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May 21, 2003

Life in pointform

  • The Naarden Photo Festival is on in around a weeks time for one month. It's the next town along from Hilversum, so I'm dead keen to go. It's not just an exhibition, but a had workshops, appraisals and demonstrations! Two days might be enough. :)
  • Being quite a fan of Morcheeba and Sneaker Pimps, was shocked to realise I had not discovered the music of Portishead and Massive Attack. That problem has now been corrected!
  • Lots of time spent chatting to Rox. We've got quite a connection between us, things feel very right. Weird in a way too (we've never met!) but just right.
  • Off to Italy soon with Sach&Bel&co to sun ourselves for a while!
  • Attempting to renew my Amateur Radio license which expired. In theory it's just a matter of filling a form in and posting it....
  • Pepper seedlings are starting to take. Jalapenos have quite a bad germination rate, but the other peppers have started showing their adult leaves. Will pinch them off to get them nice and bushy.
  • My Futurama episode collection is almost complete! 60 episodes so far!
Posted by Ben at 12:37 AM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2003

Reloaded

I couldnt resist. I went off to see The Matrix Reloaded last night, keen as beans to see what was in store. And what can I say....brilliant!. A great sequel to the original, continuing a little after where it left off, based around the struggle of Zion.

Spoilers ahead!

The first 45 mins or so are a little slow, aside from a great opening sequence. It starts out by exploring the existing situation with Zion and the Matrix, giving a clear foundation for the rest of the movie to grow from. Once this is done, it's full of action, effects, fights and brilliant stunts.

Most of the action scenes feature the 'flying camera' viewpoints that the original started with, however in Reloaded, the effects are a big step up. Some of the efefcts are totally jaw-dropping, and it's almost impossible to imagine how they put them together. Take the fight scene where Neo single handedly battles 100 copies of Agent Smith. Sure there are plenty of movies where the same actor appears twice, maybe three times, in one scene, but 100 times in the one shot, fighting together? That takes some excellent CG and directing. And then there's the two trucks in their head-on collision. That's some fine work there!

Now to something geeky. Just about every movie featuring someone hacking a computer system has shown it being done using pretty 3D visuals and absolutely nothing real-life. But not so here! Trinity uses Nmap, a real computer security tool, to find a vulnerability in the system and then uses a hack that actually exists today in some systems. Realistic at last!

The movie continues with some wild action, plenty of fighting and the race against time to save Zion from the attacking machines. We also meet the architect of the Matrix, a respectable looking Colonel Sanders lookalike, and Neo has to make a choice between saving Zion or saving Trinity. The ending comes on quite suddenly and left me gagging for more, but I got a great surprise when at th end of the closing credits, they showed a trailer to Revolutions! Now I really cant wait! :)

Overall I give this an 8 out of 10. The original gets a 9.

Posted by Ben at 12:13 PM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2003

Radio and TV recording

Being an Aussie living in Holland, I tend to miss a lot of things about home. One of these things is good ol' Aussie FM radio and television, and the variety of shows and programming available. Fortunately, I have made a way around this problem. With my server hosted in Sydney, I can now listen to any FM radio station in Sydney, either live or recorded, and do the same with most TV stations too.

Read on for how...

The setup that I've got running allows me to do the following things:

  • Tune in to any FM or TV station (that my antenna receives!)
  • Record radio as mp3 or ogg files, at any bitrate.
  • Record television to most file formats (I use DivX;)
  • Schedule shows to be recorded regularly
  • Stream live to clients.

With these abilities, I can now enjoy a good dose of Aussie news, music shows, or anything else to help ease the homesickness. Setting it up has been fun and quite a challenge, a lot due to much of the software simply not being available at all. Fortunately the situation is now a lot better with the software having matured, and I've got access to all the right tools to do everything I need.

Hardware

The hardware that I'm using is incredibly simple. I have a standard PC with a 500MHz processor and 128Mb RAM.

Two bt878 based tuner cards do most of the real work here, and they're cheap and available from just about any computer store. One of the cards is a standard PAL card with mono audio output. This is what I use for TV. The other card is a slightly better model which supports FM radio, with stereo audio outputs. As the video tuner on this card is NTSC, it's useless for television.

The tuner cards each have an antenna placed in the best reception spots I could find.
These two cards have their audio outputs fed into a standard PC sound card, one into the Line in, and the other I've put into the CD player audio input. Because of this and CPU limitations, I can only have one Tuner active at any time. If I really wanted to, I could put a 1GHz CPU in and a second sound card but I dont use it enough.

Software

All of the software that I'm using is 100% free. Beer-free and speech free! This makes the cost of the system incredibly cheap and also very very flexible.

The OS on the server is a standard Linux distribution. Nothing special here. The standard kernel drivers automatically detect all of the hardware so I didnt need to do anything fiddly there.

The radio side uses rtune to tune the card into the particular station that I want. Audio is then picked up from the sound card, and icecast is used to stream the audio as Ogg Vorbis to clients. Very very simple! Recording radio for listening later is done simply by using wget to dump the stream from icecast. I then pick up the recordings via HTTP.

TV is a little more involved. To tune the stations, I use xawtv and its associated utilities (particularly v4lctl). Adjusting the fine tuning was probably the most fiddly bit! Having tuned into the station, I use mencoder which is in the Mplayer suite. This is a powerful and flexible video encoder, and I usually encode to 300Kbps DivX;-) streams for watching later on. The script which I use to encode also sets the sounds card recording source to the particular input for the TV tuner.

To watch live TV, I still have a somewhat experimental setup, using ffmpeg to encode and stream.

All of the above is controlled by a couple of scripts and some cron jobs which make light work of all of this. Of course, I still have to look at the TV guide to see what's on! However I am very happy with the setup that I have finally made. Eventually I might make a web page to control the scheduling, but for now a manually edited crontab and the occasional at-job is just perfect.

Posted by Ben at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2003

Been lazy

I've been rather lazy lately. Plenty to update on here, but just not gotten around to it...I've been kept rather busy with other things online (Hi Roxy!).

Once I'm home from work, I think I'll be putting some more info here...Keukenhof, work, travel, etc. At least that's what I hope!

Posted by Ben at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2003

Legal MP3s

Yesterday I was browsing through Slashdot as I tend to do each day, and read an article about Apple selling MP3s online. A couple of comments pointed to emusic.com who offer a subscription service for around $15 per month to download unlimited mp3s. So I checked it out and decided to bite the bullet. I now can choose from a catalogue of over 200,000 high quality mp3s, without the guesswork or quality problems that can plague Kazaa downloads. Sweet!

It seems that they have chosen their catalogue out of true business reasons - no top 40 stuff here (which I dont really listen to anyway) as it'd kill the charts, but less popular and more interesting stuff is all there. But for $15/month, I only have to download one or two albums for it to be worthwhile, and at about five minutes per album, that won't be very difficult :)

Posted by Ben at 02:07 PM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2003

Queens day

The last to days have been spent drinking and partying in Amsterdam, to celebrate Queens Day. Like many (most?) other countries, Holland has its own national day where the entire country goes crazy and fills the streets with drinking and dancing.

I spent most of the time with Alan wandering around Dam Square and hanging out at de Stil drinking beer and watching some of the live performers up on the stage (which took only 5 hours to build from nothong).

A shame about the rain though...it was raining steadily until about 3pm, so my trousers got a good soaking through, but they quickly dried out once the elusive sun popped through.

Posted by Ben at 06:02 PM | Comments (0)