Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cardo S-800

Last week I picked up a Cardo S-800 bluetooth headset. There are plenty of reviews on it floating around on the Internet, so I won't get into detail. I will say that it does one thing particularly well: it supports pairing and easily switching between two devices. Double-click the wheel and it's switched. I have it paired with my cell phone and my laptop, making it blindingly easy to use one headset for cell and VoIP calls. It also charges off of USB (Micro-USB, unfortunately, not Mini-USB, but at least all I have to carry is a cable and not a power brick). Highly recommended if you find yourself with a similar need.

Hyper-V

This weekend I added a second hard drive to my Toshiba M9 laptop (in the CD-ROM bay). I then was able to install Windows Server 2008 on a second partition on the primary drive. After that was up and running, I set up Hyper-V with the goal of migrating my primary Vista installation (the one on the first partition) to a virtual machine. The process was easy enough: in the Hyper-V Manager, create a new VHD and tell it to clone a copy of the existing first hard drive. A few hours later, I now had a VHD on my second hard drive that was an exact clone of the first drive. I mounted it in a virtual machine and booted: to my surprise, there were my boot options, Server 2008 and Vista. And Vista x64 started right up (amazing it didn't blue screen during boot with all the hardware changes; also amazing, a 64-bit guest OS). But, here's the rub and the deal breaker: I couldn't install the "virtual machine additions" (I forget the correct Hyper-V term), as they aren't supported on 64-bit Vista. Performance was quite good, and I was able to share both physical CPUs inside the virtual machine. Here's to hoping they fully support 64-bit Vista as a guest!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Barefoot

Yesterday I picked up a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSOs and am already in love with them. They are basically socks with soles and separated toes. The theory behind barefooting is that traditional shoes put your feet on a flat platform and muscles that would otherwise be involved in walking atrophy. If you wear shoes with a lot of arch support, you're enabling the muscles that support your arch to continue to be weak; going barefoot forces the muscles to get stronger. Shoes are undoing 4 million years of evolution. Or consider walking on uneven terrain in traditional running shoes—your ankle twists and bends to absorb the differences, as opposed to your toes and feet wrapping into the differences.

I went for a short (very short, 400m at most) run yesterday in my KSOs and felt muscles on the underside of my toes engaged. I went for about a mile walk today and felt the whole underside of my foot start to fatigue from my feet actually gripping the ground. I'm sold on the theory of barefooting, and (as my physical therapist cautioned me) will very very slowly ease back into it. I haven't run barefoot since I was like 4 years old.

Here's a lengthy article in New York Magazine on barefooting. I actually also ordered a pair of VivoBarefoot shoes (think slippers with 3mm kevlar soles that are designed to look like socially acceptable shoes) from Amazon, but the only pair they had in stock of the model I wanted turned out to be one size too small...NB, try on shoes before you buy them.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Media Center Upgrade

About two weeks ago, I gutted my Media Center box and rebuilt it so that I could take advantage of optical HD media now that the format war is over.

New components:

  • Motherboard: EVGA NF77 with nForce 630i and a GeForce 7150 GPU built-in. Onboard HDMI with HDCP* plus optical and coax digital out/in (respectively). Supports RAID 0/1/0+1/5.
  • CPU: Intel Q6600 (Quad Core 2.4GHz).
  • RAM: 4GB DDR2, 800.
  • PSU: Rosewill 400W. (I needed a 24-pin and 8-pin power connectors for this new motherboard. I was sad to introduce a fan, but the one big 12cm fan is silent for all intents and purposes. Plus, the way the heat sink lies right up against it means better CPU cooling, too. I am very happy, though I didn't think I'd be.)
  • Optical Media: LG Blu-ray/HD DVD ROM plus DVD/CD/RW, SATA.

Reused components:

  • Hard drives: 2x160GB hard drives in RAID-0/Stripe for 320GB storage.
  • Heat sink: Silverstone NT01V2. I still love this thing, and was ecstatic that it was still compatible!
  • Case: Silverstone LC10 in Silver. I still love the VFD in front showing me media information. It makes it look like a real theater component, not just a hokey home-built computer.

Overall: very happy, A+ system. The motherboard/CPU combo is my best yet, and it takes about 33% CPU to play a Blu-ray title (with all four cores humming). All of the Media Center functionality moves better, too (like pulling up the guide and filtering by category, which used to strain the system, is instantaneous now). I subscribed to Netflix to, as a friend said, "have some pretties on my TV." Between Netflix and the HDHomeRun, I (finally!) have more HD content than I can consume, even with just local channels over Clear-QAM

HDCP

*I have to point out the importance of HDCP (if you're considering Blu-ray on Vista, take note): without it, Vista downgrades the video quality over digital outputs (like DVI or HDMI) to 480i/p. The intent is so that you can't rip a pure digital, HD, unencrypted stream of video from the wire and pirate movies. HDCP keeps the content encrypted from the source (disk/network) through the Vista video stack, out the video card and over the wire, where it's finally decrypted by the TV just in time to be displayed. This is called Protected Media Path. Further reading. If you want to play Blu-ray (or future HD formats from Hollywood), make sure your video card and display/TV support HDCP. (HD titles you download in XviD/MKV/etc aren't affected by this since they're not encrypted.)

TripIt

A work friend of mine introduced me to TripIt last week (I started traveling for my current engagement—back on the road!). It's a really great service. You forward all of your confirmation emails from travel agents/airlines/car rentals/hotels/etc, and it parses the data and builds a cohesive view of your travel schedule, complete with confirmation numbers and checkin/checkout times. Their mobile site gives you one-click access to flight status, too. The iCal feed lets me integrate it with my Outlook calendar and merge them into one view with the overlay mode. This is a BIG step up from manually entering every flight into Outlook (it's a good thing, too, since I seem to screw up time zones more often than I care to admit), and the process couldn't be easier: CTRL+F, CTRL+Enter. Done.