The Man From Earth gets a TV series (if you want it enough)!

Okay, so anyone who’s read this blog probably knows my enthusiasm for the movie called “The Man From Earth”. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It has a solid 8.0 rating on the Internet Movie Database, which is almost impossibly high. I like it for the thought-provoking story concept (what if a man from the upper paleolithic era survived to the present day?), the total lack of visual effects (Most of Hollywood seems to think that “science fiction” means “action movie that totally ignores science, set in space!”. The Man From Earth is real science fiction, not an action movie.), and the fact that it was created on a very low budget (as a low-budget movie maker myself, I find this encouraging).

Although they failed in their previous attempt to crowdfund a sequel, director Richard Schenkman and producer Eric Wilkinson haven’t given up: they’re now trying to crowdfund a Man from Earth TV series. I’ve pledged $40. How much will you pledge?

Man From Earth: The Series -- Kicktraq Mini

How to create Blu-Ray video discs in Linux

This is a step-by-step guide to creating basic video Blu-Ray discs in Linux. I’m posting this because I can’t find any such guides online except for one which I believe is out-of-date. This is a work in progress; I’ll update this post as I discover things.

What you should expect out of this:

This is just to create a basic Blu-Ray video disc. That is, a disc that when you insert it into your player will immediately start to play a video. No menus, no subtitles, no secondary or tertiary audio or video tracks, no advanced features of any kind. Just one video track with one audio track.

What you will not need:

Any software that is not Free as in Freedom. So far at least. Everything I’ve done so far uses free/open source software.

What you will need:

  • A Blu-Ray burner and at least one burnable disc. When burning DVDs, I always have extra discs around in case of errors. I think the same should go for Blu-Rays.
  • A video that you want to put on the disc. Duh.
  • VLC Media Player to convert the video to the proper format.
  • K3B to burn the resulting video to the disc. Other burning software should work too, but K3B has so many features it’s the only one I use.

Steps

  1. Re-read the above list of things you need. Ensure you have everything.
  2. Open up VLC. On VLC’s ‘Media’ menu (I think I remember the menu being called ‘File’ in an older version),  click ‘Convert/Save’.VLC menu
  3. Select the file you want to convert, then click the ‘Convert/Save’ button.
  4. You’ll probably need to create a new conversion profile to ensure VLC will use the correct codecs. Skip to step 11 if you’ve already done this. Near the ‘Profile’ drop-down menu, there are three buttons. One of those buttons has the tooltip “Create a new profile”; click that button.create new profile button
  5. Name the profile whatever you want. Give it a name you’ll recognize.
  6. Encapsulation should be “MPEG-TS”. From what I can gather on Wikipedia, this is not exactly the encapsulation format we want but I’m guessing it’s close enough. Blu-Rays use M2TS which is based on the MPEG-TS format; we can only hope that Blu-Ray players are flexible enough to handle both. If you know of a Linux-compatible program that can make true M2TS files, please let me know in the comments!
  7. On the ‘Video codec’ tab, check ‘Video’. Set the codec to either MPEG-2 or H-264 (It’s unclear to me whether MPEG-4 will work too). If you know the resolution of the source video, or if you decide to set a specific frame size on the ‘Resolution’ tab (I did not), you can use this table to decide what frame rate to use. I chose 24.00 fps because that works with most of the resolutions. I would select a faster rate if I knew the source video’s resolution, as I actually prefer the additional realism of the soap opera effect. I left the bitrate at its default, 800 kbit/s, though it can go up to 40 Mbit/s.video encoding parameters
  8. On to the audio codec. Like before, check ‘Audio’. Set the codec to ‘A52/AC-3′. The ‘WAV’ codec would probably work too because .wav files usually use linear pulse-code modulation, which Wikipedia says is acceptable for Blu-Rays. ‘WAV’ may even be preferable in some circumstances, as it’s lossless. Set the sample rate to 48000 Hz. Bitrate and Channels I just left at their default values: Channels because the default is 2 (stereo), which is what I produce videos with anyway; Bitrate because I didn’t want to guess a good number. Wikipedia says the combined bitrates of audio and video can’t exceed 48 Mbit/s.audio encoding parameters
  9. I did not try to include subtitles. On the ‘Subtitles’ tab, ensure the ‘Subtitles’ box is unchecked.
  10. Now that you’ve set everything, click the ‘Create’ button to finish creating your encoding profile.
  11. Ensure that VLC is set to ‘Convert’ (as opposed to ‘Dump raw input’) and that your newly created profile is selected. It’s up to you whether to display the output; displaying it will slow down the conversion but it lets you watch your movie and see how the compression looks. Select a destination file (VLC automatically gives it the .ts extension) and click Start.
  12. Wait until VLC finishes converting.
  13. Close VLC. Open up your file manager and go to whatever folder you put the destination file into. Rename the file so that its extension is ‘.m2ts’ rather than just ‘.ts’.
  14. Because I’m paranoid, I like to reopen the file and make sure it plays in VLC. This step is totally optional and most likely unnecessary, but I do it anyway.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. Like I said, this post will be updated.

Unintentionally insulting card

I’m about to graduate from OSU. I don’t know what will happen to this blog – whether I’ll be allowed to keep it on OSU’s server as it is now, or move it somewhere else.

I just got my first card from a relative congratulating me on my graduation. “For a special graduate,” it says on the front, followed by “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (Proverbs 16:3). I should say at this point that I’m an atheist (always have been).

On the inside of the card is printed the message “CELEBRATING your achievement and looking forward to the amazing future God has planned just for YOU.” Which makes me wonder just how much of an achievement the senders think this was for me. I mean, if God planned this all out, do they really think I had any hand in it?

The worst part is this handwritten note: “This comes with warm congratulations & a prayer that you’ll always be reminded God is the source of all true success in life. May you contrived to be blessed – Blessings to you”. To me, as an atheist, this seems like giving a compliment and then immediately taking it back. I am also a bit confused by the use of the word “contrived” in past tense here.

What really makes me stop and think, though, is the reminder that God is the one who should be thanked for all this. Do those who believe in God feel some subconscious need to send each other cards reminding them of something that obvious? “Don’t forget that you believe in God!” says one to another. “Don’t worry, I won’t forget,” says the other. “I’ll also thank him for making you remind me!”

Another written note, in somebody else’s handwriting, says “Congratulations James ~ We are proud of you – Always be proud of yourself!”. This is in my opinion far more fitting for a card like this. It’s the kind of thing I’d write if I were the one sending the card. But it makes me wonder: considering that this card quotes Proverbs 16:3 on the front, did this person not remember Proverbs 16:5? “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.”

The best part, of course, was the $25 check enclosed with the card. It renders my previous blog post out-of-date.

How do you cure the hiccups?

I have a hypothesis about hiccups. Specifically, I’m hypothesizing that the cures for hiccups run along family lines – in other words, which cure is most likely to work is somehow inherited. In my family, for example, a heaping spoonful of peanut butter works every time. For other families, a glass of water does the trick. Yet other people may cure their hiccups by being startled.

The problem, aside from the fact that I’m not a scientist and have no real connections to anybody in the medical world, is that I can think of only one way to test such a hypothesis: polling a large sample of the general population. I can’t imagine any way to do a controlled, double-blinded study, which is what I’d really like to see. You can’t give somebody a sugar pill and convince them it’s a glass of water. You can’t even (as far as I know) consistently cause hiccups in people, so even if you did find some way to do a controlled study, it would take forever to gather a significant number of samples.

The biggest problem with polling people, I think, is that it relies on self-reporting. Asking people what works and what doesn’t is, as a way of finding anything out, extremely vulnerable to peoples’ biases, preconceptions, and misconceptions. (See the Wikipedia article on superstition, subsection “Superstition and psychology“). People tend to link two actions if those actions happen sequentially, even if they actions are unrelated. Once this link is formed, it can be reinforced by confirmation bias and the placebo effect.

So, asking random people what kinds of hiccup solutions work is a really unreliable way to get good data, but I don’t know what else to try. I’m asking you: what works? How do you cure the hiccups? Does your family use a similar method? What about your friends, coworkers, et cetera? I’m asking these questions purely out of curiosity, not as part of any formal study. You can answer whenever you read this; there’s no end date.

The Blender Foundation wants to make a Free movie.

The Blender Foundation has announced that they want to make a movie. They’re crowdfunding it with the hope of reaching €1.9 million (that’s $2.626 million US dollars calculated using DuckDuckGo). €1.6 million with their own resources, for a total of €3.5 million ($4.837 million). That’s the minimum amount they would need to make Project Gooseberry, as they’re currently calling it.

The best part is, this being the Blender Institute (makes of great shorts like Big Buck Bunny and Sintel), they’ll release everything Free under the Creative Commons Attribution license. In fact, they’ve already started doing that.

CD review: Louis Landon’s “Ten Years: A Peaceful Solo Retrospective”

I wrote this review yesterday as a requirement for one of my university courses. I’ve never done a CD review, and my supervisor couldn’t give me any guidance except to make it about as long as a blog post. So I’m making it an actual blog post.

Artist: Louis Landon
Album: Ten Years: A Peaceful Solo Piano Retrospective

Overall I felt this album was quite peaceful. I want to buy a copy for myself now!
Below is a record of my thoughts written as I listened to each track. I haven’t edited it except to correct any spelling errors.

Continue reading

Capstone project: Multi-sensory data representation

I just finished this project as homework for one of my fall term classes. The assignment’s requirements can be summarized simply as “Do something cool with graphs”. That’s really what the entire class was about: collecting data and finding ways to represent that data.

My project was about two main goals: to collect data that nobody would think to collect, and to present data in ways that nobody would think to present it. Continue reading