Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Build

Since so many of you are actually here for baby stuff, first, I give you Halloween Tori:

She was a cat. Super-cute costume, but as you can see, she generally wasn't a fan. Too warm. But no worries.... halloween with a kid this young is pretty much a non-event. We took her around to 'trick or treat' some friends and relatives, but that's about it. But still: awfuly cute, isn't she?

At five months, this kid is a pure joy. I hate to sound like a cheeseball, but it's true. We got a lucky draw, I think: she fusses relatively little, but smiles and laughs fairly often. I even catch myself having agood time playing with her, which is saying something, since it's not like she can go out and throw frisbee or something. Mostly we just hang out, I tickle her, and watch her laugh. That's it... but it's actually a good time. For a half-hour or so, anyway.

But this is a good stage. She's not mobile, she doesn't get bored so easily that we can't take her to restaurants, she's still fairly easy to feed and change and whatnot.

My wife has been an absolute angel about some things. For one- I can't handle dirty diapers. I've tried; I just can't. When the smell hits me my gag reflex goes beserk. So she handles all dirty diapers without complaint. (I try to offset it by taking on more of the wet diapers) We're also still breastfeeding. Guys, let me tell you: if your wife wants to go this route, it'll make your life easier. Because who's the only person who can feed the baby at night? Mom, that's who. I don't mean to be selfish, but among my many quirks is the fact that I need my sleep, and this whole breastfeeding thing means I rarely have to get up at night. Woot. Again, all kudos to my lady on this count.

So yeah, life on the kid front is good.


Now, to the HTPC. It's time to put it all together.

First, I'm not going to spell out every little step- there are directions included in the manuals, and if you haven't built a PC before you probably should have a tech-savvy friend oversee you anyway. Instead, I'm mostly going to point out the potential pitfalls for this particular hardware combo, along with a handful of other observations.

- Important first step: if you've surveyed the connectors coming out ofthe Antec Fusion 430 case, you'll find that there are two two-pin headers labeled "POWER SW". This isn't mentioned anywhere in the manual; the only reference you get to this in the documentation is a poorly drawn diagram of the back of the front panel, and that diagram has no instructions whatsoever. After a little tinkering, I discovered that the black and white one, which comesoff of the main power switch, needs to be routed and plugged in rightbehind the OLED display.

Here's the spot where it goes:

And here it is plugged in:

The remaining red and black POWER SW connector plugs into the mobo in the normal power switch spot. This allows both the front panel power switch and the IR remote power switch to work.

- When mounting the mobo, you will need to install the two additional risers included in the hardware packet that came with the mobo. The spots where they need to go are circled here. (Sorry I didn't get this as a before pic. I really should have).

- The 5.25" and 3.5" bays are both removable, and are insulated for noise with nice thick silicon washers- this really impressed me. However, the lower mounting for the hard drives require you to screw from underneath the case. So I'd recommend carefully thinking through which bay you're going to mount your drive in, so you only have to upend your case once. But overall, both the optical and hard drives mounted with no problems.

- Hooking up power - For the most part, things went as planned. The Antec PSU only has one line of SATA power sources, and they can't reach both the hard drive and the optical drive, but thankfully, ASUS included several molex-to-SATA adaptors among their bundled goodies. More reason to love ASUS.

There was one hitch, however. See this plug coming off the power supply?

Looks an awful lot like an PSU_FAN connector, doesn't it? WARNING: it isn't. I actually hooked this up to the PSU_FAN spot on the mobo and tried to start up the computer; thankfully, either the PSU or the mobo was smart enough not to fire up. After some digging, I found another three pin connector hiding under one of the case partitions:

This is the power source for the OLED on the front of the case. The Antec instructions had led me to believe that the whole front panel was powered by a two-pin molex connector. Not so much. Plug these two together and you're good to go.

And I'd like to take a moment to recommend getting the full retail package when buying the motherboard- ASUS includes a wealth of extra cables, adaptors, and other goodies. They also include a driver that you'll need to get your network plug to work. So- don't jump on any open box deals; you probably want the full retail on this one.
After initial assembly, I decided that it might be a good idea to fire it up and get everything stable before installing the tuner card. Aside from the aforementioned PSU_FAN fiasco, startup with problem-free.

I installed Vista 32, which took maybe 30-45 minutes all told. Next order of business was to install everything on the ASUS disk. With that done, I could connect to the net and reflash my BIOS with the latest version.

Then I proceeded to install the software that came with the blu-ray drive. I had a couple of issues here. I installed their whole suite, but upon launching PowerDVD, it prompted me to update. It sent me to a site to download a patch- I instructed it to download & run- but after doing so, I was still getting the prompt. I ended up needing to manually download the file and run it myself. With that done, it'd play both BRD and HD-DVDs on my monitor with no problems. Looks great, no skipping or hesitation. The OLED on the front of the box tells me I'm using about 45% of my CPU during BRD playback. I watched about half of Iron Man and even with the stock CPU cooler, temps in the case never went above 22 C.

The drive also didn't come with any Lightscribe software. This may be because I got the OEM pack... so I went to and grabbed theLightscribe System Software and Lightscribe Template Labeler (free in theirdownload section). I tested this out by making a mix CD for a friend; the lightscribe art looked great and the CD played fine using the burner software included with the drive.
Later that night I hit my first snag: I wanted to watch Transformers on mySamsung HDTV, so I took the box downstairs and plugged it in via HDMI cable. First problem was that the desktop was bigger than the display whenset at 1920x1080, for some reason- it cut off the task bar at the bottom and about half the icons on the left of the desktop. I used the included tools to scale it down to make everything viewable. But still: annoying. And then I got hit with my second annoyance: when I tried to play eitherHD-DVDs or BRDs, I got an error message saying that my display wasn't HDCP (high def copy protection) compliant. Now, I took a moment to check-the drive is compliant, the mobo and integrated graphics are HDCP compliant, and the TV is compliant. So, something's not handshaking right.

But I haven't even installed the tuner card yet, so maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Next installment will involve getting things up and running.

Monday, October 27, 2008

No pics, but a sweet new project.

What do dads need to keep themselves sane?
1. Fun projects
2. Get new toys and tools every now and then.

If you accept this to be true, and then consider the fact that the capacityto go outside the home for media-based entertainment is significantlydiminished when you've got a very small kiddo in the house, this particulardad has hatched an evil plan.

Now, given that,
1. I want a Blu-Ray player
2. I want an HD Tivo, or at least a higher-capacity SD Tivo,
3. I'm sick of paying Tivo fees

Then my choice of projects is clear: I'm going to build myself a sweet mediaPC / home theater PC. Thing is... the more I search for cohesive information on this, the more frustrated I get. There's mountains of conflicting information, and it seems like the only real soup-to-nuts builds documented out there are years out of date. SO. I think I'll be filling in that gap here, by documenting every component and piece of software purchased along with every single thing I needed to do to get this box running and doing everything I need it to do, with hope that some poor bewildered soul out there can follow along and build themselves a working HTPC / MediaCenter box.

//Warning: Tech stuff ahead.\\

What I've got so far:

1. Antec Fusion 430 Black case. I found one on Ebay, slightly dented butotherwise NIB and unusued, for $90. I really liked this case because I plan to put this down with my other AV gear, and I really wanted a box that had the same look and feel as my receiver. Plus, this case is designed and built around being quiet and running cool. It comes with a beefy 430w power supply and two fans.

2. ASUS P5Q-EM motherboard, purchased new from Newegg for $130 + free s/h. The mobo was one of the most difficult choices for me. It seems the biggest debate running in the world of HTPCs is what it actually takes to decode Blu-Ray disks at an acceptable rate. One camp contends that you need a beefy videocard. The other contends that you're okay with decent onboard video, provided that you're running a stout enough main processor. I threw my lot in with the latter camp. I liked the P5Q-EM had a fairly stout onboard graphics chipset (Intel GMA X4500HD), a 1600/1333FSB, 4x240 pin DDR2 ram slots, two PCIE slots, and an HDMI out. It's more expensive than other mATX mobos aimed at HTPC use, but the added expandability made it worth itfor me.

3. Intel Core2Duo E7200 processor. This is a dual 2.53ghz processor. I'd honestly planned to go with something a little quicker, but when it popped up on for $79 with free shipping, I had to spring on it. It's a good overclocker, so if I need a little more speed, it can be had pretty easily. It's also a 45nm chip, so it should run cooler. This will be important, as my entertainment center will have to be relatively closed up, so the case won't get as much fresh airflow as I'd normally like.

4. Western Digital 'green' WD10EACS 1TB hard drive. I found it on sale at newegg for $110 with free shipping. I don't care so much about this drive being 'green' as I do it running quiet and cool. This drive will selectively scale down from 7200rpm to 5400rpm when needed, decreasing energy usage, temps, and noise. Reviews confirm these claims. I figure the 1TB capacity will allow me ample room to 'back up' Blu-Ray disks and/or record TV at top quality, without having to be too terribly picky about what I keep.

5. G.Skill 4GB (2x2gb) DDR2-800 memory. Got it from newegg for $60. Sure, my mobo supports faster memory, but per benchmarks at Toms, the difference isn't enough to make up for the price difference. I'm running G.Skill memory on my desktop and love it. And, for crying out loud, 4TB of memoryfor $60. Timing is decent at 5-5-5-15, too. Now, note: I won't be running Vista64, as my hookup can only get me 32, so I'll only get to use3gb of that. But I think it'll be sufficient until I can upgrade later on.

6. LG GGC-H20L Blu-Ray / HD-DVD player + CD/DVD burner. I consider thisto be the crown jewel of my purchases. I ended up on the losing side of the HD battle, and have a small collection of HD-DVDs. Rather than sellthem off on Ebay, or continue using my XBox 360 player, I figured I could buy one of these and not really worry about what kind of disk I was popping in the player- this guy handles Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, and DVD. I picked this one up new on Ebay for $114, a significant savings over the newegg price.

7. Hauppage HVR-1600. This is no longer the newest or hottest TV card on the market, but I found it on slickdeals for like $30 or so last year. I figure at that price, it's got to at least be worth a try. This card will record one analog source (ie, cable) and one digital source (ie, over-the-air HD broadcasts) at a time. I figure that, if my mobo will let me, I'd like to move to a two-card solution, so I can record 2 of each. But I'm not going to even dream of diving in on that yet.

8. Windows Vista Ultimate (32bit). Yeah, I'd rather run 64 bit, but as a part-time MBA student I can get a legitimate copy of this from my University for $14. That's just too good to pass up.

Other thoughts: I actually plan to make good use of and Netflix's 'watch instantly' service, provided they look okay on the TV. I'm sure quality won't be anywhere near HD, but really, does the Colbert Report need to be?

For those of you reading for cute Tori pics, I apologize for the interruption, but I do think that this will provide the internet with some uniquely useful information, stuff which dads everywhere can use, especially with Chrismas coming up. So, hang in there with me during the next few installments. :-) (and yes, I will be getting up some new pics very soon!!)


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Umm. Hi.

Blog, what blog?

Am I good with keeping up with this thing, or what?

This has been an epic couple of months. No sooner was I in the new job when it was time to build the annual budget for next year, which meant a week of 14+hour days. This was not popular with the missus, who was on baby duty unassisted. If I had this to do over again, I'd definately find some sort of reinforcements to call in- grandparents, aunts, friends, whatever.

Here's the thing: babies are unbelievably persistant. You look at them and think there's no way they could beat you- after all, they weigh 12 pounds and are younger than most of your socks. But you'd be wrong. There's nothing that'll make you lose your mind faster than when your kid who is crying, and you can't figure out why. And if you ask me, no one person should beat risk of sitting through that for longer than, say, three or four hours. Any more and the risk of becoming criminally insane becomes unacceptably high for the average adult. But me- I left my poor lady exposed to that risk for four straight nights. Bad medicine, my friends.

Little Tori has found her smile, though. Yeah, I know I owe y'all pictures. But, one step at a time, here. I'll try to get some up very soon.

The smile thing- it may not seem like much, but this is a big deal. For the first two months, you get a lot of crying and poop, but not much in the way of rewards. That's actually really rough. Most parents seem to say that while being a parent is always rough, the kiddo will pay you back with love. But the hitch is, you just have no real evidence of that love for the first two months. Seeing that smile is awesome, though. I hate to sound like such a sap, but it really is.

I have no blog access at work, so my posts will probably come once a week at most... but then, I'm not sure anyone is reading this anymore anyway, so hey. Give me a shout if you are!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Babies take time. A whole lot of time.

Once again, I'm horribly late with an update. Sorry about that, guys.

Life's been full, though! First things first: I have to advise you to NOT try to take MBA classes when you've got a one-month-old. I've found that after your wife has spent 14 consecutive hours with a newborn all by herself, her sanity is fragile and often already a little cracked. Like that little squirrel from the Ice Age trailer, all it takes is one more little nudge before she goes over the edge. Lucky for me, mine is a trooper, but not so much of a trooper that I'm going to push my luck. I dropped next semester's classes, and figure I'll resume when Ms. Screamy McScreamsen has settled into the more-or-less promised 3-month plateau.

I figure if time is like a bank account I have with my wife, I'm probably a bit overdrawn. For example, I might could get away with MBA classes, maybe, if I wasn't also doing stupid things like agreeing to fix peoples' cars. I know, I know, it's stupid- but I've got a friend who is not so well-to-do because she dedicated her life to helping disabled kids... so when her engine blew, I felt like I had to help her. And the wife agreed. But- now I'm taking classes two nights a week, doing group work another night a week, studying in some of the remaining free time, AND I'm supposed to be replacing an engine? That means more manditory face time between mom and Princess Saggypants, which in turn means crazier mom. And not the good, sexy kind of crazy. Nooo, no no.

But as you can see, with the help of my buddy Chris (who also had to abandon his wife and baby to help me out) we got the old engine out, and the new one's going in this weekend, and my friend will get out the door paying under $1000 for an engine replacement. Not bad. I just hope the good karma of helping her out and the bad karma of abandoning the wife and kiddo net out.

In other news, I also just accepted a new job. I'll be doing basically the same thing, but in a more upwardly mobile position, and for a lot more money, which is always nice. Although in this case, I determined that my net change in take-home pay will pretty much be a wash with what we're going to be paying for daycare when my wife goes back to work. Well hey, that's better than being at a negative.

Best for last: aside from the occasional unconsolable crying, little Tori is doing very well. She seems almost impossibly cute (again, when she's not screaming) and I'm at least occasionally good at making her happy. And that is an incredible feeling. You probably won't believe it until you feel it, but it is.

But anyway, the bottom line is that life is full but good for this dad right now. With a baby, you just can't ask for more than that.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hanging in there

So, I just started back on my MBA.

I'll admit, this seems a bit crazy, since we just had our first kid a month ago. As I learned when I first started the MBA classes, this'll mean even less free time, more stress, less money, and more to do. But ultimately, the cost of not going ahead and finishing this degree is fairly significant, too. So we agreed that I should go for it.

So far it's been... interesting. I feel a bit like a guy whose day has magically shrunk to about 18 hours. Not just on class days, but every day. But there are benefits, too, actually- I get myself a little break from all things baby. Don't get me wrong, I love my little girl, but sometimes there can be a bit of overexposure, if you know what I mean.

But alas, I know the blog has suffered. Work continues to be more than a little busy, and the breakneck pace of summer classes leave little room for writing. I'll make up for it later, guys, I promise. :)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

On Poo.

If there's one subject that magically stops being taboo among otherwise civil adults once a kid arrives, that subject is poo.

Yeah, I don't know why, either.

The best I can figure is that it's gallows humor. After all, as parents, we're actively having to deal with one of the foulest, most disgusting substances on earth, multiple times per day. There's just no getting around that sad fact. In many cases, you're actually getting sprayed with said substance during a diaper change. It might end up on the walls, or the furniture, or god-knows-where. But it's something that has to be done, so what else is there to do but joke about it?

There is a line, though. A few months ago the wife and I were at a nice seafood restaurant in Charleston with four other couples - all either parents or expectant parents. There were no kids present; we were all getting some much-needed adult time.

And yet, while enjoying this fantastic meal of fresh seafood, what did we talk about? Yeah. Poo. Yellow poo vs brown poo. Smooth poo vs. 'seedy' poo. Eventually, I sort of nervously laughed and said, "Guys. We've been talking about poo for the last five minutes. NEW SUBJECT!"

Everyone else laughed... though I never quite worked out whether they were laughing at me being squeamish, or laughing because they realized what, exactly, they had been doing.

Alright, I'll admit, I have issues. I still retch sometimes when changing dirty diapers, and my angel of a wife does most of them for me. But still, even when we're parents, there are some standards of decorum that really should maintained, yes?

Poo or no poo, there are still plenty of moments when it's all worth it. Like this one:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Stuff I don't plan on giving up: Part 2

Every man needs a sport.

And I don't mean a sport you watch on TV. While there is, without a doubt, a certain need for men to gather together and observe the nation's finest athletes doing their thing, and perhaps supporting some team with which you feel some loyalty or connection.

And I'm not talking about coaching your kids' little league team, though that's certainly noble, too.

No, I think every man should have at least one sport that they actually participate in. It doesn't have to be athletic- just something in which a man can engage his competitive spirit. Something he can win. I maintain that being competitive helps a guy maintain his sense of vigor; it helps him give his kids the sense of focus and drive they'll need to succeed in the real world. And while we compete every day at work, there are few concrete victories in the workplace. In sport, there are. So having a sport is, in my opinion, absolutely key.

For me, that sport is racing. I do a few others, too- but racing is where my real passion is at. Lucky for me, my sort of racing (called 'autocross') isn't one where I'm likely to get killed or drop a couple of thousand dollars per weekend, which, I'd say, greatly increases the likelihood that I'll get to continue participating in. This one takes up about one weekend a month from March to October, and costs less than pretty much any other form of racing.

This year is sizing up pretty well. Five races into the season and I'm leading the regional championship rankings for my class by a healthy eight-point margin. I had my first real test of how sustainable this sport was going to be, already- we had a race just a week after the baby was born. My wife, God bless her, knew how important this was to me, and practically shooed me out the door. Life is good.

Of course, that first time, she had her mom to stick around and help her out, and as I've noticed with other friends, they just get to be more and more of a handful as time goes on. Still, I'm optimistic that I won't have to give this up.

I do have other sports that may fall, though. I've been fairly active in my local Ultimate Frisbee league for the last few years, and I love it- but Ultimate night falls between the other two nights where I have MBA classes, and I would like to get to know my daughter at some point. And I don't know how much I'll get out to play golf. But giving those up are a lot easier, knowing that I'm getting to keep the one that's really important to me, you know?

So, hon, I know you're reading this- thank you!