27

Today I turn 27 years old. Thank you all who have passed along your greetings and well-wishes!

I am developing a backlog of things I want to blog about, so before I forget to do them entirely, here's a list of things you should see here sometime soon-ish:

  • Another juggling video. I haven't stopped working on my 5-ball juggling. I still can't juggle 5 indefinitely, but I can fairly regularly do 30+ catches.
  • Display of the new speakers that Phyllis bought me for my b-day, and discussion of how I chose them.
  • Excitement/commentary on the last few episodes of BSG
  • Display/commentary on the culinary delights from our superbowl party

Slumdog Millionaire

slumdog-millionaire2.jpg

My usual apology for ignoring my blog... I actually have been thinking about redesigning the site so that I can pull in content from flickr, twitter, tumblr, etc., to better reflect my larger web presence. But that is a topic for another time.

I saw Slumdog Millionaire last night and am pleased to report that it lives up to the hype. It is a very well-constructed story, using each question from the game show to tell a different part of the hero's life. The movie leaves the viewer with a grim view of life in the slums of India, and it includes some scenes which caused my (rather squeamish) wife to cover her eyes. However, the movie never becomes depressing because of an underlying current of hope that runs throughout. This has the danger of leaving audiences overly optimistic about the plight of the poor. After all, part of what makes the story so compelling is that it is so improbable. Yet, I think the movie successfully straddles the line between raising awareness and not turning people away.

I really got a kick out of the credits for the movie, which feature a "standard Bollywood"-style dance. In an otherwise non-standard Indian movie, this is a very cute joke to throw in at the end.

Corey Vidal's John Williams Tribute

In case any of you missed this when it was a featured video on YouTube:

A Disconnect From Our Bishops

This has been a uncomfortable election season for me in terms of interaction with my faith. A couple weeks before the election, a friend went to mass at St. Mary's church in New Haven, where the homilist told the congregation that if they voted for a pro-choice politician it would "count against them in heaven". This was accompanied by a flier produced by the conference of bishops seeking to educate voters about church teachings with regard to abortion, euthanasia, etc. I have not actually seen this document, but a document was handed to me 4 years ago, also at St. Mary's, with similar content. Noticeably absent from the document I saw 4 years ago was any mention of immigration, torture, war, the death penalty, health care, responsible stewardship of the earth, feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor, or any other issue from the host of social justice issues which are supposed to be at the center of the Catholic faith.οΎ 

To add insult to injury, the week following the election, I went to mass at Our Savior church in Manhattan where the homilist proclaimed that "those of you who forgot the teachings of the Church in this election have committed a great act of apostasy". The next day I read this article in the nytimes. According to that article:

"Some bishops meeting here said they did not view that outcome as a repudiation of their guidance, but as a reflection of polls that showed that social and moral issues were not primary concerns for voters, including Catholics, this year."

All of these messages have led me to the conclusion that the leadership of the Catholic church in the US has drifted out of touch with its congregation. At a time when the Church's authority on issues related to sexuality is at an all-time low, somehow our leaders have thought it appropriate to focus solely on the issue of abortion, at the cost of ignoring all else that threatens to tear apart our world. Then, when this strategy failed (and it did... roughly 54% of Catholics voted for Obama in this election), they have the audacity to proclaim that the faithful did not consider moral issues when voting.

Of course we considered moral issues while voting! Vatican II affirmed that every catholic is capable of praying about issues, informed with the teaching of the church, and then the choices they make afterward are informed and influenced by God.

I have to imagine that there are bishops out there who understand and respect they they do not have unique access to the Holy Spirit, that the congregation of the faithful may come to different conclusions given the same information. If such bishops are out there, I pray that they will find the courage to speak out so that the "heretics" in the church who voted with their consciences can find support from the leaders of their faith.

Streaming MPEG-4/H.264 Files to the Xbox 360

I was excited when Microsoft added support for H.264 video (my video codec of choice due to its extremely efficient compression) to the Xbox 360 earlier this year. I eagerly fired up Windows Media Player to turn on content sharing and went to try it out, only to find that all files with an .mp4 or m4v extension did not even show up in the list of available videos. Feeling a little disappointed, I forgot about this for a while.

Then, I read an article on arstechnica which alerted me to the fact that the Zune software could also share with the 360, and it supports H.264 and MPEG-4. Feeling a little excited again, I downloaded and installed the Zune software (the installer takes an unusually long time for some reason). However, as Zune loaded up my video library, only a couple of my videos appeared. These files did, indeed, play on the 360. However, some Google searching revealed that while the 360 itself supported H.264 High Profile, the Zune software only supports H.264 Low Profile. This basically meant that only those videos which I had encoded for my iPod were appearing in the Zune library. This is not the majority of my library, since my usual intent when encoding videos is to try to preserve the quality of the original DVD while taking up the least amount of hard drive space.

For those of you not following along with all the techno-speak, the short version is that Microsoft supplies two different programs which can stream content to an Xbox 360, but neither program supports all the video formats that the 360 itself supports.

Anyway, my goal of streaming H.264 to my 360 got put back into its box again until the release of the "New Xbox Experience" (NXE) last week. NXE brings Netflix streaming to the Xbox 360, which is absolutely fantastic. Yes, the library of available videos is small, but the intersection of the set movies that I want to see and the set of available movies is not empty. Furthermore, the quality is quite good. So, from my perspective, this is a great addition to the 360 experience. Yet, having this new feature brought back the bug to get H.264 streaming working on my 360. Some furious google searching revealed some good fruit.

There is a way!!

Red Herring has created a registry patch which can coerce Windows Media Player into reading MP4 files. Red Herring's instructions which actually allow you to play H.264/MP4 files in windows media player, but I didn't even bother going that far. Simply installing his registry patch causes WMP to add your MP4 and M4V files to its library, where you can now stream them to the 360.

Discovery of this technique has also coincided with a new release of Handbrake. Handbrake is an excellent encoder for Windows/Mac/Linux that can encode to MPEG-4 and H.264. The new release has support for some fancy new psycho-visual rate reduction techniques that essentially allow the encoder to output a smaller file while preserving the same perceived video quality. After following along with some forum threads, I have discovered some settings which produce excellent quality video which can be played back on my computer, and Xbox 360, or an Apple TV.

handbrake-thumb.jpg My Handbrake settings. Click image for full-size version.

Basically, starting with the new AppleTV preset, turn off "large file size", then go to the "advanced" tab. Change "b-frames" to 3, "subpixel motion estimation" to 6, and turn on "CABAC entropy encoding". Finally, add the text ":b-adapt=2" (without the quotes). Your final options string should look like this (order of entries doesn't matter):

ref=3:mixed-refs=1:bframes=3:weightb=1:direct=auto:no-fast-pskip=1:me=umh:subq=6:analyse=all:b-adapt=2

Enjoy!

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