06/16/2017: Building my digital library (part 1)

Some time ago, I made two posts about how I have set up my home network for streaming shows from my computer to each TV and mobile device. This post is more in-depth on how I get the content ready to stream.

Currently, most of the content I am streaming is from television. Eventually, I plan on transferring all my DVDs & Blu-Rays, but not yet. I have two TiVo boxes that I am transferring the shows from to my desktop computer. In fact, the shows I am transferring are ones that my daughter likes to watch repeatedly. And because she likes to watch them so much, we cannot delete them from the TiVo, which means there is less and less space to record things my wife and I want to watch. Once they are available on a central location, I can finally delete them.

The first thing I did is try to figure out how I was going to stream everything once it was on my desktop computer. I wanted something that was free and would work with all the devices that I currently had. After a little research, I decided on Plex. When I first started this process, I was running Windows Vista on my computer, which was not currently supported. I ended up downloading a old version of Plex. Once I upgraded to Windows 10, I was able to unlock all the potential the app offered. Therefore, I recommend having the latest OS if you plan on using Plex.

Next, I created a spreadsheet for me to track which shows that I had on the computer. Plex offers documentation on how to name the files, so that it recognizes them as TV shows. You don’t have to follow the naming convention, but if you do, Plex will automatically add in additional information, such as original airing dates, grouping by season, posters, and a brief summary of the show. I incorporated the naming convention into the spreadsheet.

There are a few options to transfer shows off the TiVo. A few are even offered by TiVo. But, I decided to go with a program called, kmttg. Both the setup and use may be a little difficult for a novice, so make certain to fully read and follow the directions. It also helps to have Windows 7 or 10.

Once kmttg is set up, it gives you a list of shows to transfer. Be warned, some shows may not be able to be transferred, due to copy protection. Those shows are usually highlighted in brown. None of the shows I was going to transfer were protected, so I was okay in that aspect. The options I chose were to both have kmttg transfer the show and to have it convert it to a Matroska (.mkv) file. Transferring and converting would take time, so I would set up to have it do a few shows either overnight or while I was not at home.

Now that I had the shows transferred into mkv files, I needed to edit them. For editing, I used Avidemux. The TiVo often would have content leading into and out of the show, so I needed to trim that off. Some of the shows had resolutions less than high definition (HD), so I needed to convert them (more on that later). Lastly, some recordings featured two shows, which needed to be split up. Each edited file was encoded as a mkv file, using H.264 for video and AAC for audio. They were saved using the naming convention off the spreadsheet I created earlier.

This post is becoming too long, so I will continue it on part 2.

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06/13/2017: Last Train to Walla Walla

When I was a pre-teen and teenager, my brother and I spent time commuting from Walla Walla to Seattle to visit our dad. The trip was always made on the Greyhound bus and would take anywhere from 8-9 hours. The only other option would be to fly, but that would cost almost 2-4 times what it cost to take the bus.

I often wondered what it would be like to ride the train to Seattle, but there was no passenger train that made that trip. Once I moved to Seattle (as an adult), I was able to take a train to and from Portland, Oregon, to see my older brother. It still took longer than flying, but I liked it better than taking the bus.

Around the time I visited Japan in 2005, I became interested in “bullet” trains. Like most things, it was a passing curiosity. But then I got to thinking, what if there was a “bullet” train that could run from Walla Walla to Seattle?

As of the writing of this article, the average highest speeds of the trains are between 190-200 miles per hour (mph). According to Google, driving from Walla Walla to Seattle is about 272 miles. It also takes about 4 1/2 hours to drive. If a “bullet” train was to make the same journey, at 190 mph, it would take about 1 1/2 hours. This, of course, is assuming that there are no stops. Flying from Walla Walla to Seattle takes about an hour, but you also have to factor in time spent in pre-flight security and that the plane travels to Sea-Tac airport, not directly to Seattle.

Of course, if a train was traveling from Walla Walla to Seattle, I would expect there to be other stops. Maybe stops in Pasco, Yakima, and Ellensburg. If each stop was 10 minutes or less, it would add would add around 30 minutes to the trip.

Having a quicker way to travel across the state would greatly benefit everyone along the line. More people would be willing to take “day trips” to cities further from Seattle. Imagine getting on the train around 8 am and arrive in Walla Walla around 10 am. You could have breakfast (or brunch) during your ride. Then, you spend 5 hours in Walla Walla, catching the 3 pm train back to Seattle. It would only be 5 pm by the time you get back. Or, maybe you are from Walla Walla and would like to spend the day in Seattle. Instead of spending the 9 hours it took to drive, you would spend over half of that time not behind the wheel. Plus, you don’t have to worry about being too tired to drive.

Tourism aside, it would be faster (and more likely, cheaper) way to transport goods back and forth. And given the time it takes to travel, people may even start commuting from some eastern Washington cities to Seattle. Yakima is a little under 150 miles from Seattle, so it would be less than an hour of commute. The ferry ride to and from Bremerton is longer than that.

For now, I know this just a pipe dream. The costs to get the project started would be very high, especially since all the land the rails would be on would need to be purchased. And, I know from watching the construction of the light rail in the Puget Sound area, it would take a long to build. Because of these things (and some political beliefs), there would be little or no public support. Thus, no legislators would support it. So, the only way it would happen, is if some private investors decided to make it happen. But not me. I may have the vision, unfortunately, I do not have the cash to make it come true.

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06/02/2017: Pick a side, already!

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I consider myself a Liberal. But, I have Conservative leanings on some issues. And, I also have opinions on other issues that do not fall within the Liberal or Conservative side. I know a lot of people like me, who don’t fully agree with one party’s platform.

Unfortunately, in the Unites States, we get “pegged” into being either a Democrat or Republican. And, when the party we are grouped into decides on an issue, it is assumed that we also have the same opinion. Even worse, almost everything is assumed to be an issue and thus, each side decides if they are for or against it. This ends up making every issue a political issue.

I’ve heard the phrases, “living in a vacuum” or “living in a bubble” a lot in the past few months. Simply, it means that someone is not exposed to anything outside of themselves. They only see and hear what they already know, and thus, assume that is everything. Most of us in the United States have become this way.

Remember when I said that every issue is a political issue? Well, some of us don’t like to discuss politics. And, we don’t like to discuss politics, because we don’t like to fight. So, we don’t discuss anything with anyone who we assume would have a different viewpoint. Thus, creating the bubble in which we live.

Part of what makes a great society is being able to have a civil conversation over how that society should work. Conversations over differing viewpoints often lead to new ideas and collaborations, thus moving society forward. It also leads to individuals understanding why certain ideas do not work or how they may be detrimental. When we live in our bubble, we don’t have these conversations.

As you may have guessed by now, in order for our society to move forward, we need to stop making every issue into a political issue. We need to start having conversations with people with differing viewpoints and allow ourselves to understand those viewpoints. As I’ve said many times before, the United States is a giant “melting pot” of cultures. Drawing from all these backgrounds is what made us great before and can make us great again. We just need to stop allowing ourselves to become closed off to anything that the group we are placed into does not agree with.

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06/01/2017: Hello me, meet the real me

My wife tells me that I over-analyze everything. She is correct in that statement. I want to know how everything works, how it is all connected. I’ve been this way as far back as I can remember. I would take things apart to see how they worked, especially my toys. This may be what lead me to being able to figure out how to do things without being taught. Or, how I can reverse-engineer almost anything.

When I was 20 years old, I had a mental breakdown. There was a lot that went into it and most of it is not something that needs to be discussed in a public blog post. However, one of the things that was discovered (by a doctor) following the incident was that my blood-sugar levels significantly changed during the day from being too low to being too high. In other words, I would go from being hypoglycemic to being hyperglycemic within a day. In addition to causing me to be hyperactive from having too much sugar, it also caused me to have mood swings. Thus, a chemical imbalance in my body was effecting my emotions.

At the time of my diagnosis, there was no medicine that I could take that would regulate my blood-sugar level. Instead, I was told that I needed to be more mindful of what I ate, when I ate, and of my current mind-set. The first two items were simple enough. The last item lead me to a psychiatrist.

Prior to this, I had been to a psychiatrist twice in my life. The first time was a family psychiatrist with my brothers and mom. The second time was at school, because I did not smile. And, I had seen them about the same time, when I was in 3rd grade. It may be because I was too young at the time, that I don’t remember much about either of those sessions. And, I had also taken a psychology class in high school, so I had some idea of what the sessions would be like.

To anyone who has never been to a psychiatrist, what you see on TV or in the movies is not actually what goes on. It is not an hour of sitting or laying on a couch, confessing your deepest and darkest secrets in order to come to the conclusion that you have “daddy issues”. I mean, I guess some may be that way, just not the ones I know of. No, it is you and another person discussing how to handle your negative feelings in a way that keeps you from harming yourself or others. The initial session is so the psychiatrist listening to what you have to say, then giving you “tools” to help you help yourself. Then, the follow-up sessions are for you to check back in to see how those “tools” are working and if more or different “tools” are needed. One of the “tools” my psychiatrist gave me was to write a daily journal.

As I said at the beginning of this blog entry, I over-analyze. So, when it came to writing my journal, I would not only put down how I felt, but also delve into why I felt that way. There were no simple emotions or thoughts, everything had to have a reason. Eventually, the analyzing became something I would do when I was not writing. Rather than give into a thought or emotion, I would find myself taking it apart, trying to figure out where it came from. Was I tired, hungry, or was it a valid response to something?

It took years for me to get to be the way I am today. Almost every thought and emotion gets evaluation. I’ve learned a lot about myself and continue to learn more and more every day. The best part of it all is, the negative thoughts and emotions don’t have the control they had over me when I was younger. It is not scary to be alone with my thoughts, because they are always a well of intrigue.

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05/10/2017: If I had a million dollars

Like a number of people in the United States, I play the lottery. I don’t play a lot, just $5 per week for 4 different games. And, like everyone who plays the lottery, I also like to fantasize over what I would do if I won the jackpot.

While I would be happy to win anything, unless it is a large amount, there is no reason to fantasize. So, I am going to use ten million dollars as the jackpot for this fantasy.

The first decision after winning the lottery is deciding on if you want it in a lump sum or yearly annuity payments. From the information I have gathered, here is how each breaks down.

Lump sum: You get one payment, which is half of the jackpot.

$10,000,000 Jackpot amount
÷ 2 Halved
$5,000,000 Lump sum amount
– $1,250,000 Taxes (25%)
$3,750,000 Actual payout

Annual annuity: You get the full payment, made in installments over 26 years.

$10,000,000 Jackpot amount
÷ 26 Divided by 26 years
$384,615.40 Annual payment amount
– $96,153.85 Taxes (25%)
$288,461.50 Actual annual payout

With either choice, you still get more than enough money. So, the decision comes down to how soon do you want your money and how much do you want now. I’m almost 40 years old and could see myself living into my 60’s, so I will opt for the annuity payments.

The first thing I would do is hire a lawyer. While I currently cannot think of anything that I would need a lawyer for, coming into a large amount of money also tends to bring out legal issues. And, I know for certain that there are people from my past that would love to find a reason to get their hands on my money. So, it is good to have someone who can help navigate any potential legal troubles.

The second thing I would do is buy a house. I’m not looking for something big, just a 3-4 bedroom in a good neighborhood. The houses I am currently looking at run anywhere from $400,000 to $900,000. With the amount in yearly payouts, I would not be able to pay the house off in one payment, which is fine. I would put down $50,000 and set up a 10 or 15 year fixed-rate mortgage, depending on the house cost.

My third action would be to buy new cars for my wife and myself. Well, maybe not “new”, but rather “new to us”. New cars depreciate in value as soon as they leave the sales lot. Just because I won the lottery does not mean that I should waste my money.

Now that I have somewhere to live and transportation, it is time to take care of others.

My daughter would be the first person that I would distribute wealth to. I’d put money into both a Trust Fund and a savings account for her with each year’s annuity payment. The Trust Fund would get 95% of the money and I would set it up that she could not access it until she is 20 years old.

Next, I would give money to mine and my wife’s immediate family. The amount we would gift would be dependent on circumstances of the people we are giving it to and how much we could give without paying taxes. As of the writing of this post, the limit that each one of us could give per year, per person is $14,000. So, we could give up to $28,000 combined to one person, if we wanted.

After family is taken care of, I would want to also give gifts to friends. Like family, it would all depend on the circumstance. I would also like to limit it to a one-time gift, up to $20,000. While I like to help out my friends, I don’t want my friends to rely on money from me. That would end up destroying any friendship that we have.

I would also like to find a few people at random and give them some money. I know there are a lot of people out there that a gift of $1,000 to $10,000 would help out a lot.

Notice how I have not talked about quitting my job yet? Well, I would quit my job. Not working would give me time to do two things that I want to do; spend more time with my daughter and start taking computer science classes. I want to take the classes so I could learn (better) on how to write code. After my daughter started school (and I finished with my classes), I would either start working freelance, start my own business, or only work part-time.

Yeah, I didn’t talk about all the “stuff” I would buy, like a big-screen TV or jet skis, mostly because I don’t know what I would buy. Over the past few years, I’ve learned how to live with less and less “stuff”, so even if I had the money, I don’t think I would feel the need to get more. My main concern is making sure that my family is taken care of, especially my daughter. I’m already doing that now; the money would just make it easier.

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05/04/2017: Ally

I’ve started watching the series, “Dear White People” on Netflix. I know about the movie, but never watched it. It appeared on Netflix as a series I could download and watch later, so I figured I’d try it out. I am only on the second episode of the series and it got me thinking, which I expected it to do. If you want to avoid spoilers, I suggest you skip this blog until you have at least watched the first two episodes.

The simple premise is (at least of the first episode), the main character, Sam White, is a very outspoken regarding how African-Americans are (negatively) treated and portrayed. We (the audience) gets introduced to her as she is taping a (white) fraternity having a “black-face” party. The taping is evidence on how much racism is still alive and healthy, especially at the college Sam is attending.

Either the next day or a few days after the party, we learn that Sam also belongs to the “Black Caucus” at school. This is the combination of different African American groups in the school. And, that she is one of the most outspoken of the groups. We also learn that she is seeing a white guy, Gabe, in secret. This comes out during one of the meetings, when Gabe tags her on an Instagram pic.

After talking to her (best) friend, Sam ends up going public with the relationship. And, she ends up inviting Gabe to a “movie night”, sponsored by one of the groups she belongs to. As you can guess, he is the only white person there. This does not become an issue, until another person at the get-together and Gabe start to talk about the “black-face” party. I can’t remember the exact words Gabe uses, but he essentially says that the the party was racist and wrong, and that he can’t imagine how the other guy feels, but he is sympathetic.

As I’ve said before in this blog, I am a white male. While I did grow up with friends that were not white, a cousin that is half-black, and eventually married a woman who is also half-black, I’ve never experienced the bigotry that they have. There is no way that I could. Just as I do not know what it is like to gay or transgendered. I was picked on a lot in school and abused at home, but deep down, I knew that if I just escaped those individuals, I would be fine.

A few months ago, one of the diversity groups at my work used a term I had not heard before, “Ally”. The group was for LGBTQ, and the term was to refer to people who were not-LGBTQ, as a way of recognizing that there were non-LGBTQ people that wanted to support LGBTQ.

Just because I don’t experience the bigotry that others experience, it does not mean that I don’t care. And it does not mean that I can’t help fight that bigotry. Also, just because I may not be the one experiencing the bigotry does not mean that I am not effected by it.

White males as often the ones who are bigots, so I am guilty by association. This is something I blame on both the bigots and the other white males that have tolerated bigotry. As much as I do not like bigotry, I also do not like to be considered a bigot. So, I cannot be complacent when it comes to bigotry.

In the end, I don’t want anyone to experience bigotry. But, the only way we can combat it is together. I’m willing to be an ally, if you are willing to have me as one.

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04/28/2017: Detached Viewpoint

The high school I attended had a points system that everyone needed to complete to graduate. Each class had a set number of points and you had to have points in certain categories (Math, English, History/Civics, Science, and P.E.). You would earn points for each quarter of a class you would pass. In addition, there was a “0” Period and a “7th” Period, which were outside the normal school hours. It was set up so that you could either take a minimum of classes per day (6) each year and graduate on-time. Or, you could take up to 8 classes per day and take it easy on your Senior year.

I was a being a bit of an “overachiever” when it came to school (and should have gone to college). So, by the time I started my Senior year in 1994, I had already completed most of the required classes that I needed to graduate. However, the school had also set it up that a Senior Civics class was required. This class could not be taken unless you were a Senior, so I had to take it. The rest of my school day, either I could go home early or take some more classes. I had a girlfriend in high school that I could only see at school (long story – not at this time), so I wanted to be at school for her. So, I took a few classes that I thought I would find fun.

At the time, my school was introducing a few new classes. I had decided to take one of the new classes, called “TV/Radio Broadcasting”. Despite the name, it was an introduction to both visual and print media and how they work. At the same time, the school had also decided to start producing a monthly, 30-minute, news report that would be broadcast on the local Public Access channel. Being that it was in a small town, the Public Access channel mostly was used primarily to broadcast advertising for local businesses. And, since video cameras were still expensive, the advertising was usually text or a image on the screen for a few seconds with the local radio station playing in the background. Occasionally, there would be an interview with a local politician broadcast, but that was not very often.

The monthly news program from the high school was called, “High School Report”. Part of our class was to help write stories for the program. Each month had two different anchors, so if you were lucky, you may get a chance to be one of the two. A few people also worked on the behind-the-scenes jobs, like camera operators, teleprompters, stage manager, and editing.

When I became a Senior, “TV/Radio Broadcasting” had expanded to a 2nd-year class with “Advanced TV/Radio Broadcasting”. The school had thought the monthly news program a success, so they wanted to also produce another show, but did not know what it could be. So, the advanced class was in charge of taking care of all of that. In the process, we would learn how to better produce, write, and edit.

The early-to-mid 90’s had seen the explosion of sketch comedy shows. Saturday Night Live was at its peak with such people as Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Mike Myers, and Phil Hartman. In Living Color had debuted on Fox and was gaining a large audience. And, some of the bigger cities had local sketch shows, like Almost Live! in Seattle. Being that what was popular at the time, we decided to do the same.

In order to fit some words into the teleprompter, or to make them easier to read, we had a book that properly split up (most) words. When we could not think of a good name for the show, I suggested that we flip the book to a few pages random and just stick what ever it landed on together. That is how we got, “Detached Viewpoint”. It would prove to be a perfect name for our brand of humor.

After the first few episodes aired, we all became instant celebrities at school. But, because we were teenagers, our humor could be “crude” at times. And while that is popular with other teenagers, it wasn’t so with the school board. After about 4-5 months in, they caught an episode and were not amused. So, we had to start running our scripts past our teacher for anything “offensive”, like the word, “fart”. Fortunately, our teacher trusted us to show self-restraint, so she told let us do what we wanted. In all fairness, most of our stuff was not crude, so we just stayed away from what could be crude out of respect to our teacher. Despite all of this, the episode quality improved and got more popular.

Of course, the show ended when our school year ended. I found out from people who graduated in the years after I did that our format was copied over and over again by new students. Hey, if it works, why change it? I don’t know how long it lasted, but I’m guessing that with the rising popularity of YouTube, it is long gone.

With the exception of my brother, who was my writing partner, after school, I lost contact with most of the people in the Detached Viewpoint group. A few years ago, most of us started connecting again on Facebook. None of us has gone onto any type of TV/Radio broadcasting, however, one of them is a professional celebrity photographer. At the time, we did not think to make copies of the show. I only made copies of the last few episodes and have uploaded the skits onto my YouTube channel. The videos look very dated now, but it is sometimes fun to look back at the fun we had.

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