Archive for the 'Toys' Category

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(i)Trippin’ no more

I finally gave up on my iTrip, and dug up my old cassette adapter for the daily commute. Don’t get me wrong- the iTrip is a great device; I just can’t use it anymore. Much as I hate dealing with the wire trailing from my dash, it beats not hearing my iPod at all.

The main problem is location. I live in Northern Delaware, which puts me about an hour from Baltimore, 45 minutes from Philly, and 15 minutes from Wilmington. I get radio stations from all three. The Baltimore stations aren’t really listenable, but there’s enough signal to make using the iTrip not possible on those frequencies.

In fact, I’ve only found one frequency that works reliably with the iTrip. Of course, everyone else is using the same frequency, either with iPod-connected FM transmitters, or (more and more) with satellite radios. I don’t know what kind of numbers Howard Stern is pulling on Sirius, but I hear him several times a week as someone’s Sirius transmitter bleeds over to my radio.

The evening commute is the worst, since the traffic is generally much heavier, and of course slower. I also see lots of semis during evening rush, and they all seem to have some kind of transmitter these days- and usually much more powerful than my poor little iTrip. It was up to the task a year ago when I got my first iTrip (I traded up at Christmas for the one with the knob), but not with today’s crowded airwaves.

Twice as Nice

My TiVo started acting up a few weeks ago, locking up and requiring a power cycle (unplugging) to recover. This isn’t the first time I’ve had problems, but this time it was chronic. Each reset would buy me a day or two before another lockup. The last time I had problems, I considered a MythTV setup, but I decided to check into a new TiVo first.

Glad I did. TiVo currently has a $100 rebate offer. I decided to buy two new 40 hour Series 2 TiVos- the rebate is good on up to two units. Total after rebates was $200. I doubt I could build a single MythTV unit for $200. For another $60 or so, I added a pair of USB wireless ethernet adapters. I now have a Tivo in the bedroom and one in the family room, each wirelessly connected to my LAN.

Why two? With both units connected via the LAN, I can transfer shows between them (Series 2 TiVos only). This means I can watch shows upstairs that were recorded downstairs. Plus, with two units, I can setup one TiVo to record my shows, and Sherri can setup the others for her shows. With show transfer, we can watch anything on either machine on either TV.

Another handy feature of having the machines networked used to be called the “Home Media Option,” and was $99 per unit (one time fee) when the Series 2 was introduced. Since that time, the fee has been dropped- thankfully, since I wouldn’t see paying for it. For free, however, it’s handy. It allows you to view pictures or listen to music from a PC on the network. The picture viewer is nice for showing everyone pictures from our digital camera (the only camera we use anymore).

I’ve had this setup in place for a couple of weeks, and I love it. A couple of tips for others trying to use a USB Wireless Adapter with a TiVo: First, while your TiVo can download program info over the web instead of dialup, you’ll have to hook up the TiVo to a phone line for it’s first call home. Secondly, many newer USB adapters (including newer firmware releases on common models, like the Linksys WUSB11) require a software update to the TiVo in order to be recognized. After your TiVo has made it’s first call home and finished updating program info (up to 4 hrs post-phone-call), use the setup menu to force another call home. This time, you should download the newest TiVo software. Once the call is done, you’ll need to restart the TiVo (again, setup menu). After the reboot, your adapter should be recognized.

The View from Afar

My birthday present from my wife arrived today (it was backordered)… an Orion Skyquest XT10 Dobsonian Telescope. This is a 10″ Newtonian Reflector (primary optical element is a parabolic mirror) mounted on a Dobsonian-style alt-azimuth mounting.

I’ve been an astronomy buff ever since I was a kid. We used to take family vacations to an island off the coast of Maine, where my father grew up. The view of the night sky on a clear summer’s night was breathtaking. Far from the light polution of the cities and suburbia, the sky was awash with stars. On some nights the Milky Way was so bright that it could be mistaken for a cloud at first. Ever one to need to master my environment through knowledge, I bought books on astronomy and began to learn my way around the night sky.

Last summer, we had a real family vacation… my parents, my brother and his fiance, and my family all rented a house on the island for a couple of weeks. As always, the wonderfully clear night sky rekindled my interest in astronomy. In addition to picking up a couple of new books, I picked up a magazine, and learned about the upcoming (at the time) Mars’ opposition in August, which would be the closest Mars and Earth had been to each other in around 30,000 years. After we returned from vacation, I continued to spend time outsite at night, albeit with alot of light polution. I continued to improve my knowledge of the constellations, and tracked Mars’ progress as it grew in brightness each night. Adding to my interest was my son, who at 8 years old is intensely curious and loves to learn about the planets and stars. Teaching him is as much fun as learning myself.

Since that time, my interest has continued. Over the past few months, first Saturn, then Venus, and now Jupiter have come onto the nightly scene along with Mars, which is still visible although much fainter than it was last August. Through it all I’ve lamented my lack of telescope. I have a smaller telescope my parents gave me years ago, but the eyepieces are lost. Every time I considered buying new eyepieces, I ended up contemplating a larger scope instead. It’s finally here, and it’s even bigger than I expected. Of course, tonight was cloudy, but not a total wash. The clouds were mostly high, thin cirrus clouds, so some celestial citizens were visible, if a bit hazy. I got a nice view of Jupiter, including four of the moons, and some visibility of the darker cloud bands. I spent alot of time tryng to see Saturn (I still need to better align my finder scope in daylight). When I finally found it, I giggled like a madman. When I increased the magnification a bit (100x), I was stunned. Incredible. I called everyone outside.

My first supplemental purchase will be a Barlow lens, a device that increases the magnification of any eyepiece. While magnification is not the most important feature of a scope (light gathering power is), for planetary viewing, higher magnifications are very useful. After seeing Jupiter’s clouds and Saturn’s rings at 100x, I’m reallying looking forward to a closer look. Common Barlow options include 2x, 2.5x, and 3x; any of these will make a nice improvement to my views of the planets.

Eventually, I’d like to start a second blog dedicated to astronomy. I’ve tinkered with it a bit locally on my Powerbook, and I have some ideas for how I’d like to set it up. However, I have a couple of projects I need to deal with first. For now, I have a lot of sky to explore.

New Toys

Santa brought me some new toys! Well, my wife and children did, at any rate. Here are the goodies for my Powerbook:

  • Powermate from Griffin Technologies. I have the aluminum model. Just about the coolest USB device I’ve ever seen. I’ve got it configured to act like a mouse scroll wheel, which is wonderful when reading long web pages. In iMovie, it acts as a shuttle control. The only issue I’ve had is that the light doesn’t work after a reboot unless I unplug/replug it, or reset it in System Prefs. I appear to have the latest driver. I’ve emailed support, I’ll post more here when they respond.
  • Firewire Harddrive from LaCie. 160gb, “Design by F.A. Porsche” model (whatever… but it is slick looking. There will be several more posts about this one.
  • DVD Burner, also from LaCie (D2 design). Haven’t played with this one yet. I recently got a new MiniDV camcorder (which I’ve been meaning to blog), which neccessitated this. It has analog in, so one of my first projects will be to import all my old analog Hi8 stuff (now you see why I wanted the Firewire HD), and burn it to DVD for archival purposes.

I received other gifts as well… most especially, another wonderful Christmas with my family.

Tivo Loves Me

And I love my Tivo. I watched Enterprise the other night live (as in, not from the Tivo). I’d forgotten just how excructiating commercial interruptions are. I don’t really watch TV anymore, just Tivo.

Tonight I found another reason to love Tivo. Last Thursday night, I found that a show I scheduled to record (Coupling… ok, but not near as good as the BBC original – and with the same script no less) wasn’t there… it said it was, but what I got when I viewed it was another show all together (Whoopi. Rememer when she was funny?). That rarely every happens, so it surprised me.

So tonight, when I fired up the Tivo, I was greeted by a message from Tivo. Paraphrasing, it explained that last Wed and Thursday, CBS & NBC shifted scheduling due to Baseball playoffs, leading to some shows being recorded incorrectly. It went on to explain the while the missed episodes would be broadcast in the coming week or so, the descriptions would be the same as before. Because Tivo normally doesn’t record the same program (based on description) within 30 days, the correct airing might be missed by Tivo. And then it went on to explain how to fix it.

Didn’t I tell you Tivo loves me?