zen.org Communal Weblog

May 26, 2005

4½ Day Weekend

Filed under: — Sven @ 14:58 GMT

Boy, it’s been a long time since I wrote an entry. I’ve been too busy, and to lazy to post. Works been dull, and home is always busy. I finally have a chance today, day care called me up and told be to pick up Zoë as she has a 101.5°F fever. As 余艾蕾 and I drove in on the same car this morning, and neither was terribly busy at work, we both left. Zoë is the happiest sick baby ever, but rules are rules and she is not allowed back to dagis until she has gone twenty-four hours without a fever. As 余艾蕾 has stuff to do at work tomorrow, I’ll stay home with Zoë, and then Monday is a holiday. So I have a four and a half day weekend with a baby that has a fever but don’t act sick.

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May 25, 2005

The rip-off nature of the EU

Filed under: — brendan @ 10:52 GMT

My laptop, a Fujitsu Lifebook P-2046, was recently sent in for service because it wouldn’t consistently charge its batteries. After some testing, they found my AC adapter is at fault. They can send my laptop back with a new one, if I’d like—for €150 + 21% VAT to a total of €181.50. That’s about $229.00 US. Or, I could get one from a company in the US for $49 and figure out a way to get it to me here in Ireland.

I asked them to just send it back, please. Why is everything so blatantly overpriced?

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May 20, 2005

ATMs are still sloppy with security

Filed under: — brendan @ 06:11 GMT

A local ATM in Ireland accepted a foreign credit card for getting some cash. The receipt included 14 of the 16 digits for the card. Why so many?

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May 17, 2005

With a whisper, he tries to usurp authority.

Filed under: — brendan @ 14:52 GMT

Tonight Patrick was in the livingroom with his empty cup sitting on the table. He’d finished a half a glass of sparkling water (“bubbles”), and now decided he needed more. He told his Mom as much, but she knew he shouldn’t have any more and declined the request. Patrick made a couple of further demands, resorting to begging but still no luck. Disappointed, he stopped trying.

Well, until I entered the room.

“Dad,” he said to me, his eyes wider than should be possible, “I want some more bubbles.”

I looked over at his Mom questioningly, and she said, “No, Patrick, I told you that was enough for tonight.”

As I glanced back to Patrick, his face was the image of mischief brewing at a low temperature. “Daaaaaad,” he did in his best falsetto, like a kid in a classroom trying to cheat with his buddy at the next desk, “I want more bubbles.” The whispers were almost too quiet to hear. Almost.

I shook my head. “Noooooooooo,” I whispered back. We’re both within a couple of feet of Mom, who’s sitting right next to him on the couch.

“Patrick!” his Mom exclaimed. “You know I said you couldn’t, and now I caught you trying anyway!”

He gave a foolish grin and launched his head (gently) over into her side. “Mommm…”

So this is where it all starts, playing one against the other and trying to trip us up. This is going be a kick.

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Zaurus with a new lease on life

Filed under: — brendan @ 06:07 GMT

Today I followed some great instructions on how to put OpenZaurus on my Sharp Zaurus SL-5500. It worked like a charm! The Opie GUI is pretty slick, fast, and easy. And the initial image gives you a console window you can use to actually have a command prompt. 🙂

The plan is to try to make it take over DHCP & DNS services, at least, for our home network. Heh.

Update: So far so good. DHCP is working just fine, and maradns, the OpenZaurus choice instead of BIND, is nice and fast and slim for all DNS, including recursive lookups of random domains (i.e., Web traffic is behaving fine). Yippee! The little Zaurus is on my desk, doing most of the work of the 265MHz old box humming away in the corner. You could put hundreds of the Zaurus (Zauri?) in the space taken by the old server. And we’ll talk later about the power consumption dropping to 5 watts/2 amps, compared to the PC’s 230W power supply with spinning disks, whirring fans, and far more live motherboard circuits…

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May 12, 2005

I'm not seeing you, I'm really not seeing you …

Filed under: — brendan @ 13:34 GMT

A friend of ours was selling little red heart pins as a fund-raiser for his school. He was up in the main thoroughfare of our town just south of Dublin, trying to get people to buy one. Lots of folks did, happily, knowing they were helping a good cause. Then there were the other people.

They would dash across the street up ahead of him, just so they didn’t walk past. Or they’d go by as if they didn’t see him—Oh my, look at the great shoes on sale! their expressions told him. After a little while, this façade grew old and sparked his creativity. This called for an experiment.

He moved over to a blank wall stretched between two buildings. Nothing but concrete blocks and cement, from the ground up to about six feet, nearly his own height. Having found his position and putting on his most engaging face, he called out to people to help support their local schools. After only a couple of examples, he knew his theory was true: they’re all faking it, they just want to avoid him.

The next person came by, a middle-aged man with eyes lost somewhere in the land of middle-aged thoughts. As he approached my friend standing only a few feet ahead of him, his face shot to the right about 45 degrees to focus intently on—the wall. There was no shop, no window looking in on products he might (never) buy, no other people suitable for distraction. But that didn’t matter. The wall would do. As long as he could go by without eye contact with the teenager selling stuff for his school, it was all cool. La la la.

He continued on his way, joining a frighteningly large group of people who are too bothered and too selfish to offer 50 cents or 1 Euro to contribute to an always-underfunded, forever-understaffed part of our lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the United States, Ireland, or Crete, the problem is the same. Don’t bother me, it’s my money and why should you get it?

But watch out, for the mirk of hell doth rise when I find you’re not spending enough to teach my kid.

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May 10, 2005

Bluetooth in Cars

Filed under: — daphne @ 13:01 GMT

Random thoughts after reading about a security test of the Toyota Prius

I don’t know if I’m getting conservative in my old age, or if people are going overboard with the propagation of technology. Would I really want bluetooth in my car? The thought of a teenage Zoe, sitting in the backseat, surfing the future internet and texting with her friends that she’d rather be with than being on a family road trip runs through my mind. Useless, and potentially malicious, hello kitty software being sent to her by her friends. All
through a bluetooth connection link to a GPRS global network that’s integrated with the control system of the car speeding down the interstate. Yes, Zoe will think that’s the saving grace of the whole trip.

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May 7, 2005

U2 R00lz

Filed under: — brendan @ 07:31 GMT

Ok, so maybe the word “R00lz” only works when you’re talking about Motley Crue or a good hack. But I think it fits. On a tip from a friend this morning, I went up the road to try to get U2 tickets at our local T*cketm*ster shop. They had two shows scheduled for Croke Park, the big stadium-like arena for some of the larger shows. U2 recently announced a third show for the end of June, but it wasn’t clear when tickets were going to come out. Suddenly, they started selling at 9am this morning. You can only get two seats per person, the total price being a whopping €164.00 for seats.

I got to the shop just a bit past 10am, and there was a really long queue going from inside the shop out the door and up along the sidewalk. It took just over half an hour from when I arrived to when I reached the stairs that took you upstairs to where they were actually selling the tickets. Kind of like your entry to heaven or something.

At first, you could get tickets for two places: either down on the ground in the pitch, or up in the seats. By the time I was 25 people away from the steps, the pitch had sold out and you could only get seats. (S’ok, those were my goal anyway.) While waiting and chatting with the folks around me, I noticed something really entertaining on the shelves. Only in Ireland would you see a commemorative DVD for Pope John Paul II placed right next to a copy of The Exorcist.

As I left, a couple of friends also in line told me the people at the shop had made a big mistake. When they went outside to announce that only the seats were available for €164 for two, they omitted the last part. What they heard on the sidewalk was “only the €164 tickets are left”. They thought the price had suddenly changed, and that was the cost of a single seat. A good number of people immediately left really angry. A minute or two later, the embarrassed employee tried to clarify what he meant. But the folks fuming their way home were out of earshot by then.

Oops.

My friends in line got their tickets, and E and I have ours. We didn’t expect to be able to go, and now even if we might need opera glasses to see anything we’re certainly looking forward to it!

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May 4, 2005

Bedtime and a 3 year-old: a dialog

Filed under: — brendan @ 16:50 GMT

FADE IN.

EXT. HOUSE IN IRELAND – NIGHT.

INT. HOUSE UPSTAIRS BEDROOM – NIGHT.

We have a CLOSE LOOK at a clock just reaching 9 AT NIGHT. Some dim light comes in through the Venetian blinds visible through the BEDROOM DOORWAY, even though it’s so late. DAD has just finished reading a chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to SON, and is now going to finish up some work from earlier in the day.

C.U. of DAD as he walks out of the bedroom and enters the HALL towards the SMALLER BEDROOM, its door wide open. SON, a three year-old boy, is lying on his bed in the BEDROOM we’ve just left. As shown in the previous scene, SON has been very active all day, and his recent eating habits suggest he must be at the beginning of another growth spurt. We’d expect him to be exhausted.

DAD
Good night, Patrick, I love you. It’s time to go to sleep.

SON (OS)
That’s why I don’t want to, because I don’t want to.

INT. HOUSE UPSTAIRS SMALLER BEDROOM – NIGHT.

We see DAD sit down in front of his computer in a room clearly converted into a home office. Some of SON’s toys are on the upper shelves, next to piles of book still waiting to be sorted. DAD turns on the computer MONITOR and starts to type an entry into his WEBLOG.

SON (OS)
Bad dad. Bad daddy. It’s not fair. It’s not fair da-da!

Pause.

SON (OS)
Dad! I don’t want to go to sleep.

C.U. on the MONITOR. The words “Bedtime and a 3 year-old” begin to APPEAR, one letter at a time.

SON (OS)
(Emphasis.)
I don’t want—to—go—to—sleep. It’s really not late.

DAD (OS)
Of course it is.

SON (OS)
It’s not. It isn’t late. It’s the morning. It’s the morning and I don’t want to go to sleep.

Pause.

INT. HOUSE UPSTAIRS BEDROOM – NIGHT.

A small red light BLINKS every 30 seconds from the SMOKE DETECTOR up on the ceiling. Packing tape over the bulb doesn’t fully block the small amount of light it’s EMITTING.

CAMERA PANS down to SON, who’s lying on his back looking up at the SMOKE DETECTOR. SON’s index finger is absent-mindedly MOVING over his lips.

SON
The light keeps going on me, and I need you. I need you da-da, I need you.

Pause.

SON clenches his jaw and squeezes his EYES shut.

SON
Right now right now right now.

We hear the SOUND of a chair moving, and then footsteps as DAD comes walking into SON’s bedroom, clearly exasperated. DAD helps roll SON onto his side and tucks the FAVORITE BLANKET back around SON.

SON
(Rolling over.)
Read me some more of the story, Dad. Or, how about—

DAD looks worried.

SON
(continuing, actively rubbing his eyes with his clenched hands)
—the Truck book?

DAD
No, we’ll read that together tomorrow.

SON
Okay, how about—More of Charlie and the Factory?

Helpless to this request, DAD reaches to the bookshelf and pulls down the BOOK. He sits on the floor next to SON’s bed and begins to read.

DAD
The newspaper told Grandpa Joe there was a winner of the second Golden Ticket …

Some music PLAYS as DAD continues to read the BOOK out loud and CAMERA PANS to the old clock on the wall.

DISSOLVE.

The clock’s hands have MOVED, showing us that it’s THREE MINUTES LATER.

CAMERA PANS from the clock back to the bed, where SON is clearly fast asleep with his hand just in front of his face. We HEAR a light snore and level breathing. In the background, the SOUND of the clock ticking.

DAD puts the BOOK back on the shelf. He makes sure the FAVORITE BLANKET is fully covering SON, and walks out.

MONTAGE/END TITLES.

FADE OUT.

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May 2, 2005

Nearly fully usable MythTV box now!

Filed under: — brendan @ 12:23 GMT

The term “fully usable” is pretty relative, but we’re much happier now than we were a few weeks ago.

We can now:

  • See all parts of what’s being displayed on the TV screen. Before, parts just in from the border were past what the TV could show. This made the Setup stuff really difficult, since the little selection boxes showing checkmarks weren’t even there to tell if something had been turned on. I had to mess with the settings for appearance it ended up where I wanted. It’s still not perfect (a hint of the blue from the Fedora background on the lower right corner of the screen when it’s going from the MythTV front-end to Watch TV mode.
  • Go between recorded TV, live TV, and downloaded AVIs without having to switch the audio between the Shuttle’s L/R line out audio and the audio from the PVR-350 card. I got an RCA-to-headphone jack plug, and plugged the RCA part into the PVR-350’s pair of audio plugs. The headphone part went into the Line-In port on the front of the Shuttle. I ran alsamixer in a terminal window, and enabled (by hitting the ‘M’ key) the LineIn input, and turned it up all the way. This is all it took.
  • Let MythTV change channels on the NTL Digital Cable box all by itself. I got a Red-Eye Serial channel changer and it worked like a charm. Only a few basic steps to make it fully automated.
  • Have a usable system right at startup, just by having /etc/rc.d/rc.local invoke “/etc/init.d/mythbackend restart” after it’s done the load of the ivtv driver. This helps work around the system being unable to show TV because the backend doesn’t know if the driver’s usable yet.
  • Made the green Power button on the Hauppauge remote let us stop and restart the MythTV front-end GUI. This helps a lot when things are stuck.

There’s plenty yet to do, including actually working on the timing problem playing mpegs (audio is ahead of the video). But for day-to-day use, it’s much more helpful and accomplishes the goal of letting us set up to record random shows to watch when it’s convenient for us. (Thus the pile of Oprah and CSI. 🙂 ) I want to make transcoding work so it’s able to take the large recordings in the default MPEG2 format and shrink them down to MPEG4 format so they don’t eat up quite so much disk space. And, finally, listen to the ivtv-devel mailing list where they’re talking about this sort of problem:

Apr 30 10:46:02 shuttlecraft kernel: ivtv: 1000 ms time out waiting for firmware
Apr 30 10:46:02 shuttlecraft kernel: ivtv: Failed api call 0x00000015 with result 0xfffffff0
Apr 30 10:46:02 shuttlecraft kernel: ivtv: DEC: couldnt read clock

These are the messages that appear after the MythTV display has frozen, most often while doing a bunch of fast-forwarding through a recording. I tried the update driver of April 30th, but it did eventually bump into the problem again, though admittedly it seemed to take longer before it happened. They’re doing a cool job of hacking away the problem.

Oh, our NTL box (Pace 4001NC) was rebooting itself at random times, often ending up in some sort of a locked state. NTL came to replace it, and we got this other, silver-colored box (Pace Di300-N). It has only a single SCART output on the back, where the other one had both TV and VCR output ports. I set up a SCART splitter to take the single output from the silver NTL box and let it feed both the TV and the MythTV box. Recorded shows, most of the time, look just fine. But if you’re watching TV thru the MythTV box, it now has this odd brightness problem. It seems to almost pulse from dark to light, and there’s also a stretch of shadow from the top to the bottom, a couple of inches wide, that travels across the screen from the left to the right. I’d only seen it while watching TV thru the box, but in the last couple of days I’ve noticed it appear in a couple of the recordings—but definitely not all of them. It doesn’t happen when you watch the NTL digital box going right into the TV; that, in fact, is a much sharper and clearer picture in comparison to the previous 4100NC box.

We’re going to see if we get the same behavior feeding it into the VCR, and if it occurs there too, we’ll try to get NTL to give us yet another box (this is #5 in about 3 years). If the VCR doesn’t have the same problem, then it’s a question of the S-Video coming into the PVR-350 card, and then the S-Video (or RCA video) from the PVR-350 card back out to the TV. Lots of experimentation to do, but at the moment we’re just not using our box for watching TV much. Just recording things. (Thus we lose out on the great benefit of pausing live TV, dammit…)

Finally, I went into Setup -> Video -> Player Settings, and tried changing the current value of

mplayer -fs -zoom -quiet -vo x11 -ao oss -nocache %s

to instead be “Internal” to see if it’ll do MPEGs better. I played a couple of different AVIs to start, but mythfrontend wasn’t rendering them fast enough. Oh well. I put it back to using mplayer, and will spend more time on this some other day.

It looks like the biggest hurdle to take on at the moment is playing mpegs.

More later,
B


Details:

Fixed Size:
I went into “Utilities/Setup” -> Setup -> Appearance and started fiddling with the settings. I put in 720 for the width and 576 for the height, then gradually reduced each one til it looked a bit better. Each time I’d adjust a number, do Next til I could do Finish, and see how it looked. Iook the numbers down to 640 x 510 but it also shows that MythTV is displaying something out of skew…I could experment going to 530, 550, 560, then back down to 551, 552, til 555 looked like it was right on the line of the tv screen.

Lots of waiting while it pre-scales theme images repeatedly. It was also much faster to adjust with the keyboard’s Left & Right arrow keys and use the OK button on the remote to click the Next buttons. Trying to use the left & right arrow buttons on the Hauppauge remote was too slow. Once the size seemed like it’s likely to be right, I had to adjust the X offset and then Y offset to make it all sit in the right place. I found it helpful to drop the width & height down to something small like 620×500, and then tweak the offsets until it sat properly in the smaller view. Then I pushed them back up to 640×550 and it looked right.

The final numbers for me were

width(px) 640
height(px) 550
X offset = 50
Y offset = 11

The end story being that it’s tedious (and should be possible to automate this) but possible.

Channel Changing:
The Red-Eye Serial consists of a 9-pin female serial plug on one end, and the small bit of electronics on the other. The serial end gets plugged into the sole serial port on the back of the Shuttle, and the other should be taped onto the front of NTL box on the right side of the LED display. I created a script called /usr/local/bin/red_eye.script containing just

#!/bin/sh
# Put it into the background, which makes the on-screen effect look much faster.
/usr/local/bin/red_eye /dev/ttyS0 $* 2 &
# The exit 0 is important, otherwise mythtv thinks it failed and
# tries to switch back to the previous channel.
exit 0

The arguments are the serial port, the channel number (what our red_eye.script script receives as its only argument), and finally the number 2, indicating how many milliseconds it should hold off before trying to do anything else. (Or, more to the point, how long to wait before potentially allowing anyone else to send a command to the box.) Also, the “exit 0” is important, otherwise mythtv thinks it failed and tries to switch back to the previous channel. It occurs to me another part of this fix is adding “exit (0);” at the end of main() in red_eye.c; right now it’s exiting with the return status of a call to printf, which explains the non-zero status out of the red_eye program. The file /usr/local/bin/red_eye came from a set of downloads for the Red-Eye Serial. I recompiled it from the source provided just for my own state of mind (had to change “exit();” to “exit(1);“); I should’ve added the “exit (0);” bit too.

It was also important to edit /etc/group and add mythtv to uucp group so the program can send the channel number to the serial port. Putting them in the group avoids messing with the default permissions on /dev/ttyS0. (This is with Fedora Core 3, it may have different ownership on other Linux distributions.)

Finally, I ran mythtvsetup, chose Input Connections, and selected S-Video0 (NTL Digital Dublin). In its setup page, I changed “External channel change command” to be “/usr/local/bin/red_eye.script“. I went to Finish (doing Ctl-Return on my keyboard), then the Escape key twice. I had to restart mythtvbackend for the change to take effect.

Power-Button:
Following Jarod Wilson’s Tips ‘n Tricks, the green Power button on the Hauppauge remote can now stop and start the MythTV front-end. This is really handy on the odd occasion when it freezes up for one reason or another. I just had to add the lines

begin
prog = irexec
button = OFF
repeat = 4
config = /usr/local/bin/mythpowerbutton.sh
end

to my ~/.lircrc file, and create the script /usr/local/bin/mythpowerbutton.sh containing

#!/bin/bash
PROG=mythfrontend
STATUS=`ps -e | grep $PROG | grep -v grep | wc -l | awk '{print $1}'`

if [ $STATUS -eq 0 ]
then
( $PROG & )
else
killall $PROG
fi
exit 0

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