This is nothing new here because we already have a Squeezebox, but that works with music only.
I found references to some interesting products - the Popcorn Media Tank for example - that included music, photos and video, but I wanted something easy to use, with wireless LAN support - and most importantly something that didn't look like an IT departement had landed in our lounge.
So I thought of using Windows Media Center, based on Windows Vista Ultimate.
Just one problem though and that is most of the PC cases are either too big, or noisy because of the fan requirements, too costly when part of a completely new PC, or simply plain ugly.
So I thought I should look at the temple of modern computing design, Apple. And I ended up settling on a Mac mini. Mind you this is not the first Mac in this house of Windows. But this is a special one, because it is the first computer in the lounge (except for laptops sometimes).
The best thing about the Mac mini is certainly the size and design. It doesn't look like a computer and it's not much bigger than a paperback. I choose the smallest one with 1.83 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1 GB RAM and 80 GB HDD - no need for large storage because everything is on the Windows Home Server.
So I ordered this on-line from the Apple Store and had it delivered next day (sorry DSE, but your sales guy in Featherston St missed a sale by being dumb and not allowing the one you had there to be transferred to my local store in Johnsonville).
Anyway, I was really impressed with the small box delivered to my door. I opened it and in less than ten minutes of the initial Mac OS configuration I was running Bootcamp and installing Windows Vista on this machine.
Windows Vista installed really fast and all the drivers were delivered with the Mac OS DVD that comes with this box. I installed Avast antivirus, Daemon-Tools and configured the box to use Windows Vsta as the default OS.
Basically if it runs on Windows Vista it will work on this hardware - including ReadyBoost.
The next thing was the installation of a few Media Center plugins and the first three were MyMovies, Yougle and Media Center RSS Reader.
Yougle allows you to play social media content from sites such as YouTube, MSN Soapbox and others - including Apple Quicktime trailers! The Media Center RSS Reader is obvious.
But the most important plugin was MyMovies. It allows you to create a database of the movies you own and then cross-reference movies, actors, directors, etc on the big screen. You can find a biography and then check all the movies you own where that actor worked. It will also automatically load the movie for you before playing. And it solves a big problem too...
You see, I installed LogMeIn so I could manage ths box from my laptop because it does not have a keyboard and mouse - only the Microsoft MCE Remote Control. But there's no EJECT button in this remote control and there's no EJECT button on the Mac mini either! MyMovies solves this problem because it lists the movies in your database and the movie currently in the DVD drive - including an EJECT option.
Overall I am really happy with this setup and even over wireless LAN it can play DVDs streaming from the Windows Home Server with no problems at all.
UPDATE: Just to be complete, I've posted a couple of features I'd like to see to enrich the Media Center experience...
Not to my surprise we did not get any official comment neither on the blog itself or in the Geekzone forums where there's a TelstraClear account which they could use to let people know things.
Today I found out on Stuff that the upgrade is not coming until mid 2008 for Wellington:
TelstraClear expects to offer 25 megabit per second broadband connections to customers of its Wellington cable network by mid-year.
The lightning-fast 25Mbps plans should be available in Christchurch next month, says spokesman Chris Mirams.
TelstraClear had originally promised the faster broadband plans last year. Mr Mirams says the upgrade was held up by the availability of equipment that has only recently become available, and which arrived in New Zealand shortly after Christmas.
It took sometime but it's here now: Windows Mobile 6 update for Treo 750v Vodafone New Zealand.
I don't know why it took so long but this is a must have update for your Palm Treo 750v (New Zealand only!). I haven't tested it yet (a friend is using my Treo 750v at the moment), but I am told it provides improved Calendar management, Voice Commande over Bluetooth, USB cable charging and the much expected HSDPA update!
You can only download it once and you must be running a Vodafone-branded Windows Mobile on your Palm to update it.
By coincidence, today I received in the mail the InternetNZ Business Plan 2008 - 2009 and a booklet "Liability of Internet Service Providers for Third Party Content", by Dr Judith Bayer, InternetNZ Senior Research Fellow in Cyberlaw:
Dr Bayer's research considers ISP liability within a variety of different fields of the New Zealand law, including defamation, copyright, hate speech and related freedom of expression issues. She draws on overseas experience of ISP liability schemes and evaluates thepros and cons of those schemes.
It is a 109 page paper with (sometimes) dense information - IANAL but it is easy to read and understand the implications of current and propose laws in New Zealand.
I would like to see a similar paper describing the content creator's side of this scenario, in special the implications for on-line publications such as newspapers, blogs, portals and forums.
Through the end of Febuary 2008 you can get 25% discount off any oder of US$ 50 or more at Skooba Design - even discounted items - using the code TECHREADER. And if you are in the continental US you get free UPS shipping.
The MSDN team has announced the decision of not making Windows Home Server available on MSDN.
You just have to go to a Dick Smith store and look for product code XC5822. The picture here is the same as the one on the site, but I am told it's not exactly the same as the model being offered.
They are some late 2004 Acer Aspire 4315-100508Ci models, based on an Intel Celeron M 540 1.86GHz Processor, 512MB DDR2 RAM, 80GB 5400 RPM SATA HDD, 14.1" Widescreen Display, DVD+CDRW Combo Drive, Intel Media Accelerator X3100 Graphics Card and wireless LAN.
The laptops are running Ubuntu 7.10.
What's more interesting is the price: NZ$699, making it a great value when compared to the ASUS Eee PC, which has only a 4 GB flash memory for storage and costs the same.
This should be a good introduction to Linux machines if you don't feel inclined to install this system on your own hardware.
If you don't know yet, Windows Home Server is based on server code, making it a more robust platform. But not all software will run on it, so some special versions are needed. Also, add-ins can plug into the Windows Home Server console for easier remote management.
The first program I installed was Avast for Windows Home Server. One of the cool features is the complete integration withthe console, plus remote management of any Avast installed on PCs connected to this server. You can initiate a scan, schedule scans, start a program or virus definition updates and check the event logs.
Then I installed Whiist, so that I could add links to the Windows Home Server pages. But not only that, it will automatically create photo sites, including thumbnails, with nothing but a few clicks.
Next I installed Diskeeper 2008 for Windows Home Server. This new version also integrates into the console and is specially designed for Windows Home Server, which uses some special redirectors for file storage.
The most interesting add-in is Webguide (pictured). This is such a cool program that Microsoft entered into an agreement with the developers so that it could be free for Windows Home Server users. Go and download yours!
Webguide has some tricks though. If you are running the Power Pack 1 beta you will need to change a web.config file before installation. If you want to stream music from your server, make sure to load the local library using Windows Media Player. And if you want to stream DVDs then you will need a MPEG2 decoder and an AC3 decoder.
I have installed Cyberlink PowerDVD 7 on this server, so that I could use its MPEG2 decoder. And you can download a free AC3 decoder from here.
If you have an ISO file for your DVDs then you will need Daemon Tools. Just be aware when installing it to not install the advertising part of the software. Read each disclaimer before clicking ACCEPT!
Of course if you are playing DVDs over the network you will need the drive set to the appropriate region encoding - but you know this, right?
But we don't have IPTV in this country. And now that we had to move the Sony LCD from the wall because of some renovations we can't watch TV or cable anymore.
Even a service such as Sling Media would help - just plug their box to the cable modem adapter and get the output over wi-fi on the other side of the house.
But not in this country.
I understand we can have this functionality if we add a specific video card to a PC and configure the right software, hack a couple of XML files and things would be up and running.
But I don't want thing that require an electronic engineer to get working. I want simple things. A box that transmits wirelessly to my media centre or connects to my wireless network directly for streaking. We want consumer grade stuff.
We need TV tonight. The father-in-law is coming for dinner, and I am sure he will want to watch TV news at 6pm - Sir Ed died today, the news, the news!
The solution? Go out and buy rabbit ears for $20. Not even all those gigabytes of RAM, terabytes of storage, computing power and bandwidth can help if our providers don't come to sense and offer some decent modern entertainment service.
Who, besides the Queen, would be of such a character as to figure in the national currency (the NZ$5 note)?
Today Sir Edmund Hllary is dead. Not many details yet but I am sure the story will be well known to all New Zealanders in the next few hours - if not minutes.
In my ten years here so far I've came to know more about his story, the Everest, expeditions and philantropic work.
From the Wikipedia on the Everest expedition:
The route to Everest was closed by Chinese-controlled Tibet, and Nepal only allowed one expedition per year. A Swiss expedition (in which Tenzing took part) had attempted to reach the summit in 1952, but was turned back by bad weather 800 feet (260 m) from the summit. During a 1952 trip in the Alps, Hillary discovered he and his friend George Lowe had been invited for the approved British 1953 attempt and immediately accepted.
Shipton was named as leader, but was replaced by Hunt. Hillary considered pulling out, but both Hunt and Shipton talked him into remaining. Hillary was intending to climb with Lowe, but Hunt named two teams for the assault: Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans; and Hillary and Tenzing. Hillary therefore made a concerted effort to forge a working friendship with Tenzing.
The Hunt expedition, like many such expeditions, was a team effort. Lowe supervised the preparation of the Lhotse Face, a huge and steep ice face, for climbing. Hillary forged a route through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall.
The expedition set up base camp in March 1953. Working slowly, it set up its final camp at the South Col, 7,900 metres (25,900 ft). On May 26, Bourdillon and Evans attempted the climb, but turned back when Evans's oxygen system failed. The pair had reached the South Summit, coming within 100 metres (300 ft) of the summit. Hunt then directed Hillary and Tenzing to go for the summit.
Snow and wind held up the pair at the South Col for two days. They set out on May 28 with a support trio of Lowe, Alfred Gregory and Ang Nyima. The two pitched a tent at 8,500 metres (27,900 ft) on May 28, while their support group returned down the mountain. On the following morning, Hillary discovered his boots had frozen solid outside the tent. He spent two hours warming them before he and Tenzing attempted the final ascent, wearing 30-pound packs.
The crucial move of the last part of the ascent was the 40-foot (12 m) rock face later named the "Hillary Step." Hillary saw a means to wedge his way up a crack in the face between the rock wall and ice, and Tenzing followed. From there, the following effort was relatively simple. They reached the summit at 11:30 am. As Hillary put it, "A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top."
When referring to this expedition to the top of the world he said: "We knocked the bastard off."
In 2003 Time publised an interview "A visit with the world's greates living explorer". Stuff has published an obituary:
Sir Ed – as all New Zealanders knew him - never forgot that he reached the summit with Tensing and he devoted the rest of his life to fundraising to improve the health, education and the environment the Sherpa people of Nepal.
When he first started that work he personally built many of the schools and hospitals in the Himalayas with his own hands.
It is a sad day.