Thursday, 31 December 2009

Monopoly - Not what it was or mistaken identity?

And so it came to pass.

Having lent our old Monopoly game many years ago and not got it back, it was time to purchase a new game.  The idea being; lets introduce the children to the world of Monopoly.  Its Christmas and board games are traditional in the downtime between Christmas and New Year.

At the very least it will help the children with their maths and may start to help them understand the value of money.

All very admirable you may think.  Yes I guess it was.

That was until we started playing and rule memories / strange-ties started surfacing.  It turns out that both Mrs  H. and I remember different additional rules not present in the rule book of our 2009 edition.  Namely:
  • Each player should circumnavigate the board at least once before purchasing any sites - Mrs H.
  • If the player lands directly on GO, they collect double salary: £400 - Me
  • You need to throw a total of seven, eleven or a double to get out of Jail - Me
  • Speed Monopoly (if desired) - shuffle and deal the site cards to evenly to each player - Me
Now is this the case of mistaken memory?

Or is it the "dumbing down" of a classic?

Sure a quick Google would solve all of this, but where's the fun in that?

- Chris

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

AVI / MP4 / DivX / XviD to DVD - The Free Way

So you've taken the plunge and bought one of those flashy digital 'straight to memory card' video camcorders.

Excellent.  So you've shot all this video and now you would like to put it onto DVD before wiping the memory card and starting again.

The problem is what's the easiest way to convert it to DVD?  The DVD needs to be 100% standards compliant so that it will play in any DVD player any-time anywhere.

Sure there are lots of commercial conversion tools around that will do the job just fine, but why pay the money when you can achieve perfect 100% standards compliant results using free software?  Is this possible?

The answer is a most definite YES!  What's more, here's how:

Software Required
You will need three pieces of software (two if you have a DVD burning application already installed)
  • gui4ffmpeg - Used to convert the AVI / MP4 / DivX / XviD file to a DVD compliant MPEG2 video stream.  Direct download link here. To install, extract the zip file to a folder of your choice. Ensure you extract with folders intact!
  • DVDAuthorgui - Used to convert the MPEG2 video stream  into DVD VOB files ready for burning onto DVD.  Direct download link here
  • (Optional) CDBurnerXP - Used burn the files onto DVD disk.  Direct download link here
How To
Step 1 - Create MPEG2 file
  1. Open your video file and make sure that the video file plays OK.  Also make a note of the aspect ratio of the file to be converted.  Is it normal (4:3) or widescreen (16:9)?
  2. Launch gui4ffmpeg.exe.  You should be presented with a window that looks like this:
  3. Open your AVI / MP4 / DivX / XviD file using Open File button
  4. Select "dvd" in the Target drop down box
  5. Select your appropriate format (PAL = Europe, NTSC = North America) in the Format drop down box
  6. Using the Aspect drop down, select the aspect ratio noted down in step 1
  7. Ensure that the Bitrate stays at "6000"
  8. Change the audio target to "mp2"
  9. Click Save File and chose a filename and location to save the converted video
  10. Click the Generate button.  This will populate the command sting box next to the Generate button
  11. Click Encode
  12. The ffmpeg command line tool will start and run in a command line window
  13. The command line window will show conversion progress.  Go make a cup of tea.  This may take a while
  14. Close the window once the encoding is complete
Step 2 - Convert MPEG2 file to DVD VOB Format
  1. Launch DVDAuthorgui.  You should be presented with a window that looks like this:
  2. Select your appropriate format (PAL = Europe, NTSC = North America) in the DVD Format drop down box
  3. Click "add title"
  4. Change the file type to "mpeg with NAV packets" and open the mpg file created by gui4ffmpeg.exe
  5. The file should show up in the Titles Loaded box
  6. (Optional) I like to add some chapters to my video to make skipping forward through the DVD easier.  Add chapters by clicking "Chapters", "Visual Editors", OK, and "go" to auto add 5 minute chapters
  7. (Optional) you can be more precise with the chapters using the visual editor if you want to be.  [I personally can never be bothered.]  Click accept
  8. When you are happy, click "author DVD"
  9. Specify the name of the folder where you want the DVD output to be written to and click save
  10. Put your feet up again.  This shouldn't take that long - certainly not as long as the gui4ffmpeg conversion
Step 3 - Burn DVD
If you already have a preferred DVD burning application installed then feel free to use that.  If not, here is how to use CDBurnerXP.
  1. Launch CDBurnerXP
  2. Select Data Disc and click OK
  3. Click File and "Video DVD Layout"
  4. Navigate and select the VIDEO_TS folder created under the the output folder created by DVDAuthorGUI
  5. Click Create Movie Image and OK
  6. Click Burn
Further reading
If you get stuck or want to create DVD's with Menus etc.  Here are the more advanced guides:

Job done!

Pretty easy really.  Honest!
By the time you converted your fourth or fifth video, you'll have the process down.

- Chris

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Happy Christmas

As is almost traditional on this blog, (see my Halloween post), it's time for some more cards.

And finally, not a Christmas card per-se, but topical anyway:

From someecards again.

Have a Happy Christmas and a Joyous New Year.

- Chris

Friday, 18 December 2009

Black Mesa: Return to the Lamda Complex

I'm not that much of a game player. XBox, Playstation, Wii, PC - I can take or leave them all, and I generally leave them.

In the true sense of the phrase; I don't play games sonny..

That said, there has only really been one game that I have played and completed: Half-Life.  I enjoyed it so much, I also completed the add-ons Opposing Force and Blue Shift.

Mrs H even bought me Half-Life 2 when it came out - I never finished it.

Ten years on (yea I know - 10!) It looks like a return to the Lambda Complex might just be in order.

That's when I found these:


Black Mesa is a complete re-creation of the game Half-Life, utilizing the
[more up to date Half-Life 2] Source engine. Black Mesa will let you re-visit the world that started the Half-Life continuum.

Although the first trailer shows a release date of 2009, according to the official website that is not going to happen.  It'll be released "when it's done"

I know what your asking - Why play a game that you've already completed?
  • Nostalgia
  • There's no way I'll remember it all
  • I know it's going to be good - the original game was
All that and the price can't be beaten either!

Bring it on... after ten years, I can wait just a bit longer...

- Chris

Friday, 4 December 2009

Windows 7: Aero Glass Without WDDM Drivers

OK, this is could be called a cheat, but it achieves the desired effect and works well.

Having only run Windows 7 either in a VMware virtual machine or on my Pentium M laptop, I wasn't really interested in Windows 7 Aero Glass.

All well and good you may think - well I did too...

Then I tried Windows 7 RC on my new MSI motherboard.... Wow - this glass molarky is actually quite nice!

(Yes I know Aero Glass was available with Windows Vista.... But who bothered with Vista?)

So, what can be done to get my laptop to also run Aero Glass?

Well as it turns out it's all to do with Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) video card drivers - or the lack there of.

Bad News
My laptop has a built in ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 video card. Unfortunately - long story short - there are no WDDM drivers for this video card and there probably never will be.  As the card is built onto the laptop motherboard, the upgrade path is pretty much zero. Boo!
Good News
With the installation of couple of small applications we can get very close to Aero Glass without having to effectively ditch the non WDDM compliant laptop in pursuit of Windows 7 glassyness!!

How to
Video Card Drivers
So the first step is to get some better drivers over and above the Windows 7 default VGA driver.

For my ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 I installed these drivers from rapidshare [Update 21/02/10] - these drivers from mediafire.

They look to be the very last Windows Vista drivers available for my video card.

These drivers will also work with any of the following video cards:
ATI ES1000
ATI ES1000
ATI ES1000
ATI FireMV 2200 PCI
ATI FireMV 2200 PCI Secondary
RADEON 7200 Family
RADEON 7500 Family
RADEON 8500 / Radeon 8500 LE Family
RADEON 8500 / Radeon 8500 LE Family
RADEON 8500 / Radeon 8500 LE Family
RADEON 8500 DV Family
RADEON 8500 Family
RADEON 8800 Family
RADEON 9000 Family
RADEON 9000 LE Family
RADEON 9000 LE SEC Family
RADEON 9000 SEC Family
RADEON 9000U Family
RADEON 9000U SEC Family
RADEON 9100 Family
RADEON 9100 SEC Family
RADEON 9200 LE Family
RADEON 9200 LE SEC Family
RADEON 9200 SE Family
RADEON 9200 SE SEC Family
RADEON 9250 Secondary

Transparent Window Borders
The application to do this is TrueTransparency which can be downloaded from here.  There is no installation, just extract the zip file and run TrueTransparency.exe

The application will put an icon in the notification tray (by the clock) from where you can choose your transparent skin and ensure that the application runs at Windows start up:

Transparent Taskbar
Download Transbar from here, Install and run.

Not much to say here, other than tweak the slider to set your taskbar transparency and click OK.

Job done! and the best bit is that these two little applications should run on any non WDDM compliant hardware; not just ATI video cards!

Click here to see the full size version in all it's glassyness....

MMMMM Glasssy!

- Chris

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