Thursday, December 28, 2006

Want to buy a cheap scanner?

UPDATE: Sold through the magic of craigslist!

I used my cache of Christmas gift Best Buy cards to buy a new printer (an HP Photosmart 5180) to replace my trusty Epson that died after 8 years of faithful service. This one is super fancy n' junk. It's an all-in-one, so there's a scanner built in. That means I no longer need my minimally used HP Scanjet 2200c (see the specs here and here)

Everything you need is here. You get the scanner, power cable, and USB cable. The software and drivers can be downloaded here. According to HP's site, it should work with pretty much any USB-equipped computer running a version of Windows from the last decade. This is not a super high end scanner, but does a good job of scanning photos and a fantastic job of scanning documents for archival or copying purposes.

$25 firm. Cash only. Local buyers only. You agree to meet in or near the Eagan or Lakeville area (where I live and work, respectively) to pay and pickup. Why so many stipulations? Because I'm not desperate to unload it. Just looking to reduce my clutter and keep a good scanner from collecting dust in a closet. If I can't find a buyer, I'll just give it to a friend or family member (man, I'm a demanding salesperson).

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Questions on embedding MP3's in a web page

March 12, 2008 UPDATE:

I'm not sure if this option was available when I wrote the original post (see below), but now Blogger makes it extremely easy to embed RSS and iTunes friendly references to media files in posts.
  1. Go to Blogger's Dashboard.
  2. Click the Settings link for the blog you want to change.
  3. Click the Formatting tab.
  4. Scroll down to Show Link Fields and select Yes from the dropdown.
  5. Create a new post (or edit an old one). You should now see a Link field and Add enclosure link.
  6. Click Add enclosure link. An Enclosures section should appear.
  7. Under the Enclosures section, enter the URL to your MP3 or other media file. Blogger should automatically populate the value for the MIME Type field when you tab to (or click on) the next field.


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I'm playing around with podcasting (not really in the true iTunes sense yet, just embedding the file a blog entry) and am looking for information on how to prevent <embed> tag from automatically downloading the file. The idea is that I don't want my blog home page or archive pages that have multiple audio posts on them to take forever to load because they're downloading 4 or 5 MP3's. I know you can prevent the file from playing automatically, but I also don't want it to start downloading the file until the play button is pressed.

For that matter, perhaps <embed> is not the right solution. Is there a decent free flash player that anyone has experience with? I tried a few that I found via google, and wasn't too happy with them. Free is key. I'm hosting my MP3 files at OurMedia. Ideally the flash file itself would be a hosted situation, but I suppose I could find a free web host if it was something I had to download and host myself.

Another solution I'm considering is kind of workaround. Blogspot doesn't let you include javascript in your post html, but you can include it in your layout template. So I thought about assigning a specific id or class to the direct link I include in each audio post. e.g. <a href="http://blahdeblah.org/my.mp3" class="blogcast" >. The javascript would search each page for all links of class "blogcast" and prepend that section with a play button that when pressed would call a javascript function that would replace the button with the embed tag set to automatically play the file. Whew! Seems convoluted, but my attraction to that option is that it keeps things free. I'm cheap like that.

Extended warranties--sometimes it's worth it

Usually I poo poo the whole extended warranty thing, but in the rare cases I've caved to the extended warranty pitch, I seem to have had the strangest luck with picking the right products. When I bought a brand new NordicTrack Summit 4500X treadmill from Sears a little over 4 years ago, I didn't balk at the extended warranty because unless you think you'll use it a few times then hang laundry from it, that is the exact sort of product that seems like a prime candidate for shelling out for added coverage. If it's a decent brand, they'll usually cover the motor for the life of the product, but there are so many other potential mechanical and electronic failure points on treadmills. The display and controls, the incline motor, the belt rollers, on and on. Now take about 200+ pounds of a slab of pasty beef like me slamming against it for 5+ miles a day several months out of the year, and that treadmill is getting some serious use and abuse.

I figure in the time I've owned my treadmill, I have easily run close to 2,500 miles on it, if not more. So color me impressed that the thing didn't need a warranty repair until about a year ago when the belt started slipping to the point I couldn't tighten it. They came to my house and fixed it, no hassle, no fuss. A little over a month ago, the belt slippage situation happened again. This time the technician informed me he would have to replace the entire belt deck. Yikes! It took a few weeks for the parts to arrive, then a week or two more before he could show up again to make the repair. But he fixed it, and it now works like a champ.

Last Thursday, the day after my last repair appointment, the technician called me to essentially say, "Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you that I noticed your treadmill's frame is cracked. That is not a repairable defect, so I emailed the company, and they will be in touch with you about giving you a new treadmill." Nice!

Tuesday I arrived home to find an UPS express letter from Icon Fitness propped against my front door. It contained the form I would need to request my replacement and a letter explaining that I needed to go to their website, pick a new treadmill from any of their brands, and call them to check the stock before mailing in the form. Ugh...seems very 20th century, but whatever. I was given a budget of 1,499.99 (and I won't be charged tax or shipping and handling), as that is evidently what I paid for the first treadmill (I don't recall paying that much, but I wasn't about to argue).

Since the tread I own is a NordicTrack, and I was quite pleased with it, I decided to go with a another of their models. I went to the website, and they had suggested retail prices and "web only" prices. I wasn't sure which price was going to count against my 1,499.99, so I called the warranty company and left a message (it's nearly impossible to get through to a live operator, even waiting on hold). Last night one of them called me back, and fortunately, it sounds like I can go by the web only price. He also told me that when I picked something out, give him a call, and he'd give his honest opinion on the product. Boosting his credibility, he told me straight out, "Don't bother getting any of the models with a flat panel tv built in. We've had a lot of problems with those." A tv wasn't going to be a selling point, but that was good to know.

Right now, I plan on getting NordicTrack Elite 2900. Retail is $1999, and the web only price is $1499. Perfect! I left a message yesterday for the very helpful Icon Fitness support rep, and he called me back, gave it his thumbs up, and said they have it in stock. I faxed them the form last night and will follow up with a phone call Monday (I faxed them the form via a web to fax service I've never used before, so I want to make sure they got it).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The HDTV hunt continues

I stopped by Ultimate Electronics in Burnsville on the way home from work tonight to get a gander at a few more HDTV models. I was pleased to see they had one of the new Samsung HL-S5679W units on display. It's a 56 inch LED-based DLP rear projection. LED in DLPs is quite new. I was excited after reading about it because the LEDs are supposed to last for 20,000 hours. That's 6+ years if you watch 8 hours of tv every single day. The CNET review I read of this one raved about the color reproduction, but knocked off points for poor black levels and a "hot spot" or a spot on the screen noticeably brighter than the rest. Well now I've seen one in action, and sitting next to a Toshiba and a JVC bulb-based DLP, the Samsung's picture was underwhelming to say the least. The brightness was extremely uneven. I stooped down, looked from different angles, and tried every which way, but could not get a good viewing angle on the thing. Not impressed. So draw a line through that option.

NuVision, evidently a relative newcomer in the states in the tv market, also has an LED-based 52 inch DLP, but I have yet to see one in action for myself. I've heard good reviews on this model, but I'm hesitant to drop 4 digits on a first generation product from a company whose history of quality I'm not familiar with.

One thing I got out of my window shopping tonight was that some of the other tv models that haven't rated all that great in CNET's reviews looked just fine to me (I'm reading other sites, Consumer Reports, but I just trust CNET more on consumer electronics reviews--they are picky, but not ridiculously so like some hardcore videophile reviews). I also loved the picture on the Samsung 1080p LCD flat panels and was blown away by the picture on the Sony flat panels. But those sell at a premium.

Time will tell. Soon, my pretties. Soon.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

In the market for an HDTV

I've decided the time is nearing to upgrade my 27-inch old school CRT television to something more 21st century. Granted, I briefly owned a 50 inch rear projection DLP HDTV about 4 years ago, but severe buyer's remorse guilted me into returning it. DLP HDTV's were relatively new at the time, giving the unit a price tag north of $4,000. The moment I got home with it, I realized that spending that much money was not a prudent decision at the time, nor was it smart to buy an HDTV without fully understanding all of the available options and technologies.

This time, however, I'm prepared. I'm up to snuff on the technology (or so I think). I'm reading reviews and comparing prices online. I've stopped by stores to see display models in action. I also have a pretty firm budget. Here are my criteria and nice-to-haves:

-50 inches or larger.
-Must be 1080p and have at least 2 HDMI inputs that accept 1080p/60fps (I'm aware that 1080i vs 1080p makes little difference for movies and tv at 24fps, but I foresee using the tv for gaming from my PC)
-Built-in QAM/ATSC highly preferable, but not required.
-CableCARD nice, but not required.
-$3,000 or less.

I had originally decided on buying either the Sony KDS-60A2000 ($2200+) or the KDS-R60XBR2 ($3000+). Both are 60 inch rear projection LCOS models. The former has 2 1080p HDMI inputs, while the latter has 3. The latter also has an updated LCOS engine, a slightly brighter picture, and comes with a replacement bulb.

Every review I read said the picture on both models was essentially the same as the other, save a glitch or two in earlier production models of the KDS-60A2000. While the KDS-R60XBR2 had a brighter picture, it was not significantly brighter. There was also the somewhat shady issue where Sony took the unusual step of not providing a life expectancy on the projection bulb for the newer model. Is that why they provided the extra bulb? Is it going to fade out in a year, sticking me with an annual $300 bulb replacement bill? Nuts to that! So I decided on the KDS-60A2000. It's been around a while, and is proven technology.

Then I read in several forums about color uniformity and other issues that have popped up with the KDS-60A2000 after a few months of use. Some people had it, others didn't. But it was enough to give me pause. Then I thought if that was the case, perhaps the newer model was a better choice. But will people be complaining of the same thing for that one a few months down the road? Then I began thinking about the issue of bulb replacement. The thought of having to dole out a hefty $250-$300 on a bulb every 2 or 3 years dimmed the appeal of a rear projection model, despite getting massive size for the buck.

It also occurred to me that in the next 2 or 3 years, I'll probably want to buy at least one more HDTV to replace the one I watch while running on my treadmill. Perhaps going smaller and getting a plasma or LCD model is the way to go. 40 to 50 inches now, and 3 years from now, I'll probably be able to get a 70 inch or larger LCD or even OLED for the same price, if not cheaper. Ok, back to square one.

After several evenings of additional reading and research, I now think I've settled on the Samsung LNS5296D. It's 52 inches, has a 6000:1 contrast ratio, an 8ms response time, 1080p over the VGA input and HDMI inputs, and all of the other goodies I need. Some over at avsforum.com have complained of its overscan, but I can't say I'm personally all that concerned about it, though I will definitely try to see one in action in a store before purchasing one.

The downside? Currently the cheapest price I could find from a reputable online retailer was over $3500. But I'm not in a hurry. I'm optimistic that prices will come down in January. After Christmas and before the Superbowl is a prime time for tv purchases, and retailers will be trying to lure men into getting something to watch the big game on. For me, I'm not terribly concerned about the timing. If the prices and features aren't in line with my requirements, then I'm willing to wait a little longer.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

James Kim

I wanted to comment on sad news of the discovery of the body of James Kim. You may have been following this story in the national news lately. He, his wife, and two young daughters became stranded in the Oregon wilderness while returning home from a Thanksgiving trip. Finally this past Saturday, he left them in a desperate attempt to find help. On Monday, his wife and children were rescued, but the search for him continued.

Kim was a senior editor for CNET.com, a computer and consumer technology news and review website. He wrote regular reviews of digital music products and appeared regularly in vlog postings to CNET's sister site Crave. He also appeared each week in a segment broadcast to Tivo subscribers.

I had come to enjoy Kim's writings and appearances and trusted his opinions on digital entertainment products. Such an offhand and indirect connection seems trivial, but today's news hit me like a punch to the gut. I feel terribly for the wife, baby, and 4 year old daughter he left behind.

It's amazing the bonds we sometimes unknowingly form with people we've never met or likely never will meet. Perhaps that's why the community of bloggers seem to huddle together. We somehow feel involved in each others lives (and in some cases actually do become involved). When one of us feels joy, we celebrate with them. And when one of us suffers tragedy, we feel as though it were happening to a friend or family member. So here's to James Kim. He will be missed.

James Kim found dead

Sadly, reports are coming in that CNET senior editor James Kim has been found dead days after he left his stranded family in search of help and the subsequent rescue of his wife and daughters.

Full story at CNN

Friday, December 01, 2006

UPDATED: CNET senior editor James Kim and family missing

December 4, 2006 UPDATE: Kim's wife and children have been found safe and have been transported by helicopter to a hospital. James Kim evidently set out on foot 2 days ago to seek help for the family, but has not been heard from since. Find the latest here and here.

If you keep up with a lot of the tech sites and blogs, you may already have run across this story today, but James Kim, a senior editor with CNET, has gone missing along with his wife and two daughters during a road trip in Oregon. For more information on the story and info on how to provide tips to police, see the full story at CNET.com.

I very much enjoy Kim's appearances and postings on CNET and Crave, as well as his review segments on the 15 minute episodes of "CNET.com's tech tips and reviews" available through Tivo's subscription service. I hope they are found safe and sound.

San Francisco Police Department's missing persons flyer