Wikipedia:Reference desk archive/Computing/2006 August 1

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Teaching yourself a programming language from freely available online resources.[edit]

Feasible? Easy? Recommendations?

Try Googling. I can find many resources this way. Splintercellguy 03:24, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
search for the resource per each language --hello, i'm a member | talk to me! 06:00, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

It really depends on what sort of a background you have, how hard you're willing to work and what language you want to learn. I'd say that the average person does not have enough intelligence, patience or persistence to learn a language without some form of human assistance (lots of people can't learn to program well even with human assistance). It can be hard to just find a development environment and compiler for a given language. There are tons of tutorials for any given language out there, but most of them are either too easy or too hard, it can be hard to find one that is right for you. If you're really interested, AIM me at Robinganemccalla and we can talk. Robin

A similar question to this was asked recently. If you havnt got any prior prefereances for a particular language I would suggest Python programming language. Its all free including tutorials for beginners and other resources. Also the language is here to stay, not a passing fad.

Although in many cases it's certainly possible to learn a language completely for free, a little money, if you're willing to spend it, can make a big difference. The only cash I spent to teach myself Perl was $30 (or $25, or something like that) for a copy of Programming Perl; I don't think I ever got so much out of such a small purchase. Seriously, books about programming languages are a good investment. —Saric (Talk) 19:59, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

I agree with the above assessment. A good book can make a world of difference and cost relatively little compared to what you can get out of hte language. Barring that, internet tutorials are sometimes helpful, though I've only used them for learning languages that were very similar to one I already knew and were relatively straightforward (such as Javascript). Many language books often "age" pretty well too—Javascript (and anything tied to web standard implementation) does not age well, for example (a book on Javascript from 5 years ago will not necessarily be completely up to date), but for many other languages you can often find nearly-free versions of their instruction books available at used book stores. --Fastfission 21:52, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

...Wondering what a decent OS might be to experiment with while learning the basics for programming?

Bandwidth question.[edit]

Sometimes, I'll send a file to someone via IRC or FTP. I'll be downloading 0 KB/sec (or sometimes just the text and ping/pongs of IRC) and uploading at 25 KB/sec, but when I check my internet-details-box-thing (in WinXP), it says it's downloading at an identical rate -- 25 KB/sec. Why's that?

I think when you are checking the 'internet-details-box-thing' it isn't showing the speed of uploads and downloads, but it is showing network utilization. I am just guessing (and I'm a beginner at computers, too), so I would want someone else's opinion if I were you. But I'm still fairly certain it is just showing the network utilization, and not uploading speed or downloading speed. P.S. Don't forget to sign your comments with four tildes: ~~~~ -- 13:57, 7 August 2006 (UTC)

chkdsk and defrag[edit]

I can't defragment my disk drive (C:\) because it says chkdsk is scedule to run. Now i've disabled chkdsk (and even purged it from the registry) and it still won't work. Had problem for several months.

Also, I can't install Office 2007 because when I did a system restore, it landed me somwhere that was between the installation and reboot process of the older Office 12 and it corrupted the System Restore CAB files so I can't go back and restore to an earlier point. I susequently used crapcleaner programs and cleared the Office 12 registry files that were in the registry at the time. Please help me! --hello, i'm a member | talk to me! 05:58, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

I'm not sure about the chkdsk problem. But with Office 2007, there is one vital point that you need to know... It's a beta. It's not out in stores yet. That's because it's still in development and that means bugs, crashes, bugs, crashes, things not working right... Well you get the idea. Does the installation give any error messages. You could just reinstall from scratch, overwriting any remaining files and start again, seeing if that works. Good luck. Harryboyles 06:39, 1 August 2006 (UTC)


Could someone set up an article called "Naul" which is a village in County Dublin Ireland and disambiguate it from the existing article called "Nauls" about some tribe. I have read the disambiguation page but cannot for the life of me understand how to do it. Thanks!

OK, I've done this at Naul, County Dublin and added a disambiguation tag to Naul. By the way, you should post questions about Wikipedia like this one to the Wikipedia:Help desk. --Canley 14:24, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

Cordless screen[edit]

I'm considering constructing a PC system so that I could hide the bulky CPU etc. and only have a cordless mouse, keyboard and screen visible. The question is: is there such a thing as a cordless screen or a way to construct such a system (using bluetooth or something)? Naturally a cord for powering the screen might be needed but I'm looking for a cordless connection for the video data from CPU to the screen. Thank you for any help and insight! -P.T.

Bluetooth won't be any use, as the bandwidth is nowhere near enough. There are some systems for sending VGA-quality video wirelessly (see here, for example) but they are designed for using in places like conference rooms, cost more than I imagine your screen does, and still have to connected to the screen with a cable. Since you're not going to be able to avoid having a power cable going to the screen, you may as well just use a regular cable to connect the screen to the PC, and strap the video and power cables together with cable ties or something to keep them tidy. -- AJR | Talk 13:44, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

There are two different ways to do this.

  1. Run VNC on a tablet PC
  2. Run VNC on a laptop where you detached the screen and flip it around so it's like a tablet pc

I have done both. The second one is what you want, any crappy laptop will do, just insert a wireless card and you're on your way. In adddition, you can use these to connect to your computer from any place on earth (if you want) --mboverload@ 08:33, 5 August 2006 (UTC)

Firefox short-cuts[edit]

Every so often when I type an apostrophe, this triggers a short-cut which activates a 'find whatever' bar at the bottom of the screen. Even after I close the bar, I can't type apostrophes any more- each time, they just produce the search bar again. How can I stop it? HenryFlower 14:08, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

Click "Tools" and then go to "Options...". Go to "Advanced" and click on the tab "General". There should be a check box that says "Begin finding when you begin typing. If it's checked, then that might be the problem. --Yanwen 16:09, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
This page shows the apostrophe is the keyboard shortcut for "Find As You Type Link", which presumably means it will jump to the next link that matches what you are typing. Here are some additional preference settings that can control FAYT, and here is the official documentation for the feature. --LarryMac 16:23, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
Thanks- the box wasn't checked, but I've followed the instructions for turning it off in the preferences. Hopefully that'll do it. HenryFlower 18:35, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

Free software economics[edit]

I know that people who work on free software, such as those provided by GNU and the Free Software Foundation, are largely volunteers donating their spare time. However, I also know that at least part of these developers work on free software full-time.

I can understand that if all free software developers were part-time volunteers and each had a paid job, that the software developed for free can end up increasing the productivity of the industries that each of these part-time volunteers were involved in (since their companies could save money by using a free product). But I don't understand exactly why one would devote full-time effort towards free software development.

My questions: assuming they are not sitting on a pile of wealth, how do these full-time free developers typically support themselves? Is their free work just a way to get their names out there in order to attract companies to hire them? Do some companies pay some of their developers to work on free software projects? If so, what is the motivation for this if the software is free anyway?

Thank you in advance.

There's not a lot of room for ego in open source. Good projects die quickly if someone in charge has too much ego to let it develop. So, developers tend to program because they enjoy the project, or they found a bug that annoyed them so much they had to fix it, or they are trying to pad a resume, or they just like to program. It has been my experience that people who focus on money are lacking the ability to comprehend that some people don't care about money. So, explaining that developers are willing to put effort into programming just to give it away is useless. Those who can understand it already understand it. Those who cannot never will. --Kainaw (talk) 16:23, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
Over the last year and a half I've spent a lot of time on Wikipedia, which is also volunteer work. And yes, I'm sitting on a pile of wealth. It's called the Netherlands. I live off social security and with some effort I can make that work. Much of the rest of the time I spend on Wikipedia. I wonder how many people here and working on other free stuff are also unemployed. Must be a disproportionate number at least. DirkvdM 18:02, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
I read an news article a long time ago about a homeless guy with a laptop and cellphone internet connection. He powered it with batteries he stole from construction sites - which is the reason for the article. He was finally found and arrested. --Kainaw (talk) 20:50, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
Do you still have the source for that? That guy deserves to be internet-famous.  freshofftheufoΓΛĿЌ  17:49, 3 August 2006 (UTC)
There are ways to finance open-source software, be it through donations, selling of tech support, or selling distributions. I imagine that all projects with full-time support from the non-wealthy probably use one of these (Wikipedia pays its very few full-time people with donation money, I believe). Additionally as you note there are other things that can be gotten out of such activities, such as credit and experience, which can in turn be used to generate money. I am a student and often use my Wikipedia time as an excuse to synthesize topics I already know about which helps me to better familiarize myself with them—not quite the same thing but since I am paid to be a student, and the Wikipedia work does affect my student work (mostly for the positive, I hope!), one could see an analogy there. An interesting book the question of open-source economics and culture is Eric S. Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Give it a whirl. --Fastfission 21:49, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

Porting programs[edit]

One thing I never understood was why software has to be rewritten to be released on another OS or architecture. Why can't I just take my C code and recompile it, using a different compiler, on the machine I want to use it on? For example, why did all of the software that ran on Mac OS9 have to be rewritten when everything was moved over to the Intel architecture? What does porting a program entail doing? Thanks. BrokenSegue 16:57, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

Most programs are written for the operating system, not the computer itself. For example, I have a BP monitor that has a Windows program to save the BP info to a text file. Problem - all of our database machines are either Unix or Linux. The Windows program, which I got the source code for, talks to the Windows USB driver. The Linux USB driver is completely different - nothing remotely in common. Then, the Windows file IO was different, so I had to rewrite that too. In the end, I had to rewrite the whole program. I'm sure there are programs to quickly convert common changes from one OS to another, but they aren't perfect. Also, for your OS9 example, if you do any register functions, you need to account for the fact that OS9 and Windows were opposite endian (see Big Endian and Little Endian). --Kainaw (talk) 17:29, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
Alright, thanks. So most of my programs (the simple ones that require no registry or driver control, just reading and writing to the terminal) will work if I recompile using a different compiler? BrokenSegue 18:00, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
Well, there's only really one way to find out. The compiler will kick up a fuss if you try and use a non-platform-existant function, or include a system-specific file that isn't there, etc. If it does compile and your tests look like they're succeeding, chances are you don't have to do any (extensive) porting work. If it compiles - you've programmed in C, you know what it's like. --Sam Pointon 19:45, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
There's also the case where the program isn't 64-bit clean (you are doing things which assume a long has the same size as an int, for instance, while on a LP-64 ABI they have different sizes); the case where the program isn't endian-clean (reading an int via a char* and expecting it to be either LSB first or MSB first, for instance); and several other non-portable things which are easy to do by accident. It's also hard to do a completely portable program without either having special cases for several operating systems or using a library which does the special casing for you, since the least common denominator tends to be a subset of ANSI C, which is too limited for some common situations (for instance, each major operating system has a different graphics API, with the exception of the Unix-like systems, which mostly use X11). --cesarb 21:37, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
Several issues are mixed in the question. Programs are often optimized for a particular CPU, or CPU family. The early Mac software, for example, ran on the Motorola 68000 family, and hardware floating point was not always available. Later Mac software ran on the Apple/IBM/Motorola PowerPC family of CPUs, which eventually came to include AltiVec (aka Velocity Engine or VMX). More recent Mac software runs on Intel CPUs, with rather different optimization needs. An application like Adobe Photoshop includes compute-intensive code with performance that can be dramatically affected by the match to the CPU.
As the Mac OS evolved through Mac OS 9, the way a program communicated with the system to request file operations or screen display or other basic needs remained somewhat stable. Some facilities were added and some dropped, but the change was evolutionary. The advent of Mac OS X was revolutionary, essentially switching to a Unix system, with extras. One of the major extras is the Quartz Compositor, which provides a program with a connection to the screen.
Compatibility has been an issue spanning a broad assortment of hardware and software. If a new CPU or OS is compatible with another, the advantage is that porting is trivial. The disadvantage is that providing that compatibility may seriously cripple the potential of a new design. Designers have been delightfully clever in finding ways to have the best of both the new and old. For example, when Apple switched to PowerPC processors it provided emulation software so old 68k code would keep working. Since a great deal of the old Mac OS was written specifically for the 68k CPUs, and not performance critical, this was a lifesaver for the system programmers as well as for the developers. --KSmrqT 22:32, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

Cross-compatibility between flavors of Unix[edit]

In general, to what degree are programs (whether in source-code or binary form— I imagine it makes a difference) made for one variety of Unix or a Unix-like OS compatible with other Unices and Unix-likes? When I hear of programs made for Unix or Linux or Mac OS X, I really can't tell what systems they'll actually run on. I'm especially confused because it seems like nobody uses pure, vanilla Unix, at least not on personal computers. —Saric (Talk) 19:48, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

vanilla Unix is that a new distro. I'll have to get it! To answer you question I am pretty sure that any program made for Unix or linux shoiuld work for linux distro or unix-like system. I am not 100% sure about mac OS, but my strong guess is that it would work. Jon513 19:54, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
Binary form is really the easier to address -- binaries will work if and only if the kernel is the same or very nearly so (e.g., different versions of Linux are generally intercompatible), the architecture is compatible (note that Intel in particular values backwards compatibility: the x86 line of chips from the past 15 years or more all can run the same binaries (so long as the binary is at least as old as the processor)), and appropriate shared libraries are available (this is the easiest to lose out on, but also the easiest to fix, as it does not involve a new OS or computer!). For source code, stuff that adheres to one of the various standards — ANSI C, POSIX, XPG4, SUS, etc. — should go pretty much anywhere that's no older than the standard in question. There's also thinks like brk() and SIGEMT that are common to many versions of Unix, but which are not in the official standards. Beyond that are OS-specific things like clone() and (sort of) vfork(). Finally, there are the same sorts of library dependencies as with compiled code, only they apply to static and dynamic libraries when talking about source: ncurses, X11, etc. Did you/do you now have any more specific questions? --Tardis 21:17, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

No, thank you, I think that about covers it. I asked this question because I'm considering getting a home computer with Linux or something like that, and I was wondering if which software was available for whatever OS ought to factor into my choice of system. From what you say and what I've seen, though, it seems that what runs on one flavor of Unix can be made to work with any other, so long as you have a rudimentary knowledge of the appropriate language and you're willing to put a little effort into it. —Saric (Talk) 00:10, 3 August 2006 (UTC)

Uninstalling Windows Media Player 11[edit]

I've been looking for a formal way to uninstall this program all over my computer, but I can't seem to find one, even in the Add/Remove Programs menu. I'm assuming that just deleting the files wouldn't be a good idea; does anyone have any suggestions? I'm running Windows XP Media Center Edition if that matters. --Impaciente 20:17, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

I'm not sure if it works in MCE, but in Windows XP SP2 (home and Professional) there is an option to Show Updates. Tick that. It should be there now under Windows XP Updates. Harryboyles 22:31, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
Deleting files might be the best idea...
It's not a good idea to delete files directly. This leave registry keys, files in the Windows folder and leaves other junk. Show Updates is in Add/Remove Programs. Just to clarify. Harryboyles 01:51, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

A technique I've use to determine if I can delete a file without trouble is to just rename it by tacking "disabled" onto the end of the name. If this causes probs, I can then always rename it back. You could also put it in the recycle bin and restore it, if there's a problem, but I've found once something is in there it's far too easy to lose it forever (unless you go to an undelete program) by emptying the trash. StuRat 05:00, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

This information might be helpful, but as it says "Windows Media Player is a feature of the Windows operating system and cannot be removed entirely." (That's what Microsoft would like everybody to think, anyway). You should be able to use "Set Program Access and Defaults" to make another player the default for various media files. --LarryMac 14:23, 2 August 2006 (UTC)
Thanks alot, everybody. I've managed to roll the program back to an earlier version, which is really what I wanted in the first place. --Impaciente 04:40, 3 August 2006 (UTC)

Adding a skype link/callbutton[edit]

hello could you please let me know how to add a skype call button to wiki software. I would like to add a call me button linking to my skype account. but i cant get the link to work. In standerd html it usually works like this,


please could you advise, thanx

Goplett 20:30, 1 August 2006 (UTC)

Sounds like a bug. Report that Skype links aren't recognized by the parser, and it might get fixed. grendel|khan 09:02, 3 August 2006 (UTC)
I think callto is disabled on purpose: the opportunities for abuse are too great :
  • add an exlink called "naked Britney Spears" but it's a callto the cell number of someone the prankster is harassing
  • change a valid callto number to a expensive toll scamline
  • change a valid callto on a page that's being linked from a high-traffic site, and you'll be able to DOS someone corporation's incoming lines
So it's good that someone wnting to call Goplett has to cut and paste Goplett's skype name from the user page into the Skype client. If we really wanted this feature, someone could implement a Mediawiki extension which added "SIP call this user", "AIM this user", "Skype this user", etc., as we have "mail this user" now - and the opportunities for abuse are much lower, as only the person you're calling can change the number/address. Middenface 10:59, 4 August 2006 (UTC)

wireless power supply[edit]

where can i get a standard power supply but wireless (i think on teslas principles). Im trying to pick components to build my own computer but this is keeping me up. Thank you. 20:45, 1 August 2006 (UTC).

Not sure. Have you read RFC 3251? EdC 20:57, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
I doubt such devices exist. Whilst it is possible (in fact, relatively easy) to transfer information wirelessly, transferring the large amount of energy required to power a computer can currently only be done using wires. If your concern is a tangle of wires restricting the airflow in your PC, I have found that cable ties are a good way of keeping the wires organised. Simply gather a large number together and tie them, and/or tie them to parts of the case, such as the slots in empty drive bays. CaptainVindaloo t c e 00:05, 2 August 2006 (UTC)
I believe a large amount of electrical power can be transferred wirelessly, but only a short distance, via electrical induction. However, I'm not aware of any current device that provides this type of power to a PC. Splashpower may be working on it, check out their web site. It would have the advantage of removing some moving parts (like the charging plug), which would increase reliability. I have a laptop where the plug for the power cord did indeed wear out after the plug was inserted a few thousand times, so it's a real concern. (Of course, if it had been properly designed and built, it could be expected to last for tens of thousands of cycles.) StuRat 04:42, 2 August 2006 (UTC)
Don't forget lightning. Trouble is, PCs need a large current, not such a large voltage. Neither Induction or Lightning can provide that (V α I). Unless of course, every device in the PC has a massive great transformer on it. I'm really going to have to have another go at working out this Latex math coding... CaptainVindaloo t c e 17:33, 2 August 2006 (UTC)
Well, this is completely unhelpful, but you could use solar panels combined with a bunch of high-power lasers. Wouldn't recommend it.--Frenchman113 on wheels! 21:24, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

If this existed, do you honestly think we would still have wall plugs? Electrical poles carying hugely expensive cables? --mboverload@ 06:26, 5 August 2006 (UTC)

I think you misunderstood. The idea is to take power from an outlet and then transfer it to a device without using a plug, and thus eliminate one area susceptible to wear and tear. Broadcasting electricity rather than delivering it by wire was an idea Tesla had, but is dangerous and completely impractical since there is no way to bill for it. StuRat 06:35, 5 August 2006 (UTC)
The case of a Sonicare, the case as completely sealed and has no electrical contacts. The bottom of the toothbrush rests ~1 inside of a charger. The charger includes the primary winding of the voltage-reducing transformer and the handle of the brush includes the secondary winding. No idea why you'd want such powerful EM radiation near a computer, but hey, that's your choice =O --mboverload@ 06:42, 5 August 2006 (UTC)

putting a picture on a page...[edit]

How do you put a picture into an article?

That is a question for Wikipedia:Help_Desk. Anyway, doesn't your editor have the handy little toolbar on top where you can click the edit button and see something like [[File:Example.jpg]]? --Kainaw (talk) 23:12, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
But before you ask there, have a look at Wikipedia:Picture_tutorial. DirkvdM 11:25, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

USB port[edit]

I know as much about computers as you know about Fijian poetry, so keep that in mind as I ask this query. I just bought a new laptop, and I am having trouble getting my mouse to work, which connects via a USB port. I'm not sure, but I think the computer reads that a USB has been inserted, but does not recognize what it is. I have installed the necessary software that came with the mouse, but still no luck. I ran a diagnostic test, and it said something about there being a problem with my USB port or driver or something, and I needed to access BIOS. However, another USB connection from another port was fully functional. Anybody know wtf is going on here? Assuming someone responds in the next hour, I'll be able to respond quickly with answers. Your help is greatly appreciated. AdamBiswanger1 02:19, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

Who is the manufacturer and what is the model of your computer, and what operating system are you using? If a Windows OS, please include any details like "Windows 98SE" or "Windows XP Home SP2". Also, please state the manufacturer and model of the mouse. If you happen to know, can you confirm that your computer's USB is the newer 2.0 version? We can help more if you can write down exactly the messages you see. (In about a decade we're confident we will be able to read minds, including those of computers; but today such research is confined to a few secret laboratories, and not yet reliable.)
Meanwhile, visit the mouse manufacturer's web site and look for relevant material. There may be a newer driver, there may be a FAQ, there may be a help forum, there may be a support desk. --KSmrqT 04:12, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

If you can't get your USB mouse to work, I suggest using a PS/2 or even a serial mouse, since that will leave the USB port free for all those newfangled devices that use them (like memory sticks). Why clutter up the USB ports with things that don't really require a USB ? StuRat 04:36, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

He said it's a laptop; it's quite possible that it does not have PS/2 or serial ports. --cesarb 15:39, 2 August 2006 (UTC)
Interesting...I tried another USB device on the right and it does work--on both sides. So, perhaps the problem is with teh mouse itself. AdamBiswanger1 17:21, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

Your PC configuration is needed for best solutions to be provided.Maybe you can try uninstalling your USB driver completly first.There could be an error in one of your USB port since at the time of it's driver installation.You can check this by inserting some other USB device in the same port and check if that device works well with that port...The USB service might prevent you from further activating the response from that port...Restarting after uninstall,the OS opts you for new hardware found wizard either or suggests you some suitable drivers to be installed....Perhaps all USB port drivers are included in OS pack..,Then restart your PC again and try connecting your mouse.It should work.But be sure about what you're doing..Or simply have your mouse drivers updated or go for PS/2 as mentioned earlier....

I have a brand new HP pavilion dv5000 with windows XP. I have downloaded all Windows updates (from the windows updater). The mouse is a Kensington mouseworks something or other.The mouse connects on the right side of the computer, to a USB port, whereas the other USB ports, which are fully fuctional, are on the left. The mouse does no t work on the left, either. Adambiswanger1

Have you tried plugging the mouse into one of the left side ports? If it works there, but not on the right, it seems like there might be a hardware issue. Similarly, if you have another USB device (e.g. a USB flash drive) that you know works on the left side, what happens if you plug it in on the right side? --LarryMac 17:00, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

Interesting... it seems that the mouse does not work on either side, but other USB devices work on both. AdamBiswanger1 17:31, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

The next (and with any luck final) step would be to try a different USB mouse. If it works, you're in business. Now teach us something about Fijian poetry!--LarryMac 18:03, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

Ubuntu system requirements?[edit]

What are the system requirements for x86 desktop installations? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)

Why not read the article? That's what we wrote it for. :) - Samsara (talkcontribs) 21:52, 1 August 2006 (UTC)
I see a reference to the HD & RAM requirements, but was curious if there was more to it. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)
No, your processor speed only determines how slowly it will run, but not whether it will run at all. Ubuntu is not a video game. ;) - Samsara (talkcontribs) 09:31, 2 August 2006 (UTC)
Okay, other OSes do have processor limits, so that's why I asked. BTW, could an older box w/ < 256MB RAM still work with a minimal install?
are you aware of Xubuntu? Jon513 15:36, 2 August 2006 (UTC)
I was not, but will check it out. Thanks!