Anapod – transfer files to your iPod via Explorer

Black iPod

UPDATE: I’ve just created a step-by-step guide on how to install Anapod Explorer Universal Edition version 9.0.3. I hope that’s helpful to some folks.

ORIGINAL POST: Jane has an Apple iPod — it’s a fifth generation 30GB Video iPod — and while it’s all lovely and usable in its all-black designer chic look we have one major criticism of it: if you want to transfer files to and from it you have to use iTunes.

It’s not just that I don’t like iTunes; I object to being forced to use a particular piece of software to do something as simple as transfer a file from a PC to a peripheral.

Most other mainstream MP3 players let you drag-and-drop from Explorer so why doesn’t the iPod?!

Anapod Explorer

After a little detective work I discovered Anapod Explorer from Red Chair Software:

Anapod is the most advanced Windows iPod software available, offering iPod management through full Windows Explorer integration under My Computer

  • easy drag and drop iPod copy
  • iPod transfer and iPod backup
  • PDA function support
  • photo and video transfer
  • web page interface access to your iPod through a built-in web server
  • powerful search and reporting capabilities using a built-in SQL database

and much more, all in one compact package.

A great backup tool or iTunes alternative.

It sounded perfect, so I bought a copy and tried to install it.

Installer Expired

I double-clicked the installation file for version 9.0.3 (anapod_903_un.exe) and was presented with this rather disappointing error message:

Installer expired

The text reads:

This installer file has expired. Please return to our website at http://www.redchairsoftware.com to download the latest release.

If you are sure this is the latest release available, please contact us at install@redchairsoftware.com for assistance and give the following install code: JTJSBYHTAZIRBRHQAS

Well, I was sure that this was the latest release available. So I emailed Red Chair Software for assistance.

I then did a Google search and discovered that it was unlikely that I’d ever get a reply from Red Chair Software. Disappointing.

Installation work-around

However, I did discover that there is a work-around, but for that I’d have to visit the Expired Installer Assistance page (which strangely doesn’t seem to appear anywhere on the Red Chair Software support pages).

Expired Installer Assistance

This page told me that the problem was that the date was not set correctly on my computer. It told me that (foolishly) the date on my computer was set to “November 2007″.

“IT IS NOVEMBER 2007!” I shouted at the computer, in exasperation. Then I noticed the date at the top of the Red Chair Software page: November 15, 2007. “EVEN YOU AGREE THAT IT’S NOVEMBER 2007!” I screamed again.

I read the instructions.

  1. Correct the date/time on your computer.
  2. Double-click the installer file to run it again, but this time, hold down the SHIFT key while double-clicking.
  3. This will display a dialog box where you need to enter the following code: 082808363640364448

The installer will then continue as normal.

So I started to play around with the date and see which month it thought we were currently in. The website thought it was November, my PC thought it was November … the installer seemed to think that we were in August!

Finally installed

I got it to work by rolling the current date back exactly three months to 15 August 2007. With shift pressed I double-clicked the installation file, entered the 18-digit numeric code and Anapod at last began to install.

What a faff … which is a real shame because the application is great. We managed to manually update Jane’s iPod by dragging and dropping MP3 files to it via Windows Explorer. The way it should be.

Don’t shop for it … Argos it!

PC monitors on monitor risers

You may have noticed the other day when I posted the same picture (above) on my blog that my two CRT monitors sit on top of matching monitor risers. I found pretty early on after getting a PC that I felt much more comfortable sitting at my computer if my monitors were sitting up at eye level.

At work I’ve found the same thing, because my LCD monitors were simply sitting at the maximum height of the monitor on my desk I found myself hunched over my desk and wondering why I came away from work each day with a sore lower back.

So yesterday I experimented by raising my monitor on top of the cardboard box that my Creative 2.0 speakers came in — I’m quite resourceful like that! And it made all the difference, so I determined today to do something about it and get something more permanent.

Now, there were a few options open to me:

  1. Buy a monitor riser similar to the one I have at home.
  2. Ask work to buy one for me.
  3. Find out if there were any spare monitor risers sitting around the office.
  4. Improvise. (Incidentally, the monitor riser of choice within the Business Improvements and IT Services units, I discovered, appears to be a redundant SpiderPort (an old piece of networking kit) box, with old Course Catalogues sitting on top of those to add any further height customization.

I selected option #4: Improvise:

Close-up of Argos catalogues being used to raise the height of an LCD monitor.

As the advert goes: Don’t shop for it … Argos it!

I’d now like to see this solution advertised within the Argos catalogue in the computer monitors section (that’s pp.532-533 in the new catalogue).

Fixing Java in Firefox and IE7

Close-up of coffee beans

Yesterday we were visited at work by someone from Nedstat, a company that specializes in Web statistics. But that’s not what this post is about, it’s about this: why my browsers were falling down whenever I ran Java applications; a problem I’ve had for over five months now.

Because whenever the Nedstat rep. tried to run a Java-related online application in Firefox it wouldn’t work as expected.

Him: Hmmm… it’s not supposed to do that.
Me: Is it Java, by any chance?
Him: Yes, why?
Me: I’m having trouble with Java and my browsers just now.

It’s a guaranteed way to scupper software reps’ demonstrations though, if that’s your thing: make sure your browsers don’t work properly. (Not to be recommended.)

At the university we have a staff expenses online form which runs within a browsers and uses Java and an Oracle JInitiator plugin to run. (Don’t worry if you don’t know what these mean, it just means that you need X to run Y.)

Only, whenever I tried to run the application in either Firefox or Internet Explorer 7 the browsers would crash. With Firefox I was getting the following error message:

Firefox.exe Application Error
The instruction at “0x600d1f60″ referenced memory at “0x00000054″. The memory could not be “read”.

Click on OK to terminate the program.
Click on Cancel to debug the program.

Which means … something doesn’t work properly. Probably.

It worked fine in Opera though, which made me wonder if this was more to do with the browser configurations rather than a strictly Java-related problem. So last night I stayed on after 5pm to sort it out.

Having uninstalled all the Java Runtime Environment-related applications, rebooted and installed the latest JRE I turned my attention to the browsers and disabled all my Firefox add-ins (formerly known as extensions).

And do you know what? That fixed it. There was obviously an add-in that was interfering with the functionality of Java. But which one?

  • Re-enable the next add-in on the list
  • Restart Firefox
  • Test with online expense form
  • Repeat

It turned out that two Firefox add-ins were to blame: IE Tab and JSView.

Similarly, with IE7 I’d been playing around with Add-ons shortly after I’d upgraded to it from IE6. Obviously something was impeding the functionality of Java within the browser so I clicked the Reset button (found in Tools > Internet Options > Advanced tab) which returned everything to a default, untampered state.

Click…

Test…

… and relax.

Hoax e-mails and PC security

Computer mouse in chains

This week I received something in my e-mail inbox that I’ve not had in a while: a hoax e-mail ‘kindly’ forwarded to me by a friend or family member trying to help me and ensure that my hard drive wouldn’t be destroyed by the latest terrible virus.

Olympic Torch hoax

The hoax e-mail sent was the Olympic Torch hoax, had the subject “Please forward this warning to all of your contacts” and said

Importance: High

Be alert during the next few days: Don't open any message with an attached file called "Invitation", regardless of who sent it. It's a virus that opens an Olympic Torch that "burns" the whole hard disk of your computer.

This virus will come from someone who has your e-mail address; that's why you should send this e-mail to all your contacts. It's better to receive this message 25 times than to receive the virus.

DON'T open it , permanently delete it and re-start your computer immediately... This is the worst virus announced by CNN, it's been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever. The virus was discovered by McAfee yesterday, and there's no repair yet for this particular virus. It simply destroys the Zero Sector of the Hard Disk, where vital information is kept

How to spot a virus hoax

Virus hoaxes usually arrive in the form of an e-mail with instructions to pass this message on to all your contacts and they are often constructed using the same structure as the message above:

  • Opening paragraph about this dreadful new virus, what it does and why it’s the worst virus ever created.
  • More detailed information about how you will likely receive it (probably via e-mail) and why you should send this warning on to all your friends.
  • Information about what to do about it if you receive it (usually delete it and reboot your PC).
  • And a few references to some well-known IT companies to add weight to what they’ve said. Frequently mentioned are: AOL, CNN, McAfee, Microsoft and Norton/Symantec.

Anti-virus (AV) software companies do not send out warning e-mails (unless you’ve specifically signed up for a newsletter from them) asking you to pass on these details to your friends. AV software companies rely on two things to help you keep your PC clean of infection:

  1. that you ensure your anti-virus software is kept up to date, usually by recommending that you leave the software to automatically and regularly check for updates online — they regularly release updates that target the latest viruses, trojans and malware
  2. recommending that you practice a safe-internet routine whenever you are downloading files and/or e-mail attachments

If you receive a similar message that is warning you of the latest virus threat then please first check the Symantec Hoax site to see if your e-mail message is listed. The purposes of these e-mails is to create a sense of unnecessary panic and for you to spam your own friends!

Anti-virus software

If you don’t already have anti-virus software installed on your PC then I can thoroughly recommend AVG Anti-Virus Free 7.5.

I’ve been using it on my laptop for a few months now, and on my games partition on my main PC. One reason I like it is because it doesn’t hog system resources like other AV products do (such as Norton AntiVirus). The TweakGuides Tweaking Companion for Windows XP has an excellent walkthrough on how to optimize AVG for your system.

Another great thing about AVG, if you have a slow internet connection, is that the update downloads are generally very small. Yesterday’s update was 500 KB, today’s only 8 KB. So users still relying on a dial-up connection would be fine.

Anti-Spyware, Anti-Trojan

It’s often not enough to simply rely on your anti-virus software these days. I regularly scan my systems with AdAware SE (anti-spyware) and A-Squared Free (anti-trojan).

A regular scan once a week should be fine. Unlike anti-virus software and firewalls, you may install and run more than one package. I also allow the ZoneAlarm spyware scanner to run regularly, and Spybot Search & Destroy. The TweakGuides Tweaking Companion (mentioned above) also has a good section on using this software, I recommend that you download it and give it a read.

Firewalls

I also recommend that you make sure that you have a firewall running. A software firewall is an application that acts a bit like a bouncer for your network connection. It monitors all the in and out traffic making sure that only authorized traffic gets through.

A lot of people recommend using the built-in Windows XP firewall. I’m a little more cautious and as a long-time user of ZoneAlarm I’ve bought the ZoneAlarm Pro firewall which also adds extra e-mail and spyware monitoring capabilities. There is also a free version, which I’ve used very successfully.

Your surfing habits

One of the most important things for helping ensure that your PC does not become infected with malware — and I can’t stress this enough — is YOU! A few tips:

  • Get into the habit of regularly scanning your PC for malware (spyware, trojans, viruses). Put it into your diary, if you must (I do!).
  • Do not immediately open e-mail from recipients you do not know, especially if they have attachments. If you have an anti-spam filter then use it. The built-in one for Microsoft Outlook 2003 is excellent.
  • Get into the habit of manually scanning any download (downloads from websites, instant messenger contacts and especially from e-mails.
  • If you are in any doubt whatsoever about the security status of the file then delete it immediately and empty your Recycle Bin. If it was a genuine file from a genuine friend then they can always send it again if it was important.
  • And remember, please don’t spam your own friends! If you get a suspect e-mail check the Symantec Hoax site or simply search Google for a few of the keywords contained in the e-mail (such as Olympic Torch virus).

I hope that helps a few readers. And my e-mail inbox!

Scary doll, part 1

While looking through the toys last weekend in Selkirk I came across this rather scary talking doll that belonged to my sister Jenni.

The genius thing about it is that it has a tiny record player built in! It came with 2 or 3 double-sided records, some with (non-stop, stalker-like) talking, and some with singing. I love how this record stops unexpectedly.

(This is my first video uploaded to YouTube, by the way.)

Light and labels

A desk lamp underneath my desk, illuminating the back of my PC

Here’s my Top Tip for the day: a desk lamp beneath my desk allowing me clearly to see the (labelled) connections on the back of my PC case.

Light

The lamp is for those moments when I have to crawl down there to (un)plug an audio or USB cable, or when I’ve got the side panel off the box just making sure that everything is okay. I’ve got so many power sockets under there anyway I might as well employ one to help me while I’m guddling about under my desk, like some kind of IT troll.

Labels

A muddle of PC cablesAnother thing that I find useful is to label cables. Take a look at the mess of cables beneath my desk (right). The only way that I’m able to determine which cable is which, especially when it comes to power cables and USB cables, is because I label them all.

Power cables

All power cables have a label on the plug telling me what they are, e.g. PC, Monitor, hp 1000 (laser printer), hp 5150 (colour printer), etc. No more accidentally unplugging my PC when I meant to switch off the printer.

USB cables

All the USB cables have a little label flag (simply a label folded round the cable and back onto itself) on each cable at the PC end, telling me what they are, e.g. HP 5150 (colour printer), USB Hub, etc.

At the other end, on my 4-port USB Hub I have little label flags there too: Belkin Media Reader, hp 1000, SiPix Webcam, and IrDA.

This way I don’t have to waste time untangling cables between peripherals and my PC to find out what’s what. I just have to switch on my under-desklamp and read the labels.

(The lamp is really good for keeping my feet warm, too, on cold mornings!)

Design down the tubes

London underground map
A portion of the award-winning London Underground map. I used to live near Victoria and then between Elephant & Castle and Borough.

During the last couple of years as I’ve thought more about what makes for good website design I’ve been encouraged to read more widely around the subject of design in the real world. Two books that I’ve found particularly interesting and helpful are Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change by Victor Papanek and The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Design, both good and bad, affects us all. Good design very often goes unnoticed, it allows us to get on with whatever task we are doing without thinking about it. We don’t waste time stopping to try to figure out how to use something, whether it is a door handle or a pen or a computer’s graphical user interface. Bad design very often stops us in our tracks. At best we’re forced to puzzle for a few seconds about whether to push, pull, twist or turn the door handle, at worst we give up and try something else.

Despite the leaps and bounds made in the last few years in making computer interfaces easier to use and understand (think of the difference between Windows 3.1 and Windows XP, for example) there is still a long way to go before computers can be used without even the shortest introductory course.

You are often not to blame

Something that I often find when helping people with their computer problems is that people frequently feel guilty or blame themselves for not being able to do something on their computer. “I’m really sorry, I’m not very good with technology,” they’ll say once I’ve finally figured out that the way to change the default spelling dictionary from US to UK within their application of choice is hidden within a complex array of menus and options, or that the only way to save a document in Lotus WordPro Millennium on Windows XP is that it has to be within a non-customized, yellow folder because of the way that XP handles “protected folders”.

But the problem isn’t that these people are stupid, it’s that the design of these applications still isn’t intuitive enough and they very often don’t offer users error messages that the average user can understand, using terms used are too “geeky”.

Bizzare error message
Create your own error message with Atom Smasher’s Error Message Generator.

Part of the problem lies in not being able to grasp the conceptual model behind what we are trying to do. Most users can easily grasp the concept of a desktop and a recycle bin, of folders and files because of how we use these in the real world. But their understanding falls down when they are asked to set spelling preferences in a dialog box that they can only access via Options… under the Tools menu. And then try to explain the concept behind WEP encryption for wireless networks, or JPEG compression settings to someone!

Jon Erickson in his article A Manifesto for Collaborative Tools argues that

computers should help us become smarter and work together better, and in many ways, they have. But instead of progressing, tool builders these days are moving in circles, treading water rather than swimming forward.

One reason for this stagnation is that we seem to think we’ve reached the limits of what software can do for us and what we can do with software. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our software tools — particularly in the collaboration space — are nowhere close to fulfilling their potential.

Redesign

It is one of the reasons that I’m delighted that Microsoft have completely and radically redesigned the user-interface for their forthcoming version of Microsoft Office 12.

Screenshot of the new Office 12 user-interface
Screenshot of the new Office 12 “ribbon” user-interface.

In previous releases of Microsoft Office, people interacted with the applications through a system of menus, toolbars, task panes, and dialog boxes. While this system successfully provided access to a wide variety of features, it became increasingly challenging to add capabilities in a way that made it easy for people to take advantage of them.

The overriding design goal for the new UI is to deliver a user interface that enables users to be more successful finding and using the advanced features of Microsoft Office. An additional important design goal was to preserve an uncluttered workspace that reduces distraction for users so that they can spend more time and energy focused on their work.

I’ve never found Microsoft Word’s menus particularly easy to use; I don’t find them as intuitive as I do the menus in Lotus Word Pro or OpenOffice.org. So I look forward to trying out this new design. And how long before other applications follow suit, or at least have the courage to move away from the current muddle of menus, sub-menus and confusing toolbars of incomprehensible icons.

London underground

So, I was delighted today to read on BBC News that the London underground map has been voted one of Britain’s best designs of the last century, along with the Spitfire and Concorde.

When Jane and I were in London a couple of weekends ago I was admiring the simplicity and beauty of the London Tube map, because while it is not geographically accurate it very effectively and efficiently maps the relationships between stations. Which is all you are really concerned about while using the Tube — you want to know where you are, where you want to get to and where you may have to change. It is good design largely because it puts the user’s needs first.

The London Underground map was designed by Harry Beck in 1931 when the Tube grew so large it became impossible to map the lines and stations geographically.

Instead, Beck designed the map based on an electrical circuit, with each line in a different colour and diamonds for interchange stations.
(Source: BBC News)

Now that is good design. It is wonderfully usable, and quite aesthetically beautiful too. If only all design could be like that.

In conclusion

Donald A. Norman ends his book with this plea:

If you are a designer, help fight the battle for usability. If you are a user, then join your voice with those who cry for usable products. Write to manufacturers. Boycott unusable designs. Support good designs by purchasing them, even if it means going out of your way, even if it means spending a bit more. And voice your concerns to the stores that carry the products; manufacturers listen to their customers…

And enjoy yourself. Walk around the world examining the details of design. Take pride in the little things that help; think kindly of the person who so thoughtfully put them in. Realize that even details matter, that the designer may have had to fight to include something helpful. Give mental prizes to those who practice good design: send flowers. Jeer those who don’t: send weeds.