Brenden Schaaf / June 12, 2010

Got a 2nd HDTV = more decisions than I bargained for

Is anyone using DirecTV Whole-Home DVR service? I’d like to hear how/if it works.

Here’s the situation: we got a new flat panel for the bedroom and are looking at options where we can have HD service there but also watch shows in the bedroom that are on the DVR in our living room in HD quality.

Currently we have Dish Network and our current DVR (722) can output only SD signal to TV2. So a 2nd option (other than switching to DirecTV) is that we could upgrade to Dish 922k DVR and hope they release the “HDTV Multi-Room Extender” (which is really an HD SlingCatcher) soon also. I like Dish’s receivers better than DirecTV’s because it can record from over-the-air sources in addition to satellite sources so +1 to Dish for this as an option.

A 3rd option is to build a over-the-air DVR/PC for the bedroom. I could put a blu-ray player in that and it would do double-duty but, of course, we’d be limited to watching recorded shows in HD that came from over-the-air sources (which is probably 80% of what we record to be honest).  This idea is gaining favor in my mind now that I’ve written it, actually. A minor annoyance is that we would have some shows recorded in both places (on the PC in the bedroom and on the DVR in the living room) so it would be harder to manage what we have watched and not watched.

Every option has advantages/disadvantages to the point where I’m spinning in circles trying to decide what to do. Seeking advice!!

One final item of note is that my wife claims to not be able to tell the difference between SD and HD so this is only a big deal to me 🙂

Brenden Schaaf / May 28, 2009

PowerSquid: use all the outlets on your power strip

psqurge100566Thanks to a camelcamelcamel alert, I was notified that the price had dropped at Amazon on the Philips PowerSquid Surge Protector.  The PowerSquid is one of my favorite items and I was tipped off to its usefulness at a continuing ed conference I attended a couple years ago.  I immediately snapped one up at $24.01 last night only to have the price later fall further to $22.28 this morning (only two left as I write this so it probably won’t be that cheap for long).  Even for a couple bucks more than the lowest price it is still an excellent value, in my opinion.  From looking at the camelcamelcamel graph of long term prices (see below) I could have guessed that the price would drop further, but for a couple dollars it wasn’t worth missing out on this deal because I need one of these right now (“need” being a word that is a tad strong I suppose, but when Amazon calls I answer).

camelcamelcamel long-term price history on the PowerSquid Surge Protector
camelcamelcamel long-term price history on the PowerSquid Surge Protector

The great thing about the PowerSquids (and there are other models to choose from wihout surge protection, for example, or in different colors) is that you can actually use every single outlet.  The unit looks like a squid (hence the name) where each outlet is on a short cord attached at a central location.  Near my computer I was able to go from using four “normal” power strips to using two PowerSquids because I could actually use every outlet on the PowerSquid, whereas before the large “brick” plugs on many items blocked up to three outlets in addition to the one being used.  In addition to being tidier, it seems safer (I have no idea if it actually is) to have a more neatly orgranized bunch of wires using two collection points, plus I still have wall outlets free for other uses.

Brenden Schaaf / May 17, 2009

Flash drives

sandisktitaniumMy last post about using SyncToy perhaps jumped the gun for anyone reading it that didn’t already own a flash drive.  Or perhaps you are in the market for a new flash drive to replace one that isn’t performing well or is too small.  Thus, I bring you this brief post to give you some flash drive ideas before you make a purchase.

Flash drives are handy for many things, the most obvious being to make your files easily portable.  Most of them can be easily attached to a keychain so you can always have your files with you in your pocket or purse.  For a guy that remembers adding 4MB (yes, megabytes not gigabytes!!) to his PC back in 1995 (at a cost of around $230) so it would have 8MB total RAM to better run Windows 95, it is quite amazing to carry several gigabytes around in his pocket.

Another great use of a flash drive is as a backup device.  With 16GB and larger drives selling for a reasonable price these days, it would be very easy to make a flash drive your backup medium of choice if you don’t want to invest in an external hard drive (although the prices on those are getting pretty affordable as well).  Plus a flash drive is easier to lock up in a fire safe or safety deposit box.

A few years ago, I bought a few flash drives that caught my eye on Slickdeals, a favorite site of mine.  I’d look for the biggest drive for the cheapest price, but I found out soon that you get what you pay for.  The first several flash drives I bought this way ended up lasting only a few months before they were inoperable and it was generally only a week or two before pieces would break off, caps would go missing, or the USB plug would get bent (often because the cap was missing, actually).

I then discovered the basic Sandisk Cruzer models where the USB plug retracts inside the flash drive when not in use…that solved the problem of the caps going missing, but the durability was still an issue because the plastic just wouldn’t hold up to constant handling and use.  I never had one of these fail where data was lost, but plastic pieces would break off and sharp edges would remain and I was nevertheless concerned that my flash drive could stop working at any time.  That is definitely not a good feeling to have when it comes to data that is important…it’s like owning a car that you are never sure whether or not it will start (on a related note, I once owned a car that I had to park facing downhill so I could “pop the clutch” to start the engine if the battery died — which it did randomly from time to time — talk about lack of confidence).

I no longer have this issue since I switched to the Sandisk Cruzer Titanium flash drives.  The first one I owned had a 2GB capacity, then I bought a 4GB model, and I now use an 8GB one.  I’ll probably stick with this size for a while since I still have plenty of room on it and I don’t see the need to spend money to upgrade at this time.  Although I’m sure the “guts” of the Titanium flash drive is the same as the cheaper plastic Sandisk models the increased price is money well spent given the durability of the more expensive model, especially in a situation like mine where I carry it with me everywhere.  In fact, there is a review of the 2GB model from a couple years ago where they ran a car over a Cruzer Titanium flash drive and it survived.  Probably worth the extra few dollars to make sure it can withstand the beating in your coat pocket!!