HP Stream Mini Desktop 200-010

HP Stream Mini Desktop 200-010

Sometimes, technology actually solves a problem. In this case, we have the HP Stream Mini Desktop 200-010, a $179 computer with the footprint that’s smaller than the average carryout box, yet delivers the goods as promised.

I made my switch to being a full-time Mac user over 10 years ago, yet I still have a few PC applications that either haven’t been migrated to OS X, or for which there’s no Mac-native equivalent. For that reason, I kept a Windows machine around as long as I could. My last “official” Windows machine, a Fujitsu LifeBook, was removed from service about a year ago when I got tired of its wheezing. Since then, I’d been using a Windows 7 BootCamp partition on my MacBook Pro Retina to run the remaining few apps on that platform.

Two of those applications, PlayOn and TotalRecorder, require a running PC for an extended amount of time, e.g., the amount of time you plan on using them. PlayOn is a media-streaming service that will send all kinds of internet-based and network-local media to a WDTV Live or Roku (or Chromecast, phone or tablet). TotalRecorder is a program that captures internet streaming audio, and I use it to record longer-format shows like Those Were The Days, the four-hour old time radio show out of Chicago. Having to lock my Mac into Windows mode for hours while running these programs was an intrusion.

(And yes, I know there are many streaming-audio capture programs available for the Mac– I am a huge fan of Audio Hijack– but it still does not solve the challenge of having to leave my Mac on for hours.)

When I saw a review of the new, tiny HP desktops in Ars Technica, I realized I may have found a solution to my Windows challenges. HP has just introduced a line of inexpensive, lower-powered computers that run Windows 8.1, and the cheaper desktop looked like it could be put on a shelf, loaded with my software, and left to run happily.

It turns out I was right.

I bought the HP Stream Mini Desktop 200-010 at Amazon for $179 during the last week of February, 2015. It’s a good thing I did, too, since within a week they were out of stock everywhere, including HP’s site. (As of this writing, other sellers are gouging for the device at $250.) Based on the recommendation of one of the Amazon customer reviewers, I also bought a stick of 4 GB memory to bring the total memory to 6 GB and the price to $212.  I later replaced the stock drive with a 128GB SATA M.2 SSD for about $60, providing me with a little more storage overhead; but more about that later.

The computer showed up in a box about the size of a laser toner cartridge.  The biggest thing in the box was the full-sized USB keyboard, which HP provides along with a USB mouse and external power supply.  The keyboard and mouse are average-quality, certainly enough to get the job done.   The main unit will easily fit in your hand, and the included setup guide is easy to follow for setting the computer up.

Once connected (I used my Vizio HDTV as the display, and plugged in an Ethernet cable to get it on my network), the computer booted quickly into a guided setup screen.  Not having ever dealt with Windows 8, I was actually impressed with the way the software walks a new user through initial configuration.   Within 5 minutes, the computer was up and running on my network, ready for me to start loading my software.

Right out of the box, I saw I had about 12GB of disk space available.  This was not a big issue, as my plan was to only load a couple program on the computer, and any data would be put on Dropbox or OneDrive and deleted soon after.    I also went through and deleted software that I knew I wouldn’t use:  as pointed out in other reviews, HP was very conservative with loading this machine with the usual “bloatware” given the small amount of storage they provide.

My cable provider gives its subscribers free antivirus, so after loading that and Dropbox, Google Chrome, and Firefox, I was ready to install my programs.   Given the local space available, I had to choose “Selective Sync” on Dropbox because I have a ton of stuff out there:  I only chose the directories I knew I’d want to access from this computer.

PlayOn installed just fine.  The HP Stream’s specifications are well within the requirements for the program, so there was no problem serving up stutter-free video over my network to my TV-connected devices.  I added an external 1 TB drive to the HP to serve up my library of media using the MyMedia feature of PlayOn.

TotalRecorder installed with only one bump:  in order for streaming audio to work on the computer, it has to know there is an audio output device connected since it has no internal speaker.  If I went to a site with streaming audio, it would simply not play it at all, which means TotalRecorder could not capture anything.  I resolved this by plugging in a cheap pair of headphones and leaving them on the shelf with the computer.   From there, it worked perfectly.

The only thing remaining was to figure out how to remotely access the computer, as I did not want to leave it connected to a monitor or the TV.  Since the Stream comes with a version of Windows 8.1 that does not include Remote Desktop, I had to think of another solution.  I am a big fan of TeamViewer, which allows a user to gain control over a remote computer as long as it’s connected to the internet.  (I use this when troubleshooting my daughter’s computer while she is at school.)  I loaded TeamViewer and set it up for “Unattended Access” which involves setting up a free account at TeamViewer’s site.  After entering the codes provided, I was able to fully control the Stream from my MacBook.  The only challenge with this setup, however, is that the remote computer has to think it has a monitor connected in order to have a display to “share,” otherwise it will display a blank screen.  I solved this by buying a Compulab fit-Headless HDMI adapter, which acts as a display emulator (the radio geek in me calls it a “dummy load”) and plugs right into the computer.  I unplugged my monitor from the Stream, plugged the adapter in, and remotely accessed it again from my Mac.  Success!

It’s worth pointing out that HP does not provide Recovery Disks with the computer: there is a Recovery Partition on the built in hard drive, but they recommend you create media with the recovery software as well.   Following these instructions I created a Recovery USB key, which is a good thing to have in the event of a hard drive failure.  If a system crash occurred, I’d have the tools to rebuild the system.

After a couple weeks of the Stream’s providing solid service, I realized I was constantly running at about 5GB of disk space to spare.   This would have been okay, but I figured SSDs are pretty cheap so I may as well give myself a little overhead.   As mentioned above, I bought a Transcend 128GB M.2 SSD which would provide plenty of space going forward.

The physical installation was very easy.  This video shows how to disassemble the Stream and where the memory and hard drive go.  (It also shows the impressive compact design of the computer.)  I was able to remove the old drive and install the new one in a couple minutes.  I did not format the new drive or anything– it was plain “vanilla” right out of the package.

Once reassembled, I inserted the USB Recovery Key I described above and powered the computer up.

I booted the PC, and since it could not find an OS on the internal drive, it proceeded to boot from the USB. The menu that came up gave several options for diagnosing and rebuilding the computer. I chose the option to “Reset my computer” which destroys everything that’s on the internal hard drive by reformatting and repartitioning to the factory defaults. It then loaded the factory system image, rebooted, and I was presented with a system that looked exactly like it was when I took it out of the box.

I had to re-register and reload my programs, but most importantly, I discovered the “reset” program had repartitioned the new internal drive with an appropriately-set recovery partition (as I expected) and a C: partition that took up the remainder of the drive’s space. The “reset” process running from USB took less than 30 minutes to complete. I reloaded my programs and configured everything the way I wanted, which added about another 30 minutes to the process.

I came to this solution after searching on the internet for ways to reload the computer’s current image on a new drive, but none of what I found was particularly helpful or easy to follow.   That’s when I decided to go after the “slash-and-burn” approach, knowing that HP must have provided some sort of tool to restore the factory image.

One thing to point out about the “Reset” option:  when you follow this path, the installer creates the main C: and Recovery partitions as described above, but instead of “hiding” the Recovery partition as it comes from the factory, the Reset mounts the Recovery partition as drive D:.   Since the partition is loaded to just about its 6.7GB capacity, Windows will consistently throw “Disk Almost Full” errors.   The best thing to do is to use the Control Panel option for changing Notifications, and turn off the warnings for Low Disk Space.

Overall, I am very pleased with this computer, and I am looking forward to seeing what else it can do.  Bravo to HP for  coming out with such a great little piece of equipment!

It took about a year for the plug to be pulled on an ambitious (or some would say ridiculous) project: FM News 101.1. As of today, you will hear music on 101.1 FM instead of talk.

The CEO of the station’s owner cited “lack of audience engagement” as one of the reasons: that’s doubletalk for “people weren’t listening.” Here’s a link to Robert Feder’s play-by-play of the demise of the station.

When I first wrote about the station last year I indicated that I actually wanted to see the station succeed. They seemed a little light on substance and resorted to a bunch of hackneyed gimmicks but my hope was that station management would learn that Chicago radio audiences were more sophisticated, and that the real opportunity for News 101.1 was to fill a niche between WBBM and WBEZ. They opted to swing in the wrong direction entirely.

I did tune in to the station occasionally, mostly when I missed WBBM’s Traffic and Weather report, because News 101.1′s reports were now on the Ones.

101.1 now plays a mixture of 80s and 90s music in kind of an odd mishmash of styles designed to appeal to 30-35 year-old-women (correction provided by my wife, who’s in that demographic).

And so we keep spinning the dial…



The Silent Film Society of Chicago just announced its lineup for their summer film festival, one of our favorite events of the season. The festival runs on Friday nights from July 20 through August 24 at the Portage Theater in Chicago.

This year will bring us some comedy from Harold Lloyd, some action from Douglas Fairbanks, drama and mystery from John Barrymore and adventure from Fritz Lang along with other great stuff.

Click on the image above to see all the details.. See you there!

Today’s clip is “Farewell to Paradise” by Emitt Rhodes.

Rhodes is most often referred to as “the one-man Paul McCartney,” because he wrote, performed, and recorded his music entirely on his own in his garage studio. And yes, his music absolutely has a mid-60s-to-mid-70s McCartney sound. He’s been a cult favorite since his debut album came out in 1970, and legions of ProTools- and GarageBand-equipped home musicians have recently embraced him as one of their own.

A blogger at mog.com named Spike_1 wrote a great review of Rhodes’ last album, 1973′s Farewell to Paradise, which also serves as a nice introduction to the artist and his music. I suggest starting there if you’re interested in learning more.

I came into “Farewell to Paradise” via, of all people, Vic Damone, who did an easy-listening version of the song in the early 1980s. Despite the sugary arrangement I found something truly haunting about the tune and the lyrics, and I had to learn who was originally responsible for the song. Once I did, I was down the Emitt Rhodes rabbit hole.

The song is a lament and a lullaby, with feelings of both sadness and hope. You may find that once it gets in your head you won’t be able to let go of it, and knowing that every sound in this recording is the product of one guy will impress you.

Here are links to the Emitt Rhodes best-of collection at iTunes and Amazon.

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This is a new discovery for me: Olivia Newton-John’s 1971 cover of “Love Song.”

For the longest time I was only familiar with Elton John’s version, which appeared on his Tumbleweed Connection album from the previous year. In later years I became familiar with the version recorded by Lesley Duncan, the person who wrote the song.

What I really like about this version is how haunting the arrangement sounds: it really adds another dimension to what’s basically a very simple love song. Also, this was recorded early in Newton-John’s career so she doesn’t quite have the confidence in her voice that we came to know later.

Love Song
(Lesley Duncan)
The words I have to say
May well be simple but they’re true
Until you give your love
There’s nothing more that we can do

Love is the opening door
Love is what we came here for
No one could offer you more
Do you know what I mean
Have your eyes really seen

You say it’s very hard
To leave behind the life we knew
But there’s no other way
And now it’s really up to you

Love is the key we must turn
Truth is the flame we must burn
Freedom the lesson we must learn
Do you know what I mean
Have your eyes really seen
© 1969

I’m re-posting this because it’s the time of year when a little comfort food can be appreciated, plus I whipped up one of these cakes for Lisa and Emma tonight.  Here’s a link to the Hulu page for this episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show–  the scene described below starts at 9:00.

Rob and Laura
In the episode “The Lady and the Babysitter” of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob whines about how Laura made a delicious “milk cake” yet there’s no milk in the Petrie house. He could have been referring to the cake I’m talking about here.
Quick Cocoa Cake
Yes, those are Hershey Bars laid across the top of the cake. Six of ‘em.
My mom made this cake many times when I was a kid. I used to refer to it as the “vinegar cake” because of the one tablespoon of vinegar that’s in the recipe, but don’t let that put you off– it’s all in the name of good baking chemistry.
Now, I admit I’m kind of a snob when it comes to chocolate bars, and Hershey’s is usually lower on the list than other brands. For the purposes of this recipe, though, the Hershey bars have the best shape, thickness, and melting point– plus, we’re talking about comfort food here, so let’s allow a little throwback to childhood, shall we?
The recipe is ridiculously simple and the result is simply amazing.
Quick Cocoa Cake
The cake lends itself to a tall, cool, glass of milk or even a nice cabernet sauvignon. It’s really moist, but you will want something to wash it down.
Quick Cocoa Cake
And now that I have your attention, check out the recipe:

 


Quick Cocoa Cake
(One layer, 8 inch square)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cold water
6 Hershey bars– the original recipe called for two, but trust me on this
Sift and mix all the dry ingredients into an ungreased 8-inch square baking pan. Level dry ingredients and make 3 holes or wells in the mixture. Pour oil into one hole, and vinegar and vanilla into the others. Pour cold water over the top. Use a fork to stir the mixture until it’s smooth.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.
Unwrap all the Hershey bars, and when you remove the cake from the oven immediately lay the bars evenly over the top of the cake– break the pieces apart if necessary. (You can also make chocolate frosting, but why? :-)
Let the cake sit for about an hour before serving. Yum.
Note: if you decide to refrigerate the cake, be sure to let it warm to room temperature before attempting to cut into it. Those Hershey bars will revert to their original candy-bar-state when chilled, and make cutting the cake a challenge.

 

(This originally appeared on Crosswalks to Nowhere on November 4, 2008.)

…has been disconnected.

For the first time in my life, I do not have a home phone number.  

Last week, we decided to drop our landline telephone service.  We did an informal-yet-enlightening analysis of our home phone usage, and here’s what led to our decision:

  1. Of all the inbound calls we get in a week (according to caller ID, it’s between 25-30),  less than one is usually from someone with a legitimate reason to call us.   The rest of the calls are telemarketers, political robo-dialers, and/or survey-takers.
  2. People who really need to contact us already use our mobile numbers.
  3. The only outbound calls we make are to the local pizza shop or the occasional business phone call when T-Mobile or US Cellular can’t get a signal to our house. 

Based on the first point alone, our decision was made.  Once we looked at the cost, it made the choice that much easier: we were paying $85 per month for basic phone service and 8 Mbit internet. 15 Mbit internet-only service from our provider costs $52, which means we were paying $33 per month for the “convenience” of being hassled by people (and machines) we didn’t want to hear from.

I made the call Friday morning and by Monday afternoon the phone line was turned off.  Oh, and this little bit of joy took only minutes to go into effect:

Before…

..and After:

We did not put a forwarding number on the account because the people who need to contact us know how to do so.  So all you robo-dialing, political-office-running, lawn care-selling, survey-taking entities will have to find another tree to bark up.  Or whatever it is that you do.

For the people and places with whom we wish to stay in contact but we’d rather they didn’t have our mobile numbers, we’re sharing our Google Voice number. This has the advantages of (a) not ringing a phone in our house (or pockets), and (b) providing a spiffy and occasionally accurate transcription of the voice mail that the caller can leave when they dial our number.  And if, for some reason, we need to have the Google Voice forwarded to a “real” phone, it’s just a few keystrokes to make that happen.

Yes, we’ll have to keep our mobile phones charged and have a spare standing by in case one of them takes a dive into the Chicago River.  We’ll also have to make sure the numbers for our local Police and Fire Departments are programmed into our mobiles.   Done and done.

One more step at simplifying our lives is complete.

A couple shots of the legendary cheeseburger spot in Chicago, the Billy Goat Tavern on Lower Michigan Avenue.

Happy New Year!

Here’s an early Christmas present for all of you: a pair of archive files that each contain 90 minutes of somewhat innocuous holiday music.  The real bonus, though, is hidden in the recordings:  between the usual bits of Nat King Cole, Kenny G, and 101 Strings are little snippets of Chicago media history.

These are recordings of two Chicago radio stations’ nonstop Christmas music programming, recorded on Christmas Eves in 1984 and 1988.    In those days, some radio stations would put their normal programming on hold on December 24 and play holiday music through to the evening of the 25th.  This way you’d have a nice musical background to whatever festivities you had going on.  (This contrasts with the more recent approach of going all-holiday the week after Halloween.)

While digging around the house for holiday music, I found a cache of cassettes that contained all sorts of fun that I pulled from the air over the years.  The two 90-minute programs attached below are from WLOO (FM100) recorded in 1984, and WNUA in 1988.   

FM100 was the primary Beautiful Music station in Chicago (under its various ownerships) from the early 1950s through the late 1980s, and their format consisted of soft instrumental versions of pop songs with the occasional light vocal.  The attached recording is very typical of what FM100 sounded like– just replace the Christmas tunes with non-holiday songs by the same artists.  You’ll also hear a couple of weather forecasts, and learn how it was a very cold night that Christmas Eve.

WNUA was a Smooth Jazz station from the late 1980s through the late 2000s.  It’s not coincidental that FM100′s demise came around the time of WNUA’s rise: they both served the purpose of providing background music.  Beautiful Music formats were being dropped all over the country at that time, and WNUA’s brand of ”Smooth Rock, Smooth Jazz” was just a little more hip and rhythmic (and less sleep-inducing).   The recording presented here isn’t quite representative of the typical WNUA broadcast day: they went a lot softer here, plus they interspersed audio snippets by on- and off-air staff and their families.  They also included station jingles that sound like ringing bells, with a little “hourly chime” effect at the top of each hour. You still get Kenny G, though.

Just download each file, unzip, and load the resulting MP3s into your favorite music player.  There are two MP3s in each archive.

Click on the WNUA logo to download the archive of the 12/24/1988 Christmas recording:

Click on the FM100 logo to download the archive of the 12/24/1984 WLOO Christmas recording:

(FM100 image from the Radio Timeline at Zecom Communications.)

Download and enjoy– and maybe you’ll blow the mind of someone who actually remembers these stations.

Happy Holidays!

There are three new fundraising opportunities for Arlington Heights’ Metropolis Performing Arts Centre and its School of Performing Arts.    Please consider participating in one (or more) of these events!

1. On Thursday, November 10, Jimmy John’s in Downtown Arlington Heights (19 S Dunton Ave) will donate 20% of all sales between 2:00-9:00 pm to the Metropolis School of Performing Arts.  Just print out this flyer and bring it in with you!  (Although I have it on good authority that if you mention Metropolis you won’t need the flyer.)

2. Also on Thursday, November 10, Biggby Coffee in Downtown Arlington Heights (21 S Dunton Ave) will give $1 to Metropolis when you purchase any medium or large specialty drink.  Just go into Biggby any time on the 10th and say you’re there to support Metropolis– they’ll take care of the rest!

3. From now through January 2012, Whole Foods Market Palatine will give Metropolis 10¢ per bag for customers who re-use their own shopping bags in the store and wish to donate their bag refund.  Click here for more details.

Help support this wonderful Arlington Heights institution!

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