My Roku2 Review

It has been a while since I last posted a review of any technology. Part of this is because I didn’t have the time to but the other part was that I simply didn’t have many new tech toys that I felt worthy of mention other than my new iMac which I discussed earlier. I wanted to change that because I finally got a Roku2 for my house and I don’t know why it took me so long.

For any of you that are not aware, my wife is pregnant with our first (and only?) biological children – yes, that is plural, we are having a girl and a boy. Because of her health and the fact that these are multiples, the doctor recently placed her on modified bed rest which means that she has to cut her daily activities by over 1/2. Since she was going to be spending more time laying in our bed, she asked if I could add some entertainment to our master suite. I first moved our old TV in there (the one I had used as my studio monitor before the iMac) and added a new HDTV cable box. However, one day while I was at work she told me that she really wanted Netflix in our room because she was getting bored with the daytime TV shows. I needed to get something in there but using the Wii would be needlessly complex and make it that much more difficult when the kids wanted to play. I didn’t want to move the Logitech Revue in there because I still use it when I am in there and it is one of the primary Netflix sources when the kids want to watch TV. So, after listening to the suggestion of one of my co-workers and doing some research, I ended up picking the Roku2.

When I first opened the thing, my impression was “this thing is tiny!” because it really is not much bigger than about 4 inches squared. The only connectors on this thing were an HDMI connector, what appeared to be RCA connectors (maybe RGB), and a port for the AC Adapter. It also came with a slightly unusual cloth tag with the word ‘Roku’ on it. The other piece of equipment this came with was the patented Roku remote with its built-in headphone jack and cleanly packaged earbuds. This thing is even smaller than my Logitech and it looks like the system casing is even more refined. I have not even hooked it up yet and I am already intrigued. With very little effort, I plugged it into the second HDMI slot on my bedroom HDTV and started the setup.

After a little learning curve getting to know the on-screen keyboard which you must navigate using it’s game-like D-Pad, I was able to get it on my wireless with no hiccups. I paused temporarily to activate a Roku account from my iPad and then link the device here in my home to that account and now it was time to customize my box. I added all the free channels I could find and went through the activation with some of the special channels (Disney, History Channel, etc.) to prove that I had a cable provider. Soon it was done and BOOM! What a machine!

After very minor setup I was able to link up Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Pandora. Not only was the setup more simplistic than the Logitech revue but also the speed is remarkable when you compare it to my Revue. The Netflix viewing environment is virtually identical to the one on my Revue though it is a little more snappy but the search features are massively better. The Amazon Prime video is massively improved over my Revue because it actually has its own app interface whereas the Revue literally opens a Chrome browser which is highly inefficient on a big screen TV. I think the Pandora interface is pretty much identical to the one on the Revue but it does seem to run slightly faster. I also like the way that YouTube works on the Roku. The Revue’s interface is similar to the Amazon video player, it is basically a Chrome browser which is still too annoying to try on an HDTV. But the Roku’s interface is clearly streamlined to work with your TV and provides crystal clear HD viewing for YouTube videos. Further success!

Going beyond the standard things I looked for on the Roku2, it offers other features that caught my eye. First of all, the News channel was very interesting. I don’t tend to be too much of a newshound but I certainly watch certain technology stories and big world-impact things like the Malaysian plane story. I have the News Channel on my Wii but as far as I can tell, this has never worked. I tried the News Channel on my Roku and was instantly able to watch news stories including the weird news channel which I thought was pretty cool. A large portion of the news articles came from a website called “Newsie” which I was unaware of prior to owning the Roku but that doesn’t make me dislike the channel. Overall, I found the interface fun and interesting. Another interesting thing about the Roku2 is that it has a few skins that you can apply to give the device different appearances. I stuck with a metallic gray theme but the defaults include a space age looking interface, a silly cartoon interface, a blue-sky interface and a few others. It is possible that additional skins may be available but I am not sure how one might apply them other than a ‘push’ from the Roku site. It seems like a silly thing but the fact that Roku actually had the foresight to include different skins shows that they were paying attention to the tiny details. I have yet to test the ‘private mode’ which allows me to listen to the Roku with only headphones and not disturb other people. If that function works, especially with different headphones, buying a second one of these boxes is in my very near future.

Overall, I am very pleased with this device. I can’t believe that I just now acquired one and evidently my friends agree. I am known by my friends as a techie guy who likes to play with new stuff and who also likes his movies and TV. When I mention to friends that I purchased the Roku2, they all seem to say the same thing “You JUST got one? Wow, I have had mine for a while”. Yeah, I am behind the times but now I see why these things are so popular. I am not regretting the money that was spent on it. Even if my wife does not use the one she has very much, it will get used.

Ratings:

  1. Performance – ✮✮✮✮ – This thing is cool and snappy in its performance. The setup is very easy and the thing runs extremely well. I can’t ask for a better performance out of my device.
  2. Features – ✮✮✮ – This thing is packed with features for the buck. The only thing I wish it did was allow the HDMI pass-thru like my Logitech Revue.
  3. Price – ✮✮✮✮ – Given the amount of features that this little thing packs, the price of approximately $75 is a good deal. My Revue cost over $100 when I got it and has nowhere near the features.

All this is to say, if you have yet to pick up a Roku2 and need a streaming media box, go get this one!

 

My Masters Degree is Complete!

This is a very exciting update! As of Monday April 28, 2014, I have completed all of the requirements for my Master of Science in Cybersecurity from the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). This may seem kind of silly to be bragging about this, you have to understand that this is the culmination of many years of work. My wife and I have been together for about 15 years. If you count high school as well, I have been in school (of some kind) for over 12 of the 15 years we have been together! I finished my AAS in 2003, took a brief break and then went after my BS in 2005. I got that one in 2007 and took another break. I started in my M.Div and completed about 15 hours towards it before I realized it was not going to be easy to recoup the expense. Finally I chose the MS in Cybersecurity and now I am done with it!

So what will I do now? Well, I still have to make the trip out to Maryland in mid-May with my mother and my daughter so that I can attend my commencement. I was accepted as a member of Upsilon Pi Epsilon which came with a snazzy certificate, pin and honor cords to wear at the commencement ceremony. I have already received my cap, gown and academic hood to wear and my card to present to the commencement announcer. Basically, all that is left is to hop on the plane and go!

Once I get back from the graduation what will I do? That is where things get a little cloudy. The sole purpose of attaining my degree (other than personal growth) was so that I could become a teacher. The academic rules in the USA state that an instructor must hold at least one degree higher than the degree level of the students being taught. That is to say that since I have my Masters, I am permitted to teach Associate and Bachelor’s courses. I could also serve as a TA for professor who holds a doctorate and help co-teach Master’s classes but generally a TA can only TA for a Master’s if they, too, are attempting to attain a Doctorate which I am not.

Sure, I would love to be called “Doctor Dave” but my Masters was grueling enough with 3 kids and I will soon have 5. My wife has already threatened to disown me if I take on my PhD. Happy wife – happy life – that is my philosophy. Plus, I have already missed out so much on the lives of my 3 current children and I don’t want to miss out on any more of there lives or on the lives of my new twins due in August. So… this is as far as I go.

My hope now is that I will get picked up by a university to teach online classes for Bachelors or even associates level classes part time. If I get a position such as this, I can start to pay back the over $90k in student loans that I have racked up with the proceeds from teaching and still work my full time job. As it stands, I don’t think my current employer really considers my Masters degree as grounds for promotion but it is nice to have on my resume anyway.

For now, I am going to tie up the loose ends on my dad’s estate and I have been busily working on adding lots of new stuff to my RetroGamerBoy site. That’s all for now.

 

Apple Supercomputer

The first Apple product I purchased was an iPod Nano back when they were relatively new but I eventually ran out of space on it to store my massive MP3 library. Then, I purchased an iPod classic which I never fully filled up but lasted me for some time. By this point I had already invested quite a bit of money in iTunes, something that was uniquely Apple.

I purchased an iPad2 (Wi-Fi only) for my wife to use as she was zooming about town taking our kids to doctors. When I started my music career, it became apparent that the MacBook Pro and Apple’s Logic Studio would be the best items for me to use for production so I bought a used (and heavily modified) MacBook Pro from a college student. I used the laptop only for my music production and a few other basic operations because I felt that “Mac could not do what Windows does.” However, I was impressed enough by my wife’s iPad that I purchased an iPad3 with LTE…wow… how did I live without this? In fact, when I dropped the iPad and busted the screen I was so distraught at how much time and work I had invested in my apps and notes on this device that I purchased a NEW one that day.

By now, I have a substantial music library with a large part of the songs being iTunes only. I discovered the wealth of movies that you simply can’t get on NetFlix and noticed a markedly higher-quality video from the iTunes rentals over NetFlix. I started using my MacBook for daily operations that I normally thought were only Windows-capable things (i.e. writing documents, printing resumes, etc.) . I even figured out how to make the thing play WoW and The Sims 3. There are very few things that I CAN’T do with a Mac so now you will understand the title of this post. I have purchased a BRAND NEW iMac.

This ain’t your momma’s iMac! It has a beastly 7 core processor, 32GB of RAM, a video card that smokes almost any video card I have used before, 3TB of hard drive space, even a 27″ monitor. Yes, it cost a lot more than a basic PC would cost with a similar hardware base but after seeing the punishment I could put my modded MacBook through with it’s 8 year old hardware (you read that right) I am certain this thing will blow my PC’s away. I almost jumped for the new Mac Pro (aka the trashcan computer) but considering it is totally new and therefore may have bugs combined with the fact that it won’t even ship until at least March, the iMac was the best choice.

My plan now is to transfer all of my old data from my MacBook pro to the new computer once it arrives. I will then wipe the MacBook and reload it so that my wife can use it. Why? Because she is already a rabid iPhone user (I have still kept my trusty Android phones), wants a computer that doesn’t need to be fooled around with to make it work, and something that is as easy to use as her iPhone. Ding ding ding! The MacBook makes perfect sense. I have already seen her delight in amazement at how quickly she could edit photos on the Mac and upload them directly from iPhoto to our Flickr account (something that no Windows computer even comes close to) and how quickly she figured out how to use the Command+menu keys while working on the MacBook.

The computer I will soon have is unlike anything I have ever used before. It may be so good that I completely abandon my Windows computers in the future. No, I am not going to be some snobby hipster who says that I can only use Mac or the world will end. Not at all! There are lots of things that Windows computers can be used for – mostly business applications – and I will still use those at my day job. I will just focus on using this spiffy and super-powered iMac to do my bidding when I am off the clock.

Where Did I go?

So it’s time for another famously long overdue update. I have been busy so I have not been able to post on my blog often. After several interested parties and interviews, I finally picked a new job. On October 18, 2013 I took a position with Consulting Services Incorporated, a Federal Contractor. I am now employed as an IdSS Tier III Engineer with DISA as a contractor. In English? I administer federal email accounts as a Forefront Identity Management (FIM) Engineer. It’s a unique job that mixes a little bit of everything I have used over the years. I am also glad to say that I have made a number of friends on my team and with other auxiliary team members.

What else is new? Well, in February I start my Capstone class for my MS in Cybersecurity. That means that by May, if all goes well, I will have successfully completed my Master’s Degree. Where will I go from there? Who knows? Hopefully into some teaching capacity to enhance income with my other job.

On Fresher Tides

I have another interesting page to add to my life story. For the first time in my career in IT, I have lost my job due to corporate downsizing. I was happily employed for almost 2 years at Chesapeake Energy here in OKC as an IT Security Engineer. On Tuesday Oct. 8, I got up to go to work like any other day and then I ended up sitting in a room with HR and my severance package before lunch. I wasn’t the only one, 640 others in the OKC office alone were released and over 150 across the USA.

Honestly, the fact that I survived as long as I did is a testament to my ability. Chesapeake moves at light speed and those who can’t keep up don’t make the cut. I survived during some of their most turbulent years and was only released due to downsizing. I completed 5 major projects in a 2 years span… most of these projects would take a year each on their own. But I did it and now I am branded in the job market as “Here’s a guy who boarded the rocketship at Chesapeake and lived!” I have already been looked at as a potential candidate for multiple companies with less than than 48 hours unemployed. That’s pretty impressive! I can’t wait to see what the future holds for my career.

But for now, I am a Security Engineer available for work in Oklahoma. Not only do I have massive AD experience including GPO’s, PKI, server tuning, but also  I have piloted, tested and deployed RSA AA Multi-factor Authentication and Office365 Cloud with ADFS. I am coming to learn that these skills are a relatively high demand and not a lot of supply so that may bode well for me also.

Good luck to my other Ex-CHKS… if you need help networking with recruiters, let me know… I got a virtual Rolodex full of them!

The Paradigm Shifts

Well, I wrote on April 20th that my father was in ICU and almost died. Unfortunately, he passed away only a few short days later. He passed away on April 24, 2013 at 9:01 AM. I don’t really want to discuss the details since it is rather painful and personal. Suffice to say, his passing was not painful for him but it was very surprising.

Now that he has passed, I have had to kick into high gear as I am the executor of his estate. If you would like to follow me on those adventures, you can go to my other blog at http://www.davidshields.name.

I busted the screen on the wonderful 4G iPad but I have become so obsessed with my iPad that I had to acquire a second iPad very quickly. I will eventually get the screen fixed on the old iPad and give it to Tiff to replace hers since it was only Wi-Fi.

Dusting off the Blog

I know, I know, it’s been way too long and I am a horrible blogger. The reality is that my work has simply kept me very busy. My iPad is terrific by the way, I can’t imagine life before my 4G iPad. However, it seems like a great deal of it’s purpose is to provide me with a way to play SongPop on Facebook regardless of where I am. LOL.

Life has been nuts. My father went to ICU and almost died but is recovering now. Work keeps me busy and Monday I get to start the implementation of a huge project. 🙂 Life is good and bad and a little in the middle.

Oblivion was a great movie though. I want to fly around in a bubble ship. 🙂 That’s all for now.

Advancing myself technologically

Today I began a new tech endeavor, after years of waiting I finally bought my own iPad. Unlike Tiff’s, this is one with 4g LTE. That means that I can post from anywhere that I have a decent signal. Humorously enough, I have never been a big iPad user so I am learning all kinds of apps and techniques. Seems as though this is one of those things that you start learning one step at a time. Forgive me if I plunge into madness before this is all over.

Dragons, Death Knights and Diversions

I am, as I suspected, running behind in posting a lot of things on here that I wish I would think to post but due to my constant busyness, I have not posted on here. So here are a few fun updates about what is keeping me busy as of late.

As usual, work has been keeping me occupied as well it should. With each project I find steering to completion, four more are placed on my plate. I am rarely bored at work, that’s for sure. My work with ADFS and Office365 is still hovering about and is being tested. I also have learned a great deal about Tomcat, Notepad++, and RSA technologies as I have been working on Multi-Factor Authentication. I am quickly becoming a regular genius in Active Directory as my work has required it. Rarely does my senior AD person have to hold my hand as he once did. He may give me a small kernel of info but the rest I have either found through research or through my own experimentation. I have also started examining some other things including corporate social networks and Microsoft Security Configuration Manager as it plays with MS SCCM. If you don’t know what those words have in common, Google it my good man!

On the personal front, I have been hooked in to George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire Series. My eyes would burn at reading all the pages in the books of the series but thanks to Roy Dotrice, I simply listen to the reading when I am driving around in my SUV or working out at the gym. I learned that once you have ‘learned’ a basic task such as driving, your brain can usually process those activities in the lower part of your brain so listening to audiobooks works well because my brain can still comprehend the things being said while keeping me from wrecking into other motorists. I have now completed ‘reading’ the first book Game of Thrones and am well over halfway through the second book Clash of Kings. The series appeals to my RPG spirit with all the knights and sword fighting while still sprinkling in some mythical creatures such as wraiths and dragons. Yet it also appeals to my adult interest as there is a considerable amount of political intrigue, conspirators, and the like and yes… they aren’t shy about having some intimate encounters in it either…not that the scenes are particularly explicit. I have taken quite a liking to Tyrion Lannister, the “Imp” as he is easily the smartest person in the HUGE entourage of characters (and isn’t afraid to slap his whiny little nephew in the face) yet he still has a good heart and strives for what is more ethically right than most of the other main characters.

I also purchased the first season of the Game of Thrones HBO series on 1080p Blu-Ray as I am not wealthy enough to have HBO on my normal channels and thusly have no access to their coveted ‘HBO-Go’ service. I am only four episodes in to the 10 total of the first season but I find my opinions are a little mixed. The visuals of the Westeros world are STUNNING to say the least and 1080p only serves to enhance that. The storyline follows close enough to the book to keep me from disowning it but I don’t like some of the changes made.

First of all, they seem to try and squeeze more sex into a single episode than any other show I have seen. HBO or not, it almost seems to lose some creative value with all the boob shots thrown in for no reason and some of the sex scenes are far cries from the book – most decidedly the first sex between Dany and Khal Drogo. And why the heck did they even given Viscerys Targaryen a sex scene with Jiqui? That NEVER happened in the book and it doesn’t really fit the movie’s plot either. Go figure.

Second of all, they did not use the Starks’ dire wolves as strongly in the movie as they did in the book. I have seen Bran and Summer, I have also seen Sansa and Lady, and I have seen Greywolf with Robb but they appear only rarely unlike the book where they are the constant companions of the children. In fact, they showed Jon Snow’s Ghost ONCE when he was a pup and now Jon is on the wall, they still don’t show Ghost. He is so vital to the personality of Jon Snow that it seems wrong to leave it out. There is a brief scene with Arya and Nymeria but since you never see the wolf until that scene, you don’t care about her as much as the book makes you care about her. Also, I have not even seen Shaggydog and Rickon not that I really care about those two as much right now.

The third complaint I have is in regards to the ages of the characters in the book versus the show. They appear to have added 2 years on to all the children in the book to make the movie ‘more acceptable’. Why? Because Arya is 8 when the book starts and has a scene where she kills someone and therefore a 10 year old is slightly less scary for the public to consider. If you feel that way then why are you even watching this? It’s dramatic, it’s SUPPOSED to offend you sometimes. Sansa is 14 in the movie, presumably because the thought of offering a child as a wife to a young prince (aged 12 in the book, 13 in the movie) when she’s only 12 years old was a bit too much for the average public to deal with. The fact that Robb and Jon are more like 17 or so doesn’t really bother me that much because they act older in the book than their ages. However, I still just don’t like the fact that they felt it was necessary to make all the kids older. What does that really offer anyone else? Just a way to soothe any ruffled feathers I suppose.

Outside of watching and reading Game of Thrones, I have also been on a long break from my college. There was a mix up with my financial aid when the summer semester rolled around caused in part by my inability to dig through the website and partly because my college launched a completely different way to handle financial aid but didn’t give much notice to students about those changes. Either way, I have had some amount of free time when not working or trying to maintain house and have devoted that time to playing my old friend, World of Warcraft. I have finally gotten a character all the way through 3/4 of Outland and am only a level or two away from reaching 80 and heading to Northrend (yes I know that Cataclysm goes to 85 and Panderia 90 but I am not there yet). In the past two or three years since Wrath of the Lich King came out, I have never even made it all the way through the Burning Crusade expansion. I had tried but I always got sidetracked somehow. Now things are different and I expect to play up until at least Northrend (gotta get through Netherstorm first) before my Fall semester starts back at school on September 1st. Another thing I have done is I finally played a Death Knight! I had seen death knights everywhere since WOTLK came out but had never played one of my own, not because I couldn’t get a level 55, I have several of those, but because I simply didn’t have any real desire to try one. I first made my own version of Eddard Stark, aptly making him a human, frost-spec Death Knight. He was fun to play and I got all the way past the “Intro” storyline and was released to Stormwind but once there I found that I missed the fact that the mount I had was not a flying mount (something I had gotten very used to with my high level night elf hunter) and that the frost spec was not the best spec to play solo (I rarely play in groups). After some heartache, I found that I should have chosen Unholy spec and couldn’t afford to unlearn my talents. So, I started a new death knight, this time back to my old friends… the Horde… and made a Blood Elf Unholy DK. I have a LOT of fun with this character but also do not have enough for her to have a flying mount yet and that was truly what kept me alive in Outland so I am temporarily pausing that character. Since then, I started a Troll Warlock. Why? Because I have played every other race but troll and because I wanted to experiment with another solo playable character.

Beyond that, I have simply been too occupied with life in general to do much else fun. I have been doing my best to stay occupied with different activities that will ease the stress of having an 1800 sq ft. house with 8 people living in it. Granted, half of these people are less than 10 years old (and half of them less than 2) but they are still there, still take up space, and still have issues that often come home. I love being a father but it is tiring business and without opportunities to relieve some stress here and there, it becomes hard to be the kind of father I want and need to be. So, I find ways to escape the intensity on occasion so that I am somewhat rested when I must deal with it again. Thankfully, my wife is amazing and understands the challenges. I hope to update more on my blog as time goes by.

Checking in

As I suspected, my demands at my employer have become more and more intensive with each passing day but I look to this with excitement rather than frustration or concern as this shows that I am well needed by my employer. At this time, I have completed three classes toward my MS in Cybersecurity but I am forced to take a summer off because my student loans were not allocated properly to support summer semester. Despite this, I am not unhappy, I will certainly enjoy taking a break for three months as my family and I are in the dead heat of trying to get our current home sold and move to a larger home in the main par