A Philosopher's Blog

Brain Games

Posted in Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on April 7, 2014
Brain Games box art

Brain Games box art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a general rule, most people want to gain for as little as possible effort. For example, people seem to often buy exercise equipment thinking that it will make exercise easier. They usually find out that is not the case—thus the brisk trade in lightly used exercise equipment and its regularly being buried under clothes. The latest brain training games seem to be offering the same temptation: if a person plays these brain games, she will become smarter. The appeal is, of course, that the games are supposed to fun rather than burdensome—like education tends to be. The obvious questions is whether such games work or not.

On the face of it, the idea that playing these brain games can have positive effects does make some sense. After all, exercising the body improves it—so, by analogy, the same should hold for the brain. The obvious concern is that not everything that people think is exercise actually improves the body. Likewise, the brain games might be like useless exercises for the body: you are doing something, but it is having no effect. To address this matter, the thing to do is to turn to some actual science.

As it stands, the unbiased research seems to show that the current crop of commercial brain training games have no meaningful impact. While people do get better at the games, this is most likely due to familiarity. To use an analogy to another type of video game, doing the same scripted event over and over in a game like World of Warcraft or Deadspace III will cause a person to improve at that specific task. To use a specific example, in Deadspace III the player has to “fly” through a field of debris and avoid being smashed. My friend and I smashed into the debris repeatedly until we finally made it—through familiarity with the process rather than by getting “better.” The same seems to be true of the current brain games and getting better at such a game does not entail that one is smarter or more mentally capable. In light of the existing evidence, spending money on the commercial brain games would be a waste of money—unless one is just playing them for fun.

Interestingly enough, video games of the more “traditional” sort can improve memory and mental skills. This is not surprising—such video games typically place players in challenging environments that often mimic general challenges in the real world. As such, rather than simply focusing on a relatively simple game that is narrowly focused, the gamer is forced to fully engage the general challenge and develop a broader set of capabilities. As such, video games of this sort probably help improve mental abilities in a way analogous to how reality does so. In the case of video games, the challenges will tend to be more challenging and more frequent than what a person would generally encounter in the real world. For example, participating in a World of Warcraft raid involves tracking abilities, maintaining situational awareness, following (or giving) orders, following a strategy and so on. That is, it provides an actual mental workout. So, a person looking for games to make her smarter would be better off getting a gaming console or PC and selecting challenging games. They will probably be much more fun than the brain games and apparently more effective.

I would also like to put in a plug for traditional table top games as well—be they games like Risk or D&D. These games provide enjoyable challenges that seem to have a positive impact on cognitive abilities. Plus, they are social activities—and that is no doubt better for a person than playing brain games online solo.


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The Chipped Brain & You

Posted in Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on August 26, 2013
Cover of Cyberpunk 2020

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the heyday of the cyberpunk genre I made some of my Ramen noodle money coming up with “cybertech” for use in the various science-fiction role-playing games. As might be guessed, these included implants, nanotechology, cyberforms, smart weapons, robots and other such technological make-believe. While cyberpunk waned over the years, it never quite died off. These days, there is a fair amount of mostly empty hype about a post-human future and folks have been brushing the silicon dust off cyberpunk.

One stock bit of cybertech is the brain chip. In the genre, there is a rather impressive variety of these chips. Some are fairly basic—they act like flash drives for the brain and store data. Others are rather more impressive—they can store skillsets that allow a person, for example, to temporarily gain the ability to fly a helicopter. The upper level chips are supposed to do even more, such as increasing a person’s intelligence. Not surprisingly, the chipping of the brain is supposed to be part of the end of the human race—presumably we will be eventually replaced by a newly designed humanity (or cybermanity).

On the face of it, adding cybertech upgrades to the brain seems rather plausible. After all, in many cases this will just be a matter of bypassing the sense organs and directly connecting the brain to the data. So, for example, instead of holding my tablet in my hands so I can see the results of Google searches with my eyes, I’ll have a computer implanted in my body that links into  the appropriate parts of my brain. While this will be a major change in the nature of the interface (far more so than going from the command line to an icon based GUI), this will not be as radical a change as some people might think. After all, it is still just me doing a Google search, only I do not need to hold the tablet or see it with my eyes. This will not, obviously enough, make me any smarter and presumably would not alter my humanity in any meaningful way relative to what the tablet did to me. To put it crudely, sticking a cell phone in your head might be cool (or creepy) but it is still just a phone. Only now it is in your head.

The more interesting sort of chip would, of course, be one that actually changes the person. For example, when many folks talk about the coming new world, they speak of brain enhancements that will improve intelligence. This is, presumably, not just a matter of sticking a calculator in someone’s head. While this would make getting answers to math problems more convenient, it would not make a person any more capable at math than does a conventional outside-the-head calculator. Likewise for sticking in a general computer. Having a PC on my desktop does not make me any smarter. Moving it into my head would not change this. It could, obviously enough, make me seem smarter—at least to those unaware of my headputer.

What would be needed, then, would be a chip (or whatever) that would actually make a change within the person herself, altering intelligence rather than merely closing the interface gap. This sort of modification does raise various concerns.

One obvious practical concern is whether or not this is even possible. That is, while it make sense to install a computer into the body that the person uses via an internal interface, the idea of dissolving the distinction between the user and the technology seems rather more questionable. It might be replied that this does not really matter. However, the obvious reply is that it does. After all, plugging my phone and PC into my body still keeps the distinction between the user and the machine in place. Whether the computer is on my desk or in my body, I am still using it and it is still not me. After all, I do not use me. I am me. As such, my abilities remain the same—it is just a tool that I am using. In order for cybertech to make me more intelligent, it would need to change the person I am—not just change how I interface with my tools. Perhaps the user-tool gap can be bridged. If so, this would have numerous interesting implications for philosophy.

Another concern is more philosophical. If a way is found to actually create a chip (or whatever) that becomes part of the person (and not just a tool that resides in the body), then what sort of effect would this have on the person in regards to his personhood? Would Chipped Sally be the same person as Sally, or would there be a new person? Suppose that Sally is chipped, then de-chipped? I am confident that armies of arguments can be marshalled on the various sides of this matter. There are also the moral questions about making such alterations to people.

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Ruins of Altus Free on Amazon 7/1/13-7/5/13

Posted in Pathfinder by Michael LaBossiere on June 30, 2013

Ruins-of-Altus-CoverA Pathfinder Role Playing Game compatible adventure for 3rd-6th level characters.

Free on Amazon from July 1, 2013 to July 5, 2013.


Important: This is a Pathfinder Role Playing Game compatible adventure. It is not a novel. It is also not an interactive Kindle “adventure book.”

This adventure is intended to be run after the PCs have completed “Smelter.” It is designed for a party of 3rd-6th level characters but can be modified to be more or less challenging. While the adventure is set on Althus Island and is intended as part of a series, it can be run as a standalone adventure in another campaign setting.

“Excellent job on securing the key resources from those beastly creatures—a nasty lot they must have been. It’s a pity that you weren’t able to capture them so we could put them to work. Well, in any case, the Regency is pleased at all you have done. But, as always, the Regency would be even more pleased if you did yet another task.

My scouts have reported that the two guard towers of Altus seem to be intact. They did report seeing large insects, giant ants I believe, entering and leaving the northern tower. They did not see any signs of activity around the southern tower.

As even those with a layman’s understanding of military tactics knows a stone tower is strategically superior to a mere wooden fort. It would be a great service to the Regency if you could secure one or preferably both of the towers for a base of operations in the town itself. If you…I mean we…were able to clear the town of its denizens, we would have ready-made habitation for those who will be coming to help secure and exploit the remaining resources in the mine.

Naturally, I have been empowered to reward you should you succeed in these tasks. And, of course, I am empowered to notify your next of kin should you fall valiantly for the glory of the Regency.

The Regency has promised a bounty of 500 fine pieces of gold per guard tower secured. Securing the theatre will yield a reward of 200 gold pieces. An additional 250 has been promised for securing the church, 150 for securing the fairgrounds and another 325 for securing the warehouse and dock area. For securing the entire town, the reward will be an additional 5 gold pieces per small building and 10 gold pieces per large building. This does not include the above mentioned structure.”

Available now on Amazon for 99 cents.


Ruins of Altus Maps & Monsters

See paizo.com/pathfinderRPG for more information on the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

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Smelter PFRPGC Adventure Free on Amazon

Posted in Pathfinder by Michael LaBossiere on June 3, 2013

Smelter-CoverA Pathfinder Role Playing Game compatible adventure for 2nd-4th level characters.

Free on Amazon from 6/3/2013-6/7/2013


Important: This is a Pathfinder Role Playing Game compatible adventure. It is not a novel. It is also not an interactive Kindle “adventure book.”

While the mines of Ulthus produced a variety of high grade ores, ore is not particularly useful in its mined state—it has to be refined in a smelter. In order to prepare the ore, the Empire constructed smelters.

Now that the Regency is expanding into the region and the PCs have taken Ulthus, the next step is to reclaim the smelter of Ulthus from whatever howls within its blackened walls.

Available on Amazon.


Smelter Map & Monsters

See paizo.com/pathfinderRPG for more information on the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

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Living Far from the Bleeding Edge

Posted in Business, Environment, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on April 3, 2013
IBM Portable Personal Computer :: Retrocomputi...

(Photo credit: br1dotcom)

I rather like technology and, as I have noted in other posts, I have sometimes shown poor judgment in my attempts to enhance my computers. Back in the day, squeezing out extra performance, drive space and so on was actually rather important-computers were so slow and storage so small that every increase really mattered. After all, if the hard drive is 20 MB, then saving 1 MB by compressing stuff was a big deal. These days when hard drives are 1TB or larger and processors scream with speed, such efforts are less essential-though some folks still like to get out on the bleeding edge. For example, DIY overclocking is still popular and still melting the occasional processor.

Thanks to being a professor, I’ve generally not been on the bleeding edge of technology. This is not from lack of desire, but a combination of reason and limited finances. Because of my budget, I cannot afford to spend the thousands it would take to be on the bleeding edge. Being rational, I do not endeavor to do this. Instead, I live way back on the plateau, watching the blood spray up into the sky.

As might be suspected, I tend to take a philosophical approach to this matter (or perhaps I am just rationalizing). While I have bought a few new computers, I generally have either built my PCs or acquired somewhat obsolete tech. Building a PC matches my view that a person should have the skill to repair anything he owns and depends on as well as a basic comprehension of how it works. This allows me to handle my own problems without having to impose on others. As might be guessed, I believe that people have a moral obligation to have a basic level of competence with their key technology. After all, they otherwise become burdens on others and waste time that could be better spent.

Using somewhat obsolete tech also matches my values. First, I’m from New England and hence have those famous frugal tendencies. I do not like to waste money and staying away from the bleeding edge helps a great deal. One reason is, obviously, that older tech is much cheaper than newer tech (in general) although the difference in performance need not be that great. To use the obvious example, the high end modern processors can cost well over $1,000. While they are very fast, they tend to be far more than the vast majority of folks would need. Since I have been working with computers for a while, I remember when people spoke of the blazing speed of the 486 chip relative to the 286, then spoke the same way about the Pentium. The same was true for the Mac: the 68000 was slow compared to the blazing 68040 and then there was the G3 and then the G4 chips. While this power can be useful for things like video editing and gaming, I obviously do not write any faster on my i7 920 than I did on my 68000 Mac Classic.

In practical terms, except for folks who need the speed (like folks rendering video, doing graphics work and hardcore gaming) a PC that is five or even ten years old would probably do the trick. It is, of course, possible to get last year’s models at a modest discount and even older ones for far less. Of course, old machines might have problems-which is why it is important to have the right skills if you decide to go with the older tech.

I also scavenge and rebuild fairly often-when I help people with their new machine, they will often give (or dump) their old or dead tech to me or sell it for a modest price. I’ve gotten laptops, desktops, iPods and such that way. In some cases I had to create a Frankenputer, but the price was right.

Second, I hate to waste stuff. Old tech that is not in use tends to end up in the landfill. By keeping old tech in use, I am able to keep some stuff out of the landfill. I also give away what I do not use-there is always a student who needs a laptop or a parent who needs a PC for the kids. This enables people to have a usable computer without having to spend what little money they might have. This Monday, I gave away my 2004 iBook G4. While I got in back when Office 2004 was brand new, after a restore of the OS it was actually quite snappy, what with its 1 GHz processor, 30GB hard drive and 768 MB of RAM. While Office 2004 is way out of date, it still works quite well-in fact, for most of what folks do, office 2004 is more than enough.

Of course, I do hope that some folks keep buying on the bleeding edge-the blood eventually trickles down to me and folks like me. Hmm, I guess that trickle down thing sort of works.

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DIY: SSD & Headlights

Posted in DIY/Recipes, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on March 29, 2013


Samsung SSD 830 Series 128Gb 2,5

 (Photo credit: Tolbxela)


Today’s post is about two of my recent DIY projects (or, rather, DIM-Do It Myself). As a general rule, I endeavor to do as much myself as possible. First, I do this to save money and time. I work cheap and I do things quickly-plus I know I am always available when I need something done. Being sensible, I do consider the value of my time and will pay other people to do stuff if they can do it as good for less (in terms of the dollar value of my time).  Second, I do this because I believe that people should be as self-sufficient as possible. I hold to this on both moral and practical grounds. Morally, a person is acting wrongly when he is an unwarranted burden on others-that is, he expects others to do for him what he could reasonably do for himself.  Naturally, if a person cannot do it herself, hiring others is morally acceptable (in general). Also, being a competent human being is very useful. Third, I often find such things satisfying-it is nice to work with actual physical objects  since I spend most of my time working with words.

Recently I repaired my door, my sink, added an SSD to my PC and “de-yellowed” the plastic headlight covers on my truck. I thought I’d share how to install an SSD and get the yellow out.

After reading an article in PC World about upgrading to a SSD (Solid State Drive) I decided to give it a shot. As I noted in an earlier post, this was an experience in blue screens-but it was ultimately worth it.

Now, as far as why you might want to do this upgrade to a desktop, the main answer is speed-an SDD is much faster than a traditional hard drive so you’ll enjoy faster boot times and your programs will be snappier. A secondary answer is that SSDs do not have moving parts (well, on the macro level) so they tend to break less than traditional mechanical drives. For laptops,an  SSD is lighter and is vastly less susceptible to problems caused by motion relative to a traditional drive.

If you plan to upgrade a laptop, make sure that 1) you have the right (SATA) interface for the drive and that 2) you have the right sized SSD. While SSDs are generally laptop sized drives, they do not fit all laptops. In general, you’d want to get a 7 mm drive with an adapter unless you are sure of the size of your existing drive.

If you plan to upgrade a desktop, you will probably want to get an adapter so the SSD will fit into the normal drive bay-as noted above, the typical SSD is a laptop style drive and will not mount as is in a desktop bay. Fortunately, the adapter is cheap. If you are using a card (see below) that allow you to mount the drive on it, then you would not need an adapter.

Before spending any money, you will want to check to see what your options are and a rather important factor to consider is what sort of hard drive connectors your computer supports. Really old PCs have IDE connectors. If you have that, you should just get a new computer rather than spending money to try to stick in a SSD. If you have SATA connectors, check to see what version you have. My aging PC has SATA II. New PCs should have SATA III.

If you have SATA II connectors and want the most speed, check to see if your PC has a free PCI Express slot. These come in various sizes-such as the PCI Express x16 slot that is commonly used for video cards. Since my PC only has SATA II, I got a the Apricorn Velocity PCI Express card Solo X1. It will fit in a PCI Express x1 slot (or larger). This card (and others like it) add SATA III support and have a mount for attaching an SSD. The one I bought also has another SATA connector (internal) that can be used to speed up another internal drive.

Once the drive is on the card and the card is installed, be sure to format the drive. Once it is formatted, then clone your boot drive to the SSD. Since I was using the Apricorn card, I used the EZ Gig IV software. Since SSDs tend to smaller than traditional hard drives (my SSD is 256 GB) you’ll need to clean up your drive and will want to use what are probably the advanced options in the cloning software to only copy Windows and your programs.  Cloning software tends to default to just copying everything-including any data or recovery partitions on the drive. Of course, you can also just do a new install on the SSD.

After you have your boot drive cloned (or Windows installed), reboot and set your BIOS so that the SSD is the boot drive. If you don’t get any blue screens, then you can enjoy the new speed.


CleanedTurning now to headlights, yesterday I decided to replace the headlight bulbs in my 2001 Tacoma. I  noticed that the plastic covers over the lights were foggy and yellowed. I had seen various kits for de-yellowing headlights, but had also heard that Scratch Out (or similar products) would also do the trick. Since I had some Scratch Out, I put some on a paper towel and rubbed the plastic. Turns out that it does work. Of course, I suspect that even toothpaste would work. So, if you have yellowed/foggy headlights and some Scratch Out (or maybe toothpaste) give it a try

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Tempted by Tablets

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on July 16, 2011
Android robot logo.

Image via Wikipedia

It seems that everyday brings a new Android tablet. Being nerdtastic, I am sorely tempted by each new offering. However, I have largely held out against them, in part because I already gave in by buying a Color Nook.

I do like the idea of tablets and have found my Nook (and iPod Touch) rather useful and appealing in three main ways. First, they are very portable in ways that even a netbook is not, so I can carry and use them almost anywhere. Second, they turn on almost instantly-so, if I want to check my email or web page, I do not have to endure the long boot of a PC. Third, they have long battery life, making them usable for quite some time without the need to recharge. However, I have resisted the temptation of the new tablets by reminding myself of the following:

First, these tablets are are as expensive ($400+) as a really great netbook or a good laptop. Second, while they are more powerful and larger than my iPod or Nook, they do not really offer more productivity in terms of what I actually do, which is write. True, using a larger tablet to write would be somewhat easier than the Nook, but still vastly more annoying that using a netbook. While there are keyboards for the tablets (the Asus Transformer has a rather elegant keyboard/dock/cover), these add to the cost and also tend to make them as bulky as a netbook. Using a keyboard also sort of defeats the point of buying an actual tablet-if I’m going to need to sit down and type, I might as well buy a fully functional laptop/netbook for less than the cost of the tablet and keyboard. Third, while there are many useful apps for the tablets, they are rather limited compared to the software available on a laptop/netbook, especially when it comes to writing something like a book or creating presentations for class. On a lighter note, the games available for Android really do not stack up very well against those available even for my old netbook (I can run Master of Orion 2, Starcraft, Diablo 2, Baldur’s Gate, Total Annihilation and so on). However, some folks do prefer the lighter fare available in the realm of Android games.

All that said, some folks would be ideal tablet people. People who are mainly consumers of content (movies, music, blogs, and so on), who just need basic apps and who like the lighter fare of app games would find a tablet well worth it.

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Smart Classrooms & Infections

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on January 31, 2011
USB flash drive SanDisk
Image via Wikipedia

While I have been integrating technology into my classes since graduate school (my first creation was a Supercard program that incorporated notes and tutorials into a self contained package) it was only the past fall that I was actually assigned to a smart classroom. Half of my classes are still in a dumb classroom. In fact, it is very dumb: it is a converted band room in the old high school associated with the campus (the high school students are now in a new, much nicer complex).

Using a smart classroom is easy enough-they typically just involve a PC serving as a “hub” for various media devices (VCR, DVD player, etc.) and that is also connected to a projector. Most people just use PowerPoint or show web sites via a browser. Of course, some people just like having the rooms and do not even use the “smart” features.

One obvious problem with the smart classrooms is the fact that the PCs have to be accessible to all the professors who use the room. So, for example, anyone can plug in a malware infested USB key or pickup various nasties from web sites. Interestingly enough, the PCs I have seen are lacking in security software, other than the Windows 7 firewall.  Not surprisingly, I have noticed that they have problems with malware.  Since I do not want to get malware on my well maintained PCs, I have worked out some strategies for dealing with the fact that the classroom PCs seem to be roughly the equivalent of a public urinal.

One obvious approach is to try to upgrade the security. However, most classroom PCs are password protected to keep people from installing software (well, in theory anyway). One easy way around this is to use Ophcrack-a free program that can be used to garner the passwords on a Windows machine. With enough time, it would be possible to get the password for the administrator account, log in and then install security software such as the free Avast software and the excellent free Comodo firewall.  Useful free software is also available at Ninite. Of course, the IT folks might frown on such behavior-although they should probably have taken steps to secure the PCs from the get go. If you don’t have the time to crack the password, one option is to use portable software to clean the PC. While this will not be an optimal solution, it can be better than nothing. PortableApps.com has some basic security programs that can be run without actually being installed. As such, you can run them from a CD, removable drive or by copying or by downloading them to the PC.

A second obvious approach is to keep the files you need on your own website. That way you can simply load a webpage or download the files to the PC without worrying about infections.  Obviously, you do not want to use a password protected online file storage (like Skydrive) from the PC-it might have a keylogger installed. However, sites that allow public access would be fine (keep in mind that folks will be able to get to your files).

There are also some online anti-virus programs, such as Panda ActiveScan, that can be run from a web browser. While an installed security suite or set of programs would be better, an online scan is better than nothing.

Of course, the PCs internet access might be down (or non-existent) or perhaps downloading is not an option. If so, another approach would be needed.

A third approach is to burn a CD with your files on it. Be sure that the disk is “closed” so that nothing more can be written to it. On the downside, you’ll have to buy a CD (although this is cheap) and create new ones when you change your files. However, this is a rather secure option.

A fourth approach is to get a USB drive that has a hardware write protect switch. All of my older drives have this but none of my newer drives do (although there are apparently some software write protect options). If you are buying one for this purpose, be sure to confirm that it has such a switch. This allows you to change or update files as needed, yet be reasonably safe from the perils of the smart classroom PC.

As a another option, if your smart classroom has a document camera, you can print your class material and use that camera. The only infections you have to worry about then are those you might pick up from touching the mouse.

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DIY Internet TV

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on November 13, 2010
Television set for Wikipedia userbox icons, or...
Image via Wikipedia

While there have been various attempts to meld TVs and computers, these have general not work out very well (the Macintosh TV immediately comes to mind). However, there is yet another round of attempts to merge the mindless entertainment of the TV with the mindless entertainment of the internet. Intel, for example, is now making chips for TVs and Google is working on its own TV OS. However, you can get your own internet TV (and more) now.

To cut to the chase, you can have internet TV (and more) simply by attaching a PC to your computer. When you want to watch TV, you just watch TV. When you want to use the computer, you just switch to that with the remote.  It is as easy as that. But, here is what you will need and the basics of setting it up.

For an optimal set up you will need

  • HD TV with an HDMI port.
  • A laptop or small (and quiet) PC running Windows 7 Home Premium that has an HDMI port.
  • HDMI cable.
  • Wireless keyboard and mouse.
  • A HD TV tuner for the PC (so you can use it as a DVR and actually watch TV while using the PC).
  • Internet access, preferably wired (for optimal streaming and reliability).
You can, however, get by with less optimal equipment. For example, you can (with a proper adapter) connect a PC to an analog TV using an S-Video connection (although the quality will be rather poor). As another example, you can use a PC running Windows XP (hopefully the media center version).
Fortunately the PC that you use with your TV does not need to be a powerhouse (unless you intend to play high end games). A basic laptop or one of those mini-PCs should suffice. If you are buying a PC specifically for this purpose, be sure to get one with HDMI (assuming that your TV has HDMI).
The setup is fairly simple (assuming you already have your TV and PC in service with the tuner drivers and software installed): connect the PC to the TV via the HDMI cable, connect the TV tuner to the source of your TV signal (usually the cable coming from a cable or satellite box) and to your PC, and then turn on the TV and boot the PC.
If you have a PC that defaults to the HDMI output, then you will probably just need to adjust the video card settings and the TV to get an optimal picture. This involves setting the screen resolution to match the TV. If you are using a laptop or a PC that does not output to the HDMI by default, then you will need to set up the PC so that it uses the TV as its main monitor. Since a laptop has its own screen, you will be able to use that while you are dealing with the video settings. If you are using a PC that defaults to VGA or DVI, you might actually need to have a monitor on hand when setting it up to use the TV (especially if you are using an older PC and OS). Fortunately, most current video card software makes it easy to set up the video. Intel even has software that does the configuration more or less automatically-if your PC has an Intel video chip.
Once the video is working properly, you might have to adjust the sound. If your PC has an HDMI port, it can output the audio via this port.  However, you will probably have to adjust your audio settings using the control panel. If your PC does not have HDMI, you will need to connect the PC to speakers.
Once the sound and video is working, then you are all set. If you have a good TV tuner card, you should be able to watch TV just fine via the PC-that way you can easily use Windows 7 to record shows or watch TV while doing other things with the PC. Most importantly, you can now use your PC with your TV, thus allowing you to watch videos, etc. on the big screen. For example, I watch Netflix and Comedy Central videos (full screen) on my TV via the connected laptop.  Also, if you have Windows 7 (or other software) you can stream audio and video from other sources.
A few final points:
First, wired internet is generally better than relying on wireless. I use Belkin Powerline adapters to connect the laptop to my router (which is in my home office). I found that the wireless was less reliable.
Second, be sure that the PC has proper airflow. Don’t just put it on top of, for example, your cable box.
Third, be sure to keep your firewall and anti-virus up to date on the PC. It is, after all, still a PC.
Fourth, get a wireless keyboard and mouse. A media center remote is also not a bad idea.
Fifth, this setup is not just for video-it works quite well for music, whether your own audio files or from sites like Grooveshark.
Sixth, keep the porn to a minimum, or you’ll go blind.
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Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on January 10, 2010
Image of a Western Digital 250Gb SATA Hard Dri...
Image via Wikipedia

Last semester I arrived at my office only to release that I did not have my USB drive in my pocket. Since I keep my grade files on it, that was a bit of a problem. Fortunately, the files on my office PC were actually up to date. I later found my drive amidst the ferns by my door-I had accidentally pulled it out of my pocket when getting my keys.

Naturally enough, I wanted to find an easy solution to the problem of having my my grade files readily accessible.

In the past I had used the somewhat awkward solution of emailing the files to myself. Of course, that is a bit of work and technology is all about letting people be lazy (plus distributing porn or killing people).

I thought that the easiest solution would be to have an internet drive, but I did not want to rely on a third party that could go belly up or even pay extra money for a service. Since I don’t have any budget from my school, the free part is rather critical.

Luckily, I remembered Netdrive, which was once developed by Novell. I found out that a program with the same name and function is still being made. It is free for personal use and well worth it. You can get it here.

The program itself does not provide storage. Rather it does the rather neat trick of mounting a site as a drive on your PC. That way you can navigate it like a normal drive. The most useful feature is that if you use it to connect to a FTP or WebDAV server that you have read/write access to, you can use it exactly like a hard drive. That is, you can copy files to and from it by dragging and dropping. This is much more convenient that the usual FTP program approach.

One concern I did run into is that some sites (such as some web hosting sites) will work with the program but have rather limited name conventions that they accept. If you run into problems trying to copy files with names such as “Ethics Fall 2009” (as opposed to ethicsfall2009) then that might be the issue you are running into.

If you already have your own website with FTP space, you can use Netdrive to turn it into a network drive. If you are a broadband subscriber, the odds are that you have some modest space available-just check the ISP web site for the address you need. In the case of Comcast, it is upload.comcast.net and you use your account name and password to gain access. I have also tried it with Yahoo hosting as well.

When using a site as a drive, be sure to be aware of space and usage limitations. Also, it is a good idea to make sure that important files are backed up-you never know when that site might have a problem.

Naturally, you should also be concerned about security. After all, the files will be sitting on an FTP server. In the case of my grade files, any intruder would need to have a copy of the software to read them as well as the password needed to get into them. So, I’m not too worried about that.

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