Huge purple head

A guy walks into a doctor’s office with a huge purple head. The doctor sees how strange this is, and rushes the guy back to an examination room. Huge purple head or not, though, the guy seems pretty calm about everything.

“Can you tell me what happened?” the doctor asks.

“Sure,” the guy with the huge purple head replies. “I was in an antique store, and I bought an oil lamp for the next time the power goes out. After I got home, I shined up the lamp, and out popped a genie.”

“Go on.”

“The genie said I had three wishes, so for the first wish, I asked for a bank account that would never run out of money. The genie handed me an ATM card and a checkbook, and damned if it didn’t work.”

“Mmm hmm,” the doctor says, slowly scribbling notes.

“Then I wished for two pills, one to let me live forever, and one to kill me when I finally got tired of living. The genie said I was pushing it, but since his wife had just given him a hummer, he said he’d grant it. Two pills popped into the room, right on the table. He explained which was which, and I took the first one on the spot. It tasted like squash.”

“Right. And the third wish?”

“For my third wish–and this might help you; I’m not really sure–for my third wish, I wished for a huge purple head.”

I am the Piemaster

I love pies. Pies are great. There’s just something about a nice pie that makes me drool and think hungry thoughts. These thoughts are not helping my current plan for healthier living though, and my pie-related longing has been increased recently by a new addition to my local social club. The new addition is a pie, or rather a selection of different, delicious pies.

I’ve had pie for my lunch every single work day for the past two weeks. I can’t help myself, these pies are so bloody nice. Shortcrust pastry, large portions of meat and lovely, lovely gravy. Today’s pie was Steak and Stilton but I at least added a healthy portion of boiled-to-death vegetables for healthy purposes.

The food in our social club can’t be described as Gordon Ramsey standard, but it’s cheap and cheerful. They’ve always had pies but just the usual single-portion jobs in silver trays. They’ve found some new type recently and they’re huge, homemade-style pies and they’re bloody lovely (did I mention that already?). I can’t help but order one every day. Every, single day. I just can’t stop!

ftp canteen
username: piemaster
password:
cd /home/social_club/canteen
mget pie*

At least I don’t add any extra salt and I’m still running in the evening. I think I might eventually give up the pies, but I’m enjoying them too much at the moment. I could give them up any time I wanted of course. Any time at all.

Review: eMusic – first impressions

I’m not a fan of iTunes. There are a number of reasons for this, but these are mostly related to the fact that I own an iRiver and not an iPod so I’m effectively unable to use their store to download music. I also think that the music on there is too expensive and too restricted by Apple’s Fairplay DRM. I also can’t use it at home seeing as I’m one of those geeky Linux types.

I’m sure that I’m missing out here though. It’s the biggest source of legally downloadable music and as I’m not too kean on downloading music, burning it to CD and then re-ripping it how am I supposed to get hold of music to play on my media player of choice?

Well, I could buy CDs from CD-WOW or Amazon of course and then rip them myself. I do like to own the physical disk, including the artwork, and so this is how I’ve done this in the past. It does take time though, and I’m still less than half-way through ripping my collection. So perhaps I should be looking at some other legal download services?

I have absolutely no intent on using Kazaa Premium. I’m not even going to link to their website, as their adverts on Newsvine have been driving me crazy with the obtrusive use of flash and occasional attempts at sending me a Winfixer pop-up. There is a more popular alternative and this is eMusic.

So, who are they and what are they about? From their “about” page:

eMusic is the worlds largest retailer of independent music and the worlds second-largest digital music retailer overall, offering more than 1.4 million tracks from more than 4,000 independent labels spanning every genre of music. A subscription-based service that allows consumers to own, not rent their music, eMusic is the largest service to sell tracks in the popular MP3 format the only digital music format that is compatible with all digital music devices, including the iPod®. eMusic targets and successfully direct-markets to consumers who are interested in music outside the commercial mainstream, dramatically expanding the sale of catalogue typically known as “the long tail.” Since Dimensional Associates acquired eMusic in 2003, the company has more than tripled its subscriber base.

iTunes this is not. If you want to get the latest downloads from Madonna, U2 or Mariah Carey then you’re going to be better off using iTunes. There are no major labels here, but there’s a huge collection of independent music from just about any genre that you can imagine. There are some big names there, such as Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys but the majority of tracks are from less well-known bands and artists.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t quality of course, it’s just that they’re not being pushed by a major label. There’s some good stuff here, and you can be guided to some downloads by the eMusic editorial staff through their reviews or you can search by artist or genre. The site allows user reviews too, so you can get an idea of whether a certain band are any good or not, or you can listen to a sample first.

eMusic is a subscription service so you pay a certain amount every month and they allow you a number of downloads in that time. It’s also only recently launched in Europe despite being an old warhorse of music downloads in the US. Here are some more details from their site:

eMusic has been operating in the US since 1998 and is second only to iTunes in the number of downloads sold, with an 11% year-to-date US market share (NPD Group). Since August, 2005, the company has doubled its subscriber base, selling more than 85 million tracks in the last 36 months alone.

eMusics European sites will follow the same business model as their US counterpart and offer a subscription-based service, allowing members to download tracks for substantially less than they would pay for other download services. eMusic offers 25 free downloads at sign-up, and its subscription pricing gives music lovers an inexpensive, low-risk way to discover great new music.

* eMusic Basic: £8.99/ 12.99 per month/40 downloads – that’s 22p/ 0.32 a song

* eMusic Plus: £11.99/ 16.99 per month/65 downloads – that’s 18p/ 0.26 a song

* eMusic Premium: £14.99/ 20.99 per month/90 downloads – that’s 17p/ 0.23 a song

So, downloads are cheap, if you use up all your downloads, but you really have to be interested in digging through some less popular stuff. This is fine for me as I’m looking to expand my musical horizons. So far I’ve downloaded a few tracks by Miles Davis and a Muddy Waters Tribute. I’ll be downloading a Stabbing Westward album next and looking through more blues, jazz, indie rock and metal stuff over the coming months.

Users start off with 25 free downloads in a 14 day trial period and there’s nothing stopping you using up your trial and then cancelling your subscription. I’m going to be trying it out for a while I think – there’s plenty of stuff I want on there and I can hardly pass up the opportunity to own this new/old music at these prices.

The best thing, for me, is that the downloads are in a DRM-free MP3 format and so I’m unrestricted with my usage of these files. They won’t expire on me or refuse to load onto my player. The quality is good enough – loss-less would be even better for true audiophiles but perhaps these will come along later.

Music needs to be downloaded via the eMusic download manager. This converts the files into MP3 format and sorts them out for you into nice directories. I couldn’t get this to work on my work XP laptop due to restrictions in place with the corporate firewall, so be warned if you’re accessing the internet via a similar method. There may be ways around this but the FAQs are not particularly useful. You can contact them for help of course, something I’ve not tried yet. I can use the service at home on my Ubuntu box by using a thrid-party application called eMusic/J – it works really well for me so Linux users won’t be left behind.

The site itself is nice enough. It’s hardly ground-breaking web design but it’s easy to navigate and there are some nice community features. It’s early days for us European customers but the facilities are there for user reviews, fora and playlists.

Conclusion

US customers of eMusic may very well be used to their service by now, but us Europeans are new to it. From what I’ve seen so far the music selection is good, if limited to Independent artists, and it’s definitely worth signing up for if you’re willing to push the envelope a bit with your musical tastes. The music is cheap and DRM-free, two features that are very important to me.

We shall see how successful they become.

Originally posted on Newsvine

Bless you

A man, sitting next to a woman on a jet, suddenly sneezes. Unexpectedly, he unzips his trousers and wipes the end of his penis off with his handkerchief. He then zips up and continues reading his magazine.

The woman cannot believe what she just saw.

Then he sneezes again, unzips, pulls out his penis and wipes it off with a handkerchief. The woman says, “Excuse me sir, but that is disgusting and rude.”

He says, “I am so sorry that I have offended you. I have this very rare, embarrassing physical handicap that causes me to orgasm every time I sneeze.”

The woman, disarmed by the man’s honesty, and somewhat embarrassed by her own callousness, says, with sympathy, “Oh you poor man, what,are you taking for it?”

“Pepper,” he replies

More running

I’m still managing to keep up with the regular running. It doesn’t seem to be feeling much easier, although I am getting a little faster at the almost-mile course that I have. Monday’s run took me 7 minutes and 43 seconds – that’s over ten seconds faster than my last one on Thursday. Not bad for an old fella, although I’m sure there are a few fit, regular runners that think it a bit slow.

Last night saw me doing my old three mile run. This took me a respectable 26 minutes and 51 seconds and made me feel like I was going to explode. My short run is so short that I don’t even get a chance to start sweating until I’ve finished. With this one I was over-heating like and old car with a broken radiator and it didn’t help that it was a particularly warm evening.

Still, I finished it in a reasonable time. I’ll be happier when it’s down below 25 minutes.

I was certainly much happier to discover that NTL had been and fixed our internet. I incorrectly assumed that the modem was being over-driven as it turned out that there was a lack of power instead. I’m not sure how he fixed it but something was adjusted somewhere and it started working again. Hurrah!

NTL troubles

NTL are a little bit shit at customer service. It’s something that many, many people have complained about over the years and something that I knew about before signing up for their services.

I figured that I could cope with crap customer service as long as I got a reasonably priced deal. I get TV, phone and internet all packaged up and so far it’s been fairly priced and worked a treat.

That was, until last Friday night. For some unknown, unannounced reason the internet stopped working. It was quite late when I found out, so I phoned them up on Saturday afternoon. The status line had a lengthy message about scheduled maintenance for network upgrades that were currently being carried out across the country – Nottingham wasn’t due until the following Tuesday (today) so you’d think that this wasn’t the cause. There were no mentions of outages due to faults.

I then phoned the broadband helpdesk. There was a message on there that users within a collection of Nottingham postcodes (including ours) might be experiencing degraded service or total loss of service due to a localised fault. Well, that seemed to be the reason that ours was out, but it would have been nice to have that on the freephone status line rather than the 10p a minute tech support line.

So, the broadband still isn’t working on Sunday, so I phone up the tech support again. I end up speaking to some nice Indian lady. I explain the history of the fault, that there was an announcement of a localised issue that killed our service in the first place and that I was a little less than impressed with the extended outage. She performed some sort of line test and informed me that it looked like there was either a problem with the connection or something wrong with the modem. An engineer would be coming out Tuesday afternoon.

Fine, we need an engineer. However, I have a sneaky feeling I know what is wrong. I’m willing to wager that this engineer is going to come primed with an attenuator and that the application of this little device will miraculously cure my internet woes. Why do I think this? Well, NTL have done this before at our previous address. They were upgrading the lines then too and broke our connection, on that occasion for seven days. Amazingly an attenuator fixed it, so I’m willing to guess that they’ve done exactly the same thing here – they’re over-driving my cable modem and need to attenuate the signal.

I may be proved wrong, but either way they’re proving to be a bit rubbish at the support. They were excellent during the installation but after-sales stuff is not so hot.

Still, at least I wasn’t hanging on the phone for hours (I got through very quickly) and an engineer should fix it this afternoon.

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