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New toys: iMac and Sonos

A couple of early Christmas presents for the new house. A new iMac for the kitchen nook and a Sonos system. I guess I haven't bought ram in a while because it was under $100 to upgrade the iMac to 4G with ram from OWC. The iMac is a perfect fit for the kitchen. The black and aluminum matches the counters and appliances in the kitchen nicely.
I had been eyeing a Mac Mini for ages, but Apple doesn't seem very interested in the Mini and for the price the iMac seemed like a much better deal. Bought it from Amazon and it didn't come with Leopard but Apple has an update program so the upgrade is mostly free. They want $10 for shipping me the CD. I already have another copy, so it would be nice if they would just give me a serial number.

As nice as the iMac is, the Sonos system is more interesting. I have had various mechanisms for playing music from computers to decent speakers over the years, but they were all inconvenient hacks. I don't want to have to use a computer to control the music, and I definitely don't want to do it via a clunky TV-based interface either. The Sonos with its controller does a great job of taking the hack out of the system. It is basically a wireless meshing modular music system. You put either an amplified box with speakers connected, or an unamplified box connected to an existing stereo in each room and the single controller can then control each zone individually or you can link them all up so all the zones play the same music. Each box also has a Line-In that can be used as a source and played in any other zone

I wanted the iMac to be able to go to sleep without killing the music, so I used a 250G Simpleshare drive I had sitting around. One of these days I need to figure out a real NAS system for the house, but for now 250G is plenty as a Sonos media source. I pointed iTunes at the Simpleshare and copied all the music to the drive, then I pointed the Sonos system at the drive as well and it worked nicely.

Internet radio streaming, Rhapsody and Pandora are all working very nicely. I realize this turned out to be a bit of a boring post since there were no technical hurdles and thus no interesting hacks involved in getting any of this working. But that is afterall why people buy things like iMacs and Sonos systems. If they didn't just work without days of fiddling there are plenty of cheaper options that will let you hack and fiddle for months and in the end you get something that almost sorta mostly works.
Categories: Audio/Video
Last modified on 2007-12-16 13:11

Nike+iPod Goodness

On a whim I picked up the Nike+iPod doodad the other day and this morning did my first decent run with it and I am quite impressed. I'm not much of an Apple nor Nike fan. I do have a Powerbook, but doubt I would buy another one (see previous Toys entry), but this little device is definitely cool. It is going to make me run further and faster and at a more consistent pace. If you already have a Nano you really should pick one up. It's only $29, $27 if you work somewhere where you get the Employee discount. Even if you aren't a runner, this works perfectly well for walking as well. Even if you don't have a Nano, you can pick one up for $108 in the refurbished section of the Apple store right now. Refurbished Apple items seem to be indistinguishable from new items in my experience.

It comes as two tiny devices. Doodad1 and Doodad2. Doodad1 you attach to your Nano as pictured on the right. It only comes in white so it doesn't match my black Nano all that well. Not that I care. Doodad2 you attach securely to your shoe. It should be on tightly such that it moves with your foot and doesn't dangle in a pouch or something. You can of course buy the $100 Nike+ shoes which I am sure is the goal of this, but I find it works perfectly well stuffed under my sock on top of my foot with the laces tight below and above it. I don't feel it and it seems to be very accurate measuring distances. It uses some sort of piezoelectric accelerometer, like in a speaker, to measure the amount of time your foot spends on the ground combined with the time between foot strikes to figure out how fast and how far you are running. After I calibrated mine over a 1 mile distance it seems to be very accurate. I tried running 400 meters with long strides and then the same 400m with short strides and it didn't get confused. Walking the same 400m it managed to measure accurately as well. EEtimes had a good article on it.

The guts of the Doodads look like the image below.

While you are running the screen shows your progress. Distance, pace and time. If you hit the center button it will use either a male or a female voice to tell you the same information so you don't need to look at your screen. If you choose a set distance for your workout it will tell you that you are "halfway", "400 meters to go", "300 meters to go"... I thought it was interesting that it used meters even though I have mine set to give me everything in miles. I go both ways on the miles/meters thing so I don't care, but I could see someone being confused by that. When you finish your workout and you have beaten your previous best time or distance record you get a little congratulatory voice by Lance Armstrong or a couple of others, I think. I have only gotten Lance so far.

You then plug your iPod back into your computer and it uploads (if you let it) your workout to the Nike+ site. This site has a very nice Flash app (for some definition of nice tempered by the fact that it is Flash) which keeps track of your runs. It's a very shiny app that shows each individual run with time, distance, pace and calories burned (you enter your weight during setup).

The yellow line shows your speed during a run. The dots along the run there appear to be the times I pressed the center button to hear my progress. When you mouse over them in the app you see the distance and pace at that point. The speed seems to match my mental state and the hills along the run pretty well. And I find it really nice to be able to quickly check if I am falling behind the pace I know I can run. It is too easy to trick yourself into believing you are running at your optimal pace.

There is an overview screen where you see your runs. I have only done 2 so far. A short 1 mile run to check the calibration and then this morning's 10km run. When you mouse over the bars it gives you the details on each run.

And there is a summary screen showing your farthest run, best 1mi, 5km and 10km runs.

There are also ways to set goals and to create groups where I assume you can see other peoples' runs and motivate each other to run more that way. I don't know anybody else with one of these yet, so I haven't played with that feature. Perhaps we need to set up a running group for fat grumpy open source developers. It might help turn us into just grumpy open source developers. My wife showed an immediate interest in it as well, but it doesn't support multiple profiles on the same sensor. You can however have multiple sensors and share the same iPod, so I already ordered another $27 sensor for her.

TiVo ToGo Annoyances

I put in my request weeks ago to get onto the priority list to get the new TivoToGo-enabled software on my Tivos. It finally arrived a couple of days ago. I wanted to write something up on it as soon as possible, but unfortunately it has taken me 3 days to get anywhere with it, and I still don't have a DVD with my shows on it. There were a number of problems.
The Tivo needed a reboot before it would work and since it was in the middle of recording something I didn't want to reboot it. That meant I couldn't do it the first night.

After a reboot the Tivo Desktop software was able to connect to my Tivo. Unfortunately it takes close to an infinite amount of time to transfer stuff. I have 7 episodes of "24" recorded at best quality I want to put on a DVD. That translates to about 15G of data I needed to transfer. I have a USB wired adapter plugged into a WRT54G and then an 802.11g connection to another WRT54G sitting next to a Windows box. This combination got me a transfer rate of about 1G/hour which means transferring my 7 episodes took over 15 hours.

Ok, a day later all the episodes came across. I grabbed the trial copy of Sonic MyDVD Studio 6.1 which is what Tivo suggests we use to create our dvds. I had configured my TiVo Desktop to stick my shows on E:\tivo since I didn't have room on my C drive. Unfortunately there is no provision in MyDVD to change the directory it looks for tv shows in. You can browse to the files and add them manually, but then you don't get the same ui screen that shows which shows are available. A quick register hack fixed that, but you can't expect Joe User to hack his registry for something this simple.

The MyDVD UI for adding shows is horrible. It doesn't show the episode information at all, so I had my list of 7 episodes all titled "24" with no clue as to which was which. So you are probably better off browsing to them and adding them manually than using the button designed for this.

MyDVD has absolutely no TiVo integration. I am sure that I read at some point that the dvds you create would have a Tivo-like navigation menu. No such thing exists in MyDVD. There isn't even a TiVo theme for the top DVD menu. They could at least have added a JPG with a TiVo logo or something. Nothing.

When I finally did start the burn process MyDVD told me it was building the menus. I had read it was slow, so I went to bed. 7 hours later it was still building the menus. So I left it another 12 hours. No progress. The thing isn't hung. There is a cancel button that works fine and asks me if I am sure I want to cancel since cancelling could take a "long" time!

So as far as I can tell burning a DVD simply isn't working for me. Who knows what the problem may be. Conflict with something else that is installed perhaps? This is Windows, you can never really be sure why something doesn't work. Unfortunately the OSX TiVo Desktop 2.0 is not availalble yet so I can't do this on my Powerbook yet. At this point it looks like my only real option is to work around MyDVD and use something like this hack to convert the .tivo files to mpeg2. In the long run that's probably much more useful anyway. The .tivo files have a playback password on them you have to remember which seems to me to be DRM run amok. Not that I have a VCR, but if I did, it wouldn't have a password option. This is no different.

Another annoying thing is that the recorded shows have a thin strip of white on black noise at the top. Looks to be too organized to be noise actually. Closed captioning data or something? Guess I may need to edit the stream to cut that out and also to snip out the commercials so I can fit more on a dvd.

I'll update this if I ever get my shows onto a dvd that works. At this point I am having a hard time disagreeing with the TiVo Deathwatch. I'll probably be looking for an alternative soon.

Update: Ok, I finally managed to burn a working DVD from the MyDVD software. After a ctrl-alt-del to kill off the running process that had been going for almost 24 hours, I restarted it, reloaded the project and it actually worked. Still took a couple of hours to sit and chew on the 2 .tivo files I had fed it, but the final DVD works. It still has the noise at the top which is distracting, but the quality is ok. So all in all, out of the 8 hours of "24" which was supposed to be my test case, eliminating the hung MyDVD and other delays and extrapolating from the 3 hours I have managed to burn so far, it will end up taking somewhere between 20 and 24 hours to create the 3 DVDs assuming I am right there at each user-interaction point ready to click or switch dvds and assuming no hung processes or crashes. I think the upper range my patience will tolerate is 8 hours to burn 8 hours of content. For it to be something I would use often it would need to be at least 3x or 4x, as in 15-20 minutes for every hour of content.

By the way, don't get me wrong, I love my TiVo. I have played a little bit with alternatives, and for the core functionality of scheduling and recording shows nothing I have seen beats it. But the alternatives are catching up and my expectations are high.