Building a Home Theater PC to Replace our TiVo

I just published a write-up I have been working on for a few weeks about my experience building a top-of-the-line Vista Media Center (VMC) home theater PC (HTPC) to replace our TiVo Series3. Only true PC geeks and gadget nerds are allowed unless you are just curious to see a real-world example of how much premium retail electronics get marked up. Here is an actual shot of our Sony flat panel displaying the new machine in action.

Keith's Vista Media Center in action

TB is still on the fence so it’s not clear whether the HTPC meets the WAF. She loves TiVo so the VMC interface has to be demonstrably better and the HTPC hardware very reliable to meet her bar. I’ve already removed the safety net by disconnecting the TiVo from the main TV. We’ll put it in the bedroom at least until our one-year prepaid service expires in July. My mother-in-law will be here in a couple weeks which will be a good “guest test” as well. The only potential problem is she loves TiVo too.

Leroy Jenkins: When all talk meets all action

I stumbled across this old YouTube video that captures a World of Warcraft pre-battle strategy meeting involving a dozen or so collaborators. I have never played WoW myself but some of the funniest videos and commercials parody those who do. This one is hilarious. Watch the entire thing but pay attention around the 1’30” mark.

The next time your team is stricken with analysis paralysis or you are on vacation with a group of people who cannot make up their minds, shout “Leeeeeerooooyyyy Jenkins” and just roll.


Announcement: I upgraded my blog to WordPress 2.5 last night. Most of the improvements are for stability and performance. Let me know if you experience anything weird. I also added a print link to each post in case you want to take some Amusing Musings on the road.

New Nike+ goal: 108 miles in 12 weeks

It has been 3 months since I started with the Nike+ running system. I have lost 7 pounds so far but my running has been sporadic. I’ve completed 21 runs totaling 71 miles. It’s clear I need to get more serious and more consistent with my running so I have decided to set a new Nike+ goal: 108 miles in 12 weeks.

I will need to average 9 miles/week or 3 miles/day x 3 days/week which is doable in my present condition. As with my prior Nike+ goal, I have added a special badge to the sidebar to track my results.

Nike+ goal - March 2008

Wish me luck.

Now at Circuit City: Lying to Customers

A Circuit City customer service representative attempted to fit me for a dunce cap today with a manager-supported, bold-faced lie. I wasn’t having it. First a bit of background:

dunce cap I spent Tuesday through Thursday in Radcliff, Kentucky attending my younger brother’s, Charles, Basic Training graduation from Fort Knox (Company D, 3rd Battalion, 46th Infantry). I left Seattle midday on Tuesday, flying into Cincinnati via Chicago, arriving at the hotel in Florence, KY at 1 AM Wednesday. At 9 AM I was on the road driving to Radcliff (45 minutes south of Louisville). I completed the 2 1/2 hour drive and stopped for breakfast before making it to the barracks around 1 PM where I found my exhausted, transformed brother asleep in a chair—the last soldier waiting for someone to arrive to spend family day with him. 🙁

While in Florence, I realized I forgot my laptop power supply back in Seattle and only had a couple hours left on my batteries. While Charles and I were out, we stopped at a Circuit City where I purchased a Kensington power supply. The sales rep couldn’t guarantee the power supply would work with my laptop even after visiting the Kensington site. He promised I would have no problem returning it so I bought it and left. It didn’t work.

Fast-forward to me visiting the Circuit City store in Bellevue, Washington today to return the item. After five minutes of “check[ing] with the manager,” the woman working customer service came back and said she would only be able to give me an in-store credit because the Bellevue Circuit City is still on an old system while the Circuit City in Kentucky was on a new system.

“Really?” I replied. “So there is more than one Circuit City?” Of course she said no but then she went on about how the systems were different and “wouldn’t allow [her] to do a return to my credit card.” I sensed something fishy with her demeanor…eye contact can be a great truth serum. She wasn’t being truthful.

I used to work at Circuit City in customer service and I know the company would never alienate customers due to an internal system upgrade. I continued looking her in the eye, weighing my next words carefully, debating whether to get irate or to keep it professional. Vinegar or honey? Keef or Keith? My previous stint as a Circuit City customer service associate allowed me empathize—she was just doing as she was told. I decided to take it easy on her and offered five simple words that left little doubt how our interaction would ultimately end: “That doesn’t work for me.” She again had to check with the manager.

Two minutes later, I was leaving the Bellevue Circuit City with a full credit to my card. Circuit City will have to hold the dunce cap for another day.

Getting there with the Garmin nüvi 650 navigation system

garmin_nuvi_650_gps I purchased the Garmin nüvi 650 GPS navigation system back in November 2007. Amazon offered a substantial discount at the time which knocked $100 off the normal retail price of $400. Still a considerable sum for an electronics gadget, I weighed my buying decision heavily, finally making the plunge after admitting I travel to new cities regularly and hate getting lost.

I have a decent memory and good sense of direction but the Garmin provides a level of confidence that makes it worth the money—especially when driving at night. The 650 model announces street names (Text to Speech) and works in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. Its 4.3” screen looks vibrant and sharp in all lighting conditions, from direct sunshine to pitch dark. The touch screen provides dependable control and navigation of the well-designed user interface. It offers quick-and-convenient ways to change routes on-the-fly and track statistics such as current direction, miles per hour and estimated time of arrival.

No navigation system guarantees 100% accuracy when calculating routes either for shortest time or distance. Accordingly, no system substitutes for common sense and paying attention to posted signs. Also, it can take some time for new routes to be added. I got burned twice while in Chicago for the holidays. The first occurred because I-355 was extended and the Garmin prompted me to exit on a ramp that no longer exists. The second was the shortest time route the Garmin offered to get me from the western suburbs into the city was not the shortest or most direct.

On the flip side, the Garmin saved me in Dayton while schlepping my brother, sister and niece around in the dark. We got caught in holiday traffic on I-75. I turned off at the next exit, just north of Centerville, blindly trusting the Garmin to find a faster route. A few moments after taking the off ramp, the Garmin announced it was recalculating then immediately provided a route which avoided the expressway. I lived in Dayton for 17 years and never knew that route was there. Further, the route involved several turns that I would surely have missed while driving in the winter at night were it not for the navigation system.

If you are in the market for a navigation system—assuming the fad has not already passed—I can unequivocally recommend the Garmin nüvi 650. As long as you don’t expect perfection, you won’t be disappointed.