Archive: September, 2004

The Home Theater PC complete

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 11:15 PM | comments: 2
I don't remember now how I found Beyond TV, but for all of the times I was missing the two TV shows I actually watch, I figured there has to be a better way than the VCR. I had seen Windows Media Center and wasn't that impressed, or interested in tying into the platform. BTV controls DirecTV receivers by a serial connection, has free program listing and it has a great hardware MPEG encoder bundle. TiVo shmeevo, I say.

So I took the plunge and built my own box. The most ridiculous thing I bought was the case. The aluminum Ahanix D5 looked the nicest to me. Yeah, it's a rip-off for $200, but I couldn't find a better looking one in black that didn't have a stupid door on the front. What the hell is with the doors on the front of HTPC cases? Last I checked, none of my other stereo components had doors on them. It's a nice case, with two issues. The first is the cheap punch-out slot covers on the back. That's lame, and for $200 I would have expected better. The second is that the drive cage is nearly flush to the front, meaning you don't get enough wiggle room to align your DVD drive so that the button makes contact and the replacement drawer face is in the right place. I had to shave the sides of the existing face off so it could slide ever so slightly further into the cage. One other minor complaint is that the little display has to connect via the parallel port, and the software for it sucks. It's a minor complaint because I wasn't really that concerned about using it in the first place.

I got a really spiffy A-bit (NF7-S) motherboard with Nvidia's nForce chipset and an optical SPDIF audio output. Sitting in it is a mobile Athlon XP 2400+. I opted for the mobile because it runs a little cooler and is easily over-clocked. The rest of the stuff is pretty standard, including a wireless card. The hard drive was a steal at CompUSA... 250 gig Maxtor for $130. The DVD burner is a $68 NEC that does dual-layer discs. It all fits no problem. A $17 infrared keyboard/mouse has been a home run.

The heatsink had to be quiet, and work efficiently, so I settled on this beautiful unit from Thermaltake. It's HUGE! It really dominates the inside of the case. Sure enough though, it runs at a fairly cool 45 degrees most of the time, and that's with the CPU slightly over-clocked.

The software is awesome. Beyond TV is a really great product. The guys at Snapstream really put a lot of love into their products (and they're all about .NET too). I got their remote control as well, which works great with PowerDVD and to a certain degree, iTunes. Pausing live TV works as it should, and it "finds" the TV spots in recorded programs. The hardware MPEG card makes nice recordings from the DirecTV receiver. The really neat thing is that you can pull up the program guide on their site from any Web browser, and BTV periodically checks the site to see if you've ordered any recordings. That's cool.

I replaced my CD player, DVD player and VCR with this one box. The remote and BTV make it possible to never need the keyboard when you're using TV functions. I only need it for iTunes. Bottom line, I have a media center I can always upgrade.

Going back to the hood

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 27, 2004, 7:57 PM | comments: 0
Stephanie and I met a friend in the Ohio City area of Cleveland for brunch yesterday. It's interesting to see how much better that area of Cleveland has become in the last decade or so.

Since we weren't far from my childhood home, I decided to drive by my old house. Before I even got there, it was weird. The streets seem smaller and more narrow. Everything seems dumpy. The Convenient Food Mart is still at the corner of W. 47 and Storer, surprisingly enough. On the street itself, most of the houses have been repainted.

My old house is still there, with different siding, an eight-foot fence in the driveway, and maybe some new windows. Otherwise, it pretty much looks like a dump. I suppose it was a dump when I lived there too. Indeed that was the case with most of the houses on that block.

Further down the street, on the site of my old elementary school, is a block of new houses. It's weird that you look at one side of the street and it's familiar, yet the other side is not. It's a bright spot in an otherwise bleak neighborhood.

As I passed the corner where I did safety patrol, I couldn't help but try to find some context. This was my life prior to Stephanie, to most of high school, to college, my friends, my travels, my careers, everything that I know. It was a place that offered stark contrast to the subdivision of new homes I live in now.

But I came from this place. It's the house where we had food stamps. Where I played in the sandbox in the back yard (and kids stole my little trucks). Where I climbed in the apple tree. Where we were robbed. Where I wrote my first computer program. Where I collected comic books and played with Transformer toys.

Life wasn't that great at the time, but I managed to get through it. High school in the suburbs was safer, but I'm not sure it was better. I don't think I started to realize the potential life could have until I got to college. Every year it became more clear that with the ability to do anything, came the responsibility of taking advantage of doing anything.

The drive down W. 47 gave me a lot of perspective, and I've been thinking about it ever since. So many memories and feelings rushing back with a freshness that's almost scary. At the same time, I can see so many things that I've long since let go of, and thought of other things that I still hang on to. It's crazy that you can pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses to events in your life.

Bah. So much rambling. I thank God for my life, even the really horrible parts. Without the bad parts, how can you know what's really good, or how fortunate you've been? I feel really good about the decisions I've made so far, and hope that I have the courage to correct the things about me that still aren't right.

Sick or something

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 23, 2004, 5:39 PM | comments: 1
Last night I started sneezing like a son of a bitch, nasal drip and everything. I thought maybe it was allergies (which are generally not a problem this time of year for me), but when I woke up this morning I was getting my ass kicked with a rock solid head, hot, cold, achy. It sucks.

So Stephanie and I hit the grocery store and I got some Day-Quil. I'm starting to feel a little better, but I'm still cycling through various temperatures. I haven't been sick in probably a year and a half at least. I'm hoping this doesn't count.

And I've got stuff to do. I got the parts for my home theater PC and I need to go see some of my kids play volleyball tonight. I don't have time for this!

At least I don't have some job I have to call in sick for!

I'm a crappy blogger, but I remember ten years ago

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 20, 2004, 2:30 AM | comments: 1
I really have sucked at updating lately. I don't actually give two shits if anyone else reads this stuff, but it does serve as a record of life for myself.

Part of the problem is that a lot of things on my mind are technical so I post them over on my other blog. I'm not even sure why I make the distinction, though what I post over there is generally sans four letter words (which I fucking use liberally here ;)).

Stephanie thought that working at home was making me kind of introverted, which I can kind of agree with. As she so eloquently put it regarding the Jeff she first met about ten years ago, "You're Jeff Jones! You're on the radio! You write for the newspaper!" I went out to Lucy's (later BW-3) every chance I could and generally tried to avoid being alone.

Times sure have changed. My friends are so spread out now. I don't even remember the last time I spoke to my best man (where ever he is in Hollyweird now). Among my other close friends, one lives in Sandusky now, another on the far east side and yet another in Canton. My cousin and his wife live in the corn fields south. None of the bastards live close to me.

Not working in broadcast hell has certainly allowed me to do my own thing. Going the route of the self-employed is even better. It has however caused my social life to take a hit. I mean, outside of Steph, my biggest real-world interaction with people lately has been with the cute girl at Chipotle.

One of the biggest changes in the last decade has been the proliferation of the Internet into the mainstream. Back then in college we used e-mail to keep in touch with friends at other schools, and the Web didn't yet exist (not in the way we know it, anyway). Now, I look at my buddy list and at any given time, a dozen of my former volleyball kids are connected. Those far-off friends, some of them, are frequently there, and we keep in touch even if we don't see each other much. I guess in that context we still talk, but it's different. It's now almost possible to be a social retard and social butterfly at the same time.

To add to the weirdness, our friends are all married, many have kids and mortgages... weird. I guess now that I'm 30-something I should just be used to that, but it's still weird.

Maybe we need to have more than one great party per year...

PC-based DVR fun

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 10, 2004, 12:18 PM | comments: 1
After "finishing" my book last night and faced with time to worry about, well, nothing, I started to think a little bit about TV. The truth is, Stephanie and I don't watch much TV, but naturally it seems that every network is scheduling the shows we do watch at the same time.

We're DirecTV subscribers. The downside of this is that you can't really go splitting your dish signal all over the place without a special switch and lots of extra cabling. The TiVo units with receivers are cool, but again, without the mad cabling you can't watch one thing and record another. I'm annoyed with TiVo subscription fees anyway.

I did a little digging and found that SnapStream's Beyond TV was very, very cool. I have a machine I'm not using, so I went to CompUSA and picked up an inexpensive video capture board for $20 after rebate. Unfortunately the serial cable I needed to connect my machine to the DirecTV receiver was also $20. I feel violated. Discounts were the biggest perk of working at that store after college.

Aside from getting all kinds of drivers updated on the unused box, it went pretty smoothly getting it setup. Before I knew it, I was recording TV. The Web server is very cool, and it's neat to see that with the next beta they're apparently very into .NET. The only real issue is that the computer is bare-minimum standard for software-based capture, which is bad news because you can't watch the stream remotely and record at the same time.

My original background and professional life P.I.B. (pre-Internet boom) was in TV, so I generally have a lot of distaste for consumer video products, including my living room TV. Since I don't watch much, I put up with it. Still, I'm enough of a dork still that I edit my own video with Avid. Anyway, I hate all of this analog crap in broadcast TV. I hate that there are crappy RCA connectors on my DirecTV receiver and the video capture card. I hate that there isn't a DirecTV receiver on a PCI card so I could record MPEG right off the bird.

Despite all that dissatisfaction, I can't wait to hook up the laptop to the PC and stream some recorded video down there to the TV to see how it looks.

New favorite volleyball photo

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, September 8, 2004, 12:00 AM | comments: 0
I went to see my former setter of two years play with her high school team tonight. I managed to get an OK photo of her jump setting...

Getting the volleyball itch

posted by Jeff | Sunday, September 5, 2004, 12:51 AM | comments: 0
I went to two of one of my kid's high school games, and I'm really starting to get the itch. It doesn't even matter that much what kids I'll have this time, because I've really had a lot of revelations about what the kids are capable of and what's important. Watching this particular kid is especially gratifying because she's night-and-day better than she was when I started with her.

I kind of wish that I was coaching high school, but maybe not. It's really a different world compared to J.O. ball, and not really for the better. The quality of kids is different, the parents are different, and in public schools, the administration doesn't care to support you or keep you there when teachers have contracts that could displace you (by someone less qualified, at that).

Yet another kid from previous years just sent me photos of her dorm at her freshman year of college. They grow up so fast!

Anyway, tryouts are only a couple of months out, then it's back to the grind!

Thoughts on a roller coaster

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 2, 2004, 11:29 PM | comments: 2
It was sunny and 74 this morning when I decided to go solo to Cedar Point for a couple of hours. I had lunch with a friend working there, then walked on to a few rides (not terribly busy with most kids back in school). Between the fifth and sixth inversions on Raptor, I thought, "Wow, if I had not left my six-figure corporate code monkey job, I'd be sitting in a cube right now developing software I could care less about." Instead I was flying through the air strapped into a roller coaster.

Just a reminder that career and money can't replace getting out and living a bit.