"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris

Home Hacking: Tracking Down Speaker Hum

Posted: January 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , | Comments Off on Home Hacking: Tracking Down Speaker Hum

For a while now I’ve noticed an annoying hum coming from my home sound system, simply a Pioneer A400 connected to a Sony Blu-ray and our Samsung LCD TV. As today is lovely and sunny it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try and sort it all out. Hums in home hi-fi systems generally indicate bad earthing somewhere, the question is where. Time to get my geek debugging hat on.

First up – establishing that the hum is not coming from the amplifier. To do this I disconnected all external devices. Voila, the hum disappeared. That was a good start. Then I started to re-connect various devices to see when the hum returned, in this case it was when either the TV or Blu-ray were connected. Hmm. Why both? Perhaps my older amp doesn’t like these devices I thought.

Next up, I checked if the hum was being picked up from a power supply by the connecting wires. So all the wires came off and were routed round the front of the console. Nope, the hum was still there. Another possible cause removed.

Eventually I tracked down the source to the TV, as it turned out the blu-ray hum stopped when I disconnected the HDMI lead to the TV. This was more worrisome, as if the TV turned out to have a bad earth it would be expensive to get sorted out. Then I came across this handy post from CNET where the author suggests removing all your external coax/aerial connections.. voila! I removed our shared building aerial from the TV and the hum went away. Perfect. So now all we have to do is properly earth the aerial where it comes into our flat and the problem is solved for good. In the meantime though, removing the aerial so I can enjoy Inception in its full glory is a pretty easy workaround. Gotta love easy workarounds in the tech world. Of course this may not be the solution to your home speaker hum problem, but the main lesson here is isolate all possible causes in true Sherlock Holmes fashion, then you should be left with the culprit.

Handy Hint: iPhone with Skype to Go

Posted: January 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , | Comments Off on Handy Hint: iPhone with Skype to Go

Recently Skype, the wunderkind of the cheap internet phone service (until Google Voice is global), rolled out Skype to Go numbers for all of their paid subscription members. The Skype to Go number is a phone number you can call from your assigned mobile phone to make, generally cheaper, calls abroad when you aren’t near an Internet connection. So not as cheap as calling abroad from Skype on your computer, but pretty handy nonetheless, especially when you’re using an iPhone and you can’t use the handy Skype App to call because there’s no available wireless.

The Skype to Go number is a local number, and consequently will be included within your phone plan’s normal monthly minute allowance. For most of us with OTT monthly plans this means an effectively free outbound call, with just Skype charges to pay for connecting to the other end. Just call the Skype to Go number, then type in the number you want to call (’00’ + the countr code, then the number) followed by a hash, and voila! Of course the trouble is that there is not yet a handy Skype to Go app, or extension to the Skype app, that lets you easily call any contact in your address book, which means typing in numbers from memory is an old skool skill most of us have lost.

There is a handy workaround though for numbers you call abroad regularly. Simply create a new ‘Skype to Go’ number on that contact, and cut and paste your Skype to Go number into the field, followed by two pauses (press the ‘+*#’ button to see that option), then the person’s international number, and don’t forget that final ‘#’. Save the number, then give it a go. You should hear the polite Skype voice saying ‘Please dial your number’ and then shortly after your phone will magically start to type in the number and off you go.

This is a life saver, but not the only option. You can also use one of the many card calling apps on the iPhone and set up your Skype to Go number as a card there. The only issue I’ve found with this approach is that for some security reason iPhone apps aren’t allowed to embed the ‘#’ character when they make a call, which means you’ll have to manually press the ‘#’ key after the app initiates the call. For someone with a lot of international contacts to call this might be a preferred option.

Statistics on BBC iPlayer Usage

Posted: November 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Internet Life, Social Media, Technology | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Statistics on BBC iPlayer Usage

CXO magazine this month has an interview with John Linwood, CTO at the BBC, about the amazing success of the iPlayer, the BBC’s on-demand video service. You can only read the interview in their print magazine at present, however they do give us a great infographic showing iPlayer usage patterns.

The iPlayer has demonstrated the desire of people across the UK to access on demand content, and has simultaneously raised the ire of broadband providers who’ve seen download levels rocket. The iPlayer infrastructure vends 12.5Gb/second of pre-processed video to the many different players it supports – from mobile phones, through computers to the mainstream satellite providers who then help distribute the data themselves. Arguably the BBC is in a unique position around the world, being funded by public money which means that the content is effectively ‘owned’ by the British public already. Whatever the reason though, you can’t demand the success of the venture from a technology perspective.

BBC iPlayer Stats

[From The Next Web]

IE6 – The browser that wouldn’t die

Posted: July 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interaction Design, Technology | Tags: , , | Comments Off on IE6 – The browser that wouldn’t die

For all of us who work in the front end of the Internet world we are constantly amazed and enchanted by the new developments that arrive every day. New ways to interact with technologies such as AJAX that enable better user experiences, new ways to share with our friends through social networks and new ways to access services wherever we want via the iPhone and the slew of competitors that arose in its wake. But for all these exciting developments there’s been one thorn in our side for many years now – the continued presence of Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) visiting the sites we build.

It was late August 2001 when Microsoft released IE6 to the world. At the time this was a life changing browser, releasing us from some of the earlier pain that IE5 held. Adoption was rapid, mainly due to the lack of competitive browsers at the time and IE6 being bundled with the Windows XP update. At its peak, it was estimated that IE6 accounted for upwards of 80% of all internet browsing. Now, with the ascendency of Firefox and other browsers including other versions of IE, its estimated that IE6 still accounts for between 15-25% of all global internet usage. A huge figure for software that is now eight years old and superseded by two new version now – both of which are free upgrades.

The reason for this persistence is widely attributed to corporate installs of IE6. Businesses are slow to change desktop software, justifiably so one can argue due to the costs involved. For those of us who build sites and applications that target business users that means the pain of developing browser applications in IE6 will stay around for a while yet. All web developers know that supporting IE6 with its vagaries and non-consistent behaviours leads to a large extra effort in development and testing. Thankfully there are plenty of sites that help us all get round this issue – such as the excellent Quirks Mode.

Now youTube is striking a blow against IE6, they have released a statement saying that support for IE6 will be phased out shortly. Now, if you browse to youTube with IE6 you are presented with a gentle prod to upgrade to a more modern browser, either Chrome, IE8 or Firefox. Of course being a Google service, Chrome is the first suggestion. I’m sure we can expect to see more of this now that a major site has made the first visible step, in perhaps what is the start of the death knell for IE6. May it rest in peace.

Ambient Feedback – Re-inventing the Feedback Wheel

Posted: March 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interaction Design, Technology | Tags: , , | No Comments »

A few years back an American company, Ambient Devices, came up with an idea. They thought to themselves that if people could see how much electricity they were using, they would know when they are using a lot of it and then decide to turn off a few hair dryers, etc to cut down. Hmm.. but how to let people see how much magical, invisible energy they are using? Surely we just can’t know these days because so many things just use electricity in a non-obvious way, such as being on standby!


Ambient Devices’s answer? The Energy Orb, a small sphere that sits someone in your house, and glows different colours depending on your energy consumption. Using a lot of juice? The orb glows red and you know to cut back. Even with all the lights off you may be surprised to see how much the sphere still indicates you’re using, and that is its genius – it takes an invisible, dynamic system and presents it to you in an easily accessible manner.

This is all a very clever and engaging use of modern technology. Bright colours. Saves money on your electricity bills, and consequently the environment. Now a few more companies have jumped on the band wagon, producing more functional devices that give you up to the second energy usage in a manner that’s easy to absorb without really having to look for it.

Ambient Feedback is a great concept, and one that’s close to my heart, but is it actually new? Not really, it’s just a necessary evolution as we move further from the physical world to the less visible world of the internet and micro-electronics. In the days of my youth we already had a feedback mechanism that told us we were using too much electricity.. it was called the electricity meter. We knew immediately how much energy was being used by how many precious 50 pence pieces were going into the slot, and how empty the 50p bowl next to the meter had gotten since we last topped it up. Simple, and very easy to understand!

Of course there were times when this mechanism failed as no 50 pence pieces could be found anywhere in the house in the middle of the night, so I’m certainly not suggesting we move away from the wonders of Direct Debit, but it’s worth remembering how these things used to naturally be represented to us in a way that we never appreciated at the time. Then this knowledge can be used to make better, more relevant and useful interfaces to solve problems in our modern lives.