Listal: Catalogue your stuff!

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My DVD collection has reached the point where I can no longer keep track of what I’ve got, what I’ve loaned to other people or what I haven’t yet watched. So for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been slowly loading my entire collection into Delicious Library. A very pretty application, with a number of really nice features (easy to mark an item as “on loan”; export to iPod, so I almost always have a copy of my collection on-hand), but still had problems for me. Most importantly:

  1. It’s Mac-only

  2. Needs a powerful computer to run properly (which I don’t have at home)

  3. Needs a fast internet connection to run properly (which I don’t have at home) Last week, I stumbled across Listal. From the website:

Despite of the lack of a decent “import” feature (right now, you can only import from DVD Profiler), meaning I’m having to enter each one of my DVDs by hand, I’m moving my catalogue from Delicious Library into Listal. Why? Well, there’s a few reasons.

  • It’s internet-based I can access (and edit) my catalogue from any computer on the internet, not just my Mac

  • Thin-client suits my crappy internet connection

The listal server does all the heavy lifting meaning my Clearwire connection remains relatively unruffled.

  • RSS feeds for every context

Besides the obvious applications of any kind of RSS feeds, it also means I can export my RSS feed to something like iDropper to dump the RSS feed onto my iPod, replicating the functionality of Delicious Library. This will probably get even easier when Listal finally has a “proper” export facility.

  • User-specified tags, ratings and lists

This is really what sold it for me - the ability to completely tag my collection as I want to. So I can have a whole bunch of movies listed as “hangover movies,” “Sunday matinees,” “Cheesy horror.” You get the idea. And this is without even touching on the “social” part of the application - being able to see friends’ collections, recommend new films and easily arrange loans.

My listal profile is here. I’ve barely added 25% of my collection and even then, I’m going to have to go back and tag them all properly, so I’m going to be working on it a bit more. If you’re on there, add me as a friend!

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus

Remember the “Double Life” ad for the Playstation? A marvellous ad, full of the kind of lyrical braggadocio Sony brought to the word of videogames. In that one ad, I believe Sony did more for raising mainstream understanding of the appeal of videogames than all of Nintendo’s efforts throughout the previous ten years.

But the ad never really rang true for me. The creepy-cute kid with the lisp telling us how he’d “conequered worlds” seemed like a bit of a lie. The worlds I had conquered had been superficial, cartoon worlds. Even the largest maps in Command & Conquer never really struck me as anything more than an extended game of Cannon Fodder. A loose bit of fun that, ultimately, never made me feel even the least bit heroic. Certainly not as heroic as the games that creepy-cute kid seemed to be playing.

Shadow of the Colossus is the first game that has made me feel like I could be a part of that ad. I feel like I’m finally able to say, with no small amount of pride, that I have defeated giants. Armed with nothing more than a sword, a bow, and an unlimited supply of arrows (ahem), I have beaten… no, I have slain impossible goliaths. Did you hear that? I’ve actually slain something.

The sense of scale in this game is unbelievable. One level in God of War had you climbing a giant temple carried on the back of Kronos, the last titan. The scale of that one level sealed it for me - God of War was presenting familiar things in a way I had never experienced them and, as such, was one of the best games I’d ever played. Shadow of the Colossus does the same thing, over and over again. Each level (16 in all) has a different colossus, with a different way of defeating them. Some are more obvious than others. Some require more skill and/or dexterity and/or luck than others. But each one has a scope beyond any other videogame I’ve ever played. Quite simply, it’s staggering.

The Colossi themselves are strewn across a huge, empty game world. This in itself is a courageous move by the developers. Given the games relative brevity (in 3 hours, I had defeated 7 Colossi, almost half the total amount), it would have been easy to put incidental challenges in your way - the occasional enemy that will pop up out of nowhere and take 10 minutes to defeat (Hello Zelda: Wind Waker!) - thus artificially lengthening the game. Instead, they kept it barren, which only adds to the epic nature of the game.

(Incidentally, I’ve also noticed that the developers have thrown in cool little spot-details, like an ancient campfire near where you battle a colossus. Not entirely necessary, but adds the overall atmosphere of the game.)

After Shadow of the Colossus, I still don’t feel like I’ve conquered worlds. But I’ve conquered giants. And that’s close enough.

R-Point

I’m convinced there’s a good war-themed horror out there somewhere. What started out as a general disappointment with Michael Mann’s The Keep has taken me through The Bunker (awful) and Deathwatch (starts out promising, quickly turns awful). From reading IMDB’s message boards, I thought Kong Su-Chang’s R-Point would answer my prayers.

It tells the story of a squad of Korean soldiers in the Vietnam war sent to investigate radio transmissions coming from a group of soldiers thought to have been killed six months previously. Which is the same setup as Deathwatch. And that’s the problem. Using the plot of Deathwatch as a foundation, R-Point tries to blend a mixture of Platoon, Apocalypse Now, The Blair Witch Project and The Shining, even going so far as to visually name-check some of these films. And among all these heavyweights, the few original things the filmmakers bring seem quite tame and undercooked.

On paper, it’s a recipe for magic: war-themed horror mixed with the nerve-shattering tension that Asian filmmakers seem able to tap into so well. In reality, R-Point is a disappointing anti-climax. Oh well, i still have high hopes for Worst Case Scenario

Soft-modded Xbox Media Centre!

Remember a few days ago, I wrote about the TV shows I love? Well. apart from Grand Designs and the Channel 4-led shame-fest of Supernanny, Brat Camp and It’s Me or the Dog, I don’t tend to watch much TV on er… TV. The ease of availability of just about any show I want to watch (thank you Uknova and Mininova) means that I find it easier to just download the shows I want to watch. If I wanted to be fancy, I could call this “time-shifting” or something, but let’s just call a spade a spade and say “laziness.”

This generally means watching them on my computer in work (during lunch, honestly!). I’m not particularly delighted with this. A dodgy CRT with a crappy set of speakers can’t really compete with my setup at home. And it also adds another layer of hassle with shows that my girlfriend also wants to watch, like Lost. In these cases, I’ve got a DVD player that will play DivXs, but is extremely fussy about what kinds of DivXs it wants to play. So I end up

  • Downloading the file

  • Using FfmpegX to convert the file (even on my dual G5, this takes 20 minutes)

  • Burn it to a CD

  • Bring it homeAnd this doesn’t take into account the loss of sync between the audio and visuals that FfmpegX tends to helpfully drop into its newly-converted files. Nor the amount of hassle involved in doing this for multiple episodes. It also means that once I’ve watched the episode, I’m left with a lovely new CD coaster taking up space on our already-overflowing shelves (visual evidence of overflowing shelves).

What I needed was a media centre. Something that would let me download episodes, bring them home on my iPod and watch them on my TV. Originally, I had planned to use a G4 Powermac with Front Row at home for the media centre but lack of a graphics card with decent TV-out put an end to this idea. I thought about buying myself a mod chip for my Xbox and installing Xbox Media Center (XBMC), but even this struck me as too much work (and in the couple of weeks it would take for my mod chip to arrive, I would probably be bored of this idea already).

Luckily, I stumbled across a bunch of articles last week about soft-modding the Xbox. This meant I could install XBMC without a chip. So on Friday, I gave it a go.

I used a hacked save game for Splinter Cell which, when launched from within the game, ran a program from within Linux that did all of the hard work for me. Once I installed the softmod, installing XBMC was simple. Now, I can stream movies (I tried it against .avi, .mov, .wmv - all worked) off that same G4 Powermac and still play Xbox games - even play on-line with Live! And the cherry on top of all this is that these movies look absolutely beautiful on the TV. Way, way better than my converted DivXs ever did.

The total cost to me for doing all this was the princely sum of… nattin. I had all the tools lying around (Xbox, memory card, usb/memory card convertor, media server) and it only took a few minutes to complete. Next up: putting a new hard drive in the Xbox. Let’s see if that’s as easy.

TV recommendations - February 2006 edition

TV Shows I love

Life on Mars

I’ll admit that I’ve never been drawn to 70s British police dramas. Then again, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually seen a full episode of any of them. But Life on Mars is just fantastic. This and Doctor Who have renewed my faith in BBC drama.

Prison Break

When I’m about to head off to bed after a hard day’s TV watching, I tend to go for one last flick through the channels. I remember crying whenever I’d stumble across CSI at midnight because it meant I was stuck for another hour without any way of wrenching myself away from the telly. Televisual crack. I was addicted.

I get the same thing with Prison Break, the TV show with the most idiotic setup I’ve ever seen. It makes me think of that episode of the X-Files where Mulder discovers the TV networks are putting subliminal messages between the frames of TV shows. I don’t know why else I can’t pull myself away from these breathtakingly stupid shows.

Lost

Actually, I don’t love Lost any more. I watched the entire first season over the course of a weekend and was completely hooked but since then, I think I mostly watch it out of some hope that they’ll finally start dishing out some answers. So far, they haven’t. And now there’s talk of dragging this into four seasons, with a feature film finale. I think it’s time I cut myself free.

Anything involving people being chastised for being bad parents/children/pet-owners

Yes, they might be lowest-common-denominator TV, but these shows have saved my life on more than one occasion. However, this does not extend to anything presented by Gillian McKeith. She is the devil. A bitter, hump-backed devil

Grand Designs

This has been mentioned before, but I still can’t get enough of it. I love everything about it, from the creepy Harry Potter-esque theme music to Kevin McCloud’s shameless baiting of the absolute cocks he’s showcasing. I wish it had its own channel.

The IT Crowd

Apparently, this isn’t being as well received as I would have expected, which is a shame because I think it’s one of the best-written, best-acted comedies on TV today (or at least since Black Books went shit). The fact that it’s about a bunch of socially inept geeks - thus mirroring my own existence - only makes me love it more.

TV Shows I just can’t get into

Battlestar Galactica

I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I just can’t get into this show. I think this means I have to hand in my nerd badge or something.

Veronica Mars

It’s nice to have a female-led teen-oriented drama show that doesn’t involve someone being a superhero or a total fucking flake. But I just couldn’t care less about this show.

ER

I used to love this show, but I’ve come to realise this was mostly down to my hetero boner for Noah Wyle. Now, not even John Leguizamo can save it.

10 Days in San Francisco

I wish I could say it was more than just a coincidence that I’m in San Francisco at the same time as Macworld but unfortunately, I’m only here to help our company move its San Francisco office two blocks down the road. The move itself took place over the past weekend (and the few days before it), so for the last few days I’ve been running myself ragged trying to make the entire thing as seamless as possible. And, minor cable issue aside, the whole ordeal has been fine. We’re back up and running and I’ve got time to enjoy myself.

No gun issues this time. Actually, the whole trip has been rather subdued. Like I said, I’ve been pretty busy since I got here. Working 12-hour days has meant that I’m going hotel -> work -> hotel. Sleep -> work -> sleep. The jetlag hasn’t been given a chance to catch up with me.

Although it’s not all been work. I’ve still managed to find time to do some wandering. Being a huge nerd, I went hiking around San Francisco to find the offices of American Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s production company. While I was out there, I took a trip towards North Beach, past the City Lights bookstore - the heart of the beat movement. And, naturally, also found time to do a little shopping. Current haul includes

But of course, the entire city has gone Mac crazy. Macworld is taking place just 10 minutes down the road from where I’m sitting. Today, as I’m sure you’re all aware, is keynote day. On the trip down Market Street, from Powell to First (roughly ten or so blocks) I passed 4 Starbucks, each one filled to overflowing with people on Powerbooks and iBooks, presumably waiting for Steve Jobs’ keynote to begin (sitting in one of the windows was that guy who laser-etched his powerbook).

And now, only 6 hours after the keynote ended and the products were launched San Francisco is covered in ads for the new Intel Macs. Unbelievable.

27 Years Old Today

Birthday Loot!

Today I managed to defy the odds by surviving exactly 27 years. To congratulate me (or perhaps console me), people gave me some loot. Current haul includes

27 being the age of the Rock N’ Roll death, I’m starting to feel a bit bummed out by the increasingly long list of people who had completed their entire careers and went to that great gig in the sky by the same age as I am right now. I’ve got about another 11 months and 30 days left to make my mark on the world or else I’ll miss my window.

Christmas Wishlists

Amazon wishlists have never really worked me. Too cumbersome to suit my way of doing things and too limited to suit the things I want a wishlist for. So last year, I began using the del.icio.us “wishlist” tag. If I saw something I wanted, it would get tagged under wishlist+_$itemDescription_, e.g. wishlist+dvds, wishlist+clothes and so on.

This means that I’m able to keep things out of my head while still keeping them in a central place, one I use every day. But more importantly, it gives me a quick list of everything my heart desires that I can access from any computer on the internet. On my recent, exciting trip to San Francisco, I was able to go into an internet cafe and print out entire shopping lists based on my wishlist tag, Unfortunately, this meant I came back with an armful of DVDs.

But around Christmas, this system really starts to show its strength because it has the advantage of giving people a quick overview of everything I’ve had my eye on. It paid off. My Livejournal Secret Santa bought me a book from the list - The Mafia Cookbook (Thanks Karena!).

Incidentally, here’s my wishlist. In case you were… y’know… curious

Technorati Tags: wishlists, del.icio.us

Mad Hot Ballroom

I didn’t want to like this movie. Fifteen minutes in and I had made up my mind that this was just Spellbound meets The School Around the Corner by way of Come Dancing and I was too old and too cynical to be taken in by such a cheap ploy.

But then, around the thirty minute mark, something remarkable happened. These kids stopped being precocious little brats and started becoming likeable creatures. Watching Cyrus’ reaction to the results of the initial competition sealed the deal for me. Believe me when I say that we need to watch this kid closely because he is wise beyond his 10 years and almost certainly an evil genius in the making (the director says that when she first met him and discussed her movie with him, he asked if she had secured a production deal yet).

Against my will, I had become emotionally invested in these kids. Their different personalities began to shine through and, by the time of the dancing final, I felt like I was joinging their teachers on the emotional rollercoaster they were riding. And the swell of pride I began to feel watching the kids put in some amazing performances was almost embarassing. It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.

Funny without lacking sincerity, sentimental without being po-faced. In spite of myself, I ended up liking this movie.

Dammit.

Mario Kart DS and Clearwire

I picked up a copy of Mario Kart for the DS over the weekend and have been having a great time ploughing through the 50cc and 100cc tournaments. How quickly my muscle memory has returned! Even cuter is the inclusion of some ‘retro’ tracks - courses I haven’t played since my SNES packed it in almost 10 years ago.

One of the major draws of Mario Kart DS is the wireless multiplayer option. Mario Kart has always been about the multiplayer, and the idea of being able to race against people around the world (as well as DS-toting friends) is almost too much to handle. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get connected to the Nintendo Wifi service from home. Or I do get a connection, but it drops while searching for other players.

I’ve run a few checks on the traffic and it doesn’t seem to have a problem on my network. Now, I’ve heard rumours of Clearwire blocking a lot of stuff, mainly P2P and VoIP things, so this could be the problem. Anyone had any problems with Clearwire blocking stuff?

Technorati Tags: broadband, clearwire, [Mario Kart](http://www.technorati.com/tag/Mario Kart), Nintendo, DS