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Success with MythTV

Filed in: projects, tech, Mon, Jan 8 2007 00:14 PT

Well, it only took me several years to do it, but I finally have a MythTV setup I’m proud of. I have my Comcast set-top box connected via FireWire, as well as my NTSC capture card, and I can connect from any machine on my network, including my MacBook Pro over Wi-Fi, and watch either stream, or both using picture-in-picture.

I even managed to shoehorn a copy of Xubuntu’s latest daily build onto a 2GB CF card, married to a CF-IDE adapter, so my Vaio with the 700MHz Pentium III and 192MB of RAM can join the party — very, very quietly. It was more of an ordeal than I think most people would be comfortable with, and I still have to get the WPA supplicant running, but I was happy to find that there was still enough computing power to run the MythTV front end. And now I don’t have to buy an alarm clock, or a TV for the bedroom. Instead, I have a nice, small, silent machine that can access all of the media in the house. Woot!

At some point, I may go into detail on how this all came together, but it took both the regular and alternate Xubuntu install discs, KnoppMyth, MythFrontend for OS X, MythTV Player for Windows, Parallels virtualization software, GRUB, dd, obscure FireWire drivers, two 3.5″ to 2.5″ IDE adapters, and the better part of two weekends to finally come together. What it didn’t require was any hardware I didn’t already have in my possession, which is a wonderful vindication of my geek-packrat cred.

Bringing down the house… network

Filed in: media, personal, projects, Sun, Aug 14 2005 21:53 PT

The only constant is change.

This is true, at least, for my home network. I’m doing a little housecleaning

Athlon 64, Gentoo Linux
Media server. Contains a Hauppauge PVR-250 MPEG-2 recorder board. Runs (or ran) MythTV and stores all of my ripped MP3s and movies. The AMD64 port of Gentoo, while very good for standard Linux apps, is maddening when used as a MythTV server.
Vaio SR-17, Windows XP Pro
Intended as my sometimes Windows machine, I managed after many hours to get XP to run on it, but it ignores its keyboard and touchpad when I plug in any peripherals.
Xbox, GentooX
It works, but at 64MB of RAM, it’s not what you’d call beefy. Compiling the MythTV client took four days.
PowerBook G4, Mac OS X Tiger
I love my Mac, but it pretty much guarantees I won’t have a seamless media experience.
Athlon XP, Windows XP Home
Print server. Also not my property: it’s Kristen’s desktop. (Not that we own a desk anymore.)
PowerBook G3 Wallstreet, Mac OS X 10.1
It’s got a pretty display. Too bad it can’t run anything.
It’s a TiVo. Enough said.
Fujitsu-Siemens Pocket Loox 720, Windows Mobile 2003 SE
It’s networked, has remote access software, and plays media files. I gotta work it in somewhere.

I aspire to ownership of a network that does everything I want with everything I have, without need for another purchase. Sure, I could get a Media Center PC, but then I’d have to deal with a different set of hassles, and wouldn’t get closer to my goals, which are that every machine:

  • can run Linux, Windows and Mac apps, both command-line and GUI, either locally or via remote connection
  • can print
  • (including the Pocket PC) can access media files or watch live TV from the media server
  • can access video from the TiVo
  • can run an Ajax-capable browser

This has proven to be quite an engineering chore. The Vaio, which has a broken PC Card cage, can only be connected to the network via either a USB wireless card or a direct FireWire connection — and when either is attached, the keyboard and mouse go AWOL. So it’s not a very useful Windows box. In fact, it’s barely a useful cat-warmer.

The Linux machine, stable as it is, doesn’t make my life much easier, either. Upgrading the kernel means usually breaking the ivtv driver needed for MythTV, which means I have to go ask some brilliant guys very nicely for a patch to get back up and running again. The front-end functionality, which allows client machines to watch recorded and live TV remotely, works great — when the server is working. Except for the PowerBook, where it crashes. So that sends us back to the drawing board.

I had thought of upgrading the wife’s PC to XP Pro so I can run my Windows apps using Remote Desktop Connection (RDC). Then, I’d just fix the Vaio, fix the Linux server, and then go back to scratching my head as to how to get everything to play together. But then, I had an epiphany: something that would meet my needs, get me much closer to my wants, take a few big but easy steps, and has more boxes and arrows than an IBM site map. So, here’s the plan:

  1. The Linux server goes to… Windows XP. (Hold on, we’ll get back to Linux in a bit.) I will turn on RDC. I will install Media Portal, which will record shows from the capture card; Orb, which will let me watch shows from outside the home network, including in low-bandwidth situations; and any other hip, cool media app that only works on Windows. I will install TiVo to Go, which will let me transfer files from the TiVo to DVD. I’ll share my MP3 collection via iTunes and Bonjour (formerly Rendezvous). And I will set up shares for my MP3s, DVDs, and recorded TV.
  2. The Vaio goes back to Linux. I’ll pull the hard drive, install a Linux distribution onto it from a desktop machine, then reinstall the drive. The box will get the wireless adapter; the FreeNX Server, which allows low-bandwidth remote connections; and a copy of the NX client, which works with both VNC and RDC.
  3. The Xbox will run Xbox Media Center, which happily munches on nearly any media, served from any kind of share, now including iTunes Bonjour shares.
  4. The PowerBooks will each get an NX client.
  5. The TiVo will get a shiny new hard drive with a shiny new kernel and a program called “vserver”, allowing me to run TivoTool, which plays recorded shows inside the iTunes interface.
  6. The older PowerBook will get a copy of XPostFacto, which allows older Macs to run newer versions of OS X (and which people should have seen as a sign that OS X on x86 wasn’t going to be that hard). It will run iTunes, including the podcasting features, and not much else.

There’s really nothing needed on the Pocket PC side, since it has what it needs to be a good streaming client. I already keep a playlist of Internet radio stations that I can listen to in any room.

I’m only missing one piece to this puzzle, though what I’ve set out will get me most of the way there. I need a streaming server which can transcode on the fly to feed media at multiple bitrates to the clients on my local network. If I can get a 256kbps transcode of existing files, then the old PowerBook and the Pocket PC can be live media clients, as well. Anything that can stream Windows Media, Real, QuickTime or MPEG is sufficient to feed all of my clients.

A leading candidate is VLC, which does all of the above and runs on anything. I may just need to write a Web app to spawn VLC instances to meet the bandwidth parameters of my selected clients — which sounds really hard, but I think it’ll be pretty straightforward.

All of this stuff may seem like overkill, and it totally, totally is. Don’t try this at home. It’ll give you a headache. But I’ve had that headache for about five years now, and it’s time to release the pressure. I’ve always been proud to be just a little bit ahead of the mainstream when it comes to what I can do with computers for home entertainment purposes. If this system works the way I want it to, I think I’ll be about two years ahead of what will be common.

What’s hard for a geek like me to deal with these days is how much work it takes to stay that far ahead. Everything is just moving so fast.

Anyway, updates to follow. If it all works, I’m going to have kickass visual aids.

Give until I hurt

Filed in: projects, Wed, Jul 27 2005 22:27 PT

I don’t have enough going on in my life, so I’m going to start a whole new project today, and I’m going to ask for your help.

On Sunday, I will be rollerblading 25 miles, from Marymoor Park in Redmond over the top of Lake Washington and back down to Gas Works Park in Seattle. (You may recognize Gas Works from Mike Davidson’s homepage.) It’s twice my record distance, but I have lots of water and gel carbohydrate snacks (commonly known as “goo”) to keep me going.

I also have money on the line. This is a benefit for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of King County. So far, I have a not-insignificant amount of pledges, but I’d like to be able to make that into a quite significant amount, and for that I’ll need your help. To make a pledge, drop me a line. (Oh, and to increase the level of complexity, I’m skating on my wife’s birthday, which means I’ll have to be able to walk most of the rest of the day in order to maintain a happy household.)

Now, I mentioned that this is a new project. The MS Skate is just the first event. I plan on continuing to train for fundraising events like this, and collecting pledges online along the way. Given that this is Seattle, and we love being outdoors while it’s not dreadful to do so, there are fundraising campaigns tied to physical activity from now through November. And there are always more opportunities where that came from.

As I train for the Virginia Mason Marathon next year, I will sign up for as many of these as I can manage, and make it easy for people to pledge online. This is like a do-gooder form of gambling: to collect, I have to accept risk, in the form of roadwork, blisters, and server-side scripting.

There are little fundraisers, like the 5k Race for the Cure that I ran last month, and there are big ones, like the 60-mile Breast Cancer 3-day (which, incidentally, my mother-in-law finished last weekend). I’ll do a range of them. I think I’m fortunate to have the kind of community I do, and instead of just using it to sell ads, I’d rather walk, run, bike, skate or swim my ass off, knowing that it means some great organization will get some money to keep doing what it does.

I’ll launch a site around this idea once I can find a domain some squatter hasn’t gotten to first.

More Staccato coming soon

Filed in: music, projects, Mon, Jun 6 2005 22:44 PT

Background: In a previous lifetime, your host produced a music podcast called Staccato, in which

Okay, that was early May. Anyway, for various reasons, including the Corante podcast I’m producing, the vacation I took, the job I’m wrapping up, various doctor and veterinarian appointments, a 5k or two, and the house I have been spending thousands on so that I can sell it and move closer in to town.

If you’re wondering what you can do to get me to do more podcasts, you could always buy my house. It’s spacious — too much so for our purposes — and I just painted much of it. It’s also clean, and you can visit my cats. Seriously. Buy my house. (The funny thing is that the other big Creative Commons music podcaster, Grant Robertson, is also selling his house. Strange.)

Otherwise, you’re out of luck. I have lots of music queued up to play, and I’ve more or less skipped the last month’s worth of releases because of lack of listening time (and that included about a week of vacation, where I had nothing to do but audition tracks).

Still, it amazes me that I get 500 listeners per show. But I’d like to get to 1000 regular listeners, while still keeping the show to a bearable amount of work to prepare. So I’m going to go to episode 20 with the current long-format shows, and then I’m dropping down to about 30 minutes weekly, on a set schedule. There may be some other surprises in store, but I’ll never tell. Less, I guess, is more.

More on the SXSW panel

Filed in: projects, Fri, May 13 2005 08:29 PT

I heard yesterday from Doug Kaye’s weekly IT Conversations update that our SXSW podcasting panel was in a four-way tie for the highest rating last week. We tied Lessig. How cool is that?

I really enjoyed the panel, and thought it went smoothly enough. And I guess some other people liked it, as well. Which is good, because I’m going to be on two or three more of them in the next few months.

SXSW podcasting session now available

Filed in: media, projects, Fri, Apr 29 2005 09:50 PT

The session on podcasting that I participated in at SXSW 2005 is now available via IT Conversations. Now, you too can listen to me talk about podcasting from the comfort of your portable media device.

Oh wait. You can do that already.

Well, this time was live, in front of an audience, led by the best moderator I have ever seen. There are those who say it was worth an hour of their time. Let me know what you think.

Staccato 15

Filed in: music, projects, Wed, Apr 6 2005 09:17 PT

The new Staccato is out, with scarcely a sample or digital beat. Lots of garage-rock sounds. It’s quite a departure. I almost distributed it by advertising in the back page of a zine. You can listen to Staccato 15 from now until the analog cows come home.

I will return to my mostly-electronic pseudo-format in the next episode. For now, you can choose to vote for me on Podcast Alley, thus pushing up my overall ratings and sense of self-worth.


Filed in: projects, Web, Mon, Mar 28 2005 17:22 PT

If one is looking for someone with a solid grasp of Web standards, accessibility, user experience, e-commerce, and online media, and a decent reputation as a speaker and writer, one would be wise to send mail with what one has to offer by next Friday. I might have just the person for you.

My new writing gig

Filed in: media, personal, projects, tech, Fri, Mar 25 2005 14:55 PT

It’s official: I’m now blogging about podcasting for Corante. I made my first post today. Soon, I will even be podcasting about podcasting. Stay tuned.

Hmm. I guess you don’t have to actually stay tuned, since there’s no frequency. Just keep the URL handy. 😉

Who’s a podcasting insider?

Filed in: projects, SXSW2005, vent, Mon, Mar 21 2005 11:26 PT

I’ve had enough. Dave Winer has taken enough sideswipes at SXSW over the last week, and its “insider” nature, that I can’t let him get away with it any longer. If anyone is a podcasting insider, it’s Dave Winer.

I was a panelist on the podcasting session at SXSW, and although I don’t necessarily feel that I need to, I can explain why (your favorite podcaster’s name here) was not on the panel.

I was approached to be on the panel about three weeks before the conference. They knew I was going to be at SXSW because I was speaking on another topic, and they knew I was a podcaster because I put it in my bio. Others on the panel were exhibitors (such as Dannie Gregoire) and/or locals. So, to those asking why Eric Rice or Evan Williams were not on the podium, there’s your answer. It was a last-minute thing, and the organizers didn’t pore over the attendance list with a Certified Podcasting Expert. That’s all.

Now, let’s deal with this “insider” crap. The podcasting session was held on the show floor of the conference, which was free and open to the public. Dave should know this, since I told the podcasters list about it. At the time, though, he was more interested in getting into the conference for free because he was a podcaster. Which strikes me as something an insider would try to do.

Speaking of. Winer talking to Robert Scoble about “insiders” still has me tickled. Who better to talk about them? Winer is the ultimate insider. He’s been in nearly all of the hundreds of mainstream media articles about podcasting — and moans incessantly about it when he’s left out. He has the phone number of anyone (he thinks is) worth talking to in podcasting. When he issues a command from the Holy See of Scripting News, and finds that it has not been done his way, whoever is responsible will find their Winer Number reduced in due time. He has his favorites, and his favorite villains, and makes good use of both lists when it suits him. (In the interest of full disclosure, he once shouted me down at a Seattle blogger Meetup for daring to have a view on the role of music in podcasting that wasn’t both in line with his and composed of two or fewer sentences in length. He also got his digs in at me when I went to the Berkman blogger meetup, apparently for no better reason than that I work for the W3C. For someone who talks so much about openness and exchanging ideas, his ability to handle such an open exchange is laughable.)

I did record our session, and I plan to make it available as soon as the SXSW people, now possibly recovering from their final hangovers of SXSW Music, give me their blessing to distribute it. I know that time is of the essence here, but I want listeners to have a clear enumeration of the rights they have to the final MP3. More on that soon. But let’s bury this “insider” bullshit once and for all.

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