Work-sponsored toys

I finally got to play with an iPod Touch yesterday, courtesy of a project I’m working on at work. The interface is beautiful and slick, and I was amazed at how thin it is compared to my previous generation iPod Video. Sadly we don’t have wifi at work yet, so I wasn’t able to try out Safari, YouTube or iTunes on the device.

One of my colleagues was considering whether to get a Touch or Classic to replace his early-generation one that had broken, but since he has quite a large collection of music the limited 16GB capacity of the largest Touch was just not enough. Will there be a 32GB version I wonder? If I got one (which I’m very tempted to now!) I could manage with the 16GB version, but I wonder how many people are being put off by the relatively small capacity?

I’m also going to be trying out an Archos (with wifi), a Creative Zen and a Walkman. I doubt any of them will live up to the standard of the iPod. I may report back with some brief reviews.

MacWorld excitement

I’m normally only mildly interested in what comes out of MacWorld, but this time around I’m pretty gripped. I’m now running out of reasons NOT to buy an iPod Touch, thanks to the missing apps from the iPhone now being available through a software update for the iPod Touch. The only reason I have left is that I only bought my first and only iPod about 5 months ago.

The other thing I’m waiting for is an announcement of the release of the SDK for the iPod Touch. This will allow me to develop the iPod Touch remote control as a native application. I’m not sure of the release date of this yet, and I’ve not seen it mentioned in any articles about MacWorld so far. Here’s hoping for it to come soon!

Resurrecting a dead amplifier – the continuation


At the end of last year I tested the prototype of the matrix audio switcher, in the process blowing up part of the amplifier that powers the speakers in the living room. After investigating the damage, I found a great site to buy the replacement parts from. They arrived before Christmas, but I didn’t get around to installing them until recently.


The new transistors are exactly the same as the dead ones, so it was just a matter of unsoldering the old ones and replacing them. The nice chunky pads (compared to all the SMD boards I’m used to handling as computer parts) were lovely to work with, and the work was done in a matter of minutes. Minutes + £6 of parts = one big saving over a new amplifier and a lot of waste electronics. If only all devices were this easy to fault-find and fix.


With a fire extinguisher at the ready and my adrenaline gland just waiting to explode, I switched on the repaired circuit and ….. near silence, just the sound of the fan – it worked! Now that both channels are actually wired to something rather than one of them shorting out, the sound coming out is pretty good. In a few months the whole system should be up and running.

Attempting Crossfire


A couple of months ago I bought Crysis for my PC. My PC has a reasonable spec, with a dual core processor, as much RAM as 32bit Windows can support without crashing and a mid-range graphics card (X1950 Pro). However, Crysis could barely run with this spec even on the lowest settings. Setting up Crossfire should approximately double performance.

When I last upgraded my computer, I spent quite a bit of time researching motherboards, looking for ones with Crossfire support in particular. Crossfire motherboards have 2 of the larger PCI-X slots, though they don’t necessarily both run at x16 speeds. The X1950 Pro card that I already had supports Crossfire mode without having to purchase a special master card – all that is needed are two identical cards.

The card I already owned had just 256MB RAM, but when I purchased it’s companion card there were only 512MB versions available. It was a bit of a gamble, since the configurations weren’t identical, but fortunately Crossfire mode worked beautifully. When in Crossfire mode, the cards appear as one single card to Windows with 256MB RAM, but with a significant performance gain.

I’m not going to bother with taking benchmarks, but I can confirm that Crossfire did help run Crysis on low settings. I think to run it on highest settings I’d probably have to spend quite a chunk of cash, which I can’t really justify at the moment.

This test of Crossfire was only a temporary setup because the new card is really noisy and I had to borrow a more powerful power supply from another computer – Crossfire mode requires a PSU that can supply at least 550W. So until I can afford to buy another power supply, the second card is sitting on the floor underneath my desk.

What’s next?

The Homebrew Challenge gave me a reason to progress my projects, but over Christmas things have slowed down. Winning the competition has given me some money from the sale of my old car, so it seems fitting that the money is put towards finishing the current projects. This is my plan for the projects over the next 2 years.

Purchases Actions
January 2008 Zone 2 amplifier, Zone 4 amplifier Improve rack ventilation
February 2008 Zone 3 amplifier, DVI/USB KVM
March 2008 Matrix switcher
April 2008 4u blanking plate, 1u blanking plate Write control software
May 2008 Write control software
June 2008 Netiom xAP Write control software
July 2008 Write control software
August 2008 Outdoor IP camera
September 2008 X10 modules
October 2008 Outdoor IP camera
November 2008
December 2008
January 2009 Netiom xAP + sensors
February 2009 Netiom xAP + sensors
March 2009 Netiom xAP + sensors
April 2009 Netiom xAP + sensors
May 2009 Netiom xAP + sensors
June 2009 Netiom xAP + sensors
July 2009 Netiom xAP + sensors
August 2009
September 2009
October 2009
November 2009
December 2009

I have purchased the 2 amplifiers for this month from eBay, but haven’t got around to the ventilation improvements as yet.

Completing the first phase of the MythTV setup

After finding out that the two tuner cards I already have are too large to fit in the new Camulus case of the new MythTV master backend (aka sodium), I ordered a Nova-T 500 dual-tuner PCI card. This was a little risky because Hauppauge produced a limited run of cards for the UK that are not compatible with linux. These cards are normally identified by their model number and certain stickers on the box.

Continue reading “Completing the first phase of the MythTV setup”

Sensor boxes

Whilst pondering over what sensors I could put around the house, I ventured upon the idea of having a ‘sensor box’ per room. This would be based upon something like the Netiom xAP, which would connect various sensors to the house’s IP network. Some of the sensors in each room would be different. Here are some examples of the sensors that would be common to all of the rooms:

  • Temperature
  • PIR (motion detector)
  • Door contact
  • Window contacts
  • Light

Room specific sensors could be:

Entrance hall:

  • Current meter
  • Intruder alarm status (triggered/armed)
  • Door bell


  • Back door bolt contact
  • Oven/hob state

Each of these nodes can then be queried, via the xAP protocol in this case. Temperature could be recorded, although at present our combi-boiler would probably not allow for remote control. Motion detection and door contacts can be used to determine which rooms are occupied, and along with the window sensors could be used as a secondary security system. The light sensors would be used to control the house lights.

Having one single ‘node’ to talk to would do away with having lots of independent sensors that would probably all communicate differently. Thanks to having picture rail throughout most of the house, there won’t be a problem with hiding the wiring. I’m not sure how big the boxes would be, but I dont think they would be massive. I just need to find the money to build a prototype.

Resurrecting a dead amplifier


Today I took a look at the damage caused by last weekend’s test of the matrix switcher prototype. I suspect that the cause of the bangs was actually a short because in my haste to test I’d only connected one channel to a speaker and left the other with bare ends – oops!


Removing the case revealed that the damage appears to be limited to two transistors on one of the channels. I’m not the only person who’s tried to fix this model of amplifier so a quick search for the numbers written on the remaining transistors revealed the information I needed to order some replacements. The parts have been ordered, so will hopefuly arrive before Christmas, although delivery times recently seem really slow.

Now I just need to remember where I left my soldering iron…