Friday, December 8, 2017

Network! And make my commute more entertaining.

So it's decided: fiber installation — including drilling holes into the building elevator shaft — will happen January 22nd.

On one hand: Yay! On the other: another month without fixed-line internet. Oh well; my brother suggests viewing it as a form of detox. And maybe he's right - if I can't be without all-I-can-eat high-speed internet, then perhaps it's good for me to be without for a while.


Meanwhile, let's talk about cars. Or more accurately, commuting in cars, and making that time if not fun then at least bearable. Your options for entertainment is frankly pretty limited when you're supposed to be driving. Can't read, can't sleep, can't practice the ukulele.

But you can listen to things. And what I listen to is podcasts. Bespoke radio programs, usually on very well defined subjects. So I thought I'd introduce my favourite podcasts here, then ask you for any good ones I should know about. I haven't, for instance, managed to find any Japanese-language podcasts that I find interesting; if you know of one, let me know.

English Podcasts


  • In Our Time.

    This is a weekly BBC radio show, available as a podcast. In short, each week the host and a few invited guests discuss a subject, usually something with a historical connection. Subjects have ranged from the ancient Greek city of Thebes; Picasso's painting Guernica; Kants Categorical imperative; Purgatory; and bird migration.

    And if you think these subjects sound dry, even fussy, think again. This is the BBC we're talking about. Almost every episode I've heard has been absolutely fascinating; even - I'd say especially - the hard-core historical ones such as the Congress of Vienna that I knew nothing at all about (historical education in Sweden being what it is). If anything I'd say the science episodes are the weakest ones.

    This is one podcast you really owe it to yourself to follow.


  • Embedded

    A podcast by a husband and wife team of developers, ostensibly about embedded computing — you know, industrial computers, control loops, internet of things and so on. In practice the subject matter is much more eclectic — and more interesting — than that.

    Each episode is a well-done interview with somebody connected to embedded computing or making in some way, but the hosts manage to find some very interesting people, and while the discussions are centered around computing in some form it can easily stray into music, books, working life and so on.

    If you're into computing you should follow this. Oh, and don't mix this up with another podcast called "Embedded" that's apparently more of a current news show.


  • IRL: Online Life is Real Life

    A podcast from Mozilla about technology in general and the net in particular — but from a social perspective, not a technical one. Privacy issues, social media, online harassment, "fake news" and so forth. The first couple of episodes were a little rough, but it's matured into a really interesting, very well made podcast. It finished its first season this fall, and the next season should start in a few months.


  • Steal The Stars

    This is not a recurring podcast. It is, instead, a self-contained science fiction drama in 14 episodes that ran over last summer. The story was fun, the acting was great, and the production is really high quality. This was the rare thing where I was impatiently waiting for the next episode to be released already so I could find out what happens.

    All the episodes have aired, so you can listen through them at your own pace. And you should; this was a high point of my commute last summer. And I hope TOR books will create more dramas like this.


  • Ubuntu Podcast

    If you use Ubuntu Linux (or, really, any Linux variant), this is a fun, well-made weekly news and talk show about events in the Linux world. They cover both big events and small things (neat new utilities and whatnot) in a very entertaining manner. And unlike many ensemble podcasts, it never devolves into multiple people all talking at once (hard or impossible to understand when you're not a native speaker).

Swedish Podcasts


  • Vetandets Värld

    A Swedish weekly radio show, it is similar to In Our Time in a way, but with shorter episodes (20 minutes rather than 40), and with the focus decidedly on science rather than art or history. This one, too, is a high-quality production with (usually) interesting subjects each week. Around this time of year they tend to focus a lot on the work of Nobel price winners, but the rest of the year it's a fairly eclectic mix of subjects.


  • Språket

    Another Swedish radio program available as a podcast. The Swedish language in all its forms, with a linguist and with listener questions. It can be more than a bit uneven, but when it's good it can be really good.

There you have it: a list of podcasts well worth listening to. I do subscribe to a fair number of other podcasts but the rest are too uneven for me to recommend outright. I've also tried and rejected any number of others.

You can find all these from their homepage, or from an aggregator such as gPodder, iTUnes, Player.fm and, lately, Spotify. They'll have links to feeds that you can put in a podcast app or RSS reader. You'll then be able to list, download and queue episodes right in the app, and you'll get notified of new episodes automagically.

If you have any tips for other high-quality podcasts, please let me know.



Friday, December 1, 2017

Network

We've had our new apartment for two months now, and lived there for one, all without internet. We could get some kind of connection pretty fast (through the cable-tv company for instance), but we really want a real fiber connection. The problem is that it's on the 11th floor of an old, complicated building with mostly offices, not apartments, so actually running cable through all of it is very non-trivial.

An NTT tech came by a few weeks ago and did a thorough examination of the different possible routes. The old cable canals are long since overfull with stuff, but he determined they could run the fiber through the elevator shaft. Problem is, they'd need to drill a hole from the shaft into our apartment, and that would of course need approval from building management, and approval would be all but certain.

But a couple of days ago we got the go-ahead from the building manager. So we will get fiber at home again after all! Now, the fiber installation people are heavily booked, so we won't see them before New Year, and I suspect it may not happen until February. We're looking at another couple of months without a real internet connection.

Meanwhile, we've managed to sort of find solutions. Our mobile data plans are basically a 3GB data allotment each month, with unused data rolling over to the next. But even without the high-speed connection enabled we have an unlimited use of a really slow 128kbit/s connection. And I can of course tether my laptop to the phone, and get connected that way.

128k is not fast. But it is surprisingly useful. Forget any kind of video, music and most image-related stuff. But if you stick with mostly text, and you carefully block ads, then a lot of the web is useable.

Email and chat works fine; google, most news sites, Stackoverflow and the like are all about as smooth as ever. Reddit is fine on the desktop, but the mobile app is not (crappy app). Voice-only hangouts work fine - voice audio compresses really well. SSH access to remote machines is no problem, and git could probably use smoke signals if you let it.

On the other hand: no YouTube, no Spotify, no video clips or images from family or posting my own images online, no online gaming. Searching for recipes, how-tos and that sort of thing is hopeless as that's all going to heavy websites with lots of images and video. Can't do remote backups or transfer significant data.

So yes, I miss my high-speed connection, and I eagerly await its return. But meanwhile, it turns out we're not quite so disconnected as I thought we'd be.