Reviews


Can You Zattoo?

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from a friend in Switzerland who recommended that I try out a Zattoo.com. Zattoo offers live TV on your PC for Europeans. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work in the U.S. (It must be restricted by IP address.)

Zattoo Screenshot

The programming on Zattoo, frankly, looks like an ex-expatriate’s dream, with channels including BBC Prime, Eurosport, TF1, ZDF, France2, Sat 1, and Rai Uno. I will have to wait until this spring when I visit to see it myself. If anyone has given it a try, please let me know.

Juiced?Then the other day I was reading about a friend of a friend who has just published a book entitled, The Royal Nonesuch. In that I had not seen the fellow for a couple years I checked out his blog and read about Joost, which I’d heard rumblings about in the past. Joost is a venture by the guys who created Skype, Niklus Zennstrom and Janus Friis.

I’ve applied for the beta testing of Joost and am waiting to get access. The technology uses the same peer-to-peer connection that is used in Skype. It sounds interesting and I will let you know what it looks like.

If anyone has experience with Joost, please let us know.

orb180.jpgAmbient Devices, a company started by “former Massachussetts Institute of Technology students” (n.b., one might think graduates, but apparently CNET thinks they’re a too old for such nomenclature), has a series of devices that would look brilliant on any office worker’s desk.These have to be checked out. I want one.

The products range from a device that can show pollen count, emails, and market activity in analog, to a glow-worm like ball that sits on your desk that changes colors according to a range of things you might want to track (e.g., traffic congestion).The devices aren’t cheap, but they will make an impression.

Thanks! This is new Web 2.0 stuff is fun!

Best thing is people, on aggregate, make their own news.  And they get to understand that they aren’t alone in their aggravation.

Now, if only Steve Jobs will listen. . ..

My home computer lost its second drive the other day. Over the past few weeks, the drive had been disappearing intermittently. Occasionally, I could get to get, but more and more upon clicking on the drive, an error message appeared saying the drive was “inaccessible. The parameter is incorrect.” When, the drive stopped appearing as a listed drive under My Computer, I knew my procrastination had run out of rope.
I attached and reattached the cables to the drive, but to no avail. I took the drive out and put it in an enclosure. Nothing.

Next, I put the drive back in the computer and brought up the device manager. I scanned for changes in the Device Manager. The computer slowed down, but, after a while, the Western Digital Caviar 80GB showed up.

Now, when I clicked on the drive, the computer slowed greatly and then the drive appeared as unformatted, although with its partitions intact. (A look at Disk Management confirmed this.)

Essentially, anything I did to access the drive, either through the Windows GUI or the command line, brought the computer to such a slowdown that all the programs were “Not Responding.”

I tried  a program called Test Disk that claims it can restore access to the drive. With Test Disk, I could see some of the data, but I could not copy it.

I then tried the tools on Ultimate Boot CD. And I tried booting with Damn Small Linux in order to access the drive. Neither provided any access.

Then, I got a copy of SpinRite.  SpinRite is a data recovery and drive maintenance program written by Steve Gibson. It essentially goes to the bit level and reads and writes data to the drive in order to take care of errors at the physical level. It has a DOS interface and often times you can watch some of your data going by as the program scans your disk.

I’d like to say SpinRite worked wonders, but it didn’t. On my 80GB dirve, SpinRite ran for about a week. (Yes, a week.) When the program takes this long, or predicts it will take this long, typically, according to experienced users, you are out of luck.

When SpinRite was done, I rebooted my machine and the drive did not show up. Again, I scanned for changes in the Device Manager. When the drive showed up, it behaved similarly to before. I was frustrated and ready to throw in the towel.

But, when I tried to access the drive in the command line, I was able to see the data and copy it over to a fresh drive, using the xcopy command. SpinRite worked thankfully, but I would only recommend it for experienced users.

I recently purchased the Antec NSK 3300 case for my computer. The case was not in my local computer store, so I ordered it, having only read the descriptions online. I was a little nervous, since I could not find a single review, but given what I knew of Antec, I decided it was a safe bet.

Antec NSK 3300

Originally, I had been looking at the Antec Sonata II. The Antec Sonata II is a quiet, sleek box that I thought would look perfect. But, once I realized I was on a budget and would be unable to salvage much of the Dell Dimension I had hoped to transfer from, I started looking at MicroAtx boards and cases that hold them.

[n.b. I am so frigging pissed at Dell for the choice of case design they held onto for years. Having to lay the computer on its side, press two buttons and swing up one side of the case, is a ridiculous design. Moreover, I've seen a fair share of these cases that simply won't completely shut if they are frequently opened and closed.]

I am not a gamer. I have played a game or two and will again soon, but playing a game is more of a treat than it is a nightly, weekly or even monthly event.

Thus, when I was looking at PC cases, I was not interested in a lot of expandability. In the end, my choices came down to Lian Li and Antec and I chose the Antec NSK 3300 because it came with its own power supply and thus fit my budget, which was tight. In the process of looking at cases, I learned two acronyms that, perhaps, home PC users are more likely to be familiar with than IT professionals. [Frankly, I don't generally spend a lot of time on my home computing system. When I am away from work, I like to be away from such things. . .. ]:
SFF -> Small Form Factor
HTPC -> Home Theater Personal Computer

After getting the case, I popped in a motherboard (MSI K8NGM2-FID) and set it up. I have been using it for a couple of weeks now. And the other day, I found this excellent review of it. I can't say much more about it or take many more pictures than what the SFFClub has.The Antec NSK 3300 is a great case, particularly if you are looking to build your first PC. The documentation that comes with the case is extensive and I never was in doubt as to what I needed to do to put it together. Unlike the reviewer, I don't have any problems with the lack of a motherboard tray. I am sure it would make it easier, but I wasn't particularly bothered. I can count the number of times I have removed my motherboards on one hand.

I installed my hard drive up top, which Antec recommends for heat considerations. Doing so, however, meant that I had to run an IDE cable up through the opening between the two chambers. Fitting cable through the opening wasn't too bad, but then getting the cable connected to the hard drive, which I had already screwed down, took a little patience. Those with SATA drives wouldn't have this trouble, caused by the angle of the cable to the drive, but would likely still have to deal with feeding the IDE cable up to an optical drive above.

I would like to swap out the stock AMD heat sink, for noise reasons, but I've not yet done so. The review mentions how big of a heat sink can be stuck in the case, which is frankly invaluable information for people looking to buy this case. Noise isn't a big factor in the case and neither is heat. With just the 120mm fan and using on board graphics, my CPU is regularly running around 33 degrees centigrade under normal use.

At the beginning of this World Cup I was wishing like a college-age anglophile that I were British. The Beeb, you see, is offering inhabitants of the island the right to watch the beautiful game via the web. How cool is that, I thought.

Then around a week or so ago, I discovered, for myself, the Joga companion and, subsequently, FootieFox. These are fine and great tools, but not enough to satisfy a quadrennial exprience, particularly when the Brit's were enjoying real-time streaming video.

Being a curious and mischevious fellow, I tried using Tor and its onion-skin servers to get a british IP address  so that I might be able to link to the BBC servers. But, I couldn't reliably get a good IP address. Nor could I find a decent anonymous proxy server.

I was out of luck.

Until my sister mentioned that it's possible for we in the 50 states to watch the World Cup online. She sent a link that was basically a back door to some feed. I simply had to slightly alter the address, in a predictable manner, for each game.

Since I learned this between matches Tuesday, I googled "Watch World Cup online" and found PC Magazine's article that mentions ESPN360. I went to the ESPN360 site and noticed Verizon users have access to the games. I logged in and watched the Brazil game from my computer. Fan-tast-ic! 

Now, the PCMag article suggests that all visitors can watch on ESPN360. Unfortunately, I can't say that I've checked that out, since I've selfishly been watching every minute I can. . ..

(btw, Internet Explorer 7 beta doesn't seem to be able to handle the ESPN360 feed. The feed can run on Firefox and IE 6. in IE6, viewers can double the size of the screen.) 

Ok. I just gotta say that I'm a keen supporter of football, which is soccer to some of you. My fascination with the sport came to me rather late in life and on the field I suck as a result. But, I know, being an average-sized guy that it would have been a much better sport for me to play than basketball or american football. But, it was never an option.

Every four years comes the World Cup. This country in which I live isn't exactly the world's greatest superpower on the field, but kids enjoy the sport. And just yesterday, from my living-room window I watched a young teen, who lives across the street, dribbling a football. I was excited. I haven't ever seen this kid do anything physical outside before and here, after the USA struggled to get a tie with Italy, the kid was inspired to try his foot at the game.

Ahh. That's the real world. And this is information technology. So any geek needs to ask themselves what can IT bring to the table?

Yes, there are games. 2006 Fifa World Cup, Championship Manager 2006, Football Manager 2006, and Winning Eleven.

And there is the Emirates Airline & FIFA & Yahoo / BBC tickers that have live text. And folks in Britain can stream games to their desktops, thanks to the BBC.

But, for the rest of us, Firefox and Nike have recently (i.e., released on the 6th day of the 2006 World Cup) teamed up to bring something even more integrated and practical for those of us stuck in the office while the games are going on: the joga.com companion.

footballjogacomplugin.jpg

The joga.com companion integrates a ticker, news headlines, a small panel in Firefox's status bar and a football-themed skin for Firefox. Alerts arise in the bottom right of the screen when a card is handed out or a goal is scored. I'm not into skins, in general, but this one does offer some consolation for sitting in the workplace.

When the World Cup is over, or if you'd like a cuter, less commercial way to follow the scores, you will want to check out the low-profile FootieFox extension, by Boris Ruf of the Hasso-Plattner-Institut at the University of Potsdam.

FootieFox has the capability of following 18 leagues throughout the year. That is super cool!
Footiefox sports faster updates than the joga.com companion. I'm talking minutes difference in reporting goals. (Ein Sehr Gut, fuer Herr Ruf!)

Und darf ich mal sagen, dass FootieFox schon ein Jahre alt ist und hat viele Besprechungen bekommen. That's to say FootieFox is a year old and has already been reviewed several times .

Like, the joga companion, FootieFox will yell out "Goal!" when one is scored. In fact, users can set FootieFox to signal goals with other sounds as well.

As mentioned, however, FootieFox is less ambitious in its marketing and information. FootieFox simply stays in the status bar and doesn't provide information about who received a yellow or red card or who scored. (But, in some games, particularly US games 🙂 it doesn't matter. I mean come on, we've not got any big names!)

For now, I'm using both Joga and Footiefox. But, I may switch over to FootieFox and the FIFA matchcast for the fastest responses as the tournament heats up.

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