Tag Archive for Tech

Jon Udell and the on-demand blogosphere

Jon’s latest is a great read. I’ve often wished that I could search just a subset of the web — I’d like to give google not a single domain to scope a search, but a list of domains. Jon’s article is a great articulation of that idea in depth — the list of interesting domains he focuses on is your blogroll, but the idea could be used with other lists as well.

Like Tom Evslin
, I don’t think I believe in vertical search engines. But I am certainly convinced that people/sites can provide an “editorial voice” on top of the existing search engines, by scoping a search to a set of domains.

More on Light Bulbs

I got a couple questions about my post on LED lightbulbs. While the LED bulbs are not ready for primetime, I have had good luck with these compact fluorescents from HDb. They fit a standard socket and provide a very warm light, almost a little too yellow. But certainly no hint of blue.

I also recently ordered from http://www.lumitroncop.com and from http://www.1000bulbs.com. I ordered compact fluorescents to replace r20s and r30s (spots), we’ll see how those work.

I was motivated to move to incandescent alternatives because my office at home is too hot between all the PCs and devices and lights. Now that some have worked, I am motivated to move the whole house over for the energy savings. The one application that I am stuck with incandescents is for lights on dimming circuits — fluorescents don’t like variable voltage.

LED lightbulbs

I am a big fan of non-incandescent light bulbs — I am moving the whole house slowly to lower power/lower heat alternatives. I found these LED bulbs recently and tried a couple.

Not ready for primetime. Light is too directional, too blue, and not bright enough. But great for places like the garage where those problems aren’t an issue.

Fixing my avalanche blind spot

My Chevy Avalanche has a blind spot in which you can hide Mount Rainer, it is just huge. Backing up has always terrified me as I could easily be running over a child, a horse, a small car, and I’d never know it.

The good folks at Benchmark Motoring helped me out — they installed a rearview camera with fisheye lens, just mounted above the trailer hitch. When I shift into reverse, it takes over the nav screen and displays a rear facing video feed.

I didn’t think it would help that much…but I am hooked. I can’t imagine ever getting any car without this again. Not only is it a great safety feature, but your parallel parking becomes brilliant with this. So much better than a rear view mirror. Highly recommended.

Net innovations I should/would like to learn more about

From the last month or so:

* Mozilla calendar. Calendaring is what keeps our business tied to exchange, sure would like to look at some alternatives. Webdav required here, I have always found webdav to be impossible to set up correctly.
* Johnza finds the latest from 37signals — tada lists. I’m a dedicated user of my blackberry todo list, I’d need this to sync with blackberry
* Tutorial on writing firefox extensions. Looks like a pretty low learning curve, no wonder there are so many.
* 43 things, the latest craze. I created a short list. I don’t really want to spew my personal content all over the web tho, i want these guys to aggregate my list from my own blog.
* the no-follow tag. here’s hoping that mt does a rev that just slams all the right html all over my blog, i don’t want to go fix all this myself.
* Microsoft shuts down passport service. Classic example of trying to force a platform down people’s throats, instead of just creating something of great utility. A very predictable end. Platforms become platforms because they are popular, not because anyone says they are a platform.
* Slashdot on bandwidth enabling 3rd party servicing of pcs in the home and business. I totally believe in this. Pure networks is on the path to this, it is one of the primary reasons we are betting on this space.

Sharp lc-37gd4u Aquos LCD TV — first impressions

Just got one of these, in the course of a remodel. What a beast!

One astounding part of this beast is the i/o ports available.

Input: analog coax a, analog coax b, hdmi, dvi + stereo audio, component input 1 + stereo audio, component input 2 + stereo audio, s-video + stereo audio, center channel audio input, 2 I.Link (1394) terminals, digital coax in, a cablecard slot, and a regular pcmcia slot for content on pcmcia storage cards (or any format card or drive with a pcmcia adapter). Oh and an rs-232 control port, and power.

Output: s-video+stereo audio monitor, digital audio, analog coax, stereo speaker terminals, headphone jack, a dc output jack for unspecified future expansion.

I admit I have a perverse desire to hook something to every input and output just to see if the tv melts. The power consumption from a fully provisioned system must be immense.

More realistically I am going to try to get a cablecard out of comcast. I am going to see just what the pcmcia port can handle. And the dvi port is just screaming for a mac mini.

The continuing collision of TVs and PCs

* Sony’s new tv/pc combo — ok is there any reason why every new TV won’t someday have a pc next to it or in it? the cost of a reasonably competent pc core is driving down down down. The new mac mini seems like a great pc to put next to a tv.
* And every TV will be able to deal with multiple inflows of video, internet (bittorrent) plus the proprietary cable/satellite feed. A common UI for these sources would be great…
* For these reasons alone, a dedicated Tivo box is in trouble, but to compound the problems — Directv is going to build it’s own dvr as comcast already has. Poor strategy by Tivo and huge egos at the pipe owners have combined to sound the deathknell, which is really too bad, the Tivo experience is so much better than the Comcast/Microsoft DVR…

Microsoft is clearly making the right bet with Windows MCE (and here’s a great MCE wiki) but not clear to me that WinMCE will be the winning software on the tv computer. It is clear tho that there will be a pc in/next to the tv.

What's in my gearbag

Motivated to post this by someone who saw my gear bag and asked where to get one. I carry a bag from Duluth Trading — designed for tools but I use for carrying around all my gear. (I use them for tools too — one for pneumatic, one for electric, one for electronics, etc).

In the bag or on my person I carry:
* Blackberry 7210 with ATTWS service. I’m not going to move to one of the 7100s, I like the full keyboard
* iPod Photo. The photo functionality is lame but at least I have a backup of all my photos now.
* Etymotics Er6 earphones. Love these. Theyv’e been very durable.
* JVC subnotebook. The best subnotebook I could find when I looked months ago. There may be better choices now. I like a subnotebook because I can easily carry it anywhere. And I am not trying to replace a desktop.
* This great connector kit that rich got me.
* Blackberry and iPod wallwarts tho I think I can consolidate here
* Casio Exilim camera. An older model but may upgrade in the next year or so.
* Usually 3-4 books. Right now i have “Democracy in America”:amazon, “The Fermata”:amazon, and “A Coffin for Demetrios”:amazon
* Business papers
* A couple empty notebooks and pens

Going all voip at home

Rich is looking at solutions to go all voip at home.

Rich some things to look at:

* Mega list of sip products up at pulver.com
* Another at Sipcenter
* open source pbx — asterisk

The problem I struggle with is this — I have a lot of cheap handsets around the house connected by cat5 back to my wiring closet to my existing pbx. If i replace this pbx — what hardware bridges out to all these analog handsets? Or do I replace them (at great cost) with sip handsets — are there any really cheap sip handsets?

Semi-random stuff on the net

* S5 continues to improve — I love the idea of this, a completely hosted presentation app. I never know which machine I am using has which document, this would solve that for me.
* What’s your phishing IQ — I test out a little too paranoid but I guess that is the right way to err.
* Detecting digital image manipulation — great article, I am a little surprised that photographic evidence hasn’t come under full scale legal attack given the ease with which it can be manipulated.
* DxO optics pro. It will be interesting to see if there is a way to separate image forgery from legitmate optics enhancement like this software.

Microsoft/Comcast/Moto HDTV PVR

OK the comcast dude dropped by and installed today. (A moment of hilarity as he insisted checking to see if my cable was properly grounded or not — a 10 minute tour of my wiring closet with both DirecTV and Comcast feeds in, and many feeds out, convinced him that he didn’t really want to dig into the grounding issue.)

First reactions — the UI is slightly cleaner than the older Comcast box I had. It is nice that they have hoisted HDTV content upto the main menu, it is way easier finding that content now. That is probably the biggest plus I’ve noticed so far. I can’t comment yet on season pass and other record functionality as I am waiting for the program guide to populate — why does it take so much longer than DirecTV.

The UI style is not very exciting — my 3 year old Tivo box still has a more compelling UI. Is this Comcast’s or Microsoft’s hand?

Setting the TV/Audio out settings requires you to enter a weird bios-like mode, totally outside of the normal ui and control environment, that is weird, and I had to do this as the box didn’t seem to default to reasonable HDTV settings.

Of course the huge feature is going to be recording of HD content.

Comcast/Microsoft service

OK the box is coming to my house next thursday…again per someone who should know — “Call 1-800-COMCAST and order their dual-tuner DVR box. It comes with 120GB harddrive and has both HD and DVR integrated. It’ll cost you an extra $4.95/month and they’ll switch your current HD box.”

Interesting readings about the nature of internet applications

All over the map here. Probably some pithy summary to write about how apps and data of the future should be partitioned and hosted.

* Adam Bosworth’s Weblog: Evolution in Action: The user interface customized itself to the users needs, location, and data in a dynamic way through the magic of dynamic page layout. Today, a full ten years later, most windows apps still don’t do that. But heck they are only 2 or 3 or 4 generations evolved. Services, in the last decade, may have evolved 600 times by now all in reaction to what they have learned directly from customer use. A pithy observation.
* From windley.com, Amazon’s Simple Queue Service. Interesting that AMZN would offer such a general purpose service.
* Jon Udell on the myth of the one true device. Very wise. People don’t really need or want convergence of devices — they do want convergence of data.
* The twilight of Passport. Some people never thought MSFT should offer a general service for the web, some people thought Passport should just make it easy to have a single login for all MSFT sites — which is where it seems things are ending up.
* Jon Udell under gmail’s hood.
* I haven’t really dug into the newsgator online feature allowing ratings on your site but it seems like a great notion. I love the idea of spewing ratings around (for articles, restaurants, books, etc) and then letting someone aggregate them, rather than having to post my rating and content to someone else’s site.
* From windley.com again, a web-based slide show system. Hmm. How long til people can give up powerpoint and go to a server model?
* Beinsync – one of the N services that lets you keep folders in sync across the net.

iPod photo first impressions — not great

I have to say I am not very happy so far.

I am using the iPod with a windows laptop that has no cd drive. So first i downloaded iTunes 4.7 and installed (well, updated the version of iTunes that was on the machine).

then I attached the photo iPod. oops, doesn’t work, i also need to download the iPod updater, install, and reboot.

Reattach the iPod. It is auto updated. Then I need to detach it and plug it into the wall so it completes the reflash.

Reattach again. All my songs and photos are on a network drive and iTunes claims they are not available. Well they are. Looked all over iTunes for an option to force it to recheck availability. Never found anything, finally selected all of my tracks and told itunes to play them. after a looooong time, itunes finally decided all the songs were available.

detach and reattach the ipod photo. songs updated automatically. now i grovel thru the options dialogs to point it at my photos. looonnng time synching as it downconverts all my photos.

ok i don’t really want downconverted photos, i want the ipod to be a backup of all my photos. click the option to bring over full copies and resync.

ok finally i am ready. i hook the ipod photo up to my tv thru an aux port and try a photo slideshow. hmmm, the photos show up on the ipod photo, but on the tv i only see the first photo, it never changes.

sigh. will try again later today.

UPDATE: The iPod support site has a relevant discussion which seems to have made my slideshows work. So I am happier, the iPod is fully functional now. Still a total pain to set up tho.

Cabling a new house

So my dad is building a house and wants some advice on cabling — what should he run, what topology. He is building from scratch, all the walls will be open, so he can do whatever he wants.

So based on my experience and the wise counsel of sam and rich, here is what I’d do dad.

* establish a wiring closet in your basement. All your exterior lines will enter here — phone, cable, satellite, etc.
* run all cabling in a star topology from this closet.
* as a basic cable pack, try to use standard ?structured cable? — cat5e + 2 coax, can be purchased in a single bundled cable
(http://www.cablestogo.com/product.asp?cat%5Fid=314&sku=43075) which makes install easier. With this setup you can handle 4 phone lines, gbit enet, and two video feeds (for say dual tuner tivo boxes)
* do not let anyone talk you into cat5 instead of cat5e
* make sure the coax and all coax connectors/splitters are HDTV friendly — ie 1ghz parts, not the old 900mhz parts. I had to replace a bunch of splitters on my patch panel this year to allow for HDTV signals, you don’t want to do this.
* if you have extreme video needs you may want to run additional rg6 (coax) cables to your home theater setup. Sam explains: currently, four RG6 cables are required to support unlimited DSB devices (four cables come out of the satellite dish; these are multiplexed onto a single cable for each tuner).
That number could increase as the number of LNB’s increase (currently 3 for HD DirecTV). I recommend running at least 4 RG6 cables to each location that will potentially host a multi-tuner receiver (e.g., Tivo).

* run your standard cable pack to any spot you have a tv or phone — family room, den, kitchen, bedrooms, basement, garage. For rooms that may see a lot of use — family room, office — run two or three sets.
* and I’d run an extra set of cables and leave them unused in the attic or crawlspace for the family room and office. When you remodel later and want cables in a different place, you can easily pull the unused set down.

What about wireless lan and wireless phones? Well I have a whole pile of discarded wifi and wireless phone gear at my house. I personally am unsatisfied with coverage, quality, and security/complexity. I’d reserve wireless use for particular rooms — you can always put a mini wifi access point in a room for wifi in that room if you need it at some point. But as long as your walls are open, I’d run the cabling.

What about multiroom audio? I don’t think running special analog cables is worth it, the scenarios that this supports are pretty limited. You can always slap a small pc or remote media player box like the squeezebox in additional rooms if you want access to your music collection in these rooms.

What about intelligent lighting? Well I don’t have it and haven’t missed it. Sam has some more sage advice if you want to go down this path: If home automation is of interest, I’d consider adding a control line to each switch box (cat5, for example). At a minimum, make sure power, neutral, and ground are available at every switch box (light switch-boxes sometimes are missing neutral or ground), so that powered components can be added at the box.

It's a Google Google Google Google World

* Both Paul Thurrott and Gadgetopia point towards the Gmail shell extension for Windows
* Via engadget, Google SMS launches
* Of course, the Google desktop launched and Jon Udell has found ways to let it search firefox history

Like the rest of the planet I installed the Google Desktop over the weekend. No noticeable perf drag on my system.

I had read that it would not work against network drives, but I have ?My Documents? folder pointed to a network drive and indexing worked fine, ben pointed this nice fact out to me. I’d like it to pick up some other network shares and I wonder if it can be coerced into doing so — I don’t see any ini file, the only likely seeming reg key is an empty key named CRAWL_DIRS, I wonder what it does?

As rich and ben and I discussed in email, we all noted the contrasts between the google desktop and winfs (and its intellectual precursor, ofs in cairo). Hmmm, there may be some architectural and project management lessons to be learned here. A light layer on existing storage both works and is shipping. Further benefits will accrue as developers and users provide fb, allowing google to incrementally improve and expand the facility — while winfs is still not shipping.