Thursday, October 11, 2007

In Rainbows

So Radiohead's seventh studio album, In Rainbows, came out yesterday, accompanied by a load of media hyperbole and comment. (For those living under rocks - hello Mike - they made it available as a £40 gift box and a download for which you set your own price.)

I paid £2. My reasoning went something like this. I'd pay £6-8 for a CD, and there are lots of benefits to owning a CD:
  • Artwork - something tangible to flick through while the CD's playing - definitely not to be underestimated.
  • A box to put on my CD shelf.
  • A CD to play in my stereo at home, which is a pretty decent system and is set up to play CDs best. (It'll play MP3s through my Archos Gmini connected to the line-in, but it's not optimal sound quality.)
  • The freedom to rip the CD (in line with fair use) to a digital format of my choosing.
  • The freedom to play that digital copy anywhere.
  • The option to sell the CD if I decide I don't want it any more.
With a download of 160kbps MP3s, I only get one of the above benefits. So (depending on how the above are weighted), this download is only 1/6 as good as a CD. This is a new release (which also adds value), and 160kbps MP3s are pretty close to how I'd actually encode at the moment anyway. (A little high if anything.) I don't want the full-on box set thing, but I would like a 'proper' CD - I wonder if they'll release it in that format at any point.

Interestingly, I don't get any of the above benefits for an iTunes download (I don't have an iPod). I'd consider iTunes (especially here in the UK) to be massively overpriced for DRM-encumbered, lossy files. Even a lossless album would only fetch about £3 by this criteria. And an album that couldn't be ripped (e.g. using the defunct Copy Control technology) would be worth about half as much as a standard CD, if I didn't consider such a thing outrageous. So I guess having a physical disc is still pretty important to me.

It's a typically bold move on Radiohead's part to release their music in this way. I suspect that it won't end up being "the future of music" as some people seem to think, but it's an interesting experiment to see how much people are really prepared to pay for a digital download. I'd love to see the results - how much people paid and how much money the artists made, compared to how much they would have made by releasing the album through conventional channels (if such a comparison is valid). It raises the question of how music downloads should really be priced.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I like to ride my bicycle

I went for a bike ride today - I want to get back into exercising, somehow, and I don't quite feel up to running. I can't believe I haven't thought of this before - it was brilliant! I went along a bridleway-type path in a park near here (along the railway). Here's a map, assuming it works this time:

I even found a load of blackberries by the side of the path, next to the railway viaduct. Tasty!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I signed up for the BBC iPlayer beta, and got an invitation to join it in my email inbox a few days later. It's a bit of a faff to set up (they assign you a randomly-generated - and hard to remember - username, and you then have to sign up for a separate BBC account too), and of course it only works on WinXP + IE6/7. But it seems to work pretty well on that. I had no trouble downloading an episode of Adam Hart-Davis' excellent Beginner's Guide to the Cosmos that I'd missed.

The DRM is (to me) rather draconian; fortunately, it's a piece of cake to remove it at the moment. Just download a copy of FairUse4WM. I found it here, though Google shows up plenty of links. I won't directly link to it, since there seemed to be a lot of broken links - hosting providers getting jittery about hosting it, I guess. Make sure you check the MD5 (I use md5deep). Then just run FairUse4WM (it's a Windows program) and it'll strip the DRM from your iPlayer WMVs (though you'll have to find them - mine were kept in C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Documents\My Deliveries, and there's no option to change this), quickly and easily. Voila! You can watch them, burn them to DVD, keep them for as long as you like - just like you can do with any DVD recorder right now. Fair enough, I reckon. Apparently that works with Channel 4's 4OD service too (it's the same underlying software), but I haven't been able to get that to work yet. I'll try a bit harder when I miss something crucial on Channel 4.

Friday, July 06, 2007


I found MapMyRide today, via Lifehacker - it lets you map bike rides or running routes. I added my weekly run - you can see it here:

[edit: it appears not to be working. Rubbishness! Try this link instead.]

Actually I'm not really doing any running at all at the moment, for reasons I won't go into here. Hopefully that'll change next month though. I feel like I've not done anything strenuous for ages and ages.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Two Q's

I've been in Albuquerque for the past week for Particle Accelerator Conference 2007. It was a pretty good conference, despite the fact that Albuquerque is a typical sprawling American city with not much to do, especially if you don't have a car. I regretted slightly not having a plan for my free day (the Sunday), since it would have been nice to get out to the pueblos or maybe the VLA. We went on a couple of good trips though:

On Wednesday, we drove out to Santa Fe. The town was pretty nice, some very attractive buildings. Everything was fronted with adobe (I think), which gave it a nice sandstone-ish feel. We did some tat shopping at a Five & Dime, but failed to find a real six-string, disappointingly. And we saw an immense thunderstorm - lightning everywhere, constantly for a few hours. I'd never seen anything like it. We tried to get some photos but it was just pot-luck really. I think Duncan has a good one.

On the Friday, we got the cable car to the top of Sandia Peak, above Albuquerque. It was well worth the trip. The mountain stands at 10,000 feet (the city's at 5000-6000ish), so the views were absolutely amazing. We had a bit of a wander around the ridge, tried to climb some trees, ate in the restaurant at the top, and watched the sunset over the city. Didn't see any bears though.

Most of the photos of last week are on my Flickr page. I'll put the cable car ones up shortly.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Feeling it

On Saturday, Lynne and I went to watch The Feeling in Delamere Forest. Someone in work had a pair of spare tickets, and sold me them for somewhat less than the face value - bargainaceous! So I surprised Lynne with it on Friday evening - she was really excited.

The band were brilliant - very theatrical, some would even say a little cheesy. They did basically the same crowd-pleasing set as last time (Lynne & Anna saw them at Manchester Apollo); basically the whole of Twelve Stops and Home, with a couple of brilliant covers (The Buggles' Video Killed The Radio Star, and Queen's Fat Bottomed Girls - yes!). They played one new song - I thought there might be more, but apparently they're only just recording the new album, so maybe it's not been practiced much yet.

They really got the crowd going, and the atmosphere was brilliant - a real mix of people. I'd definitely go to see a band at Delamere again, it was a fantastic experience. We even stayed dry!

The support band, Ghosts, were rather good too. Pretty similar to The Feeling, really - more cheesy rock. I'd looked on their website on Friday, thinking I could download some songs to listen to in the car on the way down to the gig. But they only had a crappy Flash player. Luckily, armed with a copy of Firefox's Live HTTP Headers extension, I was able to find the links to the tracks and download the MP3s. W00t! (Their album, The World Is Outside, is out today by the way.)

Monday, April 23, 2007


On Friday, the Deeside Orienteering Club put on an orienteering event at the lab at lunchtime. I thought I'd go along to see what it was like. It was really good fun! At the start, we got a little plastic finger tag thing, and we were given maps just before starting. We had to find thirteen waypoints in order, each of which had a post to put your tag in. At the end, we got printouts showing how long it had taken to find each one. I came sixth out of nine, which I don't think was too bad considering it was all the hardcore runners from the lab - people that win the Daresbury Dash every year. It was really good for my micro-navigation skills - evaluating contours and terrain, and trying to do it as fast as possible. The course took us through the forest at the back of the lab, running up and down the hill and through trees and brambles. I scratched my leg to bits at one point. It was really good fun though - I'd definitely do it again. The DOC apparently put on some evening events in Delamere Forest, which would be really good fun.

Blog visualisations

This is rather pretty: Blog Map.

I will post something more at some point; just working through my weekly/daily stuff.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cycling in Europe

I was in Grenoble, France* last week, at the FFAG 2007 workshop with a load of other accelerator physicists, many of them Japanese (apparently they have quite a few FFAG machines). On the first day, I got the bus to the conference and walked back. But after nearly being mown down by several cyclists, I had a flash of inspiration and hired a bike from the train station. It was brilliant! The weather was just right for it - not too hot. And Grenoble, despite having huge mountains all around, is a very very flat city. It took me about five minutes and almost no effort whatsoever to cycle from my hotel to the workshop venue. Counteracted some of the weight-gain effects of free food and cheap booze too. One of my better ideas, I think. And hopefully one I'll be using again - though I have a feeling it will work less well in US cities (I'm in Albuquerque in June for PAC 2007).

On a very similar note, this is brilliant.

*Argh! How American does that make me sound? I'm only trying to save you a minute looking it up on Wikipedia...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tony Blair and Satan

So Tony has responded in person to everyone that signed the anti-road pricing petition, including me. (Well, sent out a mass email, anyway - I don't count that as a personal response.) It's good to see him interacting with the public like this. Maybe now we can have a proper debate about the whole ridiculous scheme. [If you want to price people off the roads, just put petrol up. People don't want to travel when it's busy and will avoid it where possible; you don't have to punish them financially for it as well. And the 'petrol tax' takes into account fuel efficiency.]

His email in my inbox arrived next to another one, creating an interesting juxtaposition.

So now we know.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Simian antics

At the weekend, we went to Go Ape! in Delamere Forest, for Chris & Mike's 21st birthday. It's a big assault course in the trees. We got a fantastic clear sunny day for it, and I think it's fair to say everyone had a brilliant time. I thought my arms and legs would be really sore this morning (those nets are a killer), but I don't actually feel too bad. Photos will be posted on my Flickr account (and videos on YouTube) as soon as we've sorted through them. (I took rather a lot.)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Nice pipes

I had a look at Yahoo! Pipes (via Lifehacker). It all looks jolly impressive and web2.0ish; and it does pretty much everything it claims to do. But (as someone who likes to mess around with things) it soon became obvious that it's very beta, and doesn't have a lot of the features a developer would expect. For example, how do I merge two feeds together when they don't both have the same date parameter? I would expect to be able to create a parameter in one feed, but I can't find anything that does that. The interface is really really nice though - kind of like LabVIEW.

POP3 access in Gmail has now been rolled out for most of their accounts (well, it works in mine anyway). I've been waiting for this to be activated in my account since I heard about it last November. It seems to work pretty well - it fetches my work mail just fine, via a secure connection. It's slower than forwarding, which was my previous solution. But I get all the 'to' and 'cc' email addresses shown up in every mail, and I can take full advantage of labels and threading for my work email. Brilliant! It just makes me love Gmail even more.

One feature I want to see in Gmail is some kind of Bayesian filtering for labels. I typically assign labels by category, and most of the emails I receive for each label have many of the same words in. It would be great if I could 'train' the system to automatically filter my emails into those labels, instead of having to guess at keywords. If it worked as well as the spam filter, it would be just about perfect. A 'mark as read' button next to each email in the list view would be great too. (Richard is working on a Greasemonkey script for this.)