2013 — 4 January: Friday

I have a friend (F1) who has a friend (F2)1 who has recently equipped herself with an NTSC VHS cassette of a film ("Mascara", with Charlotte Rampling) obtained, quite expensively, from a seller on eBay having first been more or less promised (by F1, typically kindly) that he can/will convert and cut this to DVD format for her for better long-term storage and playability.

I have another friend (F3) who has found and downloaded a 288MB FLV file (as did F1, in fact) of this film that apparently looks and plays like a heavily-compressed sub-VHS quality copy in VLC. And another friend (F4) still has the multi-format Panasonic analogue DVD recorder I bought2 in early 2008. Come to that, I still have a couple of DVDO video scalers, both of which can perform various forms of analogue and digital video reformatting magic. But none of us currently has any kit3 specifically designed to transcode analogue video standards between pure NTSC and PAL. And therein lies a problem we4 shall be trying to solve today.

It's possible that all will yet founder on the rock of "PAL60", which is the half-way house bastard variant of PAL put out by 'modern' VHS machines outside the US when fed an NTSC tape. PAL60 is basically a 60Hz (NTSC) frame rate signal whose chrominance information has been shifted in frequency from where NTSC puts it to where PAL expects to find it so that PAL TVs can both lock on to the picture and display it in colour rather than monochrome. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

Time for breakfast.

As is "usual" at this...

... time of year, the folk at Sense About Science publish their annual collection of weird notions expressed by celebrities, accompanied by (shall we say?) gentle corrections of certain misunderstandings. Click the pic for the full supply, but here's what Presidential candidate Mitt Romney makes of aeronautical engineering:


To think a chap who can raise (and, I presume, spend) well in excess of $1,000,000,000 and fail to convince a majority of his fellow citizens to vote him into the top job can be quite so ill-informed is — frankly — mind-blowing. I bet he doesn't know why the windows in the toilets are frosted, either. This one's for you, Big Bro, since I've long suspected you're more nearly aligned with his political stance than I could ever be. Enjoy!

There's a certain...

... irony — given that it's two years to the day since I picked up the Blu-ray of "Inception" — in receiving a snailmail bribe worth "over £29" to entice me back into the organisation it took several months to wriggle free from...

... only to learn that (had I the bandwidth and the inclination) I could now stream "Inception" in hi-def and watch it self-destruct like one of those tape messages in Mission Impossible.


... not only the latest Ansible, but indeed a whole galaxy of links from it, directly and indirectly, brought me eventually (after an interesting diversion into the supposed two careers of Heinlein5) into a little thicket not too far from the groves of Academe:

It is nonsense to ignore vital and fascinating writers like Murray Leinster, E. E. Smith, and A. E. van Vogt while squealing with delight to discover that someone of the "stature" of Bulwer-Lytton6 once produced a clumsy and inferior scientific dystopia called The Coming Race, a work that was justly ignored until someone had the notion that it represented a lost classic of "science fiction."

Gary Westfahl in Arguing with Idiots

Much more entertaining than listening a minute longer to the phoned-in radio witterings of Joe and Josephine Public with their strange opinions about whether or not gay bishops are or should be acceptable (mostly not, it seems) to the CoE if they promise to be celibate — unlike their US Catholic cousins who remain under continuing scrutiny here. It was Alfred Kinsey, recall, who supposedly stoutly declared that celibacy was the only perversion. Mind you, he was himself several sigmas adrift from the 'norm' if my two fat — and fascinating — 1998 biographies of him can be believed.

It's a (very minor) miracle: letter "T" is finished, clocking in at 1,768 MP3s. Just as well, as I'm about finished too, for the day.



1  Friend of a friend (or "FOAF") immediately brings to mind all those urban legends collected by that Dutch chap Jan H Brunvand. I eventually got rid of my four copies ("The choking Doberman", "Curses! Broiled again!", and "The Mexican pet" all followed quite soon in the wake of the original Penguin title "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" back in 1981) partly because the translations were a bit stilted, partly because all the stories started to blur into one another, but mostly because I really (I mean, really) loathed the font the first had been set in. Weird, I now realise. Bite me, Penguin!
2  And passed along to him a couple of years ago when it became clear I was no longer watching, or feeling any need to archive, broadcast TV.
3  Like the expensive (£10,000 or so at the time) video standards converter I borrowed from the IBM Hursley Lab's video studio for an experiment or two (turning NTSC LaserDiscs into PAL videotapes, as it happens) one Xmas in the early 1990s. It worked, but nowhere near as satisfactorily as I would have liked. Everything is (in some ways) vastly simpler in the digital video world... leaving to one side the appalling HDCP, of course.
4  I say "we", but my own part is simply to navigate F1 to F4 at around 11:00. I think of myself as a "facilitator" :-)
5  Unlikely as it sounds, I fancy myself as something of a Heinlein scholar — my studies date back to my acquisition, in 1965, of the extraordinary "Orphans of the Sky" which I long ago summarised in my earliest proto database as "Two-heads, and the journey to perpetual 'Good Eating'." I bet that's where Douglas Adams got his idea for Zaphod Beeblebrox, but that's another story.
6  Does "It was a dark and stormy night..." ring any bells?