SUNDAY January 4, 2009

This is the 4rd day of the year, with 361 days remaining in 2009.

Fact of the Day: Christmas

Christmas is from the Old English words Cristes maesse, “the mass or festival of Christ.” The first celebration took place in Rome about the middle of the fourth century. The exact date of the Nativity is not known, but even in pre-Christian times the period from December 25 to January 6 – now known as “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – was considered a special time of year. The abbreviation Xmas, thought as sacrilegious by some, is entirely appropriate. The letter X (chi) is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ.

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Did you get it? My Christmas card? I swear it’s in the mail…wait….ooopsie, my bad. I haven’t sent the damn things out yet! Best intentions and all that. See, this hasn’t been the best of times for me. Christmas was kinda a drag this year. No time, no money…I’ve had a lot better.
Oh yeah, and I LOST the cards shortly after I made them and printed them. So. Your card is coming soon.

I did some cute things for the kids’ teachers and the school they go to. I’ve taken out the bells and whistles–the glitter backgrounds and 3-d snowflakes ‘n stuff, but it’s all good.

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Fox and his teacher

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Molly and Fox have both had this wonderful teacher, so I snuck Fox in the background. Poor little guy has held a grudge since he’s gotten moved up to another class. He really misses this teacher, but he doesn’t understand, so every time he see’s her he runs. Goofy kid.

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Chloe and her teacher that she absolutely adores.

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Group shot of most of the teachers and the assistants. I couldn’t get reference for everybody and I know there are tons of folks I left out. But everyone seemed super happy.

What did I get for Christmas:

I WANTED this:


oh yea, the Stienway Sound System $150,000 of pure acoustic bliss. Able to make the fat lady give up singin’ and run away in tears. This puppy give the highest trebles and the basses of bass. Truly the awesomest of awesomest sound systems there is.

What we GOT this:

The Roku player.
What it is:

Streams Netflix Watch Now titles to your TV; affordable $100 price tag; unlimited viewing with no additional charge beyond standard ($8.95 or higher) monthly Netflix fee; PC-free movie watching; simple setup; includes built-in wired and 802.11g Wi-Fi networking; works with all TVs; upgradeable firmware allows for new features, interface improvements, and bug fixes.

From a design standpoint, there isn’t much to critique. Measuring 1.75 inches tall by 5.25 inches wide by 5.25 inches deep, the box is slightly smaller than your typical cable modem, but instead having just an Ethernet port on the back, it’s equipped with all manner of audio and video outputs: HDMI, component video, S-Video, and composite video ports, as well as digital optical or the standard red/white analog stereo outputs.


The remote is about as simple as it gets: in addition to a five-way directional pad, play/pause, fast-forward, and rewind keys, there’s a “home” button that takes you to your list of queued movies. The remote works well enough, and since it’s a standard infrared model you can easily program its functions into any worthwhile universal remote.

Once you have all your cables connected, you plug the AC adapter into the box, wait a few seconds for the box to start up, and make your way through the simple setup wizard using the included remote. You’re given the choice to connect to your home network via a wired or wireless connection and can fairly easily switch from one connection to another if your wireless connection is spotty. If you have a secure wireless network (WEP or WPA), you simply key in your security key via an onscreen virtual keyboard.

The first time you set up the box you’re given a special code. Entering it on the Netflix site will link the box to your account. Once the code is entered, your box is activated in less than a minute, and whatever is in your Instant Queue online will immediately populate the Instant Queue on your box. (The Instant Queue is available to all Netflix users as a separate and distinct list from the main DVD-by-mail queue, so you can manage both lists independently.) Add a movie to your Instant Queue online and that movie will appear within seconds on your box. However, you can’t add titles or navigate Netflix’s vast library from the box itself; you can only search for and add titles via your computer. (But because the videos are streaming from Netflix’s central servers, not your computer, you don’t need to have your computer powered on while you’re watching the Netflix Player.) Because you’re just using the standard Web site interface, queue updates can be added on any Windows, Mac, or Linux PC, using any browser. We appreciated that Netflix and Roku kept things simple.

As for video quality, it’s not bad–but it’s not terribly good, either. Depending on your connection speed, your video is currently streamed at one of three bit rates, with the highest maxing out at 2.2Mbps. We sometimes started at 1Mbps but on the three broadband connections we tested the box with–two were at home (cable modems), one was at work–all of them ramped up to 2.2Mbps fairly quickly. We got an occasional dropout from one wireless connection we were using, but overall the connections–and video–remained solid. That said, a fourth test using a low-grade DSL connection resulted in the low-resolution stream, which was effectively unwatchable. In other words, if your broadband stream can’t maintain a 1Mbps or (ideally) 2.2Mbps connection, the Netflix Player isn’t for you.

Currently, the box outputs video at 480i resolution. Roku representatives told us that the box is capable of higher resolutions–up to 1080i HDTV–but for now, with most people constrained by bandwidth limitations, 480i is what you get. The picture is generally quite watchable, but it is soft and exhibits some occasionally noticeable video-processing glitches. (Geeks, take note: the movies are streamed with the same VC-1 codec used ..ay Discs and Xbox Live Marketplace’s video downloads.)

I LIKE this Roku box. Truly. It’s just NOT there yet. It’s kinda like when you bake this awesome apple pie, and it really is delicious, but if you’d just let it sit in the fridge for a day, the flavors would be that much more intense and it would be perfection.

This player has a great start. But the fact that the resolution is lower then promised, not quite as many high def streaming things on NetFlix, kinda has a little bit of a suck factor. It just needs a little seasoning time. But it’s still great! And for $100 what’s not to love.

Next? My 2008 tops list

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