Archive for the ‘computers’ Category:

Best Music and Audio Players on Android

July 21st, 2012

Last fall i switched from iPhone to Android and for the most part am happy I did.  Apple has great design, but you can only do things the apple way and i wanted more options.  One of the things I wanted was more audio playing/managing options.   I don’t just want any player, I am picky – I’ve listed my requirements below.


Sync audio (music and talk/news radio) with Android.  Specifically:

  • Make it easy to create/edit playlist on mac, and sync it with bionic, the way iTunes and iPhone work.  Includes adding and removing songs from a existing playlist, and those songs get sync’d .. easily.
  • Make it easy to do daily syncs of podcasts from iTunes (or skip itunes and sync android with internets)
  • Make it easy to delete songs/playlists from android.
  • Do it all for Free.


  • Mac with 5,000+ songs and podcasts in iTunes.
  • 400GB of mp3s on backup drive.
  • Fast wifi at home, but dsl (slow) between home and internet.
  • Android bionic phone, limited storage (8GB, can only sync a few playlists of songs from my collection).



Winamp is similar to the classic program from the 90’s. For android, its a complete and quality program, few bugs.  Similar to Doubletwist.


  • UI is functionally complete and then some.
    • Bottom always has a drawer that you can drag up to get info on what is currently playing.
    • Clicking on winamp lightening bolt logo in bottom right goes to main menu
    • Has a progress bar showing elapsed and total time of current track, and you can drag current position marker to move to end or beginning of track.
    • Pressing and holding next/prev arrow buttons goes fwd/back a few seconds in track.  Great for fine-positioning tracks over an hour (too hard to do with position marker on progress bar).
  • You can’t sort songs, but there are 3 useful built-in playlists: Recently Added, Recently Played ,Top Played
  • Pauses when headphones are pulled out
    • nice if you’re out and about listening on your headphones and someone asks you a question, you can immediately pull out cord, talk, and then spend time with android to start playing where you left off.


  • Updating playlists duplicates them, should replace. You can manually delete older ones by tap and hold, but if you want to auto-sync 5 playlists, you will have to manually delete 5 every time you sync.  Gets old real quick.


Doubletwist is complete music app, appealing to those who like iTunes


  • UI is functionally complete and then some.
  • Very easy to manage through iTunes, then ready to sync, launch doubeltwist, connect phone via usb, and done


  • Adding new songs to existing playlist in iTunes does not update playlist in Doubletwist on phone.  However, there is a fix – open Winamp and delete all but most recent version of a playlist, then come back to doubletwist to see most updated version of playlist (see Winamp Cons)


Google Music Beta, now Play Music, is Google’s version of iCloud.  You sync your music from your computer to the cloud, then either download to android or stream real-time.


  • Sync without wires, over the cloud
  • Stream is useful if you have fast connection and not enough space on device


  • Cloud syncing is WAY too slow.  Syncing one or two songs is fine, but to sync GB from mac to internet and back to android takes forever.
  • UI for app is pretty basic
  • Has bugs .. like syncing unknown albums


DoggCatcher (DC) Podcast App, is for the android only, does not run on a computer (a mac).  You  setup your podcast feeds directly on your phone.


  • Best way to manage podcasts – on phone directly
  • Intuitive interface
    • Feeds – lists all your podcast feeds, add by category or suggestions or search. Perfect.
    • Playing – summary and complete description about podcast (other players cut this info off)
    • Audio – lists all downloaded podcasts, tap and hold to reveal many options
    • player at bottom – always there, pause easily.
  • Free for trial period


  • Content is very limited compared to what is possible with iTunes
  • When the headphones pull out, it plays off speaker (winamp pauses automatically)


I want to use these a bit more before I review them



I have been using a combination of the above for months now. I love winamp the most for playing audio for all reasons listed above.  I use Dogcatcher to automatically get the latest news and talk radio podcasts, like NPR’s This American Life, AC360 from CNN, the Nerdist, and Comedy Bang-bang. And I like doubletwist to easily keep iTunes playlists on my mac in sync with my android.

Note: I will update these as i try new music apps.



Multiple Firefoxes

July 8th, 2009

2011-9-15 Update – see below

Firefox 3.5 officially came out a few weeks ago, and I decided its time to try it out.  However, google gears does not yet work on 3.5, and I need my gears to have offline access to gmail and google docs.  Time to revisit the question I’ve had many times before –

Can i run different versions of firefox at the same time?  or different instances of the same version?  … Yes.

The solution involves Firefox Profiles.  Profiles are separate from the application itself – it’s where all your customized data is stored, like homepage, history, saved form info, settings, plugins, etc.  In order to run 2 firefoxes at the same time, you need 2 different profiles.  It doesn’t matter which version of firefox is running a profile. For example, you could have 4 profiles like me:

  • Firefox3.0 – google gears in here – use this for offline gmail access
  • Firefox3.0_heavy – firebug and other add-ons in here
  • Firefox3.5 – surf the web from here
  • Firefox3.5_Guest – clean empty profile with no history, used in business meetings

Firefox has good instructions on creating profiles, so I’m going to skip that.  Next step is to figure out a way to easily launch your profiles – here is where it gets into MAC only mode, but not much different for Windows.  If you only have one profile for each version of firefox, you can edit the files inside the firefox app directly, like Devon did. (Another way is to create an application bundle). So what happens if you want to run 2 instances of the same firefox version?  Well, expanding on Devon’s way, just create a script (executable text file) in your /Applications folder that calls the firefox version and profile you want.

However, neither Devon’s solution nor the application bundle is perfect – there are still some dock issues.  First, with both solutions, there will be an icon that launches firefox with your favorite profile, and when you click on it, it creates another firefox icon on the doc.  Ideally it should act like finder or any other mac app – the icon you click on the dock is the one that should bounce and start up.  It should also be the one to right click and “Quit”.   Its confusing enough already when there’s 2 firefox apps running, i don’t need extra icons.  Second, I’m also a big fan of switching between my running applications using Command-Tab (like Alt-Tab in Windows), and when I do that I want the names of the different firefoxes to match to profiles and versions if possible.

So my solution is to have a one-to-one mapping of application name to profile name.  For example, given the 4 profiles above, I have 4 copies of firefox in my applications folder

  • /Applications/
  • /Applications/
  • /Applications/
  • /Applications/

Each one of these I edited the Contents/MacOS directory, renaming firefox-bin to firefox-bin1 and creating a firefox-bin script (like Devon did).  Each script is uses its own directory and profile. For example, here’s the contents of my /Applications/ file:

/Applications/ -P Firefox3.5 &

The last thing I do to make it easy on myself is to create a bookmark on the toolbar, all the way left on each of the 4, where the name of the bookmark is the name of that profile.  That way I can look at the window and know which firefox profile i’m using.

The downside to this is that you waste some disk space (its about 50MB for each firefox installation).  The other thing that kinda sux is that if you rely on firefox to remember password forms, you must remember to always use the same profile/app, but that isn’t hard if you do my bookmark trick.

Update 11/2: Here’s how I handle firefox updates (like from 3.5.3 to 3.5.4).

Basically i reinstall my fix after update.  That is, rename firefox-bin to firefox-bin1, then create firefox-bin script.

However, This used to work but today it no longer does.  Basically if i call firefox-bin1 -P Firefox3.5 from cmd-line, it works.  But the app uses the default profile instead.   My workaround is to create and use “application bundle” method linked above. still testing …

Others attempts (but no mention of my dock issue)


2011-9-15 Update – New method

With firefox 4, 5, 6 … Firefox is clearly updating more and more frequently.  My new method is to make it easy to update the main app to the latest Firefox version, yet still keep the profiles separate (cookies, add-ons, etc).

Therefore I create 2 types of apps.  The first is just the app downloaded from firefox, copied from the .dmg file.  I rename this to something like  The second type of app is one made for the dock, which will launch Firefox6 with a specific profile.  I call this and create it using Applescript.  If you don’t know applescript, there are many sites that explain it, here’s one the talks about creating applescript and saving as an app (more).

Here’s what my applescript code looks like for

on run {input, parameters} 
do shell script "/Applications/chad/ -P firefox6 &> /dev/null &"
return input 
end run

Note on changing the icon – Open finder, right click on an application or document, and “Get Info”. By selecting the icon in the “Get Info” window, with a mouse left-click, it will cause a blue border to appear. Using the keyboard combination of [Apple Key ] + C (the standard copy text command) you can “copy” the icon. Then, by opening another Get Info window and highlighting the icon in the same way, you can use the standard paste text command, [Apple Key ] + V, to paste the icon for the other one.

Google Maps Mashups

March 27th, 2009

I’ve always loved maps, and when google maps came out they raised the bar.  After they released their maps API and the mashups began.  The first cool one I remember was a craigslist mashup that listed all apartments for rent on a map – that’s huge when you’re new to a city, and invaluable in renting-competitive cities like NY and SF.  Now there are tons of mashups out there, and here’s a few that I’ve found recently.

Random mashups (coolest ones first)

Build your own map: (sorted by compete monthly usage 2/2008-2/2009 more)

Find more maps (reference)

What’s your favorite map?

iPhone as a Remote

January 28th, 2009

Yay. Today I finally got it working the way I want – use my iPhone as a remote control when watching movies. If you’re not a uber geek, you might want to stop reading now. Move along.

I use VLC on my mac as my media player. Why? Cuz it plays everything – all types of .avi, .movs. mp3s mpgs, dvds – and lets you program hotkeys to do what you want. For example, I use spacebar for play/pause, and “.” and “,” for jumping forward or backward 15 secs at a time (tivo has trained me well). What else do you need? Volume is done thru my stereo – laptop audio out goes there, and laptop DVI goes into HDMI on my 40″ Bravia. But it sux to have to get up to pause or rewind 10 seconds to see that scene again. So I had to get a remote.

I found it hard to find a good remote control app on the iPhone – Apple’s “Remote” app only controls iTunes, which is good only for playing music (I’m not gonna import GB’s worth of .avi’s into iTunes, Hello..). I really liked the Telekinesis Uniremote app, it has slick remote interface, but I could only get VLC to play/pause (no rewind/ff). XBMC and Movist options seem more complicated.

In the end, the free “mocha vnc lite” iPhone app worked adequately. First, you turn on Apple’s default VNC server – on Leopard, goto System Prefs, Sharing, check the box for “Screen Sharing”, then click on ‘Computer Settings’ button to the right, and on the popup check the box for “VNC .. password” and give it a password – you don’t want anybody in your neighborhood to start controlling your mac. (Tiger instructions). Make sure you remember your password and the IP address. Second, launch VLC on your mac and full screen that baby. Third, install and launch the “mocha vnc lite” app, enter the IP and password and it should connect just fine. Now, you only get a small section of your screen, but thats cool. Click on little keyboard icon to get keyboard, now you can spacebar pause/play your VLC player all night long.

Ending Geek transmission.

Geek Up Your Google Search

October 16th, 2008

If you use Firefox and Google (which should be everybody reading this), then here’s your chance to geek up yo google search.  Install greasemonkey and my “Google Search: Keep Date Dropdown” script.   If you’ve used advanced search on google, you know you can search for stuff based on date – like show healthcare results only from the last week/month/year.  It takes several steps to get to that advanced page, but then you get a nice date dropdown box. However, if you pick “anytime” on that date dropdown box, the box disappears.  Then you gotta go do a bunch of steps to bring it back. That’s where my script comes in – that date dropdown box is always there. Here’s a picture of the dropdown box followed by my official description.

Google Search: Keep Date Dropdown 1

On Google Search, you can search the last week/month/year from advanced search, which creates a date dropdown box on the search results page. Once you search “anytime”, the dropdown box goes away. This script keeps that dropdown from disappearing (when as_qdr=all)

I know, I’m a geek.  I save so much time with little shortcuts like this.  Enough time to write a blog about it. Weeee!!!  Here’s more cool greasemonkey scripts.

Chicago Internet

September 18th, 2008

I recently moved to Chicago from San Francisco and, of course, had to figure out how I was going to get me some internets from my new pad.  In SF we found free wifi from the neighbors, but in Chicago we had no such luck – all the neighbor wifi signals were secure (encrypted).  That was fine by me, I was ready to have my own fat pipe at home – both shayna and I would get annoyed in SF when our free wifi wasn’t working or forcing us to sit by the windows.

I was also interested in getting HD cable or HD satellite TV. I haven’t had anything besides over-the-air since 2003, but i bought a nice HDTV from a friend that needed some HD content.  Plus Shayna wanted to get a landline so she could do some work over the phone without eating too many minutes on her cell.  So off i went to find internet, cable/satellite, and phone.

I first looked at comcast, the most popular around here, and they offer all 3 – internet, HD cable, and phone.  But I wanted quality HDTV, and I know comcast HD is not as good as others (comcast quality march 2008).  Also, I was pleased with Dish Network when i had it in 2003.  Some sports nuts like Direct TV better, but that ain’t me.  So now i just need to find me some internets.

Finding a Internet service provider was a bit more challenging.  According to dslreports, there were many offerings in my zip.  However, many said they did not offer service at my address – including RCN, verizon, etc.  Covad was available, but starting at like $100/month. Ouch.  Speakeasy was a good choice, one of the most reliable and best customer service, for about $55/month for 1.5/384 or $95/month for 3.0/768.  Ok, also high but more doable, but i figured i should also consider comcast.

Comcast had many options, but here’s a quick summary of the triple play i considered.  All these have the same cable options, about 200 or so cable channels, including 40 or so HD channels, a HD DVR (like tivo), which was $4/month more than normal DVR, and internet.  Total was $132 for 6.0/384 internet plus cable and HD DVR, or $140 for 8.0/384 internet, or $159/month for 16/768 Internet.  I also read many horor stories about comcast changing the price on their customers .. one guy got a $30 increase on his monthly bill.  Comcast?  I don’t think so.

In the end I went with AT&T.  At first their website said they did not offer service at my address, but some blogger said that you should call to double-check.  I did, and they did have ‘manual’ service at my apt.  The nice lady at ATT had many deals, including combos not on their website, so i’ll just list what i ended up getting – cheaper than comcast and they even partner with DISH for my area (U-Verse, their new TV over internet option, was not available for my location).

$110/month TOTAL AT&T, breaks down like this:
$35/month Elite internet (6mbps/768kbps up/down)
$10/month Basic phone (unlimited free incoming, free outgoing within 15 miles)
$55/month DISH – Top 200 + local HD + HD Silver (30+ HD channels) + HD DVR 722 + 3 month promo of free HBO/Starz and Platinum HD
$10ish/month taxes – just guessing, will update with exact amount when i get first bill in october

Notes: $5/month off DISH cuz AT&T deal, $10/month off internet cuz i got a phone line.

Initial costs were .. -$110.  Yep, I walk away with $110.  Breaks down like this: $40 for phone (would be free if i got $30/month free long-distance phone), plus $50 for internet modem.  Dish equipment and installation are free.  Thats $90 in costs, but i also get $200 cash back – $100 for internet/phone, and $100 for DISH.  So $90 costs – $200 cashback = -110.

My contract is for 24 months, but only DISH charges anything if i cancel early – $10/month.  So if i cancel at 14 months, 10 months before contract, i pay $100 to Dish.  If i want to move at 12 months, DISH will install my same setup at new spot for free (DISH offers one free installation per 12 months).  Pretty sweeeeet !!!

UPDATE – 6 November 2008:

I got .. misled on initial costs.  I only got $100 cash back, not $200 ($50, not $100 for each check), and costs were $70 for internet ($50 modem, $13 shipping, $7 tax), $47 for phone ($64 first bill minus $17 monthly), putting my initial costs at about $17 (still not bad, but $127 less than I was told.).

But what i’m really pissed at is the billing chaos.  More important than the errors and confusion, was the amount of time it takes to sort this out.  I spent about 4 hours total on 4 different occassions dealing with AT&T customer service.  Their managers seem competent, but do not trust anyone else.

The first billing confusion was based on the fact that I was told that I get free outgoing calls within 15 miles.  A manager at AT&T Customer Service assures me there is no such thing, and tried to sell me an outgoing call package deal.  No Thank You, Ma’am. Secondly, DISH is all sorts of messed up .. took 3 calls to sort of straighten it out.  See this picture with details on DISH Bill.  Basically they give you lots of credit on first bill to cover first and second bill, and the third bill should look normal. Did you look at that Bill?  what’s so hard about saying “TOP 200”, “Local HD”, “HD Silver” ???  One thing nobody mentioned is that they charge you $5/month if you don’t connect your DISH receiver to phone or wifi – “ADDL RECEIVER ACCESS FEE”.  What?   .

Overall the monthly is not far off – hopefully it will stay that way:

$112/month TOTAL AT&T, breaks down like this:
$35/month Elite internet (6mbps/768kbps up/down) – as promised, yeah!
$17/month Basic phone incl taxes – unlimited free incoming, no free outgoing, local outgoing is about $0.04/minute
$60/month DISH – Top 200 + local HD + HD Silver (30+ HD channels) + HD DVR 722 + 3 month promo of free HBO/Starz and Platinum HD

Related – I found a nice comparison of HD channels available nationwide.

Terastation Upgrade

April 21st, 2008

Couple months after I replaced a drive in my terastation, another drive died. Sigh. Time to upgrade. Took many many hours, but I upgraded my 1TB Buffalo Terastation (4 x 250GB) to 2TB (4 x 500GB). Of course its less than 2TB – once RAID 5 is setup, it comes out to about 1.4TB of usable space. And you definitely want RAID 5 – that means if any one of the 4 drives dies, you don’t lose any data, just replace it before a second drive fails.

Here’s the deets:

  1. Bought four 500GB drives for about $100 each,
  2. Copy data from Terastation to one of the 500GB drives – mounted via USB on windows xp, could also work with IDE inside PC (4-6 hours)
  3. Disassemble Terastation, pull out 250GB drives (<1 hour)
  4. Copy data from 500GB to 2 of the 250GB drives on windows xp PC (6-8 hours)
  5. Partial Reassemble Terrastation with 4 new drives (10 mins)
  6. Upgrade Terastation firmware to 2.16 (had trouble with disk format till I did this)
  7. Format each disk (5 mins) (had to reboot a couple times to get it to work)
  8. Create Raid array 1 (RAID 5) using all 4 disks (2 mins), raid “checking” took 13 hours
  9. Create shared folder
  10. Copy data from the 2 250GB drives back to terastation.

More on

Terastation Drive Replacement

February 26th, 2008

Back in 2005, i bought a Buffalo Terastation 1TB NAS (Network Attached Storage). Basically its a backup device – a mini-computer box with 4 harddrives, each 250GB, or 1TB total. Last week one of the drives died after a power outage (we get a lot of outages on san jose ave), and today i fixed it. However, it wasn’t that easy – I spent over 3 hours on it – when it should have taken less than one. So i’m just gonna note a few things so the next guy might have it easier. Now here’s where i’m gonna geek out, so all non-geeks .. move along.

When i first setup the terastion, i did a RAID5 + RAID1 – that means i got a 750GB partition out of my 4 250GB drives. So if any one of the four drives dies, i don’t lose my data. I just pop in a new drive and rebuild. Easy. This worked great for 3 years, never had to replace a drive. Every now and then we’d lose power and when i powered on my terastation, it would take 1-2 days to check the disks before we were good to go.

Last week Terastation would not recover – it would boot up for a minute, do disk check, then turn off (power light was off). However, each of the four drive status lights would stay red, with disk 3 blinking red. After reading the manual, I decided to replace disk 3. I also read the wiki FAQ, so i knew i could replace with any same-size or bigger drive. I did this, spending almost 45 mins opening the terstation up, switching the drive, and putting it back together. Turned it on, and it stayed on. Yay!

So now all i had to do is connect to the web manager interface and “rebuild the raid array”. Once i logged in, it said Raid array 1 error – i clicked it, and I’d get to array 1, and it listed disk 1, 2, 3, 4 .. but the checkbox to disk 3 was greyed out. I spent a while looking through the web pages and decided something might be wrong with my new disk. I turned it off, took the thing apart (only took 15mins this time), pulled out my new disk, and basically connected it to my PC in a external USB drive box. It worked fine. Ugh. Was terastation broken? I tried the old drive, that terastation thought was dead. It also seemed OK by PC standards. Ugh.

After going back in forth and trying different things, it turned out that the new drive had to have the jumper in Cable Select to work. The older 3 western digital drives were not in Cable Select mode. Whatever.

Also, the LED lights on the front don’t always do exactly what the manual or FAQ says. Specifically, i loved this blog on replacing terastation drive, but at the what he says is different than what i saw. Once I clicked ‘Restructure RAID Array’ , the lights were all going nuts and within a minute it went to a page that said “Restructuring has completed successfully” “Checking RAID Array”. At this point my 8 drive lights are blinking red and green – the 3 old ones have solid red status, new one is not lit, and all 4 have blinking green activitiy. Power light is on, diag light is blinking green. On web interface, i clicked on Raid Array 1 and it says it is “Rearing (x.x % Complete)”. I waited a few mins and refreshed page .. percent complete is increasing. It’s working !!! 4 hours later it finished – my setup is as good as it ever was.

Tagging Friends

January 30th, 2008

Social Networking is hot right now. Myspace is huge, facebook is growing super-mega fast, and even Google is backing open standards with OpenSocial (tho, not perfect).

Tagging is also a somewhat new (few years old). You can tag photos (flickr), tag websites/blogs (digg,, technorati, furl, etc) .. why not tag friends? Specifically, I have different circles of friends, some friends overlap, and would love to be able to group them more effectively than i can today. Examples

  • babysitters
  • coworkers
  • work project A
  • work project B
  • lunch friends
  • church friends
  • hiking friends
  • drinking buddies
  • college friends
  • star trek fans
  • DJ/dancing crews

One thing to point out is how this compares to the existing concept of groups on social networking sites. Tagging people with “hiking” is promoting MY view of the world – I get to control who i want to talk to when i want to go hiking. In contrast, a hiking group I join is not my view – I don’t have control on that case. It’s more random, usually controlled by the loudest people (loudest meaning more volume of info and higher frequency), and most likely less personal, therefore a different usage paradigm. But the most important difference is that friends tagged with “hiking” are friends first, hiking people second. Social networking groups are groups first, and may or may not contain friends.

Everybody likes to spend time with friends, so why not change the paradigm to make friends come first?

How would it work? Simple – while looking at profiles on a given social network site, there’s always a section that has “add friend” or “marked as friend”. Around there you could add a tag to that person. Then, on your home page, you could have a friend tag cloud or list of friend tags. You pick a tag and it jumps to a dynamicly created page containing summaries of each person you tagged, with the following options:

  • email – easier to manage than creating new email lists all the time
  • calendar or event planning – requires them all to use the same calendar system so it can find time when all are free .. not easy
  • person summaries, including existing tags (with ability to add/delete here, too), latest posts, pictures, status, …. optionally filtering posts/pics by the current tag (oooo.. advanced)

I’m looking at you, google.

New LCD Monitor

November 30th, 2007

Today my beautiful new 24″ monitor arrived. Thanks, Mr. Fedex!! I ordered the Samsung 245T after doing a bunch of research (xbitlabs, trusted reviews, cnet). Specifically, its the best 1920×1200 24″ flat-screen out there under $1000. Besides awesome screen quality (my, what a wide color gamut you have), it has tons of inputs (DVI, HDMI, VGA, S-Video, RCA, Component), USB Hub, and PIP (picture-in-picture). Its also quite popular – constantly out of stock everywhere as soon as stock arrives (pricegrabber). I ended up paying about $700 for it. Yeah, i’m a geek.