Monday, August 30, 2010

Request: New name & icon for PEM

A while ago I went through and completely re-wrote the source for PEM, making it sooooo much cleaner, more efficient, and with several new key features. I ran into a snag so I kind of ran into a wall in terms of the next release, but this week, I picked it back up, untangled the snag, and am on my way to releasing PEM v1.0.

Version 1 is going to be great; Dropper will be integrated directly into the program, the RAM usage will be about 1/10 of past usage (hopefully), and overall, the program will just run smoother. The only problem is that I really want this to be used. I am a bit of a freeware fanatic, and I really don't know of that many apps besides Coffee/Cafe that do what PEM do. (I saw one other, but I can't remember the name.) So I want people to be able to use PEM if they need it.

And quite honestly, that means I need to make PEM presentable. The two things that need tweaking are the name and the icon. I really like how easy it is to say "Pehm", but "Portable Extension Manager" is a mouthful and "PEM" is just confusing. I need ideas for alternative names, like maybe something not quite as literal, like Coffee. I really don't want it to be completely random and preferably not an noun-animal (Firefox, Iceweasel, Thunderbird, Songbird, Musicbee, etc), but I just can't think of something that captures what PEM is and does.

Even apart from a new name, the icon really is not working for me. At the time, I made it because I thought it was "simple", and now it's more turned into "drab." So I need something new. I am absolutely terrible at graphic design. (Just take a look at the first PEM icon, or the StartupSaver icon, or any of my sites.....) I need someone to volunteer their artsy services to help me put a good face on PEM. I really can't compensate you monetarily, but I'll most definitely put your name in the Readme, the About window, and pretty much everywhere I can.


I really don't know if this request will reach anyone since DoaAN is neither popular or thrilling, but I guess it's worth a try. It would be so amazing if I could get these two things. If you think you can help with either one (even if it's just brainstorming about the name), e-mail me at freewarewire@gmail.com, and if you know anyone with artsy skills that might be interested in doing something like this, please pass on the request to them.

Sincerely,
-Bry

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Favorite Linux distros thus far

???? (Desktop)
Why not: I can't find a distro that "stands out", rather than just fading in with the other choices out there. As much as I love some of the ones listed below or other popular choices, none really appeal to me over any of the others.


Ubuntu (Failsafe)
Why: It works doing almost anything you can think of, and it has a live CD.

Peppermint (Netbook)
Why: It is extremely fast. (Boots in 15 seconds, powers off in 5.)

SliTaz (Portable)
Why: Extremely small and lightweight (10MB CD, 80MB HD), but doesn't use FLWM, so it isn't dreadful to look at.

TinyCore (Minimalist)
Why: Only 25MB to start out with, plus is very easy to add new programs.


Parted Magic (Partition Utility)
Why: It contains tools that make it easy enough for a Linux newb like me to use. (Though I am getting pretty handy with cfdisk and slightly with fdisk.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

YourMusic cancellation

I finally quit YourMusic yesterday. My queue has been getting shorter and shorter in the last coming months and my next music date was the 30th, just three days away. I looked at the current title next in my Queue (Alter the Ending by Dashboard Confessional) which I realized that I definitely wanted the Deluxe Edition, since it's like twice as long with acoustics. But guess what: YourMusic did not have it. So I removed it from my queue and realized that it was now empty. I looked at my music wishlist and searched for the titles on YourMusic. It didn't have anything. Nothing.

So I cancelled. I wrote a pretty nasty parting comment for why I was leaving and I would post it here except it had some language and I didn't think to save it at the time. Basically I just said "Get a better selection and better customer service. I'll be at CDUniverse." The whole concept behind YourMusic is great: CDs for $7. Who doesn't want that? The snag you run into is that they don't have crap. Period. I'm really surprised I lasted as many months as I did.

So if you happened upon here by searching whether or not YourMusic is good, here's my advice: steer clear. If you absolutely must, look through there selection to make sure it actually has crap that you want, and then I would just recommend joining, buying everything in a cart, then leaving, because they rarely add new titles. (And "new" has different meaning with them, like "been out for two months".)

I feel free, financially and spiritually. Goodbye, and good riddance, YourMusic.
-Bry

Netflix hits the App store

For quite a while, I've been using an app called PhoneFlicks that is a 3rd party Netflix queue manager. But I just learned today that Netflix itself finally released an app. Oh, and that app can watch movies on your iPhone. Part of me is saying "Finally!" and part of me is saying "Heck yes, this is awesome!"

First off, I'm a little dissapointed that Netflix still is too lazy to make an app that lets you organize your queue. The Netflix app pretty much only focuses on being able to watch movies and even though it allows you access to your Instant Queue, that really is only half the picture. It looks like I'm going to have to keep PhoneFlicks for now, and it's always more annoying to have two apps that could be combined to one.

Other than that, it's very straightforward. Once you sign in, you get a page for suggestions, a page for genres, a search, and your instant queue. You click watch, and you watch. I think the app is kinda slow, but it might just be iOS 4 on my 3Gs. You have to be connected to wither Wifi or 3G to stream the movie, but that honestly is not unreasonable to me. I've wanted Netflix on my iDevice for quite some time and all I ever asked is that they make the same functionality available on a computer available on my iPod/Phone. So yeah, some people might rage and say that it's absurd it can't store vidoes offline for viewing when you're in a place with no reception. But to them I say, big whoop. It does exactly what the computer version does and now you have another way to have Netflix everywhere, in addition to your DVD player, your computer, and your favorite gaming station.

I'm kinda psyched about it, but I don't have a data plan because I'm poor, which means I will have to be connected to Wifi to watch any movies. I'm ok with this, but I don't think I'll be watching too many movies/TV shows any time soon on my iPhone.
-Bry

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sansa Clip+

I mentioned not too long ago that I wanted an SDHC player, and I essentially settled on the Sansa Clip+ 2GB. I got it in the mail today, and I'm already impressed.

First off, let me yell out the price tag. I snagged it off Amazon for $32, but thanks to a $5 giftcard I had saved via Swagbucks, I got it at a reasonable $27. The alternative I was looking at was the Sansa c240; the reason I possibly was going to buy the c240 was because it was stable with Rockbox, it had a better screen, and it was about $10 cheaper; the reason I didn't buy it was because I've seen a video with the Clip+ running Rockbox, I wasn't going to use the screen for anything like watching videos since I have an iPhone with movies on it, and the c240 was a tad bit bigger and had a proprietary connector instead of miniUSB.

First Impressions:
It's small. No, seriously. I watched videos, read reviews, and I was still surprised to find how small it is. It's the size of two quarters sitting side by side. I was a bit concerned because its clip was not removable like the original Clip, but now that I have it at hand, I'm ok with that. The clip is very flat and blends with the device wonderfully, and really doesn't add that much thinkness to this micro device; even with the clip, it's still thinner than a dime. It feels very well built and everything about this player looks and feels phenomenal from an appearance perspective.

Now for the operations. I immediately grabbed my microSDHC card which already had music on it and plugged it in. Yes, it does take about a minute or two to update the database. But as long as you're not switching out microSDHC cards alot -and I mean alot, where you are unable to wait 60-120 seconds- it really shouldn't be that big a deal.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised with the screen. It's very vibrant and not poor quality at all, even though it's just OLED. You transition between menu's very smoothly, as it has an animation much like the iPod. The screen itself is actually pretty small, leaving only room for 4 rows, one of which is the title bar that has where you are in the menu and the battery. [I have a feeling Sansa could've worked it around to squeeze in one more row, but I'm really not complaining. Though it would be nice to have the Album show in addition to the Artist and Song in the Now Playing screen.]

Everything's really well layed out in terms of menus. Under Music, you have the choice of Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, and Playlists. (And several more like Genres and AudioBooks.) Any song that's on the microSDHC has a little SD icon next to it, which is welcome, but it also incorporates those songs into your library so you don't have to switch; so if I have a Switchfoot song on the internal and another on the microSDHC, both will show up under "Switchfoot" in the Artists section.

The settings are very clear and straightforward; you have music options like Repeat, Shuffle, and EQ (even a 5 band custom), you have Audiobook options I don't really care about, and System settings like Backlight, Power Saver, Sleep, Brightness, Volume, and even a Clock.


You can record Voice Memos, listen to them, and delete them right on the Clip+. The mic is not too shabby a quality, hidden slightly on the back near the top of the clip. The radio is a tad crude, but fairly effective. You seek through the channels and click "Add Preset" on the frequencies you like, and then you can cycle through those just by clicking the center button. There's no real way to see a list of the frequencies that are your presets, but there is a * next to it if it is a preset.


The Home button is actually incredibly useful; clicking it once takes you to the top menu, double clicking it takes you to the Now Playing, and holding it for a second provides a wonderful lock. There's volume buttons on the side which work well and make it easy to quickly adjust the volume.

This little device even surprised me in terms of functionality. It lets you rate songs, create an On-to-go playlist, and even has a visualizer....thing. Overall, I'm just in love. Seriously, if you don't mind the small size and screen and just want a basic music player, this thing blows an iPod out of the water; half the price of a shuffle, more disk space (optionally), and even more functionality.


Music Managing
Now that my drooling review is over, let me discuss how I'm going to use it. I said before that I wanted to use it for in my car and for work. The reason I bought one with so limited internal memory is because I planned to mainly use the microSDHC for memory and then store a few things on the internal, and since microSDHC is expandable up to 32GB (the memory of my iPhone and late iPod Touch, but even more since no space will be used for firmware), I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that all the space I ever need will be there if I need it.

So my plan is to put my work playlist from iTunes on the internal and my new music/car music on the SDHC. There's a few difficulties with this plan, since first off, the playlist is from iTunes which only syncs iDevices. Secondly, I want to sync to two places, and most programs are not that capable. I'm going to use a program called MusicBee for several reasons, mostly because I love it and think it's amazing, but also because it's so simple and straightforward. So here's my plan.

The microSDHC was definitely the easier task even though I tackled it second. I set up the device to work in MSC (though now that I think about it, MTP would work as well) and I set up the device which was known as the I:\ drive. Everything was extremely simple and I basically set the right folders, checked "music library" under the Auto-sync tab, and was set.

I need a way to import only my Work playlist from iTunes and while programs like Songbird and even MusicBee have iTunes Import options, it will import the entire library, which I don't want or need. So in order to snag just the Work playlist, I looked at several options; one of which was using a program called iTunes Sync to sync just that playlist to the internal memory. The program itself worked great and I was fine with using it, except for the fact that I also needed a way to create a playlist on the device for Work, ie, all of the files on the internal memory. Plus, I would end out having to run two programs, iTune Sync and MusicBee, which I didn't like.

So I took another approach. I couldn't simply add the Work playlist to my MusicBee library because the playlist depended on iTunes and was constantly changing. I tried a really weird trick where MusicBee would essentially sync the files to the same place and then create a playlist, but to no avail. Then I realized that an Auto Playlist was not the answer, a simple M3U was. MusicBee keeps a folder filled with all the Playlists and all I needed to do was get an M3U of the Work playlist into that folder and MusicBee will detect it when it starts. Plus, the playlist here doesn't even have to be in your MusicBee library, so I wouldn't even have to mix my Car playlist and my Work playlist inside MusicBee.

iTunes itself allows you to export a playlist as M3U, but it would be very annoying to have to open iTunes and manually export the M3U to that folder every time I wanted to launch MusicBee. Fortunately, I already knew about a program called iTunes Export that has a command line version that allows you to export iTunes playlists without even touching iTunes. So all I had to do is write a small batch/autohotkey file to run that program before running MusicBee, and presto, we have ignition.

To put it simply, iTunes exports an a Work M3U which MusicBee syncs to the internal memory, then MusicBee syncs its entire library to the microSDHC. So smooth.


But one more quick note. Playlists. Playlists are freaking confusing, and yes, I did not read the manual for the Clip+, but it's still very confusing.
  • First you need to realize that the playlist needs to be formatted correctly; instead of just linking to the files one after another, you need a bunch of "#EXTINF" and whatnot thrown in there.
  • Second, you need to realize that the Clip+ interprets playlists relative to the M3U's location on the disc, not the root.
  • Lastly, the file paths in the M3U are not supposed to start with a "/", which is the default for MusicBee.
Combing those three let you create playlists anywhere on the disc. You can even use the ".." to symbolize "up one directory."


It took a hell of a lot longer than I expected, but I'm happy that I stumbled on such an elegant answer, and that I am able to use MusicBee, my new favorite music library freeware.

I'm excited to use my Clip+. It's a nice little device, and I really hope it serves me well.
-Bry

Donate to free software/services

A while ago I watched a video called "Why Linux sucks" and the guy talked about how -in order to further the stride of open sourced software- we need to donate money because it takes money to create it. So he was talking about how we should pay what the price for a commercial competitor is, like $600 for GIMP. While that sounds slightly absurd and shocking, it really got me thinking and has changed the way I view free software.

The appeal of freeware is obvious: it's free. You don't have to pay a cent to use it, whether it's for an hour or for 10 years. So it really doesn't make sense to pay money for it when the entire purpose of it is to be free. But if you think about it, most freeware that you use every day take hundreds of man hours to get working, time that the developer could've spent doing work that would actually bring him a steady stream of money. Sure, some people may donate here and there, but it's most certainly not a steady stream of cash like he could get from say a commercial application or other work.

So you're doing it to kind of "pay" the developer for the effort he put into it. Secondly, it shows support. I found a Palm OS app called Due Yesterday that essentially saved my behind through 2 semesters of college. I switched to my iPod Touch after that so I had to bid Due Yesterday farewell, but I loved it so much and wanted to thank the software company that made it (NoSleep) for how easy it made my life and how they released it to me for free that I donated $15 to them.

My point is, freeware is awesome, but it shouldn't always be free. The nice part about freeware is that you can install and use it with no cost and if you find that you don't like it or find a one you like more, you can leave it without feeling like you lost anything. But if you find a freeware that you love and sticks with you like maybe Firefox or CCleaner or GIMP, then you have the amazing opportunity to say thank you. I've been using Firefox for years and GIMP for almost as long and the thought had never occurred to me until I saw that video. How could I not throw a few bucks towards Mozilla for so many years of an amazing software? And plus, you choose how much you want to give. If the product is ok, throw a few dollars. If it's saved your butt tons of times, toss a ton. The developer doesn't put a price on what he thinks you should pay, you get to pick what you think you should pay.

The thing about freeware is that it doesn't have to just be a one way 'relationship'. People love freeware because developers are donating their time to have essentially no guaranteed return; it's like a gift. We can do the same to the developers. They make a software free even though they don't have to, and we can give even though we don't have to. When you donate to a freeware, you're saying "You didn't require this of me, but this is how much I appreciate your software."

Please keep in mind though, I still hate Shareware. I hate trial versions and I hate things that are uber limited, like a ringtone creator I tried that could only export 10 seconds. That's sucks, is stupid, and will not make me buy the product. What I do not mind about is things like Winamp, which has CD ripping capabilities at a limited speed in the free version, and really fast in the paid. That's ok with me, for the free version to have certain things that are not as great as the paid.

That brings up another quick point: another way to support it is to buy the paid version, if there is one. Like I've considered upgrading Dropbox not because I need the extra space (though it would be nice) but because I just want to support them. Or there's things like MediaMonkey which has a paid version, Winamp, and other examples. You can upgrade to the paid version if you don't want to feel like you're not gaining anything. Or you can buy the paid version even if you don't want the extra features, just because you want to give the developer money, like a donation.


Those are my thoughts at least. Others might disagree. I'm definitely going to admit right here and now that I am a hypocrite about this because I haven't actually donated to anything other than NoSleep for Due Yesterday, and I bought a DVD of Peppermint OS. I'd like to be at the point financially (right now I work at a pizza place and attending college) that I could donate, say, $10-$20 a month just to random programs. I'm positive there wouldn't be a short supply. There's actually a new site coming out that's in invitation beta but I can't freaking remember what it's called. Anyway, basically you pick a certain amount and always donate that much. Then you pick sites and programs and basically choose how that money is distributed by weighting how much you like it. It sounds absolutely amazing, and I want to sign up as soon as it opens to the public.

Just something to think about. My thinking about this has changed very much recently and as a potential software developer and thus freeware developer, I sincerely hope that people might take this stance when I make programs that are worthy to be donated at.
-Bry

The Battle for Wesnoth on iOS

I heard about this a while ago and I was ecstatic. Yes, one of my absolutely favorite video games and my favorite turn-by-turn strategy, free and open source The Battle for Wesnoth is available on iOS in the App Store. How awesome is this? Pretty freaking awesome. This is actually one of the most appealing things I've heard of in terms of the iPad yet.

But you'll notice something pretty quick: the $5 price tag. Now this might seem very weird to you: a free, cross-platform game that is ported to the App store suddenly has a price tag? First, let me say that this just proves that things that would be freeware on a PC can bring in bucks in the App store. But secondly and more importantly, let me ask and answer the question "Is it worth the five dollars?" Absolutely yes. I haven't actually bought the iOS version yet because I'm trying to keep myself from frivolous spending recently, but if it is just like the desktop version (which it promises it is), then it is awesome and therefore worthy of your money.

Buy it. Now. Or if you don't want to but you still have $5 to get rid of, send it to me so I can buy this absolutely freaking amazing game.
-Bry

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

4 reasons why your should use Amazon instead of the iTunes store

This post is not extremely well thought out, so please don't expect anything inspired. Since this site is not one to write actual "articles" on such subjects, this is more like what I would say to someone who is currently using the iTunes store.

1. DRM
If you don't know what DRM is, it stands for "Digital Rights Management," and it 'protects' the music industry by only allowing you to play a file if you are the one who purchased it. Whether or not you care, DRM hurts you. It means those files can only be played in iTunes or on your iDevice; that may be fine for you ordinarily, but think about it in the long run: if you run into a circumstance where you want to play that file in a different computer or program or device, don't you think you should be allowed, since you paid money for it? DRM is a cage that iTunes puts you in for no good reason; piracy is a different discussion, but if Apple actually thinks that DRM prevents or lessens piracy in any noticeable extent, they are dillusional.
If I remember correctly, iTunes also has DRM-less songs for about 30 cents more; this shows two things: 1, that Apple really doesn't care about anti-piracy since they still sell open songs, and 2, it's just a scheme to either squeeze more money out of you or keep you trapped in their box.

2. Bitrate
iTunes sells you a song at 128kbps, which honestly is not all that bad. But the thing about buying MP3s as opposed to CDs is that you lose the option of choosing your quality. CDs can be ripped at anything fro 50 to 300kbps, and MP3s are whatever you buy. This might not be a deal-breaker for other people, but for me, I think "Why would I want to buy something that limits myself?" That doesn't mean I want 300kbps MP3s, but higher than the very bottom of 'Acceptible' would be nice. Amazon sells at 256kbps, which is wonderful.

3. Location
The iTunes store can only be accessed and browsed inside of iTunes itself. This basically just forces you to use their convoluted software whereas the Amazon store can be accessed by any web browser from any computer. It links to your Amazon account so you can add MP3s to your Wishlists and other nice features that come with an Amazon account.

4. [UPDATE 10-26-10] Safety
What happens if your hard drive crashes and you lose all the music you bought? Well, with iTunes, you are essentially screwed. Apparently you can fill out a form to let Apple decide if you can re-download the music that you paid for, or Amazon lets you re-download any MP3s, any time you want, no questions ask, from any browser, on any computer. Wow, Apple...you won't even let me re-download my DRM-ed music ?


To me, it's absolutely no contest. Why would I want DRMed, low quality music from a store built into an awkward application when I can have free, high quality music bought from a site that I can access anywhere, anytime?

Anti-iTunes,
-Bry

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Alternatives to iTunes Wiki + CopyTrans Rant

I mentioned I made a wiki for Alternatives to iTunes. Well, made is a very generous term. I picked a Wiki-making site and registered. I really don't know if I want a Wiki approach since I'm planning on working this only myself, but I don't know whatever format to go with other than Blogger, and this is not a Blogger type task.

To quote what I put on the wiki's home page:
The purpose of this wiki is to explore and investigate alternatives to iTunes as an iPod/iTunes/iPhone manager. There are literally dozens of free music library freewares out there that blow iTunes out of the water and if syncing to an iDevice is not an issue for you, then just try all of them out and pick the one you like best. For those of you who do use an iDevice and want to find an alternative to iTunes, this wiki will hopefully provide insight into just what kind of features you're getting when you switch to a different manager, and just what features you might be giving up.

You might be asking why this is "Alternatives to iTunes" instead of "Alternative iDevice managers." The reason behind this is that to "manage" an iDevice is an
extremely loose term. 90% of the sites I've seen that boast freeware can "Manage your iPhone without iTunes" deal solely with music, leaving all the other features that make this product great in the dust.

Overall, the mission of this wiki is to be able to compare iDevice managing freewares to iTunes and one another.


 I basically went through and wrote down every single feature I could find for iTunes pertaining to my iPhone, separated it into sections, and made tables. If all goes well, I'll be able to use my iTouch as a guinea pig before I sell it and just run it around, testing different freewares, going down the checklist.

The thing that I found curiouser and curiouser whilst examining iTunes is just how much it treats everything the same. Everything has the basic "Info", like Artist, Album, Track, Year, etc, even Ringtones. Everything has Lyrics, Album Art, all of the stuff. Some of them don't allow you to edit the info, like Apps, but it all uses the same fields in general. And everything is basically treated the same; you can add Music, Videos, Podcasts, AudioBooks, and even iTuens U to playlists. Everything has a check button. It's just kinda weird, and kinda lazy, in my opinion. Movies don't need an Artist field or an Album field, and it seems kind lame the Apple just made everything the same. I guess it's because iTunes has grown little by little and it wasn't originally designed to be so massive.


Now for my little rant. I've spent a good many hours researching iTunes alternatives. One software pops up in my searches alot, and it's called CopyTrans. It allows you to copy pretty much everything to and from your iPod/Phone/Pad, and even supports iOS 4. The only thing is that it doesn't manage your library on the disk, it basically just acts as a file transfer. So let me be brief and to the point. CopyTrans is not an iTunes replacement. It may be a good program, it may work fine. But it cannot replace iTunes because it doesn't manage your library on your PC. All it does is copy files to and from your iDevice, but that's not all that iTunes does, so it really pisses me off when people ask on forums for an iTunes replacement and people throw out CopyTrans. It's an iTunes alternative, not a replacement.

I honestly don't understand the concept of Floola or CopyTrans. I get the appeal of being able to copy files to your device from any computer at any time, but how do people use it all the time? What do people do with the music after they transfer it to your device? Do they just delete it, or throw it in one massive folder of mp3s?

I'm tired and need to rest.
-Bry

Monday, August 23, 2010

iPhone 3Gs / A replacement for iTunes

As I've been mentioning, I've been dissatisfied with my Gravity T and really wanted an iPhone instead. I just went on a vacation for a week with the family and came home to find my used, iPhone 3Gs waiting for me. I slipped in my SIM card and it works. It's in great condition, and with the hope it will not explode in the next few days, the seller will receive very positive feedback.

Now comes the tricky part: moving over. I really hate iTunes. I'm still using iTunes, mostly because I'm stubborn, but also because I'm not sure there's a replacement that can sync everything that iTunes can. So here's a list of things that I think an iPod/iPhone manager should absolutely have, in order of importance (IMO):
  1. Music
  2. Library management 
  3. CD Rip (to MP3/M4A)
  4. Smart Playlists 
  5. Video Type (Movie/TV Show/Music Video) 
  6. Ratings
  7. Play Count
  8. Podcasts
  9. Album Art 
  10. Lyrics
  11. 'Remember Position'
  12. 'Skip when shuffling'
  13. Photos
  14. (Touch/Phone only) App Sync
  15. (Touch/Phone) Contact Sync
  16. (Phone) Ringtones Sync
  17. (Touch/Phone) Books?
  18. iTunes U?
I honestly can't find anything that can do all of those. My friend and I were IMing about it a while ago and I didn't really have an outright list of things I wanted a replacement to do, besides "syncing everything." (That was actually back when I was looking into buying my iTouch.) My friend suggested Winamp, which actually probably is one of the top three in terms of music sync. But music is only a piece of the puzzle. I'm pretty sure that everything except the shuffle can play videos, have photos, etc, and frankly, Winamp can't do that (to my knowledge). So I'm in search of a replacement.

My guess is that after a couple days of intense searching, I'll come up short and stick with iTunes, which is a damn shame. I'm even willing to "piece together" an iPhone manager, for example, like one program for music, another for photos, and another for videos. I've found a pretty amazing music manager called MusicBee that is everything I wanted; the only thing it lacks is iOS4 support. But as for video and photo, I've come up blank. The only -literally only- Video Manager freeware I've found is called Pump, and is unstable, to say the least; additionally, although it does claim iTunes sync, I don't think it has separate sections for TV shows/Movies/Music Videos. And I can't find a freaking photo manager anywhere.

So I'm kinda stuck, which sucks, because I was all mentally prepared to switch. I've been using iTunes, the same iTunes library for years, so it's got all my ratings, playcounts and whatnot, and I am a stickler when it comes to playcounts. But I decided to start fresh, and actually rebuild my library tossing out songs I don't want. It's a big step for me, and all I need is a few programs to make it work. Here's what I believe I'll need, separating everything into it's own section:
  1. Music: Really self explanatory, except for the few things I mentioned above. Also needs to keep and organize the library.
  2. Video: Needs to be able to handle iPhone compatible formats, differentiate between types (movie/tv show/podcast/music video), and needs to be able to sync only certain videos in your library.
  3. Photo: Two way sync, that's all.
  4. Apps: Need to be able to back-up and restore iTunes store (and possibly Cydia) apps. This may not exist, so iTunes may be acceptable for only this.
I honestly don't see how there are so many music managers out there when it is by far the hardest job. For photos, all you'd have to do is (a) choose a folder to sync with, (b) copy photos to the iPhone if they don't exist there, and (c) copy new photos on the iPhone to the PC. That's all. If I new anything about how syncing / connecting with iPhones worked, I could probably write a very crude one in under 20 minutes.


On a side note, I'm still trying to sell my Gravity T and iPod Touch 3G 32GB, so if anyone in the Denver area wants either or both, e-mail me: freewarewire@gmail.com.


-Jon

[UPDATE]
Ok, I'm caving and going back to iTunes. I actually did search for several days before my trip and most of today, and I'm just convinced that nothing is up to par with iTunes, possibly even including shareware. The list I posted above isn't even complete, as I found out Ringtones and other things need to be added to the list.

Basically there just isn't enough demand to get certain things like an iPhone photo manager or a video manager, or even a ringtone manager. It used to be that there were no replacements for iTunes for even music, but now you have your choices, even though with every firmware update, freewares seem to become less and less motivated to follow Apple's stupidity.

I think I've come to realize something that I've actually learned firsthand several times: I don't hate iTunes entirely. Because honestly, the apps I love the most -Songbird and MusicBee- are laidout and perform similarly to iTunes, and I tend to bend away from apps that break that mold like MediaMonkey or foobar2000 (though both of those look amazing). The reason I say that I hate iTunes and I really do is because it's a good idea done absolutely terribly wrong. Here's why:
  1. Slow as hell: On Windoze, it just runs slow, period. Everything takes a few seconds to respond.
  2. Resource intensive: It just eats up CPU and RAM with all of its services and the program itself.
  3. Invasive: Perhaps the most annoying. It does things like steal focus when there's an update and install Quicktime every time you install an new version.
If Apple slimmed down iTunes alot and made it work for the user instead of the other way around, I might love iTunes. But the fact is, there are dozens of better music managers out there, Apple just makes it too damn hard to keep up with the ridiculous hurdles they keep creating to keep people caged in iTunes. It seems like freeware and even shareware are several years behind iTunes and so it will probably be a few years before there's a good complete iTunes replacement.

I started a wiki called "Alternatives to iTunes" that I might try to write very thoroughly about every program that can be used as an iPod/Phone/Pad manager, but I don't know if I will ever get it off the ground. This is definitely one of those times I had enough programming knowledge to write my own.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Looking for an SD-HC MP3 Player

When I got my new car, it had a Nav system in it that could play both from an iPod or from an SD card. Also, seemingly on an unrelated note, I often feel uncomfortable playing my iPod at work since it's rather dirty (er...flour-y) and the speakers are up high, and I've dropped it once. So I decided to try to buy an SD MP3 player so that can load a ton of MP3s on an SD card and then
  1. play it in my car and then 
  2. take it in to work with me and play it there, leaving my iPod safe and clean.
  3. (Optionally,) I would love if it could be used as a USB mass storage device, then I'd have a car SD card, a work MP3 player, and some mass storage I would always have on hand.

Good plan, right? Except for the fact that what I'm looking for either doesn't exist or doesn't exist anymore. I really don't have many stipulations:
  1. It's got to be SD-HC compatible. Because I don't even have a 1 or 2 GB SD card, I don't feel like buying one, and frankly, I would kind of like more space for my entire work playlist/comedy/etc. So 8GB would be ideal, plus I already have one.
  2. It's got to have basic controls (play, pause, next, volume control, shuffle and hopefully repeat)
  3. It's got to be cheap, preferably under $30.
  4. It's got to play MP3s
  5. It's got to be small. The smaller, the better. I want to fit it in my pocket or be able to hang it on my keychain.
Simple
The first thing that came to mind for me was a player that didn't even have a screen. All I basically wanted was an iPod shuffle with SD-HC support. Heck, I didn't even want internal memory, since it would cause an increase in price. I thought I could snag one of these for $10-$15. It wouldn't even need a rechargeable battery, I just wanted something simple. Here's what I've found:
The Kana SD is pretty much exactly what I wanted, except I can't find it for sale anywhere. After that, the Cassette player might be a good choice. But I put it aside because I honestly just wanted some tiny. I wanted something the size of an SD card to shuffle through the contents, that's all. So I didn't buy anything and I put it aside until now.

I think I might have changed my mind on a few things, but I'm not sure yet. I'm not sure I still want the screenless, faceless, crappy player and maybe something with a little more, but still not iPod or Zune level.

Simple with screen
So now I want basically something with limited ability to play songs and select them via a screen of some sort, but also not nice enough to have video and other features because that hikes the price up. Here's what I've found:

 Nothing.

Apparently it doesn't exist. Go ahead, search "SDHC MP3 player" on Google and tell me what you find. You either get the craptastic results I had above, or the $150 Zens and Zunes and such.

Simple microSD
I would really like to avoid microSD because (a) the read/write speed is not as good, (b) I'd have to keep a microSD to SD converter in my car, and (c) it's really easy to loose. But here's some alternatives I guess I've found:
  • Dingoo A320 Gaming System: This is a little different and expensive, but it looks so cool! It can play games from old systems like GBA NES SNES and Genesis, it's got AV out in DVD quality, it plays a bunch of video formats, it has an FM radio, it's got an image browser, it can show e-books, and most importantly, it can play MP3s. That's alot of features....it's like cheap iPhone, almost. Only disadvantage: microSDHC instead of regular. Oh, and it's ok Thinkgeek, which (a) makes me trust it more and (b) gives me the possibility of earning geek points. Unfortunately, I don't think I can justify getting it though since my iPod Touch already has emulators, plays videos, shows images, and can show e-books. Oh well.
  • Kube: Pretty cool. Really tiny, microSDHC slot, Not bad at all. It even comes with a 2GB microSD card, which is like a $10 value, but still.
  • USB Tiny MP3 Player + micro SD(HC) Card Reader: Basic controls and it doubles as USB mass storage. Battery life sucks though, 2hrs. That wouldn't even last my work shift.
Simple microSD with screen
  • SanSa Clip+ 2GB: Wow, this actually looks pretty neat. Pretty much exactly what I want for Simple with Screen, if it only used SD-HC
  • SanSa c240: Only 1GB, but has a microSD slot and can have RockBox put on it. I think I'd have to make sure RockBox is stable before getting this, but it excites me. A 2GB version is available for the same price as a clip, but since I can get up to 32GB of external storage via microSD, I'd rather pay for the data as I need it and just get the 1GB for $20.

Any SD-HC
So now I'm getting pretty desperate and I decide to look for anything that can use SD-HC and that has a screen, and is under $50. Here's what I've found:
  • Creative Zen 2 GB: Not too bad of a deal. It's about the size of a credit card, supports SD-HC, and even has videos and photos which -even though I didn't want in an SD player- is nice for the $40.
Really not alot in that category.

No External
Finally, we've come to the end. Tiny MP3 players that ditch external data altogether. It defeats half the purpose of buying one, but I just want to see what's out there.

Conclusion:
Here are the ones I actually would consider buying, in order of price:
  • $16 - Cassette MP3 Player - Simple - Can be used either as a cassette adapter or an mp3 player. Only plays tracks in order adding to card. From China...I'd only get it if I wanted dirt simple playback that probably wouldn't last long.
  • $20 - Coby Micro MP3 Player - No External - Very easily connected via USB and has a nice looking screen. But quite honestly, kinda large. I might get it under different circumstances.
  • $20 - Sansa c240 - Simple microSDHC with screen - 1GB internal, RockBox ready, has a screen. I'd have to put RockBox on it to get SD-HC support, so I'd have to investigate RockBox more. Has a removable battery, which is good for replacements.
  • $33 - Sansa Clip+ - Simple microSDHC with screen - 2GB internal. Doesn't have a removable clip which sucks. I'd like to see the UI in action. Also, it might be RockBox ready soon. Accepts up to 32GB SD-HC, but apparently has an 8,000 track limit.
  • $35 - Kube - Simple microSDHC - comes with a 2GB microSD card, no interface. I'd only get it if I wanted simple playback, but it's priced more than ones with a screen, so probably not. 
  • $40 - Creative Zen 2 GB - Any SD-HC - Really more like a full-fledged media player. I feel like buying this one would be more of a commitment than a whim. I'd have to check out how well it can smoothly use SD cards; I've heard it doesn't incorporate them well.

I'm thinking that currently, I've narrowed it down to the Sansa c240 and the Sansa Clip+. I honestly like the Clip+ more, but it's a tad more expensive and can't take Rockbox just yet. (Well, stable anyway.) If I could find a Clip+ for the same price as a c240, I would jump on it, since Rockbox will probably eventually fix all the problems, and I think I like the original OS more and device size. Yeah, it's the one. I just really wish I could find it for $25 instead of $33.

Anyway, I'm glad I found something. I was beginning to get discouraged, first with the mini monitor, then with the overpriced iPhone 4. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever be able to spend hours researching and then buy something again.

Excited that spending all night is about to pay off although slightly more expensive than he'd hoped,
-Bry

          Tuesday, August 10, 2010

          Trading in for an iPhone 4/I think I hate the Gravity T

          Hmm....an iPhone 4......
          First off, let me address the immediate concern of a little post I made a little while back talking about the iPhone 4 and how I did not think it would "change everything again." I still very much believe that and I still cringe every time I see an ad that says that. But I don't dislike the iPhone 4. I've had an iPod Touch for 6 months and I've grown to loooooove it so much, and despite the fact that I hate the fact that everyone and their grandmother, literally has an iPhone, I really want one.

          The reason I want an iPhone is mostly because I so sparingly use my phone that I figured that I might as well only carry around one device instead of two. Plus the mic and camera might be pretty sweet as well. Like I've said a thousand times, an iPhone to me is an iPod Touch with 3G capability (or basically Wi-fi anywhere) and phone stuff (like placing/receiving calls/texts). So if I love my iPod Touch currently, I don't see why I won't love an iPhone.

          There's a few more things to mention though. First off, I don't want a data plan, mostly because I'm not exactly financially able to afford it but also because I really have no need for it/I wouldn't use it that much. Another thing to mention is that the sudden urge for an iPhone is that my family just switched to T-Mobile, so now I actually have a service that uses SIM cards *coughVerizoncough*. But the real catalyst to me wanting an iPhone is.....


          I think I hate the Gravity T. I've only had it for one day, but I think I hate it. Why? It's slow, and unresponsive. I haven't posted about it yet, but I have a nav system that I hate with a burning passion in my car, and the main reason I hate it is because it's so freaking slow, and the same is true with the Gravity T. I mentioned this to my mother who acted like I was crazy, and maybe I am. But here's a comparison list anyway.
          • Almost everything you can think of takes 2 seconds. The screen lighting up when you slide it open. Going up a directory in Photos. Pressing "Back". Changing from vertical to horizontal. Loading one thumbnail of a 1600x1200 picture. Turning off the screen from pressing the lock button while it is locked. Returning back to the main menu by pressing the End button.
          • Occasionally it will take 3 seconds before it even receives your click (i.e., before the button lights up).
          • More than often, it won't even detect that you pressed a button. I'd say as much as 10%-15% of the time, for me.
          • Scrolling across home pages / down lists is extremely awkward. It seems like if you press you thumb on anything that is selectable, like a icon, it won't scroll the page. It's very jerky, especially when viewing a folder of pictures while the thumbs are loading; if you try to scroll down, it will either think you clicked a picture and view it or it will scroll down laggily (like scroll-stop-scroll-stop-scroll-stop), most of the time right past the row I wanted to see and when I pressed my finger down to try to stop it, it selected the picture my thumb was under.
          • Scrolling through menus like the "More" menu is very clumbsy and it will select things before I even lift my finger.
          • Sometimes scrolling just doesn't work, like it's an old computer working with too little RAM or a 500hz processor.
          • It takes literally 5 seconds from click to picture to presenting it, in a 1600x1200 pic.
          • You can't switch off Vibration feedback; even turning it to 0 still leaves a bit of vibration.
          • It will freeze up for a few seconds when typing on the keyboard, then unfreeze and send all the characters quickly, like squeezing a garden hose and then letting it go.
          • You either can't crop a picture other than a 2x zoom, or it's ambiguous, because I couldn't figure out how.

          Again, that sounds crazy. My mother remarked "Oh, so what's the difference of one second?" But it really does add up. For god sakes, when you slide the phone open, it literally takes 2 seconds to turn on the screen then 2 more seconds to flip to horizontal; that's 4 seconds before you can even use your phone. Not everything is this slow all the time. Sometimes it will rotate in a decent time, but I'm just amazed that (a) everything in this phone can be slow at times, and (b) nothing is reliably fast.

          To prove that I'm not crazy, here's a few reviews from places:
          • "touch response slow...often have to touch items multiple times to respond" -CNET 
          • "It's only resistive and lacks the accuracy of say, an iPod Touch." -CNET
          • "Sometimes slow" -CNET
          • "sluggish in the menus, often have to tap things multiple times to open...diffuculty scrolling... periodically" -CNET
          • "The screen lags, touch sensitivity is terrible...and the calibration is always off" -CNET
          • "Sluggish touch screen interface" -PCMAG
          • "This is the worst phone I have ever had my hands on. The scrolling is a joke. Attempt to scroll, it either activates where you touch, or it scrolls multiple pages." -Cell Phone Trek
          • "...the touch screen is a little slow to respond after you tap on a icon...Also when you turn on the phone, the messages have to load which means you cant open the inbox for 2 minutes which really bothered me also." -Yahoo answers
           I've never been one to want a great camera in a phone (I believe if you want a good camera, buy a camera), but the Gravity T has 2.0 megapixels. That's the same as my enV 2, which came out 2 years ago. The iPhone has a 5 megapixel camera, and it and the Gravity T are in a relatively close price range.
          Plus the Gravity T doesn't even have a headphone jack. I mean, for god sakes, why even put a music feature in if all the user can use to listen to it is external speakers? I wouldn't say that normally, but I am comparing it to an iPhone.

          Again, this is after having the phone for 1 day, so some of the stuff I say may be wrong or stupid. But I honestly wish I could keep my enV 2 rather than this piece of crap just because it's freaking responsive. My brother got the same model and he either thinks that my phone is different than his or that touch screen phones are supposed to be this way. I haven't even used this phone that much today, but every second that I have used it, I've hated it.

          The bottom line is...
           I may be overreacting on how bad it is, but I know for a fact that an iPhone would be better. My plan is to sell my iPod Touch 3G 32GB of 6 months -which is in very good condition other than one hair crack in the screen (that you can't even see except when the screen is off/black) and some very minor scratches on the back- and my brand new Gravity T -extremely untouched other than riding in my pocket for today- for an iPhone. Well, technically, I'll have to buy the iPhone first since I will need to make sure I have a working phone. The only problem is that apparently no-contract iPhones run about $300 more than AT&T iPhones. If I can snag one on Craig's List for around $400 (which is $100 over the Apple store price), then all I have to do is sell my iPod for $200 and my Gravity T for $200 to break even. I'm hoping that will work out.

          The only thing that worries me is that apparently the iPhone might come to T-Mobile. This could be good, but it also could be irrelevant. I could bet a thousands dollars that T-Mobile will make you buy an iPhone with a data plan, which I do not want, in which case it would be irrelevant and I'd still have to try to buy one off eBay or Craig's List. Or with iPhones in the US moving away from being only on AT&T, it could make it alot easier cheaper to buy an iPhone without a contract. Of course this all could be rumors like the Verizon iPhone seems to be, in which case I could end out waiting until early 2011 for nothing.

          Oy. I'm going on a trip on (essentially) Friday, and I won't be back until the 23rd. I guess I'll have until then to think about it. I wish that I wouldn't have to take my Gravity with me just because I want it to remain in good condition for selling. But since I don't even use it much, maybe I can toss it in a suitcase and only pull it out occasionally.

          If anyone on the internet has any tips for me or possibly an iPhone 4 they'd be willing to sell/trade, go ahead and shoot me an e-mail.
          -Bry

          [UPDATE THE DAY AFTER]
          I am rethinking some things. First off, I might have been a bit harsh on the Gravity. Some of the things I said are still very valid, like the general lagginess, but things like the touch screen might just take getting used to; I'm too used to the iPod Touch's nice capacitive screen that is a glory to use, I'm not used to using a phone with receptive touch.

          That being said, I still plan to sell it. Why? Well, here's the three reasons that I may have danced around initially:
          1. I don't use my phone much. At all. But I still need one for people to get a hold of me. So I'd like to have it "combined" with my iPod so I won't have to carry around two devices. TRANSLATION: The iPhone will be an MP3 Player + Phone, not a Phone + MP3 Player like most other people.
          2. No matter how much I may have exaggerated the cons of the Gravity, I still like my iPod Touch more, so I'd love an iPhone more.
          3. If I can sell my new phone that I got for free and my old iPod and get a brand new iPhone, then I'm basically getting a new MP3 player for free. TRANSLATION: If I see a phone that I like more and can get for free (with the money from selling the old), why wouldn't I want to do it?
           Only problem now is that I've discovered that iPhone 4s are ffffffffffffffreaking expensive. Sure, if you buy it with a plan, it's $300. But if you buy it without the plan, it's $700. There's no way I can sell my Gravity and iPod for $700. So here are my two options:
          1. I can go now and throw down $700 for a new iPhone 4 without a contract, most likely losing $300 in the process, or
          2. I can wait until T-mobile adds the iPhone, in which case I will probably have to buy a data plan, meaning $300 for the new iPhone + ~$650 for the cheapest data plan.
          So I guess I might go with a 3GS. I can score a 32GB 3GS that is unlocked for $297 off a site called Zwee! (It's a scam) or Craigslist has them for close to that. I have to say, I'm a bit dissapointed, but honestly it does sound too good to be true: I wanted to sell my phone and old iPod for the newest iPod, while dodging the data plan? As much as I'd love to have an iPhone 4, I guess I just won't. I'm not crying too much over it, though. I would never use Face Time, all of the software updates are available on the 3GS via iOS4, and I already expressed my opinion about all the other "new" features. I will miss that new screen, though.....would've been nice.....and kind of the 5MP camera....but 3 is still better than 2, and I still don't need an actual camera.

          One last thing to note is that T-Mobile still won't transfer my old phone number. My Verizon phone stopped working and my new one works on a new number, but it's really annoying that it hasn't transferred yet. I really hope that I can get it transferred, since switching my SIM to the iPhone may mess it up. (Hey, they asked for the phone's ID, not the SIM's.)

          [UPDATE 8-12-10]
          Well, I just bought my iPhone 3Gs on eBay....I spent literally all day and night and day looking. I'm really hoping that I don't try to get played and it's in good condition, but then that's just the danger of buying used things, and I sure as hell can't afford a new one. So now all that's left is to try to recoup my losses be selling my iPod and my Gravity.

          Saturday, August 7, 2010

          Askless installing

          Everyone's installed a program at some time, and everyone's been through the classic wizard. I have to tell you, one thing that I hate is when programs don't ask me before installing stuff. When I run an installer, the only thing that is default should be the program itself. Other than that, I would like to be asked the following:
          • Where to install the program
          • Whether or not to create a Start Menu folder
          • Where to create the Start Menu Folder
          • Whether or not to create a Quicklaunch entry (Spoiler alert: it's always no)
          • Whether or not to create Desktop icon (also always no)
          • What file associations to associate, if applicable
          Nothing pisses me of more when I install a program and find my desktop being polluted, or I try to open an RTF file and some stupid office suite thought I would like it to be the default. No, you ask me. On everything. That means you, Quicktime.

          I realize that alot of developers just give Zips instead of installers, but the whole point of an installer is that it's supposed to be easy and supposed to incorporate that program into your system. Having to unzip, go to the folder, then create a shortcut and move it to your Start Menu/Desktop is very tedious.

          I'm very tempted to write my own install in Autohotkey. It wouldn't be that hard, but it would be kinda tedious. I know there are programs out there to create installers, but it still blows my mind that some don't ask you about some of this stuff, or they ask you if you want a Start Menu group but don't ask where you want it. That's how a system can get junked quickly.

          Expressing my pet peeves one post at a time,
          -Bry

          My CPU runs really hot in safe mode

          When I first built my PC, it ran a little hot (that and I had the temperature alarm set too low in the BIOS) so it was constantly beeping. I picked up another case fan and changed the BIOS setting and I haven't noticed any more beeps, other than a few times I've been playing Left4Dead 2 for a few hours and even then the beeps were not constant. So I thought the problem was solved. Until I booted into Safe Mode.

          It scares me crapless. Every time I'm in Safe Mode, even by the Windows logo, it's beeping non-stop. I thought it might just be my motherboard doing something weird, so I ran SpeedFan and checked the temperatures, and they were high. (Around 75C, if I remember correctly, which is also in the range I set the BIOS to beep at.) It's really weird and now I'm deathly afraid to boot into Safe Mode to do anything because I might be risking my CPU.

          I even re-applied the heatsink gel a while ago because I thought the stock stuff might be the problem. I may have put a little too much on, but it still runs a little cooler when not in Safe Mode. It's just weird. Maybe it has something to do with ACPI? Like it's not putting a cap on the processor speed so it's just taking off....I dunno. It's had no troubles booting into Windows 7 (the few times I have) or Crunchbang, or any other Linux distro I've used, that I can remember.

          I thought I'd mention it, because that's what this diary is for: mention the good stuff that happens and report the bad so I can remember to try and fix it. Also, if anyone on the interwebz has ideas for fixes, I'd be much obliged.
          -Bry

          64 things every geek should know

          I ran across an article called "64 Things Every Geek Should Know" and I thought I'd see how I stack up. I'm going to try to look back and cross items out as I learn them, and try to learn as many as I can. But some of the things he listed are just plain stupid, so I'm disqualifying them in red. Also, this might spawn a list of my own, since I think he really missed alot of good skills, even ones that I don't know yet but know I should know.

          1. The Meaning of Technical Acronyms
            This is really ambiguous....I know quite a few terms, certainly all the ones he listed (even that P2P is supposed to be "Peer To Peer"), but there are a bit that I'm fuzzy on, or just plain don't know. There's a heckton of acronyms out there. Plus, what really counts is knowing what they do, even if you don't know how.
          2. How To Reset RAM
            Nope, I dunno it...
            [2-14-12] Initially, I thought this had something to do with the hardware, like resetting the CMOS or something. Now it looks like it's pretty much BS. First off, "reset" is a horribly wrong word since that would mean that every program you were running would crash. Secondly, the only sources I can find cite either one specific shareware program or a bogus DLL call. Thirdly, from the limited bit I know about RAM, it does not get "fragmented" like a Hard Drive, at least not in away that really cuts performance. Lastly, with how cheap RAM is nowadays, if you really have run your computer for so long that you are having RAM issues, just freaking reboot.
            Disqualified.
          3. Identify Keyloggers
            I didn't know this was that big of a deal, even for public PCs....I mean, it's either very obvious or impossible to tell. If it's like he has pictured or if it has a tray icon or even a suspicious name in the task manager, well, yeah, then it's obvious. But if it's built into the PC or software, I'd imagine it's almost impossible to tell, especially if you're talking about a public PC that's not yours. But overall, it seems like the best way to avoid keyloggers is just to not enter vital information (like logging into your online bank/Paypal account) from a public PC, period.
          4. Surf the web Anonymously
            I know a bit about Proxies, but I need to try to understand Tor.
          5. Bypass a Computer Password on All Major Operating Systems
            Definitely need to learn how to do this.
          6. Find a Users IP Address on AIM
            First off, does anyone even use AIM anymore? How old is this guide...sheesh...But anyway, glancing at the guide he linked to, it does look useful to know how to see the IP you're connected to via an instant messenger. If this works with programs like Pidgin, it will be golden. (Assuming the person I'm talking to doesn't use tip #4.)
          7. Hide a File Behind a JPEG
            I learned this a while ago, thanks to Jimmy Ruska of Jimmr.com and his Secret Cow. Thanks, Jimmy!
          8. Crack a Wifi Password
            I've looked into this with air-crack, but I could never get it working. I decided a while ago that this is definitely something I need to learn how to do eventually, but my friend showed me a Mac app that made it dirt easy, so I figured I might wait until I get a Mac.....some day....
          9. Monitor Network Traffic
            This is really vague, and I have no clue what the heck he's talking about...
          10. Recover Master Boot Record
            I believe I've done it before, but I could stand to learn more.
            [5-18-11] I've done this with FDISK (I believe), BOOTREC, and a little bit with install-mbr. I could always learn more, like the article that he linked to, but I definitely think I could recover the MBR if I needed to.
          11. Retrieve Data off Hard Drive
            I've never done this before, but the site he linked to seems very simple. It basically says try a different computer, use a Live CD, use recovery software, freeze it, or pay someone. I shadowed a friend who does data recovery as a side business, and he basically just booted into an Ubuntu live CD and copied the entire contents of the hard drive over. I would say I think I could do this pretty easily, but I won't check it off till I've actually done it.
            [5-18-11] I think I've become pretty proficient with this, especially TestDisk and Recuva and the like. Obviously I could always be better, but this is never something you go out and look for...it finds you.
          12. Load Rockbox onto an MP3 Player
            This is crap and I disqualify it. Why? Because few people have even heard of Rockbox, and it doesn't even work with most MP3 players, notably recent iPods, which is like 102.3% of the market share. All in all, I think that most geeks would not say this is something "every geek should know." (Plus, I installed it several years back and I couldn't do anything without it crashing. Oops...I was thinking of iPodLinux, which is god-awful.)
            [5-18-11] Alright so I was a little hard on this one. I was really mistaken in thinking it was iPodLinux. But it turns out Rockbox is (a) awesome and (b) supports a crapton of different MP3 players, just not PMP players. Besides, I installed this on two Sansa players, even if they created a utility that made it dirt simple
          13. Unbrick a Smartphone
            I did not even think this was possible.
            [2-14-12] A tablet, actually. So the same thing except way more $$$ on the line.
          14. Replace a Laptop Keyboard
            Nope.
          15. Rip Streaming Videos
            Again, this is ambiguous. The guy links to freaking shareware, which basically does all the work for you. If you use DownloadHelper, it's easy as pie and anyone can do it. If you're talking about more advanced things, then maybe WinPcap/Wireshark is in order. Or maybe you're talking about Hulu or Microsoft Silverlight (which might be impossible). Overall, I think this is something I'm fairly used to.
          16. Strip Windows DRM
            Again, what is he referring to? Steam's DRM'ed games? Crappy DRM'ed WMAs? Or most commonly, iTunes M4Ps? I've been stripping M4Ps forever with QTFairUse and FairUse4WM can easily strip Windows crap, if I ever find the need.
          17. Homebrew Hack Game Systems
            Really kind of vague since (A) this is per-system, and (B) companies don't like this so they try to stop it. Yeah, I would like to learn how to do a Wii Homebrew, but it's not high on my priority list because....come on, it's a Wii. What am I gonna do with a Homebrew Wii?
          18. Find a Website IP Address Without Web/Command Prompt Access
            This basically just reminded me that you can use "command.com" to start a command prompt.
          19. Bypass School or Work Website Blocks
            Does this really work (to get past filters)? Meh, it's easy enough anyway.
          20. Screw with Wifi Leeches
            I reaaaaaally want to do this.
          21. Hexadecimal and Binary Number Systems
            What does this even mean? How can you "know" hexadecimal or binary? I know about them, but do I know them?
            [5-18-11] After enduring a Digital Logic Design course, I think I can safely sa that I "know" them.
          22. How to Hot Wire a Car
            No, absolutely stupid. Good to know, but not necessary to geekdom.
          23. Increase Wifi Range
            The guide he posted is on a completely different topic. If there were ways to do this, it would be nice to know, though.
          24. Carrying a Computer Cleaning Arsenal on Your USB Drive
            Definitely. If I ever got in the habit of always keeping a flash drive on me, I would be more picky about the apps I have, but even now, I have quite a few useful ones. Also, holla at PortableApps.com!
          25. Running an Operating System from a USB Thumb Drive
            I can definitely run an OS from a thumb drive, mostly thanks to unetbootin, but also to PeToUSB. I could stand to learn a few more things better though, like actually installing to a flash drive and booting straight from an ISO (which I have a guide open right now).
          26. Understand What "There's no Place Like 127.0.0.1" Means
            Yup! Not alot to understand.
          27. Read 1337 At Normal Speed
            I can't do this. Um....is this still a geek requirement? I didn't realize it was still 1999. Stupid.
          28. At Least One Fictional Language
            There's "geek", and there's "uber-geekoid". I want to be the first one. Not to mention the fact that 99% of the fictional languages on the wiki page he links to aren't complete so you really can't "speak" in them; that leads either Star Trek languages or Tolkein languages, and I say no way to both. (Plus, I can somewhat curse in the Chinese from Firefly, so that's gotta half-count.)
          29. How to Survive in a Linux Argument
            While this is a valid point, can you say "uber vague"? He links to a (broken) page just on Linux in general. And I would actually correct it to "How to Survive in an OS Argument."
            [5-18-11] I feel like I'm kind of bragging, but I think I could "survive" at this point. Win? Maybe not, but survive at least. Besides, nobody ever really wins an OS argument, especially not on the internet.
          30. Identify Major Constellations
            No. Crap. Not necessary to a geek. I mean, how out of place does this sound to the rest of the list items?
          31. Use a Camera in Manual Mode
            This really isn't "geek-esque." If so, then I'm screwed, cause I'm not artistic at all, and that includes photography.
          32. Who Mulder and Scully Are
            This is only one show with a cultish following, not even the biggest. I know who they are, but I was born in '91, so it wasn't exactly my type of show at the time. Your argument is invalid.
          33. Javascript
            DEFINITELY. PERIOD.
          34. How to Unlock an iPhone
            I don't own an iPhone, but it is definitely something worthwhile to know. But I would also change it to "How to Unlock and Jailbreak an iPhone" even though Jailbreaking is pretty easy, it's something a geek should know, in my opinion.
            [5-18-11] Jailbroke and unlocked multiple times!
          35. How to Install Mac OS X on a PC
            I've never used a Mac for more than an hour, much less install a Hackintosh. Want to, though.
          36. Build a PC
            Definitely important enough to make the list, and I have done this, but it's still really confusing. I think I'll finally have it down after my 3rd or 4th build, so like a decade from now.
          37. Tethering a Smartphone
            Meh, it's handy. If only I had a Smartphone.
            [5-18-11] Done and done! Really really simple, at least with Android.
          38. Wiring a Home Theater System
            What is this I don't even.
          39. Replacing a Laptop LCD
            Nope! Guess this goes hand in hand with the keyboard.
          40. Make a Laptop Cooling Pad
            This seems kinda stupid, but whatever.
          41. Unleash a Laser Pointer's full potential
            This does not sound like something that a geek "should know", but it does sound fun, and I really wanna try it now.
          42. Keyboard Shortcuts
            Again, very vague. But I do need to start using shortcuts more. I may make a resolution to only use my keyboard for a week or something. A valid point indeed.
          43. Soldering Glasses Together
            This is just supposed to be funny, I guess. It's not....
          44. How to Execute a Shell Script
            I have done this before, but never remember how. Definitely handy....VITAL info in Linux.
            [5-18-11] It took me forever to learn this, but now I know. And I can do it in letters AND numbers! (huurrrr)
          45. How to Hack a Pop Machine
            Not something a geek should know. And it doesn't even work on all machines. Not that I've tried or anything...
          46. Turn a Laptop into a Digital Picture Frame
            This seems pretty stupid to me.....I can understand trying to use a Digital Picture Frame as a PC (like a second monitor), but the other way around? Why would you use a pricey laptop to doing the job of an un-pricey Picture Frame? Unless it was an old laptop....but still, I would think you could find better uses.
          47. How to Mod a Flash Drive Case
            Yea......
          48. Do Cool Things to Altoids Tins
            OK.
          49. Convert Cassette Tapes to Digital Audio Files
            While I've never done this specifically, the preface is simple and Audacity and I are pretty chummy by now. I could do it.
          50. Lock Your Computer with a USB Drive
            Very interesting....not really all that much of protection, but I can dig it. I'll give it a try one of these days.
            [5-18-11] I followed that guide and it was kinda cool. Not really that special.
          51. Run Your Own Ethernet Line
            Nope! Really need to though.
          52. Set Up a Streaming Media Server
            Does Firefly count? How about Orb? Or VLC? I think I've got this.
          53. Setting up a VPN
            Actually trying it right now. For some reason I was under the impression that VPN requires XP Professional, but I guess it doesn't. (I also think he should add VNC and/or SSH, if they don't have their own section(s).) I'm having trouble with it though.
            [5-18-11] This is a lot easier on Linux than on Windows (it seems), but it's really just entering in credentials. A few days ago, I got the VPN set up for my school....now if I could just find out how to access my network drive....
          54. Turn Webcams into Security Cameras
            I've actually seen the article he links to before. I've seen Dorgem and programs like it, and it's really not something you "know," it's just knowing and using the program. Also, my webcam sucks to much to actually capture images.
          55. Control Your House Lights with a Computer
            Buh duh wha?
          56. Play Retro Games without Retro Consoles
            Oh yeah. Sunset Riders for the Snes9x, Super Mario 64 and Super Smash Bros on Project64, and Pokemon Blue on VisualBoyAdvance. Just to name a few. I've gone all the way up through PS2, thought I could never get PCSX2 working.
          57. Put LEDs Inside a Lightbulb
            Seems more like a neat trick than a need-to-know, but whatever...
          58. Create Music with Keyboard
            There are so many better ways to create little songs, most notably MIDIs, even without a MIDI controller. I would rank Mario Paint Composer above this software. (Oh, and it's definitely not something every geek should know.)
          59. Make Your Office Ergonomic
            I'm far too lazy to do something like this, no matter how good it might be for me.
          60. Adding a Third Monitor
            I still need to spring for a second monitor...
          61. How to Convert a DVD to x264 (or XviD or DivX)
            Handbrake FTW.
          62. Flash System BIOS
            I think I even did this with my EEE, and I still don't know how to do it.
            [2-14-12] Ok I know I've done this now.
          63. How to Irrecoverably Protect Data
            Truecrypt FTW.
          64. The Fastest way to Kill a Computer
            I must've been hanging around too many Linux forums, because the first thing that popped into my head was "Install Windows."
          So lets see my score, as of [May 18 2011]:
          28 Learned
          11 Disqualified
          25 Remaining

          Let's get to work.
          -Bry

          Friday, August 6, 2010

          Steriotypical program names

          It confounds me to this day why this is still a practice. Let me give you a few clues:
          JDownloader, jGnash, jGRASP, jEdit, Konqueror, Konsole, KTorrent, Kwrite, Korganizer, Kmail, Kcolorchooser, Kopete, Kontact, gedit, gnibbles, gcalctool...

          People who name programs like that just because they are written in a certain language or for a specific desktop environment deserve to be dragged out into the street and shot. Ok, maybe not. But it's really freaking annoying. It makes it a little better if it kind of flows like "Konsole" rather than just sticking the letter in front like "JDownloader," but overall, people need to stop.
          First off, it's extremely unoriginal. "It's a Downloader written in Java. What should we call it? Java + Downloader.....JDownloader! I'm going on break!" Apps like JakPod can pull it off because they don't stick a lowercase "j" before a word, with its only purpose being because it's written in Java.
          Secondly and most importantly, it's hella confusing. I dare you to open up the Ubuntu Software Center and scroll down to the G's or K's and not groan. It makes the menu difficult to navigate, and honestly just makes it just fade in with the rest. And honestly, I think that's kind of what scared me alot when I switched. There's so many frikkin K and G programs. If you split them up, it wouldn't be so overwhelming.

          Most programs and languages don't deal with this, but some really do. Datacrow, muCommander, RSSOwl, and OpenOffice are written in Java. You don't have to follow this dumb trend. Java is probably the best about it, and KDE is probably the worst. Some things are acceptible, like the libraries that are written for Java or things like Kubuntu, but it should be the exception, not the norm. You don't see programs always starting C that were written in C or C++ and same goes with Python.

          ADVANTAGE: All KDE and GNOME apps are arranged together in alphabetical order/you can identify if a program is written in Java.
          WEAKNESS: All your programs sound retarded.



          On a related note, I even found a thread in the Ubuntu forums about just this, and I have to say, I'm really starting to get pissed off about people's whole "If you don't like it, don't use it/That's your opinion" deal. Yes, that is a good response to some problems, but when you throw it around to every little thing that people bring up, that's when you end up with a piece of crap that nobody except a few loyalists like.

          And you might want to take that last note as a "I'm really sick of loyalists treating people like idiots who raise questions or complaints such as this, dismissing it as insignificant." Is it a huge problem that should be addressed right away? No. Is it stupid and should be changed over time? Yes. It is very stupid. Period.
          -Bry

          PS - I'm not even going to talk about iApple's iCrap. That's just....too much stupidity for one post.

          Queued: Manage your Netflix from your desktop

          To just jump right in, Queued is a wonderful program written in Adobe AIR to manage your Netflix right from the desktop. It has a very clean interface and runs very smoothly, arguably even more than the Netflix website. You can do almost everything from inside Queued from editing your Queue to searching for movies. It's also got the nifty feature of minimizing to your tray and the "At-home mini queue", which is a pop-up that shows what movies you've got at home and a search bar, so if you think of a movie you want to add, Netflix is never more than a double click away. Also something that should be noted is that Queued can manage your 'flix offline. Obviously alot of the functionality is gone since you need an internet connection to search and add new movies, but you can start up Queued, move things around in your Queue, and then it will resync when you have a connection again.

          The good things about Queue is that it's very well designed in terms of UI, it's open source, and it's written in Adobe AIR so it's available on every platform that AIR is. The only bad thing I can think of would be the startup time, which can take a few seconds, and that Queue is very resource heavy. It used a peak of 115MB of RAM for me in a short session and usually lays around 50-100MB, even when minimized to the tray.

          The thing that intrigues me about Queued is the company it's written by. SitePen is a company that writes tools and utilities for different languages, but all of them are for developers. So to see Queued in the midst of all the programming tools is a tad strange, but it's apparently a way for them to showcase their wonderful tools (which is a great idea, in my opinion).

          Anyway, that's all. I'm finding that I love AIR apps, and finding Queued will probably send me on a little quest to find some useful ones.
          -Bry

          Monday, August 2, 2010

          Put the "You" back in "Youtube" (My letter to Google)

          Dear Google,

          I am an undying fan. I have been using your services for as long as I can remember using the internet. I used your search engine for years, and eventually started using your mail service, and since then I've expanded to almost every corner of your reach of the internet. Google is still today my heart's only search engine, GMail is almost always an open tab in my browser, Chrome is my go-to browser in many cases, I've been an author on 4 Blogger blogs, Calendar manages all my important dates, Reader handles my daily funnies and blogs, Maps gives me directions, Feedburner feeds my blogs, Desktop is the only search I've found that I like, Picasa Web is where I store all my photos, Talk is how I IM with all my friends, and Sites hosts my software site. Needless to say, I believe I'm a moderate Google-freak.

          So I hope you take that as a preface as to what I'm about to say. YouTube needs to change. I'm not talking about the new features that have been added; the high quality was a welcome change. I'm not talking about the copyright issues; you have your legal obligations and we as users must respect them. What I am talking about is the lack of equality.

          YouTube's slogan was (and I believe, still is) "broadcast yourself". That's what it used to all be about, people recording videos of themselves and then other people watching them. The first viral videos were of people just doing what they do on their cameras and they just happened to strike people's fancy and spread like wildfire. Like the Numa Numa. (Which I realized was popularized on Newgrounds, but hopefully my point still stands.) I was a part of the Numa Numa forum and I can remember one user who stated that the reason they loved the Numa Numa and viral videos is that there are no big companies that decide the next viral star; it's up to the people. Has that changed, Google? Has it? That's a genuine question. Because it seems to me like it's not so much of a level playing field anymore.

          You feature videos now. Not "You", as in "Us", as in "the people", You, Google. You choose what videos appear on every page, even if it has little or even nothing to do with what I am searching or watching. The fact of the matter is that "featuring videos" is tilting the game board, especially if it's videos from partners. Featured videos tries to choose who should get views and leaves all others in the dust. You feature videos that you think might get views, or companies that have big names or big wallets. But where do companies fit into "YouTube"? How is it fair to compare a company with resources and actors and money to an everyday YouTube user? And how is it fair to set them above the rest of us?

          I might even go far enough to say that companies really have no place on YouTube as a whole. Sure, I do love seeing the latest funny commercial, but the question is, should companies be given special treatmeant over the everyday user, and if so, why? Because they have more money? Because they will rake in more views? I respect a company's rights to be the only one to host their video, I do. But they should be treated as a user just like everyone else. Either that, or they should be so separated that companies and normal users are separate sections of the site. The point is this: YouTube was not a place for companies. It's for people. YouTube. Not ThemTube.

          While I might be tempted to ignore you simply favoring videos or even channels, I then discover that you've gone to the extremes of paying channels that get views, dubbing them your "partners." This isn't even tilting the playing field, this is flipping it upside down. YouTube used to be great because people made videos for the sake of making videos; to make people laugh; to be artsy; to have fun; whatever the reason, it was innocent. Now you are offering them money to create what they used to for fun or pleasure. Where has the innocence gone?

          Perhaps worst of all is combining your partners with the featuring. You pay video creators and then passive aggressively force their content onto viewers on every page. You've essentially bribed users to create videos instead of artistic desire and the intent now is no longer to get a ton of subscribers for the sake of popularity, but it's to get noticed enough to get paid by the big G.

          If the bribing small innocent channels isn't enough, YouTube now even sides with giants. I was shocked and surprised to one day come to YouTube and find a banner that took my entire screen width and about half the height, advertising the new season of a TV show. This is just completely absurd. I realize that alot of Google's services make money by advertisements and I respect that and I am fine with that. But this is not a little "Sponsored" search result, this is a full blow video ad at the front page of your website.

          But it's not just that, is it? Beyond the giant ad on the home page and featured videos on the sidebar, you've got ads in the sidebar as well. And ads above the channel titles. And ads during the video. And video ads before the video. Honestly, Google, you make a buttload of money just from your search engine, do you really need to overload the ads on YouTube? And from your numerous partnerships with other companies on Youtube, do I really need to see 10 ads on the way to one video and then have ads inside that video as I try to watch it?


          That's all I have to say. In my opinion, YouTube should not be a business. It has been -and should revert back to being- a collection of people. Google, you should be there not dictating what we should be doing and watching, but keeping order (removing pornography and other explicitly inappropriate content) and adding new features. That's all I as a user ask of you. Viral videos are one of the very few things that can remain pure and untainted by corporate greed and of all the companies in the world, I would hate to see Google be the one to ruin it.

          I am only one user, only one man. I don't pretend to know the inner workings of a site or company as complicated as YouTube. I only speak as a die-hard Google fan who sees a great injustice happening. As for this letter, I have no clue as to where it will find its way. It may be read by the very heads of Google and YouTube, or it may simple be skimmed and responded with a cookie cutter apology, or it may not even be read at all. I only wish to exercise my freedom to speak out, the same freedom that is being tampered with on YouTube. I honestly don't even go to YouTube often anymore because of the corruption I see happening. I may be mistaken or even downright wrong in some points or examples in this note, but I believe my point is still strong.

          If I can leave you with one more thought, it would be this: Above all else, what does the user want? If you need a hint answer that question, here's an answer from this user: Not This.


          A faithful follower and Google patron,
          -Bry (AKA Jon)

          Is Google really innovative?

          I've been wondering this for a while. It started back when I learned that Google bought many of the sites they now boast having. For the longest time, I loved Google because I thought they were so innovative. They created a new IM client, a new photo manager, a new mail client, etc. But now it just seems like alot of that is a sham.

          Did you know that Google bought Picasa? How about the documents part of Google Docs? Or Google Voice? Feedburner? Picnik? Google Maps? I shouldn't even have to mention YouTube.
          Is it innovative that Google Talk uses the XMPP client? Or that Android started off as being based of the Linux kernel? Or that ChromeOS uses the Linux kernel?

          I'm not really being that picky, like I'm not saying "Google Wave is written in Java! It's nothing new!!!" I'm just thinking, XMPP is an IM Client Protocol, so is writing an IM Client based off that really new? Linux has been around for years and if anyone in the world would have to resources to create an actual system other than the big three that are used nowadays (Mac OS, Windows, and Linux), it's flipping Google. They could've even created their own OS based of Unix a la OS X, but no, they chose Linux: the kernel that any joe shmo can build off of.

          I love Google, I really do. But really I started to question them when they came out with Google Buzz. I mean, for godsakes, it was announced and released in the same day. And I'm 90% sure it was written entirely in the week before. It's a Twitter knockoff. That's all it is.


          I know that a bunch of people don't trust Google, and I respect that; I trust Google and like them, but it seems kinda like figuring out your childhood sports hero takes steroids. (Ok, I didn't have a childhood sports hero, so I'm just assuming that this is what it feels like.) I'm certainly not saying that Google buying stuff is bad, because they've chosen some really great products to buy and usually their vision just adds to that. But it would be nice to see some genuine innovation every now and then. If Microsoft isn't going to do it and Apple is going to do it for way too much $$$, it would be nice if a third party would step up and get in the game as well.

          An undying Google fan,
          -Bry

          Google searches are unreliable

          Google is amazingly the most well known and used search engine. Heck, the word "google" itself has become a verb thanks to the website. I've always used Google, as far as I can remember, but it seems like in the last few years, they've been slipping.

          The first thing that really annoys me is that Google seems to accept partial results of your search. Instead of searching web pages for all 4 words in your search, Google will bring up results with only 2 or 3 or the words, and that can really make all the difference. True, it does have the useful quotes feature in which case everything within quotes must be in the page, but that only works on more than one word, which doesn't solve the problem of me specifically wanting every word of my search term in the result.

          Next, something I believe I've complained about before is the fact that Google tries to "help" you by using "similar" words. For example, a coworker and I were having a discussion on the meaning of the Italian suffix "-aglia", and I was searching around to find out what it meant, and Google kept bringing up results for "anglia." They are not the same. Another example, I'm right now interested in buying a Dr. Pepper hat, but googling "dr pepper hat" brings up results with the word "cap" also, so it shows things like "Dr Pepper Promotions" just because it has "Look under the cap of specially marked". So again: it sounds nice on paper, Google, to have similar terms, but the thing about language is that it's extremely vague, and yet direct at the same time. All I want is for a search to (1) place heavy emphasis on results that have all the words in my search term, and (2) bring up only the words in my search term.

          The last major, major problem is the results themselves. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on these types of things, but it definitely seems like Google needs to update how their web crawler indexes the internet. Maybe it's because they've been around for so long and people are starting to abuse the system, but sometimes half of the results are to sites that are not the thing themselves, but just links, like maybe Digg or some service like that. This sounds fine, but the problem is, with many composite sites, it was indexed a long time ago so much so that the phrase in question isn't even valid anymore.

          Probably the most annoying is the sites that take your search and plug it into theirs, claiming they have results. For example, if I searched "Firefox Bumper Stickers", it would come up with something like "Find Good Deals on Firefox Bumper Stickers Today!", which you would click and the site would say "0 results for Firefox Bumper Stickers". It's just retarded, and makes me loathe those sites.

          Again, I am definitely not experience or advanced enough to be criticizing Google in any way but a user. But here are my pieces of advice to Google about their search:
          1. Put the web pages with all of the words at the top, because one word can make all the difference. I don't care how popular a site is, if it's missing one word from my search, it could not not even close to what I'm looking for.
          2. Use only the words I search. You can have your "Related Searches", that's fine. But don't make me throw in additional '-'s just to search something simple. I want what I'm searching for: nothing more, nothing less.
          3. Re-invent the way you index your sites. I can't say anything on this really, but you need to work on sites that are obviously 'trolling' your methods, just trying to get higher in the rankings when they have nothing to do with the search term.
          Honestly, I'm going to have to move away from Google if they don't improve. I'm fairly confident that they're still the best search engine out there, but the fact that it now takes 20 or 30 pages to find what I'm looking for instead of 2 or 3 like it was a few years ago testifies to the changes that need to be made.

          Google, I am a faithful user, and as a faithful user, I'm telling you this with all the geeky tech love in my heart: kick it up. The last thing I wanna see is another company that tries to pass off crap as legitimately good software/services. *coughMICROSOFTcough*

          Your's truly,
          -Bry