Friday, 13 July 2012

put the cotton bud where?

I did actually write a blog post yesterday, but I was so busy I forgot to post it.  It was quite generic, so I'll save it for next week.

So I have a bit of an update on the PVR front.

It's a bit weird, though.

Apparently, the losing the time when going into standby is actually quite a common problem with the 9200 Humax box.  Indeed, it's commonly called the --:-- problem as that's what the display shows instead of the time while in standby.

There is also a solution.  But it's a bit weird.

Basically, the front panel isn't just a display, it also houses the clock components that show the time and, more importantly, wake the machine from standby when it needs to record.  These components consist (excluding the display itself and among other minor bits) of a chip, a large capacitor and an oscillator.

What has been diagnosed as happening is that the components are, very roughly speaking shorting due to impurity build up on the surface of the actual Printed Circuit Board (PCB) these are all attached too.  It's a little more complicated than that, from what I can make out, but the solution is, in essence, to clean the circuit board.

Now it's not really dirt that's the problem, but it's easier to think in those terms.  And being a PCB you can't just stick it in the washing and give it a scrub.  To clean it (and I'm going to give it a go) you have to use cotton buds and surgical spirit (basically meths without the minerals).

The reason I'm going to give it a go is that the official solution is to phone Humax and get them to send me a replacement board, which costs about £30.  I can't honestly believe the board costs anything like £30 - the main components I mentioned are purchasable online for less than £2.00.  Hence why I'm going to give it a go this weekend.

By the way - it also potentially does relate to the power cut.  A couple of people on the forum I looked this up on reported it happening after power cuts.  And given the point of the capacitor is to keep the clock going during power outages (it's obviously powered normally when plugged in) I suspect that the brown outs caused some sort of problem that's led to this issue.

There's a lot more detail with instructions on this forum - (just in case someone has stumbled across this blog entry via a google search or similar).

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


I was very pleasantly surprised by Thor.

I can't say I was ever a fan of him in comic book form.  Norse mythology is quite interesting, but the particular interpretation used in the comic books never particularly interested me.

I also wasn't a particular fan of his costume and the use of a sort of formal, upper class English with a bit of middle-ages English thrown in for good measure always struck me as a bit weird.  He's a Norse god, not a Shakespearean character.

I also always found it a bit daft that he ever had any problems at all - I mean, he's a God, right?  Okay a lot of the adventures revolved around Loki and he's from a polytheistic faith so perhaps isn't all-powerful (though I think his dad, Odin, was supposed to be) but still - dude's a God, and there's that thing in fiction where if anything is possible, nothing is interesting.

There's also the thing where all faiths seem to exist and be correct in the Marvel Universe, which again, always struck me as a bit weird.

Anyway, the film generally worked quite well.  If I was to criticise one element of it, that would be that Asgard seemed a bit weird.  I mean, it was quite comic-booky, but perhaps a bit too much?  It just felt very artificial, even factoring the point that it's fictional, if you see what I mean.

The plot was pretty much what I basically understood the origin of Thor to be - being headstrong and ending up getting kicked out of Asgard and then redeeming himself.  One thing I did find interesting was Loki - they did quite a good job of portraying him as one of the good guys up to a point where he turned.

Knowing the character in the comics where he's always the trickster and causing mischief, it was quite difficult to set that aside, but it was done convincingly here.

What also worked very well were the humanising / humbling of Thor himself.  You genuinely felt he had a character ark, which could have been quite difficult to achieve, given he starts of as a heroically good God, but it was a bit more subtle than that (if, ultimately, obvious in story terms).

The film also had lots of funny stuff in it and looked great.  In particular the costumes were well done to preserve the basic design points, but didn't look daft.  I think it was a particularly wise choice to ditch Thor's helmet for the majority of the film, for example.

So yeah, one of the better Marvel adaptations, I think.  We'll just have to see if the second one suffers for not having Kenneth Branagh at the helm.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

don't use London

While I was "enjoying" my mammoth driving day last Thursday I saw a sign that said:

"During the Olympics avoid driving in central London"

This amused me quite a lot.  I wonder if the advice applies to everyone that lives and works in central London as well?

The Olympics are only a couple of weeks away.  I'm already saving things up to watch on my PVR as I'm anticipating a bit of a dearth of watchable stuff for me.

Don't get me wrong - I've nothing really against the Olympics as a sporting event.  Indeed, I think they're good things from the sporting point of view, it's just they are, on the whole, a collection of sports that I just don't care about.

And I guess, to be honest, I don't mind that they'll probably absorb all the TV hours that there are - it will give me an opportunity to do other stuff.

And mentioning that, my PVR it's still not working right.

The problem is a bit of a weird one.  Basically, when I put it in standby what should happen is that the clock stays lit showing the time.  This is an outward manifestation of the PVR tracking the time so that it can switch itself on when a recorded program comes up.

It now doesn't do this.  If I put it in standby it just shows a dash-dash-colon-dash-dash patter you will be familiar with from new appliances which have a clock that you haven't programmed.

As such, it's not tracking the time and so when a recording time roles around it just sits there and does nothing.

However, where it gets weird is that if I put it in standby while it's recorded a pre-recorded program, then it holds the time like it should, even after the program stops recording.  And the key there is it's a pre-set recording.  If I just set it to record and then put it in standby it doesn't hold the time either.

However, the above is all quite erratic - occasionally it will hold the time even if it's not recording a pre-scheduled program.  And it will always do pre-recorded programs if you leave it on, which means sometimes I've had to leave it on all night and all day to record stuff that's on late or on in the day.

It reminds me quite a lot of what happens when a CMOS battery fails, and really the PVR is just a computer in a VCR style box with appropriate connectors and a specially designed operating system.

In those cases when you switch the computer on after the power has been off it will ask you to set the time.  But then if you turn it off without turning the power fully off it will hold that time.  IT's only when you turn the power off that it would use the CMOS battery to help it store the time.

The difference is I'm not turning the PVR off, just putting it in standby.

There has actually recently been an announcement that a new on-demand TV thing will be rolling out quite soon and of course my current box doesn't have HD at all, so I'm actually tempted to buy a new box with these other features.  However, in the meantime I've bought some cables that should allow me to connect the PVR to my computer and then do something roughly equivalent to a bios update in the hopes that what's actually happened is software related.

If not and it's something in the hardware it may essentially make the decision of buying a new box for me.

Monday, 9 July 2012

british grand prix

My dad and sister went to the British grand prix.

I didn't.  I couldn't really afford it, both in terms of finances and time.  Finances because I'm hopeless at managing them and time because even when the idea was proposed I was planning to look for a new job and new I'd need the days leave for that.

As it turns out I think I was somewhat fortunate.  The weather has been particularly dreadful and on Saturday (Qualifying day) they were turning people away from the parking as the hard-standing areas were already full and they wanted to give the soft-standing areas time to dry out a bit.

Silverstone is quite an exposed track.  Like many of the UK's racing circuits it's an old airfield and as you'd imagine, you generally want to put airfields in nice open areas so there's nothing for the pilots to crash into.

There are stands, of course, and they can be good for keeping you out of the wind and rain, although this can depend quite heavily on direction.  I recall one year sitting in the stand and still getting wet and cold because the rain was driving into the front of the stand.

Anyway - the race itself.

It was a really good one.  The British Grand Prix can occasionally produce a duffer.  The problem is that it's pretty high speed, and overtaking normally only tends to be associated with technical sections (people make mistakes) and high speed straight into slow-speed corner.

Anyway, this was a good one and part of it came from my old theory about how, if you want to produce good races a good way to achieve it is to randomise the field (a draw like in football cups, for example).  If there was a lottery-style draw you end up with lots of fast cars out of position so you tend to get overtaking.

F1 is a trickier case for this idea as some circuits overtaking is extremely difficult (Monaco and other street circuits) and the cars are heavily dependent on down force, which makes getting close to the guy in front difficult, since you drive into his turbulent air and your own down force is less effective.

Nowadays of course we've had some counters to that - you've got DRS and KERS to help with overtaking and the rules changed so little since last year that it's made everything closer.

This is another element for F1 - they bugger about with the rules a lot.  But then this is swings and roundabouts - they bugger about with them because people find ways to exploit them and these often need ruling out.

But yes, we ended up with a cracking race, although the McLarens didn't do much - it comes across like they've been struggling to really push the car forward.  They started out with the best car at the start, but failed to capitalise it, partly due to a few too many human errors.  Now everyone else seems to have developed the car so they're at the same level if not a bit quicker, where the McLaren seems to have stagnated.