Monday, June 06, 2005

Free Wireless Internet hotspots in Toronto

Just a quick post to say that the Wireless Toronto site is now live. I'm a member of this (new, new) group and we're hoping to roll out a bunch of free to use WiFi hotspots around Toronto.

The Wireless Toronto model is based on all the work that Île Sans Fil have been doing in Montreal over the last few years. We will be using the WiFi Dog authentication/captive portal system - it's open source and it's cool.

Right now we only have hotspots at two locations, and one of them is only quasi-public (if that). But we have a lot of good leads, so hopefully that list will increase quickly.

One of the parts of this project that I'm particularly excited by is that part of the Wireless Toronto mandate is 'community building' stuff. Exactly what that looks like isn't yet sure. But there are lots of cool opportunities - because the nature of the technology (small localized hotspots) seems to lend itself to offering locally relevant content and starting real, local conversations.

For example, from the Get Involved page at WirelessToronto.ca:
Create/find content for community pages: Help us put great, locally-oriented information on our community portal pages. Be a blogger-in-residence, research local history, take photos, or propose something totally new!

There's a huge area of interest and research, and hopefully practice out there. So I expect I will be blogging more (like more often than my 4 posts/year current rate).

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Angst riddled Swede + Cartoon balloon = Humour (?)

If the idea of a depressive 19th century Swedish writer (August Strindberg) and his inflatable, cartoonish sidekick (Helium) sounds like it might be funny, then you should check this out:
Strindberg + Helium

Saturday, February 19, 2005

TiVo Alternative for Canadians (and other non-US/UK folks)

There is plenty that I do like about TV, but there is plenty that I don't like - highest on the list would have to be the damn ads. Since I moved to Canada from the UK I have cut my TV viewing to virtually zero, mostly because I can't stand the quality (low) and frequency (high) of the adverts over here.

This combined with my natural attraction to technology (geekiness you might say) means getting a TiVo is tempting. But TiVo is not available to Canada, you could buy one on EBay, the major problem is that there is no official way of getting the TV listings for Canadian channels. There are hacks to get listings on a Canadian TiVo, but these look too convoluted and fragile for me to seriously consider.

So in looking for an alternative I came across the option of installing a TV tuner card in my PC and then getting some add on software to take care of the recording duties. So I now have a Hauppauge PVR-250 TV tuner card and a copy of SnapStream Beyond TV making my machine into a mean TV recording and viewing device. Here are my early thoughts on this setup:

Pause live TV – This feature is sold as being good for sports fans or people who often get interrupted while watching TV. Neither apply to me, but I have found one way that the pause button for live TV is very useful. Say I happen to come across a show which I feel like watching but haven’t set to record. I watch until the first ad break, then, rather than being indoctrinated to buy a new Chrysler or disposable duster, I hit pause and go do something else for fifteen minutes. Now I can come back to the show and rather that watching the ads I can fast forward through them, because I am watching from the recording of the show and not from the live stream. Using this method there are still about 18 minutes in each hour of TV where I’m not watching the show, but I can group those minutes together and go do something else (like email or laundry) rather those down-minutes coming in the irritating 3 minute chunks dictated by the TV network.

Archive shows to DVD - Beyond TV saves recordings as DRM free Mpeg files. That means that you are free (technologically at least) to do what you want with the video files. Although Snapstream don't provide the functionality in the software, it is fairly easy to create a standard DVD with the shows you have recorded. I use VideoReDo for editing out the ads and Tmpgenc DVD Author for authoring DVDs.

Skip ads I - Beyond TV includes two very handy ad-skipping features. The simplest of these two features is a skip button that jumps forward in a recording by 30 second increments. I was skeptical at first about how well this would work, but the networks really do broadcast their shows with the ads in consistently round numbers of minutes, usually 2 or 3 minutes per block. So with practice you can hit the 30 second skip button 4-6 times and skip through ads accurately and virtually instantly.

Skip ads II - The second innovation is even smarter. BeyondTV uses a feature called smartskip to allow you to automatically skid ads. This works by running a fairly intensive analysis of recorded shows to determine which parts are show and which parts ads, my machine is set to do this when idle. Once a recorded show has smartskip chapters setup you can jump past the ads using just one button press. This process doesn't get it right 100% of the time, particularly with animation (doesn't like the Simpsons at all), but it is a great feature.

In a nutshell, I would say that having a PVR genuinely has changed my viewing habits in a big way and for the better.


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