Category Archives: Bleeding Edge

The future of things

I’m sitting in an aisle seat as I fly from Atlanta, GA to Boston, Ma enjoying browsing the web on my iPad at 30,000 ft. When I was a kid I only dreamed that I’d have a computer the size of a tablet of paper that could pull me information wirelessly in an instant. But to my amazement it’s a reality! Funny thing is I thought I’d be a lot older when it would be possible.

Not only am I writing a blog post, but I’m carrying on three separate chat sessions with people in three different parts of the U.S., perusing the latest e-books on Amazon and pre-ordering Jimmy John’s to be delivered to my hotel room after I arrive.

These are just some of the possibilities that ubiquitous computing and ubiquitous Internet access bring to our lives.

Now, the only thing left is to perfect the transporter so I don’t have to waste 6 hours flying cross country. When that happens, I’ll really be living my dreams!

The Perfect Sub $350 Home Theater PC

If you ask my friends, they’ll tell you that I am always searching for the perfect home theater pc and the cheaper the better. I’ve tried Mini-ITX mother boards, slim-line PCs, Fancy full-sized theater cases and a whole host of other systems. But, as you’d guess all of them have their short comings; under powered, too expensive, too big or too loud. I really haven’t been able to find the perfect low-cost system with enough power to play back High Definition MPEG-4 Video that is small and quiet enough to put in my entertainment center. That was until I happened to find the Acer Aspire Revo AR1600-U910H Desktop PC this past weekend at Fry’s Electronics. This system is based on the Atom N230 processor and the NVIDIA ION LE-Graphics processor giving you the ability to tackle any type of video playback all for under $200.


Below are the Acer Aspire Revo Specifications:

  • Box Contents – Acer AR1600-U910H Desktop PC, USB Keyboard, USB Mouse; Software Bundle – Windows XP Home with Service Pack 3, Microsoft Works, Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition 2007 Trial, McAfee Internet Security Suite 2008 60-Day Trial
  • Intel Atom Processor 230 1.6GHz
  • NVIDIA ION LE Graphics
  • 1024MB DDR2 RAM
  • 160GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • 512K L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB
  • 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN
  • Back ports – 4 x USB, RJ-45 (LAN), VGA, HDMI
  • Dimensions – 7.1 (H) x 1.2 (W) x 7.1 (L) inches
  • EnergyStar Compliance
  • Expansion slot – Mini PCI Express
  • Front ports – 2 x USB, High Definition Headphone Jack, Microphone Jack
  • High-Definition Audio Support
  • Multi-in-One Digital Media Card Reader MMC, SD, MS, xD Picture Card
  • Ultimate Small-Form Factor Design Case
  • Weight – 9 lbs.

Add a Windows Media Center Wireless Remote for around $50 and a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade for around $100 and you’ll have the perfect Home Theater PC setup for around $300.

Building the Lavin Tera-Server

Over the past few years I have built a collection of external hard drives totaling about 2.4 TB and trying to share them across the 5+ machines I have in the house is getting quite painful. Not only do I need network storage but I also need a virtual machine server so I can set up the various server configurations I use for development. Using virtual machines for development brings a whole new light to the game, not only can I have several virtual machines for the various development environments, but I can also stand up different server configurations to make sure my applications can play nice in a real world IT infrastructure.


I started looking into Home Servers and NAS devices and I thought to myself “These manufacturers have to be wacked to think I’m gonna spend $500 for a bare bones system without drives”. By the time I purchased the server and the drives I needed, I’d be close to $2,000 dollars, which is a little out of my budget.  I have a perfectly good mid-sized tower box with an Intel D975XBX motherboard and a Dual Core 2.2GHz processor, that currently holds 1.2 TB of storage all I really need to do is beef it up a little with enough memory to host the virtual machines and add the drive space I need to act as a network attached storage device for my home network.


So, I took a trip to my neighborhood Fry’s Electronics store and was able to pick up 4 Western Digital Caviar GP 1 TB drives for around $119 each. Now these are not the fastest drives in the world and they only have the standard 16 MB memory buffers on them, but who needs speed when all you’re doing is server up files on a network? With 4 of these drives I could have 3 TB of RAID 5 storage on-line ready to go in no time. I also picked up 4 DDR2 2GB PC42000 Memory Sticks to give me 8 GB of total memory, just enough so I could also host my virtual machines as well.


I have to give a shout out to the sales people at my local Fry’s because when I purchased the drives they were limiting them to one per customer, but they were able to get me out of the store with 4 of them, all at one time! Thanks Guys!


My total cost for the upgrade was just over $700, not bad for 3 TB of network storage and a virtual server to boot.


My next task will be to install Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition and get the Hyper-V role working so I can start to stand up some virtual machines.


Streaming Video Test Day 1

So I’ve just finished 800 miles from Vancouver, WA to Salt Lake City, UT and have tried my best to get decent live broadcasts from my Samsung BlackJack II via QIK and LIveCast. I wasn’t really happy with what I saw in the results.


First, Many of the videos we cut off well before my stopping them. When I finished my videos they were at least 30 seconds in length, but what was uploaded was about half that. I have to blame this mainly on the lack of a strong signal as I was broadcasting. So, I guess when it comes to data more bars in all places doesn’t necessarily mean the same for data. Many times I had an E indicator which meant I had at least EVDO bandwidth and many times I had a G indicating I had 3G capabilities. So, the fact that both programs have the capability to store the video stream if a delay in transmission occurs, but it looks as if both fail to stream all of the data to the server. The LiveCast client also has the ability to record to local memory and then stream the video, but it is not very intuitive to work, so I’ll need to read up on it to see how it works and let you know if that works any better. The fact that the BlackJack II has the capability to record video to local storage, should allow both companies to take advantage of the existing capability and then try to stream the video from local storage to get the whole stream.


Second, Both clients are too hard to operate for point and shoot usability. Many times I had to wait for the clients to connect to the remote server before I was able to start shooting which means that it can be hard to catch the ultimate shot, because by the time the client comes up the moment may be over with. The only advice I can give hear is learn to use the thread pool or multi-threading if you are not using .Net. Having to wait for connectivity to shoot video should never really happen, I should be able to load the client and start shooting and the program should start streaming video in the background once a connection has been made.


Third, Video quality seems to vary between the two clients. QIK provides the best picture at 320 x 240, with LiveCast only providing a 160 x 120 picture. I can understand why this is happening and it mainly has to do with how much video one can shove down a small pipe, but if both companies spend some time to look at streaming from local storage it would never matter unless the true goal is to always broadcast without a delay. And if that is so, then I only have to say is then both clients are going to have to wait a couple of years before the infrastructure will be built out enough to support that capability.


Forth, Is a basic usability suggestion around trying to use phones with cameras on the back of the phone. Why not play a beep or some audible sound when you start to record so I know recording has started so I don’t have to watch the screen to indicate it is recording and then quickly turn the phone around to record. Its a simple little thing to do and you could provide an option to turn it off or on.


Anyway, that’s my input from day 1. Hopefully tomorrow will provide a little better streaming for the viewers. Check-in with you when I reach New Mexico.


A Test of Mobile Streaming Video Phone Applications

I just spent the last three days driving to Portland, OR from Dallas, TX and I tried to use QIK.COM’s streaming video client for my Samsung Blackjack II Windows Mobile 6 SmartPhone to record the trip and share with my friends and family. It turned out miserably! Most of the time when I thought I was sending video, I’d end up with a single second or two and nothing more, even though it showed I was recording the entire time. I don’t know if it was lack of signal, Internet congestion or just a bad configuration. While looking for tuning advice on the web I came across, who also has a similar application, but includes GPS integration with Google maps.


So, I have 2000 miles to drive over the next week to get back to Dallas, TX and nothing much more to do but play around and I thought it would be a great test of the two applications to see how each one fares in the wide open spaces of the great American west. As I drive back I’ll be logging my trip using both applications and posting the results for everyone to see via my twitter account at


Now I don’t plan to pit the two applications head to head, but provide a fair and balanced perspective of how each works in several different environments. Since I’ll be traveling back via interstate, the bandwidth should be great and I hope to have 3G capabilities during most of the trip. Each night I’ll post an update of how the day went, hopefully you’ll know better than me, since you’ll be able to see it live at the following locations:


Until, then see you on the Bleeding Edge


30 Days of Nothing but Tech Update

So it has been 30 days since I turned off the cable to the house and started watching nothing but technical content that I could pull from the Internet. A lot of my friends kept waiting for me to move back into my parent’s basement since they felt watching so much Tech would turn me into the ultimate nerd. Luckily that did not happen, but I didn’t completely watch just technical stuff the whole thirty days. I would say that my daughter put up with it for about two weeks and then she demanded that I at least get something she could watch that did not have to do with technology.


I will have to say that there are a lot of video web casts and on-demand services available on the Internet that have nothing to do with technology, the good ones are few and far between and many of them I will never understand, but they are out there. So in order to meet my daughter’s demands I ended up with a combination of solutions to get content into our Vista Media Center PC so she could enjoy herself.

First I hooked into the various movie services, Netflix, Vongo, CinemaNow, ShowTime, etc. Many provide VMC plug-ins that you can download directly from within Media Center or a plug-in is available from a third party. The best I’ve found so far is the vmcNetFlix plug-in. It provides you the ability to watch Netflix videos from within Media Center. It provides a great user interface that lets you browse all of the genres and available titles provided by Netflix’s WatchNow Service. You can either watch the title instantly, move it to a queue for later viewing or download it in the background to watch at another time. Like many of the movie services Netflix costs around $10 a month to have access to unlimited viewing but It’s well worth it.


The biggest comment I have here is that we are starting to see these type of services spring up all over the place but mostly are for only viewing via a browser. With the cost of video technology dropping like a rock I expect we are going to see more set top boxes that will provide broadband based on demand services within the next two years. I am surprised that someone hasn’t started a company to help the various broadcasting companies bring their content to Windows Media Center. If you look at what HP has done with their new line of HD monitors and televisions they are building Windows Media Center Extender technology directly into the devices so you don’t even need a set top box. I think if this ever takes a strong hold on the market you can say good by to the cable providers, they’ll end up watching their market share dwindle as more and more providers move to Internet broadcasting.


Second I looked into downloading the various Internet video web casts for viewing. My God are there a bunch of them! I tried several different plug-ins that allowed you to specify the URL to an RSS feed which would then download the videos in the feed contents. Many of these did not work all that great or were too cumbersome to setup. Here is a tip for all these type of plug-in providers, figure out a way to do all of the downloading and updates in the background. And quit stuffing in advertising in front of other people’s content unless you are hosting it. A good example of what I’m talking abut is TV Tonic, not only do they eat up all of your time updating RSS Feeds when you launch the plug-in they shove their own advertising in between every web cast you pull from someone else’s web site. It kind of reminds me of the days of shareware CDs where people would charge to deliver content that they never created.


I found it easier to use a tool like Juice to pull my content down for me. I just enter in the URLs of my favorite web casts and have them download to my video directory and presto everything just shows up in my Video library ready to watch. And when I’m down watching a web cast and no longer need it I can delete it from my hard drive from within Media Center. The great thing about Juice is that it can run in the background and check feeds periodically so you can get new shows within hours after they have been posted. It also works great for audio pod casts.

So I’m going to keep the cable signal turned off and I’m going to continue to explore the world of Internet Broadcasting. The next thing I have to do is find a plug-in that will let me watch streaming Internet broadcasts. There are a lot of services popping up that provide streaming video 24/7 that I’d like to bring into Windows Media Center and watch. Once I get this all worked out I’ll give you an update on how it all works out.

I think over the past 30 days I’ve found out one thing about myself. I originally left cable because I was tired of being bombarded with advertisements every 5 to 10 minutes. They are annoying and I’m tired of being ripped off by corporations that are collecting money from both ends of the system; advertisers and consumers. Originally advertising was a way to pay for the free broadcast of content, but cable and satellite companies have taken that and added on charging large sums of money to consumers for delivery of the content. They have paid for their infrastructure many times over and the fact that broadcasters and cable companies have dissected content in to neat 5 or 10 minute chunks so they can wrap it all up in advertising has turned me off. I found out that I can live with content sponsored by a company if it’s done in a tasteful way that does not distract from the overall content of the program. I’ll gladly listen to it and may even use their products in order to support the content providers. I’ve always been one to support those who provide value to me.


I’ve also seen the crest of a new wave that will soon turn into a Tsunami once the right formula is found. The Internet has flattened the field of broadcasting so much that anyone with a video camera, a PC and the right software can become their own content provider. This is going to change the world we live in so much that I can’t even fathom what it will be like in the next 10 years. We are at the door step to information overload not only at work but in our personal lives as well. We need to look into new technologies that will allow us to cut through all of the noise and bring us the content that is important to us in the manner we prefer, whether that be to our TV sets, our computers, our cell phones, or our media players.