Friday, November 24, 2006

Mixing iPod and Computer Sounds?

This is an exploration of solutions. I don't have my perfect solution yet, perhaps somebody will help.

The short question is "what's the best way to combine the sound from my ipod and the sounds from my computer into one set of headphones?"

Here's the situation:

I've got an iPod which I sync with my work computer. When I want to tune out the noise of the office, I currently listen via iTunes. Windows handles the business of delivering music, new mail alerts and other system sounds to my headphones, with the volume set appropriately. However, the disk on my laptop is getting full. My iTunes library takes up almost half of the used disk space. So, I'd like to move the music to my home computer and I can bring the iPod with me to work.

Now, how to listen to the music while still being able to hear the alert sounds from my computer? If I had two sets of speakers, I could connect the iPod to one set and the PC to the other. This solution fails when I want to use headphones.

Possible options:

  • External mixer - buy a small mixer and plug the ipod and the computer into its inputs, plug speakers or headphones into its output. The hardware volume controls for each input would be nice, but this solution requires a little desk space and an extra power outlet. There's also the matter of the "whoa, you're such a geek" factor when people see this extra box sitting on my desk. See what I mean by looking this Behringer model. That could be good or bad.
  • Attach ipod to computer via line-in port - it's a simple idea, but I'm on a laptop with only a mono-mic input, and, once it's connected, I'm not sure what I would run to get the sound piped to the speakers. The mono-mic input is a deal-breaker. If I'm using a more compatible machine in the future, I'll worry about how the sound gets through the machine. Rogue Amoeba's LineIn looks like it would work on a mac.
  • Fancy speakers - some speakers meant for computer use have two inputs and a headphone jack (such as these Bose speakers. Plug the computer into one, plug the ipod in the other. Seems pretty easy.
The speaker option is probably the best way to go, but I'm working on pure speculation as to how well this would work. This is why stores allow returns.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Geeky Friday: Shorter directory path in command prompt

Gina Trapani, editor over at, has been diving deep into cygwin and command line goodness for a while. Earlier this week, she posted an article about customizing the command prompt. I added a comment about my shorter directory path, but I'll replicate here, because I have better control over the formatting of the code (and, I guess, for the people who read me, but not lifehacker):

I sometimes find having the full directory path in the prompt to be overwhelming, so I've created this small bash function which shows just the last two parts of the path:

short_dir ()
    if [ "$PWD" = "$HOME" ]; then
        echo '~'
        the_dir=`dirname "$PWD"`;
        the_base=`basename "$PWD"`;
        the_dir_base=`basename "$the_dir"`;
        if [ "$the_dir_base" = '/' ]; then
        echo "$the_dir_base/$the_base"

Add a call to this to your prompt, don't forget to escape the backquotes:

export PS1="\`short_dir\`\$ "

So, if your current directory is /usr/local/man/man1, your prompt would look like:


You can, of course, sprinkle in other bash prompt special characters, such as "\h" for the hostname:

export PS1="(\h) \`short_dir\`\$ "

produces: (myhost) man/man1$

Monday, September 18, 2006

Anime for beginners

I think it's time to try anime. Based on various reviews and the fact that it won an Oscar a few years ago, Spirited Away has been in my list of movies to rent for a long time, but I've never gotten around to renting it. Now ranting tech blogger, Steve Yegge has written a long post about why he likes anime and gives some recommendations.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Diary of Ironman Preparation (no, not mine)

"A few days ago I was thinking about doing something good with my life. Instead I decided I would sign up for Wisconsin Ironman."

   -- Thus begins my cousin's new blog chronicling his year of preparation for the race on September 9, 2007.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Higher gas mileage (in the same car)

The Washington Post ran an article a couple weeks back on improving gas mileage. It's written from the point of view of a hybrid driver, but it says that these tips can be used in other vehicles as well.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Your Brains

It's been a while since I posted and even longer since I posted something just fun and not too techy. But this just cried out for propagation -- a new(-ish) song from Jonathan Coulton (the guy who covered "Baby Got Back" in a nice, easy, banjo-heavy acoustic style):
If Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that being trapped in a mall surrounded by a million zombies would be really troublesome. But how much more annoying would it be if the head zombie used to be your co-worker, and he was kind of a prick even before he got infected? And now he’s right outside and he just keeps talking and talking - still the same jackass, only now he wants to eat your brains?
An mp3 file can be downloaded from Coulton's site or you can listen while you watch video game characters act it out (complete with a little air guitar and dancing).

Friday, June 30, 2006

Geeky Friday: Essentials for linux

Mark Pilgrim has updated his "essentials" list to reflect his recent switch from Mac to Ubuntu linux ("Ubuntu, which is an ancient African word meaning "can't install Debian".") This is a nice list of useful software (and links to each) for linux. His older list is for mac users.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

X1 search for free

I've been using X1 desktop search since I got a free copy in Oct. 2004. The news of the day is that it's now free for everybody (via LifeHacker). Try it. I like it a lot.
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I believe my wife will start to use this when we're driving in unknown areas -- even though I'm usually the driver and she's the navigator.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Geeky Friday: Extra-geeky, extra-fancy search and replace

Steve Yegge writes about Emacs 22 -- specifically about its internationalization support and its improvements to search and replace by regular expression. He writes:
Emacs 22 sports an amazing new editing feature that's had me drooling in anticipation since I first heard about it, maybe six or eight months ago. As you can well imagine, that's a lot of drool.

And what might the feature be, you ask? Well, they've enhanced M-x {query-}replace-regxp to accept lisp expressions to be evaluated in the replacement string.

He gives some cool examples of how this can be useful. (Sorry, non-geeks, this edition of "Geeky Friday" is over the top geeky.)
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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Black Apple

There's a rumor that Apple and RIM, creator of the BlackBerry, may be forging a partnership. Speculation is that they might try to build on each other's innate strengths.

I use a BlackBerry for a while and was unimpressed. It does "push email" well and wireless sync well, but that’s about it. The basic PIM tools are weaker than what my PalmOS Handspring Visor had 6 years ago and there is comparatively little third party software. My biggest gripe was having only a thumbwheel for navigating a big screen. A combination of touch screen and wheel/buttons is easier.

I think that many people who rave about their crackberries had never used a PDA previously and were issued one by their offices. Compared to lugging around a laptop or having nothing at all, the BlackBerry is a nice tool.

Apple can, and should, do better.

Perhaps may just license the software for connecting to a Blackberry Enterprise Server. This would enable companies to deploy either RIM or Apple devices and their employees would be able to get their email, calendars, etc.

And about the name "AppleBerry". I don't get why the tech press is using that.

  "Black" - color, serving as adjective
  "Berry" - fruit, noun, modified by the adjective

  "Apple" - fruit, noun

Wouldn’t "BlackApple" be better? and cooler sounding? Or is a black apple a rotten apple? But if black apples are bad, why does Apple charge so much more for the blackbook black macbook?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

World Cup Intro for Americans

This week on "Wait Wait -- Don't Tell Me!", the NPR news quiz, host Peter Sagal and soccer expert and radio host Steven Cohen discuss soccer and the World Cup. Sagal's introduction:
Those Americans who are watching sports late at night, say, and they can't find any baseball or football or basketball or golf or NASCAR or lacrosse, wrestling, bowling, scrabble, curling, knitting, might find finally themselves settling on this very odd game where people chase this ball around in a field with no equipment at all. It's called "soccer". It seems very popular in other parts of the world. Well, it's got some sort of big tournament coming up. So to explain this exotic game to us Americans, we put in a call to Steven Cohen, soccer expert and real life British person.
Cohen immediately jumps in with a correction:
Cohen: Actually in most parts of the world it's actually called "football". Sagal: Well that's wrong though.
They go on to discuss (among other things):
  • Popularity of soccer in the US
  • Impatience and ADD of US sports fans
  • Scoreless draws in soccer vs. pitcher's duels in baseball
  • US sports that take 2-3 times longer than actual game time
  • What to look for in the World Cup teams
  • What would happen if the US were to win it all
Listen in Windows Media or Real Audio. Go to the rundown of this week's show click on the "Not My Job: Steven Cohen" link.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Happy Towel Day

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels. A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have."
Happy Towel Day. Thanks for all the fish good books, Douglas Adams

Friday, May 12, 2006

sww: Sorry Wrong Window

It has happened to everybody and will continue to happen, hopefully without too much embarrassment. You have two or more chat windows open and you type something and then realize, after having already hit enter (or the send button) that you typed it to the wrong person.

So, I propose that rather than typing out "sorry, wrong window" every time, we standardize on "sww". If I type that to you, now you'll understand.

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An alternate way to create web pages

"It really is an html frame, with a jpg, of a scan, of a print, of a digital picture, of a print, of a word document, of the information that needs to go on the web."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Screen - two years later

A couple years ago, I wrote about screen. Blogger Bill Clementson recently saw The Light about screen as well and I reviewed my original post. In it, the first link was to a very nice collection of pages maintained by Sven Guckes. For his own reasons, Sven has decided that he could no longer maintain his information pages about screen. After a little probing, I found a couple ways to see what they used to look like. There is a working mirror or you can see an archived copy from the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. The mirror was linked to from a wiki page on screen over at -- which I found from Bill's post.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Surf rock covers and fixing mp3s for iTunes

In the April Fools day show of Coverville, Brian Ibbott claimed that Blondie's "Call Me" was a cover, originally done as a surf rock instrumental by a group called The Original Onions. While that was a fun gag (and the whole show had some other great psuedo-original versions), I liked the surf rock sound. The mp3s from the now-defunct Original Onions are available for free download under a creative commons license at

The trouble I had was that iTunes wouldn't load the mp3s and it wouldn't even tell me what was wrong. After a few futile attemps at fixing ID3 tags and attempting on both windows and mac, I searched the support forums at and found this thread which pointed me to VBRfix, a tool for repairing mp3 files. I barely skimmed the docs, pointed the tool at my directory of Onions mp3 files and it magically Just Worked. The Original Onions' album "Grill Skills" is now in iTunes and will shortly be on my iPod as well.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Clever basketball fans

Reported many places, a humorous story about fans from U. Cal., Berkeley who played a wonderful prank on an opposing player during a basketball game against USC. This version of the story actually has a post-game interview with the victim and he took it surprisingly well, especially given that apparently rattled him enough during the game that he show only 3 for 13 from the field.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tiny Football Player

This is old news, but not to me. I'm not a gamer, but from what I understand, the Madden football game lets you download rosters of real players into the game. But back in September, they had to take down a roster update because it showed New York Jets lineman Michael King as being only 7 inches tall. The cool thing is that there are pictures!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Geeky Friday: A rant about underlined links

A rant on why I don't like underlined links and why Bloglines and 37signals have prompted me to write about it.

When Tim Berners-Lee created the first web browser in the early 1990s, the links in the text were identifable because they were underlined. It wasn't possible to change the color of the text as Berners-Lee did his work on an early NeXT workstation. While these machines had plenty of cool features (see another article I wrote), they only had a four tone gray scale display. Modern browsers, and the displays we view them on, come in color.

Yet underlined links are still used in every web browser. I hate it. I think it's unnecessary and it makes the text appear busier and more difficult to read. So, the first thing I do with any new browser is to uncheck the "Underline Links" button. Here's a contrived example of the difference this can make. First, here's some text from Wikipedia without underlines. By choosing a darkish blue for links, the main text flows well from black to blue and back again. Yet it's still easy to figure out where to point your mouse to click on a link. Now the same text with underlines:

(Note - This is example is contrived for two reasons. One is that wikipedia text tends to have more in-line links than average pages. The other reason is that wikipedia's stylesheets disable underlines for all users -- not just those of us who already have them disabled. I had to manually re-enable them to create this example. The designers at Wikipedia feel as I do about underlines.)

If everything is a link, why differentiate?

A real, non-contrived example is the list of feeds as it currently appears on, shown below. This appears in a separate frame on the left side of the browser window. Clicking on any one of these links changes the content in the big frame on the right side of the browser. This is essentially a menu -- every one of these lines is a link. An additional visual cue to demonstrate that these are links is not needed, and yet, their stylesheet forces it on me.

Moving on to the next example... "I know there's a link here somewhere"

Another bad use of underlines is assuming that users haven't turned off underlined links. The Signal vs. Noise (SvN) blog, from 37signals, is guilty of this assumption. Ironically they are also the authors of the book Defensive Design for the Web (as well as the Ruby On Rails web framework and various web applications).

Here's how I see text on a snippet from SvN: Quick - where do you click to read the source article? There is no visual cue! When I move my mouse around, I find that the link is magically highlighted when I move over it.

Trying to follow links from this blog is like playing a video game.

Since most people either like the underlines or don't ever bother to change any preferences, I'll accept that this is a personal choice. But, if a site, such as SvN, decides that it prefers to use only underlines as visual cues for links, then it should be sure to enforce this using its stylesheet. It's not hard. In fact, 37signals already does so on their home page. (The SvN page does get positive marks from me for deciding that one visual cue to show links is enough -- they just need to make sure that their users see that one cue)

I need to finish this rant with clarifications about Bloglines and 37signals. I like the way the 37signals guys think and I own (and recommend) the above-mentioned book. I use Bloglines every day (although lately I've been forcing myself to use the invisibility cloak greasemonkey script to limit the times I catch up on news). Now, if they could just understand the way I feel about underlines.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Pandora - customized streaming music goodness

Earlier today I listened to episode 6 of the Inside the Net podcast in which the hosts interview the founder of Pandora. Here's how a TechCrunch post describes the site:
If you don’t agree that this is the coolest application you’ve seen in a long while, re-read this post over and over until you agree, because you are wrong. I am in love with Pandora.
No, wait, that's not very useful; accurate, but not useful. It's a streaming music application with a great recommendation engine, or, as my wife said when I described it to her: "the ultimate mix tape."

You create a "station" by suggesting a single artist or song and the Pandora application streams more music to you based on the data from the "Music Genome Project". As described in the podcast, Pandora employs trained musicians to analyze individual songs for some 400 attributes. From this, their recommendation engine suggests new songs for you to listen to. So, rather than relying on popular songs recommended by other users, it attempts to make recommendations based on musical qualities. You can also give some hints by explicitly giving a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" to a song or by offering additional artists or songs as representative of the curent station.

About six or seven songs into my first station, seeded initially with R.E.M. and a similar band, The Feelies, it has produced mixed results -- good suggestions with songs from Collective Soul, The Cult, and Man Break, but off the mark with Iron Maiden and Poison. After giving the thumbs down to those last two, the quality picked up. Later I tried a couple different stations with different types of music. Again, I gave thumbs up and thumbs down a little bit and the selection of music improved.

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