Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Plex on the cheap: Is the nVidia ShieldTV a good Plex server?

Like most things: it depends.

The nVidia ShieldTV is an amazing device. It is amazing in the wrong market for it to look amazing. I don't want to spend six paragraphs justifying the device, so I will suffice to say that the ShieldTV is a device which does far more than expected at a price point such features shouldn't be possible. However, it is marketed as a streaming device, in which category its price is actually a liability that turns people away and more's the pity.

That said, one of the amazing features of the ShieldTV is its ability to do double-duty as a Plex media server. Consider the fact that I've been running some form of a media server (not always Plex-based, though I jumped on the bandwagon pretty early in the Plex game) for close to twenty years. In that time, I've invested close to $5000 into the privilege of having this thing. That's a pretty good breakdown of time versus cost, but it should also highlight why having a device that sells for less than $200 and is capable of filling the same role is downright amazing.

So, the question is: is the ShieldTV good at being a media server? Yes. To an extent.

Qualifiers. The ShieldTV can stream music (particularly tiny files like .mp3) without any real strain. It can stream 480p content, again, without noticeable drain on system resources. It can transcode 1080p content like a champion. So, where's the downside?
1. The ShieldTV does not have the power to transcode more than 2 simultaneous streams. So, if three people try to connect and watch a 1080p movie on their cell phone at the same time, there's going to be a lot of buffering while the device struggles to keep up.
2. The ShieldTV does not have the power to transcode and perform other tasks well at the same time. You can still use the device while it is transcoding streams, but it will be noticed. The system gets a little sluggish and using Plex natively can become problematic.
3. The ShieldTV does not manage large libraries very well. If your library is somewhere north of 500 items, Plex is going to struggle with it on the ShieldTV. 

My conclusion, then, is that the ShieldTV is a more than capable device to run a Plex server for the vast majority of users. Think of it this way: you bought a device so that you could easily stream 4k content to your television. The ShieldTV is far and away the best option, so you spent a little extra to make sure you got the best on the market. Along with that industry-leading power and design you get the ability to share your own content with yourself anywhere in the world as long as you have access to the internet. That's a pretty great free extra feature.

On the other hand, if you're like me and you store all the music, audiobooks, comedy acts, movies and television shows for your entire family (parents, siblings) so that they will have access to it anywhere at any time, then the ShieldTV is not the optimal solution. I've spent a bit more so that I have a device that can handle 5 simultaneous transcodes and enormous libraries of thousands or tens of thousands of items.

Is the ShieldTV a good Plex server? Yes, for personal use with relatively small libraries (which should cover more than 90% of all users).

Monday, June 17, 2019

I've been playing Skyrim

In my spare time, I've been playing Skyrim. This won't be surprising to anyone who has played Skyrim, as it is an excellent game which provides hours of fun. What is more surprising is that I haven't really played Skyrim until now, in 2019. I fiddled with it a bit when I first purchased the game, fresh off of another stint in Fallout 3. Like all games I've tried to play to replicate the feeling of playing Fallout 3, Skyrim failed and I lost interest shortly after beginning. This isn't Skyrim's fault. It is just a function of how good Fallout 3 is. 

Speaking of Fallout 3, the only game I've found which successfully supplanted this game as a go-to pasttime was Fallout 4. I consider that a major success for the series. To really understand the psychology behind these things - for me anyway - I should rewind even farther. I quit Counter-Strike by playing obscene amounts of Warcraft III. I quit Warcraft III because I was honestly burnt out on it and found Guild Wars. Guild Wars was amazing, but it wasn't enough to keep me away from World of Warcraft forever. I always knew that World of Warcraft would be a mistake, yet eventually I dove in headfirst. To quit World of Warcraft, I turned to Borderlands. Then League of Legends. Borderlands ended naturally and of its own accord. I completed everything about the game long before achievements were introduced and I had lost too much interest in playing by the time they were (so if you check my profile it will not reflect the level of completion I actually achieved for that game). Also Torchlight. I've played a lot of Torchlight. From League of Legends I discovered (thanks to my brother) Fallout 3, which left an indelible mark. From Fallout 3, I convinced myself to buy Fallout New Vegas on release, a substantial investment at the time and one which I have never anything other than regretted (I've never played Fallout New Vegas past the first town). 

While there were plenty of games which captured my interest after this time, Fallout New Vegas proved to me that it would be a mistake to pay full price for any game... ever again. I played a lot of phone games and other trivialities until Torchlight II came out. I've played quite a bit of Torchlight II, then moved back to League of Legends and didn't invest in anything new for quite some time. When Fallout 4 finally came out, I was excited, but unwilling to purchase it for full price. So I didn't. I waited and played Fallout 3 and League of Legends. I did try out Borderlands 2, but never really got into it. I bought Borderlands the PreSequel, but never played it - not even once - because I hadn't finished Borderlands 2. I also bought the Borderlands telltale game thing on mobile. The full package with all the episodes. It was expensive. I never played it. Eventually, Fallout 4 became affordable, so I purchased it and greatly enjoyed it. I am not sure if I ever played through the full storyline, but that's a task for another day. 

After Fallout 4 I went back to League of Legends again and essentially stopped investing much time into games. I started playing a mobile game pretty intensively and pretty expensively. Seriously, pay to play games are the worst. But I got suckered in. I used to think that World of Warcraft got the better of me with the sheer and overwhelming amount of money I spent to play the game. Then I thought League of Legends must hold the true crown with all of the cosmetics that I purchased over the years. Alas, neither one comes close to the financial drain that mobile games represent. These things are the worst version of gaming to date.

After being raked over the coals by my ill-conceived mobile obsession, I was anxious to return to a simpler form of gaming. I wanted to find something self-contained. A game which you buy but once and then enjoy for hours upon hours afterward. I found such a game in Subnautica. Alas, that game is far too intense for me, with its creepy underwater settings and insistence on diving ever deeper to progress the storyline. I only lasted through three or four encounters with its leviathans before I packed it in and decided I'd seen about as much of Subnautica as I was ever going to be interested in seeing. 

This was the point that I came crawling back to Skyrim. I had my doubts, don't get me wrong. I didn't have an overly fond memory of the first playthough. I remember the control being kludgy and the game uninteresting. However, I longed for an open world to dabble in and countless reviews insisted that Skyrim was the best game ever made. It seems unlikely that everyone would be wrong. 

Everyone was not wrong. Skyrim is amazing. I just needed some time to acclimate to it (fresh off a Fallout play-through is not the best moment for me). The only real downside to the game is its lackluster endgame. Actually, it isn't that the endgame is lackluster, really. It's just that by the time I am interested in trying it out, I've already leveled too far for it to be challenging.

So, all of that to say that once I played through Skyrim and reached the endgame content, I was left once again looking for a satisfying game to occupy my play time. Is this because pay to play and MMO games are better for content with their incessant demand for more money?

Nah.

I played Skyrim for 100+ hours. In my world, that's like 4 months. If I wanted to get that much content out of a mobile game, I'd have to spend something approaching $3000 over a four month span. Instead, I spent $20 on a GOTY edition of one of the best games ever made and received a ton of enjoyment in return.

The economy of modern gaming is pretty messed up. People like me who don't have gargantuan piles of liquid funds to waste on a daily basis are being separated into a lower class of gamer, the so-called "free to play" crowd who are expected to grovel in gratitude for access to games which ostensibly don't carry a price tag. And while grovelling, don't forget to abandon all hope of playing the game at a viable level - you only get to do that if you're willing to shell out unreasonable sums of money. It's pretty messed up.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

RE: "Captain Marvel punches toxic masculinity in the mouth" extended scene

As a culture, we used to believe that "two wrongs don't make a right." I guess if you still hold to that perspective when observing this movie's protagonist and call it out for making her into a jerk (or even villainous *gasp*), then you're a misogynist.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed watching Captain Marvel sucker the creepy guy. I enjoy watching John Wick brutally murder hundreds of people. In the context of the story, I find myself enjoying it. Ms. Marvel is a brute with no regard for the safety and property of others. Mr. Wick is a psychotic murderer. Stories are stories. Hold these up as examples of something good? Um...

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Brief and spoiler-free thoughts on Endgame, the finale of the first MCU Avengers team

First and foremost, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Much of the setting work and reflection was amazing. The marriage of reflection, fan service and resolution is delicious. I think the script writers came at this movie from exactly the correct angle, and all criticisms to follow relate to semantics and development. The plot and payoff is cinematic excellence, even if the screenplay itself is not.

I have two major problems with the actual screenplay. First is the handling of Black Widow. While I think everything they did resonated with the character and was true to the writing and development invested, I don't think the circumstances surrounding the plot choices were correct. The thing that irked me most was the capitulation to the current trend of removing initiative from male leads and transferring it to female leads. I am sure for some people this makes me appear sexist and I'll just have to make my peace with that. Anyone who has bothered to get to know me and the story I've been writing for twenty-seven years, should know sincerely that I value the female initiator and adore stories of feminine strength. And I do for deeply personal reasons.

Second is the muddled mishandling of time travel as a concept. With some non-committal hand-waving at time travel being paradoxically confusing, the writers proceed to present their audience with a hypothesis of rules before completely breaking all of them with no discernibly predictable result. Whether this is because they really want time travel to be a mystery and there is some background cannon to the functions of it or (far more likely) they simply don't want to explain their choices and prefer to use time travel as a McGuffin of the highest order, the temporal narrative is self-contradictory at each turn. This requires the audience to either rest comfortably in accepting confusion or to disengage critical thought. It's annoying, but it certainly doesn't ruin the story.

In summary, this was not a perfect film, yet it was intensely enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Marvel Cinematic Universe [Or, Avengers: Endgame Prep]

My wife an I have undertaken to watch through the entirety of the existing Marvel cinematic universe in chronological order in preparation for the inevitable release of Avengers: Endgame - the supposed endcap for the first three "phases" of their foray into film.

This time around I've identified my favorites from their stable of films as the following:

Iron Man
Avengers
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Ant-Man
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Doctor Strange
Thor: Ragnarok

You may notice some recency bias. I am not sure why, perhaps I haven't had enough time to tire of the newer themes, or perhaps the newer movies are just better.

Captain America: The First Avenger
   I think this is a very classy movie. I like the atmosphere and composition. The character development is thoughtful and meaningful. The pacing is a bit slow for what this film is, though, which is the primary reason why I don't often come back for repeat viewings.

Captain Marvel
   Honestly better than I thought it would be. This film was ill-served by its repugnant and oddly feminist social marketing campaign, but the distaste of that will die out in time. Overall, the theme of this movie is less GRRRRL power than it is about understanding what you have to offer and where that can go wrong. The internal cannon of the infinity stones and powers derived from them is a bit muddled, but I have high hopes the confusion will be clarified elsewhere.

Iron Man
   This movie is well-grounded while a wonderful celebration of the ability to find meaning and purpose through a higher morality. None of this is pointed toward true purpose, but it is a favorite journey nonetheless. Perhaps a bit slow in its pacing, my nostalgia glosses over any of these shortcomings. I love this movie.

Iron Man 2
   I really enjoy this movie in so many ways. There is a lot of substance here in the steady deconstruction of its central character. Ultimately, though, this movie falls short on viewer engagement. It is a bit like Andy Griffith Show episodes for me. Which is to say that while I would never intentionally turn it on, I have never disliked watching it.

Thor
   Enjoyable for its fan service only, this movie is dated and becomes bland. It does not hold up to close review. The portrayal of Loki is the most interesting part of the movie, but not enough to bring me back.

The Incredible Hulk
   The basic story is well done. However, this movie tries to be and accomplish too many other bizarre things to truly succeed. Also, the core relationships in the movie are written and acted with confusing distraction while providing very little substance or resolution. It is enjoyable, but not really worth revisiting unless called upon by a marathon like the one we just ran.

Avengers
   This movie tries to be so much more than what it is, which comes across as predictably cartoonish at moments. Despite this, it is a well-written and well acted story which brings together a stable of prior storied characters in a spirited and satisfying journey. I've watched it many times and am likely to watch it many more.

Iron Man 3
   Clever and possessed of more substance than I've credited it for in the past, this movie is very good. This movie begins the vein of self-criticism that grows steadily through Marvel's movies until it finds arbitrary culmination in Captain America: Civil War. While a decent theme overall, the writing behind "You saved our lives but at a cost, so we resent you" hasn't been satisfying in the least. In fact, it often feels downright contrived. This theme casts a shadow over this movie that doesn't entirely steal its excellence, but does sour my enjoyment.

Thor: The Dark World
   This movie vacillates rapidly between awesome and overdone. There are some genuinely emotional moments amidst the self-important interludes. It's not enough to make me love the movie, but I think this film is far better than most acknowledge. To me, the villains are a bit tedious and difficult to enjoy, but otherwise this film moves the overall story forward in many gratifying ways.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
   A return to the earthy roots of Iron Man coupled with honest to goodness spy intrigue makes this movie an outstanding favorite. Following beloved characters as they experience the horror of watching the monolith they fought to create crumble into the very evil they had hoped to vanquish is a hard story to write but one that's written very well in this screenplay.

Guardians Of The Galaxy
   An exuberant romp through the stars. I watch this movie again and again. Plot and character development is top-notch. Editing doubly so. I couldn't hope to encapsulate this movie in a few lines, but it stands apart from its counterparts as a truly magnificent self-sufficient storyline.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
   Again a very enjoyable movie. The development of some of the relationships in the movie is masterful. There are setpieces which stand out. However, there's just too much in here that's laborious. It's not a favorite film because it is really good but not quite good enough.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron
   Good enough. The movie has two major flaws in my opinion: 1) the plot development is a bit forced, and 2) the fan service is a bit too blatant at many points. Overall, I am comfortable calling this movie both essential and enjoyable. It's just not a favorite.

Ant-Man
   Paul Rudd takes this movie to another level. There are a few things that make this movie worth watching over and over. The titular character's journey to devoted fatherhood is magnificent. As is the echoing journey toward the same goal in his predecessor. The writing behind a complex family structure is filled with hope and appropriate focus. This movie is an absolute gem.

Captain America: Civil War
   There is a lot going on in this movie that is great. I'd almost call it a great movie. However, the central conflict is so petty and self-absorbed that it frequently feels horribly contrived. I'm not speaking of Zemo's desire to rid the world of super-powered individuals. That theme is well handled and believable. The fundamental disagreement between freedom and regulation is poorly set up, poorly explained, lacking essential nuance and petty to the point of ridiculousness. It detracts from the film's impact and drags it down from the height of good (or even important) story telling to the banality of comic trope.

Black Panther
   This is a great story. It's not for me. The central machismo driving the conflict and understanding between the villain and hero is entirely disdainful for me. "Might makes right" is certainly a legitimate theme and worthy of exploration, however, I find that might versus might is a deeply dissatisfying approach to resolving this theme. Had the film focused more on "right makes might" for the hero, I would have resonated with it more. Overall, the film addresses social issues and progresses the story well. I think it will ultimately stand above the rest of the Marvel universe in many ways. Even so, I think there are better stories being told around it.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
   This movie is fun and accessible. Somehow it nods to all the complex issues being obsessed over in its sister stories without allowing them to steal the joy from this coming of age tale. Spider-Man is awesome and he wants to do what is right. This comes across so articulately and so powerfully that it overwhelms any other, more tedious themes which try to take over. What a fun ride.

Ant-Man And The Wasp
   The continued excellence of the main character and exposition on the healthy growth of his complicated family make this a favorite. I find the ghost villain almost too dreary to bear. Fortunately, the rest of the film transcends the central conflict by keeping its focus firmly planted elsewhere.

Doctor Strange
   A man who thinks much of himself is humbled and changed. There are a lot of other themes here. Particularly charting a course out of hopelessness alongside addressing the addictive obsession of someone who is close. This film turns every issue into a confusing morass of moral gray, then applies an unwavering moral compass to the situations, making for a cohesive and meaningful story that is worth revisiting over and over.

Thor: Ragnarok
   This is the first Thor movie I could watch on a whim. Sometimes it gets lost in its own levity, but overall it brings strong characters to a strong story, develops them satisfyingly and resolves a plot with high entertainment. I have yet to tire of it in the slightest

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Hardship

The Bible has some interesting words about finding joy in hardship. Our traditional interpretations of these passages - at least the ones I am familiar with - tend to limit and relegate this concept to necessity only. However, after long living a life devoted to maximizing efficiency and avoiding difficulty at every turn, I was scraping the ice off my car window this morning and pondering the concept.

I thought to myself "if I had realized my car window would be frosted, I would have started my car 20 minutes ago so that I would not have to scrape my windows right now." And then I thought, "sometimes when it is especially cold, I will prefer to sit in my car and wait for the windows to defrost instead of taking a few moments to scrape them." Further, "I am so smart for avoiding scraping my windows." Into, "wait, am I smart for avoiding scraping my windows? It is faster, uses less fuel and requires a small effort on my part which is good for me. Isn't scraping my window just effort over inconvenience? Why is it important to me to avoid doing this? The discomfort isn't extreme and there is a satisfaction in knowing I've accomplished something." Which led finally to, "perhaps there is much, much more to the concept of finding joy in hardship than I have ever considered before. Perhaps working through hardship is healthy and satisfying - like any work. Perhaps it is integral to being alive. A life with no hardship is possibly just bland and a bit pointless."

Then I thought, "my parents would scoff at me for comparing window scraping to hardship. Maybe hardship truly is only grief-inducing tragedy and I am just way off-base here. Maybe the verse really should be relegated to its typical limitations. Maybe hardship is to be avoided at all costs. Maybe I am just insane."

So, I will have to ponder this at greater length.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Why a Google Pixel Slate?

...or, isn't the Chromebook C302 enough for you?

It is. The Chromebook C302 is and has been awesome. In the years I've owned the device it hasn't lost a single step in terms of speed or usability. Also, as I've grown accustomed to Chrome as an OS, it has become more and more useful. I've learned many of the boundaries of what I can handle as cloud-based and what I need to be local. The benefits of "working in the cloud" are nice, to be sure. 

So... why do I feel like I need an upgrade? What does the Pixel Slate offer?
Well, to be honest, it doesn't offer very much. That's the reason why I haven't really pushed to get one. The processor of the m3 model is not a very large step up in performance (even theoretical performance) over the m3 processor in my current Chromebook. Plus, performance issues have not plagued my Chrome experience - quite the opposite actually. But it does offer one specific thing that I have been wanting to make use of recently and that's the ability to draw.

The Chromebook C302 is a magnificent device that has served all of my needs in unexpected ways and convinced me of the soundness to the theory of moving away from a Windows-centric computing experience. It does more for me than any Windows-based laptop I've ever owned or worked with and has completely convinced me to stick with ChromeOS as my go-to mobile operating system. Even so, you cannot draw on the C302. It wasn't designed for it and it doesn't have the hardware for it. 

So why not simply buy the hardware for the Asus C302?
Well, that seems a decent solution, but a lengthy round of Google searches will reveal that drawing tablet support on Chromebooks is a bit spotty. Google won't acknowledge it, which is disappointing. Even more concerning, though, is the fact that compatible apps are hard to determine and seem to be dependent on which input device you've purchased. Furthermore, decent input devices are still quite pricey (though not $800). These concerns lead me to a place where I would feel much safer and wiser in simply purchasing a device that is designed to work for drawing from the ground up.

Why not get the HP X2 or the Pixelbook?
I would. The Pixelbook especially. If the $999 version of the Pixelbook ever went back on sale for $699, I think that's easily the best option of the bunch. It seems like that this is the event to look out for. The detractors here are 1) the Pixelbook is supposedly discontinued and 2) the sale events are unpredictable. 
The HP X2 is another amazing option and I only have two small concerns about it: 1) it is heavy. 2) it is ugly. Neither one of these concerns are deal-breakers by any means.

However, even with the two potentially better options stated above, there is something that the Google Pixel slate has which neither of these does: style for a similar price. And I am vain. I would love to have that sweet, understated Google style to slip into my bag in a light and convenient package built for drawing and chromebooking. 

But the ability to draw is not yet worth $800 either way.