Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cool Tools: Tunatic

I found a bunch of old CDs the other day, with hundreds of songs on them. These were CDs I had burned in 2000, 2001, and 2002. There were a number of songs I remembered, but I could not remember the name for them. I figured there had to be a tool out there to help me find the names (because iTunes imported all the files with the names Track1, Track2, etc).

I did a quick search and found a tool called Tunatic. This is a pretty nice tool that works much like the iPhone tools Shazam and Midomi. You let the computer hear the song, and the tool will identify it. It's a free tool, so I downloaded it and gave it a shot.

This worked extremely well for me. It had a little problem with some of my more obscure songs, especially anything without vocals. Since I have a computer headset with a microphone, it was extremely easy to set this up.

I'd recommend this, as long as you have some sort of microphone input.

Link to Download

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Day eBay Changed

Today is the day eBay changed to a new business model. For years, eBay has had a fee structure based on a few things (for small sellers, anyway):
  1. Listing Fees (a cost for posting an item)
  2. Listing Upgrade Fees (want your listings to appear in bold? go for 10 days? etc.)
  3. Final Value Fees (they take a percentage of the final sale value)
In addition, eBay bought Paypal a number of years ago, so they also take a percentage of each payment processed.

For years in my CIS 152 course at PCCC and more recently my INF 163 class at Bergen, I've discussed how having an item go for 99 cents is not a good thing for eBay, in my opinion. It would be better for them to let people set a starting price and give them a free listing fee, because they would make more money off a final value fee. For example, if I list an item for $1.00 and it sells for $1.00 cents, eBay would get about 19 cents (10 cents to list the item and 9 cents for a final value fee). I might list an item so cheaply to avoid paying a large listing fee, which I am responsible for even if the item doesn't sell. Many sellers avoid risk, so they start items cheap in case the item doesn't sell, minimizing cost for listing fees.

My personal opinion was that if eBay cut out listing fees and simply raised final value fees, they would reap two benefits:
  1. Sellers would list items for higher prices, therefore leading to higher final value fees.
  2. Sellers would be more likely to sell items that might not sell, due to reduced risk of wasted fees.
eBay has seemingly decided to go with this, and will now allow sellers to sell 50 items a month with no listing fee, regardless of starting value. In addition, these auctions will be eligible for a free "Buy It Now", which allows an anxious buyer to purchase an item for a set price and preempt the auction.

Link to new fee information

Listing upgrade fees still exist, as do final value fees.

Of course, there are always catches. First of all, eBay will no longer just be taking a percentage of the final sale. They are also taking a percentage of the shipping cost. There still seem to be some workarounds, but eBay has done this because a seller could list a $200 item for $0.01 with $199.99 shipping and pay no fees on an item (and sellers did try to exploit this).

It seems like eBay's idea here is to keep small sellers around, while motivating medium sellers to move to eBay stores. The eBay stores are a system which has monthly subscription fees ranging from $15.95 to $299.95.

The loser in all this is the buyer who is looking for bargains, because in my opinion, they are going to be harder to find.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My Bookshelf

I am in the process of doing some updates to my place of residence. As part of it, I ended up cleaning out my bookcase and reminiscing about some of the books I found there. It seemed like a cool idea to mention what's on my bookcase and why.

Google Hacks (2005): This book was a pretty cool book for the time, teaching you how to use many of the Google services more efficiently. This book is how I learned about some of the special Google commands (as basic as using the title command or as in depth as using commands like inurl). It also gave a bunch of Perl scripts you could use to do all sorts of cool stuff, effectively combining a Perl script and Google to give you the power to automatically perform and parse searches. This book doesn't seem to have continued past the third edition (I have the second), but it is a cool read, especially for those of you with knowledge of programming.

Fire in the Valley (2000): This book details the history of the personal computer, going back to the days when people ordered the parts and put them together themselves. The central part of the book details the battle between Apple and Microsoft, made more famous by the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley. I found it fascinating, though a little dry at times.

The Art of Intrusion (2005) / The Art of Deception (2003): Two books by Kevin Mitnick detailing some hacking and social engineering topics. It is fascinating how social engineers can manipulate a person to the point where you are thanking them as they steal your information. These books taught me about things like SQL injection attacks (which we just talked about in my 163 course - see page 175 of the Art of Intrusion). I asked the librarians at both PCCC and BCC to get these books to have on hand, they are definitely worth checking out.

Cryptonomicon (2002): This is a tough read, but it's an excellent fictional novel. It has two main storylines. The first has to deal with a group of people in World War II who have broken the German's secret code (Enigma). This was early cryptography, and it was interesting to see the characters intercept messages but not actually warn troops sometimes, because they also did not want the Germans to know they had broken the code. The second storyline has to do with a group of more contemporary individuals trying to create a secure digital cash system, using cryptographic methods.

And, just to show I have more than computer books on the shelf...

The Butterfly Revolution (1961): I actually had to read this for a freshman class in high school, and my teacher gave me one of the books since I liked it so much. It has to do with a socially awkward teenager who goes to a summer camp, where he ends up involved in a takeover of the camp. Chaos ensues. Picture "Lord of the Flies" in a summer camp.

The Machine (2009): A book about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. Even as a child, I read a lot of books about baseball. I remember in high school having to write a persuasive essay, and I wrote one arguing that Pete Rose (featured in this book) was innocent of gambling charges. Of course, he later admitted this so I was wrong, but as a fan, I guess I was blinded. So, the book involved one of my favorite players, and had the extra bonus of being authored by my favorite sports blogger, Joe Posnanski. I've been reading his stuff for years, and it was cool to see him go from a small writer for a Kansas City newspaper to someone who writes for Sports Illustrated. Behold, the power of the Internet!

The New New Thing (2000) / Moneyball (2004) / The Blind Side (2008): All these books are written by Michael Lewis. I was first introduced to him through the first book listed, which was about Dr. Jim Clark, founder of Netscape and Silicon Graphics, and how it was fascinating for him to take chances on new technologies and stay at the forefront (and find the new "new thing"). The book detailed a company called Healtheon, which later merged with WebMD. The Blind Side and Moneyball were both excellent sports books which had movies made from them.

The Closing of the American Mind (1988): This book was recommended to me a few years ago by a colleague from PCCC, Dr. Ida Greidanus. The author feels as if modern colleges and universities are failing students, and that America is in a crisis regarding higher education. I think this book made some excellent points which got me thinking about my teaching in a different way.

The Dark Half (1989): The first Stephen King book I ever read.

There are many more books on the bookcase, but I think that's a good enough sample for today!

Saturday, April 02, 2011


Spyware is a topic I don't feel like many of my students really see the risk in. I figured I would put up some information about it since I am going to be talking about it in class soon.

Not THAT type of spyware (Image from

Spyware isn't the same thing as a virus, and this was a problem at first. Programs started appearing that would monitor what a user was doing and possibly transmit the results elsewhere, and antivirus software programs did not block them, because were not a traditional virus (especially in that they did not replicate/copy themselves to another machine).

Some examples are keyloggers, advertising software ("adware"), and tracking cookies,

Keyloggers keep track of the keystrokes entered on a computer. They can be either hardware or software based. A hardware based keylogger would simply plug in between the keyboard and the system unit. Since most people don't regularly examine their computers, this is a good way to spy on someone. It is generally a little more difficult to detect since the operating system may not even detect it, but it has the drawback that you need physical access to the machine. Software keyloggers are a little safer, but also more likely to be caught by anti-spyware tools. Some of them can record the keys you hit and even email or upload the log file to someone.

Adware keeps track of a user's browsing habits and pops up ads. The adware tends to be a little more aggressive than your standard pop-up ads. Certain adware will attempt to scare you in to buying things like antivirus software. The reason this can be more malicious and dangerous is because once it is installed on your machine, it has more permission to do things (like pop up windows or change system settings) than a regular Web site does.

Tracking cookies also present a threat, though they are less scary than the other things mentioned. These keep track of your viewing habits and store information on your computer. These may be used to, say, display more ads about cars and less about baby clothes if you often click on car ads and never click on baby clothing ads.

The main thing that distinguishes tracking cookies and adware is the way they are used. Adware is usually installed versus the tracking cookies just being left by a Web site.

Either way, you should have some sort of anti-spyware protection on the computer. Most antivirus tools come with some sort of anti-spyware at this point, though if you are looking for extra protection, tools such as Lavasoft Ad-Aware and Spybot Search and Destroy do have free versions.