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Posts Tagged ‘Computers’

New TFT Monitor

November 27th, 2005 No comments

On Thursday, I finally bought myself a flat screen monitor. I’d wanted one for some time, but finally got spurred into it when I bought my Mac Mini.

I bought a Samsung 19 inch SyncMaster 913N, from a shady little outfit called PC World, all for £200.

So far, I’m sooooo impressed. It looks gorgeous, the resolution is more than I need, and the picture quality is brilliant. I did look at other 17 inch screens, including the Samsung 713N, but that had lower specs (brightness ratio and cd/m^2), and it was the same price (Hmmm, let me think – good 17 inch, or better 19 inch for the same price).

I’m still getting to used to looking at so much info on a screen at the same time, GMail in particular looks amazing!

What I’m also surprised at, is Samsung had put in the installation instructions the information for setting up the monitor in Linux, under X11 – pretty impressively comprehensive!

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VMWare Player

November 21st, 2005 No comments

I’ve been playing the past couple of weeks with VMWare’s new (and free!) “VMWare Player” product.

Essentially, it lets you “play” with, but not create, VMWare Virtual Machine images (and quite sneakily, it also works with Microsoft Virtual PC images).

What I’m having the most fun with though, is trying out different operating systems that I would not usually experiment with, due to the amount of time it would take to continually build the images, and the cost of the hardware. So far, I regularly download the latest builds* of Haiku, which is an open-source reimplementation of the still excellent BeOS, I have also attempted to use Syllable and Plan 9, and at the weekend I managed to successfully build a Fedora Core 4 image which I plan to use for development.

All this is possible as I found a website which tells you how to install an OS into an image using an ISO image for the CD drive, and a blank VMWare image (all perfectly legal!), and also a website which provides the blank VMWare image**. This way, although I’m not directly creating the image file, I’m can create installed images to my hearts content. One of my work colleagues also managed to find a website which lets you construct the configuration file in a nice, easy to use, web interface.

I must say, that running each “machine” is somewhat slower than you would expect from running it natively, but it’s something that I can live seeing as I cannot even begin to comprehend the complexity of what the software is doing.

Speaking of VMWare, I am quite lucky as I have recently had exposure to it (or at least, the one of the enterprise server editions) at work (all be it, from a “using” rather than an “administering” view point), and I am so impressed with what we can do with it at work. I initially had hesitations over its use, citing performance issues, but my worries appear to have been unfounded.

The greatest use we have of it so far, is with building servers for live installation environments. Due to the large world-wide nature of our company, we have installations throughout the world, and although the project that I work on has only just released to it’s fifth country, it means that we need at least 10 different testing servers, plus two servers for each live country.

Our new VMWare installation has changed all of that though. Instead, we have 10 test server images that we can start and stop on a whim, all on one piece of hardware. This means that, if a country requires a specific setup for their servers for testing purposes (e.g. They have a third server that we need to interact with), it’s not a problem to build an image of that server, and use this image as when it is needed. This has happened to myself in the past, where I needed a particular server just for one country – this setup allowed our administrators to create two extra disposable images just for myself.

We are also slowly merging the deployment of the two live servers (one database server, one webserver), into one server (plus back up servers), by using two VMWare images. The other advantage that we have is simple: if the physical hardware on one of the boxes fails, then we simply migrate the VMWare image onto a temporary server (e.g. our larger development server), and everything continues as normal (no change of IP addresses, etc).

* Make sure that you also download the configuration file “haiku.vmx” from here before you start to use the image.
** Ensure that you read the comment posted by James Rose, as this details a small error in the configuration file. The configuration file can be changed using any text editor.

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Lance Ulanoff Is An Arse

November 10th, 2005 No comments

Actually, he might not be, but he has written a stupid article for PCMag.com (Link) about his top 10 computer peeves for 2005.

I though that it would be quite a good article describing some of the worst interface designs, etc, but it appears to be a pointless whinge. I’ll address each of his points:

  1. Telling Time – What do you want? Microsoft to invent the crystal ball? The speed is calculated from the rate that data is being received by your computer. This can change due to many things, and affects all computers, not just ones running Windows.

    Firstly, the Internet is not a fixed beast of wiring. There is not a single wire connecting every single computer to one another, and so data gets routed around between different computers in order to find the best route. That route can be affected by computers crashing, links getting blocked by too much traffic using it, and everything can be affected by the number of people using the Internet. The Internet needs to do this in order for it stay working.

    Secondly, it depends on how you are transferring the file (as in, which protocol). I know for a fact that many FTP servers do load balancing, so that the connections that are transferring larger files get less bandwidth than smaller files (the idea being that it will get rid of as many connections as possible in the fastest time).

    Finally, it depends on what you are doing. Each connection to the Internet that you have (e.g. email, web browser, IM, FTP connections, etc) all use a portion of the bandwidth allocated to you. The more connections, the smaller the portion.

  2. Can You Hear Me Now? – Simple, stop fucking with your Audio settings! Something is changing them, and it’s either a piece of software (which you have changed the sound settings in), or it’s you changing them. And as for the icon disappearing? See that little blue arrow to the left of the system tray? That’s there to hide icons that you don’t necessarily need to see. It’s called a feature.
  3. Fast Dial-Up – A fair point, but it’s not really a computer peeve, is it? They may have some point in what they say, though. They could have upgraded their bandwidth, installed caches, implemented v92 standards, which could let them justify their case; but again, it does sound dubious.
  4. It’s Video – You seem to have the impression that Microsoft run all the Internet software on your computer. If AIM is playing sound back at the wrong point, it’s a fault of AOL, not Microsoft. That said, you do have a fair point – it is annoying.

    I do love this quote though:In general, the Web is now video-happy.It’s always been “Video-Happy”, due to the very nature of HTTP, it’s just that Browsers have started supporting more.

  5. Bad Buddies – Why on earth would you sign up for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”? Never mind, I think I understand.

    The point is, if this is happening, then tell someone about it. If AOL don’t know this is happening, then they won’t know that they need to do something about it – people can’t mind read, they need to be told.

  6. Microsoft Word – OK, everyone agrees that Smart Tags suck. If they are getting turned back on again, something is doing that. Work out what it is.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean when you say I am tired of having to put “English” on the mouse when I select text. I’m not playing Ping-Pong.Are you writing the word “English” on your mouse? – that could be your problem – did you buy it abroad?

    Your next point is totally unacceptable though. You seem to be blaming Microsoft for your hand spasms. It is true that Undo was invented to reverse a mistake, but I don’t really think that it is Microsoft that is being stupid in this case.

  7. Driver, Please! – Drivers are a hot bed of problems. When you think about it, they are actually doing a hell of a lot of work. Not only do they need to be able to hook into the Windows API correctly, they also have to be able to accurately communicate with physical hardware correctly, in all combinations of hardware. It is inevitable that they do not work with all hardware combinations. In this instance, it is the driver manufacturer’s fault, and not Microsoft’s. Vista may fix things, but only if the driver manufacturers do their thing properly
  8. Too Many Buttons – Don’t buy a mouse with so many buttons, fuck wit. Plus they have the benefit of being cheaper.
  9. Pop-Up Spyware Arms Race – Like you say, it is an arms race. Things change. To put this in another context: Someone invented the sword. So someone invented chain mail. So someone invented the arrow. So someone invented thicker shields. After a while, someone invented the gun, so someone invented a bullet proof vest. Someone invented armour piercing bullets, so someone invented Kevlar, and so on. When someone invents a form of attack to get around someone’s defence, those defences need improving, and so the cycle continues. Outlawing Pop-Ups – good luck enforcing that one!
  10. Unreliable Wireless – Jesus, would you look at what you are complaining about.

    Just sit and think about this for a moment. You are sat, using a device the size of an A4 pad. That device has more processing power than it took to put a man on the moon. It has no wires, no power leads, and yet still keeps going. And you complain that natural background radio waves interfere with your precious AIM sessions?

    The amount of hours of pure invention and dedication by thousands of highly skilled technicians throughout the world and throughout the years, appears to mean nothing to you because of the physics of radio waves.

    Give a little praise once in a while for those people who do this, but get little praise and who no-one knows their names, and realise the miracles of processing power that people use everyday, but give little thought to.

  11. Lousy Tech Repair People – As far as I can tell, you problem here is that Radio Shack have a slow Internet connection on their till systems? If you think that you could do a better job, then give it a try. At least it would stop you whinging.
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My World is Far From Complete

October 13th, 2005 3 comments

Over the last year and a half that I have been fully employed, there are a couple of things that have begun to slightly annoy me (when using a computer), and being a developer, I can see the solution to a lot of these problems….

Problem One
Cut, Copy, Paste in Microsoft Excel. This sucks! If you think about it, it actually works completely differently to the rest of the operating system, and different to what you would expect it to. Essentially, if you select a cell that you would like to copy, it becomes highlighted with a dashed border. I can then freely move around the application and paste this value wherever I want (so far so good). Unfortunately, if you then decide to type something, the highlight is lost (not a problem), and the data is no longer in the clipboard for you to paste. If you then need to paste that value again somewhere, you can’t do it! You need to go back and copy the data again!

Problem Two
Slack space Overwrite. Now this is an idea. Imagine this: You have a line of fixed width text. In that text, you have left spaces so that the line format matches the line above (there are common words in both lines). Now imagine you want to change an uncommon word in the middle of that line, by adding a few characters into the beginning of that word. If you use normal “insert” typing mode, the rest of the line would move to the right for every character inserted, and you would need to delete any slack characters until the words were aligned again. If you use “Overwrite” typing mode, you would need to overwrite the entire word.

My suggestion would be to have a third mode: “Slack space Overwrite”. This means that from the cursor position, it will insert the character at that position (without overwriting), and then move along the line until a gap of two or more spaces is encountered. It will then remove one of these space characters, and move all the characters between the inserted character, and the removed character, along one space to the right. If no suitable space characters are found, then the whole line moves one character to the right, therefore increasing the line length by one character. I am fairly sure that this would be easy to implement (from an operating system point of view), and could be activated by pressing (for example) Ctrl+Insert. I know for a fact that it would make my life so much easier.

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Somethings Still Surprise Me

October 12th, 2005 No comments

Something surprised me last night, to the point that it made me drop open my mouth, and then start laughing in amazement. This doesn’t happen very much anymore, especially when dealing with computers – even though the outcome may not be known to me, I can usually hazard a guess at the outcome, or determine an informed estimate. It’s nice to see that I’m yet to see everything this world has to offer me.

Last night I inserted a movie DVD into my MythTV media centre. I didn’t expect it work, as I had not configured anything, and I wasn’t sure whether I needed DeCSS, it runs Linux which isn’t supposed to support movie DVDs, etc, etc.

So, I went to the “Optical Discs” menu, selected “Play DVD”. It worked. Straight away. Wonderfully. Without error. I was amazed. Seriously amazed.

So it is now that I raise my hat, and pay tribute to those people who did this. You amaze me with your dedication, generousity (let’s not forget that this is all “Free” – in both senses of the word), ingenuity and talent. Bravo.

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OpenLaszlo

September 29th, 2005 1 comment

Following on from Richard’s recent Rant about XML being too complicated (a sentiment that I whole heartedly agree with), a colleague of mine discovered “OpenLaszlo“.

A quick look at the “The OpenLaslo Platform” section on the home page says it all:OpenLaszlo applications are written in XML and JavaScript — just like DHTMLNo, no no no no! It’s just wrong! XML is not designed to be used for writing applications! It is a data description language, not an event driven architecture!

To all you system designers out there: XML is a file format. Nothing else. It can be used for lots, agreed, may be even too much, but it is nothing more than that. Stop using it for every bloody application you can put your mind too – find a more appropriate tool. It is like using a screwdriver handle to bang in a nail – it will get the job done, but you’ll knacker the screwdriver, it will take bloody ages, and you’ll end up putting the screwdriver tip through your hand!

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Damn CSS and HTML!

September 28th, 2005 2 comments

This is down right annoying!

I need to do something very specific, (and I am sure that I am not the only person who has ever wanted to do this) using XHTML and CSS (this also applies to HTML), it is also a very simple concept, but it appears absolutely impossible to achieve. Here’s the deal:

I have a table on a page – there is only a class name attribute on the table, it is formatted using <thead> <th> and <tbody> elements, and it has 2 columns. The table, using CSS, is set to consume 100% of the available width, and each column has a class name that is applied to all the cells in that column. I want first column to be a fixed width (but with a difference), and I would like the second column to pick up the slack space. The first column should be a fixed width column based on the width of the widest piece of data in that column – as the table resizes (e.g. with a change in Window size, or a different screen resolutions) this should not change size.

I am fully aware that I could specify this with a fixed pixel width but this does not solve a problem:

  • Each browser renders differently (even now!).
  • Each machine may substitute fonts for those that it has installed.
  • I have different pieces of text in this column type depending on the web page viewed (and even the status of data on that screen), so I could never know the correct number of pixels.

I am also aware that I could specify a percentage, but again this does not solve the problem:

  • At very thin resolutions, the cell size would be too small
  • At very wide resolutions there could be acres of screen space used by absolutely nothing (which could be better served by not wrapping the possibly large contents in the adjacent cell).

I cannot see a way to do what I want to do, either using standards compliant technique (i.e. CSS and XHTML strict), or even by going off-piste and using techniques that would work in only the most popular browsers.

It seems to me now, that although in-roads have been made in recent years towards getting browsers to display content in a relatively similar manner (we are still a long way from that yet), it is the layout specification that is at fault. This is not the first run-in I have had with this sort of problem – back in May, I experienced something else that I could not do from CSS.

If anyone has any clues as to how to achieve this, then please share by posting it here!

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee

September 26th, 2005 No comments

BBC Four have just broadcast a very nice interview with Sir Tim Berners-Lee (I think it might have had something to do with this new “World Wide Web” thingy that people keep harking on about!)

It was quite revealling, having not had much interest before in his morals or his “drive”. It seemed to focus more on what he thinks of the way that the web had involved, and whether “he had any sleepness nights over the perverted images available”.

Sir Tim never seemed to defend the other side of the web though. He mentioned in several instances about “the ‘Greater Good'” and mentioned receiving email from people who the Web had literally saved their lives, but he never defended his position (and his brain child)using such examples as (for example) the Open Source Software movement (I accept that that name is a gross generalisation, but it will pass for now!), or the vast, well-research, information projects such as Wiki-Pedia.

He touched briefly on the Sematic Web, but his example only seemed to promote it as a commercial aggregation tool (the example he gave was for hotel prices, but that kind of site is already available using existing Web technologies), and did not promote it as a vast information source.

More interestingly though, when questioned over any regrets he had about making the Web a commercial entity before releasing it, he gave a very strange and slightly contradictory answer. His reply stated that he did not have sleepness nights thinking that he could have made an incredibly large amount of wealth through the technology, but he did state that after initially developing the technologies, he realised that for the system to go “to a point of critical mass” – “It would have to be royalty free”. It is fair to conclude then, that monetary benefit was conjectured, but obviously rejected – for me, that would occasionally make me consider (especially with the scope of what he has achieved) how different my life could have been.

His views for the future were quite interesting, where he envisions the World Wide Web becoming “an assumption” as much as the light bulb or paper, and he expects the Semantic Web to grow further. He would not be drawn into an exact position though, merely stating that “Computer Science is only limited by people’s imagination”.

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I’ve Converted!

September 24th, 2005 1 comment

Well, I have now officially joined the land of “the convertees”, as I am now the proud owner of a Mac Mini (and a Mighty Mouse)! Woohoo!

I’ve only just set it up, so I’m still getting used to it and I’m playing around with it alot, but I like it!

Now, can anyone suggest what I should install on it first? I’m already anxious to start some development work….

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Linux Security Issue

September 20th, 2005 No comments

This is something to think about! If I log in to Linux at the Terminal (i.e. not using SSH or Telnet or …, but literally being sat at the computer) as an ordinary user, do a bit of work, and then log out again; most of the time the screen is not cleared for the new Login prompt. Therefore, if anyone were to be able to look at the screen, they would be able to see what I had been doing.

Now to me, that seems like one hell of a security issue. Has any one else noticed this, or is it just me? Is there any reason for it, and it is me just not realising?

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