My TiVo, My Mac, and My Tunes

I have turned into quite the TiVo fan since we bought one about nine months ago. It seems that I’m not alone based on all of the blogs and discussion boards focusing on everything TiVo.

We had used DVRs from our cable companies in the past, but the TiVo is so much more than just a DVR. When you hook your TiVo into our home network, it opens the door to all sorts of Internet-based content and becomes a bridge to the photos and music on your computer. The ability to listen to Internet radio is really nice especially when the TiVo is connected to a home entertainment system. You can also subscribe to audio podcasts if you’re into that type of thing. I have also taken advantage of TiVo’s partnership with Amazon to download movies directly to the TiVo. The movies look and sound great, and you don’t have to drive to the store or wait for a DVD to arrive in your mailbox.

My favorite feature of the TiVo is the ability to play the music that is stored on my Mac through the TiVo. This is very similar to the Apple TV although the TiVo cannot play music bought through the iTunes Store. There is another downside to all of this insanely cool functionality. The TiVo can only natively play files in MP3 format, and I have a mixed iTunes library of MP3 and AAC files.

This weekend, I finally decided to do some research to see if there was anything I could do about this shortcoming. Surely, other people are in the same boat as me. I am happy to report that there is an undocumented feature in the TiVo software for the Mac that provides the ability to translate AAC files to MP3 files on the fly. Apparently, the functionality has been there for a couple years, and I’m kind of mad at myself for not reading about this earlier. The TiVo software has code that calls a program called LAME. LAME is an open source MP3 encoder and is freely available. All I had to do was install LAME, and the TiVo software recognized it immediately. At last, all of my non-iTunes Store tracks could be seen and played through the TiVo. I was so excited that I had music playing all day yesterday.

I am still annoyed that Apple and TiVo have not gotten together to allow iTunes Store tracks to play on the TiVo. It would just be considered another computer that would need to be authorized. Of course, now that Apple has the Apple TV, I don’t really see them licensing other companies to basically do the same thing, but it sure would be nice.

I Don’t Like Quiet!

Home Alone

Well folks, apparently I don’t like peace and quiet.

My wife and kids drove to my in-laws for a week to spend some time with them before another school year starts. I stayed behind because I have to work and need to save my vacation time for the holidays. While not occupied with work, I’ve been wandering around the house trying to figure out what to do with time. Being home alone is so foreign to me that I’m struggling to keep busy. We cleaned the house before they left so I don’t really have to do much of that. It hasn’t rained a whole lot here so I don’t need to cut the grass, and I already filled in some holes that were left when we dug some plants out of our front yard.

Now, I know some of you are out there right now saying, “Well, get writing Tim. You have a bazillion posts to catch up on before the end of the month.” If you saying that, you’re absolutely right. Time will tell if I can rock out a ton of posts this weekend. The two liter of Mountain Dew I drank today is helping a lot! Stay tuned for what I hope is some interesting and entertaining material. Well, hopefully it will be interesting. Yeah, let’s start with that.

My Backup Dilemma

Like most tech-savvy families out there, my family has an abundance of digital audio, video, and photo files on our computers. Early on, I decided that my Power Mac G4 should be our digital hub, and all of our files are stored on that computer. This does cause a bit of a problem for me as far as storage space goes. I’ve replaced the hard drive before, and it’s about time to add a larger drive again. I don’t mind replacing my drive from time to time because it is relatively easy to clone a drive. My biggest problem is with my backup drive.

A couple years ago, I went with Apple’s Backup as my backup solution. It is incredibly easy to use and basically runs all by itself without any interaction from me as long as my external drive is powered on. I bought a drive that was twice as big as my Mac hard drive so I wouldn’t run out of space, but a couple weeks ago, something interesting happened. I ran out of space on my backup hard drive. It seems that over time, the incremental weekly backups had been so large that they had filled the entire drive. To resolve the issue, I deleted my backup files and ran a full backup that fit very easily on the drive. My biggest question is if a full backup fits so easily on my drive, why are the incremental backup files so large?

When Mac OS X Leopard comes out later this year, one of its features will be a backup solution called Time Machine. It will automatically backup every file on your system, and you can basically go back in time to find the version of a file that you need. This sounds like a great new feature, but how large will the backup hard drive have to be in comparison to the Mac hard drive? If my experience with Backup is any indication, it’s going to have to be huge, but I am going to withhold judgment until Leopard hits the streets.

This Is Ryan Shaw

This Is Ryan Shaw

We were back in Chicago over the 4th of July holiday to visit our families and friends. One of the nice things about going back to Chicago is that we actually get to listen to good radio stations like WXRT. Well, on one of our drives, one song just blew me away. Why hadn’t I heard this great new song on the stations in Saint Louis? It turns out the song was called Nobody by a new artist named Ryan Shaw. When we got back home, I downloaded the album, This Is Ryan Shaw, and have been listening to it ever since. Ryan reminds me a lot of the old time soul singers like Marvin Gaye and Al Green. He’s a really good mixture of old school soul mixed in with new school rhythms. Nobody is a perfect example of that.

I’m not sure what it is that draws me to his music. Maybe it was all of those summers spent at Probst Glass and Screen Shop listening to the oldies station with my dad and Bobby, or maybe it’s just because he’s a really great artist. Whatever it is, the album is definitely worth a listen. Check it out when you have a chance.

Apple Is Responsible for YouTube Now?

I read a post in TechCrunch today that really drove me nuts. They were commenting on an absurd post in CNET’s News Blog regarding possible liability Apple might face because the iPhone has the ability to play YouTube videos. Like TechCrunch, I feel there is no way Apple will ever be found liable of anything relating to YouTube. Really, how in the world did CNET think this was worth posting? If you take the same logic and relate it to web browsers, every software vendor that has ever shipped a browser capable of playing embedded YouTube videos is liable for the content of the videos. Now that just doesn’t make any sense, does it. Surely CNET has something more interesting to write about than this. I really used to rely on CNET to help me decide what electronics to buy, but they’ve really gone down hill. There are so many better options now for technology news and reviews.

Himalayan Glaciers in Retreat

Going along with my Live Earth post a couple weeks ago, an article in the New York Times caught my eye regarding the melting glaciers in the Himalayas. Although there is not a lot of historical data to indicate whether or not the glaciers are retreating more than normal, the data that we do have is very scary. For example, the Chorabari glacier has retreated 860 feet since 1962. That’s almost 3 football fields! That’s pretty crazy when you think about it. Unfortunately, the same thing is happening to the other glaciers in the Himalayas.

My parents recently went to Alaska, and before they left, I kept saying that it’s a good thing they’re going up there because the glaciers might not be there during their next visit. I never really meant it, but now that I’ve learned more, I’m thinking I might not be too far from being right. At this rate, I may never have the chance to see a glacier, and my kids may not ever know that glaciers even existed. What I really want to know is what happens when all of this fresh water hits the ocean.

We all just need to do something to stop global warming. Even something as small as changing the light bulbs in your house can make a difference. It’s time for use to make a change.

The Cubs Are On A Roll

It’s been a lot of fun lately watching the Cubs play ball. They’ve been doing all of the right things at the right times, and they have so much more confidence than they did earlier in the season. I guess all it really took was a little tantrum from Sweet Lou to provide the spark the Cubbie’s needed.

The second half of the season started out in the right direction today with another win by Carlos Zambrano. Big Z is really starting to look like the ace everyone expected him to be. He has to be the hottest pitcher in baseball right now. Whenever he’s on the mound, the Cubs have a chance to win, and it looks like the team really believe in him.

It should be an exciting second half of the season.

Live Earth Is On!

I’ve been checking out the Live Earth website and all of the different video feeds from all over the world. Like they said on the Live Earth Blog, it’s almost impossible to choose which concert to watch. Everything is so good! I’ve been flipping back and forth between all of the different concerts and have been enjoying every minute. A couple bands that I’d never heard of really impressed me: Paolo Nutini at the UK show and Blues Nation at the DC show.

If you haven’t checked out the website or tuned in on television, you really need to see what you’re missing. This event is for all of us, and if we can all do something small to help the environment, it will add up to a lot.

I Have to Change My Password Again?

My good friend, Scott Driza, from DocBuilder.com Incorporated recently wrote about password policy considerations. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand changing my passwords at work. I’ve already run through all of my usual strong passwords, and I can’t go back to them until I’ve created 10 more passwords that I’ll never remember. What’s worse is that every single system at my current employer has its own password and password policy.

I am a big proponent of single sign on technologies because of all of the pain and suffering I have endured while trying to come up with a new password for a bazillion applications every 60 to 90 days. To avoid causing pain and suffering for your users, the first thing you should think about doing is tying all of your network and web applications together under one user name and password. I know this takes a bit of work when building or configuring the applications, but it is worth it in the long run. Secondly, make it easy for the users to come up with new passwords. Having a password at least 7 characters long with at least 1 capitalized letter and 1 number is strong enough for most businesses. Most of the applications are buried behind corporate firewalls anyway.

One user name, one password, one simple policy – Three things that will make your users happier and your network safer.

iLinc Is Coming to the Mac!

I use a web conferencing product at work called iLinc to do demonstrations and training from remote locations. iLinc makes it possible to provide visual presentations instead of boring old audio conference calls. Like most applications made specifically for business communications, iLinc has not been available for the Mac. Until now, that is. With iLinc 9, meeting presenters and attendees will be able to use Windows or Macintosh computers to connect to meetings.

I don’t really expect to be able to use my Mac for work meetings very often, but I would love to be able to use Apple’s Keynote to show slide presentations. It knocks the socks off of PowerPoint any day of the week. I also have coworkers that need help with their Macs on occasion so it will be nice to be able to see the problems they’re having instead of just guessing what might be wrong.

I have been very impressed with the Windows versions of iLinc. Let’s see how good they are at making software for the Mac.