Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eton/Grundig Microlink FR150 Emergency Radio

The best stocking stuffer I got this year was an Eton FR150 Radio from L.L. Bean. It’s a self powered emergency flashlight/radio/cell phone charger all in one neat little package. With all the extended power outages we've had in the Northeast lately, this little baby may come in handy.

This ultra compact emergency radio is made by Grundig and distributed by Eton through L.L. Bean. It’s an AM/FM Weather Band radio, with surprisingly good reception and sound quality for a radio this small.

The unit is covered in shatterproof polycarbonate, with rubberized buttons and port flap to protect it from the elements. It also doubles as a very bright 3 LED flashlight. The best part though, is that the unit can be recharged 3 different ways. Via USB cable, hand crank or solar power. Even better, you can plug your cell phone into the cell charger port and crank some life into it!

I love the set of 3 lights on the tuner window. There's one for tuning, it lights steadily when the radio is receiving maximum signal from a station. There’s also a light to indicate that the batteries are charging, and it goes on the minute you get the radio near sunlight or start spinning the crank. The third one indicates that you’re in the Weather Band mode. Small things, I know, but they indicate that a lot of attention to detail went into this little guy. Grundig really knows how to make a radio!

Two small caveats with this product. It doesn’t come with a USB cable, you have to supply your own, and it needs to be USB to mini USB. This isn’t too big a deal, as most people with a digital camera already have one. Also, the instructions seem to indicate that there’s a charger available, there isn’t. Doing some research on Eton’s FAQ page, I found a section where they clarify this by explaining that you plug the USB cable into your computer to recharge the radio, just like you would with your iPod.

The other confusing thing is that the instructions tell you to connect the tip that matches your cell phone to the included cell phone charging cable. I found the cell phone charging cable, no problem, but I couldn’t find any interchangeable tips. This time I found the answer in a user review. There’s a card folded up with the warranty info that you fill out with your cell phone type and return address. Mail it in, and Eton will send you the correct tip, and register your product for warranty purposes. It’s a pretty good way to get people to return their warranty paperwork, but the instruction booklet should be clearer.

So, the radio strikes out in the instruction department, but hits a home run as an emergency device. It comes in a variety of colors from L.L. Bean for $29.95.

You can also order a Red Cross version of this same product through the Eton site, or on

Monday, December 29, 2008

Patriots Go 11 And 5 But Miss Playoffs

The Patriots finished off their regular season with a 13-0 win over the Bills and an 11-5 record, but it just wasn’t enough for a playoff berth in the hotly contended AFC.

The Dolphins clinched the AFC East Division Championship when they beat the Jets today, even though they finished the season tied with the Pats at 11-5 overall and 4-2 in their division, by virtue of a conference record tie breaker (Dolphins 8-4, Pats 7-5).

Chances of a Patriots wildcard spot went down in flames today also, when the Ravens beat the Jags, finishing 11-5 and clinching one of the two wildcard spots by virtue of the same conference record tie breaker (Ravens 8-5). The Colts had already locked up the other spot.

Although I’m bitterly disappointed that the Patriots season is over, especially since the craptastic Cardinals made the cut with a 9-7 record, I have to give the homeboys credit. They did way better than we could have expected this season, and had really jelled into a first level team, finishing off their impressive 11-5 season with a 4 game winning streak. I’ve said before that I’ve seen some pretty bad Patriots teams in my day, and this isn’t one of them.

Kudos to Matt Cassel for a season well played. He grew into his roll a little more each week, and was playing like a veteran down the stretch. He’s certainly a better quarterback than most that will start next week. The Patriots stable of standout receivers helped out a great deal, but it still comes down to on field decisions, and the kid is getting very good at them. He becomes a free agent now, and I hope he does well for himself and gets the payday he deserves.

That being said, if Brady is the least bit questionable for the start of next season, the Pats have got to franchise him. 14 mil for one season isn’t too shabby...

So, thanks to all the players and coaching staff. They gave us their all, even though the season looked dismal from day one. Hey, it sucks having the season end so early, but if we know anything about this team, it’s that they’ll be back next year with a vengeance.

For now, I’m holding out hope for a Falcons-Dolphins Super Bowl showdown. How can you not love Ryan and Pennington? It would sure beat an all Manning Bowl. I'd have to smash all my TVs if that happened.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Give Your Geek A Cool Yule With A New Nano Or Touch

This year’s crop of iPods have all been tweaked up a bit, especially the 4th gen Nano and the 2nd gen Touch, and either one would be a great gift choice for that discerning geek on your Christmas list.

The Nano has been redesigned, again. It’s gone back to (roughly) its original size and shape, but with a few new curves. It’s also got a longer screen coupled with an accelerometer chip that allows you to flip it sideways and view it in wide screen mode. The chip also makes it possible to shuffle your music with a shake of your hand, and control game play with a simple tilt of the device. Too cool!

Once again, Apple has doubled the memory of the Nano, this time to 8 and 16GB, while retaining the same price points, $149 and $199, and introduced yet another palette full of weird and wonderful colors.

The new 2nd gen Touch has undergone a few changes also. It’s my personal favorite, and by far and away the slickest personal media device on the market this holiday season. It’s still a bit pricey, but if you’re looking for a gift with wow factor, this is the one. Billed as “The funnest iPod ever” by Apple, it lives up to that claim and more.

From a design standpoint, the biggest change is that it’s grown external volume controls and an internal speaker, and yet gotten even sleeker than the previous model. Add in improved video, ultra responsive touch screen, push email, and the availability of a dazzling array of applications, and you’ve got quite the package.

From a pure media player standpoint, the audio and video on the 2nd gen are excellent, but this device is as much a handheld computer as it is a traditional MP3 player. The WiFi has outstanding range and response time, and the device is loaded with useful apps right out of the box. Google an actor while you’re watching a movie, find out what channel the big game is on while you’re parked on the couch, look up a recipe on the web while you’re cooking, or check and respond to your email without having to boot up, pay for a monthly plan, or worry about running down your cell phone. How sweet is that?

The add-on apps are pretty amazing also. Download Shazam, and you can hold the player up to another music source and it will identify the music being played and retrieve it from iTunes Mobil, or store the info until you’re in WiFi range, or until your next sync. Stream Internet radio with the Pandora app, or grab a game that takes advantage of the accelerometer like Labyrinth or Super Monkey Ball.

The Touch comes in 8, 16 or 32GB models. Its OS takes up about 1.5GB, so if you have a large media library and plan on downloading a lot of apps, you’ll want the 16 at least.

Check out the video review here on Cnet, and be sure to forward the link to Santa!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lost - Season 5

Season 5 of Lost is coming soon to a living room near you. Grab the Lost widget for your homepage or website, and you’ll be “in the loop” for all updates and teasers.

Also, iTunes has the new season 5 trailer and the new music video by The Fray, “You Found Me”, available as free downloads. There are a couple of Easter eggs hidden in the Fray video, a logo for Ajira Airways, and a Dharma Initiative logo superimposed on Jack.

If you Google Ajira, you’ll find it has a website that is announcing “The skies have no limit with our new destinations launching January 21st, 2009”, and suggests that you sign up for updates. Check it out.

And if you need a little brushing up before the main event, be sure to visit our Lost section on for past seasons episode recaps, screen captures, theories and links.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Music Sharing, Malware, And You

I want to talk about music sharing. Not about the ethicality of it, that’s just a waste of breath. People are adamant about their beliefs on the subject on both sides, and I’ve found it’s useless to try and change anyone’s opinions on it. I want to talk about the consequences of music and/or file sharing, and I don’t mean the consequence of getting caught.

P2P (peer to peer) file sharing can be a very valuable tool. It’s central to quite a few things we take for granted, like SMTP email, which uses a P2P configuration between it’s mail transfer agents (or mail servers), coupled with a client-server connection with the end user (you). It also allows many users to share many files without the need for huge central servers, which can cave under the pressure of a sudden multitude of simultaneous downloads. All in all, it’s a pretty slick concept.

The problem is, when you install a P2P client such as BitTorrent or LimeWire on your home PC to share music and video, you open yourself up to a plethora of problems. Up to 30% of all music files available to download from your peers are infected, and no matter how careful and smart you are, sooner or later you’re going to hit a file that’s carrying a virus or malware that your protection software doesn’t yet have a definition for. A raging infection or two, combined with the added cpu usage from file sharing requests, can bring your system to it’s knees quick, fast and in a hurry.

Also, improper set up on installation with regards to files or folders to share, can leave you wide open to information theft. Here’s a link to a great article on InformationWeek, where the reviewer used LimeWire Pro to search out keywords such as “ssn”. The amount of personal information he culled from other users was downright scary. Now think about a double whammy, picking up malware that changes your file sharing settings, steals your personal info, then leaves the door open for others to find that same data. Oh yeah, and trashes your computer while it's at it. Yikes!

All this being said, if you do decide to venture into these murky waters, be sure to have a rescue plan in place. Take the time to make sure that your system is properly protected and backed up. Here’s a link to a simple guide, just to get you thinking in the right direction.

And if you do get hosed up, don’t call me. I know that you’re going to reinstall the P2P client as soon as you get the machine back. Don't give me that innocent look, you will, and I just don’t have the time or patience these days for that kind of “Ground Hog Day” like behavior.

That is all.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Update, Sleepy Saturday

Yes, both Apple's website and their stores had the lower prices on Friday (which seem to have returned to normal today), and while you could get the lower prices in the stores, they wouldn't allow you to combine any corporate discounts with the sale prices. The Apple web site however, did. If you logged in to Apple using your corporate discount credentials yesterday, the site gave you your discount on top of the sale prices, plus free shipping. Not bad.

Thanks Apple, way to stimulate that old economy! Although it may work better next time if you tell somebody...

Note: Macmall still has the sale prices through Cyber Monday.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Black Friday Deals From Apple?

I’ve been scouring the web looking for Black Friday deals this year, and pickings have been kind of slim, but one item has caught my attention. Rumors abound that Apple stores will match any authorized resellers price on Apple products. Here’s a link to an article on the site.

This is good news as Best Buy, Amazon, and Macmall are all offering substantial savings on Macs and iPods. Macmall is advertising the 2nd gen 16GB touch for $269 and the 2nd gen 8GB for $209, as well as great prices on iMacs and MacBooks.

Be sure you have proof of competitor pricing, and if you’re shopping at Best Buy, be aware that their best deals on the 16GB Touch ($249) is for a 1st gen unit (2nd gen $299). There’s a big difference between the 1st and 2nd gen models.

Apple retailers will be opening at 5am on Friday. No pushing and shoving please.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Linc Volt, My Kind Of Green

What happens when you convert a 1959 Lincoln Continental Convertible, the longest, heaviest cruiser Detroit has ever turned out, into a bio-hydro-electric series hybrid vehicle?

You get the sweetest 100 mpg ride on the planet.

Neil Young has started a company called Linc Volt that’s developing ways to convert gas guzzlers into clean cruisers, and his first project looks to be a success. Check out the video below of a recent road trip to the beach.

I think the big three would be better served hanging out with Neal, rather than pan handling in D.C.

Casell Throws For 415 Yards, Pats Defeat Dolphins 48-28

Wow. How about those Patriots?

You've gotta love this team, and you’ve gotta love Matt Casell. He’s really developing nicely, spreading the ball around, throwing strikes, and moving when he needs to. This was his second straight game throwing for over 400 yards, putting him in some pretty elite company, and he also got his second rushing touchdown of the season. This guy will not be denied.

Moss also had three touchdown catches today, passing old teammate Chris Carter and moving into 3rd place in NFL career touchdowns. Check out the Game Notes and Quick Hits on for more details.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

Good people of Alaska,

We have found your Governor. She’s in Florida, and apparently unaware that the election is over. Please send a copy of any November 5th newspaper, along with a very detailed map of North America.

Thank you in advance,

The citizens of the lower 48

Seriously, it’s time to call it a wrap. Did you see the interview where Gov. Palin offered her services to the Obama administration, and then in the next breath said she still wasn’t comfortable with someone who pals around with terrorists? Theater of the absurd.

I’ve been maintaining radio silence since the election. I had been so totally stressed by the whole ugly campaign, and then so buoyed by the results, that I kind of crashed and burned like a kid on the day after Halloween.

Now that life is beginning to return to normal and I’m getting a little pep back in my step, I wanted to share some of my thoughts from election night.

My first thought was that our 44th President had just finished the longest and most grueling job interview in the history of man, and if he runs the country the way he ran his campaign, I think he’ll do a pretty good job.

I was also moved by the reactions of the crowds at the Obama victory party, and also at the many impromptu gatherings around the country. When I see that many Americans filled with joy and hope, I have to believe that anything is possible. When the people of this nation are motivated, great things happen. It’s what we’re all about.

E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One.

That is all.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Great Minds Think Alike!

Check out the video below of a recent John Cleese interview on MSNBC. He, amongst other things, discusses why you shouldn’t pick your candidates based on your desire to have a beer with them or not. His comments echo an earlier post of mine, Help Me Out Here, People…, and it’s a nice feeling to know that I’m not alone in my thoughts.

Anyways, my political leanings aside, I want you all to bear two things in mind this coming week.

Number One:

Be sure to get out and vote. Don’t let yourself get “too busy”, and don’t assume the election is all but over except for the crying and your vote won’t matter. It ain’t over til it’s over, and there’s some important local issues on the ballot this year.

The polls are liable to be crowded, so plan accordingly. We plan on combining voting with a walk, win, win!

Number Two:

Regardless of who wins and who loses, we all have to start working together to get things back on track. No more red state vs. blue state, no more nasty foolishness. We’re all good Americans, and we need to put the divisiveness aside and get down to business.

That is all.

Susan Tedeschi - Back To The River

Susan Tedeschi’s new album “Back To The River” came out this week and it’s well worth a listen.

It’s a smoothly produced mix of driving blues, funkadelic soul, and gospel tinged ballads, all served up with a healthy side of scorching guitar, provided by husband Butch Trucks and the incomparable Doyle Bramhall II.

You can have a listen here on the Verve Forecast site, and if you like what you hear, you can catch Tedeschi when she returns to her Alma Mater for a set at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston on Tuesday, November 11th.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Samsung LN19A330 LCD HDTV

The Samsung Series 3 19” LCD HDTV is a great choice if you’re looking for a smaller TV for the kitchen, spare bedroom or office.

The Series 3 is Samsung's entry level, or plain vanilla line, but that’s what you want to look for in a small TV. You want the best quality for the best price, and you usually don’t need a lot of bells and whistles.

The LN19A330 has got the same wide viewing angles (178x178) that the higher series have, the same deep blacks and sharp picture, the same fast response time (No motion blur on Monday Night Football!). The only place it lacks is in the “extras” department. For instance, there’s only 1 HDMI input, no PiP, no memory stick or Ethernet ports, but this is all stuff you can live without if the TV isn’t meant for use in a main viewing area.

It’s an incredibly small and sleek set. Because of the narrow bezel and bottom mounted speakers, it really doesn’t take up much more space than a 15” set, but those few extra inches of screen really make a big difference in viewing pleasure. Also, the good viewing angles are a huge plus that you won’t get in a lot of smaller sets, and it’s an extremely important feature for a TV in a work area like a kitchen, where you’re moving around.

It’s also light, weighing in at just 11.5 lbs., making it easy to move from the kitchen to the patio, or down to Man Town for an extra TV on game day. It’s got an NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuner, which means you get Hi Def programming with an antenna or cable, both with or without a box, making it even more versatile.

There’s a very comprehensive review of the LN19A330 here on Crutchfield’s website.

While the manufacturers and big box stores are pushing the 40” and above sets, there’s a real need out there among consumers for high quality, lower priced sets. The LN19A330 is regularly priced at $379, but I’ve seen it on sale for as low as $349, so watch the weekly circulars. As the holidays, and the digital deadline approaches, prices will be dropping.

If you’re looking for something just a little bit bigger, but still a great value, check out our review of the Vizio VW26L.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sox Lose, Rays Move On To Series

What a game, what a series. I obviously would have preferred a different game 7 outcome, but just the fact that we were there, again, is incredible. How lucky are we here in New England?

The stories of grit and determination from this club are amazing, and they would take days to fully chronicle, but the most amazing story is how far Jon Lester has traveled on his road to becoming a legitimate number 1 in the rotation. This guy proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that anything is possible, if you want it bad enough and are willing to work hard.

For right now, that's what I'm taking away from this season. I'll replay it all in the days to come, but for now, I'll just marvel at Jon's accomplishments.

That is all.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sox Win, Force Game 7!

The Red Sox beat the Rays 4-2 tonight in game six at Tropicana Field, setting up a game seven showdown tomorrow night.

What a great game! Beckett gutted it out through 5, and then the bullpen finished it off quite nicely. On offense, The Captain came through in a big way, banging out a sixth inning tie breaking home run.

These guys are in the zone now, and an eerie calm has come over me. From the moment they took the lead, I knew they had the game. There were some Sox’s fans holding up a sign throughout the night; Mojo Risin’, and that says it all. They had their traditional three day collapse, then sometime ‘round midnight on Thursday, their Mojo started rising.

Thursday night’s game was both the most boring and painful game I’ve ever watched, and the most exciting. I can’t remember a game that brought me so deeply into both extremes, and I was too exhausted after the game to put up anything coherent that could reflect that roller coaster ride of feelings.

I started out all jeeped up before the game. I was hoping for a little redemption after the previous two poundings, and I was psyched that Dice K was going to be on the mound in that win or go home situation, but my anxious enthusiasm quickly turned to queasy unhappiness. So much so, that I started flipping. I left at 11 to see the top headlines on the news, and flipped back just in time to see Papi launch. I didn’t leave again, because from that point on, I KNEW they were gonna come back all the way. I just knew it.

In previous seasons, this would have been the time that I would have called my Dad and insisted that he put the game back on, ‘cause I know he would have switched it off. He would have been way too pissed at 7-0, and that would have been it for him. Man, I miss being able to do that.

Anyways, tonight was the same. Once they started hitting, I knew they were gonna force a game 7. After all, they’ve got their Mojo risin’.

Great sign, guys. Be sure to bring it back tomorrow.

Full game recap on

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Technical Difficulties Disrupt TBS Coverage Of Sox-Rays Game 6

A power outage at TBS's Atlanta studios delayed the broadcast of game 6 until about 8:40pm.

I was flipping around like a nut trying to find it. TBS, TNT, NESN, Fox, ESPN and then back again. Nothing. I triple checked the sports page, then finally flipped on the radio.

Ahhhh, relief! Dale and Joe never sounded so good.

I had the TV on but muted, and around 8:15 TBS started to run a "technical difficulties" crawl, then around 8:40 I looked up and it was on. Thank God.

What do you think MLB, how about we stick to real networks next year?

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Reports Of The Sox Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.

Down by 7 and facing post season elimination, the Sox pulled themselves out of their funk and came back to beat Tampa Bay 8-7 and send the series back to Florida for a sixth game.

What’s with these guys and the ALCS? And how about the Citgo sign spontaneously combusting yesterday? This is getting spooky.

Complete game coverage on Thank God tomorrow’s Friday.

Monday, October 13, 2008

You know…

It’s kind of a blessing that I’m so focused on my 401k right now; otherwise I’d be all worked up about the performance of both the Pats and the Sox the last couple of days.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Take Control With The Proliphix IP Thermostat

With the cost of energy these days, it’s a good idea to install programmable thermostats in your home. There’s quite a few available, and they run the gamut from cheap and functional to slick and remotely manageable.

Check out the Proliphix IP Thermostat on This one is in the slick and remotely manageable category, and it’s a great choice if you want total control of your home or vacation property’s heating and cooling systems.

It hooks up to your LAN via a PoE (Power over Ethernet) connection and allows you to monitor and control your heat and central air systems through your web browser, either locally or remotely. You can even set it to notify you via email when temperatures reach your programmed thresholds.

With the 2 port kit you can add 1 additional thermostat, allowing you to control 2 separate zones, and you can add 2 additional remote temperature sensors to each thermostat (the system will give you a temperature average of the rooms). They also offer a kit with a six port power adaptor, allowing you to control up to six zones.

Remote access to the thermostats has to come through the Poliphix web site, but this provides a nice security layer, and the service is free. They also have very comprehensive install and configuration guides on the site.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sox Beat Angels 3-2, Move On To ALCS!

Tied at 2 in the 9th, with 1 man on and 2 outs, Jed Lowrie singled to drive in Jason Bay. Game, set, match.

Who would have thought that the Sox could dominate the Angels with Lester as the stud, backed by a cast of rookies and newbies? Amazing. I love these guys!

(In a fraternal way, of course.)

Full recap on

Friday, October 3, 2008

Help Me Out Here, People…

I never like to talk politics, but if I have to listen to that winking, smirking, Governor of Santa’s Village much longer, I’m gonna be real hard to live with.

Think about this, George W. Bush won a lot of people over with his “aw shucks, I’m the kinda guy you’d like to have a beer with" act. Don’t fall for it again. Have a beer with your friends instead. The next President, and Vice President, needs to be a whole lot smarter than us.

‘Kay? Awesome!

Another Late Night

It’s almost time for game 2 (9:30 on TBS), and I’m preparing myself for another late night. Wednesday night I was beat and I didn’t think I was gonna make it through all 9. I got into bed and thought I’d conk right out, but the game was just too good, and I found myself wide awake until the final out. Bay came through, Youk’s the man, and how about those kids, huh? Amazing.

It’s been a long strange season, and most teams would have crashed and burned long ago given all the controversy and injury that’s plagued the Sox this year, but this team has morphed into a hustling bunch of hit dogs who can flash leather with the best of them. Seems like they might have a little bit of that old Patriot’s magic going for them, and perhaps Francona and Epstein are just a little bit better at their jobs than people give them credit for. A good manager combined with a good front office can do a lot, just look at the Dodgers...

Lowell’s out tonight (and probably for at least the rest of the series), and Francona has shuffled the infield to make up. Youk to 3rd, Kotsay at first and Cora in for Lowrie. In Terry and Sabermetrics we trust, because we must.

Oh, and I'm not gonna try to watch it in bed tonight. I start thrashing around when it gets tense, and I don't think my wife, or the cat, appreciates it. Yup, looks like I'll be riding the couch tonight. That’s OK, the bigger TV means less eye strain, more volume, and no cat’s rump blocking my view during crucial moments. I can live with that.

Go Sox!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It’s Playoff Time!

The Sox open up their post season play in Anaheim tonight at 10pm on TBS, and although I hate these late night starts, I’m still pretty excited to get things underway. Thank God I’ve got HD in the bedroom.

I think it’s going to be a great post season and I have high hopes for the Sox, as always. Mannywood and the Dodgers are off to a quick start with a 7-2 win over the Cubs. How cool, and Karmic, would a Sox-Dodgers showdown be?

TBS has both Orsillo and Eck on the payroll for the playoffs, so coverage may not be too bad, and you can get your Remy fix on NESN’s Pre and Post Game shows.

And speaking of sports announcers, Comcast Sportsnet has added Troy Brown to their Mohegan Sun Sports Tonight show’s already impressive roster. Nice!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Get On The Bus

Joss Stone - Bus Full Of Love

Power Support's Crystal Jacket Sets For iPods and iPhones

Power Support has a really nice line of Crystal Jacket Sets for iPods and iPhones. They’re a hard clear plastic shell that snaps together over your iPod, encasing it in (relative) safety, while still allowing you access to the click wheel and the docking and headphone ports. Plus they come with a removable belt clip/kick stand.

I’ve never been a fan of cases that hide the aesthetic beauty of the iPod, or are a struggle to get on and off, but if you don’t keep them in something, they end up all scratched up. Seems I’m not alone in my desire to see my iPod “Au Natural”, as recently there have been quite a few of these clear, form fitting cases come on the market. This one stands out though because of all of its little extras.

The Power Support Crystal Jacket Sets come with a complete set of crystal film to use as a base layer of protection. They also come with, depending on the model, either a removable belt clip/kick stand (Nano 3G), or a second back with kick stand (all other models). But wait, that’s not all! They also come with snap on dock connector covers and the casing has convenient lanyard holes if you don’t dig belt clips.

Another neat little extra on the Nano 3G model is the ability to slide the clip down, so that when you prop it on its kickstand there is enough clearance for its bottom mounted ports.

Not a bad little package for $24.95. A lot of hard shell casings available in this price range don’t even have lanyard holes, never mind all of the other extras, and a set of crystal film alone will cost you $9.99.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bingo! I Got Bingo!

Troy Brown ended his 15 year pro football career yesterday just the way he started it, in Patriot red, white and blue, and for him (and Patriot Nation), it was the ultimate Bingo.

Troy has been the very definition of a team player. Offense, defense, special teams, whatever was asked of him, he stepped up and took it on. Not only took it on, but more often than not, excelled at it. No big talk, no big contracts, just hard work and dedication. As Belichick likes to say, “He’s a football player.”, and that’s the ultimate compliment from a coach and football historian like Bill.

I’d love to see him stay involved with the team, but whatever he decides to do; I know he will do it well. Troy Brown is a man that gets it, and that’s a rare thing.

Coverage of Troy Brown press conference.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sox In, Yanks Out!

The Redsox clinched a playoff berth tonight and eliminated the Yankees from post season play with a 5-4 victory over the Indians. Pop them corks!

Full game coverage on The story of the Yankee's sad demise can be found here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On Second Thought…


We got clubbed. No offense, no defense, no nothin’. The Pats always seem to have trouble with the Dolphins, but this was ridiculous. They ran all over the defense, and Porter and company came after Cassel with a vengeance. Ugly.., just ugly.

Well, we’re headed into the bye week and the Pats won’t play again until October 5th against San Fran. Which team will we see come out of the bye? For that matter, which quarterback? Cassel took a pounding today, and Belichick had O’Connell in at the end. Snaps for O'Connell, or was Cassel a hurtin' buckaroo? You never know…

Full game recap (if you can stand it…) here on

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Patriot Nation, You May Now Exhale.

Hey, we're 2 for 2 this week. The Large Hadron Collider didn't wipe out humanity, and the first game of the "Cassel Era" wasn't the disaster most predicted.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Belichick, and the defense, seem to own Farve, and that certainly was a big factor in the win, but Cassel did a pretty admirable job out there himself.

This is a really good team. If the kid continues to play smart and grow in the position, I should be able to cut back on the Zantac soon.

Pats 19, Jets 10. Full recap here on the Patriots website.

iTunes 8, Another Good Reason To Backup Your Files.

Along with the new Nano and Touch, Apple rolled out iTunes 8 this week. Although it has some cool features like Genius and grid view, I saw an interesting bit of information on iLounge that should be noted before you upgrade.

During the install, iTunes 8 will do some massaging and tagging of your library that previous versions of iTunes won’t like, so if you have problems and want to revert back to the previous version, you’re going to need to reload your library.

So there you have it, yet another perfectly good reason why you should backup your files. Please...

For more details and a complete test drive, check out iLounge’s “Instant Expert” article on iTunes 8.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Attention Best Buy Shoppers…

So I’m wandering around Best Buy the other day and I noticed a couple of Insignia boomboxes with iPod docks on an almost empty shelf near the end of an aisle. They were last year’s model, and have been replaced by a newer model. I’d read good reviews on the new model, so I thought I’d check out the older version and see what had changed. That’s when I noticed the price label on the edge of the shelf: $11.99

$11.99? This had to be a mistake. The tag also said: Closeout Item – regularly $100.00. I checked the model number on the box against the model number on the tag, it was a match. Then I grabbed a box and went to the nearest self service price scanner:

Bloop... $11.99

The scanner also informed me that I could purchase an extended service plan for $26.00. I don thin so, Lucy...

So I went back to the aisle, scooped up another box, and headed to the checkout. Someone’s going to get a kick ass Yankee swap gift this year!

When I got home that evening I set one up and was extremely pleased with both the sound quality and functionality. The major difference between this older model and the new one, and the reason it’s being phased out, is that the old model suffers from iCD, or iPod Continuity Disease.

There isn’t a docking adaptor for the 3rd gen nano, iPhone, or touch, although they all fit (loosely), and the video out port has been rendered useless by the recent changes that require you to use an “official” Apple video cable (or approved device) to unlock the port. There's also no telling yet about compatability with the new iPods released this week, but my guess would be that they were the final nail in the coffin for this product.

But hey, for $11.99 you get an 18 watt (total), 2.1 channel, iPod docking boombox with remote, that charges your iPod, looks good, and sounds great. Not a bad deal.

So check it out, you might get lucky. You can skip Square One though, I already wiped them out.

Brady Out For The Season

Well, our worst fears have come true; Brady is out for the season. This is a player that can take the abuse that comes with the job, and often plays hurt, so you just knew when he didn’t come back on the field Sunday that it was really bad, and it is.

He’ll need season ending surgery on his left knee for..., well, we don’t know exactly what for, but it’s safe to assume that it’s a torn ACL, MCL, or both. You didn’t think the Patriots would be a fountain of information now, did you?

I’ve been kind of in shock since the moment he went down, hoping that it would turn out to be a sprain, hell, hoping I was dreaming, but I’m not. Hearing Belichick’s press conference yesterday was sobering, and seeing a piece on the news about how we’ve entered the “Cassel Era” was downright scary, but I’ve finally started to adjust to the idea of a Brady-less season, and here’s what I know:

The team will miss Tom, the fans will miss Tom, the game of football itself will miss Tom, this is all undeniably true. The pundits will say the Pats are through for the season, but they aren’t, and that’s also undeniably true. The Patriots still have at least 15 games to play, win, lose or draw, and although I don’t expect any passing records to be broken with Matt Cassel at the helm, this is still one of the best Patriots teams I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen them all. Every last one.

There aren’t that many marquis quarterbacks out there in the NFL, most are serviceable at best, and teams still go about the business of playing week in and week out. That’s us now, a great team with a serviceable QB. The team needs to rally around him, and we as fans need to rally around them. Everyone is going to have to work harder now, the players, the coaches, even the fans.

It’s your team; you can’t and shouldn’t bail out on them now, just because one player is gone, even if he is the best player in the NFL.

The wins, the championships, the trips to the Superbowl, that’s all just gravy. We’ve still got a lot of football left, and that’s all that really matters.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Brady Out, Cassel In…

and my lunch is threatening to revisit.

Brady took a shot to the left knee area on the Pat's second drive of the game and is listed as “Questionable to return”.

It looks like the rest of the team has stepped it up a notch.

Hang on tight, this is gonna be interesting.

Keeping Your Lines Of Communication Open

With all the tropical storms and hurricanes that have been popping up the last couple of weeks, I thought it was a good time to share a little tip that might help you stay connected with the outside world the next time the power goes out.

You should always keep a corded phone on hand, as they get the juice they need to operate through line power. A standard corded phone set will work even during a power outage, while a cordless phone won’t, as it needs external power to operate.

Most of the corded phones on the market today are cheap plastic pieces of crap that you wouldn’t want to have in your house, but Crosley has some really cool ones. They’re reproductions of some of the most popular phones from the past, and they’re solid, well built and sound great.

We have a 1930’s era Kettle Classic desk phone in the kitchen and we love it. It looks great, works great, and everyone that comes in plays with it as soon as they spot it. Target has a few models in-store, if you want to check them out live and in technicolor, or you can order them directly from the Crosley Radio website.

One more thing; if you have FiOS, you should also check the fiber optic transceiver’s battery backup unit every so often. This is the device that converts the fiber optic connection to copper, and it needs power to work. The battery backup unit will keep your phone line up for about an hour in case of a power failure, and it has a nice set of led lights to indicate its status.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Not So Deep Thoughts…

Some stuff I’ve been ruminating on over the long hot summer:

I’m really excited about WEEI’s new website makeover. All the writers I don’t like on a website I don’t go to. Sweet! Had I known what they were up to, I would have donated money to go towards signing bonuses. Maybe they could have stolen Maz away from BDC…

If there was no HGTV, would my wife still want to paint anything that doesn’t move?

I’ve mowed my own lawn forever and done less damage the entire time than my new (soon to be ex) landscaper has done in a month.

agree to be executor of anyone’s estate!

You know you’re in for trouble when a coworker says “Everyone in my family has the stomach bug except for me”, and the next day they’re out.

Why do so few people backup their files? When your PC dies, and it will, all those digital pictures you’ve been taking, and all that music you’ve been downloading, will be gone forever, and no amount of whining or teeth gnashing will change that. Only you can prevent stupidity.

For me, the single greatest invention of the 21st century is the portable mp3 player. Having my entire music collection in my pocket is an amazing thing, and one of the most Jetson-esque things that the world of technology has brought us thus far.

You can call me a dyed in the wool homer (cause I am), but I still think the Pats will have another great season, despite their dismal play in the preseason. They need Brady on the field to coalesce as a team, and hopefully that will be happening soon. I’m beginning to believe the broken bone in the foot rumblings, although if I were dating Gisele, I’d be hard to find also. (Sorry Hon, but have you seen the happy couple’s photos on BDC?)

The Sox… Ah, the Sox. What can you say? Another soap opera season that somehow, against all odds, has begun to pick up steam again. Man O’ Manny, could they have asked for any better outcome to a really tough situation? I don’t think so. The front office has once again turned lemons into lemonade to slake the thirst of Red Sox Nation. Good job!

And speaking of Red Sox Nation… Don't be buying yourself one of those stupid membership cards. I got an email the other day warning me that “time was short to join Red Sox Nation during the 2008 season”. Being a true member is a state of mind, and has nothing to do with paying $14.95 for a colorful piece of plastic.

That is all.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Just Snoozeling By The Pool.

It’s been a fast and crazy summer. A good one, but fast and crazy nonetheless, and I just haven’t had much time for my favorite summer activity; sitting in the backyard.

For all the fun and exciting things we do, there’s nothing that compares to reclining on a comfortable chair in the shade, the pool gurgling in the background, the Sox on the radio, and the trees swaying gently on a late summer breeze.

We spend so much time and effort on the yard that it’s great to finally just sit back and enjoy it, and we decided to stay close to home this Labor Day weekend to do just that.

We’re attending the usual family backyard barbecues, and taking the almost obligatory trip to Essex for clams, but the rest of the weekend is being spent in the reclining position. No sandy rides home, no guests to feed or clean up after, just sweet and blissful solitude. The knowledge that our beautiful surroundings are due to our own hard work, and for right now, that no one is expecting anything of us, makes it even sweeter.

Just snoozeling by the pool. Heaven.

Take some time out for yourself this holiday weekend. Retreat to your own little slice of heaven, wherever it may be, and just relax. You won’t regret it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

More Backyard Tech - Rain Barrels

Rain barrels are about as low tech as you can get, but they're a very effective and time proven way to conserve water and save money.

I'd been thinking about getting a rain barrel ever since I saw a rebate program on my local DPW website. With all the rain we've been having here in the Northeast lately, I thought it was finally time to stop thinking about it and start capturing some of that free water.

I decided on a flat backed, faux wood grain, 50 gallon barrel from Clean Air Gardening. I got one barrel to start with, just to get my feet wet, so to speak. The plan was to test drive the first one before I got any more. I wanted to know if they were useful, how long it took to fill one, and I also wanted to use it as a template to see where else I could fit them. There are a number of sizes and types, even small ones that double as planters, so I wanted to be sure of what I needed before I bought multiples of any one size or type.

Once it arrived, setup was a piece of cake. First I wrapped the threads on the spigot with Teflon tape before I screwed it in place. I recommend screwing it in partially before you tape it, to get a feel for it, and to make sure the hole is threaded correctly. Mine started to go in crooked, and when I backed it out I saw a chunk of plastic in the threads. Once I picked it out, it went in straight and true. Next I snapped the bug screen in place, and that was it, done.

I took some quick measurements and then built up the area where I would be placing it with patio block. You want the barrel to be high enough so that you have clearance to use the spigot, and also to improve the water flow, but not so high that it looks ridiculous, or is a tipping danger. Once I was happy with the placement, I started work on the downspout. Remember, you’ll need to put your downspout back together after you put the rain barrel away for the winter, so don’t hack up your existing stuff, start fresh.

I removed my downspout all the way up to the elbow at the top where it comes into contact with the house, and stored it away for safe keeping. Then I replaced it with a 1 foot straight piece, a direction changing elbow, and then a flexible elbow, so I could shape it right down into the barrel opening.

There are diverters available that redirect the water back down the existing spout when the barrel is full, and they're a great solution in most cases, but my problem is that I live in a low lying area and I've always had issues with my downspouts dumping water too close to my foundation and aggravating the situation, so I decided to rely on the overflow valve at the top instead.

Once I was happy with the feed, I covered the concave top of the barrel with polished river stones that I had leftover from another project. You can find them in 5lb bags at most garden centers. I also added a short 3 foot hose to the spigot to make it easier to fill watering cans.

That’s it, I was ready to start collecting water, and boy did I…

We got about 2 inches of rain that first night, and it was still drizzling a little in the morning when I went out to check on it. At first I thought something had gone wrong with my plumbing, and then I realized that the barrel was full and water was spurting out of the overflow valve at the top.

50 + gallons of water in 1 night! Wowzers!

So, it seems like I have an endless supply of water now, and the backyard is much drier. How cool is that?

You won’t get a lot of pressure when you hook a hose up to it, but it’s great for filling watering cans or just letting the hose run without a nozzle next to ornamental trees and shrubs. You can also hook a soaker hose to it and lay it out in your garden. Plus, now you have an easy way to run excessive rain water far far away from your house. Just hook up a hose to the spigot and run it out into the yard. Bonus.

If you have the space, and the need for more water, you can daisy chain barrels together using the overflow valves. That would be the only criticism I have of the barrel I got, the overflow valve hole isn’t threaded for a hose, where some of the other models have this feature. I traded off the threading for looks and the space saving flat back as the barrel is in a high traffic area.

Clean Air Gardening had the best prices, hands down, and the barrel arrived when promised and in good shape. Check them out; they have quite a selection, plus lots of cool stuff like high quality reel mowers and compost barrels.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Are You Ready For Some Football?

The Pats are back tomorrow night on WCVB @ 7:30pm. They'll be playing their first preseason game of the 2008 season against the Ravens at Gillette, and I'm glad they're back.

Although preseason games are meaningless, and don't amount to much more than a glorified practice session, I still enjoy seeing the team take shape. Watching the competition for roster spots and seeing the players develop (or not) into their roles is pretty cool.

It's also my favorite time of the year. Late summer, baseball and football overlapping, plus this year we have the Olympics to boot. It's a sports fan's dream. For me, it just doesn't get much better. As George Costanza would say, "It's like eating while having sex!".

I'm also hoping that the start of a new season will help me finally get "The Game That Won't Be Mentioned" out of my mind.

I was so bitterly disappointed last season, although I shouldn't have been. The ending was painful, no doubt, but the season brought so much pleasure to both my Dad and I, that I really shouldn't complain.

My Dad was sick, and even Hollywood couldn't have scripted last season any better as a tonic for a life long fan watching his last season. He hung with us until the AFC Championship, and left assured that the big game was in the bag.

Man, would he have been pissed.

Anyway, if the weather cooperates, I'll have the portable out by the pool, a couple of steaks sizzilin' on the grill, and a great big happy grin on my face. I recommend you spend your evening the same way.

Patriots schedule and broadcast info

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Manny Goes To Hollywood!

And what better place for him?

Here's the details. Personally, I liked the deal the Nashua Pride were offering better. I'd love to see "El Guapo" back! (Thanks go out to my buddy Joe for that link.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A new iPod Nano and iPod Touch on the way?

An article on AppleInsider would indicate so. Seems that Apple has advised resellers to stock up on the Nano and Touch so that they will have enough stock to last them through August, as they plan on ramping down production.

September is usually the time Apple rolls out the latest holiday must have, and there were references to a new iPod 2,1 in the iPhone 2.1 beta firmware. iLounge is also reporting a return to the "skinny nano", this one with an elongated screen that has a widescreen aspect ratio.

No word on the rumored touch screen nano yet, but at the rate they revamp devices, I figure we'll see one by January...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Free Public Wi-Fi?

Every so often when I refresh my available wireless networks list, “Free Public Wi-Fi” pops up as an available ad-hoc network. I usually don’t troll for signal unless I’m on the road, so seeing it pop up in numerous locations really piqued my curiosity.

Had I stumbled onto some great and noble geek humanitarian effort; a plan to give free Wi-Fi to the masses? Or, more likely, was it a diabolical plot by unscrupulous villains to steal my identity and trash my computer? I was intrigued, but as so often happens, I got busy, lost the thread, and never looked into it.

It popped up on my available networks list again last week while I was on vacation, then on my first day back someone asked me if I had ever seen a “Free Public Wi-Fi” offering and if I knew what it was. They even voiced my own fears that it was someone up to no good. Well, that was it. I started Googling and found a plethora of information.

It seems the phenomenon has been around for a while. The first reference I found to it was in 2006 on the Houston Chronicle’s TechBlog. It appears to be a Microsoft “feature”. When your laptop can’t find a wireless network to connect to, it will offer itself up as an ad-hoc node for others to connect to, advertising itself with the name of the last ad-hoc network it tried to join. I guess Windows is sending out an electronic mating call, in search of other offline geeks.

The Chronicle writer’s theory on the actual spread of the SSID name “Free Public Wi-Fi” is very good and is worth the read. After you finish this, of course.

The Fix:

To be done with it once and for all, open up your “Available wireless connections” screen, click on “Change advanced settings” and check the box “Access point (infrastructure) networks only” under “Networks to access”. That’s it. No more Free Public Wi-Fi. No more ad-hoc networks period.

It would have been much cooler if it really had been a great and noble geek humanitarian effort. I’m so disappointed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Take On The New iPhone

As you probably already know, the must have gadget of the summer of ‘08 is the iPhone. Whether it’s the original model or the new 3G version, everywhere I look I see people glued to the little screens. Of course, I’m at the Vineyard, one of the world capitals of conspicuous consumption, so it’s a slightly skewed demographic, but none the less, I’ve seen a lot of them lately.

Being the gadget guy that I am, I can’t help feeling a little bit of electronic envy. It is a pretty sweet little device and I’d love to get my hands on one for more than just a test drive.

Apple has really outdone itself on both the iPhone and the Touch. In both form and function they have laid down the blueprint for the future of personal devices. They still have a ways to go as far as things like on board memory and device pricing, but that will come along with time and competition. It’s the basics that they’ve gotten right, as evidenced by all the copy cat devices popping up.

All that being said, the iPhone isn’t the device for me.

Here’s the deal. The first problem is the single carrier. I’m not with AT+T, and I don’t plan to be anytime soon. For a personal phone, I have a really great family plan through another carrier. I also have a Nextel provided by my employer. I don’t want or need a third phone, especially one that needs an additional $30/month data plan to be effective.

Second thing is that I don’t want or need email and internet access on my phone.

Would it be a cool thing? Yes, but I have a hard enough time stepping away from the keyboard as it is. I don’t need a phone that will blur the line I’ve drawn in the sand to try and keep technology from preventing me from participating in life.

I see too many people in the head down, phone up position, ignoring their families and everything else around them, texting or surfing as if in a trance. Nuh-uh, not for me.

It would also be a huge problem if I got an important call and the phone cut out because I’d squandered my charge surfing or responding to email.

While mulifunctionality is a good thing to a point, I don’t want my music player to be a phone. We’ve already got 3 iPods. The most recent addition is the 3rd gen nano with video. In the here and now, I think its Apple’s (or anyone’s) best media player entry in terms of storage, price and functionality.

When it comes time to upgrade again, I’ll seriously consider replacing it with the Touch. I hope Apple doesn’t forsake this device amidst the current iPhone frenzy. I think it actually has more potential than the iPhone. In my opinion a Wi-Fi enabled media player is the ultimate. No plan costs, no worries about staying in contact if you fall asleep on the beach with it running, and no being tethered to a PC for content.

Before I close, I want to apologize for the lack of recent entries. We’re on vacation and I just haven’t had the right combination of time and internet access to do too much. I will have more later in the week though, as I’m seriously considering a new toy, an electric viola bass (think Paul McCartney). I just need to finish convincing my wife that I really need it. Her mission right now seems to be to keep me out of Island Music until my urge passes…

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Howdy Rex!

One of the best moments of a perfect July 4th was seeing Rex Trailer come riding around the corner on his trusty steed Goldrush. Of course, I rushed right up to the edge of the parade route and gave him my best "Howdy Rex!".

For me, he's the man. The last of the traditional cowboy heroes and a huge part of my childhood. I could see some blank looks on the younger faces in the crowd, and it got me me thinking. Who do the kids of today consider their role models?

Well, an informal poll (which has no validity outside of our family, as it was conducted entirely on family members) revealed that after their parents and grandparents, Marvel Comics heroes came next for all respondents.

Pretty good results. I was half expecting to hear Dog the bounty hunter or some gangster rapper. It gives me hope, but it's also a sign that there aren't many real life stars that actually live the life of the good guy both on and off the screen, or the playing field, anymore.

I think Kids lean to the animated characters for heroes because they know they won't be let down. You'll never see a mug shot of a disheveled Peter Parker on ET, or hear stories about The Hulk taking steroids and cheating on his wife.

Thankfully, Rex has been busy planting the seeds for a new generation of heroes through his teachings at Emerson College and at his own production company, and has released a Boomtown documentary and is working on a new one, "Voices From The Basement - Stories from the people who worked and shopped at Filenes Basement". Check out what Rex is up to on his website.

Strange but true postscript:

My Grandson had a gift for me today. A trophy cup that said "#1 Grandpa, You're My Hero".

Thanks Rex, you taught me well.

Rex Trailer's Boomtown @ Yahoo! Video
A Clip From The Boomtown Documentary. Enjoy!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Bobble Yourself!

Check it out, I've been bobbled. Wouldn't you like to be bobbled too?

Go to to create your own, or better yet, use a picture of a friend and send it to them.

Don't forget, game 2 of the Sox and Yankees series is on @ 1pm today. Beckett's on the mound.

We've got baseball, a parade, plus a concert and fireworks on the agenda today. Not to mention good grub. Could it get any better?

Not much. What a great country we live in.

Have a safe and happy 4th!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Switch to All Digital Broadcasting Is Coming, Will My TV Explode?

No, and it won't stop working either, although you might experience some slight discomfort.

I've been getting asked about the switchover a lot lately, and it really points out how little people understand about the change, and how poorly the message is being disseminated.

The whole thing is a bit convoluted, but in a nutshell, on February 17th, 2009 all full-power TV stations have to turn off their analog signal and begin broadcasting in digital only. In theory,this will only affect people who currently get their TV reception via antenna, and they will be able to add a digital converter box to tune in the new digital signals.

Kind of.

See, here's where it gets convoluted. Notice the wording "full-power TV stations". There are also low-power stations out there that will not be switching over to digital. These are community access and educational channels. Here's the FCC's description of Low-Power, Class A and TV Translator stations.

There's also Canadian TV that's received in some of the border states. That won't be changing over to digital just yet either.

So, people who depend on antenna service, and are planning on getting a digital converter box, should look for one that supports "Analog Pass-Through". This will allow you to use the converter to tune in digital broadcasts, or use the TV's tuner to continue receiving analog broadcasts.

The digital changeover may also affect cable subscribers, depending on the system you subscribe to, and here's why:

Right now most cable companies are sending out both digital and analog signals. If you don't have a cable box and plug your cable directly into an analog set, the TV's NTSC (analog) tuner searches out only the analog signals your cable provider is sending you, and displays them on the proper channel. You need a set top box to receive the digital channels.

If you plug that same cable directly into a new set with an NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuner, you'll get all sorts of channels you didn't know about.That's because the cable companies have already begun the switchover to digital.The NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuners in the new sets allow you to tune in both the analog and the digital channels, including some High Def programming, without a set top box. You won't get ESPN or any of the other high end channels in High Def, but you will get all your local affiliates.

QAM tuners are to cable what ATSC tuners are to antenna, they both allow you to receive digital signals. Here's a great explanation of QAM tuners.

Because the analog channels take up more bandwidth than digital, the cable companies need to dump them so that they will be able to send us more digital (both Standard and High Definition) channels. They're not under a mandate to switch, but they will. The only requirement the FCC has imposed on them is that they have to support customers with analog sets for 3 years. Here's the FCC's take on it.

The way they'll do this is to require analog users to purchase or rent a cable version of the digital converter. They've already begun ordering them from suppliers and are well on their way to turning off the analog channels. Check out the story here.

All right, here's the facts you need to know:

Analog TV sets that use an antenna for reception will continue to work after the changeover with a digital converter box. They run about $50 or $60 a piece and you can get two $40 coupons per household to be used towards the purchase at Be sure to get a converter box that supports analog pass-through.

Analog TV sets that are hooked up to a cable box will continue to work after the changeover with no issues.

Analog TV sets that are hooked up to cable without a box may continue to work for a while, but will all require some kind of box, sooner rather than later.

Digital TV sets with an antenna will continue to work . They should have an NTSC/ATSC (analog/digital) tuner so that you will be able to pick up any legacy analog stations as well as the new digital ones.

Digital TV sets with cable, with or without a box, will continue to work . To work without a box the set must have an NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuner.

If you're gonna make the jump to a new TV, always look for a set with an NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuner. It will give you the most flexibility. Beware of digital monitors, as they don't have any kind of tuner. Be sure to check out our HDTV buying guide on for more info before you make a purchase.

Bear in mind that not all digital broadcasts are high def. Digital comes in 2 flavors, Standard Definition and High definition. The term digital is only a reference to how the signal is broadcast, not the picture quality, although standard definition is a cleaner signal than analog and will look better.

Also bear in mind that digital signals do not "travel" as well as analog signals, so antenna reception may not be good in your area, even if you were getting great reception of analog signals in the past.

Told you it was convoluted.

The only real casualty of the digital conversion is going to be the small battery operated TV's with analog tuners. Most people buy these little cheapos for power failures or camping, and there are no plans for a battery operated converter box. The FCC suggests getting a generator, I swear. You can read it here.

Stupid advice. If I had a generator, I wouldn't use it to power a converter box and a 5" TV, I'd just switch on one of my LCD's hooked up to rabbit ears. Hopefully, someone will tap into this niche market and release an affordable battery operated LCD with a digital tuner. There's a few out there now, but they're all around $200. It would be nice if the portable DVD player manufacturers would begin incorporating tuners into their products. My Dad used to really depend on his during Florida's hurricane season. Sometimes he would be without power for days.

So, you're either going to need a box or a new TV pretty much any way you look at it.

Here's how I plan to approach it. I have cable, both with and without boxes. I've already replaced two analog TV's with LCD's that have NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuners, so they're all set. I won't replace the rest of my sets unless/until they die. For now they'll work fine on cable, and if that changes I plan on using a cable box. There needs to be better and cheaper models in the 20" and below range before I jettison the 20" and 14" flat tube analog TV's in our spare bedroom and workshop. Talk about missing out on a market.

I'm also going to purchase at least 1 digital converter through the coupon program. Sometimes the 14" comes outside with us. If the Sox are on Fox, an antenna will do the trick. It will also come in handy if the cable goes out.

Here's a decent review of whats available now for converters. So far I like the DTVPal the best. It has analog pass-through and a nice program guide, and it's a little sleeker in design than some of the others. I'm going to hold off for a while though, as more will be coming out and the coupons are a 1 shot deal and only good for 90 days.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Backyard Tech - Part 2, Bugs Bug Me

It's hard to enjoy your backyard on those warm summer nights when you're getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. The little pests rule from dusk to dawn, and even with bug spray on, they buzz around your head and drive you nuts!

I'm a skeptic, and I was slow to embrace mosquito traps. They sounded like a good idea, but there wasn't a lot of information on results, and they were a bit pricey.

Well, we finally got tired of being chased out of the pool at night by the little blood suckers, and decided to take the plunge. We looked at them all, and ended up getting the Skeeter Vac by Blue Rhino.

To my surprise, the thing actually works! Click on the picture above for a close up of a recent night's catch. When we first started using it, the haul was much bigger, but after a couple of seasons of operation we've effectively reduced the mosquito population in our backyard.

The reasons we chose the Skeeter Vac over the Mosquito Magnet were price and ease of operation. The Skeeter Vac models run entirely off of propane, there's no power cord required. Being able to locate these things where you need them is crucial to their success, so this is a huge factor. Plus you can get a top of the line Skeeter Vac for the same price as a mid level Mosquito Magnet.

Now this isn't an overnight cure, but after a few cycles, you'll really notice a difference. Placement is key, so spend the money and get a wheeled one if you can. It will make life a lot easier.

The unit needs to run 24-7 to be the most effective. A 20 lb tank of gas will last two weeks, and I usually change the bait and the tack paper every other tank swap.

I've noticed at the start of each season that it doesn't seem to perform at it's full pest killing potential until it's been running for a few days. I guess it has to warm up to the job. If you're still not catching much after the break in period, try relocating the unit. You want it near the source areas, and away from you.

Northline has a 30 day free trial program on some models. They carry both brands mentioned, as well as a few others, and have a nice comparison chart.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Backyard Tech

Here's a backyard gadget that will help to make your summer a breeze.

the Pool Buster is a rechargeable self contained pool vacuum that attaches to a skimmer pole or can be hand held. This thing is great and has cut down on my pool maintenance time considerably. Check out the video.

I enjoy cleaning the pool, it can be a relaxing way to spend a summer morning, but the setup is a hassle and the whole thing is very time consuming. With the Pool Buster, I just pop it on to a skimmer pole and I'm off. No hoses, no bot to lug around, and I'm usually done in about 20 minutes. I'm also backwashing much less frequently, which not only saves time, but also money.

I'm not just being green by not pumping out all of that water (and chemicals), I'm saving green. Al Gore would be so proud of me!

A charge lasts me through 2 or 3 cleanings of a 16' x 32' in ground pool. It comes with a 1 hour rapid recharger, but works best on a full 4 to 5 hour charge. I've seen some complaints about battery life, but I haven't experienced it myself. I have a buddy that has one also, and neither has he. It's important to give it a good initial charge of 5 hours, and to not keep it in your pool house. The temperature extremes will wreak havoc with any battery powered device. It's also recommended that you give it a full charge before you put it away in the winter.

The product was renamed this year to Pool Blaster (a little trouble with the folks at Dust Buster, perhaps?) and can be found advertised both ways. There's also a smaller Catfish model for spas and small above ground pools.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Windows Media Center - Black Screen Syndrome

I recently went to start up Media Center on my PC and instead of getting the expected Microsoft sound and the familiar blue window... I got nothing.

Actually, I got more than nothing. I got a black screen, and a little acid reflux.

I use the Media Center PC for all my video processing. It's one big ass Tivo, with all kinds of inputs and tuners, just perfect for recording and mixing all kinds of media.

Personally, I think Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 was Microsoft's best work, and they should have stopped there. It was the step before Vista, and it's the best of both worlds. It boots up in XP and allows you to start up the Vista-ish Media Center when you need it.

So anyways, the PC is a pure work horse and I try to keep it clean. No careless surfing, no installs of anything until I've done my homework.

But as I'm sure you know, it's not always easy to keep a networked computer clean. I went to a site that I thought belonged to a university, but soon discovered it was a spoof, and blam!, I picked up a downloader.

I struggled with it for a while, and hopefully I won the battle. I'll chronicle that little adventure in another post. What I want to talk about now are the after effects.

Shortly after the downloader incident, Media Center stopped working. Whenever I'd click on the green desktop icon I'd get a black screen.

At first, all I could do was Ctrl+Alt+Del and stop the process, with no idea what was going on, and even that wasn't easy. The screen would briefly show the Media Center window and the Task Manager, then revert to black. It took two or three in a row to get control over the window.

I couldn't find anything obviously wrong with the system. It performed just fine as long as I didn't try to start Media Center.

So, being a natural born rock head, I opened Media Center again (and again, and again), until I found that if I hit Ctrl+Esc I got some control. The Media Center screen would appear and I could click one option, and then I was back in black. The next Ctrl+Esc showed that I had advanced to the Videos screen, and now I had a valid error message: "The video decoder has either malfunctioned or is not installed".

A Clue!

After a little searching, I found this site: Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility. Once the great and powerful Microsoft determined that my copy of Windows was on the up and up, I downloaded DECCHECKSetup.exe. Running the setup installs the Video Decoder Checkup Utility under Programs, Windows Media.

When you fire up the utility, it goes off and checks for installed video decoders and reports back on what you have, which ones are Media Center and Media Player compatible, and which one is set as the "preferred decoder". Nice little utility!

Right away I saw that my InterVideo decoder had been deposed by a pretender to the throne.

The utility allows you to change the preferred decoder after it finishes it's check, and just like that, I was back in business.

The wrong video decoder will also cause similar problems with Windows Media Player 10 and 11, so the Decoder Check Utility is a handy tool to have even if you're not running Media Center. The fact that Microsoft has a utility specifically for this problem indicates that it's pretty common.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lost - Octagon Global Recruitment Letter

Check it out, I'm being recruited by The Dharma Initiative!

Must be a new Lost ARG (alternate reality game) for the hiatus. More info in our Lost section at:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Celtics Win!

The Garden was rockin' tonight, and so were the Celts as they beat the Lakers in a game 6 blowout and became the 2008 NBA Champions!

They came to win tonight, plain and simple. Garnett, Allen, Pierce, hell, the whole team and the fans all get a Tommy point for this one.

I don't think I've ever seen a team play with so much intensity. They were lights out as they demoralized and demolished the Lakers 131 to 92 and gave us the perfect ending to a perfect season.

Such a great team, and team is the operative word here. Injuries, off nights, no matter what, there was always someone stepping in and coming up big. That's how you do it.

Watching them celebrate the moment was incredible, and imagining the Zen Master and Kobe's plane ride home made it all the sweeter.

Take us home one last time, Gino...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Beefing Up Your Cable Signal

Last week I told you I was watching an older TV equipped with rabbit ears while we were away. It was an acceptable way to catch the news in the wilds of Maine, but that’s about it. It really pointed out how spoiled I’ve become by cable.

I hate poor reception, it really drives me to distraction. I’m forever tweaking the cable plant in my house, and I usually can’t stop myself from messing with my friends and relatives connections if the picture on their TV looks a little fuzzy or their home network is sluggish.

Hey, I grew up working the rabbit ears on top of our TV like a Navy Signalman, and sometimes adding things like tinfoil to them, all in a vain attempt to pull in that one extra station. I don’t think I ever really got a good look at Uncle Gus out of NH, but I certainly tried.

When cable first arrived on the scene, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. As I began to explore and expand the capabilities of my cable drop, I quickly found out that it can look just as bad as those old rabbit ears did if you’re too cavalier with it.

The key to good cable reception is keeping down the signal loss. It’s a lot like antenna reception in that way. The stronger the signal that reaches the TV, the better the picture quality. Every foot of cable, every splitter, every DVD and VHS connection, causes signal loss. Even the type of cable you use enters into the equation. You always want to use RG6 cable. It costs a little more but has less signal loss then RG59.

There’s a certain tipping point that’s dependent on both the strength of your signal at its point of entry, and the number of wacky things you do with it from there. You can calculate it all out here, but you’ll know when you hit it ‘cause you’ll start getting a washed out, grainy and/or wavy picture, or pixilation on the SD and HD digital channels. It’s a huge disappointment if you’re feeding a cool new flat panel.

I currently have 3 separate runs split off of the main. The 2 runs for the upper floors are relatively long, but we get a good strong signal from the street and the cable and connectors are in good shape, so picture quality has always been good on these TV’s.

The third leg goes into the basement, and this is the one I abuse…

I split this leg 3 times. Two short runs (15’) and a long run that goes about 50’ into yet another splitter that feeds both an HD cable box and a DVD-Recorder and VCR that are tied together in series.

The HD from the cable box looked good, but the feed from the recorders just didn’t look crisp by the time it wound its way back to its respective TV input. Having both the DVD and VCR on improved the picture to the PIP, as both devices were pre-amping the signal, but as soon as I had one or the other on by itself, the reception was poor on a lot of the channels.

As I said before, I hate a crappy picture, so I tore into things. I pretty much knew from the start that I was going to need to amplify the signal, but if your going to do something, you might as well do it right.

First I tried reconfiguring. While I was doing it, I replaced a couple of the cables and checked all of the connections. A bad cable or a loose connection is often the cause of poor reception. While you’ve got the cables unplugged, shine a light into their connectors and be sure you can still see the white dielectric, it has a tendency to shrink back into the jacket with age. If it has, either replace the cable or trim it back and crimp on a new connector.

Anyways, all that work and no change. I still had a crappy picture.

Next I went out and got an amplifier for the line. For my application I needed a Bidirectional amp. There are a couple of different types, and you need to get the right one for your particular setup.

Here’s what you need to know:

In-line signal amp: 10 db, single direction amp. Gain not adjustable. Ok for basic cable, but not for digital with a set top box or cable modems.

Bidirectional amp or Forward Gain: If you have digital cable boxes in the house or get voice and data through your cable provider, you need a bidirectional amp. It has a portion of the bandwidth (5-42MHz) reserved as a return band to the provider, which allows two way communications for the voice and data connections and also the interactive features on the cable box. This single port bidirectional amp boosts your signal by up to 10 db and the gain is adjustable via a small knob. This device boosts only the incoming signal. It does not boost the return signal to the provider.

There are also Reverse Gain and Two Way Active amps, the former beefs up only the return band, the latter, both. You’d want one of these if your box is timing out during interactive functions or you have a troublesome link between your cable modem and your provider.

So I got the amp that was right for the job, and it really did the trick. I put the amp in line right where the feed comes into the house, then came off of it with a 6 foot cable that ties into the input of the first splitter. This way it’s distributed evenly throughout the whole system, and it’s amplifying the best signal possible. This is important, as once you start splitting the cable, you water down the signal, and you don’t want to amplify crap.

Not only did it clear up the feeds to the recorders, it also made the sets that we already thought looked good, look even better!

The amp I’m using is a single input, single output. They come in all kinds of configurations (1 in, 4 out, etc.), and once again, you want to get the one that’s right for your specific application. Keep in mind though, that too strong a signal can be every bit as problematic as a weak signal. I barely needed to tweak the gain at all for my setup. I have it set at 3 of 10. Any higher and the signal is too strong on the shorter runs.

Okay, here's the stuff to remember:

Most reception problems are caused by cables or connectors, check them first, and use the right components for the job:

Use RG6 cable and connectors

Use 1GHz splitters

Research and come up with the best wiring scheme in regards to signal loss. Pay attention to the amount of signal loss on the outputs.

And if all that fails:

Be sure to get the right amplifier for your situation.

Don’t put it too close to the end device; keep it at or near the cable’s entry point. Amplifying crap just gives you amplified crap.

And as always, when in doubt, look it up. Broadband Reports FAQs section is a wealth of information on all things broadband and dsl related.