Programmer tools of the trade

Tools of the trade for a Programmer are many. Everyone thinks of the computer, the language, various frameworks, and possibly an IDE. Fewer think about the keyboard and pointing device they use, and even fewer would consider the desk or chair they’re using as tools of their trade.

But think about it a moment. We’re in front of our computers at least 8 hours per day. Are your back, posterior and fingers not worth considering?

I’ve been complaining about the chairs my employer provides for several years now. Every time, I was told the chairs were fine, as long as they were adjusted correctly, and besides, I was the only one complaining. I had spoken with several co-workers, and they either had no opinion (the minority) or also felt the chairs provided are inadequate.

Recently, I had the opportunity to use the infamous Aeron chair for several months. Here was the proof I was looking for that a good chair is not only available, but much nicer and more relaxing to use on a daily basis. As I recently returned to my employer’s office, I had a decision to make live with the chairs, or buy myself a chair.

Of course, I once again started by requesting a better chair, but once again, my request fell on deaf ears.

So, I purchased a chair for myself. I considered the Aeron, but a new chair from the same company has been released, so I wanted to try it first. I found a local store that carried the chairs, and after 15 minutes, I was convinced that the new design was definitely a step forwards.

I have been using my Embody chair for the last 2 weeks, and have no regrets about the purchase. Yes, I could have gotten a used Aeron for significantly less, but I honestly think the Embody is that much better. Also, as the chair has a 12 year warranty, I expect I will still be using it 20 years from now, so amortized over that amount of time, the chair isn’t that expensive.

The difference is surprising. Just today, I sat in one of the company chairs, and couldn’t believe it took me this long to get a better chair. Well worth investigating, and investing.

Archos player and Divx Converter

Update: I’ve started using Dr. Divx instead. I’ll put up a new post soon with details. It has many more options, and will do MPG/VOB conversion without having to buy anything extra. It’s free, and available from Divx.

I will be getting an Archos video player of some sort. Deciding between 504 and 604. Same price, so have to decide if want 10GB extra or 5mm less (the 504 is a 40GB vs 604 30GB, but 604 is 5mm thinner).

Anyhow, this is about using the Divx Converter to create avi files for playing on the Archos units. Divx Converter is part of Divx for Windows. It has a 15-day trial of all the components, and after the 15 days, only the basic codec and the Divx Player still work.

It isn’t too expensive, and in my experience, it works very well. It’s $19.99 USD for the Converter and Pro codec. If you want to convert MPG2 or VOB (i.e. DVDs), you need an additional plug-in for $9.99USD.

For burning files from the web (i.e. downloads via bittorrent), first try it on the Archos. If it’s a divx file with mp3 audio, it will most likely play without any conversion.

To burn files, copy them onto the Converter. I was using the portable profile for conversion. Select the view list option and then edit the entries. For 4:3 entries, make the height 272, and accept the width. For widescreen entries, set the width to 480 and do the conversion. You’ll notice that 2.35:1 movies end up being 496×208, and this is because that is closer to 2.35:1 then 480×208 is. The restriction is that MPG dimensions have to be a multiple of 16 pixels, so end up with ‘weird’ dimensions. It’s close enough to the Archos screen dimensions that you won’t notice.

For burning DVD’s, I recommend using DVD Converter (I’ve provided the file here as it isn’t easy to find on the web anymore). Rip the DVD in IFO mode. This means you’ll have to rip each ‘piece’ individually, but it makes it easier to convert in Divx as you don’t have to know the aspect ratio of the file in order to convert it. Also, Divx recommends installing AC3Filter as volume levels can be low otherwise. They have links on their site to it, or you can search the web. You can try doing a conversion without it and see what it’s like. I found the levels were on the low side on the Archos, so I installed AC3Filter.

Divx also provides a utility that sets the configuration in AC3Filter to be compatible with Divx. Basically, the settings boost the volume a little from default, and ensure that SPDIF out is disabled. For burning to the Archos, you have to ensure that it only burns stereo audio. Otherwise the Archos can’t play it.
Copy all the VOB files onto Converter (all files starting with VTS_xx_*.vob), and it will recognize that it’s one item, and it will join them. It will display the options dialog, so set the width to 480, and leave the aspect ratio locked! Don’t worry that it isn’t 1.85:1 or 2.35:1. Divx will do the right thing for the output file.

Unfortunately, Converter doesn’t provide an option for overriding the saved file name, so you’ll end up with the same name for output (something like VTS_01.divx), so you’ll have to remember what it was and rename it after the conversion is done.

Have fun with this, and feel free to leave a comment to ask questions. If I know the answer, I’ll update this post to reflect it.

Budget LCD Roundup April 2005 : lcd, review, dell 1703fp, nec lcd1770nx, planar pl1700, samsung 172x, 710n, 915, viewsonic ve175, vg710

A very comprehensive discussion of monitor technology, and LCDs in particular. Reading the article, there is no doubt DVI is the only way to go with an LCD. Well worth a skim, if not a comprehensive read.

Budget LCD Roundup April 2005 : lcd, review, dell 1703fp, nec lcd1770nx, planar pl1700, samsung 172x, 710n, 915, viewsonic ve175, vg710

Image Zoom

Allows for easy zooming of images. Firefox (and other browsers) allow ‘zooming’ on text (i.e. making the text larger) via the view menu, and this extension provides something similar for images. Now you can zoom in on an image to see it larger. Obviously if you zoom too much, the quality degrades, but I find this feature handy.

The homesite for this extension is here