Archive for the 'Gadgets and Gizmos' Category

Slingbox Success Story

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

A friend of mine is from New Orleans, and is a huge Saints fan. The weekend they were in the championship game, we were headed to Tahoe with our families, and staying in a house with no TV reception. He threatened to leave early, to get home in time for the game. What to do?

We didn’t even have a broadband internet connection. But we did have a decent cellphone signal, and I have an EVDO phone that I can connect to my laptop. And I have a Slingbox at home. Aha!

Challenge number one: the cell tower wasn’t upgraded to EVDO, so we were stuck with 1xRTT which is much slower. I was seeing about 100Kbps sustained throughput. Fortunately, Slingbox is very good at optimizing available bandwidth, so the picture was okay, although a bit blurry (hard to read the time remaining) and blocky when moving fast. Sound was great, which helps a lot.

Challenge number two: nobody wants to watch the game on the computer, we want to watch on the big screen. Fortunately I have a Mac, which has TV-out. I also carry cables to hook the Mac into the stereo as well as the TV, so we had good sound and good picture.

Challenge number three: my home cable service was inadvertently cut the day we headed up there. So, Slingbox working great, but no TV signal at all. This was stumper. I scoured the internet for other streaming services that could get us the game, but aside from a few questionable-looking sites, I couldn’t find anything.

When all else fails, try asking someone else. I posted a question on LinkedIn Answers. Within an hour, I got two folks from my network offering to let me connect to their Slingboxes. Problem solved!

I connected to a Slingbox that happened to be located in Atlanta. He had a Comcast DVR hooked up, so we could even rewind and fast forward if we wanted, although it was a bit slow to respond. The whole thing worked almost flawlessly, and we forgot at times that we were watching over a pretty slow network connection.

My friend was ecstatic to watch the game, although his ecstasy soon turned to agony. We will be up there again Superbowl weekend, so we’ll have a chance to try it again, although this time it should be our own Slingbox. Now to hook the Slingbox up to the Media Center PC, so I can get my recorded shows…

Finally – a Bluetooth Watch

Monday, October 30th, 2006

I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these. I’ve wanted one ever since I first heard about Bluetooth, back in 1999. I wrote about it in A Bluetooth World. I’m sure it won’t live up to my expectations, but it looks like a decent start.

Sony Ericsson and Fossil team up for Bluetooth watch – Engadget

Idea book

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Well, the summer doldrums are in full force, and it’s hard to find the time to blog. I still have lots of ideas, but between vacations, family, and a real job (I can hear you laughing out there), I don’t really have the time to develop any of them.

I recently found an “Idea Book” that Louisa and I used while we were traveling around the world. Inside the front cover it says “Hanoi, Viet Nam, August 2000”. I find it fascinating to peruse, particularly since a number of the ideas have since become technologies in general use. For example, I had the idea of allowing readers to add links to a page, with two variations: actually editing the page (with admin permission) to insert the links, or browser-side with “sticky notes” that only the author can see. The first is basically Wikis, and the second is Mystickies or Diigo.

Since we were traveling at the time, and updating our site Shields Around the World from random internet cafes was a laborious process, the first idea was a travel journal site. Now, of course, there’s TravelPod and TravelJournals and quite a few others, but at the time there weren’t any good ones that we could find. The main idea we had that isn’t quite as well developed yet was the GPS integration, so it’s easy to see on a map where you are. We also wanted to mine emails from travelers for recommendations. I won’t take the time to write up a recommendation of a place just because we visited it. But if a friend emails and asks “how is this place?” I’ll definitely write back with some impressions. If those could be captured automatically, that would be incredibly valuable.

The book lists some fairly generic thoughts, like delivery of ads to PDAs via Bluetooth, and other Bluetooth ideas captured in a previous post, Bluetooth World. I’ll try to list some more ideas in later posts.

A Bluetooth World

Thursday, June 8th, 2006

When I first heard about Bluetooth in 1999, I thought it was going to change the world. The whole concept of Personal Area Networking made total sense to me, and I was already envisioning a world where various devices about my person could all communicate. I wrote a short essay of what I thought would come to pass in a year or two, but this was before blogs, so I actually hand-wrote it in a notebook.

The thesis was there would be a main “computing unit” that I would keep in my carry bag or possibly (if small enough) in my pocket – this would also include lots of storage. There would also be a “communications unit” that might be the in the same form factor, or might be much more pocketable, like my phone. I would then have peripherals as needed to access the computation, storage, and communications capabilities. The main peripherals I defined were a headset, a watch, an eyeglass display, and a folding keyboard, all communicating by Bluetooth.

The eyeglass display was inspired by a PC Magazine article from years before that showed a prototype that would give a full screen display using a technology like Icuiti‘s, and it was “just around the corner” for years. The folding keyboard is fairly obvious, and I actually own one now, although I don’t use it much. The headset has now become ubiquitous, and I see people wearing them at entirely inappropriate times, but that’s a topic for another post. The only one I haven’t seen until today is the watch.

Why a watch, you ask? Well, I wanted to have the exact same opportunity to choose to pay attention to a phone call as I do to choose to pay attention to someone coming in to my presence. This meant that I needed a very discreet and immediate way to recognize that person and make an unconscious decision, the same way I can acknowledge or ignore someone who approaches me when I am busy. Checking my watch discreetly seemed like an obvious way to do it.

Finally, today, I saw that Citizen is introducing a Bluetooth Watch. It is ugly as sin, and I would never wear it, but if there were one that looked professional, I think a lot of people would find it useful.

via Engadget

Form Factors

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

David Pogue had an interesting article in the New York Times recently about the uselessness of Microsoft’s Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) idea (also touted by Intel). I agree completely. And it reminded me of some thinking I did recently about my ideal form factors.

Basically, I want one device, I can carry in my pocket, that can do everything a pocketable device is good for. If the device doesn’t fit in my pocket, then it might as well be a 15″ ultraportable laptop, because I’m going to have to carry a bag to put it in. I don’t see anything in between making sense for me.

My ideal pocket device has a bright VGA screen about 2.5″ across. It also has a qwerty keyboard (I’m spoiled by my Blackberry). To fit in my pocket, the keyboard likely needs to slide out. It can take high-res photos and videos, and play and record mp3s. It works as a phone, and I can hold it up to my ear as well as use a headset. I don’t care about WiFi, because I’ll have EVDO or EDGE, and that’s fast enough for the limited surfing I’ll do. I want email, with the ability to file messages on the server. I want GPS and basic driving directions. Obviously it needs to sync with my desktop and web services for contacts, appointments, and todos.

For just about everything else: heavy email, spreadsheets, powerpoint, photo editing, etc, etc, I will use a laptop. Don’t try to shoehorn these things into my pocket device, please.

We are getting pretty close. Some of the new HTC phones seem pretty cool. But I’m still waiting…

Bluetooth Watch

Friday, March 3rd, 2006

I had this idea about 6 years ago, when I first heard about Bluetooth. I love the idea that when someone calls, I can just glance at my watch and see if I want to take the call. Even better, I’d like 2-3 “quick response” messages, like “I’ll call you back in 5 minutes” or “Send me email instead” to send back to the caller that only take me one click to send.

The point is to make the cellphone call the same thing as if someone walked up to you while you were having a conversation. You have the option to make a quick hand signal or other indication that tells the other person if you are interruptable or not. I want to be able to do that discreetly when someone calls.

Akihabara News – The Seiko Instruments Inc Bluetooth watch

Stompbox – In-Car WiFi

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

I want one of these, just because it’s cool…

EVDO StompBox Project

Laptop replacement strategy

Tuesday, February 1st, 2005

I have been looking for a laptop replacement. My only laptop applicatons are Outlook email, good web browsing, and basic Word/Excel/Powerpoint. I really want instant-on, and a small form factor, but I can’t compromise too much on the screen or keyboard. Sounds fairly impossible.

Well, I’m testing the iPaq hx4700, and it comes pretty close. Small, instant on, built in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and a VGA screen. Add a Bluetooth keyboard, fire up the built-in Pocket Outlook or IE, and I’m pretty close to what I want.

On the plus side, it was easy to install Betaplayer, and play some movies from a CF card – can you say portable media player? There are also lots of apps and games available for the PPC, although many of them don’t like the VGA screen resolution much.

On the minus side, MSFT makes it downright hard to use the device in any advanced way. You need extra apps to do standard file manipulation actions, or to open more than one web browser. And the worst part is the VGA resolution is not standard, and requires some kludgy free software to enable. And once enabled, many of the screen fonts are too small, and the on-screen keyboard is almost unusable.

A few things I still have to try are to get VNC or GotoMyPC running, so I can get to my home machine resources. I also haven’t found a good ebook reader that handles text files, I’d like to stop carrying books too. I need a portable Wi-Fi access point, to handle those backwards places that aren’t wireless yet.

I haven’t stopped carrying my laptop yet, but it is looking more and more possible. We’ll see.

Cory Doctorow’s Bag

Friday, March 12th, 2004

I should do this sometime, except that I’d be embarrased at what I’d find. One time I had to empty my bag at security, and I found not one, not two, but three PDAs, along with two GPS’s, more than one of which would not turn on and therefore needed to be checked.

What’s in Your Gadget Bag, Cory?

Another flying car

Saturday, December 6th, 2003

Now this is a toy, albeit one we’ve been hearing about for decades. The Moller one is a bit better known.

Aerospectives–Transformational Transportation