postheadericon ECS: Firefox Your Phone!

There are so many apps for your Android or iPhone these days, it’s hard to choose what to download and what to forget about, but as a road warrior armed with a new smartphone, Firefox Home / Mobile is one app you don’t want to leave home without.

Firefox Home for your iPhone and Firefox Mobile for your android phone are both brought to you from the makers of the #2 browser on the planet: Firefox. Both apps are free and simple to use.

As a Firefox user, you probably have hundreds (if not more) stored bookmarks that make your life just a bit easier to remember, and perhaps you have the same tabs open everyday, waiting to do whatever it is that you do on the web. For me, its all the local Nepali English papers along with the NYT, which I read constantly while working on my laptop or desktop.

But when it came to being out on the road alone with my phone, I found myself all thumbs with my iPhone’s virtually impossible-to-use keyboard, and stumbling just to type even my own web address, let alone the ½ dozen others that I can’t live without. That nonsense all stopped as soon as Mozilla released Firefox Home, and SHAZAM, all the bumbling ceased.

Firefox Home/Mobile automatically syncs your stored bookmarks, open tabs, and website userids/password combos between your home or office computers, with your smartphone. Opening this app and clicking on a synchronized bookmark immediately takes you to the web page in question, no fuss, no muss - and no typing!

No longer do you need to waste precious seconds on your NCELL or NTC data plan trying to figure out if it’s kantipur or ekantipur.com or the_kathmandu_post or the-kathmandu-post; just let Firefox Home or Mobile figure that out for ya.

What and Where to Get:

Firefox Home app for all iPhones : apple.com/itunes/
Firefox Mobile app for all Android Phones: mozilla.com/en-US/m/beta
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postheadericon ECS 4 Outta 5 Barks for Soundhound!

Have you ever started humming a tune but couldn’t remember what song it was? Then tune into the new mobile tune searcher - SoundHound App - for your iPhone, Android or Nokia phone.

SoundHound is an easy to use phone app that can recognize your humming rendition of say “Hey Jude” as well as recognize your voice request to play “the Beatles.” It will also listen to the song playing on your phone and determine the lyrics, title, artist, and lots more.

Sing Search is SoundHound’s flagship feature, and makes this app unique in the world of music search. Just “La La La” something into the phone, and SoundHound will try and figure out what tune you were trying to reproduce, and in my case, reproduce badly.

As a tin-eared audiophile, I put SoundHound to the test: I started singing “Oh Darling” by the Beatles and got back choices like “The Other Side of Me” by Hannah Montana. Another try with “Roxanne” by the Police produced a list of songs that included “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi, but nothing resembling anything by the Police.

I finally gave up, and handed the phone over to my wife, a real singer, and she was able to belt out “Love is a Battlefield” by Pat Benatar, and get a hit in the results list. So Sing Search does work, if you can sing or hum better then I (which is assuredly the case).

Regardless of your vocal ability, this app is great fun and sure to be a hit at any party. While you won’t find Shubu Thapa’s hit single “Eka Desh Ko Katha” (or any other Nepali tunes), SoundHound is audibly useful with a plethora of social features like What’s Hot on the Charts and Just Found by Other Users who are singing into their phones...with some level of precision.

What  and Where to Get: 

SoundHound for the iPhone - apple.com/itunes/
SoundHound for all Android Phones Android Market
SoundHound for select Nokia Phones store.ovi.com
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postheadericon ECS: Harddrive Plugs Explained...

As an older Audio/Visual Engineer (ha!), I’m often asked which external hard drive to buy, and what the heck are all those plugs in the back for, and what’s the difference between them. After all, quad-interface external drives are starting to pop all over town these days, yet many folks don’t understand what that means.

A quad-interface external drive has plugs in the back for USB2, Firewire 400 & 800, and eSata. Most of Nepal’s users opt for USB2, as its what we know, but this option is also the slowest of the slow.

Mac users know Firewire 400 & 800 options, as they’ve been installed since the Mac Classic. But PC users may find they need to install a Firewire expansion card on their desktop or laptop to get the doubly fast Firewire 800 speed.

Desktop Firewire expansion cards are easy to find and cheap in Nepal - laptop Firewire 800 expansion cards - not so. But even better then Firewire (at the moment) is the eStata expansion. An eSata-connected external hard drive will be almost as fast as your internal drive and 3x-10x faster then a USB-connected drive. When editing large video files, mega-pixel photos, and super hi-fidelity sound files, this is super mega important.

To get eSata working with your desktop, you might need a cheap and easy-to-find eSata expansion card; but for your laptop, well, a bit more difficult to grab is an eSata Cardbus PC Card Type II card, found online for less then Rs.1000 plus shipping.

So assuming you have one of these high-speed options installed in your computer (Firewire 800 or eSata), you just need the right cable for the job (usually included with the external drive). These multi-interfaced drives hit your wallet a bit more, but that’s bucks well spent if doing a lot of work with audio, video and 3D.

A note to the wise: watch out for USB3 coming later in 2011, as that blows all of the above away.
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postheadericon ECS: Why Not Go Play With Your CyWee?

Not new to the Chinese gaming community, but new to Nepal, comes the SMC CyWee PC Game Controller. Looking much like a small hairdryer, this unique device can be twisted into 4 modes: Sports, Gun, Racing, and Action.

The modes correspond to almost any “Z” game you can load on your computer, for example Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Pacific Heroes, Need for Speed, and X-Men Origins Wolverine all work under the corresponding modes.

What makes this game machine “revolutionary” is that it does not require a separate console, but gives the family a Wii-like gaming experience without trying to find an actual Wii console with Wii games (difficult in Nepal).

The SMC CyWee comes with software (works in XP/Vista/Windows7) that looks for supported games on your computer and sets everything up, so that when, say, it’s time to shoot a bad guy, you just point the CyWee at your computer and fire away.

Playing golf and tennis has never been so easy, as you don’t even have to find a caddie or tune your racket - its just a matter of plugging the USB dongle into your PC, and then grabbing and swinging this hairdryer-looking gizmo around, depending on the game selected.

For those that want to know what’s under the pleasant-to-hold plastic casing, there is a two-axis gyroscope and 3-axis accelerometer that react to all of your body motions. This device also works as a 3-D mouse, if you ever need one.

If you haven’t seen one at play in Nepal, you can head on over to Logix Computer on Putalisadak to play around. Shop Owner Sandeep Agrawal tells me that you don’t see many CyWees in the wild because the marketing in Nepal is off.

These kinds of things normally don’t sell well in a computer shop – they need to be placed in a gaming shop -- Sandeep Agrawal, owner/operator of Logix Computer Nepal

So I’m left wondering, where in Kathmandu can you find a gaming shop?

What to get: SMC CyWee PC Game Controller (SMCWBR11S-3GN) for Rs.12,000

Where to get: Logix Computer, Putalisadak, Opp Kumari Bank, Kathmandu Ph: 4424327/4439793

Note: Z-compatible PC Games can be found at any open air market table around town.
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postheadericon TECH TALK: Time to Get Your Photos and Videos Online?

When I browse any laptop in Nepal other then my own, I notice one glaring attribute: photos and home videos are everywhere – on the desktop, stuffed in folders named “Aardwolf photos” and “Zamboanga videos” and almost everywhere else in between.

As a neat freak, that drives me nuts, and I cringe every time I go to update my wife’s MacBook, as I have to plow through media dating back to Cretaceous Period of our married life, just to do what needs doing. Granted, everyone has their own homegrown filing system for stuff on their own computers, but are you really happy with yours?

The file-folder paradigm works (perhaps) when you have a few hundred word-processing documents and that’s it. But when you are dealing with thousands of photos and videos accumulated from years of birthday parties, holidays, babies and puppies - and you have stuff both on your PC, on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media sites - using your computer’s native file system quickly becomes unmanageable. Anyone with years of accumulated media is sure to agree.

Computer manufacturers understand your plight, and most provide you with tools to bring your photos and videos back into a manageable reality. Take for example every Apple computer, which comes stock with iPhoto for managing photos and videos together. iPhoto is a fantastic bit of free software that 1) organizes all your media in one place – complete with auto imports from cameras and other devices, 2) allows you to do some basic photo editing, and 3) gives you a media connection to three social media sites: MobileMe, Facebook, and Flickr, so you can easily share your media with the rest of the world.

Unfortunately for PC users, iPhoto is Mac only, and the free photo/video organizer that comes in Windows 7 is limited in features and flat out worthless. Windows Media Center allows you to organize your photos and videos with tags (searchable identifiers) and by ratings (where you give your item 1-5 stars for quality or not), but your files are still sitting somewhere within your file system, as scattered and as chaotic as ever. Media Center also does not offer any of the features that you really want: easy backups, easy searching, upload to Facebook-type sites, and some simple editing.

To get those features in Windows, you have to download something, and to get something really fantastic, you have to actually go out and buy something.

For Windows users, the free Picasa from Google is your best choice, and caters to those on a tight budget and who really want to do a lot more with their photos then look at them once and then lose them. Picasa is equal to the Mac’s iPhoto, and while a bit daunting to use at first, it’s really a nice piece of software that will help you take control of your photos and videos.

I am primarily an Apple user, but what I like about Picasa on the PC is the deep integration with other Google products, like Google Earth and YouTube. Geo-tagging your photos and uploading your videos to YouTube is a snap. Creating albums online for sharing with others is also painless, as is doing some sophisticated photo manipulations by just pointing and clicking on the healthy toolkit of options available in Picasa. Backing up to CD/DVD is a 1-2-3-click operation, and there is a display simulation (to see what your photos look like on other devices) that is unheard of in any free application.

However, your photos are still scattered to the four winds on your hard drive, as while Picasa does a great job finding all of your stashed stuff, it does nothing for you once you leave. To get that level of “professional” management, you have to either buy a Mac - or buy some PC software. For PC users, the purchase de jour is Adobe Lightroom 3, but not much of a steal at the hefty price of USD $299.

However, if you are a professional photographer, this is the bread for your butter. Lightroom, like it’s equivalent on the Mac called Aperture (USD $199), creates a true catalogue of your media. And with a true catalogue, you can do wonderful things. One such wonder is the ability to create different versions of your photo using sophisticated editing tools, but still retain the original photo side-by-side with your edited versions. This feature is called “non-destructive” editing, and is a must for anyone serious about photo manipulations.

Both Lightroom and Aperture allow you to do more with your photo library then ever possible with Picasa or iPhoto. For example, you can create coffee table-sized photography books and get them printed professionally online, as well as produce photo websites and full-featured slideshow movies, complete with your favorite audio track. Lightroom also has “tethered shooting,” which is where you hook your camera to your PC and make technical adjustments before you press the shutter button.

But for me (and hopefully someday for my wife), these two professional-grade applications ensure that no photo or video is ever lost, or further away then typing a simple keyword into a search box. After all, that wedding photo where I have tika sliding down my nose is after all, priceless, irreplaceable, and if using one of the tools discussed, just a click away.
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postheadericon TECH TALK: Playing With The Big Boys of Web Publishing

This week I thought I would blather a bit about web publishing and competing with the big boys in that domain. Since I’ve just spent an entire week locked in my cubicle, head down in manuals and filled with strong coffee, the act of creating a dynamic website has completely clogged my brain - it’s all that I can think about!

A “dynamic” website is often called a CMS, which stands for “Content Management System” - which is just fancy web lingo for a website that can do a lot more then display some “static” text and images. If I’ve lost you already, hang on; I’ll get to Facebook in a minute.

Today, all business and large organizational websites are dynamic, which means that the pages are created on the fly, depending on what link or button that you click. The actual content is stored in a database (most likely MySQL) instead of living in HTML files, and these sites go far beyond what a typical ‘90s website could ever do.

Take Facebook for example. In Facebook, you can see status updates from your friends in real-time, meaning that your Wall is being populated with your friend’s updates about new babies and Farmville activity every second of the day. This is all accomplished under the covers using one of today’s modern web authoring tools like Drupal, Joomla, or Wordpress.

Social networking websites like Facebook, Flickr, Bebo and the now fallen-from-grace MySpace, all use a sophisticated CMS under the covers to provide the cool features that we (as users) are becoming accustomed too: like hitting Like and Dislike buttons, or being able to watch the tally rise on how many friends we have garnered in just one day on Facebook. One might think that back at FB headquarters all of this is accomplished with a heavy lifting of programming code, but not so.

Nowadays, modern open-source CMS systems are available to anyone who cares to download the modules, set them up, and produce a dynamic website on their own. You don’t need a degree in programming (although that never hurts, even if you run a cold store). Why you or your business might consider doing this is two fold. First, sites like Blogger.com, Facebook, and MS Small Business Online literally own your information, and while these sites proclaim your privacy is protected and your data is secure, no one in the industry really believes it. Most businesses and many private citizens feel that the only way to protect and secure data is to run websites from their own webservers, just as they have done successfully for decades.

Second, having a web presence on a Facebook or on an Ebay is limiting, both in the design of the site and in what content that you can post. Rolling your own website is still preferred by folks serious about web publishing. Take for example professional photographers, who find Flickr and Photobucket far too restrictive on how they can present their work. Even videographers find YouTube restrictive, as nowadays you are limited to just 10 minutes and so many megabytes per video posted.

So using a CMS to build your own mini-Facebook or Flick for business or pleasure gives you total freedom - to do whatever the heck that you want, and to make your site “look and feel” as you want, yet have no web overlord imposing rules over your publishing (or selling your vital info to others).

But freedom and security come at a cost - as anyone knows from our political system - so expect a small price due when creating your own content management system. First, you need a web hosting provider, that’s a given, but there are tons out there for just a few thousand rupees a year. Domain names such as HYPERLINK "http://www.yourname.com" www.yourname.com are just Rs.750 from folks like godaddy.com and many others. With just these two items, you can now download Drupal, Joomla or Wordpress building blocks, and off you go constructing your own Facebook or Flickr.

As someone who just did that this week, here is my advice to folks just starting out: prepare yourself for lots of reading re: the tool that you choose. While the major CMS tools mentioned advertise “no programming needed,” you will need to understand how a Drupal or Joomla does what it does – before your begin. Next, do download a manual or two on PHP and MySQL, then let your eyes glaze over for an hour or so (at least). While you will mostly be installing pre-built modules of functions, you might have to edit a few php files and do a little tweaking now and then. For eye-popping visual appeal, in case you are not a Photoshop design wizard, consider using a site like drupalgardens.com, which headlines “Build a powerful website in minutes”. And what they say is somewhat true; it took me just 4,800 minutes to get mine working.

But it was two weeks well spent, as I caught a glimpse into the future of web publishing, which just like desktop publishing of yesteryear, will give any normal individual with a bit of gumption and spitfire, the ability to play with the big boys on the playground of publishing.
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Who the heck is he?

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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