Posts Tagged ‘video’

Fixes for YouTube annoyances

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

YouTube is great; apart from a small list of annoyances. But fortunately there are solutions to these problems.


Videos with wrong aspect ratio

A video you are trying to watch is stretched or squashed

If you are trying to watch someone else’s video, but find it has been stretched or squashed, you can switch to watching it on the excellent VLC player instead of on YouTube. VLC has options to re-aspect the video as you watch it.

vlc media player

To view the video in VLC download the video first and then load it into VLC.

Alternatively copy the YouTube URL and paste it into the Media->Open Network Stream box in VLC. Make sure you paste in a plain video URL that looks like ‘’ and not a playlist or other type of URL.

If the URL looks like ‘’ you’ll need to manually convert it into the ‘’ format.

Then go to Video->Aspect Ratio in VLC and experiment with the different options until the video looks right.

Note: I haven’t found VLC ‘Open Network Stream’ feature to be very reliable with YouTube so I’d recommend you download the distorted video first.

Your own video has the wrong aspect ratio

If your own videos have ended up on YouTube in the wrong aspect ratio (squashed or stretched) then you can fix the videos by adding a video formatting tag. YouTube explain how to do this on their formatting tags help page.

The video changes resolution when you select full screen

YouTube currently suffers from an annoying problem/feature. If you are start loading a video at 360p, and then switch to full screen, the video will automatically change to 480p if 480p is available.

This might sound like a good idea – if you make the video larger you want more pixels. The problem is that doing this causes all the buffered 360p video to be discarded, meaning it has to start loading the video again. If viewing over a slow connection, or if YouTube is struggling to keep up you will have to wait before you can begin watching again. For an idea of just how annoying this YouTube ‘feature’ is see this thread on Google’s YouTube forum.

The resolution switching problem also prevents you from pre-loading multiple videos as each time you set them to full screen the data will be lost.

You can disable this behaviour if you have a YouTube account (Account Settings->Playback Setup), or there is a simpler way if you don’t want to log in.

You can add an ‘&fmt=18’ parameter to the end of the video URL. So change into

Alternatively if you are using Firefox or another Greasemonkey compatible browser you can install the ‘YouTube Automatic Fmt=18 Adder’ script which will do this for you. You’ll have to install Greasemonkey too.

Video has black bars on all 4 sides

If the video has black bar on all four sides then VLC can play it zoomed in for you. Video->Crop will let you do this. Either play the video via Media->Open Network Stream, or download it first.

Downloading YouTube videos the easy way

Sometimes when YouTube is being too slow to watch videos live (or even too slow to buffer them up) you might have to resort to downloading them first, and then watching them in VLC.

The easiest way to download YouTube videos is with the YouTube downloader application. It will only let you download them one at a time, but it is simple.

youtube downloader

Downloading a batch of YouTube videos

If you want to download multiple videos in a batch without having to manually download each one then youtube-dl does a great job. It is a python script so you’ll need to install python as well if you don’t already have it (if you don’t know whether you have it or not, then you probably don’t!).

Once you’ve downloaded youtube-dl you can write a simple batch file (.bat) like this to download multiple videos, one after the other. The ‘-t’ option gives the video a sensible name. -t -t -t -t -t -t -t

YouTube video is too quiet

Sometime YouTube videos are uploaded with the sound encoded at a lower volume than normal. Even if you turn the volume up to the max, it might not be enough. On Windows 7 there is an easy way to boost the volume. Go to the Control Panel and click on Hardware and Sound. Click on Manage audio devices, and then on Speakers and Properties. Go to the enhancements tab and tick the ‘Loudness Equalization’ box. Now with a bit of luck the volume should be boosted up to the normal level.

loudness equalization

Make YouTube window stay on top of all other windows

If you want to watch YouTube in the corner or side of your screen you can use DeskPins to fix the YouTube browser window on top of all other windows.

Nagasaki Spirit Boat procession

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

On the 15th August 2010 I watched the Nagasaki Spirit Boat procession (精霊流し). This event takes place every August, for people to mourn family members who have died in the past year. Despite sounding a bit gloomy it is actually a very lively event with colourful floats, firecrackers, clamouring gongs and shouting!

nagasaki spirit boat procession 3

We weren’t sure exactly where to find it so we asked at the tourist office and they helpfully marked the main locations on a map, and told us it would start at about 6pm, with the floats slowly making their way to the harbour. The below map shows roughly where it is. The red lines are the main routes, and the floats converge in the centre.

View Nagasaki Spirit Boat Procession 精霊流し in a larger map

We made our way to the area, and walked towards Shianbashi station. While walking we started hearing firecrackers. The decided to follow the explosions! Along the road were hundreds of exploded firecracker boxes.

nagasaki spirit boat procession 2

By following the explosions we found our first float, being carried by a group of macho looking men. On the front of most of the floats were photographs of the loved ones whose lives were being remembered. The participants believe that the spirits of the deceased will be sent to Sukhavati (Land of Bliss).

nagasaki spirit boat procession 1

The firecracker explosions were very, very loud. The different floats seemed to be competing with each other to see who could make the most noise.

Some of the floats were very heavy looking so needed a lot of people to carry them. In between carrying the floats and setting of firecrackers the participants took time to rest.

nagasaki spirit boat procession 4

The people setting off the firecrackers were mostly well behaved, but some of them set them off closer to the spectators than they should have. The marshals sometimes gave the participants a telling off.

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Some people seemed to take pride in keeping hold of the firecracker while it exploded. Probably not the safest thing to do! Others enjoyed throwing the exploding firecrackers at their fellow participants feet to make them jump up and down.

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As we got nearer the harbour more and more floats appeared until there was a massive queue of floats leading to the water front.

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In the past people used to be able to release the floats into the water. These days what happens is the people leave their float in what looks like a ‘float car park’. A demolition crusher then picks the float off the ground, crushes it, and dumps it into a skip. A sad end for these floats – they look like they took a long time to build.

This is a fun festival to come and watch. Beware though – it is extremely loud, and the firecrackers and the small aerial fireworks that people were setting off (especially when it gets dark) could be dangerous, so stay on your guard.

Spirit Boat Video

Above is a 6 minute video of the event, you can watch it in up to 480p.

Hanabi World Cup 2010 – fireworks competition

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

On the 14th August 2010 I was visiting Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki prefecture. As luck would have it this was the day that Japan’s entry into the Hanabi World Cup 2010 fireworks competition was being performed. It cost ¥500 for the ticket. Here are my photos and a five minute video of the event.

hanabi world cup 2010 09

After the warm up fireworks display Japan’s entry into the competition began. The backdrop was a Kanko Maru Edo-Era sailing ship lit up with red lights.

hanabi world cup 2010 01

The fireworks were choreographed with the Eastern sounding music as well as a bit of rock. Watch the video at the end of this post to hear the music.

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The beginning of the display was more subtle than a ‘fire everything into the sky at once’ display that you might get on bonfire night.

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The title of this display is Hanabi ぜよ.

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Also in the competition are China, Portugal, the U.S.A. and France.

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Hanabi is the Japanese word for fireworks. It translates as ‘flower fire’. This is the kanji for Hanabi: 花火. The first one ‘hana’ means flower 花, and the second one ‘bi’ means fire 火. If you look at the flower one you could imagine that it is a picture of some hanging flowers. And the second one looks a bit like a man flapping his arms around because he is on fire. Thinking of what the kanji look like makes them easier to remember.

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Being a fireworks display in Japan everyone was very polite, and sat on the floor in rows. The spectators clapped and gasped at regular intervals, and there was lots of photo and video taking as well.

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The finale was a massive ‘shoot as many fireworks into the sky at once’ ending. Always guaranteed to please the crowd.

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Hanabi World Cup 2010 video

You can watch this in up to 480p if you change the settings on the embedded video.

Fish eating my feet (photos and video)!

Friday, September 17th, 2010

In Nagasaki I got a chance to have my feet eaten by fish! It isn’t as gory as it sounds, these are special fish that just eat the dead skin cells off your feet. They are known as doctor fish or nibble fish.

fish eating my feet in japan 2

It all happened in the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki prefecture. There was a doctor fish foot spa there. It cost ¥800 for 10 minutes and seemed worth a go. First you have to wash your feet using a basin at the front. Then you get taken to the fish tanks.

In the first tank were lots of small black fish swimming around. You carefully put your feet in (being careful not to hit the fish), and then the fish start nibbling at your toes and feet. With these fish the sensation was a bit ticklish. Certainly not painful and you wouldn’t know that they were actually nibbling you.

After a few minutes the man running the foot spa decided I was ready for something stronger. He took me to another tank, this one containing bigger yellow and blue fish (you can see them in the video above). I lowered my feet in again and this time instead of a tickling sensation it felt like being poked with little pins. It didn’t hurt, but was a very different feeling from the first tank.

After my 10 minutes was up I was given a small towel to dry my feet and then I was sent on my way.

In the evening I had a look at my feet. They definitely felt softer and had less hard skin on than before. 10 minutes wasn’t enough to remove all the hard skin but it did make a difference.

fish eating my feet in japan 3

Cleaning kettle limescale with vinegar

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

If you have a kettle that looks like the photo below you might be dreading having to clean it.

limescale covered kettle

Trying to scrub limescale like this off the inside of a kettle is hard work if you don’t use the right cleaning product. Vinegar is a traditional solution used to get rid of limescale. I bought a 13p bottle of vinegar from Tesco to give it a go.

limescale covered kettle bottle vinegar

What I did was to put a very *small amount* amount of vinegar into the bottom of the kettle (about a quarter of the bottle) and then boil it.

It is important that you don’t put too much in because vinegar foams! If you put too much vinegar in the kettle it will go everywhere and may short your electrics – or even worse electrocute you!

Here is a video of what happened when I started the kettle. This video must surely be destined to win the ‘best video on YouTube’ prize.

After boiling the vinegar, I left the kettle for an hour, then put in another quarter of the bottle of vinegar and boiled it again. I then left the kettle for a short while and gave it a clean with a soft fabric scourer. The limescale came off really easily – so this traditional cleaning method does work. And I only needed to use half a 13p bottle of vinegar to do it. Below is what the base of my kettle looked like afterwards.

shiny kettle base

A few final thoughts – once again don’t put too much vinegar in as it foams! And finally you should be aware that boiling vinegar will make your kitchen smell of vinegar for hours afterwards. Don’t do this if you are expecting guests!