What’s wrong with this picture?

How not to make a banner ad
How not to make a banner ad

I saw this ad on a popular social networking website, and it just struck me as so wrong. Just because you’ve bought a horizontal banner doesn’t mean you can take a skyscraper ad (it’s not a “vertical” banner, it’s a “skyscraper” one, that’s the correct terminology) and just rotate it.

Unless this is a magical gravity-defying woman.

There’s crap ads, and then there’s stuff like this. Even the photo’s a bit poorly cropped too, the poor woman’s lost part of her right shoulder and a bit of knee and hip. My A-Level photography students could do a better job.

Attempting to repair my FAL Phase 44 amplifier

FAL Phase 44 Amplifier
FAL Phase 44 Amplifier

Sometime last year my old Kenwood hifi amp stopped working due to the speaker cutout relays not working. The speakers would never switch on, making for a fairly useless amplifier.

While my cousin was sorting out his mess before moving to the US he found this old “FAL” brand amplifier. A spot of Googling reveals this was made by a company called “Futuristic Audio Limited” who also seem to make guitar amps. He didn’t want it, I needed an amp, so it came home with me.

Due to its age I noticed quite a lot of noise when trying to adjust the volume so decided today to take it apart and attempt to clean the insides out. I also bought some switch cleaner to spray in the potentiometers.

The insides were very simple. Here is a photo of the main circuitboard which contains nothing but through-hole mounted resistors and capacitors. The most complex electronic components in this are the four transistors bolted to a piece of metal. There are also some large looking capacitors, and an interesting looking network of diodes.

Unfortunately I think cleaning the contacts on the potentiometers and switches might have messed the electrical characteristics of the amp up. Since this isn’t an IC based amp, I have a feeling there’s a fine balance between the components that makes the thing work, and squirting a load of switch cleaner into things has altered this. When I power the amp up, only the left channel works and the volume goes really loud then distorts – all by itself, without me moving the volume knob. I’ll leave it for a few hours to see if the cleaner evaporates off. It’s no great loss if it is broken, the reason I took it apart was because the sound wasn’t correct and the volume kept wandering between left and right speakers, so maybe it’s finally packed in.

Looking at the electronics inside, part of me wonders if it’s repairable.

Ubuntu 9.10 – Tedious Timewaste

I’m attempting to install Ubuntu 9.10 server edition on my server. To say it’s not going smoothly would be as big an understatement as saying “That Hitler bloke, he was a bit naughty, wasn’t he?”. The damn thing just won’t boot up! It gets as far as saying ‘Grub Loading.’ and then gets no further.

At first I thought it might be the weird combination of IDE controllers and disks I have. I have a 1TB SATA drive, plus two PATA drives. The machine is supposed to boot from one of the PATA drives, and use the SATA as a data drive. This used to work. It even used to work with some crazy extra IDE card in the machine. The motherboard has some half-baked combination of IDE, IDE-RAID and SATA, giving me a total of ten possible disks in the machine. Whoever designed this motherboard was going for a bit of everything, the machine even takes DDR and DDR2 RAM.

Thinking that maybe all this crap was confusing things I switched it all off and pulled out every drive except the drive I wanted to boot from and reinstalled Ubuntu on that. GRUB was installed, it all went well… then the machine rebooted and sat there looking like an oversized doorstop.

I know the BIOS can find the correct disk because I see the ‘GRUB Loading.’ message, but then it seems GRUB fails to find the rest of itself and stops working.

My next plan is to install onto a spare SATA disk I have to see what happens. If that fails I’ll install a previous version of Ubuntu to see if they broke something in this version. It seems they’ve switched to something called Grub2, which has lots of new cool features. Is “booting my system” one of these new features?

Lenovo S10e Touchpad problems – how do I disable browser zooming?

Right then, here’s a nice challenge… please read carefully because it’s not the usual thing you’re already thinking…

I have a Lenovo S10e netbook running XP. It has a Synaptics touchpad with the touchpad drivers installed. For some highly irritating reason, running my finger down the left hand edge (NOT the right) makes my web browser zoom in and out.

How do I turn it off? It’s driving me crazy.

I have been into the Synaptics touchpad control panel and disabled all scrolling, touch zones and everything except the tap-to-click. The really irritating thing is it only happens in web browsers, and only zooms them in or out. And it’s really useless.

Blogs and websites I like to read

I use Google Reader to follow quite a lot of websites, blogs and anything else interesting that squirts out an RSS feed. For the curious, here is a list of my favourites. I’m leaving out the well known things like XKCD, Dilbert, Hack-a-day and so on.

I often find these kinds of sites while browsing around the comment fields of popular websites. It’s fun to click the random links in people’s signatures…

What are your favourite websites to visit? I’m always interested in new things to read.

Ungodly freaks of nature found in my kitchen

If Cthulhu made veg
If Cthulhu made veg

Looking like something that’s crawled straight out of an HP Lovecraft novel, I found these living in the back of my veg basket in the kitchen. Once upon a time they were harmless baby new potatoes, destined to be brutally boiled in water and chewed to pieces.

And then! subject to nothing more than ambient daylight, a quantity of dog hair and cosmic background radiation they sprouted quite naturally mutated beyond all recognition into warped vegetables that Cthulhu itself would be proud of.

It seems the potatoes sprouted, using up all the energy in the main potato and then attempted to root into the air, put out some shoots and generally make a jolly good stab at turning into potato bushes of their very own. Then things went wrong and survival mode took over, causing smaller potatoes to be formed in some crazy sprouting fractal type mess. The result – potatoes for pixies.

Maybe I should leave them in a dish of water to see what happens.

Weird things on Freecycle

My local FreeCycle list occasionally contains some weird or highly specific items. Here’s the current crop…

  • Offered – Magic Pants. I wonder what makes them so magic?
  • Offered – Stair Lift, hardly used. A stairlift? The thing screwed to the side of stairs that makes it easy for people to get upstairs? Don’t they require professional installation and what if your stairs are the wrong size?
  • Wanted – One piece of wood 6 to 8 inches wide by approx 8 foot 6 inches long. Err… is there something wrong with the wood in B&Q? This is FreeCycle, not some sort of mail-order company.

No requests for plasma TVs or XBox 360s this week though, and it’s been at least a month since someone offered a bag of coathangers. Speaking of which, does anyone want some? I have a few too many 😉

Mame Cabinet – With added electroshock therapy

danger-electric-shock-risk-signAs part of my ongoing “learning by my near fatal mistakes” attitude to life I’ve discovered some interesting problems with my MAME cab. While undergoing the torture known as “getting MAME to work” I found the PC kept crashing, or being just plain weird. Having to reset the BIOS every time it was powered up was getting tedious too.

So, deciding the motherboard was probably to blame I reached my hand in and went to switch it off. While doing this I noticed that whenever I touched the PSU and rubbed my finger over it I felt a strange ‘fuzzy’ bumpy sensation, exactly like the weird vibration aluminium macbook owners sometimes experience. It also caused something to emit a familiar 50Hz humming sound.

After I’d finished playing with this amusement (really, if I’d discovered radioactivity, I’d be dead by now… oooh look at the glowing warm rocks!) I set about finding the source of the faulty ground connection. It didn’t take long, the 4-way power strip I was using had faulty connections where sometimes the earth pin of the plugs going into it didn’t make a good contact with anything.

That’s all fixed now, but the PC keeps crashing so I have no idea what’s wrong. I’ll try removing the wireless ethernet card now, maybe that’s at fault.