How to download and watch Torrent videos on the iPad

Filed Under (Tricks) by picker on 22-10-2011

First of all, no worries: I won’t dare turning the elegant iPad into a vulgar and busy download machine. In the age of the cloud there’s plenty of bandwidth and processing power up there for us to leverage.

A few weeks ago I subscribed to Fetch.io, a cloud-based downloader whose purpose is to speed up file fetching jobs from a number of online sources. Although still young and not exactly flawless, the service is quite effective and ultimately proved to go far beyond my expectations, thanks to a relatively hidden feature: media transcoding.

Let’s see then how to get a perfectly optimized video for your iPad out of a common Torrent feed, without using other device than your beloved tablet.

1. Find the video you’re interested in, for example through Torrentz.eu, and copy the Torrent file address. Be mindful of intellectual property rights.

2. Create a premium profile on Fetch.io for just $4.95 and login. Then press the ‘Fetch’ button and paste the URL of your Torrent as copied before.

3. Once the video file has been entirely downloaded (you can check the progress in ‘Transfers’), go to ‘Files’ and tap on the file name. A new page will open and try to play it for you, but that requires Flash and won’t work on an iPad. However, on the right hand side you will see a small menu.

4. Tap on ‘Encode this video’ and select the iPad format. This will go into a queue and take a few hours, so plan it in advance if you’re planning to carry some movies with you on the iPad for that long flight across the ocean…

5. Once the job is done, Fetch.io will contain an optimized version of your video in ‘Files’, with the same title as the original and a final suffix such as _iPad. Just download it from the browser of an app like Downloads HD (Safari won’t allow it) and you’re ready to go!

Update: Fetch.io is sadly defunct, but a very similar (and probably better) service is now available with the name of Put.io.

Solved: “Fresh From FriendFeed and Twitter” plugin

Filed Under (Tricks) by picker on 03-06-2011

I’ve got far less time than I wish to keep this blog updated with new posts… so I was delighted some months ago to discover the WordPress plugin Fresh From FriendFeed and Twitter.

I immediately installed it, thus the home page has been constantly updated with my latest tweets ever since. Unlike other plugins, this one doesn’t simply show a feed somewhere in a widget, but creates a constantly updated WordPress post.

However a couple of minor bugs, in an otherwise excellent piece of free software, felt like the proverbial “pebble in the shoe”:

- a weird text such as O:16:”SimpleXMLElement”:1:{i:0;s:6:”picker”;} shown as author name rather than just my nickname “picker”

- non-working permalink in the generated post (also when clicking on the title)

I tried to fix them a couple of times, but my PHP skills are honestly amateurish: web sites were still static when I worked as freelance web designer years ago! So I resolved to give a try to Elance, an online marketplace for digital professionals which I first heard about when reading a great book: The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.

For the cost of a dinner in London, I hired a young PHP developer from Bangladesh and he managed to fix the plugin in a couple of days. It’s the magic of currency exchange, so I even felt good by supporting a bold entrepreneur in the developing world.

Of course the outcome is available to any interested blogger: click here to download the fixed plugin.

I’ll try to inform the original author, whom I’ve not been able to talk to so far, so hopefully this fix will help him publish an officially updated version of the plugin on WordPress Extend.

In the meantime, I hope this helps!

Keep loving your 3-years-old smartphone… just get Joikuspot and you’ll always be on the edge!

Filed Under (Technology, Tricks) by picker on 03-07-2010

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iPhone, Android and their likes have definitely changed the way we define a smartphone, so quickly that most of the competitors are still struggling to catch up.

Although I consider myself a techno-fan and I’m often among first adopters of consumer technologies, this time I’m sticking with my 3-years-old Nokia E71 for a little while.

After all I guess we can still call it a smartphone, even though its screen is non-touch and quite small on current standards. In fact the following points still make it a very good companion:

- comfortable QWERTY keyboard (say what you want, touch-screen-addicted readers, but I bet I can text faster than you!)

- still up-to-date hardware equipment, including wi-fi, 3G, bluetooth and GPS

- embedded Mail-for-Exchange client

- availability of free applications for those features most of us use the most: Gmail, Google Maps, Ovi Maps, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, Nimbuzz (a multi-service chat client)…

Not enough? You’re right.

The final, critical ingredient is Joikuspot. This smart program connects to the Internet in 3G and shares that connection via wi-fi, turning the E71 (and many other phones) into a wi-fi hotspot in a snap.

Only recently added in some smartphones natively, this feature is usually defined “wi-fi tethering”.

Think about the possibilities. I mainly enjoy the latest apps on my iPod Touch and download new content from everywhere on my e-book reader… but one could even surf the Internet with two notebooks at the same time from a beach…

Just get a 3G flat data tariff before!

How to hackintosh your Dell Mini, and why I’m switching back to Ubuntu

Filed Under (Tricks) by picker on 21-07-2009

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Linux was initially one of the main ingredients of the “netbook” successful recipe, consistently with its smart and low-cost concept.

In 2008, about 24% of netbooks were shipped with a Linux operating system. That percentage is expected to plunge to a poor 4% this year, according to the market research company IDC. One could imagine that a revolutionary new OS has entered the market and caused such a change! Completely wrong: the netbook market is currently led by the 8-years-old Windows XP.

Why?

Win XP is neither more complete nor faster than Linux, especially on these low-power devices.

The point is that users look for compatibility with the constantly growing number of electronic devices they own: mp3 players, portable hard drives, smartphones… and of course with a series of well-known software products they’re already used to…

I’m a loyal user of Linux Ubuntu, which I installed on a couple of computers including my Dell Mini (some tips about it here). But I’ve never felt indifferent to the issues described above: I wish I could have on my netbook at least iTunes, Slingbox Player and a full compatibility with every external memory. Anyway, I didn’t consider Win XP as an option.

Then I bumped into this article from Uneasy Silence, describing a simple method to install Apple OS X “Leopard” on the little guy. Of course I spent a few hours surfing the web about this, so I found out that different methods have been built and are very well explained by the smart guys at the Dell Mini forum. This post from Gizmodo has been an interesting reading too.

Well… I couldn’t resist from tryin’ it out. And it worked!


I’ve been testing this solution for a few days now. Needless to say, having some of the Apple incomparable experience on my netbook has been amazing. But on a deeper analysis I believe it’s just not worth it.

Let’s highlight three main reasons.

1) A netbook is primarily meant to surf the web. While Ubuntu’s Firefox lets me scroll every page just smoothly, by sliding the touchpad edge with my right finger, I couldn’t replicate the same behavior on Mac OS… nor, least of all, have the famous two-finger Mac experience: that’s not supported by Dell’s hardware.

2) Yes, I could successfully install Slingbox Player and iTunes on the hackintoshed Dell Mini. But the latter couldn’t manage my Win-formatted iPod Nano.

3) Ethernet was not recognized on Leopard, which wasn’t so bad at first, because the wi-fi connection worked perfectly instead. Then I went out for a week-end and I realized that this somehow prevented my HSPA dongle from working.

Therefore, I peacefully switched back to the latest Ubuntu Netbook Remix version.

Now I know that I would definitely buy a possible Apple Netbook. But I also learned why in Cupertino they’re so obsessed with selling the Mac OS coupled with their own hardware only: full control of the user experience, resulting in a cutting-edge product line.

Turn your computer into a wi-fi hotspot

Filed Under (Clips, Tricks) by picker on 12-05-2009

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A recent video from the smart guys at Cnet explains how to share an Internet connection, from your computer to other wi-fi devices, whether you’re powered by XP, Vista or Mac.

The process is quite simple and doesn’t require any additional hardware or software, but it can reveal very powerful by allowing multiple use cases.

I’m wondering for instance if someone could use a VPN connection, set on the PC, to make a (wi-fi enabled) set-top-box access video rental services with geographical restrictions.

Any other idea?

Does Slingbox fit every set-top-box?

Filed Under (Tricks) by picker on 09-05-2009

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The correct answer to this post title should be: no, it officially doesn’t.

Nevertheless, even if your device doesn’t belong the the “supported sources” category, you’ll still be able to stream its video flow through a Slingbox. You’ll only miss the chance to remotely control it via a virtual remote control… which can represent a significant limitation!

Before giving up with an italian MySky HD receiver, I made some googling and visited a few forums. It worked.

Here’s a simple recipe in two steps…

1) After installing Slingbox Player on your computer, locate the folder which contains the included files for IR configuration. It should be:

C:\Program Files\Slingmedia\SlingPlayer\SBAV\ in Windows;
/Applications/SlingPlayer/Contents/Slingbox Setup Assistant/Contents/Resources/SBAV/ on a Mac.

2) Then search the Internet for a binary file built-up for your device, copy it into the folder above and insert the code included within the filename (e.g. 2012 for MySky HD) into the Slingplayer wizard when asked. The MySky HD file is available right here, within a large directory that will make you reach many others.

That’s it. Just warn any people you share the TV set with, because now you’re able to switch channel from everywhere in the world!

Pimp your Dell Mini (2 of 2)

Filed Under (Tricks) by picker on 20-04-2009

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The preceding post has summarized the essential steps I followed to pimp my Dell Mini, by replacing the original operating system (customized by Canonical for Dell) with a standard full-featured Ubuntu Linux OS in its Netbook Remix version.

What follows is instead a series of subsequent improvements I gradually brought in. Although they’re not a must-have, they helped me obtain the best from my netbook.

1) Following an advice from the Ubuntu Mini blog, I installed Medibuntu: a repository of packages which allows quite important multimedia operations, from mpeg encoding to Skype calls. I also installed the unfailing VLC Media Player. Of course you know that getting a new program in Ubuntu is as easy as going to Programs -> Add/Remove, looking for it and clicking Install… right?

2) Since Netbook Remix hides the topbar of maximized windows, I found it very useful to set up a few keyboard shortcuts. Ubuntu makes it really easy, through a tool you can find in System -> Preferences. My convenient choices have been: Alt-Z to maximize the selected window, Alt-X to unmaximize and Alt-C to close.

3) A few settings, suggested by an Ubuntu Mini article again, have allowed me to customize Firefox. Their purpose is to keep in consideration the limited screen size and CPU speed of a netbook. That’s why I preferred not to install most of the add-ons suggested in the same article.

4) One more technical touch up: since the Dell Mini comes with a SSD memory, I wanted to lenghten its life by disabling the Tracker from loading at start-up (just uncheck it from the list you find in System -> Preferences -> Sessions) and stopping content indexing on my netbook (step-by-step guide here).

5) Last but not least, something more recreational. These guys at System 76 offer free Ubuntu stickers if you send them a self addressed stamped envelope! Their goal is just to let people show their pride for being powered by Ubuntu. Give it a try!

Pimp your Dell Mini (1 of 2)

Filed Under (Tricks) by picker on 20-04-2009

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The most exciting present I received last Christmas is undoubtedly a Dell Mini 9.

A few months later, though it’s been surpassed by more performant and same-priced netbooks, my small Dell is still an outstanding device: some supposed limits, like the 8Gb only built-in memory, turn into valuable features when you notice how silent this computer is.

To be honest, I somehow influenced the way this present has been picked out, because it brings two significant benefits respect to some similar products: embedded Bluetooth 2.0, and Linux Ubuntu operating system. I knew Dell had involved Canonical for the second point, so I expected my Dell Mini to come with the just-released Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Instead, when I switched it on for the first time, I saw something similar to this screenshot.

Yes, pretty nice. But strongly managed by Dell, starting from the strictly selected updates; and based on Ubuntu 8.04, which misses the very good Connection Manager released within the 8.10 Intrepid Ibex. I resisted for one week, because worried about warranty issues, then I decided to pimp my Dell Mini.

The open-source community provided good support as usual, but I especially leveraged the advices from a very good blog named Ubuntu Mini. Here’s the few steps I followed.

1) First, I downloaded the latest Ubuntu release from the official site, and I created a live USB key. It was Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex in my case, but at the moment I’m writing Ubuntu 9.04 is about to be released.

2) Installation on the Dell Mini was quite easy, thanks to an excellent wizard. The only tricky part is perhaps the partition management, whose settings should depend on the way you’re going to use your netbook. You can find here a very detailed step-by-step guide, which includes an important advice to fix a common sound problem with the Dell Mini.

3) Ubuntu Linux is an amazing operating system, but I think the Netbook Remix makes it even more enjoyable, particularly on a 9 inches screen. Installing the Netbook Remix over Ubuntu 9.04 promises to be as easy as typing sudo apt-get install ubuntu-netbook-remix, but for its 8.10 version I needed a couple of additional expedients from this guide.

Here’s how my Dell Mini desktop looked at the end of this process, which I could perform in about one hour.


These were the must-have steps to get a Netbook-Remix-powered Dell Mini. In my experience, it’s really worth it. One example? The already mentioned built-in Connection Manager not only manages wireline and wi-fi connections seamlessly, but also allowed me to plug-&-play multiple devices: HSDPA dongles from different manufacturers, shared connection from a Windows Mobile smartphone…

The next part of this article (post 2 of 2) will include a few optional settings and tools for further improving your installation and subsequent experience.

Publish your press review in WordPress

Filed Under (Tricks) by picker on 15-04-2009

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RSS feeds have definitely changed the way we keep ourselves updated, so much that talking about a press review may actually appear anachronistic.

I’ve been an early adopter of personal tools like iGoogle and Google Reader, but I never stuck to the social aspect of it: Digg, Delicious and so forth…

Well, today I eventually found a nice and different way to share selected content from my favorite on-line sources. You can enjoy my selection in the News page of my site, and find out how to do the same within your own WordPress blog right here…

1) First of all, of course you need to regularly browse the content Google Reader aggregates for you. I also take for granted that you’ll progressively increase the number of feeds you get content from. Anyway, every time you find something interesting and relevant for your audience, just click on either the Share or Share with note link at the bottom of the article.

Your picks will be shown in your WordPress page, as soon as you’ll have completed the following two steps.

2) Now, look at the URL in your web browser. Google Reader identifies you by a unique ID, inserted between user%2F and %2F, like in the picture below.

3) Final step. Download the Google Reader Shared tool from WordPress Extend and install it into your blog (by unzipping the file and copying the resulting folder into the wp-content/plugins folder of your web server). Activate it from your WordPress back-end, then go to Settings -> Rec. Reading and insert your Google Reader ID into the proper field.

That’s it. Now you can choose whether to show your selected content within a page, by writing the word recreading between two square parenthesis in your editor, or to use the dedicated widget you’ll find in Appearance -> Widgets. Further options allow to influence the aspect of your outcome, including some CSS editing for the most advanced users.

Happy publishing!

Joomla must-have extensions

Filed Under (Tricks) by picker on 10-04-2009

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By the first moment I started working on it, I felt surprised by how powerful and flexible Joomla can be. This open-source marvel is a top level CMS, far superior to many commercial products.

Of course Joomla is not a ready-to-use tool (like, let’s say, WordPress for blogging), but needs to be customized for the kind of site you’re going to deliver. The open-source community never leaves you alone in this, starting from the thousands of extensions available and fully supported on the official Joomla.org site. There are plenty of features for almost any purpose, including even the launch of a full e-commerce solution.

What I’m going to do here is simply to list the few extensions I strongly suggest, regardless of which is your Joomla-based project.

- Xmap: a very effective component, which builds and keeps updated both an HTML and an XML site map, useful for your visitors and necessary for search engines friendliness.

- J15html: it allows to create basic modules containing the html code you wrote or pasted in. Essential for publishing every tool or badge from external sites in the blink of an eye.

- JX Wysiwyg: an advanced what-you-see-is-what-you-get publishing tool, which gives you more options respect to the built-in Tiny MCE editor.

- Flickr Slideshow: whether you want to show a few simple images or a large photoalbum from Flickr, this smart component makes it simple and generates attractive layouts.

- YV Comment: yes, this is not exactly a must-have for every site. But today comments are often allowed even in environments quite different from blogs. Alternatively, a good option for comments might be also Disqus, a complete platform which is easy to embed within Joomla through a dedicated extension.

Every software product I mentioned is distributed for free under the GPL license. You can search and download any of them from the Joomla Extensions web site, which also provides an outstanding support through its community.