Monthly Archives: April 2007

Kodak’s back

I know this one has done the rounds, but it’s pretty damn funny, as well as evidently giving a glimpse of what Kodak have been up to…

He alludes to Kodak’s chequered history with digital cameras… it turns out Kodak invented them in 1975, but didn’t start selling them until 2001.

Beware of the trolls

Why do people reply to trolls on Usenet? You diligently set up your killfiles to filter-out the morons, but some (apparently otherwise sensible) people keep replying to them, and so their caustic stupid waste-of-time posts appear back in the threads.

Maybe I need to try a decent newsreader, like one that doesn’t just hide posts from the nominated morons, but also hides posts in reply to them. Something better than Outlook Express. (But am I likely to be motivated enough to find and install something, for occasional use?)

I’ve also dabbled with Google Groups. Love the search, but the functionality is a bit lacking. Why is it that Google Groups includes no killfile/filter at all? And then there’s the insanity of it posting your Real Live Undisguised Email address in every post when there’s so many spambots about. Lucky I use a GMail address for that; if Google made the problem, they can deal with filtering the spam that results.

Youtube duped

A teenager from Western Australia claimed to YouTube that a whole bunch of Australian Broadcasting Corporation clips from their show “The Chaser’s War On Everything” were in breach of copyright, and had to be taken down. YouTube duly did so, but then discovered that the kid wasn’t representing the ABC at all — it was a hoax. Indeed, the ABC then told YouTube to put the content back up; that they wanted to get it “out there” as much as they could.

An investigation showed the form sent into YouTube, which was filled-in by hand, and claimed to be acting on behalf of the “Australian Broddcasting Corperation“, with a Hotmail address given as a contact point. John Beohm writes that YouTube then apologised to the individual posters whose videos had been pulled.

In these days of the DMCA, it certainly makes a nice change for the copyright-holder to recognise that the more people see their content, the better, and I suppose it’s not surprising that YouTube is skittish, but a little basic checking of the facts wouldn’t go astray.

Sony’s latest screw-up

Wow. I mean, wow. Will Sony never learn? We all remember the rootkit CD fiasco, right?

They’ve released a bunch of movies recently with a new form of copy-protection which makes the discs unplayable on some DVD players — including some of Sony’s own models.

Some details here: SonyStrikesAgain.wordpress.com — where one comment notes that although the North American/region 1 Casino Royale has this problem, evidently it doesn’t afflict Australia/region 4, so it may not be a worldwide thing, just as Sony’s rootkits didn’t get onto their AU releases.

Evidently it’s a revision of the ARccos DRM system that Sony developed, then appeared to abandon last year, and is a variation on the age-old method of intentionally putting corrupt sectors on a disc.

This, ladies and gentlemen, requires a very special brand of stupidity. One can only conclude that they really do have complete contempt for customers.

But hey, nobody would be having this problem if we’d all boycotted Sony products like we said we would.

Me, I’m not gonna buy a PS3! (OK, so I wasn’t going to anyway…)

Twitter hype

Wait a minute, wait a minute… maybe I’m missing something… all this hype about Twitter, letting people know what you’re doing right now… Scoble posted how people on Twitter reported the Mexico quake first…

It’s just IRC with archives, a web frontend and a mobile phone interface, isn’t it?

Seriously, those of us on IRC during the first Gulf War back in 1990-91 would watch the Israelis posting about Scud Missiles raining down on their cities.

Real-time citizen reporting is not a great leap forwards. It’s been around for decades.

So what’s so different about Twitter? Or is it just another case of a new, shiny, evolving (but not revolutionary) thing getting all the hype?

The Project

I started The Project primarily so I could learn PHP. I’ve been using ASP (classic and .Net) for a while now, but wanted to try another web development language, preferably one that would be compatible with my dirt cheap web hosting. The way I envisaged it, it would be straight HTML/CSS, no fancy AJAX, using PHP and database lookups.

For development, I set up a Virtual PC with Win2K on it (quickest, best, easiest basic Windows version I had an unused licence for) and put IIS and PHP and MySQL on it. All reasonably easy. For database admin I put on PhpMyAdmin; it’s what runs on my web ISP, and is reasonably easy to use. For the IDE I looked around at Zend and some of the other paid tools, but decided to try DevPHP, a freeware thing, until I figured out if this project was going to fly.

It was all going well until I wanted to do some mod_rewrite fiddling with .htaccess. There are a few things around the place that purport to make mod_rewrite (or an approximation of it) work in IIS, but nothing seemed to do it well. In a fit of rage I ended up removing IIS and going the whole hog and installing Apache instead. It actually runs very well on Windows, and (after re-installing PHP and doing some config fiddling) matches my web ISP much better than any version of IIS could.

After using it for a bit, I also got a bit fed-up with PhpMyAdmin, which is particularly laborious for entering data. It’ll only do two records at a time, and semi-regularly seemed to ignore the second. Then I found the MySql GUI tools, which by comparison are an absolute Godsend. Why did nobody tell me about this before? (Actually it looks like I found a bit of it some time ago, but hadn’t used it properly until now.)

The coding has been coming along nicely, and the basic functionality is ready. I’ve got a couple more enhancements I’d like to do before it goes public.

So what is The Project? Not telling. But it’s aimed at non-geeks, going to be free for users, with Google Adsense to try and pull in some income (and get it indexed quickly). Maybe it’ll pay for itself, maybe not. But even if not, it’s already been successful as a way for me to learn some PHP.

Update 2007-04-19: The Project is now live.

Tiring of Firefox?

FF IEWhile the Windows animated cursor vulnerability is getting patched, George Ou at ZDNet has highlighted a Firefox vulnerability (known to exist, but will not be made fully public until a patch is available) and noted that while IE7 under Vista runs in Protected Mode, with reduced (read-only) access to user data, Firefox doesn’t. And there’s no shortage of Firefox vulnerabilities recently.

Of course Protected Mode is Vista-only, so those of us hanging back with Windows XP won’t see the benefits. But it does leave me wondering: is the Firefox mantra of “Safer, faster, better” still true?

Safer: Well IE7 is more secure than previous versions, and even IE6 can fairly easily be secured against most ActiveX, particularly under XP SP2. Here’s a nice wrap-up of their security features. Who is quicker to patch their vulnerabilities? Mozilla or Microsoft?

Faster: Opera has previously shown to be fastest. But IE should have a natural speed advantage, by being part of the Operating System, and loaded into memory with other applications, such as applications that use HTML Help. And doesn’t it share code with Windows Explorer as well?

Firefox on old machines is particularly concerning to me (and others). As I write this, FF has one window with two tabs open, and is claiming 81Mb of memory.

What’s more noticeable is that, with no scientific basis for claiming it, IE7 seems faster to me than FF 1.5 or 2.0. Interesting.

Better: Obviously this is a general comment. When I think back, what got me over to Firefox from IE6? Tabs — now in IE7, though I still like the “feel” of the tabs in FF better (in fact I prefer FF 1.5 to 2.0, just because I’m used to it). Popup blocker — now in IE7. Security — see above. What else? Other than a wish to help IE lose market share and sock it to the Evil Empire, I can’t think of much right now.

The FF Web Developer toolbar is great, but IE has a comparable product — admittedly though there are loads of community-written FF extensions. Indeed, Jeff Atwood highlights the very powerful web developer tools available for FF, for which IE has no equivalent.

There are still web sites (particularly on Intranets) that work in IE but are partially broken in FF. And that Firefox tooltip bug is still not fixed.

So will I switch back? Maybe not, out of inertia. And not unless Google (or someone else) does a browser sync for IE — though there’s no shortage of manual ways of getting bookmarks between IE and FF.

And of course, anybody involved in web development (as I am) should check their web sites in both (and Safari and Opera, preferably).

For everyday browsing though, IE is probably back to being as good as FF, and possibly faster. And while I really like FF, I do think it’s become less compelling to install FF on new/rebuilt machines — particularly older ones.

Easy ways to save bandwidth

After reading Jeff Atwood’s terrific post about saving bandwidth on web sites I’ve moved the Geekrant RSS feeds over to Feedburner, using Steve Smith’s mavellous WordPress Feedburner plugin, which works in WP 2.0x and 1.5x.

I also turned on HTTP compression, which in WordPress is as easy as clicking a checkbox. It not only saves you bandwidth, but users get your pages served quicker, since the bottleneck is bound to be their bandwidth, not their browser’s ability to decompress.

We’ll see how it goes. Bandwidth has been growing recently: January 2.8Gb; February 2.7Gb; March 3.4Gb. It’s not at ludicrous levels, but if it keeps climbing, I’ll end up paying more for the hosting. Hopefully this will help bring it back down.

Update 8:40pm. First thing I notice is that when reading the feed from within the Feedburner site, it doesn’t treat relative paths to images properly. I guess I’ll have to put absolute paths, ‘cos at the moment in the previous post it’s trying to load http://feeds.feedburner.com/files/2007/mediagate-mg35.jpg instead of http://www.geekrant.org/files/2007/mediagate-mg35.jpg. I wonder how it treats relative links?

Mediagate MG35 media player

Many of us watch video on our computers. But I reckon most of us would prefer to be reclined on the couch watching them on our TV instead. Sure, you can burn the content onto a DVD, but it’s time-consuming, and not really worth it for once-off viewing.

There are solutions though: Apple TV is one, though it’s been criticised for its poor picture quality and of course it’s somewhat tied to the iTunes ecosystem. And as far as I can see the most popular torrent formats such as DivX/XVid aren’t supported. (For when you’re playing those… umm… public domain movie torrents…)

The killer for me though is that it needs a widescreen TV. Call me a luddite, but I don’t have one yet. I’ve got a 5-year-old 4:3 TV that is doing just fine thanks, and I’m not planning on replacing it for a few years yet.

Mediagate MG35Someone put me onto the Mediagate MG35, though admittedly I was primarily looking for a network shared drive at the time. This turns out, in a way, to be both a shared drive and a media player. Bonus. And when Zazz had it on special, I threw caution into the wind and ordered it. You can get them either without a drive (just install an IDE drive yourself) or with one already installed. I was feeling lazy and went for it with a 250Gb drive pre-installed (which beats the crap out of AppleTV’s 40Gb version…)

It’s got a white Apple-like front, which doesn’t fit in brilliantly with my livingroom setup (mostly black, which I prefer, it fades into the background while watching telly) but given it’s not large, and the sides/back are black, it looks okay. A bright blue light goes on when it’s running, but you can choose to turn this off. It’s quiet, and fairly easy to setup. You either plug it via USB directly into your computer, or use an RJ-45 and plug it into a router. It picks up an IP address, and you’re away. (Note the manual warns against both USB and Ethernet connections simultaneously).

USB it happily sees the device as a drive, and you can copy files to/from it. By Ethernet you have to install a driver (which I’m fast realising is a disadvantage with most domestic-grade network drive devices) before you can copy files. USB is faster than Ethernet, but the other advantage of the Ethernet connection is that it can play files off a computer over the network, onto your TV, by creating a Shared Drive on your computer. There’s also a Wireless version if you prefer not to have blue cables trailing around your house.

(The manual is a bit vague about it, but it turns out the share needs to be accessible to one of the following username/password combinations: Guest / (blank); Administrator / (blank); Media / gate.)

It supports numerous formats including MPEG 1,2,4 and XVid, as well as various music formats and JPEG photos. I had some trouble with a couple of MP4 file I tried (an ABC “Vodcast”); it recognised them but wouldn’t play them, so that requires further investigation (and possibly the latest firmware). You choose which file(s) by browsing the device or a shared drive using a nice little remote control, powered by a watch battery.

Connection to the TV/stereo is by S-Video, optical, component or olde fashioned RCA/Composite.

And the playback quality? Well I’m no videophile, but I reckon the quality is pretty nice; very watchable, and the sound is good. Provided the source file is good, of course.

So all in all I’m very happy with it.Thumbs up!

The downsides? Not as many supported formats as the rival DLink DSM-320. In particular no WMV or MOV support, so protected legal movie/TV downloads will remain stuck on the computer.

Priced from A$190 (without HDD). Other cheaper variants such as the MG-25 (which is USB-only) are also still available.