Archive for July 2006

Stopping the MacBook moo

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

I was finally able to get my MacBook to stop “mooing” using a hack from the website Moofix. It’s not elegant, but it beats listening to a constant moo.

For those who are unclear on the subject, the moo is the sound the MacBook makes while it’s fans rev briefly in an attempt to cool the machine. This succeeds temporarily so the fan shuts off, only to restart seconds later when the machine heats up again. Apple needs to come up with a firmware fix for the problem, but the Moofix is a simple and effective solution for the time being.

Espressing myself

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

Espressing myself

Latte art. It sounds like a dark tradition passed between generations of a cult. Or perhaps a pass??? movement now relegated to museums. In fact, it is the art of pouring steamed milk into a cappuccino so that it forms an attractive pattern on the surface of the espresso. I first took up this hobby several years ago when I started working with serious espresso machines. The key step to creating latte art is the create a smooth even texture to the milk instead of a head of foam that sits atop a skimpy liquid.

To start with, it’s best to use something other than skim milk. 2% Lactaid seems to work well for me. I brew the espresso first, then start the steaming with the wand just under the surface of the milk. Ideally, I’ll get the mllk to spin in the pitcher. Once the pitcher has started to warm, I plunge the steam probe deeper into the milk while trying to maintain the spinning motion of the liquid. Once the pitcher is too hot to touch, it’s done.

I give the pitcher a manual spin then steadily pour in into the espresso. As the foam begins to collect on the surface, I shake the pitcher back and forth. With a finishing stroke, I move the pitcher forward, distorting the pattern into the flower-like pattern seen above. Does it work every time? Of course not, but if I have the right cup and everything goes just right, the results can be quite rewarding.

1080p: The Future is Now

Saturday, July 29th, 2006

If you are thinking of purchasing an HDTV, there’s one critical variable that is emerging as increasingly important: resolution. Although all HDTVs are higher resolution than standard television (or even the DVD-quality EDTVs that are now almost non-existant), there are two levels of high definition emerging: 720p (which often comes a slightly enhanced version dubbed 768p) and 1080p. The latter, as the name would suggest, offers a sigificantly higher resolution (and, of course, a significantly higher cost). Can you tell the difference? Probably not if you’re watching an HDTV broadcast and aren’t sitting too close to the TV, but the emergence of the BluRay and HD-DVD video formats will soon make the difference potentially relevant. While 1080p rear-projection TVs (RPTVs) have been in production for some time, this fall we’ll see the emergence of mainstream 1080p LCD TVs from Sony (via their XBR2, XBR3, and V2500 lines) and 1080p plasma TVs from Panasonic (the PZ600 line). How “mainstream” (i.e. affordable) these TVs will be remains to be seen.

A KRZY new cell phone from Motorola

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Motorola’s RAZR was a hot phone of 2005, perhaps even THE hot phone of 2005, but already it’s looking passé and dated. Users of the RAZR know that, despite the slick look of the razor-thin appearance, the phone can be somewhat awkward to hold. Operating with one hand is particularly challenging given the thin profile. Get ready for Motorola’s answer for 2006, the MOTOKRZR:

KRZRKRZR K1m

The KRZR (oficially the MotoKRZR K1) is 42mm x 103 mm x 16 mm (narrower and slightly thicker than the RAZR) and features a glossy metallic finish, a 2MP camera, Bluetooth, and compatibility with GSM networks (e.g. T-Mobile and Cingular, though no word on whether these companies are selling the phone yet). Another version, the CDMA (e.g. Spring/Verizon) MotoKRZR K1m adds high speed EVDO data with music buttons and “music on demand” but has a lower quality 1.3 MP camera. It is slightly larger at 44 x 103 x 17.

My take? I definitely like the narrower and slightly thicker shape better than the RAZR. It looks to be a great compact phone. I worry that it might still include the traditional clunky Motorola interface and that the slick metallic finish might attract fingerprints like the black MacBook.

Review: Apple MacBook (Black, 2.0 Ghz)

Monday, July 17th, 2006

Bottom Line: Apple’s new laptop is versitile and inexpensive, but there are a few caveats to be wary of.

Verdict: Recommended.

Apple’s recent switch to Intel processors has led to a flurry of releases for the California-based computer maker. Apple had been stuck in a rut with their end-of-the-line PowerPC G4 processor used in the old PowerBook line. The new Intel CoreDuo processors promised to offer significantly higher performance while maintaining reasonable battery life and size. The first laptop released with the new processor was the MacBook Pro, a laptop plagued by initial noise and unreliability problems that since seem to have been largely addressed. It looked almost exactly like the older PowerBook, but the internals were equipped with the speedy Intel CoreDuo, which largely succeeds in offering dramatically higher performance, provided you are using software optimized for the new processor. At this time, this includes most of Apple’s software, but not Microsoft Office and not Adobe Photoshop. This software will run, but the dramatic speed improvements won’t be evident.

MacBook

The Apple MacBook is a smaller, slightly lighter machine that features a new design and two looks: the classic glossy iBook white, and a new matte black finish, for which Apple charges a premium. I went with the latter for this review, largely because I think the black (besides looking cooler) creates a better contrast with the screen. In addition to a new look, the MacBook sports a new keyboard with recessed keys that don’t touch the screen and thus avoid leaving unsightly marks. Although the keyboard looks dramatically different, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it felt pretty much like a normal keyboard; I could notice no downside to using it. I believe the switch was made so that Apple could implement a new design that integrates the keyboard into the body in a more robust manner than in prior laptop models. As a result, the keyboard doesn’t bend or cave in at weak spots. Instead it feels solid and well-supported, as does the rest of the notebook. Unlike the aluminum-based “pro” models, the plastic MacBook closes firmly and decidedly with a magnetic “latch” (not a visible latch, but a magnet built into the case). I like the feel and it lends contributes to the sense of high build quality. (more…)

My and my new ‘book

Sunday, July 16th, 2006

I’ve been going two and fro from work with my new sidekick, the Apple MacBook. It has been a worthy replacement for the old PowerBook, and certainly has taken a load off my back.

Using the MacBook, I have also started a new tech website called Tech Recs and included there is my review of tis computer.

Review: Logitech Harmony 880 Universal Remote

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

Bottom Line: Logitech’s high-end universal remote is well worth it if you’re tired of juggling a multitude of controls just to watch TV.

Verdict: Highly Recommended.

Can a universal remote really change your life? Probably not, but the Logitech Harmony 880 Remote Control can have a significant impact on how you spend your time in front of the TV. With the increasing complexity of home AV setups, it doesn’t take much effort to accumulate an array of remotes, each of which only serves a few functions. You’ll start off with a TV remote. Then maybe you’ll add a cable box, which will come with its own remote. A DVD player? A third remote. A AV receiver? Now we’re up to four. A TiVO? You get the idea.

While several attempts have been made to create universal remotes that can replace the typical living room coffee table clutter, most of these suffer from one of the several failings. In attempt to cover all possible functions, some remotes develop into two-handed monstristies which are more like miniature computers than remote controls. Others err in the opposite direction, with devices that appropriately resemble conventional remotes but, in their effort to look normal, end up clumsy and complicated. The setup up stage, in which the remote is configured for your personal setup, can be a particular challenge

Harmony 880

The Harmony 880 gets around this problem by starting with a slender device that can be operated with one hand. A bright color screen with relatively clearly labeled icons is the centerpiece of the remote and guides most interaction. Buttons to the side of each icon control the major functions of the device. The remote operates around the notion of “activities” such as “Watch a DVD”, “Listen to Radio”, or “Watch TiVO”. When one of these is selected, the 880 sends a flurry of signals to your various devices and configures them all appropriately. For example, pressing “Watch a DVD” will turn on my TV, set its video to display input from the DVD player, turn on my DVD player, and set the audio input on my AV receiver to DVD mode. Various controls (play, stop, pause, etc.) on the remote now control the DVD player. If I get bored of watching a movie and instead decide to “Watch TiVO”, the remote turns of the DVD player and appropriately changes the settings on my receiver and TV. All the controls on the remote are now TiVO-centric, including pause, play, etc. which only moments earlier were DVD controls. The display now changes to offer TiVO-specific commands such as a button to watch Live TV. (more…)

Should you upgrade to high-definition DVD?

Saturday, July 8th, 2006

Many people spend thousands of dollars on an HDTV only to find out that their TV has brought out the truth about DVDs: they are not, in fact, high definition. In fact, the low-priced (and quickly disappearing) EDTVs will do just as good a job at displaying DVDs as your fancy new HDTV. Until recently, the only way to see real HDTV quality video was to watch HDTV programming on selected television stations. For pre-recorded movies, you were stuck with the relatively low-definition DVD. Some higher-end DVD players claimed to upgrade DVDs to HDTV quality, but in fact these “upconverting” DVD players can only simulate higher definition by extrapolating from the video on the DVD – they can never truly produce HDTV quality. In fact, there was no way to watch true HDTV images off a recorded disc until now.

The past few months has witnessed the release of two different high-definition media players: the Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player and the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-Ray Player. Much like in the prior Betamax vs VHS format war of the 1980s, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray are two competing formats both offering similar high-definition video in incompatible formats. Both types of players can play conventional DVDs, but they cannot play each other’s discs.

Blu-Ray has been the favorite for some time, with more companies behind it, including heavyweights like Sony and Panasonic. However, with the release of Samsung BD-P1000, the tables have turned somewhat. The only Blu-Ray player available seems decidedly disappointing, with relatively unimpressive video quality compared to the Toshiba’s HD-DVD player. In addition, the number of titles available for Blu-Ray is significantly fewer than already limited number of discs available for HD-DVD. The Toshiba player is also significantly cheaper than the Samsung.

So is it game-over for Blu-Ray? Not so fast. Both of these players have significant limitations (the Toshiba player is notoriously slow to load discs, and has other early-product annoyances). If you had to choose one of these players today, Toshiba’s HD-DVD player seems like a better bet, but there’s no guarantee that just because Toshiba seems to have won the initial high-definition battle that the HD-DVD format will win the war. Your best bet is to wait as additional players for both formats are released in the fall, when the real victor in the format war is likely to be determined.

Fourth of July BBQ

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

Corn on the grill

Many people have fond memories of celebrating the 4th of July with their families, enjoying a barbeque. I have no such fond memories. I used to think it was because I didn’t enjoy the whole experience, but I think it is rather that my parents really were not that into barbeque, and I’m not really into the outdoors. Fast forward to 2006, and I have become a grill convert. It was about one year ago that I decided. somewhat on impulse, to buy the Weber Q Grill. I had debated about venturing into the hard-core arena of charcoal grilling or staying safely within the clean propane-driven world. I selected the latter, and I’m glad I have. Propane grills require minimal setup and maintenance. In part as a result of this simplicity, grilling has become a mainstay of food preparation chez infobhan.

While the daily grill is enjoyable, grilling for others (the social grilling often hilighted by TV commercials and the like) is where the true raison d’etre of the barbeque can be found. With a quick trip to the supermarket and a few last-minute emails to some friends, I was able to turn what could have been a lackluster 4th in front of the TV into a celebratory gathering. The nice thing about the grill is that it is so easy to succeed; almost every food I’ve tried has tasted better grilled. Today was a festival of flavors with grilled corn, chicken, onions, and, of course, burgers. This was accompanied by a potato salad and some lemonade, care of my wife, and some chocolate chip cookies I put together at the last minute when I realized we had no dessert. Also on the menu was some fresh pineapple; maybe next time I will muster the courage to grill that as well.

Review: Dell 2405FPW LCD Display

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

Bottom Line: Don’t let the bargain basement pricing fool you, Dell’s large-screen flat panel is a quality piece of hardware.

Verdict: Recommended.

When selecting a computer, many people spend much of their time poring over specification such as processor speed, RAM, hard disk space, etc.. While these are all important factors, it is the monitor that we spend much of our time interacting with. A large, high quality monitor can make everything we do on the computer seem faster and easier. Most new monitor purchases are targeted at LCD displays, and with good reason. Modern LCDs are bright, easier to use for long periods of time, and have a rich color palette. The downside of LCDs, until recently, has been the relatively high premium paid for large sizes.

The Dell 2405FPW was one of the first displays to break that pattern. Like its less expensive cousin, the 2005FPW, this 24-inch display brought large, high quality wide-screen excitement into the realm of affordibility. With frequent discounts available on websites like SlickDeals, these monitors frequently drop into the sub-$800 price range.

Dell 2405FPW

Can a new monitor really change your life? Yes. Do you really need a 24-inch display? Of course you do. This display offers a 1920×1200 resolution, which is better than the highest-quality HDTV. At 24 inches, multitasking becomes a reality. You can have two full web pages open simultaneously, or easily use two different programs at the same time. As you can see from the image above, this monitor is not restricted for use on Dell computers, or even PCs in general. The optimal input is DVI (Dell includes the cable), but VGA, composite, S-video, and component video inputs are all available. You can even connect a device to each input and switch between them with the push of a button.

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