Satellite Tuning Mystery Solved?

I’ve got a WinTV DVB card set up to scan the skies using a satellite dish from A Well-Known DTH Satellite Provider left over from the previous residents (wow, that’s a mouthful). Tuning the card has proved problematic as I’ve never been able to switch satellites cleanly. Instead, I’ve had to switch polarity a few times before the card would lock on to a channel.

Borrowing a ladder, I hiked up to the dish, took a look, and with the help of the Internets figured out the problem. It seems the DTH Provider’s equipment wasn’t initially designed to work multiple satellties. The switch used to change satellites was a proprietary hack to get the dumb equipment working with multiple “birds.” Because its proprietary, my DVB card doesn’t know how to talk to it.

I could wire both LNBFs up down to the garage and switch manually if I wanted, or I can wait for a new DiSEqC switch gets here next week. After that, its on to buying more dishes and increasing the number of channels I can view!

(For a primer on all this mumbo-jumbo, I recommend a visit to the FTAList website.)

Fourth Of July Stuff (looong)

The long weekend is now over. There’s been a lot going on throughout. I’ll try to summarize as best I can.

I left work Friday a little earlier than usual in order to swing by DHL to drop off some shipments for work. I assumed this would be routine, but it was anything but. The packages are headed to Mexico, which means a buttload more paperwork needed to be filled out. I rushed home to pull up the DHL website and complete the paperwork, only to find their website absolutely sucks. It crashed Mozilla and Firefox straightaway, but in IE, it waited until I’d filled out 99% of the forms before it ate it. I cursed that thing for the three times it took for me to get it right. I’m crossing my fingers that it will actually get there.

Kelly, Hallie, and Travis joined me for my trip back to DHL. We got there ten minutes before they closed (so much for leaving early, eh?). With that off my plate, we got dinner at Zest in Celebration at Six Forks. After a tasty meal of fried catfish and a side trip to Goodberry’s, we wandered home, laughing all the way. The night was capped when I got another chance to put Travis to bed all by myself, which I accomplished successfully. There’s nothing better than the feeling of your child falling asleep in your arms.

Saturday began a bit earlier than we had hoped. Travis woke up at 5:30, thinking it was time to get up. We had decided to let him holler for a while with the thought that he’d go back to sleep, but he was having none of it. When we fetched him around 6, Hallie was awake, too. Sleeping in? Hah!

I’d volunteered to help my dad with replacing an attic fan, so I headed over there for about two hours. It involved balancing on a 12′ ladder while unbolting the fan over my head, trying hard not to drop it on my noggin all the while. Dad handed tools up when they were needed and kept me laughing while we worked. Once the old fan was down, we palled around long enough to make me late for being home in time for Kelly’s haircut appointment. Once again, I got to put Travis to sleep – this time for his nap. You’d think I’m getting to be a pro at this stuff.

Once everyone was back and awake, we got ready to head to the pool at my Mom and Dad’s club. We were met at the house by Kelly’s friend Marnie, her daughter Susanna, and her husband, John. We had a blast watching the kids splash around.

It was Travis’s first dip into a real pool. He seemed to take it in stride. At one point, we watched amused as he floated away from us. He had figured out how to kick and apparently decided to go exploring. Kelly and I both knew he’d take to water, but like his sister has consistently done he exceeded our expectations. Guess we should’nt have been surprised.

On Sunday, we had a more normal wakeup (6:30AM). After a lazy breakfast, I remembered I still had to help Dad put in the new fan. I put Travis down for his nap (woo woo!) and headed out the door around 10:30.

More attic fun followed. The installation was easier than I anticipated. Once again, it was fun spending time with my Dad and Mom. After an hour or so, the job was done. We then spent the next hour yapping together downstairs to the point where Kelly had to call over there to see where I was! In actuality, she wanted to know if I would be joining them for a trip to the store. I did, and off we went.

We navigated through the aisles of our local Red Big Box Store, filling the cart to overflowing with … stuff. Half the haul was baby food, the rest plastic stuff. I did pick up a new pillow, though, which went a long way towards last night’s fantastic night of sleep. At thirteen bucks, I’m wondering why I didn’t buy a new pillow sooner.

We had lunch and then did another round of naps. I stepped outside and began to cut the grass. Our neighbors and we had planned a block party for Sunday afternoon. Some of them were already arriving next door. I had time to mow the front yard before Kelly appeared around the corner with a smiling Travis in her arms. It was time to party, apparently.

We got cleaned up and headed next door to the party. There were three tables stocked with all kinds of food. There were two kegs of beer iced down in the garage. Spread out under two tents were our friends and neighbors, all laughing and carrying on. There were too many bad jokes, too many Jello shots, and too many mosquitoes, but everybody had a good time. We left around 10 PM having met some neighbors for the first time and knowing our other neighbors a lot better.

Kelly and I awoke feeling fine. In my case, excellent. I’m thinking it was the new pillow, rather than the 6 or 8 drinks I had at the party. A breakfast of pancakes with strawberries and blueberries started the day on the right foot.

Speaking of feet, the neighborhood sponsored a Fourth of July parade for the kids. The kids rode bicycles down the main street, following the ladder truck from nearby Raleigh Fire Station 22. Though it was his nap time, Travis was really in his element among the new faces. Hallie enjoyed the parade in the back of her red wagon. We walked with our neighbors, Frank and Brea and their daughter, Madison.

On the way, I spotted a professional-quality DV camera in the hands of a neighbor who runs an aerial photography business. We left the parade with new friends. Man, this is a cool neighborhood.

Travis went down like a champ at 10 AM, an hour after his usual naptime. I took the time to finish mowing the yard. It was oppressively hot today, without the breeze we enjoyed the day before. I was happy to finish things up just in time for lunch.

The kids took their usual naps. Kelly asked me if I was planning to nap, too. Unlike most weekends, I didn’t feel the need to nap at all – another testament to my good night of sleep. Instead, we got even more chores done around the house.

I spent spare time this weekend working on building my own MythTV box, a free Tivo-like PVR. After much head-scratching, I got it to the point where it downloads the TV listings and tunes my satellite card. The big obstacle remaining is getting the channels properly configured. DVB satellite signals have a number of parameters which must be specified. I don’t know enough about MythTV yet to know where to put it all. I’m maddeningly close to completing this project, but I ran out of time to finish it tonight. Perhaps this week I’ll have it up and running.

That brings things up to date. I’m looking forward to the short work week and the next weekend that comes along. This has been a summer that didn’t really have many things planned for each weekend. It’s been great just doing what we want to do.

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Whither Weather?

I like the National Weather Service‘s PDA-enabled forecast pages so much that I recently wrote an email to the webmaster. I told her how impressed I am that the NWS uses such cutting-edge technologies like RSS feeds, DVB broadcasts, and PDA-sized pages to get the forecast into the hands of the public. The webmaster wrote back, thanking me for noticing and basically saying I made her day.

As much as I love to take digs at the government, there are some things it does outstandingly well. One of these things is our public weather forecasting. I belive the United States has one of the finest meterological services on the planet. Hurricanes and other disasters which might otherwise claim thousands of lives are easily avoided through the professionalism, technology, and diligence of the National Weather Service (and its network of weather spotters).

So I was quite perplexed to understand how Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) could sponsor a bill which would prohibit the weather service from issuing public forecast data. Of course, a little more digging reveals that Pennsylvania is home to AccuWeather, which hopes to make you pay for the same data your taxes have already bought through the NWS.

“It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free,” Santorum said.

The National Weather Service predates AccuWeather by about, oh, a hundred years. If AccuWeather can’t compete, it should have picked another business.

Can you believe any of this? Santorum is a loser. If the people of Pennsylvania have any shame, they’ll send him packing next year.

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LinuxTV Success!

Well, last night I finally did it: I succeeded in watching satellite TV from my Linux box. Turns out that DVB support is weak in Red Hat Linux (no surprise there). My Fedora Core 3 machine didn’t properly configure DVB devices until I upgraded the udev package to the latest update. I also used the CVS sources for LinuxTV for the DVB drivers and apps. It also took a little Googling to discover the importance of the lnb option of dvbscan. Putting it all together got me the satellite signal I wanted.

The only remaining issue is figuring out why dvbscan is ignoring my polarization settings for the transponders and using horizontal exclusively. If I specify it manually in the channels file, the szap tuner app will correctly lock on to the signal. But dvbscan ignores it, for some reason. It isn’t much of a bother now, as I’ve got the channels defined that I want to watch. If I start adding new channels, however, or want to automatically search for some, I’ll be in trouble.

I’m also surprised there is no graphical front-end for organizing these channels. Then again, I haven’t installed MythTV in this whole setup, which is the ultimate goal. I’m confident MythTV has some nice interface for all of this.

My other find from yesterday is an ATSC PCI card, which will allow me to use LinuxTV drivers to pull in terrestial HDTV signals (conveniently, the only HDTV channels LinuxTV includes are in the Raleigh-Durham market). It decodes both high-definition (HD) and standard-definition (SD) channels. Thus, this $180 card will get me an HD receiver which I can stream to any computer in the house. I can also distribute digital SD-quality channels from the local stations to my standard-definition TVs. That will provide my TVs with a signal whose quality far surpasses that available on Time Warner Cable, as TWC offers local channels on analog only, last I checked.

There’s one thing I’m sure of: I’ve not taken this thing as far as it will go. It opens up whole new ways of using television. MythTV is TiVo on steroids. DVB-S satellite allows for cheap uplinks/downlinks. The HD PCI card provides an easy way to snarf local signals. I could literally have a whole cable TV “headend” inside my PC.

I can’t wait to add MythTV to this mix. This is fun stuff.

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New Toy

I got my Hauppauge Nexus DVB-S card a few days ago, which explains why I haven’t been more active here! It has lived up to my expectations.

Having this card in North America is like being a fish out of water. DVB is the European standard for direct-to-home (DTH) satellite broadcasts. The American market is dominated by packaged providers like DirecTV and Dish Network. Still, there is a world of Free-To-Air channels to be had. I would love to see many more!

The card needed a little tweaking to be happy here, as it came set up for PAL format. A registry tweak here and a obscure checkbox in the software there and I was all set. The only issue now is getting Linux TV to run the card.

FTA channels are scattered all across the sky, a fact which would ordinarily require a garden of satellite dishes. Fortunately, an innovative dish exists to solve this problem. Called a toroidal dish, it can focus simultaneously on a 40 degree arc of sky, allowing reception of up to sixteen satellites! This amazing dish measures just 90cm, allowing for installation everywhere (the FCC rules trump any zoning or neighborhood covenants).

I’m just testing things out now, but I forsee DTH satellite services to be the ticket to information freedom. Now more than ever, there are compelling reasons for alternative media channels. One day, you could kill off the bloated packages cable and satellite companies force you to buy and get only the channels you care about. Each would be beamed to your home directly from the programmer’s satellite transponder. No middleman!

The industry doesn’t much like that idea, since padding its numbers helps boost advertising revenue. I’m hoping that DVB gets disruptive enough in this country that change becomes inevitable. I’m taking the first step.

(P.S., if anyone knows anyone at Microspace, I’d love to take a tour of their facilities.)

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Linux TV

Yesterday, I got my long-awaited Hauppauge Nexus-S satellite receiver card for my PC. It decodes the DVB satellite format and allows me to view free to air satellite channels from my computer. It even outputs to a television as well.

The DVB format is the one most widely used in the world. Its based on open standards, like MPEG2. Only in America is a format bigger, the proprietary one of DirecTV. Their competitor The Dish Network, however, uses DVB like practically everyone else.

Free to Air channels are ones freely available for viewing. There are several listed on sites like Lyngsat, for instance. Most of them are government-sponsored channels which would find little audience on a cable system, which is precisely why I want to watch them. Who knows what kind of stuff is out there?

The card I bought comes fully supported for Windows systems, which is fine, but I plan to use Linux TV to watch and record shows. I may also fire up MythTV as a DVR and record interesting shows.

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