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.

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.

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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 (480×320 vs. 340×320). 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 426×320 (a ratio of 1.33:1 like regular TV) instead of using the full width availabe (480×320 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.

Austin’s Sitter

Since Austin doesn’t get along well with cats, the last couple of times I have been out of town (Tybee and Dallas) he has stayed with my friend from work, Jenny, instead of with Katie at Susan’s house. She absolutely adores Austin and pampers him beyond belief while he stays with her. One time when I went to pick him up she told me how much Austin likes ham and eggs with cheese on top. Her two boys help take care of Austin as well, taking him for several walks a day. He gets constant attention all the time, which he just adores.

Jenny likes Austin so much that she asked if he could stay over this weekend just so they could see him again. So I packed up his bag and took him over on Friday. On Sunday Jenny called and said her family had taken a vote and it was 3-0 to keep him for another day (Jenny telecommutes on Monday so she would be home all day with him).

Last night I went to pick him up. I noticed Jenny had a bruise on the bridge of her nose. I asked her what happened. Apparently Austin was on the couch next to her when one of Jenny’s sons slammed a door or something, causing a giant bang. This startled both Austin and Jenny and Austin wound up knocking into Jenny’s face pretty hard, breaking her nose. This was on Saturday and I think the reason she wanted to keep Austin another day was because she had missed out on being with him most of Saturday, what with the trip to the emergency room and everything.

Austin is back with me now, but it will be several weeks before Jenny heals up from his visit.

Graffiti is back!

The main drawback of owning the new Palm TX was that Palm had to abandon the Graffiti handwriting recognition system for Graffiti 2, which was awful. After exploring alternatives and getting excited about my new keyboard, I drug out my Palm VX to do a speed comparison. On the first try I got 24.7 words per minute (after weeks of practice I was up to 23.3 wpm with Salamander writing the most common words, for which it is optimized). Wow. Plus I realized that with myKbd I had to look closely at the keyboard to tap the right keys, but with Graffiti I can look at what I am copying down and not look at the Palm.

So I went back and looked for the files. I found some updated files dated in April 2005. Before installing them I did a Hot Sync to back everything up (with the other files my Palm wouldn’t boot and I had to do a hard reset, wiping out its entire memory to get it to work again). Then I put the files on the SD card, moved them over to the Palm, and did a soft reset. It took a while to boot and I thought it was frozen, but then the prefs screen popped up! I was in business. It is even compatible with myKbd, which just replaces the old Palm keyboard.

Salamander

After making what I thought was a much improved myKbd key layout, I found out why the other designs put the space in the middle. In a separate e-mail (and in the options in the program), Alex pointed out that if you are sliding through letters (rather than pecking them) and you run across the space key in the middle of the word, the space is ignored. This opens up a lot more digraphs and trigraphs since now you can slide from E to 8 other letters (instead of 5 on Metropolis if you ignore this feature or 6 on my layout). In fact, all of the letters that touch the space key have 8 letters they can go to, and they are all very common letters. The stylus travels further than if they are touching, but you still get to slide which I think may provide a speed advantage.

salamander

If I give those key combinations one point then Metropolis goes from 14 to 21 (out of the top 30 digraphs and top 15 trigraphs for a maximum score of 45), QUONG goes from 17 to 25, and because my space key is off to the side I stay at 24. I came up with a new design taking advantage of this feature and it has a score of 20/29. More on that later.

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Graffiti Alternative

I’ve been pretty frustrated with my new Palm TX’s Graffiti 2 software for inputting text. With the old Graffiti I could get about 20 words per minute (a word is 5 keystrokes, including spaces). That’s a lot slower than I can type (60 wpm or so) but in a pinch it lets me write fast enough that I don’t usually forget what I’m writing about. With the new Graffiti I am getting 10 words per minute. I could probably get that up to 15 with practice, but it is still slower since some letters are now two strokes (f, i, k, t, and x) and others are easily confused like u and v. So I’m also getting lots of typos.

On the Brighthand website (kind of like iLounge for handhelds) people mentioned a program called MyKbd by Alexander Pruss. It turns the writing area into a screen of hexes, each with a letter on it. You tap the letters you want, just like on a keyboard, but he has made it faster than a keyboard by putting the most frequently used letters next to each other, optimizing it for people using a stylus. He took it further by letting you slide from one hex to an adjacent one. Naturally he put t and h next to each other so you can just slide from the t to the h and “th” appears on the screen. And e is after that so that you can write “the” with one well-placed stroke.

Some IBM engineers used computers to optimize the layout of the keys with the following result, called Metropolis:

kbd-metro.gif

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Best Buy Commissions

Lately my Amazon sales have been way down because they ran out of the most popular battery pack. Their affiliates sold them, but at higher prices and sales went way down. Best Buy was selling the same thing for $20, so I thought I should see if Best Buy had a commission program. Sure enough, they did. I went ahead and signed up but I soon realized that it was just Commission Junction with a Best Buy face on it. Like CJ, the commission was only 1% instead of the 4% minimum that Amazon gives me. They would pay once I reached $25 but that meant I would have to sell 125 $20 battery packs to ever see a payment. Since I had sold 58 of them through Amazon last quarter, I figured maybe I had a shot if I were patient. Plus I could get some additional revenue if people bought extra stuff while they were browsing Best Buy’s web page.

Oh well. I tried it for two weeks. I sent a decent stream of visitors to Best Buy’s website, with 104 clicks in 17 days, or about 6 a day. It would have been nice if that had resulted in about one sale a day, or one every other day. But during that time I got absolutely no sales. Even if I got my first sale tomorrow, that would mean only one sale every 18 days. That means it would take over six years to make $25.

I think the problem is that people don’t order stuff from Best Buy’s web page, they just go visit a store. So, once again, I gave up on that scheme and reverted to direct links. I will ask Best Buy to remove me from their service.

Palm TX

After waiting through much of October to see what new products Palm might introduce and seeing only updated Treos (which include phones), I decided to buy a new Palm T|X, which originally came out last year. Amazon had them for $260 instead of the usual $299. Since I couldn’t get a commission on my own purchase, I bought it after visiting The Opossum Society of the United States which I noticed was an Amazon Associate after doing research there for my post on finding an opossum in the back yard.

Naturally, Amazon was very slow so after ordering it two weeks ago it took 8 days to arrive, by which time I was out of town. So I didn’t actually get it until Dad’s birthday on Wednesday. The TX has many advantages over my old m515. It has a faster processor, larger high resolution screen (the graffiti area is usable screen space now), can accept up to 4 GB SD cards, and best of all has WiFi capability, allowing it to tap in to wireless networks.

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