Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

I had to replace my roof recently. My old powered attic fan had seen better days. It was over-specified and pulled air from inside the house, not just the attic. Air mostly infiltrated down the chimney and into the basement. The basement (man cave) was hot and humid. My duct work dripped condensation from the AC and humid air. At a minimum I wanted to replace this fan with something properly specified (less airflow) and provide more passive vents in the crawl spaces (increase airflow through attic). A friend told me about his solar powered roof fan and I was intrigued. They are very expensive, but the hope is that they will eventually pay for themselves with savings. The airflow ratings seem quite optimistic given the low wattage solar cells that power them. There are several manufacturers and they appear to make two basic models – 10 and 20 watts. I ordered a 20 watt model and was afraid that I once again had over specified the airflow. Fortunately it was just about perfect in actual operation. I chose a very slick integrated design  from Sunrise Solar. The installation is simple, because the unit is completely self-contained and requires no wiring. So far it’s been perfect and it lowers the temperature in the upstairs rooms by 20 degrees or so and it’s absolutely silent. I’m investigating the rebates that are offered by many agencies. These can add up to around 20%.

My family got me an 80GB Zune for father’s day. It replaced a 15GB 3G iPod. I listen to music and a lot of podcasts. I hate the iTunes software and so I always used a third party sync tool. A friend of mine recently made the mistake of installing iTunes to try it out. He had over 15000 MP3s in his collection, organized by album in folders. The iTunes default installation destroyed his library. It converted all of his MP3s to AAC and moved them to a new single folder. Poof – his MP3 collection was gone. Fortunately we were able to get everything back the way it was with Media Monkey. As an alternative to iTunes I used Ephpod which was free, but no longer supported and pretty buggy. I then purchased Anapod Explorer from Red Chair. This provided an Explorer-like interface, but had some bugs. My normal routine was to plug my iPod into my PC (via Firewire) and delete any podcasts that I had completed and load any new ones. I did this every morning. I use Juice (the old iPodder) to collect and manage my podcasts. It keeps them for two weeks and then they are deleted off the PC. Every workday I checked for new podcasts on the PC cleaned off the old ones from the iPod.

Now my Zune arrives. The UI is very sweet (especially compared to the 3G). Frankly it makes the iPod (even the latest classic models) look retarded. The Squircle (square circle) button is very slick. It does both clicks and is touch responsive (sliding). It plays music just fine (maybe we can just stop here). I like that you can add to the ‘now playing’ playlist while you are listening to it. The leather case is so nice. I use Etymotic earphones, but the ones that come with the Zune are very nice and make the Apple earbuds look (and sound) like junk. They are better than the Apple In-Ear headphones as well. The battery life seems very good, but the batteries are new. The video playback is great. It has less limitations on video formats now as well. It’s still not as good as the Creative Zen in the video department, but getting better. I also got an MS car adapter (FM transmitter & charger). It works better than my older Monster adapter. You just need to find an unused frequency or weak station in your area (hard to do near the Big Apple). This website really helped – Radio-Locator

The Zune software is OK. I know a lot of people hate it, but it’s much less intrusive than iTunes. It watches folders and transfers your music. It also does some tagging where it can. I don’t use the Zune PC software to listen to music much so it’s mostly just a sync agent for me. The software doesn’t seem to follow any of the Windows UI look and feel design guidelines. It looks nothing like a windows app – no areo, no borders, etc. So far the Zune has been just a very nice new gadget (gadgets yay), then I started using it. IMHO the wifi syncing is the best thing ever. Now each morning I just turn the Zune on and tell it to sync. Anything new from overnight is placed on the Zune and any completed podcasts (always FF all the way to the end) are removed. This is perfect for my use. Everything is virtually automatic now. I can see the wifi syncing would be less useful to a pure music lover. My podcast consumption is PC free – well I don’t have to do anything on the PC to listen to them. They are automatically delivered and managed with virtually no intervention. It’s so easy to dismiss dismiss the Zune as stupid and doofy because it’s from Microsoft, but in reality it’s actually pretty slick.

I have a wonderful Pocket PC – an HP iPaq 4415. I really like it. It’s small, has built in wifi, and blue tooth. It was quite ideal for my use. I loved the wifi synching. I take a lot of notes on it. Getting these Pocket Word documents onto my PC used to be a snap with Active Synch. Active Synch bidirectionally translated the default .PWS file format into .DOCs. Windows Vista has ditched Active Synch in favor of Windows Mobile Device Center. WMDC no longer does any file translation. Now I have a ton of useless Pocket Word documents on my PC. In order to open them on the PC I have put them back on the iPaq, resave them as .DOC files and finally sync them back to the PC. PWS is the default format for Pocket Word so saving them as .DOCs involves several extra steps. Around the time the XP Service Pack 2 was released the ability to sync via Wifi disappeared. Microsoft claimed it was a security problem. Now WMDC has a drop down list that hints at multiple sync methods, but only offers Bluetooth as an alternative to USB. My new Zune can synch via Wifi. Why can’t I sync my PDA via Wifi?

Shame on Microsoft! Get off your butts and  –

Allow Word to open these files or write a converter for this format of YOURS!
Get Wifi synching for WMDC working!

This kind of stupidity and laziness is exactly what people hate so much about you. You can do better.

FLASH UPDATE – The latest version of Word (Office 2007) can open these .PSW files! We are halfway there.

I was listening to a Podcast a few weeks ago and heard about this guy from Comcast who is trying to put his face out in the social media scene to act as an advocate for Comcast. He’s on Skype as ComcastCares and his name is Frank Eliason. My Comcast cable connection has been *very* poor lately and slowly getting worse over the past 6 months. I decided to give him a shot and see how much he really cared. He got William Gerth in touch with me. He is in National Customer Operations, Digital Media Outreach. William help me go through all of the basics – to no avail. My connection was consistently around 4mbps down and maybe 300kbps up. William kindly provisioned my account (as a trial) with the new Blast service (17mbps), but this had no effect. He had a technician come out and check my physical setup. He replaced every connector all the way out to the pole and removed some unneeded bits. This still had no effect. I had mentioned that my modem was one of the original DOCSIS models and maybe 6 or 7 years old. I’m not sure why they didn’t replace it on the first service call, but they came back again with a new modem. The new modem did the trick and my speed went up to 10mbps and seemed capped there. We tried directly connected to the modem (no router) and we got over 20mbps. I had an 8 port Linksys router BEFSR81 and the WAN port only went to 10mbps. We swapped this with a slightly newer Linksys WRT54G that has a 100mbps WAN port. I now easily get 20mbps down and 3mbps up. Wow! On the most optimistic (and likely closest) speed test site I get 26mbps down and 3.3mbps up.

I get the highest numbers from  Speakeasy (NYC)
My favorite and the most comprehensive site is at Carnegie Mellon University

I have a lot of networked gear here on the hill so the measly 4 switched ports on the WRT54G weren’t enough. I have a decent 10/100 switch that most of the gear is connected to. I’m now concerned about the single 100mbps link between the router and most of my LAN. This started me on a search for some new gigabit network gear. I have to chuckle a bit – who would have ever thought that that a 10mbps WAN link would prove to be too slow by more than half? There are very few routers with more than 4 ports available, even fewer under $200 and none with more than a 12mbps WAN link. Read the specs carefully, you definitely don’t want your network gear acting as a bottleneck.

I’m closing in on some SOHO equipment from Netgear. It costs a bit more than the Linksys consumer gear, but the reliability and speed are tops.

FVS336G PROSAFE ROUTER (GIABIT 4 PORT)
GS116 PROSAFE 16-PORT GIGABIT SWITCH
WNDAP330 PROSAFE 802.11N DUAL BAND WIRELESS ACCESS POINT

Even with my cobbled together gear the performance is great. I’m very happy. I’ll be keeping the 17mbps Blast service (for an additional $7 per month). I’d been so unhappy with my service for the past year I swore I would switch to FIOS as soon as it became available in my town. Now Comcast is forcing me to change my mind. FIOS is ‘only’ 15/2 and I’m now getting 20/3. Comcast did care and got me running faster than ever. I do think that they could be a bit more proactive – most people wouldn’t be dissatisfied with the poor service I had. Comcast should have replaced my old modem long ago without being asked.

I manage large amounts of data for a living. To me, backups are like breathing. Backups are what allow me to sleep at night. My company realizes how valuable this data is and they are willing to spend whatever is needed to keep it safe and accessible. I’m constantly amazed at people who tell me that they never backup their personal computers – ‘I don’t have anything valuable on it.’ Maybe that’s true or maybe they aren’t thinking hard enough. How about you folks who use PCs for your jobs at church? You have no excuse! You need to stop and think about the data on your machine. What if it disappeared right now? What are you willing to lose?

Pictures
Videos
Emails
Contacts
Links
Configuration settings
Graphics
Documents
Databases
Personal Information
Passwords & Program Keys
General Data
(I’m NOT including program files as they are often faster to simply reinstall than to recover)

Some of these can be replaced at the cost of time – some are irreplaceable. It makes me sick every time I hear about a disk failure, theft, or accident……. It’s always counterproductive to ask if they had backups or not (they just get mad). This needs to stop – your time and work is too valuable to simply trust it to a single disk drive. There are tons of free backup applications out there. You can even start with the one that Microsoft includes with Windows – Excellent Tutorial HERE. You need to develop a strategy – there are millions that can work:

Continue reading ‘Monback, Monback – Back it Up!’ »

I seem to regularly hear stories about failing drives. Here is a collection of drive restoration resources and techniques from Fred Langa:

http://www.langa.com/newsletters/2002/2002-06-13.htm#1
http://www.langa.com/newsletters/2002/2002-06-20.htm#2
http://www.langa.com/newsletters/2002/2002-06-20.htm#3
http://www.langa.com/newsletters/2002/2002-06-24.htm#4

(it looks like Fred let his domain expire – hopefully it will be back soon)

Another gem is one I learned from a friend who used to work at the NSA –

Put the drive in a ziplock bag and pop it into the freezer for a few hours. This may revive it long enough to get the data off and onto another disk.

This last tip hints at the fact that disk drives are very temperature sensitive. Steve Gibson says that heat is the biggest cause of premature death. Use a case that has adequate drive cooling or consider drive heat sinks and additional fans. I really like the Zalman drive coolers. They do their cooling job well and also provide some sound isolation.

These formulas are used as a standard for general acceptability by many talented media specialists. I didn’t make them up, but rather did research and gathered them from other smarter people. One of these smart people is Anthony Coppedge. A lot of this information was taken from materials that he made publicly available on the Church Media Network Forums. I understand that he has since published them elsewhere. Quite the opposite of being subjective these calculations can give you some actual hard numbers to base your decisions on. They are hardly comprehensive, but again the goal is to help us mere media folk gain a footing. There are many unscrupulous or unknowledgeable sales people who will recommend anything just to make money. Personally I am skeptical about advice coming from someone who has a vested interest in the outcome. The ideal situation IMHO is to hire a consultant that doesn’t sell anything, unfortunately this is far beyond the means of most churches.

Continue reading ‘How to Pick a Projector’ »

Would anyone be interested in reading about my latest DIY project? It involves building an audiophile quality amplifier that can run with the big dogs – you know, amplifiers that cost many thousands of dollars. The kind favored by audiophiles who can ‘hear’ the difference between a power supply and an SLA (Sealed Lead Acid Battery). They swear they can hear the difference between speaker cables and insist that tubes and vinyl are not dead. When they talk about their equipment it sounds like they are describing fine wines. If this sounds out of your class, please keep reading.

This project first piqued my interest a few months ago when I read a news story about a ‘toy’ amplifier that people were saying unbelievable things about. It is readily available on the web and costs around $20-$30 depending on where you buy it. Out of the box it sounds OK. After a few simple modifications, it moves to a whole new level. My son and I have had a blast building and modding our first amplifier, but we’ve enjoyed listening to music on it much, much more. The first thing I listened to was a Mozart CD. It sounded horrible (noisy) and I was very discouraged until the music stopped – it was the CD. Wow! You’ll hear things that have been hiding in your music. This can become the core of your home hifi system, a heaphone amp or even the ultimate iPod dock (puts that Bose dock to shame).

Continue reading ‘DIY Audiophile Quality Amplifier’ »

A bit over a week ago my PRS505 screen went bad. Never dropped or abused – the screen just stopped working. I sent it back to Sony for warranty repairs. There was no visible damage – no dents, scratches or cracks. My reader was well loved and treated gently during it’s short life. Today I received the following:

Quote: Sony Repair Center

We have completed the repair estimate for your unit based on the information you provided us. The estimated charge for your repair will be $267.49. This charge includes labor, parts, tax if applicable, and shipping back to you.

I called the Sony Service Center and was told that my display was cracked. Not the outside, but one of the inner layers. I was told that I must have broken it. I asked for a supervisor and was sent to another Customer Service Center and spoke to another agent (not a supervisor). This agent told me that even though there was no visible damage that it was still not covered under warranty. In my description of the problem I had stated that the screen was scrambled. The agent told me that this always indicated a cracked screen. I told her that I would have to be very stupid to pay almost $300 for my month old reader to be repaired when it originally cost me $300. She offered to send it back unrepaired. I kept insisting that I wanted it fixed under warranty or replaced. The agent wouldn’t budge. I asked to speak to a supervisor. They promised a call within 48 hours.

Update (1/2/08)

The supervisor never called and my reader was returned without being repaired. I was VERY discouraged and angry. I decided to not give up and seek out positive solutions (at least as a first step). I came across an email for Valerie Motis who is the Director of IT Products and the Sony Reader. I also had a bunch of other corporate email targets, but decided against carpet bombing. I told her my tale of woe. I remained positive and even mentioned how much I would like to share with all of my MobileRead friends that Sony was going to do the right thing. Within 3 hours I got a call with a new work order number and a promise that my Reader will be exchanged. I am still a bit dazed by the almost immediate response and very favorable resolution. There are people at Sony who care. My two previous experiences with Sony Repair Services (digital cameras) were positive and this one bad experience was perhaps not aligned with corporate policy. I’m so grateful for this help – I’ve missed my 505 horribly.

Go Sony!

We’ve been volunteering at a nursing home in our neighborhood. I decided that the wonderful residents needed a Wii after reading about the positive effects they have had on other seniors. A few of them ‘get it’ and really enjoy bowling. Some just hold the wiimote with a death grip. I’m going to try a game night this week. After dinner the residents just head to their rooms for the night (like around 5:30pm). I’m hoping that they’ll eventually be brave enough to play with it by themselves. Until then, we’ll play with them. We also just visit and talk, sharing news of the outside world and our own experiences. We’ve been doing some interviewing and developing short biographies. I’ve enjoyed taking pictures. Most of the residents have never seen a digital camera. The instant feedback is pretty cool.