Old Media

I went down a rabbit hole over the weekend, and I thought it might be fun to write up some notes on it. I had decided that I wanted to watch Magnificent Butcher, a Sammo Hung movie from 1979. I have it on DVD, so I pulled it out of my random DVD pile and stuck it in my Xbox.

The Xbox appeared to boot up, but I couldn’t get anything to show on the screen, and I couldn’t eject the DVD. Long story short, I eventually got the DVD out and the XBox working, but it was stuck in 640×480 resolution. I eventually got it back to normal 4K resolution, but that’s another long story.

So back to the Sammo Hung DVD: I decided that this might be a good excuse to experiment once again with DVD ripping, and watching ripped DVDs on my Apple TV. I have HandBrake installed on my PC, with libdvdcss, but I haven’t used it in a long time. Well, it still works, and I ripped the DVD with no problems.

Next issue: how to watch it on the Apple TV. First, I decided to hook up an external USB drive to my new router. My old router supported an external USB drive too, but I tried it once and found it to be slow and unreliable. So I thought I’d give the new one a try and see if it was better. Well, it was. I hooked up an old 500 GB SSD, formatted as NTFS. The router recognized it, no problem. It automatically exposed it via Samba. I had no trouble accesssing it from my Mac or PC. And it’s pretty fast! So I copied the .mp4 file for the movie up to it, along with a few other random .mp4 files I had on my PC.

Next, I had to decide how to access that shared drive from the Apple TV. I already had VLC installed on the device, so I tried that. It connected to the Samba share, no problem, and let me watch the movie. So I guess I have a pretty good way of watching random .mp4 files on my Apple TV now.

So maybe I should go buy Ladyhawke from Rifftrax and watch that! I’ve been tempted to buy videos from Rifftrax before, but I’ve always held off, since I didn’t have a simple way to watch them on my TV.

I also remembered that I’d copied a few Akira Kurosawa movies from my TiVo to my MacBook several years ago (2016, apparently), via cTiVo. I gave one of those a try, and it works with VLC on the Apple TV too, so now I can copy those files over to the drive and watch them from Apple TV.

And that got me curious about whether or not cTiVo would work on my current MacBook. Well, it does. It was updated earlier this year, and should keep working for a while longer, though I guess it’s on its last legs.

So now I’m copying a few more Kurosawa movies up to my Mac, and I’ll copy those over to the drive tomorrow, so I can have a little Kurasawa marathon at some point in the future. (Of course, there’s no reason I can’t watch the ones that are still on the TiVo, on the TiVo, but…)

I also took an old scratched DVD that wouldn’t play on my Xbox and ripped it on my PC. It didn’t give me any errors, though that doesn’t guarantee that the .mp4 is perfect. I’ll try watching that soon, I think. (The movie is Syriana, and I’ve had the DVD for years, and just never got around to replacing it. So now I can finally watch it! Probably!)

As an alternative to VLC, I’ve considered Infuse, which is probably better, or at least prettier. And of course there’s Plex, which I’ve tried before, and was just too much of a hassle.

Looking at the Plex web site right now, they seem to be de-emphasizing their original purpose as a way to stream your own media, and are now touting the ability to watch free live TV via their app. Most of what they have seems like the same kind of stuff you can get via Pluto, so I’m not sure why anyone would be too excited about it. But OK.

So, anyway, I now seem to have a relatively hassle-free way to watch .mp4 files on my Apple TV. I don’t think I’m going to go on a bender, ripping a bunch of my old DVDs, but I may take some of the more questionable ones and rip those. (Maybe some more old Kung Fu movies that might be a little scratched up.)

A Quiet Memorial Day

As I mentioned in my last post, there will be no bike race today, so it should be a pretty quiet Memorial Day here in Somerville. I went out on a relatively long walk this morning: two miles, thirty minutes. I don’t usually use my AirPods while I’m walking, but today I decided to try that, and listened to the new Vessels VIII compilation from Future Astronauts. I didn’t see too many other people out, and the weather was great. So it was a nice relaxing walk.

I’ve added some more photos to my May 2020 Flickr album, covering all of the random photos I’ve taken since I last uploaded any, on May 3. Nothing special, just random photos. I’ve been trying to maintain certain habits since this thing started, as a way to help myself stay sane. Doing a morning walk, and taking a photo or two, is one of those habits.

I’ve been looking back on past posts again, both here and in my Day One journal. I see that’s it’s been a year since I bought my Xbox One. As I predicted, I kind of lost interest in it at some point, and I’m mostly just using it as a DVD & Blu-ray player now. I canceled my EA Access subscription, which would otherwise have billed me for a second year this week. I’d really only been using it to play Bejeweled 3, which is kind of silly. Bejeweled is really more of an iPhone game, and certainly easy to play on an iPhone. I’ve considered trying to get back into some video games during this pandemic, but haven’t really managed to do that. I feel like doing something a bit more interactive than reading and watching TV would be a good idea, but can’t really work up too much enthusiasm for it. I guess I’m really just not a “video game guy” anymore.

I started working my way through the Resident Alien comic book series this weekend, and will probably read volume 5 today. That one was published in 2018, and is the most recent. There’s supposed to be one more mini-series coming, and I’m looking forward to buying that one when it comes out (hopefully soon). It’s a really good series, and has been a pleasant distraction this weekend.

One more habit that I’ve been trying to maintain during the pandemic is meditation. I’ve been working my way through a forty-day course called Mindfulness Daily At Work in the Insight Timer app on my iPhone. It’s pretty good. I’m still not sure that meditation helps me that much, but I guess it helps me enough to be worth the relatively minor time investment that I’m putting into it.

pulling together some anime and manga threads

There are a few stray threads rattling around in my head that I’ve been meaning to gather together into a blog post. I got one or two into this morning’s post about Full Metal Panic, but it didn’t make sense to pull any of the other threads into that particular post.

First thing: I’ve been relying on my Sony PS3 as a DVD/Blu-ray player for, let’s see… eleven years now, apparently. It has always been pretty noisy, and has gotten more so as it has gotten older. (And it’s particularly bad on hot days.) One of my rationales for buying an Xbox One was that it would probably be a better, quieter, DVD/Blu-ray player than the PS3. I still haven’t gotten around to buying a media remote for the Xbox though, so I’ve continued to use the PS3 for playing discs. But I think I may have finally driven it over the edge this weekend. After watching an hour or so of the first disc of FMP: TSR, I took a break, then when I came back and tried to pick up where I’d left off, I found that the PS3 wouldn’t recognize the disc anymore. I didn’t try to do much troubleshooting. I just switched over to the Xbox, and it worked fine. (And there’s no fan noise on the Xbox!) The regular Xbox controller doesn’t make a very good media remote, but it’s workable, once you’ve read the support article telling you what all the buttons do. I’m probably still going to want to buy a media remote at some point, but I’m not in a hurry.

As for the PS3, I’ll give the drive another try at some point and see if it’s fried or if it just overheated yesterday. I’m not sure what I’ll do if it’s fried. Maybe it’s time to give up on the PS3. (But I have so many games I haven’t gotten around to playing yet, and the PS4 isn’t backward compatible with PS3 discs. Oh well.)

Second thread: I mentioned the “hedgehog’s dilemma” in my post about Neon Genesis Evangelion a couple of months ago. I saw this week that Felicity Ward has a comedy show about the hedgehog’s dilemma that is available for download here. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I’ve liked her appearances on The Bugle, so I’m curious about it.

Third thread: I just finished reading the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. I’ve had the original black & white books in my reading pile since 2010, and just decided to read them now, as a break from War and Peace. I liked them a lot. I saw an article about a fifteenth anniversary party for the Scott Pilgrim books on Twitter yesterday, so that’s another (slightly) weird coincidence. I think you could probably get a decent essay out of the idea of applying the hedgehog’s dilemma to Scott Pilgrim. Out of curiosity, I searched for “Scott Pilgrim hedgehog” and found an academic paper that matched those terms, but the reference was to Sonic the Hedgehog.

Fourth thread: I’ve now succeeded in selling off all of my Ai Yori Aoshi manga and most of my Rurouni Kenshin manga on eBay. I still have nine items listed on eBay that haven’t sold. I’m just letting them automatically relist every week, with lower prices. I guess if they don’t sell, then at some point I’ll give up and put them aside for a library sale donation or something. I have more books I’d like to put up on eBay, but I don’t really want to do the work right now.

And I’m resisting the urge to buy more manga on eBay. I noticed somebody selling the Full Metal Panic manga, all nine volumes, for $36. That’s kind of tempting. And it’s out of print in the US, so I can’t get it digitally. That’s the problem with selling stuff on eBay; I always start straying off into looking at other people’s auctions, then I wind up buying more stuff!

Anyway, I think my next manga series might have to be Oh My Goddess. I’ve read three of those, and have nine that I haven’t read yet. Of course, there are another 6 or 7 that I don’t own, so I’ll eventually end up back on eBay… And now that I’m looking at it on Wikipedia and Goodreads, I realize that there are a lot more volumes of OMG than I thought there were. I was only looking at the first twenty volumes, but there are actually 48 total. Well, I assume I’ll get tired of it after twenty, but who knows? At least OMG is available digitally.

Xbox follow-up

Now that I’ve had my Xbox for a few weeks, I thought I should post a follow-up. I’m mostly using it to play Bejeweled, to be honest. I played Mass Effect for about a half-hour, and haven’t gotten back to it. Ditto for Stardew Valley. I want to get back to both of those, but right now, War and Peace is more of a draw for me. It helps that I can read War and Peace outside, or at work, or on the train. It’s been nice out the last few weekends, so I’ve been sitting outside on Division Street and reading a lot. (Can’t do that with an Xbox.) I’m about 25% of the way through War and Peace.

It’s funny, if you look at a site like How Long To Beat, a lot of modern video games take about as long to complete as it takes to read War and Peace. (According to my Kindle, it’s maybe a 40-50 hour book.) I won’t look down on or argue with anyone who chooses to play the Mass Effect trilogy over reading War and Peace, but I think I’ve turned into more of a War and Peace kind of guy as I’ve gotten older.

And since E3 is done, maybe I should take a moment to review the Xbox news out of that show.

  • Everybody continues to push into subscriptions, including Microsoft, with the new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, for $15/month. I guess that’s great if you play a ton of games, but it’s definitely not for me.
  • The next gen Xbox looks interesting, and should be out near the end of 2020. Given that I seem to gravitate towards games like Bejeweled and Stardew Valley, that don’t exactly push the current gen hardware, I’m not likely to jump on the next gen bandwagon any time soon.
  • I’m glad to see that the next gen Xbox will continue to support backwards compatibility with older games, from the original Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The headline in the linked article says “Microsoft ends Xbox backward compatibility,”  but that’s a little misleading. The article itself says that “Microsoft is winding down new additions to its Xbox backward compatibility catalog,” and “Microsoft is now committing to get every Xbox One game running on Scarlett, alongside games from all four generations of Xbox.” So that should be cool, and a good reason to (eventually) buy a next gen Xbox.

On a somewhat related topic, I enjoyed this article on the “slow death of the strategy guide”. It’s an excerpt from this book, which is currently just $3.82 for the Kindle version, so might be worth picking up. I’ve got strategy guides for a bunch of games, including several that I never got around to playing. Some of them are pretty cool, with lots of art and screenshots. Some people consider using strategy guides as cheating, but I always found that they added to my enjoyment of a game, making it easier for me to keep track of where I was, how the game worked, and whether or not I was on the right track. Generally, they helped me manage the more annoying stuff without getting in the way of the fun stuff. Since most games don’t even come with an instruction manual anymore, I wish more of them had good official (or unofficial) hard-copy strategy guides available. But I guess there’s not much of a market for that anymore.

Hardware in, hardware out

OK, here’s one more Xbox follow-up post (previous). The vertical stand was delivered on Memorial Day. I was kind of surprised about that, since (1) it’s a holiday, and (2) all the streets around my apartment are closed off on Memorial Day for the big bike race. But, somehow, the Amazon delivery guy found somewhere to park, then schlepped a box full of packages down Main Street. He hit my apartment building right as I was about to go out and wander around a little. If he’d shown up five minutes later, I would have missed him. (It’s possible someone would have let him into the building though, since one of my neighbors was hanging out right in front of the building watching the race.) So, again, it would have been more convenient for everyone if Amazon just used the USPS, but it’s fine.

I promised myself several years ago that I wouldn’t bring in any new tech without getting rid of an equivalent amount of old tech. So I took some time today to get rid of a bunch of stuff. There’s a monthly electronics recycling drop-off for my county, in Hillsborough, so I went over there today with a bunch of stuff. I got rid of:

  • an old HP desktop PC (with the drives removed),
  • an old Toshiba HD-DVD player,
  • a very old VCR,
  • my Dad’s old Sony CD changer,
  • my old MacBook (with the drive removed),
  • an old Apple TV,
  • an old Roku box,
  • an old Samsung tablet,
  • and my old Automatic adapter.

So I guess I’m officially giving up on a few things, like ever watching a VHS video tape or an HD-DVD again. I think I really need to purge my CD collection soon too. I have way too many CDs, and they’re not organized really well. Honestly, I have a lot of stuff to purge, but I’ll save that for another post.

Back to the Xbox: After saying that I wasn’t going to sign up for any subscription services, I went ahead and signed up for a year of EA Access. It’s only $30. I will probably go in and turn off recurring billing on it, to force myself to make a decision about it in a year, rather than letting it auto-renew. I downloaded Mass Effect and Bejeweled 3, but that’s it so far.

Honestly, I’ve been playing Bejeweled more than anything else. I think I first played Bejeweled on my Toshiba e310, which would have been in 2002 or thereabouts. (I could be wrong; it might have been on one of my Palm units. Either way, I remember it being grayscale, and playing with a stylus.) It seems kind of silly to use an Xbox One for something that ran fine on a handheld in 2002, but, hey, I like playing it.

I’ve also started playing Stardew Valley. That’s interesting so far, but I’m not convinced it’s as great as a bunch of people seem to think. I may need to give it some time to grow on me.

I’ve also committed myself to reading War and Peace this summer, so that may cut into my video gaming a bit. Either way, I should have more than enough stuff to keep me busy this summer.

More Xbox silliness

OK, here’s another post nobody needs, in my continuing series about unnecessarily buying an Xbox One.

First, on the subject of Amazon’s hapless delivery system: I still don’t have the vertical stand for my Xbox, but Amazon made one more delivery attempt last night. Around 9:15pm, I got a call from a number that Verizon’s Call Filter identified as “possible spam,” so I dismissed it. But a few seconds later, I got a text message from somebody identifying himself as an Amazon delivery driver named Luigi, asking how to get into my building. So I’m guessing the call I rejected was also from him. I texted back, saying that I could let him in, if he was here, but then I got nothing further back, other than a presumably automated message saying that my order couldn’t be delivered. Now I see at least three things wrong with this: (1) having people out delivering packages at 9:15pm on a Saturday night, (2) sharing my cell phone # with random delivery drivers, and (3) said delivery drivers calling and texting me, and then not bothering to wait around for an answer. It’s possible that item 2 isn’t really an issue; they may route the calls/texts through an app that doesn’t actually expose my number to the driver. Still, I don’t recall agreeing to be contacted on my cell # at all for this stuff. (But I’m sure I did at some point. Nobody reads the terms and conditions anymore…)

On to the Xbox itself: I’ve got the thing set up, and I’ve mostly figured out how to use it. (As I’ve sometimes joked in the past, this means that my job is now done, and I can stop using it. This tends to happen to me with consumer electronics. Figuring out the user interface is more fun for me than actually playing games.) I’ve bought just one game: Lumines Live, which is one of the old “backwards compatibility” games, and cost $5. This is definitely not a game that shows off the Xbox One at all, but I was a big fan of the original Lumines game on PSP.  It’s still a fun game, and it was worth $5, I guess.

There are multiple subscription services available on the Xbox that you can sign up for, including XBox Live GoldGame Pass, and EA Access. I don’t really want to sign up for any of them, but I’m starting to waver. In looking around for some cheap games to buy, I thought about maybe buying the original Mass Effect trilogy. Mass Effect 2 and 3 are currently on sale for $6 each via the current Xbox backwards compatibility sale. But Mass Effect 1 isn’t. I think that’s because it’s included with Game Pass, so they don’t sell it separately, maybe? Anyway, only ME 1 is included with Game Pass, but all three are included with EA Access. Also, I can pick up dodgy-looking used copies of ME 1, 2, and 3 from my local GameStop, or from a used game store that’s about a block away from my apartment. That would cost about $5 per game. So I don’t know. This is one of those things where I have too many options and I never manage to make a decision. The backwards compatibility sale ends tomorrow, so if I’m going to buy ME 2 and 3 that way, I should go ahead and do it. I don’t want to sign up for Game Pass or EA Access, because I’ll probably either lose interest in the games or get too busy to do any gaming about a week after I sign up. The smart thing to do would be to sign up for a month of Game Pass, play ME 1 for however long it takes me to get tired of it, then cancel it.

I’m going to start reading War and Peace next week, as part of a Goodreads group read, so I should really just give up on the idea of playing video games. I think that will keep me busy enough. (And the Kindle version was free!)

over-promising and under-delivering

At this point, my Xbox-related blogging is getting a little ridiculous. (But here I go again, anyway.)

The Xbox I ordered from Amazon yesterday was supposed to show up today, which I was kind of excited about. I don’t generally expect one-day shipping from Amazon, but it’s cool that they’ve been trying to do it lately. I say “trying” because two of the items in my order (the Xbox and the HDMI switch) changed over to two-day at some point today, so they should be here tomorrow. And the one item that was still scheduled for today (the stand) now says “Unfortunately we had trouble finding your address.” Which is, of course, nonsense. There is no way anyone could have trouble finding my address. So, hopefully that’ll be here tomorrow too, unless the delivery exception causes it to get stuck in limbo (which has happened before). So anyway, that’s another story to add to my Amazon delivery shenanigans file. I wish Amazon would either straighten this stuff out, or stop over-promising and under-delivering on their Prime shipping stuff. Just let the good old USPS deliver my packages. They do a pretty good job!

So, back to actual Xbox stuff. I spent some time today browsing the internet, looking for stuff about Xbox games that I might want to try. I’m interested in the backwards compatibility that the Xbox One has with previous Xbox models. Here’s a recent article from Polygon about some good older games that work with Xbox One. And here’s an older blog post from Scott Hanselman, diving into some old games from the backwards compatibility list. (I always wonder how Hanselman has time for video games, given all the other stuff he does. I’m thinking either he doesn’t sleep, or there are two of him.) There’s a big sale on the backwards compatible stuff going on right now, apparently. And there’s some good information about backward compatibility on Major Nelson’s site.

Of course, I’ve never owned an Xbox before, so I don’t have any old games to transfer over to my Xbox One, but I’d like to dig into some of the games I’ve heard a lot about over the years but never got to play. The lack of backwards compatibility is actually one of the main reasons why I never picked up a PS4. (My PS3 can play PS1 and PS2 games, and I’ve used it more for those than for PS3 games, honestly.)

I bought an Xbox

Sigh. I’m going to call this post the third part of my “Xbox denial trilogy”. (First part here and second part here.) I gave up and ordered an Xbox from Amazon today, along with a vertical stand and an HDMI switch. It should all arrive tomorrow, because Amazon is now using some kind of magic shipping method that can get pretty much anything to my door in one day. I think they use the Floo Network or Portkeys or something. Anyway, the Xbox was marked down to $208, the stand was $10, and the HDMI switch was $33.

I could have gotten a cheaper HDMI switch, but Kinivo seems to have a good reputation, and I didn’t want to get an iffy one. I only have three HDMI ports on my TV, and I’m currently using them all (TiVo, Apple TV, and PS3). I’ll probably put the PS3 and Xbox on the switch. The Xbox has an HDMI IN port, so there’s probably some way I could have used it as a pass-thru, and avoided having to get a switch, but that didn’t seem like a good idea.

It’s possible that the Xbox One S is getting marked down so much because Microsoft is going to announce a new Xbox at E3 in June. I won’t be disappointed if they do. I’m not a big enough gamer to care that much about having the very latest console. (And it’ll probably cost $500, which I can’t really justify.)

So I’ll now have a console that can play current-generation games. Most of the really popular Xbox games don’t really appeal to me, but there are a bunch of oddball indie games that I’m kind of interested in. I guess I’ll need to figure out the deal with Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass. I don’t think I want to sign up for either of them, but I don’t know.

This Xbox may just wind up gathering dust, but hopefully I can get enough use out of it to justify having spent about $250 for it (including the accessories).