Category Archives: Out Of The Box

Ideas & New Perspectives

XM Satellite Radio

XM Radio LogoIn April 2009, I did what I thought I would never do, namely walk out of an auto dealer’s lot with a brand new vehicle. With the economy being more like a depression, and the automakers desperate to make a deal, I thought this was an excellent opportunity to get what I wanted. In this case, it was a new Chevy Silverado Crew Cab Pickup. The new truck is simply great and I must admit that driving a new vehicle does give you a certain smugness, which took me a month to get over. I will try to post something in the near future about the new truck, but this post is about XM Satellite Radio and why I ended up keeping it. Most new GM vehicles come with a 90 day trial of XM Radio and the Silverado was no different.

The GM Factory Deck

First up is the GM deck. In my case, the GM deck acts as both a regular AM/FM receiver and XM satellite receiver. It also performs a third function, which is to perform some OnStar functionality, such as Turn By Turn directions and display messages for your built-in satellite phone. After a while, you will notice that the deck is pretty simple to operate. The main features are that it has a built-in equalizer for sound adjustment and six menus of favorite stations (you can designate both XM and regular radio stations within the same favorite menu list). The deck does not have an LCD display and so is not stunningly hi-tech in appearance.

XM Stations

Unlike regular radio, XM has no commercials for most of its stations and interruptions are very minimal. The disc jockeys are not annoying either and are for the most part fans of the music they play. My all time favorite channel is The Boneyard, which plays classic rock music including some metal bands like Metallica, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden. In the past three months, I’ve listened to some songs I have never heard before. The variety is amazing, but even classic rock stations will run into some repeats from Billy Squire and Judas. Overall though The Boneyard tries not to repeat the same songs.

Moving on, there are other stations like Hair Nation channel 41 which plays hairband rock music from the 80’s, Liquid Metal channel 42 which is home to heavy metal only, and variety stations like Classic Rewind and Rock@Random. Hair Nation plays a little too much White Snake for my tastes, but hey, you gotta love some Cinderella and Motley Crew, right?

For non-rockers, there are other genres too, like Country, Classical Music, Soul, Disco, and Alternative 90’s rock which I still don’t consider to be real rock music. Music wise XM has pretty much everyone covered. The one glaring problem I see with XM is the lack of Latino music. There is Caliente, but that is just one station and so there seems to be a lack of serious Spanish music variety on XM. You would think they would have at least three Spanish stations, but nope they just have one.

Other than music, XM covers Sports, Weather, News, Political Commentary, and Comedy. If you have kids or just want to block certain channels from your receiver, you can do that by going to XM’s website and setting up filters for your account.

Is it Worth Paying For?

Right now the price is pretty reasonable. The cost starts at around $15 a month for a basic lineup. Reception in my GM vehicle is also excellent unless I am in a parking garage or in a drive-thru that happens to block reception. In Iowa, my experience is that XM reception is better than FM radio. Note that on extremely cloudy days you might run into reception issues, but even with Iowa’s mostly cloudy days, this does not seem to be a problem very often.

It is quite hard to go back to regular FM radio. With XM, I don’t feel the need to plug-in my iPod or carry CDs anymore. I can just sit back and turn on XM and rock out whenever I feel like it, and now isn’t that why you have a radio in your car in the first place!

Western Digital My Book Hard Drive

Western Digital My Book Home EditionWith the plummeting cost of hard drives today, hard drive manufacturers have had to come up with new ways to increase revenues, because selling bare internal hard drives to consumers does not carry much profit these days. The most obvious trend in the industry has been to dress up hard drives with external cases of various color and design and make them more appealing to consumers looking to backup their growing media collections and their occasional backup. All though there are a variety of external hard drive enclosures that you can buy separately, many consumers choose to buy an external case and hard drive packaged. In some cases buyers may be unaware that they can buy ordinary internal hard drives and pair them with a case of their choosing. Then there is cost, quality external cases can cost significantly and cheaper cases may be lacking in quality and looks. Hence the obvious choice is an external hard drive from a major manufacturer, and in this case from the hard drive manufacturer itself. This review covers the Western Digital My Book Home Edition drive. Out of the multiple choices out on the market I actually chose this specific model for the following reasons:

My Book Home Edition Features

With at least three external drives already connected to my Powerbook and a Windows Server in the same room, I wanted to keep noise levels as low as possible. Western Digital’s My Book models are for the most part pretty quiet compared to most third party enclosures. They are designed to stand vertical and save space, without using some sort of snap-on attachment stand.

Most important after design is performance. I needed at least a 500GB hard drive that performed as close as possible to a regular internal hard drive. This pretty much means you need to use something better than USB 2. Performance wise you really need to go with Firewire or eSATA. Both of these technologies outperform USB 2 external drives. The My Book Home Edition is available as a triple interface enclosure, featuring Firewire 400 (preferred on Macintosh computers and servers), eSATA (preferred on newer PC machines), and USB 2 in case you have no other option. If your computer has only USB ports, you can save some money and purchase the My Book Essential Edition instead. Otherwise I believe the extra $40 is worth it for faster performance.

Other features to note include smart energy power down when not in use, a capacity gauge that displays how much space is in use, and some backup software for Windows. Other than the energy smart features I did not setup or use these features. The capacity gauge is dependent on software, so if you do not run the software the capacity gauge feature will not work.

Usage Notes

Western Digital does not include an eSATA cable, so if you plan on using this port, make sure you pick up a cable. Firewire and USB cables are included, as well as a nice AC adapter that takes less space than the usual brick AC adapters you usually get with external devices such as these.

The case is black plastic and it appears to be snapped together, meaning that if the internal drive ever dies, replacing the internal drive may be harder to do than just replacing the entire unit out right.

Since the drive will be used with a Macintosh exclusively I needed to reformat the drive to HFS+, but in case you ever want to use the drive with a PC, I recommend using Apple’s Disk Utility to create an image DMG file of the entire contents of the drive before you format it. You can then always have the DMG file in case you want to restore the original contents of the drive. For Windows, I still recommend formatting the drive. Might as well find out early if the drive has any problems than later.

I have not encountered any problems with the My Book Home Edition and it is my second WD My Book drive. I have an original 230GB Essentials Edition that is connected to my Windows Server. Neither drive has had any physical problems and both are relatively quiet, even when in use.

Western Digital My Book Home Edition Hard Drive

  • 500GB
  • USB 2 + Firewire 400 + eSATA
  • Price: $149

Writing Great Content

In today’s online world, writing skills are a must. Chances are that if you are going to blog, write in-depth reviews, or simply make some comments on why you hated the latest movie you rented from NetFlix, your points will carry more weight if you write them correctly and with style. If you happen to run into problems when putting your thoughts into words, consider the following advice.

The Difference Between Writing And Editing

The first thing to understand is that no one writes great works the first time around. I know there is that story of Jack Kerouac writing his famous book, On The Road in only one draft, but the truth is that there were many drafts and revisions. Most writing comes from a few inspirational moments when you open your mind and just let the words come to you, as natural as breathing. Once you have your inspirational notes written down, you put them away and come back to them later. Some writers then add more to their notes and form a first draft or if their work is long enough, they begin an editing process. During the editing phase, you correct words, phrases, even try to correct the points your are trying to make.

Writers often have what is called writer’s block, periods of time that they can not come up with anything to write about. It is especially important at these times to be open and jot down whatever comes to mind. We sometimes let the editing phase take place too soon, and nothing kills inspiration like an editor’s point of view! It may surprise you how well you do write when you are not thinking of proper grammar and punctuation.

Learning To Write From Others

It may surprise you to learn that being original has nothing to do with writing. Most works get their storylines and ideas from previous works. Writing is not about coming up with something new, but about saying it in a new and/or inventive way. This means that writing well, has a lot to do with studying your subject matter and the writers that write about it. If you want to write reviews of video games, then you need to read a lot of game reviews to see what the standard is. Who knows, you might find that these reviews all lack something which you feel can make your reviews stand out.

Another example is my growing fascination with basketball, which I am now trying to write about for my personal site. Much to my surprise I find myself having trouble writing about sports, to which I can only attribute to the fact that I have had very little exposure to sports writing in general. This is something I am trying to remedy by reading as many sports books as I can find at my local library.

So even if you find yourself stuck when writing about particular subject matters, it may not mean you are a terrible writer, but that you need to learn more about writing that subject matter.

Developing Style

Something which I myself find hard to explain is style. To me style is not something you learn from a grammar guide, but something you develop over your life time. Most of the time people refer to it as personal voice. As you read more authors, you will find that some appeal to you more than others, and some you will undoubtedly try to copy their style. This will lead over time to your own style, as you keep copying different styles that eventually you will find your own uniqueness. The process is slow, but the more authors you read, the more your technique will improve with practice. This is true of most art and not just writing. U2’s guitarist The Edge, Eddie Van Halen, and countless other guitarists all learned to play like Eric Clapton, before they developed their own styles. Yet U2’s music sounds nothing like Clapton’s.