Archives

All posts by Mike@TTM

Raspberry Pi TV Time Machine

I just saw this cool little TV Time Machine project for the Raspberry Pi:

“For the innards, Wellington used a cannibalised thrift store Dell monitor, hooking it up to a Raspberry Pi 2 and some second-hand speakers. After the addition of Adafruit’s video looper code to loop free content downloaded from the Internet Archive, plus some 3D-printed channel and volume knobs, the TV Time Machine was complete.”

However, we already have a TV Time Machine that can play anything available on our TiVo Roamio OTA (over-the-air):

Broadcast television today is a retro paradise: MeTV, Antenna TV, GRIT, Comet, Heroes & Icons, GetTV, COZI, etc.

The TiVo also can provide DVR recordings, any show we have on Plex, anything on Netflix or Amazon.

Our TV Time Machine in action:

We run the HDMI output of our TiVo to our big TV in the den.

But a composite output is available as well.

I connected an X10 video sender unit to this output with an RCA cable (red, white, and yellow plugs).

Whatever is playing on TiVo in the den is transmitted via the sender to the video receiver unit in the guest room, which is attached to the 1983 TV set by a standard TV coax cable.

The den TV doesn’t need to be on.

[Above left: video sender unit in den; above right: video receiver unit in the guest room. The little curved rod is an IR extender, not needed here. It can be folded down.]

Control the den TiVo remotely from the guest room with the free TiVo phone app:

I try to keep the sender off when not in use because it jams part of the crowded 2.4 GHz band used by older wifi routers; see previous post Conflict between Wifi, X10 video sender.

The X10 receiver can be on all the time. The old TV is always set on channel 3.

(Video sender/receiver pair in the TTM aStore)

Since these devices are analog, the picture looks especially good on an old analog TV.

Next up: “Police Squad!”… IN COLOR

We have all 6 “Police Squad!” and all 49 “The Outer Limits” episodes on Plex.

FTtapebox

Josef Hardt’s tape on my Sony tape recorder

On January 3, 2008, Kenny Quinn and I visited Josef Peter Hardt at his Tulsa home.

Josef (as “Peter Hardt”) was the host of weekend late-night sci-fi/horror movie program “Fantastic Theater” on Channel 2 in the 1960s. (See Fantastic Theater pages on TTM.)

We chatted about various Tulsa and TV topics.

I installed RealPlayer and added a Tulsa TV Memories shortcut to his computer so he could explore.

Before we left, Josef pulled an audio tape out of a closet and gave it to me.

I didn’t have a reel-to-reel recorder to play it on at the time.


I recently bought a circa 1968 Sony model TC-200 tape recorder on eBay. (I had the same model back in 1969 when “Fantastic Theater” was on the air.)

The Electrosoniks, aka Dissevelt & Baltan

I played Josef’s tape at 7 1/2 IPS (inches per second), the maximum speed for home reel-to-reel recorders.

But even at this speed, the tape sounded drastically slowed-down. Evidently, it had been recorded at 15 IPS on a professional recorder. It was one big mono track, rather than 2-track or 4-track stereo.

Nevertheless, I easily identified the first tune on the tape as “Sonik Re-Entry” by Tom Dissevelt/Kid Baltan, the electronic theme I remembered so well. (single MP3 download at Amazon)

This was likely the audio tape used at KVOO-TV Channel 2 to put together the “Fantastic Theater” intros, extros, and bumpers!


After the complete “Sonik Re-Entry” ended, there was a long silence. Then, more slowed-down music abruptly began mid-tune. I recognized it as a version of the quintessential Exotica/Tiki tune, “Quiet Village“, which had been mentioned by TTM readers as the first FT theme.

On 5/10/2000, I wrote this on TTM’s Fantastic Theater page:

“Reader Bob Shelton said in Guestbook 38 that “Quiet Village” was the 1st Fantastic Theater theme… I didn’t even realize there WAS another theme. You can listen to Martin Denny‘s popular version [single MP3 download at Amazon].

“But now I seem to remember Johnny Martin [KRMG evening radio host in the 1960s-70s] saying that it was composer Les Baxter‘s version.”

From Guestbook 147, October 01 2003, Kelly S. said:

“Punched in ‘Fantastic Theater‘ and what a great surprise! I remember the first theme, ‘Quiet Village’, introducing movies like ‘From Hell It Came’ and ‘World Without End’.”

So the tape seemed to corroborate Bob’s and Kelly’s memories (and mine of Johnny Martin’s comment).

Once again, the tape went quiet for a while, then an organ tune lurched in, again mid-tune.

What was that?!


My smartphone and laptop were the only tools needed to solve this part of the mystery.

First, I held my phone up to the speaker and played the tape again, recording it with the Recorder app.

Next, I opened the FTP Server app so I could pull the audio file over to my laptop.

I opened up the recording in Audacity (a free audio program) on the laptop.

Audacity made it simple to double the speed of the recording.

Listening now at normal speed, I recognized the second tune as Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village”, corroborating my own memory of Johnny Martin’s offhand comment made decades earlier (I have the tune on CD).

The third tune was again “Quiet Village”, but performed by an organist. Who?

Listen to the crucial section of the tape, with a slideshow of the tape box and reel:

The Shazam app can identify almost any piece of commercially-released music when you play any segment of it near your phone.

I already had it, so I held my phone up to the laptop speakers.

Shazam confirmed that the second tune was Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village”. (single MP3 download at Amazon)

The third tune, Shazam revealed to be organist George Wright’s version of “Quiet Village”. (single MP3 download at Amazon)


Clearly, the overlapping recordings were made in reverse order of hearing on the tape.

This tape of Josef’s turned out to be an audio palimpsest (“a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.”)

Likewise, the Scotch-brand tape box (originally for an empty 7″ reel) has written on it in pen: “Bowery Boys theme, cut 1, 7 1/2 I.P.S.” This was sloppily red markered-out at the time it was repurposed to store this Fantastic Theater tape. (Watch the YouTube above to see it.) The reel itself is Scotch-brand as well, and has “Quiet Village” written on the rim.


I made this note on TTM the day we visited Josef:

“1/3/2008: Josef Hardt told me today that there was only one theme, the one described and heard below [“Sonik Re-Entry”]. Kenny Quinn was involved in its selection; it was on a tape from upstairs at KVOO-TV, he told me.”

Did Josef forget about an early usage of “Quiet Village” that at least a few viewers remembered? Maybe.

Josef’s videotaped host segments probably had the music added in post-production. Many years followed with the distinctive electronic theme.

On 6/18/1999 in Guestbook 11, Mitch Schauer recalled:

“I grew up watching Fantastic Theater, Jungle Theater on Saturday mornings (with ‘Quiet Village’ as its theme).”

Hmmm. “Quiet Village”, with its dense jungle noises, would make a lot more sense for a “Jungle Theater” than the sci-fi “Fantastic Theater”.

Was this tape was used to produce a Channel 2 adventure movie program before becoming the “Fantastic Theater” tape. I will need to look into newspaper TV listings from that period to find out if that could be true.


  1. Was “Quiet Village” the first “Fantastic Theater” theme by selection?
  2. Or was it recycled from the existing tape, serving until “Sonik Re-Entry” was recorded over it?
  3. Or was it never used as the theme, and misremembered by the viewers we have heard from?

The strong and specific memories of TTM’s early readers (and mine of Johnny Martin’s comment) suggest that one of the first two options is correct. I lean toward #2.


If “Quiet Village” was specifically selected for “Fantastic Theater” (#1), George Wright’s version could have been the first take, and might have been heard on-air at least once.

If the remnant of Wright’s “Quiet Village” was related to the production of an earlier program (#2), it would never have been heard as the theme for FT.

Wikipedia notes that George Wright was the organist on “General Hospital” in the 1960s and 70s.

Ironically, in 1975, he wrote a theme for GH that was used for only a year before being replaced by the one remembered today.

Wright also worked with Tiki favorite Arthur Lyman, producing jungle sound effects with his mighty Wurlitzer organ. (See Tulsa Tiki.)

Coincidentally, I once owned this George Wright “Pop Organ” album on reel-to-reel tape, bought at Radio Shack, played on my first Sony TC-200.


Audio archaeology, and some deep-diving in the TTM Guestbook Archive shed a bit of light on Tulsa TV history.


3/12/2017: Until this moment, I had been unaware that Kenneth Eugene Quinn passed away on January 19, 2014. Josef Peter Hardt passed away on June 11, 2009.

Kenny played vibes and piano at The Rubiot: Tulsa jazz coffee house of the past. Obituary at Moore’s

Josef was also Mr. Oktoberfest in Tulsa for many years. See bottom of the Fantastic Theater page. Obituary in the Tulsa World.

I’m now listening to a Bill Evans Trio album with a beer in their memory.

Rest in peace, gentlemen. We will remember you.

Apple VP Phil Schiller shilling the iPad Pro

(From Daily Dot, 3/21/2016: Apple exec says using a 5-year-old PC is ‘sad’)

Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, took the stage in Cupertino, California, to explain some of the new features and specs on the new iPad Pro.

Between showing off a new display and camera, Schiller also took some digs at Windows and PC users, specifically calling out those users who are on computers more than five years old.

Schiller said that 600 million people are using PCs that are over five years old. “This is really sad,” he said.

The audience in Cupertino laughed and applauded, but many of those watching the livestream did not.

I don’t applaud the VP’s statement either.

Mindless pursuit of the latest consumer goods can be detrimental to your financial health.

Default retention and expansion of expensive cable/satellite services also can be.


My feelings and thoughts about money were crystallized by a book I read in 1992: “Your Money Or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.

The book’s thesis is that achieving Financial Independence (FI) is a feasible and a highly desirable goal.

Also, you can consider money as something you receive in exchange for your “Life Energy”.

In view of the fact that you have a finite amount of life energy, it makes sense to consider whether each prospective purchase is worth the life energy you would expend to pay for it.

Every unnecessary, unfulfilling purchase you make delays the arrival of FI for you.

(It also clutters up your living space; my favorite book on this topic: “Not For Packrats Only“.)

The book, at least as originally written, supposed that we dislike our jobs and want to be free of them.

"The Bow-Wow Affair"

Kuryakin and colleague

(As the great Russian philosopher Illya Kuryakin once said when asked by colleague Napoleon Solo if he was free for an assignment: “No man is free who works for a living. But I’m available.”)

I had been working at American Airlines as a realtime programmer for over three years by 1992, and was still thrilled to be doing what I was doing. So I didn’t agree with that supposition at all, then.

However, 20+ years, a spin-off, an outsourcing, an acquisition, a boomerang, and an overall deterioration of corporate culture later, the job’s luster significantly diminished for me.

At that point, I was glad I had been diligently putting the book’s general philosophy into practice all that time.

The book’s specific financial advice was lacking. I didn’t invest in 30-year Treasury bonds as it recommended.


That was because I had previously read the book, “A Random Walk Down Wall Street”.

Though I participated in an investment club in the mid-1990s, the main thing I learned was that I didn’t want to be spending my time researching stocks.

“Random Walk” had already revealed to me that a monkey throwing darts at a newspaper stock listing outperforms professional investment advice over time.

Besides, a monkey charges only peanuts for his services.

Buying and holding index funds (a way to automate the monkey) and not attempting to outguess the market is an easy, low drama way to invest.

(Being mindlessly on autopilot in this realm is not such a bad thing once you have set a general course, as over-attention can lead to taking financial actions at the wrong times.)


My computer setup in its entirety cost less than the cheapest iPad on the screen behind the Apple VP.

As part of TCC’s Wavebreak Cloud Computing program, I was issued a now-8-year-old dual-core Dell laptop for free. It was upgraded first to Windows 7, then to Windows 10 at no cost. I am typing on it at this moment.

My mom (who had loaned me the “Your Money Or Your Life” book) unloaded a now-7-year-old weak Celeron processor-powered desktop Windows 7 PC on me when she switched to a laptop. I realized I could use the built-in Windows Media Center software and a USB TV tuner to turn it into a PVR (personal video recorder) for the media room. It has since been upgraded for free to Windows 10 as well. It runs headless (no monitor).

Our newest PC is a 5-year-old PC bought used from a friend, who bought it at an estate sale. Of the four, this is the only one with significant CPU power (quad-core i5). It does all the heavy transcoding of DVR’d broadcast TV for the free Emby server software, which streams to smartphones or Rokus. It quickly converts DVDs to .mkv files usable in Plex or Emby. Likewise, it was upgraded from Windows 7 to 10 at no cost. It also runs headless.

The oldest is about 11 years old. It also has a weak Celeron CPU, is still on Windows Vista, and won’t be upgraded. It still has some use as a Plex and print server. With monitor and free VNC software, it serves as a window into the desktop environments of the two headless home theater PCs. It was the most expensive of the lot!

I also have three Linux-based Raspberry Pi computers costing $35 each.

I strap one of my wife’s cast-off Android smartphones to my arm as a music player while running and working out. Another one, I use as a wifi-only smartphone around the house and other wifi-enabled hangouts.


When I retired early, I found that I did miss one aspect of my old job: some of the actual work, researching and solving computer problems, and writing about them. Cord-cutting has given me opportunities to do both.

I’ve had a lot of fun with it, not the least aspect of which is the large savings of “Life Energy” on cable TV.

So, Mr. Apple VP, I will take your opinion of old computers “under advisement”, and “going forward”, will most likely ignore it.


Coda:

You do not need PCs at all to cut the cord. A TV and an antenna can completely suffice.

Maybe add a Roku box for Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc., if the TV isn’t “smart”.

Maybe add TiVo (and leave off the Roku) if you want an onscreen program guide and DVR.

That’s all you need to save a lot of “Life Energy”.


The official demo includes a tour of Plex’ “intergalactic headquarters”.
(No, Edward Snowden hasn’t gone to work there.)


The Echo Dot/Alexa, Amazon’s hands-free, voice-controlled device, recently acquired a new skill: Plex.

(Plex is a great, free way to make your own music/video content available on your smart TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, etc.)

I have worked with this skill quite a bit, but it doesn’t seem highly usable for me. Why?

  • You must already have a Plex app up and available for Alexa to control. If I have just used my Logitech Harmony remote to set up our Roku’s Plex channel, then the remote is a more straightforward way to make selections.
  • Even when the Plex channel is up on our Roku 3, Alexa occasionally seems to be blind to its availability. A reboot of the Roku 3 is needed to get Alexa to “see” it. (It may be more a problem with this model of Roku than with Alexa.)
  • If you have more than one Plex Media Server (we do), it’s time-consuming to get Alexa to switch servers. You must listen to a numbered list of available servers before you can respond.
  • Voice control generally works OK for movies. For TV shows, I rarely would remember the specific season and episode number. With a physical remote, you don’t need to recall anything; it’s browsable up there on the screen.
  • Asking Alexa for suggestions, or to shuffle music by an artist, or to play something new works fairly well. But it frequently takes me more than one try to get Alexa to play a specific album. Often, only one song is played from the album (maybe an Alexa bug).

The Alexa Plex skill will likely improve; this is the initial roll-out.

Note: when Alexa is controlling Plex, the music or movie sound issues from the device running the Plex app (e.g., smart TV, Roku), rather than from the Echo Dot. That’s fine if your Echo Dot is located close enough to you.

Alexa plugged into our sound system

But if your Echo Dot is plugged into a sound system playing non-Alexa sound, the Dot may be too close to the speakers for Alexa to understand without you yelling the entire command. (When Alexa herself is playing internet radio, merely the word “Alexa” gets her to mute the sound so she can hear the command.)

Then, you probably would need to use the sound-switching tactic I described in a previous post, Amazon Echo Dot as a stereo component. Or use a long cord to get the Echo Dot away from the speakers and closer to your voice.

Or, get another Echo Dot to sit within arm’s length, and change its wake word to “Echo”, “Amazon”, or “Computer”. They only cost $50.

However, two talking devices in the same room might give you app-o-Plex-y 🙂 .

“A-Plex-a” is cool and fun, though impractical for my everyday use.

If you are a Plex and Alexa user, do go ahead and try it; the price is right: $0.

Alexa Voice Commands for Plex

dragons

Avast, mateys: here be dragons!

Well now, here’s a touchy subject in the world of cord-cutting: piracy.

A while back, an acquaintance posed a question to me, the presumed cord-cutting expert.

He said a “friend of his” was wanting to buy something he called a “DigiXtream Kodi box” that would let him stream TV shows and movies, even if they were still in the theater.

His question was, could this be legal?

I told him that I didn’t know anything about his friend’s prospective purchase, but in no way could I imagine that it would be legal.

Subsequently, I looked into his question.


At that time, the only way I knew for pirated content to be mass-distributed was with BitTorrent software. BT is a way to download files hosted on multiple users’ computers around the world.

When you initiate a file download (from a torrent link), free BitTorrent software on your PC pieces it together segment by segment from other computers around the world with the partial or complete file. Then if someone else wants the same file, your computer (if still running the BT software) may automatically offer to upload segments to that user.

BitTorrent (using peer-to-peer file sharing, or “P2P”) has many legal uses, but downloading pirated movies isn’t one of them.

Back in the early 2000s, I used BT a few times to retrieve episodes of “Survivor” that my wife somehow missed recording. More recently, I downloaded an obscure and unavailable British movie called “Let’s Kill Uncle”, which I wrote about in this post: Let’s kill Uncle first!.

I wouldn’t do that again, due to the way BT shares files. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) or any content rights holder can easily join a popular torrent themselves and capture a list of users’ internet addresses. They are probably more interested in downloaders of current, popular movies, but in retrospect, I was rolling the dice.

I know of a friend of a friend here in Tulsa who got a warning from Cox in just that way.


Kodi, I did know about. I’ve talked about it here numerous times.

It’s legitimate open-source free media player software. I have a Raspberry Pi I use as a media computer, running on free OSMC software. (OSMC is a minimal, self-updating version of Linux, packaged with a Kodi front-end.)

There are many addons in the official Kodi repository for audio, video, pictures, weather, games, etc. I’ve been using the Pi to stream our own in-house content with Plex, plus internet music and video content, as intended by its creators.


To my surprise, I found that Amazon sells a plethora of cheap computers, preloaded with custom builds of Kodi and third-party unofficial addons whose sole purpose is to pirate video content.

Apparently, selling the boxes is legal, but their purpose is clearly illegal. Isn’t it? People would seem to be taking a big chance, buying one of these boxes and yo-ho-ho-ing merrily away, bottle of rum in hand.

The Kodi developers are striving to keep their trademarked name dissociated from these boxes and addons. Read this lengthy and angry thread on their forum. Here is Kodi’s statement last year: The Piracy Box Sellers and YouTube Promoters Are Killing Kodi.

So I looked at Amazon user comments about the various boxes. They ranged from “perfect for cord-cutters”, to “returned; too hard to use”, to “broke after two months”.

But nowhere did I see comments like “beware, I got busted”, “had to pay a big fine”, or “doing time in Federal ‘PMITA’ prison” (“Office Space” reference).

How could that be?


Turns out there are a lot of websites offering “free” streaming movies via file sharing services called cyberlockers. If you go searching for free versions of any current movie, you will find them.

Clearly, pretty much all the content in these lockers is pirated. The quality is highly variable.

If you watch these “free” movies on your computer via browser, the price you pay is taking a high risk of malware infection and identity theft.

The newer unofficial Kodi third-party addons (some older ones use BitTorrent) dodge this specific malware risk by navigating an ever-changing landscape of direct link addresses to the cyberlockers’ contents without taking you to the potentially infectious websites.

But the custom Kodi builds (created by parties unknown) and third-party addons themselves could compromise your security. There is no accountability or support.

Non-dangerous downsides, particularly for non-techies: locating specific content of adequate quality is often hit-or-miss and time-consuming. These addons are not always user-friendly, and they can break or lose support over time.


The cyberlockers’ business model is multi-level marketing. Read the sordid details here: Cyberlockers: Explaining Piracy’s Profit Pyramid.

As the article notes, to supplement their ad income, many cyberlockers now charge a subscription fee for premium pirated HD content and faster downloads. The addons cannot bypass these fees.


Streaming or downloading via third-party addons involves only three parties: the user, his ISP, and the cyberlocker. That makes it difficult for content owners to trace users.

fbiantipiracy2

Currently, it would be impractical, though not impossible, for the ISP to act on its own.

It would need to be capturing the user’s stream in real time to determine what was being watched, even if they had determined that the source site was a cyberlocker.

But only the copyright owner of that specific content is in a position to initiate legal action, so the ISP would need to notify it.

That is too much expense and trouble for an ISP to undertake without a compelling reason to do so.

But what if the copyright holder offered a bounty to the ISP? (to keep the terminology piratical). Or what if the content owner and the ISP were under the same ownership (e.g., Google)?

Could the MPAA set up a “honeypot” file at their own cyberlocker, and nail any miscreants who show up for the free goodies? I don’t see why not, though that may constitute entrapment.

Might the entire process of detection and documentation be automated?

Speculation.


I have read numerous opinions and have yet to find a clear-cut answer to the legality question. It differs from country to country. For the U.S., the following comment on Reddit perhaps best captures the general understanding, or lack thereof:

“Is watching streaming movies illegal?

“There is currently no definitive answer to this question. Depending on the site and file type, online streaming may create a full-length temporary copy of the movie on your computer. Alternatively, the program may delete the data as you watch.

“Some courts have held that even temporary copies may violate the law. However, the Copyright Office contends there is no violation when ‘a reproduction manifests itself so fleetingly that it cannot be copied, perceived or communicated’.

“Though the law is unclear, it is useful to note that owners, such as the MPAA, rarely go after individuals who watch streaming movies. Illegal or not, it’s much more difficult to track these users down. Unlike BitTorrent downloads, the MPAA can’t just sign into a program and snag IP addresses.”


At best, this is a gray area, ethically and legally. It does pose a risk, though of a kind different from BitTorrent downloading. From a practical standpoint, the third-party addons are likely to let you down as a consistent source for an evening’s entertainment.

Content owners have become increasingly interested in finding ways to offer their movies and TV shows on a subscription basis, since they have found that most people prefer to enjoy quality, worry-free, and user-friendly offerings.

Pay services have arrived in the form of smartphone/smart TV apps or Roku channels, such as Sling TV, WatchESPN, HBO GO, Showtime, CBS All Access, as well as old standbys Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.

Using the legitimate services assures that you won’t be wasting your time, or walking planks of any kind.

Arrr.