Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Windows Media Player Tip for Christmas

Dan Ariely just wrote in the WSJ that he likes New Year's resolutions every year for about a week: for five days before New Year's Day and two days after. Sounds about right to me. At nine days before, I'm getting the jump on things: Regular blogging!

As I type this, we're listening to some Christmas music--Nowell Sing We Clear, Vol 4--which brings me to...

A few years ago, I ripped all of my CDs to mp3. I have them all on a portable hard drive plugged into an old netbook that is now my official media server and added a nice set of wireless speakers. Still, there was a thinness to the music that just about had me ready to find space for my old stereo system. Then, I learned this neat trick, which might be dubbed "a set of Bose speakers built into Windows Media Player". It can be turned on and off while music is playing, so you might begin by starting a track in Windows Media Player so that you can hear what the effect adds to the music.

In Windows Media Players 10, go to the menu bar and choose

  • View / Enhancements / SRS WOW Effects
  • Click the Turn on link and then do any of the following:
  • To enhance the bass, move the TruBass slider to the right.
  • To enhance the stereo effect, move the WOW Effect slider to the right.
  • To optimize sound output according to your speaker size, click the speakers link until one of the following options appears: Normal Speakers, Large Speakers, or Headphones.

In Windows Media Players 11, right-click on the title bar and proceed as for WMP 10.

The method for getting to the controls under Windows Media Player 12 were invented by someone who is still caught in Colossal Cave's maze of "twisty little passages, all alike".

  • Click the Switch to Now Playing button in the lower-right corner of the Player.
  • Right-click an open space in the Player, point to Enhancements, and then click SRS Wow effects.
  • Proceed as for WMP 10.

Don't be afraid to give it a try. You can always turn it off if you don't like it. Let me know what you think of it.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

At the moment, I wouldn't give two bits for a 64 bit operating system!

For me, the arrival of Windows 8 meant...time to get a really nice, powerful, small notebook running Windows 7 while it was still possible. The only problem is that it's become harder and harder to find them with the 32 bit version of Windows 7. Almost everything is shipping with the 64 bit version. I suppose I could have found the 32 bit version if I were hell-bent and determined, but the writing on the wall seemed clear: Time to shake off my Luddite tendencies and move to 64 bit Windows.

The idea behind 64 bits is simple. Imagine the address field in some form in which you insert one number per box. The more boxes, the more addresses you can have. For example, if there were two boxes, you could have 100 addresses--from 00 to 99. If there were 3 boxes, you could have 1000 addresses--from 000 to 999. Computers are the same way. The boxes are bits; each one contains either a 0 or a 1.

So, what's to address? Memory! If a computer has more memory--and can address it--it can work much faster. In practice, 32 bit Windows can use up to 3.12 GB of memory. Anything more than that is wasted. But, with a 64 bit system and lots of memory, memory-intensive programs like video editors will fly!

Quite honestly, I could get along fine with a 32 bit operating system and less than 4 GB. However, the world is going to 64 bits and soon many more programs will take advantage having those extra bits available. By not struggling with finding a 32 bit notebook, I was taking a step into the 2010s.

The downside is that much older programs--those written for DOS and Windows 3.1--will not run under 64 bits. For most people, this is not an issue. For the most part, it's a minor issue for me, except for one thing. It means giving laughing, please...PC-Write. PC-Write was one of the first word processors developed for PCs. I started using it in the early 1980s, when it and PCs were starting to make their mark. I haven't used it as a word process for decades, but for 30 years it has been my text processor of choice, and I can make it fly, especially when writing computer programs and instructions!

The other downside of 64 bits is that, while programs written for 32 bits usually run fine under 64 bits, the two types of programs do not always play well together. That is, there can be conflicts when a 64 bit program calls on a 32 bit program, and vice-versa.

I spent ALL of yesterday, starting at 6 a.m., setting up the new notebook, only to give up at 11 p.m.! I finished the day by restoring it to "out of the box" condition. Today, I start over.

In order to avoid this as much as possible, I decided to stick with 32 bit versions of programs wherever possible. That was a mistake. In doing so, I managed to mess things up (*My* mess. I can't blame the computer or any program.) to the point where I had to start over. In a way, I was glad that I had to, because I'd just allowed myself to accept that the right way to go about this is to start with as many 64 bit versions as I can get my hands on. If there are conflicts, I'll do my best to resolve them by *upgrading* rather than *downgrading*. One can hold on for only so long. If I can't yet upgrade my way to a solution, there's always one of my older computers to do the work on!

For the moment, it's back to the drawing board. The 200GB from my current netbook should have finished coping over to the new notebook by now. Time to start over.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Looking for my ideal Android music player

I'm still looking for my (not necessarily "the") ideal Android player. It should be able to

  • change tempo,
  • shift pitch,
  • change tempo and pitch while an mp3 is playing, and
  • either
    • have a thumb scroll or
    • come up as an option when an mp3 is selected from a file manager

I need the thumb scroll because I have a folder with 1400+ fiddle tunes. My file manager has a thumb scroll, so it doesn't have to be built into the music player.

I've come across:

  • Audioshift, which doesn't work with Android 4.0+
  • Audio Speed Changer Pro, which has no thumb scroll and does not appear as an option when I select a music file from my file manager
  • Maple, which doesn't allow pitch or tempo to change while a music file is playing.

The search continues!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sandboxie, Part 2

No, you didn't miss Part 1. It was a part of Safe Computing, for real!, which introduced the notion of using a virtual computer (or sandbox) for safe surfing. But, there are a few assorted comments worth adding, so here they are:

  • If you are surfing the web from within a Sandbox and decide to download a utility, say, the utility gets downloaded, but not to where it appears. For example, suppose you save it to a folder c:\downloads. The sandbox actually saves it to c:\{sandbox}}\downloads, where {sandbox} is the location of your sandbox. You can extract files the sandbox. You can do it manually, but Sandboxie, for example, will tell you that there are files that can be moved outside the sandbox and ask if you'd like it done.
  • A sandbox can be used for things other than surfing the web. You can run programs in it. I often install evaluation copies of products in a sandbox. That way, it doesn't leave junk on my computer when I decide it's not worth keeping. (If I decide it is worth keeping, I install it in the usual manner outside the sandbox.) Also, if it installs additional software either without telling me or because I overlooked a check box, everything goes away when the sandbox is emptied.
  • A sandbox will probably not protect your Facebook account. That is, there are a bunch of viruses and trojans whose object is to gain control of your Facebook account or mess it up in some other way. A sandbox can't help you here. If you start a rogue application within Facebook, it does its damage on Facebook's site. Facebook doesn't know if the program was invoked from a sandbox. It doesn't care. All Facebook knows is that it was instructed to run something. So, it runs something!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Safe computing, for real! (Part 2)

Scammers at work!

If you're surfing the web and, all of a sudden from out of nowhere, something other than anti-virus software that you yourself have installed greets you with a notice that your computer is infected and telling you to download a program to remove the virus, please don't do it. It's a scam. Clicking on the so-called remover is what puts the virus onto your system. It will then take a non-trivial payment to someone to have it removed. The same site that placed the virus on the computer will offer you a program to remove it. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...uhm, shame on you again. You're not going to get me a third time, but should anyone chance a second time? Maybe better to give the money to a trustworthy professional.

However, if you are using a sandbox as we discussed last time, all you have to do is empty the sandbox as you thumb your nose at whoever was trying to get at you.

Online virus scans

Whenever your computer acts in a way that makes you uncomfortable, or every once in a while just for the fun of it, it's a good idea to run an online virus checker, such at Trend Micro's Housecall. (There are others. Google is your friend.) The advantage of these programs is that they do not reside you your computer, so it's harder for a virus to evade them.

Online program checker

Every once in a while, you may come across an online utility that looks too good to pass up. Some of them are. One of my criteria for whether such a program is likely to be safe is whether the site offering it has another source of income. If it does, then the utility is likely a form of advertising. If it does not, be afraid. There are some precautions you can take. You can type the name of the program into Google along with the word "virus" to see what pops up. Another option is an online program checker, such as Jotti's malware scan. (Again, there are others and Google is your friend.) These free services allow you to upload the program, which they then run against a suite of virus checkers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Safe Computing, for real!

I cringe when I read articles about safe computing in the popular press, mostly because they are so off the mark that it's embarrassing...especially when it's so easy to do it right.

First, all the usual disclaimers apply.  I am NOT a computer professional.  I only impersonate one on the Web.  I assume no responsibility if thing go wrong...and at some point they will (if not today, then some other day) if only because one of us makes a typo.  However, I don't speculate.  Usually what I'm writing about are things I've done myself.  I'm happy to be your guinea pig. Maybe, just to be safe, I'll write in the first person.  That is, I won't tell anyone what to do.  I'll write about what I do, with the implication that anyone who feels so inclined should feel free to do likewise.  ("And if everyone walked off the roof, you'd do it, too?" "Thanks, mom.")

Oh, yes.  This is all about computers running Windows.  I don't have any experience with iOS or Linux.

That said, Norton and McAfee do not reside on any of my computers.  If someone asks for help and either program is installed, the first thing I ask is if it's okay to remove it.  If the answer is no, I respectfully decline.  Norton and McAfee take over a computer and make it very difficult, if not impossible, to do things.  I suppose that's the idea.  If you can't do anything, then neither can a virus. Except what often happens is that a computer gets infected and Norton and McAfee make it almost impossible to sort things out.

Instead, install Microsoft Security Essentials. It's free, stays out of the way, and generally does a great job.

But, here's the real secret.  There are three main ways people get viruses: (1) Installing infected software. (2) Email attachments. (3) Surfing the web. Contrary to popular belief, it's not porn and file sharing sites that are the cause of most infections from surfing the web, or so I've read.  They are caused largely by apparently benign sites, especially fan sites.  People who write these things want them infecting computers and what better way to get them out there than by creating your own Justin Bieber site?

The solution is trivial. Software that allows surfing from within a virtual computer, also known as a sandbox. Wait!  Don't let your eyes glaze over, because we're done.  You install the software and then instead of clicking on an icon to start your browser, you now have a different icon to click on which runs the same browser, but within a virtual computer or sandbox.  Every so often (days, weeks, or whenever your computer starts acting flaky), you press on a different icon to empty the sandbox and start over.  That's all there is to it!

So, I'm out there checking on the latest exploits of the Bieb at haha-gotcha dot com and the next thing I know my screen is filled with a picture of Cthulhu claiming my computer will not be freed until I send a large payment to an off-shore account.  I laugh, empty the sandbox, and...bye-bye, all gone!

Microsoft has some free software, but I've never used it.  I've used Sandboxie for years and am thrilled with it. I find myself traveling all over the Web in search of adventure and every so often all hell breaks out. No problem.  I empty the Sandbox and don't do that again!

More later...

Just Like The Other One

Back in November, 2007, I toyed with the idea of a blog, set up Jerry With a J, and then decided I didn't have anything worth saying, so it went nowhere.  Just one post.  Recently I thought a blog might be a good idea after all, so I went back to Jerry With a J, but found I no longer remembered how to access it.  Google has made it all but impossible for me to recover it, and I've spent more than a few hours guessing unsuccessfully how to get in.  So, I've given up for the moment and decided to start Another One, Just Like The Other One.