What a Way to Make Me Feel Old!

kramer

There are times when you realize that there are people much younger than you, and it comes in very surprising ways. Take, for example, this short story.

A few weeks ago, I was in my work’s break room, where there is a TV set. It was tuned to something that I particularly had not interest in. If I had to guess, it probably was something on MTV like Ridiculousness or some other annoying TV show that I had no interest in listening to or watching during my lunch.

In the break room with me was one of my coworkers, who I asked if she was watching the program on TV, but she was not, so I made a suggestion.

“How about spending some time with Jerry, George and Cosmo?”

Not expecting anything other than “that’s fine”, I get a response “Oh, there’s a copy of Cosmo[politan Magazine] over there?”

“No, Cosmo Kramer, as in Seinfeld

“I’ve never seen the show”

Wait. What?? There’s someone who actually has not seen (or in this case, heard of) Seinfeld??? I know that I haven’t watched every episode, but come on, it’s one of the best TV shows ever made! So, I mentioned that I hadn’t watched it, but it’s a fairly common show, and here it comes…the shocking realisation that I’m getting older…she says –

“I was born in 1994”

“Oh wow, so that means you would have been 4 years old when the show actually ended”

Oh dear. That makes me feel quite old now…there’s a reason why the finale of the show is memorable to me…

The last episode of Seinfeld was one of those seminal TV and cultural moments that could not be missed. I was one of the mere 76,300,000 people who watched the finale according to Nielsen’s estimates. At the time, that was good for the 6th-most watched show ever. In the intervening 17 years, the most-watched TV shows of all time list has become littered with Super Bowls, year after year, seemingly setting a new viewing record. Seinfeld still sits at 4th all time for a series finale

The main reason that I wound up being able to watch the finale was that I was actually in Georgia as part of a trip to view one of the college graduations for my brother (which was a bit of an adventure in itself; a good lesson from that trip is to not pay cash for your hotel room!), so was stuck with just channels in a hotel. I also remember that in that same week, Frank Sinatra died and India shot off a nuclear test, shortly followed by Pakistan.

I know there’s a lot of shows that I’ve not watched, but even if you see an episode you’ve seen already, there’s always something to laugh at, and this is a show that everyone should be exposed to at some time, much like I Love Lucy, or The Flintstones, or Breaking Bad.

As for my co-worker who was 4 years old at the time? Well, hopefully the endless reruns on TBS, local TV stations, and now on Hulu will allow them to enjoy the greatness that is Seinfeld, including one of my favourite scenes, where Jerry tries to redeem his car hire reservation… 🙂

Remember, kids, just because you can take the reservation doesn’t mean that you know how to hold the reservation 😀

Television Tuesday: Last Week Tonight

oliver

Last year, during the major hubbub about Net Neutrality, there were tons of videos posted to YouTube saying the same thing – it’s necessary to protect the equality of access to sites and services on the Internet. One of the best was that from John Oliver’s (then) new HBO Program, Last Week Tonight

In the video, which was the first time that I had seen something from his program, he likened the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to a dingo taking care of a baby, since he was a former lobbyist for the largest cable TV provider in the country, Comcast. This video got over 9 million views, and garnered over 45,000 comments about the subject on the FCC’s website.

Hilariously, the segment forced the Chairman to respond to the allegations of being a dingo by categorically denying that he was one, which led to a brilliant follow-up from Oliver.

As the rest of 2014 went on, more videos came out on topics ranging from FIFA to Sugar, and even shorts on the Indian Election and problem gambling in Singapore, and a series on the other Presidents of the Not-USA, including one on everyone’s least favourite politician, Tony Abbott.

For a bit of background, John Oliver got his own show after working for quite a few years on the Daily Show. It’s somewhat disappointing that he didn’t get the full time job after Jon Stewart leaves, but it’s all the better for everyone that he has this platform. 🙂

Why do I like the show?

It’s a show that blends a lot of good things together – the news, politics, even sport and activism. Oliver sends powerful messages and is really educational. The fact that he includes comedy in the discussions is a huge draw for me. In essence, it’s like the Daily Show without  the long and boring interview segments (though he has done interviews, such as with Edward Snowden), and focusing on one major topic instead of dabbling in many minor topics.

Not only that, you learn a lot in the show. Not just about normal things like the politicians who run the country, but about the things behind the functionality of the country, such as Municipal Violations, the Lottery, and even Municipal funding for sports stadia – of which we’re now paying for two stadia for teams, the Milwaukee Brewers (via a 0.01% sales tax in only 5 counties), and now the Bucks (via municipal bonds that the whole state is paying for). Too bad we couldn’t just say No. But that’s a rant for another time! 🙂

Are you interested?

You can catch Last Week Tonight on Sundays at 11PM ET/PT on HBO, and throughout the week on the various HBO channels. Full episodes are also available on HBO ON Demand and HBO Go for cable or satellite subscribers. If you don’t have a pay TV service, you can subscribe to HBO NOW to watch full episodes as well.

Of course, the easiest way to catch the best bits (although they do bleep out the “fucks” from the clips) is to watch the videos on the Last Week Tonight YouTube Channel. All the videos there are free, but some of the videos are geoblocked to the USA only – such as the Sports Stadium video, probably due to sports video included in the clip. Clips are usually posted within a few hours of the show airing.

How to capture recordings from your Cable Box

Recently, I was tasked by Snoskred to look into providing her with a program that we both like to watch, and just one more in a line of programs that she’s gotten me into, but that’s something for another day. 🙂

In the past, it worked out really well for me to grab things off of the TV with an analog capture device, but that was in the mid-2000s, just as HD was in its beginning phases, with a low number of people actually with those kinds of TVs. Even as recently as last year, I did use an analog device to capture this video which was downconverted from 1080i HD to 480i Letterboxed SD –

Sure, it works, but it’s not of the highest quality. Realizing that my MacBook Pro was one of the final ones with a Firewire cable on it, I wondered how easy it would be to do it.

With the right equipment, it’s easier than you think. 😀

Equipment –

Here’s what you’ll need to capture video in HD from a cable box –

  • The correct Firewire cable for your computer and box
  • Capture software
  • Conversion software
  • Editing software to cut commercials

Getting the correct Firewire cable –

The cable box is fairly easy. If you live in the US, an FCC regulation requires that all cable boxes manufactured after a certain point have a Firewire output built into it. Almost all boxes have a 6-pin output for Firewire. Somehow, I knew that inherently. What I did not know was which size to get for my MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro Ports

These are the ports on it – from right to left we have: MagSafe V.1, RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet), Firewire, DisplayPort, 2x USB 2.0, SD Card and Headphone/Microphone 3.5mm

Looking at the size, my assumption based on the options (4, 6, and 9-Pin), this must be a 4-pin port. I go to order it and 5 days later it arrives in the post. I connect it to the box and I go to connect it to the computer.

It’s too small. Damn.

Some frantic googling later, I discover that the MacBook actually has a 9-pin connector. I then purchase a new cable and it arrives on the next Friday; I take it out of the bag, look at the connector and look at my MacBook…and it fits!

That’s the cable sorted.

Capture Software

This is actually quite easy if you have an Apple product. All I had to do was go to the Apple Developer site and download Firewire SDK 26 from there, which was free.

One thing to note is that you will need an Apple ID to access the downloads. If you have an iOS device, or use iTunes for your music, you have an Apple account.

Once you install the SDK, making sure that if you’re using Yosemite or later you allow “untrusted” developers’ apps to be installed (despite this being from Apple Computer), there is a piece of embedded software called AVCVideoCap.

I will do a separate post on how to use AVCVideoCap, but one important thing to know is that when you first launch the application, you will need to find it through Spotlight; I would then recommend either placing an alias on your desktop or pinning the icon to your dock.

Important! When you are recording something, you must watch it on your box at the same time; you can of course watch something else if you have another input or a smart TV, but the box must stay on the program in order for it to correctly capture the program..

Step 3 – Converting the file.

After your recording is completed, you will be left with an .m2t or .ts file. This is what’s known as a transport stream. This is the file I got from a 5-minute recording –

1.01 GB for just over 5 minutes of video.

No, this is not a misread on the file size. Since this is literally the raw output for the channel, it’s at full bitrate which is in the range of 5-8 Megabytes per second. A 60-minute recording will take 12 GB of space on your hard drive, etc.

You can see where this is going, and it’s not a friendly situation to share the file with your friends. Or, for that matter, to sites like YouTube if you are using a Digital Video camera that doesn’t support SD cards.

You’ll need to have some software to convert this monstrosity of a file to a more consumable size. Not only that, very few programs can read transport streams – VLC will, but not much else can handle it.

That’s where Handbrake comes in. I’ve used Handbrake to convert files from DVD to digital, and even to transcode movies to a more manageable format for my iPad.

This is something that is fairly straightforward. The only things that I will do when I do a conversion in Handbrake from the raw to an intermediate file is to downsize the image from 1920×1080 (full 1080i) to 1280×720. This helps reduce the file size greatly.

If you’re using a newer computer, you can expect this to take about the length of the program that you recorded or less. On an older computer, it can take upwards of 2-3x the length of the program due to it needing more processing power than the computer may have.

In the end, you’re left with this –

Keen-eyed folk will notice that the filename is different. That's because this is actually the original file I tested out to see if this scheme will work.

You’ll notice how much smaller this file is compared to the source file – from nearly 1 GB down to under 70MB, or a 94% savings in size! Typically, my intermediate file will be in the 1.5-2GB range.

Step 4 – Trimming the Fat

Since PythagoraSwitch is a 5-minute program, there isn’t any need to cut things from there for the most part. However, the show that I am recording for Snoskred is an hour-long program with about 19 minutes of commercials per episode, I needed to get something to delete the advertising from the program. 🙂

In one of the YouTube tutorials that I watched, the person recommended a program called MPEGStreamClip to edit your videos. So, I downloaded it. And it didn’t work. The video kept stuttering and the program was totally unusable.

This time instead of just going to Google and picking whatever comes up, I think…there has to be something on Reddit…and I find /r/videoediting which has a quick list of editors by price. Of them, I chose Avidemux, which I can tell is modern since it has both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

Avidemux is very easy to use even for a complete novice like myself. The keyboard shortcuts are straightforward (i.e. you can do things with single keystrokes) and it gets the job done quite efficiently.

In the end, if you have the correct equipment, this is a great way to preserve any TV shows that you may have been keeping on your DVR for ages and want to keep. 🙂

And I thought Fox News was bad!

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Over the last year, I’ve had somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40-50 channels added to my TV service, including one channel in particular that has quickly become a “must watch” for me when there’s something live on.

That channel is Willow TV, and it’s a channel that airs only one sport. Cricket. (OK, they did air one field hockey game a couple of months back, but it had India in it, so they aired it). With it airing Cricket, you can only take a guess who the target audience of the adverts on the channel are aimed at…the Indian expatriate community. The ads are mostly in English, but you do get some in Hindi and some other South Asian languages thrown in for variety.

There are even ads for major American companies (State Farm, New York Life) that air and are aimed, again, at the expat community.

One of the ads that has popped up more recently is for a movie called PK. The whole gist of the movie, as far as I can tell, is this guy comes to India and thinks everything is weird. Seeing that this is a Bollywood movie, they feature songs, and the ad that they introduced the movie here with is this one –

Love is a Waste of Time

After one or two airings of the ad, the song starts to get to earworm status, and stays in for quite a while!

Anyway, I get to searching YouTube for the ad and now I learn that there’s a huge brouhaha surrounding the movie, since some people think that the movie should not have received approval due to it making fun of Hindu rituals and customs.

And I find this video which is a “full debate” about the movie and who crossed the line –

Let’s see…we start not with a commentator introducing people one-by-one, we get all 6 of the guests on screen at the same time, with the “moderator” (I use that term very loosely, he’s more of a floor director and commandeer) in the biggest box. Very soon, in a moment when nobody in speaking (at least audibly to us), he tells them all to be quiet. Then we have the religious pundit and the politician going at it in English. Eventually, it just pretty much turns into a shouting match, first in English and then in Hindi…and then it just…ends.

I don’t get it. Maybe we can get an explanation of what’s going on here…John Oliver?

Maybe I should check this movie out…but with English Subtitles

NBC Doesn’t want your feedback.

After writing about NBC’s distinct lack of caring they hold for people who want to watch a live broadcast of tomorrow’s Opening Ceremonies, I’ve gotten a few hits from folks looking for the fact that it isn’t live, along with one person who works for NBC-Universal searching for "nbc delay olympic opening".

So, this morning I decided that I’d go and have a look to see if I could find a way to contact them – either a web form or an email address, and lo and behold, I did find it here – Contact NBC.

Listed in there is an address specifically for questions regarding the Olympics – nbcolympicsfeedback#nbcuni.com, so I sent them (and the main NBC Sports email) a letter, basically reminding them that they’re about the only people who can’t be bothered to show the ceremony live, and told them that you know, if you air it twice, you can increase ad revenue…

I hit send, and half expect a form letter saying "Blah, Blah, We really don’t care what you said, but we will say we did because our extensive market research shows that people who receive form letters are more apt to be satiated than people who don’t. Et cetera."

What I received was not that – it was a message stating that my message did not reach the nbcolympicsfeedback email address. Why, you ask?

Well, according to NBC-Universal, the recipient name is not recognized.

The only thing that this says to me is that NBC claim that this box is there, but then you try to contact them you’re told that it isn’t there. The only conclusion I can logically reach is that NBC doesn’t care what its viewers think about their Olympic programming.

What do you think?

Do you think it’s right that NBC has chosen again to delay the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, as they have done with all Olympics they’ve covered overseas? Consider the fact that the Today show is broadcasting live from China tomorrow, at the same time as the opening ceremony goes on, probably just behind their backs.

By the way, if you like what I’ve written, on either this post or the first post about NBC, there are links for you to submit the posts to different sites like StumbleUpon. 😉