Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Fri, 29 Jun 2007

I don't want an iphone

I'm sure Apple's new toy will be delightfully shiny and fun, but I won't be rushing to get one when they eventually reach the UK. I don't have an ipod either. I've not had a desperate need for a portable music player and have got by using my various PDAs. One of my issues with the Apple products is that they have too many restrictions on what you can do. I find it frustrating that technology is opening up so many possibilities, but certain parts of the industry insist on locking the user out. This is why I prefer to use more open platforms where anything is possible as long as someone writes the software for it.

So as far as mobile phones are concerned I am keeping an eye on the Openmoko project. With luck there should be something to buy this year, but they have been having some issues. This release appeared yesterday and clears up a few points.

[09:48] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 20 May 2007

Expanding the Library

We bought a Pace Twin Freeview box some years ago to replace the cable service we were using. It gave us all the channels we needed without a monthly cost and allowed us to record to disk. This has been so much better than using tapes. I know it's pretty standard now, but it was a revelation at the time. It wasn't as intelligent as the Tivo boxes I saw at the time, but it is generally good enough. One limitation was that you could only record 10 hours of TV on the 20GB hard drive. It uses a 2.5" drive and those were relatively expensive at the time. Now they have come right down, so I finally bought an 80GB unit to upgrade the Twin. This sat on the shelf for a few weeks until we managed to watch everything on the old one, but I did the swap today. It was very easy to do. The unit seems very well put together. It should last a few more years. There's not really anything to wear out apart from the drive.

My other method of recording TV is on the computer using my Haupauge DVB card. I'm still using ZapDVB despite it's limitations. I use this when we need to record multiple things simultaneously or if it's something I know we will want to keep, mainly for the kids. I had to install it again after my latest expisode so I'll just publish the steps I had to follow in case they are useful to someone.

It lacks any sort of EPG, so you need to know when things are on. It also may have issues if one recording is to start immediately after another finishes. I need to test that some more. I still like it as it uses minimal CPU and does it's thing in the background. Maybe I should look at things like MythTV, but I can't justify dedicating a PC to TV.

My next job is to get video into the PC from our camcorder via Firewire. I've had this working in the past, but for now I can't even get the camera to mount as a device I can access. This needs further investigation.

[21:13] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 26 Mar 2007

Super Service, with Reservations

My Logitech Harmony 655 multi-remote is a great gadget. It allows us to get away with using a single remote most of the time. To set it up you have to log into their web site and configure everything, then the site downloads a file which is transferred via USB to the device using an application installed on the PC. Unfortunately this application is not available for Linux so I have to make use of a Windows machine.

I was trying to set it up for my new DVD player yesterday when I found that I couldn't get into the screen that lets me re-program the buttons. I sent them a bug report. Later that afternoon I had a reply to say it was fixed. This was on a Sunday! They had fixed it, but something else had gone awry and I had lost some other settings somehow. I've reported that too. I also inquired about whether there will ever be a Linux version of the software.

The most serious problem I have had with this device is that the up/down buttons for changing volume and channel have become very intermittent. This would seem to be a hardware issue that I may be able to resolve by opening it up, but for now I have just added those functions to the programmable buttons alongside the screen.

[09:10] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 16 Feb 2007

Regional Reports

My new Sony DVP-NS76H DVD player is looking good so far. I made a slight mistake in my last post. I am using a component video cable, not the inferior composite. The picture is rock solid. I tried some old Divx films I have on CD and those played perfectly, apart from me needing to manually adjust the TV aspect ratio to make them fill the screen. For audio I'm still using half of a free stereo cable to carry the digital signal to my Yamaha amp and it sounds fine.

Today I made it multi-region. Most of the mentions of this on places like AV Forums said to use a OneForAll remote, but I couldn't get mine to do it. It seems you cannot just use the standard Sony unit. So I tried an alternative of using the demo version of OmniRemote with a special configuration on my Palm. A few screen taps later I was playing my region 1 (Canadian) Harry Potter with no problems.

Things are less good on the Powerball front. Mine is suffering a problem where the screen locks up, so it's going back to John Lewis. For reference it's sold under the name 'Strength Ball'. I've now played with an original Powerball and there is a significant difference. The Powerball is much smoother in operation. It also has more functions on the display, so I think it's worth the extra few pounds. Both are made in China/Taiwan, possibly in the same factory, but maybe one gets more attention.

[22:10] | [] | Comments | G

Fri, 01 Sep 2006

Zoning in on the phone

This week I met up with Rev. Rumble after his extended trip around Europe and just before he returns to the southern penal colony. I checked out his phone, a Nokia 6630. It seemed to offer a lot of what I previously mentioned. No wi-fi, but that only seems to come with the top end ranges anyway. He has used it for navigation purposes as I would like to. Some on-line investigations revealed that is was superceded by the 6680 that fixed some of the issues and adds a second camera. This may aso be a dead range, but that makes for good prices. There's plenty on ebay. Then I just need a cheap Bluetooth GPS. Could be up and running for well under my standard mobile device budget of £200, but I might need extras like memory cards and some software.

Other news is that I had another week's camping, this time in Croyde, Devon. Had a good time despite the rain and managed a bit of mild surfing. That seems to be the main attraction around there, but also did some walking and visited the tourist traps. Bought a painting by Simon Clarke.

As part of my on-going lust to do something for the open source world I contacted one of the OpenStreetMap team about getting someone to speak at the LUG. So we now have a group of them coming along next month. Maybe they can recommend what I should buy.

[14:17] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 17 Aug 2006

Ideal Mobile Gadget

Although I'm generally considered quite technical, I'm usually well behind the cutting edge when it comes to gadgets. My phone came second hand and my Palm is about 4 years old. I just find it hard to justify the cost of the latest and greatest. I hardly use my phone, but have it for when I might need it. The Palm gets a fair bit of use as an address book, calendar and general information store. It also sees occaisional usage as my audio player and I just acquired another 1GB card so I can carry more music for when I travel. The Palm and phone do not talk to each other at all, so cannot exchange data or allow me to get mail or web on the move apart from the very basic, text only web the phone can do.

Meanwhile, people I know have all sorts of wonderful toys. The main one these days is the combined PDA/phone/media device. This has some appeal as it would reduce the number of gadgets I carried around, but they always seem to compromise on something. They do seem to be getting closer to my ideal mobile gagdet. This would have the following features:

Some people have models from the Nokia Nseries that seem pretty close to what I want. It looks like wi-fi pushes the price up, but I think that whatever device I get next has to have that feature as it will open up posibilities.

I'm not desperate to buy and obviously prices will drop, but then the next wonderful thing appears. Maybe I'll get a bonus and can splash out. Alternatively I could pick up a slightly older unit when others upgrade. Meanwhile, I will be monitoring the trends. Recommendations welcome.

[22:27] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 27 Jul 2006

Where am I?

I've just entered the wonderful world of GPS. I know everyone and his wife has a navigation system in their car, but I've considered them overpriced for the few times a year I would actually need one. I was getting by with my road atlas. A friend is looking to sell his Acer n35. This is a PDA with built-in GPS antenna. I've got in on trial with a view to buying it. First impressions are pretty good. It can't get a signal indoors, but outside it picked up enough satellites after a few minutes. It has TomTom installed, which most people I know say is the best software. I used it on the way home and it was spot on for my normal route. I tried to fool it by taking a wrong turn and it worked out an alternative to get me there.

The PDA side is behind the times, but probably equivalent to my aging Palm. I just need to get used to the Windows platform. It remains to be seen if it will talk nicely to my Linux PC. Some data can be transferred by infra-red beaming, but ultimately it would have to synchronise with my PC applications. I mainly use the Palm as a glorified organiser and occaisional audio player, so it should be able to handle those needs. I don't want to be carrying both devices all the time.

There is no wireless networking built in, but SD adaptors are available, some with built-in memory, for not too much money. There never seemed to be a cheap option for my Palm. It's about time I entered the wireless world too.

One thing I would like to play with is OpenStreetMap. This is an effort to produce free maps of everywhere by people mapping every road using their GPS units. Arlesey is partially mapped, so I could add to that once I figure out what software I need.

[14:04] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 29 May 2006

HD, so what?

I've only seen HD TV in action a couple of times. The first was in Harrods and the second in a Sony shop this weekend. There's no doubt the picture is impressive with far more detail than a normal TV, but can they not find any demo material other than what looks like commercials for holidays in exotic locations? I'd like to see footage of action sports, wildlife or spectacular films. I hope that Sky have plenty of good stuff for their HD subscribers, if they can supply enough boxes.

I know a few people who are getting the new service, so I will see what they think. Of course they all have large plasma screens to view it on. I do wonder if it would make any difference on something the size of our 28" CRT. I'd like something bigger, but prices need to drop a bit more. One of the Sonys was UKP4000! I know you can get much cheaper plasmas, but I will want something that gives a quality picture with reasonable power consumption and lifespan.

I doubt we will see HD in our house for a few years yet, especially as we don't consider it worth paying the extra for a subsription service. Our Pace Twin Freeview box suppiles all the channels we really need with no monthly cost apart from the TV licence.

We got around to watching MI:2 this week. It's a load of silliness, technologially and actionwise. I thought it was a bit obvious that the motorbikes in the final chase switched to off-road tyres when they left the road. IMDB has a long list of other goofs.

[22:19] | [] | Comments | G

Tue, 18 Apr 2006

I can see for miles

For most of my life I've had to wear glasses to compensate for my extreme myopia. This is not a problem in my day to day life. I've worn contact lenses in the past for reasons of looking better in my younger days and later for safety when practicing Aikido, but have got out of that habit lately. The time when glasses are really a pain is when I am swimming. I can wear old glasses to allow me to see what is going on, but these do no good underwater and can get dislodged.

Before our holiday I invested in some Aquasee goggles (mine came from the local Boots) that come in various strengths, mine being the maximum in the range. They have transformed my swimming. I can now do proper breaststroke without losing my glasses and have been attempting crawl with a few issues on the breathing. They also allow me to see underwater and keep up with my daughter who likes to spend more time under the water than on top. The goggles made my holiday more enjoyable by allowing me to keep an eye on the kids whilst swimming and still have some fun.

[13:10] | [] | Comments | G

Sat, 03 Dec 2005

Logitech Harmony 655 Remote Control

Like most people I have a whole gaggle of remote controls cluttering up my living room. I've got TV, Pace Twin (Freeview PVR), DVD, VCR and AV amplifier. There are a few options for replacing them all. Several years ago I bought a One For All 6. This is a very capable device that met my needs of the time. It could control my NTL cable TV. It could learn things like my obscure DVD's commands and with the aid of a home made cable and a little software could be programmed from a PC. Unfortunately it would not control the Twin without being sent away for an upgrade. I was also having problems with some buttons on the Twin remote, so I decided to go for something new.

I read about the Harmony on AV Forums and it sounded good. It came with a USB cable to allow programming from the PC and seemed to support all the devices I had. The price was a bit high at £70. I think this model is being replaced and I heard that Dixons had some for the bargain price of £30, but I didn't get one of those. Instead I resorted to ebay. I had never bought or sold there before, but there seemed to be a few of these remotes at reasonable prices so I placed a few bids and eventually won one for just over £40 delivered.

The remote is useless until you have set it up from the PC. The software consists of a utility that does the communication and has to be installed. Then you configure everything via the web site. This uses some Java (I think) downloads to perform various actions. This all works fairly well, but I have had some issues when trying to teach the remote extra commands. For now Linux is not supported, but I hope this will change.

As well as setting up each device you can also configure combined actions like Watch DVD. This can be set up to turn on the required devices, select appropriate inputs and then configure the buttons you need. So you can control the DVD, but have the volume buttons control the amplifier. If the buttons are too limited you can assign functions to the buttons by the LCD screen with appropriate labels. There is also a help button that will help you ensure everything is turned on and on the right channel.

I think you can have up to 15 devices which should be enough for anyone. There are other models in the range that offer extra functions and better displays for more money, but this one will do for me.

This is not aimed at technophobes. You have to spend a lot of time on the computer setting it up as you need to. I'm still tweaking.

The available commands for the Twin were lacking some of those which were not working on my remote. I mailed the helpdesk and they have retrieved those from the settings of other people and added them to my options. That only took a couple of days to resolve.

Overall I'm pretty happy so far. I just have to teach the family how to use it, but I do not forsee major issues there.

You can see the remote at Amazon, but if you purchase there please do so via PFGM to benefit our school.

[22:22] | [] | Comments | G

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