Category Archives: Hardware

Definitive Sound at a Rock Bottom Price

I’m listening to Frank Sinatra sing Antonio Carlos Jobim on some classic audio gear. It’s virgin vinyl, never before played, and running through the best speakers I’ve ever owned.

Sansui Model 2000 Amp

Pioneer PL-300 Turntable

Definitive BP-10 speakers with PFT-15 subwoofer:

Here’s a shot from the second floor looking down:

Overall, I can’t be more pleased. Like all true life experiences, there’s a great story behind this. Let’s start with the amp:

We found this Sansui 2000 amp in the furnace room of the Charing house in 2008 when we moved in. It took a year for me to decide to move it and only then to the garage. It had a matching pair of (now awful) Sansui speakers that were good only for garage use. The amp has inputs for phono and tape plus an AUX port.

Part Two: the Speakers

My brother-in-law Blair Smith found these Definitive Technologies speakers at an estate sake near his house. I won’t say how low the price was but call it less than a good dinner for two. This weekend we were in KC to see Blair and Mary, the kids plus Mary’s godfather Bob Jester and his wife Emilie. First thing I did was corral Blair and get the speakers moved to our car. Good news–they fit!

After a fantastic weekend and the trip home, I had a plan. I’d set them up in the dinning room just to test, the figure out what to do next. They haven’t moved yet and I don’t think they will.

A special thanks to Blair for making this all possible. Truly, these are the best speakers I’ve owned!

Getting Good TV without Cable or Satellite

I moved some AV equipment around last weekend, trying to setup the upstairs study to be a second room for “watching TV”. We don’t have cable or satellite (gasp!) so we get our TV from the ether or Interwebs. Major broadcast networks come from HDTV into the TiVo so we watch most of the current watercooler fodder when everyone else does. Past years of a TV series and movies come from Netflix for a little over $9 a month, either as a DVD or streaming over DSL. For the hardest to get items, you’ll need a computer with internet access to get to [Hulu](, the web-based outlet for the most popular content.

Hulu gives you what you want, say episodes of Burn Notice that would have aired on the cable network USA, for free streamed to your computer. You have to watch ads that can’t be skipped but they aren’t too annoying and there are usually less than 5 in a one hour show.

Hulu’s downside is the computer, forcing most people to sit in a home office or watch it on a laptop. Since that’s not really an option for us, I’ve been working on a plan to get the best of all worlds–Hulu on a TV.

There are plenty of ways to do this, the easiest is to use a $30 piece of software from a company called [MediaMall Technologies]( Their software is call PlayOn and it let’s you take web content and “play on” a media extender device like an Xbox 360. You need a fairly recent computer with plenty of processor and RAM and a fast internet connection. Combine these together and you get a great result. Free content on a large screen from providers like Hulu.

That wasn’t an option for me since the Xbox and the PC I would have used are in the same room. A recent technology shift at my mother-in-law’s house allowed things to finally work out. I now have a 17″ LCD monitor with all of the right features:

* Tall adjustable stand: I can move the display to a height that makes it easy to watch like a regular TV
* Multiple video inputs: The new monitor has digital and analog inputs so the Xbox can connect to the VGA port and the PC can connect to the digital port. No more cable-swapping to use one or the other.

Combine the new monitor with some Yamaha digital speakers (with multiple inputs) plus a remote control that came with the video card and we’re all set. I’m saving $50 a month and not sacrificing anything but screen size.

Brubeck Repaired!

My iBook (affectionately named brubeck) had some major surgery today. The inverter switch and cable assembly, the part that helps the machine know when it’s asleep by the lid position, had gone bad over the years. It’s a typical problem for these machines but the not an easy fix.

After reviewing plenty of official and not so official advice, I bought the part from [iFixIt]( for about $50. It seemed simple enough to since I was comfortable with the inside of a laptop and the website’s repair guides are quite detailed. I put off the repair for a solid week, knowing it would be difficult to pull off. I’m glad that I did.

I started at about 11AM and took an hour for lunch, finishing up at 4PM today. I saved the $250 to $400 in labor doing it myself but at one point, I truly wondered if I had lost the whole thing. I had reached the end of disassembling most of the machine when I realized that the instructions didn’t tell me *exactly* how to replace the part.

Google searching made things easier. A competing website had the pictures and instructions to fill in the gaps. Everything went back together inside of 30 minutes since I’d taken some steps to make it easier. Before I went started, I laid out a smooth blanket to do the work, making sure I could catch loose screws as needed. I got a variety of small containers and kept screws sorted by procedure, so one container had everything I needed. I kept the tools separate from everything else and even had a second computer next to me to keep handy access to live instructions. Twice I had to zoom in on photos to make sure I had the right screw in the right place.

I’m typing this post on brubeck so you know how the story ends. Since I’ve had this laptop, I’ve replaced:

* battery – $125
* power adapter – $65
* inverter switch cable assembly – $50

In all, it’s totally worth it. This is easily the most used computer in the house and we don’t want to be without it.

Return of brubeck

I brought [brubeck]( out of retirement today to see how the old guy would hold up. Actually, it’s every bit as good as my MacBook Pro. I’m running native software on the correct platform with MacOS X 10.4 as the OS. It’s remarkable how fast this is.

I’m writing this on MarsEdit 1.1.2 and it’s clear how far [Daniel]( has brought things along. I miss the Flickr integration already.

I do enjoy typing on the smaller keyboard. It has a greater key travel with a hit of ‘plastiky’ flex at the end. Even the key surfaces remind me of good days gone past–the left Command key is nearly worn slick.

*brubeck* is a time capsule, last used briefly in April this year when I thought I might sell it. The time before that? December 31st of 2006! It’s in need of a new PRAM battery (I think, since the clock isn’t right at startup) and the backlight intermittently dies when moving the screen hinge through its travel.

For an Apple iBook manufactured in 2002, it’s still useful.

Thanks, Apple!

Shopping in 1999 A.D.

Boing Boing Gadgets: “From the film 1967 1999 A.D., a short sponsored by the Philco-Ford Corporation, showing what home shopping would be like three decades in the future. Although they missed the frenetic pace of today’s online shopping experience—the housewife’s browsing looks almost leisurely—they guessed correctly on the abundance flat-panel screens (with multiple monitors, no less), even if they were off by about a decade. Oh course, they didn’t quite put together that we’d still be using keyboards for input.”

I for one welcome my new HDTV overseers

I bought a new television Tuesday night, a Westinghouse 32″ HDTV (32w6 if you keep up with that kind of thing) and I love it. It’s a great TV and at a great price. It’s the dirty secret of the LCD-TV world because a good portion of it appears to be made by Sony or with some Sony parts. I’m told the LCD is similar or identical to the one in 32″ Sony displays and the video circuitry is just step below, too.

I set up the TV and read the brief instruction manual. A couple of quick menu choices and it was happily sniffing away at my cable connection. I chose the automatic detection settings and I was not disappointed. I found hundreds of digital channels but most were block or contained no content. It did find all of the standard channels without problems and it was at this point that I got my first glimpse of what analog TV really looks like: yuk!

I was wondering if my money had been spent in vain when I hit channel 16.1 — my local NBC station broadcasting in 1080i, the highest resolution/quality my new baby could understand. It was near midnight and Conan O’Brian was on.

It was stunning!

I sat slack-jawed, stupefied at HDTV. It was so clear, much clearer than anything I’d seen before, even in the demo rooms and back wall of Best Buy. I found myself not listening to the words and instead staring at the textures of the clothing, the curtain behind Conan (you could almost see the fabric texture) and the color blotches on Robin Williams’ face.

When done right, HDTV is marvelous. I know now that I will have to replace all of my standard stuff for HD. A Series 3 HD TiVo is $799 plus $199 to transfer the lifetime subscription. That’s a little rich for my blood right now, but I’ll keep an eye on it in case I can find a way to pick one up on the cheap.

One of the best parts was connecting my original Xbox up to the component video connectors. I reconfigured the Xbox to display 480p (a higher resolution than standard) and made it aware that I now had a “16:9” TV. Combine that with the DVD kit and now I’m watching DVDs at probably twice the clarity that I had before.

It’s three days later and I’m still marveling at the quality. If you’re on the fence, buy a HDTV and you won’t be disappointed.

A new Mac in the house

When Tammy lost her job, I let them know that I’d be interested in buying her old Mac from work.  It’s a PowerMac G4 “Quicksilver” from 2001–the base 733Mhz model–and the called this week to say “come get it”.  We dipped in to savings for it and I’m glad we did.  While the iBook I have runs well, it’s a G3/700 and it’s showing it’s age.  Using Xcode on a 12.1″ LCD screen is an exercise in patience and the compile speed is slower than I’d like.

The new machine is much faster and supports most core MacOS technologies even though it’s 5 years old.  Considering the price, it was a bargain.  I wish I had money for a modern Intel-based Mac, but this will have to do for now.

It needs a name.  The iBook remains “brubeck” and the iPod is still “tjader”.  What should I call it?  The rules:

* A great jazz musician

* Easy to pronounce

* Clever tie in to the hardware or my personality