Category Archives: Techie

Setting Up My ClearStream Antenna

Back in Baton Rouge, I had purchased an antenna for tuning over the air (OTA) stations. It didn’t get a lot of use as we were pretty established in our usage of Netflix (and video games) to provide our evening entertainment. That’s roughly the way things are now as well. We’ve added Amazon Prime and I’ve invested a good bit of time moving our TV series over to Plex. Yet there are times when you would like to have a live TV feed that allows you watch a specific news or sports event. It was because of this that I decided to setup the OTA antenna here in our new home.

I installed the antenna in the attic of our 2 story home (I would estimate that it is close to 30 ft. above ground level). I also purchased a SiliconDust HDHomeRun Connect device which is basically a network TV tuner. The antenna connects to the HDHomeRun tuner via coaxial cable and the HDHomeRun connects to our wired network with a cat6 cable (RJ45). With this current location of the antenna, I was able to pick up about 65 stations. I setup Plex DVR to use the HDHomeRun as a tuner and within minutes I had the program guide available (along with the ability to schedule recordings of any of the shows). SiliconDust also has a universal windows app for viewing live TV on Windows 10 and on the Xbox One. It was working remarkable well, but I noticed that I wasn’t receiving PBS (which has some good history shows).

A little digging revealed that the local PBS affiliate uses the VHF band for the signal. When I purchased the antenna, almost all HD stations were on the UHF band so the antenna didn’t receive the VHF spectrum. Fortunately ClearStream has a retrofit kit that added the reception of VHF and provided an integrated adapter to put the two signals together. That did the trick. It bumped the station count from 65 to over 90 (including PBS). One final adjustment to get it pointed directly at the primary location of the TV stations and I was all done.

Great Time To Be a Developer

Was waxing nostalgic with my friend (another older guy like me) at work about the memory limitations we faced as young developers. On the very memory limited Vic 20, I can remember the need to go back and optimize my code so that it would fit within the available RAM (3.5 KB for Basic code). IDEs were non-existent or trivial in their feature set. Even in college, we spent some time with punch cards which had to be one of the most unforgiving ways to get code into a machine. Even later on, it was very expensive to develop software when your choices were Unix (not Linux) or DOS. Ashton-Tate’s DBase cost over $500 (which was a lot in the late 80s). That’s why we flocked to the cheap Turbo Pascal. Visual Studio (and Visual Basic) arrived and started to gobble up the low-end even though it still wasn’t cheap.

Compare that to today where you have multiple free OSs (Linux variants and Android), many free IDEs (Eclipse, Visual Studio and web based tools), several awesome languages (JavaScript, C#, C++, etc.) and great frameworks/platforms (JQuery, .NET, Angular.js, etc.). You even have lots of cheap hardware (Arduino, Raspberry Pi, x86). On top of this there are plenty of free tutorials out there as well. I’ve been using C# a lot lately and even though I will always love Object Pascal, C# is so much easier and expressive than Object Pascal will ever be. JavaScript is extremely versatile as well. Documentation is probably the one area where we’ve somewhat gone backwards and that’s because things change too quickly. There’s no time to update documentation.

If you’ve ever had the desire to learn to code, then take the opportunity to jump in and start creating something great. Grab an Arduino or Raspberry Pi and start reading some tutorials. Download the Visual Studio 2017 community edition and jump into .NET (which runs on Linux and Mac these days). Great hardware, great languages and great environments. What a great time to be a developer.

Migrated From WHS 2011 to QNAP TS-451+

I’ve been using Windows Home Server for ten years now and this month was my last. It wasn’t because I didn’t find WHS to be a good product as I think it definitely was when it was released. The problem is that it has been orphaned by Microsoft and after another hard drive failed and took down the OS partition, I decided to move to something that would be easier to manage.

The Windows Home Server performed the following functions for me:

  • Place to store files to serve as backups and for general access from any computer
  • Backup of local home computers (full hard drive image)
  • Plex Media server

With the QNAP TS-451+, I’m able to do all of those (although client backup will need to be done either by the OS or 3rd party software). The Plex Media will also be able to use some of the transcoding features of the quad core Celeron processor (for sending video to mobile clients). With 4 drive bays, I can have 32 TBs of storage. Right now I only have 11.5 TB and even a good chunk of that is used for mirroring of drives and system related functions.

I have a couple 4 TB drives in a mirrored setup and then a 2 TB and 1.5 TB drive that are not mirrored and serve as general space. On top of this, I have an external 4TB drive that I used for a periodic secondary backup of all important files (all files at the moment). I may move to a completely redundant setup in the future, but for now this will suffice.

My Plex server run well on the QNAP. I haven’t had any issues with it. I have a lifetime Plex pass, so I downloaded the latest version of the server (later than what is available from QNAP) and manually installed it.

So far I’m pleasantly surprised. I think management will be easier and hopefully it will be more compatible with other OSs. We’ll see.

Windows 10 IoT Project

I’ve started a new project with my new Raspberry Pi 3. It’s a lighting project for the house that I’ve been wanted to do for quite a while. I really tried to find an off the shelf solution, but I didn’t see any out there unless I went with a full blown “smart house”. This seemed more fun anyway.

IoT LightingWhat I want to do is have multiple IR motion sensors in different areas on the outside of the house. When any 1 of the sensors are activated, the all of the outside flood lamps would come on for a prescribed time. I would also push a notification to a web service (likely Azure). I would the setup a website to manage that data. At least that’s the concept. I would add in time of day checks to determine whether to turn on the lights and I’m sure I’ll have sensitivity issues with the motion sensors. On top of that, I’ve got to wire the stuff into a real electrical system. There’s lots of stuff to deal with, but so far I’ve got the code working with the IR sensors and a relay switch.

I’ll post more about this as I progress with it.

Addendum: Special thanks to Mark Didelot for the info on the use of Arduinos for wireless sensors.