Archive for June, 2006

The French “iTunes” Law Redux

Friday, June 30th, 2006

So, it appears that the French have passed a watered down version of what the press has been calling the “iTunes law” into actual, real, gotta be enforced law. I’m not going to repeat the light banter that appears in every other article.

I will say this: Anyone who thinks that the law is about eliminating DRM is seriously clue impaired. The law attempts to create a utopia for the record labels where their content can be DRM’d anyway they please (in terms of consumer rights limitations) while some central agency ensures that said DRM is compatible with all players and devices.

No, what I want to know is this:

What has happened to the language that would make it illegal to develop certain common types of open source software such as media players and any kind of data transfer protocols? As well, what has happened to the french citizen’s “private copy” right which was effectively going to be lost with the last draft prior to the “minor watering down” of the final law?

These were all issues I discussed in some detail in a previous post.

Update: Comments related to iTMS, Apple, and the French Law will be deleted unless they add some useful piece of information that has not be covered to death in the 8 million articles on the subject. It isn’t interesting and there is a much larger issue here — exactly what is this law going to do to the french open source community and french software development industry?

Luna Moths & Toads

Thursday, June 29th, 2006
Luna Moth

My father found a luna moth (actias luna) larva in the yard on the leaves of a branch blown down in the wind. He saved it and it emerged while we visited.

What an extraordinary creature. So very fuzzy and the antennas make it look like the NSA’s own personal moth. I have a second, overhead, shot which isn’t as dramatic.

A luna moth only lives for about seven days. No digestive system needed. Its sole purpose is to find a mate and propagate the species.

Toad House

Dad also noticed that one of the seedlings in a tray of about 25 had quite a bit of disturbed soil around it and appeared to have been pushed out of the pot a bit.

Something had clearly been digging in the pot. When he picked up the pot, it chirped! Whoever dug up the pot was calling it home and was clearly at home!

Toad House

It was a toad! Quite a happy looking little bugger, though a bit bleary eyed from being so rudely awakened.

Actually, there were hundreds of toads and frogs around the house and in the valley. Tons and tons. This is truly a great sign as the population was down over the last few years.

As it turns out, the health of the amphibian population in any given area is often a very good indicator of the presence or absence of air and water pollution. Got pollution? Very few frogs, what remains are sickly.

Why the World Cup will never matter in the United States

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

We [the majority of United States citizens] are such total tools of the marketing conglomerates…

I was talking with my brother-in-law last week. He is a brilliant marketeer whose company, ironically, was responsible for the eventual dominance of the Cuervo brand in the United States and who also marketed some of the most recognized brands in the country in the ’80s and beyond.

The World Cup was on and, as an avid sports fan, he was interested in the standings. Now, I’m pretty much the opposite of an avid sports fan — I’ll watch a good game (Mavericks vs. Heat was great!), but could not care less about following teams, etc…

He wondered why the World Cup dominated the sports scene on a near global basis but was nearly unheard of in the United States (less than 6% follow WC games). What was different about a football [soccer] game versus american football, baseball, or basketball?

The key and the reason for the lack of exposure in the United States?

No marketing opportunities. A football game is properly played without any breaks as the clock runs down [up]. There is a half time and that is about it. Two long blocks of continuous play.

No breaks….

No commercial breaks…

No marketing opportunities…

Read the rest of this entry »

Photography: [Attempting to] Compose with Light

Sunday, June 25th, 2006

I’m a hack photographer. I hack at the controls, subjects, framing, focus, etc… to see what happens. I have had a lot of help along the way that has short circuited me past a lot of basic mistakes (Duncan, Derrick and the O’Reilly folk deserve a lot of credit for that).

Lately, I have been hacking on lighting. Not just the instant light of high speed photography, but also on positioning myself more creatively when taking naturally lit photos to maximize the quality of reflections, shadows, or other lighting features.

Ruby And Roger in Sprinkler

The photo to the right is my attempt to capture a rainbow while my son — Roger — and puppy — Ms. Ruby White Paw — played in the sprinkler. The sun was low in the sky (around 5pm) and I took the pictures while lying down with the sun over my right shoulder, hoping that the sun’s rays would be at the right angle to cast a rainbow across the scene.

Ruby And Roger in Sprinkler

Worked out surprisingly well.

Ducks Landing on Water

I also wanted to capture a picture of ducks landing on the pond in Missouri. This was my first attempt. OK — but not really. Too much garbage on the pond, and the direction of the light caused too much noise in the reflections.

The picture at left had much more thought given to the lighting and positioning. I took the picture from a lower angle, thus reducing the amount of cloud and bright spots from the sky. I still don’t like softness of the focus. Hard to set up the shot, though, as the ducks don’t really tend to go where you want ’em and then don’t fly where you might expect.

On The Pond....

I even woke up at 6AM one day and, instead of going back to sleep, decided to check out the mythical “magical light of morning”. Gotta say. Morning sun is pretty sweet light. Not so nice that I’ll make a habit of getting up at that time, but I’ll definitely take advantage of it when I happen to be conscious at that time.

Cleaning a Sunfish

Sunday, June 25th, 2006
Successfully Caught Fish!

Growing up, one of my favorite weekend activities was a family fish fry. We would typically head out to a pond or lake to catch some fish, Dad would clean them, and then we would fry up the results.

More often than not, we would catch a mess of Bluegill, one of a number of common freshwater Sunfish.

Nothing beats a mess of fried, boneless, Bluegill filets. Totally sublime chunks of mild fish covered in crispy shell of corn meal, flower, black pepper, salt, and beer based batter. Alternatively, you can take the whole fish or a whole filet, dredge it in a mix of corn meal, salt, and pepper, then fry it up in some butter in a cast iron pan. Either way, can’t lose (Thanks to my big sis Ann for reminding me of the “other best way” to eat Bluegill!)

On our most recent trip to Missouri, Roger learned to bait a hook, cast a line, and reel in a fish. Proof in the photo at left.

Once caught, the fish have to be cleaned. I have sat down with my Dad and cleaned fish, following his lead. But I always forget how in the interim months between fishing adventures.

To make sure that doesn’t happen again, I photo-documented the process of cleaning a Bluegill/l/l / Sunfish / Crappie. The goal was to produce a bunch of filets. The process could be modified slightly if an on-the-bone result is desired.

If the realities of putting food on the table don’t bother you, click through to see a pictorial guide to cleaning a fish with descriptions of each step….

Read the rest of this entry »

“Extra Interest” like a sharp kick in the pants…

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

There are about a dozen comic strips that I read online daily. And, as I have documented in the past, I have had some problems with certain syndication agencies.

For Better or For Worse has now started animating selected strips:

You’re not seeing things! We began animating the strips on the 19th of June, 2006, and will continue to animate selected strips when the artwork accommodates it. We’re pleased this feature has added some extra interest to the strip – thanks for all your feedback!

Here is some additional feedback.

Random one frame animations of eyes blinking or a cat tail changing from one position to another does not add extra interest to your strip. It adds “extra interest” like a mosquito in my ear or a moth attacking the TV during a late night movie fest.

Please stop.

Damn Interesting: Winchester Mystery House

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

I have been meaning to post a link to the Damn Interesting site for some time. Damn Interesting posts one story a day that documents something in the world that is, well, damned interesting.

Today’s story prompted finally kicked off a post as it is about the Winchester Mystery House. This is a very strange place that happens to be located within a few miles of my house in San Jose, CA.

For a taste of damn interesting, this link will take you to a random story.

iPod can protect hearing, too!

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006
Missouri Mud Butterfly

I spent part of today mowing paths through the fields and woods surrounding my parent’s house. I’m using a John Deere 750 tractor with a Bush Hog mounted on the back. This thing can rip through small trees and is excellent for mowing paths.

I started by mowing the fields and, at the end of it, my ears were ringing. Stupid me.

When mowing around the pond and into the woods, I put on my iPod with a set of the Apple iPod In-Ear Headphones and it worked brilliantly. It completely deadened the tractor sound while allowing me to listen to decent tunes at a reasonable volume.

I have never been able to wear an in-the-ear headphone before these. These are the first headphones of these types that have not immediately made my ears swell and turn red/itchy.

Boating Across the Pond

The trick is to set the volume limiter to a reasonable level in a quiet room and then not worry about blowing out your ears when in noisy environment like on a tractor or in an airplane.

We also spent some time tooling around the pond in a little boat, hunting bugs, snakes, frogs and anything else that moves.

Tomorrow, I hope to get some picks of vultures as they pick a dead possum clean on top of the dam. That and grab a few captures of the wildflowers that are now accessible off the freshly mown paths.

Columbia, MO.

Monday, June 19th, 2006

I’m in Columbia, MO. for the week, spending time with the family and generally relaxing in the midst of the WWDC crunch. Of course, I brought the camera along and having a grand time photographing everything in the garden.

Since I have taken about a bazillion flower photos, I’m focusing on uniquely interesting blooms, bugs, and other interesting things. I have posted a Flickr photo set that contains the growing collection of photos.

The dragonflies around the pond are numerous and strikingly beautiful. I captured a couple of brilliant blue dragonflies mating. Looks more like a mid-air refueling exercise than mating.

Rainbow Winged Fly on Queen Anne's Lace

Some of the smallest bugs are the most striking. This incredibly tiny fly was crawling around on top of a queen anne’s lace blossom. Beautiful rainbow wings. No idea why a fly might need rainbow wings, but it is certainly striking.

Taking such a photo requires a bit of patience and a steady hand. Thank goodness for Aperture — I took about 40 captures of that one fly and selected the best capture.

The little odd colored purple thing at the left of the photo is the one colored floret of that particular species of flower. It is tiny and, apparently, collected in large quantities to make fabric dyes.

Brilliant Green Fly

Nature certainly isn’t all about camouflage, as is demonstrated by this brilliant green fly that was hanging out on an equally as brilliant yellow flower. I really like the sort of bean shaped eyes.

PopCorn and VisualHub Redux

Saturday, June 17th, 2006

This week, I was motivated to download a bunch of video into my iTunes library encoded in a form compatible for the iPod, but optimized for TV.

As mentioned recently, I picked up a copy of Visual Hub and had previously purchased Popcorn 2.0.

After using both packages for a bit — mostly because one or the other would occasionally barf on a bit of content or had a bug that prevented a particular workflow from working — I have concluded that there is certainly an opportunity in the Mac market for someone successfully sell a bunch of copies of a video encoding app.

For both apps, the path of least surprise and generally acceptable results is to use the basic user interface to select a target format and dial in a quality setting using the rather vague selections offered in either program.

When selecting iPod, Popcorn offers “Standard”, “High” and “For TV” quality settings. Can you guess which of “High” or “For TV” is better quality? … or if “For TV” indicates whether or not it is still iPod compatible? “For TV” is the best “standard” setting and it will still work on an iPod.

Don’t even bother trying to use the custom settings in Popcorn. The user interface and workflow is such that you will constantly find yourself hitting some random button or popup that resets all the custom settings that you just entered! Doh!

Visual Hub is only slightly better in this regard. You first select iPod and then there is a radio button for optimizing the rendering for iPod or TV — no direct indication of compatibility, but the tooltips are excellent. There is a generic slider that ranges from “Tiny” to “Standard” to “Go Nuts!” that apparently controls a number of a parameters that ultimately results in a smaller, lower quality result or a larger, higher quality result.

Now, oddly, you would think that you could adjust the slider to some particular setting, then hit the “Advanced” button to have Visual Hub show whatever specific settings it has selected in the advanced pane.

Nope. Doesn’t do that. The advanced pane, while it does have the ability to save/load settings, always starts out with all fields set to zero (though that is often invalid).


Popcorn‘s UI is aesthetically useless. That is, the visual design is modeled after the venerable Toast and UI elements are often rendered largely useless for the benefit of presentation (the target size quarter round, for example).

When it works, it works well enough. Slowly, but it does work. When it doesn’t work, the failure modes and error messages are utterly baffling. Error -50? Progress bar goes to 99.9% and then spins forever? Huh?

The target size quarter round bears special focus simply because it is so broken. In 1.0, it was used to indicate how much of either 4.7GB or 650MB (later 9.0GB) the encoded content would use. The intent was to show how much of the optical media would be consumed as the result of the selected options.

In 2.0, Popcorn continues to have the quarter round indicator but now it has a little popup that allows you to select target sizes between 128MB and 8+GB (16? I don’t know — the app is currently busy. Though the UI continues to passively track the mouse and highlight UI elements, clicking on anything but the “cancel” button doesn’t do anything).

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Even my 8 year old GPS receiver’s speedometer automatically scales the display based upon how fast you are going. If I cruise around at walking speed, the max is 20mph. Whip out some sprints on the bike around 25mph and the top end will show 40mph. Fly in a plane and the top end might go up to 1000mph. Smooth. Easy to read. Intuitive. Just works.

For optical media, I can understand the point of a capacity limit, but the quarter round indicator’s only visual clue(s) that you have gone over capacity is that it is “full” and red. There is zero indication as to how much over you might have gone — no indication as to whether you might be able to get away with a minor quality loss or need to do some drastic changes to the encoding to make the result fit the targeted size.


Visual Hub‘s UI puts practical functionality above spiffy presentation, but it does so with ease of use in mind. As long as you stick to the main window, it is easy to use and generally “just works”.

Operations tend to be a bit more manual than Popcorn — you have to drag in every part of a multi file DVD based video track, for example — but Popcorn doesn’t work consistently in that case anyway due to a really annoying bug.

And when Visual Hub fails, it fails hard. The program doesn’t crash, but you often need to quit to start over. Also, when encoding DVD content, it is quite easy to end up with an audio-only encoding merely by dragging in the wrong bit of the DVD. That whole manual thing bites again.

Neither program works well when messing with advanced settings. Frankly, though I have now spent close to $100 on encoding software — Popcorn 1.0 + Upgrade to 2.0 + Visual Hub — I feel like I need both to do what I wanted to do these past few days.

And, yet, I’m left feeling like I haven’t really archived a bunch of video that we had laying around in any kind of optimal fashion. While Visual Hub amused me, it didn’t teach me anything. Popcorn neither amused nor educated.

All in all, I’m happy to have gotten it done, but I feel like I’m just gonna have to do it all over again some day once I figure out how to really tune these things.

Both programs have decent manuals. Complete, thorough, and short. Visual Hub’s manual is also just plain entertaining. Very very funny.

Popcorn’s manual is dry, professional and exceptionally annoying. The margins comprise about 40% of the page area (to be fair, this may be because my system is hosed right now — but I can’t imagine how that might affect PDF rendering in this way).

Also, one last query for both developers:

Where the hell is the “For HD” option? I can understand the lack therein when targeting the iPod as the device can’t deal with the resolution. Neither program shows any signs of “HD readiness”. Boo.