Month: September 2011

How to Create an Online PVR

Amahi

Amahi Media Server

About six months ago my MediaSmart Home Server started acting strangely.  I did quite a bit of research and my conclusion was that the new software I installed about a year ago (which gave it a ton more functionality) was kind of bloated for the underpowered hardware.

What to do?  I love my home server, I love the fact that it did backups and all kinds of nice little things, but honestly in the 4 years I’ve had it, I’ve only used the backup features twice (once to save a corrupt hard drive, once to save Char’s computer from a virus).  Other than that it worked as a NAS and a media collector.

As a NAS it was wonderful, until a hard drive failure made me lose a few files.  That was irritating.  As a media collector it was horrible, duplicating files and creating a labyrinthian file structure that hurt my face.

Plus my needs have changed.  I don’t like having a separate PVR in my house sucking up power, I have a Boxee and an Apple TV in my house now, and I’m sure there are wonderful things they can do as well.  Wouldn’t it be great if I could have a cheap secondary NAS to do all of my backups to (maybe 2TB of RAID1 duplication), and on top of that have a second NAS that could do media collection and PVR everything?  What would be extra cool is if it could do it with my extremely power conscious hardware and maybe take 2-3 computers out of our equation here in the homestead.  As an added benefit, if I can figure out how to do all of this via the internet, I can probably cut the cord.

The first part was to buy a DLink DNS-323, it’s a little NAS box that has 2 drive bays, is incredibly hackable, and has a bunch of different little features in it.  It’s Linux based, so in order to do cool things, I’d need to break out my long dormant bash skills, but I love a challenge.

I mounted the box, got a hard drive in there, and went out to find some of the features I’d need to make the box better.  I added the FireFly media server, a dynamic DNS server, and an update to create better SMB (regular networking) shares.  It was dead simple, and probably the best $100.00 I could have spent.  I moved my files over without much effort and then looked at my Home Server.

So now I have this beautiful piece of hardware that is essentially a brick.  What to do with it?  Enter Amahi.  I’ve been reading about it for a while, it’s a lightweight server based on Fedora Linux with a slick web interface.  It does regular NAS stuff, allows for automated scheduled backups of computers, and has some extra things like SickBeard (automated download of TV shows) integration.

I downloaded and installed it according to the instructions on How To Geek: Upgrade Your MediaSmart Home Server, and everything worked pretty much as advertised.  I then put the drive in my Home Server, and had it configured to do some cool things.

SickBeard

SickBeard

Up first, SickBeard, which schedules downloads of TV shows.

SABnzbd

SABnzbd

Up next, SABnzbd, which goes out to (***some place special on the internet***) downloads the files, unpacks them, and stores them in a file.  The average TV show takes about 3 minutes to download.

So how does it work?  After the first week it’s recorded all of our TV shows, saved them to the network share, and we can watch them in the basement on the Boxee Box.

Where do we go from here?  Well first up, I’m getting a new internet connection.  While I have no problems with Rogers, from a technical point of view, I HATE doing the constant mental calculations about how close to my limit I am and whether I can download that ISO from Technet, or if I can download that game on the PSN.  I’m going with TechSavvy, and I’ll probably cut the cord once we get our HD Antennas working properly.

Comic Sales You’re Doing It Wrong

Action Comics #1

Action Comics #1

I still get my comics from All New Comics, but because I get quite a bit less than I used to they come at the end of the month.

There was quite a bit of press about Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #1 (buy it now at All New Comics), and after reading some of the reviews online, I decided that I wanted to check out some of the other new books.

So on a whim I went to a local comic shop on my lunch break. The store is by far London’s largest.  The bearded proprietor asked me what I was looking for. “The new DC books” said I. “Sorry man, I can’t sell them to you until I have pulled them all for my regular customers. Come back at 4pm.” said he.

Seriously. 4pm?

So let me get this straight. At lunch you see a customer come into your store. He’s not a regular who normally buys from you, but he’s wearing a dress shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes. Without stereotyping, he’s likely got some money. He’s offering to pay you money for comics. Specifically he’s offering to pay you money for the new comics which everyone has over-ordered SPECIFICALLY TO ADDRESS THIS AMAZING NEW MARKET WHICH WE ALL ASSUME WILL BE COMING INTO OUR STORES (online at All New Comics we have LITERALLY ordered twice our normal subscription numbers to sell to people who visit our site…normally if we sell 20 copies of a comic, we’ll sell 2 online, but we’re gambling that a bunch of new faces will be checking stuff out, and so far that’s paid off).

I went back to my office, turned on my iPad, and downloaded Action #1, Batgirl #1, and Swamp Thing #1. Later tonight I think I’m going to buy a few more new comics from the DC Comics App (even though it irritates me that I’m paying full price to basically rent a comic book).

Now let’s be honest, I COULD have pressed the issue.  I could have told him that I own an online shop and really just wanted to check some issues out, I COULD have told him I used to work in that very store years ago (and there’s a good chance he was a customer of mine at some point), I could have name dropped any one of a half dozen people who would have been able to help me out.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that this store failed the most basic principle of this new launch.  Sell to people you don’t normally sell to.  These guys should have been TRIPPING over themselves to help me out.

I’ve bought a few things in the shop from time to time.  I bring my kids in, and buy them stuff, I buy supplies like boxes, which indicates I have comics from SOME source, and am likely a good “mark” to try to convince to buy from them, and they can’t even make the effort for me.

I wish I could say this is an isolated incident, but this same treatment has happened to me at pretty much every single comic shop I’ve ever visited.  I’ve been irritated, overlooked, or otherwise ignored time and time again.

People have all sorts of excuses for what is killing comic shops, I’ll tell you right now that the problem with most comic shops is right behind the counter.

HP Doesn’t Know What It Wants To Be

I’ve been a bit of an HP fanboy for a while.  I have an 8 year old HP laser printer that I love, a 4 year old HP pavilion that still runs great, an HP Media Smart Home Server, and this year I bought my wife an HP laptop, and a new colour laser jet printer…so I was pretty annoyed last week when they announced they were getting out of the consumer space to put their head in the clouds.

Then I read this: HP Touchpad to Return.  Basically, HP is going to do another run of touch pads.

I managed to snag one last week, and even at $150 (for the 32gig version) it may be over priced considering there are exactly 352 apps in the WebOS app store (and only about 10-20% of those are touchpad specific).  Plus the thing’s buggy as heck, and heavier than the 1st gen iPads.

Are consumers REALLY going to buy a product from a company that wants to exit a market so they can chase some cloud pipe dream?

Does HP realize that those consumers are also the people who work in enterprises?  The same people that HP wants to put their faith in massive enterprise cloud computing platforms that offer them major profits.

What happened to HP the family controlled company that slowly and steadily first became THE name in consumer printers, and is now the largest selling computer manufacturer?

They’ve become a company of dashed hopes and broken promises.  The company that bought Compaq, and shuttered my beloved iPaq line.  Who killed their Media Smart Windows Home Server line. Who ship printers with “e-print” ready stickers…which have notes inside the box saying a firmware upgrade will be available summer 2011 (I’m still waiting btw).  A company which all but killed WebOS last week, and this week resurrects it.

I was at Alliance/Atlantis in the early 2000’s when they went through 3 CEO’s in 2 years and it felt like this, no true direction, just a constant sprint towards the next big thing.  Internally it was demoralizing, and a good chunk of us left.

HP is a company without direction, and a company that anyone would be foolish to trust with hardware or software while they are so clueless.

HP is dead to me until some major corporate shake ups happen.

They don’t want me as a consumer?  Fair enough, but I’m sure as heck not going to recommend them as a cloud provider to my bosses when they can’t even commit to holding true to their word on exiting a business.

If HP bought Amazon’s S3 (which I passionately love), I would immediately start looking at alternatives, because recent track records indicate it’s only a matter of time before HP exits the market.