6 July 2012
My kids have SanDisk Sansa Zip MP3 players. Unfortunately, the firmware that comes on these devices is absolute crap. My daughter’s unit got into a situation where it would not boot correctly–kind of a problem when you’re on a trip without a computer. My son told me that his unit would invariably “skip” certain tracks on his unit for no reason.
While I do have a handful of tracks where I hand-coded the ID3 tags, the vast majority of the tracks loaded to these units were either purchased from iTunes or Amazon MP3, or came from CDs ripped from the iTunes software. Nothing special or fancy here, similar to what any other person might have in their collection. That said, it didn’t take me long to find numerous reports on Sandisk’s forums of problems with the stock firmware.
Enter Rockbox. It’s a third party, open-source firmware for various MP3 players. While the interface is completely different than what was provided by Sandisk (and likely any of the other MP3 players out there), it is certainly more functional. Aside from playing MP3s (and AACs), providing an FM tuner, and a recorder (which the stock firmware provided), it also provides a number of other features, including themes, games (even Doom!), and various utilities.
While the Rockbox page gave me conflicting information about how “stable” the port is for the Sansa Clip Zip, I figured it was worth a shot. Rockbox provides an application to install Rockbox onto your MP3 player, which involves patching the standard firmware and loading some additional files. The entire process is automated by the Rockbox Application and after rebooting the Sansa Clip Zip, I was presented with a completely different interface.
It didn’t take me long to figure out how to use it. The “database” option has all the music in it, and you can either select by artist, album, or a complete track list. Scrolling through the tracks is fairly quick–moreso than under the stock firmware.
If the database gets partially corrupt (which happened on my daughter’s unit), you can force a refresh or do a complete rebuild of the music database. Corrupt music databases seems to be a major complaint with the SanDisk stock firmware.
I scrolled through the various applications and games available as part of the Rockbox firmware and was impressed with what was available. You can see a complete list of “plugins” here. Even with the limited interface and a 96×96 screen, you can do quite a lot. Even Doom is playable on that small screen.
In any case, if you’re as disgusted with the stock firmware on your MP3 player as I was, then you should give Rockbox a try. The price is right and if you find it’s not for you, then you can easily revert back to the stock firmware using the installer utility.
6 September 2009
Back when I was in college, I had a stereo with a dual cassette recorder and a CD player. This was fairly common back in the early 1990s. The king of “personal music devices” back in those days was the walkman. Bulky by today’s standards, but if you wanted music on the go, that was it.
I still have my last walkman from those days. Not sure when I bought my last one, to be honest, as I used it into the early 2000s. It’s not a Sony, but it got the job done.
Another thing I have from those days is my collection of mix tapes. For those who are either too young or too old, a mix tape is a collection of music from different sources put onto a personal cassette tape that you listened to in your car or your walkman. The desire to make mix tapes was one reason people opted for dual-cassette stereos, not to mention outright copying of other people’s tapes
Mix tapes were typically on ninety minute cassettes, which meant two forty-five minute sides. Cassettes are not random access, either, they are linear. And decent cassettes weren’t cheap, either.
Because of these limitations, not to mention the fact you actually had to play a song all the way through to record it on a cassette tape, it took some work–and time–to come up with a decent mix tape. The end result was, dare I say it, a work of art in and of itself.
The limits of a cassette tape seem silly today. Carrying literally thousands of songs on something smaller than a cassette tape is not entirely uncommon. I can’t imagine carrying around a walkman and cassettes anymore like I used to back in the day.
How does this relate to Twitter? I’m glad you asked.
Twitter has some seemingly arbitrary limits. The two most often complained about are the 140 character limit per status update and the lack of threaded conversations. There are others, of course.
Within those arbitrary limits, some interesting things have emerged:
- Conversations. @ replies were not part of the original specification for Twitter (e.g. using @phoneboy in your tweet to indicate a response to me), but as users used Twitter, this was adopted as the standard.
- URL Shorteners: Tinyurl.com had been around pre-Twitter, but the development of these services took off once people started sharing URLs on Twitter. Anything to get more content in 140 characters.
- Picture sharing services: These have been around forever, but a number of new ones were created since Twitter and other similar services started taking off.
- RSS Reader, anyone?: Because people share URLs on Twitter, for many people, Twitter has become their RSS reader. Instead of following 100+ blogs, just read the URLs that come off of your followers on Twitter. I personally do a mix: follow a smaller subset of blogs and use my Twitter stream for the rest.
- Other apps that use Twitter for signaling: Phweet is one example, but there are plenty of others that I can’t think of right now.
- The re-tweet: If you like something someone else said, you re-Tweet it. However, you want to give the person credit who originally said it. If you want to make tweets that can be re-tweeted easily, you have to make the tweets shorter than 140 characters (say, 120).
Me? While I make use of these services just like everyone else, I do find the 140 character limits liberating in a sense. Whereas on a blog post, I have an infinite slate to work with, in Twitter, I have 140 characters. I have to get right to the point. Sometimes crafting those 140 characters takes time, just like the mix tapes used to.
The point is: limits aren’t entirely bad. Sometimes it’s those limits that are necessary to unleash creativity. Meanwhile, I’m working to bring my mix tapes into the 21 century.
1 August 2009
The folks at Sony sent me a Sony Ericsson W995A to review. This is the first time I have actually used a Sony Ericsson product, so this is as much a review of the specific handset as it is the experience of using Sony Ericsson products in general.
The phone came in a FedEx box and was clearly used in other reviews. It came with a USB cable, a power charger, an inactive T-Mobile SIM card, and a CD with their version of PC Suite and other documentation.
The phone did not come charged, so it would not power up out of the box. I figured the USB cable would work for charging the phone, but not so. Instead, if you want the phone to be charging AND hooked up to the computer at the same time, you have to daisy-chain the USB cable into the power cable, which has a convenient port on the back of the plug for this purpose. This is worse than having a separate plug for charging the phone!
The phone also did not come with any memory installed. Worse, it uses a proprietary Sony-only memory format. Not having any Sony Ericsson phones around, this means either suffering without a memory card or spending money on a 8GB Memory Stick Micro so I can review a phone I will be sending back in less than two weeks.
One other thing about the phone I received–it was a prototype unit. Why am I getting prototype units when the phone is supposedly shipping? Am I looking at production software? How much does the build quality differ from this prototype with the real production?
So we haven’t gotten into actually using the device yet, and there are already three strikes against the device–strikes Sony PR could have easily corrected by ensuring I got a production model, the phone was charged when I got it AND included some sort of memory card with the device. It really makes me appreciate the work that Andy Abramson’s team at Comunicano does with the Nokia blogger relations program, who truly sets the standard for how these kinds of programs should be run.
Meanwhile, I only tested a few specific areas of the phone: the camera, the media player, and the web browser. I go into some detail after the jump.
1 July 2009
Despite my previous objections with the way Apple controls the App Store, not to mention my general preference for buttons over a completely touch interface, I am throwing in the towel, putting down my credit card, and buying an iPhone 3GS 32GB. Yes, I realize to some this means that hell must have frozen over and the apocalypse must be coming. What changed?
The most obvious change? I no longer work for Nokia, for one. Not that working for Nokia gave me exceptional access to the latest Nokia gear, but I did get a few handsets from them. I sport my Nokia E71 every day and occasionally use the others for various functions.
I can’t say it was one thing that pushed me over the edge. It was a lot of little things that added up to my ultimate decision to buy an iPhone 3GS. This isn’t a complete list, but here goes:
It’s Faster: One issue I have with my E71 is how slow it is when it comes to rendering web pages, not to mention other “random’ slowdowns that crop up with the phone. The iPhone 3GS has both a faster processor and twice the memory of the iPhone 3G. Those things will make a difference.
More Storage: I have a hard time conceiving how I will fill 32gb, but I’m sure I will find a way.
It’s an iPod: Actually, this part isn’t as key to me, as I don’t spend a lot of time listening to music and the like. However, I am big on podcasts. While Nokia has an app on the phone for handling podcasts, it has a number of issues. Also, for the rare times I actually do want to sync music to my Nokia phones, it is excruciatingly slow. Even Nokia’s current flagship handset takes forever to sync. Apple has this down with their iPods, iPhones, and iTunes. It all works together nicely.
It Takes Decent Video: Unlike my Nokia E71, this takes video that is on-par with my Nokia N95 8GB. This demo video that Kevin Tofel took from JKOnTheRun took was enough to convince me that it was decent.
It’s A Better Camera: It’s only a 3 megapixel camera, but it has autofocus and the ability to direct the focus with a tap on, say, someone’s face. The MacBreak Weekly gang was raving about it. I won’t have flash but, then again, the flash on the Nokia E71 is pretty worthless.
Cut and Paste: Ok, some of my earliest Nokia devices had this feature, but it’s nice to see Apple provide this feature in the iPhone 3.0 software. Hopefully it is better than the Cut and Paste on the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, which suffers from S60 5th Edition and a lack of buttons.
Tethering; Ok, even my old Nokia featurephones from 2003 could do this, but it’s nice to see Apple getting with the program and adding support for this useful feature.
Stereo Bluetooth: Ever since I bought a stereo bluetooth headset, my workouts at the Y have been much better. Up until the iPhone 3GS, stereo bluetooth was simply not an option on iPhone. Now it is.
Device Encryption: This feature I didn’t even know about until I started looking on Apple’s site for things I had previously thought were worthwhile. There’s a blurb about hardware encryption on the More Features page, but there’s precious little details about what it does. If it does what Check Point’s Full Disk Encryption does for my Nokia handsets, that would be good. More information is needed.
Free WiFi from AT&T: I have been finding myself in Starbucks more and more as of late. Now that they’re all AT&T hotspots, the ability to hop-on their WiFi for free and with less hassle is a bonus.
It’s The Apps, Stupid: And, of course, the best reason of all to get a smartphone these days is the applications. While I will for sure miss Gravity, my favorite Twitter client for Nokia devices, there are plenty of fine replacements on iPhone. Not to mention replacements for some of the other apps I use, not to mention new apps I haven’t been able to try to date because I lacked an iPhone.
Of course, this is before I get the iPhone. Apple hasn’t shipped the order yet. I suspect with the Independence Day holiday, I might not get it before Monday. Assuming they’re not out of stock or anything, I should get it sometime next week. I’ll keep refreshing the order status page like an impatient geek, looking for word on when my new toy will arrive.
3 October 2008
It keeps coming:
Mobivox Unveils Voice-Activated Mobile Services Platform: This is primarily geared at service providers. While I think their platform is good, as it contains thinks like voice-activated dialing and call control, group calling, and voice-to-SMS, and voice-to-email messaging, I think the challenge is going to be getting carriers to adopt. You can read more from them on the Mobivox|PL blog.
Alltel Bringing Customers NuTsie: If you want to spend $4.99 a month or $19.99 a year to listen to items from your iTunes library from your Alltel handset, and you happen to have one of the 10 handsets Alltel supports this on, get thee to the Alltel Shop on the handset and buy it.
Into High School Sports? Check Out Locofan.net: Ted Wallingford helped to put together a social networking site for high school sports called LocoFan.net! This is about empowering the social discourse surrounding sports that makes prep athletics so much fun. Things like boosting, smack talking, Saturday-morning quarterbacking, and of course, media sharing. Not personally a high school ports fan, but maybe when my kids are old enough.
DeFi Mobile Offers Unlimited Calling over WiFi for $40/mo: This service provides unlimited calling as well as unlimited data on a number of commercial WiFi hotspots worldwid–yes, data you can use for other things. Seems a bit like a cross between Boingo and Truphone, but personally, I think Truphone and Boingo are a better deal.
Skype on Asterisk: Tom Keating did a long piece on the recent announcement about Skype being made available as a channel driver for Asterisk. In short, it allows you to both make and receive calls with Skype using an Asterisk server. Anything you can do with, say, an oubound SIP channel or an IP telephone extension can bow be done with Skype. It’s not going to be open-source, nor is it going to be free. It does open up some interesting opportunities.
27 August 2008
If you’ve ever listened to the album Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa–highly recommended–you’ve heard the phrase “It looks just like a Telefunken U47.” As a kid, I had no idea what it was, or if it was even real.
Turns out, it is a real thing. Specifically, it’s a microphone originally sold and distributed by the German radio and television company Telefunken in the late 1940s thru 1958.
Apparently, Frank Zappa collected and used vintage German microphones like the Telefunken U47. In fact, his collection was restored between 2005 and 2007 by Telefunken USA, a company that is dedicated to repairing various vintage Telefunken microphones as well as creating faithful reproductions.
Telefunken USA has a couple of different recreations of the Telefunken U47, this one being the Telefunken U47V Long Body. Using a combination of new old stock parts along with custom-made parts, these microphones are hand-assembled to be as close to the originals as possible.
According to Telefunken USA, the U 47V is big and warm, with a velvety upper mid-range and top end, making it an excellent choice on many sources including vocals, upright bass, brass instruments, and acoustic guitar.
The mics are only available through Telefunken USA and due to the nature of the parts they use, quantities are limited. I have no idea what this might cost, but if you’re looking for a high quality mic, this might be the one for you.
17 August 2008
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I have admittedly been a late comer to last.fm, but lately, I’ve found myself using it more than I ever thought I would. I’m not sure if it’s the new interface or that I finally figured out what value it might bring to my music-listening experience.
I haven’t started using the social aspects of last.fm yet, but it been useful simply as a way of capturing what I listen to and suggesting other stuff I might like. Last.fm, through scrobbler applications on various platforms, including the Mac and Nokia S60 applications, are able to send to last.fm the music you listen to so it can suggest other things you might like later on.
The last.fm application on the Mac as well as the mobbler application on S60 both provide a sort of “streaming radio station” of sorts. I can set it on auto-pilot on an artist, song, or based on past listens, and get a half-way decent radio station out of the deal. Unlike, say, Pandora, I have a bit more control over what ends up in the station.
Apparently, I’m not the only one discovering last.fm as they are reporting higher usage numbers. Quoting the press release they sent:
According to the latest comScore Media Metrix report (July 2008, U.S. Data), Last.fm has experienced a 20% increase in unique visitors and a 36% increase in total minutes in the United States. Additionally, Last.fm saw a dramatic 208% year-over-year increase in total minutes spent on the site and a 62% increase in unique visitors, corresponding to a 90% increase in visitor engagement.
Whatever the reason for the increased usage, I’m sure CBS (owner of last.fm) is quite happy to see one of their media properties get more popular. Heck, I even see Nokia sponsoring some sort of Summer Festival Filter that lets you filter your music tastes against a number of upcoming music festivals to tell you who you should go see. Interesting, to say the least.
I hope that they add more “full” tracks to their library. That’s about the only thing that’s kind of a bummer on their service. They have a lot of tracks that you can play on-demand, some that don’t exist in their service, and others you get a 30 second sample of.
I suppose that’s what I like about last.fm though–more control over what I can listen to and lots of information about the song–or artist–that I am listening to. What about you?