mythtv update

Apparently I never posted about the latest changes. Most of this was back in September before fall TV started up…

My Knoppmyth installation was getting a little old and decrepit, even after the update for Schedules Direct. These days I use Ubuntu on all of the servers, so with the second release of Mythbuntu available I decided it was time to switch the PVR.

The first upgrade was relatively painless. I started with Mythbuntu 7.10, because it used the same MythTV version as my Knoppmyth install. First I installed onto my spare 160Gb drive; I have two, because I was originally planning to use RAID-1 on the PVR. Alas, the extra CPU and I/O required was too much for my wimpy PIII-933, so now I have a spare.

I was able to copy and/or merge most configuration files from the old setup to the new, since they were based on similar Debian releases. There were a couple of problems with TV-out on my ancient Matrox G400 card; once again vesafb was loading and blocking the Matrox drivers. At least this time they were both already modules, so I did not have to recompile the whole kernel! Then I restored the MySQL databases from backup and copied the video files over (that took a few hours). I tested the machine for about a week, and it was working fine.

Unfortunately, the upgrade to Mythbuntu 8.04 did not go as well. For some reason, the latest kernels would not boot on my old Compaq Deskpro! I never did figure out why. Since the cooling fans in that machine were dying anyway, I decided to swap in the old Baltimore Dell workstation that Andrzej gave me last year. I happened to have a spare CPU in the parts box, so I now have a PVR with two PIII-933 CPUs, making the box a little snappier when watching TV while recording.

Of course, about a week later, the Dell fan started chirping (as I posted about previously). Then my cheapo UPS died, and the Dell kept shutting itself down until I plugged it directly into the wall. Now everything is stable (and cool) again, and I’m quite happy to be running the same linux version on all six servers! (I don’t have that many computers at home; four of those “servers” are virtual machines, two of them at hosting facilities in Atlanta GA…).

So, that’s it until next spring, after May sweeps, by which time Mythbuntu 9.04 will be out :-).

Update 2009/05/28: 1) the upgrade to 9.04 was uneventful. 2) My old server died, so I had to buy a new (old) computer. In the process of swapping hardware around, I had the “would not boot” problem again. I eventually discovered that my earlier problems with kernels not booting was not caused by the motherboard, but by the particular Matrox G400 that was in the old Compaq Deskpro. That was a day wasted, trying to get the right combination of hardware into one machine :-).

posted at 5:01 pm on Thursday, October 30, 2008 in Personal, TV | Comments (2)
  1. James says:


    I wondered if you could give a little more information on what you had to do to get the G400 card working. I’m trying to set up a Knoppmyth (or Mythbuntu; I’ve been thinking about switching too) on a system that has a Matrox G450 in it, which is very similar. It’s been giving me no end of grief and I haven’t gotten any help from the Knoppmyth forums so far (the solution seems to be ‘buy an NVidia’). This is the first time I’ve come across anybody describing a solution.

    What did you have to do to get rid of the vesafb problem? Just unload a module?

    Thanks very much!

  2. chk says:

    I edited the file /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist-framebuffer and added an entry for vesafb. That stopped that module from being loaded at boot time. I also modified /etc/modules and added:


    To make sure that those modules did load at boot time, so that any later probe for a different framebuffer driver would fail. (Also, the probe for matrox_w1 was causing problems, and this fixed it). The combination of the two worked for me.

    In /etc/rc.local I run the following to bind the TV-out properly.

      /usr/bin/matroxset -f /dev/fb1 -m 0
      /usr/bin/matroxset -f /dev/fb0 -m 3
      /usr/bin/matroxset -f /dev/fb0 -o 1 2

    Finally, every time X starts or resets I run a script from /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc called tvcenter that adjusts the framebuffer position and brightness on my system:

    /usr/local/bin/fbset -fb /dev/fb0 -left 32 -right 8 -upper 70 -lower 20 -hslen 40
    # set black level, white level, hue
    /usr/local/bin/matrox 0x0e 0x3f
    /usr/local/bin/matrox 0x1e 0xbf
    /usr/local/bin/matrox 0x22 0x76

    (fbset and matrox are programs that came with the Matrox drivers I found).

    I hope this helps!

home office update

I had two computers on my L-shaped desk: my desktop and my work laptop (connected to a real display and keyboard, of course!). Switching back and forth between the two was getting annoying, until I read about a package called Synergy, that allows sharing one keyboard and mouse over the network among multiple computers.

I now have two displays side-by-side on my desk! Synergy works very well; the desktop switching is seamless, and all keyboard events (including the Windows key) get sent to the correct computer. Even the clipboards are synchronized; I can cut and paste between the two computers! Synergy can be configured to start at boot time, so even after a reboot (common on the work laptop), I still only need the one keyboard.

I’ve had two minor problems. The first was that I initially started with the server on the laptop and the client on the desktop. HP “upgraded” my firewall, and the new firewall blocked the Synergy server, so I had to swap their roles. The second is that when the Windows Explorer process gets busy with network delays or timeouts, switching between the two computers no longer works; it appears that the required events aren’t being sent to the Synergy software, or something else is blocking Synergy from switching displays. Fortunately this doesn’t happen too often.

Overall I’m quite happy; I have better separation between work stuff and personal stuff, but without the annoyance of separate keyboards and mice. I recommend this software.

posted at 9:43 am on Thursday, October 30, 2008 in Personal | Comments (7)
  1. David Brake says:

    How is this different from running VNC and displaying/controlling one computer using the other’s keyboard and mouse? That’s what I do with my PC and ibook combo.

  2. Pia says:

    Hi, do you really live at 64 Clareville? I’ve searched around for pictures but don’t see any around your site… My dad built that house, I grew up there, I’m curious as heck :) feel free to shoot me an email. ps my husband set me up with Synergy last year, I love it, works great. We do a lot of gaming so I use one machine for playing and zip to the other for looking up game info so I don’t have to tab out of the game.


  3. chk says:

    The house has changed a bit since you lived here! I sent you e-mail with some of the details…

  4. Pia says:

    thanks! Sorry if this is weird, the internet can be a creepy place, I promise I won’t try to get you to help me move 280 million dollars over from Nigeria or something! :D

  5. chk says:

    LOL! It’s pretty easy to avoid creepiness on the Internet when you can claim that it’s your name carved in the concrete outside my patio door… :-)

  6. Jeff K says:

    There’s something to be said about privacy, I guess.

    I presume “Pia” is an Estonian name? Dad Toomas moved out Dec. 15, 1992?

    Incidentally, chk knows me, I’m harmless, I don’t really have a drawer full of watches beside my bed. Its only half full.

    I love going to the Estonian bakery downtown. Know of any good ones besides Broadview/Danforth?

  7. Reid says:

    Ya, Synergy rules. I used it at work for a while. It’s also cross-platform. So I had one mouse/keyboard for my Mac, Windows and Linux machines. It was a little awkward, because the Windows and Linux machines shared a monitor, using different inputs (DVI vs VGA).

orwell or huxley?

I saw this, and I had to share…

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.” —Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

(copied from Will Shetterley)

posted at 8:36 am on Thursday, October 16, 2008 in Current Events, Links, Politics | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    “pain” and “fear” don’t seem to be quite the right words, although they are not completely wrong.

    It strikes me that people who write tend to make associations on paper not unlike the process of paranoid thought, and thus come off as “fear”. Its just a slightly unvarnished side to the creative process, in my humble opinion.

    The real problem is the unwillingness of people at large to re-establish the context of their beliefs as the context changes, or indeed if it is not known.

    Example: “Okay I want to write a book called ‘Clockwork Orange’ about the hedonism of violence and emotional music”. Director “Well, let’s make it into a movie for a buck”. Public: “Oh cool! Let’s beat the director up just like in the movie!”. Director: “Ban movie in Britain for life”.

    Pretty funny actually… (CWO was on a few days ago). Ain’t it sad knowing someone who’s been “cured”? [joke]

google reader 2

I’ve just discovered an annoying ‘feature’; in fact, one that many/most other feed readers had some version of, and the reason I stuck with Sharpreader for so long…

Google Reader automatically marks as ‘read’ any entries more than a month old.

Sometimes there are articles I want to be able to find again; because I want to read them with more attention, because I need more time to act on them, because I want to blog them, etc. etc.. I’ve been leaving them as “unread”, but I guess I’ll have to develop a different habit instead. “Starred items” is already overloaded. In some other feed readers I could add a “TODO” or “important” tag to the entry, but that doesn’t seem to be possible in Google. I see that I can email them to myself, although I’d rather not have to use two applications for this…

OTOH, I suppose if I haven’t gotten a round tuit after a month, it wasn’t really that important :-)

posted at 10:27 am on Wednesday, October 15, 2008 in Personal | Comments (3)
  1. David B says:

    you can give a tag to anything (see bottom R of any item) but I don’t know if that will save it from deletion after a month.

  2. Helge Koch says:

    Get AZZCadfile. Open a new card. Call it “something”. Copy the Google item to it and go back to it any time you want. When finished, delete. I do this with computer tech items from Ziff Davis all the time. Real easy. Helge

  3. Helge Koch says:

    Sorry about that left out the “r”. It is AZZcardfile. Helge

voter turnout

Yesterday’s Canadian federal election broke a new record; lowest voter turnout in history, at 59% of eligible voters. This apparently ranks us 83 in the world.

I received six voter registration cards; two for us, and four for previous owners of our house. We’ve lived here eight years and three federal elections. I called Elections Canada to ask if they wanted to remove those bad names from the list, and they replied “no”.

I wonder how much of that “drop” in turnout is real, and how much of it is a growing number of “dead” registrations on the Canadian voter list?

posted at 12:35 am on Wednesday, October 15, 2008 in Current Events, Politics | Comments Off on voter turnout


The Dell Precision Workstation has a chassis fan right next to the CPU. They have this annoying habit of chirping like a cricket as they get old and worn out. One of the fans in my PVR was squeaking so loudly today that it was annoying me in the office, 15’ and two doors away. I unplugged the fan at around 2PM today. I guess it’s kinda important… :-)

(Yes, those temperatures are Centigrade. It’s not that cold in my family room!)

I think I have one more spare in the parts bin. If not, I probably won’t be able to get out to Tiger Direct until Saturday :-(

Update: I had three spare fans, all of them noisy! Ah, the joys of old hardware. Anyway, for now I’ve removed the cover, and the temperature has improved:

Update 2008-10-25: Finally found a store that stocks 90mm fans today, and put it into the PVR around 10PM. This graph is with the cover on:

And now I have a nifty blue glow coming from the entertainment corner! :-)

posted at 5:22 pm on Tuesday, October 14, 2008 in Personal | Comments Off on cooling

Google Reader

I’ve been using Google Reader for a while now, after finally becoming annoyed over some issues in SharpReader (understandable, since it is not being maintained anymore :-).


Google Reader allows me to share stuff I find interesting on a web page and an Atom Feed


posted at 6:25 pm on Monday, October 13, 2008 in Links | Comments Off on Google Reader

more ‘i hate people’

Car vandals aim at Liberal supporters

Toronto police patrolled a midtown area overnight, after vandals cut brake lines on at least 10 cars parked at homes with Liberal election signs on their lawns.

posted at 7:48 pm on Sunday, October 05, 2008 in Current Events, Politics | Comments (1)
  1. Nita says:

    I doubt they catch them, but if they do, a large part of me says “nail their asses to the wall.”

IBM Identity Management

I’m surprised this announcement took so long:

IBM to Bail Out HP Security Software Customers

read it at yahoo or marketwire.

posted at 12:46 pm on Wednesday, October 01, 2008 in Personal, Programming, Security | Comments (1)
  1. RG says:

    I got this as an internal email flash this morning and just chuckled. I agree this seemed to have dropped out of a time warp or something…

linux sux

OK, I exaggerate. Linux as a server is an awesome tool. Linux on the desktop sucks like a Hoover.

I decided to try Ubuntu 8.04 on a desktop machine. My primary goal was to have a MythTV client, so I could watch recorded TV when the kids had taken over the main television (for the Wii, of course! :). I’ve been a casual Linux user since kernel version 0.91, and a regular user since RedHat 5.0 shipped. I used Sun and SGI desktops, NCD X-Terminals, and even early Desktop Linux for 10 years before I started using Windows. Desktop Linux has come a long way since then, so I figured it was worth a try; I was experienced enough to work around any problems that came up.

Browsing and email are OK, because Firefox and Thunderbird are available. The official mailer, Evolution, is utter dreck, of course, and everything suffers the standard open-source problem; crappy UI, and feature-incomplete. It seems that when a developer encounters a program that doesn’t work in their ideal way, the reaction is not to improve the program, as open-source supporters would have you believe. Instead, the reaction is to think “Wow, that sucks! I can do better from scratch!”. And so we have, for example, well over a dozen MP3 players that all suck in different ways! (Although, thanks to the underlying crappy audio support, they all suffer the problem that changing the volume lags by 2-3 seconds… *sigh).

I tried a compromise position for a while; I installed VirtualBox, a “free” VM solution from Sun Microsystems that allows one to integrate the host and guest desktops almost seamlessly, so that I could run my favourite Windows apps alongside the Linux stuff. But even that doesn’t work as well, and so I think I’m going to surrender and go back to Windows on the desktop.

I could go on, but instead I’ll link to a couple of sites and essays that cemented it all for me. There are many themes, but most boil down to the same problem: Linux developers act like they’re smarter than Linux users. If there’s one thing that 13 years of commercial software development has taught me, it’s that you ignore your customers/users at your own peril. I don’t think the open-source community is ever going to learn that lesson.

posted at 9:13 am on Wednesday, October 01, 2008 in Personal, Programming, Rants | Comments (4)
  1. Richard Chapman says:

    You know, during the American Revolutionary War, columns of British infantry were often harassed by Colonial Militia using tactics that would be later known as Guerrilla warfare. It pissed the Brits off to no end. Battles were supposed to be neat and tidy. Everybody lined up and traded volleys until enough people were dead. We all know what battle tactics are not in use today.

    Ok, so what does this have to do with Linux development? You say you’ve had 10 years in commercial development but you didn’t say if it was Open Source development or not. A community effort will not come up with anything that looks and works like Vista. That’s not a bad thing. Think of the proprietary development model like the battle field tactics used during the Revolutionary War. Yeah, Open Source is messy as hell. I’m not a developer but I can think of at least two reasons why that is. It’s relatively new, compared to proprietary methods (I know a basic Open Source model was in place before the proprietary influences took over. Software was developed and traded freely before it was discovered to be a “gold mine” by the corporations.) Second, the Open Source model reignited, established itself and has begun to flourish in a proprietary “pond”. Imagine that, born and bred in a completely hostile environment. The Open Source model you see today is not the one you would see if it was as prominent as the proprietary one.

    What I don’t understand is that you should know this. Having as much experience as you do with Linux, you would have canned it a long time ago if you had issues with a little GUI quirkiness. There weren’t “well over a dozen MP3” players when you first started using Linux. They accumulated while you using it. Did it just hit you one day that there were “too many”? I say, if someone wants to create their own MP3 player or even a distro for that matter, go ahead, let Darwin sort them out. For me, a quirky GUI is just a nice little reminder that I’m not using a Microsoft product.

  2. chk says:

    I think you completely missed all of my points, but that’s ok; the other blogs I linked to are full of similar behaviour.

    I’ve been running Linux as a server for over a decade. I gave up on Linux on the desktop nine years ago. I decided to try it again, and discovered that other than a few new bells and whistles, nothing has changed. Developers can’t even get basic functionality right, never mind the interesting stuff that really makes a program useful.

    My example about MP3 players was not that there were so many, but that they all suck. Nobody seems to want to collaborate to make one or two better. It’s not just the MP3 players.

    A quirky GUI just gets in my way when I have real work to do. I don’t want to be fighting with my computers all the time (And yes, for the record, both Apple and MSFT have problems in this area too).

    I’ll continue to run linux on my servers (5 personal, dozens at the office), but I’ll not be using it on a desktop. More importantly, I won’t be recommending it to my family and friends, either.

  3. Richard Chapman says:

    No, after reading your comment I believe I didn’t miss your point. I’m not saying there is something wrong with you for not liking desktop Linux. It just seems a little odd. If you’ve been working with Linux servers for the past 9 years you must be quite at home with the command line. Don’t use the desktop, it’s optional. I think it’s nuts but some people do it. I don’t know what distro you tried but desktop Linux has improved a lot in just the 3.5 years I’ve been using it. My needs aren’t great but it does everything I need and more without getting in my face. The maintenance is nonexistent compared to XP. Vista? From what little I’ve seen of it my computer would be smashed to pieces in a matter of hours if I had to use it. That friggin’ OS has an attitude and I don’t like it at all.

    I use PCLinuxOS and there isn’t any piece of codec crap it can’t handle. If you are happy with XP or Vista or whatever you use then there is no reason to switch. If you’re just investigating the “hype” then that’s fine too. Just understand that there isn’t any Linux hype machine, it’s just people’s experiences. Nobody said Linux was the Second Coming. They are just happy to finally get their work done without being pestered by their computer.

  4. Reid says:

    Yep it does.

    Now why would you go to Windows? There’s always Mac.



PETA, People Eating Tasty Animals is an organisation I can get behind! PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, on the other hand, is not.

It’s not that I don’t support the ethical treatment of animals; I do, and PETA has exposed quite a few legitimate animal cruelty issues. But PETA’s mission seems to go far beyond reasonable! They seem to want people to stop using animal products in any way (food, clothing, etc.), which often drifts into the absurd:

Mama’s milk ice cream cone, anyone?

PETA wants world-famous Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream to tap nursing moms, rather than cows, for the milk used in its ice cream.

I suppose as an attention-grabbing PR stunt, it’s brilliant. But really; what were they thinking when they came up with that one?

posted at 8:35 am on Wednesday, October 01, 2008 in Links | Comments (2)
  1. Nita says:

    I believe the phrase is “they were thinking they’d get exactly what they got” – free publicity and as far as I can tell, that’s PETA’s primary purpose in life.

  2. Alexis D says:

    PETA does not want Ben & Jerry’s to use Breast Milk—it was tongue in cheek. WoW, people really do go overboard with what is in print and take everything so literally. PETA has had great success in changing industry. Whether or not you agree with their tactics, the fact of the matter is that they get it done. There are several other animal welfare organizations out there that have accomplished little compared to PETA. People don’t read fine print, they don’t take notice of the soft spoken. People take notice of things that stand out—-so Peta stands out and gets their attention anyway they can to get people aware of a situation and talking about it. Trying to get people to understand that animals are entitled to be free to live the way they were meant to is far from absurd.