Using your PVR to read a long list

Tonight I watched the season finale of the Rick Mercer Report. It was a pretty normal episode, but one of the jokes nearly made me fall off my chair. It was in a spoof ad for “COLD-fX Drip”, an intravenous version of the medication once hawked by Don Cherry. Near the end of the spoof, a list of things you can do while using the medication zoomed by on the screen. Since I have a PVR, I jumped back 10 seconds to watch the list in slow motion to see if anything funny was in it. Lo and behold, Rick had anticipated my move! As it turns out, COLD-fX Drip is great to use while “using your PVR to read a long list!”

Here’s a screen capture for your amusement:

screenshot of the Rick Mercer Report

Compiz on my Inspiron 5100

My laptop is an Inspiron 5100, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out how to get “Desktop Effects” (compiz) going in Ubuntu. I didn’t think my video card (Radeon Mobility 7500) was compatible, but it turns out it is. I just needed to change a couple settings.

First, I put the following in /etc/drirc:

<option name="allow_large_textures" value="2" />

Then, in /etc/X11/xorg.conf I changed my DefaultDepth from 24 to 16. Finally, I restarted X with Ctrl-Alt-Backspace, and enabled compiz in System –> Preferences –> Appearance –> Visual Effects. Voila!

I found these instructions here.

New machine

I’ve been thinking about building myself a new desktop machine for a while now, but I finally got around to it this weekend after the motherboard in my old machine failed. Here’s what’s in the new one:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 (2.66 GHz)
  • Asus P5K-V (1333 MHz FSB, integrated video)
  • 2GB Corsair Twin2X PC2-6400 (4-4-4-12)
  • Antec Solo case
  • Corsair VX450 power supply
  • WD Caviar 500 GB SATA hard drive
  • Asus DRW-1814BLT SATA DVD burner

It also has a few components from my old machine, namely a 250 GB PATA hard drive, Hauppauge HVR-1600 ATSC/NTSC tuner card, and M-Audio Omni sound card.

Initially I was experiencing choppy sound and mouse movement whenever the hard drive was active, but I solved the problem by downloading the latest drivers for the JMicron PATA/SATA controller from the manufacturer’s website. Also, the memory was running at 5-5-5-18 timings by default, but I easily fixed that in BIOS. I used Norton Ghost to move Windows to my new SATA hard drive.

This machine is smokin’! Prime95 is running about three times as fast as before, and I can’t believe how fast BeyondTV starts up. The new case is great too. It has way better ventilation than my old one, and I love having USB ports and audio jacks on the front!

Rogers cancellation hell

Since moving to Ottawa, I’ve been getting cable television and internet from Rogers. It wasn’t bad for the first year or so, but since then they’ve been raising their prices every six months, sometimes significantly. It had reached the point where it certainly wasn’t worth it any more, especially considering that Teodora and I don’t watch much television. Mostly we watch CBC shows (Air Farce, 22 Minutes, and Rick Mercer), and CBC has been broadcasting a digital high-definition signal in Ottawa since September 2006. So I took the plunge, and bought a hybrid (digital/analog) TV tuner card for my computer (Hauppauge WinTV HVR 1600) and a set of rabbit ears.

At first I wasn’t pleased with the tuner card, due to the abysmal quality of the software that came with it. But at the recommendation of several reviewers of the card, I downloaded the trial version of a piece of PVR software called BeyondTV. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over Hauppauge’s software and it’s quite usable. Watching high-definition TV on the computer is great, and being able to skip the commercials makes it ever better!

To replace our internet, I decided to switch to DSL service from the National Capital Freenet, a not-for-profit internet service provider and the world’s second free-net. Unfortunately, I’m quite far from Bell’s nearest central office and thus limited to a download speed of 2.5 Mbps, compared to 6 Mbps with Rogers. But the NCF’s price is significantly less, and some things are actually faster with NCF, for example BitTorrent downloads, which Rogers slowed significantly using traffic shaping.

Yesterday I reached the point at which I was satisfied with the new television and internet setup, so it was time to pull the plug on Rogers. First I had a look through the FAQ on their web site to figure out what I needed to do to cancel my service. I was disappointed to learn that they require 30 days advance notice, but what can you do? I also read that cancellations can be done by phone any time from 7:00 am to 2:00 am, seven days a week. But after phoning them up and navigating through the annoying interactive voice response system, I reached a department that was currently closed, and would be open during their “normal business hours”, which they neglected to specify.

I phoned again, taking a different path through the IVR with the hopes of getting a real human being on the phone. I succeeded, but the person who answered my call wasn’t able to handle cancellations, and forwarded my call to the same place I had reached on my previous attempt. I called a third time, reached a different person and asked again to cancel. When she proposed to forward my call, I told her about the “normal business hours” message and she told me that indeed that department was closed, and that the mysterious normal business hours were 8:00 am to 9:00 pm, seven days a week. I was surprised to hear that, considering that it was currently 6:00 pm. Upon pointing this out to her, she corrected herself and told me that the weekend hours were actually 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.

So this morning, a bit after 8:00 am, I resumed my quest. Taking my original path through the IVR, I got the same old “normal business hours” message. I called again, taking the path that would bring me to a human. I got forwarded to the same place again. I called a third time, and the person who answered told me that she would be unable to make any changes to my account due to technical difficulties. I called a fourth time, and miraculously reached someone who didn’t decide to shunt me off to some other place after hearing what I was calling about.

She of course told me that I wouldn’t be able to cancel my service for 30 days. I asked whether I could at least cancel my internet immediately, and she told me even that would not be possible. But luckily, I was able to switch my connection speed to the slowest available, thus avoiding most of the wasted cost.

Anyway, I’m glad that in a month’s time I’ll finally be Rogers-free. I’ll be paying less than half what I was before while hardly giving up anything (and even getting a bit extra thrown in, namely CBC in high definition and fast BitTorrent downloads). And hopefully Rogers will stop sending me junk mail once a week! Well, maybe that’s too much to hope for…

Action Figure Party

A while ago, I was fooling around with a couple of the music recommendation services, Last.fm and Pandora. They didn’t suggest much interesting, with one notable exception: Action Figure Party. I heard their song “Everybody Ready” and loved it. I just received their CD, and I’m pleased to report that the rest of the tracks don’t disappoint. In fact, I’ve listened to most of them at least five times now, and love them more with each listen. “Where’s The Moment”, “Clock Radio”, and “Action Figure Party” are also exceptional tracks. There’s tons of vintage instruments: Arp, Moog, Wurlitzer, Hammond, Rhodes, Clavinet, you name it. One track even has some theremin. Definitely check it out if you’re into funky, jazzy music.

Voting for a winner

For the first time in my life, I’ve voted for the winning candidate in an election, namely Paul Dewar of the NDP! In fact, he ended up winning by a fairly large margin, which surprised me. Another surprising thing is that the NDP ended up with more seats than ever in Ontario!

Below are the final results. As you can see, both predictions came very close. Teodora and I ended up making about $27 on the stock market, which is not bad interest for an investment of $400 over a month!

Liberal: 103
Conservative: 124
NDP: 29
Bloc Quebecois: 51
Others: 1

The predictions are in!

Well, the Election Stock Market closed last night, and final prices would put the parties as follows:

Liberal: 93
Conservative: 127
NDP: 33
Bloc Quebecois: 54
Others: 1

The Election Prediction Project, which does a riding-by-riding analysis based on user-submitted commentaries, calls for:

Liberal: 104
Conservative: 118
NDP: 29
Bloc Quebecois: 56
Others: 1

Things are looking good for the NDP, but then again, the Election Prediction Project greatly overestimated the NDP last time, so I’m not getting my hopes up. In any case, it looks like Teodora and I will end up about $20 ahead in the stock market!

Election Stock Market

Here’s a cool idea: a stock market where you can trade in shares of the political parties. The final values of the shares will be determined by the election results, so if you can accurately predict the results, you can make some money by buying shares that are undervalued and selling ones that are overvalued. It’s all done with real money, so you have a financial incentive to make serious predictions.

Teodora and I have been participating since the market opened on December 13, and so far we’ve managed to lose $10 or so. But there’s still a couple weeks to go, so hopefully we can make that back and maybe end up a bit ahead.

This is definitely a cool project to get involved in if you’re interested in politics. It’s actually a research project being done by the University of British Columbia. They’ve had similar markets for previous elections, and they’ve done a pretty good job of predicting the final results.

World record prime number

Since 1998, I’ve been a participant in the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, a project which aims to find huge prime numbers. Just a couple weeks ago, the project broke the world record for the ninth straight time. The record-setting number is 230,402,457-1, which weighs in at 9,152,052 digits! We’re getting awfully close to finding a ten million digit prime and winning the $100,000 prize offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

If you’d like to participate in the project as well, it’s very simple. Just download and install the GIMPS software, which you won’t even notice running in the background. And who knows, you just might get lucky and win a share of that huge prize!