Two cool things, too cool things!

It’s been a while…

Thanks to Cav for finding this and posting the link: AliensRL is a tactical roguelike game, created in 7 days, inspired by the "Aliens" movie and the "Alien Breed: Tower Assault" computer game.

How awesome does that look? Not convinced? Check your pulse, you’re probably dead or something.

Download it here: http://alien.chaosforge.org/index.php?module=downloads

Also, I’ve almost completed configuring the HTPC and after moving away from XBMC for various reasons have settled on Media Centre using the MediaBrowser plug-in. Eye candy-wise it’s pretty close to XBMC but it also seems to handle playback smoother than XBMC mainly due to the fact that MCE is able to pass off decoding of video content to the GPU rather than doing it all on the CPU. In English that means playback is smoother and quieter.

I also stumbled upon this, it’s a remote control app for iPhone which lets you emulate a keyboard, touchpad and remote control all in one…why did I buy a DiNovo Mini? (because I don’t have an iPhone yet).

 

Playing 1080p MKV’s on Windows 7

I recently joined ultrageekdom and built a HTPC to replace my aging XBOX and negate the need to run TVersity and even manually convert non-XBOX360 content (i.e. you know, Debian ISO’s….) to be playable via the 360 (i.e. WMV).

Since I built the HTPC it’s been fine (apart from a few niggles, I still need to configure the harmony remote properly) but I haven’t been able to play back any 1080p content smoothly. I’ve been blaming a combination of the hardware (the hippie green low power CPU 5050e) and motherboard (Asus M3N78-EM) and Windows 7 for not being optimised yet, which is partially true. The other issues is that I’m using XBMC to play back which is an amazing media center but notoriously doesn’t use external codecs for playback, which is great if everything works out of the box but shitty if it doesn’t.

Anyway, I found the solution to my problem via the Media Center community forums  with this:

http://shark007.net/win7codecs.html

and the 64 bit components if you’re running Windows 7 64bit:

http://shark007.net/x64components.html

Go through the config screens on both and fiddle the settings as appropriate, and viola! smooth as silk play back in Windows Media Player (haven’t tested VLC yet but I assume it should work the same). Apparently CoreAVC would also have solved the problem but it’s not free, and free is good.

However this doesn’t solve the problem of XBMC not playing smoothly because as mention it doesn’t use external codecs, so…now I just need to do the following:

http://xbmc.org/forum/showthread.php?t=43511&highlight=external+player

to set up WMP as an external player within XBMC and it’s done, not that it was really a big issue since even on a 100” screen sitting 4m away I can’t tell the visible difference between 720p and 1080p, but it was the principle of the thing.

 

XBMC Mutiplex View

GEEK ALERT: Installing Windows Home Server

server

Having just installed WHS for the first time over the weekend I figured I would share some thoughts. Beware, technical content.

My main reason for using WHS was the stupidly large collection of external and internal hard drives of varying sizes which were getting hard to manage using XP in a drive-by-drive basis. I literally ran out of drive letters after mapping various drives from other PC’s on the network. WHS lets me consolidate them all in to a single pool of storage and makes adding and removing drives from that pool easy as pie. 

My secondary requirement (and this will make some readers cringe) was the ability to run the WHS server as a second utility PC, for iTunes, playing video, music, uTorrent MSN Messenger, burning CD/DVD’s and other tasks previously taken care of by the same hardware running XP. Yes, I know you’re _supposed_ to run WHS headless but I’m currently treating it like I did the XP install, complete with dual monitors and fancy wallpaper, take that!

After some initial apprehension about whether WHS could handle being used as a regular desktop install, the only real workaround I had to do during install/config was download the msi install for Live Messenger (8.5) because it didn’t want to install from the .exe. I haven’t managed to get the newest version of Live Messenger running yet but I’m working on it.

The bottom line for installing and running apps on the desktop is that anything which will run on Windows Sever 2003 will run on WHS, this also applies to drivers for your hardware. I didn’t have a problem getting all the drivers running on a five year old socket 754 motherboard (Asus K8V SE Deluxe). I even managed to get my bluetooth keyboard/mouse and Logitech Z-10 speakers and LCD screen to work as they did in XP (using the XP drivers in compatibility mode).

As far as I understand it the Raid-lite system is really just a striped set with the addition of optional mirroring for nominated shares, all handled by the software and configured by the very easy to use console. There’s no limit to how much data you can set as redundant other than the amount of disk space you have (i.e. you need the same amount of free space as you are setting to be redundant, obviously).

I’m still not 100% sure what happens if a drive in the non-redundant pool dies suddenly but I’m assuming anything which was balance to that drive will be lost forever, but that’s really no different to my old system of individual hard drives and there’s the advantage that (hopefully) WHS will warn me ahead of time if a drive is going to die so I can remove it from the storage pool and the files on it will rebalance to the other drives before the target died (hopefully). Some automatic settings to make this happen without intervention would be nice.

From what I’ve read the system uses the boot drive as a scratch area while it balances to the bigger your install drive the better, so yes, use your 1.5Tb drive as the primary boot drive (I wish I’d known this BEFORE I installed mine on a 320Gb).

I promise, once I get another "utility" PC organised I’ll put my WHS server in a closet and stop using my WHS install as a desktop, maybe.

Final note, there is a site entirely dedicated to users of WHS with lots of great hints and tips and a pretty active forum, http://www.wegotserved.com/.

EDIT: The WHS console supports add-ins for supliment or add new features to the server, some useful ones I have found in my travels are:

  • Duplication Info – Gives you information on which files are duplicated where over your various hard drives, unfortunately doesn’t give you any control over where the files actually go.
  • uTorrent – Allows you to manage torrents from any PC on your network using the WHS console.
  • Windows Home Server Disk Management – Designed for users who need more detail about their server’s storage status than what the standard Windows Home Server Storage interface provides, with 3D wire-map diagrams!
  • My Movies – Metadata management for media files stores on the server.
  • WHS Task Viewer – Remotely monitor and manipulate tasks on the server.
  • Samsung Photo Frame Controller – A little specific but I have one of these frames running at home and this add-in lets you manage it from the console.
  • WHS DB Check – Checks for problems with the WHS backup database
  • Remote Notification – Send System Health notification emails from the server

Here’s a full list of add-ins or here, and a page of the most popular add-ins.

Windows Live Messenger and default browser

The new version of Windows Live Messenger has one great feature which made it worth upgrading to. That feature is the ability to stay logged on with multiple PC’s at the same time and have the messages delivered to all of them, this saves the inevitable problem of people sending you messages to a machine you’re not actually logged in to.

Unfortunately, the new version also had a deal breaker “feature” also, being that when you used the inbox button/popup menu it would load hotmail in your default browser where previously it would load it in IE no matter what your default browser was and because I use Opera as my primary browser and hotmail hates Opera, this annoyed me a lot…until….

Changing Windows Live Messenger 2009’s Hotmail button to use Internet Explorer instead of the default browser

Jonathan Kay wrote a little app which fixes this issue, load it up, press a button and your default browser is ignored in favour of IE for the inbox link only (so following links within messages still go to your default browser), it’s simply genius!

Now if only Microsoft would update the Messenger client on the XBOX 360 so it didn’t kick off ALL my other messenger sessions whenever I turned my XBOX on.

Cool stuff

Here’s a few cool things I’ve found recently:

Aeon skin for XBMC

This is almost certainly the best looking skin i’ve ever seen for any media centre app, the added bonus for people who don’t give a crap about actually installing XBMC/Aeon is the large collection of movie, music, game and tv show related backdrops all in glorious 1920×1080. For example:

Wallpaper in 1920x1080 example from http://www.aeonproject.com/backdrops.php?cat=bg_movies

Wallpaper in 1920x1080 example from http://www.aeonproject.com/backdrops.php?cat=bg_movies

browershots.org

Skip over this one if you don’t care about creating cross-browser web applications, if are and like me have never heard of this web based tool, time to hit the link above. It’s a web based tool which makes screenshots of any web design loaded in pretty much every browser which has ever existed, it’s not very useful for actually debugging rendering issues since it just gives you a static screenshot but as quick reference to see how your site appears in over 70 different browser versions, it’s fantastic!

and finally …

Kidlandia

Create and customise your own fantasy based map for kids (and you know you’re going to put your name on there too!), they offer a printing service (on rolled or hard canvas) but it’s pretty expensive and the preview mode gives you an image good enough for use as a nice wallpaper. Here’s the one I created:

Alexland from http://www.kidlandia.com/Share.aspx?MAPID=12775

Alexland from http://www.kidlandia.com/Share.aspx?MAPID=12775

It’s back, www.royalla.net, for reals!

So after a couple of years and some half-arsed attempts to get the royalla.net domain back from some filthy squatters they finally gave up and let it go without so much as a “sorry about that”. Arseholes. OK, so I offered them $1 for it, once, they weren’t keen. I think my exact words at that time where, “fine, I’ll just wait until you realise it’s not even worth $1 and get sick of paying the yearly renewal”, it seems I won, ha!

The other good news is that apart from some widget stuff on the right side (work in progress) and the missing gallery, I have finished moving the site to the new server and everything seems to be working with special thanks to Velvet Blue’s Update URL plug-in which saved me messing with the database or manually relinking 400 images, yay for me!

So, update your bookmarks and rss feeds to http://www.royalla.net, again!