Day 253 – Chromecast Rocks

But first… it sucks.

It sucks that Google aren’t officially selling it in Australia yet. In the US you can buy the Chromecast home-delivered for US$35. And it’s a no-brainer from what I can tell.

A Chromecast is a small Linux computer inside what looks like a USB stick. But instead of a USB connector, it has a HDMI plug on it. You stick the Chromecast into your televisual device, set it up to connect to your wireless network (I found the Android app the easiest way to go through this process). First thing it’ll do then is connect to the internet and download the latest firmware updates, and then you’re set.

Chromecast is basically a multi-media front-end PC stuck right into your television. And all your Google-based devices and apps have the potential to become a remote that can control it.

When I’m in YouTube on my Android, I can hit the Chromecast button, select the TV device by the name I’ve given it, and it’ll playback the YouTube videos that I select and control on my Android.

When I’m in Plex on my Android, I can hit the Chromecast button, select a movie, or a television program, or a music track/playlist that exists on my Plex server, and the TV will start playing it… again with my Android continuing to act like a remote control.

When I’m in Chrome on my laptop (with the Chromecast plugin installed), I can hit the Chromecast button and display my current webpage on the TV to share with everyone in the room.

It’s the cheapest media PC I’ve ever had in the living-room, and it’s by far the most satisfying. The way to use it is so simple and transparent… and from what I understand, the API is fully public, meaning that any app-developer can add a Chromecast button to their Android app and define the behaviour for the Chromecast device to follow.

I had to pay about AU$50 on eBay to buy a Chromecast from the US, but it’s easily worth it.

Heartily recommended!

Day 249 – NOOOOOoooooo…

I had plans for today.

To be fair, I managed to get through some of them. I decided to fit in some extra reading time at Michel’s today, which went fine. And then I was going to put together the eBay listing for my PC and then move on to doing some study for a technical post. Instead I have been uncomfortable for the better part of today.

I had taken pictures of the PC. I had taken pictures of the external DVD burner. I had taken pictures of all the original boxes I’d kept for the components and parts.

Before boxing it all up, I wanted to make sure I had all the right cables in the boxes. Unfortunately the whippet was in front of the drawer that I needed access to. He was sleeping on his bean bag. So I moved it. Or did a good impression of moving it.

It had shifted about a foot and I felt heavy twangs up my shoulder-blades and upper-back. I knew this wasn’t good immediately. It set me back to when my back first went loopy around Mon/Tue this week. The range of motion in my neck is very limited, and making doing anything more than just sitting as upright as I can very uncomfortable.

I’d never realised how much I use those muscles doing the most ordinary of things before this week. I can move my arms fine without discomfort or pain. But rolling over on the bed is anguish if I don’t keep my back completely rigid. Getting up off the lounge is a simple motion… except it apparently involves quite a bit of motion of my neck… which makes me get up like an 80-yr-old right now.

I can decisively say I’m not enjoying this.

I’m going to keep my back heat-packed as much as I can, and I’m going to see about a physio appointment for a thorough look at the problem. I wish medical science had a quick fix for this.

Day 247 – Cleaning Inside the Box

I’ve got my Thursday night fun all lined up for me here. Some people go out for dates, drinks or parties… I’m detailing my PC case. To be fair, I don’t think my back/neck/shoulder-complex (the new axis of evil) would allow me to enjoy any of those other options, and in the end this’ll make me back some of the money that has gone into the laptop I’m writing this post on.

I don’t know if there is a better way to do this that I’m not familiar with, but cleaning my PC is a bit of an ordeal. I bought the case 5-6 years ago I think. I bought sturdy and big because once you have a good roomy case you never need another one. And this has proven true for my PC needs. A good case and a good power supply can outlast many re-builds of the internals of a PC and are probably the two elements most worth not skimping on.

On the down-side, a good quality case also has proven to have many awkward nooks and crannies.

It has six 3.5″ internal drive bays arrayed 3-and-3 with a 12″ fan in between. This is great for keeping them cool with solid and quiet airflow. But this also collects tons of very fine dust on both removable drive cages.

Similarly, there is an intake vent that goes *through* my case from side-to-side which has another 12″ fan directed at the GPU slot to get it plenty of fresh outside-the-case-air to keep it working optimally. But again, this ends up with a lot of fine dust inside the case.

And the problem with all of this is… the big plexiglass window in the side of my case showing off all that wonderful dust. I originally wanted a solid case-side, but at the time I wanted it quick and only the model with the window was in stock. It’s a nice marketable detail, but it’s not good for the I-don’t-care-about-dust part of my personality. Because I do care when I can see 2mm of it over all the innards of my case.

I’m not enough of a gamer… or I’m not sufficiently OCD… to actually clean this out with any kind of routine. For the most part I clean when I happen to move the case for some reason or another and wads of dust fall off the sides.

The fateful decision I made to want a whisper-quiet PC also doesn’t help. It has 12″ fans all over the place. From memory there are 5 in total, sucking air through this 11.2kg monstrosity and keeping it so well cooled that on a hot summery day I can cool my legs by resting them against the icy 2mm of aluminium that make up its body.

Yes. It’s a very solid case.

And so well-made. All edges are machined to be rounded, and all the major parts come apart without the use of a screwdriver. It’s a pleasure to open up and work inside. But alas. I’ve come to a point where I’d rather not, and just rely on a ready-made boxed solution that I can comfortably carry around with me. LAN games are fun. Lugging 11kg of aluminium around: less so. And that’s not counting the 27″ Dell monitor that goes with that particular social activity.

No. As much as I’ll miss the beauty of the well-made case, and the promise of infinite upgrade-ability, I am happy with the choice I have made.

Other than the inevitable cleaning inside all those little well-rounded corners.
That I could very easily live without.

Day 128 – The Perfect Machine

I have been down this road before.
It’s never quite right.

When I have a stand-alone PC, I really want a laptop.
And when I have a laptop, I cannot wait to have a PC.

I want to easily carry my machine around. I want to upgrade the pieces when I want to. I want a high-res screen, lots of memory, a fast graphics card.

And when I got my most recent tablaptop for work (Samsung Ativ; best tool ever), I got to add touch screens to my must-have list as well. It doesn’t seem crucial until you’ve had one for a while and then it becomes hard not to touch every screen followed by a brief pang of disappointment when it turns out that’s my other machine.

I want touch. And a keyboard. And a mouse. And a pen. All at the same time. Because they each are good at something different. And oddly, the tool that has most driven that home for me has been Microsoft OneNote… I didn’t think I would ever be able to like it because it seemed clunky, but for some reason the combo of every-input-method-at-the-same-time seems to make it bearable.

I couldn’t have a main machine without a keyboard. I can type pretty well on a touch tablet, but it’s just not the same as having actual physical keys for best typing speed.

I’m more and more convinced that touch could completely replace mouse input once we get around all the legacy UI out there that isn’t designed for touch. I really use the mouse only very minimally when I need to manipulate things that are too small for my fingers. Which happens more often with the arrival of retina displays everywhere.

And a pen… I’m no artist… but there is something magical about doodling little diagrams and notes in the margin of a typed document. The S-Pen with the Samsung devices is absolutely amazing. I have no idea what hardware supports it, but the machine knows where the pen is before I even touch the screen; the cross-hairs will pop up as you approach the screen so you can aim where you want the next line to start.

The Ativ is great. It was worth every cent. The problem I have with it isn’t that it doesn’t do what I need. The problem is that I want it to do more. I want it to do EVERYTHING.

My dream machine would be a laptop that can convert to a tablet. Ideally not by undocking because that just leaves an awkward left-over keyboard to the side. The Dell XPS 12 appeals conceptually with its flip screen, but the other specs just do not go far enough. And it’s only 12″.

I like the idea of the new Dell XPS 15 for its high-res Retina screen. I want 15″ at 3200×1800 … I want my screen to look like there is no such thing as a pixel. I want that to be an implementation detail I no longer can notice.

But I also want a fast graphics card. I play games at times, and 3200×1800 really needs more than a medium-range card. I have a last-gen card in my PC, and a 27″ 2560×1440 monitor, and I haven’t found anything that I play that I cannot max out at that resolution.

I want an SSD only… no spinning metal for me, and at least 256GB please. I want 16GB main memory for development. I want a 4th gen i7 processor. I want a battery that lasts me through at least half a day without a power point. I want to be able to dock to my 27″ at home for extra screen real estate. Maybe even 2 external screens.

It doesn’t feel like reality is very far off this mark, but the closer it gets to meeting my requirements the more annoying it feels that we’re not there yet. I’m sure we have the technology to build my ideal machine today. I’m ready to pay handsomely for the privilege. But it. Just. Doesn’t. Exist. Yet.

At least today’s post has a nice round number.
That makes up for it a bit.
A little bit.