge, towards the South Bank.  Once under the bridge continue straight towards the Royal Festival Hall and you will shortly reach a T-junction with Belvedere road before you actually get to the hall.

Turn right and walk along that road – this is the home straight, except it’s the longest section of the trip!  I’m afraid this part isn’t much to look at, you’ll pass the National Theatre, IBM and ITV and just when you think you’ve gone wrong, the Mulberry Bush will appear on your right hand side.

The route looks like this

The pub looks like this

To find the booth that we have reserved, walk to the end of the bar and look to your left.

Hopefully see you there!

A whole new year.

So here we are and it’s already 2015. People are making Back to the Future 2 jokes but not much else feels that different. I’ve been thinking about a lot of things over the last few nights while I’ve been lying there trying to sleep. This is the time of year when you have loads of great ideas and feel filled with motivation to actually see them through to fruition. Deep down you know it’s probably not going to happen but maybe having some spare time over the festive period, combined with the impending sense of dread that it’s almost time to go back to work blinds you to the harsh realities of life.

Anyway what am I planning then? Well the short answer is that by this time next year I plan to be in a position where I get paid for doing nothing. The slightly longer answer is that I plan to spend more time creating things and less time working hard in the freezing cold (or baking hot) to make other people rich. Some things are more important than money.

First up then I intend to start writing short updates about what I’ve been up to. This seems like as good a place as any to do that. I anticipate some very short posts that are barely longer than a tweet. I’m not aiming to have loads of people following my posts but it will be nice to be able to look back in the future and remember what I was thinking and doing.

I don’t believe in god and I don’t celebrate Christmas but I really love this time of year. It usually amounts to two and a bit weeks of late nights, heavy drinking and very few responsibilities. The way Christmas and new year fell this year meant that I took 16 days off work so it was no exception. For once I was actually able to be productive with the time and that has made me think back to previous new years. I honestly don’t remember very many of them and that’s why I thought it would be a good idea to start documenting my life. No one else will probably care or read this but I think I will really appreciate my own efforts one day when I look back and have some documentary evidence to fill the memory void left by all the drink and drugs that I have done over the years. I mention drugs but only in a historical sense. It must be nearly a decade since I did any illegal drugs, coincidentally around the same period of time since I became extremely fond of the second most socially acceptable drink based drug. I occasionally reap the benefits of caffeine but of course I am talking about alcohol. It’s really nice to be able to walk into a shop and buy my drugs legally, safe in the knowledge that they are regulated, strictly controlled and contain exactly what is printed on the bottle or can.

This new year’s eve was the quietest that I can remember. My soon to be wife had a cold and wasn’t in the mood for a party so we watched some strongman and 2014 Wipe before she got ready and got in bed shortly before the stroke of midnight. After wishing each other a happy new year she dropped off to sleep at about 12.30. Being in no mood to go to sleep myself I went for a short walk to experience the unbelievable number of fireworks that were still echoing around the sky half an hour into the new year before returning to take part in the HPR new year podcast marathon. I only lasted about an hour before I started flagging and called it a night. Good fun nonetheless and it was really cool that some people knew who I was. Just over a year of hard work doing Linux Luddites is starting to pay off.

I managed to take part in 5 podcasts during this festive break. First I recorded and produced Linux Luddites 31, starting the night I finished work for the year. Next was mintCast 215 followed by a surprise return of the Mind Tech Podcast – a show I used to do every week with an Apple fanboy until the 8 hour time difference and work got in the way. I’ve mentioned the HPR new year podcast marathon and I have just finished the initial edit of Linux Luddites 32. I’ve still got a bit of work left to do to it but it will be up by the time I go back to work. It’s nice that my holiday was bookended by two episodes of Linux Luddites because it’s the show I work the hardest to produce. It takes a lot of effort to produce it but it seems to be popular enough to justify that effort. For now.

I also managed to do most of the hard work of mixing The Knievel Dead‘s new album. There’s a fair bit still to do but I’ll write more about it when I can.

Hopefully my next update will come soon and hopefully it will be a lot shorter.

Using get_iplayer to download content from the BBC iPlayer in Linux [(X)ubuntu]

I couldn’t find a really simple guide that explains how to download TV and Radio shows from the iPlayer using get_iplayer so I thought I would write one. get_iplayer can do a lot of things including streaming and PVR style recording and other guides that I have found seem to focus more on that sort of thing. This will be much more basic and concentrate on one simple task.

This guide explains the process in Xubuntu Linux but will work in any other flavour of Ubuntu, for example Kubuntu, Lubuntu or the main Ubuntu version. It will also work in Linux Mint. The process is likely to be very similar in other distros like Debian, Fedora and OpenSUSE but I haven’t tried it.

There is a Windows version of get_iplayer and I would imagine that the commands are the same but again I haven’t tried it.

It is possible to use a proxy with get_iplayer to enable you to download content from the iPlayer from outside the UK. I won’t be covering that.

 

Installation

Open a terminal and type:

sudo apt-get install get-iplayer

Please note the dash (get-iplayer) rather than underscore (get_iplayer). Installation is the only time a dash is used. After this it will always be an underscore.

Enter your password and then say yes.

 

Use

TV

First you need to decide where you want to save the file that you will be downloading. If you are happy to save it to your home folder then you just need to open a terminal and run the relevant command. Otherwise you will have to cd to the folder where you want to save it first. Some distros and desktop environments have a right click “open terminal here” option which saves a bit of time. This is among the many reasons that I like Xubuntu.

Once you have the terminal open in the correct folder you need to copy the URL of the programme. The easiest way to do that is to go to the page where you would normally watch the show and copy everything in the address bar. It should look something like this:

 

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03bvsw2/David_Attenboroughs_Rise_of_Animals_Triumph_of_the_Vertebrates_Dawn_of_the_Mammals/

 

The only part of it that get_iplayer actually needs is the pid (programme ID). In this case it is b03bvsw2. It makes no difference if you use the whole URL and it is probably easier so I will be doing that in this tutorial.

The command that you need to type into the terminal is the following:

 

get_iplayer --raw --modes=flashhd --pid=www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03bvsw2/David_Attenboroughs_Rise_of_Animals_Triumph_of_the_Vertebrates_Dawn_of_the_Mammals/

(To paste things into the terminal you need to either right click paste or Ctrl+Shift+v)

 

The –raw part means that it won’t convert the file that it has downloaded. You will get a file that ends .flv and can be played in VLC (and many other media players including MX Player on Android). My rule is that if VLC will happily play it, there is no need to convert it. Should you want to convert the resulting file, I suggest either Handbrake or VLC.

The –modes=flashhd part is where you specify which stream you will be saving. In order of best quality to worst quality you have the following options: flashhd, flashvhigh, ,flashhigh, flashstd, flashnormal, flashlow. I generally go for flashhd or flashvhigh for programmes that are not available in 720p.

After the –pid= you can either paste the full url or just the pid which in this case would be b03bvsw2.

If you get an error about the pid already being in the cache (most likely because you have downloaded the programme before) then you will need to add –force to the end of the command so it looks like this:


get_iplayer --raw --modes=flashhd --pid=www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03bvsw2/David_Attenboroughs_Rise_of_Animals_Triumph_of_the_Vertebrates_Dawn_of_the_Mammals/ --force

 

Sometimes I find that there are interruptions in the download and usually it will just automatically resume but occasionally the file will become corrupted and the download will fail part way through. You will know that this has happened if the downloaded file still ends .partial.flv (it will look like this while it is downloading). If this happens, the easiest thing to do is delete the file and then rerun the command with –force added.

 

Radio

The process is very similar for radio downloads. Again go to the page where you can play the show in question and copy the URL. Open a terminal and type the following:

 

get_iplayer --raw --modes=flashaacstd --pid=www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03bfkbg/The_Archers_25_09_2013/



You have a few –modes= options. I’m not that experienced with radio downloads but you can chose from  flashaaclow, flashaacstd, rtspaaclow and rtspaacstd.

 

The resulting .flv file isn’t much use so I suggest using Audacity to convert it to flac, ogg or mp3.

A look at Windows 8.1

I had an old hard drive lying around so I thought I would take the SSD out of my laptop and install a “leaked” copy of the forthcoming Windows 8.1 (AKA Windows Blue). This isn’t really a review, it’s just some thoughts about it. I didn’t use it for very long so it’s really my first impressions. The version that I installed wasn’t even an official preview so it’s quite likely that by the time it gets released it will be at least a little bit different. It was also missing some key features like the ability to activate it and do Windows updates.

It’s worth mentioning that I have hardly used Windows 8 (apart from a brief look at the official consumer preview just before the final release) so 8.1 might not be very different. I’m really not sure.

 

Installation

The installer was very much the same as the Windows 7 one. I wasn’t doing any complicated partitioning, I just let Windows install to the entire hard drive. It all went fairly smoothly but it took an awfully long time compared to Xubuntu which wasn’t a surprise. It definitely took longer that Tiny7, a slimmed down version of Windows 7 that I use for audio work, despite being fairly stripped down itself. It did freeze at the final stage of the installation but after a hard reboot it booted into the OS. Presumably once the final version is released this won’t happen.

 

 

The start screen

Once it boots, you are faced with the same start screen that comes with Windows 8:

start screen

At this point you have several options. You can press escape (or the old Windows key + d) or click on ‘Desktop’ to go to the desktop or you can start typing to bring up the app search. You can also click a button that brings up an Android style ‘app drawer’:

 

app-drawer

 

What is there to say about this new approach to interface design that isn’t blindingly obvious and hasn’t been said already? It’s obviously complete and utter shit and whoever came up with Windows 8 should be fired. To be honest I blame the developers of Gnome shell and Unity for this hideous mess. The world is moving away from traditional desktop computing towards touch screen content consumption devices like phones and tablets. As a result of this shift, developers of desktop operating systems are desperately trying to keep up by copying UI elements that clearly don’t work with mouse and keyboard based input. Thank fuck for lighter weight Linux distros and desktop environments.

 

The Desktop

Once you get to the desktop, it’s really quite similar to Windows 7. The only thing that’s different is that there is no start menu. Instead there is a blank space. If you move your mouse down to that corner a button appears which brings you back to the dreadful start screen.

desktop

 

Windows explorer is pretty good and allows access to the folder options very easily:

folder options

 

If you move your mouse to the top right corner, some icons slide onto the screen:

corner1

 

If you move your mouse near them, this happens:

corner2

This then gives you yet another way to access the app drawer or change various settings. These things could be much more easily accessed via a start menu and control panel.

 

If you move your mouse to the top of the screen, the pointer turns into a hand. You can then click and drag the desktop down which makes it smaller and allows you to drag it to the right of the screen and release it, causing this to happen:

split-screen

 

If you then click the black area, you are once again faced with the horror of the start screen. If you then click on an app it opens on the left side of the screen:

split-screen-with-files

Why anyone would want to do this is inexplicable to me.

 

Apps vs programs

I despise the words app and apps. I don’t mind the word application but a computer runs programs. I don’t even mind that the word program is spelled incorrectly thanks to our colonial cousins and their crass simplification of the beautiful English language. The very idea of an app sums up what I hate about modern computing but I digress. There seems to be a clear distinction in Windows 8.1 between apps and programs. Apps are terrible full screen abominations included in the OS (and presumably installable via an app store in the final version) and programs are proper programs like VLC, Firefox and Photoshop. I briefly tried out some of the built in apps but I can’t stand it when I open a program and it instantly full screens. Again this is evidence that Microsoft think that a mobile UI is suitable for a desktop computing experience. Presumably this is their attempt to unify the computing experience across all devices. You’d think they would have learned some lessons from Ubuntu. Seemingly not.

Thankfully you are not (yet) forced to only use the shitty built in apps. Like previous versions of Windows you have a fair bit of control over what you can install. I effortlessly installed Firefox, VLC and my old version of Photoshop and after the usual pissing about I got Pro Tools running. This was no more effort than in Windows 7. I did see a couple of blue screens while trying to get Pro Tools installed but I can’t blame Windows for the inadequacies of the Avid developers. I was amused at what a blue screen looks like these days, though:

blue screen

 

Overall impressions

I was tempted to say that I wouldn’t use Windows 8.1 if you paid me but it depends on how much you were willing to spend if I’m being honest. There is no way that I would use it as my main operating system and I plan to keep using Tiny7 for as long as I can for my audio work. There were some positives, though. The main one is speed. It could very well be that because there was no OEM bloatware and that it wasn’t complete enough to contain all of the usual security features that normally bog Windows down but it did seem pretty snappy for a modern operating system. I’m fairly sure that once 8.1 starts coming pre-installed on laptops, it won’t be anywhere near this fast.

 

A ray of hope

There are people who will just never install a different operating system on their laptop. Some people just don’t have the time and mental energy to try Linux or even install an older version of Windows and find all the drivers etc. These are the kind of people who use Windows 8 and will end up using Windows 8.1. These people have one ray of hope and that is Classic Shell. Free to download (and with a somewhat confusing licence), Classic Shell does what 8.1 was rumoured go be going to do: bring back the start menu and the ability to boot straight to the desktop. No one really knows whether the final release of 8.1 will include these abilities but if it doesn’t, Classic Shell is a must. You can chose between various start menu styles. I picked Windows XP:

start-menu

 

It even separates apps and programs into two different lists:

start-menu-apps

 

start-menu-programs

 

Even better news is that you can customise the start menu far more than you ever could in XP or 7. The best news is that with Classic Shell installed it boots to the desktop by default.

A wildly speculative Bitcoin based conspiracy theory

A few days ago I had an idea. Now this idea is probably wrong but maybe it isn’t. If I am right about this then I want to be able to link to this post at some point in the future and feel a little bit smug. If I’m wrong, which I probably am, then this post will fade into obscurity among the millions of other worthless blog posts that get posted today.

Bitcoin has been around for a while now. A few nerdy types have been aware of it for a year or two and a lot more slightly nerdy types have been aware of it for a few months. The majority of normal people couldn’t give a shit and even if you tried to explain it to them you would be faced with a blank stare. Bitcoin and associated crypto currencies are fairly straight forward once you get your head around the concept but let’s face it, most people are imbeciles.

There seem to be two distinct camps among the people who (claim to) understand Bitcoin. There are the advocates who seem to believe in the idea with borderline religious zeal and then there are doubters who call it a ponzi scheme or a scam and think that the very idea will not survive the next “crash”.

Some say we live in the information age. Some call it the disinformation age. All I know is that Bitcoin (or something similar) seems likely to at worst coexist with and even possibly replace the current system of fractional reserve based banking in the long term. We are heading towards a level financial playing field when it comes to online transactions and we already live in a world where offline transactions are starting to wane.

So surely all this is a good thing. The future of the global financial system might well be based on a decentralised, open source network, the creator of which is still anonymous. How could this possibly be a bad thing? The answer to that question is only a possibility. I am by no means certain about this. This is pure speculation.

I have followed alternative thinking or parapolitical thought or, if we are being honest, conspiracy theories for knocking on ten years now. As a Brit, it seems like the most vocal advocate of this type of thinking is David Icke. Obviously Alex Jones is a very famous American contemporary of Icke but his brash colonial commonness doesn’t sit very well with my stiff upper lip. Either way they seem to spout a similar overall message: the world is controlled by a small number of people who are intent on hanging onto that control indefinitely. Wealth to these people is a birthright and they are fucked if any of us normal people are going to take that away from their children.

Call me a tinfoil hat wearer but as a (small and admittedly as yet not very successful) businessman I see no problem with this idea. It seems completely plausible to me that the world is essentially a business and that a few bosses control the many workers.

Anyway, there seems to be a consensus in the “conspiracy” community that the controlling force is shepherding us towards a world where there is one world government, one world army and one world currency. I am by no means a devotee of this way of thinking. I am extremely sceptical (with a c) of all points of view, including that of the tin foil hat brigade. But what if they’re right?

The one world government and army are basically here already but the one world currency is not. There was a time when the Euro was doing well and other continental currencies seemed to be on the cusp of introduction, surely as a precursor to the consolidation of them all into a single global currency. Then we had the “credit crunch” and the subsequent near collapse of the Euro. It seemed impossible that the world could settle on a single currency. There was just too much instability in the various currency exchanges and markets.

And then a currency came along that united the world, seemingly free from the iron grip that the global elite has had since anyone can remember. This currency is going to free us all and bring about a revolution. The creator will surely become a messianic figure.

But who created it? A genius PHD student? Or perhaps the illuminati?