Where'd the blogging go?

January 11th, 2010

As any (by now) periodic reader has noticed, blogging's gone way down on my side of the Nimblebrain site. The reason is relatively simple. I was finding that most of the stuff I was commenting on was really "Oh, this is interesting" which required very little further analysis or discussion. Fun to share but not really in need of a full-blown article. I've therefore moved pretty much all of what I have to say over to Twitter which with the abbreviated URLs and 140 character limit allows -- nay, requires -- me to be succinct and pithy. I'll still post longer items here but truly there's not been much recently that's motivated me to write them. Sure, I'm no fan of proroguing Parliament but better writers than I have already tackled that one.

Anyway, as part of my attempting to not leave trivially easy-to-follow trails on the internet, I'm not referencing my Twitter username here; if you know who I am anyway, it'll be easy enough to find my Twitter feed. See you there!

The Muppets Cover The Beatles

August 29th, 2009

Link: http://saturdaymorningcentral.com/music/the-best-muppet-show-beatles-covers/

Lovely collection of Beatles covers by the Muppets, including a superb "Let It Be" rework from Sesame Street.

(Via BoingBoing)

Producing address lists from the OSX Address book

August 24th, 2009

Recently I was mailed a bunch of contact information to another OSX user -- basically by emailing vCards from within the iPhone. I would have done it from the Mac but that required the extra step of saving the vCard to the filesystem before I could send it. Did you know that the iPhone *includes* the memo field in the contact information when it sends it? You do now so beware...

Anyway, eventually I got the following query back:

How do I print an address book entry? Print just prints the street address in an envelope format with no other choice. So far the only way I could get a printout is to do a screen capture.

This resulted in a bit of headscratching, 'cause I couldn't figure it out either. After a bit of Googling, I found a few similar questions which were answered with "Hey, just change the style from the print requestor". Excellent, except there's no style option actually on the print requestor.

Well, there is. In an uncharacteristic bit of crappy UI design, Apple hid the options needed wanted with a very non-obvious arrow.

So, here's the process of printing a group of addresses from the OSX addressbook app:

- Create a new group with all of the attendees in it (create group, drag each address into it)
- Select the group and choose print
- This brings up the print requestor. To the right of the printer selection is a little down arrow. Press it
- This brings up a much larger option screen. Under "Style" choose "Mailing Labels"
- This will produce a page of addresses. The bonus is that they're formatted appropriately for address labels if you have the right sticky label pages.

Under the "style" dropdown there's also the option to print out selected fields from the address book for a more traditional style address dump.

Facebook Faux Pas

August 17th, 2009

How Do You Identify Music Without A Title (Redux)

July 22nd, 2009

Link: http://blogs.nimblebrain.net/index.php/2006/09/28/how_do_you_identify_music_without_a_titl?blog=5

Back in 2006, I posed a question on the blog of how to identify music without knowing its name. Ritchie pointed me at Shazam shortly after correctly identifying the specific track via its lyrics instead. Since that time, Shazam has been ported to the iPhone and I'm pleased to report that it really does a sterling job. There remain a couple of recordings in my collection that even Shazam has problems with and, alas, they're mostly instrumental pieces so the old lyric fallback won't work there.

But, hey, this really is progress!

Rebuilding the old tape collection

July 22nd, 2009

When I first started buying music I had a choice of cassette tape or vinyl. For reasons mostly involving the availability of singles, I tended to buy on vinyl. After a while I'd accumulated a pretty good stock and found it was rather non-portable. A single record is relatively light; a bunch are both unwieldy and extremely heavy. Oh, and surprisingly fragile. As I was at school at the time and the proud possessor of a Walkman knockoff, I proceeded to copy most of it to cassette. Yes, I have a lot of white inner sleeves with a logo of large skull and crossbones over a cassette tape with text stating "Home taping is killing music". Plus ca change.

Over the years since, I've accumulated a pretty good collection of music. Certainly far, far more than I did when I bought music on vinyl. With all of my CDs converted to MP3 I thought it might be fun to try to recreate my old tape collection with the newer higher quality versions. The gotcha is that I wanted to try to match the originals: the cuts had to be the appropriate single version where possible rather than just the album edit.

I can't do it.

The culprits are for the most part the old 12" singles which I was quite partial to. Take for example New Order's "Blue Monday '88". I own the original 12" version on vinyl but it's never been transferred over to CD. You can find the original 1983 12" easily enough, and the 1988 7" release turns up at least once on a compilation. The 1988 12"? Not on your life. How about the Ben Liebrand "Sunshine" 12" mix of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day?" Yeah, you guessed it. Paul Hardcastle's "19" was released in two different versions depending on the market; the US version has a very different voice from the British one and sounds a lot weaker. Guess which version always shows up. Now try to find the a nice remaster of the UK 12".

However, they're not the only ones. Trying to find the charting 7" version of a lot of songs is pretty hard too. There are a number of compilations that do include obscure mixes but too often it's just the album version again. Unfortunately there's no way to find that out before it arrives, fully paid for, on your doorstep.

Then there are the utterly wacky obscurities although still pressed by mainstream studios. Try finding "The Young Ones" cover of Traffic's "Hole In My Shoe" (bummer, man) or perhaps the Steve Harley vocal of "Phantom Of the Opera" (Michael Crawford sure spoiled that one.) Perhaps PhD's "I Won't Let You Down" (that would be the Scottish band, not the American one)? Even something as mainstream as Sly Fox's "Let's Go All The Way" was surprisingly difficult to find. On the other hand, I expected Guru Josh's "Infinity 1990" to be impossible to find and promptly discovered a CD single of it.

And the B sides? Oh. The flip side of the single with the theme tune to "Dr Who" during the Peter Davidson years is a great little synthesizer number called "The Astronauts". See this link to get an idea of how hard that one is to find, even on vinyl. Hefti's "Batusi A-Go Go (I Shouldn't Wish To Attract Attention)"? Yeah.

Fortunately I still -- even after all these years -- have the original vinyl. I've converted it all onto CDs so at least it'll now remain accessible and not degrade further. All the same, the sound quality just isn't as good as a properly remastered release. The hunt continues.

iPhone notepad

July 16th, 2009

Link: http://daringfireball.net/2009/07/simplenote

Daring Fireball has an interesting take on why the iPhone's note application is the pinnacle of the breed, with one of two minor niggles.

I still can't agree: the time-based flat access system that John Gruber considers to be the appropriate design drives me nuts. Perhaps it's because I used the Palm notes for so long but I absolutely have to have a category to allow me to distinguish between notes for different purposes. Without that, and even with just a few notes, the whole lot becomes an unmanageable mess.

That said, the addition of syncing with OSX's Mail.app and the iPhone's new "Find" tool does go a long way to making it valuable again. And he's absolutely right on the poor font choice and the lack of internet/MobileMe syncing. It's horrible.

Cool baby furniture

June 8th, 2009

Link: http://i.gizmodo.com/5276024/blade+covered-baby-equipment-perfect-shower-gifts-for-the-antichrist

I'm not really a baby person, but this crèche furniture is quite appealing.

Metered internet

May 17th, 2009

Did you know that it's really easy to get through a gigabyte of data in two days without using torrents or streamed video and audio (albeit with a little bit of Skyping)?

Neither did I up until a few hours ago.

Major contributors: Windows update, Outlook syncing, VMWare Fusion dmg download.

iPhones and roaming wifi

May 16th, 2009

Apropos of not much:

- Trying to sync over wifi when your laptop is already connected to a pay-to-play wifi hub doesn't work. Apple really needs to open up their iTunes sync API so that third party apps can piggyback on it.
- Pay-to-play wifi just doesn't seem to be iPhone friendly, what with the need of most of them to display an active window counting your connection time.

Things iPhoto thinks are faces

April 30th, 2009

Link: http://www.flickr.com/groups/977532@N24/

I don't have a copy of iPhoto'09 with the feature that tries to automatically recognise people's faces and tag them. I'm looking forward to trying it out eventually.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying the Flickr group where people post some of iPhoto's near (and quite wide) misses.

On contracts and unlocking cellphones

April 29th, 2009

Link: http://emperor.tidbits.com/TidBITS/Talk/2606

TidBITS, an Apple-centred news/discussion site, had a very brief discussion on unlocking cellphones after the contract is up.

I have to say I'm unsure why cellphone companies are not obliged to do this. The rationale -- as I understand it -- is that the cost of the phone is subsidised by the contract and the longer the contract, the more the subsidy (i.e. the cheaper the phone is.) Once that contract is complete, the subsidy should be fully paid back and therefore the cellphone should be entirely yours. However, on a locked phone this is not the case as it's still limited to use on only that particular cell network. I can see why the cell companies don't want to do it as it's an extra impediment to switching, and if the phone was free with a contract I could even accept it, but when you're spending several hundred dollars on a more sophisticated device like the iPhone the device should be yours free and clear.

Imagine buying a house where the mortgage company said (after being paid back in full) "Ok, it's all yours, but you're still going to need to pay us to live in it."

It's a bit absurd.

On "magic"

April 28th, 2009

Link: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/17-05/ff_neuroscienceofmagic?currentPage=all

Wired has a nice writeup on magic tricks and the shortcomings of the human perceptual system that allow them to work.

Progress ain't everything

April 26th, 2009

Link: http://www.bogost.com/games/a_television_simulator.shtml

When I moved off the Amiga to other platforms, I left behind a number of interesting hardware tricks required for producing the sterling graphics the platform was known for. When trying to use the Amiga file formats on other platforms, the results were never as good due to those features being absent.

The linked to article discusses something very similar with the even older games consoles that took advantage of the behaviour of the low end technology available at that time -- specifically artefacting from cheap televisions -- and how never technology doesn't represent the appearance or behaviour correctly, often making it look a whole lot worse than it was.

(Via BoingBoing)

Good news for meat-eating hangover sufferers

April 24th, 2009

Link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/sciencenews/5118283/Bacon-sandwich-really-does-cure-a-hangover.html

Who knew? A fry up really does help to cure hangovers. According to an article in Britain's Torygraph:

Elin Roberts, of Newcastle University's Centre for Life said: "Food doesn't soak up the alcohol but it does increase your metabolism helping you deal with the after-effects of over indulgence. So food will often help you feel better.

"Bread is high in carbohydrates and bacon is full of protein, which breaks down into amino acids. Your body needs these amino acids, so eating them will make you feel good."

Ms Roberts told The Mirror: "Bingeing on alcohol depletes neurotransmitters too, but bacon contains a high level of aminos which tops these up, giving you a clearer head."