“Mapping” on the web

Search on Neil Gaiman
Literature Map: Results for Neil Gaiman

Try out the Literature Map to find authors who you might like – type in the name of an author and it will give you a cloud of names to try, who should appeal to you. Not so many entries for non-English writers unfortunately.

World Mapper showing percentage of world births per territory (click to view the full map)
World Mapper: percentage of the world’s births per territory (click to view the full map)

Another place, which has enjoyed a lot coverage in various magazines recently, and which has a growing collection of interesting maps is World Mapper, a site which shows maps distorted so that the area of each country represents that county’s share of whatever is being mapped (imports, wealth, disease, etc.). Can this map of births really be correct – the proportion (area on the map) of British births to the USA is surprisingly large, I thought? Makes fascinating browsing.

Compare typefaces with each other

Sample from Typetester
American Typewriter (left) compared to Rockwell

Yes, this site has been around for a year or so, but it is still handy if you want to compare how 2-3 typefaces appear on the screen: Typetester. Change the foreground and background colors, the size, spacing and so on and see how readable it is compared to the other typefaces. Use your own fonts or the ones available on the website.

One more defense against spam-comments

As the number of spam-comments that Akismet has stopped being posted to my blog has now reached over 6600 (up from 1800 on May 2nd this year!), I’ve decided to activate a second line of defence and make it more difficult for spambots to access my site. I’ve activated Bad Behaviour, which is available for several different blogging tools.

If you have any problems leaving comments or trackbacks or accessing the site, drop me a line at my usual e-mail address (see the contact page).

Server upgrade

NSLU2 and external harddisk
Linksys NLSU2 and external hard disk

We’ve been using a Linksys NLSU2 server to connect a couple of external disk drives to our network so that we can make backups to the hard disks and also run mt-daapd to broadcast our iTunes library of music by WLAN to the lounge. The NLSU2 runs an underclocked Intel processer, whose speed can be doubled to the orginal design speed (266 MHz) by removing a resistor, which we had done. The NSLU2 is great value for money. You can buy them new for around 90 Euro and because they run Linux, there is a huge range of software that can be run on them. However, even un-underclocked, it is a little sluggish: the bottleneck on backups is not the network connection or the USB interface to the hard disks, but the processor; and when using it as a music server, the response time to deliver a list of artists or albums is a little slow.

So last week I decided to find a used Mac mini on eBay and ended up buying a 7 month-old 1.25 GHz G4 Mac mini with 1 GB memory for 361 Euro:

Mac mini installed in the office
Mac mini and USB hard disk

We’re running it “headless” (without a screen, keyboard or mouse attached), which is a snap using OSXvnc installed on the Mac mini and Chicken of the VNC on our Macs (both products are free). VNC allows you to log on to the remote computer from your usual desktop machine and run it using the screen, mouse and keyboard of the desktop PC to control it. I believe that OSXvnc is not actually required on the server, as the Apple Remote Desktop server software, which is part of OS X, also supports VNC clients, but I’d already set up OSXvnc before I found out.

Apart from installing VNC, the only other steps required to set up a headless OS X server are to change the energy saver control panel settings so that it doesn’t go to sleep. And I have set the disks to spin down if they aren’t accessed for 30 minutes – something you can’t do on the NSLU2 and which is probably better for the drives, since especially the 2.5″ laptop drive in the Mac mini isn’t designed for 24/7 running.

So far we’re very pleased with the Mac mini – it’s totally silent, since managing the disks never generates enough load that the internal fan comes on, and the disk response times are much snappier – running a backup to the server disks using Retrospect was running at about 130 MB/min on the NSLU2 and runs at around 225 MB/min via the Mac mini. Another advantage is that we no longer need to be careful when naming files, not to use characters which are OK for OS X, but which Linux doesn’t like (We also use Synchronize! X Plus to replicate data from our working directories to the networked disks).

Roku confusion

If you’re thinking of buying a Roku Soundbridge and want to use it with iTunes, you need to be very careful what you buy. Roku is selling the Soundbridge under the Roku brand name and licensed to Pinnacle (“powered by Roku”). Only the oringinal Roku Soundbridge supports iTunes and DAAP servers, for example mt_daapd. Although the Pinnacle web site and their product packaging specifically state that iTunes is supported, it is not.

What has inspired Roku to license a crippled Soundbridge under the Pinnacle brand name isn’t clear, but as the Pinnacle marketing push seems to be coming from the UK, European buyers need to beware of buying the crippled version. Pinnacle, like Roku, is based in California, but has a strong presence in Europe.

The reason for the lack of iTunes support is, according to Mike Kobb in Roku’s Engineering Team on May 13th, “licensing issues” and they don’t expect that Apple will grant licenses to cover the Pinnacle version:

Statement from Mike Kobb

Time for the dollar to fall?

The Economist has been saying for several years that the US dollar is overvalued and that what goes up must come down. Now the Managing Director of one of America’s leading fixed income managers (Bill Gross at Pimco), has expressed the same opinion, finishing his article called “As GM Goes, So Goes the Nation” with this quote:

Need I say more than to sell U.S. assets and buy Asian ones denominated in their local currencies; or if necessary to hire a global asset manager with sufficient flexibility and proper foresight to thrive in an increasing difficult investment environment?

The (quite short) article is worth a read and Bill manages more investment money (around 590 billion dollars at the last count) than anyone else on the planet, so he’s worth listening to.

Oh, and one other thing about money that I read today – how about getting around 50% on your investment overnight? Well, the Guardian points out that if you buy a ton of British pre-1992 2 pence coins (145 000 coins, worth £2900) you can sell them as scrap metal for £4400 £4700 at the moment, netting you over 50% profit. Mind you, I’m not sure that it’s legal to melt down coins of the realm, so don’t say that I told you to do it!