Building a Blu-ray

Recently a couple of things happened. First, I bought some Marvel movies from Redbox. They were pretty cheap at $4 each but they come in a small Redbox case, nothing like a regular Blu-ray. I thought maybe if I wanted I could put together a case for the movies, but I knew I had to watch the cost because I could get these same movies brand new from Disney Movie Club for about $9 and they would include the case, a digital copy and Disney Movie Rewards points worth about $1.50.

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It was really cold last weekend and then Wednesday and Thursday were snow days, so I was glad temperatures were up in the 60’s this weekend and I could take Bella on another hike. We had been to Arabia Mountain a few times, so this time I found a good walk to take at Panola Mountain. The main attraction is the granite outcropping, but you can only go there on a guided tour. However, PATH has a paved trail that goes through the park and eventually ties into one of their main lines. I couldn’t figure out a good 3-mile loop so instead we just left from the state park’s parking area and walked towards Alexander Lake, a little over a mile away. There is a short boardwalk off of the trail that goes to a viewing area of the exposed granite of Panola, so we walked down that. There was still some ice on the ground, but a lot of pretty moss and lichen on the rock and a pretty blue sky. We continued on the path towards the lake, passing right through an old barn (the paved trail goes right through) and then towards the lake, but the trail was cut off for construction or something. We could have approached from another branch, but it was getting kind of late, so we headed back. My phone says we walked 3.6 miles. I’ll have to see when they plan on completing the work near the lake so we can see that whole thing.

Refer a Friend

The Disney Movie Club, which I first joined in September 2016 and am now on my third enrollment, has a refer a friend program where you can submit an email address of a friend and Disney will send them a sign-up email for the club. If they sign up you get to pick two “free” movies (have to pay shipping). I knew one person who thought they might want to join and I sent them an email, but nothing ever came of it. Not that many people buy physical media anymore though a lot of the movies come with digital versions. They also let you create a unique link to the club that is supposed to work the same way. I don’t have any realistic expectation of having an audience with this blog, but I hoped some random person might see my post about the club, decide it was a good deal (which it totally can be if you use the promo codes), and sign up using my link in that post, which never happened. I am still not sure that if you use my link and then use a promo code that I would get free disks, but it cost me nothing to put the link there. Honestly, I would rather people use the promo code and get a good deal than for them to get a bad deal and I get free disks (the deal without the promo code, by adding one more commitment title that you pay $25-$35 for, is bad enough that even if I gave them the two free disks, they would still come out better just using the promo code). Then yesterday I got an email from “Friendbuy” and the preview said “Good News! A friend has joined the Club”. I thought it was spam or maybe a Best Buy promotion, but I warily opened it today and it was from Disney Movie Club. Yay! My refer a friend dashboard shows the email address of the person and it is not someone I know, so thank you random person! They signed up on January 14. The email address and signup date are the only things I know about them.
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Redbox Purchases

Back when Blockbuster was still around, you would rent a movie for 2 or 3 days for about $4. Then Redbox came along and you could get a movie for $1 per night. That was great. Once Blu-rays came out they charged $2 for those, but still pretty cheap and Blu-rays look so much better on a big TV. Still, I never used Redbox that much, but I think it’s a great service and almost always cheaper than renting a movie online, but you do have to drive twice, once to pick it up and once to drop it off.

On Blu-ray forum, people talked about being able to buy Blu-ray disks from Redbox, but I never paid much attention because I wouldn’t want one of their beat up disks anyway. Then I noticed someone post about buying codes for digital movies from Redbox. Sometimes when you buy a movie, it will include a code so you can have a digital copy from a service like iTunes, Vudu, or Movies Anywhere. You’re not supposed to sell the digital code, but people sell them all the time online, usually for $3 to $8. For the most part I try to buy Blu-ray movies around $5 to $6 that include a digital copy. I certainly don’t mind paying an extra dollar for a digital copy. Then Vudu has a service where you can buy digital copies of Blu-rays you own already for $2, but it only worked on about half of the Blu-rays I have that didn’t come with a digital copy. It is hard to know whether Vudu’s service will work on a disk before you buy it even though there are lists out there of movies and UPC’s that should be eligible.
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When I write movie reviews, I generally assume people haven’t seen the movie yet and try to give away as little as possible of the plot. Way too many reviews give away major plot elements or make obvious hints about the movie (“the tragic ending”). Even if something is in the previews, I feel like the movie is better without knowing much going in. So I don’t include spoilers (well, sometimes with older movies because I feel like people already know), but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to discuss some aspect of a movie that ruined it for me. On the Blu-ray forum, they make it easy by letting you include a [spoiler] tag containing anything you want to hide behind a link that says “spoiler”. Some sites, will black out the spoiler text, which is kind of neat, but I like having the word there. I figured I could add a spoiler feature to my movie reviews, which are all in a Microsoft Access database that generates HTML for the whole site (should all be php, but that’s a big project). I could do the tags myself in the review, which I do for links, italics, and paragraphs, but it would be better to have a separate field for the spoiler that could be inserted into the review if there was a spoiler. I didn’t know how to actually make a spoiler appear and disappear and I wasn’t getting far on that, but adding a field to Access is easy. So I did that. Then I added that field to my form where I write the reviews. Continue reading

Sope Creek

I have gone on several hikes with Bella around Arabia Mountain. She loves the adventure and I liked getting some exercise and seeing new places around Atlanta. Yesterday was supposed to be reasonably warm whereas it would be in the 30’s most of the rest of the week, so I decided that was the best day for a hike. I have done two good 3 mile hikes at Arabia twice each, so I wanted to try something new. I looked up the trails at Sope Creek in Cobb County and found a good loop about 3 miles long, which seems like a good length for both of us.

Building on the West bank, near SC 27

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Over Black Friday I was thinking about getting a TV for my back room. I don’t really watch TV there, but I have the elliptical back there and I haven’t been doing it for a while. One reason may be that I used to have my TV (an old 27″ tube TV) hooked up to my Dish DVR and I could watch recorded shows while I was exercising to keep my mind off of the misery of running in place. When I switched to Xfinity, I didn’t get a 2-TV installation, partly because the TV was so old already. I figured I could hook up a DVD player and play shows that I have bought seasons of over the years: Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Arrested Development, Get Smart, and Everybody Loves Raymond. It would take me a long time to work through those and the nice thing is that each show, since it doesn’t have commercials, is only about 22 minutes, about the same length as my workout. The DVD kind of turned out to be a pain because it takes a while for it to boot and to get the show going. Not terrible, it just wasn’t that great.

Then I got the iPad and I thought maybe I could watch stuff on it, but that wasn’t that great either and there was no secure place to put it to keep it from falling off. And the sound from the iPad isn’t great over the noise of the elliptical. I have a bluetooth thing and hooked it up to a speaker so the iPad could broadcast to the speaker, but that was back to being a pain.

So then I thought I could get a new TV and watch stuff from my Vudu account or the recordings of all of my DVD’s from the PC. Really I only have movies on Vudu and I am not sure why I thought it would be easy for my TV to play files on my computer. My HiSense UHD TV is a smart TV and I don’t think it can do that, though I have a home theater receiver that might be able to. The smart TV only has apps and nobody makes money giving you an app to get free content from your own hard drive. Even with a wifi network and a shared hard drive on that network, it isn’t that easy.
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Back in Black Friday

Last year after Thanksgiving, I did some door busting Black Friday shopping. Black Friday now seems to be mostly Thursday evening. I have been buying more Blu-rays lately and I seem to buy them faster than I can watch them. So I already had about 15 Blu-rays that I have bought and not watched yet. But I have gotten a lot of entertainment out of all of it too. Last year I bought the entire Sopranos box set and I have been watching episodes all year on my commute and just got to season 4 (out of 6 seasons, so about halfway). Also in the last year I upgraded my TV, Blu-ray player, and sound system to play Ultra High Definition disks and bought my first two of those a month or so ago (and watched both of them!).

Some of the stores release their Black Friday ads weeks in advance including Best Buy, Target, and Walmart. Best Buy had the best ad for Blu-ray and UHD disks including a great deal on the Wonder Woman UHD for only $10. I had seen the movie and liked it, but may not have bought it except the UHD’s I have bought so far are a little bit older and don’t benefit as much from UHD since they started out on film. Newer movies are more likely to have actually been recorded and edited in 4K (4K is for theaters while UHD is for home use, but they are basically the same thing).
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Arabia Mountain

Stone Mountain has two smaller siblings, Panola Mountain and Arabia Mountain, all granite outcroppings called monadnocks. I’ve been to Panola a few times, including my most recent trip last year. To get to hike on the mountain itself, you must have a guide. While Panola is nowhere near as large or high as Stone Mountain, the flatter dome and lower traffic mean it is more natural with more solution pits growing blankets of small red flowers called diamorpha. Arabia Mountain, which I visited a few years ago, is smaller still with very little elevation, but less protected than Panola. However the area around Arabia Mountain has grown into an interesting collection of parks with paved bike trails running through it built by PATH. When I got the day off for Veterans Day this year, it was fairly warm, so I thought I would take Bella for a hike. Sweetwater and the Chattahoochee areas are pretty far away, so I thought we could go out to Arabia which also has miles of foot trails. We went to the Davidson Arabia Mountain Nature Center. There were a few cars parked there and we saw a few people on the trail. Part of the trail is over exposed granite where they used to quarry granite (hard to tell; there aren’t giant quarry pits like you would expect), and part was along a bike path, and part on a path along a creek and lake. It made for an interesting 3-mile hike and Bella enjoyed getting to stand in the creek. One offshoot trail was to a gravesite of some former residents of the area.

Yesterday was another decent day, so we drove out to a different spot, the Evans Mill Trailhead, and did a little bit longer hike from there, mostly through the woods, but some along the bike trail, and some through an old farm that I guess is abandoned though there is definitely stuff going on. Even though it was a Saturday and I was expecting it to be more crowded than the trip the previous Friday, we saw no one else on any of the trails until the very end as I was leaving and some people came out with their dogs. We also saw a deer cross the bike trail (Bella really like that but it was pretty far away) and I realized the bike trail is better for spotting wildlife in some ways because you can see a long way up and down the straight and cleared path and also you make a lot less noise walking than in the leaves on the footpaths.

Getting Out of iTunes

Now that I have an Android phone taking the place of my iPod, I wanted to move all of my songs over to it. My CD’s are all ripped to MP3 already, so those came over pretty easily and an MP3 app called Phonograph seemed to handle them pretty well except for some of the double albums for which I needed to edit the tags for the disk number to play songs in the right order instead of playing Track 1 and the other Track 1. Not all players read the Disk tag, but Phonograph seems to. I was able to import a lot of the cover art either through Phonograph or another app that brought in the ones Phonograph didn’t catch.

I also have a lot of singles that I’ve downloaded. Some came from iTunes early on and then I switched to Amazon as much as possible since they let you download MP3’s instead of Apple’s proprietary protected format (.m4p). Eventually Apple switched to a new format (.m4a) which was maybe a little more open. I found out that with any of the m4a files I could convert them to mp3 in iTunes. So that was easy for a few songs I had bought lately including a bunch of songs by Postmodern Jukebox. When I first started buying iTunes, I would put them into a playlist and burn them to CD. I had 8 or so disks of songs. Once the songs were on CD, I could rip them to mp3 format. So most of the early songs I got from iTunes I had already ripped to MP3 and had wisely stored those in a folder of converted iTunes songs.
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