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I feel naked without my Zooomr

Posted by briandh on May 30, 2007

Things are looking a little bare around here at the moment – no photos.

Zooomr, where all my photos are hosted is currently down. They have not been having a very good time of it. It’s a bit like one of those good-news-bad-news stories:

  • They tried to launch their “Mark III” version of the site several weeks ago …
  • … and discovered they had seriously under-estimated the scale of the task so had to abandon it.
  • They then had a hard disk cough blood on them …
  • … and then nursed it back to health
  • They tried another launch a little over a week ago …
  • .. and it took longer than anticipate.
  • But they stuck with it and they got the site up yesterday …
  • … and their server crashed after 10 minutes.

I’ll not go into details here as you will find it being blogged about all over the place:

Zooomr Official Blog

Scobleizer

To anyone that says: “Oh, snivel snivel, I’ve lost all my photos – what have they DONE!” two things:

  1. Backups – they have them even if your too stupid to have made your own.
  2. It’s a free service on the Internet run by two guys on a shoe-string – see 1. above.

I truly hope it works out for them. It’s a fun site and the features promised in Mark III looked excellent.

Good luck guys.

Posted in digital photography, embarassment, frustration, zooomr | 1 Comment »

I went on holiday and took … no photos

Posted by briandh on May 5, 2007

We are just back from our fifth visit to Madeira. Considering that I once said I never wanted to visit the same place twice, this is pretty amazing. Even more so is the fact that the five visits span only something like seven years.

I made a significant decision this time round – no photos.

Since we have been there, seen it, done it, drank the wine … I figured I’d give the camera a rest and see how I got on.

Well, I can certainly recommend it. Don’t get me wrong, I love taking and looking at and working with photos but every once in a while it really is nice to just kick back, totally relax and soak up the full atmosphere. Here are a few of my non-photographic highlights:

Monte Palace Tropical Gardens.

These gardens are probably our favourite place in the world and are both a photographers dream and nightmare in one location. The sheer beauty of the place begs to be photographed, in wide angle and minute detail. The problem is that every direction you look, every step you take, is another fabulous view so you never stop clicking long enough to take it all in.

Also the human eye, mine anyway, is really good at grasping three dimensional panoramas – views that stretch in all directions and change as you mentally zoom in down valleys and pathways and between trees. Capturing that through the lens is damn near impossible – especially for a rank amateur like me.

Without the camera you are free to let your eyes roam and take in the magnificence of the place and let your brain frame its own imaginary shots.

There are people who spend a hour or two in these gardens. We spent five hours there – twice. Even if you do take your camera try to go back again without the camera, it makes a huge difference.

The Monte Cable Car

There are three ways up to Monte – bus, taxi or cable car. Bus is by far the cheaper but a little hairy on those roads and it could be busy. On previous trips we took a taxi for the sheer convenience and – if you didn’t get ripped off it was less than 10 Euro.

This time round every taxi driver wanted to charge 15 Euro and we thought they were trying to rip us off. It turns out that they have regulated the costs and this is now the standard fare – its no longer on the clock – apparently. So, we decided to just take the Cable Car – and got a pleasant surprise – a combined ticket that got a round trip on the cable car plus entrance for Monte for 22 Euro.

Monte entrance is 10 Euro.

This got us both directions on the Cable Car when we would normally only come down by Cable Car – fantastic views. And cheaper than taxis.

Oh, there is a fourth way down from Monte – toboggan- two guys push you [half way] down the hill in a wicker basket chair thing. Looks scarier than it is allegedly but we’re still never tried it.

Dolphin and whale watching

A 25 Euro ticket gets you a three hour catamaran trip out to look for dolphin, whales, turtle and anything else they come across. Nothing is guaranteed but you will almost always see some common dolphin which live in the waters around Madeira. If you are lucky you might also see turtles, other types of dolphin and whales. We were very lucky (maybe because we took three trips) and saw:

  • common dolphin
  • striped dolphin
  • turtles, and the big one
  • sperm whales – two females and a young one.

The catamaran has nets slung out front that you are allowed to climb out onto. This meant I had a terrific view as a female sperm whale and baby swam right under me. The dolphin do this on a regular basis, swimming alongside the boat, racing the bow waves and just messing about.

The one we weren’t expecting was after we turned round to come back along the coast. They take you past the cliffs for a really nice view of the second highest sea cliffs in the world but, having seen that a few times already, I was looking back out to sea and saw something amazing. Something was skimming at very high speed across the top of the water – just above the surface. A little later I caught sight of a second one, they skimmed along for a hundred metres or so then vanished. They looked a bit like birds and I had no idea what they were – a chat with the crew and I found out it was a flying fish. I had heard of these but had no idea they behaved like this – I thought they just jumped out of the water to catch flies now and then. Apparently they can skim along as long as their fins stay wet – as soon as they dry out they plop back into the water again.

I have taken my camera out on these trips before and I can tell you that you see a lot more without the camera.

Walking the streets and gardens of Funchal

I love Funchal and they have recently mostly pedestrianised the main street along from the Cathedral to the municipal gardens. Just wandering around, drinking in the atmosphere – especially during the flower festival is quite magical.

[Un]fortunately they were in the process of refurbishing the pond in Santa Caterina Gardens so they had it completely drained. It is unfortunately for us, for the view, but it does mean they are maintaining it which is a good thing.

The funniest moment of the whole holiday was when we were sitting in the cafe having a bite of lunch and I saw some of the gardeners running around the bottom of the empty pond. I thought they were having a lunch time kick about until we figured out what was going on. They were attempting to round up the resident ducks so they could re-home them during the renovation work. Watching these poor guys chasing these ducks around the pond and gardens was priceless – “oh guys – ducks can fly!”.

The Flower Festival

Funchal gets all decked out in flowers during the annual flower festival. The main street gets beautiful carpets of flowers laid along the pavements – the best gets a prize. There’s a tent showing off prize winning exotic flowers and arrangements:

Here’s a big vote against cameras – the prize tent is free to enter and you shuffle along in an orderly queue gawping at the amazing display of exotic flowers. This is significantly marred by everyone with digital cameras, phone cameras and movie cameras – all stopping and getting in the way. We even saw one woman forcibly pushing a group aside because she hadn’t finished taking her movie shot.

Shop windows get decked out in arrangements made from the local famous embroidered tablecloths and flowers – again its a prize-winning thing.

The Festival Parades

Deserving a separate mention are the two parades. The Children’s Parade on the Saturday is a shorter parade for the kiddies, primary school age I’d say, in school or club groups to get all dressed up and follows a few flower bedecked floats into the main square. Once in the main square the kids all place the flowers they have been carrying into a specially prepared Wall of Flowers which sits there for a couple of days. After the parade the kids take part in a talent contest.

The main parade is a much bigger affair, eight large floats each with a different theme picked out in masses of flowers with music blaring and followed by full dance troupes.

The dance troupes are about as all inclusive as I’ve ever seen – everyone that wants to seems to take part. This isn’t a case of just showing off the “most talented” and “most attractive” – people of all ages, abilities, sizes and shapes were giving it their all. It’s lack of over-done show-bizzie perfection actually adds to the enjoyment for me. There’s even a float with recent mums wheeling babies in pushchairs.

The excellent organisation of this event deserves a special mention. It was hot and the parade is long and the streets are hard. For the participants, every troupe had helpers constantly handing around water bottles and checking everyone was OK, there were first aiders at regular intervals and those nearest the massive speakers were kitted out with earplugs. A nice touch for those of us who had chosen to buy seated tickets was the bottle of water handed to us as we arrived.

I could go on and on as I haven’t mentioned our favourite little fishing harbour, the hotel, the sea, the main harbour, the ships, the restaurants, …

All of the above are things that are highly enjoyable both with and without a camera, but leaving the camera at home this time strangely let me have both a wider view, looking around and drinking it all in, and a more personal intimate view as I felt much more involved in everything.

I urge all keen photographers to give it a try some time – the withdrawal symptoms do die down eventually.

Posted in digital photography, festival, flower, flower festival, funchal, holiday, madeira | 2 Comments »

Upgrading my Internet connection from 2MB to 8MB

Posted by briandh on April 14, 2007

I thought I would share this in case it helped anyone else.

I recently upgraded my line from 2MB to 8MB and was sorely disappointed at the result. The download speeds were all over the place – dropping well below my original 2MB and never going above 8MB.

Pipex said that the first 10 days after a change their system is testing the line so to wait, which I did. After 10 days it was still no better.

So I went hunting on the Web and came up with the following site: Broadband Reports (tweak FAQs)

And in particular this: Tweak Tester

Turns out my RWIN setting was not optimal – the site checks several settings and suggests fixes and includes the tools to make the changes. It also debunks a lot of nonsense suggestions you find all over the place.

The above helped but it only stabilized my downloads to around the 4MB point – still well short of my 8MB.

I then checked for updated drivers for my Pipex supplied Thomson
SpeedTouch 330 USB modem. This is where I got a surprise. It turns out that the modem operates in two modes – the first is for up to 4MB and will never permit download speeds higher than 4MB. The second boosts it to the full 8MB.

I downloaded new drivers (there is also a registry tweak if you have the correct drivers but they are set up wrong).

This is the link to the support site for the modem: Speedtouch Drivers

What was really weird was that this site had abysmal download speeds – 56k modem level. Odd.

Anyway I am now happily downloading consistently at full speed.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Too much of a good thing

Posted by briandh on March 28, 2007

I’ve been exceptionally quiet since getting my new machine and finally getting it set up correctly.

The reason is simple – I’ve been doing exactly what I said I would with my new machine – playing games.

I first spent more than a month playing nothing but Oblivion – no, not all day and all night, I do have a life outside computer games. Not much of a life, true, but it is there if you look hard enough. After this I thought that I needed a change, I hadn’t finished Oblivion but went looking for something else to occupy my time.

I came across a (UK only) legitimate game download site called Metaboli. For a small monthly fee you have access to a growing set of over 100 games – 140 if you opt for the more expensive option. You download and play the games from their site and there is no limit on how many games you can play or for how long – as long as you keep up the monthly payments.

The games themselves are mainstream games, not made-for-budget ones. They are adding new games all the time and these will generally be recent games perhaps just past the full flush of retail sales (so only a few months old in some cases). They have even scooped a couple of games before retail release – Darkstar One was the most recent one.

You do have to be online to play and you can usually play online games as normal. About the only technical limitation is that game mods will not work in most cases.

The way the pricing works seems very fair to me. There are two options – “The Essential Collection” contains currently 114 games and costs about £7 a month, “The Ultimate Collection” costs £13 per month but has around 147 games. Each week they usually add 1 new game to the Ultimate Collection and 1 game from the Ultimate Collection becomes available on th Essential Collection. So eventually all the games come down to the Essential collection.

If you are like me and can never play all the games you want then the cheaper option works well. By the time I work my way through the ones I want from the cheap list there will be some new ones already waiting in the wings.

Most games have proper PDF manuals, a few are missing and the quality of some is not brilliant (photo-copy quality rather than proper PDF’s).

I have been using it now for about 10 weeks and I’d say it is excellent value for money no matter how you add it up – provided you use it. And I have been using it – hence the “Too much of a good thing”.

So far I have gone through four complete games:

  • Syberia
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War
  • Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
  • Still Life

clocked up several hours in a few others:

  • The Bards Tale
  • Beyond Good and Evil
  • Perimeter
  • Syberia II
  • XIII
  • Dungeon Seige

and dabbled in about a dozen more.

The dabbling is great, you can play games you wouldn’t think of buying normally to see if you might like them after all.

Oh, and Oblivion? Yeh it is great, and I will finish it – just after …

Posted in computer, computers, download, game, games, hands-on, Oblivion, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

HDR broken at 6xAA on X1950XTX Crossfire in Oblivion?

Posted by briandh on December 27, 2006

Update: 16 Jan 07 – downloaded latest Catalyst Drivers and this problem has been resolved – also noticed performance gains in this and other games

I know that earlier versions of the ATI Catalyst drivers did not allow anti-aliasing and HDR at the same time in Oblivion on the X1950XTX cards. Actually it is only by forcing the settings in Catalyst that it is now possible at all.

However, I have come across a slight glitch when you move from 4xAA to 6xAA and then on to 8xAA.

See the following shots and pay attention to 2 things:

  1. The lighting bloom around the edge of the sword at 6xAA just does not exist.
  2. There is an overal fogginess to the entire scene at 6xAA.

First, here is the 4xAA shot:

Oblivion X1950XTX Crossfire 4xAAOblivion X1950XTX Crossfire 4xAA Hosted on Zooomr

Next the 6xAA:

Oblivion X1950XTX Crossfire 6xAAOblivion X1950XTX Crossfire 6xAA Hosted on Zooomr

Finally the 8xAA:

Oblivion X1950XTX Crossfire 8xAAOblivion X1950XTX Crossfire 8xAA Hosted on Zooomr

I should point out that the 4x and 6x shots were with temporal anti-aliasing turn on although it actually makes no difference to the effect. Also, AF was at 8x with HQ turned ON and all other settings were at ON/Max – with max settings in Oblivion too.

The interesting thing is that between 6x and 8x is the point at which the second card kicks in and starts doing its thing with boosting AA.

With everything else almost maxed out 8xAA slows things down just a fraction too much, so I’m sticking with 4x as I can’t really tell the difference during the game anyway.

Posted in ATI, computer, computers, Crossfire, hands-on, Oblivion, problems, X1950XTX | 9 Comments »

23% Performance Boost – No overclocking

Posted by briandh on December 24, 2006

It has taken a while but I have finally got this system nailed, Oblivion is running like a dream my 3DMark06 score has jump from 8686 to 10686 and I am one happy bunny. I also managed to claw back 600Mb+ of system RAM that was swallowed up (still 1.4Gb missing in action).

I haven’t even had to overclock a single component.

How was this masterful feat accomplished? Simple – just don’t trust a PC manufacturer to be able to set up a system optimally.

Since I have been working and playing with PC’s for more than 20 years, I am not afraid to get my hands dirty and wade into the BIOS – I’ve even been known (shock-horror) to open the case now and then. Those that don’t have the experience or confidence to do this could be wasting a significant amount of their systems true capabilities.

In my particular case there were several factors which contributed to the boost. I did not keep track of specifically how much each one influenced the final result, sorry, but they included:

  1. I needed a BIOS update. This gave me my memory back by allowing me to turn off the option which was attempting to be helpful by remapping my memory above 4Gb thus leaving space for the PCI bus to use the bit in between. Unfortunately I was not using a 64bit operating system so the bit above 4Gb vanished. Now I lose a large chunk to PCI but get some of it back. If and when I switch to 64bit I can turn it back on.
  2. I turned off every physical device that I was not using via the BIOS. The motherboard comes with about 4 networks and I use none, plus an on-board sound card and a couple of other things. Speeds up the boot time and claws back a fraction of the above memory. Might reduce overlapping / conflicting IRQ’s and boost performance a wee bit too.
  3. I researched the part number for my RAM chips and found the optimal timings and set them explcitly in the BIOS. For some reasson the auto-cofig in the BIOS was not getting these right. Note that I am not overclocking these – just setting them up as per the manufacturers specifications. I believe that this was the largest factor in my performance boost.

I did play around with some other settings, none of which had any significant impact and so were returned to their default settings.

I’m off to play some more super-smooth Oblivion …

[Added]

… and it is super smooth. An easy 40fps out in the grassy open with all settings almost maxed out and at 1600×1200, HDR, 2x AA, 8x HQ AF.

I ran some Half Life 2 benchmarks (the HardwareOC ones – not just the stress tests) and I have to max out absolutely everything (HDR, 14x AA, 16x HQ AF) to get the frame rate to drop just below 60fps in Lost Coast. All other tests are well into the silly figures.

[Even more added]

I have spent parts of tonight (when not wrapping presents) running more tests.  The net effect of my changes are far more than I had originally thought.  I must have cleared a major system bottleneck.  Half Life 2 and every game I have tried that pre-dates it now runs easily with maximum AA & AF settings at frames rates usually easily exceeding 60fps.  This is far more than the 23% suggested by the raw 3DMark06 score – based on previous tests.  The whole system also feels much more responsive.  I’m downloading th x3-reunion demo and we will see how that fares.

Posted in ATI, BIOS, computer, computers, Crossfire, games, hands-on, Oblivion, overclocking, problems, X1950XTX | 2 Comments »

Disillusioned by a horse’s ass in Oblivion

Posted by briandh on December 21, 2006

Note: I have resolved this issue – see “23% Performance Boost – no overclocking

If you have read any of my previous posts you might know that I have bought myself a nice new kick-ass computer. This, and the fact that I have been busy with other “real life” stuff, has been why I have not posted anything for a while. What time I have had to play with my new computer has been dedicated to doing just that – playing with it. Not posting blogs, not uploading images to Zooomr, just setting up and playing with my new toy.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in ATI, computer, computers, Crossfire, game, games, hands-on, Oblivion, Uncategorized, whinge, X1950XTX | 3 Comments »

Panic!

Posted by briandh on November 26, 2006

You are lucky I am able to post this – everything went pear-shaped yesterday afternoon.

I had almost completed transferring everything from my old machine to my new machine, installed most of the software [read: games] I was likely to “need”. Tidied up the start menu, moved the swap file over to the second drive and defragged the hard drive.

Everything was working perfectly – I had even resolved most of the remaining issues.

  • the ViewSonic monitor not detecting the signal was simply a matter of selecting the preferred source from its on-screen menus.
  • it had a nasty habit of restarting itself after a shutdown – tracked that down to a combination of the OneClick main protector and a BIOS setting for restarting after a power failure. Just set the BIOS to go to the last mode it was in rather than ON.
  • I’m getting used to the new keyboard and mouse – a new mouse pad helped the mouse which was sticking on my desk.

I was getting ridiculous frame rates from my favourite games and I was happy.

Then all hell broke loose. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in computer, computers, frustration, hands-on, moan, problems, toys | Leave a Comment »

It is here!

Posted by briandh on November 23, 2006

I am going to try to keep this short as I want to play games!

My new machine finally arrived at lunch-time on Tuesday. Since I paid for a Saturday delivery I should really try and claim back the additional delivery charge – even although they were probably trying to be helpful with it being so late. It was just luck that my wife was in to accept delivery – she’d only got in 15 minutes earlier.

So I took the afternoon off to go home and get it set up …

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in computer, computers, games, hands-on, shopping, toys, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

New Toy

Posted by briandh on November 12, 2006

I’ve been very quiet recently, both here on my blog and on my Zooomr collection. The problem is that my home PC is finally dying – it resets itself every now and then. It was a relatively cheap PC-World box bought as an emergency stop-gap when its predecessor died spectacularly over three yeas ago. Starting about two-and-a-half years ago I’ve been promising myself a new machine – and this time it was going to be a “real” machine.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in complain, computer, computers, frustration, problems, shopping, toys, whinge | Leave a Comment »