dean's toys

updated 12-05-2013

a long, tiresome, incomplete, but ultimately pointless diatribe about the tech toys that I love, hate, break, fix, use, and misuse... (And oddly, this is the most linked-to-and-read page on this website. Huh? I can't even read it myself, but regardless, here it is... )

 
 

home pcs | laptops | network | palmtops | applications |Media video |cameras  gadgets cellphones mp3

broken stuff:

At the end of my "toy" description is a rant on how some of this stuff here, and other "stuff" just doesn't work, or more precisely, stops working ("breaks"). If you wanna read my rant, click here, or just read on about the "good stuff..."

Home PCs:

"bubbler" - Homebuilt Intel system

To start this off, Here's "Bubbler 6," or some-such version. There have been a number of "bubbler's," the name I always give to my main computer. (And, I like to give a "budda" name to my others, no real reason outside of a shot at consistency; I knew a guy who named all of our lab's computers after fish, or project lines product names taken from breweries, so on).

SO, bubbler is the most-current (built around 9/2007) in the line, replacing it's Athlon-based predecessor that was fine "in the day," but the sea-song of "You need a dual-core dean... dual-core..." kept whispering in my head...

And, that's what this is, my first home-build using an Intel processor -- previously I built them using AMD's excellent chips. The system is not top-of-the-line by any stretch, but it's not very bad by any measure, and much faster than the old bubbler. Besides, I make it a pretty strict rule to never buy "bleeding-edge" hardware, due to cost; buying a CPU or video card that's one or two grades down from the top saves you a ton of money, and I found it hard to rationalize buying those top-of-the-line pieces that stay at the top for only a month or so when the new "top" product is released. That all said, here are the specs on bubbler (And, see some detailed specs here):

so, this is the latest evolution of my first homebuilt, AMD K6 system. I'm pretty happy with it. The upgrade of the video card to the 8800GTS was a nice touch -- "In the day," it's showing its age now. The Intel i5 was the most cost-effective CPU upgrade, and it's still a very popular CPU; I certainly am happy with it. I like having the quad core, an upgrade from my previous E6600 Dual Core Intel CPU. (The way CPUs today "crunch" data just amazes me... we've come a long way.)The rest of the system is either just functional (e.g., the CD/DVD/Blu-Ray burner, or the cordless keyboard/mouse), or is just fun/luxury stuff such as the good-sized monitors, and that keyboard/mouse. I'll keep this "bubbler" for some time, maybe bumping up a few parts, and throwing more good or fun SW onto it. And of course it's nice to have the storage I have with the two 2TB internal disk and the two external 1TB disks (Who would've "thunk" we'd be able to toss in over 4TB of storage on a home PC? Now, the 128GB SSD, well, I really don't need to say how bloody FAST SSD's are compared to hard drives. That's why I bought it, to use as a boot drive to give the system more "snap," and it does. I love it.

Errata

The 700W power supply is somewhat of a "luxury" item, but in actuality a necessary one. I had a 500W PS on a previous system, and it struggled at times. The extra quality of this PS, and the extra watts and rail current solve all that and more. Plus, it's quiet, and the modular cabling is nifty (although the "heavy duty" cables can be a tad thick). I don't expect to need a 1KW+ supply anytime soon. At least until I upgrade my video card, probably soon.

On power... Boise, while it's gotten a lot better, a few years back it was horrid compared to other places I lived (well, except for Wisconsin where the 3 ft snow dumps or near-tornados would knit the power lines into balls and blow them down the road). So some time back I opted for the CyberPower UPS . Granted it's a "tad" smaller than the 4 ton units I got used to in "real" computer rooms, it's still good enough to keep the system running for 8-10 minutes, giving me enough time to shut the system down. It provides some nice features such as emailing me when the power goes out (or sending a text msg to my cell), and used to provide automated shutdown. I bought the TrippLite because it had a lot of capacity for the dollar, but it's still minor league -- real UPS's spin their own power from gas generators and hold a charge with a ton of batteries. But my little system gives me some security, and most power failures here only last a minute or five, giving me a hedge and keeping the system spinning through it.

HP f2304 23" LCD MonitorThe HP f2304 23" LCD monitor deserves special recognition. Not cheap, at the time I bought it, but HUGE, with 1920x1200 native resolution. I just love it! I AM ticked that the current discount price is LESS THAN 1/5 the price I paid, but such is buying at the "state of the art"... And the 2nd HP monitor, 24" was quite cheap (forget how much) because it's "unbranded." I don't care, it's a nice monitor as well.

You probably noticed the strike-throughs on a couple HP printers ("All-in-one's," to be exact). That's because they're sitting around, broken. And they broke waaay too soon. The first one, the 7400, died (wouldn't feed paper, the roller mech went "blooey"), and HP sent me a replacement under warranty. What was cool is they sent me the upgraded version, the L7750. Nice of them, but it too decided to keep paper to itself, insistently wrapping it around numerous rollers deep inside of it. I never bothered to call it in, instead I went with a low-end Lexmark All-in-one. Ernie uses it via the network (it supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, and ethernet cable connect), and she's happy with it. Me? I can't get the Lexmark driver to install. It says it installed (with a lot of fiddling though), but when I try to use it Vista complains there is no driver and instructs me to load it. Hours upon Hours with Lexmark support left me hanging. So I finally broke down and called HP, and even though the 7750 was out of warranty, they shipped me a replacement, a 7580, and it works just fine.

The Cooler Master "Cosmos" case is ... Amazing. I've used maybe 6 or 7 cases in my PC-building endeavors, and this one wins hands-down. It's roomy, as you'd expect in a full tower, but with the Cosmos it's "more so." It has six removable drive bays -- you just unscrew one thumbscrew and slide the disks out. The front drive bays (there are five total) come out just by pushing one button! A lever is supplied. The sides come off by pushing one lever on the back, and pop out and in with more ease than I've ever seen. Note I said "sides"; both the left and right come off giving you clean access to pretty much everything. The side panels are are lined with sound-deadening foam and are sealed by rubber gaskets.

The power supply (not included) mounts in the rear/bottom, and vents down. Putting the PS on the bottom doesn't make much sense to me vis-a-vis cooling (something I heard about heat rising and all). But it seems to work, and gives the system stability (something else I heard about --"low center of gravity," although I think it's more important in cars and high-wire artists), and gives you more room to work. It comes with three 120mm, low-speed fans which cool wonderfully and keep the case quiet. THere's also a removable air-channel that runs the length of the mobo to help keep it cool.

The top front panel slopes slightly toward you, and conveniently hosts four USB ports, one e-SATA port, one firewire port, a headphone and a mic jack, power and disk LEDs, and power and reset buttons. Nice layout indeed. The front is covered by the currently-trendy door to hide those yucky DVD/CD drives and floppy, which, in a home system is for looks only; those of "youth" might find it sexy and "professional-looking"... "C'mon over Billy, I built a server!!!" (Of course, real data-center servers are rack-mounted and have no covers of their own in the name of accessibility). For a home system, where you'll use those yucky drives often, a cover is just in the way. But, on the cosmos the cover is removable, or if you want to keep it you can easily choose if you want to open it on the left, or on the right. Nice touches, both. Another nice touch are the sleek top-mounted bars you use as handles, a bonus on a case that weighs 37lbs,empty (nope, this isn't an aluminum case, "all steel baby"). There are similar bars on the bottom that act as Feet/stabilizers (both sets run the depth of the case). Thumb screws abound -- aside from mounting the mobo and PS it's hard to find a place where you can use a screwdriver. The sheet metal is all rolled edges.

This case design is so good it makes me want to tear it apart just for the fun and ease of it. I can't say anything more about it than I love this case, and did I mention it's just plain gorgeous? I might buy another one just to put on display in the front hall. With the nifty front door installed, or course...

When I build bubbler I "upgraded" it to Windows Vista Ultimate. Nothing was wrong with the previous WinXP I had previously, I just naively thought Vista would be a Good Thing to try and use.

Oh, and this is IMPORTANT. I'm running Windows 7 now. Why is that important you ask? Because, I made the dumb mistake. Dumb choice. Dumb waste of money and dumb operating system previously. Yep, you guessed it, Windows VISTA. DUMB!. The list is long, but key are too much time trying to get things running (the famous and vast Vista incompatibilities with software and hardware; old programs and drivers just don't like it, or visa-versa). Not to mention that Vista is the orneriest, most nagging and unstable OS (I can't count how many times basic "programs" like WIndows Explorer or Windows Internet Explorer" just "stop working," followed by either my need to hard-kill them via having Task Manager beat it out of the system, or watching a Windows popup tell me, yet again, that the programs "Stopped working, WIndows is trying to find a solution or "The program has stopped responding and must be closed," or "An unexpected program error has occurred and must be shut down," or they simply "pop" away with nothing said about it. These are fundamental programs in Windows for gosh sakes! I won't go into detail about how "non-fundamental" programs crash/disappear/hang with regularity).

Not to mention it's just a resource hog, and an absolute bear to work with (CONSTANT nags along the line of: "Are you sure you want to run this program?" "Are you really really sure?" "Windows requires your permission to run 'xyzzy'. "Windows doesn't know who wrote this program, click 'Yes' to thrust pain and suffering on your family and tear your ancestors souls from the graces of heaven.." And so on. I could go on, but I already have, here, if you want to read it. Last, you know an OS has problems when they recommend you stick with, or roll back to XP. (Just look at how many computer mfg's now offer XP -- typically at more cost -- as an option over Vista). Oh, did I mention that Vista's main architect voiced some juicy thoughts about Vista and its problems, and later quit over it, saying Microsoft had lost it's way?

Enough said except that if I had any inkling of the depth of Vista's problems, problems that are known but continue and proliferate un-addressed, I would've stayed with my old, but MUCH better Windows XP. But Windows 7 saved the day and in my opinion is the best OS Microsoft has ever put out (And that includes Windows 8.)

"little-budda" - Homebuilt AMD 64 2800+

Alexa-Budda, Athlon 1700+ PlayStationIt's "cute!" (Unfortunately, as of 12/2013, it's dead; just died and needs a new CPU, and maybe other things. Bummer.)

I found a cool SFF case and a deal on a motherboard/CPU combo (AMD 64), ran home, and screwed it all together (stealing some parts from other systems that I need to replace now). It was cheap for me to build since I had most of the extra parts (disk, video, RAM, so on) lying around collecting dust. It fired up 1st-time, and I installed XP and a bunch of drivers, apps, etc. I can't say it all went smoothly -- SSF cases are just hard to work in due to the cramped space, and the VIA chipset/audio drivers were a mess to get right (one of the reasons I'm a big nVidia nForce fan). But it's all working now, and will replace Sitting-Budda as my server. The nice thing about it is that it's small, about the size of one and a half shoeboxes, and quiet! due to the Antec "Aria" case. The case, BTW, is great-looking, and sports some nicely-understated blue LED front panel lighting, just ONE 120MM fan (for quiet), and even includes a front-panel mounted 8-in-1 USB card reader. The downsides of this system are:

  • The MSI K8MM-V microATX motherboard sports a lot of neat features (Socket 754, 8 USB ports, SATA and RAID, 800MHz DDR support, built-in audio, LAN, and video). one key exception? it is not overclockable! (uh, this IS MSI, right?) So, the performance is far less than it could/should be. I'll probably (almost certainly) upgrade to an nForce-based motherboard. On the other hand, it's completely stable
  • This is my first venture into 64-bit processors, and I jumped into buying the Athlon 64 2800+ (as part of the mobo/CPU deal) without doing any real research (my fault). I'm disappointed in the benchmark performance, I expected it to be faster than the Athlon 1900+ in Sitting-Budda, but it isn't. I don't know why. Part of that, of course, is the lack of overclocking capability on the motherboard, but the chip just seems ... slower. I need to investigate a bit more. Then again, it really is fine for most anything I need to do, benchmarks aside
  • The motherboard doesn't support firewire (the Aria case has a front-panel firewire port). I don't use firewire, but it'd be nice to have regardless

That said, I love this little thing! It's quiet, completely reliable, and looks nifty. I loaded up Serious Sam 2nd Encounter and it ran smoothly with all the "eye-candy" at 1024x768. I plan on putting it into my home theater after tweaking it to work as a PVR and MP3 player/streamer. or, lately I've been wanting a system in the kitchen, for web-surfing while cooking, and to use as a TV there. Coupled with a 17" LCD monitor (bought a HD LCD @ 1280x768), and a good tuner, it could work! (and the Netgear wireless LAN card will let me plop the system anywhere I want it without worrying about cables). I popped in my existing avertv stereo TV decoder and PVR ("Personal Video Recorder") as a test, but I'd want a better, newer card (and one that the vendor actually supports). I suspect little-budda will be gathering crumbs and caked with cooking grease in the near future...

Here are the specs (detailed specs here):

  • AMD Athlon 64 2800+
  • 512 MB PC2700 DDR RAM
  • MSI K8mm-V micro-ATX (mATX) motherboard
  • Western-Digital 120GB disk
  • Stock AMD cooling fan
  • ATI Radeon 9800 SE Video
  • WinXP SP2
  • Westinghouse LCM-17w7 LCD monitor (1280x768)
  • a "no name" CD-RW DVD
  • A wireless keyboard and mouse
  • Avertv Stereo TV/PVR card
  • Netgear wireless LAN card (802.11g)

"Alexa-budda" - Homebuilt AMD Athlon 1700+

Alexa-Budda, Athlon 1700+ PlayStationWhat a time we live in! For Alexa to play her latest Barbie games, her old 400Mhz PII system fell to the ground and went into cardiac arrest. So, what to do? I let her play on my main system, but ... hey! It's MINE!

So I built her a new one. It's not a bad system at all. In fact, it's pretty darn nice. Here are the specs:

  • AMD Athlon XP 1700+ (overclocked to 1.9GHz)
  • 512 MB OCZ PC3200
  • Biostar M7NCG 400 Micro-ATX (mATX) motherboard
  • Any random thermal goop to hold the CPU and fan together
  • Nvidia GeFOrce 3 Ti500 Video
  • Windows 98SE/WinXP
  • HP D1193A 17" monitor (1024x768)
  • Sony CD-RW/DVD (via USB 2.0 and external case so she can access the CD on the desk)
  • Some cheap Labtech speakers
  • A cheap wireless keyboard and mouse
  • Linksys WMP11v4 wireless LAN card (802.11b)

I chose the mATX form-factor to have a small system for her, but with expansion capabilities (1 AGP port, 3 PCI). I installed it in a case (a no-name brand I don't remember now) that was recommended in a review (and if I ever find the guy who gave it a positive review I'm going to toss him down a long flight of stairs -- it's a LOUSY CASE! But it does work). The BioStar motherboard is a good one, albeit though it turns out it simply doesn't work if you set your IDE disks/CD-ROMs for "master/slave". Doesn't work, it'll let you install, but then can't find the disk it just installed to. Actually, it often just hung or failed to even FIND the drives. But putting it into "Cable Select" mode solved all those problems. Truly odd . I initially set it up with a Vantec AeroFlow VA4-C7040 CPU fan, but it sounded like a vacuum was running all the time, so I swapped in the zalman silent cooler instead and set it to "silent mode". The CPU temps actually dropped from the vantec. Now life is ... quieter. Recommended. Now I need to install a similar (but "better") quiet-fan on my main system to quiet it down.

So Alexa now has a "power system" to play her games. I chose to add Win98SE because, heck, a lot of kids games aren't ready for XP or certainly Win2K. I have an extra Hitachi 19" monitor sitting around, and might swap that in, but she's got great eyes, and a 17" monitor works for her. I'll see. So, now she's got a system that will (hopefully) suit her games for the near-future. "She's got game..."

UPDATE 02/2008:

Alexa likes my new laptop better, and it's faster and smaller and therefore easier to keep around. So I'm going to toast Windows on "Alexa-budda" and throw on a copy of Linux, just for fun. Years ago in "the day" when you hacked and compiled your own drivers I kept a Linux box around. Now I'd like to try a couple distros to see how its changed and improved.

Abandoned "others"

While I could say there are a few other systems in the house, that would be at least a half-lie. At least one could be revived by slipping in a video card and hooking up a keyboard and mouse, but the others would require me to dig through my spare parts bins and do a bit more work. All-in-all, while I could get them running, there's really no need. With five systems now up & running (including laptops), I think I've got most of it covered. I am thinking about reviving one or two and giving them away -- to school(s) most likely -- but that's for later, I'm busy tinkering with the breathing one right now.


laptops
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Old pic of my laptop collection
There have been a lot of laptops over at Casa de Cashen. Here's an old picture of some of them, and all of them are working. Now, I don't have a lot of day-to-day use for the 20 pound 286 or the monochrome 486/8MB system, but they work! The others are being put to task, though.Read on.

 

 

HP dv9000

My This is my new "hot" laptop, an HP Pavilion, dv9000 "entertainment" notebook. It's pretty fast, for a notebook, with its core 2 duo CPU, 2GB of memory, two hard drives, 17" display, etc, It includes a TV tuner ("tuned" for Windows Media Center, a truly meager (at best) app, but it works). To be honest, aside from that you CAN sit it on your lap, it's not a true "laptop" given it's < 1 hr battery life, so it sits on our counter as a "laptop/desktop," but that okay because of what I have now just below...

Asus 1005HA Netbook

Here's the latest "love of my computer life," my Asus 1005HA Netbook. What's a "netbook" you ask? Well, they're the latest rage in ultra-portable computers. They (typically) weigh less than 3lbs, and are small. Very small. On the 1005HA the keyboard is "92%" of a full-sized; not bad. The screen is 10.1" with a resolution of 1024x600 (WSVGA) -- the later being the key (and only read) problem; 600 pix is pretty small by today's standards, so you wind up spending a lot of time scrolliing up and down to read most web-pages (most these days assume at least 800 pixs). My next Netbook -- and there will be one -- will sport the "next-gen" 1366x768 resolution. The downside of the larger screen is that the Netbook tends to be a bit over one inch wider; not terrible, but the allure of a Netbook is that it's just dang TINY!

I love this thing 'cuz of that smallness, and because of the long (claimed up to 10.5 HOURS of battery life, but in practice it's more like six, but still darn good). And they're CHEAP! I got mine for about $350, but it's dropped (a bit) since, and you can find them for as low as $199 with equivalent specs. (You can also find them nearing $600, but that's just too much given the competition). No internal CD/DVD drive (duh! THERE'S NO ROOM!), so I bought a USB external slim CD/DVD/Lightscribe drive for sixty bucks or so. 160GV disk is typical, as is 1GB RAM. Standard are WiFi, ethernet, VGA out, 3 USB ports, a card slot, touchpad (th 1005HA sports "multi-touch"), audio out, mic in, stereo speakers, and webcam (built into the top of the screen bezel). They almost always run Windows XP (SP 3, of course ;)), but some run Linux, and a few -- those who take joy in pouring gasoline over themselves and lighting a match -- install Vista. Windows 7 works pretty well, but I'm holding off for the meantime; XP on this thing is fine. They boot up (on XP) VERY quickly, shut down or sleep VERY quickly, and are amazingly responsive. They all use trackpads, but you can always use an external USB mouse (I bought the Microsoft "Arc" wireless mouse. Normally I hate MS mice, but this breaks that prejudice; it's great. They make them in severl colors, but (of course) I got the green one). Bought a great Targus case for it, and I can stuff the 1005HA, charger, mouse, cords, thumbdrives, pens, external DVD drive, iPod, a book, papers, and so on in all it's compartments, and the whole thing weighs about 1/3 of what I used to carry. The 1005HA screen has key combos to let you rotate it (landscape, portrait, and around; nice because I'm planning to make it an ebook reader).

Here are some basic specs of my 1005HA:

  • intel Atom N270 processor, 1.6Ghz 2GB RAM (upgraded from 1GB)
  • 160GB 5400 RPM disk
  • Windows XP (SP3)
  • 3 USB ports
  • 5 card reader slot
  • WiFi (802.11 b/g)
  • 10.1" TFT Active Matrix 1024x600 WSVGA) resolution, LED backlit
  • 2.4 lbs (including 6-cell battery)
  • Dimensions: 10.5"W x 7" D x 1.5" H
  • "Up to 10.5 hrs battery life. (6+ in real use w/Wifi on)
  • No Bluetooth (but you can get it; I don't care right now)
  • Multi-touch touchpad, two button "bar" mouse keys
  • White "Seashell" case (I chose white, but you can get red, blue, black, etc.) White shows fewer fingerprints IMHO

All-in-all, this is just a great unit (except for the WSGA -- 600 pix height -- screen). VERY VERY happy with it. It's just amazing what you can get today. If I were you, BUY ONE! BUT, get the newer (albeit larger) 1366x768 (WXVGA) 11.6" screen, such as the Asus 1101ha; you'll be happy with the extra screen space, although it uses the inferior Intel Atom Z520 CPU (to save the power the larger screen takes up). Or maybe wait a while; the Netbook market is HOT now, and every month seems to bring "newer and better and cheaper" at an amazing rate...


HP NC6000

My old work laptop (when I worked prior to early-retirement) replacing my desktop system. It's a 1.6GHz system, and from that single spec isn't the "fastest" system available, but that's mostly wrong... It uses the new Intel "Centrino" CPU and chipset which provide more "computation/cycle" than previous versions, and increases memory bandwidth (DDR/400Mhz) to the point that it's faster than a 2+GHz system. Plus the "M" chipset saves power. A lot of power, and it'll run over 5 hrs on a charge. I like that. a lot.
And it has so many new features over my very-old ThinkPad 600e. Such as, both a touchpad and a tracking point. Dual USB 2.0 (one powered), Firewire, ATI Radeon 9600 32MB video, 60Gb drive, 512Mb of DDR memory, DVD/CD-RW drive, built-in b/g wireless, Secure Digital memory slot, dual PCCARD slots, 14" XGA display (1024x768), and weighs 5lbs. My only disappointment, and a significant one, is the XGA display: I wanted higher, 1280x1024, but that's how it's shipped. Odd given the technology put into this. I use it mostly in a docking station to a monitor at 1600x1200, so that moderates the disappointment. It came with Windows XP (Pro), another disappointment, Win2K is just better. As I had with my old ThinkPad 600e, and used to share it at home via a KVM switch to my main monitor. I sometimes did work lying on the couch, wireless to the internet, listening to music. Sweet. Did I mention it runs for 5+ hours at a time? :)

IBM ThinkPad 600e

My IBM Thinkpad 600eI loved my previous Thinkpad, and when technology rose I had to find a new laptop, and IBM was at the top of my list. I chose the IBM Thinkpad 600e, a 366Mhz PII system that weighs less than 6lbs, and sports at 13.3" display, 6GB disk, DVD drive, docking station, Trackpoint, and dual-battery support, among it's features. I specifically didn't want a larger display, 13.3" is big, and anything bigger means the whole system has to be larger -- this is bad on an airline when the passenger in front of you reclines their seat. Besides, 1024x768 resolution is terrific on the 13" display. And I wanted a lightweight system, portable and powerful. This has it all although, now after many years, it's specs (CPU and disk capacity) show their age. my new system has replaced it.


IBM ThinkPad 760CD

Thinkpad 760CD (P90)About eight or nine years ago, my company bought me a ThinkPad. And I think it was, and is, just dandy. Now, that was ages ago in tech-time, and it's obsolete (P90, 2.1GB disk, 56MB). But the 12.1" TFT display and TrackPoint pointing stick made it a joy to use. (Trackpoints should be required by law to be on every keyboard made, they're that good). The Thinkpad also allows you to swap in a CD ROM, Floppy drive, or an extra Li-Ion battery, and it has other built-in features like an Mwave sound card and modem, and TV/video input and output. IBM makes some nice gear. When I bought it I planned to upgrade to a 120Mhz processor, but that wasn't reasonable given the progress in laptop development, and the price of the IBM upgrade (over $1000). It made more sense to buy another system instead. Shame.

Zenith 486/25 sub-notebook laptop

Zenith 486/25 LaptopIt was just a wonderful little machine "back when," but the years have caught up with it, and it's little CPU, 8MB of memory, 8.5" STSN B&W display, and 170MB disk limit it's use. And, I made the mistake of upgrading it from WFWG 3.11 to Win95. Now it spends all of it's time swapping to disk. It really needs another 8MB to support Win95, but, well, IMHO, Zenith falls way short in the support category (read just about any magazine review), and they made it it hard -- nearly impossible, actually, for me to get memory. I used to like their products, but after dealing with them, I didn't even consider Zenith when I was shopping for a laptop (this was, of course, when Zenith was selling laptops, they ain't no more, not surprisingly).

Zenith 286/12 laptop

Zenith 286/12 LaptopOkay, so I dump on Zenith above, but this unit, from Zenith's heyday as a laptop vendor, holds a place in my heart. While nonfunctional by today's standards, this was one of the first 80286 laptops, and ran at a "screaming" 12Mhz. It came with a 20MB disk, but mine was upgraded to 40MB -- a lot for the time. It also had 1MB RAM (upgradeable to 2MB), a 10" CGA LCD, near full-size keyboard, and a built-in 1200 baud modem. I hauled this 15lb thing around the country for a year or two, probably doing damage to my arms and shoulders in the process, but I couldn't imagine going anywhere without it, and everywhere I went people huddled around just to look at it. (Now they'd huddle around to see what that big ol' monster was!)

The battery pack (which alone weighs as much as many of today's laptops) is dead, but it still works using the AC adapter. Not that there's anything I really want to do with it, but I like keeping it around nonetheless.

network
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Part of our home networking setupInternet is fed by a cable modem today. After years of slow dial-up, I'm not going back to it except under threat of decapitation. Cableone's been very reliable (it wasn't at first so I picked up a dial-up service, "just-in-case," but haven't used it in months). I use a Netgear wireless-G router to provide internet access to all PCs with just the one cable connection, and it further adds a firewall to keep out the bad guys. It support wireless B&G, so I can plop my computers anywhere in the house and get network access without cables. Not to mention, it provides NAT, DHCP, and DNS services so networking to it is a snap (or should be, Linux gave me fits, but then, it IS "Linux!"). I like this router, and it's great having all PCs "securely" connected to the 'net.

The wireless protocol used by the Netgear is the IEEE 802.11b & G standard, also known as Wi-Fi. And it works just fine, as long as you aren't overly worried about security, that is I use a WIFI card in my laptops and alexa's computer as well as little-budda.

palmtops
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HP iPaq hx2415

Palm Zire 71
As a gift from my company for working a lot of years, I chose the HP iPaq hx2415 "Pocket Computer." I'm a long-time Palm user (below), from the first "Palm Pilot" that was released, and I've come to rely on having a portable organizer. I wanted to know how moving to a "Pocket PC" would be . A
disappointment...The problem isn't with the HP HW/FW side of it, it's extremely well-designed, sturdy, feature-filled, and looks dandy. The problem is Microsoft's "Windows Mobile" OS. The iPaq came with version 4-dot-something, and I sprung for an upgrade to version 5.0, but I see little difference.The problem I have with it is complexity: it's a Windows OS, which tries to do "everything," and in the process is complex, cumbersome, slow, and inconsistent. The Palm's "just work," and work right, and you don't have to dive through layers of menus and configurations just to do something useful. I'm sure a lot of people like their Win Mobile systems (My wife lives by her iPaq cellphone/PDA), but I'd bet most of them haven't used a Palm. I keep tinkering with it, but I think it's badly designed from a usability perspective.


palm Zire 71

Palm Zire 71
I rely on my Palm PDAs. I've been a long-time user of Palms (since the original Palm "Pilot" Pro). I upgraded to the Palm Zire 71 from my previous Palm V because of the Way Cool display, 16MB of memory (from the measly 2MB of the Palm V), the new 5.0 Palm OS, and ... it's got a camera! It's fun. I bought a 512MB SD card for it so I can play MP3's or watch movies (not likely). It syncs with PC's by simply dropping it into a cradle and pushing one button. I like this thing, and, because it's so small and easy-to-use, I actually DO use it, everyday. (I could never get motivated to keep a daytimer, I need something more "fun" than that). There's also a wealth of third-party hardware accessories and software for it, not to mention a loyal following of users and their many web-pages. I had a Casio "Zoomer" PDA some years back, but there was little industry software support for it, and it never evolved with the times. I still have the original "Palm Pilot," and keeping it only as a relic.


applications
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My Software

Of course, computers without software aren't much good. Here's a list of some of the applications I use or play with:


  • Web Browsing (Firefox, my current default browser, IE), Eudora (email) MS Office 2003/2007PHPApache Web Server
  • vi (can't get away from my U*IX roots!)
  • Webcam32
  • Games
    • Quake II, Quake Arena, Doom III (a system demolisher!), Half Life 2 (even MORE of a system demolisher!), NOLF (No One Lives Forever), Max Payne, 007 Nightfire
      • (A terribly supported, barely operational game. stay clear, a waste of $50 when I bought it)
    • Duke Nukem MH, Serious Sam (both these games crack me up!), GTA III, GTA Vice City
    Various P2P Winamp
  • Seti@Home (almost 14,000 units! Whoo Hoo!) (I quit SETI when they moved to the "BOINC" platform; terribly written SW. But then, it DId come from Berkeley...)
  • VNC ("Virtual Network Connection" - remote PC access utility)
  • DVD Profiler (Allows me to catalog my DVD collection)
  • Dragon Naturally speaking (A truly incredible Voice-to-text program)
  • GRAPHICS
    • Macromedia Dreamweaver (web development, i.e., these pages)
    • Various video utilities (AVS SW is by far my fav right now (have a look at their "use all of our SW for one license option, "darn cool!"). stay away from 123 Copy DVD Gold though...)
    • Ulead PhotoImpact (graphics)Ulead PhotoExplorer ("Explorer" for graphics files)
    • Recolored
      • This program is amazing! See a "Before and After" here, and here
    • Neat Image
    • Qimage Pro (yeah, right. "Pro." Read on...)
      • (well, I used to use this. I went to upgrade and found their "Purchase Agreement" actually says (and I'm not making this up) that if you don't speak "nicely" to them when requesting support, they'll invalidate your support and purchase agreements and will refuse to allow you future upgrades. I wrote an email asking if this was so, and essentially the reply was, "If you're going to ask this, then you're not a customer we want to have". I guess after spending 20+ years in customer-support, I'm biased, and simply stunned at such an attitude! I only deal with professional companies, so they got their wish... I'm no longer a customer)
    Various security programs (dammit! "Can't we all just get along...?")
    • Popfile (spam filtering: $#%ing spam. This has to stop...)
    • McAfee Security Center - not-so-Nice spam/spyware protection (although the UI isn't well thought-out). I got the "full-featured" version which pretty much does everything, and I'm happy with the real-time and scanning protection, along with many other features. It'll protect up to 3 PC's as well, and while not quite enough, that's pretty good for me.
    • Webroot Spy Sweeper
    • Firewalls, and others...
  • Nero (CD burning. I don't like it)
  • WeatherWatcher (monitor your weather real-time)
  • Windows XP, Windows Vista, Linux (various distros)
  • Countless utilities and tools needed for managing HW products and SW products
  • And many other toys and tools (WCPUID, Tntclk, ICQ, TZO, Borland JBuilder, Delphi, SiSoft Sandra, 3DMark200x, ViCam utils, MS PWS, GameSpy, MGI PhotoSuiteIII, etc.)
cameras
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nikon Coolpix S550 Camera

This is now my latest and "main" camera, the Nikon Coolpix s550. Yep, it's dated now, but still has a bunch of nice features and is smaller than all heck. "only" 10 mega-pixels, but that's actually pretty good, and, as most cameras in this class has all kinds of shooting "modes" and features. I don't use it a lot, but it does get some use; recently (09/2013) I did a video "review" of one of my knives just for fun and it worked and did great. Did I mention it's small? I like that, a lot. However, I don't expect to buy another dedicated camera like this again given "smartphones" today; they, in my opinion, will simply take over the portable camera market.

Canon A620 Digital Camera

Canon A620

My latest digicam, the Canon A620. It's a "Prosumer" digital, 7 mega-pixels. I bought it because the Casios below were just ... slow. I missed too many shots of Alexa while the camera decided to snap a picture (Well, the EX-Z57 isn't too bad, although you can't count on it all the time. The QV-4000? It's just plain ... slow!) Now, I do find some problems with this camera: Low-light photos aren't as good as the EX-Z57, and it sometimes too is slow. But in good light, and in general use, it's great. Now I still use the EX-Z57 because it's about 1/2 the size of the Canon, so small in fact that I sometimes forget I have it in my pocket. No such trouble with the Canon, although it's still quite compact. And with the Canon you can attach additional lenses such as macro or zoom (which I also have). The ring you see on this photo is the adapter, and it comes off when you're not using lenses.Oh, a neat thing on this camera is its display. While not nearly as large as the EX-Z57's (which is simply HUGE for such a small device), it flips out, and swivels so you can hold the camera in almost any position and see what you're shooting. I got some great pics of Alexa's black-belt test using it. It comes with no internal memory, but I have a 1GB SD card that holds all I need. Last, it uses 4 AAA batteries (NI-MH rechargeable) which allow you to plug in other batteries should you lose charge (unlike the EX-Z57 which uses (out of necessity due to its size) a proprietary Li-Ion battery. Battery life seems very good, not quite as good as the EX-Z57, but good enough. Oh, and the camera's fairly inexpensive to boot! Reviews rave about this camera, and it's justified. Here's one if you're interested.

Casio EX-Z57 Digital Camera

Casio EX-Z57After struggling through the slow speed-lag of my Casio QV-4000 (below), I decided I'd never buy another Casio camera. Apparently I was wrong. After some research and reviews, I bought the Casio EX-Z57, a very tiny 5Mpx 3x zoom camera, with incredible battery life. And most important, FAST shutter-times. My QV-4000's slow response allowed me to miss many of Alexa's antics, but this one is ... quick. And, again, tiny, so I can carry it around easily. The "selling points" were: 1) Fast; 2) Tiny. Even though it's 5Mpx, as opposed to the 4Mpx of the QV-4000, it's image quality just isn't as good (small lens = poorer snapshot quality, a matter of physics). But it's still pretty darn good, and the huge (for a credit-card-sized camera) 2.7" LCD is incredible. I like it. I stuffed it with a 1GB SD card that'll hold 400-or-more pictures. More than enough.

Casio QV-4000 Digital Camera

Casio QV4000 ReviewSeveral years ago we bought one of the first "Megapixel" digital cameras, the Kodak DC210. The camera was good, perhaps not great, but we used it for many years. A lot of the pictures you see on this site were taken with the DC210.But, time moves on, and I decided to buy a "state of the art" digicam, but stay right off the cutting edge -- what I mean by this is that you can buy the current latest&greatest, but you'll pay a premium, and in 6 months will be regretting it because your "latest&greatest" will be discounted for the next "latest". I've been down this road, as we all have.In Feb 2002 I stumbled across a deal that was too good to ignore. Walmart was selling (only via their website) the Casio QV-4000 for $300-$400 below list. I was looking at the current cream-of-the-crop camera, the Canon Powershot G2, but the Casio was nearly as good, and $400 less. I bought one online, and had it shipped next day. Fun...! It's a very good camera, for a way-cheap price (at least, I got a great price! For now, that is.... in a couple years Albertson's will be giving them away when you sign up for their video rentals). BUT, the problem I'm having is "lag," the time it takes to snap one picture for another, sometimes 10 seconds or longer. When you're taking snaps of a 5 year old running, that's an eternity. I'll be upgrading shortly because of that.Some examples of the camera's output can be seen by this snapshot taken of Alexa in Oregon (low res, 70KB, medium res 256KB), or you can look at my mom's page, and finally, a "mini-gallery" I'm putting together. Pretty good pictures, aren't they? I'll be having a lot of fun with this!

Aiptek Pocket DV 3100

Fun! This little thing (reviewed as the "GrandVision CoolDV 350," same thing, different vendor) is just FUN! It's a very small ("pack-and-a-half of cigarettes") sized video recorder, voice recorder, webcam, and digital camera. You can record videos on it (small, 320x240, ".avi" with sound), voice, and take pictures at 3.1 megapixel resolution. The Aiptek Pocket DV 3100 stores all this on Compact flash cards (as well as some 16MB internal memory), and downloads via USB. It has an LCD display (see it flipped out in the pic) and a wonderful and simple menuing system. Who can't love a camera this small that does so much?! Ok, the resolution's kind of crummy, the video's only suitable for web-display, and the pictures are grainy outside of bright light, but it does so much and is so convenient that it's a gem. I waited until Aiptek increased the resolution, and picked one up. I've been using it to "tape" Alexa doing her "acting" (You can see a short video clip (.avi) of our cat "Wizard" doing nothing special at all).Digital camcorder

Currently I have an analog Canon Super 8mm camcorder, but it's time to update, especially since I want to start making DVD's of Alexa. But, I haven't yet, and am starting to look at digital camcorders to get the "lay of the land" on the technologies and features, as well as prices. I'll almost certainly go with "MiniDV", but aside from that I'm not certain yet what the important features are. Video quality will be #1 in my book, and second to that will be a compact size. Firewire or USB 2.0 connectivity is a must so I can transfer the videos to my system. Beyond that, I don't know yet, and frankly, don't want to spend the money, right now...

gadgets
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HTM MX-700 Remote Control

Universal Remote MX-700 link(02/2008: This was my previous "really-cool" remote. We still have it, but it's now been replaced by the logitech "Harmony One" that I describe below. Technology moves on, after all...)

I've been a "remote control freak" since early on, and I have many universal remotes, from the ground-breaking "GE RRC600" remote, the first truly programmable, to the "CORE CL9" remote (designed and built by a company founded by Apple's Steve Wosniak), to many other remotes along the way. (Incidentally, I still have the GE and the CORE!). In the MX-700 I've now found my "remote control nirvana" (for the time-being, at least). So let me tell you something about it. First, it's a "Professional" remote, only sold to professional installers for use by their clients. As such, you're not supposed to be able to buy one if you're not "in the business," but there are ways to find them. And that's just what I did. When I bought mine they retailed for $499, but if you look around you can get them for much less. YOu can now buy the "Solo" model (without the accompanying, and nearly-useless MX-200 "Sidekick") for $349. In any case, it's a luxury buy.But what it does is allow you to program it, using your computer, to do ... anything. I won't go into details since it's quite extensive, but you essentially have a remote with hard-buttons, as well as an LCD display, and they're all programmable. Of course it has "macro" capability, and has a database of IR codes to download to it, and supplements that with learning capability. But it's well laid-out and once set up can function as your only remote control, no matter how many components you have (it supports 20 components, but that's arbitrary since you can program them into the MX-700 any way you wish).I've set mine up by capturing all of my existing (7, at last count) remotes into it, then mapped them to some easy-to-use pages. The main page I use I called "Sys," and I can control virtually everything from there.If you're tired of a table-full of remotes, and like gadgets such as this (and have a couple hundred dollars laying around), buy one. (Actually, I now have two, my original died and I couldn't recover it, so bought a 2nd one, but come to find out the first one came back alive! So now I have two, or "had," it died again... sigh) A great review of this "Ferrari of remote controls" can be found here.And, actually I've been eyeing the "ProntoPro NG TSU7000" remote -- way cool. But, the darn things cost a lot (currently $450 if you shop around). Hard to justify (for me), but I'd love to get one, someday. I'll wait 'til the price drops a bit more. m original remote to the Pronto," I just didn't "feel like it." Then again, I thought I'd try the Logitech Harmony series, and found a winner (below)...

Pronto Pro NG

Prontopro NG TSU7000I did by the "prontopro NG (TSU7000)" mentioned above. However, I never really used it. Certainly it's got a ton of very cool features, but the problem is/was that it didn't understand some of my components, and in particular my Yamaha amp/receiver. That receiver is quite complicated, and while I could have done the "copy IR from old remote to this" dance, I found an easier solution. That's not to take anything away from the Pronto; it's an amazing control, and for what I paid for it I'd better use it! But for now it's dormant...

Logitech "Harmony one"

Logitech Harmony One remote controlHere's "the one," Logitech's "Harmony one." It replaces (as of Feb '08) the very successful "880" remote, and for me, it's the one... There's a lot to say about it, but two things stand out. First, ergonomically it's excellent; the color touch screen, the button layout (reportedly, Logitech spent 6 months in user tests to tune the layout), and in shape it's just darn great. The touchscreen is clear and bright, and responsive, and the key layout makes a lot of sense (the keys are grouped according to general functions such as menu keys, channel/volume keys, play keys (DVD, TiVo, so on), and a number pad. Of course the touchscreen is another "set" of keys that you can program as needed, download new key images, download photo slideshows (hmmm, nice, but is it really necessary?), and load custom backgrounds (again, necessary?). In short, it's well-designed and as a result, easy to hold and use.

The second thing, and the "winning ticket" for me is the versatile and amazingly comprehensive programming. You set up the Harmony by running their "Logitech harmony remote software" app, create an account (user/pass, some other info, most optional), and then get started. Getting started is very easy. First you gather all the make and models of the equipment you want/need to control, then plug them into the app, and if the model is in their database (probably so, the support a dynamic ~250,000 different models and growing) you set up "Activities." These activities are actually macros (the term used by most other more-advanced remotes call them) that automate tasks by issuing multiple commands ("turn on TV, turn on DVD player..." with one button push). Creating activities is amazingly simple, much more than any other controller I've programmed. An example would be a macro an activity for "Play DVD." You tell it what equipment you want to control when the "Play DVD" touchscreen button is pressed (e.g., DVD player, amplifier, TV), and it guides you through the process, asking you if you want to turn the non-used boxes off, which inputs to use (example: use the HDMI input on the TV, and the HDMI output from the DVD player), and it figures out how to set this up for you. After it's done you simply have to touch the "Play DVD" button on the touchscreen and (in my case) it turns on the TV, amp, and DVD player, sets the input/outputs as needed, and ... you're watching a DVD! when you're done you push one hard-button, a power button, and all the equipment that was turned on goes off for you.

More than that though was that it could identify all my components, including my ridiculously-complex Yamaha receiver/amp. More than just identify it, the software was able to find "hidden" commands that give the activity the control it needs to really work (example, I was unable to use either the zenith remote nor front panel button to "jump" right to the HDMI input, I had to hit "TV/Video" on the remote, then scroll through the many inputs manually until I found the one I wanted. The Harmony knows these hidden "discrete codes" that let it just jump right to the needed input source automatically).

THere's a lot more to say about it, almost all good. THe interface used by the remote software is "ok," and allows you to tweak settings and buttons and settings, but it could be easier in those cases where you need or want to tweak: 1) To layout the buttons (accessible by touching the "Devices" touchscreen icon) on the touchscreen you use a "customize buttons" feature in the SW. THis works, but if you want to move the displayed buttons around (you can have up to 6/"page," where a "page" is one screen-full, and you can have multiple pages) you need to go through a pretty awkward job of moving them up or down, one button at a time. it "nudges" the button up or down, and to move it, say, from page 5 to page one is a tiresome task. The Pronto and the MX-700 allow you to just drag the buttons to where you want them, taking 1/10 or less time to do the same work. And there's no "undo" feature, so you have to reverse what you did to fix mistakes (and this doesn't always work. If you delete a device button that you don't need or can't use there's no way to undelete it aside from loading in the entire default set that Harmony found initially). These are small gripes given that the basic setup "Just Works," and the rest is just tweaking.

Other nifty things are a motion/touch activated backlight (the touchscreen and the buttons), a recharging base (also lit), USB connect for updates, learning remote, almost complete customization of the button functions and touchscreen labels, "beep" button press feedback, rechargeable, and others. Plus, the manual and software are clear, albeit lacking in "nitty-details" that might be nice to know. Also, they're written well, the SW installs without issue and is easy to use, and, in my case, presented in fluent english (not a "given" by any means) So, while not cheap, this control is a beautiful piece of engineering that does more than you'd expect, shows a lot of attention to detail, and works where others struggle.

ROBOTS!

RobosapianRobosapien
Robosapian. Need I say more?Ok, this thing is just a toy, but a very COOL toy! It's an amazingly articulated and programmable "cheap" robot. It walks, "talks" (grunting), dances, and can pick up and throw things. It's about 14" tall, houses 7 motors, and is somewhat hackable. You can program it or control it with an infrared remote control. I programmed my MX-700 to work with it. I SHOULD say I bought this for Alexa, but the fact is, DAD NEEDED IT! So it goes. But she loves it. More info on Robosapian is available here, and here, and here, and here... This one was the 1st generation of Robosapian, and my first one.

the "next" RobosapianRobosapien V2
Robosapian Version 2. Bigger, smarter, better speaking, so on... I like the taller size (10 inches taller) and the new features. Alexa took it to her "show day" at school and the kids loved it.
One thing odd about it is... it's not entirely stable while walking! The guy will sometimes just fall over! On the other hand, the cool thing is... he can get back up on his own! All-in-all, a very fun toy..

 

 

RobopetRoboPet"

Robopet is a ... dog, who pretty much does what he wants, but will listen, sometimes. He's cute, and Alexa loves him. The cats, on the other hand, don't know what to make of him. "deal with it" I tell them, but they just look at me and blink. Robopet rolls over and scratches himself. .

 

 

Roboraptor (and Roboreptile)

RoboRaptorRoboraptor," another in the line of "wowwee" robot products. I have "him" along with his smaller sibling, "Roboreptile." Kinda "scary," but utterly harmless. Minja (our dog) really doesn't know what to make of them....

 

Roboquad

Roboquad

"Roboquad," another in the line of "wowwee" robot products. He's kinda creepy, watching him slither around forward, backwards, and sideways like a crab on its pointed feet. But that makes them kinda cool. And of course he can do most of the things that make the "robo" series fun.

 

Dragonfly

WowWee Dragonfly"The "Dragonfly" is a bit different from other WowWee "robots" since it doesn't have arms, etc., or eyes, hearing, or a "brain" to allow it to do the things the other ones can. But it makes up for that by being able to fly! It does that by flapping its wings. Pretty cool, but it's actually hard to fly (for me, at least); I can't seem to get it up in the air for any length of time. I bought it's "cousin" the "Bee," (after some recent movie) that does the same thing. I must be doing something wrong since I've seen them fly, on videos at least. I want to give it some real try and see if I can't' get it working and flying like I'm sure it can.

i have one or two other "roboXXX" products (read that, "Toys!"), but I won't bore you with them. If interested, go to Wowwee's website. All of the full-sized robots show differing levels of intelligence, responding to sounds, "sight," some can see colors, go on guard duty, or just run around the house doing "whatever." All of them are remote controlled, and programmable through the remotes (and through some available hacker programs so you can set them up on a PC). Next I want to buy one of those small indoor helicopters (not from WowWee) that I've been seeing. Good thing I have a lot of time on my hands!


Oh yeah, and I seem to have acquired a LOT more robot and car and flying toys. Go figure. Maybe some day I'll get around to adding a few to this list.


flashlight

SureFire L4 LumaMax

yeah, I'm boasting here about a flashlight. but not just any flashlight, it's the "Surefire L4 Digital Lumamax." It's small, about 5" long, and doesn't weigh much. you can carry it in your pocket, and I often do. you can do that with a lot of flashlights that cost less than a small TV, as this one didn't. so then, what's the big deal? well, it's small, light, bulletproof construction, and bright! really bright. as in, don't point it at anyone's eyes, bright. but then, as a tactical flashlight, that's what it's designed for, to turn an attacker into a stumbling boob probing in the dark with his/her eyes only showing purple spots for a moment. especially so if they're creeping into your bedroom at night, in the dark. there's a reason police keep those big flashlights with them, both to help "light the way," but also as a blinding tool, and a "baton". this is a smaller version of that, but just about as bright. That "just about as bright" thing is what sold me. the source of all this brightness comes from the 5 Watt Luxeon Star LED as the lightsource (yep, a 5 WATT LED!), and powered by the ubiquitous 123a Lithium batteries (2). Now, I didn't buy this to blind and pummel people, as fun as that might be. I bought it both as a great and bright flashlight that I can carry with me, as well as because it's just a cool gadget! so sue me. My next gadget/carry-around flashlight will be the superb "Arc-AAA", another albeit too-expensive but mighty cool thing...

laser-pointer

green laser I don't want the Surefire LED flashlight to feel alone, so in a different kind of "light"...I found a great deal on a 5mW green laser pointer. For those that don't know, green lasers are far more powerful and visible than the standard red ones. So much so that this has a projected distance of two miles. AND, you can see the beam itself in the air! Now, you can get 20mW, or even 350MW green lasers that can cut through things, but I don't really need to do that (although I want to!) The problem is money -- those very-high-powered lasers can cost a couple grand (I got mine for $45). It's fun, the cats love it, and ... it's another gadget to play with.

Video/Music Watch

Video/Photo/MP3 WatchI have a fair collection of watches, mostly "gadget" types such as the standard workout watches, heart-rate monitors, ski watches, hiking, so on. But this is my favorite "gadget" watch, but probably not for the reasons you'd think. Nor did I think of those reasons before I bought it ... I got it at "Thinkgeek.com," a cool place for a lot of simply weird stuff. This is the metallic version, they sell an all-black one as well, but I thought this one looked better.

Before I go on, here are the specs as written on Thinkgeek's site:

  • Built-in 2GB flash memory
  • Plays videos in full color on 128x128 pixel screen. Impressive crisp, bright display
    Clock displays time and date (day, month, year)
    Plays MP3 and WMA music
    View images (thumbnails, slideshow, manual)
    Voice recording and playback with built-in microphone
    5-equalizer modes, super bass 3-D sound effect playing modes
    Battery charges via USB
    Leather band
    USB 1.1
    Dimensions: 1.6" x 1.5" x .5" thick (4cm x 3.8cm x 1.2cm)
  • Band Length: 8.66" (22cm)
  • Includes: earphones, mini CD with video conversion software, user guide, USB cable, Wall AC-to-USB charger

Pretty impressive specs and features (perhaps outside of the antiquated v1.1 USB spec), but the specs are real, and at a cost of just $80, a pretty impressive feat to accomplish! Since receiving my toy, I charged it, then loaded some pics (more on this later), and converted and downloaded some videos (my wedding video, to be exact), and although the screen is tiny (pretty-much mandatory in a reasonably-sized watch), it's clear, the colors are very good, and it doesn't skip or have sync problems. The really neat thing is the time display: it's a gorgeous analog watch-face (hrs, mins, secs, date) all in color and utilizing the capabilities that its screen allows. So, you'd think the specs and features, and low price are "the" reasons why it's my favorite, right? Nope, not really (I'll talk about those in a bit). It's that I can't help but laugh out loud at how this thing is "supported." I've really never seen anything this ... hacked together:

  1. It's boxed pretty nicely, albeit in a somewhat cheap'o box, and shipped with all the necessary things you'd generally want, although I'd like to see them throw in a video cable that could allow you to hook it up to a TV or monitor.

    Included is an (oh! this will be hard to use these terms!) "Instruction manual," and "installation CD." (There! I said it!) Let me try to describe these...

    THe "Instruction manual" is something I've come across, albeit in a much more refined form from other imported products, but not quite like this. First, they supply a printed manual, and one on the CD ... sort-of. The "manual" explains the workings of the watch, but skips some things like ... how do you install or download pics, MP3's, or videos? They tell you how to convert videos into the semi-proprietary ".smv" video format (a converter IS supplied on the CD), but not the basics on how to get them into the watch (simply, you plug the watch into the PC using USB, the watch becomes a removable disk, and you drag & drop them into the watch).
    Second, The manual was obviously written by someone who's native language isn't English, and who just didn't think the terms "document review" or "peer review" applied to them. Here are some examples that made me giggle (these are quotes):

    1. "Clock Showing: In off status, press "M" and after enter clock showing or press "<< and >>" at the same time, press "M " long enter clock showing, After 5 seconds enter the non-time display monitor to guarantee the condition automatically" "Third:The use of the convert tool. The copy stochastic compact disk in Executable folder to the hard disk, moves in this folder video2smv.exe, appears the following picture: (no picture shown)" "clock the right button of Input video in the upside chart (the position of the mouse pause),appear the following dialogue box of file selection" "#Support lyrics synchronization showing simultaneously, put the correct lyrics documents (the LRC form) and the songs in the same content" "4.the damage by the transportation or move from the agent to the customer, namely the non-product itself quality questions"
    2. "Tacitly approve setting: press ">|" all the settings replace to the tacitly approve settings such as language setting and back light hypothesis. #This operation not delete the files of mp4"
    And there's more, much more, but you get the point. I don't mind some errors in translation -- if I had to translate a doc into a language I hardly knew it'd be a horrid joke. But then again, it's not my job to do this. BUt I would think they'd run it by someone who both knew how to write product docs, and who knew the language it was translated into. That said, for the most-part I can figure out what most of this means; if this was intended to teach you how to write C++ code, or fix a jet engine, well...
    Third, the manual is in places just incorrect or inaccurate (or maybe just meaningless in context), and clearly incomplete. THey claim support for Win/Linux/Mac, but the only conversion code for videos is a Windows .exe file, and they later note that Linux is supported only if you can find a driver on your own, and they won't help you get a driver nor will they support it using their "stochastic cd." They make no mention of how to support it on mac. Or, they describe the FM radio specs and use, but the watch doesn't have a radio. there are a few other minor gaffs, but overall it seems fairly accurate.

    It's just plain confusing. along with the content and translation problems, they never really describe or reference the "human" interaction with the watch, namely, which buttons are which (the supplied picture in the hard-copy manual doesn't line up with the text in the manual, for instance).
    Here are two "real kickers:" THe "Installation CD" is one of those 3 1/2" CDs, and I slipped it in only to find nothing happened. I opened explorer and looked at the CD contents, and found no autorun or setup files. Just a readme.txt (not helpful) and some directories where they put the Win98 USB driver, the documentation directory, and the conversion utility directory.
    1. The conversion utility works pretty well, but I haven't been able to convert long video files, the program aborts with an obscure error. I tried various formats to convert from, avi and wmv, with the same results.
    2. The documentation directory just blew me away. The "manual" is actually a set of .jpg files! Ten of them, named (informatively) as "MP4-01, MP4-02, etc. jpg files?? I read somewhere there's this thing called "windows help," or "html," or .doc files, or even .pdf. Who in their right mind would scan a document (which differs from the included hard copy) and convert it to a graphic file?? Here's one example. I'm just stunned by that...
    It claims to charge via USB, but I haven't found that to be true.

    I don't have a clue what the settings for "backlight" or "Power Saving" do, changing the settings seems to have no effect on anything.

    There's no indication of battery level and, as such, the watch has died on me a few times; the battery life seems meager, but I haven't really timed it and the only way you know it's gotten low is when the watch turns itself off, briefly displaying a low-battery icon.

    As a "watch" it's nearly useless. It turns off after a few minutes, and the only way (that I've found) to tell the time is to hold a button for a while, watch it boot up, then either navigate to the "Time" menu and display the time, or wait until it defaults into time-mode, which lasts only a few minutes. One of the quotes I put here from the manual seems to suggest you can manually set the watch to display time permanently, but I haven't figured out if that's so, and just how to do it. (Update: After reading "4.1" above, and reading it again, and again, and ... I found a way to speed this up by holding the "M" button for 5 secs. This displays the time for a few seconds. I was hoping to find a way to keep it on all the time (OLED displays don't use much power), but haven't found out if I can or how, just yet)

    In the time-display mode (or when setting it) there's a mysterious number "0" through "6" that you can set or see. No real idea of what that means, my only guess is it's the day of the week (Sunday = 0, Monday = 1, etc.)
  2. And last, but I was holding out the best for the last:
    1. They provide a 1 yr warranty, the conditions of which aren't quite clear in the Warranty form they provide in both the hard-copy and jpg "instruction manuals." But that doesn't matter because, as the warranty form clearly tells you, that you need to fill in the form and mail/send it to them. That's a problem. You can fill out the form, that part's ok, but they never once tell you who they are, nor give any address to mail it to! Likewise, there is no email link/address, phone, and of course, no company name! Geez, why not make the warranty 100 years and promise to buy you a new house should the watch fail?? ;)
    2. And the best for last, on the CD they include more than just the "instructions," driver, and utility, they kindly package two copies of a virus (a "philis" variant) in two "_desktop.ini" files burned into the disk! Obviously "quality assurance" isn't "Job 1" with these guys; the Chinese may well be taking over the economic world, but it's not due to their attention to quality, Customers, or details -- those things that made the Japanese so successful, while we Americans rested on our past laurels...

So those are my thoughts on this gadget. It's cool, for what it can do and (mostly) what it does. It's cheap, not exceedingly well-built but good enough for a $80 "thing" that does all this. I guess in that light something had to give, and "give a lot" they certainly did! It's hard to get upset about the "amateurishness" of the product, support and supporting documentation, no doubt to short-cuts being taken to deliver a cheap product at an even cheaper price. Almost all of it literally made me laugh (well, aside from hiding their identity, that's probably illegal, at least in the U.s.), and a product that mostly works, looks cool, and shows a good deal of "engineering cleverness" is hard not to like If it cost more I'd be taking hostages, but I'm more than aware of "You get what you pay for."Nope, I wouldn't recommend anyone else buy one of these, there are (I found out later) a good number of better quality MP4 watches available, but the gaps I found in mine weren't enough to get me riled up or want to return it. Plus, I got a good laugh out of it, so ... for now this is my "favorite watch gadget..!"

 

cell phones
(top)

Samsung Galaxy S4 "Smartphone"

Samsung Galaxy S4This is my current (brand new as of 12/2013) cellphone, the Samsung Galaxy S4. I try to upgrade my cellphones every six or so years and this one replaces my previous Drod x (which I see I never wrote about before.)

iso this replaces the Droid and it was hard to pass up; cellphones change a LOT in five or six years, and this is head & shoulders ahead of the Droid. It has a 5" HD screen to die for, it's light, slot for a microSD card (up to 64GB,) comes with 16GB built in (I would've liked more, of course,) TOO MANY apps to figure out to be honest, but it's nice to be able to send a text just by saying "Text <so-and-so> I'll meet you for dinner at six" and ... it works! Runs Android so it's completely customizable, front and rear camera (2.0 and 13.0 mpx respectively,) even works as a "smart remote" for AV systems. And of course it's a phone, GPS, WiFi, NLC, and on and on. I DO wish it had two speakers though, it only has one and my wife's iPhone sounds tons better with its two speakers. Minor complaint. Replaceable battery and so far it seems to last about a day-and-a-half on a charge which isn't bad, but that's not great either. Oh yeah, and I got it on special for ... $0.00 (with a two yr contract,) and I went with AT&T because, oddly, Verizon wanted to almost DOUBLE the cost of my current plan if I "dared" upgrade. Go figure. I couldn't talk them out of it and now ... they lost a customer who'd been with them almost 20 yrs. Just dumb of them. And, while Ernie doesn't like it, I got the deep red version; I like it quite a bit -- I'm tired of everything being black or white.

Older cellphones

Motorola e815 ReviewsI first bought a cell-phone back, oh, around 12 or 14 years ago, an analog Motorola StarTac, which, at the time, was all the rage. I kept it for a year or so, but stopped the service when my company gave me a phone, a Nokia 6000-something. I had that for a few years, but in "reinventing" the company, it was decided to pull cell phones from most people, me included. I settled on a plan that gave me a bunch of minutes/month, and a huge bunch of minutes in "nights and weekends". The "weekends" part is fine, but like most cell plans, the target market for "night" use seems to be Vampires, or simply people who work graveyard shifts. But it's pretty cheap, and I'm okay with the minutes. and I get a company discount and free US roaming.With my plan I got an LG TM-510, a small clamshell phone that I liked pretty well. But the UI was just awkward, and heck, it was "only" black and white and horrors!, didn't support polyphonic ringtones! (while the UI was clunky, it's nothing like the user-hostile and convoluted UI of the Siemens Gigaset 4210 that I owned for a very short period of time. Don't get me going on that, the UI had to be written in pieces by engineers who were mad at one another...:)). Anyway, I went through several upgrades, and now I have the Motorola e815 phone. Dang nice. The battery life is just incredible, and it has all the "bells & whistles" you expect like text messaging, voice dialing, captures both pictures and video (with sound), etc. I bought a bluetooth headset for it that works perfectly. On the "less practical" side I've added background images, both images I've found on the net as well as my own pictures (for example, the phone now has a screensaver image of Alexa). I've also added ringtones, my favorites being the James Bond and Mission Impossible Themes (although my current ringer is the "Communicator" sound from Star Trek). YOu can get Destiny's Child or DMX ringtones if you want (I don't. Well, Ok, I like some of DMX). There are literally 1,000's available. You can buy a ridiculous number of accessories for it. I bought a spare battery and belt-clip, and the bluetooth headset as well as a 512MB "Transflash" memory card for it that's silly-tiny. I don't know exactly what to do with it, but I have have a half-GB in my phone now..! You can get good prices on cellphone accessories if you look around and buy from a good vendor.

The phone also supports "Get It Now," a service/feature that lets you browse for and download ringtones, backgrounds, games, and so on. I've used it a couple of times, but frankly it's really a way to get money from you: First, simply to use Get it now you have to burn up your own airtime! To me that's unbelievable, it's like amazon.com charging you a per-minute fee for browsing their site. Beyond that, everything you download ("most" everything, some are free) costs you. The charges tend to be minimal, from $1.50 to around $5.00 (added to your phone bill), but could add up (I'm sure the providers hope so at least!). Downloading 3 apps a month would add half-again to my current bill. But I have tried the free apps, and paid for one. Actually it's kind of neat searching for apps and downloading them, but I just don't want to incur the (albeit minimal) cost for it -- especially the charge to "shop" their wares. Just Plan "Dumb"... The phone also has a web browser, but I'm not interested in using it. I am interested in text messaging, however, and I do use that. I've even set it up so I get daily stock updates and bank transactions, so I can track my losses more closely... ;)

And, this cell phone is just plain "old," at least four years old; a couple generations of "old." That's ok, I hardly use it.

mp3 players
(top)

iPod Nano

iPod 8GB NanoA few weeks ago I wanted into a Pawn Shop, looking for tools, actually. I left with a 5" c-clamp and a roofing measure. Oh yeah, I also left with an iPod Nano! Impulse buy, of sorts -- I'd been looking at one for a while but was turned off by the $80 price tag for this thing. But I managed to get them to take $50 for an 8GB, green, Nano, Gen 6 (I SPECIFICALLY wanted the gen 6 and not the newer ones because the Nano is just SO tiny.) It does a lot for a toy like this. 8GB certainly isn't huge, but, well, neither is the Nano. Music works great on it, the battery lasts a long time, but I really like the clock feature; I plan to buy one of those watch straps made for the Nano where you just clip it on and ... there ya go, a watch! I wish it played videos, but then why, given the 1.5" display? The display is crisp, and you can rotate it, choose new watch faces, change backgrounds, display photos, so on. And you can just SHAKE the thing to skip to the next track. I like it, and it certainly wasn't "spendy."

iPod touch

I had an ipod touch. I kinda wanted one, but wanted to wait 'til they bumped up the storage (the originals were a measly 8 or 16 gb). They came out with a 32 gb model, but given that I owned a perfectly-acceptable ipod video with an 80 gb disk, that seemed like a good step down, despite the nifty (and many) new features. Plus, they unashamedly charged $499 for it... I can wait, thanks.


BUT, after our trip to Singapore in March of '08, and mostly, after a 22 hr fight back, for a guy who's terrified of flying, and can't sleep on airplanes, I seem to have left my old and trusty ipod video in the seat pocket of the plane. I called the airline, but (surprise!), no one found it. Chuck that $350 sliver of hardware and look for something to fill in its place...

I did, the next day ("day" being relative given the flight time and timezone change) I waltzed into Best Buy and plunked down a large sum for the "touch."

without a doubt it's just cool. You get music of course, and videos, also of course. But you also get internet access (wireless), and with that web surfing, email, youtube, IM, and so on. It's actually amazing. No, it's clearly amazing. It's tiny, the same basic width and height of my previous iPods, but it's skinny... it's sitting in my back pocket right now and I only know that because I remember putting it there; I can't feel anything more than a credit card. The screen is incredible, and it uses the display as a complete touch screen to maneuver the device. Mostly, that's great, but there's some more that I'll touch.

The problem(s) I have though are that it's only 32gb. That's trouble for a guy with over 1000 CDs and 550 DVDs. My first MP3 player was the "FIRST" mp3 player, the Diamond Multimedia Rio PMP300, with a native capacity of 32mb (I "upgraded" it to all of 48mb, the max). Back then it was fine, so I shouldn't complain that my new toy is 1000 times the size (or is that 1024? tech vs. marketing). But then, back in 1998 32mb was a ton of space. I had to trip down my mp3 collection to fit, and cut out most all of my videos, which is a shame since I really like the screen on the "touch." But I can't complain, I knew that coming in, and I'm well aware of the cost of flash ram (and the sluggishness of Apple to apply new hardware technology to their products, while they excel in software innovation, iTunes aside. iTunes is clearly a work-in-progress, as it has been since day 1).

My major concern is how to WORK the thing. Yep, the touch screen is nifty, but when I'm playing an mp3, and decide to use safari (web browser), and then want to go back to my song, it's not clear how to know what you're playing or how to get back to it. There's a "Now playing" button that usually works fine, but sometimes not, and I wind up with a generic "Playlist" screen when I try to return to "Music," and getting to where I was is hit-and-miss. Also, unlike EVERY other iPod, the song title doesn't scroll for long song titles. That's a very real problem. I like to listen to Glenn Beck (radio talk show), and download his shows each day. But he names them like "The Glenn Beck Program - May 10 2008." This is too long for the ipod display, and again, unlike previous iPods that dealt with this by scrolling the name, the touch doesn't, so my ability to "select" is among: "The glenn beck program...", or I can choose "The Glenn Beck Program...". It puts "..." after a long name, so you never see the rest of the name. period. For all of Apples "usability" claims, they often settle with code you'd expect from a 16 yr old hacker.

I drove, with Ernie, to a strip-mall, to get a Blimpie's sandwich and later to hit Blockbuster. In this mall there's a Starbucks, and excited because I know they have WIFI, I pulled out my ipod touch and tried to see if it would connect. And it did! unfortunately, when I fired up Safari as the browser it asked which WIFI network to hook up with. I found five, and chose one that was unlocked (no WEP or WPA), but it was a user service that required login. I could find NO WAY to change my provider using Safari. Ultimately I used the "Settings" control to manually select new networks, but ... why? If it fails, why doesn't Apple allow you to find some way to change your network? To me that's just meager programming.

So yes, the touch has a lot of nifty features, but in typical Apple style they assume it Just Works, and if it doesn't they leave you to hang or flounder around. I almost hate to say this, but Microsoft understands "imperfection" better than Apple does.

Would I buy one again? No. I'd wait 'til it's improved, more user-friendly, and I'd wait for the 64gb model that I'm sure is coming.

All that said, it's still just amazing, in size, capability, and potential. But it assumes too much, making mistakes in the process, isn't very user friendly for even basic needs, and it's spendy. I'd go with the previous versions.

iPod Video 30 gb

iPod 30G PhotoI wanted to replace my "old" iPod (in Apple-terms that translates to "Last month") with the video/photo version, but I held off because these things aren't cheap. But, when my iPod photo died, the 2nd time, Apple kindly sent me this (I bought the extended warranty, a good idea).

the 30GB video version 5.5. It does everything the old one (iPod Video, v4), but plays videos, and holds 2.5x of the old one. And it's black. The details aren't too important beyond that, but read about the iPod Video below to get some idea. The one "major" nod I made for this was to buy the "Griffin TuneCenter" dock for it. The dock allows you to play music, videos, and pictures through a stereo or on a TV. While the operation of the TuneCenter is pretty "clumsy" (you have to do everything Just Right and in the right order to get it playing), it works, and it's handy to have. We keep it in the kitchen to play on the LCD TV we have mounted over the stove. Convenient.

Along the way I bought a Belkin car doc/FM transmitter that works flawlessly. I bought a few videos from iTunes, just as an experiment (I think the prices they charge, $9.99 each) is simply too high, even ridiculous. So I rip and convert movies from my DVD collection. That'll be handy for the 22hr flight to Singapore we're planning. Nothing like almost two dozen hours flying over nothing but ocean to keep a raging acrophobic who's also terrified of flying on his toes... I'm hoping a movie or 10 might keep me from leaping out the window.

SO where's the old iPod photo? I traded it in when it broke and they sent me the above video (apparently even Apple deprecates their repair supply for the latest equivalent versions. Ernie gave her brother her old iPod nano, so she took this when I upgraded to the iPod video 80 gb model.

iPod Video 80 gb

iPod 30G Photosame as above, just larger (capacity, and it's thicker). I wanted the extra space and I wanted Ernie to have a "better" unit than her nano, so I sprung for this.

Of course, I stupidly LOST IT on a flight back from Singapore, so now I'm onto the iPod touch, with mixed emotions...

 

 

 

 

iPod photo

iPod 30G Photo

Yep, I found a deal on the latest ("G4," or Fourth Generation) iPod photo, with the (then) new color screen! A great display is what attracted me, and it sported a 30GB drive instead of the 20GB I went shopping for. Of course it's got all the standard "cool" of the iPod family, sleek design, small size, that wonderful thumbwheel, and holds a lot of songs (my entire MP3 collection, around 5,000 songs). Apple-math says it should hold 7,500 songs, but the disk is now almost full, but I blame that on my ripping MP3s at 192kbps instead of the common 128kbps; hence, larger (but better-sounding) song files.The "photo" part is a bit, oh, I dunno, "hokey." While it's got a nice display, it's only 2" in size, so any photo you see is teeny-tiny. But, you can hook it up to a TV (with an optional cable) and display them full-res. Oh, and the battery life is claimed to be 15 hrs now, the longest of any iPod to date. Obviously it's nice to hold a few thousand songs on one small toy, and the Apple interface makes it easy to find and use them. I especially like the "Rating" system provided by iTunes that puts songs you like into one folder to play. To synchronize you just plug it in. I recently bought the "Altec Lansing inMotion" base for it, essentially a couple speakers and a slot for the iPod in the middle that lets you turn the iPod into a small stereo. It even has a remote for volume, FF, RW, so on. Pretty cool, and the sound for such small speakers is surprisingly full. Oh, and I bought the "Griffin iTrip" which is a small, cool-looking little thingy that plugs into the top of the iPod and turns it into an FM transmitter. It's range isn't vast (maybe 10 feet), but good enough to let me toss the iPod on the passenger seat and listen to it through my car's FM radio. I also have a non-name set of very-small speakers that plug into the top of the iPod that lets me listen to the (admittedly tiny) sound when I don't feel like wearing headphones. The speakers are a small "tube" that plug on top of the iPod and are unobtrusive (no wires, etc.) The speakers use a single AA battery to power them. WHat don't I like? iTunes. I once remember Steve Jobs presenting the iPod at a conference, and saying something like "iTunes is the best PC application ever written!"Steve, you kidder you! It's not a terrible application, but it's far from intuitive. Case-in-point: So, this is both a music and photo player, right? well, fire up iTunes and just try to figure out how to load a photo! There's no clear icon or button to do so, you have to pull down (of all things) the "Edit menu," then select (again, of all things) "Preferences," then select an "iPod" tab, then the "Photos" tab, then go through an arcane slurry of finding a folder you had to previously deposited the pictures into. arduous. Oh, and during installation iTunes said my new iPod had to be formatted, started the format, and after a couple hours I gave up and exited the ("non-responding") program. It left a few dozen garbage directories and files all over the iPod, and refused to let me format it again. (I got around this by disabling iTunes which prevents you from accessing the iPod as any other USB disk, then using Windows to do the format, then reinstall all the music. Oh, and there's more! iTunes likes to either "lose" MP3s, or double-them-up; I had to "clear" my file list and reinstall, and in the process lost the music I bought on the iTunes store! THere's an option to reinstall the purchased music, but iTunes tells me that I can't re-download music I bought and previously downloaded, even though it's GONE! ha ha, those zany Apple engineers..!Aside from iTunes, I love this thing. Given that it's disk-based, and given my problems with disks recently, I opted for the $50 extended warranty, something I never do. Well, almost never, but I wanted the peace of mind. Also, the warranty will give me a battery replacement when this one dies, and since Apple charges (hold your breath) $100 to replace the battery, I figured it was a good idea to get the warranty.

 

video
(top)

Zenith Plasma TV
Zenithe Plasma Z50PX2D
We stopped by the local CompUSA (when they were still running brick & mortar stores) to buy some small item, a memory stick or something. But, in strolling through we spied a great-looking, and even greater "costing" plasma TV by Zenith. After some research and "fiddling," we would up having it delivered.
It's a dandy TV, the picture is 2nd to none.

Portable DVD player
Initial IDM-1210 While not really a "TV," I thought I'd post this about the portable DVD player I have. It's the "Initial IDM-1210," with all kinds of bells & whistles (repeat play, angles, subtitles, numerous input/output jacks, remote, plays DVDs, DVD-R, CDs, MP3s, Divix avi's, jpegs, so on). it's tiny & light but The big thing is the display, a 10.2" active matrix (TFT) screen that is wonderful (I first bought a "Mintek" player with a truly horrid 8.5" display -- terrible contrast, and lines across the screen like an old TV set. I returned it the very next day and bought the Initial).The screen (and price) are what really sold me on this one. Per one review:

"The Initial ... has the best screen I've seen on a portable. The picture is amazingly crisp, and the color complexity is to die for."

I agree, and what's more important than display quality? (well, reliability does come to mind). On that, this is the 2nd IDM-1210 I had; the first had some "stuck" pixels, but the real problem was it wouldn't always play a DVD, and made some whining/grinding noises (probably why it wouldn't always play). This one seems fine, but time-will tell. I hate it when stuff breaks. The IDM-1210 runs off an AC adapter, a car adapter, or battery (all included) oddly, the (poorly-translated) manual notes that the battery won't charge off the car adapter. a bummer if you're driving long distances or camping (but then again, if you're camping you probably should be catching fish or roasting marshmallows instead). Battery life is about 2.5-3.0 hours (although when the battery dies, it dies without notice, the unit just shuts off suddenly, without warning. not elegant). If the player holds up I plan to get a spare battery (which, amazingly, run from $65 (not too bad for a Li-Ion proprietary battery) up to $170 for the exact same battery! can you say "markup?")

it's a fun toy at a very reasonable price, is great for traveling, and can function as a DVD player for a larger TV.

media
(top

Some of the Media tools I use

Pinnacle Dazzle DVC-100 video recorder

Pinnacle Dazzle DVC100I recently got this, the Pinnacle Dazzle DVC-100 video recorder (and is usually called a "DVD Recorder," which is odd since it can also copy to your hard drive). I bought it for the reasons most everyone does; convert old VHS or camcorder tapes to DVD. I got it for cheap, and it included Pinnacle Studio 11 (and driver), Pinnacle Instant DVD Recorder, and Pinnacle studio bonus DVD SW.

So, it's a USB 2.0 device that provides both composit (RCA) input (video and L/R audio) as well as S-Video inputs. That's pretty much it. Installed perfectly, both the HW and SW, and after I dug up my old VCR and some old VHS tapes, plugged it in, fired up the "Instant DVD recorder" SW, and I was ready to go. I managed to copy, to to DVD, three old tapes (recorded speaches I made, a tech tutorial of some SW I'd written, and a tape of my first trip to europe with my buddy Calvin. This is darn FUN! I dug up 13 "HI-8" camcorder tapes, but I'd loaned out my camcorder so until I get it back I can't say what's on any of those tapes. Glad I got it.

Argosy HV359T Networked MultiMedia Recorder/player

Argosy HV359T Multimedia Recorder/PlayerNow THIS is one very cool little machine, the "Argosy HV359T Multimedia Media Player and Recorder. What it is your "standard" 1.5TB networked disk (Wifi and cabled ethernet). But that's where "standard" ends. It also provides the ability to record and play video from the (darn large) internal disk. You can directly record from a video/audio source such as a VCR, DVD, etc., or you can upload videos from you PC(s). It also plays MP3/wav music, and stores files just like any other disk.

I love it!

The UI is kinda "basic," but it gets the job done VERY well. Via the remote (I programmed our Harmony universal remote to operate it) you can select movies/songs/pics and play them through your TV setup. It plays regular and HD formats for video. So far I've copied a few thousand MP3s and about 60 DVDs, including our Wedding video.

seti@home
(top)

My Seti systems

(This entry is obsolete. The seti@home team has moved to a new version of their software, on a completely different base and deployment ("BOINC", and it's terrible; takes up needless CPU time, and they wrote it so it could only be removed through outrageous effort. SHAME ON YOU BOINC!). But prior, I nearly made 14,000 units before they shut down, so that's not bad. I'm leaving this though because of all the time I put into it. Or more accurately, all the time my systems put into it...)



Snapshot of my 1976th Seti run

I'm adding this primarily as a link from Seti@Home to share what I use to crunch Seti data. If you don't know what S@H is (as it's abbreviated), you can find info here. But, in short, it's an initiative out of UC Berkeley that had the notion to try to find "patterns" in radio "noise" grabbed from space. In effect, if a pattern was found, it may indicate a source of intelligent transmission, say a Martian TV Station, or some wacky alien kids from Zeta 2 Reticuli IV just playing around with their Intercosmic Walkie Talkies. Such a source could reveal the existence of life forms other than our own.(NOTE: seti@home has deprecated the "classic" version to a new version based on the "BOINC" framework. I don't know why, exactly, but I tried to move to this new version, but it never ran, on any of my systems. Further, you have to log in with a more-than-30 string of alpha and numeric characters. Sigh, like anyone's going to remember that, or even bother. So I think my participation in seti@home is at the end. I'm still crunching data with the "classic" software, but I don't know where it's coming from, or where it's going. seti@home has killed all the old links. I dunno, but if I were going to ask for volunteers to help with a project, I'd make it easier. that said, read on...) Scanning and processing this noise-data from space is very computationally intensive. So, some bright folks had the idea of asking people -- anyone with a computer sitting around -- to run their processing program as a screensaver on a system (PC, UN*X). The screensaver grabs data scanned from a radio telescope (about 300KB worth), and then goes to work processing it, looking for patterns, then when complete, returns the processed data to S@H for storage and any further analysis if needed.The "beauty of this little baby" is that they get free processing from millions of numbskulls like me who run S@H. Is this effective? You bet, thus far they've managed, by using spare CPU cycles from volunteers, to leverage 100's of thousands of years of CPU time, processing more than 6e+21 Floating Point Operations! That's astonishing. Of course, they haven't actually found anything yet, so that dims the grandeur a tad.My participation in S@H is much less lofty, though, than trying to find aliens. I just though it'd be fun to let my systems crunch away. No other reason, just figured it's nifty to have them doing something while powered on. And, since S@H keeps stats on individuals, allowing you to compare your contribution to others, there's the "thrill" of climbing up the ranks with each "unit" processed. Yes, I know -- pure geek-stuff. So shoot me... I've been participating in this since 8/6/2000, and I've got over 13,000 completed units. That puts me in the 99.5+ percentile, meaning I've processed more Seti units than 99.5% of participants. Again, geek-glory!. You can keep tabs on my progress here -- you'll probably want to make it your homepage. Now, keep in mind that there are folks involved in S@H that have processed 15,000 and more work units! but I'm a "player"...s@h lists (well, "listed") contributors in their "class," all those who signed up on the same day. Currently I'm 9th in my "class" (of the folks who signed up the same day I did, see here). (I was 8th a bit ago, but some guy simply jumped, inexplicably, ahead of me. "me is suspect...") A while back I was 13th, but since I suffer from triskaidekaphobia, I had to step up to the plate. So I upgraded both system's processors just to improve my s@h scores ... not really. I did upgrade, but not to beat that guy from Italy who held the 12th spot. I just found a great deal on a great overclockable processor. with now four systems that are pretty high-powered, and a lesser one that just idles, cranking away, I seem to be moving up pretty quickly. On that ranking, the #1 team is crushing everyone in my class, but they should since they're a team with lots of people contributing. As in tennis, I'm a "singles player". (Note: sitting-budda simply stopped running seti@home a few months back, and the seti@home team couldn't figure it out (actually, they just never responded to my numerous requests for help). I installed the command-line version and it runs now in CLUI mode).So, onto my systems. I started using S@H, actually, as a benchmark for my original Athlon Classic system, and once I got that going, percolated S@H to other machines. Here they are (many of the systems are retired, having been rebuilt into newer and faster versions), with their approximate processing speeds:

System Hrs/Work Unit
AMD 2500+ Barton "Mobile" 2.8-3.5
Intel Centrino 1600 MHz 3.0-3.5
AMD Athlon XP 1700+ (overclocked, FSB 200+) 3.5-4.5
AMD Athlon XP 1900+ 4-5
AMD Athlon T-Bird 1.2G@1.35G (FSB 150, CPU 9.0) 6-8
AMD Duron 750@840, 256M PC-100, Win2K Server 9-12
AMD Athlon 700@826, 128MB PC-133, Win98SE 8-12
Intel PIII 500, 128MB, Win2K Pro 14
AMD K6-III+ 450@550, 192MB PC-100, Win2K Pro 14-16
Thinkpad 600e, Intel PII 366, 128MB, Win2K Pro 18
Thinkpad 760CD, Intel P90, 56MB, Win2K Pro 96
HP OmniBook XE2, Intel PII 333, 128 MB, Win98SE 18


I won't go into deep analysis of this, but it's obvious to see that processing power is the major factor in how fast it crunches S@H units. Disk subsystems, video, etc., play very little into that performance. Moreover, CPU cache is another key factor, S@H runs best if a work unit can fit into L1 cache so the CPU can process the data without having to repeatedly exit the CPU to grab more from main memory ("RAM") or from an L2 cache. Larger and more efficient L1 cache, such as found on the modern CPUs, improve S@H performance dramatically (my old AMD K6-2 system jumped by ~25% by moving to the AMD K6-III+, primarily because of the additional cache on the III+).

There are tons of sites that help you understand S@H, and that can give you give tweaks and tips. Other than the S@H Homepage, here's just one that I found valuable: Team Ars Technical Lamb Chop


Broken Stuff :

New category of "my stuff that's just broken WAY too early..."

This is a category for this page that was mandated by the fact that everything seems to friggin' break!! Whew... glad I got that off my chest. But it hacks me off!! %$#*

So, I gotta whine a bit here... Sorry...  (Click here to skip the rant and go to the top)


iPod 30G PhotoSo to start, my iPod photo died within nine months. It started hanging, a lot, then eventually wouldn't start, instead displaying a ridiculously small icon (I used a magnifying glass -- I'm not kidding -- and saw the icon was a small iPod with an exclamation point in front of it. below was a URL to Apple's support site). I took it into BestBuy (I had purchased an extended warranty). Their response? "We'll have to send it back to Apple for them to fix it." I asked, "Why? Can't you just swap it out for a new one?" Their response, "No, Apple won't honor our warranties any longer if we do that because they're getting too many failures." Amazing (What does that mean? "Our products are too defective to replace them"?) I got it back, count 'em, three weeks later. Same unit, and it didn't start up. I tinkered with it, finally banging it lightly on a table, and it started working. Well, for a month, it's dead again.

Samsung DLP

Next, my over-three-thousand dollar Samsung DLP TV died, and I called service. They came out and replaced a $380 "light engine." It's working now, but getting dim, and I'll probably have to buy a replacement lamp for $300. My old Mitsubishi 35" tube set ran (and is still running) after 17 years.

 

 

Oh, and my Maytag washer started making horrible noises, two years after buying it. $200 later they replaced a bearing that had worn out. My previous washer lasted 10 years without a worry.

Initial IDM-1210

I bought an Initial portable DVD player. The first one right-away started to refuse to play DVDs. I took it back to Walmart and got an exchange. The new one worked for several months, but now ... won't play DVDs (isn't that what a DVD player is supposed to do?) The warranty is almost certainly over, so there goes another three hundred bucks. I bought another portable 10" system that's working rock-solid now.

 

i bought, via the internet, a "Pronto Pro" remote control. These things are expensive, but well-rated and immensely capable. I did some research and found some units that ranged from $450 up to $999. (Ouch!). Most of the cheaper deals were refurbed units, and I wanted a new one. So I paid the extra coin to get a "new" unit. When it arrived it was reboxed, shipped with a disclaimer that it was "repackaged so we aren't including the (mandatory) software, but you can download it from here..." The manual was photocopied. The unit itself? Scratched, with the chrome chipped off all over the bezel. I called the company, which I found is in New York (for these reasons I never intentionally buy from New York companies, there seems to be a "New York" mentality for consumer products that they'll do anything to save a dime, Customers be damned). They at first argued that while repackaged, it was "new." When I described it all they agreed to RMA it, so I'll have to do that in my vast spare time. Wonder what I'll get back? I asked them to send me a new unit and return instructions and packaging for the used one, and they said they "couldn't do that." Another reason not to buy from New York vendors.

Ok, I found a great deal, $750 for a 30" LCD TV. Within a day of receiving it the screen started pixelating, then turned mostly green. Power-cycling the TV restored the picture, for a while. Now it pixilates/turns-green almost all the time; I've had it two weeks. So I guess I get to box it up and return it (10/2009 -- Never did, it's just sitting in the garage... sigh).

I came home from being away for quite a while only to find we had no water! Turns out my sprinkler system's pipes burst and was dumping all available water into the lawn. I can blame myself for that, however, since I never had the system flushed prior to winter, and while I was gone we had a record cold-snap and they froze and broke. I'll take the hit on that one!

Part of our home networking setupI bought a new Linksys wireless router to replace my older, slower one. Most every day I have to remove the power connector to reboot it because it stops responding. I've upgraded the FW a couple times, but no-go. It's just flaky.

 



My Athlon 2500+ system, FrontThis computer, my old main one, is just fine. Or it was. One afternoon I was checking my mail. No problem. An hour later I checked again and my email SW ("Eudora") asked me if I wanted to "set up an email account?" "Uh, no. it's been 'set up' for about a dozen years". Come to find out there were many problems with the system, some directories were just gone, Dreamweaver had no clue of any of my website work (oh, and all my websites were gone!), and other problems (my "Path" in Windows was changed, along with other system-level changes).On this problem, I don't have a clue, outside of my being hacked since everything was so specific; tests showed there was no corruption in the system, just changes and deletions. Took me the better part of a day to restore the needed files and configurations; I don't have a clue, and it creeped me out...

Our Toshiba 20" LCD TV/DVD player is mounted on a swivel arm in the kitchen, kinda nice to watch news or play a DVD on the built-in player. Or, to be more accurate, it was nice, until the DVD started acting oddly, and shortly refused to play some DVDs entirely, or would play some occasionally only, requiring several attempts to get it to play. It usually plays the previews, and always plays the "Warning, a herd of Saber-toothed tigers ridden by deranged militant ninjas will invade your home, kill your family, and firebomb your property if you attempt to play an illegally copied DVD. Plus a $25,000 fine and years in jail" But then will refuse to play the actually movie! Still plays TV, but that's not good enough...

Speaking of DVDs, our main media DVD, a JVC, died shortly after, making some grinding sounds, then skipping, halting, then just ... dead. We had to replace it.

I "upgraded" my main system to Vista. Bugs, hangs, app hangs, crashes, outrageous program incompatibilities, agonizingly slow, "staccato" performance, nagging at every turn in the way of "security," inability to kill or stop "MS mandated" apps and services, updates that clash with other updates, media player crashes when it doesn't "like" a file that is perfectly fine, IE crashes if it doesn't like a website (and numerous other app crashes with the not-so-helpful popup saying "Something caused 'xxxx' to stop working" or "THe application has stopped responding," followed by another box telling me it's looking for a solution, but after 100's of these I honestly have never seen it actually find a solution. (I once got a popup that said "Windows error reporting: an unexpected error has caused Windows Error Reporting to stop responding." I had to wonder how, if it wasn't responding it was able to "tell" on itself!). Annoyances abound: Internet Explorer arbitrarily moves saved links around in the Link bar, Vista arbitrarily moves icons around my desktop, Windows Explorer defaults to a media (music, video) column listing (just what is the "Date taken" for "twain.dll" or "help.exe?" And how many stars should I give them in the "Rating" column?). While you can manually reset the columns, Vista puts them back as it preferred it the next time you visit the folder, most of the time. There's not pattern to knowing why or when it'll change things on you. I'm tired of seeing "Host process has stopped responding," or "Spooler process has stopped responding" popups. It changes my screensaver to "none" on its own. It re-orders my Gadgets in Windows Sidebar. My $200 wireless combo set of keyboard and mouse, using the most current MS driver/util won't allow me to use many of those special features that led me to pay $200 for. One day it popped up a msg telling me my Vista was not a valid version, and re-entering the key on the case only gave me more msgs that the key was invalid. I had to call MS to get a new, valid key to "re-authorize" Vista. Guess it just got tired of the old one... Windows Defender decided one day to disallow my email programs from sending email; took me three weeks to find that one. Vista, apparently, uninstalled a program I used very often, not a trace left behind. Guess it didn't like all the attention I gave to it. Vista "compatibility mode" (supposedly it makes "incompatible" programs run as if they were on Win XP SP2) almost never works to gain compatibility, and I've tried that dozens of times with only a couple being successful. Startup is painfully slow, due to the aforementioned and too-well-documented performance issues, as well as the vast number of services loaded by Vista and of which many/most aren't needed . Anyone with 1/2 of a brain should upgrade Vista to XP :P. I'm strongly tempted to go back to XP, but the weeks of reinstalling my programs, finding their authorization keys (and convincing vendors I actually can and should be able to re-install "their" apps), configuring them all, etc., makes my heart go into fibrillation. But long-term, I know moving to XP and off Vista is just the sane thing to do. 'Nuff said beyond "Vista Sucks," and they (MS) know it... Is it just me, or is "Write-only data" a bad thing?


My Netgear SC101 NAS box, with two 320GB disks in RAID 1 ("mirroring") was a stroke of genius on my part; a network backup solution that allows for incremental backups, data-protected (RAID), plenty of storage, and available to all of my home systems. But, with the upgrade to Vista the box no longer connects due to driver problems. And since the SC101 stores data on the disks in a "proprietary format," you can't just pull out a drive and retrieve the data; it looks like the left-overs from a DOD data-erase. On this I blame Netgear first -- it's been a year and they've yet to provide a Vista driver or even suggest (or respond) that they're "working on it.". But I'd like to toss Vista a sneer as well.

I bought an HP L7410 All-in-one printer/scanner/fax/copier that worked great, for about 4 months. Then it stopped feeding paper. HP was kind enough to send me a replacement, an upgrade no less to the L7750 all-in-one. That too was great, for about 2-3 months, then it stopped... feeding paper. I gave up on the HPs and bought a Lexmark -- (Vista certified, I checked before I bought it, and the box proudly says so. Well, I set up the HW, popped in the driver/utility CD it came with, and watched it pop up a box telling me it didn't support the OS. But, a quick download from the Lexmark site provided me with a new driver/utility package that was supported on Vista. Well, at least it got far enough into the install to pop up another box telling me a plethora of differing errors, all of which led to the program terminating or just terminating with an error without popping up a vague failure box. Weeks of tweaking and fiddling, maybe 10 hrs with Lexmark support chatting, on the phone, and turning control of my system over to Lexmark Support led to ... nada. I now have three printers in my home, none of which work.

Our heating system started not heating very well, and the tech found it was leaking carbon monoxide into the house. I'm no chemist, but I know that's a Bad Thing. Had to replace the heating system, and dumped the old air conditioning as well. Home-ownership, sometimes I miss apartment living.

On that, my garbage disposal died a year ago. These things don't die, it's like having an anvil "fail." But mine did. So I bought and installed a new disposal. I got the upgraded version with "xxx-horsepower" so you can grind up a body if you need to (I haven't tried that, just yet). Within a year it too died. These things don't DIE! well, apparently some do.

(Update, 01/2008)... The new disposal broke as well, it sounded like something metallic was inside it and it ground away until stopping with a hum. I turned it off right away, and it never came back again; no hum, nothing. Odd, and when I tear it out I'll see what was stuck in it.

So, I'm not exactly sure what's going on lately (all these failures have been recently). I'm pretty certain I don't emit random EMP's, and no sparks emanate from me. I think the current state of HW in the "consumer domain" is worsening, even at the high-end of the price-points. Or maybe I just have had a rash of bad luck. Or maybe some things are just crap. Either way, it hacks me off!


So, those are my gripes. Sorry. Now, if you want to go up/back to my "Toys" description, click here. (Hope that click works! ...)