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December 27, 2006

Perfect Jump Drive

The first portable USB memory drive I had was made by Lexar. It held 64 MB, which was a lot at the time. It was great for moving files around from work or home. It was translucent purple with a cap that went over the USB connector, but didn't snap. firefly.gif
After a few close calls, I finally lost the purple cap, but it always worked. The loop that held it to my keychain cracked but I was able to drill a hole through the case, missing the circuit board, and kept it for a while longer.

Then I got a good deal on a Memorex 128 MB drive, so I upgraded. The Memorex was black and had a blue LED (as opposed to the Lexar's green one) to indicate files were being transferred. It worked fine, but was a little longer (albeit skinnier). The problem with that was it was usually attached to all of my keys and it kind of hung on the USB port on my computer when it was attached. Also the cap on it didn't snap either and I lost it a month or two ago, probably when I took it off to move some files.

Yesterday Fry's had a special ($7.99; I never paid more than $10 after rebate for any of these) on the Lexar 512 MB Firefly drive and it is the best one yet. It is the smallest of the three and the top snaps firmly in place. Better yet, the cap is the part that connects to your key ring, so when I connect the drive, I can keep my keys in my pocket. It is called the Firefly because it has a blue light on the back end that lights up while it is moving data.

December 18, 2006

Person of the Year

After an unbelievably successful year, I was pleased to be named Time's Person of the Year. Here I am on the cover!


I would like to know in what way this could be considered a mirror on the cover.

December 15, 2006

Stupid SiteKey

I have a savings account and some CD's with ING. They had pretty good interest rates and it was convenient dealing with them online. Then they started instituting different security measures. Whereas most places let you choose a username that makes sense, they assigned an 8-digit number that you had to use. Then you picked out a PIN. That was okay and eventually I memorized my number. Then they started a keypad thing where they would have the number pad with letters on each number key on screen and you would type in each corresponding letter instead of the number for your PIN. The letters changed every time. This made you think a lot harder, but I guess protected you from programs that capture key strokes.

keypad.gifThen they instituted SiteKey. Bank of America had done this and it wasn't so bad. But part of that was they ask you questions. Your mother's maiden name isn't good enough. They ask you for your first pet's name or you best friend in grade school or high school mascot. These are used to verify a particular computer and then you don't have to answer that question again. However, the first time I was asked the questions, I forgot the answers. I think I had considered the first pet to be the first pet I remembered having as a kid (Tacia?), rather than the first pet I owned myself (Katie). Anyway, it gave me no way of e-mailing the answers to myself and no other way to log on. It didn't even ask me other questions. So for the first time in three years I actually had to call and talk to someone at ING, defeating the whole purpose of an internet bank.

The other problem with this is that if these answers are going to be used to establish my ID, then it is like giving out a Social Security Number or mother's maiden name. I don't want it falling into the wrong hands and it is somewhat likely that ING would be hacked at some point. I told ING that I would no longer do business with them as a result of their silly security policies. As my CD's mature, I am moving the money to PayPal, which pays more interest anyway.

Soon, however, Vanguard instituted SiteKey as well and Jeb said that everybody would be doing it soon. They asked some of the same and some new personal questions that are really nobody's business. To remember all of these answers I was going to have to write them down anyway, so I decided to just make up answers. At first I was going to use expletives, but then I decided to just use random funny words. So now the answer to What was the make of your first car? might be "flatulence."

I think this will be much more secure than giving the actual answers and also the answer to What is your favorite color? would be different from site to site. In one place it might be "bespectacled" and at another "pajamas."

December 6, 2006

TV on the Go

The iPod video is pretty neat because you can take videos with you on the iPod just like with songs. But it has a pretty tiny screen. The Palm TX has a much larger screen (3.8 inches diagonally vs. 2.5 inches for the iPod) that offers more detail (480x320 vs. 340x320). So there was promise there.

The problem was I couldn't move my DVD's to the Palm. I found two great pieces of software. One is DVD Decrypter (so glad I live in Denmark) and the other is PocketDivXEncoder. DVD Decrypter lets you move the DVD to your hard drive and PocketDivXEncoder then makes it pretty easy to convert the files to the right resolution. I was able to convert a 25 minute episode of Seinfeld (I now own seasons 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6) to a file that was 180 MB. Once I get it on the SD card, I then used a nice media player called TCPMP (with codecs for MP4 video and MP3 audio installed) to watch the show, full screen (landscape). It looks really good as long as you are in the right light conditions (the screen picks up a lot of glare on the Copenhagen Metro train).

The process is kind of slow. Ripping takes a couple of minutes per episode and translating takes another 20 minutes or so. Then it takes a few minutes to move the file over to an SD card, but a lot of this can be done away from the computer. PocketDivXEncoder lets you queue multiple episodes and will even shut down the computer when it is done if you want to go to bed or leave the house. By doing that, I can get the 5 or 6 episodes that might be on a DVD of the 4 DVD season set up in about 15 minutes, then let it crank away for about an hour.

Some guidelines for PocketDivxEncoder: The default audio quality of 7 is fine, but video quality can be dropped down to 60 (instead of 80) and still get good quality (images get jpeggy lower than that). I had one series of shows that was widescreen, but did this by using black bars at the top and bottom. This caused the program to default to a resolution 426x320 (a ratio of 1.33:1 like regular TV) instead of using the full width availabe (480x320 for the Palm TX), so I had to manually change it to 480 and let the back bands overrun the top and bottom. Under advanced options, I selected 2-pass encoding and B-lines which slow down encoding time, but increase quality without increasing file size.

For DVD Decrypter: Make sure you are in IFO Mode and you will see a tree of content divided by folders named VTS and in those are PGC subfolders which in turn contain the episodes of a show with the minutes in parentheses (these are net minutes after the commercials are taken out; even the disclaimers are removed). Pick one of those and a folder on your hard drive to store it in. Half-hour shows are usually around 23 minutes and hour-long shows are 46. Short things are menus or extras.