All posts by Alan

Home servers and media computers, have I become a dinosaur?



Going back about 12 years I built two computers, a media center for the home theater cabinet in the living room and a server to back up all files – that one resided in my home office. 

These days those things seem to be gone from our tech landscape, and I miss them. I miss building them myself and setting up everything. I want to do it again. 

Both of those computers I mentioned are gone now, thigs age. I miss them, but time moves forwards, after all my kids grew up and are hundreds of miles away now. 

For the media center PC I bought a used desktop – I needed something to fit on one of the cabinet shelves. I changed the video card, audio card, added RAM and storage and fed it out to the AV receiver to relay to my TV. 

To start I used Windows Media Center Edition, but wasn’t happy so I tried XBMC (since changed to Kodi), but I didn’t care for that either. I settled on Media Portal. My kids used that system all the time growing up. 

I want to build another, but don’t know that it’s worth it these days. 

Speaking of wanting to build again, a home server. The last one I ran on Free NAS, which is Unix related operating system. I built that from a tower case I had laying around. I added about 1.5 TB of storage to it. 

Setup isn’t difficult, but you need to hook a monitor to the PC to get through it. After that disconnect the monitor, it runs headless. Just enter the URL for the dashboard on another PC and you have control. 

Again, I do want to build another, but is it worth it with the cloud? My files are backed up to OneDrive and Google Drive, do I need a server? Do I need a media center PC? Granted I want both, and I’d like to check out Linux MCE, although I’d probably still end up back on Media Portal. 

So, is either worth my time and money? Let me know what you think. 


New Tom Hanks movie to be released straight to Apple TV as an exclusive



I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone of who Tom Hanks is. The man who gave us things like Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away, Captain Phillips and Sully, just to name a few.

Now Hanks has a new movie and this release will be unique, but also a sign of the times we’re living in. With theaters closed Sony reached a deal with Apple TV to give it exclusive rights to the World War II submarine movie “Greyhound”

The movie had been slated for father’s day weekend, but Apple has given no date when they’ll begin showing it.

This is not the only movie going this route,  “Scoob” is now on Amazon Prime directly. And others have or will follow suit.

What will this do to the theater industry? It’s hard to say. It may recover when all of this passes, but will people return or will they become used to this new way of doing business? It will be interesting to see this play out.

In the meantime Sony has released a trailer which you can watch here


Amazon is updating its Fire 8 tablets



It has been a while since Amazon updated its tablets, but that’s about to change. The company sort of snuck this by with no post to the official blog.

They have, however, come up with an update to the Fire 8 tablets. In an announcement sent to us the company says it will be releasing new Fire tablets soon. The next generation of its Fire HD 8 tablet lineup, designed with the entire family in mind: the all-new Fire HD 8, Fire HD 8 Plus, and Fire HD 8 Kids Edition.

“The new Fire HD 8 tablets offer the features that everyone in the family wants – great content, more storage, longer battery life — at a price that is incredibly affordable,” says Kevin Keith, Vice President, Amazon Devices.

So what do you get with the Fire HD 8? 32 GB of storage, up to 12 hours of battery life and fast charging thanks to USB-C.  Amazon also states “the Fire HD 8 Plus packs even more power with 50% more RAM, hassle-free wireless charging, and six months of Kindle Unlimited included.”

You can pre-order any of these now, but you’ll need to wait until June to get one. We’ll have one for review and let you know our opinion, but it sounds enticing. Prices begin at $89.99.


I’m on Windows 10 and I’m OK with that – for now



OK, for 5 years or so now I’ve been primarily using a Chromebook. I’ve been through three. It’s not that I didn’t have Windows around, the desktop in my office is Windows and the laptop was on my kitchen counter is Windows. I used it while cooking so I could keep an eye on messages, plus I have recipes in Evernote. 

Well, that kitchen laptop is currently my work machine. The keyboard on my Chromebook, an Asus C206, died. Literally no keys work. Yes, I’ve tried to fix it in many ways. I’ve declared it DOA. 

So that laptop that was on my kitchen counter is suddenly my work machine. It took me a day to get used to it. I’m used to an 11 inch and that keyboard size. This is 17 inches and my fingers were getting lost on the keyboard. However, by day 2 I was basically fine, I adjusted. 

I did have to turn off the touchpad, I use an external mouse so it isn’t necessary. Worse, my wrist brushed it while typing and deleted a whole story. In Chrome OS turning it off is as easy as Shift-Search-P. It’s a little harder in Windows, but it isn’t rocket science. 

I also remembered this is a touchscreen when I went to wipe a spot off the screen. I didn’t use this very much so I’d forgot. Things happened when I touched it to wipe the spot off. 

However, I’ve been scouring online and picked out a new Chromebook. So I’ll be heading back to one very soon, just need to place my order and wait for delivery. In the meantime, I’m OK on Windows 10. I know Windows well, it was just a matter of getting my fingers used to the bigger keyboard. 

So what are all of you using these days? Let us know. And stay healthy out there. 


Meet the Limitless Innovations Charge Hub X3 [Review]



Charging hubs seem to be a dime a dozen these days – ok, they cost a bit more than that, but you get the point. That being said there’s also some great innovation going on these days. There now hubs with multiple ports to allow to charge things from one outlet. 

Today we’re looking at the Charge Hub X3 from Limitless Innovations, which makes a large array of products, many of them for charging. 

This is a three-port version and the plug that attaches to the back and plugs into the wall is actually a Macbook plug, although the device doesn’t appear to support charging one. When plugged in it has a blue indicator light on the front. The charging is relatively fast as well. It does not supply the charging cables, you’ll have to use your own, but pretty much everyone has those or you wouldn’t be buying this product. You can plug is whatever you want – USB to micro USB, USB to USB-C or USB to lightning. 

The company points out that “Our Charge hub X3 3 Port USB Charger is compact and ready to charge virtually any 3 USB devices fast with 2.4amp max output per port!”. It comes in 10 different colors – Black, white. Red, blue, pink, purple, green, grey, orange and turquoise. 

It’s available now for $39.99 at Limitless Innovations. There are also 5 port and port hubs for a bit more. It would be very handy when traveling with one charger for everything. 


MJR Digital Cinemas has upgraded, but what’s wrong with this picture?



Despite the ever-increasing tab at the box office, we all, or most of us, enjoy seeing an occasional movie on the big screen. There are just some flicks that lend themselves to the immersive experience. 

The good news is theaters around the country have been upgrading recently – improved seating and digital systems along with a wider selection of (overpriced) goodies to choose from and dine on during your show. Some now even have bars. 

One theater chain in Michigan, MJR, has been among those to upgrade, however they apparently failed to consult any sort of IT professional, or at least one who knows anything about security. Take a look at the image below and see if any problems seem apparent. 

At least they made the job easy for hackers. In fact, there’s no real job at all, it’s just handed over to them. 


VLC patches multiple security flaws, two critical



There are many options out there for media playback, we’ve come a long way since Windows Media Player and Quicktime.  Alternatives abound, and some of them quite compelling.

Take the Video Lan Client, better known to everyone as VLC, which is capable playing almost any format a user can throw at it. Like any software, however, there are always bugs, and sometimes security holes  that could allow bad things to happen to good people.

VLC is issuing a number of security fixes, 33 of them to be exact, designed to keep your system healthy. Two of these are considered critical, designed to patch an out-of-bound write vulnerability and a stack-buffer-overflow bug.

According ThreatPost “Details are scant on the two high-severity bugs and how they could be exploited. Impacted is VLC 3.0.7 and the EU-FOSSA release of the player, along with code tied to the upcoming 4.0 release of the player.”

The high number of patches comes on the heels of a new bug bounty program started by the European Commission on January 7, 2019.

The updates are being pushed out so users shouldn’t need to do anything except wait, and actually, you may already have it.