Category Archives: Technology

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.

Another Home Run for Roku

First Roku came out with a digital media player the size of a small external hard drive for $99 that allowed you to stream Netflix On Demand content to your TV.


Then Roku provided High Definition output giving you the ability to watch much of Netflix’s content in High Definition.

Now, Roku has teamed with Amazon to provide the Video On-Demand Store on the Roku player.


This week Roku is pushing a firmware update that give you the ability to surf the Video On-Demand Store from the comfort of your living room couch in a very comfortable lean back mode of entertainment.

Setup is easy, all you need to do is go to and link your Roku box to your account and you’re done.  Then, you just navigate to the On-Demand Video menu option and you get a very nice menu system that givesyou access to over 40,000 Movies and TV Series that you can either rent or buy to watch on your Roku device.

This in my opinion is the start of the future of digital content. Way to go Roku, my hat’s off to you!

WTF Google! Pickup After Yourself!

Yes, I am like all of the Geeks out there. I eagerly downloaded the Google Chrome Beta the day it hit the Internet. I’ll admit it, I live on the Bleeding Edge of technology! I’m an Early Adopter! I love being one!

It was great to see something new in the browser world, especially with all of the neat features for Google Apps.

But I soon tired of it, mainly because it didn’t work well from behind a corporate firewall. So, I uninstalled Chrome and thinking the developers at Google were responsible developers, like those at other large companies, I thought nothing more about it.

But a couple of weeks ago, my laptop started to slow down, memory was getting sparse, even though I had 2 GB installed. How could this be? I don’t run that many programs at once. I don’t even run virtual machines on my laptop any more since I built the Lavin Tera-Server. How could all of my resources be disappearing?

This plagued me over and over. It got so bad, I had to cancel a client presentation in midstream because my laptop took 15 minutes to launch a simple webpage! I thought it was a corrupt page file, a rootkit or even a trojan app running amok on my laptop. I did everything to get my laptop cleaned, short of reformatting the hard drive and staring over.

Then, I sat down at my laptop one night  and noticed the hard drive light pounding away even though I had no apps running. What could be going on? Why is my drive light on constantly?

I brought up Task Manager and clicked on the CPU column twice to see what was eating up all of the CPU. There it was, six instances of GoogleUpdate.exe running on my laptop consuming all of my memory! Why is this happening? I thought I had uninstalled Chrome and I don’t use Google Gears or even the Google Toolbar. Is this really GoogleUpdate or a cleverly disguised trojan?

I pulled up windows explorer and quickly searched for GoogleUpdate.exe from the root of my hard drive. It was nowhere to be found! Next, I tried searching for Google, this time I got nothing but trash. Where could this file be? Has a hacker hidden it from me in a hidden partition! My paranoia was running wild!

Then I pulled up Fire Fox and searched the web for “GoogleUpdate.exe” and “Multiple Instances”. Up popped several posts in the Chrome Help and Troubleshooting Forum.

It seems that several people were having problems with GoogleUpdate.exe failing and spawning additional instances of itself over and over. But I thought to myself, I’ve uninstalled Chrome why is this happening? When you uninstall something it should clean up everything it installed and only leave the files it created on your behalf. The install utility should not be leaving portions of the application on your machine!

So, I did some more searching and found out that GoogleUpdate.exe was located deep in the bowels of my hidden AppData folder, which is why Windows Explorer could never find it, by default files in hidden directories are not shown to you, no matter what!

So I made some quick changes to my settings and spelunked down into my AppData folder and found several directories that Google Chrome did not clean up during the uninstall. I deleted them.

Then I got to thinking, something had to launch GoogleUpdate.exe, I checked for Start menu items, nothing! So I checked the registry and searched for GoogleUpdate.exe, I came across at least 6 locations where the program had inserted itself and was never cleaned up, including a line in the RUN Entry which caused GoogleUpdate.exe to launch every time someone logged on to my laptop. I diligently deleted all of the registry entries and then my problem cleared up. Memory usage back to normal,  hard drive only lighting up when I was actually doing something. The response time was great, once again! Wonderful!

Now here is my question for Google, WTF Dudes! Why don’t you clean up after yourself? I know if I published software, be it Beta or not, I’d damn make sure that when I uninstalled the application I left no trace. And if something was running when I did the uninstall, I’d kill the process so I could delete the files. Its not hard!

Why are developers so lazy! Why do we as consumers accept this? Its not right! If my refrigerator stopped working every time I opened the door, you know damn well, I’d take it back and ask for one that works. Why do developers think they are above simple tasks like cleaning up after themselves?

And Google, what kind of development shop are you running? I thought you were a multi-billion dollar software empire. How could you release such sloppy software? Is it because no one tested an uninstall of the software? That can’t be! Is it because you were cheap and outsourced the work to someone else? What is your excuse? And the fact that Chrome is in Beta is not an excuse! You’ve been running on that excuse for years and I haven’t bought it, not even for one second.

So Google, next time you come to my house (laptop), pickup after yourself when you leave, it’s the polite thing to do.

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


So Why Doesn't Anyone Provide HTTP Proxy Support?

So, I want to follow Twitter at work on my desktop, however there is a proxy between me and the Twitter servers and all of the Twitter clients I find blow chunks when I try to connect. Am I one of the few users in the world behind a proxy? This can’t be! I know there have to be a lot of people in the same situation.


Its not only Twitter clients that I run into that do not support proxies, I’m finding it to be the norm not the exception. We’re not talking about anything big, all a developer needs to do is provide the option and provide the proxy credentials prior to making the call.

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.


30 Days of Nothing but Tech

I’ve decided that there is so many new technologies coming out that I am going to spend the next 30 days watching and listening to nothing but technical podcasts and webcasts. I’m turning off the cable signal and hooking the PC to the 42 inch plasma screen in the living room and start making more productive use of my time. Instead of watching mindless reality TV shows filled with commercials every five minutes I’ll get up to speed on the latest coming out of Microsoft, Oracle and Sun. And instead of listening to commercial laden radio during my 45 minute commute to work or while tooling around the metroplex, I’ll hook up my Zune to an FM Transmitter and catch up on all of the podcasts that I never seem to get around to.


So stay tuned and I’ll let you know the gems that I uncover and keep you up to date on the Network TV withdrawal symptoms that might come up.


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Monthly Dallas VSTS User Group Meeting

I just got back from attending my first Dallas VSTS User Group Meeting. Vince Blasberg gave a presentation titled “Reporting in Visual Studio Team System.” He gave a great deep dive into the database architecture around TFS, the Data Warehouse and the OLAP Services. Vince also had some great tips on how custom work item field attributes can affect reporting as well as learning resources around building TFS Reports.


I’m hoping we do a deep dive around mining the Data Warehouse for dashboard data reporting. It was great first experience with the group.


Turns out that Vince and I worked together at CLR/FAST-TAX back in the mid 90s. We spent some time after the meeting chatting about old friends and the old days of working 18 hours days getting ready for tax season.


You can learn more about the Dallas VSTS User Group at