Robert’s Ramblings

Robert Alonso’s Thoughts on Technology and More…

Archive for April, 2008

April-17-08

Stay Away from preferredphoto.com

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Hardware, Opinions

When you order an item from a web-based retailer your expectations are clear. You want to buy a product that they offer for the price that is listed on the web site plus the listed shipping charge. Someone at preferredphoto.com does not believe that this is the way to do business. They offered a Tamron 75-300mm lens for Nikon cameras for $111 and free shipping. Thinking that this was a great value, I placed my order and entered my credit card on the site.

It turns out that it was a big mistake on my part. I received an e-mail from preferredphoto.com asking me to call them to clarify something in my order. I called repeatedly and got a voice mail box that was full for the extension that I was supposed to call. I also go a full mailbox for their main extension. Three days later, a representative called me and offered to sell me add on products. When I declined, I was offered an extended warranty since "the manufacturer hardly covers the product at all." I told the caller, I had certain expectations when placing an order and one of them was not to be called with additional offers. The rep told me not to get preachy with him and that the total would come to $129 and some change including the "handling fee." I promptly told him to cancel my order because I did not want to do business with a sleazy company. He, of course, said I would not find the product at that price anywhere. Even if that is true, this kind of behavior cannot be encouraged. I would rather go without the product.

Here is my recommendation: Steer clear of preferredphoto.com and give your money to a company that will deliver what they say they will at the agreed upon price.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

Bookmark and Share
April-17-08

Notepad++

Posted by Robert Alonso under Software

If you are like most Windows users, you have needed to use Notepad to read a text file or to temporarily paste some information that you are going to use in another application. You may have even tried to use it to make a quick change to a web page or an source code file for a development project. If you have, then you surely appreciate the fact the program is available for free with Windows and that it is generally useful enough for simple tasks.

However after using Notepad more than once, chances are that you have also experienced some of its limitations. One of these is that file sizes are limited to a little more than 64 thousand characters. Another is that it does not display line numbers. This is particularly a problem for modifying source code or web sites. When working with these types of files, you are often looking for a specific line that has created a problem in a program or web site. Notepad is useless for this purpose and requires that you manually count each line–not a very productive option.

A free, open source replacement is now available. It is called Notepad++. Notepad++ lives up to its name. It is a expanded Notepad with line numbers, the ability to open multiple files at once, sophisticated search capabilities, bookmarks, syntax highlighting for various computer languages and so much more. It can also print your file in color with source code keywords highlighted. Although it is optimized for programmers, it is very useful for any text file manipulation and is an excellent replacement for Notepad.

One of the cool features is that you can edit two sections of the same document within the editor. Notepad++ also support drag and drop. That means you can click on a file in Windows Explorer and drag it over to the Notepad++ icon on the desktop and the program will open with the file. You can also drag and drop a file into an open Notepad++ instance and it will open the file as a new document without affecting any other document that it already has open. Another useful feature is the Zoom feature–it makes all the lines in a file larger and is popular for people with sight issues.

Notepad++ also has a plug in function that allows you to add functionality that others develop for it. There are dozens of plug ins available. One that is useful is a spell checker, but there are many others that are specialized for different fields.

One last feature that you should know about is the macro recording capabilities. You can have Notepad++ record a sequence of actions that you perform within it and then replay these actions as many times as you want. This is useful for editing a group of lines in a file with the same pattern without having to type the same thing repeatedly.

I recommend this free program wholeheartedly. You can get it free here: http://notepad-plus.sourceforge.net/uk/download.php

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

Bookmark and Share
April-14-08

Rename-It!

Posted by Robert Alonso under Software

Every once in a while a new tool comes out that is so indispensable that everyone should install it and make it part of their operating system experience. Rename-It! is one such product. Once installed, this utility makes itself part of the context menu in Windows. This means that you can go into Windows Explorer, highlight one or more files, right click and then select “Rename-It!” This action brings up a small pop-up window that then facilitates your renaming the group of files using search and replace rules. You can define as many rules as you want and the program shows you the impact that the rules will have on the selected files. Once you are satisfied, you can then select “Rename Files” and it renames the files according to your rules.

I have found this tool indispensable for renaming groups of media files. With MP3 files, you can create rules that rename the media files according to the ID Tags that are embedded within the files. These tags often have the correct artist, album and song information. Using this information you can rename your MP3 files so that they are self descriptive and easy to organize.

The best thing about this utility is the price. It is absolutely free. You can get your copy here: http://download.beroux.com/renameit-setup.exe

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

Bookmark and Share
April-12-08

Tivo Desktop 2.6

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Opinions, Software

Tivo has always had an unbelievable device for recording video. It has been the ultimate VCR, giving even the most technology challenged individuals the ability to time shift their favorite shows. You select the programs that you like and Tivo automatically will record them at their scheduled times. You can even tell Tivo to record an entire season of shows–like the Sopranos. One of my favorite features has been the ability to specify a keyword and have Tivo record every show that includes that keyword. These keywords can be performer’s names, world locations, themes or just about anything else you can think of.

The newest Tivo‘s allow you to use features from the Internet. Mine is connected to the Internet using a high-speed cable connection. With it, I can access Yahoo! functionality, I can purchase or rent Amazon movies from Unbox, or even transfer video to and from my PC. This latter feature is accessed using a piece of software called Tivo Desktop.

The latest version of Tivo Desktop allows you to send Podcasts to your Tivo for watching on your TV. I have subscriptions to a few technology Podcasts trough iTunes that my Tivo Desktop software transfers to my Tivo. It is a winning combination. The software comes in two versions–a free version and one that is priced at around $25. The paid one let’s you convert movies that you record on your Tivo to your portable devices–including your iPod. This makes it an excellent tool for two way use of your media.

As if these features were not enough to make me love my Tivo, there are two more features that you should know about. You can watch your pictures and listen to digital music files that are on your PC or home network on your TV. These features make the Tivo/Tivo Desktop 2.6 combination the ultimate (legal*) home entertainment system.

*The reason I say legal is that you can get many of these features in a more refined form from XBOX Media Center. This software runs on modified XBOXs and is free open source software. Additional versions of the software are being worked on by volunteers now.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

Bookmark and Share
April-8-08

Virtual CD on Windows XP

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Software

If you are like most business computer users, you have traveled with your laptop and have needed your Microsoft Office CD or some other CD to install an additional feature or to make a quick change to your configuration. You also probably know that it is not practical to carry around CDs for all the software products installed on your laptop. However, with a free add-on from Microsoft you can take all your CDs with you as ISO images and then load them into a virtual CD and use them as if you had the physical CDs with you.

First, some explanations: An ISO image of a CD is a file that typically is stored with the extension ISO. This file contains an exact duplicate of the original CD. You can use it to create a clone of the original. When using the Microsoft Virtual CD software, you can load that image into memory and see it as a drive letter on your machine. This allows you to install additional tools from it or to make configuration changes to your system.

You can download the free Microsoft software here. (It is designed for Windows XP.)

If you don’t know how to make ISO images of your CDs, you can use a free tool like Alex Feinman’s ISO Recorder or you can use a paid tool like Roxio CD Creator. Alex has versions of the ISO recorder available for XP (with or without any service packs), Windows 2003 and Vista.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

Bookmark and Share