Category Archives: Reviews

I want to like IFTTT, but it barely works

So I’d heard so many good things about IFTTT, I decided to give it a try. In short, it simply doesn’t work for me. Here’s what’s wrong.

  1. Only one trigger and action per recipe. This is horribly limiting, and I don’t understand why it would be difficult to add these features. Basically, it is literally, if this, then that. But it should allow if this and this or this but not that, then that and that else that.
  2. Location services trigger over and over again on my Android. I made a simple recipe for, IF Chris arrives home, THEN log the event in my automation system. It will do this, then do it 20 more times over the course of the evening with me barely even moving. Whaaaa?
  3. I tried to make the Hue lights flicker when Echo’s timer goes off. This just plain didn’t work. It seems to have problems connecting to my Hue hub, even though Echo connects to it just fine.
  4. I tried to get Automatic to log when I arrive and leave from work and home. This sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, seemingly randomly.
  5. The web interface for building recipes is just bizarre. “Here’s the kitchen sink! Now let’s jump 10 miles down the page! Here’s another kitchen sink full of icons! There’s nothing to do here, just push this button.”

The only successful triggers I’ve gotten to work are saving analytics data to a Google spreadsheet, which is great. And I like that it allows me to do my own HTTP commands, and does it reasonably well enough. However, the software has a lot of room for improvement, and I think I might move on to Stringify or roll my own solution if they don’t get it together.

One Year of Credit Card Rewards

So it’s been one year that I’ve built up rewards on my credit card. Let’s see how I’ve done.

Citi Double Cash $735.21 Most used card. 2% on everything
Barclaycard Sallie Mae $279.91 Gas and groceries at 5%
Chase Freedom $356.88 Most of this probably from when dining was 5% for Q2
Chase Sapphire $84.31 Not really using
Credit Union Visa $50.20 1%?
TOTAL $1506.51

So I made $1500, for essentially doing nothing but using credit cards strategically in place of a debit card.

Thoughts on these cards. The Double Cash is essential to the strategy; 1% cash back almost isn’t even worth it, but 2% is a game changer.
The Sallie Mae is worth using, considering gas and groceries are things I buy all the time, and groceries in particular are expensive. Unfortunately, this card is no longer available, but at least I’m grandfathered in for now.
For the Chase Freedom, I’m actually shocked at how much I made, considering how little it was used, at least in Q3 and Q4 it wasn’t used at all. Chase Sapphire wasn’t really used at all.
My Credit Union’s card is awful. For as often as I use it and how much is charged to it, $50 is a joke. And to add insult to injury, the points expire. I really need to get rid of it.

Will I do it again next year? You bet. Free money is free money.

More Home Automation Equipment Reviews!

I have been hard at work integrating more stuff into my Internet of Things. Behold, and bear witness to my cool new set of crap.

Amazon Echo

This is seriously the coolest thing ever. I was skeptical at first, but I heard so many good reviews that I had to try it. It’s great. And you should get it.

So what is it? Alexa is her name, and she’s basically one of those computers from Star Trek: TNG. You tell her to play music, set timers, read you the news, fetch the weather, turn off the lights, lock the doors, and more. She isn’t as smart as Siri, but she’s a whole lot easier to deal with.

Pros: Links to some of the popular automation hubs. No buttons to press. Capable of answering many questions, and pretty funny sometimes.
Cons: Not as smart as Siri, doesn’t support ISY hubs (yet) without Hue emulation, Skills Kit is limited in verbal capabilities, no way to make Alexa speak on her own (without crazy hackery).

Philips Hue

This might be my favorite so far. Once I bought the 3 pack and realized how cool it was, there was no going back. I put these suckers in 80% of my house, and man is it cool. You don’t realize how much lighting affects your mood until you try it yourself, and it’ll really make you feel good. Until you realize you
spent $2k on light bulbs.

Pros: It’ll seriously impress your friends. Integrates with Echo and other hubs. Compatible with some 3rd party Zigbee bulbs. Have I mentioned how cool it looks?
Cons: Price. Zigbee range kinda sucks.

Insteon Doorbell Kit

This kit includes an Insteon I/O and a circuit board to attach to your doorbell. The installation was easy (luckily I was able to run the wiring through the attic with just enough wire to spare). Programming the ISY was actually the tricky part since it was triggering the event twice, but I figured out a workaround.


This gadget attaches to the ODB-II diagnostic port on your car and provides repair codes, analytics, efficient driver training, GPS, business trip logging, crash alerts, and more. This isn’t a home automation gadget per se, but it connects with IFTTT to trigger events. Therefore, you can do things like have it unlock your door when you arrive home, lock it when you leave your property, turn on the AC when you leave work, ETC.

Pros: No monthly fees. Every car should have these features built-in.
Cons: Doesn’t track in realtime (get Mojio if you want to do that). IFTTT events don’t always seem to trigger. Parked car finder is useless.

Insteon Door Sensor

These are pretty huge compared to the usual magnetic door sensors, but what makes these things great is how hackable they are. If you open it up to change the battery, you will notice there are terminals to manually wire in your own microswitches. What is this good for? Well I used it to place a switch on my mailbox, so that I can receive alerts when the mail arrives.

Insteon Hidden Door Sensor

These are a great alternative to the ugly, blocky magnetic sensors that Insteon sells, and seem to work fine.

Insteon OutletLinc

I wired 7 of these into my arcade, and they work great so far.
Pros: Easy installation.
Cons: Should use screw connectors instead of me having to use wire nuts. Takes up a ton of space in the gang box.

Insteon 8 Button Remote

Works everytime I press it. However, keeping it synced and programmed with the ISY has been a little less impressive, but I’m not sure whose fault that is exactly. But still, it works well enough that I’ll probably buy one to control the arcade and bedroom.


This is an automatic sliding door kit, to turn your sliding glass door into a supermarket door.
Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to make it work yet, and support has been difficult to get in touch with, so I can’t currently recommend this product.

Global Cache WF2IR

This wifi box is supposedly able to translate TCP commands to IR signals. It works great from the ISY (with network module installed). However, I haven’t been able to get most of my commands working. For instance, the AC can turn on and adjust up, but not down. My Boxee can channel up, but not down. My TV doesn’t do anything at all. Meh.

Pros: Opens up a world of control options. Automate an AC, TV, media box, audio amp, and more.
Cons: Pricey, uses raw TCP instead of a REST API, kinda flakey with capturing some signals.

Add-A-Motor Model 80

A simple device that motorizes any drapes that rely on pull-cords or chains. Integrates with any home automation device based on on-off signals.

Pros: Reliable.
Cons: LOUD. Very loud. Because of the way it works, you cannot query its state.

Home Automation Reviews Galore

Universal Devices ISY994i

After deciding the basic SmartHome Insteon Hub wasn’t going to cut it for my home hacking experiments, I decided to bring in the big guns. Universal Devices’ ISY994i is an incredible piece of home automation machinery, and worth every penny.

Everything you need, it does out of the box: Static IPs, remote capabilities, upgradability, complex scripting, and more. If you want to take it to extremes, you can add a Z-Wave dongle, ELK interface, and more. Plus, it has a wonderful REST API so you can easily write your own software and apps for it. It’d be nice if you could have it return JSON instead of XML, but hey, that’s a minor complaint.

First Alert OneLink SCO501CN-3ST + Insteon Smoke Bridge

This is the sort of stuff I look for in home automation. I don’t care about controlling my lights and fans, and other cheesy stuff; I mainly want to collect data, keep the house efficient, and alert me immediately if something has gone wrong. Imagine if your house was on fire or had a carbon monoxide leak, and you were able to receive an alert even when you were away from your house? Wouldn’t that easily be worth a few hundred dollars?

First Alert’s OneLink system doesn’t do this out of the box, but once you add SmartHome’s Insteon Smoke Bridge, you can do just that. Via scripts, you can send emails or texts explaining the scenario (fire or CO), that way you can check your cameras, call 911, etc.. It could save lives, and save your house.

Even without the Smoke Bridge, the OneLink system is a pretty advanced smoke detector system. Maybe not as advanced as the Nest Protect, but it doesn’t need to be either. It will warn you with voice when it detects an issue, and will broadcast it to every smoke detector in your home. That way, if your kitchen catches fire while you’re upstairs in bed, you are guaranteed to hear it and find out about it early, making evacuation much safer.

Why this solution and not the Nest Protect? I wanted something that would work with my Insteon network, and would look less like a big ugly box on my ceiling. This entire system also cost less than a single Nest Protect (minus the Insteon hub).

Insteon Leak Sensor

When I first moved into my house, disaster struck two weeks in. My tankless water heater suddenly decided to fail, and by fail I mean it burst a pipe and spilled water into the kitchen downstairs. A lot of water. Luckily I was there to shut off the main, otherwise it would have caused thousands of dollars in damage. Since then, I have lived in fear of the same thing happening again. But not anymore.

This leak sensor came with the Insteon starter kit I got, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it works. The second it detects water on the floor, it sends a notice to your Insteon controller, allowing you to take necessary action. For me, this means an email and text, but if I were inclined to do so, I could add an electronic valve to the main to allow my Insteon controller to shut off water to the house. Cool, right? Next, I want to buy a second one of these to put in the laundry room, where most of the water accidents tend to happen these days.

Every home should have two of these.

Morning Industry QF Series Deadbolt + SmartHome MorningLinc

This was my favorite of all purchases so far. This deadbolt allows you to electronically unlock your door in 3 ways: traditional key, keypad, and RF keyfob. The keyfob doesn’t work from more than 15 feet, but the keypad works great. I’m sure the regular keys work, but I don’t think I’ll ever need them.

Adding in the MorningLinc bridge to an outlet in the next room, I was able to easily link my Insteon home automation network to the deadbolt, so that I can set a schedule to automatically lock/unlock the door, lock it from the app I made, etc.. Really, this is the best part about the whole setup.

My only gripe with this setup is I’m unable to have Insteon query the device to see if it is currently locked or unlocked, and I have no way of auditing the system to see who has entered and left the house (you can set up to 10 unique codes). Also, if you try to make Insteon lock the door and it has been manually unlocked with the deadbolt (or vice versa), it will not trigger correctly. However, I was able to work around this by having my Insteon scripts run both commands at the same time, ending with the one I want. This forces the unit to synchronize, even if it occasionally has to run both commands one after another.

I love this thing, and I can’t imagine life without it. I only wish it had Bluetooth Smart or NFC support.


I finally got around to installing my new wifi doorbell, which is a Skybell. It is one of those Kickstarter-y projects that came out of the gate with lots of bugs, but as of this writing, the firmware updates seem to have ironed out whatever it was people were complaining about. Mine had some problems out of the box, but once I got it going, it has proven fairly stable.

So the problems. First of all, when they say you need a 1.5mb upload capability on your ISP, they are serious. Unfortunately, my bargain Comcast account is 1mb upload, so it can sometimes choke on a connection. This will be made worse if you can’t get your wifi strong enough, which becomes a huge task when you have a brick house like I do, and the room the router is in is surrounded by brick walls on four sides (because it used to be a garage). My old repeater wasn’t doing the trick, so I upgraded to a Netgear EX6200 AC1200 High Power 700Mw Dual Band Range Extender, which is so amazing I should write a separate review about it. Seriously, this thing carries several houses away and barrels through brick.

Anyway, the Skybell. Syncing didn’t always work the first time, and often it would fail so many times it would get stuck in reset mode, which required me to unhook a wire from the low voltage transformer on my doorbell to hard reset it. Not a big deal, but kind of annoying. Once it syncs, you never have to do it again.

Now for the good: the doorbell notification works every time, immediately. Calling the camera to view it works most of the time even on my lousy internet connection. Listening and talking works. The quality of all three are generally not spectacular, but considering how small it is, it works pretty decent. Motion detection works, but all it does is trigger a doorbell notification, and that wasn’t really the way I wanted it to work, so I turned it off. What it ends up doing is it rings the bell automatically if someone sits there, and I was ending up with a few false positives since it sees cars driving past my house.

Overall, I like it, but what I’d really like is an open API. Not only would I love to be able to access it from third party software or a web browser, but I’d love to be able to access it directly without the use of their cloud. Mostly because, if Skybell went out of business, all I’d have left is a big ugly doorbell with no extended functionality.

Upcycle Your Old Smartphones and Tablets

I’m not normally much of a hippie or a Martha Stewart type, but I somehow got to thinking about the technology graveyard in my closet. Everyone has one. You know, the one with your clickwheel iPod, the Kyocera phone with an LCD screen, or the 2 megapixel Sony camera. The stuff your phone replaced, and then two more phones replaced that before they themselves ended up in the graveyard.

So what’s in my tech graveyard? Lots of stuff I thought was amazing back in the day. A Casio Databank calculator watch, a 40gb Flashtrax, a 128mb MP3 player, a GP32, a Nokia N-Gage, and the list goes on. Also, two old iPods (1st Gen, 4th Gen) and an iPhone 3G. I got to thinking, you know, these iPods could live a new life as a tiny photo frame, or clock, or kitchen computer, or…

…maybe an IP camera? Is that even possible?

It is, actually.

In my attempt to turn these old iOS devices into IP cameras, I found a couple of apps that did the trick. The first one I tried was IP Cam Pro by Senstic. This one was all right, but I ended up going with ipCam by SKJM, which was a more compatible solution, and cheaper. Don’t let the reviews scare you, those people obviously don’t understand what an IP camera actually does. ipCam runs all the way down to iOS 4, which meant I could use the old iPhone 3G and iPod 4th Gen, but not the first gen Touch, so that one went back to the graveyard. However, once attached to a solution such as a Belkin video dock, you now have a working IP camera from something that was collecting dust. Be sure to set a static IP on the device and you’re all set.

I also attempted this with my old Android 2.3 phone, and it was even easier. I used IP Webcam by Pavel Khlebovich, which is an excellent piece of software, and free for what I needed it for. Of course, with Android you have true multitasking, which allows this program to hide in the background and start on bootup. This additionally allows you to give the old phone a secondary use while it sits in a dock, so I figured a photo frame / clock would be a great option. The app I chose was Photo Slides by Softick, which was also free and worked beautifully. As a bonus, you can set it to automatically start itself when connected to a charger, and close when disengaged, making it able to start on bootup and close itself if you want to remove it from the dock and use it as a surfing device. So from a cold bootup, it works 100% without having to configure or launch anything.

The Android solution of installing IP Webcam + Photo Slides ended up being an incredibly useful way to reuse a graveyard-bound smartphone. The iOS devices, on the other hand, can’t do anything but show the camera feed or show a blank screen, and neither of those keep it from being an eyesore. I wrote an email to the developer of ipCam to see if something could be done about that, but we’ll see. Knowing Apple, probably not.

Now my house seems to be covered in cameras, and my concerns start, since I don’t want to creep out visitors. However, I think the Android solution at least is a bit more elegant and discreet. People don’t get that big brother feeling in their stomach while staring at a smartphone, like they do staring at an IP camera hanging from the ceiling. And obviously, there are some places where the cameras should never be. In my house, for instance, the 2nd floor (all bedrooms) is a camera-free zone, and the computer rooms as well.

Anyway. I also had an iPad 3rd Gen laying around that only gets used when I’m developing stuff. Although I could go the ipCam route with it, I decided I always wanted a refrigerator with a tablet built in, but didn’t want to spend $4k for it.

The solution? I purchased a tablet refrigerator mount and a 10ft charger cable on eBay. Then I ran the cable around the fridge with neodymium magnets. Easy as that, and now my $400 fridge is a $4k fridge. It got me thinking, I’d like to make a “FridgeOS” app for it. Something with recipes, inventory, shopping list, and other goodies. Perhaps I’ll develop this another day. Perhaps one day I won’t be busy.

Wi-Fi Thermostats are Awesome

There comes a time when a man is unsupervised for 2 weeks, and random household projects take place. Gutter cleaning, hedge trimming, pump re-piping, mysterious projects involving an angle grinder, and on top of all this, the start of what will become numerous home automation experiments.

Anyway, I made the purchase of a Wi-Fi thermostat. It is a Filtrete 3M-50, and it rocks. The same thermostat is also labeled as a Radio Thermostat CT50 and other models. I found mine as an open box model on eBay, figuring some poor guy bought it and couldn’t figure out the wiring. Judging by the few missing wire labels but otherwise perfect condition, I figured right.

Hardware installation was surprisingly easy. Thermostat wiring is somewhat standardized, although my Trane unit threw a curveball at me as far as the “C” wire, which happens to be the most important wire to get a modern thermostat working. On a Trane, it turns out this wire is labeled “B”, and it took some research to figure this out (even Nest’s website couldn’t determine my setup). Anyway, I put the 6 or so wires in their place, fired it up, and it has worked ever since.

The Wi-Fi setup is slightly weird, and maybe it doesn’t look as sexy as a Nest, but it works well, doesn’t need a battery, has a touchscreen, a scheduler, and an app to adjust temperature and scheduling settings. But the thing that sold me on it… get this, it has a well-documented JSON-based REST API. *drools uncontrollably*

Why did I buy this passé, beige, how-you-say… uninspired box when I could have bought a Nest? I guess this would be why…

1) Nest had no open API. The only info I could find was reverse-engineered. It looked nice though.
2) Nest requires the cloud. As far as I could tell, you can’t address it on your network directly.
3) I wasn’t sold on the automatic scheduling. It has to see you for that to work, and my thermostat is in a room with no real traffic.
4) Their website suggested it was incompatible with my wiring. This turned out to be untrue.
5) There are a lot of scary Amazon reviews out there. Either you love it, or it destroys your life (and freezes your pipes). Not much in-between.
6) It uses a lithium ion battery. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to replace the batteries on a thermostat every 3 years.
7) There was apparently a (forced) software update bug that bricked a lot of people’s thermostats in the middle of winter.
8) I don’t care what the hardware interface looks like… if it’s doing its job I shouldn’t have to look at it or touch it.

I’m not a Nest Labs hater or anything though. I like their Nest Protect product, even though it has a few problems of its own, and I may end up purchasing one or two of them. Heck, does anyone else make a Wi-Fi smoke detector?

So, I managed to write an extremely basic class in PHP that allows me to get and set the temperature, and I’ll be releasing it on GitHub soon as part of a big project I’m working on. A project which is getting closer and closer to release. 🙂

Album Reviews: Crystal Castles, The Birthday Massacre, Depeche Mode, David Bowie

Here’s something I don’t usually do. I’m going to review some of the interesting albums that came out this year and what I think of them, like anyone here cares. But at any rate, here you are.

Crystal Castles: III
Back in 10th grade, I went through a short-lived nihilist phase. I’m not sure if it was inspired by The Big Lebowski and my desire to pass out in a swimming pool, carry swords and marmots around, and put out electronic records, but it looks like it inspired Canadian Duo Crystal Castles to do the latter. The album’s concept can be best described as nihilistic. The band has always been about creating hard-to-listen, lo-fi punktronica, but they’ve slowly been moving away from their roots and into the realm of throwaway dance music. Which, admittedly, is something that nihilists would do.

Let me just be frank… this album sucks. It starts off well enough with Plague, which is a pretty decent song, but then it drops off entirely from there. From here on it’s mostly generic club music, with an annoying volume ducking effect on nearly every track that will make you think your speakers are busted. It was an incredibly stupid decision for them to make, and especially makes me angry that a band that used to be good at being lo-fi would stoop to insane levels of over-production. With the post-production effects removed, the album might even be decent. Insulin is a more experimental song that will remind you of their first album, but it only lasts a minute or so, and then it gets back to more dance floor junk. Then they wind down the usual way with Child I Will Hurt You, with a song that isn’t too bad, but isn’t enough to save the album.
Score: 1/5

The Birthday Massacre: Hide and Seek
Also hailing from Canada, the land of hit-or-miss artists, comes synth-rock band The Birthday Massacre’s new album. I’ve been a huge fan of TBM since 2006, so I’ll try to keep this review as unbiased as possible.
This album is a significant departure from their usual style, but not by much. The basic formula is still there… mostly cinematic 1980s style progression mixed with occasional angry industrial rock tracks. The album starts with Leaving Tonight, which is a beautiful song that I instantly fell in love with; it really hits you over the head with what this band is about: haunting vocals, keytar solos, magic synthesizers, and dark subject matter. Next, the angry track this time is Down, which is by far the most angry song they’ve ever made, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best. After that, it’s hit or miss, which kinda breaks my heart to admit. However, the middle tracks Alibis and One Promise start to pick things up. From there, things start winding down again, but perhaps not as prematurely. Overall, it’s still a good album, but the more computerized, dancy feel they’ve given this album seems like it’s holding itself back from being a lot better. I’m hoping I can learn to appreciate some of these songs more as time passes, and I hope they can get a different producer than Kevvy Mental… I’m not really sure he “gets” what they’re supposed to be about.
Score: 3.5/5

Depeche Mode: Delta Machine
I’ve been a Depeche Mode fan for the longest time, even though every album they’ve ever put out is the same story… a couple of amazing songs, and then the rest is filler. This is no different.
It starts off pretty amazing. The first three tracks: Welcome to my World, Angel, and Heaven are all spectacular… and then I forget the rest. But even for those first songs, it’s at least worth a listen; at least they make it easy to skip over the rest.
Score: 2.5/5

David Bowie: The Next Day
Bowie’s first album in 10 years is great. I’ve never been a huge Bowie fan, but I definitely have a respect for him. That said, I’m happy with the album but it’s still not really my thing. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” gets a respectable place on my car MP3 player, until I get bored of it. But hey, that’s something.
Score: 3/5

Skinny Puppy: Weapon
Skinny Puppy (Canadian band again), is another one of those bands that have been around forever but isn’t my favorite band, either. This album was a departure from their ohGr-esque rapping and back to their 80s industrial roots, a genre they played a huge part in inventing. Now, I like ohGr, and I loved their last album (which oddly enough sounded more like a Skinny Puppy album), and this album is definitely interesting. Wornin’ is definitely my style, but from there it gets incredibly repetitive, but their music has traditionally been that way. I like it for what it is, a sort-of throwback with modern production (they even have a great cover of their old song, Solvent), but it ain’t The Process either. And I don’t care what you say, that was the best album they ever did, and one of my favorite albums of all time.
Score: 3/5

Front Line Assembly: Echogenetic
Another band from Canada, eh? FLA is always a fascinating band. Their sound is always evolving, and always trying modern electronic techniques to see what sticks. Their 80s music sounded like what you think it would. In the 90s it was guitar-driven heavy metal. In the aughts it was IDM and drum n’ bass. And now… well… dubstep.
Now I’ve dropped that (bass-filled) bombshell, it’s still respectable industrial. I mean, if you want to get down to it, them and other bands like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher basically invented most of what dubstep is, a decade before it got labeled that way. So what you end up getting is a nice mix of what makes FLA cool, plus a little of what’s cool about dubstep (you know, the glitchiness and bass-dropping) without the Skrillexy high-pitched moans, rapping, and the screaming demand to call 911 at any given time. So it’s not as bad as you think, but I still like Artificial Soldier better.
Score: 3/5

Behold: Pac-Man

Specs: ASUS M5A97 AM3+ USB3 mobo, AMD Vishera 4.2GHz (OC) octo core, 16GB DDR3 1600, Radeon HD 7970 3GB 384-bit GDDR5, 128GB SSD, 15x Blu-ray Burner, 750w midtower, 1080p 22″ triple monitor, Windows 7 Pro 64bit

This marks my triumphant return to ASUS and AMD. Staying with my home network’s recent nomenclature (networks, servers, and devices being named after Pac-Man characters), this is the birth of Pac-Man. I have retired my old 2.7GHz i7 quad core to a certain someone, where it will be a welcome replacement for her Mac Mini. It shall henceforth be dubbed Ms. Pac-Man. I’ll let her have this new video card after it becomes unsuitable for Bitcoin mining (which should be any month now). I’m not finished with it yet, either… the next purchase will probably be an external RAID (4TB Blinky is running out of space, and Inky died awhile back). Other future purchases might include a more elaborate tower, card reader, additional USB, an additional 16GB of RAM, etc. but this is more than enough for now. After I finally got everything hooked up and troubleshooted (took me more time than I’d like to admit to find out the CPU power wasn’t plugged into the motherboard), I pretty much immediately set it out to mine for BTC with the 7970, so that maybe the card will pay for itself assuming the market doesn’t crash for another few months. The thing sounds like a jet engine when it’s mining, and the LEDs turn my room bright blue at night, but that’s the price you pay for being awesome.

What I’m glad I did:

  • Went with ASUS and AMD… the price on the 8 core was fantastic. This should last me a good many years.
  • Not maxing out the RAM quite yet. When I need it, it’ll be cheaper.
  • Splurging on the 7970. This is the first time I’ve bought a real video card, and since I don’t play games much, it was hard to justify the $400, but I’m somewhat confident I can make the money back with the high hashrate.
  • Didn’t upgrade to Windows 8.

What I would have done different next time:

  • The LED fans look cool, but they’re silly and annoying mostly.
  • I severely cheaped out on the case. Like, only paid $30 cheap. It’s a good case for the price, for sure, but it’s a bit flimsy and lacks USB 3 in the front.
  • With half the space on the SSD gone already, I’m wondering if I should have gone for a 256GB. Ah well. Once I buy an external RAID, that will take care of the big files.
  • I underestimated how difficult it is to keep a 7970 cool. Three fans doesn’t really appear to be enough. I’ll add more, and I might even have to liquid cool the card.
  • I also underestimated the power requirements; if I end up wanting to add a second 7970, I’ll have to swap out the 750W PSU with a 1100W.

It’d been three years since I’d built a computer for myself, so this was an interesting re-learning exercise.

Review: D-Link Boxee TV

After one of my roommates left a few weeks ago, the rest of us found ourselves with no television or AppleTV. While it didn’t really break my heart (I never really did like AppleTV… yeah I know, what a surprise), I missed having over the air TV so I could get my weekend MeTV fix. Well, we had an unused 27″ CRT downstairs, but of course it was too old to have digital tuner on it, so I decided I needed a modern solution to this. My needs were an OTA tuner, apps, and streaming media. I couldn’t find something that did all three, but Boxee TV did OTA and apps, so I figured I’d give it a shot. The 2 star reviews on Amazon scared me, but I took a chance anyway, and I’m glad I did.

When I received the item, I realized right away I had previously ordered the wrong adapter for the TV (I needed HDMI to RCA, not RCA to HDMI), so in the meantime I used an HDMI to DVI adaptor and plugged it into my PC monitor. This worked, but obviously I didn’t get any sound that way. I also found that the cheap HDMI cable I bought from eBay didn’t work, but luckily the one I ordered from Boxee worked great. Once the correct adapter came, I was ready to start for real.

Hooking up Boxee to the TV was easy, but of course it involved the aforementioned adapter since the TV was analog. No big deal, the mini adapter I bought ran off USB power, so I was able to power it from one of Boxee’s USB ports in the back. Problem solved. For OTA setup (I didn’t attempt ClearQAM), I used the antenna that came with the Boxee, which I was skeptical about due to its look and size. As it turns out, it worked better than the old flat antenna we were using before. After signup (which was a pain because their website kept breaking in Opera), I was up and running in 10 minutes.

First thing I loved was how it organizes OTA content as if each channel were an app. This is awesome. It even has visual icons for all the shows, which it presumably grabs from an open database somewhere. It also lets you look through upcoming shows like a tv guide, and if you live in an area where they offer it (Atlanta is on the list, most everywhere else isn’t), you can use their cloud DVR service to record an unlimited amount of shows for $10 a month. I’m not really into the DVR thing, so I didn’t try out the service). I also tried the YouTube, TED, and WSJ Live apps, and they all worked great even on this flaky cable Internet here. I did not try Netflix since I don’t have an account.

The most immediate thing I noticed, and knew to look out for, were the bugs. Oh yes, it has bugs. Lots of them. In fact many people liken it to an early beta version. Personally, I haven’t noticed too many bugs, but I have had to reset it a handful of occasions, which doesn’t inspire confidence in using it for extended periods of time. But for me, a casual TV watcher, it works just fine.

A few days ago, Boxee finally pushed their new firmware update, and it’s a good thing they did, otherwise this would have given it a lower rating. This update has made a massive difference in Boxee’s stability and featureset. Gone are many of the bugs, and added is DNLA support for streaming files from your network or mobile device. I have yet to try out the DNLA, but this was the feature I was looking for originally, and now it has been added. So really, this makes it nearly the perfect solution for my needs.

Final thoughts
The Good: Unique featureset, good solution to revitalizing an analog TV, does more with OTA than anybody else, even your own TV, peripherals work great, DNLA support, interesting cloud DVR service, easy setup.
The Bad: Probably still some bugs and freezes left (though I haven’t noticed any since the upgrade), DVR not available in most areas and costs money, lack of app quantity (pales in comparison to, say, Roku), runs extremely hot, no volume control on remote, no direct network file access.

Overall, I give it 3.5/5 stars. If it weren’t for the update, it’d have 3/5. If this device sounds like it’ll fit your unique needs like it did for me, definitely give it some thought. If you don’t care about OTA or DVR, you may want a Roku instead.