Thursday, November 15, 2007

Today’s tech tip:

Sometimes, when working with your computer, you’ll find it to be somewhat non-compliant. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it can be quite frustrating. I understand this as well as anyone. I’m currently flanked by two separate computers that I have running almost all the time, and I’ve recently embarked on a diskless thin client project that has yet another computer in the mix, but more on that later. I think if I were to count up the number of working computers in this house, (I’m using the term “working” loosely. By that, I mean that they boot up. However, I would be hard pressed to get any real “work” done on a 286 these days, even if there are several of them harnessed together to form one semi-useable cluster. But not useful like Voltron, think useful like a graphics calculator, only with no pictures, just words.) it would probably reach double digits quite easily.

I guess that’s just my really long-winded way of saying, “yeah, I’ve been there.” Today’s tip is aimed at helping out the less technically savvy folks out there who may also be experiencing this frustration from time to time. I’m going to try and keep it as simple as possible so I don’t confuse anyone, but if it gets too technical, just let me know.

I’ll use an example I happened to come across today. I was working on my Mythbox, which runs a version of MythTV known as Knoppmyth. Knoppmyth is a modified version of Knoppix that allows you to install MythTV onto almost any reasonable computer setup you might have and it does so in a fairly reasonable amount of time. (About a half hour if everything goes according to plan.) I’m a big fan. It’s worked out well for me so far. Recently, I’ve been trying to make a secondary box that can connect to the main box and basically share all the recorded shows over my home network. I want it to be small, quiet and energy efficient, so I started looking into thin clients. I was able to procure 3 such thin clients on eBay for the whopping sum of $30.00. They came without power supplies, but that was easily cured with yet another $4.99 eBay purchase. That brings the total money spent up to about $15 per machine. This is a good number for someone that is currently unemployed.

From here, I set the thin client to boot over the network, something I thought would take me the better part of today in order to get working properly. Turns out, you just run knoppmyth_diskless_frontend.bash and you’re done. Go figure.

Here’s where the problem starts. The frontend isn’t extremely powerful. It has an 800 mHz processor with 512 KB of RAM. It can handle the shows I have that have been compressed, but it cannot handle the raw HD programs that I have. Those run about 7 GB/hour vs the 350 MB/hour that the compressed shows take up. So I needed to find a way to compress the shows down after they were recorded. I did a little research and found just the program I needed with some handy step-by-step instructions to get it all up and running. This is where things hit a small snag.

When I went to reboot after all the proper changes were made, I found that I was no longer able to watch and record TV. Seeing as how this is the sole function of the Mythbox, you can understand why this caused some frustration for me. Sure, I went through the usual steps, double-checked my settings, made sure everything was pointed the right direction and plugged in. But in the end, I went with the tried and true shortcut that I will share with you now.

----Finally, the stupid tip you’ve been waiting for----

Stop me if this gets too technical, but what you want to do in this situation, is flatten out your palms and try and mash down all the keys at once. A slightly more advanced technique involves flipping your hand over, so the backside is facing the keyboard, and using only your fingernails; run your hand back and forth over the keys like you would on a piano. You’ll want to do this for at least 10 seconds, but not more than 15 otherwise you might damage the computer. After that, just hit the reset switch on your computer and everything should boot up back to normal. It’s practically foolproof.

That’s all for today’s tech tip, I hope everyone finds that helpful. It certainly got me out of a jam today. After all, there’s a lot of great TV to record on Thursdays.


cadiz12 said...

i think i have to work on my technique. i tried your tip and the only thing my computer did was let out some kind of mechanical-sounding groan.

omar said...

I've added the tip to the support wiki we maintain at my job. Thanks!

LSU_guy said...

I would be interested in knowing what kind of thin clients you procured. I'm looking for some too.

You can email me LSU_guy_ca at

Jon said...

Lsu_guy: I just looked up thin clients on ebay. I happened to get some neoware CA2's. They didn't have power supplies. But that was easily remedied on ebay as well. If you're planning on using them in some sort of a myth setup, the onboard video doesn't really cut it. you're best bet will be to add a better video card. I'm cheap, so I only added a $25 128mb nVidia PCI card. I can only watch shows I've compressed down to xvid, but that works for me. Hope that helps!