Monday, March 15, 2010

One reason I'm a "belligerent" atheist.

I must qualify that claim because I don't really go around picking fights with theists.  And I've kinda beat this topic to death lately so I'll try to keep this short...

Anyway, this is related to a question Galen and Tim brought up the other night regarding why I've become so "belligerent" about my atheism (no, it's not because I hate all Christians).  This thoughtful video highlights an aspect of it that we didn't discuss, though I don't think I would make the claim that atheists are persecuted to the same extent that the blacks or the gays were.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Home electricity monitoring with TED 5000 and Google PowerMeter.

Being a tech geek who also hugs a few trees in his spare time, it's expected that I would be interested in a home electricity monitoring system.  Throw in a Google application for this, and I'm naturally going to be all over it.

I recently acquired the TED 5000C from The Energy Detectives, which has support for Google PowerMeter.  The system works by hooking up a monitor in my circuit breaker box.  This transmits usage data via the electric wires in my house to a gateway that is simply plugged into any outlet.  The gateway is connected via Ethernet to my wireless router, so my computer can access it via web interface.  The web interface provides up-to-the-second real-time monitoring of my energy consumption, as well as the ability to see how much that energy costs (though I have not yet set up the pricing portion of it).  After the electrician installed the monitor in my circuit box, we tested the system out by cranking up the oven and stove, and the blue power line on the graph shot up instantly.  I recreated this for the second-live graph below.

 The home screen.

The history screen.

The second-live graph.

The hour-by-hour graph.

The gateway also sends data to Google Powermeter, which provides an iGoogle gadget that can be used to monitor my home power consumption from anywhere on the web.

The 5000C model also includes a desktop display unit that shows usage statistics.

The monitor is actually pretty easy to install.  In retrospect, I could have probably done it myself in a couple of hours, but it was easier to have a professional who knew what he was doing.  If you're familiar with electric wiring, you could have it all hooked up in under an hour pretty easily.

So, what's the point of this exercise?  I'm not completely sure yet.  One of the selling points is that through monitoring you can more easily see the ways in which you could save on your electric bill.  But I'm mostly in it for the cool factor.

Friday, March 12, 2010

HD PVR - recording satellite HD with Windows Media Center.

Recording HD video from cable and satellite set-top boxes to a media center PC is not nearly as easy as it should be.  Digital HD signals (HDMI, DVI) are encrypted (using HDCP), so only authorized receivers can process them.  This doesn't work out so well for people (like me) who don't want to pay the cable or satellite companies a monthly fee for DVR capabilities, especially when we have a PC that can perform this function while giving us more control.  CableCARD was supposed to be the solution for us, but (a) it was not widely adopted (b) it required renting the card from the provider (and I thought part of the point was not paying them for DVR).  Of course, there are plenty of tuner cards that record non-HD content from set-top boxes and free over-the-air HD (basically, local channels).

The best solution that I came across was Hauppauge's HD PVR.  It's a small external box that converts component inputs (YPbPr) from the set-top box to H.264 video that it streams to your PC via USB 2.0.  However, this is not supported by Windows Media Center straight out of the box, and the software that comes with it is pretty terrible in comparison.  Fortunately, there is a software package called DVBLink that allows for WMC integration (for an extra $40 on top of the $200 for the HD PVR).  It basically creates virtual tuners in WMC and then streams the HD PVR output to them.  The setup process was not completely intuitive, but it wasn't too bad either.  If you can follow directions from the website, it should go alright for you (I, however, get a little impatient sometimes and make bad assumptions).  All in all, hooking up the HD PVR and setting up all the software took me somewhere around 3 hours, including time where I played around with some settings.

So here's my analysis after watching my first recording (NBC's Thursday night line-up):

  • HD satellite TV fully integrated into WMC!  This includes watching, pausing, and recording TV, along with Guide information.
  • No monthly fee for DVR service.

  • $240 price tag - this would take 2 years at $10/month savings to break even.  May be worth it in the end.
  • Setup is not seamless, but shouldn't be too bad for someone who has a media center PC (especially if you built it yourself).
  • Video quality maxes out at 720p or 1080i due to component inputs (note that cable/satellite HD quality doesn't go higher than this anyway).
  • External box that sits on top of the computer, as opposed to an internal card.
While it seems like there are more cons that pros, none of the "cons" are really that bad at all (hence the quotes).  I'm pleased with it so far, after only one night of use, and I think most people in a similar situation would be as well.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Welcome to "Shades of Black".

While migrating the blog from my 1and1 hosting service to Blogger's servers (due to their discontinuation of FTP publication), I've renamed the blog and made some other enhancements.  Thank you to Jerry Pipes for suggesting the new name.  Thank you as well to Nathan Rosenstock for suggesting another name that I almost chose.  Despite the change in location, the blog URL only changed by one character and a slight rearrangement ( ->  Hopefully this yields a better reading experience...