Review


dime Living most of the time here in Barcelona, I am slowly but surely learning Spanish (and a bit of Catalan by osmosis, but one language at a time, please!)
I go to Spanish classes twice a week with Laura and Jorge in the dime barcelona school. Good as they are, it’s still down to me to do the memorizing of Spanish verbs, rules and vocabulary. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a royal pain.

Anki LogoEnter Anki.
One very helpful resource I recently stumbled upon is Anki – tagged as “friendly, intelligent flash cards”. Gazillions of free decks in subjects as diverse as guitar chords and Swahili are available. What is special about Anki as compared to traditional cardboard flash cards is that you rate how easily you answered the question on the card (“Hard”, “Good”, “Easy”, “Very Easy”). Anki uses this rating to decide when it is going to show you that card again. So short-term memories get moved into long-term memory by reviewing at ever-wider intervals. Well, hopefully ever-wider intervals.

Anki is open-source and free, but the developer works on it full-time so make a donation! Anki clients are available for Windows, MacOS X, Linux, iPhone, Android, and more – plus there’s also a low-bandwidth web interface which works from just about anywhere.

For what it’s worth, I’m making my way through a deck called “Spanish Grammar and Vocabulary” which has some 13500 flash cards. 20 cards a day means I should be finished in 2 years or so!

Say what you like about Melvin Bragg, but his In Our Time is consistently interesting. Every week he gets a bunch of experts in to discuss various old or new topics relevant to the history of ideas for 40 minutes or so. Topics last year included Tacitus, Yeats, Karl Popper, The Music of the Spheres, Bismarck, the Black Death, the Fibonacci sequence, and the Nicene Creed. The Beeb have the programs available here for MP3 podcast downloading for a week after the broadcast (normally Thursday evenings), or the entire season’s archive is available to be played back via Real Audio.
Alternatively you can search well-known torrent sites for “In Our Time BBC” to download entire seasons’ worth of episodes in Mp3 format (40+ weeks per year). Perfect for the morning commute.

I would quite happily pay the BBC licence fee if it was possible to do so as a foreigner. The sheer breadth and quality of their programs and documentaries in particular is unrivalled, as far as I can see, by any broadcaster, state or private. The US? Don’t make me laugh. RTE in Ireland can produce documentaries which come close, but only once in a blue moon (the Hands series from the 70s and early 80s was recently repeated and it showed up much of the more modern stuff in a way that was almost embarrassing.)

As for Spain, we run the gamut from telebasura all the way to telemierda.

MacWorld reviews FinderPopDan Frakes over at MacWorld reviews FinderPop – a very kind review too, 4.5 stars. Nice to be appreciated!

As I said to someone earlier, his review shows the difference between a ‘real’ writer and a butcher like me – he has distilled what FinderPop is mostly about into a page, whereas my manual blathers on for page after drivellish page :-/

You can download the latest version of FinderPop here (2.1.2, Universal, MacOS 10.4+).
I release beta versions at the rate of one every couple of weeks, see the Versions page at the FinderPop Support Forum.

Came across this excellent article while browsing this morning. Well worth the 5 minutes it takes to read: Eco – “Eternal Fascism: 14 Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt” (1995.)

For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.
Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare.
[...]
To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies.

Went to amazon.com yesterday to spend a book voucher someone had given me (thanks, j!)
Jeez, talk about Harry Potter overkill! Every second pixel on the site seemed to be devoted to Potter and his magic wand. I wondered just how many of the books were sold, but couldn’t get sales figures (or more likely, didn’t know where to look on amazon.com). Instead I had a look at the top 50 selling books at the time. 15 of the top 50 were Potteralia. The other categories are somewhat arbitrary, but you get the drift…





Though not entirely surprising, there is something a bit disappointing about this. Maybe it’s just the summer holidays and kids (parents) are buying the book to beat the band?

As an aside, there’s a classic bit on bash.org where someone (purely in the interests of science, you understand) substituted the word ‘wang’ for ‘wand’ in a chapter of the first Potter book. And he uncovers definitive proof that J.K Rowling is a dirty DIRTY woman, making a fool of us all! Hilarious. At least it is if you’ve a puerile mind like mine…

Spent the June bank holiday weekend with Mar, Merce y Javi in León province – we stayed about 5km outside Astorga. Lovely scenery, in particular the spectacular Las Médulas (a UNESCO World Heritage site.)


lasmedulas2.JPG

In the 1st century A.D. the Roman Imperial authorities began to exploit the gold deposits of this region in north-west Spain, using a technique based on hydraulic power. After two centuries of working the deposits, the Romans withdrew, leaving a devastated landscape. Since there was no subsequent industrial activity, the dramatic traces of this remarkable ancient technology are visible everywhere as sheer faces in the mountainsides and the vast areas of tailings, now used for agriculture. — UNESCO website

The Ruina Montium technique used by the Romans involved boring vertical shafts with horizontal tunnels off, then quickly flooding the entire system: the compressed air would literally blow the sides of the mountain out, the resulting debris being channeled into canals, in which slaves would scramble, panning for gold. An entire mountain range some 900m high and over 6 km at base has been reduced to the peaks thought to be uneconomic by the Romans. Pliny the elder estimated that 20000 pounds of gold were extracted each year – over two centuries, this is an incredible amount…

Lots more photos here.

A natty new look based on Patricia Muller’s connections WordPress theme. The pic above, as every Cork person will know, is of Gougane Barra. The pic isn’t too bad for a cameraphone, though next time I’ve got to take my real camera!

Additionally, I tossed Otto’s PicasaWeb widget as it just didn’t work. Google have added a Flash SlideShow of their own to PicasaWeb. It needs a randomiser and maybe one or two other options, but it’s fairly slick. There’s even an AJAX-based API available should you wish to customise things still further, which I did, it was fairly painless.

And it’s beyond me how many people still don’t use Picasa. It’s free, it’s the best photo organiser available on a PC and beats iPhoto hands down, and they give you 1 GB (yes, one gig) of free webspace for your albums!

Problems, problems, problems.
Just got hold of my equinux tubestick USB DVB Tuner for the Mac. A bargain at 39.95 euro + another 12 shipping and handling. Alas, it’s dog-slow on my 1.5GHz G4 Mac Mini (1G RAM, external fast FW400 drive). They have a horrible licensing scheme that ties the Tubestick software to a particular Mac (though you have 4 more installs.) It crashed twice when I went to activate the software. It crashes quite frequently. They have a built-in ILCrashReporter framework, which has been getting heavy use. I disabled FinderPop in case of conflicts, to no avail.

The picture and audio break up all the time, the Mini’s fan is blowing fulltime, top shows the ‘TheTube’ app hovering around the 80% mark showing pixellated quarter-size and the software loses contact with the USB device regularly.


Tubestick

TheTube app found 21 channels which is a bit odd since the bundled MediaCentral application found 31 with the same hardware and aerial position. Their snazzy website quotes:

Multi-tasking is no problem for TubeStick

where by “no problem” they mean “you can’t.” At least on a G4 Mac Mini.

Time to fire up the disassembler to see what they’re doing…

In short, not recommended, at least not with my setup. Maybe I need more VRAM or reduce screensize, will play around and will update with my findings. For now though, mucho disappointment :-(
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EDIT: The bundled MediaCentral app does a much better job of displaying television, though it’s still unacceptable. Maybe there’s hope for the thing yet. The Tubestick is based on the Afatech AF9015 chipset, so maybe there’s a driver for the open source iTele application?
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EDIT2: Changing my screen resolutions all the way down to 800×600 made no difference. It still sucks :-(
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EDIT3: Equinux got back to me thusly (20-May-2007):

We are sorry that you have problems using the latest version of The Tube on your Mac. The new features and additions in version 1.1 require more resources than previous versions. Our developers are currently working to improve performance, in particular on PowerPC-based Macs.

You might be able to improve the performance by turning off deinterlacing under “Display > Deinterlace Picture” and in the preferences. If this does not help, I suggest returning to version 1.0.3 for now. You can download that version here.

The ‘boilerplate’ nature of that reply convinces me that I am not alone in complaining. Disabling deinterlacing made no difference. Will try 1.0.3 when I get home tonight (the CD that shipped with the tubestick had version 1.1 of TheTube.)
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EDIT4: TheTube 1.0.3 works much better. Though you still get the odd bit of pixellation, and you can still hear the CPU fan if you turn on deinterlacing. I look forward to TheTube version 1.2. However, I still can’t believe that they didn’t notice this rather obvious problem. More likely, they did notice, but either didn’t give a damn, or just said “screw PPC Macs.” Tech Support claimed that they raised the minimum requirements of TheTube 1.1. Sounds like a cop-out to me! None of those options bodes well for equinux. Nowhere on their website does it say

Note: Due to incompetence, TheTube 1.1 is 200-500% slower than 1.0.3 at displaying TV images. You know, what you bought it for.

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EDIT5: Good news! Equinux have released TheTube 1.1.1 which claims to have “boosted performance and stability“.

Our developers pushed the right buttons and boosted performance, especially when watching TV in full screen or using a G4 or G5 computer.

The astute amongst you will have noticed the word ‘claims’ above. Performance still was very poor indeed on certain channels, but that may well have been signal strength. On the remaining channels it seemed OK some of the time, and then at apparently random intervals major pixellation and audio dropouts again occurred. Once this happened, the channel became unwatchable until you switched to another channel and back again. top still has TheTube.app hovering around the 80% mark and the Mini’s fan remains on fulltime. Unfortunately I then made the mistake of trying to tune the channels again with TheTube 1.1.1, which crashed halfway through, leaving me high and dry because there was no way to watch anything.
TheTube[432] An uncaught exception was raised
TheTube[432] *** -[NSCFDictionary setObject:forKey:]: attempt to insert nil value
TheTube[432] *** Uncaught exception: *** -[NSCFDictionary setObject:forKey:]: attempt to insert nil value

Just got back last night from 3 weeks working in Lisle, just outide Chicago. Nice town! Well, Chicago is.

Weather’s a bit weird, though – what’s with 5 inches of snow on April 12th? Followed by 14 days with no rain at all? Followed by torrential downpours and thunderstorms? It’s all a bit tropical.

Chicago.jpg

This was taken with my K750i mobile phone in Millenium Park near the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago.

To see samples what the K750i is capable of – and what it’s not capable of – see my K750 album on PicasaWeb.

Sergin Castanheira did the Camino de Santiago pulling a little trolley with his stuff on it! O Carrinho de Santiago describes how. Warning: lots of superb pictures!

Lameiros.jpg
Sergin’s carrinho at Lameiros

He even ended his camino in the traditional manner in Finisterre.

(My slightly more traditional walk on the Camino de Santiago is described here.)

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