Moving My Movies

It all started with Allysen looking at the shelf space my movie collection was taking up. Collecting movies and, to a lesser extent, TV shows, has been a hobby of mine for over twenty years now—especially since we got a Panasonic DVD Recorder back around the turn of the century. (That was motivated in part by the space taken up by the VHS tapes I was recording off cable; we knew DVDs were far more compact.) So now I have all these big binders full of DVDs I’ve burned, and that’s not counting all the commercial DVDs in their plastic cases.

“I know it’s your hobby and you love it, but can’t you put all those movies on a big hard drive or something? Then we could put books on those shelves,” intoned Allysen thoughtfully and a little beseechingly.

“Not that simple,” responded I instantly and a touch defensively. “How would I then play the movies on our TV?”

“Oh,” mused Allysen, frowning in pensive thought. “I never thought of that.” And she went off with a flip of her hair to do whatever women do.

(Actually she gave a heartfelt sigh and said, “Never mind,” and went off to ponder some other intractable household problem.)

Notwithstanding the obvious decline of my writing skills during the pandemic, I couldn’t let the idea, once broached, go without at least a little research. And soon I discovered Plex, the free media-server software that lets you do just what Allysen said: Put all your movies on a hard drive, and play them on your TV, using your home wifi and Roku or Firestick or whatever you stream with. You can even put them on a home server, and then you don’t even have to have your computer turned on to watch your movies.

Fast forward: We now own a little black box called a Synology server, and in the black box are two big, honking 12TB hard drives, one serving as a backup to the other. I’ve been gradually, over the past couple of months, using the free Handbrake app to rip all my DVDs into mp4 files, and saving them to the server. I’m maybe a third of the way through the DVD collection at this point, and those binders are going one by one down to a spare filing cabinet in the basement.

How did it take me so long to discover Plex? It’s amazing. It helps you organize everything, and pulls in poster art, descriptions, and similar data for each movie. It even cross-references the leading actors in your collection. You can stream your media on your TV, your phone, tablet, laptop—even when you’re away from home. And you can share it with your friends, and host “watch together” movie nights, with your friends streaming simultaneously off your server! That last we haven’t put to the test yet, but we hope to, real soon now. Oh, it can also do the same with your music collection and photos.

Plex logo

While we were at it, we cut the cord from Xfinity, but perhaps that’s a story for another time.


Seeing Backwards Better

My latest “spare time” project has been installing a rearview camera on my trusty Ford Ranger, a.k.a., the Landshark.  When we were in Puerto Rico, our rental car had one, and we quickly came to wonder how we had gotten along without one all these years. The truck, especially with the cap over the back, has limited visibility when backing up, and I’m just grateful I’ve never backed over anyone, at least that I know of. On our return from PR, I did some research, and bought a kit with a camera for the back bumper, and a replacement rearview mirror that has an LCD screen hidden behind the mirror surface—a clever solution to the lack of any good place to put a screen on the dashboard.

The installation was, um, considerably more finicky than I had expected. And I’m used to doing things like patching new electronics into the fuse box, having already done that with a new stereo and subwoofer, a year or two ago. The lack of any instructions with the kit should have been a sign. But Crutchfield has a pretty good tech support department, and I muddled along, buying ancillary parts and tools along the way. I enlisted daughter Lexi to help with the splicing and soldering and wiring, and she got to crawl around under the truck, spitting out rust while stringing cable along the frame from the back of the truck to the cab. Hey, I’ve been there and done that stuff, and I didn’t need the experience! But that wasn’t the hardest part. No, the hardest part was aiming the little camera that came with no provision for adjusting the aim!

In the end, I got a camera that works, sort of, though not nearly as well as the factory-installed models. The little distance guidelines that you see in the view are weirdly and erratically inaccurate, for one thing. I called the manufacturer, and to their credit they are sending me a couple of alternate types of camera at no cost, so I can see if I can get better results from one of them. Stay tuned.

Here’s Lexi, helping me check the view in the camera. This is what you get when you hold a camera up to a rearview mirror, to take a picture of an LCD screen showing the image from a camera at the back of the truck, with the subject’s face about an inch from the camera lens. Don’t back up!

(Don’t worry; the engine wasn’t running.)

Lexi in rearview camera

And here’s the idiot whose bright idea this was:

Jeff in rearview camera