Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Plagiarism or coincidence? You decide

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Just ran across this post today at one of my favorite sites, The Digital Lifesyle, and at first I was thrilled to see somoene appreciate the hard work Warren, Andy, and I put into automatically converting mkv files to dvr-ms. But then after reading through the entire post I noticed that nor my name or Engadget’s was anywhere to be found. Now maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but it seems like too much of a coincidence for this not to be a derivative work. Now I’m accustomed to being ripped off online, but usually it is some hack site and not a reputable place like Ian’s site.


Ian was very responsive to my concerns and has pulled the post — but yet the link still works. Never the less,  the original author has added credit to his post on his blog, but in a way that seems half-hearted to me. But perhaps that is because the intent of his comment was lost in the British to American translation.

There’s nothing I can’t do, just things I haven’t done yet

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

If you know me, you know I love a challenge. One of my oldest friends that I met in college, Dave — aka Utah — actually makes fun of me because anything I choose to pursue I become an expert in. I’ve seen this happen over the years ever since I was 15 years old when my older brother got his first car and I helped him install a new stereo. Within months I was a 12v expert and actually worked as an installer for various companies including Circuit City for almost 5 years.

Eventually stereos got old and my next love was automotive performance. This was far more challenging as I had to learn the ins and out of compression ratios, value overlap, and clearances. But this wasn’t enough either and I eventually became an expert in swapping engines. We’d order used Japanese market (JDM) engines from various importers and install them into our cars. The most popular was the Honda Civic because while the Civic in the US only had 125hp, the JDM engines were over 160hp — this might not sound like much, but it is when you’re talking about a 2500lb car. This actually lead me to start my own business with my good friend Shaun Torrente. We called it Upgrade Performance, but eventually had to do business as NRG (long story). My specialty was wiring because while many could buy (or fabricate) the appropriate mounts, rewiring a modern EFI system isn’t as easy. I’d create custom harnesses that would make it possible to put just about any engine in any car — as long as it was a Honda that is. I’d pride myself on making my custom harnesses look as much like an original as possible. It was challenging at first, but after you’ve done a few, it becomes mandane. A few times I even made custom ECU adapters so that people could use a better computer from a different car. This consisted of a trip to the junk yard to find donor plugs and an old ECU. You’d cut them out and solder all the pins to the correct location for the other car. So for example an Idle Air Control valve might be C4 on a 92 Civic, but on a 97 Integra Type-R it was A5. Sounds easy but there was like 100 pins and not everything had the exact same name.

The way I did this is the same way I’ve attacked every technical challenge in my life, by reading the directions. It seems odd to me that everyone doesn’t have the aptitude to pick up a book and just make things happen. This is actually how I’ve become successful in IT as well. I’ve excelled because no matter what the problem is, I can solve it. In fact I find technical support and formal training boring and in some ways stifling because usually I can figure it out or train myself faster. 

As you can imagine, when  you have as many interests as I do and such a thirst for knowledge, you want to share it. This is how I got involved at Engadget and on the various forums where I try to contribute. But this same helpful nature also has a downside. To some I can come off as a “know-it-all.” The irony is that I just want to help, but through the years I’ve found more gracious ways. I remember when I was kid, I got so sick of being called a know-it-all I actually came up with a come-back — remember those, they were great — in which i would respond “I know a little about just about everything, and I know a lot about a few things, but I’ll never know everything about anything.” Yeah I know, real cool right? But you have to admit it’s better than “I’m rubber you’re glue….”

Anyways, I’m not quite sure why I felt like sharing this today, but if you like it, you may like my other philosphical posts. If not, then you probably didn’t make it to the end anyways.

Legacy Locker — why didn’t I think of that?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

When you have kids you start to think differently. You start to think about life insurance, wills, and a bunch of other sad stuff — which is kinda ironic when you think about how much joy kids can bring. 

Now if I was at least half as smart as my friend Jeremy Toemen, when I had my first child a few years ago I would’ve thought about how I’d deal with all my online posossions. We’ve all heard horror stories about loved ones trying to obtain access things as simple as an email account, but imagine how many online accounts you have. Now try to figure out what is going to happen to all of it when you pass on. I know, what a mess. 

What is cool is that Legacy Locker has a pretty comprehsive solution, which unfortuntely it isn’t live just yet, but don’t let that stop you from signing up so you’ll get notified when it is.

Who is there right mind would buy TV Shows from Apple?

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

I went cableless just over a month ago, so as you’d expect, I’m looking for new ways to get content. Now we all know there’s no way I’m going to watch SD, so besides OTA HD and Blu-ray Discs via Netflix, I’m looking to fill some gaps.

One of those gaps is a few shows on HD cable that I actually enjoy like Battlestar Galactica and Burn Notice. So like any Apple TV owner I figured I might as well check out the HD show selection. But man, what a rip! I mean $2.99 a show or like over $40 a season. That is a total ripoff. It’s not like I’m going to watch them more than once. No way I’m paying that much, even for one show. Seriously, how backwards is it that you can only rent HD movies and buy HD shows?

The unbelievable part to me is that not only do some actually buy ’em, but some of the same shows are available for free — and in better quality — via OTA HD. I just don’t get it.

You’ll have to excuse me now while I go load up my favorite torrent program. I figure it’s either that, or wait another 6 months until I can rent the Blu-ray versions on Netflix.

Xbox 360 arrived, got bit by the Seagate 1TB bug

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

I was very happy to finally get my Xbox 360 so I could move my Media Center PC into the office. My UPS guy comes really late so by the time I got it and had a chance to set everything up, it was after 8 o’clock. Tuesday is a big recording night for us — my wife mostly — so I had to put off moving the XPS until after 11 when all the recordings were done. So I shut it down and moved it to the already prepared location, hooked it up to my Apple Cinema display — which just seems wrong — and turned it on. And would’nt you know it, it wouldn’t boot. Long story short, I got bit by the Seagate 1TB 7200.11 bug. To make matters worse I couldn’t even detect the drive to do the firmware update. So who knows how long it will take to RMA it and there goes all my recordings. For now I can record on my other drive, but with only 200GB of free space, it isn’t going to get me very far. I should’ve known better than to mess with computers when it was time to bed because everything was all said and done I got to sleep after 1am.

As for using the 360 as an extender, so far so good. I was able to find some discrete IR codes for on and off. Unfortunately as I suspected the fans are too loud, even when in the furniture, so I went ahead and ordered these replacements. I’ll let you know how that swap goes when I get it in. I find it hilarious that the fans were only $25, but the tools to replace them were $12. Oh well, $50 is a small price to pay for some peace and quiet while I watch TV. I also hook the 360 up to my kill-a-watt and was surprised to see that it draws over 100 watts while watching TV, which just seems crazy.

Overall I’m happy, I can finally easily turn off the overscan, I get my closet back, I can now tweak my Media Center from the comfort of my office chair and there isn’t a keyboard or mouse anywhere near my living room.

There is no place for a computer in my home theater

Monday, January 26th, 2009

It’s been about 10 months since I switched from TiVo to Vista Media Center and I’m happy to say I don’t regret my decision, but have learned alot and the biggest lesson is that there is no place in my home theater for a computer. So after all this time, I’ve ordered an Xbox 360 with the intent to use it as an extender in my main home theater — I’d go with another DMA2100, but I really like the animated transitions.

It’s really funny that I recently came to this conclusion as today my friend Brent Evans basically posted about the same thing today on Geek Tonic. I couldn’t agree more with his points and will be moving my XPS 420 into my office — it’s in a closet near my HT now. But in addition to Brent’s, here are a few of my personal pain points about having a computer in my living room.

  • Turing off overscan in Vista Media Center is a PITA and borderline impossible.
  • The screensaver situation. I’d love to go into this, but my trials and tribulations would take up another post all alone, so lets just say it doesn’t work.
  • Judder, jitter messy video. I’ve tried many things and still have issues.
  • Having a mouse or keyboard near the couch is a bag of hurt.

I think the HTPC as we know it is dead and instead the computer will be the central storage and collection device. The best thing already headed in this direction is Sage TV’s Windows Home Server version. I think that what every PC DVR software out there needs to do is move to the extender model with a headless server hidden away.

I that that Microsoft should do at this point is to build the backend DVR functionality into Windows Home Server. This would be the perfect compliment to the already great media collection features. In order for it to work though, it’d have to support every Media Center tuner, including CableCARD tuners and the upcoming satellite tuners. In theory it’d be more stable and easier to support because it would be relatively free of 3rd party applications. Of course to make this really useful, we’d need to be able to watch live TV on any Media Center computer in the house.

I could’ve fixed Circuit City

Friday, January 16th, 2009

I know it sounds conceded to think I could’ve fixed Circuit City, but I really believe it. Not sure how many know that installing and selling car stereos was my first job out of high school and that I worked there for about three years. I knew the company had problems was back then when we’d have sales training like “how not to bait and switch” which basically amounted to “how to bait and switch without breaking any state laws.” I remember being asked to do things in regards to customers that conflicted with my personal ethics and I’d nod and say okay, then turn around and do the right thing for the customer anyways. After all the customer was the real reason I was there — and I was too cocky to believe I’d ever be fired and evidently I was right.

Overall it was a good college job; I made some great friends, and a good living — sure beat the hell out of delivering pizza — but I always thought that eventually the problems would be addressed. I knew I was wrong when almost everyone I knew at the big red plug was fired in 2003 and for the dumbest reason in the world; they were the best employees. So instead of training — or reversing the previous bad training — some of the most knowledgeable people in retail how to treat customers fairly, no matter what the commission, they were old laid off. Nice.

It isn’t hard to connect the dots on what will happen after you kill the only good thing you had going. I have to say I’m a little sad though, but at the same time take a little solace in the fact that I recognized the problems way back then. If I ever start my own business, you can bet I won’t make the same mistake though.

Windows Home Server Rocks!

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

It’s no secret that I’m a Mac lovin’ Windows hater, but man things are really turning around at Redmond as earlier this year I switched from TiVo to Vista Media Center and now this week I deployed my first Windows Home Server.

As a computer network profesional the idea of having a server at home has always apeal to me, but for many reasons I never persued it. But when I started to receive memory errors on the last XP box in my house that I use as a Home Automation controller, I once again considered running a server. I was delighted to learn that Windows Home Server is really just Windows Server 2003 with a few really cool utilities for the home and a resonable price. So not only could I run Mainlobby on the box, but I could also use it to backup and remotely access my Media Center and my wife’s Vaio laptop — no I still haven’t converted her.

For hardware I went with a MSI Wind PC from Newegg — thanks Warren, for the suggestion — which sells for an unbelievably low $139. To this I added a $21 2GB stick of ram and the original 250GB SATA HDD from the Series3 I sold to Tyler that was lying around. Add in another $94 for an OEM copy of WHS and I got myself a whole lot of utility for $254. To top it off, the small box will fit in my structured wiring cabinet which fits nicely into my plans to reclaim my closet from my electronics — more about that to come.

I was able to install WHS and all the agents on my two Windows computers in no time, and already feel better that the machines are being backed up. The only problem I have is that I can’t use the remote desktop application at work because port 4125 is blocked — man do I wish I could tunnel this over ssl — and I haven’t quite figured out how to get Time Machine to backup to a network drive — yes I tried iTimemachine. The most impressive thing so far though is the included dynamic DNS feature and the free trusted SSL certificate.

I’m not 100 percent migrated over from my old XP box yet, but I’m getting there. Hopefully this weekend I’ll have a chance to decommishion the old box once I get ML tested. Stay tunned.

I actually did it, I canceled cable TV

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

I can’t believe I actually did it, but I canceled cable (FiOS TV actually), but not for the reasons you think. I have to say it feels weird and I fill a little disconnected, which is very odd since I really didn’t watch it much. But there is something comforting about knowing there are 100 HD channels at my service if I get bored. But then again, that comfort isn’t worth $60 a month.

As for the why, no it isn’t because I’m going to get my content from the internet. Because unlike college kids, the nicest display I own isn’t on my laptop and once you are accustomed to HD, it’s hard to go back.

I canceled because I realized that without Football, all I watch is broadcast TV and movies. So I can get all the OTA HD I want for free on my Vista Media Center with an antenna, and all the HD movies I can watch for $21/mo from Netflix.

Now that’s not to say I’m never going to watch Netflix watch instantly on my new LG BD300, or that I won’t download anything else via other means. But after selling my two CableCARD tuners (thanks Robert) and not paying $60 a month to Verizon for the next eight months, the $880 I saved was more than enough to pick up a new Pioneer VSX-91TXH AV Receiver which features both TrueHD and DTS-HD decoding.

So today is the first day of my life without cable TV — and counting.

For Sale: two ATI Digital Cable Tuners (CableCARD)

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

When I realized how much money I was wasting on pay TV, I decided to cancel FiOS after football season and go all OTA and Blu-ray via Netflix. And although I plan to add it back when football season comes around again, because technology changes so fast I’m going to go ahead and sell the tuners now and just buy ’em again when needed — assuming something better doesn’t come out by then.

So I have two like-new ATI Digital Cable Tuners that I’d like $200 for, each. I was just going to put them on eBay but figured someone I know might want them and prefer to buy them from someone they know. I have all the original accessories and box which I will of course include. It goes without saying that these will only work with an OEM Digital Cable Ready PC, but if you want to figure out how to hack the firmware, I’ll let you try the product key that came with my XPS 420 (not for sale).

UPDATE, I sold both of these already.