Saturday 24 December 2005

DVB Freeview Tuner

Got an aerial guy to come and fit a decent wide-band aerial, which made all the difference. MythTV automatically scanned for and found loads of free TV channels - Woo!

Now I can do picture in picture as well as recording 2 channels at once or watching one channel while recording another.

It's not quite clear how it chooses which tuner to use and the <C> key doesn't switch between them as I expected it to.

It's still way cool though and the quality of the Freeview programs is substantially better. The tuner card just saves the demultiplexed M-PEG stream straight to the hard disk rather than re-encoding the video that's already been decoded by the NTL Cable box.

The only other problem so far is that I can't play back the Freeview video files on a PC using MythTV Filters. Guess I'll have to do a little codec research.

Wednesday 7 December 2005

Useful Mozilla Extensions

Development Extensions

JavaScript Debugger
Absolutely essential if you're doing any serious JavaScript coding (do not be fooled, JavaScript is a very cool OO language)

Web Developer
Adds a menu and a toolbar with various web developer tools.

Live HTTP Headers
View HTTP headers of a page and while browsing.

Handy for Blog/Wiki Editing

Spellbound Spellchecker
Spellchecker for web forms.

required for above.

Useful Browsing Extensions

Bypass compulsory web registration with the context menu via

Google Images Re-Linker
Jumps directly to the full-size image on

Regular Expression Find
This extension adds regular expression capacity to the page find dialog.

Image Zoom
Adds zoom functionality for images

Outputs an alphabetical list of either extensions or themes to a text, vB code, or HTML file. Used to generate this list ;)

Wednesday 30 November 2005


Just got back from XPday5 where my colleague Dafydd Rees and I presented a talk on Rails for Real. It seems to have gone down well and a lot of delegates were interested in learning more about our experiences using Ruby-on-Rails for a major project.

I very nearly didn't make it up to London at all having contracted a nasty stomach bug or flu at the weekend, which returned shortly after the talk. Thankfully adrenalin kicked in for the duration.

Friday 25 November 2005

Fast Cars

Penny bought me a Red Letter Day for my birthday in March, a driving day at Thruxton Racecourse, Wiltshire. I was of course thoroughly looking forward to some seriously fast cars to play with.

Rachel Elnaugh (the only female dragon in Dragon's Den on TV) made her fortune by starting up Red Letter Days. The company offer a range of once-in-a-lifetime gift experiences.

Half way through the summer, the news came that Red Letter Days was going into liquidation. We waited with baited breath for any news. Finally some came. Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis (Rachel's fellow dragons) stepped in to rescue the company.

I'm happy to report that they honoured my voucher.

The day started with a briefing that lasted longer than usual as the drivers were out on the track to drive the smattering of snow off the track. This allowed us a little more time learning the track and the passing rules that make it safe to drive different types of car together.

It wasn't long before I was heading out in the Mazda RX-8 for my first laps as a passenger, then as a driver. The Mazda is quite a car, with a rotary engine producing 230bph. The track is straightforward apart from two tight corners near the start and a chicane just before the entrance to the pit lane. After a few laps I'd started to learn the right entry and exit points for the corners.

The driving from this point on was almost non-stop, straight into the Mercedes SLK, a larger similarly powered car for a few laps. The Mercedes is pretty easy to drive, but the extra size helped pave the way toward next car. I found myself straying a little close to the cones on the left, as I'd got straight out of a smaller car.

Next up was the Ferrari 360. I've loved Ferrari's since I was a kid (who didn't?) and this for me, was what the whole day was about. It's a phenomenal car, just ten days out of the factory. The engine sounded like an angry tiger when I touched the accelerator a little incautiously.

Kat in the F360 Modena

The laps whizzed by. I was as amazed by the braking into the corners and the acceleration out onto the straights. I'm no less enamoured of Ferrari's than I was and it's still an ambition to own one.

Stepping out of the Ferrari, I didn't think that the experience could be topped; but it could, by the Formula Renault, a single-seat, rear engine racecar. Sitting a couple of inches above the ground, fully kitted out with balaclava, helmet, rubber gripped gloves and booties, the steering wheel is slotted in after you've been fitted into the car like a tailored suit.

It's like having an engine strapped to your back and wheels to your feet. Huge amounts of grip stick you to the road and the car reacts instantly to acceleration and steering. The six laps in this car felt more like a race, with the pumping adrenalin and wind in your face. You get out of the car exhausted and exhilarated.

I had to be reminded by the debrief instructor about the last drive - one fast lap with a professional driver. Gone in seconds, this lap lets you know just how incredibly slowly you've been driving so far.

At debrief I was delighted that I'd scored higher than average for my driving. What a day! I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Friday 18 November 2005

Trigger Finger

I managed to give myself a mild case of trigger finger at the weekend. It's caused by a swollen tendon catching on it's sheath and shows up as a jerking movement between extended and curled.

I didn't get it by going on a shooting spree or by playing too many video games. It seems to have been caused by using the secateurs too much in the garden.

Fitted new DVB card

Right, the card is installed but not tuning yet. I think I might need an extra signal booster or perhaps a higher gain ariel.

The drivers took a bit of sorting out, as Fedora Core 3 doesn't automatically create the DVB devices.

The only problem so far was a conflict with the nVidia drivers which caused the display to hang. To solve this I swapped the card for an ATI Radeon 7000 from another box.

Thursday 17 November 2005

Power Cuts in Poole

The cold has finally come in with snow and icy winds and I'm very glad that I'd finished chopping the majority of the wood in the garden. The logs are heaped in three piles by the house and are already being tossed into our fireplaces.

They came in most useful when a big fire in a junk yard next-door to my work took down the main power cables for Poole and Bournemouth, and we had a fairly long power cut that left us without light or heating for an evening.

We ended up lighting fires and candles, cracking open some nice wine and playing boardgames till the early hours.

Wednesday 2 November 2005


I've just returned from a week in Scotland trying to find out about the Crichton clan and the history of my family.

Unfortunately my investigation in Edinburgh just led me back to London. The critical information I need to track my great-great-great-grandfather George Crichton who was born in Scotland will be his marriage certificate and the only clue I have as to where he was married is that his children were born in Lambeth, London.

However, I did pay a visit to Crichton Castle, just south of Edinburgh, which was spectacularly bleak in the cold October rain.

I've also kitted myself out with the appropriate kilt (Royal Stuart) and caboodle, so Hogmanay should be fun this year (and any other parties I can think of using as an excuse to dress up).

Tuesday 18 October 2005


I've ordered a DVB card. It's the Hauppauge WinTV-Nova-t PCI. Hopefully I'll be able to set it up on Linux and integrate it with the MythTV setup.

It'll hopefully allow me to record MPEG2 streams without recompressing, as well as allow me to record two things at once in MythTV.

I'll post my progress with this card as I try to get it to work.

Monday 17 October 2005


It was inevitable really. Having climbed the large cherry tree and cut off five or six large branches with a hand saw, some chopping and cutting would ensue.

The first tool I chose for the job - the Black & Decker Scorpion electric saw - endured two branches of defoliating before falling to bits.

So, off to the the DIY store I went, planning to buy a replacement Scorpion. Then I noticed the garden tools section and within about two minutes went from looking at 50 quid electric toys to this...

McCulloch Mac 438 petrol driven 14 inch chainsaw.

I had no idea how much fun these things could be. It's like an extreme sport, dangerous and adrenalin pumping. Obviously real-man, phallic-symbol stuff, but all stereotypes have their basis in reality.

From the moment you open the packaging and fill up the petrol tank, you know you're dealing with a proper grown-up tool.

I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone with a lust for life - and who can read and follow the frightening instruction book.

Wednesday 5 October 2005

Downtime on the Family TV

It's always tricky performing maintenance on hardware that is central to the family's computing/entertainment life, but this change could take out all the TV's in the house for days or even weeks.

I have a projector in the living room, attached to a Linux PC running MythTV, an open source personal video recorder project similar to Sky+ or TiVo.

At the moment it can only record one channel at a time from an NTL digital cable tuner and the big plan is to add a Freeview DTV card to it so that we can watch one live channel while recording another (or record two channels simultaneously).

It's a bit scary though, as these things have a habit of needing a fair amount of Linux hacking to get working correctly and that could knock out the entire house (6 people)'s TV and video.

Wish me luck ;)

New Processor Woes

Windoze just doesn't seem to be capable of it.

You want to upgrade a PC's processor; so inevitably, the motherboard and memory have to follow suite. You try to boot the PC and it goes into a reboot-loop.

This has happened a few times recently and each time I end up reinstalling Windows. Not that I mind too much, Windows seems to need regular reinstalls to stop it from seizing up altogether.

Linux seems to handle new hardware a lot better, although it's always possible to boot into a low run level (a rather extreme equivalent of Windows Safe Mode!). You just don't get the Windows clog-up problems with Linux, as applications' settings aren't all installed into one bloated registry file.

Tuesday 4 October 2005

43 Things and Places

I found the option in Typo to enable 43 Things and 43 Places (no longer running) to my blog. Nice idea as it ties two Web2.0 technologies together.

Should help to give a better idea of what I'm about, although I'm some way off the number 43 (or 86) just yet, clearly need to be more interesting and make some more plans ;)

Would be nice if there was an option to show 43 posts on your Typo blog.

Monday 3 October 2005


Much as I love MythTV, it's web interface for anything other than TV recordings leaves a little to be desired.

So, I'm considering writing an interface to MythMusic in Ruby-on-Rails.

It should be ajax enabled so that you can do iTunes style search constraining and it should have a decent artist/album/song type browser.

I think I'll add this to the end of the project list after Mad Margaret's e-commerce.

If anyone else thinks this is a good idea, reply to this post.

Sunday 2 October 2005

It Begins

Well, the start of October seems like the right time to start a proper blog. A bit late for the term-start, but it's been a fair few years since I had a decent length summer holiday anyway.

I've had a news/diary section on for a while, but I just never quite got around to updating it. Hopefully being able to edit on line will help.

What's this all going to be about then? Current projects include...

  • Ruby-on-rails (web framework behind this site)
  • MythTV (Linux based PVR)
  • Extreme Programming
  • Sorting out home bandwidth contention with a Linux firewall
  • Getting my loft converted
  • Writing and recording some music

So, glad you could make the grand opening. Hang around for a while, and help yourself to a cocktail and some canapés.

God bless this blog and all who sail in her!