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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Home Theater Update

I bought a small personal computer a couple of months ago to use with my big screen TV. I installed Linux and we have been using it. It works, but it is far from satisfactory. Let me count the ways it disappoints.
  • The TV is five or ten years old, and the internal dimensions of the screen are not the same as the external ones. There is an area about ten pixels wide all around the screen that you cannot see. When you are watching a full screen image from a show you don't notice this, but when you are trying to do any computer stuff all kinds of things are getting cut off. Fixing this might be possible by digging into the code and / or the configuration settings, but it would take a lot of work determine what would have to be changed to fix this. And there's no telling if it could even be fixed. The video driver is from Nvidia, and even though this is supposed to be an Open Source system, the driver is not.
  • I am using a wireless keyboard with a built in trackball to talk to the computer and it works pretty well, but not really well. It is adequate for doing a limited number of known operations, but for any kind of real computer work it pales in comparison to having a real mouse. I do like the sit-on-the-couch-with-my-feet-up working position however.
  • Ubuntu (the version of Linux I am using) has a real problem with this wireless keyboard. It usually works fine, but periodically it will stall for a few seconds. This is extremely annoying when I am trying to type something. I have gotten so tired of this that I no longer try and type more than a single line of text on that system. If I need to type more, I will take my USB widget and walk downstairs to the basement and use my aging Windows XP box. Whether this problem is the fault of the keyboard or Linux, or a combination of the two, I have  not been able to determine. I suspect Ubuntu.
  • Pretty much all of the video available over the net is of wretched quality. Admittedly, most of the free (read pirate) sites are awful, but some of the prime (authorized, commercial) sites are not much better. NBC in particular was really bad the one time we tried it. I suppose if you are watching on your smart phone it would be okay, although I fail to see the attraction of watching anything on a smart phone, but then I am old. Whatever, dude. In any case, the quality of ALL of the video from the net is much worse than what is available over the air.
  • I am not sure what is going on with Ubuntu, but I don't think I like it. Many things work very well. I mean I was able to get it up and running on this box using only the semi-crippled wireless keyboard. I didn't have to hack into the bowels and recompile the world or even spend a whole lot of time on it. Scratch that last one. I have no idea how much time I spent on it. Ubuntu, or rather Canonical, the commercial operation behind Ubuntu, seem to be trying to make it more Apple like. They are adding new kinds of user interface programs. Maybe they will make it more usable by middle school girls, but I don't care. The latest snafu was trying to find the terminal program. It is basically the equivalent of the DOS box in Windows. Turns out under Linux there are a couple of them and under Ubuntu they are kept in very different places. There is an "application launcher" that allows you to point and click to run various programs. The bad terminal program ("Xterm") is stored under "System" and the good terminal program ("terminal") is found under accessories. Why?
  • Launchpad is a combination forum / bug reporting system for Ubuntu and some other Open Source projects, and it works very well, technically. The organization behind it, well, they are only people. I put in a number of comments / complaints a while back, some of which could only have been bugs, and the only one that seems to have gotten any traction is the one regarding emailing of passwords to Launchpad account holders. I think this may be why I don't have a job in software development.
  • The whole point of this exercise was to build my own DVR (Digital Video Recorder) using MythTV. I bought a USB tuner and installed MythTV, but I have not been able to make the combination work. Admittedly I am only using the little whip antennae that came with the tuner, but you would think I would be able to get something. But no. After much poking around, I finally located the "scan channels" button and pushed it and . . . nothing. Not one stinking channel. I supposed I should try hooking it up to the big antennae in the attic, but I am afraid that is going to open a rathole, and if I am going to have to crawl inside I want my hand on a real mouse. Not this stupid trackball.


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