Logitech Harmony Remote

I got a good price from eCost.com on a Logitech
Harmony 550 Universal Remote.

I had tried the $20 “universal” remotes and found they didn’t work
with all my devices and didn’t completely emulate even the devices
they did work with.

For instance, I had a Sony remote that
would turn my Sony Receiver from the 1980’s on and off, but not
let me change the FM stations with the numeric keypad. And none
of the cheap ones I bought would work with my cheap Apex DVD
player.

Both the TV remote and the Cable Box remote claimed
to be able to operate the other device. The Cable Box will indeed
turn the TV set off and on, but not select the input or the aspect
ratio, both of which are important if you want to use the TV set
for watching DVD’s. The TV remote never did anything at all for
either the cable box or the DVD player.

So my coffee table
had a forest of remotes and I could never find the right one when
I needed it. I’d read reviews that said the Logitech remotes were
better, but they seemed pricey. I’ve been feeling less poor this
year than for the last two or three years, so when I saw the one
on eCost for less than $50, I ordered it.

Results

It seems to work. It does do all my devices; it lets me change
the FM stations on the receiver; I can tell it “watch TV and it
turns on the TV set and the cable box and switches the TV input to
the right one for the cable box.

Certainly if you have a
device that needs to be programmed, hooking it up to a computer
and running a program is a better idea than trying to enter codes
through a keypad.

The program that’s supplied with the
remote needs a commercial OS (Windows or Mac). Googling did turn
up a command line Linux program that will do some things, but it
sounded harder than finding the right remote in the remote forest.
I didn’t check whether the windows version would run under Wine;
my laptop still has windows on it, so I just boot it into windows
when I need windows to do something. But Logitech should be
encouraged to provide a Linux option.

I’m enjoying using
the remote with just the out-of-the-box programming I did, but it
still needs more programming — I’m going to check whether I
really like having the sound from the TV set played through the
stereo set better than through the TV speakers, and then program
it to also turn on the stereo and switch to the right input
source.

I don’t have the “watch TV” and “Play DVD” settings
set right yet so that I can easily switch between them. But I’m
sure it’s possible.

Some of the programming seems odd —
there isn’t a “power off” button that will work all the devices.
The thing that looks like it should do that is actually an “end
activity” button. So if you’re doing the “watch TV activity, it
does turn off both the cable box and the TV set. But if you
haven’t defined a “Listen to radio” activity, you have to scroll
through 5 or 6 screens on the AV receiver device to find the power
on/off. I think you can fix that by programming some button to be
power on/off, but it seems strange not to have it right there
without doing that.

So on the whole, I recommend the Logitech remotes over the
cheaper ones, if you think programming them to
do what you want will be easier or more fun than finding the
remote you need in your coffe-table remote forest, and if you have
a computer that’s connected to the network running a commercial OS.

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Following up

I’m back at home, mostly unpacked, and typing this on a real
computer, with an X-windows system that I know what it’s going
to do when I try to copy and paste, where emacs has psgml
installed, and there’s a clicky keyboard at the
right height. And it’s now past when I normally post, so I
thought for a quick post I would write some followup posts, and
save anything strenuous for tomorrow.

Pianos are out of tune

Saturday’s post
on tuning drew an official comment with a book
recommendation. It also drew an email from my friend Ishmael,
who works in a lab at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear
Infirmary
. A colleague of his has written an article
claiming that there’s a neurophysical basis for the stretched
octave. His research subjects for this article are cats, who
tend in my experience to have rather wierd musical tastes, so I
don’t know that this is relevant to why equal temperament was
adopted as the standard tuning by humans, but you can read it
and decide for yourself.

Ishmael also reminded me in the same email that we both play in
lots of contexts where the official tuning system is completely
irrelevant because enough of the performers or instruments
aren’t capable to keeping to a system. This is probably
historically true of an awful lot of music. Which is why many
tuning discussions seem pretty off-the-wall to most practicing
musicians.

Concert construction

Last Wednesday’s
post
about the concert program drew an email from one of the
participants. He agreed that more instrumental music would have
been good, and also said that a wider variety of instruments
(more serpent, some crumhorns) might have helped.

I’ve loved you so long

I said in my
post about this movie
that I’d had A la claire
fontaine
running through my head a little bit wrong since I
saw it. I eventually got out my book of French folk songs and
learned it.

Nokia 810

In my post on my
new Nokia 810
, I may have forgotten to mention that it
works much better than the Nokia 770 did as an MP3
player.

I also found a new application for it — because of the foldout
stand, I was able to set it up on my bedside table in Fall River
as a traveling clock.

Blogging in my 59th year

This post
drew a couple of comments, including one from Mike Cane, whom I had
cited as part of my inspiration for doing this.

He remarks that he’s sure the energy he put into it has
shortened his life, and he doesn’t know how people do it on a
longer term basis.

I think my one post a day isn’t quite as energetic as Mike was
doing — it doesn’t seem any harder than practicing a musical
instrument every day, which I’ve done for several decades. Of
course there is a limit to how many things you can do every day,
and this is cutting into some of the others.

Website redesign (part one)

I have hitherto avoided inflicting my technical problems on the
readers of this blog, but this subject is what I really need to
think about, so it doesn’t really make sense to go finding other
things to write about the way I did yesterday. I’ll
try to keep the tech talk understandable to the lay user; let me
know if I fail.

This post is going to discuss only the basic functionality of
how the transcribed pieces are described, and how the user finds
them. The other parts of the site will be discussed in future posts.

Why a redesign?

Because the original design has gotten unwieldy both for
me and for the users.

The reason I didn’t add new pieces to the site for over a year
wasn’t that I wasn’t transcribing new pieces, it’s that the
procedure for adding things is quite clumsy. After I changed
computers and ISP’s in August it was clearly going to need an
unknown amount of debugging. The debugging turned out to be small
when I finally got around to it, but adding a piece that’s been
transcribed and proof-played should be just an easy couple of clicks.

For the users, the one-page By
Composers
listing is an increasingly unwieldy way to find what
they want, and doesn’t include all the information they need. For
instance, one of the most-requested things is a way to find pieces
by number of parts. It would also be good to have some idea of
the ranges of the parts.

The original site design did have both number and ranges of parts
when you got to the page for the piece,
but it happened by displaying short excerpts
from each of the parts, which
broke fairly early on, and wasn’t really the right answer for
doing searching anyway.

So here’s my picture of how the site should look:

  • The primary entry to the collection of transcribed works
    should be a search page that allows selection by composer,
    dates, number of parts, instrumentation, country, language, or
    any combination of those things. That is, if I’m looking for a
    trio for voices in German, I should be able to just say, “Show
    me all the three-part vocal pieces in German.” Or if I want to
    know what there is by Billings, I should be able to just request
    that.
  • The current static html pages which are generated from the
    database by a script I wrote, should be generated dynamically
    from the database. (If that doesn’t make sense, see below.) This will make adding a new piece much
    simpler. You don’t want to know what I do now; what I’ll do
    then is run one script which will add the piece to the database
    and upload the files.
  • I think it might make sense to leave both the current search
    pages (By
    Composers
    and By
    Date
    ) there, but of course have them dynamically generated.
    The idea is that for browsing, having a way to look at what’s
    been added or changed since the last time you browsed, or at
    what the distribution of stuff by composer is, is easier than
    just dealing with the search page. Possibly it would make sense
    to add other pages like that, such as “By Country” or “By number
    of parts”.

Static and dynamic

It looks like the major technical jargon I wasn’t able to edit
out of the above was the static/dynamic distinction. So here’s
an explanation.

In general, if you go to a page like www.laymusic.org/directions.html,
it’s static. HTML is a markup language, so the person who
authored the page just wrote text, and then put in some commands
to say things like, “Here’s a new paragraph,” or “Display this
image here.” Then they put that page on the site, and kept
track of where they put it so that they could refer to it from
other pages, or from emails.

If you have 500 pieces, or a couple of blog entries a day, this
might not be such a good idea. So the way most of those sites are
done is that the information you want to maintain about each
individual item is in a database, and
the text you see when you look on the web at that item is
generated by a program from what’s in that database. For
instance, each piece on my site has a title, a composer and a
list of files someone might want to download
in the database, and there could be a program that gets run on the
server every time someone says, “I want to look at that piece,”
that would display that information.

It was even at the time wierd, but when I designed the site, I
did put the information in the database, but instead of having the
program on the server to display it, I have a program that runs on
my own computer that writes an HTML file to display it. This
means I have to rerun that program every time the information
changes, and run the program that generates the “By Composer” and “By
Date” pages every time I add something. This was fine when there
were only a few pieces, but it’s getting tedious now that there
are more than 500, with another hundred or so that I haven’t yet
put up.

Nokia 810 syncs with google calendar

E-reading history

When I had my first pocket computer (a Palm III in 1999 or so), I discovered
that while I could live without my appointments and TODO list in
my pocket, I really liked being able to carry books around and
read them without adjusting lighting, and with adjusting the type
size to the state of my eyes. Since then, I’ve upgraded
the pocket device several times, including twice when the current
one wasn’t even broken.

Most recently, my Nokia 770 died with the White Screen of
Death. I had really liked it as a reader, with the size and
resolution of the screen being at a really good point, where you
can still get a reasonable fraction of a page on it at a readable
type size, but it still slips into a pocket easily.

When I bought it, I had hopes of being able to use the other
features, and found I mostly didn’t. The music player didn’t play
music loud enough, I didn’t feel like working hard enough to sync
the calendar with the google calendar that’s easiest to use on the
desktop and laptop, the sites I wanted to browse when I could
connect wirelessly seemed to use flash…

So when I had to replace it, I considered the Nokia 810, for
which the software is a bit better supported and which includes
features that aren’t on the 770, but also thought
about the ipod touch or a netbook.

In the end, I decided that the right screen size was the
important thing, and went with the 810.

As a reader, it’s at least as good as the 770. The screen is
the same size. I miss the built-in hard case, but the vinyl
envelope seems to work pretty well, and the foldout stand actually
does make it easier to use as a reader. The FBReader version
seems to be behind the one on my Ubuntu 8.10 desktop, which is a
pity since there’s a new feature that lets you download books
directly from some of the online free libraries that would be
really useful.

Calendar

Of the normal PIM functions, the only one I really wish I had
was the calendar. I’m pretty good at keeping my immediate future
in my head, but I’ve several times double-booked by depending on
that, and it would be good to not have to.

The built-in calendar seems pretty basic. For instance, I
haven’t figured out a way to configure it so that the daily view
shows you evening appointments.

However, there is an application called erminig which will
sync your google calendar with the GPE calendar. (This is not the
calendar that comes pre-loaded, but it can be easily installed
from the application manager.)

I installed this in my first set of installs from the
application manager, but stopped fiddling with it when my first
attempt said it couldn’t connect to google.

This week on the maemo-users list there was a long thread
started by someone who had bought an 810 and had been unable to
find an application he really wanted to use enough to be worth the
trouble of putting it in his pocket. At various points this was
about to degenerate into a flamefest, but a number of people
answered seriously about what they use their nokia tablets for,
including a couple who said they used erminit.

So I started another thread asking how they’d done it. Nobody
really said anything helpful, except that if I could get to google
calendar via the browser, it must be something wrong with the
erminig configuration. So I found the config file and looked at
it, and sure enough, it had my password in the clear, and it
started with a capital letter. The real password begins with a
lower-case letter. Fiddling with the shift key didn’t seem to
change this.

On my next dog walk, I realized that I could just enter some
other letter as the first letter, and then delete it, so I did
that and was successfully able to connect to google. Then the
next issue was that my 8 PM Monday recorder lesson was listed as 1
AM on Tuesday, but that was obviously a time zone issue, and I
fixed it. So now I have a working calendar that I can carry in my
pocket. I’ll let you know if there are problems with the syncing,
but so far it looks pretty good.

I get annoyed at people who complain about the quality of Free
Software and don’t report the bugs they find, so I did spend the
time this morning to register at maemo.org and fill out the bug
report.

But if you run into anyone claiming that the 810 is ready for
consumer use out of the box, you can tell them this story.

Other stuff

Another application I downloaded immediately, and even went to
the computer store and spent $8 on an adaptor for it, is the one that
allows a USB keyboard to plug in to the 810. This does seem to
work, but I haven’t used it yet. If I were to figure out how to
install emacs, it would be more useful.

I haven’t even bothered to install the app that would let me
use the camera. I hardly ever use the one on my cell phone — the
pictures that have been on this blog were taken with a real
digital camera.

I was interested in trying the GPS feature, and it did find my
latitude and longitude and let me look at it on a map, but in
order to get navigation you need to send somebody some more money,
and it sounds like if you’re going to do that, a special purpose
GPS device is still a better deal.

I haven’t yet tried the PDF reader, and most of the browsing
I’ve done hasn’t worked well without my glasses. But maybe
they’ll turn out to be of some use.

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