All the modern conveniences

I discovered the other day that my standalone DVD recorder had made the Q sign since the last time I used it years ago, possibly due to a blown capacitor, apparently a common problem of aging with the model I had. Rather than just replace it, I thought, “Maybe video capture on PCs has come a ways since I last looked into it.” Years ago, video capture most often involved a PCIe card in the PC and the results could easily be mediocre, with dropped frames and other artifacts if you didn’t have quite a powerful and therefore expensive PC. It was more reliable to instead plug the VCR into a standalone DVD recorder, so that’s what I did back then.

And so video capture has improved, to the point of being ridiculously easy. For US$23 – a couple hundred dollars less than capture cards of years ago – I now have a much more convenient way to digitise VHS tapes, bypassing the old DVD recorder middleman and directly producing MP4s. It comes with editing software and works very nicely indeed.

There are no worries these days about performance and poor quality captures. Yesterday, my four-core/eight-processor/16GB machine – US$900 two years ago – was simultaneously doing all of the following without any performance degradation. In fact, the CPU usage hovered around 25-30% throughout.

  • Downloading 11GB of a TV series at about 3MB/second
  • Continuing the BitLocker encryption of all of my 5TB offsite backup drive, including unallocated sectors for safety
  • Writing 20GB of a few series of another programme to a Blu-ray data disc
  • On the 2nd optical drive, ripping the last 100 CDs I’d never gotten around to digitising, about one every four minutes; they’re all in the dumpster now along with the DVD recorder
  • Merging seven parts of one episode of “The Story of English” I’d downloaded from YouTube (eight episodes are there in full, but episode 3 is split up); five more old tapes went into the dumpster
  • Capturing audio/video from a 2-hour VHS tape to test the TOTMC device and saving to an MP4 file

The first major project will be to digitise W.C. Fields and Rita Hayworth films I have on the VHS tapes pictured below. To that end, my VCR is now on a short bookshelf shelf right next to the PC for maximum convenience. I believe I have about a third of the films below in digital form already and will investigate before I start.

How’d I get so many W.C. Fields films? Well, it certainly wasn’t because they were all available on video. A good number of these weren’t ever released on tape but were broadcast regularly on Sunday mornings by a local TV station many years ago. They had some rare ones and I got every one they aired during that run, editing out commercial breaks in real time.

Fun with maths

Some months ago, I got a tad annoyed at dealing with 5-pound bags of ice in the freezer, mainly because when I’d go in for some, almost inevitably one or two chunks of ice would slide out and skitter across the floor. So, I did a little ice volume calculation and measured the depth of the freezer shelf and figured that this item was precisely the ticket, and I mean really precisely, as if it were made for just this task though no one mentions it.

I had a slight frisson of satisfaction when I put that first bag of ice into the container and found the lid was just able to close, and the container fit like a glove on the shelf, with the tabs under the back end of the container hooked around the back of the shelf and holding it in place. A bit of packing tape – which still sticks when frozen – on the back end of the lid turned it into a hinged one.

Reverse musical chairs

Repurposing my media cabinet as a display case the other day ended up kicking off a home decluttering project that’s going so well it feels a bit like conjuring. Moving the Lunar Module case and the other figurines freed up lots of space on a six-tier bookshelf on the other side of the living room, which allowed me to move some of the books I had piled on top of other things to that shelf. Two small purchases have helped carry this increasingly nifty game of reverse musical chairs several rounds forward and it’s still in progress. A new 2-tier Winsome bookshelf – my fourth – allowed me to clear all the remaining books that were piled on other things, letting me further declutter those other things. A second 16″ long clip-on drawer for the InterMetro commercial wire shelving in my kitchen allowed me to declutter the six shelves on that 74x48x18″ unit, and also store lots of little kitchen gewgaws that had been sitting in my simplehuman dish strainer for many moons simply because I had no good place to put them. That in turn allowed me to give the strainer a good scrub this morning, and so the list goes on.

My aims are 1) to go through everything and toss anything I haven’t even looked at for a decade unless there’s a damned good reason to keep it – no rationalising allowed – 2) excepting the Samsung TV and Dimplex fireplace insert cartons, get rid of empty packaging unless the item it held is still under warranty, and – the main point – 3) not have things piled on top of other things. I’m about three-quarters there, but will pause for several days until the dumpster is emptied again, which occurs fortnightly. Since last week, I’ve tossed out a 3-yard dumpster’s worth and probably have about one yard left to toss.

Some of the inspiration for this was the woman in the middle of the three units here moving out eight days ago. It got me thinking, “Geez, what if I suddenly had to move? What a nightmare that would be.” Now, less so. And the house is looking spiffier by the hour.

The audio/video future is much nicer looking

Click for a larger version

This media cabinet in my living room used to contain two more shelves and lots of audio-video gear that’s now all obsolete. I think the new contents, shown in more detail below, are much nicer to look at. Here’s what I used to have:

  • Turntable: Replaced with an Ion USB turntable next to my desktop PC for much easier digitising.
  • A/V receiver and five speakers: Replaced by a Vizio 38″ 5.1 soundbar that sits under my TV and does Bluetooth and optical audio, with left, right, and centre speakers in the bar and a wireless subwoofer that also drives the two rear bookshelf-sized speakers.
  • VCR and DVD recorder: The VHS tapes that I needed to transfer I’ve done, or their contents have become digitally available (examples include the complete Larry Sanders Show boxed set, the French-issued Tex Avery Complete, and the Japanese boxed set of Jûzô Itami’s ten films), but I am keeping these two in the spare room in case I run into something else I need to digitise in future.
  • LaserDisc player: All the LaserDiscs I had – maybe fifty – have been re-released on DVD and/or Blu-ray and I have the replacements I wanted.
  • DVD/CD player and Western Digital DLNA player: Replaced with the LG All-Region/All-Zone DVD/Blu-ray/CD/WiFi DLNA/Internet player you see above that plays 1) every kind of disc from any country you can throw at it, automatically converting PAL to NTSC as needed, 2) programmes and films from my file server via the free Universal Media Server much better than Windows Media Server – and 3) from online services like Amazon Video and Netflix. My Samsung TV independently does numbers 2 and 3 as well. The LG player is two years old and no longer sold, but you can find its current equivalent by searching for LG BPM55 Multizone on Amazon.
  • Cable TV box: Pffft. Not replaced. I have Internet-only service now.
  • About 500 feet of all sorts of cables and wiring: I filled up a tall kitchen trash bag with those and happily tossed the lot.

You can click any of the following to see a larger version:

Only one of the astronauts’ A7LB spacesuits should have the commander’s red striping, used to easily distinguish who’s who in live video and photographs. I’ll fix that one of these days.

These Red Hot Riding Hood and Wolfie porcelain sculptures by Kent Melton were produced in 1995. Red’s saucy pose is from her dance routine in this excerpt from “Swing Shift Cinderella”.

Franklin Mint art deco figures “Promise in Gold’ and “Galaxy in Gold”

The other compelling argument

I just skimmed this article, and I can understand what they’re saying, but all the while I was thinking, “Okay, but this is all made irrelevant by the single overriding and compelling argument not to join the fool thing in the first place: one glance at its founder. I would not buy a used car from that man.” I always thought the same of Richard Nixon.

[Dingleface’s] small print may be the next big thing in European antitrust as watchdogs home in on how the world’s biggest social network collects information from users that helps generate vast advertising revenues.

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office is examining whether [Dingleface] essentially takes advantage of its popularity to bully users into agreeing to terms and conditions they might not understand. The details that users provide help generate the targeted ads that make the company so rich.

In the eyes of the Cartel Office, [Dingleface] is “extorting” information from its users, said Frederik Wiemer, a lawyer at Heuking Kuehn Lueer Wojtek in Hamburg. “Whoever doesn’t agree to the data use, gets locked out of the social network community,” he said. “The fear of social isolation is exploited to get access to the complete surfing activities of users.”

[more at the link]

“Now let ‘er go, you got a good aim.”

I followed W.C. Fields’s advice to his niece in the clip above just now before sending the email quoted below to customer service at a site. There’s a new trend of harassing people via email to buy items they’ve looked at in the last twenty-four hours, no doubt the product of some fevered MBA’s gin-soaked nightmares. To date, I’ve had three sites start doing this over the last several months. One of them is eBay, but I believe I found their account setting to shut these off. The site I wrote to has no such setting; in fact, I opted out of all emails from them many moons ago and verified that’s still set.

Can you tell me how to opt out of the emails haranguing me to buy items that I viewed on your site within the last 24 hours? These automated emails started just a few months ago and occur even when I’m not logged in, thanks to cookies I allow you to create on my system because I’m a registered user.

I do not wish to receive emails simply because I looked at an item, because they’re intrusive and, frankly, annoying to such a high degree that I can only compare them to a car salesman following me out of his lot and knocking on my door several hours later to ask why I didn’t buy anything. If they’re not curtailed I’ll be compelled to visit any competitor’s site rather than yours when I want to look at something.

I see no account setting that allows me to stop these emails from being auto-generated. Can you help? Thank you for your assistance in resolving this matter.

Had I not counted to ten before writing the above, I feel certain I would have included the phrase chuckleheaded Goddamned emails. A cooler head has prevailed, but I retain the satisfaction of having typed that anyway.

The destruction of the Ivory® brand

The package design when I was a kid

The fictional scene: a Proctor & Gamble marketing department conference room, circa 2007.

“Today’s meeting is to discuss P&G’s long-term plans for the dismantling of the Ivory brand. Why? It’s plain, it’s vanilla, and it’s boring. It doesn’t even have colour; it’s the very definition of lacklustre. Sales are stagnant and we all know that shareholders raise eyebrows at status quo and no growth. These may be the towers that Ivory built, but today it represents less than 1% of P&G sales – it’s inconsequential at best. Frankly, we view it as an albatross ’round our necks and we need to end the brand over the course of the next several years and leave that particular customer base in the past, but in a somewhat subtle fashion. Now I want imaginative ideas on how we could go about this, even ones that you may think sound stupid.”

“I have one. Let’s make Ivory bars smaller in the most annoying way possible…not shorter, but narrower, so it doesn’t even feel like the same bar millions of people have been holding in their hands for decades.”

“Great idea. If we shave maybe three-quarters of an ounce off the sides, that will save us big time on shipping costs, too.”

“And we could disguise the size change by doing it at the same time as next year’s ‘Olympics edition’ bars and the package redesign. Kind of like ‘Look, up in the sky!’ while you’re relieving a mark of his wallet. Anyone complains, we just say consumer surveys showed most people wanted smaller bars or some other such malarkey.”

“Some people will probably curse us for years to come every time they unwrap another bar and are reminded yet again of our stripping the familiarity off the shape. It’ll be the epitome of irksome!”

“Good point. It’s a fine idea that I’m sure will be approved. Who else?”

“I have one. You know our liquid hand soap that’s pretty much the only national brand that both rinses off easily and leaves no scent?”

“Sure. What about it?”

“What if we got rid of it entirely? Just cut off one of the brand’s limbs, the heaviest one that costs us the most to move around.”

“Well, that seems pretty nasty. I like it. Now that’s thinking outside the box.”

“Box? What box? I don’t see any boxes of liquid hand soap around here!”

“Ha!”

“And former customers would be annoyed, I mean properly annoyed, as they see the last of the national supply dwindle on eBay and Amazon whilst its price per ounce rises to that of a top-shelf whisky.”

“Very nice. Anyone else?”

“Along those same lines, what if we were to introduce an Ivory body wash?”

“We’re talking about the destruction of the brand, not creating new products.”

“No, no, stay with me on this. You did say ‘somewhat subtle’.”

“Go on.”

“Here’s the twist: We make this new body wash pretty much impossible to rinse off in the shower, even with intense spray. Five minutes…six minutes…doesn’t matter – it just won’t come off!”

“Absolutely brilliant. They’ll hate it! They’ll hate us!

“And you know what? You might even fool some of the former liquid hand soap users into trying this body wash – once, anyway! – thinking maybe it would be like the old liquid soap. Picture them at their sink for twenty minutes trying to rinse it off, failing miserably and now both slimy and late for work. Idiots!”

“Ha! ‘Out, damned spot! Out, I say!’ All right, I think this is a good start. Let me bring these ideas to the high mucky-mucks and we’ll see what they say. Good job, folks.”

Home

My perhaps slightly obsessive preparation included seeking out Rich Hall’s latest for the Beeb, “Countrier Than You”, before surgery. His documentaries are always top shelf, and a hoot to boot.

Comfy in my cave – so far, only a little stinging in the first couple post-op hours that went away after a single Percocet.