Random Fun Stuff

  • Welp, I’m up late tonight, as Woot.com is having a Woot-Off. These are dangerous for both my health and my wallet, but I’m determined to get a Bag of Crap this time. I don’t expect to win a 50″ HDTV or a Wii like some lucky people, but I figure it’ll be fun regardless. That is, if these USB harddrive enclosures ever sell out.
  • I ordered a DVD boxset of the entire Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, and it finally came! Not a bad price, given that Buy.com was having a sale and Google Checkout was taking $20 off on top of that.
  • I’ve been hooked on Zelda: Twilight Princess for the Wii. Best Zelda game I’ve played since the original. I think I’m about 20 hours into it right now, though I’m perhaps not as far along as I should be. Spent a lot of time just exploring the world, as one should do in a Zelda game.
  • I must buy this toy if/when it comes out. The expressions on the little people are priceless.

Athena is dead :(

I woke up this morning to a disconnected SSH session between my laptop and my desktop, Athena. I checked gaim. Nope, still on the Internet. Maybe I got disconnected in the middle of the night, I thought? So I walked into my office room and checked on Athena. Dead. Just, dead. I couldn’t turn it on at all. Fortunately, there was nothing major on there, as I moved everything important to the Terastation, though I’m sure the drives are probably fine. It looks like the CPU fan died in the night and the CPU overheated, or something.

I’ve been suspecting this for the past week, for some reason, and have been pricing computers. I think I’ve settled on this Dell Dimension E510. It has a Pentium D dual-core 2.8GHz, 800FSB, 1GB RAM, 20″ Dell 2007FP LCD, 128MB ATI Radeon X300, 80GB HD, 16X CD/DVD burner (DVD+/-RW) w/ double layer write capability, and Windows XP Media Center 2005 Edition with a full install CD. That’s all for $779. I plan to take some of the hardware from Athena and put it in this yet unnamed box.

Fortunately I use my laptop for almost everything nowadays, so not having Athena around won’t hurt my productivity much. Still, it’s a real shame. I loved that little computer. It’s kind of neat getting a new one, though.

Pretty Shiny Monitor

So, a few days ago, Dell had a deal on a 20.1″ Dell 2005FPW Widescreen LCD monitor. We have the 20.1″ non-widescreens at VMware, and I love them, so I thought I’d throw some money Dell’s way and pick up a widescreen. I found out that I could also purchase a $35-off coupon on ebay for only $5, so I managed to get another $30 off there. All in all, before tax, it came down to $450. It arrived a few days ago, and I must say, it absolutely rocks. I’ve been using it in the living room, playing World of Warcraft on it. It makes such a difference 🙂 Everyone should get one.

Now that I type this, I see that Chris Lee purchased one too. Very cool. Enjoy 🙂

My little Home Theater PC

A few months ago, I bought a nice little Sony Vaio desktop computer from a co-worker for a really good price. I saw that it had TV out capabilities, as well as two TV tuners, so I thought it’d be fun to get something plugged into the TV. So I got it all set up and played around, but the Giga Pocket software that came with it was really quite pathetic. I ended up just using Explorer for a while to view my videos, but that required either having a keyboard and mouse hooked up, or using VNC. I would have put Linux on it, except the TV tuner was incompatible with Linux, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the rest of the hardware was as well.

Then a story ran on Slashdot about a wonderful little project called Media Portal, which is essentially like Freevo or MythTV, but for Winodws. It’s open source, written in C#, and works well. Although still a very early beta (0.1.0.5.1 is the current release), it lets me do almost everything I want to do. I can play videos, music, view pictures, check the weather, and all the other standard stuff.

Unfortunately, the little remote control and receiver that came with this Vaio was incompatible with everything but their Giga Pocket software. I ended up going with a SnapStream Firefly remote and receiver, which I must say works quite well and is comfortable to hold.

The setup was starting to work well enough, but the video quality sucked. I was using standard composite cables, and as I also use a TiVo, I didn’t want to give up my TV’s S-Video port. My DVD player was using my component ports on the TV, but I figured I could experiment a bit in that area, and purchased a DVI-to-component adapter for my Radeon 9600 Pro. I plugged it in and was amazed at the sharpness I got in comparison to the composite and even S-Video cables. I could actually read small text, even though some of it was still flickery. Ah well, it’s not like it’s a monitor.

The last major piece of the puzzle was a good case. A big silver Vaio tower next to my TV just wasn’t all that appealing. So I shopped around and saw the SilverStone LC03V case. It was love at first sight. I found a vendor selling it for a cheap price and purchased it, along with a new black DVD-RW and a black In-Win CR-I530 (USB/Firewire/Audio/Compact Flash/Secure Digital/MMC/Smart Media/MiniDisk) expansion bay. Unfortunately, the audio and firewire ports don’t work on my crappy Vaio motherboard, but I’ll replace that someday.

Everything arrived and I put it all together. It’s very sexy. I put the case in front of the TV and noticed that I could actually read the text on the TV in the case’s reflection. Oh yeah, while I was at it, I bought a new stick of RAM for my main desktop, bringing it up to 1GB.

Despite the suckiness of Windows, the media box generally runs well. The only times I have problems are when Windows decides it’s time to interrupt what I’m doing to tell me that I should upgrade to Service Pack 2, or when the virus scanner pops up, or when I start up Windows and it tells me that I’m not smart enough to decide the resolution I want, and that it wants me to bump it up from my custom resolution for my TV to 800×600. But it’s Windows, nobody really expects to be treated intelligently anyway. As long as I don’t have to reboot often, it works well enough.

I’m in the process of working on a plugin for Media Portal to allow me to see and update my NetFlix queue from my remote, as well as browsing other movies and seeing their video clips. It’s starting to work pretty well, but it’ll be a while before it’s ready for normal use.

I need to resist the temptation to put any more money into this for a while 🙂

Adventures with the MS Office Keyboard

For the past few years, I’ve been using the Microsoft Office Keyboard. It was a gift from my mom, as my previous keyboard stopped working one day. Now, I’m sure a lot of people’s first thought is that this keyboard sucks because it’s from Microsoft, but so far, I’ve really enjoyed it. I have the Application Left/Right buttons mapped to switch desktops quickly and easily, and the Cut, Copy, and Paste buttons for making a window sticky, shading it, and launching a terminal. Works well enough.

Until just the other day, I had this all configured through .xmodmap and my window manager settings. However, in GNOME 2.5.x, the keyboard settings are apparently supposed to be controlled by the Keyboard control center applet, and my xmodmap settings are now ignored. My latest build of gnome-control-center CVS even shows a dialog saying that the xmodmap settings will be ignored.

So, I launched the keyboard control center applet and selected my MS Office Keyboard from the list. Perfect, I thought. That is, until I learned that my End key no longer worked, and none of the shortcut keys on the keyboard did what they were supposed to. I put it away for awhile and started manually using xmodmap and resetting the shortcuts every time I launched GNOME, until I had time to actually fix it.

The other day, I decided to fix this. The problem was actually in XFree86’s inet keyboard symbols file, in the Microsoft Office Keyboard definition. After poking around and learning how these files were constructed and what the <I#> and <E#> codes meant, I finally patched up my definition. It was an almost 100% change, so I’m assuming that either the guy who wrote this entry was on crack, or that it was for an older version of this keyboard (unless it’s a newer one, but I kind of doubt that).

I’m mostly writing this so that if any Linux users with this keyboard want it set up properly, they’ll have the information available. I have a replacement inet file available that works with my keyboard. I’d be curious to know if there are MS Office Keyboard users out there that have their xkb settings set to use this keyboard who aren’t experiencing problems.

Shiny New Battery Back-Up

For Christmas, my parents gave me a CyberPower Battery Back-Up system. It’s a 410 watt unit, claiming to last 25-50 minutes. I really only need 5-10, since these systems are only off when the power flickers or PG&E screws up somehow. So today I finally installed it, as my main desktop locked up. I figured it was now or never.

What can I say? It works. It’s fun to pull the plug out of the wall while the computer is running (I only did it once!)

This doesn’t even compare to my friend John’s setup. He needed something for one of the businesses he’s a computer consultant for. It had to last 2 hours, so what was his solution? Why, building his own out of 4 car batteries, of course! It generates a bit of heat, but it works, and has worked for some time. I want him to build me one, but then, I only need that 5-10 minutes.