I’ve started this post to try and explain why I got Baptised on Sunday about a million times. It’s hard to quantify one’s feelings on the all mighty without sounding cheesy OR preachy. The point is that this past Sunday, I was baptised.
It’s not something I take lightly, it was a serious decision on my part, and my purpose was to illustrate that I’m trying to be a better person. Not that I’ve been a “bad” person, but there’s a certain aspect of selflessness that goes into a conviction like this that I hadn’t previously possessed.
My reasons for it are vast and, especially for me, hard to understand. I’ve typed this “explanation” paragraph about a dozen times and each time it’s failed to live up to what I feel and what I’m trying to say. The short version is that I was Agnostic for quite a long time, meaning, I believed in God, but I didn’t really understand why or the specifics behind it. Now, after reading, listening, talking with people I consider friends, it “makes more sense.” I know that’s horribly vague. It’s just that the basic principals I learned as a child in Sunday school make more sense now than they did back then. Also, the concept of Grace, I believe, has played a large part in my life.
I believe, honestly, that I wouldn’t be here at this moment if it weren’t for God’s grace at a few key points in my life. If you were present at the events, you might say that it was merely luck. Maybe luck and grace are similar. I don’t know. All I know is that in retrospect, there’s no way it was “blind luck”.
As an example, do any of you remember when I was in a bad crash in my Mazda? I was hit, head on, at 60mph, by a giant SUV. There was literally nothing left of my car. Axles snapped, the windshield shattered all over me, the cabin was crushed, the gas tank was punctured and fuel was spilling out all over the place. It was a mess.
I walked away from that crash without so much as a bruise. Now, that was a 1982 Mazda, it didn’t have airbags. It didn’t have a reinforced frame. It didn’t have half the things that are now mandatory in most cars. The only thing that wasn’t destroyed in that car, was me. That, I consider to be an official miracle.
That’s just one example. There are others.
Now, I don’t want you to think that it’s solely because of near death experiences that I’ve been going to church, it’s not.
It’s really a combination of a whole lot of things that I won’t get into, and not even a fraction of them are “bad”. That’s what a lot of people think, is that people turn to God when times are tough. And, while they should, that’s not my motivation. Times are not tough, times are good. Actually I couldn’t be happier.
There’s also something to be said for the environment. The church we attend is filled with friends. It’s a really good place to be. It’s informal, it’s relaxed, and it’s the most positive church experience I’ve ever had. My outlook has changed from “Oh man, it’s Sunday, can’t we just sleep in?” to actually wanted to go and to see our friends.
So, it’s a combination of all these things that led me to my baptism this weekend. I hope you guys can see where I’m coming from and support me in my decision.
I also want to say that it’s not like I’m going to change my personality or stop being the person who I am. I’m still the same person who gets angry in traffic, passionate about video games, who likes to complain about things on his internet journal. I’m not going to get preachy and start throwing God in anyone’s face. I’m not going to go on any mission trips to Uganda, I’m not going to become a holier-than-though kinda guy. I’m the same person. I’m just going to try and not be such a selfish douche all the time.
This will be the first and last time I mention it, but I just felt like I should share this with you guys. You’re my family too, and this is a big step for me.
I’ve recently been given a gift card with which to purchase Xbox 360 games. The best usage of this card and the gaming fruit it could produce has completely consumed my brain. Is it better to get one awesome game? Is it better to get 3 or 4 kinda cool games? Should I horde the card and save it for a date to be determined later? These are the things that keep me up at night. Not that normal things (paying bills, work, life) don’t keep me up, these are just the geek things that keep me from a restful slumber.
The reason this is such an issue is because I have zero plans to purchase an xbox game until the end of Q1 (mid-spring). There are a few games coming out in the summer that interested me, but for the most part, the next few months are rather bleak. So, if I’m going to get something, I’ve got to work with what I have.
So, what are my options. Well, the only “big” game I wanted recently was Rainbow Six: Vegas. It’s got solid reviews and the multiplayer is apparently entertaining. The problem with games like that is that I don’t know anyone else who enjoys them. I can’t get the “team capture the flag” vibe going with a bunch of strangers via Xbox Live. Crackdown ships next week but I was very less than impressed with the demo. It’s cell shaded, hokie, and basically GTA3 only you can jump tall buildings in a single bound. Sad. Forza Motorsport also came out last week to rather luke warm reviews. So, those are the “big” games for this month.
My other choice is to pick up some older titles that have since become “platinum hits” and are now $20. Projects Gotham Racing 3, Fight Night Round 3 and Burnout Revenge are all cheap at the moment. As is Dead or Alive 4, although slightly more than the other 3. The biggest problem I have with that is that, except for Fight Night, I already own those games. I’ve got PGR2, Burnout Takedown, and DOA Ultimate. All three series have had rather minor upgrades to the new platform. I’ve played, enjoyed, beaten and put away all three of those. Do I want to play them again? Not really. They weren’t bad, actually, they were very good, but it would be like watching the first seasons of Family Guy over and over again until one day you run out and buy the new the newest season, expecting it to be somehow “different”. How much of an upgrade could they possibly have given to bouncy boobs and fast cars?
I’m not sure what to do. All the awesome games for this year are months away. If I buy something, it’s got to get me through the cold bleakness that is the spring release schedule. Anyone have any input?
No sooner had I posted that last long winded post did I read, deep in the forums I found it on, that the development had forked, gotten a GUI and a new website. You can check out the new versions here. Pretty slick. This will certain ease the pain of having to encode everything by hand. Ah, the wonderous power of the internet, lol.
Ever since I heard of the existance of the Xbox 360, I was intregued by it’s alleged “streaming media” capabilities. When I got one, I knew it was a feature that I simply needed to try. That was December. I had been running Windows Media Player 11 long before that, and downloading and setting the connectivity part was simple. I had my mp3s streaming in about 10 minutes. Since then I’ve become quite the “library whore”, having a constant need to manage my own content, fix ID3 tags, get album art, etc. For the most part, WMP11 has stood up to my abuse, and I applaud it for that. I still think there are better players out there, but for library and organization sake, I find WMP superior to iTunes. That’s just one man’s opinion. I don’t have an iPod, so I can’t attest to iTunes “awesome trendyness”. But this article isn’t about iTunes vs WMP, actually, it isn’t even about music. It’s about TV.
While WMP11 streams music and photos to the 360 with ease, video is a whole other ballgame. At first I just put various TV shows into a folder, added the folder to my library and hoped for the best. No dice. Although WMP can play all sorts of media files, the 360 won’t see them. So I start digging. Apparently the original 360 dashboard and the original versions of WMP11 forbid streaming video. This was a pretty blatent attempt to sell more copies of XP Media Center Ed., which worked right out of the box with the 360 and could stream pretty much everything with little or no effort. The other option for streaming content was to wait for Vista, since Home Premium, Premium and Ultra all had the media center components build in. All this was going on in the latter parts of last year, before I even got my 360. When I was Google’ing the problem, I kept on finding “it simply won’t work without Media Center” as the answer, but all the articles and forum posts were early or middle 2006. Surely there had to be some sort of update since then, especially now that Vista is here. Sure enough, there was a WMP update, a Media Connector component update and a few dashboard updates. All this combines to let the people with the bleeding edge, newest updated copies of WMP stream a VERY specific type of WMV file to the Xbox.
Fantastic, awesome, now I can stream video to my Xbox right? Kinda. Like I said, it needs to be a specifically encoded WMV video file, with a certain type of audio encoding as well. Specifially, you need the Windows Media Encoder Series 9 codecs. You also need to have the video compressed with MPEG4 and MP3 192kbps audio. This is the only combination I could find that would work.
So, I have the right format. What about my content. Well, my main motivation in doing this is to watch TV. You see, I don’t have a DVR. I can’t watch TV when I want to. I’m at the mercy of the networks. I know, shame on me for not being with it and having a DVR (trust me, I want one). Thankfully, the internet comes to my rescue. TV torrents are among the most popular things on the planet at the moment. Not to mention that these torrents are almost always of the HD version of the show. The main problem is, all these bountiful, HD quality shows are all Xvid encoded AVI files. What’s a boy to do? Convert them of course!
Converting video these days is easier said than done, at least for the average home user, and especially when speciality formats are involved. I already mentioned that for the WMVs I needed the WME9 codec, MPEG4 and MP3 audio right. Well, to use the AVI files, I also need the Xvid codec, the DivX codec (for some), and AC3 audio filters. Of course, you need a program to actually do all this conversion. Well, most, if not all the popular conversion software can’t convert into that funky WMV format that the Xbox needs. WMEncoder can, but it can’t DECODE the AVI files. This is where it gets complicated. After searching for days, I finally determined that with the help of a VB script and a lot of command line decoding/encoding, it’s possible to do it fairly painlessly… but one video at a time. Of course, you need MORE crap to do that too. FFMpeg, FFDShow, and the front end to the AC3 filters do most of the work, and the VB script I found was called Encode360.
Basically, once you get all the pieces in the right place (which took the better part of a day), all you need to do is drag and drop a file onto the VB script and a couple minutes later, you have a fantastic looking, still fairly HD quality, properly formatted WMV file, that WMP11 recognizes, shares, and that your 360 finds and players perfectly.
Now, the only thing left to do is to re-encode my entire library of stuff. While it’s always beneficial to keep the AVI files, I usually just burn them to disk and get them off my system. There’s no sense in keeping the AVI files on my system when I would have to be in front of my computer to enjoy them. I’ll just keep the WMV files handy so that I can watch TV more or less on demand. Seeing as there’s only one evening’s worth of TV that I watch in the first place, that shouldn’t really be that daunting of a task. How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men and CSI:Miami. I’ve got the occasional episodes of Family Guy and The Office, but that’s pretty much it. I would like to get the entire collection of Red vs Blue on there, but I think I’d be looking into getting a new (giant) hard drive before that happens.
So, my question to you guys is this… do any of you have any experience transcoding stuff like this? Is there an easier way to do it? Any suggestions on programs or processes to speed this along? I’ve already tried TMPG-encoder, VLC player, and MediaMonkey. They either didn’t work, didn’t work properly, or produced poor and unwatchable results. I had videos without color, without audio, with audio but without video, all sorts of crap. I’d really like an all in one package that I just give it a file, tell it to make it a WMV with X, Y, Z parameters, and let it go to town. Any thoughts?
100% up and running. I did a little DNS switcheroo today, going briefly back to the old settings just long enought to use the export function on my old WP install. Then I switched it back to my current host, waited for it to update, then used the import function built in to bring all 6 years (first post – April 29th, 2001!) of Matt style goodness back to life. I had a little snafu with my server settings here on the new host. It seems that my php settings were set to have a max upload limit of only 2mb. My WP xml import was nearly 6mb. A quick email to tech support got me a little work around and couple lines in my .htaccess file cleared things right up.
I’ve still got a few things left to clean up, mostly related to this template, but we’re almost there. If you pull down the navigation (up top) you can see that I have 2 “about” pages, my categories continue off the bottom of the pull down, and my archives don’t stop at August of last year. I’ll work the kinks out soon enough. I dig this style, so I’m probably just going to customize the ever living crap out of this template, just like I did the last one.
So, everyone update their links, both for the page and for the RSS feeds (there’s no longer a /blog/ in it).
Doc is back on the air!