Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reducing power consumption of electronics

One of our network switches stopped working.  While looking for replacements, I decided to look for a switch that would be more energy-efficient than the existing one.  I was very interested in D-Link's Green line of products. I bought the DSG-1024D 24-port network switch.  I figured that I would be able to replace several switches with a single energy-efficient switch.

The D-Link Green series has several ways that it saves power:

  • It powers down port where it detects an idle link status.

  • The switch can detect the cable length of Gigabit Ethernet run, and will use less power for shorter runs.


Before I replaced the switch, I measured the combined energy usages of the switches and did the same after replacing the old ones with the new switch.  By just replacing the two older switches, with the single new switch I saw some power savings.  Since I have other switches that are always on, I decided to replace those as well.

Once I replaced these switches, I saw a savings of 8 watts.
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Travel accessories

My wife and I traveled to Chicago this past weekend.  There were two accessories that made the trip easier.

AmazonBasics Universal Travel Case


The AmazonBasics Travel Case allowed us to keep our assorted cables and accessories in a compact form.  For this trip, we used it to store:

  • 2 cell phone chargers

  • USB cable & power adapter for our kindles

  • USB cable for phone

  • ethernet cable

  • charger for Motorola Xoom

  • USB thumb drive

  • extra sdcard

  • Charger for Samsung Series 5 Chromebook


All of these items fit in a 10" x 6" case.  One good thing about this is that having these items contained in one case made it easy to find each of these items.  Also, my backback wasn't loaded with a rats nest of wires.

I did put this case inside my checked bag, as I was sure that such a densely packed container of wires might have looked suspicious to the TSA agent watching the X-ray images.



ZuniConnect Travel IV


The ZuniConnect is a great travel router.  It lets you connect to a wired or wireless network, and share that with multiple computers.  It will share the network connection either via Ethernet or a 802.11g/n network. One our trip, my wife and I used  the ZuniConnect to share the the hotel wired network connection with our two phones, our laptop, and our tablet.

There are some other nice features of the ZuniConnect:



  • Two USB ports to charge portable devices

  • The ZuniConnect can be used for a wireless network bridge to connect devices that only have an Ethernet port to connect to a wireless network.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Downgraded Netflix Account

Netflix recently changed their account pricing for their accounts that include streaming and DVDs. Here is a snippet from the email that I received:
Your current $17.99 a month membership for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs (including Blu-ray access) will be split into 2 distinct plans:

Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month
Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs (including Blu-ray), 2 out at-a-time (no streaming)
for $14.99 a month

Your price for getting both of these plans will be $22.98 a month ($7.99 + $14.99). You don't need to do anything to continue your memberships for both unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs.

This got me thinking about how we have been using the Netflix service.  We love Netflix streaming, especially since we cancelled our cable television service.  Our kids can always find a kids show that they will like, and generally my wife and I can find something that we enjoy.  But we haven't been using the disc part of our service.

We have had the same two Blue-Ray discs sitting in our entertainment center for several months.  Obviously, this is the type of customer that Netflix like, as they don't have to pay for mailing costs, but are still receiving our monthly payment.

Often if we want to watch a recent movie, we will rent a movie through Amazon Video on Demand through our Roku box.  The selection through Amazon is pretty good, especially for newer releases.

With the change in plan, I have taken the opportunity to downgrade our Netflix account to streaming only.  Since we have been using Amazon Video on Demand for recent release, we won't miss the discs.  And in the cases that we want to get a movie on disc, we can always go to our nearest Redbox.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summify

I have been using my6sense for a while to find content that I am interested in.  my6sense does a very good job ranking content, and it is easily accessible when using the application on my phone or when viewing the Twitter site, with the my6sense extension. One downside is that I need to actively perform steps to view this content.

Summify is a service that will periodically send you an email with a summary of some stories that you are interested in.  When you create an account, you associate your Twitter, Google Reader, and/or your Facebook account.  Summify uses the data from those accounts to determine your interests.

Then periodically Summify sends you an email with articles that you may be interested in.  You have the ability to further refine your interests when you receive the emails.

What is Summify? from Summify on Vimeo.


What is Summify? from Team Summify on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

E3 Xbox Announcements

Microsoft announced several things at the opening keynote for the 2011 E3 conference and in a release.  Personally, I am interested in some of the announcements:

  1. Xbox Live Cloud Storage

  2. Integrated search

  3. Live TV features


Xbox Live Cloud Storage


With Xbox Live Cloud Storage, you should be able to keep your profile, and some game saves on the Xbox Live servers.  This should allow you to go to any network connected Xbox, and log into your profile.  This is better than the Gamertag recovery that you have to go through now.  For users that choose to keep their profile online, I wonder what happens if the user tries to use the account when they aren't online.

Integrated Search


I have mentioned before that it is hard to find a particular piece of content that you are interested in, especially with the  various content provider.  For example, if my kids wants to watch a movie, I currently look on Netflix, then Hulu, then in the Zune Marketplace.  The new integrated search should make this easier.

Live TV


Microsoft is supposed to be providing access to live TV content. I don't know which content partner they will be working with, but I am more interested in how open they allow this to be.  For example, I want to be able to plug in the following sources into my Xbox



  • UPnP ATSC tuners

  • Windows Media Centers


Microsoft was promoting Kinect control of the Live TV experience.  I hope that they also improve the experience when using an Xbox media remote control.  This would reduce the barrier for switching to the Xbox in our house.

Friday, June 3, 2011

L.A. Noire


I just finished the main story in L.A. Noire this week.  This is a great game.  I have liked other Rockstar games like GTA4 and Red Dead Redemption, and L.A. Noire has some of the same qualities.  The main thing that I like about these games is the story in the games.   With each of these games, I want to continue playing to find out what happens in the store.  Also, each of these games have worlds that are great to explore.

L.A. Noire is not as much of an open world game as GTA4 or Red Dead Redemption.  While playing the game, you can either work on the main case, or respond to various street crimes.  You can also find various things hidden around the map.  The fact that L.A. Noire isn't as much of an open world game isn't a negative for the game.  In fact, it works well, as it keep the player more focused on the main story.

Backupify

Backupify is a service that allows you to backup the data in many online services.  A couple of months ago, I tried the 30 day free trial for the service, but I decided not to continue after the free trial.  I figured that I didn't need to backup my data, as the various services back up the data.

About a month later, my wife mentioned that she was missing some contacts from her address book.  This is the perfect situation that Backupify solves.  If I had set up Backupify for our domain, we would have been able to restore the contacts from the backup.

Once I upgraded my account, I was easily able to add my wife's account, and have it backed up. I had more trouble with my account through.  Since there was a period between when I used the free trial, and when I upgraded the account, the authorizatiokn tokens had expired or had been revoked.  Unfortunately, there isn't a way to manually reauthorize access for Backupify.  Working with Backupify's support, I was able to get things working.

There are several things that I would like to see added to Backupify's service:

  1. Ability to backup WordPress blogs

  2. For the Backupify Pro plans, it would be good to have the option to allow the other Google Apps users to backup their Social Media services

  3. When restoring data, it would be nice to be able to search through the archives to find he particular entry that you are looking to restore.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hands-free call volume with KVT-516

A few months ago, we replaced the head unit in our car with a Kenwood KVT-516.  One problem that we have been having is that the in call volume is too low for phone calls.  We would need to turn up the volume to hear the caller.  Unfortunately, this would affect the volume of music, which would be pretty loud at the end of the call.

It looks like the latest firmware update solves this problem.  Now the KVT-516 has separate volume settings for hands-free calls, and other audio sources.

Squeezebox for Android

I have used several third-party applications for to control my Squeezebox radios from my phones.  They each have varying support for the different Squeezebox applications.

It looks like Logitech released their own controller application for Android.  This is one of the nicest applications for controlling Squeezebox players.  If you have configured applications, you can play content from them.

I do wish that you could add or change alarms from the application.

ADW.Launcher

I was looking at trying an alternate launcher for my phone.  At first, I took at a look at Launcher Pro, but it requires more permissions than I am comfortable granting for an application launcher.  For example, it requests permission for read and write access to my email.  I am sure that this is required for a Gmail widget, but since I wouldn't use this widget, and Launcher Pro also has network access, there is a potential for my data to leave the phone.

Instead, it looks like ADW.Launcher does everything that I want in a launcher, without requesting too many permissions.  It also has some interesting features:

  • Support for themes

  • Customizable dock bar and application drawer

  • Support for different sizes for widgets


The main thing I like about it is that it doesn' t request too many permissions, so there is less of a security concern.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

GameFly

There are many video games that I am really interested in the single player campaign, and I that I only play once.  Often, I end up paying $60 for the game, and selling it back to GameStop after playing it for a month.  Since GameStop doesn't pay that much when buying used games, playing the game for a month often costs about $40.

Since there are only a few games that I play for a long time, I figured I would try GameFly.  GameFly is essentially a Netflix for video games.  You add video games to your queue, and they send you the games as they become available.  When you are done with the games, you can just put them back in the envelope and drop it back in the mail, and the next available game on your queue will be sent.

With the demand for more recent games, it is hard to get the newest games through GameFly.  But if you want a game that came out in the past 6 months, it shouldn't be a problem to get it.

If you are interested in trying it, GameFly has an offer, where you can get a month free.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Extending Xbox LIVE Family Membership

A while ago, I transitioned to an Xbox Live Family Gold Pack. This allows us to manage our son's Xbox Live account from a single dashboard, and add Microsoft Points to the Xbox live account that we use on the Xbox in the bedroom.

Amazon had some pretty good deals on Xbox LIVE 12 month membership cards, so I purchased one of these.  But,I was not able to redeem the code.  I expected that I would be able to apply the 12 month Xbox Live membership to extend my family membership, in my case by 3 months, since I have 4 people in the family membership. But I kept getting errors trying to redeem the code.

When I created the family subscription, I was able to add several Xbox Live Gold accounts, and for each Gold account, the subscription length of the family membership was extended by each.  So I figured that I would do the following:

  1. Remove one of the Xbox Live accounts from the family subscription

  2. Redeem the code on that Xbox Live account

  3. Re-add the Xbox Live account to the family account


Unfortunately, this didn't work.  I was able to complete the first two steps, but when I try to re-add the account, I get an error.  It looks like the account is added to the family, but not that account is not part of the subscription.  So I won't be able to share Microsoft Points with that that account.

I am hoping that Microsoft starts to sell Xbox Live Gold Family cards (and Amazon sells them for a discount).


Update 5/14/2011: It looks like Microsoft fixed a bug that was preventing this from working. Today I was able to add the account to the Family Subscription, and that extended the subscription by 6 months.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is Marty McFly really better than Biff

I shouldn't have spent as much time on this as I did, but since I did I am posting it.

This weekend we watched Back to the Future I & II with our son.  While watching the second movie something started to bother me.  The main plot of the movie is that Marty had to go back in time to "fix" things, as when Marty returned to 1985, Biff had become a powerful man in the town because his future self, gave him a sports almanac, to allow him to make money by betting on sports.

Why does Marty feel that he needs to "fix" things, when he is arguably his is just as "guilty" as Biff.  At the end of the first movie, his actions changed the time line in 1985.  Biff was not George McFly's supervisor, and George McFly was an author in the changed 1985



 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Parental Controls in Windows 7 Media Center

Our kids are getting old enough to be able to use our Media Center, so I have enabled parental controls to prevent them from seeing content that is inappropriate for them.  When we had used a TiVo DVR, we had used the parental control and were pretty pleased.  The Windows Media Center implementation of parental controls has several peculiarities:

  • With parental controls enabled, every time you start playing content, that has a rating higher than the specified threshold, you will get prompted for the PIN.  This happens even if you press stop, and then play on the same show.  (I like TiVo's implementation, where once you enter the PIN, parental controls will be disabled for a time, or until the DVR is turned off.)

  • While in the PIN entry screen, content is playing in the background.  So if you take a while to enter the PIN, you will have to rewind to not miss any of the content.

  • The parental controls setting is not applied to playing Netflix streaming content, even though Windows Media Center has had support for Netflix content for a while.  So it is possible that inappropriate content could be view through Windows Media Center's Netflix interface.  (One interesting thing is that the Xbox 360's Netflix streaming implementation respects the Xbox's parental controls setting.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Roku XD|S

I have been interested in streaming content for a while. I have installed PlayOn and the tubeCore Windows Media Center plugin to view TV content. This is not an ideal experience.

With tubeCore, the user interface to browse the list of shows and episodes is pretty simple. For example, the meta data about the episodes is not shown. Also, I was never able to get reliable streaming though PlayOn and tubeCore.  Often, I would need to try to play a stream twice in order for it to play successfully.

The Roku XD|S looked like it would be a perfect way to watch content that is available on-line.  With the Roku, you have easy access to Netflix streaming, Amazon Video On Demand, Hulu and other content.  I like the hardware, as it is very quiet, and is small enough for me to use on any of our TVs.

The setup was pretty painless, and I was up and running with several of the content providers within 30 minutes of starting the setup process.  Where the content partners provided HD content, the picture quality was good.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Glympse

A while ago, I wrote about On My Way.  This application allowed you to share your location, and that person could see this location updated in real-time.  That application is not available anymore.

Glympse is a new free application that allows you to do the same thing, but it has some interesting features:

  • Ability to set a time limit, where sharing of your location is automatically stopped.

  • Ability to mark recipients as "favorites", to make it easier to initiate sharing

  • Ability to set a destination, where sharing will automatically be stopped when you reach that location.


 

Multiple Chrome profiles on Mac OS X

Sometimes I want to use two different Google Chrome instances, with different sets of Chrome extensions.

This page has instructions for setting this up on Mac OS X

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rumor: Microsoft TV

There are rumors that Microsoft will introduce a video streamer box at CES this year:

http://twitter.com/#!/slashgear/status/22224742257790977

I think that this could be a pretty good product that I would like. I think that this could be something that would help simplify my setup.

Announcement hopes:


Here is what I hope the announcement will be:

  • The box will be about the size of a Roku or Apple TV

  • It would run a version of Windows that has been stripped to only allow Windows Media Center to run.

    • Windows Media Center already supports Netflix streaming

    • Windows Media Center plugins would still be allowed to run

    • This would help prevent software conflicts

    • The box would automatically update itself from Microsoft's servers



  • These devices would also be Media Center Extenders

    • This would allow you to buy a few of them for a house, and be able to watch the same content in all rooms.



  • There would be two SKUs.  One with a hard drive for content, and one that would only stream content from other sources.

    • The SKU with the hard drive would allow the user to store content, and playback from the local hard drive.



  • These would also support Zune Marketplace to get access to video and audio content (as the Xbox 360 does).

  • These devices would also be UPnP AV client.

  • These would support USB or UPnP TV tuners, to allow viewing or recording (for the SKU that has the hard drive) of TV content.


Since Microsoft already has the Xbox, this device would need to be cheaper than the existing versions of the Xbox.  I would think that the version without the hard drive would be $100, and the version with the hard drive would be $200.

Pie-in-the-sky hopes:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jumpscan

Jumpscan is a service that lets you share your contact information with others.  With Jumpscan, you enter your contact information, and some of the usernames for various social networks, and they create an online profile for you.  Then they will generate a QR code for this profile page.

I don't understand the usefulness of this service. If my purpose was to create a QR code to share my contact information, I would just create QR code that has my information in vcard format.  This would allow the QR code to be useful, even when there is no data connection. Or, if I wanted to include a url, I would just encode that in the QR code.  If I wanted to share my social network information, I could include a link to my about.me page.

Here is the QR code generated by Jumpscan, which only links to my profile page on Jumpscan.



Here is a QR code with the same information encoded within it:



[via Lifehacker]

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Memolane

Over the past few years, I have used several online services.  I use flickr and Picasa to store photos.  I also use Twitter and TripIt. With all of these sites, it is hard to get a consolidated view of these disparate sets of data.

Memolane is an interesting site that lets you view your online "lifestream" chronologically, in a single unified view.  I like that you can go back in time and see what you were doing on certain dates.







It looks like Memolane is having a problem importing my Twitter feed, but once that problem is fixed, I could see using this as a visualization tool.