Saturday, June 19, 2004


Google are now giving me another set of invites within a few hours every time I use up the previous set. Presumably the exchange tradeable value of a gmail account is now crashing.
Developments in the English language

I am working on my laptop computer. It is sitting on my desk. When I use it, it usually is sitting on a desk somewhere. Laps are only used very occasionally. Sometimes when I am using it in bed I sit it on my chest, but I don't think anyone has ever invented the word "chesttop". "Notebook" computer is a reasonably okay word, denoting the shape but not how it is used, but laptop is still dominant.

On the other hand, the ATX midi-tower seems to have won the war to become the standard form factor for desktop PCs. However, this normally sits on the floor beside the desk, so it is more a floortop computer than a desktop computer. Of course, the "entertainment" PC: something connected to a flat screen and sound system, used to watch television and DVDs and to listen to music and based on a small form facter flex-ATX or mini-ITX motherboard, and which possibly fits in an entertainment cabinet - is clearly on the rise. Whether this is a new type of "desktop" computer that also doesn't sit on a desk, or whether this will be considered to be a third common class of PC, after desktops and laptops remains to be seen. (In fact, if I were to get into the PC making business full time, I think it would be wise to concentrate on this type of machine. The big consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers don't seem to have figured this all out yet, and only a portion of the home brew PC makers have figured it out either. There is I think quite a bit of demand in this market, and there is much less competition than there is for building midi-ATX towers).

So there we have it. Laptops sit on desks. Desktops sit on floors.

Friday, June 18, 2004

An ambition

Someday, I too want to be inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame.

(And of course the lack of R. Daneel Olivaw amongst the inductees is a scandal. But I digress).

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The modern world, and bad things about Dell

Yesterday evening, I was lying in bed. My laptop was plugged into a power outlet, but there were no other wires connecting it to the outside world. (I could have course have been running it off batteries). I had a hands free headset plugged into the laptop, and I was having a conversation with somebody in Adelaide. I was simultaneously operating my brother's computer (in Cessnock north of Sydney) remotely, to remove some of the foibles of Outlook Express Service pack 1 which were annoying him. At the same time the person in Adelaide who I was having the voice conversation was having an instant messaging session with somebody in South Carolina (or was it North Carolina?) who was giving him some cooking instructions for the dinner he was simultaneously making.

As a down point for Dell, their present model desktops have front headphone sockets and front USB ports, but no front microphone sockets. Given that more and more people are using things like Skype for over the internet audio communications, this is becoming more of a design issue. It's not so bad if you connect a microphone permanently to your computer, but if you use a wired hands free headset then you have to reach around the back to plug it in. This is a nuisance. (Of course the other option is to install Bluetooth and to get a wireless hands free headset).

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Good things about Dell

When I purchased my laptop computer about six months ago, I ordered it from Dell's UK website. I decided that I wanted a good sized hard drive (by laptop standards anyway) and I therefore clicked on the "60GB" option. There was also an 80GB option, but the standard option was less than that - I think there were 30GB and 40GB options as well. (80GB is still the maximum for my model, although there are hard to find 100GB drives on some other models). I do not recall if the speed of the drive was specified on the online order form, but if it was I did not pay attemtion. Most laptop drives are 5400rpm (or sometimes 4500rpm) and I guess I just assumed that it would be one of these (and to be truthful I didn't think of the issue at all).

In any event, when I recently took the drive out of the computer so that I could put the drive from my old laptop in to test if it still worked, I noticed that the drive was a Hitachi 7K60. This runs at 7200rpm and is generally considered to be the best laptop drive available in terms of performance. Dell supplied me with a really top notch component there, for which I thank them.

They didn't draw my attention to this in any way though. Perhaps they have a mixture of suppliers and not everybody got a drive this good. Or perhaps they wanted people to pay extra for an 80GB drive, and didn't want to draw attention to the fact that the 80GB drives they were offering were actually lower performance than the 60GB drives. (There are no 2.5" 80GV drives that I know of that run faster than 5400rpm).

And why do hard drive speeds always seem to come in multiples of 900rpm. (This is the same as saying multiples of 15Hz, which is perhaps a slightly rounder number).

Update: Of course, many of them actually come at 4200rpm, which is not a multiple of 900. Me stupid.
Technological advance:

When you go into a middle of the road consumer electronics store (like Harvey Norman in Australia or Dixons in England) it is striking how much of the television section is now devoted to plasma screens, and LCD displays. These have the advantages of being flat panel displays. We have been promised for decades that televisions that you can hang on a wall like a picture are just around the corner, and they are indeed finally here. A low end 42 inch plasma screen costs a little more than a 40 inch CRT set (be it rear projecton or with a conventional screen) but the difference is sufficiently small that people are buying them in droves. (A high end plasma costs substantially more, and if you are after a 60 inch screen, then plasma is really your only option). People are also now buying smaller plasma screens: 32 inch for instance (although there are technical reasons why you cannot make plasma screens much smaller than this). I think the driving factor might be that plasma screens are cool when you see them in public places: in pubs, in airports and railway stations, and in an assortment of other places.

You also see lots of plasma screens in the electrical section of pretentious but actually slightly declasse places like Harvey Nichols where the staff wear black, look cool, and are totally unable to answer a remotely technical question, and where the customers wouldn't be deal buying an "old fashionded" television darling.

And in these places, you will seldom see the plasma screens showing anything other than the five Pixar animated movies (the two Toy Story movies, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc, and Finding Nemo) Dreamworks' Shrek or Fox's Ice Age, all computer animated.

However, if you go into a high end home cinema store you will see some but not many plasma screens, a few front and rear projectors, and lots of conventional CRT televisions, mostly from Sony, Phillips, and Panasonic. In such shops the demonstrations are typically live action: showing such things as watersports and beautiful women walking with spectacular scenery in the background.

The reason for this is of course simple: plasma screens deliver really crap pictures. They are very bright, so they are good in locations where people are viewing from lots of angles, where there is lots of ambient light and people are being constanty distracted, but from the point of view of sitting and watching a movie they are not great at all. Their colours are a bit dubious when it comes to showing subtle variations, and their contrast ratios and response times are nowhere near as good as can be achieved with CRTs. Old fashioned CRT televisions provide pictures that at their best are stunningly beautiful, and serious home cinema buffs know this and buy them. Plasmas are simply left in the dust by something like this. The reason that the demonstrations you see in shops are almost always computer animated movies is that these do not show up the weaknesses of plasma displays in the way live action with lots of subtle contrasts and people faces might. (CRTs are much better at showing beautiful women walking past spectacular scenery for instance).

LCD displays are getting better. At their best they certainly provide stunning pictures. (This is nice for instance). They don't score as well as plasmas in terms of viewing angles and brightness, and they traditionally have slow response times (although things are improving), but in terms of finesse they are clearly better. (Big ones are expensive for now though). Fairly soon they will be better than plasma for all but applications that require a really bright display. (For one thing they are a lot lighter and less fragile) Plasma will disappear after a short period of being a key technology, I suspect).

However, many of us are waiting for newer technologies that have none of the weaknesses of either plasma or LCD. This is quite promising, but for now I will be sticking with CRTs. That Panasonic I linked to earlier is quite an impressive object of technolust, actually.

Update: This post contained a broken link to the Apple 23" cinema display. It is now fixed.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Anyone else want a gmail account?

I have another six to give away.

Update: (17/6/04) Subsequent to this, Google have given me another five, of which I still have three remaining. This is an interesting way of handling a rollout on Google's part.

I have a piece on a sign pointing in the wrong direction over at City Comforts.

Monday, June 14, 2004


I have a piece on watching the England football team lose to France in a pub in Dorking over at ubersportingpundit.

Alice is in Texas. Seems a good place from which to defend humankind to me. Hi Alice.

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