// Internet Duct Tape

How the Xbox 360 Can Reinvented Itself

Posted in Gadgets, Games, Technology by engtech on July 18, 2008

Video Games

The entertainment industry is shifting. Video games dominate all forms of media as an estimated 46 billion dollar industry. Your local video chain likely carries as many video games as it does DVDs. Blueray has beaten HD-DVD as the new media for watching movies at home, but it has the potential to be squashed by digital downloads. Not watching movies on your computer, but rather watching them on a box that is already hooked up to your entertainment system: your gaming console.

Netflix has existed for several years as a DVD-by-snail-mail service. This year they released the Roku box in the US that lets you subscribe to your Netflix service as digital downloads rather than DVDs. 10,000s of movies for $9 a month plus the cost of a $100 box.

I’ve been using my Xbox 360 with a media server for watching movies and TV shows for a few months now and it is so much more convient than having to deal with DVDs. On Monday Microsoft announced that they’d be partnering with Netflix for the Xbox 360. This is huge because Netflix is already a proven movie subscription model that works, and now they’re working with a gaming console that millions of people already own instead of yet another standalone box.

It sounds like the update next fall will fix quite a few other issues that have been bugging me as an Xbox 360 owner. Some of the planned updates:


Netflix subscribers who are also Xbox Live Gold subscribers can stream movies from their Netflix queue for free. Unfortunately Netflix still isn’t available to Canadians.

Load Times

Trying to navigate through your Xbox Live arcade games / demos is painful. It can take up to a minute for games to load. Navigating your music library is equally as painful. They should cache the data to the local hard drive.

Xbox Marketplace on the Web

Trying to find something on the Xbox Marketplace is next to impossible. A web interface would be much simpler and would allow for easy searching.

Rip to Hard Drive

Games can be copied to hard drive to play faster (and quieter).

“Live Party”

I’m hoping this will let you set up the equivalent to a “chat channel” amongst your friends. One of my biggest pet peeves with using the 360 for voice communication is that I can’t set up a private group of just my friends when playing a multiplayer game unless that game itself supports that.

I don’t want to talk with people I don’t know online.

What I’d Like To See

There are some big improvements, but there’s still room for more. Here are a few things I’d like to see for my 360 to earn it’s spot in my TV room.

Targetted Content

The current Xbox 360 interface already offers a few advertisement locations. These are horribly used. Microsoft knows my play history for all of my games. They should be data mining that information and targetting advertisement for games I’m likely to want to play based on the games I usually play.

They don’t even do a good job of highlighting that there’s downloadable content available for the games I am currently playing.

Photo Zoom

I’m absolutely flabbergasted that we can’t zoom into pictures on the 360. It seems like it would be a very trivial application to support. Zooming would offer up some interesting 3rd party hacks like reading web comics / downloaded CBZ/CBR files as image files or converting e-books to images.

There has already been a homebrew Nintendo DS web surfer program that works by converting web pages to images on the DS.


There’s no reason why the Xbox 360 can support more video codecs. I’d really like to be able to play anything I download on the 360 without having to re-convert it.

Video Meta Data

We need something like ID3 tags for video files. I’d love to be able to tag my digitized video collection with director, main actors, and Rotten Tomatoes scores as well as being able to navigate by cover art like I can with my music collection.

Xbox Homebrew

The Xbox 360 already has a homegrew gaming development community, but they’ve starved it by charging a yearly fee to access it. I got to play some of the games when they had a free trial offer a few months ago, and while there were some gems there was nothing to compell me to pay the fee.

This is a huge shortsightedness, by making the games freely available to Xbox 360 gold members they would be giving hobby developers a huge reason to develop games on the play form. Sure, charge developers to have their games listed as that will weed out the utter crap, but at least let them have an audience.

Web Browsing

There’s no reason why the Xbox 360 couldn’t be used as a web browser. There’s even a neat little keyboard attachment you can buy that fits in with the controller. I’d be pretty happy if I could pause a game, check my email, and write a quick response.

I’m surprised Opera hasn’t teamed up with the 360 team to develop a pay browser like they did with the Nintendo DS.

CES – Microsoft Home Server

Posted in Gadgets, Microsoft Windows XP and Vista, Technology by engtech on January 09, 2007

The news du jour is Microsoft Home Server (blog of developer here, product page here, TechMeme coverage).

This is a great product idea, if properly executed. I consider myself a “tech power user” and I already have a home server setup where I mirror backups across multiple computers and stream media to my Xbox 360. This Christmas I wanted to add 500 GB to my home network and the deciding feature on my list was the ability to stream to the Xbox 360. I couldn’t find something to do it that was easily available at the local electronics store — next year my story might be different.

Removable media (CD-R / DVD-R) is more hassle than it’s worth for backups. It takes approximately 10 minutes a disc to restore from a backup. I deal with a lot of digital media (music, movie/tv, photography, comic scans) and if I have a system wipe out I’m looking at DAYS (if not WEEKS) to restore everything from disc. I’m not going to. I had a 60 GB drive with music fail in 2000 and I still haven’t restored from backup. Hard drives are cheap and it is far more time effective to mirror to another drive over a network. It’s logical to think we’ll eventually be doing it over the internet.

With the Microsoft Home Server adoption it’s going to be all about the price point and Xbox 360 integration. If it’s comparable to what it would cost me to buy a PC of my own then I would buy it for the form-factor alone. If it can handle things like printer sharing, running an FTP/Web site, and Xbox 360 connectivity then it is going to be an easy sell. Like anyone who has seen Microsoft’s track record I have security concerns, but they’ve done a good job with the 360 — as long as they limit what can be done with the Home Server they’ll be fine.

Microsoft has a huge opportunity with the sales of the 360 over the past year. The 360 has already become a strong competitor for video-on-demand (with television and movies on demand available), giving Microsoft a channel into home entertainment. If they have seamless integration between the Home Server and the Xbox 360, then they are a shoe-in to convert the existing Xbox 360 user base into Home Server sales.

Boxing Day is coming

Posted in Gadgets, Links, Technology by engtech on December 25, 2006

RedFlagDeals has a nice round up of all of the boxing day deals in Canada. The already have all of the boxing day flyers online. And they offer a nice reminder that some of the online store sales have started tonight (Future Shop, Best Buy, NCIX).

Online shopping is the way to go as you avoid all of the hassle (the biggest problem is trying to log on to the web site).

There are a lot of DVD, comic book trade paperback and video game sales to be had, all from the convience of your computer desk.

You might be able to use the flyers for price matching at competing stores.


FM Holiday Gadget Guide

Posted in Gadgets, Links, Technology by engtech on November 29, 2006

Federated Media has gotten gadget reviews from several bloggers together under one roof.

A collaboration between nine tech-savvy bloggers, the Federated Media Holiday Gadget Guide aims to get readers up to speed on the must-have devices, electronic toys, and other can’t-miss gifts of the 2006 holiday season. The Guide will also assist readers in weighing their choices among competing devices — e.g. PS3 vs. Wii and iPod vs. Zune.

Surprisingly enough, you can’t find a comparison of PS3 vs Wii on there, despite what their “about me” page says.

iPod vs Zune – Indepth Side by Side Feature Comparison Just In Time for Christmas

Posted in Gadgets, Technology by engtech on November 18, 2006

The Microsoft Zune is available for purchase and now the age old battle of rivals has entered the digital music player market. Which is better? I have an iPod and I’ve never laid my hands on a Zune, so rather than repeat web hyperbole I’ll link to it instead.

(Ah, blog posts that just seem to write themselves)

BBSpot does a side-by-side comparison of the Zune and iPod based on the most important features that most tech journals have been ignoring. They’ve done the same for Firefox vs Internet Explorer in case you were wondering. Great reading for a friday afternoon.

For a more serious comparison:

The Best Remote in the World (Logitech Harmony)

Posted in Gadgets, Technology by engtech on September 21, 2006

(This is pure fanboyism. I’m not going to lie to you, it could get a little ugly and/or boring.)

I love my Logitech Harmony Remote 628. I bought it at half-price on one of those crazy online Boxing Day sales last year. I bought it knowing it was an older model, but not caring because I wanted to get out of the five remote hell I’d been sequestered in for no apparent reason for several years. It is one of the best gadget purposes I’ve made in recent times, and tonight it proved itself again.

Sure, the blue casing matches absolutely nothing in my home theatre, and I have to use Internet Explorer instead of Firefox but these are sacrifices I’m willing to make. I even shrug off the Big Brother implications of an Orwellian Logitech that knows the make and model of every piece of equipment in my den, and how often I purchase something new.

This doesn’t sound like me. The reason why might shock you. It’s because They Got It Right.


Joel makes me feel better about my Nokia 6682

Posted in Gadgets, Links, Technology by engtech on September 20, 2006

I’m another one of those bloggers who got a free cellphone, and while mine wasn’t as shiny and new as Joel’s (and for damned sure the service provider Rogers didn’t foot the bill), I know I did complain about it. His rant takes the cake though.

I like the idea of getting free stuff. But if you don’t have a good product that’s ready for primetime, all you’ll get is a lot of negative press.

>> Amazing X-Ray Glasses from Sprint!

Comments Off on Joel makes me feel better about my Nokia 6682

The Dirge of iPod

Posted in Gadgets, Music, MP3s and Internet Radio, Technology by engtech on September 19, 2006

There’s an interesting prediction that 2006 is the year that the iPod will die. I have a Nokia 6682 (2005 release, review starts here) with half a gig of memory. While I have used it for listening to music, it hasn’t come close to replacing my 4th generation 40 GB iPod.

Here are the reasons:

  • Cellphone music transfers use USB 1.1, so take an unbearably long time.
    • I don’t have an MMC card reader on my “MP3” computer.
  • The Nokia MP3 player chokes on a lot of MP3 files (SymbianOggPlay fixes this)
  • I may always have my phone on me, but I don’t always have my ear-buds with me, and old ladies throw loose change and lint-covered hard candies at me if I try to use the loudspeaker.

We’re still in an age where the best convergent device is a cellphone, a Nano, and a digital camera tied together with a piece of duct-tape.

After the break, why I think the iPod will die.


Nokia 6682 Review Part 4 of 5: Freeware Applications, Battery Life and Upgrading Firmware

Posted in Gadgets, Software, Technology by engtech on September 09, 2006

I sure took my time writing part four of this series. It’s bad when you need to apply “Getting to Done” on your hobbies. In this part of the series I’ll be covering freeware applications, battery life and updating the firmware on your phone.


  • How to synchronize with Google Calendar.
  • Battery life good, but not great.
  • Music transfer is S-L-O-W.
  • Tons of freeware available, along with my picks.
  • Reading RSS feeds on the phone.
  • Don’t upgrade the firmware.

But don’t you want to read the full text in all it’s glory? (more…)

Logitech Wireless Headphones for iPod – LED States

Posted in Gadgets, Music, MP3s and Internet Radio, Technology by engtech on August 30, 2006

Because I just know I’m going to lose the instructions.

Powered on and connected Powered on and NOT connected Low Battery Charging
Headphones blinks blue fast, blinks blue fast, blinks red solid orange
Wireless Adapter solid blue solid red fast, blinks red solid orange

Other Posts

Best Answering Machine is not worth buying (or stealing with a crack/keygen*)

Posted in Gadgets, Technology by engtech on August 29, 2006

SmartphoneWare makes (read: has purchased the rights to) a wide variety of Symbian software applications with the name “Best” in the title. Some of their software seems very useful like Best Answering Machine and Best Full Screen Caller.



Looking for mobile synchronization application and offline HTML reader

Posted in Gadgets, Music, MP3s and Internet Radio, Technology by engtech on August 21, 2006

This is driving me nuts. What I’m looking for should be too hard to find, but for some reason I can’t get my hands on it.

There are two things I want:

First: An application for S60/Symbian/J2ME phones that can read web pages or RSS feeds OFFLINE. I live in a draconian part of the world that does not offer flat rate data plans for anything ressembling a reasonable plan.

For some reason when I try to use Opera or the built in phone browser it always makes the assumption that I want to surf using GRPS. A perfectly valid assumption if I did not live in a Syberian gulag (aka Ottawa).

Second: I want a PC application that will automatically synchronize specified files with my phone when I hook it up to my PC. This isn’t really a big deal, I could hack together a script to do it in minutes, but if there is something out there that does this already then I want to know about it.

After the break, my results with various solutions.


Sale on Logitech Bluetooth Headphones for iPod

Posted in Gadgets, Technology by engtech on August 16, 2006

Best Buy (Canada) has Logitech Bluetooth headphones for iPod for $30 again ($170 off). These headphones are known to be bad for snapping in the back (have been discontinued by Logitech for this reason), but for $30 I’m willing to take the risk. You can get another 10% off if you buy a harddrive based MP3 player at the same time.

These headphone will work with any BlueTooth device, provided you buy a separate adapter.

If they do break, Logitech is offering a refund. So it really is a no-lose situation.

  • These headphones include a wireless adapter that snaps onto your iPod or iPod mini, plus integrated controls so you can adjust the volume, play, pause, or select tracks without touching your iPod.
  • Interference-free digital sound and advanced Bluetooth frequency hopping technology.
  • Long range of up to 30 feet so you can move freely.
  • Long Battery Life: Up eight hours per charge – gives you plenty of airtime.
  • Integrated iPod controls let you adjust volume, play, pause or select tracks and more.
  • Please note: The Logitech Wireless iPod Headphone (G22397) is compatible the iPod photo, iPod mini, iPod photo U2 Special Edition, 4th Generation iPod with Click Wheel and the 3rd Generation iPod with touch wheel and buttons. This device is not compatible with the iPod Video or iPod Nano.

>> Logitech Headphones @ BestBuy.ca

>> Also available from Amazon.com for $33.99 US

>> Instructions for fixing/reinforcing the band so that it does not crack


Nokia 6682 Review Part 3 of 5: Contacts, Camera, Headset

Posted in Gadgets, Technology by engtech on August 07, 2006

This is part three of a series. I will be talking about

  • text entry,
  • editing contacts,
  • synchronizing contacts,
  • using the camera for photos and video
          • (including sample photos and videos),
  • image quality,
  • and connecting a Bluetooth headset.


Read the rest of this post

Friday Feedback: What is the worst tech gear you’ve ever bought?

Posted in Gadgets, Request for Comments, Technology by engtech on August 04, 2006

We’ve all done it. Whipped out the plastic in the heat of the moment without doing the proper research, and then kicked ourselves for months afterwards as problem after problem reared it’s ugly head. You tell me yours, and then I’ll tell you mine. Here’s a hint: it involved BestBuy, Boxing Day and not realizing that Compaq and HP are the same company now.

Leave a comment with your horror story of the one piece of tech equipment you wish you’d never laid eyes upon, much less paid cash for. No registration is necessary to leave a comment, just put whatever username/email address you want.

If this goes well, I’ll be repeating the process every second friday with a new question. See the comments on this post at some time in the next 24 hours for my horror story.

Nokia 6682 Review Part 2 of 5: Software Applications.

Posted in Gadgets, Technology by engtech on August 03, 2006

In this part of the series, I’ll be talking about

  • the wrist band (horrible, can scratch your display),
  • Nokia PC Suite software,
  • Lifeblog software,
  • and the prepackaged phone application
    • clock and
    • mp3 music player


Where is the last.fm or Pandora application for mobile phones?

Posted in Gadgets, Music, MP3s and Internet Radio, Technology by engtech on August 02, 2006

UPDATE 2007/04/17: M3Solutions have put together a last.fm python app for SymbianS60 phones

What would I do if I had a flat data rate cost on my new EDGE smartphone? I’d use a version of last.fm/pandora for my mobile phone. This is how mobile phones could use the fact that they are internet enabled with equivalent speeds to some broadband networks to compete with proper MP3 players and satellite radio.

Auto-discovery of music you like based on OTHER music you’ve liked is big/will be big.

In an ideal world the apps would use the existing last.fm/pandora servers and have the same features of the Windows application. You would be able to buy/download tracks to your phone, and it would make money off of these music sales. This would also get around not being able to use last.fm/pandora in corporate settings.

The hole in one would be negotiating a contract to develop this for last.fm or pandora as this could be a huge, huge market. But if that didn’t work out, developing competing software for the wireless market could still be a coup d’etat (but would require more work developing contacts with the music market).

Music companies sell more music. Phone companies sell more smart phones. Wireless providers get more usage of those data networks they shelled out so much cash for (which will reduce costs over all, get more people into using their phone for data, etc). Mobile has a killer app to compete with the MP3 player / satellite radio markets. We take a chunk of the change along the way.

I’ve submitted my idea to Cambrian House for their Idea Warz competition. You can vote for it here: last.fm or pandora-like app for mobile phones

Full disclosure: they’re sending me a free X-Box because I won a contest (unrelated).

This isn’t a totally new idea. It came to me fully formed, but I can see that other people are having it:

It’s always a good sign that a lot of people are having the same idea at the same time because that is a clear indication that this is something the market can and will support.

Nokia 6682 Review Part 1 of 5: Initial opinion

Posted in Gadgets, Technology by engtech on July 30, 2006

I got a new cellphone, and I’m going to talk about it to death. This is the first part of a five part series, and I think this is the best review you’ll find the Nokia 6682 cellphone because unlike all those other gadget/phone reviewers, I will be using this phone every day for the next two years (unless some other company wants to give me one for free). My expectations of what this phone can do are a higher because I’ll be using it day-to-day for the next two years.

In this part of the review I’ll be looking at:

  • migrating phone settings (contacts),
  • menu navigation,
  • and web surfing.


Update on matchstick.ca and Nokia 6682 Phones

Posted in Asides, Gadgets, Technology by engtech on July 28, 2006

This is just a quick update to say that matchstick.ca is good on their word and I now have a Nokia 6682 phone in my hands. Expect something more indepth on the subject when I’ve had a few days to play with it.

//engtech � matchstick.ca is giving away Nokia 6682 Phones in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver