Monday, November 30, 2009

Rockbox Shrinks!

Rockbox Blackjack on the Clip

I've been in transit a lot recently and therefore listening to even more MP3s than usual. I mainly rely on a Sansa E260 running Rockbox. However, I've given the Sansa Clip to friends who like audiobooks, podcasts, and music and they uniformly love that player. It's tiny but has a screen (though a simple one) great sound, a good FM radio, long battery life, and is reliable. Unfortunately the typical inflexibility of MP3 player software that drove me to run Rockbox on my other players has kept me from using the Clip very much.

The Rockbox team has accomplished something nifty: they've ported a usable version of Rockbox to the Clip. Considering the tiny size and the tricky innards of this player, giving the full feature set of Rockbox to this player is quite a feat.

(For those who don't know, Rockbox is free open source audio player software, and it's darned near infinitely configurable and offers many features that are unavailable with most players' original firmware. Even if you have a brand other than Sansa --including many Apples-- they probably have a version that works on it. )

It isn't totally complete on the Clip yet:
  • You must install manually; the installation utility doesn't work currently.
  • You must use a daily build, as Clip isn't included in the stable release 3.4
  • Recording isn't enabled yet
  • The USB stack isn't fully implemented, which can make it a bit fiddly.
So very close to fully implemented. I'm not sure I'll switch when the Clip is totally Rockboxed--It's awfully small for many of the features I like--but I'll have to consider it.

If you have a Clip, are comfortable doing techie things, and want to try Rockbox, make sure to understand it only works on the so-called "Version 1" of the clip. Go to Settings > System Info and look for "Version" which denotes the firmware version. If it begins V01, then Rockbox will work; If it doesn't, then you'll have to wait. Everyone I know who's so far gotten recertified or refurbished Clips dirt cheap at, Woot! and elsewhere has gotten Version 1 players.

Here are some screenshots from my quick test of the firmware on a Clp I have around:

Now Playing screen

Settings screen

Main Menu

If you're running an old-fashioned browser on a desktop, laptop, and probably netbook computer, those will probably appear larger than true size. Amazing!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tech-journos in about 1876

I'm (meaning Riffle is) a bit snowed under here, metaphorically. But McSweeney's does a service with this retro-view of Gizmodo-style future peering:


- - - -

This week Bell Labs plans to roll out the Telephone, the first viable Telegraph alternative, but reports indicate they may not be ready. Many of the rollers are said to be jammed and the Telephone might have to be carried out instead. For agreeing to help lift the contraption, we have been given exclusive access to what experts are already calling 'a device which emits sound and is not filled with bees.'"

I adjure you to read more by "clicking" with your pointing device on the following: Click here to read more.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The De'il's Awa wi' th' Exciseman

If only ...
The deil cam fiddlin' thro' the town,
And danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman,
And ilka wife cries, "Auld Mahoun,
I wish you luck o' the prize, man."
Chorus-The deil's awa, the deil's awa,
The deil's awa wi' the Exciseman,
He's danc'd awa, he's danc'd awa,
He's danc'd awa wi' the Exciseman.

We'll mak our maut, and we'll brew our drink,
We'll laugh, sing, and rejoice, man,
And mony braw thanks to the meikle black deil,
That danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman.
The deil's awa, &c.

There's threesome reels, there's foursome reels,
There's hornpipes and strathspeys, man,
But the ae best dance ere came to the land
Was-the deil's awa wi' the Exciseman.
The deil's awa, &c.
I recommend Jean Redpath's rendering of this tune (arranged smartly by Serge Hovey, her co-conspirator on the multi-volume Burns recordings), but this version below, including some skilled fellows from Perthshire, was captured in the wild on YouTube and commendably represents the tune.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tap Your Canes

Roger Ebert says this 1980 piece of his featuring Milton Berle and Lou Jacobi hasn't been online until now. Berle:
"I had a whole list of things to say when a joke bombed.'

Like what.

'Like what, he says. Like OK folks, here's another one you may not care for. There must be people out there, I hear breathing. Tap your canes when you want to laugh. Working this audience is like walking a gangplank without a ship. Did you come in here for entertainment or revenge? I feel like the captain of the Titanic. May I see your library cards? I've never been funnier, folks, and believe me I sincerely regret it.'"

Such a long time ago.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Clashing Media Notes

= 1) She Wrote (-ish) a Book: I predicted (with several good reasons) that Palin's book would be rife with errors. Now that AP has obtained a copy, it appears that the deluge of errata is beginning. For instance concerning the reasons for the Couric interview and paying the cost of her "vetting." The AP has started detailing more.

That's after less than one day and a very cursory report-- wait until the digging starts. Also, don't be surprised if Levi Johnston really does have some unpleasant news for Palin.

= 2) Miranda Hart, who I know mainly from a radio series and a one-off program for Radio 4 (as well as supporting roles in Hyperdrive and Not Going Out) has a new eponymous TV sitcom on the BBC. The first episode was aired Monday and largely a redo of her radio series. The cast is great (and due to get better). The gag writing is fairly deft; the characters show promise; the performances are solid; and the retro style combined with a knowing approach to the audience is, so far, winsome. Looking forward to more.

= 3) Chris Matthews-- Still an Idiot: One of the most frequent search terms used to find this blog is "Chris Matthews Idiot." I'm proud of that and have returned to that rock-solid theme a few times over the years. Just yesterday Matthews evinced several of his dismal traits in an interview with Daniel Zwerdling of NPR who talked with some of mass-killer Nidal Hasan's colleagues at Walter Reed and produced some important reporting. [Transcript of the whole program--search for the second instance of "Zwerdling" for the segment in question.] In the space of a few short minutes Matthews:
  • Interrupted with trivialities while Zwerdling was trying to detail his reporting.
  • Used that interruption to demonstrate that he does not know the difference between "psychotic" and "psychopathic."
  • Exhibited his shallow film-criticism approach to covering current events by trying to shoehorn Taxi Driver into this conversation, and demonstrated he also doesn't understand Taxi Driver, either.
I'm glad Lou Dobbs is gone for several reasons, not least of which is that Dobbs is the main reason CNN is unwatchable when one seeks refuge from Matthews. Hardball will probably lose a lot of eyeballs when (if?) Dobbs is replaced by a sane person. BBC America's newscast is a great option, but sometimes I need a bit more US news.

= 4) Cymbal History: BBC Radio 4 had a fascinating and lively program (with occasionally misjudged comedic asides) on the history of the cymbal called A Cymbal Tale. It prominently features Zildjian and covers that company's history a bit as well as the broader story of the instrument and includes helpful sonic examples. It's on IPlayer for a few more days.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

International Notes of International Note

World Leaders in Berlin at the Fall of the Wall Celebrations

1) The celebrations on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, while commendable, looked sadly drenched. I found an appropriate song for the occasion:

<-- click circle to play

"Rainy Day In Berlin" performed by Eric Idle from Monty Python's Hastily Cobbled Together For A Fast Buck album. Sounds like a great day they had in that city. There was precipitation, I understand.

2) A Marine reservist in Tampa offered divergent reasons for beating with a tire iron the bearded, robed man who spoke to him. One was that the man was an Islamic terrorist who shouted "Allahu Akbar." Turns out his victim was a Greek Orthodox priest in the traditional long beard and clerical robes. Whoopsy. Don't worry, potential international tourists: the priest was released from the hospital after treatment. Visit us with your currency!

3) The BBC news-based comedy quiz show Have I Got News for You gets a US version tryout. The pilot tapes November 20 in Manhattan and tickets are free. Sam Seder hosts with team captains Michael Ian Black and Greg Giraldo. I wish they had a Hislop on the panel -- meaning newsier-oriented people, not just funnymen--but these comedians could be up to it (Seder's been working in political/news media for years). Or they could screw it up, especially since, surprisingly, it's for NBC.

4) Lastly, it's Veterans Day in the US. I'm with Yglesias and others in wishing that Armistice Day was a holiday here: America should annually contemplate World War I rather than add another martial celebration. Still, this collection of videos of dogs joyously welcoming their soldier masters home had an extra heartwarming touch on this day. The dumb wars our leaders undertake aren't the fault of the grunts, so here's to them.

One of the doggy-greetings.

There are more at the link. This is one reason I love dogs.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Zach Black

HBO's Bored to Death, which grew on me as the season progressed, just ended with another funny episode featuring guests John Hodgman, Sarah Vowell, Todd Barry, and Oliver Platt. I'm glad to see it's been renewed, especially since it features Zach Galifianakis. Zach's standup always makes me laugh and so does his acting.

Galifianakis was interviewed by Marc Maron for his podcast (iTunes -- non iTunes) on the set of a movie (from facts in the interview, I presume it's Due Date). Galifianakis does fake-sincere very well, but I think he's real-sincere in this interview, at least much of the time when he's not outright joking.

Galifianakis grew up in North Carolina, part of the Jim Crow south, as a member of one of the many Greek families involved in the restaurant business. He relates this story, after saying that his father's side of the family is very dark skinned (this story starts about 30 minutes into the podcast):
My uncle Mike told me that in the fifties in the summer he would get really tanned -- dark eyes, dark skin. He sat on the front of the bus in Durham North Carolina. The bus driver stops and goes "Hey, boy. You have to sit in the back."

And my uncle goes "Why?"

He goes "'Cause you're negro, you have to sit in the back of the bus."

And my uncle goes "I'm not black."

And the bus driver goes "Well, what are you?" and my uncle goes, "I'm Greek."

And the bus driver says "You can't ride the bus"
Welcome to the South!

Galifianakis, playing a petulant, narcissistic, dumb character (you know, like an entertainment "journalist") has done a series of celebrity interview web videos called Between Two Ferns. Worth a viewing.

Monday, November 09, 2009


I've drastically reduced shopping at Whole Foods. I had to stop there yesterday, though, for something only they sell. I decided to befoul my soul and pick up some brussels sprouts there rather than make a separate trip elsewhere.

Whole Foods usually markets brussels sprouts lumped in a bin alongside many other tubs full of well-pampered vegetables, but they had run short of loose sprouts. As a stopgap they stuck two nearly yard-long stalks of sprouts in the bin. Shoppers had already assailed both. Enough remained for my household.

I began picking and dropping them in a bag. It's a bit of a tedious endeavor but doesn't call for great strength. In terms of force required, on the spectrum between picking ripe raspberries and harvesting corn, it's there in the middle but leaning a bit towards the maizey end. There was a small but definite crack when I torqued each one away.

About 30 brussels sprouts (some quite small) remained on both stalks. I decided to take them all.

After I picked away for half a minute or so, a rather pushy woman viewed me from both sides and repeatedly leaned in to check the sprout level. She maneuvered her cart around. She vocalized nonverbally a few times (snorts, ululations, stridulations ...). Finally she said: "Oh, you're taking all the sprouts."

"Yes, but I'm not doing it solely for eating. I'm mainly enjoying the itinerant farmworker experience."

I left her a few anyway.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Surgeon for the Defense

I offer another ramble in the magnificent Old Bailey Archives. From 3rd July, 1771 trial of three men: William Leegroves and John Bailis for stealing a silver tankard from the King James' Stairs public house in Shadwell; and of Joseph Lyons for fencing ("receiving") it.

Defense called Isaac Benjamin, a surgeon from Whitechapel to establish that Lyons was bedridden with illness during the time of the crime. He diagnosed Lyons with pleurisy and bled him, then:
Q. Cannot you tell us what you thought proper to prescribe for him?

Benjamin. Only boluses.

Q. What was the composition?

Benjamin. The composition in plain English, is Venice treakle and spermaceti, and this I prescribed for him.

Q. And any thing else?

Benjamin. And powders thrice a day, powders of crabs eyes.

  • Back in that day, a bolus was a small ball or a pill (today it's a bit different).Benjamin's statement that he gave only boluses is contradicted by a later defense witness and doubtless renders a blow to Lyons' case.
  • Venice Treacle "Venice Treacle contained 64 ingredients. In addition to viper flesh and opium, it included cinnamon, agarics and gum arabic. "
  • Spermaceti is a wax from the head of the sperm whale, used in making candles, cosmetics, and in leatherworking.
  • Crab's eyes weren't visual apparatus, they were "Crab-stones. Calcareous concretions contained in the stomach of the crawish."
If you don't want to read the whole case report (though it has many entertaining elements), all three defendents were found guilty. All were sentenced to transportation, so it's possible descendents of these men live in America today.

A few miscellaneous bits about this case:
  • The prosecutor made an unusual (for a prosecutor) statement after the finding of guilt. "My lord, I would humbly beg leave to recommend the prisoners to your lordship; they are neighbours children, and their parents are people in repute. I believe it is their first fact, and they were very much in liquor."
  • Two of the witnesses for Lyons were Jewish,: the above-mentioned surgeon Isaac Benjamin and a jeweller, Israel Jacob, with whom Lyons lived and lodged in a house in Petticoat Lane. (Perhaps someone is still selling jewelry there today. ) More Jews appear in the case, too, and there are reference to the Jewish Sabbath and to Synagogues without explication. Commendably, Jews have been integrated -- though with many impediments -- into the East End for centuries.
  • Though much testimony from Old Bailey in this era is compressed and not in question / answer format, the testimony by Isaac Benjamin is an extended Q/A that looks a lot like a contemporary court transcript (though, of course, it isn't as reliable). It fills in some quotidian details of the life of a surgeon who tends to ordinary people, not aristocrats, of the day.
  • Several witnesses refer to the King's Day celebrations, including fireworks and merry-making on Tower Hill, which took place shortly before the crime. Lyons blamed crushing by the crowd at the celebration for his illness.

Friday, November 06, 2009

JPG of the Beast

A teacher in Texas is suing to avoid being fingerprinted because, she asserts, fingerprints are the Mark of the Beast from Revelations. Interesting interpretation -- I always assumed the Mark would be something permanent left on the body, not a record in a database.

I know how she feels. As a Fundamentalist Animist, I sued to prevent having my photo taken for my Driver's License. After all, a photograph would capture my soul. Now the image on my license is a sketch.
Department of Motor Vehicles Artist's Impression

I propose the Texas education authorities employ a sketch artist to depict the teacher's fingerprints. Problem solved!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Excellent tool

from David Rees we have the URL Shortening Service for Twitter.

for instance:

A simple way to let people know you're sending a URL.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Monty Python in New Jersey Race

US Politics and Monty Python have collided in the real world.

New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie copied Python's "Deja Vu" sketch for a web ad without permission. Python caught it and threatened to sue for copyright infringement--a case they would win easily since there's no real "fair use" defense for such wholesale lifting.

Terry Jones is quoted in the report above and seems to know more about arcana of US politics than I would have expected. .

Republicans often make light of Democrats for having so many "Hollywood" types among their ranks. Then they rip off writers, performers, and musicians without payment or permission when they need some creativity in their campaigns. It's become a common theme:
And there are more, including the grandaddy of all of them, Springsteen versus Ronald Reagan over Born to Run. [I recalled this a bit differently, but I bow to Wikipedia.]

Playing songs is one thing, but ripping off a forty seconds of video comedy is even more clearcut. As a lawyer, Christie should be more careful about theft.

Update: The web ad was pulled, then hours later the Christie campaign paid for rights to use the footage. Hilarious.

More Data

I noted the paucity of good Halloween costumes in my previous post. Seems like I'm not alone. A fellow who has been charting self-identified costumes for 5 years saw a spike in "nothing" up to the second most common costume among trick-or-treaters at his California home. It's national, I suppose.

Kids these days!

He lists each costume the kids say they were dressed as, and does say that homemade costumes were more common than usual which is nice. "Tie Dye Person," "Emperor of Evil," and "Nerd with mustache" show some panache as concepts.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Among the Monster Costumes

Data points:

  • Perhaps due to rain, the Halloween costumes encountered on my excursion were substandard. The best I saw was a group of six guys in real sequined and tailored mariachi costumes. They were carrying ukuleles and one boombox, though, and not mariachi instruments. Can't blame them--they'll probably get drunk and would destroy their vihuelas and trumpets.
  • The Saw franchise makes for costumes almost as bad as the movies.
  • I found to my horror that it's vastly more difficult to buy naphtha lighter fluid than it used to be. No doubt this is a consequence of less smoking and consequently less Zippo lighter use, both of which are good in themselves. But it may make this adhesive-busting solvent eventually impossible to find. Oddly enough, papers for rolling tobacco were abundant.
  • Dipping into the World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies (awful name for a team) did not perform up to standard.
  • The game featured heavy tie-in promotion and ads for Sherlock Holmes. It's getting a Christmas release and a huge push -- Warner Brothers is really banking on it. I'd forgotten it's directed by Guy Ritchie, so my hopes are low. Holmes is more resistant to atrocities than Lina Wertmüller's work, but still... On the other hand the ads featured Eddie Marsan repeatedly and prominently and he's usually a great perfomer.
  • The promo for the US release of Pirate Radio (called The Boat That Rocked in the UK) revealed that an American DJ saved rock 'n' roll in the UK. I hope it does well here, but I can't recommend it. Great topic for a movie -- just not this one.
  • Abortion services are under attack in much of the US. The leading pro-choice groups aren't very savvy about politics, which is a shame.

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