Technology


Getting Closer

PhoneAre you sitting down? I have a shocking declaration to make. I have never owned a cellular phone.

As unbelievable as that sounds, it's true. I love gadgets and technology and all that, but I've never been interested in owning a cell phone. I always felt if I was going to own a portable communications tool of that nature, it would have to be so much more than simply a phone. For one, it would have to store and play MP3s. According to this Nokia press release, we're getting closer.

The Nokia N91 has an integrated 4GB hard drive and standard headphone jack. You essentially treat this phone like a decent sized MP3 player. They do exactly what they should do, they give you the space and let you transfer your own MP3s over without forcing some stupid DRM crapology down our collective throats. We're definitely getting closer, but we're not quite there yet. It needs to be a PDA and offer remote desktop connectivity too. Then I'll consider getting in the game.

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My Favourite Firefox Extensions

FirefoxI currently have nine Firefox extensions installed. I need to document this list in case I need to configure another browser so I'm just going to list them and briefly explain what they do.

  • Web Developer - Adds a menu and a toobar with various web developer tools.
  • Adblock - Filters ads from web pages.
  • Tabbrowser Preferences - Enhances control over some aspects of tabbed browsing.
  • ForecastFox - Puts my local weather forcast on my status bar.
  • ieview - Opens pages in IE via Firefox menus.
  • FoxyTunes - Controls any media player from Firefox displaying the current song and more.
  • Download Statusbar - Displays status of downloads in an auto-hide statusbar.
  • Disable Targets For Downloads - Prevents download links from opening a blank window.
  • ImageZoomer - An extension to zoom in and out of images via the context menu.

If there are any killer extensions out there I'd enjoy, don't be shy about it.

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It's About Time

Yahoo!Yahoo! has finally unveiled it's toolbar for Firefox. You can download it here. It's about bloody time.

Any company developing browser plug-ins that don't work with Firefox don't get it. Every month Internet Explorer's share of the browser market gets smaller and smaller as people wise up and discover Firefox. I could go on about why Firefox is a million times better than Internet Explorer but it's far easier to simply direct you here, here and here.

Those tricky bastards at Yahoo! have me referring to their company as Yahoo! when it would be easier to call them Yahoo. What kind of slave to the corporate masses am I that I always add that damn exclamation mark at the end. When I start reversing the "R" in Toys R Us I'll know I have a problem.

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Clean Install Preparation

A MouseIt's that time again. On my work PC, I'm going to have to reinstall my two year old installation of Windows XP Pro. It's been on a downward spiral for a couple of months now, but there are so many things I have to do after a clean install I've been putting this inevitable moment off. It can wait no longer.

As a result, I'm preparing to get back to where I need to be in as little time as possible. Below are the applications I will install immediately following the installation of XP Pro.

  • Firefox - Always your first install
  • iTunes - For playing my MP3s
  • Office Suite - A necessary evil
  • Trillian - My preferred instant messenger client for communicating throughout the day with the Yahoo! users and MSN faithful
  • WS FTP - My preferred FTP client
  • Putty - My preferred telnet/ssh client
  • Win SCP - A great SFTP and SCP client for Windows
  • Snag-It - A great little screen capture utility
  • QuickTime Player - For videos
  • Search and Replace 98 - A time saver for a heavy duty XHTML guy like me
  • Audiograbber - For ripping CDs to MP3
  • Spybot S&D - For protecting my PC from spyware
  • Nero - For burning CDs
  • Adobe Acrobat - For producing PDF

Then there are various Firefox plugins, anti-virus software and work-specific applications that are forced upon me. This should be fun.

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XHTML 1.0 Strict

W3C Valid XHTML IconThis site has been hand coded in valid XHTML 1.0 for quite some time now, but it was XHTML 1.0 Transitional. Yesterday I changed my DOCTYPE declaration and tweaked each page so it's now valid XHTML 1.0 Strict. See for yourself!

Because I was already writing in valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional it wasn't that big a leap. Mainly I just had to move my image alignment and hspace into the CSS where it belongs. CSS is a wonderful thing.

In September 2003 I converted these page to XHTML 1.0 Transitional and now I've converted them to XHTML 1.0 Strict so where do I take them next?

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Here We Go Again

Here We Go AgainI read warnings like this one just about every day. Security experts are always alerting us of new and highly critical security flaws in Microsoft Internet Explorer. This time, visiting a malicious web site could leave an IE user's computer vulnerable to malicious code. I don't have to worry. I tossed IE to the curb long ago. I use Firefox.

Viewing the stats for this site I see the majority of my visitors are still using Internet Explorer as their web browser. I don't get it. What's wrong with you people? If you were to install and use Firefox for one day you'd never go back. Forgetting about the security benefits for a moment, the usability benefits are extraordinary. All things being equal, I'm sure no one in their right mind would choose Internet Explorer over Firefox. Therefore, all of you people viewing this page with that damn blue "e" in the top left corner are simply using it because it came with your operating system. In other words, it won you over by default, but it's never actually won your heart. Do yourself a favour and get Firefox. Go on. It's time you see what you're missing.

This past weekend I was looking to create a multi-level menu with pure CSS. I managed to get it to behave perfectly with valid, clean code, but there was one problem. It wouldn't work in Internet Explorer. Reason #254 why you should switch today...if you haven't done so already.

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The BBC On Blogs

The BBC On BlogsBlog readership has shot up by 58% in the last year, according to this article from the BBC. Obviously a lot more people are reading blogs, but only 7% of the 120 million US adults who use the internet actually maintain a blog.

My favourite line from this BBC article is this: "Blog creators were likely to be young, well-educated, net-savvy males with good incomes and college educations, the survey found." I'm still fairly young, I'm well-educated with a university education, I'm a male and I'm net-savvy. Where's that killer income I'm promised?

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How To Rip Your CD Collection To MP3 Like Me

How My MP3 Collection Came To BeI've been getting a lot of questions lately from people wondering exactly what I use to rip my CDs to MP3s and what steps are involved in the process. Below is a step-by-step guide for a newbie who wants to assemble an MP3 collection based on CDs they already possess.

  1. Download Audiograbber - I realize there are various applications that will convert your CDs to MP3s, but I use Audiograbber. It's free and I've been quite pleased with its performance. Visit the download page and download Audiograbber 1.83 build 1 from one of the listed locations...perhaps this one.

    Now that you've downloaded Audiograbber, open the .exe file and install it.
  2. Download the LAME MP3 Encoder - Although Audiograbber will enable you to rip your CDs to MP3s by itself, you'll want to increase the quality of your MP3 and that's where the LAME MP3 encoder comes in. Visit the download page and download lame-3.96.1 from one of the listed mirrors...perhaps this one.

    It's a compressed zip folder, so you'll have to unzip it. Windows XP comes with a utility that will do this automatically when you open the file, but other Windows users will need to use Winzip to unzip the dll. Once you've unzipped this file, simply put the contents into your Audiograbber directory. You now have an internal MP3 encoder.
  3. Configure Audiograbber - On the Audiograbber toolbar under "Settings", select "General Settings". I'm comfortable with all the defaults here, but everyone will want the folders and songs named differently. I personally like a folder for each artist and within that folder a folder for each album name and then within that folder an MP3 for each track in the format 01 - Artist Name - Song Name. There's also an option on this tab to select the directory you want your files to write to. I've found it's easier for me to organize everything if Audiograbber places the folders in my Audiograbber directory until I'm ready to copy them over to my music folder. View this screen cap of how my General Settings are configured and mimic it if you want the same results.

    Next, on the Audiograbber toolbar under "Settings", select "MP3 Settings". Here you determine how you want Audiograbber to rip your CDs and at what bitrate. This is a very important step in configuring Audiograbber. I've chosen to grab to "MP3 file via intermediate wav file. Delete the wav file". Also, I've selected "Internal Encoder" and used the drop down arrow to select the LameEnc DLL I downloaded and dropped in the Audiograbber directory in step #2. Finally, I've dragged the selector under "Constant Bitrate" to 192 Kbit/s. I like the quality of sound I get from ripping to a 192 bitrate, but feel free to bump this up as high as you wish, if you can afford the hard drive space. View this screen cap to see how my MP3 Settings are configured and mimic it if you want the same results.
  4. Get Album Details and Rip to MP3 - Now that Audiograbber has been downloaded and installed, your LAME MP3 Encoder has been downloaded, unzipped and copied to your Audiograbber directory and Audiograbber is configured to rip to your specifications, you're ready to rock. Place your CD in your CD Rom drive and open Audiograbber. You'll see one of the menu options on the top reads "Freedb" and is accompanied by a penguin icon. If you're connected to the Internet, click this icon and artist, album and song details will be automatically downloaded to Audiograbber. There's no need to ever type in song names or any such detail. View this screen cap to see what happens when I click the penguin after placing the Almost Famous soundtrack in my CD rom.

    If you're happy with what you see, click "Grab!" which is the option accompanied by a hand. Audiograbber will begin converting the tracks on your CD to MP3 as you specified in step #3. It's that easy. Once Audiograbber is finished, you'll find the folders in the directory you set in that step. If you've chosen to have everything terminate to your Audiograbber directory, navigate there, cut the Artist folder containing the CD title folder and subsequent tracks, and copy it to your permanent music folder. Follow these steps for every CD in your collection and your music folder will resemble my music folder.
  5. Tips and Tricks - Depending on how the information comes back from the Freedb, the artist name may be listed as "The Beatles" or "Beatles" or even "Beatles, The". You'll want to keep this consistent throughout your collection so pick a format and stick to it. That way, all of your Beatles albums will remain under the same folder instead of having some filed under "The Beatles" and others filed under "Beatles".

    In a similar vein, you'll most likely have numerous compilation CDs in your collections that won't be filed under a particular artists name. The details coming back from the Freedb may have the album listed under a directory entitled "Various Artists", "Various", "Compilation" or some variant thereof. Again, pick a format and stick to it so everything remains nicely organized on your PC.

    The speed at which this ripping takes place depends upon the resources available to you. If your machine isn't up to snuff, it would probably be best that you don't do anything else while Audiograbber is doing its thing. And speaking of resources available to you, hosting your entire CD collection on MP3 requires a good chunk of hard drive space. Ripping at a 192 bitrate, Eminem's Encore takes up 105 MB of space. Do the math and ensure you have sufficient space.

    And finally, if you've got a good sized CD collection, ripping it all to MP3 will take up a great deal of your time. You'll be popping discs in and out of your PC for hours and hours on end. I started my digitization project back in December 2003 and I didn't finish it until this past spring. It's a massive job and you don't want to do it more than once if you can help it. Do yourself a favour and back up your music. Hard drive failures happen, computers can get stolen or destroyed, shit happens, so burn your files to CD or DVD and sleep well knowing they're there when you need them. I know I do.

That's it in a nutshell. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me. I can tell you from experience, once your collection is digitized into MP3s you'll truly be able to access your music, your way. You'll feel liberated, listening to tracks you haven't heard in years, creating eclectic playlists in Winamp, burning massive MP3 mixes and burning audio CDs when MP3 mixes are insufficient. It will be glorious.

Enjoy the music.

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AOL Really, Really Sucks

AOL Really, Really SucksI listen to a tonne of MP3s on my computer and my player of choice is Winamp 5. I've grown quite fond of this application, far preferring it to Windows Media Player. According to this article, Winamp may be on it's last legs. Say it ain't so AOL, say it ain't so.

AOL, which acquired Winamp creators Nullsoft back in '99, is apparently abandoning the player. "The last members of the original Winamp team have said goodbye to AOL and the door has all but shut on the Nullsoft era". In case you were unaware, AOL really, really sucks.

Reading further about the impending demise my favourite digital audio player has led me to read some favourable reviews about Quintessential Player. If time ever passes Winamp 5 by, I'll certainly give it a try.

AOL is killing Winamp. Isn't it time Time Warner killed AOL?

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That Damn Ampersand

The Damn AmpersandThe ampersand drives me crazy. The ampersand is the punctuation mark "&" we use to represent the word and. It's not so much the character itself that irks me but how it effects the validation of my XHTML code.

In a valid XHTML document, you have to escape the ampersand, otherwise XML parsers will break when parsing the document. So, when typing the & character on this page, I must actually type &. Go ahead and view the source of this page to see for yourself. Simply typing & will make this page invalid according to the W3C standards for XHTML. All of my pages must be validated for me to sleep well at night and as of this moment, all of them are.

When I want to use the ampersand in an entry, I simply type & and I do so without even thinking about it now. My beef is with the URI of sites I may want to link to. For example, suppose I want to link to the "Law to force school until 18" article from the Toronto Star Website. The URI for this page is
http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar
/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1099782608603&call_pageid=
968332188492&col=968793972154.

Ideally, I'd simply copy and paste the URI into my XHTML document, but if I do this I'll be using ampersands and violating the standards. So, I have to manually replace all instances of & with &. It's really a pain in the butt and the Toronto Star is one of the worst offenders.

I wish news sources would stop using ampersands in their URIs. The BBC News website is an excellent example of how URIs should appear. If I want to link to the "Canadian freedoms 'under threat' article from the BBC, I simply reference http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3984311.stm. Notice there are no ampersands. I can simply copy the URI and paste it into my document. No need to pause and detect offending characters so that I can replace them. It's all valid and there's much less work for me.

Validate or die.

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