A better way to listen to mixes online?

Funkwhale audio logo

For a while I have been thinking about leaving Mixcloud. Its nothing personal, I think its a great service for djs but its clear their business model is starting to interfere with the listening experience.

I had a thought about what Mixcloud do for me and decided these are the key things.

  1. Hosting the full mix with limited rights problems (unless you do something like play a track from the same author twice)
  2. The community of people and djs in one place
  3. Ability to see the actual tracks within the mix

With this in mind, I thought I’d see what else was out there as I’m lucky enough to be sitting on a large enough internet connection to host my own mixes and become a node on a larger decentralised network. If it was build like the fediverse, that could solve the community side too? After looking around for alternatives I found a new upstart called funkwhale. You may have seen I mention it recently in a previous blog.

Maybe 1 and 2 could be solved but what about 3?

The last part of the puzzle seemed to be the track problem, as you want seamless playback but get an idea of what you are listening to. Mixcloud does this via metadata, which you can create via a slider over the audio waveform. Some DJ systems create this for you like the Pacemaker for example but that metadata is lost in translation I found. If only there was a standard way to define areas of a mix without slicing the audio mix up?

For example, here is a ambient mix I liked recently.

Its by Tonepoet and even they have gone through the effort of adding this metadata to their personal site complete with timings. I do a similar thing but without the timings (which I really should have added since I had them all and entered them into Mixcloud manually.

I looked a number of things including a bunch of playlist formats including pls, m3u and xspf. Even looked at smil and asx to see if they would help, but their problem was player support. The issue seemed to be they all treated their smallest objects as physical files rather than subsets of files. I did buy into xspf thought it was close with this extension.

The extension element allows non-XSPF XML to be included in XSPF documents. The purpose is to allow nested XML, which the meta and link elements do not. xspf:playlist elements MAY contain zero or more extension elements.

<playlist version="1" xmlns="http://xspf.org/ns/0/" xmlns:cl="http://example.com">
  <extension application="http://example.com">
    <cl:clip start="25000" end="34500"/>
  </extension>
  <trackList />
</playlist>

Close but not quite right and player support for extensions was going to be low. This is when I rethought the problem with something like .nfo files and found .cue files. Here is an example…

REM GENRE Electronica
REM DATE 1998
PERFORMER "Faithless"
TITLE "Live in Berlin"
FILE "Faithless - Live in Berlin.mp3" MP3
  TRACK 01 AUDIO
    TITLE "Reverence"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 00:00:00
  TRACK 02 AUDIO
    TITLE "She's My Baby"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 06:42:00
  TRACK 03 AUDIO
    TITLE "Take the Long Way Home"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 10:54:00
  TRACK 04 AUDIO
    TITLE "Insomnia"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 17:04:00
  TRACK 05 AUDIO
    TITLE "Bring the Family Back"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 25:44:00
  TRACK 06 AUDIO
    TITLE "Salva Mea"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 30:50:00
  TRACK 07 AUDIO
    TITLE "Dirty Old Man"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 38:24:00
  TRACK 08 AUDIO
    TITLE "God Is a DJ"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 42:35:00

Perfect, so I took one of mixes, Quiver in the underground and turned the .nfo file into a .cue file.

REM GENRE Tech Trance
REM DATE 2019
PERFORMER "Digital Italic"
TITLE "Quiver in the underground mix"
FILE "Quiver in the underground mix.mp3" MP3
TRACK 01 AUDIO
TITLE "Activator, I know you can (That kid chris mix)"
PERFORMER "Whatever girl"
INDEX 01 00:00:00
TRACK 02 AUDIO
TITLE "Air traffic (Erik De Koning remix)"
PERFORMER "Three drives"
INDEX 01 02:07:00
TRACK 03 AUDIO
TITLE "Chinook"
PERFORMER "Markus Schulz pres. Dakota"
INDEX 01 07:25:00
TRACK 04 AUDIO
TITLE "Opium (Quivver remix)"
PERFORMER "Jerome Isma-Ae & Alastor"
INDEX 01 10:32:00
TRACK 05 AUDIO
TITLE "Surveillance"
PERFORMER "Jordon Suckley & Kutski"
INDEX 01 15:24:00
TRACK 06 AUDIO
TITLE "Nitric (Division one remix)"
PERFORMER "Hybrid system"
INDEX 01 19:02:00
TRACK 07 AUDIO
TITLE "Circa-Forever (Galen Behr & Organ Nilsen remix)"
PERFORMER "Rapid eye"
INDEX 01 23:55:00
TRACK 08 AUDIO
TITLE "Opulence"
PERFORMER "Simon Patterson"
INDEX 01 30:05:00
TRACK 09 AUDIO
TITLE "J'ai envie de toi (Protoculture remix)"
PERFORMER "Armin Van Buuren presents Gaia"
INDEX 01 35:10:00
TRACK 10 AUDIO
TITLE "Z.I.T.A (M.I.K.E's progressiva mix)"
PERFORMER "Hiver & Hammer with Funabashi"
INDEX 01 39:30:00
TRACK 11 AUDIO
TITLE "Kubrick (Extended mix)"
PERFORMER "Jerome Isma-Ae & Alastor"
INDEX 01 42:01:00

Tried it out on a number of media player and they all worked except Plex.

There is a very good chance if I was to run my own funkwhale node/server I could set it to index .cue files and playback the mix in a seamless way like Mixcloud? Theres only one way to find out really… Get Funkwhale installed!

On a side note I am slightly kicking myself now because I entered all that metadata into mixcloud but never stored it myself. I’m going to need to go through 90 of my own mixes and convert my .nfo files into .cue files.

I have the SQLite Database for my pacemaker device with the actual real timings but I need to identify which mix is which one (another thing I should have done, as changed the names of the mix depending on many things). I also hoped mixcloud’s developers guide would come to the rescue but it looks like maybe a GDPR request is my only option if I want the metadata for my mixes?

All complex ecosystem have parasites… including Airbnb

Airbnb basement in Iceland
Looks like a dungeon right? Imagine sleeping down there for a night like I did in Iceland

…The trick is to not let them take over. Something Airbnb needs to think a lot more about!

I stumbled across a huge Airbnb scam that’s taking over London, this story is everywhere but it was Si Lumb who first sent me the link.

After reading the massive long piece I was quite shocked at how elaborate the scam was. I won’t spoil it but its bad then it gets worst still.

Here’s a few choice quotes…

On Airbnb, it turns out, scams aren’t just the preserve of lone chancers. As the short-term rental goldrush gathers pace, Airbnb empires are being rapidly scaled and monetised, with professional operators creating scores of fake accounts, fake listings and fake reviews to run rings around Airbnb, local law enforcement and the guests who place their trust in the platform. Reviews from guests paint a grim picture of people who have been tricked into staying in accommodation with blocked drains, broken fixtures and fittings, filthy floors, dirty bed linen – or, in some cases, accommodation that they simply did not book.

This very much reminds me of when I stayed in Iceland and the host moved me to the basement so he could get another Airbnb in! My experience of Airbnb in Tokyo was awful but at least the host wasn’t lying to my actual face.

All of these accounts are essentially one person, or at least one company. And yet they have all passed Airbnb’s account verification and safety processes, with most supplying government identification, selfies, email addresses and phone numbers. Two of these accounts, though, are more closely connected than the rest: Leon and Robert Lusso Management. And that’s because they both used to be called Christian.

Seen this many times on Airbnb, this is why I always look through the reviews of the hosts for patterns. Its the same way reviews on most sites you have to check for scams.

I noticed from my experience as a host (super host even), lots of guests don’t do the research. Don’t get me wrong, the scams are elaborate but few read the reviews and ask the right questions of the host.

According to Inside Airbnb, a service that scrapes Airbnb to shine a light on the platform’s impact on cities around the world, there are an estimated 36,964 listings on Airbnb in London that are listed by a host with at least one other listing. While Airbnb presents itself as a sharing economy company, the business of hosting is becoming increasingly systemised and professionalised, with critics arguing that businesses are able to make huge sums of money at the expense of local residents who are unable to access properties locked away by the short-term rental gold rush.

So what, if anything, can be done about it? To date, attempts to adequately regulate and police Airbnb listings have been spasmodic at best, leading to a patchwork of confusing, siloed approaches. In December 2019, more concerted regulation efforts were dealt a blow when the European Court of Justice ruled that Airbnb was an “information society service”, not a real estate agency. Such rulings mean that cities must continue to act alone – with mixed success.

Really interesting to look at inside Airbnb as a host in Manchester. But its clear councils can’t keep up with the Airbnb (gravy) train and the scammers know this too well. Could Airbnb do more stop this? Yes a bit but honestly…

All complex ecosystem have parasites. – Cory Doctorow

Getting on the self-hosted train again

Map of the fediverse.space

A long time ago, accessing cubicgarden.com meant accessing my direct server sitting in my home. I use to run Blojsom on top of Resin server. I was self hosting from my 512k ADSL line with 256k up (remember how fast that use to be to!?)

There were a lot of problems I grant you that but it mainly worked ok, although I didn’t like the sysadmin side of it all, as I was using Windows 2000 as the operating system. At some point I decided to switch to wordpress only because PHP hosting was cheaper than Java, although I got some incredible breaks during my time. In 2014 I moved my blog to WPengine thanks to dotBen

That was a while ago and since then I have massively upgraded my connection speed to 1gigabit up and down thanks to Hyperoptic and upgraded my server quite a bit (6 core AMD with 16 gig of memory). The first thing I did was installed Plex server.

Since then I have been slowly adding more services to my server. I guess the most noteworthy ones being tiny tiny rss, icecast2, plex and zerotier vpn (which I’m considering changing to wireguard with the recent announcements). Tiny tiny RSS is useful as I don’t like what feedly and others are doing with my data. Zerotier VPN is very cool and very much like the old and forgotten Hamachi. Because it uses internal ip addresses (non-addressable?) any device I have it connected with can access those addresses like they are on a internal network. This ultimately means I can access all my services including tiny tiny rss without opening up ports on my firewall and exposing it to the internet.

Anyway I’ve been thinking about adding more services to my server including Wekan (alternative to trello), Pixelfed (feiverse instagram), wisemapping (web based mindmapping tool), wallabag (alternative to instapaper), standardnotes server, mastodon (fediverse twitter), funkwhale (fediverse spoitfy), language tool (alternative to grammerly) and matrix (powerful alternative to slack).

Doing it under Ubuntu isn’t a problem as theres lots of tutorials and theres plenty which use Docker to manage everything.

But there is issue it seems when installing multiple services on top of each other. Most of the tutorials require a Apache or Ngnix then some SQL database. The tutorials are written like you are running just one service alone and things become more tricky when you have services using certain ports, etc. Trying to move the ports, database tables is sometimes tricky to follow.

Right now, I’m focused on doing one service at a time or really getting to grips with Docker which was meant to make this easier to deal with???

Ok so why selfhosting (and there is a lot of self-hosting services as I found here) and all the hassle?

I found something which sums it up nicely from a different but connected context.

Decentralized, peer-to-peer networks are evolutionarily superior to the bastardized corporate ‘sharing economy’ platforms like Uber and Lyft. Their billion-dollar budgets won’t save them from the inevitability of the blockchain-based peer-to-peer economy.

The decentralization revolution is here.

Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (Feb 2020)

Smartcity - Wakanda

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed by looking at the sorry state of the UK during our EU withdrawal or the tech press panic over the coronavirus.

To quote Buckminster Fuller “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

You are seeing aspects of this happening with young people leading the way on climate change.

Anonymous still legion?

Ian thinks: Nice summary podcast about the book, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

Curious about hacking?

Ian thinks: Excellent growing resource explaining the origins of hacking in a balanced way through different interviews and press coverage

Fediverse Is here to stay

Ian thinks: English language CCC (Chaos Computer Congress) videos I found. Really good points made about open society and Aaron Swartz

I imagine Vice’s journalist has a awful uber rating

Ian thinks: So clearly outlines the case for Uber to disappear in to the past and what ride sharing really could be.

Cities which work for their citizens not the other way around

Ian thinks: Citizens as sensors, rather than a thing to be sensed; is a good primer for future smart cities

Tracking through podcasting

Ian thinks: Interesting talk from the CCC about tracking and advertising through podcasting.
[English audio stream in downloaded video]

The real drug dealers get away with murder

Ian thinks: Its so easy to point the finger at the darknet markets, but Jack really hits home with the true crime lords.

How is that advert following you around?

Ian thinks: If you don’t understand how cookies work and why you really should reject those cookie banners, this is idea for you.

Sexual harassment, anonymity and

Ian thinks: Sigi’s story told by herself is a powerful one in the era of Background on the story.
[English audio stream in downloaded video]

On buying the Fossil hybrid HR watch

fossil hybrid HR smartwatch face

During the seasonal period “I bought” a Fossil hybrid HR smartwatch. It was meant to replace my pebble smartwatch but it never came. I made the decision to give it a try after trying it on in the Fossil store in Manchester.

I found it online also found a discount code from Fossil for first time purchases. Ordered it and expected to come back home after xmas to a little present from myself. The Fossil invoice said it takes 4-5 business days

However after lots of chasing weeks after, I finally got a reply saying they had cancelled the order (without telling me) because they were completely out of stock for that model. It was frustrating  but they finally offered me a discount when it comes back into stock. However the discount was for less than my original discount.

I think I would be more annoyed if I hadn’t read this updated review of the smartwatch. I realised one feature the Fossil didn’t have was the ability to reply to messages or emails. Its something I use on my pebble a lot and seeing the message is useful but sending an acknowledgement of some kind is pretty essential.

Like the Motiv ring, being an early adopter can be troublesome and in this case its time to wait and see what others do in the hybrid smartwatch space.

A little tale of my motiv ring

My Motiv ring on my hand

I really enjoyed having my Bluetooth Motiv ring really, it is great except a little while ago it started to not sync properly. Reporting the wrong battery percentage, syncing inconsistently, asking to be upgraded and just being a general annoyance.

I complain back to Motiv and they tried to diagnose the problems I was having with the ring. After a few days they asked if I was playing volleyball with the ring on? I said yes and they suggested using the other hand when playing volleyball. This sounds fine but the problem I have is being ambidextrous in something’s like sports is I switch hands all the time.

I explained I bought the ring for the whole point of wearing it during sports because my pebble watch can not really be worn while playing volleyball.

They suggested a replacement ring however their UK/European supplier has changed and they couldn’t issue a replacement over the winter period. I’m thinking Brexit might have something to do with this? Anyway cutting a long story short, I was completely refunded and I get to keep my current faulty ring. Good stuff from Motiv and I may consider getting a replacement once I see what happens in the near future (maybe a second version will support a few more knocks?)

In the meanwhile, I relooked at the Oura ring 2 but frankly its a lot more and there are some serious flaws in the Android app (no google fit, export, etc).

I’ll stay put and keep wearing the Motiv ring till its completely useless, as its still capturing data and the app is still syncing with google fit.

The awful state of library books in the intenet age

Manchester Library

I recently I went to town on the ebooks ecosystem after reading this post. Then a few days ago I decided to get back into using the library book system again.

It was pretty easy, heck I didn’t really need to go into Manchester library at all (I have a library number/card already). I downloaded Borrow box put in my details and then browsed for ebooks and audiobooks – easy!

While asking in the library about borrowing ebooks.on eink kindle device, it was a shake of the head. I know in the past Amazon have tried different things in the states, but frankly the borrow box is a step in the right direction, although its not directly like a library book system!

If only Amazon Kindle ereaders, kobo, etc had a more open system, they could share in the current library borrowing system. All those people buying ebooks not able to take advantage of their citizenry rights.

Dropping Rescuetime for ActivityWatch

Activity Watch logo

I tend to weigh up different systems and applications I use every once in a while. Especially weighing up the benefits to me.

One such application is Rescue time.

I used it in the past and over the last few months reinstalled it again. However this time I tried to automate the reports out of the free account and pretty much failed. The only way I could really do it is if I paid for the pro account at the cost of (a discounted) $6.75 per month.

So enough I thought… A little look around alternative to and decided to give Activity Watch a try.

ActivityWatch is an app that automatically tracks how you spend time on your devices.

It is open sourceprivacy-firstcross-platform, and a great alternative to services like RescueTime, ManicTime, and WakaTime.

It can help you keep track of time spent on different projects, kick bad screen habits, or just understand how you spend your time.

Its pretty good and doesn’t drain my laptop while watching my laptop. Of course being local and under my control only, I don’t really need to worry so much about whats collected. You can of course limit things as you go, turn off tracking or just delete the data any time.

I have it on my Dell XPS laptop and on my work phone and its good except one thing. Currently there is no sync server, so each device has its own server. But they are working on this… Once they do, I’ll likely install it on my server and put the client on more of my devices.

The other thing I’m hoping for is to see more use of the stopwatch activity watch bucket (buckets are the pools of data collected). Since Project hamster is currently being rethought and I like to track my work progress alongside my activity.

As a whole the project has a lot of potential and worth the wait I hope for the features expressed above.

Two coaster design that I don’t like much

This design of rollercoaster (Maurer Rides SkyLoop / XT 150) as experienced on Ukko and Abismo. Is thrilling at first but its re-ride-ability is super low. I think I managed 11 rides and that was too many.

The other one I’m also not a fan of is the intamin AG ZacSpin Ball Coaster, as discovered first on Kirnu and then Insane. I was able to manage much more rides but having to balance the car with my weight, means the car is spinning a lot more than expected.

I’m more likely to go on them more than most people but you won’t see me on them 30x times, like the hypercoasters. I guess its more thrill vs experience?

Rethinking the user experience in age of distributed networks

Planetary.socialIt was David who reminded me to blog about planetary.social, which recently was announced on twitter by Tom Coates.

I feel this is one of many to come. Not another social networks, but the idea of rethinking the advantages of decentralised, federated and distributed networks.

When I saw Aral’s talk a long time ago at Thinking Digital, I have been wondering why don’t more designers look at the advantages and rethink them into completely new user experiences?

Imagine:  Decentralised, Its not a bug its a feature

I like what planetary has done with the FAQ page. You would also expect them to shy away from the underlying networking technology of Scuttlebutt (which is hard to explain to people use to centralised models of social networks). They took the underlying technology and turned it into a competitive business advantage, without breaking the ethos/promise of the technology.

So you got Aral, Tom and many more examples coming out of the Indieweb movement including Aaron

This is the future… Good ethical technology, good ethical design and good ethical data practices = Great new user experiences.

This might sum up the talk I’m thinking about for Agile Manchester 2020.

https://twitter.com/agilemanc/status/1219991870899675136

Moi? Pocket’s top 5% reader?

pocket badge
Ian, you read a ton this year and made it into our top 5% of readers. That’s an impressive amount of knowledge gained.

Well this is quite a surprise I got when Pocket sent me a email saying I was in the top 5% of readers for last year.

Its not because I haven’t consumed lots of written word content but because I have mainly been listening to pocket while on the go (although I can’t quite do driving the bike and listening to pocket or podcasts). Pockets text to speech is pretty sweet as its cloud based not on the device like wallabag. This of course has good (better voice) and bad points (when out of wifi/4g, privacy considerations, etc).

Talking of wallabag, I tend to run pocket from wallabag with a nifty IFTTT recipe. I’m not the only one it seems.

The best leaders take off their masks

I always like the Big Think videos. This one speaks so much to what I live by…

  • Take off the mask
  • Embrace your imperfections
  • Perfect the craft
  • Be prepared to ask for help
  • Be prepared to learn and grow over time.

Simple things which make such a difference.

Wishes for a better e-reading experience

Likebook mars ebook reader

I was listening/reading My wish for a better device for reading and enjoying books. I found it a interesting read with some good points

I’ve been thinking that I don’t want to settle with a simple e-reader anymore. I want more. I want an all-new gadget that’s dedicated to enhancing my reading experience.

This is why I ended up buying the Likebook Mars. It was time for something new which was a pleasure to read. Especially since the latest update which dropped a few days ago.

I understand that among the things that make an e-reader so successful is the e-ink display. But the Kindle also works well because its a less distracting device. But even then I’ve often found myself holding my Kindle in one hand and checking my smartphone notifications in the other.

This is something I imagine lots of people struggle with. Having a Android device in your hand is tricky because the temptation is to put a lot of apps on the device and make it a duplicate of the phone. But it simply doesn’t make sense to put a lot of the apps on the ereader. Try scrolling through a twitter feed on a e-ink screen is just painful. However respect to anyone who wants to give it a try for what ever reason.

Instead of limiting the capabilities of the device to make it free from distractions, we can choose our own distractions, ones that will keep us engaged with the device. Imagine an iPad with a dedicated reading mode, as part of the Screen Time feature, where you could turn off all distractions, and focus on reading. Or the device could have a “Reading Mode” where you could add reading and productivity apps…

Ideally the device would be capable of both an eink and LCD screen. This is why I found the Yota phone interesting and  although Goodereader wasn’t quite right about the trend for eink phones. It still could be a future trend with colour eink getting really good too.  Reading mode could simply be an adjustment rather than a mode. For example the Lenovo Thinkpad plus has a eink display on the lid.

…or a redesigned version of Goodreads, where you could engage with the community, and celebrate reading. If you wanted to take a break from reading a book, instead of checking your Facebook or Instagram, you could read articles or update your Goodreads. So you’d still have access to distractions, just better distractions.I want someone to redesign Spotify as a reading app, right now.

The idea of a goodreads or spotifiy for ereading can easily be dismissed but its actually important.

Once you get into the world of ereaders with standard android apps, you get the diversity of experiments and applications. Yes you can have your Amazon Kindle app on a android ereader but thats just the start. Its time for a better way to not just read but annotate, share and remix. The modes should work smoothly but due to the silo mentality of the different services we can’t rely on any changes from them. Why would Amazon do anything but the minimum for android devices?

While we already have subscription models for reading books and articles, and are listening to audiobooks, no one seems to be fighting Amazon or Apple for a share of the market. Maybe reading isn’t as big a market as music, or television, or even gaming. Or maybe the big players are not ready to look in this direction, yet. This could be about the size of the market, the potential for growth and a largely Amazon-dominated marketplace.

This is a market which could do with some changes but it will come from the smaller players. The same way authors like Cory Doctorow convinced his publisher to support some Creative commons versions of his books.

Unlock the ebooks and see things change I and others have been saying for a long long while. Its something which the author Sumit never actual mentions. Its the one thing which underpins everything he wishes for.

I was once at the World book fair for Oreilly’s Tools of change conference. One of the sessions I went to was about ebooks and their locked down DRM containers. In short DRM is a major killer and won’t get the creativity till its  restrictions are changed. There was so much hate given to Amazon for this reason.

Its clear DRM holds back so much of what ebooks could be and that effects the devices, the systems and ultimately the experience.

Every once in a while its a win win for all, except the algorithms

Tampon box in disabled loo

Every once in a while I like messing with the algorithms which rule our world. As Cory says in this critical piece, found via Ade,

Machine learning is fundamentally conservative, and it hates change. If you start a text message to your partner with “Hey darling,” the next time you start typing a message to them, “Hey” will beget an autosuggestion of “darling” as the next word, even if this time you are announcing a break-up.

This isn’t a new thing and I have to thank Miles who gave me the idea a long time ago to mess with the algorithms every once in a while.

Every once in a while, when I feel the recommendations are getting pretty good I buy something completely different. For example with Google I’ve done some very strange things, but the impact isn’t so clearly felt as with shopping algorithms.

Recently I bought tampons which were 2 for the price of 1 on Tesco online. I bought them because I wanted to screw up the algorithm but more importantly I wanted to support my female colleagues (extra special shout out to Jasmine) who have been fighting the good fight to provide women & girls with free sanitary products in BBC buildings. As they really should have!

Maybe this is a triple win, one for my colleagues, two for messing up Tesco’s recommendations and three for my pocket? What ever it is, I noticed Tesco recommendation now includes pointers to shampoo products which I certainly don’t need  but makes me laugh the algorithm is so easily manipulated.

Already planning similar on Amazon and Ebay…