Saturday, 4 September 2010

A Decent USB Joystick for MAME

MAME emulates old arcade machines. The tricky part is you have to use the PC keyboard if you don't have a joystick. But any joystick has to have at least 2 separate buttons AND be USB compatible.

The cheapest solution is to get a Speedlink Competition Pro USB Joystick. It comes with 99 pirated Commodore 64 games, but you can ignore them.

In MAME, hit Tab, 'Input (This Game)'. Move up and down the list and hit Enter, then wiggle the joystick or press a button on it. Then go back into the game.

You've now configured that game for your new Competition Pro!

Click here to get it.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Making a Dell M70 Precision quieter

Simple, get a Western Digital Scorpio 40GB drive, WD400UEDTL (or WD400UE) (not a newer 80GB one, the M70 BIOS doesn't like them) off Ebay, make sure it's EIDE not SATA, slot it into an M70 hard drive caddy, and put it inside the M70. Not sure how to remove the existing drive from the hard-disk caddy - I had to buy a new caddy from Ebay, and put the Scorpio in the caddy. Then you install Windows/Linux/whatever from a boot CD.

If the CPU is noisy, get and set Main Operating Mode to Automatic temperature control.

You'll now have a laptop quiet as a whisper!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Movie cliche: The Bad Guys' Secret Code

In films from all ages, we have the classic cliche.

Basically, the bad guy, with the good guy (in captivity), and some henchmen (say, 2 of them) are in a room at the bad guy's base.

Now, pay close attention: The good guy makes a wisecrack, and the bad guy nods to a henchman, who punches the good guy.

Do you see the problem here? How do the henchmen know what a nod means? Or a finger click. Or a summoning finger? Simple: The screenwriter couldn't be bothered to have the bad guy say "Punch him" - or for that matter, to pay the cab driver after a long cab ride (another cliche).

Now, examples of this:

*Casino - They're about to do something nasty in a casino backroom. De Niro nods to a guy and he stops.

I can't think of any right now, but you heard it here first.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

*£%$ Gibson-esque Cyberpunk novels

I'm reading Lethal Interface by Mel Odom, written in 1991.

It robs a lot from Gibson's Neuromancer.

However, I just don't get how you fly around this stupid networked world of graphics, with a headset on and - this is my basic point - instead of passwords they have silly games to play to let you in. Which is less secure than passwords.

It's sad, because this book is quite readable. It's 50/50 whether I read any more.

Obviously Mel never saw the web coming when he wrote this in 1991, but who did? A world of text (not wireframe graphics) to display information, and IP and domain addresses to avoid 'flying around' looking for a destination.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Most Overproduced Record of All Time Award

I hereby nominate and vote for Pat Benetar's Love is a Battlefield from 1983. More like the production is a minefield. Strange chunking guitars, melancholy synths swooshing and swarming through the mix. Echoing vocals, And the Wikipedia page is hilarious: "We asked these guys to write us a hit song and they did". Wow, it's that easy? Just ask someone and you sell millions of records? If this story is true, then anyone can have a hit. Just ask some guy.

Michael Jackson's Beat It comes 2nd in this award. There is no 3rd place.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


I haven't Googled this yet, but here's the thought while it's still in my head.

A server sends a user a HTML webpage. The user reloads it later, and only a tiny bit has changed - say, a text advert.

With WebDiff, it only sends the difference between the last page and the new one, so saving 100's of kilobytes in big documents.

The Diff is calculated using the Unix tool diff.

This only works because HTML is raw text.

Cute, huh?

Friday, 30 April 2010

Why Swoopo is Flawed

I know a lot about probability theory. When I first learned about Swoopo, I quickly found the problem with it...

If 40 people 'bid' on a laptop which only 1 person wins (for say $40 instead of $400), statistically, you (the bidder on Swoopo) will only win 1 in 40 'auctions'. So once people figure out that they have a 1/40 chance, they might as well bet on a horse, or even play roulette - which is generous by comparison.

And here's the really funny bit... Once people realise they only win 1 in 40 times, they're going to ditch Swoopo forever.

Thus, Swoopo is a Ponzi scheme, because it relies on more suckers coming along just as everyone before them realises they've only won 1 in 40 auctions, and quits Swoopo.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Recovering lost TV shows by going faster than light

When we broadcasted Hancock's Half Hour in the 1950's, nobody kept a recording of the entire 1st series. But I was thinking... If the radio waves made it into space, we just have to race after them and eventually overtake them, and then record the lost broadcast out in deep space.

The problem is you have to catch up with the radio waves, and that's impossible as we can't travel faster than light, which is the speed radio waves go.

Our only hope to recover Hancock's Half Hour is therefore a wormhole.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

From the BBC's archive via ZX81

I just rented "Hancock: Volume 1". Good stuff, but the picture quality amuses me...

They got it off some old tape which had gone all over the world and they flew it back and shoved it into a computer.

But somewhere along the line, it got so blocky it puts Sinclair ZX81 games to shame. That's pretty funny too.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Noisy Cigarettes - Only in Hollywood

Ever seen it in a film where someone sucks on a cigarette and it makes a kind of crackling noise? Eg, Bladerunner.

It's ridiculous! I've been in a lot of smoky rooms in my time, and never once have I heard a cigarette make a 'crackling' noise when someone takes a draw on it.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Plot hole in Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Basically, I have this objection to the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit:

Bob Hoskins (Valiant) says to Jessica "What do you see in that guy [Roger Rabbit]?". She replies "He makes me laugh".

Forgive me if I'm mistaken, but not once in the film does Jessica laugh at something Roger Rabbit has said or done.

It's clear then: She just wants him for his money.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Amazon Kindle 2 - First Impressions

Why did I buy it? Well I found some ebooks that are hard to get in paper form. I also don't know anyone who's bought one, but I like to stay ahead of the curve (I spent £200 on a DVD writer in 2001 for this reason) - this Kindle cost £193 (plus £7 postage).

First off, mine came with a US power adapter wall wart. But I live in the UK where it's a different plug. But the Kindle comes with a USB cable which means you can charge it from a computer or laptop's USB port (approx. 3 hours a week needed to charge).

The screen is fantastic, and as much fun as reading a paper book. It's not as big a screen as a paperback, but it's sufficient. PDFs look pretty good at 600x800. The best way to describe the screen technology (called eInk) is it's like light grey paper but with sharp black text. You can read it in dim light, or in sunlight (where it looks white), but this is the clearest screen of ANY device I've used, even clearer than some ancient browning paperbacks. I could even describe the eInk screen as being like a newspaper page - same colour paper (light grey), same black text.

Finally, the formats. It supports only PDF and TXT natively (it appears as a drive in Windows and you copy files onto this drive or delete them). If you want to read an RTF or DOC on it, convert to TXT first. Or you can do the silly 'Send doc to Amazon to convert to PDF'. Or get a PDF printer driver for Windows (these are available for free now). [Additional] If you rename a HTML file to filename.HTML.TXT it will show it as a plaintext file and do HTML conversion automatically!

Oh, and content... You can buy a PDF, or use the Kindle store, or use pirated books (uploaded to Kindle in TXT format), but pirated books tend to have a lot of typos. But I think this is the problem: I tried to buy The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett, for $7.47 - a price I was comfortable with - and it just said 'Not available to UK buyers'. A prominent UK author and I can't buy his books? I have to get a illicit copy?

The verdict? Well worth the money, and I love not having to flip the book on its side when reading in bed. In fact, it's so much like a book, that when I've finished a page, sometimes I try to turn the page! A button to advance is something you have to get used to after 25 years of reading.

Postscript: I read somewhere that the Kindle 2's battery can't be replaced easily - there's no panel for it. But you CAN replace it... If you buy a Kindle 2 battery off or (just search for 'kindle 2 battery'), then here's an install guide (it's easy): - the tool in this video can be bought at - you get 2 of them, but only need 1 to open the Kindle.

Postscript: I've been exploring the non-USA web access facilities, and here's what I found:

*Most of the web is out of bounds.

*If you want to buy a book from the Kindle store from the menu, you can - it loads it over the whispernet (regardless of if you have a mobile phone account).

* is out of bounds.

*If you go to in the web browser (Settings -> Experimental -> Basic Web) then you can look at any Wikipedia page. It's basically like a hitchhiker's guide with Wikipedia, if not actually the entire web. Not bad for free though! It goes over 3G by the way, and thus is global in scope.

*That's it unless you're in the USA.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Mini versus Micro

In the 80's, I heard about mainframes, microcomputers and minicomputers. For some reason, I thought a minicomputer would be small, but someone showed me a minicomputer in the 90's, and it was the size of a fridge.

It took me another 10 years to learn that a MICRO computer is smaller than a MINI computer, just as a MINI computer is smaller than a MAINFRAME.

Ah well, at least I eventually learned the right terminology!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Apollo 15-17: Pub Crawl on the Moon

I recently rented a DVD called 'Apollo 15-17 - Mountains of the Moon'. It was my first viewing of Apollo (Moon landing) footage.

But after a few minutes, I was aghast. The astronauts were basically clowning around and cracking jokes. $40 billion for this? I know it had to be entertaining, otherwise nobody would watch, but this took the biscuit.

Okay, so they get drunk, crash the rover, play golf in the moon dust, and basically talk and act like drunkards going on a vast interplanetary pub crawl. I wouldn't have been surprised to see them leaving traffic cones in a crater.

Oh for shame, Apollo 15-17. An automated rover should never seem more dignified than mankind's best.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Origin of the Word 'Bleh'

I have an email search program which essentially lets me search all over 120,000 emails in a few seconds. Anyway, I remember using the word 'bleh' when nobody else did. So I did an email search to find the earliest use of the word. I found it in an email from April 14th 1998, but I didn't use the word, it was an American friend in Florida called Jonathan Harp (who was helping us write movie reviews) who mentioned it in a review.

So there are 3 possibilities... (1)Is Jonathan invented it, I used it, and people copied me. (2)Is Jonathan didn't invent it, I used it, and people copied me. (3)Jonathan invented or didn't invent it, and people copied HIM.

Either way, it's nice to think I popularized a word.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Be Careful What You Design

At high school, I typed in a BBC B program on the Acorn Archimedes (BBC B = old 8 bit PC, Archimedes = old 32 bit PC), and it let you draw lines and circles, and zoom in and out infinitely. Wireframe graphics.

Me and my friend made a little world in it, and if you zoomed in in a certain place, it said "If you can read this, F*** off". Then we got the maths teacher to look at it.

It was our bad luck that he chose the exact choices and I turned red when he read "If you can read this, F*** off". But he took it in good humour.

The lesson? Don't make assumptions about what choices people make on a computer.

Webserver on the Moon

If our civilization collapses, and we lose all our data, we'll need a way to get all that data that got blown up or erased.

What to do?

Simple! Send a rocket to the Moon with a phat laptop and a few Terabytes of space. Then, make it so you can send voice or data requests over a radio link from Earth, and then if a future civilization rediscovers the concept of radio, they can get all that data.

It'll be *safe* on the Moon. Google webservers on the moon are where it's at!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Belkin F5D7010 And laptop batteries

I found out that my F57D010 card (7xxx series) plugged into my laptop's PCMCIA socket, shuts off whenever I switch to running off battery.

The solution? Simple...

Get a 5xxx series F57D010 card and it works great. This is I assume, because it uses less power. The 7xxx uses more power than a laptop battery can provide.

An older version using less power? Criminal...

Friday, 15 January 2010

Web Gripes for 2010 and a Funny Story

Here's a post that isn't about anything, just my gripes about Web 2.0 (or whatever).

  • Cascading style sheets (why would I want to cascade a style?) AND the whole concept of jazzing up pages to unnecessary levels, when there was nothing wrong with a page of HTML with a few different-sized fonts. It's like at school, we used to write by hand, but now in schools it's "unacceptable" not to use a word processor (from what I know). They taught us the basics of HTML at college in 1997, and we happily made bulleted lists, embedded pictures, big and small fonts, and italic/bold/underline, but now, I have a degree and even I can't figure out new HTML tags - and CSS files are certainly NOT HTML.
  • If the Web really was downward-compatible, as evidenced by the version number of HTML (1.0, 2.0, 4.0, etc), then modern webpages wouldn't crash (or lock up) Netscape 4.7. But they do!
  • Twitter and unnecessary centralisation (what was wrong with blogs?)
  • YouTube and unnecessary centralisation (surely hosting and bandwidth should now be cheap enough for any website to host their own videos)
  • The death of Geocities by Yahoo for no good reason - millions of pages now gone offline (result of centralisation)
  • URL shorteners - unnecessary centralisation, and there's no doubt a URL shortener service will shut down after 2 years and wipe out billions of URLs
  • Google not spidering my pages because they don't have enough "PageRank".
  • Monopoly of embedding Flash for showing videos because web browser manufacturers are incompetent to do it themselves (and the antitrust nightmare of the buying out of Macromedia [maker of Flash] by Adobe).

And people have various catchphrases (eg, "simple is more") to explain the lack of a secure (I mean permanence and forward looking) design for the Web.

I used to be faintly optimistic about the Web, but new flaws (not bugs, but the above companies and fads) appear to have ballooned in the last 4 years or so, which threaten the integrity of the whole stupid system. (I'm not saying it has any integrity).

An old pun of mine about the Web's name: What's a web for? To catch unsuspecting flies! And it certainly is doing.

Finally, I'll finish on a funny story. I got a direct mail leaflet from Dell about the Inspiron 560. It has a 340GB hard drive, a E5400 Pentium CPU, and 2MB Memory. I knew Windows 7 was optimised, but I didn't realise how much...