This is a test post to test the RSS feed.
So I just got a new app on my phone that I think is pretty cool. Its called androidify and it is built by Google. This app allows you to create your own android avatar that is similar to the android mascot for their phones. If you have an android phone, I would suggest trying it out for a few minutes of fun and maybe build the whole family.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
A couple of months ago we started looking at how we could save money on the things we really didn’t need so we would have money for the things we really wanted to spend money on. One of the things we looked at and thought we could do without was cable television. We were spending almost $70 per month on just the cable TV portion of our bill from Charter. Between the regular cable service, the upgrade to digital, then the upgrade to High Def with the cable card, it made a pretty significant impact on our budget. So we decided we would drop all of that and go with over the air HD instead for all of our live shows. We decided we would keep the Tivo so we could watch what we wanted on our time frame.
So, on April 15th, I twittered that I was about to drop cable and run far away from charter and it was twitter to the rescue. But a user named UMatter2Chtr2 sent me a message and asked if there was anything he could do to keep me as a customer. I told him that I would want to drop cable TV, but keep my phone and internet for cheaper than I would be paying if I went with someone like Bellsouth or TDS. So he dropped our service down to under $60 per month for both, with the 5 meg package for Cable, which is what I wanted. This way I didn’t have to worry about the change of providers and I have been relatively happy with Charter in everything but price.
The next step was to figure out how best to get the HD channels on the TV’s at our house. We first tried an RCA Indoor Amplified Tv Antenna that we had bought when we got our 20″ HDTV for the bedroom last spring. It got a few channels, but the reception was not that great so we would have lots of artifacts where it would skip and stutter. Needless to say, we were not impressed. Plus, that wouldn’t account for our larger TV downstairs in the living room. So I started doing research on how we could everything we were used to getting with the same quality. I found posts like this on Lifehacker that were great, but not quite what I wanted. It gave me ideas on what to do for getting shows after the fact, but not live. I then started looking on forums to see what my best bet would be if I were to buy a higher powered antenna. At some point I had found a post that talked about a homemade antenna that they had built that worked as good, if not better than some of the best retail antennas, and it only cost about $5. So I watched this video and it looked too good to be true. About a week later, I built the antenna and hooked it up to the downstairs TV and it actually did work as advertised. I was super impressed. It still wasn’t perfect just because of the location in the house, but it came in so much better and was a whole lot cheaper.
Then i started thinking about how I could get all of the shows we had missed. I had an old media center computer that isn’t anything special (Athlon 64 3000+, 1GB RAM, 5 year old Nvidia video card) just sitting in our extra bedroom so I thought a good use of it might be to put it next to the TV and use it for watching videos, but wanted an easy way to watch those without having to deal with a keyboard and mouse most of the time. I also wanted to download shows easily so I could catch up on anything we might have missed. I have been torrenting for awhile, so the idea of downloading shows wasn’t foreign to me, but setting up the RSS feeds and remembering to look and see what has been downloaded and needs to be downloaded did not sound like a good time. I remembered Lifehacker talking about using TED to download shows automatically through your bittorrent client and thought I would give it a shot. I use uTorrent for all of my torrenting needs. That coupled with the WebUI allows me to keep an eye on my downloads from anywhere I have web access. I started using TED and was very impressed with the amount of shows and the ease of use. So it looked like that part was taken care of. But I still needed to figure out two more issues, ease of use and 10 foot remote usability.
I have always been a big VLC fan just because it will open almost any file format you can imagine without having to fool with codecs, but I didn’t know much about using VLC remotely until I saw the VLC Remote app in the iPhone app store. At that point, my brain started churning to figure out how we could use that in our living room. I downloaded the app from the app store, then installed the setup assistant from here. At that point, we were off and running. And not only could I control it from my iPhone or Sarah’s iPod touch, but it could be controlled from a browser window by just putting in the right URL. It was a beautiful day and it worked really well for us for the first couple of weeks we were living a cable-less life. We felt so liberated just to not be relying on Charter for watching TV anymore.
Then we had a few times where we would want to watch Hulu or ABC.com or CBS.com to catch up on something that wasn’t in the Torrent RSS feed yet, but we wanted to catch. So I started researching to find out what was out there that I could use to watch shows like this from my couch. I thought about using something like Boxee, but I didn’t want to have to think about doing things on Linux, and the Windows version of Boxee isn’t available quite yet so I was kind of stuck and we still would have to futz around with a keyboard and mouse.
About a week later, I just happened to pickup this post from Treehugger that showed how to turn your old laptop into a media hub. I watched the video, and wasn’t as amazed with what they did, as I was with a piece of software that they were using. They were using an interface I had never heard of called Zinc TV. It was, and is, amazing. It works using a Media Center Remote and Receiver to navigate, but is capable of watching all of my downloaded shows, as well as stuff like hulu, cbs.com, abc.com, youtube, and lots of other internet videos. And it works extremely well. We even got rid of our Tivo Subscription it is working so well for us, because the torrents and the web videos pretty much encompass everything the Tivo could do before, but without the monthly charge.
We are still using this interface, and have been for over a month, and love it. So it looks like it may be here to stay, which is fine with me. The last thing I needed to figure out was how to get the best reception to all of our TV’s using this homemade antenna I had made. It wasn’t the prettiest thing so Sarah didn’t want it in our living room. And with all of the coat hangers hanging off of it, it wasn’t exactly safe, especially since we are planning on having a baby in a few months. So I talked to a friend at work and we batted some ideas around as to how to distribute the antenna signal throughout the house and came up with this as my preferred method.
I would put the antenna in the attic where it would get the best reception and then distribute that signal throughout the entire house. Sounds simple enough right? Well, almost. The problem is that we have a 2 story house, and all of the cable inputs are on the other end of the house. So that meant I was going to have to send the signal from one end of the house to the complete opposite. It meant I would have to get a pre-amp and an amp to pump up the signal. I bought a pre-amp that would sit within a few feet of the antenna. I bought a Dual Output Amp so that I could send one end to the upstairs tv directly, and the other to the rest of the house via the distribution box. I also bought a 4 Port Amp
that would sit at the distribution box and feed the rest of the house. Those items coupled with 50 feet of coax cable and some ends is all I needed to get this project going.
Yesterday the finale of this whole project came to a close as I finished things out and got it all up and running. It is working amazingly well and Sarah is extremely happy with how it works. The only thing she has to do now is flip to a different input on the TV whenever she wants to watch live TV versus anything through the media center. But with our Logitech Harmony Universal Remote that I had never really used a whole lot, it is all setup to automatically change inputs on both the TV and the receiver by pushing a single button.
It is all working great, and I am really happy with the way it has turned out, plus it is saving us about $80 per month. I did have to buy a few things along the way, but since I had a lot of the electronics already like the computer and the remote, it still didn’t cost me more than a month of savings from our charter bill.
Yep, the word is out. Sarah is pregnant. We are both really excited and nervous at the same time. It’s going to be an exciting next…18 years.
This is some high quality stuff. Talk about creativity.