Archive for Entertainment

HDTV (HDHomeRun) update

The last post on this was quite a while ago, so I suppose it’s not really fair to leave it at that. To recap, previously I had purchased an HDHR (HDHomeRun) box to serve as my HDTV tuner into my Media Center (MCE2005). The initial results were not good. I followed all the steps posted in the setup guide at the HDHR forum, and it all seemed to work ok at first… I was able to tune ATSC channels from the attached antenna, watch live TV, etc. However, each time I scheduled a recording, it was a roll of the dice. In most cases, I would get 2-3 minutes of recording out of a 30 minute scheduled show.

Doubly strange, because MCE (I had thought) is supposed to detect a “lost signal” during a show recording and restart the recording when signal returns (?). In any event, this was not happening and we had a few, tragic, missed recordings (I was particularly unhappy to have missed one of the season final episodes of The Office… ACK!)

In any event, there’s a happy ending in here somewhere. I posted to the forum and got no direct response (I’d link the post, but it seems to have been pruned). However, there was an indirect response to someone else with a similar problem, indicating an errant ICMP packet signaling a loss of connectivity to the HDHR. This, evidently, leads to exactly the “partial recording” problem I was having.

I proved the point by scheduling a recording and then yanking out the network connection from HDHR to the switch while it was recording. Sure enough, the end-result recorded file looked just like the symptoms I had been seeing — a full-length recording, where only the first portion was recorded (ie – partial light-colored timeline bar with the rest of the 30 mins greyed out as though it was only 5 minutes into the actual recording process).

Ok, so it was a loss of network connectivity. Hmm. Well, could be cables, could be network card, COULD BE THE SWITCH. Ah ha! This 5-port 10/100 switch I had thrown back into service for the HDHR<->MCE connection is a couple of years old and I had a vague recollection that one or more of the ports on it had had really low throughput in its previous use. The switch was the obvious culprit… maybe a loose connection inside or it’s just finally giving up the ghost.

Sure enough, “switched out” (yes, pun) this older switch for a known-good replacement… and… SUCCESS! Zero missed recordings in the few weeks since I made the swap.

YAY! And now, with a few weeks of success behind us, I can say that the HDHR is the coolest thing since forever. I feel so retro using rabbit ears antenna to get my TV, but the quality is heads and shoulders above what I get from my analog cable; and there’s NO way to get HD on my MCE from the cable company without hacking something together (Firewire from a STB) or paying TONS of $$ for cablecard. Blegh. 90% of my fairly limited TV watching comes from NBC in any case, so now I’m even more inclined to dump my cable. If only Comedy Central would sell a monthly IP/download subscription for TDS and Colbert, I’d be all set.

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Newsweek: God Debate

A recent newsweek article covered a discussion/debate between Atheist author Sam Harris and Christian author/evangelist Rick Warren. The topic was interesting, as was the article. A reasonable discussion about God, religion, society’s perceptions. etc.

But what I found particularly funny was the way Rick Warren ended the discussion (link to the last page):

Rick, last thoughts?
I believe in both faith and reason. The more we learn about God, the more we understand how magnificent this universe is. There is no contradiction to it. When I look at history, I would disagree with Sam: Christianity has done far more good than bad. Altruism comes out of knowing there is more than this life, that there is a sovereign God, that I am not God. We’re both betting. He’s betting his life that he’s right. I’m betting my life that Jesus was not a liar. When we die, if he’s right, I’ve lost nothing. If I’m right, he’s lost everything. I’m not willing to make that gamble.

I’ve highlighted the interesting part. Yes, you’re reading that right. Rick Warren just used Pascal’s Wager to summarily justify his Christian faith.

The problems with Pascal’s Wager as a logical approach to faith is that it encapsulates Pascal’s Flaw (in its various forms). Here are a couple simple and obvious reasons why Pascal’s Wager is flawed (thanks Wikipedia!):

  • Assumes God rewards belief – maybe God actually rewards skepticism instead
  • Assumes Christianity is the only religion that makes such a claim – if they’re mutually exclusive, they can’t all be right!
  • Does not constitute a true belief – if you’re only believing because you think it’s the “safest” option, do you really believe? (and do you think God would fall for it?)
  • Assumes one can choose belief – If you believe Scott Adams, there’s no free will anyway!
  • Assumes divine rewards and punishments are infinite – The Calvinists beg to differ.

Things are rarely binary-simple, unfortunately. Sorry Rick.

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Jesus Camp

Jodi and I watched Jesus Camp (documentary) the other day, and found it to be quite an interesting movie. Even more interesting were the comments I read online afterward which pointed out that, as a documentary with no narration (ie – it’s the fundamentalists in their own words), this documentary is appreciated by both fundamentalist types and those who find it to be a scary development. I suspect it’s pretty rare that both sides of an issue see the documentary and think it “proves their side”, so it’s a sign of a good documentary.

The documentary covers a number of young people at their homes, at their local church, around their neighborhood, and when they go off to a North Dakota fundamentalist/evangelical summer camp (where they do things like praying to “bless” a cardboard cut-out of George W Bush and cry/speak-in-tongues passing around plastic representations of a 7-week-old aborted fetus). It also covers a couple of the primary “preachers” (most present in the documentary was a children’s minister named Becky).

Proving my point that “both sides” find value in this documentary, I found the perspective of the fundamentalists in the movie to be terrifying. The children seem brainwashed (comments about “wanting something more from life” when one participant was only 5 years old and the vacant-looks of the one girl who was constantly searching for opportunities to “preach” to people in order to please her parents). The scene in the bowling alley where the vacant-eyed girl put another bowler (not with their party) on the spot about God’s plan was just over the top, and her parents were so proud of this socially unacceptable behavior. While, the other perspective on this, of course, is how wonderful it is that these young people have found their way so early and so absolutely.

Funniest point in the movie: While they were going around the lunch table talking about how terrible Harry “the Warlock/Satanist” Potter was and how they wouldn’t want to watch these movies or read the books EVEN IF their parents would let them, when we came to one young man (clearly a disappointment to his parents) who furtively pointed out that his mom didn’t let him see the movie but his dad took him (implying that he liked the movie). Oh, the humanity! The looks of horror from his fellow tablemates were absolutely precious… they clearly didn’t understand what to do when someone went “off script” from what the adults were prompting the kids to do.

Scariest part of the movie: When Pastor Becky commented that the radical fundamentalist Muslims have it right — they get to the kids when they’re young and impressionable and brainwash them (of course she didn’t use this word) into becoming part of “Gods Army”. She implied that we have a lot to learn from them and should emulate this sort of training to create our own ultra-nationalist “Christian army”. Wow.

Most ironic moment(s) in the movie: When some of the young, impressionable kids make a trip to the mega-church where Ted Haggard was preaching (this was before his “downfall”). Ted says some incredibly ironic things in the context of God knowing about sin (“I KNOW what you were doing last night”, etc). The simple fact that these young people were “idolizing” this preacher and his ultra-conservative message while he was secretly living a double-life adds an interesting — and quite likely initially unintended — angle to an already great documentary.

If you’re worried about the direction our country is going (whether you think it’s going “straight to hell ever since we took prayer out of school” or whether your opinion is that “the necessary and constitutional separation of church and state is crumbling”), this is a movie that’ll speak to you. Recommended.

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Morrissey in Seattle

Last Sunday I went to the Paramount to see Morrissey perform here in Seattle. It was a good show, and I’m glad I went.

But, without a doubt, it made me exceedingly aware that despite owning 6 (yes, six… I just counted) Morrissey CDs, I’ve evidently never fully made the transition from The Smiths. I was disappointed to only recognize a handful of the songs he played (I’m guessing most were from his newest CD, which I do not own). And I was most disappointed that 1/2 way through “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side”, he aborted the song and made (what appeared to be… it was quite muffled) some snide comment about The Smiths or Johnny Marr or something like that. Seems like it’s time to let go of the ancient disagreements…

Whatever. He’s a great talent and I can’t stay away from his wonderful music. But I can totally believe the nasty stuff that’s been written about his attitude over the years.

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My ATSC dilemma

I have basic cable. I have a Windows Media Center computer (still running MCE 2005, although I’ll update it to Vista one of these days when I have a free afternoon and nothing set to record).

Now, for the dilemma… I also have a nice Samsung DLP HDTV. Hooked to the media center computer over DVI and running 720p.

Why is that a dilemma? Well, because standard definition TV looks markedly LESS good on a big-screen DLP TV than it did back on the Sony 27″ CRT we used to have. Because it’s blown up much bigger onto the larger screen, I guess. Makes sense.

But it still stinks. Especially since at every level of this setup there’s no good reason why I can’t get the shows in high definition.

Except that I can’t. Well, at least not with Cable. Not to rip too much on MS or any of the other players, the short version is that currently you really only have a couple of choices:

  • Get an over-the-air (OTA) HDTV antenna and some way to get OTA HD channels into the media center
  • Buy an expensive, new media center with “CableCard” OCUR device and pay a bunch more each month to the cable company
  • Get a crappy HD DVR from the cable company and stop using media center
  • Stop watching TV and/or give up on HighDef

So, realistically I need to drop the last 2 from the list since that would defeat the whole purpose of having the MCE box (unifying all our media-music/dvds/tv through a single device). And the 2nd one is also not realistic with a baby on the way. So I guess I’m down to the first option.

Which is not actually too bad of an option… I reviewed the TV that we regularly watch and >75% of it is free broadcast channels (nightly news, NBC sitcoms, etc). 2 weeks ago I bought a small, indoor HDTV antenna and confirmed (with the tuner in the Samsung TV) that we can get pretty much all of the channels locally — benefit to living in a 4th floor condo at the top of a hill, plus, right in downtown Seattle. 🙂

Next, to get the HDTV (ATSC formatted, since it’s OTA broadcast) into the media center, I just bought an HDHomeRun. I’ll plan to follow up here once I receive it and can comment on how it works… maybe we’ll just end up canceling cable. Do you hear that, cable company?? You’re far more likely to LOSE ME AS A CUSTOMER than get me to sign up for HD cable because you’ve been part of making this whole process so frustrating and expensive.

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Reign over Me

Jodi and I went out to watch “Reign Over Me” last weekend. I had read several good reviews of the movie beforehand, so I was pretty excited to see it. Overall it was a good movie, but it was still a little disappointing. The story was interesting, but a little unfulfilled.

I didn’t get a couple of things:

  • What the heck was Donald Sutherland’s role supposed to be? The all-knowing judge who doesn’t have to follow the law? Why in the world would he put the mental health decision for Adam Sandler’s character into the hands of the people who were pushing the legal action? I just didn’t get that, and it didn’t seem very realistic.
  • Who really would think it was a good idea to hook Adam Sandler up with the crazy woman who threatened to sue Don Cheadle? That’s just a terrible idea… doesn’t matter how “hot” she is.

So it was an okay movie and Adam Sandler did a credible job of being a miserable, crazy person. But come on.

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Little Children

Last week I watched the movie Little Children. It was actually quite good, better than I had expected (somehow I hadn’t really heard anything about this movie before the Oscars).

I think the saddest part, really, was about Ronnie. Perhaps that’s the point of the movie, I dunno. But it’s so strange that it’s very hard to feel anything but sadness and pity for this poor character. Even after he proves what kind of person he is on his date, when his mother dies and it’s plain how helpless and hopeless he is, it’s very hard not to feel sad. The “be a good boy” note from his mother was exactly the message you’d expect from her and exactly what he needed to hear in her desperation. She knew who he was and loved him anyway.

Plus there was other stuff in the movie. I’m glad Kate Winslet didn’t run off with Jennifer Connelly’s movie husband.

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Running to The Smiths

Lately Jodi and I have been trying to exercise fairly regularly in our condominium fitness room. We’ve been getting up a bit earlier a couple days a week and heading down for 30 mins or so of aerobic workout — me on the treadmill (ugh, she won’t let me do the stationary bike) and Jodi on the elliptical trainer.

But what’s actually helped to make running a couple of miles quite tolerable has been “The Smiths“. I’d never been much of a “listening to music when I exercise” type. In fact, historically I’ve always listened to my audio books while exercising.

Unfortunately, my Zune isn’t supported yet by Audible, so I’m constrained to only my sync’d music or the radio. I can assure you there’s not a lot on the radio at 6am, so I decided to hit the music.

The first day we we tried this exercise routine, I was strangely in the mood to listen to “The Smiths” and I ran 30 minutes to the first half of “Louder Than Bombs”. By our second day, I decided I wanted more of the same. And so it’s been each time we’ve exercised.

Maybe it seems perfectly reasonable to you that someone should exercise to The Smiths, but is seems pretty strange to me. Much like exercising to The Cure, there’s just a sense about their music style that makes me think of “depression”. I actually quite expected that I’d be unable to properly run to The Smiths and might even be running so slow as to not even work up a sweat. I had clearly forgotten how energetic the “depressed” music of Morrissey actually is!!

In fact, as I clenched my mouth shut to keep from belting out lyrics at the top of my lungs, I found myself cranking up the speed on the treadmill to “keep up” with the beat. Some of those songs are as fast as any 160bpm dance track!

And, most importantly, the half-hour of otherwise arduous running went by before I knew it. I felt refreshed, energized, and a bit like whistling my favorite songs.

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V for Vendetta

Watched V for Vendetta the other day. I remembered hearing it was so violent or scary or whatever when it first came out, but it didn’t seem so much so to me in watching it. Perhaps I remembered it as seeming scary beause Natalie Portman gets her head shaved at one point (Jodi didn’t much care for this, so she wouldn’t see the film).

Overall it was a pretty good movie. There were clear “big brother” allusions, power hungry leaders stripping citizens of their rights, etc. I also read through the Wikipedia entry which contrasted the movie to the original book. It was useful to read the wiki entry, as it helped me to better understand some of the subtle things that were happening in the movie (which I’m sure I would have missed otherwise)

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Finally, a new TV

About a week ago, we finally replaced our reliable-but-old 27″ Sony Trinitron TV with a new 46″ Samsung DLP model.

I’d been saving and waiting for this particular TV for a couple of years, and it was worth the wait! It hooked directly to the media center via DVI/HDMI (vs S-video for the old TV) and picked right up at 1280×720 resolution.

Now we just need to get a high-def signal somehow and we’ll be golden.

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