29 November, 2007

The genius of it all

Quick note

Well, not so much a quick note as to say I gained a couple of new pieces of hardware from a friend; one to keep, and one I'll end up buying. First, the item to keep: a box that basically does television signals to your monitor. Yes, RF in PAL/NTSC, audio (L & R), S-video, or composite video+audio, all come out on your monitor to view in wonderful colour. It even has composite video out and audio out so that you can hook the box up to an existing television and stereo, though I don't think that Picture-in-picture works on this setup. Go look up Genius' TVGo A31 for more details. I like it. The wee box is actually supposed to be for the both of us, but I guess I'll be the only one to really get any use out of it. In saying that, the box has minor issues, thankfully not many.

Hot signal.

One: it gets quite warm. For a box with no fan, and no way of keeping it cool, I hope this poor wee thing doesn't die of heat exhaustion. Two: the other thing I've found (at least for me) is that it really needs a proper aerial connection to bring in the TV signal. Simply sticking on a wire into the plug isn't really cutting it for me. Three: the picture-in-picture support works, but needs the computer's video output to be of a certain resolution and framerate for the TV picture to be properly superimposed on top of the VGA signal from the computer. So far, I haven't managed to get that right all the time, though I've got it right some of the time. And last: the output from the TV signal isn't in stereo, even though the inputs from the composite signal are. What that means is: audio from a Playstation or DVD or video player or the computer comes out in stereo, but there isn't (or doesn't seem to be) a Dolby Stereo decoder inside the box. That's a shame, as I like my sound in stereo or better, whereas frankly zoombuggy doesn't give two shakes. Anyhow, I'm enjoying it - as it means I get television without having to have a tuner card inside the computer. I even found one or two other channels I didn't know about before. As it also has composite video, I can also hook up a Playstation and play a few games, not that I actually have one of those yet.

Tabla Grafica

Second, the item to buy, at a suitably agreed price, and the item I want to talk about the most. It's a graphics tablet, but not just "any" tablet. Specifically, it's a Genius NewSketch 1212HR-III-B. It works well under Windows XP, even though Windows complains about the fact the driver isn't WHQ certified and I really shouldn't run it unless the driver has been "certified". The tablet dates from the early part of this decade (the driver is dated 2001) and thankfully for me, it works. There's even a Linux driver, though I note that the driver isn't for this specific model of the tablet, not even for this brand, but more for a generic "SummaSketch" tablet. The tablet came with a stylus with three buttons on, and two pucks (one with six buttons, the other with sixteen buttons). The tablet also seems to have three different modes of operation. I found this out from the two-page userguide from the website, but didn't find a lot else from there. Two of the modes supported are compatible with Summa tablets in general, and the third mode isn't, but it's the mode that Windows kicks the tablet into. Of the two Summa modes, only one is directly supported by the driver in Xorg, and it's the least capable mode, only supporting the use of either the stylus or the six-button puck, not the sixteen-button puck. The second and third modes support the use of the sixteen-button puck and the stylus, and apparently the third mode supports the use of both the stylus and the puck simultaneously, though I have yet to confirm that works. I did eventually find a document describing both the Summa modes, and I now know why it won't play ball under Linux with the sixteen-button puck connected. It seems that the MM protocol only has three bits for buttons (maximum of eight buttons, of which the puck uses six), whereas the UIOF protocol uses four bits, allowing for sixteen buttons. The source code to Xorg only mentions MM commands, and doesn't seem to have any facility for UIOF or K mode commands. I may need to write my own code and recompile Xorg to get it all to work. That's a pretty big job for me, and for my computer.

Who stole all my bits?

One other thing - this model uses a keyboard passthrough for power, and a serial port for communication to the computer, though other models use USB. Since I only had two serial ports to begin with, I've ended up having to sling another PCI serial card into a slot in the machine just so I could continue to synchronise the Palm V to the computer - it's just as well I had a spare slot for the card. That reminds me, I'm still on the hunt for some nice simple ways of getting email into the palm without limiting the size of each email record, currently the version of Palm that I have is limited to 4k per message. The only solution I've found so far is to turn a mbox (Unix mail file) into a text file with makeztxt, and to save that file to the Palm, making sure I've trimmed all the excess headers first. Anyhow, it's time I left again.

14 November, 2007

A drive around the block

You bought what?

It seems I made just a bit of a boo boo when I purchased a DVD drive recently. The specs on it were very nice (supports DVD-R,+R,-RW,+RW,-RAM, CD-R, etc etc). The price was even better. So I bought it, and brought it home, but it wasn't until about half an hour after I actually got it home that I realised I'd made a small mistake in purchasing it. Yes, it works fine. No, it wasn't misrepresented in its advertising. So, I can't actually take it back because it doesn't work, or it doesn't do the job advertised in its marketing. No. My problem was, I didn't click to the fact that it was only a DVD reader, and not a writer. I could have saved myself the purchase cost of that drive, and added a bit of money, I might have had a writer. Never mind, it'll go into fatty as a reader, fine. Solaris recognises it, Ubuntu recognises it.

But the sun is eclipsed by the moon

Yes, I've reinstalled Eclipse, after upgrading my JDK, of course. I was aware of Callisto (Eclipse 3.2) but wasn't aware of Europa (Eclipse 3.3) so I had a pleasant surprise when I got to the download site all ready to download my copy. I'd already grabbed J2SE6 and docs to go with it, and I'd also upgraded my copy of NetBeans to 5.5 as well as installing a couple of useful plugins for non-Java coding. So I went ahead and downloaded Europa. I must say that Netbeans is considerably smaller than Eclipse, by some really significant margin. That was reflected in the long time it took to download both Eclipse itself, and some of the other plugins I wanted. On top of that, there are way way more plugins available for Eclipse. I'm still not sure yet what I'll use on an ongoing basis, though I have downloaded pretty much anything I'm likely to use, as well as possibly stuff I may never use.

Back to the books

I've been getting back into books recently, reading a bit of Stephen King (good writer, that), Thomas Harris (Hannibal fame), and Stephen Donaldson. Incidentally, he's just come out with a second part to his "Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" series. As with his other previous series, this one looks like it'll be another three-parter too. I ended up finishing "Firestarter" in just over a week - not fast for me, but faster than I have been reading books up until recently. With that in mind, I've got out two other Stephen King novels: Christine, and Cell. Anyhow, guess I've nothing else much to say.