Loving MythTV

We've been using MythTV over the weekend using my shiny new silent front-end. Turns out, surprisingly to me, that the front-end has enough grunt to play Xvid encoded videos just fine, so we've been working through the backlog of great stuff from UKNova. I expected to have to re-encode it all as MPEG2, for which it has a hardware decoder, but it seems to be able to decode it all on its own.

Some people asked about the hardware I chose for my front-end, so I'll detail it here and some caveats.

I bought a Via EPIA ME6000 mini-ITX motherboard on the basis of this site and because I wanted something tried and trusted, that "just works" rather than faff about. The Melbourne company I bought it off, can't remember the name sorry, put it in a case with a CF-to-IDE adapter so the CF card slots into the front of the case. Very nice! Most important feature is it's completely solid state. No fans!

It runs Minimyth from a Compact Flash card. Minimyth was a joy to install, though configuration was somewhat trickier. It doesn't give particularly great feedback. As a result of this, I ended up ditching my existing serial-based remote and IR receiver and buying a Streamzap, which is well-supported and Just Works.

If you're going out buying kit, you'll find the ME6000 is hard to find. Via have a few other fanless motherboards, but be careful as some of the newer chipsets aren't supported by OpenChrome, the drivers for the hardware MPEG decoder.

My only criticism of Minimyth is that it includes a few Myth plugins like MythStream but doesn't include the interpreters they require, like Perl of Python. Granted, this is supposed be a lightweight system but there's little point including these items if you can't use them! As it is, MythStream is ridiculously complicated and, disappointingly, MythMusic doesn't seem to handle streaming media. I just want to add GPC!

Finally, the system is connected via wired ethernet at present. At some point I intend to try it out over wireless, to see if there's enough bandwidth. I expect there should be enough, and that means one less cable running around, which helps with the GAF.

Overall, very very happy with my setup. I picked up 2x300GB hard drives yesterday and now just need to buy a SATA card for the backend. Also need to slot in the new DVB tuner I bought last week.

MythTV front-end in the lounge room

We've finally got MythTV up and running properly. I have a fanless Via EPIA system sitting on top of the telly as the front-end running MiniMyth. It's very very nice!

I had trouble getting my existing, serial remote receiver going with MiniMyth. It wasn't made any easier by being so difficult to debug on that platform, and my laptop not having serial connectors. So I ended buying a known working remote with the config files found here.

Still to get working is mounting my music and other video on the front-end using Samba or NFS. Also need to plug in the new DVB card I bought last night, which will involve some shuffling around of cards in the server. And I need to buy a SATA interface card to connect the 600GB of disks that Moz has for me.

So far, with only one tuner and 16GB of disk space, I'm very very happy with it! I just wish Australian TV was better at sticking to their bloody schedules. With more than one tuner, I can set it up to record five minutes either side, but I shouldn't have to.

Looking at Google's badware notifications

Today's Crikey asks if perhaps Google knows something about Quadrant magazine. It seems Google is flagging the site as a crapware site.

Quadrant magazine: This site may harm your

I also noticed this when searching for the Good Vibrations Festival a couple of weeks ago. It looks to me like Quadrant is hitting these filters for pretty much the same reasons. There's a bunch of very suspicious Javascript linked from their home pages. URLs like one hosted on the web servers 47.db.51.la, happy81.9966.org, www.777seo.com.

When you look at the actual Javascript files, it's all URL- and Unicode-encoded crap trying to obfuscate what it's really doing. To me, that looks like a reasonable judgement by Google that they're probably up to no good.

What I suspect is happening is that Quadrant is calling "http://happy81.9966.org/hxw/f.js", probably for some perceived search engine optimising benefit. That's then selling all the people who load their Javascript to various crapware installing companies.

Interestingly, Good Vibrations' site now seems to be clean of all this kind of crap, though they're still in Google's blacklist. Did they perhaps share the same search engine optimising company as Quadrant are using? They were certainly linking to the same variety of shonky Javascript.

Anyone know any background to this stuff?

Update: looks like Google know exactly what they're doing here. I wonder if these sites are compromised or using dodgy SEO techniques?

Myth finally running

I finally got MythTV running under Xen last night. It was quite a bit more work to get it running under Debian than Ubuntu which works out-of-the box, but Ubuntu has problems installing using debootstrap.

There's one major problem though: Xen seems to choke on large volumes of I/O going across the PCI bus. The whole machine locks up. So I think I'll end up having to run Myth inside dom0, though at least I can still run the other stuff I want for this server in various domUs.

I'm buying a couple of 300 gig hard drives off Moz, which should give me lots of disk space for recording telly. Just in time too, as the non-ratings period has ended and there's the occasional good show on now.

Last night I also bought one of these digital telly cards. They're the cheapest ones going and, to boot, they can also record analogue simultaneously. They're actually Pinnacle 300i cards and fully supported under Linux. They're clearance items from Dickies so get in quick if you want them. I think I might buy another as that would let me record five channels if you include analogue and my USB stick DVB thingy.

So the job over the weekend (apart from going to Good Vibrations) is to get Myth running in dom0 and get the diskless front end going.

Xen and Myth coming along

I'm making slow but steady progress getting Myth and Xen going. Cabled up the spare bedroom yesterday so it's now got a TV aerial port. Plan is to put the computer behind the door fo the spare room, which has quite a bit of space behind it and should fit the machine nicely. The software is the only barrier now, and that's coming along very nicely.

For some reason debootstrap to Ubuntu Edgy ends up with no access to the network. Not sure why. Then if I try Dapper it works fine but has a weird problem with tzconfig trying to write somewhere it shouldn't, so I can't apt-get dist-upgrade to Edgy. I've gone with Debian for dom0 and domU for now, and it works fine.

I've managed to get the domU seeing the USB digital tv stick by hiding the USB PCI card from the dom0 kernel (pciback.hide in the kernel command line) and exporting it into the domU. I'm pretty amazed this worked so easily. That should make adding more tuners pretty easy too.

My only real issue with Xen has been the syntax of the config files. It's not particularly well documented and seems to have changed a few times in the past, which means when you find something online it won't necessarily work in the version you have.

Once I've got Myth settled down, I'll start working on my desktop which will be using one of the thin clients I own. Last Thursday I bought a really nice 19" LCD screen, which will become my desktop screen. Will be nice working on a decent sized screen and a real keyboard again after months with the laptop.

Smugmug rocks!

I always wonder why everyone raves about Flikr. It's slow, the interface is clunky and unless you pay big bucks, they don't store your photos in the original resolution. I've been very happy using Smugmug for all my photos for the past year.

Now I find out that the one limitation they have, on the bandwidth you use, has been dropped. So now I don't even have to worry about that. Fantastic!

If you want to sign up to Smugmug, be sure to put my email address in as the referrer. That way I get a discount and so do you.

Actually I can get digital?!?!?

Now this is kinda weird. When I was up the ladder moving around the aerial for digital television, I was trying to tune in the UHF frequencies of the Kings Cross transmitter. This is sensible because I only bought a UHF aerial, whereas Gore Hill transmits on VHF.

Tonight I got home and thought I'd do a bit of playing around with czap and the like. Scanning with that I found I could tune in, using mplayer, all the digital channels. Weird! So I tried scanning with MythTV again, to get the same results I had on Wednesday. When I imported czap's output into MythTV, however, I found I could tune the full complement of channels!

So looking at the frequencies, my humble UHF antenna is actually tuning in the VHF transmissions from Gore Hill! I guess the only explanation could be that the huge power they're outputting is enough to reach here.

That's excellent news as I was starting to despair of getting digital TV at all. Now to run the rest of the cable, drill the holes in the floor and get the Myth box going!

A reason for software development sucking?

Last night while talking to Raz I recommended he work for my former employer in London. The reason I'd recommend working for them is that they seem to have got the critical balance between rigid process and operational flexibility in software development about right. We hit every deadline and included all the features we promised more or less as specified, every release. That's really refreshing in the software business!

It got me thinking about why this isn't more common. The thing is, it's not getting the development process brings the biggest (business) rewards. My employer before that (name left as an exercise to the reader) was the direct opposite, running about as seat-of-the-pants as is possible to imagine. They're at least as successful, possibly more so at this point, and yet they pushed out daily releases that broke, crashed, looked like shit and had the worst imaginable user interface.

Given that getting the process right doesn't guarantee Bubble Goo rewards. So as a PHB, why would you bother to make the process perfect? The only advantage is happier employees, and what PHB gives a rat's arse about that?