USB Turntable With Built In Speakers – AKA What You’re Given When You Are Handy

I had been watching this item and laughing.

Vibe Sound USB Turntable With Built-In Speakers!

Ok, I have a stash of old school Vinyl Records in the house.  I’ll admit it, I actually bought some of these when they were Current.

I won’t pretend to be a Hipster.  I do have a goatee right now, but that’s because I was bored.  Maybe it saves time, yeah that’s the excuse, it saves time! 

Anyway…

I’ve got a reputation around here for a number of things.  I’ve become “That Guy”.  It’s a reputation of That Guy Who Can Actually Fix Things.

As a result I am given things that people can’t figure out or just don’t want to mess with.

You know the type.  You’ve got some old gadget that has been taking up space in storage.  It annoys you or your partner and you decide to toss it out.  Put a tag on it on the night before Trash Day saying “Free To A Good Home” and hope someone who needs it finds it.

Or you do what this guy did.

A neighbor who I know in passing lived around the corner.  I’d pass by from time to time and wave hello, or perhaps we’d bend each other’s ears on a dog walk.

Lets call him A Dog Walk Friend instead of an Acquaintance because Dog Walk Friends are Friends Who You Get To Know Better Later.

Or so I’ve been told.

We’re walking past the other night and he’s getting stuff out for trash day when I hear “I’m Beat!”.

He’s standing by a 1970s vintage Console Radio complete with 8 Track and a box under his arm.  The Free To A Good Home tags are flapping in the breezes.

“I can see why”…
“Here!  Take This.  You fix things, see what you can do with it!”.

A box that had seen at least one move and some strapping tape was thrust at me.   I pass the dog leash off to Kevin who is shaking his head “NO!” just out of direct view.

I tell him to stop shaking his head and take the box for examination.  The pack rat is about to get a new toy.

While laughing, I tell my friend that I had been watching this and I still have a foot locker full of records.  Mine and some from Dad.  Dad’s old Swing Era records, still in the Time/Life boxes, ready to be listened to and loved.

I should do something with those records.  I’ve had them in the foot of my closet since before I moved to Florida because I couldn’t bare to pass them on.  They’re complete but not particularly worth much on the “resale market”.  Collectable to me, but … well I can’t get rid of them, Dad would hate it.

Even if he is gone to the great beyond.

It isn’t the kind of thing I’d buy for myself.  USB Turntables aren’t exactly all that expensive, but I have a better turntable from back in the day when a good turntable was a requirement instead of like now when it is a confusing relic from the last century.

We got the box home, and I took it out to the backyard where I inspected it.   For good measure, I slid the equipment out, sprayed the box with bug killer, then slid the turntable back into the box.  That should kill anything that might be lurking.

Waiting until the next morning, I unboxed it.  It was complete.  I dug out my last milk crate of old records, finding someone else’s taste in music I realized “Not Mine” and moved them aside.  I found my crate.  I guess I’m down to just one crate of my own records.

Choosing a classic disco record, I put it on the turntable.  Powered it up.  There in Mid-Fi I got to listen to a song that I had heard dozens of times before.

Sigh with me everyone:

“Memories!” 

It even has the software if I am bold enough to try it.  Apparently I can plug it into my laptop and capture the vinyl onto an MP3 so I can listen to the same stuff that I have been listening to since my childhood another time.

Mmmm pops and crackles on MP3 complete with loss and low top end.

Ok, it’s a nice toy and it didn’t cost me anything.  

So since you’re reading over my shoulder, how about flipping the LP over.  They only put one track on the A Side, and I want to hear Cerrone’s Paradise again.

Thanks!

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Careful, That USB Drive Isn’t Perfect

I grabbed the chip out of the camera today to see what I had in store.  There are a couple of the usual pictures of lizards in weird places, my dog looking cute, night shots, and other things around town.

Looking at the chip in the reader, I used Windows Explorer to go through to the directory to find all the 84 megs worth of pics on the little 512 meg chip that I thought I had.

The key word is “Thought”. 

You see, Windows 7 can’t see what’s on the chip.

Lately I’ve gone through some odd problems.  The laptop is new.  I’ve only had it for 2 months.  Nice little thing, it does everything I need even if it is a year old.  So I trust it.

The problem seems to be the peripherals that I plug into it. 

The machine is small, a 12 inch “convertible tablet” so it can go everywhere.  Keyboard and touch screen that let me do some really interesting things with it.  It has HDMI so I have used it along with an external wireless keyboard and mouse to do presentations on the TV simply by plugging in the cable and the transmitter.  I then have a big monitor that I can show things on.   There are larger but this does the job perfectly.

So as I am plugging things in and taking them out I expect everything to work without question.

That was perhaps a bit naive.  You see you have to be careful with technology.  If you have static, especially, you can have your hardware die well before its time.

I think that is what happened with my little 512 Meg Chip.

My “big green chair” has a fuzzy synthetic cover on it.  I go to stand up and of course that builds up a charge.  Walk over to the dog and she’s grounded.  You hear a SNAP! and the dog is blinking at you as to why you did that you mean biped.

Now, while you annoy the dog with your static, think of what you are doing to that little electronic device.  It’s much better for both dog, electronics and loved ones if you reach over to the lamp, hold onto the metal base and then stand up.  Will you remember every time? I doubt it, but those times you remember, your dog and everyone else around you will thank you. 

Those static shocks are annoying.  I’m just “shocked” that I can get them here in Florida where the house is kept at 80F and 50 Percent Humidity during the day.   The poang chair under the ceiling fan is quite comfy, thank you!

Ok now to apologize to the dog…

Slow Centon Memory Stick and a Fast Alternative

Memory has a speed.  I won’t get into the technology behind it here because, frankly, people would glaze over and tune out.  For the home user or the casual computer person, it doesn’t really matter, but when you start moving really big files around, you need to be careful.

A while back, I bought a 16 GB Centon Memory Stick.  I wrote about it, and people keep coming back to the post.  Basically I was disappointed in the thing and was confused as to why.  The stick was a “Standard Speed” memory stick that even now is one of the cheapest ones on the block.

Stay Away From Standard Speed.

This isn’t all that apparent, so if you’re going to spend money on a memory stick in a blister package either do some research on the speed, accept the Russian Roulette aspect of things, or consider the alternatives.

Typically a known brand name like Kingston Memory will be better than a no name dollar store memory stick.  They have a great reputation and they seem to keep after the standards.   With USB 3.0 coming on the market, you’re going to have a better time with the speed of a USB 3.0 stick than a USB 2.0 stick.  Whether that new shiny USB 3.0 memory stick will work in your creaky old five year old laptop is another story that I have yet to find out the answer for.  You may end up out of luck until your next computer when USB 3.0 will be the standard.

If I ever get a new computer, or am given one to review, I’ll certainly write about the experience here.  But until then, I’m with you folks stuck on the slow PC bus.  This machine does work and is a steady performer but the machine you got Grandma for xmas is faster.

The alternative that I basically stumbled across was a happy accident.  I have a couple micro SDHC chips here.  8GB.  One I found, another I found in a broken phone in front of the bars near my house.  Since the phone looked like it was driven over by a fat girl in a semi truck, I didn’t bother to try to return the thing to the owner.  No way to know who that was since it didn’t turn on any more, I snooped around and found a tiny little chip that actually worked.

Simply put you can tell the speed of a chip by looking for the Class of the chip.  A Class 2 SD or SDHC memory chip is slower than a Class 6 SD or SDHC chip.  I have seen some Class 10 chips out on the market and those are the best.  Typically the faster ones are a little more expensive than the slower ones – so why buy a slower chip?  I can’t see a reason.

You need at least a Class 6 SDHC chip in your camera to do HD Video, and you really should have a Class 10 – I won’t recommend anything less for video than a Class 10.

How do you tell? A SD or SDHC chip will be roughly postage stamp sized with a notch cut out of the upper right corner on the label side of the chip.  The pin side of the chip is normally blank. 

Look for a capital “C” with a number in it.  That will tell you the speed.  I have everything here from unmarked standard speed though one with a C encircling a 6 – Class 6.  That was the 8GB that I harvested from the broken phone.

How do you use an SDHC chip on your computer?  Either there will be a built in reader that looks like a little slot built to take the chip, or you will have a USB SDHC adapter.  I have both.  I had found that my internal reader on the laptop is slower than the chip and chip reader combination. 

The Chip Reader I bought looks like a translucent thumb drive.  Blue, and it is nothing special.  I went to Meritline and got the cheapest USB Chip Reader I could find.  Less than 50 cents.  It is faster because it isn’t limited to the speed on the internal chip reader on my five-year-old-laptop.  There may be something in this, and if you can find a cheap chip reader like that, you may want to buy one.  You’re out less than a buck if it isn’t working and a proper USB stick works in more places than your camera.  You can always remove the little postage stamp sized SDHC chip from the stick in order to use it in your camera or car if it is supported there.

Bottom line, check for the speed, you will be much happier… That Class 10 chip is worth the couple of bucks more than the Class 2 bargain basement that I got way back when. 

The Dumpster Server

I have been building PCs for about 22 years now.  I haven’t bought a new in the box computer since the 1980s.  I know the hardware intimately, and if anything assembling a desktop computer is getting easier.

You would expect me to say that but the truth is that as they put more parts on the motherboard, there are simply fewer pieces you need to put on that motherboard to get a workable low end or mid level desktop computer running.  

Laptops are different.  I’ve repaired them and the smaller hardware is always more difficult to work with.  You don’t pull a motherboard in a laptop, they’re not designed for that.  Other than swapping out disc drives, memory and a few other parts most people need to keep the screwdriver away from their laptops.  Leave that to some guy with the tools and most likely a magnifying glass.

I’ve pulled dead laptops apart and replaced the LCD a couple times before, and while it is always annoying, it can be done.  Replacing a CD ROM with a DVD burner is an annoying upgrade but for the most part if you’re patient and have the repair documentation you can do it yourself.

All that might explain why I have contempt for services like Geek Squad’s $199 in home set up of a PC.  If you do that and you’re near me you’re going to get a lecture, especially since I could use the cash.  In Home PC Set Up is a dead simple exercise if you can Read The Friendly Manual and that manual has been reduced to a single sheet of paper these days when you buy a brand new PC.

I have a rather large pile of cast off PCs here too.  Since we have a network, I use an old desktop machine as a server because it is safer than putting the “750GB Craig Drive” in an external box and plugging it into the USB port that gets stepped on by the dog or worse, me.

For the most part, people will have their machines for about 2 years, then buy a new one because the old one is too slow.  Without realizing that it is installed things like “toolbars” and other “crapware” that hitchhiked onto their machine when they installed something that they really needed by taking the “Express install” instead of the “Custom install”, the machine slows down with each piece of software until that 2 year old machine joins the other one that was in the closet from 4 years ago.

I live near a shopping center.  In the back of the center there is a dumpster that has a habit of having an interesting amount of electronic hardware of all sorts.  Since I can solder a new switch onto an old board, I’ve salvaged some interesting things out of that dumpster.  The latest was a practically new office PC.  By which I mean lightly used, almost no dust inside, treated like it was a religious object then sent to the thrift store who put it in there.  I got it home, plugged it in and it turned on happily and went to an almost empty desktop.

After reformatting the hard drive from the recovery partition, the machine was fully functional and happy as a clam.   I added extra memory and realized that while it is a Pentium 4 3GHz machine, slow by today’s standards, it had a few benefits for me.   The motherboard itself was a small one – about the size of a sheet of letter paper with some of the bottom trimmed off.  The machine now had 1GB of memory and running Windows XP and was quick by even my standards.   Sure, it was built in 2003, but it had a lot of life left.

All that took me about an hour of actual “work”.

It gave me the opportunity to move the hardware inside that big black IBM case into a little cube of a case I’ve had here.  After moving everything along, I dropped the Craig Drive in there and now I have a server.

Why is that important?  You can’t stuff a desktop disc drive in a laptop no matter how hard you try.  If you are using a Cable Modem and High Speed Internet, having a network is nothing more than adding a little hardware and configuring the machines to work together.

The price was right, and it fit very nicely under my hutch on my pine desk out in the Florida room.   If it were a little newer, I’d tell you how to enable Wake On Lan so you can get your machines to start remotely… but since it isn’t I’m happy with walking out there to press the On button when I want access to that big drive.

Dumpster Servers can be real nice, if you know how to make them work for you.  Speaking of which, it’s time for me to “do a backup” of this laptop.   When is the last time you did a backup of your PC?  Hmm?

Happy Cyber Shopping Days at www.dealnews.com

Most folks are sitting at home this week.  There’s a lot of traffic on the road, but not in rush hour.  I’m thankful for that since I’m still going to work at a regular hour.  It has been a real nice trip to work in the morning, few people, tunes on the radio and the snowbirds haven’t even hit.

The malls are full, even though this is a recession.  Lots of people walking through the stores, picking up things, and hopefully getting the economy going. 

What I did was sit at home and look over the deal sites over the last weekend.   The house was quiet, the neighborhood was quiet, and I really didn’t feel like going outside and visiting.  It was easy to go through the local area since we had a breather on Xmas and the weekend.  

I did manage to find a couple of buys online though.   The laptop is getting another stick of memory from Newegg.com since its getting cheaper.   I do some heavy duty tasks on the machine and they all seem to eat up memory.   Its only got 2gb now, so one of the sticks will get swapped out and I’ll be able to do all the wacky stuff I like to do. 

Woot served up a TV card.   I don’t have a big TV here, mine is still standard def, so I’d like to be able actually see what the fuss is about.   Since the laptop is not quite 720p by the description I’ve read, but it will be a lot cleaner than the old Sony I’ve got in the living room.  I’ll plug this thing into the USB port and it will get any over the air HDTV signals it finds.  Since I’m about 10 miles from the transmitters in South Florida, I’ll get all the local signals.  A $20 card is a lot cheaper than a big flat panel set that will end up bolted to the walls and its easier to work with.  

I’m finding these new toys or necessities, depending on your view, by surfing http://www.dealnews.com and skimming through their deals every day.  They have listings of all sorts of things from electronics to computers to watches and books.  I’ve been surfing it daily for months now, and I’m finding it fairly useful.  Both the memory and the TV stick were on the site.  

Maybe my wallet would be better off if I stopped, but Dealnews is a keeper.

A week with Windows 7

I made the jump to Windows 7 this week on one of my laptops.   One of the thing I did in Key West other than take a shed-load of pictures was to help a friend out with his PCs.   He had one with over 100 viruses and needed the pictures out of it, another that he used as a desktop machine, a third that was “Dead” and some others in various repair.   I set him up with the three best, set up his router, and came home with the remainder.

The ones I came home with were better than what I had before, an old Dell Inspiron 600m that is fast enough under Windows XP to do anything I want, but I do budget time with it.   Since I hadn’t moved into either of the two new machines I had the luxury of deciding “What do I want to do with all this stuff”.   Since I am an IT Manager now, I can actually put these things to use.   The widescreen Gateway with the Core Solo processor which is still faster than the Inspiron is now my video editing PC and will get all the things that I do that take time.  Set it up and let it roll on XP.  It is stable and has a 17 inch wide screen, perfect for my web development under Joomla! (yes its a real name), and Video Editing.

I have this machine that was the fastest of the lot, an Acer Aspire 5610 with 2GB of memory.   It is a 2007 vintage from what I can tell, not new, but in physically good condition and pretty much perfect for the upgrade.   I have a (legal) copy of Windows 7 Professional that I won’t share so don’t ask.   I started the upgrade then went for a dog walk.  Yes, that easy.   I didn’t care what was on the machine and just formatted the extra two partitions after merging them and went out with Lettie The Super Dog for a mile around town.

When we got back, about 30 minutes later the Acer was sitting at a prompt asking me for a Key which I have.   I sent it back on its way after a few more prompts, happily installing and set about my normal morning routine.   It finished while I was in the shower and then I restarted it at the Out Of the Box experience screen – or OOBE (Ooo Bee).  Yes, that is what we call it where you enter in your name for a log in.

Basically in short what I’m saying is that if you want a machine that is clean and you don’t want a lot of junk running slowing you down, you will want to do a “Clean Format and Install”.  Go buy yourself a “Thumb Drive” of about 16 GB or so, it will cost less than $40, a copy of Windows 7 Pro (Skip the Home stuff, they leave too much out), and install it yourself. 

If you have Vista, you can do an upgrade but I decided I did not want to go that way with it.   I didn’t care what was on the machine.   If you do, the Upgrade procedure is not completely clean all the time, you may end up formatting the PC and starting over, so make sure you copy your My Documents tree onto that Thumb Drive (USB Key, Flash Drive or what ever name you wish to call it) so you don’t lose your recipes and letters to Mom and pictures of the Dog.   Also make sure you have copies of the programs you installed, back up your favorites and bookmarks to the drive, and just have a good long snoop around your PC and make sure you’ve saved everything you really DO need before installing.

If you have XP, back everything up because there is no way to do this without formatting your hard drive.   The Install of Win 7 will do it for you, but everything on the hard drive will be gone.

Let me repeat… If you are installing Windows 7 on a machine with XP, you will lose everything so back it up first!

I have used Windows 7 since the betas for about 6 or so months, maybe longer.   I’ve used it on some really strange hardware.   The biggest question is what would you install it on.   If your machine came with Vista, you should be safe – they typically come with 2 or 3 GB of memory and Win 7 is really happy there.

If you have an older machine, I would say that you probably have XP.  Windows 7 runs just a teeny bit slower than XP.   If you REALLY want Windows 7 then you can gauge for yourself but I’d recommend going to 2 gigs of memory first.

I have run it on a Pentium 3 1GHz laptop (IBM Thinkpad A30) with 1gb of Memory and it was useable but slow, however it was slow on XP.   I wouldn’t recommend it for long term use.

My personal opinion is that anything Pentium 4 or newer (Core Solo, Pentium M, Faster Celeron, Core Duo and so forth) with 2GB of memory will run fine.   You really want a faster machine.  Something approximately faster than a Pentium 4 2GHz but it will run on a slower chip and if you have a Pentium 4 “class” machine you’re due for a newer PC anyway.

I agree with what Microsoft says the following at this link

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If you want to run Windows 7 on your PC, here’s what it takes:
  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor

  • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)

  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)

  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

Centon Datastick Pro Review – Bargain Basement Storage

In this case, low price means slow.   I bought this Centon Datastick Pro 16GB USB Flash Drive Memory stick at the CompUSA Store in Ft Lauderdale so it could take a VirtualPC image I have.   Its a development environment that is custom crafted to allow me to do all sorts of things that you would need to do in a software development office.  I would have put a direct link to the model stick but the page wouldn’t load in Firefox – always a good test for me personally whether to interact with a company or not.

First problem was that the stick was formatted FAT32 like the old Windows 98 Hard Drives.  The problem is that the environment image was 10.2GB of space.   Ok, not really a big deal, just logistics, right?   Newer versions of Windows use NTFS, and 10GB files are no problem there.   Had to reformat that little stick and now I have to remember to eject the stick under pain of death of data.   FAT32 you can just pull out of the USB slot but you really *should* eject it.

The second problem then hit me in the face.  Or rather rubbed itself slowly in my face.  I started the copy dinner time and thought that it would take maybe an hour, two tops…. BZZZT!  WRONG!   I’m writing this at 930AM the next morning and it has just finished copying.   So now I have this big ol’ copy of a Virtual PC image sitting on a stick that I can run like another computer and I’m wondering whether it was worth the effort.

The eventual start up time was 10 minutes, with 1 minute alone to play the default Windows XP start up sound.    It took over 20 minutes to get quiet enough to interact with it and shut it down.  I will copy it onto the host PC’s Drive in the future.  Running from my laptop with adequate memory it starts in 2 minutes and runs “well” enough for me.

The moral of the story is that if you need extra storage for important papers and pictures, recipes and music, a low end low cost USB Flash drive will be fine.   Store your papers on one, then drop it somewhere safe.

If you need one with high speed, don’t go low end.   Either spend some extra after doing your homework and finding a high speed drive, or get yourself an external Hard Disc with a real internal Disc that hooks up to USB and you’ll be fine.

Even CDs are faster than this little guy for big files.   I think I’ll put my E-Books on there.