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Let the design play begin

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Adobe Production Premium Cs3 boxThrough a happy little coincidence I have been able to acquire a copy of Adobe CS3 Production Premium! I had a license for a previous version of Photoshop, but running under Rosetta the older version was getting to be a bit of a drag. Now I will not only get to enjoy the Intel version on my Core 2 Duo iMac, but I’m getting the rest of the CS suite to boot! Now I not only have still capabilities through Photoshop, but full blown video production, audio editing, and rich content authoring. This weekend I’ve already chalked off two days of the three day weekend to just start exploring the other apps and see what kind of cool things erupt forth from the depths of my creativity!

The domesticated homeowner

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

This weekend was action packed with wizardry of two types: the literal and the handyman. Saturday brought the literal kind of wizardry in the form of watching the new Harry Potter movie in 3D at the Seattle Science Center’s IMAX with Brien. It’s a very well done movie, and likely in a tie for my favorite with The Goblet of Fire so far. The 3D was kind of cool, however we were sitting at the back (the ideal seating location for 2D IMAX presentations) and the parallax for the 3D is balanced for the middle of the theater so there was some fringing going on. 3D issues aside I was rather impressed with the wizards battle at the end – keeping an audience engaged for 20 minutes of people shaking wands at each other is no minor feat and the director managed to pull it off quite nicely.

Sunday brought the handyman wizardry, along with all the trials and tribulations that home ownership brings. I awoke Sunday morning and stumbled into the bathroom only to splash my naked feet into a large puddle of water. Upon discovering that my toilet had sprung a leak (and after finishing the oh so gay ‘I got toilet water on my feet’ dance) I managed to get the water turned off and started looking for a solution. After consulting with some friends and the Internet I determined that my best plan of action was a quick trip to Home Depot to get replacement parts for the interior of the toilet.

An interesting note about the repair kit is that on the box all of the instructions clearly show the user tightening everything with their hands, yet upon getting home I discovered that clearly some tools would be required. Luckily for me Brien was able to provide some tools for loan and I got things started. Once I got everything apart the reason for the leak became instantly clear: the toilet was very old and every single rubber gasket had all but disintegrated. Every time I touched one of the gaskets it fell apart in my hand, leaving inky black stains everywhere.

After about an hour of man to toilet fighting I was able to get everything back together and working again. The new inner workings of my toilet are even quieter which is a nice bonus for having spent several hours of my day splashing around in dirty water and sweating in my bathroom. I was feeling quite triumphant and domestic until I stepped outside of the bedroom and discovered that my air conditioner was leaking all over my bedroom. I managed to get the leaking in the bedroom stopped and discovered that the condensation pan at the bottom of the unit had sprung a leak on one of it’s welds. For now I have a pan under the air conditioner, but until I can get in touch with the manufacturer I’m scared to run the thing while I’m out of the house.

I miss the renting days when this kind of problem could be solved by a quick call to the landlord.

YouTube on the AppleTV and the iPhone

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

YouTube logoI’m never was a terribly heavy YouTube user but now that it’s both always in my pocket and on the nice Audio/Video system at home I find myself filling a spare moment here and there with random videos. Most of these videos fall into one of four categories – cute, funny, cute and funny, or the largest category: paper-thin mid-to-post teens producing mostly random and meaningless content. I’m not entirely sure if the world is a better place having been subjected to the last category but I’d rather have crappy user created content be king than populate an internet based on censorship where such drivel isn’t permitted.

Content gamut aside one of the things that has struck me as odd over my past week of using my iPhone is how differently implemented the YouTube application is on my iPhone versus my AppleTV. They both allow for the browsing of a partial selection of the YouTube library streamed directly from the internet, but they both have some features the other lacks. Here is a breakdown of client-specific features that have puzzled me:

AppleTV:

iPhone:

All in all I think YouTube was a great addition to both product offerings, but I’m puzzled as to the disparity in the feature lists. I will be interested to see if future software updates for both platforms bring their feature sets closer together. Google’s “cloud of data” and Apple’s experience in creating engaging and intuitive user interfaces making for a market juggernaut that will be hard to beat.

Transformers

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

Awesome graphics, absolutely no plot – just the way I like my movies (sometimes)! I just got back from watching it with Brien, Mark, and Erin and we all had a good time. It’s big budget special effects movies at their best. I was a little worried I wouldn’t like it since it’s not terribly true to the animated series I grew up on, but it stands on its own well and Michael Bay has succeeded in creating his version of the Transformers worthy of the silver screen!

I was a little disappointed that the Transformers were more robot and less car when converted – I really liked how in the original series the transformers ‘humanoid’ forms were still very car-like with their arms being made of car parts and their faces being the grill of the car. The new Transformers have some automobile in them, but they are larger and far more elaborate than the machines they transform from.

Memorial day weekend done right

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

I’m enjoying the heck out of myself this weekend. My group at work got a 4 day weekend for Memorial day and I’ve been making the most of it and doing a good job of relaxing myself and getting out to do fun things I don’t normally get to do.

On Thursday night I went out with Troy and Tommy to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End. It’s a fun little flick with great action sequences, and over the top special effects. The Davy Jones locker sequence is particularly well done both artistically as well as using a unique and brilliant storytelling method to help the audience experience Jack Sparrows stay in the locker. There are a good number of cheesy lines sprinkled throughout – no doubt a side effect of being a Disney production.

Aside from the Pirates of the Caribbean showing I’ve been doing quite a bit of photography the last few days and I plan to keep it up over the next two as well. I’d put down my camera for over a month being so busy at work and it’s really nice to pick it back up again and continue to build my skills and explore new ideas:

Water arc over man

Jesse, Nate, and Brenda joined me at Greenlake park in Seattle for some experimentations with water and high speed photography. A flash and a fast shutter speed (combined with a attempts and experimentation) resulted in some pretty cool results. This is an arc of water suspended over Jesse.

To see a moment about 1/10th of a second of this photo check out this photo. For a look at all the photos from our water tossing experiments that I posted check out my throwing water tag on Flickr.

In pursuit of more photography, and due to the increased number of forms I’ve had to print and sign of late I decided to finally bite the bullet and buy myself a printer. I planned on getting a cheap little thing for black and white document printing but once I got to the store I realized that for not much more money I could get a great Epson photo printer with a built in scanner thats a higher resolution (and color bit depth) than the one I have now. I ended up heading home with an Epson Stylus Photo RX580 and so far I’m pretty happy with it. The scanner seems very accurate (I’ll have to really put it through it’s paces tomorrow), and with 7 separate ink colors it seems to do a pretty decent job of printing on high quality photo paper.

Water arc over man” by sparktography

El Laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth)

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Yesterday brought me to Costco with Brien, and Costco brought me into ownership of El Laberinto del Fauno (Pans Labyrinth for those of us in the US), a simply stunning film. Prior to owning it I had heard a bit about it but had not had the pleasure of seeing it. In the last 24 hours I’ve not only rectified that problem, but watched it a second time for good measure.

Going in I knew it was by a Spanish Director (Guillermo Del Toro), but had no idea the audio was in Spanish as well. Normally I’m not a huge fan of subtitled films, but in this case it added a sense of charm and the fact that I couldn’t understand the vocals and thus was more able to let the poetic sounds of the script brought me deeper into Del Toro’s fantasy world.

Pans Labyrinth

It’s very much a dark fairy tale – it’s certainly not for kids with the amount of blood and violence, but it’s not gratuitous – used instead to show what horrors the ‘real world’ had to offer the heroine Ofelia. As dark and horrific as the real world is the fantasy world balances it out entirely with bright and visually mesmerizing visuals and a fanciful look and feel brought to life with the sublime art direction.

The hardship faced by Ofelia and the classic themes in fairy tales (three tasks, three bad guys, three good guys) work well with the style of directors style. In watching the movie for a second time I picked up on a number of subtle nods to both other fairy tables and common fables.

Between Del Toro’s Pans Labyrinth and Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men I see what all the fuss was about over Spanish directors at the Oscars. They might not be “proper American filmmakers”, but their vivid and well thought out style mixed with their excellent storytelling leaves audiences world wide immersed in new worlds, sprung up from film and into reality. Both movies leave the audience with a series of thoughts spinning about in their heads, and with a need for more answers.

The movie is currently only available on DVD so no high-definition viewing yet, but the DVD transfer is decent and the audio is available in DTS EX 6.1 as well as Dolby Digital. The sound is well done, and the simple but catching music works well with the subject matter. Javier Navarrete pulls from subtle melodies that echo through the worlds ears, regardless of if performance by a full symphony, or hummed quietly by the heroine at several key points in the film.

If you haven’t seen it yet pick up a copy – you will be glad you did!

Caught up

Monday, May 7th, 2007

After spending a final weekend catching up on stuff around the house and resting I finally am 100% healthy again! I got out of the house on Saturday long enough to finish up all of my errands, and went downtown to pick up a few things I’ve been out of for a while. I picked up a copy of Marble Mania, and got my place kicked into shape from being sick.

On Sunday I had planned to hang out watching the BBC/Discovery channel miniseries “The Planet Earth” on HD-DVD (my copy arrived earlier this week) with Troy, but he ended up sleeping most of the day and I was still feeling slightly under the weather and ended up not doing much. In watching a few episodes I highly reccomend it to anyone even remotely interested in nature – It’s some of the most stunnging footage I’ve ever seen, it’s beautifully mastered for 1080p on HD-DVD, and so far it’s done a great job of exposing me to facets of the worlds I didn’t even know exsisted previously. I’m looking forward to watching the rest of it over the next couple of days (and yes Troy – I will gladly watch it again with you).

I watched a couple of episodes of Planet Earth on Sunday, but for the most part just played Marble Mania and relaxed. In doing so I finally feel like I’ve shaken the last of my Pneumonia and feel ready to tackle my big week at work. Here’s to health and hoping the sickness is behind me!

What the Apple TV got right and wrong

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

Apple TV

As I’ve previously mentioned I’m pleased with my purchase of an Apple TV. Now that I’ve spent a little over a week with it I have more formal opinions on the little white wonder. First off a couple of things that the Apple TV got right:

  1. Fantastic out of box experience. As always the Apple TV provides an experience when opened. It’s neatly laid out in it’s packaging and practically begs to be unwrapped. Setting it up was a breeze – I had ordered an HDMI cable in advance, so all I had to do was plug in HDMI and the power cable and I was up and running. Right away it asked me for my language preference, and then let me select my wireless access point and enter my WPA password. Within a minute of plugging the thing in I was at the main interface and ready to sync with iTunes. Setting up a sync partnership is almost as easy as with an iPod – you type in a 6 digit code from the Apple TV and then your files start to sync over right away. I was watching TV shows from the iTunes music store within 2 minutes of plugging the Apple TV in.
  2. Movie trailers! Having 720p streaming trailers from the internet is a major feature in my book. You can scroll through new and upcoming movies and select any trailer to have it start within seconds. You can do the same thing from any computer with Quicktime installed but having HD movie trailers on the big screen and sound system really does change the game. The Xbox 360 has had this feature for a while, but not nearly as polished requiring more clicks and a full download to display HD trailers. The inclusion of 720p streaming also hits at possible on-demand hi-definition services from Apple in the near future.
  3. iPod like simplicity in the on-screen user interface. The AppleTV comes with a standard Apple remote which offers a 5 way direction pad and a back button (technically ‘menu’). Regardless of if you are an iPod user or not figuring out how to watch TV, listen to music, or browse your photos is brain dead simple and all wrapped in the usual layer of Apple interface bling.
  4. Simple syncing and streaming. Having content local to the Apple TV is handy for anyone who turns off their computer on a regular basis and setting up syncing is as easy as setting up syncing for an iPod. The default settings are good enough for most users, and for power users very granular control is possible. For me I’m just putting unwatched Podcasts and TV shows on mine and streaming everything else, but having the opportunity to do both will make a much wider audience of users find both features useful.
  5. Sleek design – with a form factor like that of the Mac Mini, but less than a third the height it’s hard to beat the Apple TV’s form factor. They get bonus points for it being nearly silent while in use, an internal AC adapter (no power brick needed – just a cord), and it’s the smallest component in my AV system. Check out some of the photos I took for a size comparison of the Apple TV to the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 or take a gander at the below image.
  6. An attractive screen saver. While playing music or idle the Apple TV presents you with either your photos or album covers slowly flying up the screen. Every once in a while the pictures rotate around the screen to add a bit of visual flair. Having old photos from my library streaming by is a great way to use the Apple TV as an a nearly infinite picture stream evoking memories of fun times past. Given how advanced some of the transitions in the slideshows are I would expect a much flashier screen saver – more on that in the next section.

The Apple Wii360
Size comparisom between the Apple TV, the Wii, and the Xbox 360

Next come a couple of things Apple missed the ball on:

  1. Why can’t my Mac automatically open iTunes when I try to browse it from my Apple TV? Having local content on the 40gb HDD is very handy, but I have over a terabyte of media in iTunes on my main desktop machine. I don’t always keep iTunes open so when I am in the living room and want to watch something streamed from my main computer I need to get up and go open iTunes on my desktop. Either moving the streaming functionality into a system daemon or setting up a launchd trigger for opening iTunes would be ways for Apple and greatly increase the usability of the streaming functionality.
  2. I want a better screen saver! Don’t get me wrong – I’m in love with the memories brought up by old pictures scrolling past, but with so many cool effects in slide show mode when I’m browsing images I would love it if the screen saver pictures did something a little fancier than spin around every few seconds. That kind of sizzle sells and makes for great eye-candy to showcase on the HDTV in the living room. With Core Animation just around the corner let’s see some flashy effects for what is now the default idle state of my TV.
  3. Enable plug in support out of the box. Websites have reported that by opening up your Apple TV and connecting it’s internal HDD to another Mac you can install the Perian plugin set to greatly increase codec support. Since the Apple TV is basically running a stripped down version of OS X this kind of thing is easy to do. I can understand Apple not wanting to provide customer support for 3rd party plugins, but at least put a feature into iTunes to allow me to manually copy over codecs at my own risk
  4. Why can I browse top movies and TV shows on the iTunes Store and watch trailers, but not purchase the media from the Apple TV. I could understand if they required iTunes to be open on the syncing computer, but at least let me initiate the transaction/sync from the Apple TV directly.

While it’s easy to point fingers at Apple for these ‘bugs’ they are all things that should be quite possible to fix. Given the OS X like architecture and inclusion of Software Update functionality I’m hoping to see future software versions for the Apple TV and iTunes address some of these issues.

All in all I give the Apple TV an enthusiastic thumbs up – I love mine and use it every day as a clean and simple to use bridge from my iTunes media collection to the HDTV and stereo equipment in my living room. Apple has a major competitor on the line with the Xbox 360 Live experience: plain and simple the Xbox 360 with the Live online service does more (gaming, hi-def movie and TV downloads, works with portable hard drives via USB), but in typical Apple fashion their reduced feature set is extremely well implemented, marketed, and aimed at a targeted market. Seeing how the two services evolve in the coming year is going to be an interesting experience, and hopefully one that is highly rewarding for the consumer market!

Content everywhere

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

My weekend was very content driven: just the way I like it. I finally got my delivery of Children of Men on HD-DVD and ended up watching it several times. It’s a fantastic movie with simply stunning cinematography – I highly recommend anyone who is into movies, sci-fi, or sfx watching it. Aside from having a great story it has epic levels of detail in the world they created. It’s as grandiose as Blade Runner was, but not nearly as in your face, being shot more like a documentary than anything else.

I also spent quite a bit of time futzing with iPhoto and cleaning/organizing some of my 65,000 photos. I’ve come to love my AppleTV for a number of reasons – not only does it get all of my iTunes content into the living room, but the smallest of features has ended up being my favorite: the screen saver. While idle or playing music the AppleTV shows photos from your computer in an attractive flyby slideshow. I’ve become addicted to this as it brings up fond memories to see photos from my past flying by at idle moments.

I spent a good 8 hours organizing my existing collection so as to archive really bad photos (for instance anything completely out of focus or unrecoverable under/over exposed) and driving cool photos from years back into albums that I can sync out to the AppleTV. I now find myself leaving the TV on and tuned to the AppleTV whenever I’m home, even when it’s not doing anything specific – it’s turned my TV into an interactive photo frame and done a damn fine job of it.

Bravo Apple for making such a great device. While it’s does far less than it’s biggest competitor (the Xbox 360) it manages to do what it sets out do very well. It’s got a high level of polish and really stands alone as a simple to use set to box.

P.S. BSG Season 3 is amazing. I had dismissed it when the crew landed at the end of Season 2.5, but now realize the err of my ways and am catching up fast!

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