Washington, D.C.

I visited Washington, D.C. for the first time with my family earlier this month. It was a very interesting and educational trip. See some of the sights we saw in our nation’s capitol below. You can click on images to view larger photos.

National mall and capitol

Weather on Your PHP-based Website

If you live in an area that receives both days of freezing sub-zero temperatures and days featuring sweltering heat indexes over the course of a year (like Minnesota), it is important to know what the weather is like before you step out the door in the morning. Because weather is an important factor when people plan their day, and because it helps paint a picture of the experience in a specific place to people hundreds or thousands of miles away, I sometimes like to include current weather conditions on websites I develop.

To put weather on your website, you have to grab weather data from some source. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. I have spent a fair amount of time looking for a lightweight script that grabs accurate weather data and works with PHP-based websites.

I used this add-on for SimplePie to grab Yahoo! Weather for a long time. SimplePie is an awesome RSS parser, that grabs RSS feeds, caches them, and allows you to include them on your website. It worked well, but the add-on pulled a lot of extra weather information that I didn’t need, such as sunrise and sunset. In most cases, I like to provide just a bit of weather data in the corner of a page, and give people a link if they want to see more. In addition, Yahoo! gets it’s data from The Weather Channel, so there could be a bit of a time lag before the data is updated. I really wanted to use weather data from the National Weather Service, who conducts official measurements all over the Unites States each hour.

Weather

A (not current) example of weather you could put on your website using my script.

I recently found a script that the University of Central Florida developed to pull NOAA weather data on GitHub. It’s lightweight, has it’s own built-in cache, and requires no other scripts like SimplePie. I loved the idea, but wanted to make some changes. The script was open source, so I made a number of programmatic changes and added to the documentation.

See the script, Current NOAA Weather Grabber, on GitHub.

If you are looking to include current weather conditions on your PHP-based website, give it a try. I think you’ll enjoy how easy to use, lightweight, and accurate this weather script is.

Check it out, and let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.

Has “Television been left behind”?

In an interview with Brian Williams (also see the first part of the interview) on NBC’s Rock Center this past December, Apple, Inc. CEO Tim Cook was asked what his company could do for television watching. Cook responded, “It is a market that we see that has been left behind. It’s an area of intense interest.”

After writing about my experience trying to get live TV on my computer, I would agree that the television market has been left behind other technology. Today, the television experience is largely cluttered with numerous set-top boxes, cable boxes, video players, and more. While each of these devices serve a function, there aren’t many televisions or computer devices that seek to solve all of the problems associated with the television watching and unify the experience. I had to spend a great deal of time to complete what I would have thought would have been a reality easy task (watching television on my computer).

The future of television may be brighter. In the future, someone will make televisions that are more fully featured, more like computers. People will be able to watch online videos, cable television, play games, and more on one device. These devices will work with other devices, like computers, phones and tablets. Because people watch television largely for leisure, it will have to be easy to use.

Getting cable providers to play along with a revolutionary new device might be difficult.  In the past, cable companies have managed their own cable boxes, and the may be hesitant to give up control to a device made by another entity. This article explains some of the other challenges that building the next-generation television will entail, as well as more about Apple and others past work in the television market. As technology improves, television companies will see the benefit of offering their content on newer devices.

While a revolutionary new television product that integrated a previously disparate and complex experience would certainly be welcome by most consumers, I do worry a bit about the impact it could have on local broadcasters and content producers. We need local television and diverse viewpoints to keep us informed about the community around us. A new product, with a more universal focus, could emphasize more national content options, as opposed to local and unique shows. It is important that both local and national content be available for viewers. I would hope a new device would not take advantage of or limit the voice of content producers in any way.

Overall, I’m glad to hear that Apple and others are working on the future of television. I’m looking forward to when watching television programming is a more cohesive experience.

HDHomeRun offers high-quality TV on your computer once it’s setup

I recently bought Silicon Dust’s HDHomeRun. This nifty little device has two television tuners in it and streams the live content over a computer network, allowing one to watch live television programming on their computer.  It’s awesome. The fact that the unit features two tuners means that two computers on the network can stream shows at the same time. The device I got cost around $100. A cable version is also available.

Overall, I am very happy with the HDHomeRun. The device is small, yet very powerful. It can stream full 1080i programming from a rooftop antenna, which looks great. The picture quality rivals a television.

HDHomeRun on a Mac

That being said, I did encounter some difficulty setting up the HDHomeRun on a Mac. When I went to pick it up at MicroCenter, I saw a Mac logo, so I figured setup would be a snap. I was surprised the find that there were not any kind of directions for Mac setup in the box or on the company’s website. The box featured a small pamphlet explaining how to connect the device to the network, but no instructions for setting up the computer end of things. An 80mm mini CD was provided, but these discs do not fit into Mac slot loading drives. The company’s website did provide a software download for Macs, but again no instructions. There are more instructions available from on the manufacturer’s website for Windows machines.

Before we get to far, I will note that there are programs that work with the HDHomeRun besides the official program. Namely, for Mac, I found that EyeTV 3 from Elgato is a great solution. I ended up purchasing this program, as it is much easier to use and has everything you could possibly need in one interface. If you will watch a great deal of television on your computer, this sub-$100 program is certainly worth the cost. If you are an infrequent television watcher, the official software might suit your needs.

Setting Up the HDHomeRun Software

HDHomeRunI setup the HDHomeRun software before purchasing EyeTV 3. Because there is not a lot of documentation on the program available, I want to show others how to use it. First, I grabbed a copy of the installer file and installed it. After a bit of reading on various forums, I found the software (pictured on the right) allows one to select a channel, and then open it in VLC. So, I downloaded VLC. I launched the HDHomeRun program and found it would not display channels available for viewing, despite recognizing the tuner device. After more reading online, I found the HDHomeRun needed to scan for channels before I could watch TV.

Scanning for Channels

Remember scanning your digital TV for channels? Yes, I needed to do this on the HDHomeRun. This is not as simple as it sounds, however, as the HDHomeRun Mac program does not (to the best of my knowledge) currently have a way to scan for channels. Luckily, command-line utilities are included with the software downloads. A development guide from the manufacturer explains how to use them. Command-line utilities are not for the faint of heart – they can screw up your computer if you mistype in Terminal. That being said, I was able to tune my tuners by running the following commands:

hdhomerun_config scan /tuner0 tuner0.txt
hdhomerun_config scan /tuner1 tuner1.txt

All of the sudden, with these two commands, the device worked! The command also outputted a list of channels to my current directory, which was helpful, especially as the program does not map virtual channels. Some of my channels were not on the channels where I would normally view them, as they are actually broadcast on one channel, and then remapped to the channel you usually find them on.

Many stations have moved from the VHF frequency (channels 2-13) to the UHF frequency (channels 14-51) in recent years. Many of these stations were originally VHF stations, with a number in that range (2-13) that they don’t want to give up, but they want to provide signals to the city requiring shorter antennas, afforded by UHF. This is one major reason stations broadcast on one channel and remap to another.

Using the HDHomeRun

Once you have this software setup, simply select the show you want to watch, and a VLC window will appear.  Click the link that appears in VLC, and your show should appear.

Additional Notes

I should note that this device’s ability to send high-quality streams can put a strain on your network and computer. In my experience, this device works best on a wired network or a very high quality wireless n network.

Again, I am very happy with the HDHomeRun. The small device provides a high quality television signal anywhere on the user’s network. While it took a bit of work to get setup and better instructions might have helped, HDHomeRun’s ability to send high-quality television signals to a computer make it a great product.

North Shore 2012

I just returned from a family vacation on the north shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. We relaxed outside, went hiking in area parks, attended church, visited shops, took a trip up The Gunflint Trail in search of the illusive moose and much more. The weather was a pleasant 70 degrees throughout our trip. We had a great time. Take a look at some of the pictures I took.

Foshay Tower Observation Deck Visit

I took a trek downtown Minneapolis last week, and once again visited the Foshay Tower observation deck. Once the tallest building in Minneapolis, the tower (now a hotel), has a museum and beautiful outdoor observation deck that circles the building on its 32nd floor. Take a look at my shots of the downtown skyline.

Graduation

I graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College this Sunday, May 27 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies. I really enjoyed my time at Gustavus; and the ceremony was really nice, despite a high temperature in the upper 80s.

Take a look at some photos members of my family took during the celebration.