tag: Tech

Aug 2007

Windows Vista

So Windows Vista, eh? What’s that all about?

My computer died a few weeks ago and between being skint and being busy so as to be a bit less skint, I’ve only recently gotten round to buying and setting up a new one. For the past ten years or thereabouts, I’ve tended to buy my computer in kit form. And my PC evolved steadily rather than ever getting replaced wholesale. So I’d buy a new motherboard and processor when the old ones died or could no longer handle the increasing demands of modern software (Adobe, I’m looking at you here). Over the years I’ve seen hard-drives go from being measured in MB to being measured in the hundreds of GBs. CPUs have struggled from 286 to 386 to 486 and then — the big leap — to pentium and beyond. My new one is a Core 2 Quad. It’s approximately 68.4 gazillion times faster than the fastest chip available just fifteen seconds ago. In about 3 and a half minutes it’ll be superseded. It will be largely obsolete by the end of the week.

I’m enjoying being cutting edge while it lasts.

Anyways, I decided this time to go with a pre-built system. I can no longer be arsed with the faffing about when the bloody thing breaks down. I’ve got a three year warranty, so if something goes wrong, I just have to phone them and they’ll have it collected and repaired at no cost or hassle to me.

It arrived with Windows Vista preinstalled and I figured I’d give it a whirl, secure in the knowledge that I can always reinstall my old copy of XP. And the verdict after a couple of weeks use…? It’s a bit shit actually.

Don’t get me wrong. It has many many redeeming features and some bits and pieces that make it worth sticking with. In fact I shan’t be returning to XP. I’ve gotten used to the enhanced file system with its breadcrumb navigation and ubiquitous search, both of which I’d seriously miss if I went back to XP. The new Taskbar and Start Menu really work well, and the User Access Control isn’t nearly as annoying as I’d been led to believe. I’ve not even bothered turning it off (which is perfectly possible) as it isn’t all that intrusive once you’ve done your initial set-up and software install. The Last.fm plugin for Media Player requires authentication each and every time I start up the program. But I can live with that.

The ‘aero’ display is pretty, and the live thumbnails of minimised windows in the taskbar is a useful feature. The sidebar is lovely but has a serious lack of plugins and widgets. You’d think Microsoft would have concentrated on having a wide selection of excellent little applications to plug into the sidebar. Instead there’s absolutely sod-all. Even the ability to “minimise” Media Player onto the Sidebar doesn’t exist. I’m using it as a repository for RSS feeds, but in truth I’m turning it off more and more often because I already have netvibes.com for that. An opportunity wasted.

The Windows Update process (with which I’ve had difficulties in the past) is streamlined and far less intrusive. In fact Vista does a pretty good job of tucking most of the actual workings of the Operating System further out of sight than ever before. As a bit of a tinkerer, and someone who knows their way around Windows better than most, I can find this a bit patronising or frustrating at times. But there’s no question that it’s a good thing in general. And all the options and controls are still there, you just have to dig a bit farther than before.

All of which makes a nice selection of interface enhancements and a worthy overhaul of the file system (it’s not the all new WinFS of legend, but as far as the actual user experience goes, it may as well be). But at what cost?

Well, aside from the financial one (it’ll always be a lot cheaper with a new PC; hence my decision to avail of that discount and get it now) the big cost is stability. Vista has been out for quite a while now, but there are still issues with some of the drivers. Despite having the latest Creative Soundcard, the latest version of Windows and the latest Creative drivers, it still seems to be a flip of a coin as to whether I’ll have sound on any given start-up. Or else I’ll have sound, but the Windows Sound Console will tell me that I have 5.1 Speakers (true) while the Creative Sound Console will insist I have 2.1 stereo speakers. And any changes to the settings can result in the system crashing, or more often, two of my five speakers stop working altogether.

Vista also seems to crash occasionally when it goes into power-save mode (if I wander away for my PC for more than 10 minutes), which is a right pain in the arse. XP never did that.

Worst of all though, are the plain old “random crashes”. They’d almost become a thing of the past with XP SP2. In fact, I remember very few random crashes once I’d upgraded from Windows 98 to Windows 2000. But here they are again with Vista. I might have Photoshop or Dreamweaver open and I’ll fire up a browser. 49 times out of 50… no problem. But every now and then the PC will throw a complete fit and lock up on me. In just two weeks of Vista use I’ve probably lost an hour’s work due to the OS dying while I had files open. That’s a waaaay higher rate than with XP.

Overall though, Vista has sucked me in. The file system alone is worth the cost of entry. And XP would seem very limiting in that sense were I to return to it. Aside from that though…? It’s all a bit underwhelming. A bit, “is that it?” So if you’re thinking about upgrading, can I suggest you hold off until Microsoft release a Service Pack? You’ll like the enhancements, but it’s probably worth waiting until the OS is more stable before you get them.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jun 2007

Windows Genuine Advantage Killed My PC

Unless you actually know a bit about, and are interested in, the inner-workings of a Windows PC then this post will be dull and obscure at best. If, on the other hand, you’ve ever assembled a PC from bare components or have perhaps manually tweaked your registry and had a vague idea of what you were doing at the time, then this post may interest you and will — at the very least — offer the opportunity of a prize.

With regards to getting back to some kind of semi-regular blogging… hopefully that’ll happen soon. I’ve been away, and then I was busy, and even when I’ve been neither; I’ve really not felt like I’ve had much to say. I can’t guarantee any of that will change much, but here’s hoping.

A Prize!

I know. How exciting, eh? A prize! Here’s the run-down; I’ve got an unfathomable Windows problem that’s proved immune to three days of diagnostics and reinstalls. If you can offer a solution that actually works then you shall win either (a) A CD of your choice off amazon [within reason — Tg24, though a groovy choice, would probably be a bit of a cheeky request, even if you do save me the hassle and expense of having to buy a new computer]; OR (b) A double-CD of the finest music ever recorded as compiled by yours truly [a far superior prize I think you’ll agree].

All well and good. But what of the problem? Well, it’s a weird one and no mistake. A long story with more than one red-herring-shaped dead-end…

The problem

It all started a few days ago when I received an email from A. She’s the only person I know who actually uses PGP on a regular basis and as always her email had that familiar chunk of seemingly-random text that is her PGP signature. I don’t use PGP, but I did have it installed and I do have a PGP key (which is now atrociously out-of-date, filled with old email addresses I suspect). I’m a big fan of the idea of routine email encryption, but it’s such a faff and nobody else does it, so I tend not to bother with it.

Nonetheless, it was late and I had some free time, so I downloaded the latest version of the PGP client purely out of curiousity. See what new bells and whistles they’d added. I ran the installer and that’s when the problems began. However, I caution any seeker of the prize that the whole PGP thing is almost certainly a red-herring. It just happened to be what I was doing when the actual fault occurred. See, although I can’t recall for sure, it’s very possible that Windows XP did a scheduled update just prior to all this.

Anyways, Windows just hung during the install for PGP. I could move the mouse cursor around the screen, but clicking things elicited no response. And the keyboard was also unresponsive. Even Ctrl-Alt-Del didn’t work. After waiting a very long time, I hit the reset button on the PC and it rebooted. I decided against trying to reinstall PGP and instead fired up a browser to check something online. I clicked through a couple of pages and suddenly the PC hung again. Exactly the same as before. No response from anything I did, though I could still move the cursor.

And this continued to happen. No matter what I did, after every boot the PC just hung after about 30 seconds. I was furious with PGP (almost certainly unjustifiably). Thankfully I could boot into Safe Mode, so I quickly backed-up all my data (I’ve not lost anything but time to this problem… yet) and spent a while using a different computer to google for solutions to this hypothetical “PGP install bug”. Nothing I did seemed to work and I eventually settled on a Windows reinstall as the least frustrating option.

I’d just backed up everything, so I fired up my Windows XP Original CD (all hologrammed and everything), repartitioned and reformatted my hard-drive and reinstalled Windows. At this point, a quick rundown of my PC:

CPU: AMD 64 3500+
MOBO: Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-9 (Chipset: nVidia NFORCE4 Ultra)
RAM: 2 x 1024MB PC3200
GRAPHICS: NVidia GeForce 6800
SOUND: Creative Soundblaster Audigy Platinum
PLUS: 250GB WD hard-drive, NEC CD/DVD burner, Dell 20” widescreen monitor

So yeah, I installed Windows XP Professional on the PC. I then installed a bunch of other stuff (avoiding PGP obviously) but very quickly the same problem occurred, and once again I could only use my PC for 30 or 40 seconds before it became unresponsive. Hell, that’s not even long enough to start up some Adobe software.

This confused me. It meant that clearly PGP had sod all to do with the problem (unless it can cast a malign influence from beyond a reformat). So I resinstalled Windows. Again. And this time in the full knowledge that it would only last a few minutes as I had no idea what stage in the process the problem arose. And this is what happened (note: Between each install I played a hand of Spider Solitaire to check that the system wasn’t hanging)…

– Windows XP Professional (from original CD).
– Service Pack 2 (from backup DVD — used it plenty of times before, no reason to suspect it’s a problem).
– Motherboard Drivers (from OEM CD — been fine for years).
– Graphics Drivers (from backup DVD — recently downloaded from nVidia, fine for at least a month)
– Soundcard Drivers (from backup DVD — downloaded from Creative, fine for several months)

Then I activated Windows online which went without a hitch.

No problems so far. I could play Spider Solitaire, fire up Internet Explorer and read the news, and play the sample music in the preinstalled version of Media Player. All hunky-dory. Then however, I found the step that caused the problem…

I connected to Windows Update.

And it broke my computer. First a couple of ActiveX controls got installed, then Microsoft Installer 3.1, an Update for XP (KB898461) and the Windows Genuine Advantage Tool. They downloaded, installed, forced a reboot and suddenly my PC was hanging every 30 seconds once more.

One thing that occurs to me is that the Windows Genuine Advantage Tool might be misidentifying my copy of Windows as being dodgy (despite it being 100% legit). But surely it’d pop up a message letting me know and not just hang the computer within a minute of reboot. Also, I can boot into Safe Mode and it doesn’t hang. Surely if Windows was supposed to be crashing due to some anti-piracy measure gone wrong, then it wouldn’t let me boot into Safe Mode either, right?

So this time I’ve reinstalled Windows, plus SP2 and the various drivers, but have switched off Automatic Updates and am avoiding the Windows Update site / app. I’ve reinstalled Firefox and Thunderbird (plus a bunch of add-ins) and have also installed MS Office 2003 (though obviously haven’t run the updater on that either as it’s all tied into the same Microsoft Update system). All without a hitch.

However, I then downloaded and tried to install Windows Media Player 11. Because I did this using Firefox, it couldn’t force me through the usual Windows Genuine Advantage ActiveX process. Instead it runs through a separate Windows Genuine Advantage process at the beginning of the installation process. When it was doing this though, Windows again hung and became unresponsive. Thankfully this didn’t result in a crash after each reboot, but I’m obviously staying well clear of any attempt by Microsoft to “verify” my copy of Windows. It is a Genuine copy. I paid through the nose for it soon after it was released but it seems like every time I connect to an MS website they try to torpedo my PC.

All of which presents problems… I suspect that not regularly updating Windows and Office with security patches is a recipe for disaster. I’m really not sure what to do about that (and no, I can’t switch to Linux… too much of the software I use is Windows only). Plus I’ve always been a fan of Windows Media Player… an app often overshadowed by its rivals. Now I’ll have to find something else to do the job as any attempt to update or patch Media Player could bugger up my system. Same goes for Outlook.

I don’t know for certain that shoddy Microsoft code (maybe a recent update to the Windows Genuine Advantage Tool clashes with the drivers for the Creative Audigy Platinum or something?) is at the root of this problem. But it’s certainly the most likely culprit. As for how to claim the prize… just let me know what’s going on and how I can sort it out (start patching Windows again and not worry about my PC becoming unusable as a result and requiring a complete rebuild).

Any ideas? Or perhaps just a similar tale of woe?

17 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements

May 2007

Our shiny hydrogen future (rewrite)

Just a quickie as I have to catch a bus in half an hour…

That’s how I started this blog post earlier today. And I then proceeded to demonstrate exactly why you shouldn’t write and publish anything that requires fact-checking or basic arithmetic in less than half an hour. First up, it turns out that the “news” item I was critiquing was almost three years old. Way to be cutting-edge, jim.

Not content with staleness, though, I then added a healthy dollop of inaccuracy (dividing by a thousand — instead of a million — to convert square metres to square kilometres). It’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t have got published if I’d used my usual two-drafts process instead of dashing it off in twenty minutes.

Given that the maths error pretty much invalidates the second half of the blog post, it’s not something I can just amend. That said, the first half is still relevant. So I’ll leave that here as a reminder that we shouldn’t take the news at face value when they make technical-sounding statements like: “For an energy source to be commercially viable, it must reach an efficiency of 10%, which is an industry standard.” I’m going to take out the second half of the post though as it’s a bunch of arse based on a flawed calculation.

But I hope this all serves as a reminder that we shouldn’t take blogs at face value either. Thanks to Doormat for pointing out the error.

The BBC currently has an article heralding the news that Sun and hydrogen ‘to fuel future’. It suggests that a new nanotech breakthrough has made converting solar energy into hydrogen a practical method of fuelling our cars. On the surface it sounds quite interesting, but unfortunately there are serious problems with the article. It opens by telling us that:

Hydrogen Solar says it has managed to convert more than 8% of sunlight directly into hydrogen with fuel cell technology it has specially developed.

For an energy source to be commercially viable, it must reach an efficiency of 10%, which is an industry standard.

That all sounds very interesting, but it doesn’t actually make any sense. For an energy source to be commercially viable, it must reach an efficiency of 10%, which is an industry standard. Er, 10% of what exactly? I just don’t get it. The reality is that for an energy source to be viable (in practical terms, forget commercialism for a moment), it must produce more energy than is used to extract, refine and distribute it. This is measured as a ratio (sometimes known as Net Energy Ratio, NER, or more precisely as Energy Returned on Energy Invested, ERoEI) not as a percentage. So crude oil, for instance, has an NER of between 30:1 and 90:1 (depending on the well). If you were to convert this to a percentage, it would equate to a return of between 3000% and 9000%. Is that what the 10% in this article refers to? An NER of 0.1:1?

Probably not, but lest you get blinded by the intro figures claiming some sort of magical commercial threshold of 10%, please be aware that those claims make no sense as they are currently written.

[The rest has been DELETED. See above.]

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Feb 2007

New look! Same old crappy content

I figured I’d herald my return from the darkness with a bright new template. All white and simplified. It’s modelled on certain parts of the US deep south. I’ve tested the template in the latest versions of the main PC Browsers. Now, I don’t care what browser you use. I’m fairly agnostic about the whole thing these days. I personally use Firefox, but both Internet Explorer and Opera are perfectly decent pieces of software that do the job. That is… assuming you’re using the latest version.

You see, while I’m fairly agnostic about which browser a person chooses, I have little time for those who insist upon using a four-year-old version. Web technology is simply changing too fast, and I can no longer be arsed expending the time and effort ensuring that my website looks good in Internet Explorer 5.5. If someone wishes to pay me lots of money for that kind of ridiculous code hacking, then all well and good, but I can think of better things to be doing with my spare time (watching paint dry for instance).

Anyway, you can find the latest version of each browser here…

If you like Firefox, then for god’s sake upgrade to version 2… it’s a painless process and makes you that little bit more friendly to website creators. If you’re a fan of Internet Explorer, then the decision to upgrade to version 7 is a no-brainer. It’s about a gazillion times more secure (according to the latest independently verified tests), has a bunch of new stuff (new, unless you’ve used Firefox or Opera) and is without a doubt the best browser Microsoft have yet to foist upon us. As for Opera… the new version dispenses with the annoying in-browser adverts / sponsorship and has lots of other neat bits and pieces that you’ll be amazed you ever lived without.

If you’re on the Mac, however, then I can’t help you. Nor do I have much sympathy for you. “Oooooh, but Jim, the website doesn’t look right on my absurdly bulbous orange screen”. “Really? Well that’s ‘cos you have a bloody stupid computer. And a crap haircut too.” Seriously though folks; if there’s any glaring problems with the template or just comments / suggestions about it, then don’t be shy.

Windows Vista?

Whaddya think? I really want to install it (and it’s just a download from Microsoft) but I’m not sure if I should.

Pros: It’s new. It’s shiny. Did I mention that it’s new?

Cons: It might well be crap. It costs money. It doesn’t really do anything I can’t make XP do if I could be arsed.

But it is new. And it’s shiny. And that’s an awful temptation when it comes to computer operating systems. It’s less of a temptation with, say, vintage wines… so it’s not a universal recommendation by any means, but new generally means better when it comes to software (and yes, we can all name the myriad exceptions to that rule, but does anyone really want to go back to Windows 3.1 or Mac OS 2?). Hmmm… well, I’m resisting the temptation so far. I’ve rationalised it thusly; why not wait until the first time Vista can do something XP can’t (which will probably be when Alan Wake is released in a couple of months time).

But of course… then it won’t be so new anymore, and it’ll probably look a bit less shiny too… who knows… perhaps I’ll download it tomorrow…

14 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements

Jul 2006

Social Media (short reprise)

YouTube has come up trumps again. I mean, fucking hell, how fast is culture evolving? (maybe we really are about to reach a McKenna-esque moment of infinite novelty). Perhaps I’m missing something here. Perhaps everyone else has been aware of this phenomenon for weeks. But it’s completely blown me away.

I rewatched a couple of rare Bowie vids on YouTube as a result of Justin‘s meme. The video for Strangers When We Meet was quite nice. The song is from the mid-90’s and it’s one of the best he’s ever recorded in my view… the lyrics containing little snapshots of an internet relationship.

But as I was watching that video, I noticed something strange in the “related videos” list… a whole bunch of X-Men related music videos, including one for Strangers When We Meet. “That’s odd”, I thought, “but maybe the song’s been re-released for the movie with one of those montage from the movie vids”.

But that’s not what’s going on. Apparently it’s one of a growing number of “fanvids”. People are cutting up footage from existing movies and editing them into new music videos for songs they like! How fricking cool is that!?

Or am I the only one who thinks so? Check this out.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Blog meme

Jul 2006

Social Media? Bollocks more like

Justin imagines me to be knowledgeable and interesting on this kind of thing. Hey, he said it, don’t look at me. It’s another fricking blog meme though, so I don’t feel quite as chuffed as I would’ve done if by “this kind of thing” he’d meant “theoretical physics” or “lovemaking” or “energy policy” or “being a bloody great guy”.

So instead of requesting a treatise on any of those subjects, he instead expects me to list my “Top Five Social Media Websites”. Kind of a curious request really as I’m one of the least “social” people you’re likely to meet (assuming I deign to meet you). That’s not to say that I’m quiet, shy or introverted in person. Far from it. I merely find the vast majority of people exhausting to be around. It’s not, as JWL said, “You wanna save humanity, but it’s people that you just can’t stand”. I don’t dislike people. I just find them difficult.

And not all people either. Just most of them.

But despite that, I am a regular user of some social media websites (is it just me, or does the phrase “Social Media” sound like a highschool class taken by kids who couldn’t hack the hard sciences?) This blog, for instance. And the U-Know! messageboard (though I’m far far less active there than I once was). So yeah, I’ll take this meme out for a spin. And in return Justin can begin fretting about which piece of pointless web-flotsam I decide to bat his way in the near future.

In no particular order (and duplicating three from Chicken Yoghurt)…

  1. WordPress. Let’s face it, there’s no finer blogging tool. I wrote my own blogging software in ColdFusion for my first online journal and it was adequate for my purposes. Then I switched to blogger for my next one, and found it seriously inadequate. Little things I could do with my own software; like listing the most recent comments by date in the sidebar or managing categorised lists of links; couldn’t be done in blogger. So for my third blog, I decided to update my own CF application. And then I discovered WordPress. As I say; there’s no finer blogging tool.
  2. YouTube. I discovered this site when someone (Gyrus I think) emailed me the link to The Indian Beatles. I spent the better part of three hours at YouTube that day. It’s a wonderful site… like the internet in general it’s filled with dross and weirdness, but with a bit of perseverance you can unearth some real gems. It was when I typed “David Bowie” into the search that I realised the true depth of YouTube. I mean, the video for Hearts Filthy Lesson? Yes!
  3. Last.fm. This is a lovely little site. You download a plugin for your media player and it uploads information about what music you’re playing, building up various charts based upon your listening habits. The site also has customisable streaming radio stations and all manner of other interesting bits and bobs for music fans. If you’ve got a lot of music ripped to your hard-drive, then you should have a Last.fm account. Incidentally, something weird happened with my old Last.fm account. HERE is my new one.
  4. U-Know! This is my online political messageboard / forum of choice. It’s part of Julian Cope’s Head Heritage website though unrelated to his music. The site has four message boards covering the various aspects of Copey’s activities… Unsung (music), The Modern Antiquarian (sacred sites and the like), The Village Pump (general chat) and U-Know! (direct action and politics). I was once a regular on several of the boards, but these days I’m more of a lurker, occasionally compelled to add an opinion or two. As with all public forums, the occasional troll or asshole shows up and there’s quite a bit of politically naive idealism but – by and large – it’s frequented by groovy folk (i.e. people I broadly agree with). Also, Merrick edits the U-Know! section and Holy McGrail is the webmaster of the whole Head Heritage site… both excellent chaps.
  5. I’ll split my last choice between four sites; none of which I use very much but all of which I respect greatly for one reason or another. There’s Wikipedia of course. Though unreliable when it comes to any vaguely controversial subject, it’s still a useful resource and the idea is fantastic. Then there’s Flickr. Great site, but I don’t take anything like enough interesting photos to make much use of it. Urban75… again, not somewhere I visit very frequently, but it has a lot going for it. And finally, the daddy of them all… Indymedia. Great great site, let down by a tendency towards intolerance of dissenting opinions by many of the contributors (I recall insisting that the invasion of Afghanistan had nothing to do with oil pipelines, and getting roundly savaged for being off-message). Still, a fine idea that works well from time to time. Indymedia Ireland is here.

I’m not going to tag anyone else with this meme. It’s pretty damn geeky and I don’t know too many geeks (Gyrus and perhaps L are the only two bloggers I read regularly that have geek / nerd credentials). But if there’s a great ‘social media’ site that I’m overlooking here, I’d be interested to hear about it in the comments. Though if anyone does want to keep the meme alive, then obviously knock yourself out.

Update (noon, 30-7-06)

Doh! What an idiot! Despite wasting half a day with it earlier in the week, I completely forgot one of the most amazing “Social Media” sites of recent years. Check out the Remix Area at Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life In The Bush of Ghosts website. One of the seminal albums in recording history, the re-release is celebrated by allowing people to download all of the multitracks for two of the pieces on it (under the Creative Commons licence no less). These can then be imported into any multitracker software (an old version of Cool Edit Pro being my multitrack software of choice, but there’s lots to choose from) and remixed. I’m talking proper remixed.

The finished article can then be reuploaded to the site where others can listen to it. There’s already a huge number of genuinely amazing remixes up there, but why not try your own?

2 comments  |  Posted in: Blog meme

Jul 2006

New mp3 player (actually, 'wma player')

A few weeks ago my trusty old mp3 player (in an era of inbuilt obsolescence, four years is considered “old” for electronic gadgetry) began making worrying clicking noises. The sort of noises that presage catastrophic hard-drive failure. Of course if I’m honest, the descent into decrepitude began some months ago when the screen started to fade. But despite the washed out screen and the inability to use the “next track” button without the machine locking up completely and requiring a hard-reset (involving poking a pin into a little hole on the back), I really liked my old player. It was one of the first of the hard-drive mp3 players… a shade bigger and a lot heavier than my old cd walkman, it was an unstylish brick. But it had 40GB of space and played non-DRM WMA files (my preferred portable audio format). Also, it wasn’t manufactured by Apple. A bonus.

I briefly toyed with the idea of buying a new hard-drive and replacing the knackered one (not really sure how easy a job that would be, but I’m sure there’s a tutorial online). But in truth, I’d be spending money to squeeze an extra few months of life out of the thing. If that. The screen would have given up the ghost before too long anyway, leaving me with a new hard-drive in a useless player.

So I bit the bullet as the saying goes, and spent 299 euro on an all-singing / all-dancing new piece of technology. And if you don’t mind, I’ll leave struggling with consumer guilt for another post.

I spent a long time reading reviews and comparing specifications before I made my decision. The criteria were as follows:

  • Must play non-DRM WMA audio files (no way in hell I’m redigitising my entire CD collection)
  • Must have a minimum of 30GB of space (I’ll be putting 22 or 23GB of music onto it right away, and obviously want to leave some room to grow)
  • Must not cost more than €300 (the maximum budget I decided upon)
  • Must have a battery life of at least 10 hours of music (to last the whole London-Holyhead coach journey)

Those were the minimum technical specs. Anything that met those would be considered. And surprisingly few did. In the end, the reviews all seemed to agree on one winner, and the fact that it’s made by the same people who made the last one I owned (and liked) is a bonus. So I’m now the proud owner of a spanking new Creative Zen Vision:M.

I went for the white model as the reviews said the black one, while initially the best looking, seems to scratch rather easily, while the other colours look a bit plasticky.

As several added bonuses, however, the new machine has a full colour screen, plays movies and displays photos, can synchronise with Outlook calendar and contacts, has a built in recorder and FM radio and can output audiovisual content through a stereo or onto a TV screen.

And it’s the same size as the video iPod. So no more wearing a jacket in warm weather just so I have a pocket big enough to put my walkman in!

There was a slightly cheaper and more svelte alternative that didn’t have the big colour screen. But in truth, while I can’t see myself watching much video on the thing (quite aside from anything else, the amount of music I have means there’s not much space left for video – even with 30GB), the idea of having a portable photo-album containing all my digital photos does appeal to me.

I’ll let you know how I get along with the thing after I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2006

Some links

For those of you awaiting the publication of George Bush’s response to the Iranian letter, I can exclusively reveal that I’ll have it for you by the weekend. My sources in the Whitehouse and Reuters news agency failed to get hold of a copy, but my source in Ahmadinejad’s administration came up trumps. He’s forwarding it through secure channels even as I type.

In the meantime let me point you towards a couple of groovy thangs.

First up is Netvibes. This is an AJAX / Web 2.0 (think Gmail stylee interface) application. It’s essentially a feed aggregator, but it’s the first one I’ve encountered that does everything I want it to. It works inside the browser (important) and can integrate webmail and POP accounts (groovy). It has multiple tabs in the page to allow easy segregation by topic (blogs page, news page, tech page, etc.) and if you keep the page open on one tab of a tabbed browser (Firefox, say) then notification of a new item on any of the netvibes tabs gets flagged on the browser tab. If all that sounds a bit confused, don’t worry, it works very well indeed.

Staying with the tech-toy-theme, check out this entry over at The Sharpener from John Band all about the newfangled Google Trends. A potentially useful tool (Google Trends that is, not John) for those of us tracking public awareness. See this chart for peak oil as an example.

Speaking of google, I was pleased to note that I come top of the search results for ‘torture John Reid‘. Well, top result for google.com and google.ie, but The Independent beat me into second place on co.uk. Hell, if they want first crack at him, that’s fine. I’m a patient man.

While I’m here let me point you towards a couple of gems from the most recent issue of The Onion. You’ve got to love any story that begins with the line… “Pro-life advocates celebrated approval of the new anti-abortion drug UR-86 by the Food and Drug Administration Tuesday, calling it a “safe and effective method” for terminating pregnant women while leaving their unborn children unharmed.” [Read more]

And then check out Mr. Special Foreign Man Won’t Read Anything Not Written In His Own Language. Wonderful.

Nice to see the London Borough of Hackney are taking the issue of sustainability seriously (thanks to Jarndyce for pointing that page out – via the newfangled google chat system).

Oh and read David Byrne’s latest journal entry. There is Chemistry Between Them. Interesting stuff.

Now, I’m off to the secret location for the Bush letter “drop off”. If you don’t hear from me by the weekend you can assume the CIA have silenced me.

10 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2006

Technology to the rescue

A pernicious white fungus has spread “like snow” in the caves of Lascaux in France, where the fabulous rock art has been described as the Sistine Chapel of prehistory. The fungus is believed to have been introduced after contractors began to install a new air-conditioning system that was meant to preserve the precious 17,000-year-old cave paintings from heat and humidity.
Irish Independent

It’s possible that the above link may require (free) registration to the Indo, so I’ll give you the jist of the story…

An artist, or group of artists, produced a series of paintings on the walls of a cave system in Lascaux, France. Seventeen thousand years later, authorities decided that the paintings needed to be protected from heat and humidity and installed an air conditioning system.

The air-conditioning system altered the environment of the caves – which had remained fairly stable for 17 millennia – and within weeks the ground was infested with a white fungus. The authorities who installed the air conditioning claimed that the fungus wouldn’t spread to the paintings. They claimed that it would remain on the ground.

It didn’t.

Now the fungus has begun to encroach upon the paintings and the authorities who installed the new technology are employing people to very carefully remove strands of the fungus from the paintings by hand in order to protect them from their first serious threat in 17,000 years.

A news story and a parable.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Apr 2006


This is just a bit of blog administrivia, but one or two of you may find it useful. Justin (over that Chicken Yoghurt) emailed me earlier. He pointed out that since so many of my posts are fairly lengthy, it would be an idea to have a print version of each one.

Apparently there are WordPress plug-ins that will generate a separate version of each page for printing. Rather than go that route, however, I decided instead to finally get round to adding a ‘print’ stylesheet to the site. It’s a more elegant solution, in my view, than having two pages – one for print and one for screen.

The result is that you should now be able to print out each individual article and have it nicely formatted for page as well as screen. I decided to omit the comments from the print-out. Is this the right thing to do, I wonder? Would people prefer to have a print-out of the article plus the comments (given that could run to twice the number of pages)? If anyone feels strongly enough to make the case for including comments in the print-out then I’ll happily put them back in.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements