Presentation Devices for Mac OS X

One of my esteemed professors needs a remote for use in class. Actually, a couple of my professors are in need of a decent remote for their presentations in class. So, I did some searching around and found a couple good options, listed in order of recommendation.

Choice #1: Kensington Wireless Presentation Remote

Kensington Wireless Presentation Remote Control with Laser Pointer

All features of the Kensington are known to work reliably with Mac OS X. Simply click the link and it’ll take you to item at the Amazon.com store. If you order by clicking the link, they’ll even give me a little referral credit.

Choice #2: Logitech 2.4GHz Cordless Presenter

Logitech 2.4 GHz Cordless Presenter

Samsung A900 (Blade)

It is long past time to get a new cell phone and plan. My contract with Sprint has long since expired so I’ve been researching the options. I have several criteria I consider essential for my cell phone service:

  • National Coverage – It must work while traveling
  • Home Coverage – Good reception at my house (duh)
  • Bluetooth/USB sync – Import/Sync address book from PC to phone
  • Modem/Data – tether to laptop for everywhere internet access

The national coverage and data access are mandatory for me because of my consulting business. I offer a service to my clients and guarantee them a 1 hour response. Thus, my phone must provide me with the ability to get internet access from nearly anywhere. That narrows down my list of potential service providers to Sprint, Cingular, and Verizon.

Beyond the choice of providers is the matter of phones. I had been using a Sanyo 8100 for years. I am able to tether to it using a USB cable and sync my address book to it via BitPim. It is not pretty or elegant, but it works. I have two problems with that solution. The phone is HUGE in my pocket so I hate carrying it, and it drops calls with great regularity. It needs to be replaced.

Last year I tried out a PM-325, also from Sprint. It was a slick little phone but Sprint crippled the Bluetooth support so that it only worked with headsets. USB tethering was also borked (I can’t remember why) so I returned it a week later and have been waiting for a better phone to appear since. (Note: Sprint later released a firmware update that enabled Bluetooth tethering)

Last month I wandered into a Cingular store and bought a Motorola Razr v3. I used it for a few days. The phone has a great feature list. I immediately synced my address book to it (yay) and tethered my laptop to it via Bluetooth. Yay again. However, after I started making phone calls with it, I noticed that the voice clarity and coverage at my house stank. I frequently had to ask the other person to repeat what they said. The clarity of calls on Sprint really has spoiled me.

The other problem with the Razr is speed. The net access is really, really slow compared to Sprint’s Vision. The lag is so high that interactive connections (ie, SSH which I absolutely must have) are painful to use. I thought perhaps it was simply a network issue but I was in Wal-Mart one day. I needed to look up something on the web so I pulled up the browser and spent 10 minutes trying to get to the page I wanted to see. I realized that I could have driven home, looked it up on my computer and driven back before I found what I needed using the phones (wap) browser.

I concluded that the Razr was not really an upgrade from my aged 8100 so I returned it. Since then I’ve gotten two incorrect (way overbilled) invoices from Cingular. I called them and the kind customer service lady promised to correct the bill. It’s been almost two months and I still haven’t gotten a correct invoice from them. That’s not exactly a great enticement for me to ever try them again.

Finally, on Dec 30th, I called Sprint again and they made me a sweet deal to renew my contract. I got a Samsung A900 phone for $100 shipped. It has gotten excellent reviews from all over and it supports ED-VO, Sprint’s new high speed mobile access, which includes support for streaming TV to your phone. The promise of high speed on my phone and the ultra-thin profile were nice additions to the other requirements of mine that this phone met.

When we got home from Michigan, it was waiting for me. I activated it and have been happily playing with it ever since. Bluetooth tethering to my laptop works great. I was able to import most of my address book entries (it only supports 500). Network access is really, really quick. In fact, unlike the Razr, everything about this phone is quick. Menus come up pretty quickly, the web browser launches quickly, Google maps load quickly, and movies download quickly.

The camera phone is good, nearly as good as phone sized cameras get. It plays MP3’s just fine but only holds a few of them. I haven’t figured out how to get GPS data from it to my laptop yet. I did install Google’s Local for mobile phones. It is way cool. In all, I’m extremely pleased and this phone was well worth the wait. It’s highly recommended.

I can see your phone records

Do you want to find out if your spouse is making secret phone calls from their work or mobile phone? Are you concerned that your senator is making a few too many phone calls to certain law enformant agent(s)? Do you think your telephone records are secure from prying eyes? Think again. Yours, mine, and practically anyone elses phone information is easily available to anyone with a few dollars to spare. Are you freaked out yet? Good.

CBS 3 in Philadelphia and the Sun Times in Chicago have both reported on a web site (http://www.locatecell.com/) that will allow you to retrieve any persons phone records for a modest fee. Consider yourself warned about the privacy implications of this, they are mind boggling.

Even if a law is passed that makes this illegal, the fact that it is possible will only deter those who actively sell this info. It will still be readily available in black hat circles. Consider that if you wanted to call someone anonymously, you could no longer use any telephone associated with your identity. If you used a pay phone and someone spotted you, they could easily determine the number you called by querying the logs of that pay phone.

Great Headphones

Here’s a useful tidbit that I haven’t published yet. A couple years ago I was working on the sound board for our church and the headphones at the board were crap. So, I went shopping and bought a few pair locally (Wal-Mart & ABC Warehouse) and none of those were very good either. So, I hopped online and did a bunch of research. The result of that research was the Sony MDR-V600.

After buying a pair for the church, I found I liked them so much I bought myself a pair and have never given them much thought since. I believe that to be the hallmark of great headphones. Turn on the music, drop them on your head, and enjoy the music so much you forget the headphones are on. Until today, I took them completely for granted. Ricardo, my father-in-law is here visiting Kayla and we just got back from a concert performed by the Vocal Majority. He bought a few of their CDs and after the rest of us tired of hearing them, we suggested earphones.

I grabbed mine, dropped them on his head and plugged him in. While the rest of us enjoyed the silence, he was transported back to his days of singing in men’s choirs. Before long, he went and pulled out his $150 Bose headphones and plugged them in. My headphones sounded considerably cleaner. He had me compare the two and I agreed, mine certainly sounded much better. This isn’t the first time this has happened, my main man, Michael also bought the same headphones after listening to mine. So, if you’re in the market, spend $70 at Amazon.com and you’ll have a set of headphones that are truly wonderful.

iTunes Library Management

I recently ripped a whole bunch of wav files using iTunes and made the mistake of importing them into the iTunes library of a second computer. iTunes did not recognize the songs and wasn’t able to index them, so I made the brilliantly stupid mistake of letting iTunes manage my library, thinking that the index might be refreshed, but what happened instead was iTunes moved all the songs into a sub-directory named, “Unknown Album” in a directory named, “Unknown Artist.” Now I can’t identify artists or albums, only song titles. This has to do with wavs not having this information embedded. I’ve still got the original library file on the first computer, so I can manually link to each file, but at this point, I’ve ripped 851 songs and would like to find a way to do a mass reorganization of these files into appropriate album/artist directories. I believe embedding ID3 tags into the files, would facilitate this, but I’m not aware of an exiting method of accomplishing this. Any ideas?

Thanks,
Jim

Error #1: Using WAV file format. While there are valid arguments for ripping to WAV files instead of AAC or MP3, I can think of no good reason not to use AIFF instead of WAV. WAV is a file format, not a music format. WAV can consist of AIFF streams, PCM audio streams, or other raw data streams. If you are going to save music files, saving them in an appropriate music oriented format is wise.

Error #2: Unless you happen to have an unlimited supply of disk space or a tiny music collection, using AIFF or WAV files is wasteful. If you must use a loss-less encoding format, use ALE (which reduces file sizes by about half). If you’re obsessive and absolutely must have your files in a “standard” loss-less format, then use AIFF, the same format your files are already encoded in on the CD-ROM.

When you factor in the excellent sound quality achieved by even 128 bit AAC, using anything less space efficient than 160kbit AAC VBR gains you nothing in terms of audio quality. Lest you assume that I speak from ignorance, it’ll help to know that I play my music collection directly from AAC encoded files on my G5. The G5 is connected to the receiver via a Toslink (fiber-optic) cable. Speakers are reference grade Ascend Acoustics CBM-170. They have no detectable color (amazing!) and we use them for studio monitors when I’m playing Sound Engineer. When all filters (EQ, etc) are disabled, there is no discernable difference between my AAC files and the CD deck.

Caveat: The only purpose I can imagine for using a loss-less format is to remove the need to re-rip your CDs in the future. When a newer audio format arrives that you want to re-encode to, you simply insert your DVDs of lossless encoded music and use the iTunes -> Advanced -> Convert to ___ feature. This would be less laborious than re-ripping all your CDs. iTunes will encode the songs into your format of choice and replace the previous version of the song in your library. This has the added advantage of preserving all your iTunes metadata, such as listen count, song rating, etc.

Caveat Notes: Even if you proceed this way, you will still want to encode all your files to AAC or MP3. That’s the format you’ll use everywhere. Why? You want your song library to fit on your laptop hard drive, iPod, car MP3 player, etc. Using a compressed format with embedded ID tags such as MP3 or AAC will also prevent the problem that you are facing right now.

Now, what can be done about the existing situation?

The original iTunes library file (~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Library) file still exists on computer A. Since the file hierarchy is completely lost, it’s time for one of two options:

#1 – start over. Discard everything and re-rip. Follow my advise above.

#2 – all the info needed to sort out the files is embedded in the iTunes Library file, as well as the .xml file that iTunes creates. Write a perl script that parses through the file. Back the file up first! The Library file will have paths that look like this:

Music/Library/iTunes/iTunes Music/Nickelback/The Long Road/Someday.wav

The existing paths to the files looks like this:

Music/Library/iTunes/iTunes Music/Unknown Artist/Unknown Album/Someday.wav

The logic for the perl script will look something like this:

   for each file in Unknown Artist/Unknown Album
       check for matching song name in iTunes Library
          if there’s only one match
          create the artist and album directory
          move the file to the appropriate directory

That simple script will correctly identify and move 99% of the files in about 3 seconds. There will be a few songs with duplicate names that will need to manually moved. It’s faster to manually move them than to program the logic to fix them automatically.

I’d write an example script but I have two books to read and a greek exam to study for. This is enough to put you on the right track.

Computers and Memory

You’ll seldom find an old-timer in the computer industry with a computer wanting for memory. However, that’s exactly the predicament I’m in. Allow me to explain, and then offer a quick lesson to the less computer savvy. Until yesterday my PowerBook had 1GB of RAM, and life was good. A friend need to run Windows on her iBook for a class she’s taking. I installed Virtual PC and Windows 98 but she had only 256MB of RAM. That is adequate for running Mac OS X, but not a “heavy” application like Virtual PC. After Virtual PC drug her her iBook to it’s knees, I pulled a 512MB chip out of my PowerBook and installed it in her iBook. Voila, one problem solved.

Today, while using my PowerBook, it was quite sluggish when working in iPhoto. A simple operation that should take 10 seconds would take two minutes. Since Greek has my brain running on overload, it took a while before I remembered that I only have 512MB of RAM now. The major clue was that my hard drive was very busy during that “long pause.” That’s a symptom of “swapping” and a huge clue that you need more RAM. With 2,900 photos in my library, 512MB of RAM is inadequate for the task.

When a computer runs out of memory, it starts using hard drive space as “virtual memory.” This is called swapping. It’s a reasonable solution, but hard drive space is at a few orders of magnitude slower than RAM. The only way to get the best performance from your computer is to make sure you have enough memory that it never swaps. For a few people, 512MB is sufficient. For anyone that uses the media features on a modern OS (Mac OS X, Windows XP), you need at least 768MB.

So, I ordered myself a 1GB module. When it arrives, my PowerBook will be back to it’s speedy little self. For reference, the Apple Store wants $500 for a 1GB memory module. I paid $130. I also purchased four extra 512MB laptop SO-DIMMS for $50 each. If you have an Apple laptop that’s running short on memory, come see me and I’ll even install the RAM for you.

Why I love technology

Today we drove from Cadillac, MI to Nashville, TN. It should have taken 10 hours, but it took eleven. We are quite thankful to have only been delayed by an hour, and we owe those thanks to technology. As we cruised through Indianapolis, I glimpsed a flashing sign that said something like “accident on SB I-65, closed at mile 50, seek alternate route”. The 50 mile marker was a good hour away so I cruised onward. We scanned the AM frequency several times looking for more traffic info and found nothing.

Once out of Indianapolis, I used my laptop and cellular Internet connection to Google “I-65 accident Indiana” and got no results. It hadn’t made the news wire yet so the flashing sign back in Indianapolis was the only clue that something was amiss. At mile marker 55, I noticed brake lights and a two lane parking lot where the Interstate should be. I noticed it just in time to catch an off ramp.

Southern Indiana consists of narrow single lane roads and lots of corn fields. We followed the traffic for a while on the most obvious alternate route. As the miles long procession crawled along, it became obvious that it was going to take a very long time (hours) to make it to the next freeway ramp. This is where technology saved the day.

Thanks to a GPS receiver and Route 66 (my mapping software) I had complete maps of the area, and I knew exactly where we were. I veered away from traffic and charted a course through the corn fields down country back roads scarcely a lane wide. My alternate route ended up being about 10 miles longer than the other option but was largely untraveled and much faster.

Today on I-65, motorists fell into four camps. The tragic were involved in the accident. The unfortunate didn’t see the warning sign(s) nor the sea of brake lights until they were stuck in miles of parked cars. The fortunate motorists detoured early, or got lucky and were able to get off the freeway. Of the fortunate, only the enlightened few had suitable maps of the area, or knew the area well enough to get through with only a minor setback. We were through Kentucky and into Tennessee before the State Troopers hoped to get traffic moving.

It wasn’t until late this evening that information became available. At about 9:30AM, a car had a blowout. A truck driver swerved and lost control of his truck. He crossed the median and Southbound lanes and was killed when his truck collided with a guard rail. At 3pm traffic was backed up at least 5 miles. Police hoped to have the scene cleared and traffic moving by 6PM.

Today, we were fortunate. Alert driving spotted the backup, luck provided an exit ramp, and technology allowed us to navigate through the corn fields and back to the freeway.