USB Digital TV

A couple of years ago I bought a USB dongle that contains a Digital Terrestrial TV decoder. It simply plugs into a USB port and connects to a regular TV aerial (antenna).

It receives all the UK Freeview channels and the supplied software by Blaze works just fine. Considering that it cost less than £10 I’d say it was a bargain.

Since buying it, I’ve upgraded my PC and ended up having to do a fresh installation of Windows. Alas, I couldn’t find the driver disk for the TV decoder so I have need unable to use it for a couple of months.

I searched endlessly using Google and found a lot of other people on forums who were in a similar predicament. None of the suggested links actually pointed to a driver that works.

Today, I have finally found a driver that works by going to the website of the manufacturer of the decoder chip.

Digital TV decode dongle

So if you’re one of those people who has bought one of these devices and lost the driver disk, get the driver from the ITE website. The download link is right at the bottom of the page.

September 1, 2012 · Phil Rogers · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Computing

Guitar Lessons – a long time coming

Many years ago, I was in my car listening to ZZ Top playing Rough Boy.  When they got to the incredible guitar solo in the middle, and then another one at the end, I was drifting off into hyperspace.  It’s an excellent solo and it suddenly struck a chord (pun intended) with me.

About two days later I went to a guitar shop and bought a guitar.  After hearing that solo, and playing it many times, over and over again, I decided that I wanted to be able to do that.   It was an almost primaeval urge.  I needed to be able to play that music!  So I walked out of that shop armed with a used Yamaha Pacifica electric guitar.  About a week later, I bought a fender amplifier and I was all set.

Unfortunately at the time I was working freelance and barely had any time to myself, and definitely not on a regular basis.  I knew that I couldn’t put in the time for the practice required to master this instrument.

Sure, I played around with it and had the odd lesson here or there, but most of the time it languished in its case in a corner.

Now that my 8-year-old son is having guitar lessons and I have a new job that is a lot closer to home,  I suddenly find myself with the time and enthusiasm to finally take some lessons.  In the meantime I have also discovered the wonders of David Gilmour’s excellent solos which have increased my desire to master the guitar.

So I have signed up for a 12-week course at ACMR in Bournemouth. ACMR is the first Regional affiliated branch of the famous ACM (Academy of Contemporary Music) based in Guildford. Each session lasts for 1 hour, followed by 1 hour of practice in a “band” consisting of other students and tutors.

The course starts on Monday 17th September 2012 (for beginners – there are intermediate and advanced sessions on Tuesdays and Wednesdays), so if you’re in the Bournemouth area and wish that you’d taken up an instrument or learned to sing, why not check them out and sign up for a course.

It’s 4 weeks until the course starts, so I’m already putting in some practice so that I can get to a basic level and make the most of the course when it starts.
Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol is my current target. It’s a simple tune picked on 2 strings for the verse, and then 3 chords for the chorus.

I’d recommend it for any beginner. Check out this excellent tuition video…

August 21, 2012 · Phil Rogers · No Comments
Posted in: playing guitar

Beware QuickInstall Auto-Update

I have always preferred to install scripts on my hosting account myself. I do this because I do not find the task difficult, and because I like to control exactly how and where it is installed.

My hosting account used to provide a tool, Fantastico, which would install many common scripts for you. I tried it once or twice but found that it was just as easy to do it myself.

My CPanel gets upgraded regularly by my hosting company, Hostgator, and some time ago, Fantastico disappeared and was replaced by QuickInstall.

I gave QuickInstall a try when I wanted to install another WordPress blog and found that it did a very good job, so I actually used it again to set up another 3 blogs. One feature that I really liked about QuickInstall was that it could be set to automatically upgrade WordPress when a new version was released. Little did I know that this would be the downfall of one of my sites.

I had set up the blogs on various domains that I was not using for the time being. The blogs helped maintain the domains’ rankings in Google and the other search engines until such time as I decided to use them for another purpose.

On one such domain, I deleted WordPress and installed an affiliate store script and set it up to sell coffee makers. The store did quite well considering that I was doing very little to promote it. I had a nice little stream of sales. Nothing to make me a fortune, but some welcome extra cash. Then the click-throughs and sales dropped off. When I visited the site I discovered that it was broken and the message that I was getting referred to WordPress, which I had deleted.

It turns out that even though I had deleted WordPress, QuickInstall was still set to install newer versions of WordPress, and it had done just that. As I had also deleted the database that WordPress had previously used, the new installation failed to work. QuickInstall is not clever enough to notice that WordPress is no longer there, so it blindly installs the latest release.

The moral of this story is that if you use QuickInstall to install a script, use it to uninstall it as well before you install anything else. Or at least switch off auto-update.

July 27, 2012 · Phil Rogers · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Internet

Don’t Rely Too Much on Technology

I can remember when pocket calculators first became available, and I recall how useful I found the scientific one that I bought when I was studying mathematics at school. No more looking up the trigonometry functions in tables, etc.

The thing is, as the calculator was so handy, I later discovered that my ability to do even simple calculations in my head became a little rusty because I was relying on the calculator to give me an instant answer. As it happened, relying on the calculator might not have been a good idea. A friend of mine, whose mathematical ability was much lower than my own, also bought a calculator. Being a new toy, he couldn’t put it down and he would spend a lot of time playing with it. One day, he asked me “What is the square root of 4?”. I immediately answered “Two”, while at the same time wondering why he was asking me such a simple question. “No.” he said, “it’s 1.999999999”, believing the calculator must be giving him the right answer.
Needless to say, I wasn’t very impressed by the calculator that he had bought.

Similarly, the calculator program that came with Windows 3.1 and Windows 3.11 wasn’t very good at simple arithmetic. If you entered 3.11 – 3.1, it would give the answer 0.

These are simple examples of relying on technology that is flawed. Generally, most calculators do better nowadays. Since the time of those calculators, technology has moved on considerably, and there are much more complex tools that can lead you astray. Spell-checkers are a prime example, because it’s very easy to inadvertently select the wrong version of English (British or US), for example.

An even worse culprit is the Grammar Checker. The one built in to the latest versions of Microsoft Word often highlight text that is grammatically correct because it highlights common mistakes (such as confusion over “their”, “there” and “they’re”).

Now this is ok if you know your spelling and grammar, but people who rely on these tools to check their grammar are totally at their mercy. I have often read documents that have incorrect grammar as suggested by the grammar checker because the author has assumed that the grammar checker gets it right.

As somebody who has a good command of the English language, I can see when the grammar checker is being over-enthusiastic. Today I saw an example of Word 2007 showing just how stupid it is. The original text is grammatically correct, yet it highlights a word and makes the most ridiculous suggestion for an alternative. See the picture below.

It is genuinely trying to replace the text
“Why, there’s hardly enough of me left to make ONE respectable person!”
with
“Why, there am hardly enough of me left to make ONE respectable person!”

Would you blindly accept the suggestion it is making? It’s amazing how many people would!

July 12, 2012 · Phil Rogers · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Technology

Rip-Off Tradesman didn’t Catch Me Out

Is it any wonder that tradespeople get a bad name for themselves?

I live in a Victorian, semi-detached house. A couple of years ago, my neighbour had some work done on one of the chimneys of his house. While on the roof, the workman noticed that one of the tiles on my roof had broken and come loose. He pushed it back into place for me. We had been experiencing a very minor leak during extremely wet weather, and that seemed to fix the problem, at least temporarily.

We’ve had a lot of heavy rain and wind recently and I guess that the tile has moved again, causing the rain to get in. It’s a fairly minor leak, but it’s obviously better to get it fixed as soon as possible before further damage is done. Unfortunately, my ladder doesn’t reach that far, and if it did, it would be pretty scary going up there.

The people across the road are property developers so I asked them to recommend a hire company for scaffolding towers. Instead, they recommended a roofer as he would probably be able to fix the roof quickly and cheaply.

So today I called the roofer and he said he would come and look at the roof at 2.30. I said that was ok as my wife would be in until 3.00. He actually arrived at 2.00 and got no answer from the door-bell. My wife was actually at home, but it turns out that the battery in the door-bell had died, so she didn’t hear it. He called me to ssay that he would have a look at the roof anyway. I called my wife to tell her he was there.

She didn’t see anyone use a ladder to examine the roof and she was sitting in a room where she would have definitely seen him through the window. Later, a neighbour said that she had seen somebody standing in front of our house looking up at the roof, so it must have been him.

The roofer then called me to tell me what the problem is. He said that two tiles needed replacing, but most of all, the cement that holds the tiles in place in the gully between the roofs needed replacing and it would entail removing and re-fitting a whole row of tiles and then fixing with new cement. The job would cost £395 + VAT, bringing the total to £474.

As he had obviously not actually been on the roof, I was slightly mystified as to how he could have determined that was the problem. When I arrived home I looked up at the roof and there was no way he could possibly have seen what was causing the leak from the gound. He would have to have been about 5 metres tall and also posess the abilty to see through a substantial brick chimney.

Knowing that the price of roof tiles is £1.68 each, a bag of cement is about £5, and the hire of a scaffolding tower is £135 for a week, I think I’ll do the job myself. I even found a website showing how to replace broken tiles, complete with photographic illustrations of how it’s done. And while I have the tower for a week, I’ll be able to paint the barge boards, fit soffits and clean out the gutters.

June 19, 2012 · Phil Rogers · No Comments
Posted in: DIY - Home Improvement