TV will change forever this year…for the better

With all of the innovation-handcuffing going on these days with DRM (digital rights management), it’s great that the government is actually doing something to benefit the consumer. This year, cable companies will be forced to open their systems to outside parties. Just like you don’t need to buy/rent your phone from the phone company anymore, you will be able to buy TVs and other electronic devices that will work with your cable subscription WITHOUT a converter box. Yup, this also means you will be able to connect your computer directly to the cable and watch/record the signal! Sure you’ll need a special “cable card” to decode the data, but that’s no biggie.

Besides the cool techy things like easily running a video server at home, it also means newly designed TIVOs, TVs, XBOX 360s, etc. could use the cable system and do whatever they want. I’m expecting some crazy cool things over the coming years.

Let’s take a simple example. If you are recording HBO on your TIVO and want to watch the HD ballgame at the same time, you can’t. Your converter box can only be on one channel at a time. If your TIVO and TV had cable cards installed, they can independently be tuned to whatever channel you want!

I’m excited…

Microsoft Zune actually looks kinda good…

Based on a very indepth review on Extreme Tech, it would appear that the Microsoft Zune has undeservedly been getting a bad rap. I've heard over and over how terrible it was that the Zune wrapped its own DRM wrapper around any song you shared. Turns out it doesn't add anything to the file, it merely remembers it was shared and imposes play limitations. That doesn't sound so bad to me. Heck you can't even get at songs on an iPod without using 3rd party utilities. Also, formfactor wise, it seems it is only slightly longer than the 80GB video iPod and not the huge clunky device some naysayers have been claiming.

Although it doesn't natively support non-WMA video files, the software will convert the file to WMA on the fly when you sync. Now, I'm not a big fan of this type of deal–it's the way Sony used to handle MP3s, but it will probably save on storage use.

All in all, it sounds like a pretty decent device. I'm not in the market for a portable video device–my Palm TX handles all my needs–but I'm much more optimistic about the Zune's future…once the truth gets out. 

Mobile charging solutions and cable organizer

I’m a fanatic about organization, so my growing collection of chargers and their cables was driving me crazy! I tried the multi-tip chargers like the iGo and Kensington SmartTips, but they never seem to have the tip I needed. Plus, they aren’t really that compact–you’ve got a giant AC adapter and transformer module. (BTW I prefer the form-factor of the Kensington.)

Anyways, since nearly all devices seem to be supporting USB charging, that has been my direction. Get a USB charging cable for each device combined with a combo AC+car outlet to USB charger and a battery to USB charger, and you’ve got yourself totally covered. You can find the combo adapters on eBay and they are pretty cheap. You can also find the battery adapters on eBay, but I opted for the more compact APC USB Battery Extender which uses AAA not AA batteries. Only $7.19 at Amazon.

Also, don’t leave batteries in devices. They often die quickly or leak, ruining the device. I’ve also had loose batteries leak spilling who knows what all over stuff. The solution is a battery case. Yeah, they make such a thing and it’s called the Batuca Battery case. Only $5.99 at inanycase.com.
And finally, the pi�ce de r�sistance, a case for all this stuff. I’ve gone through many different bags and cases, but finally someone has made one especially for cables and things. It’s called the RoadWired Deluxe Cable Stable. It’s very cool and has stretchable bands to hold cables as well as a couple zippered pouches. At $30.56 on eBags.com, it’s a bit pricey, but HEY, it’s perfect!

Cool IDE/SATA hard drive to USB adapter

Got up early today and spent a few hours going up and down the aisles of my local Frys. Yeah, they are often expensive but it’s still one of my favorite things to do. I got a good deal on a 4GB memory stick for my new Walkman phone (Sony Ericsson W810i). I was thinking about getting a Nano, but figured this would keep me from adding yet another device. It’s a pretty sweet phone, but onto the real reason for this post…

Just stumbled onto this gem sitting on a Fry’s shelf. It’s an adapter that lets you connect virtually any bare hard drive to a computer’s USB 2.0 connection. It works with 2.5″, 3.5″, IDE and SATA drives. It works great! I’ve really had bad luck with putting drives in external cases which is what prompted me to buy this. Here’s a link. Mine says it’s made by Lantec, but this looks identical and $5 cheaper.

I used these drives to back up data for offsite storage. My server gets backed up every night, but these drives will be used for offsite backup. I just take them to work. Quick and easy. I just gotta remember to do it more often.

What’s even cooler is that the box is perfect for transporting two 3.5″ drives…in antistatic bags of course. However, I’m thinking about getting these things called “hard drive gaskets”. Looks perfect for transporting these bare 3.5″ drives. Looks like you don’t even need to take them out of the gasket to hook them up…like it was made for this…maybe they were! Link

Radio or TV on demand…aka “Podcasts” FAQ and tutorials

Recently, I have really been getting into podcasts. Many non-techies don't know what they are, so here are some basics:

  1. Podcasts are just audio or video files (e.g., MP3, AVI, etc.)
  2. They aren't just for iPods. Listen/watch on your computer or any mp3 device
  3. You don't need any special applications to play
  4. They are great for playing in your car driving to work

OK, you got it? The main point: They are just plain old audio or video files. The difference is how you access them and that is probably where the confusion begins. The simpliest way to play a podcast is to visit a website with podcast links, download the file, and play it on your computer.

What's Cool About Podcasts?

You can listen to some of your favorite tech personalities talk about the latest tech gadgets, issues, etc. Some are video files so you can see them as well. There are hundreds if not thousands of choices and topics go way past just tech. Podcast.net will give you an idea of the variety available.  

The Basics

  1. Browse to the This Week in Tech (TWiT) website at http://www.twit.tv/
  2. Click on the “Download MP3 file” link. Depending on how your PC is configured, the MP3 will either play or prompt you to download the file. You can play the downloaded file in your player of choice
  3. Congrats. You just played a podcast…

That's it??? It's just like playing an MP3 or AVI file! There must be more! But of course there is. Instead of making you visit the TWiT site each week and manually download the MP3, wouldn't it be nice if you could “subscribe” to it and be notified when new episodes are posted and maybe even automatically download the file? Well that's the idea behind the whole podcast movement. It isn't the podcast file so much as the way it is delivered.

Feeds

Podcasts basically piggyback onto information “feeds” called RSS (or XML) feeds. Each story or episode is a separate entry in the “feed” and the podcast file is linked in the entry. If you are familiar with blogs, a feed is essentially the same thing, in fact, blogs generally can be read as an RSS feeds. Feeds have URLs which are almost always a webpage like “http://leoville.tv/podcasts/sn.xml”. These pages store all of the data describing the available podcasts in a standardized format. Since they generally use the HTTP protocal, you can browse to them in Internet Explorer just like any other page, but you'll just see data.

Subscriptions

On that same TWiT page (http://www.twit.tv/), above, just below the download link, there is a
Subscribe pop-up menu. In the menu are listed various “feed readers”
like iTunes, Google, etc. What these do is allow you to “subscribe” to
the feed using a reader of your choice. Don't be scared about the term “subscribe.” It's more like saving a
favorite. Nearly all podcasts are free so you don't pay or have to
provide any personal information.
The plain vanilla URL is usually labeled RSS or sometimes XML.

To use the feed page data in a meaningful way, you need a RSS feed reader or better yet, a podcast receiver client application. General RSS feed readers can read any RSS feed, not just podcasts.  Remember, podcasts are really just special RSS feeds. Just subscribe to the feed and the podcast will have links in the entry that allow you to download the audio/video file. Google has a free reader at http://google.com/reader (you'll need to sign up for a free account).

Now, the better way to get podcasts, however, is to use a podcast receiver client, sometimes called a podcatcher. My favorite is Ziepod, but Juice is good too. Both have free versions. You can subscribe to the podcasts and manage how they are downloaded. Then you just copy the files to your MP3 player.

My favorite feeds sites to find podcasts right now are diggnation, TWiT, CNet and NPR. Hopefully this all made sense to you. If not, just email me!

Building An Intel Core 2 Duo System

Looks like my move to AMD will be a one-time deal–I bought a Compaq V2000Z laptop with a pretty speed AMD CPU as my main machine. Anyway, my aging PIII-750 server has been disconnecting under loads so I tried swapping the NIC only to find that it conflicted with the SATA controller card. Too many PCI cards in that thing…SATA, NIC, soundcard, video, and modem. Since I just put a new PS in it, I was really didn't want to spend any more money on it. I prolly tweak something in my recent vacuuming of the case and cards. Who knows.

Anyway, I ordered a brand spankin new Intel Core 2 Duo E6300, Asus P4B mobo, 1GB stick of RAM, videocard, and 400W PS which I will place in an old ATX case I have. I'll reuse a couple 250-300GB HDs and DVD drives as well. Total cost less than $600 seems damn cheap to me for such a fast system. I chose the low-end of the new Core 2 Duo CPUs to minimize the heat issues since I'll be using this system 24/7 as  server. Most ppl are overclocking using this setup, but I don't intend to. Amazing enough, Dell was offering a full system for $529–not that I'd buy a Dell.

I've been consolidating systems lately and I've mothballed two PIII desktops and one P4. Only the P4 actually died and I think its only the PS. I'm hoping I get similar longevity out of this new system. HDs and PSs seem to be the common weakest link in my experience. Of course, I don't throw anything away, so I've got a couple cases and parts should i ever need. I may eBay my Compaq iPaq desktop tho. The 256 limit on RAM really limits its usefulness for me. Sweet formfactor tho. 2bad.

I spent a lot of time researching cases and could never decide on one. The Antec Sonata II came closest to being selected, but I saw it at CompUSA and was less than impressed. I decided to just reuse the best of my spare case. Amazingly though, the case is pretty nice. It seems as good as I could have hoped to get in a new one, but we'll see when I actually put everything together tonight.  

There was a giant trade off when selecting mobos. PCI slots, COM and LPT varied. Finally decided on more PCI and LPT.  I hope my PCI serial port card (thx Jasoa) works in this. If not, I can always use USB to COM adapters. That's why I figured the COM port was the easiest feature to live without on mobo. I still have an HP Laserjet printer that uses LPT and my home automation/X10 requires multiple com ports.

Bought everything a Multiwave (mwave.com). There prices were good and they actually tested the mobo, RAM and CPU for $9, which I felt was a deal. I've read a lot of reports of issues with RAM compatibility, mobo BIOs updates for Core 2s, etc. Just wanted a little comfort in knowing the system would at least post.

Buying from mwave is ironic since that is where I got the parts for the last full system I pieced together back in 1998. 

AMD must be dying now. This CPU was only about $185 and even at stock speed it runs at about the speed of AMD's top-of-the line Athlon 64 FX-62!

Why do you use yahoo, hotmail, work email accts?

Just wondering why people rely on email accounts like yahoo, hotmail, work or
even cable co/dsl email accounts for personal email. What if those companies get acquired,
change their name, you quit, etc. It would be like changing your phone number and
not telling anyone Now in the old days, yahoo/hotmail was cool cuz it
was the only way to get your email ove the web, but that’s not the case
anymore.

I see my email as something that should never change. For me, until the
day I die, you will always be able to contact me at
dougATdougworld.com. When I’m on my death bed I will forward it to my
kid and put it in my will that she keep the account active! HAHA

My suggestion? Register your own personal domain name–one that’s for
you, not a business. It’s simple to do. (The hardest part is finding a
domain name that isn’t taken.) Most domain registration sites, like hotpointdomains.com
(my site :-), give you a free email account for less than 9 bucks a
year! It’s small but you can increase storage for not much more. The
point is that  you can keep this email address forever!

Email me if you want help doing this.

Best Wireless Router

I’ve been using a Belkin Pre-N router for a while and found that it “was” unmatched in range, even using plain G clients. However, the router’s features are pretty barebones and Belkin never seemed committed to improving things. Now, Linksys is pretty solid but limited in the feature area quite surprisingly. I’ve always like DLink, but a tried one of their new models and the range was pitiful!

After much research, I crossed my fingers and bought the Netgear WPN824. It has the� best software I have seen out of the box and the range seems better than the Belkin Pre-N [see update below]. Now note that I am not using any non-standard clients. Everything is plain old G equipment, except of course for the router. What’s kind of amazing is that there are no external antennas! Supposedly there are 7 internal ones. It has these flashing blue leds on the top of the unit that supposedly tell you which antenna is getting signal. Could get annoying I suppose, but ok so far. Anyway, I highly recommend this unit. I believe it is 2nd generation MIMO and 3rd is out now, but that unit is not getting very good reviews.

UPDATE: Well, it appears the range is just a tad less than the Belkin. I’m not ready to go back and ordered a directional antenna which should provide the tiny boost I need to connect my bridge from the front room to the router in the back of the house.

New tiny Sony VAIO portable PC

Sony’s VGN-UX50 is a real mini-PC with an Intel Centrino 1.06GHz processor running Windows XP. (Note that this is not a UMPC. Supposedly it runs full�XP Pro)There’s a separately available Bluetooth GPS unit, two built-in cameras and it takes just five seconds to start up from standby mode. We like that hideaway keyboard, the 4.5-inch LCD touch panel and its carbon fiber body frame which keeps it nice and light. Sony says the VGN-UX50 will be available in July for $1800.