Desktop Linux + Portable Hard Drive + PS3 = HD-DVR

I love technology.

This weekend I finally took the time to get MythTV running on my HP Media Center PC (under Ubuntu Linux).  For those who don’t know, MythTV can be described as…

…a free Linux application which turns a computer with the necessary hardware into a network streaming digital video recorder, a digital multimedia home entertainment system, or Home Theater Personal Computer. It can be considered as a free and open source alternative to Tivo or Windows Media Center.

(from Wikipedia)

MythTV is quite the application.  Honestly, it’s a bit daunting at first – there are a TON of options/features, much more than are probably necessary.  (But you know Linux – someone somewhere has probably made use of every one of those obscure settings…)

Despite this, the community documentation for getting MythTV up and running with my TV card was exceptional.  My Media Center PC has a Hauppauge HVR-1600 tv tuner card capable of both analog and digital capturing.  There is an entire section of the MythTV wiki dedicated to this card, and the instructions were both easy-to-follow and completely inclusive.  (In fact, the only thing wrong with the wiki is that the included picture of my HVR-1600 isn’t entirely accurate – mine looks more like this.)  In about 20 minutes, I had both the analog and digital inputs on the card working, and live TV ran without so much as a hiccup.  (Including high-def.)  This is a decent feat considering that my PC is only an 2.8ghz dual-core with 1gb of RAM.

As the icing on the cake, my included Windows MCE remote control even worked (via LIRC).

The last step in the project was to find a way to get my high-def recordings from my desktop PC to my living room TV.  I really didn’t want to set up my PC as a media server (particularly because my router occasionally goes on the fritz), so instead I went for the simple option – copy the MPEG2 recordings onto a portable hard drive, plug that drive into my PS3, and watch the high-def video that way.  It works flawlessly.

Try installing XP on a computer (without any hardware driver CDs) and getting it to record high-def video.  I’d love to hear how that goes for you.

The World is Not Going to Hell

Today the FBI released its preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report for 2008. The findings?

The world is not going to hell.  In fact, despite what you may have heard from your local street preacher, the United States actually became a safer place to live in 2008.  Some of the report’s highlights include:

  • Violent crime decreased by 3.5% in 2008, including:
    • 4.4% decline in murder
    • 4.1% decline in aggravated assault
    • 3.3% drop in rape
    • 2.2% drop in robbery
  • Property crime decreased by 2.5%, including:
    • 12.6% decrease in motor vehicle theft
    • 5.6% decrease in arson
    • 1.2% decrease in larceny/theft
    • 0.8% decrease in burglary

You might be surprised to discover that both violent crime and property crime (in the U.S.) have steadily decreased since the early 1990’s.  (Graphs are available here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_the_United_States)

I’m certainly not advocating there isn’t a great deal of work left to do, but I’m tired of hearing people say that “the world is worse than it has ever been.”   At least in the United States, crime rates have been dropping for over 15 years.  In fact, current violent crime rates mirror those of the early 1970’s, while property crime rates are similar to those of the late 1960’s.

Obviously, crime rates are still way above where they should be – but let’s not ignore how far we’ve come.

New external SATA hard drive not working? Try this.

Sometimes I love Google, and sometimes I hate it.

I recently purchased a Playstation 3 (GTA4 is superb, btw) and it didn’t take me long to realize that upgrading the 80gb hard drive would be worth a bit of time and spare change.  As such, I picked up a new hard drive and swapped it into the PS3.

But what to do with the 80gb that came with the system?  Rather than toss a perfectly functional drive into storage, I picked up this inexpensive little external SATA enclosure and plugged my original PS3 drive into it.

That’s when the trouble started.

First I discovered that my desktop PC didn’t pull enough power through the USB ports to power my new external drive.  (I realized this after several minutes of googling variations on “external drive red light beeping incessantly”.)  Unfortunately, this left me with only my XP laptop to get the new drive up and running.

To my surprise, my little laptop had no trouble powering the drive, and XP even recognized it as a mass storage device.

So what was the problem?

The new drive didn’t appear anywhere.  No drive letter.  No useful information in device manager.  No pop-up asking me to format the drive or open it in a new explorer window or anything of the sort.

So I did what any normal person would do in this situation – I turned to Google.  Various solutions came up, but the two main solutions – to disable any IEEE 1394 (firewire) ports and/or install updated drivers – didn’t help.  My laptop doesn’t have any firewire ports, and the generic mass storage drivers were already what I needed.

More googling revealed variations on these two ideas, but nothing more.

Out of options, I turned to the next best thing – screwing with various control panel settings.  As fate would have it, this eventually solved my problem.

Here’s my solution, for any others experiencing trouble with an external drive.

  1. Open control panel.
  2. Double-click “Administrative Tools”
  3. Double-click “Computer Management”
  4. From the LH menu, select “Storage” -> “Disk Management”
  5. The RH pane should show all hard drives attached to the system.  One of these should be labeled “Disk 0”.  This is most likely your default hard drive.  Double-check the partitions and drive sizes to confirm this.
  6. Assuming that you only have your default hard drive and your external hard drive installed, directly beneath “Disk 0” should be “Disk 1.”  (If you have other drives installed, you may need to go down to “Disk 2” or “Disk 3”.)  Double-check that the functional size of your external drive matches the size listed for this drive.
  7. If this is the proper drive, right-click the button to the left of the partition bar for “Disk 1”.  The ensuing context menu should have an “Initialize” option at the top.  Click it.
  8. Step through the dialogs to confirm partition, name, formatting, etc.  Once you’ve finished, let the computer format your new drive.  This may take awhile.
  9. Once done, enjoy your new drive!

While this may not work for everyone, it certainly worked for me.  Feel free to comment on your success/failure using this method – and good luck!

(And yes – this was one yet one more reminder why I use Ubuntu instead of XP whenever possible.)

Think video games make kids antisocial? Think again.

Just a short note about a fascinating Pew Internet Project paper that came out today.  An online copy of the report – titled “Teens, Video Games, and Civics” – is available here:

http://www.pewinternet.org/2008/09/16/teens-video-games-and-civics/

Here are two of its most interesting revelations, IMO:

97% of teens (ages 12-17), including 99% of boys and 94% of girls, play video games

This statistic should be a wake-up call to anyone looking to ban and/or strictly legislate video game usage.  Gaming is here to stay.  We can’t uninvent games or pretend they don’t exist.  All children, regardless of gender, race, or location, are probably playing a video game at least once a week.

Gaming is a surprisingly social activity

65% of game-playing teens play with other people who are in the room with them, while 27% play games with people who they connect with through the internet.  Only 11% of teens play video games solely by themselves.  (Personally, I hope this statistic is a wake-up call to game developers.  Co-op modes are a still a huge selling point!)

Frankly, the whole report is worth a read, including the (surprising!) section on civic gaming experiences.

10 reasons to expect a Final Fantasy VII remake

10. 1up.com interview and Shinji Hashimoto’s “shocking” comment

From http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3168827:

1UP: Last week, Final Fantasy Versus XIII director Tetsuya Nomura said that he’s hard at work adding new scenes to the FFVII: Advent Children Complete Blu-ray release. Can you give us any update on that project?

SH: You can look forward to the upcoming invite-only fan event DKS3713 [taking place in Tokyo on August 2 and 3], where we’ll have a major announcement that will shock the fans in attendance.

A major FFVII announcement that will “shock the fans in attendance?”  Unless they’re announcing “Dance Dance Revolution: Final Fantasy mix” or something equally lame, you can bet this will be good.  After all, fans can only take so many spin-offs…

Continue reading 10 reasons to expect a Final Fantasy VII remake