AndyO Blog

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gifts you should have given - 2008

Even though I'm late (as usual), here are a few gifts to consider for that special someone (who could be you!).

Xbox 360 - I've had my Xbox 360 Elite for a year (this version includes an HDMI connector for HD TVs), and it still surprises me every day. The thing you need to realize about this system is it's much, much more than a game system. With an Xbox 360 you can:

  • Play Netflix "instant" movies from the Xbox interface with a "Gold membership" (about $50 per year) - Now the Xbox hooks up automatically to your Netflix "instant" queue. The quality is good, including HD versions of many movies and TV shows.
  • Rent movies right from your Xbox -- including HD versions.
  • Buy and play TV shows.
  • Turn the Xbox into a Windows Media Center, where you can access your videos and pictures from your PC.
  • Use Xbox Live to play against other Xbox players across the web (requires an Xbox Gold membership).
  • Future feature: Play Blu-ray movies. While rumors of an Xbox 360 Blu-ray drive have been rampant since the demise of HD-DVD, it appears this will soon be a reality. If this report is true, you should be able to buy an external Blu-ray drive for around $150, which is much less than most of the Blu-ray players out there.

Netflix - Rent movies from the Netflix website, and they arrive by envelope in your mailbox in about 2-3 days. But the real selling point with this service is the ability to stream movies on your computer on demand. In addition, as mentioned in my Xbox 360 recommendation, Netflix instant movies also play in the Xbox interface (requires an Xbox "Gold" membership) as well as many other Netflix enabled players.

Zune - While Apple iPod lovers will diss the Zune, there are many reasons why you should consider buying one of these devices:

  • The Zune Pass subscription music service allows you to download all the music you want. Why buy CDs when you can download and listen to everything you want for around $15.00 per month? Plus, you can use one Zune Pass with three Zune devices and three computers. Finally, you get to keep 10 songs per month with this subscription. What a deal.
  • Wireless sync - Set up your Zune to sync with a host computer, and all you need to do is turn on your Zune and it syncs automatically. This is especially great for Podcast subscriptions.
  • Audiobook support - Fire up that Audible account and start listening to books on your commute.
  • Video store - Buy and download TV shows and other available videos. These will also play through a Windows Media Center.
  • Podcasts - This has become one of my favorite features, as it's like a TiVo for radio. The NPR shows are especially great.
  • Games - While the games are a little difficult to play on the Zune, this is a nice feature to have for those times you're stuck in traffic or if the kids need something to do on a long drive.
  • Much improved Zune 3.0 software and solid Zune device hardware.

Logitech Harmony One Universal Remote - I've had several Logitech universal remotes, and this one seems to be the best so far. The touch screen is easy to use, and the design is much more ergonomic than any of the others I've used.

R2-D2 Fish Tank - I saw this at the local Petco with my kids, and they wanted one right away.

Star Trek Phaser II - I just bought one of these, and while it's no Master Replicas Lightsaber, it's a nice replica of my favorite Star Trek prop. Plus, the Phaser I (also known as a "hand phaser") detaches from the Phaser II body.pad I just noticed that this is "out of stock," and it probably will be for a while. If you see one of these available to buy, don't hesitate.

Bose Companion 2 multimedia speaker system - Want some great stereo speakers for your home computer? These sound great, and there's no subwoofer needed to produce an amazing range of sound.

Bubble Calendar - Know someone who likes to pop bubble wrap? Get them one of these.

Bacon Salt - Over Thanksgiving this year, my brother-in-law Brian and I were talking obsessively about how great this product sounded. If I don't get some for Christmas, I'm ordering a package myself!

PowerSquid Surge 3000 Surge Protector, Black - This looks a little weird, but the idea is simple: Flexible outlets can handle more transformers than the usual powerstrips.


posted by AndyO @ 1:07 PM   0 comments

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The quiet of winter

Right now, as I write this, there's an eerie stillness outside. The snowstorm that had been predicted for Seattle came in today, dumping 6 inches of snow at my house. Usually I can hear the freeway breathing, but tonight... nothing. The snow must absorb all that sound before it can get here.

As I've mentioned before, when it snows in Seattle, everyone panics. People forget how to drive. Stores shut down. The news channels drop reporters near busy intersections or bad hills to watch drivers struggling with the elements.

As usual, Seattle schools were closed today. I managed to work about a half-day, but I also did a lot of other stuff with Brenda and the boys. Here's a list of our snow day fun:

  • Cameron, Drew, and I went out to a few pet stores to get flea medicine for the cats. On the way to Petco we stopped at the St. Catherine's church parking lot where I demonstrated the proper way to do doughnuts in the snow.
  • A visit to Petco is not unlike a zoo. We saw hamsters, ferrets, scorpions, parakeets, cockatiels, turtles, and a bunch of fish. We must have been in there for an hour. And it only cost $80.
  • The entire family made a trek to Red Robin for lunch. I had such a big lunch I didn't even eat dinner. 
  • I gave my cats their first bath (in 10 years). Cameron seemed to enjoy seeing the cats get dunked and washed with flea shampoo ("Dad, are we torturing the cats?"). Rocky was yowling the entire time in the tub, while his sister Jasmine almost seemed to enjoy it. Now both of the cats are mad at me.
  • Tonight Brenda and the boys built a fire for the first time in probably 7 years. While I was relaxing downstairs (uh, I mean working), Cameron and Drew asked their mother about 100 questions about fire.
  • My gig at MotoCity was cancelled by 1:30. Bummer, as we've been preparing for the past month -- but no one would have shown up for it.

In case you're wondering, I already got a call from Seattle Public Schools letting us know that they're cancelling school for tomorrow, too. Big surprise.

Tune in tomorrow for More Snow Day Fun! (tm)


posted by AndyO @ 10:56 PM   0 comments

Chicken little says "The storm is coming!"

This has been a helluva week so far (and it's only Wednesday). Here's what's happened:

Saturday night: It snows in Seattle (rare, but it does happen). The kids go outside instead of going to bed.

Sunday - The temperature drops in to the 20s. Snow doesn't melt. Drivers are confused.

Monday - The phone rings at 6:30 a.m. In my bedroom. I don't move, hoping Brenda will get it. She does. School is two hours late. I take Drew to pre-school, which opens at 9:30. Brenda and Cameron wait for a school bus that never arrives. (Why did they send out that snow schedule?)

Tuesday - Brenda has moved the phone out of the bedroom. It doesn't matter; when it rings at 7:30 a.m., she jumps up to get it. It's a friend calling to tell us that school is, yet again, two hours late. This time, it's my turn to wait around with the kids. We go to McDonald's for breakfast. I hear about a HUGE storm coming in after midnight. Meetings are cancelled at work.

Wednesday - Even though it's not snowing, Seattle Schools are ALL CLOSED in preparation for THE STORM. Brenda and I stay home with the kids, taking turns working remotely. The storm never arrives. But we hear it's snowing everywhere else (Olympia, Tacoma, Port Townsend, etc).


  • Fire the meteorologists who came up with this forecast for Seattle.
  • The Seattle School district should stop cancelling school based on any forecast. (My guess is there were millions of dollars of lost productivity today based on this one mistake.)
  • Seattle needs to get tough about snow. It's just rain that's a little frozen.

Thursday - 1:02 a.m. I just looked out the window. Still no snow.


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posted by AndyO @ 1:06 AM   0 comments