Saturday, May 24, 2008

OpenDocument for University

Let me begin with good news, especially for myself: I'm done with university exams. Recently finished the last exams towards the M.SC, and now I feel the freedom back in my life. And since we talk about freedom, why not discuss free software?
Even though there are no more exams, there is this tiny little thing called "final project". As i might have mentioned before, it has something to do with email spam. Although it's quite late to start working on the project at this time of the academic year, I'm quite optimistic I'll manage to finish it on time. In the mean while, my partner and I are discussing with our project client (which is a Prof. in the department) about the contents of the project, in order to assemble a PDR which is agreed on everybody. Since we are good students for computer science, we'd picked the right tools for the job: OpenOffice writer and OpenOffice draw. This is not the first time we deliver documents in ODT format, but it is certainly the most comprehensive usage done. This perhaps won't sound as a big thing, but at our university, it is. I don't know much lecturers the would support these formats. Most still use MS Office, and might even force students to work with it as well. My intent is to base the entire project development with FLOSS, and become an evangelist in our department.
My original thought was way to advanced for our project mentor: we would do the entire research part of the project, and major parts of the development, and the community would assist us developing the rest of the project. This way, the final product would be far more polished and could be ready for real world use (as well as academia). I thought this could work, as I saw it worked for GNOME Do. But our mentor said he couldn't be sure we would do our part. I don't think he ever heard of Launchpad or Sourceforge for project management and tracking. Shame. Well, perhaps we cannot be too evangelist.
But we did make one small step for men.

8800GT TV Out solution

As you may already know, I recently bought a new PC. My new and cool PC is powered by Nvidia's Geforce 8800GT chipset based graphics card. When doing the market research about which graphics card to buy, I read comparisons, benchmarks and relied upon other people experience, thinking "Hey, I have a good experience with Nvidia, this looks like the best buy". Well, I learned that while all of this is important, it's even more important to look for known problems. Especially of other people using the same features you are planning to use.
A simple web search shows many people are having many problems connecting these cards to their TVs. The two problems I'm aware of
  • DVI-to-HDMI would pass audio signal, even though there is no audio output. This would prevent the TV from playing sound coming over other cables (such as RCA).
  • S-Video won't detect your TV, which forces you to use component or composite connections for CRTs. This sucks.
As for the later, I just found a solution. The easiest solution is to use Linux, and configure xorg.conf on your own (heard there's a wizard for configuring that, I should check that out). This would allow you to define your exact parameters for the connection: S-Video using PAL-B (Israel), and 1024x768 60Hz (written as 1024x768_60) should do the work.
If you insist using Windows, I can dispense some advice, assuming you use XP (don't have Vista, don't want to). The problem arises from the drivers (forceware) and Nvidia's control panel. It seems that the new control panel assumes you want your TV to be auto-detected, and if the auto-detection fails, you won't get any other option. Moreover, even if the control panel's wizard thinks it has detected your TV, but it actually fails, you are stuck. The most common phenomena is the TV screen flickers for a second or so with your desktop, and than returns to it's blue state. In the mean while, the driver is sure that everything works perfectly, so no further configuration is allowed. This is where most of the forum threads in the Internet says "replace the 8800GT with something else". And then I found this very helpful lead. Basically, it suggests to get back the classic Nvidia control panel, and try to configure stuff there, as the rest of his advice, it didn't help me. So i found this help site that explains how to do that. After changing the value of ContextUIPolicy to 3, I got the classic control panel. Now, I could use the wizard that says "My display is not in the list" and then turn on the "'Rigorous Display Detection". Finally, the TV connection wizard allowed me to use other settings then "Auto Detect", so I could choose "S-Video". After doing so, my TV came to life, and started to display my desktop as "Monitor 2". Some final tweaks were required, such as setting the region to "PAL/B" (otherwise, screen flicker would occur in Israel and western Europe) and setting the resolution, and that's it! Notice that the lead I found only managed to get B/W picture, while I managed to get full color.
Hope this guide saved someone from deep frustration, and happy TV watching everyone.