New Monitor, Simple Solutions when Troubleshooting DVD Players and Other Complex Systems, Hiding Your E-mail Address On Your Website, Interesting Website Usage Stats

Argh, been remiss here in posting, way too busy. Hmmm, I feel that I’ve said this before…
 
New Monitor
 
I just acquired a new 22 inch LCD widescreen monitor (the one on the right in the pic above). Very nice unit, large and bright.
 
But I wasn’t supposed to have it until Xmas.
 
My wife ordered it from Staples and, well, they didn’t package it in anything but its original padded box, with a picture of it on the outside. Word to the wise; make sure it’s gift packaged if it doesn’t come re-packaged or if you’re not sure.
 
Which meant the UPS guy handed it to me, and well – I knew what I was getting for Xmas at that point.
 
It’s a great monitor, and after some custom resolution settings for my video card (so things aren’t stretched – the video driver itself had no setting for this directly, though it’s control panel also had a custom resolution setting) I was having a ball. But from looking at other people’s stuff too many people have bought widescreen monitors (when their computers didn’t come with them) and everything is super-stretched on the screen, but they don’t notice it or don’t care or can’t figure out how to adjust it. Same with TV’s…
 
I have now moved my 19 inch CRT to the side as the second monitor, replacing a 17 inch CRT. The 19 inch CRT looks huge, like a tank compared to a Porsche. And I need to take the base off the CRT to even both of them up vertically (the CRT’s base has always been a bit high).
 
If you haven’t tried a dual monitor set up give it a try. And you don’t need two video cards either.
 
In the following pic is a bit of a comparison between the CRT (on the left) and the LCD (on the right). Much better color, much brighter more vibrant pics on the LCD. And this is after twenty minutes of tweaking of the CRT to try to make it comparable to the LCD display.
 
To be fair though – the trusty old 19 inch CRT spent a good portion of its life in Korea (where it was made, BTW).
 
On a side note – the “STICKY” text was something a friend of mine was working on, and made a good comparison for simple colors.
 
 
 
 
Simple Solutions when Troubleshooting DVD Players, and Other Complex Systems
 
Sometimes, even in something complex and uber-complicated as computers and electronics; the simplest solution is the answer. And I think that’s something a lot of us forget.
 
A good example.
 
We have a very nice LG DVD player; it upconverts for our HD TV, has lots of options, and even reads memory cards (which we’ve never used, like that USB port on our TV).
 
One day a crossed-out menu item started appearing in the top right corner of the screen. It was very intermittent and sometimes we could watch an entire movie and not see it appear. Other times it showed up all of the time, blinking on and off, popping up and disappearing.
 
Our first thought was that a button on a remote was being pressed, maybe by a remote buried under a magazine or book (after all, we have a large number of remotes).
 
Having eliminated that my second thought was a stuck button on the DVD. But it’s not that old, and we never use the buttons on top of it. That can’t possibly be it, we thought!
 
But it was the most logical assumption.
 
I tried a number of things, including cleaning the DVD, different connections (maybe a bad HDMI cable as it seemed to be related to the resolution), etc.
 
We even called the manufacturer’s help line, tried a bunch of things.
 
Predictably one of the things seemed to work while we were on the phone, we thanked the Indian girl and not more than twenty seconds after hanging up the crossed-out menu item showed up again.
 
Of course, both my wife and I assumed that was the end. Throw-away equipment nowadays.
 
A little further investigation using various menus showed that what seemed to be ‘sticking’ was something to do with the resolution switching, as previously suspected. While on the set up menu it would cycle through the available resolutions endlessly.
 
We checked the remote once again – nothing holding the button down, not even pointed at it, I dropped the batteries just to make sure.
 
Of course, there’s a duplicate resolution-switching button on the top. But we had never actually touched it. I fiddled with it, thinking if it was sticking that bouncing it up and down might make it stop or at least point to it being the culprit. It didn’t seem to make any difference.
 
Again – no, it can’t be just a bad button, it has to be in the electronics. We started looking around for new DVD players, possibly a Blueray (still expensive!).
 
But coming from an electronics background – I decided that it was at least worth a try to mess with the button itself, mechanically and electrically. I held out near-zero hope that this was it.
 
Half an hour later, after disassembling the offending device, I had disconnected the suspect button using a soldering iron and desoldering tool carefully threaded between the electronics.
 
With the button hanging by one connection I half-assembled the player and gave it a try.
 
No crossed-out item in the corner. A couple DVD’s later and still no problem. I desoldered the last connection on the resolution button, buttoned everything back up and tried yet another DVD. Still no problems.
 
So now it works fine, sans the resolution-switching button on the top. Not visible as I left actual the plastic cover that was on top of the button inside, and if I wanted to I could get another button to replace it but – again – we never use those buttons.
 
I’m sure that most people aren’t going to have the resources nor the knowledge of soldering that I did in this case.
 
But it is a good demonstration that sometimes the simplest and most common sense explanation, even in extremely complex systems, shouldn’t be discounted like we initially did.
 
 
Hiding Your E-mail Address On Your Website
 
One of the most important things nowadays when setting up and running a website is hiding your e-mail address from spammers, yet still allowing people to contact you. And hiding it both from automated harvesters as well as those in third-world countries who are hired to manually grab e-mail addresses off websites.
 
The latter is a method where a moderately motivated person can get your e-mail even if it’s encrypted with a piece of JavaScript or similar method. Which previously was one of the best ways to hide your e-mail.
 
So nowadays it’s much harder. The best way is to use a form for feedback, I think.
 
And let’s face it – some visitors don’t even have e-mail set up on your computers. They use web-based e-mail so when they click that “old-fashioned” e-mail link that normally opens a new e-mail message in your e-mail program – nothing happens or it opens an e-mail program that isn’t even set up.
 
With forms your e-mail never appears anywhere readily accessible, and you can add additional fields, if needed, according to the uses of your website.
 
Works great, and highly recommended.
 
But, a real enterprising spammer might look at the source code of your form and get your e-mail off that. Very few of course, but it’s still a possibility.
 
There are ways around this too, using CGI or PHP forms. But again, a quick look through the source code to find the PHP it’s calling, and maybe a specialized program, will reveal your e-mail in it also. And again, there’s more ways around that, but that’s a subject for a different time maybe.
 
But a real simple way is to use a free form mail service instead of messing with it yourself.
 
Like this site – Email Me Form. It’s easy and free, and works quite well. It also archives every form you get (and can archive any spammer attacks, or mistakes by dumb users), has CAPTCHA as an option, and best of all even a spammer looking through the source code of the form page won’t reveal your e-mail address, because it’s not stored there. In fact, it’s not stored anywhere on your site and can’t be accessed through the emailform site.
 
The forms are nicely customizable and you don’t even need to supply a page for your form if you don’t want to – let them do it.
 
You can see a use of it at my Old Abandoned Buildings of Northern NY website, this one uses the form hosted at my site and processed through the Email Me Form site. Another example is the contact form that can be accessed at the bottom of my HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photo site – with the form hosted directly (a bit simple; this one) on the Email Me Form site and processed through there.
 
Great site, and if you don’t like that one there’s many more sites that will allow you to do this for free, or you can similarly keep it on your own site using various pieces of software and yet still hide your address.
 
 
Interesting Website Usage Stats
 

A stat counter is great for both seeing who is visiting your site, as well as targeting traffic via search engines and links.

 

I use the site StatCounter.com primarily, as they do an excellent job, though there are many nice free and paid services out there, as well as some great stuff you can host directly on your own site to do the same. Some will even show you real-time stats i.e. who’s on your site right at that moment.

With this you can track individual IP’s, where they are located, how long they stay on each page, what site they were on before your’s and what site they go to afterwards, what OS and browser and resolution they are using, what keywords they used to find your site if they found it via a search engine, which search engine they used, the path they took through your site, and analyze keyword and site usage statistics as well as other points of data.

Invaluable for bumping your site up the search engines and tweaking Meta tags and keywords on your site.

 
Here’s some interesting OS, browser, and resolution stats from one of my websites – my Jefferson County History site – during a certain time period. Just a side-note, not sure how visitors to my historical site compare to average visitors elsewhere.
 
270 54.00% MSIE 7.0 117 23.40% MSIE 6.0 70 14.00% Firefox 3.0.4 13 2.60% Firefox 2.0.0 8 1.60% Safari 1.2 8 1.60% Mozilla 5.0 5 1.00% 4 0.80% Firefox 3.0.3 2 0.40% MSIE 8.0 2 0.40% Chrome 0.2 1 0.20% MSIE 5.5
 
As you can see the various versions of IE still have the lion’s share of visitors. No surprise here. The blank one is likely search spiders.
 
327 65.40 Windows XP 131 26.20 Windows Vista 16 3.20 Windows 2000 14 2.80 Unknown 8 1.60 Linux 2 0.40 Mac OS X 1 0.20 Windows 2003 1 0.20 Windows NT4.0
 
Nor surprising, I don’t believe. XP continues to dominate even with new computers having Vista installed by default, for the most part.
 

212 43.89% 1024×768 139 28.78% 1280×1024 70 14.49% Unknown 29 6.00% 800×600 28 5.80% 1152×864 5 1.04% 1600×1200

 
A good 28 percent are using 1280×1024. Large screen monitors? Widescreen monitors? Do they like it that way or just never changed the default resolution?
 
  483 Enabled 17 Disabled
 
This one shows number of people who have JavaScript enabled and disabled. For security reasons some disable it, but so many websites use JavaScript for menus and other interactive pieces. I guess I’m surprised that even this small number of people have it disabled. It’s a good example of why you should always provide alternative means of navigating your site.
 
 
 
 
 
 
                   
     
     
     
     
     

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