Tag Archives: technology

School for the Deaf and the Blind – Community Service Event ( #ibmcsc )

Community Service Event: School for the Blind and the Deaf ( #ibmcsc )

On Saturday the team went to the Ekiti School for the Deaf and Blind, which was our community service event during our trip in Ekiti state. Kelsen, Mithilish, and I made an early visit to the school on Wednesday in order to understand the environment and to get some ideas around the ways that we could contribute. We were determined that the day be something more than a “meet and greet” where we shake hands with officials and get a tour – the team wanted to be interactive and get their hands dirty!

After the meeting we came up with one very clear project: to take the computer equipment that they had received a few months earlier and use our expertise to set up their specialised computer lab which could support visually-impaired students. We also asked them to give us suggestions as well in time for Saturday. So we received their listing of suggestions on Friday evening and shortly after we got to the schools we took on the following projects:

Building a computer lab that supports visually-impaired students
Washing clothes
Weeding
Erosion Control (digging a gutter)
Personal hygiene counseling
Cooking
Sporting activities
“The Future” for the Visually-Impaired

I participated in the project for personal hygiene counseling, setting up the computer lab, and “the future.” I have to say that this was one of the best parts of the experience so far. The kids were so thankful that we were just spending time with them, getting to know them, and helping them with things that they might not have been able to do themselves.

I have to say that I am particularly proud of the computer lab. We managed to set up a machine that can make photocopies of braille pages, a printer that can print out in braille, and set up some computers and laptops which support the visually impaired. So both the hearing and visual-impaired kids can take advantage of the computer lab. We also downloaded some activity kits and software from IBM’s On-Demand volunteer community so kids could plays games and do events teaching them more about math and science.

I am also proud of time we spend with the blind children talking about the future. I gave them a homework assignment that they had to write me a letter telling me what they want to be when they grow up and I promised to do some research to find good examples which would help to prove to them they can follow their dreams. And several of us from the IBM team committed to use our personal connections to see what we could do to support the school after we left (we had each begun working on contacting organisations separately and it’s wasn’t until a few days later that it was clear that several of us were reaching out to our personal contacts. It’s moments like these when I am at my proudest to be an IBMer and work with colleagues who think beyond themselves. πŸ™‚

But rather than write a lot of text about it…pictures πŸ™‚

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So I installed Windows 8 Pro

Yesterday evening I installed Windows 8 Pro on my private laptop.

I have to say so far so good. I can understand why people would complain that the experience is optimised for the touch screen market, but I really don’t get the complaints that it somehow so impossible to use that no one will ever understand it. If you want to understand the new Windows 8, just simply move your mouse to the edges of the screen as there is no start menu button. And there is a “desktop” mode which looks 99% like what you had in Windows 7.

Windows 8 in and of itself isn’t enough to make me buy a new laptop, but the new OS feels a bit more intuitive for those of us who spend our non-working hours on touch screen devices.

I give it a solid 8 / 10 based on my experience so far…I am looking forward to seeing the Surface tablet and maybe being able to ditch my iPad…

The lessons of online backup

So earlier this week (Wednesday) I got my HP laptop back from the repair shop. It turns out that the fan was broken which is why my laptop sounded like a lawn mower and you could hear it from the other room. I will give 8 of 10 stars to Info Care (who HP along with many others subcontract to) because they fixed the fan problem. They lose 2 stars for 2 reasons:

  • I had some problems with 2 files that were corrupted and rather than replacing those files they simply just reformatted my machine. Fair enough since they warn you that they might do this, but you get the feeling that reformatting is their first solution – not their last solution.
  • They installed a Swedish version of Windows onto my machine. I am near fluent in Windows but I still prefer that my OS be in English for the time being. So this required some additional e-mail and chat support to get right.

Anyhoo, so this weekend was spent bringing my laptop back to some semblance of the way it was. Luckily for me that basically my laptop is an expensive tablet in the sense that I don't keep a lot physically on the hard drive – for that I have my NAS. So looking over the 60 or so I had installed on my other machine, I used this opportunity to not install the 25 or so programmes I could live without or didn't know what they did anyway. I'll tell you right now, it pays to keep a list of everything you have installed so you don't have to guess. Simply just take screen shots of your programmes menu from the control panel every now and then and save it somewhere as a word document. That just left the restoring the 20 GB of data that Norton Online Backup had determined was important.

So I will come right out and say that this secure online backup concept is really cool and I like it. There is actually 20 GB of music, video, and photos that for various reasons I didn't keep on my NAS and this experience will give me an opportunity to correct that. The biggest drawback has been the amount of time. If I had kept the backup locally (say on a copy on my NAS for example, then I would have been done restoring within 1 hour. However, because it is online storage it has taken the better part of a weekend. Also, when I have looked at what I really have been backing up, I can now see that actually the true amount of stuff that has been useful is more like 11 GB and not 20 GB. And I have some other observations as well. So I have learned the following lessons:

1) I should have 2 backups – one which backups to my NAS and the other which backups to my online storage. The online storage can then be the "nuclear option" in case something really bad happens to my physical space.

2) I should be more specific about what to save. Selecting the defaults means that the backup programme errs on the side of caution, and probably backs up more than it needs to (and misses some things).

3) In some cases, you have to remember the order in which you have installed things. The biggest loss of this experience? I lost all of my user data for The Sims 2 – a game I have played on and off for like 6 years. When thinking about it is no catastrophic loss and it was just a mindless way to pass the time, but still, it killed my motivation to play as I have to start from scratch (and it is a reason to migrate to The Sims 3 instead,,,?)

4) I have a 2 TB NAS which holds everything everything with a mirrored disk (known for geeks as RAID1). Mirroring is not that same as backing up. So I trust that both disks will never fail at the same time and I trust that the physical location is secure, safe, protected enough such that it is unlike that I would lose access to them. This is the part that worries me. I am wondering if I should set up a NAS at a friend's place and have the data backup at their place. Anyone who has experience with this let me know πŸ™‚

Anyway, overall, as I spent the midsummer solo it was a good time to tend to these things. And I will tell you all, if you aren't backing up your data on your computer regularly, you're taking a big risk. Storage these days is free or cheap so there is no real reason to lose all of those awesome pics, fun e-mails, important documents, and other things you have stored on your computer. But of course it is up to you πŸ™‚

Ahead of the curve yet behind the times, digitally speaking

It dawned on my today as my internet domain name renewal reminders came that there was actually a time when I can remember not really caring much about my digital personna. It was cool simply to have a hotmail address or an e-mail alias that centralised all of your mail.

Today is really different.

In addition to my own website – which admitted I don't keep up to date it is just to prevent others to taking the domain name – I also have several 'rodneycornelius' domains that I register and am just too lazy to point to my main address. Maybe some day…some day…

In addition to websites, now there is a need to maintain facebook and linked in….and even friendster and myspace (even if they aren't popular, then I have a presence there until they die out).

Then of course there is my main blog here at LiveJournal, not to mention Tumblr.

And for good measure, photos using Flickr, Fotki, and Picassa (but primarily Fokti).

So keeping all of these things going all require work and effort. And it just amazes me that 15 years ago we wouldn't have even thought about it.

So in some respects, I feel ahead of the curve…I am in the age demographic that is supposed to be anti-technology and yearing for simple things like wired telephones, record players, and typewriters. But I actually like and have a passion for new technology.

Where I fall behind is that in rushing to adopt all of these new things, I don't really put the energy into any of them that they truly deserve. For the moment, I am okay with that. But I guess at some point I have to either select fewer ecosystems to participate in, or wait for another tool like TweetDeck that can help even more with digital presence management.

That typewriter is looking awfully good right now…

Media Monkey vs iTunes – Initial Impressions

Media Monkey vs iTunes
Okay, so this will be a tech geek, music lover kind of post. If your interested lies outside of these 2 areas, you’ll get bored by the 3rd paragraph and I won’t hold it against you if you don’t read through it. Really I won’t. I mean it πŸ™‚

So yesterday, after pointing iTunes back to my NAS server in order to access all of my music, movies, and multi-media content (for the 5th time…why does it keep on doing this?), I finally gave up on iTunes when I tried to play a song and it kept skipping and having significant problems to access the track. And I know that Apple fans will want to start a war, but actually, the problem here is entirely iTunes bloatware which while cool in many respects, doesn’t seem to handle network-server access very well.

Now before you say "you must have an old computer," I assure you that I don’t. I bought a brand new laptop with all of the bells and whistles and lots of extra computing power. I probably only use 30% of what the laptop would be capable of doing. So it’s not that.

And before you say "all software has this problem," let me assure you that’s not true either. For example, if I want to stream a movie to my TV using Apple TV, the movies freezes about 40% of the way into the movie. I can plug my laptop directly into the TV and use VLC player and it just works. If I want to listen to music on my network server with Media Monkey, coupled with AirFoil, I have access to my 20,000 songs with no hiccups or delays. Using iTunes, it might work for a song or two and then it fubars.

So, all things being equal, I’ve decided to say ‘Goodbye’ to iTunes until Apple feels like putting out a decent piece of software that can handle large collections of media. I have taken years to convert all of my DVDs and CDs to digitial format because I wanted instant access whenever (and now even wherever thanks to advances from even 5 years ago when I starts to convert my collection), and it was stupid that the iTunes applications wouldn’t let me take advantage of that.

Anyway, I am now about 16 hours into Media Monkey, and while that might be a short time to some, it is more than enough time to make a comparison between Media Monkey and iTunes.

What I like and dislike about iTunes

+ A very clean and simple interface. Much cleaner and simpler than Media Monkey. I do miss that.
+ Music and Video media can be seen and accessed quite easily. With Media Monkey you have to dig around a bit (and I still haven’t found my movies and TV shows visible yet…but it’s only been 16 hours and I was interrupted by an overnight hospital visit)
+ Connection to the iTunes store, especially useful because I have an iPhone and iPad (and this means I can never truly get rid of iTunes unless iCloud changes that for me)
+ iTunes radio and podcast features are actually quite nice. They just work.
– Doesn’t access content through a NAS server properly. Songs take a long time to load, often hiccups, and editing your music (ID3 tags, etc) can take 5 minutes per song or longer. Even if you keep your iTunes library files on your local machine.
– Is a real resource hog. Upon startup it can consume up to 50% of system resources and then continues to take up a lot of resources even after
The NAS access issue is actually a huge huge negative. It overrides anything else positive about iTunes. Many people are moving to NAS server at home nowadays because the technology got cheaper, the broadband acccess better, and quite frankly – many office, productivity, and other applications are bloatware themselves. So something had to give. And for most people, that means keeping the content separate from the local machine. The local machine runs better and the content can be accessed by multiple devices. So Apple should really fix this, even if they want to charge around $20 for a "iTunes Server Edition," I am sure a lot of people would pay for it – I know that I would.

What I like and dislike about Media Monkey (MM)
+ It handles all content (whether local or on a NAS server) quickly and efficiently. No hiccups or slow starts detected so far
+ Tagging seems to work great
+ You get many options for recovering lost album art to make your collection more polished (actually, too many options, but whatever). This is great for me because after converting over 500 CDs to digital format, I long gave up on scanning the album covers. And it seems like MM will help me to make progress on associate album art with my songs.
+ File monitoring detects very easily when anything in the target directory has changed.
+ Seemed to handle importing of podcasts very well. The real test will come when updates are available and that hasn’t been tested yet.
– Library directory could use some improvement. MM doesn’t do a great job of grouping an album together if there are featured artists (as an example, the issue comes up if MM uses Janet Jackson featuring Carly Simon as both the Artist and the Album Artist even though the song belongs to a CD put out by Janet, it will treat them as 2 different albums unless you do a manual correction).
– Interface is not as simple to use in my view. Probably because you can do so much customisation. This isn’t a bad thing as much as you just have to use it for a few hours to get the hang of it.
– I still can’t figure out where my movies and TV shows are. I am one of those who still download seasons using iTunes so this would be helpful to know if I can use Media Monkey or just need to get used to using VLC player or trying through my Sony PS3
– Internet Radio isn’t inherently built-in to MM. You get sent to internet directories where you can choose. Was nice in iTunes to have the listings presented to you.

Overall, I have to say that so far I am glad I made the switch to Media Monkey. Combined with AirFoil, I get my music all over my house just as if I was using iTunes. And of course now I have access again to my 20,000 songs which play without hiccups. While I am happy with Media Monkey, it is also disappointing that Apple doesn’t really give a damn about it’s customers and the way that they are using technology. There is a host of problems and complaints about this issue on various forums and Apple gives no indiciation that it is listening. Maybe your experience is different if you use a Mac or something, but enough of us are having this issue and we can’t all be stupid uneducated morons. The sooner Apple fixes the NAS server reliability/playback issue with iTunes, the sooner their user base will grow as people migrate back to iTunes. And since when did growing your user base become something uninteresting to any company. It seems only to be uninteresting to Apple.