February 2010 Archives

Foray into MythTV

Diagram of a possible setup. The central serve...

Image via Wikipedia

At this point it is probably worthwhile to admit that I am guilty of "paralysis of analysis" in a big way. I suppose that having this problem can be detrimental when dealing with technology. This is particularly true when talking about multimedia hardware. In 2006, I purchased a throw away components with the intent of building my own mythTV PVR. I did nothing with hardware setup, I didn't spend much time configuring the software (Knoppmyth R5). In truth, the catalyst that drew me to the project in the first place was the dreaded "broadcast flag" that cable companies used to threaten consumers in an effort to appease Hollywood. I ran out an purchased the pcHDTV HD3000 for ~$185.00, as it was the only DVB that was oblivious to the broadcast flag. It would happily grab OTA digital content so that it could be viewed later.

I was so amped to get started with this project.. Life got in the way, and I realized that I don't watch that much TV. So, the hardware aged and the technology train left without me. The box was constructed of Intel Motherboard (i815 chipset), 512MB onboard RAM, 2 analog tuner cards Hauppauge WinTV PVR-350. The analog tuners are virtually useless now as most cable networks have killed their analog spectrum in favor of the gov't mandated digital spectrum.

*Sigh* Paralysis of analysis, I curse thee ;-) My mythTV box is functioning as a frontend/backend combo. It contains a modest set of ATA hard disks. There is a 250GB HD which contains the Arch Linux Distro (LinHES R6.01). There is also 350GB disk for additional storage. The myth box also mounts the NFS share from the household inexpensive NAS the Promise NS4300N. As stated in a previous entry, the NS4300N contains 4 - 1TB Seagate drives running RAID5. Approximately 3TB of usable storage.

Anyway, I still have the HD-3000, which will help me capture the unencrypted content on Comcast network. At this point I still need to tune the card so that I can use the appropriate frequency. I'm getting some channel frequency errors generated from the HD-3000.
DVB: adapter 0 frontend 0 frequency 959000000 out of range (44000000..958000000)
dtvscan[9374]: segfault at 0 ip 0804bf04 sp bfc85540 error 4 in dtvscan[8048000+

Running "dtvsignal" a script provided by the folks at PCHDTV

dtvsignal -q
using '/dev/dvb/adapter0/frontend0' and '/dev/dvb/adapter0/demux0'
setting frontend to QAM cable
tuning to 57000000 Hz
video pid 0x0021, audio pid 0x0024
dtvsignal ver 1.0.7 - by Jack Kelliher (c) 2002-2007
channel = 2 freq = 57000000Hz table 57
channel = 2 freq = 57000000Hz
30db 0% 25% 50% 75% 100%
Signal: | . : . | ._____:_____._____|

So here are the mythTV challenges -

  • Setting up the HD-3000 as the primary or default capture card

  • Tuning the HD-3000 to the appropriate frequency for Comcast

  • Setup lvm to easily handle storage growth

Obviously, I want to have access to the encrypted HD content so, I'll likely need to purchase the Hauppage HD-PVR (1212). Thus I'd be able to record two channels and also watch live TV.
At present, the current setup will allow me to record and watch live TV. I'd like to remove the analog tuners (PVR-350). This would free up space on the motherboard so that I could then retire the very old AGP NVidia 6000x graphics card with a PCI compliant NVidia 8000x capable of VDPAU.

Hopefully, I can resolve these issues over the next couple of weeks. Ultimately, the myth box will leave the lab and become the centerpiece of our entertainment system. There is still much to do before it can be wife tested :-)

More on this later.

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Benefits of hacking

Allow me to reflect a moment. I am constantly reminded that hacking is a good thing. People often get it twisted because many of us watch too much tel-lie-vision (aka TV). Hacking has little to do with someone taking your credit card information and selling it for a very modest fee on the wilds of the Interweb. Hacking has more to do with the curiosity of problem solving.
Truth be told you don't have to be an engineer to enjoy hacking. As a home owner, I'm often faced with problems that appear to be difficult and beyond my scope of knowledge. Perfect opportunity to open the wallet and hire a smarter person, right? Wrong answer.

A hacker would seize the opportunity to learn something new. For instance, when I purchased my home several years ago, roughly 6months later I discovered the refrigerator compartment was not cold enough. In contrast, the freezer compartment was quite cold. Strange huh... You can bet your last dollar that I wasn't going to buy a new appliance. Instead, I began reading about "How Stuff Works" and re-introducing myself to basic HVAC. After peeling the onion, I discovered that the condenser fan had overheated and seized with some very gross gummy substance. Simply replaced the condenser fan ($35.00) and voila.. Good as new.

More recently, I ran into another HVAC concern. My furnace began making an unusual rumbling sound which is usually nothing good. Yet another opportunity to call in the pros, right? Wrong again. I walk downstairs and survey the situation. Because heat is actually coming from the ducts in the home, I know that the ignitors are working. The problem is that the amount of heat is minimal. Hmmm. I have a forced draft blow furnace. So, it must be blower motor issue. I remove the cover and I recognize that the blower motor pulleys do not have a belt on them. Wow, interesting.. The belt was deteriorated and stretched to the point it had simply fallen off the pulleys. Luckily, I was able to find a HVAC shop that had a 4L-400 belt in stock on Saturday. Pure nirvana :-) A bit of sweat equity can go a long way. The belt cost me $22.00 and a little skin off my knuckle. Worthwhile investment indeed.

Everyone has the ability to think logically and reason. The issue is that many folks are lazy or simply not interested in solving problems. Sure, you may argue that I'm the most frugal man on the face of the earth (you wouldn't be too far off). Nonetheless, I enjoy learning immensely and if the by-product of that curiosity is cost savings so be it. Discover your own curiosities.. You can become a hacker too!!

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Palm Pre shot from Mobile World Congress.

Image via Wikipedia

Though, I am not a Crackberry aficionado, I do find it interesting that RIM is now fighting for relevancy in the smartphone market. Palm continues to disappoint despite it use of Open Source Software. The LIMO and ALP projects are very interesting, but I can't seem to understand why there aren't more devices in the mainstream. Perhaps the mind share of the average developer is becoming more Android and iPhone.

Though I have never owned a RIM product, I did notice that it took quite awhile for them to market a device where you could actually use "touch" to manipulate the GUI. Palm devices have had this feature for at least 6yrs. Additionally the proprietary enterprise server that had been a something of a cash cow, competitive advantage (albeit ridiculously expensive) for corporate users is now being given away. When you have free software tools (ie IMAPD and OpenLDAP) it really does not make much sense to continue spending a huge monthly fees to support always on email. Besides methinks the huge corporate accounts are dwindling in this economic downturn. If RIM is to grow inside the SMB market, they will need to deliver more malleable tools to the end-user.

I'm not going to berate Palm anymore in this space, as I continue to use my trusty Treo650. Eventually, I'm going to have to migrate to a more robust platform that provides me with a somewhat real-time network (3G perhaps) and a few more social networking options. I do not need my entire smartphone experience to be laden with Twitter and Facebook. I'm more interested in running ssh, VNC and openvpn or irc client when the time arises.

RIM Surprises the Street - Battles Opens Source Offerings from Palm and Google

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OpenEMR - At a glance

This will be a short summary of my first encounter with OpenEMR software package. I wish that I could say that I simply stumbled across OpenEMR, but in fact I had been supporting a joint business venture. At the time, the principal was actually resigned to use a turn-key or shrink wrapped electronic medical record. The rationale was that it would far easier to use a program that was specifically suited for their industry. There were a few pre-requisites, client scheduling, therapy notes, syncing calendars smartphones.

We immediately discovered that the shrink wrapped software, while quite polished and sexy looking did not afford us the ability to customize or provide the key features we were seeking. The idea of having the application share its data across applications was out of the question. Enter OpenEMR. I suppose it would be meaningful to explain the term electronic medical record. If you've been listening to the rhetoric that has been uttered by politicians and news media alike, the conversation of EMRs must have been discussed. In a nutshell, EMRs provide a unique to share, track and manage patient medical history. Perhaps most importantly, EMRs help empower the patient to actually manage their own medical history.
IMHO, EMRs help de-mystify the practice of primary care clinicians. Allow me to share a scenario... I decide to go skiing in Aspen. While on the ski trip, I suffer an awkward fall and brake my collar bone (not too far from the realm of possibility) and do not have access to my primary care physician. I get rushed off to the emergency room in CO. I get there and nobody can talk to me because I am unconscious and my wallet has been stolen. Wow, what a mess..

So, let's imagine for a second that I have USB flash drive or some other digital repository on my person. Additionally, the hospital or clinic has a electronic patient registry that contains information which would link my personal health record with that of my local physician. I know that this sounds futuristic and highly improbable, but this scenario is roughly the blueprint for the Patient-Centered Medical Home (PC-MH). The aforementioned link includes a short shockwave video clip that does a very good job of explaining the concept of PC-MH. At ~2.30min of the clip it mentioned electronic medical records (EMR). Anyway now that I've digressed, let's get back to OpenEMR shall we?

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How can we help our gov't?

Selling Obamacare - July 22, 2009

Image by Mark Sardella via Flickr

I was inspired by a recent post by my pseudo buddy Anil. He's right Apple doesn't give a shit about poor people. Moreover, its latest product (which is the 100lb gorilla) has seem to have zealots frothing at the mouth. That's all I will say about that Cupertino company in this entry.

What I found most interesting about the aforementioned post, is the cajoling or exhorting that Dash delivered. Yes, our gov't really needs the energy and passion of its citizens to help deliver solutions. This is particularly true since there are so many problems. Health Care(I have provided very precise solutions for the health care problem in previous entries), Wall Street, Home Land Security, Education. The list seems endless. Yet some are mesmerized by the most insignificant dust under our feet. Very sad indeed.

Sure, we can't boil the ocean. You can argue that our gov't is too big to get out of its own way. However, it would seem that most people do not realize that massive trade deficit and an inept domestic policy has forced the hand of the POTUS. While I do not agree with the method by which the banking industry has raped the American public, I can unequivocally state that Obama has not been asleep at the switch. You can berate the administration for being to ambitious, but the alternative of doing nothing would be far worse.

Now, I do recall the urging of the administration to help raise the level of innovation and creativity amongst its people. Because I am an engineer with a keen interest in computing, I would propose organizing guilds or training programs which seek to increase the number technically competent youth and young adults. Although, I do understand the America is rapidly becoming a service economy due to the dearth of engineers and scientists, I cannot lose hope that our children can help the greater collective return to prominence.

I say "collective" because while people can point to the GOOG, Social Network software, and cloud computing as shining examples of American innovation... These are still small victories in the huge landscape that is the fabric of the American people. What about the under represented people? If the forthcoming new majority will make a mark the technical acumen will certainly have to be increased two-fold. Graduation from consumers to producers and keen interest in innovation. I have spoken about this in this space many times previously. Yes, I truly believe embracing "knowledge worker" activities will help turn the tide in this country. If not us, then whom? If not now, when?

Free Publicity Who Do We Help?

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links for 2010-02-08

Blog Disclaimer As Per The New FTC Guidelines

Hmmm. I wonder how many folks will actually honor this edict. Personally, I know of several folks who only blog in an attempt to steer people to ads. Call me altruistic, but blogging is hard work. Nonetheless, I have always enjoyed it immensely. Methinks that micro-blogging and other forms of social networking are over estimated in terms of their contribution to the so-called erosion of traditional blogging.

As I've stated previously in this space, long after Facebook, Twitter and other popular social networking tools disappear the blogosphere will remain strong. This is particular true due to the fact that people wish to share their own form of journalism to keep mainstream news media honest. Although, there are countless crap blogs that resemble road kill (ie Blogspot), there are still countless others that provide useful information. Don't get me wrong, I don't knock folks hustling to get page views and people that love to see GOOG get richer with their ad revenue. I simply do not believe that there is any longevity in this model. Eventually this sort of revenue model drys out, and it really does not scale very well.

The following article is interesting, but I would call it a rule that cannot be enforced. I think the blogosphere will likely police itself. Garbage blogs eventually wither on the vines anyway. Remember blogging is hard work. Putting out relevant content discourages people that are looking for page views and ad revenue.
FTC Blog Disclaimer Guidelines

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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