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Baby Edutainment System (continued)

August 4, 2005

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Baby Edutainment System (continued)

I am pleased to report that the Baby Edutainment System is now operational and works as expected.

I went against my geek instincts and ended-up getting an eMachines computer. I always viewed eMachines as complete garbage, but it appears that since Gateway bought them, the quality has improved significantly. Here are the specifications of the machine I purchased…nothing phenomenal, but not a wimpy machine either.

CPU: AMD Athlon™ 64 3200+ Processor (512KB L2 cache, 2.2GHz, 1600MHz FSB)
Operating System: Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition SP2 1
Chipset: ATI RS480
Memory: 512MB DDR (400MHz)
Expandable to 2GB
Hard Drive: 160GB 2
Optical Drives: 16x DVD±RW multi-format double layer
Media Reader: 8-in-1 Digital Media Manager
Secure Digital (SD), Smart Media, Compact Flash, Micro Drive, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Multimedia Card, USB 2.0
Video: ATI Radeon® Xpress 200 (PCI-Express®)
128MB DDR shared video memory
Sound: AC ’97 audio, Dolby 5.1 (6-channel)
Modem: 56K ITU V.92 ready Fax/Modem
Network: 10/100Mbps Integrated Ethernet LAN
Peripherals: Standard multimedia keyboard, 2-Button wheel mouse, amplified stereo speakers
Dimensions: 14.125″H x 7.25″W x 16″D
Ports/Other: 7 USB 2.0 (2 in front; 4 in back; 1 in Media Reader), 1 IEEE 1394 port (in back), 1 VGA external connector, 1 Parallel, 2 PS/2 (keyboard and mouse)
Pre-Installed
Software:
Microsoft® Works 8.0 1, Microsoft® Office 2003 Trial (60-day complimentary subscription), Microsoft® Money 2005, Microsoft® Encarta Online, Adobe® Acrobat® Reader™, Microsoft® Windows Media Player 10, Microsoft® Internet Explorer, RealNetworks RealPlayer®, CyberLink® PowerDVD, Nero 6 Suite, Napster 3.0, Quicktime, AOL 9.0 (w/3 months membership included), Google Toolbar, Norton Internet Security™ 2005 (90-day complimentary trial)3, McAfee Anti-Spyware 2005 (30-day complimentary trial), eMachines BigFix®

I neglected to check the floor model of the machine thoroughly at the store and only after unpacking it as home did I realize that some bean counter at eMachines had decided to save a few pennies by not attaching the composite and S-video connectors on the video card. The card supports them…it just has empty spaces where the connectors should appear. Arrgh…why do companies do that…penny wise and pound foolish. Well, I pretty much could not have the BES without being able to output to the TV, so this was a problem. I saw this as an opportunity in disguise. I wasn’t too happy with the video performance of the ATI Xpress 200, so I ended up getting an ATI Radeon X700 Pro PCI-Express video card on eBay. I like its performance much better and it has every kind of output I would need, including DVI. Nice.

I have grown to really dislike new computers because I have to deal with uninstalling all the garbage software that comes pre-installed. Come on folks, seriously…enough of the free AOL hours and gazillion anti-spyware utilities and photo editors already. Just put a hardware switch on the box OK…two settings…(1) GEEK and (2) CLUELESS. Set the default to (2). If I choose (1), just put the barebones OS and then leave my computer alone. Anyway, where was I…so after messing with the hardware and seeing all the junk that came on the drive, I decided that there was only one way in which I could keep my sanity. Yes, I booted with the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 CD, blew away all the partitioned and installed the OS from scratch. Much better. BTW, if you are going to use Media Center Edition, use 2005…everything prior is crap.

After spending a few hours tweaking and tuning things, I finally had the system ready to go. So I ripped out all the electronic components from my entertainment center and dropped in the media PC. I hooked up my WinTV USB2 external TV tuner with DVR support (integrates seamlessly with Media Center Edition). I added the RF receiver for the SnapStream FireFly remote I purchased (Amazon…overnight). This is a sweet piece of hardware. Not only does it control all the MCE features without line of sight (thanks to RF), but it also has a cool mouse emulation mode. Not something I’ll use all the time, but nice for the occasional mouse click. What I really like about it is that all the button macros are configurable by editing an XML file. Very well-engineered hardware, intuitive software and extremely usable. Finally, I added two receivers for the Dynex Wireless Keyboard and Optical Mouse. Why two receivers you ask? Well, as I mentioned in my original BES post…the Berchet keyboard overlays a standard keyboard. It basically straps on with some velcro bands. Not the best situation and I hope to someday cleanly attach it to a keyboard, but for the moment, that’s what I have. Now, I figured it would be a big pain to attach/detach the overlay each time I wanted to use the regular keyboard, so I added a second keyboard and mouse (I don’t use the mouse with the receiver on which the Berchet keyboard runs). Now, I have the best of both worlds…keyboard for baby and keyboard for daddy. When the baby is using the keyboard and messes up, I can co-pilot and fix things on-the-fly.

So the BES is more or less operational with this hardware. Of course, I still have to deal with the display issue since I have this wonderful, hi-resolution output going to my crappy analog TV, but it’s OK for the moment. I am still having to fix the occassional glitch, so I’m not sure that the hardware is quite there yet, but I iam ready to tweak the software. In my next BES blog, I’ll tell you more about the software setup.

It’s all coming together quite nicely and baby is taking to the system quite well as you can see here (will work much better once I can get her to stop sucking on her fingers when using the system) —

Giaberchet

Co-founder/CTO WhenHub; co-founder DNN Software; founder Edaptable; educator; Open Source proponent; Microsoft MVP; tech geek; creative thinker; husband; dad. Personal blog: http://www.kalyani.com. Twitter: @techbubble
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