James – TipsFor.us – TipsFor.us http://tipsfor.us Tech Tips, Reviews, Tutorials, Occasional Rants Fri, 21 Mar 2014 05:03:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Networx – Free Bandwidth Monitoring Software (Getting the Most Out of It) http://tipsfor.us/2009/08/01/networx-%e2%80%93free-bandwidth-monitoring-software-getting-the-most-out-of-it/ http://tipsfor.us/2009/08/01/networx-%e2%80%93free-bandwidth-monitoring-software-getting-the-most-out-of-it/#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 22:02:26 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=2389 Continue reading Networx – Free Bandwidth Monitoring Software (Getting the Most Out of It) ]]>

Systems: Windows Only (2000, XP, Vista, 2008 / Both 32 and 64 bit)

Donationware: Technically it’s free, but when you see the level of craftsmanship in this program, you will want to donate.

Website: Softperfect.com

networx-prevI recently changed ISPs to one with much more consistent service, but the trade off is that I now have a rather small bandwidth cap. As much as we hate them, bandwidth caps are probably in all of our futures. The important thing is to have control over and be informed of your usage (before the bill arrives). I needed a reliable way to keep track of my bandwidth, so I tested out several free bandwidth monitoring softwares. My ISP has its own online bandwidth usage calculated, but I wanted a redundant system (one which I could use to make sure they were honest in their tracking).  In my experiments, I found Networx to be the best. Its primary virtue is its ability to be as advanced as you need it to be. For my multiple computer home network, it has every feature I could ask for. Let’s take a closer look.

The software is so unobtrusive; it even lacks a full control window.  Instead, you can access all aspects of the software from the taskbar icon.

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A left click will give you a quick bandwidth summary/ a right click will show you the menu.

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Before we get to ridiculous number of features available in the menu, let’s check out my favorite feature.A right click anywhere on the task bar brings up a windows menu that has a “toolbars” option, if you go there you will find a new entry: Networx Desk Band. Activating this toolbar gives you a quick real time read out.

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I know what you’re thinking: But I don’t like red and white graphs! Well, you can fully customize that little read out; I’ll get to that a little later on.First, lets go back to that right click menu from the Networx taskbar icon.

Your first 3 options all work together:

Show Graph

– This displays a full size visual read out that you can place on your desktop wherever you want.

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Reset Graph (Only present if “Show Graph” is clicked first) – This option will clear the current data displayed on the graph, not unlike the trip counter reset in your car.

Enable Click Through (Only present if “Show Graph” is clicked first) – Will make the graph act as if it is not really there.You can literally click through the graph to select things. Be careful though, this means you can’t resize or move the graph window without turning off “Click Through” the same way your turned it on.

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Speed Meter

– This works sort of like a heart monitor for you bandwidth.You hit “Play” and for the duration you allow it to run, it records average, maximum and total transfer.You can then export it directly to a txt file.

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Usage Statistics

– You can access this menu from a double click on the icon.This will probably be your most visited window in the battle to keep informed about transfer totals. The first thing you will see is the “General” Tab:

Not much to do here, except see a quick summary of your total usage all in one place.

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The Daily Report – Here is where you can really begin to see detail present in this program.If you have this set up on the family computer, you can directly see what day of the month the highest transfer happened.If you are not a fan of the spread sheet, they also provide you a visual readout of the past week.

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Weekly/Monthly Report – The same data as the daily, but handily calculated for you either size increment.

Custom – The most powerful data aggregator in this entire software. You can give it the date-through-date specifics and it will automatically set up the graph in the most appropriate way.

Networxscreen8

Dial-up Sessions – If you have a minute/transfer based dial-up connection, this tab is vital.It records every time you connect to your dial up provider, the date, amount of time spent, transfers, etc.You might think this is outdated, but you would be surprised how many areas still do not have broadband.

Hourly Rates – for you true statistics hounds out there, you can follow your transfer rates on an hourly basis.

Networxscreen9

Export – Oh yeah, you can also export all of these charts to Excel for easy archiving.

Users – If everyone who uses the computer has separate logons, you can track the data per user.You know, easily figure out which roommate is the bandwidth hog.

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Quota

This is a handy system for letting you set the maximum transfer/duration.For me that is 50 gigs per month.I set it at 45 gigs, however, because it notifies you with a little pop-up window when you have met your quota.

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Settings

All of the settings for the program.Let’s go one tab at a time.

General – This tab has the settings for “Load on Windows Startup, Check for Updates”, And most importantly: Which internet connection is monitored. This is essential if you have multiple connections, or utilize a different connection for intra-network traffic.

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Graph – Settings to tweak how the graph output functions.This is really for power users who want control over aspect of their graph.

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Graph Colors – This may seem trivial or nit-picky, but on some monitors you may want to adjust the colors of the graph for optimal resolution.High contrast is an option in every aspect of most operating systems for those who need it for accessibility.Or, you may just want to make it look pretty.

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Notifications – This tab’s settings tell the software when you notify you of certain things.It can tell you if your connection falls below it’s usual transfer rate, or if it exceeds a predetermined speed.You can also customize how exactly it notifies you, a tone or a pop up, ect.

Advanced – There is one truly important feature in here.In this tab you can set what day your billing cycle begins on. I’m lucky, my bandwidth resets at midnight on the first.For some of you, it might be on the 14th or 21st, etc. DO NOT FORGET TO SET THIS, OR YOUR TOTAL BANDWIDTH USED FOR THE MONTH WILL NOT BE ACCURATE!

If you have multiple computers using the same network, you will need to install Networx on all of them, and tick the box under “Synchronization” or else YOU WILL ONLY BE TRACKING THE DATA TRANSFERRED FROM THIS COMPUTER.That will not be an accurate measure of the total usage.

Networxscreen16

Trace Route

– This is a power user feature.Your average user will never have a need to track a packet from your computer to a source IP.

Ping

– This works the same way as the command line ping.You enter a location to ping, and it will tell you the millisecond duration of the test transfer.

NetStat

– This is pretty useful, it lists every program or service that is accessing the internet, or has rights to do so, and where it’s sending from and to.

Conclusion

So that’s about all you need to know to keep up with your bandwidth use by utilizing Networx. If you have a different favorite Bandwidth tracker, let us know in the comments below.I am on month 2 of using Networx, and have had no problems, if you have, also let us know.At the end of my first month of use, there was a 458 megabyte discrepancy between my Networx report and my ISPs total report.I attribute this to the Xbox360 updates and purchases along with my iPhone app downloads.

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Dock Icon Set (First Graphics Release from TipsFor.us) http://tipsfor.us/2009/03/07/dock-icon-set-first-graphics-release-from-tipsforus/ http://tipsfor.us/2009/03/07/dock-icon-set-first-graphics-release-from-tipsforus/#comments Sun, 08 Mar 2009 00:12:18 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=1935 Continue reading Dock Icon Set (First Graphics Release from TipsFor.us) ]]>

So I’ve been making an icon set for my workstation for awhile, adding the occasional icon when I installed a new program. I finally created enough that Brian recommended I release them on here.  I’m a big fan of visual cohesion within my desktop environment, and Icons are a big part of that.  The problem was, I needed an icon set that would function aesthetically well on both my Server 2008 machine’s Aero look and my KDE4 laptop.  This is my compromise in a (mostly) clear glass look that would function on my home office PC, my admin locked down work PC, and my Linux laptop.

The release contains approximately 57 of my most-used icons. To see what’s included, click the thumb below.

The basic layout is like this:

With a variation on the color for each category. (System = Yellow, Internet = Purple, Media = Green, Office = Red, Graphics = Blue)

The typeface is pretty small overall on these fonts (except for the 3 letter abbreviation) so these icons work best when used on a dock with a Zoom effect.  After a day or two you will know exactly what each one is, but new users may need to glide the mouse over to see.

I intend to add more icons when I have time so if you see a common program (not an incredibly obscure one), that could benefit most people who downloaded this, let me know in the comments. I will try and put out a new version when I get a few requests.

You can get it here (or click the icon below):

Download
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An Alternative to ATI Catalyst Control Center http://tipsfor.us/2009/03/05/an-alternative-to-ati-catalyst-control-center/ http://tipsfor.us/2009/03/05/an-alternative-to-ati-catalyst-control-center/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2009 22:07:03 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=1932 Continue reading An Alternative to ATI Catalyst Control Center ]]> Upon installation of Catalyst Control Center on my workstation, I discovered an immense drag.  I checked my running process and found that 1/3 of my system resources were being used by CCC.exe.  This is a problem, since presumably I need those resources to run high quality graphics, not to run my graphics driver.

A program not made by ATI called “ATI Tray Tools” seemed to be a worthwhile alternative.  (Tray Tools is specifically designed for the Radeon Family, your mileage may vary with other cards).  My first inclination was to uninstall CCC, but that would affect the performance of the card.  Tray Tools allows you to make the exact same (or close to it) changes to your cards performance, but on my workstation the tray tools process is barely using 8megs of memory, a far cry from the several hundred of CCC and 00 CPU power, as opposed to the average 37% of CCC.

I have used this card on 3 other PC setups without major slowdown, it could be due to my recent upgrade to Server 2008, or the new mother board, but either way, other people’s setups may be suffering the same way.  If you notice that CCC.exe is hogging your resources, give Tray Tools a try.  No harm I can foresee, you can always reinstall CCC.

When uninstalling CCC, I recommend you do a custom uninstall and only remove the control center, keep the display driver, unless you want to download it seperately from AMD (This is an option, especially if you think your driver may be out of date).  Tray Tools does not provide a driver for your card, it only allows you access to the card’s control settings.

If you’ve had problems with CCC, let us know.  Likewise, if you have had good or bad experience with Tray Tools, let us know.  I have NVidia on most of my machines, because I enjoy Linux Support and ATI is very late to that party, so I have only tested this software on my main box; with great results.  However, these results may vary, since CCC seems to only act up on certain configurations and I can only assume Tray Tools to be the same way.  Hopefully one or the other will provide what you need.

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A Very Important Program You Never Knew You Needed (RadarSync) http://tipsfor.us/2009/02/05/a-very-important-program-you-never-knew-you-needed-radarsync/ http://tipsfor.us/2009/02/05/a-very-important-program-you-never-knew-you-needed-radarsync/#comments Thu, 05 Feb 2009 21:23:22 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=1813 Continue reading A Very Important Program You Never Knew You Needed (RadarSync) ]]> **–Edit:  Your personal Mileage may vary. My experience was great on an XP Pro Netbook, XP Home Compaq Laptop, and Server2008 Workstation.  Please read the comments of our community after this post before deciding if you are adventurous.  –**

Hardware driver management is not a pleasant task.  It’s painful enough finding the drivers for a system when first setting it up, especially if you have old hardware or hardware of mysterious origins.  Once this initial trial is over, it’s rare to think about updating your drivers (especially if they aren’t malfunctioning).  This, however is no excuse not to.

If you hit up any 3rd party driver download site, you will see countless ads for programs that claim to handle all of this for you, half the adds are spyware (SCAN YOUR SYSTEM NOW!!1) and the other half are very expensive and often times subscription based (Great solutions for multi-seat licenses in which you have to maintain entire networks of computers for a company, etc.).

What I’m talking about here, though, is a free program (Free version of a paid program, in which the pay version is considerably more powerful and useful, but typically more powerful than a home user needs, like most anti-virus softwares):

http://www.radarsync.com/
http://www.radarsync.com/

Now, I consider myself to be someone who takes pretty good care of their workstation, and, having just installed server 2008 on it, figured my drivers were up to date.  After the first scan, I found that about 30 of my drivers were out of date.  These weren’t basic drivers, like sound card, etc.  They were everything from my chipset to my PCI controllers on my intel board.  I did not run any pre-install benchmarks or anything fancy like that, but, after installation, I can definitely see a subtle improvement in the overall functionality of my box.

After you download the software and run the executable, you meet the usual screen:

Click Accept and you get:

Now, here is where it gets hairy.  Nothing corporate is ever free.  They will now give you a series of advertisements for various software you can install (Pretty much all benign).  The presence of these ads is what makes it possible for them to provide this software to home users for free.  Feel free (I strongly encourage it) to decline every offer.

Don’t get caught in the muscle memory of installation where you click Agree, then Install, the Next, Next, and Finish.  You will end up with 8 programs you never wanted.

The next screen to pay attention to:

Un-check Both Boxes.  They try and dupe you with the usual “Add icon to my desktop” check box you find in all installations, but this is icons for “other offers.”

On the next screen you can hit “Finish.”

Now it’s installed.  Run the program and you are greeted by:

Because it’s the free version, pretty much all you can do is click Start Now, or if you have already scanned, click My Downloads to view not yet installed but downloaded drivers.

After the scan you get this. Small pop-ups will appear from the task bar when a download finishes.  Click these to begin auto install, or wait until its all done and install through the “My Downloads” button on the first screen of the program. (Manual installs are good if you want to pick and choose what gets updated, if you know ahead of time of a potential conflict.)

I had luck with most components, but found it especially likes “Big Name” company hardware, your Intels and Nvidias. It may also offer you program upgrades, like the new version of PowerIso it offered me. Install these at your own risk (especially if you have software that makes you re-pay/re-register for large updates.)

You may occasionally see a window resembling this:

Any time you mess with drivers, creating a Restore Point is a great idea.  If you have a conflict (like the myriad of driver conflicts with XP and Service Pack 3) and your hardware becomes non-responsive you can just restore to previous configuration. This is essential, just in case something like what happened to me the other day happens to you – a driver conflict that resulted in my RAID card not functioning anymore, cutting access to my CD-Rom drives.

Now that your drivers are all updated, you can sleep better at night knowing you are getting the most out of your expensive hardware. Enjoy.

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Install the Vista Sidebar in Server 2008 http://tipsfor.us/2009/02/04/1787/ http://tipsfor.us/2009/02/04/1787/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2009 16:31:32 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/2009/02/04/1787/ Continue reading Install the Vista Sidebar in Server 2008 ]]> So you’ve set up your slick workstation build of Server 2008 (see Part I and Part II) and are wondering which widget software to install.  Here are a couple options:

  1. Yahoo Widgets
  2. Google Desktop

Those are the standard options, but I find each to be a little too intrusive – Google desktop’s consistent desire to search my computer and email along with searching the web – you can turn it off, but it’s only one example of how it goes beyond a basic widget engine. Not to mention Yahoo’s strange widget dock that doesn’t actually dock widgets – Instead, it functions more like a shortcut bar with icons linked to your widgets on your desktop… redundant.

I really just need a clock, and meters showing how full my hard drives are, in a small memory foot print.  So the Vista sidebar is perfect for my diminutive widget requirements.  But it doesn’t come standard with Server 2008.  So, let’s Install it.

Installing Sidebar in Server 2008

Before we begin, please note that I am assuming your Server 2008 install is on the C:\ drive, if for some reason it is not, please adjust the letter in every run command below.

1.  Get ahold of the sidebar files.

The easiest (and most legal) place to acquire these is from a vista disc or installation that you currently own.  If you don’t have that kind of access, you can find the needed files at most any file sharing website, rapidshare, megaupload, etc.  Google is a good place to start.  Be wary, however, of downloading from sources you cannot verify as virus free.

If you are having trouble finding the files, these are few locations (I found from googling) where you can find them [We cannot verify the contents, safety, or legality of these files, download at your own risk and of your own volition.]

[TipsFor.us does not condone piracy, or the breaking of Microsoft EULA]:

32-bit:

Link1

Link2

64-bit:

Link1

Link2

2.  Move the files to a system directory.

Okay, so you got the files.  They should be zipped [unless you got them from a vista installation].  In rare cases, they will have the 7z extension. If this is the case, you will need a great little program called 7-zip to extract them.  Don’t worry, it’s free and fantastic.

Decompress [or  copy] them to the location:  C:\Program Files\Windows Sidebar\ [Your Files Go Here]*

*You probably have to create the directory “Windows Sidebar”

3.  Now to install the program.

Hit up the Start Menu → Run and type in (including the “Quotes”):

"C:\Program Files\Windows Sidebar\sidebar.exe" /RegServer

4.  Register the necessary libraries for handling widgets (regular and custom).

Open Start Menu → Run and paste in these next 2 lines, one at a time.

regsvr32 "C:\Program Files\Windows Sidebar\sbdrop.dll"

regsvr32 "C:\Program Files\Windows Sidebar\wlsrvc.dll"

5.  Now to start the program.

Either double-click on the sidebar.exe file in “C:\Program Files\Windows Sidebar\”  or, if you still have a handy Run box open, just run:

C:\Program Files\Windows Sidebar\sidebar.exe

6.  Make it run at Startup.

Just so you don’t have to do Step 5 every time your computer starts, just right-click the icon on the task bar for sidebar and select properties.

Tick the check box for Start Sidebar when Windows Starts.

7.  Address and Permission Issues. If you are not running as Administrator, you will receive a security warning, asking permission to run the file at Windows start up.  If you do have this problem, it’s easy to fix.

Navigate back to C:\Program Files\Windows Sidebar\ and right-click on sidebar.exe. Go to Properties.

Under the General Tab, click Unblock. Apply.

In some rare cases, this won’t handle the permission issue, and you will have to go under the Compatibility Tab and tick the check box for Run as Administrator, just like you have to do with a lot of gaming software.

8.  Yay.

Now you have Vista Sidebar running in Server 2008. Enjoy!

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Batch Image Resize in Vista with Image Resizer Powertoy Clone http://tipsfor.us/2009/01/20/batch-image-resize-in-vista/ http://tipsfor.us/2009/01/20/batch-image-resize-in-vista/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2009 19:40:33 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=1710 Continue reading Batch Image Resize in Vista with Image Resizer Powertoy Clone ]]> Back in the days of XP, Microsoft released a great set of tools they called Powertoys.  Potentially the most useful of these being a shell addition that allowed you to right click on a set of selected images and resize them.  Like a lot of people, I figured this function would just be built into Vista…  It’s not.  Also, there is currently no Vista Powertoy that has the same function (There may be, at a later date – I’ve heard rumors of several in development).  But what to do until then?

A wonderful little program has been developed that emulates the identical functionality of the XP resizer Powertoy, on Vista.  It’s called the “Image Resizer Powertoy Clone.” Best news:  It’s open source and free.

You can grab it at Here.

To use it, all you have to do is highlight the images you want to resize, right-click, and select Resize Pictures.  You will then receive a dialogue window prompting you to choose a size from the most common, or you can click Advanced for more control.

It will not overwrite the images. Instead, it will rename the copy to have the image size after the original file name.

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I Hate ID3 tags (Part 2) http://tipsfor.us/2008/12/16/i-hate-id3-tags-part-2/ http://tipsfor.us/2008/12/16/i-hate-id3-tags-part-2/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2008 21:25:52 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=1354 Continue reading I Hate ID3 tags (Part 2) ]]> I think I finally found a good solution to my dilemma.  The best part is, it’s open source and available for windows, linux, and mac.

Songbird

I had tried it in its early beta, and decided to try it again.  It can easily do everything iTunes does (except for all the stuff you don’t want iTunes to do).  Any feature it’s missing is typically available as a plugin.  It has some flaws, but they are already set for later releases (such as CD burning, but heck why not just use infra recorder for everything).  Just take a look at the features and “coming soon” section of the page.

Here is the important part:

The Single Most Amazing Plugin Ever. You can set multiple folders for it display in the folder tree, and it is simple to add content to.

When combined with Songbird, it solves all the problems the ID3-tag-hater has.  I also managed to install and uninstall enough plugins that it feels like it was made just for me.

Oh, did I mention it has a web browser built in and is fully skinnable?  I might do a full review in the future, but for now, I’m going to go listen to well organized music that I didn’t have to import into a sloppy music library.

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A Digital Audio Primer http://tipsfor.us/2008/10/13/a-digital-audio-primer/ http://tipsfor.us/2008/10/13/a-digital-audio-primer/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2008 00:53:14 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=615 Continue reading A Digital Audio Primer ]]> (What the common person should know about their MP3 players)

(simplified of all technical junk you don’t need to know, techies: keep walking.)

File Formats, and what’s the difference?

Why use file formats? The answer to that is simple: space. The CDs you buy have the audio recorded at the highest quality they can fit on a single disc. Imagine if you were to direct transfer a full CD to your hard drive. We’d be talking 500-700 megabytes. That means roughly 30 CDs could fit on your 20 gigabyte iPod. That would be pretty disappointing. So we had to find a way to make the files smaller.

The answer: The MP3 format (Yes there were many compression formats before that, but this is just the high points)

How does an MP3 file work, conceptually? The “compression” takes the form of removing data to shrink the file size. This trimming, and the amount removed is what we mean when we say Bitrate. The higher the bitrate, the less data lost; the lower the bitrate, the more data trimmed away. Consider bitrate being the amount of the good stuff left.

128 bits = not much left

320 bits= Barely trimmed, about as good as it gets.

So why not always use 320? Every file is more than twice the size on your hard drive.

So what is lost when the file is trimmed? Take this sound wave (A graphical representation of what the sound looks like):

A Basic Music Soundwave

The blue section in the middle is the easiest for us to hear. As you get closer to the top and bottom of the wave, it becomes harder for our ears to discern (Think about the light spectrum, ultraviolet on one end and infrared on the other).

We have trouble hearing the furthest parts of the spectrum.

So naturally, this is the best part to cut. A good way to visualize it (it’s considerably more complex algorithms) is like this:

As you trim it down, the sound becomes less full, more tinny/metallic/shallow/etc. Now lets talk about VBR, or Variable Bit Rate MP3’s. It is exactly what it sounds like: The bitrate changes to preserve as much sound as possible, but cut the most data possible. More cutting, with less loss. Here’s a way to envision VBR (Of course the algorithm is even more complex, but let’s just think about it conceptually):

See, if there is a moment in the song with only a single speaking voice, a wider range can be cut without much damage (maybe down to 128). Now if you have a drum set and a guitar (maybe down to 256). A violin, a flute, an oboe, and a bass would probably stay at 320). As the MP3 plays, the bit rate changes, hence: Variable.

Transcoding: This is a process of horrible badness.  Lets examine this cycle of musical destruction.  We start with a CD, the data on this CD is in the purest state possible (Technically).

-We decide to rip them to MP3 (See, now you know why we call it ripping, we are forcibly removing data and only keeping what we need.)  256 bitrate sounds good enough. Let’s say that we lost approximately 20 percent of the total data. That’s fine, we can still listen to the remaining 80% without problem in our headphones (But I wouldn’t recommend playing it through a massive club system, you’ll hear the difference.).

-Now, we want to burn these MP3s for our friend as an audio cd that he can listen to in his car.  The CD we burn for him will be the same 80% of the original data that we found perfectly satisfactory.  It will be just fine.

-Now this friend of ours, he has no idea that we just burned the MP3s instead of a copy of the original CD for him (I recommend writing on the CD you burn what the bitrate was, but that only helps if your friend already knows, or has read this article.)

-Here’s where the trouble starts.  Your friend decides he wants to listen to this CD on his MP3 player.  So he rips the CD into MP3s.  So what’s the big deal?  His computer has no idea that these were 256 bit MP3s, and not pure CD audio.  So our friend re-rips (transcodes) the music back into MP3s, cutting the already cut data again. He’s now ripped another 20% of the information from our already-reduced-by-20% files.  He’s left with maybe 60% of the data, masquerading as a full 80% (The files will proudly proclaim themselves to be 256 bitrate, when they no longer are).  The cycle continues.

Transcoding

Other Formats:

Lossy – Like MP3 encoding, these format’s compress data using the “trim what isn’t necessary” method.

Apple’s version – AAC – these files can support Digital Rights Management (Which means that if you don’t follow the rules, they can take your music away.)  Slightly more efficient than MP3s at compressing data, but not by a massive amount.  It’s not the container that is fancy on these, it’s the locks.

Microsoft’s version – WMA – without getting too deep in the details, these are MP3s that make Microsoft money.  The sound quality is a smidge better for the same file size as MP3s, but not enough that you would want to convert your entire collection to it.

Lossless – Unlike MP3, these formats compress the data without losing any of it (It will always sound exactly like the CD did).  Think of it like installing a closet organizer that allows you to fit twice as much stuff in the same closet.  These codecs just reorganize the data into a smaller package.  On average, the files are half the size.  (Half is not amazing if you are short on drive space.  You are still looking at 150-200 megs per CD)  The beauty of this type of compression: Transcoding can not happen.  You can rip and burn all day.

Apple’s version – M4A – Mac claims files will be 40-60% smaller than the original (CD) data.  This statement is pretty much true.

Microsoft’s version – WMA – Microsoft claims a startling 20-40% smaller, but in most testing, it turns out that is actually in the same 40-60% category as Apple. Imagine that.

Open Source Version – FLAC – The same results as both formats above.  So why use FLAC?  Well, any software you use that is capable of playing WMA files, probably paid to use that codec.  Even MP3 money goes to patent holders.

Audio File Type Summary:

It doesn’t really matter which lossy codec you use, as long as you acknowledge that it is lossy.  If you choose to use Lossless (for the true audiophile for whom storage is not a problem, or for archival purposes) know the limitations of each file type.  If you use Linux, FLAC is your best bet since getting Windows and Mac proprietary codecs work can be a headache.

If you find audio interesting, a good place to start is wikipedia.  You can get a more in-depth explanation, but stop reading once they get to the math or patent rights sections.  There is an infinite supply of technical information online on this subject, but a lot of it is impenetrable if you don’t already know about it.

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Sylvania -G Netbook (Hardware Review) http://tipsfor.us/2008/10/03/sylvania-g-netbook-hardware-review/ http://tipsfor.us/2008/10/03/sylvania-g-netbook-hardware-review/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2008 20:22:59 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=594 Continue reading Sylvania -G Netbook (Hardware Review) ]]> I recently acquired a Sylvania -G Netbook. I would never say that this machine is without flaws, but for the price tag it is a worthy competitor. I picked mine up on sale at Tigerdirect for $299 + Shipping. This price puts it a full bracket beneath Asus’s competition EeePc. Is the EeePc a better machine? In a word, yes. They have released nearly a dozen models and worked out alot of the flaws and challenges of building a machine this tiny. However, their price tag clearly displays their market domination. So I’m going to discuss why, for the right person, the Netbook is a great deal. [And hopefully warn the “wrong person” that this is not the netbook for them]

Tech Specs

  • Price- Recommended $399.00 (I have never seen it priced this high, especially with the Netbook Meso coming soon.)
  • Notebook type Netbook
  • Screen type Wide-screen
  • Display Type 7 in TFT active matrix
  • External Display DVI-out on Left Side (DVI-VGA Dongle Included)
  • Max Resolution 800 x 480 (In Linux) 1000 x 600 (In Windows)
  • Graphics Processor / Vendor UniChrome Pro IGP (Openchrome Linux Driver)
  • Processor VIA C7-M 1.2 GHz (Sub-clocked to 600 mhz for some reason [can be adjusted] )
  • Core voltage technology Ultra Low Voltage (ULV)
  • RAM Installed Size 1 GB
  • RAM Technology DDR SDRAm
  • Hard Drive 30 GB
  • Removable Storage SD Card Reader
  • USBs 2X on Right Side
  • WLAN RT8187 chipset from Realtek
  • WiredLAN 8P8C(Standard)
That is a basic full size Dell Keyboard for Scale.
User's Left Side (DVI port, SD card reader.)
User Right Side (Mic, Sound, 2X USBs, 8P8C Jack, DC-Power)

Hardware Review

LCD – 7 inches. This could be troublesome for some people, especially operating at 800×480, which is the maximum the openchrome driver can support. (At least out of the box, some wizardry in the X.org config could prove otherwise, but Sylvania claims it tops out at 800 x 400.) Under Windows, however, the drivers provided by Sylvania’s website supports a standard 1000×600; this setting is more than sufficient for most tasks.

LCD Hinges/Bezel – Since I have had some awful experiences with the iBook G4 and its amazing gap that grows between the bottom edge of the screen panel and the actually LCD display, I have grown to be wary of such things. No fear with the g-netbook, though, the LCD has its own frame that is inset into the LCD panel in such a way that it is virtually indestructible.

LCD, Webcam to the right, speakers below.

-My second fear is always with hinges. Anyone else own one of those great Dells a couple years back, where, just before the hinge plastic breaks, it severs the LCD power wires for the backlight? Well, these hinges feel solid, even when opened from an edge. They hold the screen tight and are internally beveled to snap the lid closed when it is about 1/4 inch from the keyboard. There is no play in the lid when it is closed.

Keyboard – Chicklet Keys. This is not the keyboard for the ham-fisted. it takes a little while to adjust, but after 2 weeks, full-size keyboards feel expansive. I do hold issue with the single-key-sized Right Shift Key. The Left Shift is double, but the Right Shift is very tiny and located just on the far side of the Up Arrow (you can see the trouble inherent in this, right?) Once you get used to it, though, it is cramped, but not bad.

Touch Pad – .6″ I wish I was joking. It really is. In Linux, the touch pad sensitivity is jacked so high that you just have to place your finger in the middle of the pad and kind of roll it to traverse the entire screen. My main problem with it was when I picked my finger up from the pad, it invariably moved the cursor. Yes, you can install apps to adjust it, but not with updates and installs disabled in gOS BETA. In windows, it becomes more manageable right out of the box, it takes about 3 swipes across the pad to clear the screen from edge to edge. Tap functionality is native, but on the default Linux sensitivity, I wouldn’t recommend it. On the second tap you will invariably move the cursor a good 3 inches across the display.

Yes, that is a quarter. It is that small.

Wireless – Where to begin? It has the Realtek RT8187 chipset built in. This, hardware wise, is not a bad chipset. The support, however, is terrible. If you check your driver blacklist in Linux, you will probably find 3 or 4 drivers for this hardware already blacklisted. The default driver assigned to the interface in gOS is passable. It can connect to networks, even WPA, but the connection is sketchy at best. I found the connection mostly reliable when within 10-15 feet of my router (Keep in mind, I have an external Realtek USB card [similar chipset] on a windows media station over 40 feet away that connects like super glue). Even when connected, it would drop the connection, but still display connectivity. So I tried Ndiswrapper with the windows drivers provided on the Sylvania website. It upped my range by about 5 feet, but lost WPA support. Had to switch Network-Manager for WICD and gained back my WPA, but lost ability to connect to unsecured connections. Dropped connections still displaying connectivity never changed. Needless to say, it will require some serious wizardry if you plan to get the card fully functional in Linux – not for the faint of heart.

It wouldn’t be fair to judge the machine based on poor driver choices in a BETA Linux distro, so I installed Windows on the machine to test the chipset under a supported environment. The provided Sylvania drivers still proved troublesome, so I went to the source. Realtek’s drivers on their support page, however, were out of date. It took some googling, but I eventually found the newest version, which works like a dream. Massive range, solid connection. Three drivers for the same chipset before it functions in Windows, though? Really? This is some poor company support all around.

Bios – Surprisingly adequate bios. When designing a machine without a CD-drive, the need to boot from USB cannot be overstated. The ability to boot from the SD slot is just a gift. A warning: When you first boot a new OS off a CD, the MBR will mess with you. I had to format the drive into FAT before continuing with the install.

Hard drive – 30 gigs isn’t bad. The drive is “easy” to change, if you’re not afraid of screwdrivers and dissecting a 300-dollar piece of hardware. If you do install a new OS (I don’t know why you wouldn’t), I recommend a small one. Slackware and Puppy Linux ran well on it, albeit with the same wireless problems and the openchrome via driver for video. XFCE is a wonderful window manager on this machine, if you are determined to make this a Linux Netbook.

Windows is a massive bloat on this machine. A typical XP install is between 3 and 4.5 gigs. I heartily recommend getting nLite and making your own trimmed-down version of Windows. I used a Lite version designed for the Asus EeePc – full install between 750 MB and 1 gig. Once I installed all of Office 2007, I barely topped 2.7 gigs.

Default Gos
My current system, running XP.

Sound -The two speakers are mounted directly under the LCD, providing sound on par with the EeePC’s speakers mounted to either side. They are stereo, and about the size of 2 postage stamps; the sound is as good as can be expected. I can find no information on who produced the hardware, and short of opening the machine, I probably won’t be able to get you range specs.

The sound card is another matter altogether. It works in Linux with no problems, the ALSA Mixer controls are great. The Fn+F# hotkeys even work to control sound. In Windows, I am yet to get sound configured. If anyone has found a way, let me know. Strangely, the drivers provided by Sylvania do not even allow the computer to register that there is a sound card present in the machine. This is a major downfall for the Windows install.

**Fixed** <All drivers for this computer MUST be installed after service pack 2.  Any beta versions of SP3 will destroy them and render most hardware non-working.  If you only have service pack 1 installed, you will get bizarre errors, also.  > **Fixed**

Battery -battery life is substantial. I tend to average around 3.8 hours with wireless on, 4.7 and some change with it turned off (Of course this is with the system idling). The battery is the only part of this system that does not feel completely solid. It has a little wiggle in it, even when fully locked in place. Not detrimental, but not the best fit either. This is the only piece of the machine does not feel completely bulletproof, and it bothers me enough to show you this picture:

That's how much play is in the battery, but only on one side.

DC Connector – Loose power connections on a laptop are the worst. That is no fear with the G Netbook. Its connector is so tight it is almost frightening. I’m afraid I’m going to just snap the connector off the Motherboard. This hasn’t happened, yet, so I will assume that it is attached on the inside with more than just 2 micro solders. The choice for an “L” shaped connector I find awkward, because if the L bends towards you, it blocks the USB ports. An “In Line” connector would have made a much more functional choice. If you’re an at home modder, though, go ahead and change it.

Summary

The machine is a great set of hardware for the price. The support for it, however, leaves so much to be desired that it is almost ridiculous. If you’re a Linux wizard and want a machine to tinker with that has almost unlimited potential (for the hobbyist) as a netbook, it’s a great buy. Despite my hatred for Windows, I have to recommend it as an alternative to the default Gos. It makes a far superior use of the provided hardware. For the money, I feel it’s the best deal on the market (for a ballpark 300, I wouldn’t pay too much more than that). If you can’t abide the hassle of customizing the system to your own needs, check out an EeePc. [If anyone would like to donate one, I would gladly review it side by side… <wink wink, nudge nudge>]

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A better solution to Presentations in Linux http://tipsfor.us/2008/09/26/a-better-solution-to-presentations-in-linux/ Fri, 26 Sep 2008 22:29:46 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=552 Continue reading A better solution to Presentations in Linux ]]> You may have noticed that OpenOffice is great. You also may have noticed that this greatness runs out when you get to Impress. My primary complaint (Oh there are many, most of them “known issues” at the open office site for years) is a lack of anti-aliasing on shapes. In a business situation, a presentation on par with the expectations of 1995 will only get you so far.

A Circle in Impress
Jaggies...a lot of them
A Circle in Powerpoint
Same 200% zoom as Impress.

I in no way endorse the use of PowerPoint, but I haven’t had a [Professional] alternative. I acquired a new Linux-based laptop and just today realized that I wouldn’t be able to give presentations off it without jumping through hoops. Of course there are options (PDF slide viewers, LaTEX, etc.) but I want a straight-forward presentation program that meets my meager demands of Anti-Aliasing and a simple interface. Luckily, I tend to have an active Internet connection at most presentations. This brings me to: 280 Slides.

280 Slides is a WebApp that provides, nearly, full functional slide show creation.

A Circle in 280 Slides
200% Zoom
200% Zoom

It’s still in BETA, but it shows amazing promise. Registration is free, and as far as I can tell so far, it beats Google’s presentation ability by a long shot. I wonder how long before Google acquires them…

The Good:

  • Accessible on any OS from any computer with an active Internet connection.
  • Ability to save sideshow in .pptx, .ppt, .odp, and .pdf
  • Fairly faithful conversion to previously mentioned file types.
  • Ability to Import from uploads of the previously mentioned file types (sans .pdf).
  • Ability to insert Images, Video, Shapes, etc. You can even upload your own shapes.
  • Many themes included, all classier than some of PowerPoint’s ugly templates, or the 2 ridiculous themes that ship with Impress.
  • Ability to add “Notes” to each slide.
  • Straight forward, intuitive interface.
The Interface
The Interface

The Bad:

  • Currently no way to upload your own custom background image. Work Around: Insert it as an image and make it the size of the slide.
  • No transitions. In a serious presentation, however, do you really need objects flying in and spinning with cute sound effects? Only if you want to get laughed at.
  • No way to operate a “Presenter View.”
  • No “Master Slide” for objects and footers that are persistent across all slides.

Overall:

-This will be my new presentation software when I’m bound to my Linux system. If I have access to a Mac, though, I will use Keynote for its powerful elegance. I’m interested to see where this goes when it reaches full release. Hopefully registration will stay free.

-At a later date, I will be comparing 280 Slides to Slide Rocket (http://www.sliderocket.com/).  By “at a later date” I mean when Lan Support Services feels the need to update the flash on my office computer.  Feel free to check it out as another alternative.  [Thanks to Brian for pointing me to Slide Rocket]

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