Gmail Outages

Gmail is Offline

Google’s Mail, Gmail, is best free service, more reliable than Hotmail or Yahoo. But it can have outages. It was out for a few hours this morning starting at 4:30AM EST, causing some people to call it “Gfail”.

According to the Google blog:

If you’ve tried to access your Gmail account today, you are probably aware by now that we’re having some problems. Shortly after 10 9:30am GMT our monitoring systems alerted us that Gmail consumer and businesses accounts worldwide could not get access to their email.

We’re working very hard to solve the problem and we’re really sorry for the inconvenience. Those users in the US and UK who have enabled Gmail offline through Gmail Labs should be able to access their inbox, although they won’t be able to send or receive emails.

“Offline Gmail” can help

This should encourage people to either set up a mail client (i.e. Outlook, Thunderbird, Mac Mail), or begin using Offline Gmail though Gmail Labs’ Google Gears. This creates a local copy of all mail all within your browser so that you at least can see your old mail and draft new messages. Because it has your messages locally on your computer, it can make working with email faster too.

Offline Gmail Video from Google:

Help Astronomers Online at Galaxy Zoo

Galaxy Zoo is a site that has over a quarter million galaxies collected through the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) from the robotic telescope at Apache Point Observatory, New Mexico. The astronomers need people’s help classifying the galaxies. It turns out that people are much better at this than computers.

You sign up on the site and are asked to classify a galaxy as simply smooth and rounded or having signs of a disk. You then classify how rounded it looks. There are other questions that you might be asked, listed on the How To Take Part page.

Don’t worry if you are unsure. Sometimes it is a judgment call. Galaxy Zoo presents the same image to lots of people and takes a vote on the best answer.

So far, they’ve learned that more spiral galaxies and blue elliptical galaxies exist than previously thought. There are an equal number of clockwise and anti-clockwise spirals. And there are some unusual objects (blue image below galaxy to the right) that have been noted for astronomers to investigate further.

It’s easy to classify stars on the site and you will be among the first people to look at these galaxies in detail.

MSI Wind Nettop 100 Assembly

The MSI Wind Nettop 100 is one of the first Dual-Core Atom N330 Processor computers out on the market. It runs at the same 1.6GHz as the Single-Core Atom N270, but provides double the multi-threaded processing power. And remember that the Atom has hyperthreading, so you’ll see 4 logical processors in the OS.

The Nettop 100 is cheap at around $170-180. Since it runs at an average of 35W, it’s also light on the power bill. It will make a nice 24/7 linux home server.

We recommend that you get 2GB DDR2 533MHz CL4 200-pin RAM. This is the optimal speed for the computer. If you buy faster/more expensive ram, it’ll still run at 533Mhz, but with a slower Cas Latency (how long it takes to get a bit of ram). Since it’s only 1 stick of ram, you can’t take advantage of dual-channel, so you’ll want to get the fastest stick that works for this pc.

If you want a large, quiet, and efficient hard drive to go with the rest of the system, the Western Digital Green 1TB is a good choice.

As you can see in the chart below, the graphics is the limiting factor in the computer, but you’ll only notice if you run at high resolutions or play newer 3D games. For the monitor, we suggest you don’t go above 1280×1024, and the computer outputs only VGA (no DVI/HDMI). When we went any higher, the image was cropped and no amount of tweaking on the monitor itself could get the entire screen to display. If they come out with a version that has HDMI, it would make an excellent HTPC (home theater PC).

For the performance, we’ll use the Windows Experience Index (using Windows 7 beta 1):

Component What is rated Subscore
Processor: Calculations per second 3.2
Memory (RAM): Memory operations per second 4.8
Graphics: Desktop performance for windows Aero 2.3
Gaming Graphics: 3D business and gaming graphics performance 3.0
Primary hard disk: Disk data transfer rate 5.6

Video Assembly:

7 Misconceptions about Over-the-Air Digital TV

As I help people with home theaters and TVs across the Washington D.C. area, I run into many misconceptions about over-the-air digital TV.

1. Digital TV? What is that?

Most people still don’t seem to realize that they can receive high definition television over the air.

Not only is it high definition, but over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts also generally provide better quality video than cable or satellite. This is because the bitrate (amount of data transmitted) of OTA broadcasts is typically higher.

While not all the channels are available (no CNN, Comedy Central, Discovery, Home & Garden, etc), you do get in Washington D.C. and generally: ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, Fox, CW (formerly WB), Univision (Spanish language), and an independent channel or two.

2. The digital transition, whenever it occurs, will be a switch from analog to digital.

Not exactly. The digital channels are all available now. The “digital transition” date is actually just switching off the analog channels. The analog spectrum was sold a year ago by the US government sold to a consortium of bidders including AT&T and Verizon.

3. The analog shut-off date is when?

It was originally today, February 17, 2009. But Congress and Obama passed legislation to delay it until June 12, 2009, because many people are still unprepared for the transition and the government ran out of coupons for people to buy converter boxes.

The complicated bit is that because of costs associated with running the analog systems, hundreds of local stations will still try to shut down their analog signals today, if they can get the FCC to go along with that. In Washington D.C., all stations will continue to offer analog channels until June 12th.

According to the Associated Press:

A patchwork of 641 stations across the country, mainly in thinly populated areas, are still turning off their analog broadcasts this week or have already done so. The most populous markets where many or all major-network stations are cutting analog include San Diego and Santa Barbara, Calif.; Providence, R.I.; La Crosse and Madison, Wis.; Rockford, Ill.; Sioux City, Iowa; Waco, Texas; Macon, Ga.; Scranton, Pa.; and Burlington, Vt.

4. I need a coupon and converter box.

TVs sold over the past few years typically have a built-in digital tuner. Also, the $40 coupon is only good for the converter boxes that output their signal in analog.

This means that if you have a shiny new HDTV, you are probably fine because it has a tuner already. And if you have a slightly older HDTV that does not have a tuner, you will be better served with a converter box that has an HDMI or component video out so that you get a digital signal to the TV itself instead of analog. And those better converter boxes do not qualify for the $40 coupon.

5. I just need to plug my antenna into a converter box to get a signal.

You will need an antenna and just plugging in your existing one might work. But the antenna is probably best not placed where you used to have it.

Digital signals tend to be more sensitive to placement and interference from walls and obstructions. Therefore you want the antenna to be as close to possible to line-of-site to the tower as you can get it. This means placing the antenna in a window, on a roof, or high up in your attic. People who live close to the transmitting towers (within 5 miles) should not have problems. People farther away will need to spend more time and money to get the right equipment.

6. My “rabbit ear” antenna will work fine.

It might if you live within a couple of miles of the antenna. But most people will be better served with a new antenna and spending some time placing it correctly in the best location.

My favorite resource for determining antenna needs is, which has a Choose an antenna area. This will allow you to see how far your towers are from you and the direction of the towers. Direction is important because most HDTV antennas are directional.

For my installations, I generally start with’s data and then paste it into a spreadsheet like this. Then I can write down the signal strength for each channel using different antennas and locations. It usually takes a while to get the optimum setup.

Also note that in the D.C. area, most digital channels are on the UHF spectrum, but after the analog shut-off both ABC and CBS will be changing to transmit over VHF. The implication for customers is that several antennas only work well for UHF or VHF. Keep that in mind when looking for an antenna. Many stations across the US plan on changing their transmissions after they shut down their analog stations. lists these planned changes.

AVS Forum has a vibrant discussion of what antennas are best. I agree with their list and have had great luck both with the Winegard SS-3000 and Terk HDTVa. Both of these have amplification which you may or may not want to use depending on how it affects your signal.

7. I can’t watch over-the-air television. I’d miss my TiVo or Cable DVR too much.

The TiVo Series 3 and TiVo HD do actually tune and record OTA broadcasts. Not only that, but they can record both OTA and cable signals at the same time. So you could get basic cable for a few channels that you are missing, and get pristine high definition content over the air. TiVo does have a monthly service fee (also available as a lifetime purchase for the life of the box).

For those who want to get rid of all monthly bills and just have an OTA DVR, the satellite folks at Dish network came out with the DTVPal DVR currently for $249. You don’t use the Dish network at all. They simply took the software in their good (not as good as TiVo) DVR and repurposed it. There is a discussion of the DTVPal DVR at AVS Forum, which they jokingly refer to as the reboot/upgrade club because of the problems that the early adopters are facing. Currently the DTVPal DVR is out of stock. I would expect Dish to iron out the issues and make this a solid box, as their satellite DVR is pretty good.

Cut the Cable or Satellite Bill

While the hurdles may seem daunting, the ability to get great content in high definition over the air is great. With some time and research, you might even be able to ditch your cable or satellite.

Internet TV

Another option that complements OTA programs is Internet based TV. Projects like Boxee are promising. They connect to CNN, Comedy Central, and tonnes of other streaming media. While the quality is not HD, this provides another way to cut the cable or satellite bill.

Kindle 2 Announced

The long awaited Kindle 2 by Amazon was finally announced today.  It was just as the rumors predicted in appearance.  It has several desired improvements but a few shortcomings as well.

Shape and Size

The Kindle 2 is more attractive than the original.  The new thinner design is impressive.  The tradeoff is that the device now has a bigger footprint.  In some cases the original Kindle would fit in your purse, the Kindle 2 may not.  But the same is true for the thickness giving the Kindle 2 an advantage.  With its new thinness, the Kindle 2 can probably fit more easily into some thin pockets in a bag.  Overall, the new shape is an improvement.

Battery Life

The Kindle 2 has 25% more battery life than its predecessor.  The original Kindle had a very impressive battery life already. It is a good idea to turn off your wifi when you aren’t downloading a new book to get longer battery life.  Under typical use of a heavy reader, the original Kindle would last a good week with wifi off.  More battery life is always a welcome improvement to any gadget though.

Page Turning

The page turning buttons have been redesigned.  One of the biggest complaints about the original was how easy it was to unintentionally turn a page.  The Kindle 2 buttons are smaller so they are not as easy to hit accidentally.  Another welcome improvement is pages now turn 20% faster.  The first Kindle wasn’t exactly slow at page turning but you were often left wishing the page would render just a little faster and now the Kindle 2 does.


Amazon claims “more storage” in the Kindle 2.  This is a bit inaccurate since it really just has more built-in storage.  The original Kindle had an SD card slot for extra storage which means it could hold more if you used that slot.  The Kindle 2 does have more built-in storage but has removed the SD card slot so you are stuck with just the internal memory.  That isn’t a big problem since the internal storage can hold 1,500 books now.  And if you fill it up, you can delete books but still own them.  At any point, you can have a book re-downloaded to your Kindle.  The SD card slot was probably removed to help allow the device to be thinner.  While this is technically a lost feature, it is an acceptable tradeoff for the new thinness.


The new screen is very similar to the original except that it now has 16 shades of gray.  This allows pictures to look much better.  If you just read books, this is almost pointless.  But if you read newspapers on your Kindle, this will greatly improve your reading experience.

Book Cover

The original Kindle included a leather book cover.  Unfortunately, now this is a $29.99 accessory for the Kindle 2.  To protect your expensive Kindle 2, you have to buy the book cover which makes the Kindle 2 more expensive than its predecessor.


Most of the changes are positive.  Overall the new Kindle isn’t a huge jump over the original, it is more of several small design improvements.  This is a device any avid reader should definitely have.  For a full description of it, check out the Amazon Kindle 2 page.