MCE 2005 – Why Media Center will change the way I’m entertained.

I’ve been playing with home theater applications on and off for a few years, I dabbled with MythTV and the ShowShifter type apps, but I’m now a firm believer in Microsoft Media Center 2005 so this entry will serve as a staging point for me to babble on about it…

Like the subject says, Microsoft Media Center has changed the way I am entertained. I’ve been a keen wee techno geek for many years and since purchasing my first VIVO card [archived] back in 2003(?) I’ve been on the lookout for something which can record my TV and let me watch the stuff I want from my PC – this is important given how long I spend in front of it every day.

Things I want to discuss in this post:

  • My history of HTPCs
  • My TiVo experiences
  • Why MCE 2005
  • Ideal setup
  • The media center future

Back in the crazy days of single life, after I’d dropped close to $1000 on a graphics card I was all keen to create an alternative to the TV / Video combination we had in the lounge, after all – my flatmates outnumbered me and often there’d be broadcast conflicts as to what we all wanted to watch – I also was working a lot longer hours including my evenings, so having a TV window on the desktop appealed to me greatly.
The problem with TV cards back then were they were fairly terrible quality, or stupidly expense, so the VIVO option was a good one as I could simple hook off the back of an old VCR I had lying around and use it’s tuner to get my TV signal into the card. The problem with that was I had no IR blaster to change the channel on the VCR and, in conjunction with a lack of an electronic programming guide, the whole operation was very hands on.
Moving forward from there I dabbled with ShowShifter, I looked briefly at some linux distributions which claimed to do all I wanted but, well Linux STILL scares me despite the number of machines I have running it in my home now doing their little things – so Linux was off the cards, aside from a quick dabble with FreeVo and again with KnoppMyth.

I first saw Microsoft Media Center Edition (MCE) back in 2003 when our GM brought a gorgeous Toshiba notebook home from the states with it pre-loaded. It had interface issues which ddn’t quite ‘work’ and of course ran an NTSC tuner so the TV experience was just a fuzzy black and white, but the potential sparked my interest and I’ve kept an eye on the platform ever since.

While I waited for MCE to arrive in New Zealand, I turned to MythTV and, taking a deep breath (and many hours of time from my patient collegues at work) I suceeded in getting a system working… mostly. The main enabler for getting MythTV going for me was a HOWTO by a chap called Jarod Wilson who had documented his experience on his site. In fact, I was so impressed and greatful, that I made an attempt to document my experience and created a page of my own (which seems to get more traffic than anything else on my site, despite it’s now vintage state).

Microsoft New Zealand finally released (quietly) MCE into the NZ market at the same time that it was launched into Australia, but neither country had an Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) avalible so, it’s adoption to date has been slow to say the least. The good thing however is, that a whole range of communities have sprung up around MCE and extensions to its capabilities, including the ability to ‘modify’ things enough to load your own EPG data. I finally managed to succeed in doing this around the end of 2004 with the help of a number of threads from one of the best communitity sites called The Green Button (it’s a reference to the button on the MCE remote used to launch the app).

Now I’m almost ready to introduce it into my home (which is currently undergoing renovations) and have settled on the following specs which I’ve built up on my desk here at work. This is an excerpt from a response I posted over on The Green Button pertaining to Home Theater PC (HTPC) case recommendations:

I’m currently running a Silverstone ST-LC10B (with the iMon VFD software in conjunction with FrontView for MCE it’s sweet!)

Full specs are:

Mods I’ll probably make are:

  • I’m tempted to dremmel out the fan grills at the back over the twin 60mm fans as they’ve got a bit of turbulence noise coming from them.
  • I’d like to mount the HDD in a housing to eliminate vibration as it’s the noisiest thing in the system.
  • I’d like to crack open my MCE remote and drop the sensor into the front of the VFD for WAF (Wife Approval Factor) reasons alone (less clutter /
    visible wires = less complaints)

The case itself is kinda large, but it’s good for airflow and the ability to select from a wider range of cards and cooling product – and I like having a VFD

So that kind of sums up where I am currently, I’ll update this post in awhile with a bit more detail.

My Media Center Setup

I’m currently running a Silverstone ST-LC10B (with the iMon VFD software in conjunction with FrontView for MCE it’s sweet!)

Full specs are:

Mods I’ll probably make are:

  • I’m tempted to dremmel out the fan grills at the back over the twin 60mm fans as they’ve got a bit of turbulence noise coming from them.
  • I’d like to mount the HDD in a housing to eliminate vibration as it’s the noisiest thing in the system.
  • I’d like to crack open my MCE remote and drop the sensor into the front of the VFD for WAF (Wife Approval Factor) reasons alone (less clutter / visible wires = less complaints)

The case itself is kinda large, but it’s good for airflow and the ability to select from a wider range of cards and cooling product – and I like having a VFD

Ooooooh – I’m important and interesting… Listen to ME!

The New Zealand press finally catch up, and run a story on blogging…

Oh yippee… Television New Zealand ran a piece yesterday on blogging [watch the clip – 300K stream] where the breakfast show host introduced blogging as:

“Blogging is someone who for some reason believes the rest of the world needs to know what they did today…”

Bloggers don’t go to journalism school, they probably didn’t work on the high school news paper and they definitely aren’t pretty enough to read from an auto-cue without mumbling so how could they possibly have an opinion that others may find interesting, right?
Paul Renolds (the shows pet “IT Commentator”) agreed with the hosts summation but then, over the course of the interview, proceeded to backtrack on that position and actually explained blogging in a relatively well balanced manner, explaining it in what I’d term “Mum-speak” (i.e. my Mum could probably understand it…)

Checks & balances
The self-righteous host went on to make a fantastic comment that:

“One of the problems with the internet is there are no checks and balances”

Hmm – just like the mainstream media except, oh hey we’ll pretend to give a well balanced view but our bias are as clear as day for those who care to take an objective approach.
What the host and indeed the “commentator” missed, is the fact that you can easily Google for supporting references to pretty much anything your read on the web, and with people writing such social relationship tools as mydensity.com, you can start to see a web of ‘trust’ (if you will) which leads credence to the original site publisher.
There is no such web of trust / ability to cross reference new items as easily for mainstream media stories, and this is why I believe that blogging is a far more interesting way to get news and views than what is spoon-fed to the public that the mainstream press treat like children who need to be entertained rather than informed.
You’ll also notice that in this and most of my other blogs I am giving links to other sites where readers can click off to to learn more or to see other ideas which may support my position (or not) – don’t see much of that in the mainstream now do we?

I liked the fact that the commentator went on to introduce PodCasting and VideoCasting which are also things that I’ve been keen on over the last 6 or so months.

Podcasting:
There is a great article on how to get PodCasts on your Windows Mobile device (or indeed your Windows Media Player) which Sean Alexander wrote about a while back, it’s well worth a read and, after following this guide, I’m now able to listen to my PodCasts in the car as I negotiate Auckland traffic, which is more interesting (to me) than the talk radio or manufactured pop bands of today who seem to do little more than covers of old classic from the 80’s.

The Podcasts I’ve linked to above are just a selection of what feeds I subscribe to, but they are heavily skewed to gadgets, IT news and opinion and, well – there’s an obligatory Adam Curry subscription in there to.
Since I’m able to give a lot more depth of information that the 5 minute slots that broadcasters give to the public before their poor viewers brain gets full and they lose their attention – I can tell you that Adam Curry is regarded as the godfather of podcasting and, while that may be a point of contention for some of the commentators in the online audio space, he’s certainly turned into the poster boy of podcasting and appears to be doing a whole lot to support the ‘industry’ of bringing audio blogs to the ears of listeners around the world.
Again, you can click on the links to learn more – there is also this interesting story on podcasting vs. satellite radio, which I’ll have to comment on after I get around to seeing how I can receive satellite radio affordably in NZ.

VideoCasting
I’m yet to get into this emerging trend due to lack of time, bandwidth and headspace in which I can actually watch a screen as opposed to listen to audio. I guess that will be one of the determining factors in how well Videocasting takes off is that, to watch video you need to pay attention to a screen whereas podcasts are audio only and can be listened to while you do things like walk the dog, drive to work, do your chores around the house (I still remember listening to a great conversation on identity management while painting some plywood sheets for our deck at home – weird, I don’t know why I’m sharing that – it must be a ‘muslie for breakfast’ moment like my buddy the breakfast host said…).
Anyway, Robin Good whose blog I also subscribe to wrote this piece which you may find of interest to explain the emerging trend.

I think that video casting will take a while to gain traction, it’s major roadblocks being stupidly expensive bandwidth and lack of affordable portable media players with large enough screens to allow for long term watching of this content. Answer these problems and the building blocks will be in place, all we’ll need is content – perhaps we can SEE bloggers eating this mythical breakfast that the hosts were talking about! In the interim, Google has recently introduced a hosting system for video which is discussed here.

The host wrapped up the segment by magnanimously declaring that:

“Alright, it’s something that we obviously need to keep half an eye on at least”

To that I say yes, yes indeed. Syndicated content in conjunction with aggrigation tools such as RSSReader and Doppler is the best way to get breaking news out there, the web is an ideal distribution medium, and tools already exists to allow one to search and subscribe to content streams of interest to the individual. Broadcasters would do well to understand if not embrace this trend as it can have a very nice supplemental fit into their existing legacy content systems.

Googles recent video hosting initive just supports the views expressed here in regards to the way that news and information could be distributed in the future. Follow the link, pick a mirror and, if you’re interested – have a look at the transcript.
It is a plausible outlook – Should broadcasters take this seriously? – yes, will they? – no. At least not yet and definitely not by people like the host of this show. Whether it’ll be too late by the time they accept that the traditional landscape of reporting on stuff has changed remains to be seen, but then people who consider themselves smarter, better, more worthy of listening to than others are generally a bit slower to accept their equalities…

Bloody Idiots!

Sometimes you just want to have a grill-mounted rocket launcher…

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime (unless he lives around the Hauraki Gulf of course…)

Give a man a car and he’ll get to and from work, give a boy a car, and a baseball cap, and the obligatory array of dials and boost meters, and an annoying exhaust – and he’ll drive like a complete dickhead and make you want to kill him in a slow, crushing into his own glove box kind of a way…

What I want is an array of cameras around my car showing the road around me, so I can record with some telemetry data superimposed on the video some of the stupid things I see on the road.
Here you are, being a good lad and indicating for 3 seconds to move lanes, when the guy behind you in his black souped up Mazda decides that since he’s faster, he can indicate once (if at all) and scream up the side of you into the lane you’re indicating toward. Now the good thing about nice shiny souped up cars versus large diesel 4x4s, is that I really don’t give a toss if you’re going to be an idiot, because I AM CHANGING LANES NOW AND YOU DON’T REALLY HAVE THE EQUIPMENT TO CUT ME OFF.
Now, with my proposed camera array hooked into my carputer, I can change lanes as indicated, and if people do stupid things to cut me off, then I’ll have the evidence should we happen to involve insurance firms (if you catch my drift).

I’m really looking forward to getting a decent car so I can build myself one of these units, this isn’t the only handy thing it would be able to do for me ๐Ÿ™‚ And with Microsofts soon to launch(?) Microsoft Automotive, I’ll have a few options (I guess) in operating platform (though I’m still tending toward the *nix distros which already exist…

I gotta get more spare time (and cash)!

Aaaargh – the pain… THE PAIN!

I’m moving servers after many years and the transition hasn’t been a comfortable experience…

Change is good, unless your pants are loose – in which case, change can weigh things down and cause a lot of embarrassment.

After a number of years, I’ve moved my sites off my server at home to a server hosted elsewhere – it’s gone from an aging NT Server 4 box running Apache 1.3.14 (which has been remarkable stable despite what you may think) to a Debian box running the 2.42 kernel and Apache 1.3.33 which is a heap faster, but nonetheless, it’s not co-operating with my efforts to get things running smoothly.

Case in point – Server Side Includes, the httpd.conf file is setup as per what a zillion sites tell me it should look like and yet the files are not being included, this leave bits of my site like the renovations and wedding pages without navigation menus – which sucks. It’s probably something amazingly obvious but with the way things are at home and work I’m just too busy to get to the bottom of it. If anyone has suggestions, I’m open to giving them a try…

For those who feel like snooping, you can check out the uptime for http://inskeep.net via this handy wee site from Netcraft, while it doesn’t give you the historical stuff due to a lack of support by NT4 to provide such useful things as uptime.

HOWTO: Upgrading the Firmware on your Nokia M1122 / MW1122

It’s a frightening prospect, knowingly starting a process which you KNOW could result in you losing you beloved connection to the Internet – but when you’ve got an old, old Nokia MW1122 which needs a firmware update, it’s just one of those things which needs to be done. After all, if it all goes pear-shaped, you may just be able to get away with getting a nicer, newer modem and separating out your Wireless Access point

And so it came to pass that I decided it was high time to update my firmware and I have a few of the guys at work who are waiting on the results of my attempt before doing the same to theirs – hence this HOWTO of sorts.

I have a Nokia MW1122 which I use for both my DSL access and, with a C110 card, to provide my wireless network. I’m doing some of the standard pinholing things to let ‘stuff’ through to my network and, as my home network grows in complexity, I’m finding the modem is limiting my ability to provide the kind of control I’m now needing. I’ve also heard (and can now confirm) that the latest firmware exposes more of the modem/routers functionality for your networking pleasure… hence this update ๐Ÿ™‚

In the beginning:
Now, being a cautious lad, I took screen shots of all of the pertinent pages of the web interface. This meant that if I lost my settings for whatever reason, I could just re-enter all my pinholes and rules and stuff from the hard copy.

Prior to the update, the modem was running:
SW appl. Version: Gx1x2210.R09

Getting the files, and a few clues:
I did a bunch of googling before I started on this, as did a colleague from work, who was flicking me through links via IM in support of the ‘Rob the Guinea Pig’ theory.
The Internet is an interesting place, and – with a couple of cross checks, you can sort the wheat from the chaff and, applying this process, I gathered enough information to do my upgrade. The interesting thing is, it appears that New Zealand is one of the few places in the world with any degree of Nokia Nokia M1122 / MW1122 modem market penetration (mainly due to Telecom picking them up on the cheap and providing them as pretty much the only option for DSL modems for the first few years of ‘broadband’ in New Zealand.
In terms of places to hunt for info, I would recommend the Waikato Linux Users Group site, paying close attention to their WiKi and also the New Zealand ADSL mailing list
Now I *do* have all the pertinent files and stuff archived in case they disappear into the ether, but make an effort to grab the ones from the WLUG site as the documentation there is probably going to stay a lot more upto date than this page will.

Getting Ready:
If you have the same experience as I did, you will need:

  • The latest firmware file [ Gx1x2230.R04 ]
  • A stable network connection
  • A Telnet Client
  • A TFTP server
  • The ‘Admin’ password to your modem
  • Some good Karma

There are a few TFTP servers available for no cost (with a bit of googling) the WLUG site also has one amongst its files – I ended up using one from SolarWinds.net.
PuTTy is a great client which I use for SSH, Telnet and generally frightening my network, you can use whatever Telnet client spins your wheels – I just figured you may appreciate a recommendation ๐Ÿ˜‰

The fun trick for young players will be finding the admin password to your modem. Now you can buy some non-Telecom modems so if you’re doing this upgrade I’ll assume you do in fact own the modem and it’s not an ex-rental/Telecom owned unit. If it is then you will need to do some digging to get the admin password – it is out there, but I can’t help you by telling you what it is – sorry.

Make sure you’re all configured and ready to go, next up we’re going to do the update

Updating the Firmware:

  • Start your TFTP server running and pointed to a directory containing the firmware file [ Gx1x2230.R04 was the latest at the time of writing ]
  • Start your Telnet client and point it to the Nokia M[W]1122, you will be prompted for your username and password. It is important that you use an ADMINISTRATIVE login (‘admin’ or ‘Telecom’ are defaults for the Nokia, but in saying that, I’ve also read that the username is moot if the admin password is presented – I didn’t bother confirming this so YMMV) as a non-admin login will be unable to run the ‘copy’ command which is coming up next.

login-id: admin
password: *********

MW1122>copy tftp:/[THE IP ADDRESS OF YOUR TFTP SERVER]/Gx1x2230.R04 image.exe

  • The file will start copying down to your modem at this point – it takes a while (5 minutes for me via my 802.11b connection) then you will see

blocks received 1778
transfer status SUCCESSFUL

Congratulations, you’re over the hard stuff – at this point, it is safe to take one last look at your internet connection, cross everything that will cross, say a prayer and then do a FULL restart from the web interface of your modem.

If all went well, your surfing away happily and your Nokia will now read:
SW appl. version: Gx1x2230.R04

You’re on your own from here on out – good luck, give things a few minutes and then try accessing the internet

——————————————————————————–

Ahh… The Helpful Internet

Years and years (and years) ago, I bought a CodeAlarm 2000.This was pretty much the flashest car alarm you could get in New Zealand at the time and it even allowed keyless entry via remote door locking/unlocking (a feature that I know have difficulty living without).
Imagine my horror then, when I learned that CodeAlarm were no longer in business and, now that my second remote case had snapped, there was no one in New Zealand who could get a new plastic case to replace the broken ones.

Of course, this resulted in a quick googling, and – in a very short space of time, I’d turned up a couple of sites who could help.
Not only did I find a company who would sell me new cases(though at US$10 each it’s probably a bit steep – it is just a plastic case after all), but I also found a site which told me (since I’ve ‘misplaced’ my owners manual) how to re-programthe remote which has had a recent battery replacement. I’ve decided toreplicate these instructions below to help keep this info archived.

CodeAlarm Remote Programming Instructions

Remote Transmitter Programming:

In order to enter Learn Routine, the Valet/ Program button must be plugged into the blue port (Look for a small push button located under the drivers dash or kick panel).

  1. Open a door.
  2. Turn the ignition on to the RUN/ACC position (or you may also start car).
  3. Within 15 seconds press and release the momentary push button to select the channel you wish to program. (e.g. press and release once for channel 1 (arm/disarm channel).
  4. Press and hold the Valet/Program push button once more. You should get a confirmation chirp/horn-honk.
  5. If you do not get a chirp/horn-honk the alarm may have a jumper inthe alarm that has the programming feature turned OFF (disabled).
  6. Once the alarm chirps/horn-honks keep holding the momentary button.
  7. Press the button on the transmitter that you would like to control the selected receiver channel. A chirp/horn-honk will confirm that the code has been learned. If programming more than one transmitter repeat this step for each. (Note: Old transmitter codes will be dropped only if programming 4 new transmitters).
  8. Once the code(s) are learned, the momentary push button can be released.

Learn Routine will be exited if:

  • Ignition is turned off
  • Door is closed
  • Program push button is pressed too many times
  • More than 15 seconds elapses between steps
  • One long chirp/horn-honk indicates that Learn Routine has been exited.

So there you have it, Google saves the day (again) – and now I’m off to discover if I could simply replace my remotes with the Rhino UHF Learning Remote which Dick Smith sells (Cat#L5440) for NZ$49.60

Getting Clicky

How’s this for cool? It seems that now not only can you click your mouse to get to a URL, you can also click your camera phone.

How’s this for cool? It seems that now not only can you click your mouse to get to a URL, you can also click your camera phone.

After reading a notice on the NZ Wireless site that I frequent, I headed off to see what I could find out about Semacode. Wired News wrote this article about the people behind the technology, and being professional journos and all will probably explain it better that I attempt to below.

Simply put, Semacode is a barcode representation of a URL, by taking a photo of a Semacode with your camera equipped phone the image is interpreted by the Semacode software and you are then presented with the URL of the site, accept and away you go. It is the result of about a year of development by a Canadian programmer Simon Woodside and his associate Ming-Yee Iu who, interestingly (?) enough, I’d heard of before I knew of Semacode due to a document on Java UI basics which I read way back when I was pretending I’d have enough time to teach myself some more Java programming stuff – scary place this interwebby thing – almost as scary as the things my brain decided to remember for me (and yet I still can’t remember my wifes mobile phone number!)

Semacode representation of this sites URL.  If you had a compatible phone, had downloaded the software and took a photo of this, you'd be able to visit the homepage of this site!At the time of writing, the only phones supported are the Nokia3650/7650 or 3600/3620/3660 and the Nokia 6600 or 6620 but a note on the website directs the visitor to a hardware page where a range of modern camera phones are listed along with their specific model notes.

Basically it appears that phones running symbian/j2me will be supported and the porting process is an on going one. It’s pretty promising technology and one which I can think of a number of real world applications for, we’ll just have to wait and see how many of those I can help bring to market here in New Zealand.

Speaking of getting clicky, I’m waiting for the wowsers to restart the whole “the Government and Telecom are in cahoots…” malarkey as Paul Swain has today announced in a NZPA report that he will be accepting the recommendation not to unbundle.
I’m not surprised by this decision, given the points I made way back in December 2003 but I’m sure the conspiracy theorists will be baying for blood once again and running up the the elections there may well be some ill founded policy statements made by the opposition to try and latch on to these people.

People… get on with life, by the time a LLU policy was completely implemented, the existing infrastructure that is being contended will be as good as obsolete. There are other technologies out there, start choosing to use those to demonstrate your displeasure if that’s what makes you feel better.

Update 12/2010: (Wow – Six years on!) I have revisited this post as part of a test of QR Code adoption (QR Codes are what these things are called now). The original semacode image is somewhere in the mists of time, so I’ve regenerated it using this tool.