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Building the Ultimate Media Center PC: Choosing the Hardware

Also known as a "home theater PC" (HTPC), a media center PC is connected to a TV and is built and configured for streaming / downloading media available on the Internet or local network. I personally label it a mere hobby, but I admit that building the ultimate media center PC has turned into my obsession. I'm like Goldilocks seeking the one that's "just right." So much of my time, money, and effort have been spent researching, testing, building, and configuring that I thought I'd share my discoveries hoping to spare others from the inevitable torture that accompanies this project.

These were my requirements, which may or may not be in accord with yours:

  • The system must have a DVD player.  I'm old school that way.
  • The system must have an HDMI output--one cable running to the TV.
  • The system must support a resolution of 1920x1080--"Full HD."
  • The system must be small form factor and quiet. I don't want a fat-ass noisy desktop connected to my TV.
  • I don't need TV recording features (e.g. a TV tuner card).
  • I'll try to get it as appliance-based as possible. In other words, I will try my damnest to get it running on a minimum Linux install.

This was my mission, and here is my story.

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Why Linux is Cool

Linux proudly sits in a very special place in the heart of the IT world. Watching Linux pros clack away at the command line inspires a sense of awe and adoration in the heart of many a techie and non-techie alike. Even mere utterance of the word "Linux" brings shivers to the spine. "S/he doesn't use Windows--s/he uses Linux." "Whoa. I've HEARD of that." Why is Linux so damn cool? Well, I'll tell you why...

It's Free
Need I explain this one in depth? You can run an entire enterprise network on Linux without paying a dime on licensing. It's community-sponsored and open source and modifiable and distributable and everything else that

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What I Hate About Mac and What I Did About It

Since I'm into creating comedy videos and recording my own music, I thought I'd try shifting to the Mac platform for my creative pursuits. I made the move in late 2007, and in general I've been quite happy. However, as this stuff is created by humans, it's not without imperfections. Here is a list of my top gripes regarding the Mac and some of the ways I've addressed them.

The mouse doesn't feel right.

This one's hard to explain in words, but most Windows users will know what I'm talking about when they experience Apple's idea of mouse pointer acceleration. The mouse pointer just doesn't move the way you'd expect. Before migrating to a Mac, I highly advise trying out the desktop mouse action in an Apple store. If you agree with my sentiments, then please complain to those sleek tshirt-wearing cult-like Apple store sales “consultants.” Apple might be king of hi-tech fashion and style, but their ergonomics really suck sometimes.

Fortunately, being a top gripe among Mac users, some decent solutions do exist:

Brand-name Mouse
If you own a brand-name mouse (e.g. Logitech or Microsoft), then the included driver software often overrides Mac's default mouse behavior and allows far finer tuning of the settings. I suggest starting here because it's a free solution that comes with your mouse. This is the

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Google is Skynet

Has anyone besides me noticed the uncanny resemblance between Google and "Skynet" from the Terminator movies?

It's no secret that Google's ultimate goal is control of the world's information through the proliferation of "cloud computing."  On the surface Google's core business looks like a simple search engine; however, their true mechanics lie within their massive Skynet-like datacenters.  They construct the web infrastructure allowing you to surrender your information up to the cloud, promising unparalleled "access anywhere" convenience and data resiliency.

Think about it.  Some people's entire lives are on Google's systems--email, calendar, photos, address book, blog, discussions, videos (Google owns YouTube), and soon even your operating system will be Google (Chrome OS coming soon).  Google will no doubt eventually sell their free OS and cloud computing model to small businesses and enterprise customers as well--demolishing Microsoft's antiquated client PC model.

Google is an information vampire, implementing info-harvesting services wherever the opportunity exists.  Here is a breakdown of a very realistic future scenario:

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Sony PRS-505 Ebook Reader

Sony PRS-505

Having recently been in the market for an ebook reader, I researched just about every current and soon-to-be-released brand and model.  I narrowed my search down to 2—the Sony PRS-505 and the Amazon Kindle 2.  I struggled heavily with the decision because the feature set of the Amazon Kindle 2 was very attractive.  Ultimately, however, I decided upon the Sony James freakin' Bond special edition PRS-505.  Here are the reasons why:

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