Friday, 12 September 2008

I enjoy the fact that my DirecTV DVR (model HR21-200) records HD content for me. The quality is generally pretty darned good (it does 1080p video now after a recent a software upgrade), and it beats the heck out of anything else available to me in the boonies. The unit comes equipped with a 320GB (give or take) internal drive, which allows something like 30 hours max of HD recording. I found that when recording full seasons of a few shows like The Office or Lost in HD (and most of us will tend to add a few HD movies in the mix), the drive tends to fill up before I want it to.

So, I ordered a Cavalry 1TB external eSATA/USB 2 drive from Newegg.com, which arrived today. I've hooked it up and it's working. My new capacity numbers? Well, it depends on the specific content, but up to about 145 hours of HD content or as much as 1000 hours of SD programming (wow). Variables that affect actual video-time capacity includes resolution, compression (MPEG2 uses more space than the newer MPEG4) and how much motion there is in the video (since more motion means less compression benefit).

I wanted to document the simple setup steps here, so people can get theirs to work if they should want to do the same thing. You can find similar info on the 'net, but people seem to have a hard time with it. My drive came pre-formatted NTFS, which is fine. The DVR will wipe any file system on whatever drive you hook up. Below are the steps that one needs to follow in order to get the external drive up and running with the DVR. The order of the steps is crucial. Don't try to power up your hard drive after you start the DVR, for example.

First of all, if your external SATA drive is a Seagate FreeAgent, you will probably not have any luck, unless you have a HR20 DVR unit. I've heard many stories from people who bought a FreeAgent drive and tried to attach it, with no luck. So, while the FreeAgent drives are great for gneral storage, they are probably not what you want to buy to attach to your DirecTV receiver. My HR21-200 unit simply refused to work with my 750GB Seagate drive, so it's doing video editing duty now. Your mileage may vary, but my experience is that they just don't work.

To start using your new hard drive:

  1. Power down the DVR.
  2. Unplug the DVR from the wall power. This is important.
  3. Attach the external drive's eSATA cable to the back of the DVR unit.
  4. Power up the external hard drive first, and allow it to "spin up" (give it about a minute to be safe).
  5. After the hard drive has "spun-up," plug the DVR back into the wall power plug.
  6. Be patient (very patient) and wait for the DVR to restart. It's not dead. Be patient.
  7. After it does it's thing, you'll be able to watch TV again. Check your recorded items list and make sure it's blank.
  8. Run a recording test and make sure you can play back.

Note that the DVR's internal drive is completely bypassed when you add a new external hard drive - the system no longer sees it. So your recordings and what-have-you from the internal drive will not be available to view. However, in my experience if you restart the DVR without the external drive attached the internal drive "comes back to life" and you'll see your old recordings there.

Any scheduled recordings on your "To Do List" that you set up before adding the external hard drive will no longer be programmed. This is important - You will need to set up your recording schedules again. Head over to DirecTV's online scheduler or their mobile scheduling site at http://m.directv.com and sign in to start setting things up. I sometimes find the mobile site to be a bit easier to use, even on a desktop or laptop PC - especially since it lets me search by name.

Also, note that whatever you set up online may not be configured using the default recording setting you've established on your receiver, so be sure to go to the receiver's Manage Recordings list and review the new items that appear in your To Do list to make sure they're set to what you want. In my case, I had to make changes. Seems like recordings scheduled online should use the defaults you've established on your machine, but they didn't for me.

Once You Know, You NeweggMost importantly, you can look for good deals on decent external eSATA hard drives to do an inexpensive upgrade to your DVR. If you like spending lots of money, you could go to one of the sites that offers upgrade hardware services, but one such site sells essentially the same drive I bought and installed myself. Their price? $299.00, and that's just for the hardware. If you want your internal drive copied to the new drive, they can do that for an additional $59 - Not worth it to me.

How much did I pay for mine? $167.00 from Newegg. You can do the math. Shop around, prices are even lower now, and you can find an even better deal out there.



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Geek Out | Tech
Friday, 12 September 2008 16:32:53 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 11 September 2008

Over at Wired's Gadget Labs blog, Brian Chen writes about information discovered during a webcast presentation on Thursday covering the recently discussed iPhone security weaknesses having to do with bypassing the password-protected lock screen.

Jonathan Zdziarski, a data forensics expert and author of the forthcoming book "iPhone Forensics," did the presentation for law enforcement personnel and anyone else who might have a need to access an iPhone to discover information. During the presentation, in which he outlines a method for breaking into the phone with modified firmware and some hairy manipulation, he also showed how the iPhone takes a screenshot of every application the iPhone's user closes by pressing the "home" button. The saved image is used to "draw" the collapsing screen animation you see when your application closes and you're returned to the home screen. The image file is then deleted from the iPhone's storage.

But, nothing is ever really completely "deleted." And in this case, apparently when the temporary image file is killed from storage, the data "on-disk" is not overwritten or otherwise cleaned, so anyone with some basic forensics knowledge can search the iPhone storage space for the old files and recover them easily. You can do the same thing on pretty much any computer.

Depending on your point of view, this is either a potential privacy issue or a great forensics feature. Having worked as both a police officer and as a business security professional responsible for privacy and data integrity issues, I can understand both arguments. Certainly as a cop, being able to dig into someone's iPhone (with a proper warrant of course) to find evidence of crimes where the phone was used in some manner is of real value, and screen shots are potentially pretty useful evidence. But as a person who also values privacy as a matter of basic principle, it's a little disconcerting, especially since I didn't realize until today screen shots are being made.

The webcast recording is not yet available as of the time of this writing, but it should be posted to http://www.youtube.com/OreillyMedia in the next few days. If you're interested in learning something about electronic data forensics, it will be worth the time to check it out. Here's the O'Reilly abstract from the session:

In this free, live webcast, iPhone hacker and data forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski guides you through the steps used by law enforcement agencies to bypass the iPhone 3G's passcode lock by creating a custom firmware bundle. Author of the upcoming book, iPhone Forensics, Jonathan has devoted much of his talent supporting law enforcement personnel with his development of a forensics toolkit that allows them to recover, process, and remove sensitive data stored on the iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPod Touch. This live presentation is aimed towards law enforcement and anyone else who has a need to access the not-so-readily available data on an iPhone.



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IT Security | Tech
Thursday, 11 September 2008 20:58:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Seinfeld and Gates are back at it again, somehow advertising Microsoft Windows. It's starting to make at least a little sense. Kind of.

If nothing else, it's getting funnier. I know most people said they didn't like the first commercial much. I liked it, though. This second one pretty long. Enjoy:


(via Brier Dudley at the Seattle Times)

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Humor | Random Stuff
Thursday, 11 September 2008 19:06:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Each year on September 11th, an organization I am proud to be a part of called Cops On Top undertakes memorial expeditions to the highest points of the 50 United States. The purpose of the expeditions is to remember those law enforcement officers and public safety personnel who have lost their lives protecting ours.

Today teams from many states are again on the way to their respective summits. Those teams that are able will be calling in to the Cops on Top web site publishing systems with audio updates, which are published on the home page there. While not all locations will be covered due to conditions, many states' teams are underway. Once the teams have returned the site will be updated with photos of the events.

My friend Keith McPheeters, with whom I used to work as a police officer many years ago, wrote a thoughtful and poignant post recently about his experiences on September 11 Cops on Top expeditions. It sums up a lot.

We will never forget our colleagues, family members and friends who have been taken from us and from among us.



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Helping Others
Thursday, 11 September 2008 06:11:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 04 September 2008

The first commercial in Microsoft's new ad campaign with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates is out. I thought it was pretty funny and smart. Subtle, very subtle.

This made me laugh out loud: Gates' "Shoe Circus Clown Club Platinum Card" picture is actually his mug shot from an arrest for traffic violations in New Mexico, way back in 1977. Classic, and funny.


Here's the new commercial. I like the idea of starting out really vague and (we have to assume) building from there. Very Seinfeld-ish.




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Humor | Random Stuff
Thursday, 04 September 2008 21:39:51 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 03 September 2008
As is the case with more and more technology in the modern age, it's when you start to combine the power of two or more technologies that you realize the full potential of each. Such is the case with Microsoft's Unified Communications products. Sure, Exchange and Office Communication Server are both great on their own, but when you use them together (and potentially integrate with your VoIP phone system), you realize the greater value of your investments.

Jeff Goodwin works at The VIA Group, where he specializes in Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Unified Communications in his position as Senior Technologist and Microsoft Practice Lead. He's executed a large number of UC projects for businesses, so we were fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Jeff recently on RunAs Radio. He does a fine job of explaining what unified communications is all about.
Jeff Goodwin Rings Us Into Unified Communications
RunAs Radio Show #73 - 9/3/2008 (35 minutes)


Richard and I talked to Jeff Goodwin about Microsoft Unified Communications in this week's RunAs Radio show. Jeff lays out the relationship between Exchange, Office Communicator and Unified Messaging Server to combine email, telephone and instant messaging. Check out Jeff's TechNet articles at http://www.shrinkster.com/11mj and http://www.shrinkster.com/11mk.

RunAs Radio is a weekly Internet-audio talk show for IT Professionals presented in a high-quality podcast format. Since April 2007 RunAs Radio has brought experts in the field of IT to its 10,000+ listeners, to inform and entertain. Professionally produced interviews are about 30 minutes in length and pack a substantial amount of information for maximum benefit. For more information about RunAs Radio, visit http://www.runasradio.com. RunAs Radio is available on iTunes and the Zune Marketplace, as well as directly from the RunAs Radio web site.



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RunAs Radio | Tech
Wednesday, 03 September 2008 16:32:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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