Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

HDTV: Shaw vs. Telus

Friday, July 27th, 2012 3 comments

I’ve been using Shaw for internet and cable TV for years.  And I’ve been leery of the quality of the Telus Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), especially when the last bit of the feed into my condo is over twisted pair wires originally intended for voice-only telephone.  But I noted the picture quality at my son’s (detached) house was quite good with Telus.  Further the Telus internet upload rate was claimed to be double that of Shaw’s for the same price.

But my main incentive to explore Telus was my desire to see all the games of the Montreal Canadiens, which would require the French sports network, RDS, which Shaw only offers in Standard Definition (SD).  Telus offers the HD feed.

So to make a long story a little shorter, I switched to Telus, despite the dire warnings from Shaw that I wouldn’t get the internet speeds promised, I found that I did get the promised 1Mb/s upload, and 14.5Mb/s download consistently.  And I found the following:

  • Music channel audio quality (which I use a lot) is much better with Telus, although they do not show the title of the current song playing like Shaw.
  • The Telus user interface is more responsive and much easier to use, for example I can filter the program guide to only the channels I am subscribed to, or further to just my favourite channels
  • Telus can record 3 HD programs simultaneously as opposed to 2 for Shaw.  (Telus does not promise you can get 3 HD, but the software tests the line quality and if it’s good enough, allows this.  Otherwise it degrades the capability to SD signals, only promising one or two HD recordings, the balancing being SD).
  • The Telus HD PVR hard drive was much quieter.
  • It was cool (but useless) to have the caller ID display on my TV screen when the phone rang.
  • The Telus PVR doesn’t auto-prompt to extend time on live recordings like Shaw, but does allow a max of 3 hours extra as opposed to 2.
  • The Telus PVR storage is vastly larger: 200 HD hours vs. 20 on my four-year-old Shaw PVR.  Not an issue for me as I don’t watch much TV.
  • Telus offered a free Samsung Galaxy Tablet on a 3-year contract.
  • …and finally the picture quality: Telus was much more pixelated and blurry than Shaw on movement in HD scenes (terrible for sports) and the SD quality was appallingly bad, even on static images.

So the Telus technician came back and worked hard on improving the quality, to no avail.

So it’s back to Shaw for TV, but I’ll stick with Telus internet.  And hope that Shaw offers RDS HD before the hockey season starts.  Bad news is that the quote I got for the package I wanted from Shaw was incorrect, it’s actually $3/month more.  Good news is that Shaw is giving me a six-month discount for switching back.

EDIT: So I just had Optik TV disconnected, and I have to say that the Telus customer experience was much better than that with Shaw:

  • Telus gave discounts, both on my initial order (took $5/month off on the long-term bundled rate) and even after I cancelled the TV they kept the discount for my remaining Internet service, which I had ordered at the same time and kept. They considered that I had my home phone with them for years as well, and had met my end of the bargain in trying to use all three services, so I got the full bundled pricing. They also let me keep the Samsung tablet.
  • Shaw stuck to listed prices and had no wiggle room. One Shaw rep misquoted me and the next rep did not honour that pricing and so I’m paying more for the TV.
  • Telus reps were friendlier, more understanding.
  • The Telus tech worked his butt off to try and make it work, including giving me his mobile number, and talking to me on his day off

So I’d definitely recommend Telus over Shaw from this point of view. Dang twisted pair!

Microsoft announces “Next generation flight experience”

Sunday, April 1st, 2012 4 comments

Only a few weeks after releasing Microsoft Flight, the company announced today that it is developing the next generation of flight software.  Here’s an excerpt from marketing VP Bög Uslãmé’s description of the new product.

“Microsoft has shown a keen understanding of the user experience when it comes to flying airplanes and stuff like that on computers.  There’s a certain magic which we have learned to capture, interrogate, channel and evaporate.  After developing progressively more intricate software for this market through many versions culminating in Microsoft Flight Simulator X, Microsoft Flight showed that we could simplify the paradigm, reduce the functional and geographic scope, convince ourselves we were broadening our appeal, minimize the UI, and still generate a significant return on investment.  All while ensuring that the user thinks they are having fun.  So now we’ll take this passionate approach one step further with the realization of a focused vision in our new product, Mi Fli. The name says it all: shorter, ambiguous and stimulating.  We anticipate that arguments over pronunciation of the name will provoke flame wars at AVSIM, raising consumer awareness with optimal marketing involvement, ie none.  And we’re honored that this will be first product of many from Microsoft using the new ‘Mi’ brand identity.

“The new user-centric feature scope and accessible two-key UI will allow us to minimize customer feedback and the need for infrastructure and support, maximizing the long-term viability of the product.  This also eliminates the potential for distracting third-party development enhancements.

“Of course we’ll make optimal use of user attention bandwidth, with a five-minute splash screen and subsequent contorted Windows Live Games sort-of-XBox-but-not-really online validation and ad-push process.  At every opportunity our valued customers will be presented with a slideshow to encourage purchase of expansion packs they already have, and others they don’t want.  If they do attempt a purchase, lucky users will randomly trigger a hidden gem: ‘Can’t retrieve information from LIVE. Please try again later.  Error code 8007271D.’  All part of our playful engagement with our valued customers, further augmented by our proactive Google … I mean, Bing-ranking of searches for that code with irrelevant and misleading KB articles on Zune.

“As always, we won’t specify availability date or features until well after the product is released, but we will publish periodic screenshots and low-res stuttery teasers without explanation that will encourage rampant and inaccurate speculation.  But, off the record, based on a reduction in the development team to one half-time employee and the one paragraph feature list, it’s likely the product will be released no later than Thursday.  Meanwhile, we’ll give customers attempting to harvest meaningful information from our website the opportunity to ingest content-free team member interviews.

“You might expect the usual discussion, ‘Is it a game?  Or is it a simulator?’ to be bypassed through our innovative approach of offering the features of neither.  But we know our true die-hard Microsoft … I mean, Mi … fans will still endlessly debate this question.

“From a personal marketing point of view, I’ve found it refreshing to work with half of a malleable gender-free ethnic-neutral location-nonspecific engineering team member who can design to specification without the need for dialog, discussion or any kind of human interaction.

“We’re excited about this cutting-edge next-generation user experience enhancement package.  I look forward to Mi Fli being open for business.  The future is bright.  Join us on our journey.”

Proponents of X-Plane immediately decried the new product, stating, “X-Plane has a much more realistic flight model.  And it almost has believable scenery.”

The surprising math of cities and corporations

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 Leave a comment
Categories: Business, Learning, Technical

Humanizing Data

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 Leave a comment

Transforming how we look at things, from flight monitoring to music.

OS 6 on Blackberry 9700 (Bold)

Sunday, March 27th, 2011 1 comment

This month OS 6 became available for the Bold for Rogers customers. Some thoughts:

  • Upgrade was painless, with prompt for backup and mostly seamless app migration
  • Browser is much improved, but still has fundamental flaws: many pages are “too big” to load; still no Flash support; page zoom is nifty but frequently doesn’t work (I/O keys or context menu)
  • Performance is sometimes sluggish
  • Universal search rocks.  Well, kind of: it only searches names and numbers in contacts, OS5 searched through the entire contact record.
  • Calendar daily display is a disaster, showing only a tiny fraction of the day
  • Still no support for Skype
  • User interface is cool, but more complex
  • YouTube videos are vastly better quality, but jerky
  • Memory is an issue, I’ve had warnings that memory is low and tabs need to be closed. I don’t have very many apps.

There are far more thorough reviews out there, but this is what stuck out for me. For the user satisfied with their phone, using it for simple tasks, this upgrade would just be confusing. For others it’s probably worthwhile.

UPDATE: “page too large” to load, and “low on memory” errors are frequent enough to make this a questionable upgrade.

UPDATE #2: known issue: volume and next/last song function buttons are disabled when the device is in the holster.  :(

UPDATE #3: I think it was too much to ask to squeeze OS6 on to the slower processor and microscopic memory of the 9700. Unless you need to be cool, and don’t mind random waits and out of memory errors give this a miss. Too much time is spent waiting for the spinning hand of nothingness. If you want more than OS5 offers, you’re better off with a 9800, or wait for OS7 on RIM’s next behind-the-curve BB, the 9900.

Could it happen here?

Saturday, March 26th, 2011 Leave a comment

Coastal British Columbia is in an active earthquake zone, and recent events have raised awareness of the risks.  Although in Victoria and Vancouver we are largely protected from Pacific Ocean tsunamis, a damaging tsunami from a near-shore earthquake may occur, and it’s worth restating that your best protection is to be prepared and know how to respond.  In BC, the organization ultimately responsible for your safety is your Local Authority (municipality, district or First Nation) so contact them with any questions, and lots of useful information can be found at the Provincial Emergency Program site, with particular attention to their Earthquake Preparedness and Tsunami Preparedness documents.

Cool as a cucumber

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010 Leave a comment

I got my machine back a couple of days ago, now when stressed the max core temp is 52C.  That’s better.  Forty degrees better.  Also now running at 3.0 GHz instead of 2.4 GHz.  That’s better too.  What wasn’t better is that I idly checked the DX10 preview box without thinking and that screwed up textures vastly.  David Roch at AVSIM gently led me back to the light.

So back to photoscenery.  I realized that the night textures for FTX are vastly different than those in Van+ … so two different sets of night textures are needed downtown.  As you can see, FTX night textures are much darker.

Vancouver+ V3 - night - Standalone textures

Vancouver+ V3 - downtown - night - FTX versions

Toasty roasty

Sunday, May 16th, 2010 1 comment

My (now older) machine is running a bit hot.  How hot?  Well when running FSX core#0 gets as high as 94C.  Yikes.  And that’s just a Q6600 quad core at 2.4GHz.  No overclocking.  So I’ve minimized using the machine the last few days, and will take it into the shop for a cleaning and cooling system upgrade, and a pinch of overclocking (it always did run too warm, 80C or so when stressed).

Holger and I decided to hold off a bit on the Victoria+ FTX PNW patch as it turned out to be more complicated than we thought, and we felt it best to focus on Van+ V3 first.  I’ve been working on the seasonal photoscenery: we have to have two complete sets, one that matches the Van+ custom ground textures, and one that matches the PNW textures.  As well, PNW adds a “hard winter” month (snow) that Van+ didn’t have, so PNW users will get that texture as well in V3.

What to do with the dangly bits?

Saturday, November 7th, 2009 Leave a comment

If you’re like me, you have lots of USB devices, but a few of them are rarely plugged in (iPod/Blackberry/Digital Camera/programmable TV remote control).  What do you do with the dangly bits when you’re not using them?

Here’s the solution my friend Mike Ray came up with for me.  Note that I didn’t want to damage my new pine desk, so the only screw holes are on the underside, and not visible.  We used a jig on a blank piece of wood with screws shrouded in concrete anchors to use as reference to wind the coat hanger around. 

Twist just the right way and the cord can be removed completely from the wire.

Note also that sometimes I disconnect my headphones, so I have a gap in the audio path that I can use to do this.  I disconnect when I’m driving my audio system in the living room from the computer.

If we were to do it again, we’d mount the wire lower so that the bits weren’t visible over the edge when not used.  As it is one or two stick up.

USB Cord Management1

USB Cord Management2

USB Cord Management3

Categories: Home, Technical

For those who have finished Portal…

Sunday, July 12th, 2009 Leave a comment
Categories: Entertainment, Technical

Cables anyone?

Thursday, July 9th, 2009 Leave a comment

I don’t have an issue with retailers making profit where they can, especially with the current economic state.  But I also like to save money.  If you have audio/video/computer cable needs in Canada I highly recommend CableSalesCanada.  From my experience in offshore manufacturing I know that cables often cost less than $1 to make, and ever since the introduction of “monster cables,” sellers figured out that consumers will pay huge markups on cables, with no commensurate increase in quality.

A good quality HDMI 1.3b 1m cable sells for $9.50 at CableSalesCanada, plus shipping and tax.  The equivalent starts at $30 at FutureShop and you can pay absolutely silly prices for HDMI monster cables claiming superior video and audio.  I would challenge any viewer/listener to tell the difference.  HDMI is a digital signal, and as long as the integrity of the signal is maintained, the cable will make no difference.

Not that all substitute cables are good, some of the cheaper cables Sears sells have poor connectors that easily fatigue and fail.

For $110 including tax and shipping, I bought 15m (DVI to HDMI), 3m and 2m (HDMI) cables and got a lovely pen and mousepad (ok that’s not much of an incentive, I know!).  Arrived in just a few days.

Other countries I’m sure have equivalent suppliers, I can’t recommend from personal experience.

New speakers

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 Leave a comment

As I note in my audio/video system update I’ve been using the landlady’s speakers for some time.  Once I knew what my new condo would be like (small), I was ready to buy speakers.  I decided on an oddball stereo pair, not very common, but they sounded the best of everything I listened to under $2,000, except for the very low end, which is missing (Response: 55Hz – 50kHz).  I bought a pair of JVC SX-WD5‘s.  The clarity is stunning, and using the old Technic’s as rears works fine.  When I move, I’ll look for some inexpensive rears.

I don’t plan on getting a centre speaker or subwoofer or “presence” speakers.  So my 7.1 receiver will be driving 4.0.  Even for surround sound movies, it sounds great.  I’m just missing that deep rumble that probably wouldn’t go down well in a condo …

iTunes update

Saturday, November 15th, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve posted here, herehere and here about trials with iTunes and Apple.  And I note recently that:

  • there are no longer significant delays accessing the iTunes store.
  • Apple now provides a help link with every purchase in the confirmation (“Report a Problem”).  I don’t know how useful it is, but it’s got to be a step ahead of the the vacuum that was iTunes support in the past.
Categories: Business, Technical

Catching up with Audio/Video

Saturday, November 15th, 2008 1 comment

In the 1960s I was fascinated with technology, and when colour TV came to Canada (years after the US!), the next big breakthrough was to be high-definiiton TV, and I recall it being discussed in the press.  That may have been the NHK system demo’ed in 1969 described in this article.  But for technical reasons the technology stagnated and did not become widely available until this century.

I also remember listening to my first FM broadcast in the 60’s on a portable radio, and was capitivated by the richness, relative to AM.  And I recall clearly when my brother bought his first cheapo stereo system and we listened to the soundtrack from 2001, A Space Odyssey.  I was amazed at the depth of the sound.

In the 70s I often helped friends purchase high-quality stereo systems, and knew a fair amount about the technology.

Despite this I never purchased a good-quality system for myself.  So recently I decided it was time to investigate audio and video technology and get myself a decent system.  I quickly discovered that audiophile systems were well out of my price range, as was the latest in HDTV.  But with minor compromises, the cost could be brought down dramatically.  So here’s what I purchased:

  • Panasonic 42″ 1080p TH42PZ800 plasma HDTV
  • Pace TDC-775D PVR (only choice with local cable company)
  • Panasonic BD50 BluRay player (now superseded by the BD55)
  • Yamaha RXV-1800 receiver (good price as the RXV-1900 is now available)
  • Grado SR-2 headphones
  • Panasonic DMR-EZ48V DVD recorder (for transcribing old VHS and Hi-8 video tapes)

And here’s my impressions:

  • The richness and clarity of the TV are amazing.
  • The colour depth of the TV is very poor, looks like 16 bit colour, resulting in very visible banding on graduated colour areas, whether from BD, computer or cable.  I went back to the store and looked at many plasma and LCD TVs, indeed this is a chronic problem with plasma, which I didn’t find noted anywhere in reviews.  How odd.  Of course, the newest, very expensive TVs (like $9k) don’t have this problem.  LCD TVs perform much better than plasma on colour depth.
  • The compression needed for cable HDTV results in massive pixellation on movement, it’s tolerable, but I think they (at least the local cable company) has gone overboard on compression.
  • Flight Simulator X looks fantastic on a 42″ plasma, and performance is quite good.
  • There is no hiss at all from the receiver.  Zero.  Amazing.  Overall the receiver specs are better than the best studio equipment of the 70s.
  • The Blu-Ray player takes forever to start up!  But movies look great.
  • The headphones are amazing.
  • Amazingly, neither of the DVD players can read .jpg images over 1Mb in size, something that aged DVD players can do.  A big hole in Panasonic’s capability.  I have to drive slide shows from the computer.
  • I once tested the Shaw digital audio channels because the sounded so crappy, and found they rolled off around 8kHz.  However either my system sucked or they’ve changed the quality, because now they sound great.  Definitely wide-response, although there still is some distortion on very low frequencies at times.  That may be the fault of the audio stream providers, who knows.

Now astute readers will have noted something missing: speakers.  Those I’m going to take my time with and save my nickels, as they are the most critical part of the system.  Meanwhile, the place I’m renting has some old Technics speakers that sound ok: they are missing the low end, but capture the tinkly highs adequately.  And clarity is good.

So I’ve caught up a bit, and am satisfied with what I have.

Beware the jabberwocky!

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008 4 comments

Well, at least beware the “Domain Registry of Canada”.  This official sounding name is a “registered business style” of Registration Services Inc.  They send what look like real invoices to domain name holders asking for payment.  If one is careful and reads the text, it becomes clear that they are trying to get you to change your domain host.  But looked at quickly:

  • they look like an official invoice
  • the name Domain Registry of Canada sounds like a government organization (I showed my adult son who’d never seen one, and he asked, “Why is the government sending you these?)
  • they have the domain information on them (which is public) so it looks like they know about your account
  • they state a reply-requested date 4 months in advance of renewal.  Most domain hosts give 3 months notice.  This deceives in two ways: implying a reply is urgent, and ensuring this notice is received before legitimate ones


So if you get one, unless you already have registered a domain with them, let your local consumer protection agency know.  If you have registered with them in the past, re-register with another host: you’ll save a bundle, the rates are outrageous!  $40 per year for a single registration!  I phoned Domain Registry of Canada last year and requested they stop sending me these, but they’ve ignored my request, so this time I’ve filed a complaint with the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority of British Columbia.  Ah, that feels better!

Update: the Consumer Protection folks said that since the document says, “This is not a bill,” in bold, consumers are not being deceived.  They put the onus back on individuals to take responsibility to read what they get in the mail fully before sending money to anyone.

Categories: Business, Technical

GPU (video card) considerations

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008 6 comments

Phil Taylor provides a detailed analysis of GPU specs and implications.

Categories: DX10, Technical

Virtual cockpit rain fix for FS9 addon aircraft

Friday, January 18th, 2008 Leave a comment

Backwards compatibility of FS9 addons in FSX has been an issue.  One problem that bugged many was that virtual cockpit windows in some FS9 addon aircraft may become opaque when it rains.  Two solutions are offered:

Solution 1: Microsoft outlines a procedure to utilize FS9 textures in FSX. EDIT: this link is now dead.

Solution 2: Flight1 provides a free tool to implement their own replacement textures.

How not to catch a thief

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007 2 comments

In Canada, if you buy a blank CD, it is presumed that you are going to steal music.  A levy of 21 cents is added to every blank CD purchased and 24 cents for every blank cassette more than 40 minutes in length.  These funds are distributed to the music industry.

Proposed legislation will compound this: the Canadian Private Copying Collective, a non-profit agency created by the music industry wants to collect up to $75 for each MP3 player sold, and 29 cents for every blank CD and Mini disc.  Futher all memory sticks would be tariffed, up to $10 per card.  Details here.  Looking at the financial report, the motivation may be the drop in revenue from CD tariffs since 2004, probably the result of the use of alternative media.   It’d be interesting to see how these revenue numbers might jump with the proposed tariffs.

Canadian music industry proponents would argue the funds will go towards fostering Canadian artists and music.  Futher artists don’t have the protection against file sharing that they do in the US: we have no equivalent to the Digital Millenium Act. 

Personally I purchase all music (and software) I download or copy.  So the presumption that I am stealing music and must be penalized is at best disappointing, at worst, theft.  I want my support of Canadian artists to be by choice, not legislation.  It makes a lot more sense to me to modify our copyright laws to protect against people who steal music, than to penalize all music lovers.  How this legislation will deter thieves is not clear.  You can contact your Member of Parliament if you agree.

Categories: Music, Musings, Technical

SP2 install fix

Monday, December 17th, 2007 2 comments

Bob Arnson posts a fix to the “Microsoft Flight Simulator X Service Pack 2 requires the English version of Flight Simulator X.” error.

Interesting FSX benchmark

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007 Leave a comment

Check out Gary’s results on AVSIM.


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