Sunday, November 30, 2008

Eliminate Ground Loop Hum for $17

When connecting audio cables between two different AC-powered devices (i.e., computer and VCR), one sometimes encounters a low-frequency hum caused by a so-called ground loop.

This product, a short stereo RCA patch cable with a transformer capsule in-line, electrically isolates the two connected audio devices, sending only the desired audio information by inducting it between two transformers.

Radio Shack Ground Loop Isolator Model: 270-054

I've had one of these for years, and just loaned it to a friend to address a hum problem he's having connecting his USB turntable's line-level outputs to his audio receiver. I've used it in the past to connect various audio devices to computer audio inputs - a frequent source of ground loop troubles. Audio quality is good, though I've not critically evaluated the difference between this isolator cable and a straight patch cable. In every case, it was a matter of either accepting whatever impact this transformer might have on the audio or having completely unusable audio with 60Hz hum.

If you have a ground loop problem, this is the way to address the problem.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

David Pogue's Tech Tips for the Basic Computer User

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue is one of our favorite technology writers. My wife uses one of his "Missing Manual" books as a textbook in one of her classes.

David Pogue posted this collection of rudimentary computer hints - you're likely to find something that you can use in your daily life. As a computer consultant, I've learned that you can't take for granted any aspect of what any given user might know.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Why Facebook?

You have probably heard of facebook, a so-called "social networking" site. But you may not imagine why you'd want to use it yourself if, like me, you're well beyond the typical under-30 facebook user. After spending a little time as a user, I've found some compelling aspects of the service which provide benefits not otherwise available with previous paradigms (i.e., email, instant messaging, blogs, personal Web pages).

Most of all, what you might find surprising and appealing is that FB provides a kind of "firewall" between you and the world, despite the "social" nature of the site.

A little over a year ago, I created a facebook account with the intention of seeing how social networking sites worked. After initially finding 5 or 6 people (by having FB search my email address book), I never got back to spend time with the site. Four or five months ago, one of the people who I had "friended" wrote me a question through facebook. I was inspired to try a new search of my contacts to see whether there were more people I knew, and the list grew to something like 15 or 16. At this point, I have still have only a couple of dozen "Friends," but that's been enough to finally get a sense of what the site has to offer.

Facebook was initially available only to Harvard University students, where its founders were enrolled. Over time, it grew to allow any student, then (apparently as these students graduated but continued to want the site's services) to anyone over 13 years of age. It's generally acknowledged that FB was a response to MySpace, a social networking site which has famously become the domain of "tweenies."

Here are just some of facebook's features (the ones I've noticed):
    • Like all social networking sites, their goal is for users to find other users. To that end, the inital steps in creating a new (free) account encourage you to search for friends already on the site. FB (and other sites) provides a tool to search through your email addresses within popular email sites (AOL, Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, etc.) and informs you whether any site members' are in your contact list.
    • As another vector for connecting with others you may know, FB maintains a database of existing schools. If you choose to fill in your educational information, your exact school will auto-fill as you type. Consequently, you will be presented with "people you may know" lists which match educational and professional institutions.
    • You can optionally associate yourself with one geographical region defined as a "network." This also allows others to more easily identify you.
    • Many of you choose to be private about your online presence. This is completely understandable. A cool thing about facebook is that unless your accept someone as a "friend," you can severely restrict how much anyone can know about you. At a minimum, you reveal only:
      • Your name
      • An "Add as Friend" button
      • A "Send a Message" button
      • A "View Friends" button
    • If anyone presses any of the buttons, you are privately sent an email informing you of the request, which you can choose to accept or decline. Your true identity and email address remain secret, unless you choose otherwise.
    • You can choose to display an image - presumably of yourself. A single tiny thumbnail is all that is viewable to non-friends.
    • Optionally, you can display more information - email addresses, geographic region, schools, etc.
    • Once you have accepted another user as a "Friend," your personal profile information is now visible to that person. The profile can be as elaborate as you wish, including photo and video albums, favorites lists, and any facebook "applications" you choose to install.
    • Once you have "friended" someone, you will be provided with opportunities to review their Friends to see if you know them, so you can add them as Friends.
    • Friends can see thumbnails of profile images provided by your other Friends.
    • A very cool example of a fundamental FB feature is that if you upload a photograph, you can click on any point in the photo and type an identification of that person in the photo.If they are Friends, their FB name will automatically appear as you type. As a result:
      • ...when others view your photos, they can see location-specific captions of every person in the photo
      • ...any photos you have tagged as a facebook user automatically appear in that user's Photos space. Very slick.
    • In addition to being able to send text messages between users, FB has some great ideas for less-demading ways of interacting with other users:
      • News Feed - A profound aspect of FB, the News Feed appears by default on your FB "landing page." Depending upon the privacy settings your friends have made, you can see some or all of all your friend's FB activity in a continuous list of exchanges. These reported activities include:
        • Adding Friends
        • Removing Friends(!)
        • Making changes to one's profile
        • Adding photos
        • Having/making comments on photos/text
        • Actions taken in facebook Applications (more below)
      • Poking - At many locations on FB where you can see lists of Friends, a "Poke (Friend's name)" button is typically provided. Clicking this simply sends a "You have been poked by (Friend's name)" message and an opportunity to poke back. I like this as a way of saying "I'm thinking of you," but not having to invest time or energy in an actual topic. Third-party applications like "pillow fights" and "food fights" provide alternative wordless interaction fun.
      • Wall Writing - Every user has a personal "wall," on which their friends can write. This provides a person-to-person note with the tacit understanding that no response is expected.
    • I really like these mechanisms. For years, I've been looking for an alternative to email for sharing information with others without the expectation of a response.
    • There are myriad ways to share photos and video, as well as URLs and just text.
    • These are online services which do anything, from communicating, to creating quizzes and surveys to playing games. I've only installed two:
      • TravelBrain - Lets the user populate a world map with "pins" of locations they've visited, and shares/compares this information with other users.
      • Movies - Lets users discuss and rate motion pictures.
    • Two examples of extremely popular "fluffy" FB Apps are the various "pillow fight" and "karma" apps, which allow users to "hit" other users with pillows and "send" karmic wishes.
    • Here is facebook's Application Directory.
I certainly don't feel like the typical facebook user. Only about a half-dozen of my Friends are over 40 (two so far over 50), and many are under 20 - mostly children of my (f)riends. I don't expect to meet new friends this way, though I have re-connected with some old friends. I'm not sharing every moment or every personal thought with others, but it's proving to be a neat way of casually staying in touch.

Update 3/3/2009
Since I wrote this original post back in September 2008, I've observed a noticeable rise in the use of facebook. Whenever I happen to have facebook search my email address book for users, there are always new matches - not because I've added those people to my address book, but because those people have joined facebook. Most significantly, the "over 50" demographic of my facebook friends continues to increase, so apparently the compulsion of family and friend users is continuing to cause growth in the user base.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Digital Rights Management and Citizens' Rights' Managment

I wrote this email to friends and family in November 2005 and just re-discovered it. The issues discussed continue to challenge our rights as citizens and consumers.

On November 1, a story broke about certain copy-protected Sony BMG Music music CDs surreptitiously installing software on the hard drives of Windows computers. This software, intended to control the number of copies a legitimate user of the CD was allowed to make of the original (an increasingly common practice in the intellectual property business), used a strategy known in the computing world as a "rootkit" to hide the location and presence of this installed software. Rootkits are typically considered to be devious mechanisms for computer processes and files to be "cloaked" from the operating system itself, and therefore most software tools which might be utilized to detect such undesirable organisms as viruses and "Trojan Horses."

The rootkit was discovered by a Windows consultant who posted his discovery of the rootkit (using special rootkit detecting software) on his weblog on October 31.

The special music CDs (not conventional audio CDs, but CDs which require installation of a software "player" on a Windows computer to be played) did not disclose to the purchaser that the Digital Rights Management (DRM) software was being installed on their computer. Furthermore, it appears that the rootkit process uses a small but tangible amount of processing time whether the music CD is being played or not - essentially costing the user some computing power.

Within days, malicious virus authors exploited the rootkit's already-hidden nature for their own purposes, cloaking their viral mechanisms on computers already "infected" with the Sony DRM software (actually written by a British company, First 4 Internet).

The backlash has been enormous.Sony released free software to detect the presence of the rootkit on November 2. Class-action lawsuits have been filed against Sony, citing damage to users' computers, poor consumer disclosure and deceptive trade practices among the allegations.

Sony had been distributing these CDs for at least 8 months. Friday Sony announced that it will terminate production of the CDs. Microsoft has announced that it will update its malicious and spyware detection tools to detect and eliminate the rootkit.

DRM issues will continue to intrude upon our lives. I've been commenting for a couple of years now that just as we enter a technological era when consumers could have the best media experience of all time (consuming, making and distributing print, audio and video), that very nature of this digital revolution (especially that media can be perfectly duplicated and rapidly distributed) is so upsetting content distributors and producers that we can expect only to have hobbled tools and media.

As disturbing are legal trends, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1998. This law challenges, and in many cases, explicitly prevents "Fair Use" of many activities, such as making a backup copy of a software or music CD which a user has legitimately purchased, or simply recording a program from the television to watch at your convenience. In many cases, this actiivty is specifically illegal under the DMCA. "Fair Use" activities, such as making a recording of a television program to give to a friend or relative to view, are becoming increasingly threatened as we enter the age of digital tape and disc recorders.

Recorder manufacturers are already being pressured by organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) or distribution studios into making consumer recorders into incorporating such tactics as which only allow playing of discs recorded by the purchaser of the DVD recorder on that same machine. More frightening is that its possible for content providers to, for example, subsequently decide that a recording that a consumer made of a show aired on television will no longer play. So a program you recorded yourself, on a recordable disc for which you paid money, would simply stop working. This information identifying what recordings could or couldn't play might be received into your DVD player via phone call or embedded in television signals. Let's say in this fictional example that a weekly automatic phone call from your DVD recorder (our TiVo makes phone calls for programming info) downloaded a database which indicated which programs it could and could not play. Your unplugging that phone cord to prevent that database from updating - in order to extend the time that your programs might play, and therefore circumventing a DRM mechanism - might just be in violation of the DMCA, and therefore a Federal felony.

As ill-conceived as the DMCA is the Federal Communication Commission's " Broadcast Flag" mandate. This provides television providers a mechanism to "flag" any program (by embedding a tiny "bit" within the digital television stream) with viewer permissions. The FCC could (and has already) mandate that any newly manufactured recording devices (hard disk, DVD, digital tape) sold in the U.S. incorporate the mechanisms which honor these flags. Here are some possible attributes - some of which I've heard, some which I'm speculating:

-inhibit recording of any kind on any device honoring Broadcast Flag
-allow playback for a limited number of times
-allow playback for a limited duration after the initial air date
-allow playback for a limited duration after the initial playback
-allow only standard-definition recording, even if the program is in high-definition
-delete from hard drive at an arbitrary date provided by broadcaster
-allow one recordable disc copy only - the disc will not duplicate

Note that for the last item to be enforced, both "set-top" DVD recorders and computer-based DVD "burners" would have to support Broadcast Flag infrastructure, so that copies could be "serialized." Furthermore, I've seen mention of uniquely IDed recorders being used to control whether copies were being used by the original owner or distributed to others. This suggests that all future media recorders will be uniquely identifiable as being recorded on a mechanism. Furthermore, evidence suggests that this "fingerprint" of the original recorder could be encoded into subsequent copies, leaving a "breadcrumb trail" in every copy ever made. Which means that you, the consumer, might be held personally responsible (and possibly in violation of a Federal Law) if a copy of something recorded in your home ends up in the wrong place. Pretty scary stuff.

But as scary as that stuff is, I'm extremely annoyed that in order to "protect" themselves from (perceived or real) piracy issues, content providers are prepared to take us 30 years into the past and prohibit consumers from "time-shifting" - or recording a program to watch at our convenience. On a hard-drive based recorder such as a TiVo - where there might be no normal way to extract the program from the hard drive (though there are many hobby hacking solutions), broadcasters think it makes sense to prevent TiVo users from recording programs. I can tell you that as TiVo users, less than 5 per cent of the television we watch is live. We have no idea when the programs we watch even air. If broadcasters prohibit us from recording their shows, we just won't see them. And this isn't just a threat - the FCC made a ruling in July that it was illegal to manufacture a Digital Television (DTV) tuner which did NOT have support for this kind of DRM. Thankfully, special interest groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation rallied to fight this FCC ruling, and got DC Circuit Court of Appeals to unanimously overturn the ruling, arguing that: "the FCC lacked authority to regulate what happens inside your TV or computer once it has received a broadcast signal."

There's a truth here that honest citizens will be inconvenienced or even lose some personal freedoms as a result of these attempts to protect commercial interests. That part of the (worldwide) population which is responsible for massively profitable piracy will NOT be thwarted by measures such as the DMCA or Broadcast Flag - there are clever people on the dark side as well as the light. Ideas about how media content makes money will have to change - perhaps by a radical change in the purchase/pricing model, or by providing some unique value to legitimate purchasers. There will always be people who want and get something for nothing. Penalizing those citizens who are willing to pay for their content isn't the answer.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"The Secret Life of Machines" Online!

For anyone who is interested in how things work, and anyone who likes to be entertained, there's cause to celebrate.

Artist, inventor, tinkerer and thinker Tim Hunkin and motion-picture effects friend Rex Garrod hosted the British television series "The Secret Life of Machines" between 1988 and 1993. In eighteen 35-minute episodes, these two eccentric British wizards create practical demonstrations of everyday inventions which define modern life.

The mixture of grass-roots fabrication, dry British wit, intellectualism and charm of the two rumpled presenters make these shows some of the best television - and possibly the best educational material - ever.

Now, the best science museum ever (the Exploratorium in San Francisco) is hosting all eighteen episodes as streaming video and small-format downloads.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Is That Megabytes or Megabits per Second?

I'm very conscious of the use of notation conventions when expressing data rates. For whatever reasons, I've settled on using "Mbps" for "megabits per second" and "MB/s" to indicate "megabytes per second." This works fine for my own purposes, but the many conventions can lead to disastrous misunderstandings. Just this week, I ran processes (encoding h.264 video) that took two days on three computers. If I'd mistaken someone's "MPBS" notation as "megabytes per second" when they really meant "megabits per second" when estimating the time for the jobs to complete, I'd have been waiting an extra two weeks for the three computers.

Engineer Lee Goldberg has written a nice treatise on the state of data rate notation.

For my part, I'll try to start using Goldberg's "old-school" electrical-engineering conventions, which are invulnerable to mis-interpretation:
  • xbits/s (with x = k, M or G as kilo-, Mega- and Giga-)
  • xbytes/s

Monday, June 30, 2008

Convert Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac and 2007 Microsoft Office Files with Older Office for Mac Versions

Apple's website began hosting a download page for the Microsoft Office Open XML File Format Converter 1.0 on June 25, 2008. The converter actually downloads directly from Microsoft servers. A couple of months ago, links to a similarly described converter download at Microsoft were dead from several days, if not longer.

According to this Apple Downloads page, this converter promises to convert "files that were created in Office 2008 for Mac or 2007 Microsoft Office system so that you can open and edit the files in Office 2004 version 11.4 or later and Office v. X version 10.1.9 or later. Word documents, Excel workbooks, and PowerPoint presentations that are created in Office 2008 for Mac or 2007 Microsoft Office system are saved in the Open XML Format."

Friday, June 06, 2008

Jumpcut, a Great Clipboard Manager for Mac - and It's Free!

I previously sang the praises of Jumpcut here at Useful Bulk, but today when discussing utility software with my wife, she said, "You know what piece of software I use every day? And I know you do too, because I've seen you using it." It took me a couple of guesses, because we use a lot of software, but also because Jumpcut is so transparent to me in its use. Jumpcut is now as natural for me to invoke as the Undo, Cut, Copy and Paste commands I've been typing for 20 years (Command-Z, X, C and V).

What is the Clipboard?
Modern operating systems provide cut & paste and copy & paste functionality to users. When the user selects material for the copy or cut operation, that content (which can be text, images, sound, video, or even 3D objects, depending upon the operating system and the current application) is placed into a temporary repository known as the clipboard. The clipboard's contents can then be pasted into any compatible document, even in a different application. Further, the clipboard retains the last copied contents even after a paste operation, so the same contents can be pasted multiple times. When the user next invokes a copy or cut command (copy leaves the selected material in place, cut removes it from the current document), the contents of the clipboard are replaced.

So conventional clipboards can hold the contents of a single copy operation. Jumpcut allows the user to "buffer" many clippings (by default, it's configured to save the last 40).

Using Jumpcut
Written by programmer Steve Cook and available as a free and open-source download, Jumpcut provides an elegant solution for moving many text "clippings" between documents. When I'm doing research online or quoting another document, I perform typical "Copy" operations on any pertinent URLs or text quotes in which I'm interested. Later, when I'm editing a document for publication, I simply recall the clippings from Jumpcut's "pop-up bezel" (invoked with a keystroke combination - the default is "option-command-V") or from Jumpcut's menulet in the Menu Bar, and the selected clipping is pasted into my document.

Jumpcut's current version as listed on its Sourceforge page as v0.61, but v0.62 is available for download at MacUpdate. Don't be scared off by the low version number - during several years of daily use, Jumpcut has been very stable.

We've found Jumpcut an absolutely invaluable tool, and a perfect extension to the Mac OS (this should just be part of the Mac OS). No one should be without it.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Geotag Your Photos Without a Computer

The ATP Photo Finder is a GPS logger with a built-in SD/Memory Stick/MMC reader. After taking photos with your digital camera, users insert the camera's memory card into the Photo Finder, which adds the GPS data to the existing image files.

This makes this product quite a bit easier to use than previous methods, as in my previous article about geotagging on a Mac.

The ATP Photo Finder retails for $100, but at the time of this writing (June 2008), is available at Costco (membership required) for $80.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Logitech G25 Racing Wheel Long-term Review

Is the Logitech G25 Racing Wheel worth $300?

If you're a serious sim-racing enthusiast, the answer is yes.

 Read my long-term review.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Follow the Phoenix Mars Lander Mission

I just watched the thrilling live coverage of the Phoenix Lander's successful touchdown on Mars (delayed 15 minutes by the signal traveling from Mars to Earth and by the 9 hours it took me to have time to watch the Science Channel HD live coverage on our DVR - but it was still exciting).

The Phoenix has deployed its solar panels, stereoscopic camera and some of its instrument packages. Now those teams of scientists who have been planning the mission for nearly a decade will attempt to make the most of the next 90 days to analyze the contents of the ice under the surface of the soil in the polar region which Phoenix now calls home. Phoenix will attempt to look for signs of organic life and analyze atmospheric properties. After about three months, the Phoenix mission will end as the lander is encased in one meter of frozen carbon dioxide during the Martian winter.

Follow Phoenix' progress on NASA Jet Propulsion Lab's Phoenix site and the University of Arizona's Phoenix site (the U of A is the first public university to lead a Mars mission).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Geotagging Photo with GPS Location Information on a Macintosh

I've written and article of my experience with geotagging digital photos using a tiny and relatively inexpensive GPS logging device, any digital camera and a Macintosh. With these components, the location of each photograph can be embedded into the image file. A cool application: images can be displayed on maps in their relative locations.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Control Your Privacy by Preventing Reverse Lookup of Your Phone Number in Google

If you type in your 10-digit phone number into Google's search field, you might be surprised to see that the names and addresses of the members of your household may appear.

Google allows you to remove your name and phone number information from their search engine. Below the search results where your name(s) and address(es) appear, click on the "Request to have your name removed from this list" link. This sends you to the Google Phonebook Name Removal page, where you submit your name, city and phone number to be permanently removed from Google's Phonebook database. Doing so will also prevent lookup of your phone number by searching for your name. Google notes that this can NOT be undone, and your number will never again be listed on Google's Phonebook. Interestingly, there seems to be no particular method of authentication, so it may be that you can remove anyone's name and address from Google Phonebook without permission.

Great $40 Hose Clamp Tool for Modern Constant Tension Radiator Hose Clamps

A couple of weeks ago, the radiator of our 1999 Dodge Caravan developed a leak. Years ago, when we were considering the purchase of this minivan and I'd just opened the hood to look at the engine compartment, I'd proclaimed to my wife that I'd probably be doing far less repairs to this vehicle, if only because access within the engine compartment was terrible. Contemporary vehicles have increasingly made service access more complicated in attempts to package components in either more compact, aerodynamically efficient or aesthetically pleasing form factors.

Despite my growing reluctance to repair our own cars, I decided to do the radiator change myself. Typically one of the less complex procedures, this project took me two days of effort to complete.

Constant Tension Hose Clamp for 1999 Chrysler Radiator

Having owned no vehicles newer than 1986 prior to the Caravan, this was my first experience with the large-scale "constant tension hose clamps" used by many modern manufacturers. These clamps are apparently used to protect the $500 plastic radiators from the indiscriminate use of worm-gear style hose clamps, which could easily crack the plastic hose fittings when tightened. Further, these constant-tension clamps promise to self-adjust to the hose/fitting join as it heats and cools and is subjected to vehicle vibrations.

Our Chrysler factory service manual listed a "special tool" for the task of removing these hose clamps. In the monochromatic artist's rendition of the tool in the manual, I could see it was a longish set of pliers with some kind of shaped tip at the end of the jaws, and a locking mechanism of some kind (in retrospect, these pliers from Sears are probably similar to the Chrysler-specified tool). I decided to see what I could do with my various pliers.

I attempted to release the hose clamp that was most accessible, and with some difficulty I could get the jaws of a set of Channel-Lock adjustable pliers open enough to span the 1.5 inches between the tabs of the clamp. But it was dicey even with easy access. Some of the other clamps I could barely see, much less reach with a pair of pliers. I struggled for some time with various specialty pliers, achieving only enough to convince me that it was going to be impossible to release the least-accessible clamps.

Some online research revealed that the special tool pictured in the Chrysler manual might be only $30 - but I needed the tool ASAP. I also noticed on the Snap-On Tools website a pair of hose-clamp pliers with a flexible shaft for $77. While planning a trip to some local tool stores to seek out some variation of these pliers, it occurred to me that I had not visited the Sears website. This revealed a rich resource in hose-clamp pliers - at least a dozen products. Only two pieces were listed as being available "in-store" rather than online purchase, and one was the Craftsman Cable Operated Hose Clamp Pliers for only $40. The website reported that it was "in stock" in our local store, and I set out on my shopping expedition with high hopes.

Craftsman 28650-998 Cable Operated Hose Clamp Pliers

I was reminded that Sears hardware departments have fairly large automotive specialty tool sections, and located the cable-operated pliers easily.

This tool is fantastic. Initially, I was so focused on the idea of a set of pliers that I thought the remote cable "specialty" tool would be awkward for anything but difficult-to-reach clamps. But in fact, the cable-operated pliers proved perfect for any situation. Whether easy or hard to reach, I could position the working end of the tool on the hose clamp with one hand, then apply slight tension with the other. I'd then use both hands to compress the clamp until the tool's lock clicked, holding the clamp in its released position. I could then move the clamp around while compressed by the tool (always conscious that the tool might slip and release the clamp onto my fingers - quite dangerous - but no slippage has thus far occurred).

Hose Clamp in Tool End - No Tension

Hose Clamp in Tool End - Full Tension

If you live in the United States, there's a good chance that a Sears near you has these clamps. At $40, it's absolutely worth the functionality for one of the best specialty tools I've ever purchased. I've gotten my value from this purchase even if I never use them again.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Synchronize Digital Camera Time Stamps for iPhoto

Whether it's for a family event or a professional shoot, it's useful to have the internal clocks on all the digital still cameras set to the same time. When combining those exposures in one digital album, the images can then be sorted chronologically to the second. With today's vacation outings often sporting a camera for each family member, it's fun to see all the photos taken by everyone in the group in order they were taken.

However, there will be times when you forget to do change the synchronization of the cameras' clocks, or forget to set their clocks after a battery change. Here is my procedure for addressing this after the fact (or during the shoot) when using iPhoto (v6 in my case):
  • With every camera involved, shoot a still photo of the same clock or watch which displays seconds.
    • It is not necessary for the photos from each camera to be taken at the same time. Just take a picture of the clock/watch with every camera sometime during the day.
    • If possible, use a timepiece that you know to be accurate.
    • If some of the cameras don't belong to you, just make sure at some point during the event to walk around with the timepiece and have everyone shoot a close-up of the current time.
  • Import all the images from each camera into iPhoto.
  • Isolate all the images from each camera, either by importing them into separate albums, or by using a Smart Album and using the "Camera Model" criteria filter.
  • Select all the images taken by one camera at the event.
  • Using either Joe's iPhoto AppleScripts for Date Manipulation (for iPhoto versions up to 6) or iPhoto v7's (iPhoto '08) built-in Adjust Date and Time function, adjust the time (and date, if necessary) of all the photos taken by that camera at once, until the time displayed by iPhoto's "information" pane is exactly correct for the image of the clock. This shifts the time/date for all the selected images. At this point, all the other photos' time stamps will be synchronized with your reference timepiece.
    • Repeat this step with every camera's albums, adjusting the time and date of that camera's images to the picture of the timepiece taken with that camera.
  • After performing the previous steps, combine any or all of the images from all cameras in one album. In iPhoto's "View" menu, choose "Sort by Date." All the images will appear in chronological order, regardless of the camera on which they were taken.
    • Note: These changes to time and date stamps are only reflected within iPhoto. If you export image files from iPhoto after adjusting their date and time, other programs that honor their embedded EXIF data will still reflect the original date and time setting of the camera at the time the exposure was taken.
    • If you really get lost with shifting times/dates, you can use the iPhoto Date Reset script in Joe's iPhoto Applescripts to revert the time stamps of any selected images to their EXIF data.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Restore Calendar Hard Button Functionality to Your Palm T|X

Disappointed that your new Palm T|X's "Home" button can't be configured to launch any application, as it has for every previous Palm model?

ButtonsEx is a free utility (donation requested) by Pierre-Yves Tavernier to customize the "hard buttons" and the 5-way controller buttons on the Palm T5, LifeDrive, T|X and Tungsten E2.

How ButtonsEx Fixed SmartLauncher on my Palm T\X

For many years, I've used SmartLauncher software on various Palm Tungstens to
launch my favorite apps with just a couple of presses of the "hard buttons". So it was quite a shock when I discovered that the new Palm T|X's leftmost hard button (by default, the "Calendar" button in previous Palm models) is now the "Home" button, which can only be configured to launch either the Application Viewer or Favorites. This denied my configuring SmartLauncher to utilize this button, thus halving the number of two-button combinations (SmartLauncher can actually do three-button launching, providing hundreds of combinations - but I'm happy with the 24 apps I can launch with two-button mode). I find this change by Palm pretty bizarre - why alienate existing Palm users instead of adding Home as a Button configuration option?

Other hard-button launchers for Palm exist which can work around the Palm T|X home button, including TealPoint Software's TealLaunch and Ranosoft's HBX. I liked HBX very much - it is quick, simple and I like the full-color icon panel it pops up to remind you after the first button press which applications are assigned to the second press. As one of the first Palm launchers, TealLaunch remains not only incredibly awkward and clunky, but stupidly only allows two-button launching of unique pairs of buttons, and does not allow using the same button pressed twice. So for instance, instead of 16 combinations of 4 buttons:
  • 1+1, 1+2, 1+3, 1+4, 2+1, 2+2, 2+3, 2+4, 3+1, 3+2, 3+3, 3+4, 4+1, 4+2, 4+3, 4+4
TealLaunch can only do six:
  • 1+2, 1+3, 1+4, 2+3, 2+4, 3+4
Really strange.

TealLaunch is very elaborate, and allows launching with pen strokes and Graffiti characters, plus combinations of hard buttons and strokes, but I like my multi-button launching, so as I did many years ago, I passed on TealLaunch.

While reviewing which launcher I was going to buy (you can really nickel and dime yourself into some big numbers buying $15 Palm software), I discovered ButtonEx, and now I can continue to use SmartLauncher. SmartLauncher used to be free, but now appears only available from major Palm software sites as a $10 purchase. Its website no longer exists, so I see no evidence of the original developer - too bad.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Why Your TV Won't Work After February 17, 2009

After 67 years, the United States' television standard is being terminated. Older televisions will no longer be able to receive broadcasts through the air after February 17, 2009, and new televisions can receive high-quality HDTV through the air.

I've posted an article about the impending DTV transition and its impact upon the consumer.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Physics Lessons Online

The wonderfully rich Physics 2000 site hosted at the University of Colorado at Boulder features plain explanations and interactive demonstrations of a variety of physics concepts, from how television screens work to the nature of a Bose-Einstein Condensate.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Verizon Retires Analog Cellular Service

Verizon officially retired analog cellular phone service on February 18, 2008. No further analog calls can be placed or received on the Verizon network.

For the past several years, they have been not-so-subtly encouraging their users to upgrade to "better" digital cellular phones, and announcing the impending termination of analog service as an incentive to make the change.

Verizon's analog services were utilized the original cellular phone system, Advanced Mobile Phone System, or AMPS. Cellular provider apparently Alltel has apparently shown the intention to convert the remaining analog regions of their network to digital by the end of 2008.

Verizon and Alltel will be eager to reuse these frequencies for digital cellular services - where digital compression and multiplexing strategies will allow a far greater number of calls to be handled in a given cell.