Tuesday, August 23, 2005

PC Pro: News: Blu-ray and HD-DVD - no merger in prospect

This really is bad news for consumers - or is it? There are 2 competing standards for the next-generation of DVD, and it's now become clear that there is no unification in sight. This means that we'll have 2 groups each pushing their own format, trying to get the features and price better than the other group's offering. Hmmm, might not be so bad after all - unless you pick what turns out to be the wrong side after all. I for one won't be spending any money on any DVD related equipment for a good while, and I'm certainly not trusting any family memories to the DVD format.


I've given up trying to do everything I want to on my Mac, and I've given up trying to show my wife that it's just as easy to do things as it is on a PC, because the truth is: it isn't. Mac OS X looks very nice, and does *some* things very well, but at other times it's just not as quick and easy as Windows XP. Expose is great, showing all open windows at the press of a button, but I'm rarely looking for window contents, just the application and document name. Windows already shows me that in the taskbar, so I can get to my window with a single click (OK 2 if it's in a group). and try as I might to regain my enthusiasm for Mac (I used to be a devout follower) I find that the single menu bar on the Mac is just silly. Each application should have its own menus, and its better when they stay associated with application windows. There are lots of other little things that bug me as well, like why on earth does the Mac Finder let you read from FTP servers but not write to them? the integrated FTP in Windows Explorer makes it easier. and despite everything they tell you, and my initial enthusiasm, there are still plenty of web pages that just don't work properly unless you're using Internet Explorer on a PC. true, this isn't how the web was supposed to be, but it is this way and I for one am sick of fighting it. I've got a PC at home now, and I find it better for day-to-day stuff like internet access, email, and word processing.

I admit that a significant factor in my switch back to PC is my current software development work in .NET - obviously you can't get that running on a Mac.

So I contemplated selling the Mac and upgrading my PC with the proceeds. My original spec for the Mac was that I wanted to do video editing with Firewire, DVD burning etc, so can I get my PC up to the required spec to do that. well, certainly I can buy the hardware. I can get a fast DVD burner and Firewire card and it should work fine. OK, what about software? this is where I start wandering back to the Mac. I've done some looking around, and it seems that unless I go for full professional products, I can't get the same elegant video editing and DVD authoring tools on my PC that I already have on my Mac. iMovie and iDVD offer flexibility and functionality that I just can't afford to pay for on the PC. hmmm. this suggests I might be better off hanging on to the Mac, at least for video editing.

so my set-up is now very eclectic: I use the best machine for the job. most days, I'm at the PC, but for video work, the Mac comes back. it's a shame. Mac OS X is certainly a lot prettier to look at than XP, but I really can't say it's any easier to use.

eBay bidding

I've been doing a bit of buying and selling on eBay lately, and I've noticed that the bidding process is highly influenced by the nature of the auction, and also the way in which bids are placed. I've bought a few things now and I've picked up a few tricks. Firstly, don't bid until it's nearly the end of the auction. If you bid too early, you just show your interest and end up pushing up the price if other people want the item. So wait until there's only a few minutes left, and then get in there with a bid that's just under your top price. when you put your bid in, you then find out if anyone else has already bid with a higher maximum. if it looks like you might be able to win wihout going over your maximum by too much, put in a bid that's an odd figure, eg £25.01. with only minutes left for the other bidders to respond, you're likely to beat their maximum of £25, and not leave them enough time to bid against you. with a broadband connection and a bit of confidence, you can get in there literally at the last few seconds. I know, because I've been outbid with only seconds remaining.

so auctions online really are different. no-one wants to pay over the odds, and there are ways of exploiting the distributed nature of the bidding system to take advantage of time delays. thrilling stuff - when you win.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Online Language Lab
I've just been playing with the BBC's Language Lab, using their Flash tool to create my own Word Map. You enter the words you use for common concepts like rain, sleep, items of clothing etc, and build your own concept map. The application is very simple, and you just end up with collections of words around concepts, but what's cool is that for every word you enter you get to see a regional map showing how much it is used. For many of the words I entered, I was left wondering just how many people had responded, because the results were not what I expected, so I'd like to see more indication of the reliability of the results, but it's fun to enter words I remember from my origins in the North of England and see them crop up only in the north of the map. How many people know what 'bairn' means?

I like this site because it's a way of both gathering data from a geographically distributed sample, and also of displaying that data in a meaningful way. I'd like to know more about they chose the categories though - I've got plenty of Northern phrases (and Stokie ones too now that I live round there) that I couldn't see space for in my concept map.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Boffins develop phone call boredom spotter - vnunet.com
Hmm, which is it: spot if the other person is bored, or spot if you're a jerk? I'm sure there can be a correlation, but not necessarily. MIT seem to have taken what could be a really useful piece of software (think of assessing someone's irritation to an automated system, or stress levels for calls to emergency services) and have applied it to an entirely trivial domain. They even call it the Jerk-O-Meter...

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