Before we get too far from the holiday season, let me put in a pointer for my single favorite modern Xmas song. The title of this post is not my editorial postion, it’s actually the title: “The Greatest Xmas Song Ever Written” by American Heartbreak. This is the sadly defunct band of my good friend Michael Butler of the Rock and Roll Geek Show. On Facebook a few weeks ago I saw a thread about how bad most post World War Two holiday songs are, and that prompted me to spread the love for this song. It’s a super catchy, basically anti-Christmas song that is a perfect antidote to the treacle of most. “No stores are open/ No one shops for me/ I wish Christmas never came/ Every year’s the same/ It looks like/ It looks like/ I’ll be by myself for Christmas.” When the syrup of most songs gets on your nerves, try this shot of tabasco. I apply some every year and I love it.
If you want, the player below will let you hear it, or you can download it directly. It should also show up in the podcast feed because, hey, it’s the time of year for giving. Again, you are welcome.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
I’m experimenting with a new thing now. A side effect of running Rockbox is that I can have it save a list of what I’ve played on my Sansa Clip+. Since the player has a clock it even has them in the right order and somewhat sensible timing (give or take a time zone issue or two.) In the sidebar is a little playlist widget that shows my recent plays via Last.fm (which you can also see at my profile here.) I’m just fiddling with this so at any point in the future I may stop doing this, remove the widget or what have you. My queue has been beaten down from 6 weeks to right at 4 weeks and now you can play along at home.
I used to be somewhat cagey about what podcasts I listen to. I’d mention what I really like but generally keep my mouth shut about the ones I don’t much like. In the earlier days of podcasts when it was a closer knit group and my opinion mattered more to more people, people paid a fair amount of attention to my opinion on such matters. For that reason, I wouldn’t have done this then. The sad truth is that I have plenty of friends in the podcast world, people whose company I enjoy and that I consider friends whose podcasts I don’t listen to. It’s nothing personal, I have a specific set of tastes and finite time so its just the way it goes. I never wanted to hurt people’s feelings on the matter. Now if you pay careful attention you’ll notice shows that are missing. If that’s you, please don’t be bummed.
For the record, I don’t care who does or doesn’t listen to my show. If you know me personally and don’t listen, that doesn’t bum me out in the slightest. This is not a new issue to me. From my time doing the Reality Break radio show, I met a number of science fiction and fantasy writers and became friends with some of them. In general I tend to like the fiction of my friends but that’s not a one to one correspondence. There is a well known writer in the field who has been unbelievably kind and friendly to me, whose presence I love to be in and whose work I can’t read for more than a paragraph. For that matter, the late Robert Jordan was very nice to me personally, wrote me a hand-written thank you note for interviewing him and whose work is just plain not my thing and that I can’t read.
If you want to be my friend on Last.fm, go for it. I’ll accept every request that comes in. I’m exposing part of my hand with all this, but I’m no longer so concerned about that. That’s one of the positive upsides of losing traction in the podcast world. I don’t have to guard my opinions so closely. Let the playlists fly!
Through a circuitous route, I ended up installing both an updated Sansa firmware on my Clip+ last week, and then a few hours later the Rockbox firmware. I had a vague hope against hope that either would correct the one thing I don’t much like about the player – the fact that the fast-forward and rewind are silent. Unfortunately, neither one changed that. I did however like a lot about Rockbox. I loved that I could change the display to the “mixtape” theme which makes it look like an old school Walkman complete with spools that change in proportion to the percentage of the file played.
The one thing about Rockbox that was unfriendly to my primary use of podcast listening was the way it restarted every file every time. That’s a bummer when one is 2 hours into a 3 hour show to lose your place by accidentally bumping the skip button (a pretty common occurrence with me.) There is a an automatic bookmarking system that is both complex and hard to get going. Even worse, it bookmarks on stop (not pause) so it doesn’t even address the accidental skip problem. Coincidentally I ran across this dude who was bugged by the same thing and posted some patches less than 24 hours before I started using it.
My previous post relates my story trying to get this set up on my Macbook, which seems to be a platform the Rockbox developers don’t much care about. On my work laptop I was able to get the source, apply the original patches and build it. As I fiddled with the UISimulator I didn’t quite like the heuristic of that work, which did the automatic position saving only when the file was over 20 minutes long. I have plenty of podcast files under 20 minutes long that I still want the position preserved on, so I changed the logic from the file being greater than 20 minutes to the path beginning with “/PODCASTS/” which is a built-in directory on the Sansa Clip anyway. The original firmware treats the /MUSIC hierarchy differently than /PODCASTS and I was cool with that, so I just preserved it. I made myself a build this afternoon and I’ve been using it all day since then. I sure like it in general. However, I think I’m going to also add in the ability to test against the ID3 Genre tag so that if it is “Podcast” preserve the same behavior regardless of path. I also am going to see if I can figure out how to make the left skip button not reset to the beginning of the file if it is podcast by the above criteria and then only skip by full files. At that point, I’ll have the absolute best features of Rockbox matched up with the original Sansa Clip firmware. Rock on!
I don’t know that there is any point in trying to submit them back to the Rockbox project because the are pretty specific to my use case, specific to the Sansa way of doing things, and because the original dude seems to be catching static from the Rockbox developers for this feature that I find so wonderful. I guess I’ll offer it up to them if I can generalize it but they don’t appear that interested in it. I can say that the currently released automatic bookmarking feature is unusable and the dude’s patch is wonderful to me. This is what open source is all about, is it not? I like it better this way, so I make it that way. If they don’t want it release, I’ll be happy with my homebrew version and they can release whatever they want.
I’ve started playing around with Rockbox for my Sansa Cip+, about which I’ll post separately. However, I wanted to point out something I found interesting, funny and kind of pathetic. I downloaded the source and could build the firmware itself but the testable UI Simulator does not build on the Snow Leopard version of OS X. You’d think that the software failing to build on the most widely distributed Unix variant on a newest version that has been out for a year would be of interest to them, but you’d be wrong. Instead the advice was to set up a VM instance, install Linux on it and build from there. Oh boy. That’s a fun way to encourage participation – add yet another yak to shave. Pass.
As it happens, my day job workstation is Ubuntu and I spent today doing work with some slow compiles so I was able to build and test from there in the dead time waiting for builds. However, there was no chance of me going out of my way to set up a Linux VM on my Macbook in order to work with Rockbox software. At that point, you might as well tell me to “write a distributed map reduce function in Erlang”, ala this webcomic.