another mythfrontend

I’ve been poking on and off at the idea of getting a second frontend for MythTV.  I already have my Mini-ITX all setup in my living room, but since I also have a TV in my bedroom as well, I’d like to get one in there as well.  The problem is, I’m not really sure if I’d use it, so I don’t know if I want to jump into spending the $600 to $800 to buy all the hardware.

I never thought I’d really use my other one either, and it actually wasn’t until a few months after I set it all up completely that I finally started playing with it.  That’s a bit of an odd thing about me — I enjoy the challenge and the possibility of setting something up more than using it.  Practicality really does take about the third or fourth position on the list of priorities when it comes to setting something up.  Filling a void is usually number one. :)

Since this idea costs a lot of money, and it’s not something I can throw together lightly, I want to experiment a bit first, and see if I’ll ever actually use the thing before committing.  My first frontend actually came together quite by accident — I had both the motherboard and the HTPC case, but for some reason I had it in my mind that they would never work together because of the cabling or something.  One day it dawned on me that maybe I should actually try, and when I did, it came together great, and I’ve been using it ever since.

Interestingly enough, though, once I got it working, I still wasn’t interested in playing with it … something was always missing.  But since I got my main objective complete, I was happy anyway.  It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I took a closer look at what was stopping me from using it, and I realized it was all the navigation issues that I had with mythvideo, which I patched.  Now I use it on a regular basis — it’s great to have a lot of media on demand and nicely categorized and accessible.  It’s still not perfect, but at least now it’s more of a software issue than hardware.

I actually like the setup so much, in fact, that I’m thinking about cancelling my cable TV altogether and just watching stuff from my library.  That kind of reinforces the idea of getting a second frontend, though.

So, the idea I have so far is to find a cheap frontend that I can play with to see if having a second frontend is even worth all the hassle.  That’s easy enough … it’ll cost me less money, and while it won’t be elegant, I’ll at least be able to see if it’s something I’d actually use or if I’m just looking for a project to play with.

I also have some spare parts that I can put things together, so that makes things helpful.  Unfortunately, I also have the kiss of death whenever it comes to hardware, and everything I touch inexplicably stops working sooner or later for some reason.  I don’t know why, but apparently it works doubly effective when it comes to sound cards.  The onboard sound on my Mini-ITX board died, and I have no idea why.  Well, no idea other than it’s a VIA chipset.  There’s room for one PCI slot, so I put an older SoundBlaster in there, which works great.  I’d much rather have that slot open to use something else …. say, a PCI nvidia VGA card that’d put out a much better picture than the cheap VIA one, but whatever.

I have an extra desktop, which is an old ASUS amd64 motherboard with an nvidia chipset that has worked really well for me.  In fact, I think it was the first 64-bit computer I put together way back in the day.  Somehow, the onboard audio died on this one too.  I have no idea how it happened here, either.  I found a computer store nearby my house that sells used computer parts, so I went there and found an old PCI sound card for only $10.  I bought that, figuring that the older it is, the better it would be supported in Linux.  My bad luck paid me a visit again though, and I managed to find one of the few cards that ALSA never supported.  Whoops.  So now I’m back to square one when it comes to audio.

I could try buying another PCI card, or I can try and find a USB sound device instead.  I’m a bit nervous about those, as I worry that something might happen where either ALSA has issues with it or there is just some small latency that would drive me insane.  Plus, I’m factoring in even more money to support an old piece of hardware, that could instead be invested towards a newer machine which I know would work flawlessly.

I went on Craigslist to see if I could find any cheap sound cards, and instead I found a cheap computer.  I picked up a Gateway Pentium3 for $20.  It has an Intel chipset (sound, VGA) and an onboard NIC (3com).

Ah, crap, I just realized something.  I thought I’d save all this money, after all … $20 for a whole new box instead of just a sound card, but I’m gonna have to get a new PCI video card with S-Video out, which is gonna cost me another $40 anyway.  Dangit.

Oh well, maybe I can use the box for a noisemaker for New Year’s.  The hard drive sounds like someone threw a cat in the washing machine.


I just finished updating and pushing mplayer-resume-1.6 into the tree.  I’ve actually been sitting on the update for a long time, just never got around to releasing it.

There has only been a small change — the script will check mplayer’s exit code to see if it died on something.  I added it since I hit a bug on my frontend where some files wouldn’t resume, and it would delete my resume point anyway.  Kind of annoying.  This update fixes that, and really, that’s it.

planet admin stuff

I’m working on cleaning up some planet stuff again, and for Planet Larry I made a small policy shift — if your feed is spitting out partial feeds, I’m not gonna accept it anymore.  Currently it only affected like two people, I think (unless I missed someone), so if you wanna get back on … fix it. :)

I realize it’s a small case of me shoving my own preferences down the pipe, which is something I avoid as much as possible.

If I’m going to add on one more asinine policy requirement, I figure it’s fair that I take one away as well, though most people probably don’t notice or care about this one. I prefer to have the blogger’s name show up as the blog title, and have in just about every case (minus one) forced them to be that way.  But, I’ve changed my mind there as well, so if you want to customize the name on the feed, I can do that for you.

An example would be that my blog (wonkablog) shows up in the list as Steve Dibb (my name).  So, if you wanna change it from displaying your name to something else, just drop me an email.

And, as always, more bloggers are welcome to sign up. :)

netflix on tivo

Last week (or so), Tivo finally enabled the long-awaited update that owners of newer Tivo boxes could watch movies using Netflix’s streaming service. I bought an HD Tivo a while back, and was curious to try it out. I have since then poked around it a bit, but I really took a dive into it this weekend, watching a small handful of movies.

I’m a little mixed on how I would rate the whole service. The idea is great, the delivery is awesome, but the content is still a mixed bag, and is the main reason this becomes a novelty more than a consistent movie-watching avenue.

The UI is really simple to use, and I’ve only noticed one really piece of navigation logic that I would argue with, and about two features I wish it had. The bug is pretty annoying — if you are browsing the list of movies, then view an entry and remove it from the list, it will reset your placeholder back to the beginning of the list. So if you were viewing movie 23 of 45, now your position is back at #1, and you would have to scroll back to where you were. This would only hits people like me who have a high number of movies in their queue (over 120, IIRC), so I’m probably in the minority.

Two features that would have been nice were an option to sort the movies somehow in the list, and an option to browse Netflix’s catalog directly. The movie list is ordered by the addition in your queue on the Netflix site, and I haven’t seen any way to reorder them. While it’s a bit of an annoyance that you can’t add new movies to your queue directly from your Tivo, when you do add them directly from your computer, they show up in the list right away (assuming you exit and re-enter).

Onto the real meat of it, the movie selection. I’ve written about this before, and the situation really hasn’t changed at all. The movie selection is just really small. They obviously are still working out deals to get the major Hollywood studios to come on board, because almost the entire library is from independent film makers. They recently added Starz Library, which does offer a few recent hits, but not nearly enough to really be a great selling point. I imagine that time will take care of it, eventually, but in the mean time you can enjoy some of the greatest hits from the 1970s.

Even the pool of indy flicks is not that big. There’s just not that many movies to pick from, period. I had a really hard time finding something I’d be interested in watching, and I tend to show at least a general interest in a lot of stuff. I remember way back when when I was first adding discs to my queue to watch at home, I quickly filled up to my limit because there was so much stuff that looked interesting. I can’t be sure of the number, but I’m guessing that around 50% of it at least looked like something I’d want to check out. This time, though, I’d say it was about one in ten that I wanted to see, and this was when the delivery method was simpler — no waiting for discs in the mail, just let it sit in my on demand queue — so that would make my selection process even a bit more relaxed. I could afford to sample anything, since I wouldn’t have to wait.

I’m not totally disappointed, though, and perhaps this is going to be one of the unintended consequences of Hollywood’s reluctance to invest in on demand — that the non-big studio players are getting a bigger piece of the picture. I can’t imagine anything wrong with people getting exposed to a wider selection of filmmakers and producers in general that work outside of the mainstream system — especially when there are good movies to be found.

In fact, that is one of the great things that I love about the Internet — it is the great equalizer. No matter how popular a movie was, no matter how much was budgeted for it, or got spent marketing it, it will get the same size image and show up in the same searches and genre lists on movie websites as the independent films that cost a fraction to make and market. In a database, nothing gets special treatment, they are all equals — rows, statistics, and data. If it was a great movie, it will get a high rating. The rating won’t stand out because it was the hit of 1989, and a similarly good movie from some studio that no one’s ever heard of can also get rated equally high. There’s just no special treatment when it comes to a logistical display (sort by year, genre, title, rating). It’s great.

One other thing I finally got a glimpse of while playing around with this, was the vision that others have had that this is where things are really moving. Instead of having TV channels in the sense of letting studios and networks pick what we watch and at what time, everything is just going to be massive libraries that we can watch on demand. PVRs are already changing the game already, letting us choose when we want to watch the shows that are aired. In fact, that’s how I treat it now. When I want to watch something random on television, I’ll pull up on the on screen guide and just browse through the channels to see what’s playing now and what will be on for the next few hours. If there’s something interesting, I’ll record it. If not, I’ll just look somewhere else.

I’m really curious to see where all of this goes.

Oh, one last thing — the video quality is great. No complaints here. I’m always surprised by how fast the streaming always starts — almost instantly. It’s great. It’s nice. In some cases I’ll get movies in high-def (720p), although that seems arguable. I can’t really tell. One I was watching last night was coming through in 480p. I’ve watched or sampled maybe 10 movies so far, and I’ve only had two problems. One of them it stopped streaming and never caught back up. I exited out of the movie title and resumed playback and it just picked back up though, and didn’t hiccup after that. It was such a minor thing, though, that I quickly forgot about it. Another movie lost audio/video sync right after I started watching it, and it was off by about 5 seconds or more. I think in that case it could have been my fault, since I tried skipping through the opening titles immediately after playing it. Dunno. Either way, hopefully a rare glitch (oh crap … I don’t wanna become a Tivo apologist!).

Overall, I like the service. I filled up my queue with a ton of movies that are either old or independent, so I’ll be pretty happy for a while, seeing as that’s two areas I enjoy with regularity. Indy flicks aren’t really my favorites, since it seems so hit or miss — I either really like them or get really lost — but since it’s effortless to check out a movie, it’s worth the investment to at least investigate. I found two really cool movies yesterday that I was hesitant to watch, but by 5 minutes in, I was already hooked: King of Kong and Chalk.

Good stuff. :) cleanup, lds-scriptures 3.0_rc1

Alright, well, I cleaned up as much as I think I can get to for one day, and already it’s looking much better. I updated the homepage to display the little Christmas painting by Rembrandt that I think is just awesome. I’ve been wanting to do that for years.

I went through each section and cleaned up the links, so they should all work now. I cleaned up the content a little bit … there’s some work that still needs to be taken care of, but I’ll get to it.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve got the snapshots for the recent lds-scriptures schema that I’m working on, which will be the main downloads for the 3.0 release. It fixes a small oversight on my part in that Doctrine & Covenants was missing the answers from the verses in section 77. You can still see it on my demo page.

Other than that, if you look at it, you’ll see the schema has changed completely. Basically, it’s cleaned up and normalized for once. Should make it a lot easier to query. Downloads for MySQL and PostgreSQL are available right here. I’m glad that’s out there. I feel a lot better now. I’ll get to the other ones, but it takes a little time to get them exported to the other formats, and then I want to finish the documentation (I have to rewrite almost the entire DocBook) and get it polished before pushing out the final package. Until then, comments are welcome about the current format.

I know the database is being used in a couple of third-party applications, and I feel really bad for putting this off for so long. It’s just something I’ve never seemed to get around to. Bah. No excuse, really. Sorry, guys.

One last major thing to do is to bring the Gospel Art Gallery back online. It was really popular back in the day, and I made it because I thought it was so hard to find LDS artwork in a central location. I’ve got to work out a few issues due to copyright, but I should have something up real soon. I’ve still got all the old code, just need to add some FAQs and stuff.

That’s gonna be it for today, I think. Making progress. :) way behind

This is a public flogging since I’m so behind. I’m moving today to another host, and I’m going through the pages making sure the links and backend are working and what not … and my goodness, I realize how out of date some of the stuff on here is.

The fortune modules already has a new release and there’s no indication of it on the page.

The scriptures project is the worst — I’ve had a new 3.0 release done for a *long* time now, I just need to finish the documentation and push it live. Plus, the docbook HTML disappeared somehow. And, I’ve been meaning to reorganize the layout since it’s so cluttered.

The art gallery I’ve been meaning to bring back online for ages. It’s all done, just not polished and pushed live.

And I think the homepage scripture text has a typo in there somewhere.

I could go on, but there’s little bugs everywhere. I can’t believe I’ve been so negligent. Especially since this is the first major, public project I ever worked on. It got me started working with LDS OSS, and eventually more into other open source projects, which is where I am now.

I’m pretty embarrassed by the state of things overall. I need to get this stuff cleaned up and corrected.

I’m gonna try and get it all done by the end of the year.  So much of it is just little tweaks, that once I’m done, I’m done.  It’s really not that much work.

adventures in drm: ps3 movie rentals

Believe it or not, it’s not my intention to cover nothing but movies on my blog. I have decided recently that I don’t cover a broad enough course of subjects (I felt it was way too much about computers and Linux) and that I should branch out a bit more in my writing. If it seems like I’m writing a lot about movies, it’s because it’s probably my #1 pasttime when I’m bored and looking for something to do. And I get bored a lot.


The other week I tried out the DRM on Tivo’s rental service through to see how it worked, pretty much. Overall, I really didn’t mind all the restrictions, and it was mostly the price and the viewing window that annoyed me.

You can also rent movies through the Playstation 3, using the Playstation Network. They just added the feature this year, and I’d never tired it until now. This time around, I didn’t have a particular movie in mind to watch, I just wanted to test the waters again.

One thing I didn’t realize until after I was done, but this is probably the most important part, is that there’s no easy way to find a movie. I totally didn’t notice because I was just playing around to start with, so I wasn’t expecting to find something. I just went to the store’s interface and started browsing by genre. I’m pretty sure I never saw a search text box. There may have been one … I don’t remember, but I doubt it.

I found one movie in standard definition that I wanted to watch, “Singles“, and added it to my cart for $3. I figured I might as well try an HD one as well, to see how nice it was. I settled on “Chicken Little.” I’d never seen it, so I figured I might as well try it out. I think this one cost about $5.

I had to wait for the downloads, of course, and this time since I knew what to expect, I didn’t stick around. I left my PS3 on and just went on with my life. I came back later, and since my console is set to automatically power off after 2 hours of no use, it was already off. I powered it back on. Singles had already downloaded, but Chicken Little hadn’t. In fact, it hadn’t even started. That struck me as odd since anytime you download a demo and pause the transfer, it will resume downloading once you power the system back on. So either it never started it after the first movie, or it didn’t want a partial download and deleted it. Since this experiment is far from any structured, scientific approach, I didn’t really bother checking which one it was.

One thing I did notice though, was the size of each movie. And in each case I thought to myself, “there’s no way this thing is going to be decent quality.” Singles, the standard def. one, was 1.5 gigabytes. That one I could understand — they probably re-encoded it to MPEG4. Chicken Little, though, was only 5 gigs. Now that really had me curious, since it was touted as an HD rental. The small size made little sense, since a Blu-Ray HD movie would be more around 40 gigs. Of course, my harddrive would never have that much free space, so I wondered how this could possibly work out.

I ended up watching Singles while Chicken Little was downloading, though. I must say that I wasn’t expecting much from the video quality, since it was so small, but it looked really nice. There wasn’t any notable artifacts or issues. All was well. It played back without a hitch. Once it was done, I looked at the video details, and it said that it would “expire” the next day, since I’d already started the 24-hour window. It also displayed how many times I had watched the movie. I was curious whether the PS3 would automatically delete the file itself or just lock it from playing back again. I didn’t really feel like finding out, though, and just deleted it myself.

By this time, Chicken Little had already finished downloading. I went to poke around and view the video details again, but I accidentally hit the Start button instead, and it began playing it, inadvertently starting my 24 hour window ahead of time. I quickly exited out somewhat hoping that it wouldn’t do that, but it was too late. I made a mental note to watch it later, but I completely forgot about it, and I never got to see any of the movie. It did answer my previous question though — the PS3 doesn’t delete the file, it just prevents you from watching it again. I have no idea how well the HD quality looks on the rentals, and I’m not really that anxious to blow another $5 to find out.

I still think DRM is incredibly stupid, and an obvious mistake on my part locked me out of being able to watch the movie. I realize it’s my fault, and I’m not contesting that, but there’s no arguing that that 24 hour window is completely stupid. Even the original DivX back in the day give you a two day window. Denied.

Also, now that I think about it, comparing the similar price of renting it online versus getting the actual disc is a huge difference in what you get for your money. For $5.29, I can rent a Blu-Ray disc at Hollywood Video, and get true high-def sound and picture, with lots of special features. That’s the way to go.