Saturday, October 04, 2008

Toshiba DVD Player

I heard about the new "Toshiba DVD Player with XDE500 Advanced Upscaling Technology". This is apparently the name of the model in Europe! (I think it's the one called "Toshiba XD E500" in the US.)

It's supposed to upscale DVDs to HD screens much better than other players. I was sceptical, but saw some great user reviews somewhere, so I bough it. I just posted this review on Amazon:

I haven't made comparisons of the image quality yet, but this machine has several issues which makes it disappointing to me:

1: It does not remember how far it has played a disc. Since I never watch all of a DVD in one go, it means I have to leave the machine on 24/7.

2: The remote control is the cheapest, most plasticky thing I've ever seen. And the buttons are so unresponsive that I have to press them on average three times to get the machine to react. It's highly annoying. Toshiba should be *embarrassed* by selling something of such poor quality.

3: The picture is stretched to wide screen (and thus distorted) no matter what picture setting I use.

It's amazing you can buy such a poor product these days. I mean, DVD players are not news anymore. And this one cost twice as much as the average player, even those which also have upscaling technology.

I've been using my Blu-ray player to play DVDs, but it's sloooow.

Short films

Short videos about photography. (The second one is interesting for those who can't get their camera big enough.)

The first one gave me an idea: mix photos with paintings and drawings in a book, magazine, exhibition or web site, and it's suddenly easier to see the photos as art rather than records.

Dang, I'm realizing I'm actually missing the Polaroid SX-70 camera. The wonderful simplicity and directness of the thing. Once you clicked the button it was done. You could really focus on just the picture.
It also had an interesting softness to the pictures, a particular quality of non-sharpness and colors like you'd used a soft-filter almost.
And man, how brilliant was the reflex-viewfinder system!

Cool houses

I am watching Grand Designs season 3. It has some outstanding episodes in it. For example one of the coolest houses I've ever heard of, the Woodman's Cottage. It's hand-built in the middle of the woods for under 30,000 pounds sterling, virtually all out of natural materials, and it's virtually self-sufficient with energy and food, and yet it's beautiful, modern, warm and comfortable. Awesome.
One of the remarkable things about this cottage is that the wood was not cut to squares, the whole frame is made from whole tree trunks, which even can be seen in the final house from the outside. And the house does not have any straight lines or square corners, it's so organic in shape. 

Another outstanding project is the Water Works house, a huge old industrial building in the utmost state of disrepair, which a young couple restored from the ground up on a shoe-string budget, with their own labor, over ten months after hours. An astounding effort. And the result is just breathtaking.

The text and tiny web pictures don't do these projects and houses justice, I warmly recommend getting your hands on the DVDs. (It doesn't seem they are for sale in the US. If you have a region-free DVD player, get them from Amazon UK. Or maybe they can be found for download somewhere.)

One of my friends in Canada also built his own house, from scrap wood. Cost him next to nothing, only had to buy the electricals and such.
I'm full of admiration and a bit of envy over people who are that practical. I am not, if I try to vacuum my floor myself, I get a nervous breakdown. I'm proud of my mind, but if anybody were to depend on my practical abilities, they better cut their wrists. (OK, I can if I have to. In my youth I was a sandblaster, and a very successful one.) It must be really wonderful to build your house with your hands.

Rivers and Tides

Rivers and Tides, the nature art of Andy Goldsworth.
[Thanks to Eric]

The above is part II. Part I is here.

Preflight check?

A man should not leave this earth with unfinished business. He should live each day as if it was a pre-flight check. He should ask each morning, am I prepared to lift-off?
-- Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, Northern Exposure, All is Vanity, 1991

That's just BS. This would mean that you could never start any project which would take longer than 24 hours.

Perhaps what they mean is that one should always strive to finish everything one begins, if at all possible. This I agree heartily with. Unfinished projects, cycles, and communications are a great drain upon energy and attention. If something is dragging out long, then take a decision to finish it or not. If you decide you probably won't ever, then throw out the remnants of it and forget about it.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Abuse and Power

I got sent this, it's a true story, I'm told.

Abuse and Power
by Robb Blodgett

The electrical power serving our condo complex was suddenly interrupted while I was working on a project in my shop. No warning, no apparent cause. It was 4:30 PM and the February daylight was beginning to fade.

It had now been an hour and a half without electricity. I tried reading by candlelight; romantic in theory, but NOT in substance. Put factually, a great waste of time!

Several "powerless" neighborhood residents gathered outside in the cold. I donned my winter coat. I stepped outside to collect whatever info I could on the outage.

As I suspected, no one knew spit! Other than unsubstantiated neighborhood gossip, my fellow condo owners seldom, if ever, possess information I don't already have, speculation not withstanding. I shuffled back inside to consider my options.

Doing nearly anything would be far more productive than sitting in the dark. The microwave oven and television were idle and useless. There was no power to run my shop tools or light to assure that my fingers stayed connected to my hands. I picked option four; I would leave my condo and run errands.

To do errands, I needed wheels. To have wheels, the garage door needed to be opened. But alas, there was a quandary.

No garage door opener will work without electricity. . . . a fact that any pre-school child would know. Therefore, someone had to open the garage door manually. Who would that be you ask? Me, who else? I'm not married anymore!

The "Emergency Door Release" was attached to the opener's chain mechanism by the original cotton rope. The rope's frayed, dark-stained appearance spoke of its many years just standing by, waiting to be of service. A dusty, red-plastic handle at the end of the rope hung within easy reach. There was just barely enough light to see the handle. I found it, gripped it firmly and gave it a mighty yank.

I should have known. The old, bedraggled rope snapped immediately leaving the red plastic handle in my hand. The dilapidated rope lay at my feet in two pieces. Aw GEEEEZE!

My son had borrowed both of my ladders. I'm 6'1" tall, yet even so, I required more height to see the mechanism, not just feel it. I needed something to stand on. Thinking for a moment, I went inside. I retrieved an old, grey and green Steelcase chair from the basement. The chair was positioned directly under the area where the rope was attached. With an assortment of tools in my front and rear pockets and a flashlight held in my mouth, I stood nervously on the chair wrestling with the grimy door release.

Meanwhile, inside the house, my cute little Shih Tzu puppy named "Boo Boo Bear" was awakened by increasingly hard hammer blows, now being liberally applied by yrs trly to a stubborn safety catch. Bear stood upright in his crate dancing, barking like crazy and practicing his "Daddy, I'm lonely" routine.

For clarity, let me stop and explain something. When "The Bear" barks, I get RREALLY irritated. I hate the sound of a barking dog. But worse, when it's MY dog that's barking. I always think the neighbors can hear him through the common walls that separate our living spaces. And THAT really bugs me.

I can just see my neighbor's cold, red faces! Jaws working, mumbling something naughty about my mother. . . .them getting more and more aggravated the longer the barking and banging continues. Where is the anger directed? At me, of course! And why? For my lack of "doggie discipline."

Of course, cute little "Boo Boo Bear" ALWAYS gets out "Scott-free" . . . he's just too darned cute to get angry with! I, however, provide a broad target for venting frustration. What else can I say? It's a proven fact!

So here I am standing timidly on this old, rickety chair. My jaw muscles are beginning to cramp with the weight of a "D" cell flashlight in my mouth. My pants pockets are laden with all variety of heavy tools. And now, with both arms in the air, I feel my pants ever … so …slowly …slipping …south.

It was then that I heard a polite knock on the front door. Naturally, this drove the Bear's barking into overdrive.

I'm generally a sane, calm, patient person. I can handle even the toughest, most challenging predicaments with the grace of The Pope himself. This was different however. I solemnly confess that what I experienced next was an "out of body" moment of total and utter insanity.

As my pants slid slowly to my knees, a "king-sized" pair of vice-grips fell from my bulging pockets directly onto the second toe of my bare right foot. I opened my mouth to express my unhappiness with the intense pain. As I did, the flashlight became airborne, bounced twice on the trunk of my formerly flawless BMW Z3, and smashed headlong onto the floor, shattering the lens into millions of pieces. Immediately, all visible light was extinguished. It was dark as new asphalt on an overcast night. Now what?

Dear friends, this IS, by definition a hazardous environment. Not moving an inch in the black abyss, I began to form an action plan to get my elephantine keester down and off my wobbly perch. I was reviewing my limited options when a much more insistent beating was administered to my front door with a closed fist. The noise whipped the Bear's yelping into ultra-super-overdrive.

Here I was . . . in total darkness balanced on this treacherous, old chair. I had bare feet. There was broken glass on the floor directly in front of me. I had no light to see how much glass I was dealing with or where the pieces were scattered. My toe felt like it was on fire. My pants were now at my ankles. "The Bear" was inside, barking his fool head off. Now comes some jackass who has chosen this very inopportune moment to assault my front door.

That was enough! My face seared with anger. My heart bounded in my chest. A colossal, mind-numbing headache was beginning to make its acquaintance with the inside my cranium.

Instinctively, without thought or concern, using my highest decibel voice, and, in the meanest, roughest, toughest tone I could muster, I screamed: "Quit beating on the G#$d@*&£!*&%! door and get the HELL out of here!"

So, just as instructed, my little 10 year old paper-girl beat a hasty retreat from the front porch as she began to cry.
Robb Blodgett
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Brokeback Mountain II

[Thanks to Mark.]

The sequel all men are waiting for.

I'd pay good money to see that.
(Unlike the first one, which I've been no more tempted to see than Titranny, Dances With Wolverines, Bridget of Madison Country, or In And Out Of Africa.)

Train Drives Through A Bangkok Market

Train Drives Through A Bangkok Market. Dead funny. Shows how humans can adapt.

Drink and manhood

There are two things that will be believed of any man whatsoever, and one of them is that he has taken to drink.
-- Booth Tarkington

(Are we supposed to figure out what the other thing is?)

I'm glad I didn't have to fight in any war. I'm glad I didn't have to pick up a gun. I'm glad I didn't get killed or kill somebody. I hope my kids enjoy the same lack of manhood.
-- Tom Hanks

Well said, Tom. This idea that being a Real Man is being a good killer is insane.

I saw an actor, maybe it was Johnny Depp, on The Actor's Studio, . He said something like: "sure, war movies show the horror and so on, but still, they all have the underlying message of: this is were I became a man".

Book trailers and Foss

Trailers for books, a 21st Century concept if any.
Alex points to the Cosmic Motors book trailer.
And an old favorite of mine: Robota.

I'm reminded of Chris Foss, from way back when, I think the seventies.
I don't get why Foss was so overlooked. He was commissioned for designs on big movies like Alien, Dune, and Superman, but hardly anything of his was used. I'd love to see his colorful machines, space craft, and buildings in movies. I don't see why SF should always be so colorless.

Here's something funny: in the link above I've linked to Google's frame for the page, because I can't link to the original Russian page! Strangely, though my Mac can display the Russian characters, it seems it can't copy/paste them.
Also I've never before seen a URL with non-english characters, I did not think it was possible.
(The reason for linking to the Russian version is because it has lots of images.) (I'm guessing the Russians, like the Chinese, don't have a lot of sympathy for the copyright concerns of rich and decadent Westerners...), est. 2005.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Huf Haus

Believe it or not, Huf houses are sort of prefab. On the highest order, though.
I think you can only get them in Europe yet.
I might get one, one day. I'd want to do something about the starkness, though, put in some color. (I'm surprised that I've yet to see a picture of one which is not either black or white.)
See this article and don't miss the videos.

Apparently Huf put up eighty houses between 2004 and 2006... and that's just UK, they supply the whole of Europe!


David Letterman takes a shift at Taco Bell. Surprisingly funny.

First private space craft

First private space craft Falcon 1 launched successfully.
Information Week article about the Falcon 1 launch.
Video following the launch.
Wired article about the company SpaceX and the future.

D90 and video

Mike Reichman reviews the Nikon D90 and its video capabilities. Like I had more than suspected, he concludes that it's no substitute for a good video camera, but it's an excellent mid level camera with video as a great little extra for some uses.
"... But, put it on a tripod, do all manual settings, add a terrific Nikon lens between fish eye and super telephoto, and you may have a useful add-on tool to the Indy and creative film maker / videographer. At under a thousand dollars it's a virtual steal for this type of use, costing far less than devices such as the Letus 35mm lens adapter, being also much smaller and more mobile, and of course providing a high quality DSLR as well at no extra cost.
Stills photographers who want to explore and become familiar with shooting video and exploring the world of convergence can now do so at under $1K. For someone that already owns a Nikon system and lenses this is a no-brainer, because the D90 is a very fine, small, and full featured DSLR regardless of its video capabilities. You get video for free to play with and learn about. What's not to like?
The third and final market that's going to be all over the Nikon D90 like a dirty shirt are newspapers..."

Also CameraLabs is an early bird with a full D90 review. (His video part of it will come tomorrow.)

My D90 is a bit delayed, but it seems I'll get it next week.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Creator breakdown and writing deep meaning

Sometimes it shocks me just how much information is available on the web. For example I was doing a tiny amount of research about Dave Sim and way his comic Cerebus changed markedly over its 300-issue run (so much that I'd claim it's a stretch to say it's actually the same story or even the same type of story). And I came across this page on TV Trope about creator breakdown. If you read all that and follow all the links you have months of reading on your hands, I'll bet.

Related (because Dave Sim did this to an astonishing degree in later issues) is Author Tract. It's when an author starts preaching instead of entertaining. At the Writers Of The Future workshop, Tim Powers recommended us to not aim to put out beliefs on the page. Instead just write a story, and our beliefs if any will show through "like a body under a blanket". Good advice, partly because preaching bores or irritates the audience like nothing else, so it does not work and will turn away readers. And partly because even the deepest held beliefs can change over time, I know many of mine have!

In a similar vein, Algis Budrys adviced us that long discussions of a philosophical nature does not belong in fiction. He said that there were non-fiction books for that kind of thing, and avid readers of them, so why not write such a one?

Oooh, oooh, oooh, here's another good one (see what I mean about the depth?).
"In the minds of Really Clever Literary Critics, the true worth of a book, movie, or TV series is not in telling an engrossing story with interesting characters, but in allowing people to write long, complex, deep essays on the true meaning of the subject matter, whatever they think that may be. Once the critics have done this sort of analysis, they can objectively declare these works as True Art: it doesn't matter how much you personally like or dislike these works so long as you understand the deeper meaning behind them. Only ignorant fools don't understand."


Plastic Lens

Plastic Lens photoblog. There are some wonderful pictures, see a couple samples below.

There are quite a few people who have forsaken the quest for higher image fidelity, and gone the other direction to Toy Cameras like the Holga or Diana.

I often like those pictures. And I'd like to try to make some. But I'm held back by two things: I don't know of any which are digital, and I'd be frigged before I'll process and scan film. And also I'm emotionally leery of giving up the potential of high image quality if a picture turns out to be really good.

So maybe I could find a way to process high quality images to look like these pictures. Shouldn't be tough, if somebody has made a filter for it, surely a one-click process.
But here's the interesting thing: I suspect this wouldn't feel "genuine" to me. Why the heck not?

Connie Talbot, six

I hope all the adulation doesn't mess her up. But I'm hopeful, since at that contest show she didn't seem too affected.

Visiting elephants

A regular occurrence at the Mfuwe Lodge in the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia where the lodge was unwittingly built on the Elephant's traditional path through to some wild mango trees on the property. The herd of a dozen or so elephants walk through the lodge's reception area at least twice a day for about 4 weeks and then sporadically for about another 3 weeks to feed on the trees.

Tim said:
this would be a unique vacation maybe a trifle risky. the idea reminds me of a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia back in the 60's where at certain times of the day one could find ducks waddling through the lobby to the hotel fountain.

eolake said...
Yeah, I lived in a hotel in the early eighties in San Francisco, where on most days, just after lunch, you could see hippies drift through. You had to sit still though, they were skittish. If you were lucky, you could smell their pot and hear snippets of hummed Bob Dylan tunes.

Rock balancing

It seems a few people can do this. I guess they are people who have an unusually high perception for the surfaces and masses of the rocks.

Diane Varner art

NeutralDay points to Diane Varner art. From the comments each picture gets, it's clear it's a very popular site. (Astounding how much traffic some photo blogs get. (The picture-a-day kind).)

Hers are very, very pretty images. And I envy her technical skill and patience.
But ultimately I feel that for art, they are over-processed. They tend towards the look of advertising or posters. They’ve acquired so much glossy surface that the deeper qualities are getting a bit drowned out.

That said, I also think there are some great compositions, for instance the picture below.

Below is a photo of my own which I've post-processed in these manner, just a brief experiment. I must admit it's addictive, but I'm still not sure what I think of it artistically.


OK, I'll confess I think it improved the picture.
Maybe it just has to be used with a light hand.

I don't know, though, I kind of get the feeling when looking at heavily processed photos, that it's... dishonest somehow. It looks like reality, but it isn't. Because it looks so real and so powerful, the viewer can't help but believe in it, but you're cheating him. Like putting up a hologram of a table of food in front of a hungry man.

The viewer can't help but feel that if he was walking where the photographer had been walking, he would see the things he see on the photo, looking like they do on the photo. And he would feel the beauty. But he wouldn't, because that photo is fiction, brought forth in a computer.

I could be wrong, it's just a feeling I get, very visceral (a gut feeling, both figuratively and literally).
Like the feeling I got as a kid if I'd been swimming for hours at the beach. A sort of empty feeling of unreality. Odd.

Most paintings don't give me a feeling like that, surely because it's "not-real" in an obvious way.

Jim said:
I have to confess I'm also ambivalent about it, although I don't consider what comes out of the camera to be sacrosanct because the camera-processed image is seldom true to the original as experienced. Lately I've experimented with adding contrast and color saturation, which is sometimes truer to the moment. Obviously altered images are interesting as a novelty I guess, but it seems more like a dexterity than art...sort of like a Thomas Kinkade painting. It's always a thrill to get a remarkable image straight from the camera that needs no "makeup".

Funny I was just thinking about Kinkade. I'm not sure if it's the same issue, maybe it is.

Maybe the issue I'm feeling for here is when the superficial qualities of a work of art get dialed up to a point where they get out of balance with the deeper qualities.
(I should note that Kinkade is an extreme in this regard. Ms. Varner's art has lots of deeper qualities, it's just that she is so skilled with the more immediate qualities that I feel that they threaten to dominate.)

Doodle 4 Google

Doodle 4 Google.
I like this drawing. Lively, and very skillful for a 15-year-old.
The hard thing in the arts is not making nice details, it's is getting the whole to fit together nicely.

James Vornov art

James Vornov. More photos. Profile.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Simplicity itself

The secret of greatness is simple: do better work than any other man in your field - and keep on doing it.
-- Wilfred A. Peterson

Yes, that's undeniably simple!

The future of real estate and investing

The future of real estate, article by Australian real estate watch dog Neil Jenman.
Neil is a voice I listened to from a few years back, because he was one of the few saying, against a howl of protests, than a real estate crash was coming. Boy, was he right, and I'm sitting tight, I won't buy a house until this crash bottoms out. (Will take a couple of years.)
"That's the trouble with you young people today," he said. "You think the world revolves around you. It doesn't. We don't need you to buy real estate, mate. We've got investors. And they know real estate will never come down. It's because they're not making any more of it, mate."

Here is the Time article he refers to, about the broader financial issues happening now.
"If you're having a little trouble coping with what seems to be the complete unraveling of the world's financial system, you needn't feel bad about yourself. It's horribly confusing, not to say terrifying; even people like us, with a combined 65 years of writing about business, have never seen anything like what's going on."

The funny thing is that I read an article a couple of years ago about about how "Fanny May" and "Freddie Mac" were set up for a big fall. This was on the Motley Fool web site! It does not get more basic than that, and yet the situation seems to have taken all the bigwigs by surprise. Maybe they should all read Motley Fool.

"There was little fear of buying a house with nothing down, because housing prices, we were assured, only go up. And there was no fear of making mortgage loans, because what analysts call "house-price appreciation" would increase the value of the collateral if borrowers couldn't or wouldn't pay. The idea that we'd have house-price depreciation — average house prices in the top 20 markets are down 15%, according to the S&P Case-Shiller index — never entered into the equation."

No, because last time it happened was aaaaaages ago, like in the eighties! Who can remember that!?

I'm reminded of the film Wall Street, which was pretty much about the last time things went south (no, wait, that would be about seven years ago). In the end, the Martin Sheen character says to the Charlie Sheen character, after it all has gone to sh... sheen... "how about getting into a line of work where you actually contribute to society... you know, produce something."

"Didn't the folks on Wall Street, who are nothing if not smart, know that someday the music would end? Sure. But they couldn't help behaving the way they did because of Wall Street's classic business model, which works like a dream for Wall Street employees (during good times) but can be a nightmare for the customers. Here's how it goes. You bet big with someone else's money. If you win, you get a huge bonus, based on the profits. If you lose, you lose someone else's money rather than your own, and you move on to the next job. If you're especially smart — like Lehman chief executive Dick Fuld — you take a lot of money off the table."
"Coping in this new world will require adjustments by millions of Americans. We all will have to start living within our means — or preferably below them. If you don't overborrow or overspend, you're far less vulnerable to whatever problems the financial system may have."

One thing I don't get: will many savers (as opposed to investors) actually lose their savings because of this whole debacle? This aspect has not been addressed in the many articles I've read about it. This to me would be the big injustice. You're supposed to be aware that if you buy stock, you take risk, but if you stay in "cash" (savings), you're always told it's totally safe.

Anyway... a little more introspection: it's easy for me being judgmental about all this, but we all have our addictions, battling our inner pain. Overspending is not one of mine, but junk food is. If I ever get a heart attack, somebody would be equally justified in saying to me: "you didn't see it coming?"

Monday, September 29, 2008

Douglas Adams and mistrial declared music-download case

A mistrial has been declared in a big music-download copyright case. This is because it has not been proven that any actual uploads took place.
I think the more interesting question is whether anybody can prove that the damage to copyright holders is real, and proportional to the huge fines the RIAA wants to inflict on sharers.

Also: US Senate passes the Orphan Works Bill, article.

Update: here's a quote from Douglas Adams:
"Although many people are getting very exercised at the prospect of new technology destroying copyright, it's worth remembering that it was only the previous wave of technology that gave us the ability to protect it in the first place. Copyright is a function of technology, it isn't necessarily an inalienable human right."

This I just now heard, serendipitously, in an audio file (bought and paid for) of a BBC radio show commemorating Douglas Adams and featuring many of his speeches, interviews, and rare sketches. Recommended. You can get in on iTunes.

I also recently bought, paid for, and listened to the three "phases" of Hitchhiker's which were produced after his death, based on the last three books. I recommend those also. They even fixed the depressing ending of the last book, and did so wholly in his spirit, I felt.


It's slowly dawning on me how incredibly self-absorbed I am.

When somebody pointed it out a couple of years ago, I got shocked and offended, but it's true.

If somebody is highly charitable to somebody else, I think they're idiots. If they are highly charitable to me, I think "o goody" and don't give it another thought.

I don't like poetry, except if it's written by my, then I think it's brilliant.

I don't like puns, except if I'm the one making them, then I think they're great.

I justify it by saying I'm concerned with Higher Truths. That is true enough, I just hope it's enough to save my soul. :-)

I'm on TOP

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Light Scrape blog

Juha Haataja makes nice pictures with the compact Panasonic LX3.

Balls and Firestorm, new art from me


Is this guy irritating or what?
He has taken something without any substance whatever, celebrity gossip, and managed to also make it so grating and repulsive that even the surface attraction is gone. Quite a feat that.

Rodney Carrington