Monthly Archives: October 2007

Outsourcing your toolshed

Making stuff is fun. But sometimes you need a 3D printer, and Bunnings are out of them – besides, they’re thousands of bucks. What to do?

There’s a place in the USA called TechShop which is a workshop fully fitted out with most imaginable tools, industrial grade. I lust after it. $30 for a day-pass, $100 for a month. Only problem is, cool ideas like this don’t seem to get financial traction. If something like this opens up in your area, make sure they’re going to hang around before you part with long-term payments.

Parallels have been drawn to the MIT FabLab, which is in a number of countries, but seems more focused on technology than materials.

Crysis Single Player Demo

The big gaming news this past weekend was the release of the Crysis demo by EA, Crysis has been the “next big thing” in PC gaming since it was first shown over a year ago. I was lucky enough to grab the single player demo, which weighed in as a hefty 1.7Gb, on Saturday afternoon. Sunday afternoon I installed the demo and spent an hour or so running through the jungle in the mission available.

I was very surprised to see after installation that Crysis is available in both 32 bit and 64 bit versions and whilst I’m sure the native 64 bit version does have benefits over the 32 bit version I don’t know what those benefits are at this time it’s just nice to have native 64 bit executable to run.

I really enjoyed playing Crysis, graphically its outstanding where BioShock was graphical champion for indoor and underwater action Crysis is going to be the outdoor champion. I only had my settings on medium but the whole environment looked fabulous.

One of the ‘cool features’ of Crysis is that the environment can be shot up and destroyed, not everything can but the trees can be shot and felled and buildings can be rammed with vehicles and fall apart as if they’re real, even bullet holes appear in walls when shot. Kudos to Crytek for the attention to detail that so many other games lack.

With the release of DirectX 10 a few months ago people have been wondering what difference it will make to gaming, BioShock did look a little better using DirectX 10 but Crysis appears almost lifelike running under DirectX 10.

Performance wise the game averaged 20 – 30 fps on medium settings for me. As my gaming system has dual 1900 series ATI graphics cards in CrossFire I would have expected better performance but I’m not even sure if CrossFire was working for Crysis and ATI haven’t released an updated driver for Crysis as of yet whereas Nvidia have in their 169.01 Beta drivers.

Overall I think Crysis is a very good game, I’m looking forward to buying the full version when it is released in a few weeks time….. which is just enough time to decide what upgrades I need in order to play the game at it’s maximum settings <evil grin>

 Edit: A pair of Nvida 8800GTX’s will be running in SLI tonight, wife not going to be happy. But dangnamit, we need more power!

Windows Vista 64-bit Drivers

November 2006 was when Windows Vista was RTM’d and I’ve been a very happy user of it since then, with one exception: 64-bit Hardware Drivers. I’m not the only one who has had issues but the responses I’ve gotten from the various companies I needed drivers from hasn’t been as positive as I’d have expected.

I took the opportunity prior to getting Windows Vista to update my hardware by replacing my processor and motherboard and filling all of the memory sockets for a total of 4Gb. My PC was ready for Windows Vista but what version would I install, I was going to install Windows Vista Ultimate but in 32 bit or 64 bit or flavours? (What is the difference between 32 bit and 64 bit? Have a read of Paul Thurrott’s excellent overview of the differences)

I decided install the 64 bit version and spent a happy couple of hours installing Windows Vista. At the end of the install process I was amazed to find all but three pieces of my hardware had been installed. I had full network access, sound and screen drivers without having to install third party drivers. When it came time to install my HP 2510 PSC Printer in Windows Vista I found that I could finally throw away the useless HP Software that I used to have to wade through just to install the network drivers for my printer.

Whilst I had a functioning system I really wanted to install the proper keyboard and mouse drivers, graphics card drivers and I really did need access to my SC101 that held my backups. So off I went in search of 64 bit drivers for all my hardware.

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Car rental web sites again

(Previous rant)

Trying to hire a car in Adelaide for a single day, a Sunday. I’d really rather not have it overnight, so I don’t have to park it somewhere. As it turns out, it looks like none of the car rental places are open beyond 4pm on Sundays, but the problem with their web sites is how they tell you this:

Budget: “Your return time is after the location’s closing time.” — So what’s the location’s closing time? Surely you’re not going to make me guess? Wait, check the Locations page. OK, found the list of nearby branches. Click on the chosen one. No opening hours shown. … (sometime later) … Wait, if I mouse over the location on the map, it tells me the opening hours! Not that there’s any prompt to the user to say that’s how it works.

Hertz: “Return Date or Time – This location is closed at the time indicated. Please adjust your return or select an alternate location. [DE357]” — But at least there on the screen it’s showing me what the times are.

Thrifty: “Your rental details could not be processed because the return time is outside the opening hours for the return location. The return time has been changed to be the location closing time.” — Better, but why didn’t you tell me the opening hours when I was checking what your locations are?

Europcar: “Your Return Time could not be accepted because the operating hours for our Adelaide City Branch on 10/28/2007 7:00:00 PM are between the hours of 09:00 and 16:00.” Bravo!

Avis: tells as I click through where the branch is and what its hours are, but ignores it for another screen or two. But when it does notice, it eventually tells me everything I need to know in one message: “The Return Location selected is closed at the time requested. The Return Location operates from Sun 08:00AM-02:00PM; Mon-Fri 07:30AM-06:00PM; Sat 08:00AM-02:00PM. The Return Location Service may be available after hours. Please call this number (61) 08-84105727 to contact this location for further details.” — Bravo Avis, you win.

Of course, the aggregator sites like VroomVroomVroom don’t do too well out of this either. Oh well. SimilarlyDriveNow.

I ended up booking with Avis (closest to the hotel) via DriveNow (the best mix of good prices and nice web interface). And when I discovered (after placing the booking) that I’d entered the wrong dates, I went to and changed them. Neato.

Thunderbird with Gmail IMAP

Works as advertised. A little slower than my local ISP IMAP/SMTP servers, but not too bad, and because Thunderbird will happily wait for a server while you do other stuff, it's not painful at all.

Gmail's tags don't quite translate into IMAP folders, but it's probably close enough.

Conversations display as separate email messages in Thunderbird. You can use View / Threads to make it similar. Filing stuff in Thunderbird only does one message though, whereas in Gmail that'll do the whole conversation.

Deleting from Thunderbird moves it to a folder (eg gives it a Label) called [Imap]/Trash — which is how it appears over in GMail. Ideally it would move it to [Gmail]/Trash which seems to match the “real” Gmail Trash, but TB doesn't have that option.

Sent messages by default go into the TB folder Sent, but this can be changed to match Gmail's [Gmail]/Sent Mail in TB: Gmail account properties; Copies & Folders; When sending messages; Place a copy in: Other / Sent Mail on Gmail.

Moving messages to [Gmail]/All Mail appears to be the equivalent of pressing the Archive button in Gmail.

There's a bunch more help on comparing Gmail and IMAP actions.

All in all, works well.

(Reminder: Gmail IMAP is rolling out this week. If your Gmail preferences say “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” then you've got it. At present you'll need to switch to US English for it to be given to you.)


Thunderbird for IMAP

Thunderbird date columnWith GMail now offering IMAP (but it’ll take about a week, and you have to switch your Gmail account to US English) I can read all my email boxes from the comfort of the desktop when I’m at home, as long as I have a good IMAP client.

So I’ve tried Thunderbird. I’m quite impressed so far with it; it’s as smooth-as-silk on the IMAP account that Outlook 2007 seems to have so much trouble with. And overall it’s much more responsive (Outlook seems to periodically go out to lunch).

More critical will be the long-term storage of my mail. I’ve got a lot of old stuff in Outlook, and would need to ensure I could migrate it across and make it easily searchable (as easy as via Windows Desktop search) to get rid of Outlook entirely.

One thing about Thunderbird bugs me though: the sort by date column uses icons that seem to be backwards. What’s with that?

And why does the icon look like an envelope wearing a toupee?

Thunderbird icon

The logo doesn’t make it secure

See the protocol on the front? On the page, net to the big verisign logo:

We guarantee that every transaction you make on our website will be safe. Our secure server software (SSL) is the best software available today for secure commerce transactions. It encrypts all of your personal information, including credit card number, name, and address, so that it cannot be read as the information travels over the Internet. When an order is received, SSL is again used to unscramble the message, check that it came from the correct sender, and verify that it has

Has what? It’s a mystery.

What is it with these half-baked web pages?

Video capture woes

I’ve got Pinnacle Studio 10. It was definitely worth the money; great for video editing, and heaps better than Windows Movie Maker. It may not be up to the standard of Adobe Premiere, but it’s much cheaper.

But the Pinnacle video capture devices (one bought before Studio 10, the other was a freebie that came with Studio 10) that I have seem to be somewhat troublesome. That is, it’s not the hardware, but the software… it burns up CPU like there’s no tomorrow. For most of the time I just want a simple viewer/capture application, but the stuff they pack with the hardware is all-singing, all-dancing, all-consuming.

MediaCenter 3.4 came with the PCTV 310i. It installs big heapem SQL Server Desktop and takes up heaps of disk space.

MediaCenter 4.11 came with the PCTV 60e, and is a little better space-wise, but manages to burn up lots of CPU, dropping frames left, right and centre.

TV Center Pro 4.9 is a free download to 310i owners (and some others) and is promoted by Pinnacle as needing less resources… though from what I can see, it’s also burning up CPU and dropping frames.

(What really caught me is that it wouldn’t recognise the 310i unless I installed the drivers with one of the MediaCenter disks. Just installing the drivers off the Pinnacle web site didn’t work, no matter how many times I tried it.)

All in all, it makes for an irritating experience.

Oh, of course once the drivers are working, you can also capture with Windows Movie Maker, which is a bit easier. But its default “best” capture spec is only 320 x 240 at 25 fps. Not very impressive. Try and change that, and it gives you a lot of alternatives… but they’re all at 30 fps! NEWSFLASH! PAL is 25 fps! And of course it only outputs as WMV, whereas ideally I’d like to store stuff in MPEG2, in a format I can burn straight to DVD without further encoding, and is somewhat more futureproof.

Maybe I should try Windows Media Encoder or Windows Media Capture. I know from the last time I tried WMC (years ago), it didn’t grab resources like some others. The old version only wrote out in some uncompressed AVI format, but it was easy enough to use something else (such as Pinnacle Studio) to crop and encode to MPEG.

They never learn

Webform, major financial group. I entered my phone number, only to be presented with an error message:

Contact Number is invalid. Contact Number can contain only numeric digits. There is no need to include a country code.

My crime? Putting in spaces. Heaven forbid that the computer strip them out again.


I’m not very good at keeping a lot of information in my head at the one time. I have found that I need to record appointments and tasks to make sure I remember them.

So I used to record information in a paper diary. I never had much to record, so I used an A5, week to a page view diary that included a contact section for people’s phone numbers and addresses. However, the problem was that repeating appointments and people’s contact information that carry on from year to year had to be rewritten into a new diary each year.

So I bought a Palm Vx. This worked quite well because it would sync with my computer and display all the information I needed.

Then along came smart phones. I thought this was fantastic because I wouldn’t need to carry a mobile phone as well. Plus I only need to keep phone numbers in one place. Perfect! Right? Rather than having a Phone, diary, music player and GPS unit, you only need one device.

I’ve now owned three devices (O2 Xda II Mini, i-mate JasJar and Dopod 383Pro). They’re all great devices except that they are no good as phones! With my current device, I’d say 50% of the time when I hit the “Answer call” button the call is not actually answered, it just goes off to messagebank. A friend who had a Palm Treo used to answer a call and have to wait for 2.5 seconds until the caller could hear him. The JasJar would take so long to draw the screen when you opened it that you’d invariably miss the call.

All of the devices I’ve had will play music, but the interfaces are frustrating and the sound just isn’t good enough.

It’s so frustrating. I’ve bought a stand along MP3 player (a creative Zen that I’m very happy with). I’m nearly at the point where I’m going to give up and just get a standard mobile phone. Can I diverge any more??

The idea of convergence is just fantastic. However, the reality is dragging a long way behind.

iPhone Aussie review

This is one place I didn’t expect to see a review of an exported, cracked iPhone: Telstra’s Now We Are Talking blog.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has pulled one apart and gives it the thumbs down. The bottom of the article notes what Apple’s competitors are doing in this area, with Nokia in top position.

Wild west vs Totalitarian regime

What was I saying the other day about being wary of SecondLife?

Cam and The Podcast Network got scammed over SL “real” estate.

But if SL is the Wild West, is Facebook a totalitarian regime? Evidently FB has a team of BOFHs who will apparently suspend your account for any number of reasons.