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Showing posts from February, 2013

Review: Go Get GoToMeeting for iPad

I'm on the road a lot. But when I'm in Chicago, I am a remote worker, operating from my home office.  Our company uses GoToMeeting quite a bit - both for internal meetings & presentations, and for assisting clients with remote forensic collections of their data for litigation.  It's a very versatile and powerful web platform - essentially, a conference call in which all of the participants can hear each other, either over the phone or through their computer's microphone & speakers.  At the same time, all of the participants can see the selected "presenter's" computer screen - and any participant can be given control of the presenter's computer.  As you can imagine, this is incredibly useful for, say, operating a powerful forensic tool for a client employee based in, say, China. The only problem is, we're interviewing that employee and logging responses at the same time. And if the GoToMeeting is showing the target's

Upgrading an AirPort Network - February 2013

Apple's AirPort networking products have a few built-in advantages.  First off, they're high quality - both in terms of functionality and in terms of build quality.  Secondly, they're simple. Very simple. With the AirPort Utility on a Mac doing most of the heavy lifting, they're basically plug-and-play. In my experience, that is somewhat unusual.  We've been very happy with our wireless network, which has a Time Capsule as the primary router, and multiple A1264 AirPort Express devices extending the network.  So why am I updating my AirPort networking components? Why rock the boat? 

Time For A Wi-Fi Bathroom Scale?

I used to be a prodigious diet soda drinker. To the point that people noticed . To other people, diet soda consumption was my "thing". Really. But those days are over - my 2013 resolution was to cut artificial sweeteners entirely out of my diet. Now, I don't know if there's anything wrong with diet soda. I don't know if artificial sweeteners are in any way unhealthy, or if diet soda is associated with weight gain, or anything. I doubt that any of that is true, actually.  But I do believe in moderation, and I figured it was time to stop compulsively pounding Diet Mountain Dew and Coke Zero. Two months in, and I really barely miss diet soda anymore. But it's time to dial the resolution thing up a bit, and drop some weight.  Also, this gives me an excuse to add a new gadget! My 6-year-old and I were at the Apple Store yesterday, and I noticed that they're selling wi-fi scales - that track your weight and BMI every day.

Why Can't We Watch British TV Shows?

I know what you're probably thinking about that title - Matt, of COURSE you can watch British TV shows! There's Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, of course, and Gordon Ramsay and Ricky Gervais are on at least 15 shows each right now.  AND there's the entire BBC America, and Wheeler Dealers on Velocity, and there's American versions of Top Gear, and British versions of Law & Order, and Premier League on Fox Soccer, and Six Nations Rugby.... what more can you want? Well, that's not what I'm looking for - I want to be able to see British TV that's on RIGHT NOW. As in, last night.  Mostly, topical comedy panel shows, like Sean Lock and Jon Richardson on "8 Out of 10 Cats". 

Why is Apple Maps Still So Awful?

I'm obviously a huge Apple fan. So when iOS was released last year, I didn't mourn the loss of Google Maps, as much as I welcomed the arrival of Apple Maps. Yes, I knew it wouldn't have data for public transit at first - but I figured that would be a short-lived problem... surely Apple, with its gargantuan war chest, can acquire a company or service that provides transit data.  And then the app arrived. It's beautiful. It's minimalist. The vector graphics scaled really smoothly and gorgeously, as opposed to Google Maps' constant "disappear to grid, redraw" whenever you zoomed in or out. But then we all started using the app. And we laughed at the melting freeways, and we started to notice rather obvious mistakes, like misplaced cities and missing roads.  The turn-by-turn was awesome, but it often took us to incorrect locations. And you couldn't count on the app to know where a particular business was - the maps were shockingl

High Five #5 - The Five Toughest Cubs Tickets of 2013

Today was the first day of intrasquad Cubs games down in Mesa, Arizona.  And while the future of the team looks bright (OF prospect Jorge Soler homered, SS prospect Javy Baez crushed a ball that SS Starlin Castro turned into diving putout), this could be a long season.  Who cares! It's still baseball. This year is our 5th consecutive year of buying the 9-pack of tickets. For the first time I can remember, the Cubs basically allowed us to pick any 9 games we wanted, with no April Wednesday afternoons forced upon us.  Our tickets arrived last week. It's a mix of Saturdays, Sundays, and night games. A pricier 9-game pack than usual, because we only purchased games that were in demand - but the Big Games are always more fun.  We'll be using the MLB At The Ballpark app this year to log our attendance at Wrigley, and on roadtrips to Brewers and White Sox games. The app got some pretty good reviews last year, and I'm curious to see what it can do. 

Spotify Wants To Bring its Free Tier to iPhone

The Verge wrote today that Spotify is in the process of renegotiating its deal with the US record labels.  Those negotiations are reportedly focused on 2 areas: first, Spotify wants to lower the royalty payments that it makes to the record labels into line with its revenues. Secondly, Spotify wants to make its free, ad-supported tier available on mobile platforms, such as the iPhone.   The second point is exciting. If I could access and control Spotify from my iPhone, then essentially every song ever written would be available for streaming, at all times.  Moreover, this would (potentially, perhaps even likely) allow control of Spotify over AirPlay - maybe natively within the app, or if necessary, by double-clicking the home button, swiping to the left, and AirPlay streaming the entire iPad or iPhone.  All of that excitement comes with quite a few troubling caveats, though. The first point, re: royalty payments, for instance. It's been reported for some time that

Home Theater Remodel - Built-In Shelving Plans

Our first plans for expanded built-ins!  It's been a while, but finally, we know where we're going.   As promised, here are the first (very rough) plans for how our built-in cabinets will look after the renovation.  The only question at this point - can we do this ourselves?  I'm thinking that the answer is "yes", with one exception - the media cabinets (or at a minimum, the cabinet doors) will have to be purchased.  The open-shelving portion of each new bookshelf will be a DIY project, as will the crown molding and baseboards. 

Home Theater Update - In-Wall Speakers

I was at our local Best Buy on Sunday - not really looking for anything in particular. Nest thermostats, AirPlay stereos, maybe a new TV for the office. ASIDE: Back in college, I worked at a Best Buy for a month around the holidays. It was excruciatingly boring, and I quit as soon as I left for home at Christmas break. I have no trouble spending hours in a Best Buy on my own, but the minute they start  paying  me to be there, I'm crawling up the walls to get out.  I walked into the Magnolia room - after all, I was just browsing, and they have the best stuff in Best Buy - and I noticed a display of in-wall speaker systems.  "Aha!", I thought. "This is the solution for the living room home theater - expand the built-in shelving, and incorporate in-wall speakers!" There's going to be an open space where the mantle overhangs, directly to the left and right of the TV... this could work. 

Home Theater Update - HDMI Gets Thinner, Smaller, More Flexible

I need to pick up some HDMI cables immediately. We've been using a set that we purchased from Monoprice about a year ago.  Unfortunately, they aren't quite long enough to run through our walls, and their nylon jackets make them rather stiff and inflexible.  If I'm going to be tearing my drywall apart and cutting notches in the studs to fish HDMI cables through, I want the thinnest, most flexible cables that I can buy. (Also, I want them to be cheap.) We're also looking at speakers - we currently have a Bose Acoustimass 5.1 double-cube speaker system in our living room. It gets the job done, and the speakers are very small.  We could certainly use some wall mounts and incorporate the Bose cubes into the new home theater system. It would look fine, and would cost nothing.  But we're also considering in-wall speaker solutions.  (We'll look at the options for in-wall speakers tomorrow. For now, let's look at in-wall HDMI cables.) 

Not All AirPort Extremes are Created Equal (UPDATED)

I'm looking for a used AirPort Extreme. In all the usual places - eBay, Craigslist.  I'll probably get one this week. Why? It's a long story.  A while back, I picked up an AirPort Express A1084 router on Craigslist, and found that it was incompatible with my AirPort Utility and wireless-n network, even though it looked *identical* to the current model of AirPort Express.  So, I wrote a post on this blog about the different types of AirPort Express routers, noting that if you're looking for used Airport Express routers to extend your AirPlay network, you'd better seek out model A1264. In the months that followed, Apple updated the AirPort Express again, changing the form factor (it looks like a little white AppleTV now), adding simultaneous dual-band support, and giving it model number A1392.  ASIDE: I'm not totally convinced that the form-factor change was an improvement. The A1264 plugged directly into the wall, which was incr

High Five - The 5 Greatest iPods, Ever

No one talks about the iPod anymore. I only know of two types of people using them these days - preteens using iPod touches for gaming, and people using old Nanos or Shuffles for running.   And, I suppose, my sister, who has an iPod permanently residing in a dock and acting as her home stereo system. But for about 6 years, from 2001 until the iPhone's announcement in 2007, it was THE gadget.  Music only, and we liked it that way. When the iPhone was just a rumor, one critic memorably said "I love my iPod. I don't want it to ring ." These are the 5 "Greatest" iPods. They're not necessarily the 5 "best" iPods - obviously, the Touch is the most capable, "best" iPod. But can it really be called the "greatest", when it's practically an afterthought in the Apple product line? And these iPods aren't being graded on a curve, either. Obviously, the original iPod was the most revolutionary for its time

Home Theater Remodel - First Steps.

We've been in the new house for about six months, and there's still a huge pile of HDMI wires running from our TV over the fireplace, to the AV stand holding our components.  It works great, it looks terrible.  It's time for a change. I could bury the HDMI cables in the wall horizontally, or run them through the basement and back up.... but the former plan requires expensive drywall work, and the latter has a fireplace in the way and might be impossible. Time for a bold plan. Time for wall-to-wall built in cabinets!

An AppleTV, a Mac Mini HTPC - or both?

We love our AppleTV. It's tiny, it needs only 2 cables (HDMI and power), and it can access the entire iTunes content ecosystem.  We've used it to rent movies, stream almost everything from our iPad, and play music from our full iTunes library - which is stored on our iMac, while using an iPhone as a remote.  Clearly, for a "hobby" device, Apple has created a killer iPad accessory. It's practically mandatory at this point. Go get one. But you know what it can't do well? Stream a video library. Which is why I'm interested in an HTPC.

iWatch Made of "Curved Glass"? iStill Doubt it. But iCould be Convinced.

I wrote a post, about a week or so ago, expressing skepticism about the Apple iWatch rumors.  Basically, my thought process boiled down to " People wouldn't want to show off an iWatch, so Apple shouldn't make one ". And still the rumors continue to build.... Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that Apple was experimenting with some sort of curved-glass wristwatch, which would have some iOS functionality. I still didn't get it, and wrote it off as an "Apple HDTV" type of wish-rumor.  After all, it's been a few years since Steve Jobs wowed us all with the iPad. Tablets are mainstream now. We want to be astounded by Apple again. So we look around our houses and try to figure out what products Apple could improve upon. And for the moment, the idea is wristwatches. 

Basement Renovation #3 - Measuring and Planning

Finishing a basement is never an easy process. But before we can even start, we have to decide where we want to finish. Our basement isn't huge, so we're not going to be adding much in the way of walls or rooms. It will primarily be a large open area, with a small storage room, a bathroom (thankfully, rough plumbing is already in place) and a furnace room. We're working on a long timeline - the image you see on the right is our aspiration for 2013 - getting the rigid foam insulation glued into place. Plans after the jump.

High Five Wayback Machine - 5 Best Home Theater Components from a Decade Ago

Let's fire up the Wayback Machine and take a look at the Top Five tech items from a decade ago!  ( "Wayback Machine": a reference that is, in itself, so dated that it makes me seem older than a post about VCRs and CDs .) 10 years ago, I was a second-year attorney in downtown Chicago. The Cubs were starting a magical season that would end.... well, it would end just tragically. And for the first time, I had some disposable income. And I did my best to dispose of it. I was a fixture at the North and Clybourn Best Buy, and constantly tracked eBay (and later, Craigslist) for bargains. These days, it's difficult to find a true "bargain" on eBay - everyone seems to know precisely what everything is worth, and if you describe/photograph your item properly, you can more or less guess the final auction price.  eBay functions about as closely to a "perfect market" as anything this side of the NYSE, which is amazing when you consider that

In Defense of iPhone Passbook

Passport is a great idea. Not just a "good way to handle tickets", but a Great Idea in general. It's a platform/app that the iPhone should have more of - an aggregator of content from other apps.  If and when iRemote becomes a reality, the idea should be the same: Apple will provide the platform, and  consumer electronics makers will create their own "cards" or "modules", which provide control for their products.  Within the iRemote app, we'd seamlessly flip between controlling our Blu-Ray player, and controlling our lighting system - in the same way I can flip between my Starbucks card and the movie ticket I bought on Fandango six weeks ago. Wait, is that seriously all there is in my Passbook?

Review - WOW Ultra TV vs. DirecTV HR34 Genie

Here in the Chicago suburbs, we had two options for whole-home DVR services. We initially went with WOW Ultra TV, and after about 4 months, we switched to DirecTV's HR34 Genie system. (Neither Verizon FIOS nor AT&T UVerse were available in our area, so we can't review those. I haven't used Dish's Hopper, either. This is a straight compare/contrast review of WOW vs. DirecTV.) Both Ultra TV and Genie have their plusses and minuses. Both offer 1080p output, but that's primarily for the menus, as most TV content is provided at lower resolutions.  Both systems have a similar design architecture - a central hub, with multiple tuners and a large hard drive, recording and storing all TV shows, and distributing them to televisions around the house upon request.  Both systems also bring a number of "add-on" apps and have ways of accessing "on demand" content.  We've had each system for enough time to really put them through

Going Underground #2 - Foosball Table Restoration - Cleanup

These guys clean up pretty well!  Considering that these foosball men have gotten progressively filthier from the time this table was installed, in a bar/roller rink/whatever in the 1970's, I really couldn't have asked for better results. We're talking about 30+ years worth of dust and grime and spills. I used Goo Gone, which has been my product of choice for cleaning up vintage collectible stuff over the last 15 years. (I learned back in the 90's that you can take a brittle, 20 year old pricetag off of a Star Wars carded figure with no problem with enough patience and enough Goo Gone. I'd imagine you can take mailing labels off of an old magazine with it too - but I'd tread lightly.)

Belkin WeMo Light Switches Arrive This Summer - A Competitor to Insteon?

We're just getting started with an Insteon home automation system. There are a few light switches in our house that I'd like to be able to control remotely (for example, our outdoor lights are accessible only from the garage), and there are others that I'd like to be able to control in tandem - for instance, setting "scenes" in our living room, dimming certain lights and turning others off when we watch a movie.  Just recently, however, Belkin announced some additions to their WeMo system - including light switches - that may make the system a plausible alternative to Insteon. Let's compare and contrast.

Apple iWatch? iDoubt it.

I've seen a few stories recently predicting that Apple will produce some kind of wristwatch in 2013.  I really, really doubt it. And that's not based on analyzing Apple's component buys, or reading rumor sites. I just can't believe that the company that did more than almost any other to sink the wristwatch will come back and create a wristwatch a few years later. 

Upgrading my Canon PIXMA All-In-One to add AirPrint

I'm a computer forensics attorney, which partially explains my focus on gadgets and tech. When I'm not traveling to client sites, I work from home. And since we moved last summer, I've had the opportunity to put together a pretty solid home office.  It became apparent really, really quickly that I needed a printer/scanner that had a document feeder - essentially every day, I'm printing-signing-scanning some sort of document. I currently have a Canon PIXMA MX410. It's a very good all-in-one printer. It has a document feeder, it works wirelessly with my work PC and my iMac, and it's pretty easy on the ink. I have absolutely no complaints. Actually, I have one complaint. The MX410 is not AirPrint capable. So I can't print directly from an iPad or iPhone.

iRemote - Not Necessarily A "Bag of Hurt".

Steve Jobs once famously called Blu-Ray a "bag of hurt" when explaining why Apple never built a Blu-Ray drive.  I'm sure Steve believed that, too - Blu-Ray likely seemed like more trouble than it was worth for Apple, especially given Apple's decision to move away from physical media.  At the time of that statement, the HD-DVD v. Blu-Ray war was recently ended, and it was unclear whether or how long Blu-Ray would be a dominant format. Basically, there were too many variables in play for Apple to jump in and deliver their trademark seamless user experience.  But won't an Apple remote control face the same obstacles? Sure, at first. But given Apple's power to shape an ecosystem, not necessarily for very long.