Trevor May.ca

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Archive for the "Technology" Category


Comparing GPS Devices for Mountain Biking

Blog I wrote on Pinkbike comparing some GPS units.

Email Client Switch?

I’ve been trying out different email programs, just to see if something fits better than Outlook which I’ve always used. I use Google Apps to host my domain email and have to check using IMAP. I find the IMAP in Outlook fairly slow at times.

I tried Postbox & Opera mail and didn’t like either, I then tried Thunderbird again. I’ve tried it several times over the years and it never stuck. But now since I use an Android phone I’ve been using Google Contacts & Calendar more and more over the Outlook built-in options. I still use Outlook contacts & calendar but use a program called gSyncit to sync changes.

The thing that sets Thunderbird apart is its healthy ecosystem of  “addons”. There are addons to use Google Contacts & Calendar within Thunderbird. I also find the IMAP much faster and the search and filtering is faster and contains some nice features.

I will try using Thunderbird for a week as my main email client and see if it sticks. One thing I miss already is the ability to right click an email “find related messages” which Outlook has.

Here are the addons I’m using

Switching to XBMC

I have run a computer connected to my TV for many years, started with just normal windows then Windows Media Center 2005, then Vista Media Center then to Boxee and now i’m making the move to XBMC.

I’ve spent a lot of time the last 3 days pimping out my XBMC Eden setup and organizing my movies and tv shows so they 100% identify and have all the poster, banner, logo and fanart images.

I’m pretty happy with XBMC its very customizable, but I do miss some of the features and apps Boxee had.

I made a video demo’ing my XBMC setup
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eepxM3K3tc

Here is a pic of my TV setup, my HTPC is a horizontal case under my receiver.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tip: Download Youtube Videos in HD

I like to save youtube videos I really like so I can watch on my TV anytime, fun to watch when friends are over and such. There are several extensions for the Google Chrome web browser that add a download button below the video on youtube.com This allows you to quickly and easily download the video in any format available, all the way upto 1080p!

Many of these extensions no longer work and there isn’t any in the official Chrome Extension directory. This one currently works great though, the one I was using before stopped working.

http://www.chromeextensions.org/music-videos-photos/download-youtube-videos-as-mp4-flv/

You want to download the MP4 versions for best video offline playback, if you run a Windows prior to Windows 7, you may have to install a codec pack to play MP4 files.

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My Pet Peeve with Game Data on C Drive!

So many games on Windows saved their game data in annoying places on the main system drive “C: drive”, this is something that drives me nuts!

First there is the issue with saved games, there is no standardized location to store saved game data. It seems like ever game stores it in a different place. You would think that a company like EA would at least have a standard across all of its own games, but no! Here is a list of some of the locations saved games are stored.

  • The saves in a folder within the game install folder
  • The “My Games” folder within the “My Documents” folder
  • The game creates its own folder in “My Documents”

Windows 7 even has a special folder in your user account called “Saved Games” but it seems no games use it, not even a Microsoft game! The result is a complet mess of your “My Documents” folder, making it pretty much useless for actual documents. I have resorted to creating a separate “Documents” folder and removing the default “My Documents” from the Windows 7 Documents Library.

Why can’t their be a standardized location to save games! the formentined “Saved Games” folder would be excellent. Maybe Microsoft needs to dictate that game publishes use a standard in order to get the “Games for Windows” or any Microsoft certified Windows logo. Obviosuly we cna’t rely on the publishers themselves to form a consensus.

Game Data & Settings

The saved game issue is an annoyance of organization and aesthetics, the issue of Game data & settings cane be more troubling. Many games store game data in places they shouldn’t as well, in the My Documents folder, or more commonly the “C:\ProgramData” or “C:\Users\[username]\AppData” folders. This is a good practice in general for game settings and profiles. For example if I have a bunch of video and custom keyboard commands set in a game, it can make it easier to transfer and keep those commands if I migrate Windows users accounts, or upgrade me OS. It also allows different users on the same PC to have their own settings.

The problem is when a game stores more than just settings files in these locations, many games saved large files such as game textures, large reply files, cache and so on. For example I have a couple games that have over 2GB folders in the “My Documents” folder full of crap. Or take Dirt2, it has a 2GB folder in “C:\Users\All Users\Codemasters\DiRT2\DataCache“. Even some games installed through Steam are not immune to this problem. Even worse is I’ve seen some games store large amounts of data in the users “Roaming” folder! If your on a domain network, the contents of the Roaming folder are transfered over the network when you login and off from the network.

Why is this an issue? Well many people don’t have large C: drives, which is actually becoming more common with the use of SSD drives. I for example have a fast Raptor drive which is only 74GB for my system drive. I have 4TB of other drives in my computer, but the C drive is small. I install all my games to the D: drive, but so many of them spill over great amounts of data to the system drive which is constantly filling up. I have resorted to creating folder “junctions” or “Symbolic Links” to redirect these problem folders from the C drive to the D drive. If your interested in how to do this search for a command line tool included in Windows called “mklink”.

</rant>

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Trillian 5 is Awesome!

2 years ago I noticed several friends no longer using Windows Live Messenger for chat, instead they were using Facebook chat. The mass majority of people I IM with use the “MSN” protocol, but its still annoying having to communicate in multiple places. Add to that separate contact lists in Skype, GTalk and Xfire. I wanted a universal Instant Messenger!

So 2 years ago I tried a whole wack of programs and decided I liked Pidgin the best. Pidgin is a open source cross-platform multi network IM client http://www.pidgin.im/. It worked very well, its a super clean interface. It didn’t have functionalty for Facebook and Xfire out-of-the-box, but there were 3rd party plugins to allow this. There were other IM clients that did this, but Pidgin was the only one that would allow me to combine or merge contacts on multiple networks. See the problem is many of my contacts are on Facebook and Windows Messenger at the same time, so my online contact list grows too large. So I wanted to be able to combine contacts. Now Pidgin worked well for a time, but the Facebook chat over the past year has stopped working or it works very poorly, mostly due to changes on the Facebook platform and security I would imagine.

So tonight I decided to look again at the options, and came across the new Trillian 5 beta. I had used Trillian way back in the 90′s as an ICQ client alternative, boy has it changed! They are billing themselfs now as a universal IM client, which supports MSN, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and much more! Trillian in the past always had a butt ugly interface, the new 5.0 is a very nice minimal interface with a fair amount of customization.

But the BIG thing they’ve added that I want is the ability to COMBINE CONTACTS! I can hold CTRL and select “Bob” in Facebook and Windows Messenger, then right click and select “combine”. I then can choose the network priority, so say I want Messenger to take priority over Facebook chat if he’s online on both. This is awesome and works great.

If you want to try this out, one thing I had to do 2 years ago with Pidgin is rename all my groups in Windows Live Messenger and Facebook to be the same! If you don’t then you will have a messy contact list with duplicate groups. if you don’t use groups then thats fine, but when you have over 300 Messenger contacts groups are a must!

Now only if it could integrate Xfire and Steam!

You can download and try out Trillian here: http://www.trillian.im/learn/tour-trillian5.html

Could Boxee replace my Windows Media Center?

I have been a “Windows Media Centre” enthusiast for over 5 years, I love the idea of having one device feed the entire home theatre. I currently have a custom built Home Theatre PC (HTPC) running Windows 7 Media Center and I love it. I have a TV-Tuner for the cable TV and a DVD drive. Its the only thing I have plugged into my TV. I think media centre’s guide is the best out there by far. Anytime I goto someones house that has digital cable or satellite, their menu systems are so ugly and slow. But the media centre experience seems to have been stalling a bit at late, with the move to more online tv content, services like Netflix & hulu, and it wasn’t specificaly designed to handle torrented movies and tv shows. With the use of 3rd party plugins the experience can be greatly improved for these things, but its not perfect.

So thats where Boxee enters, I have heard about boxee for awhile now, but never bothered to really check it out. Last time I tried it was only alpha release for windows, so I didn’t bother. Well I was reminded about boxee today so I downloaded the FREE opensource program to the HTPC to test it out and I am very impressed. It does almost everything I want it to, and several of the core requirements for me it does better than Windows Media Center.

The experience of indexing, browsing and viewing torrented movies and tv shows is better, it scans all the filenames of the movies and tv shows, identifies them and sorts them nicely. It then downloads all the useful metadata for each item, like movie description, poster art and so on. It pretty much works flawless, with virtually no setup. The music playing and picture viewing experiences are about the same as they were on Media Center. The big thing boxee does much better is internet content. Media center in Canada has almost no online content, so we have been using a 3rd party RSS reader plugin to subscribe to video podcasts. The plugin is ugly and buggy though. With Boxee there is SO MUCH free online content in an easy interface.

The HUGE power to Boxee is the “apps”, there are several hundred apps for boxee, no install required, you just browse the app catelog and click one to launch it, or add it to your “My apps” list. There are apps for so many things, like our favorite online tv shows from Revision3, or the CBC National, or NPR podcasts, Netflix, Youtube, a really sweet Picasa albumn viewer, the list is almost endless and more apps are added all the time. The boxee apps I think are the “killer app” that will make me switch my HTPC from running Media Center to Boxee.

The major downside to Boxee is its non-existant tv-tuner support. So you can’t watch cable TV through boxee, which sucks. But with all this online content, I am going to cancel our cable again, the only reason I subscibed to cable again was for the winter Olympics. The one channel I want is CBC, which I can get for free in HD using an ATSC antenna pointed at Mt Seymour. But since Boxee doesn’t have tv-tuner support, I can’t watch it via the boxee interface… Unless a hack I found works, I will report back if it does.

The hack involves using the HDhomerun network TV-tuner and creating a shortcut to it, and adding that shortcut to one of the folders Boxee watches. Something like this “hdhomerun://xxxxxxxx/tuner0?channel=8vsb:23&program=3″

I’m going to buy an HDhomerun anyway, because my old ATSC tuner card doens’t have drivers for WIndows 7 and our HTPC is on the opposide side of the apartment from the window facing Mt Seymour. With the HDhomerun, the tuner streams the video over the network.

The other small downside to Boxee is its lack of customization of the GUI, I like most of the interface, except for the homescreen, but I can live with that.

It also has social media integration with Twitter, Facebook, Digg and so on. You can share what your watching, or recomend shows to your followers on boxee. Which is only really useful if you have friends also using Boxee.

Another really cool feature is a Google Chrome & Firefox extension which adds a “Add to Boxee” button above Youtube & Vimeo videos. This will add the video to your queue on boxee, so later when you sit down at the TV for a relaxing time, you can watch those videos without searching for them.

If you have an HTPC, a laptop with HDMI or something, I highly recommend checking Boxee out, its available for Windows, OSX and Linux. And if you don’t have a computer you can connect to a TV, you can buy the “Boxee Box” which is their own little hardware device running Boxee you connect to your TV. And it just came to Canada, you can get it at Bestbuy for $199, check it out here http://dlink.ca/boxee/

A bonus is you can use a Windows Media Center or Logitech harmony remote with boxee flawlessly. The Boxee Box comes with its own remote though. And extra cool is there are apps for iPone and Android that allow your phone to act as a remote.

If you start using boxee, add me as a friend “Canadaka”.

Silly use of Twitter

This is a very silly bad use of twitter and the kinda thing that people mock twitter about. But I wanted to try this media centre plugin that tweets what you’re doing on media centre. So it will tweet what tv show your watching, movie your watching or what music your listening too. Since this is rather useless info, I didn’t want to spam my real twitter account so I made a separate twitter account just for this http://twitter.com/trevangie_tv. You can follow it if you really wanna know what tv shows we’re watching, you will see the 50 kagillion wedding shows Angela watches :P

If your crazy like I clearly am and wanna try out this plugin, you can get it here.

Torrented Movie renaming tool

When I download torrented movies I like to rename them so the folder and file names are all neat. I need all my movies in a sub folders because this is the way the “Media Browser” Media center plugin in the post below requires. The AVI file needs to be named the same as the folder as well. This can be rather tedious, so I wrote a PHP script to automate renaming downloaded movies. I then used a tool called “bamcompile” to compile the php script into an executable that can be dropped into any folder and ran.

The script will scan through all the folders in the loation the exe is places, it will rename the folder all nice, format the data in the title and delete anything after the date. It will then rename all the files inside the folder to match, along with deleting any nfo and txt files.

For example a folder named “Tropic.Thunder[2008]DvDrip-aXXo” would be renamed to “Tropic Thunder (2008)“.

Most torrents you download the movie is already in a sub-folder, but if they are not, or if you have a ton of old movies all in one folder, you can use this simple DOS batch script my friend made for me to move each file into a sub-folder. movie_folder_tool

I also see someone recently made a batch file that does the same thing available here.

Media Browser Plugin for Vista Media Center

This is a great plugin for Vista Media Center that i’ve been using for a couple years. I has gone through a couple developers and several names, it is now known as “Media Browser”. Each new release gets better and better, the new version has the cool 3D reflective list mode. It also dynamically fetches attractice backgrounds when viewing a movies info.

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Developers Blog: http://blog.manghera.com
Download here: http://code.google.com/p/videobrowser/downloads/list (MCE_Media_Browser_2_0_8_0.msi)