Thursday, August 17, 2006

How big a star can change a resolution?

I enjoy my HDTV so much, that I have built a high-definition PVR from a Windows Media Center Edition just to time-shift it. I also have been capturing still screen shots and posting them to my Flickr account to share the amazing scenery. Even the talk shows like Leno and Letterman look brilliant in HD; it's not just those sporting events or helicopter shots in CSI that lure me in. But could the stars on these shows start telling the networks how to broadcast their signal? That's exactly what happened on Late Night with David Letterman on Wednesday, August 16th, 2006 when Christina Agulara visited. After her amazing performance, she has the pipes of a dozen gospel singers from Atlanta, broadcast in HDTV, Letterman went to commercial and came back on in HD with the show bumper. What happened before the bumpers faded into the set was interesting however; the program went not only narrow screen but into digital NTSC, standard-definition. Gone was the wide aspect ratio, rich contrast and details that I was waiting for with the close-up shots of David and Christina.

How did this happen? Did Christina, her people, her publicist (who says she hurt her TENDONS in her arm at home on July 16) or her label RCA, owned by BMG put the pressure on CBS or Viacom, who owns MTV, to down-res the show?

The damage on her arm doesn't look like tendon injuries at all; but something that the 24 year old would walk away from a cat-fight with. It wouldn't be her first altercation, in July 2005, Page Six quoted a source as saying "Christina hurt her arm in a scuffle with a drunk fan at a nightclub." But that's not the point of this story.

Who can force the networks to turn off their HDTV broadcast when they want to mask something from the viewing audience? I want to know, and I do not want this happening again.

Dozens of photos regarding this story in high-definition and the low-def evidence can be found here: www.flickr.com/photos/gadge

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Asterisk @ Home or Trixbox with FreePBX


Cisco 7960 VoIP phone w/SIP
Originally uploaded by gadget.
When the Camelot Internet Phone and VocalTech software came out in 1995 I was hooked on Voice over Internet Protocol. Phil Zimmermann's PGPFone brought encryption to VoIP 10 years before Skype but none of these modem delivered technologies were ready for the Internet as it was then. Now with broadband multi-megabit pipes (or is that a series of tubes?) along with services like those above as well as Vonage and beyond have the bandwidth and quality of service required to send voice traffic at a quality near that of the plain old telephone service (POTS). But these still have their own problems while POTS is a more stable product that has been around for the last 100 years, that's a lot of debugging time. Thanks to the instigation of my buddy Matt Deatrick, I have been building systems running [email protected] for a little over a year and their capabilities are mind blowing. No longer are you tied to a proprietary phone system and the hardware base of the switch vendors. You are free to setup forwarding, linking and automated scripts to your heart's content. This system is not for the faint of heart, but chances are that you have a no-longer-used, sub-gigahertz PC at your feet below and have just the amount of curiosity that it takes to tinker with one of the most powerful telephony applications on the planet. I'm only upset that the bugs that were fixed in [email protected] didn't make it into the 1.0 and even the 1.1 version of TrixBox. If you can; go with an @Home distribution with FreePBX until 1.2 gets rid of these silly daemons.

More info on setting up your own Asterisk box can be found in my PC Magazine story here: Your Virtual Assistant.

Thursday, May 25, 2006



In this world of PVR commercial skipping it is odd to find me actually searching for a commercial, but I've done it more than once. The last time was close to the year 2000, with unsuccessful results. Back then, I was looking for the AT&T "You can" campaign. These were a series of commercials that showed the future (the time that we live in now) and all of the great things that we can do on in it. You know, like the ability to fax on the beach.

Today with Google video I expected better results, as I searched again for a campaign, but this time from the new and improved, so they tell us, lowercase at&t. My efforts to find "Three Screens" was thwarted by the lack of online content, but I did run across this gem from the 1950's. Times have changed in so many ways a half-century ago. As we cannot even smoke in restaurants while we eat in many cities, it is hard to believe that a doctor could recommend you a cigarette to relax as it elevates heart rate and introduces so many toxigens into your system that it literally makes your head spin. Now click play above to enjoy the show.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Tangle Management

It is ironic that our life of wireless and portable devices require us to have a complex and tangled charging experience. Standardized charging ports and inductive methods to recharge mobile devices have never materialized, despite even Google's attempt to bring light to the subject at hand at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show.

The Design Within Reach Multipot is a great, albeit pricy, product idea to hold those power "wall-warts" and their associated cables that charge your vast yet growing personal electronics. Just plug your handfull of up to five adapters under the lid of the pot and snake a few inches of cable through the hole in the top. You can charge your gadgets without a lot of cable clutter.

At $250 it doesn't seem exactly within reach, and I wonder if some of the larger device wall-warts fit within the layout of the electrical outlets. Yet it is still a good idea. What it really needs is an iGo Juice inside! Personally, I use a iGo everywhere power 15 with dual outputs to charge my mobile phone and GPS regularly. Just one wall outlet is taken and two devices can be charged. Velcro wraps tie down my cable clutter, not the expensive pot. No wonder DWE has a new CEO.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Camera Searching for Signal...


Kodak V610
Originally uploaded by gadget.
In the 1980's I had a dark room where I would enlarge and develop 35MM prints taken with my SLR camera. To this day I have boxes and boxes of negatives from shots around the world, taken over several decades. Unfortunately, I have no way to sort or search these effectively. When Kodak released their first, and archaic with no flash, Digital Science consumer camera in the late 1990's I instantly jumped into a new revolution. Now I could name my photos and have them searchable and pulled up instantly on my PC. Back in the days when the internal camera memory could only hold 16 to 30 photos, naming them was a trivial process. Nearly 10 years later, my current camera sees 512MB and 1GB SD cards, and holding hundreds of photos on a single card. Naming them becomes an impossible task. Picasa does a decent job with importing them and letting me name and create folders, but I still wish for photo specific naming based upon a location where they were shot, which is typically how I like to organize photos. Expensive SLR cameras have GPS connection options, but these are mainly used for insurance company or survey applications where precise location is important. I just need to take the latitude and longitude numbers, bounce them off a database to determine a city or street name and name the image file accordingly. This would seem to be a relatively simple consumer application. Today, it does not exist. The closest thing, Riya.com uses logic to scan photos for faces it recognizes, after you initially name them, or the text of a street sign to automate the indexing. This is great for people but is not for every shot or location that you take. It will be many years before object recognition software could identify a building and map it back to a location.

New in their spring lineup for 2006, the Kodak V610 dual lens camera has a 10X optical zoom, a 2.8" LCD and 6.1 mega pixel CCD along with a Bluetooth radio inside its svelte chassis. This yet-to-be seen Bluetooth option is used to transfer images from your camera to your PC, but this would be an extremely tedious process for a six-mega pixel image with their large file size. A better application, and one mentioned as feasible by Jens Hinrichsen, a Kodak marketing manager, would involve a "pull" operation rather than a "push" or output operation. Since every mobile phone in America is mandated to have location information for Emergency 911 calling, the camera could request a data transfer of the last know coordinates form the phone and place them within pre-existing EXIF data fields for lat/longitude location information. Now this would require a firmware upgrade to the camera to modify the object push control and add a software button or two to request the location manually, but that's not the hard part. Carriers, especially Verizon, have crippled the mobile phone "standard" Bluetooth stack to only allow headset and hands free profiles. Exchanging photos just as Kodak mentions on their web site is not even supported on the majority of handsets. Using the mobile phone as an inexpensive GPS receiver to give you location data is out of the question.

Listen up carriers, quit crippling the Bluetooth stack in our mobile phones to allow features, such as this, that benefit your consumers!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Apple to Build a Media Center XP PC?


Mini Mac XP MCE 2005 and XBox 360
Originally uploaded by gadget.
I gotta tell you, over the past few weeks I have been using the most silent PC that I have had in my living room. The fan of my DLP television is louder than this computer. With it, I am using a Microsoft Media Center and its infrared remote and keyboad for wireless input. It has a 300GB drive full of HDTV and DVD media attached to it, as well as networked connectivity to another HP Media Center with HDTV tuners.

As if that wasn't enough, it is also hosting video and data feeds to my XBox 360. What computer is this? My Mac Mini Core Solo 1.5GHz machine running XP MCE 2005.

Yes, it works, but only after you combine the two Media Center CD's into one DVD, or place a copy of the files on the second CD onto a removable hard drive. Viola, instant quiet Media Center. Next on my list of things to ask for, drop the USB IR Dongle and use the internal sensor and maybe have a little plug-in for Apple's bundled little remote! Viva the quiet revolution! Even my Shuttle small form factor PC is jealous!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Inno-vative pre-order restrictions on the XM Inno


CES 2006
Originally uploaded by gadget.

The XM Store is offering pre-orders of the Pioneer Inno player today, which will ship in April. They will hold a $1 charge on your credit card until it ships, then send the radio pre-activated by billing you for 3 months of service @12.95 plus $399 for the unit, minus $25 off in the form of free ground shipping and a waived activation fee. Did you follow that? Me neither. The real bad news is that they put a boatload of restrictions on the purchase of this device and no visible way to add it to an existing account. Rather than my paraphrasing the rules, here is a copy from the "account protected" website:

  • All orders and purchases made through this website cannot be combined with any other promotions or offers including rebates.
  • Orders are cancelable prior to ship date only. Your credit card will be preauthorized for $1.00 at the time your order is placed.
    Your credit card will be charged in full at the time that the product is shipped to you without any other prior notice.
  • At the time of order, you acknowledge that you are required to purchase three (3) months of service, which will be charged at the time your radio ships. You also acknowledge that your XM service will renew on the same payment terms and billing frequency after initial three (3) months. A six (6) month minimum service commitment is required for each radio. Failure to maintain six (6) months of continuous service on any of the radios purchased via this offer will result in a $65.00 early cancellation fee on said radio(s).
  • Radios are shipped pre-activated. XM service billing automatically begins on the day your radio is shipped.
  • The credit card number used to activate your XM service via this promotion will be added to your XM account for future billing.
  • Responsible billing party may not be changed or transferred until the 6 month service commitment is fulfilled for any radio(s) purchased through this offer.
  • The terms of this offer shall supersede the terms of the Customer Agreement with respect to the cancellation of the XM service.
  • Returns are not accepted. Exchanges are accepted for defective equipment only and within 30 days of hardware receipt. All sales are final.
  • Ground shipped orders usually arrive within 8-10 days. Adult signature is required on all deliveries. There is no charge for ground shipping & handling.
  • Shipping Carrier will not deliver any packages to a P.O. Box. Please use a valid street address.
  • This Website may not be used for commercial purposes and radios purchased through this website cannot be resold.
  • Offer is available to customers within the continental United States only.
  • Limit ONE (1) pre-order per customer email access code.
  • Limit ONE (1) Pioneer Inno.
    Please read our Customer Service Agreement (www.xmradio.com/get_xm/customer_service.html) for more information about XM`s service and subscription terms and conditions.

So, that all being said, and the discount being only about $25, I think I'll hold off. My original XM2go and iPod Video work fine for my needs... This thing is going to be discounted this summer like you wouldn't believe - especially with Samsung fighting for market share too.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Home Audio Hub


JVC RX D702B PC Mag
Originally uploaded by gadget.
PC Magazine just picked up a story that I wrote on the JVC RX-D702B home theater receiver. The product is entirely digital, and even up converts analog fed inputs to HDMI at 480p. At the time when this was written, most TV's had only one DVI or HDMI input, now that many TV's have two, the novelty of the integrated two-port HDMI switch is wearing off, but it does make for a high WAF or Wife Acceptance Factor. What I mean by this is that one remote can select the DVD, Satellite or other input device then funnel the audio out the speakers and push the video to a single input on the screen. This unit may just save you from the call from the babysitter when the kids want to watch a movie! Plus it has great sound and is even DTS compliant, all in a svelte chassis.

Check out my review of it at PC Magazine here: www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,1937158,00.asp

Friday, March 03, 2006

HTC Wizard is no Sorcerer


You have new Picture Mail!
Originally uploaded by gadget.
I got my paws on a freshly bolted together HTC Wizard AKA Cingular 8125 today and it leaves little to be desired. The display is nice, and the orientation flips automatically when you slide it open, only after releasing a latch on the lower left side to unlock the screen. This means that you need two hands to open the thing, which begs the question, who thought that was a good idea? Why not use a ball bearing? It's all ball bearings these days! When opening or closing it, you frequently tap the volume knob at the top left corner which brings up the huge volume display over the top whatever it is that you really want to see. The 200MHz processor is a slow dog running Windows Mobile 5.0 and it frequently freezes, or should I say "thinks" when you are trying to use the interface. A stylus is nearly required when closed since using a touch screen to dial a phone is like using a keyboard with mittens, neither of which I recommend. The worst thing about dialing via the screen is that it only auto-completes when you enter numbers from your address book, not a name. Even when the keyboard is open, you have to select a first letter of the alphabet, then use the wheel to scroll down to the entry you want to dial. This better get fixed from a menu option or a flash upgrade... This phone is no Treo, which does a great job finding numbers in the address book just by typing a name on the phone screen. Now why couldn't Microsoft emulate that interface? This one, goes back to where it came from. Treo 700p, where art thou?

Add Class to your Hacks


Front Panel Express - rdd-10
Originally uploaded by gadget.
When new technology comes into my gadget lab, the cases come off and the electronic guts come out of their factory designed metal or plastic containers. Once the circuitry is modified, they typically end up in "gadget boxes" or more often hot-glued into Tupperware containers. Now there is a way to get some class with your hacks and even make them look better than what the original manufacturer had intended. Front Panel Express has a free down loadable design tool to take your dreams and turn them into engraved aluminum masterpieces, shipped right to your door. This Boss RDD-10 digital delay used to be a black and purple 1990's vintage gadget that wouldn't fit in a rack. Now you can put an etched and labeled aluminum front on that Tupperware lid.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

High Definition Became the Story


CSI HDTV Closeup
Originally uploaded by gadget.
Just after the year 2000 non-catastrophic event, my team at Net Talk Live was ready to revamp our 1996 era TV show and blast into the world of HDTV. We designed a new black set with "miles" of depth plus Intellibeam lit sails along with camera shaders and even fashion experts to make sure that we "popped" on screen with our "new for the millennium" show, Net Talk Interactive. The show looked great and was shot it HD then ultimately broadcast in standard definition because editing expenses were so high. Even if we made an EDL, or Edit Decision List on our standard definition Avid editor and used that to automate the High Definition edit suite, it would have broken our bank. Today, the $999 Final Cut Pro HD gives $2000 Macs amazing capabilities for editing in HD, but the point of this story is that we now need more than just pretty faces and scenery to make viewers stop and take note.

What a difference five years makes. CSI: Miami has put viewers with HDTV sets into the scene, right along with the detectives. In the "Three-Way" episode broadcast mid-February 2006 a contact lens was found at one of three crime scenes. A witness was called in for questioning and the detective said that it was probably hard for her to get around with only one contact lens. Right after this line was delivered, the camera zoomed into a closeup of her left, then right eye where the ring of the contact was clearly visible in HD. You would only see fuzzy eyes if this were standard definition television. Using technology to build the storyline naturally, without being overtly technical is an art that Jerry Bruckheimer's team should have many others playing catchup with. McG did a great job with eye candy in Fastlane and Charlie's Angels but CSI gets the details on the candy.

The capture above is from my Media Center PC as a 720p JPG lifted right from the broadcast with the wonderful Gadwin Print Screen utility to capture images.

Click on the image or here to see more from my flickr photo stream.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Google Earth To Go


Google Maps on a Blackberry 8700
Originally uploaded by gadget.
We live in a drive through fast food, need our information now society. To help with finding this so called information, mainly just confirming useless trivia at parties, I have been carrying Google on my hip since the original black and white T-Mobile Sidekick was released, but have since moved onto SMS and Treo Blazer browser access of their increasingly mobile driven applications. Text driving directions were OK on these platforms, but Google has outdone themselves with this BlackBerry application (no browser used here folks) that attaches via your data plan to the Google Map and Satellite databases to stream imagery to the phone in real time. My favorite additions are the "push pin" search results and the extremely fast updates via the EDGE data network.

Get your Finnish, Asian or Motorola J2ME flip phone or Blackberry nearly as smart as your GPS by heading to google.com/glm online. As per Verizon's stranglehold on BREW, those subscribers are going to have to live without this software or service.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Be Sweet on Valentines Day


Valentines Day Candy Bikini
Originally uploaded by gadget.
Despite my trademarked nickname of "Gadget Guy", some of my favorite gifts are the un-technical unique products that do not require batteries. Two of them hark from the other side of our pond, in the UK. Now with St. Valentines day and other made-up holidays like Easter around the corner, not to mention my birthday, I wanted to share these gift ideas. Oops, I just mentioned my birthday didn't I?

For your friends with all of the bright ideas, look for the Glow Brick from Suck, UK. This gadget gathers light during the day, then glows during the night. Don't expect a voluminous amount of candlepower output, just a faint yet haunting glow. It would make for a great item to throw at would-be burglars as it is quite heavy. It's more art than function and looks like a MOMA piece, without the dangling cord of a power cable. BTW You can find these discounted on eBay.

This next gift is sexy sweet, literally. The Candy G-String from iWoot, or I Want One of Those, is not meant for everyone as one size fits all, but is sure to get things hot and sticky. Meant to be worn over skin directly, Alessandra Ambrosio adorned hers over skimpy Victory Secret wear at the winter 2005 fashion show, click the photo for the photos. The iWoot Candy G-String will make you want to change your sheets.

Shipping can take some time and a bit expensive on these items when sending them to America, so either hit your girl up with them when you are on holiday or order early for your favorite real or made-up holiday!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Managing HD Media Center Files


DVRMSToolboxGUI
Originally uploaded by gadget.
My HDTV Media Center 2005 box has a half-terabyte inside and is bursting at its capacity seams. I want to rip my movies to its media drive, but hours of 24, CSI (Miami or New York with the helecopter shots) and the other beautiful HDTV programs like the Victora's Secret show take up just too much space on my drive. For example, the Grammys, Superbowl and pre-game show were each 30GB as stored in high definition!

Enter DVRMSToolBox - despite both an ugly name and user interface, this program is my new love. I have taken the 4.3GB that it takes for each HDTV 24 episode and shrink them down to 2.6GB all while maintaining the MPEG2 resolution and Dolby Digital sound, but removing the commercials and fluff.

All automatically. No kidding. It works by looking for the station "bug" in the corner of the screen, or black frames before commercials in the programming and removing what doesn't have the bug. So far it's not wiping out video that it shouldn't, thanks to the commercial cutting engine of the Dragon Global ShowAnalyzer, and not requiring any editing time on my part. I love that, and have set it up to monitor a directory of media converting files with certain keywords of files that I want to archive. Not all shows will get converted, just the ones I want to hang onto.

A two hour HDTV show takes under an hour and a half to convert and remove the commercials on my Hyper Threading P4 running at 3GHz with a gigabyte of dual channel RAM. All while taking around 60% of my CPU cycles. I can even watch HDTV or work on the computer normally during the conversion! This type of multi-tasking while converting video is unheard of normally.

Currently, the video converted to MPEG2 format does not contain the META guide data and description, but you can remove commercials and retain this by keeping the file in the DVR-MS format if you wish. I chose to go the MPEG2 route so that I can share the data on devices like Media Center Extenders, Roku's or portable devices. This is a program that you must have if you are recording and archiving high or low definition programs with XP Media Center Edition.

Now I just can't make myself cut the commercials out of the Superbowl, but you can cut the commercials into their own video and destroy the program as an option. Based upon the quality of the the 2006 Superbowl XL, I think that is the path to take.

DVRMSToolbox @ Download.com

Monday, January 09, 2006

Samsung XM+MP3 Player


CES 2006
Originally uploaded by gadget.
I made my way back from the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and have a whole slew of photos and technology to show from my trip. Including this slim battery powered XM Radio that supports the transfer of MP3 files into the device, and the deletion of tracks within. It also has a 40 second buffer so when you hit the record button, you don't miss any of the begining of the track! Nice improvements over last year's Delphi MyFi! I will be blogging on these later as time allows, but in the mean time you can check out my Flickr site for higher resolution camera photos, nice for the girls and cars and photos with brief descriptions from my Treo of the trip.

XM's "Stack of SD" sized tuner


P1040526
Originally uploaded by gadget.
I made my way back from the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and have a whole slew of photos and technology to show from my trip. Including the new XM tuner that migrates from your home and mobile devices just like a memory card. In fact this one is about the size of a stack of 8 SD cards! I will be blogging on these later as time allows, but in the mean time you can check out my Flickr site for higher resolution camera photos, nice for the girls and cars and photos with brief descriptions from my Treo of the trip.