Pimp my 24" Dell widescreen monitor

If it seems like I’m writing a lot about products these days. . . well, I am. It’s the holiday season, so it’s a good time to be thinking about such things. I have been doing a lot of experimenting with my home computer setup in the past few weeks. I’ve seen a number of people write about the 24″ widescreen Dell monitors (aka Dell UltraSharp 2405FPW 24-inch Wide Aspect Flat Panel LCD monitor) and how great they are purely as monitors, but that’s only half the story. In relative terms, this is a pretty cheap monitor (do a search for “dell coupons” and you’re likely to find a big discount somewhere — I got mine for less than $900 including tax and shipping), but the price belies that fact that you can solve more problems with it than just having a big screen for your computer. I bought one recently and I have pimped it out well beyond my original intentions of just having a big monitor.

Here’s what I have hooked into the five monitor inputs:

  • my work laptop using the VGA connector
  • a G5 using the DVI connection
  • a DirecTivo satellite TV tuner hooked into the S-Video connection
  • an XBOX (the old model, not the 360) using the composite connection
  • nothing in the composite input yet

The switch on the front of the monitor allows me to switch easily across all these devices, so I can use the monitor for the computer, a satellite TV stream via my DirecTivo, the XBOX, or my work laptop without messing around with cables or other switches. It’s really convenient.

The coolest thing, though (and something that doesn’t seem to be heavily mentioned in what I’ve read about the Dell widescreen) is the picture-in-picture capability. What this means in practical terms is that I can keep a little TV window on my computer desktop while I’m working. I’m a big college basketball fan and during college basketball season, I keep up with the games and spend a lot of time at the computer looking at stats and scores. Now that can be combined on the same screen. Yay.

(I know what some people are thinking — “I don’t watch TV.” Well, this isn’t for you then! An aside on this matter: I hear a lot of people say, “I don’t watch TV — I only watch DVDs of movies and TV shows.” To me, that’s kind of like saying, “I’m a vegetarian, but I eat chicken” — something I’ve heard more than once. Ahem. In this vein, I recommend checking out “Five things (besides a television) that you could constantly remind people you won’t use” on the excellent 5ives.com site by Merlin Mann of 43 Folders fame.)

Here’s a shot of the picture-in-picture capability with my OS X desktop and CNN running in the bottom corner:

Another really nice thing about the Dell monitor is the built-in card reader that sits unobtrusively on the side of the monitor — if you weren’t looking for the card slots, you would hardly even notice them. I use a camera with an SD card, so this feature allowed me to unhook the ugly USB SD card reader device I had hanging off my computer. It doesn’t just do SD cards, though — it can read 8 other types of cards. The monitor also has a USB hub with 4 ports hanging off of it. I threw my old USB hub in a drawer when I got the Dell and the connections on my desk are much cleaner now.

Some people give Dell grief for ripping off the form factor of the new Apple Cinema Displays, but I think this monitor innovates beyond what Apple has done (and I’m no fan of Dell). None of the innovations are rocket science (the SD card reader, the multiple independent inputs including VGA), but they are small touches that make the whole monitor much greater than the sum of its parts. (see the Dell specs vs. the Apple Cinema Display specs for a comparison). Granted, this isn’t necessarily more simple than the Apple product, but it offers more features, and features that I actually needed. (Full disclosure: I don’t have access to a current Cinema Display, so let me know if I’m missing something feature-wise.)

The only (understandable) downside to the Dell monitor is that with all those video sources pumping into the screen, you need a way to handle the audio. The computer audio is easy — just use the speakers you already have hooked up to your computer. To get audio for your TV tuner and/or XBOX, you need to put a stereo receiver in the stack and run the audio output for them through it. This is kind of a drag since your computer audio will be separate.

I tried to figure out a good way to run the audio from my DirecTivo through the Mac, but just couldn’t figure it out. I’m not a total amateur at such things, so I’m surprised it didn’t work. When I ran audio out from the DirecTivo’s optical out into the G5′s optical in, the Sound control panel showed that I was getting audio levels, but the speakers wouldn’t output the audio. If anyone has any tips on how to make this happen, let me know. For now, I have my computer speakers and some regular JBL speakers hooked into a stereo receiver for the DirecTivo and the XBOX.

Despite the minor annoyance of having two sets of speakers, my new setup totally rocks. I highly recommend the Dell if you want a nice monitor — but don’t forget to check out all the other nice benefits beyond the huge display.

ecto for Windows (alternate title: Windows install dependencies suck)

About a year and a half ago (in what seems like another life now), I wrote about my first (good) impressions using ecto for OS X. It was a different job, a different blog platform (Movable Type), and a different OS. Now that I’m doing Windows again at work (still OS X at home), I decided to try ecto for Windows against a WordPress blog.

I downloaded ecto for Windows (zip file, ~3.9MB) and was slightly annoyed when the readme told me I needed to download something else, Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 SP1, which is about 10.5MB. I downloaded it anyway, but got this error message when I tried to install it on my stock Yahoo-issued laptop (which has been rock-solid since I got it just over three months ago):

The upgrade patch cannot be installed by the Windows Installer service because the program to be upgraded may be missing, or the upgrade patch may update a different version of the program. Verify that the program to be upgraded exists on your computer and that you have the correct upgrade patch.

Oh well. I noticed on the .NET Framework 1.1 SP1 page that there was a link to .NET Framework 2.0, so I downloaded that (almost 23MB!) My first thought was, “if this thing installs, there is absolutely no way I’m going to get away without a reboot.” My second thought was “there should be backwards compatibility — maybe it will work.” It installed — with no reboot required. Wow.

Then I tried to install ecto again and got this message:

Microsoft .NET Framework v1.1 SP1 is not installed. Please visit Microsoft website to download and install the framework before installing ecto.

For the heck of it, I tried installing v1.1 again, and got this message again:

The upgrade patch cannot be installed by the Windows Installer service because the program to be upgraded may be missing, or the upgrade patch may update a different version of the program. Verify that the program to be upgraded exists on your computer and that you have the correct upgrade patch.

Deciding that the .NET Framework 2.0 was of no use to me, I went to Add/Remove Programs to remove it and got this message: “Uninstalling Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 might cause other programs to stop working correctly. Are you sure you want to uninstall Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0?” Ugh. What “other programs” are we talking about? I didn’t really feel like blowing up my laptop, so I stopped right there. The ecto for Windows FAQ addresses this requirement: “Q2: Is the .Net Framework really necessary? ecto for Windows is developed entirely in Visual Studio .Net 2003 using C#. This allow rapid development of new features and debugging.”

My verdict on ecto for Windows is simple: making it easy to get past the install process relatively painlessly would be a nice start. I never got past the first dependency. I shouldn’t have veered off the script and upgraded to .NET Framework 2.0 for the heck of it, but should it really be this painful and require a secondary download that is 3x larger than the software itself to get going? I loved ecto for OS X. I guess I’ll have to wait to see how it works for Windows until ecto works with .NET Framework 2.0.

Update: for those of you who don’t read the comments, Alex writes in with the following excellent news (and barely ten minutes after I posted!):

Support for .Net 2.0 in the installer will be added soon. ecto is .Net 2.0 compatible, it is just that the installer needs to be updated to check for that. A maintainance update will be released this weekend to include .Net 2.0 compatibility.

As a matter of fact, the next major update will require .Net 2.0 framework.

I’ll write more about ecto itself when I get it installed. . . but I certainly admire the rapid response.

Update 11/28/05: Alex Hung e-mailed me on Thursday to let me know that ecto had been updated to include .Net 2.0 compatibility. I just installed the new version of ecto with no problems and am using to update this blog post. Thanks, Alex!

Quick review: Plantronics MX150 Headset for Treo 650

Plantronics MX 150 Headset A while back, I asked for recommendations for a Bluetooth headset for the Treo 650 and the consensus from that post and other conversations was to get a wired headset. I happened to be near a Best Buy last night, so I decided to drop in and grab one that looked like it would fit my requirements without doing any research in advance. I grabbed the Plantronics MX150 for $27.99 (not the $44.95 listed on the Plantronics site), hoping that it would fit these criteria:

  • it should fit snugly in my ear, but at the same time, not feel like I’m getting an ear exam from a doctor
  • it should feature something to hold the earpiece onto my ear, but the less something, the better
  • it shouldn’t look too Star Trek-y
  • the volume of the person I’m talking to should be clearly sufficient through the earpiece
  • the person I’m talking shouldn’t notice I’m using a headset

After my first commute making a few phone calls, the verdict is clear — it’s just what I wanted. The earpiece fit nicely, but it didn’t feel like an ear exam. As you can see from the photo, there is a small clip that holds the earpiece to your ear, and it does its job effectively, though it slips slightly if I look over my shoulder (YEMV. . your ear may vary). It’s not too Star Trek-y for my taste. Finally, in a conversation with my mom, I could hear her clearly and she never asked me what was wrong with my phone. If you need a simple and relatively inexpensive wired headset that works with Treo 650, I highly recommend it.

We're hiring: join one of the most innovative teams at Yahoo!

If you thought the Event Browser was kick-ass like I did, here’s your chance to actually work with the team that built it. Ravi Dronamraju is adding to Team Edison (a team he put together) and just sent this job description over:

Do you have what it takes to build, prototype, innovate? Are you the über-geek who can think in multiple programming languages? Do you write more lines of code than email? Well, come join Team Edison at Yahoo! As part of the Search and Marketplace organization you will get a chance to put your brain through daily exercise of creativity and innovation, laying the foundation for Web 2.0 and beyond.

Ideally you thrive in a team-first environment, enjoy problem-solving and learning new technologies. You should have MSCS or equivalent with 5+ years of experience in building Web applications. At the core, you can express yourself competently in any of the following: Perl, PHP, C/C++, JavaScript and CSS. Solid understanding of technologies like HTTP, Apache, RDBMS/MySQL, Unix is a plus.

I work very closely with this team, so if you’re interested in this role, send me an e-mail with your resume (and tell me what you like to do and why you want to join the team). Please put “Team Edison position” in the subject line. My Yahoo! e-mail is chadd -AT- yahoo-inc -DOT- com. (No recruiters or agencies, please.)

Job descriptions rarely do justice to a position, so here’s my informal scoop. . . this team is heavily-focused on API development, both internal and external, so the work itself really couldn’t be more fun. The team is also small and nimble (very much on purpose) — a great group to join if you want to have an immediate impact (just ask Ed, who started working on the Event Browser on his second day, I think). And Yahoo! really is a great place to work — I’ve been here barely over three months now and it’s a blast. Come join the fun.

Bono, Mark Hosler, and lost opportunities

Mark salutes Yahoo! So, Bono from U2 was here at Yahoo! yesterday (here’s the Flickr photo). As I’ve mentioned here before, we had Mark Hosler of Negativland pay us a visit barely a month ago. For the uninitiated, Mark and Negativland were sued by U2 for copyright infringement (see the Negativland entry in Wikipedia for details) in one of the landmark copyright suits in the history of pop music (I’d put it up right there with George Harrison being sued for copyright infringement for appropriating the melody of the Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine” for his song “My Sweet Lord”). They lost the suit.

If you were to super-impose the Bono photo on the Mark Hosler photo in this blog post (they were both in the exact same lobby — building D on the Yahoo! Sunnyvale campus), Mark would be mock-saluting Bono from behind. I wonder if it would have been a slightly different “salute.” Now that would have made a good photo.

First impressions of Measure Map from Adaptive Path

I got my invitation a few days ago to try out the alpha release of Measure Map, the blog stats service from the folks over at Adapative Path. After a few days of using it, I’m generally impressed. The quickest (but also crudest) way I can think of to describe the service is WebSideStory’s Hitbox or Omniture Site Catalyst for bloggers, since (like Measure Map) both of these services leverage the placement of Javascript code in a site’s pages to deliver reporting, freeing sites from the laborious crunching of log files, filtering out spider/robot traffic, and the many other annoyances of old-school methods of traffic reporting on the web. That being said, even if WebSideStory or Omniture decided to create a blogger offering, you can bet it wouldn’t be as simple, elegant, and useful as Measure Map. Even though it’s alpha, it looks like they’re building the right half of a product, but not a half-assed product. The tag line is “get to know your blog,” and that’s what Measure Maps is already helping me do.

Setup was easy for WordPress. I have no problem editing my templates based on rudimentary written instructions, but I still appreciated the clear visual guidance the Adaptive Path folks give in their instructions. Here’s an example:

Measure Map template editing

Almost immediately, the numbers started rolling in, and I found myself checking my Measure Map stats as often as I had grown accustomed to checking my Feedburner stats (incidentally, I consider these two services complementary at this point, since Measure Map measures non-RSS traffic, and Feedburner measures RSS traffic). Here’s a sample screen, the “Links” screen which tells me inbound links, outbound links (how else are you going to get that info without a bunch of ugly redirects and log crunching?), and search terms used to get to your site.

Measure Map links screen

The outbound links tracking is cool because it includes everything on your blog page, so you can see exactly which photos people are clicking on your Flickr badge, for example. The search terms section lets you know what words people are using to find you on search engines. Like everything else in Measure Map, the information is updated fairly instantly as activity occurs on your site.

Other stats I quickly learned:

  • the browser breakdown for my blog (58% Firefox, 26% IE, 12% Safari, 4% “other”)
  • the geographical distribution of visitors (73% U.S., 5% UK, 5% Canada, 5% Australia, 4% India, the rest spread among 12 other countries)
  • peak usage times (7-9am, 1pm, 5pm)
  • My top 10 posts (#1 is “Super-mashup with Yahoo! APIs: event browser“)

Bottom line: though only in alpha, Measure Map is already quite useful to me. Only one significant glaring hole that I noticed in the materials: no mention of an API on the Measure Map alpha status page under “feature set”: We’ve got a few great features coming soon, including stats for your RSS feed, tracking interesting events in your stats, and deeper tools for understanding search engine traffic. This might very well be on the way, but it would be nice to see it explicitly mentioned. After all, the service itself is being developed on top of some sort of API — why not start surfacing it early? It would be great to be able to do some remixing with the Feedburner API, for example.

Update (for those of you who don’t keep up with the comments): Jeff Veen from Adaptive Path writes: “We’re already working with Feedburner, with the intent of hooking your accounts together and merging the stats. Also, our first peek at a public API will be coming very soon now.”

Openness, advertising, and the Yahoo! Maps API

Amidst all this talk about disruption, maps, and advertising. here’s something I was super-glad to see: a bold clarification about terms of use for maps developers over at the YDN blog from Vince Maniago (yeah, we launched Maps yesterday but no one is sitting still!)

Our position has always been to allow usage of the Yahoo! Maps APIs free of charge for non-commercial use, as well as commercial use granted on a case-by-case basis. This is defined in our FAQ which also has instructions for how to contact us should you want to seek permission for commercial use.

In general, if you are displaying mashups featuring Yahoo! Maps on your site or application and you make your stuff available for free to users, you’re welcome to use the Yahoo! Maps APIs. This is true even if your site is supported by ads — even ads from other vendors.

Without a doubt, we still want you to sign up for for Yahoo! Publisher Network to display our ads on your site (for which you will receive a cut, of course), but we’re not going to ask you to use YPN unless your own stuff isn’t free.