Monthly Archives: December 2004

Don’t forget about spectrum, Dave.

Dave tells Doc Searls to “forget about spectrum” saying that its “such a 20th Centurey concept, that in the age of podcasting, spectrum is infinite and costs $35 a year from Network Solutions.”

Dave seems to be forgetting that transit for those podcasts, especially the last mile, isn’t necessarily a sure thing. Companies are jockying for control of the internet infrastructure, and they aren’t all believers in transparent networks. Some of them want to set rates depending on the value of the payload, rather than just its size, just as the railroads set different rates for iron ore vs finished goods.

The mobile phone companies already do it. The rates they charge for SMS is much higher per bit than they charge for voice, and they are already working to control the endpoints by making it difficult to access any content or applications that they don’t get a kickback on.

More open spectrum makes it practical for people to continue to route around such damaged pieces of the Internet infrastructure and can only help insure vital grassroots movements like Podcasting.

Allocating more open spectrum, and encouraging technologies and policies that treat spectrum use as something other than a zero-sum game should be paid attention to, and can only help us get away from bottlenecks on expression.

Christmas Trees, the lurking evil

This morning NPR and the TV News carried a story that Federal authorities in the United States are concerned that terrorists might be planning to use lasers crash airliners by blinding their crews during landings. The stories mention a case where a Delta pilot reported eye damage while being exposed to a laser beam while landing in Salt Lake City.

More distressing is what the reports dont contain. It’s well known in some circles that terrors have designs on using weather control to wreak havoc on our nation. Others are working on animal mind control to turn our pets against us.

However the greatest risk during the Christmas season, when most God-fearing households in the nation bring pine and fir trees into their homes, is plant control.

In the early 1990s, Ben Edlund produced a documentary showing successful efforts of a shadowy figure he called El Seed, to corrupt vegetation into a ruthless army of destruction.

The documentary ended with the defeat of the plant army at the hands of US friendly forces, but El Seed’s whereabouts were unknown. Now, US officials now believe that El Seed is traveling under the name of Al Sayed, and has been mentioned in numerous Al Qaeda intercepts. They believe he has been perfecting a new, more robust, technique of plant control in the desert climate of the Middle East, and is now prepared to unleash the lush vegetation we’ve invited into our living rooms upon us.

Administration officials are at loose ends on how to thwart the attack without causing a widespread panic which could ruin the Christmas shopping season and wreak catastrophe among major Republican contributors like Hallmark, Wall Mart, Target, Circuit City, and 3M, who makes the Scotch-brand tape used to seal the wrappings on 89% of Christmas presents during the holiday season.

Hauppage MediaMVP

As I mentioned earlier, I’m looking to replace my livingroom PC with something cheaper, quieter and more compact, which will still let me play back dowloaded video and, ideally, control my PC based PVR software.

The first thing I looked at was the Hauppage MediaMVP. I’ve had my eyes on this device for a while because it was relatively cheap (less than $100) and had an SDK, which created the potential for people to create software to use it as the front end for PC based media applications.

Sure enough, there is now a plug-in that allows people to use the MediaMVP as a front-end to most of the features of SageTV. Very cool. Unfortunately, the device doesn’t support MPEG4 encoded videos natively. Hauppage provides PC side software to transcode on-the fly, but image quality suffers, plus, its a kludge. Furthermore, the SageTV plugin doesn’t support any sort of transcoding.

In the long run, I hope that Hauppage will start using a chip that supports MPEG4 natively, which seems possible, given how MPEG4 support is finding its way into more and more cheap DVD players.

For now though, I’m going to have to keep looking.

Livingroom Computing

Six months ago I put together a pc for my livingroom. My first goal was to build a video recorder that could record two or more shows at a time. Towards that end, I installed a tuner card with an on-board MPEG2 encoder some very clever software from Frey called SageTV. The hardware encoder insured high-quality recording without requiring a lot from the main CPU, which also made it practical to add additional tuner cards to the same system. SageTV provided what at the time was the only reasonably polished piece of software that could support multiple tuners for recording and Tivo-style live-tv pause & rewind. Even better, it had a distributed architecture which enables the tuners and the UI to reside on different machines connected via a network. Plus, the UI for basic day-to-day use was suitable for non-geeks.

Future ambitions were to use it to hold our entire music collection, and perhaps as the base station for a few video cameras to keep an eye on our front and back yards.

None of those ambitions have been realized. I realized once I got it built that there aren’t that many TV shows I really want to record, so I’ve never bothered installing a decent antenna on my roof to get a good signal without having to retune the rabbit. I never did the fan modifications to the case and underclocked the CPU to quiet the box down, and I never tucked it into our tv stand. Instead, its sitting next to it, whirring quietly but audibly. It spends most of its time crunching numbers for Folding@Home.

It’s been well used though. I’ve been using it to play back video files I’ve acquired through other means, and recently, inspired by an post I found linked from BoingBoing, I set up Azerues on the box with an RSS plug-in to automatically download video content of interest to me.

So far, its working great. I’ve been using SageTV to manage and playback the videos, but it leaves a little to be desired. I’d really like an easy way to filter the view of files according to freshness and whether or not I’d finished watching them. For those that I’d started watching, I’d like to be able to stop in the middle, view another file, and easily return to the spot where I’d stopped at a later time.

Now a new issue has reared its head. I’d like to upgrade my desktop PC to play Halflife2, but right now, standards for video card slots and CPU slots are in transition, which forces either a high end purchase to have upgrade availability down the line, or a lower end purchase with minimal opportunity to do inexpesive upgrades in the future.

This has my eyeing my livingroom PC as the foundation of a new system, requiring only a new video card to get a decent gaming experience. Doing so leaves me without a suitable solution for playing back video content in my livingroom. My old PC is more than up to the task, but its too big to tuck anywhere in the livingroom.

So, now I’m considering my options for a networked media player. The ideal device would run windows and have enough oomph to play back high-bitrate MPEG4 encoded content using some of the more CPU intensive compression options, fit a compact form factor, and still cost less than I might spend on a new system -vid card. Other options include more specialized devices that allow playback of the vids, ideally off a standard windows fileshare without requiring additional server-side software. The ability to serve as a front-end to SageTV or an equivalent package would also be cool.

So, I’m launching a blog category to document my investigations.

Slapnose: The next Einstein…

Noting that the Congress cut funding for the National Science Foundation at the same time it increased funding for abstinence education, and found more money for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Anthony comments that “the next Einstein is not likely to be an American.”

Of course, the last Einstein wasn’t exactly an American either. But that only illustrates a larger point: Not only did the US benefit from providing the support necessary to train the best and brightest of our native born to be the scientific, technical and industrial leaders of tomorrow. We also benefitted greatly by attracting the best and brightest from other countries fleeing mediocre institutions and oppressive governments.

How much longer is that going to last with Bush and his kind diverting money from programs like the NSF, which among other things, really helped make the Internet mainstream by funding internet availability to all undergrads in the early 90s, in order to fund mis-guided and mis-managed wars, and in order to pour tax dollars into the coffers of fundamentalist pig-brained religious organizations?