Monthly Archives: March 2007

Stuff and nonsense

Very interesting guide to DVD media, highlighting which brands you should entrust to your most treasured archives (but check yearly and re-burn regularly!) and which should be saved for stuff that doesn’t really matter.

Commodore launches game machines with high-end components and custom-painted cases, using that same old C= logo, preloaded with Windows Vista and a Commodore 64 emulator! Launching in April.

Haven’t tried these yet, but Killfile for Google Groups (Firefox/Greasemonkey) and Killfile for Google Groups (IE). Shame Google doesn’t implement this themselves, of course, so users don’t have to install it on each browser they read from.

Re-arranging my AV cables

I’ve almost got my MG-35 media player box thingy working. (More to come on this). One of the hurdles was finding somewhere to plug everything in.

Perhaps my TV (a Loewe Profil Plus 9472) is not the best-endowed in the world, but it only has two Scart connectors (which I can obviously use with adaptors to accept Composite/RCA) and an antenna input. It also has audio output, so I can feed back to an amp. Oh, and composite/RCA at the front for camcorders and/or messy people.

But two isn’t quite enough when you’re dealing with:

  • DVD player
  • VCR (remember them?)
  • XBox
  • Digital media player

On the audio-only side, I’ve got the CD Player and the iPod (dock). Thankfully no turntable or cassette deck. The amplifier I’m trying to feed these into doesn’t do too badly, with inputs for two VCRs, CD player, tape, turntable. (Actually it’s a Receiver, since it also has a tuner, but I usually think of it as an amp).

So, how could I get this all working without going out and buying a new switchbox or anything? Well I ended up sitting down with a piece of paper and mapping it all out. I tried to resist firing up Visio to work it all out.

Hifi cables diagram

The priority here was to get absolutely everything plugged-in so that switching between them would involve pressing buttons, not plugging/unplugging. And no cables hanging out the front of the various devices. As tidy as possible.

And miraculously I managed it. After a bunch of re-arranging and rummaging behind things, it’s all plugged in. The only thing that didn’t work was the iPod going into the Phono socket. I forgot those sockets use some different standard thingy so you get distortion. It’s going into the Tape Monitor inputs instead.

Yes it’s true that sound/video quality will obviously degrade slightly each time it gets switched through something, but at present this is not a huge priority. It all looks okay, though if I decide later that the XBox picture looks too fuzzy, I can re-route it direct into the TV (if I have the energy).

Next steps:

  • Teach the others in the house how to run everything
  • Check nothing’s overheating. The XBox sits right on top of the amp, which is not ideal — the amp probably needs some breathing space.
  • Figure out a way of consolidating the remotes (I do have a “universal” remote, but it only talks to about half of it)
  • Sort out a way of plugging everything except the VCR through a switch that can be turned off from the socket, to save power. 7 number of devices sitting on Standby most of the time isn’t efficient, and wastes energy.

I might also get some new hifi furniture. That old Ikea setup isn’t very pretty.

And next time I buy a TV? It’ll be one with plenty of inputs.

Are newspapers and MSM dead?

Interesting piece from Doc Searls: How to save newspapers.

I’m not sure I totally agree with the doom and gloom scenario for newspapers. While some of them are definitely in trouble, and the next generation of net users might very rarely pick up a newspaper, they still have a couple of things going for them.

The format of paper is more readable for most people. Maybe this will get solved eventually with electronic paper. Maybe not. The Ultra-Mobile PCs are here, but they’re ludicrously expensive for most people now — how much will electronic paper cost? A few people read newspaper electronically now while commuting, but we’ve had nearly ten years of portable devices that can do this, and it’s still not very popular. And nothing equals push technology like a paper landing on your lawn every morning.

The “River Of News” model may also rival paper’s readability; it makes the pattern of reading off-screen more like it is on paper, where people scan a page quickly and look more closely/read in full the article(s) that interest them.

Secondly, more importantly, professional media outlets are the ones that have money to pay for journalists to go out gathering stories. This is something no number of amateur unpaid bloggers can do. Well yeah the professional ones can… but then they’re turning into journos themselves, aren’t they?

Citizen journalists may be able to get the pics and details of stuff as it happens, by weight of numbers and being in the right place at the right time, but I think there’ll always be room for professionals to research, probe, and stick to things/people like limpets until a story is coaxed out. You’re not going to get unpaid bloggers hanging out at Parliament all week. Not if they want to eat.

To claim citizen journalism will completely take over from the MainStream Media (MSM) is like saying amateur productions on YouTube will completely take over from commercial movies and free-to-air/cable TV. They’ll win some share, because The People can produce some of what The Consumers, but most of us also hunger for content that can’t be produced without it being paid for (either directly through subscriptions or indirectly through advertising).

So long term, I think there’s room both for the citizen journalists and the MSM — particularly the MSM that knows how to use the web properly and can adapt to the challenge.

Douglas Karr says what’s dead is selling news. That I can agree with. Subscriptions, particularly for online content, must be getting close to their use-by date.

Greening via virtualisation

Ars Technica reports that multicore processors and virtualisation will see the (physical) server market shrink. (Not actually a reduction in the number of servers, mind you, but a slowing of growth from 61% over 3 years to 39%).

Turns out this could be good for the planet. As Treehugger says, virtualisation is a good way to green your servers by not over-providing for occasional peak processing loads. Makes sense, especially if the stats are right: that most servers only run at a load of 5-12%, but burn hundreds of dollars worth of power every month.

Office Open XML

So, hands-up who is using a version of Office pre-2007 (or OpenOffice or an alternative) and has received a new format Office Open XML document (eg docx) from anybody?

I haven’t (I primarily use Office 2003). Subsequently (like most people I’m guessing) I haven’t gone and installed the updates to be able to read/write the formats. (Or have they arrived on my machine and I haven’t even noticed?)

Novell has released an OpenOffice translator for the format, which hopefully will help the documents (when they eventually start getting used by Real People) be spread around between software suites.

Some are naturally suspicious of Microsoft, suggesting Office Open XML is just another way of fighting back against the OpenDocument formats. But I don’t think one could deny that MS Office was due for an overhaul in its formats; the older ones are a bloated (in more ways than one), proprietary mess.

CSS for table displays

After much time swearing over how to get a table-like display out of CSS, I was stumped. All I wanted was an definition with the label on the left hand side and the text on the right, wrapped into a column.

And let me tell you: given my limited knowledge of it, wrestling with CSS is not my idea of fun.

Finally after scouring Google for various terms, I did a search for “hanging indents” which led me to a good way to do it using dd dt and dl tags, and appropriate CSS for each. Eureka! (Yes, if I’d thought about it, these tags are for “definitions”, precisely what I was trying to do.)

Thank you, the good people at Max Design.

Reboot now?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been busily tapping away at the keyboard when a dialogue pops up saying “Update installed! Would you like to reboot now?”, and before I can read it and register what it’s asking, a rogue Y, space or Enter keypress happens to tell it that Yes, it is okay to reboot the machine right now…

Word styles

Word StylesHow is it that otherwise competent people still don’t know how to use style sheets in Word? How long’s Word had styles? Well over a decade.

You load up some document to do some work on it, and some idiot has created a zillion different styles, by virtue of editing the entire document manually (and therefore inconsistently) and Word happily making every little variation a separate style.

Half the headings have numbering, half don’t, the default paragraph type after a heading has a bullet, the bullets are mis-aligned, some bright spark has decided a standard text paragraph isn’t “Normal” but has its own special name, and the whole thing’s a mess.

I remember a few years ago I painstakingly set up a document with about 15 styles, to cover any eventuality expected, then wrote tons of text for it, and passed it to someone else for review. It came back with all the styles removed. All the text was just formatted independently, and had been changed around to be inconsistent. To this day I don’t know how he did that. Grrr.

And even last week a document came my way that had a ludicrous number of styles in it. Possibly 200 or more. You had to scroll through the list for ages to find what you wanted.

Oh, some people can’t use the Language features, either. I know it’s common for Aussies to accidentally set their documents to US English and then wonder why it complains about “colour”, but the other day someone sent me a document which had half its text set to French (even though it was in English).