Posts belonging to Category Computing

Hackers Elect Futurama’s Bender to the Washington DC School Board | PCWorld

This, folks, is why I still insist on paper ballots.

Hackers Elect Futurama’s Bender to the Washington DC School Board | PCWorld


I have a TV mounted on the wall in the kitchen because I like to watch the local news while I’m in there (and because I kind of like to have some sort of background sound on even if it isn’t the news).  The problem is that there is no cable outlet in there, so I’ve struggled with OTA reception since the beginning.  However, since the introduction of digital TV the problem has gotten worse as digital is ‘all or nothing’ and in many cases the stations have moved to UHF, which tends to have less range than VHF.  The only channels I can receive in that position with even the best indoor antenna are 4 and 11, and even then they’re not reliable.  Any time we had high winds (or ice and snow) it changed the conditions just enough to cause channel 4 to fade in and out in a frustratingly random way (there was no way I could adjust the antenna to fix it).

If I’d wanted to continue to get OTA programming my only choice would be to mount an antenna on the roof and bring a line inside from it to the TV.  I didn’t really want to do that.  The next option would have been to tie into the FIOS service, but that would have required running coax cable to the location, and I also didn’t want to get into that kind of trouble or expense.

What changed the game recently was when I discovered a device called the HDHomeRun from a company called SiliconDust. It’s a network-attached ATSC tuner that will stream either OTA or clear-QAM channels to any computer on your network.  So when I found an older model on sale recently it gave me the idea that I could put a small computer in the kitchen running Linux and  MythTV and wirelessly stream the TV signal from the HDHomeRun.  And since the HDHomeRun could tune clear-QAM signals, it meant that I could tune the 23 non-encrypted channels that Verizon includes in the FIOS “Local” package without need of another cable box or an external antenna.

For those not familiar with it, MythTV is a free, open-source, software DVR.  It has a distributed network architecture and can work with a variety of computer-connected tuner and capture devices.  It can loosely be thought of as a roll-your-own TiVo.  It consists of two main components: a backend, which handles all the video capture duties; and a frontend, which is what displays the available streams.  It also has a pluggable architecture, so you can add additional features like the ability to view videos and photos, listen to music, browse the web, and view local weather forecasts.

Over the weekend I finally went ahead and set the whole thing up.  I installed MySQL and the MythTV backend on my desktop PC (which is a quad-core 3GHz Athlon with 8GB of RAM) and the MythTV frontend on a Foxconn NetBox-nT330i that I happened to have kicking around (it has a 30GB SSD and 2GB of RAM; it’s nearly silent–the only moving part is the processor fan).  Both systems are running Ubuntu 10.04 (LTS). The only glitch was that the version of MythTV included in the Ubuntu 10.04 repositories (v0.23) had issues with locking up when changing channels on the HDHomeRun.  I installed the Mythbuntu repository updater and updated to the latest revision of V0.24 which fixed it.

One of the neat features of the NetBox is that it’s so small that it can be mounted to the back of an LCD monitor using the VESA mounting holes and an included bracket.  For this setup I mounted it to the monitor and put the monitor on the shelf I’d been using for the TV.

So, at this point, whenever I want to watch live TV, the backend takes control of the HDHomeRun’s first tuner (the second is not yet connected to anything), streams the data to a disk buffer and feeds the buffered stream to the frontend.  This allows for pause and rewind of live TV.  An added benefit of all this is that I now have a full program guide as well as the ability to schedule recordings (via the frontend or via web browser), which the backend will handle and make available to the frontend on request.  I also have the ability to browse the web thanks to the MythTV browser plugin, which I think will come in handy for pulling up recipes.

It probably sounds more complicated than it actually is, but it really wasn’t that much effort.  But it’s the sort of thing that appeals to my inner geek.  Further, I already had all the equipment, other than the HDHomeRun, so it didn’t cost too much to set up (the HDHomeRun dual-tuner was on sale for $80 when I bought it; setting up a decent OTA outdoor antenna would likely have cost that much or more).

I still have a few things to do to smooth out the rough edges, though, as it’s not ready for use by non-geeks.  I have an infrared remote control hooked up to the frontend, and while you can do enough with it to tune live TV and watch videos, it still requires a keyboard to do a lot of stuff, so I need to get the IR mapping cleaned up enough to make it intuitive for those used to using a DVR.  I also am planning to take the NetBox off of the monitor and install an arm in place of the current shelf, which was originally installed for a small tube TV.  I’ll also route the wires better and make it a clean installation when I do.

All Of The PR Finesse of Stalin

In a move that could not be more tone deaf than if Stalin himself had made it, Greek support company Systemgraph has sued one of its customers after he had the chutzpa to complain about their service.  Systemgraph is an authorized Apple reseller and service provider in Greece.

From the linked article:

He claims Systemgraph refused because the iMac wasn’t bought there. Papadimitriadis insisted he had followed the procedures set out at And he says he took his case to the consumer ombudsman, although that is a lengthy process. Clearly, there wasn’t going to be accord here. But it was what transpired next that has captured Greece’s imagination.

Papadimitriadis posted his story on a forum, something that seems to have upset Systemgraph. For the company has sued him for 200,000 euros (about $267,000), claiming he damaged its reputation.

His post, as translated by Google, does not seem to offer harsh or emotive language. The most anyone who has reported on the case claims is that Papadimitriadis described Systemgraph as “dodgy.”

Of course this is all through the lens of automated Greek-to-English translation, so perhaps something has been lost.  But if the facts are even remotely the same as my understanding, this is a case where discretion is the better part of valor and where it’s best to just let things be.  Systemgraph’s attempt to silence this customer for his supposed ‘slander and insult’ has simply brought the case into the glare of a world-wide spotlight.  Nothing good can come of this for Systemgraph, even if they unilaterally drop the lawsuit now.

Lifting A Curse

I’ve had a computer sitting around in the closet for nearly two years now.  I originally bought it as a fairly inexpensive barebones kit that I was going to build out to give to my Mother for her birthday.  But after I built it I decided that it wasn’t quite what I wanted and so I shelved it and I ended up giving her a new HP for Christmas later that year.  So into the closet it went, only being pulled out long enough for me to scavenge the video card and memory for some other systems that needed them. 

About six months ago I decided to revive it.  It was pretty lagging edge, but still useful for a basic computer for someone who just writes a few documents and checks email/surfs the web.  I had found a video card that I’d forgotten that I had while searching for something else in my office, so all I needed was memory, which I found for $20 or so on eBay.  As I was putting it together I noticed that the tab at the bottom of the metal bracket on the video card wouldn’t seat correctly in the hole, so I took a screwdriver (do you see where this is going?) to try to “guide” it into position.  Unfortunately, the screwdriver slipped, and when it did it hit one of the tiny surface mount resistors on the motherboard, completely annihilating it and ruining the motherboard in the process. 

Now I was at a decision point:  abandon the system or replace the motherboard?  I almost abandoned it when I started pricing replacement motherboards.  The system was so far behind the curve that no one was making new ones for this socket configuration anymore, and all of the online retailers were asking ridiculous prices for such old technology.  But eBay came to the rescue with a lightly used motherboard of similar configuration. 

So… I replaced the motherboard but realized that I didn’t have the proper ATX plate insert for all of the motherboard connectors.  I went ahead without one, but it was nagging at me that it could cause problems.  But, it didn’t appear to have any adverse impact as the system booted right up the first time and loaded the OS without any problems.  Or so I thought.  Once I shut it down it wouldn’t come back on until I’d unplugged the power supply for a few minutes.  If I didn’t all that would happen is that the front panel power light would come on but nothing else would happen (no fans, no HD spinup, etc; like it was in hibernate mode).  I tested the power supply with my ATX PS tester, and it showed all green lights for all of the supply lines on the MB connector as well as all of the molex connectors.

I thought maybe I had some weird grounding issue, so I went back to eBay and managed to find what seemed to be the one remaining ATX insert for this motherboard on planet Earth (only $6.00!).  grin  Once I had it in hand I proceeded to remove the motherboard (which is always a royal pain), install the new plate, and check all grounding points to make sure they were in contact.  So I plugged it in, booted it up, and then shut it down.  Then I pressed the power button again.  No joy.  Same problem. 

At this point I’m convinced that this system is cursed and I decided to cannibalize it for parts.  But when I started my latest build I had two older-style ATX power supplies (including the Enermax) that I could not use in newer systems.  As a last-ditch effort to revive the system I swapped the original power supply for the Enermax.  And the system now works perfectly!  So the problem had been the power supply all along, despite the fact that my power supply tester showed no problems.  Either the PS was marginal for the new motherboard or it had gone bad while it was in storage. 

I guess the lesson learned is that if you suspect a power supply is bad to try another one even if the original tests OK (provided you have another PS on hand, of course). 

Now I have no idea what I’m going to do with this system; it was just sheer cussedness on my part that made me want to get it running again.  If someone is in desperate need of a new PC I’d be willing to give it away (it’d have to be someone local since the shipping would be prohibitive).  If memory serves, it’s an Athlon XP 2200+ with 1GB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, a 16X DVD-RW drive, and it’s running openSUSE (11.0 I think).  No tech support or exorcist included.  grin

Ubuntu Boogaloo

I’ve long been a user of the openSUSE Linux distribution (I actually started when it was just SUSE, before Novell bought them and created the openSUSE community).  So I had already downloaded the DVD ISO for openSUSE 11.1 when I started my recent system build.  But the day before the build I saw that Ubuntu Desktop 9.04 had been released and that it was generating a lot of good reviews.  Ubuntu is based on Debian, and a couple of years ago I had used Debian on a backup system and found that I liked their package tools, so I decided to give Ubuntu Desktop 9.04 a try.  I figured that the worst that could happen is that I wouldn’t like it and that I would be able to wipe it and install openSUSE.

However, I don’t think that is going to be necessary.  I found it to be one of the smoothest installations I’ve been through in years.  It found and installed drivers for every component in the system and when it finished the final reboot the system was immediately usable.  That’s a far cry from any Linux distribution I’ve used before and better even than Windows, where I often have to install anywhere from 2 to 10 drivers after installation.  The system even included a utility to automatically install the proprietary ATI/AMD video drivers, which was a nice touch.

There is only one fly in the ointment so far.  While the system was usable, it did not correctly manage my dual displays so I ended up seeing the same image on both (stereo!).  This appears to be an issue with the ATI Catalyst 9.4 drivers.  To further complicate matters, Ubuntu Desktop 9.04 contains a pre-release version of the 9.4 drivers.  After I figured this out and applied the latest released Catalyst 9.4 drivers it seems I’m tantalizingly close but can’t quite get there.  The ATI configuration utility tells me that I have to create a second desktop to enable Xinerama, yet the desktop configuration page won’t let me create a second desktop.  It says to “drag and drop” the “objects” yet nothing will drag and drop. 

I’m continuing to investigate this one, but in the background when I have free time, which has been limited of late.

But I don’t blame the above on Ubuntu, since they don’t control the proprietary driver.  Overall I’d say that Ubuntu Desktop 9.04 has been quite polished and easy to work with.  I think it’s the first desktop Linux that I’d be comfortable giving to my Mother to use (once I’d set up everything, of course). 

Packrat System Build

I tend to accumulate computer parts over time as I upgrade older systems or replace them.  I also keep an eye out for good sales on parts that I can either keep on hand as spares for current systems or use for new builds/upgrades.  So when the upgrade bug struck recently I already had a number of parts on hand, including a 500GB SATA drive, DVD-RW drive, a couple of ATX power supplies (including a really high-end Enermax 450W unit), and a really nice Cooler Master Centurion case.  I started looking around at motherboard and CPU combos.  What I wanted was a motherboard capable of supporting dual monitors and a multi-core AMD CPU.  I was also intending to run Linux, so as I came across motherboards I checked for compatibility of video, LAN, and audio drivers.

I eventually settled on the following setup from

Not exactly bleeding edge, but I got all three of the above for $150, which is pretty good for a new system build.  While waiting for the parts to arrive I pulled the Enermax PS from another case where it had been sitting.  That was when I noticed that it had the older 20-pin ATX motherboard connector, rather than the 24-pin connector that the motherboard required.  Now some motherboards will run without the extra four pins (you just plug the 20-pin connector into the first 20 pins of the 24-pin connector on the motherboard).  However, the manual for this motherboard did not mention this as an option so I ended up having to shell out another $50 for an Antec Basiq 500W power supply.  A bit annoying, and now my budget build was starting to fell somewhat un-budget.  grin

But this was the only hiccup, as the system went together really smoothly once I had all the parts together.  I think it only took about an hour total to get it assembled.  Since my phone was handy I snapped a few photos for posterity (which also prompted my previous whining about user interface annoyances). 

Cooler Master Centurion with Antec PS installed, awaiting installation of components:

Motherboard and CPU:

Optical and Hard Drives:

All components installed:

There’s something satisfying about taking a bunch of boxes and parts and converting them into a pile of trash and a working computer.

Cry For Help…

Someone hit my site over the weekend using the following search phrase:
   i have emails which repeatedly continue arriving in my inbox the same “ones over” and over and over again why

Aside from the weird use of quotes, can’t you just feel the desperation in that search?  I think it’s the pathos of the “over and over again why” part that puts it over the top (kind of reminds me of “When will the hurting stop?” [*]).

Anyhow, to answer the question, either you have been targeted by a particularly annoying spammer, or there is a problem with your email program.  I have seen this problem at times with Thunderbird using POP3 when you leave the email on the server and your system is experiencing intermittent network problems as well as insufficient memory.  This was with an old laptop that had insufficient memory and was getting bogged down by a nightly virus scan.  Adding more memory fixed the nightly network problems and I haven’t seen the issue since.

Comment Spammers Suck

We all have our particular windmills at which we must tilt.  The blogger at the Keitai Goddess is engaged in a war to stop comment spam.  What’s interesting is that one of the spammers actually responded to her.  The respondent’s sense of entitlement to use of our blogs for marketing purposes is breathtaking:

Leaving comments on your blog linking back to our site is a fair trade as long as the comment is relevant and a decent length.  Many SEOs say content is king when it comes to ranking in Google and Yahoo, but this is not true.  Links are king and links from good websites are king.  Content comes in at a close second.  We give you content that makes YOUR site rank higher for different keywords and you give us a link back to our site that helps our site rank higher.  I don’t see how this is not a fair trade.  We’re not “parasites” like the people who comment on blogs and leave (sometimes literally) over 100 links in the comment and completely ruin that page’s pagerank.  I’ve seen people put links on blogs that run anywhere from 1 to 200.  We leave a relevant reply, take 1 link, and leave.  The ones who put more than 1 link in their reply are the parasites, not us.

I really have to wonder what this spammer thinks “relevant” comments are.  I’ve seen crap like “great article,” or even some that try to summarize the gist of my posting, but they’ve all been very transparent as text used for filler just to get their link past the spam filters.

Anyhow, the “conversation” got a bit heated, and the spammer really lost her cool in her followup message, to the point of acting like a creepy stalker by searching out Keitai Goddess’s comments on other blogs and claiming that those were somehow unethical or hypocritical because those comments included a link back to her site.

Really, the tiniest bit of common sense would have revealed to the spammer the difference between a real comment and one done solely for SEO purposes.  The rule that I use for determining if a link/comment is spam is that if the comment is truly relevant and adds something new, then I examine the link to see if it is back to the person’s personal site or to a commercial site.  If it’s to a commercial site, and I don’t recognize the online “persona” as belonging to someone I personally know who is associated with that enterprise, then it’s spam.  Period.  End of discussion, no debate allowed. 

In other words, commercial entities are NOT ALLOWED to post comments on my blog.  My comments are intended to be by and for people.  The only time I might entertain a comment associated with a commercial entity is if I’ve commented about that entity’s products or services.  However, the person doing the response must do so under a real name and they must identify themselves as being associated with the company.  Anything else would border on dishonesty or sock-puppetry.

What’s The Point Of It Anymore?

I’ve noticed lately that spammers are hitting my contact form about twice a week.  What’s weird about it is that it just says something like “Buy <drug name>” or “Cheap <enhancement drug>”.  The notes don’t give any information about who is selling it or where to get it. 

And the comment spam I’m seeing is just about as useless.  Spam filtering techniques have gotten to the point where just about the only things that will get through are genuine human messages and complete garbage.  I’ve seen a few where it appeared people typed them up and just used the URL field to try to advertise their sites.  Others were filled with what appeared to be random gibberish with copious links to sites with URLs that looked like they were created by hitting a bunch of keys on a keyboard all at once.  What kind of sucker would click one of those links?

So if most of the spam lately doesn’t provide any good ways of getting the spammers into a search engine because it’s gibberish, or they can’t even list their site because of the filters, you really have to wonder why the spammers even bother anymore.  Is it sheer cussedness?  Are they up to something that they think will pay off in the long run?  Or are they just being annoying buggers for the heck of it?

Political SPAM

Bitter is complaining about a candidate for Virginia Attorney General who is spamming her and who won’t respond to requests for removal.

In a similar vein, I’m pretty annoyed by the spam I’m getting from Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson of the Texas Supreme Court for his re-election campaign.  The reason I’m annoyed is that I never gave anyone permission to send me emails about Jefferson’s campaign.  Worse than all that, the email address is one created specifically for use with the Fred Thompson presidential campaign.  I’m not sure who to be more annoyed with: Fred Thompson’s website for selling my email or Jefferson’s campaign for using a list without doing any opt-in confirmation. 

The emails are being sent on behalf of Jefferson’s campaign by StreamSend and they include link tracking URLs and email tracking image bugs.  The whole thing has a stink about it.