The M-Audio StudioPro 3 Desktop Audio Monitors are good computer speakers. I'm no audiophile expert, I'm just looking for decent speakers for listening to MP3s and the occasional Youtube video. These fit the bill for about $85.

The main thing that sets these apart from your usual cheap computers speakers is the enclosure. Instead of a cheap hollow plastic box they're MDF, a wood composite. They sound pretty good to me, particularly crisp in the mid to high range. Without a subwoofer cluttering your desk the bass is limited (they spec at 100Hz-20kHz ±3dB), but there's a decent bass port on the back and a booster circuit if that's your thing.

The design is functional; decent shielding, an extra aux-in jack on the front, and nice little wedge stands for pointing the speakers up from the table to your head. They're not particularly attractive but they don't look stupid either.

M-Audio makes a variety of small amplified speakers for various price ranges. I sure wish someone would just make a candybar sized small amp so I could power ordinary speakers from my computer.

  2008-09-22 20:59 Z
Windows networking confuses the hell out of me. I can tell you why every single bit is present in the average TCP packet header, I've surveyed hundreds of thousands of time servers on the Internet, I've actually modified the source code for BSD lpd. But I couldn't begin to explain to you how Windows filesharing is supposed to work.

I want to print to Ken's USB printer plugged into his WinXP system. Since removing our wireless ethernet bridge I can see his printer via Windows filesharing. But I doubleclick to install it and Vista demands a printer driver. It claims to have no drivers to choose from. Of course, HP doesn't have a manually installable Vista64 compatible driver for this old printer. I'm screwed.

Turns out there's a solution. Basically you manually set up a new local printer where Vista will let you manually choose from the hundreds of pre-installed printer drivers. Then you fake it out by giving a network name as the port. In detail (from the linked post)

  1. Add Printer from the Control panel
  2. Add a local printer with a new port of type "Local Port"
  3. For the port name, type the SMB share name. Ie: "\\KENSCOMPUTER\Printer".
  4. Browse the tree to choose which driver you need.
I think what you're using is Vista's support for legacy parallel port computers where the only way to identify a printer is manually. Why Vista doesn't let you manually pick drivers for other types of printers is beyond me.
  2008-09-20 19:46 Z
I try really hard to keep my privacy at home. In particular, I hate phone calls from strangers. I keep my number unlisted, I require caller ID to call me, I'm on the Do Not Call registry. And yet, even so I get junk phone calls about four times a week to my home line.

This time around on the new number it's a promotion for Dish Network TV. No doubt it's not Dish themselves but some marketing affiliate. I don't care; they call me with a fake Caller ID once a day and I can't make it stop.

Even worse are the junk calls to my cell phone, almost always one of the car warranty scams. And then there's political calls. As near as I can tell all of these marketing calls are entirely illegal. Also, as near as I can tell there's no way to stop them.

  2008-09-17 21:59 Z
In the past year I've bought more housewares than in the past ten. I found two stores I particularly like shopping at.

For furniture I like Room and Board. Very clean and simple furniture and furnishings. It's a bit like Crate and Barrel only fresher style, higher quality goods, and without all the crockery. Lots of good furniture if you want something well made and relatively simple. They have a beautiful print catalog with a great use of small multiples to quickly show you all of the furniture options they offer. Their San Francisco store is a delight, open and spacious, friendly staff, and parking. My only regret is they trend more contemporary than our home so we ended up not ordering as much from them as I'd hoped. But I got some great desks; simple cherry planks with aluminum legs. Also a nice old leather reclining chair and a sofa bed.

For matching our house's 1930s details I'm totally in love with Rejuvenation Hardware. It's an amazing source of period light fixtures, door hardware, and other house furnishings. Need a crystal doorknob to replace the 1890s knob that somehow got lost? They've got it. Or maybe an art deco coat hook or an Edwardian outdoor light fixture. If you've got a pre-WWII house and want to replace / upgrade something, they've got matching parts newly manufactured. Mail-order hardware makes me nervous but they ship quickly and have a generous return policy. So far everything we've gotten from them has been great.

  2008-09-16 00:48 Z
Since December 2007 the Xbox 360 has been capable of playing Xvid files. But it's ridiculously complex to set up.

First of all: do not use Windows Media Center. Do not use the "Media Center" option in the Xbox. Do not set up anything called an "Extender". Windows Media Center is interesting and has a fancy UI, but for some baffling reason it does not support DivX/XviD.

Instead you need to do something simpler; just let the Xbox find the AVI file and play it. The easiest way to do this is via an external USB drive; just plug it into the Xbox 360 (it has USB ports!), go to Media/Video, press X to change source, and browse the files on the drive. It's really that easy. But copying files to a drive is a drag, what you want is to serve them over the network. And for that you need a UPnP server, a simple file sharing protocol.

There's a slew of UPnP servers out there for Linux and near as I can tell none of them work. Windows has a UPnP server built into recent versions of Windows Media Player. Launch WMP, click the obscure little arrow below the word "Library", and choose "Media Sharing". If your Xbox 360 is turned on you should see it as a device option. Allow sharing to it and you're done. You'll probably want to also do "Add to Library" to pick the folder where all your videos are. Then on the Xbox go to Media / Videos, press X to change source, and you should see your new UPnP server. Now you can browse and play.

This sharing process is all ridiculously complicated and obscure. Poor Microsoft; they really want to sell media devices, competing with iPod and iTunes and Apple TV. But it's clear their media stuff is designed by a giant committee: they lack the single person with good taste and the authority to say "make this work simply".

  2008-09-13 17:17 Z
The problem with virtual stuff is there's no way to show it off to your friends.

One reason we buy things is to display ownership. Intellectuals fill their bookshelves with demonstrations of their knowledge. Hipsters show off CD collections of cool obscure music. Fashionistas parade their designer clothes and handbags. The objects themselves have value and purpose: we do read the books and listen to the music. But the display of the object is part of our culture of conspicuous consumption. People are bower birds.

It took eight days to pack and unpack my house on my recent move. I'm still not done; somewhere I have an unopened sixty pound, 1.5 cubic foot box labelled "PC Games". I also have about four cubic feet of CDs. I'm hoping to never open those boxes; the games are installed, the CDs are ripped. I'd rather get rid of the objects entirely, but then I'll lose the pleasure of looking at and showing off my collections.

There's no good way to display the virtual objects we own. There's no online equivalent of looking at a bookshelf full of cool CDs. It's not just vanity, it's hard to casually browse virtual objects, to enjoy any serendipity at finding some long-lost things. It's also easy to forget we own stuff. I just bought Spore online and was surprised to learn from the downloader that I also owned Battlefield 2142: I'd bought it online a year ago. I appreciate that EA kept my bookshelf of games for me, but I wish it were more visible. And unified: I own stuff at Microsoft and Valve, too.

We need virtual bookshelves of some sort, a display of all the digital stuff we possess. There are some precedents. Library Thing is all about showing off your books. Habbo is a whole virtual social world constructed around buying virtual things and displaying them to your friends. And Lord of the Rings Online lets your kinship buy a collective house to display the trophies they've collected. But these virtual collections are so specific, highly mediated, and abstract as to not satisfy the same way as an old pine bookshelf full of paperbacks from your salad days.

  2008-09-08 13:24 Z
If you're doing a local move in San Francisco, Marin, or around there I can highly recommend the moving company Country Moves in Novato, CA. They don't have a website I can find, their number is 707-522-1377.

Moving house is always stressful, but Country Moves really helped make it easy. Their crew was incredibly careful and thoughtful. They totally know their craft; the truck was packed neatly, pictures and such were wrapped beautifully in blankets, and everything came out organized. It helps a lot they sent four folks, the owner of the business and three strong guys. Steve, the owner, is easy going and clearly in control, it was great having him managing things.

Their pricing for the move was quite reasonable. We appreciated the extra service: they dropped off some boxes a few days before and then only charged us for what we used. They also took care of getting the street parking permit when we had didn't have time to do it.

They do a lot of deliveries of designer furniture so they know how to handle delicate and expensive things. They're happy to do house moves in San Francisco, too, and I can recommend them without reservations.

  2008-09-07 16:03 Z