How I Got MythTV

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I accumulate computer stuff. And, as more equipment comes in, more parts move to the attic where they await… let’s call it reassignment.

I’ve just rebuilt my ‘main’ machine, replacing some of its innards. A month or so ago, a friend’s sister gave me her discarded PC. And, with Steffie at college and the proud owner of a very pretty Dell laptop, I have her old AMD500.

My junk pile is large and old. Most of what I’ve got is way behind the curve. From time-to-time I’ve forced myself to throw stuff away. It’s a painful experience.

Still, I recently found myself with an old video tuner/capture card, an older Nvidia video card, Steffie’s 500 mHz machine and a posting on (actually, here are all the Digg postings about MythTV).

The world’s best HTPC&#185 distribution now includes MythTV 0.19.fixes and lots of under-the-hood improvements since R5A30.2. Everyone should upgrade from previous versions. So stop reading and go download it via bittorrent at !

Perfectly clear now? It wasn’t to me, but a little light went on over my head.

They are referring to KnoppMyth. KnoppMyth is based on MythTV, a free set of programs to turn a computer into a DVR. KnoppMyth is referred to as “The world’s best HTPC distribution” because it allows you to put a disk in a computer and come back with the job totally done – as long as you want a computer that’s nothing but a DVR.

OK not quite that easy, but close enough.

Yesterday I downloaded files, burned a CD and began to install… and install… and install. I had no idea what I was doing and refused to read any documentation. Not only that, one critical part of the puzzle (a router) was unplugged and I didn’t realize it.

Sometime late last night, my job was sort of done. I still had to configure the system to recognize my particular hardware. And, I did.

Holy cow – I have a mainly free Tivo! That’s the point of this entry.

This old machine is somewhat limited. I can’t watch and record at the same time and the quality is good, not great. Still, I took an old computer and turned into something (oh – I hate to say this) useful.

If they’re listening at my cable company, this thing is better than the DVR I pay you for! That’s not because of the quality, but because of the amazing program guide and the ability to program it online!

All the programming info is parsed into a MySQL (if those initials mean nothing, don’t worry) database. That means it’s quickly and easily searched and manipulated.

I think I can stream what I record to any computer here on my home network or on the Internet. How cool is that? I began to follow the instructions for that conversion, but decided there wasn’t enough time tonight and temporarily ditched that idea.

This will keep me busy for a while.

&#185 – HTPC means Home Theater PC… I think.

A Quick Glance At The Future

I went out to dinner last night with Noah Finz. He’s our sports director at the station, a very nice and smart guy, but a technophobe.

We got to talking about where technology is going, especially as it concerns communications. I was surprised at how interested he was… or how well he feigned interest.

With that in mind, I thought I’d write a little about where I see things going. Please remember, the past has taught us it’s really tough to accurately predict the future. This is even tougher than weather prediction because this part of the future will not replicate past events. And, remember these predictions are coming from someone who loves technology. I’m trying to hold back my bias.

To me, the key to the future is not in speedier processors nor more memory and storage, though certainly those things will enter the picture. The big deal is bandwidth. It is the 500 pound gorilla in the room.

Bandwidth limitations is why you ‘only’ receive 150 TV channels. Bandwidth bottlenecks are why your computer often waits while it is plucking data off websites or the Real player takes so much time caching those first few seconds of video before it starts to play.

With enough bandwidth, television can become a one to one medium – unlimited video on demand. Any show or any video source can be run when you want it. Desperate Housewives Tuesday at 8:41 AM. Why Not?

Already, even if you’re not in their home market, you can still watch your favorite baseball team play, because nearly all the games are available over the Internet. CPTV, here in Connecticut, sells a package of UCONN women’s basketball games for out-of-towners with high speed Internet access.

The radically changes the paradigm of commercial television. Without a mass audience watching the same commercial at the same time, television begins to lose its unique sales appeal. There will have to be another way to pay for this.

It could be commercials, maybe a subscription, or maybe both. We’re not limited by what we’ve seen in the past. Sending video as a digital stream rather than analog allows for the integration of other info.

This ability to receive the programming you want, when you want it, will turn television into a narrowcast medium rather than its current broadcast model. There is a demand for shows on knitting or cars or computers or… well you get the idea. Those sharply targeted programs&#185 will steal audience from today’s broadcasts.

In the pre-cable days there were a lot of shows that, today, look like they were ‘going through the motions’ to fill the time. I’m afraid we’ll look back at what’s on TV now in the same way, as soon as the floodgates open in this new communications world.

The days of high production cost TV production are limited. Gresham’s economic laws will be seen affecting TV. We’re already seeing some of that as networks run more ‘cheaper to produce’ reality shows and re-run more of primetime TV.

Is there a long term viable business model for shot-on-film hour long dramas? I’m not sure.

Today, local television stations serve two general purposes. They produce and distribute local programming, like news, and they act as a distribution channel for nationally networked and syndicated shows. With video on demand, I can’t see why these program producers will need local stations.

Local stations will be forced to be local stations. Those who don’t will be marginalized out of profitability. This has happened in radio over the last 40 years.

That doesn’t mean the economic model of local TV is gone. It just means stations will have to better understand how to produce more content for local consumption. I also think they’ll have to shift their focus from producing programming to fill their air time to being producers of programming for anyone who will distribute it.

Today’s TV stations will have to turn out video streams the way Chinese companies, like Twinhead, turn out laptops. The majority of Twinhead’s products are produced for others with other people’s brands on them. You might be using one now, with no way to tell. Twinhead’s expertise is production… as is today’s TV stations.

A newspaper in Wilmington, DE is already producing video webcasts of local news. The New York Times is expanding their multimedia content online. I think, in the mature model, newspapers will provide the news and a company with video production expertise will package it for them.

All this is happening and we haven’t even hit our stride as far as bandwidth is concerned. My cable modem at home now brings in data nearly three times as fast as it did a year or two ago. It’s getting to the point where it will soon become faster than my home network can handle!

The price of this bandwidth will do nothing but fall for the foreseeable future. There are many factors at work here.

First, there is the onrush of technology which promises to deliver bandwidth wirelessly. That should add another level of competition for the cable and legacy phone companies.

Next, there is a vast network of ‘dark’ fiber – glass lines that have loads of capacity but have never been used. My guess is, the intercity capacity of unlit fiber is a multiple of what’s currently in use.

The people who really need to be worried are the incumbent wireline phone companies. More bandwidth is their enemy. Already they are facing competition from broadband VOIP companies like Vonage, with cable companies jumping in.

When there are wireless access ‘clouds’ of connectivity over most areas, portable VOIP phones will trump cellular and wired phone networks with cheap and probably unmetered, flat rate, phone service.

It is a very exciting, very different world of telecommunications that’s right around the corner.

&#185 – I am having trouble using the word program here because it describes something that might not be. When content becomes very narrow and the viewer becomes very focused on its content, the formality of a ‘program’ may vanish altogether.

Who Is Your Tech Support?

A few years ago, my friend Kevin gave me a bumper sticker, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Do Tech Support.” Yet that’s what home computing today is built on.

Try getting support from someone who sold you hardware or software and you’ll find you’re the last person they want to hear from. Have you ever tried to get in touch with Microsoft?

To much of my family and many of my friends, I am tech support. Don’t understand what’s wrong, call Geoff. That’s good and I enjoy it… though it seems a shame that the company’s responsible aren’t carrying their own weight in this regard.

Who do I go to? For Linux and OS related problems, it’s my friend Bob in Florida. For Windows and hardware related problems (and, thankfully, I seldom have software problems I can’t solve on my own), I go to my friend Kevin.

I saw Kevin tonight.

This afternoon, as I was attempting to print 25 sheets of something for Helaine, the Epson Stylus Photo 785EPX connected to Steffie’s computer (but which I print to through our home network) decided to ingest about 25 sheets at once. As the paper jammed into a space much smaller than it could be compressed, the printer started to whine. Gears meshed. It wouldn’t stop. I swear the printer was crying.

I unplugged the it and removed the paper without much problem. But, when I turned the printer back on, I got a paper jam error message. Uh oh. I absolutely knew there was no paper there because the sheets that had been caught had come out whole, though somewhat creased.

After scouting around the net, I realized it was probably the paper jam sensor, not a jam itself. Three choices, new printer, printer service (at most of the cost of a new printer) or do it myself. I didn’t have much choice but the latter.

Being technically inept when it comes to mechanics, I called Kevin on the phone and asked real nice. There was never a question, because Kevin’s the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back and because he really enjoys the challenge of fixing something that’s not really built to be fixed.

I am so upset I didn’t bring the camera, because this printer is a mechanical work of art. As you peel away the layers of a mechanical system, you can quickly see how much thought went into doing it right. The cable runs were neatly held in place by guides. Most terminated in nicely keyed plugs. A few didn’t have plugs but seemed to end with exposed connectors and were stiff enough to insert cleanly in sockets.

The cover came off fairly easily. That didn’t get us to the problem. Next, a rear assembly which drives the paper as it is pushed into the path. Kevin saw this mechanical marvel intuitively and was immediately able to know how it worked and why everything was where it was. There were a few times when I pointed the way, but mostly it was Kevin.

The ability to see how something works is a gift. I think I have it as far as software is concerned. I can look at a program or even look at its code and understand what the programmer was trying to do. Kevin can do that too, and take it one step further by understanding hardware.

The problem was a tiny lever which was supposed to be held taught with a smaller spring. The lever blocked a light sensor from seeing an LED. That’s how it knew if the path was blocked by a paper jam. But, the spring, held by tension alone, had disconnected from the lever.

It required removing three separate assemblies and then, putting them back together. On the first try a cam wasn’t set right. The printer powered up to the sound of plastic gears gnashing. Kevin and I looked at each other. This could be the end of the repair.

We quickly figured out what the cam was supposed to do and where it should be on power up. Bingo! The printer fired up quietly and the indicator for a printer jam stayed dark.

Because we didn’t have the drivers for the printer, that’s as far as testing has gone until right now.

I’m going to plug it into the computer.

The computer has recognized it and is loading the drivers. Success. Now, to print.

Wow. No smoke and a perfectly executed print job.

Kevin would be a great friend even if he couldn’t fix anything. But, he can.