Amarok to aTunes
#6 Henry, Tuesday, 10 November 2009 12:23 AM (Category: Linux)
(Tags: amarok atunes)

Ever since I installed Slackware 13.0, I've been using Amarok 2.1. This has been a struggle.

I've been used to Amarok 1.4 and it's been fun to use. It let me find my music, find patterns in the music, and it just let me enjoy it. My needs are not great. I want a music player to play the music I have on disc, and show me ways of combining it. I don't want to listen to Internet radio, I don't want to do podcasts, I don't want to connect to my iPods (that's what I use the Mac for, and that silly iTunes), I don't want to play cdroms. Amarok 1.4 did a lot of this extra stuff that I am not interested in, but it also let me play my music in ways I liked. The most impressive feature was the duo of Smart Playlists and Dynamic Playlists.

I used those two features to create fun ways of listening to music. I could set up a Smart Playlist of "Rock and Jazz with a date greater than or equal to 2000". Or just Folk Music. Then I would create a Dynamic Playlist to point to one of the Smart Playlists and it would play random tracks from that list. If I added more cds to the collection, they were automatically included because they met the criteria of the Smart Playlist. The Amarok home page describes how to set up the Smart and Dynamic playlists.

Then they released Amarok 2.1. And wasn't that pretty. It looks really nice. But it's slower. It loads my collection much slower than version 1.4. It does really weird things very slowly when the collection changes and it has to refresh its memory map. Sometimes, when all it's doing is playing a track, it decides to do "something", I don't know what, and it jams all my CPUs up to 100%, and thrashes the hard disk. When it does this, all I can do is walk away and get a cup of tea and wait for it to finish whatever it was doing and relinquish control. It's expanded all the things I don't care about. More Internet radio and great support for, and more support for podcasting and cds and stuff. Great. I can ignore it.

But they dropped the things I used the most - Smart and Dynamic Playlists. There is something called a Dynamic Playlist and it does something but I don't know what. I do know that it does not do what I want. And, oh look, they've removed the Help that was built into Amarok.

So it's slower and it doesn't do what it used to do that I liked? Okay. I have no loyalty. I'll go looking for alternatives. At the very least I can always fall back to XMMS (which Patrick has decided to include in Slackware again). That's fast and lightweight, but the Smart and Dynamic Playlists are done in your head.

I went looking for alternatives and found this website. I am working my way through these applications and seeing if any of them will suit me.

Right now, I am using aTunes. This is a Java application. And it runs considerably faster than Amarok. I would never have believed that a Java app would run faster than a native Linux app, but there you are. It does. It's as ugly as most Java programs, but I'm rapidly getting used to it. It almost does what I want with Smart Playlists, but not quite. It's better, for my needs, than Amarok so I am going to keep using it while I experiment with other Linux music players.

And just in case the Amarok programmers ran out of time to include Smart and Dynamic Playlists, and hadn't quite optimised it, and hadn't written the Help, and now that it's been released they will have time to add these extra features back in, I will continue to monitor Amarok's progress and hope they get it together again.

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Western Digital MyBooks - just say no
#5 Henry, Sunday, 08 November 2009 10:37 PM (Category: Hardware)
(Tags: hdd westerndigital)

When I upgraded Anne's Mac Mini to Snow Leopard, I bought her a Western Digital MyBook 1T external drive for her backups. I plugged it in, it worked, it was great. For two months.

Then Anne noticed that backups were not happening any more. I checked it out, there was a disk problem. I ran Disk Utility on the drive, and it said there was a problem and it couldn't fix it. I took it to my Linux box, repartitioned it, put a file system on it, and it couldn't make the file system. The MyBook was no longer any good. I removed the hard disk from the case, put it in an external case and tried again, just in case the electronics of the MyBook was at fault and I could make use of the drive. Same problem. I trashed the MyBook.

I replaced it with a Western Digital MyBook Essential 500 gig. I didn't get another 1T drive as I don't really trust 1T drives much. I've seen too many problems with them. I plugged the new one into Anne's Mac Mini, and the drive was recognised, which surprised me. The box said it was formatted for Windows and would need to be reformatted to work with Macs. Things have advanced and reformatting was not necessary. However, this also appeared:

Virtual cdrom created by Western Digital Essential

I ejected it. It disappeared. Two seconds later it popped back up. I did this twice more. It wouldn't go away. I opened it and Finder showed this:

Virtual cdrom contents created by Western Digital Essential

Extra programs and manuals for the drive. This is strange. Maybe it was a second partition with the drive? I used Disk Utility and tried to remove the partition. No go. It was a virtual cdrom. I even took the drive to my Linux box and repartitioned it, and put a new file system on it. Back on the Mac, it still pushed this virtual cdrom onto the desktop. Most people would have shrugged and ignored it way before now, but it seriously bugs me. I control this computer. I do not want a hard disk to push something onto the desktop that I cannot remove. I do not want to use their backup software, I am quite happy with Apple's Time Machine. This sort of behaviour by a hard disk manufacturer makes me see red. I do not want this to happen. A quick Google search shows that yes, this happens, and no, you cannot remove it.

My first impulse was to return the drive. When I cooled down a bit, I decided to continue using it for Anne's backups, but never buy another Western Digital MyBook again. They have been very convenient packages, and I have bought 4 or 5 of them a year for a few years. But now I've had one drive fail in two months, and the replacement drive do things I don't want, well, I'm not going to buy from them again.

Instead, I'll buy external hard disk cases and internal hard disks and I'll make my own little packages. I can get the gear quite cheaply at NewEgg, and if anything goes wrong, I can replace the drive or the case instead of throwing the whole thing in the bin. So in this household, we now say NO to Western Digital MyBooks.

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757 Studio Presentation
#4 Henry, Friday, 06 November 2009 11:12 PM (Category: Programming)
(Tags: ruby iphone pragmatic)

Went to a presentation last night put on by 757 Studio.

It was a small but very intense group of 50 programmers interested in Ruby and iPhone development. It was organised by Ken Collins, and there were three speakers.

Andy Hunt (of The Pragmatic Programmer fame) was giving a very brief talk about the data in his new book - Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware. This was about how to make the most use of your brain. Very interesting, and it roused a lot of enthusiasm. I bought the book as soon as I got home. I'll have it in a few days and I plan on implementing a lot of his suggestions.

Ruby presentation at 757 Studio

Clinton R. Nixon spoke about The Joy of Ruby. I've been working with Ruby and this didn't really teach me anything new, but it made me more enthusiastic about working with it.

Jamie Pinkham is an iPhone developer from Richmond. He gave a quick intro to what iPhone development is like. I have started learning Objective-C and Cocoa and iPhone development so I am eager to get any hints I can, and this talk was fun and I learnt things.

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