Archive for April, 2009

“here, smell this”

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

She said her LCD monitor was hissing at her.

I readily believed her.


Stuff I fixed this week

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

I’ve seen three different computers in the last month with this bizarre problem. Laptop or desktop, if you tried typing, it’d just click at you from the PC speaker and type nothing on the screen. Mouse is fine, everything else is fine, just tick tick tick as you typed.

Oddly, this is actually a feature of Windows called Filter Keys, which ignores brief or repeated keypresses in case you find it hard to type normally. It’s an option in Accessibility (irony!) the Ease of Acces Center, and can be turned on or off by pressing and holding the right shift key for eight seconds.

I’m not joking. The PC troubleshooting part of my brain couldn’t come up with a sensible reason for this behaviour outside some kind of hardware fault, and I didn’t think of accessibility settings until the USB keyboard plugged into a laptop did exactly the same thing.

Given the frequency (3 times in a month and never before…), we think it might actually be a sign of a virus or hoax AV messing with your head (Look! Something’s wrong for real! Buy me!). Stay safe.

Filter Keys in Accessibility, Windows XP.

Aside from that, Microsoft Office has been up to its usual tricks. Credit for solution and this screenshot to this CNet thread.


Note the messed up titlebar spacing, and that the ribbons are missing their more typical Fluent blue theming. If Office 2007 appears like this for you, you need to do at least one and possibly both of the following:

  1. Remove anything that calls itself a “mirror” driver from the Display Adapters section of Device Manager. It’s some kind of video acceleration for a particular remote control application;
  2. Turn High Contrast off in Accessibility. The guy in that thread was using Vista, and removing the driver was apparently all he had to do; my customer was using XP, and we had to take this extra step to get it back to normal.

High Contrast setting in Accessibility, Windows XP.

I went on the internet, and I found this.

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

While researching gamepads for an upcoming project (stay tuned!), I found myself time and time again ogling the Xbox 360 controller.


There are few consumer devices available that look half as good as this. The console itself looks like a large print book that’s gone through the wash, but I like the pad. The current version is compatible with Windows PCs, and if I was a fan of ANY game that played better with a pad than with a keyboard and mouse, I would’ve bought one and written a drooly review of it long ago.

Anyway, I also found this.

XBox 360 controller with Chatpad.

This isn’t some bizarre photoshop job like all those iPhone Nano hopefuls. It’s a real product; that keyboard is the XBox 360 Chatpad, and it comes in a “Messenger Kit” with a talky headset. It just plugs into the bottom of your 360 pad, has backlit keys, and is meant for chatting with your chums via XBox Live.

I couldn’t give two hoots about XBox Live, though My first thought was actually “that would make the best media PC controller ever.”


This is Logitech’s diNovo Mini, a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (that circle on the right is a trackpad) intended for media PC use. I own one, and slightly flawed as it is, it’s the best media PC controller ever.

It is also AU$190. Which, if you’re not familiar with money, is a lot for a glorified remote control with buttons that make your teevee do stuff. You need all those buttons for a media PC, though; play/pause/volume isn’t enough, because you sometimes have to type stuff as well.

It’s better than a fullsize keyboard, and better than not having a separate mouse, and that makes it vastly better than Microsoft’s Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000, which goes for about the same price as the diNovo.

The XBox 360 wireless controller and chatpad, in contrast, could be had on eBay for about $120 all up. If Microsoft allowed the chatpad to be used on PCs, they’d basically be shooting themselves in the foot that props up the wireless desktop kits.

Microsoft aren’t the boss of everyone, though. While it’s not meant to work on PCs, it can be made to do so with some serious mucking about.

Come on, internet. Just one awesome super-fiddly platformer game, and I can buy one and retire the diNovo to Linux box duties.

look closer

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

There’s a virtual machine running somewhere in this picture:


Can you spot it?

They don’t want my Australian money.

Monday, April 6th, 2009

So I decided to finally bite the bullet, and actually pay for some music.

Back in 2005 or thereabouts, I wrote on another blog somewhere I wouldn’t do so unless I could give some website a very small amount of money for some very high quality, DRM-free mp3s. I had no intention of being forced to change how I listen to my music just for the privilege of paying for it, and I still don’t.

It’s 2009, though, and the internet’s all growed up. We don’t have to go to Russia to buy mp3s anymore.

The very first shop-like Google hit for the album I want – unexpectedly, it’s Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi – is Amazon’s MP3 store. You can get it from for US$8.99, or for £7.99 – AU$12.55 or AU$16.66, take your pick.

Except my carefully converted Australian prices are utterly irrelevant – I’m not allowed to buy from either site, because their Digital Content providers refused them the right to export outside the US or UK respectively. Seriously, what they’ve done is copy and paste identical text to the local subsidiary’s T&Cs of each approved region, job done, let’s go home and watch something patriotic on teevee.

This is stupid. I have money. They have a completely automated online shop. I want to give their automated online shop my money in return for their music, and they won’t because of… moo?

A friend reminded me the iTunes Music Store now features DRM-free MP3s, which would be the ultimate solution…….. if I still used an iPod at all. The iTunes software for 64-bit Windows is a 70.4MB download; this is a drop in the ocean compared to how much music the average blogger torrents, but it also comes with Quicktime and tries to talk you into Safari and wants to steal file associations from Winamp and nags me to death with fifty unnecessary tray icons and popups and have you considered buying yourself a new iPod Shuffle, they come in dark grey now?

Why no, no I hadn’t. And never will. My Cybershot mobile phone already makes me a corporate whore sellout extroadinaire, I’m not very interested in cramming a separate PMP with fewer features into my minimalist pocket ensemble.

Um anyway, back to Einaudi – Googling his name in Australia produces no dice, the only results are people who want to sell me his sheet music (relative value and merit of making the mp3s myself, I leave open for debate), and Sanity who want to sell me CDs. I had to go to his website to find someone who’ll let me buy mp3s instead, and their two suggestions are these guys who also can’t sell outside the UK, and iTunes again.

I caved into something for the second time tonight and installed iTunes. Which confidently informs me Divenire will cost me $16.99. And I have to sign up for an account before I can pay for it. And give them my birthdate and stuff.

And you know what? I’m not going to do it. I’m going to dig right back in, and wait for a website that’ll let me pay for the music I’d like to buy. Russia’s no longer a mandatory visit, but I’d still have to leave my hemisphere to get what I want.

Thanks for nothing, interblag.

we wanna know.. who you are

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009


The Who are, in fact, utterly awesome live. I’m glad I got to see Roger and Pete perform at least once in my life.

Even the vending machines got into it:


chain of fail

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Fact: Customer’s laptop was doing something strange – if he opened Outlook Express, Windows dropped into 8 bit colour mode. You could set it back to 32 bit temporarily, and closing and re-opening OE didn’t reproduce the problem, but it came back after you rebooted and opened it again.

Fact: My first reaction was that it was some kind of video driver problem, except it was a Dell laptop with an Intel 945 chipset and I’ve never seen Intel video cause any kind of problems. I tried the latest driver from Dell anyway, but no dice.

(The official 945 driver from Intel refused to install, saying I had to have the one from the original manufacturer. Dell loses five points for the proprietary BS there.)

Fact: Opening Outlook Express on XP causes Windows Messenger to open, because Messenger is what handles your contacts if you use OE.

Fact: A little digging around revealed said customer’s kids – or possibly angry karma goblins – had apparently changed Messenger to use 256 colour compatibility mode. Leading to 8 bit colour the first time he opened OE after booting.

Fact: I uninstalled McAfee Security, and his laptop’s boot time halved. Seriously internet, Antivir is where it’s at now.