Posts filed under Geek Gear

Elisa/Saunalahti 3G in Rovaniemi

Yay. For about six months, I've had an unlimited data plan for only €10/mo. with my operator Saunalahti. It's been great, but would have been greater if they actually had a 3G network in Rovaniemi (for really high speed data transfer). Now, it's reality. I noticed last night that my little 3G icon in my phone was glowing, and sure enough the Elisa network (which Saunalahti uses) has expanded 3G coverage to Rovaniemi. As Teemu says, let the bytes fly!

Posted on September 11, 2006 and filed under Finland, Geek Gear, Mobile.

Entering the Social Networked Music Scene

profile.gifI've seen regular references to Last.fm and Pandora in various blogs, online searches and the like. While they sounded interesting, they remained on my 'to explore later' list until I was prodded from an email from a friend. While Last.fm and Pandora cover a lot of the same area, they each have certain strengths (as outlined in numerous and varied comparisons). Basically Pandora is a bit better for getting exposed to new music, while Last.fm is better at cataloging your listening habits and creating a broad range of recommendations and social networking connections as a result. And thanks to a nice little online code mashup (via downloadsquad), you can have the best of both worlds: a Pandora player that submits its tracks to your Last.fm account. Last.fm ProfileRight now I have Audioscrobbler plugins reporting my listening habits from my home media pc (so far only from Windows Media Player, since the Meedio MeeCharts export plugin that should do the job doesn't seem to play nice with the current audioscrobbler API. :-(), MediaMonkey on my laptop at work, Last.fm's own player, and the abovementioned online Pandora player hack from Real-ity. So about the only parts of my listening habits that aren't being data mined are radio, CDs (played in an actual CD/DVD player), and my portable mp3 player (though if I upgraded to an iPod, this too would be covered).

Still not sure how this breaks down by scary vs. cool. You can see what I've been listening to by checking out the Recent Tracks badge in the sidebar, or my Last.fm account.

Posted on May 9, 2006 and filed under Geek Gear, Organization, Software, Tunes.

New Phone: Nokia 6680

I just went out and bought my shiny new Nokia 6680 phone on my lunch break ("break" in the sense of a break from last minute feature and price comparisons). In the end I decided to use a local retailer as the price advantage of ordering from Germany or even Helsinki disappeared once shipping and bank transfer costs were taken into account. I bought a 1GB memory card at the same time, and they guy in the local Elisa shop gave me a pretty good deal on the combo. Of course the other reason was that I just couldn't wait any longer to have my new toy phone. The phone runs Symbian Series 60 OS, and can run a whole bunch of games and apps. The guy in the store mentioned that it is probably more powerful than computers from a few years ago. I started to consider which of my previous computers it would approximate in performance. Ten years ago I was saving up to buy a my first laptop before going off to graduate school. I think I paid about $4000(!)cdn for a Fujitsu Monte Carlo, with a 133 MHz Pentium processor and an 800 MB hard drive. I'm not sure how the 220MHz ARM processor in the 6680 compares to a Pentium chip, but I'd bet they're in the same ballpark anyway (exept with respect to power consumption, obviously). It seems there is a benchmark utility for smartphones, but no idea how to compare these to PC benchmarks.

I've also decided to change my mobile operator to Saunalahti, to take advantage of their DataEtu offer: unlimited data for €10 per month, with a one year agreement. Mobile internet is really here, but alas Elisa (the network Saunalahti uses) doesn't have 3G coverage in Rovaniemi yet (although they do in Levi). But 3G isn't so much faster than EDGE, so I guess I'll survive.

Update: Elisa factory-installs a silly little branded app, Elisa Mobi, on the Symbian phones they sell. No biggie, except that it takes control of one of the soft buttons and I can't find any way to delete it! Help. If anyone has ideas short of flashing the phone memory, I'd be grateful.

Posted on February 27, 2006 and filed under Geek Gear, Mobile.

Skype for Symbian 3G

I had only decided this week to upgrade my phone to a nice shiny new 3G Symbian-based smart phone (the Nokia 6680), and now Skype have announced a versrion that runs on the very same kind of phone. While this sounds initially promising, the fact that you'd be paying 3G data rates to get the quality equivalence and latency of a satellite phone (according to the article) leaves a lot to be desired. As I commented before, there are already third party applications to run Skype on a Symbian phone via a client on your PC (over Bluetooth or GPRS). If the quality is ok, I can see myself using this more than a dedicated Skype app. If the quality is ok, you're basically using your phone as a Bluetooth headset to extend Skype on your PC. We'll see how this develops. Now I'm just waiting for the phone. Maybe Agustin, who is in Barcelona for 3GSM, can find out more for me.

Posted on February 17, 2006 and filed under Geek Gear, Mobile, Software.

BitTorrent VCR

Not long after assembling my fancy new media PC (complete with digital TV card) I realized that downloading TV shows using eMule was easier and less error-prone than recording them digitally myself. The media PC still served as a great multimedia playback platform, and since it is on 24/7, eMule downloads come steady and constant. Probably about half my TV viewing is now via this deferred digital method rather than live. I have a few of my favourite series that I can watch when I feel like it. I get good quality (usually HDTV) copies of shows as soon as their aired in North America (or the UK, as the case may be), rather than waiting for them to be available in Finland. Otherwise, I use analog TV for live sports, local news, or just to have something mindless on. Now comes a new evolution in my setup. I've pretty much ditched eMule in favour of the Azureus BitTorrent client, with the RSS Feed Scanner plugin. Basically, the plugin monitors an RSS feed published by tvtorrent.info using a set of filters that I create for the torrents of shows I want to grab as they become available. While I can use direct links from Mininova to get older episodes, once I'm caught up all the new eps are automatically downloaded.

So now I'm grabbing the Daily Show, er, daily, without having to manually search for a torrent each time. I'd love it if more torrents of Canadian shows were available, such as The Hour or the old episodes of Da Vinci's Inquest. If anyone has tips on where to find these, I'd be very grateful. Of course with this literal torrent of TV flooding into my media PC, the only problem left with is finding time to watch them all (although I'm already pretty picky about what I watch).

Update: I found one site that surveyed the availability of CBC/Canadian torrent TV content available. Looks like The Hour has been uploaded before, until the faithful uploader's computer broke. :( I was able to find a couple season 2 episodes of Da Vinci's Inquest too. Since Alliance Atlantis aren't releasing anything past season 1 on DVD anytime soon, I have no compunction about downloading them.

Posted on January 24, 2006 and filed under Canada, Geek Gear, Television.

Bias Lighting for Home Theatre

After reading about Philips' marketing of something they call Ambilight, which creates a diffuse backlighting behind their fancy plasma TVs, I decided to look into the concept behind it (excuse the pun). Turns out the idea of 'bias lighting' is pretty prevalent in the home theatre community. The diffuse light behind the TV reduces eye strain and improves your perception of the TV image by creating another light source in your field of vision. Digging a little deeper, it seemed pretty non-trivial to create my own DIY bias lighting using an old fluorescent light fixture bought from a flea market for €5. I also cleaned up the visual field behind the TV by hiding some wires with cable tubes and a white bed sheet. The experts recommend a 6500 kelvin temperature colour bulb, which I've ordered from the aquarium shop down the street (though the damn thing costs over €20, which throws off my bias lighting on the cheap concept just a bit). bias lightingSo far, even with the standard fluorescent bulb, I can really appreciate the difference when watching TV in the dark, and there's no nasty reflections of the screen that lights in front of the TV create.  I'm not sure that the current position is ideal, though. Right now, the fixture is installed shining down from a shelf behind the TV, though in the future I may attach the fixture directly to the TV stand and have it shine backwards against the wall.

Posted on January 22, 2006 and filed under Flat, Geek Gear, Television.

CD Label Printing Service?

Despite being a pretty serious gadget freak, I'm often shockingly behind the times for de rigeur pieces of kit. To wit, I only got my first digital camera two years ago. I only got a DVD drive this year (and I still don't have a DVD burner). The killer is that the last printer I owned was a HP 500C. Now, don't get me wrong, this baby was cutting edge colour technology for like 1990 (my dad is still using it, although he wants me to get him a new one this Christmas). How is it, you ask, that a wired guy like me can have survived for so long without a printer? Most of what I need a printer for is for work (articles, reports, drafts, notes, etc) and maybe a few 'personal' items once in a while pass through the network lasers, but to be honest not really that much. My print demands are pretty low. Those times I've found myself wanting a nice print of a photo I've taken, I've used a photo printing service here in Rovaniemi (www.efoto.fi). Considering the exploitative pricing of inkjet cartridges, paying 0.20€ for a nice glossy professionally printed photo is a bargain. So really the only printing need I have that is not being met is making CD covers and labels for my mixes for friends.

So why aren't there many services out there that specialize in doing one-off CD covers and labels. It could be a natural extension of existing photo printing services? It's really just another format and paper stock. Users could upload files in common CD label software file formats (Roxio, Acoustica) and receive professional grade covers for their mixes in the mail. It seems such services exist elsewhere, but does anyone know of anyone in Finland who does this? I checked CDlinja.fi, but they seem to only do commercial CD duplication and production.

Posted on December 20, 2005 and filed under Finland, Geek Gear, Tunes.

Taking Skype wireless

SkypeAll I want for Christmas is... I don't know yet. One thing I really want is a wireless solution for Skype. Being chained to the computer with a wired headset isn't working for me anymore (and I usually get distracted and start browsing the net while I'm talking to people). So I've narrowed it down to two choices: the Cordless DUALphone or a Bluetooth headset and dongle. Both solutions run about a hundred Euros, so please help me decide which way to go. For starters, here are my pros and cons: DUALphone: + Able to fully control Skype from handset (online status, contacts) + Phone rings + Familiar phone design - Skype-only - Only useful at home - Not handsfree

Bluetooth: + Can use headset for other bluetooth devices (phone, laptop) + Can work with non-Skype VoIP apps - Ring comes from computer audio (Skype can be set to ring PC speaker) - Still need to use computer to interact with Skype - Headaches setting up Bluetooth headset under Windows XP SP2

It's pretty even, but I'm leaning towards the Bluetooth headset, even though the Cordless DUALphone is pretty cool. Your thoughts?

Posted on December 19, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.

Nokia 770

Northspace on Nokia 770Teemu is playing with cool toys at the company he works for, Movial, which is developing components and software for such products as the Nokia 770, which should be on the market soon. It looks like a pretty cool toy, but although the screen is apparently big (800x480) and gorgeous, its battery life and local storage make it a poor choice for me even compared to today's crop of PDAs (which it is not). I continue to wait for the ultimate handheld connected device.

Posted on August 30, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.

Systems Update

Did some tinkering to my systems over Easter weekend. The Mini-ITX system is now offline, and I've put its 120GB drive with my music collection into the Pentium M MediaCentre. The MediaCentre will now do all my downloading and jukebox functions that I've been using the Mini-ITX for. Not really any sense running two computers 24/7, and the new system is actually quieter than the Mini-ITX. I've also taken out the 2.5" 30GB drive and put it back in its original external USB case, so there's an added bonus. I'm sure I'll figure out something to do with the Mini-ITX eventually.

Posted on March 28, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.

More Storage and Backup

My shopping priorities in Honolulu were probably a bit different than most tourists. Insteading of sensibly heading to the beach like most of my colleagues, I went walking to the outskirts of downtown in search of CompUSA. Kid in a candy store, I tell ya. Luckily I had already scouted out what I wanted beforehand, the LaCie USB 250GB External Hard Drive . It's designed by F.A. Porsche, though it really just looks like a metal brick. After speaking to several clueless minimum-wage drones, I finally found a tech guy there who was able to assure me (by opening the box) that the power supply indeed accepts 110-220 VAC power, so I could use it in Finland. Came to about $195usd, which is about €100 cheaper than I could have got in Europe. Works great so far. My only small issue is that the drive stays "on" after the computer shuts down, unless I manually switch it off in the back. It would be nice if there was at least an option in the firmware to automatically switch on/off the drive with the computer via the USB signal. I can already hear Jay channelling Irv: "250 gigs?!? What do you need 250 gigs for?" Well, I figure that I'll use about half the drive for backing up files from my various computers, and half for video storage from the PVR. So I'm beginning to evaluate automatic backup software. Right now I'm looking at LIUtilities WinBackup and Dantz Retrospect Professional. Anyone have any good/bad experiences with these or other programs?

Posted on March 9, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.

System Build Log, pt3: Installing

installing

So far so good. Windows XP is installing. There was a brief moment of crisis when some BIOS alarm started screaming at me. Turns out I had installed the CPU fan to the "system" (read case) fan plug. Although the fan was getting the right power, the system didn't know that and freaked out (quite rightly, I suppose).

Once all looks copacetic, I have to dismantle the whole thing again so I can get the fan to fit. I'll never get a Codegen case again. Rather shoddy. The mobo mounting pins are all poorly threaded, and I had the tightest time ever just installing the mobo (this includes much larger ATX and smaller Mini-ITX systems).

Another big oops is that the memory module from my Mini-ITX system that I was planning to use temporarily is incompatible SDRAM. No biggie this time, as I just swapped out a 256mb DDR module from my main computer. But it looks like I'll need to upgrade to a 512 module soonish. On the bright side, my third system (the Mini-ITX) remains fully functional since I didn't cannabalize its RAM.

There's also a nasty whine coming from the 8GB 2.5" drive. These things are supposed to be silent!!! If it doesn't get any better inside the case, I'm switching it with my 30GB portable drive. I can't imagine needing more than 8GB portable storage anyway.

Posted on February 22, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.

System Build Log, pt2: Fat PSU

tall_psu

The good news: all the parts have arrived, and I've blocked off most of the day to build the new system.

The bad news: first problem (really didn't see this one coming). The damn Nexus PSU is a couple mm too big. Since modding the PSU case is not my idea of a fun time, I'm left with either a) returning the PSU and ordering one that will actually fit my case, or b) modding the case to make the PSU fit. I think I'll go with b, after I test the PSU to see if it is as quiet as I hoped. Out comes the dremel! The cover looks like it will stay on ok. Any other ideas?

Posted on February 22, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.

Drives in Suspension

both_drives_suspended

In anticipation of the arrival of the remaining pieces of my new MediaCentre rig (mobo, psu, video card) on Tuesday, I started doing some light mods of the case to ensure silent operation of my hard drives. Although I eventually plan to shunt the 120GB Maxtor 3.5" drive off into a mini file server powered by the trusty old Mini-ITX, I'm keeping it the MediaCentre for now (until I find the right setup for the server box). Following the examples at Silent PC Review and Overclockers.com, I decided to insulate my drives with some foam and suspend them with some elastic cords. I'll have to keep an eye on the temperatures since the foam may trap too much heat, which is no longer being conducted out to the case (but neither, more importantly, is the vibration). If the temps get too high, I can probably ditch the foam and just keep them suspened. Check out the photos in the full entry.

both_drives_suspended

both_drives_suspended

both_drives_suspended

Posted on February 20, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.

Don't Mention the War (Damn Germans, part zwei)

So I was about to retract my earlier criticism of DHL and all things German, but they've gone and given me reason to hate them again. In fairness, it seems that the "extra" €34 I paid for my shipment was actually the cost of the case that I had ordered from them, and nothing else. They had sent my case and motherboard in separate shipments, and had sent it COD. My bad. The case arrived on Tuesday, and I began wondering why I hadn't heard anything about the mobo. After couple unanswered emails to Primus Online, where I ordered the stuff, I finally broke down today and called them. Once I got to talk to someone who spoke English, they explained that my package had been "refused" on delivery and sent back for restocking. No hint as to why this happened, but it seems likely that DHL screwed up and didn't contact me for payment like they did with the case, and instead sent it packing back to Germany. :( To add pain to misery, the mobo is no longer carried by them, so they can't send me a replacement! Nevermind the fact that they weren't even going to bother informing me that my order was now never going to arrive. Yes, say it with me now, damn Germans. All this causes me to wax nostalgiac that if the shipment had gone through I would have likely got the mobo exactly today, and would now be playing with my new toy. On the other hand, I didn't end up paying anything for shipping, and got a fairly decent (though a bit loud) micro-ATX for only €34. So all that I've really lost is time.

I now also have the opportunity to reassess whether I would prefer to wait for the Soltek SL-855GEI-FDGR, or order another AOpen from somewhere else. The only real urgency is that I'd like to test out the Celeron M chip that I bought on EBay.de and arrived taped inside a CD jewel case with no protective packaging other than some packing tape (yes, damn Germans). These mobile chips are notoriously sensitive, so I'm a bit worried something might have happened to it en route.

I've also had no luck finding anyone who sells the "optional" SPDIF module for the AOPen board, while the Soltek sensibly has it built-in. As always, I'll keep you posted.

Posted on February 17, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.

Or not?

After struggling for most of the weekend, I finally got my TV card working just after I made the last post. Whoo-hoo! So far, only MTV3, MTV3+, Nelonen, SubTV, and Urheilukanava. No YLE channels or Nelonen Plus (yet), and no EPG. But progress is good, it gives me hope. For any others in Lapland struggling with the same thing, here's my channel listings file (.chl format) that you can use in Cinergy Digital or Sceneo/Meedio. I'll keep it updated as I find more channels.

In other rig-related news, the post just came and it looks like my Celeron M processor has arrived. I expect the mobo and case in the next day or two also, so I should be in business before you know it! Now I'm just wondering about getting a new video card and some RAM...

Posted on February 15, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.

TV Card Frustration

So the first component of my new media centre arrived on Friday: the Terratec Cinergy 1200 DVB-C. This is my first foray into the world of digital TV, the technology that is supposed to completely replace analogue tv in this country in less than two years. In a word, unlikely. Now I did some research on this whole thing before I started, and I knew that this card was for sale in Finland, and that there were some on the message boards that had some trouble setting it up, but it seemed like just a nice little technical challenge. It wouldn't be any fun being a propellerhead if just anyone could set one of these things up. But it seems that the challenge is a little beyond anyone's grasp right now. The basic problem is that Finland uses a slightly different signal modulation for digital tv signals than Germany, or the rest of mainstream Europe (QAM 128 instead of QAM 64, for those playing at home). While it looks like my card's software will show channels on QAM 128, it (or any other available that supports my card) doesn't allow me to change the automatic channel search to that modulation. The alternative is to put in the channel information manually, as some enterprising folks in Helsinki have done. Problem is, no one- not even the so-called experts at Sonera (my cable provider) know the proper channel settings.

So far, I know that the available channels come in three multiplexes (or constellations, or "mux"):

  • MUX1 (CNN, Discovery, other paytv): 154mHz, QAM128, 6900 symbol rate
  • MUX2 (MTV3, Nelonen, etc): 162mHz, QAM128, 6900 symbol rate
  • MUX3 (YLE channels): 170mHz, QAM128, 6900 symbol rate

If anyone knows the full channel info for these stations (TSID, Service ID, Video PID, Audio PID, PCR PID, Teletext PID), please post a comment (just a shot in the dark). I'll keep you posted on progress.

Posted on February 15, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.

Damn Germans

So I got both a nice and nasty surprise in my mailbox today. Two postal notices. One was for my TV card, which is great because I was really starting to worry since I hadn't heard from the guy I bought it from on EBay in two weeks since I transferred the money. Thought I was going to have to call the polizei. :) I just picked it up and installed it in my Mini-ITX system. Still installing the software, but it looks really cool. I'm sure the system is way underpowered for use as a PVR, but it will be interesting to see if it can cope (thus making my upgrade to the Pentium M system rather needless). The nasty surprise was the other notice. This time not from the local post office, but from DHL in Helsinki, who want another €34 to deliver the package that I already paid the company to deliver. What kind of a freakin racket is that? So that basically toasts the cost savings I had by ordering it from Germany instead of Finland. Live and learn I suppose. The good news is that my entire system should be ready in a week!

Posted on February 11, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.

My New PVR Rig (part 2)

All the pieces have come together. The AOpen mobo and a Codegen MS-32-C9 Micro-ATX case are on their way from Germany as we speak. And while I was at work today, I "acquired" an old 6GB 2.5 hard drive (ok, John's old Dell had busted and he was cannibalizing it for scraps). So I can swap this into the external USB case to use as a portable hard drive, and use the 30GB in the new rig for local storage. The real trick now will be to see whether I can get away with using only the 60W "brick" external DC-DC PSU that came with my Mini-ITX case. It'll probably be close with only the mobo, Celeron M 330, a low-voltage IBM Travelstar drive, and a 256 stick of DDR memory. The next trick comes in how to turn the old Mini-ITX "mediaserver" into a plain old server. I'll need to get a new case and PSU (swapped from the Codegen if the new rig works on 60W) for the extra drives. I can stick this one in a closet, so it can be a bit noisier, but I still want it low-power since it will be on 24/7. The idea here is to put a few big 3.5" drives that will act as network storage for the PVR. I'll swap out the existing 120GB drive from the Mini-ITX mediaserver and probably add a 250GB drive later. Mind you, the LaCie Porsche-designed 250GB USB 2.0drive looks sweet and is a bargain at €153,90 from Verkkokauppa.

Posted on February 5, 2005 and filed under Geek Gear.