I have a DIY computer outputting HDMI to my Yamaha receiver which also has one other input, a Comcast cable box. The output of the receiver goes to an HDMI splitter and then to two TVs. My original MythTV install on the custom computer had been working fine with this setup as was the Comcast cable box (which I now only use for HBO). But my recent rebuild of MythTV caused problems with it. Sometimes a computer reboot would result in a black screen; sometimes it would come up fine but then after the receiver turned on or off, I’d lose the video. And once it was lost, I didn’t know how to get it back without rebooting. When the receiver was off, the screen would just be black but when the receiver was on, I’d have the Yamaha “wallpaper” – a picture of the insides of a grand piano. I got sick of that damned piano. [ continue reading »» ]
My main desk has a monitor bank above a single keyboard attached to a KVM. The KVM lets me switch between my primary two computers – the docked Windows laptop and a Mac (Hacintosh Dell E520). I used to have two separate speaker systems for each of those computers but not only were the speakers beginning to fail but I wanted a better system and one that I could use for both computers. I bought the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 system to replace both of the old ones and hooked that in to my KVM. For the Hacintosh, where I had never gotten the sound card in the E520 to work with MacOS, I had a cheap USB dongle hooked in that allowed me to plug in the KVM audio cable and have that routed through to the speakers.
But I knew that I wasn’t going to be happy hearing audio from only one device at a time. Sometimes I set up iTunes to play on one computer while I switch over to a different computer to work. So I wanted to hear the audio from both of the computers at the same time. A “Y” combiner would be a bad idea because it isn’t directional – signals that are output from one computer could cause a problem on other computer. Also, there’d be volume drop or any number of other problems with buzz.
I was psyched to find a device that would solve my problems. Called TinyMix, the device allows you to connect 4 inputs and have them all come out the one output. I bought it from Amazon where it sells for the same price. Hookup is easy – just hook the speaker connector from the KVM cable set into the TinyMix instead of into the KVM. Then hook the audio output to the speakers to the TinyMix instead of the KVM. The TinyMix is small enough to hang behind the desk near the KVM so it functionally intercept the cable connections.
(Note to KVM manufacturers: it would be a nice feature to allow for audio mixing in a KVM instead of always doing audio switching. My KVM can be set up to always allow audio from a specific port but that’s not the same as mixing all the ports.)
One problem I had was with a hum. The creator of the TinyMix warns that this can be a problem. For me the solution was to power the TinyMix from a USB port on the KVM rather than from any of the individual computers. Again, that’s easy since the connectors are all right there.
I got a new speaker system for my main computer rig after much online research and analysis. I got the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 which will take the place of both an original set of Harman/Kardon Soundsticks and and original Cambridge SoundWorks computer speakers. Before fully retiring the older two systems, I hooked them both up to the Mac so I could compare between all three. This comparison may be a little like comparing a 2014 Mercedes S Class to a 2003 Camry and a 1999 Avalon, but I still found some use in it for my own interest.
I spent an hour or so switching between them. I hooked the SoundWorks to the back audio jack, the Klipsch to the front audio jack, and the SoundSticks are USB only so I had them hooked in through a USB jack. Using the Mac Sound Preferences Output, I was then able to just use the mouse to switch from one to the next. The first thing I did was level match, just by ear, so that the volume of all three sounded about the same. (The Mac volume control remembers different volumes for different outputs.) I played various audio files through iTunes.
I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised at the vast sonic differences between them. And since I’d been listening to the older two for so long, my ears weren’t too keen on the sound of the Klipsch initially. They sounded like they were missing most of the midrange. While the SoundSticks sounded like they were mostly lower midrange and the SoundWorks sounded like mostly upper midrange, the Klipsch sounded like they were only the high and low frequency. [ continue reading »» ]
With my various computers running OS other than Windows, I have usually kept a Windows partition available on the system somewhere just so I can still boot if I needed to. (And also, I guess, to make sure that don’t waste the Windows license that came with the computer!) Probably the biggest reason to need to boot to Windows has been to do a BIOS update. I always figured I could probably do it without having a full Windows install but I hadn’t gotten around to figuring it out – until now. The issue is that Windows 8 likes to boot with the secure boot enabled but that doesn’t work for other OSes. I have installed Windows 8 without the secure boot on a dual boot with Ubuntu but something went wrong with a partition during a shutdown and that killed the Windows install. Which only reminded me how tenuous any Windows install is that is not on a drive all its own. And that got me thinking about possibly putting Windows 8 on a USB stick so I would still be able to boot, so that Windows would be happy on its own drive, and so that I wouldn’t waste an entire internal bay for the odd time when I need Windows. I still may do that but I discovered an even easier way to do BIOS updates that doesn’t involve Windows at all. [ continue reading »» ]
Earlier this year, I bought an external monitor for my laptop. When I travel, I can still have two monitor’s worth of space. Well, the travel monitors are smaller than the home monitors, but it is still better than a single laptop display for times when I am doing more than checking e-mail. Fortunately, I am not on the road all the time but I still managed to justify the expense! I got an ASUS MB168B which received mixed reviews due to a bit of a learning curve with how to work the stand/case. Once you understand how to do it, though, it’s ingenious because there are only 3 parts – the monitor, the case, and the cable – where the case turns into a stand without additional parts and therefore keeps the travel weight down. The only thing I would have liked was to get a higher resolution on the monitor. The MB168B has 1366X768 while my internal laptop display is 1600X900. Not too long after I bought my monitor, ASUS released (or it became available where I couldn’t find it before) the MB168B+ which has a resolution of 1920×1080, seemingly in the same case.
One day the monitor just didn’t work. Plugged it in, Windows 7 did the little “pa-dunk” noise as usual, and… nothing. I had a white LED on the monitor indicating that it was on, I could drag windows to it, Windows 7 Control Panel showed it active but I didn’t see anything on the screen. As though it wasn’t getting power. But obviously, the panel was getting power to the whole unit so it was clearly an internal issue. [ continue reading »» ]
I’ve been planning on a new Hacintosh computer for a while and I finally got the hardware earlier this summer, a Dell Optiplex 9020 (MT). I’ve been working on the install off and on and doing some troubleshooting with the hardware so I’m not yet ready to write up a guide. But I did want to start with this post where I will list off some of the challenges faced in getting it running.
The creator of Mythbuntu has created what I consider to be easily the best MythTV theme and is a big part of why I use MythTV. A change made to the theme earlier this year broke something that I thought was working great as it was. After some mailing list debate, it appeared that there were two views on the matter: those that liked the new recording screen and those who didn’t like it. I fell into the latter camp and added tweaking the theme to my to-do list. I finally got a chance to get to it. I reduced the font size somewhat (though not as small as it was originally), updated the corresponding text field areas, disabled the coverart overlay, expanded the recording group box slightly, and moved the scrollbars for the recording list to the right side. Once I had the screen the way I wanted, I created a script to modify the original files to make my changes. That way, I can continue to use the latest Mythbuntu theme and get the other good stuff that comes through with updates but still put the recordings screen back the way I liked it.
For anyone else who feels the recording screen should be more like it was before, here’s my script to make the change.
EDIT (2-Oct-2014): A new version of the Mythbuntu theme has been released and my script still works! Good to have that early success. I did notice, however, that the background image has changed back to the kind of image it was in earlier versions of Mythbuntu. And yes, I liked the plain one better. (It also seemed to work better on my TV.) So I have now added the recently replaced background image back to my theme and I have updated the script to include handling of that. I also made the recordings screen font slightly larger. The new download now includes the updated script as well as the background image. Mythbuntu-recordings-tweak /EDIT
To use the script, I find it easiest to make a copy of the original Mythbuntu theme and put it in my local mythtv directory:
cp -R /usr/share/mythtv/themes/Mythbuntu ~/.mythtv/themes/
gunzip zip on the attached file here and store the script somewhere in maybe your home’s bin (~/bin) if you have one. And if you want to replace the background image, put the background image from the zip file in your Pictures directory in a subdirectory named Mythbuntu. When you run the script, you can give it an argument to the location of your copied theme:
If the script works, you’ll see it say “done” at the end and the original two files it changed will be renamed with “orig” in the name. And if the background image was changed, the original will be renamed with “orig” in the name.
I’ve been using MythTV now for 6 years and at the beginning, the version I installed had a number of issues. I was able to patch them bit by bit with hacks here and there. Minor stuff like not liking the directories it stored things in to major things like not supporting the tuner I wanted to use. (The former was a setting tweak, the latter required recompiling the software.) And while it’s good that I was able to get everything working the way I wanted, the drawbacks to the hacks were stability issues. And flakiness has crept in over time. So as of last weeks, I would lose a number of recordings every week, the main backend was sometimes too slow to respond to a remote press, and artwork was sometimes coming in and other times not. And there were other things too. Also, Ubuntu 14.04 had been released so I was due for an OS upgrade. You see where I’m going with this. Should I beat a dead horse or put it out of its misery.
I went with the latter. But I wanted to use the same computer. So I started with backups of the system drive. (The drive containing TV recordings and the drive containing videos would remain untouched during the upgrade process.) And I took a backup of the MythTV database using the normal backup tool. Then I used PartitionMagic to repartition the system drive to shrink and move the original partition of the drive to the end of the drive’s space. (Note that this breaks the ability to boot so you have to be committed to proceeding at this point!) That left a large space at the beginning for a new install. So I downloaded Mythbuntu 14.04.01 (64-bit) and burned it to a DVD. I ran the install as I would have initially, just making sure to choose the right disks during the setup process. (Lest I blow away the TV or video content.) That worked pretty well. I ended up with a computer that would boot up on its own into the new Mythbuntu install just fine. And if I wanted to, during bootup, I could select the old install and it would boot into that instead. Being able to boot into the old install proved important because I ran out of time and needed to put things back into operating status while I researched the next step.
In support of creating a dual monitor setup for the Hacintosh (part of the greater effort of building “The Bridge“), I needed to figure out how to get dual monitor output from the Hacintosh without making any significant changes. I remember that getting the video card to work was one of the more challenging things in creating the Hacintosh and since the GeForce 8400GS was working well, I didn’t want to change things significantly at this point in the Hacintosh’s life (due for replacement now, but probably won’t get to it until the end of 2014). While the 8400GS card has 3 outputs, only the DVI is a digital connection. The S-video and the RGB connectors are analog and, as far as I’m concerned, should not be part of a modern setup. So how do I get the dual digital outputs and would it even be possible on the Hacintosh?
My Dell E520 Hacintosh has been operational now for nearly 6 years and the last 4 years, it has been running on Snow Leopard. Ancient, I know. And believe me, I am looking forward to new hardware. I haven’t wanted to upgrade the OS because I know the problems I’ll likely hit and it just isn’t worth the trouble if I plan to build on new hardware sometime soon. And I do. But life doesn’t give me the window now to do the new hardware research and assembly so I will stick with the old hardware and the old OS for a little longer – perhaps the end of 2014? (And what I do then will depend on whether I can get a MacPro cheap enough to compete with the hardware price and specs of a Hacintosh – not likely, but I’ll investigate that then.)
Last year I upgraded my Windows laptop that I use for work. I stuck with Dell because I can easily move the OS among the various Dell computers I have and because they are one of the few brands offering good pricing on laptops that can dock. I had initially thought that the new laptop, an E6430, would be my single computer going forward and that I would Hacintosh it so I could have everything in the one chassis. The problem is that with everything in the one chassis, I can’t switch from MacOS to Windows in the middle of a task – I’d have to shutdown and reboot in the other OS. I hadn’t realized how often I switch from one to the other until it was harder than just flipping the KVM. Also, the docking behavior in MacOS is a little goofy. I may still work some more on improving that Hacintosh experience, but for now, knowing it is not going to be my primary computer, that’s a low priority.
But one thing that came out of that exercise is realizing that I am a multi-computer kind of person. At least today, there’s things that I need to do on Windows and things I want to do on Mac and I like to have it all running at the same time. And that helped shape the upgrade that I decided I did finally need.