It’s been way too long since I posted on my blog. Last year was very hectic for me on many levels. I started homebrewing and really enjoyed learning the process into making beer. It’s not that hard. I spent much of the year running around after my kids and trying to be a good father to them. I spent quite a bit of energy helping my folks deal with the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. My parents home in Staten Island had considerable damage and it took a while to clean it up and get them back into the house. The year ended for me on a very sad note as my father passed away somewhat unexpectedly. I hope to blog more actively this year on various topics and I’m also starting a soccer blog to vent my views on my favorite sport. Hopefully 2013 is a much better year than 2012. Cheers!
In the past couple of weeks I upgraded the family computer to Ubuntu 11.10. This was the first release that the family got to experience Unity for the first time. The kids were o.k. as they’re pretty flexible. My wife on the other hand absolutely hated Unity and insisted I switch to a desktop that’s closer to Gnome 2.*. I wound up putting XFCE on it and she was happy. Everything seems to running without any issues. The only minor thing I had to deal with is that tsclient is no longer supported in 11.10. For anyone who uses a vpn for work and needs to access a windows box it’s a minor problem. I found an application similar to tsclient called remmina. The configuration is actually easier than tsclient. I’ve held off upgrading the Mythbuntu boxes in the house as there’s no reason to do so at this point. MythTV is currently at 024.1 and everything is running fine. I’ll upgrade once MythTV is upgraded to 0.25.
I plan on voting for Ron Paul in the upcoming Republican primary. While any of the current Republican candidates would be a massive improvement over President Obama I feel Ron Paul is head shoulders above the pack. First off the guy is not a career politician. He’s a trained and practicing medical doctor who’s been a congressman during three different stints totaling 24 years. Too many politicians have never worked a real job their entire lives. He knows our current system and what needs to change. He’s not afraid to go against his party if it’s the right thing to do. While I do not agree with many of his foreign policies I do agree with most of his stances on other issues. Right now this country needs Ron Paul. He’s for ending all foreign aid, especially to regimes that are outright hostile to us and bringing our troops home. This nation needs to regroup and get our house in order. Ron Paul is committed to protecting personal freedoms and limiting the overreaching powers of our government. Here’s a quick list of some of his stances (from his website):
He has never voted to raise taxes.
He has never voted for an unbalanced budget.
He has never voted for a federal restriction on gun ownership.
He has never voted to raise congressional pay.
He has never taken a government-paid junket.
He has never voted to increase the power of the executive branch.
He voted against the Patriot Act.
He voted against regulating the Internet.
He voted against the Iraq war.
He does not participate in the lucrative congressional pension program. He returns a portion of his annual congressional office budget to the U.S. treasury every year.
I recommend people read about Ron Paul and make an educated decision as to who they’re voting for. This next election is so important to our nation’s future. We need a president who will do what’s necessary to get us going in the right direction. I believe Ron Paul is that candidate.
Yesterday I spent the day at the 2011 NYC Maker Faire on the grounds of the NY Hall of Science in Queens, New York. I’ve seen videos of the Maker Faire in the San Francisco area for years and have been very envious. It looks like a very cool event where people are encouraged to make projects involving technology, art and anything cool and share them with others. There’s a great DIY spirit with a strong emphasis on teaching children to learn science skills and try to apply them to the real world. So me and my 7 year old son jumped into the car for the 2 hour drive into NYC. The very first area we came upon was the young maker’s pavilion. We spent a good hour checking out the tables and the various projects people had set up for the kids. We then checked out the live sized mouse trap. I got the sense the people behind it were performance artists types (tattoos & body piercing in abundance). It was a fun performance that a pretty large crowd of people enjoyed. As we walked into the main area we saw the the huge fire breathing metal dragon sculpture that we’ve seen in videos of the other Maker Faires:
We then checked a lot of the robotics stuff. My son was very excited to try controlling a human sized robot that a local high school team had built and entered into a national robotics competition. There was a ton of good stuff to see. My favourite were the Tesla Coils moving in sync with loud music. The videos of them on youtube don’t do them justice. You need to see them live:
One big negative related to Maker Faire was the overall lack of Linux. A lot of the vendors were espousing “open” like it was the buzzword bingo word of day. Sadly I did not see anyone running Linux in any capacity. I say it was about 90% windows and about 10% OSX. I did see see a ton of Android phones. It kinda irks me that an event about hacking, programming and sharing with a large “open” mindset is pretty oblivious to what F/OSS is all about. I went to one booth where they were doing CAD designs and building sculptures out of laser cut cardboard sheets. I spoke to the woman manning the booth and she told me they were using a program called Autodesk 123D that was “free”. She was emphatic that the designs were “open” and “sharable”. I asked her if it was a cross platform application and she nodded yes. When I got home in the evening I was very disappointed to find out that it’s windows only. Even worse it’s not even open, it’s just shareware. This trend of loosely using the terms “open” & “free” is a bit disturbing. Overall I think Maker Faire is a great event that should be checked out if you’re into technology & science. I just hope that in future events Linux is more prevalent and a more authentic F/OSS mentality takes root. It’s a bit sad when companies use marketing speak just to get into people’s “tech pants”.
My Silicondust HDHomerun Prime finally arrived this past Wednesday. Silicondust had some delays getting this product out the door and having a hurricane blowing up the east coast the same weekend as my shipment moved was not conductive to a quick delivery. The original HDHomerun was a dual unencrypted QAM/over the air digital tv tuner that had two co-axial inputs. It was a very solid device that ran for years on my MythTV system without any issues. The new Silicondust HDHomerun Prime is a cablecard compatible triple digital tuner. It has only one co-axial connection but you can record up to three digital channels at once! The big caveat is that you’ll be able to record encrypted cable channels that have their DRM flag set as “copy-freely”. What’s flagged as copy-freely will vary depending on your cable company. Most cable companies will leave everything as copy-freely with the exception of “premium” movie channels like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz, etc.. On the extreme negative end is Time Warner (in NYC &other markets) which encrypts all the channels and flags them as “copy-once” or “copy-never” regardless if the channel is “premium” or not. Your best bet is to do a little research to see where on this scale your cable provider lies and make an informed decision. I had a cablecard from RCN sitting on my desk for the last couple of weeks in anticipation of the Prime’s arrival. The cablecard setup process is threefold:
Activation, Pairing, Provisioning
Activation turns on the card. Pairing puts the cablecard as a registered device on the cable provider’s system. Provisioning is where the card is given access to all the content tiers you should be receiving. I’ve heard of lots of horror stories where the cablecard gets stuck in an unusable state somewhere along the setup. When I picked up the card up from RCN they gave me a piece of paper with the card describing the activation process. First call one number which will send a hard reset to all your cable boxes & cablecards. I had my Prime connected and ready to go and called the number. I saw my cable boxes getting reset. The HDHomerun Prime has an embedded webserver which you can access from any web browser. The pages show various status message such as activation, pairing and whether or not any of the tuners are tuned to channels along with signal strength. On one page I saw a message saying to call RCN’s activation number along with information for the card such as Mac address, serial number, device ID, etc.. I called the number and spoke to a service rep. I indicated I had a cablecard activation and mentioned I was using a network attached tv tuner device. I read off three sets of numbers to the rep and she read them back to me. She then put me on hold for about five minutes. After she returned she asked whether or not I could see any channels. The old hdhomerun_config_gui application somewhat works with the Prime. When you start the application you can see the three tuners but you can’t scan and tune them from inside the application. Open up a terminal window and tell the prime to tune to a certain channel:
hdhomerun_config 13104608 set /tuner0/vchannel 446
13104608 is the tuner ID and 446 is the channel I’m tuning to.
In the gui you will see a dropdown for the channels on the frequency you just tuned into. Pick one of the channels and hit the view button. VLC should now fire up and display the channel if it’s marked as copy freely. Update: I hear that if you download & compile the latest version of the hdhomerun_config directly from Silicondust it should work without having to do this. The version in the ubuntu repos is older.
I then proceeded to successfully tune in a bunch of different channels. As expected none of the movie channels would tune in. The customer rep then asked me to reboot my tuner to make sure the provisioning remained. I restarted the HDHomerun Prime. One minor issue I encountered is that the Prime has to run with dynamic IP assignment. So I had to turn my router’s dhcpd server. As far as I can tell the prime cannot be setup with static IP. After rebooting the Prime all my channels were still there. So after a 15 minute telephone call with RCN my Prime was working as it should. I then went about setting up the Prime as a capture device in MythTV. If you’re running MythTV 0.24.1 or greater the Prime works out of the box. The setup is pretty straightforward:
HDHomerun Prime Setup in MythTV
The setup in MythTV took about another 15 minutes with the majority of that time waiting for mythfilldatabase to complete the population of the channel listings for the new tuners.
Once the setup was completed I went for the gusto and scheduled 4 simultaneous HD recordings (1 on PVR-1212, 3 on the Prime). While all 4 recordings were going I then went to my family room and watched another HD recording on my Zotac based MythTV frontend. There were no noticeable hiccups, stutters, pixelization or audio out of sync issues. After the recordings finished I then watched all of them and they were perfect. The picture quality is pretty much identical to the cable box.
After a couple days of heavy use I’m very satisfied with the HDHomerun Prime. I’m now able to record a ton of HD content. While I wish Silicondust had released this product sooner you can’t fault them after encountering some manufacturing issues from their factory in China. The product itself is a solid successor to the original HDHomerun.
Sadly it seems Windows Media Center users are encountering a ton of issues with the Prime:
Silicon Dust forum
Whether those issues are DRM related or simply platform stability issues is of little concern to Linux users. They’re in dreamland if they expect patches from Microsoft in a timely manner to help alleviate their woes. They made their bed and they’ll have to sleep in it. Maybe some Windows MCE users will finally smarten up and become Linux/MythTV users? One can only hope they come to their senses.
Been too long since I’ve posted anything on this blog. What I have I been up to? Well, I sold the Archos 101 tablet in order to get a Viewsonic gtablet on the cheap from woot.com. It’s much more powerful than the Archos and actually has a dual core tegra2 processor in it. I’ve nuked the default version of android and installed Cyanogenmod 7 on it. It works very well and I’ve enjoyed using it every day. I even got the Netflix streaming application working on it without any issues. This year I’ve decided not to go to OLF (Ohio Linuxfest) for a couple reasons. First off I’ve been to the conference multiple times already. It’s a great show that I highly recommend people to attend if you’re interested in Linux and Open Source. Another reason I’m not going is that my proposed talk was rejected. While I enjoy going to Linux conferences and just hanging out I feel like I’ll get more out of the experience if I actually contribute with a talk. Finally I plan on attending the Maker Faire in NYC the weekend after OLF. I’ve heard so many good things about the Maker Faire (both in San Francisco and NYC) over the years that I feel I really need to finally check it out. I’m trying to get my kids interested in science and what better way than bringing the whole family along. Let me know if you plan on going and perhaps we can get together for a bit.
So I stopped by the local BestBuy store and played with the Motorola Xoom for a bit. Is it a really nice Android tablet? Absolutely. Is it nicer than the Apple iPad? Of course it is. It’s not even close. Is Honeycomb beautiful and a major leap for Android into the world of tablets? Yes, it’s really really is nice. Is the Motorola Xoom worth $799 and being locked into data plan? No, it isn’t. If Motorola wants to seriously challenge Apple they need to offer a wi-fi only version and drop the price by $200. End of story. Honestly if you don’t want an Android tablet that will require selling your children and body to science there are far better choices. Amazon has the the Archos 101 for $294. They also have the Archos 70 for $270. You buy also buy a Barnes & Noble Nook Color for $200 until March 3rd. You can install Cyanogenmod and make it a totally kick ass Android tablet and not just an ebook reader. Another option is get a Samsung Galaxy Tab for $499 (without contract) or $249 (with a 2 year data contract). Save your money and let the price of the Xoom come down. There is going to be a flood of Android tablets in the next year. Prices will drop. There will be many many options. In fact there already are.
I’ve had my Nexus One phone for around a year and for the most part really enjoyed using it. I’ve also enjoyed getting updates to Android before any other Android phone on the market. The only negative aspect is the limited on-board memory. On occasion towards the end of the day I might get a popup dialog saying I was running low on system memory. Recently my wife requested me to pick her up an Android based phone. Initially I was thinking of just picking up one of the low/middle level Android phones available for around $50. The LG Optimus L is pretty well rated. I would have to upgrade my plan on T-Mobile to a “Family Plan” with shared minutes between the 2 phones. I went to the T-Mobile store near my office and found out they were doing a buy one get one special for all their phones. Now I’ve checked out all of the Android phones and currently the best one being offered by T-Mobile is the Mytouch 4G. While it is not staggeringly more powerful than my Nexus One it does offer the following improvements:
All the improvements over the Nexus One are nice but the most noticeable improvement is the overall network speed. With my Nexus One I was getting about 2 Mbit down and about 1 Mbit up in good conditions. With the Mytouch 4G I’m getting about 5.5 Mbit down and 2 Mbit up. While T-Mobile advertises this as 4G it really is HSPA+ which is technically more like 3.5G. As far as I can tell this is the fastest available mobile speed in my area. At my office myself and several of my co-workers compared our mobile carriers’ speed by using the Speed Test application. We compared my phone’s speed against an iPhone on AT&T and an HTC Incredible on Verizon. The Mytouch 4G on T-Mobile won handily. It wasn’t even close. I’ve had the phone for a couple weeks now and I’m really enjoying it. The phone is very well built and feels like a tank compared to the Samsung Nexus S with it’s somewhat flimsy plastic case. The video chat works with the only requirement being both parties have to be registered with Qik. I highly recommend the phone to anybody.
Now that I’ve had the Archos 101 for a couple weeks I’d like to discuss what I like using it for. The Archos seems to float between the family room and my bedroom. Generally in the family room we leave it plugged in and on with the photo slide show continuously running. The photo album application has some nice transitions and works as well as any dedicated digital picture frame. The kitchen in my house is right next to the family room. More than once the Archos has made its way into the kitchen and used for recipe reference while cooking. Streaming my MythTV videos around the house via UPnP is an absolute no brainer. The tablet detected my MythTV system right out of the box and works very well. Old school gaming on this device is simply awesome. Android has a wealth of emulators (NESoid, SNESoid, SGENoid, UAE4Droid, Gameboid) and access to tons of ROMS. I recently picked up a Wiimote game controller and it works very well on Android devices via the Wiimote controller application. Most of the emulators I listed are capable of using the wiimote as a game controller. This past weekend I had family over and the kids were literally fighting each other to get in line to try some old school gaming on the Archos 101. It’s a lot of fun. Plug in the Archos 101 to your HDTV via the hdmi connection and you now have a complete old school gaming system. The sound is even piped into the tv via the hdmi cable. Big win when you take into consideration that the more expensive Android tablets (Viewsonic gtablet & Samsung Galaxy Tab) require you to purchase a multimedia doc to get an hdmi out connection. As I mentioned in my previous post the kickstand on the Archos 101 is such a great idea. The fact that no other tablet manufacturer has implemented one so far is kinda mind blowing. Another area where the Archos 101 excels at is as indoor Ebook reader. Aldiko and the Kindle app work exceptionally well on a device with a bigger screen. Comics look absolutely stunning. I’m tempted to start buying electronic comics to have the excuse to use the Comics application. So far I’m very happy with the Archos 101. I like using it whenever I can. More expensive devices may have nicer displays but for $299 you get a nice mix of good hardware and a very capable version of Android out of the box. It’s by no means perfect but definitely very usable and tweakable. A solid purchase for the price.
Words of advice: Definitely check out in person any device you’re seriously considering purchasing if you can.
In my last post I mostly talked about the hardware side of the Archos 101. Today I’m going to talk about the software, primarily the custom version of Android that Archos has developed. For the most part it is stock Android. Unlike the Viewsonic gTablet which has a horrible customized version of Android, Archos has wisely chosen to keep it simple. As a Nexus One owner I was immediately comfortable using the Archos 101. Everything is pretty familiar. The biggest glaring omission is that the original Android marketplace is not installed by default. Instead Archos has installed the Appslib marketplace. This is pretty limiting as far as the applications you can install. My guess is that Archos only wants to make available applications they know will scale up to a bigger screen. This will hopefully go away as the upcoming Honeycomb release of Android will address the tablet experience directly. Not to fear, some of the great people over at the XDA Forums have created a package that will install the regular marketplace in under a minute. The tablet has shipped with Android 2.1 but upon connecting to the internet you will see a firmware upgrade is available that will bring you up to Android 2.2. As others have reported there were periodic lagginess when having multiple applications open at once. Someone recommended doing a factory wipe to alleviate the issue. I tried this and noticed the issue has disappeared. With the upgrade to Android 2.2 there’s even a CPU scaling option. By default Archos has the CPU set to 800 mhz even thought the processor is 1 ghz. They do this to improve battery life. I decided to increase this to the “overdrive” setting and haven’t noticed any negative effects on the battery life. Everything is pretty quick and responsive. So far I’m enjoying Android on such a large device. Ebook reading is an absolute joy with Aldiko and the Kindle applications. Comics purchased from Comixology look absolutely stunning in their Android application. The web browser is pretty nice and looks good in both landscape and portrait modes. While media playback is generally very good there is the annoyance of not being able to play mpeg2 video or AC-3 audio by default. Archos wants users to buy a codec pack for 15 Euros?! An easy work around to this is installing the Rockplayer application. It seems a bit petty that Archos wants to charge extra for the ability to play back commonly used codecs. Another glaring issue is that there’s no hardware specific version of flashplayer for Archos Android devices. You can install the default player from the marketplace but it’s not hardware accelerated. It’s usable but not optimal. Supposedly Archos is working with Adobe to get an official package released soon. Some day to day observations in my next post.