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Monday, December 25
Makin' It Funky at the great gig in the sky

James Brown, the self-proclaimed Godfather of Soul, has died aged 73 after falling ill with pneumonia on Sunday.

Bummer! I hope his four wives kept their receipts for his presents. Ooh, I'm so morbid... And in other news, thousands have died after landslides hit Indonesia (including the stricken Aceh region, still recovering from the after-effects of the tsunami).

Merry Christmas.

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
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Suppose I should go wrap my presents

... Ho humbug.

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
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Wednesday, December 20
Why WinDVD is STILL an annoying program

Before I get started I must note in passing the death of Joseph Barbera, legendary animator and half of the incredibly-productive duo Hanna-Barbera (ever watch Scooby Doo? The Flintstones? Wacky Races? Top Cat? The Smurfs? Yeah, that was from their crazy brains). Go take a look at this picture of Hanna and Barbera sitting next to some of their creations, and see how many you can name.

Joseph Barbera was 95.

Ok, so on to the main subject of this post... Why is WinDVD annoying? In a word (and it only takes one):


This is something I noticed AGAIN whilst watching the DVD of Da Vinci Code (I watched the entire special features disc because I always like to find out about the background behind big feature films), and once I've started watching a DVD I have to watch all of it - so in went the main feature disc, and off I went. I do love Audrey Tatou though, I've dug her look and her acting skills ever since I first saw Amélie back in 2001 (in French, bien sur).

This is my bugbear with WinDVD, and it's shared by others: a horrible 'pumping' effect whenever a really loud noise appears on the soundtrack during an otherwise-quiet sequence (we're talking sounds such as gunshots, explosions, whipcracks, something smashing...) This is due to WinDVD's overaggressive AGC, which raises the level of quiet passages and quietens loud passages to a uniform level, to 'improve listenability' as such. However, AGC which doesn't look ahead a sufficient amount can introduce 'pumping' (derived from music production, the term literally describes the sound heard when a compressor isn't set up correctly, and it adjust the gain of an incoming signal too aggressively). As AGC is little more than a simplified version of a software compressor, voxing/pumping occurs where a suddenly-loud passage can make the AGC system over-react. The rapid reduction/restoration of the gain produces that characteristic, audible quietening-then-gradually-loudening of the overall sound level, as the AGC usually follows a long 'curve' as the audio ramps back up to its original level after being reduced by sound over the threshold level.

Enough with the geekery, sorry (this is what happens when you're on a Music Tech course, you always end up speaking in geek). Put simply, when you're watching any kind of action film or film with loud, percussive sound effects (or many animé movies, also) this can result in it being almost unlistenable. Whilst a useful feature, provided it's not overly aggressive, AGC is usually nothing more than really, REALLY annoying.

I'm not the only person who thinks this either: check Chizumatic's author's comments, from back in February of this year...

20060211: I just thought of something I wanted to get noted down. My current PC DVD player program of choice is Cyberlink PowerDVD. I used to use Intervideo WinDVD. I just bought a new laptop, and it came with WinDVD installed. I used it for a week and noticed (and then remembered) something about it that I really found annoying: the sound voxes.

"Voxing" is the term for what some speaker phones do. They have automatic gain control (AGC) and try to maintain a constant volume no matter what they're hearing. That means that when no one is speaking then you get a lot of hiss and background noise, and if someone speaks up, suddenly it ramps down really fast, only to fade back up once they stop.

WinDVD does that with the audio of the DVDs it plays, or at least for some of them. It's possible that what I'm hearing is Dolby-encoded sound tracks which aren't being handled correctly by WinDVD. Whatever it is, it is really unpleasant and makes some DVDs almost unwatchable because it so thoroughly butchers the sound playback.

There were other things about it I didn't like, but that one is fatal. I do not recommend WinDVD as a product.

It's sad really, to see what would be an otherwise-great program, quite frankly, ruined by the omission of - at the very least! - a switch to enable or disable the AGC 'feature'. For the love of $deity, if you're going to include a feature in your software which so drastically alters the listening experience for your users, at least include the ability to turn it off if it begins to annoy them! In fact, on that note, the whole audio 'section' of WinDVD needs a makeover, because for some reason if you choose Headphones as the listening environment, all WinDVD gives you is a variety of pseudo-surround listening environments (like Dolby Headphone or TruSurround), and even if you're listening on headphones you have to choose 'Speakers' to get a clean, unprocessed output from your DVD soundtracks.

And so, unfortunately, whilst WinDVD otherwise has a great featureset, the lack of inclusion of a switch for its AGC features and its poorly-designed audio configuration panel continues to remind me why I use PowerDVD and VLC all of the time. In fact, I only really have WinDVD installed as it's a requirement for my DVB receiver (it uses the WinDVD DVD decoder filters to decode the OTA MPEG-2 streams). At least you can turn AGC on and off in PowerDVD.

Nngh... Rant over. But seriously, it's annoying. I'd forgottten that WinDVD (STILL!) does this because I've not used it for a while (and before you ask, I do have the latest version installed - I like to stay up to date with my software even if I only use some of it infrequently). And, as far as I've seen during my hours of searching and researching, I've not found a way, via software or registry, to disable WinDVD's AGC. So, if you're wondering why your James Bond DVDs are almost totally inaudible after every car crash and gunshot, that's why.

Right, that's that diatribe out the way - time to go download the latest Daily Show and have a laugh along with Jon Stewart.

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
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Tuesday, December 19
Fancy dualbooting sans bootloader? (GEEK ALERT)

I saw this hack in use on a recent episode of the quality (and all-too-infrequently-published) thebroken, and after some background research it turns out this hack exists, and is doable - you can design a switch so that it makes the motherboard in your computer effectively see the jumpers on two hard drives as one way or the other, depending on whether the switch is on or off (off: sees HDD2 as primary master, on: HDD1 as primary master), so you can dualboot between OSes without needing a bootloader (which can REALLY mess you about) and still access both drives! SUPER funky.

The hack was first shown on a past episode of The Screen Savers, $deity bless the grand master that is Leo Laporte.

Geek alert over, go back to your homes. I'm making a deliberate effort not to post anything Christmas-related, because I loathe and despise this time of year with a PASSION.

Bye for now :D

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
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Saturday, December 16
Things I learnt today

I might not adhere to best practices all the time when blogging, but I do like to think I at least aspire to this fine gentleman's sentiments:

Any clod can have the facts, but having opinions is an art.
- Charles McCabe

Ok, so down to business. Just a quick post with absolutely no original opinions of my own, just cloddish repetition of other peoples' facts. Hah.

Again, thanks to the BBC web site's Magazine Monitor for this week's facts of note:

4. The world's tallest man has arms that are 1.06m long.
More details

5. The top six high street banks in the UK made an estimated £4.5bn from penalty charges in 2005.
More details

6. About 40% of the mango trees planted to offset the carbon emissions from Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head album have died - which releases carbon into the atmosphere.

(Hah! Take that you bunch of holier-than-thou, all-black-wearing, charitywork-doing middle-of-the-road hippies! heehee)

... And probably the most eyebrow-raising fact:

9. There are 200 million blogs which are no longer being updated, say technology analysts.
More details

Today's discovery of note: rss2email, a funky little utility which aggregates content from newsfeeds, formats it as you desire, and fires it off to your email inbox - so you can just read RSS feeds like a regular email. Great news for technoluddites like myself who just realllllly can't be bothered to go fiddling about with all those content aggregators / aggregation web sites / Live Bookmarks in Firefox!

Also, note to self: Newsvine's 1st Birthday is coming up on the 6th of January. Todo: review the first year's operations, revise my initial review of the (then private-beta) site (and which was subsequently featured on the blog of Mike Davidson, one of the site's creators! go me). Also todo: congratulate site owners for 365 days of quality offerings and innovations (because if you've not checked the site out already, it really is a cracking little example of user-generated content and established media coming together in a neatly-presented package).

More immediately todo: gather things up and pack them properly, plus prepare some of the (home-made, I'm afraid) Christmas presents for family members, because knowing me I'll still leave it too late and miss the earlier train home. D'oh.

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
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If all goes well, I've claimed this blog on my BlogLines account

Here's hoping that the site correctly detects the key I've put in (which it gave me in the validation process) - I tried to put the code into an existing post and republish the page, but for some reason it's not seeing the codes even though they're definitely there.

Ho hum. Just another day in the world of aggregators and the 'follow-me web'...

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
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Friday, December 15
Sugarhouse Lane - a quality indie film with Asher D in it!

The title of this article is no joke! Sugarhouse Lane is truly a good piece of cinema. Let me elaborate...

So, I've just had the chance to watch a preview version of a forthcoming indie film called Sugarhouse Lane, based on a screenplay by writer Dominic Leyton - which itself evolved from his original idea of a stage play, back in 2001. For a much more detailed background to the film, and some insight into the screenwriter and the film's production, see their site's Background, Crew and Production Notes pages. The cast is a mixture of well-known and lesser-known actors, but they all put in great performances. There's a full list on the Sugarhouse Lane iMDB page, but here are the main characters:

Andy Serkis plays the 'villain' of the story, a menacing Irish gangster by the name of Hoodwink, Ashley Walters (Asher D) as a half-crazy, desperate crackhead called 'D' and Steven Mackintosh as Tom/Horatio, an edgy accountant who makes an unlikely rendezvous with D to try and obtain something which costs a LOT of money... I won't give any more of the story away, but it's not as clear cut as you may think.

To clarify a little, the Tom/Horatio character calls himself Tom in the story, but his real name is actually Horatio according to one part of his dialogue; "would you go around calling yourself Horatio?"

Anyway, I got the chance to watch a preview of the film after submitting my details via a mailshot from the Pyro Radio online radio station, and watched the film via the (passworded) LoveFilm web site. I filled out a questionnaire after watching, and hopefully my comments and feedback will help shape the final version of what is already looking to be one of the most promising indie offerings to come out of the UK for the past few years.

The film is also benefitting not only from the quality ensemble of cast, great scriptwriting and production values, but several members of the Casino Royale stunt team (yes, the Daniel-Craig-007-franchise-reboot-Casino-Royale) also lent their skills and insight to the production. This came about due to Ben Dixon (a member of the SHL crew) having some conversations with the Casino Royale stunt team, and as the stunt crew members had enough free time inbetween their larger projects to help out, they came to the project and offered their services. You can see a short video interview with some of the stunt crew on the Sugarhouse Lane site.

This film is a great film! Yeah, it has Asher D in (the bloke who was in the garage group So Solid Crew back at the turn of the century, got nicked for gun-related offences, reformed, quit the group before it split up and is now pursuing what looks like a successful acting career). I was a little put off by it initially given the fact that, bar a few unusual (and pleasant) surprises, musicians trying to cross into acting usually make a right pig's ear of it, and look stupid in the process. That said, Asher D's portrayal of his character was one of those pleasant surprises - his portrayal of the character 'D' was remarkably well-acted and very convincing. Maybe the fact I never followed him that much through his music career helped, but I forgot who he was and began to just perceive him as that character, not as an actor playing a character... Something which to me is the sign of a convincing performance.

Serkis is, as always, brilliant - I'm glad he had time to spend contributing to this film, he puts in an amazing performance, violent, gritty, slightly (well, very) deranged... You never even think, 'this is the bloke who played Gollum!', because he manages to really fill the boots of the character, he makes it his own and plays it with all his heart. I think he quite enjoyed playing the character, he really puts a huge dollop of menace and a real evil streak into it, and it's almost delicious to watch.

As for Steven Mackintosh... Well, The Guardian's Film site really sums it up for me: "Steven Mackintosh has one of those faces which you recognise but can't place." His portrayal of the Tom/Horatio character left me guessing right up until the 'revelation' scene, where you begin to truly understand his character's situation, he brings some real pathos to the performance and at the same time manages to change your perception of the 'D' character (who to me was alllllmost a foregone conclusion until the two characters begin to relate to each other two-thirds of the way through, so fool I am for making a premature assumption!) This is one of the key themes of the film:

The accident of birth is highlighted by Oliver Milburn and Ben Dixon as being a main theme of SUGARHOUSE LANE. The harsh truth being that the incredibly rich can live within metres of people who, like D, have nothing. “It is vary rare for these people to meet, let alone talk, but when they do, as in SUGARHOUSE LANE, they can have a surprising amount in common.”

From the Sugarhouse Lane Production Notes

Really, if you have some time to kill and you fancy watching a quality bit of original, British-made drama, check out Sugarhouse Lane. If just watching a preview of the film motivated me enough to write this big blog entry about it, it must be at least fairly good! Because I'm the laziest person around ;) The film comes out in cinemas around March 2007, but if you sign up as a member on the SHL site there's a chance to receive an invite to an exclusive screening of the film (most likely the way I watched it - via the LoveFilm site, where you get sent a username and password to access the film as a (very!) high-quality stream online.

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
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Friday, December 8
Donate to the Darfur Wall Project and get your name in lights for $1

I'm not kidding, in fact I'm dead serious. If you donate $1 (or more), you can pick a number from the Darfur Wall (see darfurwall.org) and you can put your name and location to it if you so desire. Your donation goes to charities helping those who are suffering as a result of the Sudan crisis, where over 400,000 have been persecuted or killed as a result of the fighting and violence between the Janjaweed militia and the Sudanese government.

For more information on who the site supports (i.e., who they give all the proceeds from the donations to), and for more information about the people behind the site, and the charities themselves, check the web site (the link above will take you straight to the /about page).

The cool thing is, if you donate more than $1, for every extra dollar you donate you get another random number with your name and location on it. I donated in total $7, and lit up 131085 (my birthday!) and 303303, because I thought it looked nice.

You can donate (painlessly) by PayPal, by check (which costs them less in admin fees, so they can donate all of the proceeds to the charities receiving the monies from the site (PayPal always takes a cut on any transaction) or via credit card.

I lit 131085 (my birthday!) - The Darfur Wall Foundation - light up a number for $1 to show your support

I also lit 303303 - The Darfur Wall Foundation - light up a number for $1 to show your support
(My donations also lit up five other random numbers)

Go do it. It's painless, it's for a good cause, and you get your name up on the web for that warm and fuzzy feeling factor. Everyone's a winner baby, that's the truth.

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Dragged out of Christopher's memory and pasted
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