Pay-As-You-Go Phones in Airports

I forgot my cell phone at home on my recent flight from Seattle to San Jose. I realized this at the Seattle airport after it was too late to go home and get it. No big deal, I thought. I’ll just pick up one of those pay-as-you-go phones in the airport while I wait for my departure time.
Wrong. According to people working in an airport shop in Seattle, it’s against the law to cell these phones in the airport. I haven’t been able to verify this, but since they sell numerous cell phone accessories, I’ll assume the clerks know what they are talking about. The implied reason was that the phones could be used for terrorist activities (presumably because you can pay cash to get one).
I might buy into this theory if it weren’t for the fact that thousands (maybe millions?) of cell phones pass through airport security on any given day. All the phones that go through security are deemed “safe”. Am I to believe that none of those phones are pay-as-you-go phones? Not likely. If we operated on the same logic used for not allowing liquids to pass beyond a security checkpoint, I should be throwing away my phone before checking in and buying a new phone on the other side. I certainly would think it is harder to misjudge a complicated electronic device like a phone before you’d mistake a bottle of water someone sips from.
When I touched down in San Jose, my first stop was a nearby Target store where I picked up the Virgin Mobile Kyocera Switch Back. I don’t think I’m ready to dump my Windows Mobile phone just yet, but I could certainly use this phone instead of many other alternatives from Cingular. The keyboard is functional, the camera takes decent pictures, and the audio quality is as good as anything else I’ve used. It even worked as my alarm clock. If the airport had carried this phone, they could have had my money instead (and required a credit card to prevent anonymity).

Xbox 360 Offers The Last True Analog Hole?

It was almost a year ago when I did my Xbox 360 giveaway. Since that time, Xbox 360 consoles became less scarce and might be the best consumer buy this holiday season – but not because of the games. There’s a whole lot of effort in the entertainment industry and in the consumer electronics marketplace to make it harder for people to use their digital media however they see fit. The Xbox 360 consoles of the current generation might be the last consumer set top devices we see that don’t encumber our media consumption from a million different angles.
The Toshiba set top HD-DVD player offers HDMI output with HDCP content protection on the signal for delivering digital video to your screen. Using the HDMI output, you get full resolution video of either 1920×1080 or 1280×720, depending on what your television screen supports. It also has component outputs, but those won’t display full HD resolution, instead forcing the picture to 480p. If you happen to have an HDTV with no HDMI in, you’re stuck with a lower resolution picture. In general, this will become the norm as hardware ships with support for an Image Constraint Token which forces content to a maximum resolution of 960×540. The Xbox 360 currently either lacks this restriction or doesn’t have any content with Image Constraint Token support turned on, as demonstrated by my recent tutorial on copying HD-DVD with an Xbox as the source.
The Xbox 360 is the exception in this case. Hampered devices are about to become the norm. Blu-ray players and the new Sony PlayStation 3 also have HDMI with HDCP content protection. Using component connections with either also hampers your experience. The Xbox continues to output the maximum resolution available without hampering the signal.
In general, this is good news if you want to maintain some level of access to your media. Granted, my method for capturing HD from the Xbox is neither affordable nor practical from a time standpoint, but I like knowing I can do it. I specifically wanted to compare some video from the Xbox and would not have been able to do so without this option. Xbox also makes streaming audio and video to your home theater easier with the new software Zune Player (no Zune hardware required) and while the experience isn’t perfect, the two combined make it largely unnecessary to have a Media Center PC to enjoy watching movies from your computer in your home theater.
Before you write off the Xbox as just for kids or only for gamers, take a look at what may be the last device in the HD space with what we consider the analog hole in its unhampered format. There’s no guarantee that future versions of Xbox 360 consoles will continue to allow this freedom, but in the meantime this seems to be the norm.

Digital Media Discounts

If you’re looking for some holiday savings that won’t have someone trying to beat you down in the aisles of a store, digital shopping might be your best alternative. There are a number of useful software apps offering discounts through the end of the holiday buying season, making it cheaper to either upgrade your existing applications or get the right tools for a given digital problem.
Top of the list in my book is Roxio’s Easy Media Creator 9. The new and improved version of Roxio’s all-in-one audio and video tool includes my favorite DVD authoring app, MyDVD, a video conversion tool for converting most videos for playback on iPod, Sony PSP, or other portable devices. The video editing app is among the easier solutions to use. The DVD burning app now supports HD formats like a champ and there are at least 500 other things you can do I haven’t mentioned here. Using the Coupon Code SAVE10C9 you can
save 10% on Easy Media Creator 9. If you owned a previous version of a Sonic or Roxio product there’s also a $20 rebate.
For a serious digital video editing suite, Pinnacle is offering discounts off any of their products, which includes $50 off the amazing
Avid Liquid. The software supports both standard definition and HDV video editing. For consumer editing, the
Pinnacle Studio is also discounted for the holidays. You can save on anything in the Pinnacle catalog using the coupon code PINN03. This one expires on November 30, so if you’re in the market for video editing software, don’t wait too long.
For converting your media files, Digital Media Converter remains a consistent solution. It converts most media formats with support for batch processing, including the ability to convert files like MOV. You can save $5 on Digital Media Converter with coupon code DMCOFFER.
You won’t get any bruises while shopping for any of these apps, but you might just make your digital audio and video editing a little easier.

Backing Up is Hard To Do

What is it about making backups that’s so hard? Not the actual process of creating a backup of important data, but the habit of backing up seems to be one of the biggest challenges in computing. I get a fair number of questions from people who need to recover files they’ve either deleted accidentally or lost due to a crash. Each time I want to ask why they didn’t make a backup in the first place.

Windows Vista Offers Crippled HD Support

Windows Vista is already behind in its support of digital video cameras and the product hasn’t shipped yet. Sean Alexander and Furrygoat, two Microsoft employees, are both drooling over the new Sony HDR-SR1 which records 1080i HD direct to a hard drive on the camcorder. I don’t blame them – it’s a hot looking camera with great features. The camera won’t work with the Vista version of Windows Movie Maker.
One of the key features of the Vista version of Windows Movie Maker is supposed to be HD support. The supported HD in Sony HDR-SR1 is AVCHD, which uses H.264 MPEG-4 compression to keep file sizes down, giving you 2 hours of recording on the 30GB hard drive. AVCHD is not compatible with Windows Movie Maker because Microsoft is electing not to support AVC out-of-the-box.
If this were limited to one camcorder, I’d say no big deal. But it’s not one camcorder; it’s many camcorders from many manufacturers. Sony, Hitachi and Panasonic are all planning to offer camcorders with the AVCHD format. My Sanyo Xacti uses a different kind of MPEG-4 compression to offer 720p HD, also incompatible with Windows Movie Maker.
The solution is to use something else to edit your movies if you record in HD. Like a Mac. 😉 More seriously, Roxio Easy Media Creator 9 works with the MPEG-4 files from the Sanyo Xacti. I’m sure Sony’s Vegas Video will work with the files from the AVCHD cameras. Other 3rd parties will provide solutions for a fee. But the promise of HD support in Vista’s Windows Movie Maker should be a real one, like the support in Apple’s iMovie, not something that’s already out of date before it ships. For all its other shortcomings, the XP version of Windows Movie Maker worked with every DV cam on the market at the time it shipped.
There are likely two reasons Microsoft isn’t supporting AVCHD. On one hand, the format competes directly with Microsoft’s own VC1 offering, which is the secret sauce in HD-DVD. A few people at Microsoft are heavily invested in seeing HD-DVD succeed (which is not necessarily a bad thing), possibly at the expense of the customer because the blinders are on to what the rest of the industry is doing. When the key players in the digital video camera space make a decision, even if it’s one Microsoft doesn’t like, Microsoft should be paying attention to how it impacts the customer.
The second reason Microsoft isn’t supporting AVC by default is the per user cost of adding support for AVC to Windows Vista. It would likely cost upwards of $3 per user to have AVC baked into Windows Vista. While that doesn’t sound like much, it eats into their already shrinking bottom line per license. They finally added support for MPEG-2 in Windows Vista, which probably blew the budget for codec support.
The reasons remain bad excuses for not paying attention to what’s going on in customer land. People who buy digital video cameras will expect them to work with Windows Vista out-of-the-box. Two key formats matter in HD right now: AVC and VC-1. There aren’t any DV cams that record VC-1 video (my guess is there never will be). With the world moving toward HD, we’re going to see lots more content in both VC-1 and H.264. The right course of action here is to offer a patch to Windows Movie Maker, in the form of a codec pack or upgrade, within the Service Pack 1 timeframe. Even that’s not soon enough. People will be buying new cameras and new computers in 2007. Many of those cameras will be HD. Most of those computers will have Windows Vista installed and no support for what will likely be the popular option for consumer level HD recording.
Are we really back to the argument that buying Mac is your only viable option if you make video?

Readers Respond with Popular Audio and Video Apps

Thank you to everyone who submitted feedback for the Tom Bihn bag giveaway. I’m a few days behind on announcing the three lucky individuals who get a free Tom Bihn Bag. Congrats to John Z., Tim M. and Javier S. Look for me to give away more cool stuff in the near future.
One of the most interesting parts of the survey for me was seeing what you are or aren’t using to make audio and video. As a percentage of total responses, more people are not currently using audio and video editing software than any one specific software application. To keep things simple I lumped any audio or video editing app with only one person using it into the Other category. Below you can see a breakdown of which apps are most popular with people who responded to the survey.
Adobe Premiere and Windows Movie Maker are the two most popular video editing applications in terms of usage by respondents.

For audio editing, Audacity is the runaway favorite among respondents with 22%. Sound Forge is the next closest application with 8% of respondents.

I think I may run a similar survey about digital photography apps in the near future to get a better feel for what you might be using to tweak your photos.
In other freebie news, it’s taken forever but I finally have the two recipients of an iRiver Clix and MTV URGE worked out based on my server stats. In case you’ve forgotten what this was all about, if you linked to an article on between July 19, 2006 and August 29, 2006, you were automatically given a chance to get a free iRiver Clix from me. The person who generated the most traffic from their link (or links) got an iRiver Clix and MTV URGE and one random individual also would get an iRiver Clix and MTV URGE subscription. Sorting through all the details proved to be more complicated than anticipated. As it turns out, Gina Trapani over at Lifehacker came in first with over 8588 people visiting, so Gina came in with the top traffic by a very wide margin. Jay White’s Dumb Little Man was selected at random from all linking sites.

9 Apps for More Secure Computing

Some of the best security you can get for your computer is common sense. Phishing seems to be the most likely culprit of a security violation these days, with hundreds of emails trying to trick you into logging into a fake site with your real bank information or other personal data.
If you ever suspect that one of those messages might be real – don’t click the link. Open your browser and type in the URL you know is correct for the bank, or ebay, or PayPal or wherever the scam happens to be. One after you typed in the URL should you enter you username and password.
Beyond protecting yourself with common sense, here are 9 apps that will help make your computing experience more secure through encryption, anonymity, creating barriers or just helping to actively watch for bad stuff on your PC.
ClamWin Free Antivirus – One key to keeping your system secure is a good antivirus program. ClamWin does a great job for free and integrates with Outlook. Also runs from a USB drive, so you can take antivirus anywhere.
Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer – Scan your system for potential security issues, like missing passwords, insecure ports, and other common misconfigurations. This tool will help you find the holes in your current security.
Quicky Password Generator – Automatically generate complex passwords to help secure your user logins. Using your pets name just won’t cut it. Supports passwords up to 20 characters.
RoboForm – Password manager with encrypted password storage and automatic login. You can put it on a keychain drive and take your passwords anywhere using RoboForm2Go. It also includes a password generator feature similar to Quicky Password Generator mentioned above.
Tor – Anonymize your Web browsing, publishing, instant message conversations, SSH connections and anything else you do over an Internet connection while still being able to authenticate.
TrueCrypt – Creates virtual encrypted disks mountable in Win XP or Win 2000. The encrypted partitions may be stored on either hard disk or flash memory card, creating the option for transporting data safely when traveling.
Windows Defender – No single anti-spyware app catches everything, but Microsoft’s Windows Defender is by far the best from my experience.
WinSCP – if you need to upload anything via FTP, use a secure connection. WinSCP uploads files using secure FTP or SCP and keeps your data (including username and password) from being picked up by a snooper.
ZoneAlarm – Free firewall and access control for securing your computer. Prevents applications from accessing the Internet without your permission and prevents unwanted access from outside. A good firewall is a must when you have a DSL or cable Internet connection.