Saturday, September 30, 2006

Speed-Link PDR3 Digital Voice Recorder

Penny originally started using her now-defunct Creative Muvo TX FM to record interviews. After making enquiries we went to Hi-Fi Corporation in Fourways and got this nifty little Speed-Link PDR3 Digital Voice Recorder, for R350. The model they sell requires a 9-pin serial port to connect to a PC, so we spent another R230 for a USB to Serial adapter.
The software to connect the recorder to the PC is not bad, and the recording quality is great. There is even a simple lapel microphone, which seems to work pretty well. The instructions are clear and straightforward, and the overall design is pretty good.
The sound is stored in a proprietary ".128" file format, and the software can then convert it to a 128kbps 8kHz .wav file. It would have been great if it could do this as it transfers the data across the serial cable, to save steps in the process. We then use WavePad to convert it into an MP3 file for storage and archiving.

Update: I have posted a copy of the install CD version 1.04. It's a .iso image created using ImgBurn freeware and most CD-writing software can burn it to a CD. The CD isn't much use without the device.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Newletters from Hell continue unabated

Which part of the word "no" is it they don't understand? The newsletters just keep on coming. This time the reason was that I collected the goods instead of having them sent, and they were offering me some further specials as a thank you. The dumb thing is that one of the "specials" on offer is the Legend 1GB Flash Drive that I just bought, except the "special" price is higher than what I paid. See Napoleon's quote at the top of the page.
When I phoned Warren Moss on 082 468 3304 to tell him that his unsubscribe instruction had been ignored, he wasn't too happy about it. In fact he got quite shirty. Shame. And here I was thinking that everything had been sorted out. I bought a Legend 1GB Flash Drive, an Antec Super Cyclone Blower, and a Thermaltake Mobile Fan. Unfortunately 2 of the 3 items are faulty, and one is really cool.
Perhaps I should listen to Warren and start looking for another web site to buy from. I avoid Incredible Connection like the plague, because they are just so useless and unhelpful, and their prices are not great either. What gets me is that if Digital Planet actually listened to my complaint and fixed the issue it would make them a better company, as well as being compliant with Section 45 of the ECT Act.

Thermaltake Mobile Fan is really cool

The Thermaltake Mobile Fan II is great. It's quiet, the controls work nicely and it gets the job done. It's the perfect solution for my ThinkPad G40 which is now an Ubuntu Linux server under my desk. The extra airflow will no doubt help keep the laptop cool, and help it last a little longer.
The mini tower case with the LG CD drive is the Isogo gateway/firewall that does the Isogo VPN miracle that connects me to the Men's Clinic network. That's the box I wanted to put the Antec blower in, to help with cooling. On top of it is my Planet ADSL modem and then the black box is the IBM ThinkPad G40 with the lid closed. That's what the fan is for: to keep the top two items cool. It is doing a great job.

Legend bent out of shape

The top picture is taken with my own camera. The bottom one is a catalogue photo of a Legend 1GB Flash Drive. If you look carefully you'll notice the USB connector is not straight, and it looks like it has been damaged. What beats me is that it was unwrapped from the packaging in this way. I have phoned Digital Planet to swop it out with another one. I can't believe they'd actually manufacture something deliberately skew like that.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Antec Super Cyclone Blower. If only it actually worked

I bought this fan today. It doesn't work. When is spins, it sounds like a tractor, especially the high speed setting. If I change it to any of the other settings it stops turning. What a lemon!
Another thought: it isn't a "blower", it's an extractor fan. It uses a cyclone fan to extract the air out of the computer case. So unless you want a "blower" that blows warm air into the room near your PC, it's an "extractor" not a blower. Basically, it sucks.

Monday, September 25, 2006

WWWonderful Apache

The people who put together the Apache Web Server did a great job. Much better than Microsoft's IIS or Personal Web Server, which is just weird. Setting up Apache proved to be pretty easy, especially as my LAMP installation has done most of the work. The only mystery was to find where the files for the default web site should be stored.
Once again the Ubuntu Server Guide provided the clue: put them in the /var/www directory. That proved less simple than I thought, because I don't have the FTP server installed. So I added a Samba share and used the chmod command to change the directory rights. I have no idea how badly this would affect the security of a "real" web site, but this is just an internal test one, so I'm not really bothered. I guess I'll have to set up the FTP server at some point, only not now.
My next task is to set up MySQL and figure out how to install phpMyAdmin from the command line. This might be a bit more tricky. So far the documentation hasn't let me down, although I have a sneaking suspicion I'm not using vi properly. Ah, well, the joys of newbie ignorance.

Doing the Ubuntu Samba

I must say the Ubuntu Server Guide is a gold mine of useful starting tips. But they gloss over some important concepts and details in the process. I guess clarity has its price. I' not knocking the documentation: it is clear, concise and helpful. It can't be expected to know just how much of a Linux newbie I am.
My first hurdle was to install Samba after setting up the LAMP stack. Fortunately I have a working server to get information from. It's the Isogo firewall and VPN server. They set up for me a Samba share called "dev" as follows:
workgroup = MensClinic
netbios name = mcprog
server string = mcprog File Server
hosts allow =
dns proxy = no
security = share
comment = dev shared folder
path = /devshare
guest ok = yes
writeable = yes
public = yes
browseable = yes
create mode = 0644
directory mode = 0755
I still don't know what a lot of this means, but it was a good starting point. My first hurdle was to create the "/devshare" folder with enough rights for me to save files to it in the shared folder. Fortunately I already knew about the chmod command, and I has worked with the vi editor before. So now it's all working correctly.
If I had followed the default netmask setting instead of trying to be clever the server name would have shown up in the local workgroup correctly as well. The documentation helped me fix that problem as well.
The next fun task was to set up the SSH server so I could connect and administer the server from my Acer laptop, instead of having to use my new Qwirky keyboard. Again the documentation was clear and helpful, and I had it up and running in a few minutes. It took me longer to find the newest version of PuTTY on the internet, which wasn't long.
So after a short time of installing the server and fiddling with the settings, I now have a server on the network with about 50GB of free space for storing files that can be shared on the LAN. The files aren't visible outside the LAN, and it works just like any other Windows shared directory.
Now I can see why Microsoft doesn't like the fact that Linux is a credible alternative to the old Netware or Windows NT file and print server.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Great Ubuntu Linux Adventure Begins

I'm not completely new to Linux. In 1996 when I worked at The Star newspaper, we had a Linux machine running the company mail server, and it was my job to maintain the mailboxes. So I got to create new users, change passwords, and modify some of the setup files using vi. I've never been afraid of the command prompt interface, and now that you can find out just about anything you want to on the internet concerning Linux, life is a lot easier, provided you are connected to the outside world.
Now that my ThinkPad G40 is back from repairs (they took 12 working days as expected, not the usual 96 hours) I simply can't trust it to be reliable any more. Two breakdowns in 2 years is not great for a machine that cost me R 20 000 to buy and another R 6 600 to replace at very short notice. So It has now been retired to my office to run as a LAMP server.
In case you haven't encounteed the term before, LAMP is an acronym for [L]inux, [A]pache, [M]ySQL and [P]HP. In my case I've also added Samba, so my server is a LAMPS server. My plan is to use Samba to make the spare space on the drive available for storing backup files and audio books. Then at a later stage I'll get MySQL working, and learn how to use it instead of Microsoft SQL Server for my database applications. The PHP and Apache combination will be used to administer the server and later perhaps I'll generate a web site to edit the data.
It's a whole new adventure and I've already got stuck twice. The first time I couldn't get out of the "man" program. Eventually I discovered you have to press "q". I tried Esc but that didn't work. The second time was figuring out how to install Samba, since it isn't part of the LAMP stack installation shown in the picture. Fortunately the Ubuntu Server Guide was easy to find, download and follow.

Friday, September 22, 2006

ThinkPad G40 gets a new keyboard design

Getting your laptop "fixed" by the IBM Technical Repair Centre is a two-edged sword. In my experience for every one thing they fix, they break something else.
The first time I took my ThinkPad G40 Type 2388-53G Serial number KM-97986 in for repairs it was because the hard drive died after 8 days of usage. They replaced the drive, but installed the wrong version (Home Edition) of Windows XP.
When they installed the correct version (Professional Edition) they also added some spyware, and failed to test the motherboard or notice that the hard drive was running too hot. I guess they don't use Spinrite to test their hard drives. 18 months later the fan stopped working because of the motherboard fault. In the meantime the machine has been running too hot.
Now that the motherboard has been supposedly fixed (Call Ref 01S8DNT), the machine does seem to be cooling itself, but it still generates lots of heat in the process. However, the returned machine now sports only 1 rubber foot underneath, instead of the normal 4, and the snazzy new keyboard layout shown in the picture. I call it the Qwirky keyboard layout.
It's a good job I know where the right-arrow key is. Then there is the separate question of the 96 hour quotation time. In this case the repairs were completed in 12 working days, from 25th August to 13th September, but I was only able to collect it on 22nd September because of the conference.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Problem With Music

Ever wonder why bands hate the record companies? Ever wonder why the artists never complain about losing out on royalties but the RIAA always does? Ever wondered why bands are increasingly using the internet to distribute their music in order to get fans to come to their concerts? This article explains why. And the numbers speak for themselves.

So next time you buy a CD and think your favourite artist is getting a chunk of the money, think again. If they composed the words and the music, and produced the album, and played all the instruments, they'll get 4%. The rest goes to the record company, the distribution company, and 20% goes to the shop that sold the CD. And the cost of manufacture is typically 2%. Now you know why record companies don't like MP3 files. It's got nothing to do with the artists, and everything to do exploiting musicians to make money.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Digital Planet and the Newsletter from Hell

I like Digital Planet. At least, I used to. Their prices are good, and I've bought a laser printer, a power supply, Skype headsets and other goodies, both as gifts and for personal use. I always check their prices before looking anywhere else. I'll probably buy my next laptop from them as well.
But I hate getting their newsletters. Each time I buy something they put me back on their mailing list. Then I go into the account preferences and tell them I don't want newsletters. Then it's fine for a while, until I buy something else. Then the newsletters start again.
The last time this happened I complained, and explained the problem. That was on the 5th September. Last week I got another newsletter, so I sent an unsubscribe message over the weekend. Today I got yet another newsletter. When I spoke to someone who manages the mailing list, she recognised my name and email address, and tried to tell me that she got the email yesterday but hadn't processed it yet.
So what happened to the other emails? And when is Warren Moss going to call to explain what is going on? He is obviously a very busy man with little or no time to speak to actual customers. He has already lost out on the sale of an iPod Shuffle, which I will be buying from the helpful folks at iPodWorld instead.
Update: Since posting this blog I have been sent yet another newsletter. That's 3 newsletters in 1 week. How can anyone be expected to put up with all this junk?
Update 2: Warren Moss finally sent me an email saying that my name has been removed from their mailing list. let's see what happens next time I buy something.
Update 3: I placed an order 76744 on Thursday, but at that stage my account still had the "send me the newsletter" option ticked. See The Newletters from Hell continue unabated

Conference Sound

Andrew Christie took this photo of me doing sound at the Vineyard Conference last week. I really enjoyed it, and the guys in the worship team were awesome.

Safe XP aims to keep windows clean

Safe XP allows users to quickly tweak various security and privacy related settings in XP. The options include Media Player settings, Services settings (error reporting, time synch, remote registry etc.), as well as and option to remove items from the Start menu, network security settings and more. Safe XP improves your system performance and makes Windows to run faster, more secure and reliable, and is suitable for beginners and experts. It changes system settings, rather like PerfOptXP, and so you don't have to worry about another program running in the background using up resources.

More Safe XP information

Monday, September 18, 2006

PDF printer that actually works

Primo PDF logoI've always liked Adobe's Acrobat file format, but the Adobe Acrobat software is becoming increasingly bloated and slow, even on fast computers. And it isn't cheap either. I've tested out many free offerings that claim to create PDF files, but none of them have worked successfully. Until now.
At the Vineyard Conference I noticed that Stew West was using a product called Primo PDF, which I hadn't heard of before. It's free. It works. In fact it works brilliantly. It installs as a PDF Printer, and when you print to this printer the PDF file is created, with the correct fonts, and landscape stuff is correctly
By comparison, I gave up on PDFCreator because it just didn't seem to do anything and the download is huge. On the other hand, WinPDF is a tiny download but it has no idea about portrait and landscape pages and it's a demo program for Easy PDF Creator, which costs US$139. Then there is Win2PDF, which has a trial version that adds an extra page to the printout. The only problem is that it doesn't use the correct fonts for the document. Who knows if the paid version for US$35 is any better?
So my vote definitely goes for Primo PDF, which is only a 14MB download, it's free, it works, and it does a brilliant job. It's also incredibly easy and intuitive to set up.

More info on Primo PDF and links to download.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

It's time to take action and report bad driving

There is some pretty dangerous driving on the roads. It's time to report bad driving. Please take out your cell phone right now and make a note of this number:
0861 400 800
It's the number you can dial to report bad driving. It's run by the Dept of Transport and you can find out more information at
They send warning letters to vehicle owners if there is sufficient information available:
  • Vehicle registration
  • Make, Model, Colour of Vehicle
  • Time and place of incident
  • What happened.
Please pass on this number to all your friends. They are interested in all bad driving, be it taxis, trucks, passenger vehicles, etc. They are also gearing up for the driver demerit system next year.
I wrote the database program for the after-hours reports received by this number, so I know the system works.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Vineyard Leadership Conference

On Sunday 10th September I travelled with Alan and Carroll Foster to the Vineyard National Leadership Conference in Gariep. It was great to do sound again after a break of almost a year, and to reconnect with a whole bunch of Vineyard folks again.
Even better was meeting and working with the guys in the worship team. They were awesome! So much energy and enthusiasm; not to mention musical talent and commitment to authentic worship. They may have been the best of the best in terms of worship teams, I don't know. But irrespective of that, they were a pleasure to work with and serve.
Thanks to Jaco van Rensburg for the photo of me at the controls of the sound desk. The theme was "Mission Is Possible", and used the theme from the Mission Impossible movies to illustrate the point. Mike Pilavachi from Soul Survivor was the main guest speaker, and he made a big impact on the conference.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Giant Jumping Castle

On the N1 through Bloemfontein there is the "Windmill Casino", with the largest jumping castle I have ever seen. My brother Andrew manufactures Jumping Castles, even the slide type shown here, but he is restricted to something that can be used in a garden or playground.
There is no trick photography here. The photo is taken from the main road with a Nokia cell phone camera (i.e. very basic), and the building and palm tree behind the castle are pretty close to the castle, in front of a 1.5m fence. Notice the adults standing in the foreground. This thing is massive: at least 3 or 4 stories high. When I first saw it I could hardly believe how tall it is.