Friday, 25 January 2008

Music Piracy in my Life and Producers Pockets

I am living proof that peer to peer file-sharing networks _can_ increase music sales. I'm not saying it will in every case, but if I had to guess at it's overall effect on sales, I'd say it would be positive.
In the beginning there was almost no music I would listen to - all the radio stations played rubbish almost exclusively 24/7, and I certainly didn't enjoy the music that my Sister or Mother listened to, so quite frankly the best music around was to be found in certain video games as far as I was concerned.
Then one day while I was chatting with a friend the subject of music came up and I mentioned that I didn't really listen to much because there wasn't very much mainstream music that I liked, so he gave me a copy of his entire music collection. Even going though that I found myself going from one artist to another - there were certainly artists there that I enjoyed more than what I heard on the radio 99% of the time, but there are probably only about 3 or 4 artists in his entire extensive collection that I still listen to today. It was in this time that I got my first few albums on CD - I didn't buy any of them myself mind you - they were all gifts. It has been a long, long time since I've added any of the songs from those albums into my playlist.
Keep in mind that I was still on dialup back then, so I was still only minimally engaging in filesharing as it could take hours to download a single song - my music knowledge was limited to little more than the radio I never listened to and the large collection of another person's musical tastes.
Two years ago my Internet situation changed and I gained much better access to filesharing networks such that p2p became a viable and attractive option. I was able to try out a much wider variety of musical genres and used Amarok's related artists functionality and recommendations from other users of the same p2p network to help me find out that what I really like is in fact Symphonic and Power Metal and to a lesser extent, some Alternate rock and Celtic music - far from the punk rock tastes of my friend, and even further than that pop crap so many radio stations love so much (no offence pop fans, your tastes are your own). Since making this discovery which I attribute almost exclusively to filesharing networks I have purchased no less than nine albums with my own money, all of which I continue to listen to extensively today. That's nine albums that I would not have bought if it wasn't for filesharing networks. I will also be attending my second ever concert that I have paid for (I've been to a few others where other people shouted or were free entry) next week when Nightwish perform in Melbourne.
Even now that I know the genres that I like, I would not just go out and buy a random album that is labelled as Power Metal from JB-HiFi because there are a lot of bands in the Genre that I dislike, mainly due to their firm belief that since they use metal instruments, their vocals should all be shouted as hard as they possibly can - I do have respect for their throats to be able to cope with that much yelling though. No, I would have to either preview them on or failing that, download an album or two of theirs to try them out first.
I know that I've mentioned several times and some of you may wonder why I pirated music at all when I could have just used their free service. Well, I've only had an account with them for less than a month - before that I only used the related artist functionality built in to Amarok to tell me what was similar to music I already had. Also, they don't have previews of every artist around and for the most part they are just that - 30 second previews - not enough to get a complete feel for an artist. Actually, come to think of it, I don't think I've pirated any music since joining up - but then again that's not really unusual for me in one month.

And yet, despite the fact that I'm more satisfied with my music collection and the producers and bands of the albums I've purchased have deeper pockets now because of filesharing, I cannot recommend anyone engage in illegal downloading over these networks. I can however, vastly recommend as an excellent and completely legal substitute.

Fight off RSI with Workrave and Ergonomic Keyboards

While I was typing up that last post, Workrave popped up and reminded me to take a 5 minute rest break. Workrave is an excellent little program for Linux and Windows designed to assist in the recovery and prevention of RSI that sits in the tray monitoring the keyboard and mouse usage reminding you to take a break every now and again. I won't cover it in much detail because fsckin w/ linux just did an excellent article on it here.
Grab workrave from if it's not in your distro's package repository.

I don't suffer from RSI yet, but after some talk on the Canberra Linux Users Group mailing list last year I decided that I should take some simple steps to minimise the chances of me getting RSI, so I purchased the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 - what's $80 compared to still being able to type in a decade or so? In addition to the usual split angled keys featured on most ergonomic keyboards, it also features an inverted slope - the front of the keyboard is higher than the back of the keyboard so your wrists just sit on it at a natural angle with almost no strain. I've removed the useless and utterly annoying F-lock key from it because I kept hitting it instead of F12 when I went to pull down the YaKuake Terminal Emulator.

These two steps alone should go a long way to ensuring that I won't have to end my future career early due to RSI or related injuries. I suppose I could look into things like ergonomic chairs and so forth and perhaps someday I will, but this should be a cheap and effective start.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Another Blog to Shout About

Well, just about everyone else is blogging these days, so why not me? I've dabbled a bit in just about everything to do with computing, but not really enough in any one area to consider myself an expert. I tend to think of myself as a bit of a Jack of all computer related trades, and this blog will probably start to reflect that with posts on a wide variety of topics.

But who can say, ey? Plenty of friends and people I know consider me to be a computer expert, some have even used the term "genius" to describe me. Maybe it's all relative - I consider Andrew Tridgell a computer genius, and I've heard that he thinks of Linus Torvalds as a genius, so the question really is: Who does Linus think of as a Genius, or is he really the top dog?

I've been thinking about starting a blog for quite some time now because I've done many random things (not always ending in success mind you) that I felt like documenting at the time but didn't - now I have somewhere to put all of that, my only excuse left can be laziness, lack of time or both. Perhaps I will persist and avoid this blog befalling the same state of disarray as so many of my past projects...

I will be attending in Melbourne next week and fully intend to blog about my experiences there. This will be my first time attending a conference like this and I don't really know what to expect - but it should be fun finding out!

What else can I say? I'm a full time Software Engineering student at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. I have a passion for Linux and Free/Libre/Open Source Software, and Linux has been my primary OS for many years now. I have a considerable collection of gadgets and machines running Linux, most notably:
* A GP2X Personal Entertainment Player which I primarily use for killing time playing old SNES ROMs and I daresay will come in handy on the train to and from Melbourne for the conference next week. Came running Linux out of the box.
* A Sharp Zaurus SL-C3200 currently running pdaXii13. This too came with Linux out of the box and QTopia for it's GUI. This little beast doesn't see too much use these days but it's 6GB microdrive comes in handy to store plenty of music for when I don't want to waste the battery on my Most Valued Gadget:
* And the MVG (Most Valued Gadget) award goes to my Nokia N800 Internet Tablet running the Linux based Internet Tablet OS 2008. I don't know how I lived without this gadget, I really don't. It does just about everything - Kagu Media Player plays music from one of the two 8GiB SD cards I have in it, while Vagalume Client streams new and exciting music from It's built in mapping software has helped me to find places on more than a few occasions, while Maemo Mapper does all my mapping related tasks that the built in mapper doesn't. It's mozilla based web browser works like a charm, the webcam has captured a number of amusing moments when I haven't had any other camera available. I can SSH into any of my other boxes from it. Video playback works great, although I haven't actually used that too much. Pidgin, Skype, Gizmo and Modest Email clients all work great although to be honest I don't use them anywhere near as often as everything else I have on the tablet. GPE PIM todo has my shopping list and checklist of things I need to do before I go to Melbourne next week ;) Well, this summary was a little longer than I anticipated - almost enough so to get a post of it's own - perhaps I shall post a full review of this device, everything I use it for, like about it, and the few things I dislike about it at a later date.
* A Dell XPS M1710. This one didn't run Linux out of the box, but naturally it didn't take me long to set it up for dualboot with Kubuntu. Yeah, I went all out on this machine - I'm a dormant gamer (would play more if I had the time) and wanted a machine that could easily handle what my old laptop could not (last LAN with my old laptop I was quoted as saying that I "should really upgrade my framerate tower" when it dropped down to seconds per frame during the later rounds of one particular tower defence map), yet still be portable enough to take with me - even if I'm just going home for a few weeks on train or plane - something my desktop is certainly not.
* My desktop box. Like most computer enthusiasts I put this together myself so I can't simply quote a brand and model for you to google. Currently it's still set up to dualboot 64bit Kubuntu and XP, the latter of which hasn't been booted since I got the M1710 (it was only ever there for gaming) and I'll probably claim that space for Linux in the not too distant future. This machine is unsurprisingly used for mundane computing tasks when I'm in my room such as typing up this blog post and listening to music. This computer doubles as my MythTV box and most of it's 1.4 Terrabytes of storage are filled up with things MythTV has recorded. Has an annoying tendency to only crash when I've gone away - usually half an hour before I attempt to log in remotely, so that means it's next crash will probably be while I'm in Melbourne next week.

Well, that's enough for the first post - I've got a few more things that I want to put up tonight, but they deserve their own posts.