Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tesco Internet Phone with Skype/Linux

I have been watching the price of the Tesco internet phone USB internet phone pack drop. It has now gone down to £9.98 so I bought one. I also bought their headset - a mono headset with a boom mike for £9.97. You both from Tesco on line.

My aim was to get get them working on my Sony Vaio PCG V505CP running Mandriva 2006 with Skype Voice over IP service.

First the headset. This has two stereo jack plugs and plugs in the audio sockets on the viao. When I tried this the performance of the mic was disapointing and when I called home it was hard to hear anything. It may work better with careful adjusting of the mixer settings but it easily went in to a feedback squeal.

The usb handset turns out to be a "Yealink Network Technology Ltd. VOIP USB Phone". A visual comparison confirms it looks the same as the "USB Hand Phone MODEL: USB-P1K" listed on the Yealink web site. The download page shows an RPM for Fedora Core 3 but that is just skype which is already installed. There is a zip file for SkypeMate for linux. Leaving SkypeMate aside for the moment

I plugged it in while running tail -f /var/log/messages and got this
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer kernel: usbcore: registered new driver snd-usb-audio
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer kernel: usbcore: registered new driver xpad
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer kernel: drivers/usb/input/xpad-core.c: driver for Xbox controllers with mouse emulation v0.1.4
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer kernel: usbcore: registered new driver audio
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer kernel: drivers/usb/class/audio.c: v1.0.0:USB Audio Class driver
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer udev[8939]: run_program: exec of program failed
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer kernel: usbcore: registered new driver hiddev
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer kernel: hiddev0: USB HID v1.00 Device [Yealink Network Technology Ltd. VOIP USB Phone ] on usb-0000:00:1d.0-1
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer kernel: usbcore: registered new driver usbhid
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer kernel: drivers/usb/input/hid-core.c: v2.01:USB HID core driver
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer udev[8962]: run_program: exec of program failed
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer pam_console.dev[8942]: Restoring console permissions for /dev/dsp1 /dev/sound/dsp1
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer pam_console.dev[8945]: Restoring console permissions for /dev/audio1 /dev/sound/audio1
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer pam_console.dev[8967]: Restoring console permissions for /dev/mixer1 /dev/sound/mixer1
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer pam_console.dev[8959]: Restoring console permissions for /dev/snd/pcmC1D0p
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer pam_console.dev[8971]: Restoring console permissions for /dev/snd/pcmC1D0c
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer udev[9007]: run_program: exec of program failed
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer pam_console.dev[9010]: Restoring console permissions for /dev/hiddev0
Aug 22 21:11:52 mycomputer pam_console.dev[9017]: Restoring console permissions for /dev/snd/controlC1

Humm.. not so sure about that "udev[8962]: run_program: exec of program failed", But the rest looks ok.

Now restarting skype (but not rebooting) tools>options>head/handsets lists two devices for Audio devices: calls /dev/dsp and /dev/dsp1. Selecting dsp1 and ringing my answering machine it works fine as an audio device. So far the green light comes on and it says VO IP-PHONE on the screen but the buttons don't do anything (except beep), so I had to dial using the screen or keyboard. Still its a start. Anyone got any further than that?

Later... Well I spoke for an hour to my colleague in the US and it worked fine. Now for the SkpeMate thing. Download and unzip. Also download the user manual. Up until now you just get VO IP-PHONE on the phone's screen. Now if you run SkypeMate from the desktop short cut (not from the command line it seems, or maybe not as root), you get the date and time on the screen. Now it works up to a point. You have to dial 0 for the initial +. It comes up as + on the computer screen and 0 on the phone (!). It sort of says that in the manual. Also the display doesnt scroll and didnt show the last digit I dialed on the phone. So it is best still to watch the computer screen. I was not able to scroll through my contacts list.

Overall still good value!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Acorn Adventure Holidays Ardèche and Aosta Valley

We chose to go on an Acorn Adventure Holiday in August 2006. For us it is important on a family holiday that our children (8 and 13 years old) have other children to play with. So short of bringing their friends with us the best thing is to chose a holiday where they are likely to meet kids of a similar age and make friends.

We chose a two centre holiday at Labeaume in the Ardeche region of France and Villeneuve in the Aosta valley in Italy.

Having just got back I have not got time to write much so here, in no special order are good an bad things.

Good points:
  • Instructors generally good and safety paramount
  • The children made friends and were happy, generally people got on and were friendly.
  • The Aosta Valley and Ardeche are beautiful locations
  • You can leave the kids to go on the activities and do your own thing: hiking, swimming, or nothing.
  • The two day canoe descent on the Ardeche river was great fun
  • We saw wild boar while bivouacing, and lots of other wildlife
  • The coach drivers on the European part (from Eddie Brown) were highly experienced and knew the areas well. They took us on nonscheduled excursions shopping etc and were pleasant and helpful.
  • At Labaume the staff were very good at adapting to different dietary requirements. I am vegan and they even packed special food for me on the river descent.
Bad things
  • The coach trip in the UK was the worst thing by far. On both outward and return journey the M6 was closed near Stoke on Trent. On the outward journey resulting in a five hour delay. Of course some disruption was unavoidable bu the coach drivers did not listen to radio or other traffic reports, did not use sat-nav, and failed to anticipate the problem or find the best route to minimise delay. They also failed to tell Acorn how long the delay was likely to be, resulting in passengers waiting unnecessarily at the roadside at pick up locations when they could have gone somewhere more comfortable for three hours.
  • The coach trip from France to Italy took about 10 hours, whereas Acorn had given us the impression that it was very short when we had talked on the phone.
  • The food at Villeneuve was pretty bad, and the dinning area was not cleaned.
  • The camp site at Villeneuve included a large electricity pylon and was right next to a building site in what felt like an industrial area. Although it did have nice long range views. It was also crowded compared to Labeaume.
  • The instructors and Acorn staff encouraged the children to shout unnecessarily spoiling the tranquility of peaceful river and mountain areas. This often annoyed local French and Italian holiday makers whose complaints were unheard by the Acorn staff. Either because they did not speak French or Italian or simply because they were totally insensitive the Acorn staff did not even notice. This was the single most annoying feature of the holiday and plays to the stereotype of English yob culture abroad.
  • Perhaps by way of payback, a nearby French establishment played cheesy pop music so loud that it sounded like it was inside your head until 11 or 12 at night at Labeaume. Bring ear plugs!

On the whole the holiday was good value, and the children had a great time, and we had some fun most of all enjoyed seeing them have fun. If you were really unhappy with the food, it might have
still been good value if you went out for a few meals, and given the food varies between centres you might be luckier than we were. Don't expect much in the way of canoe, climbing etc instruction, just the basics for safety and fun. If you can't stand long coach journeys you can do the same holiday in your own car. I expect Acorn, if it stays in business, will respond to these criticisms as no doubt they will be getting a lot of feedback along the same lines.most annoying feature of the holiday and plays to the stereotype of English yob culture abroad.

If you do the river decent bring a sleeping mat (such as a Therm-a-Rest) to sleep on. Most adults find it hard to sleep on hard ground! If you have climbing or walking boots bring them too.

Links: Other reviews of Acorn Adventure Holidays on RealHolidayReports (Note that others we met on the coach back were very positive about Narbonne and said the food was great). My review posted also on reviewcentre.com.

Google maps: Villneuve, Labeaume

Saturday, August 05, 2006

iRiver H120D multi-format juke box

I recently aquired an iRiver HD120D juke box. Mainly it is intended for Mrs Billlion to record talks. I liked the fact that it interfaced well with Linux (readers will know that Mrs B uses a Philips X51 laptop running Mandriva), it simply mounts as a USB external drive. Other good things are that it plays ogg-vorbis files and records to mp3 from line in or internal or external microphone. Also it doesnt have digital rights management bol***ks!

The big downside is the user interface is about as bad as vi. In perticular the functions of the buttons are not consistent, it is hard to tell what state it is in (like vi).

Mrs B is very p****d off as her first attempt to record using it was unsucessful. And it was an important talk by her Tibetian Buddist teacher Lama Yeshe Losal.

I'm afraid we will either have to sell it, or perhaps try the alternative firmware RockBox.

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