Me and Andy Warhol

Well, it looks like I'm going to get my Andy Warhol moment - except in my case it's going to be four minutes instead of fifteen. My video diary is going to air on Countryfile on BBC 1 next Sunday. 11:30am, and I'm the top story on who call this blog "Fascinating" - I wonder if that is "Fascinating" as in "Interesting and informative" or "Fascinating" as in "The oddest thing we've ever seen" ;-)

I also did a phone interview with the Tameside/Glossop Advertiser today - If anyone has a village fete or supermarket they need opening, my rates are very reasonable ;-)

IRC on the Nokia 6820

Whilst the SSH clients I found for my phone were an interesting gimmick, to be honest they weren't actually much use because of the small screen on the phone - a simple 'ls' fills up screen after screen, even on the tiniest (i.e. unreadable) font setting. I thought IRC might just be doable, and in fact there are several Java IRC clients available for phones. I tried WLIrc and jmIrc. jmIrc was originally a fork of WLItrc, and the shared heritage is evident. I couldn't load either of the clients over WAP onto the phone, but they both installed fine after I downloaded them and squirted them into the phone via the IR link. Once on the phone, both clients were configured as detailed in step 5 of my SSH client post.

WLIrc proved to be less than usable as it kept dying with a Java null pointer exception. jmIrc however seems to work fine, with just one minor quirk that I've been able to find so far - If you modify a connection profile and then quit rather than saving the entry it loses the entry, and the next time you start it it dies with an array bounds exception, the only fix is to reinstall.

Once you have started up the client you can set up profiles to connect to your favorite IRC servers, specifying which channels you want to join, your nick etc. When you connect to a server each channel is indicated by a small coloured square on the screen. Backgrounded channels that have had traffic since you last viewed them are highlighted by changing the colour of the indicator square for that channel. You can switch channels with left and right with the joystick, and you can scroll up and down with the joystick as well. The number keys can be used to page up/down a screen at a time, home/end etc. When entering text with the fold-out keyboard closed you can use the phone's predictive text feature to compose your messages in the same way that you would if you were composing an SMS message. All in all it's an impressive illustration how careful interface design can yield a truly useful application even when the platform it is running on is limited. If I had any boring meetings to sit through I'd certainly be using it to chat to people I'd rather be communicating with, but one of the benefits of being a remote employee is that I very rarely have to sit through any such meetings :-)

Tags : , , ,
Categories : Web, Tech

Filming finished

Well I've finally finished the filming for my video diary for the BBC Countryfile programme, and the courier came today to take the camera and tapes down to BBC Birmingham. After two failed attempts (due to the weather) I finally got some footage of the Moors For The Future airlift onto Bleaklow. When I turned up yesterday morning at Windy Harbour the cloud was down over Higher Shelf, so it didn't look like we'd get onto Bleaklow. We shifted over to Kinder to see if it was any better, but in fact it was even worse, so about 11:00 we got back to Windy Harbour, and the cloud had lifted just enough - a couple of hundred feet - above Bleaklow Head so we set to and drove up to Glossop Low and were helicoptered up from there to Wain Stones - thankfully I didn't need to leg it onto the moor carrying the BBC kit this time! There were plenty of us there so I got to wander around filming the helicopter, plus a very cooperative hare that sat still for me for long enough to get some good shots. The weather was pretty marginal and quite windy - in fact when I was filming with the camera at right angles to the wind I had to hold it down as the wind would have otherwise have blown it over. However it held off and only started to spit with rain as we were lifted off at 3:45, so at last I managed to get the last part of my video diary completed.

I spoke to Rachel yesterday to arrange for the kit to be picked up, and asked her what would happen next. The slot is only 4 minutes long so she's got to edit the 2 1/2 hours of footage I've taken down to fit - hopefully there will be enough that's useable to fill the time ;-) I don't know when it will be transmitted, but I'll post something as soon as I know. I enjoyed making the diary, and it's given me an insight into how much effort is required to fill even a short amount of airtime. On the other hand I won't miss lugging all the kit around with me, it got a little wearing towards the end, lugging a camera in my hand, festooned with the microphone cable around my neck and the tripod strapped to my rucksack.

Human donkey

As I posted earlier, I'm doing a video diary for BBC Countryfile, and as I've also posted the Moors For The Future project is also airlifting several thousand bags of heather onto Bleaklow as part of the effort to repair the damage to the peat, so it seemed an obvious thing to do to try to combine the two and get some footage of the helicopter. I was going to film last Thursday, but as I've already said we were fogged in. MFTF were flying again yesterday, so I thought I'd do a normal patrol and walk over to the drop site to do some filming. I popped in to Windy Harbour to find out from the MFTF team where they were going to be before heading off to the briefing centre. They were going to be working around Wain Stones and Hern Stones so Bob and I drove up to Snake summit to walk across.

It was looking a bit murky as we drove up to Snake and just as we got togged up and ready to go Fiona radioed us to say that due to low cloud they'd moved the drop site to Lawrence Edge on the opposite side of the Bleaklow plateau. We got back in the car and drove round to Woodhead dam and parked up. We could see the helicopter as we walked up Bradwell Sitch, and as we got to the bottom of Lawrence Edge I heard over the radio that the helicopter was going to refuel. The weather was looking a bit dodgy on the north side of Bleaklow as well, so I staggered up Lawrence Edge as fast as I could, weighted down by the camera, tripod, batteries etc.

I got to the top edge and spotted the ground teams just as I heard the helicopter coming back. As it appeared through the murk I saw that it didn't have a load on, which was a bad sign. Sure enough it landed and the team nearest the edge piled in and it took off and dissapeared. Bugger! Having hauled all the kit the 800 feet up from Woodhead dam in double-quick time I was less than thrilled to see them being taking off the hill.

I mooched over to the second team to share my woes. They were hoping for the helicopter to come back to pick them up, but then the weather dropped right in so we all sat there while they waited for radio confirmation of whether they needed to walk off or not. 20 minutes or so later we heard the helicopter off in the distance - the weather hadn't perceptibly changed, so it didn't seem like there was any way he could get in. A message came over the radio asking the team to get as close as possible to Lawrence Edge, and as they were moving the rotor disk of the helicopter appeared up through the murk from under the edge of the crag, smack bang where he'd picked the first team up. The wind was blowing along the valley, so he came up from below the edge and across the moor sideways to the landing site and everyone piled in whilst I tried to get some footage on the camera. Once everyone was aboard he took off and crabbed sideways across to the edge again, about 20 feet above the ground before dropping back down below and very quickly out of sight into the clag. I was chatting to Fiona later on and it appears that the cloud base was a few tens of feet below the edge of the plateau, and he'd flown along the valley edge below the cloud level before popping sideways up the face to pick them up - a very slick piece of flying. It would have been impressive enough if the pilot had done this as part of a rescue, but was really staggering was that he was so matter-of-fact about it - he even offered to come back to pick myself and Bob up! The helicopter firm are based in Scotland so I suppose they are used to these sort of conditions, but still - way to go, PDG Helicopters!

Bob and hung around for a bit and had our lunch in case the weather lifted and they could resume the lift, but when I checked with Fiona they'd scrubbed for the rest of the day. Bob and I did some shots of the peat erosion and the steps being taken to try to stabilise it by the MFTF folks before carrying along to Wildboar Clough and off down White Mare where I managed to get some more shots of hares, although they were being distinctly uncooperative and kept running away before I got close enough to get a really good shot - most thoughtless of them ;-) We dropped down onto the Longdendale trail just above Torside car park before heading back to the car at Woodhead dam, taking a few last shots along the valley before we headed back to the briefing centre and then home.

SSH on the Nokia 6820

I was reading a review of the Nokia 6820 over at The Register and I was intrigued to see that Idokorro had written a Java app for it that would give you SSH and telnet access. A bit more digging revealed that there was a free alternative in the form of MidpSSH. The idea of being able to log in to my server from my phone appealed to the inner geek, so I downloaded both to have a play. There are several variants available for the MidpSSH client, for the Nokia 6820 you need the "SSH2 Lite Build (SSH1, SSH2, reduced functionality)" for MIDP 1.0 - the phone only supports MIDP 1.0, and it won't accept applications bigger than 64K. The first problem I had was getting either of them to connect over GPRS - they both just hung when trying to connect. An email conversation with Idokorro tech support ensued, and that helped me get thinking along the right lines to solve the connection problem. The default GPRS profile that's supplied by Vodafone for the phone ("Vodafone GPRS") is set up for WAP access - it uses the GPRS access point (APN) and uses a proxy between you and the outside. I figured that this was probably the problem, either the APN and/or the proxy wasn't passing the SSH traffic on port 22 through. I set up an alternate GPRS profile and everything started working. Here's what you need to do - note that these instructions will only work for Vodafone, you'll need to google for the correct settings if you use another service provider.

1. Go to Menu -> Services -> Settings -> Connection settings -> Active service settings and pick an empty service settings slot.

2. Choose "Edit active service settings" then edit as follows:
Setting's Name: I called mine "Vodafone GPRS Direct"
Homepage: I set mine to which gets you the Google WML search page, specially designed for phone use.
Proxies: Disable
Data bearer: GPRS

3. Choose "Bearer settings, then configure as follows:
GPRS access point: Internet
Authentication type: Normal
Login type: Automatic
User name: leave blank
Password: leave blank
Note: Some websites recommend you use "web" as the username/password, but it doesn't seem to be needed.

4. Now exit the configuration screens, select "Services -> Home" and the phone should create a GPRS connection and display the Google homepage. Press cancel until you get to the default phone screen.

5. Menu -> Applications -> Collection -> Select Application
and select the SSH application you wish to configure, then "Options" and configure as follows:
Web access: Allowed
Connect via -> Internet
then select "Vodafone GPRS Direct" or whatever you called your new connection profile in step 2 above.

6. Press "Back" until you get to the "Collection" selection screen, fire it up and you should be able to open a SSH connection to the machine of your choice.

Both clients are hampered somewhat by the small screen size on the phone, but the Idokorro one seems to cope with the limitations of the platform best - inputting text in MidpSSH was kinda clunky, but then for $45 (which seems a little steep) I'd expect the Idokorro client to be better. I don't have an immediate need for SSH access from my phone, but it was kinda cool to see it working all the same.

There's one other major advantage of setting up your own direct GPRS profile that I haven't mentioned yet - it apparently bypasses the abysmal Vodafone proxy and content management mess - Vodafone have decided it's their job to reformat and censor the internet, but unfortunately they've done an appalling job of it. Pictures that the phone can display just fine are removed, it's as slow as hell and it decided at one point that Ikea are providers of porn rather than of furniture. It even decided that this site contained adult content at one point, which offended me greatly - I've been accused of many things, but being an adult isn't one of them.

Tags : , , ,
Categories : Tech

Nokia 6820

Nokia 6820My old Motorola Timeport finally gave up the ghost recently. To be honest it was always less than excellent anyway - I only got it because it was the only tri-band phone available at the time. The user interface was at best idiosyncratic, at worst unusable - certainly for sending SMS messages it was a joke - I used to challenge people in pubs to send a SMS in less than five minutes. I had a scan through the list of phones we can choose from, and quite liked the look of the Nokia 6820 as it has a really cute flip-out QWERTY keyboard - I figured that even I could sent a SMS using it! I paired it up with a Jabra BT250 bluetooth headset so I'm car-legal as well.

I'm really happy with the phone so far, and yes, even I can send text messages with it! The fold-out keyboard is quite useable, I can type quite comfortably with my thumbs on it. When you open the phone up to use the keyboard the display rotates around to match the orientation of the keyboard which is kinda cool. The phone has lots of toys, it supports GPRS, SMS, MMS, WAP, yada, yada, yada. It also has a simple inbuilt PIM so I can keep my diary and to-do notes on it. I used to use a Psion 5mx, but to be honest I couldn't be bothered carrying it around with me all the time. I've already started using the phone as my main diary, and it has got the balance between simplicity and usefulness just about right. I've also had endless fun downloading stupid ringtones onto it, however I have noticed that if you set up ringtone groups it doesn't always pick the correct one, which is a little annoying. It also has a 352x288 camera, but quite frankly it's useless - it's not only that it's low resolution but it produces pictures that look like they have been drawn by a three year old in wax crayon - and then left on a radiator for a week.

The phone also comes with some PC software that allows you to manage the address book and upload/download files to the phone. The phone shipped with version 5.8, but I subsequently noticed that version 6.41 was available from the Nokia website. I duly removed 5.8 and installed 6.41, and that's where my problems started. 6.41 couldn't see the address book entries I'd created with the earlier version, even after I'd de/reinstalled 6.41. And to cap it all, the 6.41 version was distinctly inferior to 5.8 - for example the address book editor wouldn't let you assign contacts to caller groups, and wouldn't allow you to assign email addresses to contacts either. I tried rolling back to 5.8, but that also didn't work any longer. In the end I had to uninstall the software and manually delete all files and directories it had created, and then go and manually delete all the registry keys that had 'Nokia' in them - eek! However, on reinstalling 5.8 everything started behaving. I contacted Nokia tech support and they gave me a strong hint that 6.41 was to be avoided in favour of 5.8, so 3 out of 10 for the software, Nokia!

The phone has a web browser which is OK in a 'WAP is pretty crap' way - I used it to check the reviews for the rather good Gurkha restaurant we ate at in Fleet when we were down there on Monday, and I suspect it might also be useful for cheating at pub quizzes ;-) The other thing that intrigued me was that the phone has an email client that includes IMAP support. My service provider (Vodafone) supplies it's customers with a free email account - if you register and upgrade your voicemail account you can manage your voicemail from the web, and if people email your email address you can get the emails read out to your phone by an electronic lady, which is kinda spooky. The website gives instructions for how to set up Microsoft Outlook to work with the email system and from that I figured out how to do the same for the email client on the phone. I thought I'd document it here as it will probably work for any similar Nokia phone. The first step is to register to upgrade your voicemail account, then configure the phone as follows:

1. Menu -> Messages -> Voice messages ->Voice mailbox number
and set your voicemail number to 242 instead of 121.

2 . Menu -> Messages -> Message settings -> E-mail messages -> Edit active e-mail settings
and configure as follows:

Mailbox name:
E-mail address:
My name: Your Name
Outgoing (SMTP) server:
Incoming server type: IMAP4
Incoming (IMAP4) server:
IMAP4 user name: yourname
IMAP4 password: yourpassword

Then go into the "Other settings" submenu and configure as follows:

Use SMTP authorisation: Yes
SMTP user name: yourname
SMTP password: yourpassword

Then go into the "SMTP connection settings" submenu and configure as follows:

Proxies: Disable
Data bearer: GPRS

Then go into the "Bearer settings submenu" and configure as follows:

GPRS access point: Internet
Authentication type: Normal
Login type: Automatic
Username: leave blank
Password: leave blank

Then select "back" twice and go into the "IMAP4 connections settings" submenu and configure exactly the same as the "SMTP connection settings".

If you now fire up the email client you should be able to both send and receive emails via your account. One thing to note: the phone email client doesn't delete messages on the server even if you delete them from the phone, so you'll occasionally have to log on via the web interface to delete them. You can use the web browser in the phone do do this - the web-based email system is linked to from the Vodafone mobile homepage.

Tags : ,
Categories : Tech

Tsunami gig #2

I'm kinda behind on my blogging, so I better play catchup! Last Sunday we played at our second Tsumami benefit gig at The Globe, a pub in Glossop that specialises in real ale, vegan food and live music. We normally go there after Wednesday practice sessions to try (usually in vain) to win the pub quiz. There were 35 other acts playing, acoustic sets downstairs and bands upstairs. The place was heaving - it took us a quarter of an hour just to get our kit up to the stage! The venue upstairs is pretty small - intimate I think is the correct term. There were about 15 of us playing, so the Surdo section managed to fit on the stage but the rest had to stand in front on the dance floor. We kicked off, and as sometimes happens we all just gelled and we played a really solid set. As we were making our way off people were grabbing my hand and pummelling it up and down, saying how great we sounded. I had to dash after the gig, but Laszlo stayed behind and people kept coming up to him and saying that we were the best band there. One guy came up to Laszlo and asked if we'd like to play some other gigs. Laszlo asked him where he was thinking of and the answer was 'All over the place' - turns out the guy is a promoter. He said that he obviously listens to a lot of bands, but every now and then he comes across a band that sounds really good - and we were just such a band. Then Laszlo notices his hearing aid ... just joking ;-) Laszlo also said a guy who is part of a brass section wanted to bring along his mates to play with us, something Laslo has wanted to do for some time.

Perhaps it's time to pack up the day job and hit the road, I've always fancied having a go at some rock excess - groupies and smashing up hotel rooms sounds like it might be quite fun - mid-life crisis here I come ;-)

Categories : Drumming

Me on the telly

About 18 months ago I got in touch with the BBC Countryfile programme with the aim of doing a video diary on the mountain hares on Bleaklow. As I hadn't heard back from them I assumed that nothing would come of it, but late last year they got in touch again to ask if I was still interested. We agreed that early Feburary this year would be the best time to do the filming as the hares are still mostly in their white winter coats and are more active during the day as it is the start of the breeding season. Rachel from the beeb at Birmingham came up a week yesterday to give me a camera and a run-down of how to use it and what they were looking for in terms of footage, e.g. "Plenty of GVs" (General Views) and "Always explain what you are doing to camera"

John, Bob and myself went out last Saturday up Yellowslacks to get some footage of the hares. There were plenty around, but the camera only has a 12x zoom, which means you have to get really close to get a decent shot, and the hares aren't known for being cooperative! After a lot of skulking around rocks and cursing of both the microphone lead and the tripod we did get a fair amount of footage.

That evening when I got home I thought I better check through the tapes to make sure they looked OK. I checked the first tape, them moved on to the second when disaster struck - the damn tape got jammed in the camera which then started beeping and flashing various cryptic error messages at me. A glance at the manual revealed that I should eject the tape and try again, but the bloody camera refused to eject the tape - and it was the one with the hares on it! I eventually managed to get the tape out after about an hour of trying, however I was intending to do more filming which was going to be difficult without a camera. Fortunately I was going down to Hampshire for work on Monday, so after a frantic series of text messages between myself and Rachel I arranged to swap the camera on my way past Birmingham on Monday.

Last Thursday I was supposed to be doing some more airlifting, but do to the fact that we were fogged in it didn't happen, and as a result I couldn't film anything save the helicopter on the ground (a Lama) sharing a field with a real live Llama. John and I went off to Snake Summit for a wander around Bleaklow in the murk - visibility was down around 50m, and the only person we saw was one of the full-time National Park staff cutting channels in the peat to try to get some of the water to drain off the first section of the Pennine Way - the path is slowly sinking into the bog, as it's one of the earliest bits to be done, now they use stone flags to lay causey paths. In the early days they tried out all sorts of stuff including geotextiles, split paling fencing and even polystyrene blocks! The causey paving works best because it floats on the surface of the bog, and doesn't need anything laid underneath it, so all the paths are done that way now.

I'm off out tomorrow as they are supposed to be airlifting again, but the weather forecast isn't good so it remains to be seen if I'll actually manage to get any film of the helicopter before the BBC want their camera back! As soon as I know what the transmission date of my 4 minutes of fame is, I'll be sure to post it here, so keep checking back :-)