TiVo ToGo TooSlow – Redux

So, in the last day I’ve been playing catch-up to some folks who have already determined that using Sonic MyDVD transcoding for .tivo files was not for them either. They’ve detailed they’re steps, so I’ll just take a bit to gloss over mine.

Using the Moonlight-Elecard filters to convert a .tivo file to an .mpg file

So, in the last day I’ve been playing catch-up to some folks who have already determined that using Sonic MyDVD transcoding for .tivo files was way too slownot for them either. I want to use my own DVD authoring software using the video from TiVo. PVRBlog had posted an article nearly two weeks ago and I’ve found several other bloggers who have all come up with variations for the same process. They’ve detailed they’re steps, so I’ll just take a bit to gloss over mine.

  1. Download GraphEdit, a handy little program from Microsoft, which is part of DirectX 9.0 SDK. You can even find some help for GraphEdit on Microsoft’s MSDN site.
  2. Download X Muxer Pro from Moonlight. It’s a pre-release 1.0 version, but it’s currently free. This includes what will be your "filters" for GraphEdit. Once installed, GraphEdit will find them in you registry.
  3. Finally, grab the dump filter and RegDrop (unless you already know a better way for the next part of this step). Simply drag the dump.ax file onto RegDrop to add the filter to your list.
  4. Drag a .tivo file into the GraphEdit field and enter your password (TiVo’s not dumb). You’ll get some default filters connected to it, so just highlight them all and delete. Click Graph→Insert Filters…→ and find DirectShow Filters. You want Moonlight-Elecard MPEG2 Demultiplexer & Moonlight MPEG2 MultiplEX & Dump. For the dump filter, you’ll supply a file name (include the .mpg file type). You might want to check those all as favorite filters and save your .grf file, if this seems like something you’ll be doing a lot of.
  5. Connect them all up like you were wiring your entertainment system and press the green play button. It’s anticlimactic, but in about 5 minutes (for a 1 hour show) you’ve got yourself a .mpg file from your .tivo file.

That’s about 12x faster than the transcoder in MyDVD. Futher, now Now you can easily use the DVD authoring software of your choice. I’ll be using Nero 6 Ultra. This will still have to go through the process of transcoding the video, but I’m in control of what program I use. I like TiVo for recording television, but I don’t need them to decide what software I’ll use for making DVDs. They’re security features are still in tact.

You’re mpeg2 file will have a little logo in the top right-hand corner, but it’s nothing distracting. I apparently had an older Elecard codec that TiVo was using in Windows Media Player anyway, so if nothing else, this was a good way to update to a free (at least while it’s pre-release) codec. I would still recommend the download in my post yesterday, just so you can have some control over what codec Windows Media Player defaults to. It will tell you if TiVo has any problems with the one you’re choosing. All of the ones I tried seemed to work fine.

Finally, and I’m not just saying this to cover my ass: this is for personal use only. DO NOT redistribute these mpeg2 streams outside of your household. We have our fair use rights, but they do not allow us to violate copyright law. These mpeg2’s have the same license restrictions that the .tivo files have. Until we can change the law for the better, we have to live with it.

TiVo ToGo TooSlow

After three weeks, I finally got my service update for v7.1 of the TiVo kernal yesterday evening. By the next afternoon I had a DVD of recorded shows. Instant gratification it’s not.

After three weeks, I finally got my service update for v7.1 of the TiVo source code yesterday evening. I immediately installed v2.0 of TiVo Desktop, which is doesn’t have many more bells-and-whistles than the previous version. Oddly enough, my Linksys USB Wireless-B network adapter wasn’t working after rebooting the TiVo. Simply pulling out the USB connector and re-plugging it corrected the problem. What I would have liked to be doing is plugging in a Wireless-G adapter, but that wasn’t part of this update. This leads me to speed issue number one. Even though I have an "excellent" connection at my TiVo on the WiFi network, it takes approximately 1 hour to transfer 30 minutes of medium quality video. That’s not just slow, it’s damn near untenable. Why was the NFL worried in it’s case trying to block TiVo from having the ToGo service that people on the East Coast would be sending video to blocked out viewers on the West Coast? At this time, that is completely not possible using the out-of-the box hardware and software for TiVo. Can you modify it to do that? I’ve no doubt that can be done, but the NFL wasn’t going after those people.

With my TiVo once again on the network, I proceeded to download some of my recorded shows to my Windows machine (still no Desktop 2.0 for Mac? Will there ever be anything TiVo for Linux? Does anyone else find that ironic?). I wanted to check the show, so I opened one up in Windows Media Player, only to find this annoying message scrolling over my show stating that my Elecard MPEG2 Decoder had expired, and to go to some site to update. My Ass. Just download Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility and switch your default decoder. I happened to have two other versions of Cyberlink’s decoder installed. You probably have one, and if not, Power DVD from Cyberlink is relatively cheap and works nicely.

I installed the trial version of Sonic’s MyDVD 6.1. The software’s no more impressive than I remember the version preloaded on my Dell to be, but you can at least import custom made DVD menu themes from Photoshop. That’s a nice bonus that I don’t think Nero yet has. I just used a stock theme for my project, as custom themes are for people who don’t have new toys to play with. The video editing kept crashing the program, so I can’t tell you what its capabilities are. The chapter selection works well, which is the easiest way I’ve found around commercials for recorded television (I also have a Windows MCE PC, so it’s come up before). So now it was time to test the DVD burning.

Now, I had fears that it would cause a memory dump with my Plextor burner, as did the older version that I had scrapped after a Plextor tech support agent had explained the conflict. By the way, Plextor tech support is the best I’ve ever delt with, just in case that factors into your hardware decisions. Anyway, that conflict is why I was so disappointed TiVo was going with Sonic in the first place. Well, that at least was no problem. I was able to burn a DVD with Plextor as advertised on Sonic’s hardware list. However, if I thought transferring the data was the only slow thing I’d have to deal with, I was mistaken. Speed issue number two involves the fact that the TiVo video must be transoded to mpeg 2 for DVD. This is done at roughly a 1:1 speed. That is, for ever minute of recording, it takes about the same amount of time (or more) to transcode the video and audio. It’s like we’re downloading this stuff on a 28k modem all over again. It’s not that I don’t have a reasonably fast PC: a 3.0Ghz P4 with 512MB RAM and a SerialATA hard drive. It’s not the fastest I understand, but combined with the pokey 802.11B transfer, we’re talking nearly 6 hours to put together a DVD. Why did I even bother buying the really fast Plextor? Four times write, 8x write, what difference does it make at that point?

So TiVo ToGo hasn’t exactly let me down. I still plan to add on a couple of cavernous hard drives onto my home network to store some television series and a few movies. Some of these will, in time, even make their way to DVD. However, I don’t think I’ll be passing out copies of football games or movies anytime really soon. My time’s too valuable to spend it just trying to piss off the NFL and the MPAA.

iPod Shuffle And The Bigger Question

I think that we should consider how we really listen to our music, and not just what we think we’ll be missing. It’s role in the iPod family is not to be your entire music library on the go, it is just a random snapshot of it.

Photo by pt courtesy of Flickr

So it would seem that Apple’s latest hot product, the iPod Shuffle, might as well be called the iPod Ruffle, as in feathers. Just to mention a couple of posts I came across today from poeple whose opinions I value. Chris Anderson of The Long Tail fame writes that it suffers from the same problem as commercial radio in that the user gives up the ability to hear the songs they really like, or in his words, "the signal-to-noise ratio in your own collection can be nearly as variable as that in any commercial music service." Anderson ends his article by stating that he doesn’t think the Shuffle will have the same impact on the market that the now nearly ubiquitous iPod had. Irman Ali seems to like the Shuffle okay, but finds interest in the fact that Apple markets what he writes is the products greatest weakness, the randomness, as it’s strength.

First, I know that I can’t speak for everyone who listens to music (that’d be about everyone with hearing, right?). I have some purist friends that prefer to listen to only entire albums from start to finish. They’re not big fans of the shuffle (or random, if you don’t use Apple products). However, I almost exclusively listen to iTunes or my iPod using that feature. I am my own radio station, so to speak. Sure I like some songs more than others, but I am constantly coming back across songs I hadn’t heard in quite a while and had nearly forgotten about. I see this as the opposite of Anderson, in that I am looking down into the long tail of my own collection. Rather than using the recommendation mechanics of Amazon or iTunes Store, I am using "chance," to quote Apple’s Ad. Honestly, I find this an economical way of keeping myself entertained, as it keeps me from buying new music as much. Instead, I’m rediscovering music I already had.

Sure, I’ve got some duds (namely, that Best of James album I bought for the song Laid), but I could just as well take those songs out of my collection. I’d never miss them. But so what if I didn’t and occasionally they got loaded onto the Shuffle. There’s a skip button for just such emergencies, which I suppose works in shuffle mode. Also, autofill has the option to choose higher rated songs more often. This is about as ideal as shuffle gets, and although I don’t much use the ratings feature of iTunes or my iPod, I imagine that’d become of your routine with the Shuffle. My only complaint there not having the ability to export that information (maybe as xml like one of Anderson’s commentors suggests).

I don’t think anyone could have predicted the iPod would have the dramatic market explosion that we’ve witnessed. It wasn’t the first portable digital music player (remember when we just called them all mp3 players?) and it has never been the cheapest. However, it had a great design, both in style and interface so it sold millions. Further, iTunes is really a great piece of software. If for no other reason, it’s a nice and free ripper. It’s also got great library management features. Is Apple’s motivation to have an online music store to sell iPods or is it to sell iPods just to make a killing off of song downloads? I don’t know. I’m sure they’ve got some pretty good margins on both fronts. I do think, though, that having an entry level, USB drive based mp3 player labled as an iPod is only going to help the brand. I fall on the other side of the fence from Anderson on this one as well. I say the iPod Shuffle is going to solidify the market as Apple’s.

One other point that a lot of people seem to ripping the Shuffle on is it’s lack of screen. Seriously, stop with the jokes about putting a sticky note over the iPod screen. It’s stale now. So what if it doesn’t have a screen? Do people honestly look at the screen during every song? I bought all most of those songs, and I know pretty much what I’m listening to.

Finally, what I’m saying here is that it’s not fair to compare the Shuffle to the good old iPod. One costs $99 and the other costs $249 (the Mini). No one thinks it’s fair to compare a Toyota Corrolla to a Lexus ES330, so why is this apples:apples? So that’s the bigger question, here. My answer is to give the Shuffle a chance. It’s role in the iPod family is not to be your entire music library on the go, it is just a random snapshot of it and that’s also got some interest. I think that we should consider how we really listen to our music, and not just what we think we’ll be missing.

Video Searching Using Google

The power behind this is the use of closed caption to create searchable text from television. The nice thing here is that you can search video based on total spoken content.

The latest post over at PVR Blog by Matt Haughey is about Google’s Beta site testing their new video search tool (also at Wired). Unfortunately, right now, there’s not a whole lot of video out there to be watching. So if you looking to download some free porn, you might want to use another site. Every search I tried came back with "Video is currently not available." Of course, I was searching for only family-friendly content.

The power behind this is the use of closed caption to create searchable text from television. The nice thing here is that you can search video based on total spoken content. Someday, we’ll be able to search on scene tags (like Flickr). Until then, we’re stuck with really bad closed caption auto-translations, like this:

David duh cub any stays next X Files movie will Likely shoot late they are year and it will be a stand-alone horror film.

from my search for x files. Now, I suppose the small amount of pages that turn up are because this things only been collect data for a very short period of time (like 2 weeks), so it will get better. Maybe the computer translations will get better, as well.

TiVo users, such as myself, would love to see easy to use links in the search results for upcoming shows. This could be very easily implemented by Google using the "Link to This" feature of TiVo, which I first read about at George Hotelling’s site (he currently writes for PVRBlog). Sadly, the links TiVo uses there aren’t easily deciphered by humans to write into code (hint, hint: use timestamps and English words, like normal searches). Anyway, maybe even if Google doesn’t decide to do it, a FireFox plug-in might accomplish the same thing by recognizing video search results and giving some handy dandy recording options, sort of like what Chris Anderson was wishing for at The Long Tail.

So it appears that with some of the recent moves by Google (i.e. – scanning library documents, video searching, and pretty much everything except g-mail), they are setting themselves up to be the world archivers of information. They also give us a number of ways to use and manipulate that information with their very simple and efficient searches. I’m not sure that what the video search gives us as yet provides anything we can’t already do even more efficiently elsewhere, but being able to search verbal content of television and film is obviously a huge leap in the usability of that form of data. How long until life is just one big database held on Google’s notoriously frugal servers?

Is Wired Getting Tired?

I’m loath to admit it, but I’m afraid that this month’s Wired magazine that came sneaking through my mail slot this afternoon is not their best work.

Wired Magazine, Feburary 2005

I’m loath to admit it, but I’m afraid that this month’s Wired magazine that came sneaking through my mail slot this afternoon is not their best work. The cover article is on Firefox, and it’s early beginnings with Blake Ross & Ben Goodger. I enjoyed getting to read about the two of them and the history on my favorite open source software. However, 1.0 came out in the Fall of last year. No one was staying up late to get this story done for print. To point, the article closes with the "where are they now" bit on Ross and Goodger, explaining that Goodger plans to stay at the Mozilla Foundation. Of course, this evening Slashdot reports that Goodger plans to go work for Google, effective two weeks ago.

In another article, the prolific Lawrence Lessig writes how Wilco is the new model for a rock band of the future. You should read his article (and pretty much anything else he writes), but again we’re not talking about any recent happenings here. Wilco broke record company hearts with Yankee Foxtrot Hotel way back in April of 2002. I was a newly-wed back then! And even then, they were about as big as bands get in the alt-country scene. Just ask my brother, Dave. I enjoyed the piece none-the-less, but Jeff Tweedy must be just as oblique in person as he is as a songwriter.

Lastly, one of the little tidbits in Wired I always look forward to, other than their FOUND: Artifacts From the Future closer each month, is the Jargon Watch. This month, they gave me:

Buttnumbathon – A painfully long and boring movie. See: Oliver Stone’s Alexander. (Better yet, don’t.) Also the name of reviewer Harry Knowles’ annual film marathon and birthday bash.

Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News has been throwing these things together for the last six years running! This is not the latest in jargon my friends.

I’m looking forward to next month’s Wired. They’ve got two months now to find some new stuff. Since MacExpo S.F. and CES L.V., maybe they’ll have at least plenty of gadgets to write about.

Beauty Is Skin Deep

To anyone who isn’t reading this site by Braille, you can tell that the look is changing. Of course, that’s all that’s changing since I’m spending this evening playing with the style sheet. To facilitate an on-going discussion between myself and the Jedi Master designer, Jason Johnson, I thought I’d create a new post to which comments on such things seem relevant.

I’m making no promises to what final form this site will take, other than the fact it will have lots of information create by me about things I find interesting. Short of that, anything goes. It’s all about the journey here. I’m discovering new things about CSS, WordPress, and Flickr all the time and this is my little sandbox with which to play them. Also, I’m hoping to learn a few hacks in PHP when time allows. When will the fun stop?

Fast-Paced First Week

I can hardly believe that five whole days have gone by since I started my new job. I have to say that I’m feeling a great deal more optimistic since my last post, too.

My Office View

Looking out the window at my new office onto the snow from the last two days in Richmond.

I can hardly believe that five whole days have gone by since I started my new job. I think that even after psyching my self up for a month, I wasn’t prepared for the quick pace of work here. I got on a project first thing on Monday morning, and I’ve been busy with it pretty much the entire time since (well, at work anyway). I have to say that I’m feeling a great deal more optimistic since my last post, too. It’s not that I thought I’d made a mistake, it was just that sinking feeling of realizing just how much I was stepping backward, in a career sense.

My boss and I did get to make a site visit downtown Richmond on Tuesday, though. It was about 20º F, in the sun with 15-20 mph winds. I have a whole new level of respect for those construction guys out grouting lintel seats and hanging structural steel. Insane. We’ve had snow the last couple of days here in Richmond, so I doubt they’ve had much of a chance to continue. This photo is looking out my new office window. I took it around lunch on Friday. I realize it’s not a spectacular view, but since I couldn’t see any daylight from the desk at my old job, I feel as though I’ve moved up in the world.

I’ve spent the week learning all about RAM International‘s Structural System design software package. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed thus far. I’ve used a number of software solutions for structural analysis and design, and RAM has lived up to its billing as a one of the best. It is very much geared to the building industry, and therefore can tailor its solutions accordingly. I miss some of the open ended-ness of some of the other packages I’ve used (STAAD, GTSTRUDL) or even the more straight forward frame input of other building design software (RISA 3D). However, you trade all that for the speed and complete-ness that RAM offers. Sure, I can’t custom edit elements to create out-of-plan beams, for example. What I can do, though, is enter in and design an entire two-story school building in a manner of hours. Pretty slick.

The other task this week was learning a little more about building construction. Fortunately, the education system for the structures portion of civil engineering is catered to the building industry. I got to spend the last 3 years learning a good bit about bridge design (albeit, only steel bridges). Now, I get to actually use some of the things I learned in school towards design. Now, if only I could start using LRFD steel design.

Just as an aside, I’m using a new utility for WordPress called FlickIt. It simply adds a quicktag to your editor allowing to easily insert a hyperlinked Flickr image. It’s not perfect, but works does exactly what it claims to and is free (after they got into a little trouble with the company that owns Flickr for charging). Anyway, I mention it because I know a lot of my friends use both WordPress and Flickr and might want an easier way of getting them to play together.

The Village

From all the previews last summer, we were both expecting a horror/suspense film. Some day, I’ll learn to not trust those advertisements.

M. Night Shyamalan's The Village

It snowed on Wednesday night, so Angela unexpectedly got to come home from work early. We stayed in and watched M. Night Shyamalan‘s The Village. From all the previews last summer, we were both expecting a horror/suspense film. Some day, I’ll learn to not trust those advertisements. Angela, who isn’t the fan of horror films that I am, wanted to watch the film with me around, lights on, and surround sound turned off. Well, that’s not the best way to watch a DVD at home, but oh well.

The film is Shyamalan‘s take on a period piece. The actors follow through with the idea superbly. His method of long, static shots really lends itself to the period, as well. This film shot with flashy, MTV-style editing would have been horrible. Now, about the period: I got the impression of a late 19th century, Transcendentalist style utopia. I couldn’t think that some (if not all) of the people involved with this had recently read Thoreau. I certainly got the impression that the character of Edward Walker, played by William Hurt, had at some point.

The Village doesn’t have the same linearity of Signs, which was basically your straight-forward alien invasion/suspense film. Its gift was in its ability to come full circle with story elements. The Village is more like The Sixth Sense in that it contains the kind of twist that alter the very way you perceive what it is that you’re watching. A horror film becomes a love film. It’s almost like Poltergeist being mashed with Ghost, but with much better direction.

However, if The Sixth Sense had a hard right turn at the half-way point, then this film certainly has two. One in the final meeting of Lucius and Noah and another in the opposite direction at the forbidden shed. Even if you expect the dramatic twists (and you do with Shyamalan at this point) and even if you can guess what’s coming next, Shyamalan doesn’t fail to impress. He has a gift for film making, and even more so for story telling. I have noticed that, after watching the scenes he deleted from his film, I can tell that they fell out in the editing room and not when he had a chance to re-shoot some scenes. Several of his films will make mention of an incident that we only later see in a deleted sequence. Given how much I enjoy his movies, I’ll forgive him this.

I think, on the whole, this film was over-hyped yet highly under-rated. Sure, the media blitz was huge and very misdirecting. I imagine the word-of-mouth stopped after the first weekend just because everybody told their friends ‘It’s not scary at all!’ Most of my favorite films are ones that weren’t anything at all like I was expecting, instead they were much better. I can’t tell you if, in a year or two, I’ll be dying to watch The Village all over again, but I can say that I did really enjoy the movie.

The New Job Begins

I can say whole-heartedly, I have begun all over again.

My first day at Stroud, Pence, & Associates was today. I can say whole-heartedly, I have begun all over again. It’s certainly humbling, but a good experience. I’m with a much smaller outfit now, and everyone comes across as being good natured and supportive (not that they weren’t at URS).

I got an e-mail from a friend today who, upon reading this blog, was worried that things might not be going so well. I hadn’t thought about the tone that previous post might have had until that. So, the story thus far (skip to next paragraph if you’ve heard this one): after some soul-searching, I decided that the time in my life to try the other branch of structural engineering was now. The other branch being building design, as I was formerly working in the design of bridges. I took a job offer with a engineering firm based out of Virginia Beach, VA (see above) in mid-December, and left my job at URS Corporation on the 7th of this month.

That gets us to my first day. I’m very fortunate to be a company with plenty of work. I was added as a structural engineer to a building design first thing this morning (apparently, my boss thought this would be a good learning project). Of course, what most people wouldn’t know that aren’t in the structural business, the pace of building design is a great deal faster than that of bridges (months, as opposed to years). So, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, but not surprised. I’ve a great deal to learn, but that was the very idea behind taking the job. I’ve also had a month to psyche myself up for the process.

I suppose, I should feel pretty good about the first day. As it turns out, the hardest part was filling out all those tax and benefit forms. The structures part, what little there was of it today, came easy. I’m sure that will change soon enough, but I’m not going to rush it.

TiVo Made Something Difficult?

The Washington Post has a review of the new TiVo ToGo service, which I’m still awaiting my service update for. The reviewer feels getting the media to your PC is too difficult for most users. I thought he might be refering to the fact that the TiVo desktop and the Sonic MyDVD aren’t as well integrated as he’d like (not that’d he know since the required update of MyDVD isn’t available yet). Nope. He thinks setting up the TiVo on a network is too difficult. Sure, I’m a geek and love that stuff, but it’s a wonder this guy can turn his laptop on.