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Home media management

I came across this software over the weekend: Media Center 12

Its a really nice media management package that has all the features I was looking for.  It can catalog my media including pictures, audio and video.  It can create various types of playlists, and even has a theatre mode for easy use on the PC or a TV.  You can even run a media web server and use it as a remote control for the media center and play audio/video or slideshows by clicking links on the web interface, what you select starts playing on the display connected to the server.  I really like this package, its got some good plugins and skins and is the best one I’ve tried yet. 

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Windows Vista

I am now also evaluating Windows Vista on my multimedia computer.  I performed the ugprade yesterday and it actually worked unlike my first upgrade attempt a few weeks earlier on a different home PC.  So far its not bad, but I think I need to reload a fresh install, as some weird issues are happening, such as the games not loading when you open the shortcuts for them.  One weird thing too is that hibernate works on my multimedia PC, but not on the home PC.  I guess there is some kind of hardware difference, perhaps something on the other motherboard that prevents hibernate from working.  So far I like having Vista, it runs ok on my hardware and I haven’t had any incompatibility issues.  It does take a little getting used to and most people don’t like change, but I don’t have much trouble picking up changes in software. 

New power supply

For Christmas this year I got a new 600W Power supply for my main computer at home.  It’s so much better than the other one and makes much less noise.  There is also no more ripple sound effect that the previous one had.  I did however take the old power supply and rig it into my multimedia computer as the power supply I had for it was malfunctioning.  So now both computers have the juice they need and are working good. 

New website goes live!

Last night I decided to just go ahead and make our new website live! I thought that the new design was close enough to done to warrant moving ahead with making it public. We will still be doing some minor updates here and there, and maybe add some new functionality soon as well. We had played with some podcasting stuff a while back and I may enable some multimedia features such as podcast posts with audio only for now, and maybe video later on.

Multimedia computer problems

For the last few weeks my multimedia PC has not been running well. Video playback has become jerky at best and basically become useless. I got a new CPU from ebay for it, but it took two trie as the first one I got was the wrong socket type. I got the new CPU the other night but found that it quickly over-heated with the little heatsync that came with the semperon CPU. So I had to order a new heatsync from ebay to replace it. Then I tried putting in the new video card, but found it wouldn’t get past the checking NVRAM screen and would just shutdown. So I also am waiting for a new power supply to arrive. All this stuff should be here by Thursday this week, which is tomorrow, so I should be able to reload my multimedia machine on Thursday night or Friday and get it back up and working better than before. It should then have a 512MB HIS radeon 1650 video card, Athlon 64 2.2GHz cpu, and should be much better with video playback.

The long weekend

This is going to be a long post, so be prepared for some reading…

Firday I took a personal day from work to stay home and watch the kids while Liz went to a conference in Orlando. She actually left on Thursday afternoon, but her parents came earlier on Thursday to help with the kids. So I got home on Thursday evening and she was gone 😦 After some settling in, we decided to have soup and grilled-cheese sandwiches for dinner. This is a simple meal, but very tasty (I make a great grilled-cheese sandwich). I had a bit of a crazy time trying to time everything just right, making soup and sandwiches for so many people at once. It turned out good, which I was a little doubtful about since we were one package of soup short of what I thought we’d have. There was plenty for everyone and it was good.

We got the kids in bed on Thursday night and had some fun beforehand playing the wii. Once the kids were in bed, Liz’s parents played the wii and after a while we shut the wii off and watched a movie. We put on Eragon and stayed up late.

Friday morning, after the kids and I had breakfast, we had a wii tournament. I played a few games with the girls, and then Liz’s parents started a bowling competition. They both achieved pro status and had some very good games. They were beating me and I lost some of my pro points.

Then we decided to run out to a store to try to buy a computer for my brother-in-law’s fiance’ We went to Circuit City in New Tampa and looked around (this was while Sarah was in school). We were there for about 2 hours with Michael and Abby actually being pretty good. We found a computer we all agreed was a good one, for about $400 but it didn’t come with a monitor. They had a package deal with it, but the monitor it came with was a bulky CRT.

Kind of kidding, I said they could buy me one of the nice HP flat panel monitors and I would give them my 19″ dell FP at home and give them some money for the upgrade. They agreed and the rep checked inventory, but found they didn’t have any of the computer we picked out in stock. So my mother-in-law asked if they would sell them the display model. The rep agreed and came back with a price around $330 something. We went to check out and they were going to keep the computer for a few hours and re-image it and then have us come back to pick it up. We were about to leave when Liz’s dad found a problem with the receipt. After probably an hour of waiting and adjusting, they just couldn’t get it right. They ended up getting the computer for about $185 and they got an additional $30 discount on the monitor. All in all, they paid around $460 or so for the computer and monitor, which is an awesome deal!

We went to Wendy’s after that since we are all starving and it was around lunch time anyway. I was in a hurry because I wanted to hook up the new monitor. We got to Wendy’s and got in the drive through line, but the line was moving slow. Liz’s mom suggested it would faster if she just went in and ordered. So I pulled out of line into a parking spot. We waited in the car for what felt like 30 minutes, when finally Liz’s dad went in to check out what was taking so long. Turned out they were out of chicken right at noon (go figure) and had to cook more on the spot. We finally got out of there after 12:35pm and made it home to sit down and eat. I fed Michael and got him down for a nap and started setting up the new monitor on the computer desk. At first, it worked, but was blurry, and didn’t have the software installed for the proper resolution or settings. After installing the right software, the DVI output stopped working. When set to the right resolution, the monitor would go into standby, and the display would just stop. I tried everything, uninstalling, safe mode, new drivers, new ATI software, etc. Nothing worked and I ended up taking the video card out of my multimedia computer and reloading my home computer’s OS. Once reloaded with the other video card, there were no problems and things were fine.

So now my multimedia computer is stripped of its video card and is non functional. I ordered a new video card from TigerDirect online, and it should be here sometime mid-week. I got an HIS Radeon 512MB GDDR3 Pro card, with nice specs and enhanced HD support. This should be a major improvement! I was sad to find out later that my power supply in my multimedia machine is only 250W, meaning that the new video card won’t have enough power in that computer. I may end up for now putting the new card in my main computer and taking the original video card that was in the playback computer and put it back in since I know that works. But ultimately, I want to get new power supplies for both computers, a 500W for the main PC, and a 450 for the multimedia computer.

After spending most of the afternoon working on the computers and getting things setup, I began working on setting up the new computer that my in-laws bought. I managed to re-image the computer to factory, and do all the updates and install needed software. Then I moved all their files and settings off the old computer to the new one. Then I cleaned up the old computer and removed all the clutter and made it like new. (Liz’s mom ran home once we got back from CC and got their existing computer). The arrangement ended up being that they got the new computer, and my monitor. Then my brother-in-law’s fiance’ got their computer and exsting 17″ flat panel monitor. So the arrangement worked out well for everyone.

We had Pizza Hut dippin’ strips pizza for dinner, and I also ordered a large half cheese, half pepperoni pan pizza. It was sooooo good, we love the dippin strips, which is only a seasonal thing from what we can tell. I ordered online and had it delivered.

Friday night, we started watching Spiderman 3 and didn’t finish because it was late and the movie was long. So I went to bed around 12:30 something or close to 1am.

Saturday morning we played more wii, and I finished final touches on the computers. Then we started cleaning up the house in preparation for Liz to get home that evening. We had lunch after Liz’s parents left that morning. We got to play more wii and relax a bit before Liz got home. We had the left over pizza for lunch which was still good, we had just enough left to have enough for lunch.

I was just putting the kids to bed when Liz walked in the door. Must have been after 7:30pm and I had just put Michael to bed. So I went and got him back out of bed to say hi to her. I put him down on the floor in his room, and I think he already knew she was home. He ran out of his door and into her arms and just held her for a while. He is such a sweet little boy!

Got all the kids to bed Saturday night, and Liz and I sat on the couch and chatted about our weekends and relaxed a little. It was nice to catch up and fill each other in on all the goings-on of the weekend. She had a great time at her convention and told me all about it. I told her the long story of the computer work for the weekend.

Sunday we had Amanda and her kids over for lunch and the kids got to play for a while and Lizzie and Lina got to play bowling on the wii. Amanda finished a turn for Lizzie, and said it could definately get addictive.

All weekend I had meant to cut the grass, but never found time, I was busy all weekend and never got around to it. Then I took a sick day on Monday because I was getting over some stomach problems that I seemed to pick up over the weekend. I had thought I could try to at least mow the front yard on Monday, but it kept raining on and off all day. It was a weird weather day, it would be sunny outside, but a rain cloud would be over our house, and it would be raining. Sometimes hard rain would come down and it would get grey outside, but then it would stop and the sun would come back out. All day it was like this, so I didn’t get a chance to cut the grass.

Computer System upgrades

This weekend I will be doing some computer system upgrades to my home computer systems. Not all of this will be accomplished this weekend, but the following is a list of items I plan to take care of starting today and finishing by mid week next week.

1. Install new memory into main computer, this is 2GB of DDR800 PC6400 DDR2 high performance RAM. Replacing another set of high performance RAM that never did work well with my motherboard, and was only 1GB.

2. Install upgraded CPU for the main computer. Installing new Intel P4 D 3GHz Dual-Core processor, replacing older 3.2GHz HT P4 processor. Slightly less MHz than the old processor, but provides dual-core support and better performance for Vista when we do that upgrade.

3. Install new Processor for the multimedia computer. Installing new AMD Athlon 64 2.4GHz CPU to replace the AMD Semperon 1.8GHz (mobile) chip that is currently in the unit.

4. Install new server computer. I will be adding a Dell Optiplex GX260 SFF desktop class machine as a server to my home network. This will end up powering Active Directory, DNS, DHCP and some other services on my home network. This will replace older and very slow compaq desktop that is on its last leg. This is a 2.4GHz P4, 512MB RAM, 20GB hard drive system, its small, cool and quiet. Perfect for my “server closet”.

In addition, the following upgrades are planned for the coming months…

1. Upgrade existing home photo printer. Currently have HP PhotoSmart 7550. Will be selling this on ebay to purchase new photo printer.

2. Upgrade existing LCD Flat panel monitor. Will be selling existing unit to purchase a new better model, at least 19″.

My WordPress wish list

I’ve tried many blog platforms, and am please to say that my favorite by far is WordPress. I really like the WP platform and the abundance of plugins to extend functionality. However there are a few things that can currently only be done with plugins that I would love to see become fully integrated into the core WP platform. Here is my list.

1. Better multimedia support. What if I want to podcast or post streamable mp3 files? Currently I have to use plugins such as this.player or podpress to enable this functionality. I think this should become fully integrated into the core of the WP platform

2. Lightbox – I think WP should integrate lightbox as well. This kinda goes along with the better multimedia support I spoke of above. It would be nice to have better integrated options for posts with images.

3. Gallery integration – I use a plugin for integration with gallery 2, which is great. But it would be awesome if WP could integrate support for various gallery platforms into their code. Having an options page for your gallery integration would be a huge time saver and supporting multiple gallery systems would be ideal.

4. Better uploads management. I think WP could have much better file level security and download tracking built in. It would be great to be able to have a built in downloads tracker, upload management and general file management. Perhaps some security settings, being able to restrict download of some files based on security permissions per user or something.

5. Better customization support. Sometimes its a little hard to place something on my WP site in exactly the spot where I want it. You usually have to have pretty good knowledge of CSS and PHP to be able to get it just right. Its hard for a novice user to make these kinds of changes. It would be great to have enhanced theme management to let you use an editor of some type to place custom content such as images, text, links, etc in exactly the spot you want, not just in the sidebar.

Thats about all I can think of for now, but if you (the reader) have any other ideas, I’d love to see what else people are coming up with in regards to WP suggestions. Feel free to leave your comments.

weekend computer work

I spent all day Saturday working on our home computer systems. I got an external USB storage drive (500GB) for storing our pictures and software and whatever other junk (and we have lots) we had. So I removed a second hard drive from our main computer, swapped out the hard drive in my multimedia PC, and reloaded the main PC. I moved all our files around, over 400GB worth. We now have most of our files on the external drive and my multimedia PC is much faster now with the better hard drive. I swithced out my Hitachi hard drives with Seagate drives. I wish it hadn’t taken all day, but at least its done. Things are now better organized, safer and I have some spare drives to sell now. Hello craigslist!

The Great Speaker Hunt

I recently decided that I’d like to replace the older surround sound speakers currently installed on my multimedia PC at home. Since I don’t have cable or DirecTV or any other paid TV Service, I use my multimedia PC to download/watch any shows or movies (not counting DVDs) that I want to see. This works out great for me, and the quality is amazing. My multimedia machine is a 1.8GHz AMD system, with 512MB of RAM, a 400GB hard drive, and Realtek HD Audio processor. I checked out my system specs and found that if I bought a really nice set of surround sound speakers, I’d probably need a new sound card. I like the Realtek HD audio, but the physical outputs on the motherboard are limited. I won’t have enough outputs to power a decent speaker set in 5.1 surround. So I went online and took over an hour to decide on a new sound card. I ended up getting the Creative Audigy EAX PCI. Its not an expensive card, but should deliver good quality 5.1 6 channel audio to my living room. Now the hunt is on for a good speaker set, I want to get something thats 5.1 surround, has 2 right channels, 2 front channels, a center channel/sub. I need something with a remote for volume control. I also want something if possible, on stands, so I won’t have to worry about finding temporary stands or mounting stuff on the wall.

I think I found a few sets on eBay that look pretty nice, and are fairly affordable. I don’t really need a receiver, because I won’t be using it for any radio or with any other inputs. All my multimedia comes from my multimedia PC, so as long as whatever I get connects to my multimedia PC, I’m set. I don’t want to go overboard either, since I won’t be using them to their full potential till we either move to a more secluded area, or the kids are older. We live in a close neighborhood, so I don’t want to make too much noise! I’ll try to put together some kind of diagram and spec listing for my multimedia PC and home theatre system once its complete.