Tag Archives: mp3

Got NAS? Creating a Digital Media Solution

(Author’s note: This post is for those not as familiar with the full extent of digital media tools, apps and hardware; there are a multitude of solutions out there and this is to bring the subject to the wider audience).

In this age of digital media, everyone is taking photos (JPGs), listening to music (MP3, OGG, FLAC), taking videos (MP4, DivX, MPG, MKV) – and there are plenty of other formats for each of those to choose as an alternative. Equally, there are many ways to consume those formats – Desktop, Laptop, tablets, PDA, phone.. the list goes on.

Over time you may come to realise that you have lots of files everywhere (SD cards, hard drives, USB memory sticks, Facebook, etc). – You probably have also wondered how can you organise them a little better so you don’t have to go to one place for pictures, another for music, etc. etc.

If you’ve not heard of NAS (or Network Attached Storage) already then this might be the answer for you!

What is NAS?

A NAS drive is one or more 3.5″ hard drives contained in an enclosure along with some additional bits and pieces to make it more than just a hard drive. For the technically minded, those bits and pieces are a network port, sometimes a USB port (to enable attachment of other USB devices including printers) and typically a micro kernal flavour of Linux allowing some other features such as the ability to automatically download .torrent files, FTP access, user management, etc. If you’re wanting yet more info, check out the Wiki article on it.

The NAS drive connects to your network router and provides the ability to store and retrieve data to (almost) any other device that can connect to the same network. To give you a flavour of just what this means, take a look at the possibilities below!

From this you can see that the potential to centralise all your picture, music and movies is pretty compelling. So what’s the catch?

What’s the catch?

NAS drives are as fast as the network they are connected to and the activity they are performing. For example, if you had 3 people trying to stream 1080p (HD) video on a 802.11B wireless network they are going to have to deal with slow network speeds and (potentially) one hard drive trying to squeeze 3 HD videos down a small network pipe. You can imagine that won’t work well! Also some devices have to do some extra decoding on the fly for certain content (usually video) – again that can add an overhead.

But it’s not all bad, is it?

Not at all – personally I have a single drive NAS drive (Iomega 1TB) which serves as a central store for all my digital content. It means I can share media across any device including XBox 360, PS3, laptops and Android phone. Slight frustration is with Apple mobile products; my iPad won’t connect without downloading (buying) more software or by routing the content via a PC / Mac which would have to be on to serve the content.

What else should I know?

NAS drives can be bought with the capability to house multiple hard drives. The main reason for this is to provide failover should one hard drive fail. You may have heard the term “RAID” – this basically means that whatever is on a disk is mirrored to another disk so that if one fails, the other disk has the same data to provide backup/failover. Read more about RAID here. This means that you could have 2 x 1TB drives with only 1TB of storage space but redundancy for that capacity.

NAS drives should also come as DNLA / UPnP and iTunes compatible so you have lots of options open to you  – many do, but this is just something to look out for.

Also look out for those NAS drives that can act as a Print Server – that means you can connect your printer to the NAS drive and any device on the network potentially can use that printer.

So what NAS drive should I buy?

There are many options; if you have the budget I would recommend getting a NAS drive with RAID, plus drives as big as you’re comfortable buying. Check Amazon, NewEgg and CNET for recommendations – I’ve heard lots of good press about Buffalo; I’ve had a good enough experience with my iomega NAS too.

Like this post? Please comment!

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Creating success for your product through hacking (or Product Marketing Conspiracy)

Have you ever thought about Jailbreaking your iPhone? Or homebrewing your PSP or Wii? Did you hack your Android phone to get the latest updates? Whether you have or not, there are many out there that have. But why do they do that? And what is this jailbreak/homebrew you speak of? This article aims to expose what hacking products is all about and possibly why manufacturers are missing the point.

Manufacturers create limitations

When creating products, manufacturers build in mechanisms which prevent or limit capability of their products. This is done for a number of reasons:

  • Safety: Prevent the system from being misused where it will perform outside safety parameters (e.g. “overclocking“)
  • Feature Control – They want to limit the functionality of the product – possibly so they can enable it later or introduce the feature in some other way/update (i.e. controlling how features are deployed)
  • Security – They want to limit access to the system to prevent tampering, bypassing of existing functions or plugging in extra ones.
  • Prevent Piracy – They want to prevent the ability to play pirated games, etc. on the device (typical of games consoles)

Hackers are evil, aren’t they?

Or so the Media would have you believe. Yes there are some rotten apples for sure, but there are also those out there that hack for good intention too. Generally speaking the purpose of hacking is to bypass or overcome one or more of the reasons mentioned above (Safety, Feature Control, Security, Piracy) but there are other reasons too; some want the notoriety that they were the first to break into a system. Others hack because they feel the limitations put on the product are restrictive.

You may be a hacker and not realise it…

Consider the humble MP3 player. A number of factors lead to its’ success such as portability, capacity, size, durability and also the fact it let you hack your CD collection by ripping any of the tracks into the MP3 format and then uploading them to any one of your MP3 devices.

Cars also have had many changes which have meant they too are hackable. Every car I’ve owned since 2001 has had the ability for its’ Electronic Control Unit (ECU) to be modified to either get more performance, economy – or both. On top of that, the burgeoning after-market business will allow you to replace many parts of your standard car, either to make it personalized to you, or to enhance it in some way shape or form.

The war on the home electronics front

Games consoles and phones have long been a target for hacking. When the original Microsoft Xbox came out it was soon hacked and people started to change it in ways it had never been designed for. A popular hack was to convert it to a media center by adding a larger hard drive, installing Xbox Media Center and an optical out – creating a true home theatre PC experience on the cheap (though not HD). The Xbox was (for its’ generation), a market leader and the ability to hack it made it more desirable over Sony’s PS2 product.

With the introduction of the Xbox 360, Microsoft decided to increase the security so that the system couldn’t be hacked so easily. As with most things, an exploit was found which allowed hackers to bypass the (local) security. There are also various exploits for the Sony PS3 which allow the user to take control over what happens to their console.

Going back to our Apple iPhone as well as the iPad and Android phones, people realize that these are very powerful platforms which have been (in their eyes) restricted by the manufacturer in some way and so will actively seek to hack and bypass security as they see it as their right that if they own the product, they should have it their way for their needs. As such exploits and hacks were found which allowed users to do what they wanted with the devices.

So why not just build “hackability” into Products?

Would manufacturers allowed “hacking” affects desirability? Going back to the  Xbox 360, Microsoft created a marketplace for people to re-skin their console with plastic shells that could be purchased. Whilst a good marketing idea, the actual desirability for this kind of hacking is minimal. The same goes for cars – the manufacturer often offers additional accessories with the vehicle which gives some degree of personalization (or a perception of it), yet in reality many folks will buy after-market parts instead.

So there are desirable hacks as well as non-desirable ones?

Absolutely! Some hacks make systems better for the end user – whether it be speed, appearance, extensibility. Simply put, manufacturing a product which has potential exploits to hacks or customize it in some way, shape or form, but that way isn’t documented, isn’t officially supported, perhaps is communicated as “we do not approve these changes” – but is coincidentally allowing the exploit could increase its’ chance to be desired.

Or to put it another way; if you let your product be hackable but you as a manufacturer do not condone it, you may increase your chance of market share because it’s viewed as underground and therefore increases its’ “coolness” factor – and thus your product gets notoriety.

So it’s easy right? Just make everything “hackable”…

What would happen if Apple offered a hacking tool for the iPhone that was charged a premium for? Someone would write a hack that did the same thing for free and they’d be the hero. Perhaps off the back of that Apple would offer them a job to help prevent other / hacks, etc. so everyone wins, but ultimately the  manufacturer hack tool could be viewed as too corporate and so people would try to work they way around it.

Again putting it simply, officially endorsing a hack doesn’t always win votes.

So what does that mean for the consumer?

There are pro’s and cons for the consumer with hacking a product; it can remove manufacturer liability, cause the life of the product to be shortened – or even break the product. On the other hand it can help make the product fulfill its’ potential.

When Microsoft release the Kinect product, folks immediately set to work to understand how they could use the product outside of its’ intended use. At first Microsoft made strong statements about how this was against the terms of use, but rapidly retracted the strength of that statement. People were starting to see how they could use the product for new ways such as 3D real time modeling and that this was pushing the boundaries of use – something more powerful that Microsoft alone may have considered- certainly in the short term.

Similarly the United States military showcased 200 networked Sony PS3’s that they use as one huge parallel processor. Hardly what the system was designed for but absolutely perfect for its’ capability.

In conclusion

If you’re thinking of going out and hacking every product you own that is hackable, don’t. Stop and think about what would happen if you did apply a hack – would you lose your warranty? Could you fix it if it broke? That being said there is good cause for some hacks, so definately research based off your needs and the risks.

For any manufacturers out there reading this… could this be your new marketing ploy?!

[ADDENDUM]

New article how a jailbreak can make your iPhone/iPad more secure

Mojo – Download music from other people’s iTunes!

The thing about writing commercial software is that even if you put elaborate things in place to stop people copying or ripping it, someone somewhere will find a way.

Similarly, now we live in an MP3 world, people who use iTunes can now download songs from other people’s shared iTunes libraries thanks to Mojo.

“Mojo will automatically find other users on your network and allows you to easily add buddies to your roster for those who aren’t on your local network.   Select a user to share with… Songs you already have in your library are grayed out.  Also, protected songs display in red… All the songs you have selected will be automatically downloaded and added to your iTunes library…Choose any playlist to subscribe to, and Mojo will automatically download and update the latest changes”

Sounds great eh? Mac users can rejoice that this is fully functional at this time, but Windows is still in beta meaning you can only share over a local network – the Mojo guys are working on completing this work shortly.

Visit the Mojo Site for more info

Floola, the iTunes Alternative; DoubleTwist removes DRM

I was looking for an alternative to iTunes the other day as a friend was having issues with theirs. In doing so I came across a great little app called “Floola

To quote from their website : “Floola is a freeware application to efficiently manage your iPod or your Motorola mobile phone (any model supporting iTunes). It’s a standalone application that can be run directly from your iPod and needs no installation under Linux, Mac OS X and Windows

Sounds great eh? The bonus is that it’s lightweight and not resource hungry! You could pop it on a memory stick (the app weighs in at 17.6mb for the Win32 version I am using) and manage your tunes on any compatible computer.

How to run Floola on Windows when you have iTunes already installed

  • taskmgr.jpgFirst, kill the iTunes applications running in the background – to do this, go to the Task Manager and end the AppleMobileDeviceService and iPodService tasks (click the image for details)
  • Plug in your iPod and then run the floola application
  • It will prompt you to select your version of iPod if this is the first time you’ve run this combination of iPod and install
  • It may also say that your iPod is not setup correctly and offer to do this automatically – I said “yes” to this
  • Result! You now have your Floola application configured.

floola.jpg

You can still manage your music, podcasts, etc. The interface is compact so it might seem quirky at first, but I think this is a great solution / alternative to iTunes. You can download Floola from here.

How to remove DRM through DoubleTwist

I’ve also found a great application that removes the DRM from any of your iTunes files – again freeware and spyware free – called DoubleTwist. According to their FAQ “Our mission is to enable consumers to enjoy their digital media on the widest possible range of devices and help them share what they’ve created with friends.

Also from their site : “doubleTwist can automatically convert music you have purchased from the iTunes store to MP3, a universal format supported by all devices that play digital music. doubleTwist does not delete or move the original files. You can only convert files that you have legally purchased and are authorized to play with iTunes.

Aside from the whole argument for and against DRM, those of us who have bought legal songs and want them not just on our iPod, this seems like a great way to be able to listen to them on other devices.