Monthly Archives: April 2010

Windows Media Center


So you may already know this about me but I am kind of insane when it comes to technology and the promise of it helping us run our lives. To me, the promise of making things easier is very alluring and I often fall victim to that promise only to be disappointed by the reality that the tech just isn’t ready for prime time. I am particularly obsessed with technologies that focus on communications and media.

One of my recent colossal disasters was Windows Media Center. The promise is terrific… have a computer in the office/bedroom/wherever record your TV, manage your movies and be an overall great interactive TV experience. The reality is that it doesn’t actually do a great job at any of them.

To begin, here’s my setup:

– 2.8GHz PC running an Intel Core Duo processor (E7400 Wolfdale)
– 8 GB RAM
– 3TB HDD space (across 3 drives)
– 2 external ATI Digital Cable Tuners (with one cable card each installed)

This computer is in my office. It’s running a wired connection to my router, and I have Xbox 360’s in the bedroom and living room. The Xboxes are the only things plugged into my TV’s.

The idea seemed sound, have the computer run my TV’s and the Xboxes serve as extenders that stream video from the computer. With two tuners, I could have both Xboxes stream live TV, have one live channel playing while recording something else, or record two things at the same time. Since I have been dealing with multiple TiVos (and all their problems), centralized TV tuners were a really appealing idea to me. Plus the additional power of the 360, with Netflix/Zune integration, DVD playback and games seemed like a no-brainer.

Well, now is the time when you can cue the ‘whomp whomp’ sound, because this setup just doesn’t work. Don’t get me wrong, this is *meant* to work but there’s just no scenario where I see this working as a day-to-day TV solution.

First off, you’re running Windows. I have Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit installed on the system and it’s a great OS. But, it’s not quite great enough to expect it to do everything it needs to do AND run your TV. Even basic browsing while you’re recording shows is a painful experience. Forget playing games of any kind while recording a show.

Second, when you’re recording two shows at the same time, the PC slows to a crawl. I’m talking slllooooowwwwww. In fact, it’s so slow that if it’s recording two shows, don’t even bother trying to watch TV because it’s not going to work. It got so bad that I needed to pay attention to the exact time certain shows aired. For example whenever Lost was on, I needed to go to the computer and shut off the other tuner because the computer would become so slow the tuner would drop frames while recording. Not exactly the point of having a DVR, and an issue I never had to worry about with TiVo.

Now let me tell you about the actual viewing experience. The 360 side is ok — at best. You turn the TV and the Xbox on, it goes straight into the Windows Media Center (a console setting you can turn on or off) and it puts you in the main menu. However, when you want to watch Live TV the whole thing sputters, your network traffic goes through the roof and finally it brings up channel. But, when it brings up the channel it drops most of the frames. Usually if you give it a minute or two it will start to display all the frames, but if it doesn’t you need to jump back 5-10 seconds using the remote which will give the computer time to catch up. BTW during this whole process the computer is maxed out at 100%.

God forbid if you turn on the TV, change the channel or bring up the guide on the half-hour or hour marks. Because that’s when the tuners are trying to change channels and begin recording new shows. If you make that mistake it’s at least 5 minutes of messing around with the remote, making sure the computer is ok and trying to figure out ‘what the hell it’s doing.’ Then, more often than not, a “Network Error” message will appear on the screen.

I used to have this saying to my wife, “it’s only stalling because we’re trying to watch it.” But at the end of the day, my question is ‘what the hell is that box doing?’

TiVo is a dual-tuner system that’s running a MUCH slower processor. And I don’t think I’ve ever had slowdown on a TiVo. Also, why does Windows Media Center require a hard-wired network connection? My TiVo’s have wireless connections and everything works just fine. I have a Roku box and it can stream HD over wireless connection, so what gives?

And I have tried to fix this. My original configuration was a 2GB Windows 7 32-bit install (on the same processor). I thought Windows Media Center needed more memory, so I installed the 64-bit version of Windows 7 and increased my memory to 8GB but no luck. I was wireless but WMC was always complaining so I went wired. It helped, but the experience is far from great.

So Microsoft, are you really trying to get in the DVR business, because this isn’t the way to do it? Perhaps the right way is for me to throw out the Extender concept and just use a dedicated PC plugged into the TV. But that’s likely to be a noisy, expensive proposition and may not actually solve the problem I’m trying to solve.

I think TiVo is a completely antiquated concept (why aren’t we all just streaming shows we want to watch off the internet directly to the TV?) but you know what, it actually works! I don’t think I’m going to upgrade my HD TiVo to the new ‘Ultimate” box anytime soon, but for me TiVo is pretty reliable. It’s a closed system, but it actually does a good job at what it’s supposed to do (record TV and let me watch it).

What’s your DVR solution? I would love to hear it! I need something that’s ‘wife approved’ because if she keeps having problems watching TV, I think she’s going to leave me (yet another reason Windows Media Center need to get it’s act together).



iPad or Netbook?

Hi there!

I’ve been using the iPad for a couple of weeks now, and I’m liking it more now than when I first got it.  I’m writing a review of the iPad that focuses on my personal experience with it, which I’ll be posting in the coming days/weeks.

That said, I have a bigger question that I’m wrestling with.  You may have seen the Jeff Jarvis re-boxing video where he decided to return his iPad.  His argument is with all the other gadgets he has, the iPad doesn’t fit in his lifestyle.  I completely understand that argument.

However, I have a different take on the iPad.  I think it actually fits really well with my lifestyle.  The problem is that I have a LOT of computers and devices in my house, and I really need to focus on simplifying.  Here’s a rundown:

  • iPhone – This has no AT&T service, so I basically use it as an iPod Touch
  • Droid – This is my only mobile phone.  I love the Android OS, and it’s a bit of a hackers playground which really appeals to me
  • iPad – For me, this is the ideal instant-on, take a note, instant-off experience.  I use it at work and home for many things but I’ll go into more detail in my review of iPad coming soon.
  • Netbook – Asus EEPC 1005HA running Windows 7.  This thing has terrific battery life, is a real computer with a video camera.  I have an external DVD burner that goes along with it.  This is a 1.6GHZ Atom processor with 2GB ram and a 160GB HDD.  It’s light and small.
  • MacBook  – This is an older MacBook.  It’s a 1.8GHZ system with 2GB and a 320GB HDD.  It also has a camera.  I just bought a new battery for it (old one died) and it gets about 3-ish hours.
  • iMac – Aluminum, 2-ish GHZ system with a 640GB HDD and 4GB ram.  It’s a great reliable system.  This is usually the computer my wife uses.
  • PC – Home built, fast, dual monitor, lots of memory, the fans are really loud, runs Windows 7, yada yada.  This is my primary computer but I sometimes wonder why I need it.  Usually if I’m playing games I’ll just use my Xbox 360, Wii or PS3.

So my dilemma is that I need to get rid of something because I have so many redundant devices.  I think I’ve narrowed it down but I can’t make a decision on which device to shed myself of.  I feel that an iPad, a Netbook and a MacBook is just too much technology to have to solve the ‘computing-on-the-go’ problem.

The MacBook is great.  It runs OSX, I can reboot into Windows (or use Parallels).  It’s a little heavy, but it’s actually a completely capable computer.

The Netbook is also great.  I like that it’s really light and small, has terrific battery life (~10 hours), it’s got a video camera and runs reasonably fast.  It is a small computer so it’s not great for writing long mails and the screen is a bit small for me.

The iPad solves a lot of issues that the Netbook solves, but it doesn’t have a camera and runs a closed OS (meaning it’s difficult to view/edit Word and Excel docs for example).  However, the iPad is super-light, is instant on, and is great for meetings, sitting on the couch, etc.  I have the Wi-Fi-only version, so it’s not something I can take anywhere and use, but the Netbook is wi-fi only as well.

So there you have it.  I either need to get rid of the MacBook or the Netbook.  I’m leaning toward getting rid of the Netbook because the iPad is becoming my daily use computer and I could use the MacBook when I need a larger screen and a ‘real’ computer.

Or I could just keep them all and eventually they will end up in my ‘pile of unused electronics.’  I’ll keep you posted!



What is up with Apple TV?

I’m really disappointed in my Apple TV.

I bought my Apple TV about 3 years ago.  I bought the original 40GB version.  I can’t say I waited in line to buy it, but I bought it a day or two after launch.  It was a crazy time in my life…  I was excited by all things Apple, and to me they could do no wrong.  I’ve been trying to ditch my cable TV for years now, and I thought Apple had the magic formula for doing it.  Boy was I wrong…

I hooked up my Apple TV and used it for about 3 weeks off and on, and then it pretty much went into my pile of unused electronics (which is pretty big, believe me).  I brought it back out when the 2.0 software came out and again when the Boxee beta happened.  Once I read about the Boxee beta, I started down the path of hacking my Apple TV (a path I take with all of my gadgets once I’m bored with them).  Luckily the Apple TV is easy to hack.

So here I am, looking at this Apple TV in my pile of electronics when I read about the 3.0 software.  Eureka! I think.  Did they add Netflix integration?  Can they stream from, Comedy  Did they open it up to allow viewing of different formats from directories on my Mac or PC (DivX, etc)?  Rhapsody integration?

Oh, it’s just a new interface for the same stuff?  Ok, I guess I’ll just unhook it again and wait for the next version…  Or, I can sell it to pay off my iPad?

My question to Apple is ‘why’.  I think the high level pitch of ‘bringing iTunes to the living room’ is a great one.  However, not only could it do so much more than it does, but there are tons of other options out there.  For crying out loud, the Roku box kicks Apple TV’s ass in all regards!  Netflix streaming alone makes the Roku a much better purchase (at only $100).  Plus, it can do Pandora, stream live news channels (albeit from irregular sources) hook into and more.

And don’t even get me started on the media capabilities of my Xbox 360 or PS3 with TVersity.  Stunning, to say the least.

So, Apple, why do you even keep this thing in your inventory?  Is there a promise you’re planning on fulfilling at some point?  Or are you just going to keep it around and ‘see what happens.’  I almost feel ashamed for buying the thing.  You know, building this thing took resources from the planet and people had to assemble it!  At this point it seems like that work is for nothing.  Furthermore, Apple TV is nowhere to be found on your main site, and I actually only found references to it in the store.

If you’re so focused on making the iPad a ‘media consumption device,’ then the least you could do is assign the same goal to Apple TV.  Last I checked, the TV in my living room is almost completely dedicated to media consumption!  And you’ve got a piece of hardware that works great with it.

Apple, please either make this device what it should be or just cut bait.  I need to shrink my pile of unused electronics, and I would rather use it than get rid of it.  Maybe I need to have a yard sale…



My first video game

Hey kids, it’s storytime!

This is the story of my first professional video game.  The year was 1988.  I had been working at Sierra Online for about a year.  I started in the video game business in the ‘copy room,’ which was the place where we copied the game data from the master disk onto the disks that went to retail stores.

Exciting stuff!  But, not only did I copy the disks, but I put the labels on the as well.  Pull out that old copy of King’s Quest 3, I was one of 4 or 5 people that put the label on that disk.

From the copy room I went to customer service where I ran the BBS (a Galacticomm 16 modem setup no less), answering tech support questions for people.  Truth be told I was actually pretty terrible at it.

While running the BBS, there was a project going on that needed programming help.  I had been programming for awhile taking my first programming class when I was in 3rd grade.  Ken Williams and Rick Cavin, the two guys running the company, saw that I had ambition and gave me chance.  My boss, I think his name was Larry or something, was not pleased because nobody would be running the BBS.

Even so, as soon as Rick and Ken asked me if I wanted to help out I jumped at the chance.  I was 17 at the time and thought I could change the world.

My first project was Silpheed for the Tandy Color Computer 2 AND 3.

More screenshots here:

The lead programmer was Daron Stinnett (super good dude) and my job was to help him out on level design and creating the artwork for the enemies.

If memory serves, my entire life for the next three months was creating and entering hex codes into the Tandy CoCo 3.  I was working 16 hour days and loving it.

The characters were created using graph paper, adding up the hex values and entering them into the code.  I had done this type of work before on my TI-99/4A and my Apple II +/e/c but had never done it professionally.

Level data was much the same way.  You figure out the direction you want the enemies to go and enter the values into the code.  Since the games were on cartridges it was a huge pain to test out full versions.

Daron and I were working side-by-side, me in my teens and he in his 20’s.  A lot of nights we would be until 11 or 12 at night.  During that time, Daron introduced me to a ton of cool music.  I remember listening to Squeeze – Argybargy really loud!

When the game was finally done, Daron went back to Synergistic (who had sent him up to Oakhurst to finish the game) and I went back to my job at the BBS, but only temporarily.  The next gig I got was doing all the Amiga/Atari ST/Macintosh versions of the Sierra games.  But that’s another story…

The crazy thing about this whole story is I never really realized at the time how lucky I was.  First off, putting me on a somewhat important title with no experience was a pretty gutsy move.  I only hope that Ken and Rick had a backup plan if I screwed it up!

But the stranger thing is that I’ve never done anything in my life other than make video games.  It makes me wonder if I had got a job at a gas station, would that be what I did for the rest of my life.

Since that time, the budgets have grown and the problems more complex but at the end of the day it’s still a fun gig.  Plus, what the hell else would I do with my life if I left video games??



iPad dealbreakers

So, I have had an iPad for a few days now.  Since there are SO many reviews on the interwebz about the iPad I thought I would take a bit of a different approach.  So far I love love the iPad (even though it has a terrible name…who the heck came up with that name, sheesh!), but in my daily usage of it there are some issues that I’ve uncovered.

I have actually been using the iPad for a couple of different things.  The first is a media consumption device.  For this it’s terrific.  News, TV Shows, movies, Netflix streaming, ABC (although I will say the show on ABC cut off halfway and I had to watch a ton of commercials to get back to where I was), it’s all good.  Frankly, and I can’t explain it, but Netflix streaming blows my mind.  It’s so fast and so pretty.  I, and I’m not joking here, watched Iron Eagle on Saturday over Netflix!  An 80’s military flying movie staring Lou Gossett Jr, what’s not to love!??!?

More importantly though, I have been using it to try to be productive at work.  This is where it gets a bit dicey.  I use a few tools to get around at the office.  The first is email.  The second is Evernote.  Email is terrific, it shows the email list on the left side of the screen with the full email message as if it’s the preview pane in Microsoft Office.  It’s really nice.  I used to have an iPhone, and the OS is really familiar to me.  But let’s be honest, the iPhone mail client isn’t perfect.  For example, sending a message with a weak signal is a huge pain.  I also have encountered a bug a few times where the email keeps getting sent over and over but still remains in my inbox.  That bug has almost got me killed a couple of times!

But my bigger issue is that the keyboard simply isn’t forgiving enough.  If I’m super-focused on what I’m typing it’s terrific, but the second I start to pay attention to something else (like a person talking in a meeting) my accuracy rate gets really (really) low.  In other cases I’m accidentally touching the message area of the screen which moves the cursor and I start typing in different places, which is pretty frustrating.  Also, I still haven’t figured out how to correct errors after the fact.  This one is my fault, but if I see a misspelling, I touch it and a new word comes up.  Why doesn’t touching the word bubble change the misspelled word???  I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

Evernote is OK, but for some reason I’m getting a weird error that won’t let me sync.  I need to figure that one out, but why couldn’t it just work??  I won’t complain too much about that.

Another dealbreaker is the lack of a video conferencing camera.  I had an argument, and I’m not joking here, about the camera.  Somebody told me, ‘well, if Apple didn’t put it on the iPad, maybe we don’t need it.’  REALLY?!?  Apple doesn’t give you food…  do you need that?  Apple doesn’t give you a car to drive to work… do you need that???

Seriously though, how hard would it have been to put a freaking video camera in this thing for Skype?  That would have made it truly a device from the future.  Oh well, iPad 2 I guess.

My last gripe about the iPad is the lack of multitasking.  I know the iPhone doesn’t have it, but you know what, it’s a phone.  I personally have a Droid which has multitasking but I can understand why Apple made the decision to not allow it.  Whatever.  But if the iPad is going to be a netbook/laptop replacement for me then it’s going to really need multitasking.  I need to be able to copy and paste text from an email into a note, or copy a picture from a website into an email.  If I have to start an app each time I try to do anything then it becomes a huge pain for me (and undoable in a lot of cases).

So that’s it for me.  I have a few more days on this thing before I give my final recommendation on whether people should buy this or not.  I will say, if you decide to jump in, get the Apple case for it.  It’s brilliant.  It folds out perfectly so you can type at a great angle while in meetings.  Plus you can stand it up so you can watch shows while the iPad is facing you without you needing to hold it.  It’s an amazing case and worth the extra money.

If you have any questions about the iPad, just ask!




Hey there,

Well, i am just getting started with this whole blogging thing….a little late to the party I know.

There are a couple of reasons I haven’t blogged in the past. The first reason is that I’m not a big pontificator of things. A lot of people who blog are like “let’s talk about the world and the things that are wrong with it”. While I don’t disagree with the sentiment I’m not one to go into it other than the occasional drunk conversation.

The second is that it takes so much time to be entertaining. I don’t know how David Sedaris does it! Anyway here i am blogging for a little while at least.

But I digress.. So I’m on Twitter today (@rlindsley) and the strangest follower started following me. iOmega. You remember these guys? They used to make the Zip drives and then followed up with the Jaz drive.

Zip drives were the shizzle when I was back at Microsoft in the 90’s. They were like 100MB or something like that and people loved them. I never used them because i didn’t think they were really enough space to do anything with. See, I had a cd burner back in 91 at the office (it was the size of two refrigerators and made by Meridian Data or something like that) and in 94 on my home computer, so I never saw much need for one. After all CDs were 660MB! WOW!

But where I got really excited was when they introduced Jaz drives. Those things held an entire gigabyte! That was a lot of freakin storage space. I could hold a lot of crap with that much space. If you don’t remember these, they were actually pretty hilarious little devices. The disks themselves were almost the size of a PS3 game case and when you put them in the drive had that mechanic motor sound that sucked the disk in (notice my spelling of ‘disk’). But damn if they didn’t have a lot of space!

I used my Jaz drive for probably two years. They eventually came out with a 2GB version but at that point I was over it, hard drives were much higher capacity and I was already getting into the Internet, which at the time was essentially a big hard drive.

Or maybe I’m getting my timing messed up. After all, I’m 38, which I think in Internet time is like 500 years old.

iOmega…. Wonder what those guys are up to now…. I could look at their Twitter feed i guess.