MythTV 0.23 running on Lucid

Bella, my mythbox has been overheating for the past few months when the furnace has been running. Whenever we would watch HD content, decoding (and likely resizing) the stream to our screen would take too much CPU horsepower. Watching an HD stream would use nearly 100% of one of the two 2.1GHz Athlon cores. Then her over-sized, quiet fan would kick into high gear. Sometimes I would feel sorry for her and pull the top cover off to let out all that hot air. VDPAU has been around for a while now, and Bella's video card is supported, so I have been itching to upgrade her to Lucid. I started a couple of weeks ago by installing to an external USB drive. This way, I didn't interrupt the regular programming. I could boot to the drive, tinker, fix, test, etc., and then boot back to the main drive when I was done.

I tried to copy over the original database so I didn't lose any settings, but that didn't seem to work very well. The database upgrade scripts kept dying on me. I finally rolled up my sleeves and dug in a little deeper. The error messages that it was giving me were about duplicate columns in tables. I am not sure how they got there, but with my mysql hacker-foo skills, I manually altered the tables to drop the columns, which allowed the script to successfully update the mythconverg database. Then it seemed to be working. Kind of.

Bella has a little USB card reader that does a variety of memory card types. For whatever reason, when probed, it reports that it has devices there already, even though there are no cards plugged in. It reports /dev/sd{d,e,f,g}. For whatever reason, mythfrontend likes to probe devices and try to mount them??? When it runs into these non-devices, it segfaults. I finally just decided to unplug the card reader from the motherboard and mythfrontend starts up just fine.

With Myth finally up and running, it doesn't take long to make sure all the settings are good. I kick off a show and notice that the processor is still running at full speed. A little more digging and I find the VDPAU setting screen. I turn it on and viola! CPU usage drops to 40%. I was a little underwhelmed by this number, hoping to see something more on the order of 5%. I don't know if it is because of the stream type or maybe my hardware? The video card is several years old and one of the earlier ones that does support VDPAU. And the stream is whatever the broadcasters in my area are using. I assume it is MPEG2, while H.264 is what VDPAU would prefer? Anyway, something is better than nothing. I just hope that the reduction in CPU thermal requirements is sufficient.

AVR junkie paradise

The Teensy
The Teensy
I have been pining for some shiny tiny hardware that would look good in the CW (Morse code) paddle that I am making. Arduino had been a first choice for several days. I was on the verge of buying a couple of boards when I came across PJRC's Teensy. It really is teensy. But it incorporates a little bit of hardware that I had not seen in a proto-board before: Atmel's 8-bit MCU with USB support. The Teensy has the Mega32U4 processor at its core, which has 32kB of flash, 2.5kB SRAM, and 1kB EEPROM, support for up to 6 USB full-speed functions, and lots more of the standard AtMega goodies. I think one of the coolest things about this board is that once you have a bootloader in place, you can flash the system over the USB connection that is already has. No need for an extra programmer and more cables. And even if you screw up your application, the bootloader is safe, because it is protected by separate lock bits.

To make a short story even shorter, I ordered two Teensy boards over the weekend and they arrived today. Fast shipping. (It helps that PJRC is less than 20 miles away.)

I am in Atmel junkie paradise.

Nathan's Big Boy Bed

The big boy bed
The big boy bed
For the past six months or so, Nathan has been sleeping on a twin mattress on the floor, sharing a room with Nicole. We moved them in together so Annie could have a room to herself while she is still a crying machine. When Nathan switched rooms, we moved him out of his daybed (crib) and onto a real, big-boy mattress. He was so excited. We looked and looked for a bed that we liked, but could not find one. We wanted something that was made out of wood, stained rather than painted, and with a low or no footboard. He is going to be a tall boy when he reaches full height and I don't plan on getting him a bigger bed. Without a footboard, his feet can hang over the end. What good planning, eh?

I finally decided to make a bed. My mom had made all our beds when I was a kid. I know what is involved -- really not much. A headboard, two rails, a footboard, and a platform. Shortly after I made the decision to make the bed, cherry went on sale at our local Rockler and I bought a bunch. It turns out that I underestimated and had to go back for some more, but I had a start. Darren and I started making the bed the first weekend in January. We only worked on Saturdays and even had to skip a couple. So all told, it took about 8 weekends (of about 4-5 hours each) to build and then about 6 hours to finish. This comes to a total of 42 hours. Multiply by $60/hour (two people at $30/hour), add in the $450 of materials and we are the proud new owners of a $2950 twin bed. What am I doing giving this to a 4-year old? Honestly, it pains me to proffer up my labors to the wrecking machine, but I find a lot of solace in the fact that he absolutely loves the bed. It is all part of the branding, much like the Daddy brand bread and pizza are better than all others, Daddy brand beds are on a whole new plane.

Leaky tub, part deux

leaky ceiling
leaky ceiling
Last year, I noticed that the ceiling over our kitchen sink was cracked and a little bit soggy. After some house math, we figured out that the leak was directly below the faucet/drain end of the tub in the kid's bathroom. A quick look through some of the reviews of plumbers in our area from a google search found Kennedy Plumbing. I gave them a call and they sent a man out. He was fast and professional. He replaced the shoe or cracked strainer or something. I don't recall exactly, and even if I did, I am not that intimately familiar with the anatomy of a tub to carry on a conversation about such things. Something was cracked and very broken and he replaced it. The soggy section of ceiling dried up, but still had a little bit of a cracked area in the texture which has been bothering me ever since. But obviously not that much, since I never got around to fixing it.

Yesterday morning, that shower was used for the first time in at least a year. The kids still take baths. I heard a drip, drip, drip in the kitchen and was surprised to see it coming from the ceiling. Grrrrr. I made a quick call to Kennedy Plumbing to have them come out to check to see if the first guy screwed up. It turned out that after an hour of trying to diagnose the problem, he finally found it. When the tub faucet runs, it doesn't leak, but when the shower starts, it drips lots. He took the faucet assembly apart to find a disintegrated O-ring. Ooops. So the first guy did right, and the second guy did too. The only problem is that now, enough water had leaked into our ceiling that I really did have to fix it. The plumber was kind enough to saw out a very rough hole to help him diagnose the problem. Now I get to fix it. Ho hum. I really hate dry-wall work. Maybe it will get done before next year. :)

Oooh, shiny new toys

After much debate, research and saving of greenbacks, I finally went out and bought my first ham radio. I chose the Icom 92AD. It didn't take me much to see that the Icom handheld radios were a lot higher quality than the Yaesu radios. They also cost a bit more. The one I chose was one of the more expensive ones (surprise, surprise), but it should do all the things I want it to do. It is a dual-band radio that also has a digital voice/D-STAR capability built in. I am not sure how much I will use the digital voice part, but D-STAR also allows for data to be transmitted along with the digital voice packets. I think that KK7DS's D-RATS stuff is really a great idea. Plus, Dan's a bit of a Linux geek like myself, so I feel good supporting him.

The radio as a handheld doesn't really have a long range, but it will be great for the ARES and CERT activities that I would like to participate in. There is also a local LDS net that I can participate in as well. So it is a great start to get my radio feet wet.

How vain are you?

Like I mentioned in my last ham post, I was not entirely happy with my call sign. I applied for a 'vanity' call sign, NV2M, and my request was granted six days ago. I think it is really nice that the FCC allows you to choose your call sign. They did periodically through amateur radio history, but now it is even easier than ever. You log into the FCC website, list your top 25 choices in order of preference, pay them thirteen dollars and wait for 21 days. There are several websites that maintain lists of call signs that are available so you can find one that suits you. Thirteen dollars is not very vain, especially for a ten-year license.

Now take a look at vanity license plates. Fifty-five dollars for a vanity license plate is vain. And you have to pay that each time you renew your registration. But here in Oregon, they have special amateur radio plates you can get for your car that display your call sign. The best part about this is that they are only five dollars. This is the kind of vanity that I can afford.

So it all comes down to the dollar. How vain are you? And Me? About five bucks. I think I am too practical and too much of a tightwad to be really vain.

Ham it up

I have been meaning to get my ham operators license for some time now. I never really knew what was involved in the process so I always let it slip out of my mind after a very short time. I knew that there was a "test" of some sort involved. And that you had to pay to take the test. Not wanting to pay for a test I might fail and not knowing where to turn to pass, I gave up. Until about 3 weeks ago. Then I heard about a ham class that was being offered locally. I actually heard about it through two channels: my church has been pushing to get people to have ham licenses for emergency preparedness, as has Beaverton CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). So when I heard about it this time, I signed up. The flier for the class had a link to Ham Elmer where you could download a PDF that told you the basics about getting a license.

After reading this booklet and absorbing the info like a sponge, I felt pretty confident. I started to read about ham stuff in my spare time. I learned about HF/VHF/UHF propagation and about RF safety. I found some practice tests online and started to take them. I found that I could ace the Technician test nearly every time. So I think to myself, this was pretty easy, maybe I should shoot for General. See, by now, I realized that there are three levels of licenses, each with increased privileges. I already had my sights set on Amateur Extra, but was not sure how long it would take me to get there. A few years, perhaps.

The first time I took the online General level test, I only failed by one question. It was a 35 question test, like the Technician test, only the questions were a little harder. That really got my hopes up. So I studied up some more on the questions I missed so I could understand what they were talking about. At this time, I recognized a lot of the words and phrases, but was still dredging the depths of my brain to pull of any shred of knowledge about radios and electronics I learned in college. As I read about radio wave propagation, FCC part 97, and the ham culture in general, I began to get slightly better scores. I think on the fourth try, I finally started passing the General tests regularly. I still had a week until the ham course. I was notified that they would be testing all levels and that if you pass one level, they automatically offer you the next level. Hmmmm....

A new home for Charlie and friends

10-gallon tank
10-gallon tank
I have been pining after a larger fish tank ever since we got Nicole a fish tank for her birthday. I have enjoyed having the fish in the house more than I would have ever expected. I have never really been a pet person, but I think I have found the kind of pet that I can get along with. They don't take much time, they are fun to watch, and I get a great amount of satisfaction out of making sure I don't kill them. Even though it happens now and then. But I am getting better at this fish thing. I used my birthday as an excuse to buy a bigger tank and a stand.

What I need is another project

I feel a lot of pressure from all those Acidfree users who are just dying to have Acidfree-6.x released. But that is not the reason I am working on it. I am working on it because 1) I feel a sense of responsibility to do it, and 2) I like working on Acidfree. So I do have a start on the work. When I say start, I mean pre-alpha; not even finished enough to commit to the Drupal CVS repository. I have made commits that I am willing to share with the not-so-faint of heart.

I finally git it!!

I was so happy to learn that the 2.6.26 kernel had a free as in speech alternative to the madwifi Atheros driver, ath5k. I have not been so happy that it has been crashing my machine periodically. Since diagnosis of a hung machine without a serial console that is running X is nigh on impossible, I had no choice but to fold and go back to madwifi. However, since then, I have moved on to 2.6.27, which has some changes to two wireless APIs, causing the madwifi driver to fail to build. I wanted to leave my desk with its hard-wired connection but didn't want my machine to hang again.