things done today

* take boy to hockey
* get potable antifreeze from Canadian Tire
* extract trailer from garage
* fend off numerous assault strikes by lady bugs
* winterize trailer plumbing system
* remove trailer battery
* move all winter stuff to the front of the garage
* re-insert trailer into garage
* replace the contents of the garage in front of trailer
* mow the lawn
* weed-wack the lawn

Things not done today:

* finish getting all the junk out of the dining room
* Maple Story :)

posted at 5:02 pm on Sunday, October 21, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on things done today

test the nation

I scored 55 out of 70 on CBC’s “Test the Nation”: quiz. I suck at Canadiana, apparently… :)

posted at 8:29 am on Tuesday, September 18, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on test the nation

MythTV PVR-250 settings

For posterity, the resolutions and bitrates I’m now using for recording shows with the PVR-250 on my MythTV box. The “Low Quality” setting is definitely degraded, but watchable; probably because of the reduced resolution more than the reduced bitrate. The “High Quality” setting looks to be good enough for DVD transfers. “Default” produces files that are about 1.5G/hour (my old settings were producing 2.2G/hour, so this will let me record more stuff). I may change them some more, of course…

| *profile* | *resolution* | *bitrate* (avg/max) | *audio sample* | *audio bitrate* |
| Default | 720×480 | 4000/5000 | 48K | 224K |
| High Quality | 720×480 | 6000/6500 | 48K | 384K |
| Low Quality | 320×480 | 2000/2200 | 32K | 192K |
| Default | 720×480 | 4000/5000 | 48K | 224K |
| Old Default | 480×480 | 4500/6000 | 32K | 320K |

I’ve read that the audio settings don’t make any difference with the PVR-250, only the “master” bitrate. Whatever :)

posted at 10:48 am on Sunday, September 09, 2007 in Personal, Science and Technology | Comments (1)
  1. Reid says:

    Given current CPU speed, is transcoding to DivX or something feasible? That would reduce recording disk usage to about 350 MB/hr.

mythtv upgrade

“zap2it”: decided to get out of the free TV listings business (and I’d like to thank them for maintaining free listings for as long as they did!). There’s a replacement, subscription-based service called for MythTV users “Schedules Direct”:, but converting to it requires some database changes, which essentially meant “upgrade!”. So I did; to “KnoppMyth R5F1”:

This was a major upgrade; kernel 2.4 to 2.6, and MythTV from 0.16 to 0.20, so I was expecting trouble. I made a complete disk2disk copy of my PVRs harddrive, and then ran the KnoppMyth backup utilities also.

As it turns out, KnoppMyth is suprisingly easy to upgrade. All of my important settings were copied over intact, and the box did sort of work after the reboots. However, I had to do a number of things manually:

* convert my tv listings source from zap2it to schedulesdirect. Unfortunately, this required re-building MythTV from source, which took all day.
* Recompile the kernel without the vesafb driver (which I remembered thanks to my old posting: “PVR 250 and MythTV”:
* get my Matrox G400 tv-out working, which was basically copy over my old scripts that would sync the framebuffers and adjust the video output
* fix the audio volumes, again
* rebuild the lirc modules, since the kernel source I grabbed from didn’t have these modules already

That was about it. It dig take all day (kernel and myth rebuilds are slow on a PIII-933), but the box seems to be working ok; playback of TV and DivX works, I can record TV shows, and (the reason for the upgrade!) I have TV listings again…

One issue: the console is totally useless until X starts; something is setting the framebuffer to a very strange mode. That’s a problem for another day…

posted at 9:30 pm on Saturday, September 08, 2007 in Personal, Science and Technology | Comments Off on mythtv upgrade


back from vacation. House still in one piece, thanks to Pene!

* trailer: awesome!
* altantic canada: awesome!
* two kiting events: fabulous!
* 3.5 weeks with the family: The Best!

More later :)

posted at 1:39 pm on Tuesday, August 28, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on back!

time flies like a banana

It’s August? Already? How the hell did that happen?

posted at 10:50 am on Wednesday, August 01, 2007 in Personal | Comments (2)
  1. Nita says:

    It’s astounding, time is fleeting….

  2. David Brake says:

    Worse, I think of August as the 7th month of the year because I think of Aug 1st as mid-summer. In fact of course it is the 8th month so the end of the year is coming up sooner than I am ready for…


This sounds familiar:


posted at 10:58 am on Monday, July 16, 2007 in Links, Personal | Comments (1)
  1. Nita says:

    A-yup. Painfully so.

tab dump

Not worth blogging individually, here is a bunch of links that I wanted to share:

* “Binary marble adding machine”: – watch the video!
* “Chore Buster”: – Web 2.0! enter people and chores, and it will automatically generate a ‘fair’ schedule and email it to you weekly!
* “flotsam”: – rubber duckies travel from the pacific to the atlantic via the arctic ocean! – see also “Beach Comber’s Alert”:
* “War on Clutter”:
* “Teach Your Kids to Clean Their Own Rooms”:

posted at 3:03 pm on Wednesday, July 04, 2007 in Links, Personal | Comments (2)
  1. Helge Koch says:

    Friday, 20 July 2007, Globa and Mail lead article on page two, all about the rubber duckies arriving in England. This is getting global and more fun. May be on the Globe website, but I cannot find it. Helge

shakedown cruise

We picked up the trailer yesterday morning; got a nice walk-through of all the features, etc.; as well as instructions for setup and tear down. We ended up spending three hours at the dealership, but they fed us hamburgers, so all is good!

We drove back home, picked up the kites and the camping gear, and headed out to Valens Conservation Area near Cambridge. I took Gerry’s advice and set the cruise control to 100km/h on the 401 and let everyone else pass me. It wasn’t perfect; I kept catching up with slowpokes! The truck uses more fuel towing the trailer; 15l/100km instead of the 10-11 we get normally on the highway. On the other hand, it accelerates well; we had no troubles with merging, left turns, or hills. I don’t have the trailer brake controller installed yet, so braking needed more distance than normal. I made sure to leave lots of room, so I never had trouble stopping anywhere, even when idiots were cutting me off in front of a traffic jam on the way home. (Trailers are like trucks; everyone wants to be in front of them, not behind).

It took us about 45 minutes to get the trailer positioned on our site, opened, and all the gear unpacked; about what I expected. We walked over to the camp store but they were out of milk, so we had to drive out to the local general store and (butter tart extravaganza!) to get milk and snacks. On the way back, we stopped at the beach to play for a bit, so we didn’t start dinner until 7pm, At which time we discovered that our camper’s stove isn’t quite hot enough to boil water, at least not in any reasonable amount of time. Fortunately I had packed the old kettle for coffee and dishes! By the time dinner was hot the mosquitos were organized into squadrons, so we committed a cardinal sin and ate inside. (I washed up outside, though; by 10pm the skeeters were mostly gone for the night).

We discovered a few problems other than the stove:

* The fridge does not work on 120v power; only on 12v and propane. We’ll have to get that checked out.
* It appears that the water pump was left on during our demonstration. Somewhere between Toronto and Valens it started sucking air; I have no idea how long it was running like that, and I hope it’s not damaged!
* The camper has a nice large drain pipe, but they gave us a garden hose adapter, and I had a small-bore garden hose. It seems that if there is enough back-pressure in the hose, not only does the sink not drain, but the interior drain vapour-locks, and so even after removing the garden hose the sink remains full. Blowing air into the system releases the lock, and can give a face full of sink water. (Fortunately I was faster than that :). I’ll have to get a larger diameter, shorter drain hose.
* The sink trap leaks; we’ll have to get that fixed or the wood holding that part of the camper together will rot out.

It took us about 30 minutes to pack up the trailer once we formally started (I’d already been loading out boxes and doing the dishes before then), and about 5 minutes to pack the truck and hook up the trailer. We spent the afternoon in a kite field, then drove home into a traffic jam; half of the 401 across Toronto was closed! We got home early enough that the rain started as we were putting the trailer into the garage and loading back in the bikes and lawnmower. (The trailer currently eats my garage; I’m definitely going to need a storage shed out back).

All in all it was a good weekend, and I’m very happy with the trailer. I’m looking forward to the Pinery in three weeks!

posted at 9:15 am on Monday, June 04, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on shakedown cruise

prep work

I cleaned out the garage a few weekends ago. I hauled everything out, sorted it into four piles (the usual trio of throw out, give away, keep; plus recycle). Then I put it all back in! Fortunately the majority of it was trash; stuff we’d never gotten around to sorting through after the chaos of our move from Treverton, plus other detritus acquired over the years. (There’s always something more important to do than clean out the garage :-). I even found a box of old printouts from fourth-year computer science; I though I’d ditched all of that stuff a long time ago! At least these days it gets recycled…

Since then I’ve been hauling garbage and recycling to the curb every Tuesday morning. One more week of garbage pickup should give me the space required to store the trailer; good thing, since we pick it up from the dealer on June 2nd. I still need to take one more trip to the transfer station; got some more old (dead) monitors to get rid of, as well as a box of misc. hazardous waste.

Of course, there’s still too much stuff in the garage; we have two desks, part of a bed, an ancient kitchen table that’s probably worth real money to an antique dealer, and a few more boxes that still need to be sorted. Like Gerry and Diana, we’ve reached the conclusion that we need a shed to reduce the amount of stuff that needs to be temporarily removed to get the trailer into (or out of :) the garage…

posted at 11:04 am on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 in Personal | Comments (1)
  1. Nita says:

    When do you need the table gone? (Wondering if I can contact my brother in law, who’s an antique dealer – if nothing else to provide some semi-useful info).

towing and fuses

We drove up to the trailer dealer yesterday to make sure that the truck has everything we need to tow our trailer. We do! The trailer wiring connector is even completely hooked up already, contrary to what it says in the Saturn owner’s manual. The trailer guys were all quite impressed with the Saturn; the hitch is apparently well built, and the rest of the truck looks cool :).

I was a little confused about trailer brake connections. I was under the impression that the Saturn tow package included a brake controller that just needed to be wired up. It turns out that we still need to purchase a separate trailer brake controller and hook it up ourselves. However, there’s a connector for this purpose already wired under the dash, and the Saturn towing kit come with a wiring harness that connects to the brake controller and plugs into the existing connector, so it appears that we’re all good. McKenzie sells the controllers, so maybe they can wire and install it also, if our Saturn dealer doesn’t have an “official” model already.

We tried to use the new DVD player on the way home from Pene’s party last night, and it was dead! It appeared to be a problem with the power connector. When we got home I discovered that the cigarette lighter power connector comes apart, and there’s a 5mm x 20mm 5A fuse hidden inside; yes, the fuse had a broken wire. It doesn’t look blown (usually there’s an ugly black spot on the glass when that happens); I think it broke from being whacked around somehow.

I went to two different stores today looking for replacements without success. I even ended up buying the wrong size at “the store formerly known as radio shack”. Their website says they carry both 1 1/4″ and 20mm fuses, so I’ll have to go back tomorrow and try again. If these fuses are this hard to find, I may have to replace the lighter plug adapter with a different one that takes standard fuses. I’m thinking of re-wiring all of my 12V junk to use Anderson Powerpoles anyway, since that’s the standard ham radio power connector these days, so this would be an excuse to do so for the DVD player :).

Next up: clean out the garage and build a loft, so that we have somewhere to put the trailer, so that we can pick it up. Gerry and I are tentatively planning a Saturday night trip in early June to “shake down” the trailers before our three-day Pinery trip, so we need to get it sometime before then…

posted at 5:58 pm on Sunday, April 15, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on towing and fuses


I picked up the new truck today; it is beautiful! Long story short (and coming later), we ended up with an entirely different configuration to the one we originally ordered. For one thing, it’s charcoal, a colour we like :-). On the other hand, it has one of those ultra-decadent powered rear liftgates, which I’m sure is going to be a maintenance nightmare in the future. But the ultimate in decadence: heated windshield-washer fluid!

Most important, it has the towing package: trailer hitch receiver and cabling, extra cooling capacity in the engine, and alternate settings for the transmission computer when towing. Now I have to make sure all the wiring is in place (there’s a mention in the manual that fuses for trailer brakes and trailer battery charging are installed, but the wires aren’t hooked up; this seems entirely backwards to me), and get a drawbar with a ball that is the right height for our trailer. Then I have to clear enough space in the garage to park the trailer, and then I can go pick it up from the dealer!

posted at 10:53 pm on Thursday, April 05, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on luxury


Two, actually.

Gareth’s team won their game against their arch-rivals (the Leafs) on Saturday. They were up 1-0 after the first period. The Leafs scored one to tie early in the second, but Gareth’s Oilers took it back almost immediately, and then scored four more goals to win the game 5-1. I think the main difference between last Saturday’s 1-1 tie and this game was that the forward lines remembered how to score goals :).

Meanwhile, Rick’s curling team (on which I play second) won the 2nd flight championships on Monday night! We’ve had three upset games in a row the last three weeks. We went 10-5 against a very good team, then 15-0 in our second game, then 14-1 in the final. With those scores, we ended up the second highest team in the overall standings! Not bad for my first year playing skins…

posted at 9:56 pm on Wednesday, April 04, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on champions

hockey update

Gareth’s Oilers battled the season-winning Leafs to a 1-1 tie, forcing a 2-minute, 3-on-3, sudden-death overtime period. Alas, the Leafs’ star player scored a little less than a minute into the period.

It was a hard fought game; lots of aggressive defense on both sides (although there were surprisingly few penalties to go with it; they were playing clean, at least!). The kids were exhausted when they came off the ice, especially the Oilers who only have 12 players (Goalie, 2 defense lines, and 7 forwards rotating through two lines).

Goulding Park plays a double elimination tournament tournament, so The Oilers go to the semi-final game on Thursday at 6:30, and if they win that they play the Leafs _again_ in the final on Saturday at noon. Go Oilers!

posted at 7:09 pm on Tuesday, March 27, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on hockey update


It always amuses me that the smaller the debt, the more aggressive they are at making sure it’s going to get paid. I can borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars on a whim, but miss one freakin’ cable payment and the hounds of hell are called out…

posted at 6:07 pm on Tuesday, March 20, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on collections

hockey playoffs

Gareth’s team won, although it was a tense 2-1 win. Kudos to our defense for shutting down several plays. (I don’t think I’m too biased, even though the boy plays defense :).

The Leafs won also, so the top two teams play each other on Saturday. Our record against them goes both ways; they clobbered us early in the season; we clobbered them in the middle; we had very close games at the end. The winner goes to the final; loser goes to the “last chance” game, and gets one more chance to be the other team in the final…

posted at 7:36 pm on Sunday, March 18, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on hockey playoffs

freezing rain

There’s a major freezing rain and storm warning for Toronto right now. I must be getting jaded, because I really can’t decide if this is genuinely going to be a dangerous storm, or if people are just panicking because we’ve had so many mild winters recently.

I guess the bottom line is: I’m not going to take any chances on the road with the kids in the back seat :). I guess I’m getting conservative in my old age!

*Update 16:30*: ok, it’s truly ugly out there. It took me 70 minutes (round trip; 25 there, 45 back) to get the kids from school, about a 4km trip. The roads weren’t _excessively_ slippery, just covered in snow and full of crawling, bumper-to-bumper traffic. But conditions were getting progressively worse during the drive, and the freezing rain hasn’t started yet.

Here’s wishing all a safe drive home, should you be on the roads.

posted at 2:10 pm on Thursday, March 01, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on freezing rain

new drive arrived

This time it was packed closer to the middle of the box, but was rattling around inside; there weren’t enough packing peanuts. I’ve already complained to the shipping manager; they obviously have a quality control problem in the shipping department. The internet suggests that many people have received DOA drives from them recently, although it’s always hard to tell on the Net of a Thousand Lies…

Anyway, I installed the drive and ran a bunch of I/O benchmarks against it. It’s not making the evil loud “I’m dying!” seek noises that the old one was, and all of the S.M.A.R.T. values are staying normal (for Seagate drives, that is :). I think I’ll keep testing it through to the weekend before putting any important data on it…

posted at 2:07 pm on Thursday, March 01, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on new drive arrived

another drive failure

The drive in Michaéla’s laptop finally failed last Tuesday (it’s been complaining ever since she accidentally dropped it off the waterbed last summer :). Since everything important was backed up or stored on the server, we were not to worried about replacing it. Still, being without a laptop for almost a week was making her a bit snaky :).

I purchased a replacement drive, attached it to a USB drive adapter (that I bought from NCIX a while back), and used a Linux rescue disk to clone the drive. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t boot! After Googling I learned that this is a common problem with Windows system partitions. I went to plan B; I started a Windows XP install on the new drive, allowing it to create the new partition and install the boot blocks. I mounted the old drive in another system (using a 2.5″ to 3.5″ drive adapter I had lying around). CHKDSK reported that the only bad blocks on the drive were in the free space and bitmap areas (lucky lucky), so I was able to use the Windows Backup utility to backup the data. I then mounted the new drive and restored it. After installing the new drive back into the laptop, it booted right away.

Of course, the kids were grumpy. With the two drive failures, I was using three of the four computers around here for repairs, so they couldn’t play computer games :). Conveniently, I finished right around bedtime…

posted at 2:32 pm on Monday, February 26, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on another drive failure rocks

NCIX approved my RMA, including paying for the return shipping (which they normally don’t, according to their website). I also called them up and asked them to cross-ship the replacement (since I paid for that service) and the very nice CSR decided to ship it via air instead of ground, also for free. (they temporarily charge my credit card for the replacement drive, hence the phone call).

I’ve been happy with my purchases from them in the past, but this level of customer service has confirmed my satisfaction with the company. Good prices and good service are hard to beat!

posted at 2:18 pm on Monday, February 26, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on rocks
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