Well, today I decided it was time to get the IR blaster working in MythTV. This is the device that controls our settop box, so that we can tune channels in the digital tier.
Now, I decided to purchase an IR blaster (and receiver) from the guy running irblaster.info, and I gotta say, I couldn’t be happier! The blaster works absolutely perfectly, and I haven’t seen it miss a tune yet. Setting it up was remarkably straightforward:
- Plug into serial port.
- Install lirc kernel module.
- Copy DCT2524 configuration into /etc/lircd.conf
- Install channel.pl from [http://www.iwamble.net/IRBlaster_Howto.txt this tutorial] (along with some tweaks to make it behave well with our DSTB).
- Instruct Myth to use the channel change script.
And voila! Works like a charm. Tune times are a bit longer, now, as you’ve gotta wait for the box to get the key clicks and then switch, but overall, it ain’t bad at all.
Of course, this is all just testing. Until the replacement EPIA board arrives, we’ll be stuck watching regular ol’ TV for a while, yet.
Ahh, finally, pomegranate season has returned! Okay, sure, there have been US-grown pom’s available for about a month, but… well, they sucked (tasteless, with large, tough seeds). These ones, though… mmmmmm… dang. Sweet, tangy, full of flavour, and the seeds are small and relatively soft.
Now, I’m sure there are many of you out there that have never tried a pomegranate. In fact, until last year, I hadn’t tried them, either. But I decided to take the plunge, and boy, am I glad. Of course, they can be a bit intimidating, thanks to the difficulty in extracting the seeds. But with a little effort, they can be removed pretty easily, and trust me, it’s worth it!
So, how to remove those ever-so-delicious arils? Well, here’s how I do it:
- Start with a sharp paring knife. Score the pom around the top and remove it.
- Now, identify the sections of the pom and score the skin from the top of the pom vertically, to the bottom, along the section boundaries.
- Crack the pom open! Grip it firmly and break it apart. It should split along the score lines.
- Fill a decent sized bowl with water and start extracting the seeds, allowing them to drop into the bowl.
- Once finished, remove the bits of pulp floating in the water and any pieces attached to the arils.
- Strain, dry, and store in a plastic bag.
The real trick, here, is the bowl of water. You see, the arils sink while the pulp floats. Thus, using water makes it easy to separate the seeds out.
Now, how to eat them? Pop them in your mouth and chew! In my case, I swallow them seeds and all, though that’s really a matter of preference (though, they do provide a nice dose of dietary fibre… actually, a lot, which can be… problematic, if you love them as much as I do).
As for nutrition, the juice is loaded with, among other things, vitamin C, folic acid (good for you pregnant ladies), and antioxidants. Good stuff!
Well, things are a bit stalled on the MythTV project, now. The Fedex guy came and took away the dead motherboard that was originally destined for the Living Room Frontend, so now begins the great EPIA Return Saga (tm). If all goes well, I’ll have a new board in a few weeks, with minimal fees in the forms of duty or taxes. I remain skeptical.
On the bright side, the IR receiver and blaster units arrived, so I’ll probably play with those this weekend. They look very well made, so I’m hopeful that they’ll work as advertised. ‘course, I was also hopeful that my EPIA board would arrive fully functional…
Meanwhile, the backend continues to work well. I continue to record The Daily Show and The Colbert Report during their late night showings on CTV (aka, channel 2, aka, one of the few basic cable channels I can currently access with Myth), and it seems to be doing the job quite nicely. I’ve also been noodling around with different plugins on the frontend, such as MythMusic and MythVideo, and everything seems to work as advertised.
Thus far, the only glitch was a period where the frontend started to stutter and generate prebuffering errors, but that could be related to running over a lowly half-duplex, 10 Mbs connection.
Well, the wiring is finally finished! With the help of my friend and co-worker, Chris, it took all of 15 minutes to get the coat hanger fished up to the outlet. From there, it was a cakewalk: draw string back through, draw ethernet up from basement, draw some spare string down into basement (for later expansion, if need be), rejoice.
In addition, last night I got the MythTV subnet running and operating correctly. So, once I get a new EPIA board, installing the frontend should be relatively straightforward. Assuming it isn’t DOA as well…
Speaking of which, it looks like shipping it back should be… interesting. The main problem is in potential customs and taxes which could be levied on the board as it returns across the US border. Hopefully, I can fill out appropriate paperwork and have it marked as a returned item, but we shall see. Meanwhile, on the way back to Canada, I will almost certainly be charged taxes and duty on the replacement, but luckily there’s forms I can submit to get those fees refunded.
Meanwhile, it looks like that EPIA board will spit out component video! It appears to have a header on the motherboard for attaching the proper outputs. Unfortunately… I don’t have a bracket to attach to said header. Fortunately, VidaBox came to the rescue! They specialize it building MCE-based multimedia boxes, but they also sell a number of accessories, one of which is the very bracket I need. A few emails back and forth between their sales staff, and voila! A bracket is on it’s way. After paying $15 for the bracket and $10 for shipping… US. Not to mention taxes.
Did I mention that ordering stuff online isn’t always the most economical thing in the world to do?
Well, after all the problems with ethernet cabling and bad motherboards, things took a bit of an upswing today on the MythTV project, and it all started when the TV tuner card arrived! Yup, it showed up before lunch today, and when we got home this evening, I promptly installed it in the backend and had it configured in around 15 minutes. It went beautifully! And the MythTV setup process went equally smoothly!
But it gets better! What I really wanted to do was test out the backend. So I plugged it in to our basic cable and then configured the mythtv backend. Then, I compiled the frontend on frodo (twice… I compiled 0.20 first, not realizing the backend was running the 0.20-fixes branch), and voila! I was suddenly watching TV on my computer! I could pause, rewind, skip forward, browse around in the EPG (which has a nice little preview of the current channel, just like our existing DSTB), and of course record. And it all works perfectly! Even the channel tune times, which I feared would be a little long, are decent… maybe 1.5-2 seconds to switch? Not bad at all!
So I’ve already marked The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to record this evening (since they run on CTV). We’ll see what they look like tomorrow. Then I can play around with the commercial skip and transcoding functions. Good times! Now if I can only get that EPIA replacement, I can be doing all this right on my TV!
I also managed to play around with MythWeb, the web interface to MythTV, and I gotta say, it’s pretty sweet. It provides a really nice interface for perusing your channel lineup, editting your recording schedule, viewing previously recorded material (assuming your browser and OS are set up correctly), and even accessing your music archive. Very nice! And, again, it worked more or less out-of-the-box (minus a probably unnecessary tweak to Apache’s configuration), proving once again that going with Fedora Core and pre-built binary packages was, hands down, one of the best ways to go.
Things were going so well. The MythTV Backend is now built and humming away quietly in my basement, Fedora Core installed and working nicely. The only minor glitch being some issues with the onboard NIC, though nothing that can’t be solved. Really, it was all going too well.
And then the other shoe dropped.
A couple of days ago, the board for my Living Room Frontend finally arrived after much waiting, whining, complaining, etc. When it finally showed up, I eagerly went home and mounted the board in the lovely Antec case I bought (at which point I realized the EPIA board could also fit in micro-ITX case… it looked so tiny in the mini-ITX Antec). I then wired up all the connectors, routed all the wiring nice and cleanly, and then went to install the RAM. Which didn’t fit. Why? Well, you see, I ordered DDR memory. I then decided to opt for the EPIA EN12000EG instead of the M6000. The M6000 takes DDR. The EN… takes DDR2. $80 blown. Doh.
So, today, after running some errands, we stopped by BEST and I picked up a stick of DDR2. Then, after dinner, I installed the stick and powered up the board. And nothing.
Actually, that’s not true. The PSU and case ventilation fans spun up, even though the power switch hadn’t been pressed. Not good. Experienced computer builders will immediately recognize the potential problem this presents.
So, I decided to start trouble shooting. The first thing was to make sure the PSU wasn’t at fault, so I disconnected the ATX connector from the motherboard and flipped the power switch. Nothing. Nada. This ruled out the PSU.
I then proceeded to reconnect the ATX connector and begin disconnecting other things gradually, testing the PSU in between. And every time, the fans spun up. Eventually, I was left with just the ATX connector attached to the board and nothing else. No RAM. No connectors. Nothing. And when I hit the power switch… the fans spun up. Conclusion? Bad motherboard. Grrr…
So now I have to return the board and get a replacement. Looks like no PVR for at least a few more weeks. On the bright side, at least I can get the backend finished up.
Incidentally, in the process of looking up resources on how to debug this problem, I found this forum post (second one down) describing the process of troubleshooting a motherboard. I mirrored the content here just in case the forum link disappears.
Meanwhile, I figured it would be a good idea to get the networking wired up to the living room. Now, my plan was to reuse the existing coaxial outlet as the ethernet jack. This is particularly convenient, in my case, because I’m dropping down between floors. You see, in this case, when dropping cable from scratch, it’s necessary to drive a hole between the lower wall framing plate and the subfloor. This means augering a hole through four inches of wood… not fun, especially if you don’t want to damage the wall. However, because I was reusing the coax connection, this hole had already been cut, making my job much easier.
Thus, all I needed to do was drop a piece of cat5 around twelve inches straight down into the basement. Easy, right? Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. You see:
- The coax utility box can’t be moved out of the way, because it’s fixed to the stud,
- I’m dropping through an exterior wall, which means insulation, which gets in the way,
- Because it’s an external wall, the box is surrounded by a PVC boot, making it more difficult to access from below,
- The hole in the basement is located near the exterior wall, over the existing framing, making it awkward to reach,
- The existing coax is fixed inside the wall, meaning it can’t be moved (or used to drag the cat5 through).
Now, the only workable method was to use a coat hanger to fish upward from the basement to the coax box. Once I reached it, the plan was to fix the cat5 to the coat hanger and draw it down into the basement. Things did not work out so well. I eventually gave up at 12:30 last night, after around 4 hours poking and prodding inside my walls.
So, what now? Well, Chris, a buddy from work, said he might come by on Saturday and give me a hand. Hopefully, between the two of us, we can get the cable run. Of course, until the EPIA replacement arrives, it won’t actually get connected to anything…
That’s right… things have started arriving! In particular, most of my NCIX-ordered items arrived, which allowed me to build my MythTV Backend and begin the software installation process. I’ve now got Fedora Core 5 installed and a bunch of services configured (though, without the Living Room Frontend ready, I can only get so much done).
Speaking of the frontend, the case has arrived! So, of course, I had to take a picture:
It’s bigger than I’d imagined, for some reason… about the size of a stereo receiver, and weighing in at a whopping 17lbs! Of course, this is, in part, because of the steel used in most of it’s construction. But, I gotta say… it’s pretty awesome. :) And it’ll fit perfectly in the TV stand.
Anyway, the EPIA board will likely arrive tomorrow (they apparently tried to deliver today, but I owe them money, presumably duty), and that only leaves the remaining NCIX items (which got shipped today) and the IR blaster/receiver, which are in the mail as I type this. At which point the fun will really begin!
Well, with all the hardware for the MythTV project on the way (mostly, anyway… NCIX didn’t have a couple items in stock. Like the TV capture card), it seemed like a good time to get the house in order for the new arrivals. Thus, as a logical first step, I decided it was about time I got my firewall rebuilt and moved all the various networking bits downstairs onto some kind of shelving. The result is this:
As you can see, I re-purposed an old Ikea shelving unit as a make-shift rack, and then moved all these things downstairs:
- Cable Modem
- 10Mbs hub (until I get a proper switch for the main house LAN)
- 10/100Mbs switch for the MythTV LAN
In case you’re wondering, this gear is all set up like so:
[[fig:Home Network Diagram]]
Why so complicated? Well, the primary complication is in my choice to shunt the MythTV stuff onto it’s own subnet. I had a couple reasons for this:
- The MythTV frontends will be configured via DHCP and bootp. Putting this on a separate network prevents conflicts with the main firewall DHCP (and any other network-booted devices I may deploy).
- I figured a dedicated, switched 100Mbs network for the Myth stuff wasn’t a bad thing.
Of course, if I had a proper switch which supported VLANs, I could have done this with a single switch, but I wasn’t prepared to pay the bucks for such a device.
As for the firewall, I ended up abandoning LEAF in favour of m0n0wall, a FreeBSD-based firewall that boots nicely off a mini-CD and writes it’s configuration to a dirt cheap USB flash drive I plugged into the back of the thing (IOW, no more unreliable floppies!). And as a bonus, it has a nice, easy to use web-based admin interface, so no longer do I have to hook a damn monitor up to the thing every time I want to reconfigure things.
Okay, this one’s a little different, though. I swear. It costs a lot more than my previous projects…
So what is it? Well, for many months now, I’ve talked on and off about building a DIY PVR setup. Usually this starts off with me complaining about the timeslots for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and quickly turns into a discussion of how awesome a PVR would be for timeshifting my favorite shows, listening to all the music I’ve transferred onto my computer, and watching all the content I’ve downlo… err… ahem. Anyway, as a result, I’ve often thought about:
- Buying and modding an XBox,
- Building a MythTV-based system, or
- Buying a Shaw PVR.
But it wasn’t until I got my pay adjustment, and the attendant backpay (all the way back to last december!) that it became a practical possibility. The problem is, now flush with cash, I think I’ve gone a little overboard.
It all started with plans to build a simple MythTV-based PVR with a mini-itx board of some kind, mounted in a little case. It didn’t take long before this ballooned into a full frontend/backend networked multimedia infrastructure project, with all it’s associated costs. But you know what? I don’t care, damnit! :)
Anyway, I’ve started some new pages to cover my MythTV project. There you can read about my motivations, details about MythTV, and the hardware I’m using. As for the current status, the gear has all been ordered and should arrive in the next few weeks, at which point, the fun begins! Meanwhile, I’ll need to string some cat5e between my living room and where the backend will live, so that should keep me busy.
And just to give you a little taste, here is a shot of the case I’m going to use for the Living Room Frontend:
So blanket construction continues unabated. In fact, in the three days I was in Regina for Thanksgiving, I completed another 4 1/2 panels, which brings me to a total of 9… over one third of the way there! On the hex components, anyway. ‘course, I still haven’t blocked them out, but I’m sure I’ll get around to that eventually.
On a separate but related note, quite a while ago, I embarked on a rather ambitious project: to start a knitting wiki. Unfortunately, as often happens with my projects, I made a reasonable amount of progress in secret before life got in the way and it ended up on the back-burner. However, the recent discovery of another knitting wiki project on Wikia (a Wikimedia-powered free wiki-hosting service) has brough the project back to life. For now.
See, apparently someone else had the same bright idea I did… and the same amount of dedication. Thus, the Wikia site had been languishing for about a year, just waiting to be populated. So I’ve decided to try and adopt the project. I’ve already ported all my content over there, boosting the site from a measley 9 pages to a whopping 31, and I’ve started the process of lightly re-organizing things before generating new material. My ultimate goal would be to generate an all-encompassing repository of knitting knowledge. A resource that could rival those found in traditionally expensive (and difficult to find) knitting books. Of course, we’ll see how long it is before I get bored of the whole idea. :)
Of course, by now, you’re probably wondering where it is. Well, feel free to head over to KnitWiki! And in case you’re wondering, yes, those shots with the green yarn are pictures of me knitting. And yes, taking them required some rather odd contortions…
Another Thanksgiving is over. Spent with Lenore’s family, much turkey was consumed, much knitting performed, and much thanks was given. And then, at the last minute, I fumbled.
Okay, for the few regular readers I have, you’ll know this is the time for some backstory. Back in the day when I first met Lenore’s family, I was… intrigued/interested/impressed/something… to note that, when giving goodbye’s, it’s tradititional to kiss on the lips. This was interesting and, frankly, foreign to me because, coming from a cold, heartless, distant family, we just don’t do things like that. Hell, we barely hug or, you know, express affection for one another, let alone kiss. In fact, truth be told, I’m virtually positive that the only women I’ve kissed on the lips are the women I’ve dated. And even then, it can be iffy… Lenore had to practically force me to kiss her (though, that was mainly because I’m a gigantic pussy).
Anyway, after a rocky start (hey, who would trust me right off the bat?), I finally managed to win Linda (Lenore’s mom) over, and since then I think I’ve managed to integrate myself fairly well into the Harrison family unit. Hell, I’ve even delivered the occasional “I love you”… and I barely say that to my mom!
Which brings us to my fumble. We were all ready to leave. It was the end of a fine weekend and goodbyes were being said. And just as I’m ready to give Linda a goodbye hug… she moves in for the kiss. And I panicked. And I gave her the cheek. Oh yes I did. I gave her the cheek. I’m so awesome.
Now, in the end, it’s probably a minor thing. But, Linda, if you’re reading this, I hope you don’t feel embarassed or anything… consider this a reminder that I’m still a gigantic knob, even if I managed to convince you otherwise. ;)
Well, it finally happened. It was only a matter of time, really. Yes, that’s right… my floppy died.
First off, for those less geeky types, I should probably explain what I was using my floppy for. You see, hooking a computer directly up to the Internet is not unlike having unprotected sex with every woman in a two block radius. Why? Because all the computers in a two block radius are likely directly connected to yours (assuming you’re using cable internet), and so you’re vulnerable to any viruses, spyware, zombie computers, etc, etc, that happen to be buzzing around your local node. And I haven’t even covered non-local attacks.
Thus, it’s generally a good idea to use some kind of protection. This protection usually comes in the form of a firewall, which is not unlike a digital condom, acting as a layer of protection between your soft, vulnerable computer, and the harsh outside world. Now, there are two major kinds of firewalls. The first is a software firewall, and resides on the computer to be protected. Another is a separate firewall appliance which is physically located in the network path between the computer to be protected and the outside world. This would be this style that I favour.
So what about that floppy? Well, you see, as a geek, I thought it would be fun to build my own firewall. So I coupled some old spare parts with the Linux-based LEAF firewall package, and voila! Home-built firewall. And to improve protection (while, as it turns out, reducing reliability), I placed the actual firewall software on a, yup, you guess it, (read-only) floppy disk. Which has since died. :(
Fortunately, my wireless router can perform double duty as a simple firewall, so for now, this is my solution… though, at some point, I’d like to go back to a standalone firewall solution. Though, this time, I think I’ll put it on a CD-ROM.
It’s been quite some time since I’ve worked on a major knitting project. I suppose this isn’t surprising… it’s pretty hard to convince oneself to sit indoors and play with yarn when you’ve got the beautiful sun shining outside and a deck begging to be built or a lawn crying out to be mowed. But, the time has come again for knitting and purling, hence my newest project (yes, another one… and yes, my Squeak project is still ever so slowly rolling along :).
But, before I tell you what it is, I must first warn Jori not to read any further or even glance down the page! Not that she’s likely to be reading my blog, but I’d hate for her to spoil the surprise. See, I needed an excuse to knit something. I mean, Lenore and I only need so many hats and scarves and so forth. And I’m not quite ready to start on a sweater project (or better yet, my Jump Suit). So I wanted a project I could foist on someone else, but something that was complicated enough to be interesting. Hence the Mountain Laurel Crib Counterpane (aka, neato baby blanket).
Pretty nice, eh? It will be a challenge, though. I have to make 25 hex motifs, 6 half hexes and 6 edge triangles, and then sigh sew them all together. Good times! I figure it’ll take me two solid months of work. And my progress? Currently, I have two hex motifs done, one of which you can see below (note, it hasn’t been blocked, yet, thus the details aren’t fully visible and the stitching is a little more cramped than in the final piece):
I think it turned out fairly well. It’s a very fun pattern to work on… lots of variation to keep me focused. :) And the beauty of it is I can work on it while riding the bus, as it’s composed of lots of small pieces that are easily transported.