Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Multimedia Computer: A Jimmy Swaggart Moment

Those of us who are of a certain age will remember Jimmy Swaggart weeping pitifully before his congregation saying, "I have SINNED against GAWD."

Well, minus the tears, the taudry stories about hookers and cheap motel rooms, and anything even remotely as interesting as Jimmy's activities, you are about to read a similar confession.  I have sinned against Ubuntu.

Yes. having installed Ubuntu on my machine, I began to research the steps required to install MythTV, which seems to be the package of choice for the Ubuntu types, and began to realize this isn't just about software.  It is about a lifestyle choice.  One has to be intentional about using Ubuntu as a media center.  You can't just install it and let it go; a certain amount of persnicketyness is required.

G.K. Chesterton once remarked that it wasn't that Christianity had been tried and found wanting.  It had been found difficult and left untried.  Thus it is with MythTV.

It is spring; I want to devote myself to yardwork, after which I will watch television I've recorded on my media center.

I bought Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) and installed it on my Multimedia PC.  Twenty minutes later I was watching TV.   I erased my Ubuntu partitions, formatted the disk, and installed Windows right over it.  It didn't even squeak.  And I am glad, I say, glad about it.

I still need to install a fan that doesn't drive me nuts, but we are almost there.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Multimedia Computer: The Ubuntu Mindset

Last Monday I wrote in this space that I had succeeded in getting my Multimedia Computer running and that I had installed Ubuntu on it.  This was a great victory for me.  At the time, it gave me a great feeling of victory that I didn't want to dilute.  A few days have passed now, so I feel I can share more of the truth without spoiling that feeling of victory on my part.

It is still running and functioning fine as a computer, but I there are certain issues involved with making it function as a Multimedia computer.  One of these is the fan.  The original fan that it came with didn't have a plug to attach it to the fan plug on the motherboard.  I thought I'd fixed that by buying an adapter.  The adapter arrived; it is male.  I needed a female. (Insert joke about Ubuntu computer geeks here.)

No problem.  I had an old cheap fan purchased for an old project laying around.  I installed it.  I now remember reading a review of it with PROS--it is cheap, CONS--it is noisy.  That noisy part is being glossed more me even as I write this.  I currently have a female adapter on order.  Ten minutes of work will suffice to fix this.

The next issue is software.  Windows 7 comes with Windows Media Center installed.  You just sit down and run it.  The Ubuntu experience is different.  And it now becomes clear to me what the Ubuntu experience is all about.  To fully explain it, at least to my own satisfaction, I need to go back to the Bible.

In Genesis, when Jacob and Esau are introduced it says: And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. To me this says that Esau like to push the edges of existence and do things that were hard.  Jacob, on the other hand, liked to enjoy the fruits of what was then modernity.  Were this written today, the description of Esau would remain the same while Jacobs might be described as a man who like living in houses with beds and indoor plumbing.

Some of you may already be ahead of me in transferring this to the context of computers.  Esau would be pushing to that more challenging mode of existence with Linux while Jacob would use Windows 7.  (Macs would correspond to whatever they were using in the fleshpots of Egypt for those of you who wish to push this a little farther.)

I grew up on the frontier, starting with a TRS-80 and moving to an Apple IIe and then finally hitting the PC river, as it were, more than twenty years ago.  I've been watching the frontier disappear ever since as we've moved from floppies to hard disks and CDs and DVDs and USBs.  Then came the Internet and the Cloud may supersede it all.  I've gone through all of the contortions that we had to back in the good old days just to get something to print for Heaven's sake.

All of those contortions are why we developed things like Windows 7 and Snow-frickin-Leopard and all of those other things.  Friends, let me tell you, as much as we gripe about these OSs, they ain't so bad.  They beat the Hell out of walking three blocks across campus to access your e-mail from a Unix account and download the file that was sent you using Kermit.  I was younger then, everything did work right, but that rosy glow doesn't make me think I'd like to do it that way all over again.

That being said: This is a hobby.  We do hobbies to stretch ourselves in safe, controlled ways.  I can pretend that I am back on the Computer Frontier as it was in the days of old, but do it while safely living in the modern world.

In other words, I've moved out of the hardware faze and into the software faze which is presenting a new challenge to me.  I will keep you updated, but now the smell of the spring flowers is calling to me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Multimedia Computer: Over a big bump

An Ode to the (alliterative participle) Front Panel

As of the last entry, I was murmuring the Jesus Prayer and contemplating my navel like an ancient Eastern Orthodox Monk. This morning I took it apart and put it back together.  I put it together exactly as I thought I'd done earlier.  I then hooked it to the keyboard, mouse, screen, and power was EXACTLY as before.


Then for some reason that I do not remember I reached into the case and unplugged the power switch connector and the power came on and it began to boot.  That is correct, my friends, I plugged the power switch and it came on.

I then turned off the power in the back and reconnected the power switch connector to the front panel wire.  I turned the power on in the back and pressed the power switch in the front.  It came on and I installed Ubuntu on it.  I am writing this report from the very Multimedia Computer itself.

There are things to be done.  In the course of unplugging everything, I took out the wireless card and the TV card. I will have to put them back.  I will no doubt have to do some software stuff.

But I am on the road my friends.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Multimedia Computer: Building computers and the Jesus Prayer

Through the Internet, I've made the acquaintance of a variety of people.  As I am religious, many of those have been of a religious bent and some, too very few, have been of the Eastern tradition of the Christian faith.  Through contact with them, I've come upon the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me. This is to be repeated over and over. Thus, I have been prepared for my latest round of building the multimedia computer. 

I installed the new power supply.  I plugged everything in for testing.  I pressed the button and it came on.  Then it went off.  Then it came on again unbidden.  Then it went off again.  I waited.  Nothing happened.  I pressed the on button again, and the sequence of events repeated themselves.

I came to this after 4pm today. 

Part of the reason I am doing this and part of the reason for taking on any challenge is to learn about myself.  I've learned that I am shaper earlier in the day.  I am taking Monday as vacation.  I will revisit it then.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Multimedia Computer: Parts 6,7, and 8 to be continued...

After my 2 terabyte hard drive arrived, I found myself within 3 relatively inexpensive parts of being done.  They were
  1. the all-important TV card without which the adjective "multimedia" coming before the computer becomes somewhat confusing;
  2. the WiFi card without which the computer would not be able to access the Internet from our family room; and
  3. a $2 piece of cable not included with the case without which nothing can be done.
It is axiomatic that parts 1 and 2 arrived on Friday and Saturday respectively and part 3 was no where to be seen.  Furthermore, it rained on Sunday afternoon and was cold with the combination making it the perfect conditions to work on a computer.  I was frustrated until a thought occurred to me.

"Self," says I with a somewhat confident tone, "is it not possible that you might have that $2 piece of cable as a leftover from a previous project."

So I looked, and behold, it was true.  Thus did I sit down for a couple of hours, screw parts together, snap cables together, and generally just have a grand, old time.  I then unplugged my itty-bitty Ubuntu box and plugged the majestic, magnificent, multimedia pc into the same spot.  I plugged in the cable--after a false start--pressed the button and it glowed to life.

And then just as quickly fell into the darkness of death.

I repeated this a number of times.  Then I unplugged it and took it back to the kitchen table.  I took the cover off with one hand while flipping through the motherboard manual with the other.  Then I discovered something.  The motherboard manual said that I would need a 500 watt power source and there on the PSU supplied with the case written plainly enough for me to see was 440W.


I put everything away and plugged by itty-bitty computer back in.  This is a hobby.  I will not make myself crazy.  I will order the new power supply and wait for another rainy weekend.