Singularity

Geekery

Change is in the air

by on Sep.21, 2013, under Geekery, Planet Sam, website, Writing

avatarToday it’s the Autumn Equinox, although autumn arrived here in the ‘shire a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been grateful for getting our first wood delivery in early; the fire has already been in use on the cold evenings as the nights draw in. It’s remarkable how quickly things change when they get going. It’s almost as if winter has attached a big bit of elastic to the sun, and while summer clings on as long as it can, eventually the strain gets too much and it snaps back. We’re in the penduluum stage right now, with cold nights and warm days, sudden showers and oddly hot, humid lunch breaks.

The weather isn’t the only thing that’s changing. In some vague effort to tidy things up and make this blog slightly less disjointed*, I have started a new blog over at ravenbait.com. I will use that to focus on my writing, leaving this blog — my home on the internet for 15 years now — for all the random stuff that fills in the gaps§. I’m not a big one for cross-posting, although I’m not saying I never do it. I doubt I’ll take all the writing away from this site as it’s such a big part of my life, but I won’t be cluttering up the writing blog with Playstation posts, recipes, triathlon, wittering about adverts, complaining about Doctor Who (unless it’s a comment on specifics of the writing), gear reviews or odes to bicycles. And Stitch. Mustn’t forget Stitch.

Writing buddy

If you come here for the velocipedes and the wittering, carry on as you were. You won’t notice much. If you come here to read what I think about writing, specifically my writing, then take yourself over to ravenbait.com where I’m slowly building up steam.

* ‘Less disjointed’ is all relative, you understand. This is me we’re talking about.
§ And it’s a tight squeeze for a lot of it, I can assure you.

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Experiment 626

by on Nov.29, 2012, under gaming, Geekery

avatarA couple of Christmases ago, my beloved brother bought us a Mindflex, knowing that I like that sort of thing.

For those who find clicking on links and watching videos too much tl;dr, the basic premise is that you wear a headband sensor that registers brain activity. If there’s a lot, power is increased to a fan, causing a foam ball to rise in the air (like balancing a ping pong ball on an air dryer — what do you mean you’ve never tried that?) and the player twiddles a knob to send the fan around the course. There are a variety of obstacles one can place around the course, with varying levels of ‘control’ needed to make it through them.

You’ll notice I put ‘control’ in scare quotes. The thing is, there is a reasonable amount of argument as to whether this thing genuinely reads brain activity or whether it offers the illusion of control. I’ve been playing with it for a couple of years, off and on, and I honestly couldn’t say. I know how powerful that illusion can be, and I don’t fall for the “lots of people think it’s real so it must be real” argument. If I did, I’d be scared of the giant sky pixie.

So we decided to do an experiment.

This is Stitch. Some of you will have met him.

Is sad

This is not the Stitch who ate all the pies, or travelling Stitch, or Warpig Stitch (don’t ask). This Stitch is relatively well behaved and not known for having high levels of brain activity. This is Emo Stitch (Sad Stitch Is Sad).

One of the games available on Original Mindflex is a time trial arrangement called, melodramatically, Danger Zone. This involves setting up an obstacle course and taking it in turns to try to get past all four lights within the time limit.

On this occasion, the players were:

Me (incidentally, MoC is seeking funding for Episode 5, so go and look at the cool stuff you could get for supporting them and lob a few quid their way): Minister of Chance is currently in need of funding. Go and donate.
Frood: Frood
Munky: Munky's game face
Emo Stitch: Stitch in a tinfoil hat

You will notice that Stitch is wearing a tinfoil hat. The Mindflex requires the player to have a crocodile clip attached to each earlobe and a small metal disc pressed against the forehead.

No, we’re not sure how that’s supposed to work, either. Hence the experiment.

Stitch needed the tinfoil hat for the various alleged electrodes to form a circuit and the game to accept him as a biological entity. Note that the game didn’t need any verifiable brainwave activity, merely a circuit. Plush gets in the way of circuit forming.

Our null hypothesis was that the Mindflex system was not designed to read genuine brainwave activity as the hardware supplied does not seem capable of measuring genuine brainwave activity; and that the apparent relationship between ball height and concentration was entirely a result of the illusion of control. Thus, to disprove the null hypothesis, our control Stitch would have to perform significantly worse than our human players, on the basis that he doesn’t have any brain activity.

Because he’s plush.

This was our experimental method.

We chose the Danger Zone game, as this would give us a quantitative measure of each player’s performance. A number of obstacles were used, including a maze cage with trap level and several hoop obstacles, to ensure a requirement for the player to vary the ball’s height (which, as explained earlier, is a measure of brainwave activity, APPARENTLY). I went first, then Frood, then Munky, then Stitch.

Experiment 626

The obvious flaw with this is that Stitch is plush and could not operate the twiddle knob by himself. Therefore I did it for him. Please also see notes below for future experimental proposals.

I completed 4 zones in 1 minute 49 seconds. Frood completed 4 zones in 2 minutes and 15 seconds. Munky completed 3 zones in 2 minutes and 48 seconds while Stitch completed 3 zones in 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

Yes. That is correct. Stitch beat Munky.

Sad Sackmunky Are Sad

There are some obvious problems with the experimental protocol. Ideally, an experiment would involve at least three repetitions (it was late, we’d been drinking, it was time to go to bed). Also, another round needs to be added, in which a neutral observer operates the twiddle knob for all of the players, to remove that factor from the timing. It would also be worthwhile checking some of the other games, to see if Stitch is better or worse at any particular type of game compared to a human, to at least identify the possibility of an inherent bias in the system.

And maybe give Pooh a go, and see if he’s as good as Stitch.

I think what we can definitely say, however, is that how well you do at Danger Zone isn’t necessarily related to how much control you have over your brainwave activity. As a biofeedback training tool, it’s not much use.

I’m obviously not the only one to want to test this, either:

What I like best about that are the people getting really upset in the comments because they believe it REALLY DOES WORK UR JUST DOIN IT RONG.

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You just get better…

by on Nov.04, 2012, under Cycling, Geekery, transport

avatarBecause I’ve got several deadlines coming up, as well as NaNoWriMo, I am spending a lot of time at my desk. I’ve had a few days off work, to concentrate on writing, and haven’t been getting out much. Our house is a little on the tepid side, and it has been quite cold sitting here scribbling or tapping away. Today’s weather was glorious sunshine, and I thought I’d spend half an hour cleaning Fingal and getting Shackleton all wintrified with his new rack and lights etc. As you do on a sunny day when you want to be riding but can’t spare the time.

Fingal at PaddingtonFingal has been standing in as commuter since my knee went a bit dodgy and Shackleton ate his Carradice Trax, leaving him incapable of carrying luggage. Both Shackleton and Fingal are quite bitey (like the TARDIS), which I’ve always put down to them being commuter bikes and needing to defend themselves against reprobates. Fingal tends to bite people — Shackleton tends to bite his own kit.

Shackleton et his mudguard!Half an hour or so in the sunshine. That’s all I wanted.

But no. As is the way of bikes, as soon as you do any maintenance, you discover a whole host of things that need sorting.

Shackleton seems to have taken a bath in salt at some point. I don’t know when, or how, or where it came from, but in the time he has been snuggling against the other bikes he has become afflicted with rust. The new 135mm double-fixed rear hub I spent months looking for has bearings that feel like they are made of sand and grit, despite having a grand total of 200km on it. The offside rear brake arm has completely seized. The bottom bracket is clunking and, to top it all off, the self-extractor for the Truvativ crank has mysteriously vanished, so I can’t even take the transmission apart to see what size bottom bracket I need.

At one point I might have thought I needed a new bike. I certainly wouldn’t have known what was causing all the grinding and I’d probably have panicked. But these days I know what I’m doing with bikes and so I can make a neat little list of what needs to happen to sort it out.

  • Have bath to wash off assorted bicycle gunk;
  • Ignore brake as the rear brake is just a handy place for keeping spare brake blocks anyway (it’s a fixed gear);
  • Order new M12 self-extracting crank bolt (about 10 quid);
  • Take rear wheel and old hub to shop, ask them to change cartridge bearings (I don’t have flat spanners that can do the job). This will fix my wheel and give me a spare hub, yay;
  • Buy new chain to replace rusty one;
  • Get cranks off, remove bottom bracket, check size, buy and fit new bottom bracket;
  • Find somewhere that will shot-blast and repaint my Pompino for a decent price.

All of this is relatively easy, bar the last one. I got Fingal resprayed by Argos Cycles about 10 years ago and they did a splendid job but it wasn’t cheap. Well worth it, I just can’t afford it right now.

So it’s not the end of the world, just a pain in the backside. Which is about how I used to feel about punctures — these I no longer consider as repairs. They’re just a hazard of riding a bike a lot.

What was supposed to be a half an hour in the sunshine turned into 3 hours of cursing as I tried to fix as much as I could to figure out what needed replacing. And I didn’t get Fingal washed, so he’ll be especially bitey this week.

There’s a saying that cycling doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster. Well bike maintenance is sort of similar: you should always support your local bike shop because no matter how good you are at maintenance, you will always come up against something for which you haven’t the tools, haven’t the parts or haven’t the time to sort out yourself.

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Sam reviews: Portal 2

by on May.02, 2011, under games, gaming, Geekery, Reviews

avatarWhile everyone else was rolling painted eggs down hills, chasing after Easter bunnies and stuffing themselves full of chocolate, my main concern about the penultimate weekend in April (other than the trip down to Lincolnshire for my mother-in-law’s birthday) was the release of Portal 2.

Portal 2 cover
In a gaming world where most of the action titles seem to be taking the “increased difficulty = more monsters and more shooting”, finding a title that is engrossing, has a good narrative and doesn’t rely on ultra-violence is quite difficult. I haven’t bought a new adult action game since Bioshock 2 — I’ve been buying things like Little Big Planet 2 and Rabbids titles instead. Compare Resistance: Fall of Man with its sequel, FEAR likewise — I haven’t gone near Dead Space 2 because the original took that to a frustrating extreme. There is only so much I can cope with button mashing through a fight only to run straight into another one with barely enough of a break to regain a couple of health bars.

Portal 2 is a breath of fresh air in a room stale with the scent of testosterone, cordite and spent shell casings.

It’s a puzzler, much like the first one. The first one, however, had us join Theseus after entering the Labyrinth then bug out as soon as the Minotaur was dead. In Portal 2 we get to see a bit more of Crete and the Kingdom of Minos.

Gameplay is similar to the first offering, although there is less reliance on laying portals in exactly the right place with impeccable timing and more on figuring out the correct sequence and making use of the portals to achieve the seemingly impossible. While I had a considerably frustrating time with the original, lacking the precise hand-eye co-ordination required to make accurate portals at high speed while flying through the air, I found Portal 2 to be just frustrating enough. I liked the logical progression of problem solving. Rather like doing a crossword, it’s necessary to gain an eye for it, to learn the rules and the patterns. There is a sense of accomplishment in gaining the mindset required to solve the puzzles. The achievement here isn’t being able to slaughter more and bigger and stronger rabid creatures: it’s being able to solve ever more complex puzzles that on first glance seem impossible until a solitary patch of white turns into the end of a thread that will lead you through to the exit.

There are nods to the original in the use of some of the same test chambers, run through the decay mill. If you are expecting the game to be as short as the original you are in for a shock at the point you think you have escaped into the outside world. The use of the derelict original facility to bring in a whole new set of puzzle types and give some background to the Aperture Science facility was enjoyable, seasoning the very dark storyline with welcome humour.

Another point for which Valve has my undying love is that our protagonist is a woman. But she just happens to be a woman. There is a point halfway through the game where GLaDOS says “She did all the work!” If you have been concentrating on the gameplay rather than laying out portals to get a look at your character, and know nothing of the game, this is the first time the sex of the character is clear. This isn’t Silent Hill, where being female inevitably leads to a plotline involving maternal instinct; or a reason for pneumatic busts à la Lara Croft; nor the ridiculous posturing of Bayonetta. Portal 2 passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, even when one of the women involved is a potato. (Spoilers!)

“Oh, it’s you. It’s been a long time. How have you been? I’ve been really busy being dead. You know… after you murdered me? Okay look, we both said a lot of things that you are going to regret. But I think we should put our differences behind us. For science. You monster.”

Chell

"And then you showed up. You dangerous, mute lunatic."

I couldn’t have been happier had a Big Daddy removed his helmet to reveal he was actually a Big Mummy.

We haven’t started on the co-operative level, and there are several achievements that I missed on my first run through, so there’s plenty of gameplay in it yet. If you fancy something a bit more cerebral than your standard first-person shooter, where difficulty isn’t measured in how many times you die in a sequence before you learn the spawn patterns and get your timing just right, I can thoroughly recommend this engaging and satisfying number from Valve.

I won’t spoil the ending, but yes, there is a song.

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Geek GIRL

by on Apr.22, 2011, under Geekery, Photography, rambling

avatarThere is a long and sorry tale practically worthy of a Norse saga associated with me and my mobile phone. Maybe one day I shall write the whole thing Edda-style: the challenge being that I am so fed up with it that it would be hard to make a reader not be fed up with it too.

For various reasons to do with the way Frood and I acquired our very first mobile phones, back in the dim and distant past, it hasn’t been easy to upgrade when time came due. My first relatively contemporary phone was a Sony Ericsson K850i, but I drowned it on a camping trip. Well. I say ‘drowned’. It got slightly moist in a manner my old Nokia would have shrugged off. Mind you, my old Nokia shrugged off being dropped in ponds, beer, puddles, the sea and even a toilet. There’s something to be said for old tech.

I digress.

Since the damp demise of my previous mobile I’ve been using Frood’s old Samsung something-or-the-other, which weighs as much as half a housebrick and is sturdy enough to be used as a offensive weapon, assuming that you keep the slide shut. It has the most irritating interface of any phone I’ve ever used, and has reduced me to swearing on more than one occasion with its insistence on using a set of nested options positively bureaucratic in its complication in order to achieve the simplest of things (such as choosing a recipient for a text message). I’ve never experienced so many delayed voice message notifications or lost text messages as I have with this phone. And, to rub dirt into the road rash of annoyance, Frood has been sitting on the sofa twittering and facebooking on his WiFi networked HTC Android phone for about a year now. The git.

Last weekend we went to the shop and upgraded my phone. I am now the proud owner of a brand-new, shiny, HTC Desire S, and it has not only brought out the geek in me but given me cause to think.

First there’s the playlist problem. The HTC Desire S doesn’t recognise WMP, which means that transferring a playlist (.wpl) gets all the songs onto the phone, but not in the desired order. Thinking it might be another MMT setting I did some research, musing on how I was already coming at the problem from a whole new platform built on my experience with the Samsung. A problem that Frood has been dealing with for a while was solved in five minutes of google-fu. We’ve ended up installing MediaMonkey and now Frood is engaged in the task of converting our old PC into a proper music box, mostly by re-ripping all of our music so that it’s stored in a consistent format.

Then there’s the camera. It’s only 5MP. I had my eyes set on one of the new Sony Ericssons, with their 8.2MP cameras, but there weren’t any in stock and I do carry my Canon Ti 10MP around with me everywhere anyway. But then I discovered the retro camera app and I’ve been having some fun with that.

New hat

Here’s a picture of me wearing my new Buff hat. I took this using the standard camera. There’s a small front-facing camera on the phone so you can see what you’re doing in self-portraits, although you have to stay very still and the quality isn’t the best. The hat is reversible and adjustable and has a neoprene peak and groovy cave-painting style figures all over it, including one of someone on a bike. It is the best cycling hat I have ever had, and I own two Campag hats.

Speaking of which…

Beer & bottom bracketsHere is a shot I took using one of the retro camera functions. It shows a box of Peroni (Italian beer) next to the new bottom bracket that finally arrived. It’s a Campag Centaur to go with my Centaur triple chainset. Two lovely Italian things. Beer and a bottom bracket.

I am the sort of woman who gets excited by shiny new tech toys, but only when they have improved functionality and make my life easier, more fun or more interesting. I’m also the sort of woman who can overhaul the transmission on her handbuilt British-made touring bike (with the 6mm offset rear triangle for an undished rear wheel, boo-yah baby) and appreciates not just the functionality of the bicycle but the inherent beauty in high-quality components.

What else? Here’s another picture: Retro

This, for me, encapsulates what I find most geeky about myself. I’m wearing my new Minister of Chance t-shirt (GO! BUY! WE NEED MOAR!) — and I experienced a little warm glow of pleasure when I received an email from the crew thanking me for my support. There’s a bike in the background. In my life there is always a bike in the background. There’s a stack of Fortean Times magazines, because I use them as research and also harbour an ambition to write something one day they might publish. I took this using a retro camera on a shiny new smartphone with which I’m deeply in love: a camera effect I chose because it makes it look like I’m taking postcard shots during a zombie apocalypse. I’m wearing my buff hat, although you can’t see it, and I’m not looking my best. But that last point doesn’t matter. This is me. I have one eye: the missing one I have replaced with moulded black plastic. What is important about me isn’t what I look like. It’s not the fact that I have wrinkles and grey hairs or scarring from a skin disorder. It’s not, to revisit an old complaint, my breasts or my buttocks or whether lycra looks good on me.

I enjoy feeling attractive, and it’s not that I won’t make the effort on occasion. But it’s not what defines me. In a recent discussion online regarding the objectification of women one of the participants observed that it’s human nature to find people attractive: he used wanting to look good for one’s wedding as an example. And I think, for my wedding, I did about as good a job as I could have done with what I’ve got without calling in the services of a professional stylist.

But wanting to be and enjoying being seen as attractive doesn’t make a woman’s looks public property and it doesn’t grant tacit approval for her to be reduced to breasts and bum and maybe a pretty face on top.

My favourite wedding photo is this one:

Shall we adjourn to the dirigible, darling?

I think I look pretty damn good in that. But I also think I look like me in a dress (and, for added geekery, a pair of Vibram Five Fingers).

What I am is all of these things, and it’s true of every other woman. We are all more than what we look like in our chosen form of dress. Someone might look at one of my triathlon photos and see nothing but an arse in lycra (and they do, believe me). Yet who I am is someone who can build her own wheels and would be quite capable of handling herself come the Undead Armageddon. I can sort out technical problems with our home network and have a strong view on component choice. I can spot a 5mm hex key at a distance of ten paces. I like computer games. I read and write and enjoy science-fiction. I have lived life and taken its knocks and it shows. I am all these things, and more, as well as someone capable of putting curves in green velvet.

I think it’s tragic that we are still prepared to judge accomplished women by what they look like. I think it’s unfair and annoying that women who are conventionally beautiful will tend to do better than women who aren’t; and that our media constantly chooses conventionally attractive women as every potential role model, thus propagating the idea that being good at what you do is not enough. I get angry when someone uses a woman’s desire to feel attractive in order to please herself as justification for looking at that aspect of her in isolation. And I become utterly livid when I’m told that it’s just boys being boys and only a bit of fun and I’m taking it too seriously.

Equality isn’t about treating everyone the same. It’s about looking at people for what they are in totality: the sum of their talents and abilities; their hopes and fears and passions.

I could never have been a supermodel. I am not a clear-skinned, fresh-faced, perfectly symmetric, youthful beauty. There are days when I am depressed by how I have been culturally indoctrinated into thinking my life could be better if I were. But if you were trying to get your playlists to synch to your mobile device before hitting the road when there was no petrol left and there were zombies in the garden, I’d be your huckleberry.

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What about LBP2, RB?

by on Feb.03, 2011, under games, gaming, Geekery, Reviews

avatarIs Little Big Planet 2 everything you expected? Have you been disappointed since getting your sticky, eager little paws on it? You have been terribly quiet about it and we thought maybe you were so heartbroken that you had consigned it to the oblivion of a mental oubliette, along with Highlander 2, Wolverine: Origins, X-Men 3: X-Men United and X-Men: the official game.

Can’t stop

Triple play

to talk.

Tongue wagging

Too busy

Little Big Planet

playing

I can has fuzzy pod

with

Little Big Planet

SACKPEOPLES!

The sackbots love me.

And sackbots! And grabinators! And robobuns! And caterpillars! And grappleguns!

It’s as awesome as an awesome thing
That has as a hobby
Being Made of Win
And Rocking like a Ninja
Who is also God and King!

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Sam reviews: Samsung YP-U6AB MP3 player

by on Jan.15, 2011, under gear, Geekery, kit, Reviews

avatarI love music. I listen to a lot of music. My tastes are eclectic, running from Baroque through onomatopoaeic, quirky, more quirky and utterly bonkers, by way of some psytrance, big beat, a bit of metal and stuff I find hard to classify. And everything in between. New Age ambient, prog rock… I’m synaesthetic, and my synaesthesia affects my proprioception. I don’t like any specific sort of music. I like music that does things to me. Check out my Last.fm profile and you’ll get the idea.

My MP3 player is probably the one gadget I have that would cause withdrawal symptoms if I lost it. I’ve had some form of personal stereo ever since the first Sony Walkman, back in the days of audio tape. (I find it scary that there are people alive today who might not know about audio tape.) I went from tape to minidisc to flash drive, and for the past few years have received sterling service from my Sony NW-S205F. It did everything I wanted it to do, despite the clunky and incompatible-with-everything-else SonicStage software, was small and light and easy to use while working out or on the bike, and it was showerproof.

Before any cycling chums start getting their knickers in a twist: yes, I listen to music while on the bike if I’m riding alone. No, it doesn’t affect my ability to hear traffic. As far as I am concerned if you are relying on your hearing to save you from being hit by a car then you’re doing it wrong anyway. If you wish to argue about this, please go and contribute to one of the many, many threads on CC and I will proceed to ignore you there, too. I am a big girl who has tried with and without and I have performed my own risk assessment, thank you very much. You are free to disagree but not to impose.

In the past couple of months it became apparent that my very much loved MP3 player, which was bloody expensive when I got it, was suffering from terminal battery failure. Desperate, I searched the internet thinking that maybe there was a DIY method of changing the battery, because Sony support said it was uneconomical to change the battery and it was better to replace the unit, thereby missing the point entirely because they don’t do anything similar any more. The internet said no: the design is so compact and the insides so tightly packed together that battery replacement is likely to destroy the player.

So that left me needing a new one. I looked at the various Sony products because I’ve always had Sony players. Sadly, as I said, they don’t make anything resembling the NW-S205F any more. Their sports player is this weird combination headphone/headband thing, and I don’t want my ears taking the weight, thank you very much. I find it hard to believe that can possibly be comfortable when running. The alternative is the B series, which diligent research revealed to be allergic to moisture. No good for a gym bunny/recidivist cyclist like me.

Samsung YP-U6QP

I bought the black one, obviously

After hunting around a bit more I settled on the Samsung YP-U6AB (the QP is the 2GB version) on the basis that it seemed to be exactly the same in terms of function as the lamented Sony NW-S205F, but it was rectangular and didn’t have a fast charge. I could live without fast charge.

First there was the issue with the shop losing my order, then replacing my order with one for the multimedia version (yeah, that’ll do well in the rain), then, once all that had been sorted out, sending it using an ancient, asthmatic camel that took a route via Klatchistan. I can only imagine that’s why it took so damn long to arrive.

But get here it did. Yesterday.

As the Sony had sickened to the point of me taking my old minidisc to work yesterday, you can imagine that I was impatient to get going with it. So impatient, in fact, that the lack of any form of carrying case (the Sony had come with a special armband that I have worn so much in the intervening years it has practically left a groove on my arm) only made me a little bit ranty. The software that shipped with the device wouldn’t work on the machine on which we keep most of the music. This did not fill me with joy and happiness. However, the product information indicated that it was compatible with Windows Media Player 11 and that transferring music was an easy drag and drop affair.

Now, say what you like about Sony’s compatibility and their godsawful ATRAC format, the SonicStage software did one thing very, very well: it managed music and playlists and transferred them to the player without me having to think about it. Create playlist, save playlist, drag it to player, done.

First of all I spent more time that I’d intended creating a new playlist in WMP. I meant to chuck a few songs on and get going but there were some I needed to have and then I had to make sure that they had compatible songs around them and appropriate spacing… You know how it is. Well. You probably don’t. So I was as impatient as an unruly sackperson waiting for an even more unruly sackperson to catch up by the time the device was charged, I had swapped across to the other machine and bullied Vista into network sharing properly so I had access to our whole catalogue and then constructed the aforementioned playlist.

I did the drag and drop thing, safely removed hardware as directed in the user manual, then fired up the new toy. I boggled at the small wiggly thing that appeared on the display along with the demand I choose one. What was this? An adoption centre for imps? I picked the one that looked most aggravated and fumbled giving it a name. DID NOT MATTER. NEED MUSIC. NEED PORTABLE MUSIC. GIVE ME MY PORTABLE MUSIC.

Noes!!!! The playlist hadn’t worked! All the songs were there, but they were arranged ALPHABETICALLY. What noxious effluvium of a mastitic ungulate from the nether regions of Beelzebub’s bowels was this? This is 2011! MP3 players are no longer the stupid, simple mass storage devices of old. I wanted a portable soundscape generator, not a flash drive!

I tried installing the software that came with it. It crashed my machine, leaving me with the horrible decision to switch everything off manually to get it unfrozen, even though the U6 had the “Do not disconnect while transferring” warning on it (which was a lie, because I wasn’t transferring anything).

My wrath was mighty.

With a grim determination that could only end up in the MP3 player doing what I wanted it to or someone dying a vicious and brutal death, I rebooted my computer and hit the internet. A seven stage iteration of search terms later I had learned about MSC and MTP and also that the Samsung U6 is one of the very few players on the market that’s still MSC. I spat the dummy at that point and was about to go into full-on berserker mode, but then I found this thread on anythingbutipod. Only the Korean release is purely MSC. In Europe the U6 can be switched to MTP. Once I’d found that I hunted down the instructions to do so because, guess what, it’s not in the user manual.

Success! With MTP enabled the U6 accepts drag and drop playlists from WMP with barely a shrug of the shoulder.

Sound quality seems good enough, although I’m using the Phillips headphones that I had already rather than the nasty-looking things that came with it. It’s not as user-friendly as the old Sony and I doubt I’ll ever use the sports function (I didn’t use it on the Sony, after all) — I only wanted a sports model because they tend to be more robust. The decision tree is more along the lines of Frood‘s creative than the play-all/play-album/play-playlist options on my old Sony. I’m not fussed about playing by genre, artist or whatever. The only option I’d ever want other than album or playlist is bpm. There’s a user-assignable button on it, although I have no idea what I might use it for. I’m sure I’ll think of something.

It’s a subtle, understated little thing in the black option, about half again as long as my thumb. The metal finish gives it a reassuringly robust feel. Now that it’s doing what I want I’m pleased with my purchase, especially as I got a 4GB player for less than half the price I paid for my previous 2GB one. Around forty of your Earth pounds is a pretty good deal, I’d say.

But, really, I shouldn’t have to spend an evening becoming even more of a geek than I am already in order to do something as simple as transfer a playlist. The device should come in MTP mode from the factory, but, failing that, at the bare minimum this should be discussed in the supplied user manual. Samsung, I like your hardware but you need to do some serious work on ease of use.

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Sackpeeples FTW!

by on Jan.05, 2011, under gaming, Geekery

avatarI owe the world some game reviews, notably the recent Rabbids game, but I had to squee about Little Big Planet 2.

Unless you’ve never, ever, ever been here or met me or talked to me or had anything to do with me ever at all (in which case, hi!) you will know that I have an almost pathological obsession with Little Big Planet. So when Media Molecule released a demo for the forthcoming LBP2, I was all over it like a rash.

Frood and I have spent an inordinate amount of time playing it over the past couple of days. Yes. A demo. For the first time ever a game has me so enthralled that I’m going back to the demo over and over again because it’s so enormously, splendiferously fantastic that I can’t wait for the full release.

Robo-buns! Grapple Guns! The Tower of Whoop! THE BEST AND MOST AWSUM HATS EVAR!!!!

Dude, this is seriously going to rock so hard that it will be subject to tectonic drift.

Flabbit!

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MOAR SNO, LOLS

by on Dec.06, 2010, under kit, Photography, rambling, transport

avatarThere can’t be many people in the UK, possibly the world, who are not aware that we are having our earliest severe snowfall for around 20 years. It started on my birthday and hasn’t let up since, although we’ve had one day when there was no new snow. That was yesterday.

This morning at 6am the sky was still clear, as far as I could tell in the darkness. By 8:30am, when I was leaving for work, the snow was falling in earnest.

I took the car, because I’m still recovering from flu. It took me about an hour and a half to get 5 miles. Sitting at the junction of Quality Street (no chocolate) and Queensferry Road and seeing the traffic at a standstill in my direction of travel, which meant it was probably backed up from the Maybury junction, I turned left instead of right and spent another hour getting home again. Just getting the car into the street and out after finding no parking spaces, then into the car park out the back, took about 20 minutes. The snow is lying on sheet ice.

This is the view from our window:

WhiteOut

O LOOK. MOAR SNOBES

It has actually become even worse in the time it has taken me to download from the camera and write this much.

For the past week or so we’ve been experiencing problems with the communal boiler, which means there have been a few days when we’ve had no hot water or heating for more than long enough for it to get very cold indeed. I think they’re coming to fit a new part today. As I’m now snowed in — at least until I get the mountain bike kitted out in appropriate tyres and discovered whether my chest can take the exercise — I’m really hoping they don’t have to turn it off today. It’s already chilly in here.

Talking of cold, I ventured out to the shop in my Vibram KSOs late yesterday afternoon. Previously I’d been out in the Bikilas, which are made of a thicker material and have more robust soles (and really are that pink), and that was fine. While I am so enamoured of the VFFs that I never want to wear “proper” shoes ever again in my life, I can honestly report that I thought I’d managed to get frostbite wearing the KSOs on a mixture of packed ice and snow. I think it might be time to get some of the Ininjis or Lizard socks to keep my little tootsies warm if it’s going to be like this all winter.

Here’s the view from the window now. The trees are disappearing. The gas works vanished hours ago.

The gasworks have vanished.

Look! No gasworks!

I hope Frood gets home okay. He’s got cross tyres on Spartacus. He should be fine.

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Yes, brrrr, it is a bit chilly!

by on Dec.01, 2010, under kit, Photography, rambling

avatarWinter has come to Scotland and it has decided to make a proper go of it. We’ve had snow every day since Friday, and it has settled. Anyone who has seen any news relating to the UK recently will have seen that this is the earliest we’ve had weather this severe in a long time.

I was out in the snow with Andy Gates at the weekend, jumping up and down in the snow in our Vibram Five Fingers:

Snow Bikila

Andy said something that made me smile: a good way to decide whether you’ll like the barefoot Vibram experience or is if you’re a puddle jumper. If you’re a puddle jumper you’ll probably like them.

Unfortunately since then our communal boiler has broken down, meaning that heating and hot water have gone out. It’s bloody cold here. I can’t get to work, so I’m stuck at home and I’m wearing four layers as well as a hat and gloves. The engineer is struggling to get through the snow to fix it.

For that reason, here is a picture I took during warmer weather, of a sad old bike parked outside the supermarket. Whenever one of my machines accuses me of neglect (naming no names, Shackleton) I show him this picture. Makes me feel better, anyway.

Sainsbury's sad bike

What gets me is that the chain isn’t as slack as I’d expect on a bike that badly maintained. Maybe the rear axle has rusted into the drops. I love the way the front light is held in place with duck tape, too.

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