Vista would be better if it didn’t suck

I have been running Windows Vista Ultimate on my laptop for a week or so now, and I am of two minds. I like the pretty. I like the usability improvements. I don’t like that things that worked fine in XP crash all the time, or that the CPU is maxed (maxxed?) almost always. The apps that crash most are Media Player and Messenger. Outlook 2007 crashes sometimes. DivX, XviD thumbnail creation makes Windows sad (even after uninstalling DivX).

I expected teething problems. That is why they call it the bleeding edge. Windows XP has had five years to mature into the very good and stable platform that it is, and Vista is new.

I know that SpongBo, Microsoft fanboy, is reading this and saying “but! under the hood! programming stuff!”. I don’t care about that (well I do, but not right now). I am a user, and this post is from a user’s point of view.

Things that are better:

  • It is prettier. Things have shadows.
  • The sounds are nicer.
  • Many of the balloon help things that popup from the tray go away quicker than they did in XP.
  • When explorer crashes, I get to keep my icons in the system tray.

Things that are worse:

  • Media Center – I use MCE as a way of playing video files, I don’t use it for TV or music. In MCE 2005 I just chose My Videos in the main menu (up, up) and then I could pick a video to watch. Now I have to go up, up, RIGHT, RIGHT to get to the same place. When I get there I cannot see the names of the files, just a square thumbnail. I have to hover over a thumbnail for the name to appear, in tiny little writing, down the bottom of the screen. Too bad if you have a hundred files in there and want to find something to watch. Then Media Center crashes.
  • I hate the stupid swirling blue doughnut. It means that whatever I am doing has stopped, and I need to wait. It is my constant companion.
  • Windows Media Player. They must have brought in a special team of programmers with a simple brief: make the Library slower and crashier. Mission accomplished. If I didn’t have most of my CDs ripped to WMA I would be using iTunes.
  • I had a “calculating time remaining” dialog stuck on my desktop for two days, then suddenly it took focus and asked me a question. I said “No”.
  • Armadillo Run is unplayable.
  • I don’t know what a COM SURROGATE is, but it crashes all the time and I don’t like it.


Playing RealMedia (.rm .rmvb) in Media Center MCE 2005

It is possible to play RealMedia files on your MCE (or in Windows Media Player), it just takes a few easy steps.

  1. Exit the Media Center program and go to the Desktop
  2. Download and install Real Alternative, the codec to play RealMedia files. If you have suffered a severe head injury, you could try installing the actual RealPlayer from Real Networks instead. About Real Alternative.
  3. Make a quick change to your registry (save this registry file without the “.txt” extension and double click it).
  4. Press The Green Button.
  5. Look at all the pretty new thumbnails for your RealMedia files.
  6. Pat yourself on the back and say “thanks Pinkjoint, and thank you Shifty”.

Credit goes to this thread on thegreenbutton, a great resource for MCE owners.

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Converting DVDs to put on myspace, YouTube, Google Video etc.

For Kasie, who wants to put her skydiving video on myspace.

This post describes how to convert an unprotected DVD into a format that can be uploaded to myspace, YouTube, Google Video or any other web video host. Protected DVDs such as store-bought or rented movies require extra steps that are not covered in this post.

Starting out with a fresh Windows XP computer, you will need:

You need to install Auto Gordian Knot (AutoGK). Choose the defaults. The install is unusual, in that it installs a few other programs as well (VobSub, AviSynth and XviD). It might be a bit confusing, but just go through all of the installers that come up. They are not evil*.

Once the install is complete, start AutoGK. Put your DVD into the drive.

The next step is to choose the files to convert. In general, the file you want to choose is VTS_01_0.IFO, in the VIDEO_TS folder on the DVD. If you have more than one video on the DVD then you might have to choose a higher number e.g.. VTS_02_0.IFO but on a home movie or skydiving video this is unlikely.

Next we need to choose the location of the file to create. Just put it anywhere you want. In the example I just put it on the desktop. The filename needs to end in “.AVI”.


The next step is to choose the width and format of your video. Click on Advanced Settings (highlighted below) and in the dialog that pops up choose:

  • A fixed width of 320 (you have to use the down arrow)
  • VBR MP3 at 128 Kbps
  • XviD codec (if you installed DivX and prefer it, by all means choose it)

Why these settings? From the YouTube help:

What’s the best format to upload for high quality? We recommend the MPEG4 (DivX, XviD) format at 320×240 resolution with MP3 audio. Resizing your video to these specifications before uploading will help your clips look better on YouTube.

The last thing we have to determine is the size of the file to create. I would recommend, at the above settings, 10MB per minute for good quality. This is because we are going to send it to a server and they will do their own conversion so we want as good as we can get, within a reasonable file size. The bigger the file, the longer it will take to send to the server, the smaller the file the lower the quality. The DVD I used to make this post is about 4 minutes long, so I chose 40MB as the file size.

We are nearly ready to start. Once everything above has been set, click the Add Job button. Then click the Start button next to it. Stuff will start to happen. AutoGK uses other programs to do its work (remember all the stuff that got installed), so different things will be popping up for a while. The second one that pops up (well, pops behind) is for VirtualDubMod. It will say “GNU General Public License”. You need to click this, press OK (if you agree, of course), and then press Start VirtualDubMod. Your computer will be effectively useless to you for some time as converting videos will use 100% of its CPU. Go make a cup of tea. Drink it. Clean the house. Make dinner. Eat it. Clean up. Check to see if the video is finished. Of course this depends on the length of your video and the power of your computer, but the point is that this takes a while.

When there is no longer anything listed in the Job Queue box then your video is finished. Watch it. Revel in your new skills and give yourself a pat on the back. All you have to do is upload it to myspace, YouTube, whatever and you are done.

*Shifty and Pinkjoint are not responsible for any evil caused by third parties.

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Apple releases software to dual-boot Win XP on Intel Macs

Apple has today released a public beta of “Boot Camp”, which allows you to run Windows XP on your Intel Mac. The two operating systems cannot run simultaneously, it is a dual-boot situation (not duel-boot). When the Mac starts to boot, the user must hold down the Option key to get a menu of available OSes. No word yet on whether Linux etc can be chosen as the second OS, but I am sure that nerds worldwide will be trying.

When you run Boot Camp, it can create a CD for you with all the Mac-specific drivers for Windows:

  • Graphics
  • Networking
  • Audio
  • AirPort wireless
  • Bluetooth
  • The Eject key (on Apple keyboards)
  • Brightness control for built-in displays

Currently there is no driver support for:

  • iSight Cameras
  • the Apple Remote
  • the Apple USB Modem
  • the keyboard backlighting on MacBookPro

Opinion seems to be almost entirely positive, with Mac zealots hoping that Windows users will be lured away, Mac users embracing the possibility of gaming, and Windows users excited about using pretty Apple hardware. The market seems to agree, with Apple stock rising 8% since the announcement.

If they only made a two mouse button notebook I would be very tempted, very tempted indeed.

Yes, I know I can use a real USB mouse. I mean built-in below the trackpad.

pinkjoint, shifty, apple, mac, dual boot, dogs and cats living together, boot camp

SED will make SpongBo SAD

SpongBo has written a number of posts about his search for the ultimate LCD TV. He finally bought the Sony Bravia. Good for him. He tells me that he enjoys his new TV.

I have news that will end all that.

At CES 2006, Toshiba unveiled working prototypes of their new SED (Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display) televisions. Toshiba reckons that they will have the first SED TV’s in shops before the end of the year. Why would you want a SED? Ask IGN:

So how does it all work? SED sets use 6,220,800 electron emitters – or one for each color per pixel, to be precise – which cause red, blue and green phosphors to glow. That may not mean much to most, but the results will definitely matter. Toshiba’s CES 2006 SED sets featured the deepest black levels we have ever seen on any television, including CRT – and these televisions are as flat as any plasma! Consider this: the typical plasma set sports a contrast ratio of 3000:1, but Toshiba’s prototype SEDs offer a whopping 10,000:1 contrast ratio for truly unparallelled color and accuracy.

This sounds pretty good, the contrast is three times as good as a plasma. But these are prototypes, Toshiba promises that the final shipping SED’s will have 100,000:1 contrast! Apparently they are cheaper to mass-produce than LCD or plasma. Compelling.

For pics:

pinkjoint, shifty, SED, TV, LCD, Plasma, ces 2006