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PHP Programming Technology WordPress

GetID3 analyze() function new file size parameter

You can now read ID3 (media file headers) information from mp3 and other media files using GetID3 library without having the entire media file present. The new 2nd parameter to the analyze() member function allows you to detect play time duration with only a small portion of the file present.

Years ago I added this code to the versions of the getid3 library we packaged with the Blubrry PowerPress podcasting plugin. I’ve submitted this code to the getid3 project so everyone can benefit. As of GetID3 v1.9.10,  you can now pass a second optional parameter specifying the total file size. This parameter sets the file size value in the getid3 object, skipping the need for the library call the filesize() function.

This is the secret sauce that allows PowerPress to detect the file size and duration information from a media URL of any size in only a few seconds.

Requirements

The new parameter only works if the following are true:

  • Have enough of the beginning of the media file that includes all of the ID3 header information. For a typical mp3 the first 1MB should suffice, though if there is a large image within your ID3 tags then you may need more than 1MB.
  • Have the total file size in bytes.
  • The mp3 file is using a constant bit rate. This must be true for podcasting, and highly recommended if the media is to be played within web browsers. Please read this page for details regarding VBR and podcasting.

Example Usage

// First 1MB of episode-1.mp3 that is 32,540,576 bytes
// (approximately 32MB)
$media_first1mb = '/tmp/episode-1-partial.mp3
$media_file_size = 32540576;
$getID3 = new getID3;
$FileInfo = $getID3->analyze( $media_first1mb, $media_file_size );

You can use a HTTP/1.1 byte range request to download the first 1MB of a media file, as well as a HTTP HEAD request to get the complete file length (file byte size).

Byte range requests and HEAD requests are safe to use for podcasting. If a service does not allow HEAD requests or accepts byte range requests, then they will have bigger issues to deal with as these features are required by iTunes.

Blubrry PowerPress podcasting plugin has been using this logic to detect mp3 (audio/mpeg), m4a (audio/x-m4a), mp4 (video/mp4), m4v (video/x-m4v), oga (audio/ogg) media since 2008.

Not all media formats support this option. You should test any format not mentioned above. For example, ogg Vorbis audio works, ogg Speex audio does not.

Categories
Technology Tools Transportation

Torque Wrenches Reviewed

This post has moved to www.modsandrods.tv.

Link: http://www.modsandrods.tv/2011/03/16/torque-wrenches-reviewed/

Categories
Technology

Two Years with Google Android G1 – Looking for a Replacement

It has been well over 2 years since I got my HTC G1 with Google Android. The verdict? It has done it’s job, but it’s now showing it’s age. Running Android 1.6, I’m limited to which apps I can install. The lack of internal memory storage is also a problem, I’m finding myself uninstalling other apps I like just so I can keep Google Maps up to date. It’s time to upgrade for sure.

Reflecting on past posts One year with Google Android G1 compared to 6 months with an iPhone 3GS and Google Android G1 Week 2 Review, you can get a good idea of my opinion of the phone. I love the thing. Hardware wise, I love the keyboard. The software interface is excellent. Apps available, awesome. The latest apps and Android OS though have left the G1 behind, which is forcing me to upgrade.

I’ve been looking for a replacement for 6 months now. I really like the 3.7″ and 4″ screen models, and the processors the latest models come with in even the value priced Android phones function ten times better than my aged G1. So why haven’t I purchased a replacement? None have quite the same layout and feel. All the new phones with qwerty keyboards tend to use keys that are square with hard to feel edges. Sure, they are nice to look at, but is no solution if you’re used to typing without looking down before you start typing.

Potential Replacements

All of the replacements I’m considering have at least a 3.7″ screen, Android 2.1 or newer, a qwerty keyboard, and at least 4MB of internal storage.

Sprint’s Epic 4G – My first choice at this point, I find the keyboard the most friendly, though still not like the G1.

Pros:

  • larger 4″ screen
  • I like the Keyboard
  • 4G support
  • Rumors are there is Sprint 4G service in Columbus Ohio
  • 10GB internal storage
  • Night minutes start at 7pm

Cons:

  • Most expensive phone I’m considering
  • Does not have Android 2.2 (though it’s rumored to be coming soon)

T-Mobile’s G2 – My second choice, this phone would be a decent replacement.

Pros:

  • I can stay on T-mobile.
  • Keyboard is ok
  • 4G support (no 4G in Columbus Ohio though)
  • Adobe Flash support
  • Android 2.2

Cons:

  • Not confident that the keyboard flip out design is going to last 2 years

Verizon’s Droid 2 – I almost don’t want to consider this phone, but since it’s on Verizon, I am considering it since my wife is also on Verizon and we could switch to a Family plan.

Pros:

  • Cheapest model, you can find this phone for less than $100 with a 2 year contract
  • 8GB internal storage
  • Android 2.2

Cons:

  • I don’t like the keyboard at all
  • No visual voicemail without paying more money to Verizon

Unless something changes, I think I’m going to go with the Epic 4G. Rumors are it will have Android 2.2 this December, which is really the deciding factor for me since I’ve grown tired of the G1 because it is not getting anymore OS updates. I think I’m going to wait a couple more weeks to see if the Epic 4G gets Android 2.2. If it doesn’t, I think I’ll give the G2 a try.

Which Android phone do you suggest I upgrade to?

Categories
News Podcasting Project Trans Am Technology

Project Pontiac Trans Am

Last week I purchased a 1981 Pontiac Trans Am! If you know me well, you know I’ve wanted a 1978 Trans Am for years. Even though this is not the correct year, it’s very similar to the Trans Am I wanted and with a little effort over the coming years hopefully it will look like a 78′.

This is the first time I bought a car off eBay. The experience was a good one, but I certainly learned a lot in the process. Biggest thing, ask the seller lots of questions. I was not aware that some of the dashboard components were broken including the turn signal. I did, however, anticipate some issues with things like the doors, window gaskets, etc… So even though I was initially shocked by a few of the additional problems, I still feel somewhat satisfied that I got a decent deal on the car.

Important details about this car:

  • Has no rust (came from the West Coast)
  • Any Pontiac engine from 1970-1981 will fit (I’m looking for a Pontiac 400)
  • Car has factory T-tops

When this car was new in 1981, it was originally dark gray with silver interior. It came with the Turbo Pontiac 301 (4.9L) engine, power windows, power door locks, all wheel disc brakes, posi rear end, air conditioning, cruise control, intermittent wipers, and aluminum honeycomb wheels. It currently still has all of these options except the interior has been converted to tan color, the power door locks is no longer present, and the car was repainted black. For those Trans Am enthusiasts, I am sorry to say that it does not have the WS6 performance package.

The car needs a lot of work. So far the engine needs replaced, interior panels need some TLC, drivers door mechanically  needs some TLC, the wipers are not functioning, heater/AC controls are not functioning, broken interior heater core cover, window and T-top gaskets need replaced, turn signal is broken, steering column needs tightened, and heater core molding needs replaced.

The initial plan is to replace the engine with a Pontiac 400, fix the steering column, heater core cover and drivers side door.

I’ve decided to document all the work I do to the car as a podcast. I haven’t yet decided on a name or format for the podcast, but it should be a lot of fun. Anyone who would like to be involved with the podcast and/or help me with restoring this car, please shoot me an email, angelo [at] mandato.com.

Categories
News Podcasting Programming Technology

HTML5 audio / video and mp3 / H.264 is the future of new media but does not replace Flash

HTML5 is the future of new media (also known as downloadable media and podcasting). Anyone who has used an iPad or Google Chrome and watched a video knowing it was through an HTML5 video element knows what I’m talking about. Playback is instant, smoother and is much more responsive than via Flash. It is also very easy to develop in your web pages, removing a level of complexity that was previously much more involved and relied upon Adobe Flash.

The remainder of this post explains everything in detail, why use one format over another, what Flash is still good for, and where the media can end up.

Note: An update to this original post may be found at the bottom of this page.

What is HTML5 and what’s the deal with audio/video?

HTML5 is a new version of HTML (markup that creates web pages that you see in your web browser) that adds a number of new elements (special tags that do things in your HTML, e.g. <p> tag indicates a paragraph of text). HTML5 adds two new elements called audio and video. These new elements allow for web developers like myself to easily add an audio/video player in a web page. Without the HTML5 audio/video element, a web developer needs to implement more complicated HTML utilizing the “embed” tags to include a Flash developed player in the web page. In this case, the Flash player is required to be installed on the end user’s computer in order for the audio/video to playback.

What audio and video formats should I use?

Audio: mpeg3/MP3 (.mp3 file extension) is, for the most part, the most ideal audio format. As of current, all but Firefox have/will have support for mpeg3 audio. AAC audio (.m4a) may also work, but if you are looking for a format that will work in absolutely every situation, mp3 is the best bet.

Video: H.264 (.mp4 or .m4v file extensions) is the most ideal video format. As of current, all but Firefox have/will have support for H.264 video.

Why is MP3 and H.264 recommended for audio/video?

MP3 is the audio format of choice because it is the most widely playable audio format. Nearly every media player application, portable media player, and automobile/car stereo can play mp3 files.

The MP3 format became widespread in 1997 when the Windows application WinAmp was released. Created by Justin Frankel, WinAmp made it easy for music enthusiasts to exchange and listen to audio on computers. The small size of MP3 files enabled widespread distribution initially via file sharing applications such as Napster and on wide-area networks such as university dormitory networks. It was such a popular format that Apple included support for MP3 in it’s first release of the iPod in 2001.

H.264 is the video format of choice because it is the most widely playable video format. Though not as widespread as the mp3 format, H.264’s common denominator is that it can be played on the most popular portable media players, MAC OSX, Microsoft Windows, Internet connected TV’s and smart phones. You can thank Apple for making H.264 the standard in its portable hardware (iPod/iPhone), which has dominance in the portable media player market.

What can Flash do that HTML5 audio/video cannot?

Live streaming! Many sites such as Qik and UStream.tv provide live online content, their use of Flash will not change due to HTML5 audio/video.

The difference between “downloadable media” and “live streaming” is the “live” part. Downloadable media is not live, which has an advantage to providing the consumer the ability to save the media and play it back at their convenience. Live streaming on the other hand, is real time audio/video playback that cannot be paused/played without the help of a device to record the content. For this reason, Flash may not be as important but still has the purpose of providing a means to stream live content.

As far as downloadable media is concerned, Flash is perceived as dead, but Flash will play a key role on portable devices such as Android phones in providing live streaming content over the coming years.

The Flash Video Secret

Though most know that Flash is used to play audio mp3 files, many web developers are not aware that Flash can play H.264 video. Since Flash version 9 released in the Winter of 2007, Flash has the ability to play .mp4/.m4v video. Before Flash 9, Flash could only play Flash video (.flv file extension) files.

As far as video is concerned, this solidifies the H.264 format as the most widely playable video format. It allows a web developer to alternatively allow its web visitors the ability to play H.264 video in the event the browser itself cannot play the HTML5 video format.

Google Chrome / Apple Safari

Both Google Chrome and Apple Safari web browsers support mpeg3 (.mp3) and H.264 (.mp4/.m4v). Safari has one glitch though, it will auto download the media files linked in the audio/video tags, which does bring up a challenge for web developers to deal with.

Internet Explorer

Currently, Internet Explorer (IE) does not support HTML5, but the signs back in Fall of 2009 were obvious that they were planning on supporting it in the future. With the recent blog post announcement for support for H.264 video in IE9 and past blog post announcing MP3/AAC audio support, it looks like the next version of IE is on its way of being HTML5 audio/video friendly. There is only one problem though, IE9 will only be available for Windows 7 and Vista, Windows XP will not have IE9 as an upgrade option.

Firefox and the OGG format

Firefox supports a niche audio and video format called OGG. The reason for this is simple, it doesn’t cost Firefox anything to support OGG formats. Since Firefox is essentially a free foundation and not a real company selling products/services, it does not have the money or resources to purchase licenses to include support for the H.264 video format. From the last post I read about the subject, Firefox would have to pay a 5 million dollar license fee in order to use the H.264 video format and it would still be limited to which versions of Firefox could include H.264 (source based compiled versions distributed through different versions of Linux would not be included in the license for example). It is a bit more complicated than this, but you get the idea why Firefox doesn’t support H.264. Read why Firefox does not support H.264.

The OGG format is a combination of a number of formats, two of which are supported by Firefox. The OGG audio format, also referred to as Vorbis (.ogg or .oga file extensions) is a truly open source audio format. The OGG video format, also referred to as Theora (.ogg or .ogv file extensions), is a free video format based upon a patent by On2 Technologies. As of current the patent behind Vorbis is not enforced, allowing the format to be used with out paying any royalty or fees. Example of a potential Theora problem.

I should point out that both Google Chrome and Apple Safari support the two OGG audio and video formats mentioned above. Internet Explorer, Apple iPod/iPhone/iPad/TV and most other portable media / TV hardware most likely do not support OGG, limiting this format’s reach in the market.

Firefox, H.264 and MP3

Firefox will most likely not support H.264 without help from Apple/Microsoft/Google. I predict by years end one of those companies will sponsor Firefox’s H.264 five million dollar license to include H.264 support in Firefox. There could also be a plugin for Firefox that provides H.264 functionality. More interestingly, Apple/Microsoft and Google hold patents related to H.264 so it is possible they could come together and influence MPEG LA (folks who enforce the H.264 licenses) to give the Mozilla Foundation (Firefox) a special license for using H.264. Who knows what will really happen, but it is definitely to Google’s best interest with it’s YouTube property that all web browsers can play back its video content.

I have no idea why Firefox does not support mp3. Mp3 and Ogg video are identical as far as having patents that are not enforced (no one is asking for royalties for using these formats). As far as audio is concerned, I think it is hypocritical of Firefox not to support mpeg3 but support OGG Theora.

Apple iPod/iPhone/iPad/TV

All of Apple’s products/hardware support both MP3 audio and H.264 video formats.

Android/Blackberry/Palm WebOS

The other remaining popular smart phone platforms support both mp3 audio and H.264 video formats.

Other Internet Connected TV Hardware

Other Internet Connected TV hardware (also referred to as OTT TV/Over The Top TV, Set-Top boxes, and IPTV) such as the Roku add the icing to the cake as far as picking audio/video standards are concerned. All of the Internet Connected hardware devices that are planned or that are already available support MP3 audio (.mp3) and H.264 video (.mp4/.m4v).

Conclusion

I am sure this post will upset some folks (Flash developers, Linux/open source enthusiasts, etc…) and I apologize. I love Linux and open source, but I’m sorry to say OGG is not going to become the standard for media. As for Flash, there is still a lot of cool stuff you can do with Flash including live streams, but Flash as far as downloadable media (new media/podcasting) is concerned, Flash is dead.

Update on March 25, 2011:

It appears my prediction may have been wrong about H.264 being sponsored by another vendor for inclusion into Firefox. Over the past year, Google has acquired On2 Technologies (OGG Video) and has launched a new project called WebM which is completely royalty free. This is a game changer both for the WebM video format, but also for OGG Vorbis audio. It also means that Flash is not dead in the short term for downloadable media and can be used to fill in the gap for when a specific audio/video format is not supported in a given browser.

WebM the Game Changer

WebM is significant for a number of reasons. First, it’s important to note one of On2’s past clients, Adobe. One of On2’s older video codex is used for Flash video (.flv). With the launch of WebM video format (.webm), Adobe has promised to include WebM support in future versions of Flash, and seeing it’s past relationship with On2, I don’t see how there would be a problem. In addition, Opera, Firefox and Google Chrome web browsers also support WebM playback. Ogg Theora is essentially replaced by WebM, though the OGG Vorbis audio format that is packaged with OGG Theora and WebM may be the other winner in this HTML5 media tug-of-war.

Also important to note that anything Google related will include WebM support, this means future versions of Android, YouTube and the new Google TV video platform.

Google removes H.264 from Chrome, adds WebM and Launches Google TV

Since the Google acquisition of On2, Google has decided to no longer include H.264 (.mp4) support with the Google Chrome browser, opting instead to include WebM as the supported HTML5 video format. Four significant changes have occurred, which warrant noting:

  • Chrome browser can no longer play H.264 video
  • Chrome browser can no longer play AAC (.m4a) audio
  • Chrome browser can now play WebM video
  • Chrome browser can now play OGG Virbis Audio

Along with Firefox and Opera, this now means that 3 of the 5 major web browsers require WebM for video and OGG Vorbis/Mpeg3 for audio. Also important to note Firefox 4 still does not support Mpeg3 (.mp3) audio, which I think is a major letdown.

With this new WebM format, we can assume that the older OGG Theora video format is no longer a player in the HTML5 video wars. OGG audio on the other hand, is another story.

What will be significant is if future versions of Google TV (also packaged in Sony high end TV’s and Blu-ray players) will be WebM exclusive. If this happens, along with adoption on Android based phones may have enough impact that WebM could quickly become an important video format.

M4a Audio growth stalled, OGG Vorbis Audio growth continues

With the HTML5 Video Wars between WebM and H.264, it means that the AAC (.m4a) Audio format growth is now stalled. Looking at AAC last year, I would have thought by now almost every device and hardware out there would support the format. Important to note video hardware vendors include AAC support mainly because it is required for  H.264. As devices come to market that do not have H.264, it is only natural for those devices will also not support AAC (.m4a). AAC almost had the capability to play almost everywhere, but now it seems the Mpeg3 (.mp3) format will continue to still have wider distribution.

Flash will continue to Bridge the Gap

Many of the TV devices like Boxee rely upon Flash for audio and video playback. These devices may be the winner as things play out since Flash can play mpeg3 (.mp3), H.264 (.mp4), AAC (.m4a via the video player) and WebM (.webm). I also suspect that once WebM support is added, it would only be natural for Flash to then also be capable of playing OGG Vorbis (.ogg/.oga) via the WebM player.

What I recommend as of March, 2011

For Video, I recommend creating H.264 (.mp4) and WebM versions of your video. This way you are able to harness HTML5 video on all five web browsers as well as support nearly every video playing device whether it includes one format or the other.

For Audio, I recommend Mpeg3 (.mp3), it still plays on devices and in applications. Though AAC (.m4a) is a close second, if your not using any of the Audiobook features found in m4a (which by the way only work on Apple hardware and software), there’s no real significant advantage to using m4a over mp3.

Categories
Programming Technology

Firefox Extensions I Use

I’m often asked what Firefox extensions I use in my web browser. For those who ask, here you go.

Basic plugins that anyone may like:

  • Gmail Manager – check and manage multiple Gmail accounts
  • History block – prevent some sites from crowding your web browser history
  • Echofon – Twitter client (formally known as TwitterFox)
    • I’m looking for a better Firefox Twitter client, please comment if you know of one.
  • PDF Download – Decide whether you rather download or view PDF
  • Tabs Open Relative – Open new tabs to the right of your current tab

Plugins specific to web development:

Categories
News Technology

One year with Google Android G1 compared to 6 months with an iPhone 3GS

I’ve had my Google Android G1 phone for over a year now, and I have a lot of good and bad things to say about it. I’ve had my iPhone 3GS for just over 6 months now and have come to a number of conclusions why I don’t like the iPhone and prefer Android.

In a nutshell, G1 hardware sucks, Android OS and applications rock. iPhone hardware is rock solid, iPhone OS, though easy to use, is very limited and applications do not seem to be as innovative, most likely a result of the limited OS. Lucky for Android users, there are now more than a 1/2 dozen better Android phones to pick from with more available in the coming months.

I got the Android G1 phone back in October of 2008, about a week after it came out. The first 24 hours with the phone was frustrating. Once I read the manual that came with the phone and watched a couple videos, I quickly understood how the phone worked and went from frustrated to enlightened. I’ve met a number of other folks who had a G1 for a few days and then quickly returned them. I suspect if they just spent the time to read the manual their experience would have been a better one.

I got the iPhone 3G S this past summer, essentially a week after the 3G S phone was released. The 3G S is provided by work. Being in the podcasting and new media business, it was important that I have and use a iPhone because it makes up such a large portion of the podcasting market share. It was easy for me to start using the iPhone, I never had to refer to a manual to get started. Coming from Android though, I quickly came to the realization how limited the iPhone is. I will get more into that shortly.

My Analogy of iPhone vs Android: An iPhone is like a desk, it can handle lots of work, but the only way the work gets done is if you do it. An Android phone is like having two desks with a secretary; one for you and another with a secretary working 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You still have to do your work, but it is nice to have your secretary tell you when you get new email, future appointments, Facebook reply, Tweet message or if there’s a flood warning.

This is my biggest frustration with the iPhone. I’ve been told by some iPhone users that the phone can be hacked to do what I can do with my Android phone. But that’s not quite how things work in Android. Not only can multiple applications run at the same time on Android, but all push type notification for things like Twitter, Facebook, Weather alerts, etc.. all funnel into a single stream of notifications that are easily accessible at the top of the screen. Even with a hacked iPhone, the user has to load the specific app to see if anything has changed.

I’m indifferent in opinion if the iPhone should evolve to be a multi-tasking push notifying device like Android. Referring back to my original frustration with the G1, I think there will always be a market for a simple one task at a time, only work when I tell you to work phone. I have a feeling that Apple did this on purpose so users can start using the phone quickly without frustration. Keep it simple works for most.

Unfortunately for Apple, I’m not most people. I have a lot of work to do all the time. Android, though it is initially more complicated than the iPhone, simply does more.

Hardware wise, the iPhone is definitely a well built phone. I am not at all worried that something will break or fail on the phone. I cannot same the say about my HTC G1, after 1 year of use it feels aged.

Some specific features missing in the iPhone found in Android:

  • Multi-color LED light: Applications in Android take advantage of this. I setup my twitter app to blink cyan when I have new tweets for example.
  • Desktop Widgets: I never have to load the calendar or weather applications, I can see what my next appointment is and the weather simply by looking at my home screen.
  • Micro SD card: Comes in handy, I’ve actually downloaded documents on my G1 then plugged the SD card into my laptop.
  • Notifications Bar: Applications such as Twitter, Facebook, Weather Bug, system updates, etc.. add little notifications in an easy to access list available by pulling down the top of my screen with my finger like a curtain.
  • Google Voice: iPhone doesn’t have this functionality, not because it can’t, but because they didn’t allow it. Sad because Android has 2 applications for Google Voice, one made by Google and another called GV made by Evan Charlton which is even better than the Google version.

Some things about the Android G1 phone I don’t like:

  • Hardware on the G1 seems weak. I’ve seen other G1’s where the sliding mechanism feels very sloppy. Since I’ve seen that I’ve been very careful when I open/close my G1. The plastic clear cover over my camera lens has cracked and I find the plastic used on the phone to be of a poor quality.
  • Camera is slow – I thought this was a problem with Android, but I’ve seen the Hero take pictures faster and they’re much more crisp compared to my phone.
  • Touch keyboard in Android sucks – It can be improved, the only thing I do like is the short vibrate on button touch feature. I haven’t seen Android 2.0, reportedly the touch keyboard is much better on it.
  • No 3.5mm audio jack – I have to use a Mini USB to 3.5mm adapter in order to plug headphones into the phone.

Applications noted with an asterisk* are applications I highly recommend.

Applications I use on iPhone (besides what comes with the phone):

  • NPR News* – If you like NPR, this is a pretty good app.
  • WordPress 2.0* – App made by Automattic.com for working with your WordPress blog. Prefer the wpToGo but moderating comments with this app is superior.
  • Bump* – Exchanging contacts by bumping phones
  • Facebook
  • Flickr
  • PogoPlug – Works with your pogoplug account.
  • Pandora – Streaming radio
  • NASA – Keep track with NASA missions
  • WeatherBug

Applications I use on Android (besides what comes with the phone):

  • KeePassDroid – Android version of KeePass
  • ShopSavvy* – scan bar codes while at the store and get both regional store and online compared pricing
  • TasKiller (Free/Pro) lets you kill tasks that run in the background, useful if you want to extend battery life
  • AndroZip File Manager – Handle/create Zip files on the phone.
  • Bluetooth File Transfer – Exchange files with other Android phones
  • AndFTP – FTP client
  • Wifi Analyzer* – Analyze all the Wifi signals so you can determine the best channel for your wireless access point.
  • Key Ring Reward Cards* – Scan all your grocery store and box store cards into your phone. More abou this app below.
  • wpToGo* – similar to WordPress 2.0, works better for writing posts, but the WordPress app for the iPhone moderates comments better.
  • Listen* – Podcatcher (audio only at present) that runs in the background and downloads any size media. I’ll write more about this app near the bottom of this post.
  • T-Mobile Visual Voicemail – just like visual voicemail on iPhone. I prefer the interface better tahn the Voicemail on iPhone actually.
  • Pandora – Streaming radio
  • WeatherBug* – Way better than WeatherBug on the iPhone becuase it has a desktop widget and adds notifications to my notifications bar in Android. Other than that, it’s similar to the WeatherBug app on iPhone.
  • httpmon HTTP Server Monitor – Monitors web sites.
  • Barcode Scanner – Alternative to Bump, all your contacts have square barcodes you can use this to scan in or give out your contact information easily.
  • Voice Recorder – Simple application for recording.
  • FxCamera – Camera app that lets you add effects
  • Tuner – gStrings – lets you tune your instruments with the phone
  • Qik* – Stream video from your phone’s camera live on 3g or Wifi (unlike the iPhone)
  • Snap Photo Pro* – Camera app with a lot of options (default camera doesn’t have that many), it is worth buying this application.
  • PogoPlug – Works with your pogoplug account.
  • T-Mobile My Account – Get account usage and also monitors battery life
  • Facebook for Android
  • Scoreboard – Follow sports teams
  • ConnectBot – SSH client
  • GV* – Google Voice application, works better than the one by Google
  • Bubble – Level application
  • iTweet* – Twitter application, more about it below
  • ToggleWifi– Toggle on-off Wifi from a desktop icon.
  • ToggleBlu – Toggle on-off bluetooth from a desktop icon.
  • Rings Extended – Use any audio on your phone as an audio setting for any application that uses notifications.

Key Ring Reward Cards

This has to be one of my favorite applications on Android. I used to have a half dozen of those cards on my key chain. Sometimes I would go to the grocery store with my other keys and not even have my reward card on me. Now both of my sets of keys are free of these stupid cards. There is also a cool factor when the person behind you sees you using a phone rather than your keys to scan in your rewards.

Listen (Google Labs Podcatcher for Android)

The Google Listen podcatcher is way better than iTunes on the iPhone. It does not have the 10MB limit on 3g like the iPhone does. It also has a pretty easy to use listen queue that allows you to organize the podcast episodes you want to listen to into a simple list. Anything in your listen queue automatically gets downloaded in the background. The application has a lot of potential. The only major downfall of the application currently is its search. You would think anything having to do with Search and Google would be brilliant, but finding podcasts in the Listen app is nothing but brilliant. The trick I’ve found is to search for episodes based on the episodes show notes. Searching for a podcast program is futile at best, but by episode notes typically works every time. You can add podcasts manually by RSS feed as well.

i Tweet (Twitter app for Android)

Not to be confused with iTweet.net, the i (space) Tweet app on Android is the best phone interface designed Twitter application I’ve seen to date. I was using Twitroid for a while, but found its memory usage  and clunky interface got to be quite annoying. i Tweet works in the same way and can run in the background to make use of the notifications features built into Android. When my phone blinks cyan, I know I got tweets waiting for me.

UPDATE!

I noticed I missed some other Android applications that I am using. Here’s the remainder of the list:

  • Toddler Lock – Locks the screen so toddlers can play with the phone. makes sounds and displays color shapes.
  • BistroMath – Calculate tips when dining out.
  • Compass – What direction is north.
  • ASCII Chart – Displays the ascii chart and its numeric values (for programmers)
  • GPS Speedo – can detect yoru speed when GPS is enabled.
  • Where – Find dining, shopping, etc.. based on your current location
  • Pick a # – Lets you randomly get a number based on a range you specify.

Here are some more apps suggested from Matt Gunn:

  • Movies – Display currently playing movies at nearby Theaters
  • SportsTap – Sports portal like Scoreboard
  • Foursquare – Explore major cities
  • Robo Defense – game
Categories
Technology

Live at WordCamp Columbus

WordCamp ColumbusI’m at WordCamp Columbus! It’s great, there are about 100 or so folks in attendance. Now at lunch we’re eating during an open mic, some hard core WordPress folks are speaking about whaty they do with WordPress, asking questions, etc.. I just learned that there are only 6-7 plugin devolopers here today.

I’m looking forward to the afternoon. The sessions sccheduled will be covering topics I’m not so knowledagable. At 2pm I’ll be doing my presentation on setting up WordPress with Podcasting where I’ll cover the plugins avaialble and go into detail on Blubrry PowerPress and WP Audio Player plugins.

Categories
Technology

Google Android G1 Week 2 Review

So I’ve had this Google phone for 2 weeks and I must say that I’m very pleased with it. Unfortunately, I have not used a blackberry or an iPhone for 2 weeks, so I cannot fairly compare the phones. I can, however, point out the important features as well as the ergonomics of the phone that make this phone awesome.

Features That Rule!

The functionality and tight integration of the applications make this phone kick butt.

Gmail – Gmail works awesome on the phone. It has its own separate Gmail application which makes it easy to send and view Gmail messages. Since the phone is multi-threaded, everything works similar to how things work on a regular computer. For example, during the election I was following twitter on the phone and NBC4 Columbus put out a tweet asking for pictures of the lines at the voting booths. First I opened up Gmail, started a message. Then I turned on the camera, took a picture, closed the camera whcih brought me back to my message then quickly attached the image I just took and finished by clicking send. The whole process is pretty seamless.

Contacts – My contacts in Gmail and on the phone are all part of one single database of contacts. Anytime i add a new contact on the phone, it appears in Gmail. When I add a contact in Gmail, it appears on the phone. This is just one super powerful feature.

Calendar – I have a number of calendars. As expected you can view your calendar on the phone. What’s sweet is it also views all the calendars that are shared out to your Google Calendar. This means that the overlay of calendars from my work, personal and wife’s calendars appear in my phone. What’s even more awesome is how calendar events that have alarms configured set off the alarm in the phone. This whole calendar integration was very well thought out and Google deserves an A+ for this one.

Google Maps – This has already come in handy twice! Last week I was trying to find the West Marine store here in Columbus. When I mapped it at home, I thought the store was located on the west side of Sawmill road. When I drove over there and couldn’t find the store, I decided to re-map it in Google Maps on the phone. Though the point mapped did not indicate which side of Sawmill I needed to be on, it displayed the phone number for the business as a clickable number in the same way other numbers appear as contacts. I just clicked once and bam, the phone dialed West Marine and within seconds I was talking to someone who helped me find the store.

Dialer – The dialer application is what it is, the app that lets you dial numbers and contacts. This may be the first part of the phone that i could see vast improvement with. One cool feature though is how the Phone’s contacts can be filtered by groups. I setup a group in my Gmail contacts of people I call the most so those are the numbers that only appear in the main list of contacts in my phone. But don’t let this fool you, just because you only list contacts that are in a specific group does not mean the phone doesn’t recongize all of your contacts. It’s pretty tight phone in that regard.

Text Messaging – This works similar to Gmail, with each person you text listed as a separate thread. Nothing good or bad to say about it.

IM Client – It works pretty well and does the job.

Browser – The browser works pretty well. The coolest part of the browser is how it handles tabs. I like to open new links in a new tab, so all I do is hold my finger on the link for 2 seconds then a menu appears letting me open the link in a new tab. Moving between the tabs is pretty easy too. Sometimes I find myself in twitter in one tab and reading a blog in another. My only gripe so far is that you cannot perform file uploads from the browser. Not sure why this limitation is set but it is definitely something coded into the browser.

All around the default package of apps in this phone make this a very powerful tool for keeping in touch with others in all modern forms of communication.

Ergonomics Gets a C+

Though the phone is growing on me, it has some obvious ergonomic flaws. I pointed these out early on in my first blog post about the phone (click here) so I’ll just touch on them.

Ports, or lack there of – The position of the USB port sucks when you are texting. Though so far I have not found a need to have headphones plugged in while I am texting I can foresee that this will be a problem when I’m using the phone as both an mp3 player and as a phone. The lack of portion options also limits this phone. Had they just put a headphone jack along the right side of the phone then I’d be a happy camper. Then I could listen to music while texting without the plug getting into the way of my hands.

Camera – The camera has absolutely no options which sucks. Since it’s a camera phone, I’d like to set the picture quality a little lower so the files are smaller for sending in email. One other complaint is the delay when clicking the picture button and when the picture is actually taken. You absolutely cannot take a crisp picture with this phone holding it with just one hand. I am getting used to it but boy my last phone had a 1 Megapixel camera and took pictures much faster than this one.

3rd Party Apps

SSH Client – Okay, the average person would not even care about this but being a programmer and network administrator this feature is awesome. The application is called ConnectBot. It’s a petty simple SSH client. Though it is a bit painful to use with a texting keyboard compared to a regular keyboard, it does the job. I haven’t had to use it in a practical sense yet but if I am ever out of town and away from a computer I still have a way to connect to one of our rack servers and fix a critical problem through the shell. Extremely powerful tool in my opinion.

Twitter – There is a pretty good Twitter app for Android called  Twidroid. It works pretty well. The only feature that it lacks is a screen of public @ replies. Otherwise it works pretty well.

Pac Man – Yea, who doesn’t like old Atari games.

Others – I’ve installed an app for calculating tips at restaurants, an app which lets me use the camera to scan bar codes at stores to search other stores for comparable pricing and a weather plugin to easily obtain the current, hourly, 3 day and 10 day forecasts.

Overall Opinion

This is a great tool. I no longer want to refer to this as a phone as it is much more than that. I now know why so many people love their Blackberry’s or iPhone’s, these multi function devices let you do so much. However, they will never replace a computer, that is for sure. If anything, these devices could bridge the gab for the need for laptop computers. I am sure it will not be long before I hear about folks going back to desktop computers because their phone does everything they need when they are out of the office. I also predict that in a year or so we will see Android based laptop and desktop computers. I don’t see any reason why Google would not do this, as this would complete the gamut of needs for the average person and business as far as computing is concerned. Apple took OSX to the phone and I am certain Google will take Android from the phone to the desktop. Time will tell if I’m right.

Categories
Technology

G1 Android Phone Day 3

Okay, I said I would wait a week before I give my review of my new Google G1 Android phone, but I now decided to wait 2 weeks since next week is the election. So this post will be a 3 day review of the phone thus far.

First conclusion, if you use Gmail, then this phone is for you!

Integration with Google

This phone is tight, I mean tight, with Google services. I use Google apps for my Domain, which means Email sent to mandato.com is actually handled by Gmail. The phone worked right out of the box with my mandato.com Gmail address. This tight integration with my Email and calendar alone will save me a lot of time and help me better manage my communication via both Email, IM and phone. If you use Gmail for your business and/or to communicate with family and friends, you will appreciate this phone.

So how tight is Android with Gmail? Well, all my contacts in Gmail are contacts in my phone. My calendar events are now synchronized between my phone, Google calendar on the web and my desktop Sunbird calendar application. Sure other applications and services (Act, Lotus Notes and Outlook come to mind) integrate with Software phones on computer desktops, etc.., but this does the job for new kinds of customers like myself, those who have mobile and/or virtual business environments.

So, this is why I got the phone and I must say it does everything I expected.

The Good, The Interface

The Interface for the phone is intuitive, though I would have to say this phone is not for everyone. As far as a phone is concerned, it works pretty well. In normal mode (keyboard closed), you can do a lot of basic stuff with the phone, access your calendar, dial, Google maps, web browser, email, etc… As soon as you need more computer like functionality, just put your thumb on the left side of the screen and push it to the right, and you got yourself a nice functioning keyboard. I never understood why someone would design a phone like this, but now I have it I know why, to keep things simple when possible. For example, I don’t think my parents will have a problem answering a phone call with this phone, but they certainly would have problems using the keyboard. I still have a phone that my mom could make a phone call with without getting completely confused.

There are some items about using the phone, that I’ll call techniques, that someone will need to learn to appreciate how to use and navigate a G1 phone.

First is the menu button. At any point, you can click the menu button to do essentially the same as clicking the ‘File’ pull down menu in any Windows application. For example, in an IM chat, click the menu button to do things such as close the IM chat window or toggle to another ongoing chat window. You’re going to need to learn this fast as there is no touch screen option to get to these options or settings screens.

Touch and hold, in some instances, will achieve the same as a right click when in a Windows application. For example, when viewing email messages, touch and hold the message in question to see options such as delete and mark as read/unread.

Back button is very important, as it does as it implies. Anytime your in a screen and you want to cancel what you’re doing or go back to the last screen, just click the back arrow button and you’re good.

The most tricky but coolest of features is the “closing the blinds” like feature to see the current list of notifications. It is hard to describe, but basically at the top of the screen is a bar that tells you what’s going on with the phone, date/time, battery life, etc… The top left corner will have icons for different types of notifications such as email, gmail, calendar, IM, txt, missed calls, voice mail etc…. All of these incoming messages or notifications are all listed in these blinds. This feature is definitely pretty sweet.

The Bad, The Hardware

I do have a couple items with the phone that I don’t like. Fortunately, they are issues with the hardware, not the software.

First problem is the lack of port options. The only way to plug anything into this phone is through its one proprietary USB port. The phone does come with stereo headphones, though if you want to keep the phone plugged in to charge, then listening to some music or making a hands free call isn’t an option. I did order an adapter off Ebay, but you would think it would just make sense to solder on a 2.5mm jack, as it is the most common hands free jack size.

Using the keyboard while something is plugged into the USB port is no walk in the park. My right index finger wants to surround the sides of the phone when typing, the cable just gets into the way. See photo. When nothing is plugged into the USB port, I’m just peachy keen. When a cable is plugged in, my finger constantly has to decide if it should wrap above or below the cable. Very very annoying. What would be ideal is either a second USB port on the right side of the phone (top side when in keyboard mode) or if the USB port was at a corner and could rotate from corner to corner or bottom. My vote is for either a second port or headphone jack centered on the right side (top side when in keyboard mode).

The built-in camera is not so hot. Part of the problem may simply be with the button location though. When I take pictures holding it vertically, it is hard to press the camera button. When turned sideways, the button is a little easier to push but you still need to hold the camera with both hands to keep it as still as possible to prevent blurring. I have yet to take a clear photo with the camera.

Conclusion

This phone is awesome. It is definitely going to save me time allowing me to keep up with work when I otherwise would not be able to as well as keep everything tightly together so I can access all my data from any computer and my phone.