Happiness. Short-term, stupid, self-interest.

PhysX for Gamers (followup #2)

Back in May 2006, I reported on AGEIA’s PhysX card for PC gamers that would offload physics calculations from the CPU providing more realistic, immersive and inventive gaming; but, I had also said this…

History needs to repeat itself. What happened to 3DFX (consumed by nVidia) needs to happen to AGEIA. I’m not saying it needs to be integrated into the video card, though that may well be the best solution, specifically for the latency problem. I’m thinking more in terms of the API. Developers don’t write to nVidia, or ATI, or Matrox, etc, but rather to a common standard like Microsoft’s DirectX or OpenGL. (one of the things that makes standards so nice is that there are so many to choose from *rolls eyes*)

Then, I followed up with this…

Microsoft announces “Direct Physics“, to be included in the DirectX API to allow programmers to write physics based manipulation of objects in 3D for realism and better immersion.

I also commented on Havok, another player in physics hardware…

If you made me guess, I’d say that the Havok SDK will be akin to OpenGL, and the Ageia SDK will be akin to DirectDraw.

Since then, Intel gobbled up Havok and buried them somewhere, so, it will be a lot like OpenGL.

Now, in February 2008, nVidia (the leading video card manufacturer) acquired AGEIA. nVidia had this to say about it…

By purchasing AGEIA, NVIDIA will be able to support AGEIA’s very popular PhysX technology on future GeForce GPUs. By doing so, the install base of PhysX enabled hardware will exponentially increase and game developers will now have a larger number of customers that can make use of the PhysX engine.

So, hopefully my next entry on this will be when nVidia releases a video card with PhysX technology, accessible via Direct Physics, and how history did repeat itself.


March 26, 2008 Posted by | Gaming, Tech | 1 Comment

Media Center PC (How to Build an HTPC) – Part 1

Originally, when my home theater was to move into the High-Def (HDTV) world, a media center PC (a.k.a. HTPC – Home Theater Personal Computer) was high on my priority list. I wanted to be able to record anything on cable, or over the air, in high-definition. It was to replace my original DVR. There were also some other things I wanted to do with it, but they were secondary. However, upon getting my HDTV and increasing my cable service, which included the DVR service, I realized that the DVR not only covered my primary goal, but it also did it quite well.

The Time Warner DVR by Scientific Atlantic (Cisco) is the latest model offered, the 8300HD. It can record multiple channels at once in high definition. It has a fairly nice program guide, though I’d like better search capability. The remote works very good. Most importantly, it lets me fast forward through commercials.

There are a couple of things that the DVR doesn’t do. The biggest problem is that it only records 20 hours of high-definition programming. (50 hours of standard). 20 hours may seem like a lot, but it’s not. We tend to watch TV in spurts and we almost never watch live TV – everything is recorded. Sometimes, weeks go by before we sit down for an evening and catch up on our shows. Plus, I like to keep a variety of shows available for different audiences. For instance, let’s say our shows are “Terminator”, “Lost”, “Desperate Housewives” & “CSI”. If three weeks go by, that’s 12 out of 20 hours used up. Add in a couple FoodTV cake challenges, a PBS documentary, and a handful of “Good Eats” and I’m out of space.

The DVR also doesn’t do more than record. It can’t act as a media extender (i.e. play media that exists somewhere else in my home), it can’t store media other than TV programming, nor can it be the source for streaming content elsewhere. There are products out there that do some of these functions, like the PlayStation 3, xBox 360, LinkSys Media Extender, and Sling Box, and many more, but none of them do it all, not even a media center PC. However, a media center PC teamed up with some of Sling Media’s products seems to be the most powerful and flexible setup.

Check out Sling’s advertising, funny stuff….

There are cheaper stop gaps, like an external hard drive (eSATA) that plugs into the Time Warner DVR. That would run about $180 – $400, but it only adds space for TV programming. There is also the PlayStation 3, at about $500, it would be less expensive and it is a close runner up, but it still doesn’t do everything a media center PC does. In particular, it doesn’t have a lot of hard drive space, is not very flexible, and lacks upgradability. (basically, it’s limited to what Sony decides to provide)

The flexibility of an HTPC is huge. I can pick and choose parts based on price, performance, and expand in the future as needed. Before Blu-Ray won the battle against HD-DVD, I was planning on waiting it out to see which drive I would install. I will probably still wait until the Blu-Ray drive prices come down. In the meantime, I can just put in a $30 DVD drive.

The only thing bigger than flexibility is the power of an HTPC; it can do almost anything. Nothing is as accomodating and as vast as the array of Windows software available to do anything I want, much of which is free. Anything that runs in a browser will work and would have actual full browser support, not some slimmed down browser with limitations. (playing media types, viewing files types like Acrobat, plug-ins, etc) Heck, I can run iTunes, Quicken, Google Earth, and VPN into work from a media center PC. We can do online shopping, Webkinz, update the NetFlix queue, pay bills, add Wii points, book a vacation, Skype, video conferencing, backup DVD’s and make them available for instant playback… gaming… we can do anything! We could design rockets in AutoCAD if we knew how.

(If you were wondering why I am writing so much about this, I’m just practicing how to justify this to the finance committee.)

Speaking of NetFlix, we can watch unlimited streaming NetFlix movies. It is currently only DVD-like quality, but HD is coming and the need for a disc in the mail will be going away. (though, NetFlix has teamed up with LG to supply “NetFlix” boxes; I hope it doesn’t preclude PCs)

I could just buy a pre-built HTPC which would give me the ability to use a Cable Labs Cable Card and eliminate the Time Warner DVR altogether. (to use a cable card, your HTPC needs to be certified by Cable Labs, which eliminates the do-it-yourselfer) Like this $3200 Niveus Rainier, for example. (yeah! and it goes up from there) … I don’t think so.


So, the need for a media center PC is not nearly as urgent as it originally was, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still want one. What has changed is its primary mission and priorities. I will be using my blog to organize my thoughts and lay out the functions I want to be able to do, and then you can watch me pick my pieces and parts as I build it over the next year….

March 6, 2008 Posted by | Gaming, Home Improvement, Home Theater, Movies, Music, Tech, TV | 3 Comments

The Nature of the Beast

ems-cat.jpgMy favorite evil mad scientist inspired me to commiserate…


Ever since I stumbled across the Lego trebuchet while searching for other Lego creations like the Lego bottle opener, I’ve been hooked on the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories blog. (I’ve mentioned the site before) Being a food art creator, and a cat lover as well,  I also liked the peeps and the 3D printed candy. Which reminds me of the very cool FigurePrints… check out this interview on the PC Gamer podcast. (interview starts at 31:07 into the podcast)

February 28, 2008 Posted by | Gaming, Life in general, Tech | 1 Comment

This is a Triumph

I’m making a note here:

Sometime late November 2006 I disappeared from my blog. The reasons are all good as I had finally made a decision on my HDTV. The TV I chose was the Sony Bravia 46” LCD KDL-W3000. More on that later…

Here are some of the steps of how it went up.








Once it was all installed and my cable service was upgraded I was glued to the TV. The Time Warner DVR is great. Originally, I was very anxious to put in a media center PC to record high definition, but not only are there technical problems with that due to restrictions by Cable Labs on Cable Cards (they can only be used in a certified system; i.e. a manufacturer like Dell would need to have the model certified which eliminates the possibility for home built PCs), I didn’t need it; the DVR is very functional and easy to use.



Then, after Christmas, I had even more reason to never leave the Barley Room… the Wii. I have been playing Wii sports, Madden 08, and watching everyone else play Super Paper Mario, Smooth Moves, and snowboarding. We have had several, very successful, Wii parties.



I’ve also been watching movies in my NetFlix queue that I have been waiting on until I got the TV. (by the way, Spiderman 3 was not very good) On top of all that, the home theater itself had just so many things to play with… calibrating the sound and picture, learning the remotes, watching my favorite movie scenes in high-def and surround sound, and lots more.

One of the greatest SuperBowls ever…


It is hard to truly describe and show how well this room works. My wife keeps saying, “what would we do without this room?”

The home theater experience really showed itself when we watched Transformers. I had already seen the movie in the theater, and I don’t know if it was because it was the second time around, or if because I watched how they made the movie, but I concluded that this movie is now one of my favoroties, ever. The sound, the comfy seating, the picture… it was just off the hook. (Did I mention the sound???)


It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.




February 25, 2008 Posted by | Family, Gaming, Home Improvement, Home Theater, Movies, Music, Tech, TV | 5 Comments

The Writing is on the Wall for DRM

We’ve come full circle.

DRM (Digital Rights Management) was created by technology companies under the pressure of some media distributors and owners (Hollywood). Governmental law has also added to the pressure, but the laws were made under the pressure of the lobbyists of those same media people.

The goal was to prevent the small percentage of people who copy media and re-distribute it illegally, either re-selling it or giving it away for free, from being able to do so by electronic security measures. The result is that the same small percentage of people who do this are also the ones with the motivation to find out how to circumvent these security measures.

So what have we gained?

broken-cd.jpgThe people who don’t know and don’t care about DRM are the ones getting stuck with movies that can’t be played from here and songs that only work over there. All Digital Rights Management has done for the mainstream user is limit our rights and create confusion. Nothing works. Steve Jobs agrees.

Now, with all of the forms of DRM, all of the different connectors, operating systems, chips, storage devices, and media presenting devices, technology collides and things break; which is preventing the consumer from paying good green money for the exact thing they wanted to control and sell in the first place.

Well, they certainly control it… right into the ground. It can’t last; the writing is on the wall.

We’ve come full circle.

February 7, 2007 Posted by | Home Theater, Life in general, Movies, Music, Tech | Leave a comment

Upgrading Your Computer

inside.jpgIf you aren’t technically capable to take apart a computer and put it back together, this article isn’t for you. If you are, but are on the fence of whether to build your own, or order a Dell or Alienware, this might be interesting.

I’ve always built my own computers. I originally did this for several reasons,
1) upgradeability
2) overclocking
3) cost
4) customization
5) fun hobby (no really, I actually like it!)

Options #1 and #2 do not seem to matter anymore these days. Upgrading doesn’t work out as much as you would think it should. For instance, I am limited on how I can upgrade my CPU because of the socket type. The technology has changed and for $85 I could go from an AMD 2500+ to an AMD 2800+; but, that doesn’t help that much. I would have to change out the motherboard as well which opens another whole can of worms. However, I could upgrade my video card because I put in a nice 380W power supply when I originally built it. But even then, my choices are limited because AGP is no longer the trend. I will do this anyway to extend the life of this computer, but building your computer for upgradeability just isn’t a strong reason to do so.

Overclocking simply doesn’t make or break it like it use to in the 486 days. In those days, if you didn’t have the latest processor, you couldn’t play the latest game. Period. So, building for overclocking was important. These days, most games let you play with the settings so you can tune most games to run even you are running a fairly outdated system. Being able to crank up the Hertz a couple notches, just doesn’t matter.

The cost situation has changed as well. Sometimes it is cheaper to buy and entire system rather than to buy it piece by piece, but it is a tough comparison because it is usually comparing apples to oranges. A case is not just a case, a power supply is not just a power supply, etcawhtpc.jpg. Plus, you can spend more on the things important to you, and less on the things that don’t matter. While you can do that with a Dell, Gateway, etc, for the main components like the video card, CPU, etc, you are also paying for a warranty, an operating system, marketing, pre-installed software that you probably don’t want or need, etc.

In the end, I always say, you get what you pay for. (You just sometimes may not know what that was exactly) In the case of a warranty, I don’t care so much. If a part is going to fry from poor manufacturing, it usually will within the manufacturer’s default warranty period. As happened to my motherboard a few years back. Now, it was a pain to RMA the thing, and I did pay $20 for shipping, but it worked out in the end. The convenience of Dell’s turn around time would have been nice, but what exactly would I have paid for that? You don’t know, because it is wrapped up in the total cost of the computer. So cost may, or may not, be a good reason to build your own; it depends.

That leaves customization and the fun of it. I do love to build my rig, though I get nervous playing around with delicate $400 CPUs. A bent pin could mean the end of it. But the excitement of a clean built system that runs so smooth is great.

For instance, I’m planning on building a Vista computer for a Windows Media Center/Gaming Rig for the new HDTV I will eventually own. But I have some specific requirements that I can’t get from other manufacturer’s without paying for lots of things I don’t need and making concessions on features. As a matter of fact, this will be an extremely complicated design and build making a boutique PC more attractive, but I’d hate to pay $10,000 for a PC. (Did you know that some high-end ones go for $30, 000?)

I plan on blogging my journey to my new HTPC (Home Theater PC) so you can see the difficulties I might will run into, plus maybe you can help out as well by leaving a comment. Together we can learn about those new technologies (DirectX 10, HDCP, etc)  as I start to lay out the specs for the new system. I need to figure out how I’m going to get this whole thing to work. It may just turn out that in the end with the cost of Vista and a lot of high end components, I may be best off getting something from one of the boutique PC dealers.

February 2, 2007 Posted by | Home Theater, Tech | Leave a comment

Take Notice Hollywood – Record Labels Rethink DRM

Record labels rethink digital rights management at Midem – International Herald Tribune

Hollywood (and you sole-source service providers): Please understand that there is more money to be made by making your products available to the masses when it simply just works, much like how you profitted from VHS tapes.  Your larger audience is upstanding customers who pay good money and don’t have a clue how to pirate digital media. Please… please, let me give you my money and let me decide how and where I watch or listen to your product!

January 22, 2007 Posted by | Movies, Music, Tech | Leave a comment

Privately, Hollywood admits DRM isnt about piracy

Privately, Hollywood admits DRM isnt about piracy

*GASP* I’m shocked!

No I’m not… but it seems to be politically incorrect to accuse the movie industry of any wrong doing these days. As a matter of fact, somehow, they have been able to spin it in the media that technology and service providers are to blame. People believe that it is your cable companies fault that they are now preventing the function of a DVR/PVR from fast forwarding through commercials. Well, it’s not. It is the owner of the IP… it is NBC who needs you to watch commercials… it is the NFL that is preventing you from seeing Thursday night games… it is Hollywood that is preventing you from recording in high definition to play back at a later time – because they all are greedy!

DRM has really become a problem for me to the point where I can’t even view the media I properly “have rights to” because, of course, I don’t own it despite that I paid good green money for it.

Check out this article which really throws a wrench into my plans for my home theater system, Vista unable to convert CableCard media, but read carefully… in the end it is the MPAA who has lobbied the government to create laws under the premise of protection from piracy with their true intentions to control how you view media in order to optimize their profits.

So, don’t talk to me about piracy and protecting the intellectual property of Hollywood; talk to me about how to crack the code within the law and within my rights.

January 16, 2007 Posted by | Life in general, Movies, Pet Peeves, Tech | Leave a comment

Finding a Good Podcast

I love talk radio. When I am by myself, driving, or cooking, or doing anything that doesn’t take 100% of my concentration, I most often would rather listen to talk radio than to music. I’m a big fan of Car Talk on NPR, NPR in general, and ESPN Radio. And so, when I discovered the world of podcasts, I found a new way to listen to talk radio anytime I wanted to.

(I love music as well, especially when running or for a pick-me-up; and so, I have both on my MP3 player) (But not the player that I immersed in a bucket of acid)

podcast-alley.jpgYou can find podcasts on just about anything you want, from comedy to coffee, money to Muggles, home cooking to home theater, or sports to spirituality. Unfortunately, not all podcasts are created equally. Not only are there no FCC regulations, but there is nothing that says they even have to know what you are talking about. There is no age requirement, and not necessarily related, there is no maturity requirement. As a matter of fact, there are no regulations what-so-ever as far as I can tell.

google.jpgThe first thing you will have to do is to find podcasts on subjects you are interested in. [obvious] You can Google for them – try Google with subject followed by ‘podcast’, like: “lawn care” podcast – or, you can go to a website like Podcast alley where most podcasts are listed by subject and rated.

So, how do you to spot the good ones…?

It will take some sampling, but that’s what the fast forward button is for. A general rule of thumb is that podcasts put out by companies in an effort to market their product will typically have a higher quality (as opposed to a podcast put out by a couple of friends in their basement drinking beer) You do have to be careful, though, that you are not getting biased information.
Also, podcasts with real sponsors are a good indication that there is at a minimum level of maturity and seriousness because companies aren’t going to pay you for drinking beer in your basement; unless, perhaps, it is a beer company that is what you are podcasting about. (www.CraftBeerRadio.com)

Since anyone can make a podcast, expect to find people who think they are experts in a particular subject, but are not. A lot of podcasts out there contain incorrect information. The better podcasters at least try to correct themselves in future shows. If you know anything about the subject they are talking about, it shouldn’t take you long to realize how much they may truly know about what they are talking about.

Podcasts where the hosts will read, or respond to your email questions/comments, is good indication that they are paying attention to their audience; which in turn, leads to more pertinent and interesting topics.

A good rule of thumb for a weekly produced podcast is that if it is over an hour long it is probably filled with nonsensical, off topic, conversations. The worst of them is a bunch of teenage-ish guys giggling like a bunch of teenage girls over their inside jokes that no one understands. The best podcasts are about a half hour, or force themselves to cut content to make sure it is under an hour.

There are podcasts out there that meet all of the above things I’ve mention. Now, I can discuss and debate topics all day that relate to my profession, so while I have listened to those podcasts… well, they bore me. I picked a couple of subjects that I’m very interested in as a past time namely, Home Theater and Video Games, and I’m loving ’em.

My favorite Home Theater podcast is the HTGuys; though I really haven’t tried many of the others out there.

nextgen.jpgMy favorite video game podcast is Next-Gen, which focuses more on games in development rather than reviews of what is out there now. (I admit that I am guilty of enjoying following the development of a game more than playing it) Hosted by Colin Campbell, Gary Whitta and Jeremy Williams, these guys always have interesting subjects and give good, and different, points of view on them. Also, their prominence in their industry puts them in the position to get interviews with the big guys, like Valve & Bethesda. PCGamer also has a great crew and their own podcast. Producer Jeremy Williams is aces at putting both of these together. (I also tend to always agree with Jeremy). The results of both of these podcasts are interesting, mature, well spoken, entertaining and even humorous shows.

ESPN offers some podcasts for free, others you will need to be an ESPN Inside Subscriber.

Lastly, check out NPR, as they put most their shows up for download as well, in case you missed your favorite, or if it is just not on when you want to listen. Car Talk, unfortunately, is not free. (The current show is streamable for free) Of course, they are big shots these days so they need the money to hob-knob with their new Hollywood friends. 😉

December 20, 2006 Posted by | Gaming, Home Theater, Tech | 3 Comments

Net Neutrality

The “Net Neutrality” issue is summed up in this nifty video from the “Save the Internet” group’s perspective.

While I’ve signed the petition, I still wish I knew more about both sides of the issue. For instance, I keep thinking, there may be consumer benefits that are just not clear at this time. For instance, might my service provider be able to guarantee delivery of high definition video content by being able to prioritize some content?

It just so happens I work with the technologies can regulate bandwidth and guarantee quality of service (QoS). Implemented correctly, QoS doesn’t starve some traffic for the sake of others; rather, it allows both to fit through the network pipe in a timely fashion together and neither are affected. It can also regulate against malicious and bandwidth hogging applications that adversely affect your experience. This concept may seem impossible to you… that you can actually fit more through a connection by regulating and specifiy guarantees, as opposed to just sending everything through as fast as you can, but it is true and it gets down and dirty technical with the TCP rate shaping controls. (But I won’t go there… just trust me)

Of course, I also understand that implementing QoS incorrectly, or in a biased fashion, is something to be feared.

December 18, 2006 Posted by | Life in general, Tech | Leave a comment