Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Friday, November 30, 2007

G-NOTE electronic notepad software


Given the number of downloads, and the fact I wanted to use the red pen myself, I patched my previous converter code to include that.

As before, the perl source code is available for download. The program will convert a g-note proprietary file format into an SVG file that at least Inkscape software (the one I use) is happy with.

Luckyly one reader provided this link with the file format specs.

Just type dnt2svg.pl your_dnote_file > converted.svg

Windows users need to know they can get a free perl interpreter from ActiveState. Those with Apple OS X already have it in place (but you still need to know of to use a terminal).

Monday, November 26, 2007

The French kiss


New rules in France have been set up to punish on-line exchange of files. The new deal between the French administration, the recording industries and the Internet service providers is supposed to protect the artists' revenue.

The deal is supposed to be against on-line movie and music exchange but I am not sure how easy may be to detect that a given user is downloading a song whose rights belong to a French corporation or artist. So it may well be easier to rule out any file exchange, just in case. We will see...

Not everybody agrees on the idea that preventing music or video sharing over the Internet is going to improve sales figures, though. If the system they are putting in place in France does work, it may well be a market to watch carefully. I won't be surprised if, instead of the expected results (higher revenue for artists), a significant decrease on Internet users happens. Because of this, I think this is a social experiment we need to pay close attention to.

Do not forget that unless you are using a campus network (or freeloading on your neighbour's wifi), any residential Internet access does not come for free. ISP business is to bring Internet access to your home, and they do this for a monthly fee. It is somehow astonishing that your provider might stop serving you while they keep on charging you.

Think of a new law against rude language where telcos would cut your telephone line once you have said a forbidden word. But you would still have to pay your telephone monthly fee. Weird, isn't it?

What I am afraid is that P2P users are the ones that will be punished the most, not because they do anything wrong but because they are easy to pinpoint (ok, some of you may complain here). But file sharing has nothing wrong in itself, even some corporations in the movie industry are using BitTorrent to distribute their paid content, maybe even to customers in France :-)

Update: Just a few days later I've learned that MTV Networks is planning to make the TV show South Park available for free download. Just another way to understand the problems and their solutions. BTW, I've never seen that show though it's been available on free TV for quite a while.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

VectorMagic: on-line vectorisation

Many vector drawing programs do include a vectorisation tool so a vector representation of a bitmap can be obtained. I have used many times the one that comes with Inkscape program.

However, I've just learned of another tool you can use. The fact the tool comes from Stanford makes you hope for very good or superb results.

The picture on the left is a bitmap of a vectorised bitmap. The usefulness of that is just as a sample (but, of course, you do not want to get a bitmap of your vectorised output). The picture was taken from a recent Google Talk at our university.

What makes this new tool unique is the fact it is an online service. You upload the bitmap from your web browser and after a few selections you download the result in either EPS, SVG or PNG format (the latter is a bitmap format though).

The comparison you can find on the tool site shows an impressive performance compared to other vectorisation tools on commercial software (from Adobe and Corel).

Update: Since this entry was written the project has become a commercial venture. You still can get one free vectorisation but that's all.

GIMP and Leopard can now work together

I reported some days ago I could no longer use The GIMP on the newest OS X 10.5 , aka Leopard. It transpired the problem was due to changes on X11 support. Apple has moved from Xfree86 to X.org implementation and this move created some trouble for several Xwindow applications.

Fortunately the fixes are already available and a new binary I found here is working like a charm on our iMac (this subtle change on iMac's ownership claim has not been yet noticed by my wife).

BTW, if you want to try the Time Machine in Leopard you need to now that the external hard disk you use needs an HFS+ partition. So if you just have another one the drive will need to be repartitioned and you will lose all your data. Warning messages are given before though.

If you used arhive install, as I did, you'll have around 12 GB with a copy of your old Tiger setup. It may be a good idea to delete it (provided you already had another backup) before using the Time Machine for the first time.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Drop down lists for country selection


I am sure you've used many times a drop down list to chose from a set of limited choices. One common use is to mark the country when specifying a shipping address.

Some websites default to your own country, which is a good thing for the locals but eventually other people will have to select another value from the list.

As I am currently based in Spain everything I buy from other countries does not default to my country so I am forced to go down the list. There is a shortcut that works on different operating systems which is pressing the first character of the word you are looking for to go to the first, second, third element, and so on of names starting with that same character. Sometimes this can be much faster than using the mouse.

However, I have discovered that the common way of storing this lists does not make my life very easy when searching for my own country. There are several problems:
  1. Not all the site use the same list so you never know what is the location of the item you are looking for.
  2. Although alphabetic sorting is common it is not always the case.
  3. Have you ever seen how many country names start with "S"? (if not have a look at the USPS list). It takes much longer to search that to write and keyboard shortcuts does not help too much, as you can easily run over the one you are looking for.
After thinking about the problem for a while I reckon site designers should consider a "user-friendly" sort order. I would define such a sorting order in a way that on average users have to press the minimum number of times their country name first character to get it right. I know that alphabetic order seems a good choice, but after using it for a while I am not so sure.

Naturally, to achieve such an order, population numbers come into play. In order to minimize the average mentioned above you need to sort the countries alphabetically using only the first character and in a decreasing order of population.

There are 72 different entries starting with character "S" on USPS country list. In case you wonder it is country names starting with "Y" the ones that render the shorter list.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Leopard upgrade blues

My wife's iMac is dead after the Leopard upgrade (I was about to tell you how fast was the delivery of the DVD from Apple's store). I've seen I'm not alone and I'm going to have to do another type of install that essentially will wipe out all the apps and config already done.

This is the feedback I left on Apple's feedback page:

I had an almost "virgin" one-month old aluminium iMac 20". I requested the upgrade DVD to go from Tiger to Leopard.

Now my system refuses to accept my password anymore. After a blue screen it gets back to asking me my password again (I'm positive I'm typing the right password). Now I have discovered many users are having the same problem.

Shame on you Apple. It's really not acceptable. None of the "rm" tricks proposed did fix the problem so I guess I'll have to go through the archive install. This ruined my day. I am not happy.

So be warned, do not expect the normal upgrade to work and reserve a full morning for the upgrade thing plus all the extra time you need to configure everything back to the way it was with Tiger.

Update: Serveral hours later, and one unusual backup through AFP, the archive install worked once I discovered where that option was hidden. Surprisingly my data, installed applications, X11 and MS Office, GIMP and Inkscape are installed and working ok.

Correction: While GIMP 2.4-rc3-intel seems to work after upgrading to Leopard I was wrong. No useful work can be done now and GIMP crashes without previous warning as soon as you use any paint tool. I think reverting back to 2.2.11 maybe the way to go for the moment.