GameCube on the cheap

Big Dave pointed out to me yesterday that Dixons have dropped the price of all their GameCube stock–both consoles and games. You can now pick up a GC and a game for a pretty amazing £99. (But only in their retail stores–not online, so it seems.) The Register picked up the story today as well. Rumour is that Dixons are dropping the GameCube from their product line. Nintendo denies this, of course. But bringing the bundle down to £99 is a very deep price cut. It’s hard to imagine that “special offerness” is all there is to it…

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Categorized as Games

Testing…?

If all went according to plan, This is me up and running with Movable Type on MySQL. It wasn’t nearly as terrifying an experience as I’d feared: run backup, run checks to make sure all libraries are in place, change configuration file to point to MySQL database, run mt-db2mysql.cgi, and then delete same to make sure I don’t accidentally re-run it.

I think I will leave the old Berkeley DB files in place for a while. Now that we’ve upgraded our web hosting account we have stacks of space anyway.

Our web host is still EZPublishing.com, but for the first time I’m not entirely happy with them. We used to have one of their “Entrepreneur” packages, which gave us everything we needed, such as a MySQL database, a subdomain, PHP, scripts anywhere, shell access, and a number of POP3 mailboxes. That package came with 100MB of file space and heaps of bandwidth. We were pushing up against the file space limit just before I went off to Boston.

Ideally, I would like to have upgraded our account with just some extra file space, but this turned out not to be possible. We had to upgrade to a “Corporate” account, which, as well as bringing our file space allowance up to 200MB, also gives us additional MySQL databases, more subdomains, more POP mailboxes, and more FTP logins. None of which we actually need.

Oh, I ‘m sure we’ll find a way to put all these extras to use (except the POP mailboxes…we really don’t need 30 of the buggers), but they’re costing us an extra $10 a month when all we wanted was some more disk space. With hard disks nowadays coming in at less than a £1 per Gigabyte, this seems kind of ridiculous. It also makes EZPublishing seem quite inflexible, and suddenly much less competitive in the hosting marketplace.

We’ve been with EZPublishing for about three years now. We know them and we trust them. With web hosting being such a commodity market these days, though, it’s inevitable that there are a lot of cowboys out there who will happily sell you a package, but run for cover when the shit starts hitting the fan. I’d be very reluctant to move to a different host without some very good recommendations, from people I trust.

Alphasmart Dana UK edition

The Alphasmart Dana is now available in a UK edition (i.e. with a £ key, and the quote characters in the right place). If you’ve never seen the Dana before, Charlie Stross has a good first look at it here. It’s basically a lightweight laptop alternative that runs Palm OS. Tiny screen, full size keyboard. All gorgeous. I want one.

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Categorized as Techie

Spring cleaning

Abi and I are both itching to do some spring cleaning. Over the course of the winter, our garage has been a dumping ground for all kinds of junk. Until we got rid of our old washing machine, you couldn’t even walk clear from one end to the other. We still have six wooden doors there that we bought two years ago to replace the hollow-core doors in the house. There are odd tables, packing boxes, toys and tools, leftover paints, varshishes and solvents from the last time we did any work around the house. Oh, and my drums, too.

So the garage is going to get a thorough overhaul sometime soon. We’ll definitely be doing the doors some time in the next couple of months. At the end of last year we were planning to put in a new bathroom suite, but we never got round to it: that’s now on our “must do” list for this year. We also want to put in wooden floors upstairs to replace the carpets, and redecorate the hall, and both of the big bedrooms. It’s not even out of the question that we might start thinking about replacing the kitchen, also. New double glazing to replace the existing windows and frames, which are starting to creak and draught. And if we get all of that done, we’ll probably consider getting bricking and glazing our porch.

I don’t think all of this will happen. For a start, it’ll cost a bloody fortune. But come May we’ll have been in this house for five years, and it’s time to do some serious work on it.

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Categorized as Ramblings

Plans and updates

I’m still noodling around with ideas for changing the format of my home page. The main change I want to make is to raise the profile of my “quick reviews”. Right now they’re in the sidebar, but a few sections down from the top. If you’re viewing my page in a small window, they end up “below the fold”. Even if they are immediately visible, it’s not obvious when I’ve done a new review. Also, if you’re reading this in an RSS aggregator, you won’t see the quick reviews at all, because they’re not included in my feed.

My current thinking is that I’d like to include these quick reviews in the main body of the page. They would be interspersed with normal blog entries, but reviews (both the quick and the full kind) would show up with different formatting to show what they are.

This is a wee bit difficult in Movable Type, because my quick reviews, full reviews, and main diary entries all reside in different blogs. All of the blogs are part of the same Movable Type installation, though, and so are held in the same database. I had thought I might be able to use David Raynes’ OtherBlog plugin, which allows you to extract content from other blogs into your own, but it doesn’t sort the combined entries the way I’d like.

I think the proper solution is going to involve Brad Choate’s SQL plugin. With this in place, I can write SQL queries to extract exactly the entries I want, and sort them however I please. (It helps that I speak fluent SQL.) The downside of this is that this only works if you’re running Movable Type with a SQL back-end database, rather than the default Berkeley DB. And I haven’t made that move yet.

It may not be that big an upgrade, but I’m just a bit nervous about it. I’ll do a full backup, export all my entries, etc., but I still worry about irretrievably shagging the whole system, and having to spend days getting it back up and running. Especially when it’s working fine right now, and all I really want to do is make a few cosmetic changes.

If it ain’t broke…you haven’t been messing with it for long enough.

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Categorized as Blogging

On life without an RSS aggregator

NewsGator is an excellent RSS news aggregator. I came across it while it was still in beta, and I loved it as soon as I started using it. It acts as an extension to Microsoft Outlook. When it grabs the RSS feeds of your favourite web sites, it converts individual postings into Outlook email items, and files them in a folder of your choice. The net effect is exactly as if new postings from your favourite weblogs are being delivered to you by email. It is supremely nifty.

But I’m not using it any more.

It’s not because of the price. At $29, it is a very reasonably priced product, that is very good at what it does. If you use Outlook as your email client, you should definitely download it and make use of the 14-day free trial period. You’ll like it. Even if you don’t use Outlook, it might even be enough to make you switch. (I had been using Mozilla mail until January, and NewsGator was good enough to make me suffer through the hell of converting my email from Mozilla to Outlook so I could use it. Now that’s impressive.)

No, the reason I’ve stopped using RSS aggregators at all (at least for now), is that my blogging habits were getting out of hand. By the time I left for Boston last week, I had about 50 RSS feeds I was tracking. They ranged from low-volume (Joel Spolsky only posts a new article every other week or so) to the high (Scripting News and Boing Boing Blog both deliver a dozen or so new postings every day), with everything inbetween. And I was spending about two hours an evening reading them all.

What was taking so long was not the reading of the posts themselves, but following the links therein, tracking down associated material, maybe posting a comment or two, and wondering if I should re-broadcast any of the material here on my own blog.

So why was I doing this? Well, one of the reasons was because I could, and because it was easy. An RSS aggregator makes it really simple for you to track even far more than the 50 blogs I had on my radar. Just a couple of mouse clicks gives you a new news feed, and takes another two-minute bite out of your day. (Some people boast of tracking over a hundred blogs with their newsreader. Do they have jobs, or do they just devour news on a full-time basis?)

Another reason for reading lots of blogs is because of the whole blogging popularity contest thing. If you’ve gone to the effort of creating a blog, you probably want people to read what you’re writing. When I started this blog here on Sunpig, my intention was to use it as an on-line summary of what was going on in my life for friends and family. I’m rubbish at keeping in touch with people via letters, email and phone calls. A weblog would allow me to address all my friends at once, and be done with the whole personal interaction thing! (Have a look at my first posting from June 2000. It’s almost how I would have written a letter.)

But as weblogs have become more popular in general, I have been reading more of them, and I’ve been seeing how other people do things, like write stuff that is of interest to more than just one’s family and friends. Technical articles, political commentary, pop wisdom, and miscellaneous other punditry. Plenty of these other blogs have lots of readers. These readers comment on postings, and they mention them in their own blogs. It’s nice to have your own little community of folks who read your blog to find what’s up with you, but there is a large amount of kudos and egoboo to be had from seeing one of your postings mentioned on a popular blog.

Did I succumb to that? Yes.

People crave recognition and attention. Even the most reclusive and shy of us love (perhaps secretly) being noted and admired. It’s a basic human need.

And one of the best ways of gaining attention in the blogging community is to participate in that community. Today, that participation takes the form of writing comments on postings you find interesting, writing follow-up postings and sending trackback pings to the original blog, or mentioning other blogs in your own postings, and generating enough through traffic to leave an imprint on the other blog’s referer logs. You can also ping weblog notification services when you write something new, or hang out on blogging bulletin boards. You can even take out paid adverts to drive traffic to your site.

Writing timely, original, and informative content can help, but it’s not necessary. That may get you noticed and nicely indexed by search engines, and they may drive lots of traffic to you (Sunpig.com gets well over 600 hits via Google alone every week), but you probably won’t get much in the way of repeat blog business from that. You may get lots of interesting email from complete strangers, though, and that can be fun in its own right.

Getting noticed once is relatively easy. Getting onto the daypop front page, or high up in the Technorati link cosmos takes a lot of time and continuous effort. Being there would be cool! Lots of people reading your stuff! Name recognition! Fame, fortune, and babes wherever you go! But is it worth all the effort you have to put in to get there?

Back to RSS feeds…endless swathes of them. I don’t really think I was consuming lots of feeds just so I could take part in the whole blogging community, and so get myself noticed. (Maybe subconsciously, though…) I enjoyed reading the articles themselves, and the pages they led me to that I would otherwise never have visited. But most weblog postings are transient, bound to a time and a virtual place that has passed through its glory season before I can set foot there. It’s mostly fluff and filler. What isn’t fluff and filler I can look up on Google when I need it. And if I’m in the mood for some fluff to waste some time on, it’s easily found again.

While I was away in Boston over the weekend, I checked my email twice, and uploaded some photos and narrative–mainly to show Abi and Alex and my parents what we were doing. Not once did I miss my RSS updates from those dozens of blogs. When I got back home, the NewsGator beta software I’d been using had expired.

I uninstalled it, and I felt free.

I’m not going to stop posting here all of a sudden. I’m still going to use this weblog as a dumping ground for what’s going on in my life, random opinions, rants, and other random bloggage. But I’m doing this for myself, and all of my friends I’m too lazy to keep in regular email contact with. I’m not out to expand my readership, or to drive more traffic to this site. If that happens, fine. (Hi! Welcome!) But it’s really not what I’m about. After Alex goes to bed in the evenings, I have little enough personal time, and there are more interesting things I want to do with it, such as:

  • reading more books
  • getting back into drumming
  • writing some fiction again
  • doing some recreational coding
  • getting my Bob Shaw project off the ground

And hey, maybe getting to bed a little earlier in the evenings. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, either. And on that note….

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Categorized as Blogging