Payday Purchases

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I finally registered two programs I’ve been meaning to purchase for a couple of months in addition to purchasing another that I’ve been considering for a month.

The first is a Windows XP media application called Beyond Media by Snapstream. It presents a graphical interface that is easy to view on a television for playing music and DVDs and also for viewing photos. The bundle I purchased was $59.99. It’s $10 more than the download version but includes the software on a CD and the Firefly Remote, which is sold separately for $49.99. While I have an ATI remote I’ve always considered it clunky and difficult to get working properly. The Beyond Media will probably arrive next Monday.

Several months ago I tested a trial version of a blog client named Ecto. I’ve been blogging more frequently so I started using it again and decided to register it. It works well and costs less than $20 to register.

Another app I registered is AppZapper. It’s the type of program that should have been included with OS X. It’s a simple uninstall program that removes all of a program’s files (not just those in the Applications folder). Registration cost less than $15.

Happy birthday to me!

Update: As of October 2010 I continue to use AppZapper. However, I only use Ecto to lookup older blog archives that are no longer online. Much has changed since then. I primarily use WordPress blogging platforms and have access to many different methods to update my blog now.

Updated 08/24/2011: I’m still using the same license for AppZapper.

Nucleus CMS Update

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I just spent the last couple of hours working on my other blog. I recently downloaded a trial version of Ecto. It’s an off-line blog client. I haven’t had any problems with the program itself. I did have difficulty importing all previous entries from my other blog due to a hard-coded limit on the number of posts available via RSS.

Oddly enough I was not able to find a configuration setting within the admin interface nor any information in the on-line documentation or the forums. Ultimately, I setup the connection to use the MetaWeblog API. I then modified the PHP configuration file for this connection type within Nucleus (under the XMLRDP directory). To increase the number of posts I had to increase the maximum number in a comparison. Once I was able to pull all of the older posts into Ecto I set the range back to its original value. So far so good.

iTunes Suggestions

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I have some suggestions for Apple regarding iTunes [insert rant]:

  1. Add a function to save the Controls settings for playlists that are played from shared libraries. I’m tired of selecting “Repeat All” for a playlist each time I access that music from another computer.
  2. Add the ability to sort music in the Library using folders. It’s annoying to have to scroll through an enormous list of songs every time I burn a CD and need to build a playlist for that album.
  3. Add groups for playlists. I’m tired of scrolling through my playlists too.
  4. Add the ability to recharge an account using a credit card without storing the information. I don’t want to have to purchase a gift certificate for $15 or temporarily store my credit card info online when all I want to add is $10 to my account.
  5. Add more control over the audio output and the way it interacts with the sound card. Sure, I think my soundcard should be able to autodetect whether or not the audio requires PCM or Dolby 5.1 surround but regardless I don’t understand why the audio/video sync is off if the soundcard settings are configured to use Dolby 5.1.

Link Roundup

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As usual many of these links were found on digg.com or downloadsquad.com. By the way, I haven’t tried all of the software listed here…

Wikipedia List of portable applications – A list of applications that can be run from portable media; generally a USB “thumb” drive.

Open Source Windows – A list of some of the best Free and Open Source software available for Windows

The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities

SmallWindows – Expose-like software for Windows

TimeSnapper – Automatic Screenshot Journal

DVD Playback Issues

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The X-Box is still dead so the only way I can watch DVD movies is via the MMS. I had already experienced issues with the new sound card and some programs. It’s caused by the Dolby/PCM options. If I have Dolby enabled in the configuration utility and attempt to watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica in iTunes then the audio and video do not sync and there’s also some audio stutter. To correct this I have to change the config to use PCM. Other applications seem to be affected by this setting and I’m disappointed that the sound card doesn’t switch modes automatically, but it’s tolerable as I usually only watch DVDs using the system and audio files such as MP3s play properly even with the Dolby mode enabled.

Since last weekend I’ve had to try different DVD playback software to find one that would play a DVD with 5.1 surround sound through SPDIF at full-screen. VLC seems to have problems with the surround sound. Nero Showtime worked properly until I tried to full-screen the video, which resulted in nothing appearing. Lately, I’ve been using Windows Media Player 10, which works great in full-screen and outputs the audio properly. It even appears to play DVDs from the hard drive. However, I’m not fond of Microsoft software and I was in a situation in which I had to use it; not because I wanted to.

I recently tried Media Portal but there were issues immediately apparent with DVD playback and it’s still a bear to configure and have it work properly. To make matters worse Windows Media Player 10 stopped recognizing the DVD decoder until I uninstalled Media Portal.

Today I may have found a solution that is similar to Media Portal. It’s Snapstream’s Beyond Media. Like Media Portal, its interface is designed to be viewed from a television. It supports photos, audio files, DVD playback, and a few other features. It costs $49.99 to $59.99 depending on the package one chooses. While I would have preferred for Media Portal to work I’m considering purchasing Beyond Media. The software is currently in a trial period that lasts 21 days. Snapstream also maintains Beyond TV, an application that adds Tivo-like capabilities to computers with TV tuner cards. I’ve experimented with Beyond TV in the past but unfortunately ATI All-in-Wonder cards aren’t very good TV tuner cards, which caused enough problems to convince me to give up before purchasing the software.

Though the trial version does not support surround sound I found a simple tweak for an XML file that seems to enable it to use third-party decoders and thus it sounds like it is working, though not perfectly. I may indeed end up purchasing this package if the trial goes well.

VLC – http://www.videolan.org/vlc/</a>

Media Portal – http://mediaportal.sourceforge.net/

Snapstream – http://www.snapstream.com/ (Beyond Media and Beyond TV)

USB 2.0 to IDE Adapter Cable (revisited)

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The new adapter cable has already proven its worth. Before my mother left for Hawaii I traded her my old 500 MHz IBM ThinkPad (iSeries 1400) for her desktop system, which was the first system I used as a Web server. While attempting to make a wireless network card work in her notebook the system froze up and would not reboot. At first I thought the hard drive might crash but it’s an old system so one of the components simply might have worked loose. Rather than attempt to get it on the network to transfer her files to a newer computer I’ve given her (which once was the second computer I used as Web server) I decided to save time and use the USB to IDE adapter cable.

By connecting the drive to the cable and transferring the files directly to the computer via USB I knew I would be able to save a considerable amount of time. Remove the drive from the notebook was easy once I remembered the only component I needed to remove was the front CD/volume controls on the Thinkpad. The transfer was relatively quick and now all of her important files are on the newer system. The notebook had a 6 or 8 GB drive while the new system has an 80 GB drive. It’s also about three times faster and has twice the amount of RAM as the notebook in addition to several other features.