The current state of children’s toys and cartoons really bothers me. Maybe its because of my age and the fact that, I myself have started thinking about having kids. But whatever the reason is that has brought on this train of though, the idea of exposing my own offspring or any children to the current state of toys and cartoons that are at the store and on TV right now makes me sick to my stomach. I have talked about this in the past.
Being a child of the eighties, I grew up and felt privileged to be exposed to what I think are some pretty awesome toys and cartoons. Some of them just off the top of my head are…
I have some really good childhood memories of watching these cartoons and playing with these toys. Toys and cartoons that, to this day, I still enjoy and collect. I am really looking forward to the day that my children and I can enjoy them together.
When I turn on the TV nowadays, I am embarrassed by the cartoons (which all seem to be computer animated now and not hand drawn) that networks broadcast to children. What the hell is Sponge Bob Square Pants anyway? I don’t even recognize the Transformers anymore and their toys just look scary to me.
I am going to go on a Transformers side rant here. So bare with me.
Anyone who has been following my blog knows that I am a die hard, old school, Transformers fan. (TILL ALL ARE ONE!) Something about that cartoon and the toys just clicked with me on an emotional level when I was growing up and I think that is why I am such a fan of them to this day. It might be because it was one of the first toys my older brother ever got me. It might be because when you see an old school Transformer cartoon or toy transforming it makes sense. Just by looking at the thing you can get an idea of which pieces need to move where and when to transform it. I never needed an instruction booklet to transform a Transformer. Because of that the toys made me feel smart. Like I was teaching myself and learning something at the same time. But nowadays you open up one of these “newer” Transformers toys or watch one of the movies or cartoons your head just hurts. Nothing about it makes sense.
Whenever I go to the store, I always check out the toy sections (because I am a kid at heart) and I am applied by what I see. Isles of action figures that don’t look fun or easy to play with. I have also noticed that they have not moved from their shelf from one week to the next. No one is buying this crap. I find myself spending the most time looking at Hot Wheels toys because they are about the only thing in the toy section of stores that I used to play with when I was a kid.
One of the few stores that still carries old school Transformers products is Hot Topic. Whenever I travel down south from Alaska, I make time to go into a Hot Topic and I ask the clerk every time “Do you sell more old school Transformers Products or the newer Transformers Products. Each time for years the answer has been the same “Oh we sell way more old school Transformers. It’s hard for us to keep them in stock.”
Now if that is not telling about the current state of Cartoons and Toys I don’t know what is. I have also noticed this with Transformer cartoon DVDs. The local stores can’t keep the old school stuff on the shelves, but every week, I still see the same new school DVDs on the self right where they where last time. I said it before and I will say it again. No one is buying this crap.
Even Legos have changed over the years. How the hell do you screw up interlocking plastic bricks? Well somehow they did to the point where they are not recognizable anymore. It used to be that kids had buckets of legos from which they could build anything they could imagine.
Now you buy sets to build Hogwarts, or some Star Wars space ship and that is it. You want to build anything else? Well, you’ll have to buy a different Lego kit. WTF?
My mom is currently visiting my wife and I and I was talking to her about the current state of cartoons. She had a brilliant insight which was that cartoons these days are one of the reasons why kids are failing in school (besides the fact that the current educational system sucks). She said it is because cartoons are killing children’s attention span. Eight minutes into a show and BAM, commercial. Kids can’t focus in class because there attention span only lasts eight minutes. I can’t help but think there must be some truth in that statement.
One of the reasons why I collect TV shows and Cartoons on DVDs is so I don’t have to watch commercials. The idea that my doing this might be improving my future child’s attention span made me happy.
What do you think of cartoons now a days? For that matter; What do you think of toys now a days? What is or was your favorite cartoon and toy growing up?
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s there was a great band located in Oak Harbor, Washington that went by the name of Wearing Black. My own band at the time, Kira’s Modern Mourning, was occasionally lucky enough to play gigs with them in and around the Oak Harbor area.
Wearing Black originally consisted of two acoustic guitar players and an electric bass player. Their music was amazing and it was guaranteed that whatever venue they where playing at, they would fill it up.
‘Root For The Bad Guy’ was one of Wearing Black’s’ popular songs. People at the time loved to hear it and would sing along with the band when they played it. The song is an anthem to all evil doers and bad guy in fictional genres.
The band eventually disbanded leaving only a few recorded songs on-line for their fans. About a year after the band broke up it’s lead singer and guitar player, Saul Nathaniel McCartney, recorded a solo version of ‘Root For The Bad Guy’. Well, I really liked the song a lot. So, over the last 8 months I worked on a type of music video for it and uploaded it to YouTube. I hope you all enjoy it.
I first saw this film in the early 2000s when I lived in Oak Harbor, Washington with my roommate Brannon. One night randomly he brought home ‘The Ring’ and we both gathered on the couch in the living room to watch it.
We knew it was a scary movie, but it had been so long since either of us had been scared by a movie that we didn’t expect this film to change that. With the lights on and sodas in hands we both sat watching this film.
Because this film is older I don’t feel bad talking about parts of the film. The story is about this weird short film that is floating around. If you watch it you will get a phone call as soon as the movie is over. The voice on the line will tell you that you have seven days to live. So people that saw the film die after seven days.
At the end of the film during one of the climactic scene the phone rings. At that exact same moment my cell phone rang and Brannon and I both jump up from the couch screaming.
It took a second for us to realize what was going on. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and answered it like this, “You fucking scared the shit out of us! What the fuck is wrong with you! Fuck!”
On the other end of the line I heard my friend Chris say, “What? Are you watching the ‘Ring’?
“Ok, That is just eerie.” I said. “I am going to call you back.”
I hung up the phone. Brannon and I got new drinks and after several minutes of nervous laughter about the whole thing we went back to the couch and finished the ‘Ring’.
3. Trick ‘r Treat
This is just a great Halloween movie. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. It reminds me of ‘Pulp Fiction’ with the way the story time is out-of-order. I really think this is a sleeper hit that will end up as a classic.
2. Donnie Darko
The first time I saw this film was in the mid 2000s with a group of friends in an old run down theater in Bellingham Washington. It was the first showing of the extended directors cut. I was blown away by this movie.
1. The Crow
I don’t remember the first time I saw this movie sadly. I remember friends of mine who were obsessed with it in high school. I believe it was through their talking about it that I bought my first copy of ‘The Crow’ several years later.
It’s great! It’s a love story and I am a sucker for a good love story.
One big reason behind wanting to do this media center project was to reduce clutter. Having nearly five hundred DVDs take up a bit of space. Since I was going to be encoding all my DVD movies and TV shows and storing them digitally; what was I going to do with all the original DVD disks? I wanted to keep them. I knew that much. I just needed to come up with a better way to store them. I finally settled on a high capacity DVD Album.
Thanks to some help from a friend I was pointed to Meritline.com. An online store where I could purchase a cheap 520 Capacity DVD Album. The DVD Album looked sturdy, so I ordered two of them. A lot of the DVDs I owned where spechal additions that contained two disks. I also know that my original count was off as to how many DVDs I owned because of the TV shows I had collected. I figured two of the 520 capacity DVD albums could hold 1040 DVDs. I not only would have enough from for my existing DVDs, but I would have plenty of room for growth in the future.
The DVD albums shipped and arrived in Juneau in less than a week. Once they got here I proceeded to take the pile of DVDs I had already encoded and start inserting them into the DVD album. When I was done I had freed up a lot of space that the DVDs where taking up and I did not hesitate to throw out the DVD cases they where in. I bought these DVDs for the movies on them and not for the cases they came in.
I have yet to quite fill up one whole album with DVDs. I am close though. I still have plenty of movies and TV shows to encode. When The first case is full I plan to store it under my bed.
DIGITAL FILE ORGANIZATION
As I encode movies on my Mac Mini I transfer them over to my Qnap Nas. I set up an alphabetical file structor inside two main categories (‘Movies’ and ‘TV Shows’) to save my encoded movies in.
Sometimes a movie that is encoded with Handbrake needs to be renamed. For whatever reason the file name is often wrong. It is important to make sure you name the encoded movie correctly because it will cut down on time you might have to spend on finding the correct movie meta data for which ever media center software you end up using.
(I will be talking more about media center software in a future post)
I would say that since I started this project I have encoded a little less than half the movies I own. This is a long process, but I can already see how it is going to pay off when I am done.
After I filled up my Mac Mini’s hard drive with my encoded videos from my DVD collection there was not much more I could do till I ordered the Qnap NAS. This would be the most expensive peace of my Media Center setup.
After reading about NAS solutions online and talking about it with friends who have experience with such devices I proceded to order a four bay Qnap NAS TS 459 Pro+ Turbo NAS with five, 2 Terabyte Western Digital Caviar Black hard drives. The spare hard drive is incase one of the other harddrives fail.
From unboxing everything to final setup only took me an hour. Which was great! I think it speaks volumes on how easy setting up a Qnap NAS. It also left me with a three day weekend to enjoy.
Following the easy to read directions for the Qnap, I took out four of my five harddrives totaling 8 Terabytes worth of storage and inserted them into the Qnap Unit. I plugged in my APC Battery backup and plugged the Qnap and the Apple Airport into it, then plugged an ethernet cable from the Qnap to the Airport and turned it all on. By default the Qnap wanted to set up it’s self as a RAID 5. The unit supports other RAID options, but I chose to go with it’s suggested default of RAID 5. It took the Qnap maybe twenty minutes to partiton the harddrives and set its self up as a Raid 5 server.
RAID 5 IN A NUT SHELL
RAID 5 means is that event hough I loaded up 8 Terabytes of harddrive storage, I would have 6 Terabytes of usable storage. If I have understood what I have read the data I store on the Qnap is more or less available on two of the harddrives at any one time. The point of this is that one harddrive of the four can fail and I wont necessarily lose any data. Should that happen I would just follow the easy to read directions it came with regarding how to replace the failed hard drive. The Qnap system will rebuild it’s self and all will be right in the world again.
YOU STILL NEED TO DO BACKUPS
Let me stress to anyone who does a project like this or owns a computer in general, please back up your data. I still do backups. Things I keep on the Qnap that I can’t afford to lose, things like photos, home videos, and documents I still back up off of the Qnap on to another hard drive monthly.
With the Qnap up and running I first went into the settings and enabled Time Machine backups. Again, this was a simple process that only took a couple of minutes. Before long every computer in my house (that would be 5) where backing up wirelessly to the Qnap Nas.
Next I went into the settings enabled APC Protection. Should my house lose power for longer then to minutes the Qnap Nas which would be running off the APC battery at this point would shut down after 2 minutes if the power is not restored.
Finally I setup a shares and users accounts on the Qnap NAS. This allows me to store the encoded movies I had on the Mac Mini on the Qnap. After transferring over the movies I was able to start encoding more of them again.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE QNAP NAS
At the time of this post I have had the Qnap Nas for a little over three weeks now with no real complaints. I was able to set the whole thing up in under an hour and it’s been very easy to use. I do recommend the Qnap, but also know I have no bases for compression. This is the first NAS I have ever setup.
The Qnap is capable of doing much more then it currently is. I really want to explore the tons of options it has. I do need to compete this first task before I start playing with it more. I have to finish encoding my DVDs first, then I will go back and see what other Qnap options I might like to play with.
I have discovered that the Qnap and iPhoto 11 do not get along well togetherl. This is because of the format of the hardrives in the Qnap. iPhoto 11 requires HFS+ formatted hardrives to run correctly. Qnap does not support that format (yet). My workaround for this has been to use a separate external hardrive for iPhoto 11 which I also backup. I could keep all the photos and iPhoto 11 on my main computer’s harddrive, but I have so many photos that the space it requires is very large for me. At this point it just makes sense to keep it on a separate external drive.
In my next post I am going to be talking a little bit about file and media organization.
Encouraged by the results of my previous post I went forth and ordered a Mac Mini (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, 320GB Harddrive) along with the Apple remote, wireless keyboard and wireless Magic Trackpad to see how play back looks on my T.V. I figured having a computer hooked up to my TV there would be times when I might want to use it like a computer. Surfing the web from the couch or having a place where guests can check their e-mail just seemed like the smart thing to do.
The Mac Mini I ordered was a custom build. Chances are this will be overkill for 90% of you. I would say from my experience of doing a project like this you can get away with the base model of the Mac Mini and be just fine.
When the mac mini came I found setup to be quite easy. I Took the computer out of it’s box and placed it on the stand under my T.V. Hooked up the power cord, HDMI cable and pressed the power button on the back of the computer. On it’s first boot-up I was asked if I had a wireless keyboard and mouse/trackpad and to turn them on. A few more clicks through the initial setup and I was good to go. My Mac mini was running fine and everything looked great on my TV. I did have to go into the system preferences and make minor adjustments to the display settings for my TV, but that was it.
First thing was first. I had some software to download.
After downloading and installing the VLC and Handbrake programs I put in the first DVD I wanted to encode. Ironman 2. Like the test movies I did earlier in the month I put the Ironman 2 DVD in my mac mini, launched Handbrake and pointed it to the DVD so it could do it’s initial scan of the movie data.
The first time I did this with another DVD on my laptop the process just took about a minute. On my Mac Mini with Ironman 2 it took almost 2 hours to complete. Something was not right here. When the scan was completed I reviewed the handbrake encoding settings. It was in this process I noticed something was wrong. No audio tracks were listed. If I told handbrake to encode this it would encode the movie without the audio. I went to Google for help and started searching around to see if other people had this problem. Sure enough they did. Ironman 2 has new/different copy protection on it preventing me from encoding the movie I owned.
Remember that what I am doing is perfectly legal. This is my media I bought and paid for. I am just putting it all on a drive so I can access it more easily.
Thanks to some forum posts over at the Handbrake site I was able to use a program called ‘Mac The Knife‘ and copy the DVD to my hard drive and then encode it with handbrake. (At the time of this post I have been considering switching from ‘Mac The Knife’ to ‘Ripit‘ A $25.00 peace of software that appears capable of ripping more copy protected DVDs then the free ‘Mac The Knife’.) The end result was an encoding of the movie for my mac mini. Since then I have come across a few other disk with copy protection like this. Mostly TV Shows.
After watching the Ironman 2 movie and comparing it to the DVD I kept seeing what is call artifacts on the screen. The default Handbrake compression I was using was not the cleanest and it was driving me a little crazy. I headed on over to the Handbrake forums and did some reading. It turns out you can make slight adjustments to the settings and see a huge difference in video quality. It is now to the point that I can’t tell the difference between the DVD and the encoded video. Which is what I was hopping for.
When you launch Handbrake you are presented with a pop out pane on the right side that has a number of preset suggested compressions. If you click on the ‘Apple TV’ preset and then go back over to the main window you are only going to have to adjust two settings. The first on is under the “Output settings”. You want to uncheck the box called “Large File Size”. Next, lower on the same window you’ll see a slider bar. You want to drag that slider to the right till the RF reads 19. That’s it.
If you don’t want to have to go back and adjust those settings each time you put in a DVD to encode, you can click on the “Presets” drop down menu on the finder bar and save this setting as a new preset. As you can see below it is near impossible to see the difference between the DVD and the encoded video.
As I have been writing this post I have been encoding a lot of my DVDs. The encoding settings I have given you above will work for most of your DVDs as well, but not all of them. This is because most DVD are made using the NTSC standard. I do own DVDs that are made using the PAL (Phase Alternating Line) standard. When I try to encode a DVD that was made with the PAL standard the result is a movie that looks like it is shifting alternating lines. When you see it you will know what I mean.
To correct this problem and remove the “alternating lines” look of my encoded movies I once again visited the handbrake forums. The first steps are the same as above. Launch Handbrake and in the pop out pain on the right side that has a number of preset suggested compressions. If you click on the ‘Apple TV’ preset and then go back over to the main window you are only going to have to adjust two settings. The first on is under the “Output settings”. You want to uncheck the box called “Large File Size”. Next, lower on the same window you’ll see a slider bar. You want to drag that slider to the right till the RF reads 19. We are almost done. Click on the “Picture Settings” icon at the top of the program window. Switch over to “Filters” tab and click on the “Decomb” drop down menu and select “Default”. Every PAL movie and TV show I have encoded with this setting has looked great to me. Don’t forget to save this as a preset.
HOW TO ENCODE TV SHOW DVDs
Handbreak is a great program, but you still need to help it along it’s way. This is very evident went you are encoding TV Shows. When you have Handbreak scan a TV DVD like Firefly, handbrake is going to pick one file it thinks is the video file you want to encode. Normally it’s the file with the longest video on it. However a TV show DVD like Firefly can have up to 4 episodes on one DVD. By default Handbrake is going to try and find the one video file that is the longest and only encode that one file. This is not what we want. So how do we fix this?
This is where I use VLC a lot. Start off by Scanning the DVD with Handbrake. Once that task is completed launch VLC and start playing the first episode on the DVD. Once the episode is playing click on the “Playback” drop down menu on the Finder and highlight “Title”. This will show you which Title (or file) is playing. So you should be able to see that episode one of Firefly is using Title 2. You can now pause the show and go back to Handbrake and on the main window flick on the “title” drop down and select “2”. From main window chose what you want to name the encoded episode (something like Firefly 1) and click the icon at the top of the window named “Add to Queue”. Go back and repeat these steps for each episode on the DVD. Once done you can click the “Start” button and Handbrake will encode each episode on the DVD.
CLOSE CAPTION SECTIONS (Subtitles) Updated: 3.10.2012
Sometimes you will be a movie or TV show that has sections where the actors are speaking a whole other language. When you are watching this on a normal DVD player the captions for what the actors are saying will show up automagicly. When you encode the same movie or episode with Handbrake these cations are not automagicly burned in.
To have these captions or subtitles show up in the parts of the show they are supposed to click on the ‘Subtitles’ tab and then select ‘0-English’ underneath the ‘Track’. and burn your DVD as normal.
With my new encoding settings setup I went forth and started to encode my DVD collection. In less than a month I had filled up the harddrive of my Mac Mini and was forced to stop encoding my movies. I had to order the Qnap NAS server before I could continue any more with this project.
In my up coming post “Mac Mini Media Center Project (part 3). I will be discussing the specs of the Qnap NAS server I ordered and how it’s been working out for me so far.