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12.28.2008

Cable Spaghetti - Setting up a Component Game Switch

I got my cable order from Monoprice.com over the Christmas holiday. So tonight I've
rewired all my component capable video game consoles through a Gamestop switcher
so that I can have more inputs free on the tv and receiver.

The switch was about $20 at Gamestop and includes switchable plastic labels for popular consoles. It includes the main cables to connect AV, Component, and Stereo Audio up to your TV or receiver.

I hooked up mine to switch between, Wii, Original Xbox, and PSP component output.
I got all the cabling from Monoprice, and it was all very inexpensive. While the PSP cable's build quality wasn't the best, it works fine, and looks ok. I just noticed that the silver sleeves on the cables could slide off if you aren't careful. Of course once they're behind the entertainment center, who's going to notice.

I routed the whole batch into the Component 2 input on my TV, and then set one of the consoles on my Harmony remote. I programmed for the Wii, but then renamed the action "Game Switcher". Now I can hit one button to turn on the TV and Receiver and automatically switch to the right inputs, then I just have to power up a console and tap the right button on the switcher directly below the TV. Another nice feature of this switch, is that it has Ethernet support. So you don't have to run multiple cables from your router to the entertainment center. You can just run one to the switch, and then plug patch cables from the switch box to the consoles.

11.13.2008

New Picture Tonight


Moon with Red Lights, originally uploaded by macrogeek.

I stopped on the way home from work and took this picture tonight.
Well actually I pondered taking it, decided it was too cold, kept driving, regretted it, drove back and then stopped and took some photos.
This is one of the ones I thought came out the best. I also saved a few and assembled a HDR image from them.

My Homemade Canon Rebel XTi Release w/ Detachable Cable


I've been scouring Google and Flickr for a while reading up on DIY cable releases for Canon cameras. After much reading I came up with plans to build my own cable release for my Digital Rebel XTi.

I saw a few problems with the designs people were making online. Mainly that they used short fixed length cables. Store bought releases only have 2-3 foot of cable, and most DIY projects were also using a fixed length. I wanted to build my release to have interchangable cables. I wanted to have the option of a very long cable, just in case.

I got the following parts from Radio Shack:
2 momentary pushbutton switches.
1 push-on / push-off switch
1 3.5mm panel mount stereo jack (TRS)
1 small project enclosure
1 3.5mm to 2.5mm stereo adapter.

I installed the switches into the housing. The two on the side are autofocus and shutter control. The one on top is a click-on/click-off button for burst mode or bulb settings.
You need to wire the buttons up to the stero mini jack this way:
  • Tip - Shutter buttons (each needs it's own connection, don't wire in series)
  • Ring - Autofocus button
  • Sleeve - Ground / Common, all the buttons need connected to this.



I had a technician at work solder this up for me because he has steadier hands than I.
Pretty much anyone with a steady hand and a soldering iron should be able to do this.

Now I can plug any stereo 1/8" (3.5mm) headphone cable into the remote and then into the adapter and connect up to the camera. This lets me switch between a 10' and 3' cable length easily. This also means replacement cables are cheap if one fails or gets torn up. I also made sure to pick buttons that are large enough that I can operate them with gloves on in cold weather.

11.12.2008

Homebrew XTi Shutter Release


Red Light District, originally uploaded by macrogeek.

I tested my homebrew shutter release controller tonight and took this picture.

I've been working on this remote for a while now. I took several designs and wiring diagrams I found online and built my own version, and it seems to be working out pretty well so far.

This is a 7 second exposure taken on the Bulb setting at F5.6 from a tripod.

I'll post more about how to build a remote in the near future.

10.30.2008

TWIP Easy White Balance Tip - TWIP

TWIP Easy White Balance Tip - TWIP

The above link will take you to an excellent digital photography tip. The instructions are for Lightroom or Aperture, but pretty much any professional photo tool can do this same thing.

A Good Webcomic - Kukuburi


This is possibly one of the best webcomics I've found.
It's story driven, more like a comic book than the funny papers.

It's a story about a girl, a lizard, a hat, and an alternate dimension populated by the denizens of a child's imagination. If you're interested head over to Kukuburi and give it at least 10 pages or so and you'll be hooked.

Photosynth of Sweetwater Sound

I was experimenting with Photosynth from Microsoft Labs a while back and created this "synth". If you're not familiar with the technology, it lets you build a 3d arrangement of of a scene from photographs. When done correctly, you can "step" through the scene and see it from the points where the camera was placed.

I wanted to do a big interior, so after a few experiments in synth-building I headed out to Sweetwater Sound and photographed the interior of their new building.
This synth still has some bugs I need to work out. There are some holes in the 3d map, but it's the best one I've built so far. I've worked out a new possible system for shooting these. I'm trying to find another interesting building or landscape to synth next with the new setup.




10.29.2008

More Viral Muppets Clips on YouTube!

Looks like two new videos in the viral Muppet series on YouTube. You can find them tagged "virmup", or search for new "friends" accounts linked to the existing cast's user pages. (for example see Fozzie's friends under "wockawockabear" )

It's worth noting that Rowlf is back in these new videos. This is significant as he's is a fan favorite and has not had many speaking parts since Jim Henson's passing. Fans have complained about his absence and how they want the character to return as more than an extra. I take it as a sign that this new viral campaign is meant to cater to die hard fans.




Voting early

I tried to vote early today. The line was an hour long at the county
building.

Video - Rolling Bomber Special

I can't really explain this clip, except that I laughed a lot.



10.28.2008

Zombie Mario?


Fort Wayne Zombie Walk 106, originally uploaded by macrogeek.
One of the more creative costumes I saw during the First Annual Fort Wayne Zombie Walk.

I'm not sure how Mario became one of the infected...but obviously it's too late for everyone's favorite plumber.

10.25.2008

Fort Wayne's First Annual Zombie Walk


Fort Wayne Zombie Walk 045, originally uploaded by macrogeek.

Zombies invaded downtown Fort Wayne today for the First Annual Zombie Walk.
The walk was organized by Ft. Wayne's Downtown Improvement District as part of their annual Downtown Fright Night celebration. 

It looked like we had over a hundred participants for this first ever Zombie Walk.  There were a lot of people in plain clothes tagging along or watching as well.  I thought it was a pretty good turn out considering it was about 50 degrees out.  Our Zombie Horde assembled by the library at 4 PM and took a half hour shambling walk around downtown before piling into the Grand Wayne Center.  There were some great costumes in the mob. 

I went along and took photos, and you can see them here on my Flickr account:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/macrogeek/tags/fortwaynezombiewalk/

I also uploaded higher resolution versions to my Photrade account so that participants of this year's event can order  prints & merchandise:
http://www.photrade.com/macrogeek/

10.24.2008

Today's Catch - a pile of old video games

I traded a CRT monitor for this pile of old games today.  Basically my coworker got a monitor and I got his childhood.  In the haul was a highly disfunctional Intellivision, an Atari 2600, and a pile of games for each.  I also got a batch of NES games.  I was suprised that the guy kept most of the original manuals and the dust sleeves for the Nintendo carts.  

State of the art - Wireless Atari Controller

Yeah, that's a wireless controller for Atari.  The box goes on the Atari console, and the controller is powered by a 9v battery.  

10.22.2008

FMAD - Flash Memory Addiction Disorder

Is there such a condition? If so, I think I have it.
One of my friends and I went and shot some fall pictures on lunch. While transferring pictures to a spare USB flash drive I came to the realization that I'm carrying way too many bits of flash memory around with me. Depending on whether I have my camera bag with me or not, it looks like lately I've had between 15 and 26 GB of storage on various cards or thumb drives. (not including the 8GB in my iPhone)
That just doesn't seem right, does it? I guess it just accumulates as you move to the next larger card.

10.21.2008

Questions about Jazz HDV178

I received the following comment today and wanted to respond:

"You got to give me some insight... PLEASE! I have read so many reviews and got the good, the bad, and the ugly. How does your jazz stack up? I've heard some negative things about it and wanted to know if you're familiar with multiple brands and their specifics? Things that are important to me are low light capabilities, overall easiness, minimal pixalation, and good audio. I'm very close to buying the flip but would like to get more advice. I've been researching all weekend and ready to purchase, I'm just not 100 percent sure yet about which brand. Please email me at (removed)

Thanks,
Dustin "


Hey Dustin, first I have a couple of posts related to the Jazz HDV178. You can find them all here:
http://macrogeek.blogspot.com/search/label/HDV178

You may especially want to check out the HDV178 vs Flip Video review I did and jump over to see the comparison video on Vimeo. There are also example pictures and videos in some of the other posts. I'll let you check them out at your leisure.

I'd say that if you are already comfortable with camcorders and video editing, the HDV178 is a pretty good deal. I've also heard good stuff about some of the Apitek cameras, but haven't used any of them myself. If you don't already have some editing software and experience working with MPEG4 AVI files, then I'd look at the Flip Ultra. It's a great and easy to use camera, and you can get a good deal when they're on sale. Just remember they don't come with rechargeable batteries, so if that's important, you'll need to buy a set. The software that comes with the Flip is pretty basic, but it does work pretty well. Here is a sample video I shot with a Flip. The zoom at the end was done in Vegas, not on the camera, but you can see these cams work best on nearby subjects. (Most of the pixelation in this clip is caused by encoding this on Revver. )



If you're really hung on low light support, no grain, and good audio, you may need to look into spending another hundred or so and find a full sized camcorder that has support for flash memory. Most of these low end flash camcorders are going to get grainy especially in low light, and the integrated mics are cheap.

My only gripes about the HDV178 are:
  • Annoying startup noise
  • Odd mic placement. (It's on top, not the front, so your thumb can make mic noise. It's probably there to allow you to voice over and be heard, but it makes you come out louder than your subject if you're not mindful of it.)
  • Videos need transcoded to common format for most uses. (software is included, so not a big deal for me)
  • Cheap build quality. (mostly plastic, could be easy to break, but this is the case on any cheap camcorder)

These things being said...I still think it's a great and fun little camera for the price...so I'm pretty satisfied with it.

One thing to consider, is how are you planning to share these videos? If you're going to put them on a HDTV, you may want to look at a real camcorder. If you're just going to look at them on a standard def TV or by putting them on a flash based website like YouTube, Revver, or Vimeo, then the videos will look fine, you probably won't notice the lower quality after the video has been compressed by the host site anyway. Higher quality never hurts though.

10.17.2008

HDV178 MicroSD / SDHC Card Testing

I tested my Jazz HDV178 today with some new memory cards.

MicroSD cards with a Micro SD to Secure Digital adapter work fine, they seem to write at a fast enough speed to take smooth video.

MicroSDHC (High Capacity) cards put into the same adapter worked as well. So this camera does support standard SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) out of the box and Micro SDHC via adapters.

With an 8GB SDHC card the camera was estimating 4.5 hours of HD footage...which I think is more than the normal battery life of the camera.

10.16.2008

Shameful Confessions

I have to admit it. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I'm really enjoying the new Knight Rider (2008) TV Series. I know it seems the reviews are all either "it's Awesome!" or "this is the dumbest hour long car commercial I've ever watched". The TV movie was kind of cool, but I think this new show will be better in the long run...they just need to figure out how to sell it to the audience.

The new KITT-stang is pretty sweet. I like the look, and I must be one of the only childhood fans who thinks KITT can be a muscle car now. A coworker complained that KITT shouldn't be a muscle car...that his original look was "stealthy". I think when I was a kid, I looked at KITT and thought it looked fast. I think the Mustang conveys that attitude, and makes it look modern, and more aggressive. Face it kids...pointy nosed sports cars aren't as popular as they once were.
I like Val Kilmer as the new voice of KITT. It took me a couple of episodes to stop looking for Mad Martigan. I went back and saw the TV movie after I had watched a couple of episodes of the series. I think what sold me on Kilmer for the voice of KITT was a scene where it called one of the characters on their cell phone to warn them of danger. They voice worked in context for the scene, and they hadn't used it while showing the car yet.

Turbo Boost is back. Yeah, I know it's completely goofy that the car can jump...but hey it was a cornerstone of the original series. At least now they've added some animation to try to sell the effect. KITT now has VTOL styled jet nozzles under the body. As a kid I always wondered how the stupid car could jump without a ramp...but we just suspended disbelief and tuned in the next week. They don't seem to be using this every episode...so at least it's not rediculous thus far.

The one thing that I hope they get rid of is the new "off road" mode. KITT should not turn into a truck. It's stretching too far to sell that effect. I can buy that the car can change into an beefier version for combat...that's mainly a styling change. The car stays the same size for that transformation. The turning into a truck thing has to go. I hope they just listen to the fans and quietly make that feature disappear partway through the season. Lets just never speak of it again.

At this point, the series is pretty fun and it entertaining me, so i'm going to keep watching and see how it goes. I'm hoping they listen to fans, fix a few things, and find a good pace before the end of the season. We'll see if it gets renewed for another season.

10.09.2008

Wells Street Bridge HDR revisited


Wells Street Bridge HDR v2, originally uploaded by macrogeek.

I did go back and reshoot the HDR image of the Wells Street Footbridge in downtown Fort Wayne. I was going past that morning and the it was just the right time of morning and there were nice clouds and a little haze or fog on the river. I'm pretty happy with how this one came out.
It doesn't have the grain problems the original did.

Cheap Storage with SD, MicroSD, CF Adapters


I found the coolest adapter kit at Meijer a couple of weeks back. It's branded GFM, which is the Meijer "house brand" for their cheap electronics. I think it was actually made by a company called Eagletec judging by the part numbers. It was on clearance, probably because it's a PCMCIA kit and that technology is rapidly being replaced by ExpressCard. The kit included a PCMCIA to Compact Flash adapter, a Compact Flash to SD adapter, and a Secure Digital to MicroSD adapter.

The whole thing was on clearance for $9 when I bought it, and I recently saw that they had dropped again to $6.
The part numbers of the adapters are:
PCMCIA to CF - ET-PCMCIADPT
CF to SD - ET-CFAII45
SD to MicroSD - no part#.

So far I've been really happy with this set, as my TravelMate C110 TabletPC doesn't have an integrated card reader. Now I can carry the whole nested set of adapters in my unused Cardbus / PCMCIA slot.

There is little to no documentation on the packaging for these adapters, so I've been playing around with them. So far I've found:

The PCMCIA to CF adapter will accept Type I or II cards. It seems as speedy as dumping cards via USB 2.0, but I haven't actually done a throughput test.

The Compact Flash to Secure Digital adapter works great to adapt SD cards up to fit in my Compact Flash equipped camera (Canon EOS Rebel XTi / 400D). I've heard this is slower than real CF cards, but so far I've not had a problem using it this way. I suppose you could have problems if you were shooting bursts of photos in RAW format, but this camera has a pretty good buffer, so I haven't had any issues. I've even used a MicroSD card w/ adapter and it works fine.

The CF to SD adapter does NOT support High Capacity cards (SDHC). I tried a 4GB card in it, and it did not work in either my camera or a SDHC compatible card reader.

While I wish for SDHC support on these adapters, I'm pretty happy right now because 2GB SD cards are plentiful and cheap. Micro SD also seems to be very cheap right now and easily adaptable into other formats. I found a GFM 2GB MicroSD card with SD adapter at that same Meijer for 20% off last week, I think it ended up being $8.50 after tax.

I'm going to keep using good quality CF cards with my XTi, but it's nice that in a pinch I can take spare SD cards from my HDV178 pocket camcorder, or Canon point-and-shoot cameras and give myself some extra space if I need it.

I'm planning on picking up a MicroSD to Memory Stick Pro Duo adapter soon for use with my PSP. Once I have that I should be able to use MicroSD as my common memory for most of my consumer devices and just change adapters as needed.

10.07.2008

To early?

I guess someone wants to get a lead on their competition. Seriously,
Christmas in October seems a bit much.

Flash Drive: 1, Washing Machine: 0

It would appear my 1GB Viking DataTraveler USB stick is tougher than my washing machine. The USB drive has successfully retained all it's files after being washed in my jeans pocket.

I let it dry out for a couple of days before trying to use it, but it seems to be working, no worse for wear except that the sliding USB bit seems looser than before.

9.21.2008

HowTo: HDR Photography for free w/ Qtpfsgui

I've been playing with HDR photography as of late.

If you're not familiar with HDR photography, it is a system to capture the dynamic range of 3 or more differently exposed images into one. This means the new image contains all the good details from three images...so your highlights aren't all blown out and white, and your shadows still have detail in them instead of just being plain black. You're going to use software to merge your multiple exposures into one very detailed HDR file, usually in EXR format. These HDR files have a greater dynamic range than normal monitors or printers can output. Once you have created an HDR file, you use tonemapping to convert it down into a conventional image that our puny earthling monitors and printers can output. The tonemapping plugin or software is going to smoosh all this extra visual data you collected down into a plain old Photoshop or JPEG or other "normal" image file. This is similar to taking a very detailed audio recording and converting it into an MP3.



While playing with HDR it's fun, I'm not making my living on photography. I can't justify going out and buying Photoshop right now. I can get by between my copy of Elements and GIMP.
Last time I checked, Photoshop could create HDR, but didn't have a tonemapping plugin yet. So you'd still have to buy additional software.

I discovered a cool piece of free software (open source) that can do HDR image creation and tonemapping. It's called Qtpfsgui. You can download it here. It's cross platform, so it runs on Mac, Windows, or Linux. I'm using it under Vista Home Premium 32-bit with no problems.

The only glitch I've noticed is that sometimes the progress bars will hang for a long time, and it may seem like the application is frozen, but it's actually still running, HDR imaging is just very processor intensive. You'll notice this more on slower computers or older notebooks. It's not noticable on my Core 2 Duo desktop, but alignment and tonemapping can take several minutes on my 1GHz Pentium M notebook.


I found a very good newbie friendly guide to using Qtpfsgui to create High Dynamic Range images here: http://www.dtgeeks.com/journals/article/hdr_imaging_explained/


Give that a read and then download Qtpfsgui and give it a try.


Remember to save your HDR image as an EXR file before you move on to tonemapping. I recommend doing test tonemaps using the various presets at low resolution to figure out your settings before doing a final tonemap at high resolution.

9.19.2008

HDR Photo of Wells Street Bridge


Wells St Bridge in HDR
Originally uploaded by macrogeek

This morning I stopped on the way to work to shoot a few pics.
I explored this old wood and steel bridge near the southern end of Wells Street in Fort Wayne. I took 3 exposures using auto-bracketing at +/- 2 EV.
I was using a monopod instead of a tripod, because it's easier to pack in and out of the car for quick shots.

I assembled the HDR image using Qtpfsgui to create an EXR file and then tonemapped the HDR image down to JPEG. I used the Mantiuk preset for tonemapping.

I'm pretty happy with this result so far, except I think I need to crop it a bit. I'm probably going to reshoot it instead of doing more editing. I accidentally shot this at ISO 1600 instead of 100, and so at larger sizes the visual noise / grain is too apparent. Once I reshoot I'll post another copy.

I've only been using Qtpfsgui for about two weeks, I've assembled 4 or 5 High Dynamic Range images this way so far. This is one of the best images I've gotten thus far.

9.17.2008

Lunch w/ bugs


IMG_0381
Originally uploaded by macrogeek

I took a quick lunch today and then took a walk to the edge of a nearby field. Lots of butterflies, grasshoppers.and weird plants.

I did some shots to practice manual focusing on the dslr on the fly. I'm loving the manual control on the XTi compared to the Powershot G5 I was using before. It's tough to autofocus on a scene like this with a point and shoot...they tend to scope in and out on all the leaves. Hand focusing with the SLR lets me home in on things like moving bugs with a great amount of control.

9.16.2008

Testing the New Camera


IMG_0340
Originally uploaded by macrogeek

Well, I finally made the move to a DSLR camera.
I've been using my trusty Powershot G5 for years, and this has been a long needed upgrade. Since I got the G5, I've barely touched my film cameras since. The convenience of digital outweighed the loss of features from my trusty 35mm SLR's.

Since it's been 3 or 4 years since I've done any true photo projects other than shooting an occasional wedding, I'm going to be doing a lot more photography for myself. I'll give myself the occasional "assignment" or theme to work from, but mostly I'm just going to try to be shooting stuff that I enjoy more regularly.

I'll post whatever I find amusing and worth sharing to my Flickr account and blog the relevant images as well.

This one is one of the first daylight test shots I did with the new Rebel XTi. It was bright daylight, around 1/5000 of a sec exposure @ F5.6. This was the runoff stream from a fire hydrant being purged.

Flickr

This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

9.13.2008

Video Game Relic

I found this while I was cleaning today. It's my original one from
when I was a kid.

8.13.2008

Flip Video Ultra vs HDV178 Comparison Video

I've been working on short video clips for fun lately. The group I volunteer with at my church took notice and expressed an interest in getting a flash based camera similar to the Jazz Elite HDV178 I've been using. I steered them towards the Pure Digital Flip Ultra. We picked the Ultra because of it's more solid "candybar" style construction seemed more durable for use by the Middle School Students, and the onboard software will allow novices to use the camera without having to drag around driver discs and learn new editing software.

While I had access to both cameras, I took the opportunity to perform a somewhat unscientific test with them. I strapped the two cameras together with a rubber band and tried to align the lenses.
I then went outside and shot the same test clip using both cameras at once. I tried to roughly sync the footage using a sound cue. I then combined the resulting files in Vegas Pro 8. I've uploaded the comparison file to Revver. Now keep in mind that because I'm using a flash based site to showcase the video there is some degradation in quality when they compress the video, this comparison should mainly give you an idea of color saturation, contrast, and default aspect ratio.


8.12.2008

She Loves those Muppets

Ever since we found those new Viral Muppet clips on YouTube, my daughter has become obsessed with watching Muppet clips on YouTube. (If you haven't found these videos yet, search YouTube for "VirMup" or see my previous post.)
She's especially fond of Beaker, who she lovingly refers to as MiMi. Now she's watched Beaker's Ode to Joy clip so many times she's developing a bit of a song and dance to go with it.

I set up my Jazz HDV178 on the desk the other night while she was watching YouTube and caught this. I especially like how partway through the clip the whispers "MiMi nooo" to warn Beaker of the disaster about to befall him. Does anyone else think her mischievous grin at the end is a little disturbing? She seems to derive an inappropriate amount of joy from Beaker's pain.


7.29.2008

New Muppets Viral Videos hit YouTube

In the last month, the Muppets have been the subject of a new viral marketing campaign. The new clips are each posted by a different Muppet YouTube user. Nobody seems to know what company is behind them, and whether this is the precursor to a new show or movie.

The new clips are identifiable because they have a "video comment" from Waldorf & Statler at the end.








7.24.2008

I picked this up on lunch!

If you enjoyed Dark Knight you owe it to yourself to pick this
rerelease up. I don't have an original copy for comparison, but I guess there were complaints about the coloring in the original release. The new edition has been recolored by Brian Bollard, the original artist.

7.13.2008

Flea Market Find


My wife and I went to the Three Rivers Festival Flea Market this weekend. We found a few knicknacks to buy. But my find of the day was this Millenium Falcon toy. It's the 1979 toy, not the Power of the Force reissue. It's only missing the two landing ramp posts, and the training droid arm.

7.10.2008

Tiny New Laptop - Acer C110 Tablet PC

I decided it was time to update my laptop.  My current laptop was a very heavy Pentium 4 (not P4 Mobile) monster that ran less than 30-45min on a charge.  When I got it, it was a demo model and worked great as long as you had an outlet nearby.  Recently I'd been feeling the urge to move to something more portable.  I considered the Asus EeePC, but was a bit put off by the small screen and limited CPU and storage space.  I also have been feeling the urge to do more artwork and photography as of late, so I decided to look at Tablet PC's.  I was eyeing Toshiba M200's on eBay.  Last week I got an email in response to a Craig's List post I made looking for a used tablet, and ended up buying a Acer C110 from a guy locally.  It's not a powerful machine, since it's only a 1GHz Pentium M, but it feels snappy, and really doesn't feel slower than the P4 2.66 GHz machine I was on.  It runs much cooler, and once my new battery arrives, should get about 2hrs to a charge.  I'll be blogging my adventures in updating this tiny notebook, maybe you'll find it interesting reading.  

Acer C110 - Tiny Notebook!

My initial impression is "Wow, this is a tiny notebook!".  Check out the picture above, and see the USB flash drive on the keyboard for size comparison.  I'm very happy with this form factor.  They keyboard is small, but I can still touch type on it with my giant fingers.  This notebook is smaller than my old 12" iBook was.  The display is 10.5" across, but still runs at XGA resolution, so it has way more screen real estate than the first generation EeePC's do.  Being a tablet, the screen can be a little dim in bright sunlight, but that doesn't bother me.  I don't plan to sketch on it outside...that's what Moleskine notebooks are for.  I'm loving how light this notebook is.  Internet on it is very snappy...mine came with the 802.11G adapter installed instead of the stock B.

Right now my upgrade plans are:

Reinstall Windows XP Tablet PC edition - I want to start with a fresh Windows installation to get best performance and remove traces of the last users's stuff.  I did test install Ubuntu, and it ran very fast and worked well, but I could not get the tablet digitizer to work.  I may eventually set up a dual boot for fun.

Add more RAM - 512MB in 2 x 256MB DIMM's came on it.  I'm going to get at least 1GB in this. 

Fix lose hinges, missing rubber feet, case cracks, and do general clean up.

Upgrade Hard Drive - 40GB is the same as my last laptop, but I'd like to have 80 to 120 GB on here instead.

New Battery - I ordered one from a supplier, just waiting on it to arrive.  The two batteries that came with the notebook only hold about a 30min charge ask the guy who had it constantly kept the notebook on the charger, and that tends to wear batteries out faster.  I'm told a new battery should get about 2hrs of life, maybe more if I dim the screen and turn off WiFi & Bluetooth.

6.13.2008

Team Fortress 2: Sentry Owners Manual


I found this funny. If you own any Valve games, you know they are authorized and launched from their Steam platform. Like most Steam games, Team Fortress 2 includes a PDF manual linked from the Steam interface. What's funny that is instead of a TF2 manual, Valve included a humorous in character manual for the Engineer's Sentry emplacement. Give it a read. My favorite are the safety diagrams, and the step by step upgrade instructions.

http://storefront.steampowered.com/Manuals/440/SentryManual_web.pdf

If you're not familiar w/ Team Fortress 2, you should probably "Meet the Engineer".

6.11.2008

Jazz Elite HDV178 $99 HD Camcorder Review


I've had a few days to play with the Jazz Elite HDV-178 that I picked up at Wal-Mart last week. We took it with us on a trip to King's Island in Oh, so I made sure to take some photos and videos to test it. The verdict? I like it, a lot. It's a very basic camera, but it does everything I'd expect for $99 and is still a cheap enough camera I wouldn't be heartbroken if something happened to it instead of my MiniDV camcorder.

Let's start with some sample video and images:
Here is a video clip I shot at Kings Island of their new Firehawk coaster. This was taken on the HD setting. Keep in mind Vimeo transcoded this video to Flash, so some quality is lost. If you want to create a Vimeo account, there is an option to download the original file so you can see the full quality. The embedded version below is not displayed in HD, You'll want to click over to the Vimeo site to see their HD version.



King's Island Firehawk Coaster /HDV178 Camcorder Test from macrogeek on Vimeo.


Here is a still image taken with the HDV178:
PICT0001
Here is a comparison image taken with the 2MP camera on my iPhone:
IMG_0386
Here is another HDV178 still image taken at the amusement park with the macro setting on:
PICT0029
The major convenience of this camcorder is the convenience of flash memory. It boots in about 5 seconds, so you can be up an recording very quickly. I like my Panasonic MiniDV camcorder, but finding a queuing up a tape is a pain. I've missed recording cute baby moments because the camera wasn't ready. Since the HDV178 records to SD cards, you never have to find or rewind a tape, and the recordings and pictures are stored in individual files, so you can quickly find them and transfer them to your hard drive in any order without having to set up a FireWire connection and scrub an hour of tape for the clip you need. I've found that since I started using a flash camera, I'm recording more impromptu videos than before, and taking still images to accompany the recordings. (my DV camera didn't handle still images well)
This camera is light, the body is plastic, which feels a little cheap, but what I expect given the price. There are textured rubber grips on the whole body. It comes with a belt pouch/case and a wrist strap. It's small enough you can fit it pretty comfortably in your jeans pocket. I wore it all day on my belt at the amusement park and didn't find it uncomfortable. I was impressed with the accessories that came with such a cheap camera. The aforementioned case, a composite TV output cable, a HDMI cable, driver CD with a video CODEC and transcoding software to convert the H264 files into common formats, DVD burning software. I kind of wish there was a snap on lens cap, but no luck there.
Battery life seems good. I haven't run the camera completely out yet, but from what I'm reading on forums you can record almost 2 hours straight on one charge. Which is longer than most SD cards will hold. I'm using a 2GB SD card and I can get about an hour on the HD setting and two hours on the highest standard definition setting. HD video looks good. It's plenty of resolution if you're planning on posting videos to a flash based service like YouTube, Revver, Vimeo, or that kind of thing. I'd say sometimes the HD video from the camera rivals my MiniDV camera, but I think the cheap optics give it away. The fixed lens also means that you can only use digital zoom (which looks pretty good), but you aren't going to get great focus at a distance. I think the still camera feature suffers most from the fixed lenses. The pictures look pretty good, but while the camera is marketed at 5MP, they don't look as good as images taken with a high quality 5MP camera. I love the fact that you don't need to install special drivers to get the video off this camera. You just plug a mini-USB cable in and it shows up as a mass storage device. The TV output also works great. I used it to show video to my parents from the camera, and it looked pretty good on their SD TV.
My only complaints with the camera so far? You have to open the viewfinder to start the camera. The viewer has to open, or folded flat to the side of the camera with the LCD screen facing out to record. It would be nice if you could just hit an on button and shoot without the viewfinder once you had framed your subject. Not a big deal though. The system startup sound is annoying an loud, and can't be turned off with the other system sounds. Some folks will complain about plastic construction, but hey, it's a $99 camera. The mic is on top of the camera, facing up, so you have to lean to control your voice, or you will be way louder than the subjects on camera. A CODEC is required to view the H264 format that this camera records. I had to install it on my laptop to play video, my desktop machine played it fine w/o the codec. I'm guessing that something I installed in the K-Lite CODEC pack can handle the Microsoft version of H264 this camera uses. I'd suggest putting a copy of the K-Lite pack and VLC player on a folder in your memory card just in case you need it to view video on a friend's computer. (or you can just carry the video cable and use their TV)
Even with the short list of "cons" for this camera. I find most of them minor and things that I'll tolerate for the convenience of a hundred dollar camcorder.

*Edit 8/13/08* I have shot comparison videos between the Jazz Elite HDV178 and the Pure Digital Flip Ultra. You can find more in my post: http://macrogeek.blogspot.com/2008/08/flip-video-ultra-vs-hdv178-comparison.html

6.04.2008

SD Card Camcorder - Jazz Elite HDV178

EDIT: 6-11-08 - I posted a complete review with sample video and images here.

I picked up a Jazz Elite HDV178 camcorder at Wal-Mart yesterday.
It's a little cam with a 5MP sensor. The box touts it as 11MP through some kind of interpolation, for what that's worth.

I've been playing with it and so far I'm pretty impressed. I mean it has cheap optics, but the video looks pretty good. It's probably only slightly worse than my current MiniDV camcorder. Seems like a bargain for the $99 they're charging. Especially for the types of events where you wouldn't want to risk your good camera. I think it's perfect for any recording that's just going to put on YouTube, Vimeo, Revver, or any other Flash video service. I think this kind of camera might lends itself nicely to video podcasting.

It records to some version of H264 in a AVI container. I had to install a codec on my laptop to view it, and Quicktime on a Mac can't seem play it with the default codecs. My Vista box had no trouble playing it, so one of the codecs from the K-Lite Codec pack must have been able to handle it.

It can also take still images at 5MP, and will function as a voice recorder.

It came packed with conversion software that will let you transcode to other formats if needed, and burn DVD's, but I haven't bothered with it yet. I use Vegas Pro 8 for most of my video editing.

I'll do a more detailed review as I play with it more.

EDIT: 6-11-08 - Review is posted with sample video and images here:
http://macrogeek.blogspot.com/2008/06/jazz-elite-hdv178-review.html

5.31.2008

Video Game Trade Store in Fort Wayne

This post is for the CAG members in Ft. Wayne.

I went to Video Game Trade and checked out the place. It's next to Golden Corral on Lima Rd. They have a decent inventory and the manager seemed friendly. Prices seemed fair, nothing was way too expensive, I saw several good deals to be had on older titles.

Their trade policy is different from McVans and EB. They give you 50% of their selling price for a trade-in game. So if the used title sells for $40, they give you $20 in trade. This means it's a good place for trading several cheaper games for one newer one. If you're looking to trade one game for another and only pay a fee, then check McVan's instead. But if you want to unload a batch of games for titles of a different age, popularity or console, VGT looks like the place.

They had 2 Wii's in stock!

Here are some pics.






5.21.2008

Disc Replay - bunch of PS1 stuff


Disc Replay in Ft Wayne has a pile of old PS1 and other CD games about to go into stock. They said they'd hit the shelves by Friday or so.

5.08.2008

Linux - Getting a Dock for Ubuntu

I use a Mac at work. I like the layout, and so when I started playing with Linux on my aged laptop, I was looking for a lightweight distro that looked nice on my older hardware. I tried Dream Linux, which has a nice OS X / Mac styled look to it, but some of the graphical effects and resolutions just wouldn't work with the old Radeon Mobility 9000 in the notebook. I switched to Ubuntu because I figured it would probably have broader support and I'd be able to find more documentation to fix any problems. It also has a pretty good repository of add-on software that doesn't require a lot of command line knowledge to install.

I liked the Compiz Fusion system for compositing the desktop. I added on the Avant Window Navigator dock for that OSX styled launcher/dock at the bottom of the screen. Together they looked nice, and has lots of eye candy, but my poor old notebook couldn't really handle it. Windows tore and stuttered when I dragged them around, and programs seemed to hesitate when launched.

I uninstalled Compiz and went back to using the default Ubuntu window manager, Metacity.
Unfortunately the cool AWN dock wouldn't work under Metacity. I found out that the problem is that AWN requires compositing to run. It turns out that you can enable compositing inside Metacity and use AWN. There are good instructions here.

So now I have a nice looking fast Linux install, and I get to keep my Dock.

Now I need to figure out why AWN is not drawing a dock on all my desktops, but only on the first one.

5.03.2008

Homebrew Bubble Solution

This summer we've been taking Marie outside to play with bubbles a lot. She's a bit obsessed with them, so Daddy's been doing a lot of Googling for fun bubble stuff.
I've been working on homemade bubble formulas that a little better than the store bought stuff.

I just finished brewing my second batch of bubble mix. I'm trying to get good performance with minimal ingredients and extra steps. I know there are better mixes than mine, that use several types of soap and incorporate various lubricants, surfactants, and whatnot. This is just a general purpose solution for when you need a LOT of decent quality bubble mix.

MacroGeek's General Purpose DIY Big Bubble Recipe v1.2:
  • 1/2 Cup Dawn Ultra Concentrated, original scent (avoid the stuff with extra bleach, scents, or microbeads)
  • 1 Tablespoon Glycerine (ask a pharmacist to get it for you)
  • 1 Tablespoon Equate Personal Lubricant (Wal-Mart's generic KY Jelly)
1. Mix these and simmer in a saucepan to cook off the purfume & alcohol in the soap and to thin the Glycerine & Lubricant. Low heat for say 5-10 minutes.
2. Pour this into a clean 2 liter bottle and then fill most of the way up with clean tap water. (I've balanced the quantities in this recipe out to make 2L so that you don't have to measure the water)
3. Shake the bottle well until the lubricant and Glycerine begin to mix into the water, then uncap and leave in your garage overnight. This helps get the remainder of any alcohol or scents evaporated out.

So far this has worked great for small bubbles, our bubble machine, and medium sized hoop style wands. I'm still testing it with my big 3' string blower, so when I do that, I'm usually cutting this mix 50/50 with Super Miracle Bubbles store bought solution. This seems to give that stuff the extra kick to make really big bubbles that seal before popping.

5.02.2008

Linux - adventures in Ubuntu

I've been playing with Linux again. A few months back I was running my laptop on a dual boot setup with XP Pro and OpenSuSE. I tried Ubuntu back on the Feisty Fawn release. I was never quite happy with Ubuntu because the built in ATI drivers wouldn't let the Mobility 9000 in my laptop run at the full resolution of my display. I tried various config file settings and command line fixes, but I couldn't get it running. OpenSuse seemed to work out of the box. I eventually got bored with it though and used Acronis' partitioning software to
delete the Linux partition and resize my Windows partition back to the full size of the drive.

One of my coworkers recommended the newer versions of Ubuntu so I gave Hardy Heron a try. Install was very easy. You can now import your XP user accounts, bookmarks, and files. The optional Wubi installer lets you install and uninstall inside Windows using a virtual disk file
instead of partitioning. Heron recognizes my video chipset using the open source ATI driver, but I did have some problems with windows tearing when dragged around the screen. I can install and run Compiz with reasonable settings. I did a similar install on my desktop machine and it was very impressive. Compiz looks great on my GeForce 8600gts and the whole system is super fast and responsive. If I can get WINE up and running with my limited Linux skills, I'll be very
happy. I don't think I could ditch Vista due to my games and the media center features, but I wouldn't be hesitate to put Ubuntu on a Internet / home office / homework computer for someone to save them some cash.

4.22.2008

Isetta

I think this car is awesome. I've seen it out and about a couple of times, and took a picture yesterday when I saw it again. Depending on the model they're driven by a scooter or motorcycle engine. To get in, the front swings open like a refrigerator door.

4.15.2008

Snapture - A Better Camera App for iPhone


Since I got the iPhone, I've been frustrated with the lack of a good 3rd party camera application. I mean the included app is ok, but it's not great. My biggest frustration is that sometimes when you tap the "take picture" icon, you wobble the phone just enough to make the picture blurry. There was another 3rd party application, but you had to pay for it. Sorry, but I'm a little hesitant to pay for a program that requires you to jailbreak your phone to use it. Heck, Apple could throw a wrench into that with the next system update, and there goes the app you paid for. I was also using 1Shoot for a while. It's a good, free program, and eliminates the button-pushing wobble by taking a picture only when the iPhone accelerometer says that your holding the phone steady. 1Shoot also has a burst-mode feature.

Snapture was released this week, and it has every feature I've been wanting in an iPhone camera replacement. It allows you to take pictures by tapping anywhere on the screen, or by tapping one of the volume buttons. It allows you to turn auto-rotate on or off, in case you want to take landscape or upside-down pictures. It also has burst-mode and greyscale support. It's a great application with a pretty interface, and it's free to use. You can donate via their site if you do like it.

You can check out the details here. If you want to install it, you'll need to Jailbreak your phone and then find it in the installer application under the Utilities section.