Invalid Nodes, Etc.

My daughter and I enjoyed a fine outing to the park and museum Sunday, but when we came home the house was strangely quiet. No music playing in the living room. No music in the kitchen. Xy said it had stopped a couple hours earlier. I checked my computer, whence the music flows, and it was completely unresponsive. I powered down, but when I powered back up, the system didn’t start. The screen displayed a flashing folder icon, something I haven’t seen in many years — since before the advent of OS X, I’m thinking.

My exact words at that moment do not bear repeating.

After trying a couple tricks without success, I hunted down my Snow Leopard system disk and booted from that, then ran Disk First Aid. The hard drive was looking funky. I tried to repair the disk, and it made a few repairs, but after reporting an “invalid node structure” it crapped out and gave up. A second try yielded even quicker results: “invalid B-tree node size.” The program advised me to backup all data and reformat the drive.

Disk Utility Can't Repair This Disk

A stunned and sickened feeling descended over me as I contemplated the possibility of losing data. That 320 GB hard drive is chock full and has never been fully backed up. I didn’t think it was very important as I tend to put my most important files online in some form or another.

The big exception to that is my music collection. It has taken me years to assemble that, from diverse sources, and there are many tracks that are rare to the point of being literally irreplaceable. I could certainly never recreate that music library from scratch.

And yet, in a strange way, it felt like it could almost be liberating. Curating such a large collection (35K tracks at last count) has consumed a lot of time and attention over the years, especially if you are as anal as I am about meta-data. Occasionally that feels oppressive — as if the collection is managing me rather than the other way around.

Still I was in a state of shock. It occurred to me that I was experiencing the cyber equivalent of either a seizure or a stroke — I wasn’t sure which yet, but I was hoping for a seizure and a quick return to normal.

I called the good old Computer Shoppe, but they are on vacation until next week. The only other option I was aware of was the Apple Store, and I sure didn’t want to go there.

I shelled out a hundred bucks for DiskWarrior. The startup disk is in the mail, but I was able to use my downloaded copy on a laptop to fix my iMac’s hard drive. At first it seemed to work, but the drive continues to have problems, and even when fixed they seem to come back. Must be some bad sectors. I currently can boot up into safe mode only, otherwise I get the “Blue Screen of Death.” And I thought that only happened with Windows. Actually this particular manifestation isn’t even acknowledged by Apple for the Snow Leopard version of OS X. It’s supposed to be a “Gray Screen of Death.” Go figure.

Still, I’m able to boot into safe mode, which is better than nothing. I got a 1TB external hard drive, a LaCie d2 quadra, which arrived with lightning speed from Yesterday I was able to back up the problem drive using Time Machine. Over the Firewire 800 connection, it only took a couple hours or so to archive 300 GB.

So now I have a little peace of mind. I probably need to reformat the drive now and then restore my data from the backup. The prospect of which makes me only a little nervous.

Update: I did try reformatting the drive but it continued to have trouble. A few days after writing this, it seems to have died the death. The iMac is currently at the Computer Shoppe where I expect they’ll replace the drive unless they find something else amiss. I’d love to replace it myself but after reading up on the subject I decided that’s a little much for me.

Creative Degradation


So I took the first six seconds of “So Emotional” and looped it eleven times, each time at a lower bit rate. I call it “The Degradation of Whitney in Eleven Stages,” and you can listen to it on SoundCloud. (My apologies to Whitney Houston. This is just intended to demonstrate how lowering the bit rate affects sounds quality.) I can’t embed the clip without bringing the whole thing down to a bit rate of 128 kbps, which would kind of defeat the purpose.

Here are some technical notes: The initial sample was extracted from an Apple Lossless MPEG-4 audio file with a bit rate of 787 kbps. The subsequent downsamples were generated with Audacity, then joined together in GarageBand and exported to MPEG-4. Since the export maxed at 320 kbps, the high rate of the original sample is not preserved, and the first two samples should be indistinguishable. The bit rates in sequence are: 787, 320, 250, 200, 180, 128, 80, 40, 24, 16, 8.

The degradation doesn’t register to my ears until the bitrate hits 80. What’s truly bizarre is that at the lowest bit rate I find I actually like the sound better than the original.

And so here’s the full “So Emotional” downsampled to eight kilobits per second. Again, apologies to Whitney. This is merely intended to demonstrate the audio effects of an extremely low bit rate. I think it sounds cool. Your mileage may vary.

So Degraded by Editor B

I realized in retrospect that the extreme effect of this process isn’t solely a result of exporting at a low bit rate. It also has to do with sample rate. The lower bit rates don’t support the 44.1 kHz sample rate of the original, so I had to resample the music. I chose a rate of 22.05 kHz and got the results posted above. But when I did it again and chose the lowest sample rate of 8 kHz, the results weren’t nearly so dramatic. It was definitely low-fidelity, but the song was much more recognizable. That’s right, the lower sample rate produced a higher fidelity result. So clearly there’s some sort of cross-effect between sample and bit rate that I’m not understanding.

To understand the difference between sample and bit rate, I found the following explanation on Helium:

It is easiest to think of sample rate as how often the audio signal is sampled and bit rate as the amount of information recorded for a unit of time.

So perhaps interference patterns can emerge between the two — kind of like audio moiré? I’m just guessing and probably wrong.

Social Graph

Here’s a screenshot of a graph of my social network on Facebook, generated with the Social Graph application.

Facebook Social Graph

This isn’t anything new, but I was interested to see the visualization. The three main clumps are, from left to right, my high school, Indiana (mostly Bloomington) and New Orleans. Some family members can be found in a tiny cluster off to the side. The University where I work is a lobe off to the lower left of the New Orleans cluster.

I’m not sure what the pink circles represent. The one in the upper middle contains three friends from Rochester, New York, but why they get a pink circle, as well as my high school, but not other groups — I don’t know.

Facebook Social Graph: Zoom Out

Here I’ve zoomed all the way out to reveal an outer circle of nodes. These are mostly singletons who aren’t connected to anyone else in my network. Note the mini-cluster at the top edge of the circle. These are three guys from Canada who came down to visit me on a crazy roadtrip in the mid-90s.

Geekin’ Out

So what is it I do anyway? Lots of different things. For example: Today I’m leading a faculty workshop on Firefox 3.5, so here’s a mix of awesome cyber-geeky pop tunes.

And here’s sneak peek at the slideshow I’ll be using.

(I’m still working on this so it may be a little unfinished in places.)

I thought this would be a good program to offer faculty because the web browser is emerging (if it’s not there already) as the most important application for more and more people. We can do more and more via the web, and the browser is the main tool we use to interface with the web. But many people have only a very basic operational understanding of what a browser is and how it works. They can accomplish simple tasks, but may become befuddled if things get complicated, and they don’t know how to work efficiently. A browser like Firefox has a lot of features that are probably unused by most people. There’s a lot of power that remains untapped.

For example, I’ve noticed that when I’m working with faculty, I can often find information we’re looking for on the internet much more quickly. This is not because I’m smarter than them — it’s my privilege to work with very intelligent people — but rather because I’m more comfortable and conversant with the tool we’re using. A basic understanding of web architecture and search technology helps, of course, but those are fodder for other workshops that I’ve done in the past or plan for the future.

I’ve never done a straight-up browser workshop before. It’s perhaps so obvious that I simply overlooked it. As for which browser to promote, Firefox was the obvious choice. It’s my preferred browser, and I recommend it often. Here’s hoping the workshop is helpful.

iTunes 9

I don’t have much use for most of the new features in iTunes 9 (released yesterday) but there’s one thing I like: Apple has added nested AND/OR functionality to smart playlists. Very nice. In fact I’d upgrade for this feature alone.


I used eGroups back in the day. They got bought out by Yahoo in 2000 and became a part of Yahoo Groups, but I know at least one guy who still calls ’em eGroups.

Sometime thereafter Google got into the game. I believe Google Groups started as a Usenet archive, but they rather quickly deployed a service that was basically a Yahoo Groups clone.

I’ve continued to use Yahoo Groups for a decade now. They don’t have that sexy and shiny Web 2.0 veneer that we all know and love, but they get the job done. They are fairly easy to manage, even for people who aren’t terribly tech savvy, and they enable large (or small) groups of people to communicate with one another easily from all over the world. They have a kind of easy egalitarianism which I like.

I have set up such groups for two branches of my family, my book club, Friends of Lafitte Corridor, my neighborhood group, the local Green Party, and several others I’m not remembering right now.

Yet sometimes Yahoo Groups feels kind of clunky to me. Surely there must be something better, with all the innovation on the web.

Such is the luster of Google these days that, at some point, I assumed Google Groups must be that “something better.” After all, many of their other products are pretty amazing. (I hear their search engine is pretty good.) That led me to create a couple or three groups on Google.

After a couple years, I’m ready to say conclusively that Google Groups aren’t that great.

Yahoo Groups has a number of features which Google hasn’t bothered to implement, even after all these years. Want to poll group members about something? Want to start a simple database everyone can add to? Yahoo makes it easy. These features are not to be found in Google.

But the real pisser is the basic functionality of Google Groups just isn’t there. In essence the idea of a group is like a mailing list. A user subscribes and then gets updates sent to the group. Simple, right? Yet in Google’s version, the basic functions often don’t work. Problems with joining the group, problems with dropped messages. Sure, any system has glitches, but I see a lot more of these problems on Google than on Yahoo, despite the fact I’ve at times been responsible for a lot more users on Yahoo than Google — like an order of magnitude more.

In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, but Google Groups just plain kind of suck. Yahoo has the better product.

I’ve heard it said that “Google gets all the attention, but Yahoo makes all the money.” I don’t know if this is an example of that, but it certainly goes to show those whiz kids at Google aren’t infallible.

Twitter Bridges the Gap

Twitter has become such a faddish phenomenon it’s almost embarrassing. Amidst all the hype of celebrity tweeters and whatnot, it’s easy to lose sight of the flexibility and just plain usefulness of this tool.

This was driven home to me when I was recently visiting with my sister. She’s not very cyber-wired and wasn’t really familiar with Twitter. This despite the fact that she’s been using the service for over a year.

Mother, Wife, Daughter, Sister

Back in late 2007 or so, my mom was frustrated in trying to communicate with her daughter and granddaughter. Mom liked e-mail while my sister and niece preferred text messages. Sister and niece didn’t spend much (if any) time in front of a computer, and Mom didn’t have a cell phone.

It occurred to me that Twitter could bridge this gap. It would allow my mom, my sister and my niece to stay in touch with each other via their tech of choice. Mom could post up from her computer and the girls would get it on their cell phones. They could text back and Mom could receive that on her computer.

Working through Mom we finally got it going in early 2008. So my sister had a Twitter account and was sending and receiving messages, but thought of it as a private communication channel with Mom. Little did she know I was following her updates too. But she wasn’t getting my updates until our recent visit, when I set her up to follow me.

I’ve hooked a number of friends into Twitter without ever sitting them in front of a computer. It can all be done via phone using The Official Twitter Text Commands. Unfortunately there are a few glitches. For example, my sister had to text both “follow editor_b” and “on editor_b”, the first command to subscribe to my updates and the second to turn device notifications on, i.e. to get those updates sent directly to her phone. This seems a little redundant to me; if you send a message from your phone to follow someone, I’d think it would be implied that you want to get their updates on your phone as well. Indeed, Twitter’s documentation even says “using follow/leave username from your phone is the same as using on/off username” but it didn’t work that way for us.

The important thing is that we enabled the communication. Now my sister, who lives over 800 miles away from me, can be a little more connected into my life. This blog can’t do that, and neither can e-mail or Flickr or Facebook or any of these other crazy services that I use. Only Twitter bridges the gap from the net to phone so easily.

My sister is hardly aware of the overheated hype surrounding Twitter, and I’m sure she couldn’t care less about it. She just wants to be in the loop when I get a speeding ticket in Cullman County or when I find my missing earring or when my daughter says a new word.

And now she is.

The Descent of Persephone

I was tag-surfing on Flickr when I came across this fantastic image called “The Descent of Persephone,” a fresh collaboration from two artists Alvarejo and Silverqe. I noticed it was also tagged “Threadless” which I recognized as an apparel brand, so I kept my eye on it.

I didn’t really know much about Threadless except they had something to do with clothing. Turns out it’s a community-driven crowd-sourced endeavor. They have about 1500 designs in competition each week. Users can vote on the ones they like best, and the winners get cash prizes. I’m not sure how they decide which designs actually get made into shirts, but I imagine the contest plays a role.

Now “The Descent of Persephone” is in the competition. I think it would make an amazing shirt, not to mention a pretty cool onesie.

So I’m posting here in a feeble attempt to give them some props. If you like the design, give it a vote.

The Descent of Persephone

You have to have a Threadless account to vote, but of course that’s free.

Be sure also to page through all the comments on the attendant blog entry to see steps in the creative collaborative process and also how it might look on a shirt.

Footnote: This might be a good place to mention a tangentially related curiosity. One phrase that has resonated in my consciousness for years is “the descent into the self,” which I think I first encountered in some literary criticism of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Motivated by some obscure impulse, I ran a net search on that phrase a few weeks back and discovered an article about New Hampshire artist Katherine Doyle, which contained this choice quote:

This story of a character’s descent, including the journey through a mysterious or frightening other world, what is learned or found there, and the eventual return home, is the subject of the earliest human texts and probably dates from long before the written word. I understand it to be the original story, which serves as a template for inner journeys into the subconscious or other states of mind.

She’s speaking about Persephone, of course.

Brick Trick

Here’s my new desktop wallpaper, courtesy of Brother O’Mara:

Brick trick

This photo was taken on Iberville in Mid-City, up near N. Telemachus. I’ve passed by this drainpipe many a time and thought it would make a great picture. I finally snapped a crappy shot with my phone, which led to Brother O’Mara to visit the location and take a much more compelling photograph.

Collaborative Memoir

Facebook continues to amaze as I connect again and again to people with whom I haven’t communicated for up to a quarter century. So what do you say to someone after such an interval? Sometimes, not much. But the fact is, sometimes it doesn’t take much to trigger old forgotten memories.

For example, my friend Vic mentioned “an adventure in the graveyard.” I had totally forgotten about this episode, but at his mention the image came back quite vividly — moonlight reflecting off the snow amidst the headstones.

Vic elaborated:

Let’s just say the graveyard adventure is forever imprinted on my psyche. With our trek into the night time hours as everyone was asleep… I’d never done anything like that before… There was a particular tomb stone that you jumped upon and it started to fall over at me… As you and I quickly uprighted it, I stared in affirmation that my mother’s rules and not following them had come true and I’d be punished for it… for the gravestone was etched with the title of which this gentleman held. It was none other than a “Judge.” I was horrified… We may have eluded the police in this late night excursion but I was going to get mine as this societal law enforcer would probably get even from the grave… LOL… Looking back it was probably one of those moments a person will remember for their life. I was such a stick the mud. Thank goodness for your influence.

I find this sort of reminiscence wonderful. It confirmed my desire for a collaborative memoir. At first blush it seemed rather simple. Set it up on a wiki or some such platform. Start with a defined time and place — say Greenwood Community High School in the early 80s — then invite anyone and everyone to add whatever they like. Each person remembers different little snippets, which in turn may trigger forgotten memories in other writers. They can all be linked and interrelated into one glorious tapestry, ever expanding, ever unraveling…

But very quickly I began to imagine problems. Presumably people would write in the first person. That would create confusion with regard to whose voice one is hearing at any particular point. That’s a mere technical issue; perhaps it could be surmounted. The real stumbling block, I think, is that even after 25 years, there are still plenty of raw truths that could wound and injure. An honest narrative would be hurtful; a sanitized narrative would be boring. If you take out the sex and the drugs and the petty backstabbing, you’ve gutted the narrative of all the best parts.

Therefore I have concluded that this project is impossible, or at least not worth the trouble. Which is good, because I have other things to do.

Desperately Seeking a Brother WP-500

Back in the late ’80s I bought a dedicated word processor. My main criterion at the time was something that seems silly now: I wanted printed output that would be indistinguishable from a typewriter. So I got a Brother WP-500, which featured a daisywheel printer. This enabled me to produce documents that appeared to have been typed the old-fashioned way, but in reality all my documents were saved to 3.5″ disks.

Besides writing papers for college, I wanted to be able to send letters that would seem to be hand-typed, so that I could emulate Bruce West, author of Outrageously Yours. And indeed I got some good pranks out of this machine. But now it appears the joke’s on me.

After years of lugging that old machine from one residence to the next, in Bloomington and then New Orleans, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife, it finally met its end in 2005, when the federal levees failed and the lower level of our house was submerged in several feet of brackish water. Unfortunately that sort of thing tends to have a negative impact on electronic equipment.

I still have the 3.5″ disks with several years of writing stored on them. And that’s where this little tale of woe gets ugly. It seems that Brother used its own proprietary format on these disks. (Apparently this is the case for all of Brother’s models marketed in the United States that have the WP prefix but no suffix, that is, with no letters after the model number.) Although these are standard low-density diskettes with a 720 KB capacity, Brother’s perverted little format only uses 240 KB per disk, which makes no sense at all to me, but there it is.

The upshot is this. I can’t get the data off the disks. They can’t be read by DOS machines or anything on a typical modern desktop. I thought I could just use a more modern Brother to convert them to RTF or some sort of readable file format, but turns out that’s not possible either. Most data conversion companies can’t handle this format. The few that do are prohibitively expensive. $40 a disk is a bit much for me, since I have 20 disks.

It would be cool if I could get my hands on an old Brother WP-500. Then I could at least print these documents out and scan them for optical character recognition. Trouble is, such machines are hard to find. So I’m posting up here as a way of getting started on the search. I don’t necessarily even need to buy one. I’d be happy to beg, borrow or steal — or rent, at a reasonable price. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a WP-500. I think some of the other older models may be compatible. Problem is, I’m not for sure which models those might be.

So — any tips on finding vintage word processors?

Postscript: One may well wonder why I’m troubling over these old files that I’ve obviously been able to live without for so long. Well. Katrina acted as a giant filter on my life. I lost many old documents, making what I’ve still got all the more precious to me.

Post postscript: It seems I’m not the only one in the Crescent City singing the data recovery blues.

Don’t Put My Name in It!

I wasn’t going to post anything about the current e-mail foofaraw down at City Hall, because I figured I didn’t have anything to say about it. I don’t aim to just regurgitate news from other sources here. I write about my life. Of course, the headlines that I read daily affect me and become a part of my life in a sense, and some of the recent headlines certainly do stoke the fires, but still, I didn’t think I had much to say.

There was a line in a recent Times-Picayune story that caught my eye:

White is black. Head is white.

That’s a complete paragraph from a front-page story on Wednesday. I’m sure Frank Donze and the editors must have had a chuckle over that one. It’s a reference to the race of Veronica White and Stacy Head. The only thing that could have made this better is if the council member’s name was Stacy Black. That would have summarized the topsy-turvy spirit of things perfectly.

I actually clipped that paragraph out of the paper. But my wry little observation didn’t seem substantive enough to share with the world. Better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt, as Einstein or Twain or Lincoln or somebody once said.

However, I just realized there is a personal connection to my life after all. Over the past three years I have sent and received plenty of e-mails from members of the City Council and their staffers. That means that my name has been put in this mess. My communications are (presumably) amongst those which Sanitation Director Veronica White handed over to activist attorney Tracie Washington.

Now if you’re wondering what the Sanitation Director is doing handing over e-mails, you’re not alone. Mayor Nagin recently stonewalled a request for his e-mails, and the City Council has gotten a judge to command Washington not to publish the e-mails as she apparently planned to do, and this is all about those garbage contracts, and the whole thing is incredibly polarized and polarizing along racial lines.

Oh yes. It bears mentioning that White and Head had an ugly confrontation a few months back. Which brings us to the following flashback mashup: Hate Rock White-Head [MP3, 5.4 MB]. That’s just a little audio I mashed up back in December but never shared until now. Tip of the hat to HTRK for providing the perfect background music.

There’s far more to this story which continues to develop, but I don’t aim to provide coverage. If you want more substance check out We Could Be Famous or any number of other local blogs. If you find this all convoluted and confusing, don’t worry. Some people say this is all a distraction from the real scandal, which might be crime cameras, or housing issues, or who knows what. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say to the world, as many a student in Xy’s classroom might say:

Don’t put my name in it!

That’s all.

Oh, the Humiliation

This picture illustrates why I can never take a sick day.


I stayed home to nurse a cold a couple months back. In my absence, my co-workers decided to get matching shirts so we could all dress alike for “Technology Day,” which was today.


Also, I need a haircut.


Version 2.7.1 of WordPress, the software that powers this blog, was released a couple days ago. I’d been looking forward to this release, even though it’s just a minor maintenance deal with no big new features. I was looking forward to it because this is the first release since 2.7, which implemented the ability to automatically upgrade to newer versions with a single click. In other words, this was the first opportunity to put automatic upgrades to the test.

And, mostly, it works. But there is at least one potential glitch that may burn some users. I found out about this when Lee upgraded his blog. It went smoothly except for one dispiriting glitch. The upgrade overwrites the default template with the latest version. So if you made any changes to the default template, they’re gone. Ideally you backed your modified version up, but if not, your changes are lost.

This is easily avoided of course. Instead of editing the default template directly, one can simply make a copy of it and edit the copy instead. For example, I copied themes/default to themes/default-modified and activated that template instead.

That way, when you upgrade automatically, only the old default template is overwritten, and default-modified remains intact.

I hope this helps somebody. Other than this one potential stumbling block, the automatic upgrade feature appears to be everything I hoped for, and should make my life administering multiple blogs for different folks a little easier.

After Beyond

I think I was secretly hoping the Beyond Jena forum would be a bust. I’ve never been involved with organizing something on this scale before, and it was a little challenging, a little demanding, a little stressful. I knew if it was successful I might be tempted at some point in the future to try something similar, or even more ambitious. On the other hand, if it was a disaster, I could wash my hands and say “Never again!”

Alas, I wasn’t so fortunate. Much to my chagrin, the forum was a screaming success.

Kimberly & Marion

You can download the audio here. I’m particularly happy with the panel I moderated, so be sure to give them a listen.

Of course there were a few hiccups. Mostly they don’t even bear mentioning, but one of my panelists was a no-show! Paul Beaulieu, what happened to you, man? No call, no e-mail, nothing. I called and left reminder messages for you on the run up to the event. I called you the morning of. No response. What happened? It’s not so much that I’m personally insulted, but I think it’s a shame that our audience didn’t get to hear your voice. As a talk radio host, you would have rounded out that first panel perfectly.

I also regret that I failed to find a local Vietnamese blogger for that first panel.

But probably my biggest regret is that we turned people away because we’d hit our registration cap. As it turned out there were plenty of people who registered but didn’t show. We had room and more than enough food.

There’s always room for improvement. For now I’d just like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who helped make bring this forum together. Y’all did a great job.

A strange, sad footnote: A lady showed up and started distributing this flyer. She was asked to leave.

Dear Coby

One of the key tensions in my relationship with Xy has to do with television. To put it bluntly, she’s for it and I’m against it. I long ago gave up the battle to keep television out of our home, but at least we don’t pay for cable or satellite. We get our TV off the air for free. We switched to digital when our old TV got flooded, and we’ve been enjoying high-definition broadcasts ever since.

I use the term “enjoying” advisedly. I’m just enough of a video geek to think the whole technical aspect of getting high definition signals off the air is cool. I can watch a crappy TV show and still marvel at the gorgeousity of the image.

I was mildly horrified when Xy got a portable TV for our kitchen, but that’s another battle I’ve given up on. Her little $16 set will be made obsolete by the impending digital transition. So as a token of my undying love for her and my boundless magnanimity, I decided to get her a portable digital TV for Xmas. Who else can condescend so nicely?

Only problem, as anyone who’s shopped for such a product knows: It’s slim pickings. Portable digital TVs? I could only find three on the market, and they all cost a lot more than $16.

Ultimately I sprang for the Coby TF-TV791 7″. It arrived a couple weeks ago, and since we don’t believe in delayed gratification, it’s been deployed on our kitchen counter ever since.

It works pretty well. The reception is a little funny, as we can get some stations better than with our main TV downstairs, but others are worse. Xy’s just impressed that it’s in color.

There is one major glaring problem.

I’m going to need an illustration to make this clear. Bear with me.

Coby Comparison

A tip of the hat to the talented Jon Rawlinson for sharing this high definition video frame under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

The top image shows a 16:9 high-definition video frame in its proper aspect ratio. This is how HD video should look on a widescreen TV.

The middle image shows how HD video looks on our Coby in 16:9 mode. Note the black bars on top and bottom. As a rule you shouldn’t see bars on top and bottom on a widescreen TV. Note also that the video image is scrunched down, vertically compressed.

The bottom image shows how HD video looks on our Coby in 4:3 mode. Note that the image is no longer scrunched. It is actually displaying in its proper aspect ratio, but it’s not filling the screen as it should. Something is way wrong here.

I’ve written a note to Coby about this:

I recently purchased your TF-TV791 as a Xmas gift for my wife.

It works well except for one technical issue which is frustrating me.

The set displays 4:3 standard definition video quite well. However, it has a problem with 16:9 high-definition video.

I am of course aware of how to switch back and forth between the 4:3 and 16:9 modes using the remote. The problem is that high-definition video is simply not displayed properly. There are black bars at the top and bottom of the screen when viewing a high-definition signal.

As a general rule, there should not be black bars on a widescreen TV when viewing widescreen video. I’ve been able to check the same broadcast on our larger Panasonic television and verify that the signal properly fills the screen without stretching.

Therefore I can only conclude the problem is with the TF-TV791 unit. Is there some way to correct this problem?

I wonder if they’ll get back to me.


Against my better judgment, I’ve set up a new site for the podcast known as J&B’s Nightcap. It’s at nightcap.rox and the second installment is now available.

In answer to Mr. Konrath’s query, yes, there is a magical way you can add these to your iPod. Just go to nightcap.rox and look for the iTunes link. If iTunes isn’t your bag, use the generic link (marked “subscribe in a reader”) to choose your poison.