nsayer writes: The Raspberry Pi is awesome. There's only one thing I dislike about it — how you're meant to power it. Crappy USB power supplies are ubiquitous, and the power more or less goes straight onto the +5 rail. Not only that, but the micro USB connector is SMT, and USB cables are much thicker and heavier than their 2.1mm barrel connector cable counterparts. No, it's just not the best tool for the job.
So I made Pi Power. It's a small board that sits on the GPIO pins (it comes with a stacking header so you can piggyback onto it) and has a 2.1mm barrel connector that will accept any DC voltage from 6-15 volts and output up to 2A of well regulated 5V power.
nsayer writes: "I am an amateur radio operator (N6QQQ) and am trying to set up an amateur television (ATV) repeater. Nothing new there, but this one will transmit digital TV using 8VSB modulation as compatible as possible with the ATSC digital TV standard. I bought some DATV gear from SR Systems and it arrived last week. Yesterday, I got it all working and successfully transmitted 8VSB modulated digital video at 420-426 MHz and successfully decoded it with an HD Homerun receiver. I'm using very low power at present, but my goal is to transmit with 150 watts of ERP from the summit of Mt. San Bruno at noon on 2/14/09 — the last weekend before the broadcast TV analog shut-down.
More details, including recorded video of some of my transmissions, can be had at my blog."
nsayer writes: A very, very long time ago, I used VMWare (before it was named VMWare Desktop) under the Linuxulator on FreeBSD to run Windows 2000 for the occasional windows-only application. But when MacOS X came out, I rather quickly bought a mac and have become an almost exclusive Mac user. But, as before, there would be an occasional need to run something that was Windows only, so I suffered with Virtual PC. When I upgraded to my first Intel mac, I switched over to Parallels Desktop, and, as before, have been using it to run the occasional Windows app under Windows XP. When I tried the first VMware Fusion public beta, all it did reliably was crash my machine, so I didn't really pay attention to VMWare after that. But suffice to say that I have used virtualization and/or emulation technology almost continuously since its inception.
Skip forward to a couple weeks ago and I heard about VMWare's pre-release special pricing offer for a copy of Fusion. This is the first point to bring up — the price of virtualization software has come way down. I believe that's in part to the competition that now exists in the space between Parallels and VMWare. And that's a very good thing. I don't remember what I paid originally for that first copy of VMWare so long ago, but I believe it was north of $150. I bought my copy of Fusion for $39. Vive le competition.
Both offerings have very similar feature sets. Both install special 'helper' software within your Windows guest operating system to facilitate things like video resizing (if you drag the Windows window larger or switch to full screen mode, both will resize the video area accordingly), mouse pointer sharing, drag and drop file copying, clock synchronization, etc. Both support some type of "undo" functionality that allows you to take a snapshot of the guest as it is now and at some future point revert back to the snapshot if something goes wrong. Both have a mechanism for running Windows programs in their own windows along side your mac apps (hiding the Windows desktop). Fusion calls this Unity, Parallels calls it Coherence. In those areas, it's pretty much a tie.
Both offer software that you can install on Windows either on a physical computer or on some other virtualized environment that will copy out the Windows installation and make a new virtual machine out of it. Here, I give Parallels a slight edge because the VMWare solution is actually hidden on their website and is actually designed for their enterprise products (but happens to work for Fusion). Also, since VMWare guests use ACPI and Parallels guests don't, you wind up with some virtual hardware quirks that require reinstalling Windows to completely clear up (Windows XP doesn't support switching from a standard PC to an ACPI PC without reinstalling. But you don't have to wipe the disk, you can just reinstall Windows itself, painful though that is). Since Windows tends to accumulate a lot of cruft in the registry anyway, a clean reinstall isn't a bad idea in any event. But if you have a lot of software that you don't want to have to put back on, you don't have to.
VMWare guests can run with both cores of your multi-core CPU (if applicable), Parallels guests are uniprocessor only. Unless the Windows software you use is heavily threaded, I'm not sure you'll notice too much difference there. Both systems seem to me to be responsive when dealing with typical interactive software.
Both systems support acceleration of 3D API calls, however my mac of choice is the Intel mac mini. VMWare doesn't support acceleration on the integrated Intel 950 chipset. I don't typically play 3D games, but I did try BZFlag under parallels when the 3D support was announced. I was able to get more or less the same frame rate as when I ran the native OS X BZFlag client. I haven't repeated this test with VMWare, however. If 3D games are your reason for booting Windows, then perhaps Parallels might be a better choice right now.
Both systems allow you to suspend the guest and resume it. In both cases, the normal Windows APM/ACPI suspend/hibernate functionality is avoided. Instead, the guest is simply halted in its tracks and upon resumption, the virtualization tools fix the clock and other sorts of things. VMWare's guest tools allow you to set up scripts that will run at suspend and resume time. But the big difference I've noticed is that when I resume a Parallels guest, the entire machine (both guest and host) seem to be mired in a tar pit for about a minute. From what I can tell, it's probably paging the guest in from a memory mapped file. But there is no indication of what it's doing or how long it will take. By contrast, when suspending or resuming a VMWare guest, there is a progress bar to let you know how much time is left, and when the resume process is done, the machine responds instantly at full speed. VMWare wins this one hands down.
One application I use under Windows is the Netflix WatchNow client. When you watch video in it under Parallels, you can often see tearing effects. Presumably these are caused by a lack of synchronization between the refresh rate of the host's monitor and the guest's virtual frame buffer. Whatever the cause, it can be quite annoying. But VMWare doesn't have that problem. Score another victory for them.
Another differentiation in behavior is when playing You Don't Know Jack: The Ride. Under parallels, this game has choppy, stuttery audio and often pauses for seemingly no reason. Under VMWare, it works perfectly. It's only an anecdote, and it's not a show-stopper for me, but it's nudge in VMWare's direction.
So in the end, I have to give the victory to Fusion. For a 1.0 product, it's more than just a strong contender, it's the clear victor. Can Parallels catch up? Sure, but given how long they've had a mac product, it's surprising that they need to.
nsayer writes: "I've successfully upgraded my Mac Mini to a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo.
I'll go ahead and document the procedure here. I'm not the first to do so, but here goes anyway:
Lots of folks have put tutorials online about how to upgrade the memory. Upgrading the CPU starts with getting to the point where you would if you were upgrading the RAM.
The next step is to take a small flathead screwdriver and unscrew the metal riser in the front left corner of the board. Then disconnect the small wire connector for the power switch (back right corner) and the one for the IR receiver (front right corner). With that done, the board can tip up at the front and slide out.
Removing the CPU heat sink is not easy. You need to push the spring clips down to raise the clip part off the board. Then pinch the clips together enough that they can go backwards through the hole. Release them like you would remove tire bolts — do the one diagonally opposite the first one second.
Once the heat sink is off, either scrape off the old thermal compound or clean it off with acetone. Be sure to get it all!
The socket unlocks easily with a flathead screwdriver. Give the screw half a turn only. The CPU will pop right out. Put the new one in, making sure to line up the index mark correctly (bottom right corner, as you look at the board as it would normally sit in the case).
Take careful note of the CPU heat sink. It goes on only in one direction. Get this wrong and you'll have to detach it again (remember what I said up there about it being hard to do?) because the mezanine board won't fit over it. Before installing the CPU heat sink, squirt a small amount of heat sink compound on top of the cpu. Apply the heat sink and then detach it again to check the coverage. Once the heat sink is down correctly, push the spring clips through the holes in the board, again making the second one diagonally opposite the first one.
Put the board back in the case, attach the metal riser to the bottom left corner screw hole, reattach the two wire connectors you removed before, then proceed as if you had just finished replacing the RAM.
My 2.0 GHz Merom was just over $300 on eBay, so this isn't an amazingly cheap upgrade. I did it because I wanted the performance of the core 2 Duo, but since this machine is an HTPC, I didn't need a built-in display (and a Mac Pro would have been way overkill)."
nsayer writes: "A while ago, I submitted a review of the ElGato EyeTV 500 ATSC receiver for the mac. This review is of the brand-new EyeTV Hybrid ATSC/NTSC receiver and the new EyeTV 2 software that comes with it.
The old EyeTV 500 was a box the size of a paperback book. It could only receive ATSC (that is, digital) TV signals. Since the amount of CPU required to properly decode and display 1080i programming was (and still is) pretty hefty, the system was limited to show only quarter-resolution video (slightly better than 480p) for other than dual G5 macs. This is still the case, but now the list of systems that can process full resolution video also includes any dual-core Intel mac. That lowers the bar significantly from a machine costing more than $2k (at the time) to the $599 mac mini.
Back when we had an EyeTV 500 it was plugged into a PPC mac mini and we didn't really notice the degredation in the video very much. We bought it mainly so we could easily see what HD would do for us (we originally had an old analog set in the living room, but the mac mini display looks terrible in 480i, so we bought a 720p DLP set). We wound up replacing the EyeTV 500 with an HD DirecTivo because the program guide integration was much better with TiVo, the dual-tuner, and the ability to record satellite programming. The EyeTV Hybrid addresses all of those issues except the dual-tuner one.
First, the software. Just drag the application to the applications folder. Simplicity itself. The first time you fire it up, it goes through a setup procedure. One annoyance is that they ask you for a software activation key. This is because they sell EyeTV 2 as an upgrade for those with older devices. Still, it's a bit annoying to have to dig a piece of paper out of the box when there's a perfectly good piece of hardware in the same box that is required to use the software. Couldn't they have detected the newer hardware and bypassed the license key?
Now, let's take a look at the hardware. It's remarkably smaller. It's about the size of a BIC lighter, or slighly larger than an older USB memory stick. On one side is a USB connection (it includes a cover), on the other is a standard F connector for RF input. On the side is a small hole into which plugs an optional dongle for receiving S-video and stereo audio from an alternate source (such as a satellite receiver or video game). You plug the antenna into the one end, then plug the USB end into the computer.
And nothing happened.
As I began to check things, I noticed that there was a tiny spark between the USB connector's outer case and the computer case as I began to insert the connector. That was a bit scary! It dawned on me that we have a combiner/splitter/amplifier and that some of its power supply voltage must, somehow, be leaking into the shield, making its way into the EyeTV Hybrid, and resulting in some sort of ground potential difference between the two. It's possible that that is not the correct explanation, but the observable symptoms were that the device was recognized, but got no reception and sparks could be seen when you tap the plug against the case of the Mac Pro.
The EyeTV Hybrid comes with a short A-B USB cable. I thought to myself that perhaps if it was the cheap variety, it would only pass the 4 data/power pins and not connect the shield — thus, it could be used to isolate the two grounds. Sure enough, that solved the problem. As soon as I connected it that way, I heard audio and then saw a picture on the mac. Whew!
It's worth mentioning that the EyeTV Hybrid doesn't come with an antenna. Unless you live in the heart of the urban jungle, you're probably going to require an outdoor antenna anyway (even if you do live in an urban environ, you may want an outdoor antenna to cut down on multipath problems. Multipath results in ghosting on analog, but can cause you to lose signal completely with digital).
I then took the software through the auto-detection of the local broadcasters without incident. I chose only to look for ATSC services, so I haven't tried out the analog receiver capabilities. Here in the South SF Bay Area we're fortunate that all of the local broadcasters have digital transmitters up, all but 3 of them are on one of two mountaintops in the same direction, and the remaining ones are close enough that receiving them "off the side" of your antenna is easy.
It's worth noting at this point that the advertising of the Hybrid shows it plugged into a MacBook/PowerBook. Which is fine. But keep in mind that if you intend on watching TV while you're actually on the move (say, on a long car or train trip), you'll have to perform the auto-tune procedure as you go from one market to another, or repeat it if the terrain changes while doing it. This may be a little on the tedious side.
The biggest improvement in EyeTV 2 is the fully integrated program guide. It still gets program data from TitanTV, but it used to be that there was a relatively clumsy integration between the two. You used Safari to view the TitanTV web site, and then clicks there were handled by a URL handler in the EyeTV software. Well, that has all changed. The program guide lives in a window within EyeTV itself. Want to record a show? Just click a small pink circle on each show and it will instantly change into a red dot with clock hands in it. Clicking on a show will bring you right to that show's details where you can also decide to record it, or edit the recording schedule. It's still not a TiVo season pass — if the show changes its day or time, you have to fix the schedule, but overall it's much less messy than before.
We also found some lack of reliability in scheduled recordings with the old system. It's too soon to say if that's fixed now or not. If it is, then hooking one of these up to your Mac is as close to the TiVo experience as you're going to find.
Which takes us to the last point of comparison — price. When I bought the EyeTV 500, the price point was double the asking price for the Hybrid — $149. That's progress indeed.
Overall, this is a worthy 2.0 product follow-on to the EyeTV 500. At half the price, twice the functionality and a fraction of the size of the original, I'll take two."