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Archive for the ‘Computer Hardware’ Category

A Sad Day in Pyslent History

February 24th, 2021, 4:45pm by Mike

Fry’s Electronics is going out of business. I think about Fry’s every time I go to Microcenter, the crappier version of Fry’s here in Boston.

When was the last time that you guys went to Fry’s?

Home Wifi Re-engineering

February 12th, 2017, 11:44am by Mike

What do you guys have going on for home networking these days?

I spent the better part of yesterday moving modems and routers around and reconfiguring to try to get good coverage throughout the house. I think I’ve settled on something that’s working for now. Curious what you all have, whether it works, and a side question of what, if anything, you do for parental controls on your home internet (we’re still a ways away, but interested on your take).

We have cable internet.

  • We currently still have 25Mbps down / 5 up, which sounds totally crappy, but speed tests say this is what we’re actually getting, and I’m not sure we need more (Netflix says we can get HD at 5 Mbps, and we need 25 for UHD — we have a 4k TV, but there’s not much 4k content). 
  • Comcast has a deal where we could probably upgrade to 200 Mbps for about the same price (assuming we give up our basic cable TV, which we don’t use at all), but we’d have to upgrade our cable modem for $100, so I’m not sure it’s worth it. 

Our main router is an Asus RT-AC66U.

  • Our TV, AppleTV, and an old Apple AirPort Extreme (working as a switch only, no wireless) are hooked up via gigabit ethernet.
  • About 20 other things are connected via wifi — this is a combination of laptops, desktops, phones, iPads, AppleTVs and an old Airport Express, two Echo dots, wireless speakers, Nest thermostats and smoke alarms, IoT light switches and plugs, and even an Amazon Fire Stick. Our two desktop machines (one of which is this server) are connected to the AirPort Extreme via ethernet.
  • The Asus router is running only the 2.4GHz band — running the 5GHz network in parallel was causing issues with some devices staying attached when moving to a range where the 2.4GHz band was actually better. 
  • After moving things around the house, messing with channels, and turning various radios on and off, we get over 75% signal strength from the basement to the 2nd floor, and a pretty steady 130Mbps internally. Since we only get 25Mbps into the house, it seems like upgrading the wifi won’t buy us anything at this point. When we stream stuff off our server internally, everything from the server to the TV is over ethernet, not wireless.

In the future, there are a couple upgrades I’d like to make, but if things keep working now, I think I have some time:

  • Upgrading our cable internet is a no-brainer except for the $100 modem. It kind of pisses me off that I could get 8x the speed at the same monthly cost, but then again, I don’t think I actually need the speed. 
  • I foresee a time when we’ll want to have pretty robust parental controls on personal devices for the kids, but we’re not there yet. I want to make sure we have some router system that can implement at least device scheduling and per-device web filtering. We’ve heard horror stories.
  • Finally, I’m interested in this new mesh networking gear, like the systems from EeroGoogleNetgearLinksys, and a bunch of others (and I know some of these aren’t technically “mesh”). They seem to simplify all the crap I went through yesterday, have the potential for good parental controls, and promise easy, centralized network management. But honestly, my ideal state is to have this all set up and never have to worry about it again. 

New Tech

November 19th, 2015, 10:03pm by Mike

I can’t do this in 140 characters, but wanted to run down the new tech I’ve gotten lately. Let’s bring The Board back to its roots!

First, I got a new job, which got me:

  • An iPhone 6, 64GB. Best thing by far is the Touch ID, and I’m already used to the bigger screen — probably because it’s getting cold here and I have coat pockets. I would have wanted the 6S, but this one was free from work. 
  • A Dell laptop. It’s actually pretty nice. At this point, I love having a Mac at home (esp with an iPhone), but I’m addicted to features in Excel for Windows (keyboard shortcuts and pivot tables, to start), PowerPoint add-ins and macros, and OneNote, none of which have feature parity in the Mac. 

I’ve also recently gotten:

  • A Lenovo laptop. I bought this before leaving my last job, since I need a machine that doesn’t belong to some company that can do things like open archived emails. I got this refurbed ThinkPad X220 for $250, and we got Office 2016 for $10 from Joanie’s work. Btw, are any of you using Win10? Should I upgrade from 7?
  • A Pebble Time Round. My third Pebble. It looks like a normal watch (I got the black one), and is about the thickness of one of those thin Skagen watches. The software is much improved from the original Pebbles, and I really like the Timeline UI. And it was $225, so much cheaper than the Apple Watch. We’ll revisit the Apple Watch when v2.0 comes out, but so far, this one is great. 
  • Lots of bike stuff. I’ve been riding indoors on a trainer in my basement, where I have our old TV set up to watch videos or use Zwift. It’s not nearly as good as riding outside, but better than not riding. 

And not tech, but I’m excited to go and pick up our Advent Beer Box in the next couple of days. 

Anything new and exciting from you guys?

Thoughts on Surface

June 19th, 2012, 12:02pm by Kelvin

Microsoft unveiled Surface yesterday, a tablet that represents their first computer products under their own brand. No idea what it means strategically in the long term for Microsoft or their hardware partners, but I think it’s safe to say that no one could else in Microsoft’s value chain could have pulled off a product suite announcement with as much fanfare and excitement as Microsoft just did. Surface is exciting to people in a way that no Lenovo, HP or Dell product has ever been.

I’ll leave the discussion of Windows 8u (and Windows RT) for another day. Suffice to say that the new Surface runs one or the other, and that means it has a cool, touch optimized tile interface like on Windows Phone. It also may or may not run all your old Windows programs. Not confusing at all :).

Design-wise, it has a kickstand that holds the tablet up 68 degrees from the horizontal when the tablet is in the landscape (widescreen) orientation. In this position, it is resting on the hinge of its cover, which flaps out and forms a touch keyboard. I would link a picture, but that’s hard to do from my phone. Imagine a small laptop, and that’s the general form factor.

While this makes for a cool demo, I find it a problem for a few reasons. As a laptop, it works as long as you are on a table top. Put it in your lap, and it won’t be stable. Ditto on your couch armrest or bed (where my laptop would be most of the time if I ever used it at home). Moreover, I use my iPad in the 22 degree orientation (slight tilt from horizontal) much more frequently. I occasionally wish my iPad could be at 45 degrees, but I never need it at 68 degrees. It’s not a useful position in practice, and yet it’s the only position the kickstand supports. To me it seems like Microsoft has bent over backwards to make this a laptop replacement, rather than look at how tablets are natively used In the wild. In the hand, as a tablet, I’m sure it’s fine, except Windows 8 does work much better in the landscape, which is awkward to hold with one hand (especially with a 16:9 screen aspect ratio, ugh).

The other thought I had was that it seems like Microsoft isn’t really positioning this as a big seller, despite the hype. They wouldn’t announce it 4-7 months ahead of launch unless they wanted “competitors” to copy. They are also only selling it through their 20 retail stores, which isn’t a recipe for success. They are just making a Nexus device, intended to be a concept car.

Day 5 with the HP TouchPad

July 5th, 2011, 11:42pm by Jake

Man, I mean man, there are so many things to like about this device, compared to a laptop or an iPad. I doubt any other product with this many bugs could’ve hoped to get 7.5 stars from This Is My Next. And if HP squashes them, it’d be a 9.5 in my book, if only the App Catalog could solve the problem that the Chiefs running game never did quite do during DT’s  heyday.

So what’s so great? Well, my 3 accessories arrived. I’m typing this post on the Bluetooth keyboard, solid Chicklet keys for sure. Meanwhile the TouchPad is strudily propped up on the HP case. Could even leave the case and use Touchstone charging right through it, and use the keyboard in much the same way. It’s really quite snappy, the random bouts of epic sluggishness are far fewer and further between compared to that which I became accustomed on the Pre. The screen is great, not just for photos but text rendering as well… Why don’t laptops render text so artfully as tablets?

Ah, but it’s a Palm 1.0 product, and what would that be without its share of bugs.Unlike the Pre, at least this sucker is genuinely finished. And polished. But persnickety bits persist in their own fashion. Random reboots are a few a day, although I now have gathered they’re more like interface resets rather than a few cycle. Thankfully, the former takes well under a minute while the latter takes not much more. When that’s happened, it took some Flickr Mundo settings with it, a couple or 3 times so far. Exhibition or Mundo with exhibition is not quite working, as it keeps beginning with the clock displayed instead of my Flickr wallpaper as it should. Exhibition is just a screen saver, for those not in the know, that works while it’s charging on the Touchstone dock.

Surprising to me even though it shouldn’t be, is the mystery of the jumping screen focus. Happens whilst typing in the browser, suddenly I’m magically transported across the page where I can no longer see the form field. Day 1 Pre bug, discouraging it’s still not solved. Bugs with many other apps too, not sure who’s to blame but doesn’t much matter to the user. Typing with the screen propped and the keyboard on my lap works quite well, better than it has any right. Flash settings aren’t sticking properly– either nothing plays or everything plays automatic, even when I’ve selected the option to disable. My Yahoo! Mail magically appeared after a 2 day absence. Rumors are the big bug fix is coming in less than a month, and once it does I would readily recommend it to anyone looking for a great web browsing tablet, social networking tablet or someone that wants a non-Apple tablet.

For now, only true gadget geeks, those with a faith that HP will plug holes in due course, and disillusioned fanboys with a glutton for punishment should bother picking one up. Luckily for HP, I fit neatly into 2 of those categories. Hmmm…. Looks like my shift key might be unintentionally sticky, through hardware or software. Keep an eye on that one. While apps are sparse, there are some gems. I believe that if HP pushes and pushes, and fixes the bugs and supports their devices better, the apps will arrive, though never in iPad quantities.

The HP TouchPad is here!

July 2nd, 2011, 7:31pm by Jake

After more than @ years, the global business unit formerly known as Palm has finally released a new flagship device, which is in the words of Josh Topolsky, the first real challenger to the iPad. Genius, yet flawed. Almost like the Pre all over again, really. Listening to TIMN Podcast, their comments were spot on. Fun to use, even if I’m just scratching the surface so far. The same inexplicable sluggishness that plagues the Pre remains, only less so. Coming from the Pre this is no big deal, but I imagine iPad users would be perplexed. The keyboard is decent, at least acceptable thumb typing in portrait mode. Apps seem good- like this WordPress app is pretty sweet and easy to use. It can lots of thing!

  • Bolding text
  • Italicizing, underlining
  • Although turning off text features seems to be downright buggy!
  • Bullets.

So I finally got underlining turned off. More generally, stacks works pretty awesome. Nice to have a nearly full keyboard available, especially compared to iProducts. Notifications are simply stellar, and I can even make phone calls! The accessories arent here yet, so I wont rmable too much longer. Autocorrect seems way too passive for a touch keyboard. But I do hear a major update is coming to speed things up and hopefully actually ship the Kindle and movies app. Looking forward to getting the Touchstone dock (which is in auto correct) and keyboard, seems like that could work really well. Will have to spend a few more days to discover its capabilities let me know if there are any features you want me to test.

Another auto correct note, some seems silly. It wanted to replace sre with Pre instead of are even though the p is nowhere near the s. Not sure if thats a special case or if HP is ignoring key location with their auto correct. I do Mike (auto corrected from oike) that it keeps a running tally of the autocorrected words. This review is very meta and now even more so.

Dang getting an error trying to post. Will have to sort that.

Addendum: so I never could get it to post from the TouchPad, doesn’t even show up in drafts. Ended up copying & pasting and sending an email (another story), then recreating some of the formatting here. Noticed Mike has an iPad test post in draft status too, wonder if that’s related? I’ll give it a go on another blog, and if that doesn’t sort it, wait for a WordPress update.

Dead Airport Express, replace with Apple TV?

December 23rd, 2010, 1:40pm by Mike

Over the past couple of days, I’ve lost 2 Airport Express base stations (one of which was formerly Jake’s), probably due to some weird electrical stuff in my house. These were the older model (no 802.11n networking), so I’ve gotten my use out of them over the 4-5 years I’ve owned them. However, their loss cripples my music streaming ability. What to do?

I took the units by the Apple Store to have them verify that they were dead — I had hoped that they’d have some more sophisticated diagnostics than I did, but no luck. Since I want to stream music, I need a new Airport Express, right?

Or I could get an Apple TV! They’re the same price ($99), both can receive audio over wifi for AirTunes, and of course the Apple TV has all sorts of cool new features like Netflix streaming and AirPlay compatibility. There’s only one problem: the format of the audio out:


The Apple TV has great connectors if you have a relatively high-end home theater system (i.e., you’re connecting to the LCD TV or receiver via HDMI, or using optical audio).


The Airport Express’s mini jack handles both optical (Mini TOSlink) and analog outputs (3.5mm), so you can hook it up to cheap speakers, like a clock radio or computer speakers.

So what I would need for the Apple TV is an optical-to-3.5mm conversion, which also involves digital to analog conversion. There are boxes out there to do this, but the $65 sort of kills the same-price argument. There are cheaper ones, too (like this one), with very mixed reviews.

Doesn’t really affect me, but the upside to the Airport Express is that it is a fully-contained router, which is nice, for example, if you’re traveling and want to set up a wifi network in your room to share the one wired internet connection. I’ve done this a lot, and it works, but is a pain because you have to have Airport Utility to change the settings (no web interface), and there’s no Airport Utility for iOS. I’m currently using one of these.

What do you guys think? Have any of you ever done any D-to-A conversion from this sort of audio connector?

Back to the Mac

October 20th, 2010, 1:35pm by Jake

The Stevenote is live. Headline news sure to be the NetBook Air. So far just some iLife news– not big for me, since I’ve graduated to the prosumer apps. Anyone ready to visit the Apple Store tonight?

There are Trains Everywhere in Lucas’ World

June 11th, 2010, 12:17pm by Kelvin


Casual Web Surfing

March 12th, 2010, 12:59pm by Kelvin

Mike recently asked Jake what user scenarios would be better served by a Courier rather than an iPad, and it got me thinking about how I would ever use either one. Primarily, to me, these devices are good for consumption of internet content, so I thought I’d brainstorm a bit about when and where I do most of me casual web surfing, and what device I imagine would be best suited for each scenario. Is there a place for a device between a smartphone and a netbook/laptop? 


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