January 2011 Blog Posts

First Random Post of 2011

I find that I'm blogging less due to services like Twitter that let me blurt out truncated, incomplete thoughts and flush them from my mind without fully forming them. That, plus the breakneck pace work has taken since I returned from paternity leave, plus general malaise (in some cases) has yielded a bit of a blog drought. I won't apologize for not blogging because I hate that. I just haven't done it, and that's that.

I do have some smaller, not fully-formed thoughts that I haven't blasted out in other forms, or maybe have tweeted about and dropped, so I figured I'd flesh some of those out here. Maybe relieve a bit of the psychic weight of that "to-do" list, as it were.

I sent out a request (over various media) for suggestions for over-the-ear headphones that don't pinch your ears. I got a few good suggestions, but I should have explained requirements. Of course, that's hard to do over Twitter in 140 characters, so:

  • I'll be using them (and leaving them) at work, so a $300 pair of headphone is out. People can't keep their hands off my stuff. I just found one of my action figures on another guy's desk last week. I don't need some spendy headphones getting "borrowed."
  • I'll mostly be listening to Pandora or other fairly compressed music sources. They don't have to be reference quality.

Sony MDR-XD200 HeadphonesI ended up getting a cheap pair of Sony MDR-XD200 headphones. $22 at Amazon at the time of this writing. I'm wearing them now, as I write this, and they seem reasonably comfortable. The bass is a little light in them, which, I'm sure, could be rectified by purchasing a more expensive, higher quality set of headphones. For work, for now, these will do.

 

If you find you're being asked to do something that has no logic behind it no matter which way you slice it, it's probably politically motivated. Think about it.

 

My wife, Jenn, who is awesome, proved she understands comics. I have some sitting on my bedside table (stuff I've not read through yet) and she was dusting. She moved the comics, dusted, waited quite some time to ensure there was no residual Pledge hanging out, then washed and dried her hands prior to replacing them. Like I said - awesome.

 

We still can't really figure out which one of us my daughter, Phoenix, looks like. It's a common source of conversation for relatives, and I entertain it well enough, but I really don't care. Who does she look like? I have no idea. You know what I do know? I know she smells like me. If I let my hair grow long (which turns out more "big" than "long"), fail to wash my hair, or don't put gel in my hair one day, my head has a very distinctive smell. You can smell my pillow and know which one is mine. Anyway, Phoenix's head smells like me. So out of a room of identical kids, I'd still be able to find mine blindfolded. I think that's pretty awesome.

Speaking of Phoenix, we have noticed she is far easier to feed when swaddled or otherwise incapacitated. If her arms are free, the bottle gets close and suddenly she has this Incredible Hulk strength and the arms fly up in front of her face into a sort of impenetrable forcefield that makes it impossible to actually get the bottle to her mouth. Move one arm and the other arm compensates. I totally can't wait until she has some semblance of muscle control.

 

I'm pondering getting a Kindle. From what I've seen, I'd probably end up getting the smaller Kindle rather than the Kindle DX. I've done some research on e-readers and based on price and my general use case, I think the Kindle would work out nicely. If anything, it'd help me determine how often I use an e-reader. Eventually I want to get an iPad (on which I would use the Kindle app for reading), but given my propensity to constantly tweak things, my budget, and my Android-based phone, I think a Kindle is a good start.

 

I am thinking about getting a sound bar for our game room. Right now we have a full home theater system up there (receiver, game systems, TV, etc.) but the speakers I have up there are these giant towers that are nearly impossible to place reasonably given the room layout. That and my lack of ability/desire to start running wires all over leave me either with a wireless setup or a sound bar. I know you audiophiles will get up in my grill about sound quality and immersion and I know. I hear you. It's just, again, a wire and size issue. Perhaps a decent set of satellite speakers and a throw rug would also answer the question, given that a decent sound bar costs more (in some cases) than an equivalent satellite speaker system with a subwoofer.

 

The Hunger GamesI have been reading The Hunger Games based on the recommendation from just about everyone and it is a very compelling read. It's the first book I've been sucked into in a while. I suppose that sort of pegs me as one of those people who doesn't read complex stories or try to expand their reading level. You're probably right. I don't think the comics in The New Yorker are generally funny (which doesn't mean I don't understand them, just that I don't think they're funny); I don't agree that most of the "classics" you're forced to read during school are worth spending the time and effort on; and when I read for fun I don't really want to have to expend a ton of mental effort to try and figure out what the book is trying to say. I want to have fun, relax, and escape for a while. If that means I end up reading books that show up in the "teen" section of the bookstore more often than not, well… so be it.

 

I [still] hate Facebook. I hate that most of the comments people leave on there have "LOL" somewhere in them, overused to the point it has lost meaning and is almost more punctuation than anything. I hate that people won't actually send you a damn email when they have your email address and instead will do some "post to your wall" or "Facebook message" bullshit. I hate that people will leave entirely unrelated comments on things (e.g., post a picture of a house plant and get, "Hey, didn't see you over the holidays. How was your Christmas?"). I hate that people pretty much abandon spelling, grammar, and punctuation, especially given Facebook doesn't have the message length limitations Twitter has that would otherwise require the abbreviations and shortcuts. Yeah, I could go on all day about how much I really despise it, even amidst its obvious ubiquity on the net. I'm sure there will come a day when "Facebook" equates to "internet" for people the way that "the world-wide web" currently generally equates to "internet" for people. Get off my lawn, young punks.

 

I have been told by various relatives and friends that I should write a book. I've considered it. It'd be something you find in the humor section that has random stories and rants and sells 150 copies total. There are actually several reasons I haven't.

  • Most of the stories people encourage me to write about would only be funny to people who were there or who know the people involved. "Had to be there," as it were.
  • Of the remaining stories, they're mostly at the expense of a friend or family member, and they'd only be thinly-veiled. I could probably embellish and change things a bit, but the people who know would know exactly what I was talking about and I don't really want to hurt anyone's feelings. Even if it would be pretty funny.
  • When I tell stories, I talk with my hands. You'd miss that in book form, and trust me, it adds to the story.
  • There would probably be a lot of dick and fart jokes, which is not something, I think, that most people expect from me. Well, people who don't know me, right? RIGHT?

Anyway, no book. Maybe later in life, in retirement, when it won't matter anymore. I'm sure there's a market for that story about the wedding that had the midget in the cowboy outfit. Just not quite yet.

The Extended Right-Click Menu in Windows 7

I'm probably the only person who didn't realize that if you hold down Shift and right-click a folder in Windows 7, you get additional commands that you don't normally see. For example, holding shift down when you right-click a folder gives you an "Open command window here" option, which obviates the need for a "Command Prompt Here" power toy (at least for the basic prompt).

Thing is, I don't want to have to hold Shift down. I just want it there all the time.

The "Open command window here" item is listed in your registry under HKCR\Directory\shell\cmd and HKCR\Drive\shell\cmd. If you look in those keys, you'll see a REG_SZ value called "Extended" that is floating there without any actual value assigned.

The "Extended" registry value

If you delete that "Extended" value, then "Open command window here" will always show up and you don't have to hold Shift down. Conversely, if you add a no-value "Extended" key to things, they'll stop showing up until you hold Shift down.

And don't forget to look at both the Directory and the Drive registry keys as mentioned above or you'll wonder why it shows up sometimes and not in others.

YMMV. This works for me, might not for you. I'm not responsible if you delete something important and your machine comes crashing down around you. You have to be extra careful when you muck with the registry.

Editing Creative Vado HD Video in Sony Vegas

In Christmas 2009 I got a Creative Vado HD camera. It's a nice, convenient little camera and we use it quite a bit. The only real issue I've found with it is in editing the video it takes. On Windows XP, if you install the software that comes with the camera, the files play just fine but you can only edit them using the editor that comes with the camera. On Windows 7, the files play just fine without installing any additional software, and you can edit the files... in Windows Live Movie Maker and that's about it. There's something not-quite-right with the file format and I'm not the only person who's encountered it.

I use Sony Vegas to edit my videos. It's a nice program with a lot of power behind it, and while it's not the easiest thing to figure out, it is certainly flexible enough to grow with you as you get better at editing and making movies. Problem is, when you drop a Vado HD file into Vegas 9.0, it sees the audio but no video.

I blogged how to add H.264 video support to Vegas once I figured it out - install the x264vfw codec. For Sony Vegas 9, that fixes it.

Unfortunately, that doesn't work in Vegas 10.

I upgraded to Sony Vegas 10 because it's actually noticeably faster in processing/rendering video and is far more reliable than Vegas 9. Vegas 9 would occasionally crash on me for no reason; 10 really hasn't crashed... but now I see a different symptom.

Without x264vfw, Vegas 10 doesn't see the video on Vado HD files... and while it sees that audio exists, it can't interpret it, so you see a flat line audio track that can't play. If you try to play it, Vegas hangs.

Adding the x264vfw codec, Vegas 10 sees the video, but the audio still doesn't work.

Again, on Windows 7 with Windows Live Movie Maker, you can play and edit these Vado HD files just fine.

I submitted a support question to Sony and after a fairly lengthy delay, I got the following response:

Hi Travis,

Thank you for contacting Sony Creative Software. First, I apologize for the unusually long delay in responding to you. Our new Vegas Pro 10 has been well-received and as such, a high number of people are coming to us for support on this product.

Unfortunately, we (and other editing programs) have encountered issues with Creative Vado footage and are currently looking to correct it. I have found that this forum link has helpful suggestions for your problem (and includes links to codec packs that help the product read the files better):

http://forum.videohelp.com/threads/302604-Creative-Vado-HD-AVI-%28H-264%29-Editing

These codec packs are not created by us and we do not do support on them, so any questions you may have regarding them I recommend you direct them to that forum.

We hope to include this codec in future versions of the software so that this extra step is no longer needed. Thank you for your report!

So it turns out Sony is aware of the issue but hasn't yet addressed it. At least they're aware of it.

In the suggested forum link (and in other forums), people have arrived at basically three solutions:

  1. Convert the Vado HD file to another format that Vegas understands and drop the converted file in.
  2. Split the audio and video in the Vado HD file into separate files. Convert the video part but leave the audio alone. Add the two separately into Vegas.
  3. Install x264vfw. That fixes it for Vegas 9 but not Vegas 10.

My solution went with option 1 - convert the Vado HD file to another format that Vegas understands. I use Windows Live Movie Maker (since it's free) to do that conversion.

  1. In Windows Live Movie Maker, create a new custom setting for videos. Use the following values, which will work for converting the high quality Vado HD files into something with no noticeable quality loss:
    • Width: 1280
    • Height: 720
    • Bit rate: 8500
    • Frame rate: 30
    • Audio format: 192kbps, 48kHz, stereo
  2. Drop your movie into the Windows Live Movie Maker timeline.
  3. Save the movie using the new custom setting.
  4. Import the new/converted movie into Vegas.

Done and done. Not perfect, but better than nothing. Hopefully this gets addressed soon.

iTunes Sharing options

Being the Family Tech Support Guy, I got a question from my cousin about sharing music in iTunes and rather than answer it in email (since it’s not a short answer), I figured I’d blog it since it is probably helpful to other folks out there.

First, you need to determine your requirements. The phrase “sharing music in iTunes” is actually pretty vague. Let’s walk through figuring out what you want to do.

  • Do you have multiple computers? This is important because you’ll need to make some choices about what you want to do on each of the computers.
    1. If you have multiple computers and you want your entire iTunes library (playlists and music files) accessible from each computer… You have a couple of choices.
      • Copy everything to each computer over the network. This will put a physical copy of the iTunes library and all of the music files on every computer you want to share with. You’ll need to use a program like SyncToy or Allway Sync to keep your iTunes library and music files copied over the network. Honestly, I don’t recommend this option.
      • Keep your music files on a central network drive and only copy the iTunes library file across computers. This is common and is way better than the “copy everything” option. Lifehacker has a nice tutorial that explains how to do this.
    2. If you have multiple computers and you want to manage iTunes on one computer and just listen from the other computers… the easiest solution is to use iTunes library sharing to enable sharing on the master computer and then attach to that shared library over the network from the other computers. You will be able to listen to the music but will only be able to synchronize devices from the master computer. There’s a decent tutorial about how to set up iTunes library sharing on About.com.
    3. If you have multiple computers and only run iTunes on one but need the music files on all of them (for whatever reason), you can store the music files on the network, no problem. Lifehacker has a tutorial on how to do that, just skip the bits where you set up something to synchronize the iTunes library file. At the time of this writing, that’s steps 6 and 7 on the tutorial that you can skip.
    4. If you don’t have multiple computers… continue on. Nothing to see here.
  • Do you have multiple user accounts? That is, when you sit down at your computer, do you “log in” as you or does everyone just sit down and start using the computer?
    1. If everyone uses the same account, your options are limited.
      • Live with one iTunes library. This is probably what you have now.
      • Create a separate iTunes library file for each person. Every time you open iTunes you’ll have to remember to hold down Shift when you click the link to start iTunes or it’ll just open up the last library that was used. There is an Apple knowledge base article about how to open and create alternate libraries. This is a big pain and I wouldn’t recommend it. If you do this, you have additional options…
        • Share your music files. Each iTunes library will use the same set of music files. This may be problematic because when you change certain things in iTunes (like the artist name or the song name), iTunes will actually modify the physical file and may even move it to a new location (if you’ve told iTunes to keep your library organized). That will mess up other libraries that assume the files stay in the same location.
        • Keep separate copies of your music files. This could eat up space really quickly, but hard drives are cheap. Doing this would mean that each time you add a file into one library, you need to create another copy of the same file and add the copy into the other library.
    2. If everyone has a different account, things open up.
      • Share your iTunes library and music files across user accounts. There is an Apple knowledge base article that explains how to do this. I have a tutorial on this as well and while it’s a little more lengthy, it’s my preferred way.
      • Each user has their own iTunes library but shares music files. The key here is that each user will fire up iTunes and create a new library – making sure the “Keep iTunes music files organized” option is the same for each user – and pointing each iTunes library to the same central location for music files (Edit –> Preferences –> Advanced and change the music folder location to the same place for each user). When you add a music file to one library, each other user will need to manually add the file to their library as well. Or not, as the case may be. Note, again, that if someone changes an artist name, song name, etc., it may move the files out from under someone else, so this may not be great.
      • Each user has their own iTunes library and their own music files. This is how it works by default when you have multiple user accounts. If someone adds music to their library, the other person can make a copy and add it separately, later, to their own library.

Things to think about…

  • You can mix and match. For example, if you want to keep your music on the network because you have multiple computers and you want to share iTunes across multiple user accounts on those computers, you can do that. It’ll take some work to figure out which parts of the various tutorials out there need to be fixed up, but it’s possible.
  • You will probably run into issues with iTunes Store purchased music and apps. As soon as you get into music sharing that involves copying things around, separate libraries, etc., you will most likely start running into problems where one user can play purchased music but another can’t. This is technically by design – one person purchases music and that person owns the music. That’s the problem with DRM (digital rights management) today. Other sources like Amazon MP3 don’t cause this problem because they don’t have DRM.
  • Have a backup plan. When you switch this stuff around, you have a chance of accidentally hosing things up. Make sure you back things up before you do anything.
  • Take your time. Especially if you’re a non-technical person, some of the stuff explained in the above tutorials may be a bit daunting. It’s not too hard, but it’s not fall-down easy, either. Set aside some dedicated time to work on this and if it becomes too much, take a break. Write down all the stuff you’re doing so if you have to undo it (or restore from backup, or ask someone for help – NOT ME), you can.

As always, all of this is AT YOUR OWN RISK and SELF-SUPPORTED. I haven’t actually tried every combination of all of these things so I can’t guarantee all of it works. IF IT DOESN’T WORK, YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN. I can’t offer you individual help on this. Sorry.