The HTPC I’m using is also my download box. It started to get really tedious to VNC onto it & surf for NZB files, and manage things that way. Now I do it all from my laptop and use a relatively simple batch script to get the NZB files onto the server.
Here’s what’s involved;
Automatic Save Folder – Firefox Add-On
This useful Firefox add-on is used to save the NZB files to a specific folder without even prompting me where to put it. Saves a few clicks and having to re-select the same folder all the time.
One I’m done with the NZB files I then use this simple batch script to map a network drive to the server & move them into a specific folder. This script is then pinned into my Windows 7 Programs folder so that it’s simple to run with a few keystrokes.
Rem EXTRACT ALL ZIP FILES c:\progra~1\7-zip\7z x "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.zip" -o"C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs" Rem DELETE ZIP FILES del "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.zip" del "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.nfo" Rem MAP NETWORK DRIVE (TEMPORARY) NET USE T: \\192.168.1.10\htpc /Persistent:No Rem MOVE ALL FILES TO SERVER move "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.nzb" "t:\usenet\nzbs-import\" Rem UNMAP NETWORK DRIVE NET USE T: /DELETE pause
Alt.Binz Auto-Import Feature
The alt.binz client allows you to automatically import NZB files from a speified folder. It does this automatically & can delete the NZBs after it’s done. This is perfect for what I’m attempting to do here.
Due to a clash with a toddler and my Harmony 555 all-in-one remote I bought a Harmony 600 in September last year. In the last month it’s been repeatedly rebooting/restarting. A new set of batteries sorts the issue out, but only for a couple of weeks, and then it starts happening again. There’s a thread on Logitech’s support site which talks about the problem, so it’s not an isolated issue.
The good thing is, that after raising a support ticket on Sunday, it only took a couple of message exchanges before they said it was faulty & shipped a new remote. They don’t even ask for the old one back, since they can de-activate it on their servers so that it can never be updated online.. pretty much rendering it useless, because there’s no way to update it without using their online app.
Kudos to Logitech for sorting this out so quickly! Really impressive.
I’ve been looking to replace my ageing Xbox which has reliably run XBMC for over 7 years with a box that can handle HD content, as well as acting as a NAS & download server. The Zotac ION box caught my eye, since the latest media center apps now support hardware acceleration for video playback & the nVidia ION GPU is supported.
I bought the kit as a bundle from Mini-ITX.com and fitted a 32Gb SSD for the operating system, and a 1TB Western Digital Essentials HDD which would be attached via USB & powers down when not in use. The shopping list looks like this;
- Zotac ION-ITX-A Motherboard with Dual Core 1.6GHz Atom N330
- 2GB or 4GB DDR2 800 RAM included
- M350 Universal Mini-ITX Enclosure
(bundle costing £233 from Mini-ITX)
- OCZ Onyx 32GB SATA II 2.5in Solid State Disk
(about £50 from Amazon)
- 1TB Western Digital Essentials
(about £45 from Amazon)
For the OS I wanted to use Windows 7; that’s what I’m most comfortable writing scripts + code for. The Linux distros for XBMC Live look pretty good, but there was too much of a learning curve involved for adding in the extra features I wanted.
Installing OS From USB
Since there’s no optical drive, I opted to install Windows 7 from a USB key. I actually used a 4Gb SD card from my camera & a SD card reader, and followed these instructions to make it bootable & have the Windows 7 installation on it. Installation went without a hitch.
After installing the OS, I updated with the latest nVidia drivers, and started installing apps like XBMC. The latest Dharma release of XBMC supports hardware acceleration using DXVA2, however I was unable to get it working with 1080p content & gave up after a couple of hours. I then tried Media Portal which worked perfectly with whatever I threw at it. There’s a brilliant guide on how to configure Windows 7 and MediaPortal by Rhys Jones, which is useful to follow if you want to optimise your HTPC setup.
Next up was getting the remote control working correctly. I had a cheapo CyberLink remote, plus a Harmony 600.. I used the Cyberlink IR Reciever & mapped up keys into the Harmony 600. Some of the buttons worked, some didn’t. I ended up re-mapping the numeric keys to certain MediaPortal features using one of the plugins. I also re-mapped the MCE Green Button so that it runs MediaPortal (see this guide.. scroll to the Green Button heading).
The HTPC also acts as a NAS + handles any downloads, so I’ve written a bunch of scripts to handle certain situtations.
- Timed execution of certain download tasks using Windows Scheduler. Making sure that the tasks don’t bring the HTPC out of sleep.
- Execution of scripts when the HTPC is brought out of sleep (like making sure MediaPortal is running)
Keyboard + Mouse Control
For times when I need a keyboard, I’m running Unified Remote on the HTPC and the client on my Android phone. This allows me to control most aspects of the HTPC via my phone, without having to buy extra hardware like a wireless mouse/keyboard.
When I was looking to buy a slow cooker I didn’t find much on specific power usage. I guess it depends on your model, but even general figures were hard to find. Now I’ve got one, here’s the deal;
Morphy Richards 3.6 litre crockpot (bought from Argos in Sept 2010)
The readings I took for cooking a full meal for 10.5 hours (high at the start, the low for most of it, then warm for a while), used 1.23kw of electricity. There’s no thermostat so it idles along at whatever power setting you’ve chosen. At today’s UK energy prices you might be looking at 12p per kw of energy, and therefore about 15p to slow cook a meal.
It’d be interesting to know how much energy it would take to cook this purely on the hob, in some ways I’m guessing it might be cheaper, but the convenience of the slow cooker for some meals is what appeals.. plus 15p isn’t exactly expensive.
I’ve recently bought a new Freeview HD box from 3view. It has a whole host of features and can be considered a “connected” device. As with most high-end set-top-boxes (STB) it pulls software firmware updates from the web, and I was interested to see where it went to get these updates & how it knew they were available.
I know about using tools to sniff network traffic, but have only done this to sniff traffic coming directly out of the PC I’m running the capture software on. Buying this 3view box gave me more of an inventive to expand my knowledge & figure out how to capture the traffic from other devices.
It was actually relatively easy. I decided to do a Machine in the Middle (MITM) ‘attack’ which was documented over at the Wireshark wiki.
In my case I didn’t have 2 network cards, but did have a laptop with one network card, and a wireless card. In Windows XP I bridged the NIC to the Wireless adapter, then plugged in a cross-over cable that linked the 3view box to my laptop. Then, after a bit of messing about with IP addresses it started working.. my 3view box was accessing my wireless router via my laptop.
Now that all the traffic from the 3view box was going via my laptop, all I then needed to do was fire up Wireshark & take a look at the packets.
Intercepting the traffic allowed me to see where the box was going for it’s updates, and the User Agent. That’s been documented over at the 3viewer community website I set up for 3view owners.
This post will probably end up sounding like an ad, but that’s not the point of this post. Basically, I had to move ISPs because O2 were wanting heavier users off their network & don’t care if any downloads are limited to the early hours of the morning.
The hunt was on for a new ISP and BT looked half decent with a cap of 100Gb (at 80Gb they start sending you emails to warn you). Then a mate of mine said he was with IDnet; I took a look at their website & it was a breath of fresh air.. they actually publish their usage limits! If only more ISPs were as transparent as this!!
Migration only took 5 working days, and the new ADSL2+ service is really speedy.. I don’t get any problems watching iPlayer at peak times like I did with O2. Fantastic stuff!
Last week I put in my order for a new Freeview HD box from 3view.. the box is due to be shipped on the 27th May 2010. Apart from the official 3view Facebook group, there were no forums or news sites to speak of, so I’ve set up a site called 3viewer which is hosted on some free space with x10hosting.
Site performance isn’t going to blow anyone away (it seems especially poor when the US is awake), but it’s got full PHP support, MySQL databases and everything I needed to set up Joomla and phpBB. Other free hosting (such as Zymic) runs into problems with Joomla extensions because it doesn’t support unzipping of files, which is a bit rubbish.
If you’re in the market for a new Freeview HD box then check out the coverage of the 3view box over at 3viewer.. it looks as though it’ll be a decent box with some interesting Internet-connected features. I’ll be posting independent reviews and videos as time permits.