We Love Katamari

The Gardai have called in a specialist to help clean up the mess on O'Connell Street after the riots on Saturday.

The Prince of All Cosmos!

Walk the Line

As a promotional tool to shift a boadload of Johnny Cash albums, it's fantastic.

As a way of giving casual fans a context to the songs they're listening to (even if that context is clearly exaggerated), it's pretty good.

As an entertaining movie, it's a load of my hole.

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.

Jarhead

As a film, Jarhead was as schizophrenic as the marine mentality it tried to convey. It swung wildly between occasional bursts of brilliant writing into lazy references to other war movies (oh yes, Apocolypse Now and the Deer Hunter, we get it). Sometime beautiful cinematography gave way to murky, uninspired, cliched imagery. Following the same template as countless movies before it, yet structurally, it was a complete mess.

But perhaps this is part of the point it's trying to make and it's done so subtlely as to be barely noticable. I'd like to think so, really I would. But the clunky, heavy-handed way in which it tried to make its other points leads me to believe that the word 'subtle' does not exist for these filmmakers.

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.

One last thing...

Last-minute Christmas drinks in the Lord Edward tonight at 8pm for anyone who's interested.

Christmas Funnery

We're almost finished in the office for the Christmas break. I've still got 15 days holidays to take this year. Except there's only 3 working days left. See the problem here?

Every year, we spend forever deciding who takes the consoles home for the Christmas break. Since the "BAGSY THE DREAMCAST, DOUBLE STAMPSIES, NO REVERSIES" method isn't particularly fair, and the stakes were particularly high this year, we held a Burnout 3 championship to see who would take the Xbox 360 home.

Well, I won.

To be very honest, I'm not interested in the Xbox 360. My TV isn't nearly up to the task of making games like "Condemned" look pretty. But the title of "Burnout 3 Champion"? Oh boy. What a great Christmas present.

(Today, I also got crowned Mario Kart DS champion - sweet.)