Dan Gowans My personal thoughts and mindless ramblings

Finally, a real online news source for Sault Ste Marie

12.05.2010 · Posted in Thoughts

I hate the local online news sources.  Why?

Between the overwhelming number of advertisements, and the annoying uninformative headlines, its a waste of time trying to find the content that is truly important.  The news.  Take SooToday for example, one (if not, the) top source for online news.  See the red square?  That represents the news area on their front page.  It is almost invisible for the advertising.  And with headlines like, “How many turns does it take to open the penstock valve?”, and “Things we bet you didn’t know about makin’ snow”, it’s next to impossible to figure out at a glance what’s going on, and what’s worth reading.  People seem to love the mystery in reading the news.  Me, not at all.

SooNews.ca is just as bad.  The content area on the main page is larger than SooToday’s, but still, the page is jokey headlines hidden by overwhelming advertising.  I understand the need for advertising, but when there is more of it than actual content, there’s a problem.

On the radio last week at work, I heard the announcer mention visiting them online for up-to-the-minute news.  Looking at what’s there, I’m impressed.  It’s inspired me to create a list of the best online news sources in Sault Ste Marie.

EZ Rock / Q104

This is the news page for a local radio station.  Nice and clean news in a blog format.  Meaningful headlines.  A large area of things I care about, right on the front page (as circled in red).  They even have RSS.  This is a model news site.  My only gripe is they don’t split the stories into paragraphs.

The Sault Star

This is the news page for the local newspaper.  A bit more clutter compared to EZ Rock, but still a large content area with article summaries.  Once again, headlines that mean something.  Plus, there is still a lot of exclusive content that only appears in the newspaper that you can read here.

So, as you can see here, the best online news sources aren’t mainly online news sources at all.  Interesting that these mediums that are sometimes said to be “behind the times” are actually the onces who do it best.

Why I dumped TVersity in favour of Windows Media Player

12.04.2010 · Posted in Software

I recently bought a new computer, an HP Pavillion Elite HPE-400F.  It’s a pretty nice upgrade from my HP Pavillion a1132n.

On the old machine, I had TVersity installed to stream media to my PS3.  The whole setup worked quite well.  The computer was wired to the router, while the PS3 was wireless.  Xvid streaming worked great.  Divx streaming had the occasional hiccups.  Anything 720p was unwatchable.

When I got the new machine, I recreated the TVersity environment with the same results.  Some of the stuttering issues are guaranteed due to the wireless PS3, but it still seemed like too much.  I started playing with settings.

I was able to eliminate the Divx issues entirely by setting TVersity to always transcode.  The problem with transcoding though is that you can’t easily rewind without having to trancode the whole video again up to the point you want to see.  Strike one.

Next I tried transcoding an MKV file.  Weird results.  Every time I started playing the MKV on the PS3, the TVersity server would shut off entirely.  I had to then open up the TVersity admin screens and restart the server.  This may have been a codec issue, but crashing the server entirely is just unacceptible.  Strike two.

Then the little things started adding up.   720p video in MPG format would show awful compression artifacts.  Although TVersity had scheduled library refreshes, I’d often still have to manually refresh to see new files.  My podcasts were no longer updating daily.  The main reason I chose TVersity was because of the built in RSS support for podcasts.  If that didn’t work, what was the point?  Strike three.

I’ve always seen Windows Media Player show up on my PS3, but have never taken advantage of it.  After unblocking the PS3 and setting up some folders to show up in WMP, I hopped on the PS3.  Impressive results.  Real-time refreshing of the folder.  Xvids still played perfectly.  The Divx files played without jitter.  The 720p MPG even played without jitter!  I’m sold.

Now the two missing pieces, podcasts and transcoding.  For the podcasting, I opted for FeedDemon.  It’s quite a feature filled RSS reader, but the key feature I liked was auto downloading of enclosures (or podcasts).  I resubscribed to my Revision3 shows, and in no time I was able to watch them.  Nice.

Next, the transcoding.  With this setup, MKV transcoding is a guaranteed no go.  I tried a few  conversion tools, but they all seemed to crash.  (Maybe it’s because I’m running Windows 7 64 bit.)  The tool that did work was GOTSent.  Sure it takes a lot longer than MKV2VOB, the program I used before, but it gets the job done, the output looks good, and it streams great.

The things I’m going to miss about the old TVersity setup:

  • TVersity has built in podcast support.  No need for a separate application.
  • TVersity renamed the podcasts to the titles from the RSS feeds.  Now, I just see the file names.
  • TVersity can trancode files to other formats on the fly.
  • TVersity has a web interface for managing the media server.

What I love about the new WMP + FeedDemon + GOTSent setup:

  • WMP was running anyways, so there is now one less media server running in the background.
  • WMP runs as 64-bit, taking full advantage of my computer’s capabilities.
  • WMP updates in real time.  No need to do a manual refresh for new files.
  • FeedDemon has easy to configure, feed specific settings.  TVersity has feed settings, but not nearly as granular.
  • 720p over wireless G baby!

Why didn’t I try PS3 Media Server?  Well, I did.  But it was quite confusing to set up and I never got good results.  WMP seems to be my answer for now.  Seriously, try it out.  You will be surprised.

[UPDATE: PS3 Media Streaming project, part 2]

TD Canada Trust, read this pseudo-code.

09.25.2010 · Posted in Thoughts

A weird thing happened this week.  My wife received a cheque in the mail from the bank itself.  It cited the account number of one of her investments, but gave no reason.  There was no letter in the envelope explaining the cheque, and the envelope was handwritten.  The cheque appeared legit, but when you don’t expect a cheque from your bank in the mail, it sparks some interest.

Sarah called our local branch that night.  They were equally confused, and requested her to bring it in.

After a meeting at the bank, and a couple follow up phone calls at home, we finally figured out what happened.  TD, you need to update your code.

When an investment rewards its interest, it has to go somewhere.  For some reason, the target account was not set for the investment.  I guess this investment rewarded twice in the past already.  (We never noticed.)  The first time, the interest landed in our savings.  The second time, the interest landed in our chequing.  And this, the third time, it could not decide a target account, so defaulted to a cheque.

We were told that three attempts are made to identify a target account, with a cheque as the last resort.  Hearing this makes my programmer head hurt.  A lot.  This is a bank.  They deal with our money.  Cudos for a default cheque case, but when nothing changes in your account structure, why would the target account ever be completely random?

I can only assume their target account identification code looks something like this.


String getTargetAccount (String investmentAcctNum) {
     AccountHolder person = getAccountHolder(investmentAcctNum);
     int choice = rollDice();
     switch (choice) {
     case 1, 2:
          return person.getCheckingAccounts()[rollDice()];
     case 3, 4:
          return person.getSavingsAccounts()[rollDice()];
     case 5, 6:
          return null;
     }
}

For you non-coders out there, they basically roll a dice, and pick an account based on the result. If they don’t get an account result after three rolls, they send a cheque.

What the code should look like:


String getTargetAccount (investmentAcctNum) {
     AccountHolder person = getAccountHolder(investmentAcctNum);
     Account[] savingsAccounts = person.getSavingsAccounts();
     sort(savingsAccounts);
     if (savingsAccounts[0] != null) return savingsAccounts[0];
     Account[] chequingAccounts = person.getChequingAccounts();
     sort(chequingAccounts);
     if (chequingAccounts[0] != null) return chequingAccounts[0];
     return null;
}

What makes this code great is that is should work the first time, due to its non-random nature.

TD, please update your code. Restore some of the confidence I had in you.

This week’s TV schedule

09.20.2010 · Posted in Thoughts

This week is going to be a busy one.  Lots of shows coming back, lots of new shows to try out.  Here’s what my week is shaping up to be.

Monday

That Night

Tuesday

That Night

The Next Day

Wednesday

The Next Day

Thursday

That Night

The Next Day


Trip to Vegas: Part 4 (More of the Strip)

06.07.2010 · Posted in Photos

Besides seeing the Grand Canyon, and the Secret Garden, we also saw the Cirque du Soleil show “O”, and David Copperfield.  Our last days in Vegas, we finished doing the Strip.  Here’s the rest of the pictures from the trip.

Overall, the trip was great.  The Excalibur was a decent hotel.  The shows were good.  The atmosphere was fun.  I’d go again.  The only thing I’d do differently next time is pay a bit more for our flights.  It took us four planes to get there, and four planes to get home.  On the way home, the second last plane got delayed, causing us to miss our last plane.  The good news, it was Delta’s fault, so we got a free hotel and meals in Detroit, and a flight out the next day.  Not all that bad.

Trip to Vegas: Part 3 (Secret Garden)

06.07.2010 · Posted in Photos

Sarah and I went to the Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden at the Mirage.  Its a zoo-like place with dolphins, large cats, and other animals.  Here’s some pictures from our visit.