New amplifiers

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Last month, as per my schedule of purchases, I bought 2 more amplifiers. These will serve zones 2 (dining room) and 4 (master bedroom). I ordered them from the same place as the first, despite having a rather unpleasant experience with the trader on eBay thanks to their appauling checkout/payment system and problems with their UK bank account (they are based in Germany).

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The first amplifier, for zone 1 (living room), is silver. I was a bit surprised to find that the 2 that I received were in black. I was hoping to get my rack looking tidy by keeping the same look throughout the cabinet. Black goes better with this scheme, but the silver one stands out now. To balance it out I’m hoping to get a silver one next. A note of appology was included with the amps, which includes a 5 euro discount on the next order. I probably won’t be getting the next amp for a while, to keep my budget under control having spent quite a bit on the matrix switcher.

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The VAMS-0808 matrix switcher and determining its protocol – part 2

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As I mentioned last month, I bid on and won an 8×8 AV matrix switcher on eBay. The switcher arrived the Monday following the Saturday that I won it (speediest delivery ever!), so I took it home and plugged it all in.

I rummaged around for a serial cable to connect the switcher to boron, the Ubuntu file server and found something that I thought would do the job. Sadly the switcher has a male connector, whereas for a standard serial cable it should be a male connection on each end. So, slightly disappointed, I went ahead and ordered a M-F serial extension from eBay, assuming that this would do the job. This attempt also failed – the matrix switcher would not respond to any of the commands that I thought it should, and nothing was being returned either. After a bit more research in the little documentation that I had I noticed that the switcher requires a cross-over cable AKA a null modem cable.

The next cable I ordered was a M-M cable, so I got an M-F converter at the same time. Success! I now have the ability to control the matrix switcher via the RS232 on boron.

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The following weekend I set about writing a prototype of the software to communicate with the switcher. The switcher operates in such a way that state is important, since switching channels requires at least 2 commands and at any time someone can press a button on the front panel to issue any command.

When a button is pressed on the front, a message is sent via the serial port to indicate the action that has taken place. Similarly, when an instruction is sent to the unit over the serial connection a reply is received indicating whether that command succeeded or not. Sometimes the switcher doesn’t notice that it’s been sent an instruction, so to get around that I ended up sending the same message up to 3 times.

The resulting prototype works quite well. I may release the source code at some point.

Here’s a video demonstrating the software and the switcher:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG0N6q7gqVg]

The iPod Touch

As mentioned a short while ago, I have managed to get my hands on an iPod Touch. Wow, it’s nice!

Apple have once again put a lot of work into their interface design and made the touchscreen work quite well. One odd thing though is the home button is a tactile one situated on the front surface at the bottom – I kept expecting to find some sort of ‘Home’ button on the touchscreen interface. You get used to it though.

We don’t have wifi at work at the moment, so I borrowed it for an evening to test it out on my connection at home. To start with I experienced quite a problem with dropped connections. The first time I tried to connect it was successful, but not long after that the connection dropped and the AP was not listed in the list of available networks. My brother, the only wifi user in the house, only occaisionally has problems with the wifi network so I didn’t think it was a problem with the trusty Linksys box but just in case I checked the cables and rebooted the access point. Got it working again in the end.

When I first turned on the iPod, having removed it from it’s elegant packaging, I went through the apps that were included. I had assumed that the latest software update would be installed as standard, but it turns out (unless I just received stale stock) that you have to pay for the latest version with the extra apps regardless of whether you’ve got a recent model or not. I wasnt going to pay the £12 for something that work owns, so I made do with trying out the basic apps – Safari, iTunes and YouTube.

For me, Safari is the most important app on the device. It’s what opens up the mini-tablet-PC to a world of possibilities. By playing with it I managed to get a feel for how pages are rendered, which plugins are supported (Flash isn’t, unfortunately, but QuickTime is) and how people have implemented web apps designed for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Some sites have trouble with javascript in the portable version of Safari which results in the site being slow to respond to clicks. This may be due to intensive processing or a limitation of the browser. There are also occaisionally problems with zoomed rendering of pages that have complex styles such as flexible rounded-corner designs, but it’s nothing serious.
Scrolling is pretty slick, using both drag and ‘flick’ gestures, though zooming can be tricky sometimes as it requires you to use an ‘expansion’ gesture which is a little difficult with one hand (the other hand holding the device).

iTunes is slightly more limited in terms of features than I expected, but it’s still quite a slick app. I think the emphasis will continue to be on using iTunes on a Mac/PC, but for quick purchases the iPod version is perfect.

The YouTube app is a great way to waste time watching random stuff, and it demonstrates how streaming video can be used on the iPod. When using Safari I discovered that you don’t need a native app to stream video – the built-in mini-version of QuickTime does the job.

I really like the iPod Touch, and as soon as I can justify the expense (considering I got my 40GB iPod Video – now called classic – in July last year) I will get one for myself and pay for the extra apps. It will also be used for my remote control project.

Earthquake Update

It would seem that my guesses were more or less correct – the largest earthquake in the UK for 25 years. Apparently most of the country felt it, so I think everyone knows how unnerving it feels! The BBC has an initial story on it here. The BGS site, which is responding a little better than it was at 1 am, also has a technical report on the quake. The BGS also has more general information on UK seismic activity.

Earthquake

At about 00:56 this morning, roughly 20 mins ago, I was awoken by some fairly vigorous shaking – a very unnerving experience. I’ve knowingly experienced one earthquake in the UK before, also at home, where I could hear a low level rumbling followed by noticeable shaking and land movement. This time round I was a whole lot more scared and confused because I was actually woken by it.

I’m sure it will make the news later today. I suspect that the eppicentre may have suffered quite some damage, assuming we weren’t that near to the eppicentre. The only thing I’ve noticed so far is that certain websites, which happen to be the top results in google for “earthquake uk”, are very difficult to get a hold of. If other connectivity issues occur it is possible that a connection may be damaged within the UK. The BBC News site is loading fine. The BBC have just picked up on the story.

Infernal

Not long ago I bought a pack of games on Steam for quite a big discount, but I’ve only got around to playing two of them so far. I’m currently stuck at the T-Rex part of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, but on Sunday I made my way through almost all of Infernal and have just spent a few minutes completing it.

The storyline has several twists, one from the start being that you’re playing the part of an ‘evil’ force which battles against ‘angels’, though it’s not the deepest plot I’ve encountered in a game. The best part about this game though is the graphics. The levels are stunning, and judging from the detail that has gone into them I would say that a significant part of the development of the game was dedicated to the level graphic design. It’s all accomplished without resorting to DX10 and shaders that require a graphics card from 2009 to run – I managed to run it at the highest settings with the top AA that it supports for the most part, only having to remove the AA for the last mission. They must have pulled some trickery to make the game look so good without causing the problems that plague Crysis (which is still on hold until I can beef my computer up enough).

It took most of the day on Sunday to complete, so there’s probably a good 8-9 hrs gameplay there, and I played it on easy cos I prefer enjoying the scenery and storyline to facing frustratingly difficult challenges.

The other games in the pack are: Just Cause, Kane and Lynch: Dead Men, Project: Snowblind, Rogue Trooper.