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.

Eliot Spitzer Gets Caught in the Cookie Jar

Eliot Spitzer skyrocketed as the tenacious New York State Attorney General who brought the pain to Wall Street wrongdoers and NYC ne’er-do-wells alike. He was also one of the chief haters trying to split up Microsoft back in 2000.

Imagine my chagrin reading today’s headlines that Mr. Spitzer got caught up in an upscale prostitution ring. A federal wiretap caught Eliot “Client 9” Spitzer, having a woman from Emperors Club VIP, fly from New York to D.C. to meet him in a hotel room registered under George Fox, the name of one of his close friends. This is a plot ripped from the Lifetime Movie Network…not that I watch Lifetime or anything.

I’m not one to kick a man when he is down so I will instead provide Mr. Spitzer—and others facing similar prospects—with a bit of advice, courtesy of NYC’s prodigal son, Jay-Z, the rapper. (Who better to give advice on ethics and morals than a rapper?)

The following is taken from the song “Trouble” on Jay-Z’s album Kingdom Come:

Smelling like Patron, singing dirty rap songs
Tiptoeing in the crib like six in the morn’
Everyday is the same, I said on Blueprint that I’d “Never Change
It’s just a part of the game
Respect me I’m a thug, I might cool out for a sec
But expect me to bug, it’s in my blood
But if my chick leave me she gon’ leave me for somethin’
She gon’ leave me ’cause of Halle, she ain’t gon’ leave me for nothin’
Picture me gettin’ up with something sleazy
Something, something, so easy you could take out of speed like nothin’
Somethin’ soon as you finish cuttin, you like, “Leave me please!”
Not me, I need Angelina Joleezy comfort
So I ain’t gon’ make a move unless I got a Plan B
That’ll happen the day I have a baby by Free
Not to say that anything is wrong with Free
Just to say that ain’t nothing wrong with B
If my hand’s in the cookie jar, know one thing
I’ma take the cookie, not leave my ring

If my hand’s in the cookie jar, know one thing
I’ma take [laughs] y’all know what I mean

I wonder if Lifetime will option the Eliot Spitzer story.

Welcome to the Social, Part 2

Flexing its social networking muscle, the Zune experience now includes customizable Zune Cards that let you to share your music preferences and listening habits with the world (or a restricted group of your friends). Here is an example of an actual Zune Card in action (try navigating the list and clicking the links):

To create your own Zune Card, visit the Zune Card Generator created by Dan Grossman. It generates the code necessary to put either a small or large badge on your blog or site. All you have to do is copy & paste.

Those of you big into the social networking craze may find Zune Cards natural. I already share enough of my life on the Internets and haven’t enabled this feature in the Zune software just yet. We’ll see…

Old Zune Gets New Life

It has been about a month since my last Zune post. My Zune 80 is alive and well but I have not traveled this last month and my primary music player for the gym is an iPod nano with its Nike+ support. The ironic thing is buying a new Zune 80 back in December actually has injected new life into my original Zune 30, which I now listen to almost daily.

Altec Lansing M604 Powered Audio System for Zune After placing my Zune 80 order, I was not quite sure what to do with the bulkier and lower capacity Zune 30. Around the time of that quandary Woot ran a special on the Altec Lansing M604 Powered Audio System for Zune, selling the units for $45 brand new while supplies lasted. I decided I would buy one and use my Zune 30 with the M604 system at work.

It took about a month for the speaker system to arrive due to popularity of the offer and the holiday backlog, but everything has worked like a charm since. Now my old Zune 30 sits in the M604 dock on my bookshelf at the office piping out jazz, classical and easy listening background music throughout the workday.

The M604 has excellent sound quality and durable construction. I really like the included remote which makes it easy to adjust the volume and skip through playlists from a distance.

The Time I Met Quincy Jones

I was driving home from the office tonight listening to the shuffled playback of music on my in-car MP3 stereo. The deck has something like 10,000 songs on it which is like an infinite music supply for my 15-minute morning and evening commutes. Randomly, Quincy Jones’ cover of the song “Ai no Corrida” from his album, The Dude, came up in the queue.

Humming along, I momentarily drifted back to the summer of ’94 when I met Mr. Jones. I was a summer intern at Microsoft working in what was then known as the Consumer Division under Patti Stonesifer (currently CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). I was piddling behind the keyboard as usual on a workday afternoon, at the desk closest to the doorway of the office I shared with a guy who’d just completed his senior year at college—he paid me no attention but having an older office mate seemed like a big deal because I was heading into my sophomore year and graduation seemed so far away.

With my eyes scanning the vast 13″ CRT display attached to a then state-of-the-art 486 computer running Windows for Workgroups 3.11, I caught a brief glimpse out of my right eye of a dark figure passing through the corridor. I thought to myself, “Was that Quincy Jones?” paused, then turned toward my office mate and asked him the same question. Without taking his eyes from his screen he shrugged and flatly replied, “Quincy who?” His routine wardrobe of Guns N’ Roses T-shirts should have told me better. (I can’t lie, I rocked out to “Sweet Child o’ Mine” too…don’t tell anyone from my ‘hood though.)

A few seconds passed, and the dark figure again appeared in my periphery to the right, but this time it was stationary, directly in front of the open doorway. I didn’t want to get caught sleeping like McLovin in the Superbad liquor store scene, so I quickly swiveled my chair to the right while, simultaneously, backing away from my workstation and glancing up, fists cocked and ready to rumble.

A mild-mannered, medium-framed, north-of-middle-aged Black dude glanced down at me warmly, almost paternalistically. His small entourage was at rest a few steps behind his left shoulder. The gears were spinning at this point, and the gentleman extended his hand toward me with a smile and said, “Hello, I’m Quincy Jones.” I was like, “Get the @%!* outta here. Yeah, right!” (in my head) but, while shaking his hand and telling him my name and how nice it was to meet him, I realized it really was The Dude.

He and his crew continued down the corridor. I turned to my office mate (all excited) and told him it was Quincy Jones. He was even more unimpressed and unconcerned. Whatever.

While I didn’t go on one of those crazy, “I’m never washing this hand again” trips, I was elated to meet one of my musical heroes. You see, I played the trumpet and so did Mr. Jones (before becoming a prolific composer, conductor and producer). I didn’t know until later that he is actually from Seattle (as you may recall from the film Ray) and he was probably visiting the Microsoft campus negotiating something-or-other and, as Ray Charles would say, making it do what it do.

One thing that really stayed with me since that day is how this world-renowned, accomplished man came back to my office to introduce himself to me. That says a lot about his character. To borrow from Rudyard Kipling’s “If”:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much…

The other thing that stuck with me is his hands seemed massive for his size. Shaking his hand was like gripping a bunch of bananas. I’m so glad he didn’t catch me with that McLovin sucker punch.