Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Re-paving WindowsXP & GameJackal RIP

I'd let the annual re-install of the main family's PC slide by a few months. You really notice when XP has been in constant use for more than a year - ages to boot-up and seemingly vast amounts of disk space gone (even when you've deleted those ten gig MPEG transport streams!). Anyhow - I got my list together of necessary software. I made sure I had all my licenses to hand and then removed the old C: drive, replaced it (just in case I had to go back to the old config), did some other hardware tidying up (including a new graphics card) and set aside a day!

My first observation is you should bin that original copy of XP that shipped with the machine (or if you bought a boxed copy like I did back in 2004) - the version with SP2 rolled in has a MUCH bigger set of recognised hardware - including the RAID controller on that motherboard. ALSO - the original XP installer won't install into partitions bigger than 137gigs.
Anyhow - once the OS was installed and all hardware recognised I set about installing the must-have stuff. GameJackal is one such app - well, it's an OS extension that watches what goes on when a game runs off a CD and caches it. Subsequently you run the GameJackal shortcut and you don't need to have the CD in the drive. It's ideal if you have boys who won't look after software disks and since all my machines are in the cellar it is a hassle to go down there just to change a CD Rom over.
I bought the Jackal a year ago and thought it was the best solution - not a single game resisted it's charms! Imagine my horror when I flailed on over to their website and found they are no longer selling the product due to legal pressure. Thankfully their forum is still up and I discovered a chap has started a Google Group where he was hosting the very last release for download. I snagged it thankfully, installed it with my license and all was good. I checked back there today for this blog entry and he's been told to cease and desist and so has removed the file! So - you can snag it from my server here - you need a license to make it work so if you'd never registered it in the past you're not getting a freebie. Interestingly it still seems to do updates itself so GameJackal themselves are still maintaining the code.

This is yet another example of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act targeting honest users of software over big pirates. No doubt apps like GameJackal are seem as devices that circumvent copy-protection. Makes my blood boil!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Musicians play for Burma relief

Maureen Lipman will introduce a concert at the Royal College of Music, South Kensington, London on Thursday 1st February at 7.30pm.

The military junta in Burma continues to commit numerous atrocities: forced labour, suppression of democracy, ethnic cleansing, rape as an instrument of policy, burning of villages, conscription of child soldiers, laying of landmines, torture of political prisoners. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Laureate, has spent eleven of the past 17 years under house arrest. Over a million Burmese have been forced into exile, and over a million are internally displaced within Burma.

On February 1st a dazzling line-up of classical musicians will play to raise funds to support Burmese refugees and the internally displaced people (IDP’s). Pianists Martin Cousin and Simon Crawford-Phillips; violinists Andrew Haveron and Ruth Rogers; Lawrence Power (viola), Katherine Jenkinson (cello), Thomas Hull (clarinet) and Morgan Szymanski(guitar) are all giving their talent for this important cause. The programme includes Sibelius Malinconia Opus 20 and Shostakovich Two Preludes for viola and piano; Sofia Gubaidulina “Dance on a Tightrope” for violin and piano; Shostakovich “Allegretto” from Piano Trio No2 in E Minor, opus 67; Piazzolla “History of the Tango” for violin and guitar; Mozart “Larghetto” from Clarinet Quintet K581 and Mendelssohn “Allegro moderato ma con fuoco” from Octet opus 20. Maureen Lipman will perform a monologue and will introduce a Karen and a Karenni (ethnic minorities
in Burma).
Tickets £15 unreserved from the Royal College of Music Box Office on 020 7591 4314

Ruth Rogers is a real talent - she has supported Hand in Hand for Asia in the past and is worth seeing.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The man who was Thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare is a novel by G. K. Chesterton, first published in 1907. Although it deals with anarchists the novel is not an exploration or rebuttal of anarchist thought; Chesterton's ad hoc construction of "Philosophical Anarchism" is distinguished from ordinary anarchism and is referred to several times not so much as a rebellion against government but as a rebellion against God, and takes on many aspects of nihilism. The book has been referred to as a metaphysical thriller.
I'm enjoying listening to bits of it via Radio 7 and reading it (on my PDA!) via
It's a cracking book!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Get a First Life

Firstly I love the picture of the kids dressed up as pirates! The reason I stopped listening to The Daily Source Code is that Adam Curry never stopped talking about Second Life - and I honestly don't get it!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

MP3 for podcasts

Rupert asked me about hosting a podcast for a chum of his who is involved in the Pandora music project. In fact he made me a Vigilantes of Love station on there - very cool!
Anyhow with all this in mind I thought I'd summerise some of the steps I use for the perfect sounding speech podcast!

  • Record straight to hard disk - don't go via analogue tape or any compressed system. Pay attention to levels - you can't recover clipped levels after the event so it's better to record low rather than high - try and aim for peaks at -10dBfs.
  • Once in Audition or Audacity you need to remove any DC bias and normalise the signal.
  • Save it back to disk (keeping it uncompressed) but convert it to mono - stereo does chew up twice as much space/bandwidth - and you don't need it.
  • The Levelator is a superb post-process compressor for speech.
  • Re-import the Levelat'ed(!) file back into your DAW software and save the file out as an MP3 with the following specs; 48kBits, CBR, mono. Why CBR Phil? Well, this MP3 might be played on one of hundreds of ancient and new devices. My first MP3 player was a Diamond Rio500 which definately didn't support variable bit rate! For mono speech the difference in quality is not great.
  • ID3 tags - get them right - for both ID3 v.1 and v.2 flavours. I prefer Tag & Rename for getting that stuff done - it supports all the standard as well as custom frames. It's very cool to imbed an image with your podcast as well as notes, URLs etc. That MP3 file will have a life of it's own once it's running out via an RSS feed and you want to have the best chance of folks being able to find you. You'll be suprised how many aggregator sites scrap your file.
  • FeedBurner is the best way to make compliant XML for the RSS feed with a multi-media enclosure.
  • Finally, make sure you subscribe to your own feed (in Juice or iTunes etc.) - you should be the first to know if your feed gets broken.
That's it - go forth and podcast!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Celebrity Big Brother

I was very involved in the first three years of Big Brother (previous stories; Marcus, the voice of Big Brother, Avids dangerous for transmission, and my OB truck) - I designed and (with Tony D's help!) built the post-production environment, wrote the video ingest automation for the network review system and was one of the technical supervisor on most days. I felt that at the time they really saw it as a brave and new format where they were doing some truely innovative television. By the time I left it seemed that all the experienced TV folks who'd done other things before Big Brother had moved on and all the production crew and editors were youngsters that had only done reality shows. I think it's no coincidence that as a programme it's become degenerate and the only interest it holds is a purient one. It's all come to a head this week with small-minded bigotry - is she a racist? It probably doesn't matter - it's all bullying after all.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

You down with DDC (Yeah you know me)

Display Data Channel is the way both analogue (i.e. SVGA) and digital (DVI) computer monitors communicate back to their graphics cards what their abilities are - what resolutons they can run at and what refresh rates. Additionally the monitor will send it's name so that the driver can load colour correction lookups etc.
Now, Scene Double (link above) are my favorite KVM extenders - I've banged on about them before (see here) and they now have a very cute trick where the extender can back-propogate the DDC data from the monitor - very useful particularly when extending Mac monitors (where you can't force generic monitors like you can under Windows). Now, Ray Gordon - the lead engineer at Scene Double helped me through a problem today - I had a MacPro being extended over cat5 to a Dell 2407 monitor. The Graphics card (nVidia FX4500 - so no slouch!) refused to drive the monitor at anything above 1920x1080 even though the Dell's native res is 1920x1200. It transpires that OS-X has a problem that relates to the underlying X11 (Apple version of Xfree86) graphics engine which caches the DDC data from the first display on the card. If it has had a sniff of a different monitor (or the same monitor fed over DVI) it won't allow you to set a different resolution/refresh rate and have it stick through a reboot. The answer is on single monitor systems to hang the extender off the 2nd o/p - then it's all good!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

VH89 UHF modulator

These are fantastic little UHF modulators with very little inter-channel interference. I've not used them before but I've just done a small RF distribution for a client using these and they produce very clean pictures. These frequency charts are more for my reference.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

You now have no excuse!

The aim of this installer is to provide an easier way for a Windows user to install Ubuntu without having to know how to burn a cd iso, set the bios to boot from cd, repartition the disks, set up a multiboot system, etc. It will not replace any of the current Ubuntu installation options, and will not require that windows is installed prior to the installation of Ubuntu.
The installer works by creating a disk image of a pre-installed ubuntu system on the hard disk (downloaded with a bittorrent downloader integrated into the installer, or a standard http download when we find mirrors), and then installing GRUB for windows, which can be chain loaded by the existing boot loader, and which then loads the linux kerner and initrd from the ntfs partition. The initrd is modified to support mounting the image file mentioned above as a root file system, and then continuing the boot process like a normal installation.
This does not use a virtual machine to run linux on, so the performance of the resulting system will be similar to the performance of any other linux installation. The system will use ext3 in the image file, so users will get all the benefits of a linux filesystem.

I used to use BeOS this way - mounting a virtual drive image under Windows and booting into it. It works well and you get good performance. For a while last year I was running Ubuntu under VMWare and you feel the virtualisation performance hit. I'm off to try this on a machine at home (that currently dual-boots). My MacBook is rapidly running out of disk space.....!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pictures from the workshop

Mark came up to the workshop today to get some images for the new Root6 catalogue which is out soon. Click the title link to see various images of me and Tony doing stuff - calibrating a monitor, looking at an AutoCAD plot, splicing fibres, soldering connectors etc.

Friday, January 12, 2007

One Laptop per Child

OLPC is a proposed inexpensive laptop computer intended to be distributed to children around the world, especially to those in poor countries, to provide them with access to knowledge and modern forms of education. The laptop is being developed by the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) trade association. OLPC is a U.S. based, non-profit organization created by faculty members of the MIT Media Lab to design, manufacture, and distribute the laptops.

AKA The ¨$100 laptop¨ - I have been watching this for a while and am very excited with how it's all going. Having had a bit of contact with orphan initiatives in India and Ghana it is the case that education (and education in IT disciplines) definately fast-tracks kids out of poverty. Although it's the case that this thing provides neither nourishment nor shelter it does enable clever and motivated individuals to rise out of their situations. The naysayers will criticise this kind of project but it's the ultimate example of the ¨Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.¨ philosophy.

Wikipedia's page on the project covers all the details including the valid criticisms. I'm particularly interested in the mesh networking features and the very modest 2w of operating power (my MacBook consumes 30w!).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

WiFi performance on Windows Mobile 2005

What with all the hoopla surrounding Apple's iPhone I came across a setting on Windows Mobile that makes file transfer over 802.11g usable (or not!). I noticed that when I re-paved my current handset (Vodafone's V1605 which is a badged HTC Innovation) file transfer speeds over wireless from my server dropped to a snails pace (half an hour to copy a 20meg podcast MP3 - I was used to transfering 300megs of podcasts, music & TV every day while eating my breakfast!) - so, if you look under;

Start>Settings>Connections>Wireless LAN>Power Mode

You have to set it to Best Performance or you too will enjoy going grey waiting for files to copy!

Getting back to the Apple iPhone I (like everyone else) thought how lovely it looked. All the features have been on Windows Mobile 'phones for two years without forcing you to use iTunes etc. However - it's all about the GUI. I was tempted to say ¨Never mind the quality, feel the width!¨ but that might be churlish.
The mighty James Clarke wrote a more intelligent review of the iPhone than I ever could - check out his blog - he's our man in Seattle.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Viz's top-tips

Obese Radio 1 breakfast DJs. Why not discuss with your colleagues on air how you intend to spend your £600k salary? Your listener demographic of 16-25 year-old van drivers, warehouse workers and sixth-formers will really appreciate the insight..
Mums. After your kids have mastered spelling with Alphabetti Spaghetti, buy a tin of the normal stuff so as they can practise joined-up writing.

I used to love Viz in the eighties - it's got 1000% more crude but still has some subtlety!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Microsoft Research Group Shot

Group Shot helps you create a perfect group photo out of a series of group photos. With Group Shot you can select your favorite parts in each shot of the series and Group Shot will automatically build a composite image. This image was made up from three taken at Sarah's folks' on Christmas day - in one image one of the kids is making a silly face, but in another Brenda has a nice smile - it took about ten minutes to build the composite image. I know you can do this sort of thing in Photoshop but this automates the process entirely. I haven't played about with it much but the examples online suggest that they don't even have to be very similair so long as there are common details the algorithm can find.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

End of Torchwood!

The trouble with Torchwood is that it's not really clear who it's aimed at. It contains swearing, blood and sex, yet still somehow feels like a children's programme. Thirteen-year-olds should love it; anyone else is likely to be more than a little confused. Which isn't to say Torchwood is bad. Just bewildering. And very, very silly.
Charlie Brooker, Oct 28, 2006 The Guardian

I said this all along - a series that was ideal for my three except it has a few adult add-ons. Quite quickly I realised I'd get little peace unless I did them a version and so every week for the last three months I've dutifully copied the MPEG2 transport stream file onto my laptop (captured straight from the BBC Freeview mux - see Media Portal in my previous entry) and cut it down (using Video ReDo - again see previous entry) into a version I'd be happy for my seven, eleven and thirteen-year olds to watch. In most cases it's been very easy - just the Father Jack language (¨arse¨, ¨feck¨, ¨girls¨!) - I know they hear it all the time at school and on the bus but the youngest does have a habit of picking up what he sees on the tele and I want him to stay a innocent just a bit longer!

Episode 6 - ¨Countryside¨ was the most brutal (check out the cut-list, right) involving cannibals and required a bit of work to make the story hang together and yet keep it out of nightmare territory! Still - I think as far as cutting a P as B goes it worked out well and we made our own set of DVDs of the whole series (with annimated title screens etc.) which has proved very popular with parents of school friends! If only I had access to the rushes I could do a proper CBBC version!

Now, I could cut some of the extracted Torchwood footage into the Sarah Jane Adventures to make a late-night BBC3 version of that show!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Handiest software in the world

These are the bits of code I use regularly;

  • VirtualDub - This is the MPEG2 build by fccHandler. If you need to make AVIs (with any codec on your system) VirtualDub is the way to do it. It has a huge library of pluggins for manipulating pictures and sounds.
  • Video ReDo allows you to edit the GOP without re-compressing the whole transport stream. If you do make a non-Iframe edit it only re-encodes between Iframes. It is superbly quick for cutting down TV programmes and even has a commercial break remover that works! I use it almost every day for getting the DV-MRS files out of my media PC (running MediaPortal) onto to video-DVD. Best $50 you'll spend
  • MediaPortal is an open-source alternative to Windows Media Centre. I've been using it for about a year and am very impressed - I've written loads about it in the past so just use the search box (right) to find previous articles. Haven't used my VHS since!
  • GSpot is the business if you can't figure out why a codec won't work properly or a file isn't decompressing as you expected.
  • TMPGenc is just the best for transcoding to MPEG variants.
  • Smart Ripper is my weapon of choice for extracting the VOBs from a DVD and decrypting them ready for....
  • RipItAll which does the best job of re-encoding DVD VOBs into any AVI codec of your choice with all the re-sizing (for square pixels) and cropping (for removing black bands). This is how I make DivX files from DVDs.
  • VSO DivXtoDVD does a very good job of making VOBs from any playable movie format. It puts chapter markers at near five minute intervals as it detects scene changes and is a fine way of making playable DVDs from any movie you might have downloaded. It has very few options (frame-rate, aspect ratio etc) but does a clean job of de-compressing / re-compressing (two pass) and even pulls up 23.976fps to 29.97 on the fly. Very fast.
More as I remember them!