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wandering the world of technology

wandering the world of technology



Chevrolet Volt — an electric car when you plug it in, a normal car when you don’t

November 24th, 2012 · No Comments

When I bought my Toyota Prius in 2006 it was pretty much at the forefront of Red Voltautomotive technology.  The Prius had a modestly sized battery and an ingenious hybrid drive system which used its efficient gasoline engine to both drive the car and to help keep the battery charged.   That hybrid system allowed the Prius to deliver great gas mileage in a package which had a surprising amount of interior room while offering the driver a good ride and an extensive array of creature comforts.

The Prius wasn’t an electric car, though – after all, you didn’t plug it in.  Ever.  It was more of a gasoline-powered car which cleverly used a battery and electric motors to add additional efficiency to the engine.  You couldn’t run the Prius using only its battery unless you “hacked” the car (you can find my article on that here) and, even then, its electric range was quite limited because of the small size of its battery.

When it came time to trade in my Prius I looked at a number of energy-efficient vehicles but they all seemed to have flaws which kept them from being the ideal vehicle for me.  There are now hybrid vehicles which have a plug-in option but, even with their larger batteries, still have a fairly limited all-electric range.  There are also all-electric vehicles with a larger electric driving range but, since they are all-electric, they can only travel so far from a charging station.

There is also another class of vehicle, the “extended range electric vehicle” class, and it has only one member: the Chevrolet Volt.   Let’s find out what that means, how its different than the other vehicles, and why those differences convinced me to trade in my Prius for a Volt.

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→ No CommentsTags: Other · Prius · Volt

Netflix streaming service continues to evolve

December 20th, 2011 · No Comments

It seems like just yesterday that I started talking about the new “Watch it Now” streaming service from Netflix (you can read that original article here).  NetflixIn fact, it’s been about 5 years since that article first appeared and, like everything else in the world of technology, things in the world of Netflix streaming have changed dramatically since then.  Let’s take a look at how things started, how they’ve changed, and where they may be headed.

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→ No CommentsTags: Computer Software · Home Theater · Internet

HDHomeRun Prime Touches all the CableCard Bases

December 16th, 2011 · No Comments

A few years ago I’d written about a product called the HDHomeRun by a company named Silicon Dust and the benefits of having your TV tuners out on your home network (you can find that article here.)  That device contained 2 HD tuners and could tune in hd_prime_pic_rev3over-the-air channels or channels that your cable provider didn’t encrypt (ATSC/QAM) and make those channels available to a variety of devices on your home network.  It worked great but, in the intervening years, has become less and less useful to viewers who get their television from cable providers as cable providers have encrypted more and more of their channels.  As I’d noted in my previous article, what’s really needed is an HDHomeRun which could use a CableCard to tune in those encrypted channels.  I’d also mentioned that I didn’t think that such a device would ever be available.  Fortunately, I was wrong.  Let’s take a look at the CableCard-ready HDHomeRun Prime.

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→ No CommentsTags: Computer Hardware · Computer Software · Home Theater

NetFlix members now have many ways to stream content

February 21st, 2010 · 5 Comments

Just a few short years ago NetFlix was only in the DVD rental business.  Things have changed during those years, though, and Netflix members can now stream content across the internet using just about every device in their living room instead of waiting for those shiny disks to show up in their mailbox.

I’d previously written a post about what the NetFlixnetflix[1] streaming service was and how it worked (you can read that post here).  When I’d written that post you could only watch NetFlix video streams on a computer.  Now there are so many different ways to stream that content that I thought I’d take a minute to list the different ways that I watch NetFlix right in my living room right now.  This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list by any means, but just an example of how pervasive this ability to stream movies and TV shows has become.  Here, then, in no particular order, are the ways that I can watch NetFlix in my own living room.

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→ 5 CommentsTags: Computer Hardware · Computer Software · Gadgets · Home Theater

Monitor your Electricity Usage with TED – the Energy Detective

February 2nd, 2010 · 2 Comments

Electricity prices are only heading in one direction — up.  You may have already taken some steps to try to get your electric bill back under control.  Maybe you’ve replaced your old incandescent light bulbs with new CFL bulbs.  imageCFL bulbs make it easy to see their potential savings because they tell you right on the package how many watts they use compared to your old bulbs.  But some of the bigger electricity users in your house can’t be measured so easily.

Look at your clothes dryer, for example.  How much electricity does it use?  Sure, you may know how much it was supposed to cost you each year when you bought it ten years ago, but how much is it using now?  How about your water heater?  Would it pay to replace it with a newer, more efficient model?  How about your central air conditioner?  Is it better to keep your house at a constant temperature while you’re at work or is it better to let it warm up and then cool it back down when you get home?

You get a bill each month that shows how much electricity you used but that’s not really enough information to tell you what to blame for that check that you have to write. Now there’s a way to see how much those appliances are costing you.  Its name is TED (“The Energy Detective”).  Let’s check it out.

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→ 2 CommentsTags: Computer Software · Gadgets

Watch streaming internet video channels on your TV with PlayOn

August 18th, 2008 · 4 Comments

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to watching streaming internet video.  The good news is that there are now many new legal ways to watch video on your PC (think of web sites like Hulu, YouTube, and even NetFlix with it’s new streaming service).  Those sites have an amazing amount of content available and more and more is getting added every day.  Hulu lets you watch full episodes of hundreds of TV shows like “The Office” and “The Daily Show” as well as a growing catalog of movies with very few commercial interruptions.  NetFlix allows their subscribers to stream over 10,000 movie and television selections (see my previous posts here and here).  And YouTube lets you watch just about anything that isn’t copyrighted (and even some content which is).

The bad news with many of these services is that you’re still tethered to the computer when you want to use them.  Hulu and YouTube are designed to be viewed from within a browser.  NetFlix works the same way, although it does offer the Roku NetFlix Player which can be connected directly to your TV (read about that here).

I’ve talked about various ways to be able to watch that content on your television instead of on your PC but, outside of Roku’s NetFlix Player, most of those solutions get pretty complex.  But now there’s a new piece of software out there which may finally allow you to easily watch that web content on your television.  It’s from MediaMall Technologies and its name is PlayOn.  Let’s take a look.

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→ 4 CommentsTags: Computer Software · Home Theater

Watch NetFlix streaming video on your TV without using a computer with the Roku NetFlix Player

May 30th, 2008 · 7 Comments

When NetFlix first came out with their “Watch it Now” feature I thought that it was a big deal (you can read that post here).  Here, finally, was a way to be able to watch a good chunk of the NetFlix catalog right there on your PC without having to wait for your DVDs to arrive in the mail.  And, best of all, it was free for people who were already NetFlix members.

Unfortunately, in order to play those movies you had to use a special plugin for Internet Explorer, and that meant that you had to watch them on a computer.  So, if you’re like me and you wanted to watch those movies on your TV, you had to be able to hook your PC (I used a laptop) up to your television.  It worked, but it wasn’t exactly convenient.

Next came the vmcNetFlix add-in for Media Center (read my post on that here).  This add-in allowed people who were running the Vista version of Windows Media Center to watch the NetFlix streaming videos inside of Media Center instead of through Internet Explorer.  Even better, it allowed people who had Media Center Extenders (like an XBox 360) to stream that content to their TV without having to have a PC in the living room.  That worked better, but it still required a PC (running Media Center) and a set-top box (the XBox 360 or other Media Center Extender).

But now there’s a way to watch NetFlix streaming videos without using a computer at all.  It’s from Roku, and it’s called the NetFlix Player.  Let’s check it out.

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→ 7 CommentsTags: Home Theater

How to watch NetFlix "Watch it Now" videos in your Windows Media Center with vmcNetFlix

May 28th, 2008 · 5 Comments

In a previous article I talked about the “Watch it Now” feature available to NetFlix customers (you can find that post here).  That feature allows users to stream some of the massive NetFlix catalog over the internet so that they can watch the content on their PCs without having to wait for the DVD to arrive in their mailboxes.

One of the main problems with using Watch it Now is that you are required to watch the video content using a special Internet Explorer plugin, and that means that you can only watch that content on a PC instead of on the TV in your living room.  The solution to that problem was to use PC or a laptop which was hooked up directly to your TV.  Now there’s a better solution, and its name is vmcNetFlix.

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→ 5 CommentsTags: Computer Software · Home Theater · Internet