Thursday, September 23, 2010

VLC Stream & Convert - Stream Video to Phone

There is a free app out for Android in the Marketplace called VLC Stream & Convert.  It does exactly what it says, and then some:
  • Stream video files from computer to phone using VLC
  • Control VLC using Phone as Remote Control
  • Convert video files on the computer to phone formats
VLC Stream & Convert Player Modes

    So yeah, the app is pretty badass really.  You can use it like a TV remote on VLC, browsing for video files and playing them.  Plus you can stream video from the computer to the phone.  Anything VLC can play, you can basically stream.  If you need to convert the video, you can do that too.

    VLC rocks out with the cock out
    Setup is easy and the developer actually has the info in the app, and on the website.  You may end up needing access your router for ports, but it depends.   Check out the setup page for more info.

    This is the homepage of the app, run by the developer, who is apparently on travel 24/7 (lucky bastard!)
    Stream video to phone
    I've tested this fairly extensively and have had little to no problems to report.  Using the phone as a remote control is fast and responsive.  Streaming 720p or other high def to the phone is also hassle-free.  You all can let me know if you have any problems in the comments.  I'll try to help you debug, if it comes to that...Either way get on it and start enjoying the freedom of .MKV from your massive library right to your mo-fuckin' phone, yo!

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Pageonce vs Trip It - Free Versions Head to Head

    Since I use both TripIt and PageOnce, I thought it would be cool to do a review and comparison to help anyone looking for more info.  Travel organizers and applications are all the rage these days.  Both PageOnce and TripIt are phone apps, and work on the computer as well.  I'm on a bit of a phone app kick lately (VyprVPN for your iPhone/Android!)
    PageOnce Personal Assistant for Phone & Computer
    I'll try to stick to talking the free versions, as an apples-to-apples comparison.  But, I will throw in some discussion on the extras that are offered in the paid versions.  They may swing a person one way or the other, whatever.

    Let's get the first thing out of the way:
    • PageOnce Personal Assistant tries to organize all your accounts (financial, travel, rewards, etc)
    • Trip It focuses on just your travel accounts (hotel, air, car rental, etc)
    PageOnce has an additional application, exclusively for travel.  It's also called PageOnce.  Yeah, it's actually two apps.  No, trust me on this.  Look in your fancy iTunes App Store.  See how that one has a little plane logo displayed prominently?  Yeah that's the travel one, "Trip Tracker".  PageOnce "Personal Assistant" is their main software product, it has shopping bags and credit cards on it's logo.  PageOnce "Trip Tracker" has only that plane on the app logo, and it focuses only on travel.                                 
    PageOnce Personal Assistant
    PageOnce Trip Tracker
    So, again, apples-to-apples...we're talking PageOnce (for travel) vs. Trip It (for travel).  The free versions, with some minor banter about extras that cost money.

    Alright so lets get started, here is a quick rundown of the feature sets:

    PageOnce TripTracker vs TripIt - Feature Comparison Guide

    Right off the bat you see both apps handle most major airlines, hotels, and rental cars.  There is one exception, Southwest Airlines.  Southwest has recently decided to prevent applications such as TripTracker from accessing travel account information.  Yeah, I did that table myself.  Woo Woo

    TripTracker displaying itinerary
    Which leads us to our second major point in this reivew - building of trips and itineraries, either by auto-creation or manual methods.  TripTracker is auto-creation.  You provide the app with your account(s) and password(s).  The app fetches your travel reservations and assembles the trips.  TripIt does not go this route, and instead has the user email travel plans, receipts, and bookings to "".  So, on the one hand we have an automatic building of trips, and on the other an email forward.  Your choice.  Automatic is certainly easier, but as you can see from the SWA ban, it has it drawbacks.  Of course, so does email.  You register your email address(es) with TripIt and send the reservations.  Occassionally you need to help TripIt understand what you just sent - although 7 or 8 times out of 10 it will do just fine.  It can understand a Southwest E-Ticket for example, or a Marriott hotel reservation.

    TripIt displaying upcoming trips

    TripTracker does really well with offering a lot of features for free.  One of the major wins for TripTracker is the live flight details, flight status, and mobile alerts.  In order to match this in TripIt you will need to pay.  Also, TripTracker offers the details as an auto-build from your travel plan details - like maps, etc.  TripIt will support this detailed information, but you will need to manually add it using the website.
    PageOnce TripTracker Screenshots on Android
    But don't count TripIt comletely out of the picture.  TripIt will track your mileage, flights, and travel days in a nifty little report.  Available via the website.  TripIt will also give you a Calendar feed, so you can have your gCal automatically update with your travel plans.  TripIt also has sharing, and groups - which can be really good for an organization look for travel management (for free).
    TripIt & TripIt Pro (Paid) - Only the paid version provides flight monitoring and notifications!

    Either way, they both have phone apps and are fairly easy to manage online.  I recommend TripTracker over TripIt only because of the live flight tracking, status, mobile notifications, and auto-building of trips.  However, since both are free Apps, it doesn't cost you anything to install both!

    TripTracker gets the nod for more free features

    **Updated 23 Sept 2010:  I had an opportunity to test the auto-gmail pull that Tripit just released.  Thanks to the Anonymous poster who referred me to this link!  This does indeed work like a charm and gets close to leveling the playing field between the two apps.  TripIt is now able to "auto-create" trips, if your confirmations go to Gmail, and if TripIt can read the reservation!  However, TripIt is still missing flight status and notification in their free app, so PageOnce TripTracker is still getting the nod from me for this awesome feature!**

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    Giganews Vypr VPN - Secure Browsing on iPhone, iPad, Android, and Computer

    So we've already established that Giganews is a pimp Usenet provider, and secure browsing is a good thing.
    Check this out:  the Diamond package at Giganews gives you free access to Vypr VPN (from Goldenfrog).  Which, in addition to providing VPN for your computer, also provides VPN for your PHONE.  Yeah that's right, secure browsing on your iPhone, iPad, Android.  Setup is super easy too.

    But let's take a step back, WTF are we talking about here?
    We're talking about anonymous and secure internet.  Your email, IM, web browsing, VoIP, all that jazz.  Again, this is a good thing.  Still not sure why this is a good thing, read this here:  Why Vypr VPN?

    In addition to the obvious benefits of secure web browsing, I would like to call your attention to this little known fact:  Public WiFi hotspots like those you use in airports and coffee shops are especially insecure. Anything you send or receive over WiFi is "visible" and vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves. 

    VyprVPN lets you take a secure connection with you everywhere you go.
    Illustration of internet traffic before Vypr VPN, and after
    So you're sitting there at Starbucks right, or Safeway, or whatever and you're like "Sh1t I need to pay my bills..."  Next thing you know, you're logging into your bank website over the store's free public wifi.  Yeah, you're boned.  I just stole your login name and password.  Yup.  Sucks to be you.  Loving that free internet at the airport, aren't you?  All over your travel accounts (Airlines, Rental Car, Hotels)...yeah you're boned too.

    But let's leave that alone for a second too, and go back to the whole VPN on your phone.  iOS and Android will both support VPN.  Supplying the server name, username, and password is about all it takes. 

    Everything you need to know about setup can be found here, but install is a walk in the park, any monkey should be able to accomplish it.  Select your install type (Win, Mac, iPhone, Android, Linux, DD-WRT firmware) and the install instructions will walk you through the screens and settings.

    iPhone with VPN on and VyprVPN network (misspelled)

    Alright, we've established a few things here:
    • Giganews is offering Vypr VPN for free for Diamond accounts
    • Vypr VPN works for your computer and your phone
    • Secure connect over VPN is good for a number of different reasons 
    • Setup is easy - supply server address, user, and password
    A word on performance.  Anyone who's ever used a proxy before, or a VPN (possibly for a remote work connection) understands how performance can become an important issue.  To be honest, I noticed zero difference in speedtests with VyprVPN on, or off.  I was getting a max connection either time.  The only limit is the amount I pay for through Comcrap, err Comcast.

    VyprVPN Personal VPN lets you browse securely

    I give VyprVPN 5 stars for this reason (performance), as well as ease of use, and functionality (works on your phone!)  No problems or issues to report.

    So, if you're already a Giganews Diamond account holder, go setup VyprVPN (its free!).

    Or, if you're not a Giganews account holder:
    1 - check out Giganews, it's badass
    2 - check out Vypr VPN, it is also badass

    *last note: you can easily verify setup is working if you are connected and if your IP has changed.  if it is connected, and your IP has changed, your setup is successful!

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Giganews Usenet Review - SSL, Unlimited, FAST!

    If you've been living under a rock for the last twenty years, you may not have heard of "Usenet".  In that case, I feel sorry for you.
    Giganews Premium Usenet
    For those of you that need some background, check this out:  Wiki

    Slyck is also a good spot to start, if you are brand new, or just looking for some info.

    In a nutshell, Usenet has been around for ages (long before p2p became popular), because, to put it simply, it's just a BBS on steroids.  However, one key distinction is that this BBS will allow file transfer.  Now, if you're still lost as to why this is important, don't worry, I'll follow this blog post up with a whole "WTF is Usenet".  But that's for later.

    For now, I want to give you an inside look at one of the premier news services for Usenet:  Giganews

    I have used multiple Usenet hosts in the past, oh many years...hosts I have used:
    • Giganews
    • Newshosting
    • Easynews
    • Newsdemon
    • UsenetVault (now closed)
    • Usenet4All
    Giganews is most definitely a premium host.  When you've been on Usenet long enough, you'll start to understand the differences between shoddy hosts and premium hosts.  Let's take a look at some of Giganews benefits:

    1. 256bit SSL Encryption - You want this, you really really want SSL if you're on Usenet.  Seriously people, pay the extra $5.  The best part about Giganews SSL is that does not slow down your download rate.  Typically proxies, VPNs, SSL, etc act like funnels on transfer speed (up and down).  A premium host will offer multiple options for SSL, as Giganews does, and it will not affect your speeds.  There is no difference between download speed with SSL, and without.  Therefore, the choice is obvious, go with SSL.  Save your own skin for christ sakes.  
    2. 700+ days of Retention - The thing about Usenet is that it is extremely high traffic, and it turns over A LOT.  Kinda like ebaumsworld...  Without a host providing extra retention, you would be stuck looking at the last oh say 2 weeks or 1 month of postings.  It's like taking your CD/DVD catalog and cutting it into a 1/100th of its size.  The more retention you have, the further back you go, the more posts you will see, the more files available for you to review/download/etc.  Giganews is giving you 2 YEARS.  That's right, you can see posts as far back at 2008, and sometimes even earlier.  Premium hosts, like Giganews are always expanding their retention, so look for this number to go up!
    3. 99+% Completion - Posts on Usenet can foul up, occasionally.  This is where you want completion.  This essentially means that the entire post, or file set, will be "complete" and ready for review/download.  Most premium hosts are offering 99% completion, which is good.  I have never had a problem with Giganews completion, though I have had problems with other providers.  (*cough* Newshosting *cough*)
    4. Online Control Panel - Manage your account, upgrade/downgrade service, test your connection, etc.  It's your one-stop-shop to manage your service.  Giganews also has the handy feature of helping you run a traceroute so you are using the best server settings to get the fastest possible connection, depending on your location and internet connection.  
    5. Up to 50 Simultaneous Connections (Max Speed) - This is where you max your download rate, all the time, every time.  The more connections the better.  Giganews will give you up to 50, depending on the plan you purchase.  Past providers have limited connections to 2, 4, or 8.  You can still go fast with that connection limit, but Giganews is giving you the ability to totally rock out with the cock out.  
    6. Lots of Other Benefits - Discounts on newsreader software, like the oh-so-popular Newsbin.  Unlimited uploads.  Uncensored newsgroups.  Giganews accelerator.  Giganews Vypr VPN.  24x7x365 Support (which I've used only briefly and was extremely satisfied with).  FREE 14-day Trials! 
    After many years, I find Giganews to be one of the best, if not the best host for Usenet access.  When you consider the speed, SSL, retention, completion, and ease-of-use it is very hard to beat them.  The argument often comes down to price.

    When talking price, there are a few things to keep in mind:
    • Providers like Giganews often change their plans and their pricing, semi-regularly.  They also often new customer/new signup discounts.  
    • Plans include options for download limits, speed limits, SSL/noSSL, etc. 
    It's therefore important to compare apples-to-apples when trying to decide on which provider to go with.  An excellent package on Giganews is the 50GB per month with SSL.  This is $18/mo, and it gets you something like 30 connections.  The SSL add-on to the regular silver package is $5/mo.

    You can get the complete run down on their prices for new customers and signups at their website by clicking on Pricing/Signup, at the top of page.

    To summarize, Usenet will give you access to just about anything.  TV/DVD/CD/HighDef/Books/anything.  Make sure you get SSL, regardless.  Look for a premium provider.  You can't go wrong with Giganews.  I've been using their service for over a year now, and as you can see from the above, I've been through most of the other top tier providers (easynews, newshosting, etc), as well as some low rent providers (usenet4all, etc).  You will not be sorry if you go with Giganews.  The money will not be wasted, and your Usenet experience will be that much better for it.

    Look for more posts on Usenet in the coming days and weeks.  Topics will include:
    • WTF is this Usenet shit?  Why do I care?
    • How do I download?  
    • What's the best newsreader software for me?  
    • WTF is an NZB, where do I get them, and how do I use them? 
    • What is a PAR file? How do I use it to fix my archive?
    • How do you post anonymously to Usenet? 

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    How to Upgrade Sickbeard - New Sickbeard Ver 461

    SickBeard is rocking out with new releases these days.  Very cool.

    If you don't know, SickBeard is an awesome utility to automatically search for, download, and organize TV.  For anybody with a HTPC, or a box streaming video to the TV (that will play file extensions other than some Mac bullsh1t), this utility can be your PVR.  For free.  Do you know Ron Popeil, Ronco?  "Set it and forget it, b1tch."

    The latest build is #461, put out a day or so ago.  I've been running this for awhile now, and am upgrading from build #455 (have also done other upgrades in the past).

    I figure some people might like a quick how-to on upgrades for SickBeard, since the Wiki is a little thin on the subject.  I could edit/create the page on Wiki, but, meh.

    So here's the deal:
    • Download the new build zip
    • Unzip the files to your installation location (note: i normally don't just unzip them into the prior build...i wouldn't recommend that either...unzip to a new location)
    • In your previous sickbeard installation folder, look for the following two files:  config.ini and sickbeard.db
    • That is your configuration settings file, and the sickbeard database, respectively
    • Copy these files to the new installation directly (where you unzipped the new build)
    • Put them in the same directory as sickbeard.exe
    • Make sure you have shutdown your old sickbeard if it's running (note: this is prob a good step 1, lol)
    • Run Sickbeard.exe
    That's it, you're done.  You should be now running the new build, and you are likely looking at a new firefox tab of the SickBeard home screen.

    Example of SickBeard home screen - displays TV shows being tracked
    To sum up, upgrading is easy.  Download the new build.  Install.  Copy your old Config.ini and Sickbeard.db files to the new install.  Run.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    XBMC Android App Review

    Screenshots of free Android App "XBMC Remote Control"

    So XBMC has released an "official" app for Android.  Pretty bad ass, really.

    This is a really easy app to set up, and of course it's free.  I've used it on both a Nexus One and HTC EVO, both running v2.2 of Android (Froyo).

    First thing first, you need XBMC running on your computer for this remote (duh).  From there, in the XBMC settings, you can enable HTTP remote control.  Specify a port (default is 8080), provide a user, and password.  That's it.

    Open up the app on your phone and you can add your XBMC as a host.  The app on the phone will ask for the IP address of the XBMC machine (likely 192.168.X.X), the port, user, and password.  From there, you can head back out to the home screen in the app and it will automatically attempt to connect.  If it doesn't connect go ahead and exit XBMC on the machine and restart it.  I found that solved the first connection problem very easily.

    Once you're connected to the XBMC host from the phone, the remote app will give you a home screen.  In the above pic the home screen for the app is the 3rd pic from the left.  TV, Movies, Music, Pictures, Remote Control, etc.  Clicking any of these will begin population of your media content.  This is actually pretty cool because the remote control app gives a great thumbnail and library UI.  Have a gander at this example of TV:

    Example of App displaying your XBMC TV Library

    Pretty freaking cool huh?  Same thing with movies.  This is a top down list, so you just continue to scroll through the list to find what you want.  Very slick.  Very responsive too, very little lag over even a bad wifi connection (low signal).

    The remote control portion of the app is a little rudimentary, but it does give you all the basics.  Think pause, play, exit, menu, back, vol up/down, etc.  Control is intuitive and again responsiveness is awesome.  Press a button, your XBMC machine will begin playing, or whatever.  I found very very little lag.

    This is definitely a must-have app for any XBMC user that has Android phone.

    Head on over to XBMC org and check it out!  Download is free from the Android Marketplace.

    Steve Jobs and his crappy Apple TV v2 can go suck it.  Nobody wants that POS box in their house.  Get yourself a PC for the same cost (it'll be way more powerful, more versatile, but likely in a larger box - who cares).  Install XBMC.  Get remote control and enjoy yourself.

    I give the Android App for XBMC Remote Control a 4 out of 5 possible stars.  Only reason it gets 4 and not 5 is that the remote control portion itself is, like I said, a little rudimentary.  It doesn't have "all the buttons", which of course, we geeks *need*  (lol)

    I should also mention that this app will *not* stream content from the XBMC to your phone.  You can't access your library and play movies on the phone.  That's not what it's designed for, it's designed to your phone into a fully functional remote for XBMC, and allow you to browse the library, etc.  Which it does flawlessly.

    Leave a comment if you're already using this app or have a hint/tip/trick to contribute!