Saturday, December 24, 2005

newsFlash: Merry Christmas!!!

Been very busy with Christmas stuff for the past few days, so I've been a little light on postings. I'll be back at it strong in a few more days, though. ;-)

It's been a great year for me and commandN, and I've really enjoyed interacting with everyone through my blog. Thanks to all my readers, posters, and the online community in general, and I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Best wishes,

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12/24/2005 09:59:00 p.m.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

mindCandy: Politics and Why Left vs. Right Doesn't Cut It

I'm a bit of a political junkie, and I find it exceedingly frustrating that our culture generally tries to categorize individual politics using a one-dimensional Left vs. Right spectrum. This concept is inherently flawed as it cannot easily reconcile Social vs. Economic beliefs (just the fact that there are two primary elements with two extremes necessitates at least a two dimenstional map of political beliefs). For instance, someone who is right wing economically generally believes in free enterprise and free markets - typically this means limiting of government control of the economy. If we look at this socially, the same "right wing" person would believe in government intervention to enforce traditional social values and norms. But what about someone (like me) who believes in limited government intervention both economically AND socially (sometimes described as Libertarian)? They have no real place in this spectrum! In fact, they are either lumped in with people whose social views they don't support or people who's economic views they don't support.

Thankfully there are other more accurate means to interpret political beliefs graphically. One of my favourites is the Political Triangle (see Figure 31.2 about half way down the page). This (to simplify things a lot - read the website for a much deeper and more accurate discussion), takes the Left vs. Right and Social vs. Economical dimensions and combines them to create the following extremes:
  • Libertarian: socially left and economically right (i.e. little government intervention)
  • Totalitarian: socially right and economically left (i.e. government intervention on both fronts - think communism)
  • Authoritarian: socially right and economically right (i.e. government intervention in social areas but not economic ones)

Again, keep in mind that I've defined these extremes of the Political Triangle using the classical Left vs. Right definitions, which is not completely accurate but will do for this discussion (you'll note that there's no obvious mapping for socially left and economically left - this would be a strange mix of government control of economy but not social elements, which seems like it would be a rare occurrence - anyone have any examples?).

There are plenty of other ways to map out political beliefs too. The Nolan Chart completes our two-dimensional map from above by using the axes of Personal vs. Economic Freedom (essentially what I've been referring to as Social vs. Economic freedom). The Pournelle Chart is also two-dimensional, but maps Statism (belief in the state and centralized government) vs. Rationalism (the belief that all problems in society have rational solutions). Additional methods (and some great links and pics) are available on the Wikipedia Political Spectrum webpage.

A couple of musings: Canada and the US are very close in a great number of ways, however there are some important differences that are interesting in terms of the whole Right vs. Left spectrum (I'm arguing this along that single spectrum because it more easily allows people to identify what I'm talking about, given that it's the common terminology used in our society). First of all, Canada's Conservative Party, although on the right of the spectrum, are far to the left of the Republican Party in the States (probably more akin to conservative Democrats). Secondly, in the States the media seems to be controlled mostly by the "Right" (think Fox News), whereas in Canada the media is controlled more by the "Left" (think CBC). Obviously Canada is a more "socialist" country than the US (for better or for worse ;-) ), and I think the above two notes are demonstrative of this (BTW, the book "How the Scots Invented the Modern World" has some interesting notions about how many of the differences between our two countries came about because of where Scots from specific regions in Scotland settled when they came to the New World - a great book for the Scottish and non-Scottish alike).

If you want to take a test to see where you stand, give the Political Compass a try. It just takes a few minutes and it gives lots of great information before and after the test (but beware of double negatives in this - bad survey development).
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12/20/2005 08:39:00 p.m.  

Monday, December 19, 2005

iRant: the Savagery of Air Travel

I live in the second biggest country on the planet, and between business travel and visiting relatives from coast to coast (which is over 4000 miles!), I end up flying a lot. In fact, I think comfortable and reliable air travel is a necessity in a country like Canada (and many other places), which is why it really bothers me that your average person can't afford to travel with much expectation of comfort or reliability.

I'm 6'2" and 210 lbs, so the cramped spaces between most economy seats force me to wedge my knees into the seat in front of me to "fit" (my recent trip to Toronto where I managed to score a seat in front of an exit row which, just so you know, doesn't recline, with a tiny 16 year old girl in front of me with her seat all the way back, was no exception). I expect the situation is similar for many people, which is why we all look so yearningly at the spacious reclining seats as we are marched past Business Class.

Increasingly, we are forced to pay for food, drink, seat selection, even pillows. This would be fine except for the fact that it doesn't seem to have affected prices in a particularly advantageous way and has only made the experience of flying worse. Plus, many flights have a food selection that seems culled from the shelves of a meagerly stocked convenience store (with the prices considerably inflated). Even the in-flight entertainment leaves something to be desired, with the same movies played in too great frequency for the frequent traveller, "edited for flight" versions of films, and the typical technical difficulties (thankfully there is some movement towards individual entertainment systems for us po' folk too).

On top of all this, given that we can launch spacecraft to the outer edges of our solar system, why can't planes (with a few exceptions) seem to depart or arrive as scheduled? I know there are a lot of variables: multiple aircraft from different airlines, changes in weather, a host of interwoven routes, etc., but surely we can do better than the current norm (don't even get me started on luggage). I also find that the level of redundancy in security is getting a little ridiculous - exactly how many people do I have to show my passport and ticket to? If security were done properly in the first place then you'd think that it wouldn't have to be repeated so many times.

Maybe it's just that it's very difficult to make enough money through private airlines and airports, but the Canadian government has subsidized Air Canada (one of our major airlines) for years with no positive results (their informal slogan is rumoured to be: "We're not happy until you're not happy"). With the incredible technological developments we have in our grasp, it is simply disappointing that airline travel, a required means of transportation in a global community, is only really "civilized" for those who can afford to pay a hefty first class premium (which can also allow you to jump the line for that annoying security in some airports!).

In closing: How is a man supposed to use carry-on for a business trip without bringing a blade for his razor? I'm willing to bet that a nice sharp pencil through the jugular would be a lot more effective than one of the tiny blades in my shaving gear for those of nefarious intent.
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12/19/2005 10:01:00 p.m.  

Sunday, December 18, 2005

eyeCandy: King Kong (2005) 4/5

I got the chance to finally see Peter Jackson's King Kong with the guys from Hak5 and WASD this weekend. I enjoyed the movie but, if I had to use just one word to describe it, it might have to be "overwrought". Don't get me wrong, the movie is beautifully filmed - jungle shots are fantastic, the scenes on the Empire State Building are so dazzling that I felt like I would fall out of my seat, and a fantastic amount of attention has been invested in this production. However, the movie certainly has its flaws.

My biggest complaint is that it is over three hours long! The original 1933 King Kong, the main inspiration for Jackson's movie, ran only 1 hour and 40 minutes. It takes almost the length of the original movie (or at least over an hour) before we even see Kong in the newer version. Jackson spends way too much time overdeveloping the main characters of Ann Farrow and Carl Denham - these are stock character types and just don't need this kind of depth - we already know who these characters are because they are cliches. A lot of other things could be tightened up as well, but the first hour could easily be compressed into fifteen minutes with no loss to the story.

However, there are lots of good things for sure. The fight between the T-Rexes and Kong is awesome - beautifully choreographed and well-rendered. The jungle is teeming with interesting creatures and the attention to detail is staggering. The movie as a whole certainly communicates its central "beauty and the beast" theme more strongly than the original and sympathy for Kong is strongly evoked. Although I was a little surprised that the compositing of some shots wasn't a little smoother (the dinosaur stampede for instance), the visuals were typically an absolute pleasure (even down to the wonderful recreation of 1930's New York City).

I think I understand how this movie became a little bloated. Jackson has been self-admittedly obsessed with the original since he was young and I expect his fascination yielded more content than your average person would need. In addition to this, coming off the tails of the Lord of the Rings, it's understandable how Jackson would have trouble massaging his epic efforts back to accomodate a much simpler story. Hopefully this isn't a trend for Jackson, as most movies can't accomodate the scope of Tolkien's work.

All in all I think that the new Kong could desperately use a "Phantom Edit" treatment - cut the first hour down to 15 minutes and compress the next couple of hours as needed. Jackson had a chance to make a superb 1.5-2 hour movie and has instead given us a pretty good 3 hour one - directors take heed.

PS: I am very excited to play the new video game based on the movie, though. Jackson and others in the film had integral roles to its development and it looks great.
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12/18/2005 06:04:00 p.m.  

Thursday, December 15, 2005

newsFlash: Just Got Back From the TechTV Meet Up

Thanks to everyone who made it out the TechTV Meet Up tonight (despite the snow storm in Toronto!). It was great to hang out with everyone in such a fun setting. If I got a chance to talk to you tonight (or even if I didn't) then definitely send me an email to remind me and keep in touch. A lot of really cool folks out- from Research In Motion, IBM, the guy who did the Mac Front Row hack, some people who drove from Buffalo in the storm, displaced New Orleans-ers, guys from the Apple Store, and lots of other great podcasters, vidcasters, and fans. It's wonderful to be a part of such a strong community (but I gotta go to bed now - work tomorrow :-) ).
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12/15/2005 11:59:00 a.m.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

newsFlash: By Popular Demand: Colour Scheme Change

I've heard a few complaints about the white on black text used on my blog being hard to read. Well, in testament to how much your ease of viewing matters to me, welcome to the new, improved . :-)

Thanks to everyone who's been reading and especially all of you who have given me valuable comments and feedback. Hope to see some of you tomorrow night at the TechTV Meet-Up in Toronto!
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12/14/2005 11:22:00 p.m.  

inPrint: Macworld (January 2006) 5/5

Another month, another solid issue of Macworld. Features include spotlights on all of Apple's new hardware, including the iPod with Video (and how to convert videos/DVDs for it using HandBrake or MacTheRipper), a host of digital photography tips (including photo gifts from Snapfish, Shutterfly, and Canvas On Demand), and lots more great info.

One of the coolest things I learned more about in this issue was how to use Apple's free Property List Editor application (included in the Mac OS X Developer Tools/Xcode suite: Finder->Go->Go to folder->"/Applications/Installers") to modify preference files (as of Tiger these are typically binary code files and are not easily editable). A couple of favorites:
  • Hide Your Desktop: open the file, create a New Child with the name CreateDesktop and the Boolean Value of No. Relaunch the Dock and everything on your desktop will vanish - application windows are still visible, but your desktop will be gone (you can't even drag things there, although your files are available through the Finder). Set to Yes to undo.
  • Change iTunes Link Arrow: by default, if you click the link arrows next to an iTunes song name, artist name, or album (activated through iTunes->Preferences->Show Links To The Music Store) then you'll be brought to the iTMS entry for the object you clicked. If you option-click then you'll get a list of matching items (e.g. all songs from selected album) in your Library (instead of being sent to the iTMS). To reverse this setting (so that you'll get your Library search listing by clicking) open, create a New Child named InvertStoreLinks, give it a Boolean value and set that to Yes. Make sure iTunes is closed when you make this change (and just set the value to No to undo).
Note that you can access the same variables through the Terminal using the defaults write command or using Night Productions' free Pref Setter.
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12/14/2005 10:25:00 p.m.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

earCandy: Melanie Durrant - Where I'm Goin' (2005) 4/5

I first noticed Melanie Durrant upon seeing the video for "Where I'm Goin'" featuring Common on MuchVibe, and I immediately sought out a copy of the single to no avail. Further searching led me to great tunes like "Housework" and a couple of singles. Well finally, while walking through FutureShop of all places, I see an album entitled "Where I'm Goin'" by Melanie Durrant on their New Releases rack. Strangely enough, the album that I got (contrary to the listing) does not contain the song "Where I'm Goin'"(?)

Melanie Durrant is a talented soul/hip-hop singer working out of Toronto. In addition to the video with Common, she's also paired up with Kardinal Offishall and others to good effect (e.g. "Let Me" is a great single). I really liked a few of the later songs on the album immediately, but I found it got off to a tentative start. After a few listens, however, it has really grown on me (her cover of "Bang Bang", probably best known now for being in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill", is getting some airplay). Some nice forays into a little more classic joints in places (sort of like a young Jill Scott, who did the live stage production of "Rent" with Ms. Durrant), and I just love the timbre of her voice.

However, I do have to say that it's sinful that there isn't more information available about her online. Her website will hopefully be up some time soon, there is almost no information under her entry in - all I've found is just a few articles here and there. It's shameful that such a promising young voice doesn't have much more exposure on this level.

In any case, Where I'm Goin' is a good album and I'm happy to be seeing so many on the Canadian hip-hop scene cracking their way through (e.g. Universal Soul, Sweatshop Union, and K-Os is bustin' it!).
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12/13/2005 09:47:00 p.m.  

Monday, December 12, 2005

newsFlash: TechTV Holiday Meetup in Toronto (Thurs. Dec. 15th)

This coming Thursday, the commandN cast/crew (Me, Amber, Mike, Brian), Leo Laporte from Call for Help and TWiT, Alex Lindsay from MacBreak and Pixel Corps, Frank Linhares of techPhile, the guys from Hak5, and others are all taking part in the TechTV Holiday Meetup at No Regrets Restaurant and Lounge in downtown Toronto. Come meet some of the tech community, have a couple drinks, and celebrate the holidays!

Festivities start about 7pm and more details can be found through the links above. Hope to see you there!
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12/12/2005 09:22:00 p.m.  

Sunday, December 11, 2005

eyeCandy: Chronicles of Narnia (2005) 4/5

Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is based on the book by C.S. Lewis, a contemporary of J.R.R. Tolkein. Indeed, the movie feels somewhat like a cross between the Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies. The fantastic mythology has the more robust approach of the Rings, but this is, at heart, a story about young people and fantasy, making it somewhat more akin to (although much better executed than the Potter series IMHO).

The movie begins during the second world war as four siblings are moved from their mother's care in London to the house of an eccentric professor in the English countryside in order to avoid the bombings of the Germans. The house contains a magical wardrobe that acts as a portal into the mystical world of Narnia. The children venture through the wardrobe to find themselves an integral part of an ancient prophesy which holds the balance in a struggle between the good lion god of Narnia (voiced by Liam Neeson) and the evil White Witch.

The visuals are wonderful. Like Tolkein's world, Narnia has a very animal-based mythology, where common creatures are imbued with intelligence and speech, and exist alongside centaurs, minotaurs, faerie folk, and other monsters. Unlike the typically indulgent Potter films, the 2 hour 20 minute running time did not seem to drag for me and the pacing of the movie is effective. The story arc is consistent and understandable, and the level of writing simply seems to be of a higher caliber. The young actors in the main roles (especially the youngest sister) are compelling, and the "children's film" element is most strongly felt because of their involvement, as opposed to the sophistication of the story itself.

Though not as epic or monumental as the Lord of the Rings, this film is exceptional well-done and I very much look forward to subsequent episodes (there are seven books in the Narnia series).
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12/11/2005 04:15:00 p.m.  

Friday, December 09, 2005

MacOnMacs: iTunes Scripts

iTunes is a great application, no question, but even the greatest applications have room for improvements. Thankfully, Apple has built scripting into iTunes so as to allow users to increase the program's functionality. First, I'll tell you how to install scripts in iTunes and then I'll point you to some good scripting resources.

Installing Scripts
  1. In the Finder, go to your Home folder and navigate to Library->iTunes (unfortunately iTunes scripts must be installed on a per-user basis, so you can't do this at the MacintoshHD->Library level).
  2. All your iTunes scripts will go into the Scripts folder here - if one doesn't exist then just create it (File->New Folder and name it "Scripts")
  3. Drag and drop any scripts you'd like to install into this folder and they will appear in the Scripts menu in iTunes (that's the scroll-looking icon between Window and Help in the iTunes menu bar). To activate a script, simply select it form the pulldown.

Some Good Free iTunes Scripts
  • Apple's iTunes Scripts let you Build CD Tray Inserts, Make Playlists By Artist, Remove Missing Tracks, and more.
  • Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes contain some absolute must-haves. There is a huge selection (over 375) of scripts you can download here, including ones to manage tracks and their info, manage playlists, control iTunes/iPods/other apps, manage files, and more. There are even some Automator actions here too!
  • Hubi's iTunes Scripts let you rename, move, and manage your tunes in a variety of ways. Scripts to swap Artist and Title (and other) tags are useful, creating a playlist of tracks that aren't in any other playlists is a good way to see if you've been missing some good listening, etc.
  • ...a simple search on Google or other search engine should yield plenty more results too.

If you haven't used scripts before then give them a try - it's very easy. So have fun in making a great app even better by adding some scripts to iTunes!
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12/09/2005 10:09:00 a.m.  

Thursday, December 08, 2005

earCandy: Christmas Music Options

I love Christmas. My family has always made this a very special time of the year and I enjoy embracing the season wholeheartedly. However, even I get tired of a single Christmas CD played over and over, even if it is only for a few days a year :-) . Well it seems there are quite a few options for seasonal listening out there so I thought I'd point out a few of the ones on my list for everyone...
  • Ultra Lounge: Christmas Cocktails (Parts One and Two) puts a little swing (and a little mambo and a little bop) into some Christmas standards. From Dean Martin to Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee to Les Brown, these CDs are a great collection of holiday tunes perfect for your hipster Christmas party.

  • The original soundtrack to the television special A Charlie Brown Christmas has been a Christmas classic since its release in 1965. One of the most beloved Christmas specials ever carries with it a soundtrack that can't help but take you back to your first time watching Charlie Brown and the gang with their little tree, and the music by the Vince Guaraldi trio is like a trip down memory lane.

  • James Brown's Funky Christmas doesn't have any Christmas classics on it, but it is definitely Christmas-themed. Songs like "Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto" and "Soulful Christmas" will keep you hopping James Brown-style.

  • A Very Special Christmas is a great series of CDs with proceeds going to the Special Olympics. Popular music stars such as U2, Tracy Chapman, No Doubt, Bruce Springstien, and many more sing holiday classics in a variety of styles. Not only is the music wonderful for the season, but so is the sentiment.

There are so many Christmas albums out there that I can't really make an educated "Best of..." list, but if you'd like to leave me a comment with your favs then maybe we can help out some more folks when they're stuck for holiday-appropriate tunes ;-) .
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12/08/2005 10:03:00 p.m.  

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

NewsFlash: Safari Forwarding Troubles with GoDaddy (and others?)

I've been a little perplexed since I started getting questions a week ago about problems with my domain forwarding to this site. Well Patrick, a kind reader, pointed me to a story on that started me on a quest that has encompassed a lot of web research and a couple of calls to GoDaddy.

My calls to GoDaddy yielded little to begin with ("it's working fine on our end") as they were using PCs and IE and so weren't experiencing a problem. After I explained that I had read that this was specific to Macs and Safari (and Opera too), I found out that they claim this to be a result of a recent Security (or other) Update that changed something about how Safari resolves its forwarding. After talking to a floor supervisor, I came to the conclusion, as reached by many others , that GoDaddy wasn't very interested (and possibly just not capable, I guess) in doing anything about this.

The story has since been picked up by MacNN and there is loads of discussion on the Apple Support Boards (see Popular Topics at side or do a search). Some are saying that GoDaddy is using bungled forwarding routines and Safari is too strict to accept them. Some say that this is totally a Safari issue. I, for one, don't understand how the problem can't be solved quickly given that there ARE forwarding domains out there that DO work. One very strange thing is that a lot of people are reporting (myself included) that Safari can forward properly if you open another browser (Firefox was most mentioned) and access the page forwarding there first (the idea being that this somehow "teaches" Safari how to resolve the bungled forwarding)!?!?

In any case, bear with this if you're a Safari user, as I'm hoping Apple will provide a fix seeing as how it doesn't look like GoDaddy has any interest in supplying one (or, again, maybe they just can't). In the meantime, if this is happening to you, go out and bug them both to get this issue resolved - it's a huge obstacle for bloggers, commercial entities, and others who rely on domain forwarding online.

Safari is now the third most popular browser, behind Internet Explorer and Firefox but ahead of Netscape and others, so I think this problem deserves some serious attention. We won't be ignored :-) .
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12/07/2005 05:01:00 p.m.  

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

MacOnMacs: File Types and the Applications That Love Them (Part 1)

I'm still having problems with not forwarding here. Is there anyone else out there who has had that problem? If so then please leave me a comment to let me know (as the hosting company thinks I'm on crack and that there's never a problem with forwarding). In any case, on to the post...

It's frustrating not knowing what to do with files that bear extensions that you haven't seen before, so I thought I'd give everyone some handy tips on which applications will open some strange file types (keep in mind that there are usually more options to open a file than the ones I present here). I figure there will be many occasions to expand on this list, so I've decided to tag this post as "Part 1" ;-) .
  • .rar open with UnRarX - RAR is a file format (most common on Windows) that takes multiple files and packs them into one file (like .zip files). There are also multi-part RAR files which may have extensions such as .r00, .r01, .r02, etc. OR .001, .002, .003, etc. To expand unpack these, just open the first file with UnRarX and it will reassemble all the components into the original file.

  • .chm open with Chamonix - CHM stands for Compiled HTML. It's commonly used as a Help file type with Windows.

  • .cbr and .cbz open with FFView - CBR and CBZ files are typically archives used for comic books. CBR is the same as a .rar file and CBZ is the same as a .zip file. These file types can be opened with the programs that open .rar (above) and .zip (built into Mac OS X) files, but FFView gives you a nice viewer/interface to read them.

  • .wpd and .wp open with AbiWord - These are both WordPerfect document formats (a very popular word processor before Microsoft Office dropped all support for its files).


Since I only had a few file types up this time and since this is the first in the series, I figured I'd add some value by letting you know how to get certain file types to open with specific applications by default...
  1. Find the file you'd like to open and Get Info on it (choose the file and hit command-I OR right/control-click->Get Info OR File->Get Info);
  2. Go to the "Open with:" section of the pop-up and expand it (by making sure the arrow points downwards);
  3. In the pulldown menu select the application that you'd like to use to open this file by default (the currently assigned application will have "(default)" written beside it in the pulldown);
  4. Hit the Change All button to make the selected application open all files of this type (as opposed to just the individual file you've selected).

BTW, if you want to open an individual file once with a non-default application then just right/control-click->Open With OR File->Open With, and then select the application you'd like to open the file for this time only.
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12/06/2005 09:31:00 p.m.  

Monday, December 05, 2005

NewsFlash: Blogger down?!?!?!

Don't know if this will even publish, since I can't check out my own site or any other Blogger-related site right now (or intermittently for the past few days). Anyway, just wanted to let people know that I've been trying to publish today (and had the same problem this weekend), so please excuse the absence of content until they get this fixed (or I'll move somewhere else I guess).

If anyone has any advice/news about what's going on then feel free to email me at jeff(INSERTAT) . Thanks and hope to get some posts up really soon!
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12/05/2005 09:23:00 p.m.  

Sunday, December 04, 2005

NewsFlash: Website Troubles, First Snow, and Solcola

For some reason I've been having troubles with domain name forwarding from my address to this blog. Someone pointed this out to me in an email recently and now It's only been working intermittently over the weekend. Anyway, have had a very busy weekend and will get an answer on this tomorrow (don't want to mess up my personal branding ;-) ).

I experienced the first snow of the season in Halifax tonight. Strangely enough it's been snowing a few times in Toronto (think we might have a shot of it in an upcoming commandN), and the first snow I saw this season was just outside of Toronto in mid-October! I've always loved the snow, and I very much missed it when I lived in Vancouver (drizzle is not an adequate substitute). I love how it brightens the outside, reflecting the winter sun off the snow, and how it changes the face of the world we see everyday. My friend, Jason, said something that stuck with me years ago, that he liked snow (and I suppose the same would apply with heavy rain) because it's the only time you really get to see the wind. I always thought that was an interesting thought.

Finally, my band, Solcola, has been getting a bunch of new tracks ready for our upcoming album. We've got the whole band in on writing sessions, which is great for me because I think the collective effort will give this project a lot of momentum as we go into the new year. I'll be posting some demos on the website in the next few weeks.
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12/04/2005 10:04:00 p.m.  

Thursday, December 01, 2005

MacOnMacs: Bittorrent Basics

I've been putting off writing about Bittorrent for a while, since I covered on one of our first episodes of commandN. However, having been asked directly to cover it here, I am happy (albeit somewhat belatedly) to oblige.

Bittorrent is essentially a way to download files over a network. The advantage Bittorrent has over other peer to peer (P2P) protocols is that Bittorrent inherently shares the files that users are downloading with other users while they are downloading. This aspect is makes it so, a little counterintuitively, Bittorrent files download faster the more people are downloading them (this is why Bittorrent isn't always the best choice for older files that may not have a lot of other downloaders).

There are two things you need in order to start using Bittorrent: a web browser to locate .torrent files and a Bittorrent client application to download the actual media files (I'll use that term for clarity, though it can be any type). In a nutshell, a .torrent file is just a pointer to, or gives the location where, the actual media file is located - the .torrent file is NOT the media file itself (which is obvious if you notice that a .torrent file is only around 20KB). So the first step is locating the .torrent file.

Using any browser, go to a website that identifies itself as a Bittorrent search engine (you can Google this term or just try the Pirate Bay, isoHunt, or Torrent Reactor). When you find a suitable site, you can (usually) either Browse or Search for torrents. When you find a torrent that you are interested in, simply download it as you would any other file from the web (typically just by clicking on it).

The next step is to take that file and open it in a Bittorrent client application (again, there are a lot of these: I use Azureus, which has a lot of controls that you may never need, or you can try the official Bittorrent client for Mac, or any other suitable application). When you open or drag and drop that .torrent file in the Bittorrent client, the client will use the directions given in the .torrent file to locate the media file you're looking for. It may take a few minutes (or longer) for a download to begin, so be patient.

A couple of rules of thumb: don't try to change your program's settings so that you aren't sharing (i.e. uploading as you're downloading) because if you don't share then you won't be able to download either - Bittorrent enforces this and is very tit-for-tat this way. Keep in mind that a seeder is someone who has a fully complete copy of the file that you're trying to download, so make sure you choose .torrent files that have numerous seeders (because if all the seeders stop seeding then you will never be able to get a whole copy of that file - this is why you should also seed any file you've completed for a bit, as this is a community effort). Peers are other downloaders who don't have a complete copy of the file - generally, the more of these there are (as long as there are also seeders), the faster the file will download.

Remember, Bittorrent has lots of legitimate uses (which is why I'm covering it here). For instance, it is a great benefit for people like me who do video casts, as it makes it so we don't have to maintain enormous amounts of bandwidth for downloads (as this bandwidth is distributed through all the downloaders with Bittorrent). Finally, be conscious of what you're downloading. If you would typically go out and buy something and can afford it then don't think of Bittorrent as a way you can spend that money somewhere else. If we stop paying (however ludicrous and nonsensical payments may be doled out in a given industry) then they will eventually stop producing. Remember: it was massive purchases of Family Guy DVDs, not the letter campaign, that motivated Fox to put that series back on the air!

NOTE: Downloading copyrighted material is illegal. The official Bittorrent site has recently stopped tracking torrents for copyrighted material, and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has prosecuted a number of people for illegal downloads. Be forewarned.
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12/01/2005 05:32:00 p.m.