Entries from October 2006 ↓

Linux PVR

This is more of a why-to than a how-to about using Mythtv and FC5 to build a PVR. Personal Video Recorder.

For those who dont know, let me explain. It all started with TIVO. TIVO is a digital recording device that can be programmed to record multimedia content off TV and radio. Programming is as simple as selecting material from a graphical presentation and deciding if single or multiple episodes should be recorded.

A PVR is also a digital recording device but not as intelligent as a TIVO.

Linux is a Unix like operating system that can be used to build a TIVO like system using Mythtv. Linux and Mythtv are free software. TIVO and PVR are expensive to own or rent. A Linux/Mythtv system is much more affordable and can do more that even the TIVO. It can automatically skip commercials while acting like a TIVO.

Regardless of which system is used, it is nice to be able to service both broadcast and cable TV. In most cases this is a mute point because cable includes local broadcast stations, but what if it does’nt. That is my situation.

My PVR is running on an Athlon 1800 with 256meg ram, 80gig hard drive, and Hauppage PVR-250 card.

It takes input from my old TV antenna, decodes the signals, and allows me to choose which programs to record and/or watch. That is it. Nothing more.

I already have a dish network setup using a PVR they supply and that setup handles all the cable stuff. I dont have the local channels included in the cable setup because I could not justify paying for something I already had and putting up with a second dish just for local channels.

My original intent was to use the Linux/PVR to replace the rented PVR but it turned out that was not a viable option. First, 80gig is not a large enough hard drive. Then there was the problem of controling channels. I do have an rf remote to handle the cable stuff but the Linux/PVR is in a seperate room and is IR. No problem, I just run a cable with an IR led on the end to the front of the dish network box and let the computer handle the channel select. The dish network box will respond to IR as well as RF remote control.

I never got that far. Mainly because I only had 80 gig of storage on the hard drive. To make an overall system work, I would need at least 200gig and a couple of 250gig drives would have been ideal.

That probably won’t happen anytime soon, so I am using the Linux/PVR system for local programing only.

Does it work? Yes, indeed! Works great. It also allows me to move media content from the PVR to the Linux system so that I can make DVDs and recordings of the cable programing.

However, if I had to do it again, I would go for a faster computer and most definately shoot for at least 300gig of total hard drive storage as well as invest in a dual channel TV receiver card.

Then, I could get rid of the DishNetwork PVR which I am still renting for 5 bucks a month.

Selling Radios

It is not at all unusual for a radio amateur who has had more than a few decades invested in the hobby to own all the kinds of equipment he ever had. On the other hand, it is rare for someone to have held on to every piece of equipment they ever acquired. A certain amount of that stuff was bought back after it was discovered that it still had value.

Most of us don’t realize what we have until it is gone. Then we attempt to get it back and end up paying more than it is worth.

I am sure this is true of many things but I know for a fact that is the case with old radios. Whatever the reason for selling, the most common reason is that you found something better. So you should not be offended if buyers don’t want to pay a lot for your old stuff. Makes no difference what the condition. Working or not. Clean or dirty. All beat up or in like-new condition. It is old. You obviously don’t want it or you would not be selling it. Most of us are reluctant to pay a premium for something old and unwanted.

Unless you are a dealer in new radios, there is not much money to be made. You wont get rich selling radios regardless of how many you have. At least that is my experience.

Promises

With a major election only weeks away I thought it might be good to review some before and after scenarios of past elections.

Before:I promise no new taxes.
After:So they increased the rate on the old taxes as high as possible.

Before:I will fix all the potholes.
After:Now we need a bond issue to raise the money to fix the potholes.

Before:Vote for me, I promise a change.
After: Yeah, we got change all right. Taxes went up, the economy tanked, stock market came close to crashing and we were repeatedly attacked by terrorists.

Before:No tax breaks for the rich.
After:No tax breaks for anyone. Rich was defined as anyone who has any money at all.

Before:I promise a bipartisan ownership of power.
After:We discovered that the definition of bipartisan was:’What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine too, and I am going to keep it all.”

Before:I am a moderate.
After:No, he turned out to be crooked through and through. No moderation at all.

Where is the BEEF!

Some years ago that expression was made famous by a little old lady asking ‘where is the beef’ as she inspected her recently purchased hamburger. The ad was very popular and parodied relentlessly.

For some time now our Texas governor has promised Texas property owners relief from unrealistically high property taxes. He actually estimated the relief to be an average of 2000 dollars per year per property owner.

I recently got my letter from the tax people and discovered that my property tax had increased!

Where is the BEEF?!

This Perry fellow must think we are all stupid! I bet ‘Perry’ is an old indian name meaning ‘fellow who thinks people are stupid’.

His answer to this abusive behavior is to justify it by claiming that the increase would have been much higher had he not had a hand in it.

I say it is time to remove the hands of government from our pocketbooks.

Matters not who is or is not in office. They all live off taxes and can live better the more taxes they collect. They all make promises they don’t keep, to steal votes they don’t deserve, to grow rich on tax money wasted on programs and services that are close to worthless.

No, we don’t politicians. We need a grass roots proposition like they had in California some years ago. Something that really will deliver the beef. Or at least let us keep our share of it.

This is a Political Ad

When I hear that phrase I turn my mind off. Put it in neutral until the danger is past. Can you believe the lies of a liar when he is lying? I used to think one party was more likely to stretch the truth than the other. Now I am not so sure. I think it is a thing politicians use to win favor. I am not sure how lying wins favor. I am not a politician. Evidently politicians must believe in the power of lies or they would not all be so quick to use these tools of deception.

Lately they refer to it as spin. Putting a favorable spin on an unfavorable event. HA! That is just a lie smothered in the gravy of self delusion and ultimate denial. Had I tried that kind of ‘spin’ on my parents when I was young they would have spun my ripe young butt into a corner and kept it there for a week.

I think that is what should be done to these self indulgent politicians. Of both parties.

Used to be you could tell what a candidate would do by his party affiliation. Now days you have liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. What does that mean?

I guess that is better than those claiming to be moderates. Moderate my behind! They pander to all until they get elected, then, off comes the sheeps clothing and you find out that they are extremists of the most unpleasent kind.

Stuff like that makes it difficult to vote with any sort of conviction. I have often thought there should be a third option in every election. A vote for no. If it is a vote for Governor, there should be a no vote indicating a desire to do without a Governor until the next election. Works for presidents, congressmen, and senators too. Vote no and force them to get real jobs.

You could say this writer is undecided. Hell, I am damn well confused and frustrated too. This election I am going to do a write-in vote. Where ever I can I am going to write in my name because I seem to be the only one I care to trust.

My Telephone

With email, instant messaging, and blog traffic, the telephone is quickly becoming a less desirable means of staying in touch. At least that is the case in this household.

Even though we have opted to stop telemarketers we still get calls from people asking for money. People we don’t even know. They claim to be collecting for charity which is still allowed by law, but I consider that telemarketing even though they are not selling anything.

I consider it the ultimate insult to have a stranger call me on my phone trying to scam me out of my money, and I usually respond accordingly. Once I asked a telemarketer, ‘If it is such a good deal why do you have to bother people at home to sell it?’ The line went silent for many moments as they searched for a comeback.

Anymore we do not respond at all. If a call comes in, we let the answering machine take it. All callers to the machine are politely asked to leave a message. Some do. Some don’t. We do not care. We enjoy a quiet evening of reflection with the ringer turned off.

Least you think us callous, we do not have to care. It is just the two of us. The kids have grown up and moved out long ago. Most of our relatives live in other cities. The most economical means of communication is email for those who have computers.

I think we would be able to return more calls if we suggested they leave a message that would make us want to call them back.

A message like ‘This is (someone I have never heard of), please return my call. My number is (blah, blah, and more blah)’, is certain to get erased.

We do not return calls to people we do not know unless they give us good reason to do so. Even then we are reluctant to return such calls unless they have stated the nature of their call.

Generally, if it is a message from someone we do not know, we don’t call back. We do not conduct business on the phone anymore. It is far too easy for an unknown caller to pretend to be something they are not. Especially when they initiate the call. That is something we are keenly aware of particularly when they start asking for personal information.

Calls from unknown people are always unwanted. They are the equivalent of spam in email and have no business being answered.
The people who make such calls are abusing an otherwise useful service.

I can understand someone in sales prospecting for customers by calling commercial phone numbers of prospective companies. There is never an excuse to call a private phone number of a person you do not know assuming he wants to talk to an intrusive nobody.

Pork Chop Casserole

While this dish in not really new, it is different from anything that has previously been tried here using pork chops.

On a recent trip to visit family, I decided to cook supper. There were plenty of pork chops in the freezer so pork chops it was.

Intending to fry them after breading, I decided that baking was a better plan. I put them in a casserole dish, added some unpeeled potatoes, and onion. I was ready to begin baking but those potatoes crowding the chops just did not look right.

I removed the potatoes, but the dish looked like it needed something. I diced a quarter section of a bell pepper and added that. Then added a diced tomato. Added some more onion, and finally emptied a can of concentrated mushroom soup on top of everything else. No water. Just the concentrated soup.

All that went into the oven set to 350 degrees and stayed there for an hour.

The potatoes were cut up, boiled and mashed and a can of corn was opened for the vegtable part of the meal.

Mashed potatoes covered with the mushroom soup mixture, baked pork chops, and corn.

The end result was pretty tasty and it was just as good as left overs two days later. The bell pepper contributed most of the taste and there was more than enough salt in the mushroom soup concentrate. Probably will add some pepper to spice things up when we try this again.

Goodbye Ebay

After nearly 400 sales over the last few years through ebay auctions I have decided to throw in the towel with regard to future ebay dealings. I now have other options that are more attractive.

I came to this conclusion during the recent sale of a higher ticket item. I had some electronics equipment that was worth upwards of 2000 dollars. Listing it on ebay and paying a percentage of the final bid price would have cost me 200 dollars or more.

I dont know of any service that ebay provides now or would ever be capable of providing that I could value at more than 50 dollars. Not willing to cut them in for such a large share of the sale, I decided to sell it off ebay. It took a little longer but it was worth it.

Then it occured to me that if it was becoming too expensive to use ebay for big ticket items, maybe I should stop using ebay altogether. Seems that ebay was increasingly being targeted by scammers and cheats and not providing any real options to deal with the increasingly prevelant fraud potential. When you add those two negatives together, you end up with an easy decision.

I allowed my billing information to expire and did not renew it.

So bye bye ebay. It was fun while it lasted but I can’t afford you anymore.

Buy American

Ever wonder who writes the printed literature that sometimes comes with hardware and software explaining the use of the product?

It would make sense to me that the folk with the most knowledge of the product would be the guys producing it. The engineers who designed the hardware and the programmers who wrote the software. Unfortunately, these guys don’t always write good english. Heck, sometimes they don’t even read or speak good english. Besides, even at low outsourced wages, their time is too valuable to waste on documentation. They are kept busy writing software and desiging hardware.

I know of at least two companies who hire people with degrees in English to write manuals. You end up with something that is gramatically correct with precise wording and spelling, but maybe not so accurate in describing the products use. That is okay, though, because both of these companies have tech support. Granted, it is outsource to some hut in India and staffed with people who can barely speak english but they don’t charge you for the long distance phone call.

Most buyers don’t discover these quaint details about the product they have bought until it is too late. The main reason they bought the product and paid a premium for it was that they wanted to buy American. Buy from an American company with a well known American brand name that calimed to have product made-in-America.

Oh, the company has its main office based in the USofA. It also packages the product here so it can claim ‘made in America’. Never mind that the bulk of its infrastructure is foreign based and foreign owned.

You see ‘buy American’ is a platitude only. It is to be observed by the buyer, not the manufacturers.

So if you really want to buy stuff that is made in America, you might need to check out the manufacturer first. I think you will find that an unusually high number of Amercan brand names are not made in America. You may also find that many foreign brand names actually are made in America using American labor and resources.

iBook

I have always wanted a laptop. Now through the generosity of a productive son-in-law I am the proud owner of a well cared for, optimized, and updated iBook complete with brand new battery, power pack and wireless networking.

My last exposure to Apple was decades ago when I became the not-so-proud owner of an Apple II. Back then the only serious personal computer was an IBM. Even though the IBM PC was not really more capable than the Apple II, there was lots more business software available for it. Apple II was considered more of a toy or games machine.

Over the many years between then and now Apple did some major growing up. Apple grew up nearly as much as IBM PCs aged ungracefully.

When you consider that the iBook is over five years old and still offers features only found on the priciest of laptops offered by ‘the other guys’, you have to admit that Apple is serious about being in the computer business.

My five year old iBook runs the new OS X operating system without ANY changes to the hardware. No hardware upgrades at all. That is something unheard of in the competitions products. Sometimes even minor upgrades in hardware require accompanying upgrades in software at extra cost. Also, there has never been an operating system upgrade made available by the competition that did not also require pricey new hardware. Not upgrades but entirely different hardware.

I have to admit that Apple has certainly evolved into a technology leader from the ‘me too’ position it held with the Apple II. Its lead includes software as well as hardware. The newer Apple products are a complete computer solution. They also appear to be designed with the user in mind. Any flashiness is on the screen or in the capabilities, not in fadish physical design features that later become outdated eyesores.

There is something just intuitively right about having one outfit manage both hardware and software development to a specific set of goals and specifications. You put the hardware and software people together in one room and don’t let them out until they have a solution. No blame game, no finger pointing, no conflicts of interest or playing one against the other for undeserved profit.

The end result is a loyal satisfied customer base who knows that their interests are better served by a complete solution. Customers who do not mind paying a premium up front because they know it will pay dividends in the long run with planned obsolecence less of a factor. No wonder Apple stock has had a consistently upward growth trend which will probably continue.

My first impresssion of the iBook is ‘Wow, now I see what it is like to work with a real computer!’

The iBook is the first machine that I would trust to work for me instead of the other way around.

Those commercials touting Apples’ ‘ready-out-of-the-box’ feature are not an overly optimistic view of the product. When I think of all the hours wasted over the years playing games with device drivers for bleeding edge hardware, resolving undocumented incompatibilities, and enduring seemingly endless security hole plugging updates, I really regret not having given Apple a second chance until now.

I dont work for Apple or have any relationship to the company. Besides, you don’t know me from Adam, so my endorsement would be meaningless. However, if you are ready to stop rendering aid to a needy collection of sometimes poorly documented computer hardware and software, try an Apple product. They work for me. I bet they would work for you too.