PVRs and the Democratic National Convention

During the Democratic National Convention, I’m working on a project that requires me to record the five hours of convention coverage each night in a format that can easily be read by computers and transmitted across the Internet. In order to do this, today, I went out and obtained a Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate stick.

This is a cool device. It is like an oversized USB Memory stick, with a mini USB port on the side and a coax connection on the end. The software is stored on the stick, and there is about 2 gigabytes of memory on the stick that can be used for recording onto.

There are a few different options for setting this up. The first option was to use an antenna that comes with the device, or connecting up to a rooftop antenna. My first pass was to connect the supplied antenna, but that did not give me any usable signals.

The second option was to use my cable connection. Since I was planning on doing this in my office, I installed a cable splitter just before my cable modem and tried connecting that way. It claimed to have found something like 69 different channels, but I couldn’t get any of them to play. It may be that this is because I was in a rush and didn’t spend enough time trying to figure out how to get it to work.

The third option was to capture from a Cable or Satellite Set-top box using either composite video or S-video. I got the S-video to work, which was a relief. However, I hadn’t figured out the software well enough to figure out how to record off of the S-Video channel. I suppose I could get the Remote to do that for me, but I hadn’t set up the remote.

Hopping back to the first option, I tried taking the channel 3 output from the cable set-top box and feeding it into the PCTV stick. This worked well. However it meant that I needed to watch the same channel on the TV as I was recording on the PC. That is a viable option, but not as good as I was hoping for. I tried shifting around the connection in different places, between the set-top box and the DVD/VHS player, between the DVD/VHS player and the TV. Finally, I found that I could successfully split the cable signal coming into the set-top box and get the analog channels on the PCTV stick. This is the best since it allows me to record on one channel on the PC while watching a different channel on the TV. I also found that I could take the S-Video output from my DVD/VHS player into my memory stick. This will make it easier for me to take some old VHS tapes and digitize them and store them on YouTube, Blip.TV or other sites.

With the wiring working a bit better, I went back to see if I could get any of the digital signals to work. This would be nice, since the PCTV stick supports digital HDTV, but our regular television is an old analog SD TV, so we can’t watch digital HDTV channels.

Unfortunately, I still couldn’t find and HDTV stations. I’ll try that again a little later. I’ve been told that Cablevision does weird stuff with their HDTV signals which makes it harder for people to pull them in without a set-top box.

Now that the basic functionality was working, my next test was to record shows using the stick. There are about ten different formats that can be saved, using various resolutions of DivX, MPEG 1/2 or 4. I’ve set up a bunch of recording sessions to see what the resolution looks like for each of these as how much space they take up. Once this is done, I’ll start testing various things that can be done with the files in these different formats.

I did end up installing DivX and Quicktime on my laptop so I can view the files in different format. This is also supposed to work with the Windows Media Center, so I may try working with as a future test.

So, initial impressions are that you can turn a PC with Windows XP or Vista into a Personal Video Record fairly easily for around $100.

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Exploring the Tiara

At the risk of ruining a good story by explaining it, I want to talk a little bit about the Tiara.

The Backstory

First, let me give you the history. You will notice on the right side of my page an EntreCard. EntreCard is a community website where members drop cards on each other. Each time you drop a card on someone, or someone drops a card on you, you get an EntreCard Credits. These credits can be used to buy advertisements on other people’s websites, objects from the EntreCard shop, or can be bought and sold.

There is also a community forum, where people talk whatever they want. The blogger who writes Designs by Reese commented about being on vacation for a week and seeing the price of advertisements on her blog plummet as well as her ranking as a card dropper. In less than half an hour, her advertising rates were back up to a respectable rate, and she bragging about wearing a tiara and wondering where her scepter was.

eyespi20.com urged her to calm down. Everything is fine, and wondered where Debbie was. Debbie has a blog, Wisdom Hypnosis and often comments in the forum with helpful suggestions about remaining calm and reducing stress in one’s life. Debbie joined in by commenting about losing a tiara she had when she moved, but about how it was one of the best moves she had made.

Reese came back and commented that ‘not many people can pull off the tiara look’. I joined the fun and admitted that I probably can’t pull off the tiara look anymore. People on EntreCard mostly know me by the card that I have up, which pictures my bald head and gray beard. Debbie commented that she would pay to see me in a tiara. Eyespi said she would pony up 1000 EntreCard credits. Debbie picked the word pony and suggested I should appear with a pony. Reggy at fragileheart said she would join in.

Fiona’s riding lesson was this morning, so I told everyone I would pose with a pony while wearing a tiara. Around the house, I tried to find an Tiara. I was hoping I could find one of my daughter’s dress-up tiaras from when she was younger. Like Debbie’s tiara, I suspect that Fiona’s tiaras may have gotten lost in our move. So, I ended up wearing the tiara that my wife wore when we got married.

The picture received several nice comments in the forum as well as on my blog post.

What does this tell us

Lighten up

I'm gonna soak up the sun
I'm gonna tell everyone
To lighten up (I'm gonna tell 'em that)

Well, perhaps the most important part is to not take things too seriously. Somehow, I can imagine Debbie offering that advice as she helps people find calmness and happiness in her hypnosis practice. I think this is particularly important to a wide range of bloggers.

I've got a crummy job
It don't pay near enough
To buy the things it takes
To win me some of your love

Over on EntreCard, there are a lot of bloggers that spend all their time writing about how to make money online. I must admit, I find most of their blog entries dreadfully dull. Granted, I don’t make much money online, but that isn’t really what I’m all about.

My friend the communist
Holds meetings in his RV
I can't afford his gas
So I'm stuck here watching tv

Likewise, many of my friends in the political blogging world are on their way to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. I’ll write more about this later, but I find many of the more serious political blogs also dreadfully dull. I can’t imagine that they get many people, other than those already sharing their views to make it through their blog posts.

Build community

C'mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try and love one another right now

Beyond that, successful websites are about building community. EntreCard does a good job of that. Other tools do good jobs of that. You need to tie them all together. What matters is the mesh of social media, and not simply just a blog. I think that is where a lot of bloggers as well as companies trying to get their message out online make mistakes. They focus on too small a community, trying to build bonding social capital instead of bridging social capital, or they end up being just a broadcast oriented site.

But that is a different topic that I want to explore more in coming posts.

So, check out EntreCard and related sites. Find a broadbased community where you can talk, listen and have fun, and if you do something crazy online, let me know.

Aldon in a tiara with a pony

Aldon in a tiara with a pony, originally uploaded by Aldon.

Over in an EntreCard forum, a discussion came up about tiara's which ended up with people saying that they wanted to see a picture of me, wearing a Tiara, with a pony.

So, here it is friends.

Video Prep for #dnc08

During the past week, many of my friends who are going to Denver spent time exploring different tools that they can use to get their message back to their family, friends, neighbors and constituents. Even though I’m not going to Denver, I have been playing with new tools as well, helping out friends and, as always, looking for new online tools.

This week, a lot of the focus has been on video, so I thought I would highlight a few of the different tools.


Mogulus claims to be the most powerful live broadcast platform on the internet. You can use their platform to mix live video with videos that you’ve imported from other sites like YouTube.

As a powerful tool, it also takes a little bit of getting used to. Yesterday, I loaded some clips in, mostly that I had shot of various events at Falcon Ridge, and set up a ‘Clips from Falcon Ridge’ storyboard, which plays automatically when I am not broadcasting live.

Today, I brought in a few clips from other sources. Jen Just has uploaded a couple videos to YouTube about her preparation for going to Denver. Her video of all the materials she has received is particularly good.

Lon Seidman put up a nice video about the equipment he’ll be bringing to Denver to capture the moment.

I recorded my own segment as a lead in to these segments which I added to Jen’s and Lon’s segments into a ‘Convention Prep’ storyboard which I also added my auto-pilot on Mogulus. I also enabled both of the Mogulus storyboards to be played as part of video on demand.

I also spent a bit of time trying to figure out the best way to do live broadcasts on Mogulus. I’m not very good at it yet, but I’m getting better. I may try some live broadcasts at some point.


Zannel is an interesting new player on the market, that seems to have an interesting marketing approach. Word is that they will help cover expenses of some of the bloggers going to Denver if they agree to post content on Zannel. Already, there are some good test messages up. For example, be sure to check out some of the videos from Steve at Uppity Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to import video from Zannel into Mogulus, but I have managed to add their feed into FriendFeed. Zannel also has the ability to feed other systems, but because of possible feedback loops or duplicate entries, I haven’t set that up yet.


I’m getting into Seesmic a little bit more now that I have a few friends there. Adrianne from Black Women in Europe and I have been having a nice discussion as she prepares for Denver. According to the most recent update, as of this post, she is in Washington DC, has a new laptop and is going to meet some good blogging friends there.


Adrianne spoke about problems with Ustream. I found it cumbersome and like the other video services better. I don’t know of anyone using Ustream for broadcasting from Denver. If you hear of anyone, let me know.


So, how do we tie all of this together? Well, it seems like FriendFeed might be a particularly good service to use. I’ve set up the FriendFeed DemConvention room. This is a big messy feed. If I find a social media feed from someone that is going to Denver, I add it. We are approaching sixty different feeds going into the room. You have to scan through to see which entries are interesting or not. In addition, when I recognize people who have joined the room, I make them administrators, so anyone can add feeds to the room.

A different approach has been done by Andy Carvin. He has set up the FriendFeed DNC08 room. This room only has eight feeds coming into it, however they are feeds from Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and FriendFeed that are tagged in one way or another as DNC.

So, it looks like there will be lots of interesting online content to find and view.

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Latest Tech News

As I continue to dig out of my emails as well as messages on various sites, I’ve built up a list of various technology developments that have caught my interest.


This is another player in the http://openmicroblogging.org/ space. (Note: As I write this post, the OpenMicroBlogging page simply says, “It works!” instead of pointing to the protocol definition that used to be up there.)

OpenMicroBlogger.com runs an instance of the software you can find on openmicroblogger.org which uses the OpenMicroBlogging.org protocol. Confusing? Yeah. I wished they had used different names the way Identi.ca and Laconi.ca did.

What is nice is that it supports federation, including interoperability with Laconi.ca

Other things that are nice is that it supports OpenID. Unfortunately, it didn’t like the delegation of my OpenID from Orient Lodge to my XRI based OpenID at 2idi.

What was nice is that when I set up a new account there, it set up a new OpenID account at e-cred.org. One the one hand, I would have much rather had my OpenID redirection work, but if that isn’t working, at least setting things up to go to a new OpenID server, instead of having a completely separate authentication system seemed good.

I haven’t looked closely at the e-cred.org server, but it looks nice and I’m wondering if it supports attribute exchange and if they might end up allowing custom attributes. As an example, I’ve been looking to see if we could come up with an OMBprofile attribute for OpenID. With that, and getting OMB sites to support the attribute, when you remotely subscribe to an OMB stream, you could simply use your OpenID profile making for one less URL to remember.

In terms of the federation, it seems to work okay with Identi.ca, but I had problems getting it to work with my Laconi.ba based server.


So, this federation stuff, enabling users of one microblogging site to follow users of other microblogging sites is pretty cool. But what if you use a legacy microblogging site, like Twitter that doesn’t support interoperability? Well, http://bridge.kshep.net provides a gateway between Twitter and Identi.ca. It would be nice if it provided a bridge between Twitter and any open microblogging site, whether those sites are laconi.ca instances or openmicroblogger.com instances. I’m sure we’ll get there.

I have not set up the bridge yet, because I’m concerned about feedback loops, or at least duplicate entries. I may get around to tweaking my network so I can plug in the bridge, but I may try to set up my own OpenMicroBlogger.org instance first.


I’ve mentioned Rejaw before. However, yesterday, I had some good discussions there. It is still very early there, but its looks like it is about to jump the chasm from being just an innovators playpen to being an area for the early adopters. I think it may have blown past Kwippy.com, yet another microblogging site that hasn’t seemed to jump that chasm yet.


chi.mp is currently in alpha, and I haven’t gotten my invite yet. Besides having an interesting URL, it is focused on open standards, like OpenID, Oauth, Attribute Exchange and Atom. They are saying the right things. It will be interesting to see what they can deliver.


Also coming across my transom this week was an invitation to play with blip.fm. As best as I can tell, it is trying to play in the last.fm or Pandora space. Personally, I really like using the Pandora/last.fm mashup. It will be interesting to see how blip.fm fits into this landscape, and if any sort of interoperability emerges.

I’ll play with this a little bit more later.

Xoost is an interesting idea. Social searching. Do a search on Xoost. Find out what other people similar to you are searching on, shared interests, which pages they found most interesting, something like that.

It is in beta, by invitation. I’m not sure that there are enough innovators on the list yet to obtain critical mass and make the searches particularly interesting, but the idea is fascinating.


Other’s have encouraged me to check out URTurn.com. When I checked recently, I was told that it was down for repairs and upgrades. There slogan is that ‘Every Click Counts’. I’ll try to remember to check back.


Okay, this will end off my list for today. Nurien is another virtual world system. It is supposed to have very good resolution and physics. I’ve seen a video, but that is about it. The video looked very impressive, so I look forward to a chance to explore that in more detail soon.

So, that pretty much catches me up on some of the new technology that has been catching my eye. What’s been catching yours?

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