Archive for December, 2010

Hackintosh – taking the plunge

Sunday, December 26th, 2010
Following the success of my conversion of a Dell 10v into a very capable and portable Hackintosh netbook, I have been thinking about building my own high-end Hackintosh desktop for photo editing, and a general workstation for website design and possibly video.

Most important is that it’s a powerful machine which works smoothly on two large-resolution monitors, with plenty of future expansion capabilities.
This is the sort of spec for a real Apple Mac Pro:

Mac Pro

One 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon “Nehalem”
8 GB (4 x 2 GB)
1TB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s hard drive
1TB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s hard drive
ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB
One 18x SuperDrive
Magic Mouse + Magic Trackpad
Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad (British) & User’s Guide (English

Total cost £2,480
And my plan is to make something just as powerful for much less.
Obviously I’m going to have to do some work first…
Here’s the collection of parts which for £999 will/should get me a very similar experience:
  • Sony Optiarc AD-7243S – Optical drive £15.89
  • Zotac GeForce GT 240 1GB Graphics Card £95.84
  • OCZ Gold  Memory – 2 x 4 GB – DDR3 – 1333 MHz £110.33
  • Apple Magic Trackpad £57.26
  • Corsair Force 120 GB Solid State Drive £171.19
  • Gigabyte GA-H55N-USB3 SKT-1156  Motherboard £79.21
  • Intel i7-870 Quad Core Processor  £211.50
  • Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 1 TB Hard Drive, SATA £45.70
  • Lian Li PC-V351B – black £93.54
  • Targus Bluetooth USB Adapter £5.99
  • Corsair 430W Power Supply £38.37
  • Apple Keyboard £29.36

Plus my retail Snow Leopard disc…Here’s hoping… I’ll keep you posted.

You don’t cycle in the snow? Sissy | Bella Bathurst

Saturday, December 25th, 2010
Guardian UK

Bicycle enthusiasts once thought nothing of freewheeling through the drifts

There are many tests of devotion to the cycling cause. There’s money, there’s time or there’s spending your family holidays trailing blood and artificial stimulants round the notable peaks of Europe. And then there’s cycling in the snow.

Going out, a friend asked if I was mad. Yet everyone else seems unfazed by it. The Dutch pedal imperturbably through blizzards, the Danes clear their cycle lanes as efficiently as their roads and there’s outrage in Hamburg that the city’s 13% of cyclists have been reduced to 10% by something as piffling as a bit of freezing weather.

As usual, the British are different. In London after the first big snowfall, most commuters obviously took an executive decision to leave the bike at home and get to work by other means. Others saw it as an opportunity. A few riders on the new Boris Bikes sailed triumphantly through the Oxford Street shoppers. On Parliament Hill, just beside a group tobogganing on a diversion sign and an estate agent’s for sale board, several cyclists were using the slopes as an impromptu freestyle course.

In fact, the problem with snow and bicycles is not snow itself – which, if it’s the crunchy sort, gives quite good grip – but either ice or salt. If you do venture out, then you have to stick to the tyre tracks made by other vehicles, which means that anyone then overtaking you hoses you down with an exfoliating mixture of grit, filth and vile frozen stuff.

Assuming that you’re also wearing the necessary coats, scarves, hats, helmets and lights, this (mud-smeared, flashing like an emergency) is a genuinely challenging look to pull off, but one which fully expresses the pioneering nature of your journey.

Even so, we’re a bunch of lightweights compared to cyclists in the past. In the years after the First World War, a man named WM Robinson wrote a hugely popular column for Cycling Magazine under the pen name Wayfarer. He believed in “as little bicycle as possible”, favouring a steel-framed roadster without gears, wide tyres or mudguards. His description of a trip to the Berwyn Mountains in Wales in March 1919 is typical. Having ridden 60 miles to the starting point, he met another couple of cyclists who, “reported passing storms of snow and hail through which they had ridden – a pleasant change from the monotony of sunshine cycling”.

He and his companion ride on in darkness to an inn where they are told that their proposed route over the mountains is blocked by deep drifts. Wayfarer absorbs the information and goes up to his bedroom where he notes approvingly that the window has been left wide open and that it is now snowing hard inside as well as out.

The following morning, having slept well beneath the winter frosts, Wayfarer takes a look at the weather (blizzard, zero visibility) and concludes that conditions are ideal for recreational cycling. For most of the way, the path is invisible. Sinking up to their waists and carrying their bikes for much of the route, the group reached the other side in four hours. “It is an infinitely more interesting and adventurous trip when done in deep snow,” he concludes. That afternoon, he cycled a further 50 miles over another mountain just for fun.

A group called the Rough Stuff Fellowship maintains Wayfarer’s spirit. Its website gives details of routes including several of the high Scottish summits known as Munros. Cape Wrath is a good example of the type of route recommended. To reach the north-westernmost tip of mainland Scotland off-road takes one across a beach, a river, a seven-mile bog and an MoD firing range covered in old and unexploded ordnance.

Bloody righteousness

If cycling in the snow offers one sort of smugness, then blood donation offers another. Nothing tweaks the conscience quite like the reminder cards you get from donor centres with the words ” Please Give Blood” outlined in anxious red ink or the adverts pointing out that, from the total population eligible to donate, only 4% ever do. Blood only lasts for 35 days and Britain needs 7,000 units of blood at any one time, but all the bad weather had sent stocks plummeting.

Three days before Christmas at the main London donor centre behind Oxford Street, the results of all those tweaked consciences were showing up. On an average day, Margaret Street gets 100 donors. Because of the nationwide advertising campaign they’d had 170 or so for the past two days running, and today looked equally busy.

If you want to give blood and have given before, you fill in a form, get tested for anaemia and sit on a comfy reclining chair listening to Elton John and watching wine-dark B+ flowing out of you and into a bag. Afterwards, the staff give you snacks and sugary drinks, force you to do nothing for several minutes and then let you go. Admittedly, all the questioning forces a chastening internal review of your recent sexual habits and/or history of intravenous drug use, but frankly it’s worth it for the free biscuits.

Blood donation in Britain is and always has been on a voluntary basis. The alternative – a service relying on paid donors – still exists in at least 31 countries worldwide, a total of more than 1 million donations. But the consequences of relying on the sectors of the population most desperate for money (drug users, prisoners and the homeless) were discovered in the US during the 1970s and 80s when about half the country’s haemophiliac population were either infected with hepatitis or HIV from contaminated blood. Hence the enormous care with which UK donors are now screened.

Donor centres are usually cheery places and the NHS has now resorted to small-scale bribery for regulars. Two donations and you get a key fob; 100 and it’s a decanter. But none of that matters half as much as the warm fug of righteousness it gives, or the profoundly satisfying knowledge that you now have sound medical grounds to sit on your arse for two weeks watching reruns of Gavin & Stacey and stuffing yourself with Christmas pud. At least until it snows again.

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Music streaming around the house

Sunday, December 12th, 2010
This morning S laid down the gauntlet by saying “why have you made it so hard to play music in the house?”
To someone who has dedicated hundreds of hours over the years to “pet” music streaming projects and has mostly got said music streaming into good shape, this cut to the heart.
But I took it like a man (or maybe geek) and reflected that perhaps the plethora of complex options was beyond the average user and perhaps not as usable as it could have been.
So I made some improvements…

I have (what I think to be) some simple requirements:

  • Music is stored centrally on a NAS (where it is also secondarily backed-up)
  • Music is organised and deduplicated so you can find what you want
  • All CDs are ripped onto the central store (not yet complete…)
  • Music should be playable from any client – including iTunes installed on a couple of laptops, on the surround system in the lounge and on the radio systems in the kitchen and study
  • Music should just play when you want it – and S has to be able to operate it without T being present…
Interestingly, the ability to play the music via iTunes is a tough one for the industry to deliver on (but I think it makes a lot of sense – that way you don’t need to worry about having each laptop have a local cache of the music which can be played on iTunes).
It seems that the only music streamer capable of delivering a DAAP stream which iTunes can interpret is a little one called Firefly which was developed several years ago and is not being actively developed further, However it does work nicely.

So my set up is as follows:

  • Central NAS with Linux server (which doubles as my Home Theatre PC and plays videos etc) – all the music organised on there and de-duped in linux with fslint.
  • Firefly media server set up and running against that NAS serving the music collection and watching for changes
  • (Music loaded up from laptops to the NAS over Samba shares – manually)
  • Roku Soundbridges in two rooms – playing the music. These are the items S was complaining about using, so I found a very nice iPhone app called RokuRemote which helps enormously and basically provides a touch screen interface to the Roku – really nice
  • Now although Firefly is great for providing the Roku and iTunes with music streams, it’s not UPnP (Universal Plug n Play) and so other players may not be able to connect. So I also run TwonkyVision (a commercial, though cheap music server). I have this running on the linux HTPC box and looking at the same folders on the NAS. It also serves photo and video content – so can be used for pumping those to the TV too.
So what does this mean?

S can go into the kitchen, make sure the speakers are on, and then use her iPhone to navigate to the Roku app, select the music server, choose an artist and have it playing very easily. She can also use the same app to connect to different internet radio streams. We’ll see if she can…

Happy S = Happy T

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Wooden iPhone skins

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Revealed to little acclaim – the pill that prevents cancer

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010
Guardian Business

If Big Pharma had unveiled a brand new drug that would stop 20% of cancer deaths, the hype would be enormous and the pressure to buy it, at an inevitably high cost, huge. But it exists – it’s called aspirin, it costs almost nothing and the revelation of its potential failed to make most front pages

On my way home from work last night, I stopped at the chemist and bought a small plastic tub containing what appears to be the world’s first genuine miracle drug. Low-dose aspirin. The tub contained 100 small pills, each one 75mg. It cost just over £1. If a team of researchers at Oxford University, publishing today in the Lancet medical journal are to be believed, taking one of these a day for at least five years and preferably much longer can cut your risk of cancer by 20% or more.

You would have thought the bunting would be flying from the lamp posts and champagne popping in the street. The Big C is supposed to be everybody’s biggest dread. We are constantly exhorted to stop smoking, eat more fruit and vegetables and cut our weight – all of which would help save us from cancer, but which so many of us seem to find so hard to do. And now we have a once-a-day pill that can substantially reduce the risk – in the case of gastrointestinal cancer by over 50%.

And yet the coverage has been relatively subdued, the excitement level low. While the BBC’s Today programme led its news bulletins with the story and Sky News did a package, the newspapers – with the exception of the Express which carries a weekly miracle pill story – failed to run it on the front pages. My story, under heavy competition with the latest from WikiLeaks, made page 8.

Why is this?

Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. We already know aspirin can help prevent heart attacks and stroke. People may feel they have heard it all before. The same Oxford team has also already published its findings on colorectal cancer, where regular aspirin-dosing cut deaths by a third.

Nonetheless, this comprehensive assessment across many cancers, from lung to stomach to oesophageal and pancreatic cancers – some of which carry very high death rates – has not been seen before. In fact, it is really extraordinary. If one of the major pharmaceutical companies had invented this pill, it would have been launched to a massive fanfare and subjected to huge media hype. And it would have been launched with an astronomical price tag.

The trouble with aspirin is that it’s cheap. There’s no profit to be made. The researchers, Professor Peter Rothwell from the department of clinical neurology at Oxford University and colleagues, received no pharma funding. Rothwell and Professor Peter Elwood, a well-known medical epidemiologist who has long had an interest in aspirin (personal as well as professional, since he started taking it himself in 1974) gave a briefing at the Science Media Centre in London and the Lancet put out a press release. And that’s it.

Rothwell (who has also been taking aspirin for two years) and Elwood, because they are doctors, fought shy of urging people to go out and buy aspirin. There are risks of stomach bleeding – although they are far outweighed by the benefits, they believe. But, they said, it should not be for the researchers to give advice.

So who will? We will have to wait for official guidelines from the likes of Nice (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) in the UK – which are not always observed as they should be. But, as Rothwell and Elwood said, the man and woman in the street are capable of sifting the evidence (and assessing the risks) for themselves. Will the GP surgeries be jammed or the chemist shelves depleted? It will be interesting to see whether a single scientific paper can spark a grassroots health revolution.

• This article was amended on 7 December 2010. The original referred to 75g aspirin tablets. This has been corrected.

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