Don’t Put Google into Google or You’ll Break the Internet

At least according to the IT Crowd.

Frustrated by some of the limitations in search capabilities supported by my otherwise excellent email provider Fastmail, I’ve signed up for the paid version of Google Applications For Your Domain (GAFYD).

It’s too early to call whether this is a permanent state of affairs and whether or not it will last past the free trial period. I really want it to work, but although there are touches of genius in it for your 25 notes a year, there are some bizarre limitations and omissions.

Rather than go into detail at the moment, I’ll list these as dispassionately as possible – some of them may be show-stoppers for you, and it makes sense to know about them before investing a lot of time.

Also bear in mind this state of affairs may change, or that I may just have been too stupid or too impatient:

Q Can I transfer my old Google identity across to GAFYD?

A No. Not if you’re talking about flicking a switch and having your data, logins etc. transferred lock-stock and barrel from your old free account to your new paid one. You can approximate the exercise, but it isn’t the experience you might expect it to be.

Q Ok, can I transfer my calendars across from my personal Google Calendar to the GAFYD version?

A No. You can get close though. You can invite yourself to view your own calendars and give yourself full permission, but the calendar is still “owned” by your old account.

None of the colour choices and other settings you already have will be copied across either, and many of the public calendars and other utilities that are available in the personal version seem to be absent in the GAFYD version.

Q Can I transfer my Google mail across then?

A Yes and No. You can’t just appropriate your old inbox etc., but there is a migration tool, and you can forward mail that was destined for your old account pretty much seamlessly, or grab it with POP, optionally leaving it in the original account.

You’ll also need to manually export / import your contacts from one to the other.

Q Can I access Google Reader, Google Groups?

A Not from your GAFYD account, no. You still need to maintain a free personal version for that lot. GAFYD is skewed heavily towards office use, so you get email, calendar and document functions. Even then they are a relatively pared down and business like version: fewer themes, less customisation, fewer gadgets.

In short, check that GAFYD supports the bells and whistles you like before committing.

Q Can I seamlessly manage multiple personalities in my email as Fastmail allows?

A No you bloody can’t. In this respect GAFYD trails Fastmail by quite a distance. For one thing, Google always sets the “Sender:” header, so your efforts to communicate from will be for naught when the client at the other end reads the header and reveals the awful truth to your correspondent.

In fairness this can avoid problems with your email being classed as spam, and Google are committed to allowing this behaviour to be optional “soon”.

More later but, in summary, check that no-one is complaining that your favourite feature is missing or poorly implemented before putting the effort in.


Filthy Bandwidth Thievery: Avoiding Disaster by Diversity

My broadband supplier of choice, via entanet, has dropped me off the map again. I’d have to say they are generally excellent with a no-nonsense approach to bandwidth and port-blocking (there isn’t any), and I’ve been kept well informed.

Unfortunately knowing that they know something’s up and that they’re trying to fix it earns 8/10 for effort but 1/10 for usefulness. It’s great to know a cable’s been sliced but not as good as never needing to hear that in the first place.

It’s unreasonable to expect them to be able to control some faults, particularly as the evidence so far suggests that there’s been a renaissance in the use of blind scythe-wielders for digging up roads in the Sheffield area.

Although I can get a decent connection by borrowing next doors wifi, which remains unaffected, the VPN I use to connect to work requires a known, fixed IP address. No dyndns or similar will do, and no arguments about it.

So I’m thinking of offering to pick up the bill for my neighbours broadband connection as long as I can specify one with a fixed IP and use it on a slightly more formal basis if I’m in this position again.

The question is: which provider?

Unfortunately leaving them with the current incumbent, AOL, isn’t an option as a) AOL don’t offer fixed IP addresses under any circumstances and b) AOL have been arses in every conversation I’ve had with them to get this information.

What I’m interested in getting is a reliable provider that has as little in common with my own as possible, i.e. the maximum possible diversity in the equipment, software and physical route.

This would mean I stand a decent chance of dodging the bullet if there’s a planned or inadvertent outage in the offing.

I’d anticipate quite a bit of Googling before settling on one, but if anyone has any suggestions how I can determine something like this, I’d be glad to hear them.

Bashcasting Your Playlist

After some reflection, a bit of swearing at the Bash reference, which may be canonical but is relatively unhelpful, an easy solution for Ubuntu users to tweet their tune of choice. None-Linux users are out of luck, sorry but you asked for it.

The prerequisites:

Amarok. I’m using Version 1.4, largely because a) it came installed and b) there’s a different scripting / plugin system for 2.0

A command-line twitter client such as Twidge. This allows you to tweet a text fragment from a bash script.

Next a script that can detect which track you’re currently playing, store that information to disk, and then tweet the results courtesy of twidge. After a bit of messing around, and bearing in mind I only want to tweet changes once-in-a-while rather than a note-by-note account, I settle on this:



while [ 1 ]

# Use dcop to ask Amarok what it's up to
artist=$(dcop amarok player artist)
title=$(dcop amarok player title)

notification="$artist - $title"

# This loop runs continuoulsy, so only leap
# into action when there's a change to report.
# If there's no change, sleep for 10 secs. This means you may
# miss changes to tracks that are < 10 secs, but also that you
# don't mess around with checking state etc.
if [ "$notification" = "$oldnotification" ]; then
sleep 10

# Keep a note to suppress duplicates when playing

if [ "$artist" != "" ]; then

# Store the notification in a file.
# This would allow more than one app. to use it if necessary
# In an attempt at consistency, all tweets from Amarok are prefixed
# with {rok} to allow filtering etc. if needed.
echo "{rok} $notification" > ~/.tweetsig

# Tweet it to the world.
# In my case I don't want to flood with too many messages
# so I give it 10 minutes before trying again
twidge update < ~/.tweetsig

sleep 600


Pretty self-explanatory. Change the “sleep 600” or remove it if you want to keep your audience more thoroughly up to date.

To turn this into an Amarok script, all that’s necessary is to tar it up according to a naming convention:

tar cvf NowPlayingTweet.amarokscript.tar NowPlayingTweet

Then in Amarok, use the Script Manager to browse to the newly tar’ed script, install it, and run it.

Not perfect, but suited to my purpose. With a bit more time, perhaps an environment variable for the interval I tweet what’s playing, and I’d prefer it only to tweet those I’ve finished listening to, not stuff I decide to skip past, but that’ll do for now.

Who cares what music I listen to anyway?

Or: How To Stop Spamming Twitter With Your Playlist.

Although the NowPlayingTweet script / Twidge / Amarok combo basically works well enough, there are a couple of issues that mean I’m leaving it off just now, namely the…

Easy Technical Issue

There are a couple of glitches that mean the odd tweet is duplicated, appears blank etc. Scanning the code snippet I pinched, this just looks like the way a change in status (i.e. track changing) is detected fires too often. This manifests itself as duplicate tweets, the occasional contentless tweet etc.

This is readily addressed by brushing up on me Bash scripting and sorting it out and is of no further concern here.

However that still leaves the…

Slightly Harder Social Issue

If I sit and listen to music all day (which I often do) that’s around 15 songs an hour, for a total of around 120 tweets per day.

This seems like a lot to me, in fact a potentially very irritating number for anyone following. Hard to know. So I want to strike a balance between spamming twitter with junk and tweeting the odd message that might have someone say “Ah! I could stand a bit of Burt Bacharach myself” or “He’ll be cutting his wrists if he’s not careful”

The two ways I thought this could be achieved are:

Tweet on change of Album or Artist (or either or both)

I listen to a lot of complete albums, particularly as an aid to concentration when I work. This would mean one tweet every 30 mins or so which seems reasonable.

The downsides to this are that it squashes a bit of the serendipity of seeing a song-title you’ve long forgotten or are intrigued by and, if you change on Artist, compilation albums still produce a flurry of tweets (a chorus?)

Tweet every N minutes

So take an interval of, say, 10 / 15 minutes and tweet all of the Artist / Album / Track info. This seems like a better option, if a bit more complicated to script. The number of tweets comes down to something passable, but you still get the serendipitous effect that tweeting on change of Album lacks.

The second gets my vote – and my time when it’s available – unless any other inspiration strikes.

Tweeting Blog Posts

In the sort of horrible electronic incest deservedly lampooned in Viz some years ago, twitterfeed allows posts blogged here to make an appearance on twitter.

Once you’ve signed in, supply your twitter credentials, confirm you own a blog, supply the RSS feed for it, and Bobs your platitude at a frequency of anything as high as hourly. More prolific bloggers requiring a higher update frequency should perhaps consider getting a life.

The only issue I can see with this is that it’s also possible to tweet directly to a blog. Exactly what sort of internet-crushing feedback loop this sets up remains to be seen.

Twitter and Amarok

Against my better judgement I’m playing around with twitter (mrsean2k, 1 (spam) follower) ETA: some non-spam followers, woohoo, electronic chums!

Although I haven’t “got” it yet, it’s got me dipping my toe in the water with a few things I’ve meant to get round to, and this is as a result of wanting to have Amarok post my “Now Playing” information as a tweet.

To cut a long story short, the sequence of events is:

  • Install the command line twitter client twidge essentially this will let you tweet from a batch file
  • Get a copy of the Now Playing Signature script
  • Amend the script so that the generated signature is a single line, and so that after the sig is generated, twidge will tweet it automatically
  • Install and run the script in Amarok

I’ll write these up in a bit more (or at least some) detail shortly, but the upshot is that my song choices are automatically posted as tweets. Some tidying to do, and I think I’d be tempted to alter it so that it only tweets on a change of artist / album as opposed to every track, but it was surprisingly easy to do.