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Archive for October 2008

The Pain of Analog Video Capture to Digital w/Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick

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The Pain of Analog Video Capture to Digital.
How to get your analog video to digital

Life is so complex.  If all you want to do is transfer video from a legacy analog camcorder to a DVD or an Mpeg file for distribution or editing – how complex could this be?  Answer: Depending on your strategy – Complex or simple.  Make the wrong choice and you will suffer.

The Computer is not the answer to everything

Check out our review of the Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate stick.  Supposedly this can digitize any video and audio input that comes through S-Video or Composite and stereo audio.  The question is, how much CPU power do you need to do this?  Well, the answer in 2008 is – for the typical user – a lot.

The primary use of the PCTV HD Ultimate Stick is to receive and provide PVR (Personal Video Recorder) for analog and digital TV including High Definition TV.  For this, it works well on a laptop with a dual core 2.0 Ghz CPU and 2 GB of RAM.

But to digitize video and audio from an analog camcorder, this laptop falls short.  It is fast enough to digitize the video imput, but it can not digitize the video and audio at the same time.  The problem is dropped frames.  Video only and no dropped frames.  Add the audio and this Laptop and Pinnacle PCTV HDUltimate stick combo fails with an avalanche of dropped frames.

The only bigger gun over here is a HP desktop with an Athelon 64 X2 4600+ and 2 GB of RAM.  The two cores of 2.4 GHz each and 2 GB of RAM was still not enough power to capture video and audio from the Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick and from a analog camcorder.

Use the appliance

Where there is a will there is a way.  So, pull out the appliance.  The appliance is a Panasonic DVD recorder with S-Video, Composite, and stereo inputs (also DV In and SD – but those are irrelevant for now).  Let the dedicated device do it.

So, with both the laptop and desktop left panting trying to digitize the input from the camcorder we left it up to the dedicated device.  Sure enough, works like a champ.

If that is all you want to do convert your legacy analog video tapes to DVD – you are done.  Stop here.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.

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Written by frrl

October 28, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Shortwave on the Internet – Medium vs Message

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Shortwave on the Internet –
Medium vs Message

 Confounded and Conflated

When one talks about listening to “Short Wave” (radio) what does that mean?  Really, the communication is confounded in the sense that “Listening to Shortwave Radio” conflates the medium and the message.  The medium and the message are separable.

It the past – oh so 5 minutes ago – certain messages could only be communicated through a specific medium.  For example, international broadcasts via RF transmissions in the Shortwave RF spectrum.  But what happens when communications become aligned with new mediums?  Then when one says, “I am listening to Shortwave Radio” maybe post modern people don’t understand what you mean. 

What you are really telling them “I am listening to shortwave” is that you are listening to a medium – but what is the message?  When messages that have been so historically aligned with a specific and irrevocable medum become detached then talk about the medium (Shortwave) makes no sense.

What about Television?  “I am watching Television”.  Now you are talking about an appliance.  Why would you watch an appliance?  You would watch an appliance if that was the only medium by which you could recieve certain types of communications – Video communications in the case of a TV.

“I am on the Telephone”.  Get it?  The Telephone is an appliance for which only certain messages, based on  circumstance, can be communicated.

The Internet Changes Everything

In a word – Convergence.  Convergence enabled by the Internet changes everything.  Now, you don’t need a Television to watch Television – you can watch “Television” on the Internet  ( )without a Television.  You don’t need a Telephone to use the Telephone – you can use Voice Over IP on the Internet for phone calls without a Telephone applicance.

When the idea of convergence becomes part of the taken-for-granted landscape then folks talking about listening to the Radio appliance, watching the Television appliance, and talking on the Telephone appliance will seem strange.  You can do all this on a converged device – such as an apple iPhone or any Internet-connected PC desktop of Laptop.

All of this applies to the traditional sense of “Listening to Shortwave Radio”.  What one means in the legacy sense of this statement is that they are probably listening to international broadcasts.  So why not say “I am listening to International Broadcasts”?  Because the medium (RF Shortwave) has so long been indelibly linked to the message.  It was the only way (the appliance) one could get the message.

Prometheus unbound

International Broadcasts have been liberated from the appliance

Listen to any station, anywhere in the World

Reciva brings the world of Internet radio into your home. We provide access to an extremely diverse range of Internet radio stations from around the world, with broadcasts from nearly every country on the planet. We provide both live and on-demand (“listen again”) content and we support Real Audio, Windows and MP3 streams.

Our directory contains 15062 stations (and 21242 on-demand streams) in 277 locations and 65 genres.

Check out the web site that powers most of WiFi Radio

“Gett’in it”

If you read the title of our posting “Shortwave on the Internet’ and it didn’t bother you as nosensible then now, if you “got it”, then “Shortwave on the Internet” should be incomprehensible.  How can you listen to an appliance on the Internet?


All of our postings have a summary in conclusion.  This one is simple – “Go Listen” –

Other resources

“Television” liberated from the Televsion appliance

Written by frrl

October 26, 2008 at 6:05 am

Redefining Social Reality – The Age of YouTube Celebrity

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Redefining Social Reality –
The age of YouTube Celebrity

So it finally happened.  Social networking on the Internet is more popular than pornography. 

Certain segments of the population are so busy with social networking that they don’t have time to search for adult web sites. 

Imagine that.  The culture is changing and perhaps we are seeing a change in values of the Internet community as expressed in this new preference in linking up with people rather than linking up with yourself.


 This all according to Bill Tancer, Hitwise’s general manager of global research and author of a new book called Click: What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why It Matters. In his book, Tancer says that web searches for social networking sites have finally surpassed searches for pornography.

YouTube as Social Networking

When folks talk about Internet social networking they usually don’t think about YouTube.  They usually think about MySpace and FaceBook.  But, YouTube is a social network of sorts with the distinguishing feature that it is exclusively video-based.

YouTube can be addicting as any Internet activity but with a difference – it has a social context. The real benefit of Internet use is that you discover things that you don’t expect.  A long time ago, before the Internet was public – only available to government research institutions and to universities, I told someone how great it would be if I could get the books and magazines I wanted without going to the brick and mortar library.  The library being a physical inconvenience that I just had no time for.  There was no benefit of going to a physical building.  I did not want the physical building.  All I wanted was the book which was held hostage by this physical edifice which was a geographic distance away.  How inconvenient.

In response, this individual told me that the real benefit of going to the library and searching the stacks for the book I wanted was that I might discover books that I was not looking for.  Of course, looking for the book you want on the shelf you can’t help looking at books next to it.  Perhaps that book catches your interest more than what you sought originally.  It’s an act of discovery.  Expect the unexpected.

The Road not Taken

In a sense, the reward is the road not taken; the reward is what you did not expect.  There is a lot on the Internet that one does not expect.  If you know exactly what you want on YouTube – someone gives you the exact name of the video – then YouTube will find if for you.  But it will also show you related videos that you were not exactly looking for.  Just like the library.  It encourages you to look beyond what you specifically seek – an act of discovery just like the related books in the stacks of the library.  The roads not taken.

YouTube Celebrity

There is celebrity on YouTube.  You can find them by an act of accidental discovery.  They are not Hollywood celebrities, they are just ordinary people.  Or this is what you might think.  But that is not the case.  Many of these folks are anything but ordinary – they are extraordinary.  They provide a valuable link in the nexus of YouTube social networking.

YouTube has a sort of celebrity index.  YouTube collects statistics on how many times a video has been viewed, how many individuals subscribe to a particular video blogger, and a few more statistics that you can find on the users home page.

A low to mid-level YouTube celebrity would have about 3,000 channel subscribers and perhaps 200 videos, and maybe 100,000 views on popular individual videos. Think about that.  Three thousand people have become so interested in this persons videos that they have subscribed to the channel so they can be informed of any new videos that get posted. 

There is no official metric for YouTube celebrity status – but we’d say having 3,000 subscribers and typically 100,000 views on individual videos that they posted – that makes the cut.

Who are YouTube Celebrities and what’s their game

Who are these people?  We know who they are – you can see them – kinda hard to hide from a video blog – but who are they?

Listening closely to language it seems that for some of these folks their “on line life” is merging with their “off-line” life.  For one 38 yr old woman video blogger in particular, this is becoming more and more the case.  It seems that she can made a seamless transition from off-line life to on-line life.  Her blogs are filled with the most personal aspects of her life – typically those subjects that you share only with your close friends.  She, and individuals like her, move between their on-line life and off-line life as any of us would walk from one room to another in our home.

The off-liners- those who have an occasional brush with the Internet – sometimes see people who participate heavily in social communities on the Internet as suffering from some sort of social maladjustment.  That is, the off-liners perceive that the Internet is not Reality.  For these folks, the Real World is the physical world and the world of proximity.  For these people, the world of the Internet is some sort of chimera having the reality of a fantasy.

YouTube celebrities demonstrate a corrective to the off-liners.  YouTube celebrities who so easily merge their on-line life with their off-line life and communicate on-line with such personal matters act like magnets and facilitate the form of YouTube social networking.

One can not dispute that a YouTube celebrity video blogger with 3,000 subscribers has something going.  Why else would 3,000 people subscribe?  These 3,000 subscribers have a chance to meet each other – they were brought together by the celebrity and so they must have something in common.  The home page of the YouTube celebrity will show you their favorites videos.  Going further, if you become a “friend” of the celebrity then you see more links to more people.  And so it goes into links and relationships ad infinitum.

YouTube celebrities – even mid level with 3,000 subscribers – are the sort of gravity that attracts other people.  This constellation of people move through YouTube as subscribers, friends, video responses, and related videos attracting other constellations.  There is no limit to the possible social linkage among people on YouTube. 

YouTube celebrity facilitates this process of social networing.  The fact that YouTube is visual adds to the legitimacy that these are social relationship with all the social cues easily discernible in face-to-face encouters.  How are they not face-to-face – or at least half of that?  In video responses – they are face-to-face but only separated in time but not in kind.

(Social) Reality Test

Maybe the physical world and the realm of your personal physical locality – your neighborhood, your city, is really a diminished form of social existence.

We soon forget the past.  Just a little more than a decade ago the Internet was not public.  To have a friend at that time, typically, you would have to come in some sort of close physical proximity to meet that person or be introduced by a third person.  In this sense, social interaction was hindered by geography and the burden of physical proximity.

But skip ahead to when the Internet became public.  Now geography did not matter.  Skip ahead to 2008 with mature social networks on the Internet.  Now how big is your World?  Your World is no longer limited by geography and proximity.  You can “meet people” in any modern country on the face of the earth.  Imagine that!

The Underground

Lets take a look at some definitions.

Underground: secret; hidden; undercover; in or into secrecy or hiding; so as to be undercover; surreptitiously.
Maladjusted: poorly adjusted, esp. to the environment;Poorly adjusted to cope with social situations

Are the off-liners some sort of underground community – outside the Real social community at large?  Are they hiding from us?  The irony may be that those who call the people who engage in Internet social networking maladjusted are really the ones that are socially maladjusted and not comprehending the extent of the social world that actually exists and can be engaged.

Losing touch with (Social) Reality

The off liners may be losing touch with Reality.  Recently in response to a question I told someone to “go to”.  He though that this was someplace he has to drive in his car and asked me for directions. No, this person was not from a different planet – he was just an off-liner – out of touch with Reality and with an obviously diminished and impoverished set of social relationships.

Resources Social Network Overlap Stats

With a little deeper analysis an interesting picture is revealed. According to the most recent statistics, here are the estimated user bases of the top 5 social networks:

  • Myspace – 200+ million
  • Orkut – 67 million
  • Facebook – 52 million
  • Friendster – 50 million
  • Bebo – 40 million has calculated the following number of active users in October for each of the same social networks:

  • MySpace – 65.21 million
  • Facebook – 24.26 million
  • Bebo – 2.83 million
  • Friendster -1.346 million
  • Orkut – .481 million


Written by frrl

October 19, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Commentary and Opinion

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Review: Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick

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Review: Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick

Someday you might find $100 burning a hole in your pocket.  This can be painful.  How do you alleviate such pain?  One remedy is to spend that $100.  So, what to spend it on?

The Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick is about $100.  This wonder of post modern technology can do quite a few things when combined with a near high-end desktop PC or Laptop.

Here is a quick summary of the major capabilities

  • Receive analog television
  • Receive digital television
  • Receive cable TV ClearQAM non encrypted digital television
  • Play internet music streams
  • Digitize analog input sources – S-Video, Composite Video, and Audio

So that is quite a lot of capability for $100 in 2008.

What you get in the package.

You get everything you see below.
(Note: Click any image in this posting to enlarge in a new window)

Hardware – You get the USB “black box” (filled with Angels) that does all the magic, an antenna, USB extension cable, and a squid-like min-USB connector input for digitizing S-Video, Composite Video, and Audio (stereo) inputs, and a TV remore contol.

Software – You get 2 pieces of software.  TV Center Pro is the primary GUI interface to the device.  Pinnacle Studio is a basic video editing program similar to Microsoft Movie Maker.  The “black box” device has two solid state drives.  One is the read-only partition that has the TV Center Pro software.  The second is a 1 GB flash drive that stores settings and can be used for recording.  So, you can take the device with you and you have all your software and settings if you chose to use the device on multiple desktops or laptops.

And you get a nice “pleather” black pouch to carry all this around with you.

Putting it to the test


The setup

The device connects to any standard USB 2.0 port found on all modern PC’s and laptops.  The device can connect directly to the port like a USB memory stick but the device is very long and we don’t recommend this method of attachment – very unfashionable.  Pinnacle includes a USB extension cable and it is better to use this to attach the device to the USB port on your computer.

We used the standard antenna supplied with the package.  This is a really basic magnetic mount telescopic antenna.  The antenna has a RF connector that mates the the end of the device.

The PC is a HP entertainment laptop with an Intel dual core 2.0 GHz CPU and 2 GB of RAM.  This is about right CPU speed and memory that you need to use nearly all the capabilities of the device.  The supplied TV Center Pro software contains a benchmarking utility that will analyze your PC and give you some feedback on what capabilities of the device can be used based on your PC’s performance – speed, memory, and disk write speed count.  Of course the message is the faster the better.  Even our dual core 2 GHz PC was not up to snuff to use all the capabilities of the device.

Off “Air” Test – The Aether

Who came up the the phrase “on the air” in broadcasting?.  RF is not on the air – its in the aether.

We gave the device a TV “over the air (aether)” challenge.  The test site was the dining room table on the first floor of a 2-story house 40 miles west of downtown Chicago. 

Local Chicago TV (analog and digital counterparts) are channels 2,5,7,9,and 11 (CBS,NBC,ABC,WGN, and WTTW) plus a few UHF channels.

Note: Check our Resources section for a link to a web site that can show you broadcast stations in your area (or any area) by zip code or street address.  Very useful

The first thing you need to do when you fist use the device is let it scan for channels. TV Center Pro gives you these options.  Note the the Internet Radio scan seems to be a set of pre-programmed internet audio streams.  For our purpose of “on air” we made the choice of analog and digital and cleared ClearQAM

This is what we found – on Air – 40 miles west of Chicago, Ill.  Notice we did not pick up the lower VHF channels – ch 2, 5, 7, and 9 analog.

Right-click on any channel to get the details

The Proof is in the Puddin’ – Dakota and Jay

This is off the air digital high def of the Tonight Show.  The second image shows the TV Center Pro contol bar with the “information” button selected.  Information about the signal is displayed as well as programming information from the digital provider. 

Note the CPU utilization history on the right.  Both cores of 2.0 Ghz were running at 50% dealing with this High Def image.  In actual practice, with an attached external monitor, this laptop can support the delivery of the high def image on an external monitor while working on other tasks on the laptops LCD screen.  So if you are wondering if you can watch (or listen) to TV in the backgroung while you are using something like Microsoft Office – yes that works just fine.

Click to enlarge the images.

With the control panel.  From here you can pause live TV or start recording.
Or, point the supplied remote control at the device and change channels

Cable Test

We won’t mention much about the cable TV test.  We have Comcast Basic Cable.  On the cable is analog TV, and digital television sent via QAM.  QAM is un-encrypted digital television.  The premium service on Comcast is encrypted and requires a set top box.  Comcast provides Basic cable subscribers the digital version of analog cable via QAM plus more channels that are only digital via QAM.  So, the ability of this device to decode QAM is a real benefit to cable Comcast Basic subscribers.

Suffice it to say that the device found all the analog and digital channels offered to Comcast basic subscribers – analog and digital via ClearQAM.  We won’t say anymore about the cable.  It all works as expected with max signal strength and quality.

Recording Video – PVR (Personal Video Recorder)

TV Center Pro has huge selections of options for recording video and audio.  You should select the method consistent resolution with your video source.  Click the image to enlarge.

Out of the box we took the default and recorded 5 minutes of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in HD on digital channel 5.1.  Checking the size of the resulting MPEG file we found it to be about 500 MB.  So that is 100 MB/min; 6,000 MB/hr; 6GB for 1 hr of HD TV using the default.  The equivalent of a 6 hr VHS tape in these terms is 36 GB – ignoring the lower quality of analog VHS.

Is 36GB a lot of disk storage?  More on this below.

TV Center Pro

TV Center Pro is the primary interface that you will use to control the device.  It has a large feature set.  We won’t try to describe it all.  In the sentiment that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Here are some images of what you get by clicking on the various control categories.



 Note the benchmark test that you can do here.  The software will tell you what features you can use based on the performance of your PC.

 Progam Guide.  This is provided by “on air” providers.  You can choose how often to update this guide.  From this menu you can schedule PVR recordings.  Click on the program you want to record – that’s it.

Choose your remote control

The issue of digital Recording and Disk Space

Is 36GB a lot of space?  It depends on what time it is.  If the time is 2008 then we’d say no, 36GB is not a lot of space given that the price point of a 1 Terabyte (1,024 Gigabytes) raw drive is now less than $150.  We bought this 1T external drive in Oct 2008 for $189.

So, don’t forget the 1 Terabyte drive for video recording, editing, and movie making.


Pinnacle Studio 10

TV Center Pro is only half the story.  This package also comes with an entry level movie editing program called Pinnacle Studio 10.  This program is very similar in functionality as Microsoft movie maker.

With Pinnacle Studio 10 you can import movies, digital stills, music and just about any other multi-media content in a variety of formats.  Like Microsoft Movie Maker making a movie is a simple 3 step process – import the media, edit the media and create special affects , and then output the result – burn a DVD or output to a digital file to upload to YouTube or send to your friends.

Pinnacle Studio 10 has a smart movie mode that just about anyone can master in about 15 minutes.  Smart movie can analyze a movie for scence transitions and then split the movie into clips.  You can then stitch (or combine) the clips and add transitions.  You can overlay titles, voice-over, and music. Studio 10 has a collection of transitions in a category of “Holllywood FX” which are some pretty facy digital transitions.

Pinnacle Studio 10 can also take in still images and create slide shows, it can also make misic videos out of clips and imported CD music.  Pinnacle Studio 10 can also capture a web cam in real time.  So this would be perfect for Video Bloggers.  One can capture, edit, and produce a Vlog  in one tool in one sitting.

Pinnacle Studio 10, as an entry level media editing program, has more then enough features to get you started producing movies and vlog content suitable in quality for sharing with the on-line community.  It will at least keep you out of trouble for many hours.


It you are a gadget person of if you like to play with emerging technology then your disposable income and excess capacity of free time could well be expended on the Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate stick package.

Keep in mind that the PCTV HD Ultimate stick does double duty.  It can also digitize analog sources.  So if you have a legacy analog video recorder, or a VHS tape deck with video and audio outputs, or really any source with S-video, or composite video and audio out then the device can digitize it.  This may be an opportunity for you to take those old VHS tapes and get them copied to modern media.

Who says man is aliened from the means of production…

The benefit of the progress and advancement of technology is that the means of production for creative content is now (2008) inexpensive and affordable by most people.  A decade ago digital video editing cost tens of thousands of dollars.  Now software that almost anyone can master in a few hours is included free (Pinnacle Studio 10) with devices such as the Pinnacle PCTV HD device. 

Digital video editing and recording takes a lot of disk space.  A decade ago who could imagine a 1 Terabyte drive for less than $150?

Digital video editing and recording also required a lot of CPU power.  Again, the cost of laptop PCs with dual core 2+ GHz CPU’s and plenty of RAM are within the range of affordability of most people – less than $1,000.

Do you want to share your creative content – there is YouTube.  Upload your videos for free and share them with the community.

Did we foget the obvious?  Is it so much part of the natural landscape?  That just about anyone can share and communicate with anyone else in the world over the internet – that changes everything.

Convergence makes new things possible which could not be even imagined in the recent past – (i.e. the bane of disruptive business models, citizen journalists via free blogging sites,  and the advent of social networking and community on a global scale which impacts global culture, society, and politics.)

“The Billion” – Be the one percent

In the book Crowd Sourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business published in 2008 author Jeff Howe cites some interesting research.

First, according to Howe, the number of people on the internet has now passed the one billion mark. Howe calls these folks collectively “The Billion” – those folks on the Internet.  Second, analysis of sites such as YouTube, IStockPhoto, and on-line communities suggest a curious 1-10-89 relation.

One percent of the community (individuals) are producers – these people create the content; ten percent of the community rate and discuss the content; and eighty-nine percent of the community consume the content.

So, there you go.  The Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick, video editing software, a little imagination, and community such as YouTube is all that is needed be convert any long time exclusive content consumer into a producer.  Be the one percent – The Billion are waiting.


You can check out this site to see what broadcast TV stations are available in your area.  Very useful with resolution down to street level/zip code with predicted reception ability

Here is what we got for our location Plainfield, Illinois

Features and Specifications from the Pinnacle web site

Key Features:

  • Ultra-portable USB 2.0 HDTV tuner stick with integrated FlashPVR
  • Watch SD and free HD TV1 on your PC – no service fees
  • Includes remote control and high-gain telescopic antenna
  • New: supports both digital over-the-air (ATSC1) and unencrypted digital cable (ClearQAM2) HDTV
  • Turns your PC into a PVR with TimeShifting: pause, rewind TV
  • Electronic Programming Guide3
  • Ultra-sensitive reception of both analog and digital TV signals
  • Stereo sound for both digital and analog TV
  • Capture from your cable/satellite set-top box or camcorder with the included A/V adapter cable
  • Bonus: VideoSpin video editing software
  • TV tuner fully compatible with Windows® Media Center4 (Windows Vista™ and XP MCE; remote kit sold separately)

Flash Personal Video Recorder (PVR)

  • Unique: full PVR application preinstalled on the stick’s on-board memory
  • No software to install5 – just plug it into any PC and start enjoying live TV within seconds
  • Record up to 2 hours6 of TV directly to the stick to play it back on any PC
  • On-board memory can also be used to store additional files

TV Standards

  • ATSC (HDTV up to 1080i, SDTV)
  • NTSC (cable, over the air)
  • ClearQAM (HDTV up to 1080i, SDTV)


  • TV/FM antenna (F-connector/Coaxial)
  • S-Video, Composite Video (RCA), Stereo Audio (1/8″)

Recording Formats

  • MPEG-1/2
  • DivX4
  • MPEG-4: compatible with PSP or iPod (Trial Version)

System Requirements

  • Windows Vista™ (32-bit) or Windows® XP with latest service pack
  • Intel® Pentium® 4 2.4 GHz, Pentium M 1.3 GHz or AMD Athlon™ 64 processor (for HDTV reception, a Pentium 4 2.8GHz or Pentium M 1.7 GHz or equivalent AMD Athlon 64 processor is recommended)
  • RAM: Windows XP – 256MB (512MB recommended); for Windows Vista – 512 MB (1GB recommended)
  • Free USB 2.0 port
  • Sound / graphics controller with support for DirectX® 9
  • Hard drive with minimum 1 GB free space (20 GB recommended for TV recording)
  • DVD player/burner
  • Internet connection for registration/activation

Package Contents

  • USB 2.0 TV tuner for ATSC/ClearQAM/NTSC reception with flash memory and preinstalled Pinnacle TVCenter Pro software
  • Mini remote control including batteries
  • Portable telescopic high-gain antenna
  • A/V Adapter cable
  • USB extender cable
  • Printed quick start guide
  • CD with Pinnacle TVCenter Pro and VideoSpin editing software

Written by frrl

October 15, 2008 at 8:55 pm

The Pixie Experiment – Going Diskless with Linux

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Suppose you want a super safe web browsing environment.  Suppose you want a Linux “on demand” – that is, you want to boot Linux without using a CD or having Linux installed on your PC’s hard drive.  Is that possible?  Maybe you have a PC lying around with no hard drive and no CD-ROM drive.  Can you really run Linux on a PC with no drive of any kind?  Sure you can.

It’s an idea as old as the hills – at least for hills that have been around since the 1970’s.  The concept is that of a Diskless Workstation.  That is, a workstation running an operating system with no drives of any kind.  This idea was very popular in University and research environments as much as 40 years ago.

The basic prerequisites for this wonder of technology and network protocols are these:

  1. A ubiquitous networked environment of at least 100 Mb/sec
  2. A set of network protocols that allowed workstations to broadcast for network services and servers to answer for those services.
  3. A server that could deliver an executable image over the network to another computer.
  4. A workstation that has network capability to retrieve an executable image over the network and execute it.

and for extra credit we could add

  1. A network based file system (NFS) – so you could store file in a persistent way,
  2. A network based authentication and authorization system.  Popular was YP (yellow Pages) and NIS (Network Information Systems).  You need this to prove that you are who you say you are.

Of course none of this would happen without a bunch of really smart people who had the vision for this concept and a bunch of technical folks who could make it happen.  In many cases those two groups of people were the same.  In many cases, those folks were at Stanford University, MIT, and other major universtiy and research institutions.  Have you heard of SUN Microsystems?  Stanford University Networking – that is the roots of that corporation.

Yes, you can do it with KNOPPIX

If you are interested in seeing for yourself how this works “hands on” – then read our previous posting first – Learning about Linux – the KNOPPIX Live-CD.  That posting will get you started with the KNOPPIX Live-CD.  If you can boot a couple of computers with that Linux CD you are on your way.

“Pixie” (PXE)

You probably never noticed it, most modern PC and laptops have the ability to boot an operating system over the network – probably didn’t know that – did you?  Well, they can.

This feature on many PC’s is PXE (“pixie”) – Pre eXecution Environment

You can check you PC system BIOS on your laptop or desktop PC to see if you have this capability.  Here is how to do it.

Enter the appropriate key when you turn on your PC to enter the BIOS setup screen.

Look in the boot menu or boot order menu.

Find an entry that says “Network Adapter”

If you find this option, then you are in luck.

The Diskless Workstation Experiment

The best way to learn is “hands on”  So we’ll show you how to your can experiment with Network boot of diskless workstations using your own PC’s.  Hopefully, you have 2 PC’s that will work.

Here is our setup.  The PC on the left will be our boot server.  The PC on the right will be our diskless workstation and we’ll network boot that baby to show you how it works.  Unlike Cold Fusion, you should be able to replicate our experiment at your home with very little trouble and get the same results.

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Written by frrl

October 4, 2008 at 7:24 am

Learning about Linux – the KNOPPIX Live-CD

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Learning about Linux – the easy way

Linux is seen as an alternative to Windows.  So if you are one of those who does not want to be “assimilated into the collective” of Microsoft then maybe Linux is for you.  If you are using a Mac then you are already a UNIX/Linix user – but may not know it.

Or perhaps you just want to keep up with the conversation – when the conversation turns to Linux.

If so, this posting is for you.  This is a no-fuss, no-muss way to get your feet wet with Linux.  This is so easy that “no excuses” – we take no prisioners.

If you read our article 50 Megabytes of Penguin Power and gave the DSL version of Linux a try and liked it, maybe you are ready to move up and give another Linux distribution a try.

Linux at Zero Risk – to your PC

Again, as in our previous posting, the goal is to make it as simple as possible to play with Linux and not put your existing operating system in any jeopardy.  Here are the requirements:

  1. Get Linux up and running in a matter of minutes without frustration.
  2. No hard disk partitioning
  3. No changes to the way your system boots
  4. Get rid of Linux completely when you are done.

That seems a reasonable set of goals to achieve.

The Linux “Live CD” Concept

The solution is to get your hands on a Linux “Live CD”.  A live CD for Linux is bootable version of Linux that runs completely off a combination of the CD and the RAM in your personal computer.  You don’t need to install anything.  What could be easier than that?  Again, we are after the least frustrating way to play and learn about Linux.


A popular “fully loaded” (all the bells and whistles) distribution of Linux is Knoppix.  Once you get your hands on Knoppix you have an extremely powerful Linux.

Here are some of the things you can do

  1. Use Open Office – an alternative to Microsoft Office.
  2. Browse the internet in a super safe way.
  3. Play DVD’s and CD’s
  4. Software development
  5. Access Windows Shares on your attached network
  6. Run a file server (NFS, Windows, etc)
  7. Run a Web Server – Apache – out of the box
  8. Run a database – mySQL
  9. Watch all the traffic on your network – WireShark

There is a ton more stuff you can do.  There are even some exotic things you can do like use this Linux as a boot server to boot other PC’s over the network – more about that later.

How Knoppix is Distributed

Knoppix is distributed as an .ISO.  An ISO is an image of a CD that exists as a file.  An ISO is something that most CD/DVD burning software distributed with PC’s or purchased separately (or free) understand.  Once downloaded, if you double-click on the .ISO file, your PC CD/DVD burning software should launch.

Getting Knoppix up and running

Step 1.

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Written by frrl

October 2, 2008 at 8:42 am

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