Computers, Technology

My first experience with TalkTalk customer support

As many of you may be aware (most of you judging by the search engine keywords people use to get here with), I’m a TalkTalk customer. Now quite a few people are having problems with TalkTalk. Luckily I’ve had no problems with TalkTalk (although that might change when I’m unbundled. And for the most part that’s still true, although I did recently have a minor problem that led to me calling TalkTalk support.

Firstly, the problem I had was nothing to do with the Internet. It was a problem calling Julia in America. I would call and get nothing but silence. After a while it would ring but someone else would answer the phone who apparently couldn’t hear me. After talking to Julia over the Internet I discovered that she could hear me and she could also hear the third person. Very strange. Another point is that to call Julia and it be free (well at least included in the £10 a month we pay) I have to dial a prefix. Without the prefix everything was fine. So it was probably some obscure routing problem specific to TalkTalk.

So I called their support line. Specifically the one for landline faults. I got through straight away and told them I was having a problem calling America. They said it was a known issue and they were dealing with it. 24 hours later it was working fine.

I tell you this simply to point out that not quite everyone is having a problem with TalkTalk…

TalkTalk, broadband, Internet, ADSL, landlines

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

Mono brings everything together – MythTV, PS3, Nokia 770

MythTV finally runs on a Playstation 3. Linux has been running on PS3s for a while doing all sorts of cool things. Well Takeshi Yaegashi has now got a USB TV tuner working for it making MythTV essentially complete.

So where does Mono come into this? Well Mono runs on a PS3 as well. Actually that’s not the link. In a cool coincidence, I first found out about MythTV on a PS3 after subscribing to a Mono RSS feed.

And the Nokia 770? Well the very next entry on said RSS feed was about Mono running on a Nokia 770 (and a Nokia N800 and Windows XP and Linux – all with one executable).

It’s a small world…

Mono, Maemo, MythTV, Linux, Windows, cross platform, PS3, PlayStation, Takeshi Yaegashi

Computers, Entertainment, EVE Online, Games, MPOGs, Technology

Revelations 1.3 – Castrating Jita

CCP have announced the patch details for Revelations 1.3. Nothing new as such is being added but it is a a pretty cool update nonetheless. Below are some of the points I feel especially important or cool

Firstly, Jita should be a little less crowded afterwards. It will probably still be a trade hub but it’s asteroid fields are being removed and the school stations are “under new ownership” (and hence no longer selling skills). A bunch of other stations are suffering similar consequences.

Expeditions are more likely to be triggered by exploration sites and Data Interface (used for invention) BPCs and materials will drop more. The new scanners will have their tech II mineral requirements removed also making exploration cheaper.

Best quote from the patch notes:

Moved all of the humans and animals located in the normal ‘commodity’ groups into the ‘livestock’ group, to prevent the poor things from being squeezed into small cargo containers by unscrupulous players.

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

Streaming video to the Nokia 770

I recently managed to get video streaming (and transcoding in real time) to my Nokia 770 😀 Here’s a guide for anyone wanting to do the same thing. This assumes you have a wireless network with a computer on it.

The first thing you need to do is install MPlayer on your 770. The media player that comes with it is too limited with regards to what it can play. The interface to Maemo MPlayer is a bit limited but I tend to start it from the command line anyway.

Then install VLC (VideoLAN client) on your PC. VLC is a cross platform media player with wonderful codec support and more important built in streaming and transcoding support. To stream (and transcode) using VLC, go to the Open File dialog box and select “Stream/Save” (and click the associated “Settings” button). From there select HTTP streaming (remember the port) and set up your transcoding options. The following are ideal for the 770:

  • M4V video
  • MP3 audio
  • 256 kbps video
  • 64bps audio
  • Width: 400
  • Height: 244

You need to fiddle a bit to specify the width and height. As you select the options you’ll notice the “target” field at the top change. Highlight the bit that says “scale=1” and replace it with “width=400,height=244”. You can also select play locally if you want to see what it’s playing on the screen at the same time.

After you’ve done all that click OK as many times as necessary to get back out of the windows and click Play. The video will now be streaming to anyone trying to listen. The first thing to do is to test it using VLC itself. Open another instance of VLC and go to File -> Open Network Stream. Select HTTP and enter your IP address or (localhost) and the port you selected earlier. When you hit play you should see the video clip playing (quite small). If not, then try again…

Assuming it’s all working, it’s time to see it on the 770. Run XTerm (you really need XTerm if you want to do cool stuff with a 770) and type in the following:

mplayer -cache 8192 -aspect 16:9 http://your.ip.address:port

Hopefully you’ll have your video clip playing wonderfully on your 770 😀

256kbps is good enough for most clips at that resolution. Actions scenes get a bit blocky but don’t complain too much. 256kbps is also low enough to fit through most if not all ADSL upstream connections and, even better, small enough to fit through newer cellphone connections (the 770 can use a phone as a bluetooth modem). In fact UK readers on T-Mobile can get Web ‘n’ Walk Max for £22.50 a month get 10GB of bandwidth and are allowed to use the connection for video streaming and Voice Over IP.

My final goal would be getting it to work with MythTV (it can already use VLC for streaming) and have live TV anywhere I can get a signal on my phone…

Computers, Entertainment, PHP, Programming, Technology

Transcoding DVDs

Following my post about ripping DVDs, here is a method for transcoding the DVDs into something more manageable. I should point out that is probably for the more technical amongst you – there are certainly easier ways to do it but this has the advantage of being very automatable.

Since MythTV (and Linux in general) seems to like ffmpeg for video encoding/decoding, I figured I’d use that. You can get a binary version for Windows and read the documentation.

The actual command line I use to transcode is:
ffmpeg -i $in_file -vcodec xvid -qscale 5 -acodec copy $out_file

That means to use $in_file as input (a VOB file in my case), use the Xvid codec for the video, set the “quality” to 5, copy the audio straight from the original and save as $out_file. The quality in this case is just simplification of lots of other settings that are available. 1 is perfect and 31 is the worst. 5 results in files that are about 500MB per hour with MPEG artifacts that are visible when I’m sat at y desk but not when I sit on my bed six feet away which is where I normally watch video from. It may be worth transcoding a short clip with a few different settings to see which your happy with.

I made the whole process semi-automatic by writing a CLI PHP script that checks for VOB files in a specifc folder and transcodes the ones it finds. That way I can have the transcoding going on in the background while I rip the DVDs (and then leave it running it overnight to finish). I could make it available to anyone who wants it, but a batch files doing the same thing would probably be more useful for people…

There is one last caveat. I originally encoded the movies with MP3 audio and then half way though decided I want to keep the 5.1 audio (which the above method does). However the version of ffmpeg I used at first had a problem such that AVIs with AC3 audio played back with no sound. If you have a similar problem make sure you have the latest version of ffmpeg you can get.

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

Ripping DVDs

Since I’ve decided to try and set up a MythTV system I figured getting my DVD collection on to hard drive(s) would be a good move for convenience.

There’s a lot of information on the Internet about copying DVDs, whether to other DVDs, to CDs or to a hard drive in their original format or transcoded. I wanted to get the main movie only from a disk and transcode it to XviD for space saving. Here are the steps I have that worked (for Windows incidentally):

The first step is to get the main movie from the disc. This isn’t straightforward since most movies are put on DVDs in a way to deliberately make it confusing to get them off. I used a program called DVDDecrypter (getting a hold of this might be a problem since the original author doesn’t make it available any more due to a recent change in his local laws). DVDDecrypter has a mode called “IFO Mode”. IFO files are the files on a DVD that contain information about how the chapters and program streams go together. The basic idea is to find the program stream that “looks right”. In the case of a movie, the one that’s about an hour and a half long (or two hours -whatever) should be the right one.

This process is pretty quick, about 8 minutes on my Athlon 64 3000 for a movie 100 minutes long. The result is a .VOB file with just the section you selected. A .VOB is really just an MPEG file with specific encoding setting and possible subtitle information. Many media players can play these directly.

In the next part, I’ll deal with transcoding the VOB files.

It should be noted that there may be legal considerations with this sort of thing. A lot of DVDs are encrypted and bypassing the encrpytion may or may not be illegal where you live (for example it’s skirting on the edge of the DMCA). In my case I own all the DVDs I rip and the rips are of a (marginally) lower quality than the originals, don’t have 5.1 sound and are missing all the extra features. As such I feel any concept of fair use covers me morally. You have been warned however and follow any of this advice at your own risk.

Computers, Entertainment, Google, Technology

Fun with Google calculator

I’ve talked about the clever calculator features built into Google before. Most of my examples then were rather silly. Well I’ve started using it a bit more seriously recently. The great thing it does is allow unit conversions to be done effortlessly at the same time as the main calculation.

For example, I have a video clip that is about 350 MB and 45 minutes long. I want to know what the average bit rate for the encoding is, in kbps. 350 MB is 350 * 1024 * 8 kbits. 45 minutes is 45 * 60 seconds. Works those two out, divide the first by the second and I have my answer. Or just type 350 MB / 45 minutes in kbps into Google and I have my answer with far less effort.

Entertainment, Technology

The future of Stargate

In case you didn’t know, Stargate SG-1 has been “cancelled”. To be specific the Sci-Fi channel in America has decided not to pay for another series after series 10. But all is not lost. According to Wikipedia they will be making two straight-to-DVD movies by the end of the year (filming in April and June). The first will wrap up the Ori storyline and the other will be unrelated (check Wikipedia for some spoilers). Also another completely separate Stargate series is planned to start in 2008 :o)

Computers, Entertainment, Technology

A plethora of Myth distributions

Like Linux in general, there are few MythTV distributions you can get. Unlike Linux in general, most of them have specific purposes they work best for. The three popular ones I know of are:

MythDora is just Fedora with MythTV (and its dependencies). This is intended to leave you with a completely usable Linux installation that includes MythTV. It comes on DVD and is certainly the largest of the three.

KnoppMyth is either based on Knoppix or Debian (or really both) depending on how you look at it. Knoppix is a slimline distribution based on Debian and KnoppMyth was originally based on Knoppix. But I’m sure I read somewhere that the latest is version is just based on Debian but in the same way Knoppix is. Whatever the situation is, all you really need to know is that it is a minimal installation that leaves you with a fully functional MythTV installation but relatively little else.

MiniMyth is the smallest of the three and the most specialised. It only runs the frontend software and only the EPIA mini-ITX motherboards. Furthermore it is designed to run disklessly booting over a network – mainly as a silent set top box in your living room.

The only one I’ve actually tried is KnoppMyth which was easy enough to install. From what I’ve been reading they all seem easier than installing MythTV into an existing installation.