Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Computing/2011 January 3

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January 3[edit]

Media center help[edit]

I'd like to set up some kind of all-in-one TV box for my parents with a minimum of expense and effort. The current situation:

  • They live in California.
  • They have a decent 4:3 CRT TV with coaxRCA composite and S-Video inputs; they don't want a new TV.
  • They watch digital broadcast TV (using an external decoder box) and record it on a VHS VCR. They also rent DVDs and are thinking about signing up for Netflix for the online streaming feature. They don't have or want cable.
  • They have some disused tower PCs, but they're a bit outdated (circa 2000), and somewhat noisy, and have the sort of hardware you'd find in an office PC.
  • They have several current PCs running XP or Vista, but they are only powered on when in use. One of them is a laptop with an S-Video output, but they don't want to use it as their media center PC.

Desired media center features:

  • Remote-controlled, of course.
  • Play videos from YouTube, Netflix, etc. in full screen mode.
  • Record and play back broadcast TV on an internal or USB drive (including recording one thing while watching another).
  • Optional: play AVI files and the like (ideally with mplayer/VLC's codec support).
  • Optional: play DVDs (their existing player works fine).
  • No monthly fee (which rules out TiVo, for example).
  • No slow animated menus or "recommended shows" or anything else that will get in the way of playing the frigging movie already. Their lives don't revolve around the boob tube.

I have no experience with setting up something like this and I'm overwhelmed by the number of products listed at Template:Home theater PC (application software). I don't want to sink a lot of time and effort into a system only to find that it's a hassle to use or the video skips on playback. I'd prefer something that's open source, or at least has an open API, not only on principle but also because it seems a lot more likely to have the right feature set.

Ideal cash outlay would be less than $100. That seems ridiculously low until you consider that there's an XBox for $20 on Craigslist right now and I could probably install XBMC4Xbox on it. Not that that's necessarily my best option. I hope that someone here with more experience can advise me. Sorry about the long question... -- BenRG (talk) 10:28, 3 January 2011 (UTC)

One inconsistency I see right away is wanting Netflix and not wanting monthly fees. I suppose you can sign up for the free month, but after that they will catch you, if you cancel and sign up again with the same credit card or at the same address. Some thoughts:
1) Bite the bullet and get a Netflix subscription, for under $10 a month.
2) A set-top box, such as the LG BD300, would give you access to both Netflix streaming on the TV (with a subscription) and to YouTube (for free), with a remote. It can be had for around $150: [1]. However, this model also includes the ability to play both DVDs and Blu-Rays and audio CDs and show a picture slide-show, with music, from a USB stick drive, and has many outputs, such as digital audio and HDMI, which you don't need. If you don't want all that, you can probably find a cheaper model. That model also has the annoyance that you have to reauthorize Netflix every 3 months by going online and punching in a code it spits out. That wouldn't be so bad, except it gives no warning that a renewal is needed, and stops you right in the middle of a movie with the message that "You are not authorized to use this device".
3) If the TV only has 2 inputs, one being S-VIDEO and the other being a coax (antenna) input, you are likely to need a switch box, to allow one from multiple input devices to be directed to the TV's S-VIDEO input. Unfortunately, these tend to lack remote controls, meaning they would have to walk over and push the button for the desired input (computer, digital-to-analog over-the-air box, Netflix box, DVD player, etc.).
4) Recording and playing back shows is probably the hardest, in your price range. You'd need a large hard drive (if you don't already have one that's available), or several USB stick drives, as a typical movie runs around 4-8 GB in standard def. You'd also need a TV capture card (be careful, as the cheaper ones record at a lower resolution only). Those two items alone probably would blow the $100 budget.
Some follow-up Q's:
A) What are the outputs from the modern PCs (XP or Vista) they are willing to use for media ?
B) I think Service Pack 3 is generally required for XP to play video properly. Do they have that ?
C) Why don't they want to use the laptop for video ?
D) Would they consider watching videos directly on the PC ?
E) What are the outputs from the DVD player ?
F) Does the TV really only have 2 inputs, one being S-VIDEO and the other being a coax (antenna) input ? What is hooked up to those inputs now ? StuRat (talk) 16:52, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
Unfortunately for your money and existing hardware, you won't be able to find what you want. I recently set up a (relatively) cheap media center PC, and it ran close to $500, but I built it from scratch. A decent TV Tuner card will run around $100 and you need a graphics card capable of outputting to your TV. Depending on your needs, this may be more or less expensive. For people who are less technically savvy, Windows 7 with Windows Media Center seems to be fairly intuitive once set up and works great with a remote (unfortunately remotes that work with windows media center can get a bit pricey). You will need a large hard drive for recording TV. I'd recommend a MINIMUM of 500GB on a separate drive from the system drive for storing recordings. Even converting existing hardware can get a little pricey. I'm not going to recommend any open source solutions because I haven't found any that my grandma can pick up and use. Many are very powerful, but they tend to expose too many options at every level for your "average" user. If they just want to watch netflix streaming, a Roku box is available for $60. The media center PC is simply not something you can do for $100 unless you want to make major compromises. If you want to hook up an existing PC to a computer, you can throw XMBC or something onto it and find a remote that will work. There are also USB TV Tuners you can buy. It won't be pretty or very well integrated and it will likely exceed your budget on the TV Tuner alone, but it will work. (talk) 17:18, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
Thanks for the replies. Ignore what I said about coax—the TV has two RCA composite inputs and one S-Video. When I said "no monthly fee" I meant none unique to the device itself—they would pay for a Netflix subscription. These aren't the proverbial tech-clueless [grand]parents. They are capable of swapping out RCA cables and hooking up laptops and clicking through lots of menus if necessary; they'd just rather it not be necessary. Service packs and such aren't a problem. The problem with the one suitable laptop is that sometimes one of them wants to watch a movie while the other uses the laptop for something else. Also, they'd rather not lug it to the TV room and back.
I think the newest computer they're not using is a P2 or P3 with 128MB or so. There's also an ATI All-in-Wonder 128 (good for input) and a Sigma Hollywood Plus MPEG card (good for output) around somewhere, which I would have mentioned before if I'd been thinking. There's at least one unused 160GB drive as well, which should be plenty, since they don't need a permanent media library and I doubt they'd want to store more than 10 hours of TV at a time. That's almost all the hardware that should technically be necessary (still lacking a remote), but I don't know if any of the off-the-shelf software packages would support this outdated Frankenstein monster. The software would have to handle realtime MPEG encoding, too, since neither the ATI nor the Sigma cards support that. That CPU ought to be fast enough for that in theory, but in practice I have no idea.
The $60 Roku is an interesting possibility, though it couldn't replace their VCR. I'm tempted to go with a sub-$60 used XBox with custom software in that case, though. Is that a terrible idea? -- BenRG (talk) 08:47, 4 January 2011 (UTC)
I've used hacked xboxes before and they're fairly good for loading media onto or streaming from another computer, but it doesn't make for a good DVR. The Roku boxes are very elegant and simple when it comes to Netflix so that's a good investment if they want Netflix on the TV (It also supports Hulu Plus and Amazon VOD). A Pentium 3 with 128MB of RAM also isn't really good enough to be a DVR. It might be passable depending on the speed of the processor, but for recording and converting video (especially in real time) you will see pretty heavy slowdowns when trying to watch video... if it can keep up at all. As far as software goes, you can try XMBC, but I'm not completely sure how well it will handle an older computer like you describe. It likes to use a lot of resources and had trouble on the G4 Mac Mini I set up as a media center pc a year or so back. The ATI card would be good for video capture if it supports ATSC (digital TV) so that's one less component you do need to buy. If you aren't spending money on anything, there's no harm in trying it! (talk) 15:49, 4 January 2011 (UTC)
Netflix will run on an XBOX 360, in case you decide to go that way. You said the TV has "two RCA composite inputs and one S-Video" (and I assume 1 or 2 coax antenna inputs). That might be just enough to connect everything up without needing a switch-box or to swap out cables periodically. I count 5 possible input devices: VHS, DVD, digital-to-analog converter box, computer, XBOX/Roku/LG. If you have 4 input channels, then you would need to leave at least one off. Perhaps you can either connect the computer or XBOX/Roku/LG, or you could leave the VHS or DVD disconnected. Of course, just having the same number of input devices as channels doesn't mean they all match. Another consideration is that using the coax inputs generally leads to a visible degradation of the video quality (the differences between the other inputs is more subtle). Also, does the TV remote allow you to freely switch inputs between all input channels ? StuRat (talk) 17:08, 4 January 2011 (UTC)
The Xbox 360 needs a live subscription to use Netflix on top of the price of the console (already exceeding the budget). If you don't use any of the other services on the xbox, the $50/year would be better spent on the Roku box which has no additional fee. (talk) 19:49, 4 January 2011 (UTC)
...meaning no additional fee beyond Netflix, right ? StuRat (talk) 23:55, 4 January 2011 (UTC)
Correct. The old black Xbox is also the one people hack into a media center. I haven't seen anyone hack an xbox 360 (outside of modchips for homebrew/pirated stuff) so I'm assuming the op was referring to an old style xbox, and considering this is for less tech savvy parents, I'd advise against that as any sort of long term solution anyway. (talk) 15:45, 5 January 2011 (UTC)

When sending a .JAR (Java ARchve) file with gmail. Can it somehow be rendered useless?[edit]

I want to send a .JAR (Java ARchve) file as an attachment to an email (I, the sender, use
Will it allways get through, as a still runnable application, to and from any operating system? and no matter what email service/emailprogram the receiver uses?
Or are there some combinations of platforms, or circumstances, that will render the file useless? -- (talk) 11:32, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
-- Delayed signature: (OP) Reprintmaker4u (talk) 00:24, 6 January 2011 (UTC)

Does the receiver's computer have a compatible Java Runtime Environment installed? If you want to verify the file integrity, you should compute an MD5 hash or other checksum; see our article on md5sum. If the files match on both ends, then it has been transmitted exactly, bit for bit. If it still does not run, have the user check if Java is installed. Depending on the contents of your JAR, you might require a recent version of the JVM - especially if you used Java 6 or newer. Nimur (talk) 14:09, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
I see! (...recent version of the JVM...), but how about the uploading to, transportation by and the downloading from Is that likely to sometimes, somehow, slightly garble a file and make trouble?
Or do some mail systems have a size limit on email attachments? -- OP 20:33, 3 January 2011 (UTC) (talk) 20:47, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
In the "old days" it was very common for email systems to garble binary file attachments, (usually because they used a MIME encoding, often base-64, and very commonly garbled binary files. Many MIME encoders proceeded to use 7-bit ASCII and replace the 8th bit with a parity bit. If the two sides (encoder and decoder) did not use the same convention (one or the other did not use the parity bit), then garbling would occur. This is very uncommon nowadays - specifically with GMAIL, which does not use a MIME encoding for attachments if you send from one GMAIL account to another GMAIL account. (Google uses a proprietary, internal file transfer protocol). Gmail forbids executable files and files larger than 25 MB - it isn't clear if that includes JAR files (which aren't technically executables). If you are only using GMAIL on one end of the connection, it is probable that the attachment does get MIME-encoded; and there are a few MIME handlers that break GMAIL's system (see, for example, attachments that appear inline). Ultimately, if you suspect there's a file corruption, compare hashes or checksums using md5sum (available for all major operating systems and platforms). Nimur (talk) 21:53, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
Thank you! (This entry in continued in the following section, my next question (below), which is related to this one).
--(OP) Reprintmaker4u (talk) 00:24, 6 January 2011 (UTC)

Is there a standardized scanner interface that one may use in Java? (Scan to PDF application)[edit]

I know next to nothing about java programing (I have only written a "hello world!" program once about ten years ago :-)
Now I wonder:
Is it possible to write a Java application, with a graphical user interface, that will:

  • let you directly scan some pages (i.e. not depend on any other scanning software)
  • rotate, zoom, crop and make a single PDF file of them

and to make this application work

  • on any hardware and operating system platform
  • without knowing in advance what kind of scanner(s) will be installed and available.

If the above is possible, then how much is it likely that I would have to pay for someone to write this and to release it as open source free software? (Possibly with the condition that any subsequent use of this code also must be open source and free). -- (talk) 12:22, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
Delayed signing: -- (OP) Reprintmaker4u (talk) 03:42, 6 January 2011 (UTC)

The Java Image Acquisition package, part of the official Java Advanced Imaging, exists. It will rely on the operating system to provide drivers for the scanner, so that might require some custom configuration or installation of scanner software external to the Java environment; but once that's set up, all scanners, cameras, and other image sources can be accessed in a platform-independent way. The Java code you write never needs to know the exact type of scanner. The other features, such as cropping, zooming, and so forth, can also be done with the JAI library. Saving to PDF, if I recall, requires a third-party unofficial Java library (though there may be some support from the official Java system libraries). I also have found JLibEPS useful - it's the open-source (GPL) fork of a now commercial Java post-script library (another useful format for saving images - postscripts are often an intermediate step in generating PDFs from generic images or documents). I guess I should clarify, since you are apparently not a programmer - these are libraries that would make it easy for a programmer to write new software - but they are not finished applications that an end-user could use today, with a user interface to support image scanning and manipulation. That would require some work, but any qualified Java programmer could design an application to your specifications, without much difficulty, by using these and other libraries. Nimur (talk) 14:16, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
Thank you for an enlightening answer!
Now, could you please make a rough estimate of what would be a decent pay to get this code written?
By the way: what is the name of the software licence which demands that all subsequent use of the code also must be free and open source software? -- OP
Assuming that the libraries do everything except the interface, a simple, non-flashy tool might be 2–4 weeks of work at (guessing) $2k/week. You're referring to copyleft with your second point; the most famous is the GPL, but there are many others. --Tardis (talk) 20:06, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
Thank you :-)
Now I just came to think about the security aspect of sending such a program to potential helpers (who could scan me a desired text on the oter side of the world)...
Would it be possible to make a java applet to do this job? (If I have understood things right, then java applets will be "contained" in such a way that the recipient can be sure of that it does not mess with anything other than what it is explicitly given access to (i.e.the scanner and the right to create a new PDF-file). -- OP (talk) 21:15, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
It could be done as an applet; but that actually does introduce significantly more complexity and will require a programmer with a more specific skill-set. Java Applets are designed to limit (prevent) access to hardware and local resources, (things like files and scanners) by default. Applets that want access to such resources will require a security policy management. Your programmer will need to know details about Java Security Policy as it relates to the JAI library, and program your applet to handles this issue. Nimur (talk) 21:59, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
If you have "helpers" rather than customers, then you might scale down your goal: just have your application produce raw images (as .png, perhaps), have your collaborators send those to you, and then rotate/scale/crop/assemble them yourself when they arrive. That might halve the work needed to write the code (since there are then many fewer features that need interfaces), although it also of course moves work from the helpers onto you (which might be good or bad). As for security (of your helpers, it seems), if you're open to the product being free software, then you can just send the source and have people compile it themselves. Of course, the helpers may have neither the necessary compiler nor the ability to audit the code for safety, but you can gain a good bit of trust by merely publishing the source and the compiled version of it, since then anyone could point out dangers in your code or a mismatch between the two versions. --Tardis (talk) 23:14, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────@Nimur & @Tardis: Again Thank you both! This and the question above, are related to the same software project. After reading your replies I wrote a more detailed projet description (see below). Because of the added security for the user and the ability to run applets as embedded objects on a web page, then I decided that I want my "scan-to-PDF application" to be an applet after all – even though it will make the code more expensive to get written. And Yes! I will only have "helpers"! no customers! so security for my helpers, ease of use and no hassle is of the essence.
Most of the time I will neither know what kind of software nor platform type, that the recipient of my java applet will be using. Sometimes she may even be an old grandmother that did not even know that her printer is a scanner too!  ;-)
At other times the recipient may be a highly programming and computer literate librarian, with no time to spare on checksums, auditing or recompiling sourcecode. Then the property of being an applet that is free copyleft software may have some reassuring value. I gather from your replies that such an application probably sometimes, some places, will work and sometimes not. To check the transmission and quickly determine whether or not it is likely that I may get a readable PDF in return, I guess I will just have to send over an applet of a hand-waving Duke (mascot), or something, ask if they can see the compass needle waving to them on their screen and then ask them to forward the email back to me so I can see that Duke is still waving his hand at me after the roundtrip through the foreign system.
Well, neither the financing nor the specification is in order yet but surely there must be quite a few potential future users, a bit perfectionistic like me, that even will be willing to chip in a small coin to get this project properly coded and with a nice set of features all the way from the start. I hope or maybe I should rather say: "wish" (to be on the safe side) that I will get this going to version 1.0 within a year. (A draft project description is found on my userpage).
-- (OP) Reprintmaker4u (talk) 03:42, 6 January 2011 (UTC)

Hard drive[edit]

I looked under the system properties of my hard drive today, and it says the manufacturer was "(Standard disk drives)". Obviously this isn't a corporation, so what is it? And any clue on who made my hard drive? --T H F S W (T · C · E) 18:29, 3 January 2011 (UTC)

Go to My Computer→right click C disc→property→hard ware. Then you can see the manufacturer. At least I can see mine. Oda Mari (talk) 18:54, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
That's exactly what I have been doing. Here is exactly what it says: "Manufacturer: (Standard disk drives)". Which company is considered the standard? --T H F S W (T · C · E) 20:55, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
According to this from microsoft it means "the actual manufacturer information is not included." That article is about Windows Management Servers or something, but it's the only relevant thing I could find and probably also applies to basic Windows OS (talk) 21:07, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
There are at least three different softwares that might be able to provide this information - Speccy, Everest by Lavalys, and System Information for Windows. The last two may be available from the Last Freeware Version website. I expect there are probably more specific programs that can provide information about harddrives. Edit: Everest is available from and there is a freeware version of SIW here (scroll down) although I am not certain if that is the best freeware version. in the System Utilities, System Tools, System Information sub-sub-menu offers several programs that may provide the information you require. It also says SIW offers to download other software which you can decline. (talk) 22:10, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
Open up your computer and look inside. The hard drive's manufacturer is always printed on the hard drive.--Best Dog Ever (talk) 23:43, 3 January 2011 (UTC)

I'm going to assume this : By Standard disk drives, I believe it means it's just any working disk drive. SEcondly, I can clearly see in Device Manager under disk drives, my disk drive. Just select the correct one (not your USB) General Rommel (talk) 05:01, 4 January 2011 (UTC)
When I look at the drive properties in Windows 7, I see "(Standard disk drives)" under "Manufacturer" in the "Device Properties" group, but above that in the list view I see a name that begins "WDC" (for Western Digital Corporation) followed by a model and serial number. Do you not see similar information? The interface between hard drives and the rest of the computer is standardized, so Windows can use most drives without needing to know who made them. It uses a standard device driver for standards-compliant disk drives, in other words, and this is presumably what "(Standard disk drives)" refers to. Some other devices, such as graphics cards, are not so well standardized and need a device-specific driver to use all but the most basic features. -- BenRG (talk) 09:10, 4 January 2011 (UTC)

two networks, additive bandwidth?[edit]

Hi Given that my computer and router both have wifi and that they are currently hardwired together, is the hypothetical bandwidth if I connect the wifi as well any greater? I can't detect a difference in my halfbaked experiments with web pages loading, but I think that's because I'm limited by Comcast's bandwidth. Task manager's network tab shows the wired network at 100 Mbps and the most I've ever seen it run at is 5%. But of course, Comcast offers higher performance tiers, if I can deal with it at my end... Thanks. Gzuckier (talk) 19:07, 3 January 2011 (UTC)

You are right that the cable modem bandwidth is the limiting factor, so you won't gain anything even if you're able to set this up as you describe. Their "PowerBoost" advertisement at this link mentions a 15Mbps speed for downloading, maximum, whereas, as you write, your wired network maxes out at 100Mbps. The upload speed of the cable modem is even worse. In any case, I don't believe that consumer-grade routers and PC drivers are set up to support both Wi-Fi and wired connections to boost the speed of a single network connection. Each connection would normally be treated as a separate connection, and your poor OS would be attempting to have two IP addresses simultaneously. Comet Tuttle (talk) 19:24, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
The bandwidth is actually greater, but only between your computer and your router. If you had special computing needs, such as massive file transfer across the local network, parallelism on the network connection in this way might actually give you a performance speed-up. (You'd need to be a bit technically savvy to make this work properly - designing a mechanism to strobe data across both connections). However, you still have the same bandwidth between the router and the rest of the internet - so you can't speed websites up with this trick. Nimur (talk) 22:02, 3 January 2011 (UTC)

is the iPhone alarm problem over?[edit]

can I use it to get up tomorrow, gmt+1 is my time zone, at 7:45 local time? please answer in the next hour as I'll be going to sleep. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:18, 3 January 2011 (UTC)

IIRC, it works if you set an alarm that repeats daily, but may fail if you set a one-off alarm. Apple says it should be fixed by the 3rd Jan, but I've seen dissenting opinions. --Tagishsimon (talk) 19:22, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
Problems are still being reported - highly advisable to have a backup alarm system in place. Exxolon (talk) 21:26, 3 January 2011 (UTC)


I've heard about a few different groups supposedly archiving Twitter, specifically the Library of Congress and Google, yet I can't find any searchable archives online whatsoever. Twitter themselves only allow you to see the last 160 pages / 3200 "tweets", which is pitiful when trying search though someone with 60,000 tweets. And Twitters own search sucks anyway. I don't have a twitter account so maybe there are more advanced options for those that do, but I've failed to find anything which allows you to look back over all messages. I've tried a few third party sites which claim to be able to search old messages, but they too seem to be limited by the 3200 limit. Well this seems to be rambling now so I'll get to the main questions;

  1. If the Library of Congress's Twitter archive ever comes online, will it include messages a user later deleted? Or will it mirror the deletions?
  2. How can you get a list of every single message posted on a persons twitter page going right back to the first one they made? I don't need it to be fancy or anything, just a basic list of "/status/" urls would do. I've tried the .rss and .xml feeds from the "/user_timeline/" directory, but again these are limited to just 3200 messages
  3. Every page I look at on Twitter has a bar at the top telling me "You're using an older version of Twitter that won't be around for much longer", implying at some point they're going to remove the old version and force everyone to use the javascript mad one. Are Twitter making any provisions for people without javascript browsers / people who disable javascript / people who just don't want to upgrade to the new version?

Sorry for the long post. Thanks for reading (talk) 20:22, 3 January 2011 (UTC)

Library of Congress will set its own policy regarding archives of deleted content. You should check out Bing's twitter search engine. WP:OR - I have heard from a reliable source that the Bing Twitter-search technology is better than Google's. Nimur (talk) 22:06, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
I tried Bing but it's confusing and doesn't seem to go back very far. I really just want a list of all twitter messages from a user, which I can then download and search myself locally (talk) 11:23, 4 January 2011 (UTC)


sometimes I like to watch youtube videos through my Wii (so I can use my television screen instead of my monitor). However the same videos that are available on the computer at 480px, 360px, and 240px are only available at the default 360px on the Wii; the resolution selector only has 360px on the Wii. Why is this? I'd like to change it to display at 480 on my TV for better video quality. Thanks. (talk) 22:50, 3 January 2011 (UTC)

Good evening,
Youtube could detect you use a Wii [User agent#User_agent_identification|reading your user agent]. This is a string like Opera/9.10 (Nintendo Wii; U; ; 1621; en) which allows sites to serve you content more fitted to your browser.
Then, the question becomes "How to change my user agent on a wii?"
Alas, I were only able to find documentation explaining the inverse operation (change your PC Browser's user agent to be able to browse the Wii shop from your workstation)
You could also ask your question on the Google help forums related to YouTube:
--Dereckson (talk) 00:33, 4 January 2011 (UTC)
It is possible that a Wii is incapable of rendering Youtube videos at 480p. Higher resolution video requires more compute power, a spec which the Wii is notoriously deficient compared to other modern devices. While the Wii can put out display output at 480p, Youtube videos are heavily compressed, so it might be beyond the hardware capabilities. Nimur (talk) 00:35, 4 January 2011 (UTC)