Wow, I just don't know what to say...
I am not 100% convinced this is for real as it almost looks like CGI at some points; maybe a better video quality would clear up my doubts.
I woke this morning to something that sounded like an off-tune radio station: it was my Philips alarm clock trying to emulate the sounds of the ocean. I think it tried the 'gentle wake' but I didn't hear it until it sufficiently annoyed me. This is going back in the back and back to Target next weekend (unless the xMas return lines are still long). If Philips eventually releases a firmware update that allows MP3 music I may re-consider this purchase.
Why wait until next weekend to return? I ordered a Chumby today and it is 3-5 days until it is delivered; I will need an alarm clock until then.
I ordered the Black Chumby and this was placed on order #4109- so I guess they have managed to sell a few thousand of these guys so far...
Bases on the aggregated sales statistics from Amazon it looks like a lot of people received HD DVD players for the holidays (or perhaps the BOGO sale at Amazon was very successful!)
BestBuy now has some crazy-ass 'buy three get two free' sale on HD DVDs; I take it last week's 'buy two get one free' sale wasn't nearly as successful as the prior 'buy one get one' sale and they are trying to find a comfortable selling level. Here's a suggestion to BestBuy: with a total of only about 200 tiles on HD DVD to choose from it is VERY hard to find 5 tiles that you want. BOGO lets you pickup the movie you really want and then get an 'extra bonus' of something you probably wouldn't normally buy.
I think I am making fun of something with the title of this post, but tonight I rediscovered the Milkdrop plugin for WinAmp. This is a full screen visualization plugin that is about the same a dropping a hit of acid and staring through a kaleidoscope (this is very interesting if you haven't tried it)
I know it sounds weird- maybe even a little perverse- but I want a Chumby...
I bought a Philips AKL308/37 clock radio from Target with the impression that it could use an MP3 as the waking music- this is not the case. (Even thought the description on Philips site states 'Choose to wake up to your favorite music, radio station or buzzer alarm'). I will be returning this and looking for another alarm clock.
I have been through a few radio alarm clocks for the iPod, but they all have been lacking features that I was looking for (JBL On Time was too big and would not sync over a long USB cable; Jensen JiMS-190 was also too big and was hard to use).
What I really want is a readable alarm clock (with atomic time sync) that can play a specific song for waking (such as 'Adrift' by The Cruxshadows). Added features would be weather info and a time/temperature projection onto the ceiling. The Chumby seems to do all of this (save for the projection) and have a lot more gadgets/gizmos that I may never use (Woot!, eBay, moon phases, etc). It is about $50 more than my Philips and the screen isn't as big (3.5" vs 7").
I have added a 'Virtual Chumby' to my website until I can decide if I want to return the Philips and invest in a Chumby...
Ok, I have had a few days to play with my Toshiba HD A3 and I decided to put up a little review for it...
The Toshiba HD A3 is an entry level priced HD DVD player ($199 - $250) that currently includes two free movies: "The Bourne Identity" and "300". Both of these movies are pretty good (albeit one is over 5 years old) and do justice to the HD DVD format.
Hookup is very easy if you have an HDMI port on your receiver/TV; simply plug in an HDMI cable and the video and audio is carried across the single cable to the destination- done. The power cord is a (thankfully) a removable '8' plug (with one side flat) as found on the PS2, ReplayTV and other such electronic devices. There is an RJ-45 plug for Ethernet connectivity (recommended). The rear of the unit also has component and composite video along side L/R audio and an optical SPDIF connector.
The HD A3 will only output 1080i for HD DVD movies (or upsampled DVDs over HDMI) but this works well with my Philips 42" plasma TV as it only supports 720p/1080i. From what I read in the owners manual 480i/480p is the only signal that will be sent across the component cable from copy-protected media; this means that standard DVDs can do no better than 480p across this path. I believe that 1080i is still available across component as they have not activated the HDCP copy protection flag for HD DVD movies (why bother, AACS has been cracked each time it is update)- but don't quote me on this as I have not tested this!
Once the system is powered on it takes about a minute to respond to the 'eject disk' button. Once a disk is inserted it takes another 30 seconds or so to recognize and bring up the menu. Now here are some basic complaints:
Once I set the IP address of the unit I had it do a firmware update check- one was available and it started the update; and then rebooted and went through the 'welcome' cycle again.
For the discs there can be a TON of features in the HD DVD menus- Transformers for example has downloads, movie annotations and director commentary overlays- all of which are very interesting for a 2nd movie watch. There are also lots of behind the scenes thrown in that show how it looked from the actors point-of-view.
The HD DVD picture is much better than standard def TV- but I personally cannot tell the difference between 720p/1080i/480p upsampled to 1080i (even with my glasses on). I guess I have been spoiled by 720p downloads of most movies that appear almost identical in quality- so I am not overwhelmed by the video.
Overall this is a very good HD DVD player with a decent feature set. The player will automatically do updates and connectivity has been provided for most standards (no s-video). The HD DVD standard was finalized before release so this unit should play all features for all past and future HD DVD releases (unlike the BluRay 'standard' as some players will not support the new 1.1 requirement as it specifies persistent storage and a 2nd decoder for PiP rendering- look for these BluRay units on closeout as the new players come out!)
One thing lacking is an RS-232 port for remote control (for automated theater setups) but I understand this is available on their next up player (the HD A30 for $499). The HD DVD library is not as vast as the DVD library as many titles are still being converted and the format wars have created exclusive titles on both sides (The Matrix, Transformers, Battlestar Galactica on HD DVD- Pirates of the Caribbean, Underworld, and Ratatouie on BluRay).
The A3 is a great introduction to the world of HD for the typical user. I see HD DVD sales starting to even out with BluRay on Amazon, so I would think that both formats will be around for at least a few years (until the next 2160i format comes along).
Side Note: I do not see the point of making some of the titles HD format; why would anyone want a HD copy of 'Blazing Saddles' or "A Christmas Story"- these were filmed so long ago on such old technology that I doubt I would see any improvement in video quality. Given the choice of $30 for a HD copy or $5-$10 for a standard DVD copy I cannot see anyone going the former route (unless -like a fool- they like to be parted with their money)
I stumbled across a pretty neat software utility that lets me view details of the installed GPU without having to do a little guess work:
(Click the image for follow the link) The download is a single executable that runs on 2000/XP/Vista; a nice tool to put on my USB ID badge lanyard...
Merry Christmas all; and Happy Holidays to those that do not officially celebrate Christmas! :o)
I got some awesome gifts from my roommates; they did get me the Toshiba HD A3 HD DVD Player- along with a Canon Monopod, a Frank Zappa CD and many 'stocking stuffers' (such as Office Space box of flair, a Simpsons' Pizza Cuter, 'Flippin Sweet' lip balm, pop rocks, incense and many other such items).
The roommates seemed to like their gifts as well; I think I did pretty good at picking them out (I actually have one more gift to get- but the roommates surprised me and we opened gifts on the eve of Christmas Eve as Diana was not going to be around on Christmas day!)
For myself I also bought a Canon 40D and it is fracking awesome! I got a new camera bag and I kept my EF24-110 IS lens as my walk-about lens. I also kept my EF75-200 lens, but I will probably replace it with an IS version sometime before Dragon*Con.
I also picked up a Sony Reader (the PRS-500) as the new model is out and the old units are at closeout prices ($200 for the reader, $16 for the charging stand- down from $300 and $50, respectively). There was even the demo model on sale for $150 (with a charging stand!) but it looked kind of funky with the screen refresh...
The PRS-500 is pretty cool and fairly readable in bright light but it absolutely sucks with PDF Files! It renders the PDF exactly the same as it would on a computer screen- but the screen is a 4 color grayscale 600x800 6" screen (with no options for zoom!) I will probably return it as it really sucks for reading PDF files- maybe I will get an Asus Eee PC when they go in stock at BestBuy...
The included Sony software is Ok- after updates- but still lacks support for LIT and other type files. I found LIBPRS500 which acts as a decent Sony software replacement- it it crashes a lot during eBook conversion (on both Vista and OS X 10.5!)...
One thing that stuck we as odd during the last few days of xMas shopping were some places (namely MicroCenter) had gift suggestions with Mail in rebates (MIR)... So if I give a gift to someone I either have to rip off the UPC tag before I send it (and look like I bought a returned/closeout item) or tell them to hold onto the box when they open their gift (and look like a cheap-ass as I need the box for a rebate)- WTF were they thinking with having MIR with xMas gifts
I do not have a HD DVD player yet (but I am hopeful that Christmas may change that!) but I have been buying HD DVDs in anticipation of getting one. So far I have:
The BOGO (Buy One-Get One) was on special at BestBuy December 15th-22nd and I picked up two sets. Transformers and the Bourne Ultimatum were $30 each, but it averages out to $15 with The sale. Harry Potter and Oceans 13 were $34/each, but these are $17 with the sale. In addition, I can watch Harry Potter, Oceans 13 and The Bourne Ultimatum on my Philips upsampling DVD player as the discs are HD DVD/DVD combo discs...
As one post said: Sony is still trying to push proprietary formats and open formats always win in the end. I don't think HD DVD is a true 'open format', but it seems to be a lot closer to this than Sony!
I have been through several different wireless headphones in the quest for a really good device that I can listen to my TV to at night and not disturb my roommate (surround sound engineers seem to take pleasure in making sudden very loud noises in the L/R speakers while keeping the center channel volume to low to hear!). These have included:
Today I found the Sony MDR-RF970RK on sale for $75. So far I am impressed:
The only down side is the audio does not sound as dynamic as wired headphones (or the MDR-IF540RK); there is bass and highs, but it sound almost like there is an equalizer turned on somewhere and the upper mid sounds are dulled. So far I have only tried this with my Mac Mini and iTunes so I will have to try them with other systems and see if this is repeated.
I eventually want to replace these with the Panasonic RP-WF5500, but it may still be a while before these make it to the states (or have these already been replaced by the RP-WF6000?)- and at $250 it will take a bit of courage to finally invest in these...
BestBuy has a 'buy one get one free' on all HD movies (Blu-Ray and HD DVD) through December 22nd. While I do not yet have either format player I have decided on HD DVD as I truly dislike Sony (as a corporate entity- but some of their stuff is awesome) and I don't think they will ever succeed with a proprietary format- no mater how many studios or hardware manufacturers are behind them- as they are just too greedy.
I picked up Transformers and the Borne Ultimatum for $30 with the special ($15 each isn't bad even for new releases on standard DVD format). One additional bonus is the Borne Ultimatum is a combo format disk; one side is HD DVD and the other is standard DVD- so I can watch the standard DVD version until I buy a HD DVD player! :o)
I did see one disconcerting item at BestBuy; there is a Sony Blu-Ray player for $299- which is the same price point as a comparable 1080p HD DVD player. I will have to assume that with change in CEOs at Sony they may have realized that price will be the final determining factor in the Format war. I guess the Toshiba HD A2 sales at $98 made the BDA a little nervous as so far their player sales numbers have been relying on the PS3 numbers... (and judging from the huge stack of unsold units at BestBuy may have again slacked off a bit).
Personally I highly doubt that either format will ever really catch on like VHS or DVD players- there just isn't enough advantage over DVD for people to replace their DVD collection with something that is physically identical in form. The picture quality is better, but I think I read somewhere that that 90% of people will not be able to tell the difference between true HD discs and standard upsampled DVD.
At least if one (or both) format fails I will still have a pretty good upsampling DVD player .
My xMas shopping is almost over- I just have one more gift to buy- but all of them still need to be wrapped! :o)
I finally purchased some eyeglasses so I do not need to wear contacts every day- in addition my flex spending option is due to expire at the end of the year; so it is use it or lose it!
Browsing around my normal RSS feeds I found that Microsoft has released Visa SP1 RTM to public beta; all that is needed is a registry patch from Microsoft.
I stumbled across a blog of someone that has hacked the serial port on the iPhone; I am not exactly sure what I would use this for, but it sounds like a fun project (now if they can figure out A2DP and GPS support via Bluetooth!)
I am going to an AMD and Microsoft tech tour, but I am currently waiting for traffic to die down a bit; I guess if I make it in time for part of the opening keynote I should be Ok. The Traffic.com web site seems to be a little better than the Georgia Navigator web site- even though I think the data is from the same source...
I finally bought a handheld scanner; I decided on the Radio Shack Pro-97 1000 channel model. It is one of the better analog radio system and has a pretty good price vs. features ratio. The next step up is the Pro-96 for digital radio signals- but it is almost 4x the price!
So far I have found a few channels relevant to Atlanta- I think one is the Marta system and the other one of the local fire stations. I also stumbled across the drive-through window of the Wendy's that is about 2 blocks from my house (FM 469.01875); it is interesting how some people can be pretty damn rude to the people that are making their food! :o)
So far not a lot of use for the receiver, but it is defiantly something to learn with; perhaps one day I will get an amateur radio license and get a home radio system.
Now that I am getting a little more familiar with manual HDR vs. Photoshop 'Merge to HDR' I decided to go back and redo my first HDR photo. This is the Photoshop 'original' version:
This is the manual version:
I like the sky in the later version and the sign posts are much more legible (they would have been much better if I had use my Rebel XT instead of my SD570IS). The far away trees also look much better; It looks like I will be doing manual HDRs from now on... :)
I tried to make a few more HDR photographs.
The first one is of my house- with the Christmas lights up:
The above was done with the directions from Bjorn 3D's web site and using a 100px masking for the layers in Photoshop. I shot all images from a tripod at f/7.1, ISO100 and 20s, 10s, 5s, 2.5s, 1s and 1/4s exposures.
The results were pretty good, but I wasn't completely happy with it so I went through the process again and made a 50px mask:
This made the shadows on the columns look a little strange, but made the lights not so glaring.
I also tried the same procedure with my Christmas tree (only the lights on it so far- I still need some time to put the ornaments up) and using a 75px mask (in-between the settings I tried on the prior to pictures):
During the creation process I noticed that the 'light' version of the JPG looked pretty cool:
This one looks a little more surreal; I think this is my favorite of the four pictures.
I may try running the first set of photos through the 'Merge to HDR' setting of Photoshop and see what it looks like...
I went a little crazy on PC upgrades this weekend...
I saw Fry's had 4GB of OCZ PC6400 DDR2 RAM for $90 (actually $120 - $30 MIR, but it is $170 at Newegg!) so I headed down after work to pick a set up. While there I ran across an EVGA e-GeForce 8800GT video card- which just I had to buy... Vista wasn't able to tell much difference between my prior EVGA e-GeForce 7950GT KO and the newer card (both had a 5.8 rating), I was absolutely amazed at the difference in Call of Duty 4! (GPU Review had some varying comparisons for the two cards).
But that wasn't enough!
I had been hating on myself for missing the $200 Q6600 Core2 Quad deal from Fry's on black Friday- but there is no way I could lay out the current $300 for a Q6600 and add then on $100+ for a decent motherboard that would support it; so I started doing some research. I found that my current Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard would support the newer AMD Phenom quad-core CPUs with a firmware update. I decided to return the KVM switch that I purchased a few weeks ago and get me a Phenom 9500 quad-core CPU!
My Vista rating is now a few points higher- and my games look (and run) a hell of a lot better!
Using some of the advice from the web, I made my first HDR photo last night:
This was taken from my upstairs deck overlooking the intersection by my home. I was headed off to bed and noticed how interesting it looked outside while checking the doors. I found my tripod, setup my Canon SD870 IS and took 13 images (-2 to +2 exposure in 1/3 increments- and '0' is the 13th one). These I imported into iPhoto and switched over to my PC (more processing power and RAM) and opened them in Photoshop CS3. From there I chose File -> Automate -> Merge to HDR...
This was just a quick test to see a little of how it works; I will probably go back and do this manually (as the article recommends) and see if the results differ.
My vacation all plans collapsed all at the last moment; Tracy's great aunt passed away on Friday (she had been sick for a while and it was expected) so the trip to Europe has been postponed (Spring?) and Diana decided to cancel her trip down to Louisiana. Tracy left for New Jersey on Tuesday so I have had a few day to myself (with Betty, of course). It has been fairly therapeutic...
I have decided to work on meditation- before I get to old to be able to... I found some interesting FLAC files for HoloSync- which (supposedly) can induce alpha brain wave patterns (and later 'lessons' progressing to theta and delta patterns) similar to those attained after years of deep meditation. I had to convert the FLAC to lossless AAC so they will play on my iPod- so far they are fairly interesting.
Other things I have accomplished this vacation:
I fixed our gate:
I hung some curtain rods (for Tracy):
I installed a new webcam (to replace a crappy-ass X-10 camera):
I bought a new stereo receiver (an Onkyo SR-TX705):
I got a Christmas Tree:
I replaced my KVM:
I cleaned up my desk:
In addition I also:
I tried the 'Black Friday' crawl; I ended up buying some used DVDs at MovieStop and having lunch at Burger King. Fry's: 100+ people deep in the check-out lines at 10:00am; BrandSmart: no place to part at 11:00am; BestBuy, MicroCenter and Target had crappy sales; and Wal-Mart- Wow; talk about a disaster area...
One thing I thought was funny at WalMart was some woman bitching to her friend on her cell phone how someone else had hit her with their cart- but at the moment this woman was sitting behind her cart and parked broadside across the aisle- and in her 'distressed' condition was ignoring everyone that was trying to get around her... Some people just don't have a clue.
Tomorrow's quest: hang the outside Christmas lights... This will take at least 2-3 hours- and hopefully it be above 40 degrees and not windy! If I have some time left over I will start decorating the tree!
I think there are some major bugs with OS X 10.5- mostly with external USB/firewire devices. I have been unable to keep a USB or Firewire drive online to copy files- I keep getting either an 'unexpected disconnect' or a 'insufficient privileges' and the transfer is dropped.
This happens to drive connected directly to the Mac Mini or through the integrated hub in my Acommdata 250GB drive. Odd part is the Acommdata drive is rock-solid- but drives connected to the 2nd Firewire port drop...
I am also seeing spotty reliability with my USB DVD-RW and Logitech Fusion camera (USB).
I am sure these will be revolved in time- but I don't want to wait with a 'broken' OS until they are fixed!
I would go 'back' to OS X 10.4 but I purchased my Mac Mini as an open box buy and there was no media (or Apple remote) included in the box; I am looking for an ISO of 10.4 on UseNET, but most seem to be hacked copies intended to run on any other x86 hardware (mostly MacDotNub and uPhuck builds)
On the other hand- Mac OS is very good at taking video from a Mini DVD-RW, importing it in to iMove and then allowing me to publish it directly to YouTube! I don't think there is anything even vaguely resembling this on the PC side.
Mario Galaxy is due for release next Tuesday (November 13th) but it looks like someone has uploaded a copy to UseNET! There are warnings that Super Mario Galaxy has a new copy protection.
A post on the Team Cyclops forums indicated that there is a v3.6 beta firmware for the CycloWiz mod chip that 'fixes' the new protection and will allow these games to play. It looks like this works...
I don't want people to think that I condone piracy (at least not as much as I once did); I have the game pre-ordered and I will be picking up a copy on November 13th- but it is really nice to be able to play the game a week early!
I purchased a used Power Mac G4 dual 867Mhz a few weeks ago and I have already outgrown it:
I decided to look at the Mac Mini systems (I don't need an iMac with integrated screen and the Mac Pro systems start at $2499!). Currently there is a Core2 Duo 1.83Ghz system for $599 and a Core2 Duo 2.0Ghz system for $799. I checked with a sales guy at Fry's and he found an open box older Core2 Duo 1.66Ghz system- for $332.49! The system (originally $499) a slower CPU, less memory (512MB) and a smaller hard drive (60GB)- but it is still $260 cheaper than the lowest priced Mac Mini system that is available. Since I had every intention of upgrading two of these in any Mac Mini system I purchased I decided it was a dealt that was way too good to pass up! (there were two open box 1.83Ghz systems for $540 but 170Mhz was not worth $208 to me).
I later found out that it was missing the CDs and the apple remote (for Front Row). I inquired with the sales guy but he said that I would have to talk to the customer service desk to see what they could do. If the system doesn't work this would also be a good excuse to return it- so I decided to wait and see how it worked before I began this endeavor. Note: I found downloads of 10.4 (and 10.5) on UseNET so I am good as far as DVDs. I also managed to win an auction for an Apple remote for $5.99 + $2.00 SH on eBay (I ended up getting three in the same auction).
There are then four screws that must be removed to access the CPU/Memory. The wifi connector must be removed on one corner to allow access to the screw underneath; this pops off after pressing the plastic clips in:
After these are removed, there is a small connector that must be unplugged in the front to remove the DVD assembly:
This give access to the SODIMMs:
The hard drive is contained in the top section directly beneath the DVD assembly:
The CPU under an aluminum heatsink (cooled by the blower in the top half):
The bottom of the motherboard has a lot of SMT circuitry that would not be fun to repair if damaged- so be careful!
Before putting the top of the system back on, be sure to power it on and make sure it works- and be sure you didn't leave any parts out (like the foam baffle that goes on the bottom of the hard drive- d'oh!):
I found a site with more info on removing the motherboard.
I finally found an xBox 360 Elite Holiday bundle in stock (at a GameStop) and broke down and purchased one- assuming that since these guys have been so out of stock for so long that the new ones must be the falcon chipset: I think I was wrong.
After getting the box home and doing a more detailed examination I noticed that the box had been resealed: There was a large clear circle sticker covering a smaller version that had obviously been cut:
I did a thorough of the label on the side; it looks like the 'Team: TMEM' is just a sticker placed over an older sticker- and I could faintly make out 'LOT NO: 0728' on the prior sticker (click on the image for a larger picture). I believe the first batch of Falcon chipset found in the Halo collectors edition was 0737.
My fears were confirmed when I checked the serial number for the manufacture date- it was 2007-07-17- this unit was manufactured three months ago (before the Falcon chipset were even out):
I checked the gutty-works of the system with a bright flashlight and there are three copper tubes (heat pipes) on the heat sink- So I have a Zephyr chipset that was reboxed to add the game bundle. The ironic part is the GameStop employee a) didn't know there was an Elite holiday bundle until I told him about it and he looked in the back and b) he told me I was getting one of the newer CPUs.
My guess is that Microsoft either sent out 'upgrade packages' or took all of their warehouse stock and inserted the holiday game case and slapped some new stickers on the box. I have seen some Premium and Arcade systems that have visible lot numbers over 0739 (at Fry's) but I have also seen the double-tagged Premium systems (at Best Buy)- I guess it will be another month or two before all the Zephyr systems are gone.
I guess I could return it but I think I am happy with this one; it isn't any where near as loud as the 360 Premium I returned a few weeks ago and it has all the accessories that I wanted (digital audio cable, 120GB HD, bonus games, etc).
As karma would have it I came across some closeouts 360 games at BrandSmart:
Final Fantasy XI: $12.88
Enchanted Arms: $14.88
Battle for Middle Earth II : $14.88
Dead Rising: $28.88
Total bill for four 360 games: $71.52