Browsing the blog archives for December, 2009.


Leverage

Television

I have found a new show that I am really enjoying. Leverage. This show is a crime caper show with a Robin Hood type mentality with the good guys being bad guys being good guys to help the little guy. Got it? It’s a really good show with some really good storylines and a lot of humor.

Netflix has both seasons 1 and 2 with Season 3 coming up this spring. It comes on TNT and since we don’t have cable, I haven’t really heard much about it, but Netflix recommended it and they were right on.

So, just to let you know that if you like crime shows, but not necessarily the hardcore dramas, you really might like Leverage. At least I really do.

1 Comment

How do you shop for tech?

Web/Tech


Creative Commons License photo credit: {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}

I do a lot of research for many different people in my life where I am the research person when it comes to technology. And as you are reading this blog, I would say you are much in the same boat. My question I pose to you is this. How do you shop for Tech? How do you know what is the best thing out there in the price you are looking at? Do you just go to Newegg, get rid of the features you don’t want out of a product, and then tell someone that you have found the perfect item for them? Or do you go to review sites and read up before even looking at prices?
Here is my way of going through sites to look at consumer electronics.

First, I go to Cnet and read/watch the reviews of the products and see what is out there. They normally have a nice list of their editor’s picks to choose from, then I look through those and see what looks like the best bets in the range I am looking at. Within that review, they will normally reference features of other products, which lead me to the reviews of other products that are similar, but have different feature sets. Another newer contender in this space is GDGT. This site is a community for gadget lovers and owners. This is where you can find people who own a specific product and ask them their thoughts. It is also a database where you can choose the features you want in a product and it will filter to find the appropriate product for you. The newest, and slickest, contender in this space is Measy. This site currently only helps with TV’s, Cameras, netbooks, and smartphones, but does it extremely well. I don’t know how big of a pool of devices it is pulling from, but it is a very sweet interface and works quite well.

Next, I check Google for the products that I like and see what user reviews I can find. Most of the time, I get the most user reviews from Amazon, but that isn’t set in stone, so Google is a better place to go than just to Amazon. And Cnet has user reviews as well, so it is a good resource for user and editor reviews of lots of products. Then if I don’t like what I see, then I go back to Cnet and look at other products on the same lists and reviews.

But if I do like what I see, then I go to Google Product Search to see what some of the best prices are on these items on the net. I then sort by price, lowest to highest, and look for the lowest price on the product itself.

When I find the lowest price, I then look to see the seller rating on Bizrate to make sure they are a credible vendor with enough of a background for me to risk buying from them. Obviously sometimes there are vendors that I know are big enough where I don’t do this, but for smaller vendors, you almost have to.

At that point, it is all up to the final price after shipping and handling to find out where my best deal is and where I should order from.

So, did I miss anything? Do you have a better way of shopping? Let me know in the comments.

No Comments

The Ideal Home Network

Web/Tech

Too many cables
Creative Commons License photo credit: KIUI staff

I have been thinking a bit lately about what my ideal home network would look like. What kind of toys and tech would it take to fill all of my needs at home in the most efficient/coolest way possible? I got the idea from a recent video tour of Mark Pendergrast’s, who is a Microsoft employee and product manager, home where he showed off a lot of his toys. And though it was neat to see how a Microsoft employee would do things, it was a bit underwhelming. I have embedded the video below. Pretty neat to see, but nothing really that awe inspiring.


Get Microsoft Silverlight

So here are my thoughts on the matter and the list of rooms that the device would typically be used or placed in. This is going to sound more like my wish list than anything just because in an ideal world, everyone would have all of these tools at their disposal so that they would be as wired as they wanted.

Home Office – I want to start here because this is where most people tend to think that all computer stuff should go. That isn’t really the case anymore as the home computer, especially the laptop, has really come out into the rest of the home. The items that you really need here are more of your back-end stuff that you don’t really care if people see or not.  So, the items you would put here are your

  • Internet Connection and Wireless Router – This is where your internet connection should come in. It is accessible if you need a wired internet line, and can be serviced easily if something breaks and you need your ISP to come out and help you.  I would suggest any router that can run the DD-WRT software as it allows your router to do a lot more, a lot more efficiently. It is also useful for our next item on the list.
  • Windows Home Server – I know I just wrote about this a few days ago, but I am in love with this little beast. It does everything on a home network that your corporate IT guys have to do manually. If it was available on a larger scale, I would be in love with this thing for business. It backs up all of your computers, holds all of your files so you can share with family and friends, and with all of the additional software you can load, it becomes even more powerful. It will even serve up a web site so that you can share media with family outside of your home network if you have family pictures or documents that you want to share. There are a few different pre-built servers that are great. Low priced entry-level ones and high priced, fully featured ones. One of the best parts is that these things are tiny. No bigger than a couple of books.
  • Wireless Multifunction Printer – Everyone should have some sort of printer at home, and really should have a scanner at home as well. But not everyone has the time, patience, and knowledge to be able to setup that printer for printing from a laptop in another room through a desktop. But you don’t necessarily want your printer in a main area of the house taking up space and being a general eye-sore.  So, these Wireless Multifunction printers are wonderful for making it easy and not having to have an extra computer running all of the time just so it can be a print server. Some even allow printing directly from iPhones or iPod touches.
  • HD Home Run – This is probably one of the cooler items on the list just by sheer usage. This little device sits wherever your over the air high definition signal comes in and broadcasts it over your wireless internet throughout your home so that you can watch TV from any machine in your home, and even record it with the Windows Media Center software built into our kitchen computer.

Kitchen – This is probably one of the cooler places for tech and it would be used so much that you would wonder how you ever did without it.

  • HP Touchsmart computer – There are a couple of hurdles you have to get past when you introduce a computer into the kitchen. The first is the stigma of computers still being for word processing alone, but also the input has changed many times so a keyboard and mouse are not the only way to use a computer. The new HP Touchsmart PC’s have an amazing interface for kitchen computing. It allows you to touch the screen and browse through whatever you are interested in without having to touch the keys of a keyboard or buttons of a mouse. They are especially setup for kitchens because they have a recipe application that will allow you to browse websites like food.com and if you find a recipe you like, it will add it to your recipe book where it is formatted for the touchsmart so you can find and use the recipe quickly and easily. There is a lower priced model and a higher priced model. Take your pick.

Living Room – This is where most people actually see your technology. This is your entertainment hub, as well as the place you spend the most time, so this is the area where you need to be comfortable and have all of the tools you available to you that are needed on a daily usage basis.

  • Xbox 360 – This little device is getting more and more usable in the main entertainment areas. With the promise of Project Natal and the recent additions, including Last.fm, Netflix, Facebook, and Twitter, it is a really nice device. Not to mention that it is a Windows Media Center Extender where you can play all of the movies, music, and photos on the TV over the network from your home server, and with the HD Home Run, you can record TV shows to watch later.  Plus, it is a great gaming device and nice DVD player.
  • HDTV – Whatever size, whatever brand, you have to have a nice HDTV in your living room for viewing all of your content from the comfort of your couch. 1080p is a standard these days, so in order to get the most out of your TV, make sure it has all of the features you want so you don’t feel like you settled.
  • Receiver – Whatever receiver you get, you need to make sure that it has all of the connections you could possibly need for your home theater experience to be all it can be.
  • Wii – I highly recommend adding a Wii to your living room. It is by far the best party console to date. With the movement controller, and the games that cater to groups, it really makes things a lot more fun when people come over. Plus it is easier to just pickup and play than any other console.
  • Tivo – This one may not be needed according to whether  you want to use Windows Media Center for everything or if you just want to use it for a few of the entertainment pieces it can offer. I know a lot of people who just can’t live without Tivo, and I can’t blame them. It is the de facto DVR for recording shows and streaming content.
  • Harmony Remote Control – There is nothing more frustrating than trying to figure out how to watch something when you have too many things hooked up to the TV and can’t figure out which input the receiver should be on and which the TV should be on. The Harmony remotes are made to rectify this exact issue. I have an older Harmony, but it works just as well as any of the new ones. You figure out what input has what device attached one time, set it up on the computer and plugin the remote. Then everything configures itself and you are a single button push away from doing whatever you want on your home theater. So easy your kids could do it.
  • Laptop – Most households are going the way of the laptop as it is more versatile and portable than the desktop. Plus, who doesn’t love being able to sit in front of the TV and surf instead of being in a far away room trying to find something on the internet. No matter the make or model, this is an extremely nice addition to any couch surfer. Plus it can be used for more strenuous tasks like word processing, media editing, and downloading media.
  • Internet Tablet – This is one that most families don’t have, or at least don’t think about having. The best current example of an internet tablet is the iPod touch. It is a simple, single functioning device that can be used for surfing the web easily without thinking about maintenance to the device or how often you reboot it. It is always on and easy to use for reference.  No other good shipping examples are really out there right now, though real life examples are the Archos and Nokia tablets, but many are in development and will be available in the next year like the Camangi WebStation, the rumored Apple iTablet, and JooJoo, previously known as the Crunchpad. The Netbook could be posited here, but it is a bit more on the laptop side than you need for a tablet and would require more backups and maintenance than is needed for an internet tablet.

Bedroom – You could say that you don’t want tech in your bedroom, which would be fine, but there are some definite enhancements that can be made to the bedroom if you allow the right tech in.

  • Smaller HDTV – TV’s are so cheap these days that you can get a 19″ HDTV for under $200. So, if you want to watch TV, movies, or anything else in the bedroom, these are readily available.
  • Windows Media Center Extender – This will allow you to watch all of the content from your media center computer in the kitchen easily. That means recorded TV, live TV, music, movies, plus most of the extenders are DVD players as well.
  • Roku – Since Windows Media Center Extenders don’t yet support Netflix, this is a nice device to have that is small and allows you to stream your internet content from Netflix, Amazon, and lots of other fun channels directly to your bedroom.
  • Chumby – The Chumby is one of those devices that you aren’t sure how you’d use it until you get it. Then when you get it, you can’t live without it. It is small, portable, and does so many cool things besides just being your bedside alarm clock. Plus since the price of the Chumby One is only $99 bucks now, it is a really nice addition to the bedroom.

So, here is my question. Did I miss something? Is there anything that I should have added to the list that I didn’t? Does anyone out there actually have all of these toys to play with? If so, when can I come over and check it out? Let me know in the comments.

No Comments

The Chumby One – Cheaper but just as wonderful

Current Affairs, Web/Tech

A few months back Chumby announced the Chumby One. We got ours in just before Thanksgiving and I am loving mine.

Let me tell you what a Chumby is exactly. It is an internet connected, touch screen, wifi alarm clock with 1,500 different widgets you can add to personalize it and use however you see fit. Sarah got me a Chumby last year for Christmas and I have really enjoyed it, but it is kind of a pain to take it back and forth to work everyday if I want to use it in the office. Plus Sarah had stolen mine so that she could have multiple alarms at night when Lyla nurses without changing it every time. I wanted a digital picture frame for the office, but when I saw the price drop on the new Chumby I knew it would be a digital picture frame and so much more. So I told Sarah that the new Chumby One was only going to be half the price at $99 and it does pretty much everything that the old Chumby did. The only major changes they made were taking away one speaker, one USB port, and it is no longer a beanbag device, but more of a standard alarm clock look. Other than that, the functionality is the same, and they even added an external volume knob, and an FM radio.  You can see from the picture below the difference in the old and new Chumby’s. The old one is more of a play toy, but higher priced, and the newer one is cheaper, but the same insides for the most part.

chumby side by side

Sarah got hers early last week and I got my original Chumby back to use as my alarm clock, and mine came in the day after Thanksgiving. I have been using it at work all week this week and I couldn’t be happier. I can plug in my iPhone via the back USB port and listen to the music directly off of it while it is being charged. I can have a slideshow running on the Chumby’s screen from my Flickr Photos, or Facebook photos at the same time of my baby girl. I’ve also got it setup to listen to Love 89, Life 88.3, NPR, and TWIT.tv.  Not only that, but it has Pandora built in and lots of other streaming radio options.  It is a really slick device that I am getting more and more dependant on and really loving. And there are tons of other widgets you can add like webcams, games, news, mail, social applications, really whatever you need. It is an extremely cool little device that does so many things. Plus if you are the type that likes to go in and hack, it is totally hackable since it is really just a custom Linux build.

So, if you are looking for a gift for someone, or think this sounds like something you would like, then check out Chumby.com and see if it will fit your needs.

1 Comment

Windows Home Server – My New Toy

Current Affairs, Web/Tech

I know i haven’t written in quite a bit, but I think I may have to start back up as I don’t see as many people as I used to, and I like to be the person who informs others of interesting articles or other findings.

My latest toy is my new Windows Home Server. Last week Newegg had a deal where you could get the HP Mediasmart LX195 Home Server for $199, which is half the MSRP. I talked to Sarah and she approved my purchase so I was off. I ordered it and it shipped from Memphis so it was here the next day. It took all of 10 minutes to install and since it was so small, I simply have it sitting behind some DVD’s on my entertainment center. It doesn’t use a monitor or mouse, simply a power cord and an ethernet cable and it is up and running.  You can see from the picture below, that i retrieved off of another website for scale, just how small the server actually is. It’s not much bigger than a couple of hardback books.

This device does all sorts of very cool things that are typically only done by either spending a lot of money or in big corporations. Here are the items that I find the most useful.

  • Media Collection – It actually goes out to all of our house computers and grabs all of the music, videos, and pictures and puts them in the appropriate shared folder on the server so we have a central shared repository for all of our media. Instead of saying ” is that on the desktop or the laptop?”, we just have to go to the server and grab the file.
  • Full Backups – It does full backups of all of the computers in the background. So if anything goes wrong on a computer, I just put in the connector boot CD and boot off of it and it pulls all of the information off of the server. So I don’t have to try to figure out how to get all of the information back, and don’t have to think about getting drivers or keeping the install cd’s.  Spyware doesn’t have to be a problem anymore.
  • Plugins – It has these things called add-ins that are additional programs that add functionality like publishing to Tivo so that i can watch TV or listen to music directly from tivo without thinking about it. There are also plugins for things like iTunes that will publish the entire music collection to the home sharing tab in iTunes. So no more finding what song is on which computer either.
  • Home Website – The home website that it serves up automatically and is viewable from anywhere has links for being able to get to files on the server from anywhere, as well as photo sharing, and remote desktop built in. So I can get to all of my stuff from anywhere and even listen to music from wherever I am.
  • Folder Duplication – In IT, there is a practice called RAID, which is when you take a bunch of hard drives and put the same data on all of them so that if one hard drive dies, you still have all of your information. But it is kind of hard to administer and over the heads of most laymen. WHS has a feature called duplication that allows you to add another hard drive through USB or internally that holds a copy of your most precious information so that if the server goes down, you still have all of your information on the other hard drive. Or if the house is burning down and you need all of your pictures, just grab the external hard drive, and you have everything you need. It is an amazing feature that all homes should have.
  • Search – You can even search across your home server and get all of the files that meet certain criteria. So if you are looking for that John Mayer song, you can search for it on the server and find it easily.

So as you can see, it does quite a bit, and these are just the big ones. It has a lot of other capabilities that I don’t even want to get into cause most people won’t care. But I am absolutely loving this thing. It is quiet, small, and does a whole lot of fun stuff that I have wanted to do for a long time. It is great for our home, and would be extremely good for a small office of 10 or less machines as it would do all of the backups, and have all of the file shares that a lot of companies use Small business server for. Couple a WHS computer with something like Google apps for email and other business critical apps, and you would be all set for so much cheaper than your typical business, and you would have a lot more functionality as well.

These are the things that I do for fun. Most of you will turn your noses up and think, this is so boring, and the rest will think it’s pretty cool. Either way, wouldn’t you love if your home network was as well organized as your work network and you didn’t have to think about spyware and adware?

No Comments