Sunday, July 30, 2006

Posters in the train station

If you've ever had the chance to ride the trains here in Tokyo, you'd be familiar with the overwhelming number of posters both on the train and in the stations. Today I saw some station attendants taking down old posters and putting up some new ones on the station wall.

Each poster board (where posters get stapled to) can hold up to eight standard posters. Each poster looks to be about JIS-B1 size. So the entire area is somewhere on the order of 4m x 1.5m. Not small by any means.

But what is the cost of something like that? Each poster requires the design and printing run and the costs associate with that. Each station requires two attendants to take down and put up the new signs at least once a week. And the old posters need to be recycled, so the cost of recycling all the posters for all the stations every week is non-negligble.

I haven't run the numbers, and I expect they do not come out especially favorably in favor of replacing all the posters with large LCD screens, but I wonder what the impact of having electronic billboards rather than paper posters would be.

Obviously you'd have some drawbacks. The first being that the cost of replacement is going to be enormously high. LCD screens of the size mentioned above are prohibitively expensive. They are prone to break more often than corkboard (which I suppose could fail eventually given the humidity here in Tokyo). And the cost of replacement or repair in the event of defacement is very high. All in all, it's a pretty risky deal.

Other debatable drawbacks include the putting out of work those poster printers, station attendants, and some staff at the recycling plant. These are some of the social costs involved in replacing human work with machinery.

On the technical side, it's always risky to put out programmable displays where the public can access. A hacker could find a hole in the security system and display whatever images he wished. This is still possible with posters, all it takes is a printer and some staples, but the ability to attack all vulnerable screens in one fell swoop is pretty enticing.

So what are the benefits?

First, it would reduce costs in the long run, if the cost of the screens could be minimized. Lower insurance costs as a result of no more ladder falls and no more staple-pierced fingers could be realized. Paper would not need to be purchased by the advertiser, the poster image can be sent directly to the railway offices for immediate upload rather than to the printers for an expensive printing run. In the back room, a handful of engineers could handle the uploading of all new posters instead of two station attendants per station physically taking the posters down and putting them up.

Given the cost reductions possible, it seems only a matter of time before rail companies here replace the current system of paper posters with LCD screens that can provide a better experience than paper could. The amount of time it will take is the amount of time it requires to bring LCD screen prices down to levels that would make this a realistic alternative. Unfortunately, that is not yet the case.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

How do I set the time in Outlook?

I am currently in Seattle for some meetings and need to reset my Outlook timezone to reflect that I am here rather than in Tokyo. All my appointments look like they are set up for the middle of the night!

So, how do I set the current time such that all my appointments will be updated to the correct current local time?

Monday, July 17, 2006

IBM ThinkPad noises

So I'm sitting here at home using my ThinkPad T43 and just noticed a strange buzzing noise coming from nearby. It happens whenever the screen scrolls, like when scrolling on a webpage.

I've tracked it down to the AC adapter brick. It buzzes whenever I press a key or use the touch pad. I just touched it and it's very very hot.

Normal behavior? Or am I risking a fire by using this in my house?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Prefs.ini followup

I mentioned earlier that I was having trouble opening web links from within applications. As is typical, the error code gives absolutely zero information about what is actually wrong.

After a bit of searching on the Internet, I finally found what I was looking for. Unfortunately, it was in Japanese. Luckily, it pointed to a Microsoft KB article. After poking around the Control Panel applets, as specified in "Method 1", nothing seemed to be working. So I finally bit the bullet and went into File Types as specified in Method 2.

Aha! It turns out that all my weblink actions were somehow re-mapped to use a program called Sleipnir. In Japan, Sleipnir is a semi-popular IE-based browser that provides a lot of extra features on top of the base IE browser control. However, uninstalling it leaves a lot of garbage registered which causes things like weblinks to fail to open.

It took a few minutes, but I think I cleaned up the mess it made. At least it seems like weblinks are working properly now.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hotmail's spam filter is failing

I'm getting quite a bit of spam lately in my Hotmail account. For a while there it was almost spam-free, but there's been a sudden influx of spam mails.

Virtual PC now free!

You may remember when I mentioned that Microsoft was giving away the store. Back then, MS was mostly into giving away Virtual Server in an effort to get people interested in their main server offerings, and also their Express versions of VS 2005 to get people interested in developing for .Net 2.0.

Now I can't even imagine what they are thinking about giving away Virtual PC. Could it be that they want people to test drive Vista beta? Keep people from switching to Linux by giving them the best of both worlds?

Maybe it will let me re-image this machine without losing any data.

Update: I can't seem to load some DVD iso images directly. The size limit for iso files is 2.2GB, but my iso file is 3.5GB.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Can't find prefs.ini

I just started at a new company. I intend to blog about it, but for now I'm just too busy trying to learn the new technology to spend any time doing anything else.

One nice thing that they did when I joined was give me a \300,000 (300kJPY) limit and let me go hog wild choosing my own work PC. Oh, I could choose from a tiny Sony handheld or a giant Hitachi desktop replacement, but I really wanted (needed) WinXP Professional so I ended up asking for a Thinkpad with an extra big hard disk and lots of spare RAM.

I think I've been hornswaggled! The laptop I received seems to be slightly used and the hard disk is quite a bit smaller than I had anticipated. In addition, there is a lot of software that is installed that couldn't possibly have come on the recovery CD.

The worst part of it is, though, that I seem to be missing a file called prefs.ini. This becomes painfully obvious when I try to open a URL from within any application other than the browser. I can't even register VS Express because I can't open the registration link from within the installation program. Hyperlinks also don't work from within Outlook. Forget about MS Word.

I'm thinking it may be necessary to get the restore disks out and just blow away the whole installation and start from scratch. I just wish I had that sort of time.