Thursday, October 31, 2013

10 Useful Features Hidden in VLC, The Swiss Army Knife of Media Players

 

vlc-desktop-window

There’s a good chance you already use the VLC media player. But VLC isn’t just a media player — it’s a complete Swiss Army Knife for digital videos and music, filled with useful and fun features you haven’t found yet.

If you’re just using VLC to play back local media files, you’re only using a tiny fraction of VLC’s capabilities. There’s so much more you can do with VLC, whether you’re using it on Windows, Mac, or Linux.

Convert Media Files

VLC can convert media files between the formats it supports. You could use this to make a video smaller for a mobile device, convert media from an unsupported format to one your device supports, or even to extract the audio from a video and save it as a separate file.

To do this, click the Media menu and select Convert / Save. Load the file you want to convert, click the Convert / Save button, and select the type of file you want to convert it to. Use the Edit selected profile button to tweak the video encoding settings.

vlc-convert

Stream Media Over the Network or Internet

VLC can stream media across the Internet or on your local network. To get started, click the Media menu, select Stream, provide the media file you want to stream and click the Stream button. You’ll be able to set up VLC as a media server so other computers on the network — or even around the world — can connect to your stream and view it.

Of course, if you want to stream over the Internet, you’ll probably need to forward ports on your router.

Record Your Desktop

VLC can load your desktop as an input device. This means that you can use the Convert / Save feature to save a video of your desktop, effectively turning VLC into screen capture software. You could also use this in concert with the Stream feature to broadcast a live stream of your desktop across the network or Internet with no additional software required.

vlc screencast header

Remotely Control Playback From a Browser

VLC has an integrated HTTP server you can enable. Set this up and you can then remotely access your VLC client via a web browser. This would allow you to remotely control a media center PC from a web browser, controlling playback and queuing up audio or video files. You could even use this along with a smartphone to turn your phone into a remote control for VLC. There are mobile apps that function as remote controls for VLC, and these apps use VLC’s web interface to function.

image

Watch YouTube Videos

Want to play a YouTube video outside of your web browser? Just browse to a video on YouTube and copy its full URL — this should look something like the following:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=###########

Click the Media menu in VLC, select Open Network Stream, and paste the YouTube video’s URL into the box. VLC will load the video from YouTube and play it in a VLC window on your desktop.

When the video is playing, you could click the Tools menu and select Codec Information. You’ll see the full web address of the MP4 video displayed in the Location box, so you can copy-and-paste into a download manager — or just your web browser — to download the YouTube video to your computer.

Subscribe to Podcasts

VLC can be used to stream podcasts, so you don’t need any additional software if you want to listen to podcasts at your PC. Just click the View menu in VLC and select Playlist. Hover over Podcasts in the sidebar, click the + button, and paste the address of a podcast’s feed into the box. You can then stream the podcast’s episodes from within VLC.

vlc-subscribe-and-listen-to-podcast

Play Internet Radio

Before Pandora and Spotify, there were streaming Internet radio stations. There was a time when Internet users primarily streamed these radio stations from within Winamp, but they live on. You can view a searchable directory of radio stations from within VLC — just open the playlist and select Icecast Radio Directory. Perform a search for the kind of music you want to listen to or browse the list of free streaming radio stations.

Of course, VLC can also stream other Internet radio stations that aren’t included in this directory. You can generally find a “listen” link on their websites that will allow you to listen in a desktop player like VLC.

vlc-internet-radio-directory

Apply Video and Audio Effects

VLC can apply audio effects, video effects, and tweak the way a video’s audio and video line up. Click the Tools menu and select Effects and Filters. From here, you can apply an audio equalizer or video effects, such as cropping, rotating, overlaying, or colorizing a video. From the Synchronization tab, you can tweak the way a video’s audio and video stream line up. This allows you to fix broken videos where the audio and video are out of sync.

vlc-effects

As with other VLC features, these effects can be combined with other features. For example, you could permanently apply effects to a video by enabling these effects before using the Convert / Save feature.

ASCII Playback

ASCII playback isn’t a very useful feature, but it’s certainly an amusing one. In ASCII playback mode, VLC will display a video as ASCII characters rather than play it normally. It’s extremely impractical, but extremely geeky and worth a test drive if you want to surprise and amuse someone.

Click the Tools option in VLC, select Preferences, and click the Video icon. Click the Output box and select Color ASCII art video output. Save your settings, restart VLC, and start playing a new video. This feature works best with simple videos, such as cartoons with large sections of flat color.

vlc-ascii-art

After you’re done, go back into this window, click the Output box, and select Automatic to make VLC play videos normally.

Use a Video Wallpaper

VLC also allows you to set a video as your desktop wallpaper, replacing your desktop background with a video. It’s not very practical and extremely distracting, but hey — it’s something you can’t do with many media players.

To do this, open VLC’s preferences window, click the Video icon, and select DirectX (DirectDraw) video output in the Output box. Restart VLC, load a video, and you’ll be able to click the Video menu and select Set as Wallpaper to turn the video into your desktop wallpaper.

When you’re done, just change VLC’s Output setting back to Automatic and restart it.

VLC is also available for other platforms, giving you excellent compatibility with different media formats on almost any device. In addition to Windows, Mac, and Linux, VLC can run on an Android phone or tablet or an iOS device like an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. VLC will also soon be available for Windows 8′s Modern interface and Windows Phone.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Merchants cant charge 2% extra on Debit Card Payments – Says RBI

Have you ever faced this situation, when you were making payment through your debit card or credit card?

“Sir How are you making payment ?

Debit Card or Cash ?”

“Card”

“Sir, There will be 2% extra charges if you pay by Debit Card ? “

“Why extra charges ? I use it at every place and no one charges any thing extra ? “

“Sorry Sir, this is our Policy. You can take out the CASH from the nearby ATM if you want to save that extra charges”

“Huh ! .. &^#$^&*J#^&&#%$&*N”

You often face the above situation, when you buy things like jewelry, Laptops, Mobile phones etc. I faced this 2-3 times myself, but could argue well with the shopkeeper, because I knew this is just a tactic used by shopkeepers to save on the charges they need to pay from their own pocket. Hence I never paid that extra 2% or just left the shop.

Merchants Cant charge extra on debit card payments

Merchants cant charge any extra charges on Debit Card Payment – say RBI

Now yesterday, RBI has openly cracked down on this unfair trade practice and issued a notification saying that Shop Merchants can not charge any extra charges from customers, if payment is done through Debit Card. Below is the exact wordings from RBI Notification

4. Levying fees on debit card transactions by merchants - There are instances where merchant establishments levy fee as a percentage of the transaction value as charges on customers who are making payments for purchase of goods and services through debit cards. Such fee are not justifiable and are not permissible as per the bilateral agreement between the acquiring bank and the merchants and therefore calls for termination of the relationship of the bank with such establishments.

Why Shopkeepers Charge extra 2% on Debit Card payments ?

When you swipe your debit/credit card  for purchasing some item, the merchant has to pay some fees (1%-2%) to the Bank or the rental fees for the swipe machine. The charges goes out of their own pocket, as the cost of running the business and convenience of taking the payments (more customers will come, if card payment is there). If its a small payment like Rs 500 or Rs 1000, then its a charge of Rs 10 or Rs 20, which is fine. But when it becomes a payment of lets say Rs 30,000 (imagine buying laptop or iPad), then its around Rs 300-600 and to save that big charges, they discourage debit/credit card payment.

They often ask customers to pay by CASH and point them to nearby ATM. Almost always, customers could not refuse, because they have already made the buying decision, and dont want to argue for the small charge, and a lot of times, they finally believe that may be its not illegal, and finally give the CASH even if they do not want, or just allow the merchants to charge additional 2% charges.

But, as per RBI, its not a fair practice, because merchants already have agreed in the agreement with the card swiping machine bank that they will not charge anything extra from the customers. Here is one example of asking for 2% extra fees by some Geeta Ramani on rediff website

My worst experience was when I intended to purchase a Tata Sky card worth Rs 1000. The shopkeeper said 2.5% = 25 rupees extra. I told him — you give 10, I will give 15 rupees. He spoke quite roughly – hum kyon den? I told him it was because he was supposed to pay the bank, not I, and that I was doing him a favour and not the other way round. He said he did not earn anything from the transaction. Anyway, I did not give in. I didn’t purchase from him and purchased the same from Indiaplaza instead online without any transaction fee

What you should do, if Shopkeeper does not agree ?

RBI has clearly asked all the banks to break their relationship with those merchants who are practicing this. So, when any merchant asks you for extra 2% charges and even after the debate they do not agree, you can complain to the RBI about this and also complain to the bank. Each Bank has a “Merchant Services” section on their website and when you mail them or complain in personal to their branch, mention that you want to complain about Merchant Services. Example for ICICI bank is here and Axis Bank is here. But

When you take this step, at-least some merchants might fear the consequences and oblige!, but now the problem is how many people will go to this extra mile . It would require some time and effort from your end.

So next time you are asked to pay extra 2% on debit card payment, you can clearly tell them about this RBI notification. If required better take the print out of the notification and keep it with you in your wallet or as an image in your smartphone.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sunny Deol Adores His Vintages HMT Watch!

 


sunny-deol-post_1356430020Punjab da puttar Sunny Deol has no fancy for the latest fashion trends; unlike many Bollywood actors, he rather adores an old vintage HMT watch and loves to wear it every day.

Where many B-town celebrities are well-known for their obsession with big brands, which costs up to several lakhs, the others go for quirky designs and appearances. However, Sunny paaji begs to differ, as for him, it’s vintage that matters.

The actor apparently has taken a fancy to a very old HMT watch that he now wears every day. What more, he even has to wind the watch to make it run on time but still doesn’t want to do away with it. A source says, “Sunny has been known to love watches that are versatile. His timekeepers double up as devices to measure the temperature or even his blood pressure. His latest obsession is however off the roads that cost a meager Rs 500.”

The informer adds, “For his latest film with Anil Sharma, he will be shown flaunting an old watch. The watch was picked up from a roadside shop and cost only Rs 500. In fact, Sunny loves the watch so much that he wears it all the time. He enjoys winding the watch every evening.”

Isn’t it really sweet of him, readers! Quite an original human being!

World Leaders & Their Expensive Time

 

Politics is a dirty play, but leaders all over the world like to play this dirty game with a dash of opulence. National leaders from all over the world have a stringent dress code – Culture bred sophisticated attires, topped with timepieces which make much bolder statements than the representatives themselves.

Take a look at the wrist watch fetish these country tamers make space for.

Who : Nicolas Sarkozy – Former President of France
Seen wearing : Rolex white face Cosmograph Daytona (Approx. $37,000) and Girard-Perregaux 1966 Annual Calendar Equation of Time (Approx. $287,000)
What say : It’s only recently that Nicolas Sarkozy was voted the most powerful man in France. His choice in watches explain a lot about the way he works – Decently and Powerfully.

Who : Silvio Berlusconi – Former Prime Minister of Italy
Seen Wearing : Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Minute Repeater Perpetual Calendar (Approx. $540,000)
What say : Dear Mr. Former Prime Minister, Media Tycoon, Entrepreneur, AC Milan Club owner, mega-wealthy sex-scandalist, we admire your choice in watches, but not your decisions.
Who : Late John Fitzgerald Kennedy – 35th President of the United States of America
Seen wearing : Omega Tank wrist watch (purchased back by Omega for Omega Museum for a staggering $350,000)
What say : Late Mr. President, didn’t really seem to be a watch enthusiast. But we guess the Omega Tank watch was one of the reasons why he was the most popular president of USA.
Who : Prince Williams of Wales – Duke of Cambridge
Seen wearing : Omega Professional Seamaster (Approx. $3,000)
What say : Maintaining the good boy image; marrying Kate Middleton; naming the royal baby as George Alexandar Louis and being the third in line to the royal heir, the elder prince seems to be doing it right on time and with the right watch on his wrist.
Who : Indira Gandhi – Former Prime Minister of India
Seen wearing : HMT Janata (Approx. Rs.1050)
What say : Being the first lady PM of India, Indira Gandhi maintained the indian-ness by wearing the HMT Janata wrist watch, which, in a way, is a mighty contribution to the indian hard work and folklore.
Who : Nawaz Sharif – Current Prime Minister of Pakistan
Seen wearing : Harry Winston Premier Excenter Time Zone (Approx. $30,500)
What say : We don’t like his taste in politics, but we definitely like his taste in watches. After winning the elections, he won our likings with the Harry Winston timepiece.
Who : Dmitry Medvedev – Current Prime Minister of Russia
Seen wearing : Franck Muller Mariner Chronograph 8080 CC AT MAR (Approx. $15,000)
What say : Russia has always handled its weigh as one of the super powers among the globe. The Franck Muller timepiece on the Prime Minister’s wrist proves the prowess.
Who : Vladimir Putin – President of Russia
Seen wearing : Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendat (Approx. $60,000), Breguet marine (Approx. $15,000), blancpain Leman Aqua Lung Grande Date (Approx. $10,500), Blancpain Leman Flyback (Approx. $10,000)
What say : Russia’s most incumbent political figure has maintained his prowess with his watches. His influence is well reflected in his choice of watches and we believe he lets his wrist watches do the talking by making em different and public often.

Who : Hillary Clinton – Former Senator and Secretary of State for America
Seen wearing : Chanel J12 (Approx. $5,000) and Rolex two-tone datejust (Approx. $2,7000
What say : Hillary Clinton has always appeared as the perfect eye candy in the political ring. Withdesigner watches like Chanel and Rolex, she maintains the image of class and candidness.
Who : Arnold Schwarzenegger – Actor and Governor of California
Seen wearing : Pre-Vendome Luminor Panerai Daylight (Approx. $35,000) and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Arnold Schwarzenegger Gold (Approx. $48,000)
What say : Arnold Schwarzenegger, being a german migrant has been impressive for his high-rate metabolism as a body builder and becoming a migrant Governor for California. His big bulky body is perfect for the Barbarian perfect Panerai and Audemars Piguet timepieces.

Who : Barrack Obama – Current President of USA
Seen wearing : Jorg Gray JG 6500 (Approx. $350)
What say : We admire the incumbent president of America. He is friendly, he comes with new and fresher ideas to maintain world peace and his choice of wrist watch speaks a lot about his focus on the world and not his wrist.
Who : Ariel Sharon – Retired General and Former Prime Minister of Israel
Seen wearing : Breitling Aerospace (Approx. $3,200)
What say : The Breitling Aerospace tells a lot about the former General of Israel, his working ways, and why he became the PM of Israel.

Wonder if they discuss their watches after the UN General Assembly meets.

You Don't Need Millions of Dollars

Masters of Doom is the story of John Carmack and John Romero creating the seminal games Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake.

Masters-of-doom-book-cover

It's an amazing work on so many levels – but primarily because of the exhaustive research the author undertook to tell this story.

To re-create the story of the Two Johns, I conducted hundreds of interviews over six years, often with each person on multiple occasions. After moving to Dallas in the fall of 2000 for research, I became known in offices, barbecue joints, and bars around town as “the guy writing the Book.” John Romero and John Carmack each spent dozens of hours in person answering my most picayune questions: how they were feeling, what they were thinking, what they were saying, hearing, seeing, playing. What they and others couldn’t recall, I unearthed from websites, newsgroups, e-mails, chat transcripts, and magazines (though I drew from some of these articles, I made a point of getting the gamers’ own versions of what happened as well). I also played a delirious amount of games: at home, online, and at a couple tournaments (yeah, I lost).

I spent six months transcribing all my taped interviews. From this material, I assembled a narrative of dialogue and description that re-creates the events as faithfully and accurately as possible. As often as appropriate, I told the story from each person’s point of view to give readers the different perspectives.

It's unusual to find a book about a contentious, complex friendship and business relationship that both parties sign off on – and even a decade later, regularly recommend to people interested in their personal back stories. But it is a testament to just howright Kushner got this story that both Romero and Carmack do. This is exactly the sort of meticulously researched, multiple viewpoint biography that you'd want to read about important people in your industry. In that sense, it's kind of the opposite of the Jobs biography, which I liked well enough, but it presented one viewpoint, and often in a very incomplete, sloppily researched way. I would kill to read a book this good about Jobs.

In a way, I grew up with these guys. I am almost exactly the same age they are. I missed the Wolfenstein 3D release because I was still in college, but come December 1993, there I was, bursting with anticipation waiting for the release of Doom along with every other early PC gamer. And who gave Doom its name? Oddly enough, Tom Cruise did.

I've had a lifelong love affair with first person shooters since encountering Wolf3D and Doom. I played about every Doom engine game there was to death. I even had a brief encounter with Romero himself on the modem based multiplayer hub DWANGO where I proverbially "sucked it down". And after the Internet hit around '95, I continued to follow Quake development obsessively online, poring over every .plan file update, and living the drama of the inevitable breakup, the emergence of GLQuake and 3D accelerators, and the road to Quake 3.

It is also an incredibly inspiring story. Here's a stereotypical group of geeky programmers from sketchy home backgrounds who went on to … basically create an entire industry from scratch on their own terms.

Shareware. Romero was familiar with the concept. It dated back to a guy named Andrew Fluegelman, founding editor of PC World magazine. In 1980, Fluegelman wrote a program called PC-Talk and released it online with a note saying that anyone who liked the wares should feel free to send him some “appreciation” money. Soon enough he had to hire a staff to count all the checks. Fluegelman called the practice “shareware,” “an experiment in economics.” Over the eighties other hackers picked up the ball, making their programs for Apples, PCs, and other computers available in the same honor code: Try it, if you like it, pay me. The payment would entitle the customer to receive technical support and updates.

The Association of Shareware Professionals put the business, largely domestic, between $10 and $20 million annually—even with only an estimated 10 percent of customers paying to register a shareware title. Forbes magazine marveled at the trend, writing in 1988 that “if this doesn’t sound like a very sound way to build a business, think again.” Shareware, it argued, relied not on expensive advertising but on word of mouth or, as one practitioner put it, “word of disk.” Robert Wallace, a top programmer at Microsoft, turned a shareware program of his called PC-Write into a multimillion-dollar empire. Most authors, however, were happy to break six figures and often made little more than $25,000 per year. Selling a thousand copies of a title in one year was a great success. Shareware was still a radical conceit, one that, furthermore, had been used only for utility programs, like check-balancing programs and word-processing wares. [Shareware] had never been exploited for games.

Does anyone even remember what shareware is? What is the equivalent to shareware today? Distributing software yourself on the Internet? Sort of. I'd say it's more analogous to the various app stores: Google Play, Apple App Store, Windows Store. Going directly to the users. But they found shareware games didn't work, at least initially:

When it came time to distribute the games, Scott took a long, hard look at the shareware market. He liked what he saw: the fact that he could run everything himself without having to deal with retailers or publishers. So he followed suit, putting out two text-based games in their entirety and waiting for the cash to roll in. But the cash didn’t roll; it didn’t even trickle. Gamers, he realized, might be a different breed from those consumers who actually paid for utility shareware. They were more apt simply to take what they could get for free. Scott did some research and realized he wasn’t alone; other programmers who had released games in their entirety as shareware were broke too. People may be honest, he thought, but they’re also generally lazy. They need an incentive.

Then he got an idea. Instead of giving away the entire game, why not give out only the first portion, then make the player buy the rest of the game directly from him? No one had tried it before, but there was no reason it couldn’t work. The games Scott was making were perfectly suited to such a plan because they were broken up into short episodes or “levels” of play. He could simply put out, say, fifteen levels of a game, then tell players that if they sent him a check he would send them the remaining thirty.

You know how game companies spent the last 5 years figuring out that free games with 100% in-app purchases are the optimum (and maybe, only) business model for games today? The guys at id had figured that all out twenty seven years ago. Those sounds you hear in the distance are a little bit of history repeating.

Id Software was more than a unique business model that gave almost all the power to the programmers. It was the explosive combination of shareware delivery with a particular genius programmer inventing new techniques for PC games that nobody had seen before: John Carmack. It may sound prosaic and banal now, but smooth scrolling platforming, texture mapped walls, lighting models, and high speed software 3D rendering on a PC were all virtually unheard of at the time Carmack created the engines that made them commonplace.

Carmack_Headshot_PR_660

Carmack, like Abrash, is a legend in programming circles, and for good reason. The stories in this book about him are, frankly, a little scary. His devotion to the machine borders on fanatical; he regularly worked 80 hour weeks and he'd take "vacations" where it was just him and a computer alone in a hotel room for a whole week – just for fun, to relax. His output is herculean. But he also realizes that all his hard work is made possible by a long line of other programmers who came before him.

Al had never seen a side scrolling like this for the PC. “Wow,” he told Carmack, “you should patent this technology.

Carmack turned red. “If you ever ask me to patent anything,” he snapped, “I’ll quit.” Al assumed Carmack was trying to protect his own financial interests, but in reality he had struck what was growing into an increasingly raw nerve for the young, idealistic programmer. It was one of the few things that could truly make him angry. It was ingrained in his bones since his first reading of the Hacker Ethic. All of science and technology and culture and learning and academics is built upon using the work that others have done before, Carmack thought. But to take a patenting approach and say it’s like, well, this idea is my idea, you cannot extend this idea in any way, because I own this idea—it just seems so fundamentally wrong. Patents were jeopardizing the very thing that was central to his life: writing code to solve problems. If the world became a place in which he couldn’t solve a problem without infringing on someone’s patents, he would be very unhappy living there.

In that spirit, Carmack regularly releases his old engines under GPL for other programmers to learn from. Don't miss Fabien Sanglard's epic deconstruction of the Doom 3 codebase, for example. That's only one iteration behind the current id enginewhich was used for Rage and (apparently) will be used for the upcoming Doom 4.

One of my very favorite quotes of all time comes at the end of the book.

Carmack disdained talk of highfalutin things like legacies but when pressed would allow at least one thought on his own. “In the information age, the barriers just aren’t there,” he said. “The barriers are self-imposed. If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don’t need millions of dollars of capitalization. You need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your refrigerator, a cheap PC to work on, and the dedication to go through with it. We slept on floors. We waded across rivers.”

And indeed they did, as the book will attest. Both @ID_AA_Carmack and @romero are still lifelong, influential, inspiring members of the game and programming communities. They are here for the long haul because they love this stuff and always have.

The ultimate point of Masters of Doom is that today you no longer need to be as brilliant as John Carmack to achieve success, and John Carmack himself will be the first to tell you that. Where John was sitting in a cubicle by himself in Mesquite, Texas for 80 hours a week painstakingly inventing all this stuff from first principles, on hardware that was barely capable, you have a supercomputer in your pocket, another supercomputer on your desk, and two dozen open source frameworks and libraries that can do 90% of the work for you. You have GitHub, Wikipedia, Stack Overflow, and the whole of the Internet.

All you have to do is get off your butt and use them.