Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sansa Fuze Review

I have pretty much quit listening to XM in favor of podcasts on long car trips.  I've decided that we don't need 2 XM units, so I'm going to replace mine with an MP3 player I'll leave in the car.  

Woot.com had a refurb Sansa Fuse 4g, and it looked like it would do what I want--big enough for a decent amount of music, the ability to use micro SD cards to add to its capacity, and the ability to appear as a mass storage device (meaning it acts like another hard drive)  so I can use it with Linux without jumping through hoops.  I much prefer just dragging and dropping files to "managing" my music.   It is possible to delete files without using a computer, unlike the iPod Touch, and I can shuffle podcasts on it with the memory cards, leaving the player in the car full time. 

Sound quality is fine, the included earbuds are better than the ones from the dollar store, but not as good as Apple or Sony, and the interface is decent, very similar to my wife's iPod.   The Fuze has an FM radio, but with very limited range.  Charges via USB using a proprietary cable.  When using a computer to charge, the player switches to file transfer mode and will not play music.  When using an external USB charger, you can still listen. 

Another oddity is that files put on the player using Windows Media are not visible when looking in hard drive mode, and vice versa. There are several not-so-good songs included at purchase, and I didn't spot them when I loaded music the first time. 

The biggest flaw is how it handles bad .mp3 files.   Many players can be picky about what bitrates they can handle, skipping songs that they cannot play.   When the Fuze gets to a bad file, it either reboots or crashes before the song can even start.  Worse, it backs up several spots on the playlist so when you start it will hit the bad song again.  If you are in random mode you have to remember to check the "next up" display (not enabled by default) on the song BEFORE the crash, so you can delete the offending song.  While the Fuze has the ability to delete songs without needing a computer, it will only delete the currently playing song--so if a song won't pay, you still need the computer to delete it.  This behavior meant that wioutout a workaround, it would be entirely unsuitable for my car. 

This flaw was almost enough for me to send it back. I suspected (correctly as it turned out) a bitrate problem since both the problem songs were variable bitrate.  I found MP3 Diags, a program that can find and fix many different problems on mp3 files.  Even better, it can batch process, meaning I could run all my mp3's through it to find and fix in batches.      On both of the bad files, the Xing headers were wrong, and MP3 Diags was able to fix them.   I have since let the Fuze run for several hours, and it has not crashed or locked up once.  

MP3 diags is free software available for both Linux and Windows.  it could use some improvement of the user interface, and some automation but it isn't a program you will use daily so that is a minor complaint--It is miles better than any other way I could find of dealing with my problem with the Fuze. 

Although the Fuze seems to be working fine now, it took way too much time and trouble to find and fix the problem.  On the other hand, this may be unique to my player, since I didn't find a similar issue on the Internet.  Overall, a C+--the price makes up slightly for the hassle. 

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I cracked the hinge on my last cheap phone, so I bought a new cheap phone.  Even though this one had one decent ringtone that wasn't the same one my wife uses, I decided it was worth it to have a song as a ringtone despite having to pay more for a few seconds of song than the whole song would cost.

My criteria for a good ringtone is primarily about hearing it when it rings and distinguishing it from other phones (especially my wife's)  and only secondarily about being a cool song.   There should be a lot of contrast between the ring and normal ambient noise., and within the music itself--In the same way that Beep----beep----beep is easier to hear than beeeeeeeeeeep.

On my last phone, I had the intro to Baba O'Riley.  It worked well, lots of staccato tones, but discovered that the beginning of a song you hear relatively often isn't the best ringtone either--I reach for my phone when that song comes up on my playlist.

I had a lot of songs in mind that had parts that I thought would make good ringtones, and many of these songs said they were available for my phone--however the vast majority of them used the vocal chorus, completely ignoring a fantastic and easily-recognizable instrumental riff.

I wound up with the horn section of Low Rider by War-An OK but not exceptional song, but works very well as a ringtone.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Strike Hold CLP

At the Indy Blogmeet, Mr B  was passing out sample bottles of Strike Hold, a Cleaner/Lube/protectant product.

I cleaned our two XD40's--The Strike Hold did seem to work quickly, but neither gun had more than about 30 rounds since it's last cleaning.

Today I cleaned my main centerfire range gun, a 4" XD 9mm. I don't clean this gun all that often--I'm lazy, it isn't a self-defense gun, and even with quite a few hundred rounds between cleanings it has never malfunctioned. I ran a patch dampened with Strike Hold through the barrel with a jag, scrubbed the feed ramp and lugs a bit, then used a toothbrush, the damp patch and an old sock on the rest of the gun. I then ran a dry patch through the barrel again, and it came out dirty, as you'd expect.

The surprising thing was that the next wet patch and the dry patch after came out clean. With Hoppe's or Break-Free CLP, it generally takes several more rounds of wet/dry before the patches come out clean, using a lot more cleaner.  (Mr B said to use less of it than I would CLP, so I did)  Pictured is the second patch damp with Strike Hold, after it had been through the barrel.

I will be buying more Strike Hold once the free bottle runs out--however, with the little bit needed, that might be quite a while. 

Idiotic semi-mandatory FTC disclaimer: The 2 oz bottle of Strike Hold was a free sample that Mr B. gave to many of the Blogmeet attendees, without asking anything in return.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Holster Making for a phone

I've decided to try my hand at holster making. A few days ago I was near the Tandy Leather Factory in Columbus, and Scott, the manager couldn't have been more helpful--when he found that I live too far to make attending classes feasible, he sat down with me and gave a 20 minute lesson on sewing leather, complete with demonstration on scrap leather, using the tools I was about to buy.

I bought what he said was the bare minimum tools. After practicing on scraps, I decided to make a case for my phone. We have a box of old phone and PDA cases--I salvaged a clip from one of them and made a first attempt. I wasn't quite paying attention, and folded the first version wrong--the case worked, but looked ugly. On this version, I tried filler pieces on the sides, a technique needed for certain holster designs. Looks OK, but it is longer than the folded version. It is likely to last longer than the phone does. Order of assembly is important--this would have been significantly easier if I'd sewn the leather covering the clip before I sewed the rest together.

Rather than using flaps, snaps or buckles to secure the phone, the thick, stiff leather holds it in place. Since none of the phone sticks out, the hole in the bottom is necessary to push it out of the case.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Color and contrast correction in The Gimp

The Gimp is a free, open-source program. GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. (GNU is a long-running free software project that is in large part responsible for making Linux possible)  The Gimp is the standard graphics software in most Linux versions, and it is also available for Windows.

I'm slowly learning to use The Gimp to edit photos. One of the main uses is to adjust color and contrast where the camera didn't do a good job initially. In some cases, the "auto white balance" is enough, but usually better results can be had with just a few more clicks--This is especially true when there is an area that is much brighter than the rest, that is not part of the subject.

Here is a picture I found on a blog I read regularly (used with permission, click to enlarge):

His camera was set wrong, giving all the pictures a blue tint.

Open the picture in The GIMP. Click Colors, then Levels--you will wind up with the menu shown to the left.  The controls shown here in the oval are the ones you want-- "pick black point" "pick grey point" and "pick white point". Hovering will show which is which. Click on the "pick white point". The next point you click on the image will become the new "whitest" value--Most of the time you want the whitest area of the subject that is NOT a bright reflection or direct light source. You can try different spots to see what the results are, but keep in mind that this isn't the finished result.

For the white point, I used the white van in the background.

Repeat the process with black, selecting the deepest black you want to show distinctly--not necessarily the deepest in the picture.

Finally, select the grey point--in this case, I used the dirt on one of the motorcycle tires.  Make sure you click OK before you do anything else, otherwise the picture will revert to the original version.

 This method also works if the colors are OK but brightness and contrast is screwy--I've had better luck using this than trying to manually adjust brightness and contrast.  

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pesto Chicken

Boneless chicken breasts
Basil pesto (1-2 teaspoons per breast)
Provolone cheese
Garlic (1 clove per breast)


Mince garlic and add to pesto.

Put plastic wrap over chicken breast to prevent splashing raw chicken juice all over your kitchen, and pound to about 3/4 inch thick. Place on pizza skin*, with a cookie sheet under the skin. (or just a cookie sheet)

Spread a thin layer of pesto on the chicken. Add thin tomato slices, then a layer of provolone cheese. Bake at 350 until provolone is toasted and chicken is done, about 20 minutes.

*A pizza skin is a mesh of expanded aluminum with a steel rim, available in most restaurant supply stores. It is great for baking almost anything that would normally go on a cookie sheet, and won't ooze into the holes too much. It cooks faster, more evenly and minimizes soggy bottoms.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Nonresident carry licenses

My Ohio carry license allows me to carry in most states that require training. Ohio won't recognize a license that does not require training, and most states won't recognize licenses from states that won't recognize theirs. This means that my Ohio license is not recognized in Pennsylvania or much of the South.

I currently have a New Hampshire non-resident license that is about to expire that covers most of the states that don't require training. New Hampshire raised their fee to $100, and I don't have that much need.

Pennsylvania's nonresident license is still $26, and simple to get if you already have a license from your state--Mail copies of carry license, driver's license, the application and a check. It covers most of the same states as New Hampshire, In my case, I mailed it out last Friday, and found it waiting for me today--not quite 7 full days later.

The coverage isn't identical. I lose Mississippi, Alabama and New Hampshire (NH recognizes PA licenses, but does not recognize non-resident licenses) but gain Texas.

Pennsylvania has mandated a new process that will require all licenses be done in person, starting next year, so I'll probably have to get yet another state when this one expires in 5 years.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Did not want to use it that fast

My home county is as inconvenient as the law allows for issuing CCW licenses--Although they issue only 700 licences a year, they require appointments and are booked for the next week, with times during work hours. They are also known for taking the maximum allowed time to issue. We are allowed to go to adjacent counties, after a bit of research I went to Champaign.

Champaign county is fantastic--No appointments needed, and I left with my renewed license rather than having to make a second trip.

On the way home, less than 5 minutes from leaving the sheriff with my brand new license, I noticed a guy in a gray Cavalier gesticulating angrily as he drove. I pulled in behind him. He started passing people on a 2 lane town street. He wound up passing a gold Dodge Stratus with a temporary tag, then forcing her off the road. I pulled in behind to see what was going on. He was wearing a Carhart-type jacket, brown hair and scraggly facial hair. He got out of his car, and yelled at her through the window for a bit. Apparently she rolled her window down a crack. He stuck his arm in, opened the door and got in as the car took off down the street. After a half block or so, the Stratus pulled over, he got out, and ran back to the Cavalier, waving keys at me. She took off. By this time I was talking to the 911 operator, and gave his license number as he passed me again. He took off and started passing people again.

I saw the gold Stratus about 3 or 4 blocks up the road, with the asshole from the Cavalier walking around the corner. I pulled in behind to watch and continue reporting to 911, he yelled for a bit, then looked at me and ran back around the corner. After a few seconds she drove down the same street he ran down. I followed when traffic let me, got a glimpse of them a couple blocks up the road, and lost sight of both of them when they turned, did not see them again.

I'm glad it worked out without having to get more directly involved, especially that soon after getting my license renewed.