Rdio dead, long live Spotify

November 26, 2015

I’ve made variations of this post on various forums and blogs, may as well put it on my own:

My absolute favourite streaming service announced last week that they’re throwing in the towel. I scrambled to find an acceptable replacement, and was pretty bummed. Spotify came closest to what I was looking for, but it’s flawed. What I liked best about Rdio was the ability to keep a massive persistent queue of albums with me, wherever I was. I’d throw piles on there based on recommendations and reading, or whatever I felt like. I’d push albums to the top that I felt like listening to sooner based on mood.

Unfortunately the regular queue in Spotify is a  mess, but I found that I could mitigate it by simply ignoring it, and using playlists instead. I have two: “Current Queue” and “Album Queue”. The album one I just add anything to that looks interesting, like I used to with Rdio. Then I cut & paste them to the Current one as I feel like I want to listen to them. If I just play directly from my Current playlist, the regular Spotify one behaves more normally and syncs better. I can then continue to edit it on-the-fly unlike the default queue.

Pretty happy with Spotify after discovering that.

Profile on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/markosaar

Also I’m an avid last.fm user, which best represents my music obsessions: http://www.last.fm/user/greycellgreen



August 8, 2014
Tags: , ,

RIP Phoebe, miss you tonnes already.

Sea monster

Arrived home yesterday to her yowling and unable to move her hind legs. Got her to the emergency vet within 25 minutes thanks to an awesome sympathetic cabbie.

VEC was great. They do triage and she was looked after immediately. The vet suspected saddle thrombus and administered painkillers while performing tests to confirm. Also gave us time to Google. While I was trying to be optimistic, my fiancee started preparing for the worst.

The vet returned and confirmed the worst. We got to spend some final quality time with Phoebers, and then she was put to rest.

This cat had so much personality. She was well-loved by all that encountered her.

Catnip spasms

So long little one.



November 22, 2011

The Bixi programme launched in Toronto this spring. The $95/year membership was quite tempting as I lived within the station boundaries, but for whatever reason, I waffled about signing up. I thought it would be insanely convenient for going out, but I already owned a couple of bicycles that I rode every day, and there was no station at Dupont St. where I worked. The furthest they reached was Bloor.

Groupon had a 50% off sale six weeks ago, and at that price it was a no-brainer.

I thought it would be convenient, and nice-t0-have, but instead I became completely enamored and looking for excuses to use it. I loved how little hassle it was. I could wear long pants and the chain-cover protects them. No maintenance fuss.

I have had a few minor glitches though. A few bikes, early on especially, seemed to have poorly tuned shifters. It was hard to keep the bike in the top gear. Actually, the first time I rode one I thought it was broken because the top gear was so effortless. Turns out they’re just not designed to go very fast. Fair enough.

Only once have I encountered a completely full stand while going out; luckily I was aware of an emptier one nearby. I got the very last spot outside the Greyhound station a couple of nights ago:

Bixis at night.

What I didn’t anticipate however was that I would end up commuting with these every single day. I mentioned the stations only reaching Bloor and my office being at Dupont. Turns out I like biking to Bloor and walking the rest of the way. It’s not that far, only 15 minutes for an average walker. Instead of leaving home at the very last possible moment and arriving at work as a sweaty mess, I take a bit more time in the morning and have a relaxed slow Bixi ride to Bloor, and then a stroll to my office while listening to the podcast de jour.

I also feel that, insofar as my daily commute is concerned, the Bixi is just better exercise since it’s a slower, heavier bike over a similar distance.

Bixis with flash


Another great thing is that currently it’s already pitch black when I leave work at 5:00. My hybrid commuter has lights, but my fancy CX bike which I normally use, does not. No trouble with Bixi: they’re ultra-reflective, and have a dynamo in them to power bright flashy LED lights in the front and back whenever the wheel turns.

Overall, I think at the very least, this will make for an awesome winter commuter. They’ll be open every day it’s not “dangerous” according to their authority, and it saves me from wrecking my own bikes with road salt.



October 24, 2011

I use Ubuntu at the office. I started with 10.10 and installed it half a year ago when I was stuck with Windows 2000, and there were not enough Windows 7 licenses being bought. It was a vast improvement.

My work is not really dependent on any proprietary applications. I mostly just need a text editor and FTP client. As well my company subscribes to Google Apps, so I just use that for documentation.

I upgraded to 11.04 when it came out and was greeted with Unity. I was so pissed off by how inflexible it was, I immediately changed to the “classic” environment. I actually replaced the Gnome shell with AWN and was immensely pleased with my new work environment. The aesthetics, functionality and customisation were fantastic.

Now Ubuntu 11.10 is out, and Unity is allegedly better. I have really truly tried to adapt to it, but god damn this thing is so wrong-headed. Why do I have to adapt to my computer?

The single worst feature that I just cannot get over is that the dock is permanently fixed to the left-hand side of the screen. (It hides when a window would be covered by it.)

My work desktop

My work desktop

The Ubuntu and Unity teams seem to spend more time justifying this contentious decision than coding the damn thing at this point. People rationalise it saying stupid things like, “99% of people have widescreen monitors anyway“. In a widescreen environment, yes, it would save more space. You know what are still popular? 17” 1280×1024 5:4 monitors, which are even taller than traditional 4:3 screens. The fact that the user isn’t given a choice is what baffles me however.

Another oddity is that I cannot seem to have two windows of the same application open at the same time. For example, instead of tabbing, if I wished to work in one browser window while referencing material in another. The workaround is to just run two separate browsers.  (October 29 edit: I don’t know if I uncovered a bug or something, but I cannot reproduce this … multiple windows work fine and as one would expect.)

Not tied to Unity, but another odd Ubuntu decision is to bundle Gwibber as the main Twitter/social networking client in its distribution. The programme is terrible. Why should it take 30 seconds for the damn client running in the background to pop up? Ubuntu is snappy as hell on this office Core2Duo, but that client is ludicrously slow.

All that said, and the left-hand-fixed-launcher will be enough to drive away many users, there are some great design ideas to Unity. First, the overall aesthetics are very nice and pleasing to my eye. I don’t mind the MacOS/OS X window-manager style where all programmes’ menus are located at the top of the screen — it saves some space and can be gotten used to.

I really like the subtle notification system. If you look at the screenshot, there are a few icons sitting in the tray. THEY DON’T EVER FLASH OR STEAL FOCUS! When I get new mail, that envelope turns to a pleasing shade of blue. That is it. I can click on it to check my mail, or I can ignore it and continue my coding. Simple and brilliant.

After a couple of weeks, I am slowly getting used to having the launcher on the left. I still look for the hidden panel at the bottom of the screen half the time though. I do plan on sticking with it for a while to see where Ubuntu goes with it, but I still don’t like it.


Standard neglected blog post

October 24, 2011

Every infrequently updated blog has one last-gasp post explaining why the author has been away, and how he or she promises to write more.

For me, it has really come down to self-censorship. I would love to write about my job, but choose not to overlap work with my personal life. I have previously written about things I feel I can contribute to, like the art of classic shaving, but I reached a point there where I could no longer speak authoritatively.

The next logical post would have covered consumables: shaving creams, soaps, and aftershaves, however I have been using the same tub of shaving cream for over two years. (The product description says it should last close to a year; however much of this time I have only been shaving 2-4 times a week.) It’s great and insanely efficient, but I simply have not had a chance to try a large enough breadth of products to write about their strengths and weaknesses.

I’d like to write about politics, but don’t have the time nor patience for the inevitable arguments or discussions.

I do not like to post unless I feel I have wholly explored something, but often my drafts get too unwieldy. I put them aside, but usually take so long to edit them that the article would no longer be relevant by the time it could be posted.

Heavy Metal jet team

I actually have that problem with photography too. I got into it in such a big way this year, I was attempting a 365 project where I would take at least a picture a day. After that, several concerts, and a few weddings however, I was so inundated with photos to edit I just had to take a vacation from it.

At once point I gave up on taking a picture a day in favour of concentrating taking what I have, and posting a well processed image a day. Even though I have taken something like two months off now, I probably still have plenty to make up for the lost time. I will post more about photography and what I have learned.

Some other stuff that has come up in this break that I would like to and will write about includes:

  • health – illness, training, biking, standing desk
  • fountain pens – highly recommended to anyone, but especially lefties
  • web programming
  • civil service
Anyway, at least one more post coming tonight.

My $350 mistake

April 9, 2011

This is pretty much the stupidest thing I’ve ever done and perhaps the most costly mistake I’ve made. Good thing I don’t own a car…

On Wednesday I received late notice that I would be able to bring my camera to a show I was terribly excited to see (Iris + Mesh + De/vision + Assemblage 23). I was really hoping I could bring it as it had been a while since I was able to shoot a show, and had since upgraded my equipment and technique a bit.

I only needed to clear my SD card, but Windows wouldn’t let me delete for some  reason. “No big deal,” I thought. I figured I could just go and format the card in my camera. As soon as I put it in the camera though, the screen flashed “WRITE-PROTECTED.”

Clearly the little tab on the side of the card had been switched accidentally. I removed the card … only to discover the tab was completely missing. Shit.

I was on the verge of being late for the show. I run around the apartment desperately looking for some Scotch tape, but couldn’t find any. I found something a little thicker and figured “ah what the hell,” may as well try it. First mistake.

The card slid into the camera with a little bit of resistance, but not a huge problem. Unfortunately the screen showed it was still write-protected though. The card was stuck though and I couldn’t get it out. Second mistake: I pried the card out with a screwdriver. Gently and from the edge … it came out with two much trouble. Unfortunately it took the ejection mechanism with it. F— f— f–.

In some stupid bout of even huger idiocy, I tried putting the card back into the damaged mechanism, but really, it was already completely screwed at that point.

I took it to Henry’s today for repair, but discovered Olympus of Canada has recently shut down. For repair, the camera would have to be sent to New York. It would cost roughly $350 and take 8-10 weeks.

Frack. I started thinking, “well, I could go back to shooting film…,” but $350 is a lot for a repair, and there’s no guarantee what the final cost would be or how long it might take. I said I’d have to think about it.

In the same store I discovered they have a used version of the same model for $350 … a no-brainer compared to having mine repaired at least: same, concrete, cost and instant-gratification.

I had to consider though, a more modern, but a “lite” version of my camera is the E-PL2, and is $600 brand-new. It probably makes more sense to spend the money on that instead of buying a used camera which I have no idea how it has been treated. As well, I can sell my old small flash as the new one includes one.

The new camera would have some pretty significant advantages in having a much higher-resolution LCD, an included flash, smaller & lighter, and a better stock lens. On the other hand, it’s a cheaper build quality and has one less control dial which is annoying. Still, the advantages probably outweigh the negatives.

Just annoying to have to rebuy something. I was hoping to buy a cyclocross bike soon.

Heck, I may really still decide to just shoot film in the interim. The m4/3 format cameras are starting to show their age and a more significant hardware refresh may be on its way. The newer models are still using the same sensors as the original ones from two years ago.

I guess the lesson here is that I should have just left the camera alone and gone and enjoyed the show. I should have been more relaxed and rational about it. I could have mitigated this whole thing by just dashing to BestBuy (a block away) and buying a new $20 SD card. Hindsight is 20/20 and all, but I was aware of this even at the time… just thought I could get it working even faster.



April 1, 2011

I forgot to update my food log last night. I was too busy eating this:

The pork came out decently, but the sauce made from the drippings was just incredible.

I got the recipe from here: http://www.goonswithspoons.com/Pulled_pork

Now I need to find more things to do with liquid smoke…


Bike trials.

March 29, 2011
Tags: , ,

This year I made a point of buying the tools I needed and fixing my bike up completely by myself. Allegedly to save money.

I knew that the shifting needed to be tuned, but more significantly the rear wheel was bent. My chain had already broken twice at the end of last season, so that was on the replacement list. Examining the teeth on my cogs though, they seemed. (Not a surprise, I was terrible with maintenance on this bike so the chain aged considerably faster.) Once I got started, I discovered that the rear-derailleur hanger and the derailleur itself were bent.

Determined to make up for past transgressions in maintenance, I started with a $140 stand from MEC. I’m glad I chose it over the $180 version, it’s plenty tall enough, sturdy, looks nice (in person) and quite easy to store (it becomes compact, though still fairly tall). I can’t believe I’ve gone so long without a stand, it makes all other maintenance tasks so much easier: no more cussing and frustration when the upside down bike topples over. As well, much easier access to the derailleur limit screws.

I then spent $40 at Canadian Tire on car wash detergent, sponges, brushes, rags, steel-wool, grease and touch-up paint and followed these guides and washed three years of crap out of it … in my living room. My building doesn’t really have any kind of facilities or place for doing this kind of thing. I did the wheels in Heather’s bathtub. To my credit, she was only suspicious because the tub was scrubbed cleaner than it was. I expect to be doing this in friends’ driveways once it’s nicer out.

Anyway, though I had to be careful with dripping, I was surprised at how easy it was, and how shiny and new even the cogs looked after I was done. While I had several gouges in my frame, no rust had formed thankfully. I sealed them up again with touch-up paint. I just discarded the chain.

I used this $80 stand to true the rear wheel. This was surprisingly quick and straight-forward. I’m pretty sure the reason everything was bent in the first place was because of my building’s terrible storage situation where I’m required to keep my bike in a bike-rack in a packed communal room. I’m pretty sure the derailleur and wheel got bent from my lovely neighbours shoving my bike out of the way. I figure I’ll have to fix the wheel somewhat often. I need to write the building management and try to figure out some better solution.

Other expenses at this point were $15 on a chain and $5 on a degreaser from MEC.

As I started tuning the bike following these guides, I discovered that the entire rear-derailleur system was bent. The hanger and the derailleur itself. Shifting to the lowest gear would actually insert the derailleur into my wheel. As well, the lower jockey wheel (the little gears that pick up chain slack) was seized unless I unscrewed it’s bolt a bit. After consulting some sources, I decided that I was best taking this to the shop, that I wasn’t going to buy the $50 tool for repairing the hanger myself.

It turned out to be a $4 part and $9 of labour at Curbside Cycles. I asked about the mangled looking derailleur and seized-if-I-tighten-it jockey wheel, but was told it was supposed to be like that. Righto. My bike was otherwise functioning great until my second ride to work, where the rear derailleur completely fell apart and launched the jockey wheel somewhere into traffic. Shit.

$70 (inc. tax) later for a new derailleur at Sweet Pete’s, shockingly easy to install myself. I did struggle to finally get it perfectly in tune, but it just came down to yanking the cabling through it with enough strength.

The bike now works possibly even better than when it was new.

Last weekend I also added $30 fenders from MEC. BUT THAT’S IT.



So that works out to about $430 tax-in. I’m looking at 5 months of biking almost every single day to work to break even at the end of August. Obviously I save more for any extra trips. The tools I acquired should also last forever so I’ll be ahead of the game in all future years. Even the consumables will last a long time.

2011/03/30 edit: I had a stupid accident with my helmet (not while wearing it), though really it was due for replacement anyway. Another $70. Lost a winter glove at a party and the mornings are still too cold to ride with bare hands. $50 for cool-weather biking gloves. $136 together with tax for a new grand total of $566 to recoup.


The 4-Hour Body + food log

March 28, 2011

The 4-Hour Body is a new book by Tim Ferriss, or at least it was new when I first started writing this post at the end of last year

I bought it because I liked the excerpts I read on Gizmodo. I’m extremely pleased with it and endorse it wholeheartedly, though there is some weird stuff that is probably safe to ignore. Word of warning though: it’s a massive tome. You only need to read small sections at a time (concentrate on one goal at a time), but it’s a little impractical to carry around because of how unwieldy it is in hardcover. I wish I’d bought an e-book version, but originally thought this might be something I’d want to share with people. I frankly want to keep it all to myself, hah.

Back in December, I’d barely started with the recommended diet, but switching to only eating legumes for carbs had made an immediate difference in my wakefulness and alertness. The difference was night and day. I was often still sleeping like crap, but I was vastly more productive during the days. I also lost a significant amount of weight pretty quickly.

Since though, I started falling into bad habits again. While most of my meals are still of the protein+legumes+vegetables variety, I’d started eating junk food again as well.

So it’s time to get back on the wagon. Since willpower didn’t work, I’m trying one of the weirder ideas in the book: take a picture of food before you eat it, and better yet, post it somewhere to keep yourself honest. We all carry cameras around with us on our phones nowadays so it’s simple. The idea works in embarrassment and potential shame ha. Do you really want to take a picture of a hamburger? And it helps to have people keep you honest.

So that said, my food log can be found at:


I’ve set up WordPress to not post those to the main page. For some reason the photos don’t show up until you actually open each entry. I’ll figure that out.



The kind of spam a crappy neglected blog gets

February 23, 2011

Real posts coming soon I swear!