Ugh

Date Fri, July 4 2008

I’m anxiously waiting the move. Sometimes this month all our stuff will be packed up. I really have not idea what the process will be like and that makes me nervous. I know they’ll do 2 shipments, one which will be expedited and one which will take several months. We talked about sending my computer off with the first one because we all know how I can’t live without it. Then I suppose we’ll have his laptop for a while but he doesn’t want to bring it on the plane, arg! I should invest in the DS browser or maybe something like a compact flash card so that I can use with public computers. I had been looking into USB and flash drives before was Ryan said to wait because he had entered a contests for one and then I forgot after he didn’t win. Pfft

EntreCard? What’s the big deal?

Date Wed, July 2 2008

So I recently discovered EntreCard, a new site dedicated to helping blogger network by spreading word about their blogs and introducing them to others by allowing them to do the same. EntreCard is simple, sign up and add the EC widget to your blog. All members must display the widget so it’s easy to tell if another blog is apart of the EntreCard network.

Of course, none of this is completely ground breaking so far. What sets EntreCard apart is its “drop” system. When you come across a participating blog, you can “drop” your card – a 125 x125px image – to let the owner know you were there. When someone does this, it appears in your “drop inbox” via EntreCard’s dashboard.

This also is nothing new. It’s also nothing new that EntreCard displays the most recently updated member blogs (via RSS) on the main page or that you can add your favourite blogs.

What is new, however, is this: you earn points (1 per drop) for dropping your cards on others’ blogs or having cards dropped on yours. In turn, these points can be used to purchase things from the shop, buy advertising from other blogs, trade or gift to others.

Now this doesn’t seem like much, dropping alone is not the easiest or least time consuming method to earn EntreCard credits. However, rest assured that even the tiniest blog will have those vying for advertising space – their card is displayed in your widget during advertising – and this will earn EntreCard credits.

In the beginning when I accidentally – oops – mistyped my blog’s URL, I had people opting in to advertise on, what must have appeared to them, a nonexistant site. Not bad, eh? The amount of credits earned for advertises is exponentially more than that earned for dropping alone. The formula for calculating advertising price is automatically determined by the EntreCard system based on how many advertisements are waiting to be shown on your blog (each ad runs for 1 day and only 1 ad can run at a time). Thus, the more advertisers applying, the more your blog will be worth.

The one down side is that users do not see every credit earned; EntreCard members only see 25% of the price for advertising on their blog. The rest is swallowed up by the system to deter inflation.

Furthermore, members can earn credits by blogging. Members can earn 25 credits each time they blog, once every 3 days.

Since EntreCard credits are transferrable, there are many, many contests popping up around the blogosphere with credits as the prize.

If none of these methods sate your need for EntreCard credits, you can always sell items in the shop like blog reviews, links or graphic designs. Of course, if you’re really hard up, you can always buy credits with actual money.

Besides the dropping, credit earning, and advertising, EntreCard offers a fledgling community to bloggers.

The “Campaign” section lets you browse members’ blogs by category, account age, price or search term. You can even view random blogs. The results will let you view either the EntreCard profile – like mine – which provide extra information about the blog or go directly to the blog.

Profiles are pretty straight forward, informing you of blog name, category, tagline, URL, location, drop rank (a description of how often a blogger drops) and how many drops the blogger has on your widget. Profiles also show recent posts (via RSS) with a short post snippet and allow you add you to message the user, add to your favourites, gives credits, write a recommendation or report a site. Lastly, profiles show advertising statistics like how long it typically takes for an ad to be approved and the percentage of declined advertisements.

Favourites show up under the “Friends Feed” tab of the dashboard and show recent posts from all your favourites similar to a feed reader or Technorati. Writing a recommendation sends a message to all your friends (who have this feature turned on) with your recommendation for why a site is awesome.

The shop lets you browse or sell products and services in a variety of categories like advertising, domains and hosting, graphics design, upgrades, music and writing services.

The EntreCard blog is frequently updates about service changes and news. The names behind EntreCard are very involved with the community and take a very casual approach to their interactions.

Post about a number of topics with other EC users and even staff on the forums. Topics range from support to suggestions to promotions to EC economy even to “Hostile, aggressive, uncivil posts.”

Lastly, check out your statistics in a unique 3D bar graph style. This expands on the “Quickstats” shown in the dashboard and also has suggestions to increase your success.

So now that you have a run down of the features, do they work?

I would definitely say my blog is seeing new traffic through EntreCard, which I can tell from the number of drops I get. It would seem that the days I am most active are the days which I see more traffic so EntreCard is not a service that will work if you just sit back. However, for those who like to view other blogs and have the time to surf the web, this won’t seem like a lot of work. If you don’t have the time or motivation, EntreCard probably won’t do much for you unless your blog is already on the A-list.

On the other hand, the new traffic probably isn’t repeat traffic and I haven’t seen much in the way of comments. The latter is, generally, what I use to determine the success of my blogs and if EntreCard isn’t helping it, then I’m not getting as much out of this service as I would like.

EntreCard has definitely helped me discover new, interesting sites and also ones that are good for advertising. Nevertheless, many of the sites in the EntreCard network are simply crap. Many are riddled with advertisements to the point that content is unrecognizable and exist solely for the purpose of revenue. Most are poorly designed. A shocking number are in Engrish and are painful to read!

Few actually have content I like and are what I would deem acceptable when it comes to having ads placed on my site. If you’re a discerning blogger, you may find that those applying for advertising on your site obviously haven’t looked at it, have completely irrelevant content or fall into any of the piss poor categories I outlined in the previous paragraph.

To be a discerning blogger, unless your site is already well known and successful, means that you’ll have few legitimate advertisement options thus you won’t be an EntreCard millionaire any time soon. Unfortunately, I suspect many otherwise picky users have reduced themselves to accepting all advertisements in the name of making a buck – or credit – or two.

And for what, having credits used for advertising via a system full of mediocre, ad-riddled blogs in poor English?

At this point, I think EntreCard is a good idea and has obvious perks; it could become a strong tool for blog networking. Still, there’s a lot of kinks to work out to bring up the overall quality of blogs in the system (I would say most reputable blogs have either skipped over EntreCard or have not yet heard of it because it’s rampant in the slums of the blogosphere only) which would actually make it worth the effort small bloggers like myself have to put in to see a result.

Keep trying EntreCard and so will I.

In Other News

Date Tue, July 1 2008

Today the paper had an article about some soldiers who became addicted to cough medicine and while I’m not at risk for that at all, most drugs I take are prescription and the ones that aren’t are not habit forming, I still am wary, especially when it comes to things like Phentermine without a prescription. There are no conclusive studies but I think it might be a better idea t simpyl go the route of a healthy lifestyle – something I hope to improve concerning myself in the near future – adjust sating habits and icnrease exercise to lose weight, instead. My aunt took and over-the-counter drug for weight loss at one point, and while I’m not sure what kind it was, it seemed to be addictive and it caused her some health problems such as passing out. I’m glad I don’t have to worry about that.

Computers, Ugh!

Date Sun, June 29 2008

When Ryan decided he wanted a new computer, he basically told me “I want to be able to run Crysis.” He doesn’t necessarily want to actually play the game, I don’t think; he just wants to be able to play it should he desire to do so. I never realized how difficult it is to compare graphics hardware, CPUs and video cards! Especially graphics cards. I can bumble my way through with memory and CPUs make a little bit of sense but this and that-cards are something totally new for me. Thankfully I have techy friends (Ben)!

Facelift!

Date Fri, June 27 2008

Of course, not the surgical botox kind but the website theme update kind. I’ve switched the colours and headers a bit; this is more of a temporary bridging-the-gap move but it will give you a very good idea of what’s to come. I hope you enjoy it!

With this done, I have some free time to continue my internet-enabled window shopping. Still considering Ryan’s “future computer” and while we think we know what was want, there’s still the matter of the monitor. LCD, flatscreen for sure. Perhaps something like a viewsonic monitor but it’s still up in the air right now.

MP3 Player Shopping

Date Fri, June 27 2008

So, even though I love my MP3 player, which you can probably tell from my review, I’m afraid it will be dying soon and this makes me sad. Rest assured I’ll use it until it can be used no longer, and do silly things to prolong this inevitable moment like cover it in duct tape but I’ll need to start shopping eventually.

I have considered buying a used model of the same one; these runny pretty cheap. I’m not really sure what’s on the market for MP3 players as I haven’t looked for several years. Maybe it’s time for me to look at ipods. What do you think?

Olympus M:Robe

Date Thu, June 26 2008

The M:Robe 100 by Olympus, is sexy, really sexy. In fact, it was one of the first MP3 alternatives to the oh-so-popular Ipod that actually looked good. I had scoped out different players on the internet, focusing on, what was at the time, in between sizes between 4 to 6 GB of space. At this time, Apple hadn’t yet decided to screw people over completely by taking the Ipod Mini off the market and replacing it with smaller versions which were more expensive so I was also considering that as well as some Creative products. As I am wont to do, I didn’t buy anything because I hated to part with large sums of money and this would be the largest yet.

What eventually would happen is that I would stumbled across the M:Robe (short for “robe yourself in music” I believe) 100 in the Radio Shack in the mall which would prove to me that, yes indeed, this was a sexy MP3 player. At around $130, it was more than affordable compared to some alternatives and, what was most important, was it was there. So I purchased it, brought it home, and gave it googly eyes some more.

Then I decided to test it out. I plugged the dock in to the wall and connected the USB cord to my computer, put the M:Robe in its dock and ran the install software. The M:Robe comes with Olympus’ M:Trip software which is not very intuitive. Additionally, one cannot simply drag and drop music onto the MP3 player via explorer folders, as many prefer. Overall, the software would be the largest downfall of this sleek like machine.

In my excitement, I added my entire music folder which was much larger than the capacity of the M:Robe to the M:trip library. Upon adding it to the library, songs are automatically selected to sync with the player. This obviously didn’t work so well and M:Trip soon told me there was not enough room. I would have to be more level headed about this so I decided to start anew, cleared the library and went again.

Only, clearing the library does only just that. The music still stayed on the player. This was resolved by me opening the player from “My Computer” and manually deleting everything in there which I only discovered after several fruitless phone calls to Olympus. Looking back, this probably makes more sense than it did to the Cole back then who had never used an MP3 player like that before.

I imagine it’s easier to transfer music to the M:Robe, or any MP3 player, if your collection is more organized than mine or if you don’t actually have music that you don’t want to transfer. Going through thousands of songs to decide which to transfer is kind of a bummer but now that I have the majority of songs I actually want on my player, on my player, it’s not a huge deal to add new songs at the time that I download them.

After adding the songs to the library in the M:Trip software, you can sync. The M:Robe should be turned on while in the dock which will produce a message on the player’s screen indicating it’s connected and do not turn off (Docking the MP3 player while it’s off will recharge only). A little zig-zag arrow in the bottom, right corner of the software is the sync button. An alert asks what you want to sync and you’re good to go. It takes a bit to do so and once it’s done, make sure to disconnect the M:Robe (the button below the sync button) before removing it from the dock.

Of course, M:Trip software can do a bit more. It functions as a music player, as well as lets the user update information about each track. The M:Robe has lyrics capability and the user inputs lyrics for each track in the “Properties” screen via the software.

Furthermore, users can create play lists, add music to their favourites and view songs in the library by Genre, Artist, Album and Year. There’s a screen for searching the library which I find most frustrating because one actually has to use the mouse to select “Find;” key commands have no control here.

Lastly, M:Trip allows the user to create remixes of their songs. I leave this to the professionals so I don’t have an opinion. The software also has an area for editing photos even though the M:Robe 100 does not support photos. This is because the same software is used for it’s successor, the M:Robe 500i; has this feature and they use the same software.

The M:Robe – which supports MP3 and WMA tracks – has a sleek red on black digital touch screen for navigating. Unfortunately, this relies on heat sensations so this player didn’t work as well during the winter months when I was wearing gloves. Other than that, I had no issues with it.

Once you start playing with the M:Robe itself, you’ll see it’s easy to figure out quickly. If you’re looking for some advanced options, they’re there but it’s also good to use as a simple music player without fancy features, which is what I do.

The main menu – accessible from any screen by pressing and holding the Menu button for a few seconds – lists Music List, Browse, Music Settings and Device Settings.

Edit the Date/Time, Language, Backlight, Off Timer and and other settings under “Device Settings.” Change the Repeat, Random and Equalizers settings under “Music Settings.” Browse by Artist, Album, Genre, Composer or Year under the “Browse Mene.”

Finally, the “Music List” allows one to see All (in alphabetical order), Favorites (designated in the software), Recently Listened (Last 20 tracks played), My Top 20 (20 most played tracks), Tracks With Lyrics, Unplayed Tracks (all tracks show up here in the beginning) and any playlists created by the user. It’s all straight forward.

Select Play for any of these categories or go into the category to select a specific song and you’re on your way. The song screen will show the songs number out of the total number of tracks in that category, The length of the song and current location within the song, time, battery strength and settings like Repeat/Random, if they are on.

From this screen one can adjust the volume which will bring up the Volume Settings, showing the current setting. From this or any other screen, press the button on the bottom left to be taken to the current category playlist. If set on random, it will show the random playlist rather than alphabetical. Navigate through these lists by pressing the Forward or Back arrows.

Aside from use, The M:Robe 100 has an internal lithion ion battery which is rechargeable by docking it or plugging it into a computer via USB cord. The site claims charge to last between 8 and 12 hours depending on media type. I can’t say for sure that this isn’t true but I suspect it does not last quite that long. Regardless, the charge is held for long enough that it’s never been any issue for me.

There you have it; the M:Robe 100 is a very easy to use MP3 player that looks great. So what are the drawbacks?

The software is clunky and takes a lot of resources while refusing to be intuitive. I would prefer if I could simply drag and drop. I don’t feel that M:Trip really helps to see what’s on the M:Robe.

On several occasions, this player has locked up and became really warm. The first time, I didn’t know what happened so I let it sit for a few days and it was fine. After that, I used the “Reset” button on the bottom of the player and everything was back to normal, without loss of my music.

I would also prefer if the M:Robe could be charged by plugging it into an electrical outlet, for travel. The USB cord can be connected directly from the player to a computer but if one is not available, this is no help and even if there is a computer, the charge is significantly decreased from that of using the dock. I suppose the dock could be used without a computer but that’s a lot of hardware to be carrying around.

I know some people had issues with the sound (which is excellent) being very quiet but a firmware update quickly resolved this. If anything, I don’t think the lowest setting is quiet enough to listen to, say, while falling asleep.

Lastly, the wait time between tracks is significant over similar MP3 players like the Ipod.

The M:Robe has lasted me between 2 and 3 years and still seems to be going relatively strong. It has become rather scratched up as players typically do because I do not use a case or cover. Also, I recently had a small metal piece break off on the inside. After it was banging around for a while, I opened it up and took it out. Luckily it wasn’t super necessary (it make the player fit more securely on the dock) and didn’t damage anything. However, since then, the button screen does not light up like it used to, unless I apply pressure. I can live with though; my hand knows where all the buttons are for sure!

If you need a basic MP3 player and can find something used, I’d recommend the M:Robe. If you need all the bells and whistles, skip right over this one folks. However, the M:robe 100 is probably difficult to find at this point as shortly after I bought it, stores took it off the shelves. I believe it’s successor, the M:Robe 500 is still for sale, though.

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