Electronic Stability Control

Does it have ESC?: Australian website explaining Electronic Stability Control

Buying a new car (as opposed to an used one) doesn’t happen every day, but if it happens to you, I’d like to encourage you to ensure you get Electronic Stability Control on your new car. Statistics show that ESC, under whichever name you have purchased it, reduces the likelihood of a crash.

The worldwide body that represents motorists, the FIA, has been encouraging politicians worldwide to legislate to make ESC mandatory by 2012. According the FIA, making ESC standard on all cars will only increase prices by US$111.

In many luxury cars and even many family cars, ESC is standard. But in many smaller cars, ESC is an option you have to choose to pay money for. On a Mazda3 it costs $1000, on a VW Golf $690 and it can be tempting to rely on your own skills and experience and keep the money in your pocket.

But please, for your safety, for your children, for the person who buys your car used from you and for the general public, put safety as a priority and choose ESC when you buy your next new car.

For more info on modern automotive safety systems, check out Renault’s global safety page.

Depending on your brand, ESC is known as:

  • Electronic Stability Program (ESP) – Holden, Audi, Chrysler, Mercedes, Saab, Volkswagen
  • Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) – Ford, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover
  • Vehicle Stability/Swerve Control (VSC) – Toyota, Lexus
  • Active Stability Control (ASC) – Mitsubishi
  • Dynamic Stability And Traction Control – Volvo
  • Vehicle Stability Assist – Honda
  • Vehicle Dynamic Control – Subaru, Nissan.

30 days with Ubuntu, Vista and OSX

HardOCP logo

Spotted via Slashdot:

HardOCP.com has published “30 days with MacOSX” — with the same author from “30 days with Linux” and “30 days with Vista” doing the evaluation. Ultimately he likes the stability and security but other concerns keep him from recommending it.

Reading the 3 articles you come away with the conclusion that the perfect Operating System hasn’t been invented yet. Even Windows XP SP2, the current standard by which all others are judged, doesn’t make the grade when you consider the advantages the alternatives bring.

If you have a bit of spare time and an interest in what your next computer might look like, please have a read.

30 days with Linux – March 5, 2007 30 days with Windows Vista – April 4, 2007 30 days with Mac OS X – June 5, 2007

Anything But iPod

Anything but iPod is a news and reviews website for digital audio (MP3) players that looks beyond the market leader. Their aim is not to bash or diminish Apple’s offering, but to publicise and review MP3 players from other manufacturers that are, in their words easier to use, that give you more for your money, and that still have style and class.

Grundig MPixx 2000

The site gets updated most days with reviews of the latest MP3 and Digital Audio players from such brands as:

  • Grundig
  • Samsung
  • Meizu
  • Philips
  • Toshiba
  • Sony
  • Creative
  • SanDisk
  • iRiver

iPod has been incredibly successful and with good reason. iPods are stylish, easy to use, well integrated with iTunes and your computer’s operating system. Priscilla has an iPod nano which she enjoys on a daily basis. But I love going against the grain, supporting the underdog, so I applaud Anything but iPod’s efforts to promote some appealing alternatives.

In slightly related news, Maximum PC have an article up comparing iTunes regular 128kbps AAC sound quality (DRM spec) with the new, improved 256kbps AAC (DRM free). They perform the comparison with the regular iPod bud earbuds and also some high end Shure SE420 earphones. Read it here. Interesting and unexpected conclusions.


Rockbox logo

Almost a year ago now I purchased a Toshiba Gigabeat digital audio player. During this period I have learned a few things – such as it often locks up and needs to be restarted if you leave it in a hot car in the sun, I only own 13GB of music and 16 hours of battery time means you need to recharge it every 2-3 weeks during regular commuting.

When I purchased it I was pointed towards Rockbox, an alternate firmware or operating system for players such as mine. At that point, the Gigabeat version was still in beta status, but the iRiver, iPod and Archos versions were working well. I looked again this week and discovered that the Gigabeat version is now stable and fully functional.

I was encouraged to do this after I spotted someone else on my train with the same player I had, except she had a much cooler theme, selecting albums by the album cover graphic rather than just a text based list. I decided my device needed an upgrade.

So I downloaded Rockbox. I didn’t follow the instructions on their site, instead using the ‘fool proof’ method posted by Mozhoven at the My Gigabeat forums.

Using the official firmware, the only way you can put music on the Gigabeat in a format that will get played is to use the official software, either Windows Media Player 10 (or greater) or Gigabeat Room. These programs convert your mp3 or wma files to SAT format, an encrypted version, so even your non-DRM files get obfuscated.

With Rockbox, you simply copy the files over. The player can then use the files as is, either selected via the file manager or via the database (of artist, album, genre etc.). One obvious advantage of Rockbox is that the player can now play more music formats, MP3 and WMA as before, but now also OGG, AAC (as used by Apple), FLAC and WAV, amongst others.

It also adds a lot of other features that I didn’t realise my Gigabeat was capable of. It can play Doom in 320×240, has a Gameboy Colour emulator and has a bunch of games written for it like Sudoku, nibbles and solitaire. Not that the PlusTouch control is particularly intuitive, but it is there.

Doom running on an iPod Nano via Rockbox

There is a project going on that will allow Rockbox to play video such as the iPod video H.264 format, amongst other ongoing development, another difference from the official.

So thus far I am very happy with my new, more capable Gigabeat. It was a bit scary blowing away the official software (you can ‘dual boot’ if you choose) but the result has been excellent.

  • A good review if you own an iPod is here: NewsForge
  • Another linux/gigabeat user details his experiences: Linuxphile
  • Wikipedia Rockbox Page: Wikipedia

Zenwalk Linux

Zenwalk Logo

Zenwalk is a GNU/Linux operating system designed to be modern, fast, rational, complete and evolutionary. I installed the latest version (4.2) on my laptop this weekend. Compared to recent Ubuntu and SuSE installs, it was a little intimidating as it was completely text based and asked hard questions that you may not know the answer to – such as which mouse driver you want to use for X.

Once installed the XFCE based desktop is fast and easy to use, but configuring the underlying system was a bit strange to me. Zenwalk is based on Slackware and doesn’t seem to have it’s standard configuration files where I expected them within /etc. I couldn’t get the wireless lan working, the Zenwalk tool wifi-radar didn’t like my setup. Eventually I created a wpa_supplicant.conf file manually and finally got connected. Since then I’ve written a small script that runs iwconfig, wpa_supplicant and dhcpcd that connects my laptop up to the local network. Post a comment or use the contact form if you’d like a copy of my config files.

Zenwalk is really up to date for a linux system. The version I am running was released on January 6, 2007 and has the latest version of all it’s small number of packages. The kernel, for instance, is version, which was released by the linux kernel maintainers on 16 December, 2006. VIsit Zenwalk’s page on Distrowatch to see full version info.

If you’ve never tried linux before I’d still recommend you stick with Ubuntu but if you have slightly older hardware that could use a speed boost or you want to give a more marginal distribution a spin and don’t mind fiddling with a few config files yourself, Zenwalk could be worth a look.

Zenwalk Desktop


Lifehacker logo

Lifehacker is a website that links to lots of other websites and is all about getting things done. They describe themselves as the productivity and software guide and exist to help people use technology to save time, not just spend that time trying to get technology to work.

I often see links to the latest Lifehacker articles on Delicious Popular. The site is occasionally Mac-centric but that’s okay, there is still lots of good info there for the rest of us.

One example is this link to some free online investment education from Morningstar. Or the Emergent Time Tracker over at David Seah.

Lots of good stuff that can be helpful in daily life. Not as helpful as the Word, of course, but still good.

Tweaking Ubuntu’s desktop

I bailed on DesktopBSD a couple of weeks ago when the new Ubuntu Edgy Eft came out. Installed as the lone OS on my laptop it is now set-up and doing all the things I use it for.

Changing the video driver to use the official one (fglrx) from ATI rather than the open source (radeon) one was simple and effective, although it must be said that the open source radeon driver seems light years in front of the equivalent nv driver for Nvidia cards. With Nvidia cards you basicly have no choice but to use the proprietary one to get decent performance.

I still can’t seem to get Ubuntu to detect and use my wireless card, a dodgy Netgear PCMCIA WG511v2 that is made in China, using approved methods. Getting Ndiswrapper going was simple enough, but NetworkManager still doesn’t recognise that I have a working Internet connection, despite the fact Gnome itself is happy to.

I got DVD playback happening with Ogle as Totem didn’t want to play ball. Totem is happy playing back my DivX files and mp3’s though. I considered Amarok but it’s QT look jarred with the smooth GTK appearance of all my other programs. So instead Rhythmbox gets a start again as music jukebox and is working fine.

Gaim is set-up, working with my MSN, yahoo, ICQ and googletalk accounts. And pleasantly the weather is displayed in the task bar. My wallpaper is this shot from Canberra’s Telstra Tower that I found on Wikipedia.

Wallpaper thumbnail

One thing that was frustrating me was the placement of the tool bars. In Gnome, by default there is a bar across the top of the screen for start menu, quick launch bar and task bar. There is also a bar across the bottom of the screen that shows a window list, workspace switcher and minimize all. This arrangement works fine on my 1280×1024 CRT monitor, but takes up too much screen real estate on my 14 inch wide-screen laptop.

The solution I’ve come up with should look familiar to many Mac OS users. I have consolidated the two bars into the one at top of screen and removed the quick launch bar. This puts space at a bit of a premium, but I am coping. I installed gdesklets and have configured its starterbar which looks a lot like the Apple dock. It looks and works quite well now.

I’m still working on getting the PPTP VPN connection to my work going, but other than that I think the system is very usable and definitely able to replace XP for daily use.


Celtx Screenshot

Celtx is essentially a free script writing program. It is free as in beer – you don’t have to pay for it – and free as in speech – you can view and make changes to the source code, if you like.

It has really good formatting and syntax – it is easy to see and understand what is going on when you read a manuscript – and compares admirably well to the industry standard proprietary program Final Draft.

From a technical point of view Celtx is based upon the mozilla suite source code. It seems a bit strange that a word processor type program can come from a web browser, but makes a bit of sense if you think it through. The Mozilla composer is a wysiwyg html editor – turning text into a format that renders in a particular way, which is all this program does. Mozdev describes Celtx not so much as a scriptwriting tool, but as a project collaboration tool for people who work in film, TV, theater and New Media.

I doubt Celtx will appeal to everyone out there, but if you are looking to write up a skit, play or even an event’s running sheet, Celtx looks to be an elegant, free solution that is likely to provide a much better result than using MS Word.

In other news, IE7 is out, but you probably already knew that. I wrote this post using Firefox 2.0 RC2 (on a Ubuntu Edgy beta desktop) and was very impressed with the inbuilt spell checking feature. Small enhancements seem to characterise this release, but they appear well thought out and mature, rather than breakthrough and unstable.


Akismet Button

Akismet is a spam filtering plugin for blogs. It stands for Automattic Kismet – Automattic is the company which funds the project and also employs most of the WordPress developers. Kismet meaning fate or fortune. I guess that means that Akismet gives spam bloggers what they deserve – no recognition, money or links.

Akismet is built into WordPress version 2 and available for other platforms. A list is here and includes Drupal, Movable Type and Expression Engine. It is free for non-commercial use, which Automattic define as making less than US$500 a month from your blog.

This site doesn’t exactly have the worlds largest readership, but I still manage to get blog comment spam, particularly when I write about money. So when I rebuilt this server about a month ago I went off and registered for Akismet by signing up for a wordpress.com account. Since then Akismet has blocked 110 spam comments from being posted (and deleted) on my blog, including 4 in the last 24 hours.

The way Akismet works: when a new comment, trackback, or pingback comes to your blog it is submitted to the Akismet web service which runs hundreds of tests on the comment and returns a thumbs up or thumbs down. The statistics say that 93% of all comments are spam.

I know Google’s Blogger uses image recognition to block automatic comment posting. Do any of you guys out there get a lot of spam on your sites? What do you do to keep it under control?

DesktopBSD woes

DesktopBSD logo

DesktopBSD is an operating system for your computer. It is a customised FreeBSD installation which is designed to offer a powerful, easy to install system designed to meet the needs of most desktop users. BSD is a version of UNIX® and DesktopBSD runs the KDE desktop.

I realised a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t need to keep Windows XP on my newish bargain laptop and rather than dual booting into Linux, as I had been, I thought I would make the little fellow a purely open source system and use it for web development and general use. I was keen to try a BSD variant and DesktopBSD seemed to fit the mould as this machine is primarily about desktop use, rather than being a server.

I prefer the GNOME desktop, but thought I should give KDE a go as many people seem to prefer it and I know there is some very swish eye candy that you can implement. So, I downloaded the DesktopBSD DVD iso via Bittorrent, burned it and went to install.

But DesktopBSD didn’t boot into the installer. You get some options, though and remarkably the system was happy to install in SAFE mode. A very easy install process then went on – much simpler than XP and much, much simpler than the normal FreeBSD install, then I rebooted, fingers crossed.

DesktopBSD didn’t boot. It just freezes after some kernel messages and puts a not very interesting pattern on the screen. Trying with ACPI disabled produced a different pattern, but no progress. SAFE mode worked again, however, so eventually X came up and KDE materialised on my computer. No wireless card, no sound, my 1280×768 screen being stretched into 1024×768 and only working in SAFE mode, but nonetheless I had a (mostly) working system.

Googling for DesktopBSD and FreeBSD problems for Compaq Presario V2000 machines fixed the screen, which was good. A small change to the X.org config file and all was good. More searching indicated my SAFE mode issue is caused by a dud “Serial Interface Bus” driver – sio – not working with my motherboard. So I followed instructions and recompiled the BSD kernel. No change. Tried a couple more times, with different changes each time, but no success. On about my 6th recompile, it worked. The dud driver seemed to be ioapic in my case. APIC stands for Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controllers and for you and means that you get 24 IRQ’s instead of 15, but is really useful in multi-processor systems.

Once the PC was booting up in regular mode I was able to start using it for general use. Web browsing, remote logins and some slideshow creation all worked pretty good. KDE was pretty, but nothing special having come from 3D accelerated GNOME. I haven’t got SuperKaramba going yet, which provides desktop widgets like Konfabulator, or any of the other pretty additions you can make. Ksmoothdock looks pretty cool and probably seems familiar to the Mac OSX users out there.

Not my KDE desktop

I can live without sound, but having to run a cable around the house to access the network is pretty annoying and might be enough to have me drop DesktopBSD and pick up another O/S. I’ve followed all the instructions, but still my Marvell chipsetted Netgear WG511v2 card won’t work. It’s been over a week since I started the install (not constant, other things get in the way) and maybe the effort is going to continue to go unrewarded.

FreeBSD is a mature operating system, but I think you need to know how to work with it a bit better than I do to get it to work properly. DesktopBSD is a good step towards making it more accessible and maybe the upcoming DesktopBSD 1.6 will address some of the problems I’m having. Until then, my best shot at a KDE desktop based system is probably running Kubuntu or MEPIS.