Saturday, 26 September 2009

Looking for TV to keep the Children Quiet?

Purely by accident, we've stumbled across a winning TV show for keeping children quiet. I think you'll be surprised as Mrs H and I were.

Aggie MacKenzie & Kim Woodburn

Yes that's right, Channel 4's How Clean is Your House?

It's probably not all that surprising when you think about it.

The show's hosts Kim and Aggie visit a filthy home, scream a bit, checkout the grease, the grime, the creepy crawlies (a particular favourite with the kids), totter over piles of unstable debris and almost always eventually end up standing around a toilet that looks like it's seen continuous service at the last 20 Glastonbury festivals without a clean in between (yes you guessed it - another children's favourite).

Kim and Aggie then proceed to clean the disgusting abode from to to bottom. At some point, Aggie takes swab samples from the filthiest areas of the place and has them analysed in the lab, allowing her to reveal to the residents what bacteria and other nasties lurk within (again children love this stuff as they can see that the germs Mum and Dad told them about are actually for real!)

Add this to the simple weekly repeating format and you have a children's winner.

There is no bad language, no violence, no sexual content, just 'good clean fun'. What more could you ask for to keep kids quiet?

The icing on the cake is that the show is on after the children's bedtime so it has to be Sky+'ed. This then means that on playback we can just skip the televisual rubbish and get back to the show.

I encourage readers with children of a school going age to give 'How Clean is Your House' a try. You'll not regret it!

If all fails, at least you had thirty minutes away from SpongeBob marathon...

- Chris

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Win7 Launch Party

Is this really for real?

When was the last time you watched something that cringe-worthy?

My favourite quotes (ohh but there are so many):

2:41 - "Ohh you went straight to the activities?!?"  - What the.....?

3:12 - "I just left computer on and running and let folks mess around with it, right?" - Dunno about you, but NO WAY!  As the ISP bill payer, I like having the internet.... and my freedom from incarceration...

4:02 - "make something your demonstrating personal to someone at the party" - And here's some long range photos of [guest x] in the shower, taking out the trash, getting in the car etc etc 

I also like the way the oven clock in the background looses and then gains several hours over the course of the video.

The best part is that it is real:

Jiminy Jillikers - I can't wait to attend one....! (actually no thanks)

- Chris

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Ad Block Plus

Following on from my post blog post regarding TV advertising.  As you may have guessed, I really don't like being advertised at.  Yes thats right, AT.

Now it's time to turn attention to internet advertising.  This is perhaps even more annoying than TV advertising.  Mention banners, pop-ups, overlays, etc, and we all know what they are and we all know that we really don't like them that much (is loathe too stronger word here?).

Luckily help is at hand in the shape of Adblock Plus (ABP).  ABP is a free Firefox add-on that will block pretty much all web advertising.  For those adverts that do scrape through, you can right click them and instantly block those too.  OK, I admit it, I must be the last person on earth to find out about this excellent Firefox add-on.  

Links to everything you need to be ad free:
That's all you need to an advert free internet!
    Why you need ABP and Filters / Subscriptions
    From Rick752's ABP FAQ page:
    ABP by itself blocks nothing on its own! ... only 'Subscriptions' or filters do. Adblock Plus is a fabulous piece of work created and maintained by Wladimir Palant ... but it comes as an empty, non-blocking program that is awaiting instructions on what to do.  It will not block anything at all if it is not given any instructions.

    When ABP is installed for the first time, it will ask you if you want to 'subscribe' to a known maintained list of 3rd-party filters.  If you select one or have installed one, this now becomes the responsibility of the subscription author and not the ABP author.

    OK, so ABP is the 'framework' and the subscriptions / filters are the lists of files or adverts to block.

    A breeze:
    • Install the Firefox add-on from the mozilla link above
    • Choose which default list to install - I chose the top list
    • Navigate to Rick752's site (again link above) and choose which filters or subscriptions to install
    For my set-up, I chose:
    • EasyList - The default list
    • EasyPrivacy - Paranoid? Me? ;o)
    • Adult/Dating Blocking - No one likes a smart a*se or any type of a*se popping up
    Now it's installed, lets take this baby out for a spin.  Follows are some before and after screenshots.  Obviously these won't catch the annoyance of those flash based adverts that flash away when you're trying to read something, but I think you'll get my drift when you look at the screenshots.

    IMDB with and without adverts

    The Reg.  That HP advert flashes like a bugger

    Sky News.  "I see the news - at last!"

    Also what's not obvious from the screenshots is that because my browser isn't going off to who-only-knows-whichever advertising servers to grab the adverts from, the loading of the pages is significantly faster.

    Double bonus!

    So that's:
    TV advertising - DONE (Sky+)
    Internet advertising - DONE (ABP)

    Next time.... Radio.
    - Chris

    Monday, 21 September 2009

    Garmin Nuvi Won't Switch On

    Panic stations everyone! The Sat-Nav is not switching on!!

    Good job I was at home and only had to find the location of a birthday party my son had been invited to.  The combination of google maps and my memory got him to the party...  Just.

    So, what the.... happened to the sat-nav?

    The Garmin nuvi 760... when switched on!

    Luckily there is a simple enough fix.  To get the unit functioning again you have to perform a 'soft reset'.  Here's how:
    • Connect the sat-nav to a PC via USB cable
    • Push and hold the power on slider to the on position and hold for 10 to 15 seconds
    • Release the power on slider
    • Try to power sat-nav on as usual.  The unit should switch on as normal
    • Unplug USB cable and you're good to go

    Link to the Garmin knowledge base article here

    As recommended by the Garmin article, I updated my unit to the latest firmware and software versions.  As I've just experienced a 'bricked' sat-nav, I performed the updates one at a time.

    The updates I applied and the versions my unit is now running with (for comparison) are as follows:
    • Chipset firmware / software = 4.80
    • Traffic receiver firmware = 5.50 (will only display and update when the unit is powered via the car cradle)
    • Audio software = 1.60
    • GPS software = 2.90m
    I also updated the British 'Emily' and 'Daniel' text to speech voices in the hope they can better pronounce some of the more obscure place names around sunny Kent.  

    - Chris

    Sunday, 20 September 2009

    Free 0800 Calls Without Tying Up The Landline

    The Problem
    In these days of increased office mobility, home working and increased office globalisation (also known as off-shoring), the common conference call has proved to be a useful and successful collaboration tool.

    However, when at home where telephone lines are slightly less abundant - typically only one line per home - tying up this single line for up to two hours at a time isn't very practical.  Even more so when others in the house are unaware or forget that you are using the telephone and try to make an outgoing call...

    So, here's what I want:
    • I need to be able to freely (as in 'free will' and in 'free beer') attend an 0800 call at any time for any length of time
    • I want to be able to make outgoing calls. I don't care about incoming calls.  In fact, I don't want any.
    • I'm on a budget here - absolute minimum spend solutions need only apply.
    The Solution - Part 1 - Technology, Provider and Account
    Why not use Voice over IP for the conference calls?  That way I can attend conference calls as needed without tying up the home telephone line!

    I'm sure we have all heard of Voice over IP (VoIP), skype, Vonage etc.

    The problem with a majority of these VoIP providers is that you have to to have credit in your account before you make even free (0800) calls.  The call may not cost anything thus leaving your credit intact, but you have to have that credit in the account in the first place.  Since I only plan to make 0800 calls, how can I get my credit back?

    The solution? sipgate [At this point I would like to point out that I am in no way affiliated to sipgate]

    Registration is free, you get a free incoming telephone number, there are zero account costs and perhaps more importantly, sipgate allows you to make outgoing 0800 calls without you having to have any credit in your account. Remember with 0800 calls, the receiving end pays for the call.  This is how sipgate make their money on 0800 calls.

    The Solution - Part 2 - Software
    Potentially any VoIP client will work with sipgate, although they do recommend X-Lite free VoIP softphone for Windows. This is the version I use.

    X-Lite free VoIP for Windows

    Configuration of X-Lite is fully documented in this sipgate pdf file
    For Linux, I tend to use what ever is already installed or available in the distribution repositories.

    The Solution - Part 3 - Hardware
    OK, you've got the free VoIP account and you've installed a free softphone.  Next step the hardware.

    Obviously you are going to need a PC sound card. 99.9% of PC's these days come with sound cards, so zero spend there too.

    Headset - OK minimum spend time.
    I need a cheap-as-chips headset that won't break the bank (I really don't care what it looks like or how much of a twat or trolly dolly or whatever I feel when I'm wearing it).  As I said earlier, I'm on a budget here.

    As is usual with this kind of thing, ebay to the rescue.  I managed to pick up a headset like this for around a fiver including delivery:

    Trust HS-2100 Headset

    As all sound cards have 3.5mm jack type input and output sockets, you are looking for a headset that has two (one for headphones and one for microphone) 3.5mm jack plugs like these:

    3.5mm Headset Jack Plugs

    That's it!

    I can make free 0800 calls all day long and not interrupt normal land line use, or be interrupted mid call.

    Beyond Free and Incoming Calls
    Of course you can use this solution to make 'real' phone calls - calls that cost money.  Other than putting some credit in your sipgate account, you are free to go.  Its just I haven't yet had either the need or the inclination to put some money in my sipgate account and do so.

    Incoming calls are a slightly different kettle of fish in so much as you will have to make some changes to your internet firewall / router.  This is chiefly because in the case of an outgoing call, the VoIP traffic is initiated from your end.  In the case an incoming call, the sipgate servers are initiating traffic back to your X-Lite client.  Most home routers will see this traffic as unwanted and block it before it gets to your PC and X-Lite client.

    The resolution is to open some specific ports of your router / firewall so that the incoming traffic is not blocked.  sipgate have a page here detailing the ports required.  It all looks quite simple, but I do know of others that have had issues getting incoming calls to work.  As I said above, I'm not that interested in incoming calls right now.

    Outgoing calls are just fine thank-you.  As for incoming calls, I already have a company mobile phone for that.

    Happy calling!


    Friday, 18 September 2009

    VMware ESX Reminders

    Because I can never remember and the pieces of paper floating around in my laptop bag are looking more and more dog-eared...

    Mounting USB Stick (needs to be formatted FAT / FAT32):
    1.  Log onto console first (tty1 preferred - alt F1)
    2.  Plug in USB stick
    3.  You should see a message detailing device inserted
    4.  Look for a device ID assigned by ESX to the USB. For example '/dev/sda'
    5.  Mount USB device:   mount -t auto /dev/sda1 /mnt/flash
    6.  sda1 being the 1st partition on the USB stick: cd /mnt/flash and then ls
    7. USB contents will be there
    8. When finished: umount /mnt/flash  (remember to change directory away from /mnt/flash first!)
    9. Pull USB and go

    Yea I know.  Easy when you know how.

    Setting up SNMP on ESX:
    1.  Log onto console first (tty1 preferred - alt F1).
    2.  Sudo to root su -   
    3.  Open snmp config file  nano /etc/snmp/snmpd.conf
    4.  Edit the following:
    syslocation Datacentre x Bay x, Row x, Rack Asset x, Uxx-Uxx
    rocommunity [snmp public string]
    trapcommunity [snmp admin string]
    trapsink [ip address of snmp receiving server]

    5.  Restart the snmp daemon /etc/init.d/snmpd restart 
    6.  Open ESX firewall port for snmp  esxcfg-firewall -e snmpd
    7.  Make snmpd service automatic  chkconfig snmpd on 

    Use this free tool to test.



    - Chris

    Thursday, 17 September 2009

    Annoying TV Adverts - At What Cost?

    OK, you are happily watching your favourite TV programme and it’s time for the adverts.

    Before you know it, a whole stream of those really annoying adverts come on – again. 10 or 20 or 30 second chunks of segmented television hell.

    TV adverts simply aren’t the same these days.  Think of the classics:

    Leonard Rossiter, Joan Collins - Cinzano Airliner

    Hamlet - Golf - £2.50RRP for 5!!!

    Notice the absence of Gimmicks, wall to wall muzac and voice over in these old ads.  All that nonsense replaced with a bit of simple (yet creative) HUMOUR.

    Oh well, back to the present. Still, I guess Solace can be taken from the fact that someone somewhere is paying for this oh so regular truckload of TV hell. I wonder:
    • How much is paid for that TV advertising slot?
    • How much solace can be taken?
    I’m talking JUST THE AIRTIME here...
    The power of the internet to the rescue. According to Thinkbox:

    There are various formulae that you need to know when it comes to buying airtime, as well as an understanding of what all the jargon means.
    The equation to calculate cost per thousands is made up of 4 elements: 3 variable measures - money, cpt and ratings and 1 non variable - universe. You will always know the universe of the target audience you are buying, as these are published figures. They do change from month to month though. The network universes do not change much from month to month but the multi-channel universes usually go up a little each month as digital penetration increases. The network universes may change annually as the population profile changes slightly.
    If you know 2 out of the 3 variable measures, you will be able to calculate the fourth.

    First some jargon busting:
    • CPT = Cost Per Thousands.  The cost to place a TV advert to advertise to 1000 people.  According to this site ITV's typical CPT is = £5.69 
    • TVRs = Television Ratings.  A TVR is defined as the percentage of a particular audience that has seen a commercial break. Therefore, 10 adult TVRs means 10% of all adults saw the commercial break.
    • Universe = a population estimate for a particular audience category.  For example, the network universe for ABC1 Women is the total estimated population of ABC1 Women living within television households in the UK.  All UK adults with televisions = 48 million.

     The Equation is:
      Cost to advertise = TVRs x CPT x universe / 100,000

    Example time.

    Firstly, what’s my market penetration going to be?
    Well, these annoying adverts seem to go around and around ad-nauseum.  Let’s make sure that all 48m UK adults see my advert at the most 5 times each.  So my TVR is going to be 500 (500% or 5 times the audience)

    500 x 5.69 x 48,000,000 / 100,000 = £1,365,600

    1.4 million quid.   Nice. 

    Still won’t make me watch the adverts.

    Where’s the Sky+ remote to fast forward past these buggers... what else is on...?

    - Chris

    Wednesday, 9 September 2009

    Just seen Nigel in Virgin 25 Advert (again)

    England - Croatia ITV1 half time adverts.
    Virgin 25 advert popped on.  You know the one:

    Admittedly this game is the first bit of "proper TV" I've seen in weeks [sorry Mrs H but 'EastEnders', 'location location location', 'how clean is your house' and other such programmes really really don't count]. So I don't know it this was a special one off re-run, or if the adverts are back on again...
    Anyway, it reminded me that I hadn't publicly posted the same thought that pops into my mind every time I watch the advert (yea other than the obvious).
    Are these two one and the same person?
    Slightly older guy from Virgin 25 Advert?

    OK, due to the current financial climate, we are all forced to economise and take advantage of 'revenue generating opportunities' as and when they come up, (heck I've even started this blog - google ads are on the right) but appearing in an airline advert - wow, that takes some topping.  
    Well done mate and have a good time at Wembley.  England 5 - 1 up as I type this.
    - Chris

    Sunday, 6 September 2009

    Missing Cat

    Awesome indeed.....
    - Chris

    Friday, 4 September 2009

    Toilet Twitter

    In this age of social-networking, video-sharing, wikis, blogs, mashups, etc, it's always refreshing to see these technological advances being put to good use.

    Welcome to the twitter-enabled toilet (aka the twitter-sh*tter).
    What a great use of web 2.0!
    Full details at hacklab.TOilet 
    Excellent.  So many puns, so little time... Feel free to stick yours in the comments.
    - Chris

    Thursday, 3 September 2009

    Remote Desktop Grid Corruption

    Recently when using MS Remote Desktop (aka RDP) I've started to notice this kind of screen corruption:  
    Weird grid lines, "noise" type artefacts and general randomness.
    Specifically, I'm using RDP Client v5.1 (Win XP SP2) to connect to a server running MS RDP v5.2 (Win 2003 SP2).

    A quick look around has revealed that the recently released and installed MS Security Patch MS09-044 has caused this problem.  At this point I don't know if it's caused by the server or the client patch. Chalk another one up to quality testing... or not.

    In typical MS style, the fix is to install the latest RDP client.  (lol you didn't expect yet another patch did you?).  The latest version is Windows XP RDP Client v6.1 - 1.6Mb - Download from here

    However, there doesn't appear to be a v6.1 client for Server 2003.  The latest version available is v6.0.  For many users and admins this is not an issue, but for those using Terminal Services on a Windows Server 2008 it raises a few issues when using some of the more advanced features of 2008 remote desktop.

    See here for detail about v6.1, and it's new features over v6.0   Also notice the loads of comments re v6.1 not being avaialble for Win 2003...

    Fix: No problem.  Download the above and install it on 2003 Server in compatibility mode:
    • Right-Click the installer
    • Select Properties
    • Check the "Enable Compatibility box"
    • Select "Windows XP"
    • Apply and Close
    Run the installer – follow the prompts and complete the installation.

    If you want to be on the bleeding edge RDP wise, then you can always use the RDP client from Windows 7. This has the advantage of being able to use all the very latest bells and whistles when connecting to Windows 7 / Windows 2008 servers.

    See here for details of the latest features and screenshots.

    Getting the Win7 client running on XP is a doodle.  Simply copy the following files from Windows 7 Release Candidate [Not got my hands on a RTM yet] to a folder on XP:
    • mstsc.exe
    • mstsc.exe.mui
    • mstscax.dll
    • mstscax.dll.mui
    Works fine for me:

    Also seems a bit quicker!

    - Chris

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