Tidying up the songs in my Music Library

I woke up this morning with this song in my head but wanted to have a version of it that I could listen to any time either on my home stereo (via iTunes through SoundBridge) or on my iPod.

A quick search turned up ListenToYouTube.com where all I needed to do was provide the YouTube URL for the video and they’ll rip it and provide you with an MP3 file of it, no charge(!). The resulting file is encoded at 128 bps but, for the quality on the YouTube video that’s more than enough for my purposes.

But there was a lead-in section explaining the purpose for the video which is nice in the video context but was a bit distracting for just straight listening. So another search yielded MP3Trim which is a freeware version of the software that can handle files of up to about 9.7 MBytes. The software nicely trims leading and trailing stuff off of MP3s and so was perfect for removing the distracting piece.

Using iTunes’ seek bar I figure out at what point I want the trim to take place, decide if I need it to be abrupt or a fast or slow fade in/out and *presto*. New MP3 with only the parts that I want.

So I’m walking through my collection now removing annoying guitar solos, that annoying guy at the end of the Fugee’s “Killing Me Softly” song and Dolly Parton (yes I have a couple of Dolly Parton songs) yakking away at the end of “Star Spangled Banner”.

I’ve only stumbled so far trying to trim Guns N’ Roses “Knockin’ on Heavean’s Door”. At 10.2 MBytes it’s about 5% too big for the Freeware MP3Trim to handle. Registering the software would resolve this for me. But it’s a little pricey for the use that I would make of it. I’ll just get something that can split the file grossly near where I want to trim and *then* trim it. And if that doesn’t work I don’t think I’ll worry about it.

Of course, if I were only listening to this music on my iTunes or my iPod platforms I could just alter the properties so that the portions of the song that I don’t want are simply not played, but this ONLY works on those platforms. Playing through my Soundbridge or directly off of an SD card on my BlackBerry or car stereo would still have the annoying bits.

Offsite backup of my computer files

How important are the files on your computer to you?

Can you afford to lose any of them?  Maybe.

Can you afford to lose all of them? It probably wouldn’t kill you. It’s just data after all.

Are you *willing* to lose all of them? I know *I* am not. Pictures, videos, resumes, taxes, email. All of which I have spent time and effort collecting or creating over the years. Some of it irreplaceable, some of it extraordinarily difficult to reproduce. The tiny investment in time and thought required to secure that investment gives me tremendous peace of mind.

I keep a small external USB drive in a locked location at my office.
About once a quarter I bring this drive home and back up ALL the files that I care about on my computer to it. The drive is easily big enough to hold 50% more data than EVERYTHING on my hard drive now so I don’t need to be overly discriminating in what I choose to back up. Basically anything that is “data” gets backed up. That’s nearly everything in my user folder plus stuff that I’ve deliberately stored outside of that folder for ease of access for other computers on my network (music and a few other items).

Because I’m taking the drive out of my physical control, I use TrueCrypt to create a huge, encrypted volume with a strong password (and some other tricks) to secure the data. Don’t consider your office, or friend’s or parent’s place to be secure just because they are comfortable locations. Stuff can go missing from anywhere. I’d just as soon that the data be useless to whomever takes it should that ever happen.

Using SyncBackSE I already have a profile set up so I don’t have to re-think my backup selections when I do this. Although I will inspect the selections to ensure any new stuff is accommodated.

The backup this morning took just 13 minutes.

This is over and above nightly local backups that my system performs for me automatically to guard against casual mistakes or hard drive failure. An offsite backup’s raison d’etre is to guard against some catastrophic failure – a house fire, theft of your computer, a flood or other natural disaster. Things with a very low likelihood of happening, but with a terribly high cost if they should ever occur. Total cost for me is about 15 minutes every 3 months and about $100 for the drive.

This is cheap insurance.

My Entry for Teamstudio’s Spotlight Award

Teamstudio recently had a contest where they wanted you to showcase your applications so that others can see what folks are doing out there and so you could toot your own horn a bit.

My entry was probably a lot less snazzy than the ultimate winners (I haven’t seen them) as I tend to focus on non-public facing utilities and infrastructure improvements in my development work.

But I thought it would be worthwhile posting my entry here (now that they’ve let me know I *didn’t* win… *sniff*) so those of you who know me might get some idea what I spend part of my days doing.

I just call my application the “Admin Agent Repository”. It was originally created to house a single major utility and to serve as a common repository for the myriad agents that are useful for administrators on a day-to-day basis. But I have refined it to allow non-developer administrators access to its functionality.
The most visible application was to buffer us from the rather absolute and immediate nature of Domino’s user termination where the need to reinstate caused a lot of headaches.
A document is created for each terminated employee – this can be created by anybody granted the correct role so security or helpdesk folks can input terms directly – and, on the appointed date the user’s name is submitted to the deny access group.
The app also verifies whether or not the user has a Blackberry device and notifies our Blackberry group to remove their account.

Designed when background agents could not access databases on other servers, the application will then run an agent on the user’s home server and, if necessary, update their database ACL with the name of a person responsible for cleaning up the mail file and send a note, with a link to that responsible individual explaining their responsibilities.
When the purge date arrives (the default is 4 days, 30 if a responsible person is defined,  all controlled via profile), the actual signed adminp request is submitted and the process proceeds as per Domino normal.
Reinstate is often as simple as putting the termination document on hold and removing the user from the deny group. No ACL updates, no repopulating in groups.
The repository is replete with utilities that I have found useful over the years, most are profile driven:

For instance the below profile drives our dynamically created groups. Each morning a subset of our groups are destroyed and recreated based on person document information input by either the users or our identity management system. The groups are used both to control application access based on certain criteria (i.e. all reports to a person can have access to a calendar app used by that team) or for communications (i.e. message to be sent to all folks within a particular state or management structure).

This one inspects all mail files and ensures that they not only have a template, but that it’s one of the standard ones that we mandate:

One ad-hoc utility that is quite popular is one that runs, inspects all of the calendar documents in a mail file and ensures that the $Busyname matches the Owner name from the calendar profile. Very handy for botched renames and transfers of mail files from other domains.
I also have a couple of “Rebuild Busytime” agents for clustered and non-clustered servers that run weekly to keep things there tip-top as well.
These utilities save us literally hours each week, any job that’s wasting my time I invest the effort into automating it and add it to this growing application.

ReliOn Automatic Blood Pressure Monitor

Whenever I’m in a store and I see one of those blood pressure monitoring stations I’m drawn to it like a moth to a light bulb.

It’s like a video game only the results actually matter.

I often take the reading over a shirt and am surprised that the gadget gives me any reading at all.

Recently I got a reading that was a bit higher than I thought it should be and I thought that I should really just get one of my own that can give me an accurate reading whenever I choose.

Those of you who know me know I love my salt (best salt you can get is from Wendy’s BTW. Those little salt packets you get with take-away meals is really finely ground – sticks to your food better). And I’m often asked if I have high blood pressure as a result. Never fear, for most of my life my blood pressure been classed as “Low Normal” and that’s partly why I want to keep an eye on it.

Anyway, I went to the Consumer Reports website (I maintain on online subscription so I can check things out before buying them) and found that the ReliOn Model HEM-741CREL, available at Walmart for about $40, is one of CR’s best buys at about half the cost of the other recommended models. It was out of stock on Walmart’s website but there was one, albeit in a slightly crunched up box, available at a local Walmart when we were there picking up some groceries.

It remembers the last 30 blood pressure readings for two people and can run on batteries or an AC adapter. I put in batteries to retain the reading memory so I can get an average over time for myself.

It comes with a “regular adult” cuff which I wasn’t sure would be adequate for me so I also picked up (for $10 extra) the large size cuff as there was only one of those left as well. It turns out that the regular cuff was just fine for both Michelle and I. So I’ll be returning the larger one.

Anyway, I tried it out and the results seem appropriate for me. I think I need to try this out on some other folks to make sure that the results are accurate for them as well.

Consistently my results 108/66 to 115/69 with a heart rate hovering around 50 – 52 bpm. Guess I need more salt, eh? 🙂

Winmail.dat file issue in Lotus Notes workaround (finally)

Lotus Notes LogoFrom the timestamps I see that this gem has been available since June of 2006 but I certainly had not heard about it.

Microsoft (M$), always there with useful products, also always manages to make things *just* different enough from standard that you can’t really seem to call them on it but they make it impossible to cleanly interface with their products as a competitor.

Case in point is Outlook and Exchange. If you create a message using M$’s email client and send it out the door using their Rich Text Format which seems to be of a proprietary nature, the message that arrives at the other end will be wrapped up in a file called “Winmail.Dat”.

For Lotus Notes this has always been a problem since the Domino server does not have the ability to unravel this proprietary formatting and so the recipient ends up with a useless (winmail.dat )attachment.

I know that there have been some fairly sophisticated attempts at providing solutions but the recipients of these messages are often business users with better things to do than try to master the arcane world of command line utilities with multistep processes.

Until now all we could really tell our users was to contact the sender and have them re-send the message but ensuring that they send with “Plain Text” instead of “RTF”. This is understandably awkward for a business user trying to look professional and it wasn’t doing my ego any wonders either.

The only really practical solution, besides Lotus actually dealing with the issue and including it in their SMTP router is this one presented to me by a co-worker (thanks Anton!). Created by Julian Robichaux (as far as I can tell as his name is all over the database) it is a simple mail-in database that you set up in your Domino environment. Your internal (and external if you wish to help out the rest of the world) Users then forward these nuisance messages to it and it replies back with the “unraveled” files.

So again the link is to Project WinmailExtractor. I had it set up and running in about 15 minutes including inspecting the code for any weirdness.

Tag Galaxy

Tag Galaxy is a very cool way of visualizing tags from the Flickr-verse.

It’s a tad non-intuitive at first (at least for me). Clicking on the planets around your current tag will add those to the tag selection. Clicking the current tag selection “star” will bring up some of the pictures associated with that selection. Dragging the resulting “picture Globe” allows you to see pictures from the other sides of it.

DirecTV or not DirecTV (or Netflix is in the wings)

I received an email today from DirecTV listing the current pay per view offerings for this week and saw a movie that Michelle said she wanted to see. OK, OK it’s Mike Myers’ “The Love Guru”, call me a wuss but I’m gonna enjoy it too.

So I went to my Tivo to set it up to record and I noticed a new flag on the confirmation screen indicating that the PPV movie will expire at Noon tomorrow. Since I seldom watch a movie I’ve recorded in even the same month I recorded it much less the next day, I was somewhat perturbed.
So I went to the DirecTV website and looked this up and can see that my recording will probably last for a long time provided I don’t view it. Once I begin playing the movie, the clock starts ticking and I will have 24 hours within which to finish viewing.
There are plenty of movies that I will start to watch and then decide to finish days or weeks later. I don’t have an issue waiting to see the ending and I can remember the beginning well enough that I don’t lose anything across that gap.
What I have now is my satellite company (or, more probably, the content provider behind them) dictating how I will view my recording.
One of the reasons I use PPV is for exactly this freedom. Renting a movie from a Blockbusteresque source comes with the explicit contract that I need to return this item in a day or a week depending on popularity. But PPV has always been more ephemeral than that and the added flexibility (plus the lower cost and avoided trip to the store) have always been of great value to me.
Continue reading DirecTV or not DirecTV (or Netflix is in the wings)