Microsoft’s SideWinder X6.

Microsoft’s new Sidewinder keyboard, the verdict…insanely awesome. Microsoft’s gaming products have been making a debut as of lately, most notibly with their new Sidewinder X6 keyboard and Sidewinder X5 gaming mouse. Microsoft isn’t exactly known for their gaming products, but it would seem that they’ve done their homework this time around.

The Ultimate Control

The new Sidewinder X6 is fully stocked.  With a backlit keyboard and a detachable number pad that can be programmed for up to 90 Macro’s, the X6 is always up to the task.  As you can see from the pictures, the final products looks awesome. Especially those volume & light controls, which set it apart from your average gaming keyboard. Microsoft said that they didn’t want people having two keyboards on their desks, just one for gaming and another for working.  The X6 is great for both of these tasks.

Precision At Your Finger Tips

The X5 may not have an LCD or adjustable weights, but it does an awesome job for gaming.  With a 2,000 DPI laser, five customizable buttons, and a Quick-Launch button for quickly opening your favourite applications, the X5 is easily one of the most capable mice on the market.  Microsoft is definitely taking a fresh attempt at gaming products, and their work is much appreciated.

Final Words

The SideWinder X6 Keyboard and SideWinder X5 Mouse are set to be released in Septermber 2008 (For the holiday season). Estimated retail is $79.95 (U.S.) and $59.95 (U.S), repsectively.

How To: Building A Digital Movie Collection

Media has become a centric part of our lifestyle.  As of recent, Apple has made it easy to collect, purchase, organize, and play media through iTunes. They’ve made it easy to access this content through the Apple TV on our High-Definition TV in our living rooms, and play it back in gorgeous 1080P resolution.  But what about your existing DVD collection?  Shouldn’t it get some of this attention as well?  Here is a guide on building your own digital movie collection, and making the most of iTunes and Apple TV.

To complete this process, you’ll need to arm yourself with your personal DVD collection, plenty of free time, Apple iTunes, and third-party application Handbrake. Oh, don’t forget a nice large external hard-drive to house these movies (typically 1.5GB each).

What you’ll be doing is inserting DVDs into your Mac, ripping them to your hard-drive with Handbrake, importing them into iTunes, and adding meta-data.

Step One: Move your iTunes Library to an external HDD

If you don’t want to or believe you have enough space on your internal drive, skip this step.

Connect your external drive to your Mac and create a folder “iTunes” on it. Launch iTunes and head to the preferences, when here, click on advanced tab then click “Change” to re-locate your iTunes library. Navigate to the iTunes folder you created on the external drive and set this as your libraries destination.

To complete the move of your library, click “Advanced” “Consolidate Library”. This will move your entire iTunes library to the folder you specified on your external drive, while leaving iTunes in a perfect state to continue using without making any further changes.

Step Two: Handbrake

Now that your collection has a nice storage tank to lie in, you can begin digitizing your DVD collection. Start a Google search for “Handbrake” and download the application. Once downloaded, install it.

Insert a DVD into your Mac, and launch Handbrake. You will be prompted to select the DVD location; this should show automatically. Click okay.

Now it’s time to select your ripping (or encoding) settings. My preferred settings for top quality media is H.264, 2500KBPS, 2-Pass encoding. The resulted file will end up around the 1.5GB mark, and encoding will take a while depending on what Mac you have. On a 1.83Ghz Core Duo MacBook, this process takes around 3 hours for an average length movie.

If you want smaller files and a quicker rip time, set up with MP4, 1-Pass Encoding, 200MBPS.

Step Three: Organinzing Your Collection

Once the encoding is complete, you can eject the DVD and place it back in its case. The movie is now stored digitally.

You should see the movie file on your desktop, double clicking this file will open Quicktime and allow you to watch the movie, but we want an organized collection, so open iTunes and drag the movie onto the “Movie” source pane. Doing this will move the movie into your iTunes Library – once completed, it’s safe to delete the original file from your desktop. That file is now safe inside your iTunes library.

Step Four: Adding Meta-Data

The final step is to tag the movie with the correct title, and add any other information to the file you’d like to. Typically I set the movie genre, and the Year is came out in – thats all the information I need on hand. Lastly, head over to Amazon and do an image search for “movie name”. You should be presented with a bunch of DVD images, copy one of these and paste it as the artwork on the movie file.

There is no final step, you’ve successfully imported a movie into your iTunes collection, tagged it, added art, and it’s now ready for consumption directly on your Mac, on your iPod, or via your Apple TV.

Alternatively, there are a few different steps you can take to conquer a few common questions to do things such as rip a section of a movie.

FAQ

Q: Is there any way I can get rid of the ads at the start of a movie?

A: Indeed there is.  Not a specific option to choose when to start the rip from, however you can select which chapters you’d like ripped. For instance, the ads are typically located on the first chapter of the movie, so with a 20 chapter movie, I’d select chapters 2-20 for encoding leaving all the unnecessary ads out of my finished file.

Q: What if I just want to extract my favorite scene from the movie?

A: Simply select the appropriate chapter/s in from the chapter selection drop-down box. Only want movie chapters 12-15? No sweat, simply drop down the boxes and make this choice. When you hit start Handbrake will only extract this section of the movie.

Q: Is there any way to quickly prepare this movie to watch on my iPod?

A: If this is what you’re wanting to do, you’re in luck. Once your DVD is inside your machine, pop open Handbrake and hit the ‘presets’ tab in the top right hand corner of the Handbrake window. This will slide open another window where you should see the option called ‘HB-iPod.’ Click this then click rip, Handbrake will automatically change the settings to output an iPod friendly file.

Q: What does 2-pass encoding do?

A: 2-pass encoding is superior to 1-pass encoding. 2-pass encoding redistributes the available bandwidth which was determined by the bitrate setting and the quanitizer setting better. For example, a high motion scene may receive a greater share of the bandwidth than a low motion scene. All in all, this will ultimately distribute a higher quality finished file if you’re willing to give 50% more time that 2-pass encoding will take.

Final Words

I’ve currently imported 53 Movies into my iTunes collection, totaling 61.05GB. The hard work I’ve done in digitizing my collection will shine once my home media setup is completed with a HDTV and Apple TV.

Tutorial: Syncing Google Calendar With Your iPhone.

Need to sync your iPhone & iPod Touch with your Google Calendar? Now you can with NeuvaSync – it’s a new free service which currently in beta. You might be saying, oh – MobileMe can do this like fun. Not all of us have the disposable income to purchase MobileMe so this is a great alternative – after all, it’s free! So it can’t be bad.

This service uses a Microsoft Exchange account on your iPhone, and limitations of the iPhone is that you can only use one MExchange account at a time – so sorry for you hopeful business people with Exchanges.

Sign Up

First of all, we need to sign up for a Nuevasync account, and set up the link between your account and your Google calendar account.

After you’ve signed up and activated, you need to click set-up next to calendar, then select Google – then enter the Google id (email) that you have Google Calendar set up with. After this it will take you to Google and ask if you want allow Nuevasync into your calendar, accept, and your done with this side of things.

iPhone Setup

Now its time to set it up on your iPhone & Touch.

So go ahead, into settings > mail, contacts, calendars > add account >  Microsoft Exchange

Email: The one you used to set-up with Nuevasync, so enter it in there.

Username: Is the one you used on Nuevasync also

Password: Is the one you used on Nuevasync also.

Now, tap next and it’ll try to validate it. Now, because we aren’t technically using a exchange the email address that we’ve supplied will fail, so it’ll go back to the previous screen with a new field called Server. In here we need to put www.nuevasync.com and then go ahead and click save. It will check to make sure it’s working and we’re nearly done. If it doesn’t complete verification, go back and check your settings.

If you’re settings are working you should be presented with a screen with 3 flick switches, one for mail, contacts and calendars, we just want Calendars for this, so go ahead and flick off the other 2.

Test it!

Go ahead and try placing a event into the calendar app, and then checking your Google calendar just a couple of seconds later. Bingo!

Copy & Paste For The iPhone.

Surprisingly, this isn’t from Apple – so don’t get too excited. A company called OpenClip has released what looks to be a new and interesting framework. OpenClip is free, non-profit organisation working with developers to allow the user to copy and paste.

Unfortunately, the framework has only been implemented into a few apps, which include MagicPad, Twittelator and the official WordPress app. Here’s a demo that was shown at GeekBreif.tv.


Cut and Paste for iPhone from Cali Lewis on Vimeo.

I just hope that OpenClip does get popular and that all developers take it on, so Apple has to say yes, and either purchase OpenClip just like they did with Coverflow. To many of us this doesn’t really matter. But to the likes of me and others, it really does.

Schedule Your Work With Cronnix

The wonderful thing about computers and electronic gizmos is that they do mundane, repetitive tasks quickly, efficiently and with much less lip than humans. In fact, that’s all they ever do. But how to use this power?

Enter Cronnix.

Cronnix is a GUI for OS X’s crontab server. Crontab is a system-level application that runs every minute and checks whether programs or scripts are set up to run at that time. It enables you to schedule programs at any time your computer is on, and accomplish tasks that would normally be time consuming to perform manually. Work like backing up websites and cleaning up your computer is prime for automation. Cronnix makes it very easy to schedule bash scripts or even regular applications.

I’m just starting to touch the possibilities of the crontab. Currently I have two programs set to run with Cronnix: one is a nerdy, complicated method for loading my MacBook’s uptime on my blog, the other is an Applescript to record the web stream of a local radio station. Both are too complicated to share here, but if you’re interested in the uptime system, head over to my personal blog.

Cronnix Usage


Using Cronnix is conveniently simple. As shown in the above image of the window, there are 4 tabs to give you options for editing and adding tasks. Every event is shown in the list, where you can make changes as necessary.


To add a new task, press New and fill in the options as shown above. The numbers and asterisks need to be in their right place for your task to execute successfully.

For example, the image above shows the correct options for running the application edge_record.app at 8 AM on weekdays. The * indicates that the time is irrelevant. This means if you wish to change the timing to 9:45 AM on the 5th day of every month, you would need to change the options to 45 Minute, 9 Hour, 5 Day of month, * Month, and check the box next to All days of the week.

With that style, you can set up any application to run at any time you wish.

The thing to remember is that the box marked Prepend “/usr/bin/open” should be checked if your application is not a command line script. Prepend “/usr/bin/open” means open the file with whatever application you have set as default. For example, if you’re running a bash script and leave the box checked, the file will simply open in your text editor, and not execute. If you want to run an Automator action, for example, you must remember to check the box.

Final Words

Cronnix is an easy to use application that has one purpose and excels at it. For scheduling your work without resorting to the command line, give Cronnix a try.

Get Organized with Evernote

Alright, let’s face it. Not everyone has time to use every feature in those GTD applications you see everywhere. Some people don’t even have time to use the basic features! And that’s where Evernote comes in.

So What Exactly is Evernote?

Evernote is a note-taking application that organizes and syncs your notes between numerous devices including your PC, Mac and Mobile Phone. Your notes are not only stored on your devices, but also up in the Evernote server ‘cloud’ for safe keeping.

Multi-platform Support

Evernote has native applications for Mac OS X, Windows 2000/XP/Vista, Windows Mobile 5/6 and the iPhone. For those using other platforms like Linux or Solaris, the web version will do just fine as it has just about all the features of the native applications, and you don’t have to store anything on your computer!

Capture, Sync, Find…

Evernote’s motto is Capture, Sync, Find, and it’s right on the ball. In other words, it does exactly what it says. Your Evernote account allows you to have multiple notebooks, so you can sort your notes into categories. Once you start adding and tagging notes, you can use the great built-in search function to search for keywords, images, and other things stored in your notes. This includes the text inside your images.

The Web Clipper

To clip text, images, and entire websites into Evernote is easy with the web clipper. Evernote provide native plugins for Firefox and Flock, but for other browsers like Internet Explorer or Opera, you can easily use the Web Clipper bookmarklet.

So How Much Does It Cost?

Evernote is free, but they do provide ‘Premium’ accounts that provide extra storage. With a free account, they provide you with 40MB per month whilst if you sign up to a Premium account, you’ll receive 500MB per month which can store around 250,000 notes. More than enough. Premium accounts cost $5.00USD per month or $45.00USD per year.

Conclusion

Personally, I use both Evernote and the basic note-taking functions in Apple Mail to organize myself. Evernote is great for clipping text, images and entire websites from the Internet using the web clipper bookmark, and is great for syncing information between devices.

For more information on Evernote, or to sign up for an account, visit http://www.evernote.com/.

Touch That MacBook!

The Rumor

It’s the most rumored product since the iPhone hit in early 2007, but the MacBook Touch has had related patents dating back to 2003. You can visit MacRumors.com almost everyday, and see that some new information from a “valid source” has been released. The most recent rumor claims that the entire MacBook lineup will see a refresh, and a new Mulitouch MacBook will enter the spectrum, all by the end of September.

Now, believe what you want but the chances of this happening by September are second to none. What we do know is that if there is ever to be a MacBook Touch, then the screen size would be at a maximum 10 inches.

I asked Jacky Liu, an incredible designer to come up with what he believed the Macbook Touch rumor could materialize into. Here’s what he came up with:

The Concept

“MacPad is a revolutionary new product that completely revitalizes mobile computing. It is an ultra-portable device with an immense amount of technology, and a tremendous amount of computing power. It is a fusion of the mobile experience on the iPhone, with the functionality and practicality of Mac OS X on the Macbook. MacPad is the future of ultra-portable computing.

The MacPad provides all the necessary features of an ultra-portable in less than 30% of the volume of the MacBook Air. Now that is impressive. Not only is the MacPad optimized for Intel’s Atom platform, it is optimized for your mobile lifestyle. Built-in iSight camera and microphone for visual conferencing through iChat, built-in 802.11n compatible AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, A-GPS, accelerometer and ambient light sensor, a Micro-DVI port and two USB 2.0 ports. This device can handle just about all of your portable technology needs.

The gorgeous 8” Multi-Touch display broadens every aspect of the iPhone experience through a completely new mobile platform, Mobile OS X. This is in essence the equivalent to the much familiar Unix based Mac OS X environment hidden beneath the full Multi-Touch interface developed for the iPhone. Applications on the Mac OS X platform can be applied to the mobile platform with no compromise, considering though whether the developer chooses to do so.

Features

If you thought Remote Disc from the MacBook Air was impressive, Parallel developed for the MacPad will completely take your breath away. Once paired with a Mac through Wi-Fi, this application exclusive to the MacPad can be used as a mobile touch display wirelessly accessing your desktop computer. This means that you have complete access to all of the information and computing power when and wherever possible, without the drag from a device of equivalent capability.

If the MacPad has access to an assigned local network, it could very well begin to sync any updated information wirelessly to and from your Mac. Pair the MacPad to Apple’s wireless keyboard and headphones through Bluetooth, and you may be on your way to technology nirvana. Whenever you or your MacPad needs a rest, place the device on its personal, elegant desktop dock mounted with the new 50-pin dock connector to begin charging. While you take your much deserved break the MacPad not only automatically syncs any updated information, the device can also be used as a secondary display for your desktop. The possibilities here are quite endless.”

Jacky Liu writes a tremendous design and environment blog over at iamjacky.com. Please check it out, and look at his other well thought out designs.

Final Words

Obviously the MacPad concept has tons of potential.  I am very excited to see what will become of this rumor.  Only time will tell.  Who knows what will be in store when we get our hands on the real MacPad.

What do you think will become of the Macbook Touch rumor?  Feel free to drop us a line in the comments.

Battlefield: Bad Company Review

Battlefield: Bad Company (BFBC) has been getting a lot of press lately. It is a new first person shooter that mixes the fast pass of a modern shooter with comedic elements. This for most is a winning combination. Call of Duty 4 is a great game, but it can be a bit too dark at times. I was looking forward to a game that took a more light hearted approach.

In this review I will be looking at some of aspects that make BFBC so different from other first person shooters, and how having a really intensive story line can add to the experience.

The Story

Surprisingly, BFBC has a fairly good plot compared to most games. It follows a squad of “misfit soldiers” who are part of B Company, otherwise known as the oddballs of the army. The story follows this group of soldiers who are part of a war against the Soviet Union in the not to distant future.

After one escapade your team are forced to go AWOL in search of gold, and have to try to get back on the army’s good side by doing various crazy and sometimes suicidal missions.

What could possibly go wrong?

Gameplay

With BFBC you have to think slightly differently due to one major feature – destructible environments. You might have originally thought you were safe when behind that building, but you certainly aren’t now.

There is a massive array of weapons and vehicles at your disposal, from heavy machine guns all the way to a golf buggy (yes, a golf buggy).

The controls are rather frustrating. Some elements are very similar to Call of Duty, but do not have the same elegance and simplicity. I still don’t really understand the logic behind the way changing weapons works. Also, when driving vehicles I always accidently get out because the exit vehicle button in my opinion should really be the break!

Maybe it’s just the type of gamer I am, but I didn’t notice until my brother pointed it out to me that there wasn’t a co-op mode for the game. This may have been a deal breaker for some. Most people consider co-op as a given for any successful FPS, the fact that you are taking part in team based play just begs for it.

Features

One of the major features that I touched upon earlier was the destructible environments. Though the idea is great and it works reasonably well, you do expect everything to be destructible. Unfortunately it is their own undoing because when things don’t blow up into pieces like you were expecting it can be frustrating.

It seems though that with boasting one main feature, there aren’t really any other features that set it apart from other FPS’s. In that respect, BF:BC doesn’t really stand out from the crowd.

Graphics

The graphics… just about the first thing you hear people asking about when you tell them of a game you like.

In this case, the graphics are extremely immersive. I find it hard to compare them to Call of Duty, because in some ways they seem to be in a very different style; A lot lighter and less shadows. If you’re looking for a game that shows off the power of the current gen gaming system, this is it.

Multiplayer

The loss of a co-op mode has been slightly subsidized by a very cool multiplayer mode. Currently there is only one game mode – a letdown considering what most games ship with. But worry not because EA has promised to produce new game modes in the near future.

Still, the multiplayer games allow for a fast paced and enjoyable battle that you can easily join in on. In addition, there are also ranks that you can climb and weapons that you can unlock.

Conclusions

The fact that EA was able to build such a beautiful game while at the same time continuing to provide a variety of unique ground environments is really a testiment not only to their great developers, but also to the ability of current gen consoles.

If you’re looking for a slightly different shooter that offers a good story with great gameplay options – Battlefield Bad Company is for you.

I give Battlefield: Bad Company 4/5 Vibes.