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Sunday, 18 November 2007

Simple like me...

After my post about the new RSS capabilities in Mozilla Thunderbird, I started looking into the possibility of actually building a podcasting extension for Thunderbird. It turns out that both Thunderbird and Firefox are built on XUL, which is like XML for interfaces, and Javascript, which is pretty amazing, if you think about it.

What this means is that it's pretty easy (once you get your head round the actual programming side) for anyone to put together extensions to the Mozilla programs. Not only that, but using the just-announced Mozilla Prism, it will be very easy to turn any Firefox/Thunderbird extension into a standalone program, and make use of local file storage.

I've been having a play around with the XUL coding, and it seems immensely powerful, and more than enough for most basic data-driven desktop applications - I can't understand why more companies have not used this already to create programs and data-driven websites that act like programs on the users local machine, but from what I can see so far, for my podcasting app it should be more than enough for what I need, for playing MP3s and videos I can use flash, so it should be a pretty good all-round program.

Now to get back to re-learning Javascript!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Thunderbirds are go!

After seeing the Zune software fall a bit short of the mark with podcasting, I've been playing about with the Pre-Alpha version of Thunderbird 3, Mozilla's email client. I respect Mozilla as a software company (if you can call them that, how much money do they actually make from selling software?) because they're innovative, but what they do works, and works well. Probably due to the fact that being an open-software company, each piece of software is like a forum of ideas, unlike Microsoft these days ;)

Even though this is a pre-alpha release, it's been working for me with no problems so far (more than can be said for some companies' final releases, not mentioning any names). One thing that is really looking good, even at this early stage in the game, is the RSS reader capability, which lets you see your RSS feeds alongside your inbox - why has nobody done this before now? (OK, I know you can get extensions for Outlook to do this, but the fact of the matter is that Microsoft should have added this functionality a long time ago). When you click a post, the actual link back to the site hosting the article is opened within a Thunderbird pane, which means no more clicking "read..." links! The really surprising thing though, was how well this all worked with podcasts - the audio/video file in the enclosure just shows up as an attachment to the post, allowing you to just save it where you want on your computer. Elegant, and all you really need from something not designed specifically for podcasting. I'm sure at some point Mozilla will add some basic mp3 player functionality so you can preview episodes and play them back once downloaded, or perhaps automatically generate a playlist within Media Player/iTunes with all the received episodes from a certain podcast. I'm just throwing ideas around. Of course because it's built by Mozilla, it has the Firefox rendering engine built into it, meaning that podcasts can take advantage of full HTML formatting in the description.

Now all somebody needs to do is build a podcast directory that bolts into Thunderbird, and there's the beginnings of some fairly decent podcasting software finally!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Microsoft FINALLY wakes up to podcasting...

I read with interest yesterday that Microsoft have finally got round to adding podcast support to their new Zune players, so I thought I'd have a look into it to see how the support fared against that found in iTunes.

I have a very love/hate relationship with iTunes - it seems to be getting slower and clunkier with every new version (I use it on windows, I understand it works much faster on Macs, but go figure), it looks ugly, and for such a huge company, the visualizations are laughable to say this has come from a huge company with such a huge budget when compared to single-man programmed vis's like Milkdrop (Winamp) or Twisted Pixel (Windows Media Player), which I can watch for hours and not see the same effect twice, and they're silky smooth. On top of that, not only does iTunes act slow, but it also slows your entire system down to a crawl as well (and this is on a 2.4Ghz Dual-Core with 2Gb RAM)! On the other hand, iTunes has pretty much been the one piece of software that has made downloading and listening to podcasts a no-brainer, which is really what it needed. Finding a podcast you want to listen to in iTunes is almost simplicity itself, and the reviewing system is helpful for finding out if a podcast is a waste of time, or other similar podcasts. Whilst making podcasting nice and easy for users though, iTunes is still lacking a lot of developer-end features like the ability to see easily how many people have downloaded and listened to your podcast, as well as basic HTML formatting in the descriptions for the episodes.

For my main media player right now, I've been using Media Player 11, which looks pretty, I can control from my taskbar, has good visualizations (once you've installed Twisted Pixel or something similar), rips super-fast and at decent quality (very important for a DJ), and the search is nice and fast also. I used to like Winamp for all my tunage needs, but even this has got a bit slow on the old search function in recent versions - but I can forgive that with them having a team of developers smaller than Microsoft's cleaning staff. The only downside to Media Player is that it has absolutely no podcast support, which is a real shame, and I'm sure would stop a lot of podcasters/listeners having to rely on iTunes just for this function (and I know a lot that do).

I decided to give the Zune software a try, if only to see how it fared against iTunes and Media Player. Installing it was no problem, and the download was less than half the current size of iTunes. It took about the same time to install as iTunes, but was much quicker to load once all my tracks were loaded into it's library (currently around 20k tracks). Interestingly, there was no feature to just work with Media Player's library, meaning that you have to go through the import process again, and the 2 libraries have to be maintained separately, which was a bit of a bummer.

The interface, whilst a little confusing at first looks beautiful, and you can choose from about 8 themes if you don't like the girly default one. It seems strange to me that the Zune2 players look very masculine, yet the software looks very feminine. It also seems strange to me that Microsoft would not just bolt the Zune syncing, podcasting and picture features into Media Player, which people will probably be using already if they don't have iTunes (which, if they're buying a Zune, they probably won't). All the menus fade in and out smoothly, or slide around, and compared to the grey boredom inducing look of iTunes, it really is quite refreshing to behold. It will not only allow you to organize and play your music, but your videos and pictures as well. The pictures part is especially nice for showing off your pics, as the interface is there over the top of the pictures, but doesn't get in the way, so you can see your pictures take up the full screen (with all the fady wizzy slidy effects you could want, it's all very pretty). Finding how to get to the podcast directory took me a bit of time, as the Zune software separates what's currently on your computer from what's on the internet, so going to your 'collection', then clicking on podcasts only shows you your current subscriptions, and their episodes. To get to the directory you first have to click on the marketplace (which I didn't think I could as Microsoft wouldn't let me create an account because I was born in the wrong part of the world), then on podcasts. This is a little confusing, as the assumption is that anything in the Marketplace is something you have to pay for, which is something which is invariably not the case with podcasts.

Once you've found it, the podcast directory is nice to look at, but quite slow to load, even though it loads the podcast artwork after the page has loaded. At the moment, the directory is pretty sparse compared to Apple's huge directory, but it's early days yet. Apple are very good at keeping up with podcast additions to their directory, I've just submitted Ruforia to the Zune directory, so we'll see how long it takes to show up. Choosing a podcast to subscribe to is very similar to iTunes, although once you're on an individual podcast's page, it seems to take an age before you get a list of the actual episodes within that podcast. Clicking on an episode does show the description in place of the actual series description, which I think is much better in usability terms than the iTunes method of clicking the small grey 'i' next to the episode (which you'd be surprised how few people know how to use). Aside from the general lack of speed accessing the podcast details, the only other downer is that people can not review podcasts like in iTunes. What would have been one better for Microsoft would have been the ability to discuss in a forum-like manner podcasts and individual edpisodes (since they seem so hell bent on creating yet another social network... can't they have one social network that you can bolt extra components onto as you need/want rather than a million different ones... xbox live, MSN messenger, Zune, Live Spaces, it goes on...). Other minor gripes in what would have otherwise been a pretty decent media player:

  • Editing Track/Artist information in the library list view is a complete pain, and really slow.
  • What's with the girly pink/orange bar along the bottom of the window all about?
  • Why can't Microsoft program software that conforms to it's own UI guidelines? Every other program has a drop-shadow under Vista now, except the Zune software :s
  • On that note, why could they not have given it a full-size Vista icon?
  • Ok, I realize that this is primarily software designed for use if you have a Zune player, but could they not have all the 'device' options hidden until you register a Zune player with the software so that they don't get in the way. iTunes doesn't show any iPod options unless you actually have an iPod connected to it. Much less confusing for newbies.
  • It's actually harder in the Zune software than in Media Player to add album art to tracks. Can't someone invent a nice easy way to batch add album art to your tracks???
  • They've pretty much covered everything (almost) iTunes does in terms of podcasting and nothing more, how unimaginative.
  • Why do all the titles have to be in huge capitals? Most podcasts/tracks end up being cropped off the edge of the window. I can read you know, Microsoft.
  • No 'Users also liked...' function? Have we not established this is a Good Idea® if you want more business by now?
  • Only 3 levels of rating?? Every music software that uses the ratings system uses 5 stars! Oh and we've changed it to hearts/broken hearts to rate the tracks? I'm sorry, but just because I don't like a track doesn't mean that I've had my heart broken by it, I don't get all emotional just because a crappy Trance track has wormed it's way into my collection.
  • No visualizations??
  • Not only does it not tell me the title of the track currently playing in the task bar, but it doesn't allow me to control what's going on without maximising the application first. This wouldn't be so bad if it took any notice of the multimedia keys on my keyboard, but it doesn't.
  • Would it have been so hard to install a little sidebar gadget for Vista along with the software, so that you can see when new podcast episodes are available? It seems like it's just going to be another of those technologies that Microsoft heralds as the feature that will change the world, and then not make use of it in it's own programs.
One really thankful thing is that the Zune software actually reads the iTunes tags in the podcast definition file, instead of requiring it's own XML definitions. That could have been a lot more painful for everyone concerned. But apart from all that it could be a really good podcasting alternative to iTunes about 10 years down the line. By which time iTunes will have moved the goalposts again of course!

Friday, 9 November 2007

Moby the cat

Today we welcomed another member to the family in the Moby's apartment, Moby the cat. Krystle found him last night, trying to get to his mum (who had got to that stage where enough was enough, and he was big enough to look after himself now, and couldn't get far enough away from him), and gave him a bowl of food outside the Posiedon hotel. When we went back to look for him today, his mum was around, but he was nowhere to be found. Just as we were about to go home, he jumped over the fence, and could not get enough attention. We took him back home, and he's been asleep on the sofa ever since, apart from when I brought him some kitty litter home, and he used it like a total pro (although he seemed a little disappointed that we had no cat literature for him to read while he went about his musings.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Burn, baby, Burn

Once again, so many people are trying to download the Ruforia XML file that it's exceeded google's bandwidth limitations on my site, meaning that some people will not be able to get the podcast today. I've now moved the XML to another server that has more bandwidth, and set up a redirect in my old XML on Google. It will take a couple of days for everybody's iTunes to update, but I think this will be a lot better in the long run.

If you are having problems getting the new mix on the podcast, you can click advanced>subscribe to podcast... on the iTunes menubar, and copy/paste this address: - this should allow you to get the new episode and any future episodes no problem! (Your iTunes will do this automatically on it's own, but it may take a couple of days, and I know how desperate some people are to get their hands on the new mix!)

For anybody that subscribes to the podcast in any other podcast software, please update your subscriptions to this new address.

Thanks a lot for your patience!


Well, yesterday came the true evidence of how popular Ruforia is... So many people downloaded the podcast XML file (only a 100Kb file on its own) after releasing 'Unless You Wear a Rucksack' that it maxed out the bandwidth on my Googlepages, stopping many people getting the podcast for most of yesterday. This is great in popularity terms, but not so great for my server. I'm just going to have to find somewhere else to host the xml file that doesn't have these bandwidth restrictions!

Perhaps this would be a good time to start running my podcast through feedburner, so I at least know how many people are downloading it!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Ruforia: Unless You Wear a Rucksack

After just over a month being back in Ibiza, and just under a month of having no electricity, we've now joined the civilized world, and all their 240v glorious advancements. Meaning that I can finally get back to producing some Ruforia mixes again! This time I've enlisted my long-suffering girlfriend (long suffering because she's had to listen to all these tracks and a million others about 600 times in the process of choosing tracks for this mix - a Ruforia mix doesn't just happen over night you know!) to help with the track commentary for this mix:

  1. Luis Paris Vs. Adamski - One of the People (First Life's One Nation Mix)
    Rufus: I was given this track handed to me on some random promo CD when I first got back to Ibiza this year, and haven't stopped playing it since! I really love the "anytime I find myself... wrestling with my mental health... playing that same old song... all night long" lyric, something I think everyone can relate to at some point in their lives! Plus I think it's just one of those tracks that you couldn't stay in a bad mood after listening to, it was destined to start a Ruforia mix!
    Marisa: Every time Rufus plays this track, I get an image of Rufus dancing around in the kitchen like a tard. Then I go into the kitchen and he actually is dancing around like a tard. With ABANDON. It gives me great joy, this track.
    With: Ivor Cutler - If Your Breasts
    Rufus: How can one 10 second sample make me laugh so much every time I hear it? I don't know, but Ivor Cutler clearly took a lot of drugs in his life. Long live Ivor Cutler! May his wierd Scottish soul rest in peace.
    Marisa: Long before Jack Black and / or Kyle Gass and / or any of our other perennial favorite comedy / folk rock duos ever picked up a guitar, there was Ivor Cutler. Being bizarre with a harmonium, and the occasional company of his muse and girlfriend, Phyllis King. She wasn't his baby mama, and I don't even think she is on this track, but I felt her name bore mentioning, for reasons unbeknownst even to myself. I'd like to add, Ivor Cutler is a very researchable guy, with his very own ''.org''.
  2. Bassmonkeys feat. Naomi Marsh - The Answer (Eric Kupper Dub)
    Rufus: It's been a long time since I heard a piano house track with so much funk and passion behind it. It made me want to hump the walls. Nothing more needs to be said.
    Marisa: Piano house. I don't know what to say. It has taken me a year of solid, unrelenting exposure to the genre, which, kicking and screaming ''this is GAY!'' I eventually succumbed to. Now I love piano house, diva house, Dr. House, all house. Blame the DJ.
  3. Delano & Crockett - Walking on the Moon (Delano & Crockett's Grand Club Mix)
    Rufus: The only thing better than Sting is Sting + Piano. The only thing better than Sting + Piano is Sting + a drink, while he lets you beat him at pool and relives his acting in "DUNE" in vivid detail. That never happened (at least not to me), but this is a fair substitute.
    Marisa: This is exactly what a pop remix is supposed to do: maintain the original voice of the song, multiply it by 7,000 times the dance and rock-ability, and serve it to you over a heaping pile of beats and piano plinks. I really have nothing else to say about it, other than the only thing better would be what Rufus just said, videotaped by me.
    With: Admiral Titbit - Upside Down (Acapella)
    Rufus: The image of the guy singing this turned on his head and inside out, so his guts were spilling all over the place, while at the same time trying to pen a love song about how he feels about his present situation still haunts me to this day. I'm going to stop thinking about it now.
    Marisa: This track reminds me of having a girlfriend.
  4. DJ Spinnin - Punk Chic (Johan S Original Mix)
    Rufus: If any one track is responsible for getting me into Funky House in the first place, this would be it. An old friend of mine gave me this on CD (Where are you Alex Parks? I miss you!!) when it first came out, and after hearing it, I alienated myself from the entire world trying to find more tracks this good. I'm still trying.
    Marisa: If someone would drop this after ''Common People'' at [insert Los Angeles club venue here] I'm pretty sure I would stay and keep dancing, and so would ever other vintage store clothing assistant and record label intern there as well.
  5. James Kakande - You You You (Alex Gaudino & Jerma Mix)
    Rufus: My new "Love Generation" - the only difference being that this one hasn't been ruined for me (yet) by being played 6 billion times a day on every radio station, and every cheesy club in the UK.
    Marisa: As I was passing out on the stairway in Pacha, and this came on over the speakers I thought to myself ''Wow, me and Erick Morillo actually have something in common'' and ''I am going to hear this every day for months after Rufus gets it off Beatport.'' But I'm not mad.
  6. Danny Rodia & Dave Gallucci - Electro Move (Harmo Bass Mix)
    Rufus: I shamelessly pilfered this off a Record that Donald bought, and if he thinks I'm not going to play the bloody socks off it, he should think again. Buy more records like this Donald (and then let me nick them).
    Marisa: Remember that part in The Anchorman where Ron tells the jazz club band to take the bass line for a ''walk''? Exactly.
    With: Joe T Vanelli - Sweetest Day of May (Acapella)
    Rufus: One of my all-time favorite Ruforia tracks finally makes a welcome return in Acapella form. Don't touch any of the remixes from this year, you'll be sadly disappointed. Besides, why would you - you can't improve on perfection! Sadly, this means whatever I mix the acapella with is going to do it an injustice, but even I'm not shameless enough to just play the original in 2 different Ruforia mixes.
    Marisa: Finding an a capella that showcases the talent of the vocalist, rather than the talent of the studio production team is a rare thing indeed. You could loop it over a gravel truck driving over nails and her voice would still sound amazing.
    Rufus: What She said.
  7. Mr. Fuzz Pres. Twisty Fuzz - Disco Biscuits 3000 (Original Mix)
    Rufus: Not every track can get away with the line "How tall are you? 5'10''? I didn't know they could stack beauty that high!". It's cheeky and funky in equal measures, and therefore I like it. Plus there's not enough house tracks that mention biscuits at all, and I say that in my professional capacity of biscuit connoisseur.
    Marisa: You thought you were bored, but you were definitely ''thirsty'' so you headed over to the bar and got a mojito and then you heard this, chucked a bunch of cash at the bartender, made a start for the dance floor and started texting like mad to find some chemicals. Your night just got saved.
  8. Josep Gardinho - Acid Workout (Soul Avengerz Vocal Remix)
    Rufus: We're getting a little bit darker now, but not dark enough to stop with the awesome piano solos. This isn't Jimi Hendrix (if he played piano) quality solo material like "The Answer" is, more kind of Jimmy Nail on pills quality (ie. take a few choice chords and just keep repeating to the beat), but that doesn't mean you can't dance to it.
    Marisa: Aren't you glad you stayed? Even if you haven't gotten a hold of any disco biscuits, by now I'm certain you don't care. Saying you will be home by sunrise is pushing it. I hope you don't have to work tomorrow.
  9. Fun Da Mentalists Feat. One - World Wide Party (Hoxton Whores Full Vocal Mix)
    Rufus: If I'd have known I was going to get this dirty, I wouldn't have had a shower before doing this mix. Classic "We're going to talk about how much you can dance to house music" house music. (That's an actual genre in my collection)
    Marisa: Every time I hear this track I instinctively expect to hear Rockwell's ''Somebody's Watching Me,'' but I'm never disappointed when an artist combines the epic synth riffs of the past with the uplifting message to shake one's ass.
  10. D. Ramirez - The Ramirez EP (Side B Whitelabel)
    Rufus: This was one of those infuriating finds in Delta Discos, that just says something like "The Ramirez EP" on the label and nothing else. Who did these remixes? Maybe we'll never know. Side A sucks donkey balls (The Lost in Rave Remix of "Lost", but with more vocals!), but if you come across this one, it's worth it just for Side B.
    Marisa: The best thing about this track is how the hollowed out production functions to make a bigger deal out of the vocals, rather than competing with them. There is so much going on in this track I suggest you listen to it many, many times, both in and out of context.
  11. Liquid - Sweet Harmony (Spoon & Talk Mix)
    Rufus: The first of my 'back to the old skool' selection on this mix, this one couldn't disappoint if it came home one day with all F's on it's report card, apart from in General Studies, which everyone knows is gay.
    Marisa: Yes, please and thank you. This track is tight and economical without being spare or minimal. Try pulling that off while busting an Eddie Van Halen double arpeggio technique and kick flipping off a seventh-story roof top into a pit of fire, why don't you?
    With: Chemicals are Important
    Rufus: I have a feeling this came from Steve. I love samples from old black and white English television and government education television. They remind me of an innocent time when going to a club involved ballroom dancing, and the only drug people were getting high from was the mercury used to make the top hats.
    Marisa: Chemicals are important.
  12. Roar & Baumartner - The Beat (Josh Nordlander Mix)
    Rufus: You can't go wrong with this song - every track that's ever used this sample has been amazing, and this one is no exception. I like the shameless use of Ableton Live's beat repeat effect in the second breakdown.
    Marisa: I haven't been this excited since I heard the original played at the Hi-Fi in Leeds. People always make a fuss about how Buddy Rich is the best drummer in the world and what-not, but I always thought the chick singer was cool. I still do.
  13. Gat Decor - Passion (Moss Szade Mix)
    Rufus: Just as I managed to unearth the original single of this in Oxfam, with a view to putting it on Ruforia, along came a shed load of remixes. Few tracks can be so famous from a 1-bar riff, but this remix manages to take that 1 bar and turn it into an entire track on it's own. Take out the weedy vocals from the original, and turn the piano riff into an entire breakdown, and you've got the makings of a true leg end.
    Marisa: I never got anything neat from Oxfam. But I won't say Oxfam never gave me anything.
  14. Moby - Porcelain (Daft Mix)
    Rufus: A house mix of Porcelain is looooooooong overdue, and I'm glad this one does the original justice. The speeding up is noticeable, but necessary. Never has a string hook been reversed in such a haunting way before now. Now I just need some remixes of Massive Attack, and I'll not know whether to dance or get stoned for ever more.
    Marisa: Why is it not cool for me to feel the same way about Moby as I do about Beck? Moby is a perfectly stand up guy, and he owns Teany, for god sake. Give the man a break. He also recorded this, and let's not forget ''Raining Again.'' We can forget that thing he did with Gwen Stefani. Bygones.
  15. Mick Jagger & David Bowie - Let's Dance (Whitelabel)
    Rufus: Do they smoke grass in space, or do they smoke astro-turf (such an artificial high)? I don't know, but if they did, this is probably what Bowie (Ya freaky old bastard) and the Mick Jaggernaught would compose.
    Marisa: Not that this would ever happen, but let's just say that you were dj-ing a wedding, and a bratty 23 year old came up to the booth with her mom, her mom's chain smoking, angry older sister, and dad. And they were all like ''I'm sorry, but do you have anything we can DANCE to?'' You'd know what to do, I'm just saying...hypothetically.
  16. DJ Joe K. - Born Slippy (Instrumental Mix)
    Rufus: The apex (I just wanted to get that word in somewhere to be honest) of this mix, in my opinion. The first time I ever went clubbing (Jabez Cleggs in Manchester, if you must know), they played this at the end of the night, and I realized this was a turning point in my life. I would never listen to music with the same ears again. Pair with 'The First Time' acapella for extra sentimental meaning heaped on top.
    Marisa: Much in the way that The Pixies ''Hey'' reminds me of every crush I have ever had (real or imagined) Born Slippy makes me nostalgic for memories I've never had in the first place. I don't know why. I didn't even like Trainspotting that much, honest.
    With: Roland Clark - The First Time (Acapella)
  17. Blur Vs. Jonathon Ulysses - Parklife (Rufus Returns to Bora Bora Mix)
    Rufus: Another first on Ruforia, a friend of mine wanted a version of Parklife he could play at the closing party of Bora Bora this year. And so this mix was born in an afternoon. A blatant splice between Parklife and Jonathon Ulysses - "This is how we... ROCK!", I take minimal credit for this track: the groundwork for it's awesomeness was already done for me ;).
    Marisa: Like upstart younger siblings vying for the respect of an older brother, Lucky and I fought over the speakers for the better part of an afternoon-- ''listen to my MY track!!!! Me next, me next....!'' while Rufus quietly bimbled away on his laptop, producing this gem. And then we were all like ''awwwwww Heaaaaaaaath....'''