Stopping the MacBook moo

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

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

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

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)

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. Continue reading

Review: Logitech Harmony 880 Universal Remote

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. Continue reading