Saturday, December 30, 2006

Great quote to kick off 2007

I'm always a sucker for a good motivational quote, especially this time of the year. How about this one, from Mark Twain:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that
you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.

via Jason Womack

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gmail disaster: mass deletions

TechCrunch is reporting that an unknown number of users have had all their Gmail deleted...everything in the account.

The first message, posted on the Google Groups forum on December 19, stated “Found
my account clean..nothing in Inbox, contacts ,sent mail..How can all
these information residing in different folders disappear? ..How to
write to gmail help team to restore the it possible?..Where
to report this abuse?.Any help ..Welcome..Thanks in advance ps101″

Other Gmail users then added to the conversation, saying that their
emails had been deleted as well. Most of the users reported using
Firefox 2.0 and that Gmail was open in their browser when the deletions

Good's official policy is evidently that deleted mail can't be recovered. If you are using Gmail as your only and/or primary email account you should follow this issue either at TechCrunch or the Google thread.

I user Gmail, but I use it through a pop3 connector and receive it in Outlook. That way I stay responsible for my own email. Anyone notice any missing mail? Oh, by the way, you have to read the comments at TechCrunch...they're a hoot.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Google's new blogger out of beta...

Everyone writing about the new Blogger, which just came out of beta. What's been odd is that people who are new to blogging have been using the new version for months while older "customers" have been stuck with the old version.

Last night up "upgraded" both my blogs, this one and missionary in Kosovo to the new version. In the main, I like what they've done with the upgrade. The new version includes tags (which Blogger calls labels), new template options, new publishing method, etc. It also includes some slightly heavier weight improvements:

  • something like trackbacks, only they call them "backlinks" I'm not sure whether these are automatically generated or not.
  • improved control over who has permission to read your blog. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but for people working in closed- or limited-access countries it's a big bonus.
  • improved layout controls. You can now add widgets and scripts very easily. I added a Flickr badge in about two minutes on my missionary blog. It also allows you to drag-and-drop components of your layout, which is nice.
Blogger has also made it very easy to upgrade old blogs to the new format. I've read some complaints that people with a very large number of posts are having difficult upgrading, but haven't seen anything to confirm that.

For more information check out:
Silicon Valley Watcher
Information Week

My biggest disappointment in the whole thing is that my BlogJet, my favorite blog editor, doesn't work anymore. Dmitry, the author only comments that this issue will be resolved in the new version of BlogJet but won't commit to a release date. That's a little frustrating and I may begin to look elsewhere again.

Overall I'm happy about the new version of Blogger. I would be happier, I suppose, if I didn't feel like Google had left Blogger to rust for the last several years. Only after years have they tuned up the engine, changed the oil and replaced the running-gear. Maybe its not a good analogy, Google executes so well in some areas and in others....not so much.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Got 19464fae56553de2257e ??

Lately I’ve noticed these strange folders on my c:\ drive that usually have names like: 19464fae56553de2257e.  I’ve been wondering what they are, assuming that they’re safe to delete, but not quite having the nerve to.

Ed Bott “unpacks” them for us:

I have those on several machines here. They’re perfectly normal, if a bit baffling. The best clue [is] the name of the attached file: msxml4-KB927978-enu.log

It’s easy enough to break that down:

  • The .log extension means this is a log file, in text format, documenting changes that were made to the system.
  • The -enu bit at the end means it was in the English (U.S.) language.
  • KB927978 refers to a Microsoft Knowledge Base article number.
  • And if you look for that article, you find out that it’s entitled “MS06-071: Security update for Microsoft XML Core Services 4.0&Prime, which pretty neatly takes care of the msxml4 part at the beginning of the name.

The long, gobbledygook number is a security precaution. If you write a patch to a known location on every one of a few hundred million PCs, then the bad guys know to target that location. By creating a system-generated name for the folder, it’s impossible for an attacker to target the files in that location.

If you’ve got one or more of these folders hanging around, you can safely delete it.

Go ahead an delete these pesky folders.  Oh, and ya, I know, Mac users don’t need to worry about them.



Monday, December 18, 2006

Making use of those old cassettes

I remember my first real need to create digital audio files from cassette tapes.  I was doing foreign language study and hated using a tape recorder for the cassette that was included in our study program.  I always got lost, and couldn’t figure out whether Fast Forward was really Reverse or not.  I could never cue the appropriate spot so  I finally decided I would try to record the tape into my laptop and access any point on the tape almost instantly.

But how to do it?  I started, like a lot of people with Windows’ built in “Sound Recorder” only to find out it would only record a section about two minutes long.  Then I began to peruse the web to find some software that would let me, not only convert my language cassette tapes into something usable, but also record foreign language TV, radio and edit the files from the MP3 recorder I used for language study.

I wish I would have had access to Rick Brioda’s latest piece in LifeHacker.  Rick offers another basic tutorial in his “Alpha Geek” series, this time on converting cassette tapes direct to MP3s on your computer.  It’s not really very complicated; here’s what Rick used:

  • A cassette player. I dug out my old Walkman, which I found perfectly suited to the task, but you could also use a tape deck.
  • A stereo patch cord. Specifically, you need a cable that connects your Walkman's headphone jack to your sound card's line-in jack. You can get one at Radio Shack for around $5. If you're connecting a tape deck, you may need an adapter to accommodate its larger headphone jack.
  • Audacity, an open-source, cross-platform program that makes simple work of recording and editing audio. It's available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. If you plan to turn your tapes into MP3 files, make sure to get the LAME MP3 encoder as well; there's a link to it on the Audacity download page. (Detailed instructions on setting up the LAME MP3 encoder are included in Gina's feature on how to make a ringtone from an MP3 with Audacity.)

I wish I would have known about Audacity several years ago.  Instead of using this high-quality and FREE piece of software, I bought a copy of “Cool Edit,” a product that was later bought out by Adobe and made into Adobe Audition.  Audacity works great for most every Average Joe’s needs and I’ve quit using Cool Edit.  If you’re interested in converting those old language tapes into usable (and storable, edit-able and archive-able) MP3s make sure you check out Rick’s post.

Also take time to read through the comments.  Several commenters added some good stuff, including a link to a pay-to-convert service called  Another commenter posted a link to “mp3DirectCut” which will (apparently) automatically cut your looong-ish recording into tracks.

Turn that pile of old cassettes into something useful!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas is something more with your camcorder

Most of us have video cameras these days.  Most of us take endless “footage” of kids opening Christmas presents, birthdays and other family events.  Most of the time that footage just sits there are a pile of accumulating tapes that fall out of the camera bag or are stuck in  a drawer somewhere.

Why not take the next step and create a short video on a CD or DVD  to mail to family members or post on the web?  If you’re a far away from home in some remote and dusty place I bet the folks back home would love to see your moving mug in your special Christmas locale.

LifeHacker has a short primer on video editing that will get you started.  It’s all much easier than you may think and you probably own everything you need to get started:

  • Digital Video Camera – look to see if your tapes say DV on them.
  • Decently powerful PC –  Contrary to the Lifehacker guys, you don’t need anything real powerful; I used to edit video on a Pentium III laptop.  Just remember that the slower the computer the longer it takes to make video.
  • A firewire card – Your computer may have this built in, if not pick up a cheap adapter card for $20–40. 
  • Windows MovieMaker – built-in to Windows XP (if you’ve installed Service Pack 2, which you should have  )

You don’t have to be great at movie-making to make something your family will this is great.  Why not give it a try?  Read more to learn more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Skype 3.0 goes live...and more

More news from Skype.  Their new version, 3.0 went live today which adds a number of interesting features, including public chat, improved quality and new (wow) emoticons.  I ran the beta for a while and was pleased with what I found (I wrote about that here).

This news came from an official Skype blog but I’m a little surprised at what they didn’t mention in the feature list.  For instance, ten days ago Jaanus, another Skype blogger wrote about the new white-board functionality available in Skype 3.0.  White-boarding is not built in to 3.0, but it’s a plug-in available as a free down-load.  Obviously this gives you the ability to sketch stuff while talking to someone.  This isn’t earth-shattering.  I wrote about the new (at the time) Windows Live Messenger sketching functionality back in May and Microsoft wasn’t the first to the table with this trick either.  Still, Skype is pretty ubiquitous these days and there are times when pictures really do speak louder than words.  This is especially cool if you have a Tablet PC…you don’t draw with a mouse, like the guy in the pic above, you draw with your PEN.

In other news, Skype is again charging for Skype-out calls to North America.  Skype’s limited time offer ends (as promised) at the end of the year.

To that end, starting January 1st, Skype will charge $29.95 a year for unlimited SkypeOut calling, which is still a pretty good deal if you ask me. And if you sign up before January 31st, you'll get service for just $14.95. If you don't have a plan, calls within the U.S. and Canada will cost 2.1 cents per minute. Rates to other countries vary.

via Download Squad

Paying only $14.95 for unlimited intra-North-American calling is a pretty good deal.  I only wish a similar deal could be struck for international calls.  I continue to use SkypeOut regularly to call back to Kosovo, my adopted country.  Prices have gone up, however and seem to be nearing what I pay when I use a phone card from Sam’s Club.  Oh well, calling my colleagues who have decent Internet and Skype is still free…can’t beat that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

YouTube now offers instant recording with QuickCapture

Last Spring I started shooting a series of impromptu, unscripted and unrehearsed videos to update my supporters on what was going on in Kosovo. I shot one video at an outreach event, another at an empty square during the funeral of our country’s president, and so forth. When I was done I would usually add a title using Movie Maker (hey, it’s free and comes with Windows XP) and post it up to my web server. I got a many, many positive responses from these videos precisely because they were short and unscripted. People even started using them in church services, though that wasn’t really my intent.

YouTube, the ubiquitous host-er of all-that-is-video, has just begun Youtubeoffering a way to record video right to their servers. Not only can you record right from your computer, but you can upload video straight from your mobile phone as well.

YouTube gives the following guidelines for putting your video directly on YouTube.

  • Uploads will usually take 1-5 minutes per MB on a high-speed connection.
  • Converting your video takes a few minutes; you can add more info or upload more videos while it's processing.
  • Videos are limited to 10 minutes (unless you're a Director) and 100 MB.
  • Videos saved with the following settings convert the best:
    • MPEG4 (Divx, Xvid) format
    • 320x240 resolution
    • MP3 audio
    • 30 frames per second frame-rate

This could make a pretty positive impact on missionary vloggers for a number of reasons. First, you don’t have to have a server anywhere to host your videos; YouTube does that for you. Second, you don’t have to worry about editing…and you won’t want to. Honestly, for what I want to do, editing makes the whole process take too long and takes all the fun and authenticity out of it. Third, it makes very easy to insert video into blogs and web-pages, since YouTube’s posting tools make it pretty simple. Okay, I could go on, but this makes the whole thing pretty simple.

I tried my hand at making a quick video, but it took three takes. The first gave me a “unknown file format” when I was done and wouldn't work. I thought that was odd since YouTube did the encoding. The second attempt….aside from my ugly mug…had awful audio. I’m not sure why this is, but I used the built-in mic on my camera. It wasn’t that the sound quality was poor, it just kept cutting in and out. The third time worked just fine though.

You can see it here. You can also embed the videos quite easily into a blog. YouTube is offering a pretty handy service and best of all, it's free.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Newsgator products on sale

I’ve been using Newsgator as my “feed reader” for quite a while now.  I’ve settled on Newsgator Inbox, which plugs right into Microsoft Outlook, because it best suits my needs for my low/no/slow bandwidth situation in Kosovo where I normally live.  Now that I’m in the US I find myself using Newsgator’s own site to feed-read as it naturally includes all the graphics that are turned off by default in NGInbox. 

It doesn’t matter though, because wherever I read my feeds they stay synchronized.  That is, if I mark something marked in one Newsgator product, they automatically get marked “read” in the other products.  This really works out well if you travel a lot, or are plagued with lousy Internet from time to time.

According to this forum post Newsgator products are now $10 off through the end of the year.  Just use coupon code NGHoliday when you order.  Their catalog really has a number of great offerings, from web-based feed-readers like FeedDemon to mobile solutions, to my favorite, Inbox.  Most of these products are around $30, so this is a pretty good time to grab one of these products if you want to read all your blogs, feeds or gather your podcasts in one place.

via DownloadSquad

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Reading over his shoulder...from two thousand miles away.

I got a call from a friend overseas today who wanted some input on a document he was working on.  He emailed me the document and then, over Skype, we began to talk about it.  I was marking it up, he was also talking about it and making changes and quite quickly the whole thing was out of control and neither of us knew what we were talking about.

Enter web-based collaboration tools. Quite some time ago I experimented with a web-based application called “Writely,” which allowed people to work on documents in real-time together through the web.  I hadn’t used it for a while, and knew that they’d been bought by Google.  So when I went to I was quickly redirected to the Google Docs site and walked through a 30 second process of porting my old Writely docs over to Google Doc.


From there I sent an invite to my overseas friend and within a couple of minutes we were simultaneously working in his document in near real-time.  I say “near” because the page and its edits only refresh about every 30 seconds or when you hit the “refresh” button.

All in all we were both impressed by how easy it was to work on a document together that we could both see, read and edit together…all from a couple of thousand miles away.  It was a great way to work together.



Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Making the most of an unexpected Windows reinstall

Most of us realize, after nearly twenty years of frustration, that Windows needs to be occasionally reinstalled to restore it to youthful vigor.  I was gearing up for my annual/semi-annual Windows re-installation, but I wasn’t exactly ready when it happened.

On Black Friday I bought a nice new 400GB Western Digital MyBook external drive for only $99, after rebate.  When I finally decided to open it I wanted to break it into a NTFS partition and a FAT32 partition, for backing up my wife’s Mac.  I loaded up Partition Magic and got ready to get to work.  When I ran PM I was greeted by a kindly message advising me of a bad sector, corruption, error (or something) at a particular location on my main drive.  It asked me if I wouldn’t want it to take care of that little problem.  I happily (and too quickly) clicked ‘yes’ and that was that.  When the system reset there was no more Windows.  Oops

Fortunately IBM includes some pretty decent recover options and I was able to back off my “documents and settings” to preserve … well, my settings (I keep all my data on a separate partition for this very reason.

I had been waiting for this day for some time.  Months and months ago a guy wrote a very long post over at on reinstalling windows in the Lenovo X41 Tablet sans all the IBM crap that comes built in.  Like most manufacturers these days, IBM/Lenovo doesn’t include Windows recover CDs with their products.  Instead, they create an image on the hard-drive from which Windows can be recovered.  That actually works pretty well, accept that you have very few options when it comes to reinstalling all of the (mostly very helpful) software that comes pre-loaded.

That long post has since been reposted over at  The first step is to create a bootable CD or DVD with Windows Tablet Edition on it.  This is a pretty neat trick since you can’t buy TE at your local store.  I had actually made that CD when I was still in Kosovo waiting for the day to reinstall a clean copy of Windows on my Tablet.

Anyway, here’s the point: Just because your laptop came pre-loaded with lots of stuff, don’t feel like you have to reinstall all of that when you reinstall Windows.  Take advantage of the community and find people have found ways around this annoying problem.  My Tablet PC runs so, so much faster with a fresh install of Windows minus all the pre-loaded applications Lenovo so lovingly included.

Oh, and by the way, this explains why I haven’t posted anything here in about a week.