Friday, April 30, 2004

About the MusicBrainz Tagger

Just stumbled across this on the 'net when I was thinking about ID3 tagging of Mp3s. Looks like someone has invented a system that fingerprints an MP3 and looks for ID3 info among previously submitted figerprint. Kind of like CDDB is for CDs it seems to me.

Again like some of the previous software I've posted it is free, open-source software. I'll probably give it a try down the line and post my thoughts on it.

I've added the Modes of Communication graphic above. Somehow looking at it I feel that is not it's final destination, or size for that matter. I think I'll have to play around with it some. One thing I'll point out about it is that it's not text, so one isn't able to copy and highlight the text there. I did it that way because I wanted to be able to share my instant messenger ID and email, but not end up with spam bots harvesting my email address. I already get enough at my MSU account, and I just opened the Gmail account recently, so I'm going to try to keep it as spam free as possible.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

A short review (very short) of the service
There are a few things about this service that make it novel and excellent, and only a few minor drawbacks. Let me first say they have some of the artists you won't find at any of the other music stores (ahem... The Beatles.... how can one have a music store without the most influential pop band of all time). That alone might make it superior, but what truly makes the service is the cost. As I referred to below, you pay by the size of the songs that you download. Bandwidth must be cheap or stolen in Russia (where the service is based), because it's only a single cent for each megabyte of song size (2 cents if you require it to be reencoded to your specifications).

That segues into the next great feature of the service, choice of format. Most of the services available here in the US use Digital Rights Management (DRM) to restrict how and where you play the files. There is no DRM in the files from! That is something many of us have been waiting for. The option to chose the format of the file is also huge. I prefer my music to come in a Variable Bitrate (VBR) format, so I get great quality in the parts of the song that need it (higher bitrate=better quality and higher size) but low bitrate in the areas that don't require it (like times of silence in a song).

The drawbacks:
-It's in Russia, where I'd be most concerned about pilfering of credit card numbers (I got around this by using a "Virtual Account Number" from my credit card provider that I can close after it has been used)
-The site keeps timing out (must be very busy), so it can be a nusiance to try to navigate it
-Song don't have any ID3 information, which MP3 players read to display the Song Name, Artist, Album, and other characteristics. You can enter it by hand, but it's a nusiance.

All in all, I dig it and plan to use it. The price is great, the format is great, and I can deal with the negatives.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

It may seem that I'm on some kind of great software kick after I write this, but I can't help it. I was reading Slashdot yesterday and the Ask Slashdot question was "What are the first 10 programs you install when you have a fresh installation of your operating system?" One of the posters mentioned a utility called 7-Zip. It's a free, open source utility that opens 7z, ZIP, CAB, RAR, ARJ, GZIP, BZIP2, TAR, CPIO, RPM and DEB files! You'll never need to deal with lame WinZip shareware or other programs of it's ilk if you can get used to it.

Also on Slashdot, but today instead, was a brief writeup about a music service that allows you to buy music for $0.01 per megabyte (iTunes probably runs about $0.25-$0.50 per megabyte). It will also let you choose the format! Looks like everything a consumer could want out of a music servce, except being in Russia. I'll give it a try and post my review later. It's called

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Cool Free Tool of the Day
I just came across this when Googling for a "free PDF maker." It's an open source project to allow people to make their own PDFs. For those of you who have never had a copy of Adobe Acrobat, download this and give it a try. It gives you a "printer" that will make PDF files, so it's basically just like printing something on paper, but instead you get a file. I've found making PDFs is great for printing those pages from websites that say "Print this for your records," which I've always hated because generally I feel like it is a waste of ink and paper (isn't that part of the point of the internet? Getting away from paper?), and you never need them until disaster strikes. This way you can simply "print off" the file and save it. You can then print in the traditional fashion if you need to mail it somewhere, or send it as an email attachment if you need to do that. Best of both worlds!

Just came across this feature over at Rolling Stone, it's the "50 Greatest Artists of All Time." The articles for the most part appear to be written by musicians about other musicians. I was particularly struck reading what John Mayer wrote about Jimi Hendrix, particularly the lat part where he talks about when he hears the music he thinks of Hendrix as a man, not some mytic guitar god, and in talking about it really reveals his own attitude (which is much like my own view) that all of us are human and have similar fears and hopes, a common thread that we too often ignore.

I've become more and more impressed with Mayer over time. When I first heard his music on the Impact I dug it, went and tried to download it and no one had it. You got on a p2p search now and John Mayer has made it. I've always had mixed feelings about this (since I'm a bit of a music snob), the enjoyment of knowing of an artist that only 1 in 20 people are familiar with and realizing how great they are. Then they release one single that girls from age 12-35 love and it's all over, now you're pop music. Sorry Sting. Sorry Nirvana. Sorry John Mayer. Guess I'll just have to put aside my music snobbery, realize my humanity, and go back to listening to pop music. I've been doing it all along anyway :^)

Monday, April 26, 2004

It's probably about time, but I had a few minutes tonight while Ellie was watching High School Reunion on the Tivo, so I made a small page with photos of my brother Rob. They're all either ones of him playing football or ones immediately after one of the games Ellie and I went down to watch. You can also see my wife (what a hottie), my Dad, my Mom, and her dog Bruno. Cheers! Have a look, and post your comments below (I know the background is lame).

This was quite a laid back weekend for me. Saturday Ellie and I went over to the public golf course that’s in Holt to play around and hit some balls. I was pretty consistent… slicing the ball to the right. It was rather fun to go out there with Ellie. She kept asking me what to do though. I would describe the situation as the extremely nearsighted leading the blind. I’m not very helpful with respect to golf. She’s been very concerned about how she’ll play and I keep telling her not to worry about it. It’s golf, it’s supposed to be fun and relaxing.

Saturday night Ellie went off to work representing the hotel, so I got to spend time at home. I watched the episodes of The Shield that I hadn’t seen. That show is pretty gritty, but I must say I continue to find myself drawn into the story. Sunday I spent again watching TV, catching up on old episodes of the Chapelle Show. There was a great Wayne Brady joke, but it was very much an inside joke to the show. I’d record it to the DV camera and show it to the other grad students, but I don’t think they watch the show so it wouldn’t be all that funny.

Sunday we went to watch Pat (Ellie’s cousin) play soccer since he was here in Lansing. Pat’s family all came, so we all came back to our place to show the new house and have some pizza. Went to bed, then back up to go to work. The routine returns.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Seems I haven’t had much in the way of excitement to write about of late, but I guess I’ll make an effort to dig something out. Hmmmm. Thinking… thinking… ah ha!

We finally got concrete laid at our house this week. There is a funny story there. Ellie and I woke up about 6:25AM (5 minutes before the alarm clock… isn’t it always those 5 minutes that we want the most?) to the sound of hammers pounding as the workers got an early start to assembling the wood squares to initially hold the concrete. I got up and walked to the kitchen to make coffee and start breakfast, wearing only my tie-off pants from bed. After a few minutes in the kitchen I hear a knock at the door. Uh oh. I’m not really fit to answer the door, but to get a shirt on I need to go past the front door where the worker is knocking. I decide he’s going to see me in my pale-bear-preparing-for-hibernation-form and go to the door without a shirt on. I guess I’ll fit right in here in Holt. He gives me a nonplussed look (guess he sees a lot of this in Holt) and just politely asks me to move the Ranger, which I do after putting on some more clothes. That’s my second funny anecdote of the week! I guess I’m well on my way to becoming a comedian.

Rob decided on graduate school last week. It was rather humorous now that I look back at it, but in essence it was classic Rob. He called me and left a voicemail on Tuesday or Wednesday of last week to talk about graduate school choices. His choices basically boiled down to going to Emory University for a Physician Assistant program in Anesthesiology or Texax A&M for Analytical Chemistry. He was quite torn, and I think he didn’t anticipate being accepted at Emory (he said the interview was more standoffish, a “if you’re good enough maybe we’ll take you” at Emory, while at Texas A&M they were trying to recruit instead). I talked with him for a while, really not wanting to push him either way because I wanted it to be his decision, but my heart was pushing for Texas A&M. Ellie also talked to him for a while, mostly about the less pragmatic aspects to the decision process that I’m not very interested in or good at talking about. What Rob didn’t first mention was he needed to decide by that Friday! He called me Friday and told me he had decided on becoming an Aggie (I don’t even know what Emory’s mascot is). I was very happy for him. My Dad said later that either choice was a good one, and I realize he was right. I guess it just goes to show again that we have sufficient intelligence to survive once we reach our teens, but not the wisdom to thrive until we’ve had a wealth of experience. Thanks Dad, for helping me realize that I’m still impulsive and have much to learn, which is classic Colin I guess.

AJ asked me if I would be in the wedding party for he and Jamie’s wedding. I must say I was quite honored. Then it brought back all the memories of preparations for my own wedding and how stressful it was for Ellie and I. Ellie bore most of the work and stress, which I’m thankful for. It would have been a very different affair if I had to make the decisions and calls, because I simply don’t get very excited about much.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

You are GODFREY UGO. You are the Chairman of the Contract Debt Investigation and Payment Commission for the government of Nigeria.  You have $200 Million that you wish to give away 25%. Your business is 100% risk free.
Which Nigerian spammer are You?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Today I was briefly outsmarted by a rat, or should I more aptly say outmaneuvered. I was working with them today and one of the rats seemed a bit more agitated and afraid, doing its best to bury itself underneath its other container-mates. I’ve handled a lot of rats, so I figured it just needed some attention so that it was more used to human contact. I picked him up and put him on my arm, gently holding his tail in case he started going someplace he didn’t belong (I’ve seen rats go up a person’s cuff into the arm of their lab coat, and once had one leap from its enclosure onto my shoulder). He seemed not to want to be there, doing his best bungee jumper impression by trying to leap off my arm and be saved from plummeting to the floor by his tail.

Understanding this I decide to put him back, not wanting to get him really riled up. I gently place him back in the cage and start to put the lid on, when he jumps up the side, grabs on the edge and pulls himself up and out of the cage (like a little Rat Army Ranger). He proceeds to hop off the table which the housing unit was sitting on and to the floor. Now keep in mind that I’m all alone in the lab and normally catching a loose rodent is a simple task with two people (one guides the rodent to the other, but be aware mice are FAST and can jump like a mini-kangaroo). By yourself it’s a bit more difficult, since you don’t want to agitate the animal too much, nor corner it so that it feels the need to bite you.

So I’m crawling around on the floor on all fours, rear waving around in the air like one of those “Bend over Ladies” that people have in their yard (ack, tasteless). Every time I get around one end of a box or table the rat either went under the table or around the other end of the box. I crawled around on the floor for a good 3 minutes, being outsmarted by the rat. Finally it got a bit comfortable and didn’t move quite far enough to be out of reach. I picked up his tail and lifted up his back legs so he wouldn’t turn to bite if he was scared. No problem there. Once I was sure he wasn’t too scared I picked him up and put him back with his mates, who he immediately crawled underneath and peeked out at me. I suspect he would have said something like “Had you right where I wanted you, sucker. You looked ridiculous!”

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Discovered a cool iTunes trick today. Most of my mp3s don’t have album work associated with them, which is normally of no consequence to people. iTunes has an option to display the album artwork though, which I think is a nice little addition. What I found was that if I found a picture of the album on I could drag the picture onto the album display space in iTunes and it gets written into the ID3 tag of the mp3! Looks like I’ve got a new task to occupy me when I’m bored.

A new day, new computer troubles. This is the kind of stuff I like to fix though. The computer has of late been restarting spontaneously when I’m working at it. Since I’ve had this issue many times before I know exactly what the issue is: heat. The computer I built is based around the Athlon “Thunderbird” core, which towards the end of it’s life was notorious for pouring off a lot of heat (same thing the latest generation of Intel Pentium4’s are known for). When a computer gets very hot it gets unstable and can crash, plus it’s not great for hard drive life either.

I had managed to get it at a level where the computer was fine, but I didn’t have a door on the front of my desk where the computer was residing. It was quite stable. When we moved we left the old desk behind and we received a nice, cherry desk from Ellie’s parents. It’s a beauty, and with a front door to the computer case area. Most folks, me included, would prefer not to hear the whine of fans and hard drives that accompany most computers today so they leave the door closed. This prevents cool air from getting to the computer though, so it gets hotter and hotter until it finally crashes, or worse (but rare) a piece of hardware fails. So now I have two options: Close the door and use a crashing computer or leave it open and listen to the whine. I think I’ll be turning up the volume on iTunes :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Tuesday morning has rolled in and I thought it time to post anew. Ellie's parents were with us until yesterday, for which I'm thankful. They were really helpful in setting things up around the house and generally just nice to have around. It's too bad that they live most of the year down in Virginia, but at least they come to Michigan for the summer.

AJ sent me an iTunes gift certificate (cool of him) as a house warming gift. I'm thinking I may use it to buy a Neil Finn album. I used one of the free songs I got with a Pepsi to download one of his tracks and really dug it (Driving Me Mad, which I'd heard on the Impact). I've also been listening to a Rhett Miller album (The Instigator ) that I borrowed from the library. Again I heard a lot of it on the Impact, and again I dig it.

I also saw on NPR that Brian Wilson, the Beach Boy, is getting ready to release some music he's been working on for ~40 years. I'll have to give that a listen when I get the chance.

A funny thing happened at work when I was handling the rats. Jane was there to witness it. I sneezed a few times, to which she asked if I was become allergic. Immediately I was thinking I better not be! I suspect I'm just getting a cold, as Ellie seemed to have cold-like symptoms this week, but that would be bad news if I was becoming allergic to rodents. I teased Jane that now that she said it I would develop it due to a psychosomatic response.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Today I write from our new house in Holt, fully wired finally. Comcast came out yesterday and hooked up all the cable lines. I finished the first phase of my Ethernet wiring project yesterday morning too, so now both the office rooms can simply plug into the wall and be wired. I hope this will encourage me to post more often, as it was too frustrating to try to post when I was on dialup. Now I can easily browse the iTunes Music Store as well as listen to internet radio.

There is but one fly in the ointment, but I'll try to fish it out with a good pair of forceps. The Tivo doesn't have the correct channel lineup, so I need to go through the setup procedure again. I started it without realizing that once the process is started one cannot exit the process until it is complete, so now the Tivo is useless until I can get a dial tone. The problem is for the setup procedure the Tivo must be able to dial out to a 1-800 number. We don't have a conventional phone line, so the setup process gets stuck. Once the guided setup is complete then the Tivo can do everything over the Internet, but initally it needs a phone connection. Ack. Now it looks that I may need to go over to a friend's place in order to get the setup complete. I hope to get it done quick, because I want to Tivo the latest episode of The Shield on Sunday. I hope Neil B gets home soon.

Friday, April 09, 2004

This morning started in a very unusual way. Ellie dropped me off at the Food Safety & Toxicology Center just like normal. I was walking towards the buildings enjoying the crisp air of the morning when a truck crashed into the gate at that controls entrance to the parking area. At first I thought it was my truck because it was a black Ford Ranger, but when I realized that it wasn't my anxiety was a little less.

The odd thing was that I recall the sound of the truck accelerating and then that sickly crunching noice autos make when they collide with something. It was the first time I''ve ever seen an airbag deployed too. The woman got out of the truck and I asked if she had a phone. She didn't so I called 911 for her and asked for some help to be sent. She seemed a bit shocked, probably going through that moment of "I can't believe I just did that" like any of us go through. The truly odd thing was that I wanted to head into the building so I asked if she wanted my name to give, but she didn't want that. As I walked away I heard her restart the car and begin to move it. I looked out the window when I got to the building expecting to see she had parked out of the way, but instead no truck was to be seen. She had driven off! I was shocked because it looked like she did several thousand dollars worth of damage to the truck. If anyone sees an African looking woman about 5'6" driving a black Ford Ranger with some serious front end damage you probably know where she got the damage on the truck now. Very strange start to the day!

Thursday, April 08, 2004

I finally got the bathroom cabinet hung on Tuesday night. I found a guy at Lowe's and he was a big help when it came to finding a proper screw. If he hadn't actually said to me "Do you need help with anything" I probably would have gone home with the wrong screws (again). Stupid maleness, sometimes it makes asking for help so much more difficult than it ought to be. On the other hand it keeps me out of situations like I meet with Saturday at Lowe's.

Ellie and I were looking for dry wall anchors and we started talking to one of the people there. He was one of those types that can't take a hint or isn't aware that people have other things they'd like to do (I of course go completely too far in the other direction and assume everyone has something more important to do than to talk with me). He must have talked for a solid 10 minutes about how his first house was, what his children do, the value of education (and how he pays for part of his children's college expenses). I just came to look at drywall anchors, not hear the Autobiography of a Lowe's Salesman Who Is Really Annoying. Ellie said to me after we managed to break away after doing the slow backup for about 20 feet that she was almost to the point of being rude to end the monologue (well, to be fair to the guy Ellie has a talent for asking questions that encourage people to keep the verbal diarrhea flowing), to which I replied "I was already past the point of caring if I was rude and was to the point of purposely being rude."

I'm looking forward to starting my little wiring project in the house. I bought new wall outlets and Cat5e jacks to plug into them. Next I'll just have to make sure all the little pesky wires are plugged into the right slots and I should have a wired home. Down the line I may have to make some modifications to reinstall phone wire when it's time to sell the house, but we're years from that. The way the house is currently setup is not optimal for Ethernet, but I can make it work. The issue all arises from the fact that the Cat5e all originates from the most central location in the house, the office room. There are 3 cables that run from the outlet there: 1 to the guest room, 1 to the master bedroom, and 1 down next to the circuit breaker. Ideally each room would have a wire that ran straight to the circuit breaker (so I could put the hub and cable modem in the basement out of sight), but we don't have that so I'll have to do it a bit messy. Like I said earlier, maybe down the line I'll change it, but for now things will work fine.

Monday, April 05, 2004

This weekend was quite busy with work around the house. Ellie had to work at the hotel Saturday morning, so I got up around 8:30 by myself and started to go to work. Cable TV or internet haven't been hooked up yet, so there wasn't much else I could do. I assembled a cupboard for the bathroom but didn't mount it (it's still not mounted today) because I didn't have the right drywall anchors. Got those at Lowe's, but then the problem became that the heads on the screws that go into the anchors were too large for the hole & notch that was on the cupboard. Ooops. Chalk that one up on the experience board... making sure everything hypothetically fits before you start putting holes in the wall!

I also swung by the library and picked up some CDs that I wanted. Got home and listened to The Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. I did enjoy it. I got a few other ones too, Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and some James Taylor. I plan to put them on the iPod once I get my computer setup, but to this point there hasn't really been much of a reason to set it up. For sure one the cable modem is here.

Speaking of which, I have a decision to make. The phone lines in the house are Cat5e, and since we aren't going to get a land line I think I'm going to get new wall sockets for Ethernet and just use the existing wires. I can setup my router in the office area where my computer will be and just run everything from that room. Alternatively I could switch everything to wireless so that I don't have to deal with cables at all, but I think we'll wait a while on that. I want to see how much interference exists in the 2.4Ghz band around our place first before I make that jump.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Today was one of those mornings it feels great to be alive. I think everyone experiences this from time to time. Slept great last night at the new house, got up and brewed a pot of coffee with freshly opened ground beans (that’s a great smell when you first open the container, I wish it lasted). Ellie and I drove in together and I ran an errand before I dropped the car off at the Marriott and hopped the bus to work. Maybe that half-pot of coffee contributed (ah coffee, how I’ve missed you during these 2 weeks since I ran out of you in the house) to the feeling, but spring’s scent drifts on the breeze and I have a window that overlooks the woods at work. Radiohead is playing on the iPod. It feels great to be alive.