RBR – Simulate to Accumulate

Take a ride with Mark Webber as he prepares for the opening race of the 2010 Formula One season in Bahrain by tackling every corner of the Sakhir circuit in Red Bull Racing’s state-of-the-art simulator.

Vindaloo against Violence

One Melburnian has come up with a novel way to support the Indian community in Australia and speak out against the violence recently committed against Indian students.

Her website, Vindaloo against Violence is encouraging people to visit their local Indian restaurant on February 24, 2010.

Some media reports of the event:

There’s no reason you can’t visit your own local curry house, no matter where you are. The important thing is to celebrate diversity in culture and food and show that Australians value multiculturalism, rather than fear it.

Top Deck Lunch aboard the MV Sydney 2000

On March 15, Priscilla and I joined her aunt and uncle for lunch aboard the Captain Cook Cruises ship MV Sydney 2000. We got a good deal ($70 for 2 people for 3 course lunch) due to an offer through the NRMA.

MV Sydney 2000

The MV Sydney 2000 is a very impressive boat. Effectively a floating restaurant, it glides around the harbour as you eat your meal. There isn’t much sense of being on a boat at all, there is almost no noticeable movement and most other ships get out of your way as you approach – size has it’s merits.

We enjoyed the “Top Deck Lunch” and were seated in the “Sirius Saloon” on the “Sky Deck”. It was a lovely meal – although you should be aware that you have to pay for drinks in addition to the meal that you get with your ticket.

It took approximately 2.5 hours to circle the harbour, a leisurely ride with some lovely food. It really felt like the world was travelling slower as we meandered around the harbour.

While it was nice, I think I would have enjoyed a smaller, less opulent ship to cruise around in. We felt too detached from the world around us, “in the world, but not of the world” sort of thing. A smaller ship where you can feel the waves and smell the salt air would make me feel more alive and like more of an event.

It was a great day, but make sure you get a good deal as the high price (normally $74 per person) and lack of sensation make for an imperfect day, but certainly an experience like no other.

Cocktails at sunset on the MV Sydney 2000

Winning Waratahs

No, not the flowers, the rugby team.

Wycliffe Paul offloading for NSW vs Wellington

NSW got off to a good start in the Super 14 rugby tournament on the weekend, beating the Wellington Hurricanes 20-3. There are new rules this year which are supposed to make the game more entertaining to watch but will need some time to settle in.

A great performance from Timana Tahu when he was able to get involved got Lachlan Turner over the line for a couple of tries. Also Wycliffe Palu and Rocky Elsom had good games, indicating NSW might be up for a brighter season than last year.

While Lote Tuqiri needs to continue working on his kicking, he can run and tackle like very few other wingers playing rugby. It is great to see former league players making waves in rugby. Hopefully the success that almost all converts have (Wendell who?) will point people towards rugby league for it’s higher skill sets, tempo and levels of tribalism, leaving rugby to it’s representative role, which it does rather well.

Waratah flowers from Robertson, NSW.

NSW is now away against the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton, NZ next week, then over to play the Otago Highlanders in Dunedin, NZ the week after. Their next home game is against the ACT Brumbies at the SFS on March 7.

MythTV on Ubuntu

A few months ago I rebuilt my development box to be a PVR using Ubuntu Linux and MythTV. I originally planned to use Mythbuntu but had a lot of issues installing it, let alone getting it to work the way I wanted it to.

Firstly I did a standard Ubuntu 7.04 desktop install – Gnome desktop, LAN connectivity – and hooked it up to my Dad’s Panasonic widescreen projector via VGA cable. This was a little problematic as both Ubuntu and the Projector were trying to adapt to each others settings rather that just going for WXGA like they ought to have. Eventually I got a nice 1366×768 picture going and set about installing MythTV.

MythTV screenshot

MythTV is a PVR software project that is roughly comparable to Windows Media Centre. There is even a theme that will ape WMC if you like, but at it’s heart it is a TV recording and playback system, but you can make it do almost anything using the various plugins. In my case I was using an old Twinhan Digital TV tuner card, outputting to the projector and the stereo amplifier in the lounge room.

Installing MythTV isn’t painful at all using Ubuntu’s software repository: $sudo apt-get install mythtv

Configuring it on the other hand was very complex. If you are very lucky your system will detect your video card — my tip is to get it working beforehand – if /dev/dvb0 exists configuring MythTV is much simpler.

Once you have MythTV talking to your TV card you can scan for channels and watch and record TV, if you like. MythTV is setup as a frontend/backend arrangement (or client/server, if you prefer). The MythTV backend needs to be constantly running so it gets schedule updates and can start and stop recording when unattended. The frontend does not have to be on the same computer and is the part where you get to interact with the program and videos.

One cool thing I got working after a bit of effort was the Electronic Program Guide (EPG). Until this was working the box was really a learning experience rather than something useful. Using the community provided guide over at Oztivo and some clever scripting to get the EPG periodically, suddenly MythTV was alive and autonomous. Tell it you want to record Formula 1, or the Rugby World Cup, or The Unit or Heroes or Doctor Who and it schedules it as soon as the program appears in the guide data. You can pay for the IceTV guide if you like, but I found the XMLTV format provided at OzTivo to be both accurate and accessible.

Playing back recorded videos has a few cool features. Using simple keyboard commands or your remote control (once setup) you can easily skip advertisements or jump forwards or backwards through the video. Even better, you can get MythTV to scan the program for Commercial breaks (blank screen, lack of station logo etc) and it will automatically mark or even skip these breaks for you. This was great and makes TV much more watchable.

The recorded programs are stored in MPEG2 format and are simple to edit and store for future reference or archive (to DVD or as XVID).

All in all this was the most powerful PVR I have come across, but was a definite challenge to get going. If you want a HTPC, I’d recommend almost everyone to use Windows Media Centre as it is much simpler to setup. If you want a PVR, buy one from a shop – they are getting quite affordable, are much quieter than a PC and are simple to use. At Strathfield Car Radios they even have a SD Set Top Box for $79 that you can put your own Hard Disk Drive into for an incredible bargain PVR.

The advantages of MythTV over those kind of setups are mainly in the EPG, the Commercial skip/delete facility and the built in Networking. Plus the fact it is completely free – both free as in beer and free as in speech.

MythTV screenshot 2

Wiring up a 5.1 surround sound system

Yamaha RX-V361B AV Receiver

Recently my sister purchased a Yamaha RX-V361B 5.1 home theatre receiver. My Dad first had a go at setting it up, but failed as there was a hardware fault with the receiver. After it was repaired/replaced, my brother, brother-in-law and myself had a go at setting it up (ruined the family Christmas celebrations, unfortunately.

My sister has a bit of a complex setup, a DVD player, Digital TV STB and Foxtel receiver all currently going into their 42″ plasma TV. They put a couple of restrictions on us setting it up too – all devices must still be watchable with the surround sound amplifier turned off and it must be simple to use (not too complex a procedure on the remote controls).

We couldn’t do it.

We tried, but it just wasn’t possible to have high quality picture coming through the AV receiver as well as directly to the TV, so you ended up having to chose between best quality or simplest.

The problem was mainly due to the Foxtel box. Foxtel signals are not very high quality. The Fox box is able to output video via S-video or Composite cable, at that’s it. Sound is only stereo. Both the other devices have at least Component picture (plus S-video plus composite) and the HDTV box has DVI/HDMI as well. Both have digital audio out (optical or coaxial) which allows the receiver to turn whatever signal is coming in (2.0, 2.1, 5.1, DTS, 7.1 etc) into the appropriate signals to the 5.1 speakers installed in the room. Plus stereo.

The Yamaha amplifier only has a “pass-through” video output to the TV. By this I mean that if you have one signal coming in as composite, one as S-video and one as component, they will be relayed to the TV via the corresponding output, the composite will only come out the composite, the S-video will only come out the S-video, the component will only come out the component. This meant if you decide to change the box you are watching, say Fox to DVD, you would have to change the input on the Amplifier, then change the input on the TV – this does not meet my sisters simple directive.

So what we did was hook all three input devices to the receiver via S-video cables, purchased from your local supermarket. This had a couple of unforseen consequences. Firstly, the DVD player would not output a 16:9 widescreen image via the S-video connection. Secondly the Foxtel box needs to be tuned to either output via composite or S-video, not both, and one or the other must look awful at all times.

We got past the first issue by trying a second DVD player that was fortunately in the house, this one was happy to output widescreen on all connection types. The second we couldn’t beat. Foxtel’s hardware deficiancies simply could not be beaten. In the end we had to get the residents to decide if they would normally watch Fox via the receiver and tune it for S-video, or direct on the TV, in which case we would tune it for composite.

We ran secondary outputs direct from each device to the TV. The DVD had a component cable which went straight to the TV, the HDTV had a DVI/HDMI output we were able to plug straight in, and the darn Fox box had that composite cable which wasn’t very watchable (all devices were able to send stereo via RCA to the TV in addition to the signal going to the AV receiver). This allows my sister to just flick around the inputs on the TV remote without having the amplifier on, if she chooses. We also explained that the DVD and HDTV pictures were actually better straight into the TV and to only have the sound coming via the amp, whereas the Fox needs the amp to show it’s best.

It was all a bit complicated, really, which is unfortunate. Fortunately, the sound from the Yamaha amplifier and JBL 5.1 speakers was excellent. Many hours of home entertainment are in store at that house, I tell you.

JVC RXD-701S AV Receiver

My Dad has also recently purchase a home theatre amplifier. His is a JVC RXD-701S 7.1 surround receiver which he has hooked up to the projector and various speakers we have scrounged/created over the years. One nifty feature of this unit is firstly it’s HDMI capability and another is video upscaling. Basically what this means is that if you have a bunch of different inputs as we had at my sisters, the receiver will translate them into the highest quality connector you have available (in Dad’s case HDMI) and send that signal to the video monitor. This means select one input on the projector remote and the receiver is happy to do the rest of the switching by itself.

Unfortunately Dad reports that the JVC doesn’t have as many inputs as the Yamaha, nor is it as flexible at mixing and matching audio to video signals, but it should provide a mighty sound and very impressive home theatre, when coupled with the projector and 106″ screen he has.

The other part of wiring up a home theatre system, the tedious bit, is the running (and hiding) of the speaker wire and the installation of said speakers in unobtrusive locations. Fortunately my brother-in-law had already done this at his place which allowed us to focus on wiring up the inputs to the amplifier. Dad hasn’t done his yet and I doubt it will look as neat for some time as Dad is upgrading bit by bit, rather than starting from scratch.