Archive for February, 2010

Goodbye MediaPortal Hello XBMC

Posted: February 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

When I was about 12 years old my cousin had a Sinclair Spectrum with rubber keys, 48K of ram and a tape recorder for loading and saving programs. He had bought it second hand and it came with tapes containing programs that the previous owner had written, or more likely transcribed from some or other magazine.

One that fascinated me was a simple database of music singles. Lots of old stuff, Elvis, Buddy Holly etc. What really interested me was the notion that in the future with a database like that you could actually play the songs, rather than just look at information about them like Record Label, Year, Songwriter etc.

When I got my first PC years later I tried creating a database that had all that information and the music too. I think I copied about 3 songs to WAV format before I realised that the whole process would be too tedious.

Today you can rip your CD’s to your hard drive. The software can pull in all the tedious information from the internet. It can display cover art, even the lyrics of the songs. We have reached, and passed where 12 years old me wanted to be.

A few years ago I had another vision of the future. Instead of getting up off my ass and finding a particular DVD I should just be able to select the movie I want on my computer, just like I do with music. It should have all the extras that a DVD contains. In short I wanted my DVD’s available at the click of a button.

Naturally, I didn’t want to be stuck watching DVD’s on 15″ PC monitors. I saw myself plonked on the couch in front of my TV, with surround sound, nice lighting, and all my DVD’s available through a snazzy user interface.

Back then the technology for that still wasn’t around, and to the extent that it existed it was as tedious as my early experiments with music were. But, technology has caught up, and as of today my entire collection of movies is now residing on a couple of hard drives. TV Shows are next up.

I’m sitting on my couch as I type this (on a laptop). My TV is just over there. Surround Sound? Check. Proper lighing? Check.
All my DVD’s available through a nice user interface. Check.

After that long meandering introduction, here’s the details of what I’ve done. There was a bit of trial and error and a lot of miss steps along the way, and if this post saves someone else some time It will have served it’s purpose.

I started by trying out Microsoft’s built in media center. I very quickly got tired of it. I didn’t like the look. It seemed to hang fairly regularly. And I couldn’t figure out how to get it to do the things I wanted, like play a DVD from my hard drive, or download details about movies and display nice cover art etc. It may be that it can do all these things, but it can’t do them out of the box.

If I want to go down the road of third party plug-ins etc then I might as well go the whole way and see what alternatives there are to media center.

One of the first alternatives I found was MediaPortal

It seemed to do much of what I wanted. I installed the wonderful StreamedMP skin which also gave me the fantastic MovingPictures and MyTVSeries plugins. I also used Daemon Tools Light which allowed me to play ISO files. I could rip my DVD collection to ISO files and they would play within MediaPortal.

I was living the dream.

But there were problems. MediaPortal was slow. My machine was well above the suggested spec, but it was damn slow. It would also freeze A LOT. It was virtually impossible to scroll through the list of movies without it locking up. If the machine ever went into sleep mode you might as well give up and reboot.

I upgraded to Windows 7 and the freezing seemed to be less of a problem, but the remote control no longer worked.

Also, from time to time when I would try to play an ISO file it would take literally minutes to load. Up to 7 or 8 minutes.
It was as if MediaPortal was copying the entire ISO over a network before playing it, even though the ISO was a local file.
Other times it would start playing immediately. Really annoying.

I upgraded to a Beta version of the latest Media Portal release and the remote started working but it was all still very slow and buggy.
To be expected from a Beta, and I waited patiently for a more stable release.

The MediaPortal guys seem to have shifted attention to MediaPortal 2 which seems to be a complete rebuild. It might be fantastic, but in the meantime I’m trying to get my PC to play movies. Eventually a newer release emerged and I upgraded. It had a few improvements, but in fairness it wasn’t dramatically better. Still very slow. Still the occasional freeze up. Now when an episode of a tv show ended MediaPortal would vanish. it was still running, but you had to hit Alt-F4 to shut it down, then restart it.

Around this time I had lunch with a friend who suggested Boxee. As soon as I got home I installed it. It was a revelation. It was fast. It was pretty slick looking. It would play ISO files without needing to mess around with Daemon Tools or virtual drives. Did I mention that it was fast?

Sadly, Boxee requires you to create an account. There’s a whole social network thing going on. The problem is that Boxee is commercial, and I’d really prefer not to have a commerical company watching me log in and keeping track of what I watch. I see no reason for it. By all means create a social layer if you want, but if I don’t like it then let me use the software without logging in.

Boxee also had serious problems matching up my movies and tv shows with information from the internet, and had no way of allowing me to manually override it’s mistakes. Boxee’s reign on my HTPC was short. The end was swift and brutal.

It got me thinking though. I checked out XBMC which is the daddy of all these programs. MediaPortal branched from XBMC. Boxee branched from XBMC. I’m sure half a dozen other media centers have their origins in it.

So I installed XBMC.

The clouds parted, the sun shone on the TV, and god himself sighed with pleasure (I later discovered that was my hard drive groaning, but that’s a different story). XBMC loaded fast, it was really responsive. It matched up my movies pretty well. I could manually overwrite it’s mistakes. It loaded and played ISO files blazingly fast. I really can’t stress this enough. To test it I tried running XBMC on a laptop connecting via WiFi (G) to the network. It loaded an ISO file over the network and played it instantly and flawlessly.

best of all when I played a movie using XBMC my AV Receiver would flash up Dolby or DTS in all the right places. Somehow, without me having to spend days on forums and hack my registry, XBMC just seemed to work. Glorious surround sound, movies like they should be. I added the Transparency skin, which improved the whole look of things.

I installed no plug-ins. I installed a few skins which literally could not have been simpler.

I can’t stress strongly enough how much easier the whole process of setting up and using XBMC has been compared to MediaPortal, or even Boxee. It is genuinely a classy piece of software.

It’s not perfect. I have a few problems with my remote, but as far as I can tell I’ll be table to get to the bottom of those.
It seems to me that XBMC doesn’t upscale DVD’s as well as Boxee, but I might be imagining that.

XBMC doesn’t do Recording or Timeshifting of Live TV, infact it doesn’t do TV at all, other than playing pre-recorded episodes. That isn’t a problem for me, my cable set top box never played nice with computers in any case so I wouldn’t have been using that feature.

XBMC is the first media center application that I can honestly suggest to non techie users (The so-called Wife and Kids (WAK) demographic).

Sargent Major Trouble

Posted: February 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

Before the last general election Trevor Sargent told the country that he would not lead the Greens into government with Fianna Fail. We should have paid very careful attention to his wording. He didn’t say he wouldn’t go into government with Fianna Fail. He didn’t say the Greens wouldn’t help Fianna Fail stay in government. He said that “HE wouldn’t LEAD the Greens into government with Fianna Fail”.

As we now know he was true to the letter of his word if not that spirit. He stepped aside to allow John Gormley LEAD the Greens into government with Fianna Fail. And he didn’t step aside in protest. He accepted a job as a Junior Minister.

When a government is founded on a lie what chance does it have?

If there is any justice in the collapse of the economy it is that the Greens by pulling this bait and switch ensured that the architects of the collapse (Fianna Fail) had to be in power when it inevitably happened. One can only imagine the spin that Fianna Fail would have dreamed up if Fine Gael had been unlucky enough to with the last election.

Prior to the election people inside Fianna Fail were saying that it was “the election to lose”. Make no mistake, they knew what was coming down the line.

The other great justice of course is that by swindling the voters, the Greens ensured that they are right there in the middle of it and being wiped out. The Greens don’t deserve the blame for our economic woes, but they do deserve the blame for allowing Fianna Fail to remain in power, and boy are they getting what they deserve on that front.

The Irony is that if the Greens had been in opposition when the country was falling apart they would have had more “I told you so” moment than they knew what to do with. They would certainly have done well in the local elections and would have picked up seats when the next general election came along.

What a price to pay for keeping Fianna Fail in government. Justice isn’t usually served this efficiently in politics.

And so to this week. I jump in the car to drive to the accountants and I hear murmurings about Trevor Sargent. By the time I leave the accountants to drive home he’s gone, resigned.

I don’t buy the notion that Sargent is some sort of saint or wronged man. It’s quite interesting to hear people praise him for leaving office without a fight. Or praising him for donating his payoff to charity. Or praising him for just trying to help out a constituent.

I can’t get my head around the notion that ministers can write to Gardai on department headed notepaper, and lobby on behalf of a person that is the subject of an investigation or prosecution. When we hear people calling radio shows to defend such actions we get a real insight into how bad legislators keep getting elected to the Dail. It’s hard enough to keep lobbyists from influencing politicians, but in this country there is an acceptance that it’s ok for politicians to lobby the gardai.

In simple terms the Irish demand wiggle room when it comes to laws and ethics. The same wiggle room perhaps that Sargent used to get into government in the first place. The notion that “we get the government we deserve” seems more and more apt with every passing day. Perhaps it’s better to say that we get the government that listeners to Liveline deserve.

Sargent’s greatest sin wasn’t lobbying the garda. Thankfully the garda was sensible enough to ignore him. There was no real harm done by Sargent’s intervention. The real damage was actually done in the past few days as the story came to light. The real damage was fostering the myth that Sargent was honest and just trying to help. Perpetuating the notion that this sort of behavior should be ok and Sargent is a wronged man.

And of course, the man who became a minister on the back of a lie left office on the back of one too. He spoke outside the Dail on his resignation and gave the clear impression that this was something in his past, he had forgotten about it. We then learn that he had written letters as recently as last week.

I haven’t parsed his resignation speeches to see if he stuck to the letter of the truth, but he definitely showed scant regard for the spirit of the truth.

So. No change there then.

As for giving his payoff to charity, surely the question we need to ask here is why someone to resigns after breaking the law is getting €50,000 of a payoff. It would also be nice to know when happened to minister O’Dea’s payoff. It looks now like the taxpayer actually paid a good chunk of the damages in is defamation case.

Williegate

Posted: February 18, 2010 in politics

I don’t want to get up on any high horse about ethics in public office, or Willie O’Dea lowering the public’s opinion of politicians. I don’t believe he has done any such thing. He has simply lived down to the very low standards that the public have come to expect.

The Greens in supporting him have confirmed what we all knew. Their talk about high standards in high places was nothing more than populist bluster. They too have lived down to the low standards they claim to oppose, again no surprise there.

And Fianna Fail. Ah Fianna Fail. Is there no end to the entertainment you give us?
There’s really no point lowering our expectations of Fianna Fail because if limboing beneath expectations of decency and honesty was an Olympic sport Fianna Fail would be a global superstar that makes Usain Bolt look like an out of shape jogger.

So, let’s forget all that nonsense. Let’s forget about the explanations given by O’Dea, we know he’s a liar so why pay any heed to his version of events. Let’s instead piece together what really happened here, so that the rest of us can understand it, agree about it and move on.

Here’s what actually happened.

O’Dea heard or invented a rumour about Mr. Quinlivan. He claims he heard it from a Garda, but he won’t name the Garda. Given O’Dea’s record I see no reason to believe his claims about the Gardai. Let’s put this part of the story down as “questionable”.

O’Dea claims he “accidentally, or inadvertently” repeated the rumours to a journalist, and then promptly forgot that he had. This is clearly a Lie. The only way Mr. O’Dea could forget such outrageous claims is if he routinely makes similar claims and this claim wasn’t in any way special.

If it was out of character for him, he would have remembered. If it was in character for him then he couldn’t have been sure enough of having not made the statements to swear an affidavit.

Mr O’Dea claims that his affidavit was a “mistake” not perjury. This is a lie.

How do we know that Mr O’Dea committed perjury in his affidavit rather than simply making a mistake?

His own words convict him.

He claimed on the RTE News at 1 on February 18th that “he knew a tape existed of the interview BEFORE he made his sworn affidavit”. He uses this as evidence that he couldn’t have committed perjury because it would have been “illogical” to do so.

Isn’t it even more illogical to swear an affidavit about what you did or didn’t say in an interview without checking the contents of a tape that you know exists?

Mr O’Dea claimed in the Dail on February 17th that he heard the rumour from a Garda, but made no mention of the Garda in his affidavid because the rumour “turned out to be wrong”.

So he admits that he remembers hearing the rumour, he remembers who he heard it from. He remembers learning at some point that the rumour was false, so this wasn’t something he heard in passing and forgot. It was something that was on his mind, however he forgets passing on the rumour, and was willing to swear an oath that he hadn’t passed it on when he could have simply checked the tape or told the court that the tape existed.

It just doesn’t stack up. The reason it doesn’t stack up is that Mr. O’Dea knowingly committed perjury.

It is interesting that his memory of the interview is so vague that he can forget making wild claims about a political opponent, but fresh enough that he can remember there being a tape recorder. He seems to have studied at the Bertie Ahern school of selective amnesia. Perhaps Fianna Fail run night classes.

Ironically if he claimed to have forgotten there was a tape then his whole story would hang together much better. We can be thankful that Mr. O’Dea lies first and thinks later.

I’m amazed the Greens haven’t asked for his head on a plate. It would seem like a no-brainer. Force the sacking of Willie, and they get to look like they can still wag the dog, they get to stay in government.

Supporting O’Dea seems like a lose lose for the Greens. It confirms the perception that Fianna Fail is running rings around them and leaves them open to an embarrassing u-turn when O’Dea’s facade of lies eventually comes tumbling down.

Even if O’Dea survives he has done a service for those of us hoping to see the back of this government. He has weakened Greena Fail and made them more susceptible to the next banana skin.

Enda Kenny on YouTube

Posted: February 11, 2010 in politics

Well, it’s been a bad week for Fine Gael and Enda Kenny. Or so the media would have us believe.

OK, it’s pretty bad when you can’t come up with good reasons for not going into government with Sinn Fein. How embarassing. And yes, unveiling George Lee as the Mesiah and then having to admit a few months later that he’s actually just a very naughty boy, well that’s no fun.

But has it really been a bad week for Fine Gael? I don’t think so. In the grand scheme of things it hasn’t been particularly bad. Let’s look at some of the other bad weeks and months that this week had to compete with.

This is a party that is in opposition during the greatest economic collapse in the history of the state. A collapse that anyone with a functioning frontal lobe can trace back to Fianna Fail.

Have Fine Gael have managed land any punches? Have they F@*K.

Any votes Fine Gael have picked up seem to be protest votes rather than energized inspired voters. I suspect this partly because I’m one of those forced to choose between the corrupt idiots of Fianna Fail and the honest idiots of Fine Gael. l also don’t seem to be alone. Again and again conversations about the state of the country seem to be a mix of desperation for a bit of common sense leadership and despair that there’s no chance of it materializing.

If you were Fine Gael right now, what would you do?

Personally I think I’d have a couple of creative teams working on short commercials and movie clips that explain how we got into this mess and how Fine Gael will get us out of it. Go Viral. Uploading a PDF of a dail speech or a policy paper to a website is not going to win you votes or get your message across.

In my days teaching I worked on a simple principal that even complex issues can be explained to a seven year old, and if you can’t explain something it’s only because you don’t understand it.

I don’t understand how Fine Gael would rescue the country. I’ve tried paying attention and I don’t get it. It might be that I’m stupid, but I think it’s partly down to the fact that Fine Gael don’t understand their own message. They’re so desperate to be popular that they contradict themselves.

Out of curiosity I googled to see what Fine Gael was uploading to YouTube in the last few days. What I found was one of the most boring interviews I have ever seen. As an opener, to get you hooked Enda Kenny tells us that he was asked to chair a meeting. WOW!!! You really get us Enda. You had us at Hello.

See the YouTube clip here.

Ireland needs an opposition. NAMA is happening and kids who’s parents have not yet been born will pay for it. Taxes paid for decades to come will cover the interest on NAMA rather than on education or healthcare. And where is the opposition? It’s on YouTube telling us about chairing meetings.

Get the finger out. Hire someone to make a few charts and diagrams. Add a bit of animation and graphics. Get some quotes from actual experts. Take Fianna Fail’s lies about NAMA apart bit by bit and lay them bare for all to see.

If I didn’t know better I’d suspect Fine Gael don’t want to win the next election.