Archive for the ‘Computer’ Category

Dear Morgan,

I was reading our blog today and realised that nothing really funny has happened to me lately.  I must be getting all old and sensible all of a sudden.  Makes a change.  Even my cat has got old and sensible too.  No mice, rabbits, or any other creepy crawlies.

However, today I found myself setting up a new printer that I had bought a couple of months ago.  After unpacking it from the box and doing a quick set up, I grabbed hold of the user guide/manual that clearly read ‘READ THIS BEFORE YOU SET IT UP’.  Fortunately, I’m of slightly above average intelligence and had done it correctly, but I did spend five minutes reading it to make sure I hadn’t done anything stupid.  I have to say the guide was pretty boring reading after the 50 shades of grey trilogy.  It was so… well… clean!

Anyway, I set it all up, plugged the printer into the power supply.  Popped the CD into my player and went to install the software.  The instruction said ‘Please connect your computer to the printer by the USB cable’.    What USB cable?  I searched the box.  Nothing.  Nada.  I checked where I had opened it in case it had fallen out.  Nothing.   Maybe it’s kinky after all?  50 shades of printers!

The printer was not going to work without it, so into the car to drive the 15km back into town (grr) to talk to the store owners.  They opened the same printer box on the shelf to find…. No USB cable.   ‘Oh – this printer doesn’t come with the cable, you have to buy it separately’, they told me.

I have to say I’m rather gobsmacked.  The printer doesn’t effing work without it.   No one told me when I bought it I needed a cable.  It’s the stupidest thing I’ve come across for a long time.  To top it off, the printer is a Canon – a company usually reknowned for good service and products – but I have to say they really have let themselves down on this one. Why on earth are they selling products that are incomplete?   I liken it to selling a car without any ignition installed.





Dear Morgan,

I just re read a comment of yours from ages ago on this blog.  You were wanting the recipe for my home science experiment potato soup.  So here it is.  Good luck and enjoy…

Once upon a time, about 25 years ago, in another life, I was newly married.  Being newly married and not having much experience in the kitchen, I proceeded to experiment with different foods to try and please my new husband as all brides mistakenly tend to do.

It was a cool day, and so I decided to make potato soup for lunch.  Nothing like a hot soup to warm you up from inside out.  I searched the recipe books, to no avail, not one recipe could be found.  This was in the days before  home computers, internet, and Google.  When one used grey matter to be innovative.  I thought long and hard.  Lightbulb moment!

Out came my hardly ever used juicer from the back of the cupboard.  I peeled the potatoes then put the potatoes through the juicer.  Surprisingly I needed only a few potatoes to get the required amount of juice to make soup for two. I remember thinking how clever I was being, and how easy this all was!  I then poured the juice into a pot, and placed this on the element to heat it up gently.

As I brought it to the boil, the liquid rose.  And rose.  And rose.  Turning the element down in heat did not stop it.  I put the pot over the sink quickly as it overflowed.  I tipped a bit out, added water and put it back on the heat.

No sooner than I did that, the liquid rose again.  And rose and rose and rose.  Once again I put it over the sink where it overflowed.  Once again, I tipped half out and replaced it with water.

Once again I replaced it on very low heat.  Once again the bloody thing rose and rose and rose, and once again it overflowed into the sink.  This time it kept overflowing.

I yelled for my new husband for help.  This time I tipped half of it out and replaced half with water, and put it on the element again for him to see what was happening.  Once again it rose and rose and rose, and once again I managed to get it to the sink in time for it to overflow.  I felt like I was in a middle of a science experiment going badly wrong, not cooking lunch!

There was only one thing for it.

New husband went outside and dug a hole in the garden.  (After several expletives)

He came back up and got the pot and tipped the contents into the hole.

He then filled the hole in.

We decided to go out for lunch.

As we were leaving, I noticed the potato soup rising and bubbling out of the warm earth.

I didn’t say anything.

Not for 25 years!

I’ve long since moved away.  I still scan the papers in Auckland to see if anyone is reporting weird substances bubbling out of the ground, of the emergence of giant earthworms in a certain local area.

25 years later, in all things kitchen – I no longer use my grey matter for innovation.  Google is my new best friend.

Slight deviation from our normal blog posts. This post is for anyone who’s just installed Outlook 2010 and is finding that they are getting duplicate downloads of emails. I installed Outlook 2010 myself a couple of days ago, upgrading from Outlook Express and since then have received duplicate emails. Here is one solution to this problem if you have alias email addresses set up. I’ll use my set up as an example:

I have 2 email addresses set up for my business like this:

  2. (this is an alias on the same domain. The messages are stored on the same mail server as my other address.)

During the upgrade from Outlook Express, Outlook 2010 recognized these are linked by the same domain and switched “Leave a copy of messages on server” on for both of them. The result of this when receiving emails is:

  1. Outlook checks for mail from, downloads them and then leaves a copy on the mail server
  2. It then checks for mail on and downloads the emails that have been left on the server again.

This problem is really easy to fix. If you have a similar set up follow the instructions below to eliminate duplicates:

  1. In Outlook 2010 click on the [File] tab and select [Options] –> [Advanced] (note that these both appear in the left hand panel as opposed to the old style drop down menus)
  2. Scroll down to the “Send and receive” section and click on the [Send/Receive…] button.
  3. In the dialogue box that appears click to highlight “All Accounts” in the Group Name field and then [Edit…]
  4. From the left hand side of the dialogue box click on the account to be edited then select [Account Properties]
  5. Select the [Advanced] tab
  6. In the “Delivery” section untick “Leave a copy of messages on the server”
  7. [OK]
  8. Repeat from Step 4 for additional aliases.

Good luck!

Morgan 🙂

Dear Robyn,

Those inventions you came up with in your last blog post are great. The “hand-held machine that would ‘hear’ any conversation then ‘instantly caption’ speech” is an awesome idea. Imagine that, being able to walk into any movie theatre or watch any TV programme without having to worry about whether captions are provided or not. Or see what someone is saying if you can’t quite hear or lipread them. That would solve some really annoying problems if translators were readily available. I am surprised they aren’t already though because as far as I can tell the technology is more or less available now to do this. However, it doesn’t seem to be designed especially for translating entire conversations on portable devices for anyone who wants to have a complete conversation or, if it could also instantly translate one language to another – travellers wanting to chat with people who speak a different language. That said, I don’t see why it couldn’t because the following technology does exist at present:

  • Dragonspeak for iPhone which can be used to convert spoken words into text for sending text messages. Unfortunately looks like it is designed mostly for short messages, not conversations, but the regular PC installation is used for creating entire Word documents.
  • Voice recognition software in cellphones used mainly for controlling functions like “voice dial”.
  • Filtering software such as is already used in your implant to reduce annoying background noise in busy situations. Something you’d probably want the device to do if it is to translate a single conversation in a noisy environment like a cafe.
  • To have a built in mic, a clear screen and portability. All of these things are extremely common on iPhones and other types of cellphones and portable devices.

So really what you are after mainly requires the integration of the above but with the software having a focus on translating long conversations. And to go a step further there are already rough language translators, for example  Google Translate which doesn’t do a bad job. I use it often when I am reading the German newspaper. It’s always close enough to understand the translation even though it is not perfect. It would be enough for travellers to speak to locals without any knowledge of their language and be understood.

I had a look around on the net expecting some complete technology like this to leap out at me that already does what you want but couldn’t find anything easily. But it looks like all the technology to create a more purpose built solution is there so maybe all that is needed is for someone to integrate it all and make a downloadable app for popular phones and devices.

Your animal interpreter machine is a neat idea too. I would love to know exactly what my pets are saying to me also.  Granted, it’s fairly easy for us humans to work out the basics of what Fluffy and Fido are saying already without extra help. We do share basic psychological similarities with animals after all. Fluffy running up to you when you walk in the door, smooching your leg and purring loudly means “hello”. Fido growling loudly while chewing a bone is almost certain to mean “back off buster, this is all mine! Don’t make me add your leg to my collection”. Different animals seem to have little trouble understanding basics either. The cat would understand Fido’s growling also and leave well alone. Mind you, having said we share similarities with animals, if you come running up to me and smooch my leg at the airport or growl at the dinner table I am NOT going to come to Blenheim to visit you!

But not all animal sounds are that easy to interpret unless you are an animal psychologist. My parrot Gibson makes some sounds that I can recognize what they are easily. Squawking grumpily at me when I cover his cage at night means “hey! I haven’t finished watching the tele yet!” and Dave and Harry (my canaries) singing pretty tunes means “hey girls, we’re over here!” But sometimes if I am talking to Gibson he’ll come right up close to my face and purr loudly like a cat (I kid you not). We don’t have a cat and he has never heard one so this must be legitimate bird language. I have no idea what he is saying and I’d love to know! He could be telling me anything, “hey man check this out, I can do cat impersonations” or “hmmm yes, I agree with you totally, Turing Machines would work better with five heads” or “hey honey, want to come back to my place?” (which is a bit disturbing since he says this to Phil also….) But it would be cool if I could find out in a few seconds what he is really saying or tell him something in bird speak. “Gibson, please clean up your cage” would be a good start…

Another thing I’ve actually seriously considered inventing myself before is a portable device you can put on your table in noisy cafes or places that will filter out background noise so you can hear the people you are talking to easily. I personally find it really annoying trying to chat with my friends in cafes when there is loud background music blaring and everyone shouts over it to be heard. Seems to be a really common complaint so I thought of these two solutions.

  1. A directional white or pink noise generator that masks out some of the background noise at a certain radius away from you. Preferably installed in your cellphone so you can take it anywhere, the idea being you just stick it on the corner of the table and it creates a private space for you – like taking your own walls everywhere. This sort of thing is used already in a bigger sizes – namely the fountains that are installed in the middle of shopping centres and food courts are there to cover up competing conversations. When I asked my Dad (an experienced electronics whiz) about this idea he revealed that in the 1970s his company was involved in inventing something like this for office blocks so whole buildings could generate white noise and make areas people could hear each other better in. The idea didn’t catch on at the time unfortunately, but then, new clever ideas often don’t catch on the first time even though they do years later.There might be some problems with this though. Firstly any unit would have to produce a signal of good enough quality to work. Bit of a challenge on a cellphone. And as my Dad points out, our local shopping centre probably got rid of the fountain because it made people run off to the toilet more often and the Centre’s cleaning costs went up! Perhaps that was the reason the technology his company were developing never took off either. Who wants their employees spending the whole day in the bathroom instead of working!
  2. The second idea is reverse phasing. The unit samples background noise a certain distance away from you, reverse phases it and emits the reversed (inside out) signal again. The effect of this is to cancel out sounds altogether so they become silent. Although that sounds like science fiction this is a simple trick we used to use in the recording studio for removing undesirable sounds from recordings (like record crackle, generator sounds from live gigs or to remove the lead vocal from a recording so someone else could sing over the remaining instrumental tracks). Some people have been playing around with this already with the intent of making say, vehicles that are silent. But realistically, who the hell wants to be run over because they didn’t hear the Mac truck coming down the road? People would get used to this and learn to look more carefully, but I’m sure animals would be completely confused. It would also be inconvenient for blind people who navigate by sound. An odd side effect of that could be that if you didn’t produce the reverse phased signal 100% in sync with the original you could get flanging – a sort of strange, out of this world swooshing sound that musicians use deliberately in recordings to make psychodelic effects (e.g. guitars sounding like they are flying past on jet engines.) So, considering live sound might always have a slight delay between sampling and reproduction, this might produce an effect that is either slightly annoying at one extreme or makes people feel like they’ve been teleported back to flower power days and have been smoking something illegal at worst! And even more disconcerting would be that if some of the sampled sound happened to be in the exact same frequency you were talking in it would seem as if your own voice is cutting out! Now that would be freaky!
  3. The third idea is the best of all and comes from my Dad. Obtain some cotton wool, some string and two empty tin cans. Poke two holes in the bottom of the cans and attach string. Then stuff cotton wool in one ear. Now you have the perfect solution. Just hold a can up to the ear without wool, pull string tight and you and your companion can have a private conversation no problem! Damn! I knew the best solutions were the simplest!

Somehow I don’t know that this invention is very far away. The ideas I’ve put there use standard audio physics that is very commonly understood by sound engineers. But there are also inventions with hypersonic sound (or rather, producing sound using ultrasound). In the video at the end of my post, Woody Norris shows off his invention which places sound wherever you want it and can be used for applications like directional advertising in supermarkets (you hear an ad only when you are standing directly in front of it), or, as he notes, the military could use it to create the sound of fake troop movements in places there are no troops! He also has inventions for cancelling out sound like I’ve just mentioned and came up with an application I never thought off – cancelling out the sound of your partner snoring! Now that is something I could do with!

Morgan 🙂

Video of Woody Norris talking at TED about Hypersonic Sound

Image by Per Hardestam

Inventions and Technology

Posted: October 1, 2010 in Computer, Fun, Humour, Opinion

Dear Morgan,

I only have a vague recollection of asking you those two questions about inventions and technology, so I must have have asked you a fair while ago, when I was very young!  I have spent a week dreaming up all these weird and wonderful inventions that I would like, so here they are:

1).  I’d like to invent a perfect man.  One that tells you you’re wonderful.  One that brings you breakfast in bed every morning.  One that is prepared to forgo the rugby game to take you shopping with a visa card with no limit!  Perfect men don’t exist at present, which is why I’d like to invent one. The Perfect Man would be able to fix anything that needed fixing, keep the house tidy, keep up with outside chores and still have lots of energy for ‘later’!  There are a few more things on this list that these perfect men would do, but I’m not sure of our exact reader age, so therefore will leave it to your wild imagination (which I know you have!).

2). I’d like to invent a hand-held machine that would ‘hear’ any conversation then ‘instantly caption’ speech anywhere, anytime.  So where ever I am, or whatever I am doing, I can have full access around me by being able to read my ‘machine’.  This would also be fully equipped to translate any language, which would then be a boon for travellers, travelling around the world.

3).  I’d like to invent number 2, just for being able to understand animals.  An animal interpreter machine. Just the other day a magpie cawed at me, and I’d like to know which swearword it was so I could say it back to him!  I’d name this machine the Doolittle Translater.  Like #2, this machine will have to translate English back into the animalspeak so I could explain to the cat just WHY she doesn’t need the electric blanket on when it’s nearly summer, and why she really doesn’t need a litterbox when outside is lots of garden and dirt that can do just as well!  I’d also like to know why she continually tries to bury her food in kitchen, and would like to explain to her that I would prefer her plate left where I feed her, and not in the middle of the kitchen floor where I trip over it! This machine just may save someone’s life.  Mine!

4). I’d like to invent the instant teleporter, so I could choose to be anywhere, anytime in the world instantly.  Going to London for the day would be a reality.  Heading to an erupting mountain somewhere off the beaten track with my camera would be a walk in the park.  There would be no need to find housesitters as you could be home in time to feed the animals.

5). A pill that I could take that would instantly restore my hearing to perfection!

So those are my inventions.

Technology?  Anything?

1). Adobe CS5.  Photoshop.  The mother of all photoshop versions.

2). a Canon 100-400m Lens for my bird photography

3). a Canon 10-22mm wide angle lens for my landscapes

4). An electric car.  I hate the price of petrol.

5). Solar power right through my house (I hate the price of electricity).  Do you think we could have solar powered cars too?

6). A Mini Laptop for travelling.  (My current laptop is too big to lug around)

7).  A ride on lawn mower.  Although if my invention for a perfect man came off, this would be redundant in the technology section!

8). A utility bed.  Yep – A bed in my room where at the touch of a button, a TV screen pops out at the end of it for me to watch.  Another button and a computer comes up from underneath.  Another button and there’s tea making facilities and/or unlimited champagne.  If my invention for a perfect man comes off, there would be no need to get out of bed!

9). A printing press for all my artwork I’m just getting into now.

10). An electronic piano.  One that looks like a real piano, but does a gadzillion things electronically in terms of music. They’re only $17,000 or so new!

11). The latest cochlear implant complete with remote control, in bright pink!

12). A new fridge.

13).  A nice big spa pool.  Complete with book holders, drink cabinets and holders, computer holders for waterproof laptops.

14). A computerised treadmill.

15).  A computerised watering system for my garden.

I’m sure I have more technology that I want, but can’t think of the rest right now.  I love gadgets, so anything new on the market I want to try anyway!



Dear Robyn,

I was chatting with someone on formspring yesterday and I came across two questions you asked me on there some time ago:

1) If you could invent something, what would it be? and
2) If you could have anything technology wise – what would you choose?

They’re cool questions. But I never asked you so I am wondering what your answers to them are!

This is what I wrote (man, you wouldn’t think I was a geek or anything…)

I’d like to invent:

  1. A Munchkin style card game where Aliens attempt to take over the world and Men In Black try to stop them. The Aliens are only allowed to communicate in crop circles and the MIB are only allowed to speak in secret code. Alien and MIB characters can be spawned or killed using Conway’s “Game of Life” mathematics, control their spaceship and weapons using Turing Machine style state registers, move strategically like chess men, fool each other with Poker style bluffing and if there is an uneven number of people playing one person becomes a spy for any side they choose and no one knows who they are playing for or when they are going to switch alliances! OK, no one will play this unless they are Sheldon from Big Bang Theory but it will be funny to make it anyway!
  2. A guitar overdrive effect that spits randomly like a Rally car. At them moment all overdrive FX seem to just go RRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH! as one ear splitting, continuously homogenous cacophony.
  3. Consciousness, Artificial Intelligence and self determination for a robot. (Followed very closely by “Empathy For Living Things”, “Don’t Do That” and “Go To Your Room” modules….)
  4. A self interpreting programming language for the internet that anyone can use without being a programmer to make sites (or anything else) they like intuitively, and that can interpret itself perfectly without needing any other 3rd party browser.
  5. The computer program that passes the Turing Test

If you could have anything technology wise – what would you choose?

  1. A robot with a personality you can change with a screwdriver to suit your mood
  2. An alien spaceship
  3. A Mercedes MacLaren SLR supercar or Ford Mustang for when #2 is not available
  4. A professional Canon digital SLR camera like yours with a Macro lense to do high speed close up photography of miniature, split second things that happen in nature we can never see with our own eyes
  5. A private space jet that goes from Auckland to space and lands in Blenheim in 2 minutes so I can visit you whenever I like (hmmm, I predict that by the end of our lifetimes we’ll think this is ordinary!)
  6. An intergalactic wormhole that connects Auckland to any other city or planet I feel like visiting instantaneously (I hear the latest version comes bundled with #2)
  7. A newer bass guitar than the 25 year old one I have now and bass FX that can make a growling sound like Marilyn Manson’s voice
  8. A guitar rig that’s as awesome as my Tremonti Signature axe.
  9. A keyboard that is easier to program than my existing demon KORG and sounds less like it was designed exclusively to produce dance music for nightclubs – a bit disconcerting considering I hate nightclubs!
  10. The latest version of Cubase or Protools recording software
  11. Adobe CS5 Web Premium software (because, I am not quite smart enough to invent the self interpreting language in one lifetime)
  12. An alarm clock that plays a nice tune instead of BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! (which at 6am in the morning sounds more like Marilyn Manson going RRRAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!)
  13. An iPhone or similar with all of Muse’s songs and Govenor of Poker on it (hmmm, maybe this has a friendly alarm clock that will play Muse perhaps?)
  14. A recording studio with a monster desk that’s so long you need to roll your chair from one end to the other to reach all the buttons
  15. Chairs with NASA grade castors for withstanding the abuse at #14
  16. A more grunty computer that can tolerate all the work and Muse crap I put in it and allows attempts to create robot brains
  17. A memory chip and GPS for my own brain so I can remember stuff longer than 2 seconds ago and will no longer get lost walking around my own flat
  18. A microscope that can see things as small as those proposed in Superstring Theory (oh look! That’s where I left my keys…)
  19. A time machine that pauses time indefinitely so everyone can eventually make all the weird inventions dreamed up they can never finish in one lifetime.

What are yours?

Morgan 🙂

Image courtesy of Iva Villi


Posted: September 1, 2010 in Computer, Humour
Tags: , , , , ,

Dear Morgan,

I was looking for a photo file yesterday, which I happened to know was on my OLD desktop computer. It’s actually not THAT old, but it’s older than my laptop and much much slower. Anyway – it had been a while since I had turned it on, and it made loud groaning noises as it came to life. Then it had about 12 windoze updates to run, and it carried on grinding away for ages before it restarted.   That took a good hour!!   Finally, I could get on it and do something.  I immediately started getting rid of software I no longer used. But even that took me a while to work out. My laptop has Windows 7. I thought I’d never get used to it, but used to it I did, very fast. The old desktop has XP on it. Believe me, going back is harder than going forward!

I started cleaning up the icons on the desktop – and guess what I found. MSDos! MSDos!   Man – I hadn’t seen that for so long. Then I remembered my nickname at work a long time ago was DosQueen. Now that’s going back quite some time – to about 1988 or 1989.  I don’t think we had Windoze back then – in fact, I can’t remember what we had. All I do remember is that I paid $5000 for a 286. Yep! $5000 for a 286. I wonder if they’re worth that much now for antique collectors. When I think about it, I was probably really ripped off! The monitor was orange and black. No colour. Well – not like they are now. Everything was done from DOS – we started our programs up by typing in the name of the exe file to start it. Very weird.

Burglars did me a favour back then. They came into my place one night when I was away down in Whitianga, and stole everything. The computer, printers, backups, fax,TV, stereo. Everything. Fortunately I had replacement insurance. 286’s were no longer available, so it was replaced with the faster 486 complete with… Windoze 95 Can you imagine that? And I had a colour monitor this time. Amazing. I don’t even remember what Win 95 was like. I think that computer had something like a 4mb hard disk drive. 4mb! Do you know – my camera takes one photograph, and i’ts double that size. Oh yeah – and we had floppy disks. Disks that were 5.25 in and flopped. I haven’t seen one of those for ages. I wonder if anyone ever uses them now?

My next computer was a faster one –  a Pentium II – and it had a 40mb HDD. Oh – I thought I had such a lot of space compared to my 4mb. I can’t remember what it was, but it boasted Windows 3.1 However, I had never got used to windows explorer and I still used DOS whenever I had to copy files, or rename them, or move them etc.. I prefered to be in control – I hated Windows being in control. Moving into the 2000’s I upgraded again and got a computer with… 20Gb hard disk drive. Wow – you would think I had plenty, but no matter how often I upgraded, I always ended up getting low in hard disk space, and no matter how long I had my computers, and regardless of keeping everything up to date, they always got slower and slower! I’ve only had one Hard Disk Crash, with my last computer, and fortunately I lost nothing of consequence.

Going back to this old desktop with XP on it that I had up and going yesterday. It still has 39GB hard disk space left so I’m not running out of space. I found I could still use DOS – hadn’t forgotten about it at all, and still prefer it.

But I wonder – what will be our computers in 20 years time, considering in the last 20 years, they’ve gone through huge transformations in size, capacity, speed and price fluctuations. Desktops are now cheap as chips, and laptops are where you pick up the $5000 price tags. And where will Windows go? I hope it will be able to bring us breakfast and bed, and make coffee for us all day at the touch of the button or in DOS…

c:\>coffee.bat white nosugar

c:\>11012 changes made coffee in DVD drive please remove.

Maybe I should keep my current desktop for 50 years – it might eventually be worth something!

Oh – and while I did all that, I completely forgot to look for the file I was looking for, and was the original reason for starting it up.  Sigh.  I think my brain needs  a new memory chip!

Cheers Robyn