Category Archives: Software

Getting Good TV without Cable or Satellite

I moved some AV equipment around last weekend, trying to setup the upstairs study to be a second room for “watching TV”. We don’t have cable or satellite (gasp!) so we get our TV from the ether or Interwebs. Major broadcast networks come from HDTV into the TiVo so we watch most of the current watercooler fodder when everyone else does. Past years of a TV series and movies come from Netflix for a little over $9 a month, either as a DVD or streaming over DSL. For the hardest to get items, you’ll need a computer with internet access to get to [Hulu](, the web-based outlet for the most popular content.

Hulu gives you what you want, say episodes of Burn Notice that would have aired on the cable network USA, for free streamed to your computer. You have to watch ads that can’t be skipped but they aren’t too annoying and there are usually less than 5 in a one hour show.

Hulu’s downside is the computer, forcing most people to sit in a home office or watch it on a laptop. Since that’s not really an option for us, I’ve been working on a plan to get the best of all worlds–Hulu on a TV.

There are plenty of ways to do this, the easiest is to use a $30 piece of software from a company called [MediaMall Technologies]( Their software is call PlayOn and it let’s you take web content and “play on” a media extender device like an Xbox 360. You need a fairly recent computer with plenty of processor and RAM and a fast internet connection. Combine these together and you get a great result. Free content on a large screen from providers like Hulu.

That wasn’t an option for me since the Xbox and the PC I would have used are in the same room. A recent technology shift at my mother-in-law’s house allowed things to finally work out. I now have a 17″ LCD monitor with all of the right features:

* Tall adjustable stand: I can move the display to a height that makes it easy to watch like a regular TV
* Multiple video inputs: The new monitor has digital and analog inputs so the Xbox can connect to the VGA port and the PC can connect to the digital port. No more cable-swapping to use one or the other.

Combine the new monitor with some Yamaha digital speakers (with multiple inputs) plus a remote control that came with the video card and we’re all set. I’m saving $50 a month and not sacrificing anything but screen size.

Rails Dev Update: AWDwR 2ndEd

The cryptic title doesn’t tell you much but I’d bet you’re interested, eh?

I ordered the second edition of Agile Web Development with Rails today via the magic of the mobile web. The first edition was so good (and Rails development has changed at lightspeed) that I figured the $50 was worth it. I’m still working on my wife’s site but the new book with it’s updated practices and sample code would benefit significantly.

Marathon: Durandal coming to Xbox Live Arcade

You can count on me buying this one and wasting several hours this winter…

Xbox Live Arcade: “Seventeen years ago, you survived a vicious Pfhor assault on the U.E.S.C. Marathon. Now you have been awakened by the enigmatic, sentient A.I. called Durandal and sent to an alien world to uncover the mysteries of their advanced technology. In Marathon: Durandal, armed with only a pistol, you are humanity%u2019s last champion!”

Proper Rails Routing is Very Rewarding

Redirects work easily in Rails. Modify the routes.rb file and the application can process it’s own redirects without messing with the server’s config files. This is handy for situations like my [wife’s business website]( where her old content and URLs need to be preserved while the new stuff is being built.

Example: and look the same because the are exactly the same content generated exactly the same way.

Again, nothing new to a profession web developer, but gratifying nonetheless.

Tonight, time permitting, we’ll do some database work with the “[shop](” page.

Radio UserLand Universal Binary Update

I’ve been working on and off on a Universal Binary version of [Radio Userland](http:/ I spent some time last night (late last night) working on the core issue, the code that handles the resources in the kernel. For the first time, I think I have a good idea of what really happens during startup with Radio. The worst part is I’m no closer to fixing the problem. I offered cash payments on the kernel mailing list, but everyone is too busy to make this work right now.

Anyone with some hardcore C experience out there?

More on writing a Mac app

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I wanted to write a Mac app in Cocoa and I was soliciting advice. Dwight Shih, my iBook’s original owner (it’s running great!), says that I write something for myself and not for others. I’d have to agree and here’s what I have in mind:

I need an easy app to start with so it’s going to be an adding machine. For the “younger” folks out there, adding machines were like calculators, but the generally did the four big operations: add, subtract, multiply and divide. I’m picking those four to work on because the functions are easy to program in C and the concept leaves plenty of room to grow. Also, with an adding machine interface, I can grow to a custom window type, “tapes” that you tear off and save as documents, preferences for the look and feel and more. The way I see it, this concept will help me focus on Cocoa fundamentals first instead of C functions and object-oriented concepts.

Writing a Mac app – for me or for you?

So I want to write a Mac application. Do I write something you readers want or do I write something I want?

For you:

Pros–I’m forced to narrow your choices, work with you to clearly define goals, must meet deadlines.

Cons–I’m writing for you and not me, must meet deadlines, I might hate what you want me to do.

For me:

Pros–I make me happy and can ship with whatever quality that will make me happy.

Cons–I’ll suffer along and not learn and probably stay within my knowledge boundaries.

A Frank thinking makes me think about copyrights.

After [Andrew Grumet]( pointed me to [zeFrank](, I’ve been watching it more often. The last two episodes on copyright infringment and it’s implications are a subtle but effective call to action. As more and more people are able to create their own content, it devalues professional creative works. That means that people’s perception of the value of a video is different today than it was years ago because there’s “so much of it” laying around.

Here’s an allegory:

In times past, a farmer had an apple farm. It was the only apple farm for miles. People paid the farmer for access to the apples, sometimes with money and sometimes with goods and services. The amount of apples each person took was generally equal to the amount of money or goods traded.

As time marched on, other people in the area tried to grow apples. A few were successful as apple farmers and, in their excitement, passed on the knowledge to others. Soon, nearly everyone could grow their own apples and many did.

The old farmer’s life had changed since the early days. Many people took apples from his farm and gave them to others. Their reasoning was that since everyone seemed to have all of the apples they needed, there was no harm in taking apples from anyone since they wouldn’t be missed.

Returning to real life…

People who create things for a living do so in exchange for value. Very few people I know simply create something for the greater good of humankind. Brent Simmons writes software so he and his wife (and his employer) can pay their bills, go on vacations and even save for retirement. My wife (a metalsmith) creates jewelry to sell to galleries and retail shops. She hopes that making things in exchange for money will become a way of life for her. Her designs are copyrighted as a way to protect her *intellectual* property. That property is real, even though it’s hard to see. You can’t dig up that property plant a garden and that concept of the tangible is hard to understand for younger generations.

A typical 18 to 24 year old person that has the equipment and knowledge to copy a Daily Show video from TV to their computer will quickly share that file with others. Some will even post that video to a site like YouTube.


In nearly all cases, it comes down to social status. People can gain social status by performing feats not generally thought possible. I’m sure there plenty of people who think that posting a Daily Show video on YouTube is possible, but not easy. Those people place the poster in a higher social status than others. Notice I didn’t say more positive, just higher. To one group, that person is a social aggravator or practices civil disobedience. To another, that same person is a greater (or higher) threat to intellectual property.

What this comes down to is something we’ve all heard and most ignore:

“If everyone put their head in a toilet, would you?”

In other words, just because you can find hundreds or thousands of copyrighted video clips on YouTube doesn’t mean it’s OK to post more. Just because your cell phone has a camera, you can’t take pictures of pages in a magazine so you can use that information later. The creator of that content has rights and in most cases, the publisher of the content has paid the creator to access and distribute that content. When you upload a copyrighted video clip or take pictures of a MAKE Magazine project with your cell phone camera, you’re stealing. Period.

Your personal integrity is sometimes the only measure of your character. Each upload or picture dilutes the purity of your personality until what’s left is only a fraction of it’s former worth.

Get up from your computer and go look in a mirror. Ask yourself *out loud* if you’ve ever stolen something. Your integrity will answer. You’ll also know it’s time to stop.