October 2012 in the Life of Ben (Blog)

  1. January
  2. February
  3. March
  4. April
  5. May
  6. June
  7. July
  8. August
  9. September
  10. October
  11. November
  12. December

15th Scalextric Club (30th October 2012)

Some of my best races ever tonight, with no crashes for the first 3 races!

Green Lane

Fastest Lap 10.51s
Laps: 16.50
Position: 3rd
Crashes 0!

Brown Lane

Fastest Lap 9.97s
Laps: 17.55
Position: 3rd
Crashes 0!

White Lane

Fastest Lap 10.10s
Laps: 17.05
Position: 3rd
Crashes 0!

Blue Lane

Finished ahead of 3rd place by a short nose! The other driver was faster but crashed twice. Thrilling last few laps as he gained and drew level, then we traded places every few corners to the end.

Fastest Lap 9.79s
Laps: 17.90
Position: 2nd
Crashes 0

Yellow Lane

My first jump start means the control system held me for 5 seconds after the green light. I got confused about the lighting stages and went as they turned red instead of waiting for the green!

Fastest Lap 10.03s
Laps: 16.85
Position: 4th
Crashes 4

Responsive Website Round-Up (25th October 2012)

I follow the feed from the MediaQueri.es website; it mostly covers American and European stuff.

Some recent favourites below. Change browser size or use a phone/tablet to see how they adapt.


Just in time for global launch of Windows 8 but only the homepage is responsive.

Follows the “Metro” or Swiss Design feel from Windows Phone 7. Deeper pages such as the News Centre use a different layout but same feel.

Homeland Security & Government Affairs

Even the most responsive sites usually stop expanding at about 1280 pixels wide…this one keeps going to 1600 pixels.

Entire stories are cycled in the homepage carousel – everyone skim-reads so it makes sense!

Responsive Process by Yellow Pencil

Made by an agency to summarise how they operate in a completely open way.

The process itself looks very sensible, for moderate to large scale projects.

United Utilities

American version of Business Stream…with more drop shadows?

Deep navigation is interesting and here be illustrations.

Wentworth Mansion

People with mansions can afford cracking websites.


Not sure what it’s about but looks funky. Fades imagery into solid colours so it can continue the shapes horizontally forever.

Regent College

Angular education site.

Modo Design Group

Agency site with illustrative avatars. Long scrolling page with lots and lots and lots of space.

Includes an information application project.


Agency site with simple proposition and short copy!

Gave Directions to a Stranger (24th October 2012)

While unlocking my bicycle a woman with an elderly relative and a younger relative using a wheelchair asked where Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital was. After floundering for several seconds, I exclaimed: “Oh hang on, I could use my phone!”

While I waited for gMaps to load more date, the woman pulled out a rather flash Samsung. “It’s the first time I’ve really used it,” she explained. After some scrolling I spotted the Maps application with a Google logo. Started quickly and looked good on the screen, although the location was about 1km wrong for the first several seconds.

They got a walking route on her phone and I pointed them East to get them started. My good deed for the day.

Fog of War

gMaps loaded what looked like extremely low resolution imagery at first. I searched for Great ormond street hospital and the result was an extremely low resolution H. It was red and bold so I knew it was Google’ symbol for a hospital and waited for more detail to load.

After a minute and getting the woman started with her Maps app, I tried zooming out. D’oh! It was just at a crazy close zoom and had found the right location!

Something about sensible defaults? No idea how it got so zoomed in. More to the point, why does that zoom level even exist? It doesn’t show more detail for 10 smudgy pixels to fill the screen!

14th Scalextric Club (16th October 2012)

A great evening of Le Mans prototype racing! Plenty of participants meant we used all 6 lanes for 6 races each of 2.5 minutes duration. My favourite races are detailed below, using the red open top prototype from Steve.

Steve’s yellow Toyota GT-One developed a loose wheel. I thought it was power glitches and used it for the first 2 races! It was the only car I practised with beforehand.

Steve advised me that licking a finger and running that over the rear tyres was an effective way to clean them. They accumulate dust and various detritus from being stored, transported and then running on a track surface that’s only used once a week.

White Lane

Fastest Lap 9.21s
Laps: 15.10
Position: 3rd
Crashes 1

Blue Lane

Got my furthest distance but a very clean and competitive race left me 4th overall.

Fastest Lap 9.23s
Laps: 15.45
Position: 4th
Crashes 0!

Yellow Lane

Got the hole shot and narrowly led the first couple of laps!

Fastest Lap 9.12s
Laps: 15.35
Position: 3rd
Crashes 2

Red Lane

Fastest Lap 9.04s!
Laps: 15.25
Position: 3rd
Crashes 1

Red Dwarf 10 is Funny! (6th October 2012)

Missed the launch of this new series during the week. Missed the re-run this Saturday evening on Dave while at family home as well.

After a normal sign-up process I watched Red Dwarf on the Dave website. (Nice, hackable URLs on their new website…but no navigation links go to the series overview?)

Good & Getting Better! (25th October 2012)

Episode 3 of this 10th series had me laughing out loud again. A lot going on in the episode. So many sub-plots and interesting sci-fi concepts entwined around the reluctant friendship of the 4 crew.

From almost plausible theoretical phenomena to bizarre remnants of failed experiments, there’s enough geekery to fulfill the ‘sci’ part of ‘sci-fi’.

The sets look great, even though Dave HD isn’t available on FreeView.

Never a dull moment and thoroughly entertaining.

FIXED: Rip Music and Library Settings (4th October 2012)

Treated myself to Lana Del Ray’s album Born to Die, ordered on CD (remember those?) from the exquisitely well-built and refreshingly straightforward play.com. It’s so much better than Amazon, seriously, that site is still stuck in the 1990’s.

Also bought a stero remastered CD of Pink Floyd’s album Piper at the Gates of Dawn for Fiona.

After several minutes of panic I realised the WMP error Windows Media Player cannot rip one or more tracks from the CD was due to another error called The settings for ripping music could not be applied.

Specifically, the location of my music library had been forgotten by WMP. It’s easy to restore the music library location and then Rip Music works again.


Received August DVB-T210 (3rd October 2012)

  1. Our signal booster has a female output socket.
  2. Our Freeview box has a male output socket but it can also receive the aerial on it.
  3. So we currently use a normal male–female cable between booster and box.
  4. USB stick has a female socket so we need a male–male cable.
  5. We don’t have a male–male cable!
  6. Plugged laptop into cable direct from wall, before signal booster.
  7. Downloaded drivers from their website, in a .rar format…with no explanation for newbies to open it!
  8. Looked inside and it had x86 and x64 folders.
  9. Ran the setup.exe in the parent Drivers folder and that chose the right 64-bit installer to use.
  10. Installed easily and fairly standard, although no font smoothing.

Checked in Device Manager, as the tiny printed manual recommends. Was showing correctly. Yay.

  1. Started Windows Media Center and looked at the Express setup mode.
  2. Can’t take screenshots from it, I guess for DRM reasons.
  3. Setup has two sections:
    1. Required Setup. Windows Media Center checks components like networking and Internet connection.
    2. Optional Setup. You can set up the features and advanced settings that fit your needs.
  4. After feedback and cover art questions, we got to the real setup.
  5. This was called Optional Setup.
  6. First option was Configure tuners, TV signal, and Guide. (Oxford comma!)
  7. It detected my region as United Kindom and asked me to confirm.
  8. Now asks for Postal Code.
  9. Program Guide Terms of Service is 57 pages long in the little box on the next page! Hah, really trying to put you off reading that.
  10. Microsoft PlayReady™ PC Runtime EULA runs to 28 pages in this box!
  11. The little blips and pings from this interface remind me of old Worms games. Nostalgic, in a good way, though probably not how they meant it to seem.
  12. Hey, what’s going on? It’s downloading this PlayReady thing. (no longer a trademark!
  13. Next screen says An error was encountered while installing PlayReady. Hmm. Maybe it wasn’t ready. c{¬/
  14. I click the text Back button, not the icon one. Now it say TV setup data is what’s being downloadeded, with a funky chevron progress bar. This seems to succeed.
  15. TV Signal Result says it found Digital Antenna (DVB-T) (1 tuner) but this also does DVB-T2, that’s what HD uses. Maybe a later stage detects that feature.
  16. The next page asks me to confirm by going to the next page. Heh. It slightly lengthens the TV signal name: Digital Antenna (DVB-T): Digital Terrestrial (1 tuner)
  17. Scanning took 10 minutes on my laptop. Nothing like the hours a couple of Amazon comments had reported.
  18. (I had enough time to do jam on thick toast and eat half a slice.)
  19. TV Channel Scan told me 121 channel(s) found.
  20. I scrolled through the tiny box and found all 4 HD channels were there!
    • BBC HD
    • ITV HD
    • Channel 4 HD
    • BBC1 HD
  21. (Parenthesised pluralising ‘s’ ftw! The logic to switch between singular and plural is trivial.)
  22. Next page tells me Select Finish to exit. Yay!

This didn’t exit anything. Instead, it returned me to the Optional Setup screen with the TV option ticked and greyed out.

I selected I have finished as the other options didn’t look as exciting as trying out the HD channels. This took me to yet another page which said I should click Finish. Isn’t that kinda what I just did?

It Works! And It’s Beautiful

Non-native GUI is usually rubbish. But the layout, task flow and nature of the controls in Windows Media Center is straight from the age-old wizard style interface, familar back to Windows 95.

Cable Issues

Had the laptop on a little table near the aerial socket so I could plug it in, without the signal booster, using the cable which was already in the socket. This worked amazingly well and we watched some of a BBC HD documentary from India.

It looked so good I could tell where they used non-HD cameras to film the more mobile scenes. THe broadcast and processing quality is so high we could see the original camera quality. Amazing.

However, when I moved it to the desk and plugged in the 24″ it looked like a longer cable would be needed. Tried plugging 2 cables together but I think this changes the electrical balance of the system and it didn’t find any channels.

After some re-routing I got the original cable to reach far enough. BUt it would only find 22 channels now - nearly 100 less than before!

During much frustrated troubleshooting, I even unscrewed the socket to see if anything had gotten knocked. All seemed in order. Put everything back together but still just 22 channels.

Moved the laptop back to the little table and now it couldn’t find any signal at all!

The USB stick felt warm and the USB socket was feeling loose. It had better not have damaged my laptop!

Maybe more luck tomorrow. This has eaten up my entire evening and it’s nearly midnight now!

91 Channels Reliable (4th October 2012)

After slightly wiggling the aerial cable and moving other cables further away, it found 91 channels. This was after telling Windows Media Center to Delete All the channels it new about and then set up the TV Signal area again, from scratch.

Guide is pretty awesome in this thing. It’s so rapid. Using a mouse with it is awesome, especially with the PageUp, PageDown, Back and Forward buttons my faithful Logitech MX510 mouse.

You get further information by just hovering with the mouse. Scrollwheel works. Ctrl+G is a shortcut to Guide.

A real ‘surprise and delight’ moment is holding down the forward in time button. At first it scrolls forwards, so you can skip a few hours. After a few seconds it turns into a movie style time-lapse effect, with the day and phase of day in text while faint traces of show names whizz past in the background.

The transitions and animations throughout the interface are pretty awesome, in fact.

Signal Booster

People say you need super signal to receive Freeview HD. Maybe it was beginner’s luck; perfect atmospheric properties and lowest interference in the building during the first setup?

If I get another male–male aerial lead I can add the signal booster back into the circuit, between the socket and the USB.

Or, better idea: I could get a signal splitter and plug that into the signal booster output. Then I could re-use the existing male–female cables we have so both the Toshiba Freeview box and the DVB-T210 USB stick are connected.

That way the Toshiba can still record shows if I’m out and about with the laptop.

Series Record

The laptop is usually in sleep mode rather than turned off, so the software should wake it up when recordings are due to start. Not sure if it logs in as well, since my profile is password protected…we shall see.

I’ve set a couple of series to record. The interface for this is a bit weird, with divider lines between settings and pairs of + and - buttons to choose from short lists of values.

Search 15 Days of EPG Data!

OK, this is totally awesome. You can’t even do this on a website so quickly!

One reason I chose this stick is that it’s a really recent product which supports the re-introduced 14-day program guide protocol. It works. With the processing power of a laptop and Windows Media Centre, it can search all program titles and their descriptions in a few seconds!!

It’s a bit too eager, though. Should wait a bit longer before it starts the first search. It’s often triggered after the first 2 letters which is useless. Even when I type quickly the first search cuts in and stops further keystrokes being added.

Are Reminders Obsolete?

If I think I’m going to be around for a show, I’ll set a reminder in my Windows Live calendar. My phone synchronises with that wirelessly and will beep at me before the event.

Windows Media Center has no reminders feature, from what I can tell. You can only schedule things to record… That will get my attention while at the machine but having it wake up from sleep might not be enough. Again, we’ll see.

Lacking a Letterbox!

The single deal-breaker is it won’t do a 16:9 letterbox on my 16:10 screen. I don’t want elongated car wheels and extra-skinny actors. I want a letterbox. Give me my letterbox!! Windows Media Player letterboxes fullscreen videos correctly.

Maybe it’s because I’m using HDMI? But I found the settings where it knows the screen is 1920×1200. But the preceeding screen only provides 4:3 or 16:9, which that resolution cannot be. I made sure to select Flat Panel from the display type setting before that, so it knows for certain that the pixels are squares.

Signal Booster Fixes All The Problems! (7th October 2012)

Got a male–male cable while visiting parents in Fleet. Now the aerial lead goes from socket into power booster then into USB stick.

Finds 122 channels, including HD ones. Flawless picture and sound. I guess we are on ‘cusp reception’ where the digital signal is about the same strength as the noise from other electrical devices and atmospheric conditions.

Series Record FTW

This feature is not present on the Toshiba box. The advanced settings let you select which channels to get the recordings from, even what time slot to use.

The default records any New and rerun episodes in the series. But you can change the defaults to only record New shows.

Looking forwards to seeing Merlin in HD. First episode was excellent even at standard definition.

BBC1 HD Guide Information

This widely reported issue can be solved with these settings:

  1. Open the Guide (Ctrl+G if you like).
  2. Scroll to channel 50 BBC One HD.
  3. Right-click the channel and click Edit Channel.
  4. This opens a Settings screen.
  5. Click Edit Listings on the left.
  6. It provides a list sorted alphabetically by channel name. No idea why.
  7. Scroll to BBC One and click it.
  8. This opens a CONFIRM CHANNEL EDIT page.
  9. Click Copy listings from channel 1 to channel 50. (Don’t use Combine!)
  10. This returns you to the Settings page.
  11. Click Save on the left.

This gave it the right listings but the name was now 50 BBC One. To fix that:

  1. Right-click the channel and click Edit Channel.
  2. This opens a Settings screen.
  3. Click Rename on the left.
  4. Weirdly you cannot move the insertion point, so can’t simply add HD to the end.
  5. Delete all the text for the name and then enter: BBC One HD.
  6. Click Save on the left.
  7. This returns you to the Settings page.
  8. Click Save on the left.

Find As You Type

You can type channel numbers into the Guide and it will scroll to that row!

It waits a moment between key presses before scrolling. Press Return to make it scroll without waiting.

Letterbox! (8th October 2012)

Watching BBC1 HD in fullscreen on the Dell Ultrasharp 2410 and…it’s perfect!

About a finger width of letterbox above and below. Just right when showing a 16:9 picture on a 16:10 screen.

I was able to capture a screenshot from Windows Media Centre by giving focus to a program running on the laptop screen. Measuring the pixels, the letterbox is 59 pixels above and below. That’s weird, because it means there’s 1082 pixels of picture when there should be 1080!

Anyway, HD looks crystal clear in scenes where a good camera is accurately focussed with plenty of light. CPU is running at 5-10% total load, according to Windows Task Manager.

So, so relieved. It’s working great!

Huge Filesize of Recorded TV

2 hours and 5 minutes of HD Formula One racing takes up 8.88GB in the .wtv format used by Windows Media Centre.

I currently have 311GB of free space. Think I saw the settings were allowing it up to 265GB of space for recorded shows.

Problems with Power (6th November 2012)

Doesn’t Wake Up to Record!

Scheduled recordings do not wake up the machine when it has gone to sleep. Argh!

So I have to change the Power Options from system tray battery icon to Presentation mode. I customised this so the screens will turn off but it never sleeps or hibernates. Quite a waste of power, though.

No Signal after Sleep

This doesn’t always happen but when it does, it’s always just before a favourite show is going to start. (Typical.)

It may also be due to using Switch User as I use sometimes use a 2nd profile on this machine.

The recommendation is to disable the Power Management for all USB ports.