Job's Done

First order of business: I saw an awesome huge bug when I was raking the leaves the other day. Then I was all, "Julie, fetch me my finest camera!" [ed: deleted, language] "Nooo, but there's this awesome bug!"

Every now and then, I scare up a mantis in the yard and I think I'm being attacked by an eagle. Those things are huge and creepy (and awesome!). I'd have held up my hand for a size comparison, but I don't know that I'd have gotten it back.

I've also recently completed two major projects: my desk and my internet TV setup. Immediately after I finished Julie's desk last November, I set about making one for my self. Without anyone to impress with my fancy hard work and mad saw skillz, the project dribbled on for a year. However, I'm finally done and here's what we've got:

This one features an extra brace in the back vs Julie's, but is still the same weight because I switched out a top brace with some little metal brackets. Here's a picture with clamps:

Mmmm, I do like clamps. Here we have it all settled in with an elephant (small, purple, from EPCOT):

I also learned my lesson after Julie's desk and let this one sit in the garage for a full week after the last coat of polyurethane. The first time around we were sucking fumes for a month in the computer room, but this time the toxic level is negligible. Victory.

My other big project is an upgrade to my online TV-watching system. Most of our TV comes in off the internet: hulu, major networks (eg.:, and netflix. Until now, our setup was: DSL, to a 10yr old wireless router (802.11 b), to a laptop on a coffee table in the living room, through a VGA cable to the TV (illustrated below).

This had a couple (plus guests) drawbacks:

1. My laptop just isn't mighty enough to drive full screen flash video. I'd guess we would average 20 fps on hulu, sometimes 4 fps. The wireless bandwidth wasn't great, but some combination of the graphics + CPU was the bottleneck. This is a side-effect of getting a super light laptop - a decision I do not regret one bit.

2. About 30% of the time, when you would close the laptop lid it would mess up the ratio when switching over to TV-out only. When it got confused like this, sometimes the only workaround I could find was to reboot.

a. The VGA + audio cable on the coffee table was surprisingly intrusive.

b. The computer that runs the TV has to run windows. Netflix will only do "watch instantly" on Apple or Windows machines. I've kinda been wanting to install FreeBSD on the laptop.

So I figured: Hey, my desktop computer has plenty of power to run full screen video. Why don't I just wire it to the TV and remote control it with the laptop. If it works out, I'll string the wire through the attic. Here is my new setup:

I upgraded the router wireless-N and gigabit ethernet, upgraded my desktops graphics card to one that can output HDMI w/ audio (BTW: I love my new graphics card), connected the desktop to the TV, and set up the laptop to control the desktop using UltraVNC.

Now we've got nice smooth video when we watch our stories via the web, but there are a few hitches:

1. It works really well, and I can work from the living room like I'm sitting at the machine, but the screen update isn't quite as smooth as I'd like. Remote desktop (and other RDP-based solutions) would be much smoother, but wouldn't use the local displays - which in this case means they wouldn't show anything on the TV. If I wanted to spend a couple hundred bucks I could buy a hardware solution, but I think I'll live with it for a while.

2. Switching between "modes" is crufty. Any time I switch between computer mode and TV mode I need to set the primary display and the default audio device. However, there's enough tools out there for me to rig things to make CTRL+ALT+F1 flip to one mode and CTRL+ALT+F2 flip to the other, so that's pretty much a non-issue.

I'm happy with the new setup, but I did discover the first flaw in my plan today. My plans were all Charlie-centric. Julie wanted to watch Lie to Me on the big TV over the web, I'm not a big fan, so I figured I'd go use my computer during. Not so fast, same computer. We've got two spare computers in that scenario, but still, it interferes with my gamin' :)

Right now the cable connecting the computer to the TV is strung through the house. I suppose I can't claim to be "done" until I've routed it through the attic, but that doesn't seem very fun and I'm delaying that particular adventure while I "try out the new setup."


julie said…
Your stick arms are very long in your pictures. :p
Yeah, I think the last half reads kinda boring too. ;)
Amy said…
So do you trip on the wires through the house? ;)

we have the laptop setup for tv. It does mess up the ratio,
Laura said…
Nice bug. And great job on the desk. I lost it at the tv setup -- but I believe it's just my ignorance of both computers and tv. :)

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