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.

One post per year?

Each year, I promise myself to make more regular entries on my blog, and every year I fail miserably. 2014 was no exception, with naught but a single public post in 2014.

I once regularly found things to talk about on a regular basis, although admittedly they were fairly trivial, but now it’s less so.

I’d like to think that it’s a side effect of the stage of life I find myself in; I’m now the wrong side of 40, and have been in a stable relationship for in excess of 3 years now. I guess many of the things that I might have blogged about have become the province of conversations with my other half. Much of the crap I’ve put up with in relationships before this is now a distant memory, and generally I can see those events in a completely different light now.

So, once again I will promise myself that I will try to make more regular comments here; indeed I’d like to think that people may read them, find them of interest and comment from time to time!

I’ve not lost my desire for undertaking little “projects”, so that might well provide some fodder for blog entries, time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ll just settle for wishing my friends and family a Happy New Year, and wish that for all of us, 2015 will be a better year than 2014 proved to be.

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?

My latest weird and whacky project!

You may know that I like to dabble a little with Digital Photography.

I happened across some information late last year which piqued my interest, and has prompted me to want to give it a try.

Apparently, if you squeeze some ink from the reservoir inside a conventional fluorescent highlighter pen in to some water, and then use the ink/water mix to feed cut flowers, the flower will draw up the fluorescent ink and it will accumulate within the flower itself, resulting in some interesting effects under an Ultraviolet light.  The video on the first linked page explains the process, and makes it look quite interesting!

These are supposedly the sort of images that can be achieved…

… it looked fascinating to me, so I thought I’d give it a go.  I’m currently in the process of accumulating the necessary equipment to give it a go.

I’m waiting for:

  • UV Ink – I’ve elected not to try the dismantling of highlighter pens, but have instead ordered a couple of different coloured UV Inks, I figured that it’d be interesting to see if the different colours have any interesting effects.
  • Blacklight Torch – I purchased two types, a “torch” with a beam, and one of these tube style ones from Amazon.  I thought the beam might be a little too obvious or bright, as it’s a point illumination, so decided a more general illumination from the tube might achieve a better effect.
  • Light Box Cube – I needed one of these anyway for some product photos I needed earlier this year and had to prevail upon a family member to help, so I just purchased a cheap one with multiple backdrops

I’m currently waiting for the equipment to arrive, then I’ll start experimenting!  Results (if they’re any good!) will be posted on Flickr and linked here.

The 10 Commandments of Logic:

1.  Thou shall not attack the person’s character, but the argument.  (Ad hominiem).

2.  Thou shall not misrepresent or exaggerate a person’s argument in order to make them easier to attack.  (Straw man fallacy).

3.  Thou shall not use small numbers to represent the whole.  (Hasty generalisation).

4.  Thou shall not argue thy position by assuming that one of it’s premises is true.  (Begging the question).

5.  Thou shall not claim that because something occured before, it must be the cause.  (Post Hoc / False cause).

6.  Thou shall not reduce the argument down to two possibilities (False dichotomy).

7.  Thou shall not argue that because of our ignorace, a claim must be true or false.  (Ad ignorantum).

8.  Thou shall not lay the burden of proof on to him that is questioning the claim.  (Burden of proof reversal).

9.  Thou shall not assume that “this” follows “that” when it has no logical connection.  (Non sequitur).

10. Thou shall not claim that because a premise is popular, therefore it must be true.  (Bandwagon fallacy).

A quick plug….

Any Networking/IT types out there that happen to come across this website might also want to take a look at http://www.sergeantclip.com 

sc-snip

Please help me spread the word, I truly think this product is brilliant – it’s so simple and effective at what it does, and it’s amazing that it’s not been thought of before!

I’ve spotted a trick….

This is something I really must keep an eye out for!

I’ve had something in my Amazon wishlist for a while now.  When I originally added it, it’s cost was about £90.  In the 2-3 months since, it’s price has consistently dropped as we approach the middle of the month, to a low of less than £50, and approaching the end of the month it’s increased again, (currently to a price of ~ £80).  None of this appears to be driven by stock quantities, it appears to be consistently “in stock”, and I’ve not seen it running low with “only X remaining” as yet.

I rather suspect that this is Amazon being a bit crafty, and reducing prices during the middle of the month, between paydays perhaps!  but putting them up again towards the end of the month to coincide with people’s spending habits.  If it’s not deliberate, then it’s an almighty coincidence!

I guess if it’s still cheaper than originally listed, there IS a saving to be made, but it’s not as good as the saving at the mid point of the month.  I’m definitely going to keep watching and check it out again, just to confirm my theory.

 

The latest instalment:

I’m now about half way through my project to scan a rather old and dusty box of slides dating from the mid 1960’s.

Here’s the resulting video montage for some of the family weddings, from September 1968.

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.

 

 

One of my many little projects…

I’ve been busy scanning old slides and negatives recently, and below is just one of the fruits of my efforts.

A Video montage of some Photos of/taken by my Grandparents on a Majorca holiday in 1968.