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That is actually a word. para-ska-veh-deh-kah-triee-ah-phobia, or people who are afraid of Friday the 13th; which must perhaps go down as one of the quirkier phobias. Being afraid of spiders makes some sense, little creepy eight-legged things certainly upset the girl with the not-quite-porridge. But to be afraid of a randomly recurring date?

I now have a week off work, as this is a 'quiet' period. I will probably use a lot of this time bringing my video recordings up to date. That's the thing with digital recordings in an alien format. With videotape, you can simply record and when you are done you are done.
With my PVR, I need to convert the MP4 into MJPEG, then edit out adverts and sync up the sound while making the pieces XviD. Finally, it all needs to be glued together and sometimes a few tweaks for sound sync. Given my machine can do MPEG4->MJPEG at around 34fps and MJPEG->XviD at around 12fps (varies depending on quality and other options), you can understand that my computer is often left running overnight...

† - somebody pointed out that this phrase didn't make much sense. It's partly true, because a Friday 13th won't sneak up on you on a lazy Tuesday at 4pm... However it is recurring because there are many Friday 13ths, and it is essentially random as it isn't like every third Friday of the month. It is actually highly precise and non-random as any calendar will prove, however for the purposes of discussion, it might as well be random...
As there are 28 days in February, your next scheduled Friday 13th is in March; March is mostly a repeat of February, only with (hopefully) better weather. Afterwards, November, then only one in 2010, in August...


What's a PVR?

I was emailed to ask what I meant by "PVR". Well, it means "Personal Video Recorder" - though some think of it as "Portable Video Recorder". I tend to shun the latter definition because, on the whole, video equipment isn't terribly portable. Sure, you can move your TV and satellite receiver and dish - I used to take mine between the UK and France regularly, but then I did likewise with my RiscPC... I'd call none of that 'portable'!

There is no hard and fast definition for a PVR, however since a term already exists for an analogue tape-based recording system (i.e. "VCR"), it is commonly accepted that PVRs are digital in nature, however they can record to harddisc (as in the PVR functionality of devices such as the Tivo and the SkyPlus) or direct to DVD media (as in the case of any number of DVD recorders) or to some sort of flash memory device (as in the case of my PVR). Generally, the resultant file(s) will be MPEG2 (DVD, some harddisc) or a version of MPEG4 (most of the rest). Early devices will probably be MPEG2, with later devices offering a much better level of compression using MPEG4. My PVR, by way of example, can record around 2 hours per gigabyte; as opposed to a 4½Gb DVD which can hold around 2 hours of video. Arguably MPEG2 is better quality, though this depends more upon the bitrate chosen than the specifics of the format. MPEG4 is, technically, a more improved set of compression standards, though with restricted communications bandwidths (i.e. ISDN/ADSL), we have become more and more accepting of visible artefacts in compressed video, which makes the likes of DivX and XviD more attractive as many gigabytes of DVD material representing a full length movie can be 'ripped' into an MPEG4 file of around 600-800Mb; indeed a media device (such as a Zen) that can read SD cards can have a library of programming and movies available in a Tictac's box!


So why MPEG4?

Let's face it - who buys cassette tape these days? While I appreciated the enhanced quality of CDs, I tended to prefer E90s because it was something of a hassle making up CDs and even more grief burning those CDs. Well, portable MP3 players and a computer that can make MP3s effortlessly has killed not only my use of cassette tapes, but also CD-Rs. I mean, when you can hold a hundred songs in your hand in a device smaller than a cheap microphone, with the flexibility to pick any as you desire, why'd you bother with anything else?

Modern computer video, modern video codecs, and devices such as the Zen are helping to kill off videotape in much the same way. My VCR is on its last legs, it often fails to record properly, though playback is okay. I can mitigate an awful lot of the problems by simply passing the video feed from my satellite receiver into my PVR, and pressing the record button. I can get about eight hours onto an E240 tape. I can get about eight hours onto a 4Gb USB stick that is a mere 30mm×12mm×2mm - so tiny!

The next time some government jackass loses a memory key containing the information of all of the MI5 spies working overseas, or a list of registered paedophiles, or some other controversial media fodder... just remember that nowadays flash memory devices are unfeasibly small. My God, this thing is tinier than a 4000-series logic IC!


I am, obviously, holding off on transferring my video collection to digital form as I have a reasonably full schedule with what is available on my fifteen(ish) channels; plus I have the PVR connected directly to the satellite receiver, not the VCR. I'll get around to it some day, just like some day I'll get myself a half-decent record player and convert the vinyl collection to MP3. Dust off Joni Mitchell and the Chad-something-or-other Trio (it's a lot of mom's stuff) as well as Abba and Bananarama (spot my stuff! - I am still on the lookout for The Bangles and other '80s classics; though sadly French boot sales are not really the country to look for '80s BritPop!).


Welcome back to HeyRick

Update #1 of two, in other words the more important stuff, has been put into place. I will try to get the rest up within this week; and then everything will be back to normal. I'm not going to bother explaining what the problem was, it makes sense to me but it's long and involved and how many people would really care? Something happened, it's fixed. That's about the level of it.
Actually, Glenn saw to the problem a lot sooner than you would know. Given my lack of communications (I'm not on-line and I have to do everything through a trusted friend as my Internet access point firewalls everything 'odd' (like ssh!), it took longer and lots of SMSs flying around. Had I been on-line and able to drop myself right into the server, this would have seemed to be sorted a lot sooner than now. But, hey, don't complain. I don't get paid for what I do on my site, and you don't pay for it. So work to the maxim of "when it is there it is there, and when it isn't, it is on holiday!". ☺


Foreign workers, again...

And again on the news the issue of foreign workers was raised, this time with a Japanese company planning to be making the new generation of high speed trains; and the fact that the bodywork is supposed to be made in Japan, with a large part being home produced.
Come on guys, in this global world people will look around for who can provide the best - whether it be the best safety record, the best technology and know-how, or as is all too frequently the case, the best (read "lowest") price. And such looking around will encompass the globe, and - yes - will involve workers from other countries getting in on the act. After all, how much stuff that could conceivably be produced locally is stamped "Made in China"?
And the only time the media and British public have any right to complain about it is when there isn't one single British company involved in a contract of any form overseas. Oh, wait, silence! Yes, Japanese and Italians will be working in the UK, just as Brits are working in other parts of the world.
So unless you wish to recall every single Brit employed overseas and give them a damned good reason why they have had their jobs taken away; could we please have a little less of this pseudo-nationalistic whinging?


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