Capturing HD video from PVR on a Mac & WPtouch WordPress Plugin

Two quick notes to add in the “Technical Shit That’s Happening Around These Here Virtual Parts” Department (and no, I have no idea why I’d suddenly be speaking like an ironic cowboy).

First, the last two posts to this blog have included a bit of HD video captured to my new MacBook via a piece of hardware I already owned and a terrific little software package that I found courtesy of teh Intarwebs.  The video was captured from my BellTV PVR via a Haupaugge! HD PVR unit, connected via USB 2.0 cable to my MacBook.  I captured the video on my MacBook by way of Steven Toth’s excellent Mac application “HDPVR Capture”.  That setup may have some redundancy built into it – there’s really no reason to have a set top box PVR connected to another device that itself turns a computer into a PVR, really – but I tend to carry my MacBook around with me a lot and it’s not likely to be sitting next to the TV ready to capture whatever television programs I might want to record, so (in my case) it does actually make a little sense from a hardware standpoint.  The hardware configuration is really unimportant, though: the more interesting bit about this is the software package I used to capture the (HD) video to computer.  The Haupagge unit ships (or at least it did when I bought it) with software for Windows-based PCs, but no applications are provided for Mac users. I don’t believe you’ll ever consider selling MacBook. The Windows-based notebook that I had previously been using to capture video barely fit the minimum specs and it frequently choked on the video capture tasks set for out.  Worse still, the capture process was producing an “m2ts” file on the computer, a file set out in a format (as I understand it) designed to be understood by PVRs, but supported by precious little editing/playback software out there.  The end result was that I found myself struggling to make reliable copies of programs I had recorded, and generally unable to thereafter edit or trim the files (even to do something simple like take out commercials), and unable to archive the files on optical media by burning them to DVDs.

Enter Steven Toth.  Let me say that I don’t know the man and I’m not receiving any compensation from him whatsoever; I am just a very satisifed user of the application he has developed, “HDPVR Capture”.  As I understand it, Mr. Toth knows quite a bit about the Haupaugge device because he’s worked on the inside there;  he knew that the manufacturer was choosing not to support Mac Users, so he filled the void himself and wrote such an application.

My review of this software: It Kicks Ass.  Simply stated, it works.  Easy to install, easy to use, I had it up and running in a matter of moments after my licence key was received via email (there is a demo version available for free download with certain features locked out or restricted, paid licence allows the user to access all features, but the licence is restricted to use with one Haupaugge unit only).

The videos I’ve captured convert easily into .mp4 files, which then import easily into iMovie and may be edited exported like any other captured video, no problem whatsoever.

Second: I have installed a plugin on the site called WPtouch.  The plugin automatically creates a version of the site for iPhones and various other smartphones.  If you have WordPress 2.7 or higher installed, you can install this plugin directly from your admin panel by clicking on the Plugins/Add New link, then typing “WPtouch” in the search box, clicking on the appropriate link when it comes up and following the on-screen instructions that follow thereafter.  The whole installation process took me about three minutes from stem to stern, and – again – it worked like a charm, at least I think.

Would anybody who’s accessing the site from smartphone let me know how the site is functioning for you.  Any thoughts, suggestions as to whether the smartphone specific theme works for you?

Understanding Ubuntu?

I’m doing some repair work on Spouse’s mom’s computer.  The sick toaster arrived on Thursday along with its disappointed users.  It had a “virus” according to the folk at the computer shop who wanted to charge her big bucks for fixing it.

I doubted very much whether this was the case and – at my request – the afflicted machine was presented for my inspection prior to the authorization of any such repairs.  I have my doubts about these repair shop chaps;  the primary hard drive wasn’t even connected to the mother board when I opened up the case of the machine.  A couple of quick connections later, I at least had the hard drive responding.  I now suspect that the master boot record, a file Windows needs to get started, has been damaged one way or another when the computer was being used.  I am hoping to attempt a repair.  There’s nothing wrong with the hard drive itself – I’m actually typing this post on the machine in question.   I downloaded an image for the Debian installation of (Linux) Ubuntu 9.04 and installed it on this machine earlier this evening.  (For those who don’t know, Linux is a totally free open-source operating system;  the advantage of the Ubuntu 9.04 version, as I understand it [easy there, Linux guys, I’m new to this] is that it can easily co-exist with previously installed Windows operating system, a neat little trick.)  My hope was to install this version of Linux and examine the contents of the hard drive (I don’t have the Windows backup disc right now, and the machine as presented was failing to boot into anything, so I needed an operating system that would grant me access to the hard drive.)  A couple of quick mouse clicks later, la voila, Firefox is up and running and I am typing this here post.

Wish me luck.  At the moment, I’m having some trouble getting Linux to grant me access to that portion of the hard drive partition that contains the Windows stuff;  I can see it (and the files it contains) in the Linux equivalent of Windows Explorer, but I can’t seem to manipulate data over there (can’t write files, can’t delete them either).  For now, it’s too late to continue the investigation.  But tomorrow is another day.

The Domino Effect: Blender Revisited

A quick post today;  I was back to work for the first time in three glorious weeks, and I have to admit that it only took about two hours of the chaos inherent in office life to get me pining nostalgically for my morning cup of tea in the living room with the cat purring contentedly on the back of the chair behind me.  I will be calling it an early night tonight and trying not to get too exhausted in my first week back.

You may recall that some time back, I mentioned that I was fooling around with a package of 3d modelling software called Blender.   Part of my last vacation hurrah on Saturday and Sunday was to spend some quality time in front of the monitor fiddling about with this little package of digital wonders.  I was greatly assisted in getting back up to speed by a terrific series of tutorials posted on YouTube by super3boy.

The video below is a brief animation I rendered after completing super3boy’s 19th blender tutorial, on the subject of domino physics.   The animation shows a series of “dominoes” set up on a plane;  the first domino falls over and knocks over the next one in sequence, causing a tower of dominoes to crash to the ground.  It was remarkable how simple this was to create.  All it took was some very basic modelling – creating and scaling a mesh cube, really – then copying the “domino” several times and placing it on the plane.   Blender takes care of the rest;  the physics of the virtual world are already coded in the software and all the (ahem) visual artist need do is designate the appropriate objects as “actors” in the scene to be animated.  A brief key sequence starts the “game engine”, which is the piece of software that calculates the physical outcome of the scene you’ve created (in this case, tumbling dominoes) and – last but not least, a command to render the scene into the desired video format.   It took only about five to ten minutes of my interaction with the computer to do this;  the rest was taken care of by the software.  I am flabbergasted.  Blender is also capable of adding textures, lighting and shading effects to all of the objects (none of which are evident in the scene below, as I didn’t take the time to apply these effects), which is to say it’s capable of making the animation look a hell of a lot more realistic than the sequence below.   Right now, I’m just astounded by the ease with which this sequence was created.

I am looking very much forward to using Blender more extensively in some video projects I have germinating in the recesses of my mind.  I am especially anxious to explore the video compositing capabilities of the package, and to combine 3d effects created and rendered in Blender with actual video footage captured from live action cameras.

RUNTIME error.

Anger. Frustration. Despair.

These are the emotions experienced by an otherwise rational person trying to decipher the apocryphal meaning concealed deep beneath the outer veneer of something disguised as language and otherwise known as a “simple” introduction to any programming language. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful that my fellow netizens – some of them, anyway – have taken the time to write pages and tutorials detailing their knowledge and understanding of such subjects in an organized way; that is one of the things that makes the open source community such a wonder for me. There is a pervasive ethos that is all about helping the other guy understand how things – code – work, or at least trying to do so. I have benefitted greatly from the knowledge and wisdom of others in this way, and I recognize that when one is presented with an equine gift, one ought not to studiously examine the nag’s teeth.

But dude. If you’re going to take the time to write, in your “PHP 101” materials, the following sentence:

My goal in this series of tutorials is very simple: I’ll be teaching you the basics of using PHP, and showing you why I think it’s the best possible tool for Web application development today. I’ll be making no assumptions about your level of knowledge, other than that you can understand basic HTML and have a sense of humor.

you should probably wait for a little bit longer than, oh, say THE NEXT PARAGRAPH to drop the term “development environment” on me. I need the Fisher-Price beginning.

You know, I like to think that I’m a little more tech savvy than the ordinary guy; I operate and maintain this site, I’ve used open source software to convert .avi files from PAL to NTSC style video (and to re-synch the audio thereafter), I can bluff my way through simple image editing with the GIMP, I can spot (and trace) a simple spoofed email, and I taught myself my first programming language (FORTRAN) when I was ten, from a book that my Dad had brought home from work; I didn’t have a computer to actually run the programs I wrote in response to the “Problems” in the text, but my solutions were identical to those set out in the “Answers” portion of the book and by the time BASIC came along and I managed to somehow get a little face time with a Radio Shack TRS-80, I had an appreciation for the beauty of well-written code that I think was somewhat uncommon among fourteen year olds in 1980. All of that experience tells me that “development environment” likely has something to do with describing the virtual box within which the php code that I want to write will be created. I’m even relatively certain that the virtual box needs to be built “on” the web server that’s going to ultimately execute the php code that I write.

But I wish to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I wasn’t already guessing about shit like this, two paragraphs in to the lesson. I might have a little more confidence that this learning exercise isn’t going to be excruciatingly painful. Is it so hard to simply say, “Look, you’re going to need a place to write this code, and that place can’t be on your local computer, the one you have on your desk or your lap or whatever – it needs to be on something zippy and powerful like a web server, so you’re going to need to download an application and then put it on your server to make sure you’ve got a little php sandbox to play in.”


UPDATE: 10:45 p.m. and I’ve finished the first lesson. I have to give the author his props, the rest of the lesson was generally very comprehensible and not nearly the exercise in Stalinist self-denial I was expecting. It would seem, however, judging by some of the comments at the bottom of the post, that I’m not the only one who had a little trouble getting started:

Sunday, October 15, 2006


9:54PM PDT · Anonymous User [unregistered]

I say this guide need more ‘explanation’.