Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gigabyte GA-P35-DS4 Realtek audio vs Gigabyte Dynamic Energy Saver

I have been using the aforementioned motherboard with an Intel Q6600 CPU for a year and a half in a home theater PC environment. I have been mostly happy until now.
That was before I tried to use the Dynamic Energy Saver (DES) utility program that came with it. This program is supposed to reduce energy consumption. While I haven't tried to measure the savings, I noticed clicks and pops in the losslessly compressed classical music I was playing from iTunes. The SPDIF optical output of the motherboard was connected to my Yamaha RX-V2500 receiver . The Realtek drivers in Windows 7 were configured to output at 24 bits / 192 kHz by default.
Fortunately, the audio problem went away after disabling the DES. But this makes the DES less than useful.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

France Télécon Orange / mobicarte fraud

I spent about 19 years in France. Thus, I should have known better than to walk into an agence France Télécom, 189 avenue Daumesnil, 75012 Paris, on September 8, 2009 to purchase a SIM card with Internet service for my Android cell phone (T-Mobile G1).

The sales person sold me service called Mobicarte, for 15 euros, plus a 25 euro "refill" which was needed to activate the "Internet Imax illimitée" option, which cost 12 euros a month. At least that's the name and price of the option that the sales person wrote on the back of my invoice, and told me to activate over the phone.

When I tried to activate this option over the phone, however, I was told it no longer existed as of August 20th. The new rate was 6 euros for daytime, and 3 euros for night time. Or 9 euros per day ! Since I was going to be there for 14 days, that meant the Internet access would cost me 133 euros, instead of the 12 advertised. On top of that, there was the need to constantly reactivate the service. I was not interested in the service at all at this price. I asked for a refund. But I was denied, on the grounds that the Mobicarte had already refilled. This refill had been activated not by me, but by the salesperson, in order to allow the Internet option to be activated. It was "against France Télécom's policy" to provide any refunds for Mobicartes that were already refilled.

I spent half an hour arguing with the store manager, Mme "Rochai B", who kept arguing it was not in her power to refund - they can only take money, even though the sales person was clearly in error and not aware of the option change ! She agreed to take back the Mobicarte, and write a letter to corporate to request a refund.

The refund, of course, never came. I was also unable to obtain satisfaction by disputing the France Télécom charge on my credit card with American Express, even though the charge was clearly fraudulent, as to this day, France Télécom is still in possession of the Mobicarte, and still has my money.

If I didn't live all the way in California, I would have taken the store to court. As it is, my only recourse is to share my experience with this very shady company, which is unethical and uses deceptive sales tactics, and warn all its potential customers that France Télécom does not keep their promises, even when they are in writing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Do not call 1-888-333-DISH if you are a Dish network customer

In my previous blog post, I mentioned a technical issue with my dish network 722 receiver. I accidentally dialed 1-888-333-DISH instead of 1-800-333-DISH, which is Dish Network's actual phone number. The number is actually for a different company. The person who answered the phone never identified which one. I kept asking to be transferred to tech support , but all they wanted to talk about was promotions and upgrading me to a "new HR22 receiver" that would not need to be connected to a phone line, and would have free locals. At no point was it mentioned that this was DirecTV service. I kept asking for the tech support phone number, and in the end they told me to call 1-800-333-DISH - Dish Network's actual phone number. They never mentioned that they were from a different company. Don't be fooled.

Dish Network VIP 722 receiver vs KQED ATSC signal

The Echostar VIP 722 receiver is a very nice DVR. It can play and record TV from both over-the-air DTV broadcasts, and from satellite. It has one OTA tuner and two satellite tuners.
One of my most frequently watched channels is PBS, specifically KQED out of San Francisco. The 9.1 subchannel is their HDTV channel.
I have found that on half the broadcasts, the Echostar 722 displays a picture on 9.1, but is unable to decode the sound.

In the process of setting up a software DVR on my HTPC, I found that it can decode the same broadcasts, with sound. This is a problem with the 722 DVR.

I filed a report to Dish network tech support and had the issue escalated to their engineering department. I will update this page if I get a response.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Logitech Webcam Software trouble under Windows 7

Earlier this year, I reported my good experience with the Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000 under Windows Vista x64. Unfortunately, after installing Windows 7 x64 (clean install), my experience is no longer good. The application that comes with the camera causes many problems.
  1. Clicking on "microphone" in LWS causes the application to hang
  2. Cannot bring up "manage audio devices" in Windows control panel . It never comes up
  3. LWS 1.10 installation does not complete (window not responding, hung for hours)
  4. Skype settings window hangs (clicking tools/options in the menu)
  5. Skype won't make calls . An endless dialtone rings even after one tries to terminates the call.
  6. Skype won't exit
  7. LWS.EXE cannot be killed from task manager
  8. uninstalling the LWS application 12.10.1113 solves all of the above problems.
    But of course one can no longer take snapshots without this application installed.
  9. Reinstalling the software does not help. All the problems come back. This is with the latest LWS110_x64.exe package.

I'm hoping that Logitech will provide a solution, and I will update this blog if they do, but so far, I have been out of luck. In the meantime, if you have similar problems, and can live without the Logitech Webcam application, uninstalling it may solve your issues.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beware of Raidmax Power Supply rebates

I purchased two power supplies from Raidmax at Fry's Electronics, one in 2008, and another in 2009 . In both cases, there was a large ($40) rebate.

While the power supplies have worked fine, I was disappointed not to receive the rebates as expected. Both times, I had to call the company to complain 6 months after the purchase, and twice they claimed to have sent me the check many months before, but I never received it. After they remailed the payment, I received the checks I was owed.

I track my rebates in a special rebate account in Quicken, which is how I noticed those weren't missing. I have bought items with several thousand dollars worth of rebates in the last few years, mostly from Fry's. Raidmax has been the main offender on unpaid rebates, so I thought it was worth sharing my experience with them.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Comcast Internet raises rates on second month of contract without notice

I was one of the early adopters of DSL, during the Pacbell trial in November 1997 . But SBC, and now AT&T, didn't invest enough into their network. I was running the top ADSL speed available through AT&T, which was only 6 Mbits/s down / 768 kbps up. The upstream speed was particularly painful.

In September, I placed an order with Comcast, because they offered 12 Mbits/s down and 2 Mbps up, and there was a 12 months promotion at $24.99, plus $3 for a modem rental, or $27.99.

The Comcast service took longer than expected, because I hadn't had any kind of cable service in my home since I purchased it in 1997. There was a 10 day delay due to construction to run a new cable line from the street into the junction box.
Finally, the service was installed successfully on October 2, and so far, it has worked relatively well. My first October bill was for $27.99 plus tax.
Then came my second November bill. It was for $29.99 plus tax ! Imagine my surprise at this rate hike, having just started a new 12 months promotion.

I called Comcast about this problem. They claimed that only the Internet service was on a contract, but not the cost of the modem rental. It went up from $3 to $5, so I was told. I hadn't received any notice about this whatsoever. I was told that notices were mailed. I am very meticulous about my postal mail, and I know for certain I never received it. It is probably because I was such a new customer and the notices must have been mailed before I was a customer. In other words, I fell through the cracks.

The only thing I was able to get Comcast to accomplish was to refund me $2 for the modem overcharge for November, since I had no notice. But I'm supposed to pay $5/month for the modem rental from December on.

I already have a used identical Motorola SB5100 cable modem on order on ebay for $26.99 including shipping, which is $2.69/month for the next 10 months, vs $3/month for the Comcast rental. I will return Comcast's rented modem before the December bill is due.

When the 12 months contract with Comcast is up, Comcast will want to charge me for basic cable TV service, for which I have no use for, since I use a combination of satellite and OTA antenna for my TV. I don't even have a cable outlet in my living room. I had the Comcast installer run the cable line from directly to my home office upstairs. I have a feeling that I will be getting rid of the Motorola cable modem on October 2, 2010, and hopefully switching to ADSL2/2+, if a local telco operator has upgraded their network by then.

Migrating Yahoo messenger chat archives manually

One thing that the Yahoo messenger program is missing is the ability to import or export chat archives. This can become fairly important if you have a lot of people in your buddy list, as I do over 700. The problem manifests itself when you do a full reinstallation of your Windows operating system, as may sometimes be required. Or if you are migrating from, say, Windows Vista to Windows 7, you may not want to do the in-place upgrade, but instead to a "fresh" install of the OS.

In this example, the system was previously running Windows Vista 32 bits. The archive files were located in :

C:\Windows.old\Users\atoy\Local Settings\VirtualStore\Program Files\Yahoo!\Messenger\Profiles\atoyccb\Archive\Messages

A new OS, Vista 64 bits, was installed. The new archived messages are now in

C:\Users\Charito\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files (x86)\Yahoo!\Messenger\Profiles\atoyccb\Archive\Messages

You can copy the old archives over by following the following steps :
  • Open a command-prompt window as administrator
  • Copy over the old archives to the new location :

    XCOPY "C:\Windows.old\Users\atoy\Local Settings\VirtualStore\Program Files\Yahoo!\Messenger\Profiles\atoyccb\Archive\Messages\*.*" ">C:\Users\Charito\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files (x86)\Yahoo!\Messenger\Profiles\atoyccb\Archive\Messages" /S

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A better solution to a programming book's linked list problem

As astute readers of my blog know, I left my job at Sun last month. After taking some well-deserved time off, I have been looking for something new.
Despite 14 years professional experience, 20 years coding experience, and a lengthy résumé, I was stumped by some coding puzzles at a couple of large companies.
So, last monday, I picked up a book at Barnes & Noble titled "Programming Interviews Exposed, 2nd edition", to help get past the torture tests I have to endure in this tight job market. I have been reading it as a leisurely pace, trying to find the problems first on my own, before checking the solution.

I am writing this article and reprinting the problem with the author's permission.

On page 31, the author defines a typical linked-list structure :
typedef struct Element {
    struct Element *next;
    void *data;
} Element;

After some fairly basic coding discussion of linked lists, a slightly more complicated problem appears on page 35.

head and tail are global pointers to the first and last element, respectively, of a singly-linked list of integers. Implement a C function for the following prototype :

bool remove(Element *elem);
The argument to remove is the element to be deleted.

The authors spend much of pages 36-38 discussing that the problem is mostly about
"special cases", in particular when deleting elements at the beginning or the end of the list.

The author's final solution reads as follows :
bool remove(Element* elem) { 
    Element* curPos = &head;

    if (!elem)
        return false;

    if (elem == head) {
        head = elem->next;
            delete elem;
        /* special case for 1 element list */
        if (!head)
            tail = NULL;
        return true;
    while (curPos)  {
        if (curPos->next == elem) {
            curPos->next = elem->next;
            delete elem;
            if (curPos->next == NULL)
                tail = curPos;
            return true;
        curPos = curPos->next;
    return false;
While my first inclination was to also have a special case, I quickly stroke that part out on paper. I think the code really does not have to be so long if you use a double pointer to refer to the
head. This eliminates the first special case for updating the head pointer when removing the first element. And therefore, there is no longer a need to update the tail pointer in two different places, which further reduces code size.

bool remove(Element* elem) {
    Element** curPos = &head;

    if (!elem)
        return false;

    while (*curPos) {
        if (elem == *curPos) {
            *curPos = elem->next;
            if (elem == tail)
                tail = elem->next;
            return true;
        curPos = &((*curPos)->next);
    return false;
The only thing I changed from my piece of paper was the name of the temporary variable, and the formatting, to match that of the book's authors.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Better not get sick at Netflix !

This post is more than 2 years overdue, but I felt that my story needed to be heard, especially by past, current and prospective Netflix employees, as well as management.

In the summer of 2006, I was looking for a new position and ended up interviewing and landing what I thought was a great opportunity at Netflix working on security in the Electronic Delivery Systems group, and with a hefty paycheck. My first day was October 31, 2006.

Unfortunately, on November 1, my second day there, I got very bad news from my physician : my HIV test, performed the week before, had turned positive. This was of course devastating news. I became severely depressed, and was not able to make it to work on my third or fourth day. I missed plenty more work time. My boyfriend also turned out HIV positive 2 weeks after I did. I will be the first to admit that I was completely ineffective at my job for the next 2 months. Learning both about this new major disease and a new very challenging job at the same time simply was more than I could chew.

Finally, in January of 2007, I went on short-term disability for the depression and ended up in IOP at Kaiser. I was covered under Netflix's generous disability policies. After 1 month, I had still not been released back to work, and received a letter with an ultimatum to return to work by mid-february, 6 weeks after the start of my disability, or be terminated.

Unfortunately, I was ineligible for an FMLA, a Family Medical Leave of Absence, which would have allowed me to take 3 months medical leave, because I was a recent hire, and the law only covers those with at least 1 year of service.

One week before the ultimatum, I pleaded my case with Netflix HR, explaining the reason for my absenteism and disability. This did not make any difference. I was told that it was standard company policy for this situation - to terminate the new employee who had an extended illness ! The date passed, and I was terminated while still on disability. That was the first and only time I had ever been involuntarily terminated. No severance of any kind was offered. I was now both HIV positive, and jobless.

I was released by my doctor to work again about a month after my termination, and returned to my previous employer, Sun Microsystems, another month later, working 60% (3 days a week) for the remainder of 2007, and then back to full time in 2008.

As I write this post, I am enjoying some much-needed time off, having left Sun out of disinterest in September in the wake of the acquisition of Sun by Oracle, and seeking another opportunity. Few Silicon Valley companies are hiring at this time. But I noticed that Netflix was, and my old position still had not been filled. I inquired with my former manager at Netflix, who was aware of the details of the situation. I was told that per Netflix company policy, there are no second chances there - once you are fired from Netflix, you can never apply there again.

The moral of the story is this : make sure you don't get seriously sick if you want to work for Netflix, especially in your first year.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Windows 7 vs Fedora Core 11, and Linux in general

This year, my father also wanted to upgrade his computer, as did my mother. I had a shop build one with the exact same parts. I imaged my mother's computer drive with Acronis, and imaged it back to my father's computer. So far so good. But I had installed Windows 7 with its default setting, which creates two partitions - a "recovery partition", which was about 100 MB, and a regular Windows 7 NTFS partition, which was about 931 GB.

My father has been a Linux user for a very long time, and only desired Windows for very occasional use. In the past, it was fairly easy to dual-boot Windows & Linux. Not so this time.

First, I had to shrink the Windows NTFS partition using the "shrink" tool. But this didn't work. There were a variety of unmovable system files towards the end apparently. Even after defragmenting the drive, the shrink feature of the Windows disk manager could only reduce the drive by a measly 300 MB ! The solution was very complicated : I erased all the partitions, reinstalled Windows 7 with a small partitions, and then re-restored my mother's computers into the small partition from my backup drive using Acronis True Image 2009. Now, I had a working Windows 7 installation, and some free unpartitioned space.

The next 3 days were spent trying to install various versions of Linux, mostly Fedora Core 11 64 bits, as well as Ubuntu 8.x. This was always unsuccessful. Typically, the Fedora installation program just crashed with exceptions. Just hours before I was supposed to leave, I got the idea to delete the 100 MB Windows 7 recovery partition. I then restored its content from the Acronis backup onto the large Windows partition, and booted with the DFSEE tool to make the Windows 7 partition active. But Windows 7 still didn't boot correctly. I then booted the Windows 7 DVD and used the recovery option. Amazingly, that worked. I now had a single 212 GB NTFS Windows 7 partition that was booting. After that, the Fedora Core 11 installation proceeded like a breeze.

Moral of the story : if you want to dual-boot Windows 7 and Linux - do not let the Windows 7 installer create the recovery partition when you get prompted to let Windows create additional partitions. Just say no !

Windows 7 vs LSI Logic 53C1030 Ultra160 SCSI controller

I have been using SCSI controllers in one form or another in some of my PCs for over 15 years. At this time, I have only a couple of SCSI devices left - one 36 GB hard drive made by Seagate that spins at 15,000 rpm, and a DAT DDS-4 tape drive made by HP. The last SCSI controller I bought was purchased in 2001 and is based on the 53C1010 Ultra160 SCSI chipset by LSI Logic, formerly Symbios, formerly AT&T, formerly NCR. This chipset worked wonderfully under a variety of operating systems, from OS/2 up to and including Windows Vista x64.

Enter Windows 7. Earlier this wednesday, I attempted to migrate the system containing this SCSI controller from Windows Vista x64 to Windows 7 x64. I was told that there was no driver for Windows 7 for the controller. This was quite disappointing, after 8 years of loyal services. I disabled the device in the device manager, and proceeded with the installation of Windows 7 anyway.

At the time of this writing, I have been unable to locate a proper driver for this controller under Windows 7 x64. This means the OS can no longer see my two SCSI devices. I don't care much about Windows no longer seeing the DDS-4 tape drive as I wasn't using it under Windows. But I am bothered by no longer seeing the SCSI hard drive, which still contains a bootable copy of OS/2 Warp Server for E-Business SMP. While that SCSI hard drive is formatted as HPFS, and can therefore not be mounted under Windows 7, it could still be imaged and backed up with Acronis True Image Home, at least under Windows Vista back when the SCSI controller worked. I may end up going back to Windows Vista on this system if I can't resolve this issue. Or I might move my OS/2 installation to another drive.

Windows 7 vs Kaspersky Anti-virus 2009

I recently acquired the above anti-virus for the low of sum of "FAR" (free-after-rebate), ie. I only paid the sales tax on it. This is a good program that performs well under Vista x64.
When I attempted an upgrade of one of my computers to Windows 7 RTM (final version), the installation program instructed me that KAV was incompatible with Windows 7. I was forced to uninstall it before proceeding with the upgrade to Windows 7. At the time of this writing, Kaspersky only has a beta program for Windows 7. I hope they will issue fixes soon, as Windows 7 final version has been available to developers for a month.

Windows 7 vs Acronis True Image Home 2009

For the last 6 months or so, I ahve been using the excellent Acronis True Image Home 2009 software to image the hard disks of several home computers under Windows Vista x64. During a recent trip to France, I traveled with a hard drive containing a drive image so I could get to all my files.
To my dismay, I found that I was not able to fully access the data under Windows 7 (RTM, ie. final version). True Image Home 2009 still has some issues under it. Specifically, at the time of this writing, it's unable to mount drives from the backup archive as local drive letters under Windows 7. All is not lost, since the restore feature of True Image still works. However, it takes much longer. I wanted to mount the drive to use the command-line XCOPY program to only copy certain types of files from the archive. Unfortunately, the True Image Restore feature is limited, and does not allow such file filters. I ended up having to restore a full directory, and then deleting all the unwanted files, which took much longer - in fact about 4 more hours than it should have.

Let's hope that Acronis will issue a patch for True Image 2009 to fix the drive mounting issue under Windows 7.

Video memory setting in VirtualBox with 30" monitor

In recent months, I have been running Sun's Virtualbox software to run multiple guest operating systems. One of my two monitors is an HP LP3065 30" LCD, which has a 2560x1600 resolution (4 million pixels).
Virtualbox has a very nice feature which allows the desktop to be resized up to the host's resolution. In theory. When I tried to use the feature, I noticed that the guest couldn't be maximized. The reason turned out to be that the default video memory in Virtualbox was insufficient. 2560x1600 at 32 bit color depth requires 16384000 bytes of video memory. Once I increased the video memory to 16MB, I was able to maximize the guest OS window to fill up the entire screen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Windows 7 ATI HDMI audio vs digital coax audio issue

A few weeks ago, I was in France. I took advantage of the occasion to upgrade my mother's computer to much more recent hardware, as well as her television to a new 46" LG LCD HDTV. The PC was setup with the final version of Windows 7 x64.

She kept her old PC monitor, a 15" LG LCD, with only a VGA connection, as well as her old Yamaha RX-V420RDS amplifier, which long predated HDMI.

The PC sported a Sapphire video card with an ATI Radeon HD4850 chipset and dual DVI outputs. One output went to the 15" LCD with a DVI->VGA adapter, and the other went to the TV with a DVI->HDMI adapter and a 15m HDMI cable.

The PC audio was connected to the digital coaxial input Yamaha amp via a 15m coaxial cable.

After I taught her how to switch back & forth between her 2 displays in Windows 7, my mother noticed a very odd problem : when she was using the TV as her display, all sound disappeared ! But when she switched back to the 15" analog VGA LCD, it came back. I was unable to debug the issue for her over the phone. But I still had some more time before flying back home, and determined the root cause of the problem in person : Windows 7 had seen it fit to automatically redirect all audio to the HDMI output of the video card when the display was switch to the TV !

This was of course not what was desired for her setup. The TV's audio was muted and we had no intention of using its built-in speakers. We wanted the audio to always stay on the digital coax output hooked up to the Yamaha amplifier . I fixed this in the Control Panel by disabling the ATI HDMI audio output device. I hope this will help someone else running into the same issue of lost sound when switching displays.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Amazon reviews

A little over a year ago, I purchased an expensive Panasonic LM-BE50DE dual-layer rewritable Blu-ray disc. This 50 GB media cost me $50 from Amazon. It worked fine, so I posted a positive review, which has since received 3 helpful votes.

A year later, the disc has failed. And Panasonic won't replace it because they only have a 90 days warranty on parts, which includes media !

I attempted to change my Amazon review's star rating down from 4 stars to 1 star. But it was impossible. I could only change the headline and text of the review, but not the star rating. I called Amazon about this, and was told that this could only be done within 30 days of a review ! I think that makes Amazon reviews significantly less helpful if long-term owners of a product cannot update their reviews when they later encounter problems with them.

To be fair to Amazon, it appears that it's possible to delete the review, and post it again. I haven't tried that. But doing so would void the helpful votes that my original review received.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Annoying Cubase license scheme

Last week, I bought a pair of Yamaha KX61 keyboards to replace a broken organ. They came with a limited version of Cubase software, called Cubase AI. Unfortunately, the software refused to install on my Vista 64 box, crashing in the annoying license checker scheme. The exact error message was Syncrosoft Protected Object Server has stopped working.

After much research, I found the solution to this problem :
1. Disable DEP in Control Panel/System/Advanced/DEP
2. Reboot the computer
3. Reinstall Cubase
4. Re-enable DEP, with the exception of the SYNSOPOS.EXE program., which lives in the C:\Program Files (x86)\Syncrosoft\POS on my system, but might be in C:\Program Files\Syncrosoft\POS for those with 32-bit systems.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Obama putting gays back in the closet

After making strong promises to the gay community on national television, such as the repeal of the military Don't ask don't tell policy, and the repeal of the Defense of marriage act which he once called abhorrent, and getting elected on those promises, Barack Obama now no longer wants to say anything on the subject matter. Except in private, secret meetings. In other words, he would much rather have us keep quiet, in the closet. Those times have passed, mister President.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Naked DSL and Cable Internet without TV

These days, I make most of my telephone calls either from my (pricey) cell phone, or over the Internet. I have little need for my landline telephone line. Except I'm forced to pay for it because it is required to have DSL service with my current Internet service provider. The service runs over AT&T landlines. While AT&T has made "naked DSL" available to its customers, this only applies to those who subscribe to the AT&T internet service. Not to other internet services running on the AT&T cicruits. So, I'm subscribing to a $7.28 measured rate service. To which $6.88 of various taxes and fees are added, for a total of $14.16. For a service that I don't want or need. For over 7 years. This should be against the law.

Lately, I have been thinking about switching over to cable internet, because much higher download and upload speeds are available. However, once again, one is forced to purchase unwanted basic cable TV service when ordering cable internet from Comcast. I get my TV service by satellite and over the air, and have no use for cable TV. It appears that Comcast is now relaxing this requirement to purchase basic cable, but only for one of the lower speeds, and for a temporary introductory period of 6 to 12 months. After that, the monthly rate more than doubles, due primarily to the extra added cost of the unnecessary basic cable TV service. Once again, this bundling of service should be against the law.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Murder by the state : people with HIV to be terminated in California

The governator's proposed California budget includes $55 million of cuts to the AIDS drug assistance program. This program serves 35,000 people in California who are either uninsured, underinsured, or uninsurable, and need to take their HIV medications daily in order to survive. Any missed dose of medication can lead to drug resistance, and the medication stops being effective. This ultimately leads to the need for even more expensive medication, or to death.
With this new budget proposal, the governor is quite explicitly proposing to murder 35,000 HIV/AIDS patients by way of withholding their treatment. The cost of an HIV regimen typically starts at about $1,500 per month and most people on ADAP had no other way to pay for it.

The size of the annual California budget deficit is $24 billion. These ADAP cuts represent less than 0.2% of the state deficit. Apparently, there must be some higher priority than California citizens' life in the rest of the budget.

What distinction do these 14 countries share ?

The USA, Brunei, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Singapore, Sudan, South Korea, Tunisia, Turks & Caicos Islands and the United Arab Emirates.

Stumped ?

They all still ban foreigners from visiting and migrating specifically on the basis of an HIV-positive status.

And how do they find out who is positive if the person does not declare it, you might ask ? By random bag searches at the borders. Anyone found with their HIV medications, which have to be taken at least once daily without fail, is sent back.

Rice recipe with pressure cooker and induction cooktop

I am a big fan of rice. But not of the time it usually takes to prepare it. A few years ago, I bought a rice cooker from Costco. It took over 45 minutes to steam just a couple cups of rice that I wanted to have for dinner. Everything else in my meal was ready long before. I found this unacceptable. The rice cooker went back to Costco.

So, in 2006, I purchased a pressure cooker. This is a 6qt model from the Fagor Splendid line. It is relatively inexpensive, and made in Europe. I bought it at a local retail store in Santa Clara.

Having remodeled my kitchen the year before, I was the proud owner of a Kenmore 30" induction cooktop model 42800. I decided to experiment with the pressure cooker and this cooktop to get rice much faster than any steam rice cooker can. This article is about my current recipe. The total cooking time is only about 6 minutes.

Ingredients :
1. rice . I chose some Basmati rice from Costco. I have been using 1 to 5 cups with this recipe, I haven't really tried more.
2. water. With the rice I chose, I use 1.5x the volume of rice. This will vary depending on what type of rice you purchase. But once you know the correct volume, you need to measure exactly, as measurement errors are sure to make your rice either burn or be wet.
3. chicken broth cubes, 1 to 2. I use some Knorr brand.
4. PAM cooking spray
5. herbs. I use some thyme mostly.
6. olive oil .
7. salt
8. pepper

Steps :
1. spray the bottom of the pressure cooker with PAM . This is very important to avoid sticking. If you forget, washing will be much harder.
2. measure water volume and pour it into the pressure cooker
3. put the pressure cooker on the strongest burner and start boiling. On the Kenmore unit, this would be the top-left one. I use the highest P booster"setting.
4. mix in the chicken broth, olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme
5. while the water is boiling, wash the rice.
6. since induction is so fast, the water will probably be fully boiled in 1 minute, before you are done washing the rice :) Pour the rice into the boiling water as soon as you can.
7. put the lid on the pressure cooker and close the valve
8. wait until a significant amount of steam starts to release. This will take about one minute typically.
9. turn down the cooktop setting a little bit, to the 9 setting (non-booster) and let cook for exactly 2 minutes. Don't use an analog timer or watch for this. You need to be exact and use a digital one.
10. turn down the setting a little bit more to 8, and let cook for exactly 2 minutes. Again, use a digital watch.
11. turn off the cooktop. steam should stop releasing immediately.
12. turn the valve to release all the steam. This will take about a minute.
13. open the pressure cooker
14. serve.
15. clean the pressure cooker. This is the worst part, since it is not dishwasher safe.

Personally, I find the resulting taste and consistency of the rice to be much better than what I obtain in the rice cooker. And of course in less than 10 minutes of total preparation, versus over 45 minutes with a rice cooker.

Disclaimer :
I have a lot of asian friends. Not all of them agree that this rice tastes better than when made in a rice cooker. Some cannot tell the difference.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Share on ovi disaster

I guess some things in life are too good to be true.
The web site Share on ovi , operated by Nokia, had been offering unlimited image hosting, for free. It included such great features as the ability to retain the original picture size and let viewers see it, as well as on-the-fly resizing, sorting by shooting date, creation date, etc. It was everything I wanted in a picture hosting site, and for free ! I uploaded about 4GB of pictures from my Pentax K200D DSLR to ovi in the past year. Only to find out that the site no longer has any of its useful features. Viewers can only download a very small reduced picture, all the sorting is gone, etc. There isn't even an option to pay to get these features back. They are just gone. So, I'm now faced with the prospect of finding a new picture host. It probably won't be a free one. But I hope it's one that won't become useless soon after I start using it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pinnacle studio 12 vs 24-bit audio

When editing my piano videos, I found out the hard way that WAV files recorded in 24 bit could not be added to the videos. Only those recorded in 16 bit worked. I hope that helps someone else trying to do music videos with Pinnacle, since the limit doesn't appear to be documented anywhere.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

IDE DVD drive + IDE to SATA converter + AHCI BIOS + Vista

This is your free "incompatibility of the day report".

If you try the above combination, the Vista install DVD will take about a half hour to boot, and will never be able to install.

The moral of the story : if you are going to enable AHCI in your motherboard BIOS, you need to make sure that all your devices are real SATA devices, and not using any IDE to SATA converter. I found this out, the hard way.

The specific components I ran into this with were a Samsung DVD burner, Unitek IDE to SATA converter, XFX nForce 750a motherboard with AMI BIOS, and Vista x64 SP1 boot DVD.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Incompatibility of the day : GA-P35-DS3R vs Hauppauge HVR-1800 vs PNY 9500/9600 GT

For inexplicable reasons, installing a PNY 9600GT video card together with a Hauppauge HVR-1800 capture card on a Gigabyte P35-DS3R motherboard causes Vista not to be able to resume from ACPI S3 sleep mode.

Other combinations are OK with S3 resume, including P35-DS3R + E-VGA 8600 GT + HVR-1800, P35-DS3R + PNY 9600GT . I even tried on another motherboard, an XFX nForce 750a SLI . No problem there with the same PNY 9600 GT video card and the HVR-1800.

I also own a PNY 9500 GT video card, which I tried. It has the exact same compatibility problem as the PNY 9600 GT video card.

So, I can't really say which of the 3 components - the Gigabyte P35-DS3R motherboard, the PNY 9500/9600GT video card, or the Hauppauge HVR-1800 is most at fault. All I know is that they don't work right together with ACPI S3 resume . This is one of the major problems with PCs today - so much hardware can be installed together, but most of the combinations are never tested.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Positive SLI experience with dual 8600GT cards and XFX nForce 750a motherboard

For reasons that I will explain another day, I have been switching video cards around a lot between my home computers. When I built my HTPC in 2008, I chose a video card with the same chipset as for my main PC - one based on the nVidia Geforce 8600GT chipset cards. One board was from E-VGA, and the other from Palit. The HTPC is now running with a slightly slower, but cooler and quieter, PNY 9500GT. My main PC is now running with a much faster PNY 9600GT. The 3rd PC had a built-in video card on its XFX nForce 750a motherboard, and supported SLI. However, like most built-in video cards, it was relatively underperforming, and it only had one digital video output. I have a requirement for two DVI - one to drive my Gateway FDH2401 24", and a second one to drive the monster HP LP3065 30" LCD that's getting delivered on wednesday, to replace the CMV-221D 22" that I sold last friday.

So, in this 3rd PC, I disabled the built-in video card, and after mucking with the jumpers on the motherboard just like in the good old days of non-PNP ISA cards, plugged in both video 8600GT cards into their respective PCI-E slots.

After a reboot, I could see that the graphics performance went from 5.9 in Aero and 5.5 in 3D in the built-in Vista benchmark, vs about 4.3 for the built-in 750a. After enabling SLI, the 3D score went up to 5.8 . I guess it's a little disappointing to just go from 5.5 to 5.8, but it shows SLI is working. The 5.8 was the lowest of all scores - everything else was 5.9 . The other PC with the lone 9600GT gets 5.9 in both Vista graphic tests.

This was with a single Gateway FHD2401 display running at 1920x1200. The second HP 30" display will run at 2560x1600 when I get it. I hope the presence of two video cards will help the performance when it gets hooked up.

Monday, April 13, 2009

VGA to DVI conversion success : Ambery HDV1

I received another signal converter today, the Ambery HDV1. I had ordered it last week from Ebay. It is not in the same price range as the model from Central Computers that I tested over the week-end - about 3 times the price - more with shipping and sales tax. It also has the interesting property that it works ! I connected the VGA output of the Roland VS-2400CD to the VGA input of the HDV1. I then used a DVI to HDMI converter, and an HDMI cable, and plugged them in to the DVI output of the HDV1. The HDMI cable went to port #1 of my Monoprice HDX-501 switch. And my Gateway FHD2401 displayed it nicely.

The HDV1 is supposed to support up to 1600x1200 resolution, which I have not tried, since the VS-2400CD will only output 640x480. But it could be useful down the road to hookup other VGA stuff, like my boyfriend's laptop.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Avanquest Disk Utilities vs Vista x64

On April 11th, I purchased the Avanquest Disk Utilities - a software package comprised of 4 different programs : Partition Commander, Perfect Image, System Commander, and Disk Copy & Clean. All fairly handy programs to have when one is constantly changing hardware, backing up, restoring, and installing and de-installing software, as I always am.
The box stated that it supported Vista, in large characters.
I opened it today and attempted to install the first program - Partition Commander. Unfortunately, it doesn't support Vista 64 bits. Same story for Perfect Image - which I was most interested in out of the 4. System Commander works, but I already had a license and I knew that. Disk Copy & Clean runs from the boot CD.
Overall, that's 50% of the programs that only run in 32 bit mode. I then noted that, in very small print, on the other side of the box, there was a note that it only worked in "32 bit only". I must have missed it during my purchase. I even looked for confirmation of 64-bit support online before I opened the box, since I knew I couldn't return software. It was nowhere to be found.
Fortunately, Avanquest has an excellent 90-day money back guarantee on this program, but now I have to mail it to them at my expense, and I am out the sales tax. I can't return the program to the retailer.

Central Computers HCV0101 VGA to HDMI converter vs Roland VS-2400CD

I have been wanting to go all-digital for my displays in my home office. Don't ask me why, the reason would be longer than this blog entry.

One device has stood in the way until now - the Roland VS-2400CD digital audio workstation. As I have mentioned before in this blog, it is an embedded system, featuring only a VGA analog connection, and there is no possibility of installing a different video card. It outputs a fairly low 640x480 VGA resolution.

Thus, the only way to connect this device to a digital display (DVI or HDMI) would be to use an analog to digital signal converter. This used to be an expensive conversion box. Not anymore.

Earlier this week, I spotted an inexpensive signal converter on Central Computers' web site, model HCV0101 . The total cost was under $40. On saturday april 11, I decided to give it a try. I first drove to the Santa Clara store. They were out of stock, and directed me to their Sunnyvale store, where I purchased it.

Once I got home, I hooked it up - and got no picture whatsoever. The specs on the unit listed 640x480 as one of the resolutions :

640x480 60Hz 75Hz

I hooked up the VS-2400CD to my display via the analog VGA connection again. I then noticed that it was set to output 640x480 at 66 Hz for some reason. One of the very few display settings on the Roland is the vertical refresh rate. I turned it down to 60 Hz . I hooked up the converter again. And then, I got a digital picture ! I guess the converter can only handle those two specific refresh rates of 60 Hz and 75 Hz, and nothing else in between.

The 640x480 picture did not look good on the Gateway FHD2401, but that's because it tries to stretch it accross the screen in "wide" mode, and it's supposed to be a 4:3 resolution. That problem is common to both the direct VGA connection and the converted HDMI output. Unfortunately, the only setting on the Gateway that will solve that problem is using the "native 1:1" setting - but this results in the picture only being postcard-size, since the screen is 1920x1200. This problem has nothing to do with the converter though, and everything to do with the scaler in the Gateway FHD2401 and its lack of settings.

I thought I was done with the VGA->HDMI converter, but unfortunately not so. Later in the day, the unit started losing the HDMI connection. It turns out the HDMI connector on it is very loose. I think I got a defective unit. Another trip to Central Computers may be in order.

Update : I got a replacement unit. Clearly an open box one. And it behaved the same. It worked for a minute or so and then kept losing the signal. I guess a signal converter for that price is too good to be true. I returned it on April 13.

Level One DVI PS/2 KVM-0406 vs nearly everything else I tried to hook up to it

DVI PS/2 KVM switches are very hard to come by. Most digital video KVM switches use the USB interface these days, not the older PS/2 keyboard and mouse interface. Most computers for the last decade have featured USB connectors, though not all of them support USB keyboard and mice at boot time. Unfortunately, one of my machines is an embedded system, a Roland VS-2400CD, which features only PS/2 connections, and cannot be upgraded to USB since there are no expansion slots of any kind, and even if there were, it would also require firmware to support it.

One would think that such an issue could be resolved by the use of a simple PS/2 - USB converter. But that is not so. Plenty of converters exist to connect PS/2 keyboard and mice to USB-only computers, but there are no converters that I know of that will allow PS/2-only computers to use USB device.

In fact, the only solution is a smart KVM switch that can accept the PS/2 on the computer port side. That presents a big problem if one also wants to use a digital video interface like DVI or HDMI, since very few digital KVM switches exist with a PS/2 interface.

A week ago, I found one such switch on ebay. It was a Level One model KVM-0406 . The price was ridiculously low - about $45 shipped. The specs said its maximum resolution over DVI was 1600x1200, which was lower than the 1920x1200 resolution that I needed. But it also said that it supported the maximum single-link DVI bandwidth of 165 MHz, and my video card is doing 1920x1200 over single link DVI. So, I ordered it, and received it by fedex on saturday April 11.
I immediately hooked up one of my PCs to it, which was using an nVidia 8600GT video card. The pleasant surprise was that it ran just fine at 1920X1200. The mouse and keyboard worked just as well as with my previous analog KVM switch, too. The only problem was that the Cyberlink Blu-ray advisor noticed that HDCP did not work on the DVI connection - where it worked without the switch, but I did not have the expectation that this old switch would support it.

I thought I was all set and I went on running errands for the day - not trying to connect the 2 other machines to the switch.

Much later in the day, I was cursing at the switch. The Roland VS-2400CD had some major issues with the mouse locking up and jumping all over the place by itself. This was something that could only be attributed to the mouse emulation in the KVM switch.

Worse, my second PC, using an nVidia 9500GT video card, had major problems with it when connected to the switch. When I first hooked it up, "live", the display at 1920x1200 just flickered horribly and the picture was half way off screen. I thought it might be the 15ft cable. So I switched to a 6ft cable (the same length as for the other PC that worked), and brought the machine closer. The problem persisted.
I tried to reboot the system. The BIOS screens showed up without corruption. But the operating system (Vista) would not boot. Not from the hard drive, nor from the installation DVD !
I never could figure out why that was. But when I took the KVM switch out of the way and reverted to the previous configuration, the machine booted just fine.

Needless to say, with only 1 machine out of 3 working properly with the switch, it is not useful to me, and I'm in the process of trying to return it. I am not sure if I will have any luck locating a good PS/2 and DVI/HDMI switch.

For now, I have reverted to using my trusted Iogear MiniView SE for the keyboard and mouse connections, since it works properly with all 3 machines and its mouse emulation does not cause issue. And I am using the previously-discussed Monoprice HDX-501 switch to switch the Gateway FHD2401 digital display. It's not very ergonomic, especially since the HDX-501 uses a single toggle button that only goes forward, and requires four button presses to go to the previous input :-(. I foresee a better digital switch in my future.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Eagle Consus ET-CSIU2J-BK dual SATA drive JBOD enclosure

After the WD hard drive failure I had yesterday, I decided that I need more backup storage. Therefore, today I bought this drive enclosure from Microcenter along with a pair of 1.5 TB SATA Seagate drives in order to build a 3 TB array. The enclosure is supposed to take two SATA drives, and make theme look like a single larger drive.

I noticed that the box for this enclosure said 2 TB limit, but the salesman said it probably just hadn't been tested with larger drives. The price was right, so I took a chance.

I tried it as soon as I got home, and the two 1.5 TB drives were recognized as ... only 750 GB total :-( A quarter of the actual capacity.

Unfortunately, that means the enclosure is useless to me. I was hoping to reduce the number of power supplies/USB plugs and hook up more high capacity drives. But this isn't the solution unfortunately. So, both the enclosure and the two hard drives will be going back.

If someone knows of a JBOD enclosure that doesn't have this 2 TB limit, please let me know.

Friday, April 3, 2009

They don't make hard drives like they used to.

It was only 8 months ago that I purchased a Western Digital 320 GB external USB hard drive, for the purpose of bringing my uncompressed music collection to the office, and listening to it on my computer in the background with headphones. Today, this hard drive has already failed. It just does a clicking noise when being powered up. It has only been moved a few times between home and office. Fortunately, all the data is backed up at home, many times, and the drive has a 3 year warranty, but it is an annoyance to have to ship this drive back to the manufacturer for a replacement.

LSI Logic 53C1010 SCSI controller vs Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3R motherboard

I have used SCSI controllers on almost all the many computers I have built since I was 15 years old. I have a couple that I have been using since 2001 - an eternity in computer times - which are based on the LSI Logic 53C1010 chipset.

When I did a major computer upgrade in 2007, I chose a Gigabyte GA-P35-DSR3 motherboard.

The LSI SCSI card worked OK with it, with one exception : the SCSI BIOS always searched for all 30 SCSI targets, 15 on the LVD bus (Ultra 160) and 15 on the regular wide SCSI bus (40 MB/s). It seemed to ignore the SCSI BIOS settings that I had set, telling it to only search for the SCSI targets that I actually have. This annoying problem increases the machine's boot time by about 20 seconds. There are 3 other disk controllers in the system - one Intel ICH9R SATA controller on the motherboard, one Gigabyte SATA controller also on the motherboard, and finally one VIA IDE/SATA controller on a multifunction PCI card. That's a lot of BIOS storage target scans to go through before the computer can even start booting the operating system from a hard disk or other device. It's a little bit over a minute's worth of BIOS time. Unfortunately, too many programs still require reboots after installation or uninstallation, or I would seldom reboot the computer - I normally use ACPI S3 sleep/resume feature which works great.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Google is still not indexing new sites without external links

In March and April of 2008, I acted as recording engineer in the production of a new recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations. In January of 2009, I put up a web site making the recording available to everyone. Nearly 3 months later, this web site still does not appear in the Google index, despite my having added it manually as a suggested link. Apparently, that suggestion was ignored. The site just cannot be found. This blog entry will be the first external link to that web site. I hope that it will succeed in getting the site indexed.

Monday, March 30, 2009

DataColor Spyder 3 Pro colorimeter

Having caught the digital photography bug, I decided that it became important for me to see the colors as intended on the screen. This especially helps with printing color photographs, and I happen to own 4 different color printers of various technologies - two inkjets, one dye sublimation, and one laser.

As astute readers of this blog may know, I just replaced one of my monitors with a new Gateway 24" FHD2401 . It features a very bright picture - much brighter than the screen it is currently placed next to - a cheap Chimei CMV-221D . As a result, the photograph looked extremely different between the two screens. Just dragging windows between the two was pretty bad - they also has a mismatched number of lines and different picture height, 1200 vs 1050 .

I did much online research, and also had the Pantone Huey Pro 3 on loan from a coworker, and was unhappy with it. So, I decided for a slightly more expensive product, the Data Color Spyder 3 Pro. This is a neat little USB sensor device that comes with calibration software.

I bought it last saturday night, March 28 at MicroCcenter. I had the software installed, and my 2 monitors calibrated in about a half hour. The picture looked matched much better. To be fair, there is still a large difference due to the Gateway's brightness , but the colors match fairly well - the tones don't change much when moving one window accross monitors.

I repeated the process with the second computer on my KVM switches, which was also hooked up to the same two monitors . Again, no problem.

I was about to post a glowing review of Spyder 3 Pro, but did not get the time to post on Sunday. That's when I discovered the problem today : the Spyder's monitoring agent process, Spyder3Utility.exe, had consumed over 1.6 GB of RAM, all by itself , after I had run my NSS software QA tests overnight in a loop for 24 hours ! The only job of that agent process is to remind the user to recalibrate - I set it to check daily, and remind once a month - or take ambient light samples, a feature that I disabled. Apparently, there is a huge memory leak. The agent seems to leak some data for each process that is started on the computer. My software QA tests easily ran over a million processes overnight - my PCs don't have quad-core processors for web browsing word processing. If the machine sits idle, there is basically no leak in the agent, but while the QA tests run - which are all text-based programs, by the way - the leak is over 1 MB per minute, which accounts for the 1.6 GB overnight figure .

The good news is that this agent can be stopped without too many negative consequences for me. Stopping it does not lose the monitoring calibration. But the agent may still be needed to set the calibration at startup time. I haven't tried to disable it completely at boot time.

I have reported the memory leak to DataColor.

The agent also doesn't play too well with the KVM switches - when displays disappear or reappear, it gets confused. Another day, another problem.

Free after rebate software : Norton Ghost 14.0

This is the next one in a series of articles on programs that are more trouble than they are worth, even if they are free !

Norton Ghost 14.0 is another program that I acquired last year from Fry's for a vile sum.

This is disk imaging software, which is one way you can do full system backups. I thought it was very attractive. And the box advertised support for Windows Vista.

And perhaps it does, on Vista 32 bits, but the software is useless on Vista 64 bits. Sure, it actually lets you backup your data and your OS. But there is no way to restore your OS if it's 64 bits ! The recovery CD only works for Vista 32 bits. And forget it if you have any dynamic disks - spanned or striped volumes, features available only in the higher editions of Vista, such as Enterprise and Ultimate. If you never tried to restore your backup, you might think you are covered. Not so. Fortunately, I tried it long before I needed it, and discovered what can only be called a design problem. Norton should state clearly that this software is only useful on Vista 32 bits. Write-only backups are not exactly useful. If you are using Vista 64 bit, or Vista Ultimate, or Vista Enterprise, or a combination of either, you will be out of luck. This is a really important disclosure that Symantec did not make prior to selling their product. Shame on them. This should be a much bigger issue than the one about computer makers selling underpowered computers with Vista logos. Norton's software only works if you run the lower-end editions of Vista, ie. 32 bits, Basic, or Home. It's not for anyone serious about backing up their data.
One year after my purchase, there is still no Ghost update to fix these design issues. I'm sure Norton would like to charge for that, too.

Free after rebate software : Corel Media One vs Hauppauge Win TV HVR-1800 video capture card

It pays to resist the temptation to acquire and install more software, especially software that is free after rebate, like my neighborhood Fry's Electronics likes to do to empty their shelves.

Assuming you do get your rebate - and so far I have gotten nearly all of mine, although not in the delays advertised, the costs of "free after rebate" software can be far higher than your time spent filling out, scanning, OCR'ing, and mailing out the rebate forms, the interest on your money during the 6 months period you can expect to be out your cash, or the amount of the sales tax which isn't refunded by the rebate.

Buying retail software was something I had rarely done - I used OS/2 as my home OS from 1992 to 2007, and I never found much of anything in stores. But in 2007, I switched over to the dark side - I started using Windows Vista x64 instead.

I have since bought many, many software programs for minimal cost due to "free after rebate" deals. Some of which I needed, and many others that I never actually used.

I needed a good photo editing program, and I thought Corel Photo Impact Pro 13 would be it. Very big mistake. This program has conflicts with many others, not the least of which is with the programs from the Hauppauge HVR-1800 WinTV capture card. Everytime I started WinTV, it would display the message "Please wait while Windows configures Corel Media One". One would click cancel, and the dialog would come again 3 times, until WinTV would actually come up. And then the picture was square instead of 4:3 format, not filling the whole windows, even if maximized.

Since the error message seemed to point out the source of the conflict, I decided to uninstall Media One. Unfortunately, that did not solve the problem with the shape of WinTV. After reinstalling WinTV also, the picture now came in the right shape at startup. But there was no longer any sound, or video motion. The software only displayed the initial from the VCR hooked up to the composite input, and nothing more.

It was time to boot to my "test" Vista partition, setup for the purpose of checking compatibility issues only. That partition never had either Corel or Hauppauge software installed. I installed the Hauppauge WinTV. It worked fine the first time, with sound.

The conclusion - there is still another software conflict somewhere remaining on my production Vista partition, which prevents me from using WinTV. But I don't know what it is.

Maybe after my next full system backup, I will delete a few of the 100+ programs that are installed and try to figure it out. I will be sure to update this page. Stay tuned - I won't be on my WinTV.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

New webcam : and the winner is, the Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000 webcam.

I found an acceptable replacement webcam on my second try. The first one was a Creative Live Cam Optia AF. It was unsuitable due to poor image quality and poor software. It went back to Fry's the next day. The final choice was a Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000, which does wonderfully, especially with Skype. There isn't much of an improvement when using it with apps like Yahoo Messenger, since it transmits in such a low quality, if it transmits at all.
I no longer have random crashes with Pinnacle Studio 12.1 when the cam is attached to the computer. However, Studio will crash with a corrupt stack when recording from the cam. But I think that's more of a bug in Studio than a problem with the webcam this time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

DDC/CI - "EzTune" vs HDMI switch

Gateway bundled software with its 24" monitor that allows managing some of its features through the computer. It communicates with the display using the DDC/CI interface. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way this doesn't work when using my Monoprice HDX-501 switch. It's not a big loss. I hope that saves someone else some time.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

24" monitor saga, vs Monoprice HDMI switch HDX-401E

On March 7, I noticed a nice, 24" monitor at Microcenter in Santa Clara. It was a Sceptre brand and featured 1920x1200 resolution. It sold for $289, with a $40 rebate. That was relatively inexpensive, and I decided that it was time to replace one of the two monitors in my home office.

I was running a two monitor setup. One was a 7 year old Dell 2001FP, which was 20" and 1600x1200, which I was running with its analog VGA connection. The other monitor was a 22" Chimei CMV-221D with a resolution of 1680x1050, running using its DVI connection.

I have multiple source devices in my small home office : a Roland VS-2400CD digital audio workstation, which is a sort of embedded systems with PS/2 keyboard and mouse connections, and analog VGA video; as well as two PCs, both setup with dual monitors.

One of the switches I was using were an Iogear MiniView SE 4-port PS/2 - VGA KVM to switch the analog video and keyboard/mouse for the Dell monitor between the VS-2400CD and the 2 PCs. The other switch was a Monoprice HDMI switch, to switch the digital video of the second screen between the two PCs, with the Chimei monitor. All was running fine up to that point.

Because the new Sceptre monitor had a higher resolution - 1920x1200, I decided that it should be run with its digital DVI connection. That meant the Chimei would now be run in analog VGA. That part was no problem - and the Chimei ran fine in VGA at 1680x1050 without any visible ghosting.

The problems started when I connected the Sceptre to the HDMI switch, with the help of the very same DVI-HDMI adapter I was previously using with the Chimei DVI connection. There was troubling video corruption in the upper left corner of the screen. This corruption was minor when using the computer that was connected 6ft to the HDMI switch - for a total of 12ft of cables. But that corruption became intolerable when switching to the other computer, which was 15ft away from the HDMI switch. Through many hours of trial and error, I determined, that I could make the video corruption go away if, and only if, the Sceptre was directly connected to a single computer, with a 6ft cable, and without a switch. I also tried to directly connect it to the farther computer - but the video corruption reappeared.

The next day, on March 8, I went back to Microcenter and told him about the problem. He gave me a new unit of the same Sceptre 24" model. I plugged it in. The problem was back, instantly. I packed it, and went back to the dealer within the hour. I then picked up an HP w2408h floor model, for $299. This appeared to be a very nice monitor, with rotation capability, and a built-in USB hub.

I brought it home, and it worked fine with the HDMI switch, to my relief, without any corruption problem. I noticed that the colors were way off compared to the other Chimei monitor, and was not able to manually make adjustments to match the two screens. I figured I would use a color calibrator eventually to solve this issue.

I thought that this was the end of my monitor problems. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Over the next week, the nice HP monitor developed issue going into sleep mode, wasting electricity and heating my room unnecessarily. At other times, it would go to sleep mode, and would be unable to wake up at all, except by pulling the power cord. This was annoying. I started googling and found that this was a common issue, that was sometimes resolved by installing HP software. I had never installed software monitor. I found that there was about 100 MB worth of HP software for the monitor indeed, which I installed on both computers. This software had capabilities like auto-pivot, and software control of brightness and contrast. But it only worked properly on the one computer that had the USB connection to the monitor. And it actually did not resolve the problem with the sleep mode. The problem kept popping up. In addition to the way-off colors of this monitor, this was too much of a problem to live with. I knew I had to do something to resolve it.

On March 21, I purchased a Gateway FHD2401 24" monitor from Fry's electronics. It had a very nice picture in the store, seemingly more accurate than many other monitors. When I brought it home, it seemed to match the Chimei monitor's colors better, too. Unfortunately, trouble started immediately when I started switching computers with the HDMI switch. The monitor went into a "hung" state as soon as I switched source. The picture went black. None of the buttons on the monitor worked anymore, including the power buttons. Also, even when not switching the source, the monitor would not go to sleep when it should, just like the HP. At that point, I became extremely angry. Many expletives were heard. I spent the next few hours trying to resolve the problem, to no avail. I verified that the monitor worked perfectly fine when directly connected to either computer, even with the long HDMI cable run. But being able to switch to a different computer source on this monitor was a requirement for me. At that point, I was starting to think that I should return both this Gateway FHD2401, and the HP w2408h, and just get my old Dell 2001FP back from my boyfriend. Around 2am, I had the idea to try one last thing.

In my home theater, I had another HDMI switch. It was also from the same brand, Monoprice. It looked almost identical. But it was a slightly different model, a 5 port version, called the HDX-501. I decided to exchange the HDMI switches between the home office downstairs, and the home theater upstairs. And that did it ! With the HDX-501, the Gateway FHD2401 worked just fine. There was no longer any problem when switching computer source. It went to sleep when the computer went to sleep. And it woke up when the computer was turned on. If only I had this idea earlier. I really didn't think that the HDX-401E was the problem, since it worked fine with the Chimei CMV-221D monitor, and I did not expect that the HP or Gateway monitors should have problems. Perhaps the reason is that the Chimei is not an HDCP monitor, and the HP and Gateway monitors are HDCP, although I did not attempt to play any content that requried HDCP at any point, and have no need for it.

My home office was working with the new Gateway FHD2401 monitor and the HDX-501 switch. But I wasn't done yet. I had to test the home theater with the HDX-401E switch. The HDMI components in use were a Sanyo PLV-Z2000 projector, a Sony BDP-S300 Blu-ray player, a Dish network 722 HD DVR, and a home theater PC. Fortunately, it appeared that the HDX-401E did switching the job withoua a problem with this combination, although much more slowly than the HDX-501 - there was about a 3-5 second delay after a button press before the source was actually switched, vs about 1 second with the HDX-501 previously. I suppose I could live with that. Next came the realization that the infrared remote codes for the two switches were different. That meant my Sony RM-AV2500 universal remote could no longer switch HDMI source. I spent the next hour trying to find the tiny HDX-401E original remote, so that I could feed the proper IR codes into my RM-AV2500. I finally went to sleep at 4am.

On March 22, I returned the floor model HP w2408h monitor to Microcenter, with no issues.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Video editing programs vs Philips SPC700 webcam

For the last year and a half, I have been using a Philips webcam, model SPC 700 . It has a good picture quality compared to many webcams in its price range.

Recently, I started doing some video editing. I noticed that every single video editing application that I used was unstable and would crash inexplicably.

I have now discovered that the culprit was this webcam. The Microsoft developer studio led me to this highly suspicious stack :

> vphc700.dll!153163ce()
[Frames below may be incorrect and/or missing, no symbols loaded for vphc700.dll]

After unplugging the webcam, I am able to do video editing without any problem.

As it turns out, Philips has not updated the webcam software for Vista since april 2007, so there is no fix that can be downloaded.

I will no longer use this webcam. I may use it with another computer where I don't do video editing, sell it, or maybe even give it to one of my cats to chew - he loves chewing webcam cables.

Left-handed wireless trackball, anyone ?

I started having tendinitis in my right wrist in 1997. I was 19, and had been programming for about 7 years. The tendinitis was due to the use of a regular mouse.

Ever since, I have only been using trackballs. I also switched to pointing with my left side instead, even though I am left handed. I have been using various versions of Kensington's excellent Expert Mouse .

In spring 2008, I built a home theater PC. The couch is located about 14 ft from the projection screen, and 11 ft from the PC. One year later, I have been unable to locate a decent wireless trackball for use with it. Especially one that can be used with the left hand. Some brands only design their wireless trackball to work with the shape of the right hand, which upsets me to no end.

If you have became aware of a good wireless trackball product that can be used with the left hand , I would like to hear about it.

Why I have not an bought an iPod yet

Way back in 2007, Apple used to have a 160 GB iPod . At that time, my music collection, in Apple Lossless Encoder, made from all legally purchased CDs, was about 180 GB . I thought for sure that by waiting another year, they would come up with a unit sporting a bigger hard drive that could fit all my songs.

Instead, Apple's next lineup of iPods had a smaller unit with only a 120 GB hard drive, 40 GB smaller than before.

Now it's 2009, any the size of my music collection has grown to 15,592 files in 2648 folders, totalling 264,905,499,571 bytes. There doesn't appear to be any single music player on the market that can fit it.

Here is hoping that somebody will fill that gap.

Apple iTunes and HP LightScribe gripes

No, this isn't another iTunes RFE. Although, it would sure be nice if iTunes supported burning labels to LightScribe discs.

This is more of a bug report. And a very annoying one at that. On my system, running Vista x64, using iTunes simultaneously with any of the free Lightscribe labeling programs is a recipe for disaster. What happens eventually is that all LightScribe progress will stop. The label application cannot be stopped. The Lightscribe disc can not be taken out of the drive. The computer cannot even be put to sleep. The only "fix" is to ... Press the reset button to reboot your whole OS. Or if your computer doesn't have one, hold the power button for 5 seconds. The Lightscribe label can be reburned over - it will position correctly. At least the media is not wasted. But this is totally unacceptable.

The only "solution" that I have found ?

1) Close iTunes while burning LightScribe labels
That's rather annoying, given that if you print graphics, a label can take a cool half hour.

2) Burn Lightscribe labels from another computer
See 1) :-(

Did I mention I have two computers, each with 4 optical drives. One has 3 LightScribe burners, the other 2 . I should be able to burn 5 simultaneous LightScribe labels, in theory, while listening to iTunes, if it was not for the crappy LightScribe software, and the iTunes interaction.

In practice, the LightScribe software also has the problem that it really doesn't like to run simultaneously on multiple drives. It will be extremely slow doing that.
Apple, HP, are you listening ?

iTunes R.F.E. : simultaneous drive support

For those who aren't software engineers, and heavy TLA abusers , an RFE is a "request for enhancement".

Here my request of the day. I have several computers with 4 optical drives. With their SATA interface, they are plenty past enough to be all used simultaneously. Why would anyone want to do that ? Well, let's say for example that you just received a box set of 34 CDs that you want to import to itunes, as I did last week. The bottleneck is not the computer. My Core 2 Quad 6600 CPU can compress lossless music at a very high rate, probably in excess of 30x, ie., 30 hours of music per hour of CPU. And the Seagate 750 GB SATA hard drives are capable of at least 60 MB/s.

Instead, with iTunes, the bottleneck becomes the speed at which you can insert and remove into the drive. And the fact that you have to do so every 3 minutes again. And edit the track name each time before import, while nothing else is going.

So, Apple developers, learn to make the best use of threads already. We have had multiple core CPUs on desktops for a very long time. The UI change is simple - just allow the "Import CD" button to be clicked for each drive, rather than just for one at a time.

I would also suggest you do the same for "Burn disc", since I also backup all my CDs to CD-Rs after I import them, only with CD-Text information added.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The many unfullfilled promises of online music downloads

Once upon a time, there were CDs. Then, there was the Internet. Later came broadband access.

It seemed logical that the Internet would become the medium of choice for purchasing music. Downloads promised to be much less expensive than pressing CDs, producing cases, and physically shipping them. The Internet should lead to cutting intermediaries that stand between artists and their listeners and reducing unnecessary costs. One could instantly get access to the music of their choice, in a much more ecologic way, without taking a trip to a music store.

But rather than embrace the new medium, the record companies felt threatened. They lived desperately in the past. They stuck with consumer-unfriendly DRM schemes for far too long. Now, a select few Internet companies own the commercial online distribution channel, such as Apple with iTunes and Amazon.

These companies have redefined the medium for music. In many ways it's good. In others, not so much. Technically, the new medium is no longer what was originally recorded. Digital music downloads are typically done in MP3 format or similar, compressed with lossy algorithms. Most certainly, this reduces download times, but it also comes at a price - what you hear is no longer the original. This may not matter for those who listen to music on a cheap pair of speakers on their computer, or their portable music player. But for those listening on high-fidelity systems, particularly for classical music, it matters. And the fact is that to my knowledge today, nobody offers commercial digital downloads of lossless music. That is despite the fact that many connections are fast enough already for lossless music. Typically Apple lossless will compress about 2:1 - vs 6:1 for a 256 kbps MP3. We are only talking about a factor of 3. This is one of the reasons that I haven't purchased any online music, and that I still exclusively buy CDs. I have purchased hundreds of CDs, about 800, and would very gladly download instead, but a prerequisite is that the music has to be in lossless format.

My latest music purchase was a box set of 34 CDs of Scott Ross playing all of Scarlatti's sonatas for harpsichord . This set was not available for download anywhere, lossy or lossless. I ended up purchasing it for $145 shipped from Berkshire Record Outlet - about $100 less than the Amazon price. It took a full two weeks to be delivered to my door. It came with a nice 200 page booklet, and a box. I would have gladly have sacrificed it for an e-book. It took about 3 hours to feed all the music into iTunes, and the 35.5 hours of music compressed to 13.72 GB with the Apple lossless encoder. My "6 Mbits" DSL connection has a sustained download speed of about 625 KB/S, so this could have been a 6.5 hours download. I would have liked that a whole lot better than a 2 week wait. And I bet Amazon or Apple could provide this download for less than $145, and have a lot of money left over to pay the record company, and still make a profit.

So, why aren't we here already today in 2009 ?

Please, Apple and Amazon, give your customers an option to get lossless music. Even if this option costs more than 256 kbps MP3 downloads !

First post !

I can't believe that it has taken me this long to start a blog. I used to maintain a web site in 1995. Somehow, I stopped updating it. Let's hope this one lasts longer.