The CD Solution

When was the last time you bought a compact disc? For many of us, that’s like asking your buddy about his latest VHS purchase. But what about all those shiny discs you bought before the advent of iTunes, peer-to-peer sharing, music streaming and cloud storage made it so easy to find music online and access it on the device of your choice? In other words, is Fatboy Slim still staring at you from a CD tower, its jewel case growing dustier with each passing year?

Antiquated though they may seem, CDs should not be consigned to the digital trash heap -- at least not until you’ve gotten what you need from them. For starters, the music quality is far superior to that in an MP3. The MP3 is a small file for a reason: It doesn’t contain anywhere near the amount of data (and thus fidelity) that a track on a CD does. Secondly, although the selections offered on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify are enough to keep your head banging for a lifetime, chances are you own some eclectic albums that you won’t find in any of those libraries.

So what’s a guy to do about all those CDs that haven’t seen the light of day since “Friends” was a staple of Thursday night TV? You’ve got two options: DIY and outsourcing.

The DIY Route

If you’re on a Mac and use iTunes to manage your music, you’ll find an option under “Preferences” (within the iTunes pull-down menu) to import songs automatically on insertion of a CD. Select that option. Also in this menu you’ll find your import settings. To import your music at the highest quality possible (provided that space isn’t an issue) select AIFF Encoder or Apple Lossless Encoder. If storage space is an issue, you can import your music as MP3s. As noted above, though, the MP3 format makes use of crafty (though some say undetectable) audio compromises to keep the files small.

If you’re on a PC and don’t use iTunes, there is software both free (e.g., Winamp) and paid (e.g., Nero and Winamp Pro) that can assist you with the music-importing process. These time-saving programs will also help you manage your music library once you’re done importing your CDs. On a PC (and again, providing storage space is not an issue), you’ll want to import the songs in either .WAV or FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec).

The good news is that regardless of whether you’re on a Mac or a PC, the software will do most of the heavy lifting for you (including finding album artwork and ID’ing the tracks on your CDs automatically). But you’ll still be stuck with the mind-numbing task of popping the CDs in and out of the computer every several minutes -- with the time for ripping dependent on the format you select.

Once you’ve imported a few discs, test the extracted music by streaming it to your various devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone). Make sure the format you’ve selected will not prove problematic -- or acoustically unsatisfying -- on any of them. (Not all cloud services will accept the higher-resolution files, for example.) Once you’re pleased with the results, finish ripping the rest of your CDs. And when you’re finally done, back up! Save your music files on a large external drive (or two) and, for safekeeping, on a cloud-storage server as well.

Outsourcing

Find a service that will convert all of your CDs to digital files and put them onto a hard drive or music player for you. (Google “CD conversion” or use one of the services below.) Ship out your CDs in a box -- typically provided -- and expect to pay anywhere from 25 cents to more than $2.00 per disc, depending on the final format you select. Some companies will clean your discs prior to importing and even attempt to repair damaged ones. Firms such as Pickled Productions will give you a bound, printed inventory of your music collection. RipStyles can recycle your jewel case and return the CDs in a portfolio instead.

When selecting a company, compare included services as well as extras such as shipping costs and insurance. And to make sure you’ll see your precious music collection again, check the Better Business Bureau for complaints from other customers.

Once you’ve gotten your music back, if you’re an iTunes user, you can pay Apple $25 for a new service called iMatch, to which you can upload all of your ripped CD content. Once your files are in the cloud, that music -- along with any music you’ve purchased from the iTunes music store -- will automatically be placed in your music “locker,” accessible to you on all of your iOS devices via the Web.

Google’s Music Beta (free for up to 20,000 songs) and Amazon’s Music Cloud (MP3 and AAC only) offer cloud hosting of your music files too. But be prepared for a long initial upload that can take hours, if not days. This won’t tie up your computer entirely, but it will slow down your Internet connection.

Regardless of whether you go for the DIY route or the outsourced one, you will love having all of your music at your fingertips all the time. Now your biggest dilemma won’t be where to keep your music, but what to do with the space where that CD tower used to be.

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/ishai01

How to Use Facebook So It Doesn’t Use You

Whether you call it a time-saver or a time-suck, Facebook has surpassed the almighty Google as the most trafficked website in the U.S. -- and the second most popular site in the world. Whatever you happen to think of it, if you’re not living in a cave in northern Pakistan (and maybe even if you are), you’re probably using it in some manner. Need someone’s contact info? Check. Birthday minders? Ditto. Photos and videos to share? Done and done. Random thoughts to send into the ether? Well, you know the drill.

But as quickly as Facebook has become an integral part of the way we communicate with friends (and “friends”), it has also raised concerns. How much sharing is too much sharing? What do Facebook and its marketing partners really know about you? And what are they doing with all of that juicy data? Men’s Life Today reached out to David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World, for tips on getting the best out of Facebook while avoiding its potential dark side.

Don’t Be Daft
For starters, says Kirkpatrick, if there’s something with the potential to embarrass, don’t post it. Despite how secure you believe your privacy settings to be, modern society is littered with Internet roadkill, like jobs lost, scholarships rescinded and relationships shattered simply because a user didn’t think twice before posting. “This is a shockingly common-sense rule that many people disregard,” says Kirkpatrick. But don’t go too far in the opposite direction, he advises. “If you never post anything of interest, you’re less likely to have anything of interest come back to you.”

Friendly Fire
If your standards for accepting friends have been, shall we say, less than discerning, Kirkpatrick suggests it could be time to do some pruning. “One of the classic errors is to accept every friend request you receive,” he says. The problem with such loose standards? “You’re empowering these individuals over your information.”

It may also be time to shed people you do know, but who don’t reflect your sensibility or values (see “jobs lost,” above). “If you’re beginning to question their judgment, hide them from your news feed or unfriend them entirely.” If we were to discard all but those whom we consider true-blue buddies, says Kirkpatrick, many of us would wind up eliminating three-quarters of our so-called friends.

App Happy
Here’s a little heads-up: Third-party apps gain access to your personal information when you install them. (And yes, “Mafia Wars” and “Farmville” fans, that includes you.) So be picky. “Something that looks cool, but which I’ve never heard of and that only a couple of my friends are using? I’m not going to adopt it,” Kirkpatrick says flatly. If you already have an app installed but haven’t used it in a while, delete it. Why? Because even if you’re not doing anything with it, chances are its developers are still doing something with your data.

Fortunately, right before you install any app, Facebook will remind you that you’re about to hand over access to your info. The choice to “allow” is up to you. Pretty simple.

Privacy Protection
Although he concedes that navigating Facebook’s privacy settings can be like trying to solve a Chinese puzzle, Kirkpatrick says an investment of 45 minutes should be enough to establish settings you’re comfortable with. For advice on how to get started, he recommends the site AllFacebook.com. (Search for “privacy settings.”)

To be on the safe side, a good across-the-board option is “friends only.” If you have a burning desire to make your life an open book for exes, frenemies and strangers, go ahead and use “everyone.” If you’re particularly guarded about your information, there’s a custom setting called “only me” -- though if you choose this option, you might just want to delete your Facebook account altogether and go back to calling your friends on a landline. Tedious, yes, but no privacy worries!

Target: You
And what about those ads in the margin that seem to know a little too much about you? They don’t concern Kirkpatrick terribly. If Facebook is doing its job and serving ads that jibe with your interests, you might welcome seeing some of them. And if you don’t, “they’re easy to disregard,” Kirkpatrick points out, explaining that one of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s core tenets is that advertising should not disrupt the user experience.

Despite articles like this one, Kirkpatrick knows that many of you will continue to throw caution to the wind. “Facebook is loosening inhibitions about self-display,” he acknowledges, “and we’re becoming a more transparent people.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, he adds, but if you’re going to share, just be sure you do it wisely -- or be ready for your loony-tunes ex, nosy co-worker and the rest of the world to know your business.

The Top 5 Movie Phones

Got the latest music phone? That’s so 1998. If you’re keeping up with the ever-increasing multimedia processing power of cell phones, yours should be streaming movies by now. But if you’re watching your favorite flicks on a tiny touch screen … sorry, dude, you’ve fallen behind again. The big trend in mobile phones now is size: screen size, that is. The perfect movie phone is still a work in progress, as you’ll see in our reviews, but here are our top five picks of the big-screen babies currently -- or soon to be -- on the market.


LG Thrill 4G
The 4.3-inch, 800-by-480-pixel screen on this one is a good start. But what makes the Thrill, well, thrilling, is that it provides 3-D visuals by overlaying a “parallax barrier” on the screen -- in other words, you don’t have to wear wonky donky glasses. In addition to exclusively integrating YouTube 3-D, the Thrill can capture high-def movies in 3-D, and the dual-core 1GHz processor means 3-D games don’t get choppy or laggy. There is a catch, though: The screen design needs your head to stay in its sweet spot for the 3-D effect to work. In other words, forget catching the latest Harry Potter on a jolty road trip.
LG.com

HTC TITAN
HTC phones were already pretty hot before the TITAN came along. But with a 4.7-inch and 800- by 480-pixel screen, the aptly named TITAN takes the crown. It’s a bit of a lump in the pocket, sure, but nowhere near the oversized Dell Streak or Samsung Galaxy Tab. And on top of great visual real estate, it offers an 8MP camera, high-def video recording (at 720p) and the new Windows Mobile 7.5 OS, all backed by a speedy 1.5GHz chip. The downside? Windows Mobile is still lagging way behind Android and iOS for apps. For movies, though, this one’s a blockbuster.
HTC.com

 

Samsung Galaxy Tab
Straddling the divide between the phone and the tablet is the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The 7.4-inch, 1024- by 600-pixel screen means there’s a huge and bright high-resolution display for Web surfing, movie watching and other multimedia munching. But don’t try making a call on it unless you’re going for laughs; it’s strictly for use with a hands-free headset or inline mic/earbuds. While it would be a tight squeeze to fit this device into your jeans pocket, it’s full of features, which include loads of movie codex support (including DivX and Xvid) and great n-level Wi-Fi as well as mobile data options.
Samsung.com

 

Samsung Galaxy S II
With a 4.5-inch screen and 800 by 480 pixels, there’s not quite as much resolution on this one as there is on the iPhone 4 (see below), but the Galaxy S II has pretty much dominated sales of smartphones in Europe and the Far East. That’s because it hits the perfect balance of features (8MP camera, 1080p HD recording, 3G/4G and Wi-Fi, etc.) in a long-lasting, beautifully compact, well-designed Android package. It certainly isn’t the ultimate movie phone, if you must munch popcorn on the subway. But it’s probably the current frontrunner for the title of “ultimate do-it-all device.”
Samsung.com

 

Apple iPhone 4
The iPhone remains one of the best all-around smartphones in the business. Though its screen, at 3.5 inches, is not the largest, its bright, clear Retina display is the best on the market, boasting an 800:1 contrast ratio and a 960- by 640-pixel resolution. So it’s pretty damn great at playing movies. But it’s also great for all the other stuff too, because the iTunes Store remains the most stuffed for justifiably popular apps and games. Of course the wireless elephant in the room is the iPhone 5. While the launch has been long-rumored, current projections are that it’ll land its big hoofs sometime in October. Buy an iPhone 4 before then and you may be obsolete soon after.
Apple.com

Are You a Tech Geek?

You’d rightly bristle at being called a nerd, but these days it’s practically chic to be labeled a geek. Take this quick quiz to see whether you can count yourself among the few, the proud who know their NVRAM from their H.264.

1) The first thing you do when you get up in the morning is:

a)

Pull on your bathrobe and head outside to grab the newspaper.

b)

Yank your smartphone from under your pillow and check your messages.

c)

Wake up your iPad and surf to Engadget to see what you missed since your last visit, which was at 2:30 a.m.

d)

Unclasp your sleep bracelet and launch an app to review how your slumber numbers stack up against the ones from the night before.

2) It’s the first weekend in months that you don’t have to go in to the office. You’re going to reward yourself with:

a)

A romantic getaway weekend -- just you and your girlfriend at a B&B so remote it doesn’t get cell service.

b)

A strenuous mountain hike that will let you put your new Magellan MobileMapper CX through its paces.


c)

Back-to-back watching of “Battlestar Galactica” seasons three and four, streamed straight to the TV from your 4 TB hard drive.

d)

Deep delving into the product links you grabbed by scanning QR codes up and down the aisles of this year’s C.E.S.


 

3) An abbreviation you use on a daily basis is:

a)

AOL

b)

ROFL

c)

COD MW3

c)

TRA (If you don’t know this one, you obviously don’t work for the U.S. DoD.)

4) The way you’re most likely to use the word “game” in a sentence:

a)

“I can’t believe there’s no game meat on this menu.”

b)

“Anyone game for a ride on my new jet ski?”

c)

“I finally figured out an untraceable way to game the cable company!”

d)

“Dude, Portal 2 is not just a game to me -- it’s my life.”

5) When it comes to cameras, your philosophy can best be described as:

a)

“Let’s keep Kodak in business! Digital is for sissies.”

b)

“Why should I buy a camera when I’ve already got one on my phone?”

c)

“I don’t care what the experts say. I love me megaloads of megapixels.”

d)

“My life before buying a light field camera is just one big blur.”

6) The TV personality with whom you most identify is:

a)

The washboard-ab’d Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino of “Jersey Shore.”

b)

Walden Schmidt, the Internet billionaire played by Ashton Kutcher on “Two and a Half Men.”

c)

Stan Smith, the “American Dad” bodacious CIA operative.

d)

Adam Savage, the bespectacled special-effects designer who co-hosts

MythBusters” as well as the new science- and engineering-themed game show “Unchained Reaction.

7) If you could meet any historical figure, it would be:

a)

Ned Ludd, the rebellious 18th century English youth whose name was adopted by that era’s Luddite movement.

b)

Benjamin Franklin, founding father, author, diplomat and inventor.

c)

Alan Turing, World War II–era scientist and creator of the Turing machine.

d)

Watson, the annoyingly smart computer that won “Jeopardy!” last year.


8) You’re all ready for the Olympics this summer, thanks to:

a)

Friends who’ve offered you their place just off Leicester Square -- and front-row tickets to the opening ceremonies, diving competition and decathlon.

b)

The new flat-screen they’ve just put in at your fave neighborhood haunt, the Regal Beagle.

c)

A satellite dish on your roof, which pulls in 880 high-definition sports channels -- providing there’s no reception interference from a heavy rainstorm.

d)

Your 55-inch 3-D television and a box of active-shutter glasses. Soon, you and your two best buds -- whom you met while working at the Apple store’s Genius Bar -- will be watching the London games in three friggin’ dimensions.


SCORING

Calculate your answers according to the values assigned to each:

a = 1 point

b = 2 points

c = 3 points

d = 4 points

If you scored a total of …

8 to 12:

Are you serious? Not even a pocket protector and a ham radio kit could turn you geek.

13 to 19:

You’ve got some tech tendencies, but you need to make some changes before you can geek out with the best of them.

20 to 26:

Way to go! You’re an up-and-coming geek. Very few people make it this far.

27 to 32:

Congratulations! You may not get all the ladies, but you are a true Jedi Master in the world of tech geeks.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/oliverwolfson

Play These Video Games to Perform Better … in Life

The proof is in: Video games improve physical and mental skills that come in handy in the real world. Here's what to play to get an edge.



Could there be benefits to playing “Halo” for hours on end … besides getting really good at “Halo”?

Over the past few years, research has shown that video games can give you an edge at some real-world skills. Actual, useful skills, stuff that will come in handy at times other than when you happen to come across an energy sword.

“When I was at Beth Israel Hospital, I noticed that surgeons who played video games were better at laparoscopic surgery,” says Dr. Paul Lynch, an Arizona doctor who’s been studying the effects of video games on physiology for over 20 years. Laparoscopic surgery involves inserting a camera into the patient. “In that type of procedure, surgeons have their hands on instruments while looking at a screen. It’s almost like playing a video game.”

That’s a very specific example of video games honing a particular skill, but all kinds of studies that have been done over the years point to the many benefits of gaming. Rolf Nelson, a professor of psychology at Wheaton College, recently looked at the effects of gaming on cognitive abilities.

“Different video games cause players to adopt different strategies in subsequent tasks,” says Nelson. “For example, after playing a fast-paced shooting game, players tend to sacrifice accuracy in favor of speed in a completely unrelated task.”

So which kinds of games emphasize which skills? Lynch’s research can give us a clue. In his study, he had his game-playing surgeons play three different kinds of games, each of which improved specific tasks:

To Improve Visual Skills:

Playing a shooter, particularly one with targeting crosshairs and a sniper-like experience, can improve visual skills. Anyone who plays “Halo 3”or “BioShock 2” will probably be better at tracking several objects at once and making snap decisions. That could be useful playing sports, but Nelson suggests it could be a benefit for even more mundane tasks.

“If you're playing ‘Halo’ with friends,” he says, “you need to track where they all are and to distinguish them from non-threatening things. Thus, video game players just may be able to find their keys faster in a messy room.”

To Improve Spatial Perception:

Second, games with heavy 3-D graphics can bestow better spatial perception. The immersive experience of “Super Monkey Ball” constantly forces players to imagine depth of field. That could come in handy in drafting or graphic design.

“What I can say with a fair amount of confidence is that for any task that uses a graphical user interface, video games can certainly help,” says Lynch.

To Improve Reaction Time:

Finally, racing games like “Supercar Challenge” may have an effect on reaction time. Surgeons in Lynch’s study who played “Star Wars Racer Revenge” were quicker with their scalpels than those who didn’t.

So in light of the potential benefits, should you schedule more quality time with your PS3? Not quite. As Nelson’s research showed, games that emphasize one goal (say, speed) may cause you to sacrifice another (accuracy). He also warns of other consequences: “There may be other larger trade-offs, such as depression or a loss of social life -- but that's a bigger issue.”