On My Failure to Maintain a Windows Environment, and My Abandonment of Android for Tablets for an iPad Pro

Recently, I’ve been considering upgrading my current laptop (a 7th gen i7 Asus best buy special, with 16gb and 256gb). I was looking at various ultrabooks and low-end gaming laptops, but none of them really clicked with me. 

I realized rather quickly that my use case is really not one demanding of a full-fledged PC. 

Here’s what I used my Windows laptop for:

First, I used it for Indie gaming. Stuff like Stardew Valley, Darkest Dungeon, and others. Nothing super demanding, but stuff that was fun to play on the go without having a full setup.

Secondly, I use it for quick configs on my firewall/routers/switches. I also use it with a usb->serial cord to do console configs as needed.  

Thirdly, general web browsing when I’m on the go, as well basic document editing. Nothing crazy.

Finally, I use it to RDP back to my main desktop to do Lightroom, and other tasks that need too much CPU for my lowly laptop to handle.

I had some complaints with the laptop itself, which we’ll cover now.

First and foremost, an i7 in an ultrabook is way too hot. I ended up keeping it on a hardcover book when I’m in bed, and used powerconfig to max it at 50% speed while on battery. It was the only way that I could comfortably use it without cooking myself medium rare. 

Secondly, the keyboard was starting to go. The keys were always a bit flimsy, but after 5 years, they started popping out. 

Finally, the screen was 14” and 1080p. It’s not a huge issue, but it always felt a bit fuzzy. 

So, what were my options?

I looked at some basic gaming laptops (so that I could do more gaming) as well as the surface line. After some thought, I decided that that wasn’t really what I was looking for. Cost and heat would be an issue, and then, with the Surfaces, there’s definitely an additional cost to get what I was looking for. 

I glanced at Android, since most of my RDP/SSH/console needs would be met. But, gaming on Android is pretty limited. 

That brought me to iPads. What started as a “haha, I’ll just look for fun” quickly crossed into “Wait, this is actually viable.” The games I like have an iPad version. RDP works solidly on it. Logitech has some good keyboard options. I would just have to sell my soul a little tiny bit.

So, I got the iPad Pro 11”, and a logitech keyboard case, and have been using it for a few days now. I have not needed my laptop for anything yet. I even could sync my Darkest Dungeon saves over so I didn’t have to restart anything there. 

All in all, I am quite happy. 

I suspect I’ll be writing some more posts in the future on this. 

My Semi-Automated Phone to Lightroom Setup

I’ve been trying to automate some more of my mundane home IT tasks in order to make them take less time. As a general rule, I do avoid using the cloud as much as possible in an automated fashion. It would make some parts of this a little easier (particularly with automatic syncs, however for running processes against the files, it seems better keeping it all local. I’d rather use my home storage backed up to Crashplan than try to integrate my workflow with Onedrive.

So the first step is to get the photos off of my phone and onto my home server. I run an Android phone so I’m using Foldersync Pro to get them to my server. Foldersync supports a huge array of transfer types. Currently, I’m running FTPES to do the transfers. It’s a paid app, but there is a free version. Worth the $5 in my opinion. I have it scheduled to run nightly to back up the previous day’s photos. This is a bit aggressive, so I may increase the lag time to a few days so that I have more photos immediately accessible on my phone.

Once the photos are on my server, a nightly scheduled task runs to split the live photos into separate JPG and MP4 files. The resulting movies and any other MP4 files are dumped in my home video directory for future sorting, while the JPGs and DNG files get pushed over to my desktop for import to Lightroom. To split the files, I’m using ExtractMotionPhotos from here. Free app, highly recommended.

This is where the automated process ends. Lightroom does not import automatically to folders by date. So, every few days I have to do an import off of my import directory. I’m going to have to go digging through the plugin API to see if that’s something I can cobble together,or whether I’ll have to forever manually import as needed.

That’s my current semi-automated workflow. At some point, I’ll need to share my Lightroom back to phone workflow.

Philips Hue and a Baby

My wife and I had our first child recently, and are currently going through the “waking up all night to feed” stages. This is rough on everyone involved, so I wanted to see if I could set up a technical solution to make some parts of it easier.

I had some Hue lights already set up in my house, so I decided to start with them to make late night feedings a little easier.

I set up some in our bedroom, and some in our nursery. Since the baby is so little, he’s still sleeping in a crib in our room, but we’re keeping the changing stuff, and comfortable chair for feeding in the nursery.

I then got one of the Hue dimmer switches, and mounted it next to the bed. I configured it to control both the nursery and the bedroom groups of light, and set the default to be a very low powered light.

Now, when we get up in the night to get the baby, we tap a single button, and it sets the lights to a low setting, thus helping us not wake each other up, as well as not fully waking the baby up.

NPVR Review

I run a PC-based DVR with some SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime tuners. Historically, I’ve used Windows Media Center, as it was painless to use, and had a robust 10 FT interface as well as an excellent TV guide. However, when Microsoft announced that it was going to be a paid addon for Windows 8, I saw the writing on the wall, and started researching other alternatives.

I ended up with NVPR, after testing a lot of the other Windows based solutions, such as MediaPortal and ForTheRecord (which I believe is now Argus). NPVR seemed to have the easiest guide setup and the most stable recording out of those three. The only issue that I’ve had with NPVR, and it’s the same as all non-MCE options, is that it doesn’t support DRM recordings. So, depending on your cable provider, this may not be that useful. However, for cablecard copy-freely channels as well as clearqam/antenna channels, it’s a great choice.

NPVR is free, supports some scripting to handle guide and recording handling, and is rock solid stable. Let’s go through what features it offers.

We’ll start with the guide functionality, since that is where a DVR program lives and dies. Fortunately, NPVR supports both MC2XML as well as SchedulesDirect. I decided to pay the $25 a month to get SchedulesDirect. It’s easy to setup and update, and quite accurate. When you open the guide, it shows a (configurable) timespan and all the shows that are airing.

Recording options are quite robust, with the basic “Record Once”, “Record All New” and “Record All”, as well as more advanced options like “Record all at this time slot” or “Record on these days”. Files are saved as TS files with an XML sidecar for metadata. While some may prefer a compressed file to save space, having the raw TS files gives a lot of options, particularly if you want to strip commercials or re-encode to your standard format. There are script hooks in the scripts directory that let you run postprocessing scripts to move files, or reencode, or whatever else you’d like.

Live TV and playback work well, although it’s not on par with MCE, or even the more recent releases of the SiliconDust TV App that support DRM channels. At this point, I either use the SiliconDust TV app on my computer, or the cable provider box for live TV.

Beyond that, it also has a strong web interface that supports much larger channel displays, as well as a robust search and record function. Definitely helpful for those days that I’m out of town and want to quick double check whether or not I’ve got my shows recording.

It also has a good community, and regular updates, as well as some plugin support. One plugin that I highly recommend is GuidePlus [site link]. It will automatically update the guide listings for shows that you have set to record with season/episode details, as well as renaming the files with the same info. It makes it quite easy to see whether or not you’ve seen an episode or not.

All in all, NPVR is the best DVR product on PC that I’ve tested. At some point, I’ll do a comparison with PLEX and SiliconDust’s beta DVR product.