Thursday Mar 17, 2005

Better sound from your iPod

If, as for me, those natty little "mug me" Apple ear buds drop out whilst you are exercising or even just sitting there, then I have a great product recommendation for you!

No, it's not a roll of medical tape, but a pair of headphones.

I have had real problems with the iPod ear buds. I can get them to sit on the edge of my ear, but not in a position in which the music is directed into my ear rather than at its periphery. Not only that, but if I'm exercising and need a wipe down with a towel (or the bottom of my shirt), the ear buds tend to pop out :(

So, I decided to get some proper lightweight headphones.

A quick read of my favourite HiFi mag revealed that Sennheiser still make some of the best value for money headphones, and the PX 100's came out highly rated and for only £30. So, going on this glowing recommendation, I bought a pair, and WOW!.

There is a clear difference in the quality of the PX 100's when compared with the Apple ear-buds (which in themselves are better than average for a portable player). Bass is delivered very crisply and clearly, and goes deeper than that of the ear-buds. Listening to Linkin Park's Meteora, I could clearly pick out the electronic bass drum sound which was hidden in the mix through the ear buds. Vocals came over much clearer and distinctively too. In fact, everything was delivered in a very satisfying and musical fashion.

The headphones are very lightweight and fold up in a rather natty manner so that they can fit into a nice hard plastic case for travelling. No more will you have to untangle the wires of your 'phones when you take them out of your bag. The lead is also longer than the lead on the ear-buds. This has good and bad sides. Good because you don't have to have your iPod close to your head any more ;) and bad because you may need to tuck in some excess lead - especially if you wear your iPod in one of those fancy strap on packs.

So, if you're in the market for better sound quality from your iPod, these should certainly be at or very near the top of your list - especially if you don't want to go over the top on price (yes, there are better headphones, but they cost considerably more!).

Friday Mar 04, 2005

The camcorder is back!

Hooked it straight up to the FireWire port on my SunBlade 2000 and lo and behold, Solaris recognised it and automagically installed the av1394 driver.

So, it looks like all that effort and expense I went to back at the start of the year was caused by faulty IEEE1394 hardware in both the camcorder and the iPod. This could have been a simple coincidence, or it could have been caused by a fault in the on-board 1394 ports on my ASUS A7N8X-E Deluxe motherboard (which I have removed from service, just in case).

Unfortunately, I won't have much time to play this weekend, but hopefully next weekend I'll be able to actually sit down and start learning how to do video editing. Woohoo!

Wednesday Mar 02, 2005

I passed my medical!

Sun employees in the UK get periodic health screening as part of their benefits package. Being an oldie (over 40), I have the dubious pleasure of this every two years. Mine was today.

It's a fairly comprehensive medical examination - the usual tests of bodily fluids, functioning of senses plus a poke around by a doctor with cold hands and fat fingers(!), followed up by a run on the treadmill, wired up to an ECG machine.

Apparently, the lung function test showed that I have the lungs of a 20-year old - I pity the poor 20-year old who has mine :)

We gave up on the treadmill test after 10 minutes because I was cruising it, and the ECG showed enough for the Doc to know that my heart was healthy.

So, barring anything unforseen showing up in my blood tests, I'm healthier than I've been in a long time.

It's comforting to know that everything's functioning as it should be, and I'm rather glad that Sun pays for this - one of my ex-managers had one of these tests when he was in his 40's and ended up having to have a triple bypass!! Luckily for him, they found out before he had a heart-attack.

Monday Feb 28, 2005

The gardeners are here

Well, they'd probably prefer to be called "landscapers".

We purchased an extra 25' or so of land on the back of our garden late last year, and did nothing with it other than get rid of the majority of the Dock weeds amd mow the grass a few times.

A couple of the neighbours had their gardens landscaped, but we decided to leave it and maybe do it ourselves. However, over the winter, the garden has looked a mess. Whilst most gardens don't look their best over winter anyway, it was enough to spur us on to spend some savings on getting it improved.

So, the landscapers are here to sort us out, despite there still being snow on the ground and the air temperature hovering around zero.

I'll try to capture each day's effort with my camera, although unfortunately I missed Day 0, so we won't have something to compare with.

Friday Feb 25, 2005

Firefox 1.0.1 is out

Get it Here!

I'm using the Solaris SPARC version now, and I'm rather hoping that it doesn't crash or hang quite as often as 1.0.

Friday Feb 18, 2005

Palm Tungsten almost syncing to Solaris

My Palm Tungsten T3 normally sits downstairs, plugged into the family PC, but I have got fed up with forgetting to bring it up to my office on a Monday morning and consequently missing a conf call!

So, I've hooked up the cradle to a spare USB port on my trusty SunBlade 2000 and wondered whether or not I could actually get it to do anything remotely interesting with Solaris.

First problem - I need to install a device-driver for the device. A rather slow poke around the internet turned up this handy tip from a colleague at Sun who was trying to get his digital camera working with Solaris. I followed the example and determined that the magic needed to get Solaris to install a driver for the Palm Tungsten T range is:

# add_drv -m '\* 0666 root sys' -i '"usb830,60.100"' ugen

This installs the generic USB driver when the Palm attaches itself to the USB bus when the "HotSync" button is pressed.
So now, how about getting some form of syncing of the Palm ?

Well, after more furkling around on the Internet (it is a jolly useful medium, don't ya think?), I discovered the joys of libusb and also that Solaris 10 has this installed by default. Coupled with a little bit of Open Source: Coldsync, this looked like it should do the trick.

It didn't. Well, not at first, anyway.
I downloaded and built the 3.0pre4 version of coldsync, ran it up, and then had all manner of wierd and wonderful problems with the USB endpoints. I thought, at first, that this was a fault with the Solaris libusb implementation, but determined to press on, I decided to go for the bleeding edge and use the Coldsync source from their CVS repository.

I downloaded the source from the repository, copied the "configure" script over from the 3.0pre4 sources and proceeded to build it. There are a few niggles in the "install" target (like: it looks in the wrong place for install-sh), but I managed to get it built and installed without too much fuss.

So, now to running it. First, I set up a simple config file for coldsync:

$ more ~/.coldsyncrc
# We use libusb for the coldsync operations.
# Note that /dev/palm is a symlink to: /devices/pci@8,700000/usb@5,3/device@1
# This device is created when the Palm attaches itself to the USB bus in
# preparation for a HotSync operation. The "ugen" USB driver is bound to
# the device as a result of an add_drv command:
#         add_drv -m '\* 0666 root bin' -i '"usb830,60.100"' ugen
listen libusb "usb" {
        device: "/dev/palm";

# Default directory for syncing.
pda "My Tungsten T3" {
        snum: "";
        directory: "/export/home/trevw/.palm";
        username: "xxxx";
        userid: ######;

Then, I ran coldysnc as follows (NOTE: not as root):

$ coldsync --listen usb

This prompts you to press the HotSync button on the cradle and away you go.

Well, I had reasonable success. Many of the databases on the Tungsten synced ok, but a couple (notably the calendar) hung for a few seconds before complaining about not being able to read a record.

I spent a lot of time on debugging this, and I thought I'd got it at one point - it looked as if the Tungsten was reporting that a record was not found in the db (I'm not sure whether this is ok or not), and that was causing the sync of that db to fail. With some debugging code in place, I think I finally got it syncing all databases. However, having removed the debugging to try to get a better handle on how to properly fix the source, I started getting USB timeouts with requests for certain records from some of the databases (calendar again).

I have temporarily given up trying to figure out what's wrong, but thought I'd document what I'd got so far, anyway, in case anyone is remotely interested.

BTW, one thing I did get working was to dump the Memo db out to flat file. I added the following to the .coldsyncrc file:

# Set up a conduit to dump memos to text files.
conduit dump {
        path: "/export/home/trevw/.palm/conduits/memo-text";
        type: memo/DATA;
        File: /export/home/trevw/Docs/Personal/Palm/Memos;
        Delete: no;
Sure enough, after the sync, /export/home/trevw/Docs/Personal/Palm/Memos contains all of my memos.
Cool! Now, I just need to figure out a use for it ;)

Monday Feb 14, 2005

FireWire problem #1 solved

Further to my recent blog about problems in getting my iPod and camcorder to work over the IEEE1394 connection, I'm pleased to report success at last!

The shop still hadn't got my iPod back from Apple when I called in on Saturday, but the guy said that Apple tend to replace rather than repair, so he gave me a brand new iPod to replace mine. When we got home, I plugged it straight into the IEEE1394 port (on the powered Belkin card), and XP recognised it straight away and installed the drivers for it.

So, now all I have to do is wait for the camcorder to be suitably repaired (or replaced) and I'll be back on course to do something with all of that video of the kids :)

Can you tell I'm happy?

Friday Feb 11, 2005

Firewire problems

You may recall that I've been having some problems getting my iPod and Sony camcorder to work over the IEEE1394 link to my PC (or any other computer for that matter).

Things haven't really moved forward much. However, I did take the iPod back to the retailer a couple of weeks ago and told them it was faulty. It apparently went off to Apple to be repaired and should be back "soon".

I tried my camcorder in the 1394 port of my SunBlade 2000, and it too failed to recognise that anything was plugged in. Normally, in Solaris 10, the system will detect the connection and then attempt to locate a suitable device driver. If it can't find a driver, it then reports that using syslog. No message at all in syslog, so obviously the system doesn't actually see the camcorder. So, this morning the camcorder went off to the local Sony repair centre in the hope that they can find and fix the fault.

Given that both devices appear to be faulty, I'm leaning towards the possibility that the 1394 port on my PC into which I first plugged the devices was faulty and has somehow damaged them. Either that or it's a very strange coincidence.

More news will follow when the iPod returns from Apple.

Monday Jan 31, 2005

Flame of Adventure

A quickie review of "Flame of Adventure" by Simon Yates, which I finished reading last night.

In his book, Yates describes his mountaineering experiences over several years, which saw him travelling all over the world from Peru to Pakistan, and the Peak District to Perth.

Yates' writing style is to recount his memories from each distinct adventure. Occasionally, he will link from one adventure to the next with some discussion of what he did in between, but often there are distinct jumps - even in the middle of chapters. I found this a little hard work in places, but that is only a minor criticism.

What I liked most about the book were Yates' vivid descriptions of his feelings and emotions both in success, failure, and near tragedy. He comes across as a man who is modest, yet driven and extremely motivated. Not by the trappings of our materialistic Western lives, but by adventure and the eagerness to experience life as others would. This is most vividly portayed by his willingness to seek out the poorer parts of Pakistan and drink untreated water - risking his health in the name of trying to get an understanding of how people live and survive in these areas. I applaud his enthusiasm, but at the same time wonder whether it is really necessary to risk all manner of strange diseases just to gain a better understanding of the world.

If you want to get an understanding of what motivates people to risk their lives in climbing mountains, then I can heartily recommend this book. I'd also recommend that you read the last chapter first. A discourse in the meaning of adventure, it really should have been a prologue to the book rather than the last chapter.

Friday Jan 28, 2005

Managing those pesky passwords

I'm sure that most people reading this will suffer the same problem as myself in managing the passwords for all of those shopping sites, forums, news subscriptions and even!).

My current storage method is to hold all of the information in an encrypted file on my Solaris workstation (since that's where I spend most of my computer use time). This, however, presents me with a couple of problems:

  1. I can't readily get access to the login information when the workstation is switched off at night/weekends
  2. I use VIM to provide the encryption. Unfortunately, decrypting on an Linux/x86 box is not the reverse of encrypting on a Solaris/SPARC box :(, so it's not easy to share the file.
  3. It's a flat file, so although it is not very big, searching means I still have to guess how I entered the name of the site

My first pass at getting some mobility out of my password database was to try out some software for my Palm Tungsten T3. There are, in fact, more software packages out there for managing your passwords than you can shake a stick at, and figuring out which would be best is a nightmare in itself. I tried a couple of applications which had "try and buy" versions available, but in the end I couldn't bring myself to part with a few $$ to pay for something which is essentially quite simple. I also (currently) don't need access to passwords on the move.

So, fresh from doing a rather weak1 Sun web-based training course in JSP technology, I decided to cement my understanding by building a web service which uses a database to store the login information. This will all run under Tomcat & MySQL on my Linux box, which is powered on 24x7.

Not wishing to miss out on learning some new technology, I opted to use JPOX JDO implementation as the data access layer for the DB (thanks to another Sun blogger for referring me to this implementation).

So, after a few day's work, I now have a working system into which I can add logins for sites, and search for them too using a case-insensitive wild-card search. I've written my own JSP tag library (only to discover that there is a Standard Tag Library which does much of what I spent time implementing), which interfaces to a controller servlet and thence to beans which access the database.

I've still got more work to do - audit logs, authentication, deleting or changing entries, but I can say that it has helped me a lot in developing my knowledge of JSP technology and bringing me back up to speed on JDO, which I last used around 4 years ago, when it was a fledgeling concept!

1. The JSP course was SL314. I'm sorry Sun, but this course just does not cut it. Whilst the examples are fine, there are far too few exercises - in fact, none at all about developing and using custom tags, which would have been useful. If you want a JSP course, I suggest you use your money to buy a good book on the subject and also check out on-line tutorials (there's even one on if you look hard enough).

Thursday Jan 27, 2005

I'd just like to say...

Tough Luck!

To the two youths who tried to break into my house earlier this morning.

Here's a tip for you, you morons:

If it's going to take you 15 minutes to wiggle the key out of the lock, DO IT QUIETLY!!

I'm happy to report that the only damage done at chez Watson was to the family's sleep. I don't want to make a habit of getting up at 5.15am 'cos I need my sleep!. Kudos to the Police for getting round here in 10 minutes with a dog van and two rather big PC's. Bet they don't often get a cup of tea at 6am :)

Oh, and it appears that they were after our car. My wife has now officially banned me from having any more high-performance cars :(

Thursday Jan 20, 2005

On the verge of giving up

I received a Belkin IEEE1394 card in the mail this morning and with great expectation I promptly installed it in the PC, and hooked it up to one of the spare power connectors internally.

The PC booted fine, discovered the new hardware and we were away (or so I thought).

Plugged in the iPod. Nothing! No bubble telling me new hardware had been detected, no change in the hardware devices tree, nothing at all! iTunes says there's no iPod connected.

Plugged in the camcorder. Nothing (as above). Studio 9 says it can't initialise a 1394 device.

Getting desperate, I tried the cable which came with the new board, disabled the on-board 1394 device in the BIOS and even booted up in Linux to see if I'd get any more joy there. Alas, no. Neither the iPod or camcorder are recognised, so it's back to square one :(

The only thing I can think to do now is to try both devices in someone else's computer - preferably someone who has had their 1394 port(s) working.

Wednesday Jan 19, 2005

Be wary of maps which offer driving directions

As they may offer you a bit more than you bargained for :)

Go to MSN Maps

Choose Address In Norway and City Haugesund for start
Choose Address In Norway and City Trondheim for finish

Get directions and be amazed by the efficiency...

Shortest and Quickest routes are equally breathtaking!

Linky to save you time!

Tuesday Jan 18, 2005

Still no joy

I'd just like to report that I have had no further luck in getting either my iPod or Sony camcorder hooked up to my PC via the IEEE 1394 connection.

Since my last blog on this subject, I have tried:

  • Installed a fresh version of XP on a separate partition
  • Installed Linux on a separate partition
  • Installed the PCI 1394 card I bought in a different machine also running Linux
All to no avail :(
I even nearly spontaneously bought a Sony laptop at the weekend in the hope that because it's the same brand as my camcorder, they would automagically work together. Fortunately, common sense prevailed (and the threat of my bank manager paying me a visit with some hired heavies) and I didn't do it!

A friend had a similar problem with his iPod and finally determined that it required more power than his basic 1394 card would provide, so he bought a card with a separate ATX style power socket on it and this made things work. Now, to be honest, the fact that the iPod doesn't work over FireWire is not such an issue for me, as it works just fine over USB on both XP and Linux (yeah, I even tested this). However, my friend also mentioned that he'd tried his JVC camcorder on his 1394 board, both with and without the external power to the board, and the camera failed to be recognised when the power connector was disconnected from the board.

So, today, as a last ditch attempt to get things working, I have ordered one of these. As you'll note from the picture of the card, it has a power socket mounted on the top edge of the board. If this fails to do the trick, it can go right back where it came from and I'll only have lost a couple of £ in postage. This figure will pale into insignificance when I end up buying a Sony laptop (although actually, I'd prefer one of these).

I'll post up my success or otherwise after the weekend.

Thursday Jan 13, 2005

Another failure :(

I received a new IEEE 1394 board in the mail this morning, in the hope that it would cure my woes with getting my PC to recognise the Sony DV camcorder and my iPod.

Alas, it didn't help :(

I put the card in and rebooted the PC. It detected the new card, installed the drivers, so I thought I was off and running. However, when I plugged the DV camera in, nothing further happened. Windows Movie Maker and Studio 9 both refused to see it, so I tried the iPod. Another total and miserable failure.

I checked a couple of other settings in the PC, but I still can't get it to recognise either device, so its obviously back to the drawing board.




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