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April 30, 2003

My Favourite Music Genre is Neep-Neep

iTunes 4 is really very fine. Everyone's talking about the new Music Store; it's certainly nifty, but I have two problems with it. Firstly, most of the music I'm interested in isn't available; the smaller record companies have yet to come on board. Second, non-US users are currently disenfranchised, though we do get to press our little virtual noses up to the window and see what we're missing. Which is certainly better than nothing.

I'm sure all that will come, though; because I predict that this service is going to make a mint, and its successors will become the standard way of buying music. Meanwhile, though, iTunes 4 has two other features I like hugely. First, you can stream music from other iTunes libraries on your network. As I seem to have returned from the US with a largish iTunes library on my Powerbook which is completely different from the one on the iMac, and Powerbook speakers are rubbish, this is very useful.

Secondly, you can now attach album artwork (or any other pictures) to songs in your iTunes library. And you can drag these pictures directly from Safari. I did a few, experimentally, and then got to a song that I have in my library but don't own; and it occurred to me that this is a fine way to differentiate the music I own from the music I've borrowed from friends to see if I like. Not adding pictures will remind me that, if I do like it, it's probably about time I bought it.

One of the many cool toys I purchased at the Apple Store at Mall of America was a Belkin Tunecast, which transmits FM from the iPod to nearby radios (within 20 feet or so). We got it to use on our longish trips in the hire car, but it turned out to be useful for broadcasting to home stereos and (especially) those crappy little radios you get in hotel rooms, too. We easily got good value out of it just on our holiday, and the sound quality is rather better than you get with a cassette adaptor.

Sadly, it's illegal to use low-power tranmitters of this kind in the UK. Which is a shame, because as well as all the uses mentioned above, I could theoretically also attach it to the powerbook and stream anything from either of the iTunes libraries to my posh tuner in the living room.

Posted by Alison at 12:58 PM | Comments (5)

April 20, 2003

Living in the Future

I'm sitting here in my insulated geodesic dome (okay, poorly insulated geodesic dome) at the top of the Millennium Hotel in Minneapolis. Yes, it's the Millennium Dome. It's not the most sturdy structure; Erik Olson has suggested playing Dome Jenga, where you each pull out a bolt in turn until it falls down and everyone loses. We had The Time Travelers Ball Under The Stars here last night, and I'm now in the future.

To prove it, I looked for unprotected wireless nodes. Domes are good for that. A little bit of network configuration from Erik and I can blog. Hello Hinckley; are you reading me?


Spot the powerbook in this picture

Minicon is exactly like Eastercon, but with one important difference; Minicon has Unlimited Free Beer. It's even quite good unlimited free beer, from a local microbrewery. It's too cold and too fizzy, but if you get two, then the second one is warmer and flatter and just about right.

At the Time Travelers Ball, there was also Unlimited Free Cocktails; I had a Pink Lady. Pink Drink! Pink Drink! So all you people in the Hinckley Island drinking alcopops at �3 a pop, all I can say is 'nee ner nee ner'.

I may never come to Eastercon again.

Posted by Alison at 08:19 PM | Comments (7)

April 13, 2003

Sue's 15 Minutes of Fame

It's a beautiful day. "I don't want to sit inside blogging and browsing the web on a beautiful day like this," I thought. "I want to sit outside blogging and browsing the web." So I'm now in the garden, watching the children playing in the hammock while Steven fixes the stabilisers on Marianne's bike. The garden's a bit of a sight, having had almost no attention this year, but it's still mostly ok as long as you don't look closely.

On Thursday Sue Mason and I went to the National Portrait Gallery for the opening of Self Portrait UK. Several thousand self-portraits were submitted from all over the country, and they chose 70 for the touring exhibition, of which one was Sue's biro picture of herself belly-dancing. Now, this looks exactly like a thousand other Sue fillos that you may have seen (plenty of examples here). But this one's in the National Portrait Gallery so we're basically thrilled.

The opening was jolly, and fell into three parts. First, everyone looked at the exhibition, somewhat subdued, sipping wine. Then they took us into a lecture theatre and spoke for a bit, and showed us some of the short films about the pictures that will be on Channel 4 next week (after the news). And then we all drank a lot more wine, all the artists started talking to each other, everyone said how much they loved each other's portraits, and so we continued until they slung us out and we waddled home drunkenly.

Our favourite self-portrait was by Suzy Mason (no relation), who'd submitted a Sainsbury's receipt and written 'You can learn more about me from my shopping basket than from my face'. Damn right. You can go and see the exhibition from now till July, and entry's free.

Posted by Alison at 01:11 PM | Comments (0)

April 07, 2003

Welcome to the Kittywompus Guest House

First, a couple of updates. Damien wrote to say that Jeff Vogel (who wrote Geneforge) is also the author of the terribly funny Story About the Baby, which is quite unusual in the ranks of New Parent diaries, because it actually does tell it like it is. A little secret about parenthood is that most of us lie about the worst bits. Not Jeff. Such genius.

And my search for more MPs' blogs may be in vain; according to the Guardian, Tom Watson is the first MP with a proper blog. It also makes clear that he's younger than I am. This ought not to be allowed; something is clearly wrong with the order of the universe. (And yes, policemen started looking younger a long, long time ago.) He has now e-mailed me to confirm that his is the only one at the moment, but believes he's just talked another one into it.

We finished Issue 29 of Plokta this weekend, thanks in no small part to Hydra, a collaborative text editor for Mac OS X. It's really creepy having Dr Plokta correcting your typoes from his PowerBook while you're writing. More detail in my comments on the Slashdot thread about Hydra. Yes, you'll probably get your copy at Eastercon, Minicon or Corflu.

And TAFF delegate Randy Byers is now staying with us, easing gently into his trip. He's touristing in London today and tomorrow, before heading off to Bristol tomorrow afternoon (but will be back in the smoke for the weekend). I eventually had to write down a guest list for the next few days, just to make sure we weren't going to run out of beds, bedding or towels (we're not, but it's a close thing). Turns out we probably have nine different guests staying at various times over the next seven days. So blogging may be reduced; on the other hand, I'll have lots of things to write about.

Posted by Alison at 04:38 PM | Comments (2)

April 03, 2003

All My Friends Are At the Pub

Though I did, to be fair, get a trip out to a much nicer pub on Monday. It's been a while, hasn't it? What's happened?

I'm feeling a lot better, and am back at work, though still with no idea what went wrong. My doctor is referring me to a haematologist (on the slightly spurious grounds that the only thing apparently wrong now is a blood test) in a sort of belt and braces way, but I think I'm fine. I'm eating properly (actually, I'm eating all sorts of complete junk), I'm managing to do most of my flylady routines, and I'm doing the dancemat thing again.

We seem to have invaded, not that I'm watching the news or anything. Everyone linked to the "Operation Piss Off the Planet" Onion Special Issue. But my favourite bit was the top right hand corner.

His teen appeal section may leave something to be desired, but I think there's something rather endearing about Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich, with his blog. I might have an entire blogroll section for MPs, if I can find a few others whose blogs don't appear to be written by their researchers.

After last month, when we were all eating Caramacs, this month I hanker after an almost new product. Steven, who is a man who understands my tastes in confectionery, bought me a Snickers flapjack in a petrol station somewhere in England a few weeks ago. (I wasn't feeling terribly well at the time, ok? I have no idea where we were at all, except that I'm reasonably confident it was north of London.) It was quite scrummy and neatly combined all the best features of, well, Snickers bars and flapjacks. I've been looking out for them ever since with no luck whatsoever. So, if you know a handy Whitehall source, let me know.

Steven, meanwhile, is planning to buy a new bike tomorrow. His old one was looking a bit rusty, especially when compared to my Powerbook.

But mostly, I've been playing Geneforge, a non-linear, isometric rpg in which you get to roam around a map, work through a substantial plot with lots of endings, and grow beasties to fight for you. It's shareware, and the demo's plenty long enough to get you hooked if you like that sort of thing.

When I did get round to buying it, I did so as part of Ten for X Games, a compliation of interesting Mac shareware, all registered. That cost me about 60% more than Geneforge would have been on its own, but includes several other interesting looking games. Haven't played any of them, though; too busy working back through Geneforge a second time trying to find the rumoured mega Easter Egg (I've had a hint which I think will allow me to track it down).

And my mouse has definitely about to turn up its furry little toes. ("This mouse is utter rubbish," said Dr Plokta the other week, just as it was becoming erratic). Not remotely Apple's fault; I've just dropped the bloody thing off the edge of the desk one too many times. Time to put the iMac on a proper desk and relegate one of the PCs to the skip attic. Just went to look at the Apple website. �45! For a mouse with only one button? They have to be kidding.

Posted by Alison at 08:52 PM | Comments (6)