Thursday, June 26, 2008

Nvidia video luminance levels fixed in 175.16

I have an 8600GT. Video used to be dim and washed out in all DirectShow applications. This was because luminance had the TV range (16-235) but my LCD monitor connected using DVI uses the PC range (0-255). The only workarounds were making the codec output RGB (a small and tolerable performance penalty), using Haali's Video Renderer (requiring MPC and resulting in "Macrovision Fail" with DVDs in Vista) or messing with contrast and brightness in NVIDIA Control Panel (which are difficult to set properly). All of these workarounds had to be disabled for TV out because it used TV levels.

Nvidia did not seem to care about this driver bug. People had been complaining about for a long time and the workaround they created a long time ago didn't work anymore. It was very disappointing and quite amazing that Nvidia wasn't fixing this bug. It was also weird to think that many people must be putting up with such bad video quality.

Now my problem is finally solved with driver 175.16 for 32 bit Vista from EVGA! Blacks in video are totally black on my LCD monitor connected via DVI. Levels also seem correct on a TV via composite out, which means the driver properly uses PC levels on a PC monitor and TV levels on a TV.

[ content adapted from my posts on the NVIDIA Forums ]

It's only anomalous propagation...

It seems like around here mayflies spawn around the summer solstice. This year there were storms all days except for June 24th. It seemed like a good day for mayflies and there were huge swarms at the Pt. Pelee marsh at sunset. Besides the mayflies near ground level I saw some unusual light brownish clouds. Those could have been pollution but I wondered if there were maybe large clouds of insects.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usI remembered reading a story about mayflies showing up on weather radar and I checked that when I got home. Sure enough, something interesting was happening. Click on the image to see the animated GIF of radar that night. (Picasa Web Albums converts GIFs to PNG which loses animation so I hosted via ImageShack.)

Unfortunately, those were not mayflies. I contacted Environment Canada's weather office that night and in the morning I got a response telling me it was anomalous propagation due to a temperature inversion. (I was surprised by how quickly someone responded!) I was also given a link to a page explaining this and other radar interpretation errors, which I probably should have checked first.

Later, it was interesting looking at the errors I had made, such as not being very sceptical when something wasn't quite right. In the start of the video, radar echoes appear well away from marshes. Later echoes on the south shore of Lake Erie seemed more probable, but the lines going inland didn't seem to exactly correspond to rivers. In the morning before I got the response I was surprised by the echoes, but I thought "okay, maybe they'll stay around for a few more hours". Now, one look at the overall video makes me think "these were obviously artifacts".

Here's how I made the animation: I discovered the image URL format using the "open blockable items" dialog of AdBlock for Firefox. I noticed that old images are deleted and so I couldn't get the whole night of images in the morning, so I used the Windows at command to schedule automated downloads via wget. Then I went through the images and duplicated some to replace missing images (apparently some never get put on the website). Finally I assembled them into an animated GIF using gifsicle.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I've started using Miranda IM

I've just started using Miranda IM, an open source multi-protocol instant messaging program for Windows. When I tried it in the past it seemed minimalistic, ugly, inconvenient and lacking in features I needed (such as MSN offline messages). It only seemed to be useful for machines with a slow CPU and/or little memory. Now I gave it another try and I'm starting to like it.

The program is somewhat unusual in that it only implements minimal functionality and plugins are needed for many things. Because of this it is very disappointing initially. If I want to auto-connect when I run it, I need StartupStatus. If I want it to reconnect if a connection is lost I need KeepStatus. The default history viewer sucks, so I needed History++. In order to add emoticons I installed SmileyAdd. The default contact list and message windows are very basic so I installed Modern Contact List and Scriver. Then there's Updater to hopefully keep all of this up to date.

Because of all these plugins coming from many sources there are issues. I had to get a version of Modern Contact List from elsewhere because the one from the official site caused a crash when I clicked on the status bar. With Scriver I got an ANSI version when I should have gotten a unicode version. After installing plugins there are very many options. Overall, setting up the program is a lot of work, probably too much for many people. Other applications are generally far simpler and quicker to install.

After all this it seems like Miranda is worth it. Nowadays it does support MSN offline messages. Even custom emoticons are supported. There's also JGmail which supports Gmail notifications through Google Talk using Google's Jabber' extensions. Plus even with everything, Miranda isn't bloated, and it can do a lot more.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A simple way to boost Belkin Tunecast 3 signal.

The Belkin TuneCast 3 FM transmitter's car power adapter has an unusual thickening at the plug which plugs into the transmitter. I suspect that is a filter which prevents the transmitter's output signal from entering the power cable and I theorize that if the filter wasn't there some signal would radiate from the cable resulting in a stronger output. Sure enough when I used a 5V adapter I have instead of the transmitter's adapter (75mA at 5.5V, centre positive) I got a noticably less noisy signal. It might actually make the difference between the FM transmitter being too weak to use and it being usable.

Note: I'm not recommending this FM transmitter. I am just using it because I was able to buy it at a very low price and I only need it very occasionally. Yes, it's probably the best looking FM transmitter and the multi-colour OLED display is impressive. However, the most important thing is being able to hear your music without noise, and it is not very good at that. Some people also have problems with it shutting off automatically. I didn't have that problem.

Dynex WS-007 RF Modulator seems to be mono

The Dynex WS-007 RF modulator has separate left and right audio inputs. However, on the unit I got and returned they were connected together electrically, which means it's actually mono. According to the RF modulator article on Wikipedia "Modulating a TV signal with stereo sound is relativly complex and most low cost home TV modulators produce a signal with MONO audio. Even some units that have two audio inputs simply combine the Left and Right audio channels into one mono audio signal." Dynex is certainly a low cost brand and I guess that the modulator was designed that way. Their online support told me that the RF modulator is stereo but I guess they were wrong.

It wouldn't be the first time Dynex produced products which don't work as they should. For example HardOCP reviewed a Dynex "400W" computer power supply which couldn't even output 300W. One of the two power supplies they were testing burned out at 300W and the other one shut down and wouldn't turn on for hours. At least in this case it doesn't seem like the item packaging or online description claims the RF modulator is stereo.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vista needlessly runs some programs as administrator

Vista runs some programs as administrator even though no configuration option tells it to. There is no way to stop these programs from running as administrator through the user interface. This happens when Vista finds certain strings in the file properties which are commonly found in programs which need to be run as administrator, such as programs which install or update software. installers. For example DynDNS updater has this problem. Several property fields are set to "DynDNS Updater" and "Updater" is one of the strings Vista checks for.

This is simple to fix with a hex editor. FileDescription, InternalName and ProductName need to be altered. There is no need to change Comments or LegalTrademarks. These are located near the end of the file. The strings are in Unicode UTF-16 and so each character takes two bytes. They look like ASCII except that there is a zero byte after every character.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What really bothers me about Reddit and Digg

When I first found Digg it was something new and wonderful. There I could find a virtually endless list of new, interesting and fun things online. Later I found Reddit and it was even better. Generally whenever friends told me about some news or something interesting online I already knew via Reddit (and no, they weren't on Reddit or Digg).

The only problem was that I didn't like how much time I was spending on these sites. The main reason why this is a problem is because it seems to be of practically no use. I thought I might learn something, and I do, but it's far more efficient to research things on an as-needed basis. I expected that the list of stories I dugg would be a resource afterwards, but it wasn't. Later I thought that the links I saved on Reddit would be more useful because liking was separate from saving, but it wasn't. If I really want to save something, bookmarks (or what IE calls favorites) make the most sense. I also thought I might be helping spread awareness about important things, but I guess I wasn't really (with a few exceptions), and there are better ways to spread awareness.

With Reddit, I remember the claim that it would learn from my voting and customize itself for me. This was very intriguing, but it ended up being a joke or worse. For example, for a long time the "recommended" section had very many Ron Paul stories, even though I didn't show interest in them. Eventually I started downvoting and hiding them, and that didn't help; the "recommended" section was still full of them.

Perhaps the most important thing I was hoping for was social interaction which would lead somewhere. However, it didn't lead anywhere. The most I can really say is that I can recognize a few usernames. Yes, the sites have "friends" features, but at best the Digg one was just useful for following people who digg stories I find interesting. Nowadays I also see what are undoubtedly spambots befriending many people rapidly. Before making any conclusions on whether social interaction there leads anywhere I posted a question on Reddit: "Did you make any friends through Reddit?". The response was quite disappointing. Not only was it pretty clear that people don't make friends there, but also many seemed to mock the idea.

It seems that practically all I get out of Digg and Reddit is temporary enjoyment. However unlike many other enjoyable activities, I don't look at it fondly afterwards. It's not memorable and it's not something I'm proud of. It seems like I should maybe delete my accounts there, but I don't want to do that yet. I still want to see if I can change things to make them fit into my life in a more constructive way.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A bit about my linking policy

When I link regarding some entity I generally prefer to link to a neutral source of information about that entity rather than the entity's official web page. Because of this, I often link to Wikipedia. Sure, the neutrality of Wikipedia articles is debatable, but it's generally better than an entity's official web page.

If I do link to an official web page, that's almost like approval. Linking to Wikipedia instead should not be automatically taken as disapproval however.

The Whopper sucks without tomatoes

Yesterday I had a Whopper at Burger King in Leamington. A sign said there were no tomatoes due to an FDA advisory (relating to salmonella). I learned two things:
  • Tomato is a key ingredient of the Whopper. Without it, the "Whopper" is just some random large hamburger. I would never get one without tomatoes again.
  • It feels wrong that it's due to a foreign government agency. I guess it's a little bit like feeling occupied by another country.
The whole thing was even more stupid when I consider where this happened. Even according to the FDA, Canada is one of the safe sources of tomatoes. Leamington is the tomato capital of Canada. The town is surrounded by greenhouses and fields, most of which are used to grow tomatoes. Surely it can't be hard to obtain locally grown tomatoes! Oh yeah, corporate policy. I'm just saying that corporate policy is retarded.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My first impression of Kodak Digital Cinema

I just watched You Don't Mess with the Zohan at a local Cineplex cinema. It was a good movie, not one of the best I've seen this year but better than expected. However, this post isn't about the movie; it's about the projection. This was the first movie which I saw which was projected digitally, and I'm impressed.

Nowadays Cineplex cinemas have digitally projected video before the previews start. That video is of low quality compared to film. Resolution and contrast are visibly worse, the image doesn't fill the whole screen, and the image is often trapezoidal or otherwise distorted.

As soon as the previews started I was surprised by the dynamic range. Later during mostly black scenes I was surprised by how dark it was in the cinema. I thought I was just seeing how film was much better than the cheap pre-preview digital projector, but I've seen many movies before and I never noticed the difference like this. Right before the main feature, I saw a short Kodak Digital Cinema logo segment. I hadn't seen that before and its presence explained why the image seemed different.

During the movie the image seemed exceptionally sharp in well-focused areas, and of course there was the absence of typical film artifacts. There were also no reel changeover cues or noticable changeover interruptions. I couldn't even see any digital artifacts. It was a surprising improvement in quality.

It seemed as if the frame rate might have been higher but I cannot be sure. I guess that if the frame rate wasn't higher then at least the duty cycle must have been higher.

Before the credits there was a short interruption. The first part of the credits (which listed the more important actors) was a series of tinted images from the movie and text which quickly slid onto the screen from the edges. It seemed as if that wasn't normal video but a high resolution version of a slideshow presentation or Flash. The tinted image from the movie was perfectly still and the text seemed like it might be animated by a computer in the theatre instead of it all being encoded as video earlier. Overall, this part of the credits seemed kind of cheap, but it's not really a serious complaint. The scrolling part of the credits could have been done the same way, but it's harder to tell.

I look forward to seeing more digitally projected movies. If digital projectors can be this good then film is obsolete.