Category Archives: Electronics

Dual Monitor Display Increases Productivity

I’m tellin’ ya – if you haven’t gone dual, you’re not ready to rule.

Someone who goes by the handle “imafrayedknot” left a comment for my Dual Monitor vs Single Screen video:

Productivity is about more than just the brute number of pixels. Using multiple monitors allows me to efficiently organize my desktop resources by using each screen as a partition. I use this triple monitor display.

With 2 monitors you would have a black bezel right in the middle of your line of sight between the two monitors. Three monitors eliminates this problem. Furthermore I’ve found that my personal workflow is natively three pronged – I put my central focus task up in the middle 21.3″ screen and support it with resources on the two rotated wing displays. I run photoshop or dreamweaver in the middle, with firefox on the left and internet explorer on the right, or outlook on one side, a spreadsheet on the other and word in the middle. It just helps me synthesize information efficiently. I love it and would never consider going back…It would be like working with one eye closed or something.

Once singletons see any two screens (or more) in action on the same machine, they’re always jealous. It’s not the size of the monitor that matters, it’s what you… nevermind.

Cell Phone Plans and SMS

I don’t use SMS. Dan Gray, however, – writing about AT&T’s SMS plans. A smart response has already been posted to his article:

It’s well known that teens love to text. To not acknowledge that is to be in denial. So, my take (and I am a parent myself), is that to give a teen or pre-teen a cell phone with texting capability, and NOT set limits, or at least sign up for the unlimited package up front…well, you might as well just write a blank check to the carrier. An $1100 cell phone bill, in my mind as a parent, is not entirely a reflection of “how the carrier’s are ripping us off” (see below), but rather a reflection of society in general, and how so many problems today are a result of parents not setting and enforcing guidelines. Kids NEED limits. Kids NEED to know that actions have consequences. Kids DO NOT need to see their parents call in and curse out some hapless CSR over what THEIR kid did.

Heh. I remember the first time a friend of mine told me about a 1-900 number – way back in the fifth grade. I had no idea it would cost money to use. Lucky for me, I only racked up $8 in charges… or was that $80?

Back to the charges. Yes, it’s well known that carriers incur just a fraction of the 10 or 15 cents they charge us for a text message. How else could they afford to offer unlimited for $10-$20? However, I honestly don’t have a problem with that price. It’s a free market, and the cost will go to what the market will bear. If we (individually) have a problem with it, then most carriers also offer the option to block all texts at no cost. Problem solved. If we (as a group of consumers) have a problem with it, then the solution is to collectively let the carriers know. Why else would Cingular and Verizon “suddenly” start offering an unlimited option for messaging? Out of the goodness of their corporate hearts?

it’s a free market, but unfortunately that “free” market still costs us a lot of money.

No, the problem *I* (and many others) have with the 10 or 15 cents, is that it applies to *incoming* texts as well as outgoing. Outgoing? Fine, you initiate that. But, unlike a call or a picture message, you can’t reject an incoming text. It’s sent, and you get billed for it. Period. *That’s* the travesty in my opinion. That *nearly* all carriers charge for something that’s optional, that you never requested, yet you have no choice but to accept it when it comes. You’re *only* two options are to just pay for it (or get a package) or put a block on all texts.

Yeah, I don’t even bother with SMS – never have, and likely never will. It’s just another way those mobile carriers can overcharge you (much like the medical industry overcharges). These compannies prey on the ill-informed consumer, and assume they’re not going to debate a $300 monthly bill and just accept it as the word of God.

Either incoming texts should be free, or their should be some way to reject them to avoid being charged.

Agreed. Then again, how long do you think we’ll have to wait for Google to decimate the wireless telecommunications industry?

26, 32, 37, 40, 42, 50… HDTV Hike!

Christie West sent me an email earlier, with really smart links pertaining to HDTV, and how the world is preparing itself for the eventual demise of standard televisions.

From the National Telecommunications and Information Administration:

Households using analog televisions will not be able to receive digital broadcasts after February 17, 2009, unless the analog television is connected to a box that converts the digital signal to an analog format, or the analog television is connected to cable or satellite service. While converters may be important to connect some TVs, other viewers may not need or want converters, such as those who have digital televisions or pay TV service.

From DTV Answers:

DTV is a more flexible and efficient technology than the current analog system. The switch to digital broadcasting will enable television stations to offer dramatically clearer pictures, better sound quality and more programming choices. Under legislation passed by Congress – the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 – over-the-air broadcast television stations are required to turn off their analog channels on February 17, 2009, and continue broadcasting exclusively in the digital format.

From DTVTransition.org:

On February 28th 2007 the Digital Television Transition Coalition began fulfilling its mission to inform consumers of the February 17, 2009 switch from analog to digital television broadcasting. The coalition is comprised of business, trade and industry groups as well as grass roots and membership organizations that share an interest in a smooth transition. The core mission of the Digital Television Transition Coalition is to ensure no consumer is left without broadcast television due to a lack of information about the transition.

Guess I’m glad I’ve already made the HDTV leap. The only tube we have in this place is the one sitting in our exercise room, and the only reason it’s there is because it has a built-in VHS player (VCR, for those of you who can’t remember what VHS tapes needed for playback). I can’t even remember the last time I… hey, do y’all remember tape rewinders?

Cutting Cable and Cord Clutter

My latest CPU Magazine article is out: The Power Of Power.

I recently moved into a new house in the Seattle area. Moving is anything but fun, especially when it happens to coincide with the same time frame as your wedding/honeymoon. Well, the movers we selected did an absolutely rotten job at packing our stuff. Cords were separated from their respective devices, and I’ll be damned if I know which ones match up. Some manufacturers were nice enough to stamp their name and the corresponding device onto the power supply and cord, while others were completely generic and without labels. Am I really to blame for this mess?

It’s a trend that must be reversed. CPUser “Randy” had a comment that deserved to be seen, if only by the hardware hackers of the galaxy:

While I agree that there should be some form of standard, when dealing with power adapters. There is one very significant point. There are many devices out there. Each one, usually for good reason, is designed to charge and/or run on a given voltage/amperage. The reason for not having extra circuitry, with which to convert some incoming standard towards something that will work with the needed circuitry, is that this “circuit” would require a certain given space. In today’s world, every consumer wants more of everything fit into a device except that they want it to be smaller. If you could design a tiny circuit, say .1 to .3 mm cubed, that could convert some universal standard, say standard home 115VAC and automotive ~12VDC to whatever we need to run the circuitry. Let us know. It would be greatly appreciated.

So is such a thing possible? What say you, power people? I promise to give ‘er a good “plug” or two. Pun intended.

The iPhone is Going to Kill

So, here’s what my brother (who wants to start blogging at some point) had to say about Apple’s iPhone:

This is one of the coolest pieces of technology to come out in a while… it’s like having a mini-laptop in your hands. The ultimate media device. The catch? Cingular has the rights at this point in time (they have the worst wireless phone service). If Apple had any brains, they would get this product in the home of every American family. After 6 months of exclusive rights to Cingular, they should release an iPhone on Verizon, US Cellular, every wireless provider.

If Verizon got this phone, I would find a way to buy it… takes the place of a phone, iPod, portable DVD player, Internet and email station. Oh, let’s not forget the 2 megapixel camera built-in.

What’s next? They are going to have a phone that does all of this – but then you can project an image on a wall and hook up a small keyboard and mouse and use it as a laptop, run Photoshop and Illustrator, or catch up on your spreadsheet work while in a airport.

My brother Adam isn’t a geek – and he’s never written to me about any other device (from Apple or any other manufacturer). It’s not even out yet and I already hate the iPhone… largely because someone else didn’t make it four years ago. Seriously. Apple gets the consumer in ways that no other company ever will. It makes my new Smartphone seem so… ancient.

Wireless Intercom

NOVI WI-4C 4-Channel FM Wireless Intercom: “The easy, portable, plug in way to communicate throughout your home or office. No installation is required. Westinghouse personal intercoms allow family members to communicate with each other, room to room and between floors. All Westinghouse intercoms are fully compatible with each other, so you can expand your system at any time. Just plug them into any electrical outlet, turn them on and talk.From any Westinghouse intercom, you can call any single channel or conference with multiple locations at once. You can also use the intercoms for one way audio monitoring of the nursery, playroom, pool or the bedroom when family members are sick.Two channels allows you to talk to or monitor any number of rooms; No installation or batteries required; Two way communications; One way audio monitoring; Excellent sound clarity; Press Call to page another room; Press Talk to converse; Press Lock for continual monitoring; Up to 1500 foot range; Full one year limited warranty; Lock button provides continuous communication; Compatible with all Novi wireless intercoms; Package includes 2 units.”

Home Security and Electronics

Ken Thomson in San Francisco, CA sent me an email this morning with a handful of helpful hints – especially if I’m trying to build the geekiest Fort Knox on the planet:

Being a retired real estate broker, I can tell you how to accomplish what you want. You are right; brand new is best of all because it lets you have all the other things on your wish list with ease. In addition, if you can find a builder who will work with you (i.e., let you know when the plumbing, electrical, and duct work will be roughed in and who will get out of the way while all the extra goodies are placed inside the walls).

I have never bought a house in my life. Every house I’ve owned, I’ve built myself under the theory that if you want it done right, you’d best do it yourself. Here are some of the things inside my walls…

  1. 1,000 feet of high-quality TV cable originating from a central point at the front of a house closest to a telephone pole. In the bedrooms, the TV outlet should always be on the side of the bed furthest away from the door. Telephone wires should be on the side of the bed nearest the door.
  2. An intercom system with transmitter / speakers in the bedroom, in a hallway, and in the garage / workshop area. That way, you won’t have to get out of bed to answer the door and it makes getting rid of a pest a lot easier if you can talk to them through the front door speaker.
  3. A blinker circuit with a LED in a shady jam of all doors and garage doors that blinks every 3/4ths of a second. It warns potential burglars that there are other surprises in store for them and they will go elsewhere.
  4. A relay that makes a loud clack when the pressure mat under the front door mat is stepped on. And it also turns on the overhead light. this is even more convincing to a potential burglar.
  5. Access to a hidden switch that, when activated, opens the garage door. This will take care of the times when you lock your self out.
  6. Concealed wiring running between the living room wall where you plan on putting the stereo equipment and where you want the speakers to be in the living room and a second set of wires going to the master bedroom.
  7. A small relay running off 24 volt AC that when tripped by the mailman putting your mail into the slot will tell you that your mail has arrived.
  8. In a multi story building, wiring from near the front door, in the garage and upstairs that will cause the garage door opener to function. Saves you running up and down the stairs.
  9. An off switch for the door chime if you don’t want to be disturbed.
  10. A warning light circuit that will inform you if the garage door is not fully closed.

Some of those features would be wonderful to have, though I may go the wireless route if I can. Not only would wireless units be more easily upgradable, but I wouldn’t necessarily have cords and cables flying all over the place (inside the walls or otherwise). Wireless intercoms, wireless monitors, etc. I think as long as we have Cat5e strewn about the house, most of our wired needs will have been met. Ken continues:

Getting your own home built can often be cheaper than buying an existing home if you play it smart and get the land cheaper than anywhere else. One way to do this is to decide on one or two towns where you’d like to live, and then gong to the town hall tax assessor’s office and asking how you go about bidding on the auction of city properties foreclosed for non-payment of taxes.

For example, in NYC you write to: The Department of Real estate, 2 Layfayette St, New York, NY 10007 and ask for a copy of the nest ‘IN REM’ sales booklet and they will send it to you. In San Francisco, you bring a SASE with extra postage on it (to cover future postage increases) and they will send it to you. Once you get one, you will have to go back and give them another SASE. That’s how I got my lot at a cost that’s way less than the runaway prices in San Francisco.

Good hunting! Remember: building a house is not a big job. It is a thousand little jobs. It’s a lot like eating an elephant – you keep at it until there is nothing but bones left on your plate.