Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

How do you clean your screens? Here’s how I do it

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Between TVs, computers, tablets and phones, we spend a lot of our days looking at screens. And I can’t tolerate staring at a dirty screen. While glass touchscreen devices are the easiest to clean, usually getting away with a quick rub on your pants or shirt, laptops and TVs can be very tricky. Of course the best way is to not get it dirty in the first place, but between kids, sneezes and rude-screen-touchers, it happens. Here’s how I clean mine.

I start with two lint-free microfiber cleaning cloths; one damp one dry. First I wipe in circular motion with the damp cloth until I’m confident that I’ve removed all the grime and fingerprints. Then I quickly follow up  and dry it with the dry one. On large screens like a TV, it can be necessary to use both cloths at the same time, else parts of the screen might air dry before you get to it, which will leave water spots.

Although I’m happy with the results, I’m curious if I’m doing it the hard way. So how do you clean your screens?

The state of personal finance software on the Mac is terrible

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

I switched to a Mac in early 2005 and although I don’t see myself ever willingly going back to Windows at home (I use it at work), the one area that makes me wish I was on a PC is personal finance software. I’ve been a Quicken user since 2000 and have enjoyed the benefits of easily tracking my spending, budgeting, online bill pay and cash flow forecasting for almost all of my adult life. I can still remember pondering the switch to Mac and thinking, “oh great, they have Quicken for Mac.” But that was the last time I thought of a product from Intuit in a positive light. Converting from Quicken for PC to Mac was one of the most difficult software migrations I’ve ever done — and I do them for a living. I spent countless hours on the phone with support trying to figure out why my registrars didn’t balance when I imported my qif files — no, Intuit doesn’t support a direct import, but rather you export everything and import it back in. In the end I made the transition and missed the superior PC version of Quicken, holding my breath as Intuit released paid upgrades to its Mac product, only to realize none of my beefs were addressed.

But hey, at least it worked and it had many of the same features I had in the PC world, that was until Lion came along. Faced with the choice to upgrade to Quicken Essentials or to not upgrade to Lion, I bit the bullet and hoped for the best. That hope was unfounded as I lost access to one of my favorite features, online bill pay. For the past 10 years I’ve entered a transaction into Quicken and had it paid by my bank automatically, but not anymore. Now I have to enter the transaction into my bank’s website and then enter it again into Quicken — if I wait for the transaction to clear, which will enter it automatically, I don’t have the ability to forecast my cash flow. That is bad enough, but the budget tool in Quicken Essentials does not work, I won’t go over the details here, but the issues are well documented in the Intuit community forums.

And so last month I decided to get serious about budgeting and while a spreadsheet does a pretty decent job at a high level, tracking my day-to-day spending against the budget on a spreadsheet is anything but workable. At first I tried HomeBudget for the iPhone and while it was ok, I found it tedious to enter each transaction manually since it doesn’t link to my bank account. Then there was the Mint upgrade this month, which added budget features, so I figured now was a time to try it again. Mint is actually pretty good at keeping tracking of spending with a great iPhone app and website. I can quickly open it on the go and categorize my spending and see how I’m doing vs my goals in that category. I haven’t tried it a whole month yet, but I’m hopeful it’ll fit this specific need. The problem is, it only fits this one need, and not all my needs as it doesn’t do cash flow forecasting, at all, or bill pay. I can’t even work on a budget until the month begins — typically I like to get it worked out at least a few days in advanced.

So here I am over two years after Quicken Essentials was released realizing that Intuit is never going to fix it, never going to add online bill pay and never going to add an iPhone app that syncs automatically. So instead I’m using four applications to do what I used to do with a single app (bank site for bill pay, Quicken Essentials for cash flow forecasting and reconciliation, Mint to track day-to-day spending, and Google Docs for my monthly budget).

HBO is not worth $17 a month

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

I canceled HBO today, again. I decided HBO wasn’t worth it to me after upgrading to HD back in ’04 and they continued to crop movies and normalize sound today. Despite HBO continuing this practice, HBO Go and three months free pulled me back in last year. The thing is the free months are over and while $17 a month isn’t going to make a significant impact to my budget, I just don’t use it. The movies are still unwatchable and the original programming is still too few and far between. Even with HBO promising to add 5.1 to HBO Go, I doubt I’ll ever choose to watch it over waiting and renting the Blu-rays. Ultimately it just comes down to me not seeing the value and part of that is because of the competing services from Netflix — I’m not talking about Netflix streaming wither which as far as I’m concerned is “just for he kids.” I’m talking about the Netflix tried and true disc business. For $1 more a  month than HBO charges, I get to watch 1+ new release movie a week in the greatest sound and picture quality available today, and my kids get to watch all the Hello Kitty and Thomas Trains episodes I’ll allow; on the big screen, my cell phone or our tablet. With all that, who has time to watch HBO?

How to reset Windows 7 Media Center

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

This is the darker side of Windows Media Center, the side that exposes you’re using a PC for a DVR. But it’s also the type of thing you can fix yourself pretty easily if you know how.

You know how it goes though, everything starts snappy and responsive and then months later you’re wondering exactly what plug-in you installed that made everything seemingly slow down. So you check your overall system health and then disable or uninstall all the plug-ins that might be to blame. But then what? If none of that works, how do you restore your system to its original glory without punting on 1st down (re-installing Windows)?

Luckily Windows 7 Media Center is pretty easy to reset and get back to where you were — sans the bad parts. This won’t take you an hour and the hardest part is setting up your custom guide settings. The best part is your scheduled recordings can be restored easily.

One last thing before we get started. Use at your own risk! This worked for me, but might not for you.

Start by stopping all the Media Center services like
Media Extender Service and Windows Media Center Receiver Service.

Then open task manager and kill all the processes that start with eh.

Now you should be able to move all the content of the hidden folder C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\eHome\ to a safe place. (you’ll need the contents later to restore your scheduled recordings. You can use mcBackup to ensure you have the files you need, but the eHome directory still needs to be empty to reset Media Center.)

Reboot (you might be able to start the services here, didn’t try).

Launch Media Center and re-run live tv setup. After all your tuners are configured, setup your custom channel lineup manually.

After you have the guide the way you like it, dig into the eHome files you moved and sort by date finding the newest mcepg*-* folder. Inside there you’ll find a backup folder and in there a recordings directory. Sorting that folder by date will reveal the newest backup. (If the time stamp got reset you can look at the name which is year,month,day_hour,seconds).

Now open a cmd prompt and run this command replacing the location of your backup file. Or restore your recordings with mcBackup.

“C:\Windows\ehome\loadmxf.exe –i C:\Users\MC\Documents\eHome\mcepg2-3\backup\recordings\20100529_091633”

Finally launch Media Center and go to Settings>TV>Guide>Get Latest Guide Listings
A dialog will let you know they’re downloading and later another when the download is complete. Now go to Scheduled Recordings all your shows should be listed.

This worked perfectly for me and documenting the process took longer than the process itself. Best of all most of my Media Center settings were intact as well as all my plugins I wanted to keep. And my guide loads quickly, an undeleteable Recordings is gone and Media Center doesn’t take forever to launch anymore.

On a personal note, sorry for such long periods between posts. It isn’t that I’ve been really busy as much as that I’ve been preoccupied with personal things that I haven’t shared — like the fact that I’m trying to become debt free which means I don’t have any new gadgets to write about and the fact that I’m four months through six months of physical therapy after having knee surgery.

Oh how people can change: Me and 3D

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

There is a lot of negativity around 3D and I feel like I’m defending it at every corner. Well my friend Mari won’t let me forget about this snarky email I sent her on March 25th of 2009 in response to a pitch for a 3D story she did on — this was after I saw the 3D presentation of the National Championship game, but before I saw Avatar and other 3D demos from Panasonic, etc.

The day they launch Engadget3D is the day I quit. Honestly there aren’t any Engadget HD editors who like 3D and it shows in our content. If you go through all our 3D related posts, you’d be hard pressed to find one that wasn’t negative. I think the most positive one was at CES when I said it wasn’t nearly as lame as I thought it would be.

As you can see, the perspective on 3D of the other Engadget HD editors and I has changed quite a bit in the past 9 months. And if we can change you can change. We can all change. It really does grow on you, I’m telling you, this 3D thing is going to be big.

Canceling cable: the failed experiment

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Last April I told you about how I canceled cable and was living on over-the-air HD and Blu-ray Discs for my families HD needs. At the time my plan was to add cable in time for football season. It was a great plan and it kind of worked, but I did fail to consider one thing; at Engadget I write about cable related technologies. My first clue was actually not long after my post here about my first 90 days of success when Digeo sent me a Moxi HD DVR for review. At that point my plan was to add the service back in order to do the review and then to cancel it again, but that turned out to be too much of a pain since Verizon requires I send the CableCARD back when I cancel, which of course means another truck roll the next time I need service. But despite this I was still prepared to call and cancel right after CES, but by the time I got back I realized that in the next six months there would be at least three or four new CableCARD devices I’d like to review, so I decided to give up on the idea.

The bottom line is that I love me some football in HD, so I can’t ever see myself going without cable year round, and with the hassle involved in canceling and signing back up, the $327 a year ($62 for 7 months minus $110 savings for signing a contract) I’d save just isn’t worth it — not to mention I plan to expense the majority of the cost to offset my blogging income. I suspect for many it just isn’t worth it either. Sure there is lots of content out there available via other legal means, but the bottom line is that when it comes down to it, cable really isn’t that bad of a deal considering all the HD viewing options you get for the price.

Quoted on

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Thanks to my friend Craig Eugea I noticed I was quoted in an article. You know it really never gets old to see your name in print. It has been some time for me as well. In fact the last one of my quotes to be used — because everyone knows I always have something to say — was back in January of ’08 at the end of the format war. Anyways, I was glad I had a chance to defend plasma’s honor in such a pro-LED LCD TV article and honestly the fact that it was included makes me rethink my opinion of MSNBC in general.

I’m giving up on my MacBook Air

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

I’m pretty upset today because I finally decided to give up on my beloved MacBook Air. It’s been a love hate relationship almost since the very beginning, but the frustration I experienced while trying to record the podcast recently has thrown me over the edge. Those that listen to the show live on Tuesdays know that I have to put an ice pack under the Air while I record or it’ll over heat and ruin the recording. This is just so absurd but believe me I’ve researched it plenty and came to the conclusion that the Air simply isn’t designed properly and thus the CPU can’t even come close to running 80% for any extended period of time without overheating (kernel_task uses up all the cycles).

So I finally broke down today and bought a 13-inch MacBook Pro. Ultimately it came down to be being less superficial than I usually am when it comes to computers and swallowing my pride. You see I just hate the idea of buying another laptop with a useless optical drive. So while I’ll almost never use the DVD drive I’m now faced with carrying around, at least I’ll have the following perks. No overheating, no loud fan running all the time, two USB ports, a Firewire 800 port to capture HDV with, an SD slot (which in effect frees up another USB port), about 30% more battery life, another 80GB of disc space, and some much appreciated performance. And for this I gave up about $100, a 20-inch Apple Cinema display, and about 1.5lbs to carry around when I travel. Seems like a good trade, but I miss my Air already; dammit Apple.

90 days (and counting) without cable TV

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Back in December when I wrote about how I canceled cable, I received some greate encouragement and was solicited for updates. Well obviously I haven’t done so since, but after over three months my family doesn’t miss cable at all. Well, that isn’t completely true as there have been a few times when I thought about how I’d like to have cable, but then I remember that I’m saving $60 a month and I forget about whatever it was I wanted to watch. 

Over-the-air and Blu-ray Discs via Netflix.
I get almost all of my content from two places. Over-the-air provides most of our content and my kids are actually very pleased with the cartoons on PBS and hardly miss the Disney Channel — although I do bring up YouTube on occasion so my daughter can watch The Wiggles. We watch the nightly news and network TV shows like Lost and for the most part get to see everything we want. We watch about two or three Blu-ray Discs from Netflix each week, and have not once used the Watch Now feature on the BD300 or purchased a single show on the Apple TV or Xbox 360.

The missing piece.
The one missing piece is some premium TV shows on HBO and SciFi HD that have yet to be released on Blu-ray. I don’t mind waiting an extra 6 months for a series to be released on Blu-ray, but when the show is only released on DVD, it really drives me nuts. Luckily this scenario seems to be going away as more and more TV shows are coming to Blu-ray, but until then, we’ll have to find other ways to watch our shows.

Various sources
Most know my friends Warren and Andy helped me create a process to automatically download and convert shows for Media Center and while I had tons of fun working on the project — and continue to work on a version for movies — I have to admit I stopped using it because I felt guilty about watching the one or two shows I don’t have access to just to save some money. So from now on, I’ll just wait until the shows are released on Blu-ray to watch them.

With about five months to go until the FSU Seminoles open up the college football season against the Miami Hurricanes on ESPN HD, I’ll end up not having cable for 8 months which is about $500. This still seems like a good idea, but at the same time I dread adding the service back and dealing with an installer, etc. So while it makes sense this year, I’m still not 100% sure I’ll do it all again next year. I suppose it depends on what happens with DirecTV and Media Center, because with DirecTV canceling and adding service is super easy. But if the DirecTV Media Center tuner isn’t ready by September, then I’ll have to go back to FiOS. And although FiOS has fantastic quality and selection of HD, their service dispatch system is quite possibly the worst in the industry.

My electronics in pictures

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

One of the commenters on the Engadget HD Podcast recently asked me to do this so here goes. It’s been over two years since I did a post like this and I have to say I’m amazed at how much of my equipment is the same and at the same time, how much is different.

My equipment list

  • Pioneer PDP-6010FD (Kuro)
  • Saphire towers and center
  • Speakercraft surrounds
  • XPS 420 running Vista Media Center
  • LG BD300 Blu-ray player
  • HDHomeRun
  • Xbox 360
  • Pioneer Elite VSX-91TX AV receiver
  • 32″ Sharp Aquas — Linksys DMA2100
  • 19″ Sharp Aquas — Linksys DMA2100
  • OrigenAE rc197 Remotes in each room
  • Elk M1-Gold alarm
  • Global Cache GC-100
  • MSI Wind PC running WHS
  • Insteon Dimmers (about 14)
  • ISY-99 Insteon Controller
  • HAI thermostat
  • MacBook Air
  • Latitude D430
  • 20″ cinema Display
  • Actiontec MI424-WR FiOS WiFi router