Lael’s chicken and andouille gumbo

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My Blu-Ray movie archival strategy

I’ll admit it; I love Blu-Ray movies. The huge improvements in audio and video quality over DVD are so tremendously worth it. However, playing Blu-Rays on HTPC’s can even be somewhat awkward. Even though I have my machine setup to automatically run Power DVD and start playing the disc after it’s inserted, it still kinda rubs me the wrong way. It’s one of the two things that can’t be done inside of Windows Media Center (Hulu Desktop is the other). Over the years, I’ve also been spoiled about having my entire movie library on the Drobo and instantly accessible without physical media (I also hate physical media). Hey, it’s a nice thing when you’re hammered at 2AM after a night of boozing and want to watch Heat at 150 decibels. Yeah, fuck you neighbors.

So here’s what I’ve been doing lately, and I’m pleased with. Rip the Blu-Ray movies into high bitrate WMV 9 video with WMV10 Pro 5.1 audio. There are pros and cons for every choice, but here’s why I chose this:

1) Media Center/Windows can natively handle both of these formats. No plug-ins or anything needed.
2) Can fast-forward and rewind natively; no need to skip in 30 second increments or jump backwards in 5 second hops. Can’t do that with any of the directshow stuff.
3) This is about the best combo for Media Center Extenders and xbox 360. Everything else is flakey on them.
4) 10 Mbps VBR WMV9 video looks pretty good. Great for casual viewing.

Now, the steps:
1) Use eac3to to rip the AC3 audio track to an AC3 stream. I guess you could try using other multi-channel formats, but I’ll stick with the AC3 5.1. eac3to is normally a CLI app, but there are a few GUI front-ends for it. I use the yr_eac3to_more_gui. Be sure to select the option to disable center channel normalization.
2) Use eac3to to rip the video to a MKV file. Don’t do anything super fancy here, just straight video to a MKV.
3) Fire up Windows Media Encoder and add the video file to the project. Select the correct profile and hit encode.
4) Convert the AC3 file to WMA10 Pro using dbPowerAmp or something similar. I usually do this ahead of time. Takes 8 mins or so.
5) Use Windows Media Stream Editor to mux the WMA file into the WMV.

5 steps isn’t too shabby at all — especially compared to some tutorials out there. Oh, it takes a long time to encode (about 4-5 hours on my rig). This is why you overclock and buy liquid cooled PC’s. Hot

Now for the pre-requisites. You’ll need the following software packages:
-Slysoft AnyDVD HD. This circumvents the retarded copy protection on BD movies. It is fucking pricey though (over 100 euros).
-eac3to (free download)
-eac3to GUI (not required but nice. free download)
-Windows Media Encoder.  (free download. be sure to grab the vista updates if you’re on anything later than XP)
-ffdshow & matroska splitter (free downloads). This allows Media Encoder to read the MKV file. Both are free downloads. Avoid any codec packs and just install them.
-something that installs with Windows Media Audio 10 Pro profile. This is generally included with commercial software, but I’m guessing it can be found somewhere on the net. I got it with dbPowerAmp which I bought eons ago. Great software then and still pretty good now.

That’s it as far as software. You will have to setup your media encoder profiles though. Use the Media Encoder Profile Utility for that. I generally shoot for 10mbps video and 98 VBR 16 bit audio at whatever the native AC3 rate was. I chose 10 Mbps because that’s right around the area where most media extenders and the xbox 360 top out at. People have reported issues at 15 mbps so I figure that 10 mbps gives us enough wiggle room. Plus, it looks pretty good.

If you have subtitles, there are a few more steps:

1) Extract subtitles to a .sup file using eac3to.
2) OCR the .sup file into a .srt file using supread
3) Convert .srt file to .sub file using Subtitle Workshop or something like that.
4) Make sure the name of the .sub file exactly matches the name of the WMV file and put it in the same directory.
5) Be sure to enable subtitles in WMP.

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Tokyo Update

Those that know me well know that I prefer to sleep in rather than wake up early. So when I say that I woke up at 4:45 AM to catch a flight to Tokyo, yes, it’s OK to be shocked. Still, the prospect of Tokyo was so great that it didn’t matter what time it was. I said goodbye to Ross’ dog Boudreaux and hopped in a cab around 5:15. Uncle (Ross calls all the cab drivers Uncle) thought he was driving the Starship Enterprise (not the crappy diesel we were actually in) and flew down PIE to the airport. His little LCD panel constantly said "Speed warning! Drive safely!" which gave me the idea that we shared the same sentiment for speed limits. Went through security, had breakfast at the United lounge, then plunked my ass down in a United Business seat to Tokyo. While I did sleep a little on the plane, I spent most of the time reading a guide book on Tokyo. By the time we landed, I was completely amped. Went through immigration and the guy was a little surprised that I was there on vacation. He kept asking me if I was going to work. Bizarre. Made it through then went to the airport limousine bus counter, booked a ticket, and waited for the bus. I found my numbered waiting area, watched 3 buses come and go, then jumped on mine. Yes, everything you’ve heard about Tokyo transit is true — it is on time. One nice thing is that it’s considered rude to talk loudly or use a cellphone. Oh to have that attitude in the US!

First stop on the bus was my hotel, Cerulean Tower Hotel. Took about an hour with all of the traffic and a decent deal at 30000 yen. Let’s just get this out of the way first, Tokyo is expensive. Yeah, I’m sure there are ways to do it on the cheap, but almost everything here is expensive. Come here with the wallet open. You don’t have to be big pimping, but it doesn’t hurt. Speaking of not hurting, this hotel is da bomb. I managed to swing a single room with city views of the Hachkiko crossing for $220 US/night. For this a place of this quality, that’s a steal. Let’s just go through the check-in experience:

I was off the bus, had not stepped more than 2 feet with my bags before someone asked me if I was checking in. He took my bag and handed me a ticket in return, then another person greeted me and showed me the way to the hotel reception. At reception there were no less than 3 people waving me into the shortest line. The receptionist asked me to fill out the standard hotel stay card. I literally hadn’t finished writing "HESSE" on the form before the guy had read it (upside down mind you) and asked, "Mr. Hesse will you only be staying with us for 3 nights?" Honestly, I don’t think the ink was dry yet. Once I was all settled up there, a woman suddenly appeared with my bag and showed me into the room. We talked a bit in English and hers was very good (not the case *at all* in Japan). Once into the room, she showed me all of the various things, said goodbye, and slipped out with ninja stealth lest I suffer the indignity of hearing the door close. Looking around the room I thought to myself, I’ve stayed in much worse places in the US (and abroad) for $220/night. So, score one for! I highly recommend using them.

The room isn’t pimping, but it is just nice. There’s nothing cheap here at all. It’s all very high quality. Not blinging, but nice. OK I take that back, the toilet is blinging. I want one for home. I mean it. Automatic controls for flushing, bidet, and ummm ball washing. Heated of course and you can adjust the water pressure. Hello, Christmas list anyone?

I had to fight a fire at work, send some emails, then I was off to explore Shibuya. From my room, I could see exactly where I wanted to go, but leaving the hotel….ok I’ll admit I got lost. Welcome to Tokyo. Lost in the first 5 minutes and probably not the last time. Wandered around for a good hour then found the "Ramen place with the pig’s head on the sign" as my coworker Justin described it. Everything on the outside was in Japanese. I don’t speak Japanese. I can’t read it. Luckily I’ve eaten enough Japanese food in SF to know my way around a menu. Standing outside, the place was packed with Japanese people all chowing down. OK, it’s got to be good. Deep breath, here goes nothing and I went inside. After some pointing and gesturing, I ordered what I wanted and paid. A minute later, my ramen popped out, and I went to town. It was great food, and I was even happier. I’d had my first successful Japanese meal without an English menu and without any trouble. When I was finished I looked around for a napkin and then realized that I was in Tokyo. They don’t give you napkins here; you have to bring your own. Granted, they do hand them out attached to advertisements on the street (think tiny packets of tissues in the US), but I hadn’t run across any yet. Oh well, that’s what jeans are for.

I wandered around after dinner and found the train station. Decided to buy a Suica card before rush hour the next day. While the signs and terminals in the Tokyo stations might be in English, the Suica machine is not. However, I knew that it was 2000 yen for a card so I plunked in two 1000 bills and hoped for the best. Some whirring later, I had a Suica card — Tokyo was now at my disposal. What did I do though? I found the nearest Belgian bar and proceeded to get drunk. I stumbled upon this bar named Belgo which had over 100 types of beer, mostly Belgian. Plopped my rear on a bar stool and did what I do well, get drunk.

Slept in late the next morning due to time change from Singapore and decided to watch the Hachiko crossing from the nearby Starbucks. Oh, did I mention that it’s raining hard today? Yeah, that crossing is kinda insane on a normal day. Add umbrellas into the mix and hello collisions! Wolfed down my morning coffee and tried to figure out what would work tourist-wise with all of this rain. I slept through the fish market action so I said fuckit and jumped on the Yamanote line to Harajuku. I wandered around a bit, popping in and out of various shops. Ended up with some cool t-shirts and my obligatory expensive pair of Japanese jeans. All very cool. I was also looking for some postcards to send and a folding hat for Amanda but struck out on those.

On the way back to the hotel, I thought it best to get some lunch — it was 4PM. I ran across a vending machine ramen shop so decided to give that a try. So basically this is how it goes: There’s a big picture menu out front which you use to figure out what you want, you figure out what number that is, go inside, and put your money in the machine and choose the right number. It spits out a receipt that you take to the counter. They asked me some questions in Japanese, I kinda shrugged, she asked "Soba?" and I nodded and gave a thumbs up. A minute later, my curry and my ramen were put on the counter. Bam! I like this. The food was excellent, too. So when you hear about someone ordering food from a vending machine, this is what they’re talking about.

I returned to the hotel, plopped my bags down, and crashed for a nap. Shopping and touristing in the rain can be quite tiring.

Wrote up this post and a Bali post, now I’m headed out to Shinjuku for the lights and night life. Wish me luck! Oh yeah, it’s still raining.

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Bali Reflections

Ross and I headed over to Bali for a nice break from fancy Singapore
and to catch some beach lounging. It was a fantastic little side trip
that I’d recommend to anyone visiting in the area. We bought some
tickets for about $200 on Singapore Airlines, and yeah everything
you’ve heard about Singapore Air is true. Everything is just so
professionally done and those dresses that the women wear are amazing.
You could never do something like this in the US, and that fact makes
me a little sad. Clearing customs took over an hour and a half; this
did not make us happy. They had 2 guys to clear 3 planes full of

We stayed in Seminyak on Cricket’s recommendation at a place named
Pruri Cendana. It was basically what I thought Bali would be all about
— lush gardens, handcrafted wood buildings, kinda rickety, beds with
mosquito nets, etc. It was essentially what I was looking for, but at
$70 US per night it was a bit much considering other options. However,
we waited last minute to do everything so this is basically the best we
could get.

Everyone in Bali was very friendly and spoke English incredibly well —
better than in Singapore which I thought was very ironic. Stuff there
is also very cheap. Meal and a few beers? $3 US. Speaking of beers, the
local beer there in Bintang and everyone has a Bintang t-shirt on —
especially all of the Aussies. The local liquor/wine is something
called Arak. It was kind of like soju. We had Arak Sunrises at this one
bar and they were quite tasty. I feel like it was the Bali equivalent
of a Hurricane — sweet, sugary, and potent. I had no idea how potent
until Ross told me that Arak can be dodgy sometimes and that people
have died from drinking it.

Not only are Bintang t-shirts everywhere, but Aussies are all over the
place. So much so that everyone thinks that every white person there is
an Aussie. To be honest, it’s a refreshing change that not everyone
assumes you’re American. Overall the Aussies there are OK, but you can
get some loud obnoxious ones — just like Americans.

Monday night, we settled into our room and went in search of food and
drink. Ate nasi goreng and mie goreng at a place named the Bush Post
(or maybe it was Bush Telegraph) which was excellent. Hopped around a
few bars then decided to call it a night. The stretch of road near
Seminyak we were staying on had more than a few places which catered to
ladyboys. It was … odd. Our cab driver told us that Seminyak was
known for this….THANKS CRICKET!

Tuesday was beach day and we hit it running. The beach near Seminyak
wasn’t all that great, so we cruised down it until we found something
worthwhile. That ended when we came to Ku De Ta which was a very hip,
stylish drink spot on the beach. Hip and stylish by any standards. We
could have easily been in Miami’s South Beach and no one would have
been any wiser. If you’re on a date and want to impress, go there for
drinks in the evening. You won’t regret it. But since it was the day
and Ross and I aren’t like that, we hopped in a cab and went to Kuta.
This is where all the action was. We started at the bombing memorial
which was put up to honor those killed by the terrorists who bombed the
original Ku De Ta in Kuta. It was somber and eventually started to
wandered around some tiny streets. We then made our way to the beach —
a gorgeous beach. Got some umbrellas and chairs at the rate of $5/two
hours. Grabbed some Bintangs and settled in. After a while, we started
getting swarmed by people selling stuff and offering massages. To be
honest, it was really annoying. Sometimes they just wouldn’t leave you
alone after you said no. They just stood there pestering you. Not
exactly my idea of peace and quiet. My good Southern upbringing was
maxed and out and I yelled "Vamanos!" to them and they finally got the
picture. I jumped into the warm ocean and blissfully forgot about
everything going on in my life. One thing to note about Kuta is that
there is a fair amount of trash in the water. You’re not always bumping
into it, but you will notice it every few minutes. I walked back to the
chairs and notice that Ross was surrounded by Balinese women. He was
getting a foot massage and a pedicure which looked quite relaxing so I
decided to do the same. It was quite relaxing to be honest. A pair of
cute Taiwanese girls set up shop next to us and occupied our time for
the next hour or so. Grabbed some food for lunch (nasi goreng) and
headed home.

Once I got home, I realized that Ross and to a greater extent, I, were
sunburned. I spent most of the day under an umbrella and with some
sunscreen on, but I guess the ocean wiped it off. Well the Bali sun is
intense enough to burn you quite fast, take note of that. I was also
wearing a linen shirt that day while walking around. Great for the
heat, not the UV rays. Writing this in Tokyo 3 days later, parts of me
are still hurting. Later that night we decided to walk to Ku De Ta for
a drink, but to walk along the streets and not along the beach. This
was a mistake. We asked our hotel receptionist which way to take and he
said it was too far to walk. We thought this guy was crazy as we walked
along the beach in under 15 minutes and managed to get there earlier
that morning. Well, he was right. The beach was a more direct route;
the Bali streets were more crooked than a dog’s hind leg. We finally
made it there, grabbed our expensive ($10) drinks and relaxed amongst
the beauty of the place. The stomachs started to grumble so we headed
back to the Seminyak shopping area for some food. Stopped at an Italian
joint since Ross wanted pasta and tired of nasi goreng. Full meal with
wine, $20. Your dollar goes far in Bali. We were both too whupped to go
partying so we headed back to the hotel.

Woke up late the next morning, applied liberal amounts of moisturizer,
ate breakfast, then headed for the airport. Went through at least 6
checkpoints or immigration stations and paid my 150,000 rupiah to exit
the country. Wait, didn’t I pay for a visa to enter? Whatever, you
gotta pay to leave, too. Had some more beers then hopped on a plane
back to Singapore.

Yes, I did buy a Bintang t-shirt.

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Singapore Reflections

Just some random bits about my trip so far.

The flights over here were completely uneventful and pretty good. Though I was a little bit upset that United doesn’t have its nicer business class layouts on their Asia flights. Hey United, Asia is just as important as Europe — get with the retrofits! Hell, I’ve had the nice true flat beds inside the US before. Still, I slept about 80% of the flight and was knocking back booze and food the rest of the time. Not a bad way to get halfway around the world.

The security screeners in Tokyo loved the Gama Go stickers on my laptop. I had no idea what they were saying but one of the guys grabbed the laptop, had a huge grin on his face, rattled off something to the coworkers, then all four of them ran over to look at the laptop. They were all smiling and pointing at the stickers. Walked over to the terminal and immediately boarded my plane to Singapore.

When I landed in Singapore I had no idea what time or even what day it was (it was actually Friday — I left on Wednesday). I had 6 meals and slept a lot in a metal tube; my body just had no frame of reference for time. Luckily Ross was there to pick me up, and we went back to his place around 1AM. Drank some beers and shot the shit. Some girls were texting him to come out, but we wanted to save up energy for Friday, and I wanted to get on a regular sleep schedule.

Singapore is hot. Just like New Orleans hot except it’s always hot here as it’s on the equator. I found this out as we took Ross’ dog Boudreaux out for a walk in the morning. Damn hot. Had some breakfast then jumped in a cab for Marina Barrage. Ross’ friend Ryan picked us up in a boat and took us to the floatilla of other boats moored in the harbor. We spent the day cruising around the inner harbor and watching the various practice sessions. Very, very cool. I got to see some views of Singapore that most people don’t since the harbor is basically a lake and it’s difficult to get a permit to access it (and even launch your boat). In short, we got to spend the day hanging out with some very generous and good people. Asia was starting to look really good.

Friday night we had planned on going to the F1 Rocks concert at Fort Canning. N.E.R.D., ZZ Top, Simple Minds, and No Doubt were on the list. We spent so much time on the boat that we missed everyone except for No Doubt. The best part is that Ross, was well being Ross, and asked everyone on the way in if Beyonce had played yet (she was on the next day). Being persistent and funnily annoying paid off and some guy gave us his VIP passes as he left. Score! Met more of Ross’ friends including one who worked as a presenter for Star Sports and one who blogged professionally for F1 (yeah, love to have that job). Afterwards, we went to a party at the museum hosted by Fuel. Well to be honest, we snuck in. We cruised around for a while as the party was kinda thin. Security spotted us and promptly tossed us out. Whatever. Next Ross had it in his head that we had to do this bungie swing thing…so we did. Not the best of ideas after a full night of drinking, but fun. Called it a night around 3AM.

Saturday we met Ross’ friends Cricket and Lavina for lunch in Boat Quay. Ate at a Chinese restaurant with a hellaciously long name, but served some righteously good food. Very very good. Chili crab just might be my new favorite seafood dish. I could move here just for that. Honestly. That good. The pepper crab was a close second and altogether the whole meal was great. Decently priced, too. Came out to S$250 which is about $176 US. Not bad for a bunch of beer, a lot of crab, and 3 other courses. Sure there might have been cheaper places but this one was nice and we were sitting along a beautiful waterfront eating great food. Tough to beat! Oh and the waiter gave me props for a gwai-lo pronouncing Tsing-Tao properly. Go go San Francisco street knowledge!

Another thing about beer here; all of the beers on tap are either Tiger of Heineken. The Heineken thing kinda surprised me. I thought it would definitely be something else. Truth be told, I prefer the Tiger to the Heineken, but beer is beer.

After lunch we headed into the race area and watched practice. A great course setup, I just wish we could have had access to more areas. Our 3 day walkabout tickets limited us to zone 4. Still, very cool and I got some good photos. Headed back to Ross’ for food and showers.

This night was pretty dope. The official F1 after-qualifying party was at Stereolounge, a very cool club near Clarke Quay. Ross knows the owners and got us on the VIP list. Booya! This party was definitely bumping. Hello beautiful people! I felt like I was in some Hollywood A-list event. All of the women in there were amazingly gorgeous. Hell, I saw Bernie Ecclestone there and even he looked good in the right lighting. Had a lot of fun and met a few more of Ross’ friends including Ian and Carmi. Great stand up people. I was into my fifth Johnnie Walker of the night when some Chinese guy was buying shots at the bar for his birthday. That 151 did not sit well, and I went from kinda buzzed to drunk quickly. Damn you rum. Damn you. Left that party (I still don’t know why) and rolled back to the museum. Except this time we were on the VVIP list — yes in Singapore you have VVIP. What a difference a night makes. The place was packed and jamming. Will.iam was on the set and bumping. I ran into Carl Cox and chatted with him a bit. A bunch of Ross’ friends were there and a good time was had by all. Lindsay Lohan was also there and supposedly trashed, but I didn’t see her. Called it a night a little after 4AM.

Spent the next morning recovering and planning our trip to Bali on Monday. Met up with some friends for drinks and food at a place along the river called Brewerkz. Good beer, not too hot along the river, and hung out for a few hours. Rolled over to F1 to watch the race. Moved around a bit from spot to spot to see as much of the race action as possible. Got some good photos without a doubt. We got a text from Ross’ friend Kim that she was on top of the Esplanade and that the views were good. So we headed over there and she was right — they were easily the best seats for those on the walkabout ticket. Very cool. After the race I bought some race souvenirs, and we headed back to Boat Quay for some after race beers. Both of us were whupped so we headed back. Along the way we stopped for some chicken rice — quite good. I watched some of the NFL games online and crashed.

Ross is at work this morning, and I’m hanging out with Boudreaux on one of his verandas. Low key day as I type this up and pack for Bali. So far everything is great. I’m really lucky to have Ross as such a great host and Singapore is quite awesome. Great people and a beautiful place. It’s also much greener than I had expected. Oh and there are monkeys! You can see them in Ross’ neighborhood, but are supposedly not friendly at all. They’ll attack you if they feel threatened.

I can tell this is a place you must have money to really enjoy, but I also get the feeling that most people here do. The people are also super friendly — amongst the nicest on Earth. The only negative encounter I’ve had was with a pushy Brit at the F1 souvenir tent, but I’m not going to hold that against S’pore.

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Robin’s catfish courtbouillon

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nginx Heartbeat OCF resource script Just giving back a little to the community. I wrote this to use nginx as an OCF resource in Heartbeat. Now, you don’t have to. It assumes that nginx lives in /usr/local/sbin, but change to wherever your install path is. Or hell, add a new OCF variable and update the public repo.

Open source software and all that.

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