Thursday, July 31, 2008
The original bundle price was around P49k, but SM Appliance Center gave me an extra discount for paying cash/check instead of credit card installment. So the final amount came out to about P45.5k. I paid by check so I have to wait for it to clear before I can pick up the goods.
It was a toss-up between the Cinema One or Cinema Two package, with the former being about P10k cheaper. They are actually both bundled with the Harman Kardon AVR 145. They only differ with the bundled JBL speakers. Since a big part of the home theater experience is dependent on having really good sounds, I decided not to scrimp and went for the higher package.
Before deciding on the AVR 145, I did the usual Google research. The AVR 145 received good reviews from several Amazon customers. The audio quality is supposed to be top-notch. The only negative comment was from a guy who was complaining that the controls were too complicated and that one needed an advanced degree in electrical engineering. Well, I've never been intimidated by consumer electronics controls, so its no big deal.
The only downside of the AVR145 is it does not have HDMI ports. Again, I'm not sure how important that is since my projector (more on that in future postings) does not have HDMI input as well anyway. So I will most likely just be sticking to component video for the video signal and digital coaxial cable from the player to the receiver. Most video player equipment today only support HDMI 1.0 anyway -- which only sends video signals over HDMI, but the audio is still sent separately through other cables. Only HDMI 1.1 or higher supports DVD audio on the same cable.
I have to admit that before this, I've never heard of Harman Kardon. I'm not really an audiophile so my knowledge of audio equipment pretty much ends with the usual consumer brands of Sony, Yamaha and Pioneer. Harman Kardon would be in the same league as Onkyo or Denon, which I would normally consider as being way too expensive. But I felt this bundle was not that out of reach from my budget so I went for it.
I guess I won't really get to enjoy this anyway until the end of the year when my home theater would be fully set up. Its still in the construction stage. Will update this blog next time with the details of my movie projector.
To read Part 1 of this adventure, click here.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
According to MSDN, I just have to merge the file CrystalReportsRedist2005_X86.msm. But the file does not exist on my PC. Apparently, its not automatically installed along with VS 2005. Microsoft provides some links pointing to BusinessObjects, the maker of Crystal Reports, to download the merge module from them.
Doing a Google search, the links being returned all do not seem to work anymore. As it turned out, BusinessObjects has been acquired by the German company, SAP. And all the URL's don't seem to work anymore. They are being redirected to SAP and the site that it gets redirected to does not have the info on where I can get the merge module.
The developer download site of BusinessObjects/SAP is just as bad (if not worse). The search page does not work properly with Internet Explorer. It only shows the first page of the result. Clicking on the button to show the next page, or to increase the search results to show, leads to a reset of the search. I tried it on Mozilla Firefox and it worked properly there. But I still did not see the merge modules for VS 2005 -- only for the latest VS 2008. Also just as strange, the drop down list of products available for download only shows 3 products with Firefox, but more than double that when used with IE!
Anyway, Sonny (head of our tech support) finally found some forum discussion which lists where you can find the redistributable runtime for Crystal Reports 2005. Turns out that its part of the Visual Studio installation. Specifically, its in the folder:
C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 8\SDK\v2.0\BootStrapper\Packages\CrystalReports\CRRedist2005_x86.msi
I checked my PC and indeed it was there! So forget the merge module, we'll just manually install the redistributable runtime for Crystal Reports of 2005.
The new search engine is called Cuil (pronounced "cool"), from an old Irish word meaning "knowledge". While many brave souls have tried to unseat Google and all have miserably failed, what makes these guys think they are THE ONE? For one, the team behind the project has some serious credentials backing them up:
- Anna Patterson: worked on Google's search index
- Russell Power: worked on Google's search index
- Louis Monier: founder of the AltaVista search engine (ahhh.. the former search king who turned down the opportunity of owning the Google engine when it was offered to them by Page and Brin when they were still nobodies)
- Tom Costello: worked on IBM's WebFountain project
I don't know if Cuil also puts weight on the geoip of the user. When I searched for "Online Payment System", it returned PayEasy at the first page list along with big boys -- the likes of PayPal, Authorize.net. Surely, we haven't reached that stature, but I just wonder if it gave more weight to Philippine-based sites since it detected my geoip is Philippines.
Cuil also uses a new report format. Unlike the traditional list that goes top-down, Cuil returns in results in 3 columns. Its easier to read, I think. It also shows an image on the side. I have no idea where that image came from. In my search for "full spread photo books" where ThePictureShop.com appeared, the image beside it is that of a photo book, but it did not come from my site. No idea where that came from.
Perhaps most significantly, Cuil claims they are using a different way for determining relevance of a page. They departed from the PageRank algorithm that is used by Google. Only time will tell, I guess, if their algorithm proves it is that much better. For now, even Google seem to have noticed them, but people are also questioning the claim of them having a bigger index.
Searching through Google, there seems to be a documented problem between ZoneAlarm's TrueVector service and Windows XP. Sometimes, I would just get an annoying error dialog box. Other times, its the reboot. But a couple of weeks ago, all my network-based apps would just stop working if ZoneAlarm is running.
Since I shifted to Comodo Firewall Pro, I haven't had any problem so far. The interface looks simple and clean. Truth be told, I haven't really gone in that much to the advanced mode and tweak it further. I just let it run in "training" mode, although it can get very annoying initially because it will keep asking you to allow/deny certain actions.
Comodo Firewall Pro is completely free as far as I can tell. I can't tell what their business model is. It doesn't seem to prompt me to upgrade to a paid version unlike Zonelabs.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Anyway, when we sat down around the meeting table, we exchanged business cards. I read her name on the card and nothing still clicked. But after a few seconds while setting up our laptop, it just snapped to me -- I've seen her photos several times already before while laying out the full-spread photo book ordered by her husband through ThePictureShop!
Her husband has previously ordered 3 x full-spread picturebooks from us with photos from their various family vacation trips (the 2 prior orders were still our old DIY full-spread picturebook, while the 3rd one was the new format already). The photos were mainly of her and the kids, and since I did the layouts of about 2 of the picturebooks, I had a good recollection of their faces. Strangely, if her husband were to stand in front of me, I probably would not recognize him as he seldom appears on the photo books (since he's the guy behind the lens).
I thought the whole experience was really strange and surreal (but a pleasant one nonetheless). I've always wondered if one of these days, I'll be walking down the street or around the mall and I would actually bump into someone whom I would recognize through their picture book. And it has finally happened today! With 80+ million people in the Philippines, the likelihood of meeting someone whom I have previously seen through their photo book order alone -- and would actually recognize them -- must be very, very slim indeed.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
The Philips DVP5166k was on sale for a measly Php2,990. The sales guy said he can probably give me an extra discount and round it down to Php2,900. Just add Php910 for a 3-year warranty. Its a very standard DivX Ultra player with no fancy HDMI support. I'm partial to getting a DVD player with HDMI output support already.
The sales guy told me that the DVP5166k is being phased out already, thats why its on sale. The upcoming models that will replace it look interesting: the DVP5286K (PHP4,990 SRP) and the DVP3980K (PHP3,990 SRP). Both are capable of 1080i/p upscaling already; come with HDMI interfaces; plays all sorts of media (CD, DVD+/-R, etc.); supports the usual audio formats (WMA and MP3 -- but not AAC); have karaoke scoring features; and playback of still JPEG images.
1080p support is good because I plan to eventually buy a Samsung Full 1080p HD TV. But for the purpose of the home theater, it probably would not matter since the Mitsubishi projector (more on that in future blog entries) that it will connect to, can only go up to 720p and 1080i (not 1080p). For those interested in 1080i vs. 1080p debates, here are some consumer reviews talking about it. For most general DVD movies which are shot at 24 frames per sec, you probably would not be able to tell the difference. But perhaps in the future if high-definition becomes the norm and all movies are shot at 30fps or higher, then MAYBE you will see a difference between interlaced (i) and progressive (p) scanning.
The site lists that the DVP5286K supports DivX 4, 5 & 6, aside from Ultra. The DVP3980K only lists DivX Ultra. Hmmm... doesn't it follow that if you support DivX Ultra, you also support the older DivX versions (4 to 6)?
The DVP5286K supports playing of DivX directly from the flash drive via its high-speed USB 2.0 interface. Not sure how important a feature that is. I was previously commenting though why my Philips DVD3455H could not play DivX media files from USB even though it could from CD or DVD. The Pioneer sales guy at Western was also highlighting that feature for his Pioneer DV600AVS which costs Php6,790 (quite expensive compared to Philips although he kept saying that their service support is better because Pioneer has local service centers whereas Philips just rely on 3rd party authorized service centers).
The DVP5286K also boasts that it can "rip" your music CD's to mp3 and send the ripped version directly to your flash drive. It can even do so on-the-fly while you are listening to the audio CD. Again, not sure how big a deal that is unless you don't have a modern day PC.
Other than that, there doesn't seem to be that much big difference between the two. I guess I will have to wait a couple more months for these models to become widely available.
Monday, July 14, 2008
But the difficulty is obviously -- how do you get external sites to talk about you or link to you? One common way is to write articles (with link backs) and submit it to other sites. In most cases, you probably have to beg the website owner to post your article. Or you can nicely ask your friends who operate blogs to write about your website.
Another way to get external sites to talk about yours is to take advantage of websites that provide free posting of your press releases / news. There are several ones, and some have good PageRank values. I've tried PR.com and Free-Press-Release.com. They operate very similarly. They both charge extra if you will put a hyperlink on the press release, or you want a wider distribution. But if its pure text, they let you post for free. Both of them gets picked up well by Google Alert. So Google seems to be actively indexing their sites. I should still try the others.
Time to create free press releases about our photo book shop!
Sunday, July 13, 2008
For those using Windows Media Center on their PC's, the Linksys DMA2x00 allows media files residing on your PC to be "extended" to your TV or home theater. It acts as a gateway between the PC world via an ethernet connection, and the TV/home theater world via standard audio and video connectors like HDMI, S-Video, RCA video plugs and component video. It also comes with Wifi connectivity, but users are cautioned with the quality of the stream if you are on standard 802.11G. The relatively low (54mbps) speed will cause high-definition video to jitter. A wired connection is still best. But if Wifi is really a must, then at least go with 802.11N.
If you are not running Windows Media Center on your PC (I think Win XP does not have this feature), the NetGear EVA8000 may be a better choise. Its a more generic gateway implementation. It reads your media file via the standard network shared folders of your home network; stream it over the network; then output it to your TV or projector.
The EVA8000 is still pretty much a bleeding-edge/first generation product. So don't expect a bug-free experience. This review from C-Net shows that it required several reboots in their test cases. The product specs are also still a bit conflicting. In some articles, it says the EVA8000 supports DivX. In others, its not mentioned.
I mentioned in my blog entry last month that my Philips DVDR3455H Player can play AVI. I found out this weekend that it seems to be picky on the kind of AVI file it will play. I was able to download the BBC Planet Earth series via BitTorrent. The AVI files are in 720p HD format and each were about 2.2GB in size. When I tried converting it to DivX, my DivX Converter gets an error midway. So I burnt it onto a DVD disk as AVI and tried to play it on my Philips DVDR player. It just keeps causing the player to reboot! So I guess to view these types of files, I would rely on products like those above to watch it on TV or projector.
Still, I look forward to having players in the future like my Philips DVDR to have network ports and do their own streaming directly from the network so that I don't have to buy a 3rd party gateway to do that work.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
While reading the July 2008 issue of PC World Philippines, I came across this interesting site called drop.io. You can easily upload files into it by just providing a "drop" name. The "drop" name is like the folder name. In my test, I called my drop "dicktestphoto". So my folder's URL had the name http://drop.io/dicktestphoto.
You can also upload files by simply sending it as an email attachment. The email will be addressed to the "drop" name -- in my case, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I tried sending the email via GMail, then refreshed my "drop" screen. Voila! The attached photo is there.
One of the best thing I like with drop.io is it does not require registration! You just create your "drop" folder and start uploading. Its that simple. Each "drop" folder seems to be limited to 100MB (although the PC World article was hinting 1GB). I'm not too sure though as I can't seem to find anything in their FAQ that talks about the total limit. I do know that if you really want a large amount of space, you have to "upgrade" to their premium service and pay some fee.
You can also specify how long the image files that you upload will stay in drop.io servers. For my test, I just told the system to expire it after a day. I believe if you want the file to stay there forever (or at least, while drop.io stays afloat), you also have to upgrade to their premium service.
Will ask future Mac customers inquiring about uploading photos to ThePictureShop to try this service.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
We saw the play at London West End's Prince Albert Theater way back in 2001. I still remember we were seated at the very last row of the balcony and on the left corner-most seat. And the tickets we got were pretty expensive (can't remember the exact price) because we bought it from scalpers. Mamma Mia was one of the hottest show in West End at that time. And since we were in London for only a few days, we didn't have the luxury of waiting for tickets to be available in the regular box office so we had to take the bait. Anyway, even at the atrocious scalper pricing, I thought it was really worth it.
The movie adaptation/screenplay lived up to the original play's script. It starred Meryll Streep and Pierce Brosnan as its main characters. The movie is executive produced by husband-and-wife Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, and co-produced by some people with Swedish-sounding names (maybe the original ABBA members themselves?).
I had no idea that Meryll Streep could sing. I was even more surprised that Pierce Brosnan could sing! (To me, Pierce will always be the quintessential James Bond.) Although I'm sure they took voice lessons in preparation for their role, they sounded very well. Or at least, Meryll Streep sounded really well. Pierce is no crooner, but he could carry a tune. His singing voice seems more apt for rock music though. Another pleasant surprise among the cast is Amanda Seyfried who played Sophie, the daughter of Meryll Streep. At first, I was wondering if she was just lip-synching. But as it turned out, she was really the one singing.
The soundtrack of the original Mamma Mia play is available for online download and purchase from Fliptunes Plus. The album is produced by MCA Universal Records. I'm looking forward to having the original movie soundtrack (OST) of Mamma Mia available from Fliptunes Plus.
Local albums only have to sell 12,500 copies (from 15,000) to achieve gold status, and 25,000 (from 30,000) to go platinum. Foreign albums are now certified gold with sales of 7,500 copies (from 10,000) and platinum with sales of 15,000 copies (from 20,000).Source: http://showbizandstyle.inquirer.net/entertainment/entertainment/view/20080709-147435/Rico-B-bumps-into-his-past
For now, I believe this is based on physical sales through record bars. I don't think they include digital purchases -- whether through web/PC with digital music stores like Fliptunes, or through mobile phone over-the-air download.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Diners have been few in the LKG and PBCom food courts (both operated by Raintree) lately. Maybe most of them are trying out new places to eat (or maybe they're all going to RCBC's food court). A lot of the food stalls have closed. And a lot of space previously reserved for diners have been converted to kiosks selling clothes (ala ukay-ukay).
The Sizzler stall is quite big as they also serve local food under another brand name. I noticed there was nobody in the counter. The entire length of the very long counter was just manned by one lady. And inside the kitchen (behind the counter separated by a glass), you can see there's only 2 cooks. Hmm... business must be really slow. I went for the usual meatballs with sweet-and-sour sauce. It took some time to be served because the lone lady/cashier was tending to other customers at the same time.
The meatballs are served on a black sizzling plate. But by the time I got it onto a table, it was no longer sizzling. I tried slicing a meatball in the center, but it was hard already (probably because it cooled down?), so it popped out of my plate and landed between my legs -- with sweet-and-sour sauce and all! Grrrr... now my pants' left and right leg has orange blotches. And I still have to give a presentation this afternoon to the Friendster Philippines people. :(
At first look, its just like any other jeepney except a bit smaller. But what caught my attention was the banner on the side saying, of course, "E-Jeep" and that they were offering FREE rides. I think they are still on a trial run and the free ride offer is valid only for 1 month.
The banner also says that it is powered by Motolite. It would be very interesting if the world-wide web business model where services are offered for free in exchange for ads/promotions by big companies, can be adapted to this situation. Would electric car battery companies be interested to operate these free public service in exchange for promoting their brands?
Well, if there's anything good that came out of this gasoline price increases, its that traffic has been reduced in Metro Manila (by 10% as of this month according to MMDA statistics), and that carbon emission has lessened because more people are taking public transport. The government still has to improve its mass transport systems like the MRT and LRT though. The jeepneys and buses do not really contribute much to the lessening of pollution. If Metro Manila only had an efficient public mass transport system like those found in Hong Kong or Tokyo, there would really not be much need to drive around the city.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Since I seem to recall reading somewhere that the Crystal Reports that comes with Visual Studio can be used for making web reports, I decided to do some R&D today. First stop, of course, is Google. Doing a search on "crystal reports for .net", the first three links returned gave me all the answers I needed.
Armed with the first article at the top of the search, I started off with my POS Solution. I created a new test web application, and added a Crystal Reports item onto it. Doing some quick copy-and-pasting from the main POS source code, I got a report running in record time (well, it took me several minutes because I got stumped with something that turned out to be an error on my part).
Next, I wanted to implement an export-to-PDF or view-as-PDF-on-the-web feature. The 3rd article from the search shows just how simple it is. Its basically the same as the code to do the one above, except you just add something like:
MemoryStream oStream = (MemoryStream)userReport.ExportToStream(CrystalDecisions.Shared.ExportFormatType.PortableDocFormat);
Response.ContentType = "application/pdf";
And voila! The Acrobat plug-in opens the PDF on your IE and the report is displayed as PDF. And, of course, it follows that the user can print the PDF report by using the Acrobat plug-in's (or the browser's) capability to send its output to the printer.
There is also this interesting article about publishing the Crystal Report as a web service. Then when you drag-and-drop a Crystal Report control onto your form, you just point its report source to the URL of the web service. Very interesting concept. One can make the reports appear as a web service, and it can be extracted on runtime by standalone exe's or web-based applications. No need to embed the .rpt file directly onto the applications. Makes it easier to update also without having to recompile the code of your apps.
Friday, July 4, 2008
For more than a week now, I've been testing it with the 8-port serial card that I asked Mrs. Gan to buy from the US a couple of years back. I attached the modem to the first port (which maps to my PC's COM9) and just used the built-in Windows Hyperterminal to communicate with it. The results have been very erratic. More often than not, it would just hang when you start typing in the AT commands. And its very rare that I can leave it on overnight without seeing it hang the next day when I come in.
But today, the serial PCI card itself already fails to be detected properly by Windows. So I opened up my PC; unpluggged-and-replugged the card, and at the same time, I added a cable+backplate adapter for my motherboard's built-in COM1 onboard. The motherboard did not come with a visible COM port at the back. So I had to get a cable from Ric to make the onboard COM port accessible from the back of the PC chassis. Things have been working smoothly so far (maybe it was really the multiport serial board that was problematic all along?).
I experimented for the first time with the System.IO.Ports.SerialPort class library of .NET 2.0. Yeah, yeah, I'm very much behind. I think the latest .NET release is already 3.5. I'm usually a generation behind when it comes to adopting .NET technology. While everyone was already at .NET 2.0, I was still with .NET 1.1! In any case, the SerialPort class library makes life simpler for programming serial communication. Whereas I had to rely on accessing unmanaged code before with .NET 1.1, the .NET 2.0 SerialPort library makes opening a serial port as simple as declaring:
port = new SerialPort("COM1", 115200, Parity.None, 8, StopBits.One);
Then trapping data received events becomes as simple as overriding the DataReceived event handler:
port.ReadTimeout = 2000;
port.DataReceived += port_DataReceived;
While writing my test program for the GSM Modem, I also learned a couple of small items:
- The String.Trim() function apparently also trims out newline characters ('\n'). All along, I thought it just trims whitespaces.
- To send a Ctrl-Z (which is needed to inform the modem that you are finished typing the message to send), you just do port.Write(Convert.ToChar(26).ToString()).
Strangely, the System.IO.Ports namespace does not seem to support parallel ports, only serial. So for writing to parallel ports to control POS printers and cash drawers, I guess I still have to use unmanaged code.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
How many episodes are supposed to be in a season anyway? Isn't 9 a bit too few? Heroes Season 1 was kinda long, but I also felt that Season 2 was very short. Still, I'm sure it was longer than 9 episodes. Oh, well... looking forward to the next season.
This is pretty cutting edge for now. Aside from their highlighted product -- the D-Link DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media Player, there seems to be no other consumer electronic product available yet that supports this streaming protocol. The DSM-330 is very interesting though. It has a wired+wifi interface to the TCP/IP network, and a video out interface (S-Video, Component, Composite and HDMI) on the other end. It can playback in 720p HD.
The DSM-330 is available for pre-order at Amazon for US$280.99. A bit still pricey. Also, according to its specs, the DSM-330 only plays DivX (of course) and Windows Media Video (WMV). No support for MPEG4, Quicktime MOV, etc. At that price, I might still consider just buying several US$60 DivX Ultra-certified player like the Philips DVP5982, and just use DVD-RW discs to transfer the movies around the house.
I'm sure in the next several months, mainstream consumer electronics manufacturers like Philips will eventually embed network connections to their boxes. And if they get DivX Connected certified, there would be no need for intermediate/gateway devices like the DSM-330.