Thursday, 13 March 2008

When I record my audio for the RunAs Radio show, I'm typically sitting in my home office at my desk and using Audacity along with my Samson 01U USB microphone plugged into my Vista laptop. Audacity is an open-source program for all sorts of fancy audio recording, processing and editing. It's really pretty amazing.

Until fairly recently, Audacity was also pretty reliable. But about a month ago I started experiencing occasional crashes when trying to save and export the audio from my recording sessions. Now, if you think about for more than a couple seconds you'll quickly understand that crashes that occur after the interview is over, but before the file is saved, are extremely frustrating - and not just for me. A recording session do-over with three or more people involved in a 30- to 45-minute interview is really not a nice thing to have to ask for.

This morning Richard and I completed an interview with a guest. When I went to save the file, Audacity crashed. My heart sank, and my brain went into oh-crap-overdrive mode. I really did not want to be in the position of having to ask a busy guest to schedule more time to record an interview that had been quite good in the original session. I needed some magic.

I started thinking about temp files. The hard drive is always flashing away as I record the interviews, so something must be saved somewhere, right?

Sure enough, a quick search for *.au files on the hard drive uncovered nearly 400 files in a "_data" folder off the Audacity project's location. The date and time stamps on them made me feel a lot better - Phew! Each file appeared to contain 10 seconds of audio. The first one was stamped with the exact time we started recording the interview, and the last one with the time we stopped.

I imported all the .au files into Audacity, thinking I could just do that and I'd be good to go. But it turns out Audacity doesn't import files one-after-the-other on the timeline. Instead, it imports them as if they were almost 400 individual tracks in a single 10-second audio project. I started the click-cut-end-paste process, and quickly realized it was going to take literally hours to fix this problem manually.

(Also, just for fun I decided to see if the program would actually play a 10-second project session with 400 tracks in it. No dice.)

I quickly gave up on the cut-paste option in search of something better. What I found was the aptly-named Audacity Recovery Utility. Apparently I'm not the only one who's needed to recover recorded audio seemingly lost during application crashes. It's a Python app and can be used on Windows, Mac and Linux.

The program is simple in its execution. You point it at a folder and it looks for audio files, tries to determine if they are all one block/set, or if they're more than one, and then attempts to put them together into a single .WAV file that you can then import back into Audacity (or anywhere else for that matter) for editing and processing.

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The app will confirm what it finds and give you a chance to stop it from proceeding.

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Tell it "Yes" and the program starts processing the temp files.

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Out the other end, you'll eventually get a .WAV file that you can use.

Sure saved my backside today. Thanks to the author! By the way, supposedly Audacity 1.3.2 and newer (which is a beta release right now, not the stable version) have crash recovery built in. I'll probably have to check that out, as well.



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AudioBlogging | RunAs Radio | Tech
Thursday, 13 March 2008 14:43:13 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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 Tuesday, 11 March 2008

ff3beta4logo The Firefox team has released Firefox 3 Beta 4, which you probably have already read about and downloaded if you're a hard-core geek. But you can say you heard it here again. :)

It's definitely a test version, so expect bugs and other weirdness, as they say:

Thank you for helping test Firefox 3 Beta 4! This release is being made available for testing purposes only. You should read the release notes before getting started.

We want to hear all of your thoughts about this beta, especially if you encounter broken sites or other web weirdness. Drag this feedback button onto your bookmarks toolbar and click on it when you have something to tell us. We'll be waiting to hear from you! (Or, if you'd prefer, you can file a bug.)

I downloaded it as a Portable App from this link.



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Geek Out | Tech
Tuesday, 11 March 2008 18:13:09 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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When the Windows Home Server data corruption bug surfaced a couple months ago (updated information is available here), the Home Server team at Microsoft focused their efforts on squashing it. As a result, the Home Server Power Pack 1 release was delayed as a lower priority (and understandably so at the time).

image Microsoft has recently announced that they plan to get the data corruption issue fix out to the market in June this year, but Home Server Product Manager Todd Headrick posted a query on the Microsoft Home Server forums asking people if they'd like to get Power Pack 1 sooner, or if we'd prefer to wait for the corruption fix and take it all at once.

I've voted for the "Power Pack now" option, and will be glad to take a data corruption fix later. As long as there's no dependencies on the bug fix (and it sounds like there's not), and as long as additional risk is not being generated, releasing the power pack earlier is certainly the best option, as long as it's ready. Here are a few reasons why:

  • 64-bit client support, so users of Vista 64-bit can use the home server as it is meant to be used (this appears to be a broader-reaching and more-common issue than many thought it would)
  • Ability to back up the home server folders to external drives
  • Usability and UI improvements
  • Other fixes
  • Opportunity some good news into the channel (it's a great product with a lot of goodwill in the community that would benefit from some positive karma right now)

As a general rule, big companies (or "enterprise" customers, as we call them) want multiple changes carefully packaged together, with as many problems solved in one patch or update as possible, with low risk. But Home Server is notably not an enterprise product. Instead it is laser focused on a crowd where more frequent feature and fix releases are preferred, encouraged and asked for. So, in the case of Home Server it's probably best to adopt something closer to an iterative release cycle.

What do you think? Microsoft wants to know!



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Home Servers | Tech
Tuesday, 11 March 2008 09:25:04 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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 Monday, 10 March 2008

Several months ago I described a number of things I wanted to do during my work sabbatical, which will be coming to an end sometime soon. I've spent that time in a variety of activities, including doing some contract consulting work. But a significant portion of the time has been spent just remembering to enjoy life a little, and getting some much-needed rest. For anyone who knows they need some R&R and happens to have an opportunity to take advantage of, I recommend it highly.

So, what's my report card look like for the past several months?

I made a list back in September of things I wanted or needed to do, and here's a little detail about how each of those has worked out:

Stuff I need (or want) to get done

  • Get some real rest (succeeded)
  • Finish the bonus room floor and trim at home (thanks to a great friend, the trim and floor are done)
  • Finish the shed at home (umm, no progress here yet - still on the list)
  • Add a deck to the side of the house (did some designs, but have not pulled the trigger)
  • Travel somewhere in a 18-wheeler with my friend Broc (I did that, and it was fun - to California and back)
  • Dust off the cameras and get back into the photography swing (have done some of this but not quite as much as I thought)
  • Sell my street motorcycle (2004 CBR600RR - still for sale as of this post - email me  if interested!)
  • Finish reading this darned Koontz novel that I started 9 months ago, heh (done - it was "Intensity" and it was a fun read)
  • Read another book or two - one for enjoyment, one for furthering myself (done - read quite a few, actually)

Things I need (or want) to learn

  • Learn a programming language, at least at a starter level - I an thinking C# - any ideas? (Ummm, no real progress here)
  • I need to study up for a couple certification exams that the whole we-got-bought-busyness process pushed off my schedule, and then reschedule the exams (I've done the studying part...)

Things/places I need (or want) to do/go

  • Visit family in Colorado (done!)
  • Visit family in California (done!)
  • Visit New Mexico (where I used to live) (still pending)
  • Visit a few friends and colleagues in Seattle (done!)

I've also done a whole slew of other things since September. I've traveled to Spain and London, went to see the Patriots beat the Chargers during a weekend trip to Boston, went skiing a bunch of times, recorded a bunch of podcast shows, and a lot more. All in all, it's been a good experience.

Now it's almost time to get back at it, work-wise. I'm in the process of weighing options and deciding what's next. I'm actively involved in a couple ventures that are challenging me and those might be what I decide to do full-time, but have not made decisions yet. Time will tell.

At any rate, I can say with hindsight that I am glad I allocated some meaningful time for myself. I was quite fortunate to be able to do that. Here's to shifting gears!



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Personal Stories | Random Stuff
Monday, 10 March 2008 16:29:22 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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google-calendar-sync Ahhh, a big thank-you to Google. I can now sync both directions between Outlook 2007 and my Google Calendar account thanks to Google Calendar Sync. Simply install one little program that occupies (another) space in the taskbar, and set it to sync as often as you wish. Simple as that. I like simple.

I just installed the app, specified my Google Apps account (yep, it work with the Apps calendars, too) and everything was perfect. Can't ask for more than that.

You can set the direction of information flow (from Google Calendar to Outlook, from Outlook to Google Calendar, or both directions), as well.

Quick, useful, easy and it "just works." This whole mobility concept is starting to become more and more usable and seamless. Nice.

UPDATE: In the comments and in email, a couple smart people have asked some important questions regarding whether the app syncs everything it needs to. My thoughts: "So, there's certainly room for improvement, and it looks like some relatively simple enhancements with corresponding configuration options would make this an even better app for a broader range of users."



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Mobile | Tech
Monday, 10 March 2008 14:39:02 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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 Thursday, 06 March 2008

Microsoft and Apple have announced that they are working together to  make Exchange Server and the iPhone mobile phone work well together. Apple will license Exchange ActiveSync for use on the iPhone, which will in Turn help assure the Exchange Server dominance in the marketplace stays they way it is. It's really as simple as that.

The fact is that Exchange is a pretty terrific server product for email, calendaring and a lot more. The iPhone is a pretty terrific mobile device. They don't integrate too terribly well today: You can sync your calendar and contacts via the USB connection to your computer, and you can get IMAP email from a properly-configured Exchange server (which works, but is not exactly optimal). But it's far from simple, far from seamless, and far from supportable in the enterprise.

One has to wonder what this means, either directly or indirectly, for the Windows Mobile world. I know the arguments: Different markets, different platforms, different purposes, etc. etc. etc... but with the iPhone SDK availability, that gap will be much narrower. And the fact of the matter is, Apple has the usability nailed with the iPhone. Sure, there's a few enhancements needed. But those are ones that can (and I'm certain will) be done.

ActiveSync will provide the ability (assuming Apple leverages all the features) to do push email, calendar and contact sync over the air, and task list sync.

Perhaps one of the more important potential benefits from ActiveSync integration with the iPhone is the ability to get enterprise-class security on the device, which to date is lacking and doesn't meet the needs or standards of most commercial IT departments. Exchange 2007 clients can be set up for enforced enterprise IT "policies" or controls, which would go a long way toward satisfying the security needs. In my mind, that's the biggest potential win. Without that, pushing email and syncing calendars and contacts is to risky an activity.

From Apple's press release come details of what they intend to provide - and it looks liek Cisco VPNs are in the package, as well:

Apple has licensed Exchange ActiveSync from Microsoft and is building it right into the iPhone, so that iPhone will connect out-of-the-box to Microsoft Exchange Servers 2003 and 2007 for secure over-the-air push email, contacts, calendars and global address lists. Built-in Exchange ActiveSync support also enables security features such as remote wipe, password policies and auto-discovery. The iPhone 2.0 software supports Cisco IPsec VPN to ensure the highest level of IP-based encryption available for transmission of sensitive corporate data, as well as the ability to authenticate using digital certificates or password-based, multi-factor authentication. The addition of WPA2 Enterprise with 802.1x authentication enables enterprise customers to deploy iPhone and iPod touch with the latest standards for protection of Wi-Fi networks.

The iPhone 2.0 software provides a configuration utility that allows IT administrators to easily and quickly set up many iPhones, including password policies, VPN setting, installing certificates, email server settings and more. Once the configuration is defined it can be easily and securely delivered via web link or email to the user. To install, all the user has to do is authenticate with a user ID or password, download the configuration and tap install. Once installed, the user will have access to all their corporate IT services.

Good move Apple. Good move Microsoft. Looking forward to this one!



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IT Security | Mobile | Tech
Thursday, 06 March 2008 17:00:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 04 March 2008

After seven years with Dish Network, I made the change Monday to DirecTV and their HD programming. Granted, Dish Network's HD package has improved lately, and their new HD-only package was interesting, but a few things swayed me away and over to the other satellite programming vendor.

DirecTV has great HD capacity today and is quickly adding more. Another satellite will be launched in the next couple weeks, in fact. Their HD quality is pretty darned good. I like their equipment. And, although it's not here yet, I am thinking ahead to the forthcoming HDPC-20 - a DirecTV tuner device that will integrate with Vista Media Center. I'll be an early adopter of that technology, you can be sure.

The installer was great (despite the pouring rain he had to deal with), and before I knew it I was enjoying 90+ channels of HD programming. I can see some compression in some of the HD content, but you have to expect some of that. All I know is it looks much better than cable TV HD service I've seen before. I suppose I could complain about the fact that I now have a bigger antenna on my roof, but that seriously doesn't matter. I'm getting a lot of choice in return.

Bonus features include the ability to add my own external 750GB eSATA drive to the HD DVR (nice!), web-based DVR remote scheduling, Internet connectivity for on-demand content and information (which is new and in beta), and nice menus and software on the receivers in general. Seriously, it just feels better when you use it.

I'll be participating in the "cutting edge" program, loading software releases for the HD receiver and HD DVR devices at odd hours now and then to test new features and fixes before they're released nationwide. So, this move helps me fulfill the needs of my inner geek, too.

It's really a world of difference with the new service. Quality- and content-wise, it's a big step up.



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Geek Out | Tech
Tuesday, 04 March 2008 09:46:53 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 02 March 2008

... and one of the best scenes. Silly, really. But every time I watch this film I laugh out loud, even still today.

"First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then, shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it."

 
Sorry for the random post. I have no idea why I'm writing this, really. For some reason it was just on my mind.
 
If you've never seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, then each of the following three things applies directly to you:
  1. Your life is incomplete
  2. You're missing out
  3. Shame on you

So go rent or buy a copy now, then watch it and relax, knowing your life is much more whole than it had been before you read this post.



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Humor | Movies | Random Stuff
Sunday, 02 March 2008 23:22:59 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 26 February 2008

imageMine iPhone's jail-broken to let me use a couple truly-useful apps written by third parties, so I'll just wait a few hours before I apply this update from Apple, but early reports are that this new version of the iPhone/Touch firmware can be jail-broken using ZIPHONE (for the adventurous only of course), but note that the author (Zibri) says not to upgrade yet, and to wait for him to create a quick update. No problem. I like having my NetFlix queue available, so jail-breaking is in the cards for me.

The Unofficial Apple Weblog has all the goods and is updating with more info as they discover the details of this firmware release. So far bug fixes seems to be the official word.

Nice that Apple's supplying regular fixes. I'm not exactly counting on being pleasantly surprised and finding things like 802.1x and a whole slew of other needed enhancements, though. Hopefully some day.



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Mobile | Tech
Tuesday, 26 February 2008 11:51:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I'm sitting in a local Starbucks, doing the ol' WiFi and latte thing. A sign posted on the door as you enter tells customers that the store is closing today at 5:30 p.m. for sbux_cuptraining. According to CNN, the entire chain is doing this, to provide every one of its 135,000 baristas (hmm, that's a lot of workers per location eh?) with training intended to improve the customer-coffee experience.

Good move. I've been a little disappointed from time to time over the past year or so with the declining consistency and quality of my expensive habit. Here's to hoping things get a little better. The chain needs it.

Personally, I won't be heading to Dunkin' Donuts while the training is in progress because I don't need more caffeine that late in the day. But if you do, rumor has it they're running a 99-cent special starting at 1:00 p.m.

Sidebar: When did 99 cents become a "special" price for a cup of coffee? I must be getting old.



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Random Stuff
Tuesday, 26 February 2008 11:11:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 24 February 2008

It's a little strange, I suppose, even though I have this fancy home theater projector and sound set up in a room allocated just for that purpose, that my living room TV would a 12-or-so-year-old RCA rear projection set. The old RCA is a reliable, still-going strong, 53" wood cabinet model. But it has a glossy screen and reflects light like a mirror. It's hard to watch anything when it's light outside, for sure. the place where the TV lives provides the perfect angle for reflecting the view out the french doors.

New LG LCD 42" HDTV This weekend, Fry's electronics has a great sale on a 42" LG 1080P LCD HDTV (model 42LB5D) on sale for $997.00 (also available online for that price as of the time of this writing, with very reasonable shipping), which is a steal no matter how you look at it. Best Buy's price is around $1599, and you can find it online for around $1200 if you look hard enough. But the Fry's advertised price this weekend was something else entirely.

After a day of thinking about it, I decided it was a good enough deal to take advantage of, and that it would be nice to reclaim some space in my living room. At Best Buy they were willing to match the Fry's price for me last night (frankly, I'd prefer to purchase at Best Buy, but I was open to the alternative if they could not match), and so I drove into town and picked up my new living room TV for $600 less than the floor price and took it home. Score!

It was 11pm by the time we got back home and I was tired, but that's never really stopped me. We set it up and turned it on. In short, as I expected, it's an amazing difference. The LG set is very, very bright and has a great picture, and with 3 HDMI inputs and a variety of others, I'm set. We hooked up a HDMI up-converting DVD player and watched American Psycho (wow, what a film, heh). Color me impressed.

This morning I was able to watch anything I wanted with the blinds pulled open and the sun shining in the windows. I'm a happy camper.



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Geek Out | Random Stuff | Tech
Sunday, 24 February 2008 14:00:05 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 21 February 2008

Looks like Vista SP1 for the 64-bit version of the OS is now available publicly on Windows Update. No sign of the 32-bit version yet, but I'm glad to get it for this particular computer.

image

image

Knowledge Base article KB936330 is available, as is the release-notes publication at TechNet.



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IT Security | Tech
Thursday, 21 February 2008 14:31:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 20 February 2008

fortuneLast night I got Chinese food from the local place and took it home.

After the meal I broke open my fortune cookie. I handed the paper to a friend of mine to read since I didn't have my glasses on and for all I knew I was trying to read it upside down (turns out I was).

I thought my friend was messing with me when he read it out loud.

Anyone have any suggestions at this point? Tin foil hats or garlic or something?

I'm saving this one.



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Humor | Random Stuff
Wednesday, 20 February 2008 09:39:47 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Recently my Outlook 2007 connection to my Google Apps mail account became increasingly slow and sluggish, to the point of extreme frustration. Slow syncs and a general sense of bloat were ruining my experience and making it close to unusable. During email syncs my system would practically hang as Outlook churned away.

Not acceptable. I either needed a solution or I needed to replace my email, contacts and calendaring solution. It was that bad. Now, I really have no desire to leave Outlook. It works great for me. What I needed was a fix, which was preferable to a wholesale replacement. I know Thunderbird works well, but at least for now it's just not an Outlook equal replacement.

So, I searched today for a solution and - what do you know - quickly found an article on Digital Inspiration that helped me clean up my server configuration and improve performance substantially. With the huge onslaught of spam over the past couple months, my GMail spam folder had grown to be HUGE, so removing that from the sync was probably a big deal. Also, I set up the inbox to grab headers only (different than the article suggests). In addition, I disabled a couple unused but active Outlook add-in's as described in this article.

The results? A speedy Outlook and no more hung apps. The sync with the Google IMAP servers is much faster. I actually can't believe I put up with the bad performance as long as I did. All resolved now.



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Tech
Tuesday, 19 February 2008 21:27:58 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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favor_day Favor Day is coming on March 12th, and it's being organized on Facebook. Nothing quite like doing something simple and kind for someone else to make the world a better place. You should be a part - spread the word!

Here's how you celebrate Favorday -- on Favorday, March 12th, 2008, you do planned favors for people, just like you would plan on giving a gift to somebody for the holidays. Any kind of favor can suffice, whether its "I'm going to rub my girlfriend's feet" or "I'm going to clean my neighbor's garage" Favorday is for celebrating each other.

You can help by inviting your friends to celebrate Favorday with you!

By the way, I am on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=584484571



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Helping Others | Random Stuff
Tuesday, 19 February 2008 13:09:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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