Christmas Music 24/7

If just can’t get enough Christmas music, there are plenty of ways to satisfy your needs in the digital era.

From your computer, the easiest way to access your holiday favourites would be to find an online radio station. If you have a favourite terrestrial radio station, you should be able to find an online version that lets you listen live. Other stations that are dedicated to playing seasonal music can be found by searching for “Christmas music online”, you will find hundreds of streaming stations. Most of the stations are free of charge, although some may require registration. There are all sorts of genres to meet your needs, most play music continuously with only minimal interruptions for advertising. A music service that I find particularly well done is that on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) website (music.cbc.ca). On any computer you can access over 50 streaming stations, including two limited play Christmas channels, Seasonal Favourites and Classical Holiday.

You can access most of these same online stations described above using your smart phone or tablet through the browser although the user interface is much better if you are able to find an App for it. For example, the CBC Music application for iOS makes all of their Radio 1 and Radio 2 stations from across Canada available along with all of their streaming stations. Another application that I find quite good is “TuneIn Radio” which lets you listen to more than 100,000 stations from around the world. You can find dedicated Christmas stations, one of my favourites is Radio Santa Claus from Finland.

Seasonal music is also available through your television if you have a Smart TV or a set top box such as Roku or Apple TV connected to it. Most of these devices have a channel or application that allows access to online radio stations. For example, the Apple TV has a Radio application that provides access to hundreds of streaming stations under a number of genres. You can find Christmas music stations under the Religious category. If you don’t have a connected television and get your service through cable or by satellite, most providers have dedicated music channels. I am not talking about Much Music or MTV, but instead channels that play only music with no video, these are usually located in the higher numbers. For example Rogers Cable has approximately 20 music channels provided by Stingray Music, including Holiday Favourites, located on channel 222 and 710 in Ontario, Canada.

So if you’re like me and can’t get enough Christmas music there are many ways to satisfy your obsession.

Do you have any other suggestions? What are some of your favourite radio stations? Send a comment in below and share your experiences?

Happy Holidays.

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Rogers Nextbox 3.0 versus Nextbox 2.0

Here is a quick summary comparing the Rogers Nextbox 3.0 versus Nextbox 2.0:

  • 8 digital tuners: this allows the simultaneous recording of 8 programs at the same time compared to 2 on previous Rogers models;
  • 1TB hard drive: this allows for the recording of up to 120 hours of HD programming, previous models had only 160 GB to 500 GB of capacity;
  • the Nextbox 3.0 has the ability to output 1080p to your television; some previous models had this as an option but it did not work well;
  • Outputs: HDMI (1), Component (1), Composite (1), Digital Audio, eSATA, LAN; previous models had these same outputs but in addition they had a S-video output;
  • you are no longer able to power devices by plugging them into the back of the box as was possible with previous versions;
  • smaller footprint: the new model is about 40% smaller thanks to having the power transformer (power brick) outside of the box; and
  • although you no longer get any coaxial cables, an HDMI cable is included with the Nextbox 3.0.
  • Rogers Nextbox 3.0 – Real Life Review

    I just recently exchanged a Rogers Nextbox 2.0 for a new Cisco 9865 (Nextbox 3.0) HDPVR. I was willing to give Rogers one last chance before abandoning them altogether and signing up with Bell Fibe TV. It’s not that the Rogers television service is bad or the monthly fees are out of line with its competitors, it was just the PVR’s that are supplied by them are atrocious. Based on my return record, I would say more than 80% of them had problems, since I rented the equipment it did not cost me anything to exchange them but after the 4th or 5th time it was getting frustrating. The reasons for the returns included: non responsiveness, endless rebooting, incorrect scheduled recordings, the list goes on. I sometimes think that this bad record is due to the fact that I was likely getting refurbished PVR’s every time I exchanged them but similar problems are described by people purchasing new units from third party suppliers such as Future Shop or Best Buy. I can’t imagine that it makes good business sense from Rogers’ point of view, having so many dissatisfied customers that can’t view their services because the hardware they get from Cisco/Scientific Atlanta is of such low quality. They should just stick to the business of providing good television services and leave the hardware supplying to company’s that have proven track records, a company such as TiVO. With this as a background, I decided to give them one last chance. Click here for my Real Life Review of Rogers Nextbox 3.0.

    Solid State Drives (SSD)

    Background

    You may have heard a lot these days about Solid State Drives or SSD’s as they are commonly referred to as. The interest has arisen as a result of the popularity of tablets and smart phones which invariably use these devices for storage. Many computer manufacturers are now incorporating them in their laptops to reduce their size and increase battery life, Apple was one of the first companies to make their use more widespread with the introduction of the MacBook Air in 2008.

    SSD’s perform much the same function as traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDD), one thing that they do not have in common with HDD’s is moving parts. Instead of storing data on spinning platters, a SSD reads and writes data to and from nonvolatile flash memory. As a result they are less susceptible to physical shock and are thus ideal for mobile computing devices. Other advantages are they are much quieter, consume less energy and have faster access times, in some cases up to 10 times faster. The one major disadvantage that keeps them from being used in all computing devices is their cost, they presently cost about 10 times as much as HDD’s of the same size. For example a good SSD with 256 GB of memory will cost about $200 – 250, while for this price you could probably buy a HDD with 2-3 TB of memory. This price difference will continue to narrow as they are being used in more and more devices, they are now close to 1/3 of the cost they were in 2009.

    Making a decision on a new laptop

    So should you get a SSD instead of a HDD? The answer to this question varies depending on a number of factors. If you are buying a laptop computer and want a super light computer and don’t need a lot of hard drive space then you should get a computer with a SDD, an ultra thin MacBook Air or a new HP or Dell Ultrabook. If you do need a lot of storage space and don’t care about the extra seconds it will take to boot, then you could probably save yourself some money a get a regular laptop with a conventional hard drive. Some manufacturers allow you to get the best of both worlds with hybrid drives that include a small SDD that has enough space for your operating system so that you can enjoy super fast boot and response times, and a HDD, to store all of your data.

    Installing a SSD on a desktop computer

    If you already have a desktop computer you can also enjoy the benefits of an SSD by installing one on your device, this is probably the most cost effective way of improving the performance of your computer. Before you go out and buy a SDD you should open up your computer and see if it can be added. The first thing you need to check is if there are extra bays, most computers have space so that additional hard drives can be installed. Regular HDD’s are 3.5 inches wide while SDD’s are 2.5 inches, there are conversion kits that can be purchased. The SDD will have to be connected to the computer motherboard, this is done through a SATA data connector, there are 3 versions, SATA 1, 2 or 3 which support transfer rates of 1.5, 3 or 6 Gbps respectively. If your computer is relatively new (i.e. 2 years or newer), you will likely have SATA 3 connectors, you can check the manual that came with your motherboard to check. If your computer only has SATA 1 or 2 connectors, you don’t need to worry as SSD’s are backwards compatible, you will just not be able to enjoy the faster speeds of the SATA 3 SSD’s. Finally the SSD needs power, there are usually extra power cables on your computer’s power supply.

    If you have checked the interior of computer and have found that it can handle a SSD then go ahead and start shopping for one at your local computer or electronics store. The size that you ultimately purchase will likely depend on your budget since they are quite expensive, the current sweet spot 256 GB, there are 512 GB SSD’s available but they can run upwards of $500.

    If you are able to afford a large enough SDD to store all of the data on your computer then the setup will involve a simple transfer or mirroring of your HDD onto to the SDD (some SDD’s include software to do this, Acronis True Image can also perform this function). If you have too much data on your existing HDD, you will have to install your OS on the SDD, your computer will then use the SDD to run Windows and it will access other applications and data from the HDD. Later if you want to increase the speed of your applications you would have to re-install them on the SDD. Once you have installed the OS on the SSD you will have to enter the Bios and make the SSD the main boot device. A detailed step by step guide to the installation of SSDś is described in the PC Advisor article sourced at the end of this blog.

    Source: PC World, Computer World, Wikipedia, Storage Reviews, PC Advisor

    Cutting the Cable, Canadian style

    Although polls show that most Canadians are not willing to cut their cable subscription due to convenience and reliability, there are a small number that do say goodbye to that cable connection every year.  In 2011 the number of cable cutting households in Canada stood at 100,000 with a similar number expected to have taken the plunge in 2012.
    Likely the top reason these people are moving away from traditional cable subscriptions is the cost.  If you presently have cable you are paying anywhere from $50 – $100 per month for access to hundreds of channels, many of whom you are not even watching.  In addition, if you haven´t purchased your own recording device (i.e. PVR) then you are paying another $25 per month for it´s rental.  You can actually save quite a bit of money each year if you can find an alternative.
    Alternatives do exist and the number of on-line sources of content are increasing each year.  Although the amount of media available on the Internet in Canada is somewhat limited compared to the United States, if you look around a little you would be surprised what you could find.  Netflix and iTunes are prime examples of this, although the Canadian versions do not have as much content as their American counterparts, when supplemented with other sources they may suit your needs.  Many networks are now making many of their TV shows available on their websites, usually within a day of their over-the-air broadcast date.  Also, with the switchover to digital over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting in 2011, high quality signals from your local Television stations may be available for free and may be able to satisfy your live TV needs for example sports.
    Some of the options for those pioneers out there are discussed below.  I have also supplemented this information with links to a number of other articles about cable cutting in Canada.
    Over the Air TV signals
    In September 2011, TV stations in large cities throughout Canada were forced to switch from analog to digital transmission of their signals.  The availability of local TV stations varies from city to city but in some areas in Canada you can pick up 10-12 HD quality TV signals absolutely free.  If you live close to the border you may even be able to pick up transmissions from the US.  You can find out which channels you might be able to pick up by going to the TV Fool website at  TV Fool. You put in your address or postal code and it tells you the direction and location of nearby transmitters and if you could pick these up with an antenna.  Of course the more distant stations would require a bigger, higher antenna.  More information about OTA broadcasting and how to make your own antenna are given in a previous post.
    Internet TV
    With the explosion of users on the internet many networks (e.g. CBC, CTV, Global, TVO Space) have started to make their programming available on their websites.  Not all programming is available and it is usually delayed by a day or two compared to its broadcast time but you can find quite a bit of your favourite shows available on demand.  Of course watching this programming will use your Internet bandwidth so you may want to keep an eye on your usage so that you don’t go over your monthly allotment.  Depending on your Internet Service Provider, you will have anywhere from 40 – 80 GB/month.  If you do find yourself getting close to your limit, most ISP’s offer additional bandwidth at a reasonable cost.
    Netflix
    Although Netflix is not free ($7.99/month) it does have a lot of content including older TV shows and movies as well as documentaries.  You will need to setup an account to start watching but you can try it out for free for one month (Netflix).  If you previously used a mail-in DVD service this would probably provide similar content, in this case you get your content on-line and there is no limit to the number of programs that you can access.  You can watch Netflix directly on your computer screen or if your TV has the right type of video input you can hook your computer to your TV and watch it on a bigger screen.
    Many of the newer television sets already have a Neflix app built right into them so if you have an account and an Internet connection (many TV’s now even offer wireless connections to your network) you can access Netflix without any additional hardware.  Another alternative if your TV does not have a built in Netflix app is to purchase a set-top box (e.g. Apple TV, WD Live Media Player, Boxee Box) that allows easy access.  You will have to make sure that the set-top box that you purchase has a video output that you can hook up to your television; for example the Apple TV only has an HDMI output that some of the older TV’s don’ have.  These boxes are connected to the Internet and also to your TV and effectively turns your “dumb” TV into a “smart” TV.
    Set-top Boxes
    In addition to giving you access to Netflix, a set-top box can give you access to other content on the Internet (e.g. YouTube).  Some of them even will even have a built in web-browser although their capabilities are limited.  An Apple TV provides a beautiful and simple user interface but its capabilities are quite limited (e.g. Netflix, YouTube).  If you have other Apple devices and use iTunes to buy and rent music, TV shows and movies, an Apple TV is probably the best option for you as anything purchased on another iOS device is accessible with an Apple TV.  Other boxes, like the Western Digital (WD) Live Media Player concentrate more on your content and can play most types of media from any computers connected to your network.  The WD set top box also gives you access to Netflix, YouTube and some other limited content on the Internet.
    Online resources

    Microsoft Office 2013 and Office 365 Home Premium now available

    As expected Microsoft has released a new version of its popular software, Office 2013, today.  For those who like to actually get a hard copy, there are three versions available: Home and Student, Home and Business and Professional.  The Home and Student version includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote and sells for $139.  The other two versions are selling for $219 and $399 respectively.  If you are a type of person who prefers to get your software from the cloud then you may want to look into Office 365.  The Home Premium version is a little cheaper than the hardcopy at $99, but it is a subscription and allows access for only 1 year.  An advantage though is that is always up to date and you can load it onto up to five PC’s and Macs at the same time.  It also includes 20 GB of SkyDrive storage.  Engadget just posted a review of the Microsoft’s new offering if you want to determine if the upgrade is for you.

    Source: Endgaget Office 365 and Office 365 Review

     

    Gingerbread still top OS flavour in the Android World

    Even though Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.3-4.0.4) was released nearly a year ago and Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) about three months ago, Gingerbread (Android 2.3-2.3.7) is still the top OS among Android users. Version 2.3 of Gingerbread still accounts for almost 56% of users, while Ice Cream Sandwich is now up to 23.7%. The latest offering from Google, Jelly Bean, is only at 1.8%. The low rate for Jelly Bean is not surprising since there are only a handful of devices that have been released that are capable of being upgraded to it (e.g. Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S and Nexus 7). The adoption rate is expected to jump significantly once popular devices such as the Galaxy S III and the HTC One X get upgraded. It was recently reported that Samsung has started to roll out Jelly Bean to its devices in Europe while HTC smartphones will receive the update later this month.

    In the Apple world updates to the OS are supported by most of its devices, only the older iPhones were not capable of upgrading to iOS 6. As a result, the adoption rate of the new mobile OS by iPhone users was already 17% after only 24 hours and now today that rate is at 60% in Canada and the US.

    Source: Mobile Syrup