Category Archives: Windows

Streaming Music From The Cloud With Google Play

If iTunes is the centre of the iOS/OSX sphere of influence, then Google Play is undoubtedly the centre of the Android sphere. But at one time, it was simply a music service along the lines of the iTunes store, but it offered so much more than Apple did: it allowed users to upload a copy of their MP3 library to Google’s servers for streaming music to Android devices or through a browser.

Now, I have quite an extensive library full of rather obscure recordings and eclectic variety, so this came as a huge boon to someone like me. Pandora, Spotify, and Slacker could only go so far with their curated playlists full of repetitive tracks and limited playback options. For years, I’ve been looking for a solution to curate my music library for portable playback (“the Cloud” wasn’t quite a thing yet), and the only option available to me was the $300 iPod Classic (which has since been discontinued), a hefty price to pay for a dedicated device.

My biggest timesuck with Google Play’s music service has been cleaning my MP3 library. 30+ years of collected recordings tends to produce a few duplicate tracks now and again (many of which were songs pulled from Napster that I have since legitimately acquired by purchasing the full album). Granted, you are not required to take such meticulous care of your library, but I tend to be a little obsessive over cataloging, and I like everything to be just so. After several weeks dedicated to cleaning ID3 tags, eliminating duplicates, and filling in missing artwork, I was finally able to upload a clean version of my library: over 18,000 individual tracks! Google allows a whopping 50k tracks to be stored in your account, and the best part is that they will automagically replace your MP3 with the highest quality version available to them for streaming!

Now, I keep everything on a thumb drive organised locally via iTunes, then I upload a copy to Google Play for streaming to my devices: it sure beats the hell outta syncing and charging a separate iPod, I can guarantee that!

Also on:

How To Punch A Hole Through Windows Firewall

Windows 7 does a pretty decent job of sealing itself off from the wild and the wooly of the Interweb with its built-in firewall, but sometimes you have an application running that needs to interact with the outside world: a game or an FTP server, perhaps. In order for these applications to work correctly, you’re going to need to punch a hole in your firewall by adding an exception to Windows Firewall.

First, open Windows Firewall settings from the System and Security settings in the Control Panel.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 9.16.00 PM

In the left sidebar, click “Allow a program of feature through Windows Firewall”

Choose the program from the list and check the box to the left to allow an exception. Check the boxes to the right to specify which networks the exception is allowed on.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 9.19.32 PM

If your application does not appear on the list, click the “Allow another program…” button in the lower left, and either highlight the program from the list or browse for the executable file, then click the “Add” button. (NOTE: for FileZilla Server, make sure that “FileZilla server.exe” is given the exception NOT “FileZilla server interface.exe”)

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 9.22.25 PM

Also on:

How To Setup a Windows FTP Server With FileZilla

FileZilla is the de facto Windows FTP server solution. It is an open-source, free application distributed under the GNU public licence.

Installation is fairly straightforward, simply download and run the installer binary. Be careful, though, because Sourceforge sneaks some “sponsored software” into the installer, and you may end up with a little bloatware that you didn’t want or need. The default settings are fine, but you may want to change the default port if you’re going to be opening this sucker to the entire Interweb. Today, though, we’re staying behind the safety of our hardware firewall, so we can only access files if we’re connected to the same wifi.

Setup is a little convoluted, but can be made simple by following these easy steps:

One the server daemon is running and you are in the main window, click the “Users” button Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 7.26.04 PM to add users to the server.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 7.26.04 PM

In the Users window, click the “Add” button on the right side, type in a username and click “OK”. The user you just specified will be enabled automatically. You can assign a password for this user by checking the box next to “Password” and typing one in.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 7.30.36 PM

Clicking the “Shared Folders” branch (on the left side), you can add directories and assign permissions. I only assign write, delete, and append permissions to my admin account while I give other users the ability to read files on the server. Each directory will require an alias, so give it something easy to remember when you open it in your FTP client.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 7.40.40 PM

For more information on setting up FileZilla Server, including how to punch a hole through the Windows Firewall, consult the FileZilla Wiki.

Also on:

For the first time in nearly a decade, I’m using Windows as a primary OS

I have to admit, I haven’t used Windows on a machine that I own since 2006 when Microsoft wanted me to pay for a new license for the copy of Windows XP Pro that I legally purchased as an upgrade to the same computer I had been using since 2002. Microsoft–to put it mildly, and in plain terms–royally pissed me off that day, and I swore off their products for what might have seemed forever. I switched to Ubuntu 6.06 and became an instant fan of Linux, reliving some of my youth spent digging around in MS-DOS and writing lines upon lines of code. I ran various flavours of Linux for years all the while staying sure of myself that I could run anything just as well as I could with Windows.

In 2010, that all came crashing down–literally–when a bookshelf fell from the wall in my tenement apartment and crushed my laptop. I did the best I could to revive it, but the hardware was circling the drain. It was time for a new computer. I bought a MacBook Pro.

I’m a fan of OSX at its core level. The system is based on UNIX (“It’s a UNIX system. I know this!”), so it’s sorta like Linux…except that it just works. No muss, no fuss, and no compatibility issues that need to be sorted. I’ve been happily using OSX going on 5 years now, but for the VCR, I was not going to attempt the foolhardy pursuit of building a hackintosh. Ubuntu proved very capable in building a functioning software suite, but when I got to the higher end of the project’s performance envelope–namely in areas regarding emulation–Ubuntu’s OpenGL processing was simply falling short.

Finally, for the first time in nearly a decade, I have installed Windows as a primary operating system on a machine that I own. Thankfully, I missed the Vista era (as Vista is to 7 what ME was to XP), and in my experimenting with Windows 8 at my day job, I knew that tiled monstrosity wouldn’t see day one on my network! Windows 8 is a jumbled mess that can’t decide if it’s going to be for desktops or tablets, showing the shortcomings of both and the advantages of neither. Even the 8.1 upgrade still managed to take away a lot of the core functionality that I would rely on for the VCR. For this reason, I took the plunge and bought a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium.

So far, the $99 price tag has shown its value against my open-source mistress in the gaming realm, allowing me to play my entire games library without complex compatibility layers or other desenrascanço. I can even purchase new games from Steam and Good Old Games to go along with the hundreds of titles I already own! There are a few key functionality options in Windows that one does not enjoy in Ubuntu as well. The case in point: EventGhost. Ubuntu does have an ability to program macros to various events in the OS, but only in Windows is there a GUI that walks you through setup quickly and easily.

The bottom line: Linux is fantastic and an unbeatable bargain for the price (free), but for the foreseeable future when you need a little extra multimedia support, it’s worth dropping a Benjamin to get DirectX.

Also on:

Remote Desktop Access With TeamViewer

In my line, I do a lot of work on multiple computers and I usually need to access one or more of them remotely. This is usually quite easy when working with two computers using the same operating system environment, but becomes rather tricky when mixing OSes. SSH access is great for running applications in Linux, but becomes a pain when you need to run applications in the shell or if you need to multitask. This is where TeamViewer comes in handy.

TeamViewer is a simple peer-to-peer remote desktop access software suite that is easy to setup and–most importantly–cross-platform! TeamViewer provides secure access to a remote machine across a home network or anywhere in the world through the World Wide Web. You can run applications and perform any level of maintenance just as if you were sitting at the computer yourself. Everything runs in a dedicated window so there’s no getting lost. You can even use TeamViewer for online meetings and file sharing without need for a separate FTP setup!

TeamViewer client and server modules.

Did I mention it’s free?

TeamViewer is free for non-commercial use, so it’s perfect for maintaining a remote machine on the home network or performing maintenance on your parents’ computer from across the country!

Also on:

I built an HTPC from an old VCR

My latest grand project has come about from a desire to have an integrated home entertainment solution and an inability to find any off-the-shelf product that handles media the way I want it to.wpid-wp-1427424367999.jpg

My first impulse was to build an HTPC in a traditional desktop-style case, but I could not locate one that would fit in my IKEA Besta TV stand. As it happens, I had a cache of old VCRs taking up space in storage after my VHS digitising project, so I grabbed one that would suit well and got to tinkering.

wpid-wp-1427425387636.jpg
A few hours of Dremel work and the original RCA and Coaxial ports are replaced with USB and HDMI.
wpid-wp-1427425396022.jpg
The front RCA ports made a convenient location to add a couple front USB ports.

 The form factor of the VHS turned out to fit an mATX motherboard and power supply side-by-side almost exactly. Thankfully, there was still plenty of clearance for fans and other internal bits as well. Best of all, the case pays homage to a time in my childhood when the VCR (actually, this exact VCR) was the focal point of entertainment–perhaps even more than the NES that sat next to it. After all, you can’t play Super Mario Bros. and build Lego models at the same time!

wpid-wp-1427425401398.jpg
Still a slightly jumbled mess inside, but it works.

With the internals completed, I set about assembling the software suite. XBMC provides the main interface while Firefox and RetroArch supplement functionality for most streaming services and video games. The biggest decision I’ve had to make was whether to build the system on Linux or Windows. I’ve completed comparable versions under both, but I eventually paid for a Windows 7 license to take advantage of the superior graphics processing compatibility provided by Microsoft DirectX as well as eliminate the headache of futzing around with Wine compatibility settings.

wpid-wp-1427425380569.jpg
Original serial number and patent labels joined by the ubiquitous “Intel Inside” decal.

The end result is an all-in-one streaming media, local media, classic and modern gaming machine that evokes an aesthetic of an era that is quickly fading into the annals of history.

wpid-wp-1427425384322.jpg
The original date of manufacture label: June 1993.
wpid-wp-1427425391689.jpg
21 years of reliable service and counting!
wpid-wp-1427424377477.jpg
The unit’s cassette door broke off sometime in the late 1990s, so I 3D printed a replacement to seal the innards from dust. I also replaced the original 7-segment display with a USB liquid crystal display.

Also on:

How To Fix Unresponsive USB Ports In Windows 7 Home Premium

I was working with the VCR today when, after a reboot, all the USB ports went dead. After much consternation (and a little bit of cussing), I was able to determine a solution.

Fortunately, I already had TeamViewer installed, so jacking in remotely was a snap. Without any kind of remote access, this process would be nigh impossible since the entirety of input devices are USB.

  1. Navigate to Control Panel -> Hardware and Sound -> Device Manager (listed under Devices and Printers).
  2. The last item in the tree should be Universal Serial Bus Controllers.
  3. Expand the USB Controller branch to expose the list of USB devices connected to the computer.
  4. Right-click and uninstall each of the listings, thus removing it from the system. One or more of the controller drivers was likely corrupted and removing all of them will ensure a clean installation.
  5. Reboot and allow Windows 7 to recognise and reinstall all the connected USB devices. Everything should work like new again!

More information on this problem as well as other solutions can be found here.

Also on:

Microsoft just announced their newest operating system