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)

Gravatars

In case you’re wondering what all those little silhouette icons are about, they are placeholders for folks with no avatar.

An avatar is a graphical representation you provide to give others some kind of insight into who you are. In this largely anonymous “interworld” it can provide a way to let folks know that you’re not (or maybe you are) overly serious. Or maybe you’re a cat lover… whatever you want to express.

This site supports a particular type of avatar called a gravatar. A gravatar is a globally recognized avatar. You can go to their site and register one or a few of your email addresses (they don’t have to be your primary address, just one that you’d provide to blogs and forums you frequent) and then put up your avatar image there.

Any blog or forum that supports gravatars, once you’ve provided one of your email addresses, will then show the relevant avatar sourced from the gravatar site.

You can even specify “G” through “X” so that you can have different images on differently oriented sites. My site supports up to an “R” rating.

The perfect photo software – (hint: I haven’t found it yet)

In trying to transfer my pictures from my camera to my computer and then, for some images, to flickr there are several challenges.

First, I want my pictures to remain organized in some fashion so that I can work with them at the file/folder level and still easily figure out what pictures belong where.

For example, all my photographs are in a folder called “Photo Album”. Under this there are folders representing each year (2001, 2002, etc.) and under these are the actual image folders with dates. I want my pictures consolidated somewhat so I actually use the date the pictures were downloaded (or the date of the last picture taken) to group them together (i.e. 20080615 – Marc’s Birthday Party). This has worked very well for me for the past decade.

Second, I access my pictures using several different kinds of software, some more sophisticated than others, and I want the images to be in the correct orientation in all of them. Pictures taken in a portrait mode need to show up as portrait and those taken landscape need to show up as landscape.
In the earlier digital days, before I had a camera that recorded this information in the EXIF orientation tag, it was all manual and I rotated the pictures after I downloaded them manually using IRFANVIEW, Picasa or, more recently, Windows Life Photo Gallery.
Now that I’ve acquired a Nikon D60 that writes out the EXIF orientation tag, I find that some software honors the tag and some doesn’t. Windows Live Photo Gallery for some idiotic reason doesn’t. Screen-Paver, easily my most used application if you consider how many hours a day and how many pictures I view with it, also doesn’t recognize EXIF orientation tags. So the images end up sideways in the forum where I, and others, are most likely to be viewing them.

Third, I tag my pictures. Sometimes I tag with situations, but mostly with the names of people found within them. I have found this invaluable over the years and can quickly find pictures of people that I have across my collection in seconds.

So I’m trying to pick my way through the software available to accomplish the above. Ideally I’d like to use ONE piece of software and use it for everything but each application has great strengths and great flaws. As of this writing I *don’t* have a simple solution but I wanted to lay out the issues and see if any ideas jump out. If anybody happens to read this and gets some ideas for themselves, that’s a bonus. Heck, if anybody can jump in and offer some solutions or software that would address some of the issues, that would be an even better bonus!

Here is what I have available to me at the moment and why:

IRFANVIEW:

This is the default image viewing software on any PC that I use.

Pros

  • Freeware
  • Very robust, ability to view pretty much any picture format,
  • Walks through directories of images easily,
  • Can do basic manipulations,
  • Can do batch manipulations.

Cons

  • Can’t do batch rotations based on EXIF Orientation data,
  • Keyword updates (EXIF and IPTC) are awkward, must drill down through menus to get to these,
  • EXIF information appears to be incomplete – can’t see descriptive keywords at all.

Windows Live Photo Gallery:

This is my primary organization / labeling / bulk viewing tool on my main PCs

Pros

  • Freeware,
  • Superior tag manipulation ability (tags are intelligently suggested and can easily be updated on the right hand side of the screen, no drill down required),
  • Integrated flickr upload tool (after installing the flickr tool),
  • Excellent red-eye correction. The best I’ve come across so far,
  • Will optionally auto-rotate images on import (permanently rotates them).

Cons

  • Does not honor EXIF orientation on existing images – so portrait images remain in landscape orientation if they were imported by another application,
  • Does not initiate update of IPTC keywords (but will maintain them if they already exist),
  • Updating description info (used as caption in flickr) is cumbersome and only accessible via image properties dialog. Uses “Title” attribute for this purpose so that your flickr “title” is actually the image filename and the Windows Live Photo Gallery “title” becomes the description (caption) in flickr.

iTAG:

I use this software to easily add Title and Caption information to pictures that I want to upload to flickr. The advantage of adding this information via iTAG rather than on flickr or using the flickr Uploader tool is that the information remains a permanent part of the images files for future reference.
I started using it primarily for its ability to initiate/maintain use of IPTC keyword tags where Windows Live Photo Gallery was falling down.

Pros

  • Freeware,
  • Easy to manipulate Title and Description information (that will be used by flickr). You can easily and quickly see what is set for each image on the left hand side,
  • Recognizes existing EXIF keyword tags and will save both EXIF and IPTC Keyword tags.

Cons

  • A little rough around the edges – frequently need to restart to review another folder,
  • “Tag Bucket” consists only of those tags available from the currently shown images – making consistency in spelling, capitalization, pluralization and just naming somewhat challenging,
  • Completely dynamic, rebuilds thumbnails and any other ordinarily “catalog” information each time you access a folder which can be a little slow,
  • Need to explicitly save any changes you make – so making a change and then using an image in another application won’t have the expected updates. Unusual for tags (which update immediately in any other app I’ve used).

flickr Uploader:

I like being able to review all the images and, if necessary, assign them to different sets and assign different levels of access BEFORE initiating my upload.

Pros

  • Freeware,
  • Can create new sets, multiple ones if necessary, as part of a larger upload,
  • Can clearly see titles, descriptions, tags and permissions before upload.

Cons

  • Doesn’t recognize EXIF keyword tags.

Picasa:

I used this for quite a while before shifting to Windows Live Photo Gallery. I have not used the most recent version (have not used since October 2007)

Pros

  • Freeware,
  • Google product (I’m a big Google fan),
  • Easy to use, relatively fast,
  • Redeye correction was the reason I started using Picasa in the first place. It’s very good but the Windows Live Photo Gallery redeye correction is better IMHO.

Cons

  • Keywords were somewhat cumbersome to maintain – separate dialog required,
  • Not integrated with flickr.

Screen Paver:

I have been using this as my screensaver for YEARS. Not so much because I believe that my screens will burn in – the new technologies are not so prone to this – but because I absolutely love having my image collection displaying all the time. My main computer is in my kitchen so having my photo album displaying while we have guests over is a great source of conversation. But I love seeing images from old trips or adventures popping up throughout the day when I’m walking past my computer to get a glass of water.
I’ve been using Screen Paver since my Win95 days and have yet to find anything that can rival it in robustness and utility.
The Google Photos screensaver just doesn’t work how I want (can’t select all my folders, can’t pause or go forward or backward through images at will).
The Windows Live Photo Gallery screensaver simply doesn’t work on my machine (can only select a single folder, screen goes black and nothing ever shows up on it).
I’ve tried others through the years and they always crash or are too limited.

Pros

  • Very inexpensive ($13),
  • Always works,
  • Can select multiple folders,
  • Option to automatically pull in contents of all sub folders,
  • Can optionally play music (I never use this function),
  • Can disable all those annoying transition effects,
  • Can pause, jump back or move forward through images,
  • I have over 10,000 images in the folders that Screen Paver goes through and it has no problem with this,
  • You can configure it to display path and filename on the screen (which I do) so I can quickly find interesting items that show up on the screen,
  • Multi-Monitor support (as of 4.4b images are sized correctly on both).

Cons

  • Does not recognize EXIF Orientation flag,
  • While it supports multi-monitors, same image is shown on both.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6:

This is a new product for me. I’ve only had it for a week so far and I have to say I find it very confusing.
My experience with Photoshop years ago (needed it for a small project) was similar. I think I’m going to find the editor useful but the organizer appears to be nearly unusable.

Pros

  • Aggressive and robust photo collection – No hesitation trying to grab images from your camera,
  • Healing tool(s) and the very, very few tools I’ve figured out so far are staggeringly good,
  • Ability to rename photos on import has some potential.

Cons

  • VERY steep learning curve for all aspects of this product
  • Automated redeye reduction is terrible, leaves black eyes on most of the images touched,
  • Ordinary redeye reduction does not hold a candle to Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery’s,
  • Tries to get photos from EVERYTHING that connects to it (even wants to grab them off my iPod while I’m syncing with iTunes). I can see that there are profiles associated with this behavior but, as with anything else I’ve tried with Photoshop Elements, it’s going to require 45 minutes of research to figure out how to set this up,
  • Adding keyword tags is pretty obtuse, there may be simpler ways to do it than I’ve tried but so far it’s much more manual than it needs to be,
  • Renaming of photos on import from camera has option to name them with dates and then a counter. But stupidly counter doesn’t reset for each date so you can have 20080605_0001, 20080605_0002, 20080609_0003 etc. (where the 0003 should logically be 0001). Again, maybe something I’m missing but I *did* spend a little time on this as my base organization is important to me and I wasn’t able to make this work to my satisfaction.
  • I still haven’t figured out how to refresh the current view. If I delete images at the OS level or with another application, Photoshop Elements still shows it (’cause it’s in its catalog) but lets you know it can’t find the physical file. If the file is gone, please stop showing the picture to me.

Nikon Transfer (sorry no link that I can find to this software):

This came with my Nikon and allows me to import my photos and, optionally, add some information to them.

Pros

  • Free (with the purchase of the camera presumably)

Cons

  • Does not save IPTC info
  • Does not rotate images on import (con for me, anyway)

So, in looking at the above, it looks like my strategy is going to be:

  • Import photos from camera using Windows Live Photo Gallery so that the images will be properly rotated and saved in the correct orientation so ALL other software can take advantage of this.
  • Use Windows Live Photo Gallery to preview all images to discard bad or blurry images off hand
  • Use iTag to “Touch” all images with a dummy Keyword tag – maybe I’ll just put a “Taken by Marc Bourassa” tag or something generic on all images just to initiate IPTC Keyword tags.
  • Use iTag to compose any Title and Description information
  • For quick, one-off uploads to flickr I’ll use the integrated publishing tool in Windows Live Photo Gallery.
  • For more extensive uploads I’ll go with the flickr Uploader.
  • Simple image editing will be done with Windows Live Photo Gallery.
  • More extensive editing will be done with Photoshop Elements. I’m looking forward to using this product but Adobe REALLY needs to steal some folks away from Apple so they can learn about interface design…
  • Most viewing at home will continue to be done using Screen Paver as it keeps my old memories alive.
  • For quickly viewing new images downloaded from email or that I come across in folders, Irfanview is the way to go.

Task Scheduler in Windows Vista Home Premium SP1

In a word, blows.

I have a backup job that uses the built-in task scheduler. Before SP1 the task scheduler would work just once and that’s it, I forget the actual failure message but I just had to stop using it. When SP1 came out I heard that many things were improved and I tried it again, it worked like a champ – or so I thought – when my machine is rebooted (maybe even when I just logoff – but I never bother doing that) subsequent runs would fail with “logon failure: unknown user name or bad password. (0x8007052E)” showing as the Last Logon result.

My Backup software is SyncBackSE, in the KB they offer up some free alternatives (I don’t really want to have to pay for something that should be part of the OS – and not be defective). I’m going to try “System Scheduler” from “splinterware software solutions”.

How to fix choosing the wrong CDDB album when ripping CDs in iTunes?

RecallI run Vista Home Premium and am using iTunes 7.5 as I write this.

I’m currently ripping the latest Harry Potter audiobook so that I can listen to it on my iPod. For most discs I am prompted to choose which “album” I wish to use. For consistency I am going with each track named as a chapter/letter (i.e. 1a, 1b, etc.).

Somebody, with a different numbering scheme inadvertently used the identical album naming convention so, for one of my discs I had to guess (hey 50% odds, not bad right?) when I chose the “other album” I ended up with different chapter names.

Now, when I pull the CD out and re-insert it, iTunes has locally recorded the incorrect track names for me and associated them with some unique identifier on the disc. How to remove the association between an CD and the CDDB album information once you’ve selected it?

Since I don’t really use CDs except to rip them to my collection, losing that information is not a big deal for me. So I just shut down iTunes, went to “C:\Users\\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\iTunes” and deleted the “CD Info.cidb” file.

Start up iTunes, insert the disk and *presto* I’m again prompted for the album. I will, of course, be prompted for every audio CD I stick in my CD player going forward, but again, that’s not an issue for me.

How to rip an audiobook to iTunes so it has bookmarks

RecallI won’t debate the ethics of ripping and sharing CDs in this post. Suffice it to say that folks who know me know my stand on this issue.

Where I can get audiobooks already in MP3 format I just do that. It saves a LOT of hassle. I even will get them in DRM’d format as I don’t tend to listen to audiobooks more than once.

But there is still a lot of content out there that you can get only on CD that I want to listen to on my iPod (I don’t have a CD player in my car, nor do I intend to get one), so I consider it fair use to purchase the CD and rip it for my own use on my iPod.

Steps:

  • I tend to listen to lengthy audiobooks (ones that I really wouldn’t have the time to read) so they often have many CDs. In iTunes I go to Edit > Preferences…  then click on the “Advanced” tab and then on the importing sub-tab I temporarily set:
  • “On CD Insert” = “Import CD and Eject”,
  • “Import using” = “AAC Encoder”,
  • “Setting” = “High Quality (128 kbps)”  <– personal preference, you can set for “Spoken Podcast” but I like the higher sound quality better.
  • Start putting your CDs in and, with luck, you’ll be offered albums from CDDB that will label your tracks for you. When  there is a conflict (sometimes different CD tracks are uploaded for the same CDs – usually by folks with differing ideas about how the tracks should be labeled), you’ll be offered a choice of available albums. You aren’t given anything more than the album name (no track details) at this stage, so pick one and make sure that you pick the same “style” from now on so that all your tracks will be labeled consistently. I’ll post a subsequent article about how to correct an incorrect choice in a few days.
  • Once you’ve pulled in all of your CDs fire up xnview (a free graphic and photoviewer) and navigate to where your tracks are located. If you don’t know where this is, right-click on the track in iTunes and choose “Show in Windows Explorer” (sorry Mac users). You may find that your tracks have been stored in more than one folder depending on the naming that you got from CDDB. In xnview, select all of the *.m4a files (aac encoded) and right click to select “Rename…”.
  • You’ll be presented with a dialog titled “Batch Rename” (as of xnview version 1.91.6). In the upper right corner check the “Extension” box and type “m4b”. You’ll see all the files you selected with the old name and the proposed new names showing at the bottom of this dialog. Click “Rename”.
  • Back in iTunes, select all of the tracks that you’ve just renamed and delete them (you’ll see little exclamation points appearing beside them as iTunes figures out that it can no longer find the files).
  • Then select File > Add Folder to Library… and choose the folders with the renamed files in them.
  • For ease of listening I create a smart playlist for these audiobooks:
  • I usually use the “Album Name contains” and use some significant part of the audiobook name
  • I also specify that the play count < 1
  • Make sure you sort by the track name. If you end up with a bad sorting order (sometimes happens with > 9 chapters), consider making two smart playlists and then use the Rating to separate them – one star rating for the first 9 chapters, none for the rest and then add this as a criteria for the smarplaylist.

Then, when I’m driving (my most frequent listening venue) all I need to do after I’ve selected the playlist and listened to the playlist starting from the beginning. If, in “settings” on the iPod, I have “Shuffle” set to “songs” then my iPod will stop after each track (my preferred method). I hit the middle button 4 times and I get the next track (the “count” parameter above excludes the one(s) I’ve already listened to). If I have “Shuffle” set to “none” then the iPod will play each track in sequence.  This is different between my older generation iPod (which does not refresh the list dynamically) and my current one (iPod Video – 30 GB) so YMMV.

Hopefully you find this useful.

Remove duplicate tracks from iTunes Playlists on a Windows Machine

There seem to be plenty of utilities available for this kind of housekeeping on MAC systems on which iTunes is a native application. But it took a little digging to find these helpful little utilities. There are about 20 utilities of which I see a use for about 3 of them for my purposes.

Every once in a while I like to re-evaluate some of my playlists and/or create new ones. I don’t necessarily want to throw away my previous work (although sometimes I do that too…), so I wanted to be able to toss songs into, say, my “Driving” playlist without concern for whether or not those songs were already represented there.

Running Teridon’s script allows me to simply purge all the duplicates after I’m done. A handy little time saver.