Two Hours of Windows 8

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Conference calls about databases shouldn’t last until 9:00.  Last night mine did.  Immediately after I had a bowl of pasta while the Mrs. and I did our Christmas shopping on our 6 year old HP desktop.  It only took about 30-40 minutes to get most everything squared away.  That meant from about 9:40 until 11:40 I got to focus on my new Dell all-in-one PC running Windows 8.

The fact that I only had about two hours to try this new PC and OS made it a good test to see if the new touch interface could be “learned” in that amount of time.  Short answer – sorta.

First off, the touch interface and new “start screen” are really fun and quite revolutionary for an open-minded tech lover.  The interface is fast, smooth and packed several moments of “wow” into the two hour period.  It was also pretty easy to figure out.

In fact, it was so easy to figure out, I got two users set up on one PC to a workable stage in that limited amount of time.  I used Ninite to get some of the programs that are a must have on any PC and let it do the work.  All I had to do was configure the accounts.

I don’t have a conference call tonight but I do have a haircut.  Even so, I should have another couple of hours to tinker tonight.  I have a feeling by that time, I’ll be ready to fully shut down the old computer and move the new on into its new place on the family desk.  I might stay up late just for fun.

Lightning Review: Stanton T.62

It’s 9:45, the kids are asleep, I’m halfway into a bottle of Cabernet and the Replacements “Waitress in the Sky” is pouring out of my speakers.  Hello, mid-life-crisis.  I think I love you.

My Stanton T.62 is set up and spinning my collection.  It’s kind of forcing me to slow down and listen to the music.  Hell, when the first side is over, the needle doesn’t even go back to the start.  You have to get your butt off the couch, gather your faculties and lift it yourself.  That’s the real definition of interactivity.  Take that Google +!

There’s a bit of a buzz from the ground I made immediately following preparation of a ziti dinner.  I used a United Airlines headphones set (one of the double pronged ones) for the ground wire.  Vinyl makes me multi-task my rear end off.  Did I mention how much I’m loving this?

Side one is over, back in a second….

“We are the sons of no one!!!!”  OK, sorry.  That’s just the start of side two.

What more can I say about this turntable.  It sounds great.  It looks cool; the strobe on the left shows me that even through a voltage converter, this direct-drive baby tracks perfectly.  The white light bathing the stylus in illumination just adds to the fetish.  It’d only be sweeter in red.  With a really small lady dancing on top.

I’d rate this a strong buy.  Nothing like the battery powered number I bought and returned a few months back.

“Here Comes A Regular” is over.

Well hello, Pleased to Meet Me.  I love 180 gram reissues. Goodbye Amazon birthday gift certificates.  See you at 39.

Lightning Review: Two Weeks with the Motorola Xoom

Just before shoving off from Texas, I snatched up a Motorola Xoom.  I had the office iPad the week before, trying out apps and generally getting familiar with the tablet concept before I decided to jump at the Xoom.  Two weeks into having one, I’m glad I did.  I also think it was the right choice for me over the iPad 2.  I’ve never been an Apple follower and the Xoom gave me a chance to get a nice, solid tablet without having to become an Apple convert.

If you’re looking to buy one you may want to wait as they are sure to get cheaper and there will be plenty on the horizon.  However, if you must have one now, the Xoom is a sweet little piece of kit.  The dual core processor makes it fast.  Things like Google Earth are a feast for the eyes.  That and Google maps integration with the address book are really cool features.  Tap an address in your address book and Maps zooms right to it.  Browse a map of your neighborhood and tap a location to add it to your address book.  No more drawn out sessions of adding restaurants to your address book.  With the Xoom they’re easy to input and handy when you want to make a reservation.

Movies and pictures also look great on this thing.  Within 10 minutes of taking it out of the box, Little NH was staring in silly 720p home movies.  The bundled video editor seems to work well, too.  Oh, and the camera, it has a flash.  I had never seen anything like that before on  anything but a camera – not to mention, with one app, it doubles as a flashlight.

Connectivity is pretty great on wi-fi.  It transfers seamlessly from my home to work networks and back again at the end of the day.  The Android market is simple and has plenty of apps to keep you busy.  However, if you get bored there, you can always browse the selection at Amazon or AppBrain.  iTunes does not give you multiple market options.  That said, there aren’t a ton of apps available for the Android tablet form factor (most are for phones) but that is gradually changing.  Those that are made for tablets are really, really neat.

That brings me to the Xoom and kids.  It’s a match made in heaven.  I’ve spent the last two nights reading “books” with Little NH on this thing.  The “Little Critter” series is a reading teaching set of books that fill the screen and teach vocabulary and reading by tapping items on the page.  Very cool stuff.  And the games, I’m sure you can imagine.

Finally, there’s the office.  My calendar is synced on my Xoom as well as my work e-mail, personal e-mail, twitter feeds and everything else I need.  I take a lot of conference calls out of my office and in my boss’ office so it’s nice when someone says, “I just sent you the document,” I actually have it in front of me.  It reads PDF’s as well as Word and Excel docs with ease.  In addition, when the meeting gets long, I’ve got Angry Birds to help me make it to the end.

So, I know I bought this tablet at the top of the market.  For that, I had my reasons.  I also know that I have yet to feel the pangs of buyer’s remorse and in the scheme of product life cycles these days, I’d say two weeks is pretty good.

Crosley Revolution Turntable (Updated)

What you see above is the Crosley Revolution Turntable spinning my copy of U2’s War album.  The turntable was an impulse buy yesterday and thanks to Amazon’s next day delivery, I received vinyl gratification this morning around 10:00am with FedEx’s speedy delivery.

Since I arrived in Texas, I’ve been snatching up new and used vinyl in shops, on Amazon and on Ebay.  You might recall me professing my love for the medium a few posts ago.  My enthusiasm grew after a recent conversation with my older brother about how our joint vinyl collection had met an untimely end at the teeth and claws of a family of mice in his basement.

A shrink could have a field day with me right now, I suppose.  He might say that in the midst of fatherhood and a new baby I’m reliving my childhood.  He might just be right.  All I know is, listening to the first few snare raps of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” seems like the way that the album is meant to be heard.  It’s distorted, woozy and gritty – even in remastered digital CD form.  On vinyl, the album teeters on the edge of warmth and utter metallic distortion.  It’s a sound that needs to be heard to be appreciated.

Which brings me back to the Crosley Revolution.  It’s a portable turntable.  It runs on 6 AA batteries (and has just finished its 5th album today on said batteries), has an internal speaker, headphone jack, USB connection, and FM transmitter.  It is a glorious piece of retro-tech.

After seeing me put on the first record, Little NH asked if she could play with it.  Two records later, she asked for one for her birthday.

See?  Cool tech is cool tech.  No psychoanalysis needed.

UPDATE:

It is with a heavy heart that I must write that after a couple of days of playing with this seemingly great turntable, it just wasn’t to be.  A couple spins of 180 gram vinyl revealed an underpowered platter that resulted in horrible “wow and flutter”.  When listening to a $20 chunk of virgin vinyl, even my nostalgia couldn’t overcome the limitation of the device.  The UPS Man just came to pick it up.

The search for the ultimate turntable continues!

Radiohead – Live in Praha

Nobody gets the fans like Radiohead.  These guys realize that it’s a new game, the old models are dead and they are doing everything they can to construct new ones.  Witness Radiohead – Live in Praha.

A group of 50 people took Flip cameras to the show last August and pooled all their video for a multi-camera concert DVD.  This is not uncommon.  I now have fan-made U2 DVD’s of nearly ever show I’ve been to.  What is incredible is that the band saw it and liked it so much that they sent the creators the soundboard audio.  Free of charge.  All you have to do is log on, download, burn to a DVD and relive that awesome late summer evening.

Now I don’t care if you like Radiohead or even know who they are, you have to admit, that’s a cool move.  Wouldn’t you like a video documentary of every show you’ve seen – just like it sounded when you were there?

Radiohead gets it.  It would be wise of a sickly music industry to take notice.  There’s a business model in here somewhere.  It’s called giving ’em what they want.

Last Day in Croatia

So, I took the snorkel and the Kodak PlaySport out today and here was some of what I saw.  According to the Weather Channel forecast, the day was supposed to be a total washout; in fact, we all ended up with slight sunburns.  Good to know that USG employees aren’t the only ones who can go to the office, perform poorly and not get fired.

Next time you hear from me, I’ll probably be a working stiff again.  Thanks for watching.

I Worked Today

Believe it or not, I worked today.  As a matter of fact, I’ve worked just about every day on this trip.  Usually, it is from a mobile phone in my hand or a computer on my lap.  Never a full day, but enough.

It is a crazy, connected world.  Which leads me to the point of this post.  It is nice to unplug, but also, if you take as much leave as I have in the last couple months, it is nice to be in touch.  It’s like you’re away, but not completely in another universe.

That way, when I do get back to the office, I should only be pummeled by a brick or two instead of an entire load, all at once.  That’s the plan, at least.

But it was strange.  I was working out a management problem with a runaway co-worker in the States as I stood on a pier, overlooking the Rovinj, Croatia harbor.  Would the old, unconnected way be better?  In some cases, most definitely.  But this way also helps ward off the boogeyman of “What is waiting for me in the office?”  Not to mention, the view from here is eminently better than the one from my office window.

There’s one other thing to consider.  I’ve had more time to think on this trip than I’ve had in years.  Idle time gives your noodle a good way to work on those problems in the background that would otherwise go completely unacknowledged.  You can think about things like, “Why is the guy in Stinkadonia so difficult to work with,” as you’re focusing on the important stuff like, “what am I going to order after this beer,” and “Is Croatia really better than Italy?”

Well, I’ve figured the last question.  Connected or not, it’s a resounding “Yes.”

I Just Dropped My Phone…

…five stories off the hotel balcony.  Believe it or not, I was working.  I was on my laptop and my mobile was in my lap.  I stood up to try to get a better wi-fi signal and bloop!  Off it went.

It fell down, through some bushes and onto a pile of leaves and soft ground.  Little NH was napping inside so I had to wait an excruciating hour to go retrieve it.  It was worth the wait, though.  The bushes broke its fall and the leaves and dirt brought it to a safe landing.

Not a scratch on the thing.  Whew!

One of my faithful readers might remember a similar story with his phone in Spain.    Somewhere in Spain, there’s a pigeon dead from trying to pass a “pearl” he gobbled up from a shattered Blackberry.  Heh.

Civita, Italy

There are a few places in the world that look like they belong in children’s story books.  Civita, Italy is one of them.  Perched on an eroding bluff in the middle of a wide open Italian canyon, Civita should be the model for every fantasy movie set ever.

Fortunately, it is real and you can visit it.  Just about 1 hour outside of Rome, it beckons you.  I’ve been there every time I’ve been to Rome.  It’s just that cool.

About 15 or so people live there.  The dusty streets are filled with beautiful, weathered stone buildings.  The long metal bridge that leads to the town gives you a great view of the countryside and leads you up a path, directly into the main gate of the city.

Once there, seek out the old, donkey-powered olive press.  Once inside the building, ask for some bruschetta with tomato and an order with cheese as well.  If it’s cool, sit inside and enjoy the smell of always-on fire or, if it’s sunny, sit in the courtyard and sip local wine with your snacks.

The more adventurous can seek out the path that circles the bluff and tunnels below the streets of this ancient town.

Whatever you do, bring your camera. Pictures manage to capture at least some of the beauty to take with you.  Or, if you’re really creative, you could use them to make your own story book.

Lightning Review: Windows 7 – Month Four

At last count, I’ve installed and/or configured Windows 7 on at least eight computers, three of which were mine.  The others were computers of friends or family less comfortable with the prospect of installing or configuring a new OS from scratch.  The funny thing is, there is no reason for anyone to be scared of Windows 7.

The OS more than makes up for all of the pain and suffering caused by Vista.  It’s snappy, user-friendly and solid as a rock.  It’s also smart.  The latest example of its intelligence was when I installed it on a 9-year-old Pentium 4 Sony Vaio that is now Little NH’s computer.  I completed the install just before dinner and had to jump on another computer to find the driver for an old Linksys USB adapter that I’m using (yeah, I’m a frugal gadget nut).  That took about two minutes to find and install from the Linksys site.  No problem, really.  Then, down in the system notifications box, I saw that my audio card was not recognized and there was some other problem with my video card.  “Meh, I’ll get started on troubleshooting that after dinner,” I thought.  So, I sat down with my wife, had dinner and a nice bottle of wine.  I was in charge of the dishes that night and glanced at the computer on my way into the kitchen.  There was no longer a little red “X” next to the speaker icon on the taskbar.  Odd.

I went ahead and did the dishes and circled back to the computer when I was done with my chores.  You know what?  While I sat, ate and drank wine with my wife, Windows 7 had gone on the Internet, found and installed the drivers I needed.  I did nothing.  Do you know how long it took me to get any sound in the very same computer on Windows Vista?  Probably about a month.  Not to mention, the only time Vista seemed to fix something by itself, it was some sort of software patch that managed to break something else.  Not at all the case with 7.  Not at all.

So, I’m pretty happy with this OS.  I’m reminded of this happiness whenever I pick up my work laptop that is running a copy of Vista Business.  Ugh.  The thing wouldn’t even go into sleep mode until a couple of weeks ago when I just went ahead and reinstalled Vista.  It’s better now, but nothing near the speed of even my near decade-old Vaio.

Yeah, Microsoft has done good with this product.  Credit where credit is due.  If you haven’t made the switch – drip the C-note.  You’ll wonder why you waited so long.

Garmin Voice Studio – Customize Your GPS’s Voice

I have to imagine that the GPS hardware market is a tough place in which to compete these days.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet that even the most Luddite of my friends all own a unit.  So, what is it that goes into your decision when upgrading your hardware?  I’m sure price, size and maps all go into it.  But as many things in the gadget world, the “killer app” also comes into play, no?  This is where the Garmin Voice Studio comes in.

Yes, I realize it may be hyperbole to call this little piece of software a killer app, but it is nonetheless a pretty cool chunk of code.  For the uninitiated, it works like so:

  • Download and install the program on your PC (first make sure your device is compatible).
  • Follow the prompts and record your or someone else’s voice.
  • Hook up a USB cable between your Garmin GPS and PC
  • Transfer voice file to your unit.
  • Pick your voice name in the Settings>Language list
  • Viola!  You’ll soon be receiving routing directions from a friend, loved one or husky-voiced stranger if you’re so inclined.

I happened to record Little NH for my nüvi and the results were a real laugh.  Hearing a near-three-year-old say “enter roundabout” with such conviction is really funny.  Not to mention, instead of saying “take ramp right” she said, “take Gramp right.”  Whatever works, kiddo.

So, it’s the little things like this that might be able to sway some of today’s buyers of GPS units to one brand or another.  It may not be a killer app in the traditional sense but when I showed it to my buddy and his wife (TomTom owners) and told him that it was only for Garmin GPS’s, the looks on their faces were killer.

Microsoft Tag

I think the time for Microsoft’s “Tag” technology is now and here’s why: How many times have you stood in a grocery store or electronics store (having been spoiled by Internet shopping) with a product in your hand and wondered, “Is this thing any good?”  How many times have you whipped out your mobile phone, opened the browser, and typed in a Google search for that item to look for reviews.  If you’re like me, you’d answer ‘never.’  Now, how about if you could whip out your mobile, open an application and take a picture of a bar code and be instantly transferred to more product information.  You’d at least give it a shot, no?

That’s the thinking behind Microsoft’s “Tag” beta technology.  The online service will associate a colorful square tag to any site on the web and offer you several formats to include the graphic on the backs of products, business cards, and product or service literature.  Imagine if all of those envelopes full of those coupons you receive in the mail were tagged.  With one click of your phone camera, you could carry any and all of those coupons in your pocket and show them to the pimply kid behind the counter at the Gap, or Dominoes, or the IHOP or wherever.

For the traveling salesman, imagine a tag on the back of your business card.  Those of you who have ever been to or worked a trade show know what I’m talking about.  You probably used to carry around glossy folders and pamphlets, then CD’s with all sorts of information on them, and then it changed to flash drives.  Now, in a world of cost-cutting, imagine making all of that available to your customer for the cost of some color ink on a card that already exists.  Probably not right for every transaction but you know it would make the accountants happy.  And frankly, do people really care about the ubiquitous pens, t-shirts, bags, CD’s and flash drives at trade shows anymore?  Not to mention, there’s nothing to ship.  Cheaper, immediate and interactive?  As you can tell, I’m intrigued.

The icing on the cake (and admittedly the possible source of some problems) is the way that MS is going about offering this.  It’s in beta at this point but it’s free.  Anyone with a “Windows Live” account can set up a tag for a web address.  There’s even supposed to be built-in support for existing, non MS bar codes included in future releases.  The mobile application download itself is free and works on several different phone platforms – Windows Mobile and the iPhone included.

One more thing – it’s FAST.  On my HTC Touch Diamond 2, you barely even get the tag into the crosshairs and you’re transported to the web page.  No fumbling with a crummy onscreen keyboard, no scrolling through a Google search.  This is instant gratification.

The one downside I see is that at its core, this is just more marketing.  Do we really need that?  I’m pretty sure we don’t.  On the other hand, if some trusted review site would give tags to merchants to have on the racks (or, for example, have tags on Wal-Mart store shelves lead to product reviews on Walmart.com) then it might be really useful to the consumer, no?  We don’t necessarily trust big political parties or big corporations anymore but we haven’t totally given up on our neighbors.  Window’s Tag should totally work to leverage that zeitgeist.

The fact is, about three years ago, I was walking home after a night out with my wife and had one of those “why hasn’t anybody invented this” conversations.  Now, it’s here.  I say, it’s about time.  Tag it up, peeps.

Lightning Review: Kings of Leon – Live at the O2 London, England

I bought the wrong thing for everyone this Christmas.  They’re all going to be opening up presents and wishing they had this DVD instead.  This band is really blowing my mind.  And, on this DVD,  they blow the minds of everyone at the O2.

It’s astounding – the hits, slow burners, all well filmed.  The 5.1 mix is enveloping and not distracting.  The whole thing reminds me of when I saw them in Houston a few years ago.  Isn’t that the best compliment of all, reminding you of when you were there?

This is the greatest band in America.  Buy the DVD and tell me I’m wrong.

Sorry you didn’t get it for Christmas.

Windows 7 Makes Home Theater PC Consumer Friendly (Finally!)

The girls have been out for the last couple weeks and I’ve taken advantage of the time to restructure my entire home entertainment system. It’s been a real advantage to not have to do it while either Little or Mrs. NH are here and would like to do something like oh, I don’t know, actually watch TV?

I started on Tuesday night after I had picked up my new HP Slimline from the post office. I again used the incredible Windows Easy Transfer to transfer all of my TV and video files to an external drive and then to my new machine. It worked without the slightest hiccup and combined with Ninite, I was able to get the majority of the configuration done the first night.

On night two came the hard part. I actually had to tear down the mess of wiring behind the living room entertainment center. Needless to say, the scene back there looked like something out of Terminator Salvation – a mess of dusty cables from aborted home theater experiments. But I did manage to cull the mess and even vacuumed up behind there all the while labeling each of the cords with masking tape to try to avoid a similar mess in the future.

Then, it was time for the moment of truth. I plugged the new box, all the hard drives, IR blasters and USB dongles in and let ‘er rip. Setup in its final form was astonishingly simple. By the end of the night I had digital audio, Slingbox, and even Zune integration all configured and humming.

The next morning, with 10 minutes, a cup of coffee and 2 chocolate chip cookies (I’m a bachelor, remember?) I had over 200 DVD’s complete with 5.1 surround sound and cover art imported, all thanks to My Moves 3. Boom, I was done.  On Saturday night I was watching high-def movies in 5.1 and loving every second of it – I’m not sure if the neighbors agreed.

The bottom line is this – Windows 7 has finally made the consumer-grade media center ready for prime time. Setup was friendly, straightforward and if you don’t require a bunch of bells and whistles like me, it could be done in under a couple hours. Coming from someone who spent the better part of a year wrestling with a Windows Vista installation and configuration, that’s high praise.

So if you’re on the fence, this might be the time to go for it. The OS is there. Just make sure you account for some growth. Everything is going to be HD soon so keep that in mind when looking at those bargain basement, no-graphics-card “mini” PC’s. Having lived with an underpowered machine running a bloated OS for about 3 years, that’s a scenario I would wish on no one.

Lightning Review: Windows 7 x64 – 24 Hours After Install

“I think I’m in love but it makes me kinda nervous to say so…” – Beck

That’s the way I feel after just 24 hours of Windows 7 on my computer.  After a long period of hemming and hawing, I decided to take the plunge and install the new OS last night contrary to the wishes of my wife given her facial expressions when I told her what I was about to do.  It’s not that she doesn’t believe in my technical skill, it’s just that she knows how I get when something doesn’t work.  In a word: Obsessed.

Luckily, most of the Windows 7 64-bit install worked like a charm on my dual core, 4GB HP.  I credit this smooth transition mostly to MS’s “Windows Easy Transfer” software.  This software installs on your old setup, ferrets out most of the stuff you’ll probably want to keep, and shepherds it safely to an external drive.  Once you’ve done the (25 minute for me) Windows 7 install, Easy Transfer puts all of stuff back where it needs to be.  Stuff you didn’t even know you needed ends up safe and sound in the loving arms of Windows 7.

I had only one problem with the install and that was a Creative sound card whose drivers remained incredibly elusive.  After a few lucky breaks this evening, I found the drivers and Creative update did the rest.  Now, I’m sitting here with a sweet, new-feeling machine.

And oh, what a feeling.  The new taskbar is really intuitive and is almost impossible to explain in a blog post.  The speed of the system is faster than I have ever witnessed on a computer.  I was downloading and installing programs like a madman last night (using Ninite, another recommended program) and there wasn’t one hiccup.  Even the sound card that gave me fits did so politely.

Now, at nearly 11:00 on a Monday night, I sit satisfied with my new OS.  However, I’ve had these kinds of love affairs with technology before and I know that you’re only one software update away from falling out of love.

But for now, I’ll hope for the best.