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2008/04/20 Windows still sucks, and how it will get worse with Vista
π 2008-04-20 22:12 by Merlin in Public

So, windows sucks of course, but if you have to pick one, XP is mostly agreed upon as the most usable and least sucky one (although I have windows 2000 in my vmware image because it's smaller and good enough as an application loader).
I wanted to test the new Seattle Avionics Voyager 3D flight planner and synthetic vision software, so I had to use native windows.
First I found out that my WXP partition on my thinkpad was actually broken and that windows would just BSOD after a few minutes of use without any useful error message.

Ok, I used a WXP SP2 CD to do an install/repair on top, but first had to disable AHCI SATA and set my boot drive as IDE to make windows happy (see the SP2 installer has 0 SATA support!). Ok, fine, whatever, I get windows reinstalled on top, things actually work out pretty well, I go in the bios, put SATA AHCI back to make linux happy and go on with my life.
The next day, try windows again and realizes it won't boot longer than 10 seconds, and later I figure out that it can't boot because it removed the SATA drivers in my existing install and became unable to use my drive in AHCI mode. Good job microsoft!
I then wasted a good 2 hours trying to convince WXP to install the AHCI driver (I even knew what chipset I had, which exact driver I needed and where it was on disk), but WXP kept ignoring my request and installing ide-piix instead, the driver for the IDE emulation mode....
In the end, the only thing I was able to do was to find a USB floppy drive, find a floppy (both are hard to get today), find an intel WXP driver floppy generator which then made a driver floppy I was able to use for a 3rd WXP re-install. The best part is that you have a couple of seconds to press F6 during the install boot to tell it you have a driver disk. It went by so fast, I missed it 4 times before I saw and caught it. WTF can't the installer even tell you "I need a driver, do you happen to have one?" instead of "I can't mount your Hard Drive, press F3 to reboot".
Please fire the morons reponsible for all that crap!

Anyway, hours later, system is back up in AHCI mode.
With linux, it would have taken me about 15mn of my time, it would clearly have told me it couldn't find the boot drive, and it would have allowed me to add/enable the driver without having to do 4 consecutive 1H long installs to reinstall a simple driver that I already knew by name!

The thing that worries me is that how ridiculous, and quite frankly difficult things have gotten. This procedure was overly complicated, and quite frankly borderline impossible for most people, simply because microsoft could not be bothered to add SATA support to their installer. I think it's because they just want people to install their piece of crap Vista instead, and this part worries me because they're going to make it increasingly difficult to use XP and force people into all the crap that is vista and its even worse license.
2008/04/19 Choosing the right Closet Organizer System: Zen Space Solutions (and blinds.com for blinds)
π 2008-04-19 11:14 by Merlin in Public

Jennifer and I were missing blinds for our house, and some kind of closet solution (right now, we only have empty closets, and nowhere to put our stuff away).
For the blinds, the least expensive was actually to get premium hunter douglas material direct from blinds.com, and tack on a local installer. It was cheaper and better than Home Depot, or 3 day blinds (this is the summary of several days of work and research from Jennifer).

For closets, to have a good idea of what we needed and designed, you can look at what we got after working with Coast Closets, the last design we came up with (note that you can click on the 3D views to see 3D versions of the closet designs). The final proposed price was actually lower after rebates and some tweaks we could have done.

We tried some local companies first, wood, and then melamine, but they basically wanted $7500 to do all our closets. It just felt too much, so we started looking at other options (especially Jennifer).
Eventually, we found Budget Closets for a local option, downgraded our color from floor color to white, and Jennifer later found Coast Closets , which looked like the ideal and cheapest option: we eventually got a quote around $3200, but there were three catches:
  1. the design had to be done via Email and or the phone since it was an order from the East Coast. We also had to take very exact measurements and be ok with having closets that would be slightly too small since they wouldn't be cut to exact fit on site. This would have been ok to save $1000, although designing and correcting on the phone was a bit frustrating and pretty time consuming.
  2. the next issue was that we'd have to arrange for our own local install. In theory it's something we can install ourselves, but we just didn't want the burden or deal with potential problems if the install in the studs wasn't quite right, and later the cabinets fell because of too much weight in some of the anchor points. Problem was that experienced installers wanted to charge a ludicrous $1200-$1500 for a 1.5-2day install, which then made that option not attractive anymore. It would probably work better in places where contractors don't charge an arm and a leg.
  3. but the last problem which ended up being the dealbreaker for us was that in order to offer better prices than just about anyone else, Coast Closets works directly with the mill and is constrained by what the mill can do, or extra charges they might add if we wanted some non standard cut (making the end price less attractive). Mark from Coast Closets really tried hard to help us, but our closets and needs were just a bit unusual and ended up requiring a bit too much custom work, making his solution not as much of a good match for us anymore.

After going back and forth on that solution and seeing how we could work with it, we ended up giving up and going with a small local installer/builder we found while looking for installers: Zen Space Solutions . It ended up costing $4500 at a deeply discounted price since he was trying to compete with the Coast Closets offer. The end result will be about $1000 more, but more custom and better finished. I guess this is what it takes...
At least, we didn't just throw money at the problem, and while it was painful and draining at time, at least we did proper research and diligence in finding the best result/price deal.
Otherwise, Budget Closets would have worked too, although they have more overhead and are more expensive, and for people who don't mind installing themselves, and Coast Closets is still the cheapest option by far if you are comfortable doing your own installs or have access to cheaper install labour than we did.
2008/04/10 New MythTV setup: ER in HD
π 2008-04-10 23:35 by Merlin in Public

As part of the new tech setup, I've been working on getting my mythtv PC to work with HDTV. That shouldn't be hard in theory, but "theory, theory and practise are the same, in practise, they're not :)".
The first thing I found out is that the AMD Sempron 3100+ CPU in there isn't fast enough to play even 720p in realtime, but I found that by using nvidia's XvMC in the card, that was good enough to barely play HDTV in realtime (although that took some configuring).
Then came the problem of actually recording HD content: I had gotten an HDHomeRun from a coworker, which is indeed a neat little device that records unencrypted HD from cable, and forwards the mpeg2 stream to a computer, in my case my mythtv computer.
Up to then, my cable quality was an issue in the house because the incoming cable feed was split 2 ways outside by comcast, then 6 ways to each rooms, and then another 8 ways next to my my AV center in the family room. Obviously the signal was crap by then and I had to find places where to put amps and where to split the signal just the right amount of times.
I found a good store close to my house where they had all kinds of home wiring stuff, including various amps and high quality splitters, and after that the fun was to find where to put the amps, splitters, and signal attenuators (yes, ampping too much makes things not work) to get everything to work. Oh, the best part is that if you put a cable modem behind a regular amp, it won't work, you need a 2 way amp for the return signal of the cable modem to work.
Anyway, when half a day later I had decent analog cable signal where I needed to, I was able to get unencrypted HDTV channels to both my TVs and especially the HDHomeRun device.
You'd think I'd be done by then, but that didn't do much good until mythtv both had TV guide data for the HD channels, and knew to prefer HD recordings to regular recordings. That part wasn't much documented but I got help on the mythtv-users list , which basically was a matter of finding the right xmlids for the HD channels and giving them a higher priority over the same channels.
Anyway, after all this, I finally got one program in my lineup that recorded in HD: the weekly episode of ER, which was a nice surprise.
Yet, for SciFi-HD, I still get to download shows from BT if I want HD because comcast suck (and if they didn't suck, it'd be encrypted so that I can't get it anyway...).
Some people would ask why I go through this pain, which is a valid question. I still like the flexibility of running my DVR, as well as the occasional tinkering.

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