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30 January 2009

U-Verse Problem #1

Apparently, you can only pause live TV when you're watching on the DVR.  They call it a "whole house DVR" because you can watch recorded shows on any TV receiver in the house... but you can only schedule recordings directly on the DVR receiver.

So if I'm up in my bedroom watching TV and I want to record a show... I have to go downstairs to the main TV and record it there (or use the internet...)

Anyway... Adrienne is going to be annoyed by this.. I might have to move the DVR to the bedroom...

I wonder if there's a U-Verse app for my ipod....

Posted by rickroot at 1:42 PM | Link | 0 comments
23 March 2007

One Remote To Rule Them All - Logitech Harmony 880

I'm going to talk about my recent purchase of the Logitech Harmony 880 Universal Programmable Remote.. but first, some backstory..

Remember the old days, when you ran you cable or antenna into your VCR... and then ran a cable from the VCR into the TV?  Volume always went through the TV... channel control was always in the VCR, and life was simple.  The VCR remote almost always had no problem controlling the TV, and you were good to go.

Then came cable boxes, which usually added a new level of complexity.  It was rare that the cable remote would control the VCR.

Click for a larger viewAnd then, with the advent of DVDs, home theater systems became far more popular than they ever were before.  And now you had a stereo system in the mix with your cable box and probably still a VCR.

The next step was digital audio... optical here, coax there.  And then HDTV and component video ... now the TVs are more complicated than ever.

All this audio visual complexity makes a tech geek's life difficult.  It's not like *I* can't handle using 3-4 remotes as needed.  And my 5 year old can be trained.... but my wife... well when I recently added a stereo system to our primary TV watching area... things got too complicated.  The cable remote would only barely work the TV, and wouldn't control the stereo at all.  The stereo remote wouldn't control the TV either, nor the cable box.  Most universal remotes are incredibly complicated to use and set up.... and I got tired real quickly of the complaints about how the damned home theater system works.

So I did some research, and discovered the Logitech Harmony 880.  The Harmony series of remotes from Logitech are high tech gadgets that are programmable and updatable via computer software and a USB cable.  Plug it into your computer, run the software, and it guides you through the setup process.

The first thing you do is set up your devices.  You tell the software what brand your TV is, your DVD player, your VCR, your stereo, your game console, your CD player, etc... whatever components you have.  Then you tell it what model numbers these devices are.  And it automatically sets them up in your remote.  And trust me, the software has everything.  It's pretty incredible.  Brands I've never even heard of before.

The important thing with the Harmony remotes is that they control your system based on "Activities".  Activities can include "Watch Cable", "Watch DVD", "Watch VCR", "Listen to CDs", "Listen to Radio", "Play Video Games", etc.  In each case, you use the software to define what devices you want to use for each activity, which devices will control the volume and the channels, etc.

So when I push the "Play DVD" button, it automatically turns on the DVD player, TV, and Stereo... switches the stereo to "DVD", and switches the TV to YCbCr.  If I cick "Play Game", it switches the TV to "AV" and switches the Stereo to "VCR" (which is where I have the Gamecube audio going).  If I choose "Watch Cable", it switches the stereo to "TV", switches the TV to "HDTV", and puts the remote of DVR mode so it can properly control the cable box.

The thing that amazed me the most is that this remote will control *ALL* of the features of my devices.  I have a One For All Universal Remote, which is nice... but it doesn't have a LIST button or the "A" "B" "C" buttons like the cable remote does.  So I still had to keep the cable remote around.  The Harmony 880's LCD screen takes care of all this, so while the remote doesn't have a ridiculous amount of buttons, the LCD screen takes care of the "special" buttons that aren't common from one device to another.

Programming the Harmony 880 remote was very easy.  It took about 10 minutes, and everything worked great.

Using the remote is easy too.  It has the look and feel of a modern cell phone, particularly the way the LCD screen works with the 10 buttons around the edge of the LCD screen that dynamically change to control whatever is currently on the LCD screen.

If you're looking for a remote control that will make your world easier, this one is certainly worth while.

Buy this remote at Amazon.com!  Great Price!

Posted by rickroot at 7:36 AM | Link | 1 comment
20 February 2007

BBSes and Social Communities

Arbornet, M-Net, and Me

The year was 1985.  My uncle had loaned me his 300 baud Vicmodem to attach to my Commodore 64.  I used it for the same sort of thing everyone else did - calling up BBSes.  Only I wasn't very smart, and made a lot of long distance phone calls.  Many of the good BBS systems in the Ann Arbor area were actually in Ypsilanti, and that was long distance for me.  I think I also called some in Plymouth and Canton too.  And let's not forget MOM - the Michiana Online Messenger.  MOM was located in South Bend, Indiana.

Anyway, before I learned about "phreaking", my first phone bill came, and it was $300.

Mom took the modem away, and I was offline for nearly a year.  After I paid off the phone bill and assured my mom that I would be more responsible with it, she gave the modem back, and I focused on BBSes that I could actually call locally.  That meant the ones in Saline and Ann Arbor.  The only Saline BBS was running on a Tandy CoCo3 operated by Brian Stretch (someone I eventually shared an apartment with many years later).  Looking at the 313 BBS list, I remember a lot of those systems (though the years are not always correct).  I even ran a part time BBS myself a couple of times, but nothing serious enough to get listed on such lists.

Anyway, one of the Ann Arbor BBSes that I did discover this second time around was M-Net.  M-Net was unlike anything I'd used before, in that it was an actual multi-user BBS, with discussion forums and a live chat area called "party".  In that respect, it was like some of the online services (Compuserve, Q-Link, etc) but it was free.  Sure you could pay extra to get access to additional dial-in lines (at the time, M-Net had something in the neighborhood of 12 phone lines, 7 or 8 of which were reserved for "patrons", while guests could only access the other 4 or 5 lines.  As a guest, it meant "war dialing" a lot to get on, because people would log on and hang out in party, chatting away.

M-Net offered free shell accounts to anyone and everyone - and they still do today, if you can believe that!  Their 1992 merger with local non-profit Arbornet, Inc. has allowed them to survive long nearly all other "BBSes" out there.

I've been using M-Net nearly every day since I signed up in 1986 under the login id "ric" (someone already had "rick").  I met a lot of friends thanks to M-Net, and had a lot of good times.

In the old days, M-Net was very social.  Before the internet became popular, nearly all of the users were in the Ann Arbor area.  By the late 80s or maybe early 90s, the University of Michigan's state wide computer network had dialins all over the state that people could use for free, and in Ann Arbor, they also maintained "dialouts" so you could dial-in to the Merit network in Lansing, and use the dialout modems in Ann Arbor to connect to M-Net.  

These "local ties" allowed the online community to thrive, as there were weekly "happy hour" events at various locations.  In the 80s, they were frequently at a place on Campus called Dominick's, which featured terrible food and warm beer.  Users would post ASCII maps of where everyone sat and who their login ID was.  After the happy hours, some of the folks would head over to the UofM Diag to play frisbee.  Happy Hours then were primarily a warm weather activity!  They also stopped occuring for a while in the late 80s until I revived them (see below).

Each month, there would often be a larger party called a Picofest.  These would be held at restaurants or people's homes.  "Picofest" was the name because the conferencing software M-Net ran at the time was called Picospan, by Marcus Watts.  The most famous installation of Picospan was at a california BBS called The Well.  But Marcus wrote it for M-Net.

Some time around 1993, I met a girl online named "Garfield" (that was her login)... we chatted online a lot but nothing really happened until we met face-to-face for the first time in August 1993 at an event called KatieFest (a picofest of sorts, hosted by long time user Katie Geddes).  We hit it off in person, and started dating.  She lived in Redford, I was living in Kalamazoo at the time.  For those of you who don't know your Michigan geography, that's about 3 hours apart.

In order to see Kim more often, I revived the happy hour concept, and we started having weekly happy hours again, and I'd drive in from Kalamazoo from time to time, and she'd drive in from Redford.  This went on for about 6-7 months until I met someone new in Kalamazoo, and she met someone new as well.  Long distance relationships were hard to maintain.  We remained good friends, and I still talk to Kim via instant messenger just about every week.

The ball had been started on happy hours again though, and the M-Net social scene THRIVED, with the weekly happy hours sometimes drawing as many 50 obnoxious geeks to some restaurant that generally hated us because half the people didn't have any money to spend, and probably more than half were not old enough to buy alcohol either.  Users would have parties and invite all of M-Net, and some of these parties got pretty crazy.

After I graduated from college, I moved back to Ann Arbor and continued to organize the happy hours until I moved away in 1998.  The regularity of the happy hours decreased dramatically and essentially halted a short while later.

M-Net has no social scene anymore, really, and that's a detriment to the M-Net community, because the social interaction is what made using the online system FUN.  You *KNEW* the people online.  You partied with them, drank with them, sang karaoke with them, and sometimes partook of alternative substances with them.

The most active users of M-Net's conferencing system today have almost all been there for 10 years or more - from the social days.

Check out http://www.arbornet.org and log in today.


Posted by rickroot at 11:03 AM | Link | 4 comments
24 January 2007

Migrating/Importing IMAP email to Gmail

About a month ago, I started using Google to host my domain's email (ie, webworksllc.com).  They host your domain email for free, using the same gmail interface that everyone loves.

The problem is, it's not super easy to migrate email from your old account to google.

There is a tool called the Gmail Loader (GML) that can handle all kinds of mail formats for mail stored on your desktop.  For example, if you use Thunderbird or Netscape to download your email via POP3, it stores that mail in files called "mbox" files, and GML can handle those.

If you're using Outlook, your mail is stored in special files called PST files, and you'll have to use a utility called "ReadPST" to convert them to mbox format files before GML can load them into google.

But if you're using webmail - or if you're like me and you use IMAP to store your email, then the mail is not stored on your local desktop.

One option - if you're using Thunderbird - is to copy your entire account - all of the folders - to your Local Folders.  This causes thunderbird to download *ALL* of the mail and store it locally in mbox files.  You can then use Gmail Loader.  Another option would be to ask your provider to zip your entire domain's mail files and send them to you - AFTER you go through and do your domain and account setup on google.  Then you can use gmail on those files (probably maildir formatted files, which Gmail Loader also supports)

But if you're running your own server, and you're using qmail - there's an easier way.  I created a little script called "sendtogmail.sh".

This only works AFTER you've set up google mail for your domain completely, set up the accounts, and changed the DNS.  You must also have configured qmail to no longer think it accepts mail for your domain - by removing it from /var/qmail/control/rcpthosts

I wrote a little script called sendtogmail.sh and this is what it looks like:

for X in 1*
        cat $X | /var/qmail/bin/qmail-inject -A -f rick@webworksllc.com rick@webworksllc.com
        rm -f $X
        echo $CNT

There's probably a better way to do it, but I put this script into /usr/local/bin and permed it executable.  Then I just change into each directory where mail is stored, and run it.  It uses qmail-inject to inject the original mail file back into the mail queue.  The -A option causes it to only use the recipient specified in the command line, and the -f option specifies the envelope sender (don't worry, it won't have any affect on the "From" of the message itself.  After each message, it outputs a current count, and then removes the message (which is unnecessary, really)

It works quite quickly, because qmail is VERY good at sending mail!  It's *MUCH* faster than GML too, which seemed to take about 3-5 seconds per message, and I was able to do thousands of messages in only a few minutes.


Posted by rickroot at 8:22 AM | Link | 6 comments