bbtmn

Posts from September 2009

Crossroads

Monday 28th September 2009

I think this is an important time for mankind. We face a variety of really massive problems and the way we deal with these is, I think, going to shape the rest of human history in a way that very little has in the past.

Our lifestyles are a result of hundreds – no, thousands of years of development and progress. We constantly strive to go one better; to do the impossible thing, solve the unanswerable question. In my opinion it’s one of the fundamental characteristics of the human race and probably the most admirable one too. Especially in the last 100-odd years, we’ve developed ourselves and our environments at a dizzying rate, and things that we take for granted today would baffle our ancestors from the early 20th century, let alone anyone older than that.

The problem is that it’s not sustainable. We’re heavily reliant on various depletable resources, and we’re using them pretty damn quickly. What’s more, those energy sources are tremendously flawed and by using them we’re damaging not only the environment but also ourselves. We only get one shot at this; we have one life to live and (currently…) one planet on which to live. One planet for us and – with any luck – millennia of our descendants. To be so accepting of both of them being damaged in such a way just seems so insane.

I have to say that I don’t know much about climate change. We’re told that the evidence really does point towards man-made climate change being a fact, but when I’ve looked at it on my own (admittedly not in massive detail) it all seems so… inconclusive. So I don’t know whether it’s happening and really I don’t care, because it’s irrelevant (and not the point of this post so please don’t try to comment about it). As I see it, burning these things is really harmful even before we take into account any possible effect on climate change. And besides, we really need to find an alternative because the stuff is running out. While we’re at it, that replacement may as well be non-damaging because it makes sense and it’s possible.

We’re being told that the way we live our life is wrong. Our cars are too big, we fly around the world too much, we don’t recycle enough. But really, it isn’t. It’s imperfect, but I don’t subscribe to the view that we should effectively regress in order to reduce emissions by a tiny amount. Our parents got to fly around the world, experience being on the cutting edge of mankind. Who the hell are they to deny us the same priviledge? Yes we should change our lifestyles (for instance more people should use public transport – but first the public transport system should be less horrendously terrible), but there’s a balance to be struck. The big problems arent individuals, it’s big businesses. But I guess it’s bad politics to attack them…

My point is that the issue we’re facing is not climate change. Of course it’s something to be aware of and try to counter, but it’s not the really scary problem. That problem is that we’re going to run out of energy soon and as far as I can tell we’re doing very little about it. We need answers pretty soon, but we’re stuck asking the wrong questions.

Posted In: EngineeringRantSleepTechnology Tagged: | 7 Comments

Waiting for a train…

Thursday 17th September 2009

So the WordPress iPhone app has suddenly decided to work for me. I have no idea how or why it’s happened, but it’s probably best to just accept these things and move on…

I realise that I’ve somewhat gone off the boil with the htpc thing (thankyou Callan :p). I spent a few days tinkering as I was writing the entries, then had to go to Cardiff for a day and since then I’ve sorta been distracted by other stuff. Ironically, as the project started as a way to reuse an old pc, I’ve essentially ended up building a bespoke system for it. Really I need now to finish doing that, rejig Windows, then actually install it in Cardiff. Anyway, I’ll continue this in another post…

So I start back at uni next week. Well, it’s freshers week and lectures actually start a week on Monday, but you get the idea. It’s been a good year and an especially good summer. I’ve been doing a job which I enjoyed, travelled up and down the country for various reasons, spent time with various friends that I don’t generally get to see much and just generally had a good time. I’m really reluctant to go back to student life. Really i’m dreading having to motivate myself somehow. I keep telling myself to treat it like a job; get up, go to uni, spend the days working or in lectures and then go home and forget about it. If I do that I’ll enjoy it. I’m worried that I’ll do my usual trick of leave it all to the last possible minute, do crap in exams, then not be able to get a good job…

There was some point I was gonna blog about which I’ve now forgotten. Frustrating.

I think I’m gonna miss driving this year. I’m still gonna have my car, but I no longer have reason to do a few hundred miles every week. I used to really enjoy my Monday morning 6am drives to work. Driving through the dark with not much else on the roads and some good music on the stereo, it’s a really good way to relax, gather your thoughts.

I generally find driving therapeutic though. I think it’s because driving is partly automatic; you pay attention but part of what youre doing you basically don’t think about, so you take a step away from thinking about Whatever, but can still churn things over in the back of your mind until suddenly something clicks and things seem clearer.

Also, driving is really fun…

Anyway, I ceased to be waiting for a train about 10 minutes ago, and I’m worried that if I keep writing I won’t notice my stop. Also Ive basically been rambling, and I probably shouldn’t embarrass myself further by continuing…

Posted In: CarsGeekRandomStuffTechnology Tagged: | 4 Comments

HTPC – Receiving Loud and Clear (projectlog Part 3)

Tuesday 8th September 2009

So, my TV card and rather snazzy keyboard arrived. I got the card installed, got Vista Home Premium installed, and had a look to see how it all worked.

I was worried that Vista might be a bit clunky on the machine I’m using, but really it’s not too bad. Just about usable, but I think the extra 1gb of RAM (when it arrives) will be welcome. Once I’d got all the drivers sorted (which included some drama with the graphics driver having a strop when I updated the motherboard drivers. One system restore later, all was well), I opened up Media Center (damn Americans, can’t bloody spell…). I’d never used it before so I didn’t really know how well it’d work.

I have to say, I’m impressed. The interface is pretty much spot on, and works really well with the remote control that came with the tuner. I had to fiddle with the positioning of the aerial to get the best amount of channels, but once I’d done that, it picked everything up cleanly, with no stuttering or weird drops in signal. The little freeview box we’ve been using in Cardiff for the last year is absolutely shit in comparison, even before you get to the extra things that the new box can do…

There’s not much more to say about Media Centre. It does everything you’d want htpc software to do, it’s quick, it’s pretty, and it works brilliantly even with my cheapy TV card. It even saw the dual tuners without any fuss, so I can watch one thing and record another. Result!

Initially I was just testing it on a PC monitor, so I was keen to get a TV hooked up, because that’s what it’s ultimately gonna be outputting to when I hook it all up in Cardiff. There was a spare TV in one of the rooms, so I got it and connected it to the TV out on the graphics card.

Desk

It works pretty damn well. I couldn’t find the remote for that TV to change the input settings, hence why it’s not colour. I did test it on another TV just to confirm that it is outputting in colour, and it is.

So I’m fairly satisfied with Vista, so it’s going to stay. My HTPC now does the important stuff – i.e. the bult of the TV functionality – so next on the hitlist is the little addons I initally specced when I started looking at this project…

Part 4 tomorrow.

Posted In: GeekTechnologyTV Tagged: | 1 Comment

HTPC – Prep (projectlog Part 2)

Monday 7th September 2009

While I was waiting for the TV card and stuff to arrive, I started to consider what software to use. Just to help give the whole picture, here’s the specs of the PC I’m using:

  • Athlon 2500+ (333mhz FSB)
  • Abit NF7 Motherboard (it’s a shame Abit went bust. This is the best motherboard I’ve ever used and I would’ve definitely got another one for my next build, if they were around)
  • 768mb pc2700 DDR RAM (I’ve bought a 1gb stick to add to this, but it’s not arrived yet)
  • Radeon 9800 pro graphics card (overkill much?)
  • 80gb IDE hard disk. This will probably get added to at some point.
  • Some generic DVD-ROM drive.

By no means rubbish, but not the sort of system that you can expect to run everything uber-smoothly. So in picking software, that was my main consideration (as well as how well it’d work, and how easy it is to set up).

There are loads of alternatives out there, using either Linux or Windows. The ones I looked at were Mediaportal running on XP, Freevo, MythTV, or Media Centre built into Vista. Freevo and MythTV both run on linux and both look really good. The only thing with Linux though is that it’s never a simple task to make it do what you want to do. Even if it’s painless to install Freevo or MythTV, I’m sure it’d be hell getting all the drivers working, then getting stuff like emulators and web interfaces and shared folders working is just gonna be a hassle. I know Windows, so that was my preference (although I may look at the Linux alternatives at another point). The other good thing about Windows is that I know that there are a bunch of good emulators out there, and a good bittorrent client (with the web interface) in uTorrent, which saves me time looking for other things which work as well…

I decided to try first with Mediaportal running on XP. I thought I’d install it and have a play before my TV card came, just to see what it’s like. And I’d love to report back on it, but as soon as I’d installed it, the computer started rebooting itself as soon as it started to load the windows desktop. I spent a bit of time trying to fix it, but could never get my head round it. So, I decided to try plan B: Vista Home Premium, and the inbuilt Media Centre software.

Before I installed that though, some new toys arrived…

Tuner and Keyboard

Part 3 coming tomorrow

Posted In: GeekTechnologyTV Tagged: | No Comments

HTPC – Plan of Attack (projectlog Part 1)

Sunday 6th September 2009

We have a lot of spare computers lying around at home. Nothing special, just old computers that we don’t need any more because we’ve upgraded. I’ve always thought that it’s a slight waste for them to just be lying around unused because really there’s nothing wrong with them, as long as you don’t need to run cutting-edge software or stuff that needs a quick pc. For example, when I got a new PC (3 years ago!), carried on using it because it was fine for him at the time. Recently though he needed something newer so he upgraded, so my old pc was just sat around, basically doing nothing. It’s not slow – it runs Half-Life 2 pretty damn well, for instance. So I thought I’d put it to use.

I’ve toyed with the idea of building a htpc for a while. Initially I thought of using something based around a dual-core Atom processor, because that would be quiet (silent iirc) and still more than quick enough for what I need it for. Sadly the parts for that is more than I’d be willing to spend, which is why I came around to using my old pc. I decided that all I need to do on the hardware side is make it quieter, because at the moment it’s got lots of fans and is too loud to use as a htpc. Obviously for something that’s gonna be on pretty much all the time and is going to sit next to the tv, you want it to be as quiet as possible.

So, I started thinking about what I wanted it to do and what I’d need to buy to do it.

Whiteboard

The basic requirements I drafted up were:

  • Ability to record one programme whilst watching another.
  • Easily able to see shares from my desktop pc, so I can play music or videos I’ve got stored on that over the TV.
  • Some sort of online interface, so I can login over the internet and set programmes to record whilst I’m away. Preferably, I’d like this interface to work well on my iPhone as well :)
  • Able to play DivX etc
  • Work well enough on the hardware I wanted to use. It’s no use having it if it takes half an hour to open the TV listings…
  • Pretty frontend
  • Good bittorrent software with a web interface.
  • Would be good if iPlayer etc could be integrated into the interface, so we don’t have to leave the media software to use it.
  • Also want to install some emulators on the pc (MAME etc), and it’d be good if that could be integrated into the media software as well.

I had a look at TV cards and really couldn’t differentiate between the different types, so plumped for the cheapest dual-tuner card I could find. I also got a wireless keyboard, which has a touchpad built in, which I thought was pretty cool and ideal for this sort of system. Also I jumped on eBay and got a quiet CPU cooler for a fiver and 1GB of RAM.

All that remained then was to wait for the parts to arrive, so I could put my new toy very useful system together :)

Posted In: GeekProcrastinationTechnologyTV Tagged: | 8 Comments