Use Quicktime for AVI files with perian.org, HDA Bob’s cousin Patrick’s Drawings, nowonder.com or macosx.com to get or give help to other Mac folks, Vdownloader to convert flash to iPod from softpedia.com, apology to my brother Grant, Amazon Mechanical Turk from mturk.com if you want to work for the machine. Google Part 13 with Google Ride Finder at labs.google.com/ridefinder and Google Personalized Search at google.com/psearch. Songbird instead of iTunes from songbirdnest.com, and Shapeshifter unsanity.com.
Subscribe to the Podcast –>
Listen to the Podcast Once (38 min 22 sec)
It looks like I gave QA director Steve something to tease me about – last week’s feed showed as 2/11 – which was funny, since last week I totally messed up the date when it really WAS the 11th. Maybe I felt sorry for 2/11 so I used it twice? now I feel sorry for the 18th…will this downward spiral never end??? Hope I label this show right!
You might notice a change to the website – I put in a WordPress plugin that changed all of the audio files to flash instead of Quicktime. This is easily undone, so if you hate it, let me know. You could also let me know if you prefer it – it does mean you don’t have to have QT loaded which could be a great benefit for many! I still have a goal of some day having a flash player that uses my logo made by Randy Sakamoto – it has a play and fastforward button already on it, wouldn’t that be cool? Some day I’ll get that done…
I have a great story. Last night, my neighbor across the street called with this really sad voice, and said, “oh Allison, something awful’s happened”. My heart stopped, worried that her daughter had gotten hurt or something. I asked what happened, and she said, “I bought a computer without talking to you!” I had been urging her to get a Mac, but her husband is dead set on Windows. I asked her why this was so bad, and she said, “It has Vista on it! And I can’t get anything to work – not even getting the modem to work!” She went on to explain that she called the Costco concierge desk and the guy told her that all kinds of stuff won’t work, not her iPod or her Palm. I went to the Palm site and found that certain versions do work with Vista, but I know that Vista and iPods definitely don’t mix.
She asked if I still had a PC for sale (I’m selling the one I built a few years ago because no one’s using it) and her husband walked over to pick it up. As I explained to him what I thought it was worth, he said, “I don’t care what it costs, as long as it doesn’t have Vista on it!” You’ve got to know how much I enjoyed that!
Unfortunately I forgot I had a password on that machine, so they gave it back this morning, but they said that they’re just going to buy a Mac after all! I bet they won’t do it, but at least they’re thinking about it, and the whole story gave me a such a good giggle it was worth it. Okay, enough gloating, time to get to work here.
I was whining to Bart about how I wish that Quicktime would play avi files and he asked why I don’t just use VLC (Video Lan Connection) from videolan.org. I do use VLC and I use it to watch avi files, and it’s a great program which has been improved greatly over the years, but it seems to take quite a long time to launch my files, and it frequently seems to crash on opening – maybe 1 out of 5 times. It always works the second time though, which is very odd. It also seems fond of nagging me with these weird connection errors if I pause a movie or do some other dastardly deed.
Bart answered my needs with a program called Perian from perian.org. Perian enables QuickTime® application support for additional media types including: AVI and FLV, Divx, Flash screen Video, and a whole host of others. I downloaded and installed Perian, launched Quicktime and asked it to open an AVI file, and it worked perfectly! Bart does a more in depth description of Perian, so I don’t want to snake his thunder on his blog (or is it steal his thunder and snake his idea?) go check it out at bartbusschots.ie/blog
And now, a word from our sponsors. HDA Bob asked me if I’d tell you about his cousin who does the illustrations sprinkled here and there around the site. Patrick Richard (Ree-shard) is an artist whose drawing are extraordinary. He brings to life people and scenes. His art work has been displayed at several galleries on the east coast. He is available to draw any subject of your choosing. No job too small. All the little art works in HDABOB’s web site are drawn by Patrick.
Biography according to Patrick: “I expand the view of a person’s face to include sunlit mahogany floors that engage the shadows of a distant, darker room…backlit lace. Heirloom paintings of delicate romantic lightplay – to pass down through your generations. Draws, Paints, Prints well, Inks, Ponders, Oil paints, Can do, Will do. College: yes. Art Association affiliate: Yes (New Hampshire). Is good. Honest. STOPS TO SMELL THE ROSES. Wants you. Returns inquiries, and doesn’t tailgate. In other words–My bio is not degradable. Class, and like HDABOB…MOBILE.”
I took a look at Patrick’s paintings on Bob’s site and they’re really extraordinary. To see his beautiful work go to the link I put in the shownotes – it’s a little complicated. My favorite is the one of Einstein!
Listener Leo told me about a really cool way to get help, and give back to the community called nowonder.com. No Wonder! is based on the help people in the Mac community are willing to give each other. First there are the forums which are pretty active, but there’s also a team of technical help – all made up of volunteers. Leo says that he really enjoys it when he gets a question he can answer and helps someone out, and he was able to have the questions to him tailored towards help with iPods and designing websites in iWeb (he’s a specialist in those areas).
I poked around and discovered that nowonder is also mirrored at macosx.com. not sure why they did this, it looks almost identical, just a different name. In any case, Bart really recommends this site for getting quick tech support help on your problems. Check it out at nowonder.com or macosx.com.
So I was feeling bad that I hadn’t done any windows freeware or shareware recently, and I came across a cool application called vdownloader which is available from softpedia.com. Vdownloader is a freeware tool that allows you to download Youtube, Google, and Grinvi videos onto your computer in mpeg or avi format (doing the conversion from flv for you. This is just the kind of tool we’ve been finding on the Mac, so I was excited to bring one to our Windows brethren.
I was a little nervous about the software because while I normally like to direct people to the developer’s site (Enrique Puertas) but I checked it out and it was all in Spanish. Not anything wrong with that of course but I couldn’t begin to tell you what the site is about, because I’m an ugly American and I speak only one language! Ok, fine, I’ll download from Softpedia. The download took FOREVER,even though it was only 1.82MB but it came down at something like 7k per second.
So finally I got the darn thing downloaded, and it launched Stuffit Expander, but told me I’d had been using the demo version for 282 days longer than I was allowed. Ok…no big deal, I should be able to open it with something else, right? I noticed at this point that it’s a RAR file, but I should still be able to figure that out, right? Wrong, so very wrong. Because in order to do that, I’d have to be able to FIND the darn file I downloaded! I checked to see if I had a Downloads folder on Windows, nope. I hunted around on the desktop, nuthin’ there. I went into Firefox to see where it thought it should be downloading to, and it said it should be on the Desktop. Went back to the Desktop, looked some more. Looked in column view. nuthin.
At this point in the story I have to formally apologize to my Brother Grant. Of the four siblings, he’s the only one who insists on using Windows. So many times I’ve thought that he was just lame at computers because he told me he’d downloaded stuff and then didn’t know where it was. Behind his back I had unkind thoughts about his intelligence. I might even have thought the word “idiot”. After this experience today, I have to declare my brother Grant NOT an idiot, at least on this one topic.
so, if you want a free flash download program for Windows, go over to Softpedia.org and do a search on vdownloader. and then just go for a walk in the park and play with a stray dog, because you’ll never find vdownloader.
Amazon Mechanical Turk
In 1769, Hungarian nobleman Wolfgang von Kempelen astonished Europe by building a mechanical chess-playing automaton that defeated nearly every opponent it faced. A life-sized wooden mannequin, adorned with a fur-trimmed robe and a turban, Kempelen’s “Turk” was seated behind a cabinet and toured Europe confounding such brilliant challengers as Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte. To persuade skeptical audiences, Kempelen would slide open the cabinet’s doors to reveal the intricate set of gears, cogs and springs that powered his invention. He convinced them that he had built a machine that made decisions using artificial intelligence. What they did not know was the secret behind the Mechanical Turk: a human chess master cleverly concealed inside.
Why am I telling you all of this? Amazon has created a website called Amazon Mechanical Turk at mturk.com that is a modern version of the old idea. Today we know how to build computers and write software that can solve incredibly complex problems (like playing chess), but humans are still better than the most advanced computers at things that seem trivial for us – like identifying things in photographs. mturk.com is a website where computers provide the questions they can’t answer, and you can go in and give them the answer and the continue on their merry way in executing the tasks they’ve been given. and get this, you get paid for it! Now think about how disturbing that is, you can actually WORK for a computer!
Here’s some of the explanation from the site: “Amazon Mechanical Turk provides a web services API for computers to integrate “artificial artificial intelligence” directly into their processing by making requests of humans. Developers use the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service to submit tasks to the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site, approve completed tasks, and incorporate the answers into their software applications. To the application, the transaction looks very much like any remote procedure call: the application sends the request, and the service returns the results. Behind the scenes, a network of humans fuels this artificial artificial intelligence by coming to the web site, searching for and completing tasks, and receiving payment for their work.”
If you’re interested in having your work assisted by the mechanical turk, they show on the site how to put the code to call mturk.com and how to get set up with this. I’m not a developer, so I thought I’d look at how to make my fortune at mturk.com instead. first you find HITs to work on. HITs are Human intelligence Tasks. These are tasks someone is willing to pay you to complete. An example they give is “is there a pizza parlour in this photograph”. Just for doing this one task, you can earn a NICKEL!
How could I resist an offer like that? I went ahead and logged in with my Amazon account, and then had to give them a valid phone number and address. Not a big deal, it’s the same account I use for Amazon anyway. next was the agreement to approve. I read a bit of it, and found this nice sentence: “we have no control over the quality, safety or legality of the Services”. I found that interesting – so if someone uses this as a scam to get past captcha’s for example, I am aiding and abetting? hmmm…better keep a watchful eye over what it’s asking me to do. The first one I looked at was asking you to identify signs on a street as signs, so I doubt there’s a big drug kingpin behind that one. Good to be alert though, right?
Now that I’m in, I can choose a way to look at the HITs available to me. i can choose to sort by creation date, by time allotted to complete the task (the one about the signs had 8612 HITs available, but only 2 hours to complete it! I’m not ready for that kind of pressure my first day on the job! You can also sort by highest award amounts, or lowest. i checked out highest, and it was $1! woohoo! then I found out it’s that you have to go check out a specific book from the library, read it, and jot down quotes of 15 to 60 words in length. The quotes should be meaningful in that they should provide some insight into the human condition or the natural world. Now you only have to do 5-10 quotes, but you have to include page references. If you get at least 5 acceptable quotes you make a whole dollar. I suppose if it’s a good book that you enjoyed reading, getting a buck out of it might not be a bad idea.
i’m too lazy to go to the library though, so let’s sort by least number of HITs in a request. I got one with 1 hit, from Predictoid. It asked a very easy question. All it wants to know is whether the stock market will close up or down for the day on Tuesday 2/27/2007. How utterly bizarre. the next HIT was from the same company, asking about another day. They only pay me a nickel if I guess right. I’m dumfounded in why someone would want to pay a nickel for a stranger’s guess. Maybe they’re testing the algorithm and they plan on a real job to do later?
I went ahead and completed 1 HIT – it gave a link to a blog posting, and asked a series of questions about it. All I basically had to do was cut and paste the text from the blog into some fields – like what was the title of the post, who wrote it, did they actually say they went to CES, how many comments were there, that kind of thing. i figure it took me about 2 minutes to decide and then complete it. I think I made 6¢ for that time, so I made $1.80 per hour. Oh well, I think I’ve given you a flavor for how varied the requests are at mturk.com, go check it out if you want some spare change for working for the MACHINE!!!
Google Part 13
Can you believe how long we’ve been going on this Google Products review thing? a quarter of a year now! sheesh these guys are busy!
Google Ride Finder
This next Google tool is kind of like Google Transit that we reviewed 2 weeks ago – it’s called Google Ride Finder and it’s available at labs.google.com/ridefinder. The idea is that with Ride Finder, you’ll be able to locate taxi and shuttle locations in one of the 14 cities they’ve populated. Los Angeles is one of the 14 cities, so I decided to check it out.
I went to College at UC Irvine, and lived in Newport Beach, let’s see if i can find a ride between those two. I zoomed in on the UC Irvine Campus, and found a little grey flag pretty close by (but sort of ON the 73 freeway), and when i clicked on it, I got the phone number for the California Yellow Cab company. I noticed those same little grey flags sprinkled around the area, down in Newport, a bunch on the 55 freeway down to Newport, and they were ALL for the California Yellow Cab company! I sure don’t get what value it was to repeat that all over the place, especially a bunch of them right next to each other. They didn’t show the bus routes, and they didn’t have any shuttle services, but they did show on the zoomed up page a list of taxis and shuttle sthat were NOT for the local area. I looked around other areas, and it’s pretty much a listing of taxi services, nothing more. You can skip Google Ride Finder for now!
Google Personalized Search
Next up on the list from within the Labs is Google Personalized Search at google.com/psearch. It asks you for your gmail or google login, and then something REALY scary comes up. Everything I’ve searched for on Google is there in a list. I’m not kidding you, this is SO creepy! Months and months of searches are all neatly collated by how you searched for them and when. It shows detail on links you clicked on from a search, like I looked up my son’s PC case yesterday (I’m selling his PC, but that’s another story). In personalized search it shows that I looked up the NZXT Guardian Green case at 7:40pm, and shows the link on which I found it, and even shows the image I brought up.
it also shows things I looked up but didn’t end up clicking on. There’s a calendar on the right, and I can click on any day going months back (at least!) and see what I searched on in that day. On the left side there are filters of what history i want to look at – I can choose to filter by images, news, froogle, things like that. At first I thought it was kind of annoying to work with though, because it starts with it searching for all of the categories and you have to click on each one of them to turn them off, until I found the link that said remove items which turned them all off, and select all that turned them back on.
You can even search within your searches! I tried doing a search on Guardian (the name of the PC case) and it brought up the case, but also all the places the word Guardian was used in the results my searches over time. I am a very forgetful person, so I can see how Google Personal Search could come in really handy for someone like me. But it’s really kinda creepy to actually see in such vivid clarity that they really are keeping all of our search histories! so the real question is, how am I me? is it what I search on THIS computer? or does it somehow know who I am? I have a gmail account, but a lot of times I’m not logged it – would my searches be available from when I wasn’t on that account? I could do some elaborate experimentation to determine the answer from these burning questions, or…I could hope one of you either as time to burn, or you already know the answer!
Listener Bill mentioned that he hates iTunes, and I’ve heard that a lot of people hate it too. Not sure what people hate about it, but it doesn’t matter really because it’s how you feel that matters. If you’re not happy with a tool, you should change it. It doesn’t matter if I like it, or your neighbor likes it, if it doesn’t make you happy then it’s wrong. Computers should make you happy, that’s all there is to it!
While I was noodling on Bill’s dissatisfaction, I found a solution in the oddest place. My son gave me a copy of his high school newspaper, and they had an article about Open Source tools of all things! Pretty progressive I thought. It was frustrating to read, because they got some fundamental facts wrong, like they said that Safari was built on Internet Explorer 6…but when i got past the misinformation, the basic message was reasonable – that going to open source tools like Firefox and Thunderbird was a good idea. The really fun part was that I learned about an open source, cross-platform application for use instead of iTunes, and I’d never heard of it – Songbird from songbirdnest.com.
Songbird runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, in 30 languages, and even supports 64 bit under the GNU Public License. Hey, if that didn’t catch your attention, the guy from Greasemonkey says “Songbird promises to be the Firefox of media players.” How’s that for a professional endorsement? Seriously, there’s an add-on section where developers have created cool things you can add to Songbird – but I get ahead of myself, let’s talk about what Songbird does out of the box!
I downloaded and installed Songbird, and when it came up it asked if I wanted to import my iTunes library. I was kinda worried that it would COPY my iTunes library which would probably fill up my disk drive, so I said no and figured I’d play around with it with no music, maybe move in a couple of songs and Podcasts to see how it worked. Imagine my delight when I got Songbird open, and in the Library I could see all of my music! It told me that it was scanning for media, and had a check box where I could choose to have it scan for new media upon opening.
This is cool because if I get a new podcast in iTunes, it looks like it will show up in Songbird. the look of Songbird is kind of harsh in my opinion. It comes up with a black background with white letters, and different shades of gray to help you see rows more clearly. I like a black, stark look, but this is somehow busy instead of elegant. The good news is that you can reskin your Songbird, in this case they call them “feathers”. Songbird comes with two feathers, rubberducky which is the one I described, and Dove, which is very white with light gray accents to show the rows. This feather is too white for me, looks more like a text window than an application. I’ll have to search around for more feathers, but let’s get into the capabilities.
As I said, Songbird shows my entire iTunes library – with the exception of my protected AAC content bought from the iTunes store. i guess that makes sense. I tried launching one of my mp4 files that I downloaded from YouTube and converted from Flash, and it came up beautifully in Songbird. I really liked what they called the window that opened for it – it was titled “Cheezy Video Window”. One question i’d really like to have answered is whether Songbird requires Quicktime to work. If it doesn’t, then maybe Songbird would be a much better solution for Windows users, since Quicktime 7 is so dreadful under Windows. There are so many horror stories of how hard it is to get it to work, which messes up iTunes, it sure would be nice if Songbird solved that problem.
Songbird has a nice navigation section up on the top where you can view by artist and album, and you can search within the library easily. There’s a couple of useful buttons across the bottom of the window – if you have a track selected, you can play, remove, edit or add it to a playlist. That add to playlist right there is pretty neat. I didn’t have any playlists created in Songbird, so when i clicked on it, it opened an empty window, but had a button right there where I could create a new playlist. nice feature – very intuitive.
Now is probably a good time to mention that Songbird is not even close to a released product yet – it’s version 0.2.1, and is referred to as a Developer Preview. here’s what they say on the download page: “Note: Songbird isn’t ready for everyone just yet. Songbird will be a drop-in replacement for your current desktop media player upon launch of Songbird 1.0 due in 2007.” for a 0.2 product, it really is VERY polished and capable. the first indication that it isn’t ready for primetime was when I tried to see how it would treat an iPod, and I couldn’t find any way to tell it to look at it. There was a devices section, but it said no devices. I opened Help, which opened inside Songbird (not launching a browser or the stupid Apple help), and it had an FAQ titled “Will Songbird work with my favorite portable music device?” to which they answered “We don’t have support for any devices yet but we are working on it.”
Back to what Songbird CAN do. Of course I had to check and see if it would do podcasts. There’s a section in the left sidebar that is called MP3 Blogs, which sounds like a new name for podcasts. it was prepopulated with 6 MP3 Blogs, none of which I’d heard of before. they came up with a nice view of the blog on the top half, and below that they have the playable tracks. I checked out Scissorkick, which had a song called Elanor Reggae Rigby that was pretty interesing – a mashup of Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles with some reggae mashed in there. The buttons at the bottom changed to include download, subscribe, add to playlist and add to library. I liked them originally, but it’s even cooler that they’re contextual.
Now i wanted to try and add a podcast of my own…like, say…the NosillaCast just to pick one at random. Under File, i found New subscription, and that gave me the opportunity to enter the rss feed url which I happen to know by heart, but you would have to go hunt down on my website, which isn’t too user friendly. I also had to designate a download folder, which was nice so I know where it’s piling stuff up! and pile up stuff it certainly did! I looked in the folder I created for the Songbird stuff and it had downloaded TWENTY episodes! That’s just crazy – there really does have to be a way to tell it some other number to download, don’t you think? when i went back later, there were actually MORE – I looked at Songbird, and it was continuing to download…ALL of the NosillaCast episodes from 2005 forward! I removed them in Songbird before it could fill my entire disk with these files.
No album artwork came through, but then again I didn’t see any for the real albums either, so maybe they haven’t built that part. by the way, it didn’t put NosillaCast in MP3 Blogs, it is sort of a stand alone thingy up with Library. Then i stumbled across an easier way to subscribe to a podcast in Songbird. At the top of the window where you can see the library for instance, it turns out that you can actually type in url’s there. I put in podfeet.com, and it came up with a view much like I saw in MP3 blogs – the top half was the website, the bottom half was the playable tracks. Again there was the subscribe button, and I got exactly what I got before by typing in the complicated url for the rss feed. Very user friendly, I take it all back. However, you can probably predict what happened – I now have every episode I ever created downloading AGAIN into my machine!
I have had people say I should prune my RSS feed, but the whole darn file is only 176KB so I haven’t really found the motivation yet. Has this bothered any of you, or do your podcatchers seem to handle it ok?
Uncharted territory for me came up when I clicked on Services in the menu. I can’t even begin to tell you what 90% of this is! I got a long menu with some fo the things that are already in the sidebar, like Library, extensions, and directory, along with the names of the 6 MP3 blogs I told you about, but in addition to that I find Windjay, Podbop, Idolater, Swedelife, MonkeyFilter Wiki and other crazy things. Of COURSE the one I clicked on was MonkeyFilter Wiki, which it turns out is an explanation of the MP3 Blog Listings. I clicked on a few more, and they all seemed to be about completely different topics, and while I did find some nice jazz to listen to, I didn’t figure out what the pattern was of what makes a service.
Songbird includes a mini player, which is nice so you don’t have this big ol’ player hogging up all your real estate. However, I think they forgot one feature, you can’t move it! it sits happily about dead center on my screen, just about the last spot I’d choose to put it! i tried dragging, command-dragging, control-dragging, and that darn thing wouldn’t budge. It does have a button that lets you open the full player, one to close it, and controls for volume and a slider so you can move about in the song.
Overall I’m VERY impressed with this product, especially since they consider it so very beta! It’s highly capable, ran stably for me under both Mac OSX and Windows XP. If you’re one of those folks who just doesn’t like iTunes, you might really like to try Songbird. Check it out at songbirdnest.com
Are you bored with the look of your Mac operating system? Do you envy your Windows friends in how they can alter their themes so that everything gets a facelift? I’m the kind of person who likes to change the furniture around in a room even if it doesn’t work very well – just for the change, so this would be fun to me. Enter the $20 shareware application Shapeshifter from unsanity.com. this is what’s called a haxie – read that as mildly dangerous because it messes around in the OS where Apple doesn’t want you to. sounds good to me! I downloaded and installed Shapeshifter to use the 15 day trial, and it warned me that I also needed to install Application Enhancer, but luckily it went ahead and did that for me. it offered to show me all the slop it installed so I took a screen snapshot of it so I could scrape it all out in case this experiment went bad!
Once I had it installed, it launched the system preferences, where it had ShapeShifter down under “other” with the weird stuff like Flip4Mac,, MediaCentral, MenuMeters, UnPlugged and Texpander. It very quickly told me that ShapeShifter wouldn’t work properly until I restarted or at least logged out and back in. Ok, kind of a pain, but I did it anyway.
ShapeShifter has 5 tabs – the main tab where you enter your license key, Apply where you can apply themes, icon sets, cursor sets, and desktop pictures. You also have a download tab which is critical, because the first thing you have to do is go get some of these here themes, icon sets, cursor sets and desktop pictures! It doesn’t comepreloaded with any, which is kind of annoying. the next tab is Preferences, which is where you can relaunch the finder, dock and menubar status items after you apply a theme. This is good, because each time you load a new theme you would have to log out and back in, and I already whined about doing it the first time! here’s a nice feature – the last tab is the Exclude list, which allows you to add applications you don’t want modified by ShapeShifter.
I went to the Download tab and clicked on Get More Themes, which took me to the Unsanity website where I could pick from five websites with themes. One of them, Resexcellence was a broken link, but the others had themese from which to choose. I liked Interfacelift the best because it took me right into themes where I could see what they looked like without having to click on them first. The other sites either made me click on each name to see what they looked like, or the link to me to a home page and I had to dig around to find the themes page. the great news is that Interfacelift has about 150 themes to choose from, which is even more than I’d ever want to switch between! I chose a moderate theme called SETI that made things just a little more grey and calming.
Once I downloaded it, I had to launch it as a disk image and then double click the installer, THEN I could go back into system prefs and select the new theme. Any windows or applications that were open when I made the change were not updated, but if I closed and opened them the new theme was applied.
I think ShapeShifter is a fun tool to change up the look and feel of OSX, so if you get bored easily, check it out from Unsanity. I think if wanted to change my OS often, it would be worth $20, but I’m betting I would just change it twice a year, and I don’t think it’s quite worth it for that. fun though – and there’s an XP theme if you REALLY want to make yourself nuts!
On that frightening thought, I’m going to wind up this week’s episode of the NosillaCast, keep all your great emails coming to firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want to send an audio file, send it on over to email@example.com. Don’t forget to stop by the spam-free forums at podfeet.com/forums_bbpress (didn’t I promise to simplify that?). Oh well, thanks for listening, and stay subscribed!