Monthly Archives: November 2006

Broadband for prosperity

Hot on the heels of a report that fast broadband was driving population and economic growth in Victorian regional cities (and conversely, those without good IT infrastructure are missing out), the government of New South Wales has announced plans to run free wifi in the Sydney CBD, North Sydney, Liverpool, Parramatta, Wollongong, Newcastle and Gosford.

So, obviously the NSW govt has finally figured out that they can boost IT activity and investment by providing such services. One would hope other city, regional and state governments aren’t far behind. Viva the Information Age!

(Oh, boy am I out of date. Apparently the Information Age finished in 1991, taken over by the Knowledge Economy, which lasted until 2002. Now we’ve got the Intangible Economy.)

Phone numbering schemes

Raymond Chen writes about the notoriously complicated North American telephone dialling rules.

It would appear that despite the huge population growth over the decades, leading to more than 10,000,000 phones in many major cities (less than that actually, given phone exchange limitations and so on), nobody’s had the guts to change the (xxx) xxx-xxxx phone numbering system that’s been in action over there for the past 50 years. And apart from the issues with cities blowing the limit and getting multiple area codes, they’ve also got problems with cell-phones being tied to regions, rather than being truly nationally mobile.

In Australia we went through short-term pain for long-term gain, migrating from a phone numbering system that was mostly (xx) xxx-xxxx in the big cities (and a lot of variations in rural areas and for mobiles) to being uniformly (xx) xxxx-xxxx, which should allow for plenty of growth over several decades. Perhaps longer if fax machines and dialup modems (and separate lines for them) and even fixed-lines continue to die-off. It’s meant that dialling is pretty consistent.

On the other hand, it has to be pointed out that the North American numbering plan covers some 24 countries and territories, so I appreciate revamping it would be a helluva job.

Quiet PCs

This is an excellent guide to upgrading PCs — apart from being quite cynical about why you’d want to do some types of upgrades when there might be cheaper/easier solutions, it has nice pictures of each type of upgrade, which is great for people like me who normally dabble in software but aren’t so crash-hot with hardware.

I’m pondering a silent (or near-silent) power supply, because my PCs are in the living area of the house, and the constant whine of the fan can be a distraction when trying to watch telly or read a book nearby.

Not to mention it would be better for when things are left on at night, for those torr…err… long download and processing jobs.

Probably time to lash out on a new hard drive, too, since the main one (110Gb) has just about filled-up.

Multimedia alternatives

Video hosting

Buzzmachine has a quick look at various online video hosters, and while he doesn’t come to any definite conclusion, does say blip.tv is one of the best for picture quality.

What I notice is that Motionbox won’t work without Adobe Flash Player 9, which effectively rules it out if you want corporate types to look at your stuff.

And Brightcove was not only complicated for Jeff to use, but gives me dire warnings about lack of bandwidth.

Personally I’ve used Google Video and YouTube. Both seem okay, but I’m looking for ease of use, not necessarily best quality.

iPods

Jeff Atwood tells us why he’s not buying an iPod.

It should be obvious why iPod doesn’t support WMA… because then you wouldn’t have to buy your online music from the iTunes Music Store.

WA gets summer time

I bet IT people serving Western Australia are groaning… they’ll be trialling summer time in that state from December 3rd until March, and for the next three years. Way to go to give people plenty of notice, fellas!

The next question is, will the vendors get patches out pronto, or just leave users/support people to figure out a solution for themselves?

Fastest browser in the west

I’ve been pondering if I should downgrade the web browser on my slower machine. This two-year old page rates the various browsers on an old 800 Mhz XP SP2 machine, and from their results, it looks to me like Opera 9 is the fastest of the current browsers out there.

So overall, Opera seems to be the fastest browser for Windows. Firefox is not faster than Internet Explorer, except for scripting, but for standards support, security and features, it is a better choice. However, it is still not as fast as Opera, and Opera also offers a high level of standards support, security and features.

Opera is of course now free for desktops, and includes tabbed browsing. And IE7 and Firefox have indirectly helped it, by forcing developers (well, most of them) to consider how their sites work and look in browsers other than IE6, so maybe I’ll give it a go.

More Vista ponderings

The Windows Vista Team blog has explained how the Windows Experience Index works, by evaluating your processor, memory, graphics, game graphics and hard disk, and giving each a ranking.

All well and good.

But this only happens when you install Windows Vista.

While I don’t plan to do it anytime soon, I wouldn’t mind knowing how my current PCs would perform with Windows Vista. I was hoping the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor would provide this kind of information, but it doesn’t — it’s much more vague.

I know my old boxes do meet (and exceed) the minimum standard, but we all know that’s never a true indication of whether it’s going to be pleasant/productive to use.

By the way, would you believe Microsoft’s new Zune player is not Vista compatible? Nor does it play anything using Windows Media DRM. And Engadget says the Zune installation sucks (yes, it really does demand a Windows Live ID and your name, address and phone number before letting you use it). What a balls-up.

How to buy a 65” Plasma for $.99

e-commerce sites utilizing hidden fields are susceptible to manipulation, such as selling a 65” Plasma for $.99. The way it works is the hidden field containing the price gets its value changed from many thousands of dollars to less than one, and the form is submitted to the server. The server blindly trusts the web client, and instead of actually using its own database-stored pricing (which is where the price no doubt came from originally) uses the price supplied by the client.

Hilarity ensues.

The author wants to call this process eShoplifting. I call it redistributing wealth (from the stupid to the clever).

Classic videogame ringtones

I’ve switched my ringtone. I wanted something distinctive but not crass and loud. I ended up deciding on the intro theme from Galaga. The text alert tone is the sound from Galaga when you put a coin in.

And it turns out it’s quite easy to do — provided your phone is newer than Josh’s and supports music files (eg MP3, WAV or AAC)… which most from the last couple of years do.

If you run Mame32, it’s got an option to record the sound as you play the game (on the File menu). This saves to a WAV file. Load it up into Sound Recorder and snip away (using Edit / Delete before or after current position). Some other MAME variants may have this feature too.

Some phones will support WAV, but if not (or you want to minimise the file size), convert to MP3 or your preferred format using Bladeenc or any other encoder. Transfer it onto the phone using a cable or IR link, then customise the ringtone and alert sound (on my Nokia it’s via Profile / General / Personalise). Easy!

If you know me in person, please find something else to use, so I know it’s mine going off when I hear it :-)

Some other classic video game sounds that spring to mind as suitable are the Pacman theme (and dying sound for alerts) and Donkey Kong’s “How high can you jump?” theme (with the jumping barrel sound for the alert).

Office XML compatibility

Office 2007 has also been completed, and the compatibility pack is now available to allow earlier versions (back to 2000) to read the new file formats.

Though as Office Watch points out, while the Word one works well in both directions, it appears that the Excel and Powerpoint don’t have full conversion, just viewers.

What a copout. If they can do it for Word, they can do it for the others. Mind you given the plethora of information about the new formats I wouldn’t be surprised if a third party writes a proper conversion tool to fill the gap.