Archive for July, 2007

S/PDIFed offI

July 30, 2007 Leave a comment

If you’re thinking of adding surround sound to your Media Center by outputting SPDIF from your computer… think carefully.

I have an AOpen i855GMEm-LFS motherboard, that I bought partially because it was promoted as supporting 5.1 sound via S/PDIF. However, on closer inspection, I found that while the Motherboard supports it, it requires an add-on PCI-slot plate, that connects to the headers on the board. And yes, you’ve guessed it – no-one stocks them any longer. I’m not sure they ever did.

Some digging-around reveals a possible compatible match from Asus, is actually incompatible.

OK – so scrap using the existing SPDIF support. How about a new sound card?

Well – Creative Soundblasters are an old, reasonable-value favourite. Do they support SPDIF? Well… again, not as standard: you need a PCI slot for the card, and a breakout box to plug into it. And to pay for both – the box is around £20.

How about another brand? Terratec make some value cards. But read closely (pdf) – you’ll see that the S/PDIF outputs (they refer to them by their TOSLINK name) only provide stereo sound – even on their 7.1 card.

So – I’m still looking. I might lump for a Soundblaster Audigy, and try harder to find a Creative Digital I/O module. But it’s not as easy as I was expecting.

Categories: Computing

From Strength to Strength

July 23, 2007 Leave a comment

I now have my Bedroom ‘What’s up this morning’ screen much the way I want it; we’ll customise it a bit more no doubt, as we move it around.

I went through both Yahoo Widgets and Dashboard Widgets, looking for the closest fits to the functionality I needed. Yet again, it was the MacOS Dashboard Widgets that won out, making another case for running the Bedroom Media Center in MacOS rather than Windows MCE.

Now we can see time, date and weather at a glance: I can also see the local wind forecasts for kiteboarding (no Windguru widget in Yahoo); and in terms of travel, we can see live departure information for our two nearest National Rail stations, Tube station, and a trafficam from our nearest main road. The two screen can be brought up in Dashboard with a single click….

In terms of controlling the Mac, I’ve found the following:

Both Apple Remote and K610i handle Front Row fine. The Front Row Menu button was initially tricky – the SE editor works by asking you to press the required keys, but pressing Win-Esc (the default MacOSX Front Row shortcut) is a system combination and an app can’t capture this. Initially I fixed this when I found I could edit the SonyEricsson HID file (which is XML with an image appended), and mixed and matched the key combinations to get one that worked.

However – I then found that you can simply re-map the shortcut for Front Row in MacOS system settings – so I mapped this to f10, and used that on the phone. Much easier!

So that leaves Sleep, Wake-up, and Dashboard:

  • Sleep is tricky on the SE – this time, the key combination includes Eject or Power, neither of which exist on a Windows keyboard, hence they can’t be recorded for use on the phone. There is also no mapping in MacOS setup. On the Remote, I was surprised to find, much easier: hold down Play/Pause for 2s, a little symbol comes up, and Mac falls asleep
  • Wake-up is easy on both: for the Apple Remote, press a button – the Mini wakes up. On the phone, enabling Bluetooth Keyboard/Mouse can wake computer will allow the Mac to wake when the phone connects.
  • Dashboard is easy for the SE – a keyboard shortcut – but not so for the Apple Remote. I’m currently looking at some MacOSX apps to send the keyboard shortcut for Dashboard using the remote.
Categories: HTPC

MacOS wins again

July 21, 2007 Leave a comment

I’ve spent the morning grappling with my bedroom media center. It turns out that while MacOS X on my Intel Mac Mini picks up my Samsung LE19R71 LCD TV fine, Windows MCE2005 has no such luck. That means that while I can run the display at 1280×720 on MacOS, Windows is limited to the ‘Default Monitor’ settings of 720×480.

I shall name it… Mini Desktop!

Another victory for Apple’s ‘real’ Plug’n’Play!

Also, part of the ‘Grand Scheme’ is to have the MacMini streaming live TV from my Media Center’s Nebula Electronics DigiTV card/app via WiFi – negating the need for an unsightly aeriel or cabling in the bedroom, and bringing full DTV streaming capabilities to the PC. Unfortunately, the raw MPEG2 stream has, as suspected, proved too much for my (admittedly rather weak) 802.11g network – for the first time, I saw my entire network grind to a halt as the Mac pulled in over 1000 packets/sec; and it still seemed to not be enough to get a video picture!

So – next step is to look for Powerline networking! I’m glad I put that trunking in now…

PS. Also, while on the topic of the Samsung LCD: another annoying feature is that it doesn’t go into power-save/standby mode when the PC cuts the signal (ie. goes into standby itself). Hence it’s not great as a fully automatic bedroom media center… although it does have a manual wake timer and sleep timer on the TV, so it can be configured to come on in the morning, and switch off at night (if you can be bothered to go through the menus to enable the sleep each evening!).

Categories: Computing

All Hail the K610i

July 19, 2007 Leave a comment

You may wonder what I’m doing with a phone as boring and simple as the K610i….

Well – I bought two – one for myself, one for my girlfriend – so that we could phone, text, MMS, videocall, etc. each other without having to worry about whether our phones were compatible or not: which is important when the other party would only ever try a new technology once, and if it doesn’t work out of the box, never touch it again.

( If only the UK operators would recognise that: I interviewed for Vantrix 6 months ago, who produce software that performs automatic transcoding to ensure that an MMS sent from one phone is correctly received by another – even to the extent of converting Videos into Animated GIFs (if that’s all the handset supports). At the time, one operator had just signed with them. At the same time, I had just about given up on MMS for precisely that reason – my friends & family were tired of getting “You have a message waiting on our Web Portal: please rush to your nearest PC, type in this URL, add your mobile number and PIN, and if you’re still with us, you might see a nice pic at the end )

Anyway: the K610i is great, because it works out of the box. Example: the Remote Control function:

  1. Set up a Bluetooth pairing with your laptop.
  2. Select Remote Control on your phone
  3. Select profile Desktop
  4. Your phone registers with your computer as an HID via Bluetooth. You press a button on the phone, and the computer follows.

That’s it! No added phone software, no PC system-tray apps for $29.99, no special drivers. It just works. Eat that, Nokia E61 and Windows Mobile! I use this for presentations at work, and for controlling my keyboard/mouse-less MacMini media centre at home.

A similar thing for Transferring files to/from the phone. No need for the vendor software – if you want to keep your computer bloat-free, just browse using Bluetooth, and it fully supports the FTP protocol.

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly rocket science these days. But many phones I’ve found come with too many vendor-specific or operator-specific functions, ‘fun’ apps that are neither fun nor useful, and in turn, ignore the simple, clean, powerful, generic functions that allow you to achieve what you want, quickly and easily.

And yes, other SE phones achieve this, and more. But I only paid just over £100 for a brand-new K610i; most newer phones are selling with the same basic functions, just with more megapixels, more RAM, larger SD cards, slimmer design – all of which are incremental improvements on phones like the K610i, but not worth double the bucks.

Categories: Mobile

Down with Yahoo, Up with Funambol

July 17, 2007 Leave a comment

A quick, hopeful email to Funambol Tech Support yielded a fast and informative response:

We have had issues with the Yahoo server – and we have tried to talk to them to no avail. The issue is that the server is not syncML compliant, it says it is, but if fails on very some basic issues.
We recommend using any of the low costs servers out there. We will launch one soon as well.

Admittedly, it is extremely difficult for even Yahoo to produce user-friendly, sleek-UI’d applications for a non-tech-savvy base, while maintaining support for more technical users via industry-standard interfaces. So I can understand Yahoo’s pain. But it still doesn’t get my calendar sync’ed.

Categories: Computing

Life after Intellisync

July 13, 2007 Leave a comment

The search for an Outlook Yahoo Calendar Sync goes on….

After finding a copy of Intellisync for Yahoo on emule, I hit the old problem of Intellisync not working once you’ve tried to use a SyncML phone with Yahoo. It seems that perhaps the calendar location is migrated once you use SyncML, and from that point on Intellisync refuses to log on to the server with a “Cannot log into Yahoo. Please check your username and password and try again” error.

The username/password isn’t the problem, but it seems the default Intellisync server is… Changing this to allows a successful login and sync, but whatever my Outlook is syncing with now, it’s not my default Yahoo calendar; hence it’s useless.

So… I’ve changed tack, and tried to find an Outlook SyncML client; this should be a more future-proof approach as well. So far I’ve tried Funambol and Nexthaus SyncJE.

Funambol failed to speak to the Yahoo servers, with an 400 error; it seems, although it’s based on standard SyncML , the clients are only designed to talk to Funambol servers (ie. whichever version of OMA-DS they support), and so won’t talk to Yahoo.

SyncJE appears to be friendlier; it even started off by auto-discovering the default folders, SyncML standard and supported data formats by the server. It also integrates discreetly with Outlook, and has an auto-sync option.

However, it still returns a 400 error when trying to sync with my calendar. A little experimentation may be required. As well as consideration of the £40 price tag….

Categories: Computing

Yahoo Intellisync RIP

July 12, 2007 Leave a comment

Some freebies often seem too good to be true. Yahoo Intellisync was almost one of them – basically a rebadged version of what is now Nokia Intellisync Pro, it allowed users to sync Outlook, Notes, etc. with their Yahoo Calendar.

I found this particularly useful, since I could share a Yahoo calendar with my girlfriend, and then have our shared calendar view up in Outlook alongside my own, moving and comparing appointments between the two in the process. Without it, it’s back to ye olde web interface for Yahoo…

And no sign of Yahoo! Go! mobile either!? I had been using it on my HTC Hermes, providing me with full Push mail from Yahoo with fully-configurable message download/sync/delete options. Then Yahoo sent out a new version, that explictly removed support for many devices, including mine! They then promised a new ‘supa-dupa’ version of Go! with iPod-like 3D rotating functions… Promised for April, that version is yet to materialise.

Yahoo Go? Yahoo Stop, more like. Followed by Yahoo Reverse. Perhaps, like Vodafone, they panicked when they realised they were being a bit too professional, and doing too good a job. Or, more likely, the staff who knew what they were doing left/were downsized.

Anyway, clicking on the download link for Yahoo Intellisync takes you directly to the Nokia website for a paid-for, non-Yahoo-integrated version.
D Top Tip #343: Always keep a copy of the installer for old apps; they’re often better than the new versions.

Categories: Computing