Saturday, February 07, 2009

Photographs of strange alien "iceballs" in Victoria Park

Photographs of strange alien "iceballs" in Victoria Park, article. And you thought crop circles were spooky?

Fuji dynamic range

Fuji has announced the first high-dynamic-range compact camera. You don't get the HDR benefit at full resolution, but still, for very contrasty subjects this will be an interesting camera.

A big noise

After midnight last night I started three simultaneous and long email conversations with three different good friends, one of whom I hadn't spoken to for about 15 years. This was so stimulating that I didn't get to sleep until about 7 am. And then I woke up before noon and had to handle some biz. So by mid-afternoon, I was pretty cooked.

So just as I was eating a bi' o' cereal and watching season one DVDs of Third Rock From The Sun, winding down to go to sleep again, an infernal noise started. I'm not kidding, I could not hear what they said on the TV!

It turned out to be my downstairs neighbor who is getting central heating, and he was drilling a big hole through his kitchen wall. He was through the inner wall of brick, but it turns out that the outer wall of brick is very, very hard, amazing though that is for this building.

I'd no choice though, I had to sleep, so I closed all the windows fully and all the inner doors, hoping that would dampen the noise when he started again. But when he started again, it was clear that he was now drilling in the wall just under my bedroom. Or that was what I believed: it turned out later that the noise was simple so loud and transferred so well through all the walls in the building that it sounded like it was right on top of me! I can't believe how loud that was.

The funny thing is that I actually got better rest anyway than I would have if the upstairs' neighbor's dang clock radio had been going! Innat weird? (I have bought a small alarm clock for him now, which turns off after two minutes...)

I should add that these things are exceptional, normally I'm snug as a bug in a rug where I am. (Also "smug as a bug in a rug" as Peppermint Patty put it.)

The trough of no value

The trough of no value, article by Mike Johnston. How to get your stuff or work preserved for the future.


My excuse for posting something this cute is that I'm trying to prove I'm not just a cerebral bastard. :-)

This is circulating on the Net now:

It has been so hot in South Australia for over a week - 40+ degrees Celsius every day, very dry also. A guy at work lives at Maude. His wife sent him these photos of a little Koala which just walked into the back porch looking for a bit of heat relief. She filled up a bucket and this is what happened!

Is it stock buying time?

[Thanks to TC.] Buffett's metric says it's time to buy, article.

I admit the stock market as per this graph has fallen more and quicker than I realized. But I'm still in doubt if it's not gonna fall further. It seems unlikely that a crisis this profound can correct so fast. I don't think a bottom 30% lower would seem entirely out of order.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Dotty as you've never seen her before

Art by Eric Bowman.
Apart from this being a fun and surprising idea, I like it as a painting.

iPod Nano IRL

I finally got around to see the new(ish) iPod Nanos in real life. I just have to say: gawd, they're beautiful. Before this generation, I'd been bitching about the boring colors, but I gotta say, when they finally did it right, they did it really right. The design is simple and gorgeous, and the colors are vibrant. I tried photographing them, but because it's metallic colors, photographs just fall flat, they don't capture the glow of the things.
Some people plaster gems or gold all over an iPod to make it a piece of jewelry, but besides being poor taste at the best of times, with these things it's gilding a lily, they are already jewelry.

My god not yours

People who pray to god to help them in battle or sports remind me of two ants looking up at an eagle soaring high overhead and arguing: "He's on my side!" "No, he's on my side!"

Japanese baby

If it wasn't for genetics, that could almost be me. I think I got my first camera, a plastic Instamatic, at age ten or so, and started taking pictures of rows of houses trying to figure out how come perspective lines could meet at both ends but still be parallel in the middle.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Economy of scale

Isn't economy of scale amazing? I just bought this set of books for thirty-seven pounds (fifty bucks). They are small, but there are twenty of them! If I published a small picture book, probably I'd have to sell just that one for a similar price, but because the good doctor is hugely popular, the price per unit goes way down.
Of course, that is also the only reason we can buy insanely complex objects like cameras or iPods at prices anybody can afford. If there were only ten customers in the world for an iPod, the price would have to be in the millions.

(The iPod is included for scale, it didn't come with the books!)

I want candy

Taiwanese candy street vendors. Babycakes! I don't think they have trouble attracting customers, at least male ones. The female ones probably hate them.
Photo from Daily Bubble Tea.

Get Shorty

Just re-watching Get Shorty. Man, Travolta is fokkin good in that one. He might be the only one who can play that character perfectly: the "tough guy" who really is not particularly interested in being tough or violent, but is just so skilled and confident that he is much better at it than the regular tough guys.

Update: it's weird: my Mac handles a damaged DVD much better than a dedicated, brand new DVD player does. The latter will stutter and halt, and then skip to next chapter. My Mac does not pause, but gives the message "skipping damaged part", and then skips only so much as is necessary.

And now for a little bitching: If you hang around to the bitter end on many DVDs, you are force-fed copyright warnings. In many, many languages. Screen after screen after screen after screen. And you can't fast-forward, you can't skip them, and you can't go to menu. This is absolutely insane. Come on, people, why do you torture your paying customers?

... And a little more: I tried to listen to director Barry Sonnenfeld's commentary. "This was a long day of shooting... This rain came from rain towers... This was our first day of shooting..." Boring. How come so many film makers can't make an interesting commentary to save their lives? They are in the business of entertainment for Pete's sake.

BTW, I was asked about the Sony Bravia HD TV... I now watched some of this movie both on that one and on my 4-year-old Sony 26-inch TV, and the Bravia is shockingly superior, much better color and detail in the shadows.

Waking Life

Have you seen Waking Life?
I dunno, on paper I should love this movie: animated, and philosophical. But the visuals make me dizzy. And it seems to me that the way the movie was made it combines the weakest sides of live action and animation, instead of the strongest. It has lost the impact and detail of live action, but it has not gained the abstraction and expressionism of animation. So I find it hard to watch.

Criminal policing and authoritarianism

Criminal policing, Guardian article.
"In official interviews the officers who conducted the stop and search described me as "pleasant and conversational throughout the incident" and thus were "surprised and disappointed that Mr Thomas has made this complaint". Please note that it is me that has disappointed them in this complaint, we had a bond in those moments you see, a brief passing moment of pleasant intimacy, then I let them down. I don't return their calls, ignore them in the street and am later seen being searched by other police officers. In their logic my decent behaviour exonerates their bad behaviour."

Here's a related tOP article. It has some interesting info about the original meanings of "liberal" and related words.
"We can only oppose authoritarianism so long as it stays small and its power remains limited: once it gets free rein and power, it will usurp our protections, abrogate our rights, and, most likely, make life miserable for the greater mass of us."

Neutralday photos

It turns out Patrick of NeutralDay is also a very good photographer. (Most people who are into the tech don't have time to photograph, and vice versa.)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Save an executive

Sheep In The Big City

I have the pilot episode of Sheep In The Big City, from a Powerpuff Girls DVD. It's so hysterically funny I want more, but according to Wikipedia, it's not available. Anybody have any idea how to get it?
(Oh, I see now there were twenty-seven episodes! This hurts. I want them! The one episode I've seen outshone the other material on the DVD by lightyears.)

Update: I see some information from the creator here.

Update: get 170MB of brilliance here.

Old girlfriend

Unknown writer.
It's funny because it's true.

This morning I received a phone call from a gorgeous ex-girlfriend who called 'out-of-the-blue' to see if I was still around.

We lost track of time, chatting about the wild, romantic times we used to enjoy together.

I couldn't believe it when she asked if I'd be interested in meeting up and rekindling a little of that 'old magic.' Wow! I was flabbergasted.

'I don't know if I could keep pace with you now,' I said, 'I'm a bit older and a bit greyer and balder than when you last saw me. Plus I don't really have the energy I used to have.'

She just giggled and said she was sure I would 'rise to the challenge.'

'Yeah.' I said. 'Just so long as you don't mind a man with a waistline that's a few inches wider these days! Not to mention my total lack of muscle tone...everything is sagging and I
am developing jowls like a Great Dane!'

She laughed and told me to stop being so silly. She teased me saying that tubby grey haired older men were cute, and she was sure I would still be a great lover.

Anyway, she giggled, 'I've put on a few pounds myself!'

So I told her to fuck off.

House Of Frankenstein

So I just (sort of) watched the old Universal flick House Of Frankenstein. It had a new "Frankenstein's monster" made by a different man. But it looked pretty much like the first one, flat head and super-brow and all. What an amazing coincidence.

A third into the movie, it turned out that Dracula would return from the dead too! The plot thickens. And this is only a one-hour film!

But don't be too excited, not until you hear that two thirds into the film, the wolfman makes an appearance! I wonder what kept them from throwing in the mummie and the creature from the lagoon also? Licence issues? Talk about ripe for parody. I'd love to make that movie.

Jail for photographing police? (updated)

Jail for photographing police?, article.
"The relationship between photographers and police could worsen next month when new laws are introduced that allow for the arrest - and imprisonment - of anyone who takes pictures of officers 'likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism'. [...]
A person found guilty of this offence could be liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years, and to a fine."

What strikes me is: how the hell can a policeman possibly know whether a photograph is "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism"?
The only thing he can judge for sure is whether he gets pissed off by being photographed, and you can be sure he'll act on that instead. And with new UK laws like this in place, he can't be penalized for it.

Update: here's a good article.

TV on widescreen (updated)

I love my 40-inch Sony Bravia widescreen TV, but unlike my old 26-inch Sony TV, it does not have a 4:3 setting, only "wide", "zoom", and "smart". So when I watch TV shows on it, the picture is stretched, and all the actors look fat. Especially noticeable with a women who you know has great legs, but they look like bridge pillars!
It bugs me, and I've been through aaaaall the settings, in vain.
Anybody has any idea for a remedy?

Bert said:
The TV can definitely do 4:3, no question there. If it doesn't, then you can safely assume that it is never fed a 4:3 signal.
Look into the player's configuration, it is most likely to be the culprit... If it is set to always output anamorphic, it will certainly do just that!

Thanks, dude. I found the setting deep in the Playstation's video settings.
... man, those black bars are wide! No wonder things are frigging distorted when it's stretched!
I'm pretty sure I did not change that setting from default, and that makes me wonder if most people are so blind that they prefer such a distorted image over some wasted screen space.

... I'll say like David Pogue did: a blog with enough readers can be a great resource for the writer too. I had almost given up getting a good picture on that TV, but I thought I'd try this way just in case.

Update: OK, now I found the right setting on the Sony DVD player too. (One of the modern "upscaling" ones.) I have to say: man, the interface on these devices sucks!! On these two machines they are very different, on one it is text, on the other, mostly small symbols. But in both cases the words or symbols are so abbreviated that you really have to guess what the hell you're looking at. The symbols are worst, but even the text: you have several settings, and one of them is called "normal"... how the hell do I know what the engineers consider "normal" in a video setting which I don't really understand what is?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Eyes vs. numbers

New test numbers say the Nikon D3x is better than a Hasselblad, but Mike R says you can't believe that, which I can believe. (This article may confuse by having the same introduction as the one I linked to yesterday.)

Discussing RAW files, Bert informs:

I guess you'll have to take my word for this, but it is a fact that large image sensors used in all but the most expensive cameras (NASA-grade & up) have some flaws, which need to be corrected either through specialized hardware or low-level firmware.

And when I say large sensors, I mean just about anything above the camera phone.

So it's a fact of life that there is no such thing as true RAW data coming out of DSLRs. There is always some amount of cooking before delivery, or else you would see huge output variations between otherwise identical units.

High-end professional equipment (Red & such) users know and understand this, and will prefer to have compensation done in post-processing, allowing for periodic calibration of the equipment. In any case, true RAW data looks better than movie negatives do, trust me on that (screening non-color-corrected rough cuts can be downright painful!), so they are used to working with raw materials that look like shit, pardon my language.

But nobody in his right mind would want to attempt educating the more casual users to such realities, so "normal" cameras are factory-calibrated, and that's not about to change. Much more convenient for you and me anyway. Might mean that the camera's output will become slightly sub-optimal in time, but the short lifespan of most products makes this irrelevant.

So, now that we have established the need for in-camera processing, we have to decide where to draw the line. How raw is RAW? Every manufacturer will have a different answer here, and that answer will even change across specific product lines.

Point & shoot cameras will always overcook everything, it's what is expected from the thing anyway, so RAW will only mean uncompressed, and perhaps wider dynamics (i.e. 10/12/14 bits instead of 8), but hardly more.

The more you climb up the scale, the more honest the data may be (better quality sensors to start with anyway), but there will always be some subjective choices made by the manufacturer. To use an imperfect analogy, audio buffs only have to think of how the Japanese have never been able to build decent speakers, because they simply cannot resist coloring the sound. Same here, some manufacturers will be more "flat", while others won't be able to resist pushing the line.

Minimize Desktop Distractions (updated)

Minimize Desktop Distractions, article about several different Mac applications which help to minimize distractions when working on the computer. (I blogged about this issue a few months ago, and alert readers helped me find some of these.)

I bought one of the slightly pricey "white noise" MP3s. They are misnamed, because real white noise is featureless noise of all wavelengths mixed together, just like white light. These, instead, are recordings of noise like for example a rain storm like the one I bought, and which I quite like. It seems relaxing somehow.

... Actually I just realized that these MP3s can help me with a problem I have recently: my upstairs neighbor, despite his willingness to solve the problem, sometimes is not home when his clock-radio starts in the morning, so I have to listen to it for two hours, and it's just loud enough to irritate me and stop me going to sleep again. I don't like wearing earplugs. I think an iPod with these files plugged into the high quality Soundsticks II speakers in my bedroom will do the trick.

Google Earth's Virtual Prado Museum

Google Earth's Virtual Prado Museum, article.
It seems images on the Net are either too small, or waaaaaay too big. :-)
By too big, I mean 14 gigapixels. Not megapixels, gigapixels. Geez.

Fuji film camera

Pretty amazing that anybody will bring out a new film camera, when sales of old film cameras have all but died. But you gotta admit it's a beaut.

A half Nikon

A Nikon D3 cut in half.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Assembly lines

Ford introduced the assembly line, which apparently cut production cost drastically.

Interestingly, though, I heard that years ago, the Hasselblad camera factory in Sweden experimented, and they found that by having workers compile a bigger part of a camera instead of repeating the same tiny action again and again, things were more efficient and people made fewer mistakes.

(Isn't it amazing to see that fragile-looking car handling terrain like a hummer?)

I love the model T. For me it has (along with other cars of that time) a presence which modern cars just don't have. I don't know why. (I can say the same about airplanes.)

I once sandblasted the body of a Ford Model A. Try doing that to a modern car, and you'll have the plates curled up like wet cardboard.

Jay Leno is a car buff. Here he talks about how good the model T is to use even today.

In defense of Internet porn (updated)

In defense of Internet porn, article.
"Isn't porn supposed to lead to more sexual abuse of girls and women? Well, that was the theory, voiced constantly and vehemently for decades. But statistics show precisely the opposite.
During the 15-year period ending in 2008, the rate of forcible rape dropped a staggering 30 percent nationwide."
Seems this message may finally be reaching the mainstream media, cool. Not at all a "scientific" article, but at least the concept of porn not being destructive is becoming conceivable enough to utter to a broad forum, and that's important.

Update: It is said that the reason porn was legalized in the western world is that after it first became legal in Denmark in 1968, sex crimes fell markedly. I've only one reason to doubt this, and that is that it would surprise me if law makers in all those countries were that rational.
Here are some page scans related to the matter, from the book Porn 101.


Neeraj wrote:

Concerning celibacy: I think, choosing it for yourself out of your own is o.k., e.g. as an experiment in order to learn about yourself, but being forced into it or forcing others into it is really ugly ... therefore I would like to tell a joke:

A new young monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned to help the other monks in copying the old canons and laws of the church by hand. He notices, however, that all of the monks are copying from copies, not from the original manuscript.

So, the new monk goes to the abbot to question this, pointing out that if someone made even a small error in the first copy, it would never be picked up. In fact, that error would be continued in all of the subsequent copies. The head monk says, "We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son".

So, he goes down into the dark caves underneath the monastery where the original manuscript is held in a locked vault that hasn't been opened for hundreds of years.

Hours go by and nobody sees the old abbot. So, the young monk gets worried and goes downstairs to look for him. He sees him banging his head against the wall. His forehead is all bloody and bruised and he is crying uncontrollably.

The young monk asks the old abbot, "What's wrong, father?"

With a choking voice, the old abbot replies, "The word is celebrate, not celibate ..."

Mini-reviews, The 13th Floor and Clerks II

The Thirteenth Floor:
An SF movie tasting of Bladerunner and The Matrix. If it had come out a year before The Matrix instead of the same year (1999), I think it would have been much more successful.
It was a bit cliche-laden, admittedly. But it presented the simulacrum-reality theme nicely, and it was very nice visually. Also it has some really excellent acting performances of the type of the one-body-with-two-different-minds.

Clerks II:
I'm not sure if I'm the biggest Kevin Smith fan in the world. Well, technically I'm pretty sure I'm not. But I like alternative cinema on principle, and his work is pretty good. Dogma for instance, I liked. Clerks II is pretty good and pretty funny, but if you really listen, the acting is mostly just "pretty good", and the dialogue is... faintly stilted.
It does have one very strong thing going for it, though, both acting-wise and visually: Rosario Dawson. Top-notch actor, and so hot my TV melted. Rrrrrrrrrrr.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Does size still matter?

Mike Reichman discusses quality, size, and price of cameras in the digital age.
"Today though, there is a direct link between image quality and price. Using the same lens a 1960's $200 Nikkormat and a $1,500 Nikon F would produce identical image quality. The camera itself hardly contributed to image quality. It was the type of film and especially the film format's size that mattered most.
This is definitely not the case when it comes to today's DSLRs. Continuing the Nikon analogy, a D40 and a D3x produce different image quality but are separated by more than an order of magnitude in price!
Now we get to the crux of the matter. How big is that image quality difference?"

What Do Women Want?

What Do Women Want?, interesting article about women's sexuality.
It comfirms my observation that women watch other women at least as much as men do, but to my surprise it suggests that there is a lot of sexuality to that, even amongst straight women.

A Bit of Fry and Laurie: Oprah Winfrey

Not fitting in

Writer Jed McKenna said that Not Fitting In should be regarded as a blessing, not a curse.
I think that's very wise. I think the most worthwhile people I know don't "fit in", and I'm glad of it. They don't fit because they have minds of their own.