Fortune Cookie: 2007-02-12

All the water in the world can't sink a
ship unless it gets inside.
Lucky Numbers 33, 4, 24, 5, 18, 44

Commentary: I do like boats and I do like it when they don't sink. That said, I feel like there's a densely hidden metaphor here; are you trying to say that I need to not let things get to me?

Ultimate Xbox 360 Transcoding solution

About a week ago, I finally caved and bought myself an Xbox 360. Along with some really great games (ex. Gears of War) the 360 is also a powerhouse of media playing capabilities. Using Microsoft provided software you can set up your PC to serve media over the network to your 360. This means that you can listen to your entire music collection while you play you games (solves the only problem with Geometry Wars, the mediocre soundtrack); the 360 natively plays mp3s so you don't need to do much of anything to make music work. Unfortunately, the 360 will only natively play wmv video files, and only ones that are properly formatted, which means that you'll have to do a bit of work to watch and DivX, Xvid or, for that matter, just about anything else that you didn't get from Microsoft to begin with. Playing my video files on my TV through my 360 is an important thing for me, so set about scouring the internet to figure out how to do this and, having done so, I now report to you on what I have found.

If you're running Vista or XP MCE, it's supposedly a lot easier but, since I have neither, you're on your own and I cannot help. Supposedly, it's possible to use TVersity on a regular XP machine to do real-time on-the-fly transcoding of your files into wmv but I was not able to make it work. It may be the case that my computer is not powerful enough for on-the-fly transcoding or it might be that I had it set up wrong but the simple fact of the matter is that, in my opinion, TVersity is pretty flaky and doesn't provide a very good network interface when you access it through the 360. Using Microsoft's software and manually transcoding files before I watch them is thus my option of choice for watching movies and listening to music on my 360. This brings us to the real meat of this post, how to best transcode files for playing on the 360.

I tried a whole bunch of transcoding options, none of which worked, before I came across Encode360. Encode360 encodes things perfectly and allows for the vital rescaling (more on this later) but suffers from two problems: it's slow and it crashes a lot. A little more digging turned up that some had figured out how to use VLC media player to perform the transcodes. I tried the VLC transcoding method and discovered that it was both very fast and encoded perfectly. Unfortunately, the batch files provided for this purpose don't do rescaling and have a number of other problems. The rescaling is vital because if you don't scale your file properly, the 360 will auto-scale to fit the TV and the 360's auto-scaling is terrible, leaving blocky artifacts all over the screen. In order to deal with the 360's scaling issues and some of the other problems of the provided batch files, I read through VLC's documentation and fiddled around a bunch and am proud to say that I have come up with a few new batch files for VLC that will process video files and make them work properly on your 360.

Go get your hands on a copy of VLC media player and then grab the batch files I have made (vlc2xbox480h.bat and vlc2xbox720w.bat). You will need to modify the batch files slightly for your system; open the file in a text editor and change the very beginning to point to where you have installed VLC ("C:program filesvlcvlc.exe" is where mine is, change this if you need to). In order to transcode a file, you will drag-and-drop the file that you want to transcode onto one of these batch files, depending on the files aspect ratio. If the files aspect ratio is less than 16:9, drop it on the 480h file; if the aspect ratio is greater than 16:9, drop it on the 720w files; if the aspect ratio is 16:9, drop it on either one. It is important to note that your file's filename cannot have any single quotes (') or it will cause problems. So there you have it, the best way that I've found to transcode files into a 360 ready format. I might improve the batch files later or I might try writing a wrapper application at some point and, if I do, I'll post those updates here.

Global Warming and the Albedo

At this point, it's pretty much undeniable that global warming is bearing down on us. There are a lot of people out there that think people are causing global warming but there are also a lot of people out there that think people are not causing global warming and, quite frankly, I don't care which side of the fence you're on. Whether global warming is our fault or natural doesn't matter; what matters is what we're going to do about it. If it's our fault, we need to fix it; if it's natural, we want to impede it because the planets climate works best for our species where it was a few decades ago (at least as far as I'm concerned). I really don't want my kids or grandkids to live in a world without glaciers or snow outside the polar circles.

So now that we've established that we need to do something, what? There's the standard suggestions of stop killing rain forests and produce less carbon dioxide but, let's face it, humans are too pig-headed and stupid for that to ever happen. Since we're not going to do that, let's take a different approach; let's look at the Earth's albedo.

You might be wondering at this point, what is albedo? You might do well to ask Wikipedia but, in short, albedo is a unitless measure of an objects reflectivity. As a noteworthy point, the albedo of snow and ice is much higher than that of just about everything else on the Earth's surface. Snow and ice are diminished by higher temperatures, their loss lowers the albedo and lower albedos raise the temperature, therefor albedo decrease and temperature increase are self-reinforcing. So here's where things get interesting conceptually, let's try to raise the Earth's albedo and do what we can to get things going in the other direction. If you want to drive a gas-guzzling monstrosity of a car, go for it but get the car in white, not black; paint your house in a light or pastel color, lobby your legislatures to use concrete or light tarmac instead of standard dark tarmac; put mirrors on your roof.

Forget emissions, let's work on our albedo. Well, don't completely forget emissions, but you get the point.

Back to the Frozen North

Today, I return to Minnesota in preparation for law school semester two. In some ways, I'm glad to be going back but in other ways, I'm very sad to be leaving. Seeing people in Massachusetts again has reminded me of how much I miss some of my very good friends and that makes leaving again harder in some ways. At the same time though, there are friends in Minnesota that it will be nice to get back to. Additionally, there's my inactivity and other matters that I would like to replace with law school workload. Going back to Minnesota carries some pretty mixed feelings for me but such is life, mine at least.

RIP Robert Anton Wilson: A Sad Synchronicity

Today, marks both the 101st birthday of Dr. Albert Hofmann and the day that Robert Anton Wilson died. Dr. Albert Hofmann is the scientist who first synthesized LSD in 1938 and discovered its powerful psychoactive properties as a result of a laboratory accident in 1943. Robert Anton Wilson was an author, philosopher, advocate for drug law reform and a prominent Discordian. Robert Anton Wilson co-wrote the Illuminatus Trilogy, a series of books that I consider to be one of the most entertaining things that I have ever read. I am saddened by the death of Robert Anton Wilson and find the coincidence with Dr. Albert Hofmann's birthday to be a curious synchronicity.

Happy birthday Doctor Hofmann.

Goodbye Mr. Wilson and thank you for what you have given our world. All hail Eris.


ok, NIN, you're not so bad

For quite a long time, I've been of the rather firm negative opinion that Nine Inch Nails (NIN) was a semi-decent industrial-rock group that was substantially inferior to KMFDM and others of the genre. However, I was in a bit of a crummy mood earlier this eve—a situation that I often respond to by listening to angry metal or industrial music—and all the other bands that I tried weren't quite fitting my mood, so I decided to try putting some NIN on the good ol' Winamp. It turned out the be the case that NIN was precisely the music that I needed to fit the mood that I was in and, I can now say, I am willing to accept NIN as a perfectly valid and viable industrial-rock option in and of itself. NIN has carved out it's own niche within my musical desires and tastes; it has, so to speak, gained a place in my musical pantheon alongside its contemporaries, the likes of KMFDM, PIG and Skinny Puppy.

The Magical Anniversary

Today marks the third anniversary of this blog's inception. Fancy that, I've been spewing crap onto the internet for three whole years; go me! I don't know that I'm contributing more to the internet than this-one-quirky-guy-who's-done-some-stuff's opinion but I was never promising much more than that and I like to think that the this-one-quirky-guy-who's-done-some stuff is a lot interesting than many of those people that have converted myspace and livejournal into festering hives of angst. Heck, without this blog we wouldn't have ever seen the likes of my solution for stuck LCD pixels or my answer to the chicken and egg debate (my records show that you people really dig these things). Anyway, happy third anniversary my blog and thanks to all my readers for, well, reading.

Oh, and it's the magical anniversary because three is the magical number. I mean, surely you've read fairy tales. Right? Anyway, magical or whatever, three is my favorite number so it's still special.