Saturday, May 30, 2009

Windows is Fragile

This is for the sceptics out there who claim that you don't need to defragment your Windows system from time to time. Windows is a consumer operating system, and was never designed to be secure or bulletproof: it requires maintenance, such as cleaning out deleted files, defragmentation, and so on.
While I was recalibrating my Vista 32-bit system, one of the benchmarks failed. The PC is only 6 months old, and has never been defragmented. While I installed the numerous programs and security updates, I did not empty the recycle bin, and I disabled the automatic defrag. The result is a sluggish machine that behaves badly; i.e. your typical home PC.
The "Stress Test" pictured above randomly reads and writes 435,101 records to an Access97 data file. After 4 hours of doing this, Access decided that it didn't recognise its own database format anymore. Hardly surprising really. The file is badly fragmented and in desperate need of a repair and compact as well. I will try again to get a result, but with the system in such bad shape it's pure chance that I'll get one or not.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Another MTN Disaster

MTN is my useless cell phone company. They are "celebrating" 15 years of being in business by running a money-making competition that costs R7.50 per SMS message to enter. It's a ripoff, and there is even a Facebook group to warn people about the scheme, called "MTN is for Dumb People".
What really annoys me is that I have been trying to get MTN to stop sending me marketing messages since 2006, all to no avail. I have tried emails, SMS messages, complaints to HelloPeter, calls to the Company Secretary, and just about everything else I can think of. Still, they insist on telling me about this competition via SMS.
Don't they understand that they are breaking the law? Are they that stupid, or just plain incompetent? According to the message, you can call 173 to get you name removed. This is wrong. They will tell you to send the word "STOP" to 30915, and ignore your request to have your name removed.
Update Friday: If you go to and supply your number to opt out, they send a "code" to your phone. My code reads "TEST MSG", which doesn't work. DUH!
Update 2: After perusing their PAIA details I called 011-912-3216 and left a message for the Company Secretary. Mr A Sithole called back, and promised to look into the matter. I have forwarded copies of previous correspondence to him.
Update Saturday 7pm: Yet another SMS came through, this time from +27839301015, without any information about how to stop further messages.
Update 4th July: 2 more messages, from 083-930-1015. If you dial this number you are told it is incorrect. It belongs to MTN.
Update 5th July: 3 more messages, from 083-930-1015. A call to 173 didn't help. They gave me the number belonging to a private subscriber instead of the competitions number.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why there is no iTunes for movies

I listened to Why there is no iTunes for movies by Farhad Manjoo on the Slate Magazine podcast with a wry smile: there is no iTunes for music or audio books in South Africa either, let alone movies.
As it turns out, the reason why there is such a dismal collection of downloadable movies online has nothing to do with the technology required, and everything to do with the lawyers. Not the ones suing the Pirate Bay (what a bunch of grandstanding fools) but the ones who draw up the distribution contracts for movies.
"When I called people in the industry this week, I found that many in the movie business understand that online distribution is the future of media. But everything in Hollywood is governed by a byzantine set of contractual relationships between many different kinds of companies—studios, distributors, cable channels, telecom companies, and others. The best way to understand it is to trace what you might call the life cycle of a Hollywood movie, as Starz network spokesman Eric Becker put it to me. We all understand the first couple of steps in this life cycle—first a movie hits theaters and then, a few months later, it comes out on DVD. Around the same time, it also comes out on pay-per-view, available on demand on cable systems, hotel rooms, airplanes, and other devices. Apple's rental store operates under these pay-per-view rules, most of which put a 24-hour limit on movies. The restriction might have made sense back in the days when most people were getting on-demand movies in hotel rooms and the studios didn't want the next night's guest piggybacking on rentals. It doesn't make much sense when you're getting the movie on your MacBook. But many of the contracts were written years ago, and they don't reflect the current technology.
"A movie will stay in the pay-per-view market for just a few months; after that, it goes to the premium channels, which get a 15- to 18-month exclusive window in which to show the film. That's why you can't get older titles through Apple's rental plan—once a movie goes to HBO, Apple loses the right to rent it. (Apple has a much wider range of titles available for sale at $15 each; for-sale movies fall under completely different contracts with studios.) Between them, Starz and HBO have contracts to broadcast about 80 percent of major-studio movies made in America today. Their rights extend for seven years or more. After a movie is broadcast on Starz, it makes a tour of ad-supported networks (like USA, TNT, or one of the big-three broadcast networks) and then goes back to Starz for a second run. Only after that—about a decade after the movie came out in theaters—does it enter its "library" phase, the period when companies like Netflix are allowed to license it for streaming. For most Hollywood releases, then, Netflix essentially gets last dibs on a movie, which explains why many of its films are so stale.
"Couldn't the studios just sign new deals that would give them the right to build an online service? Well, maybe—but their current deals are worth billions, and a new plan would mean sacrificing certain profits for an uncertain future. Understandably, many are unwilling to take that leap."
Instead, they are throwing away millions by giving money to the MPAA and the RIAA to chase after "profits" that they are too stupid to make for themselves. The same applies to Audiobook publishers who refuse to sell me their books because I have the "wrong" address. I guess if I made my address c/o they still wouldn't sell me their books. They need to read or listen to "Content" by Cory Doctorow to change their minds before they lose their jobs. Frankly, I couldn't give a damn if they lose their jobs. Perhaps then the authors would get a better deal.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Young Politicians in the Making

This is what happens when you realise you said something extremely stupid and you don't have the balls to apologise. If Floyd clarifies what he means then there is a nice lawsuit coming his way, so of course he'll duck and dive. ANCYL should stand for ANC Yahoo League, except that the search engine would be offended.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The 2009 Defrag Shootout: which program to test first?

Now that everything is ready to start testing, which program should I test first? I want to alternate between commercial products and free/open source products, so my alphabetical commercial list looks like this:
  • Advanced Defrag
  • Defrag Express
  • Diskeeper
  • MST Defrag
  • O&O Defrag
  • Paragon Total Defrag
  • PerfectDisk
  • PuranDefrag
  • TuneUp Utilities 2009
  • UltimateDefrag
  • Vopt
The alphabetical free list looks like this:
  • Auslogics Disk Defrag
  • Defraggler
  • DiskTune
  • IOBit SmartDefrag
  • JkDefrag
  • Microsoft Windows Disk Defragmenter
  • MyDefrag
  • Quicksys DiskDefrag
  • UltraDefrag
Are there any others that need to be added, and will anyone complain if I deviate from an alphabetical order? Please leave comments.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Fishy Desktop Wallpaper

Recognise this desktop wallpaper? The fish on the left is part of the Acanthuridae family, and is probably Zebrasoma scopas (Two-tone Surgeonfish). The one on the right is from the Chaetodontidae family, Chelmon rostratus (Beaked Butterflyfish).
The bad news is that the colours on this picture have been "adjusted" to look prettier. The surgeonfish isn't that orange; closer to the picture above.
It's difficult to identify these Batfish exactly, because of the camera angle. But they are from the Ephippidae family, and they don't appear to have been been doctored.
You can find information about these fish and a gazillion others at the FishWise web site:, run by Dennis Polack, who is an underwater photographer and fish database expert. He has compiled an extensive database 96000 known species of fish, and has accumulated 32000 photographs as well. He is in the process of publishing all of this information on the web. Check it out!
Speaking of desktops, I found a free utility that changes the desktop wallpaper without having to get Vista Ultimate or some other bloatware. It's called "Fun Desktop Wallpaper Changer" and it works. It's only 81kb, and you can set it to run when you reboot, getting a new desktop wallpaper randomly chosen from folders.