Summary: It's ramblings time again! Paul dives into his usual plethora of subject matter, this time covering big screens and LCDs, DVD movies on PCs, and the ever-popular Partition Magic.
Let Us Visualize For A Moment...
For those who don’t know, I really like that Geforce 3 Titanium 500 that I purchased from Leadtek. It drives my 21” Viewsonic P225 monitor at 1920x1440x32 all day long, and having that much real-estate is extremely productive for me. As the image below-left shows (in 800x600 for space savings), I have a MS word window open on the left, and the web on the right so I can create my articles while I do research at the same time. Having that much space available makes everything easy. I can create large spreadsheets, complex graphics, manage screen shots, handle ICQ chats and listen to my tunes in Music Match without losing a step. Dual monitors may be a wonderful thing for many, but if you want to minimize desk space requirements, a single huge monitor is a great way to do it.
Big screens, however, don’t come cheap. Mine was about $900 in fact. If you are going to buy one for yourself, I’m confident that you will want to ensure that you have the best display quality you can get. To help you with that, there is a great program that I was made aware of from my hardware review days called Nokia Monitor Test. It is a small, free application that can really run your monitor through its paces. The image above-right shows the software in action at 800x600x32. With Nokia Monitor Test you can quickly examine the quality of the image, thanks to screens for focus, convergence, geometry, brightness and contrast, readability and screen regulation, among others. It is one of the most useful pieces of software that I have found, and since it fits on a floppy disk, you can take it with you to the store and test it on a series of monitors. When you find one you are really happy with, you can have them box that exact monitor up for you to take home. I actually brought my mid-tower machine over to a shop, plugged a bunch of monitors into it and ran Nokia Monitor Test until I found one that had the quality I needed for such high-resolution work. You can download a copy of the program here.
To clarify my feelings on LCD displays, it is not that I don’t like them. It is just that I think they are not ready for prime time yet. Geometry may be perfect, but this “native resolution” issue can be a problem. I would normally run at the maximum, let’s say 1600x1200 on an 18” Viewsonic LCD. However, for some applications, let’s say close-in editing of bitmap or vector graphics, I may want to change to 1024x768 or even 800x600. When I do this, things can start looking a bit ugly depending on the model of LCD I have. Fonts can look very jagged, the desktop may be stretched out and unclear, etc. There are LCD’s (like those on some Dell Laptops) that let you center your lower-resolution image on the screen so that it takes up only 800x600 actual pixels, for instance. The rest of the screen defaults to a black border on all 4 sides. This method actually works very well, especially for gaming. The only thing left is to make sure the “refresh rate” of the LCD is very fast, because ghosting is something we should just not have to put up with. It makes your eyes tired when you are scrolling in your browser or office programs and makes fast, first person gaming much harder. Maybe in a year or two things will be a lot better and prices will go down, but until then, I’m glad we have the CRT to fall back on.
Bits & Bytes...
Last Ramblings I started this little “Pre-FM CD” Track of the Week thing to commemorate all of those wonderful CD’s that existed before the age of the RIAA Copy Protection fiasco, where damaged music is being pushed upon the unwashed masses, such as myself. It is not technically a “Track of the Week”, more like “Track of the Article”, but it did not come out sounding as good, so Track of the Week it is. In the sprit of a 28 day month, I figured I would put out three of them to make up for the missing days. It is so nice not having drop-outs in my legally purchased music! So, without further delay:
The HP-Compaq shareholder vote on the merger (discussed in a previous article) is set for March 19th, according to various news sources. Both sides have displayed some serious brinksmanship, and the final vote will mark the culmination of the process. To say that Carly Fiorina and the HP board have had a contentious relationship with the families of the founders would be an understatement. The validity of the families board credentials have been challenged in an effort to force them out of HP altogether, while the other side, family members have been waging a nasty proxy fight, going so far as to contact shareholders directly to drum up opposition for the merger. Not only have they been duking it out in the boardroom, they have been pugilistic in the press. In response to certain leading statements made by Miss Fiorina, members of the family have in essence called her a purposeful liar intent on manipulating the vote in her favor.
The fallout from this historic vote could be substantial. Whomever loses is likely on the way out, which means that a large faction will no longer be there supporting the company. If the family members win, there will probably be a mass exodus from the board followed quickly by the CEO herself. In that case, it will take months for HP to get back on track and present a stable, unified front. Conversely, if the family members lose, they may very well withdraw their support, leaving a bitter resentment not only by them but HP traditionalists throughout the industry. Couple that with the massive debt incurred from the merger and the subsequent department and personnel slashing that is likely to occur, and you have a recipe for a weaker HP in the short term. Based on all that has gone on, it looks like a lose-lose proposition either way.
A kind and thoughtful person who read the Fair Use article sent me a link to an amazing little piece of software called SmartRipper that lets you easily rip your DVD’s to a space on your hard drive so that you can make legal backups of your movies. While I don’t yet have a DVD burner, I was able to successfully rip DVD’s to the hard drive for playback. There were some issues with the proper soundtrack and screen ratio’s being selected, but beyond that it worked quite well. So, if you have a DVD burner, you can now make backups of your movies, which comes in handy if your kids like to use your disks for Frisbees as they play in the sand box.
Oh, Oh, It’s Magic...
A little bit ago, someone I knew bought a new machine and had an extra Pentium 233 with 64 meg and a 6 gig hard drive to spare. They decided to donate it to someone who was an intern at their company, as they had no computer of their own to use for term papers, etc. After I had formatted the machine into a single FAT-32 partition and spent some 8 hours loading up all of the software, I was finished and happy with the performance of the installation. However, when it became clear that the person would need a recovery image because they did not have familiarity with reloading an operating system and software should something go wrong, I smirked a bit because I could not image the machine with Norton Ghost because the system had no second drive and no CD burner. After the painful image of reloading flashed in my mind, I got smart and turned quickly to Partition Magic.
I Have The Power!
There are very few killer utilities out there, but when you get your hands on one, you just have to share it with the crowd. There is this awesome program out there called PowerDesk, and it puts Windows file management to shame. The best part is, it is 100% free for the basic version.
SIDEBAR: My least favorite format is ACE because the program is annoyingly filled with glitzy adware and I’d rather my archiving software be quiet and out of the way. Next to WinZip, PowerDesk is as good as it gets, and perhaps even better depending on how you have the panes setup.
Privacy In IE 6
One of the features that IE 6 touts is the management of cookies. However, the feature applies only to the Internet Zone and is not uniformly implemented. For instance, even if you specifically tell IE to block cookies from certain sites, if you put them in the Trusted Sites Zone, they can save cookies to your drive anyway. Conversely, if you put a site in the Restricted Sites Zone, all cookies will be blocked regardless of your privacy settings. It would have been nice if you could set cookies on a case by case basis for each zone, but even when taken in context of a single zone, the cookie management is pretty decent.
There are some sites that I place in the Trusted Sites Zone, such as WindowsUpdate. Microsoft.Com, and regardless of the settings I put in the Privacy dialog, cookies will show up. That leaves me with the Restricted Sites Zone. This is a zone that I’m getting fond of. By default, I set everything to a High security level, and then make a single change to enable Active Scripting. It is in this zone that I put sites that I frequent but can’t access without scripting. In Restricted, cookies are blocked by default, so all I have to worry about is the scripting. If the site does not let me access it without cookies, I may end up putting it in the Trusted Zone, at least for the duration of the visit, but I usually bypass sites with such limits whenever I can. If I can get the same files somewhere else, I’ll go that extra mile to visit another site. Ideally, Internet Explorer would allow you to set scripting and cookie preferences for each and every site you visit, but given the realities involved, I guess we are stuck with what they are offering, at least for now. Still, it is not a bad setup really.
Another place to look for key IE 6 settings is the Advanced tab under Tools / Internet Options. It is here that I turn off Smooth Scrolling, tell the program not to search from the address bar, turn off auto image resizing, turn on inline auto complete for web addresses and enable the printing of background images and coloring.
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