Delaying digital TV is a waste of time & money

It seems, as is often the case when left to bureaucracies, the formats we get stuck with are often too little too late (NY Times/Reuters article, senate approves HDTV delay). When I was in high school the ATSC format was decided upon. Now, here we are in 2009 and our fair nation is still not ready to accept a (now  antiquated) digital television format. Lets be honest here, how many people do you know who still use rabbit ears? In New York I know of one other couple, out of all of our friends in the this entire city. Never mind the fact that if they plug into the cable jack on their building they’d have at least basic cable and local channels without the need for an antenna. And most cable companies are going to continue to simulcast analog over their wires until 2011. But the real problem I have with this “delayed switch” is that it’s a waste of bandwidth.  The wireless spectrum could do a lot of other things besides only broadcast TV signals.

The solution is Internet Protocol Television ( . The idea being, why not invest in an infrastructure that is scalable, like high-speed wireless internet (that allows reducing television’s broadcast footprint as compression and technology improve) rather than locking TV down again to a set of frequencies and formats that can only do one thing.  Heck, I’ve even heard of people buying stuff over this internet thing. I’m not suggesting doing away with the emergency broadcast service and certainly there should always be AM and FM emergency channels, but honestly is anyone going to fire up their HDTV when the power is out? Are you going to burn precious oil to run your generator and watch your LCD flat panel?  Also, it’s unfortunate people have to pay $55 a month for mediocre cellular phone and data services in the US, when something like a “national broadband wireless access system” would allow everyone, everywhere to both watch television and make phone calls over the internet.  Think about it.   I’m sure it wouldn’t make cell phone companies happy in the short run, but in the long term I’m sure they’d find ways to gouge customers using this “new” technology.  The model of a single broadcaster transmitting to the masses is done with.  Everyone is a broadcaster now and everyone a watcher.

Still Not Ice Climbing – but lets build a MythTV!

Sadly my Saturdays and Sundays have not been filled with ice climbing trips to hidden frozen waterfalls of the Northeast.  My hand feels better despite having a small gash where it hit the edge of the BMW car door. I imagine I’ll be able to go back to the MPHC climbing gym soon.  

I miss the outdoor rock.  Ryan, Josh and I went on a few climbing trips before it got cold and before weddings and Texas.  Ryan has photos of us climbing in the Gunks and Brewster, NY available here: these are just a sampling.


Peterskill - Mark, Josh

Peterskill - Mark, Josh

Ryan in Peterskill

Ryan in Peterskill

Ryan, Ice Pond

Ryan, Ice Pond


Mark's hand Ice Pond

Mark's hand, Ice Pond















I spent most of yesterday reading about MythTV.  If you feel like setting up an open source home DVR (TiVo like) then Mythbuntu or KnoppMyth seem to be a couple good stable options for creating a home Linux TV recording solution.  Obviously this will only work if your signal is “free and clear”. Dish, DirecTV, ComCast, Time Warner and basically any cable or satellite provider, encrypts all premium content.  So on the one hand, local network channels and basic cable should be “free and clear” (over digital cable local channels are usually free using QAM) but with satellite it’s more likely you’ll need to rent the DVR from them.  The only reason I’ve been considering it is because I’ve needed some sort of iTunes server back-end (see my Firefly MT-DAAPD post) and it might as well DVR network HD shows we want to watch.  Also, our ATSC tuner is old (2nd or 3rd generation) and I think the latest 5th or 6th gen tuner chipset should allow us to get all the local HD broadcast channels without fussing with the antenna. 

There are three parts to most MythTV setups, which could all be integrated into one system or distributed into three smaller systems:

  • The back-end is your dedicated server which should have low power and processing requirements.  I’ve been looking at the MSI Wind ‘Nettop barebones PC (MSI’s product page) which sells on Newegg for like $139.99.  It uses an intel Atom 1.6GHz processor with minimal power draw, I think around 35 Watts max, but you could probably optimize it to use somewhat less than this.  Obviously, HDTV content takes up a fair amount of disk space, so for starters lets say a 1.0 Terrabyte hard disk drive.
  • The actual TV tuner (which now ‘a days will need to be digital ATSC HDTV compatible, unless you still have analog cable) could be as simple as a PCI card in the back-end but something even cooler is the SiliconDust HDHomeRun.  This product is two ATSC tuners in one.  It transfers HD broadcasts from over-the-air (or QAM) to your server via ethernet.  It requires DHCP to obtain an IP address, but otherwise it’s just a little box with one 10/100 ethernet jack and two antenna inputs; ATSC to IP as it were. Your back-end will recognize it as two tuners in the setup. You could watch one while the other records or both could record simultaneously.
  • The front-end will be how you actually watch the content you have archived. Say you ripped all your DVD’s and you’ve been time-shifting several seasons of Top Chef, the “front-end” is what will do the heavy lifting of playback depending on the bit rate and resolution of the video.  It should look just like any other media playback menu.  From my reading, MPEG-2 is the optimal format to save content to (thankfully DVD and ATSC signals are already MPEG-2 so no transcoding is required) and MPEG-4/h.264 require more horsepower on your machine to playback smoothly.  My MacBook Pro Core Duo 2.0 GHz would be a fine front-end however I’d need to plug it in to watch shows.  I’d be able to watch live TV wirelessly on the laptop anywhere in the house though. Note: the Elgato EyeTV is another option for Mac OS X HDTV time shifting however it doesn’t have the front-end/back-end model, your laptop has to be on and plugged into the tuner to record.
Yup.  So that’s where I’m at.  I’ve already wired the 1GigE cable to the bedroom.  I still need to do a cable run to the kitchen, but that’s not really a priority.  I think having a small machine like the Wind PC in a closet would be a nice way to have both an iTunes server and a DVR.  Apparently MythWeb allows you to easily setup recording from your web browser, so you just login and set the shows you want to watch for the week and let the back-end do its job.  There are ways to “Sling” content to yourself if you’re out of town or something, but personally I think I could wait until I’m home, and besides most of the content by the big networks is instantly available online now for free viewing.

Getting doored & handlebar shapes a New York rite of passage

So Zoe and I were having a lazy Saturday after having some Astoria coal fired thin crust pizza at a nice Italian place on Broadway and 29th called “Sac’s Pizza Place” (it was quite good) anyhow, we were biking back home down Broadway to Vernon Blvd. and there was a line of traffic probably heading to Cost Co. and just before making it to the light at the intersection WHAM! I was sprawled out on the ground, me and my ’72 Gitane. A nice older couple pulled over to offer assistance and add themselves as witnesses.  It was cold out and I was a bit worried about going into shock if I had broken anything.  

We weren’t riding very fast, and the guy in his BMW 528xi didn’t bother to check his mirror.  He clipped my right hand and handlebar and I managed to roll my left shoulder into the ground.  After the nice elderly couple gave me a piece of paper and pen, they gave me their name and number, I wrote down the BMW’s plate, went up to talk to him, asked him if he had insurance, he did.  Turns out he owned a Limo/Car Service place across the street.  He was just going to work.  I said, “Look it’s cold and I don’t think my hand is broken. I don’t want to file a police accident report here, I just want your name and number in case anything else is up. ”  So that was it.  Zoe and I walked halfway home, then rode a short section on 21st St.  We went to Lennox Hill Hospital to have the hand and wrist X-rayed.  Thankfully nothing appears to be broken.  I’ve iced it for the last few hours, kept it elevated and have a bandage on it.  Good times.  

Scotty, a guy who used to be messenger in the 80s and who I’ve worked on films with mentioned “getting doored” one day when he looked at my bike’s handlebars (which are chopped “preacher bars” like Soma Fab’s “Noah’s Arc Bar“) as they offer no hand protection.  He said that he always preferred drop bars on a track bike, as they offer some protection.  I thought about this, and figured that its better to have narrower bars than protection.  Well, after hitting the edge of a car door today with my right hand – I amend my position – I’d rather have handlebars that offer protection.  

Sadly, there just aren’t many that offer this.  European style Trekking bars are good, but quite wide (usually 57cm end-to-end) and they require a longer higher stem.  Also the fact is Trekking bars raise the dork quotient of your bike by about %1,000.  Scott Components used to make a mountain bike handlebar that fits the bill called the Scott AT-4 Pro, it was a continuously curved mountain bar.  Similarly, the shape I want is a curved flatbar (like my arc’ed preacher) that then curves back around the front in a U shape for each side, about 40 cm wide.  The Scott AT-3’s did this to some extent but I think it’s important for the curves to come pretty far in so that they don’t get caught objects while riding.  Anyhow, Rivendell and Velo-Orange don’t really sell bars for “aggressive urban” hand protection.  I’m taking a metal shop class at Pratt these next 8 weeks, so hopefully I’ll be able to make something to rectify this situation, otherwise I should probably throw on some drop handlebars.  


A Trekking Handle bar setup from Coweater on Flickr

Soma Fab's - Noah's Arc Bar

Arc, not so good for your hand on door

This sort of bar would protect your hands

This sort of bar would protect your hands

This one might get caught on stuff

This one might get caught on stuff

Special Day Photo Secrets

So, we’ve learned the hard way that when you’re about to get married you should reformat your camera’s memory card.  Reformat it three times, actually.  Wipe it clean, freshy frischmacher clean.  The Canon PowerShot SD800 IS had really never given us any major trouble, it’s been a good little point and shoot.  But as we found out the hard way (after losing I think about 40% of our wedding day photos to bad writes/corruption) you should alway reformat your flash memory cards after dumping the photos onto your computer.  I attribute a lot of it to the fact that we’d kept some photos on the card but deleted others, and I think it’s likely iPhoto was writing to the card somehow screwing with FAT16 system.  The moral is this: download all your photos then reformat your card “in camera” using the camera’s menu setup, each and every time.

Thankfully we had a friend shoot two rolls of film on an old fully manual Minolta SRT 101 35mm camera and a bunch of those came out, so it’s all good.  And we could always reshoot it once it’s not 10 degree outside and snowing.  Or we could do one month anniversary photos.  

The best software I found for free file/image recovery was Zero Assumption Recovery. The other software, that seems to be the best for the 2GB SanDisk SD card was Rescue Pro by LC Technology in the UK.  ZAR gave me similar results though.  I also tried PhotoRescue, however it did not recover as many photos as the other two.

Here are the best pics from two rolls of film: A Wedding on Film

And here are the best digital pictures we saved: Zoe & Mark Get Married

More gauzy flare


Kissing (in front of fountain)

Flowers and dress