Category Archives: Entertainment

6 Months Later…

Okay, so I’m not very good about keeping my promises to post on here more often!! Hopefully that’s about to change, and more about that in a few minutes.

Quite a bit has happened since I last posted. Most particularly of note would be the delivery of my nice shiny new car on 20th May, closely followed by me and it being #3 in a 4 car sandwich no less than 20 days and 1046 miles later. As I write this post, the car is still with the repairers, and I’ve now been driving the courtesy car for as many days as I’ve driven the Mercedes!  I haven’t gotten around to taking some nice pictures of the new car yet either.

My PLEX Library is now up to over 480 films, and more than 2000 episodes of 110 different TV Series’.  I’m working my way through my DVD’s slowly, but I’ve not found a way to Rip them that’s totally to my liking as yet; my current process is fairly slow, and results in files that are rather larger than I would like!

Anyway, I’ve decided to try and re-boot my technical interest once again. I made the decision some years ago that I’d allow myself to be drawn in to the world of Management rather than being a tecchie, and while I don’t necessarily regret that decision, I have found of late that I feel as though I’m loosing some of the technical skills which allow me to add my particular value in the role that I currently hold, so I’ve signed up for a year’s licence for Cisco’s VIRL programme, so that I can play with, and brush up on some of the newer solutions that I’ve missed out on in recent years, including NX-OS, and IOS-XE, as well as allowing me to play with F5’s, and Palo Alto firewalls in their virtual flavours.  I’ll endeavour to report back here on my findings, and any useful technical blurb that I find, in the hope that at some point, someone might find it useful.

So, following hot on the heels of this post will be my first technical issue, identified while preparing to set up VIRL under VMWare Workstation for the first time.

 

You Plexy Thing!

Late last year I purchased an Amazon Fire TV

I wanted it to facilitate my watching Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video without needing to turn on my Xbox, which was rather noisy and convoluted to get to the applications, not to mention a little noisier and clunkier than I would have chosen.

The Fire TV box looked to be ideal, and with the changes Amazon made to Prime in the latter half of the year, it became an easy decision.

What I didn’t count upon was discovering Plex and the Plex Media Server.

There is a Plex app which can be installed on the AFTV, which enables a connection via the Network to a Plex Media Server which can run on a PC (Windows, Linux or FreeBSD) or Mac, or if you’re fairly lucky, a NAS. My 3 year old QNAP NAS allows me to install it, but just doesn’t have the CPU or Memory to successful run the Media Server, let alone handle the Transcoding workloads it generates, so I might just have to consider a NAS upgrade in the future. In the meantime, running the PMS on a Windows Desktop PC and creating links to mapped drives containing the content that sits on the NAS seems to work well enough!

So then I started to dabble a bit in to creating the content to feed it. Now anyone that’s been to my place will know I’m something of a quality fiend, enjoying High Definition picture quality from Blu-ray, and 5.1 or higher surround sound, so I didn’t really want to loose any of that when streaming, but if I could achieve an acceptable balance of quality against size, it would mean that I didn’t have to keep reaching for physical media when I wanted to watch something, which would be fantastic!

After a fair bit of trial and error, and extensively searching t’interweb, I’ve settled on a two stage process. Firstly, I use MakeMKV to “Rip” a Blu-ray disc. This generates a lossless source copy of between 20-25gb (depending of course on the source). This is a legal action in the UK now since 1st June, assuming of course that you legitimately own the source media and aren’t ripping borrowed or loaned media. This follows the Hargreaves Review, see here and here for details. It takes me between 20 and 30 minutes to generate this source file on a fairly well specified (but two year old) Haswell i7 (3820) CPU. There is a trick to using MakeMKV, and that’s to make sure you choose the correct Soundtrack that you want to keep (eg English/DTS) and if you’re like me you’ll only want to rip the Movie itself, and not bother with the other extras on the Blu-ray disc.

I then take this rather large .mkv file, and run it through Handbrake, having set the video to an RF value of about 20 for Blu-ray source media, and in another 25-30 mins I’ll re-encode the .mkv in to an H.264 .mp4 file, which is usually between 6 and 10gb in size, depending on the length and quality of the source file, and would therefore allow me to store between 200 and 300 files on a 2Tb HDD.

Then it’s just a question of setting up Libraries on the Plex Media Server for the type of content. This isn’t difficult, but requires a little thought and planning. I created separate libraries for Film and TV Series’ because Plex allowed me to separate them. This makes sense given the Media Enrichment capabilities Plex has, where it will try and identify the media from the filename, and will then download from IMDB and/or elsewhere extra information about the cast/crew, posters and/or thumbnails etc and generally make it look very sexy on the screen. For TV programmes, it will allow drill-down by Series too, so you can choose Series -> Season -> Episode.

Plex Media Server

Above is the view you get from a PC or MAC running Google Chrome and browsing to the Plex Media Server.  The above shows all of the Movies I’ve got stored in my Library.

If I click on any of these, I’ll get a further display with details of the cast, crew, and a synopsis of the plot, all enriched with background images taken from the movie, and where Plex can find it, the theme music too.

The same process happens for TV programmes, with the added step of choosing a Season if possible too for the TV programme.

The User Interface from the AFTV itself is remarkably similar, with the same enrichment capabilities, and the whole process just works so very well.

In fact on the AFTV, it will also tell me the quality of the Video and Sound too!  If you look in the bottom/left of the photo below, you’ll see an example showing the 1080p, H.264 and dts 5.1 sound.

tv1

So, my project has become to further expand my library, and transfer as much of my blu-ray library on to Plex as I reasonably can.  This will doubtless take me years given the rate that I accumulate them, but I’ve already started doing this with “new” media as it lands, so I can watch it without media at my leisure.

Reboots Rebooted!

I’ve mentioned this previously, but it never ceases to frustrate and annoy me how our Film and Television Studios insist on “rebooting” or re-imagining an existing film franchise. I am of course focussing my thoughts on the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, since that’s where my tastes lie.

Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Judge Dredd, Godzilla, Star Trek, Robocop, Flash Gordon, Total Recall, Conan, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, The Tomorrow People, V, Dune, – all of which have been rebooted or re imagined to varying degrees of success. Usually with a change in some or all of the principal cast, often with Cameo appearances from earlier incarnations, but most of the time with a re-imagining of the original storyline.

This frustrates me for two reasons. Firstly, as someone who is feeling distinctly middle aged, I usually grew up with the original incarnation of the film or TV programme, and seeing it re-written and produced afresh with new actors undermines the originals I feel.

I don’t mind so much where the storyline picks up later on, or where the original left off, or even before the original (eg Star Wars Eps 1-3). Finding a way to solve a cliffhanger from the last episode or incarnation is where some of the story lines come in to their own, and is not a foreign skill to Scriptwriters, or Storytellers.

However even then, the new storytellers have a dangerous tendency to step away from Canon, and play fast and loose with the old history because they think we won’t remember; Take Doctor Who for instance, which in the new post-Ecclestone era seems to have developed a tendency to ignore much of what went before. The Cybermen were originally from Mondas, and in the later series they re-originated from a parallel universe and were supposedly created by John Lumic from CyBus industries. While the two story lines weren’t totally incompatible, there was really no good reason why a new origin and back story was created.

My Second frustration is that there is no end of Fiction out there which is crying out for transition to Film or TV, which I wish the Screenwriters and Authors would turn their attention to. Some of the best TV in recent years has come from this route, and includes the acclaimed “Game of Thrones” – adapted from George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire“.

Here’s just a few of the candidates that come to mind:
– The Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne & Todd McCaffrey
– The Magician series, by Raymond E. Feist
– The Assassin / Fool series’ by Robin Hobb
– The Honor Harrington series by David Webber
– The Troy Rising series by John Ringo
– The Kris Longknife series by Mike Shepherd
– The RAMA series by Arthur C. Clarke
– The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov

There are of course hundreds more. I understand of course that there is an implicit cost to obtaining rights to materials, and some authors may not be so keen to allow their content to be transitioned, based on the experiences of people like Ursula K. LeGuin with her Earthsea series, where she was exceedingly unhappy with the transition to screen.

Of course, not every attempt succeeds, and there are a number of critically acclaimed hits, and an equally extensive list of misses.

I’d point at a number of successes, including:
– The Colour of Magic / Going Postal / The Hogfather produced by Sky
Enders Game – the 2013/2014 film
Blade Runner, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, A Scanner Darkly; All based on novels by Philip K. Dick
I am Legend, and  I Robot – adapted from books and starring Will Smith

Thor, Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America, etc – The Marvel Machine is doing a great job of making the most of their intellectual property and transitioning one story after the other to the big (and the small!) screen.

Some of the also-ran’s include:

John Carter – the attempt to transition the “… of Mars” series by Edgar Rice Burrows didn’t wow audiences, although it was an entertaining enough film in it’s own right.
Oblivion – starring Tom Cruise, but based on a book by Joseph Kosinski, it didn’t really draw the crowds at the box office.
Battlefield Earth – based on a book by renowned Scientologist L. Ron Hubbard, this one had strong potential, but the links including the Star John Travolta to the Church of Scientology contributed to low popularity.
Red Planet – an all star cast including Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Terence Stamp wasn’t enough to drag this one up the charts.
Lost in Space – the remake starring Heather Graham, William Hurt, and Matt Le Blanc, failed to engage audiences, despite being an entertaining and well executed update.

Often these films fail because they don’t stick closely enough to the book to satisfy the die-hard fans.

Unfortunately the number of reboots far outweighs the number of original Films & Serials.

So this is a heartfelt plea, to the Film & Television industry. Please PLEASE PLEASE, enough with the Reboots and Remakes, how about putting some effort and time in to some original Scifi and Fantasy?

Do you agree?

A little rant

I really REALLY need to get better at regularly adding some content to this site!  Not that it really matters, as there aren’t very many regular visitors anyway, but it’s a habit I need to get in to.

It’s been a while since my last rant, and today I have a rant of a slightly different kind to air.

I am getting heartily sick of the Media’s persistent and pervasive sensationalism of just about any news story.   It doesn’t seem to matter what it is, they seem to latch on to a story, screen an endless succession of talking heads each with their own thoughts and opinions on the news item, they come up with some over-hyped nickname for the event, and promptly seem to forget that there is ANYTHING else going on elsewhere in the world for several days as they tell us the same thing over and over, seeking out any new trifles of information and communicating this to us as the latest scandalous episode in the epic saga.

Think of “The Credit Crunch”, the “Triple Dip Recession”, the Pretorius shooting, the list goes on!

When are they going to realise that all we need is the news?  Sure, the fact that Blockbuster, Comet, Dreams, Jessops, 2e2, etc etc are the latest to go in to Administration is news, but all it needs is a 2-3 minute piece to camera perhaps with a short supporting video clip to tell us about it, we really don’t need the next 15-20 minutes of analysis, and “what does this mean”, particularly when it’s telling us what we already know!

I am firmly convinced that the Media is broadly at fault with prolonging the current economic climate.  Since every day they tell us how bad things are, remind us of how we don’t have any money, and the economy is faltering, this reinforces any conservative behaviour we may have and we automatically cut back on our spending to economise, which in turn prolongs the downturn, and gives the media another days’ headlines telling us more of the same.

Printed media are as much at fault as TV and Radio news, although personally I am finding that Radio news is more useful and interesting these days, as about 5 minutes at the start of each hour is more than adequate to tell me what’s going on, and seems to be far more to the point and relevant, particularly to events that have happened since the last bulletin.

I suppose filling our TV screens with hour after hour of news saves the Media companies from having to plan and schedule more new and innovative programme content, (this is another of my frustrations, more on this another day!).

 

Rant over.  For now.

 

 

A New Look!

I’ve resolved to try and start to update this Website a little more frequently! 

And in that spirit, I’ve settled on a new theme which I think is quite clean and tidy, and retains all the functions I’m after.  I think it looks quite good, but will give it a week or so before deciding finally. 

In other news, it’s the last episode of Game of Thrones tonight on Sky.  I fervently hope this gets picked up for a second season, as it’s most definitely new and innovative Fantasy/Scifi Television, not another remake or reimagining which we seem to see so many of just at the moment.

Being the regular reader that I am, I am so painfully aware that there are ample quality works out there that would translate well to modern television, so why oh why do Film & Television studios insist on Remaking older works.  I cite recent works such as “V”, the aborted attempt to remake “Dune” (even though SciFi Channel already did that), the recent Star Trek film, and we’re close to seeing the third “reboot” for Superman, to name but a few.

Game of Thrones is based on the book A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) by George R R Martin. 

I think the relative successes of Sky’s attempts to bring Terry Pratchett’s work to life on screen prove that there’s an appetite out there for the content, and so there’s no need to try and appeal to an existing fan base for a previous incarnation, provided of course that the work is done to a certain quality standard in the first place. 

Updated

Since my last post (“Evolutionary Change“) when I was praising the Kindle, I’ve probably read more than I have in a long time!

I’ve read the sequel to “Life Free or Die” and  “Citadel” – called The Hot Gate (Troy Rising), I’ve read “Hellhole” by Kevin J Anderson & Brian Herbert, and “The Parasite” by Neal Asher,  and I’m currently working my way through “A Kingdom Besieged” by Raymond E Feist.

It’s fantastic that the Kindle has allowed me to rediscover my love of reading, although it may be entirely coincidental that right now there is a selection of great fiction that I want to read!

On the Big Screen side of things, I’m somewhat dissapointed to discover that the remake of one of my favourite films ever has been cancelled.

Unless you’ve been living in a proverbial Scifi/Fantasy Desert for the last year though, you’ll doubtless be aware of the forthcoming “Game of Thrones” from HBO.  I believe it’s being screened in the UK on the same day as it premiers in the US courtesy of Sky Atlantic, so I’m waiting for this one with a keen anticipation!

In other news, Tinker went for an unscheduled and unexpected swim the other day, having been chased in to a river by some other friendly and playful Greyhounds.  He was no worse the wear, but we certainly had some thinking to do working out how to get a very wet dog back home again in the car!

In the meantime, here’s a short video of Tinker stretching his legs!

 

I’ve also taken the plunge and started selling a few bits & bobs on eBay.  I’ve occasionally bought items, but never sold anything, so it’s a bit of a new experience for me.  Somewhat predictably I keep checking to see if there are any bids.

So come on, hurry up you “Watchers”, I can see you!  Don’t just watch, BID BID BID!  🙂

In case you’re interested, you can find my items for sale here.

Evolutionary Change

There’s a gadget out there; one that I’ve been sitting on the fence about.  Those that know me will understand how unusual this is, for me to NOT be investigating the latest gadget etc is extremely unusual!

I am referring to the Amazon Kindle.  

 

As a lover of books, I’ve not really been attracted to buying one, I’m not really sure why, and in hindsight I wish I’d bought one sooner. 

But, recently based on the recommendation of a friend, I took the plunge, and I’m extremely glad I did!

The screen is; simply put .. Stunning ..   It’s not an LCD or LED screen, there’s no use comparing it to an iPad or mobile phone, instead it uses an amazing e-Ink “Pearl” technology which uses a Pearlescent white/grey background capable of 4 different shades of black/grey.  From what I understand it only uses power when changing the display, thus accounting for an excellent battery life, and it’s extremely readable in direct sunlight.  Of course it suffers in the same way a conventional book does in low light situations.

I’ve been using mine for a couple of weeks now, and haven’t read so much in years!  I’ve been looking at different sources for the books (not just Amazon’s online shop) and I’m confident I can find sufficient reading material with the right appeal to keep me going for years.  It’s light, it’s effective, it’s easy to read, I’m sold.  My only real dilemma now is that I need to decide if I’m going to keep my existing library of books which take up lots of space on the shelf and gather dust, or whether I should start to replace them with the electronic versions.

Having said all that, I have two reservations about Kindle.

Firstly – and perhaps somewhat selfishly – I use Books as a ready source of gift ideas for people.  I maintain an Amazon Wishlist which usually has a selection of Books and DVD’s on it which I can refer people to when they ask the inevitable questions around Christmas and Birthdays, and I can’t see an easy way of someone buying me an e-Book, and certainly not wrapping it up to give as a gift in a few weeks.  Sure you could probably use a gift voucher or something, but it’d be nice if Amazon could come up with something to make this easier.

Secondly – There are two types of book.  The largest section of the market I can see being ‘compatible’ with Kindle, all of my Fiction collection and most of my reference books for work are monochrome (Covers notwithstanding), but I do have a small percentage of books that contain full colour glossy photos.  Cookery books for example, and as it stands Kindle just doesn’t lend itself to these books.

Imagine then my surprise and indeed glee after doing some Google searches to find the Kindle picture above to find that the company behind the existing display technology have produced a COLOUR version of the same tech, called e-Ink “Triton” which has extremely interesting possibilities.

It is my estimation that this is going to change the way we read and use books forever.  The ONLY thing that’s missing is a better way to manage and index the library of content on the device.  Just putting it in to an Alphabetic list doesn’t really do what’s needed.

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Recommended Reading

It’s been a little while since I found a book that really captivated me, and I’m pleased to report that it’s finally happened once again.

Regular visitors will be aware of my enjoyment of Military Scifi books by the likes of David Weber, Jack Campbell, and Mike Shepherd.  I’ve recently been able to add a new author to the list! – John Ringo.

I found it courtesy of an Amazon recommendation, but it sounded like something I might enjoy, so I first tried reading Live Free Or Die (Troy Rising) followed by it’s sequel Citadel

 

 

Ringo seems to have an interesting perspective on Scifi in that he takes a modern human society and throws it straight in to the proverbial deep end of Alien First Contact, usually with fairly negative consequences.  The Troy Rising series was my first exposure, and I loved the Economic aspects, the scale of manufacturing and production effort and changes as the Human race struggles to get to grips with the new Alien technology and integrate it, all the while attempting to play catch-up and defend Earth against multiple alien species who are orders of magnitude more advanced.

I’ve since gone back to read A Hymn Before Battle (Posleen War) which seems to follow the same basic premise,but instead thrusts an ill prepared human race straight in to an off-world conflict.

So far I’m loving every minute of it, and will be reading many more of Ringo’s works in the coming weeks.

Have you read any good books recently?

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Entertaining and Thought Provoking…

Quite an interesting clip of Clifford Stoll in action.

I can thoroughly recommend his book “The Cuckoo’s Egg” for any Computer Security types out there.

New TV

This weekend I went and collected my nice shiny new Television set.

I opted for the UE32B7020 from Samsung, which is a 32″ model in the 7-Series range of LED TV’s.

I saw a 6-Series LED in a shop a few weeks ago and was captivated by two things.  First off the Picture quality was astounding, more like a Plasma than an LCD TV, and the Black was very very Black, if you know what I mean.

The second thing that was incredible was the sheer depth of the set.  My older LCD TV wasn’t exactly large at about 5cm deep in total, but the UE32B7020 was literally less than 2cm deep!  It was slimmer than a picture.

And for the eco-friendly, it uses LESS electricity than the equivalent 32″ LCD set!

I updated the Gadgets post with the new set, but for some reason Samsung don’t seem to have the 32″ version of the 7-Series LED posted on their website, so I had to link to the
UE40B7020WW instead.