Surfing the web from the couch

Have you ever found yourself wanting to join the family in the living room but you can’t because you are tied to your office computer?  

If your answer is “yes,” then you have two solutions: 1. use your laptop.  Unfortunately, they get hot.  2. Setup an all-in-one computer, such as the iMac, on your living room coffee table.  

I moved last week and during the move, I became one computer richer as I now have access to my fiance’s 20 inch iMac.  As we only have one desk with room for one computer (mine right now), we needed a place for her iMac.  The only other flat surface with easy access to an outlet was the coffee table.  

Boy am I ever glad we don’t have a second desk.  I love this setup (unfortunately, she is not so happy with the “look.”).  With a wireless keyboard/mouse and a lower resolution (to enlarge the font), I can sit on a comfortable couch and surf the web/email/blog with abandon (and save my back from desk chairs).  

As an added bonus, minus hooking up a computer to a TV, this is an ideal way to watch all of your favorite web videos from Hulu/youTube, and could negate one spending money on an Apple TV/Netflix Roku box or something similar.

For those with families and whose lives center on the living room, this setup is even better (so long as you can secure the power cord).  If you spend a lot of time in an office but still need to go online when home, this is a great way to do it.

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Making a DVR

About three months ago, I became fed up with always missing the two programs I like to watch (PTI and Battlestar Galactica).  However, I did not want to pay Comcast $10/month (or so) for a DVR plus an upgrade to digital cable.  Buying a Tivo was out of the question as it is expensive and, once again, no digital cable.  What is one to do?

Well, if you have a decent old computer sitting around plus about $50-100, you can make yourself a DVR.  When I bought my Macbook Pro, my old ABS laptop suddenly became obsolete.  However, I have a penchant for buying fast computers and my old laptop was still very functional (albeit greatly slowed thanks to Vista).  I found a TV Tuner at NewEgg and went from there.

You can connect a computer (plus TV Tuner) to a TV at least two ways (depending on your computer’s outputs): 1. through S-video plus headphone jack or 2. through an Xbox 360/media center.  Since I have an Xbox 360, #2 was my route of choice.

A Vista/XP computer can connect to a computer (that is anywhere in the house) through a network.  Turn on Windows Media Center and select the same within your Xbox dashboard and viola, you should be connected.

However, there are a few drawbacks to this interface such as an inability to see the computer’s desktop if you prefer, say, YouTube videos to regular TV.  Now that I have moved and have access to my fiance’s 42 inch plasma, I am going to start using S-video plus a wireless keyboard/mouse.  When I do that, I will be able stop typing to you on this relatively puny 15 inch screen and hot laptop.  I hope it works as well as I imagine.

p.s. A few weeks after I set up my own DVR, my fiance informed me that her parents and her bought me a Tivo + subscription for my birthday (review of the TV in a bit).  Looks like my DVR is moving locations…

The violence of GTA IV

First, a disclaimer to my friends — I know you love this game.  Don’t hate me for not loving the violence.

Grand Theft Auto IV, the most recent chapter of the acclaimed series launched a few weeks ago.  It has sold a record number of copies and received an average press review score of 9.8 (out of 10).  For the uninitiated, that is unheard of.

I have played about a fifth of the game (if you are wondering how I found the time, it is because I barely watch TV, sorry networks).  Just like all the rest of the GTA games, it is violent.  But it is no more violent than games like Halo or Call of Duty.  Yet GTA is, at least to me, different.

GTA takes place in the real world and not some fictionalized alien planet like Halo or a fictionalized battlefield like CoD (although, I suspect, CoD might be more disturbing if we lived in a war zone).  GTA takes place in “Liberty City,” which is a game version of New York City.  You can steal cars, run people over, shoot, punch, kick anyone, etc.  You can do all the things in the fake New York City that you should never do in the world that is driving by your window while you read this.

What disturbs me about GTA IV is that the graphics are so real (although I think the character models are weak) that it is easy to lose yourself in the fake world and potentially mistake it for the real world.  You can’t turn off your TV and walk onto a Halo ring (however cool that would be) but you can do that with GTA IV.  As graphics technology improves, so will the “virtual” reality created by games.

In GTA, I find it disturbing to kill people, steal their car, run them over, and so forth.  Liberty City is supposed to be a living and breathing re-creation of reality.  I don’t enjoy doing these activities to my fellow pixelated citizens (who are specifically made to look and act like my real-world peers).  A lot (see GTA sales) of people do.

A large majority of society is logical, smart, decent, and mature and can distinguish between a fake world and a real world.  However, there is a subset of people who can’t.  The smart/decent people can easily become part of the subset if say, they have been drinking or are on some other substance.  Plus, I imagine that kids would have an even more difficult time distinguishing between the two.  Most everyone knows the difference between right and wrong but that difference is blurred in GTA.  When you turn off the TV but the world of GTA continues in your imagination, what happens?

I have yet to read anything that actually ties GTA to real world violence.  There likely is not a strong link.  GTA is a game.  Its creators should be commended for creating something brilliant.  People have every right to buy whatever they want (legally, of course).  However, ESRB should be enforced.

Go forth and enjoy destroying Liberty City but please, keep it in your Xbox, Playstation or online.

update on 6/26: Some teens went on a GTA IV wannabe rampage.  Check it here.

Sprint-Clearwire-Google-Intel-Cable Companies create WiMonster

The big news last week as I was graduating and taking my final law school exam was a consortium’s creation of a WiMax network.

The consortium is made up of Sprint/Nextel, Google, Intel, Comcast, Time Warner, and Clearwire.  The deal is valued at $12 billion.  For basics on the deal, read this from the New York Times.  Why did this deal happen?  Simple — economics.  Sprint was attempting to build their own WiMax network, Xohm, with a spectrum footprint that covered about 60% of the US (that number is not precise).  Clearwire was attempting to do the same using spectrum that covered the other 40%.

Sprint was planning on spending $5 billion to build out their 60%.  However, there was one problem with this scenario — imagine spending $5 billion to build a wireless network that did not work everywhere in the US.  Would you buy a cellphone service plan that only worked in certain areas?  Some people would (see Metro PCS) and frankly there might be a business plan for someone to come out with local only wireless broadband (see any of the failed municipal WiFi networks).  Unfortunately, as the failed WiFi networks illustrate, the time is not yet ripe for local wireless broadband.

Consumers need devices that will make them want to go online anywhere (see the iPhone or a Nokia Internet tablet).  Those devices are just starting to proliferate as people begin to need the internet anytime, anywhere.  As relatively early adopter, I don’t know what I would do without internet/email on my phone.  Once everyone else gets a taste, they will need it as well.  The problem with the Sprint or Clearwire plan when standing alone is that few people would want to buy a device that only works in part of the country.  Imagine taking your $300 WiMax Sprint enabled device from DC to Seattle only to find that you will have to sign up for Clearwire service to use the device.  Bummer and a barrier to entry.

Sprint and Clearwire needed to merge their WiMax divisions.  WiMax investment is not cheap (although Sprint’s original $5 billion is much cheaper than the $18 billion Verizon is spending to roll out FiOS).  Plus, you need devices with WiMax chips built in (Intel) with awesome cloud software to make the experience worthwhile (Google).  Throw in some marketing partners (Comcast/Time Warner with a nice quad-play offering) and you have a WiMonster.

Why a WiMonster rather than a WiPrincess (or maybe a WiiMaximus to be very vogue)?  Well, operational HQ for the new venture is in Virginia (Sprint), while strategic HQ is in Seattle (Clearwire).  Intel, Google, Cable guys are also located all over, have strong leaders with strong opinions, and disparate interests.  This deal holds plenty of potential but also myriad risks.  The new leaders need vision and strength.

I hope for the best (plus I like rooting for the underdog, aka Sprint).  I want WiMax everywhere as I am tired of being tied to my home Wifi connection and I won’t pay for a 3G connection.  I want every device I own to be connected — from my computer to TV to my fridge to my AC.   Cross your fingers and prepare for the future!

Where I’ve been

My last post was a month ago. I am not a serial blogger but that is too long. While I do not believe in excuses, here are a few: 1. bought a condo, 2. finals, 3. graduate, 4. move to DC.

In between unpacking sessions, I plan on writing some new posts. However, things may become really slow this summer as I study for the Bar.

Time to write…