The Forgotten Role of Technology: One Step Away from Magic

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I’ve noticed an increasingly more prevalent theme this year. The core theme is the concept of technology that is so ubiquitous and elegant that it appears to work like magic. For most of us that is rarely our experience. Often technology, whether we’re using an electronic tool that performs some physical work, or a piece of software that executes a virtual action, rarely seems like magic.

Some of this is simply due to the fact that most of us have developed a specific level of expectation over time through gradual changes that occur across the span of decades. There are certainly many things that might be perceived as magical to someone from an earlier time, whether it was someone from five hundred years ago or only a decade ago.  Perhaps magic, in this context, might be defined as something that is done for you that you didn’t even think about when you made it happen. Like turning on a light switch or opening a door, except the level of interaction is subtler.

Earlier this year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join a college at a conference where Josh Clark, a user interface design expert, presented along with several other experts. While there we also had the opportunity to speak with him directly at one of the lunches, where he joined our table. Much of our discussion was on this very subject as was his presentation. His topic, of technology functioning like magic, was engaging and, in my opinion, a change heading toward us rather quickly.

I love technology. I enjoy learning about new innovations and gadgets and I have spent several late nights and weekends just tinkering with devices and software, sometimes without a defined goal. Some of those projects were dead ends. Others were successes. I learned from each one.

Yet, over the years, I continue to notice one problem with much of the technology that we have at our disposal.

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Using a 4X2 True Matrix HDMI 1.3a Powered Switch w/ Remote (Rev. 3.0)

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A while back I purchased a 4X2 True Matrix HDMI 1.3a Powered Switch w/ Remote (Rev. 3.0) from Monoprice.com and it’s proven to be a good investment. This switch has four inputs and two outputs. One of the features I’ve enjoyed is the ability to mix and match the inputs and outputs in any way.

For example, I can have the same source go to both TVs or any one of the sources go to different TVs at the same time. The switch has only three buttons on the front. A power button and then two output selectors. Each button press of an output selector (A or B) alternates between one of the four inputs.

It also comes with a very easy to use IR remote for changing the input/output combination. Since we use an IR repeater to control multiple devices from two rooms I went ahead and purchased a spare remote from Monoprice.

In general, the HDMI switch is a solid product but it’s not without its hiccups. There have been a few times when I had to reset the HDMI switch, but so far those events have been very rare, especially when compared to my first, single output HDMI switch. The rare problem I ran into was a very distorted display and perhaps once or twice I wasn’t able to receive audio until I reset the switch. Of the few times I’ve had issues I think I only had to physically unplug the power from the device just one time. Hopefully, problems will remain few.

Before I bought this switch I had an issue with my Philips 32″ LCD HDTV, typically when used with the PS3. It had a tendency to drop the HDCP signal, which is a problem with an DRM content such as video-on-demand. For a while I put an unused 2×1 HDMI splitter in line to boost the signal and that worked. Since I put the new 4×2 in line I haven’t had to use the other switch – it also seems to do a good job of boosting the signal.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the switch, especially when considering that the cost is lower than many other high-end HDMI switches that provide these capabilities.

Updated 08/28/2011: In June of 2011 one of the output ports on the switch died. I purchased a 4×1 switch for temporary use but that didn’t work out. Instead, I went ahead and bought another 4×2 switch (same model). Last week I mailed the defective switch back to Monoprice for replacement.

Philips 32″ LCD HDTV Flashing Green

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Last night my wife called me into the living room. She had been trying to watch something on the Tivo but at one point the television screen began alternating between black and green. She tried turning off the TV and then turning it back on but each time it powered up it was flashing.

I powered off the Tivo. At first, it seemed to work. The Tivo startup screen displayed. But I guess when it switched over to a different part of the startup sequence the TV went back to alternating between all black and all green.

I tried switching to different inputs on the HDMI switch and even powered off the unit and unplugged it, but still the TV flashed.

Finally, I went for the more elegant trouble-shooting solution and did what I should have tried first.

I unplugged the television from the power outlet.

When I turned the TV back on it was working fine. I’m hoping this was just some odd fluke in the HDMI port and not an early sign of a soon-to-fail TV.

Using a Terk HDTVO Antenna

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We recently dropped DirecTV and switched to using various VOD services along with a Tivo and a Terk HDTVO. Previously, I had an indoor Terk antenna, which was a step up from the flat RCA indoor antenna we had. The Terk HDTVO performs a bit better.

Part of our problem is that we live almost 40 miles from the nearest broadcast towers (in any direction).

I had tried using the Terk in the attic but it couldn’t reliably pickup more than two of the four stations that we would prefer to have. There are several more stations that larger antennas could pickup (and under the proper conditions the Terk is capable of bringing in more stations from time-to-time.).

This weekend I moved the Terk from the attic down to the pole where the DirecTV dish was installed. Granted, it’s only a few feet off the ground so the position isn’t ideal but at this time I consider it better than sticking it off the side of the house. I was able to use the existing RG6, and assuming the dish was properly installed, then the cable is already grounded, as required.

Reception has improved and most channels that we are able to receive have few drop-outs. The “mast” was obviously cobbled together and at some point I may paint the wood gray to make it blend in better. This location may not be its final mount but for now it will work.

Replacing a Case Fan in a Tivo Premiere

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I should have just gone ahead and purchased a Tivo Premiere brand new but for some reason I thought it was worth saving $20 by purchasing a refurbished unit. It arrived with a slight crack in the front face plate and a fan that sounded like it was on its way out. Rather than pay to have it boxed up and shipped back or wait however long it would take get it fixed, I decided to just go ahead and replace the fan myself.

I scanned through a few posts regarding this subject and found one Premiere owner who replaced the original fan with an Evercool EC5015M12CA. I decided to go ahead and order one.


New Fan (Evercool EC5015M12CA)

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IR Repeater and Mixing and Matching HDMI Sources for Multiple TVs

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I summarized all of my issues with sending HDMI signals to two different TVs from multiple sources and getting the DirecTV remote working. The page includes my latest solution, which also provides the ability to control all connected devices from either room.

Read: Sending (and Controlling) Multiple HDMI Sources to Two TVs in Different Locations