zaterdag 26 april 2008

1. The beginning of a journey

After a long hard week of working my butt off as a software consultant, I decided to relax a bit and bring some order to the chaos called my attic. I made sure it would be relaxation by deciding to set my goals low. Bringing some order where none was to be found would be an infinite improvement anyway so I didn't really have to make work of it. Of course I started with the stuff that was really mine to clean up. A big pile of cables and ancient equipment such as a 400 Mb harddrive were scattered all over the attic floor. My girlfriend would really appreciate it if this pile were at least neatly stored in boxes so I started sorting stuff out.

The goal I had set for myself was however rudely disrupted after as little as fifteen minutes by finding a particularly valuable treasure. My girlfriend had been using an old company laptop as her very own and had decided a few months ago it was too slow and started using my new laptop. The laptop had been carelessly discarded even though it is still in fine condition. Sure the battery is dead and it is older than most people I know, but that's not to say it should be tossed to the floor between my cables like this, is it?

I took some moments to pick it up and set it up on my desk and started to ponder away the time I had originally taken to cleaning up. What could I still do with this laptop? It sure was a little old, so using it as a games machine was out of the question. Using it as a really small notebook was not going to work anymore since the battery had given up and a search on the internet revealed that a new power cell was going to cost over $150. What to do, what to do?

After some time, another treasure caught my eye. I rummaged through the pile and quickly found the other part of it: my old PC remote which I had bought for a media center pc I was going to use which had never really worked out after all. The batteries were still functional after seeing no use at all for over 4 years!

Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel I quickly came up with a plan of action. This laptop would be great as a media center for my precious little bedroom LCD tv! I had never been able to find a media center solution which was small enough to fit behind the TV and had given up searching. So, putting two and two together I decided to start a brand new project.

Setting project goals
In my work as a software consultant I was currently venturing into the work of project leadership. I therefore decided to use these skills and first take some time to set some simple goals and boundaries.

Goal number one, have fun doing this project.

After checking the web, I found several options to get a media center functioning with my stuff. One of the key requirements for me however, was that this project should not cost anything. I'm looking to learn some stuff here and reuse the old laptop, not pay hundreds of dollars for stuff like windows media center, mediaportal etc.

The next requirement, but to me a very big thing, is that the media center be very user friendly and that it should look sweet! I've got a modded Xbox with Xbox media center on it in my living room and that is sooooo great. If I get something like that working, I'm sold on whatever it is I get operational.

Another requirement was that the laptop start working on the native resolution of my bedroom LCD, which is 1280 * 1024 in order to get a good visual experience. The windows driver limits the graphics card to the native resolution of the laptop which is 1024 * 768. I am currently still hoping it is not an actual limit of the graphics card, but we'll see about that as the project gets going.

Getting directions
Free software that does stuff my laptop was not meant to do... The only right operating system choice seems to be linux. After doing my fair share of googling for a media frontend, I found that the linux way was called MythTV. Although the program is currently at version 0.21, which seems rather low, I've found several reports of people that love using it for real. I'm a bit of a techie myself (although not at Linux) so I decided to go for the Linux/MythTV combination.

Having no real experience with linux outside the webserver side, I feel compelled to go for a low-threshold version of Linux. To me this was either Ubuntu (love the philosophy) or Suse (Novell appeals to me somehow). After doing some further research I found the great distro called Mythbuntu which bundles MythTV and Ubuntu together. It looked fairly mature and felt like the right way to go about this project.

The most important goal for this project to me is that I have fun doing this. For me to have fun on something like this, there needs to be some form of sharing and community in the project so I decided to share my experiences in this project. Now I understand that nobody would be interested in reading about all the steps I take to get this project done, so I'd have to make my writing a little fun. If people enjoy reading about my work, they might be inclined to help out if I get stuck, which I'm bound to do sooner or later. So I'll write about it and hope to make for an entertaining read by capturing my work as a story.

1. Starting a journey
Theodore de Noobilar woke with a start. The dream he had just had was more vivid and clearer than any dream he had had in his 25 years. He got out of the chair he was in, walked over to a mirror and looked at himself apprehensively. Was any of what he had just seen real or was it all just a figment of his own imagination? He went over the dream in his mind again.

He had sat in his rocking chair reading a novel of one of his favourite writers when he heard a knock at the door. He remembered thinking it was really strange that someone would knock at that hour as most people were already sound asleep by now. Annoyed by having to pause midway in an interesting chapter, he got out of his chair and walked to the door. A light shone through the seam below the door and he thought to himself, Did I turn the outside light on? As he was walking to the door another knock came and Theodore muttered 'keep your pants on, I'm coming.'

De Noobilar unlocked, then opened the door and immediately took a stumbling step back from it. In front of him stood a radiant, somewhat translucent being that began to speak as Theodore shrunk back from his front door.
'Have no fear, Theodore, I do not intend to harm you.'
Having never in his life before seen someone he could look straight through, Theodore thought to himself, that may be well and good, but what you say and what you do might very well be totally unconnected.
'Theodore, I know people have mistreated you in the past, but what I'm saying is true. Please do believe me.'
As de Noobilar took a deep breath he looked at the figure a little better. The person appeared to be an older woman in her sixties with a slight stoop. His own grandmother had had more of an aura of threat to her when he sometimes displeased her in the past.
'Very well, though I can see through you, you don't look to be alltogether too frightening' he said.
'Good', translucent elderly woman said, 'now listen very carefully because I only have the strength to say this once. You, Theodore, have a quest ahead of you. A quest full of peril but one of destiny.'
'Great, just what I needed, more hard work.' Theodore said and got ready to close his front door and go to his bed.
'Halt!' she said, 'What I am proposing will also bring you great riches, fame and what you yourself need most, freedom. At the end of this quest, you yourself will be the owner of a small piece of the great Mythbuntu nation.'
'Freedom' Theodore spat, anger suddenly overpowering what was left of his fear, 'Freedom is a dream, a dream for people who think too much of themselves. I'd rather have my belly filled and a decent place to sleep like this cottage on the master's compound.'
'The one thing I hope will actually persuade you to listen to me might be the fact that your quest will bring freedom not only to you, but to your friend L400 and all his enslaved Latitude brothers.'
Stunned, Theodore stood still at the spot for a while. As weird as this whole encounter was, he had not thought this being of some sort actually knew him, let alone his hidden allegiance to one of the slaves at the compound.
'You actually know who I am, how can this be?' he asked her.
'Answers to these questions must come later, when we meet face to face. Right now all I can offer you is a path to start on and a means to get your quest going. To prove I mean what I say, I will supply you with a way to free L400 so you will not have to make your journey alone.'
'Look in the haystack in the barn near the slave encampment and bring the red Culicular Disruptor I have put there. This Disruptor will break L400's shackles and allow him to accompany you on your journey. Together you shall travel to the far Mythbuntu nation. Go now, while there still is time left in the night.' and with that she faded and Theodore stood alone in the cold of the night.

Looking at himself in the mirror, Theodore shook up from his contemplations. A fantastic story, he thought, but that's what I always have been praying for. I don't know for certain if all this is true but I must at least know if I'm going crazy. Still a little hesitant, de Noobilar took his coat from the other chair in his room and stepped out of his small home. With a great sense of foreboding for things to come, but a sense of purpose he had not had in a long, long time he set foot on his first of many paths on a potentially long and arduous journey.

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