Awesome Gadget

The Slingbox looks pretty sweet. Plop it atop your TV, and presumably you’ll be able to watch your TV on any computer anywhere via thier proprietary streaming technology. Currently Windows-only, but a Mac version of the player will be coming out this summer.

I’m growing somewhat tired of MythTV… they haven’t updated their website in nearly 8 months and the last major release was over 10 months ago. There are still no decent streaming plugins for it, so although you can watch TV on any computer in the house, you can’t watch it from a coffee shop or anyone else’s house (much less a cell phone)… it needs too much bandwidth. Since I don’t have time to work on a better solution, I may eventually cave in to these commercial options.

How to fix your Comcast/Motorola box

After getting cable installed, I was disappointed at the quality of the HD signal – particulary for football. I was seeing what looked like jaggies especially in cases where it was a white color (like a jersey or field line) on a dark color (like the field). The image wasn’t like that before I moved, so I figured it had something to do with the new environment – maybe some bad cables, shaky power, a bad cable box, or maybe just different compression used by Comcast in this area.

After a little fiddling and googling, I figured out what the issue was. Assuming you have a box that looks something like this (I didn’t bother checking if I had this exact model or not) you can get to the imaging menu by powering the box off, and then hitting the menu button. That brings up a few options – one of which is the resolution that the box emits over its Component video (YPbPr) outputs. By default, it was set to 480i. As soon as I cranked that to the more appropriate 720p those problems almost completely went away. I still have some tweaking to do, but in case you find yourself in this situation, don’t forget you have to power the box off to get to this hidden menu.


The website is pretty cool if you’ve never heard of it. They’re an electronics store, but they only sell one thing per day. If they sell out, day’s over. If they don’t, new product next day and no more chances to buy the first one. The stuff is typically heavily discounted… it’s a good site to add to your morning website routine (also available in RSS).

Wake up at the right time

This product seems pretty cool. It’s a watch that monitors your sleep patterns – the review seems to confirm that it actually works. Instead of simply setting an alarm to wake you up at 7AM, you can set the watch to wake you up sometime between 6:30 and 7, and it will detect when you’re sleeping the most lightly and wake you up at that time – so the whole wake-up process isn’t as painful.

Mentioned on Gizmodo.

Free ringtones

I’ve never actually paid for a ringtone, but I did create my first ringtone today, for nothing. This post at LifeHacker points to a video that explains how to do it, and links to the site that’s providing the service for free. It’s pretty cool because you can use any part (limit 20 seconds) of any mp3 you have. I chose the first 15 seconds of The Roots – The Seed 2.0. It sounded pretty good.

Note that it’s not actually free if your cell phone provider charges you for data downloads, but it’s still probably much cheaper (it was much cheaper for me).

The TomTom Go Has Arrived

After seeing a co-worker with one and deciding I had to have one too, I bought the TomTom GO GPS device. It told me how to get to work this morning, because of course finding my way to work has been a continuous challenge. The thing runs Linux (in fact you can download the source here) and it’s about the size of a softball, but a slightly different shape. The coolest part about it is the 3D view of where you’re going. You can see streets ahead of you on this map before you actually see them out the windshield, and points of interest (restaurants, gas stations, etc) are laid out as well.

So, while en route to somewhere, you can call up a list of nearby restaurants or gas stations, touch one, and then it will tell you (in a normal, spoken voice) how to get there – turn by turn. It’s very cool, and very hackable. Hooks up to the PC via a USB port, and takes regular SD cards for map storage. I’m looking forward to using it somewhere where it could actually be useful. Tomorrow I’ll have a chance to try it out in Boston, and this weekend in Vermont.

Cool piece of iPod software

I learned about this while in Seattle, but Ephpod is a pretty cool piece of software if you own an iPod. Unlike iTunes, it doesn’t take over your iPod and force it to sync with your computer. It lets you browse the iPod’s songs, and copy songs on/off of it freely. That includes letting you easily plug someone else’s iPod into it and putting songs on that.

The downside, as I realized this week, is that if someone puts a bunch of songs on your iPod with Ephpod, and then you plug your iPod into your home computer which has iTunes on it, iTunes will see all of these “unknown” songs and delete them all. Thanks iTunes!

New Roomba – Roomba Discovery

As an owner of the original Roomba, I received a letter from iRobot informing me of a brand new Roomba line coming out – the Roomba Discovery. The thing looks sweet. Aside from small niceties like a battery that charges faster (3 hours vs. 12) and a larger particle bin (3 times the size), there are some larger improvements. One of the two flagship features is “Dirt Detect” – the vacuum is able to detect that it’s cleaning extra stuff so it will slowdown and concentrate on those spots. The second main new feature is the ability for the Roomba to realize when it’s running out of batteries, and actually return to it’s docking station and charge itself.

When I’d first read about the “charge itself” behavior on the Electrolux Trilobite, I figured that’s why the thing cost $1800. I apparently was wrong though, because iRobot managed to add that feature and still keep the price of the thing down to $250. So, my current theory is that the price difference is probably navigation related. The Trilobite uses ultrasound to map out a room, whereas the Roomba kind of “wings it” and uses some heuristic algorithms to figure out when it’s done. One of the cool things the Electrolux does which I don’t believe the Roomba can is go back to vaccuming once it’s done charging. From what I’ve read, the Roomba will simply go back and charge when it’s done, whereas the Trilobite will charge, then take another stab at vaccuming, and then rest. Still… it’d be cheaper to get 3 f’n Roombas and let them loose at once than to get a single Trilobite (and you’d still save yourself a grand).