random thoughts to oil the mind

Month: July 2006 Page 1 of 2

LCD Monitor Lifespan Saved by Customer Services

iiyama ProLite E435S-B

Searching the Internet for a comparison of CRT and LCD monitors will soon find numerous assertions that the lifespan of an LCD monitor exceeds that of a CRT. Just take one such example from Matrox Graphics’ website:

Longer monitor lifespan: Generally, LCD monitors last longer than CRTs. A typical LCD lifespan is 50,000 hours of use compared to 15,000 to 25,000 for a CRT. A longer monitor lifespan can provide a better return on investment.

There we have it, a rationalising argument for purchasing the more expensive LCD model. Indeed that 50,000 hours works out to be almost 20 years at 8 hours a day, quite an impressive statement. In my experience, aside from those which fail unnecessarily early (and usually, therefore, still under warranty), a CRT monitor usually lasts a long time indeed, and to claim that LCDs are expected to outlive these by anything up to 3 times as much on average would certainly make them worth the extra cost.

Sadly, however, this has not been the case. The first LCD I purchased failed 12 months out of warranty, whilst my mother’s failed with 12 months coverage to run. Of course it appears that when an LCD monitor fails, there is no working around it. CRTs gradually lose their sharpness or fade in luminance, which obviously becomes a problem at some point depending on what the monitor is used for, but does not make the monitor unusable for certain functions and short periods of time (indeed, one might even see the benefits of a bit of free anti-aliasing). The LCD monitors on the other hand had no such gradual decline; the first, an Eizo FlexScan L365, suddenly failed outright refusing to power on; the other, an iiyama ProLite E435S-B eventually stopped producing any blue colours, resulting in an increasingly irritating pink-tinged display.

But this is where credit must be given to the customer support services of both of these companies. iiyama’s monitor was covered by 3 years’ warranty, and true to the agreement a replacement was sent, the old monitor taken away for repair or disassembling. Simple, no hastle, and a fresh display within a week of the problem being reported. The case of the Eizo monitor is a little more complicated as it was out of warranty when the fault developed. Of course without being able to even turn it on, the problem went undiagnosed until it could be returned to base. An estimate of £75 + VAT was offered to fix the monitor and return it, with us being given the option of cancelling it should the repair turn out to require a more expensive part. Given the monitor’s quality, and the fact that the price was very reasonable to at least save on waste, it was sent back. In the end, however, Eizo deemed the faulty part to be so small as to not be worth charging for, and the monitor was repaired and sent back without charge. And all this out of warranty!

Ultimately the lifespan of LCD monitors has yet to be properly tested, and it will only be in coming years whether we find the initial estimates to be accurate or not, as many of the original buyers of LCD monitors may already upgraded to take advantage of improvements in refresh rates and contrast ratios, not to mention falling prices and larger screens. Nevertheless, we can rest assured that if companies are willing to offer the kind of customer support seen here, our investments may go the distance, even if the monitors don’t.

C&C Generals: A Late Appraisal

Generals Deluxe

Obviously C&C Generals and her Zero Hour expansion pack are neither new nor even current titles, so this review comes rather late in the day. Nevertheless, with the next generation of titles in the pipeline from EA (in the guise of C&C3) and Chris Taylor’s Supreme Commander (spiritual successor to Total Annihilation), it might be worth highlighting a few of the problems with this older incarnation of the RTS genre. Whilst the genre was built on the single-player campaigns of the original C&C and co., it lends itself beautifully to the world of multiplayer, and this is where the focus of this little review lies.
First of all, it is only fair to point out that EA have managed to create an untypically balanced game out of the three very varied factions. When one counters in the major differences attributable to the ‘Generals’ of the game’s expansion pack, it is surprising that, at least to a mediocre standard of play, the game offers twelve competitive teams and therefore plenty of diversity in tactics, as teams try to exploit one another’s weaknesses. Of course, this is not to say that certain combinations of opponents do not bias the outcome of the game, and at the top level of the game it should not normally be possible, for example, that a China Infantry team will beat a GLA Toxin enemy. Yet simply by looking at the daily win percentages produced on the game’s online service, one can see that although one or two teams generally have a slight advantage statistically, in general the spread between the twelve factions in terms of victories is very close.

It should be pointed out that these observations take into account only a low-to-medium standard of play. Naturally at the top end of the game, the rules change almost beyond comparison. But the basic point is that C&C Generals still has regular players of all standards, and as a result, gamers can expect a wide variety of different tactics being produced on the field. The closer one gets to the top, of course, the more emphasis on the ‘real-time’ strategy elements of the genre, i.e. time management – the rush. Getting troops onto the field, micromanaging them, and using them to the greatest effect is the essence of the game, and new players will often find a number of variants in this line being used against them. But to make comparison with WarCraft 3, where nearly every game for the beginner will end in a high-level undead hero and an army of crypt fiends storming into their base, whilst they are yet fighting some local creeps, new C&C Generals/Zero Hour players can expect to at least put up a fight, even where this may sometimes feel to be completely ineffectual.

Skype’s Revealing Customer Policy

Apparently, getting what you paid for isn’t necessarily the name of the game any more. Although I was well aware of it at the time of purchase, no niggly smallprint or obligatory T&C which no one reads hid this caveat, it still comes as something of a surprise to be informed that something I paid for disappeared if I don’t use it. In my personal experience, Skype hasn’t done itself many favours in terms of maintaining a decent service. Certainly, it ‘does what it says on the tin’ the majority of the time, indeed it was only as I decided to test Skype’s SkypeOut feature (which worked handsomely, to the company’s credit) that I came across this email. This quote, in particular, amused:

You’re receiving this email around 30 days before your Skype Credit balance expires. Skype Credit expires 180 days after your last purchase or SkypeOut call. If you’re not using your balance we need to expire the credit sooner or later to comply with normal business accounting rules. Not very exciting, but true.

Even in today’s confused business world, where caveats and charges are hidden inexplicably from view, the very idea that Skype feels it obliged to rip its customers off in order to comply with ‘normal business accounting rules’ is staggering. From my meagre experience with mobile phone companies, this would appear to be anomalous to their standard practice. I have never been informed by PayPal that my account would be emptied because I haven’t used my funds, nor indeed have I come across such a statement from any of the other myriad of online services who use an online account system such as theirs.

Perhaps Skype would be well advised to comply with normal business operating rules instead of focusing on using cunning and thievery to earn themselves a few dollars. Take the much maligned Linux version of their program; the current official release still stands at version, released October 25, 2005. To their credit, the 8 months spent working up to the release of version 1.3 BETA on June 28th was not wasted, with full ALSA support, better chat features and numerous bugfixes, but this has not prevented issues with the ALSA sound system causing lockups: this is still just a BETA release. To suggest that this is symptomatic of Skype’s overall work ethic would be unfair; the Windows version of the program has come on leaps and bounds over the past 12 months, though it should be mentioned that many bugs at times seemed to have been put aside (such as memory leaks in the program, particularly in multi-user chats, or users in a person’s contact list disappearing sometimes at will) whilst new features such as video calls were scripted in.

No doubt being the most famous name in the game, Skype have found it difficult to maintain a lead, with sustained efforts to introduce all the features users demand whilst ensuring the package is solid and generally bug-free, and the service has maximum availability and quality. Nevertheless, it seems Skype’s “not very exciting” excuse for some small scale pilfering is an unnecessary blemish on the company’s otherwise fairly decent track record. Now, time to make some long distance calls to Tristan de Cunha…

“Revolutionary” Cornershot

This new weapon developed jointly by the Israelis and Americans purports to be a revolutionary new idea, but firearms afficianados will no doubt remember the “Krummer Lauf” modification to the German Sturmgewehr 44 of some sixty years previous. With seemingly questionable construction, the weapon would suit only the most specialised of tasks, and without decent training and experienced handling could easily result in costly errors, which the weapon is designed to avoid.

Perhaps the most controversial point surrounding this weapon’s development, however, has to be the video released to promote it. Reminiscent of the parodic advertisements of a Paul Verhoeven science fiction film, the choice of music for the video suggests farce not future. Indeed many of the features of the film highlight the weapon’s unsuitability to certain situations: one can imagine its utility in the street level fighting which prompted the development of the Wehrmacht’s “Krummer Lauf” system, but the video highlights the clumsiness of rotating the weapon through angled and forward-firing modes. Indeed this important drawback to the Cornershot system is even more blatant if one considers its use in an environment such as the hotel seen in the video. These buildings are notorious for their paper-thin walls, easily penetrable by most calibre weapons; if one were to study the execution of such building sweeping maneouvres, from the London Iranian embassy siege of 1980, to the Nord-Ost Moscow opera house siege in 2002, one is more likely to find that speed is of much more importance, and the forces would always prefer the use of gas to disorientate hostile targets.

Furthermore did anyone spot the deliberate mistake illustrated in the weapon’s closing “paintball” scene? Two accurate splats from a paintball gun onto the wood directly in front of the carrier’s arm; you might be around the corner, but that doesn’t make you unreachable.

Italy Triumph: But Something Ails Our Beautiful Game

The Italian team celebrate victory

So Italy have taken the title for a fourth time, bringing their tally to four, edging them out as the best in Europe, and ending what should be acknowledged as one of the worst tournaments in recent memory. For the second time in its history, the final was settled on a penalty shoot-out, the feeling of the fans towards the end soured by a red card for Zinedine Zidane for headbutting Marco Materazzi.

There can be little doubt that the tournament was marred by some dire games, poor refereeing decisions, strange FIFA interference, and a generally lack-lustre performance from many of the teams, particularly towards the end of the tournament. Can any blame be apportioned for this? Or was it simply the luck of the draw that this tournament was destined to be poor viewing for the spectators? Of course, credit should be apportioned where it is due, and both the hosts and the fans did an excellent job in ensuring the tournament was shrouded in a carnival atmosphere, and the focus for the media could be left to the football.

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