Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Ipswich Regent: Suffolk'n Ripoff!

Splendid as it may be that The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain will be playing at that most august of venues in the county town of Ipswich, namely The Regent, it's more than a little flabbergasting to discover that the price of each ticket is inflated by an extortionate £2.00 if they are purchased with a credit card, debit card or a cheque.

Four £23 tickets in the stalls should cost £92 (not cheap by any means, but positively inflated when one considers the downbeat ambience of this parochial venue) but it seems nothing short of daylight robbery when the venue bumps up the total to £100.

Just to set this ticket price scam in context, The Barbican (which is neither downbeat nor--except for those living on the Barbican estate--parochial) charges a booking fee of £2.50 per telephone transaction, and that includes first class postage if there's time! (if not, the tickets are held at the box office). There's a charge of £1.50 for online bookings and again, tickets are sent via first class post (in lovely little orange envelopes).

The Southbank Centre doesn't stiff concert-goers either: there's a £2.50 fee per telephone booking or £1.45 for online booking. As with the Barbican, the fee is applied to each transaction, not each ticket.

I think that in order to register my displeasure at the contempt Ipswich Borough Council/The Regent clearly displays toward the mugs who pay their wages ticket-buying public, it would be fitting to buy tickets in person at the box office and offer payment in pennies. Unfortunately, however, as the Royal Mint points out that 1p and 2p coins are legal tender up to 20p, I might have to be a bit more creative. The 5p coin is legal tender up to £5, as is the 10p. The 20p is legal tender up to £10, and so it the 50p. The £1 is legal tender in any amount. It looks like it could be £30 in silver and sixty-two pound coins. Unless I go with my chums and we buy one ticket each, maxing out the disconvenience of paying with 5p, 10, 20p and 50p coins. On the other hand, I could save myself the hassle of getting lots of coins out of the bank and let the poxy Regent stick its tickets where the sun don't shine.

Replay: A History of Video Games

Cover image: Replay: The History of Video GamesThere's a review in today's paper of a new book purporting to tell "the" history of video games (I always think "a history" is preferable: the definitive ambition of "the history" may be a little hubristic).

Fatal flaw of the title aside, it looks quite interesting. According to Keith Stuart's review,

Replay: The History of Video Games by games journalist Tristan Donovan is a[n ... ] up-to-date and thoughtfully written opus. Beginning with the switching on of the first programmable computer in 1946 and closing with the rise of downloadable indie games, this engrossing work manages to touch on every vital facet of the industry, from the formative battles between Atari and Mattel, through the rise of the home computer to the emergence of the Japanese home console empire.

Apparently Donovan includes a consideration of MUDs, which are often overlooked in such works (I know that when I talk about MUDs to students, it's usually the first time most of them have heard of such things). Clive "C5" Sinclair gets some coverage for his pioneering work in developing computing in the UK.

It's £12.99 in the shops and surprisingly expensive at £12.34 on Amazon. If it was more heavily discounted (under a tenner) I'd snap up a copy without thinking twice (Amazon must love me) but Amazon's piddlingly small "discount" is a psychological block that's cost them a sale. Instead of copping myself a copy, I'll ask the library to add one to stock.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Social Network: Free Soundtrack

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have scored David Fincher's new film "The Social Network". You can score a free five-track EP of music from the film at

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Free Audio Books

The Guardian is running a promotion this week, whereby readers can download free audiobooks from A different title is made available each day.

Saturday: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson [Audible link]
Sunday: Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive [Audible link]
Monday: Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Really Big Adventure by Kristina Stephenson [Audible link]
Tuesday: Matter by Iain M. Banks [Audible link]
Wednesday: Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell [Audible link]
Thursday: Rapid French: Volume 1 by Earworms Learning [Audible link]
Friday: Yes Man by Danny Wallace [Audible link]

Each free download is only available for a week, so don't hang about.

The way it works is users have to create an account with audible, and each of the free audiobooks is added to a virtual shopping basket and purchased for a cost of £0.00. Each audiobook is then downloaded using the audible download manager. No purchase is necessary, and no credit card details are required to set up the account.

One problem with this is that Audible uses a proprietary format for the files: they aren't .mp3 or .ogg, but a peculiar .aa format (shame on you, Guardian, BTW, for going along with this .aa malarkey). Another problem is that the files appear to be very heavily compressed. However, the ingenuity of the internets can help those who don't want to be hampered by a proprietary format. The audible account is flexible enough to require users to specify how--ie on what platform--they want to listen to the files. Available options are "iPod", "MP3 & GPS", "Mobiles & PDAs" and "Computer and CD Burning". Select "Computer and CD Burning".

The third problem is that the only way to get the files is to use the audible downloader, so you'll just have to install that and dump it later. So complete the sign-up process, and figure out how to download the .aa file via the downloader.

The next thing to do is to use the google to find, download and install a file called audibleMediaPlayerFilter.exe This is an old application, no longer used by Audible, but installing it will also install an aa-compatible codec, which is needed to open these files before converting them.

You'll also need LAME (Lame Ain't an Mp3 Encoder) so if you don't already have it, go back to the google and find and download LAME. However you get LAME, you'll need to drop a copy of lame_enc.dll into the C:/Windows/System directory. This is needed to convert those pesky .aa files to MP3 format using an application called Goldwave. Note that Goldwave needs to have the lame dll in the C:/Windows/System directory in order to be able to export to MP3, so if you've already got LAME installed, just drag another copy of the dll here.

Go back to the google to find, download and install Goldwave 5.06 Note that later versions of Goldwave will expire, so make sure to get 5.06.

Finally, just open the downloaded .aa file with Goldwave and save it as an MP3.
(This method doesn't work with .aax files, Audible's so-called "enhanced" format. In this set of free downloads, only the Rapid French title uses the aax format.)

As an alternative to exporting as an MP3, export the file from Goldwave as a wav file, then open the wav in CDWave (a shareware app used by audiophiles) which is nicer than Goldwave for tracking, and add track divisions or chapter points.

Goldwave can also be used for tracking, using what it calls "cue points", but it involves quite a bit of scrolling and zooming in Goldwave to place the cue points, while the process is more straightforward in CD Wave (CD Wave only reads lossless WAV or FLAC files).

Last time The Guardian got together with to give away a free audioboook, there was an embedded player on the page with the option of streaming the file, downloading it as an MP3 or using some subscription service thing called iTunes. While the streaming/downloading options were better than the current offering, the book was Wolf Brother, a fantasy tale aimed at younger readers/listeners, by Michelle Paver. However, it didn't expire after a week and, three years later, it's still available here:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

From Gameboy to Armageddon

accompanying pictureThis fascinating programme on BBC Radio 3 is a repeat of an earlier broadcast in February 2010.

The programme discusses the use of gaming technology in warfare, combat training, and even recovery and recuperation. The phrase "military entertainment complex" nicely captures the scope of the programme. (According to Tim Lenoir, All But War is Simulation [see footnote #4 on page 292], the phrase (which is a re-working of "military-industrial complex" which refers, literally, to the business of killing people) was, apparently, first used by Bruce Sterling in "War is Virtual Hell" in the first issue of Wired magazine (March/April 1993). While Sterling certainly discusses the developing synergy between the military and gaming technology, he doesn't quite coin that wonderful phrase.)

There is some discussion of the morality of gameplay--for example, having to kill "wounded" opponents or bots to win Full Spectrum Warrior--but interestingly, while the media often raises questions about the morality of videogames, the question of the morality of warfare per se doesn't even appear as a blip on the programme's radar screen.

It hasn't yet hit the BBC iPlayer, but will appear shortly: Alternatively, the marvellous RadioDownloader offers a convenient way of grabbing radio programmes that might otherwise be missed.