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.


Crowned with a Porcelain Crown

Yesterday I had a tooth crowned, and it was like stepping into the future. I have a bunch of gold crowns already, because in years past, gold crowns were cheaper and more durable than porcelain. Well, those days are gone. So is the month-long wait for the crown to be made, while you hope the temporary doesn’t come off—or if it does, that you don’t swallow it or choke on it.

Also gone are the rubbery molds used to take an impression for casting. This time, the good folks at Belmont Dental took a digital scan of my teeth, before and after grinding away the old tooth. Then, using a graphics program on the computer, they generated a 3D representation of the new crown over what was left of the old tooth. This picture shows the final image; the white “tooth” is the proposed crown.

Crown depicted by computer before creation

And this is where things get cool. Once the image is finalized, we take a walk down the hall to where the milling machine sits on a counter. It’s about the size of a big printer. The technician inserts a small, oblong block of ceramic material. And then the milling machine goes to town. It takes twelve minutes and thirty seconds for the little grinders to carve a perfect new crown from the computer image. Here it is at work:

Crown being milled out of ceramic block1

And here is the result, before trying it on for size. The material is purple before it’s fired.

Crown before baking

Test, bake, and glue. And that’s pretty much it. I didn’t even have time to do much reading in the waiting room. Two and half hours after walking into the dentist’s office, I walked out with the finished crown in my mouth. I like the future!