Monday, September 29, 2008

The Olympics suck!

Before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing I read about various things being done for the sponsors and I was horrified. For example, the athletes couldn't bring their own food and beverages into the Olympic Village. To make things even worse, the sponsors were McDonald's and Coca-Cola, who offer so much unhealthy food and beverages. It all seems so out of touch with ideas that are supposedly associated with the Olympics.

It seems that the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will be just as bad if not worse. They've already trademarked lines from the Canadian National Anthem and passed a law protecting various phrases which cannot be trademarked, such as 2010 along with winter. Oh, and guess what: Coke and McDonald's are sponsors again.

Ideally this corporate pageant needs to end, and a new organization needs to take over. I'm not counting on it though.

The bloat of Rockbox

I really like Rockbox (an alternative open source firmware for some portable media players). It's usually much better than the original firmware. However, it sure is getting bloated. The recently released version 3.0 only leaves 1.12 MB of buffer* when running in RAM on my Archos V2 Jukebox Recorder. The bloat might not matter on other platforms with more memory (such as the Video iPod, which has 32 or 64 megs) but it has gotten to the point where it might be best to run an old version on platforms with less memory, such as the Archos devices which only come with 2 megs. I'll continue running my old version from November 2007 which I stripped down and put into ROM, resulting in 1.735 MB of buffer.

* The buffer is filled with MP3 data from the hard drive. Then the hard drive is spun down and data in the buffer is played. When little remains in the buffer, the hard drive spins up again to refill the buffer. If less buffer space is available, the hard drive needs to spin up more often to refill the buffer, resulting more power usage and more wear and tear on the hard drive.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I saw a green flash today!

I was at Pt. Pelee and the sun was setting over Lake Erie. The water was calm nearby, though there were waves further out from a wind from the East. The sun was very red and quite bright. The sky was clear and there were some typical bands of colour parallel to the horizon. I wasn't paying very much attention to the sunset because it wasn't exceptionally nice and the sun was bright.

When only a little bit of the top of the sun was visible, I decided to watch the sun until it disappeared. I was expecting it stay red and just disappear behind the horizon. However, as the remaining visible sun shrank to a point, it became whiter. It also seemed to get brighter, but I'm not certain about this. Then I remembered about green flashes. Right after becoming white, the sun started turning green. It reached a very pure green colour and it seemed quite bright. It gave me chills; I realized "This is it, I'm actually seeing a rare green flash!" After reaching pure green the spot shrank and faded and disappeared. It all happened very quickly, maybe within two seconds. It didn't feel too short though.

I'm so glad I saw that.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I tried out Delicious again

Social bookmarking theoretically seems like a good idea. In 2006 I tried out (now called Delicious) and I found it made bookmarking more work and didn't offer any significant benefits. I tried it again today and I came to the same conclusion. The main problem is that tags don't seem to be worthwhile for bookmarks, and the other notable problem is that it's less convenient to use than the Firefox bookmarks functionality.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pt. Pelee tip photos in chronological order (2003-2008)

Point Pelee is a peninsula extending into Lake Erie. It is the southernmost part of Canada's mainland, just crossing the 42nd parallel. (It is not the southernmost point of Canada however; that is Middle Island, and Pelee Island is also further south than Pt. Pelee.) It is the site of Point Pelee National Park, which features marsh and Carolinian forest habitats and a major migration route.

The tip of Pt. Pelee is an interesting place. The shifting sands and changing weather conditions mean that it's constantly changing. Here are some photos I took there, in chronological order.







3Com 3C900 driver causes DRIVER_POWER_STATE_FAILURE in Vista

I got a 3Com 3C900-Combo Ethernet card because I occasionally needed to access a 10BASE2 network. It's not officially supported in Vista but the XP drivers seemed to work well.

I was occasionally getting DRIVER_POWER_STATE_FAILURE (9f) bluescreens when entering or resuming from S3 standby but they were so rare that I ignored them. Last night I decided to see if I could get any useful information from the minidump. Google searches showed the meanings of bluescreen arguments. The first one was three, which meant that "A device object has been blocking an Irp for too long a time". However, the other ones were addresses in memory and so further searches weren't helpful.

It seemed that I needed to use WinDbg from the Debugging Tools for Windows. I first tried it without the symbols and that wasn't helpful. Then I tried it with Microsoft's symbol server and downloaded symbols and it kept failing. First I had to deal with:
Unable to load image ntoskrnl.exe, Win32 error 0n2
*** WARNING: Unable to verify timestamp for ntoskrnl.exe
*** ERROR: Module load completed but symbols could not be loaded for ntoskrnl.exe
Then I had to deal with:
***** Kernel symbols are WRONG. Please fix symbols to do analysis.
Finally after setting everything up from the WinDbg GUI instead of using command line options, everything worked and I got some very helpful information:

It was almost like magic. After failing for no apparent reason, WinDbg now worked and it gave me exactly what I wanted. El90XND5.SYS is the 3C900 driver.

I wonder if there are any 10BASE2 cards which are officially supported in Vista.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

When did Bell start charging for incoming text messages?

I read that Bell would start charging for incoming text messages on August 8th. After August 8th I checked my unbilled usage and incoming text messages were free, appearing under included events. In September I checked the bill and I saw I was only charged for outgoing text messages. After this I assumed that incoming text messages are free. Then I checked my unbilled usage for the next month and incoming text messages weren't free anymore. So I guess Bell starts charging for text messages when a new billing period starts after the date when they said they'll start. The lady at *611 was immediately willing to remove charges for incoming text messages up to now this month when I explained this, which was impressive. I'm certainly not happy with how Bell is charging for incoming text messages though.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I'm not too impressed with Photosynth

When I first learnt about Microsoft Live Labs Photosynth I was impressed. The idea of connecting together photos of a scene based on their points of view and placing them appropriately in 3D seemed to have potential and the demo video of St. Mark's Square was impressive. I eagerly anticipated being able to use the technology with my own photos.

Recently I found out that Photosynth is finally available for use by anyone via the web site. It's all done with a Windows application which integrates with the website as a browser plugin. Windows XP or Vista is required, and it seems the application does all the work, so the website integration doesn't seem necessary. However, I'm not really complaining because it's by Microsoft and the overall experience is quite smooth.

I first tried it out with photos of the Nanaimo waterfront downtown. That was an almost total failure. It was too much to ask it to really understand a 3D scene, and I bet the water, sky and and changing lighting also confused it. After this I decided to try other examples where there is more overlap. My second attempt was with the downtown Detroit viewed from across the river in Windsor. There I had plenty of overlap and the angles weren't too different. This didn't work too well either. I was surprised and disappointed by how shots from almost identical angles in different lighting conditions didn't connect.

Finally I had some success with photos from the Georgian Bay shore of the Bruce Peninsula. There, Photosynth seemed to work quite well, dealing with seasonal differences and obscuration. I guess what made it work was consistent lighting and certain obvious features. This showed that photosynth had some potential.

I then made some more synths. It wasn't easy to find candidate images. In most cases I didn't have enough photos of the same thing to attempt to make a synth because I didn't keep many similar viewpoints. Then I remembered that I saved some photos to disc before selecting which ones I wanted to keep and I found candidate images there. I only considered groups involving views from multiple points; I feel photos taken from a single point should be joined into a panorama instead. I only got a 100% synthy result once, but with the other results I re-did the synth with only the images that would link up because I felt it's pointless to keep unlinked images. You can see all of my results at my profile page at

This was fun, but it wasn't too impressive. My main complaint is that when I view synths they don't feel very 3D. A lot of viewpoint changes feel like transforming 2D images and switching between them rather than navigation through a 3D space, and the point clouds don't seem impressive. This even holds true with many examples by others which involve far more photos. I prefer panoramas for a single viewpoint and Panoramio's Look Around feature for multiple viewpoints. The Look Around feature seems to be more effective at linking up images and it links up images taken by different people.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Simple Belkin Tunecast 3 mod to boost signal

In my Belkin Tunecast 3 FM transmitter disassembly article I noted that "The radio signal is attenuated before being passed to the antenna". Attenuator may be seen on the back of the circuit board between the FM transmitter IC and the antenna. Here is a closeup:
The pin at the top left corner of the IC in the bottom right is the RF output and the wire connection near the L5 marking near the top left is the antenna. Here is a schematic:
It would be simple to remove C38 and connect the internal antenna directly to pin 12. This would result in a more powerful signal. One could also connect an external antenna to pin 12. It might be better to put a capacitor between pin 12 and the external antenna; one circuit diagram uses 10pF. Note that some modifications may increase the signal beyond permitted limits.

Two-faced marketing of MasterCard® SecureCode™

MasterCard® SecureCode™ apparently authenticates online transactions with the card issuing financial institution using a PIN. But check out what the FAQs say! The FAQ for cardholders says SecureCode™ "is" something that protects them against unauthorized use and the FAQ for merchants says it "is" something that protects them against chargebacks. It can seem quite deceptive as in "I thought this was for my protection but it's for the other party's protection!" Though I guess one could also argue that the only problem is that the question should be what does it offer you rather than what it is. I'm also reminded of E-Prime.