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Archive for March, 2008

VOIP Testing

March 31, 2008 1 comment

SkypeA friend runs a language tuition website, where Skype is used to run live lessons with students over the internet. Recently, she mentioned that one particular student in the US has been having problems with poor voice quality – something that has worked surprisingly reliably for other students.

Hence, I’ve been digging around for some VOIP testing services that I can send to the student, to check their connection. Since online Speed testing is pretty popular, there should be some half-decent public, free, VOIP testing sites, right?

( This is the result of 10 minutes’ Googling and testing, so YMMV on this one! )

1. Visualware MySpeed VOIP

Visualware MySpeed VOIPThis is the business! Assuming these results are genuine and accurate, the website that showcases this company’s product will give you the full treatment using their web-hosted demo, for free.

Download, Upload Speeds; Lag, Jitter. Not just average, but also graphs of instantaneous value over time. And 12 test points around the world to select from. The figures look reasonable compared to my own observations, and the results are excellent.

One worrying observation – the results from all tests are publically accessible, simply by typing/guessing the test number in the URL. Makes it handy for me to retrieve the results from the students’ tests, but don’t rely on any privacy.

2. TestYourVOIP.com

Bandwidth.com VOIP TestMuch simpler: a bar graph ranging from “Forget the Phone” to “”Better than Being There” , and that’s it. Only 7 PoPs, and it requires a Java app install to run.

3. Bandwidth.com VOIP Test

Bandwidth.com VOIP TestLets you click straight into a generic test. Simple to use, and the test execution seems OK, including download, upload, and TCP latency, but it reported only 700kbps download, where the others more correctly measured 4-5Mbps. Nice implementation, but not one to trust.

Index everything….

March 26, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve just come across a revelation while searching my expenses.

It seems that Copernicus Desktop Search not only indexes Word, PDF, Excel, etc. documents, but will also find the OCR’d metadata in Microsoft Imaging MDI and TIF files.

Now, it’s well-known that you can run a Find within Microsoft Document Imaging to search for OCR’d text; and you can also use Windows search to find the same text in a folder or subfolders.

MDI screenshot

However – the fact that third-party indexing software like Copernicus supports it is pretty powerful. All the documents you scan and save as compressed images (as I do for all documents over 1 year old), you can also search instantly; making finding a particular amount on an old receipt or statement, 5 seconds’ work. No more Sundays spent on the living room floor surrounded by boxes of receipts and folders.

As an aside: a few years ago I ran a personal project to test the most efficient, reliable way to store my old documents. I found that while Adobe Acrobat 6 Full Image PDF provides better lossless compression of document images, Microsoft MDI wasn’t far behind. And while Acrobat 6 Full Version performed better OCR on typewritten text with good structure, Microsoft Imaging OCR was more effective on random snippets of text (eg. scanned receipts).

Got a Gigabyte GA-G33M-S2H? Does it work with Media Center?

March 22, 2008 Leave a comment

Lucky you… I think…Gigabyte GA-G33M-S2H

I spent two months, on and off, hunting one of these down. Eventually I found one (in France, on eBay), paid top dollar (or Euro) to get it over, and then had another 2 weeks of pain trying to get it to boot an OS (but that’s another story!)

Once I had it up and running in my HTPC case, I found it wouldn’t work with Windows Media Center – giving a “Your Video Card or Drivers are not compatible with Media Center“. I used to get that with my old MC, based on an ATI / Sapphire Radeon 9600 – the solution to which was usually a good kick and a reboot.

With this mobo, there is no graphics card – I’m using the HDMI output of the on-board Intel G33 graphics. I eventually tracked the problem down to the Hardware Acceleration. Reason – I don’t have none; not on the on-board graphics of this mobo. So, I took it down from ‘Full‘ to ‘None‘, and Media Center then opened without complaint.

I still didn’t have any TV or DVD though. The reason for this was fairly obvious – I didn’t have any MPEG2 decoders, which both use, installed. Then came the next tricky bit: trying to find an MPEG2 codec that didn’t need Hardware Acceleration. I eventually found it within the Cyberlink MPEG2 Decoder, in FinalCodecs. I’m not sure if this is entirely legit, so I’m looking for another Codec that’ll provide a long-term solution. Admittedly, although I have an C2D E6750 that should software-decode BluRay movies without any problem, it seems to struggle with the frame rate on simple DVDs.

However, in a final twist, Media Center is complaining about video drivers again – and nothing seems amiss. So… back to the Codec pool, it seems….

Well, that’s Mira working….

March 21, 2008 Leave a comment

 Mira

I’d been having problems the last few months with my Apple Remote – it was ‘double-reading’ every button I pressed… so – I’d press ‘down’ once, and it’d go down two options on the menu, or change down two channels, or spin round two options in Front Row. I was using mira, but it seemed to do this whether I was using it or not. Finally, it appeared to work OK for some time after a fresh boot, but always seemed to occur after waking from Sleep mode.

I Googled for an idea, using search terms like ‘apple remote double click’,  ‘double press’, etc. (Hopefully, if you search for the same terms, you’ve found this, and your problems are solved). Finally, since I’d registered mira, I turned to the official support pages.

Bingo – obviously I wasn’t the only one, as Twisted Melon have detailed exactly my problem as the first FAQ question. Basically, Apple released a security patch that prevented apps taking sole control of the IR Remote receiver. Since mira was then unable to do this, Mac OS read and acted on the signal too, and so each app gave the same command – causing a ‘Down’ to be acted on twice, for example.

Apple were supposed to have released a patch for this as another update, but mine still isn’t working. Hence I installed the original Twisted Melon patch, which seems to replace the Remote Receiver app so that the Mac OS native support is disabled.

And voila, it works!

 Front Row

Categories: Computing

HDDs are the new DVDs

March 20, 2008 Leave a comment

What do you use DVD-Rs for these days? Sharing movies? Archiving data?

I’ve got something like 50-100 DVD-Rs. All carefully labelled; all sequentially numbered, with carefully organised folders inside. Photos, projects, annual email archives.. all boxed, indexed, and backed up, with a duplicate set of discs at another location.

So… as I build up data I want to store long-term, I save it to a folder (Music, Apps, Personal, etc). When that gets to around 4.7Gb, I organise a directory structure, burn it to DVD, burn a copy or two for backup, and make a note to take the backups next time I go away. And it takes time. Lots of time. And plenty of room for mistakes.

And now I’ve decided, in this era of 500Gb HDDs for under £50 – why bother?

I can have one HDD in my Media Center with the entire contents of all my DVD-Rs.
I can have a full backup at a friend’s/relative’s house, on one external HDD, also around £50
I can sync the backups easily using something like SyncBack, either by bringing the external drive round for a day, or over FTP/the internet
And when’s the last time I checked all my DVD-Rs are still error-free? I can error check an entire HDD monthly with a scheduled command.

So that’s decided. I’ve bought 2 x 500Gb Samsung Spinpoint T’s – actually quite small these days – and that’s my data archives for the next few years. And by the time they’re full, I’ll probably be able to pick up a 2-3Tb drive for less than these cost.

That’s a lot of photos.

TYTN II is still here

March 20, 2008 Leave a comment

Well, this one’s a keeper!

A couple of months after getting my TYTN II, it’s still gracing (rather than “bulging from”) my pocket. It’s not a huge step up from the TYTN – indeed, it’s not really worth upgrading, unless the few hundred quid you’ll spend is worth it for these bonuses:

Memory
That 128MB does make the difference! I’m having the strange kind of experience I used to have on my P910i, where I’d check my running tasks, and find some big app (like Opera Mini, or the web browser), happy sat in the background, and I hadn’t even realised. On the TYTN I, having more than 2 large apps would lead to out-of-memory problems, but the TYTN II now seems comfortable enough to let you get on with things, without micro-managing.

GPS
Again – is actually useful. Not that taking out a separate Bluetooth GPS and switching it on was that big a deal, but there was often the “Oh, it’s unpaired; Ah, there’s some COM port error; Eek, the battery’s flat”. With the TYTN II, you select GPS in the app, and it just works. “Nice!”

Keyboard works during calls
Yes, you read correctly! Or maybe you never even noticed.. But the TYTN I would only allow numeric characters to be typed on the keypad during calls – making it useless for writing notes while on a Bluetooth headset. All OK in the TYTN II.

Tilt-screen
I never thought I’d say it, but it is a small bonus: resting the phone on your desk/breakfast table, and tilting the screen up to read. I never thought it’d be useful, but it is. And it does allow 2-4 fingered typing; I’m not yet as fast as when using my thumbs blackberry-style, but it is an alternative.

Camera
Genuinely better than the TYTN – and I’m not talking about just having ‘Sharpness’ turned off in the camera settings. The picture is still a little sharp, with flat colours, but it is better than the TYTN. However, due to the terrible frame rate, with the blurry, jerky image on the pre-photo ‘viewfinder’ screen, it’s always a pleasant surprise to see that the photo isn’t as bad as the preview was. It also works surprisingly well in low light – I mean, really surprisingly not bad for something that is basically a pocket computer with a camera as an afterthought.

And on the downside? Simple:

Stylus
It’s on the wrong side! Really, it is… for a right-hander. Unless you’re one of the 10% that the TYTN II seems to have been designed for, you’ll have to fumble the stylus from one hand to the other, somehow. Two months later, and I’ve still not found it to be as easy as the TYTN I

Battery
As before… except now the case is sleek enough that I don’t want to bolt a 3000mAh brick onto the back of my phone. So it lives on the end of my laptop or a pocket USB charger whenever possible.

Camera
Those people talking about the slow drivers? They’ve got a point… the view you see on the viewfinder screen will be nothing like the photo that’s actually taken. (Fortunately, the photo itself is usually better!)

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