Monday, December 26, 2005

iPod utility on the cheap

I just bought a 5G Video iPod last month and I love it. What I don't love is the high price of iPod accessories. $30 for a rubber protective sleeve is just too much. I have also discovered that some accessories can be used in multiple ways. I keep all this stuff in a small carry bag.

- silicone sleeve - purchased from PC Microstore for $10 with free shipping.

- Belkin Auto Kit - The Belkin iPod Auto Kit is one of the most useful accessories I own. It is basically a car lighter adapter that allows the iPod to be charged and provides a 1/8 line out which connects to a cassette adapter of FM transmitter. The line out signal is amplified and adjustable via a volume control.

- 12 accessory adapter - This plugs into an AC outlet, and any 12V powered device with a car lighter plug can be plugged into it. Rather than buying both auto and home accessories, plug the auto accessories into the accessory adapter. Also works well for cell phone accessories

- cassette adapter - connects the iPod line out to a cassette deck

- passive portable speakers - I have a pair of passive Sony speakers which work fine. Target has the Sony SRS-P7's for about $10

- AV cable - I bought a camcorder adapter cable from eBay for $6. Since the wiring is different, I marked the RCA plugs with the correct iPod "polarity

These items can be combined in a variety of ways :

AC powered iPod "stereo" - plug the Belkin car kit into the 12v accessory adapter, then plug the passive speakers into the Belkin car kit. Volume is adjustable via the Belkin car kit.

self powered iPod stereo - plug the passive speakers directly into the iPod

iPod charger - the Ipod does not come with an AC adapter, so plug the Belkin car kit into the accessory adapter

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Don't worry about Nintendo...

I have been listening to gaming podcasts lately and the usual doom and gloom stories about Nintendo. Don't worry about Nintendo. They are doing fine. Read the book "Game Over" and you'll understand :

- Everything they sell makes a profit. The more they sell, the more they make.

- They are utterly ruthless. Read the book if you want examples.

- Sony and Microsoft sell the PS2 and XBox at a loss. The more they sell, the more money they lose. Do the math.

- Sony is fundamentally conflicted. They make consumer electronics. They also are a media conglomerate. They make most of their money with their media division, but the consumer electronics gets all the attention. Their consumer electronics group would probably LOVE to make a completely open device like the Game Park. The media people say "lock it down".

- Sony and Microsoft are chasing after the same demographic : the hardcore gamer. Or at least it looks that way. I have a feeling that this market is not growing very fast.

- The Nintendo franchises (Mario, Zelda) are for the most part pretty tame. The games are fun. They are timeless. They are pure fantasy. They tend not to lose much of their sheen over time. Mario is 20 years old this year.

Most people don't care how fast the processor is and don't like controllers with lots of buttons. I know I don't. What I care about is how good the game is. I'm not interested in games where I shoot things that look like people (like Halo). I bet most people don't. This is about as antisocial as games get. They tend to attract controversy (and lawsuits).

Saturday, October 22, 2005


First posting with Flock, basically Firefox with integrated blogging and bookmarking capabilities. First impressions : faster than Firefox. Blog posting appears relatively simple. Integrates with Also integrates with flickr. I'll see if I can upload some state fair pictures.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Read my mind : the Nokia E70

I've always liked the Nokia 6800 form factor, but it does not use the Series 60 interface, like my 3650.

Well, Nokia has just introduced the E70...which is basically a Series 60 interface in an updated 6800 form factor. Plus a camera and WiFi. Will do VOIP. A worthy upgrade from my 3650.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Stop buying PSPs. It just encourages them

Someone has discovered a buffer overflow that allows a PSP with 2.0 firmware to be hacked.

Imagine how many more PSPs Sony could sell if they encouraged PSP owners to develop applications for the PSP rather than trying to shut them down.

I admire the perseverance of PSP owners to unlock their hardware, but should they really encourage Sony by buying the intentionally crippled PSPs in the first place?

The new Game Park console, which has free development tools provided by GamePark, seems to be a much better choice.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What was NOT said about the ROKR iTunes phone.....

Blog comments everywhere are filling up with comments about the ROKR iTunes phone

I can sum it up as ......yada yada poo crap ugly yada

Whatever...I expected ugly....lets move along. The Pontiac Aztec of cell phones...

The RAZR is the only non-ugly phone that Motorola has designed. Go look at the crap they make for Nextel.

The ROKR has a 100 song limit, no matter how big your memory card is. This limit keeps it from competing with the Nano. Otherwise you could load a 2G flash card and make it a Nano. In the next week or so, someone will hack the firmware and fix this.

What I thought was interesting, that no one mentioned, was that the ROKR can play MPEG-4 video. The screen is big enough for casual watching. Having "stop making sense" on a phone like this would be awesome. But a different phone.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

GameBoy Micro

My GameBoy SP has been hijacked. My son has discovered "Pokemon Emerald". He has also discovered the Pokemon card game, which I play with him, but I digress.

Nintendo has just announced the GameBoy Micro :

and already all the geek experts :

are chattering on about what a huge mistake Nintendo has made. Probably the same "experts" that considered the Apple iPod Mini a mistake (it has sold millions).

Nintendo is doing something very smart here. They are squeezing the GameBoy platform for everything it can give. They have the advantage of a huge library of GameBoy Advance games, something that the Sony PSP does not have (though I'm not comparing the Micro to the PSP). While Sony will make very little on every PSP sold, the margin on the Micro is probably significant (it will sell for $99.)

The Micro is not intended for the hard core gamer. Hard core gamers seem to think that every new product is intended for them. Nintendo is going after the casual gamer, one who in the past would typically not buy a GameBoy. Perhaps they tried out one of their kids' GameBoys and enjoyed it.

The Micro is truly pocket size, so it can go anywhere. The $99 price may seem steep, but combine it with the new Play-Yan media player. Assuming that the Play-Yan sells for about $50, the combined cost is the same as an iPod shuffle, but has a screen and can play mp3's and video. This does not include the cost of a memory card, which will add about $40. The entire unit will be slightly smaller than the iPod Mini.

I want one. The Micro release date coincides with my sons' birthday. He may be getting my SP and dad will get a new GameBoy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

We need podcast naming conventions

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts lately as an alternavive to FM and have been noticing that there are many ways podcasts can be named (track name), but most are not named such that they sort properly on your portable device (iPod, whatever).

This seems like such a trivial thing, but in order to organize the podcasts, I have to rename (pretty much) all of them so that the episodes sort in increasing date order. The track number field is particularly abused. Sometimes it lists the month, sometimes blank, sometimes the episode number. Often it varies among episodes from the same podcaster.

Some would argue that this doesn't matter, and technically, it does not. To me, an illogical or random naming structure makes the podcast appear a little less professional. This is particularly a problem, when upon completion of a podcast, the playlist skips to the next file, which may be a month old.

How to fix it (I apologize in advance if thie is difficult to follow...):

My preference is an abbreviated name followed by a date or episode number, like the following, with possible issues listed beside the different options :

ABBR-YY-MM-DD (YY potentially confused with MM or DD)
ABBR-MM-DD (short, but with year rollover issues)
ABBR-NNNN-YYYYMMDD (pretty damn long)

ABBR = abbreviated podcast name
YYYYMMDD = Year-Month-Day. Use leading zeros.
N = episode number.

Always use leading zeros to fill numeric fields to accomodate sorting i.e


rather than :


In short, make the first 17 characters important, because that is all the listener will see (at least on an ipod). Podcast names sort alphabetically when dates are specified appropriately)




or Coverville-101-20050801

where YYYY=year, MM=month, DD=date

Using episode numbers rather than dates immediately following the name allows a few more characters :



DSC-115-2005-07-27 (this is what I do)

Remember to be consistent!
For example, don't do this :

Inside Man Podcast
Episode 2 of 4
Inside Man Episode 1

Don't include spaces, or at least be consistent!

Don't use month or day names! They don't sort properly!
For example, don't do this :

On The Media - Aug 1, 2005
On The Media - Jul 29, 2005
On The Media - Jul 22, 2005

As for track numbers, I would do :
track number = episode number
always "1"
leave it blank

No random numbers in the track field. This is just silly.

Also, no roman numerals. They don't sort numerically.
For example, don't do this :

Podfinder Episode III
Podfinder Episode II
Podfinder Podcast

Keep the podcasts coming!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Best Dreamcast games

The Dreamcast is a bargain as gaming goes; a console and a few games can be purchased for less than $50

Here are 2 of my favorite games :

- Looney Tunes Space Race - If I wasn't such a Looney Tunes fan (I own both DVD box sets), perhaps I would not rank it as highly. The graphics are spectacular. It is literally like being in a cartoon. Cartoon physics abound (characters hang in mid air before dropping). The racers trash talk each other in ways appropriate to their character. Shop areound and you can probably find it for about $10. Highly reccomended.

- PenPen TriIcelon - This game is just surreal, and super easy to play (steer and press two different buttons). It was one of the original launch titles for the Dreamcast in Japan, and minimal translations were performed to prepare the game for the american market. Basically, it is a triathalon on ice for mutant penguins. Can often be found for less than $5. Don't pass this one up.

home gaming setup

Just finished rewiring my video game console setup which consists of :

- Sega Dreamcast
- Super Nintendo
- Playstation One

Just had some family in town and my nephew played Looney Tunes Space Race on the Dreamcast. While they were out of town at the beach, I finally spent some quality time with "Crash Team Racing" on the Playstation. While it is a fun game, the quality of the graphics is atrocious, especially compared to the Dreamcast. While it is sad that the Dreamcast is no longer a supported gaming platform, it is quite a bargain as you can buy a Dreamcast with controller and AV cable at EB Games for $15. Purchase a console built before November 2000 and the entire world of Dreamcast emulation becomes available :

Even if you just use it for playing audio cd's, it's worth $15.

Friday, June 10, 2005

what a week....

Began this week on monday morning with a visit to the SunCom store. See previous posts for grisly details.

Then took mom to the hospital to prepare for surgery on friday. Arrived at 11 am, left at 6 pm. Most of the time was waiting. Used some of this time to find the unolock codes for my Nokia 3650.

Tuesday...picked up new countertop from Lowes.

Wednesday... Started new countertop installation. Had to cut the old countertop to remove. Does not bode well for installation of new countertop. Fears realized...can't get the new countertop into place without removing some part of the room. Decided to remove part of the door jamb. Discovered interesting fastener holding parts of door jamb together. Door jamb removed, new countertop manuvered into place. Kerry hints that it might be a good idea to take part of the day off tommorrow.

Thursday...leave work early; check on mom's car (both have dead batteries.) It starts! Head home to install countertop/sink. Open box with sink, discover that Bone is not White. Go back to Lowes to swap sink (white is $8 cheaper..) Attach countertop, use template to mark hole to cut for sink. Follow instructions, but somehow the hole is too small. Spend about an hour making the hole bigger. Wished that I had a router. Job completed about 8:30pm. Take shower, go to mom's. Get to sleep around midnight.

Friday...must be at hospital at 5:30, which is 30 minutes away. wake up at 4:25. Check mom in about 6:00. Get coffee and breakfast around 7:00. Now 8:00 am. Hospital beeper is going off. Guess the surgery is starting....

Thursday, June 09, 2005

customer service...sigh...

Perhaps I am not being completely fair to SunCom. It's just one example of not respecting your customers.

I once had my own consulting/training business. My livelihood depended on treating my customers well. Perhaps this is why I am sensitve to it.

How could SunCom do better ?

- Use music on hold instead of commercials on their customer service line.
I am already a customer. I am calling because I am having a problem. I don't want to listen to comercials, I want my problem solved. Also, the constant talking is very distracting. Doing useful work while waiting on hold like this is like trying to drive and talk on the phone at the same time. Doesn't work.

- Provide better service in person than via the phone.
When I come to visit a business in person, I expect better treatment than if I call on the phone. If you can't do better in person, let me know so I don't waste my time.

- Sweat the details
Tried to check my voice mail this morning; instead got an error that the voice mail number had not yet been defined. I'll be calling SunCom today to get the number.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Suncom - Episode 2

"Surely this process would move faster if I went to the Suncom store", I thought. At least I won't have to listen to Harry Connick Jr on hold.

So, I get to the store 15 minutes early. Once inside, it is explained to me that the process may take 35 minutes. I have one hour till I have to be somewhere else. Turns out that you DON'T get better service by going to the store. They call the same 800 number and wait on hold.

Finally, we get a customer service rep. The Suncom employee then removes the battery from my smart phone without turning the phone off first. Next, she tries to unlock the phone and is unsuccessful.

As an aside, one of the reasons for going through this "SIM switch" procedure was to get my phone unlocked. Their procedure for doing this is at the SunCom store is completely non-standardized. Basically, the store employees surf the internet for free "unlock sites" and use that information. Apparently, this is news to the customer service employee, who makes note of the URL.

I could have done that myself. Suncom is "the phone company". They have access to the fancy hardware phone unlocking gadgets. But they don't use them. They don't even appear to have a list of standardized procedures for unlocking phones. This is left up to the store employees to figure out.

She offers me a Nokia 3620 to replace my 3650. The Nokia 6680 is apparently not an acceptable replacement as "it is a smart phone". I explain that my 3650 IS a smart phone. No dice. I decline the 3620 swap and leave with my old phone and both the new and old SIM cards.

To be fair, the switchover with my wife's Sony-Ericsson T616 goes off without a hitch.

Later, while in a waiting room, I search the internet for unlock sites, find the right one, and unlock the phone myself. Thankfully, as around 6pm, the old SIM card stops working. I pop the new SunCom card into the phone and all is well.

Needless to say, I was not impressed by the experience.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Suncom - Episode 1

I am one of the lucky AT&T Wireless customers in the Raleigh, NC area that was sold to SunCom in exchange for access to cell towers in Virginia.

About a month or so ago, I recieved an automated call telling me I had to get my phone updated for service to continue, with a 800 number to call.

SunCom apparently misjudged the resources that this conversion effort would take, which was reflected in the 30 minute hold times on the 800 customers service lines.

Waiting on hold is bad enough, but at least there is generally "music on hold". The quality of this music varies wildly, but at least it is music, and usually instrumental. On the SunCom customer service line, however, you get the same 3 advertisements over and over, interrupted every minute or so with the obligitory "thank you for holding" message. All three advertisments are voiced by Harry Connick Jr., the current spokesperson for SunCom. Since the on hold "entertainment" is basically chatter, it is pretty much impossible to stay on hold and get any work done, as your attention is constantly redirected to the chatter.

To top it all off, this chatter is all advertisments.

Since I am already a SunCom customer, why do I have to listen to advertisments on the customer service line?

After 45 minutes on hold over 2 different days, I decided to go the retail store to resolve this. Surely the experience would be better. If only I knew......

Friday, May 06, 2005

riding the bus....more time for podcasts

About a month ago, after paying $2.25 a gallon for a tank of gas, I checked into other ways of getting to work. Turns out N.C. State employees can ride the TTA (local regional bus) for free.

So three days a week :
- I don't have to drive
- I get exercise, which I would not get otherwise
- I get an extra hour of time per day for listening to podcasts.

I have been listening to :
- Coverville
- 5 Minutes With Wichita
- Hour Of Slack
- Daily Source Code
- Le Show

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

New phone?

Typically I would be looking forward to getting a new phone; my contract is month to month. My phone has been the Nokia 3650 for the past two years, and I have been very pleased with it.

2 years later, there are no phones that are significantly better than the Nokia 3650 that does not cost less than $300 (with a contract.) I like the N-Gage, but it does not have a camera. I don't think I will ever get another phone without a camera.

The Sony-Ericsson 710 is very nice, but at $300, is too expensive.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Nintendo is smart...

Pundits are sounding the death knell for Nintendo on the introduction of the PSP. I think they underestimate Nintendo. If you want to understand how they operate, read the book :

Game Over : How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and EnslavedYour Children

Read the section in the book about their response to MGM when threatened with a lawsuit over Donkey Kong. Their laywer flies across the country to tell the MGM president that they wouldn't settle. In person. The case never made it to trial; it was thrown out by the judge

Look at the GameBoy, the most popular handheld gaming system ever. Their newest system, the DS, will play all your old (and inexpensive to buy) GameBoy Advance titles, plus the new titles. The DS has two slots, a GBA slot and a DS slot.

The DS comes in a clamshell configuration, so the screen is protected from incidental damage. No such protection with the PSP.

PSP...Entertainment without boundaries?

I just went to the Sony website to get a link to the PSP page for a link, and discovered the slogan for the PSP :

Entertainment Without Boundaries


The PSP looks like something designed by a company with dueling hardware and entertainment divisions. It's as locked down as any media device on the market.

The PSP :
- is too expensive
- is too easy to break
- is too big to carry everywhere
- is crippled with proprietary UMD media
- requires an expensive memory stick
- games cost fifty dollars with no budget titles
- has no backwardly compatible media

If I want to get in some recreational video, I'll do it on my Nokia 3650. I can pull it out unobtrusively.

If you want a Nintendo solution, wait for the Nintendo branded $50 game cart that will play MPEG-4 files from a Secure Digital memory card. A movie theatre in your pocket.

If you've read this and still want a PSP, they have plenty of them at the store.

Music Thing is The Thing

I love MusicThing. Music Thing is a blog about musical technology. If you are into 70s and 80s analog synths, software synths, anything musically electronic. It is the place to be

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Nokia 3650 Essentials

I set up my sisters' Nokia 3650 this afternoon. Here is what I did :

  • Put the memory card into a reader
  • Create a "installs" and a "video" folder
  • Copy some Jonny Quest 3gp files (or whatever you like) into the "videos" folder
  • Copy the following apps into the "installs" folder :

    • Helix player - for MPEG 4 video. The Helix player supports more video formats than the Real Player that ships with the phone.
    • ReadM - ebook reader. Reads any text file. Even plays mp3s..
    • Calcium - Nice, easy to use calculator
    • Agile Messenger - fantastic, free, IM client
    • Card Deck - Free solitaire game from Nokia
    • Forward - moves INBOX messages to arbitrary files. Very useful.
    • Keyboard - Driver for Pocketop folding IR keyboard
    • Torch - Turns the backlight on. Yes, your phone is now a flashlight.

  • Remember, when you start installing, everything goes on the memory card
  • Put the card back in the phone and power up. I like to keep a installable copy of all apps that I regularly use on the memory card in the phone. The Nokia "Manager" installer application only installs SIS files that are sent to the phone via email or Bluetooth. To solve this. I sent FExplorer to her phone via Bluetooth, and installed it. Once FExplorer was in place, applications could be installed from the "installs" folder.
  • Install all the apps by selecting the SIS files in the "installs" directory with FExplorer. The Helix player is installed in 3 parts, in order.

Transparent technology

My friend Rod has a Sony-Ericcson T616 phone, which he hates. One day, the phone made a loud screeching noise while next to his ear. He complained that the phone was difficult to use; I would agree as my wife has one. I chose that phone for her because it had a camera and supported Bluetooth.

Unfortunately, the pictures are lousy and the menus are puzzling (to me at least). It's like going to a movie and watching the projector

I offered him the use of a Nokia 3390, which I picked up at a flea market. What a wonderful phone this is. Excellent reception, crystal clear audio, and very easy to use.

I would describe this as transparent technology. With this phone, you just use the phone. Simple, uncluttered, intuitive.

Rod is using the phone until his contract expires in March. But I am getting it back :-)

Radio is dead....

...they just haven't buried the body yet. I was in my van this evening, listening to "Coverville" a podcast from "" on the iPod. A 30 minute show that is not broadcast via radio anywhere in this country. At that point it hit me : Radio is dead. Noone needs it anymore.

Commercial radio in this country is pathetic. The big radio chains (Infinity, Clear Channel) have consolidated their programming into mush. Predictable playlists. Stupid DJ stunts. Their short term strategy of buying up radio stations and turning them into carbon coies of each other is coming back to bite them.

In increasing numbers, America is tuning them out. Viacom, the owner of Infinity, posted an 18 billion dollar loss this quarter, most of it due to lost radio advertising revenue. There are just too many alternatives to broadcast radio. Internet streaming. Portable music players like the iPod.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Something different....the Midibox SID

Though I administer computers and write software for a living, I have alwaye enjoyed working with electronics. Among my accomplishments....transplanting the logic board from a 5 gig iPod into a 20 gig iPod. And it actually worked. But I digress....

I recently started reading online about the SID chip. This was the chip that generated the sound in the Commodore 64. There is a Midibox SID project.

The Midibox SID project uses the SID chip as a sound generation device, but operates it under computer control from a dedicated microcontroller. This allows sounds to be generated that were never possible with the original SID.

It consists of a core processor board, a SID module and a DIN module, which provides for digital inputs to the SID, either rotary encoders (like a digital volume control) or switches. Combine this with a 24 character, 2 line display, this provides the ability to control the SID in real time interactively from the front panel.

I recieved the parts a few weeks ago and have started assembling the boards. More fun to come

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Nokia 3650 ages well

The Nokia 3650 is the most useful device I have owned. Almost two years later, Nokia is still selling basically the same phone (3660 and 3620). It has aged well.

  • It's small enough to go anywhere
  • It keeps my calendar, address book and to do list
  • It syncs almost flawlessly via Bluetooth with my Macs (iBook, G5 tower)
  • It plays MPEG4 movies
  • With an IR keyboard, it can take notes
  • Becomes a servicable flashlight with "Torch" software
  • It takes pictures (pretty decent ones)
  • Content is easily added or removed with a simple flash reader
    (I keep a SanDisk Cruzer flash reader in my pocket)
  • Lots of free software


  • not enough internal memory
  • only supports 128 meg flash cards (with current firmware)
  • Bet you thought I was going to say "the %%^&** keyboard". Actually, I don't mind it.

My sister and brother-in-law are now 3650 owners.