Time is not on your side

For over a year now, I’ve been running MythTV on holly, my seven-plus-years-old former desktop PC, and it’s been working out pretty well. Having a DVR is infinitely more convenient than watching live TV — no having to stay up until midnight to watch The Colbert Report, and being able to trust it to find out when the next season of, say, Frisky Dingo, starts.

Plus, it’s a much better deal economically. Instead of having to lease a DVR-capable digital tuner box from the local cable company (and upgrade to digital cable to use it) and end up having to pay an extra $20 or $25 a month, there’s no extra charge (modulo the one-time need to buy a TV tuner card) to running MythTV.

Or at least, there wasn’t.

Zap2it used to offer TV program listings for free for private, noncommercial use, thus allowing MythTV to know what’s on when. Without that information, a DVR is little more than a VCR that uses a hard drive instead of tapes. But apparently they had problems with people using their free service for non-private and/or commercial things, putting too big a load on their system to continue supporting for free. As a result, their free listings end at the end of the month. So, so much for that.

Luckily, some kind of deal was worked out to offer the same information through newly formed non-profit corporation Schedules Direct for a fee that currently works out to $5/month which, while not being cheap-as-free, is still better than what the cable company offers. (And with luck and a sufficiently large user base, that price will come down.)

The only problem is, a software upgrade is necessary to take advantage of the new source. And as loyal readers may recall, things didn’t work out so well last time I tried upgrading holly, largely thanks to finding out afterwards that ATI dropped support for holly’s video card in their proprietary Linux drivers, the TV-out only half works with the open-source drivers (literally: the top half of the image is stretched over the whole screen, and the bottom half is gone), and holly’s old enough to not be compatible with even the low-end video cards you can buy off the shelf these days. After much frantic struggling to revert the ATI driver packages, as well as the X server packages needed to be compatible with the old driver, I finally managed to get holly back into an operational state. I then vowed never to upgrade anything on it unless absolutely necessary.

Which turned out to be this week.

Amazingly, the upgrade went much more smoothly than I anticipated. Sure, holly’s package management seemed to be FUBAR, with aptitude bombing out whenever you’d try to change anything, but it turned out I had just forgotten to roll back one last package to an older version to make all the versioned dependencies work out. With that fixed, upgrading all the software went pretty smoothly. All the software except, of course, for the video drivers and the X server; holly’s MOTD threatens violence if I dare upgrade those, and I know the guy who wrote that will totally follow up on that. I had been concerned that having an older version of the X server could cause dependency problems, since new packages generally depend on the current-when-built versions of their dependencies, but thanks to X’s client/server architecture, applications depend on the libraries that talk to the X server, rather than the server itself (which, after all, could be elsewhere on the network). Fiddling with the nightly cron job to use the new listings source wasn’t too difficult and seems to be working, though it’ll take a little time to test properly.


Almost. Somehow, during the upgrade, something decided to change holly’s time zone from Eastern to something in western Alaska (which happened to be the first alphabetically in the list). I have no idea how that happened, especially since I never ran into that problem on kryten. Luckily I checked up on holly to make sure it was recording the next thing scheduled and got suspicious when it was still listed as “will record” even half an hour into it. (And doubly luckily, the episode appears to be downloadable anyway, so no loss anyway.)

Given everything that could have gone wrong with this mass upgrade of hundreds of packages after eight months of not tracking unstable, it’s the time zone that got screwed up.

I hate you, Murphy.