HDTV – myth or reality?

Being a geek, it is no surprise that my monitor (an Acer X223W) is bigger than my (Teac analogue) television. It therefore made sense that rather than upgrading my TV with a set top box, to investigate what’s on the market to receive HDTV on the computer.

The weapon of choice was a Gadget Geek USB HDTV tuner, purchased from Dick Smith for under $AUD 100. Not bad. Under Windows XP, it installed quickly and easily. The unit came with a mobile antenna and Blaze HD TV software, and on the first scan for channels, it found absolutely, yep you guessed it, nothing. So, out came the coax cable, and I plugged the USB HDTV tuner into the outlet in the wall (straight from the antenna – it was previously hooked into my stereo to receive FM radio). The coax cable only fared slightly better – receiving only the digital SBS channels. Just to be absolutely sure, I repeated the process on the other two coax outlets (yep, small unit and three phone lines and three coax outlets. I <3 my house. It will be even better when it’s CAT 6 wired). At most, I could receive 10% signal strength for one other digital channel.

Not to be deterred, I booted into my other operating system (Fedora Core 9) to see whether MythTV would fare any better. MythTV was a nightmare to install – it is not for Linux newbies. After spending four hours resolving dependencies in yum, I finally got the software to install… only to find that there are no Linux drivers for the USB HDTV tuner. Bummer.

Conclusion: I need a new antenna that can pick up HDTV signals. Well, it beats socks as an Xmas pressie 🙂

Making Links 08 – Intensive Web Day

The Making Links 08 conference was held this week at the University of Melbourne. The tagline of the conference is ‘where social action and technology meet’ – and the delegates are primarily from the community, not for profit, activist and educational sectors.

I decided to catch the train up to Melbourne as it’s both cheaper and less stressful than driving in peak hour traffic through the West Gate car park. Who should happen to sit next me on the train? None other than former Liberal member for Corangamite – Stewart McArthur. The irony was not lost on me – a presenter at a largely left wing conference chancing to sit next to a right wing MP. Perhaps the universe was having a chuckle. Stewart was devouring his way through at least three newspapers – so I tried to break the ice by asking him which one he thought was the most truthful. To his credit, he took the question very well and provided me with advice on the merits of various individual journalists. We got talking and I found out he was a keen runner, and he encouraged me to take up the sport. I felt like a politician when I refused to commit 🙂

My talk on the day was on free software for non-profit organisations;

making-links-kathyreid-useful-free-software (Open Office .odp file)

making-links-kathyreid-useful-free-software (Powerpoint .ppt file)

The presentation went well, and the audience let me know they were very pleased with it – and had a load of questions! 🙂

I then lead the CMS session – which didn’t go quite so well as we spent a lot of time on security issues rather than being able to demonstrate the software in a lot of depth.The group really wanted to see some different options with skinning Drupal and Joomla – however I hadn’t upoaded any and I couldn’t get FTP access with the wireless network connection. There was a lot of contention over whether Joomla or Drupal were more appropriate for use – with the comment raised theat Drupal documentation wasn’t up to scratch.

Some of the key themes expressed during the day were;

  • Concern over having sensitive information in databases hosted on the web: CiviCRM is a tool which holds contact details and personal information on donors and volunteers. Delegates were concerned about the security that would be applied to ensure that unauthorised access did not occur to this data.I’ve provided some links below for further information on these products.
  • Criteria on which to base a CMS decision: Many organisations wanted information on how to select the best CMS for their need. One of the delegates provided this handy link to CMS matrix which allows organisations to compare the functionality that is available through different CMSs.
  • How to being a foray into social networking: The organisations that were present needed pointers on how to step into the social networking waters – with some already on Facebook or Twitter, but with no real engagement strategy or supporting strategies.

Other key presentations included:

Jason King (non profit web designer) presented tips for non profits, including;

  • Register your name and keep it registered (so that somebody can’t grab it when it expires) – this theme was also bourne out by Darryl later on in the session with his presentation on whatsinaname.com.au, which lists all of the domain name registrars and prices for domain hosting (interestingly my host, Servers Australia isn’t on the list – and they’d be near the top for pricing)
  • Make sure that you keep all the details such as passwords for the site – so that in the event of a disagreement or dispute with the web designer, you’re able to get into the site and take control
  • Choose your web developers carefully – sometimes the director’s brother’s kid son is not the best person to plan or design your not for profit web site.

Andrew Edwards, of Huge Object also gave a presentation on working with developers, the key take aways being;

  • Know what you’re paying for – understanding exactly what the developer is quoting on can give you much clearer expectations of what will be delivered
  • Check our your developer – by making sure that they know what things like web standards are for instance
  • Have a clear idea of what you want in your website – so that what is delivered is more likely to be what is delivered

[Updated 17 Nov 08 to include summary of Jason and Andrew’s presentations]

Go Girl – Go for IT! 2008

The ‘Go Girl – Go for IT!’ event was held at Deakin University’s Burwood campus on 28-29th October and saw over 1200 secondary school girls attend dozens of presentations by women in IT, who spoke of their career directions and aspirations.  Organised by Victorian Women in ICT, the event aims to attract female middle secondary students into a career in information and communications technology – and to explain some of the subject choices they need to make to get there.

Having participated in BarCampMelbourne and Software Freedom Day, I was motivated to assist with Go Girl – Go for IT! Both BarCamp and SFD engender (no pun intended) a strong sense of community, have a strong freedom ethos and a determination to break down barriers to participation – all things shared by GGGIT. While the workload was overwhelming at first, and the days themselves were both stressful and exciting it’s definitely something I’d jump at the chance to be involved with again.

As a learning opportunity the presentations offered a number of insights.

  • Know your audience: Some of the presenters (I won’t mention names) tried to be edgy or hip with their presentations, and used swear words and other shock tactics to engage the audience – even though there was little substance to their presentation.  There is an appropriate context for swearing  and presenting to 15, 16 and 17 year olds is not an appropriate context. Substance first, flashy stuff second.
  • Know your audience: Some of the better presenters were both interesting and interested – interesting to watch and genuinely interested in the aspirations and dreams of their audience. Passion is something that you can’t fake.
  • Know your audience: Some presenters were the total opposite of hip – and downright boring to watch. 15 year old girls are not business analysts or programmers – and a data flow diagram is not going to engage them.

Observations from the day included;

  • Similar to BarCampMelbourne, I noticed that the majority of presenters were Mac rather than PC based – and not just those who were heavily into graphic arts, animation or video. It appears there is definitely an increasing takeup of MacOS.
  • Girls from schools with a lower socio-economic background appeared to appreciate the day and the presenters more than private schools – it was interesting that I was not the only volunteer to make this observation. The only conclusion I can draw here is that the private schools are afforded more similar opportunities – therefore appreciate them less.
  • Many of the regional schools had to arrive late and leave early because of the distance they had to travel – however many of them did make the effort to come which was pleasing to see.

For me personally, the stand out presentations were;

  • Pia Waugh: Of Software Freedom Day International and One Laptop Per Child fame, Pia spoke on how a career in ICT can provide all the things you want from a job – money, travel, interesting work etc. She went one level higher however and showed how the work that you can do can change the world.
  • Rebecca Cannon: Spoke on the Artabase site, that intends to be the next Facebook-style collaborative social networking site for artists all over the world.
  • Kylie Robertson: Discussed her work with Ish Media. This presentation was a hoot, as it showcased the Girl Friday serial that is downloadable on to mobile phones – and pioneered the way in mobile content.