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Topics - JavaJones [ switch to compact view ]

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Hi folks! I'm in the process of conceptualizing a new graphics program and I'm looking for ideas and inspiration in user interface design. I would love to see your favorite examples of excellent, well designed, intuitive, even "clever" User Interfaces in applications (not websites). Aesthetics matter too, but I'm mostly interested in functional design.

It would be especially helpful to see examples of applications with complex functionality that is exposed through an intuitive UI. 3D programs, music programs, etc. Creative applications, content creation, that kind of thing.

Ideally examples would be from desktop applications, but mobile apps (phone/tablet) are useful tool. Basically any UI that has ever made you go "wow, I wouldn't have thought of that" or use words like "inspired", "ingenious", or "slick" to describe it. The kind of UIs that are immediately intuitive and easy to use, appealing to look at, and a pleasure to interact with. With everything where it "should" be and no actions taking more steps than seem necessary.

Examples of UIs with some nice ideas and "touches", but that are not necessarily a cohesively awesome UI all around also helpful. But I'm really looking for excellent all-around design examples.

Thanks much!

- Oshyan

Hi folks, I've got a sudden and surprising need for some kind of "ecard" (electronic card) system or service and I thought the DC community might have some ideas for how to address this need.

The basic requirement is for a system that:
  • Web-based, ideally (we don't want customers to have to download e.g. an app to their computer or phone to view
  • Allows easy creation of card-like visually-oriented messages (think traditional ecards)
  • Allows use of custom images provided by the user, preferably able to specify "cover", "inside", and maybe even "back"
  • Ideally the text is all customizable and has a hand-written look (e.g. a "script" type font)
  • Can handle automatic mailing to a list or group of people
  • Can personalize the text on each message with e.g. {first_name}, so that you get e.g. "Dear Bob Johnson" in the "card" contents
  • Provides some kind of way for the recipient to view the card in a nice way, something as simple as images of the front, inside, and back, or a more dynamic approach that lets them click to flip between views or something

So the general idea in this particular case is our "user" would create a base card in the real world, some kind of hand-drawn design, then scan that and use it for the cover and possibly interior or back. Then they upload this to the "system" and write a message in the online editor. They upload their contacts (or select from a list they previously uploaded), and the system can then send out ecards to those contacts with custom greeting per-contact.

The bottom line goal is to have a way to contact and thank customers in a customized way that includes their name and custom imagery/graphics/etc. And to be able to create and send this out easily and quickly. So for example of course one could do this all in Photoshop or InDesign but the process of customizing the card for each recipient and sending it out would be laborious.

This probably sounds suspiciously like typical mailing list system features, but from what I've seen the main issue there is very few mail clients support anything but basic fonts. Web font support (or Google Fonts) is quite limited, even in Gmail. So the ability to do e.g. "Hi Bob Johnson" in a nice-looking (i.e. script font) way is quite limited if not impossible. Most of these systems also don't provide card-like templates, nor do they have web-based viewing systems with any sophistication (i.e. with a way to view front, inside, and back of card in a nicely presented way). It would all work in a pinch, certainly, but it's pretty non-ideal and not really capable of the full feature list here.

I have searched around Google of course and have found no end of very, very bad ecard sites (it seems, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be a market full of garbage, make-a-quick-buck type sites with terrible content and horrible design/functionality). Most of them are heavily template-focused, with lots of terribly-designed holiday themed cards, Thank-You cards, etc, etc. Custom capabilities (e.g. upload image for front of card) are limited when available (which is only in a minority of cases anyway). And none of them seem to have good contact management. Many also have advertising, etc. The need here is for a business-oriented system, one we're happy to pay for to get good service, but ideally at a price that is competitive with other mailing-type services.

There was one "business-oriented" ecard site I found, but it seems to be largely template-oriented and the ability to upload e.g. custom front images is unclear. They have a "custom" option but it's more like a service to design a card for your company, which is probably expensive. The card send-outs themselves are also not cheap, around $.80/each for 100 at a time. MailChimp, by contrast, is free up to 2000 or so recipients! That price would be acceptable if they supported all needed features, but they seem to be pretty focused on their own pre-existing designs which won't work for this need.

Then there's B2B Ecard Which seems again heavily focused around templates, in this case even narrower, around specific holidays. Even their "Custom" option seems holiday-oriented. And it's all quite expensive-seeming to boot!

There's also Smilebox, which is an app that requires install on a desktop machine, and I haven't tested it yet. It may do some or all of what is needed here, but again it seems very template-oriented and we're more interested in providing our own graphics. I thought someone here might either know what Smilebox can do from personal experience, or have a better suggestion.

Are there any better options out there folks?


- Oshyan

With the coming upgrades to DC that mouser is working on, I got to thinking about the future, the long view, how to future-proof a community like this. I run a couple of forums myself, all based on SMF (and have administered vBulletin, phpBB, and other forums as well), and while I've found SMF to be my favorite overall of the free options I've tried, its development now seems troubled and its design a bit archaic.

With the current dominance of social media and new methods of interaction that are evolving (short Twitter posts, @mentions, tagging, video and photo posting, coming interactivity/VR, who knows what else), I started to feel like traditional forums might be on their way to becoming antiquated in the way that Newsgroups are now - they still exist, people still use them, but they're relegated to a seldom-used part of the Internet where most people seldom venture. I have seen traffic diminish on the forums I manage and am part of over the past 5+ years, which might support this idea...

So I started to wonder what might be next. If SMF and the traditional forum model are losing popularity and not as appealing to new users, and perhaps younger users, then what is out there to replace these systems? What can you download and run the same way you run SMF, but with more modern features, design, interaction methods, etc? I found a few obvious answers in the most popular of such "next generation" systems, notably Discourse and nodeBB, along with a few hybrids like BurningBoard, and even (just today) some forks of SMF like ElkArte that add some needed features to SMF's base code.

Discourse seemed a bit alien to me at first, but also rather exciting in its potential. Once I found a Material Design theme for it, it looked a lot more appealing too. The others I've looked into a lot less, but from my not-very-well-researched position Discourse still appears to stand-out in features and goals. Unfortunately I haven't had a chance to try *any* of these systems yet though.

I'd love to hear thoughts and experiences from anyone who has been looking into similar systems, or better yet, who have tested one or more of these (doesn't have to be ones I mentioned, just a system that is more "modern" and "progressive" than SMF is, and ideally free/open source).

- Oshyan

I am shocked - shocked I say! - to see that there appear to be no previous threads on the whole "hyperlapse" thing (according to the Search at least). This is a variation of timelapse where the camera actually moves *large* distances (as opposed to the small dolly shots of most timelapse) while maintaining (relatively) smooth motion, creating an amazing combination of realistic and surreal imagery and motion. It really just has to be seen to be appreciated. This is an excellent introduction to what can be achieved:

Like many things this is a technique that has been around for quite some time (earliest example I've seen was shot on film in 1995!) and was pioneered by some innovative photographer/videographers, painstakingly investing tons of time and effort into getting good results. And as with most great artistic innovations it is now starting to become more achievable for the average person who *doesn't* have days or weeks on their hands to plan, shoot, and edit such complex projects.

We first saw tools that anyone could use to create Hyperlapses from Google Maps street view data, which produced some cool results in itself. But the image quality and consistency were of course limited and the subject matter even more so. And whatever you did, it just wasn't *personal*, it wasn't *your* video.

Enter Microsoft Hyperlapse Pro!


Microsoft began doing research in this area a few years back and showed some tremendously promising results processing average GoPro-style mounted action camera videos into highly watchable compressed versions of the journey the camera captured. Rather than watching an hour long rock climbing expedition on a head-mounted camera, you can watch it in 60 seconds, with a fluid impression of the environment much as in the hyperlapses shown in the video above. This was a fairly revolutionary idea and the results of Microsoft's research really have to be seen to be properly appreciated:
Unfortunately, while MS's research was promising, there was no software to go with it...

Well, I've had a web change detector watching their page for over a year now, waiting for the actual availability of software that implements their seemingly cool tech, and at long last it's available! GHacks has a good write-up:


Microsoft Hyperlapse Pro can be downloaded from Microsoft's Research website. It is compatible with all recent versions of Windows and only available as a 64-bit version.

The installation is straightforward and the installer itself is clean and does not include any surprises.

The hyperlapse video creation process itself is divided into four parts. First thing you do is create a new project and import a supported video format. Hyperlapse Pro supports mp4, mov and wmv video files only.

Unfortunately it does come with a watermark currently, which is a real shame, but it's still cool to be able to play with the fruits of their research. Instagram came out with a similar processing technology in an iOS-only app about 8 months ago, so this kind of thing has been available for a while already. However Instagram's approach is not as thorough or capable as Microsoft's seems to be, and of course it's iOS-only. Microsoft has the PC application as well as an option for both Windows Phone and Android owners to play with.

So does anyone have any videos they can try this one? Show us your results!


Living Room / Talents and talent shows
« on: August 21, 2014, 12:40 PM »
Hi folks. Guess what: my girlfriend is on America's Got Talent this year! And now she's in the semifinals, holy cow. Her name is Abigail Baird, she's an acrobat, and her act is called Aerial Animation. Here's her first audition a couple months ago:

Aerial Animation AGT Audition

And her second performance in the Quarterfinals:

The official video doesn't include the judges comments, but it's here:

She has been working incredibly hard on this and it's pretty amazing to see her dedication and perseverance. She's been a professional acrobat and teacher for a number of years now and she has been getting by on earnings from teaching acrobatics to kids and the gigs she has been able to get here and there (it turns out making a living as an acrobat is hard!), but this could be an opportunity to perform full-time and it's tremendously exciting.

I've been pretty quiet around here lately, I have to minimize my DC time because otherwise it'll take most of my *free* time. ;) But I still consider you guys part of my Internet family and this remains one of the best communities around, so I'm excited to share this moment in my life. I know some of you have already seen Abigail on the show, so hopefully it's interesting to know she's a distant DC cousin, in a way. :)

Abigail will be be on the live show again for the semifinals coming up August 26th, and she'll need votes to continue. If you're already watching the show, vote for your favorites, but maybe put a couple of your votes in for her even if she's not your top pick. :D If you weren't already watching, then you weren't going to vote anyway, right? So I figure you might as well give her *all* your votes. ;) There are 3 ways to vote and you get 10 points for each voting method. But I'll go into all that a bit more in an update early next week before the show.

Anyway, I've been encouraged to post about this by mouser and other DC'ers, but in the spirit of community involvement I also want to open this up a bit more widely. Because as it turns out at least one other DC'er has an upcoming brush with fame (you know who you are), and maybe there are more! So if you've been on a talent show before, or have an appearance/audition upcoming, or you just have a talent you want to showcase, let 'er rip! Singing, dancing, expert armpit fart noises, playing the William Tell Overture on 5 parts of your body (real talent a friend of mine showcases at parties), whatever you can do, let's see it! In the meantime I'll be posting occasional updates about my sweetheart, including shameless requests for your votes. :D

- Oshyan

Living Room / Share your photos! Travel shots, photoblogs, etc.
« on: August 21, 2014, 12:49 AM »
I was shocked to find that there is apparently no thread dedicated to sharing everyone's travel, art, and other photo captures (if there is one, I must have missed it - point me in the right direction!). So I'm starting one right here and now with the selfish motive of sharing a gallery of images from a trip earlier this year (in March) to Iceland. But the unselfish part is I hope this will inspire others to share their own photos, whether amateur or professional, artistic or purely documentary, new or old. Show us where you've been and what you see through your lens(es)!

To kick things off here's Iceland Part 1 (of 3)


- Oshyan

I am currently dealing with some issues with CrashPlan, the combined online and local backup service I reviewed and selected last year for my personal backup needs: http://www.donationc...ex.php?topic=26224.0

One of the problems I am seeing is really high memory use, 1.5-2GB for the backup process (running as a service) at peak. It starts out lower but climbs over the course of a day or two to about that level, then hangs there, presumably as a result of performing more complex operations on the large data set, e.g. encryption, deduplication, versioning, etc.

Now until recently I've been reasonably happy with CrashPlan, but my confidence has definitely been shaken lately. I'm not seeking actual recommendations for other options just yet, but I'm starting the research process. A big part of that is trying to determine whether what I am experiencing is anywhere close to normal *considering my data backup needs*. It may simply be that I'm asking too much of the system and need to get more reasonable, hehe. So what I would love is to hear from other people who are doing fairly large backups to *online* systems, ideally with the following features/characteristics (or close to):

  • Data set at least 1TB, preferably around 2TB (my full data set is 1.9TB at present)
  • Number of files at least 1 million, ideally 1.5 million or more (I have 1.5 million files backed up at present)
  • Combined local and online backup (online backup is an important component; if you're only doing local, your info may be valuable, but it makes it not a direct comparison with CrashPlan)
  • Encryption (being done locally)
  • Deduplication being done on the backup set(s)
  • Continuous backup/file system monitoring (this is not a critical requirement as I do not absolutely need the feature, but this is the way CrashPlan runs, so it would make it most directly comparable
  • File versioning

The info I'm looking for is 1: What software are you using, 2: How often/on what schedule does it run, 3: How much data are you backing up, both in terms of number of files, and total size, 4: How much memory does the process (or processes) use at peak and on average, 5: How much CPU does the backup process use when actively backing up.

Hearing from other CrashPlan users with similar circumstances to myself would certainly be useful. It's very possible that the combination of data size, number of files, and features such as deduplication and file versioning simply make such high memory use somewhat inevitable (or a much slower backup by paging out to disk a lot more). If so, then it's time for me to think about getting rid of some features like possibly versioning (or try reducing length of version history perhaps). But I won't know until I can get some reference points as to whether this seems normal under the circumstances. Trying a bunch of different backup systems myself seems somewhat unfeasible as most would make me pay for uploading more than a fraction of my data, and online backup is a critical component of this.

Any info you can provide on your experiences would be great. Thanks!

- Oshyan

A subject of ongoing interest here (for obvious reasons) is how developers can make money from free or practically free software. Bryan Lunduke has previously had some interesting things to say on this subject, his name has come up here before in related discussions, and he's been experimenting with various approaches for a while now.

Now he's trying a new approach to funding his software development efforts, which he lays out in this blog update: free source code (under the GPL), but only those that donate get compiled binaries. This has of course been thought of and tried before, but I suspect we'll learn more about how it all works out from following his updates from here on as he has tended to be pretty transparent about things. He's got a few other donator benefits thrown in to the mix as well, and I think he's got a reasonable chance of moderate success overall. But is that just due to his existing notoriety as a speaker and FOSS advocate, and building off the established name of his software company? Is this a model that new software devs have a chance with? It remains to be seen if even he will make it work, but I'm hopeful.

I imagine there will also be those who disagree with the idea, perhaps on the grounds that it's against the FOSS ethos, but it's interesting to note that this is coming from a pretty vocal FOSS advocate.

- Oshyan

I have an infrequent but still significant need to make images like this:


By which I mean a single image composed of several separate ones, often in a sequence, or otherwise related, usually with borders between, sometimes with more creative blending (e.g. edges faded into each other).

I want a simple app that makes this super easy to do. The above was created with XnView, which is great as I love XnView. The problem is it's an iterative and imprecise process, this one took me 5 or 6 tries, and the control I had over the end results, while adequate, is limited. What I really want is something that can produce results like that, or like this, easily and quickly:


Or this:


Note the varying sizes and different border, etc. Caption capability per-picture as well as for the whole image would be nice but isn't a fundamental requirement.

Ideally the app would load an arbitrary number of files and then offer me an arbitrarily sized canvas on which to arrange them, with guides and snap-points to make it easy to achieve alignment or random arrangement, resizing, etc. with optional borders. Then it would generate a single image with a resolution of my choice, maximum maybe based on the native resolution of the loaded files. It should be able to deal with lots of high resolution photos at once, and ideally be able to handle RAW formats.

I've seen programs like maybe Arcsoft Photosuite or something similar that do seem to have similar capability, but they're not free, and more importantly they're usually bloated piles of crap with gimmicky features and poorly implemented core functionality. I want something that is hopefully simple, lean, efficient, and has very strong core capability to create these kind of sequence/collage images.

In the past I've used Photoshop to do this type of thing manually but it's laborious. It's even possible that Photoshop has a function in it that does this, or makes my normal process easier (basically just cut/paste and canvas enlargement, then manual border styles and stuff - pain in the butt). So if you've got suggestions for alternate workflow with the apps I already have and use, that's welcome too (Lightroom, XnView, Photoshop, Sagelight basically).


-  Oshyan

This is a really amazing post by a Google employee, supposedly intended originally for a private Google audience but "accidentally" posted publicly and now, apparently, allowed to remain public. Read it while it lasts!
Some choice quotes:
I was at Amazon for about six and a half years, and now I've been at Google for that long. One thing that struck me immediately about the two companies -- an impression that has been reinforced almost daily -- is that Amazon does everything wrong, and Google does everything right... But there's one thing [Amazon] do really really well that pretty much makes up for ALL of their political, philosophical and technical screw-ups.
That one last thing that Google doesn't do well is Platforms. We don't understand platforms. We don't "get" platforms. Some of you do, but you are the minority. This has become painfully clear to me over the past six years. I was kind of hoping that competitive pressure from Microsoft and Amazon and more recently Facebook would make us wake up collectively and start doing universal services. Not in some sort of ad-hoc, half-assed way, but in more or less the same way Amazon did it: all at once, for real, no cheating, and treating it as our top priority from now on. But no. No, it's like our tenth or eleventh priority. Or fifteenth, I don't know. It's pretty low.

It's a long write-up but well worth reading all of it. Please do!

I don't really have much to add except to say that I've never really understood this issue as clearly as he states it here. I've had some sense of it, but the way he lays it out makes it blindingly obvious. I hope Google learns from this because I like their products and the general way they do things, but it's true that they are slowly losing the platform wars. I honestly thought G+ must have had a strong platform vision internally that was slowly being exposed to the outside world, but it sounds like maybe that's not the case. Eek!

- Oshyan

I've decided to buy a kick ass new gaming and 3D render box. I've got most of the parts picked out but, while in the past I would have built it myself, I'm not going to bother this time. One reason for that is I am hoping to get it overclocked from the system builder. I've never really messed with overclocking seriously and I'd rather have it arrive at my door in a known-working overclocked state.

I'll get to my parts list in a minute, which I'd welcome feedback on. But since I'm going to have the thing built for me, my biggest decision at the moment is what system builder to go with. I have a number of options I've found mostly through looking at Reseller Ratings' top rated businesses but would appreciate some more personal recommendations from DC-ers. Remember I'm hoping to have it overclocked by the system builder so they'll need to be experienced with that. They'll also need to carry the critical components of my build, of course. Finally, they should be US-based and ideally not located in California (for tax reasons).

Here are the retailers in current consideration, in no particular order. All have an 8 out of 10 or above on and at least 20 reviews each:

  • AVADirect
  • Puget Systems
  • Digital Storm
  • Main Gear
  • Stealth Machines
  • CyberPowerPC
  • Origin PC

Parts List:
  • High quality case, good cooling, preferably no side windows or front door (cases available depend on system builder)
  • 700W+ PSU with 80+ cert (Antec, Enermax, Silverstone, PC Power and Cooling, Thermaltake, Coolermaster)
  • Decent, reasonably priced socket 1155 motherboard with USB3 and eSATA (ASUS, Gigabyte, etc. - not too particular about this)
  • Core i7 2600k overclocked 20-50% (promised overclocking level available depends on system builder)
  • Liquid or high-end quiet air cooling (noise is a definite factor)
  • 16GB RAM (4x4GB, preferably 1600Mhz)
  • 120GB or larger SSD (probably Intel 510, though possibly OCZ Vertex 3, Crucial M4, or Kingston HyperX)
  • 2-3TB 7200RPM SATA HD (Western Digital Caviar Black or Seagate Barracuda XT, the latter being available in 3TB so preferable)
  • Geforce GTX 570
  • Basic SATA CD/DVD-RW
  • Onboard audio
  • Built-in memory card reader supporting SD and Compact Flash

As I said, noise is a consideration, so whenever possible I'm adding quieter case fans, fan gaskets, etc.

So far Puget is looking pretty strong. They have an excellent rep, great customer service (one of their reps contacted me directly via email after I saved a quote on their site to see if I had any questions and he was able to bring down my build cost a few hundred with some intelligent suggested changes), and while they're more expensive than some other options, they're definitely not out of the park on that. They also offer 30-45% overclocking, among the highest available that I've seen so far. Cyberpower is less well rated, but definitely comes in with the best price and options, including superclocked graphics card and some other freebie extras.

Edit: Any info on the imminent release of new hardware that may affect price or ideal components in this price/performance bracket is also useful. I know the i7 2700k is coming soon but from what I hear it will not slightly more expensive than the 2600k and as a result won't necessarily affect the latter's price. The 2600k has a known OC capability and I don't see it worth taking a risk nor waiting for the 2700k in that regard.

I also know AMD's new Bulldozer is coming out in just a week or so. From what I can see the fastest available version initially will be 3.6Ghz and will be a little bit cheaper than the 2600k. But judging by preliminary benchmarks I don't think it will reliably topple the 2600k, especially when the latter is overclocked. It does have an interesting "all cores turbo" feature that's sort of like built-in overclocking, but I haven't seen much as far as detail or performance on that. Also new AMD/ATI graphics card, the 7000 series, but I don't know much about it...

All feedback is welcome!



I had a really "fun" experience last night as I tried to replace a failing 2TB HD in my media machine with a new 3TB I purchased. On the plus side SMART warned me early that there was a problem so I had time to order the new drive (2 day shipping, thanks Amazon!), install it, and copy everything over to it before the old drive started to smoke (it hasn't done that yet actually, heh).

On the negative side, it turns out the H: drive that was failing was actually on SATA 1 and, apparently, was the boot drive, even though Windows is installed on another drive. There's no OS installed on this system, never has been, so while I recognize the potential benefit of allowing partitions without the primary OS on it to be the "boot" partition, I really think this should be an advanced option that you need to manually specify. I also don't think it should have to do with what SATA port your drive is plugged in to. It's long enough ago that I can't remember why the config ended up this way, but I'm pretty confident I was not aware that some drive other than the OS install drive was set to manage booting. Why, after all, would I do this intentionally unless I was multi-booting? So my first issue is that I think Windows basically made this decision on its own during install of Win7. Bad default.

That would not be so bad *if* Windows could intelligently move or recover from the loss of a boot drive. In my case, at least, it could not. Here's what happened:

I removed the failing drive after copying everything off of it and on next boot I got a message "Reboot and select proper boot device..." etc. Now I had just copied all the files off the drive, I knew it wasn't the Windows install drive, but I plugged it back in just to be sure. It booted up, of course, but looking at H: showed no Windows files, as I thought. Unplugged again, same message. OK, Windows is stupid, but a simple repair should work, yes? Put in the DVD, booted to it, tried startup repair several times in sequence, no go. It didn't even recognize the Windows install I had in there, even though it was on C: and in the default \Windows install directory. WTF? Tried manual startup repair from command prompt in recovery mode. Nope. Then I found out about bcdedit.exe and the new way Windows 7 manages booting. I found a Windows-based BCD tool so I figured I'd just boot back into Windows and specify the right drive for boot. Oops, the "repairs" I had attempted previously without the old drive in there appear to have done *something*: they made it so even the old config doesn't work. Argh!

Finally I found these instructions and yes, I had to follow every last one, essentially manually recreating the bcd file. This is a royal pain in the ass. This should not be necessary.

Why in the name of all that is holy does Windows 7 not handle this more gracefully? Seeing what is actually *in* the BCD file it is retardedly simple. The kind of thing you would think could be generated on the fly *if necessary*. A simple scan of the available drives ought to turn up *all* of the info that's in there. It's absolutely ridiculous that I had to spent a half hour in the command prompt to fix this, and that was only after an hour or two of trying other options that should have been easier and should have worked. Really I think it should have "just worked" considering nothing was lost except this stupid BCD file.

So has anyone else experienced this? Any sane explanations as to why it's done this way and why recovery is not easier? Why could Windows Startup Repair not even find my Windows install (yes, the BCD file was missing, but there is a bcdedit scan function that can find it, why did the GUI version not do this?)? Am I just ridiculous for expecting to be able to remove a non-boot (or apparently not) drive and expect my system to still boot? And why did I even get into this mess in the first place - I never asked Windows to use a drive other than the Windows install drive for boot management.

- Oshyan

Living Room / So Apple really is a religious thing...
« on: May 19, 2011, 11:00 AM »
This explains a lot:

- Oshyan

I've recently been discussing small-to-mid-size business IT procedures with a few colleagues and have come up against some interesting differences in our perspectives. One issue in particular seemed worth getting wider feedback about.

In any business that reaches a size large enough to have dedicated IT resources (whether in-house or contracted), there is usually the concept of a "help desk", generally the first point of contact for user issues. Methods of contact often include phone, email, and form input (Intranet or Internet). Help desk staff usually make use of some kind of ticket/issue tracking system to help them document, assign, and keep users informed on issue handling. Some companies allow or even encourage direct access to the help desk systems used for issue tracking (obviously with limitations for user-level vs. technician level access), others prefer to keep the issue tracking system entirely proprietary to the IT/help desk staff, with all communications made directly by a help desk representative through email, phone, or in-person.

Another key differentiator is that many companies, especially in my experience web-based or web-oriented ones, either allow you to directly input your issue into a form and immediately generate a help desk ticket, or they immediately generate an issue/case number from any incoming email (my ISP is a good example of this). Others prefer to only ever generate help desk tickets manually, with a help desk rep soliciting required information from the user either via phone or email.

So my questions are:
  • In your experience is auto-generation of tickets common (e.g. via email), and do you personally prefer that or not?
  • In your experience do help desk departments often provide direct access to ticket creation via form?
  • Do they allow access to viewing/interacting with the trouble ticket system and user's open tickets via web?
  • How do you feel about this level of access for individual users?

I'm happy to share my own perspective of course but I hope to get a sample of yours first. :)

- Oshyan

Basic Info

App NameCrashPlan+ Unlimited
App Version Reviewed3.0.3
Test System SpecsWin7 x64 on a Core i7 920, 1x500GB, 1x640GB, 1x2TB internal drives, 2x1TB external drives
Supported OSesWindows x32/64, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris
Support MethodsWiki, Email, Forum
Upgrade PolicyYearly subscription
Trial Version Available?Free version available, various limitations. Details here: http://www.crashplan...onsumer/compare.html
Pricing SchemeCrashPlan Free $0, CrashPlan+ 10GB $1.46-$2.50/mo, CrashPlan+ Unlimited $2.92-$5.00/mo, CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited $6.00-$12.00/mo. Pricing depends on length of term commitment.
Reviewer Donation LinkDonate to JavaJones, the Review Writer
Relationship btwn. Reviewer and Product No relationship to company and no promotional considerations.


CrashPlan is yet another entry in the increasingly crowded online backup marketplace. Pricing is competitive, they offer unlimited online backup storage space, and they have a "family plan" that allows up to 10 computers for a single account. Seen as simply another cloud backup option they are appealing enough, but there are some important additional features that may make CrashPlan more appealing to the power user and/or those particularly concerned about data redundancy.

In particular CrashPlan distinguishes itself by providing both local and off-site backup, supporting a large number of platforms, and having a free version that supports unlimited backup size to local devices. In addition - and of particular importance to me in selecting CrashPlan as a solution - they have options to seed your initial online backup and get a restore copy through the mail on a 1TB drive they provide. They are one of a very few providers to offer this and for those with a huge amount of data to backup and restore (like me, about 1.5TB), this is critical as most home broadband would take literally months of constant use to upload or download that much data. In the event of a restore, it's simply unacceptable to wait around for your data. These are optional services that do carry additional cost, but the fees are reasonable and competitive.

As some of you may know I had a big "data disaster" in late 2010 and that prompted me to spend some serious time setting up a good backup system. CrashPlan is forming a key part of that system and is the first element of it to go into place. It has already saved my butt, too. A few months ago I was shuffling around some drive letters for external drives and Picasa, which I use to catalog all my photos, noticed it could no longer find the photos it had cataloged and so it somehow decided to erase all info about them. My entire catalog was basically gone. Fortunately I had already created a backup with CrashPlan and was able to easily restore just the Picasa catalog to a folder I specified, then I moved out the now apparently broken catalog and replaced it with the backup and viola, everything was back to normal. That's as sure a test of any backup product as I can think of (short of a *full* restore which I have not done yet), so I'm pretty happy with it thus far.


Who is this app designed for:

CrashPlan seems to target the whole spectrum of backup customers, from novices to experts, but I find its unique mix of features and services particularly suited for advanced users with serious backup needs and demand for multiple redundancy. One of the things that's interesting about it is that, unlike many other "cloud backup" tools, it also allows for backing up not only to other folders on your own computer or on your network, but even other people's computers across the Internet (with appropriate authorization of course).

So fundamentally it is designed for anyone who wants to backup their data, which should be everyone, but there are hundreds of such tools, many of them entirely free and potentially more flexible or lightweight (more on that later) than CrashPlan. Where it stands out is really for people who want to do more than just backup to an external drive as that's where its unique features lie. Anyone serious about data integrity will want off-site backup and CrashPlan provides at least 2 different ways to make that possible, one of which can be had for free, which is entirely unique in the market as far as I'm aware.

The Good

There's a lot of good stuff to talk about, but I don't have direct experience with all of it. I'll point out the features I've either been using, or am excited about.

First of all there is a basic version that is free. I am happy to pay for products that provide a lot of value (which CrashPlan does, and I did pay), but I always appreciate free options, especially for use with friends or family who aren't serious enough about their computer use to be willing to pay for much software. As is the case in many free versions of products, it is ad-supported and there are some limitations, but they're quite reasonable. Essentially CrashPlan operates as CrashPlan+ for 30 days, including notable features like Backup Sets as well as online storage, after which the + features are disabled. You can then continue using CrashPlan in free mode without access to online backups. Fortunately this does not remove all of its usefulness by far as it allows backup not only to your own local drives (internal, external, over the network), but also - optionally - to friend's computers in remote locations. So in essence CrashPlan free is similar to most other non-cloud free backup apps, but with the addition of the "backup to friend" option. The ads are also fairly unintrusive.

The friend backup option is really a genius feature. Essentially if you and your friends have some spare hard drive space, you can each help each other provide off-site redundant backup for the others. Form a network of 3 people, each agreeing to buy a 2TB external drive for backup purposes, and it's likely you can each have 2x off-site backups of all your data, along with 1 on-site backup (to the same 2TB drive). You can also use this to help give your family off-site backup for their systems, for example. This feature is part of the free version, so there's really no reason not to use it, and it provides a remarkably easy and cheap route to off-site backup which I'm not aware of anyone else doing as simply, cleanly, or cheaply.

As with all other backup options CrashPlan provides, encryption is available for "backup to a friend". The encryption of the free version appears to be less secure than the + version, but should still be adequate.

CrashPlan+ adds the ability to define "Backup Sets" which basically mean you can define an unlimited number of differently configured source and destination sets. The free version is limited to 1 set of sources and 1 set of destinations, e.g. backup my User folder on C and my Docs folder on D to my external drive on E and my friend's computer remotely). With CrashPlan+ you can do something like back up different folders on C and D drive to different folders on E and F drives locally, which is an important thing for my needs, but not for everyone.

The + version also comes with unlimited online backup space and while many other competitors have been moving to restrict the amount of online storage, CrashPlan remains unlimited, another big reason I chose them. Hopefully it stays this way.

The UI is fairly nice and clearly laid out though the distinction between + and free version features can at times cause confusion, e.g. something may be grayed out either because it's not applicable, or because it's not available in the free version. Usually this is indicated but it can be easy to miss. That being said there are a lot of nice options for resource use control when user is present vs. away, for example, as well as versioning and more, and the controls are organized such that they don't overwhelm the average user. It's a good mix between ease of use and advanced control. You can even secure the CrashPlan desktop app UI with a password.

Notifications are provided in the UI, as well as optionally by email and even Twitter (not sure why they offer Twitter and not other systems, but I guess it's a nice option). The email notification option is particularly nice and is handled by their website not your computer, so even if your system is off it will notify you when you haven't backed up for a while, and of course when a backup completes successfully, any errors that occurred, etc.

I have yet to use the cloud backup portion of the system as I will need to get my first backup seeded, so I can't speak to its effectiveness or features, but judging by the feature list, including versioning, web access, and encryption, it seems at least as good as most other such offerings.

As mentioned above, the option to "seed" your backup as well as receive a hard drive shipped with your restore data is awesome and, while not entirely unique, their pricing and storage size options seem to be more appealing than the competition (e.g. 1TB drive vs. 500GB, $125 vs. $189).

Pricing is competitive, especially for the "family plan" if you have lots of computers. This is really a system and service that can service the needs of advanced users as well as novices.

There are a lot of other features I didn't have a chance to mention or haven't yet tested too. It includes most of the key features of other similar apps like deduplication, compression, etc. Overall a very comprehensive product.

The needs improvement section

No app is without its flaws and CrashPlan has a few. Of most concern for the audience of this app would be issues with the backup process itself and resulting data integrity. Almost every option I've looked at, from DropBox to SugarSync to Carbonite to Mozy to Humyo and more had discussions in their forums of data integrity issues, restore problems, etc, etc. It seems like virtually every backup system has such issues, including enterprise-level stuff (the corrupted backup is a classic enterprise nightmare and the reason places like DriveSavers exist). CrashPlan has had its share of controversy as well, including concerns about undetected backup corruption, unrestorable files, and more. Fortunately most of those issues seem to be in the past judging by the forum discussions, and while some issues still remain such as occasional high CPU or memory usage, overall it seems like a mature and stable product.

That being said I did personally run into a few issues. Most notable was memory use, particularly during my first experiments with CrashPlan which were actually on Vista x64. On that system CrashPlan used up to 400+MB of memory at times, particularly while performing backups, and at the time there were multiple forum threads about the issue. Several months later as I begin a proper ground-up implementation of a new backup system with CrashPlan as a key component, I am so far seeing memory use under 200MB on the same hardware but now Windows 7 x64. Hopefully this either means they've partially addressed the problem or that it behaves better under Win7, and even more importantly it will hopefully stay this way. 200MB for a resident app is not ideal, but it's potentially acceptable given the breadth of features; 400MB however is not acceptable IMO. Note that the memory use of the GUI is around 100MB in itself (only while it's open, you can close to a tray icon that only takes up a few MB). The high memory use I'm referring to here is with the CrashPlan backup *service* (CrashPlanService.exe), which runs resident and won't show up under Win7 unless you "Show processes from all users".

Backup speed did not seem particularly fast either. I would not call it slow, but it's certainly slower than a basic file copy (it is encrypting the files and optionally compressing them so this is not surprising). One thing to check on if you're seeing slower than desirable backup is that the various throttles, especially CPU usage throttle, are not limiting things too much.

It's possible to have a first-time backup run that doesn't back up all data. This sounds worse than it is and is not something I have a good explanation for or way to easily duplicate. But basically if you're adding a backup source and destination and then messing around a lot with the CrashPlan config while it's scanning, it seems like its initial backup scan won't complete fully before it starts to back up. This is not a huge issue since the next time it backs up it will figure out what is missing and take care of it. I have it set to backup every 2 hours (this sounds frequent but isn't because it's all incremental, so it usually takes very little time), so at most it will be 2 hours before the proper full backup begins. Still it's an annoyance.

I also found the "adoption" feature for backups from a previous system to be a bit confusing and eventually opted not to use it. The idea is good in principle - check if the current computer is backing up the same things as a previous one and avoid re-backing up stuff that is already backed up - but it provides too little feedback to be sure of what it's doing.

The file format it backs up to seems to be proprietary. This is understandable but a frustration for some, and a deal breaker for others. If there is ever any indication that CrashPlan may be going away, you should of course find a new solution ASAP. I believe it also requires an account with CrashPlan's server to initially setup, so this could also be a concern for some, and a long-term survivability issue. In this case I think it's really a choice between convenience and absolute data archiving security, where CrashPlan may not last 100 years but in the short-term it lets me backup and restore my data quickly and easily, so I'm less concerned about it lasting into the next century for the moment...

I did not have a need to use support, but there are some complaints in the forums about slow ticket response time. That being said responses in the forums do seem quick and helpful in general, so if you're comfortable with forum-oriented support it should be fine. There's no direct support phone # I could find though so if that's important to you this may not be a good option.

Finally I should mention that the benefit of multiple platform support comes largely from CrashPlan being developed in Java, which does likely contribute to some slight GUI sluggishness at times, as well as possibly being a factor in the memory issues mentioned above.

Why I think you should use this product

I think everyone should have a good backup strategy, and any good backup strategy should involve off-site backup. Period. Unfortunately most options that provide this require a regular fee because storage costs money and generally they'll have you put your data up in the "cloud". Not only is this a cost issue, but it also means backup and restore are slower than need-be.

CrashPlan solves many of these issues by allowing you to backup both locally and remotely with the same app. Not only that but the relatively unique feature of backing up to a friend's system means you can have off-site backup essentially for free (assuming you have a friend with spare storage space). This can also potentially be an improvement over cloud backup providers since if your friend is in the same city or general area and you need to run a restore, you can just go over to their house and copy your backup. In addition I believe you can do "seeded" backups in the same way, again solving a common issue with online backups (long upload times for initial large backups).

So those are all good arguments for using the free version and for virtually anyone to do so. For those considering paying for CrashPlan+, if you're an advanced user wanting to customize your backup sources and destinations more, and/or you just want good online cloud backup with unlimited space, + is definitely worth paying for. So far, aside from Backup Sets, I've been happy with just the free features, but definitely pay for the online backup option if you don't have a friend to backup to. Although the CrashPlan+ subscription also includes some additional features in the client, it's best to think of the purchase as being for the online storage rather than a $50/yr price just for the software upgrade since that's where the majority of the value comes in.

How does it compare to similar apps

As I said above, I spent some time looking into backup options for my new backup system. This included a number of desktop as well as cloud-oriented backup systems. There are too many to mention here, particularly of desktop backup clients, and I did not test any of them in serious depth because none of them combined the best of both local and online backup like CrashPlan does. That feature alone means I have 1 less app I need to run constantly.

CrashPlan does not have every feature of other desktop or cloud backup systems; in particular it does not do 1:1 syncing locally (it backs up to its own proprietary format) and for the cloud storage option it does not provide easy sharing of files to others online like DropBox and others. There are other good tools that cover those needs I feel.

I do have specific direct experience with SpiderOak (didn't like it, frankly I don't remember why) and Humyo (decent, used it to replace SpiderOak for my mom's system and on a client's machine due to 1:1 sync across multiple systems). I also checked out Backblaze in my search as it's one of the few places that does provide a "seed" option for initial large backups. Nobody could match the pricing for multiple computers and the combined features for local and remote backup that CrashPlan has, which are very applicable to my needs.

For those interested in other online backup providers, here's a comparison from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia....line_backup_services


CrashPlan is a great piece of software that combines several important aspects of a comprehensive backup strategy into a single easy to use app. It also has a free version, which means almost anyone can use it to help increase their data integrity and availability. The "backup to a friend" feature is unique and highly valuable. Their pricing is reasonable if you do want to use their online backup storage (which is still unlimited), especially for multiple computers (up to 10 with their "Family Plan").

If you do not yet have a good backup strategy, or your existing strategy does not include a remote storage component, I highly recommend looking at CrashPlan as a part of your total backup solution (and maybe even the core of it).

As with all backup products and processes, I highly recommend you attempt to restore files from time to time, just to make sure the system is working. Ideally you would be able to attempt a full restore after the first full backup as well. Also keep a close eye on the error log and the status report emails.

^ Movie Link ^

So would you be happy, upset, or both if this happened to you? I think I feel pretty much the same as him, if people are making a good amount of money from my work without compensating me that's upsetting. But I'm also a fan of the power for rapid iteration and "art evolution" that the Internet has. How to reconcile...

- Oshyan

General Software Discussion / Photo managers with face recognition?
« on: January 29, 2011, 11:41 PM »
Have any of you played with face recognition in your photo tagging workflows? Do any of you use it on a regular basis? If not, why not?

After using Picasa with the face recognition feature since I think version 3.5, I've become pretty attached to having this capability. Once you see what you can do with it and how often it's useful, I think most people would be sold on it. The "Make Face Movie" functionality alone is gold, but I've also had lots of requests from people since I told them about this for photos of themselves. It's a really cool thing to have. Unfortunately it seems relatively rare still in the world of photo managers. So I'm on the hunt for the best photo manager/cataloger/organizer that has some face recognition functionality.

You're probably thinking if I like Picasa so much, why not just use that? Well, there are a number of problems there. First, just on the face recognition itself, while I find the actual recognition capability to be quite good, it's rather unpredictable and hard to fully control the scan process. Any faces that are detected are easy to deal with, the problem is that scanning doesn't always detect all faces and it seems there's no way to force a re-scan without losing all your existing tagged faces in that folder. There's also no way to resume a scan that may have stopped for some reason. So while I have a great catalog of about 100 tagged faces/people and 1000's of photos of them labeled, I know there are many more that aren't tagged yet and I don't want to manually tag them. There's also no way that I can see to organize people into groups, which would be nice. Perhaps worst of all Picasa doesn't use standard meta data tags for face data, so the info is not portable to other apps. More generally speaking I also find Picasa's editing functionality rather limited, especially compared to higher-end (non-free) apps like Lightroom. Lord how I wish Lightroom just had good face recognition, I would just use that!

So what apps have I found and/or tested so far? Here's a short list, with some test comments following.

  • Picasa - See above, in general I love the actual face recognition and tagging capability and the UI for dealing with faces, it's mostly bugs that put me off it
  • iPhoto - Not tested, I'm not on a Mac and I also hate apps that enforce their own folder organization scheme
  • IDImager - Has face recognition but is not cheap and from my (admittedly brief) tests the actual face recognition not only doesn't work that well, but is also cumbersome to use
  • Windows Live Photo Gallery - Tested briefly, found it cumbersome and not very accurate either, confirmed by Cnet review:
  • Photoshop Elements - Not tested, but reviews say it too is cumbersome and not as good as Picasa: http://graphicssoft....otoshop-elements.htm
  • digiKam - This is an open source photo suite which is a part of KDE I guess, and I hadn't heard of it before, but for an open source tool it's surprisingly nice; unfortunately only the 2.0 beta has face recognition and I couldn't find a Windows binary version to test, only source so far
  • Fotobounce - A desktop app that claims to center its photo organizing around people "because that's the way we think users like to work with their photos"; requires Adobe AIR even though it's fully a desktop app (come on, seriously?); this app has an interesting, clean UI, definitely focused on face recognition, decent recognition quality and speed but the UI is overall slow (probably because of AIR) and the actual workflow is definitely clunkier than Picasa; so this one is promising but its lack of other features makes it pretty much a 1 trick pony for me so its integration with other apps (like a simple right-click "edit in this app" feature) will be key if I'm to use it any further

That's all I've found so far besides a few spammy hits with mention of one or two other apps where I couldn't confirm face recognition was even a feature, and I wasn't about to go installing more apps willy nilly to find out.

One annoying thing about all the apps I've tried, including Picasa, is they also don't seem to use the full power of my system in the scanning process. I have an i7 920 and 6GB of RAM, but CPU usage barely gets above 7% (less than 1 core fully utilized) when doing face recognition in Picasa. Fotobounce actually did pretty good int his regard, bouncing between 10 and 40% usage initially, later rising to 70-90% which is near ideal, but it was the best of the lot as far as fully utilizing resources, and the UI is rather "heavy" and clunky anyway. Maybe the bottleneck is elsewhere (disk I/O), but given how fast these apps can build thumbnails I have my doubts that's the problem; probably just need multithreading/better multithreading.

So that's it. Any and all additional suggestions greatly appreciated! Free or pay, doesn't matter to me.

Edit: More testing of Fotobounce and I have to say it's fairly promising. I'm still not a huge fan of the overall "feel" of the UI, but it's reasonably functional, albeit not as smooth as Picasa. I *do* think it does a better job finding faces than Picasa, but it also has more false positives. Then again it's hard to compare directly as well because Picasa, unlike Fotobounce, has options for how accurate you want the detection to be. So I could easily lower the accuracy threshold and probably find more faces but also get more false positives. At least Picasa gives you that option. Additionally I think part of the reason some photos weren't identified in Picasa is due to bugs in the scanning engine actually *not* scanning particular photos, rather than an inability for the algorithm to find a given face. In fact Picasa displays a fairly remarkable ability to find faces, better than any other algorithm I've seen, it's just that the scanning engine is not reliable or very controllable.

- Oshyan

Hi all, I know there are some folks here who have IT consultancies or manage corporate IT infrastructures themselves. I'm hoping for some good advice on antivirus/security software for a small-to-medium sized business.

Currently we use Kaspersky, which we've had for the last 3 years. In that time the client software has been upgraded fairly minimally by Kaspersky while the desktop client has jumped something like 4 versions (somewhat standard for enterprise clients I understand). It has generally been more of a resource hog than we'd like, it's finicky in its settings, and does have a higher-than-desirable false positive rate. We've also had some malware/viruses make it through since using it (admittedly the fault of the user to some degree, but still). The pricing and protection level at the time we purchased seemed like the best, but now we're hoping things may have changed.

We're looking for a product with a high level of security (obviously), but hopefully with a low false positive rate. Additionally and importantly, it should have low resource use; this has been a source of major frustration with Kaspersky over the years. We also really just need it to have antivirus and antispyware and other malware (trojans, etc.) protection. We don't need firewall, antispam, instant messaging protection, p2p, etc, etc. We handle all that through our gateway and/or other systems like Google Apps (spam). We also need central management of the clients. We have approximately 30 desktops as well as up to 4 Windows servers (VMs) that need to be covered. Desktop OS is a mix of Win XP (about 60%) and Windows 7 with a very few Vista clients.

We're an educational and non-profit customer, so we can get some discounts. Pricing is important but far from a key factor.

So far we've had Norman Endpoint Protection recommended by one vendor and Symantec Endpoint Protection by another (CDWG). Benchmarks show mixed results for either of those as well as other options:
Symantec does seem to do pretty well, but then so does Kaspersky! I'm really hopeful that Kaspersky isn't the best we can get...

Any and all recommendations, advise, and experience appreciated!

- Oshyan

As I'm getting back into video player testing, I've been looking around DC for discussion on the subject. There is of course tons of good dialog, but it's scattered all over a bunch of different threads. While I realize each thread has its individual purpose and no one player may be best for *everyone*, I thought it might be nice to have a more clearly specified "general best video player discussion" thread, similar to the ever-lasting "brainstorming for note taking software" thread and ones like it. I didn't find another existing thread that seemed quite appropriate for this, e.g. pulling up superboyac's recent rather busy and productive thread "Video player: What's the quickest (fastest/lightest)?" might not be appropriate as the thread did start with a very specific purpose. This is intended to be much broader and more comprehensive.

So here's my bid for a thread that talks in general about pros and cons of various video players, and hopefully will help each person find the "best" player for their needs. It's my intention that this thread be the one people update and pull from the depths of history whenever they have a comment on a video player (unless it's a specific question or a more focused need, like SBAC's "fastest" request).

I'll leave this post to stand alone and do a follow-up reply with the actual video player testing notes that prompted me to start this. :D

Here's a list of related previous threads:
Lightest/fastest: http://www.donationc...ex.php?topic=20880.0
Best video player (old thread, poll, outdated options): http://www.donationc...dex.php?topic=2143.0
Best portable player: http://www.donationc...ex.php?topic=24549.0
Request for a "good player" (short thread, answered): http://www.donationc...ex.php?topic=18292.0
KMPlayer and GOMplayer: http://www.donationc...dex.php?topic=8081.0
Zoom Player discussion: http://www.donationc...dex.php?topic=4400.0
Early KMplayer thread: http://www.donationc...dex.php?topic=5410.0
Thread about "official" players (e.g. Quicktime, Realplayer): http://www.donationc...ex.php?topic=17462.0
Older thread about VLC: http://www.donationc...ex.php?topic=15067.0
KMPlayer and Daum Potplayer: http://www.donationc...ex.php?topic=24375.0
Request for a player with certain features: http://www.donationc...ex.php?topic=20022.0

And of course it wouldn't be complete without a Wikipedia link :D
Note that the Wikipedia list is out of date as it does not include e.g. Splash, Light Alloy and Splayer among others.

- Oshyan

Living Room / Alternate movie subtitles for commentary, trivia, etc?
« on: January 08, 2011, 09:44 PM »
Does anyone know of any sources of "alternate" subtitle tracks with e.g. movie trivia or other commentary?

The back story: I was sitting here watching LA Story and came to a part where someone is very obviously doing a voice for the mother of the lead actress on the phone, and I wondered who was doing that voice. The thought occurred it might even be Steve Martin, and very probably was at least one of the other actors in the film. Then I thought of the old VH1 show Pop Up Video, which I used to love, how it would probably answer my question if they had pop-up video for movies, and then I realized how cool it would be to have a subtitle track of trivia or even normal "director's commentary" (as opposed to an alternate audio track). So I wondered, does anything like this exist?

I've seen Rifftrax before:
Which is cool and fun, but for one it's all just jokes, not trivia or serious commentary, and it's also a replacement audio track rather than subtitles.

There's something appealing to me about being able to actually watch the original movie with normal audio, but also see and read the commentary if I want to. And this makes me also wonder if they ever have text versions of director's commentary or other alternate commentary/audio tracks on movies.

Going further with this, it seems reasonable that such a thing could/should/or already would have spawned a community of people making such subtitle tracks. One wonders if they could be somehow "crowd sourced" like IMDB trivia for example. Essentially, think of converting IMDB trivia into contextual, timed subtitles and you have a simple idea of how it might work and the potential appeal. I suppose just assigning a "time code" to a piece of trivia could lead to being able to auto-generate a subtitle track from multiple people's submissions for example.

So has anyone seen or heard of anything like this?

- Oshyan

Living Room / Not backing up will cost you!
« on: December 24, 2010, 05:34 PM »
So here's part 1 of 2 blog posts I'm writing about my data loss, recovery, and backup experiences. I hope it will serve as a stern reminder to everyone to backup their important data. Not doing so could cost you 1000's of dollars or worse.

Now, I felt pretty secure with the data on the 4big given it was RAID5. For those not familiar with the technology, it basically uses multiple disks with a sophisticated data distribution system that allows for redundancy. This means that theoretically an entire disk can fail and your data is still ok because it can be rebuilt from the other disks. If 2 disks fail simultaneously (or the controller fails), then you have a problem. Theoretically however the chance of a double disk failure is lower than that of a single failure, so one would imagine the data is safer than with a single drive.

Unfortunately double disk failure or single disk failure combined with other corruption can and does happen, as I found out much to my dismay. I loaded all my photos onto the unit shortly after my return and began sorting through them and posting new sets every day or two. After a week or so of working on photos off and on, I started to see some issues reading certain images. I checked my Windows event log and found a whole bunch of disk-related errors essentially saying my 4big drive was corrupted and it needed to be scanned for errors. I rebooted shortly after and a disk scan ran automatically. Though I've never had much faith in Windows' chkdsk utility, I soon found out that it's even worse to run it on a RAID.

- Oshyan

I was wasting some time on the Internet earlier tonight and came across a new, holiday-themed version of the "Bed Intruder" song (for those unfamiliar, more info in a moment). That got me on the trail of some of the other interesting versions, and suddenly I was struck - as I have been many times in the last 5 years in particular - by the way these sorts of phenomenons occur and what a tremendously enabling technology the Internet is, not only for "flash in the pan" celebrity, but also for artistic inspiration and creativite expression, and even - as I soon found out - for real, meaningful change in people's lives.

So I want to talk about way these sorts of things happen, their progression and effects (both good and bad) and also see if anyone can think of comparatives from times past. Before the Internet, did this sort of thing happen on TV, radio, in print, or even in local communities? Has the Internet simply magnified phenomena that already existed, or is the hyper-connected, multimedia nature of modern communications creating whole new, unique phenomena?

To start with, here's the story of Antoine Dodson and the creation of the "Bed Intruder" song. Wikipedia has a concise summary:
Kevin Antoine Dodson (born June 27, 1986) is a former resident of the Lincoln Park housing project in Huntsville, Alabama, whose interview on local television became an Internet sensation and resulted in a pitch corrected song with The Gregory Brothers that "has sold thousands of copies on iTunes and appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 list".[3] The interview that propelled Dodson into fame was prompted by the report of a house intrusion and attempted rape of Dodson's sister.
and more information here:

As that article states, it all began with a potentially terrible crime. Where it went from there I don't think anyone could have guessed. Thanks to the, shall we say, unusual quality of Antoine's on-camera persona, an otherwise unremarkable interview with a crime victim spreads like wildfire over the Internet. Here's where I think things start to get really interesting. Someone (the brilliant Autotune the News guys), somehow gets inspired by this video to create an entire song out of it. The song quickly becomes just as big a hit as the original interview video, if not more so. The song inspires tons of covers and alternate versions. The original song is then put up for sale on iTunes and reaches the top 50 iTunes songs and the Billboard Hot 100! The money it makes is shared with Dodson and his family. And now, they've been able to move into a new house as a result.

Here's a highlight video timeline:

(that last one with the choir is probably my favorite)

Pretty amazing, whether or not you actually like any of the music and other take-offs that resulted, or even Dodson himself.

So what are the ultimate effects here? What's notable about this? From crime to comedy to celebrity to financial success and ultimately the betterment of people's lives. Not to mention a tidal wave of interesting, not-so-interesting, occasionally fascinating, perhaps even beautiful art. And this certainly isn't the only example, from Chocolate Rain to the Double Rainbow guy to the bizarrely (and hilariously) ubiquitous LOLcats, and many, many more. Some are even learning how to create these phenomena on demand, like OK Go with the repeated success of their unique music videos.

What can we conclude from these crazy Internet-driven odysseys? To me they are fantastic, wondrous, bizarre, fascinating. These kinds of occurences are completely captivating for me, even when I don't appreciate the source material (e.g. Chocolate Rain). The modern "Internet meme" phenomenon seems so unique to the power of the Internet, but maybe it isn't? It seems so oddly empowering, capable of unleashing such tremendous creativity. I can't help but be thrilled at these explosions of expression. Does anyone else see these things as something more than bizarre chains of triviality? Something more beautiful and admirable? What other examples have you come across? Have any favorites?

- Oshyan

Living Room / Anyone want
« on: November 29, 2010, 02:28 PM »
I have a domain I registered a couple of years ago just for fun and haven't done anything with since.

Domains are cheap, but I'm now operating on a less steady income than I used to have, so I'm cutting back a bit. The domain comes up for renewal on the 5th of December, so before I let it expire, I thought I'd ask if anyone here wants it. PM me or respond here if interest. :)

- Oshyan


Steve wrote a letter that gives a really thorough rundown of his issues with Flash.

Betanews' take:

I think Betanews misses some of the subtleties in what Steve is saying, but I essentially agree with their breakdown as well as many of the comments that follow. Steve is basically serenading us with a familiar - and deceptive - tune. It doesn't surprise me that Steve is being a bit misleading and deceptive; I expect it. But I have to wonder, if Adobe addressed most of these questions, would that change Steve's mind? I doubt it.

The real question for me is whether he's right, in the end. Whether not having Flash in the iDevices is better overall. Not just from a product sales and success standpoint, but from a practical perspective. Of course we'll probably never know what would happen if Flash were available in the iWhatever, at least not until and unless Flash actually wins, or evolves into something even more compelling that they decide to allow.

What we will see though is a competing platform with rapidly growing strength having a complete implementation of Flash, fairly soon. And as that platform matures and becomes a better and better direct competitor for Flash - and it will - then we'll be more and more able to directly compare the perceptions, reception, enjoyment, use, market share, etc. of these platforms, and hopefully determine to some degree the impact of Flash in that mix. Yes, I think Android will really tell us if Apple is making the right decision.

Update: Good old Joe Wilcox weighs in, and I sort of agree with him for once:

- Oshyan

I'm currently having to edit a bunch of Powerpoints for the school I work for because they were created by people who don't know how to make Powerpoints properly. I'm dealing with things like lack of master slide use, inconsistent font types and formatting, horrible color use, photos thrown around randomly on slides, and (not Powerpoint's fault) rampant copyright issues.

My question is twofold.

First, when it comes to making presentations, are there any better options that:
A: Can easily enforce or at least suggest good formatting practices (e.g. auto-align photos, auto-crop text boxes to their necessary size - and no larger, perhaps even automatically select complementary colors)
B: Ensure consistent styling across *multiple* presentations
C: Ideally allow single sourcing and central styling adjustment for all presentations, so for example I could change the border color for all photos using "PhotoStyle1A" and it would change all related presentations

Actually, come to think of it, it sounds like I'm describing HTML and CSS. But are there any good, easy authoring tools that create Powerpoint-like results, and accomplish the above as well?

Second, assuming that visual learning materials that structure an instructor-led class are a requirement, does anyone have any recommended alternatives to a Powerpoint or other slide-based presentation? Particularly something that will enhance engagement and retention for the audience, provide structure and ensure consistency in presentation across multiple sessions of the same class topic, and be easily re-used in other formats (e.g. handouts or workbooks, etc.).

Feel free to think creatively - really creatively if you want to - e.g. web-based Flash learning environment, or whatever. As long as it can be functionally used in the classroom for a lecture-style teaching model at the least. Direct relationship/links to other systems and information would be a nice side-effect, but simplicity is also key.

Oh great DC community, I beseech thee. Rescue me from Powerpoint hell!

- Oshyan

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