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Amazon How-To: The ASIN

Posted in advice, Amazon, shopping, tips by commorancy on May 24, 2019

Amazon-LogoMany thousands of people shop Amazon daily. Did you know that every product at Amazon has a unique identifier? In most stores it’s called an SKU or stock-keeping unit. Amazon’s stock code is called the Amazon Standard Identification Number or ASIN. Let’s explore.

Product Identifiers

Every product stocked at any retailer uses a product identifier to locate that product in its database. In fact, many retailers have their own unique identifiers which are separate from such other identifiers as the Universal Product Code (UPC) or the Industry Standard Book Number (ISBN). In Amazon’s case, its unique identifier is the ASIN, not the UPC. The ASIN is visible on the URL of every product you view on Amazon. It’s a 10 digit code containing both letters and numbers. For example, a pair of cut resistant gloves has the ASIN of B012AFX9VY.

Many store products might have as many as two, three or even four unique identifiers. Books, for example, use the ISBN as an identifier in addition to the UPC code and Amazon’s ASIN. However, stores and online retailers typically use their own product identifier to identify stock in their system. For example, Target’s stock identifier is the DPCI code which goes back to Target’s original days of price stickering or tagging its merchandise with a Department, Class and Item… hence DPCI.

Even the UPC code, which is typically used at the register to ring up items, is simply translated to Target’s, Best Buy’s, Walmart’s or Amazon’s unique product identifier to locate the item and its price in its database.

How is the ASIN helpful?

Knowing the ASIN is useful because this quick identifier allows you to locate to a product on Amazon easily. If you’re on Amazon’s web site, you simply need enter the product ASIN into Amazon’s search panel and it will immediately bring up that item’s listing.

If you’re off of Amazon’s web site and you have the ASIN, you can easily craft a URL that will lead you to Amazon’s product listing in your browser. To craft a functional URL, is simple…

Append the ASIN number to the following URL: https ://amzn.com/ASIN … or in the case of these gloves: https://amzn.com/B012AFX9VY.

While that domain may seem strange, Amazon does own the amzn.com domain. This domain is actually intended to be used as a URL shortener for locating Amazon products in combination with an ASIN. Simply by post-appending the ASIN to this much shorter URL, you can feed this into your browser’s URL field and get right to the product’s details, pricing and all of that information. You can also use it on social media sites as a much shorter URL to aid with character limit restrictions.

Product Reviews

Many of us rely on Amazon’s product reviews to know whether the product is worth considering. Many of us also contribute to Amazon’s product review area for the products we purchase, particularly when we feel strongly about the item’s quality (good or bad).

Amazon has recently taken its website backwards in time (before Web 2.0). Amazon’s older editor was much more feature rich than its newest editor.

When writing product reviews, you could immediately search for items right in the ‘Insert Product Link’ area and then insert those product links and place them into your product review. Unfortunately, with Amazon’s recent interface change, Amazon web developers have inexplicably removed the insertion of product links via this former feature. Now, you have to know the product’s ASIN and craft a product link yourself.

Worse, you can only get access to this ‘Insert Product Link’ feature when you’re crafting a new comment on a product reviews, not when creating or editing a new product review. Odd. You don’t even get it when you edit a comment.

Here’s the latest search panel when attempting to insert a product link:

AmazonProductLink

As you can see, it’s odd. I mean, why even change it to this non-intuitive interface? Now you are required to open a new browser tab, go chase down the product using that separate browser tab, copy the URL then come back to this panel and paste it in and hit enter. That’s a lot of extra work which could be done (and was previously offered directly) in this panel. After that, it will either find the product and offer a SELECT button or fail to provide you with anything. And that “http ://…” nonsense is entirely misleading.

You can enter ASIN numbers right in this field and it will locate Amazon’s products from this panel strictly using the ASIN only, even though it does not indicate this in any way. No need to type in that silly http:// stuff. I’m not even sure why they want you to spend the time to go find and insert URLs here. Why can’t this panel search in Amazon’s product database directly with key words? Ugh.. Oh Amazon, sometimes I just don’t get you and your want to be obtuse.

Creating / Editing Product Reviews

Let’s move on. The new product review editor no longer offers a facility for inserting product links via a search helper tool. It’s simply gone. Poof. Nada. However, you can insert them if you happen to know the format, but you’ll have to manually craft them using the ASIN or ISBN.

If you’re wanting to add product links to your review, you have to now do it ALL manually. I’m entirely unsure why Amazon’s web development team decided to take this odd backwards step in its user interface, but here we are. You would think Amazon would be pleased to have people hawking additional products in their product reviews, but based on this step backwards, I’m guessing not. Either that, or someone at Amazon is clueless… maybe it’s a bit of both? *shrug*

Crafting Product Links in your Product Reviews

When you’re writing a product review and you realize you’d like to insert one or more product links into your review using the completely idiotic ‘new’ (and I use the term ‘new’ very loosely) and far less intuitive editor, you’ll need to craft them yourself.

The format of an Amazon product link is as follows:

[[ASIN:B012AFX9VY The Product’s Description Here]]

Example:

[[ASIN:B0792KTHKJ Echo Dot (3rd Gen) – Smart speaker with Alexa – Charcoal]]

The format of the product link is:

[[ID_TYPE:ID_NUMBER PRODUCT_DESCRIPTION]]

where

ID_TYPE = ASIN, ISBN or any other product identifier which Amazon supports
ID_NUMBER = The product’s unique identifier, like B012AFX9VY
PRODUCT_DESCRIPTION = The description of the product with spaces

Once you create a product link, you can use it in place of words and it will show a clickable link. Take note that there’s no space after [[ or before ]]. For example:

This product offers you two pairs of [[ASIN:B012AFX9VY Black Stainless Steel Cut Resistant Gloves]] for use in the kitchen.

once published, the sentence should translate to…

This product offers you two pairs of Black Stainless Steel Cut Resistant Gloves for use in the kitchen.

Questionable Changes

Because Amazon seems intent on sabotaging and gutting its own web user interface at the expense of important and useful features for shoppers, it’s possible that such product links may no longer function at some point in the future. You’ll want to try this out and see if this tip works for you. If it doesn’t work, it’s very possible that Amazon no longer allows product links inside its reviews. However, they are still available as of this writing. If you find that product links no longer work, please let me know in the comments below.

However, the https ://amzn.com/ASIN should continue to work unless Amazon loses or dumps this domain. Note that this feature doesn’t work when using https ://amazon.com/ASIN. Amazon’s primary domain of amazon.com is not set up to handle short ASIN link syntax. You’ll need to use the amzn.com domain instead.

If this information helps you, please leave a comment below. If not, then please leave a comment below and let me know that, too. Happy shopping and reviewing!

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Consumer Tips: How to navigate the Toys R Us liquidation

Posted in best practices, business by commorancy on April 1, 2018

[UPDATED: 12/17/2018] TRU officially closed all remaining US stores as of mid-summer. This article is here simply for legacy reasons. Buh-Bye TRU and thanks for all the fun. We’ll miss you this holiday season.

If you’re thinking of visiting Toys R Us to take advantage of the store closing liquidation sales, this is your safety guide. Don’t throw your money away at Toys R Us, make every dollar count. Let’s explore.

Giving Gifts

Toys R Us’s liquidation is All Sales Final. The first tip is pretty straightforward. If you’re looking to buy a gift for a child, you are trying to stock up for the holidays or for any other rainy day reason, keep in mind that you cannot return, exchange or refund anything you purchase at this time. For gifts, this can be critical, particularly with children. You should always make sure that the person who receives that gift can return or exchange it if they don’t like it. Purchasing from Toys R Us on liquidation, you forfeit the return option.

Even if the gift is to be given while Toys R Us is still open, there are no refunds or exchanges. So, be aware that whatever gift item you choose is theirs to keep forever. You might want to be prepared to perform an exchange with your own money. Note that this can become an uncomfortable situation.

If you know there’s a possibility that your gift might be returned, you should buy from Amazon, Target or Walmart instead which leaves that option open for the recipient.

No Returns, Refunds or Exchanges

This goes hand-in-hand with All Sales Final. If you purchase items from Toys R Us during liquidation, you may get a great deal, but at the cost of no refunds, returns or exchanges. Make absolutely certain that what you buy is absolutely something you intend to keep.

Whether or not you intend to give the item as a gift, you should open the item and check it thoroughly. Do it in the store if at all possible. If it has batteries, make sure to test the item for functionality. You may not be able to test a battery powered item in the store, however. They may not allow you to remove the item from its packaging in the store to perform this test. You may have to take it home and check it there. By that time, you’ve already purchased and it’s too late if it’s defective. If you’re in doubt, leave it at the store.

If you do find a dead or defective item, you will need to contact the toy manufacturer directly and work your exchange through the manufacturer. Keep your receipt. This exchange process could take a whole lot more time than if you bought at a store still accepting exchanges.

Consider your purchases during a liquidation carefully. Do not purchase Toys R Us gift cards… but this should go without saying.

Extended Warranties

If you decide to buy an expensive item that could break easily, you should ask of Toys R Us to offer you a SquareTrade warranty plan. This will ensure you can get a replacement after Toys R Us closes. In preparation for this article, I spoke with a representative at SquareTrade who confirmed that they will continue to honor all SquareTrade warranties purchased at Toys R Us. If you do decide to invest in an expensive item that is prone to defects or breakage, you should also consider purchasing a SquareTrade warranty during liquidation.

Video Games and Video Game Consoles

Purchased video game content is a reasonably safe investment during the Toys R Us liquidation. It’s rare that a disc or a cartridge is defective.

On the other hand, purchasing a video game console or other video game hardware is a bad idea. If you must purchase one, purchase a SquareTrade warranty at Toys R Us to go with it (assuming they are still selling these warranty plans). If it’s not SquareTrade, then you should call the plan service provider before you check out at the store to ensure that insurance plan will continue to cover your purchase after Toys R Us closes for good.

Without an extended service plan, you have no replacement policy if it’s defective or gets broken. Be very cautious of buying video game hardware from Toys R Us during liquidation without a warranty. Though, you can try to work through the manufacturer warranty, it’s sometimes only 90s days. During liquidation, this is the one time where you should consider the purchase of a third party warranty, at least for purchases like video game consoles… particularly the Nintendo Switch which is portable and prone to being dropped.

However, certain types of lesser expensive video game hardware, like controllers, wires, Amiibo, cases, pens and other similar $30-$50 items are safer to buy, particularly when they are marked down 50% or more. However, consoles themselves, like the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 are not considered good investments from a liquidation sale.

I’d also suggest to avoid buying these devices from eBay as well because many will flood eBay listings from sellers who went to Toys R Us just to cash in on these low prices. If you’re thinking of buying a console from eBay, ask where it was purchased. Be wary if it’s from Toys R Us.

Dolls, Action Figures and Non-Battery Toys

Toys that don’t require batteries and don’t have complex moving pieces are some of the safer items to buy. They offer less defects and are more likely to last the test of time than RC vehicles, video game consoles, battery powered electric child cars, electric skate boards and other custom battery items.

Consumer Safety and Toy Recalls

Toys R Us was very good at keeping up with safety recalls. Unfortunately, they are going out of business. This also means that any toys you purchase during the liquidation that later fall under a recall, you can no longer return to Toys R Us. Like the All Sales Final discussion above, consider that items like cribs, baby items and other possible dangerous infant and toddler toys won’t have any place to go if they are recalled, especially if your baby gets hurt. Though, the manufacturer might honor a return or exchange, you will not be able to do so at Toys R Us. You will also not be able to make any legal claims of injury to Toys R Us once they have closed.

Safe or Unsafe Investment?

Here is a list (not exhaustive) of items that I consider safe, somewhat safe and not safe for a liquidation purchase so long as you fully understand that you cannot return or exchange them at TRU.

Note, safe, somewhat safe and not safe represent what I consider as a “safe purchase” (i.e., getting value for your money vs. throwing your money away), these labels do not describe whether the toy or item itself is safe for use by a child. You will have to determine toy safety yourself.

Toy Type Liquidation Safe Purchase? Contains Battery? Reason
Dolls Safe No
Motorized Dolls Not Safe Yes Prone to defects and can be unsafe
No store warranty
Bicycles Somewhat Unsafe Depends If you’re buying for a gift, unsafe.
If you’re buying to use now, perhaps.
If it has a battery, unsafe.
TRU may or may not offer assembly.
Use your best judgement.
Motorized Electric Kid Cars Not Safe Yes Batteries can be defective
May not be able to find replacement battery
No store warranty
Action Figures Safe No
Plush Animals Somewhat Safe No Depending on what it’s made from,
it may be safe or unsafe. Choose carefully.
Vinyl Figures Safe No
Hot Wheels Safe No So long as the Hot Wheels contain no batteries
Lego Safe No So long as the Legos contain no batteries
Motorized Toys Not Safe Yes Avoid motorized or electronic toys
Video Games Safe No Games themselves are rarely defective
Video Game Consoles Not Safe Maybe Could be defective
No way to exchange
No store warranty
Choose 3rd party insurance plan if you must buy
Video Game Controllers Somewhat Safe Yes Typically okay along with certain accessories.
Barbie Safe Depends If the Barbie doesn’t contain a battery,
this should be safe. If it contains a battery,
make sure the doll is working before
leaving the store.
Baby Toys Depends Depends For safety reasons, I do not recommend buying
baby toys and items via liquidation sales.
Diapers Safe No
Cribs Not Safe No Cribs can be dangerous for infants.
Purchase at a store where you can return.
Car Seats Not Safe No Car Seats can be dangerous for infants.
Purchase at a store where you can return.
Skateboards Safe No
Electric Skateboards Not Safe Yes  Avoid because of custom battery (replacement)
RC Vehicles Not Safe Yes  Avoid because of custom battery (replacement)
Tablets Somewhat Safe Yes  If Apple, you can rely on Apple. If another brand, avoid.
Wrapping Paper / Party Safe No
DVDs and Blu-ray Safe No
Toys To Life (Amiibo) Safe No
Headphones Not Safe Depends  High chances for problems
Toys R Us Exclusives Somewhat Safe Depends Avoid with custom batteries
Wooden Toys Somewhat Safe Depends

Use Your Best Judgement

The above is not an exhaustive list, so always use your best judgement if it’s not listed here. If the toy contains no battery at all, it should be fine. If the toy contains or uses standard AA, AAA, C, D or button cell batteries, you’re fine. If the toy contains a lithium ion and/or custom battery, you should avoid purchase. Any toy that contains a custom battery may have been custom made for Toys R Us. This means you may find it difficult or impossible to find batteries later. House brand or Toys R Us exclusive toys requiring refill packs should be avoided. Toys and products for infants should be avoided for safety reasons. The only product I would suggest is safe for an infant is diapers and possibly formula as long as it’s a name brand, not a house brand.

Tablets and electronics should be avoided if not from Apple or another recognized brand. If it’s a house branded electronic item, avoid.

Toys R Us Exclusives

Toys R Us Exclusives are now considered rare. However, that doesn’t mean they’re a good investment. Pop figures are fine, exclusive Barbies are fine and exclusive Hot Wheels are fine (see the list above). However, any exclusives that require something that you can only get at Toys R Us (like batteries or refills), you should avoid purchase.

Toys R Us Geoffrey toys

These are likely to be some of the rarest toys available. If you want a piece of memorabilia to commemorate Toys R Us, you should head over fast and pickup whatever Geoffrey items you can find. If you’re looking for plush, you might have to ask at the service desk.

Happy Deals and good luck!

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Audio Tip: How to decode 5.1 DTS / AC3 to 6 WAV files

Posted in audio engineering by commorancy on April 10, 2016

[Updated 02/21/2017] Please see the updated Alternative Solutions below. These don’t require Cubase.

For those of us who are hobbiest home audio engineers, here’s a tip that might come in handy when trying to extract 5.1 (6 channel) audio from DTS/AC3 to individual WAV (or more specifically, WAV 64) files. This technique may or may not work for 7.1 (8 channel) audio. Let’s explore.

What You Will Need

First Step – TSMuxer GUI

Extract the DTS/AC3 stream from video container using TSMuxer Gui. To do this…

  1. Load the *.m2ts, *.vob, *.mkv, etc file into TSMuxer Gui using File=>Open.
  2. Once the file is loaded, uncheck all other streams except the audio stream (DTS or AC3)
  3. Choose ‘Demux’ as the Output type
  4. Choose ‘Browse’ if you want to place the output file somewhere other than where the app has chosen
  5. Click ‘Start Demuxing’
  6. When completed, you will have a *.dts or *.ac3 file as output.

This step demuxes the audio from the full movie container.

Second Step – FFMpeg

Extract the DTS 5.1 audio to single 6 channel WAV file via FFMpeg using the following:

ffmpeg -i 00000.track_4352.dts -acodec pcm_s24le output-file.w64

This will create a 6 channel w64 (wave 64) file. You’ll want to use *.w64 because of the 4GB max size of standard *.wav files. If you know your output file will be sized smaller than 4GB, you can use *.wav instead. Also, if you want to master in 32 bit or higher, you can choose the pcm output version that corresponds to the bit size you want to use. I’m using 24 bits for my remastering efforts. The larger amount of bits you use for mastering, the more likely you will need to use w64.

Third Step – Cubase

  1. File=>Import to input output-file.w64 into Cubase
  2. When the small panel appears asking how you would like to import, choose Split Channels. You can number them if you like.Cubase Import
  3. It may take a little while to split them all out.

Note, this is the part that I do not know if Audacity supports. It may be able to perform Split Channels like Cubase, but you would need to test Audacity to find out whether it can and how. Cubase can definitely split the channels, though.

Fourth Step – Exporting WAV / W64 files

  1. From here, you can continue to use Cubase or Audacity to produce a remastered audio file or …
  2. You can save each individual channel as a separate WAV file for some other use. Note, you should use *.w64 (wave 64) if the files are expected to be larger than 4GB in size.

It’s up to you what you want to do with the resulting files.

Alternative Solutions

Using ffmpeg only.

Note, you will need to install the latest version of ffmpeg to ensure compatibility with this solution.

I have since found you can accomplish the extraction to individual WAVes using ffmpeg only. You won’t need Cubase or tsmuxer for this alternative solution. You extract your WAVes by setting up channel mappings, then assigning those mappings to each output file. Though, this solution is just a tad bit more complicated in that you need to know what channels your input audio offers, which channels to extract and what the two letter abbreviation for the channel is within ffmpeg.

For extracting 5.1, use the following command (Linux line break style shown):

ffmpeg -i infile \
-filter_complex "channelsplit=channel_layout=5.1[FL][FR][FC][LFE][BL][BR]" \
-map "[FL]" front_left.wav \
-map "[FR]" front_right.wav \
-map "[FC]" front_center.wav \
-map "[LFE]" lfe.wav \
-map "[BL]" back_left.wav \
-map "[BR]" back_right.wav

To extract 7.1, use the following command:

ffmpeg -i infile \
-filter_complex "channelsplit=channel_layout=7.1[FL][FR][FC][LFE][BL][BR][FLC][FRC]" \
-map "[FL]" front_left.wav \
-map "[FR]" front_right.wav \
-map "[FC]" front_center.wav \
-map "[LFE]" lfe.wav \
-map "[BL]" back_left.wav \
-map "[BR]" back_right.wav \
-map "[FLC]" front_left_center.wav \
-map "[FRC]" front_right_center.wav

Where infile is your source file. The input can be a video file (i.e., vob, m2ts, mkv, etc) or a multitrack audio file (i.e., AC3, DTS, etc). If you are running Windows using a CMD command shell, you will need to type the command in without the line breaks shown above. So, copy and paste won’t directly work on Windows. You’ll need to use an editor to make the command Windows friendly.

Note that there are a lot of different possible mappings for various types of audio input files. Since there are now many formats of soundtrack audio available such as Dolby Atmos, Dolby DTS, AC3 and various others, you should first determine the format of the input audio with ffprobe (see below) to better understand how to map and extract the audio. The channels available for possible extraction in ffmpeg include the following:

Command:

ffmpeg -layouts -hide_banner

Output:

Individual channels:
NAME        DESCRIPTION
FL          front left
FR          front right
FC          front center
LFE         low frequency
BL          back left
BR          back right
FLC         front left-of-center
FRC         front right-of-center
BC          back center
SL          side left
SR          side right
TC          top center
TFL         top front left
TFC         top front center
TFR         top front right
TBL         top back left
TBC         top back center
TBR         top back right
DL          downmix left
DR          downmix right
WL          wide left
WR          wide right
SDL         surround direct left
SDR         surround direct right
LFE2        low frequency 2

Standard channel layouts:
NAME        DECOMPOSITION
mono        FC
stereo      FL+FR
2.1         FL+FR+LFE
3.0         FL+FR+FC
3.0(back)   FL+FR+BC
4.0         FL+FR+FC+BC
quad        FL+FR+BL+BR
quad(side)  FL+FR+SL+SR
3.1         FL+FR+FC+LFE
5.0         FL+FR+FC+BL+BR
5.0(side)   FL+FR+FC+SL+SR
4.1         FL+FR+FC+LFE+BC
5.1         FL+FR+FC+LFE+BL+BR
5.1(side)   FL+FR+FC+LFE+SL+SR
6.0         FL+FR+FC+BC+SL+SR
6.0(front)  FL+FR+FLC+FRC+SL+SR
hexagonal   FL+FR+FC+BL+BR+BC
6.1         FL+FR+FC+LFE+BC+SL+SR
6.1         FL+FR+FC+LFE+BL+BR+BC
6.1(front)  FL+FR+LFE+FLC+FRC+SL+SR
7.0         FL+FR+FC+BL+BR+SL+SR
7.0(front)  FL+FR+FC+FLC+FRC+SL+SR
7.1         FL+FR+FC+LFE+BL+BR+SL+SR
7.1(wide)   FL+FR+FC+LFE+BL+BR+FLC+FRC
7.1(wide-side)FL+FR+FC+LFE+FLC+FRC+SL+SR
octagonal   FL+FR+FC+BL+BR+BC+SL+SR
downmix     DL+DR

Using FFProbe

To determine the audio channels available to extract from your infile, use ffprobe as follows:

Linux / MacOS X

$ /path/to/ffprobe -i infile -hide_banner 2>&1 | egrep "^I|^ "

Windows

C:\path\to\ffprobe -i infile -hide_banner

The output will look something like

Input #0, mpegts, from 'my_movie.m2ts':
  Duration: 01:37:13.61, start: 11.650667, bitrate: 43437 kb/s
  Program 1
    Stream #0:0[0x1011]: Video: h264 (High) (HDMV / 0x564D4448), yuv420p, 1920x1080 [SAR 1:1 DAR 16:9], 23.98 fps, 23.98 tbr, 90k tbn, 47.95 tbc
    Stream #0:1[0x1100]: Audio: dts (DTS-HD MA) ([134][0][0][0] / 0x0086), 48000 Hz, 5.1(side), fltp, 1536 kb/s
    Stream #0:2[0x1200]: Subtitle: hdmv_pgs_subtitle ([144][0][0][0] / 0x0090)
    Stream #0:3[0x1201]: Subtitle: hdmv_pgs_subtitle ([144][0][0][0] / 0x0090)

The stream marked in red is the stream you will need to examine. In the output example above, this audio contains 5.1(side) audio using the DTS format. For 5.1(side) extraction, the command would look like the following:

# From the above -layouts output
# input = 24 bits and preserve output at 24 bits
# 5.1(side)   FL+FR+FC+LFE+SL+SR

ffmpeg -i infile \
-filter_complex "channelsplit=channel_layout=5.1[FL][FR][FC][LFE][SL][SR]" \
-acodec pcm_s24le \
-map "[FL]" front_left.wav \
-acodec pcm_s24le \
-map "[FR]" front_right.wav \
-acodec pcm_s24le \
-map "[FC]" front_center.wav \
-acodec pcm_s24le \
-map "[LFE]" lfe.wav \
-acodec pcm_s24le \
-map "[SL]" side_left.wav \
-acodec pcm_s24le \
-map "[SR]" side_right.wav

Audio Output Format

If you don’t specify an audio output format, ffmpeg defaults to using pcm_s16le which creates a 16 bit WAV file for each channel. If you want to preserve the bit rate of the original audio, then you’ll want to specify the output format to be the same as the input for each WAV. This means that you can, if you want, specify 16 bit for some channels and 24 bit for others. For 24 bits, specify -acodec pcm_s24le just before each -map flag (see example above). For 32 bits, specify -acodec pcm_s32le.

Also note that while you can select the individual audio track within the a movie container, you don’t really need to. Ffmpeg automatically selects the best quality audio stream available in the container. However, if there are multiple 5.1 or 7.1 audio streams containing equal quality or there are multiple separate programs, you will need to tell ffmpeg to choose which stream to decode into WAV files. Note that if you need the syntax for selecting a specific audio stream using ffmpeg, please leave a comment below and I’ll write up an example for you.

Below is a list of PCM output formats available in ffmpeg version 3.2.4:

# Find these with the command

$ ffmpeg -formats | grep PCM

 DE alaw            PCM A-law
 DE f32be           PCM 32-bit floating-point big-endian
 DE f32le           PCM 32-bit floating-point little-endian
 DE f64be           PCM 64-bit floating-point big-endian
 DE f64le           PCM 64-bit floating-point little-endian
 DE mulaw           PCM mu-law
 DE s16be           PCM signed 16-bit big-endian
 DE s16le           PCM signed 16-bit little-endian
 DE s24be           PCM signed 24-bit big-endian
 DE s24le           PCM signed 24-bit little-endian
 DE s32be           PCM signed 32-bit big-endian
 DE s32le           PCM signed 32-bit little-endian
 DE s8              PCM signed 8-bit
 DE u16be           PCM unsigned 16-bit big-endian
 DE u16le           PCM unsigned 16-bit little-endian
 DE u24be           PCM unsigned 24-bit big-endian
 DE u24le           PCM unsigned 24-bit little-endian
 DE u32be           PCM unsigned 32-bit big-endian
 DE u32le           PCM unsigned 32-bit little-endian
 DE u8              PCM unsigned 8-bit

You’ll need to prefix pcm_ to the name of the format to use it on the command line. For example, if you want to use u16be, then you would specify that as -acodec pcm_u16be.

Windows Only (eac3t0)

Tool required: eac3to

Here is the command to use to extract all of the waves with eac3to:

# N: means the stream number in the input file
# You will need to determine which stream number to use
C:\path\to\eac3to "C:\path\to\infile" N: C:\path\to\output.wavs

Example:
  C:\bin\eac3to "C:\Movies Folder\mymovie.m2ts" 1: D:\Audio\mymovie.wavs

You’ll want to choose the proper drive for each of the paths instead of C:\. Also note, the .wavs (with the ‘s’) extension is important so that all of the WAVes will be exported from this tool.

Thanks go to Eli for the eac3to solution. If you are running Windows in your audio workflow, then this tool seems to be a fast one-step alternative.

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Diet vs Lifestyle

Posted in Health, health and beauty by commorancy on June 7, 2010

In this article, I will assume that when you’re reading this, you have committed to some level of weight loss. Whether that weight loss is for an event (i.e., wedding, prom, hanging at the pool, going to the beach, vacation, etc) it doesn’t really matter. Or, perhaps, you’ve just decided to make a change and simply want to be thinner than you are. Whatever the reason for the weight loss, the goal is still the same… to lose the weight.

What is your goal?

I’m not asking how much you want to lose. We’ve already established that you want to lose weight and you’ve likely already determined how much. No, this question is asking for how long do you want the weight gone? It’s a valid question. The reason I’m asking this question is very much the crux of this entire article. If you are looking to lose your weight for a month or two and then ‘forget about it’ and go back to ‘normal eating’, then this article really isn’t the answer.

This article may help you attain that goal, but this information is not intended nor designed to lead people back into the dieting trap. This article is designed to help people get out of the diet trap and bring about lasting change. If you are committed to lasting change, then you’ve come to the right place.

Thinking patterns evolved

Let’s start by discussing what the food industry has done for America (and, arguably, the world). We’ll start by saying that the food industry is, first and foremost, in it for the money. Secondarily, they supply food. Plain and simple, without profits they can’t stay in business, so money always comes first. From Kraft, Hershey, ConAgra, Archer Daniel Midland to Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s, the mantra is the same. Eat more. It’s a simple and subtle, yet consistent message. The more we eat, the more money they make. It’s simple economics. It’s also economics working against the waistline. The bottom line is, eat more so they make more money. I’ll discuss how that thinking manifests shortly. As long as you keep this ‘money making’ aspect of the industry firmly in your dietary planning, you can easily maintain your weight loss goals. Remember, it’s about their profits, not your waistline.

Money making manifestation

The ways in which the food industry keeps to their profit goals is through marketing. Whether that marketing is on TV, in print, on menu or on the packaging, the message is always there. Eat more. How? On packages, there are many ways they accomplish this. Some subtle, some not-so-subtle. The first and most bold is the ‘serving suggestion’ combined with ‘image enlarged for detail’. So, for cereal, as an example, it’s always a heaping huge bowl of cereal filled to the top. Granted, the image is ‘enlarged’ so determining scale is out. But, that’s the point. They don’t want to give you a frame of reference so you equate that imagery with the bowls in your cupboard (probably huge due to standard manufacturer sizes). So, then you turn to the ‘Nutrition Facts’ panel and see that 1 cup is 110 calories. You naturally equate the ‘serving suggestion’ to the ‘1 serving size’ and pour your cereal thinking you’re eating 100-110 calories. The thing you don’t realize is that bowl of cereal you poured might account for upwards of 300-400 calories depending on bowl size. Combining that with 2% milk, you are looking at 244 calories in 2 cups of milk. That turns what you thought was a 100-110 calorie meal into a 500+ calorie meal. Granted, 500 calories for a single meal is probably fine by itself, but the nutrition in cereal and milk is questionable. Basically, it’s carbs and fat with some protein. The vitamins you receive have been fortified both in the cereal and the milk. On top of that, the milk contains bovine growth hormones that could interfere with weight loss.

With restaurants, the idea is similar. Show a picture of a great looking meal on the cover or next to the food item. They tempt you through the look of the food. Of course, if you’ve ever eaten at a restaurant once, you know the food never looks like it does in the photographs. But more than this, the size of the meal is also, again, quite large and hard to judge scale. On the plus side to this, however, is that many states (including California) are now requiring nutrition guides be placed on the table. So, you can look up that oh-so-delicious-looking-meal and realize that that meal is actually 1100 calories. Yes, that’s 1100 whopping calories. Over 1/2 of the recommended calories for a 2000 calorie a day diet. Again, over half of the calories for 1 day’s meals. So, the plate may appear appetizing, but you need to dig deeper to see just how calorie dense that meal really is.

You should begin to understand why are waistlines are exploding. We can’t eat like this and expect to remain thin. But, the food industry has been slowly and steadily increasing portion sizes so that we’re to the point of gut busting, yet oblivious as to why.

Convenience and Instant Gratification

The second aspect of this thinking paradigm shift is in convenience and speed. The restaurant (and food) industries have additionally ingrained into our consciousness the need-for-speed. We have to have it now. That food should be something that’s ready in 5-7 minutes. The microwave and other innovations have also instilled this thinking. Granted, some foods don’t need to take long amounts of time to prepare. Some do. However, it’s not the speed here that’s at fault. It’s the fact that most meals that can be prepared rapidly are usually the foods with the highest calorie density (see below). So, with speed can come higher calories. The food industry has played off of our need-for-speed and produced foods that prepare rapidly, but those foods are usually overly calorically dense.

Bucking the system (and your friends, relatives and colleagues)

So, now the main aspect to weight loss is bucking the system. You don’t have a choice in this matter. The industry has so ingrained into the American consciousness that more is better that you have to forget that mantra and retool your own thinking. In addition, that now means you have to ignore your friends’, relatives’ and colleagues’ comments. What matters is your goals. If you want to lose the weight, you must look at portions and do what needs to be done to meet your goals. That means you need to think critically about what got us to the gut busting mentality and retool your own personal programming. It also means eating smaller portions and eating less calorie dense foods. However, this does not mean starving yourself. It also doesn’t mean you can’t eat the foods you like. You must eat them in smaller sizes.

I know, it’s hard to ignore friends’ and relatives’ comments. It is. But, if you are committed, you have to do this. When they ask you to eat over, accept. But, don’t eat more than what you need. Remember, you also do have ‘cheat’ meals.

Calorie density

As food engineering has progressed, prepackaged foods have become increasingly more calorie dense. Calorie density means that the manufacturers have been able to pack in more calories into smaller and smaller sizes. This also means that you cannot easily spot high calorie items simply with your eyes. You now need to weigh the foods. So, that means if you don’t have a scale in your house, you need to get one. Scales are important because weights are the only true way to measure calories. For example, 85g of chicken is 120 calories (that’s ~3 ounces). But, can you spot 85g of chicken just by looking? No. 85g of chicken is actually a small amount of chicken. It’s about 1/3 of a small-med chicken breast. That also means that a small-med chicken breast is about 360-400 calories. But, some chicken breasts are now enormous (thanks to hormones). So, here’s another example of density. Because chicken producers are now able to produce humongous chicken breasts, restaurants may even be serving these on your plate. These breasts might be 600 calories. The food scale is your friend, so weigh your foods. It’s the only way for you to be certain of how many calories are in your foods.

Cheat meals

What is a cheat meal? Simply, a cheat meal is a meal that lets you eat a ‘normal’ (ahem) sized portion. A portion that you would find in a restaurant. Yes, that 1100 calorie meal above would be considered a ‘normal’ sized meal. But, this is a once-a-week meal. This is something that should be considered a treat or a reward. Think of it as a way to eat out and make it appear like you still accept the ‘eat more’ mantra. That you blend in with your waistline bulging friends. Then, once the meal is over, you immediately go back to your regular eating schedule as normal. And yes, I realize, I haven’t gotten to what is a ‘regular meal’ answer. We’ll come to that next.

So, what is regular sized meal?

Going by the 2000 calorie-a-day guideline of the FDA, let’s examine. It’s very simple math here. 2000 / 3 = 667 calories per meal. That’s assuming you eat only 3 meals per day. If you want to add in two 100 calorie snacks per day, then let’s calculate. 2000 – 200 = 1800. 1800 / 3 = 600 per meal + 2 100 calorie snacks. So, let’s break it out:

  • Breakfast = 600
  • Snack = 100
  • Lunch = 600
  • Snack = 100
  • Dinner = 600
  • Total = 2000

Here’s a challenge, I dare you to find any chain restaurant that offers full adult meals plus desert that fits into 600 calories. It’s next to impossible. Most restaurant meals start at 800 calories and finish (including a desert) well over 1800 calories just for that one single meal. How is anyone expected to lose weight eating that amount of calorie density in one meal? Combining that with several meals around that same size and you can’t.

So, this is mostly why you need to make your own meals at home. There are some restaurants that do offer lesser calorie meals. But, you need to dig through their nutritional guides to find them. For example, Chili’s offers a Guiltless Tilapia meal that’s just 200 calories (the full meal). That’s a Tilapia fillet and a side of vegetables (broccoli and shredded carrots). That would still leave 300 calories for a dessert (if following the above meal guide).

So then, what does a 600 calorie meal look like? Here’s a web site that gives you some ideas.

Grains, Vegetables and Fruits

The only thing that breads and, specifically, wheat products offer nutritionally is 1) carbs and 2) fiber. Both carbs and fiber are readily available in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are much more vitamin and mineral dense than breads. In general, grains of all types fall into this as well (rice, barley, rye, corn and, of course, wheat). That’s not to say not to eat grains, you can. But, you get better nutrition out of vegetables with far fewer calories. So, you can eat more vegetables and get full, yet still eating far fewer calories So, eating vegetables will give you more fiber than wheat with far fewer calories (and much less insulin response). On the other hand, fruits give about equal insulin response as wheat (because of the fruit sugars). So, always think of fruits as desert.

Weight Loss

To truly begin losing weight, you need to rethink your meals. In that goal, instead of trying to do the above 600 calorie meals, you could do 200-300 calorie meals spaced out differently. For example, you might do 6 300 calorie meals over a 6 hour period and throw in 2 100 calorie snacks where ever you feel you need them. By eating more frequently with smaller meals, you keep the body constantly processing foods and nutrition. The body burns calories to digest foods. So, you are using this food processing system to burn calories. At the same time, you need to restrict your calories to an amount just under your maintenance calorie number.

So, if your maintenance number is 2000, you might have to drop to 1700-1800 to begin losing. You might need to go to 1500. It all depends on where your number is and only you can determine that number. Once you determine the number, you can easily maintain your weight (or go back into weight loss mode) as necessary. This also means the end to ‘normal meals’. That is, meal sizes dictated by the food industry. You need to ignore that rhetoric and use a plan that actually works.

Fresh foods and density

Food designed by nature is food the way it was intended to be found and eaten. That means, when foods are eaten the closest to that foods natural state, the more healthy it is (barring pesticides, hormones and fertilizers). When foods are in their natural state, they are the least calorically dense and the most nutritionally dense. This means, you can eat more of them to satisfy your hunger and, at the same time, not go over your calorie goals. You will also meet your body’s nutritional requirements. Such foods include broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, green beans, corn on the cob, carrots, etc.

On the other hand, foods designed in factories are the farthest away from nature that they can get. These foods are devoid of nutrition and very calorically dense. These foods must be fortified (vitamins and minerals are added back to these devoid products). These foods include bread, pizza dough, Pillsbury Dough, Cookies, Cakes, Pies, Ice Cream, Cheese and processed cheese food (Velveeta).

Foods that fall into the unsure status include Milk, Eggs, Chicken, Pork, Beef, Lamb, Veal, etc. While meats contain dense proteins and are necessary for the body, the commercial meat industry uses questionable practices to get these foods into the stores. So, unless you trust your meat supplier explicitly from farm to market, you may be getting extra things in your meats you are not really needing. That’s not to say that you can’t eat meat, let’s just say that you should limit meat consumption to only the amount needed to fulfill your daily protein requirements. As far as bovine milk, this is an calve food not designed for human consumption. See Randosity’s Milk: Does it really do a body good? for more details. Milk (and milk products, like cheese, yogurt, kefir, cream and butter) should be avoided as they are not necessary for the human diet. There is nothing in milk that cannot be had from other sources of solid foods including meats and vegetables.

Portions vs Exercise

To truly lose weight requires rethinking. It requires making yourself acutely aware of marketing practices and thinking about how manipulative these images really are. You need to determine your own calorie intake per day, but that will likely be no more than 2000 calories per day (unless you are an extremely active person like a bodybuilder, a runner, a biker, a hiker, a skier, a climber, a swimmer or a surfer). If you are not extremely exercise active, then you need to reduce your calories to fit a less active lifestyle. The bottom line is, calories in have to be less than calories expended to lose weight. The more active you are, the more you can eat. The less active, the less you can eat. It’s simple math here.

So, you need to reduce your portion sizes to accommodate a less active lifestyle. Increasing your exercise levels does not give you cause to binge, however. You still must stay below your energy expenditure to lose weight. You must equal your energy expenditure to maintain your weight. It’s very simple logic.

Permanent thinking

The hardest part is changing your thought behavior to become a permanent way of life. You can’t keep thinking ‘Oh, I only need to lose 5 pounds in 30 days’. No, instead you need to think, ‘They’re tricking me into that portion size’. So, eat a piece of cake, but eat a 50-100 calorie piece. Eat a size that fits into your daily eating schedule. As long as you adhere to portion sizes and calorie relationships that fit with your goals, you will continue on your weight lose goals. Don’t forget your cheat meal, though. You can use this as a crutch to help keep you on track. Eventually, this crutch won’t be necessary every week and you will fall into a normal eating behavior that is correct for your long term goals. You just need to give your body a chance to adapt (usually several months). And yes, your body will adapt to the correct portion sizes over time. Getting over that hump can take some time.

Let’s Recap

To affect permanent lasting weight loss, you have to understand misleading marketing materials that can lead you astray. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. You need to retool your thoughts about food and your current lifestyle for long term changes, not for a month or two. So, think about how you can affect food changes that you can live with for the rest of your life. We also learned that a real meal size is about 600 calories (for a 2000 calorie a day diet). In fact, your meal size might be smaller than this to affect weight loss. It’s also difficult to find 600 calories in restaurant meals. You may have to request substitutions in restaurant meals to reduce the calorie density. Fresh natural foods are always healthier than processed industrial foods. Processed industrial foods tend to be high calorie density foods. So, you need to rethink your thoughts on foods and the way you think about foods. If you are committed to making these thought changes and learn more about foods, you can make a permanent lasting change towards a thinner you.

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