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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Upwardly Mobile

So I finally cracked yesterday and signed up for a Premium Spotify account. I'd got to the point where I'm not sure I could have listened to one more of those banal mobile phone adverts, or 'Roberta from Spotify' announcing yet again the same new service she was telling me about last year, without having to numb the horror by repeatedly hitting my head into my monitor.

It was a very painless procedure to convert from Free to Premium (apart from the £10 a month bill, but that's no more than a CD a month, and I'm listening to several new albums a week), and now I can enjoy ad-free music, and also an ad-free user interface. Oddly, for the first few hours I actually found myself missing the interruptions. That passed.

I still have my Napster subscription, as there are a number of albums that they have and Spotify still doesn't, but the gap is closing. Spotify is a far faster service, while napster.exe is a horribly slow program to start up, and one which often decides to hog the CPU and hard drive for long stretches, presumably re-indexing my music files. Okay, I have over 23000, but it's not as if they move around or anything.

It would be nice if Spotify could detect music on the hard drive, just as it would be nice if it would order all an artist's albums by title, rather than in a long list showing all their tracks, including whole compilation albums even though they only have a single song by the artist you're after. That may well change one day, when they get round to improving the UI. According to the plugs that I now no longer get, Spotify seem to be putting all their technical efforts into their mobile phone offerings. Which, now I think about it, I can access using my Premium account status.

Off to spotify.com...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Stunning Presumption from Nokia

I've just noticed that my PC now thinks that .jar files are 'Nokia Application Installer Files'. And to think, all I had to do was load their mobile phone synchronisation program. Thanks, Nokia. Another classic example of Software Manufacturer arrogance.

I should be used to this by now. Every browser I've ever set to be the system default has always immediately celebrated by claiming ownership of the .htm and .html file suffixes.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Speeding up my PC--the cheap way

Personal computers, in my experience, tend to silt up and slow down. My Dell at home was little more than a year old and already noticeably slower than when I first booted it up. Of course, I look at what's running in the background from time to time, and remove anything that looks suspect or unnecessary (such as the Adobe and QuickTime quick start tasks), but it never seems to have much effect.

I'm toying with the idea of buying a solid state hard drive, of which I've heard many good things. Trouble at the moment is that they're still so pricey that it wouldn't be much more expensive to just buy a faster PC.

Last month I lost it during a particularly slow session, and decided to take drastic measures. I would often hear the hard drive working, even though Process Explorer (this is a brilliant program, that replaces Task Manager with something really informative--highly recommended) showed no significant CPU activity, and I decided to remove stuff I'd installed that might be responsible. First to go was 'Everything', a nifty program that indexes the files on your hard drive. It's really quick at finding files, but I hadn't made much use if it, so I ran the uninstall program. "Uninstall Everything?" came up the prompt. With clammy palms I clicked on Okay. That didn't seem to do much, so I moved on to Google Desktop.

Google Desktop is another program that indexes the hard drive, as well as your e-mails and any web sites you've visited. It too is really fast, and, on the occasions I've needed to find a lost e-mail, has proved invaluable. However, I was desperate, so out it went. From now on I shall rely on the fact that all my e-mails come in via a Google Mail account. I'll search through them there instead of on my Dell.

And amazingly, that seemed to do the trick. My PC is once again a fast machine, and the hard drive doesn't (often) sound busy when nothing's supposed to be happening. Is this a known drawback with Google Desktop, or just a side effect of my PC configuration? All I know is that I feel like I've saved two or three hundred pounds.

Still, those SSDs do look tempting.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Nostalgia comes in Box Sets

Xmas brought two new DVD box sets into our home, both TV series from my childhood, namely Wacky Races and Top Cat. I got to see them when they were orinally aired in the UK in the sixties, and the contrast when viewing them again for the first time in decades was rather surprising. Top Cat is still charming and funny; Wacky Races, on the other hand, after getting to know the line-up of competitors, is largely a one joke show, with the same plot rehashed in every episode. Dastardly and Muttly establish a commanding lead, which they then throw away in trying to set up a completely unnecessary trap for the other competitors, which naturally backfires, leaving them to come in last. Again.

I never noticed this as a child, but my nine year old son, who has been happily watching Top Cat episodes with me for the last week (not continuously, mind), summed up his opinion of Wacky Races five minutes into the first episode: 'This isn't funny'. No, it wasn't. But then, he's grown up watching The Simpsons and Futurama, which I realise sort of raises the bar a bit.

Another interesting observation was how up to date the plots of Top Cat still are, despite being nearly half a century old. Except for Officer Dibble having to keep in touch with his station via a police phone mounted on a telegraph pole (why not in a large blue box?), the only real clues to it being set fifty years ago are the clothing fashions and the car styles.

I probably watched every episode the first time round, maybe more than once, but I could only remember vague details of one show. Watching them again, my recall doesn't get any better, though occasional scenes and gags do ring bells. I did remember not being quite able to make out some of the lyrics in the opening credits. "Close friends get to call him TC, providing it's wikitity...". Never been too confident about that last word. Now, using the awesome power of the Internet (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/classic/A249842), I am finally able to decode it as "with dignity". No wonder I could never make it out, as it's a really crap lyric. At this point I remember that there is a word for misheard lyrics, but I can't remember what it is. Back to that awesome power--it's 'Mondegreen'.

And one last piece of Top Cat trivia. In the UK the series aired on the BBC, who have a policy on not running commercials. Back in 1961 the policy was so strict that the existence of a brand of cat food called Top Cat was sufficient to make the BBC rename the show to Boss Cat. They even trimmed out the first part of the closing credits to remove the Top Cat billboard. For full effect they should have gone through each episode dubbing over every 'Top Cat' and 'TC' (preferably in a clipped British accent) , but that was presumably thought to be over the top (or maybe just too expensive). Anyway, as a consequence British kids were left puzzling over the following exchange at the start of every episode.

Continuity Announcer: "And now, Boss Cat."
Opening Credits: "Top Cat! The most effectual Top Cat! ..."