Sports Day

world_series_2016Yesterday was an all-sports day in our household.  I don’t think that has ever happened before.  First was the Packer game, around 3pm.  Watching this game after having watched the first four World Series Games of this year, that the Cubs are in, was pretty interesting.  I never really noticed how fast-paced a NFL game is until now!  Wow, I was missing great plays all the time, as I got up for quick breaks and did other things during the game.

Prior to yesterday, NFL games always seemed slow and drawn-out most of the time with just a little action and good plays sprinkled in-between.  But after watching 4 MLB Word Series games it now seems so much faster, it’s amazing.  I can do all sorts of things–even run a few short errands–during MLB games and still miss very little worthy of me rewinding the DVR.  I’m not complaining, that’s just the pace of the game I guess, I’m just comparing the two.

It seems kind of weird just to be doing that though–watching baseball and football at the same time… It just seems wrong for some reason.  Certainly watching sports all day, from 3pm to 11pm, can’t be a good thing, but I guess it’s a rarity, so it makes sense.  The only reason I’m watching the World Series anyway is because the Cubs are in it.  With my mom and I having been big Cubs fans “way back when”, I’m sure she’s watching now, just as I am.  The Cubs haven’t been in a World Series in 108 years though, which is also a mind-blower, and shows you just how rare it is for them!

Both games were pretty entertaining, nonetheless.  The Packers ended up losing by one very frustrating point, but the effort was certainly there, especially with an unusually long list of great players out with injuries.  The Cubs did great with yesterday being Game 5 of the Series.  If they had lost, the Cleveland Indians would have won the series 4-1.  Since they won, making it 3-2, we now go to a Game 6, which they play tomorrow evening.  If they win that, it’ll be 3-3, and there will be a final Game 7 to determine the final winner of the Series.  If they lose tomorrow, Cleveland wins the series.  I’m excited to see what happens.

Oscars

lego oscarDid you watch the Oscars? What a mess. I thought the host was terrible–I hate Neil Patrick Harris, and he was as bad as I figured.  Not funny at all, and some pretty insulting jokes at times. His opening number had some great effects in it, making it look like it was live, but it was all pre-configured to look that way. Nothing else on the show impressed me.  Except the Lego Oscars that were handed out during the performance of “Everything is Awesome” from the Lego movie.  Those looked 3D printed.  Now I’m wondering if they’re on thingiverse.com.

And the Oscar everyone waits for–Best Picture — always at the very end of the show – was the final nail in the coffin: Birdman.  Seriously??? I fell asleep halfway through that movie and never got around to finishing it, it just didn’t make much sense to me. I guess I should have tried–and probably will now, just to see what happened that made it worthy of the best picture Oscar.  American Sniper won far too few awards, and Grand Budapest Hotel won far too many awards. Gawd, THAT movie was a real comedic farce. The goofy sets and comical acting was like watching the game “Clue” come to life. So many backgrounds and sets were so fake-looking I didn’t know if they were SUPPOSED to look like that, or if it was just really poorly made.  Just a ridiculously goofy movie.

And Neil Patrick Harris in his tidy whities?  Come on, I know it was a reference to Birdman, but it was still just as lame as the rest of his performance and just seemed embarrassing.  That’s about all I can say.  Since the Oscars are pretty much my “SuperBowl” for the year (I prefer the Oscars over the actual SuperBowl, and watch the SuperBowl just for the commercials), I would say this year it was just as disappointing and the playoff game that lost the Packers this year’s championship.  Just a lame year all the way around I guess.  Better luck next time!

Now I’m off to see if I can get through Birdman without falling into a near-coma again… Wish me luck!

Sopranos beginning-to-end

SopranosShortly after I found out that James Gandolfini had passed away, which was at the beginning of July, I started watching the entire series from episode 1 to episode 86. Unfortunately I somehow missed this tragic event in the news when it actually happened on June 19th, 2013, but as I discussed TV shows with a co-worker in early July, Tony Soprano came up and he enlightened me. I was totally shocked.

I had already had every episode of every season on my Plex server, and had watched a few episodes in the past–including a few at Hans’ house in Mequon, “back in the day,” so I was all set to dig in and commit. I watched two or three episodes a day, sometimes, and had a great time. There were a few “issues” along the way–like trying to keep Kevin out of the living room whenever a “Bada Bing” scene came on (which never failed to show full frontal nudity) or when the language got extremely “French”… or should I say “Italian?”

But I made it through them all, and came away with a few things. For one, this recipe for Lincoln Log Sandwiches.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I will, very soon.

Another thing I learned is that the episode titles seem to always be just a random phrase or a few words mentioned in that episode, but that seems to work nicely. I can pretty much remember what was in many episodes just by reading those titles. Like “Irregular Around The Margins”– this was when Tony found out he had skin cancer on his head–he explained to Adriana that the spot on his head looked irregular around the margins. And more observations: A “gumar” is Italian for “mistress”, “Gobagoo” is Italian-American for “copacola”, which is a type of ham cold-cut used for sandwiches, “Va fungool!” means “go f*** yourself”, and “gavone” means “idiot”.  Lastly, Tony’s boat was called “The Stugots”, which means “this dick” in Italian.  After that sank, he got another one and named it “Stugots II”.  And see the gun in The Sopranos logo?  HBO put that in there so viewers wouldn’t think it was a show about musicians.

So I learned a lot. Including the fact that some people can become WAY too obsessed with analyzing each and every detail of every single episode of a TV series! I don’t think I did, but I’m referring to the likes of the people on these sites:

Master of Sopranos – Definitive Explanation of “The End”
Eureka!  Solving the Sopranos

The explanation of “The End” gets into just the last scene of the last episode way deeper than I could ever even imagine going! But, after reading that and the “Eureka” article from the Washington Post–which each explain completely different aspects of the exact same episode–I’m fascinated enough to want to go back and watch the entire six seasons again, at a later date… which is one reason I’m posting it here… I’m sure, with my “CRS”, I’ll forget most of the show soon enough, so this post will help me quickly remember what I need to, in order to prepare me for another marathon.

So that’s it. All in all, I enjoyed the series immensely, but I must admit I was pretty disappointed (and a bit confused at first–as it seems most of the rest of the viewers were as well) with the final ending, but after further research (primarily in the links posted above) I now understand what it means and why it was done the way it was done, and it was done perfectly.

So sad to lose such a great actor though.

Tonight is also the series finale of Breaking Bad, another awesome series that I really hate to see go. But, as they say, “All good things…”

Oh, and if you look at the photo more closely (click on it) and you might notice a pinball logo.  I will find this machine and I will play it.

Plex

plex

After over a year of using Plex, I checked my website and found no mention of it! Man, am I just not updating this site, or what!?! Again, apologies. Nuff said. So, Plex. Plex is a home media server. You’ll find all the details (and the download for it) at http://plexapp.com/.  Jay and I tried using several applications to handle our movie collections as well as our music collections, and just to stick to the topic at hand, I’ll just say that we kept coming back to Plex for various reasons.  It seems to handle the most formats of music and video out of all of the options we looked at, and handles them all better than the others as far as transcoding for the various platforms and for whatever streaming bandwidths we need.

We settled on the following solution for extracting (“ripping”) our DVD and Blu-Ray collections to standard video files: AnyDVD HD (Slysoft) and Handbrake (PC version). AnyDVD is a commercial product, so it will cost some money, but it does a fine job at enabling you to successfully rip your entire collection to regular video files for streaming. AnyDVD doesn’t actually do the extraction of the video, it simply ENABLES the ability to do it by removing any encryption that may be on the DVD or Blu-Ray disc you’re ripping. The app runs in your system tray and goes to work any time you insert a Blu-Ray or DVD into your DVD drive. Handbrake is the app we actually use to do the ripping. It has tons of options, and we settled on a few solid settings that work nicely across both Blu-Ray and DVD movies to provide a nice, consistent quality for all of our movies. Most, I must admit, are not “HD Quality” (1080p). Going with this quality for every movie would just fill up our drives way too quickly. And since standard DVDs aren’t 1080p anyway, it was pointless to go that route when we extracted our entire collections. We settled on a very good quality resolution that results in each standard movie taking about 1GB of space, more or less, depending on the actual length of the movie. Handbrake will also let us extract full HD 1080p videos if we want to, from Blu-Ray discs, but the resulting files are pretty enourmous, so they’re also that much harder to work with.

Finding those two solutions that work together so well–AnyDVD HD and Handbrake–was no small task either. We tested a lot of different applications before settling on these options, so trust me, they do work, and AnyDVD HD is updated very frequently to keep up with the latest protections added to new DVDs and Blu-Rays. Many solutions for doing the same things these two applications do have come and gone over the years too, but most have been eliminated due to lawsuits or the inability to stay updated. AnyDVD HD is the only one we’ve found to be consistently updated and just always works. How they can do it and stay in business, I don’t have a clue. I do know that it’s located in a foreign country though, which may have something to do with how they avoid being shut down, and another big factor is that the application doesn’t actually do the ripping of the data itself. In legal terms, “enabling” the ability to copy a movie and actually “performing” the act of copying a movie are two distinctly different things, so only enabling the ability for a user to copy content that they legally purchased (a DVD-based movie) apparently isn’t as bad as products that provided the “whole package”–something that “DVD-X Copy” and others did.

When you have AnyDVD HD installed, you can then use just about any “video extraction” application to copy your movies, since the disc is now unprotected and the movie is available to be copied using standard methods. We settled on Handbrake because it’s free, and, much like Plex, it just consistently works right. It does have a TON of options and settings, but once set properly, it does a fine job with both Blu-Ray movies as well as standard DVDs.

So once those options were settled upon, our movie collections began to build. When you configure Plex, you simply set it up with “Sections” for your media. For example, you could have a “Movies” section, “TV Shows” section, a “Music” section, etc., or anything you like. I even have a “Kids” section with just animated and children’s movies, which Kevin uses quite a bit. For each Section you add one of more folders from your computer. I have a “Movies” folder on my PC as well as a “Kids” folder for Kevin’s movies, so I pointed those Plex sections to their respective folders.

That’s pretty much all that’s required for setup! Seriously. Plex automatically goes out to the web and finds the cover art (called “posters” in Plex) and even adds several optional covers for every movie it finds. It also adds all of the movie’s details to its database, and all of this info is displayed whenever you browse your Plex movies or their details. It ends up looking pretty much like Netflix or Hulu, and it’s just as easy to use. Of course, if a cover poster isn’t right, was incorrectly matched, or the movie wasn’t found at all, you can manually edit it to your liking and/or add your own cover art to make it appear exactly as you like.

As I mentioned earlier, Plex is available on pretty much every device you might have with a screen. On the PC, smartphone, or tablet you can use the “PlexWeb” interface to do movie database editing or just for watching movies. Or, on your smartphone or tablet you can use the Plex app for that platform to stream movies ever easier and smoother. Plex on a “real” TV is awesome though. I researched streaming TV devices shortly after starting to use Plex, and found, to my delight, that most of them have a natvie Plex app! After some careful consideration, I ended up purchasing a “Roku” box. This is a hockey puck-sized black box that connects to your TV via HDMI. It can connect to your home network via wireless or wired network (the particular model I got offered a wired option, but some of them only offer wireless). Either way, I use mine wirelessly, even though it’s a little slower that what a wired connection would offer, and it still performs very nicely.

Roku boxes offer hundreds of free (and some paid) “channels”, which are the apps that control whatever streaming service you’d like to do. For example, Hulu and Netflix are optional channels on Roku, as well as Plex and other media streaming apps. Most are free (even Hulu and Netflix, though once you open them you have to sign into your paid account to actually USE them) so don’t be fooled. There are plenty of REALLY FREE streaming apps too though. The content can get pretty obscure, but I guess it’s pretty easy for almost anyone to create an app for these systems and offer streaming content. I love my TWiT Network app now too–This is the “This Week in Tech” network that Leo LaPorte (formerly of TechTV fame) built and it offers some great web-only streaming tech shows.

So the Plex app on Roku is excellent and I use it almost daily to watch my ripped movies and TV shows now. I can’t even remember the last time I had to take a DVD or Blu-Ray out of its box to watch a movie! It’s been many months. Whenever I buy a new movie, it gets opened once, inserted into the PC, and ripped to my server, then it goes back in the box. I only go back to the disc if I want to watch a “behind the scenes” feature or special feature other than the movie that was included on another disc or on the original DVD or Blu-Ray. These smaller videos can also be ripped from the discs as well, and you can even have them added to the end of the movie in Plex if you want, but I leave them on the disc normally, and use Plex just for the movies. It’s fairly rare that I want to view special features, so I don’t mind pulling out the discs for just these times.

Plex is free, and is technically still in “beta”, which means it’s not quite “done” yet. It’s quite complete compared to a lot of other options we’ve tried though, so don’t hesitate to start using it! Handbrake, as I mentioned earlier, is free as well, and is in about the same state–neither of these applications have reached version “1.0” yet, but they’re both still top-notch at what they do. You’d only have to shell out a little money for AnyDVD HD, but it’s well worth it. Oh, and you’d probably have to also purchase a large external hard drive to hold all of your movies and music, depending on how large your collection is. But hard drive prices are always dropping these days, so even that isn’t bad any more.

So that’s basically it, in a nutshell. It’s a great solution to make watching all of your home DVDs, Blu-Rays, Music CDs, and even Home Movies as simple as possible, to the point where you never have to get out of your chair to put in another disc! Of course, some of us could actually USE this little bit of extra exercise these days though… I make up for it by walking during lunchtime at work and taking the dog for extra walks at home.