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MythTV InstallFest and Conference

Thanks to all attendees for making the day so great. Special thanks go to our generous sponsors: Schedules Direct, Inc. and pcHDTV, Inc. and to Jarod Wilson for autographing a copy of his "Hacking MythTV," Keith Watson and Aaron Ruscetta for providing their throughly enjoyable presentations, Scott McBrien (Fedora Ambassador) for stopping-in and supporting the event, David Knowles, Robert McCurdy, and everyone else from Freeside who donated their time, monitors and computer equipment. Clearly, the event could not have happened without you.

Click for more photos

Raw event specs and stats: The day started at 8:30 AM and eventually lost steam at 4:30 PM. Thirty five folks filtered in throughout the day. Keith Watson and Aaron Rusecetta delivered two highly appreciated and well attended presentations. We completed five fresh installs, but two other installs failed due to hardware issues. We raised about $100.00 for Freeside Atlanta. We raffled off one copy of "Hacking MythtTV," and five subscriptions to Schedules Direct's listing service and seven Schedules Direct T-shirts. We also consumed five large Papa John's Pizzas.

As a collateral benefit of the event, we saw the creation of two new tech related groups. Most everyone at the show wanted more MythTV, so we formed a MythTV Users Group (MUCH). For a crew of IT Geeks in Chattanooga, TN receiving the e-mails promoting the event proved to be just the catalyst needed for them to start their own Hacker/Maker space. Last I heard, they were searching for warehouse space and corporate sponsorship.


Keith Watson's presentation entitled "Hacking The Tivax T-8" detailed Keith's integration of his Tivax T-8 digital converter box into his MythTV system. He began by discussing how he reviewed the schematics for the digital converter box and learned how to use the box's serial port to change channels. He then described the scripting language and commands used to control the converter box, and concluded his presentation by discussing his plans to connect the Tivax T-8 to his MythTV system. (More on this later.) His presentation, in addition to being an interesting hacking tale, was packed with many useful and informative weblinks about capturing broadcast digital programing. It is available here: Hacking The Tivax T-8

Aaron Ruscetta's presentation was entitled "Digital Video's Perpetual Proprietary Flaws." We all deal with the aggravation of not being able to play certain music/video files due to format incompatibility. Aaron's presentation focused on navigating the complex maze of proprietary media encoding and encryption schemes. His presentation also delved into your right to fairly use audio and visual media. Aaron has generously offered to come back to Freeside and give another talk on the topic. He mentioned that having a "Blender" available would enhance the his presentation, and fortunately a "Blender Render Farm" is on Freeside's list of proposed projects, so stay tuned.


Best tale from the "InstallFest" -- AKA "Been there before." After Keith finished delivering his presentation, he set about the task incorporating his Tivax T-8 into his MythTV System. He battled with this project for about 3.5 hours. Steam was coming out of his ears. The non sequiturs started... "this is clearly not worth..., What the..., Why would...," most everyone tentatively visited him at his computer to offer encouragement and advice, but soon left him to suffer in isolation. Then out of the gloom came, "It's working!" and Keith was instantly OK with computers, himself, and the Universe. As I said, we've all been there before. Perhaps not at this level of abstraction, but we've been there.

Best proof of concept: Thanks to Warren we gained verifiable proof that nVidia's "Video Display and Presentation API for Unix" (VDPAU) works -- and works very well. We all witnessed his system (built on a Zotac IONITX dual Atom board) nearly flawlessly push High Definition video, yet only used about 10% of the CPUs' capacity.

At last, MythTV enthusiasts have what they sought for so long -- a small, quiet, high definition capable MythTV Frontend. Suddenly, the a truly affordable multimedia networked home seems viable.

Welding Classes at Freeside

I attended my first Freeside welding class this Sunday. While I have done some kinds of welding in the past, this was a new beast on its own. ARC welding! Arc Welding uses a welding power supply to create an electric arc between an electrode and the base material to melt the metals at the welding point.

We spent most of the day cutting off sections of pipe and then welding them back on. This was a bit more challenging than it sounds.
Below is some footage of Matt teaching a Freeside member how to weld a gap.

In the future of this class we will continue learning ARC welding methods and then expand into Mig welding. Hopefully some TIG as well (if we can find a TIG welder). We also plan on designing and building gates for the back doors. I encourage all members and non members to come check it out and participate. It's like grown up soldering. Check the Freeside calendar for upcoming classes.
Suggested class donation $10.

Circuit Bending Workshop December 2nd!!!

Hacker, makers, DIYers, noisemakers, and anyone interested come out to Freeside Atlanta the night of December 2nd between 7 and 9 pm for our monthly Circuit Bending Workshop. If you are not familiar with Circuit Bending please check out these videos and links:


Circuit Bending Master

Surprise Unboxing

We made a group order of surprise boxes from Electronic Goldmine to have some fun and jump-start our stock of interesting components. The boxes arrived yesterday, and after the meeting today we opened and sorted them, finding some interesting stuff along the way.

The choice bits consisted of:
4x 10x2 character 14-segment VFDs
7x 96x64 1" monochrome LCDs
4x motors with high resolution encoders
2x passive infrared motion detectors
2x window/door security sensors
2x small R/C cars
5x GSM cell phones
4x security keypads

The small component haul was mostly capacitors, with some resistors, potentiometers (dual log!), and fuses in reasonable quantity as well.

I think the outcome, in parts and fun, was well worth the ~$70 we spent in total. We already have a small contribution towards the next order, which I tentatively put 3 weeks away.

Using Shelves

Our space continues to fill with donations, and open floor space for actual projects is getting scarce. Enter another set of shelves.
Look at all that wonderful floor space! Now we just need another set to hold all the stuff against the wall.

Building Shelves

It is becoming increasingly evident that one component of a successful hacker space is good storage. The problem is that most shelf systems out there are pretty expensive. After a recent meeting we started brain storming different shelf designs and finally settled on one. Convinced that we could save money by building our own shelves we set out to the local hardware store with a materials list. After rounding up all the needed materials and renting a truck we headed back to Freeside.

We quickly refined a procedure and started building our shelves. We were only able to complete the first four sections of shelves by the end of the day, but we were very proud of our work and we still have enough material to make 8 more shelf units. Many thanks to everyone who helped build shelves and I hope you are able to make it to the next work day!

Here is an album of the build and some pictures of the completed shelves:

A Creative Space

A notable quote from a Freeside member:
If you haven't had the chance to just go to the space and hang out a bit, do it! the place will get your creative juices flowing, I can't explain it but it just a great feeling.. Thanks to all that have put so much hard work into the space..

I think this sentiment sums up the hacker space phenomenon rather well. It is well worth the effort.

Diving into python

Last night we held our first Python night, where I gave an introductory course into Python. We had a strong showing of both members and non-members who were eager to learn, and we were able to hammer through the basics in about an hour.

Next week we'll be doing a quick re-cap of the basics, and continue diving into the depths of the language. Current agenda includes object-oriented programming and handling exceptions. I'm also going to cook up some exercises for attendees to work on so we can flex our editors and interpreters.

If you missed this week's class and are new to the language, the course is essentially a modified version of the (free! online!) book Dive into Python. We covered the first four chapters last night. Feel free to read up, and if you get stuck--bring your questions next week!

Circuit bending workshop

[Reposted from Dan's email]

Just sending out a little update about the Circuit Bending Workshop/Class. We had 9 people attend, 4 non-members, 5 members. We killed 2 toys but managed to salvage parts and useful bits from them. I'm going to make the workshop every other week. So 2 weeks from today (August 26th) we will meet from 7(ish) to 9(ish) to hack and bend circuits. I'm going to order up more kits and parts for the next class as well as hunt for more toys. Please drop me an email if you would like to Sign up for the class and reserve/prepay for a kit. If you happen to have spare toys sitting around your house that you would like to donate please let me know, I'll be happy to come pick them up.

I also want to thank everyone for coming out. I hope you all had a blast.

Second Walk-through

I stopped by the space to drop off some equipment yesterday, and took a minute to do another walk-through video.