All posts tagged Albert


Albert relaxes at a workstation.

No cord-cutting in this post.

I was messing around on our office computer, when who should appear in front of my screen but Albert, our neighbor’s friendly cat. He apparently got cabin fever on this snowy day and felt like visiting a different cabin (ours). I brought up his favorite tag on this site.

As you may recall, Albert (a “tuxedo” cat) was named after Al’s Formal Wear in Tulsa. Here is a photo of “Weird Al” posing at that establishment last year.

Someday we’ll have to get Albert a top hat, cane, and monocle to complete his ensemble.

Neighbor cat Albert on our couch, royally symbolizing the importance of the WAF (wife acceptance factor) in home theater

Neighbor cat Albert on our couch, royal symbol of the importance of the WAF (wife acceptance factor)

This is a more technical post about a problem I had with the Raspberry Pi computer I use as a Plex client, and frontend to a Windows Media Center PC. But I will sweeten it two ways.

One, here’s a cat picture. Two, the takeaway will be presented upfront so you don’t have to read any farther.

To wit: I have truly learned a lot from working with the Pi (originally intended as an educational computer), and had a lot of fun (all posts related to the Pi).

But to maximize WAF, the Pi must remain my own little project in the theater room. There are just too many updates, tweaks, and fixes needed to keep it going. For my wife’s den TV, I must use more stable and user-friendly ways to record TV shows, and play our own TV and movie content.

The Plex channel on the Roku box is working well for the latter purpose. For recording and watching TV shows, a TiVo is likely the simplest and most user-friendly solution, though there is a service fee of $15/month.

Windows Media Center does a high WAF recording job. Connected to the TV via Extender (e.g., an Xbox 360), it incurs a fee of $0/month. I’ll try it when I am able to borrow or buy a used Xbox. Rather than go to the expense of wiring the house for Ethernet now, I just bought a 100′ CAT6 Ethernet cable to test with.


The Pi would not boot today. Could have been several things.

I had the Pi “super” overclocked as a way to speed up the interface, and thus more prone to corrupting the SD card that holds its operating system. However, in July, I altered a file on the SD card to make the Pi bypass it, and instead use a USB drive with the OS (RaspBMC). This sped up the Pi and made it less susceptible to corruption. (Great writeup: Transfer SD Install to USB Install).

But the SD card was an immediate suspect. It was also possible that the overclocking had fried the Pi (har har). Or maybe the USB drive had gotten corrupted.

I had another SD card with the Raspbian operating system on it, so I tried booting up on it. It worked. So apparently the Pi hardware was OK.

Next, I used free software (USB Image Tool) to restore to the SD card an image I had saved when I moved the OS to USB. Tried to boot up on it, but still no good.

I saved the Raspbian image to my PC with USBIT, then restored the RaspBMC image to that SD card. It booted OK. (Was the first SD card bad? I restored the Raspbian image to it, so I can try it later.) Then I set the Pi overclocking down to merely “fast”.

Just another day in the life of Pi.

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Neighbor cat napping in my Laz-E-Boy. Click pic to flip.

The following is a cautionary tale about how far some home theater enthusiasts may go to get things just right. It’s also to document a solution for myself and anyone else. It won’t be to everyone’s interest.

You don’t need to be into this kind of thing to have a good home theater setup. A Roku box can deliver paid services like Netflix as well as free content like Crackle, YouTube, and your own content on the Plex Channel. Many of the cord-cutting tips here require more awareness and will than technical knowledge to execute.

Some of us can’t leave well enough alone. Others, like Albert (above), are content to simply enjoy home theater with friends and family.

You won’t believe what I had to do to get a Context menu button for my Raspberry Pi media computer onto my Logitech Harmony 890 remote.

To navigate optimally through the media menus in RaspBMC (the Pi operating system I use), a Context button is desirable. This is especially true if you use PleXBMC, a beta software add-on that lets the Pi become a Plex client.

To control the Pi without keyboard and mouse, I originally bought a $5 IR dongle with remote. I plugged the dongle into the Pi, which it recognized. I added a Chinavasion CVSB-983 “device” to the Harmony remote which allowed me to map the basic play/pause/navigate-type functions.  That way, I could use the Harmony instead of the cheapo remote.
The Android XBMC remote app does have a “Context”-type button (like a right-click on Windows). It works fine on RaspBMC and PleXBMC. But I usually use the Harmony remote rather than the smartphone app.
(*Later note: XBMC has been renamed “Kodi”, and OSMC has superseded Raspbmc; in my new comment below, I added a new, much simpler way to add the Context button under OSMC.)
So after considerable googling (especially here and here), I plugged the dongle into my Windows PC (which it recognized), aimed the cheapo at it, and used free software ShowKey to find out what code was being sent when I pressed a useless yellow button.
ShowKey translated it as Ctrl-Alt-4, and gave the XML code, which could be modified for the Pi:
<four mod=”ctrl,alt”>Notification(Key, four, 3)</four>
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And there it is.

This button was simulating a Ctrl-Alt-4 on a keyboard, which my Windows computer was configured to interpret as some kind of notification. I changed the code snippet in my Notepad to this:
<four mod=”ctrl,alt”>ContextMenu</four>
Now FTPing into the Pi with WinSCP/Notepad++, I copied the keyboard.xml file from deep in the OS (/opt/xbmc-bcm/xbmc-bin/share/xbmc/system/keymaps) to a userdata area (/home/pi/.xbmc/userdata/keymaps), so that the new copy would supersede the original. Then in the Global/Keyboard area of the .xml file, I pasted in the above code (make sure the double quotes are non-italicized), so that a push of the yellow button would be interpreted by the Pi as a command to pop up a context menu . After the Pi was rebooted, the cheap remote had a working yellow Context button.
Once I added a soft button to the Harmony to send the yellow key IR codes, I had a context key on the Harmony!
Sometimes the little things are the most satisfying.
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Albert’s X10 doorbell

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Albert on a stump

Our neighbor’s cat, Albert, likes to drop by periodically. Since we aren’t always near our patio door, we could miss some of his visits, as he is too gentlemanly to meow loudly in this circumstance. (He is named after Al’s Formal Wear, being a “tuxedo” cat.)

Since we already have X10 home automation, I rigged up a doorbell for him by duct-taping a motion detector to a half-brick.

When he walks onto our deck, the motion detector sends a radio signal to the transceiver plugged into the wall. The transceiver converts the radio signal into the equivalent X10 over-the-house-wiring signal. A chime module “hears” it, then sounds, so we can go out and pet him or usher him in, as he wishes.

Last week, my mom said that she wanted a smartphone so she could take good pictures and be able to talk on the phone, too. Upon cross-examination by me and my brother, it was determined that she did not wish to post the photos on Facebook, just show them to her friends on a relatively large screen.

A new smartphone is going to cost a fair amount out of pocket, then you have a phone plan starting at $25/month absolute minimum. That’s a lot to pay for a glorified camera.

I had a money-saving idea for her: buy an Android 7″ tablet for about $50. It has a built-in camera and a larger screen than any smartphone on the market. Then she could get a tiny pay-as-you-go phone for about $7/month, like the one I recently ordered from Tracfone.

She reiterated that she really wanted to have just one device to take pictures and talk and text, but didn’t want to pay a smartphone price. Maybe by now you can guess the brilliant (IMO) suggestion I made:

Buy the tablet and the cheap phone. Then duct-tape the phone to the back of the tablet, and you’re good.

To read about other constructions of equal quality and taste, read this classic page, Redneck Neighbor.