Monday, January 30, 2006

HDTV upgrade, part 1

So I went to Costco two weekends ago and bought a Proview RX326 . Before, I had a Zenith 26" tube that I got as a gift when I moved into my old downtown apartment in 1998. Great TV, horrible monitor. I was trying to achieve what I've been looking to get with Media Center -- a real, usable PC in my living room. I had no issues with the display of live TV, recorded TV, TV that was, shall we say, recorded by others and generously distributed to me by many people at once in a, um, torrent, movies, and DVDs. Basically the 10' interface looked just fine to me. As a computer monitor, the Zenith displayed reasonably well at 640x480, but it turns out that the web designing community has not been designing to this resolution for some time. And the text was still too fuzzy at that resolution to try to do anything of significance with.

So my goal was to get a monitor that was readable from 5 feet away at some resolution in the 1024x768 or greater range. This would let me check email via OWA (work) or Gmail, let my wife use iTunes, let me see if my weekly flight to St. Louis is on time while drinking my coffee at 4:45 in the morning, and whatnot. I also thought I'd check out this "HDTV" fad that all the kids are raving about.

I knew that Media Center didn't support the HDTV the way most people receive it (through a cable box), it only supports OTA (Over The Air) or "clear QAM" (something that I don't know what it stands for but it means HD stations that are sent through your cable line unencrypted). Most people get a set-top box and plug that directly into their TV, and choose a different "source" other than Media Center to tune it, but for me, that would be a burden on the primary user of the TV (my wife) and thus I would be in trouble for spending all this money on something that makes the Media Center MORE of a pain in the ass than it is now. That would be bad. I try to avoid having my >$1000 purchases inconvenience my wife so that I can continue to make such purchases. So I have to get (preferably) clear QAM or OTA HDTV to work. More on that in part 2.

I had actually planned to buy the Akai Costco special from the week of 1/16 (sorry, no link -- I couldn't find any model information anywhere), which was a 27" with 1366x768 resolution and a built-in DVD (which I didn't need, I just wanted that size and resolution and it was $699 with coupon). When I got to the store, they were out of stock, and as I looked closely, I noticed that it only had VGA and component inputs, which was not optimal but I was willing to go forward with it. However, it wasn't available, and the Proview was the only reasonably priced LCD with either HDMI or DVI input.

Got home, dragged my old Zenith 26" tube away, opened the box, plugged it in, and connected the VGA cable. Resumed the Media Center PC from sleep. No signal. I rebooted, and the display came up fine. (I have since read that most graphics cards read the characteristics of the connected display on boot-up, so this was normal. Can't switch out a display while a machine is asleep.) After a ton of messing around, including with the PowerStrip utility, I never really got that usable of a signal on the display besides 1024x768. Unfortunately, the display had to be either in 16:9 mode, which stretched that resolution out so that it was noticeably stretched (in computer mode, the 10' interface and TV looked fine, though widescreen media looked too smushed), or in 4:3 mode, which just means "show black bars on the side so things aren't stretched out, and look like a fool for buying a widescreen TV". Hmm. Plus, Media Center didn't recognize this as widescreen mode since, well, 1024x768 is like the resolution I have on the 12" screen on my Tablet PC, so it ain't no widescreen. Shit. Turns out the monitor only displays a maximum of 1024x768 in VGA mode though the specs are rated for 1366x768.

I couldn't let this stand, so I went to Radio Shack and bought an HDMI to DVI adapter. A $30 Monster Cable. (A rant for another time, but shit, man, those Monster Cables are expensive. A forum I read occasionally believes that Monster Cable is a scam that only chumps buy. Not sure about that, but they sure have made inroads at Radio Shack.) Got home, cut the plastic packaging open, only to find that the stand of the TV was mounted in such a way that it blocked the DVI cable + adapter from being plugged in. Shit. $30 down the drain. So I bought a pivoting adapter from a nice lady on eBay for $15 and she shipped it right away. (Props to berryyumi for being a fast shipper)

When it arrived, I powered off my Media Center PC (having learned my lesson), plugged in the HDMI adapter to the DVI cable, switched the LCD TV's source to HDMI,
booted the PC, and then saw it say "HDMI 720p" on screen. I played with resolutions a bit and could never get 1366x768 to look normal on PowerStrip or ATI Control Center, but I did get a nice-looking 1152x864 resolution which ATI CC called "720p (advanced)". The display in PC mode was legible enough (1280x720 was a little blocky and also "overhung" the sides of the monitor so that you couldn't see the Maximize and Close buttons in the top corner, for example) and Media Center recognized it as a wide-screen mode and just looks simply awesome in 10' mode.

So I'm happy now with my Proview RX326. I wish I could get my full resolution but I will keep playing with it. Now, I await the arrival of my DViCO FusionHDTV5 USB bundle from SnapStream, and then Part 2 of my HDTV upgrade will begin. I'm sure my few readers (who have not yet fallen asleep) eagerly await that...




Monday, January 23, 2006

OneNote Joke

What does OneNote eat for dinner?

Beef Bloganoff

hahaahahha, my friend sent me a link to this dopey site and I punched in some keywords of what I usually blog about in order to not make it quite so boring for my usual readers (e.g. people I know personally who are not interested in OneNote, MindManager, TabletPCs, and blogging). There you go, the first dumb joke from give our abilities time.




Friday, January 20, 2006

hell, dude, we're just gettin' started... with MindManager!

hell, dude, we're just gettin' started... with MindManager!

So, yay, I finally convinced my company to buy me (and two others) copies of MindManager Pro 6. We are brainstorming the implementation piece of our plan next week on site so this is right on time.

So, blogosphere, riddle me this: am I crazy or did I read that the BlawgThink! conference used a MindJet Labs plug-in that somehow allowed multiple people to access pieces of the same map? This would help "AB" and I next week since we are building our own maps since we are responsible for developing tasks for different teams, but it would be nice to see a big rolled-up map. I know I can play with external references but I am not under the impression that this works in real time. So why do I think I read that the BlawgThink! conference was using some method of rolling up the maps so that everyone could access them?

As Michael Sampson wrote a few months back, collaborating via shared mind maps would be awesome. But I don't think you need true remote control or screen-casting like Live Meeting, it would be better to use a OneNote Shared Session-like technology. Even using a OneNote 12-like loose coupling where individual map items are slowly updated to like a Sharepoint server or something that multiple people are using would be awesome. I've written before about OneNote shared sessions and I find I basically rely on them now; if I could take notes in MindManager (and easily get them out into a reasonable Word format -- more on this later) then I would be psyched. But I can't give up the real-time shared sessions so I will just hope that MindJet thinks about putting this into their next version.


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Monday, January 09, 2006

my unnecessary two cents re: Google Pack

Even though I blogged about the hypocrisy of pulling a link off of Memeorandum and blogging about it, I'm still doing it. I even notice 495 blogs linking to and didn't read them all. Yep, I'm that special and my opinions are that important.

Anyway, like most of the blogosphere quoted on memeorandum, I am stunned at how lame Google Pack is.

My one comment, though, is that the blogosphere seems to think, "oh, of course I need to install an anti-spyware tool and an anti-virus tool and Acrobat; that's the first of the 250 steps I take when I set up a new computer for myself or my family members or friends! Duh!" However, if you have ever dealt with the types of elementary computing problems your family members or other less-savvy computer users have had, I think it is clear that Google Pack is really for them and not the tech.memeorandum crew.

Because I know that avid Give Our Abilities Time readers are awaiting my suggested replacements, here they are:

Acrobat: I think Acrobat 7 has fixed the slow loading problem from Acrobat 6, and really, the trick to speed up Acrobat 6 was out there for internet search savvy individuals to find (move all plugins to the optional plugins directory or whatever). However, I have been trying out the Foxit Reader and am relatively pleased with it. You can type into form fields of a document, which is nice, and it also loads like crazy fast. However, it doesn't let you zoom by scrolling the mouse wheel while holding Ctrl, like most browsers, MS Office apps, and Acrobat itself do; it doesn't prompt you to save when you type stuff and close the PDF; and doesn't launch outside of IE as I prefer. Really only the first one is kind of critical so I've kept using Foxit.

Ad-Aware: I'm with Paul Thurrott, use the Microsoft one; it's pretty good and low-impact.

GalleryPlayer HD: I'm with Paul again, don't use it.

Google Desktop: I use this at home and am relatively happy with it, particularly its real-time indexing and ability to launch native files (or the explorer in the appropriate directory). However, at work, where I really need search, I have used LookOut for more than a year and still love it despite its flaws. Microsoft recognized its awesomeness and made MSN Desktop Search out of it but for whatever reason I've always preferred LookOut due to its simple interface and easy method of indexing selected public folders. I don't search documents with it (I have Interwoven DeskSite for that) but I search my email many, many times a day with LookOut.

Google Earth: I suppose this is cool, Google is really stretching the definition of "essential software" with this one, though.

Google Pack Screensaver: OK, here's where I am an elite techno-blogger when I say this -- I don't use screensavers. My screensaver is my desktop image, locked and requiring a password. You are looking at your computer when you're using it, and when you're not, you are away from your desk and don't care what the hell is going on with your screen.

Google Talk: I like Google Talk simply because it notifies me when I have GMail. I am an IM loser and only have one person who has ever communicated with me via Google Talk. And this person works at the same company as me so we usually use our firm's internal MS Office Live Communicator via HTTPS.

Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer: I use this on those machines on which I have to use IE to block popups. Of course, I only use IE when I probably want popups, like for OWA or the Interwoven support site or... I can't think of anything else, really. I consider this a useful app.

Mozilla Firefox with Google Toolbar: I use this every day and heartily recommend it.

Norton Antivirus: I like the free version of AVG and wish Google had chosen it. I've never noticed a slowdown and never caught a virus. But I am an elite internet user and never click on any attachments unless they are Word or PDF files that my coworkers send me.

Picasa: I have not settled upon a proper method of viewing and organizing pictures that is not labor-intensive. Picture that I want to share I upload to my Flickr page using the Flickr Uploadr. At home, I have a directory which I used to share and my wife and I would just use Irfanview to view the pictures. Now I sync to my Media Center PC so if we want to look at pictures we can see 'em on the TV and somewhat easily scroll through them. My coworker who takes a lot of pictures and is fairly tech savvy uses Picasa so I suppose that's a recommendation, and I may have my wife try it out to see if she likes it. Most non-tech-savvy people I would imagine just use whatever application came with their digital camera (or their computer a la HP Image Center on our Media Center PC).

RealPlayer: Everyone on the internet hates Real and rightly so -- their whole business model is based on duping people into buying into some sleazy upsold version other than the free one they want. And then the app goes into the system tray, steals file associations from their rightful owners, shows you ads for everything not just content you are downloading from Real, etc. I suppose that Google needs to strike a blow against Microsoft so people don't just use the default Windows Media Player that most non-savvy users use by default, and that's why they partnered with someone people had heard of that also had their own proprietary format that some sites require you to use. And until recently they couldn't have used Winamp, which is what I use for all my stuff. And the recent announcement of a video store thing pretty much means Apple won't be lending out iTunes to Google any time soon. So I suppose this was the only likely choice. If Google wanted to show its super nerdy cred they probably would have used Foobar but that interface is only for engineers and really haughty audiophiles who want everything to be more complicated than it needs to be.

Trillian: I do use this and have for years. I suppose you could say Google had to do this because Google Talk doesn't talk to the other IM networks, and all the other search vendors have their own far more popular IM clients and networks than Google and the typical new computer user needs to connect to those networks. Trillian lets them do this without installing any software which provides ad revenue to those other search vendors. It also doesn't really provide any of the features that people are expecting from modern IM clients like VoIP or webcam or file transfers, so I guess the genius(?) is forcing you to use Google Talk for at least the VoIP part.

Anyway, there are my thoughts. I know that as the 496th blog to post about this my unique take will shoot right onto memeorandum's main page! (or more likely drop back into the low-impact, low-readership position you've come to expect from Give Our Abilities Time)


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