Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Motion Sensors....I hate them.

So the other day, I was taking the bus to work. Normally I walk, but I was running a little behind, so I took the main bus line in town.

But I have a problem with these buses. Every time I get on I think about the terrible, terrible motion sensor on it. You see, the rear doors on these buses require that you wave your arms around in the general area of the door so that they open. Now in theory, that would work fine. You approach the door with your arm, indicating to the bus that you would like to exit. It opens the doors, and you're free to go on your adventure.

Sadly, it doesn't work very well.

So back to the other morning. When I got to my destination, I was stuck waving my arms around in all sorts of directions and ways in an attempt to get the doors to open. You see, the motion sensor sucks. It was a terrible idea, and I have no idea why they use it. I was stuck there for at least 10 good seconds flailing about when someone yelled "Could we get the back doors open?" to the bus driver for me. It wasn't just this bus too. It happens a good percentage of the time I attempt to exit those buses. I see other people struggle with it all the time too.

The don't open when you want them too, and if the bus is crowded, they open constantly at stops from people standing under the sensor. Of course though, in that situation you'd rather they stay closed so the bus can start moving.

And its not like all their buses use this system. In fact, these are the NEWER buses that use it. The older ones have a physical switch hidden in the door handle. If you wanted to exit, you would push slightly on the door handle, and BAM, door opens.

Seriously. Like, wtf?

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Quest for the HTPC

I swear I must have a problem. When I get it in my head that I'm going to do something computer related, I research it for hours, no, days until I'm ready to make a decision. Sometimes its just to save $20 in the end. This is definitely the case with my current project: The HTPC.

But first, what got me on this adventure? I was transferring some videos from my personal server to my external hard drive on my desktop when I noticed that this was taking too long. I'm not sure why this time specifically I noticed that it was only going at about 10 megabytes/sec, but I had to fix that. A trip to the store later, I was the proud owner of an 8 port gigabit switch. After a few tests, I found transfers to hover around 40 megabytes / sec. Not fast enough! After some research on my old hard drive being used in the server, it was clearly the culprit. But if I'm going to upgrade the hard drive, why not go the whole way?

I started this project off with a simple goal, to improve the capabilities of my personal server and to build a device worthy of 1080p playback on a new TV. The TV part came up when it was mentioned that I might be receiving a new HD TV for the fall. How hard can that goal be?

Well, according to my OCD, there is always more to research!

In the interest of keeping costs down, and overall complexity down, I've decided to make one computer that will serve as both the 1080p playback device and my personal server. The requirements I initially have put on both parts are the follows:

  • Smooth 1080p playback. The best quality movie I have right now is about 15Mbps, so that should be something I am for.
  • Relatively quiet. I'm not completely crazy over silencing the components, but I'd rather to make some effort in keeping the noise down.
Personal Server
  • Backup of personal documents (photos, work, etc)
  • SSH
  • Webserver
  • Samba
  • Etc, all easy stuff.
Since all the requirements on the personal server side are easy (assuming I roll with an Ubuntu distro), I decided that I would use XBMC for my HTPC experience. For those that don't know, XBMC is a media center application dealie. Give it a search on google for more information on their website.

However, with this decision, I opened myself to a ton of other questions. General questions include: How do I organize my media best for XBMC? How do I continue to add new media to my collection? Lets start with organization.

I took a look at my movies and tv shows that I have stored. Although I did a tad of work recently for organization, it wasn't anywhere good enough. This is especially true when you take into account the organization required for XBMC (and to satisfy my OCD of course). I started off with just doing some renaming and folder structure. I used this perl script I found for TV shows where it renames the files to include the episode name. That was working for a while, but it required me to name the season folders "Breaking Bad1x" (as an example for the first season of Breaking Bad).

The season folder naming had to be undone when I moved to media scapers. As a mostly Ubuntu user, I needed a media manager program to run under linux. Should be easy enough, right? Well, other than the fact that it needs to organize everything for XBMC, but it also needs to like, run on linux. The problem is nearly all of the popular media managers are made using the .net framework. I tried a bunch of them listed on the xbmc forums. Some require .net fw 3.5 (which doesn't work with wine), some were completely unstable in mono (I'm looking at you, Ember), and the one cross platform one I found (programmed in java) didn't fulfill my needs. After much aggravation, I switched direction. I just downloaded TinyXP rev9 and ran it under VirtualBox. I shouldn't have had to do that, but it got stuff working. Of course there were some issues with getting TinyXP to work (like installing the network drivers, .net 3.5 framework, etc) but I knew how to get those issues resolved (they just took some time).

So with my XP VM running, I decided on Media Companion. Why? It works, and seems to still be doing a good job. So with this program in hand, I'm downloading nfo files containing all sorts of info about the movies / tv shows and all sorts of pictures, including fan art and folder images.

Life is now going well in that regard. Just to point out though, that took a few days of work to come to this conclusion.

I think I'm going to save part 2, the media automation, for another post. This is getting long enough. Actually, I'm not really done figuring out the automation stuff, so it'll be more of a work in progress post :P.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Well....it was kinda soon.

What a crazy last few months its been. And naturally, I've failed to keep track of it.

Where to begin? Well, let me first go over what has happened in WoW. I ended up leaving my previous guild and joining Tabula Rasa on Dragonblight. Amazing people, really fun to hang around and play with. A few months after I joined, the officer responsible for handing out healing assignments had to take a break from the game to focus on his family (I think him and his wife just had a baby at the time....not sure on that though). I stepped up, and filled the roll of assigning healers. A few weeks later I had a discussion with the administration and was made an officer.

Fast forward to May. I'm starting to get really tired of raiding. I was so busy with other stuff that staying up late was killing me. But I stuck with it because I committed to it. At the end of May, I went to a physics conference (which I will talk about later), and ended up receiving an amazing job offer to start right after the conference finished. It was such a good opportunity, that I had to step down from officership to ensure that I got enough sleep, and still managed to get other things done in my life. With that decision I also decided to completely stop playing WoW.

On the academic front, I really put my butt into gear this year. I almost managed to get an 80% average this past term (I was juuuuuuust short). My goal for this upcoming fall term (which will be the start of my 4th year) is to hit that 80% average.

So this past year, I have taken a number of courses. Last fall term I took Quantum 2, Mathematical Physics 1, Intermediate Classical Mechanics, and a lab. In the winter term I took Condensed Matter, Mathematical Physics 2, Statistical Mechanics, Scientific Computation 2, and a lab.

So what's this conference I mentioned? Well, the stars aligned and I was chosen to attend the Institute for Quantum Computing's USEQIP conference. This stands for undergraduate student experimental quantum information processing. It was a 2 week conference consisting of about 14 students from all around the world. I was taught by some of the world leading experts in the field. It was such an amazing experience, and it has really helped push me in the right direction for getting into grad school.

During the conference, I was offered a job in one of the labs. Naturally, I took it. I am currently working for Dr David Cory, a very famous scientist who just received the CERC prize (google it for more info). As part of his prize, he's been given a huge amount of lab space; 10k square feet I am told. Its the entire first floor of this new building on campus. I spend a lot of my time helping set the labs up. One of the big projects I am working on right now is helping setup the low temperature lab. Its absolutely amazing getting to see just what goes into setting up the equipment. The postdoc that I'm working with is a great guy, and answers every question that I have.

I don't just do labour though. I work with a very simple nuclear quadrapole resonance (NQR) setup. Due to its (comparative to other setups) simplicity, its perfect for me to get hands on experience with the basics.

So some of you might have heard that Dr Stephen Hawking was in Waterloo last month. Well, I'll let the following picture speak for itself....


Aww. Yeahh.

All of these events in the past year have been really exciting. None of them compare to me meeting my girlfriend. We started dating in Sept 09 and have been happy ever since. She's really nerdy like me (she's a math major, that's right up there with physics on the nerdy scale). She's a really awesome person. There have been times during my academic terms where the homework load was putting too much stress on me. To help me out, she would come visit the physics study lounge to keep me smiling while working away. Heck, she even brought me pizza when I was working all night on a take home final. I know she's going to read this at some point, so Carolyn: RAWRRRRRRR!!!!

Anyways, that's the key things that have happened. Maybe later I'll go into some more detail about how stupid my housemates are.