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Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Toolkit for the Hardcore Music Enthusiast

iTunes, low-bitrate encodes, and poorly tagged music might suffice for the average listener and teenagers, but the same cannot be said for the discriminating music enthusiast. The vast library of a true music aficionado is painstakingly maintained, with complete, consistent metadata and set up with an organized folder structure. Only lossless sources are acceptable for obtaining music, and similarly every last song is either kept in lossless format or properly converted into a high-bitrate lossy transcode.

This might sound a bit excessive, but it’s how I’ve structured my collection for quite sometime. Thankfully, it’s not at all difficult to set up, as long as you possess the right combination of tools. Here’s how my toolchain works:

  1. Acquisition
    • CD ripping
      There are a number of programs for this, but for high-quality secure digital extraction my program of choice is dBpoweramp CD Ripper. A polished GUI, highly configurable ripping and tagging options, AccurateRip, and flexible codec support make dBpoweramp easy to use while still producing great results.
    • P2P
      This might have a legal status that’s slightly less acceptable, but if you choose to take this route you must be particularly discriminating. Look only for properly encoded lossless (e.g. FLAC) releases.
  2. Transcoding/Conversion
    I applaud you if you have an infinite supply of large-capacity disk drives on which to store your 100% lossless music stash. But for the majority of people keeping everything encoded losslessly is not worth the space premium. That’s why we have lossy compression formats like MP3 and AAC. Again, I prefer dBpoweramp’s Music Converter for this due to its great GUI and unified collection of codecs. Of course, when transcoding be sure to follow the golden rule: Always convert from lossless to lossy, and never from lossy to lossy as that will further degrade the source audio. For listening transparency the general recommendation is to use LAME MP3 @ V2 VBR (~192Kbps) and for AAC @ q. 55 VBR. Contrary to popular belief, max-bitrate encodes like MP3 @ 320 CBR is just pointless and a waste of space. I don’t care how much of an audiophile you are, after you achieve transparency any higher bitrates are a moot point.
  3. Tagging
    No matter where you got your music, chances are that if the tags came from an online database (e.g. freedb) you’ll see inconsistencies, spelling errors, omissions, etc. This is especially the case with classical music, since there seems to be no clear consensus on what fields should be used for what. Additionally, albums obtained from shady sources tend to have badly misformed tags. In any case, my favorite tagging program is Mp3tag. Don’t let the name fool you – it supports a huge range of formats, most importantly the common ones like MP3/AAC/FLAC. It can do basic stuff like field editing and adding/removing album art. And it can also do cool whizbang stuff like regex modification on fields, field swapping, user-defined tag fields, etc. Highly recommended if you’re completely anal about cataloging your music collection, like me.
  4. Library management/media player
    So what good would the previous steps have done you if you can’t enjoy your music? In my opinion mainstream players like iTunes and Windows Media Player simply don’t stack up. I’m not going to lie: I’m a Mediamonkey fanboy all the way (see my previous review). One of the best things about MM is its File Monitor feature – it constantly monitors your music folders checking for additions/deletions/changes, which are then reflected in the database. And speaking of its database, which is powered by SQLite, MM can easily manage a collection of 100,000+ songs (or so they say). iTunes and WMP will easily get bogged down/confused by large collections and dead links. MM also includes a variety of sorting options to make navigation a snap. On top of that, MM can perform a variety of basic tagging options so you don’t have to whip out a dedicated tagger unless you’re performing radical surgery. And if your collection has a good set of tags (which it should by now!) MediaMonkey is capable of automatically setting up a folder structure to subdivide your collection on the hard drive. Combine this with the File Monitor, and you get a bit of magic – just drop files into your My Music folder, for example, and watch them disappear into their own album folder.

While this might take a bit more work than blindly downloading songs and throwing them in random places, it’s well worth the effort. Compare your high-quality, uniform collection to the average discombobulated stockpile of low-bitrate, badly transcoded files. Not only will it be a breeze to find what you want and hear it in great quality, your friends will thank you if you decide to share an album or two.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Spice up your Windows with Microsoft’s Own Windows 7 Themes, Gadgets, and more

Microsoft has for download a smorgasbord of themes, ranging from Ferrari to Ducati to Bing to…South Africa? Each one promises a stunning set of new desktop backgrounds. Also available are some awesome standalone backgrounds and a showcase of gadgets. For you early Win7 adopters, check these out! Microsoft has uncharacteristically took a pretty good stab at the world of user customization…

Free Image Hosting at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vertically Center Text on a Page (Word 2007)


Hey…you learn something new everyday. Have you ever needed to create a title page where the text has to sit in the vertical center of the page? Just go to Page Layout, then hit the little arrow in the lower right of Page Setup. Go to the Layout tab and set Vertical Alignment to center. No more slamming the enter key 50 million times or painstakingly positioning a text book!


Hey, you learn something new every day.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Picks: The Best Windows 7 Features

Windows 7’s version number is actually NT 6.1, implying it’s only a minor point release compared to Vista (NT 6.0). But in reality, most would agree that Win7 is a significant step forward in the OS world, even if it’s just a comprehensive improvement of the Vista codebase. Regardless of your opinions on Vista, it’s hard to deny that 7 brings some awesome new features to the table. Here is my Top 10 take on those awesome features, in no particular order.

  1. Sticky Notes
    Functional yet brilliantly simple, these little guys live on your desktop and are a great productivity tool for keeping track of things. Handwriting support on tablets, basic text formatting, and multiple color options are an added bonus.
  2. The “New” Taskbar
    Vista sorta changed things up, but with Windows 7 the taskbar is a wholly reinvented affair. Program labels are not shown by default – instead, you’re displayed with a list of icons which can be permanently pinned. Software can also be written to take advantage of jumplists, accessible by right-clicking icons. To accomodate all this, the taskbar is now slightly higher, but I believe it’s well worth the small cost in screen space.
  3. Desktop Wallpaper Slideshows
    Macs (which I hate) have had this feature for a while, and on the Windows of the past one had to resort to 3rd-party software. Now Microsoft has made this eye candy part of the OS. Win7 handles hundreds of wallpapers in a folder with ease, and can be set at different intervals to change the wallpaper.
  4. Libraries
    Some people might argue with me for praising this feature. But like it or not, the new Libraries feature in Windows 7 makes folder consolidation a snap. Got some movies on your basement NAS box, music on your HTPC, and photos on your workstation? Just create a library and you can manage and view it all as if it were all in one place, thanks to Win7 Libraries.
  5. New Windows Media Center Features
    These days a lot of PC TV tuners are hybrid, meaning that they can tune analog or digital signals, but not at the same time. Take the Hauppauge HVR-2250, for example – it has DUAL hybrid tuners. Under Vista one could record either two analog streams or two digital strings, but not mix and match – essentially defeating the purpose of having a hybrid tuner in the first place. Now, Win7 allows you to mix and match, recording one analog and one digital stream at the same time. Great for HTPC enthusiasts.
    WMC in 7 now also supports ClearQAM tuning, which was possible in Vista but only with the OEM-only TV Pack 2008. This will be a boon to anyone who subscribes to FiOS TV or any other TV service that uses ClearQAM.
  6. Standardized Monitor Configuration
    In the days of Vista and earlier, advanced monitor configuration was done more or less through the video card driver, either NVIDIA ForceWare or ATI’s Catalyst Control Center. Now everything monitor-related is taken care of through a new, simplified, standardized applet. Regardless of whether it’s a Radeon, GeForce, or crappy Intel card, everything from dual monitors to resolution to cloning is all handled through Windows itself.
  7. Logon Background Customization

    This is something that’ll be more interesting for geeks and OEMs, but is cool nonetheless. In previous Windows versions one had to resort to hacking the resources in the logon shell to achieve the same effect. Now even the average joe can rock out with a super-awesome logon screen! Note, however that support is limited to files <256kb and a certain predefined set of resolutions only.
  8. Unified Network Manager
    The new taskbar networking interface now unifies all of your connection options, whether it’s wireless, wired, or WWAN. The layout is suspiciously reminiscent of NetworkManager on Linux…but anyway, it makes switching/connecting a LOT easier.
  9. Device Stage
    Windows 7 now offers users an overview of all the devices connected to the computer – printers, USB peripherals, hard drives, scanners, cell phones, etc etc. Apparently device developers can use Device Stage to extend the functionality and interaction of their products. We’ll see how that pans out.

There are so many new and improved features in Windows 7 – this is but a smattering of them. Hopefully, you now have an idea of the awesomeness to expect when Microsoft releases 7 to the public.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Smattering of Good (and BAD) Pickup Lines

These are some of the funnier/ridiculous pickup lines I’ve come across. Some of these are just so bad you wouldn’t be caught dead using ‘em in real life. For the same reason some are more offensive than funny. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. Nice shoes, wanna fuck?
  2. Your legs are like two theme parks, what time do they open?
  3. I want to be DNA helicase so I can unzip your jeans.
  4. I know what you're thinking and the answer is 'Yes, that is a 64-bit driver.'
  5. Are you Jamaican? cause jamaican me boner.
  6. I wish I were sin^2 and you were cos^2, because together we could be 1.
  7. Does this rag smell like chloroform to you?
  8. I'm an astronaut and my next mission is to explore Uranus.
  9. Hi, my bank account is over 7 figures. What's that? You want to marry me? But you didn't hear my cheesy pick up line yet!
  10. How do you like you eggs in the morning, scrambled or fertilized?
  11. Is your dad a baker? Because you have a lot of rolls.
  12. Is your dad a dentist? Because it looks like he stole all your teeth.
  13. Is your dad a cop? Because I don't want another restraining order.
  14. Does your dad work for the RIAA. FUCK THE RIAA!
  15. I'm not sure of your name, but I'm sure I've come across your face before.
  16. That dress sure is becoming on you. Then again, if I was on you, I'd be coming, too.
  17. Pardon me, do you have a vagina? Because I'd like to put my penis inside it.
  18. Ever been to Alaska? No? So you've never seen pipes like these.
  19. Hope your firewall is down, cause I want to flood your ports.
  20. Hey, are you constipated? Cause I wanna fuck the shit out of you.
  21. Do you work at Subway? Because you're giving me a footlong.
  22. You wanna go back to my place, eat pizza and screw? What, you don't like pizza?
  23. If you were my homework I'd do you on the table.
  24. Roses are red
    Violets are green
    I like your legs
    And what's in between.
  25. You must be my homework; I don't know if I'm gonna do it, but I'm getting an extension.
  26. You smell just like your bicycle seat!
  27. Hey baby, are those space pants? 'Cause your ass is out of this world.
  28. Hey baby, wanna come over to myspace so i can twitter your yahoo until i google all over your facebook?
  29. Do you sleep on your stomach? "Can I?"
  30. You must be a general, because my private just snapped to attention.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The WRT54GL Killer: Netgear’s Open Source WNR3500L


Ever since Linksys released the first version of their WRT54G,the company has made a name for itself with its open-source routers. Although the WRT54G series switched to a proprietary vxWorks OS starting with revision 5, the open-source tradition continued with the later WRT54GL model, a unit designed specifically for the Linux/modding/open-source/power-user community. There’s a reason why the WRT54GL has won the Newegg Customer Choice Award a whopping 28 times…because it’s AWESOME. I am currently a proud owner of 3 of these little guys. Well, more specifically, the WRT54GL is compatible with a smorgasbord of third-party projects and firmwares, the most popular being DD-WRT, OpenWRT and Tomato.  Sure, there are numerous other open source-compatible routers from Asus, Buffalo, and whatnot, but the WRT54GL will remain close to every geek’s heart. Although its 802.11g and 10/100 Ethernet might be getting a little long in the tooth these days, it remains the gold standard of its niche.

Until now.

Netgear has just announced its new WNR3500L router, which, judging from its feature set, seems directly aimed to compete with the WRT54GL and other open-source routers. Supposedly the device will offer strong third-party support straight out of the gate with a developer program and compatibility with DD-WRT, OpenWRT, and Tomato as well. Perhaps mostly importantly, though, are the WNR3500L’s specifications of 802.11n and Gigabit Ethernet. This may be the first consumer-oriented device that combines high performance with the flexibility of open-source firmware. Plus, its minimalist black look is definitely an improvement over the cute but aging blue Linksys box shape.

Undoubtedly, eager buyers will jump on these as soon as Netgear starts selling ‘em. In the meantime, we’ll stay tuned for more information and the inevitable head-to-head comparison. Is the WNR3500L a WRT54GL killer?