The Collection

August 26, 2015 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Computers, Media, Movies, Online services, Software | Leave a comment
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Movie Buffs come in many forms. There are those who like movies only in the theatres – perhaps at a favoured cinema or an art house. Others like to manage their own schedule and subscribe to various on-line services like Netflix to stream what and when. And still others like the physical media so they are independent. Or maybe they just like to collect. And of course there are mixtures – those who collect just fav films but go to the cinema for the big screen spectacles and stream others. And so on.

Over time, those collections can get to be large. We can start loosing track of what we have, what we’ve watched, what we’ve loaned and so forth. Myself, I began a simple spreadsheet. When that got too large, I migrated to a simple database. I looked at available free cataloging software like I use for my archive discs but didn’t find what I needed. I also recognized the benefit of storing the data external to the database, something most home office apps don’t do (Access, Base, etc). Good databases store their data externally, so I set up a jdbc database. That worked well for a year and then Java updated in a way that my office software didn’t. Broken.

Time for a new solution. After doing some online research and going over Gizmo and Lifehacker, I narrowed my choices down to 4 programs. DVD collection software has come a long ways. After trying several out, I found Eric’s Movie Database best met my needs.

It took a bit of fiddling to get the data out of the old broken database, then convert to csv format, then to add a couple of custom fields to EMDB (easy). It’s also good to review your old data to make sure its in a standardized format. Some of mine like dates was in shorthand that another database wouldn’t recognize. Then I was able to import a large collection into Eric’s. You can then run a batch update through IMDB and it downloaded a great deal more info than I ever tracked. So much easier than all that typing and now I had visual references too. A quick review allowed me to correct a few identification errors plus load TV episodes for those items.

EMDB is a vast improvement over my little custom database. I just enter the name and a couple of details and it collects all the rest. It’s packed with customization options. It has both manual and automatic backups. You can easily add another database for a different collection and cut and paste those titles over. And you can make the whole thing portable. I’m still discovering features.

If your collection is digital, such as on a NAS or media server, EMDB includes a file Location field. You can index an entire digital collection by file name (if you have good naming habits). And you can also launch the movie from within the software, if that works for your setup. Adding a new file, it will index it without even having to type the movies name.

For a small donation, Eric will send you a file to rename the program in your name.
David

The CHIP Program

April 13, 2015 at 11:39 am | Posted in Health, Media, Psychology, Science | 6 Comments
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I’ve been blessed with a robust constitution from a “successful” gene pool. But this has meant it was easy to be lazy about taking care of myself. Although I’ve been “reasonable”, my lifestyle choices have slowly caught up with me. I’ve gradually become more sedentary with a little too much fill the bucket eating.

I’ve tried several diets that made a lot of difference. Loved the Reboot program, for example, but didn’t make the long term changes to keep it off. Once I finished the juice fast, things gradually went back to the old habits. And because basic lifestyle patterns were not changing, things just slowly got worse. It finally started to catch up with me.

The basic problem is, our modern western “healthy” diet is very simply not. The major diseases of western countries are diseases of abundance and excess, ironically. But because it’s common, we see it as normal.

The western medical system is allopathic, designed to treat things like infections and broken bones. But MD’s are not typically well-trained in lifestyle and nutrition, nor are they set up to guide a patient through such changes. When people come to them with chronic issues related to lifestyle, they can offer some advice to loose weight or relax, then pills to treat the symptoms. But none of this addresses the cause. As a result, in most cases the patient does nothing or doesn’t find anything effective long term and fails. The chronic conditions get worse, the prescriptions climb, and people keep returning to their doctor for help. Yet they do little to help themselves, often because they don’t know how.

We need to change our thinking and recognize we have to take responsibility for our health. Often, we take better care of our cars than our bodies. It’s estimated that 70% of doctor visits are related to lifestyle issues they’re not set up to address. The major health issues of our time are dominated by lifestyle-related ailments like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, developed over many years of bad habits.

Why is our diet so bad? In the 50’s, researchers determined that our western diet was too high in fat. They introduced lower fat recommendations. Not only did this lead to the low-fat craze but it also lead to far more processing of foods. Taking out the fat also took out the flavour. So they compensated with things like sugar and salt, massively increasing our intake. Food research sought the “bliss point” of sweetness to be appealing, even in baby food. They also discovered that sugar and caffeine could make a food addictive. Many foods became increasingly unnatural designer foods, made to appeal to our base tendencies. The long term result – a massive increase in obesity.

When someone begins to realize how their lifestyle is affecting their health and quality of life, they may look to make changes. Most visible is gyms and diets. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the right resources and motivation to make the changes needed before there’s a health crisis. But often, people end up trying a long list of fad diets and programs that have more of a yo-yo effect than long term benefit.

What many need is some support and filling in some of the gaps in our self-care skills. We need a dose of preventative medicine.

In my own case, I needed lifestyle changes, but an approach that was straightforward and real. This is when I ran into the CHIP program, recommended at the end of a health article.

CHIP stands for Complete Health Improvement Program. It began some years ago as a heart-health program similar to  Healthy Heart. The second is mainly for people already with a serious health issue, often offered at hospitals and the Y. CHIP broadened the approach because the principles are true of many common chronic health issues, not just the heart. While Reboot had paid support programs, this was in-person groups working together.

CHIP is also one of the best researched programs available and arose out of a history of prior research. Large, long term studies have shown that the greater the amount of animal fats in the diet, the higher the risks of developing chronic illness. This science is well understood but not widely known. I’ll write more on this shortly.

What has really impressed me about such a mainstream program is that none of the advice I’ve objected to. I’ve studied traditional health systems like Ayurveda and the advice aligns very well with it. It is really good advice: whole, plant-based, unprocessed foods, variety, and plenty of exercise.

The principles are very straightforward but do ask for real change. And not temporary change either. This is not a diet to try but a change in lifestyle. Not a temporary fix but a long-term shift.

There is no calorie counting and no starving. You can eat lots and loose weight, if you choose the right whole foods. Without the addictive foods in your diet like sugar and caffeine, you won’t get the cravings that ruin many a diet.

But also, diets without exercise are not a solution. Your body is not designed to be a slug. We’re built to be active. Yet lots of exercise without changing what you put in your mouth isn’t a solution either. This is about improving your whole quality of life long term. When you get into the swing of exercise you like, it feels really good. And this doesn’t take long.

If you’d like a metric, under 5,000 steps a day is sedentary. That includes most of us. 10,000 steps brings you an “Active” status. Unforced, it also brings the yummy experience of stepping into “the zone”. The program comes with a pedometer. Worn throughout the day, it will easily track how you’re doing.

CHIP is 18 classes, packed with tips and research to back up the recommendations. A cookbook too. For me, I’ve lost weight, waist size, and feel quite a lot healthier than I have in awhile. And we’re only at class 4. Fun stuff like dancing isn’t exhausting now. I use the car much less. My food bill has dropped markedly. And many are telling me how great I look. While I’m still in the keener phase, I can heartily recommend the program. It’s taught all over North America.
David

Our Meaningful Universe

March 27, 2015 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Media, Nature, Science | 1 Comment

Modern evidence of natural “coincidences” that the Universe was designed for complex, intelligent life. The key mechanisms and properties that allow life as we know it.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoI2ms5UHWg

Of course having a privilege doesn’t make you special, it gives you a responsibility to do something useful with the gifts you’ve been given. And to have fun.
David

Virtual Coupland

January 30, 2015 at 8:42 pm | Posted in Design, Humor, Internet, Media, Online services | Leave a comment

Douglas Coupland, the GenX author and artist recently had a “wildly popular” art show at Vancouver’s premier gallery, the VAG. It’s full of cultural memes, explored with some humour. This included a giant cast head of himself, onto which the public was invited to stick pieces of gum.

The Artist – from mixhart.ca

(not sure that exactly encourages respect for public art but…)

Google has memorialized it in their “Collections” and sent in a Street View team…  On this site, you can browse some sample images to the right, click Exhibits for more of an explanatory slide show or, on the left, click Street View and browse the galleries themselves. A virtual gallery walk. Keep an eye on the left map to help with directions. I can’t say the directional controls were as intuitive as a usual Street View, but it’s an interesting application of it.

The top menu bar also allows you to browse over 600 other galleries collections, plus some “User Galleries”, apparently assemblies of artwork by users.
David

Kiva Microloans

September 18, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Posted in Economoney, Media | Leave a comment

I’ve written before about how microloans can allow the average person to easily help someone fund a project. I’ve also mentioned the powerful book The International Bank of Bob, on one guys experience with Kiva.

My own original loan through Kiva has now been repaid and reloaned 17 times in 13 different countries – to students, grocers, suppliers, and makers; to single mom’s, young families, groups, and more. Making a loan takes just a few minutes, unless you choose to browse the many opportunities.

Kiva has recently released a video on how simple the process is. How to turn a dozen toonies* into real value.

*a “toonie” is a nickname for a Canadian $2 coin. The $1 coin has a Loon on the back, hence a “loonie”. The nickname of the $2 coin followed suit although personally I liked “doubloon” better.

Laniakea: Our Home Supercluster

September 10, 2014 at 9:32 am | Posted in Media, Science, Space | Leave a comment

The understanding of the place our galaxy holds in the universe has been evolving.
Laniakea means “immeasurable heaven” in Hawaiian.

Earth’s new address: ‘Solar System, Milky Way, Laniakea’ discusses this
also
New Galaxy Map Relocates The Milky Way

Native Advertising

August 14, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Posted in Economoney, Humor, Internet, Media, Online services, Psychology | Leave a comment

There’s a nasty trend developing in the media. The lack of income from on-line advertising for newspapers lead to a new approach known as “native advertising”. Basically it’s advertising presented like, and mixed in with, real news stories. While these are supposedly labelled, that’s the fine print. It’s presented to look like news.

This has been much more successful so now it’s migrating into print, which is desperate to increase revenue. I’m also seeing local papers sell increasingly large sections of their front page to advertising. Sometimes, even the entire front page. How long before that formatting looks more like news?

This trend is not confined to small papers but is being adopted by Time, The New York Times and other supposedly reliable new sources. The separation between “church and state”, between the business and editorial side? Discarded as an outmoded concept. Are they trying to accelerate their demise?

Why is this an issue? What is news if it’s run by advertisers? Infotainment at best. It certainly doesn’t lead to an informed public, which is rather important for a democracy to function properly.

The following clip is from John Oliver, a comedy show, but they cover the situation rather well. Once again, comedy becomes the way to say things we may not otherwise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_F5GxCwizc

The Pitchforks are Coming

July 2, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Posted in Economoney, History, Media | Leave a comment

An essay from a .01%er, Nick Hanauer, on why the increasing disparity between the wealthy and the poor is bad for everyone. And why a living wage will restore the middle class and help support the wealthy to stay such.

As he correctly observes, no civilization has Ever lasted when this income disparity has continued. It either becomes a police state or a revolution. Always. The question is only when.

He gives a few real examples where his ideas have worked while observing how trickle-down is not working. “the highest rate of job growth by small businesses are San Francisco and Seattle. Guess which cities have the highest minimum wage? San Francisco and Seattle.

Dear 1%ers, many of our fellow citizens are starting to believe that capitalism itself is the problem. I disagree, and I’m sure you do too. Capitalism, when well managed, is the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies. But capitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter. That is why investments in the middle class work.

I’m not an economist but I agree the imbalance needs correction – for so many reasons.
David

Dolphin’s are Non-Human Persons

June 24, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Posted in Economoney, Media, Movies, Nature, Science | Leave a comment

An interesting article on news that India has declared dolphin’s to be non-human persons. They’re banning the “import, capture of cetacean species… for commercial entertainment, private or public exhibition and interaction purposes whatsoever.

Whereas cetaceans [marine mammals] in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphins should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose…

This does not mean human rights but rather “Unlike… positive rights, such as the ‘right’ to education or health care, the animal right is, at bottom, a right to be left alone… It only requires us to stop killing them and making them suffer.

This comes out of a 2011 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science gathering support for the 2010 Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans:

1. Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
2. No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
3. All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.
4. No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual.
5. Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their natural environment.
6. Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures.
7. The rights, freedoms and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and domestic law.
8. Cetaceans are entitled to an international order in which these rights, freedoms and norms can be fully realized.
9. No State, corporation, human group or individual should engage in any activity that undermines these rights, freedoms and norms.
10. Nothing in this Declaration shall prevent a State from enacting stricter provisions for the protection of cetacean rights.

(the linked article is missing the last 3)

In my local community, Orcas have been removed from the local aquarium but they still have dolphins and belugas, so there is a move to ban all cetaceans from display for entertainment purposes. What makes it messy is they present as a “research aquarium” and consider that work critical. While I certainly agree marine research is very important, tying it to funding by using research subjects for public entertainment is highly questionable and an inherent conflict of interest.

Waterproof IMAX cameras are far less expensive and invasive to use in exposing us to marine life.

The article closes with this question: “Once we give rights to some animals how do we justify our continued exploitation of others?” Another recent local controversy is violent abuse of dairy cows. But as one article commented, the entire treatment of animals as a commodity on factory farms is abuse. Films like Food Inc. have spoken to this.
David

Network Media Centre

June 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Posted in Computers, Hardware, Internet, Media, Online services, Security, Software, Technology | 1 Comment

In recent years, how we consume media has changed markedly. Video rentals stores have mostly died. Some have cancelled their cable service. Flat screen TV’s, then Smart TV’s (with built-in computers) have become common. On-line media sources as well. Movies now offer digital copies and so on.

If you mainly get your services from online sources like Netflix and Hulu, then you want a Smart TV or attached media box with a wireless keyboard and a smart remote like LG’s Magic Remote. (a standard TV remote is near useless for web browsing and such)

But if your main source is local digital media, like your movie, photo and music collections, you need a local storage solution. It might seem like hooking your computer up to your TV is a great idea, but that’s not likely to be convenient for how you normally use it. It will also create issues with backup sizes. Plus, I’ve found that TV media serving software tends to bog your computer and doesn’t update changes reliably.

Custom-building a PC as a media server may seem like a great idea, but the form factor and energy consumption are not as good. And PC’s need all those fricking updates.

Your better solution is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) that includes a media server. These are energy efficient boxes designed for handling large media files. They’re somewhat similar to an external hard drive except they plug into your network (typically the router) and contain a small computer that allows them to handle several drives. They’re a natural for the job.

You do need to check it will work for your setup though – will it hold drives large enough for your growing media collection? And does it have the right kind of media server for your TV? Typically a DLNS is supported by Smart TV’s but do check yours. Can your TV even connect to a network? Smart TV’s do.

In my own case, I have an LG Smart TV and their Magic remote.

Normally with a NAS, the drives are set up to appear as a single massive drive or are mirrored in pairs. A mirrored drive creates an immediate backup of everything that’s on the main drive. This is a common practice on servers. You get half the available space but a perfect backup.

Buying a NAS, they don’t typically come with drives pre-installed – you choose your own. The exception would be some home offerings like HP’s My Cloud models. They’re more limited and pricey but get good reviews. The reviews oddly seem to compare wildly different types of NAS (with huge variations in price) rather than separating out home and business systems. Ideally, you get matching drives – especially if you’re going to mirror them. But you can start with one and add the other later.

I got a Shuttle OmniNAS KD20 on sale. This is a basic model made by an established small-format computer maker. It’s not a fast NAS but is much less expensive than many and does fine at turning your TV into a media centre from local content. We’re not talking about your office data centre here. The box is well designed and I found it very straightforward to set up. They indicate it’s supported by Win XP+, Mac and Linux.

In buying drives, the OmniNAS supports 2 drives up to 4TB each for max of 8 TB. That’s a lot of media. The WD Reds get the best reviews for the purpose, but this is a budget project. I found 2x 3TB Seagate external drives that were on sale for much less than the bare drives. Removing them from the case is straightforward but this does void the warranty. Thus it’s a good idea to test the drives in their cases prior to removal, if you take such a route. It’s also a slight bit more work.

Also note that setting up the NAS will erase anything on the drives, so copy anything off them before installing in the NAS. They’re generally configured to be in an array in a NAS. That way they appear as a single drive on the network.

In my case I was disassembling Seagate Expansion drives and used the free Seatools to test the drives prior. Seatools is not restricted to Seagate drives. This video reviews both the testing and the drive removal for that model. Shims do a better job than a screwdriver to avoid breaking the clips or damaging the surface – then you have spare cases for another external drive.

The OmniNAS supports both PC and laptop-sized SATA drives. Installing the drives is straightforward. Just follow the Quickstart Guide. You screw them onto the drive tray, then slide them in. Screws provided, as was a network cable. Plug it in and turn it on, voilà!

You then install Finder software on your PC. You can get the newer version from the web site. This finds the NAS on the network, then opens a browser window to configure the device.

It will ask for an Admin password, then later wants to set up a username and password. Make sure you have strong passwords, especially if you plan to share the media through the Internet. A tool like LastPass can help you track all your passwords securely.

I highly recommend you install the Firmware upgrade through the browser interface. (see the Downloads tab) The problems I saw reported with the unit when I researched it prior are addressed with this update. If you loose access to it on the network prior to updating, shut it down and then restart.

Be sure to edit the Workgroup name to match your LAN if it’s not the default “Workgroup”. (on your computer, right-click My Computer and select Properties. Scroll down to see the Workgroup name)

In my case I set up mirrored drives as the backup was more useful than all that drive space. I can easily change that later if I need more space.

Share Box sets your NAS up to serve media onto the Internet as your own “private cloud”, accessible from your Internet connected devices. Basically your own Dropbox service. This is done through an Omninas domain portal. You can skip that and set it up later if your main desire is for your local network and TV.

The box has a Twonky DLNS media server included free, which the LG TV happily and easily supported. Anything added to the “disc” folder is available to the TV. I added a lot of files – this took a bit of time to copy over on my non-Gigabit network – but the NAS had no trouble serving it all. In contrast, the LG PC software choked on a fraction of it and didn’t update reliably.

It also has an iTunes server, if you’re in Mac world or like serving your media that way. If not, turn it off.

And it has a print server to share your USB printer on the network. And an SD card reader and USB ports if you want to add or copy media that way.

It even has a torrent server, although you have to disable the media server for that. Several reviews criticised that but it may be a security measure.

The OmniNAS also comes with a copy of Acronis imaging software if you wish to use the NAS for your backups as well. It will work fine with recent editions of Microsoft Backup and Mac Time Machine as well – in fact any software that will backup to network locations.

If you want your backup to also serve as a remote access store, use a tool like Cobain Gravity that copies files rather than images them. Imaging software is ideal for the operating system and programs but copy software is better for your files to ensure immediate access in the event of trouble.

If you Map the network drive, then the NAS shows up as a drive in Windows Explorer and such making file transfer easier.

For simplicity, I set up the free Microsoft SyncToy to echo to the NAS some of the media folders like Photos. I like copies of those on my computer, so when I update them, Synctoy will match all the changes to the NAS.

Then you can have slide shows, music playlists, and more on your TV. It becomes today’s stereo. If you have surround speakers, it’s better even than an old Quad system. Any other devices on your network also have access to all the content now too.

And if you also want to access that media on your tablet, smartphone (Android or iPhone  apps in the Stores) or laptop on the road, Share Box to the rescue. No worries about storing your stuff on someone else’s servers. If you’re a small business person, you can backup your documents to the NAS, ensuring both a backup and that you always have access. No worries about remote access to your PC. (note the comments about backup types above if you want document access – don’t image those files)

I’ve been much happier with the OmniNAS than serving from my laptop. It’s been more reliable, frees up computer resources, and provides another layer of backup.
Have fun!
David

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