HTPC at last!

Wow! This is huge. I just setup my first HTPC. Tasha gave it to me as a belated Christmas & Hanukkah present. I’ve wanted one for the longest time, it has taken this log because I’m over analytical. There are also so many (expensive) options in this space. I didn’t think I knew enough to build my own box, and I wanted something small, with minimal power consumption. My first thought was a mac mini, but the bang for buck just isn’t there. When apple didn’t announce new hardware in January, I decided I’d look elsewhere. It just so happened that Dell was blowing out refurbished Studio hybrids. They have about the same footprint as a mini, similar horsepower, and for $425 shipped it was a steal. Finally pulling the trigger to buy one was the first step, here are my thoughts since I’ve taken it out of the box.

The first stumbling block is hooking the thing up. Try going to any store, be it Walmart, Bestbuy, etc, and glance at the cost of home theater, speaker, or computer cables. They want $99 for a 5 ft dvi to dvi cable, $25 for a 4ft optical cable, $12 for a 5ft network cable. While I would expect a bit of price premium for having them local, I don’t know they were charging such ridiculous prices for what is a commodity good. I’ll order them online from Monoprice. I’m not in that much of a rush. Be sure to factor their cost into your budget, it
would not hard too hard to rack up  $100+ in retail priced cables in no time. Luckily I was able to borrow cables from my office computer and rewire a few components in the entertainment center to get the required dvi and optical cables.
    Wiring issues resolved, I finally turned the box on. Only to immediately run upstairs to grab the lcd so I could read what I was trying to configure. It took a while flipping back and forth between the monitor and tv before I accidentally flipped the right setting. In order to read the fonts and menus on a larger screen, it requires setting the dpi of the font to something _much_ larger than the default. I set mine at 175%. It is now mostly readable, because I need glasses, but that’s a different story. Fairly annoying to waste 1hr accomplishing nothing but that’s what you get when learning by doing. Another road block, is that this is my first exposure to Vista, and this lack of familiarity has been causing me some angst.
    Now I can see the settings, I’m still trying to sort out the proper viewing resolution. So far, I’ve proceeded to waste at least 2 hrs trying to set my resolution to the appropriate 1080i for my ‘ancient’ 4×3 HDTV. I hear that 4×4 CRT tvs are so of the more difficult devices to configure. Trying to find anything out online about what resolution the video card supports, and what resolution the tv supports is all good and well, but getting the video drivers and the monitor drivers to facilitate enabling those settings is a different story entirely. When you think you’ve set correctly and but you still have a twinkly slightly too large display, don’t be surprised. Basically, my tv (and all CRT tv’s) does not display the entire image it receives, some of it is off the screen. It’s called overscan. Computers output is meant for an under-scanning monitor. Basically computers set a literal resolution, and that means if I setup your computers res to 1920×1080 you can’t see some of the screen. Fortunately it’s only unimportant things like start buttons and window controls… heh. Thank goodness most HTPC applications expect this scenario and allow you to control overscan, or at least design for it in their user controls.
   
So, after many hours spent I finally launched Media Center and began using what this box was intended for…. To Be Continued.

Martha’s cooking school mac and cheese.

As some of you know, I’m a mac and cheese fanatic. I love it in all forms, I some how manage to enjoy it even when it’s bad. Something comforting about cheese and pasta, with a bubbly crispy crust.
I’ve been collecting mac and cheese recipes for a little while now. I have yet to make half of these recipes, because I’ve got the standby recipe that my mom always used to make. I decide to switch it up tonight, and make the recipe from Martha Stewart’s new book, Martha’s cooking school.
While I’d love to post the recipe, but I’m sure there are rules against it. So, I’ll just say this

7 things you probably do not know about me. M750 edition.

7 things you probably don’t know about me.

1. The nick name I use nearly exclusively online is based on a motorcycle I wanted many years ago, a Ducati monster 750 dark.

2. I took drum lessons in 3rd grade, but was too ADD / ADHD to actually learn anything useful.

3. I own a motorcycle and have long dreamed about a coast to coast ride. (I’d guess that 1/2 of you might not know that)

4. In 5th grade I broke my leg, then Broke my right hand. Since I could not write, I did everything by computer after that, including my spelling homework. I don’t think my teacher knew about spell check. The end result is I’m relatively adept at computers, and my right thumb is about 1/2 inch shorter than my left, and I still can’t spell.

5. I am bad with surprises or secrets. If you tell me that you have a surprise for me, or secret you can’t tell me, it will drive me crazy until I know. If you send me a birthday Card, or present, or Christmas present, I will open it when it arrives.

6. I despise mayonnaise. I will however eat most salad dressings, and hollandaise sauce. Even though I know they are pretty much the same. I’m sure I inherited this from my mother, she also doesn’t eat Mayo. However she has other odd food oddities, like she doesn’t like eggs, but will eat omelets, or french toast. She doesn’t like mustard, but if eating in the dark, she will eat it.

7. I’m a very sensitive guy. So sensitive in fact that when I was little I couldn’t watch the TV show V, or any sad / scary movie. I used to leave the TV room and go hide when things got scary.

7 things you probably do not know about me

Got tagged to do this on Twitter so here is my contribution. For most reading this anyway, these facts will be new, and perhaps interesting.
1. When I was young, I taught myself how to wiggle my ears independently because I wanted to communicate with horses better (or just thought it was cool that they could).
2. I have been to 4 of the 7 continents – North America, South America, Europe, and Africa. It’s Africa that usually surprises people. ;) I went to the Cote d’Ivoire as part of a US information agency exchange program when I was 15. The USIA is basically a PR arm of the US government (though I didn’t know it then). It was the most unusual trip I have ever taken, and included dining at the US Embassy in Abidjan, then the capital of the Ivory Coast.
3. I held a job in high school which included as a task retrieving roadkilled badgers for scientific study. Other tasks were weighing wild rabbits, measuring available grass cover in between cornfields, and radio tracking tagged pheasants. I was working for a wildlife biologist, and I loved it. Somewhere in college I ended up in tech instead of a career as a wildlife biologist.
4. I met my husband via a Subaru internet forum in 2001. I had just gotten a Subaru WRX and wanted to learn more about it so I went to some of the car meets. Aaron installed foglight covers at one of the first meetings and I could tell he was very kind. Several months later we went out to a movie… then dated… and got married in 2005!
5. I have been to the following military bases: Fort Huachuca, AZ (Army), Wright Patterson (Air Force), NAS Key West (Navy), Newport News (Navy), Indian Head (Navy/Marines), Fort Stewart (Army), Hanscom (AF), NAS Brunswick (Navy), CENTCOM (MacDill AFB) and too many USCG stations to list. The non-Coast Guard stations have been for work, while the Coast Guard stations were during operations as a USCG Auxiliarist from 1997-2001. I even got to serve at STA Boston Light during the 4th of July, which was truly an experience. 360 degree views of fireworks from the light.
6. In grade school, I flubbed my big opportunity for spelling bee greatness on the word (of all things) klutz. This was particularly humiliating since I was able to handle many longer words adeptly. I tried to spell it with a c, like clutch in a car. To this day I am vexed with my childhood self. ;)
7. My posting name, Tyga B, is from my cat, with me since 1994. I found him as a orphaned kitten, and he was so tiny he fit into the palm of my hand (and that’s tiny!). He had to be fed formula. His name is Biji, and he has tiger markings so… Tiger B = > tygab. Most people think it is “ty gab” when reading it though. He’s now going on 15, and is slowing down in ways typical of an older cat. He’s had diabetes since age 12, so I give him shots 2x a day.
And there you have it!
Who to tag… some of my 7 candidates have been taken and since we’re talking twitter specifically I’m going with 4.
So,
@m750 though largely for the benefit of twitter people
@jeremychase
@thisisemily
@jpitkin

Welcome, 2009!

This will never be a complete list, and we are constantly thinking about new projects as well as ways to improve what we’re doing… but since it’s always fun to share a list here are a few things we want to achieve around the home in 2009, ideas that we had in 08 but maybe didn’t get to or ones we’ve had more recently. I’ll divide into two groups.
Likely:
-Get a generator, so we don’t face a multiday power loss again
-Put in a clothesline for less use of the dryer in warm months
-Rebuild our raised beds and use our own compost to fill them
-Set aside as much berries and meat as we did in 08 from local sources
-Process our fiber into yarn and goods [I should take a picture of starting pile... a lot!!]
-Stain the barn with the new paint sprayer we got (yes, my birthday present) – it’s looking like it needs it
Maybe:
-Raise up our own chicks via incubator
-Actually do some canning this year now that we have some supplies given to us
-Try making new homemade items (yogurt, breads, and soaps come to mind)
Of course, we want to continue blogging, taking pictures, and trying new recipes out. We hope you’ll stay tuned for ’09!
Here are some parting pictures of our December 2008:
Alpacas outside after the ice storm:

After we had 3 days of continuous snow:

and lastly, some of the eggs we’ve been getting (no, this is not normal):

Happy New Year!