Wheelmobile in New England

So, on Saturday, Jessi and I went to the Solomon Pond Mall to go to the Wheelmobile Wheel of Fortune tryouts. Basically, they would pick random people from the audience to introduce themselves and play a mini-game on stage, and they would eventually invite people that they liked to the actual auditions in Boston a couple months.

The web site for the event said that there was no reason to show up hours in advance. As far as I can tell, this was a complete lie. The picture in the paper doesn’t begin to do the line justice. The games were scheduled to occur at 1:00, 2:30, and 4:00. We arrived in the parking lot at 12:15, and finally found a place to park and got inside at about 12:30. The line at that point went through the twisty back-and-forth area they had set up, and then stretched entirely down one side of the mall, and about a quarter of the way back by the time we got in line. That was the line for the 2:30 event. I think that the line quickly kept on forming all the way back to the other end of the mall, and I have no idea where they put people after that.

About 2:00, some people in Wheel of Fortune T-shirts came by the line, and had puzzles on paper for people to solve for T-shirts. I solved the first one (Star and Role, “TOM CRUISE IN RAINMAN”), which I have no idea how I solved, as I’ve never seen Rainman and wouldn’t know Tom Cruise if he came up and introduced himself. But I won a TV 38 t-shirt, which was nice, although 38 has one of the most boring logos of a TV station imaginable.

The actual hour “show”, was interesting to watch. Despite the host making it clear that the most important thing they’re looking for is enthusiasm and people that would be interesting to watch on TV, some people clearly could not manage to show much excitement, while others were much more interesting. Neither Jessi nor I got called up on stage, but that shouldn’t be surprising as there must have been a thousand people in the room, so the odds were very much against us.

All in all, I’m glad I went, but I don’t think I’d go again. As they say on their website, there are over a million people who request to be on the show each year, and 600 contestant slots. The odds are so overwhelmingly against you, that it’s almost not worth trying.

There is, however, a minuscule chance that they’ll randomly pick one of our names to go to the Boston audition anyway, despite not getting picked to come on stage. We won’t be holding our breath, though.

Random Life Update

  • To adopt Raymond Chen’s terminology, this entry is some macro-tweeting.
  • Jessi and I are heading to the Wheelmobile event in Marlborough tomorrow to have some Wheel of Fortune fun and maybe even have an outside chance of getting invited to a real audition for a taping in Boston.
  • There are 50 judges (including me) scheduled to work at GP Boston.
  • Hannah has improved in her walking skills immensely over the past couple weeks. We now enjoy playing Roll The Ball, which typically turns into Degenerate Catch.
  • I now have peter.cooper@townofcharlton.net set up for official Town-related emails.
  • While I’m not a big fan of “reality” shows, I personally know one of the contestants on the current season of I Survived a Japanese Game Show.
  • We’re planning a trip out to see Jessi’s extended family in upstate New York in July.


Charter apparently just added WSBK-DT (channel 38, in digital form) to their wires, meaning that I can now view high-definition Jeopardy without needing to add a UHF antenna as big as a cell tower to my house. It’s not on the lineup on their web site or on TV listings services yet, but it’s on the wire at clear-QAM 114-10. Presumably their cable boxes will map that to 788, but since I don’t use a cable box, I care about the actual frequency that the digital stream is on.

It had bugged me that I was getting a worse experience with a direct wire to my house than I could theoretically get with an antenna, and now it looks like Charter is working on fixing that.

And now, a HD-DVR with surround sound

My wife’s computer (which is now our DVR system) has a (Dell OEM version of the) Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS, which includes a port labeled “Digital Out”. I wanted to connect it to the surround sound system I have, which only has a single digital input, labeled “Digital Coax”. I thought that I might need to get the Digital I/O Module and a digital coax cable, but I wasn’t sure that would work, since the sound card model isn’t explicitly listed there, although I suspect that it would. The digital out itself is kind of odd, since it’s really three separate stereo SPDIF outputs, to get 6 channels out, and the sound card didn’t support the normal AC3 encoding over one output to a receiver, although it could pass through an original AC3 source (like a DVD, or, I hoped, a HD recording) on one channel.

But, some people on some forums on the Internet that came up when searching for what I was looking for suggested that all I really needed was a way to connect the mini-jack connection on the sound card to the RCA-style jack on the surround sound system, and that the cable itself wasn’t very important for the short distance that it’d be run. Some claimed success with a stereo-to-dual-RCA adapter and just plugging in the left/white output to the receiver, although I saw somewhere somebody who said they needed to use a mono-to-single-RCA adapter.

So, yesterday on the way home I stopped at a large store and picked up a stereo adapter (which wasn’t easy to find), plugged the little end into the sound card, plugged the white output into the digital input of the receiver, switched the receiver to use the digital input, and much to my surprise suddenly my sound was working through the receiver in stereo.

To get surround sound working, I installed AC3Filter to use as my sound renderer, set it up to pass-through AC3 input directly to the digital output, and all of a sudden I was getting surround sound when watching or playing back HD recordings. When playing back a normal stereo recording (from analog-recorded shows), it translates the audio into 5.1 in a reasonable way, although I think I can tweak it to improve it.

The whole process was much easier than I thought it would be.

Weekend of accomplishment

Saturday, I went to the Eventide prerelease. My lack of preparation wasn’t really an issue, as I was primarily a money-taker again. However, for Shards of Alara, I’ll be up in New Hampshire in charge of a new prerelease location.

Sunday, my brother (who deals with video processing for a living) and I fixed my home digital recording setup that I was having issues with. One of the other things I’d added to my cable system was a distribution amplifier. The amplifier improved the signal for my other digital devices (cable modem, and direct to the HDTV), as well as the devices reading the analog channels, but apparently it was too much signal for the digital tuner on the HVR-1600. We stuck another splitter on just the input to the digital tuner on the card, to reduce the signal by another 7dB, and that apparently attenuated the signal enough for it to work correctly. Rather odd, since the signal level it was getting before should have been pretty close to the level that enters the house, but everything seems to be working for now.

HD DVRing semi-joy

Last night, I managed to use the DVR (now on my wife’s computer) to record and play back HD digital programs, with wonderful quality. This makes me very happy, since doing that was one of the reasons I went with a computer DVR system in the first place.

But, it seems that it has trouble locking onto or getting some (or all) of the digital channels, some of the time. It seems to not work long enough to do a channel scan, or possibly the problem is worse with the channels on higher frequencies. It’s quite odd, and makes little (if any) sense. Sometimes the problem can be resolved temporarily by disconnecting the coax cable and plugging it back in, which seems really odd, since that doesn’t seem like something that should do much with coax cable. (And it took quite a while to figure that out, since I was thinking that my changing the coax cable, changing the ports on the cable splitter, and changing the cable splitter was actually doing something for a while, and then it’d stop working again. Where in fact, I think for some (or all) of my changes, it was merely the act of unplugging the coax and plugging it back in that make it start working again briefly.) It seems that the signal is okay, since my TV plugged into the same splitter can find the digital channels just fine, and I’m pretty sure that this all used to work when it was in my computer (I just couldn’t get acceptable playback of HD content). So, I’m a bit baffled for the moment.

Random Life Update

  • We recently changed the living-room-DVR computer from mine to my wife’s, since it’s more powerful, and she wanted to be able to play her games while sitting on the couch. We also recently purchased some new hardware for DVR purposes as well, including a 500 GB drive. I remember when 500 KB was a lot. Now, I’m not sure 500 GB will be enough. We also got some additional RAM, but one of the memory modules was bad, so I’ve shipped it back and am awaiting a replacement.
  • This weekend, I’ll be working at the TJ Collectibles Hartford Eventide Prerelease. This could be interesting, since my only experience with Shadowmoor was a store release event, and I really haven’t judged since then. I’m looking forward to it
  • Yesterday, I received a notice that I have jury duty again. I suppose the last time was more than 3 years ago, but I don’t think it could be much more than that. I found the last time rather interesting (probably because I actually served on a jury), so hopefully this time will be interesting as well. (Update: Last time was 2/10/2005. I thought I would have blogged about it.)

Contemplating going wireless…

So, currently I get Internet and television from Charter. We’re on the most basic television plan, which really meets our minimal TV-viewing desires. However, Charter only has the digital signals from a few local channels, and for those that it does have, they’re additionally compressed and have the PSIP data stripped out. (Possibly some of that is in violation of FCC rules, or will be in violation starting in Feb. 2009. But I’m not sure, and I don’t think Charter cares.)

So, despite that fact that wired technology is inherently more reliable than wireless, it appears that if I put up a really big antenna (keep in mind that I’m far from Boston/Providence/Springfield/Hartford, so it’d need to be a really big antenna), I would get better TV service than I currently have. And, I just don’t expect Charter to get any better.

So, I’ve been looking into it, and am now seriously contemplating working on mounting a really big antenna for TV service. Presumably, the initial cost would end up paying for itself eventually because I could stop the Charter TV service.

So, (1) am I crazy, and (2) could anybody recommend a reputable TV antenna installation service? (I may try to install it myself, but I’m not sure I really want to go that route.)


I just ordered the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1600, which seems to be one of the more popular TV tuning cards, and it has hardware encoding of analog signals and can tune QAM digital signals with the right software. (I also ordered a DVI-to-HDMI cable so that I can hook the PC up to the TV.) I’m going to start by trying out the software that comes with it and free software like GB-PVR or Yahoo! Go.

If the free software doesn’t meet our needs, we may end up buying something like SageTV or Beyond TV.

If Charter starts adding more digital signals, and we find that we want more than one tuner, I’ve got my eye on the HDHomeRun, but that probably wouldn’t be added to our network for quite a while.

Wanted: info on DVR systems

We got a large-screen TV for Christmas, and now we seem to do more TV watching. I’ve been timeshifting stuff with a VCR, but I’ve been thinking that I want something with a bit better quality. Also, eventually I hope Charter will start carrying WSBK-DT so that we can watch our Jeopardy in high-def, and VCRs don’t really deal with that.

So, I’ve been looking into DVR-like technologies, and there seems to be quite a mix of possibilities. I don’t want to spend too much, since we don’t watch TV that often. While a small recurring fee isn’t completely out of the question, something like TiVo or Charter’s $13–$15/mo. is much more than I’m willing to commit at this time. (Charter’s plan would also require us to get their Digital Cable package, which may be nice, but would also add significantly to the cost.)

I think I would ideally like a settop box that doesn’t require a large monthly fee, but I’d be okay with modifications to a computer I already have, moving the computer out to the living room, and getting a DVI-to-HDMI adapter to connect to the TV.


  • Able to read both Analog Cable as well as Clear QAM digital cable.
  • Automatic scheduling of recordings, pausing/rewinding/etc. live tv, and other typical DVR features, all available for both standard and high definition.
  • Controllable via a remote (rather than, say, needing to use a wireless mouse/keyboard all the time).
  • I’ve set an arbitrary budget of $150 setup, with minimal recurring costs (such as electricity usage). That’s flexible if there was really a compelling reason to spend more, but it’d have to be a pretty compelling reason. Cheaper would generally be better.
  • If a computer is involved, Windows would be preferred since I’ve got the most experience at administrating it, but something Linux-based would be fine if that would be better.

So far, I’ve looked at some TV tuner computer cards, but there’s a lot of options both in hardware and software. So, I’d appreciate any suggestions/knowledge/feedback people may have.