Sep. 6th, 2010

Wednesday David drove us to SFO for our flight down, and John met us at PSP. The house was fine after being empty for almost a month, and the trick of putting mineral oil in the toilets kept all the water in the traps from evaporating. Off to dinner with John at Roscoe's, where we were in time for the early bird (senior?) special prix fixe menu, which includes dessert, which in Paul's case is his beloved carrot cake.

One minor problem: a smoke detector on the ceiling of the great room (what we call the hotel-lobby central space of the house) was chirping about a low battery. The next day I unpacked the compound ladder I had had delivered on our previous visit and got up there, which turned out to be a little scary since the highest stepladder you could make out of it left about a foot to be desired, and the smoke alarm needed two hands to screw off. 14' ceilings doesn't sound like too much, but my fear of heights (quite reasonable in this case) kicked in and made it hard. But eventually I got it loose, took out the battery and unplugged its AC power. What a stupid place to put a battery-operated thing... and everyone should know that ionization detectors give more false alarms than real ones, while the more-expensive photoelectric detectors are much better -- but very rare, since builders can save a little and still comply with the code.

Thursday our house server and 6 TB of disk drives arrived. I had wanted something like this high-end media server, but its price (upwards of $5,000) made a less developed product a better option. So we now have a Synology DS410 server to serve the same needs: media server, storage, backup, security cam support, iTunes server... etc. The irony here is that like the Vera home controller box I also have, it's a Linux-based product; in fact, with a Z-Wave dongle and software, it would make more sense to have the home control function in the server as well, but the available software solutions aren't up to snuff just yet. I once knew a Silicon Valley retiree who spent almost a decade working on custom software for controlling his house, and the more standardized the product and the higher-level the programming, the less I will fall into that trap.

The Synology people have made progress in simplifying the user interface enough to make it almost plug-and-play, but I ran into a few snags (often fixed by rebooting the server or service.) I ripped a DVD test file into a variety of different forms (the terminology of video storage in quite complex: containers versus video standard versus soundtracks, MPEG4 H.264 MKV AAIC ... quite a jumble of acronyms, codecs, and standards (that sometimes aren't all that standardized.)) The "media server" software on the DS410 can serve up streams from MKV or MOV files, for example, but not from an ISO (duplicate file structure of a DVD), while the digital streaming client I'm trying out, the Seagate FreeAgent Theater+, can read the ISO directly through another route, making for a confusing UI. I will probably standardize on ISOs since they contain DVD extras and menu structures worth preserving, though the Blu-ray ISOs are still not completely standardized. By the time I really get all this going, though, the Logitech/Google TV client will be available, so assuming it has the usual support for streaming from home network servers that all these boxes have, it may be the client.

The goal is, of course, to have HD video and high-quality sound on demand individually selectable in every room independently, while sharing the large media library and external sources.

In between fiddling with this, as Paul has posted, we went to some great parties, saw Michael McDonald of Mad TV at one of them, shopped, ate, gymmed (at Golds and World -- looks like we will join both to have travel passes and a complete set of equipment and gym buddies), and generally settled in.



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