Archive for August, 2012

Home for a week

August 26th, 2012, 6:58pm by Jake

Home for a week, originally uploaded by jakerome.

Happy to be back gain at Camp Lawrence. Right now it’s just me with the three boys. I’m officially insane! 9th year at Family Camp, this is my 25th year at camp, including 7 as a camper and 9 as a boys camp counselor.

Gadget roundup

August 25th, 2012, 4:01pm by Mike

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about any new gadgets I’ve gotten, and there have been a couple. So, without further ado:


  • Shure SE215s headphones: In the past couple of years, I haven’t really used Bluetooth earpieces for phones — a combination of losing them, losing/breaking proprietary chargers, and lately, not driving, have brought me back around to wired headsets with in-line microphones. I’m on a lot of calls on my cell phone with work, and I also have been listening to more and more music, and like the combination of good stereo sound, portability, and ability to switch instantly to a call. The Apple ones that come with iPods/iPhones have never worked well in my ears (in fact, they hurt). For about 8 months I had a pair of Klipsch S4is that I liked, but the cord was pretty fragile, and ended up fraying when it accidentally got wrapped up in my suitcase handle on an NYC subway.

    I read some reviews, including from my favorite tech review website, The Wirecutter, and ended up going with their recommendation (at the time), the Shure SE215s. Though they’ve moved on to another recommendation, I’m really happy with them. First of all, they’re noise-isolating — Shure makes studio monitors for musicians, so they’re into using foam to really isolate outside noise. Secondly, the cable itself is thick — almost Fisher-Price thick. But it won’t get worn (and if it does, the cable itself is replaceable, much cheaper than new headphones). And finally, they sound really good — even The Wirecutter said that they sounded better than the newest pick in the $100 range. The only downside — they don’t have a microphone unless you buy the optional microphone cable, which I did. So that boosts the price a bit.


  • Contigo mug: My Oxo / Good Grips mug had an incident of leaking (probably from me putting it in the dishwasher), so I was in the market for a new coffee mug. After reading Amazon reviews, it sounded like the new leader in the market was Contigo, so I got one of their autoseal mugs. It’s awesome. I literally can throw it into a suitcase and not worry about the dregs of my coffee leaking. It keeps things hot for a long time, and I think it looks pretty cool, too. Continuing his “I’ll have what he’s having” approach to travel coffee mugs, Kelvin has recently bought the Contigo, too — we’ll see how he likes it.


  • Verizon JetPack hotspot: I had a work-issued Sprint 3G PCMCIA card, which worked pretty well, except where it didn’t get signal. In addition, being a card for a laptop, it was limited to getting only one device online at a time — and that device had to have a PCMCIA slot and drivers for the card. When I found out that I could request a Mifi hotspot to replace it, I jumped on it. Being Verizon, the coverage is better than Sprint. It’s also a 4G (LTE) hotspot, can get all my devices online simultaneously, has a ~3 hour battery (can also be plugged into USB while working), and of course, needs no special hardware or software beyond wifi compatibility. It’s great.


  • Kindle: Last Christmas, I got the Kindle Touch, which I liked except for the fact that (at the time), RSS feeds couldn’t be formatted on it correctly when you used a service like Kindlefeeder or a server-based program like Calibre (which is my choice). So I returned it, got a Kindle Basic for $79, and haven’t thought twice about it. Unlike the Touch, you can read one-handed, and unlike the iPad, it’s super-light and small. I like that there are no distractions (like email, the web, Twitter, etc) while I’m reading on it — really lets me tune out. On the iPad, there’s always something else to do.


  • Mophie Juice Pack Air: In NYC, AT&T coverage is famously bad. While I was working there on a case, my phone battery would routinely be in the 10-20% range by 3pm, due to constant searching for signal. So, I bought a Mophie battery case for my iPhone. It adds a little heft, but it’s really not bad at all. The battery just sits there passively until you flip the switch, at which point it’s as if you’ve plugged into the wall — the battery discharges into the internal iPhone battery while also letting you continue talking immediately. This method means less wear and tear on the battery than if it were constantly draining. The only downside is that the dock connector is covered up when the case is on — charging is by a mini-USB on the side (which is actually not bad — same connector as my Kindle and MiFi.

I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones that come to mind. How about you guys, anything new and fun?

The New Apple TV plan

August 25th, 2012, 3:04pm by Mike

I’ve decided that it’s time to upgrade my 1st gen Apple TV. I bought the thing almost exactly 5 years ago — I got the 40 GB hard drive version, and spent $299 on it. Since then, I’ve jailbroken it, which has opened up its functionality tremendously — its main use is to stream downloaded TV shows from my server (the computer that’s also serving this website) to the TV in the living room. We also use it for looking at our iPhoto photo collection.

So why upgrade?

My ATV has started to show some wear and tear — with all the hacks I have on it, it’s having some mysterious, recurring issues (spontaneous restarts, not able to stream music, etc). The spontaneous restarts are especially bothersome — because of my audio setup (more below), the ATV is plugged straight into the soundbar, and the volume is often kind of high for watching movies — so a spontaneous restart in the middle of the night has actually woken us up!).

In addition, the new Apple TV has some nice capabilities — notably, the ability to throw video from a computer or iDevice to the TV. This is handled natively in OS 10.8, or with third party software like AirParrot in 10.6.8 or higher (I’m running 10.6.8 on my Macs, haven’t seen any reason to upgrade, and lots of reasons not to — but that’s a different story).

The drawback

The newest Apple TV (3rd gen) isn’t jailbreakable — at least not yet. Though it’s been out for quite some time, the fact that there are very few services running on the device makes it really hard to inject the jailbreak code into the system. As recently as this month, there’s some vague hope that a jailbreak is in the works, but nothing definite.

So, then, whats the plan?

  • Get a 2nd gen Apple TV. As Kelvin and Jake know, I figured the easiest way was to find somebody with a second-gen ATV who hadn’t hacked it, and offer to replace it with a brand-new 3rd gen. Kelvin took me up on the offer, and I think he’s on his way to pick up his new ATV 3 at the Palo Alto Apple Store as I write this (thanks to Apple’s in-store pickup option, I ordered it for his pickup). You can still buy an ATV 2, but the prices are outrageous (see the photo in the link above, for example) — BTW, Kelvin, if I ever sell it, you get the proceeds — this isn’t a money-making operation for me!
  • Get the requisite connection gear. As I’ve posted before, a difficulty is that the ATV2 (and 3) only have HDMI and optical audio out. My old Westinghouse TV (man, the Board archives are great for searching for old gadgets!) only has one HDMI input, and no optical audio in — more importantly, it only has RCA audio out, and this doesn’t work unless the TV is on (bad for streaming audio to external speakers via AppleTV). Also, you have to go through the menu to switch on the external audio every time the TV is switched off). Bottom line — the best way to handle the ATV audio is straight to the soundbar, bypassing the TV altogether. The 1st Gen ATV has RCA audio out, which is great, since the soundbar only has RCA audio in. But switching to the ATV 2, there’s no RCA out.

    So, long story short: One of these should hopefully do the trick.

  • Jailbreak the ATV 2. Rather than do it all by hand like I did last time, I think I’ll just buy FireCore aTV Flash.
  • Install AirParrot. This will allow me to do things like fire up ESPN3 on the Mac and stream to the ATV. The alternative now is to move the Mac mini over to the TV and mess with all the wires — this will be much easier. (Down the road, when I get a new iPhone or iPad, I should also be able to use Airplay Mirroring to throw video to the TV from there — but it won’t work with my current iPhone 4 and iPad 1).

So, if my calculations are right, that’s $100 for the ATV, $16 for the DA converter, $30 for aTV flash, and $10 for AirParrot. So for a little over $150, I’ll be slightly ahead of where I am now, but hopefully with an ATV that won’t spontaneously restart every once in a while, and actually works correctly for audio streaming. Wish me luck!

Judging Music

August 11th, 2012, 3:44pm by Mike

I have a backlog of things I want to post, and here’s one of them.


Zite is great, in my opinion — it <i>always</i> finds interesting stuff for me to read, and somehow knows about things I haven’t told it about. For example, it knows that early in college, one of the genres of music I listened to was basically guitar-noise music, like My Bloody Valentine and Pale Saints. So I came across a blog post via Zite claiming that My Bloody Valentine’s <i>Loveless</i> was “the greatest rock album of our greatness-averse age.” It went on to say, “Loveless is hardly obscure if you happened to care about alternative rock back when the name Dave Kendall still meant something.” I definitely fall into that crowd — I would videotape 120 Minutes every week.

And while I vehemently disagree with the assessment of Loveless, I definitely wanted to read the post. The most thought-provoking quote, buried in the middle, was:

People are physically incapable of accurately judging the greatness of music that was released before they turned 13 and after they turned 35.

I think this explains why there’s lots of “great” indie music that I don’t really get. There’s definitely some that I like, but I’ve always found that when I’m in a rut, I usually discover something that’s not new to start listening to.

What do you guys think?

The rest of the article is worth a read — not because it goes off on how great (?) My Bloody Valentine was, but it was an interesting discussion of some issues of greatness, fame, and critical reception of music.

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