This post is a distinct departure from my usual BizTalk/ESB/SOA/etc-type posts . This gets into another area I’m pretty passionate about: media, e-home, and being wired.

I had a conversation with a fellow geek frequent traveler recently, and was surprised to find out that not everybody was doing things to the extreme I was, so that inspired me to do a follow up post to my Media Center post (recap: while Vista was in beta I decided to charge out and build, from CPU up, a home Media Center PC). I’m doing some cool stuff that makes traveling more tolerable, and makes being away from home, well, a little less like being away from home. I’m hoping that this post helps some of my fellow travelers realize the same benefits.

It’s been just over a year now since I assembled by Vista Media Center PC. Much has changed. Over Christmas, I thoroughly geeked out. I:

  • Bought a Linksys 802.11n gaming router (optimized for low lag, when a 12 year-old is coming at you with a rocket launcher, milliseconds matter!). It’s probably the same as their normal router, but, that sci-fi silk screen (which bumps up the cost $50) sure makes it feel faster. It’s optimized for low lag, which I guess means their non-gamer routers are optimized for maximum lag???
  • Added a couple of gig of RAM to the Media Center PC in my stereo cabinet, bumped up storage to about a terabyte too
  • Added a 4 gig USB internal Ready-Boost USD flash drive to the Media Center PC in my stereo cabinet. This is a 4 gig USB flash drive that plugs directly into a USB head connector on the motherboard, Very cool.
  • Replaced my kitchen PC with a dual-core 64-bit machine (’cause when we look up recipes, it has to be fast). Had someone told me just 5 years ago I’d have that in my kitchen, I’d have thought them insane
  • Got a wireless adapter for the Xbox 360 in my bedroom (it’s my fail-over Xbox, I’m all about high availability!) and now I can stream recorded TV to my bedroom TV (the nightly news is always there when I’m ready to be lulled to sleep, no matter what time). That’s normal behavior, right? Surely everyone streams media to their bedroom Xbox?
  • Overall, I retired 3 computers. Nice! The power savings should cover a massive fraction of what I’ve spent on this effort overall.

Then I got to work on some of the software aspects. I found Webguide, a seemingly dead-end freeware product (Microsoft hired the author), that lets me remotely “reach in” to my Media Center. This is cool, I could, from anywhere on the planet, reach in and retrieve media like the Colbert Report from last night, or the local San Diego news. Cool! In addition, I can check out the TV guide and schedule recordings. Nice.

Here’s what it looks like in a browser from a remote location (note: the whole family uses this, these are not *my* shows!):

Then, there’s a really cool Vista gadget too that gives me, from anywhere in the world, a synopsis of recent activity on my desktop:

Problem though I have a cable modem and dynamic IP, how will I “call home” when my IP changes? As an architect, I immediately started mapping this out in my head, a Windows service registering the current IP with a store in the cloud (maybe even using the super cool relay service to broadcast a new IP to myself), but then I thought let’s look around before firing up Visual Studio, SOMEBODY has done this. I came across that provides a free (for individuals, with some limitations that entice you to upgrade to “non-free”) service that allows you to point at, which if, you have it configured properly, will resolve to whatever was last reported as being your IP address. How does their registry get updated? That the really cool part. When my router’s not busy blowing up over-testosterone teenagers, it communicates with them and tells them what my current IP is. Very sweet. This is as good as I would have gotten had I written it myself.

But wait, there’s more. I have a 3rd gen iPod Nano (the “a little video for everyone”). Wouldn’t it be cool if I could somehow convert the video and be able to watch it on my Nano, say, oh, on a plane? Well dear readers, this was NOT as easy as you would expect. I tried several options, and eventually came across Any Video Converter which could put that Colbert Report or Daily Show on my Nano. Sweet!

That would look something like this:

Another cool thing, I found this add-on call LifeExtender. You feed it some rules, and it will go through your media files and strip out commercials. The goodness here is that the file size drops a lot, making it faster to move across the Internet, as well as faster to transcode. I was somewhat apprehensive about having this thing modifying my recorded media, but so far, my experiences have been good. You can schedule it too, so it’ll wake up at pre-determined time and scan for and process any new media files that meet your rules.

So, to recap, our flow so far is:

  • show was recorded at my home
  • I reach across he Internet from Jordan or anywhere else in the world and grab the show
  • I go through a conversion process (or watch it on my notebook)
  • I add the show to iTunes
  • the show gets to onto my Nano when I sync, and I can watch it (possibly, while flying home!)

The system’s not perfect. I drag a 1+ gig (depending on time and recording quality) thing to me and convert it to a 100 meg thing, that makes no sense to me. The folks over at Any Video Converter tell me that command line invocation is coming in a future version, I should then in theory be able to have a service running that converts it at home, so that I only drag the 100 meg things around he world.

Once I can do that, I’ll be happy and stop with this stuff. At least for a while. Probably a short while….. Who am I kidding? I’d find other geeky challenge to keep me busy!

Punchline in all this is… I really don’t watch much TV. I do however like a challenge, and… that’s what this has been, a fun engineering challenge.

Technorati Tags: media,media center,vista media center