Saturday, 22 July 2006

Topfield 5800 firmware upgrade 5.12.88 - Bastille Day update

If you've got the superb Topfield 5800 PVR, not only has there been a much improved new English manual but there's also a firmware update you can now download, known as the Bastille Day update after its release date.

It was made available to users of the excellent forum last weekend (which is when I installed it), and is now generally available for download - see Nigel Whitfield of's clear instructions on how to upgrade your Toppy's firmware via USB, for both PC and Mac users. (See also the pages on the firmware upgrades and summary of Bastille Day upgrade's key features and improvements.)

I had no trouble with doing the update and it's all working beautifully, including my existing TAPs.

CCTV watching what??

In the Marble Arch pedestrian subway complex in London, someone (very tall, or armed with stepladder) has added some pertinent graffiti in relation to this rather oddly-aimed CCTV camera positioned towards the top of a high wall:

CCTV camera pointing at top of blank wall
(as pointed out by Kevin Anderson on the way to Speaker's Corner at last weekend's Copyfighters London meet).

We speculated that perhaps they were monitoring the growth of fungus or the like... Awww, it's nice to know the council cares so much about our environment...

SI units: free guide - yocto, katal etc

A National Physical Laboratory insert in the latest New Scientist has a boxout offering a free pocket guide to SI units (International System of Units) if you email your name and postal address to

Call me sad, but as I've never been able to tell yotta from yocto I've already emailed them for a copy. Alternatively, as they themselves suggested, I could just be hoping to get the edge in pub quizzes...

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Topfield 5800 PVR: excellent new English manual

The Topfield 5800 PVR is to me the best Freeview-enabled personal video recorder (PVR), aka digital video recorder or DVR, around.

I chose it after some research and despite a few quirks in its operation the Toppy, as it's affectionately known by its fans, is easily tops as far as I'm concerned: 250 GB hard drive for recording (don't bother with the 160GB version), built-in Freeview digital TV with twin tuners so you can record 2 programs at the same time while watching a previous recording (or in some cases a third and even fourth TV channel), chase play as is standard for PVRs, electronic programme guide (EPG) for ease of scheduling recordings, ability to add extra Top Up TV pay TV channels, upgradeable firmware (with regular updates provided e.g. another in a few days), USB connectivity (with ability to transfer to your PC and archive to DVD), MP3 playback, loads of other features yet you can also download loads of free or cheap programs called TAPS (Topfield Application Programs) to tweak or enhance its functionality (which you can write for yourself if you're braver than me), and last but certainly not least a large, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helpful user community who provide superb support at all levels. (No DVD playback and it's not HDTV-ready, however.)

Expect a full review soon, but the main purpose of this post is to let anyone who already has a Topfield 5800 PVRT set top box know that the fab users website recently announced the release of a new and much improved English manual written for the UK market, which is a zillion times better than the somewhat cryptic and all too brief manual that came with previous units. It's meant to be included as standard in the next Toppy shipments from Korea, if you're about to buy one, but is also available for free download as a PDF manual.

If you have a Toppy already, do yourself a favour and download a copy, it's very well and clearly written even for complete AV beginners bar a couple of minor typos and assumptions as to level of AV knowledge - but do try this post if you don't even know how to connect gear to a TV - and explains how to set up and use the Toppy from scratch, including some tips and tricks I didn't know about.

Free computer books, more pictures less words

For anyone who's not yet heard, In Pictures are "for a limited time" offering free downloads of books in PDF format on a variety of basic Internet/Web and computer-related topics such as HTML and CSS, Dreamweaver 8, Photoshop CS2, including Web programming subjects like MySQL, PHP, Perl, and even Microsoft Office software like Access 2003, Excel 2003, Word 2003. They've not forgotten open source office productivity programs either, with books on OpenOffice software such as Writer. At a more basic level there are books on e.g. Windows XP, Mac OS X Tiger and Linspire Five-O. See the InPics site for their full list of books.

Their philosophy, as is evident from their name, is to base their books on pictures not text, which many beginners will welcome. I've downloaded a few of the files and though I've not read them all cover to cover yet they look excellent for the beginner, and of course the focus on pictorial tutorials makes them much less intimidating than very wordy books. Certainly those new to blogging could do worse than download the HTML and CSS book, for instance. Obviously the more advanced won't find these books as helpful.

Each "screen-quality" downloadable PDF file is free, a print-quality file costs US $3.95 and you can buy a hard copy spiral bound copy of the book for US $14.95 - a very sensible tiered approach.

If you're interested do download them while you can, I'm not sure how long they'll be free for.

(Via Creative Commons blog)

Sunday, 9 July 2006

Cat loses domain name dispute - Meow!

Commiserations to Meow, Baroness Penelope Cat of Nash DCB, Worcestershire, who recently lost ownership of the domain name when investment bank Morgan Stanley, who understandably wanted that name for itself, took Meow to the National Arbitration Forum set up by ICANN. Awwwwwww. So the big bad banks are even going after poor widdle cats now. Even if they could be cats from outer space.

Yes, the domain name was indeed registered in the name of a cat (by Michael Woods, a management consultant concerned about the "deformation" of his character who said the disputed domain name was used as an example in his seminars on the failure by well-known companies to register obvious domain names).

But arbitration panellist Richard Hill found in his decision that:

Respondent is not a common cat, that is not a Felix domesticus.

It's not every day that you can say an arbitration decision makes great Sunday afternoon light reading, but this one's a good laugh:

Respondent alleges that it is a cat (sic: the domestic pet). According to Respondent, it allows Mr. Woods (a human) to use the domain name registration in providing a service...

Respondent maintains that it is a cat, that is, a well-known carnivorous quadruped which has long been domesticated. However, it is equally well-known that the common cat, whose scientific name is Felis domesticus, cannot speak or read or write. Thus, a common cat could not have submitted the Response (or even have registered the disputed domain name). Therefore, either Respondent is a different species of cat, such as the one that stars in the motion picture “Cat From Outer Space,” or Respondent’s assertion regarding its being a cat is incorrect.

If Respondent is in fact a cat from outer space, then it should have so indicated in its reply, in order to avoid unnecessary perplexity by the Panel. Further, it should have explained why a cat from outer space would allow Mr. Woods to use the disputed domain name. In the absence of such an explanation, the Panel must conclude that, if Respondent is a cat from outer space, then it may have something to hide, and this is indicative of bad faith behavior.

On the other hand, if Respondent’s assertion regarding its being a cat is incorrect, then Respondent has undoubtedly attempted to mislead this Panel and has provided incorrect WHOIS information. Such behavior is indicative of bad faith. See Video Direct Distribs. Inc. v. Video Direct, Inc., FA 94724 (Nat. Arb. Forum June 5, 2000) (finding that the respondent acted in bad faith by providing incorrect information to the registrar regarding the owner of the registered name); see also Quixtar Invs., Inc. v. Smithberger, D2000-0138 (WIPO Apr. 19, 2000) (finding that use of false registration information constitutes bad faith).

Respondent cites Morgan Stanley v. Michael Woods, FA 604103 (Nat. Arb. Forum Jan. 16, 2005), in which the Panel found that Complainant had failed to prove bad faith registration and use. But that case must be distinguished from the present case, because in that case the Respondent was Mr. Woods, and not a cat or someone who has misled the Panel by pretending to be a cat.

The Panel finds that Respondent’s assertions that it is a cat provide sufficient evidence to conclude that the Respondent registered and is using the disputed domain name in bad faith. And this despite the fact that the Panel, unlike Queen Victoria, is amused.

Via Out-law.

Freecorder: free audio recording and capture software

I've been looking for a nice simple free audio recorder which will just record whatever sound is being played on my PC, such as music which is being streamed over the Net to your computer. Finally I've found decent free audio capture software in the form of Freecorder, which records to MP3 files. It's from Applian Technologies, whose blurb says: "Freecorder does exactly as it sounds -- it is an easy-to-use FREE software program that lets you record sounds on your PC. The benefits: Records what you hear from your speakers. Saves recordings as MP3 files. Easy to use. BONUS: Record Skype™ Phone Calls."

There's a more advanced full version of this sound recorder, but you can download the basic version (which they make available as a "demo") for free.

It's very easy to use, as they claim. Click the Record button to start recording; if necessary start playing whatever it is you want to record (remember it just records what's being played via your PC speakers); click Stop when it's over or you want to stop recording; and name and save the resulting MP3 file (if it's set to prompt you for the filename after recording), and that's it. Though it's dead easy to use they also provide a helpful screencast (though some of the features mentioned are disabled in the free version), plus user guide including step by step instructions/tutorial, and decent support pages generally.

The main thing to watch is the settings, see below - it takes you through the settings when you first launch it, and you need to choose the correct sound card from the dropdown (for some reason mine defaulted to something peculiar so it recorded nothing until I cottoned on and changed it). I also chose to Prompt for File Name After Recording as I thought that was more convenient. Haven't tried recording Skype VOIP calls over the Net yet, but I would be surprised if it didn't work.

There are limitations to the freeware version, which shows ads. You can only record at 64 kbps not 128 kbps, i.e. the recordings are of lower quality. You can't pause a recording, you have to let it run (though you could edit it later with the free Audacity). You can't tick "Eliminate silence" to get rid of silences from your recordings, and it records for only 30 minutes at a time generally (or 2 mins for Skype or other VOIP calls, according to their site). You can't get it to automatically name files with a time stamp or add title tags to MP3s either (though again you can add tags to the MP3s later with other software). You can of course have all that and other features if you upgrade for US$19.95 which, if you do a lot of recording of Net radio shows and the like, is I think well worth it for what you'd get.

If you wonder what the "Advanced Recording Options" in the Settings are (Record internet radio shows, streaming music, streaming video) though, so do I. Clicking those just opens a blank browser window, for me. I suspect from the Freecorder user guide that they're just to ads for other programs by Applian designed to record internet radio, etc. You can of course record short lengths of streaming music using Freecorder Basic anyway.

Yes, there's other free software (like the open source Audacity) which will record streaming music, or whatever music or audio is being played on your speaker, too. But this is a nice, simple single-function program, and I do like the elegance of single purpose tools that do whatever it is they do easily and well, especially when they're well-explained, well-supported and free (like the free audio file converter NHC Switch which I reviewed a while back).

Printing Web pages without cut off text

When you try to print certain Web pages or HTML files, the text sometimes gets cut off horizontally in the printout - the last few words of each line just won't print, though you can see them fine on the page in your browser. But there are solutions to this very annoying problem, which I've found it to be a pain especially with Internet Explorer.

The most obvious one is to select or highlight the text you want to print, go to a blank wordprocessing document or blank email, paste it in there, and print the document or email. That works, but involves a few steps which lazy people like me may wish to avoid if possible (plus, I'm hopeless at trying to select text properly with the mouse, I'm always selecting all sorts of other things too).

Another way is just to go the Webpage via the fab free browser Firefox (see the link in my sidebar to get Firefox). I've noticed that some pages which won't print properly in IE will print fine, in full, if you print them via Firefox.

The final possible solution I know of is, again, to use Firefox. (.) Then install the Web Developer Toolbar extension for Firefox (how to install Firefox extensions). Go to the problem Web page in Firefox. Make sure you can see the web developer toolbar (if not, go to the menu View, Toolbars and make sure Web Developer Toolbar is ticked). Then click the Miscellaneous button in that toolbar and choose "Linearize page". That will strip any tables. You can then print the page as usual and it will print with the full text, nothing cut off (alternatively you can just select part of the linearised page and print that - it should also work this way). Thanks to Jasper for the tip!