nullstream weblog - March 2005

Desktop Background Utility

Cool Tech

March 30, 2005 10:32 PM PST

As promised, here's the Microsoft desktop background changer. It automatically changes your desktop background on a user-definable period. Scroll down to the "Winter Fun Pack 2004 for Windows XP" and select it. I think you have to be in IE for the validator to work (it validates that your copy of XP is activated).

Since it's from Microsoft, I figured this was the best way to go, given the other sketchy shareware solutions out there. It basically lets you select a directory and cycles through images in that directory. The standard placement options, etc. are there. It runs in the taskbar so you can tell it jump to the next image and stuff. I set my XP taskbar options to "always hide" it, so it's not that intrusive. It does what I need it to do, although there are a few peeves:

Comments (4)

Mobile Google

Cool Tech

March 28, 2005 10:56 PM PST

This weekend went live explaining all the mobile search features available at google. Ars has an article about it here. From the article it looks like there is controversy brewing since it reformats pages and possibly strips out ads, and 'could' add its own. I'm going to stay out of that debate. It do think it is pretty cool that it proxies sites and reformats them to fit on a small screen. I all ready use skweezer on my pocketPc to do something similar for those 'difficult' sites. This type of reformatting is pretty much required for smart phones due to the limited resolution.
I'm going to play with it a bit through out the week and see what I think. You can play with the search site here if you want to see what it does.
It goes without saying that Paul won't be able to comment on this. Blink once if you use it, twice if you don't.

Comments (5)

Article about the Cell processor

Cool Tech

March 28, 2005 02:45 PM PST

AnandTech has a pretty technical article on the Cell processor. Excluding a section in the middle on how CMOS gates work (yawn) it gives a very interesting overview of what the thing is and the design tradeoffs that were made.

Comments (0)

Restaurant Blog


March 27, 2005 11:57 PM PST

To take a break from tech once and a while on the site - I'd like to periodically mini-review good restaurants in the Seattle area. This isn't as off-topic as it sounds. I find that geek types (assuming most nullstream readers are), are actually really into a wide variety of foods. People outside tech culture would probably assume nerds would stick with white bread, pringles and Jolt. Instead, I've found tech people to be some of the best versed in non-american food. My theory is that the relatively high number of people from Asian and Indian cultures that work in the tech industry have influenced the eating habits, and once the floodgates were open...

Before we do a review, take a look at TastingMenu's Seattle restaurant blog. The author has talked up Lampreia so much, I can't wait to go!

Comments (11)

1600x1200 Desktop Wallpaper


March 27, 2005 05:23 PM PST

Large format, high resolution desktop wallpapers and backgrounds (1600x1200) and larger aren't easy to find. Even through Google's image search, there's not a whole lot that comes up. This will hopefully change with the increase of high quality digital cameras, photoblogs and creative commons licenses.

Here are two sites that have awesome large format desktop wallpaper:

I'll follow up with a post to freeware that can be used to cycle your dektop backgrounds automatically.

Comments (9)

Google OS / thin clients / hosted apps


March 25, 2005 12:41 AM PST

Every week more stuff about Google building their own OS, yadda yadda yadda. Here is just a sample:

Article on OSNews.
Another one on Cnet
One on Microsoft watch about Ajax killing the smart client
And another blog post just being contrary to those above

I donít really want to speculate about if Google is or is not doing it. Paul canít comment anyway. Iím more interested in discussing if there is a good reason to do it. And if there is, how to do it. And by Ďití Iím talking about a thin client, hosted app model where all of your apps and data sit on some big server farm far away. Oh and by Ďyourí I mean some Ďcommoní user, not uber geeks that live and breath tech all day. Any thoughts? As always Iíve got my own opinions but Iíll hold them back for a bit.

Comments (7)

That 3D Desktop Acceleration is so hot right now

Cool Tech

March 24, 2005 11:45 AM PST

OSX and Longhorn are going to do it. Now Xorg is going ahead with a GL based window manager. You can check out some info on it here and here.

Comments (6)

BBC's The Office


March 21, 2005 03:33 PM PST

The Office on BBC is the funniest set of shows/DVDs of 2004. Funnier than Napoleon Dynamite? Yes. More memorable lines than Dynamite? Yes.

Rent and watch at least the first DVD before you even think of watching the upcoming American version which starts Thursday. From what I've seen of the previews on the web of the US version, it looks horrible. They seem to be characterizing the boss as an obnoxious boor, and that's not true to the original. They appear to be channeling Lumberg from Office Space rather than David Brent from the original. I don't know why they don't just play the UK version here.

The beauty of The Office is that it is funny, but is also quite tragic. David Brent manages to be a horrible boss that you actually have empathy for - it's a fine line that reflects really amazing character development. The last few episodes are more sad than anything, and it's not until the Christmas specials that the characters are redeemed.

I'm really worried that the US version will totally ruin the experience of the UK show if you haven't already seen it, and that would be a shame. So check it out on DVD. I'll let you know how the new one is.

Comments (13)

Dell 20" Flat Screen


March 19, 2005 06:50 PM PST

There's been recent talk of dual monitors and flat panels. I recently bought Dell's Ultrasharp 2001FP, and absolutely love it. It's my first flat panel monitor, and I have no idea why I waited this long (well, the price maybe). These monitors via coupons on are typically $530 - $570 every couple of weeks. Nothing touches Dell on price/performance of LCD monitors.

I was initially torn between the 2005FPW (widescreen, 1680x1050, 12ms response), and the 2001FP (1600x1200, 16ms response). For games, and video cards that can't drive a full UXGA resolution, the widescreen might work out well. But for anything else, the 1600x1200 is the way to go. There's also a new 24" model that is 1920x1200 at 12ms, but it's about double the price.

I was worried the pixels (and hence, icons and text) would be too small - on a 19" CRT I run 1280x1024. An LCD, via DVI cable is so crisp that the size of the pixels don't bother me at all. Combined with ClearType for subpixel text antialiasing, this resolution is awesome. I was also concerned with the 16ms response, given that the latest panels have 12ms. I don't notice any ghosting at all on this display in common use or movie playback (don't have the video card for games yet).

The other obvious benefits of LCD are ease on the eyes, power savings and desktop footprint. My CRT looks totally blurry to me now that I'm used to flat panel. I'd almost suggest going LCD just to save your eyesight if you're a 8+ hour a day computer user.

This monitor also has some cool features like built in 4 port USB2 hub and vga, dvi, s-video and composite inputs that can be switched, and any input can be Picture in Picture. The monitor also rotates 90 degrees if you're into that.

The coolest thing about LCD via DVI is that you're looking directly at video memory! No analog interpolation, or blurry dots. When you look at those pixels - you're looking at the bits, man! The bits!

Comments (12)

Airplane Tricks


March 19, 2005 05:13 PM PST

Earlier this month, I got to fly a friend's private plane around the San Juan Islands. I've never flown before, but subtract takeoff, landings, and any emergency situation, and it's pretty much like Crimson Skies. This little two seater is actually a kit and was built by the pilot, a retired commercial airline pilot. It's got two seats; front and back, both pitch, yaw and throttle controls. I think it goes about 130 mph, and can do rolls, loops, etc. I got to fly it from the back seat for 20 minutes between about 1000 feet and 3000 feet.

It was a clear, crisp spring day...

Continue reading "Airplane Tricks"...

Comments (7)

Duke Nukem Forever?

March 18, 2005 12:46 AM PST

Umm, this project is still alive? Not only that but it has a new physics engine provided by a Swedish company named Megon. Ars has an article about it here. Like everything else in DNF this engine blows away everything else out there. :)Seriously though, if I were providing middleware for that project I'd insist on my money up front. A company could go out of business waiting for royality revenue from those guys.

Comments (0)

Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in April


March 14, 2005 12:28 AM PST

We should all be happy nerds in April if Apple releases Tiger in April. I was secretly hoping that Microsoft's XP x64 release in April would move Apple forward, and if this rumor is true, my last barrier to ordering the "mini" will be gone in April. Still unclear about the price structure of XP x64, but bundling Tiger with the Mini is a savings of $129 over buying a Mini today and upgrading.

I wrote "April" five six times in this post.

Comments (8)

More Daily Photos


March 12, 2005 01:02 AM PST

After seeing the excellent Daily Dose Of Imagery, I thought I'd post a link to another cool imagery site, which I've been visiting on and off since 1995: Astronomy Picture Of The Day (and archive):


For you Seattle-ites, check out these composite moonrise photos: here and here.

Comments (1)

Another Apple Rumor


March 8, 2005 05:08 PM PST

This time the Rumor is about the development of a mini-laptop running a stripped down version of OSX. It is supposed to fit in your pocket. Hmm OQO style? At any rate probably can't believe this one, not until there is a lawsuit at least.

Comments (16)

Microsoft Desktop Search


March 5, 2005 12:03 AM PST

Microsoft released a desktop search application a few months after Google. I never installed the Google app because I didn't like that it installed a little webserver/proxy on my machine. As far as I understand, it combined the contents of the Google web search with the contents of my drive. I'm sure it's an elegant solution, but it just goes beyond what I want to commit to for something as simple as searching my files.

I recently set up some new machines and therefore did the "install newest versions of software I could find" song and dance. I installed MS desktop search because the regular search is super slow and I was interested in also searching network drives and my email.

In the initial phase, you can specify what folders to scan. I picked a network drive, as well as my HDD, email, etc. I didn't think it would work correctly on the network drive. After a relatively quick initial indexing, I found that a search is incredibly fast! Just type a word or two, and up pops a window with 300 hits and their summaries, spanning emails, documents and files on the shared drive. Enter a contact name and all the emails, contact info, and any saved documents show up. You can easily filter on just emails, documents, or Web results. Pretty easy. Why wasn't this just implemented in the OS? MS: junk the built-in indexer, don't wait for longhorn and include this badboy in XP SP3.

Continue reading "Microsoft Desktop Search"...

Comments (7)

GMail on Pocket PCs


March 4, 2005 05:12 PM PST

I've avoided seriously considering Gmail since it came out because the site would not work on my mobile device. Earlier in the week I read a rumor that Google had implemented a basic HTML view for GMail in order to support older browsers and mobile devices - but it didn't work for me. - Until today that is! I guess it just took a while to roll it out. Now when I hit Gmail on my Ipaq I get a comment at the top of the page that says "For a better Gmail experience, use a fully supported browser." But other than that, the interface looks pretty usable.

Comments (3)

Netscape 8.0 supports dual engines

March 4, 2005 10:47 AM PST

Netscape 8
Hmm, I was surprised by a comment I read here that said the new Netscape, though based on Firefox, also supported using the IE rendering engine built into Windows. This is backed up on the Netscape site. If you hit a site that doesn't render correctly you can click an icon to switch to the IE engine. You can also tell it to remember the choice for that site. Now that I think about it, why not? My favorite browser, Avant, is just a wrapper that leverages the existing IE engine. Firefox compatibility is really good, so this isn't that big an issues anymore, but it would have been really helpful back in the early Mozilla days.

Comments (29)

Friday Photo


March 4, 2005 12:55 AM PST

I pass this building regularly on my neighborhood walk.

Comments (3)

Programming Font


March 2, 2005 12:58 AM PST


I've been using a really nice font in Visual Studio, called ProFont. It looks like the old school Mac small font, and it's free here. I found it through Joel On Software's site.

[ Bonus points for noticing the bogus assertion ]

Comments (4)

Windows XP x64 in April


March 1, 2005 11:19 PM PST

Microsoft announced the x64 edition of XP will go golden master in April. I've got a few machines just waiting to install this on. I actually tested an early release through the beta program. The main issue was that I couldn't find a videocard with optimized drivers, even though both nVidia and ATI claim to have drivers optimized for the platform. So without a 64 bit Visual Studio, and with slow video performance - it wasn't really that fun to test or post a review here.

I'm interested to see how they roll the product out. Ideally it will be available as a low(er) cost OS upgrade for existing XP users. I also would expect to see an optimized compiler from Microsoft, and a new set of optimized applications. Divx encoding and game performance in particular should be very interesting.

Our SFF AMD64 review covers more of the performance benefits for the 64 bit platform.

Comments (11)

Sage RSS Reader


March 1, 2005 10:59 PM PST

I had written a long article about the tradeoffs of RSS and HTML for reading news, but Firefox crashed on me for the first time and I lost it. So the short version is: download the Sage Firefox extension for reading RSS feeds.

This extension is only 42KB and does exactly what I was looking for. It's a great, lightweight newsreader that is integrated well into Firefox. I still like reading news directly from the site, but Sage lets you know when there are new articles and you can preview them in a nicely laid out format. I thought I would miss the ability to automatically check for updates, but I find that the manual refresh to check all sites actually fits my browsing habits much more. I don't really want to be distracted by new posts popping up all the time.

Not only is Sage a really elegant newsreader, it's also open source. You can browse the full javascript and XUL source right online through a Web CVS interface. The code looks like a great learning tool. Sage and the Firefox/Thunderbird suite are a great demonstration of the cross platform UI that the Mozilla team has put together. Being able to write a full GUI app once that works across Windows, Linux and Mac OS X - in a framework that seems faster than Java could be very interesting. And the installation and upgrade of applications into this "browser platform" couldn't be easier.

You'll notice that there's now an RSS icon underneath the comments section in the navigation bar. Since you'll see updated sites with Sage, this feed is a listing of the latest comments for each entry. So you can not only subscribe to our posts (the main RSS feed), but also to comments people make to the posts. This is useful because it's not just John, Paul and I that generate interesting content here.

Comments (19)