bbtmn

Posts in Category: TV

A Quick Recommendation

Thursday 9th December 2010

The Wire. Not many people seem to watch it, or to have even heard of it. Which is a real shame, because it’s absolutely brilliant. There’s nothing particularly original I can say about it, so here’s an old clip from Screenwipe about it:

It’s not an easy watch, by any means. The dialect and slang is sometimes difficult to understand, and you have to really pay attention to what’s happening in order to understand the show. There’s no dramatic background music to highlight the significant moments, and no convenient characters who ask questions purely for exposition. But give it the attention it deserves and you’ll find a thoroughly intelligent, complex, and utterly compelling show.

Posted In: TV Tagged: | 2 Comments

Hammond Meets Moss

Tuesday 8th June 2010

I watched an absolutely fascinating programme the other day. It was “Hammond Meets Moss“, and you can perhaps guess the basis of the show from the title. Basically it’s Richard Hammond meeting Sir Stirling Moss. Duh.

These two men have had pretty different careers. One was a top-flight racing driver, the other is a TV presenter. But they have one thing in common: they have both suffered major brain injuries. You will probably know about Hammond’s injury, after he crashed a jet car at 300mph in 2006. Moss had a career-ending accident in an F1 race at Goodwood in the 60s, when he veered off the circuit and crashed into an embankment at 110mph (the car wasn’t fitted with seatbelts, so his head hit the steering wheel). Different accidents, but the effects were similar.

Incidentally I loved Moss’s reaction to seeing Hammond’s crash: “Rather you than me, old boy”.

Moss also talks about the racing driver “mindset”, which sort of follows on from the interview I mentioned recently. But it’s fascinating hearing about how their accidents affected them, and how they recovered (or are recovering, it seems). To me this sort of injury is one of the scariest things that can happen. Even the most hideous injuries to other parts of your body only affect that thing; if you’re in an accident and you break your legs, then it means you can’t walk for a bit and it’s incredibly inconvenient. But if you suffer a brain injury, that’s you. Your brain is obviously where your personality comes from, and where your memories and whatnot are stored. The idea of having an accident that can fundamentally change who you are is a pretty terrifying one.

I know I mention lots of motorsport-related things and say “you should definitely watch this”, and I’m sure most people don’t. But this time you really, really should. The documentary isn’t merely about racing, it’s about brain injury and the effects thereof. It’s not a pleasant subject by any means, but I think this is genuinely fascinating.

Posted In: MotorsportTV Tagged: | 9 Comments

HTPC – Up and Running (projectlog part 4)

Thursday 25th February 2010

I actually wrote this back in November, but I didn’t publish it at the time because I wanted to get some better photos. I never did, and I can’t be bothered to tidy up the living room and scrounge some batteries to take some now. I realise that the last post about this – in September! – said “part 4 tomorrow”, but well, oops…

Just as a refresher, I’ve been putting together a home theatre PC for the living room at uni-house. This is basically a normal pc with a TV card in the back, that’s hooked up to a normal TV rather than a computer monitor. You then use the PC to watch TV, the advantage being that you can then record stuff or timeshift, as well as stream media from other c0mputers, use iPlayer/4od/YouTube on the TV, and also play video files on the TV.

This started as a way to re-use an old PC, and I started off using my old computer from like 5 or 6 years ago. That plan died off though, because I bought myself a new desktop when I came back to Uni, so I used the computer that replaced for the htpc. Important specs:

  • Core2Duo E6300 (dual core, 1.8GHz)
  • 2GB Ram
  • 500GB Hard Disk (I added this, because I used the old hard drives in my new PC)
  • Leadtek Geforce 7300 graphics card (I also added this, because it’s fanless)

I did a few things to keep it fairly quiet. Firstly that graphics card. I did have a Radeon X1950pro when this was my “main” pc, but it was pretty loud so I swapped it for the 7300. I also pinched a quieter power supply from another pc, and disconnected one of the smaller case fans. So it’s pretty quiet now, which is good.

Because it’s a fairly powerful computer, I went with Windows 7. I’ve ran 7 on all my computers since the Beta was out in January, and it’s pretty bloody good. Everything works really well, and really easily. By way of example, when I was setting up the htpc, I needed to connect it to the internet, but only had one Wi-Fi dongle, which I use on my main pc. So I connected the two computers with an ethernet cable, shared the wireless connection on the main pc, and had the internet running on both PCs in minutes.

Whilst I’m on the subject of OSs, I was looking at laptops a few months ago and looked at MacBooks as well as proper computers (because whatever you want to say, Apple hardware looks really good). I wanted to see what MacOS is like, so I installed it on my desktop for a bit. I can now say that anyone who says that they actually like using MacOS is either a masochist or an idiot, because it’s one of the worst operating systems I’ve ever used. It’s amazingly unintuitive and confusing, and just a pain in the arse to get working properly. It felt half-finished; some bits were really polished but other parts of the UI felt like they’d been carried over from the dark ages. Going from 7 to that felt like such a retrograde step. I also didn’t like the fact that all the “working” bits were hidden from view. I didn’t have a clue where anything was saved, which was really unsettling. The fact that one of the selling points Apple use when selling their computers is that you can run Windows kinda says it all. I digress.

Anyhow, once I got it all up and running, I hooked it all up to the TV:

htpc hooked up to TV

I’ve written before about Media Center in Vista, and it’s pretty similar in 7 so there’s no point rehashing it (look at this video though if you want an idea of how it works), other than to say that it’s pretty damn good. The only problem I’ve had is that the software I wanted to use for remote access, WebGuide, doesn’t work with 7 yet. This isn’t a major problem though, and should be sorted eventually.

There’s some really nice touches in there though. Like in the guide, it fetches information off the internet for each show. So the other night we were browsing though the listings and when we saw whatever film was on Film4, someone said “oh, isn’t so-and-so in that?”. I could find out straight away by selecting the listing and going to the info, where there’s a synopsis and a cast list. It also fetches the info for DVDs, which is pretty cool.

I think I mentioned before that the TV card I bought came with a remote control. I wasn’t that impressed with it to be honest; it didn’t work that well with Media Center and occasionally stopped working all together. After a while I replaced it with this one, which works much better. All the buttons do what they’re meant to do, and it makes it really easy to navigate round everything whilst lying on the sofa.

I’ve got a decent library of videos and stuff on there now, and I’ve also set it up to access the music library on my desktop machine (and the music library in Media Center is really impressive by the way). I’ve installed Spotify on there as well. I wasn’t going to do that initially, but one of my housemates suggested it and I think it’s turned out to be a really good idea.

There’s a load of other stuff on there, other than Media Center. I’ve installed uTorrent and scheduled it to run unthrottled overnight, so it downloads stuff quickly. It’s set up to drop finished torrents in a certain folder, which Media Center monitors so that I can play stuff I’ve downloaded straight away through the Media Center interface, which is pretty handy (although some of my housemates don’t seem to understand this idea and keep turning the pc off at night, even though I’ve asked them not to).  I’ve also got a load of emulators (N64, Megadrive, SNES and NES) as well as some PC games on there. Worms Armageddon has quickly become a house favourite…

Also, streaming video on the TV is excellent. iPlayer, YouTube or whatever, are essentially the same quality as normal TV signals, because the resolution of the screen is comparatively low. The only inconvenience is that you have to swap from the remote control to the keyboard, and leave Media Center to use a web browser to get at it. Relatively minor problem though, to be honest.

Overall, it works really well, and everyone seems to be happy with it, which is good. If I were doing it again, using new components, I think I’d get a mATX motherboard and case, or perhaps even look at MiniITX or something like that. As it is, the next upgrade (when I have a lot more money than I do currently) is to go HD. I think that Formula 1 is going to be broadcast in HD next year and I’d love to be able to get that, but unfortunately it’d require a new TV as well as a new card for the PC. Definitely not on the cards any time soon, then.

So, if anyone else has an old pc lying around, I can definitely recommend it as a worthwhile project. A htpc makes a really good addition to a TV setup, and it’s relatively inexpensive to convert a PC for the purpose.

Posted In: GeekTechnologyTV Tagged: | 1 Comment

Storytelling

Friday 19th February 2010

A while back I commented on a post on Callan’s blog about Avatar. At the time I hadn’t seen the film, so I refrained from commenting on the film itself, but rather on 3D. I’ve seen the movie now and I stand by what I said there about 3D – I really don’t think its “the future” or anything like that. In fact I think that Avatar was a pretty bad vehicle with which to demonstrate 3D as a technology. I thought that the bits of the film where the 3D effect was most effective were the “live” bits, with real actors in real sets. It added to the “grittiness” of those scenes and I think the 3D effect looked brilliant then. I found myself noticing things like reflections in glass or creases and wrinkles on people’s clothes, and overall it made those scenes look pretty good. Not more immersive though, but I shall come back to this. In contrast, I thought that the CGI scenes looked more fake than they would if they were just in 2D. Everything was too smooth, too polished, too obviously rendered.

But enough talk about the technology, because it’s not really what I want to talk about. Avatar (like many contemporary Hollywood films) is a really awful film. The characters, plot, everything is just ridiculously cliched, shallow and pathetic. It’s way too long, and I found myself getting pissed off at everyone involved. I wanted the humans to piss off and die because they were obviously bastards. But I also wanted the na’vi to fuck right off just on general principals. Both sides were equally irritating so the big battle scenes at the end really didn’t move me. I think we were meant to feel some sort of empathy for Zoe and Jake, but honestly I just didn’t care.

And the less said about “Unobtainium”, the better. For fuck’s sake…

In contrast, last night I watched Das Boot for the first time. This is actually 40 minutes longer than Avatar, but you really don’t notice that. In contrast to Avatar, the story doesn’t feel like it drags at any point, and you definitely feel empathy for the characters. Whereas I didn’t give a toss about the characters in Avatar, it’s completely different with this. The way the tension is built and sustained is really amazing, and just goes to show that clever writing is a lot more successful  than any amount of flashy CGI bollocks. We are treated to the odd shot of depth charges exploding around the U-boat but it’s all very dark and murky, probably because it was made pre-CGI. I actually think it’s more successful like this. No doubt if the film were made now it’d be possible to have loads of cool CGI stuff, but I think it’s much better if the focus remains in the sub with the characters; if our only clues as to what’s happening are the same clues that the people on the boat have – the eerie, threatening sounds coming from the water outside.

The point I’m trying to make is that it was a wonderfully immersive film, with probably a more interesting and subtle message than Avatar. You don’t need 3D or any other clever technology to involve an audience, all you need is a bit of intelligence. All too often, gimmicks like CGI and 3D are used as a replacement for good film making (as further evidence, I give you Star Wars… speaking of which, if you have time watch this, well worth it), and it’s a real shame.

I suppose the polar opposite is something like The Road, and I’ve commented on this film before over on Jenny’s blog. In that case, there’s just… nothing. Again, I didn’t care for the characters and as far as I could tell, there’s no real story to speak of. Now I’m all for a story being subtle, but if it’s so subtle that it’s invisible then it all starts to become somewhat pointless!

Anyway, it’s getting late, so I’m gonna go watch an episode of Mad Men (and read for a bit… I got up very late today) before sleeping. In fact, if you want to see an example of really good storytelling (not to mention beautiful characterisation – I mean really, stunning), watch it. It’s worth doing so just for one particularly brilliant scene at the end of season 1, but I shall say no more so as not to spoil it for anyone.

Posted In: RantSleepTechnologyTV Tagged: | 3 Comments

HTPC – Receiving Loud and Clear (projectlog Part 3)

Tuesday 8th September 2009

So, my TV card and rather snazzy keyboard arrived. I got the card installed, got Vista Home Premium installed, and had a look to see how it all worked.

I was worried that Vista might be a bit clunky on the machine I’m using, but really it’s not too bad. Just about usable, but I think the extra 1gb of RAM (when it arrives) will be welcome. Once I’d got all the drivers sorted (which included some drama with the graphics driver having a strop when I updated the motherboard drivers. One system restore later, all was well), I opened up Media Center (damn Americans, can’t bloody spell…). I’d never used it before so I didn’t really know how well it’d work.

I have to say, I’m impressed. The interface is pretty much spot on, and works really well with the remote control that came with the tuner. I had to fiddle with the positioning of the aerial to get the best amount of channels, but once I’d done that, it picked everything up cleanly, with no stuttering or weird drops in signal. The little freeview box we’ve been using in Cardiff for the last year is absolutely shit in comparison, even before you get to the extra things that the new box can do…

There’s not much more to say about Media Centre. It does everything you’d want htpc software to do, it’s quick, it’s pretty, and it works brilliantly even with my cheapy TV card. It even saw the dual tuners without any fuss, so I can watch one thing and record another. Result!

Initially I was just testing it on a PC monitor, so I was keen to get a TV hooked up, because that’s what it’s ultimately gonna be outputting to when I hook it all up in Cardiff. There was a spare TV in one of the rooms, so I got it and connected it to the TV out on the graphics card.

Desk

It works pretty damn well. I couldn’t find the remote for that TV to change the input settings, hence why it’s not colour. I did test it on another TV just to confirm that it is outputting in colour, and it is.

So I’m fairly satisfied with Vista, so it’s going to stay. My HTPC now does the important stuff – i.e. the bult of the TV functionality – so next on the hitlist is the little addons I initally specced when I started looking at this project…

Part 4 tomorrow.

Posted In: GeekTechnologyTV Tagged: | 1 Comment

HTPC – Prep (projectlog Part 2)

Monday 7th September 2009

While I was waiting for the TV card and stuff to arrive, I started to consider what software to use. Just to help give the whole picture, here’s the specs of the PC I’m using:

  • Athlon 2500+ (333mhz FSB)
  • Abit NF7 Motherboard (it’s a shame Abit went bust. This is the best motherboard I’ve ever used and I would’ve definitely got another one for my next build, if they were around)
  • 768mb pc2700 DDR RAM (I’ve bought a 1gb stick to add to this, but it’s not arrived yet)
  • Radeon 9800 pro graphics card (overkill much?)
  • 80gb IDE hard disk. This will probably get added to at some point.
  • Some generic DVD-ROM drive.

By no means rubbish, but not the sort of system that you can expect to run everything uber-smoothly. So in picking software, that was my main consideration (as well as how well it’d work, and how easy it is to set up).

There are loads of alternatives out there, using either Linux or Windows. The ones I looked at were Mediaportal running on XP, Freevo, MythTV, or Media Centre built into Vista. Freevo and MythTV both run on linux and both look really good. The only thing with Linux though is that it’s never a simple task to make it do what you want to do. Even if it’s painless to install Freevo or MythTV, I’m sure it’d be hell getting all the drivers working, then getting stuff like emulators and web interfaces and shared folders working is just gonna be a hassle. I know Windows, so that was my preference (although I may look at the Linux alternatives at another point). The other good thing about Windows is that I know that there are a bunch of good emulators out there, and a good bittorrent client (with the web interface) in uTorrent, which saves me time looking for other things which work as well…

I decided to try first with Mediaportal running on XP. I thought I’d install it and have a play before my TV card came, just to see what it’s like. And I’d love to report back on it, but as soon as I’d installed it, the computer started rebooting itself as soon as it started to load the windows desktop. I spent a bit of time trying to fix it, but could never get my head round it. So, I decided to try plan B: Vista Home Premium, and the inbuilt Media Centre software.

Before I installed that though, some new toys arrived…

Tuner and Keyboard

Part 3 coming tomorrow

Posted In: GeekTechnologyTV Tagged: | No Comments

HTPC – Plan of Attack (projectlog Part 1)

Sunday 6th September 2009

We have a lot of spare computers lying around at home. Nothing special, just old computers that we don’t need any more because we’ve upgraded. I’ve always thought that it’s a slight waste for them to just be lying around unused because really there’s nothing wrong with them, as long as you don’t need to run cutting-edge software or stuff that needs a quick pc. For example, when I got a new PC (3 years ago!), carried on using it because it was fine for him at the time. Recently though he needed something newer so he upgraded, so my old pc was just sat around, basically doing nothing. It’s not slow – it runs Half-Life 2 pretty damn well, for instance. So I thought I’d put it to use.

I’ve toyed with the idea of building a htpc for a while. Initially I thought of using something based around a dual-core Atom processor, because that would be quiet (silent iirc) and still more than quick enough for what I need it for. Sadly the parts for that is more than I’d be willing to spend, which is why I came around to using my old pc. I decided that all I need to do on the hardware side is make it quieter, because at the moment it’s got lots of fans and is too loud to use as a htpc. Obviously for something that’s gonna be on pretty much all the time and is going to sit next to the tv, you want it to be as quiet as possible.

So, I started thinking about what I wanted it to do and what I’d need to buy to do it.

Whiteboard

The basic requirements I drafted up were:

  • Ability to record one programme whilst watching another.
  • Easily able to see shares from my desktop pc, so I can play music or videos I’ve got stored on that over the TV.
  • Some sort of online interface, so I can login over the internet and set programmes to record whilst I’m away. Preferably, I’d like this interface to work well on my iPhone as well :)
  • Able to play DivX etc
  • Work well enough on the hardware I wanted to use. It’s no use having it if it takes half an hour to open the TV listings…
  • Pretty frontend
  • Good bittorrent software with a web interface.
  • Would be good if iPlayer etc could be integrated into the interface, so we don’t have to leave the media software to use it.
  • Also want to install some emulators on the pc (MAME etc), and it’d be good if that could be integrated into the media software as well.

I had a look at TV cards and really couldn’t differentiate between the different types, so plumped for the cheapest dual-tuner card I could find. I also got a wireless keyboard, which has a touchpad built in, which I thought was pretty cool and ideal for this sort of system. Also I jumped on eBay and got a quiet CPU cooler for a fiver and 1GB of RAM.

All that remained then was to wait for the parts to arrive, so I could put my new toy very useful system together :)

Posted In: GeekProcrastinationTechnologyTV Tagged: | 8 Comments

Why Don’t Trains Have Wi-Fi?

Sunday 1st June 2008

Part I

It just seems like such a basic thing, in this always-connected world we live in. That said, there are probably more pressing things to sort out on the rail network…

Anyway, I write this en-route from Cardiff to the joy that is Birmingham New Street, which is probably a good example of something that needs sorting, actually. As is the way the train keeps bouncing from side to side, making it bloody hard to type. I digress.

Last week was spent in Devon, in a lovely little place called Slapton. There are a couple of interesting things about Slapton. Firstly, it has a big freshwater lake (Slapton Ley) which is separated from the sea by a narrow shingle bar, and the whole site is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), because it’s home to some rare birds or something and because it’s a really good example of that sort of habitat. Secondly, during the 1940s, the whole area was evacuated so that the Americans could practise invading it. Apparently it has a lot of similarities to Utah beach (the western-most beach they landed on during Operation Overlord). However, during the exercise (codenamed Exercise Tiger), a bunch of German ships happened to come across the landing craft just as they were about to land and managed to sink a few. As a result, there were about three times as many casualties during Ex. Tiger than there were on Utah during Op. Overlord.

Well, I thought that was interesting, anyway.

It was a pretty good week, all things considered. True to form the weather was pretty poor (after the weeks of gorgeous sunshine we had during the exam period), but it seemed to stay dry during most of our outdoor stuff, which was good. I quite like the field courses we have, because its a nice to get a chance to spend time with and get to know people that I wouldn’t ordinarily talk to. That said, it also means I had to tolerate some of the people who really irritate me, but gotta take the rough with the smooth and all that.

Actually, one of the nights spent down t’pub was somewhat eye-opening. There were a bunch of us in this tiny (usually quiet) pub, being studenty… I noticed after a while that the only people talking were those who were the loudest. There wasn’t really a conversation going, either; they just seemed to say something, then wait for other people to finish talking, and then say something else. We were there for a good few hours, and no-one really said anything. Now I don’t expect every conversation to be deep and meaningful; considering the meaning of life and other worthy questions. But I do think that conversation should be interesting, not just based around “this one time, I was really drunk…”, or whatever…. Eventually they got round to playing drinking games (loudly), which was just embarrassing. OK, drinking games can be fun, but there’s a time and a place. A quiet pub, where you can piss off all the locals, really isn’t it.

The next night we all went to Torquay (for a fun night out!), and I spent it with a different bunch of people. We ended up in this cramped little pub, where there was a guy with a guitar playing away in the corner. A guy with a guitar who seemed to be able to play any song you requested. Most people went to a club I think, but all present at the pub were in agreement that they missed out. Horses for courses, I guess.

The trip kinda got me thinking about where I’d prefer to live: a small place like Slapton, right next to the sea; or in a city. I really love the sea and being near it, so I think I’d really love to live near it. Cardiff is technically by the sea, but most of the city is a teensy bit inland, so I never really see the sea. So yeh, I’d love to live somewhere in an ickle coastal town, I think, but at the same time I do love cities. I love the atmosphere, and the way there’s always something happening.

I think that when I’m rich and successful in years to come, I’ll just buy a house in a city and a place by the sea, and alternate as the mood takes me. Don’t know which city, and which place by the sea though…

Part II

I had to get off the train, so I had to stop writing. I’m now writing from the sofa at home, a few hours later. Watched the Monaco Grand Prix earlier, which was really very good. I really felt sorry for Sutil (he’s in one of the worst teams, and was in 4th place until the current world champion crashed into him a few laps from the end). Hamilton was bloody lucky – his puncture earlier on in the race gave him a real strategic advantage over Massa and Kubica, and apparently he got a puncture on the slowing down lap after crossing the line. Lucky the race was shortened, then. Speaking of Massa, he’s driving fantastically at the moment. Dare I say it, title hopes? He seems to be doing better than Raikkonen at the moment, it has to be said…

Doctor Who the other day was really bloody good. Most of this series has been pretty poor, to be honest. It’s almost as if the writers have tried to make it comic because they’ve got Catherine Tate, but it’s really not worked. It’s been cheesy, almost slaptstick humour. Thinking back to the first “new” series, with Christopher Ecclestone as the Doctor, that was really rather witty and that’s the way it should be.

Apart from that, it’s been predictable as well. Like “The Doctor’s Daughter”. Who didn’t foresee her getting shot? And then who didn’t see her re-generating (and keeping her form)? Bad. Just bad.

Anyway, the last episode was good. It’s properly dark, and not at all predictable. And I really like the way that it addresses the fact that the Doctor is a time traveller. For those that don’t watch the show, I’ll explain what I mean. One of the characters in the episode knows the Doctor, but first met him at a time later than the meeting we see in the show. So she knows the Doctor and has known him for years, but he has no idea who she is. It’s pretty clever. Can’t wait for Moffat to take over the direction of the show.

The Lost season finale came out the other day as well, and I have to say I thought it was pretty good. It did exactly what I expected – answered a few questions, introduced some new ones, and basically revealed a little bit more of the story. I have to say I really like some of the issues and themes that Lost looks at. Things like Good vs Evil, Science vs Faith, Fate or Destiny vs Free Will, and so on. That, and the entire story is pretty magnificent. If you haven’t watched it before, I urge you to acquire it and to spend a few days watching it all from the start. It’s really worth it.

Posted In: GeekMotorsportRantStuffTechnologyTV | 8 Comments

A Very Good Thing

Friday 3rd August 2007

This strikes me as a very good thing, if it were to happen.

All of the Moffat-penned episodes have been brilliant – Blink this year was fabulous – and Russell T. Davies does seem to be losing the plot (Catherine Tate, for instance…). Moffat taking over the helm would be great.

Secondly, James Nesbitt was very good in Jekyll, and if it were an ‘audition’ for Doctor Who, then he did very well. He’d probably be better than Tennant…

Thirdly, Michelle Ryan as the Doctor’s assistant. Just YES! Damn, she’d be way better than Freema Agyeman or Catherine Tate.

Of course, none of this will happen. Sigh.

Posted In: RandomTV Tagged: | 1 Comment