George Schmauch's blog

Feb 21 2012

Blog - 2011 Fall TV Conclusions

In a previous blog, I lamented the new fall season of television programs and laid out my intentions of not watching any new shows until they proved themselves.  I actually broke down and recorded a couple of new shows, but have yet to watch any of them.  I also spoke about what I was still watching.  Particularly, I had a pretty scathing review of Ashton Kutcher's acting and his character on Two and a Half Men (Charlie Sheen actually seemed to agree with me <scary>).  I may actually need to rescind my comments and I'll explain why.  I'm also interested in what people thought of the fall season.

Nov 15 2011

Blog - Media Server Rebuild - Part 1

Server MotherboardI'm in the beginning stages of rebuilding my Windows Home Server box.  Feel free to check out my original blog for the current setup.  (Note that the blog hasn't been entirely reformatted for the new site.)  There, I stated that my intentions were for my first media server to last a minimum of 5 years.  The fact that I'm writing this just around 2.5 years after the original server went live may seem like I failed in epic fashion.  The truth of the matter, however, is that the server is still running fine and I firmly believe it would continue to meet my needs for at least another 2.5 years.  To quote Mythbusters, I'm calling this one "confirmed" (so far).

The reason I say that is because this won't be a complete rebuild of the server hardware itself.  In fact, my actual, original words were, "Meet current and unknown future needs over the next 5 years (minimum)" and it would appear that the hardware is succeeding in that regard... thus far.  But, it will still include some major changes.  First of all, in a fairly significant change of heart, I've decided to upgrade to Windows Home Server 2011 (more on that in a bit).  Second, I'll be moving to a virtualized environment on the server, with multiple client OS's running, consolidating at least one other computer into the server.  This may be a fairly big undertaking in the amount of underlying changes, but the technology I'm using has been around for quite some time, so I'm extremely optimistic this will be a productive change.

Here are my plans...

Oct 28 2011

Blog - The Importance of Backups

Comic

I recently had the opportunity to utilize my extensive (though, not bullet proof) backup regimen and it managed to save my bacon in a fairly substantial way.  While this certainly is not isolated to HTPCs, I thought it might be a good idea to remind people of the importance of regular, reliable backups.

As everyone surely knows by now, SageTV was purchased by Google.  Those who are running it have been guaranteed a year of guide data and alternatives have already been developed to continue receiving guide data beyond that.  However, there is no way to purchase additional hardware (i.e.  HD300s) or licenses.

Can you see where this is going?  Click the "Read more" link to come along for the ride...

Oct 05 2011

Blog - What's on TV?

The fall season of 2011 has begun and we already have the first casualty in Playboy Club.  This is the first time I decided against recording any new shows that simply sounded interesting.  Normally, I queue them up and watch them at some point later on, often after the first season is over or the show has even been cancelled.  This time, I decided I already have enough backlogged TV to watch.  So, I'm waiting to see which shows get renewed for a second season and people are still talking positively about towards the end of their first season.

Here's what interested me, but I'm also curious what everyone else is watching...

Apr 29 2011

Blog - Game of Thrones on HBO

Game of Thrones Title

I finally managed to find some time to sit down and watch the first two episodes of Game of Thrones.  As it has already been renewed for a second season, my hopes were pretty high.  Full disclosure:  I have never read any of George R. R. Martin's books, upon which this series is based, so I have zero familiarity with the story.  Let me say, right off the bat, that I absolutely am enjoying the show thus far.  As with my previous review, I am going to avoid spoilers to the best of my ability.  My intent with these reviews is to get people interested enough to want to check out the show or avoid it at all costs.  Once again, I will begin with a show summary, this time from Wikipedia:

Game of Thrones chronicles the violent dynastic struggles among the kingdom's seven noble families for control of the Iron Throne; as the series opens, additional threats from the snow and ice covered region north of Westeros and from the eastern continent across a narrow sea are simultaneously beginning to rise.

Apr 13 2011

Blog - Camelot on Starz

Camelot CoverThe wife and I just finished watching the two episode premier of Starz's original series Camelot this past weekend and, before I accidentally read any other reviews or forget what I saw, I thought I would share my own thoughts.  Before delving into my own opinion (which will NOT contain any spoilers!), here is what Starz has to say about their show:

In the wake of King Uther’s sudden death, chaos threatens to engulf Britain.  When the sorcerer Merlin has visions of a dark future, he installs the young and impetuous Arthur, Uther’s unknown son and heir, who has been raised from birth as a commoner. But Arthur’s cold and ambitious half sister Morgan will fight him to the bitter end, summoning unnatural forces to claim the crown in this epic battle  of control. These are dark times indeed for the new king, with Guinevere being the only shining light in Arthur’s harsh world. Faced with profound moral decisions, and the challenge of uniting a kingdom broken by war and steeped in deception, Arthur will be tested beyond imagination. Forget everything you think you know…this is the story of Camelot that has never been told before.

Click the "Read more" link to continue...

Nov 24 2010

Blog - WHS Drive Extender Alternatives?

With yesterday's announcement that MS is killing off DE in the next version of WHS (Vail), I'm on a quest to find a replacement.  What I'd like to get from everyone is what they would replace DE with.

Obviously, the first option is RAID.  Personally, I'd go with RAID6 for the added safety net.  I have considered this many times in the past and I just can't bring myself to go back to it, due to the possible migration issues if the RAID card fails.

The second option would be unRAID, but I have two issues with it.  First off, it's built on Linux and I'm no expert with Linux, so I'd prefer not to have to struggle with a lack of OS understanding when I'm troubleshooting something.  Second, I would need the PRO version (due to my 13 hard drives) which costs $119 and that seems a bit steep to me.

I just stumbled onto Greyhole today, which is billing itself as a free, open source, Linux alternative to DE.  So far, the issues with it are, once again, Linux, and the fact that it's not in a stable state yet (according to the author).

My last known option is a return to FlexRAID, which I had been considering, anyhow, even before MS made this announcement.  Previously, FlexRAID showed issues under WHS and the system load, which does seem to speak to the issues MS was having with DE.  Currently, this is my first choice, but it will require some investigating on it's current state.

Any others?

Oct 29 2010

Blog - Old School HTPC Gaming

With the advent of my HTPC sitting front and center in the living room, attached to the plasma TV, I quickly realized that I don't feel like going upstairs to use my regular computer.  First off, it's warm up there.  Second, even with 3 screens, it's not the same as a 50" plasma.  Third, my home theater speakers are much better than the Logitechs.  So, I started playing Baldur's Gate from the very beginning (again) a few months ago, on the plasma.  These old games don't look very good on monitors with native resolutions of 1920x1200, but they do look quite nice on my 720p plasma at 1366x768, especially with EasyTutu installed, which allows you to utilize the higher resolution Baldur's Gate 2 engine in BG1.

This leads me to a small dilemma.  My HTPC is using HDMI via an ATI 4650, through my receiver.  Due to this, I'm using onboard audio for gaming.  However, I can't use the EAX features of the game without a compatible sound card.  Also note that I'm using 64-bit Windows 7.  Anyone know how to get EAX working under this scenario?
May 07 2010

Blog - HTPC Client Woes

Recently, my normally rock-solid HTPC client has been locking up and turning off every so often.  I had been thinking it was a memory issue and swapping some of the chips out and/or putting them in different slots seemed to make it work again.  This, in spite of the fact that memtest showed no issues at all.  I was beginning to think the slots themselves might be bad in the motherobard.  However, it's still happening.  Now, I'm beginning to suspect a failing PSU, so I'm looking for some options.  That Enermax reviewed earlier this week by SPCR sounded ideal, but it's simply not available here in the states.

I'm currently thinking about the Seasonic X-650 due to the modular cables and SPCR's glowing review .  I definitely want quiet, efficient, and modular.  650W sounds like overkill, but it's my understanding that you generally want to run a PSU at about 50-60% of its capacity.  A 450-500W unit would be ideal for my HTPC, it would seem that, based on the chart on this page , the Seasonic is my best bet.  Any other suggestions?  I'm also trying to find a decent price ($160 seems the going rate at reputable stores).  Newegg isn't usually an option for me because of shipping and sales tax.

Apr 08 2010

Blog - Heatwave HTPC fun!

I've been happily chugging along with my SageTV server /client setup for some time now.  After 2 major snowstorms here in the northeast, accumulating a very unusual 48+ inches, only to be followed shortly thereafter by 2 rainstorms, which wound up with FEMA assistance coming in to some areas, we are now coming to the end of our first--quite early in the season--heatwave this week.  Monday started off in the low to mid 70's, ramping all the way up to nearly 90 yesterday.

Normally, this heat would be very welcome at this point, but it managed to bring about an issue in my SageTV setup.  It would seem that one of my HD-PVRs is having heat-related issues.  I have two of them side-by-side and only one was acting up around 10pm last night.  I had to reboot every time because it was a hard lock.  SageTV threw up a recording error in the middle of the show we were watching, so I immediately knew something was up.  The other HD-PVR was recording fine through all of this.

Luckily, I purchased a spare HD-PVR when I was initially having issues getting them working and was able to swap them out quite easily.  I set the backup HD-PVR to record something for the next hour and it did so without any issue whatsoever.  Given the heat we're due to have again today, I'll be watching this very closely to see if the backup has any issues.  If not, it's RMA time!

Mar 31 2010

Blog - Kudos to Monoprice

I've been a huge fan of Monoprice.com as a company, due to their fantastic products and prices, for a long time now.  I now have another reason to love this company.  Recently, Monoprice was notified of a potential security breach when a few of their customers notified them "that information from credit cards they used on the Monoprice website had been misused".  While they had no indication that a breach had happened, nor any proof from customers that something was awry, they chose to stop taking orders entirely, notify all their customers of the situation via their website, and contacted numerous 3rd parties to conduct an investigation on their system.

According to Monoprice, as of 3/25, no security breach has yet been found, however, they have made numerous changes to their systems:

We rebuilt our network using new hardware and software. We reviewed all web application source code and all databases to ensure there are no security holes. Our network security is professionally managed. We have deployed an improved firewall. We're performing vulnerability scans using service provided by two vendors, Trustwave and McAfee Secure.

...

Additionally, we've contracted with a Qualified Security Assessor, Accudata, which is assisting us complete the formal steps to become a certified Level 1 PCI DSS merchant. Accudata staff told us the certification process may take several weeks.

Click through to read the rest of my blog entry.

Feb 21 2010

Blog - Upgrading to the Harmony 890

As my wife and I planned the new layout of our TV room (which I know I still need to post about), I quickly realized that I would need to replace my Harmony 880 with an RF remote.  Due to cost constraints, I couldn't go with my Christmas wish of the Universal Remote MX-880 and settled for the Harmony 890, which is simply an RF version of the 880.  This upgrade was fairly painless, except for the screwups I brought upon myself.  What I can tell you right away is that the 890 is just as good as the 880 and the RF aspect works fantastic!  The rest of this update is posted with my HTPC Client Blog, so head on over to read and see the rest of this upgrade.

880 vs 890

Read more...

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