iPad Thumbscanner

Well, my iPad 2 arrived yesterday. Loving it.

But that’s not what this post is about.

At work, one of our products is a thumbscanner system. I was discussing with our CEO the other day how the best way to have this in a unit was, and ideally an iPad or other tablet would be best.

The issue with the iPad is that you cannot just connect any hardware to it.

But then I remembered how some people had connected all types of USB hardware, including in one case a USB-ADB adaptor and an old, old keyboard. All you need is one of the iPad Camera Connection Kit thingos.

Guess I’ll have to get one of those, and see what I can manage to get it to do…

…The trigger for thinking about this: Oscium’s iMSO-104 turns your iPad into a mixed signal oscilloscope

WOOT!

I seriously, seriously Want One Of These:

51dmPeiGT2L._SL500_AA280_.jpg

(via Twitter @fraserspeirs, available from Amazon)

Running monitors at higher resolution.

Most monitors seem to be able to be driven at a higher resolution than it says they can. In some cases, the higher resolution gives a better picture, in other cases it doesn’t.

My work just bought me a new LG W1942T, which is rated as running at 1400x900, which for a 19” monitor isn’t that high. My laptop (15”) does the same resolution. It’s possible to run the W1942T at 1680x1050, but I really don’t know if the blurriness is caused by that, or if it just isn’t the best monitor available.

My boss bought a 22” LG monitor, which is rated at 1680x1050, but it does 2048x1280 quite comfortably. And I have an nice old Dell E172FP, which looks best at 1344x1074, rather than the 1280x1024 which it says it can do.

Repeat. Rinse.

After my last post, I has kinda bummed when the same thing happened again. Luckily, the same process fixed it, but I really don’t know why it occurred to begin with. I think the same fault was fixed by fsck, so that might have something to do with it.

Anyway, I took some snaps this time.

16092008.jpg

I wasn’t able to take a shot of the initial boot screen (ironically, it caused my phone to crash. Twice).

16092008(001).jpg

This second one shows how the text is now overwriting the green corruption. Sorry about the blurriness, but if you look carefully you may notice that the file with the incorrect block count is pcscd.pub, or something. This appears to be the file /var/run/pcscd.run, but I don’t really know what this does.

Mac Mini Media Machine

Well, I’ve bit the bullet and bought a Mac Mini Core Duo to use as my media centre. The old Xbox just doesn’t cut it anymore - the two things I need to be able to do are play H.264 movies, and record video from Digital TV, and it can’t do either of these. I’ve had to purchase an eyeTV USB TV Tuner to do the latter (and I’ll be returning my Miglia TVmini2, since it doesn’t do what it is advertised to do - which is play Digital TV properly, or do scheduled recording properly).

The machine was ordered online via the Apple Store. I’ve had issues with NextByte in the past, so I was a bit loathe to purchase through them. I rang them anyway, figuring that if they had one in store, I could order it, and collect it the same day.

They didn’t and said that they had about 6 on order, and there weren’t any in Australia.

Now, I knew that wasn’t the case, as Apple have a 24 hour shipping note on this model. So, it was “no thanks” to their offer to place an order. And I ordered online.

Within about 5 hours, my order had shipped. And, for evidence that it has been shipped, TNT have the following data about my package:

So, I’m all excited. My new machine is supposed to arrive tomorrow…

xkcd Success

Ah, I’ve been there. Mine was dual-booting OS X onto an unsupported Dell PC. I had a second Hard Disk that I was putting it onto, yet somehow I managed to screw up the Windows partition as well. Luckily I didn’t destroy the laptop. And I never got near the sharks…

And, yet another plug for xkcd.com - if you haven’t subscribed to his RSS feed, then you really should.

Review: miglia TVmini2/equinox The Tube

I lashed out yesterday, and bought something that I’ve been wanting for a while.

A USB TV Tuner stick.

I went for the miglia TVmini2, as it was (I thought) fairly inexpensive. I’m not sure I made the right decision right now.

For starters, it doesn’t actually come with the software. Sure, it’s got a CD with some demo software of other stuff, but the actual software (which is actually written by another company, called equinox), The Tube, needs to be downloaded from the internet before installation.

Which wouldn’t be too bad, but it’s a 104Mb download. Which meant I couldn’t (a) start playing with it as soon as I bought it, since I was in town, and not near a free wireless point, and (b) start playing with it as soon as I got home, since it took about 30 minutes to grab.

It gets worse, though. Even though the software really requires a dongle (the USB tuner is really just a dongle, after all), the manufacturers insist that you register the software, using the included key string. And it only works on one machine without de-registration, apparently. Which kind of sucks, because I’d like to have it moved between more than one machine.

The hardware itself seems okay. I haven’t been able to make it work with any other software yet. I’ve tried a couple of downloads, but they wouldn’t recognise it.

System Profiler reports the device as looking like:

TVMini2:

Version: 1.00

Bus Power (mA): 500

Speed: Up to 480 Mb/sec

Manufacturer: Miglia

Product ID: 0x0069

Serial Number: 0000000001

Vendor ID: 0x18f3

The software, on the other hand, seems to have some good features, but quite a few flaws.

The manufacturers have decided to make the application scriptable. This is a very good thing, as it will allow me to, for instance, set up Salling Clicker to be able to control it. Which will be very good. I’d also be able to make a rudimentary controller for network or local remote control. Which I may do: more on that later.

Another good feature is the simplicity of the software. The basic window is shown below.

You basically have a video section, with a controller on the right. This appears to be fixed. Although you can hide the main video area, they resize together. Which is a bad thing, if you like to resize the video to a small size while you write a review of something, for instance. Like I’d like to do now. It means that the controller becomes fairly unusable fairly quickly:

This is as small as the remote area gets. Any further resizing just shrinks the video display in that window. You can hide the Details area (this is shown above), but you can’t hide the record area.

You can hide the remote, too. This makes shrinking the video a bit more usable:

I anticipate being able to build another controller that floats, and can be used in conjunction with the view shown above. More below on some issues that might appear with this, when I discuss the AppleScript interface in a bit of detail.

The controller itself is mostly okay. The main/default view has a list of channels. This is customisable. You can scan for channels, and then delete the ones you don’t watch, and rename the ones you do. Scanning takes a long time, and is probably worth re-doing every now and then, just in case a new station has been added.

The bottom area of the controller is the recording pane. You can pause live TV, record the current stream, and if you have been watching a channel for a little while, skip back through the already viewed stuff. I did a quick test where I watched for a while, then went back to try to record a section from the past. The program developed a spinning beach ball, and I had to Force Quit. I’ll continue to test it again later, as this is a nice feature.

There’s also a button link to their other software, MediaCentral, which totes itself as a total replacement for FrontRow. And, I’ve had a bit of a look at it. It looks pretty good, actually. May be worth investing in, and using this on the Mac Mini when I finally get it, and set it up as my Media Centre. (Typing Central reminds me to just let all of the yanks out there know the correct way to spell centre. Yank is a slang term Australians use to refer to Americans).

If you record live TV, it stores it in the recordings pane.

You can then export from here, in order to be able to view on another device, or in another program. It exports raw DV fairly quickly (almost real time, I think, perhaps even faster), but as expected exporting to m4v takes a bit longer. It appears that these are the only formats it will export: iPod, iPhone and AppleTV are all m4v, and iMovie is DV. I’m still going to record some stuff and see what the quality is like. Gotta wait for some decent content first.

Which brings me nicely to the next topic. Electronic Program Guide and Scheduled Recording. The interface is, again, fairly simple. All programs appear in the one list, there doesn’t appear to be a method of filtering so sort by channels. You can search or filter by title and description. To schedule a recording, simply click the black dot next to the program time.

Clicking on a title will show the details about that program. This is obtained from the digital TV data stream, although it is possible to add in an external TV guide, using the open XMLTV standard. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to subscribe to an XML feed. EPG via RSS, that would be awesome.

If you click on the “Show Recordings” button, it will filter to only display the programs you have scheduled to record. You can then de-select them by re-clicking the red dot. Fairly easy to understand. It also seems to have some smarts about overlapping programs, and will display a different coloured dot when they clash.

Okay, feature list is pretty much done. What doesn’t it do, or what does it do badly?

AppleScript support.

You can do quite a few things with AppleScript, such as pause, play, start recording and so on. It appears that you cannot get decent data from the EPG, for instance. So I can’t build a fully replacement EPG in another application, unless I access the data directly from the file. This file is stored as an SQLite database. So I should be able to grep data out of this using the relevant tools. This seems to be an oversight, since you can schedule recordings, and access the EPG data, but I can’t figure out how to get meaningful data from the EPG. This would be a necessity for a proper Salling Clicker interface, that allowed me to just run the program in full-screen mode and only use the phone for the remote, doing all of the programming with that instead.

You can also export from AppleScript. Not sure if you can choose to export DV, which I would probably want to do. So I can post-process the data and remove advertisements, for instance. But I cannot find a way to choose a channel by channel name. Which would be useful for a remote program, either on phone or computer.

Possibly the biggest annoyance: in every instance I have seen, this application is called The Tube. But to access it in AppleScript, you need to use TheTube. Why do this? You can have spaces in application names in AppleScript and it works fine.

Data file formats.

The channel data is stored as an XML/plist file. Which is a good thing. You can hand-tweak this file, which is much faster than, and less error-prone than deleting them inside the software. Especially since right-clicking to delete doesn’t actually select the channel, so the previously selected channel gets deleted instead.

Scheduled programs are also plist files. You could create these files with another piece of software, and just rely on The Tube to record them. I haven’t tried creating a file and seeing if it automatically records, or whether you need to start/re-start The Tube to get it to notice. Still on the TODO list.

The video data is stored in a package. There are a couple of TIFFs, for preview purposes, but these aren’t always the correct aspect ration. In fact, since most of my Digital TV seems to be broadcast in 16:9, with black bars on the sides, this is always the wrong aspect ratio as these TIFFs are all 4:3.

Bonus points if you can name the song and artist this preview is from!

Inside the package is a plist file with data about the recording. But the actual data is stored in two files, Media.tvi and Media.tvm. I’m still trying to find out what file format these are - VLC doesn’t seem to recognise them, although I suspect they are a standard file format, just hidden. I’d like to be able to get this data without necessarily having to use The Tube. According to one website, this data is just the raw MPEG stream. Changing the file extension to .mpg or .mpeg doesn’t allow for playback Might need more research.

Server Upgrade Time

I’m severely tempted to upgrade my local server. It’s a Dell Dimension 4600, running Ubuntu and with just under 1TB of disk space.

And I’m just not that happy with it. Occasionally it still crashes, and I can’t figure out why. I don’t know if it’s to do with VMWare, or something else.

It’s not so much a running out of disk space thing. It’s more that it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by OS X, but things just aren’t that easy to do on Linux. For instance, it took ages to get AFP sharing working, and even now it isn’t perfect. For instance, I have two shares that allow me access to some of the same files (the root directory of one share is inside another share’s directory). If I view a particular directory inside the share, then it shows me less files than actually exist in that directory, but the other share shows them all. Even if I disable the ‘outer’ share, the inner one still only shows the smaller number of files.

I found a shop today that sells 500GB SATA drives, which would allow me to migrate data without any loss, by plugging into one of the two spare slots, and installing a new OS onto that drive. I might be tempted to reinstall OS X onto the machine, but I think it was just a bit unstable too. Perhaps it is just the box.

I’d really like to move to a Mac Mini, but I don’t think I’d like to have to put a heap of external drives hanging off that again. Perhaps I should look for a cheap second hand Mac that will run OS X.

MacBook Pro Kernel Panic WPA Enterprise

Well, I love my MacBook Pro. Except for one little thing. If I connect to a WPA Enterprise network, and I am running on battery power, then I get a Kernel Panic. Every time, within a couple of minutes. Plugging into power means no panic, using WPA personal (at home) also means no panic. Although, apparently the lack of panic at home may be more to do with the fact I’m running an Airport Express router. I’ll switch over to my other router (b-only, still WPA) and see if it panics then. Apparently, Apple is aware of the problem.

Installing Fedora 7

With the purchase of my MacBook Pro, now called arne, I’ve decided to move all of my file serving from the NSLU2 to the Dell. Rather than run Windows on this box, I decided to install Fedora. OS X just wasn’t that stable on the old thing, unsurprisingly, since it was a severely hacked version. So, I bought a new hard drive (so I can keep the OS X and Windows installations on their original disks in case I need to go back), and installed it. I made my first mistake in installing it as the Secondary Slave, since that was the only available channel. I installed Fedora, and it wouldn’t boot. So I tried again. By this time, I had figured out that it was something to do with the GRUB bootloader not being installed, so I moved the hard drives around, but still no joy. I spent ages trying to get it to work, including using a (very) old Debian CD I had lying around (which, by the way, I’d never actually installed on anything!). No joy here, as this only recognised the first 8 GB of the 320GB hard disk! Finally, I almost gave up. I started to install Windows, just to get the disk reformatted (I’d accidentally hit the power at some stage, and nothing else was recognising it). So, I let it get through the formatting stage, and then reinstalled Fedora. And finally, it worked. Now, I just need to get everything on there I need: Samba, AppleShare Filing Protocol, mDNS (Bonjour), and Print/Scan/Fax sharing. It already comes with some cool stuff, like virtualisation (I’m going to compare this to Parallels and VMWare, and choose the best), and a torent server/client. Oh, and the name of that machine is now poul. I’ve gone down the road of four letter machine names, which are also the first names of designers. Finally, this is my first offline blog post, on the train on the way home. It’s not like I could do any real work on the short trip…