Internet


At last, I’ve gotten my shit together enough to put together the first bits of my guide to free software. At the moment the whole list consists of uTorrent and nothing else…but hey, it’s a start.

Joby’s Free Software Guide

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uTorrent installs with a set of fairly good configuration options, but there are a few tweaks that might be useful to some people, as well as a few thoughts I’ve had on how to make it easier on your computer.

do Pre-allocate all files
found in: Options>Preferences>Downloads>Other Settings
By default uTorrent starts with empty files and adds to them as it downloads data. Checking this box will force uTorrent to create a file the size of the file you’re downloading full of dummy data the moment you start the download.

I’m not sure why they chose to make it do this. Maybe so that starting a massive download won’t instantly fill up your hard drive. From a planning perspective, I see not pre-allocating files as being on the same level as buying stuff on credit. Sure, you might want to get every episode of Star Trek (all the generations), but just because uTorrent lets you start the download doesn’t mean your hard drive will let you finish it. With this option checked you know for sure how much hard drive space you have left, even after you finish your current downloads.

Pre-allocating files has an advantage from a performance and stability standpoint too. Since the dawn of Bittorrent I’ve been annoyed by its tendency to create fragmented files. Without pre-allocation uTorrent will write each chunk of each file as it gets it, physically spreading the files all over the damn place on your hard drive. With pre-allocation, though, each file should wind up more or less in one place on the hard drive, in one continuous block of data. This will make your computer access it better, and in the end less prone to file system corruption.

do Auto-Save Files Somewhere
found in: Options>Preferences>Downloads>Location of Downloaded Files

This dialog allows you to automatically save your torrent files in a specific place. That’s nice, but to really make it useful you’ll also want to configure it to move completed files somewhere else. This way adding new torrents to the queue is a snap, as is browsing in windows the ones that are completed.

Mine is configured to save all incomplete downloads in My Documents\My Downloads\My Torrents\Incomplete, then move them up a notch to My Documents\My Downloads\My Torrents when they finish.

maybe Use the Scheduler
found in: Options>Preferences>Scheduler

If you’re like me and your ISP gives you certain times of day when you have unlimited bandwidth you’ll love this one. uTorrent lets you specify, by day of the week and hour, whether to pause everything, throttle back everything, or download like the Internet is about to end. I won’t bother explaining how to set it up, it’s easy.

Google has launched, yes, yet another brilliant piece of web software. At least I think it’s brilliant, I haven’t actually used it yet. I’m going to keep a running narrative as I go through the process of checking it out (no pun intended, and I won’t be buying anything for real because I have no money).

Signing Up
Upon first reaching Google Checkout, the first thing I see is a friendly little welcome message. There’s also a link to Google’s Tour, if you’d rather get what I’m certainly about to tell you straight from the horse’s mouth.

Find it with Google. Buy it with Google Checkout.

Want a faster, safer and more convenient way to shop on-line? You got it.

Stop creating multiple accounts and passwords.
With Google Checkout™ you can quickly and easily buy from stores across the web and track all your orders and shipping in one place.
   
Shop with confidence.
Our fraud protection policy covers you against unauthorized purchases made through Google Checkout, and we don’t share your purchase history or full credit card number with sellers.
   
Control commercial spam.
You can keep your email address confidential, and easily turn off unwanted emails from stores where you use Google Checkout

So after signing in with my Google account, I’m presented with a screen asking for all my billing information. This alone is getting me so excited. The thought of never having to type all this shit in again is thrilling.

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Terms of Service

Next up: reading the Terms of Service. It might be Google, but I still like to know what they can do with my credit card number. The interesting points are:

  • Users must be 18, US residents, and legally able to enter a binding contract (i.e. the Terms of Service).
  • Google is allowed to background and credit check users of Checkout.
  • I may be wrong about this one (the legalese is a little thick), but I do believe Google holds your payment until the seller provides proof of shipment. That’s nice of them.
  • No transferring cash, only buying and selling stuff.
  • Google has the right to limit the amount of money you’re allowed to spend in a given period of time (how much money in how much time isn’t mentioned, which makes me think it probably watches your patterns and keeps an eye out for an increase in spending).
  • You can’t sue them if their system goes down and delays your ability to buy stuff.
  • The security of your user-name and password is your prerogative.
  • If somebody commits fraud by buying stuff with your account, take it up with your credit card, not Google. Google doesn’t refund money from bad transfers, or insure the money they hold on your behalf. That’s the credit card companies’ business.
  • You may have to pay sales taxes sometimes (only as often as any other online shopping).

Trying to buy something

As a demo, I’m going to try to take all the steps of buying stuff from a few stores, right up to the final step of actually paying for it.

OK, I tried to order some wireless headphones from Buy.com, but it didn’t work. I got a cryptic and frustrating message, so I’m giving up on this until tomorrow.

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Helpful Links

Google Checkout: the site itself

mad coupons: I found a page with a whole mess of $10-20 off coupons from a bunch of on-line stores, a-la Google Checkout. I don’t know how long these will last, so use them while you can.

060627-tangled-wires.jpgIn a word, headaches. Google has all the money in the world, and MySpace is just too big of a mess for them to want to deal with it. The constant public frown on MySpace is only the beginning of the headaches, too. I wouldn’t want to deal with the publicity or coding of MySpace, myself. Especially if I’m already an established powerhouse like Google.

Of course, in reality I would gladly personally take command of MySpace, because then I wouldn’t be so poor. I’m not exactly Google though, am I?

Have you ever looked at the address bar when you’re on MySpace? We’ve all noticed that it’s slower than a 15 year old tramp saying “no,” but there are genuine clues to what’s going on to cause all that stuttering and stalling, and they’re as close as your address bar. It would be best not to go into them here, they only stand out after years of watching what’s happening very closely while browsing. Just take it from me, I know a little bit about it, and things are not running on all four cylinders in MySpace’s programming department.
Google is notorious for their outstanding public face, and they should want nothing to do with anything that might harm that image. MySpace, on the other hand, is torn by controversy, the target of dozens (if not hundreds) of special interest groups, and as one Digg reader put it: a veritable “cesspool of pedophiles and cam whores.”

Pay attention to that bit about pedophiles, they might seem like nothing more than a creepy, trench-coat wearing nuisance to us, but they’ll be the death of MySpace yet. One of these days some underage tramp’s parents are going to actually succeed in suing MySpace when she bumps uglies with half the 35 year old men in the country (because of MySpace, mind you, not because she’s a slut). That’s the day MySpace is doomed. The lawyers will suck them dry, and being banned left and right by schools, parents and all manner of authority figures will stop the bounce-back that would otherwise occur.

Not only does Google not want to get sued, or tarnish their so far stellar image, but they just don’t want to deal with that shit. I can’t say I blame them.

It turns out the biggest argument for–and against–wanting to own MySpace turns out to be the people. No one can argue that owning MySpace would give Google access to a massive, reasonably loyal user base. Are these people really what Google wants though? When a company is trying to step up and fight the likes of Microsoft and Yahoo, do they really want to stoop to making the majority of their user base teeny-boppers and their emotionally crippled adult counterparts?

WordPress has finally allowed me to use a custom header image.  Unfortunately, to do that I am limited to the Connections theme, which is narrower than my old one, and a fixed width to boot.  This means some of my images are a little too big now, so watch out.

I'll be going through old posts over the next day or so to trim down any overly large images, so just be patient. 

Peeking at GoogleI make a habit of checking Google's robots.txt file, because it gives a list of everything on the site. Granted, if they really want to hide stuff this won't uncover it, but it's a great way to find funny little things that aren't documented or aimed at the general public.

My big discovery today was a new entry at the bottom of the list, calls/. I was, of course, intrigued to no end to find something in here that is both new and not associated with anything public on Google Labs.

Google/Call XML error of some kindUpon visiting google.com/calls/, I was presented with nothing more than an infitesimal little chunk of XML. I almost completely disregarded it, but then I realized I had nothing better to do than to go ahead and look a little closer.

The first data was an error code of some kind. 103, to be precise. That's not too interesting, but the second piece was. An empty field called "call_id."

Now, I have to have some kind of theory to explain what's going on here, so let's get to it. I think this page is some sort of interface for a VoIP service that's in the works. It's still very much in the works, too, to the point that it doesn't even have any kind of GUI. Still, it's exciting to think that Google could be dabbling in VoIP.

The logical thing would be to extend Google Talk to include VoIP, which would be so amazingly useful. Especially if it were functional from my gMail page. That way I could check my email, IM my friends, and make phone calls from any computer. It would be pretty sweet.

060611-windows-media-player1.jpgI never will be able to say exactly what possessed me to try Windows Media Player in the first place, but I will always remember just how horrible it was. There are just so many things wrong with this player I don't even know where to start, so I'll start with the one thing it did right: sound quality.The sound quality of Windows Media Player was pretty rock solid, with a coherent, if a little unresponsive equalizer. The sound enhancements tool really did make my music sound cooler, maybe not better, but definitely cooler. I left that off most of the time. From the moment I started it up though, I had high quality sound coming out of all of my speakers.

Once I got done fiddling with the sound enhancements though, reality started to set in. I was using an immensely ugly, clunky interface that was a fairly unappealing shade of blue to boot. I had a hard time switching rapidly between playlists, categories within my library, autoplaylists, all that stuff. Everything I wanted to use at any given moment seemed buried behind some button with a title that didn't help, or worse, a button with no label and just some cryptic icon.

Behind all the apparent complexity must be some genuine complexity too. I was outraged by how long it takes WMP to switch between views. I should never have to wait that long to go from Now Playing to my library. Stack on some ugly visualizations that take up completely outrageous amounts of system resources, and a sidebar that sucks up resources and bandwidth to download album art off the internet even when there's perfectly good images in the IDv3 tags, and you have yourself a really, really, really bad music player.

Stay away from WMP, it's just not worth the trouble.

  • Overall: 3/10
  • Music Management: 4/10
  • Sound Quality: 8/10
  • Aesthetics: 5/10
  • Geek Appeal: 3/10
  • Efficiency: 4/10
  • iPod Support: 0/10

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