June 2005 Archives

You Want to Live Like Common People?

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Last night was the first episode of Morgon Spurlock's new show "30 Days". The premise is pretty simple, and obviously lifted directly from his film "Supersize Me". In each episode someone tries to do something for thirty days and the experience is documented ad presented to us, the viewing audience.

In the first episode Morgan and his fiance Alex move to Columbus, Ohio and try to live off minimum wage jobs for a month. They get a terrible apartment in a bad area of town, get jobs doing yardwork and washing dishes and go to it. For the next hour we watch as they struggle to pay the bills, have to go to the hospital because of injured wrists and urinary track infections, walk rather than ride buses to save $2.70 a day and so on.

Of course by the end of the show they have expenses equal to more than twice what they made during the month. Mostly because of the medical bills. Things like having too pay over $800 between the two of them just for the emergency room fees (not the actual medical services or the $40 ace bandage fees - $800 just because they had to use the emergency room).

The show did a pretty good job of highlighting the idea that there are people out there (a LOT of people) who are struggling to get by and are not getting any breaks in this land of opportunity. They worked hard, they tried to save as much money as they could (they spent about $70 dollars to have Morgan's niece and nephew visit one weekend; $50 on supplies for the kids and $20 to go to the dollar movies) and ended up spending $45 dollars going out to dinner for Alex's birthday. The budget for the birthday got blown when, after dinner ($23) they discovered that the buses didn't run after 6:00 so they had to take a cab to get home. Otherwise they ate beans and rice every night, worked multiple jobs to try to make ends meet, found a charity that give them free furniture, and still ended up at the end of the month in debt.

I hope that at least some people will see this episode and realize that maybe poor people aren't lazy people who deserve what they get. Our society and or government are really stacked against our poorest, who we under pay (because paying them a living wage is bad for business), and provide almost no support services for. At the same time our government (and religions) advocate abstinance and tries to suppress information about birth control resulting in the these people having to support children on the pittence they can get paid for their work.

Overall a pretty interesting show. I was aware of the issues already, but it was a good illustration of the plight of the working poor.

Of course, throughout the whole thing you know that in the end Morgan and Alex re only going to have to do this for a month, and then they will be able to go back to a comfortable life. The people that they meet during the experiment aren't going to have that option.

Me, I'm in favor of nation health coverage for all. That would have almost made their situation doable. Of course, we can't do that becasue it would be "bad for business".

Adventures in Television (Part 4)

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It's funny how easy it is to overlook any one of the 15,000 things that you can update on your computer at any given moment.

On the PVR computer I have within the last two weeks gone to Windows update for patches, upgraded to a point release of BeyondTV (the releases specifically state that the update does nothing that would affect any of the problems I am having), updated the machines BIOS, and even performed hardware upgrades to try to get this damn harddisk thrashing/TV viewing lockup thing to stop.

Then along came Will reminding me that my motherboard drivers might not be up to date.

Actually, I have no idea if they were out of date or not - Gigabyte's site doesn't make it easy to figure when the driver version they have were relased, and it's almost impossible to figure out which specific driver version maps to the driver releases on the site.

But I downloaded everything they had and updates what ws on the machine.

I haven't had much of a chance to use it under real conditions yet, but I did just sit downstairs changing channels, watching recorded shows then suddenly switching to Live TV (So the computer would not be expecting it) and so far, no problems.

So, until it starts crashing again, thank you Will.

Of course, once it starts crashing again, now I will consider it your fault.

Adventures in Television (Part The Third)

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As I mentioned in my first post about my homemade PVR, I've been having problems with occasional hard disk thrashing and lockups. Over the weekend I decided to try and fix that.

First thing I did was drop in an 80 GB ATA drive to hold the operating system and the swap drive. That means it's got three drives now: 80gb ATA for the OS & swap, 120GB SATA for the live TV buffers, and 250gb SATA for recorded shows.

The install went just fine, got everything copied over and changed the boot order of the drives to make the new 80gb the boot drive (If you can get a copy of it Maxtor's software that ships with their drives is awesome - it allows you to copy from drive to drive, including all the bootable-ness stuff completely automatically, it's WAY earier than using Ghost or whatever and it was free with the drive).

I changed all the settings for Beyond TV so it's buffering and recording whare I want and start trying to make the machine lock up.

No problem. It takes about 5 mintues to do it, and now it seems like the problem is worse - the viewing interface just locks up completely, instead of for a minute or two.

Being the technologist that I am, I assume that I need to throw more hardware at the problem. Memory! I only have 512megs (approx. 51 times the size of the hard disk on my first IBM PC). Obviously it needs more RAM.

So, I doubled it to 1gb (8,192 times the amount of memory in my original Apple IIe computer).

Still having exactly the same problem.

The upside is that it only appears to affect the viewing application - I can ctrl-al-del out it it and shut it down, but the backgroungd processes that record shows continues to work just fine, so I am not losing anything, but has made viewing live TV extremely dicey.

I think I am going to look at how Windows IRQ sharing is set up and see if there is anything there that might be a problem. If that doesn't do it then I have suppose I have the option of looking at differennt software...I still haven't tried out SageTV...

I Close My Mind Now and I Scream

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I've been reading an awful lot of Matthew Good's blog lately.

Bloody Canadians.

Adventures in Televison (Part Two)

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Immediately after I hooked the computer up to my Panasonic CRT Projection TV, I realized something. I needed a newer, better TV. The television stuff looked fine, but anything involving the computer side of things was just about unusable.

After some looking around I decided to get the Toshiba 52HM84 52” rear projection DLP. It had good picture quality, a pretty good selection of inputs, and most importantly, it looked like something from the bridge of Star Trek.

I got it home, hooked everything up and turned it on – everything worked perfectly. Obviously there was some tweaking needed to get the picture just right and all, but overall, pretty good.

Two days later, it would not turn on. Press the power button; hear the fan spin up half a dozen times…nothing. Nothing except for a malignant little red light that was blinking at ½ second intervals. So I unplugged the power waited ten minutes, plugged it back in, and turned it on with no problem. Obviously it was just some weird hiccup.

Two days later it would not turn on at all, unplugging and re-plugging made no difference. It was completely dead.

So I returned it to Best Buy, not problem at all, within thirty days etc. That one did exactly the same thing after a week. Now I know there is something weird going on.

I returned the second TV, but this time, figuring that I must have some strange power quality problem, I bought an uninterruptible power supply with line conditioning and brownout protection, so the power going to the TV would be perfect. After all, I have never seen any posts about anything like this on AVSForum, or anywhere else, and the service guy said he had never seen the problem before. It had to the power.

Two weeks later that one died as well. The service guy replaced the entire light engine (which is about 80% of the value of the set). Again it stopped turning on reliably after about a week.

So we left it on. 24/7. Staying on had never been a problem, and the lamp was covered by the extended warranty. It worked fine for a couple of months while a final return and replacement with another brand was worked out with Best Buy.

I’m glad to say that I got my new LG 52SX4D 52” DLP set in on Monday. Best Buy even let me return the Toshiba TV stand, which was custom fitted to the Toshiba set. The picture on the LG is not as good out of the box as the Toshiba was, but on the upside I haven’t seen any of the “rainbow effect” that I saw constantly on the Toshiba.

So far the LG has been turned off and come back on 8 times and counting.

Adventures in Televison (Part One)

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As those of you that know me know, I have been a ReplayTV user since the first model came out. I upgraded to the networked model when that came out, and generally I have been pretty happy with it. Until this last winter when, suddenly, I started to run into recording conflicts - two shows on at the same time that I wanted to record. ReplayTV has also been removing useful features like commercial skip and internet sharing from their boxes. All of this lead me to start looking at PC based solutions for recording television. This is the story of my journey to recording satisfaction.

Afte looking around at the software that was out there I soon dismissed the idea of MythTV or any of the other Linux based solutions. It looks like they are way better tan anything else out there, but I am too lazy to get into the whole Linux thing. I used a Linux box back in the late 90's as a household server and internet gateway - I just don't have the time (or frankly, attention span) to go through that again.

So, having decided it was going to be a Windows solution I did the minimum amount of reseach possible and settled on SnapStream's Beyond TV product - it supports multiple tuners, has the minimum feature set I need, a good user community, and most importantly, it looked like the interface was something that entire family could live with.

For hardware I decided to go for something that would have a little life left in it before becoming obsolete - I went for an Nvidia chipset motherboard and an AMD 64 3000+. For the graphics card I chose an Nvidia 6200 (I can't be bothered to remember which manufacturer) mainly because of the HDTV support. For the video digitizers I have two Hauppauge USB2 PVRs, each one hooked up to a DirecTV receiver. The receivers are controlled using Serial to Lowspeed data port, which makes channel changing foolproof. Input to the digitizers is through svideo. Initially I had a single 250GB harddisk, allowing around 100 hours of high quality recordings, though I later added a 120GB drive to put the OS and live TV bufers onto. The machine also has 512mb of RAM.

I've been using this setup since January 05, and over all I have been pretty happy with ti. It can record two shows at the same time, while watching a recorded show, it's easy to dump stuff onto DVD (something that never worked too well with stuff pulled off the ReplayTV) and it's very easy to dump mpeg or other media from other sources (cough - bittorrent) onto the PVR and play it within the BeyondTV interface.

Quality is pretty good - it looks a little better than the ReplayTV would say (though there has been a lot of tweaking). I'm using the Nvidia PureVideo decoder, which really does seem to make a difference in the display quality on a hi-def TV. The main problem that I continue to run into is that I get harddisk thrashing on occasion when switching from recorded shows to live TV and soemtimes when switching channels in live TV - thi will basically lock the machine up for a little over a minute.

This is the next thing that I plan to try tackling - just not sure if the best approach is adding more ram (up to a gig) or adding another harddisk to separate the OS (and pagefile) and the Live TV buffers. I'll probably end up doing both.

After that the big thing is going to be waiting for High Def support to come from Snapstream. Having seen some high def stuff (cough - bittorrent) it makes a huge difference, plus the idea of being able to record the HDTV stream directly from the set top boxes Firewire port without recompression is pretty attractive. More posts coming as things progress...

Sunshine, Joy and Updates

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Well the sun has begun to shine in Colorado Springs and I think I am finally coming out of my winter shell. Maybe. We'll see.

At the very least, I plan to post more frequently about stupid things that no one cares about. Watch for upcoming posts on things like the PVR (Personal Video Recorder) that I built from parts, and my thoughts on the idea that I need to simplify my life and get rid of "stuff". The excitement it well nay unbearable.

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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