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Friday, April 28 2017

Help Wanted for RabbitEars Rewrite

I'm looking for a college student or someone similarly situated who is skilled or becoming skilled in web coding and databases. Since RabbitEars is run as a hobby and is not for profit, I cannot offer any payment, but I am willing to provide a good reference in exchange for good work. If you are interested, please let me know. (If you're a college student looking for internship credit in addition to a good reference, I'm willing to speak with the relevant officials at your school to try to make it happen, just let me know in your initial e-mail.)

The underlying code RabbitEars uses is more than 9 years old. It is currently running on PHP 5.6, support for which will sunset next year. Additionally, the underlying database is patterned on the FCC's CDBS database, which is in the process of being phased out in favor of the newer LMS database. As such, I'm getting to the point where RabbitEars needs a full ground-up rewrite, and I simply don't have the time anymore to do that myself. I'm looking for someone who can:

  • Write code in PHP 7.1 and database queries for the latest version of MySQL (unless you can convince me that alternatives would be objectively superior, but note I will only use other open-source technologies like Python or PostgreSQL)
  • Interpret and import the FCC's new LMS database, as well as some data from CDBS, ULS, and other sources
  • Migrate non-FCC data from the current database into the new database with minimal manual intervention, but in an alternate format that would streamline future updates
  • Hopefully make the site more mobile-friendly (preferred, not required)
  • Do this work over the next several months, hopefully during the summer
  • Work with me on this project, so I have a full understanding of the underlying code as well

There will be no on-going support obligations as long as my full set of requirements is met. I have time to do maintenance myself, just not the large-scale project to get it that far. Please see my full list of requirements here.

Let me know if you have any questions. Please share with anyone who may be interested.

Thursday, April 13 2017

RabbitEars Repacking Tools

Tomorrow, April 14, is the 9th birthday of RabbitEars as you know it today. That was the day that the code Bruce Myers wrote was made public for the first time. Even then, we were in the thick of things, with the DTV transition approaching within a year (before it was delayed by a few months). While work had been on-going for some time, it was April 14 that RabbitEars was made live to the public, tracking the transition and providing useful information for all comers.

In a certain way, it's fitting that one day before the anniversary of the site, I am announcing the launch of a collection of tools I have written with information about the FCC Repacking effort. I won't rule out adding more tools as time goes on, but here's what I have ready as of today's release of the Closing and Channel Reassignment Public Notice.

Repack Channel Assignments

This tool contains the full set of repack channel assignments. It relates them by READS Rank, Transition Phase, Operator, and in other ways. The rows are color-coded, with light blue meaning repacked within its current band, green meaning UHF to high-VHF, yellow meaning high-VHF to low-VHF, and red meaning UHF to low-VHF. Uncolored rows are unchanged. Each row also contains links to some of the other tools mentioned here. (One thing that is not mentioned here is which stations elected one or both channel sharing options; stations going off the air in any case are gray. There were so few stations that did not check one or both options that it did not make sense to include support for a feature that would only exclude 10-15 stations total.)

EDIT (4/16/17): This tool now features the Linked Station Set (LSS) ID number, and has links to both the Phase Map and LSS Map for each row which has a value for those fields.

Update to the Repack Checker

The Repack Checker has been a part of RabbitEars for some years now, periodically receiving updates when new FCC Constraints were published, accessed from the main listings by clicking on the magnifying glass icon found next to any auction-eligible station. The last update was in November 2015, when the constraints used for the repack process were published. Now that the new channel assignments are public, the Repack Checker was updated to allow sorting by "FCC Repack" channel order as well as the several current options.

Repack Channel Maps

This map is almost self-explanatory; it shows the new channel assignments on a channel-by-channel basis. There are a few hidden special maps which are not linked directly off that page, which would be this one showing every station that opted to relinquish its spectrum or had its license canceled, and this one showing all of the ones from the previous map plus the stations which are changing band. (So, essentially, all the winning bidders.) As ever, please note RabbitEars uses noise-limited contours for all stations, even LPTV and Class A stations, which are protected to a different threshold by the FCC.

Phase Map

The channel changes that result from the FCC repack will occur in 10 phases, staggering the rescan dates for different markets. This page will allow you to see, in several different ways, what those phases look like and which stations/regions are in each, as well as color-coding them for ease of interpreting and allowing you to look at the phases channel-by-channel. For people who are more interested in wireless than TV, there are even options to look at channels 38-51 as a group to see how quickly the new wireless band will be cleared for use. As ever, please note RabbitEars uses noise-limited contours for all stations, even LPTV and Class A stations, which are protected to a different threshold by the FCC.

Linked Station Set (LSS) Maps

As part of the phased transition, some stations have to coordinate with each other in order to ensure their moves do not cause interference within a phase. These groups of stations are called "linked station sets." I've created a set of maps which show the stations included in each of the 83 linked station sets. I'm sorry that they're currently IDed only by their LSS ID number, but that's the only way I have to identify them at this time. Opinions on how to further describe them in that drop-down would be appreciated.

Is there something I could create which might be useful which is not here? Or a feature I could add to one of the above new pages which would be helpful? Leave a comment, send me an e-mail, or post in the appropriate thread on SatelliteGuys or AVSForum, noted below. Please note that I do intend to incorporate some of this information into the main listings over the coming weeks and months, but could not do it in advance of the data going public.

Finally, here are a few interesting statistics about the FCC Repack. I will make no promises about the exact accuracy of these, since I did some of the counts by hand and errors can creep in.

2200 stations were protected in the repack process. Of those:

  • 5 either lost their licenses or turned in their licenses during the process.
  • 145 opted to relinquish their spectrum completely, either to go off the air or channel share.
  • 30 opted to change band, moving from UHF to VHF or high-VHF to low-VHF.

This means that there will be 2050 protected stations going forward.

To break down the 145 relinquishers:

  • 52 filed pre-auction channel sharing agreements.
  • 81 opted to seek a post-auction channel sharing agreement.

This leaves only 12 stations who had no channel sharing option and will definitely be going off the air entirely.

To break down the 30 band-changers:

  • 16 stations accepted UHF to low-VHF bids.
  • 1 station (WQED) accepted a high-VHF to low-VHF bid.
  • 13 stations accepted UHF to high-VHF bids.

And a few statistics on the remaining 2050 stations:

  • 1063 stations are staying put in this process, meaning 987 stations have to move.
  • No low-VHF stations are moved; all 17 of the low-VHF bidders can be accommodated without changing the channels of any existing low-VHF stations.
  • 67 stations are repacked in high-VHF to accommodate the 13 high-VHF bidders.
  • That leaves 890 stations that are repacked within the UHF band.

Got questions? Feel free to leave a comment here, or post in the thread on SatelliteGuys or the thread on AVSForum and I will get back to you in a way that everyone else can benefit from your question.

And so it begins!

Wednesday, January 25 2017

Site-Wide Encryption!

After finding the nifty automated tool by "Let's Encrypt" and trying it out, I've now enabled HTTPS site-wide. Your bookmarks and other links should now take you automatically to the secure site.

The process did initially break all the maps on the site, but I think I have them all fixed now. If you trip over one I missed, or anything else that's broken, post a comment or send me an e-mail.

EDIT (1/25/17 9:38PM): Yes, I'm aware the Live Bandscan page is now broken. But I did get it to log data again, which was broken for an hour. I accomplished this by turning off the automatic redirect until I figure out how to work around that problem.

Monday, January 2 2017

And We're Back


The server move is now largely complete; if you're seeing this post and not a 404 error, you're set. If you find something that is not working, please send me an e-mail or put it in the comments. For the moment, the Live Bandscan is still on the alternate server it was on before the move and, as such, still has all the oddball quirks that go with it. My hope is that we will move that over to this server in the coming days or weeks.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29 2016

Server Move Coming

Just a quick note to let everyone know that some amount of down time is anticipated in the coming days as RabbitEars is moved to a new server. SatelliteGuys will continue to be the host, but replacement hardware will be put in to run RabbitEars. This is due to the problems that I'm sure everyone who uses RabbitEars extensively has seen (short periods of down time, random 403 errors, etc.).

In the next day or two, updates on this server will cease since the database will migrate to the new server. I am off from work until Tuesday and have little planned between now and then, so I am hopeful that any issues resulting from the move can be quickly resolved.

Thank you for your patience.

Wednesday, August 24 2016

About the Live Bandscan

I just wanted to provide an update on efforts to restore RabbitEars to full operation. We're back on our regular server, but the Live Bandscan remains non-functional. It ran for the past two or three days, and for that time, the site crawled horribly. There's something wrong with the configuration that we can't track down, and it will probably be up and down as testing goes on over the coming days. Right now, it's down so that the rest of the site is functional.

Thursday, August 13 2015

Absence from RabbitEars

On June 26, 2015, I got married to my wonderful Elizabeth. Starting on August 15, we will be headed to Vermont on our honeymoon. I will likely be completely unavailable from August 14 until August 25, and may have sporadic availability until August 28.

Continue reading...

Friday, June 19 2015

First Wave of Site Changes

As discussed in my post a few weeks ago, I've made the first of the site changes.

Tracking of Mobile DTV other than whether it is on or off: Gone, except I am also still tracking how much bandwidth Mobile DTV uses in total.

Indicator of whether a station is a member of MCV or Mobile 500: Gone.

SyncBak: Gone.

UpdateTV: Still present for now, as I have been unable to confirm it is 100% gone. That said, the UpdateLogic website is no longer active.

AFD and the broadcast flag: Gone.

PIDs, Source ID, and bitrates: Still present for now, but slated for removal. When it happens, the entire section below the "TSReader Data" and "Bitrate Allocation" rows will be removed, as all remaining data that I would track will still be at the top of the listing. I'm also considering moving the Translator Data into that space since it seems more related to technical data than historical data. I'm still pondering how best to make the TSReader data more prominent before doing any of this. I would probably need to include a guide for how to read it for those people who can read my bandwidth usage and other numbers but would be lost in the raw data. (If anyone who falls into that category is reading this, please write and let me know--that will confirm that I need to do it!)

I'm also thinking forward to the future. The FCC is planning to retire its CDBS database at some point in the next few years, and its replacement, LMS, is ramping up. The RabbitEars source code is based entirely on CDBS, and thus if CDBS updates were to become unavailable, updates to FCC data would cease unless I wrote a conversion tool to convert the data into CDBS format as I've done for the Canadian database. I'm considering how to transition the site over to LMS, whether I should write that conversion tool or make more fundamental changes to the code underlying the site. I'm leaning toward the latter, actually, if only because there are some design choices that I made in bolting things onto Bruce's original site code that I now wish I had done differently, and I would hope that the site code can be sped up by removing pieces that are no longer in use. The problem with that, of course, is that it would require more time coding and testing than I may have available to me. Just something to think about.

Opinions and suggestions appreciated. Have a great weekend!

Monday, March 23 2015

Contemplating Site Changes

As the site approaches its 7th birthday (seriously!), those who have been with the site from the beginning back in 2008 and pay close attention have probably noticed that site updates have become not less frequent, but less substantive. While I do my best to keep up with launches of new subchannels and things like that, the more technical updates involving TSReader data and the parameters of the transport streams have become less frequent.

I would like to try to start correcting that. My biggest issue, I think, is that I'm tracking too much information that's of little use. For example, as it stands right now, I track things like the various PIDs. While interesting, it adds a lot of time to each update while not adding much utility to the site. Similarly, I track bandwidths of the various channels. Again, interesting, but as more and more stations move to variable bitrate encoders, the snapshot of often less than 1 minute that TSReader captures and averages is less useful in showing what that bandwidth number actually means in terms of quality.

Basically, I am considering making the raw TSReader data more prominent and discontinuing tracking of the more nitty gritty technical details like PIDs, Source ID, and bitrates in my database. I'm thinking of discontinuing tracking of Mobile DTV other than whether it is on or off, given it seems to be on its way out pending a new ATSC 3.0 standard, and similarly removing the indicator of whether a station is a member of MCV or Mobile 500. I think SyncBak no longer has an OTA component and UpdateTV is completely gone, and if that is so, I want to yank them out of the listings. Information about AFD and the broadcast flag are more technical information better presented in the TSReader data.

The end result would be that I would track the very basics like the resolution, type of audio, short channel name, and network affiliation. For many users, this is probably all they look at anyway. For the more technical users, updated TSReader data would still be available (and more frequently) and could be looked at in its raw form to get the information that is wanted. The data from the FCC database about station facilities would remain in its current format and would not be altered from its current level of detail.

I am also trying to decide whether or not to change the site code to allow for individuals to maintain their own markets. For example, there are several markets where the moment something changes, I have an e-mail from a very dependable person. For those people, in those markets, it might be more efficient to allow them to do their own updates. Should TSReader data become available, I would upload that myself, but to update programming information or the short channel names in PSIP seems like something these people could do themselves instead of waiting sometimes in excess of a week for me to get to their information. The down side to this, of course, is security, mostly since I am a lousy programmer and I don't know that I could do it in a secure fashion. There's also concern over stylistic differences.

I'm cross-posting this both on the RabbitEars Blog and on the Satellite Guys forum. Feel free to comment in either place, or to send me an e-mail direct. I'm anxious for opinions on the various changes I am considering or on other suggestions for the site. Have a great one!

Friday, January 16 2015

Network Grid Updated

I just added the latest new networks to the Network Grid. To make room for them, I moved the Weather and Shopping networks over to the Primary English Networks page.

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