Monthly Archives: July 2008

Jons Zune Review Part 2

This post continues my Microsoft Zune review, courtesy of the Matchstick and Chatthreads viral marketing campaign. The first part of my review dealt with the installation process and Zune jukebox software. This installment will finish up the software review. Previous posts in this series can be found at:

Oh, and if you’re reading this and feel so inclined, give the good people at Chatthreads something to do by clicking on the image below and submitting your comments about the Zune.

The Software (Continued)

The Device View

Status

This simple screen shows the current status of your Zune device, and allows you to control the sync operation. There’s really nothing else to say about it, except that just about everything on the page is a link that takes you to a more in depth analysis of that aspect of the operation.
When installing, I chose to manually sync items to my Zune, simply because I have well over 8GB of music that I care to listen to. I started by dragging an album from the artists view in the music section down to the handy-dandy Zune icon. The entire album took about a minute to add. The main device page shows what is currently syncing to the device, what you’ve recently added to the device, and the completion percentage of the operation.

Every time that you drag some object (be it an album, a playlist, or a video, etc) to the device, a record called a sync group is created. These groups can be viewed in the device settings menu within the jukebox software, and allow you to easily see what you’ve added to the device, when you added it, and remove the entire group with a single button click. As you can see, I’ve added a few albums and a playlist to my device.

From this page, you can also manually create a sync group, which is similar to creating an autoplaylist that syncs directly to your Zune. Again, it would be nice if this feature were a little more developed, but for something simple like adding a bunch of Classic Rock tracks to my device, it’s more than adequate.

The main failing point of sync groups is also one of the bigger failing points of the autoplaylist feature. There is no option when creating either to limit the list by size. Meanwhile I have an 8GB Zune, and well over 60GB of music in my library, which makes adding any playlist to the Zune a guessing game. Nowhere in the software is the size of a playlist shown, until you try and put a list that is too big onto the Zune, at which point it complains and refuses to sync until you shave down the size of the list. A nice addition would be emulating iTunes, where the software syncs as much of the selected playlist as possible, and then tells the user which songs didn’t fit.

Even more exasperating is that the software gives the option to automatically re-encode audio files that are over a certain bit rate threshold to a lower bit rate when syncing to the Zune. This is a fantastic feature, as it allowed me to put roughly 150% more songs on the device for a small loss in quality. Again however, nowhere in the software does it list the size of the playlist before and after the conversion, making filling the Zune an even bigger game of chance when this feature is turned on.

Music, Playlists, Videos, Pictures, and Podcasts

Each of these sections acts exactly as its counterpart in the collection view of the software, with few exceptions. These are obvious things, like not being able to create a new playlist directly on the device in the playlists view.

Friends

To be honest, I haven’t quite figured out this part of the software yet. Jake and I, while reviewing on our own, haven’t had much time to use the two devices together. I would imagine that this section of the view will come alive once we do.

The Social View

The social view in the Zune jukebox software provides a direct link to the Zune Social from inside the software. It contains three sub views – friends, me, and inbox. The friends tab is the default, and shows a listing of all your registered friends. In this case, since my Zune id is linked to my Xbox Live id, it shows my friends from Xbox Live, only one of whom (Jake aka ev98) actually owns a Zune.

Friends

Clicking on the Zune tag of one of your friends takes you to an in-software summary of their Zune use. It shows their Zune card, all of the songs that they’ve recently listened to, and a list of their friends. Some of the songs in the listing are tagged with a button that says more info that takes you to a webpage containing album and artist details for that song. Below, you can see Jake’s Zune page and all the Slanty-Haired music that he listens to:

These online pages are where the Zune Social really excels. They remind me of the golden days of the Yahoo Launchcast service, a customizable online radio that played songs based on your ratings of album, artist, and genre. It had a huge index of songs, and much like the Zune Social, offered artist and album info for most every available song.

A typical album page on the Zune Social contains a large cover art picture, a listing of the songs on that album, complete with playable samples and the option to purchase either individual songs or the entire album, and a listing of other albums by that artist. The page also has a place for a professional album review, and a number of listener views, and highlights a Zune user who is the top listener to that particular artist. Each of these page elements hotlinks to another page of the site, giving it a Wikipedia-like quality, that allows an unsuspecting user to simply browse for hours on end.

Similar pages, although without option to purchase, can be accessed from directly in player by clicking on the artist name instead of the more info button. These in-player versions of the pages are separated into categories that give artist information (including top-played songs, every album ever released, and a listing of your friends who listen to the artist), a full length biography complete with pictures, a listing of all Zune users who listen to the artist, and a list of all related artists in the Zune Social library. All of this make the service a prime tool for discovering great new music, which really, is what music should be all about.

Here you can see the Zune Page for Eminem

Here you can see the Zune Page for Eminem

The Bio page for Eminem

The Bio page for Eminem

And Finally, a list of artists related to Eminem. This feature makes finding new music that you might like very easy

And Finally, a list of artists related to Eminem. This feature makes finding new music that you might like very easy


Me

This page in the software is very similar to a friend’s page, simply showing your Zune card, your plays, and a listing of your friends. Following the hotlink from the page to the Zune.net profile website allows you to customize your Zune card, and post it to Facebook as an application.

Customizing the appearance of the Zune card was a simple matter, although for some reason, the word ‘Zune’ is not allowed to appear in your status message – its banned like a swear word. So instead of ‘is reviewing the Zune,’ I had to settle for the status message ‘is reviewing the Zoon.’ Below, you can see my Zune page. Note the lack of Slanty-haired four-pieces in comparison to Jake’s page.


Inbox

Another aspect of the social that I haven’t quite figured out yet – this appears to be some sort of in-service email client. I’ll write about it later on once I’ve used it a little bit more.

The Disc View

As expected, shows the disc currently in the CD-Rom drive of your computer. In my case, it happens to be Guns ‘n Roses Appetite for Destruction. The view gives album art, a list of songs, and the option to import them into your library. The player can rip CDs in WMA CBR, WMA VBR, WMA Lossless, or MP3.


Outro

That concludes Part 2 of my Microsoft Zune Review. To recap, this part concluded the Zune Jukebox Software portion of the review, and touched ever so lightly on the Zune Social.

Stay tuned for my review of the Zune hardware device, as well as my impressions regarding the Zune Social.

Thanks for Reading,

Jon

CIPPIC seeks comments on Bell/Rogers throttling

From a HowardForums post, I’ve found out that the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic is seeking comments from people affected by Bell or Rogers’ throttling. This refers to Bell’s global limitation of about 30K/s for BitTorrent, and Rogers areas affected by Ellacoya/Sandvine boxes.

I’ve written Robert Hester an email about my own experiences on TekSavvy, which I’ll repost below. If you’ve been affected by this nonsense, it might be worth your while to write in before a decision is made in September.

Hi Robert,

I read a post from a CIPPIC alias on HowardForums (http://howardforums.com/showthread.php?t=1406593) and figured I’d contribute my experiences with Bell’s internet throttling.

I’m a Computer Science student in Waterloo, Ontario, and currently subscribe to TekSavvy – a Bell DSL reseller. I chose them because I consider Bell Sympatico service to be substandard in the market: Bell’s technical support is lacking at best, they limit bandwidth usage to 60GB per month, and they don’t offer additional features such as static IP addresses.

Bell has applied throttling to their wholesale customers including TekSavvy, specifically for P2P protocols such as BitTorrent. When this network management is active – which I find tends to be more than twelve hours out of every day – my BitTorrent download speeds are limited to 30-50KB/s. This is a far cry from the 5Mbit (~500KB/s) service that I pay for.

What really disappoints me is that an independent reseller has to suffer because Bell unilaterally decides to squash competition. Unfiltered P2P and unlimited bandwidth usage are key competitive features that I’m willing to pay for. When a third party like Bell decides that they can’t compete and uses technical restrictions to bring other services down to the same level of reduced functionality, I’d go as far to say it’s an unfair trade practice. In my opinion: if this practice is not currently illegal, it should be.

I have no objection to reasonable network management, but reducing download speeds to 10% of their potential based on a transmission protocol is far from reasonable.

Thanks for your time and consideration on this important issue. Please feel free to contact me at the email address or phone number below if you require anything else.

Jake Billo
jake@jakebillo.com
http://jakebillo.com/
519-279-4009

iTunes to Zune Playlist Converter

Please Note:

This application and all support for it has officially been moved to my new website. Please visit that location to download the latest version or to submit a comment.

In my the first part of my Microsoft Zune review, I mentioned that frustration with the autoplaylist feature of the Zune jukebox software had driven me to write a VB app that converts iTunes playlists to Zune compatible *.zpl playlists. On Jake’s suggestion, that app is now available for download here.

The program is pretty simple to use. Just follow these handy steps:

  1. Download the zip file and unzip it to a directory of your choice
  2. Open iTunes and close the Zune jukebox software
  3. Right click on the playlist that you wish to export and select ‘Export Song List…’ from the context menu
  4. Choose where you’d like to save the playlist, and ensure that ‘Save as Type’ is set to *.xml
  5. Launch the ‘iTunes to Zune Playlist Converter.exe’ application from the unzip directory
  6. Use the browse button to load the saved *.xml file into the ‘iTunes Playlist File (XML)’ field
  7. Use the browse button to choose where you’d like to save the converted Zune Playlist file. Note that for the Zune player to recognize the new playlist, it must be saved to C:\Documents and Settings\User\My Documents\My Music\Zune\Playlists\ on Windows XP, or C:\Users\UserName\Music\Zune\Playlists on Windows Vista.
  8. Click the ‘Convert’ button, and wait for the success message box to pop up.
  9. Launch the Zune jukebox software and go into the ‘Playlists’ view. You should see your newly created playlist in the pane to the left. Note that it might take a second to recognize the playlist, and another minute or two after that until the list is playable, depending on the size of the list. This is because the Zune software has to sift through the playlist and link each referenced file to one in its current library before the list can be used.

There, that wasn’t too hard, was it? Lastly, it’s important to remember that this only works if the iTunes library and the Zune library in question are drawing from the same media files! That means that you should have the Zune jukebox software set to monitor the iTunes music folder that you are drawing from, so that the same files are referenced in both programs’ libraries.

This little hack worked well for me, and allowed me to load my Zune with playlists created in iTunes, without having to try and use the gimped Zune rating system and autoplaylists to do so.

Enjoy, and if you have any questions or comments, post here, or email me at jonfritz at gmail dot com.

Cheers,

Jon

Edit: Thanks to David F for pointing out a flaw in the program that made converting multiple playlists in one session a pain. The application is now fixed. If anybody notices any more bugs, please let me know so that they can be fixed immediately.

AAAAAAAAGHHH SONY: iTunes does not need to meet anything else

Reading Kotaku earlier today, I noticed an article about one of Sony’s upcoming video games, LittleBigPlanet. This year, David Reeves decided to suggest that selling one’s own creations in LittleBigPlanet amounts to “iTunes meets eBay”. This is the second year in a row Sony executives have compared their product to “iTunes meeting X”, where X was MySpace last year.

I may have to publish a high-larious photoshop:

Jon’s Zune Review – Part 1

Introduction:

Regular readers of this weblog will already know that some time ago, Jake was contacted by the Matchstick marketing company and asked to review a Microsoft Zune, seeing as he’s all important and stuff on the internets. He received his device and has since written three parts of his overall review, available here, here and here.

As part of the marketing offer, Jake was also given the opportunity to refer a friend into the program. I submitted an application, and received my review package a couple weeks ago. What follows here is the first part of my Microsoft Zune review, courtesy of Matchstick and Chatthreads.

Unpacking

The Zune arrived in a beautiful manila envelope, complete with super-lucky-deluxe-bubble-wrap on the inside that contained the slim, trendy looking box and some Matchstick documentation. The Zune box itself is pretty looking, a sure eye-catcher when placed beside an iPod box.

Oddly enough however, the sticker on the bottom of the box read “For Distribution in US only. Security Device Enclosed.” This immediately started me wondering – if this is a review program for a Canadian launch, shouldn’t I be reviewing the Canadian version of the product in question? Perhaps the two products are one and the same, but even so, a mistake like this could serve to alienate touchy Canadian consumers.

The securely packed Zune popped out of its box easily enough, but although the plastic wrapping on the device claimed that pressing the play button would turn it on, the Zune appeared to have been shipped without charge.

Continuing to unpack the box, I noticed the words “Welcome to the Social” emblazoned across the inside. Microsoft seems to be attacking the iPod from the social network community angle, which admittedly, is something that the iPod is lacking. We’ll see how that measures up later on.

The well designed ‘Start’ pamphlet inside instructed me to hit up the setup page to download the Zune jukebox software. I noticed that the other side of the pamphlet was written in Spanish, instead of the French that we are accustomed to seeing here in Canada. It’s a small detail, but again, it seems odd to court early-adopting Canadians with such obviously American packaging instead of taking the time and effort to ship a truly Canadian-branded product.

The Software

Installing

I went to the download page to get the Zune jukebox software and sign up for the Zune Social. If the social is anywhere near as engaging as the Xbox Live service, I could easily imagine it as a true iPod killing feature.

Unfortunately, upon arriving at the page and attempting to register for the service, I received an error message telling me that the Zune Social is ‘Not Available in Your Region. But please continue to check back with us in case we just so happen to decide to get our shit together for our Canadian Launch that is coming up on June 13th… Oh wait, that was one-and-a-half months ago. Huh.’ Guess we’re not killing any iPods today, folks.

Apparently Canada has been ip-banned from this service

Apparently Canada has been ip-banned from this service

Later on in the day, I complained about this error to Jake (who also happens to be my roommate). He claimed that he had no trouble whatsoever signing into the Social, but that instead of attempting to register, he simply signed in with his Windows Live account that was linked to his Xbox Live profile. Going back to the registration page, I tried this workaround, and was immediately granted entrance. Check me out here.

Now in case I haven’t said it enough times already, I’d just like to re-hash my frustrations with the Zune program – not an hour after opening the envelope, and before even trying out the device. The Canadian launch of this product appears to have been severely fumbled. The device I received was marked for US sale only, the device documentation was in English and Spanish, and the Zune Social IP-bans registration for Canadian citizens unless you already have a Windows Live account that may or may not have to be linked with an Xbox Live profile. Here’s to hoping that the jukebox software and the device itself are in better shape than the launch effort.

The Collection View

The Software is Pink

The install process went smoothly, and I was soon looking at the main window of the Zune jukebox. It’s a pretty, though unconventional user interface. Since I’m not all that comfortable with my overwhelming masculinity, I quickly found an option to change the default pink background to a trendy and edgy greenish one complete with paint splatters and blades or something called Everglade.

I told the software to monitor my music folder, which at last count contains roughly 8500 pieces of media. Initial import of that folder took roughly 10 minutes, which I consider more than reasonable for the size of the operation.

Plugging the Zune into the computer emitted no immediate response of any kind, but there was an ultra-faint charging symbol displayed on the screen of the device. Unfortunately, it seems that neither my machine nor the Zune jukebox software will recognize the device during this initial charging phase. In that case, I guess we’ll begin by reviewing the jukebox software.

The Main UI

Once the import was complete, I started playing a song and noted that it sounded pretty good, even though there is no equalizer feature within sight. While unconventional, the user interface is interesting. The standard viewport on start up looks like this (honestly, I have no idea how that Jewel album got in there. Seriously guys):

Jewel? Not in MY library!

Jewel? Not in MY library!

The first thing we notice here are the two view selectors. In the upper left corner, we find music, playlists, videos, pictures, and podcasts. The default is music, which has three additional view categories to choose from, namely artists, genres, and songs. It is important to note that all are in lower case letters, in case you forgot that the boys down in Redmond are in fact, trendy and cool.

The default view is artists, which gives a handy listing of all artists, all albums (complete with cover art), and all songs in the three columns. The Genres category yields a listing of the genres in your library, albums by artist, and all songs. Songs gives a listing similar to iTunes that includes the title, artist, album, and genre of each song in your collection. According to that view, there is a song in my music collection entitled “!!!!!!!” Allegedly it’s by the Roots. Huh. The things you learn.

Anyway, in any of these views, clicking on some entry in one of the columns brings up all the associated tracks in the other columns, which is pretty cool and very straightforward. Overall, the three views give a wealth of great ways to organize and find your music.

Unfortunately, perhaps my favourite and most used feature in iTunes, the five-star rating system, seems to be mysteriously absent from the Zune player. Instead, it gives me a useless yet trendy heart, no heart, or broken heart ratings system that was surely conceived by a 5-year old on a bad sugar trip. The lack of resolution provided by this rating system is sure to cause me headaches.

Aside – This just in, after a solid 30-minute charge time, the Zune came alive and connected itself to the computer. It seems that I need new firmware, the description for which is (this time) actually repeated in French. The update restarts the Zune and takes all of 3 minutes to complete. /Aside

Playlists

Switching over to the playlists view, I am informed that I do not have any playlists. This surprises me, as I know for a fact that there are quite a few m3u files in the music folder that the software is monitoring – admittedly, I don’t use m3u’s, as I long ago surrendered myself to the double-edged sword that is iTunes and stopped manually managing my music – but I do know that they are there, and wonder why they weren’t imported as playlists.

In any case, I am faced with two types of playlists, which seem to be static and automatic. The first works as would be expected. You can name the playlist and then drag and drop items from the music view into it with ease. Once inside the list, items can be reordered at will.

Autoplaylists are a little different. They are akin to the smart playlist feature of iTunes, if by akin we really mean ‘gimped to all hell and back.’ Unlike iTunes, which allows you to select multiple different rules for most any piece of metadata related to a song and separate the rules by either an AND or an OR statement, Zune allows you to select only from album artist, rating, genre, date added, year published, composer, and song plays. Furthermore, all the relations that you enter are linked by an invisible ‘AND’ statement, meaning that the rules quickly become limited in scope.

Yeah, it works, but it could definetly be better

Yeah, it works, but it could definetly be better

For instance, one could easily select all songs recorded by the Eagles, or all songs in the genre Rap, but it would be impossible to select all songs by the Eagles as well as all Rap songs, because the Eagles never recorded a rap song. That list would be empty and useless.

As an iTunes user, their smart playlist feature continually frustrated and annoyed me with its silly limitations, but the Zune version of the feature is far and away worse. I have a huge music collection that spans five decades and most every conceivable genre. In order to organize and find great songs in that proverbial haystack, I have become anal-retentive about ensuring that my meta-data is present and correct, and use smart playlists and star ratings indispensably. The fact that both a decent smart playlist system and any kind of granular ratings system are lacking from the Zune software are a huge turn off to me.

When testing other jukebox solutions that lack smart playlists, I have often grabbed the contents of one of my custom lists from iTunes and dragged them into a static playlist on the other player in order to at least have a list of songs that I feel like listening to while testing. Unfortunately, there is no drag and drop feature to the Zune player, nor is there an ‘import from software x’ feature, which could have been easily added, since iTunes can export its library as an xml file.

Aside – for anybody interested, I worked around this problem in true nerd fashion by hacking together a quick VB app that reads an xml file exported from iTunes and converts it to Zune-compatible zpl format (which is just a variant of the smil markup language). This program has allowed me to easily export all of my playlists from iTunes to the Zune player. If there is enough interest, I’ll put the app up for download. /Aside

These are small features that, while not immediately necessary, help to ease the transition between players, which is important if you’re trying to say, capture market share from a company that currently has over 80% of the worldwide player install base and the vast majority of mindshare amongst the general public. I feel that at this point, even if the Zune player had a better rating feature, I’d think twice about switching due to the simple fact that I’d have to wade through and re-rate over 8000 songs. That’s a lot of work and one huge deterrent.

Granted, if you’re just starting in the mp3 player field, have a music collection with less than 1000 songs, or aren`t as OCD about organizing your library, these missing features may not be a big deal. Perhaps I’m the outlying case here.

Videos

On install, I didn’t have any videos in my collection. Now as you may have gathered from reading Jakes weblog, our house is slightly different than most in the way that we manage our media. We keep a central server in our living room that holds all television and movie content in a central place. Being as we’re all movie lovers, we’ve ripped quite a few DVDs to that box for easy organization and viewing on the television, as well as network access from our other machines. It’s just the premiere way to share media among the members of a household, and prevents discs from being lost or damaged.

I decided to throw the Zune player a loop and try to add a folder full of video files from across the network, just to see how it would respond. After stalling for a minute or so, it started adding the files to the listing. Unfortunately, (and after some reading) I discovered that the Zune software only supports files encoded in WMV, MPEG4, and H.264 formats. As the vast majority of my content is encoded in XviD format, only a few were successfully imported. Watching local and network content in the player is easy and looks great, although the video player lacks a full-screen option.

It should be noted that there does not seem to be any option to add videos to playlists, or to make a separate type of playlist just for videos. However, if you select multiple video files and edit their information, you can assign them a TV Series tag, and enter a name and season number for that series. Then, when viewing videos by TV, they can be sorted into series.

Pictures

Adding pictures to the jukebox software is as simple as adding folders for the software to monitor. It automatically arranges them by the folder that they were found in, allowing you to keep your family vacation pictures and naughty adult pictures separate from one another.

Clicking on any picture in the collection starts a slideshow of all pictures in that folder. You can access and change your currently playing song from within the slideshow, although you are limited to the playlist or album that you are currently listening to. This is a really slick feature that far outpaces any comparable picture support in iTunes.

Podcasts

On import, the Zune software recognized all of the podcasts that I had downloaded from iTunes and sorted them into a separate section of the UI. They are arranged by Podcast title, and can be browsed easily, although you cannot put podcast files into playlists. On import, the software did not detect the URLs of any of my podcasts, although that is to be expected. The software does give the option to assign a URL to a podcast, allowing you to continue your subscription and pull up to date information from their website directly into the player. Overall, the podcast support seems to be very full-featured and quite a bit more advanced than that of iTunes.

Now Playing

Clicking the little bar-graph thing in the bottom right hand of the main window does not (as I had hoped) launch an equalizer, but rather, a now playing window that, while an interesting departure from the white and grey of iTunes, is almost as much of an eyesore as the myspace page of a 13 year old girl.

Help! My eyes ran away!

Help! My eyes ran away!

We can see my album covers randomly arranged in the background, with my currently playing song, playlist, and playback controls hovering above. I guess that this is the Zune’s answer to Coverflow. It’s awfully pretty, but probably not something that I would keep open on my display, strictly due to distraction value.

Search

This is a seriously cool and really easy to use feature of the jukebox software. If you select any list of song information within the interface and start typing, the software pops up a search box and automatically starts searching for the phrase that you’ve typed.

Go out and buy some Matt Good albums right now!

Go out and buy some Matt Good albums right now!

The search is fast and responsive, and not only finds the exact thing that you are looking for, but other possible hits around it that are related by some meta-data to the item in question.

Find Album Info

By far the best feature ever put into jukebox software. While in the artists view of the music section of the software, right-clicking on an album cover that is missing artwork and selecting ‘Find Album Info’ from the context menu launches a search for the missing album art and meta-tag information. The search almost always returns the requested album as the first hit, automatically replaces the artwork, and updates all of your existing meta-data with correct values.

Ah, One of the only good things to come out of the 80`s

Ah, One of the only good things to come out of the 80`s

The only issues that I encountered with the feature occurred when trying to match up double albums – the database that the software reads from seems to treat double albums as two separate entities instead of one whole record. Otherwise however, this feature is incredible and something that iTunes could take a cue from.

Outro

Well, that concludes Part 1 of my Microsoft Zune review. To recap, this part included the unpacking and install process, as well as the Collection view of the Zune jukebox software. This view is analogous to the whole of iTunes feature set, and almost as good.

Overall, my first impressions of the Zune software are that it is very well written, and would be a serious contender to iTunes if not for a few pesky missing features such as a decent ratings system and improved smart playlists. Unfortunately, I also feel that the Canadian launch of the product was somewhat bungled, and could have been better handled.

Stay tuned for upcoming parts of my review, including the device, social, and disc portions of the jukebox software, as well as a review of the device itself.

Thanks for reading,

Jon

Update by Jake: This post was giving Internet Explorer a case of the bricks. I’ve removed some of the extraneous tags to make things display properly.

Argh, more than 2TB disk causes problems?

Here’s the tech scenario: I now have seven active Seagate Barracuda SATA2 500GB drives in a RAID5 array, using a Highpoint RocketRAID 2320 card. This setup gives a total capacity of 3TB and can survive one drive completely dying.

Under Windows, drives are formatted with a Master Boot Record partition map. This format imposes a 2TB limitation on allocatable space within a volume. I was unaware of this limit when I set up the RAID card, and am now paying the price.

The problem is that now, I have 750GB of unallocatable space on my RAID volume. I can’t extend the existing partition or even create a new one, with a wonderfully incomprehensible error message leading the way.

Supposedly, this problem can be fixed by using a GUID Partition Table (GPT) setup. Unfortunately, GPT conversion requires an empty volume – and I have 2TB of data that can’t really be moved anywhere else.

Anyone know of a utility (open source, freeware, paid) to convert MBR to GPT? I’ve actually read the GPT specification and it doesn’t seem too difficult to implement, but I really don’t want to get into hex editing the raw disk for various reasons.

Booerns.com has gone live: Angry consumer advocacy

Warren and myself have just launched booerns.com, a consumer advocacy site with less hand-wringing. It’s a place where I’ll be only slightly more angry than here when talking about people that write “See ID” on their credit cards.

The first post up from me, because Warren’s far too lazy, is called “Ten secrets to not being a chump: Asus makes your MacBook” and discusses a recent Consumerist article dealing with people seeking Asus tech support. Check it out if you’re interested in the classic Jake rage against no really good cause at all.

(Can you tell I’m a fan of Ted Dzubia already? Also, the word “chump”.)

Fix a Nuance NaturallySpeaking 9 internal recognizer error

Just today I was asked to fix an issue with Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9, where the user profile refused to load properly. The application would launch but would not load the default user files, failing out with an “internal recognizer error”. Here’s how to fix the problem without losing too much information from your trained speech files:

  1. Close all instances of NaturallySpeaking 9.
  2. In Windows’ Run dialog box, type or paste the following path:
    "%AllUsersProfile%\Application Data\Nuance\NatuallySpeaking9\Users"
  3. Open the appropriate user folder for your profile.
  4. In the user folder, rename the “current” folder to “corrupt“.
  5. Then, rename the “backup” folder to “current“.
  6. Relaunch NaturallySpeaking and your profile will be rebuilt. This may take some time to complete and will definitely thrash your CPU. (If the profile doesn’t load properly, try renaming the “backup2″ folder to “current” for a second chance at redemption.)
  7. If your profile loads successfully, click NaturallySpeaking > Manage Users > Advanced > Backup to build a backup copy of the restored profile. Again, this process is fairly CPU-intensive.
  8. Get back to dictating! You can delete the “corrupt” directory as well now.

You may also want to copy your Users directory to a CD, DVD or flash memory stick occasionally in the event your backup copy is extremely out of date. There doesn’t appear to be a way to repair NaturallySpeaking 9 dictation files, so I suggest you maintain a separate backup copy around if you rely on dictation software for business.

Rogers defuses iPhone situation: $30/6GB, 3 year contract

And the launch of the iPhone 3G is on in Canada, with the predictable scenario of shady dealers without the device in stock trying to boost sales commissions. This whole situation reminds me of the Xbox 360 launch, where Best Buy and some other retailers tried to bundle consoles with accessories and extended warranty plans.

In any event, the big news is that Rogers is launching a promotional data plan – $30 per month, 6GB of data including tethering, requiring a three year data contract. The early termination fee is $100. The plan is supposed to be a way to quiet down the people over at Ruined iPhone and stop the persistent rumors that Apple is shafting Rogers for device shipments.

Unfortunately, the promotion is only until August 31st, at which time we can expect to see data pricing return to Rogers’ usual standards. It’s better than no such plan at all, and I’d suggest early adopters get in on this one like they did with Telus’ $15/unlimited plan back last December.

On a positive note, people in the HowardForums thread are reporting that representatives are indeed adding the promotional plan to “gray-market” devices and BlackBerry devices. (“Gray market” apparently means non-Rogers branded, unlocked phones: I vote that we quit using the term because it implies these phones are illegal, when they’re merely .)

I’ll look into this plan when the Bold launches, but in the meantime I have an 8320 that won’t receive service books to fix. Going back to the 8700 seems slightly primitive. ;)

Update: If you’re interested in dealing with a Rogers CSR and they’re not sure what data package you’re referring to, the code for this plan on a BlackBerry is BB6GBIS3.

Update 2: Here’s the official Rogers page for the plan.

Host move for jakebillo.com and related services

ev98.net and jakebillo.com have moved to a new, local hosting provider. Among the advantages of increased reliability and speed, we also now can directly call or email the people responsible for managing the server if there are any issues. Dave has also moved his personal site and you should all roundly harass him to write something.

Most large, hosted files will now be kept on files.ev98.net, which still uses Dreamhost since response time isn’t too critical, and disk space is more plentiful in that direction.

Please let me know if you see any oddities in the feed or in posts from this point forward.