The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

New Camera

We bought a new camera. Finally, we’ve splurged and bought a Nikon D40X Digital SLR. Not a planned purchase – an opportunity came up to buy one second-hand. It had barely been used and is in perfect condition. About 2/3 of retail – you can’t sneeze at a chance like that!

SWMBO went snapping…

A couple of gratuitous pics from in the garden:

Easycap or Easycrap?

We bought one of those video capture devices on ebay. It’s an EASYCAP DC60.

It plugs into your computer through a USB port and is supposed to let you digitise the output from a TV, camcorder, VCR, etc.

These things are all over the place, made very cheaply in China.

They have one big drawback, which we found to our cost. The software stinks. Getting the drivers for the damn thing to install proved impossible, in spite of 3 hours of trying all manner of cunning tricks.

In the end I did stack of searching using the ever-helpful Mr Google. This led me to a bunch of other drivers that might or might not be suitable. I even eventually found the manufacturer of the Easycap – in Shenzhen, China. They even have downloads from their web site!

But nothing at all that I downloaded and tried would work.

Finally, though, I proved I AM THE GEEK. I sorted the damn thing. Well, almost. We have video coming through now just fine, but the audio capture part of it does not work. But we can feed the audio into the sound card on the PC so we have a moderately satisfactory work-around.

So, for those who have the good fortune to buy an EasyCap DC60 that seems to not work when you install the drivers, here is the recipe:

Step 1. Plug the thing into the USB socket on your PC. Windows should identify the new device and burble away a bit, then prompt for where to find the drivers. Cancel at that point. Then open up the Device Manager (you can run devmgmt.msc from Start->Run). You should see a video capture device with a big yellow ? by it, indicating an uninstalled device.

Step 2. Double click the video capture device, to get the Properties page open. Click the details tab. You should see something saying “Device Instance List”. Under that should be something a bit like this:

USB\VID_05E1&PID_0408\5&14FFBCD&0&1

The important parts here are that the number next to VID must be 05E1 and the number next to PID must be 0408. If you don’t see this, give up, I can’t help you any more. The parts after the “\” following the PID number are not so important.

Step 3. Close the properties page, then click once on the video capture device and press DELETE to delete the device. Unplug it. You must delete the device from Device Manager!

Step 4. Take the CD supplied with the device, put it in your CD drive, then BROWSE the CD. Find the folder full of drivers. Copy that folder to your hard drive, into a temporary place (c:\temp, for example).

Step 5. In the folder of drivers, locate the file called OEM.INF. Open the file in notepad. You will find some lines that look like this:

[SYNTEK]
%StkAMiniDescription%=SYNTEK.USBDCAM,USB\Vid_05E1&Pid_0400&MI_00
%StkAMiniDescription%=SYNTEK.USBDCAM,USB\Vid_05E1&Pid_0408&MI_00

The part you are most interested in is this part:

….USB\Vid_05E1&Pid_0408&MI_00

There may be other such parts through the file, so you need to look throughout.

DELETE from the end of the line the portion “&MI_00″, so that the text now looks like:

…..USB\Vid_05E1&Pid_0408

Locate ALL lines in the file that are similar and similarly delete the stuff that comes after the PID number. The file is big and this is tedious. Deal with it.

Step 6. Save the file. The run the setup program that comes with the driver files. Then plug the device into the USB port. When prompted to install drivers, select to install from a location, and give the location as the temporary place where you put and edited the driver files (ie c:\temp\blah, or whatever). There should be some more burbling by windows and it will complete the installation OK.

Step 7. Fiddle about with the supplied ULEAD video studio software and see what you can see. You should have video capture!

Q: Why does this work?

Answer: The supplied driver and installer is trying to match the Vendor ID (VID) and Product ID (PID) of the device, to the Vendor ID and Product ID in the installation file. Normally the bit that comes after the product ID is some kind of revision – used to tell different versions of the product apart.

It looks like the PRODUCT revision is different to the revision expected by the drivers. By deleting the revision part in the driver INF file, Windows does a coarse match instead of a fine match, installs the driver (which it would not previously do on the grounds they did not match). And all is tickety-boo.

Budget Rant

The new government has announced a series of small changes to taxes & charges in the recent Budget.

For the most part, I can’t really grizzle too much. Though they could have gone further in some areas.

So just for the heck of it, here’s a bit of an opinionated budget-rant.

The Laptop Computer Scam

How this has lasted as long as it did is beyond me. The arrangement used to be that you could salary sacrifice to buy a laptop PC using pre-tax income. This gave an effective discount on the sticker price of 30% to 40% depending on income.

Then, you could claim depreciation each year on the cost of the machine – but the depreciation was claimed on the amount paid, even though paid with pre-tax income. Effectively, you were claiming depreciation on the cost, not the amount paid in after-tax dollars. The long term effect was that when written off completely over a period of 5 or so years, the laptop PC would have cost LESS than nothing. In other words, us other taxpayers were paying a subsidy to those who bought the laptop and then claimed depreciation.

The changes mean that laptops need to be substantiated and used for work purposes, it seems the ability to depreciate will be removed, though that’s not completely clear.

Removal of a a double-benefit like this is No Bad Thing.

Means-testing of benefits

The baby bonus (also know as the plasma-TV bonus) will be means-tested and paid in forthnightly installments instead of a lump sum.

The means-test is probably no bad thing, though with all the other zillions of family benefits, assistances, and so on that are available, I don’t really see why we need a specific baby bonus anyhow. It was just pork-barrelling by the previous government.

As for payment in 13 easy instalments… I wonder how long it will be before the big electrical retailers are offering big-ticket items that can be paid in EXACTLY 13 easy instalments?

Similarly, the previous Family Tax Benefit B will be means-tested. Probably no bad thing, after all, why should my taxes be used to subsidise the private school fees and fashionable clothing for the already well-off?

No doubt a stack of public servants will need to be employed to check and police all this stuff. I’ve never understood Family Tax Benefit B, and have never claimed it. I suspect I should amend a few years of past income tax returns, but I just can’t be bothered trying to find what it’s about. Besides, I don’t want the government to know any more about me than they already do, so keeping out of the evil clutches of the social security dept and tax office is a Good Thing.

Means Testing the Photo-Voltaic Rebate

Now (tah-dah) CONTENTIOUS TIME. This one I do have a problem with.

In short, households with an income of over $100K won’t get the rebate if they install a solar photo-voltaic system. The PV rebate is worth a LOT of money – something like $8K, or similar.

The logic here is, again, something along the lines of: Why provide middle-class welfare?

And that’s fine and dandy on the face of it, but it’s a bit more subtle in this case.

The new government are green-house believers, Kyoto-protocol-signers, who want to see Australia cut its emissions of CO2.

If they are serious, they need to look at the cost of energy from many sources. Markets are normally driven by prices, and energy from coal and gas is CHEAP. To move away from these energy sources to something more expensive is not going to happen unless there is a good short-term incentive. (A few rare people will shell out their hard-earned for a long term payback, but this is the exception, not the rule.)

Solar power is not cheap, its very expensive, mainly because of the up-front purchase price of the panels. But Australia is blessed with a lot of sunshine, and the amount of power from the sun amounts to about 1 kW per square metre. The efficiency of conversion means it’s very difficult to extract more than about 25% of that, but we do have a lot of roof area in the nation! If you had to choose a country to roll out a lot of solar power, Australia ranks up in the top few.

Fundamentally, the government message is “we are terribly worried about greenhouse”. They go off hand-wringing, and then offer an incentive only to the working poor to do anything about it. Even after the PV rebate, the cost of installing solar panels is thousands of dollars. Few people with a household income below $100K can afford an up-front hit of $2K to $5K (with the rebate picking up the balance). On the other hand, those who are deemed to be well-off CAN afford to spend some of their own money, and usually have both the social conscience and income to want to do something.

So by putting this means-test in place, the government show themselves to be massive hypocrites. The take-up of solar power will plummet because the well-off who would have paid a few thousand will now be expect to pay about 3 to 5 times as much, and the not-so-well-off won’t be able to afford the smaller amount they would need to pay anyhow. CLEVER MOVE, NOT.

What age?

Today the oldest came home from school with a big letter & form about the kiddies applying for a Tax File Number. He’s nearly 15, by the way.

It seems that they are going to be taught about The Importance Of Tax File Numbers, and such like.

Further, they can register for a tax file number (which, in Australia, you keep for life). The registration process is somewhat more relaxed than required by a normal Joe Citizen.

But all this raises the issue of our Governments having their cake and eating it too:

  • You can get a tax file number at any age, so the government can track you as a good little citizen: You are good enough to lodge a tax return every year.
  • But you can’t drink alcoholic thingies until you are 18 years old.
  • You can’t operate a bank account or sign a contract until you are 18. Before then you are not considered to be a “natural person”.
  • But you can get married at 16 with parents consent, and 18 otherwise.
  • And you can drive a car from age 16!

Why, oh, why, is there no uniformity in any of this?

Why can you drive a car if you can’t sign a contract to buy it, or insure it?

Why can you have a tax file number and lodge a tax return when you don’t exist as a person in the eyes of the law?

And how can juniors be employed?

Ah! With parental consent!

But this is all crazy, if not good enough to do one thing, surely a person should be not good enough to do the others!

Madness all around us! Yet another example.

Water… more water…

Finally we have bit of rain in lil-ole Adelaide.

Which reminds me, that water bill came in the other day. Our 1/2 year consumption from August 2007 until March 2008 was 157 kL.

The same period last year (also on restrictions, just not so heavy) was 256 kL.

And two years ago (so August 2005 to March 2006) was only 159 kL.

Conclusion: we have had 2 very dry years, and in this last year we did significantly reduce the consumption. Surprisingly, though, it still amounts to about 860 litres PER DAY !

And this with all the sprinkler systems turned off, very limited watering using drippers, carting buckets out from the shower and tipping the dishwashing water on the lawn.

I’m stunned how much water we use.

The geek songbook – part 1

With a few wee technical troubles at work, I’ve been contributing to the intellectual discussion by more poetry. Then I decided that the BLUES were the go.

Turns out writing anything much as a blues tune is a snap. Just put yourself in the mind of some big soulful black American, grab a bunch of cliches, and go.

Completely off topic of the work technical troubles, this one just came to me. Any under the age of about 40 won’t have a clue what any of this is about.

Oh ah got the blues…
the IBM acronymn blues…

See mah DASD has stopped a spinnin
Mah IPL wont load
Mah VTAMs gone to hell n back
And ah dont know what to do

Ah got the blues
The IBM acronymn blues

Mah TSO won’t login
Mah SPF’s in smoke
Ah can’t get past the CMS
And mah MVS aint stoked

Ah got the blues
The IBM acronymn blues

See now mah JCL has hit the fan
Mah CICS aint kickin ass
Mah IMS cant index
Aaaaaaaaand the COBOLs in the pan

Ah got the bluessssssssssssss
The Iiii Bbbbbbbb Mmmmmmmm acronymn bluesssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

Now if this is what I can do in 5 minutes at lunch break, just imagine what I can do given 1/2 an hour !

Gordo!

We’ve become avid viewers of “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares”.

It becomes easy, after the first episode or two, to ignore young Gordon’s language, and instead concentrate on the message.

Some of the places and practices that Ramsay finds just defy belief. How some people could do what they do, so badly, and so ignorantly… amazing!

Watching this has led me to view all food we either buy or cook in a new light. I’m convinced that in Adelaide we are spoiled, there are so many restaurateurs who know what they are doing, and who clearly make a quid from doing it. There is also a lot of pretty mediocre rubbish around as well. I’ve begun to view everything as a critic: “What would Ramsay say?”. The work canteen would definitely score “Bloody disgusting” about 3 out of 5 days in every week.

He’s an interesting chap, though, Mr Ramsay. After we found the show was on, a few months ago SWMBO found his autobiography (aptly titled “Humble Pie”) in the local library. It becomes easier to understand how he is what he is after reading this. He had a terrible childhood, with a father who was delusional, abusive, and forever escaping creditors. The family must have moved on average every 8 or 9 months. It was so bad he left home aged about 16. This description does no justice. Reading the book, for the first few chapters, was simply eye-popping. Somebody growing up in an environment like that is bound to be either defeated, or relentlessly driven.

It’s a fascinating show, and seeing the practices in some restaurants is appalling. It’s a wonder more people don’t get food poisoning. It also explains a few bouts of gastro I’ve had over the years, usually a day or two after eating out.

If you haven’t watched it, give it a go. Tune out the bad language.

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