A CableCARD Update for the HTPC

A few months back I acquired an update for our HTPC. In order to watch digital channels (anything that isn’t available as an over-the-air network), I needed either a cable box, which I didn’t want to rent, or a device capable of taking a CableCARD. When I first started looking, there were two on the market. The first one out was the Ceton InfiniTV, which is a PCI card device that wouldn’t likely fit into my smaller HTPC case. So, that lead me to a device sold by the company who made the other HD tuner I’m using. The tuner I purchased is the SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime. There are two models of the HDHomeRun Prime, one with three tuners and another with six. I opted for the one with just three tuners since I currently only have two tuners and didn’t figured I needed the extra three, or the extra expense of the larger box.

I preordered the tuner, and it arrived a bit later than the company had claimed, but I was happy to finally have it in my hands. My first task was to acquire a CableCARD from my cable company (Medicacom). For those not familiar with CableCARD, it basically provides the decryption for digital cable in your own box without having to use (pay for) one provided by the cable company. The FCC requires cable companies to provide them to their customers. I went down to the Mediacom office and picked up my card. The FCC recently required cable companies to provide a self-install option for CableCARDS instead of requiring a (paid) house call. Once I got the CableCARD home, plugged it into the HDHomeRun and plugged in the coax. I actually have the box in a different room of the house away from the TV. It isn’t necessary, but the way that the HDHomeRun works is it delivers the TV signal via a network connection, and I’ve got an empty network port in the bedroom. That way it also delivers signal through the entire house. If I wanted, I could fire up VLC and watch cable TV on a laptop anywhere. The device powered up and seemed to do what it was supposed to do. Now, on to Mediacom to try and get the CableCARD activated.

Currently, there are very few pieces of software that can legally be used with CableCARDs. The software has to be able to decrypt the digital signal from the cable companies. I use Windows 7 Media Center, and it’s capable of working with a CableCARD tuner via a special plugin provided by Microsoft. I installed the HDHomeRun software and then installed the plugin for Media Center. It quickly recognized the new tuner and gave me a message to with the unique ID for the CableCARD to provide to Mediacom. I called and had them activate my card. It can take as long as 24 hours for the CableCARD to be activated, so I let it sit overnight and got excited to watch more channels in HD the next day.

I’d read horror stories of cable providers not activating CableCARDs correctly. Fortunately that wasn’t the case for me. The next day, the CableCARD reported it was activated by the HDHomeRun control panel (accessed by a web interface), but I was having issues viewing my brand-spankin’ new HD channels. There were some funny things going on. I could get the new channels to play in the HDHomeRun software intermittently, but only in windowed mode (not full screen). I could also get the new channels to play intermittently in Media Center but with the same widows mode issue as well as there not being audio in some cases. I would also see odd messages about PlayReady, which is Microsoft’s DRM to make the CableCARD work. I kept getting messages that PlayReady wasn’t working, or that it needed to be updated. No matter what I did, I could not get PlayReady to reinstall or remove correctly. After banging my head against the HTPC for a few days, I decided to take the nuclear option and reinstall Windows.

Low and behold, the headache of a reinstall worked. The CableCARD activated successfully, and Windows Media Center detected it and configured all of the new channels. The programming guide picked up everything, and everything came in nice and clear. I’ve beem able to watch and record all HD programming without any problems. There have been very few issues, and what issues I did encounter were fixed quickly with a firmware update. So far I am very happy with the HDHomeRun Prime.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leaR8JLynbY

Homemade Snowmaker

So as of right now, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a white Christmas. If you really had your heart set on some snow, fear not. You can now make a run to the hardware store for some parts to build your very own snowmaker. Appropriately named Instructables member, MakeSnow has a very nice step-by-step on how to build it.

Snowmaker photo by MakeSnow

2011 Holiday Gift Guides

Well folks, it’s Cyber Monday again. You know what that means… it’s time for another iteration of my holiday geek gift guides. I started this quite a few years ago as a list of gift guides to help me find gifts for the people I shop for. Most of these are geared more towards geeks and gadgets, but there are several for more general gift giving. If I run across more, I’ll keep this post up to date. Or if you know any that I missed, leave me a comment, and I’ll add ‘em to the list.

(Guides from previous years: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004)

What Are Your Favorite Podcasts?

I’ve always got a good collection of podcasts on my iPod. In fact, I probably listen to podcasts more than I listen to music. I usually download a new batch of podcasts every couple weeks. I’ll fill up my iPod and listen until I run out, and then pull down the newest batch. I have my list of favorites, but am always on the lookout for new content to put into my podcast rotation. Below is a list of my top podcasts. Let me know in the comments what you like to listen to.

  • Buzz Out Loud (websiteiTunes)
    This is a daily podcast from CNET where they talk about the tech happenings of the day. I usually download about 6 of the newest episodes of Buzz Out Loud.
  • A Life Well Wasted (websiteiTunes)
    This podcast is a recent addition to my list. Their tagline is “An Internet Radio Program about Video Games and the People who Love them.” This isn’t your typical video game review show. It’s actual stories about people and video games. It includes stories about collectors, or interesting video game history, and is usually very intriguing.
  • Macbreak Weekly (websiteiTunes)
    This is a Twit podcast from Leo Laporte (of which I subscribe to a number). This one is kind of hit or miss with me. Sometimes I’ll listen, and sometimes I’ll just skip it until my next iPod refresh. It’s about all things Apple, and the quality of the show really depends on the guests of the episode. I find myself fast-forwarding through long Andy Ihnatko rants a lot of times.
  • Security Now (websiteiTunes)
    Another Twit podcast, this one deals with computer and internet security. I kind of pick and choose these episodes based on the topic discussed. There are also regular question and answer episodes that I’ll grab from time to time.
  • Tech News Today (websiteiTunes)
    Again, a twit podcast. I only download this one every now and then, and I usually don’t pull down many episodes. This podcast comes out every weekday and is similar to the Buzz Out Loud podcast listed above. In fact, the host (Tom Merritt) of TNT was a host of Buzz Out Loud up until a year ago, when he moved to Twit. Anyway, it’s a good podcast, the host does a nice job, but it’s not at the top of my rotation. I’ll pull an episode or two every time I refresh the iPod.
  • This American Life (websiteiTunes)
    This is a podcast of the NPR radio program “This American Life.” These are usually pretty good, and provide a view into a certain theme every week. Every now and then I’ll find myself fast-forwarding through a radio essay, or an author reading one of their short stories, but generally the topics are insightful and interesting.
  • This Week in Google (websiteiTunes)
    Yep, another Twit podcast. This one is actually about general cloud computing as well as Google. The hosts (Jeff Jarvis, and Gina Trapani) are very likable, and they usually talk about interesting things that have happened with Google (including Android), and the cloud in general.
  • This Week in Tech (websiteiTunes)
    This is the last Twit podcast I subscribe to, as well as the flagship program for the network. The premise for this podcast is a panel of tech-folk come together to discuss the prior week’s tech news. It’s pretty good 95% of the time, but also very much depends on the panel that gets brought together for a particular episode (sorry, can’t stand Jerry Pournelle).
  • WNYC’s Radiolab (websiteiTunes)
    This is probably one of my favorite podcasts. It is also an actual radio program from WNYC released in podcast format. The premise for the show is usually investigating some big science or technology question through experiments or interviews with experts. Just about every single episode is genuinely interesting, and I end up learning something. Some of my favorite episodes include investigations in to sleep, or if and how animals think, morality, or what makes pop music popular. I highly recommend this program.
  • You Look Nice Today (websiteiTunes)
    YLNT has not been released in quite a while, and may very well be dead, but it’s still one of my favorites, so I decided to list it. This is a comedy podcast, and is mainly made up of three guys sitting around BS’ing. That’s it… doesn’t sound like much… but it’s FUNNY. If you’re looking for a good episode, check out the one where Jonathan Hodgeman and Jonathan Coulton are guest hosts.
  • 99% Invisible (websiteiTunes)
    This podcast is a recent addition to my lineup. It’s a quickie podcast (most episodes are only a few minutes in length). The show is about design and architecture in everyday things. These things are usually overlooked because they’re done so well, hence the 99% invisible.
  • Diggnation (websiteiTunes)
    I used to listen to this podcast more than I do now. I don’t find myself downloading this one very often any more. It’s based on the Digg.com website, and involves the two hosts going over some of the top stories from the site. They usually only get through a few stories though, as their banter (which is why you listen to the podcast) normally takes up most of the time.

That’s my list. I’m always looking for new podcasts to download. What’s on your list?

Neurowear, Ears Controlled by your Brain

Have you ever wanted to display your mood with a pair of giant cat ears? Well, the wait is now over. A Japanese project called Neurowear has created a set of robotic ears that react to your brain waves. The concept is a little odd, and I’m not sure if this is something I’d wear in public, but it’s a very interesting idea to communicate what you’re thinking using a peripheral that you wear on your body.

They need to create a dog tail to communicate happiness when it wags.

New Mentos “Kiss Me” Wrappers

It’s been a good week for new Mentos sightings. I found another new roll (or new packaging at least) in CVS today. The candy is the regular Mentos mint flavor, but the roll has a heart in place of the “O” in “Mentos,” and instead of the normal “Mint” text, it says, “Kiss Me.” I assume these are tied to the Mentos Kiss Fight campaign, or are special wrappers for Valentines Day.

Update: After eating the entire roll (because that’s how I roll… Ha!), I noticed that there were two pink Mentos mixed in with the white mint ones. The pink Mentos taste like mint, but are pink in color, just like the strawberry you find in the mixed fruit rolls. After noticing that, I think this roll is a game you play with someone you like. You pass the roll back and fourth, and whoever gets the pink Mentos has to kiss the other person, or get kissed by the other person. It’s kind of the Mentos equivalent to spin the bottle, or mistletoe.

Mentos Rainbow Discovered in USA

I was meeting a friend for lunch a few weeks ago on the health sciences campus at The University of Iowa. We were grabbing a sandwich in the EMRB Cafe when I happened across a heavenly roll of Mentos that made my entire day. There was a display stand on the checkout counter with rolls of the new Mentos Rainbow flavor. I originally posted about them last year when they showed up in the UK. After seeing some ads on TV about the rainbow rolls, I figured it was only a matter of time before they made it to our side of the pond.

The rolls include seven different flavors, with four of them being flavors not available in any other rolls available in the US. The nice thing about the rainbow rolls, is you get two candies of each flavor, and they’re in the exact order that you see on the package, so there are no surprises.

Flavors

  • Strawberry – these are currently available in their own rolls or in mixed fruit rolls.
  • Pineapple – these are new to the US, and area a very sweet pineapple flavor with a bit of an odd aftertaste.
  • Grape – these are one of my favorite flavors of Mentos (not currently available in the US), and have a very powerful sweet grape flavor.
  • Raspberry – these are also new the the US, and are a flavor I’ve never had before from anywhere.
  • Orange – these are currently available in mixed fruit rolls.
  • Cherry – this flavor was added a few years back to the mixed fruit boxes of Mentos (not available in any rolls).
  • Watermelon – these are a new flavor, and are probably my favorite addition to the rainbow rolls.

All in all, the rainbow rolls are a great mix of Mentos. Of all the different types available in the US currently, the rainbow rolls provide the most variety and are probably my favorite Mentos buy at the moment. If you happen to come across rainbow Mentos, definitely buy a roll… or two… or three.. or ten!

Improv For Everyone

Presenters
Amanda Hirsch Writer, Actress, Online Story Strategist AmandaHirsch.Com
Jordan Hirsch CTO jordanhirsch.net

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”

Improv is a performance-based art form wherein a show is created spontaneously in front of an audience.

You Are Already an Improviser:

  • Your life is unscripted.
  • Your choices create your reality.
  • Honoring your improv skills = honing your life skills.

Specifically Improv Can Help you…

  • Communicate ore effectively
  • Make Decisions
  • Navigate Change
  • Have more fun!

Communicate More Effectively

  • Give and take
  • Yes, AND…
  • Active listening

Make Decisions

  • Consider your objective – you can respond much more quickly when you’ve already decided what you want/need.
  • Know when to edit. You’re practicing trusting yourself.

Navigate Change

  • Still no script – someone else can totally change the scene on the fly.
  • Resistance is futile.
  • Accept and build ("Yes, AND…")
    You have to take the things coming in… but you can build on top of them.

Have More Fun

  • What makes you happy?
  • Do it more.

The better you become at improvising, the happier and more effective person you’ll be.

Learning to improvise = learning to live.

The Convergence of Traditional and Internet TV

Presenters
Michael Petricone, SVP, Government Affairs Consumer Electronics Association
Ned Sherman, CEO Digital Media Wire Inc
Todd Weaver, Founder & CEO ivi Inc

There are several policy and legal issues with the convergence of TV and Internet.

ivi TV

Todd Weaver’s ivi is the first online cable provider. They turn your computer into a set top box vs. running coax to your home/tv. They have been fighting for a few years for the right to carry content. They were sent to FCC because they are not governed by the FCC. Sept. 13th, they launched anyway. They got C&D letters from content providers, and counter-sued to try and clear the way. They are paying the same royalties required by law as all the other true cable companies. They are caught between some bad policy that hasn’t been updated for the internet.

At one point ivi had 75 channels pulled from traditional feeds in certain markets. they had to drop many after the lawsuit (preliminary injunction), and now down to 15 channels.

Pricing is $4.99 for just broadcast channels. Broadcast content is the most popular channels out there (sports and news definitely most popular).

Question: Why not go the long-tail route and take the niche channels instead of taking on the broadcasters
A: It’s about growth and trajectory, ESPN brings a lot more people and subscribers. A known brand has a massive audience already, and the long-tail channels get more eyes via discovery.

Question: Is there any presidence for this lawsuit?
A: Satellite had the same arguments and set presidence. ivi is trying to define what a "cable system" is. There is already a royalty system set up for "cable systems" and ivi wants to be part of that. They meet all the required points for this royalty system as a "cable system."

The situation ivi is in is very common in this field. Copyright law is still based on physical media – it has not caught up. We have a content industry is very reluctant to change and update. It is hard to see what is lost here with what ivi is trying to do. The broadcast industry should see these types of new mechanisms as more eyeballs on their content and figure out a way to monetize it instead of trying to block it.

Question: Two front war for ivi –
1. change the definition of the cable system
2. geographic exclusivity (rights are only paid for certain #’s or markets)
Why fight both wars?
A: The battle is copyright law (what ivi is being sued for) retransmission and royalty and FCC (other arm) retransmission consent.  The legal battle is only copyright law, with the FCC deciding on governing the internet.

Google TV

What is the status? The holy grail is TV + Internet experiences. Nobody has really figured out bringing the internet experience to the TV in whole. Google TV brought this closer, and it’s getting better.

The problem is that Google doesn’t have the content and are being blocked by networks. This is short-sighted on the network’s part. They’re basically saying you can’t watch content on a computer connected to a TV, but you CAN watch on a computer connected to a monitor. If you make it easy to access legal content, you remove people going to illegal content.

There is a battle between consumer electronics manufactures and consumers wanting content wherever they are and the content providers blocking content based on the screen they’re watching it on.

Google has teamed up with many other consumer electronics to try for "pro-vid". FCC requires that cable devices be available everywhere. Cable companies want you using their boxes. History: AT&T using only their own phones on their own networks. Similarly the cable box should work the same way (as long as it doesn’t harm the network). You can hook up the devices of your choice. Google TV would like to jump in on this and become a cable box.

Google vs. Viacom – Google was protected by DMCA, but up for appeal. There really is no clear winner in this. Google gets views, and Viacom (content owners) get promotion.

Final Comments

Content providers are concerned with non-authorized content on the Internet. COICA could shut down websites if they are considered as infringing copyright. There is no due-process.

Hacking RSS: Filtering & Processing Obscene Amounts of Information

Presenter
Dawn Foster, MeeGo Community Mgr Intel
Presentation Slides and Videos

295 Exabytes of data in 2007, amount doubles every 3 years, 4 months. Over 600+ Exabytes now. You want to find the needle in all of this data.

RSS Alone is a start. You can follow the sources you want, but…

  • Do you care about everything in each feed?
  • What about feeds you aren’t subscribed to?
  • Can you keep up with what you have?

Prioritize Your Reader (Google Reader)

  • Put thins you care about at the top (yahoo pipes, things you really really like)
  • Categorize
  • Don’t try to read everything. Get to what you can.

Outsource and Crowd-source New Sources

The Real Magic is in Filtering RSS

In Google reader, a yahoo pipe of analyst research blogs mentioning Online Community, a yahooo pipe of analyst research blogs mentioning Meego.
You need to filter out thing you don’t care about.
Another yahoo pipe pulls in favorite blogs using PostRank to find only the ones with a lot of comments or social mentions.

RSS Filtering Tools

  • Yahoo Pipes
    You can filter any data found in any field of the RSS feed.
  • FeedRinse
  • FeedDemon
  • Code your own

PostRank

  • Takes the best posts in a feed
  • Ranks it on engagement (links/sharing/comments/etc.)
  • You can get the output as an RSS feed
  • Feed includes postrank number in a field which you can filter against.

BackTweets

  • Data about links on Twitter
  • Finds links regardless of shortening service
  • No RSS Feeds (no longer available)
  • But… You can use the API = Yahoo Pipes to build one!