Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Traveling with a Mini

In my duffel bag, next to my clean socks, is a Mac Mini, an extra hard disk, and an EyeTV 200 television capture gadget. I had purchased this collection for use in the RV. This, connected with my Directv box, gave me a digital video recorder (DVR) I was able to capture movies and television shows, and to play them back on demand.

When we headed off for Colorado, I grabbed the Mini and associated cables and when we were installed in the Breckenridge condo, I hooked everything up, and for five weeks, had a very usable DVR setup. Yes, there was a bit up configuration to do, getting the software to understand that I was connected to Comcast in Breckenridge rather than Directv, but it was a pleasant experience.

Then we picked up and moved for a few days to Grand Lake, but there was no time for TV there. Then on to Denver, staying in a La Quinta. Now the horrors started. La Quinta used LodgeNet, one of the worst possible options. Not only was there little choice of channels, but it proved impossible to program the LodgeNet's channel selections into the EyeTV software. I did a little experimentation, but found that there was no real connection between the television channels as listed and what was really coming down the cable. In fact, it appears to me that using the EyeTV capture box on that cable gave me access to the pay on demand channels for free. I can't prove it, but we did watch Aeon Flux, and I think that hasn't hit the HBO style movie channels yet. I did notice another channel that probably was the porn channel, but I didn't tarry long enough to get a show or channel identification. Most of the channels, in fact, looked like status screens to some computer system.

And today, we moved to the Hyatt next to the Colorado Convention center. Mary Ann was off attending her events, so I tried to hook the Mini up to the big Samsung flat panel in the room. No luck. In spite of every kind of video input jack you can imagine readily available on the back, this On Command system gave no opportunity to access the video input. You either watched their channels or turned it off. After lots of experimentation, I turned it off, and packed the Mini back in the duffel. Without the ability to see the Mini's screen, there is no chance I can get it running. I do have it boot up with VNC server running, but there is no usable internet in the room either -- not without going through T-Mobile's login screens, and I can't do that blind.

Why is it that the fancier the hotel, the poorer the services, and the more they charge for them? On Command is going into my black book right next to LodgeNet.

------ Late addition --------

There was a Radio Shack a block away, so I picked up an ethernet Cat-5 cable and connected the laptop to the mini. On the laptop, I turned on internet sharing to share my (non-existent) wireless connection out the ethernet. The mini, looking for any available connection, made the connection. Now, with a pathway established, I ran VNC and connected to the OSXVNC server that I had previously installed on the mini.

Step two, on the mini's desktop, I fired up the system preferences and turned on internet sharing to share it's ethernet connection out the airport wireless. Disconnecting the ethernet between the laptop and the mini, I connected the laptop to the mini's wireless network. It worked.

So now, I have a little isolated private wireless network, hosted by the Mac-mini, which can serve all its stored video to the laptops and also serve as a shared file-server ( I used it for on-the-road backups).

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Tracking Moose

Our stay at Breckenridge ended and we took three days to visit the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Mostly it was an opportunity for Mary Ann to take more winter pictures, but I enjoyed the white landscape, the stillness, and the tracks in the snow.

One thing about living with a photographer is understanding that lighting is important. It that means waking up an hour before dawn day after day so that she could be out in front of the mountains, tripod already set up, when the sun comes up -- then that's what we have to do. Of course, the weather didn't co-operate any of the days we were there, but that didn't stop us.

There is another advantage that comes from pre-dawn excursions into the park as well. We were there before the snow plows. The night's snows had covered the landscape and smoothed out all tracks the human activity. But the animals had been there before us, and we could see clear evidence of where the moose, and the showshoe hares, the coyotes, and the weasels had been. At least the moose were large and dark, and we could see them in person. The others left their little stories in ways we had to interpret.

It was great fun tracking the wildlife, and collecting evidence of their hidden lives. If we'd stayed longer, soon enough we would have been able to predict where to find them live and in person. But, time was short, and we were off to Mary Ann's event in Denver.