Monthly Archives: January 2005

iPod Shuffle? Maybe not

Last year, my son, Jeff, bought himself an iPod and so far he loves it, as do apparently a lot of people who own them. Recently at MacWorld 05, Steve Jobs announced the iPod Shuffle, a scaled down, more reasonably priced model ($99) of the same technology that is sure to appeal to others. I told Jeff about its availability because I know his son and daughter, Dustin and Maegan, and his wife, Deanna, may also want to have one of these cool devices. Who doesn’t?

Well, it seems that Dave Ciccone may not. In a side-by-side comparison of the iPod Shuffle and the SanDisk MP3 player, Dave concludes that the SanDisk is a better choice because it offers a number of features that the iPod Shuffle doesn’t. And frankly his article convinces me. Not only does the SanDisk player allow you to select the songs or podcasts you want to hear, it also offers portable data storage, an FM radio, a voice recorder with a built in microphone, and a cheaper price. It is a bit larger than the iPod shuffle but still small enough for that not to be an issue.

In the words of Will Smith’s character in Independence Day after he had a chance to fly the alien spacecraft, “I have got to get me one of these!” They come in three sizes: the SanDisk SDMX1-256-A18 for $65.99, the SanDisk SDMX1-512-A18 for $105.99, and the SanDisk SDMX1-1024-A18 for $139.99. All prices quoted are from Newegg.com.

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Saturday morning update

During my first two weeks of training at my new job, I’ve been sitting next to a young man named Marc Bryant. His computer training station is just to the left of mine. During our down time in training, he and I have chatted about a number of things, and I learned that he has a web page which I visited this morning. I was pleased to get to know him in a different context than our work environment and surprised to learn that he is a writer of stories for comic books. He has had a few of them publish already. Quite interesting and creative. Check out his site if you are into that sort of thing.

I’ve made some progress with the MixCast Live beta. I’ve shared a couple of podcasting experiments with a small circle of friends as a learning experience to help me identify what works for me and what doesn’t as it relates to my style and content and to test out my skill at using the tool. I’m still working on creating a podcast that I’m ready to link to from here, but as soon as that is ready, I’ll let you know and post a link.

MixCast Live is almost ready for a pre-release version, probably some time within the next week or two, so you early adopters out there might keep an eye on that web site (or here because I’m sure I’ll announce it too) and jump on the bandwagon when James Prudente opens the doors for business. I think this tool is going to be very popular with Windows users and make a big splash in the world of podcasting because it gives you a lot of abilities that make creating a podcast easier, and those who buy the pre-release version may get it at an introductory price, I am told. But I’ll leave it to James to decide when to announce it and what the specifics are once he is ready to go. He seems really committed to getting it out the door as soon as he can, but he appears to be even more committed to making sure that when it goes out the door, it is ready for use and free from as many bugs as is humanly possible. I’ll just say that from what I’ve seen so far, I believe you’ll like it a lot.

By the way, here’s a link to another description of what a podcast is and a bit about its origins. This phenomenon is still in its infancy, but podcasting is catching on rapidly.

Controversy in bloggerland

Last night, my friend Tom Wright, sent me a link to an article and asked my opinion. He said, “Wondered if you might be interested in reading this discussion of blogging and reactions from bloggers. http://www.slate.com/id/2112621/

Here’s the reply I sent him.

“Thanks for the link.

I’ve just read Shafer’s article. I had seen other posts from people I read regularly, Dave Winer, Dan Gillmor, etc., about the conference at Harvard and I had picked up some of the tone of the “dispute” from their posts, but since I don’t think of myself as an either/or kind of guy, I hadn’t paid much attention to it.

My own take is that blogs will have more influence than some people think and less than the true believers and evangelists prophesy. I don’t think the mainstream media will go away, but I also don’t think they’ll escape having their feet held to the fire by the blogosphere. And I don’t think that bloggers will survive their “fame” without quite a few of them (us) waking up one morning with egg on our face because we bought a meme that was later shown to be false.

There’s a whole lot of us-versus-them-ism in this country right now that doesn’t result in civil discourse but merely serves to erect barriers between points of view. I frankly am old enough to almost long for the practice that I used to hear from Senators when they’d say something like, “As my esteemed colleague from Illinois (while thinking, “who is dumber than a bag of hammers and often has his head up his ass”) will agree, … ” Name-calling between the blogosphere and the mainstream media has become like the rapper’s spiel or the talk show host’s rant. Conversations where each party recognizes the other’s intelligence and right to a difference of opinion are an endangered species of dialog. When I hear what passes for discussion nowadays, I just sigh and lament that it is far too easy to get seduced into following suit and far too hard to retain a commitment to respecting the comments of those who differ with my point of view.

This tempest in a teapot will pass away before the mainstream media is toppled by blogs or blogs are shown to be uninformed opinion-pushers by the fact checkers. Both will be with us for some time to come, I think. The world is populated by both cats and dogs, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon.”

Thank you, Shannon

Last night Shannon Kamer and I spent about an hour on the phone tweaking various things about TightVNC to make it more secure. We added SSH and PuTTy to my system. But what excited me even more was that Shannon helped me configure my system to serve up podcasts and other things I might want to make available to others over the Internet via TCP. This is a big step forward for me because it makes it unnecessary for me to find a service that will host my podcasts as I begin to record them.

First impressions of my first week

I have returned from the grave. Well not exactly, but this is the first post in quite some time. I’ve discovered that in some instances that posts to my blog seem to be in inverse proportion to the number of things going on in my life at the time. While a lot of activity would seem to provide the material for a new post, the fact that many things are going on means that I have less time to post than I would normally. But I am due to catch you up on what has been going on since my last post.

First things first. I began training for my new job on Monday, January 17th, and I’ll have to say that the first week gave me a very good first impression of my new company. The facilities are nice, the people are friendly, the benefits and compensation are generous, and the corporate philosophy is something I feel good about. U. S. Cellular talks a good game of being customer-focused, and until I see evidence to the contrary (which I don’t anticipate), I’m going to assume that what they claim is the way they operate.

Also this week as I said previously, I’ve been beta testing MixCastLive, a program for creating podcasts. After some initial problems with its working on my system, the author, James Prudente, has put up a version that works for me. During my spare time this week, I plan to try to produce my first podcast so that you can hear the results of using this program. So far, I am very impressed with its capability for us Windows users. Up until now, Mac users have had an advantage in tools, but once MixCastLive is released, Windows users have a tool that makes integrating several different audio sources into one recording. I’m exploring a resource that will make it possible for me to upload these MP3 files so that they can be either streamed or downloaded. But I suppose that will have to wait until later in the week after I’ve had more time to investigate it.

Beta testing

Trying out a brand new product can be both interesting and not just a little bit frustrating. Beta testers, as they are called, are those folks who are willing to exchange the chance to see a product in the making for the risk of a possible system crash or the disappointment that the product won’t perform as expected because of the peculiarities of the system you are testing it on.

Why would anyone volunteer to be a beta tester? Most often it is so they can get an early look at the product and possibly help to shape how it turns out. They agree to provide the primary author with specific feedback on their actions and what elements in their system might have caused any failure that occurs. Without the feedback of beta testers, authors of software would have a much more difficult time putting together programs that work for the public in general.

The reason should be obvious. There is an almost infinite variety of unique configurations in use, so if a product is to be successful its author needs to have it tested on as many of those unique setups as possible before rolling his program out to the public at large. What’s more, users often interpret instructions for using a product differently and make unanticipated decisions about using the software. So no matter how brilliantly a product is designed or how carefully the instructions are written, end users are remarkably capable of finding ways to be confused or to discover unique ways to make the product fail. So thorough beta testing is the only way to assure that initial buyers of the product don’t run into unexpected problems and conclude that their money was misspent or return the product and ask for a refund.

I tell you all that as background to say that I am participating in a beta test of a new product called MixCast Live, a software program designed to facilitate creating Podcasts. If you are interested, you can see a demo of the product here. So for the next few days or weeks, I may be posting information about my experiences in participating in this beta test. And as I get it to work for me, I may even be posting some of the Podcasts that I’m able to create with it here on my blog. That way, you’ll get to participate vicariously in a beta test without suffering any of the risks involved.

TightVNC, to gain remote access to your computer

Have you, as I have, ever wanted to be able to connect to your computer when you were not at home but been unable to do so? Or do you have friends who solicit your help in knowing how to use or perhaps fix some problem on their computer? If so, then what I’m about to introduce you to could prove very valuable to you.

TightVNC is a free remote control software package that enables you to see the desktop of a remote machine and control it with your local mouse and keyboard, just like you would if you were sitting in the front of that computer. It is simple to set up the VNCServer (which is password protected) on your home machine, for instance, and you can take the VNCViewer with you on a floppy disk and run it from any computer to connect to your home machine. This page shows some screen shots of the components of the program.

Last night, my friend Josh Yonce and I experimented with accessing each other’s computer remotely using this software and found it to be very cool. Because both of us are behind routers and both of us are using Windows XP, we had to tinker with the settings for a while to gain access to the other’s computer, but eventually we figured out the right combination which opens up a whole range of possibilities to those with a little imagination.

Most of us get a new IP address each time we log onto the Internet through our Internet Service Provider (ISP), the so-called dynamic IP address. This means that you can’t always count on the fact that you are at the same location on the Internet all the time. You can find out what your IP address at several places on the Internet, but one of them is in the Tools section of DSL Reports at this link. If you click that link, the page you end up on will tell you the IP address that accessed that page, and that will be your IP address. The reason it is important to know you IP address on your home machine is that it is required to use the VNCViewer and therefore to be able to log into your machine remotely. Fortunately, there is another free service called No-IP.com that you can use to always stay current with your dynamically changing IP address. You can check out that service here.

One thing Josh and I discovered while we were tinkering last night is that this program will not work if you have Remote Administration turned on on your XP machine. By default that setting is OFF for most installations of XP, but if you have turned it on for any reason, you’ll have to turn it off to be able to use the TightVNC package.