Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

HTPC – Home Theater PC

January 20th, 2011 3 comments

I recently replaced our livingroom HTPC with this Jetway-Minitop from  It amazes me that this new machine is a quarter of the size of the one it’s replacing, yet it’s 4-8x more powerful.

Using software such as XBMC and MythTV, we take full advantage of computers hooked up to our TV’s:

  • Check email/read webpages, while watching TV in another window
  • Watch online content such as Netflix,, Hulu,, YouTube, etc
  • Play games on “the big screen”
  • Family scripture study @
  • Play music/audio books from our library (stored on the file server)
  • An “extra PC” handy in case Mom and Dad are using both desktops
  • Instant viewing access of our home video archive
  • Instant viewing access of our recorded TV shows

Last two are the bread and butter — we record and archive TV shows using MythTV, and have amassed a collection of 600+ kids shows/movies/cartoons, and 200+ educational documentaries.  Even more, MythTV strips the commercials and compresses the archived video.

This enables scenarios such as automating MythTV to record all Disney movies as they air, strip the commercials, then put them in the Kids/Movies folder for later viewing.  According to, it would even be legal to share these recordings with our friends and family!  The large amount of educational content we’re archiving from PBS, Animal Planet, History, Discovery will serve our kids for years to come.

(Side note: using SubSonic, we can access and watch all of our TV recordings and video archives remotely via web browser or Android phone)

The Jetway Mini-top (right) is a fraction of the size of the HTPC it's replacing.

Videos are usually viewed fullscreen, but Transformers was minimized for the photo.

A direct screenshot of our HTPC in the living room

Instant access to a growing library of 200+ documentaries and 600+ kid shows/movies

The Death of the Phone Call

January 6th, 2011 1 comment

I recently came across this interesting article on about the decreasing use of phone calls.  It wasn’t long ago that many of us (such as Tia) were not at all into texting (SMS) and thought that it made more sense to just pickup the phone and place a call:

According to Nielsen, the average number of mobile phone calls we make is dropping every year, after hitting a peak in 2007. And our calls are getting shorter: In 2005 they averaged three minutes in length; now they’re almost half that.

Consider: If I suddenly decide I want to dial you up, I have no way of knowing whether you’re busy, and you have no idea why I’m calling. We have to open Schrödinger’s box every time, having a conversation to figure out whether it’s OK to have a conversation. Plus, voice calls are emotionally high-bandwidth, which is why it’s so weirdly exhausting to be interrupted by one.

The telephone, in other words, doesn’t provide any information about status, so we are constantly interrupting one another. The other tools at our disposal are more polite. Instant messaging lets us detect whether our friends are busy without our bugging them, and texting lets us ping one another asynchronously. (Plus, we can spend more time thinking about what we want to say.) For all the hue and cry about becoming an “always on” society, we’re actually moving away from the demand that everyone be available immediately.

In fact, the newfangled media that’s currently supplanting the phone call might be the only thing that helps preserve it. Most people I know coordinate important calls in advance using email, text messaging, or chat (r u busy?). An unscheduled call that rings on my phone fails the conversational Turing test: It’s almost certainly junk, so I ignore it. (Unless it’s you, Mom!)

Source: Clive Thompson on the Death of the Phone Call (

Categories: Technology Tags: ,

Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT Austin

October 23rd, 2010 No comments

Last week I joined a few colleagues at work on a field trip to the Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT Austin.

A few of the highlights of our tour:

  • Ranger – a supercomputer which was ranked fourth fastest in the world in June 2008.  Ranger accurately predicted the path of Hurricane Ike 3 days before it hit Houston in 2008.

  • Visualization LaboratoryStallion, a 307 megapixel tiled-display system.  They’ve taken 23 Dell gaming machines and combined them with a grid of 75 Dell 30 inch flat panels to produce an amazing unified screen.  Also on display was a 3D HDTV demo.

  • Fluid Immersion Cooling System – Apparently it’s more cost effective to cool servers with mineral oil than it is with conventional airflow (fans).  TACC had a complete rack of servers submerged in mineral oil.  It was quite strange to see computers, immersed in liquid, turned on with lights blinking.  The system is made by Green Revolution Cooling.

Fluid Immersion Cooling System (by Green Revolution Cooling)

TAAC Visualization Laboratory

The Google Nexus One

January 9th, 2010 1 comment
Price Comparison

Price Comparison: iPhone vs Pre vs Droid vs Nexus One

On January 5th Google released its media hyped “iPhone-killer” the Nexus One (built by HTC).  Being the kind husband that I am, I decided to gift my G1 (the first Android phone) to Tia, which left me with no choice but to upgrade to the Nexus One (N1).  I ordered Tuesday morning right as they went on sale and received the phone Thursday afternoon.

Compared to the iPhone 3GS, the N1 has a larger screen, more memory, and a faster CPU — which makes it the first phone in my opinion that can truly compete with Apple.

Note:  The Nexus One is not to be confused with the recently released Motorola Droid.  They both run the “Android” operating system from Google, but they are two different phones.

Below I will provide a short overview of what I love about the N1 followed by a short video demonstration:

  • Free turn-by-turn GPS navigation
  • Google Account Integration:
    • Gmail
    • Contacts / Calendar
    • Google Talk
    • Google Voice
    • Picasa
  • Facebook Integration
  • Speech-to-text synthesis
  • 20,000 Apps (mostly free)
  • Wireless Internet Sharing –> laptop
  • Brilliant User Interface
    • Interactive Widgets
    • 3.7″ Screen
    • Touch / Multitouch

My favorite apps: (all of which are free, except for the Nintendo emulator)

  • Google Maps (w/ turn-by-turn GPS Navigation)
  • Facebook – I’m not much of a facebook’r, but the seamless integration here is pretty neat.  For example, when I go to call someone in my address book, it shows me their latest Facebook update.
  • Locale – Automatically changes your phone settings (e.g. ringer / volume / brightness) based on your predefined criteria (GPS location, time of day, etc).  For example, Locale turns off my ringer when I arrive in downtown Houston each morning for work.
  • Nesoid – Nintendo emulator.  (play those nostalgic NES games in your downtime)
  • Pandora – Internet radio.
  • ShopSavvy – Scan a barcode on a product and it gives you a map of local stores selling the item (w/ price).  It uses the phone’s camera to scan the barcode.
  • Shazam – The phone can “listen” to music and tell you what song is playing (with the option to purchase it).
  • Where’s My Droid? – Text your phone a secret word and it will ring for 3 minutes to help you find it.  Also provides an enhanced option to have the phone text you back a link to Google Maps with its location pinpointed.
  • Scriptures – Instant access to the Bible, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine Covenants (and Koran).
  • Wireless Tether – Turn your phone into a wifi hotspot for your laptop.  (requires that you void your warranty and install custom software)

Google Maps – Facebook – Locale

Nintendo Emulator (running on old G1) – Pandora Internet Radio

ShopSavvy: (scan your bar code and find the cheapest / nearest retailer)

Where’s My Droid? – Shazam

Scriptures – Wireless Internet Sharing – YouTube

I’ve also grown fond of the following widgets:

  • Webcam Widget – View webcam images on your phone.  I use this to tap into my home surveillance system (first image below, green background).
  • Facebook Friends Status
  • Pandora Control
  • Weather / News
  • CalWidget

Webcam Widget(s) – Facebook Widget – Pandora Internet Radio

Weather / News – CalWidget

It’s only been a few days but I’m extremely impressed with the build quality and user interface of this thing. Definitely a huge improvement from the G1.  If you’re in the market for a new phone you should seriously consider the N1 (especially if you use Facebook / Gmail / Google Voice / Picasa / Google Calendar / etc).  Also note that the even though the Motorola Droid runs Android (like the N1), the Droid’s much more expensive with slower hardware.  However, if you want a physical keyboard (which the N1 lacks), then the Droid is your best bet.

My N1 in action:

Categories: Reviews, Technology Tags: ,