Defining what I actually NEED

After taking my Eeepc away on a trip to Italy, I’m now starting to work out what applications I need and don’t need. The following is what I’m actually using (or am keeping because I think I might need them):

  • Gedit and Terminal (with which I can do most things)
  • Firefox
  • Evolution (yes, I use Evolution on a tiny laptop and it works for me)
  • Emapthy (for IM – it’s the future so I thought I’d start using it now)
  • OpenOffice.org (for presentations and reading documents sent to me)
  • VLC & Rhythmbox (for the growing collection of media on my spare SD card)

Apart from that, I don’t use anything graphical, and I’ve also got rid of anything that requires a CD drive, or bluetooth, or anything that the Eeepc doesn’t actually have.

Now to think about streamlining my other computers and also investigating why my external keyboard died half way through this post.

What we did on our holidays

Tuesday 19th August, 8:00 PM

The start of the road trip.

We checked into the Premier Inn earlier this evening. It’s a really nice hotel, is close to the airport, and does a really nice steak and ale pie. They have reasonably priced internet access too, but as we have to go to sleep soon and will have to leave by 3:30am then I don’t think it’s really worth it.

Tomorrow we leave for Italy. I’m really looking forward to this trip, and also to spending a week relaxing with my lovely new wife (I don’t think I’ll ever tire of typing that).

Wednesday 20th August, 5:22 AM

I’m sitting in Frankie and Benny’s at Birmingham International Airport, having just had a huge breakfast. We’ve been up since 3am, but so far I feel rested, unlike Steph who had several nightmares and didn’t sleep a great deal. It is times like these that I value my ability to sleep (and wake) at any time of the day.

Still no free wireless access to anything but the airport’s own web site, but that in itself is useful.

Thursday 21st August, 12:00 local time

We’ve now been in Italy over 24 hours, and are both enjoying it greatly. We arrived in Verona on time yesterday, and travelled to Peschiera by coach. The apartment we’re staying in is gorgeous, with tiled floors throughout, a large balcony, and most importantly air conditioning. It’s been 35 degrees here for huge portions of yesterday and today, and it’s really good to come back to something a little cooler when we want to eat and sleep.

One downside is that the plug adaptors we were sold in the UK to use on this trip actually don’t work in Italy (we did ask – they lied). I’m running my laptop off batteries at present, so I’m hoping to pick up an adaptor in the next 24 hours.

We opted for self catering so we could properly experience living in Italy. Yesterday we bought huge amounts of ingredients, and have cooked one proper meal and three snack meals already. Food is quite reasonably priced, and wine is very cheap (3 euros for a decent bottle of red), so hopefully we should be able to survive on the money we bought over with us.

I think we’ve finally caught up on sleep now, after only getting a few hours the night before. Both Steph and I woke around 9, so I think we managed 11 hours each yesterday.

Plans for the next few days involve exploring Peschiera town centre later, Verona all day Sunday and Venice on Monday. We’ve taken a few photographs already, and will probably take lots more over the next few days. One thing we have photographed lots already is the cute lizards that live near where we are staying. They are everywhere and are fascinating to watch.

I will hopefully write more when I have a reliable power supply for my laptop.

Thursday 21st August, 23:00 local time

Talking of which, the hotel loaned us an adaptor, so we can now charge the EeePC, DS Lite, and various other bits of tech we have with us.

Tonight we went into Peschiera for pizza, red wine, and an evening of soaking up the atmosphere when it was under 35 degrees (also known as dark). Both food and wine were good, and the whole meal cost under 25 euros, which is a lot less than it would cost in the UK. We’ve also booked onto a wine tour on Saturday as well as the Verona and Venice trips.

Friday 22nd August, 17:32 local time

Today we travelled by boat to the town of Bardolino, which is where a lot of the wine we have drunk this week was made. The boat journey was very pleasant, and an hour after leaving Peschiera we arrived in Bardolino in the blistering heat. Most of our time there was spent having a very long lunch (with coffee and wine), but we did manage a walk along the lakeside which nearly killed us (yes, 35 degrees again today).

We have taken a lot of photographs so far. I’ve backed up the first batch onto my laptop in case we drop the camera in the lake or some other such misdemeanor.

Tonight I plan on cooking either pasta or risotto with the vegetables we have left. I don’t plan on doing a lot more than that until it gets cooler.

We’ve been here three days now, and I’m totally relaxed. This bodes well for the rest of the holiday.

Sunday 24th August, 8:25 local time

Yesterday we went on what was billed as a “wine tour”. It was actually a drive to a castle in the hills, complete with thunder, lightening, and torrential rain. We got to taste 4 local wines, and did get a whole large glass of each, so by the time we finished we were getting rather tipsy, but there was bread, cheese and meat to go with it which at least soaked up some of the wine.

There were lots of British tourist types on the wine tour who were complaining about the rain. They seemed to think it never rains in Italy for some reason, and thought they might catch hypothermia in temperatures warmer than the UK average. I think they may have been mistaken.

Afterwards we went out for dinner, and had pasta dishes and more wine. I think we probably had 9 glasses each over the course of the day so we should probably take it easy today.

We head off to Verona in an hour or so, and then to Venice tomorrow. We have taken over a hundred photographs already, with hopefully many more to come.

Sunday 24th August, 22:38 local time

Today we went to Verona, and then out for a posh restaurant meal. In Verona, we visited:

  • Arena (a large amphitheatre)
  • Casa di Giulietta (the house of Juliette)
  • Tomba di Giulietta (the tomb of Juliette with added Christian art)
  • Museo Lapidario (museum of Greek and Roman stuff)

We also had lunch in a nice cafe.

In the evening we went to a lovely restaurant, and had fish, salad, and amazing wine. We are now drinking more wine back at the apartment, so I might have to rewrite this in the morning, if it ends up looking less than good.

Tuesday 26th August, 9:55 local time

Yesterday we spent the whole day in Venice, visiting Palazzo Ducale (palace of the Doge), seeing the sights, and eating a decent meal of lasagna and fish. My impression of Venice was that everything was overpriced, it was far too commercialised, but it still managed to be beautiful, stunning, and exactly what I hoped it would be. We arrived back just before midnight, drank a couple of glasses of wine, and then collapsed until 9am.

I’ve also transferred the 550 photographs we have taken so far to my laptop. I will post selections on Facebook at some point over the next week.

Tuesday 26th August, 19:33 local time

Today we returned to Bardolino by ferry, and ate the hugest plate of salami and other cooked meat that I have ever seen. The boats were running on “Italian time” today, so it took us ages to get back.

We return home tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting home, but have had an amazing holiday.

Just a couple of recommendations this week

Due to weddings and holidays, I’ve got a 10 album + backlog of things to write about. But as I’m off on my travels tomorrow I thought I’d mention a couple of the albums I’ll be taking with me to keep me occupied at the airport and on the plane to Verona.

Midnight Snow by Abscondo – I downloaded this about a week ago, and there has not been a day since when I have not listened to it at least once. This is singer-songwriter fare, but with a twist and a dark underbelly I really like. Download it here for free, or buy it from iTunes for £7.99. I did the former, but had I discovered it from another direction I would happily have paid. You might also want to check out Imperfect People, by a related group called Sungod Abscondo who I might grow to love almost as much.

Not Quite Connected by Josh Woodward – This is more acoustic and folky than the other two albums I have, but I think it is actually my favourite. There are no stand-out songs as such, but it’s all really good and has been my “walking to work” music for over a week. It also makes me feel really happy, and I suppose will be the record I associate with getting married as it is the last thing I played before the ceremony.

And that will have to be it for now. Tomorrow I head off to Italy with my lovely wife (and my EeePC for potential blogging opportunities of course).

The plan

We have decided that trying to get to Birmingham airport for 4:30am from our house is non-viable, so we’re staying in a hotel near the airport tomorrow night.

We then fly to Italy in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and will be largely uncontactable until the evening of Wednesday 27th (or more reasonably some time on the Thursday).

I’m taking the EeePC, so blog updates might happen if we manage to find a wireless hotspot, but assume radio silence otherwise.

Thanks again to everyone who made Saturday great, and also to everyone who has posted and tagged photographs over the last couple of days. I think we’re up to about 200 photos, and there are at least three large sets I’ve not seen yet.

This week’s free music

As I did last week, I’ve written a few notes on things I’ve downloaded this week. All are rated on the Sound Opinions “Buy it/Burn it/Trash it” scale.

Dirty Wings by Josh Woodward – I downloaded this on the back of listening to his most recent album last week. “Dirty Wings” is less acoustic, rockier, and gets downright political in places, but is still obviously by the same person who recorded “The Simple Life”. I really like this record, have played it on several occasions over the last few days, and would recommend it as a good starting point. I’d give this a “Buy it”, but if you are burning selected tracks then go for “Gallows Hill” first.

Orgamilk and Make This End by Fresh Body Shop – I’ve only had these a couple of days, but felt they were worth a mention. “Orgamilk” is a totally acoustic record, with quite delicate melodies and some fine songwriting. “Make This End” wants to be Nine Inch Nails, and almost manages it on a couple of tracks. I’m not sure if these guys have a career plan, or are even still together, but they are certainly worth checking out in a “Burn it” kind of way.

The Intimate Stranger by Curious – This band want to be The Cure. A lot. I really wanted to like this, but I actually couldn’t make it all the way through to the end. The songwriting is ok, but the singer’s voice really grates, and they are not doing anything I’ve not heard a thousand times before. Trash this, or better still accept that I’ve suffered so you don’t have to.

Take it or Leave it by Terremoto – Great songwriting, which reminds me of the Go Betweens (who I adore). Unfortunately, the sound quality is dreadful, and some songs are almost unlistenable because of this. I really hope someone pays for them to record these songs in a proper studio, because if they did then this would be a “Buy it” record.

Taking mobile computing to a new level?

Over the last few weeks I’ve not had an office, or even a proper place where I could set up a computer and work. As a result of this, I’ve been exploring the concept of mobile computing (using laptops for everything, and working wherever I could get a wireless signal). It’s been quite eye opening; and has actually made me more productive because it was meant if I am working on something that requires tranquillity I can move somewhere quiet, whilst if I need collaboration and input I can move my laptop to where the people I need to talk to are working.

As a result of this, I’ve got used to carrying a laptop with me wherever I go. This has lead to increased shoulder muscles (both laptops I’ve been using are on the heavy side), but has also lead to me being able to write a quick blog post, check email, or work on the fly wherever I am. At the end of each day I’ve synced all my data back to a central server, so that everything I write on any computer is all stored in the same place (and is the most recent version thanks to the wonders of rscyc). This also ensures that if a laptop I’m working on gets lost or broken then I don’t lose too much in the way of data.

My new office is finished now, but since I have just bought an EeePC I still plan on using the mobile computing model on occasion, because I think it really does work.

EeePC

I’ve finally got round to getting an EeePC, and so far I’m really impressed. I’ve installed the latest version of Mandriva on it, and have a very functional Gnome desktop, which does everything I need it to do.

Installing Mandriva was a breeze – it was just a case of changing the BIOS to boot from my external CD drive, and also to enable wireless at boot so that the right modules were loaded. I’ve uninstalled a load of stuff I don’t need, added a couple of things, and at present I’ve still got 1.2gb free on the 4gb internal flash card.

I plan on getting another 4gb card and installing the original EeePC OS onto it for testing purposes.

Computers and productivity

Every few months I like to change my working area around, and try undertaking familiar tasks in a new way. Having a new office has intensified this, and has lead to me re-evaluating my working area at home as well.

And once again I seem to have settled on a very similar setup in each. I’ve not got photographs of my desk at work, but I have taken a couple of pictures of my desk at home, which should demonstrate what I mean.

My desk (Linux laptop on the left, iMac on the right)
My desk (Linux laptop on the left, iMac on the right).
I am trying to use this laptop for everything at present
I am trying to use this laptop for everything at present.

And yes, I gave up on KDE4 after a few hours. While I’m more than happy to bounce between several different operating systems, I do have very definite preferences regarding how each one should look.

The pick of this week’s downloads

As I did last week, I’ve written a few notes on things I’ve downloaded this week. All are rated on the Sound Opinions “Buy it/Burn it/Trash it” scale, and the theme for this week is artists who have several albums available for free, and who are at least starting to make a career out of music.

Then by Black Era – I wanted to download something Italian, in preparation for our imminent trip to Italy. This was the most promising thing I could find, and it’s actually nothing like I expected it would be. It reminds me a lot of Massive Attack and Tricky, and has a darkness that I find quite appealing. All the vocals are in English, and it is the sort of album that drags you in and forces you to listen even if you find it a little uncomfortable at times. I’d give this a “Burn it”, as there are some tracks that don’t have a great deal of impact, but you do really need to hear the first few tracks if nothing else.

The Simple Life by Josh Woodward – At first listen this comes across as standard singer-songwriter fare. After a couple of further listens, I realised that this is at least as good as anything else in the genre, and that there is a professionalism evident in the music that belies the fact it is avaialble for free from Jamedno (or for “pay what you like” for physical CDs on his website – http://www.joshwoodward.com/). This is a “Buy it”, and I’ll be downloading further albums on quiet weeks I think.

House Made of Glass by Death by Panda – I will begin by saying I don’t know how to catagorise this. It’s my album of the last two weeks, and it can best be described as sitting somewhere between melodic Ambient and Post Rock. Listen to this early in the morning and it will make sense, but TRY and make sense of it and you will be left wanting. I’d buy stuff like this (and do), but for most people it would be something to stream once to see if it sooths you or annoys you, as I think it has the potential to do both equally.

The Grasping Hands of Possibility by Ruined Machines – This is fairly standard guitar led Post Rock, but quite enjoyable nonetheless. I’d say Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai would be reference points, but it touches on a few tried and tested sounds with a couple of surprises thrown in. This is a “Burn it” record that at present I will keep and listen to, but I’m not sure how much staying power it has.