WordPress 2.5

Just finished upgrading this blog to WordPress 2.5. Easiest upgrade ever, since I migrated my install to use SVN last time. One little command, then run the upgrade script. Awesome.

So far, I like it – especially the option to automatically upgrade plugins. That’s a time-saver, for sure. I’m not sure what happened, though – I reviewed some comments in moderation and approved a couple, yet they never showed up on the approved list. Maybe I just hit the wrong button? Dunno.

Evaluating alternative iPod management software

Yesterday SimpleHelp.net posted 10 Alternatives to iTunes for managing your iPod. (They have since been dugg and their website is down. Bummer. You can still see the guts of the article from the Google cache.)

At my work location iTunes is verboten, so I’m all for exploring other ways to manage my iPod, or at least to play the tunes off of it while I’m at work. Here are my basic requirements:

  • It needs to run smoothly. (Duh.)
  • It needs to be Windows-based. (No Macs or Linux boxes here.)
  • It needs to support the AAC audio format. I’ve got a bunch of .m4c files on my iPod.
  • It shouldn’t be a system hog.

Nice to have’s would include portability, support for Last.FM and the ability to copy songs off the iPod back to the PC.

There are 5 alternatives on the SimpleHelp site that are available for the Windows platform. Here are my reviews of them:

Floola

This was the first one, and at first glance was a strong contender. It has support for Last.FM, is portable, and has a pretty nice UI. Once I got it installed, though, I found some issues. Even though it appears to support proxy servers, I never could get it to talk to Last.FM. Secondly, the thing was a system hog – regularly freezing up for 30 – 60 seconds at a time when I tried to do anything. No thanks. And then the kicker: no support for AAC. Start -> Control Panel -> Add or Remove Programs -> Uninstall.

MediaMonkey

Gave this one a try next. The install was quick, the software came up quickly, and it immediately recognized my iPod. Off to a good start! Didn’t seem to hog the system too much. Tried to play an AAC file… no joy. Skipped three albums in the playlist before it got to one that was .mp3 format. So much for that. Uninstall.

Songbird

When I downloaded this one, it warned me that it was just a developer’s version, that there isn’t an official release of Songbird yet. Well, I’m brave, so I gave it a try. This is definitely the slickest one yet – good graphics all the way around (icons, skins, etc). This one is built on the Mozilla browser platform, so it has way more overhead than a player really should – about 60 MB installed. Then I had to install a plugin to get it to recognize my iPod. Once I got the plugin installed, it found the iPod fine, but then I had to wait for it to load the library. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more.

It must have taken Songbird about 45 minutes to load the library information from my 25 GB media library. Still, if that was a one-time startup thing, I can live with it. And it appears that it is – though who knows if it’ll have to do a full library re-scan when I change something? No telling. I was about sold on Songbird until I actually started playing music from it. AAC support? Yep. But as I played the songs, it hiccuped my audio on a fairly regular basis – every 15 seconds or so. This wasn’t due to CPU spiking – I had plenty of free CPU left – so there must be some inefficiency in the program itself. Uninstall.

SharePod

The UI on this one appears to be a lot more barebones than some of the other contenders. The sorting options are bad; you can sort only by one field at a time (artist, album, etc), but then it doesn’t sort below that. For instance, I can sort by artist to get all of U2 grouped together… but then there’s no guarantee that the U2 albums will be grouped together. Given that I’m a guy who likes to listen to a whole album at a time, this is no good for me. Still, I should give it a try, right?

So I gave it a whirl with some .mp3-formatted files. The sound was OK, the playback controls simple but marginally adequate. Then I went to AAC. It won’t play AAC. Not only that, it doesn’t give you an error, or skip the tracks, or anything – it just sits there on the file and acts like it wants to play it, but it won’t play it. Unacceptable. Uninstall. Wait, don’t have to uninstall – this one is totally portable. Thank God for small mercies.

YamiPod

I left this one for last because it wasn’t new to me – I’ve been running YamiPod for a few years now, but only for the ability to be able to pull files back off the iPod onto the PC. I’m not real find of the UI, but it works, which is way more than I can say for some of these I’ve evaluated.

I haven’t actually tried to play anything back on it until just now. So let’s give it a try.

Amazing. It won’t play any of the files. What’s going on? Controls seem unresponsive, it’s not playing anything back. Well phooey on that. At least it’s portable, and it’ll copy files off the iPod neatly. I’ll keep it around just for that.

Winamp
Winamp hasn’t been allowed on my office network computers for at least 5 years.

Conclusions:

Each of these alternative players has their strong and weak points, but when it comes down do it, none of them were good enough for me to use as a regular player. I will keep waiting for the Windows version of Amarok; right now it’s Linux-only, but there’s a Windows version coming, and Dan swears that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Until then, I’ll keep using Foobar2000. It doesn’t manage my iPod; I have to point it to the Control directory of the iPod and then have it just search for files. But it plays consistently, manages playlists nicely, and has a Last.FM plugin. So, it’s a keeper. And I guess I’ll keep using iTunes at home. It’s a resource hog sometimes, but it does what it needs to.

Google is doing weird linky things

It appears that Google is doing some weird things with the links that it returns as search results. They look fine, and work fine, unless you want to right-click and copy link location on them. Strange.

For instance, while writing my last post, I wanted to look up the web address of George Fox University, where my brother will be attending in the fall. Now, I had no idea what the address was. Fox.edu? GFU.edu? So, in my typical fashion, I opened another browser tab and did a quick Google search for George Fox University, and there is the first result: georgefox.edu. So I right-click on the link and do a Copy Link Location, and go to paste that link into my blog post. However, when I post it, instead of getting “http://www.georgefox.edu”, I get this:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&ct=res&cd=1&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.george fox.edu%2F&ei=-eSMRpaoLYSQigG6yPHkDA&usg=AFQjCNGXhI7dMYm1-OiFkm BkO3khHsXcTw&sig2=U6CshRfTqybcaCchW7goHw

Note: I added spaces to that link so that the text will wrap around.

The weird thing is that if I hover over the link, Firefox’s status bar reports the link as georgefox.edu. If I click on it, it takes me to georgefox.edu. But right-click Copy Link Location doesn’t work. Grrr. So now I guess I’m going to have to start highlighting the link and doing a copy rather than just copying link location. What a pain.

Satisfaction

Well if I’m gonna gripe when I think things have gone wrongly, it is only right that I applaud when I feel that justice has been done.  🙂

I made my trip to Best Buy this afternoon with my second defective refurbished iPod.  I had been steeling myself for this visit, preparing to ask to speak to a manager if necessary.  (I’m really bad at confrontation, but this has been getting ridiculous.)  I went back to the Geek Squad counter and talked to one of their employees (one I hadn’t spoken to before).

I didn’t say much at all: “long story.  This is the second refurb I’ve gotten, and it doesn’t work, either.”  I explained the issue – the thing wouldn’t sync with the PC – it locked up after only 1 GB of transfer.  He said “let me check something real quick…” and headed off to a computer backstage.  He came back a couple of minutes later with some good news.  “Let’s just get  you a new iPod.  That should make sure it doesn’t happen again.”  FINALLY!  So I went off to the iPod counter, requested a 30 GB black iPod, and headed over to Customer Service for the cashier to ring up the transaction.

Here’s where it gets better.  They weren’t just gonna give me a straight exchange for a new 30 GB iPod (which in itself would’ve been an upgrade from the 20 GB iPod that I took in originally) – they were essentially just gonna refund back the $299 I paid for that old iPod and then credit it to me.  When I realized that was the case, I suggested that I would instead like to take that $299 credit and apply it to a $349 80 GB iPod.  The cashier was amenable to the idea, so I headed back to the iPod counter, got the 80 GB unit, and paid $50 from my pocket to get the new iPod.  As a little bonus, Best Buy’s promotion this week gives you a $30 Best Buy gift card with the purchase of said iPod, so I got that as well.

As I sit here tonight typing this up, iTunes has copied over 622 of 5773 songs onto the new iPod. I don’t think I’ll sit up to wait for the sync to complete…  but I will sure enjoy having an iPod back.  Thank you, Best Buy, for finally getting this right.

iPod today?

Got an automated UPS phone call a few minutes ago saying that my iPod would be delivered today, and giving me the tracking number.  Good thing it went to voice mail – no way I would’ve been able to catch the tracking number with only one live listen.    UPS’s tracking system agrees that the iPod is on the truck and out for delivery.  Now I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that this one works.

The trip to Best Buy, or, why you should think when you design a computer system.

So, as planned, tonight I went to Best Buy to find out what was up with my iPod replacement. Long story short, I took my original one in for repair, they sent me a refurb which was also dead, so I took it back, and they were going to send me another one. Two weeks elapse. We pick up on the story tonight as I talk to a member of the “Geek Squad” at our local Cedar Rapids Best Buy.

I explain my story. I brought in the refurb for the second return 12 days ago. The guy wasn’t able to enter it into the system yet, but assured me the system would let him enter it by the end of the day, so 3 – 5 business days and I should get a new one. 8 business days later, I’m back. I talked to them last Friday on the phone and they said yeah, the service tag just closed, so expect the iPod in a couple of days. Three days later, still nada.

So the guy looks it up in the computer and finally says “I think they sent it here by mistake. Let me go look.” So he goes into the back room, and eventually comes out… with the refurb I returned 12 days ago. And then he goes to explain. Yeah, they couldn’t enter it into the system until the previous service ticket closed. And the previous service ticket didn’t close until June 8th. It ends up the way their return software is designed, the service ticket doesn’t close until the one I sent back in is repaired and returned to store stock. Absolutely ridiculous! So my returned iPod has just been sitting there on the shelf for the last 12 days, with nothing happening.

I can draw a couple conclusions from this: First, the guy who told me he could have the service ticket entered “by the end of the day” was lying to me. Certainly he knew how the system worked. He just wanted to get me out the door. Second, they have some very poorly designed software. You telling me they didn’t think about this case where a refurb is itself bad? Or did they think about it and dismiss it as an acceptable error? Either way is unacceptable.

So now I have a new service ticket in hand, and can expect another refurbished iPod to be delivered via UPS in 3 – 5 business days. If that one is bad and requires a return, I’ll be interested to hear how soon they tell me they can enter it into the system… I won’t be too accepting of another two-week wait just to get a return into the system again.

I just want my iPod back…

After BestBuy’s impressive performance in getting me my first refurbished iPod, it has now been 12 days since I was promised my next refurbished iPod, and I still don’t have a replacement. I called the “Geek Squad” representative last Friday; he looked it up on the computer and assured me that my second service ticket had just closed out on Friday, so I should expect my iPod in “one to two” days, and if not, I should contact him.

I decided to be gracious and assume that he meant “one to two business days”, seeing as UPS doesn’t typically deliver on Saturday or Sunday. So I waited. No UPS man yesterday. We already have a shopping trip planned to that side of town for this evening; if I don’t get that iPod via UPS today I will be making a stop back at Best Buy tonight. I’ll be curious to see what line they’ll feed me – I certainly won’t be happy with “wait a couple more days” – at a minimum I’ll want a UPS tracking number or something to prove that my iPod has actually shipped. I’d really love it if they’d say “oops, something went wrong – can we just give you a merchandise credit for the original price of your iPod?”, but I don’t think there’s much chance that’ll happen. Oh, if it did, though? I’d put another $50 with it and get the 80GB iPod with video… Oh well, at least a guy can hope, right?

Back online

So just as I was about to get really frustrated with Qwest, UPS showed up with their “welcome letter” and login details about 5 PM Tuesday. It was easy enough to set up the DSL modem; they’ve actually streamlined their install process quite a bit in the last couple of years. Good deal.

Then I went to hook up my existing wireless router to it. No luck. Hooked it back up hardware, did some Googling, and found out that yeah, it’s potentially possible, but not simple, to get my D-Link router to work with their ActionTec DSL modem. 🙁 Rather than fight with it for hours that I don’t have, I went back to Best Buy, returned the DSL modem, and bought the DSL modem that is wireless-equipped. So, I’m out $50, but I can probably sell the D-Link to recoup part of that cost.

Back home with the right piece of hardware, it took mere minutes to have my wireless network back up and running. I’ll have to relocate the DSL modem this weekend; I really want it in the basement by the PC down there, but I can’t find the phone line. I stowed it up somewhere during the cleanup effort after the Great New Year’s Eve Flood of Aught-Six, and now it doesn’t want to be found. Still, it’s good to be back online. I’m also happy with the DSL speed – cable sure wasn’t supporting 100 Kbps uploads!