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Laptop Cooling Stand Review - "The Psychologist as Detective" Tim 
Posted by: Tim at 10:45 PM EST on 2/28/2005
File Under: Misc Tech -> Computers

My laptop has been acting up a bit lately, but I kinda consider it my fault. You see, I have the habit of trying to watch XviDs that are an hour or two long, all while running Outlook, iTunes, AIM, and BitTorrent in the background. That, and my dorm room doesn't have very good air circulation. What this all adds up to is frequent overheating. Most of the time, the fan just kicks in full force and my movies start skipping or stalling. But, other times, the computer overheats completely and shuts down.

The problem is most certainly one of air circulation, as everything tends to run very well if I keep the computer on my lap with the vent fully unobstructed. The problems occur when I leave it sitting on my desk (read: most of the time). Seriously, I want to know what genius at Dell figured it would be a good idea to put the system's one and only fan on the bottom of the unit. Regardless, since I knew what the problem was, I figured it would be easy to solve. I looked into such solutions as the NC-500 Cooling Pad and the LapCool2 Notebook Cooler, but decided they didn't really fit my needs.

Finally, I settled on The Psychologist As Detective: An Introduction to Conducting Research in Psychology, Second Edition, by Randolph A. Smith and Stephen Davis. Now, Prentice Hall Publishing isn't usually known for computer accessories, but I think they've created a fine entry into the low-end laptop cooling device market. At prices as low as $1.95, this unit is practically a steal. Sure, it doesn't perform perfectly, but the price is unbeatable! Ever since installing it, the number of overheating instances I have experienced have dropped dramatically, (only one that I can think of in the past couple of weeks) and my overall computing experience has improved greatly. The fan now kicks into its highest speed much less frequently, meaning noise levels have reduced significantly.

Overall: I highly recommend this item to anyone that needs a cheap, effective, laptop cooling pad. Just be sure to pick up the second edition. The latest edition is significantly more expensive, and provides no extra benefits.

Philips DVP642... Fun for movie pirates everywhere! Tim 
Posted by: Tim at 8:50 PM EST on 2/27/2005
File Under: Misc Tech -> Home Theatre

Okay, so, I download movies and TV shows. Yes, I am a dirty pirate, I know. I also have a legitimate DVD collection, so shut up.

Now that that's out of the way, I'd like to get to my point. There have been a few DVD players to hit the market in the last year or so that are also capable of playing DivX and XviD movies, the two compression formats of choice for dirty pirates everywhere (unless you're a total geek and prefer Ogg or Matroska). Considering one of my favorite uses for BitTorrent is downloading TV shows that I normally can't catch when they actually air (and the occasional movie), I've been tempted by such a player, considering my laptop has the unfortunate habit of overheating and skipping, or just plain shutting off, when I watch AVIs of any extended length. Indeed, the ability to watch reencodes of the widescreen HDTV feeds, commercial free and on my TV, has been an enticing proposition. That's where the Philips DVP642 comes in.

At $50 to $70, this is a handy little player that not only plays the standard DVD fare, but DivX and XviD videos, as well. (Really, it plays any MPEG-4 file.) This means that I can download shows and movies, burn them to a CD or DVD, and enjoy them on a home theatre system. Unfortunately, I'm living in the dorms, and just have a 12 year old 19" GE TV with Mono sound, and only the coax jack as any sort of input... D'oh. As a result of my piss poor setup, I can't comment on the picture and sound quality, but they're as good as I can expect from my TV. Assuming I did have a decent setup, though, this player would have all the necessary hardware. It's progressive scan, and has composite, s-video, and component video hookups, as well as digital coax and optical outputs for audio. The remote kinda sucks, but... Who really cares?

What really matters with this player, though, is media and video format support. It's DivX certified, meaning any DivX file is going to be supported, so that's a start. In terms of media, it supports DVD+-R/RW and CD-R/RW. For formats, it supports DVD, VCD, SVCD, MPEG-1,2,4 (XviD, etc.), JPEG, and MP3. I might be forgetting something, I dunno. Check out the Video Help page for it for more info.

But that's not all! (Hm, I suddenly feel like the announcer for a bad infomercial. [Wait, aren't all informercials bad? Boy, I'm really getting off-topic now.]) That's right, you ... Shit, I forgot what I was going to say. I went and distracted myself with that infomercial bit. Let's see, here...

Oh yeah! That's not all! Certain versions of this player also come without Macrovision enabled, and all sets are easily set to be region free with the push of a few buttons. So, all you anime freaks can import your super-kawaii-bento-whatever crap from Japan. Or, I dunno, Bollywood movies, if you're feeling saucy. I guess this is one feature I won't really be using much. Of course, I unlocked my player anyway, because I'm a geek like that. To be like me, do the following: Power the player on, open the tray, then hit 7, 8, 9, OK, 0, on the remote. A "0" will appear on the screen, and you'll be good to go.

A quick technical note: There are actually two models of this player. The DVP642/17 and the DVP642/37. They have different firmware. Mine came with version 0531. To find out yours, open the tray, hit 5, 6, 9, OK. A screen will come up with the model name of your player, and a few more details. Look for the part that says "VERXXXX" where the Xs are numbers. Mine says "VER0531." If you have version 1109, my condolences. Macrovision is turned on for your player. You could try downgrading to older firmware, but not everyone has been successful in doing so. But really, if you're trying to copy DVDs to VHS, you just suck in general. But, if you happen to need to run your DVD player through your VCR due to setup issues, this could be handy. Anyway, version 1109 has no other useful features, so don't bother upgrading if you don't have to.

Of note: Philips doesn't list the page for the DVP642/37 on its site, and it doesn't show up in a search. For some reason, they only link to the page for the /17. Here's the page for the /37: clicky, clicky. Here's the page for the /17: more clicky, clicky. Honestly, I don't know if there's really a difference, but if you're going to do something like flash your firmware, might as well be safe rather than sorry.

Okay, this is getting long, so I'm going to wrap it up. This is a sweet little device that will play just about anything you feed it, (it likes cookies) and is really cheap. My only gripe is the menu system, which only displays eight characters from the filenames at a time. Lame.

Summary and Tips:
  • There are two versions, the /17 and /37.

  • Firmware version 0531 is the one to have. 1109 is newer, but enables Macrovision.

  • To view your player's version info: Open the tray, hit 5, 6, 9, OK

  • To make the player region free: Open the tray, hit 7, 8, 9, OK, 0. A "0" will show up on screen.

  • To open the tray with the remote: Hold "Stop" for about three seconds.

  • Fast-forward and Rewind are mapped to the Left and Right arrow keys. This was really annoying, as I didn't discover it for a while, and kept trying to fastfoward with the chapter skip button, which skips to the next file when playing XviDs.

  • XviD files encoded with QPEL are not supported.

  • If you find your picture to be distorted and pixellated, hit the "SYSTEM MENU" button twice, while the movie is playing, and it might clear up for you.

Overall: This is a damn fine player for the price. You can get it for $70 retail, but I'd shop around online. I found a refurbished one for $50 on the Amazon Marketplace, and it works wonderfully.

I guess I'm a true techie now... Tim 
Posted by: Tim at 1:18 AM EST on 2/18/2005
File Under: Misc Tech -> Computers

So, somehow I stumbled into an IT job. I really wasn't expecting it, but it worked out like that. I just accepted an offer from Epic Systems, where I'll be a "Technical Services Engineer." Basically, it will be my responsibility to ensure that the computer systems for two or three hospitals are running smoothly and to see to it that software fixes and features are handled correctly. From what I've seen, they're an excellent company, and I think I'll really enjoy working for them. Here's a really interesting article about them.

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