speakers and subtitles

I’ve been reading off and on about speaker setups and TVs for a few years now. When living alone I had a 5.1 speaker setup = 5 (2 front, 2 back, 1 centre front) + 1 subwoofer, on a basic Yamaha all in one system. The number before the decimal point represents speaker count and the number after the decimal point refers to subwoofer(s). The system is set up in the games room of my current place and is effectively a 3.0 though could be 3.1 except I don’t usually (remember to) turn on the subwoofer and have not set up the back speakers. The centre speaker is the one I’m most interested in as that’s where the dialogue comes through while the rear speakers supply surround sound and are particularly effective for noises/explosions in movies and games. The downside of rear speakers is a combo of placement and wiring. The latter can be alleviated through wireless speakers but placement is tricky in both the games room and lounge room.

In the lounge room where we watch DVDs/TV/etc, the sound has been less adequate. The basic TV sound wasn’t sufficient and we’ve supplemented it with one of the better midrange sound bases that I managed to grab during a JB sale. It’s been ok but still too loud for noisy explosion type stuff and not sufficiently distinct for dialogue. On both systems I rely heavily on subtitles as it’s not an ideal environment to turn the sound up too loud. To be honest, loudness can make dialogue sound somewhat muddy so that doesn’t really help. As a deaf bugger, decent audio on dialogue is paramount. I recall years ago, going along with a friend, to a specialist hifi place, and heard an amazing centre speaker…except it was about $2,500. Ouch! However I think I’m getting to the point where I need to invest in something serious, though less keen on that level of seriousness.

Given the open plan layout of loungeroom/kitchen/dining, there is no place to put rear speakers. To be fair, given the nature of my hearing aids and the way they dampen sound behind me, it’s unlikely that I’d hear rear speakers anyway. In fact, I recall from my “living alone” days that I never actually heard the rear speakers and stuck my ear against them occasionally to check that they were emitting sound :-) In other words, I’ve discovered from the merged house arrangement with my partner and kids that actually an arrangement of centre + front speakers + subwoofer – rear speakers aka 3.1 would probably suit me rather well.

So I’m now at the point where I’m investigating a decent setup for the loungeroom. I will need a new receiver/amp to control and power the setup; ideally the receiver will support wifi/bluetooth and whatever else is current. I’d like to control it from my tablet/phone. In terms of speakers, the key item is the centre speaker that manages dialogue the best, rendering it clear and distinct. While most folk would prioritise the side (floor standing speakers) over the centre, given my dodgy hearing I need to prioritise the centre. I figure that means I can spend a little more on the centre and a little less on the sides. I’ve been doing a chunk of research into receivers and speakers but figure I’m probably at the point where I need to go somewhere and try stuff out lest I fall into an endless cycle of research…a rather familiar trap it must be said.

still no net

Been about two weeks since our home internet died; not even a dial tone. The lack of dial tone indicates the issue is either the socket or external. Took a couple of days to get through to TPG support who in turn contacted Telstra to send out a technician. The deadline of 4th April came and went. Turns out there’s issues at the moment logging requests for Telstra technicians. TPG have assigned a specific person to manage our issues. Fingers crossed.

On the other hand, this is a first world problem. I have good internet at work and on my phone. The house network itself is fine so we can still connect to the NAS and wifi to the printer. I have been very reliant on my telstra network for mobile however. 4 days ago, I exceeded my data and was charged $10 for an additional gig. This is less scary than I anticipated as I’d built up in my head all sorts of scary scenarios for “exceeding my limit”. On the other hand, around lunchtime today, on the final day of my monthly data period, I exceeded the additional gig and had another gig added for another $10.

This means I have half a day to use a gig of mobile data. I am sitting at home hotspotting my mobile to the mac mini and to the win laptop. I am computering as much as I normally would with unlimited broadband. Care factor: 0. I have booked accommodation in Queenstown..at last as we’re tramping the Kepler track next week…we did at least book the huts a few weeks ago.

In other news, I really love this image and comment from Mark Di Stefano misappropriated of Turnbull inspecting flooded areas. The photo itself was taken by Dan Himbrechts.

baby steps with web harvests

One of the things I’m interested in is working with data sets around web harvesting and archiving. I’ve spent a bit of time over the years exploring the Internet Archive and other web archives, and I’m hitting the point where I’d like to understand the sorts of information gathered when you harvest a bunch of websites. What can be discerned from a site’s structure, how does it change over time, are there any other useful directions to explore?

When you harvest web sites you end up with a bunch of files in the WARC format. So far, in my limited experience, a typical WARC file is about a gig and one harvest can contain lots of these files. Depending on how your set up your harvester, you can save all content on a site including office files, music, video and so on. A harvest captures that website at one moment in time, and with repeated harvests it’s possible to get a sense of how it might change over time. As part of learning how all this works, I’m using a small archive of 72 WARC files that roughly total 55GB.

Having successfully installed lots of software on my machine at home, I might actually be ready to start experimenting. I’ve been following the Getting Started guide for installing Warcbase (platform for managing web archives) and associated software on a mac mini. While time consuming, it’s actually been straightforward and installing software on the mac has seemed easier than installing similar stuff under windows a year or so back. Of that guide, I have completed steps 1, 2, 3, and 5. Step 4 involves installing Spark Notebook but the primary site seems to be down at the moment so I’ve installed gephi to handle data visualisation. As a result I am now running:

  • Homebrew – MacOS package manager
  • Maven3 – software project management tool
  • Warcbase – built on hadoop and hbase
  • Apache Spark – an engine for large-scale data processing
  • Gephi – data visualisation

In other words a bunch of tools for dealing with really large data sets installed on a really small computer :-) I’d originally bought the mac mini to migrate my photo collection from a much older Mac Pro and hadn’t considered it as a platform for doing large scale data stuff.  So far, it’s holding up though I am feeling the limits of having only 8GB of RAM.

All those tools can be used on really big systems and run across server clusters. Thankfully, they also work on a single system but you have to keep the data chunks small. I tried analysing the entire 55GB archive in one go but spark spat out a bunch of errors and crashed. Running it file by file, where each file is up to a gig, seems to be working so far.

There’s been no working internet at home for a couple of weeks so I’ve been hampered in what help I can look up but at least had all the software installed before we lost connection. Spark may have had issues for a different reason eg I may not have specified the directory path correctly but I couldn’t easily google the errors.

I’m trying out a script in spark to generate the site structure from each archive and this is typically producing a file of about 2-3k from a 1GB file of data. The script is able to write to gephi’s file format, GDF. Gephi supports the ability to load lots of files and merge them into one. That means I can run a file by file analysis and then combine them at the visualisation stage. I haven’t worked out the code to run the script iteratively for each file and am manually changing the file name each time. The ugly image below is my first data load into gephi showing the interlinking URL nodes. I haven’t done anything with it, it is literally the first display screen. However it does indicate that I might at last be heading in a useful direction.

visualisation of website nodes

Next steps include learning how to write scripts myself and learning how to use gephi to produce a more meaningful visualisation.



i wanna go camping

So, VALA is running a tech camp in July and I wanna go. In fact, I’m fairly sure I will go. I can teach myself coding things and did study computer science a decade or two ago. Actually now I think about it, it was nearly 3 decades ago. Eep! I’m almost 50 and still pottering along and trying to work out what I want to do with my life. Anyway I can teach myself but do tend to learn better with other people around.

A year or so back, I was playing with code on my vaio (running Win8 then, win10 now) and trying to get stuff working to explore and analyse web harvesting stuff. Got caught in a neverending circle of installing software dependencies and eventually ran out of puff without getting to the playing-with-code stage. I did have docker running, virtualbox running linux, and got most of the way with maven2.

30533574640_5de8d36502_nThis year I’m trying again on my mac mini. Installations ran smoothly, I’ve had few issues with software dependencies…I now have docker and maven3 and SPARQL apache spark installed and running. I have approached it differently this year, following a different guide. Also, the mac is easier as unix is fully integrated with the OS, whereas it’s a separate thang under windows.

I stalled a month ago as I couldn’t get the test example in SPARQL spark/scala to work. I realised a few days later that it was probably an issue with pathnames. Finally got round to trying again last night, and it was indeed a pathname issue and I resolved it in minutes and got the text example to work.

Yay me.

So my current dev environment is a mac mini, not the windows laptop. But I wanna take it to tech camp. So I looked at connecting the mini to laptop and it’s sorta doable but a little bit painful with reduced functionality.

4556812857_f81e7c3078_mI could hire a screen in Melbourne and travel with the mini and a keyboard.

I could get a handheld mini projector…and they really are handheld now.

Or I could apply what I’ve learnt from the mac install and revisit the windows install and get it all running there too. That’s the cheapest option and a happier one as I remain fond of my laptop and want to keep using it. I love the idea of a handheld projector but it is a wee bit excessive and possibly gratuitously so.

my gaming history

I came across this post from Kotaku about trying to collect and preserve the context of the world of computer games ie getting the external materials, promotions, articles and so forth which provide a real world background to the development of the game itself.

This sort of ties into one of my ongoing concerns in game preservation, how do I convey the sense of “atari thumb”?  As this link shows, the Atari joystick was fairly basic. I spent so many hours using that controller as a teenager, thumb on the red button, mashing it as hard as I could. Eventually, you’d have to stop playing as your thumb got too sore to continue hence “atari thumb”.

There’s plenty of options around for game emulation including the almighty Internet Archive’s Game Arcade and MAME has just had its 20th birthday. However it’s one thing to be able to play the old games, it’s another thing entirely to talk about and understand the culture of gaming when the original systems existed. It’s nice to see for example, that the internet archive is maintaining an archive of old computer magazines including one of my favourites from the 80s, the UK Computer + Video Games. I bought this magazine every month, usually for one column, particular, the Adventurer’s Helpline.

The Adventurer pages were full of hints and reviews text adventures including the US Infocom, and the English Level 9. I have vague recollections of reader letters and responses too so it felt like there was an international community. There were also Oz based magazines including the Australian Commodore Review which morphed into the Australian Commodore & Amiga Review and included a dedicated text adventure section called “Adventurer’s Realm“. Capturing that external world of gaming is a tricky beast. Many years ago, I discarded most of my original copies of those magazines though did cut out all the adventure columns. I’m sorta hoping that I’ve retained that small archive somewhere in a box. On other hand, it seems to be the case that more and more of this material is being digitised and made available online.

post holiday thoughts

Flew back into Sydney a couple of weeks ago. 6 weeks in Europe ended up feeling about right and I was happy to return home. We experienced a mild, European winter and winter didn’t seem to set in proper til after we left. Temps were mostly single figure negative eventually making it to positive.

Prior to leaving, we’d booked accommodation for 8 nights out of 42, a return train trip from Paris to London and a couple of shows.  Everything else was discussed, explored and booked as we went. For the most part we were booking trains and accommodation a few days in advance. The broad bones of the trip were necessarily constant but the places inbetween changed, and changed a few times. Alas, no snow. We had a few flecks in Nuremberg and some hail somewhere else but no snow we could play with.

31883039312_f56cf3c2a4_nI recall travelling not dissimilarly a decade or so back, planning each place while in the previous place. Back then, I needed to book into an internet cafe and spend an hour or two working out how to get to the next place and where to stay. This time round, I had a laptop with me, a local sim card with plenty of data, and most places we stayed had wifi. The German train system is fab and and so easy to organise and book, France was a little more challenging and often didn’t recognise our credit card for train bookings so we did a few in person there. We’d discuss plans over dinner or breakfast and then I’d make the required bookings keeping in touch with airbnb hosts via the app or WhatsApp.

Airbnb was really fab. I was reluctant initially but have been converted. There were 3 of us travelling: myself, my partner and her 16 year old daughter, and we were able to book whole apartments so we had space to relax in. Many places we usually had at least one separate bedroom and a sofa bed in the living though occasionally we had 2 bedrooms. Dead simple to book, hosts were flexible in meeting times and friendly and welcoming. We stayed in some amazing places and places were cheaper as there were a lot less folk travelling in winter.

Queues were short or non existent eg a 20 minute queue at the Louvre. I think our worst queues were in Disneyland Paris and even then most ride queues were short. Disneyland Paris was one of those things we managed to add while travelling as we hadn’t planned to go initially however it was dead simple as a day trip from Paris.

Google maps was bloody awesome. I had full data connectivity on my phone though the Spanish SIM I was using never quite managed to make it to 4G and was a wee bit slow at times. But I could use my phone as I would at home for a cost of around 1-2 euros per day. I played plenty of Ingress in all countries and made good use of both google’s and microsoft’s translation software though I think I prefer microsoft’s. Google maps however made moving about dead easy: it worked out appropriate metro stops. bus stops, bits to walk etc. Sometimes it’s nice to get lost and find stuff but not when you’re carrying a pack trying to find your next airbnb.

All I need to do now is cull my photos down to a manageable amount and upload them to flickr. First run through got them down to 622 from 688, so clearly lots more culling required. Oh joy.

trip stuff

Heading off in a week or so for a 6 week holiday in Europe. I am alternately between sheer panic and totally chilled. Flights are booked, a couple of trains are booked, accommodation for first place and for christmas have been booked. I’m mostly ok with that, on the other hand I panic occasionally as there’s 3 of us travelling together and I’m not used to travelling with other people. This time it’s with my partner and Ms15.

Starting in Copenhagen and mostly spending time in Germany (for traditional christmas markets) and France, finishing off with a few days in Barcelona. Been a busy year and it’s been hard to plan or think things through. The last time I did a big trip was 3 weeks around Borneo in 2012 with Intrepid so everything was taken care of. My previous trips to Europe have usually been self guided and self propelled, on occasion finding accommodation on the fly. With that said, tech has improved a lot and I’ll probably get a local sim for my phone with data so I can carry on as usual. I doubt I’ll need rely as heavily on local internet cafes as I used to in the old days.

I had mostly decided not to take my laptop which surprised my partner. However I’ve been rethinking this week that it would be handy to have with me, particularly if we’re weighing up options throughout the trip. Phone and tablets can handle some things but they’re not great for having lots of tabs open.The other advantage of the laptop is that I can use it to back up our photos as we go. I’m toying with the idea of making my NAS remotely accessible and backing up the photos to it as well. That might be overkill and create more headaches.


My tablet is a 2013 edition of the 7″ nexus and while it’s still nice, it is getting a little long in the tooth and not recharging as well as it used to. I am considering picking up a new tablet duty-free, possibly the 8″ samsung galaxy S2. Unfortunately my phone isn’t dual sim so I’ll need to swap sims occasionally to check for messages from home though most friends use various messenging apps to contact me, family less so. And of course, I’ll have my ereader with me, one can’t have too many devices. The only remaining item in the photo is my old psion 5mx from 1999 – it shall remain at home :)