Wednesday, January 31, 2007

One of the great paradoxes of blogging is that often you end up busy doing things that you could blog about, but you're too busy to blog about. - Sam Burnett
Too true.

Sam posted that a week ago and I've only just seen it because when you are to busy to blog, you are often too busy to read blogs. I've only got time to post this today because I'm forcing myself to stop for half and hour and have lunch, a late lunch, but lunch nonetheless.

Sainsbury's Tuna & cucumber if you wanted to know, and it is quite nice, if a bit cold.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Wharfedale DVD3210DVX DVD Player

I recently bought a Wharfedale DVD3210DVX DVD Player to replace an ageing Crystal DVX2005 DVD player, which whilst being a perfectly capable DVD player was a bit fiddly to use due to its very sensitive and minuscule remote and it didn't handle DivX files very well.

I saw the Wharfedale DVD3210DVX advertised quite cheaply on a PC components website where I was buying a few item as Christmas presents and after a few minutes of reading the reviews of the player happily added it to my shopping basket.

As luck would have it my ageing player decided to expire just after Christmas (the DVD player expiring wasn't the luck - it was the having purchased another DVD player) which gave me a perfect excuse to rearrange all of the devices under the telly and give the new one a spin.

To my surprise and disappointment the Wharfedale is a few inches wider than any of my other AV components under the telly which means that it has to go to the bottom of the pile, not a huge problem, but annoying none the less. Apart from that it looks fab with its glossy black finish and blue lights.

Once I had connected everything came the real test I popped a CD with an .avi file and was pleasantly surprised by how great the remote and menu system is. Each file has a preview in a small window which starts playing the files on the CD and the system is very responsive.

On playing the files I immediately noticed a huge improvement in the playback of complex scenes. Scenes with rain, snow, or rippling water brought the Crystal DVX2005 to a fitful stall, but the Wharfedale DVD3210DVX plays through them with just a hint of being a bit slower.

DVD playback is as one would expect on any modern DVD player - excellent.

There is only one major fault with the Wharfedale, and it really isn't a fault per se, the remote triggers my Fusion FVRT100 PVR to start recording, switch off, and do all sorts of things that I don't want it to be doing. The two devices must use the same codes, but funnily enough the Fusion remote doesn't affect the Wharfedale.

I haven't as yet found a way to stop this from happening short of placing something in front of the PVR receiver, which is a right pain.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Apple iPhone

Apple iPhone
Its Here. The worst kept secret in the history of badly kept secrets has arrived and I have to say I think its fantastic.

I haven't seen one in real life, but it looks like the most fantastic phone in the history of telephony.

I know that it has its faults, it is a little too big, there is no 3G, it has a puny 2MPix camera, it runs Mac OS X & Safari web browser, there is a relatively low res screen, etc., but still the Apple iPhone is the most functional beauty of a phone I've ever laid eyes on.

Now if only there was someone out there who could build something similar that ran Windows, had 3G and used one of Hitachi’s 800 x 480 miniature LCD panels. Then we'd be talking.


Happy Feet

I went to see Happy Feet in December. I've been looking forward to seeing it since I first saw the trailer last February, and after a long period of waiting I finally got to see it.

I was encouraged by reviews such as
is just the kind of feel-good animated film that works on a few different levels; it'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry, and it'll inevitably, unquestionably, make you tap your toes or bounce your leg, right there in the theater. It's charming and exquisitely detailed, and it succeeds where it really counts: It makes you really feel for the lovable lead penguin, Mumble- Dan Franzen
and from other people who obviously got LSD dosed munchies at their cinema.

Arriving at the cinema filled with excitement, I managed to finish my very large box of popcorn before the movie started. This was due to the fact that I was a bit hungry as I had not eaten that day and because there was an exteneded batch of trailers and adverts for childrens toys, games, DVDs, you name it that lasted 45 minutes. This at a 21:30 viewing where there were no children below fourteen years old.

All of which probably didn't put me in the best frame of mind, but once the movie started things progressed reasonably well if a tad bit slowly. I know that it is primarily a movie for children and that they might have problems following complicated plotlines but this was a bit slower than was strictly speaking necessary.

Happy Feet
Plot: 10/20
Animation: 12/20
Production: 14/20
Entertainment: 17/40
Total: 53/100
After a slow but reasonable start there were a few funny bits and some singing, but not a lot of dancing. The animation was not really special which was hugely disappointing especially as that was one of the selling points of the movie.

Yes there were moments when I was tapping my feet, but they were few and far between and I really did feel like going to sleep through a number of the scenes.

What really killed the movie for me was the ending. It was atrocious. What a waste, they could have saved themselves at least six months of production tiem and cost and left it out. The message was clear enough without having to add the rubbish that they did for the last quarter of an hour or so. It completely ruined what up until that point had been an almost passable animated feature. I think that the target age for this movie must be 3-4 year olds. This is a shame as it had a lot of promise as a concept and could easily have been written to appeal to audiences of all ages.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Belgian Blondes in Dutch Drinking Establishments

I visited the Lowlander Beer Café on Drury Lane near Covent Garden last night for a quick drink after work and had a pretty awful experience with a blonde.

The blonde in question was a La Trappe Blonde brewed by De Koningshoeven which tasted pretty awful. Martin described it best when he said that 'it tastes like bad champange', and it really did taste like a bad fizzy wine with added sugar and a dubiously light frothy head.

So why when given the choice of about a hundred ales and lagers to choose from did I select this travesty of Trappist Ales? For starters it had the relatively low ABV of 6.5%, which considering that there was a beer on the menu with an ABV of 12% was quite moderate. Secondly I have tried the dark version of this ale, La Trappe Dubbel before and it is lovely.

Martin by the way sensibly selected a Maredsous with a lovely flavour. But it was Vasa that scored, with a fabulous double fermented, beer, the name of which escapes me now, 24 hours later.

Fear change I say, it often brings dissapointment, and always avoid Belgian blonds in Dutch drinking establishments! Andy & Taz you've been warned!


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Quest for a Cheap, Compact, Silent Network File Server for Home

I've recently been interested in purchasing a small easily concealed silent home network file and print server. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think that it has always been in the back of mind.

What I really want is something quite small, without any fans, with a bit of internal storage and the ability to add large external hard disks, with a network card. It must also be very stable and reasonably energy efficient so that I can leave it on 24/7 without worrying about killing Eisbären. Oh yeah, it must also be cheap, really cheap.

I've been doing some research and there are a surprisingly wide number of options available. I could buy an off the shelf Windows or Linux capable mini PC like and a Mac Mini or a A-Open Mini-PC, but these are reasonably expensive and if the reviews are anything to go by not really silent so they don't really meet the criteria. If I had the money I'm sure that they would be sufficient, but even on eBay they still cost a reasonable amount.

At the other end of the spectrum I could just buy a NAS device like a Buffalo Linkstation Pro Network Storage Centre or a Western Digital NetCenter Network Drive. Both of these meet some of my criteria, being small, low powered, and having the ability to act a a print server for one USB printer. They even have FTP servers built in so that I could access my files remotely. But they aren't very flexible and I really would like to be able to run applications like an IMAP mail server.

Andy has a Linksys NSLU2 and swears that it is the best thing since Ubuntu. I have looked into it and apart from being cheap, there are a lot of mods and even a few Linux OSs for it, all of which are promising.

I spoke to Laurie about my predicament. he didn't like the NSLU2. He recommended that I look into Soekris but their cheap website and anemic products didn't appeal to me. Then he found OpenBSD/landisk which looks interesting and meets his primary criteria of being able to run OpenBSD (if a computer doesn't use BSD he won't go within 4 feet of it), on the plus side it is really small and silent, but like the NSLU2 it requires an external hard disk, and really doesn't look powerful enough to do all the things I really want to do.

After ditching the requirement of being able to run Windows I came across the Little Linux systems for projects and products website, which was a great find. Many of the systems on the page I had already come across but there were so many more options that I hadn't seen.

I am very keen on some of the products by E-Way Technology Systems. The TK Tiny 800Mhz Fanless VIA Nano Embedded System looks the business. Reasonably powerful, silent, small, low powered, cheap and with some internal storage. There are only two USB ports, but then you can't have everything.

The other alternative is of course to build my own PC based on a Mini ITX motherboard. It would be a bit more quite a bit more expensive than the TK Tiny, but then I could have exactly what I want and it would still be cheaper than an off the shelf PC. I was looking at the stuff on and there is a lot to choose from. The EPIA EN 12000G Fanless C7 Mini-ITX Board looks like a great place to start building my own, but the motherboard itself is twice the cost of a complete TK Tiny.

Decisions, decisions.