Tagged: gadgets

How to Create an Online PVR


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.



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



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.

My iPad 2 review

My iPad

My iPad

The iPad has been out for a year now, and while I enjoyed playing with one when it first came out, I didn’t pick one up.

I’m what’s traditionally known as an “early adopter”. I built my first PVR in 2003. I bought a TiVo on eBay and hacked it to work in Canada in 2004. I’ve owned all manner of Palm Pilot (a Handspring Visor which I had to fet imported from the United States), Compaq iPaq’s, Windows CE devices, iPods mini, classic, touch, iPhone, and even a Microsoft Zune (and just so we’re clear, I think the Zune software is far superior to iTunes, and the wireless syncing was one of the coolest features).

I promised myself that I’d wait for the second generation iPad, once the kinks were worked out, plus having dropped 20k on our basement last year, funds were tight.

So imagine my surprise when I won one last month?!? Of course I promptly took it back to Future Shop and traded it in for a gift card.

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Kindle first thoughts

The 3rd Generation Kindle

The Kindle 3

When the new WiFi Kindles were announced last month, I placed an order for one. I’ve been slowly transitioning from dead tree editions to electronic books for a while now (all but comics, which I’m still buying analogue style for now). Physically owning objects is more of a hassle than it’s worth to be honest, I’d rather have stuff electronically.

All in, it came to $165.56 (exchange, taxes, shipping, and duty).  When it arrived I was amazed by the packaging, and the size of the thing.

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iSwitched or How I Moved to a Mac

My MacBook at home

My MacBook

I have been using some flavour of Windows since version 1.2, but before that, I used DOS. I played with OS2 once upon a time, I’ve had dalliances with Atari, Commodore, Unix, Red Hat, Lindows, Tivo, Ubuntu, and yes for a time I played with Macs as far back as the OS8 days. At TSN we had an eMac for doing testing, and I pretty much loathed that machine because while it was pretty as all heck, it spent a LOT of time with a beach ball whirling (there is a myth out there that Mac’s don’t crash…they do, however their crashes are prettier than blue screens of death). Continue Reading

A killer app for comics?


I had an opportunity to get my hands on an iPad today when Mark at work brought his in for some Info-Tech show and tell.  Steve Jobs has declared it a “Magical Device”. Arthur C Clarke once said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Well in that respect, the iPad is magic.

It’s fast, attractive, intuitive, and using it is effortless.

I played around with the Marvel Comics app (which is also available for the iPhone), and it’s pretty amazing.

The presentation is incredible. Comics look pretty much full size, and the whole panel by panel thing works really well, and may actually be a better way to read a comic.

The collection aspect of the app is really good too.  It’s a nice layout, and you can easily find the comics you’re looking for.

There’s two knocks. I found the in-comic navigation a little weird. It was very hard to get back to the main menu once you’re reading a comic. Secondly, you will need a seperate app for every publisher right now.  There’s no “Comics” app, well there are a few, Panelfly, ComiXology, and soon Graphic.ly, but there’s no single app that has access to all comics.

DC Comics really needs to get in gear on this.  They’ve yet to announce ANY sort of a digital initiative, and Marvel is really grabbing headlines with this app launch.

The thing that will push this over the edge is the day that a consumer can buy a brand new comic the day it goes on sale in the Brick and Mortar stores. I’m not afraid to admit I’ll be one of those customers buying my comics on the couch. I’ll still buy some Hardcovers and Trades, but I’d love nothing more than to not have physical copies of comics around my house anymore. They’re a pain in the rear to deal with, and space is at a premium in my house.

Top 5 Gadgets of 2008

This board isn't bored!

This board isn't bored!

I forgot to post my favourite gadgets of last year with the preview of what I’m lusting after this year.  This is always the most closely read article in my house as it gives Charlene a glimpse into what I’m going to be wasting money on investing in this year.

I got a good number of toys in 2008, although I managed to mostly restrain myself, especially when it came to the iPhone, which I nearly bought on several occasions.  The key to this year has been keeping costs down, and while it may look like I bought a lot of stuff, I try to maintain a “revenue neutral” position when I buy stuff.  For example I sold stuff to buy the PS3 (my HD DVD player and movies).  This year there are things I covet which I doubt I’ll get (like the eBook reader), and others that I’ll get if I can get them cheap enough (iPod touch). Continue Reading

The Secret Lives of Computer Stores

Since I moved to London, I’ve been searching for a good computer shop.  Oh sure there’s tons of computer stores here, but most of them have a middling selection, tiny little cramped shops, and really crappy staff.  I’ve gotten a lot out of Mega Computer, they’re good guys, have a great website (which is always up to date with their stock), and they built my most recent Media Center when my motherboard got fried.  Still sometimes I like to wander around a store and see what they’ve got. Continue Reading

Gadget Dad: The Flip Ultra

The Flip Ultra in all its glory

The Flip Ultra in all its glory

When we bought our Pentax digital camera, we discovered that it had a nice little built-in video feature.  The movies it made were good, but not great, the sound was quite distorted, but the pictures were good enough that we could take little 30 second videos without hauling out the massive Sony Digital 8 camera most of the time.

Then we got our Canon Rebel XTi, and gone were the little videos (though the amazing pictures we’re taking more than make up for it).   Since last Christmas (when we got the Canon), our video production had dropped by quite a bit.

Then along came the Flip Ultra. Continue Reading

My media center is dead…long live the media center!

The Windows Vista Media Center interface

The Windows Vista Media Center interface

My media center box, the unit which does all of my TV recording and all that good stuff, finally gave up the ghost this week.  Early Wednesday morning we had a big storm which flickered our power.  When I got home last night I decided to see what the Media Center had recorded recently.  When I powered it up, I got a little surprise.  Nothing, no familliar “whirr”, no little “buzz, click wizz”, nothing.  I took it apart and saw that the motherboard was getting some power, but something wasn’t working.

So the problem might be the power supply, it could be the CPU, it might even be the motherboard, or a bad RAM stick.  Who knows for sure?

Last night I quickly priced out how much it would cost me to replace one or more of those items, and I came to a sad realization.

No iPhone for me.  🙁 Continue Reading

The laptop or desktop dilemma

My old laptopAbout a year ago I decided that I wanted a little more flexibility in my PC use. All New Comics was taking up an inordinate amount of time while I was working on what can only be described as “mindless tasks”. This stuff sucked. We’re talking site updates, which involves copying and pasting. Spreadsheet updating, which involves…copying and pasting. Image editing, which after you’ve created actions in Photoshop really involves…copying and pasting. A little bit of development work, which honestly was just more…copying and pasting. A tiny bit of design work, which was actually unique and fun stuff to do. Checking to see who had paid what, making sure that orders are marked paid, complete, etc, and most importantly, responding to emails.

I was tired of being tethered to my office PC, and I decided that I needed to have the freedom that came with a laptop, so that I could copy and paste on the living room couch rather than begrudgingly sitting on the office PC annoyed that the world was passing me by. Continue Reading