Thursday, January 18, 2007

www.devicepedia.com My other project

The reason for the lack of content on my this blog is my involvement with the DevicePedia project . We are a group of young technology passionates who try to make a website dedicated to all the gadgets and devices that are build to make our life easier.

The address of the website is www.devicepedia.com and you can have a look at it by just clicking on the link. The page is updated several times a day with very new content and you can find there the latest in the device building industry. If you find this page as lacking in content the reason is the DevicePedia project project is keeping me very occupied as I am writing several posts a day.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Announcement

I have decided to discontinue this blog for now and I don't know when I will start it again. It all depends on the feedback I receive trough the comments.



If you have a problem that I could help you with please post a comment and I will do my best to answer your questions.



I hope this period of inactivity won't las long as I had fun writing this posts.





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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Software for Virtual CD/DVD Drives

Welcome (Back)!

For today topic I have chosen to speak about computer programs that enable the creation of virtual drives on your operating system and loading CD/DVD images into this drives. Who benefits from software like this? I have found this feature very useful when playing games. Nowadays almost every game requires the installation CD or DVD to be inserted in the drive for playing.

So imagine if you have 3 or 4 games that you usually play you have to keep switching between disks whenever you want to play something else. In my opinion that is unacceptable and for this reason I use software for CD emulation. By creating an image of the CD and mounting it on a virtual drive I avoid this kind of trouble.

For drive emulation I use Daemon Tools, which is a free piece of software that allows you to create up to 4 virtual drives and mount different images into all of this drives. The software can load almost all the file types of CD/DVD images ( I have yet to find one image extension that does not work with it) and is quietly sitting in your system tray. If you restart you computer it will remember what was mounted on each drive and will mount those images at the system start-up.

For its ease of use I recommend it over the other solutions that I used: Virtual Drive, Nero image Drive and many more. If you want a copy of the software search a download location using the Google searchbar in the top left sidebar of this page.

-Marius-

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Compressing/Decompressing program

Welcome (back)!


Yesterday we saw what program can we use to edit and compress video files and today I am going to write about my favorite archiving software. The need for such a piece of software is obvious for every computer as anyone will need such a program.

As most of you I have used WinRar and WinZip and even WinAce and to be honest they are very good programs and they do very good there job. However I think I have found something better (at least for me). It is called 7-zip and is a free software (under GPL license) and it supports the following formats 7z, ZIP, CAB, RAR, ARJ, LZH, CHM, GZIP, BZIP2, Z, TAR, CPIO, RPM and DEB (I did not try all of those but the ones that I tried worked flawlessly).

I found about 7-zip after encountering its format "7z" in Foobar2000 add-ons. I had to uncompress the file in the Foobar installation folder and I googled ".7z" on the internet (From What I heard the new foobar versions can independently uncompress 7z files but I did not tested this feature yet). The reason I prefer it over the other solutions is the fact that 7-zip is very lightweighted, it supports the most used comperssion formats and introduced a format of its one - ".7z". The new 7z format, although not a very spread format generally provides better compression when compared with the old formats. I know nowadays compression is not used at the scale it was used 10 years ago but there are still people that need that don't have a broadband connection or need to transfer some files via the old floppy disk and I recommend this software to them.

I recommended it to the rest of you too mainly because 7-zip is a free and capable solution and an improvement of 30-50% in compression ratio might prove useful for anyone.

If you want to download this software click here.


-Marius-

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

How to save and convert your videos

Welcome (back)!

With the Christmas and all the holiday stuff I had no time to update my blog and for that I apologize to all of you who visit this page. As usual I have spent the Christmas with my family and I am sure many of you had time together with your family.

Usually this time of year we record this special moments to later remind us of the times we had. Nowadays it is easier to save videos in a digital format (on a CD, DVD, or a hard drive) there are still persons who use video cameras that record on magnetic tapes. Furthermore, many other people have videos from the past on magnetic tapes and would like to switch them to digital format.

What I will present here is a solution for transferring tapes on a PC and make edits on the digital videos. I will strictly resume to the basic requirements but if you want more specific details don't hesitate to ask for them.

In the past I presented you with free solutions but for this task you need a piece of hardware that you may have to buy. You will be needing a TV Tuner to add to your computer. It is not an expensive piece of hardware as it will cost you less than 30 USD (US Dollars) and you could use it for other activities too.

A TV Tuner's first role is to decode TV signal and display it on your desktop. So with this cheap device you can watch TV directly on your PC with a dedicated software that also allows you to save the shows that play on. More expensive tuners include different capabilities like radio and teletext but we will stick to the video capturing features.

When buying a a tuner please make sure it has video and audio inputs from analog devices like a video camera or a VCR and ask the vendor for the appropriate cables needed for such a connection. Most TV Tuners have this features but you may never know what might happen so there is no harm in asking for help.
After you bought the device connect it to your PC and don't forget to install the drivers and the software provided by the vendor. Read the manual and play with the device for about an hour to understand commands. I suggest you search for some TV channels and try recording something. Play with the capture settings: encoding format, video quality, bit rate and everything else. See which settings work the best with your computer. You might notice the amount of space needed for a video capture is quite large and is greatly influenced by the quality settings; it's because saving files and compressing them in the same time is very difficult and your computer can't do the job right. So for a decent quality for the video you might need some free space on your hard drive.

After you got familiar with the software check the manual to see how you can connect analog devices to it. Respecting the procedures connect your external device to the tuner and make it play the tape you want to convert into digital format. Change the source of the video from the software and set you capture options. You should be seeing the tape playing on your monitor. You now can choose to record this and save it on your hard drive.

When the recording has ended you might find yourself with a pretty large video file that is way to big. Now you will need to compress that file into something smaller that is more appropriate to handle. For this you will need a video editing software. The one that I recommend is called Virtual Dub Mod and it is also free. This software will allow you to import your files and edit them. I will not describe now all the features as this post is way bigger than what I intended, but it is perfect for our job as it lets you to cut frames, add segments, add filters and compress the files with a variety of codecs to chose from. I used Xvid for my files and the bit rate is dependent on the file you chose to compress (if you have a dynamical video with a lot of frame changing you will have to set higher bit rates).

After you have compressed the file you may save it on your hard drive, on a CD or DVD or you may encode it to a video CD or a video DVD for a DVD player.

So let's reset the steps:
-you buy/get a TV tuner
-you set the tuner for recording
-you connect the VCR or the camera to the tuner
-play the video tape and record the desired segment of the tape
-edit and compress the video using Virtual Dub Mod

ps: let me know how it came out.

-Marius-

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Antivirus experience

Welcome (back) dear visitor!

I know everyone had problems with computer viruses no matter how cautious he or she might have been. Maybe it was a download over the Internet or it was a friend who brought viruses on a disk but there seems to always be a way to infect our computers. Consequently the software makers decided to develop programs that were meant to detect, disinfect or delete such compromised files, software they called antivirus.

There are a lot of antivirus software available on the internet and I have tried many of this solutions. I used Norton AV, Bitdefender, RAV, Kaspersky and many others that I don't even remember and all of them disappointed me somehow.

The thing that annoyed me the most was the visible drop out in computer performance when the antivirus was active. I had (and still have) a relative fast hard drive and enough RAM (512 Mb back then 1Gb now) but still the computer was moving slower and that is when I did not run a scan. In the case of a system scan I know there is no way to avoid the slowness, but when the antivirus is idled (when he is just watching my active files) I expect better performance from my system.

Trying to find the right solution I had to cycle trough many different programs and contrary to my expectations I failed to find a solution. It was then when a friend of mine, hearing of my problems, told me about the free software he uses. I was reluctant at first and I thought it would be the same as with the other ones. However when I installed it I had the surprise not to notice the downfall in performance I was expecting. I was intrigued.

Considering it was a free software and seeing no performance drop in my system I thought that antivirus was not a very good one. So I put it at a test: I ran a complete system check to see if I had any viruses that I did not know of and that my other antivirus (Norton at that time) did not detect. You can't imagine my consternation when a window announcing I had two Trojans in an archive I never opened appeared on my screen. I was obviously expecting not to find anything and this puzzled me: "maybe the search function is the only one that works correctly' I thought, "maybe the real time detection isn't working at all".

I had no way to get an immediate confirmation for the second presumption except to willingly download a program with a virus. As I did not liked that idea I decided to use the antivirus but to run virus checks on any downloads, and any external devices I connected. For about a month or so I did just like that and as I found no viruses I had doubts about the program again. Until one day when I downloaded something from internet and when my download was finished a pop-up window from the antivirus said the newly downloaded software was infected. I knew then that the system monitoring function works as well as the search function and I had found the solution I was searching for: a reliable antivirus that does not slow the PC.

I confess I use this software for more than a year now and although I recommended it to a lot of people I had yet no complaints. The software is free for personal use because the company that produces it (AVIRA) sees this as a marketing strategy to promote the professional edition which comes with some extra features. Every day it runs an update and new definitions are added to the virus database so I know I have very little chances to infect my computer even with the most recent threats.

During last year I have found solutions similar to this ones, but from my perspective they are not as good as this. Still I would like to mention AVG antivirus as a very good alternative to AVIRA. AVG is free too for personal use so you can try it if you are not satisfied with you current solution.

My preferred antivirus solution is: AVIRA Antivirus. It can download it by visiting www.free-av.com. By selecting a mirror closer to you the transfer can be faster. I also recommend a system check for the first time install.
-Marius-

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Music Player: Foobar2000

Welcome (back) dear visitor!

As I covered the movie part yesterday, I think it is time to address the issue of music playing using a PC.
The default player for both video or audio files in
Windows is called Windows Media Player. I did not even mentioned it yesterday as it simply can't handle the video
file playback. However, the audio file playback was not at all as bad and the latest version (the 11th) brought major improvements mainly because Microsoft wanted a software to compete with Apple's iTunes.

There are plenty of similarities between the two rival players mainly because the players act as online music (and lately video) stores. Sincerely I don't enjoy using either of them, and I can't put my hand on the reason of this attitude of mine.

Until a few months ago I was a faithful user to the famous Winamp. I found Nullsoft's player to be both practical and easy to use and this is why I preferred it over iTunes. When the new Windows Media Player arrived I found it to similar with Apple's software so I decided to stick to Winamp even if I was not completely satisfied with its development.

Call me crazy but I did not like the implementation of new features that were simply to many and because of them the player began to lag a lot. Practically I was not able to listen to music while I was doing some work on my computer because sometimes the whole computer would freeze when switching between mp3 files and videos. For me the audio player became a video player and the emphasis in development was not on the music files. After some months I have decided to look for a small player capable of good sound quality and who did not consume a lot of system resources.

Foobar2000 was (and still is my answer). This small player just does his job very well. It is designed for music and this is the only thing that it is focused on. Of course it has additional features but the main one is the ability to play audio files with no impact on the system.
A great feature that I found for the first time by using this player is the posibility to have tabbed playlists. Yes you can have multiple playlists opened all the time and you can switch through them by simply pressing a mouse button.
Another feature it has is the ability to add extensions/plug-ins which can extend the features of this player and you can customize it to your own personal preferences.
The last of the feature I want to talk about is the conversion between different audio formats. I do not use this feature but the player is capable of such operations and some of you might find it useful.

If you like listening to music while you surf the web, and if you use Firefox, there is a great little extensions that allows you to control your player from the browser window. It is called FoxyTunes and it comes with plenty of features and the list of music players supported is impressive. So all you music lovers download Firefox by pressing the link on the sidebar of this page and next time you read this blog you will be able to control the player without leaving the browser window.

So here goes my recommendation: Foobar2000 is a great player and I think you will appreciate it.
If you don't, I still think the others alternatives (Winamp, iTunes, Windows Media Player 11) are pretty good, especially if you feel the need to have all that functionalities packed together.

-Marius-

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