Entries Tagged as 'Computers'

Kit Kat – Android 4.4 / 4.4.2

My Nexus 4 and my two Nexus 7s updated to Kit Kat about a month ago and other than Google+ becoming far more pervasive I can’t say I’ve really seen any improvements that matter much to me (yes, I’m aware that “under the hood” there are some substantial changes)…

Some things I have noticed (that I’m not happy with) are:

  • Bluetooth shuts off and cannot be turned back on until you reboot the device.
  • Bluetooth will disconnect and reconnect (by itself) from devices that worked perfectly under Jelly Bean.
  • Devices reboot periodically by themselves (without asking for confirmation — probably more often than you realize since you’re not using them continuously).
  • Devices freeze; sometimes they respond after a couple minutes — sometimes you have to power cycle them (I haven’t had a case where I had to force a reboot yet).

I’m hopeful I won’t see this on my Nexus 5 (when I start using it after the first of the year), but from what I’ve read in the forums I’m not the only one seeing stability issues with Kit Kat, and it appears to be on all devices that have received updates — including the Nexus 5.

I’m afraid this is another case of people who work on Android not really using (or testing) the product well before it hits the street — and while I don’t feel that Google employees working on Android should be forced to trade out their iPhones, I do feel that a substantial number of the engineers working on Android should have to use the latest release (maybe replace their desk phones with cellular handsets that run the latest Android version to help debug the hardware and software).

Bottom line — you might want to hold off on your move from Jelly Bean to Kit Kat until Google releases a few more updates.


 

Android: Kit Kat

Originally posted 2013-12-30 08:00:58.

OpenOffice

You need to find a suite of office applications?

The place to start is OpenOffice.

OpenOffice has a long heritage, and the software was designed and built to be a cohesive set of applications (not a collection of various applications that did different parts of a job).

OpenOffice is written in Java, and if you’re running Windows you can download and install a version of OpenOffice that includes the Java Run-time Environment (JRE); on most other operating system it will already be installed.

OpenOffice is able to import and export most document formats you’re used to, plus it can use it’s own format (which is an ISO standard), and creating PDFs of the output is a snap.

Writer — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “Word”.  It’s an excellent word processor, and it well suited for virtually any task you might have.  There are quirks (but hey, they are quirks in “Word” as well, and they randomly change from version to version), but overall it’s intuitive and easy to use.  Plus there’s good documentation available to answer most any question you might have.

Calc — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “Excel”.  I’m not a big spread sheet user, but I can tell you that all the fairly simple tasks that I used “Excel” for Calc did without a problem; and it imported the spread sheets, converted them it it’s format, and other than a very slight print alignment issue on one they were perfect (and much smaller and faster).  From my experience and what I’ve read you shouldn’t have any issue with Calc for all your spread sheet needs.

Impress — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “PowerPoint”.  It seems to work, has all the annoying slide ware capabilities a marketing person might want.

Draw — if you’re a Windows person you might think of this as “Visio” or perhaps “Illustrator”.  There’s not an exact equivalent for this tool.  But it’s useful to do diagrams, drawings, etc.  But don’t confuse it with “PhotoShop” — that’s not really an office tool now is it?

Base — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “Access”.  Works well and works with most any database you might have.

There is no email / calendar / contact replacement in OpenOffice, nor is there a “OneNote” replacement.  I don’t know that I feel email / calendar / contacts really belong in an office suite, but I certainly have gotten accustom to being able to collect a bunch of data together in one place with automatic references from where it came — so I’d love to see something like “OneNote” added to OpenOffice.

If you’re a casual user, a home user, a student, or a small business user (without restrictive corporate policies) you’ll find that OpenOffice will solve most all your needs.  Try it… save a little cash.

OpenOffice.org

Originally posted 2010-01-19 01:00:42.

USB Hard Drive Adapters

 Everyone’s making them and they come in really handy…

 Basically they’re devices you can use to access a bare hard drive.  Most of them supports PATA and SATA 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives (though some vendors require a bunch of adapters to do it).  The APRICORN DriveWire unit is clean and simple and priced around $30 (use a price search engine) or less.

I was so happy to find these units that I purchased two of them and gave away my previous ones made by another vendor.

If you’re going to routinely swap drives on and off a computer, and don’t want to spring for an external case you might be better off with a hard drive dock also available for about $30, but they don’t support PATA (PATA is not hot swapable).

If you’re going to use these units to upgrade a computer’s hard drive, remember Acronis TrueImage is a great tool (you can find shareware and OpenSource tools as well — but TrueImage is well worth the price and has many additional features that you’ll likely find useful).


APRICORN: DriveWire – Universal Hard Drive Adapter

Originally posted 2008-12-29 12:00:32.

Firefox 3

For those of you how are Mozilla Firefox fans, version 3 has been released.

 

You might also be interested in Mozilla Thunderbird for email; Mozilla Sunbird for calendaring or Mozilla SeaMonkey which is there all-in-one.

If you’re a Mac user, you might want to try Mozilla Camino; it looks like a Mac application, but uses the Mozilla rendering engine.

http://en-us.www.mozilla.com/en-US/products/

http://www.mozilla.org/projects/

Originally posted 2008-11-12 12:00:30.

Video Encoding

A little over a year ago one of my friends with a Mac wanted to get into re-encoding video; I knew about the tools to do it on a PC, but none of the tools really had a OS-X port at that time, so I set out on a quest to find tools that could enable a person who didn’t know much about video encoding to accomplish it.

One of the first tools I stumbled on was HandBrake; it was an Open Source project leveraging off of a number of other Open Source products intended on creating a cross platform suite of tools for video encoding that was reasonably straight forward to use and produced reasonable good results.

Well, the version I tested was a near total failure… but the project showed promise and I keep tabs on it for quite some time.

Over the past year it’s steadily improved.  In fact, I’m probably being a little hard on it, since right after I played with an early version a much improved version was available that did work, and did allow my friend to accomplish what he wanted.

Last month HandBrake released a new version — a much improved version.

With Windows, OS-X, and Linux versions you can try out HandBrake for yourself and see the results.

I did two separate tests (and for some reason I always use the same two DVD titles — Saving Private Ryan, and Lord of the Rings — the reason is that both movies have a wide range of  video type from near still images to sweeping panoramic views to everything in motion (blowing up)…

I had two separate machines (a Q9300 and a Q9400 both with 8GB of DDR2) doing the encodes, and did both normal and high profiles; one test was H.264 into a MPEG4 container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track; the other was H.264 into a MKV container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track in addition to AC3 5.1 pass-through and Dolby Surround pass-through with [soft] subtitles.

For the high profiles: Lord of the Rings took a little over three hours; Saving Private Ryan took just under two and a half hours — so don’t get in a hurry, in fact, run it over night and don’t bother the computer(s).

The high profile achieved about a 2:1 reduction in size; the normal profile achieved about a 4:1 reduction in size.  The high profile’s video was stunning, the normal profile’s video was acceptable.  The AAC audio was acceptable; the AC3 5.1 was identical to the source, and in perfect sync.

There are a number of advantages to keeping your video in a MPEG4 or MKV container verses a DVD image… it’s much easier to catalog and play, and of course it’s smaller (well, you could keep the MPEG2-TS in a MKV and it would be identically sized, but I see little reason for that).

The downside of RIPping your DVDs is that you lose the navigation stream and the extra material.  Do you care???

HandBrake will read source material in just about any format imaginable (and in almost any container as well)… you can take a look at it’s capabilities and features online.

I’ve got some VCR capture streams in DV video that I’m encoding now — trying a few of the more advanced settings in HandBrake to see how it works (well, that’s not really testing HandBrake, that’s testing the H.264 encoder).  My expectation is that once I get the settings right, it will do a fine job; but with video captures you should never expect the first try to be the best (well, I’m never that lucky).

While HandBrake is very easy to use, your ability to get really good results from it is going to partially depend on how willing you are to learn a little about video re-encoding (which will require a little reading and a little experimentation).   But that said, NO product is going to magically just do the right thing in every case…

Overall I would say that HandBrake is one of the best video encoders you’re going to find, and you cannot beat the price — FREE!

Here’s some additional notes.

For Windows 7 you will want to download the DivX trial and just install the MKV splitter (nothing else is needed) so that Windows 7 can play media in a MKV container using it’s native CODECs.

With Windows Media Play 12 and Media Center I haven’t figured out how to switch audio streams; so make sure you encode with the audio stream you want as a default as the first stream.  With Media Player Classic and Media Player Classic Home Cinema it’s easy to select the audio stream.  Also, Windows Media Player will not render AC3 pass-through streams, it will just pass them through the SPDIF/Toslink to your receiver — so you won’t get any sound if you’re trying to play it on your PC.

Don’t delete any of your source material until you are certain that you are happy with the results; and you might want to backup your source material and keep it for six months or so just to be sure (yeah — I know it’s big; but a DVD will fit on a DVD).

Handbrake

Originally posted 2009-12-17 01:00:07.

Pro Microsoft

Many people who don’t know me very well always assume I’m a fan of Microsoft because I used to work there… interestingly enough they don’t think of me as a fan of Oracle, Novell, or AT&T (even though the same logic would apply).  [It’s true that I would never work for a company that I didn’t “like” but that doesn’t mean working for a company makes me blind.]

People who know me know I’m not a fan of much of anything for superficial reasons… in general I like what I like based on concrete reasons — and just because I felt something was good yesterday, doesn’t mean I’ll feel it good tomorrow.

As I’ve said many times; choose the right tool for the job, and don’t get wrapped up in some emotional attachment to a company (that goes doubly for you Apple bigots out there).

There used to be a joke that “no one ever got fired for choosing IBM” — I think to some extent people consider Microsoft a safe choice in a small to medium size company; maybe, but you only have your job as long as your company is in business.

Originally posted 2010-03-25 02:00:30.

Windows Mail (Vista)

Microsoft has several generations and families of email programs.

  • Outlook is targeted for the corporate market, and until recently the only viable choice for Windows if you wanted to keep “PIM” data (and still the only choice if you want to synchronize with a mobile device — but hopefully that will change).
  • Outlook Express became Windows Mail on Vista and Windows Live Mail if you want to run the same program on different operating systems (or you want to interface to Hotmail / MSN / Live accounts and don’t want to pay for enhanced services).
  • Entourage is the email program for the Macintosh.

I actually use all of the Microsoft email programs for different tasks:

I need Outlook to synchronize my Moto Q and Moto KRZR (actually I don’t have to use Outlook for the KRZR, but there aren’t any options for the Q).

I use Outlook Express, Windows Mail, and Windows Live Mail for various tasks; and I use Entourage on my Macs (I also use Apple iMail, but I’m haven’t drank Steve Job’s kool-aid, so I prefer to choose the program I like the best).

One of the downsides I’ve found with the Microsoft email programs in the Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail family is that they’re so busy changing the name and interface that they don’t focus on making it work.

At one time Microsoft did IMAP much better than any other email reader; unfortunately, the bugs they had years ago, they still have — and most of the other email readers have gotten better.

The two problems I see over and over and over with Windows Mail (and the other’s in it’s family) deal with subscribing to IMAP folders.  Here’s some scenarios you might be familiar with:

You create a new mail folder and you get an error; you try to create it again and it tells you that it already exists, but can’t be shown.  I haven’t figured out what’s happening here, but I do know that the IMAP server creates the folder, and sets the subscribed FLAG (and that other email clients have no problem with the folder); but for some reason Windows Mail refuses to show it (and will continue to refuse to show it even if you delete the account and recreate it).

The only work around to this I’ve found is creating a folder with a single character in it’s name, and renaming it to what you want (that seems to always work — but if you recreate the account you might find that some folders aren’t listed any longer).

The other thing I’ve found that Microsoft hasn’t fixed is cleaning up the local message store (I have no clue what they do when the compact the database, but it doesn’t seem to really achieve the desired goal).  What I do here is I export my accounts, remove the accounts, shut down Windows Mail, then delete the left over message store.  Start up Windows Mail, import the accounts, and then let it re-download the information from the server.  This works well for me, since most of my messages are on a local server (for archival); and I don’t keep much on remote servers (so it really doesn’t take that long), and it keeps the size of the local cache down to something manageable (you will really notice what a poor job Microsoft does on cleaning up the local IMAP store when you defragment your disk with a tool that shows you what is going on).

To find your local data stores, you can use any of the following paths:

  • %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Mail
  • C:\Users\%USERNAME%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Mail
  • %LOCALAPPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows Mail

 The folder for the IMAP store should match the display name (well — it may be what Windows Mail originally chose for you, but the first time you do an export / import you will get the name you chose — and that’s a good reason to do this once right after creating the account).

__________

If you want to know my opinion on which email program from Microsoft is the “best” — well hands down it’s Entourage.  Why they don’t use that as a model to build an email program for Windows is beyond me — and why they don’t use common code for all their email programs and actually fix the bugs they have rather than continuing to change the name and look is also beyond me.

I would say you’re better off using Mozilla Thunderbird, but it still crashes with an IMAP store as large as mine.

I guess I could just start using my Mac for all my email.  But seriously, if you know of good options I’d love to hear from you.

Originally posted 2009-02-09 01:00:35.

Usability Summary

I think I can sum up the real problem with Linux or any open source system where there’s no real usability mandate…

Developers make arbitrary decisions that suit their needs without any regard to how others will view their decisions or even figure out how to use what they do… the real difference between Windows and OS-X and Linux is that two of those are the cooperative efforts of “experts” who try very hard to address the needs of a target audience who wouldn’t be capable of writing their own operating system.

And, of course, with something like Linux it’s geometrically worse than most open source software since any given Linux is the culmination of hundreds of separate open source modules put together in a completely arbitrary fashion.

It really is funny that what I’ve been describing as a lack of cohesiveness is layered; and I suspect no matter what the intentions of a single developer to try and wrap it inside a nice pretty shell that gives a forward facing pretense of a system that was planned and targeted for productivity, the ugly truth of how much a patch work it is will show through… and we can look back on early versions of Windows and MacOS and see just that… it’s really only been within the last five or six years that those systems have risen to the point that they are in fact fairly cohesive, and designed to be tools for people to solve problems with; not projects for people to build for the sole purpose of developing a life of their own.

Without some unifying direction, the only Linux I can see suceeding is Android; and that my friends is likely to become a collection of closed source tools running on top of an open source kernel.  Trust me, you haven’t seen an evil empire until Google gets on your desktop, phone, settop box, etc…

Originally posted 2010-01-11 01:00:10.

SyncMate 3

I’ve written about Eltima’s SyncMate before, but they released a new version about a month ago, and I’ve spent some time using it and decide that it’s well wrote revisiting.

SyncMate 3 is very similar to SyncMate2; it’s an excellent utility for keeping your Mac synchronized… particularly if you have an Android phone, Windows phone, Nokia phone, depend on Google for services, etc.

Like with the previous version of SyncMate you may find that the free version has all the features you really need; but the low price of the Expert Edition might make you just go ahead and buy it for one of the useful features included with it.

The only major disappointment I had with SyncMate 3 is that it didn’t migrate my sync accounts and setting from SyncMate 2.  That’s not really an issue for most people, but I had a large number of sync devices setup in SyncMate 2 and I had customized the icons and settings quite a bit for each of the test devices.

Beyond that… SyncMate 3 worked, and worked well.

I really couldn’t test the direct Android sync since I use Google to sync my Droid; and I highly recommend you do not try and sync both directly and via Google – you’re not going to be happy with the outcome (and I guess there isn’t any real way for SyncMate to detect you’ve entered the same device twice).

One of the things I use SyncMate for is to synchronize multiple Google accounts; actually I had one main account, and prefer to have the contacts from it pushed to the other account (which are used mostly for Google Voice).

The list of features is long, and you’re much better off to view them on Eltima’s web site than have me try and list them here.

While the software is very easy to use, you’ll find that it supports a number of sophisticated features — and really what you do with it is limited to your imagination more than the software.

This is a company and product that I believe is well worth taking a look at.

SyncMate 3

Originally posted 2011-02-19 02:00:59.

Microsoft MyPhone

I’ve been using Microsoft MyPhone for several months now; and I switched over to it not because it’s something I felt I really needed, but because Windows 7 doesn’t synchronize with Windows Mobile 6.5 devices using the new Windows Sync Center; it requires that I install the Vista (abomination) Device Center which replaced Active-Sync.

Why do I hate Device Center?  Well, I couldn’t really care whether I use the-man-in-the-moon or what ever to sync my phone, all I care is that I not have to use Outlook!  And you guessed it, Device Center will only synchronize with Outlook, Windows Sync Center allows synchronization with a number of sources (including Outlook if you use that POS).

The options I had were use third party synchronization software (which I was forced to use back when I had a Motorola KRZR — and I really didn’t want software to limit what I could sync), use Google (I really don’t want Google to have more of my personal information than they already have, or try MyPhone (not that I’m wild about Microsoft having my personal information; but I know that they’re a clueless company who wouldn’t know what to do with the information even if they realized they had it).

There are many things that MyPhone won’t do, and we might as well get those listed first:

  • It will not download ring tones
  • It will not synchronize to live contact, calendar, etc
  • It will not allow you to backup on your desktop

Things it will do:

  • It will limit you to 200 MB of storage
  • It will synchronize contacts (including pictures, but it does have some limitation with field sizes; so Garmin GPS points are a little problematic)
  • It will synchronize calendar (but it doesn’t allow notes or reminder, you have to enter those on the phone)
  • It will synchronize task lists (again see the above limitations)
  • It will synchronize text messages
  • It will synchronize browser favorites
  • It will synchronize photos
  • It will synchronize videos
  • It will synchronize music
  • It will synchronize documents
  • It will allow for deleting and archiving.
  • It will support multiple phone
  • It will support social networks (well, Live)
  • It will provide your phone’s last known location (last sync)

If you’re willing to pay for enhanced services:

  • It will ring your phone
  • It will provide your phone’s current location
  • It will lock your phone
  • It will erase your phone

Presumably these last services are targeted at lost phone (so you might wait until you’ve lost your phone to pay for the service, and I guess if it can’t do it you might be able to get a refund).

Currently MyPhone only supports Windows Mobile devices (so you can consider it’s something you get when you purchase a Windows Mobile phone), and most current Mobile 6.1 and 6.5 phones already have it pre-installed (but you can easily download it and install it on any Windows Mobile 6, 6.1, or 6.5).

To effectively use MyPhone you should have an unlimited data plan (or it might end up costing you quite a bit of money to do the synchronizations).

I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I think MyPhone is the best thing since sliced white bread (who came up with that expression — white bread is horrible), but it works, and it works well — and it provides a service for owners of Windows Mobile 6.x that Windows 7 doesn’t (so much for Microsoft’s flagship products, makes you wonder why you have to pay the big bucks for things that don’t work well, and don’t work together).

One of the nice features of MyPhone is that you can use it to sync information to you phone regardless of what desktop operating system you run (I believe synchronizing to Windows Mobile devices still requires a third party [extra cost] product on OS-X; Sync Mate or Missing Sync).

NOTE:  I believe Microsoft considers MyPhone to be part of the Windows Live offerings, but since it doesn’t inter-operate with Windows Live (at least in the current version) I don’t see how anyone can make that claim with a straight face (where do they get these programmers and program managers).

Microsoft MyPhone

Originally posted 2010-03-09 02:00:18.