Archive for the 'Personal' Category

Unofficial BBC Radio Widget v4.5

There’s a brand new version out — and it only took 4 years! v4.5 features high quality AAC and MP3 streaming, schedules for all stations, and updated station listings, along with various bug and compatibility fixes. Get it here!

Unofficial BBC Radio Widget – new beta

It’s been an unimaginably long time coming, but there’s a new beta of the Unofficial BBC Radio Widget. It focuses on getting things working with the current BBC radio streams, and fixing some compatibility issues for Tiger and Leopard. Only the latest, fully-updated releases of Tiger (10.4.11) and Leopard (10.5.8) are supported, along with 10.6 and greater, including Mavericks.

Lion Compatibility

In a word, none. Yet.

Update: Things are not as bleak as they first appeared! The official release of the widget, v4.21, is compatible with lion if you install the latest Adobe Flash Player. The WMA support in the beta versions is well and truly broken by Safari 5.1 on both lion and Snow Leopard, though; the QuickTime plugin has completely changed its behaviour.

My excuse is that as a mere widget developer, I had no magic access to prerelease versions of Lion. In fact, I’ve only just managed to upgrade to Lion myself after a hard drive failure. (Hurray for DiskWarrior, which was able to recover all of the data from my not-as-frequently-backed-up-as-it-should-have-been MacBook, apparently using magic.)

I’m gratified by all the interest that’s being shown in a Lion update, and will get one out as soon as I can. In the meantime, please use the BBC radio website for all of your cricket- and non-cricket-related needs.

Beta time again

I’ve begun adding WMA support to the BBC Radio Widget. It requires the Flip4Mac WMV components for QuickTime, but amusingly provides a much better experience than the Flash player (volume controls!). If you’d like to help me test it, please check it out

Time for some Safari 5 extensions

The last few days I’ve been playing around with Safari 5’s extensions features, which are incredibly cool and surprisingly flexible. The following are the results:

Google Reader Tools 1.0

GR Tools is a toolkit with lots of neat tricks for integrating Google Reader into your browser. There’s a toolbar icon which checks for new items at regular (configurable) intervals; it’s also possible to automatically view any feed you load in Google Reader instead of Safari. You can even change the appearance of Reader — because, frankly, it’s really ugly — using some built in styles (including the beautiful Helvetireader by Jon Hicks) or your own custom stylesheet.

Qwantz Secrets 1.0

Qwantz Secrets reveals the secret texts on Dinosaur Comics when you mouseover the image — or optionally click it, or press “s”. There’s also a bookmarklet for iOS devices which can’t run extensions (and can’t see the hidden text in any of the usual ways).

Both of these automatically update, and can be downloaded from my new extensions page. Bug reports and suggestions are extremely welcome.

Getting Flash errors with BBC Radio Widget?

The largest single problem I’ve heard of with BBC Radio Widget is a Flash security dialog, which beachballs the computer. Only a very few people get it — and I’m not sure why — but the solution is here.

British trains suck

This is a moan — if you don’t like to hear people venting their petty frustrations, look away now!

So today, I’ve waited five minutes for a train which started at the station I was at. (How did it manage to be late? I don’t know.) Narrowly avoid missing an appointment.

On the way home, I miss my connection because my first train is five minutes late, and I have to sit on the platform watching the seconds tick by. I catch it, and arrive at the halfway point only to find that half the trains are running an hour late — except mine, of course, which has just left — and now I’ll be waiting an hour for the next one. Finally, I end up stuck near some smelly people (like, seriously stinking-of-something-unmentionable, smell-them-from-several-seats-away smelly).

Not as bad as when I was heading to York a couple of months ago, though. £40 for a 90-mile journey, paid on the morning. Got on the (late) train, and was greeted by an announcement that we’d be further delayed. Waited ten minutes, then a further announcement that we’re moving to the end of the platform to get out of the way. As we stop, a scant thirty seconds later, we’re told the service is cancelled. And we have to walk all the way back along the platform.

Over the course of the next half hour, they cancel one train after another — each time insisting that the train will run, right up until the point of cancellation. (It later turns out that the line was completely blocked, so they’d have known no trains could run. They almost certainly knew at the time they were happily selling me tickets, too.)

Awesome. No wonder people like cars.

A complicated solution to a simple problem

So, I wanted to listen to TMS while I work in the charity shop. There’s nothing like a bit of slightly-mad banter to liven up a slow afternoon. Unfortunately, as any real Englishman will know, it’s only available on Radio 4 LW, or Five Live Sports Extra (which is digital/internet only); and I don’t have any portable kit capable of picking it up. I also don’t have an internet connection in the shop.

I do have an iPhone, but it’s an iPhone 2G and it’s running on Vodafone UK, who don’t have an EDGE network. (I’m with them despite this as they’re considerably less sucky than O2 in every other conceivable way.) That means GPRS, which tops out at a realistic 3-5kB/s. Not exactly speedy, and supporting a radio stream of only around 24kbps – considerably lower than the 48+ needed for apps like InternetRadioBox to get me delicious internet radio straight from Auntie.

The solution? NiceCast. It’s hooked up to grab audio from my widget on my Mac back home (running in Flash mode so I at least start off with good audio), which it encodes to 24kbps mono MP3 for streaming to my phone (password-protected; don’t sue me, personal use only!), and then plays in InternetRadioBox. Turns out it’s quite reliable, and the audio sounds surprisingly good (it’s only voice, after all). I’m sat here right now listening to the Ashes with my phone lying on the desk, feeling very smug. It’d be better if it didn’t look like England were going to be all out for under a hundred, of course…

Granted, it’s blocking the phone’s connection so I won’t get any calls or SMS messages while I listen. And the real problem will come if my connection drops at all back home and the widget screws up autoresume, because I’ve got no way of resetting it. But that’s not going to happen. (Can you hear me, MacBook? I said THAT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.)

BBC radio stations on the iPhone

Updated to add FStream. This is recommended by a commenter, and again I’ve not tried it. Mixed reviews, suggesting a few problems, but it’s free – so it’s probably worth a shot, eh?

From time to time, I get emails asking if I’m ever going to make an iPhone version of the BBC Radio Widget. The answer is always the same – I’d love to, but the iPhone doesn’t natively support the formats that the BBC broadcast in. That’s because the BBC only broadcasts in RealPlayer, Windows Media and Flash-wrapped formats, which are not only closed but not really licensable; you have to wait for the appropriate plugin from each vendor – Real, Microsoft, and Adobe – to be available on your platform.

Now, that’s not entirely true, as there are open source projects which have reverse-engineered RealAudio and Windows Media Audio. Getting them to work on the iPhone, though, would be totally non-trivial and well beyond my abilities. However, it seems like an extremely select few of the available iPhone radio apps actually have managed such a feat! The apps which should be compatible are:

(All prices are correct at time of writing.)

There may be more, but they’re the ones I’m pretty certain about; blowed if I’m paying for a bunch of apps just to test them! Of these, I’ve only actually tried Internet Radio Box, and in brief testing it seemed to work solidly – even if the interface was a bit ugly and awkward. For the price, it’s hard to complain.

There are some caveats to this. Firstly, the format each of these seems to have implemented is Windows Media. The problem with that, is only the dozen or so major national stations – Radio 1, 2, 3 etc. – are available as WMA. Local stations aren’t streamed in that format, only RealAudio, so you’re out of luck with them… but you can still listen to the cricket (Five Live Sports Extra).

Secondly, I have no idea if these stations will work for you outside the UK. RealAudio streams are available worldwide, Flash streams aren’t; but I know nothing of the WMA streams. So, no guarantees.

Finally, and least importantly: just because the application is compatible, doesn’t mean the streams are listed by default. You might have to add the locations of the stations yourself. If that’s the case, the easiest way is to browse the BBC Web API; click on “More Information” for a channel, then “Get Locations”; you’ll need the windows-media url. Update: Commenter Hywel has done what I was too lazy to do, and collected the urls together below. I do know that at least Internet Radio Box includes them in its built-in directory already.

I’m quite impressed to see that some apps have gone the extra mile to get these annoying formats working, because I think it’s an order of magnitude harder than just supporting the native formats (MP3, AAC) as most do. Oh, and no-one’s paid me to advertise their app, either. Unfortunately. :)

eBay’s fraud problem

I realise this isn’t exactly news, but one more small voice can’t harm: eBay is dying. Slowly, messily, rotten with scammers and spammers and all the low-life scum who are the reason we can’t have nice things.

A year ago, I sold a MacBook on eBay. I had a couple of “Would you end it early?” offers, but nothing worse. The eventual buyer was happy, I was happy, and I rather enjoyed the experience.

This year, I sold an iPod and a broken Mac mini. Woah. One bid cancellation (a perfectly sane bid, which the guy left in place for 24 hours, not the “wrong amount” as he claimed), one request to ship to Cyprus (despite my clear terms stating no international shipping), complete with petulent retort when I pointed this out! One request for German postage, but this sounded more legit. Still refused. Two offers of cash to end the iPod early (for way below market value; I guess it’s worth a try, eh?). And that’s just what I can remember. I enjoyed it rather less.

A friend of mine sold his old iPhone today. Not only has he spent the last week politely telling people wanting to do dodgy deals and international shipping (probably to some distant relative in Nigeria) to fuck off, and not only did he have a fellow withdraw a bid because he “couldn’t contact the seller” (my arse) which eBay essentially ignored after having it reported – but when the iPhone finally ended it was to an American account. Registered the previous day. Which had no feedback. And had been bidding on high priced electronics.

Clearly a scumbag scammer. It happens. What shocked me was that his second place bidder was almost identically positioned – except that he’d been even more prolific, bidding on dozens of items in the last day.

One of the accounts was no longer registered within an hour of the auction’s end.

Fortunately, in this case the third place bidder seemed to be legitimate, and jumped on a second chance offer pretty quickly – with immediate payment. So, this time it ended… okay; but I can’t see my friend selling more on eBay soon.

Fraud on is no secret, but had been holding out. No longer, it seems. eBay don’t care, because they just keep jacking up their fees to keep profits rising despite a fall in usage, but it’s so shortsighted. The worse it gets, the fewer real transactions take place, and you can only raise the prices so far before they’re an even bigger discouragement than the fraud. (At least you can avoid fraud, with due diligence.)

Eventually there won’t be anyone left but the scammers. And they’re not exactly the best customers.