Life In The Rain

Free and not so free online services.

by john on Jul.24, 2009, under Travel


You may have noticed the last.fm widget not playing music, perhaps the pictures on the right don’t show up, twitter has decided it won’t display twits or maybe the odiogo voice synth no longer holds the post. Yep, we’re in a recession and resources are limited. All those free online services are either drying up or “monetizing”.

Music is the most interesting one, last.fm is no longer free, 3 euros in Ireland, and the free web radio link is no longer supported as far as I can see. Doesn’t really matter anyway, I’m sure that it’s a tad egotistical of me to push a random selection of my taste of music at anyone who stumbles in here. What does matter is that I thrive off the recommendation system in last.fm, it works pretty well and I’ve found quite a few tunes through it. The selection of music on last.fm is huge, the catch is you don’t get to choose what order or when a song is played. At the same time I’ve been trying out spotify which is basically a music harddrive online. Apart from the considerably smaller (but growing) selection of music on spotify it works much better due to it’s playlist support and instant song playback. You can also share your playlists with other people or collaboratively make them, here’s one of mine. Problem with Spotify? It costs 10 euros a month in Ireland, although it’s still free in other places.

So the result is, to satisfy my music needs (and this is actually the only way I listen to music at a computer these days), I pay about 13 euros a month. This seems like reasonable value.

I got an iPhone. It’s too tempting as a development platform, particularly with the fairly open App Store which allows almost anyone to create new apps and sell them online. So as an exploration, much work has gone into making a Sony Vaio VGN-SZ48 laptop run Mac OS. This hasn’t been fun, many hours and about 100 euros in peripherals or software has been spent in this forbidden task. There was even a foray into running Mac Leopard in a virtual machine, worked eventually, but too slow. But the OS runs natively now, wireless, sound, usb, lcd screen, input, pretty much everything. Unfortunately I don’t think the iTune’s store likes my setup. Time to do more research and jail break that phone? Hmm, I’m half tempted to just spend the 600 euros necessary to get a mac mini and do it the right way. Consider this project ongoing.

I’ve been messing around a little with the Amazon EC2 service. This lets anyone, for a price, create servers online for whatever need the person wants. The benefit is mainly for people who want to shorten computation time of large tasks or dynamically (given the correct programming or systems) add more hardware when or as needed, instead of continually running servers non-stop for the worst case scenario. Cloud computing is in essence an innovation in pricing plans, more than in any virtualisation technology. It’s true, this area is just data and computing warehouses rebranded – but giving people like me a chance to play. If the prices came down by about half I’d consider keeping a server running full time and run all websites, subversion and remote services from it.

The “Shindig” event from the previous post went pretty well, the speakers were excellent and made it work. Occasionally someone has said something to me about it, and I’m sort of blank. “You don’t remember? Sure I said to you that evening of the Shindig? I was wearing my blue jumper?”. I guess I was pretty nervous and didn’t record much but people have been nice enough to say they didn’t notice. What’s interesting to me is how much energy it took to get it all going, it ate up much of my spare time for a few months and I was zonked for a few weeks afterwards. Another event.. um, no way :) Someone elses turn. But yeah, maybe this time next year we’ll do another.

While we’re geeking out I may as well mention Linux. It’s been about 9 months since I was forced to start struggling my way with linux and I’ve found the process of understanding Linux very close to that of trying to understand a new culture and learn the language. This isn’t a lame comparison, many things performed in Linux are command line based and knowing the correct program name is akin to learning a new verb while forming and piping commands is like forming sentences. The history of each program, the contexts that they are used in, the layout of the filesystem, the locations to find “stuff” is like mapping out a history and landscape of a new city. To summarise I think I’m starting to get over the steep learning curve and advance my Linux skills to the point where I can order beer and a bed for the night.


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