|This page documents random thoughts, observations, hardware and software reviews,
criticisms, rants, anecdotes, tips, tricks, and discoveries by Blake Nancarrow. The notes here pertain
specifically to information technology. They are dated and arranged in reverse-order, the
newest items at the top.
Index of Postings
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25 Nov 2006 - buggy 8.1.2
In an effort to resolve some minor annoyances with some web sites, I upgraded my Netscape from 8.0 (I think) to 8.1.2.
And kicked myself!
Things got worse. A lot worse. I still could not get the Yahoo! news pages to appear without hanging the browser. Now, I could not get into blogger.com anymore. And I could not access a couple of other sites. The browser would implode! Just disappear. POOF!
I tried to rollback, hoping I could use a "previous version" feature in Windows XP. Didn't see anything obvious to let me do that. I considered locating an archived older version of Netscape.
Instead, I downloaded the current installer again, made sure everything was properly ready to set up the new software, reinstalled. To no avail.
Wandered into the Netscape forums. And learned that it's not just me!
Somehow, I felt relieved.
And I learned that for some people, changing the rendering engine, resolved the issue. I set the browser to act like IE in blogger and I'm back in business. I can edit my darkskies blog again. Had to do that for meebo as well!
If it ain't broke...
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2 Nov 2006 - Google Groups does USENET
If you need to post into USENET newsgroups, you can do so through Google's Groups function.
It can obviously display the content from newsgroups, through a web interface (which makes a lot of sense). The postings are not necessarily as current or up-to-date as if you were using a newsgroup reader. I gather this is why they invented it. Still, it seems relatively fast, to me.
The big thing is that you can post.
The extensive archive is impressive!
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31 Oct 2006 - can't post
I didn't read the fine print, I guess.
Shortly after Sympatico dropped USENET newsgroups (back in May), I created a free account over at the unaffiliated NewsHosting shop (in Florida). No problem viewing my old favourites. Although it is periodically slow. And regularly prompts me to log in. I continue to monitor the old Psion sections...
Recently, I tried to post to some newsgroups like Psion and SAA and BMW. Didn't work. I just assumed it was a configuration issue.
But I learned tonight that that is what you get for nothing... The free account does not permit posting...
Now what do I do?
USENET has always been included with my internet service. I've always used it. And I want it back!
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26 Oct 2006 - don't want my business?
Why does Microsoft continue to crash my browser when I visit their web site?
I enjoy that I can freely choose any browser I prefer to use the web. I've been using Netscape 8 for some time now. It's a good product. One of the most stable browsers I've worked with. I particularly like tabs feature for multiple sites.
I guess Microsoft doesn't want me to visit their site.
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26 Oct 2006 - half way (email)
I've been teaching Outlook a lot lately. It's giving me a chance to thoroughly explore and evaluate the product (as I continue to search for a new email client). While searching Yahoo and Google for sites with watch-outs and tips, I stumbled across a note that said that old Outlook 97 through to Outlook 2002 has problems with very large storage files (PSTs). That if they reach 2GB in reach they may become corrupt! Yikes!
I scrambled in a panic into my main email workstation, Lord John Whorfin, where I continue to run Windows Messaging! Yep, the rebadged email/fax client that Microsoft shipped with Windows 95 and 98. I've been using this software since '95 or '96... Where I've kept almost all (legit) email and fax sent to me and effectively every message I've ever sent. Ten years of messages!
So, I'm not anywhere near the 2GB. Whew!
Still, these files are damned difficult to back up now!
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25 Oct 2006 - no DSL for Mom
While visiting Mom, she proclaimed, "OK, I want high-speed internet. I prepared to pay for it."
I rechecked the Bell Sympatico web site for DSL capability. Still no go. A couple of days later I phoned in to talk to a human. I actually got a "good" person. He dug around, did lots of cross-checks, looked up stuff. But in the end, he concluded that there were no nearby switches. So this is not an option sadly...
I tried calling Look Communications. The meat puppet confirmed what I suspected, that high-speed wireless was not available. It works by line of sight and again Mom is too far from a major centre. But then he said, "Oh, DSL's available." What?! How could they offer it and not Bell. I was very suspicious. So I called back a couple of days later and the new salesperson said what I knew: not available.
Damn. Looks like cable is the only choice then, for right now anyway. That sucks. 'Cause we both hate the cable company...
But... but... maybe... just maybe, in the near future, as Bell continues to develop their new wireless "Unplugged" high-speed network (with the promise to service 75% or more of Canadians), she will fall within their range. Let us hope.
P.S. Her old iMac meets the system requirements, woo hoo!
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11 Oct 2006 - boxed in
Mom's email had blown up! She could launch the Mozilla email client but only view messages. The moment she tried to compose a new message or reply, the blueberry iMac 350 would freeze. We could kill the process and restart Mozilla. Fortunately, the downloading of messages was working, so she could at least see who was trying to reach her (or send her gigantic, garish PowerPoint slides of tiny animals wearing human clothing).
So, I downloaded the old version of Mozilla to my Windows computer John Yaya, copied the StuffIt self-extracting archive binary file to my USB memory stick, hopped in the car, and headed west for an overnight stay.
After a quick check and quick backup, I had her up and running again, after reinstalling the software over the exist image.
But I was feeling somewhat discouraged in all of this...
While the Mozilla communication suite was developed further, the final version created for OS 9 was version 1.2.1. Browser and email choices for this old computer and OS are extremely limited.
OK. Then we upgrade her to OS X. Oh. No. Not an option. The Mac would need a DVD and FireWire. Crap! Can't there from here.
This is increasingly problematic.
At some point, we're gonna boxed in.
Also, I wouldn't mind having a better, more-modern, multi-platform instant messaging tool (like Trillian) on her old iMac when I'm visiting for a protracted time. But I'm stuck using Mac Messenger which only supports MSN. All the new, powerful, cross-platform IM clients require OS X.
It is curious how rapidly this machine went out of date...
She's not gonna be happy when I advise her that her "new" computer is obsolete.
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26 Sep 2006 - my next palmtop?
On the ole Psion USENET newsgroups, caught wind of ROAD's handyPC prototype! Cool...
It debuted at the IFA Consumer Electronics event.
It will run Linux! It will include a lot of "standard" business applications (full word processor, full spreadsheet), calendar, email, etc. It will support various wireless technologies. It will be a tri or quad band smart phone.
You can bet I'll be keeping tabs on this machine...
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29 Aug 2006 - freecycled screen
Hooked up a 17" NEC MultiSync to the John Yaya computer today.
Received this old monitor from the Toronto "freecycle" group (see Yahoo!Groups). Works like a charm. Freecycling is awesome!
Now I can move the smaller screen (to replace the one that blew up) over to the Linux box so to continue my learning and development...
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1 Aug 2006 - free office suite
Yesterday I downloaded (quickly, I might add) the free, open source OpenOffice software. And this morning I used Writer, the powerful word processor, cranking out a multi-column document with a header and style formatting.
I like it! This is exciting! We need a shake-up!
Perhaps I can break my reliance on frustrating, buggy, bloated software...
This bodes well for when I get my Linux box set up too.
Watch this space for detailed reviews of all the applications in the suite...
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19 Jul 2006 - don't lose it
I just read in a Toronto Star Evergeek article (about the TrackItBack service) that only 5% of lost gadgetry is recovered...
Off the top of my head I don't think I've lost any other noteworthy tech gadgets. Yet... Lucky! Especially considering that I carry a lot of gear around at any given moment. More and more every year too, it seems...
This article reminded me of something that I do for all of my important tech gadgets: I identify them with a sticker (and very expensive items are marked permanently in some way as well). The sticker includes my contact info and a prominent REWARD IF FOUND notice.
That's how my one lost Psion found its way back home: an honest person saw me drop it and tried to call me and then gave it to a transit system driver, who in turn gave it to a depot staff person, who phoned me at home. Nice people.
In conjunction with a physical sticker, I always, always, always encourage users of palmtops and mobile computers to apply logon and security screens and auto-timeouts so to identify the owner... I'm amazed by the number of people who don't protect their BlackBerries.
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17 Jul 2006 - media check
Time for a media check. It was 7 Sep 2003 when I last did it. New, or forgotten, entries are italicised.
In no particular order, I have:
How many types of storage media do you have?
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16 Jul 2006 - USB drive update
What's that adage about missing something when it's gone?
I miss my 1GB TravelDrive...
It's still at Memorex being "repaired..."
When I started a new work training gig recently, at a client who has effectively shutdown all external internet email access, and who provided me with a laptop without a floppy drive, I realised that a USB memory drive would be rather handy. Nay, essential.
Coincidentally, a friend tossed me his chunky 1GB Lexar JumpDrive. Kind of chintzy, fragile, plastic casing, already cracked--but it works! Still, I felt I was wearing thin the loan, so I started to read the FutureShop, Business Depot, The Source, etc. flyers a little more closely...
When I spotted a 512MB USB drive at FutureShop for $29.95! Wow.
So now I've got myself a SanDisk cruzer mini 512MB flash memory drive.
Nice thin design. Green LED. USB 2.0 capable. Includes 3 (count 'em, 3) translucent coloured plastic caps. And the cap fits on the opposite end while you're jacked in. Includes a rapid-detachable lanyard. The logoed neckstrap attaches to the body of the drive (not the cap). Includes the CruzerLock2 (security), CruzerSync (email and file synch), and PocketCache (backup) software. Some of these apps are crippled or trialware. Still no write-protect switch. And no U3 security features. But, hey, I needed something fast and cheap.
It's working well. I'm back in business!
Now that I've been using 3 different USB flash drives, I'm getting a better sense of good design and features. So, a quick side-by-side eval:
Even though I haven't spent as much time with the SanDisk drive, I'm already liking it better than the Memorex. It is stylish and compact. It is designed better. And I'm hopeful it will not blow up...
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4 May 2006 - Office shakeup
I missed the demo presentation at the Computer Trainers Network May meeting but my spy reported on some of the interesting points.
Microsoft, no doubt claiming to be sensitive to their research, has dramatic changes in store for Office 2007...
Look and feel is very different. They've changed the menu system significantly--in fact, there are no menus... (but ribbons and galleries). And keyboard shortcuts are changed. Contextual toolbars (like in Netscape 8.1, which I personally hate). File formats will change significantly. They're smaller--because they're compressed. A "file" will actually be made up of multiple file assets. Who knows what compatibility issues this will spark.
His most interesting comment is that 4 out of the 10 requested new features for Office are already in the product. But then, there are 1500 commands in Word! Enough already!
Once again, I see a software company claiming to respond to user requests for more features and faster utilisation but that is not truly sensitive to the "average" person. They're super-sizing us.
This "big change" is good for trainers but bad for users.
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5 Apr 2006 - old vinyl
Ripped some vinyl yesterday. Got some work to do to perfect the process; but, overall, it worked well.
Systemdek turntable connected to Harmon Kardon receiver connected to Lord Whorfin computer line-in connected to John Yaya computer line-in captured with the easy-to-use, freeware WavePad software from NCH Swift Sound.
This software let's one quickly select a variety of sampling rates, saves to WAVe (PCM) format (using handy presets), let's one apply noise reduction, easily splits files, shows left and right channels, and so on.
(Reminds me of when I used to sample moviesfor fun sound effectson my old Apple Mac SE and Farallon MacRecorder...)
I learned about WavePad and got some other vinyl ripping tips from the What's In the Br0wn Box? web site...
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4 Apr 2006 - after all this time
Today I evaluated Psion Presentation Maker. I know, I know, ancient software... Software from 1997 for a discontinued palmtop. I know!
Still, I was excited to see it included with a Psion Series 5mx which I recently bought on eBay. It was a chance to finally install and use this program.
I had had it on my list of wanted applications for the Psion for a long time. This, it seemed to me, to be the one "missing link" programs. The built-in Word and Sheet programs nicely convert to Microsoft Office documents. But there was no direct equivalent for PowerPoint. And I use PPT files a lot. So, I liked the idea of being able to create, edit, review presentation files on the palmtop. Then, the plan was, to transfer it to the PC for a final edit (since your cannot hook up a data projector), do a bit of polishing, and good to go...
I must admit, I gave up. I did not continue working with the software. I did not install the PsiWin convertors... The wind had gone out of my sails...
I'm left with a dissatisfied feeling. Presentation Maker version 1.01f (015) is really just a glorified outlining tool. You cannot use it for serious presentation scenarios where you need interactive charts and vibrant clipart.
The process I used in the pastwrite copy on the Psion in Word (using styles and outlining), transfer that to the PC and convert to a MS Word document, import the Word outline into PowerPoint, and carry onis what I will continue to do...
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2 Apr 2006 - iTunes does ogg
It's settled: I'm going to use Ogg Vorbis format for ripping my CDs and vinyl as it is supported by my digital audio player, sounds better, yields smaller files, and is open source. VUplayer is the software I'll use to convert.
At the same time for some reason I'm still drawn to iTunes. It's partly that I would like to use it to buy music (individual songs) online... But it also seems like it might be a good way to keep my digital music organised.
This made me persist in trying to find an Ogg plug-in for iTunes to play my ripped music. Today, I discovered a simple solution.
Visit http://www.xiph.org/quicktime/ for Windows or Mac downloads.
I installed the decoder for Windows in seconds. Easy. And it works well.
This however does not offer an encoder...
Maybe I'm being silly. Maybe I should just use VUplayer for playing and ripping and leave it at that.
In general, I dislike duplication on my computers. Already, on this machine, there is Windows Media Player, WinAmp, QuickTime, RealPlayer, MusicMatch, a DVD player (or two), and the Yepp Studio that I have yet to delete. And now there's VUplayer and iTunes.
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31 Mar 2006 - wire free
I have a "loaner" wireless router.
When my Linksys BEFSX41 wired firewall router freaked out a while ago, my friend Will gave me his unused Linksys WRT54G wireless router with 4-ports. Immediately rigged it up to the network, turned on the firewall, and shut off the wireless.
A couple of months ago I thought I should fire up the wireless, in case I bring home a laptop or a visitor wants to hop on the net. Or I'm trapped in bed! Or I need to do some computing in the side yard.
So, a couple of days ago, I reactivated it.
And yesterday, I borrowed a ThinkPad, wandered into the backyard, and launched the browser. Sweet.
As I did some car repair work I made notes into files stored directly on the network. I ran Meebo and instant messaged with a client and a friend.
I have a Panasonic 2.4 GHz cordless phone system that might interfere with this but so far it works great.
I could get used to this...
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31 Mar 2006 - ogg is it
The more I thought about it, the more I didn't like the idea of direct line-in recording with the Samsung yepp digital audio player (as cool as it is)...
There were a number of disadvantages, it occurred to me...
There is something else, something intangible.
So, last night I decided to "bite the bullet" and try out some computer-based music ripping or conversion...
Previously, I had downloaded the Samsung Yepp Studio (version 1.0, I discovered later). It sounded like it would do the job.
Well, I start to fiddle with it and couldn't find any way to rip! Menu choices were not showing. It was like components or plug-ins were missing. Perhaps version 1.0 simply doesn't support that. After some online research, I decided to throw in the towel. Besides, the Studio was not getting good reviews...
Having learned from my buddy ma that iTunes could rip CDs, I surfed over to Apple. iTunes feels like it might a good solution for me in that it can rip (or convert) CD music, organise my music files (that I'll no doubt begin to collect), and let me buy music online.
Easy enough to download and install the version 6 for Windows (with the newest QuickTime as well; hope that doesn't mess up my old finicky RedShift astronomy software).
I began a test ripping one of my CDs. Easy peasy. I stored the music into MP3 using 128 kbps. Then copied the files over. Sounds good! And the usual 1 minute = 1 MB.
But in all my research (mostly in the astounding wikipedia) and fumbling and trying to find my way, I learned of Xiph.org's Ogg Vorbis free lossy audio compression codec. A format general regarded as better (smaller files, better sound) than a lot of the others... A format supported by the yepp player!
So, that, in turn, got me thinking that if I could rip from iTunes to Ogg that I'd be all set. I briefly looked to see if there was a plug-in but didn't pursue it too far. I kept coming back to the idea of ripping to a lossless format and running songs through a converter to Ogg. Even considered .WAV to WavPack to Ogg. But this was adding steps! And then I came across VUplayer 2.42 by James Chapman, a freeware/donateware multi-platform player and converter.
Easy to use. Ripped straight to Ogg. Nice.
Some stats: Amon Tobin's Reanimator 6:34 minute percussive madness meltdown squishes to a mere 5.688 MB OGG file (at quality setting 4). Similarly, Nightlife at 6:29 gets crunched to 5.577 MB in OGG format. Nice. They sound fine to me.
And now it's clean up time. No reason to keep the yepp studio software. And I'm gonna have to think again about iTunes. I could keep it around... Only to help me buy music online. I can delete the downloaded OggDropXPd converter.
Ripping vinyl's gonna be a little trickier...
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26 Mar 2006 - meeboing
Michael Jones from Tulsa, OK sent me a email on 17 March about emoticons in a new (alpha) multi-platform instant messaging tool, the web-based Meebo. I tested it this weekend...
It supports AOL/AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, Jabber, and GTalk with a Meebo account single logon. It uses some sound effects.
While not feature-rich, it was the perfect solution while using my Aunt PJ's computer. She would not forgive me if I installed anything and "unbalanced" her machine. She freaked when I changed the monitor resolution! So, using Meebo was ideal: it is completely non-invasive.
Looks like I might need to revisit my emoticons charts...
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18 Mar 2006 - email revamp
A true story: Some day last week, working at home during the morning. Checking email regularly. Normal (sic) amount of crap coming in. Have to do some errands. An hour or so later, with my mobile phone, I check my email. There are 60 messages! The mobile client, as clever as it is, on my old phone with very small (black & white) screen, shows 8 headers at a time. So after many minutes and slow scrolling and many 15¢ transactions, I discover a handful (5 or 10) of the messages are legit; the rest are spam. This has got to stop!
Around December I had initiated discussions with my internet service provider. I've been with them for 10 years or so. My account was still in the original configuration, a POP box on their server, catch-all status on. So that meant messages sent to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org were junking up my inbox. My ISP said I could create specific POP accounts and forwarders on my own and disable the catch-all.
So, 2 days ago I configured the "new" accounts and forwards. Went smoothly. Tried to then configure my ancient email client (MS Windows Messaging) and weird stuff was going on. But I tricked it! All's well.
It's working! Spam reduced immediately by about 25% or 50%. Woo hoo!
Yesterday, while out and about, I tried to reconfigure my mobile phone. But it wouldn't work. I was a little upset. But this morning, using the online web tool, I successfully applied the changes needed. Looks like the Sanyo Telus minibrowser doesn't implement all the fields...
It's like a breath of fresh air. Finally, my mobile email client is useable again!
In conjunction with this, I'm deactivating all instances of my hyperlinked email address on my web pages.
Now, the upshot all this is... if you should send me an email to a specific address at computer-ease.com and it doesn't work, please accept my apology for any inconvenience, and resubmit it to my "main" address, as "hinted at" on the home page...
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3 Mar 2006 - flash drive dead
I don't know what happened exactly...
I was using the Memorex TravelDrive to transport, store, and work on some business documents. It had been working great and I was getting very comfortable using it. I loaded it with some fresh data and packed it for a business trip.
After writing some new documents on the ThinkPad with TravelDrive plugged in, I took a break. I returned to the machine an hour or two later. The laptop appeared to be in Sleep mode but as it started up, I noticed that it was cold booting. I wasn't too worried about my documents left open as I was manually saving on a very regular basis. But once Windoze was fully loaded, and after I launched the Explorer, I noticed the TravelDrive was not showing. I removed it and reinserted it. It did not flash the blue activity LED! Noooooooo!
It had died. Completely died.
This changes everything...
Now I feel I can't trust these. I didn't know they were so fragile.
Now I must return it to my friend and he's then got to take mine in to the reseller for replacement (his is still working fine). Hopefully he can find the receipt...
Now I must recreate my business training file set.
The huge scans I made on Mom's iMac are trapped there, for now.
And I lost more work! Crap! I hate losing data. I hate it! I hate that I got complacent about this device and didn't backup the data.
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27 Feb 2006 - yepp recording a snap
Turns out I don't need software to rip CDs or vinyl for the Samsung YP-T6Z digital audio player.
Turns out I don't even need a computer!
Just hook the "yepp" up to the stereo via the Line ENC (sub-mini) plug.
Hit the record button.
I hacked together a custom cable. I found a pre-fab cable with a pair of RCA ends to connect to my H-K receiver on the tape-out line terminating at the other end with a stereo mini plug. I hooked alligator clips between a female mini plug to a male sub-mini. Then I fired up Amon Tobin's first trip-hip disc in the CD player and hit Record on the yepp. It sounds awesome (at 128Mbps)!
The computer will still prove handy. The recorded files are named "L001" and "L002." Not too memorable...
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17 Feb 2006 - accidental listener
It's kinda funny (weird) that I have not jumped on the music-downloading, MP3 bandwagonlike it seems everyone else on the planet has. When I (OK, I admit it, illegally) recorded a lot of music! I have racks and racks of cassette tapes, mostly of old vinyl, that I "borrowed" from friends--when I was in my "collector" mode--particularly in the '80s, as I was "growing" musically.
I haven't taped anything for years. Yes, I still have my Nakamichi deck. Works well, thank you.
I think I have duplicated one music CD from a friend. For an artist's first work, long out of print, where if "they" ever re-release it, I'll buy it. I truly mean that: I did buy their second album/DVD when I stumbled across it at HMV. If he ever releases a new album, I'll buy it and #1...
And yes, I do acknowledge that I have some MP3 songs on my computer. Not that I'm trying to defend myself but they are one-offs, mostly old tunes that I grew to up, some from the '70s! Downloaded in moments of weakness and nostalgia. I have not collected hundreds or thousands; maybe 30. I guess that's a weak excuse (like a little bit pregnant). Guilty!
For Karmic purposes, I'd like it known that I feel I am better now. Better than I have been. And improving. I do not feel comfortable "taking" music anymore.
Perhaps it is because I have met artists personally (I hung with The Barenaked Ladies at Ackroyd's X-Rays many moons ago) and have a strong sense of how hard it is for them to start up. Perhaps it is because of my utilisation of computer shareware and my own programming forays. Perhaps it is because of my own artistic leanings, that I have published fiction, that I write a lot of technical documentation (which was once stolen by a major corp). If I want music by an artist, I'd rather buy it. I want to give back...
In the end, for the record, for me, the web, band sites, internet radio stations (e.g. the old Spinner and now SomaFM.com), the incredible AllMusic.com, are causing me to buy more music. I've bought more music (mostly trip hop) in the last 5 years then ever before. If money wasn't an object, I'd go back and buy all my old taped music in CD form. In the meantime, I'm doing this selectively...
A pivotal moment came in November '05 when I found an digital audio player. In a gravel parking lot behind a pub. Looks like it's been run over, all scratched up and dented! But it still works!
The person must not have had it very long: the serial number sticker is dated only a couple of months before.
You'll be happy to know that I placed lost-and-found flyers at the pub and local grocery store. And I turned in the unit to the local police station. But after 3 months they said it was mine to keep. Today, it's back in my hands.
The player is the Samsung YP-T6Z. This is the 1GB unit, no less! It even has an FM radio receiver--clever. It has a 4-line white back-lit LCD display that's fairly easy to read with the main control back-lit with a trendy blue LED.
Shortly after finding it, I tested the "yepp" at my friend's using his Apple iPod Nano USB cable on his Windows box. And it just worked. Showed up in iTunes and as an external USB drive. Wow. Simple. No drivers.
So, here I am, sitting on a cusp, with an "inherited" feature-rich digital audio player and no MP3 files per se. What to do...
My first thought is that I'm going to rip some of my favourite songs from CDs in my library. Maybe make my own "mixes" again, like I did in the past. Then I can listen to trip hop anywhere!
And perhaps I can rip some of my old vinyl (with my old Systemdek IIX turntable that still sounds awesome). To have with me while I'm out and about... Then I can listen to Skinny Puppy anywhere!
(I guess that means I'll need to find some software to help me do this... Looks like when you buy the Samsung player you get the Music Studio application. Can it be downloaded? We shall see... Will I be able to mix too, like with the old multi-channel mixing board?)
And then, I want to hook this up to my cars... While I haven't listened to music much in my car(s) over the years, I did so more last summer than in a long while, surprising myself. The summer car has a stock cassette deck so I'll need to get an adapter (I'm staying away from the wireless FM transmitters based on some first-hand experience). And this might compel me to finally hook up a stereo in the winter car, once and for all. I'll have to check if the two spare CD head units I have support alternate inputs...
Hmmm. I just remembered when I had a portable cassette player, I never used it that much. I didn't want to listen to music when out in public. Will this unit change that?
I guess I better look into buy-music sites now too...
A bit of a whirlwind, I know...
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16 Feb 2006 - welcome to the e-lab
A guilty pleasure... With some Xmas money, I bought an electronic lab today from EfstonScience. The Maxitronix 300-in-1 with integrated breadboard.
As a kid, I was fascinated with these things and always wanted one!
As an adult, I've bought it to learn more about electronics.
Self-taught, I'm completely comfortable working with electronic devices and affecting repairs and can usually fix things. Very young, friends and family gave me things to "play" with. And I'd fix 'em, to their surprise. Recently, I repaired a friend's faulty Panasonic VCR, swapping out a bad electrolytic capacitor for a new one picked up from Active Surplus. Works great now.
I'm fairly comfortable with home wiring. I recently dropped new 14-2 lines in a friend's house from the breaker panel, installed a dishwasher and an over-the-stove microwave, replaced switches for dimmers, installed new ceiling lights. Installed new 14-2 lines and lights in Mom's garage.
Still, when I get to the board level of printed circuit boards, while I recognise most of the parts, I just don't have a good sense of what is going on. Hopefully, through these experiments and projects, I will develop a much better understanding of what's happening between and inside components.
Already, I've learned how to "read" ceramic capacitors, transistors, and diodes. I'm getting much more comfortable reading schematics. And I have ideas for building some special circuits of my own. Maybe I'll be able to finally fix that huge 20" Sony monitor I have... And when my old NEC MultiSync 3V blows up (it's popping and snapping a lot lately), perhaps I'll be able to fix it. Lots to learn though.
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4 Feb 2006 - free ride over?
Saw an article from The New York Times on Sympatico called "Postage is due for companies sending e-mail." It suggests that email won't be free in the future...
I don't know how long the article will remain posted... From one of the opening paragraphs.
That's a little disturbing. Will it create more strata within the internet?
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1 Feb 2006 - locked in for 24
I signed a contract with Bell Sympatico again, this time locking in for 2 years. They have dropped the monthly high speed internet rate to $37 from the regular $45. I'll save almost $200 over the period. Beer money.
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30 Jan 2006 - unusable
So to join in 4-player Nintendo Game Cube (NGC) events at my friend's, I decided I'd buy my own controller. I did a lot of research to learn which ones got high marks. Sadly, I couldn't find many of these particular makes or models in Canada. Still, I became aware of some nice features offered by the competition. And decided I wanted a wireless remote.
I thought it clever that you could continue play and recharge by simply connecting the provided cord. Wireless is cool (and weird): it was very nice to be able to get up and walk away from the TV still holding the controller.
However, after approximately 12 to 18 hours of play the left analog Control Stick started acting up. If I moved forward and then released the Control Stick, it would snap back to centre, but overshoot it slightly. In Zelda Wind Waker (thank you eBay!), this could cause Link to turn 180 degrees. If you were battling an opponent, Link would turn away! After another hour or so it got progressively worse.
My first thought was that the controller was "breaking in" and simply needed to be recalibrated. So I shut everything down and started up (that's how I assumed the controllers calibrated themselves). Problem persisted.
I examined the manual or reference card to confirm how to calibrate it. Nothing in the sparse booklet!
Checked their web site. Found PDF manuals for other similar products which suggested how to calibrate. Nothing though specifically informed of the precise sequence. I suspected the controller should be powered on first and then the Game Cube fired up. Which I did. No improvement.
Sent Intec an email...
The email for Canadian users no less.
Returned the controller to FutureShop. We exchanged it for an identical new unit.
After a couple hours of game play with unit #2, I observed that periodically, randomly, the Z button would trigger! At first I thought I was hitting or bumping it. But it became clear that it was doing it on its own. It was causing me to lose ammo or take an action sometimes when I didn't want to. Again, in Wind Waker, I had to assign a more passive tool or object to minimize the problem. This was not a good sign but I thought I could live with it.
But then, as I feared, the Control Stick started acting strangely again. At first, the behaviour was slightly different, this time with side-to-side movement. But after another couple of hours, the pattern like the first unit replicated itself. I packed it up and returned it to FutureShop.
I emailed Intec again...
I took an official Nintendo wired controller this time, getting a small credit back. Great feel, very precise. I'll miss the wireless, I think. But with an extension cord, I probably won't notice.
Sadly, I'm tethered to the box. But I shied away from the Nintendo wireless unit has it is quite large and expensive.
I never heard back from Intec!
I don't think you should get the Intec controller. Two in a row with a variety of button and analog control problems. And no support from the manufacturer.
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21 Jan 2006 - courier
Jacked in the Memorex TravelDrive into Mom's iMac. It works!
I did discover however that I could not use it with the keyboard USB connector, some power issue, which is a drag. That's a very convenient port. So I had to unplug her printer. (Looks like I need to get her a powered USB hub...)
Anyway, now I can easily transfer large files to and from. Sweet!
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13 Jan 2006 - hello?!
I recently learned of Oregon Scientific weather stations. Probably while I tracked the barometric pressure every day of 2005... So was thinking that it might be fun to get one of their units.
I revisited their web site in early January, some Christmas money getting hot in my pocket, and discovered that they have a new portable unit. Awesome! This will be fantastic for my astronomy sessions, camping, bike trips, as well as satisfying my general interest in weather.
I sent them an email on 6 January asking a technical question (can the unit be calibrated for altitude). I sent it to the "helpme" address.
On 10 January, I sent a copy of the original email to the "info" address, thinking that my original went to their tech support and they might not answer it as I'm not yet a customer.
The next day I phoned them. And fell into their voice mail hell. Frustrated after many prime-time minutes wasted, and being told they were experiencing longer than normal call volumes (hmmm), I hung up.
I emailed them on 12 January asking if they're interested in me buying any of their products. OK. Probably burned my bridge with that one...
Happily, I then found RadioWorld in Toronto, a vendor of various radio and weather equipment, including Oregon. They phoned me and emailed me and said they'll be getting the product in soon. They offered add me to their customer database and create a backorder! Now, that's nice customer service.
So, Oregon Scientific will still get some of my money in the end. But they could improve their new customer service, I think. I've got this bad taste in my mouth and I don't even have the unit yet!
Follow-up on 2 Feb: A person from Oregon contacted me. Apologised for the late response. OK, good. Then asked, with a "form letter," if I needed assistance. No, bad. Clearly, they had not read my original email messages. That was rather ironic because their reply included my first message. Oh boy. So, I asked the question again... And then got my answer--tersely. Sheesh. They had their chance.
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10 Jan 2006 - external reader
At long last, I have an external memory card reader/writer unit.
With an Xmas gift certificate, I procured the SanDisk ImageMate 12-in-1.
The intent was to allow for much more rapid transfer of data (via USB 2.0) from the digital camera (the Samsung uses the Solid State Floppy Disk Card - SSFDC) and the palmtop (my EPOC machines use CF).
I've since decided that using the reader is not ideal for my periodic, incremental palmtop back ups. The included software (PsiWin), while connected via RS-232 serial, is still fairly quick, handling a week or two of changed data in a few minutes.
But this thing is brilliant for doing a full backup of the 48MB CF card. It's much faster (it took about 4 or 5 minutes to upload 47MB to the PC; and about twice as long to download).
And it's wonderful for transferring my digital photographs. Again, much faster than via the camera-to-PC serial link using TWAIN acquire. It's no longer a chore!
The reader/writer is now "permanently" connected to the Windows XP box. In turn, this presents 4 removable disks...
I didn't set out wanting this when picking up the unit but it's completely portable! The little stand shown here is hard wired. The silver reader/writer "undocks" from the stand and SanDisk provides a short USB cable to now connect the reader proper to a computer. So I can use this with laptops, a friend's computer, my Mom's iMac. Sweet!
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12 Jan 2006 - burned CDs die
Did you know this?! I didn't.
Apparently, CD-R and CD-RW discs do not keep their burned data indefinitely. 5 years tops! The materials used in recordable CDs dries out and causes data "shifting." This mean if you're trying to recover old data from a few years back, you may be unsuccessful.
I was, like many others I assume, using burned CDs for backup purposes. Well, that's a bad idea, it seems.
Read the article at PC World.
Guess what: you should fire up that old tape drive!
All those poor people and their ripped music CDs...
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3 Jan 2006 - purrs and hisses
OK. It's very, very cool that I can run an emulator or simulator of a BlackBerry on a Windows computer. This is fantastically helpful for teaching and coaching, not to mention my own learning processes.
But, conversely, the documentation and knowledgebase information in the BlackBerry developers area is unbelievably poor! The notes don't make sense, have technical errors, are imprecise, and are inconsistent.
I remain unsuccessful at simulating email and mobile data service.
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3 Jan 2006 - gone
Now that I have a secure USB TravelDrive, I do not need to keep my course presentation files or lesson plans online.
Thusly, as of today, they are removed from the site.
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2 Jan 2006 - encrypted
I'm worried about security. The USB TravelDrive is wide open. It doesn't even have a write-protection switch. If someone were to "find" this trinket, they'd have access to all my data. I'll have to research how I can protect this data. I guess that's what all the brouhaha is about regarding U3.
Wikipedia to the rescue! Everything you always wanted to know about USB drives but was afraid to ask. There was a link to an open source product called TrueCrypt. I'm testing it; it's easy to use. Looks like it will work well.
I hope they'll roll out a Mac OS version. Then I'll be able to fully secure an entire partition on the flash drive.
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1 Jan 2006 - wearable storage
I don't know why exactly...
The photographer's motto is, of course: "A photographer shoots!" That's easily accomplished if you take your camera everywhere...
Well, I thought I'd start wearing my (thanks to ma) new 1GB Memorex USB flash stick card memory thumb TravelDrive thing. I wore it to the New Year's Eve party last night. Maybe Bruce or Val would offer up some interesting computer files, or tunes, or funny downloads, or something... Who knows.
Anyway, that's the plan. To take the TravelDrive everywhere I go.
Maybe I'll put it on my key ring.
Actually, I want to put my training presentations and lesson plans on it. There's enough room for the sample files too...
This will be handy during my trips to the US and to Mom's.
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