We had a little bit of a surprise this morning. That’s usually how it works when it snows. We go to bed with the ground dry and not a hint of a storm, and wake up to the white stuff. Obviously the weather pulls most of its interesting tricks in the middle of the night.
Archives » November, 2004
November 27, 2004
November 21, 2004
The toy of the week: our new JVC GR-D230 digital camcorder.
We’ve gone digital in so many other ways, so we went and got ourselves this early Christmas present. Now we can really enter the big grown up world of digital video editing. I’ve already been having problems with Windows Movie Maker, so my indoctrination has begun. And we can now seriously get down to making some DVDs. I’ve been making DVDs out of TV shows that I’ve grabbed through BitTorrent, but that’s different. For one thing, most of those discs are meant to be temporary. I’ll download five shows from the last week, burn them on an erasable disc, watch them, and then discard them for next week’s shows. The DVDs I’ll be making now are not only meant to be permanent, but they’ll also be my own stuff. So I can really feel like I’m creating something.
What’s going to be most important at the start is the A/V pass-through on the camcorder. This means that I can connect an old VHS VCR to to new camcorder, and digitize our old movies that way. I had a creaky old Dazzle USB device I was doing that with before, but this FireWire connection is so much better, I’ll probably end up dumping all those old crappy files.
I’m also making a controversial decision. And that is to keep my files in WMV format instead of something like AVI or MPEG. I’ve spent the last few days playing with different encodings and software, and WMV just ends up with the smallest files and the highest quality. And plus, I’m a Windows guy, dammit, and I’ve done a lot of growth lately in realizing that’s nothing to be ashamed of. So I will hold my WMV files high for the world to see. And besides, once I put it on a DVD it becomes platform-independent anyway.
My choice of Windows Movie Maker is causing me a little grief, though. The problem I’m having is when I capture my video direct to a high-quality DV-AVI file. Now DV-AVI creates way too large of a file to keep around for long (170MB+ per minute), so the idea is to bring it in and do your editing, then export a compressed WMV file. But my Movie Maker drops the audio from the AVI file when I try that. Other file types retain their audio fine, but the one file format I want to work with is the one having problems. That figures, I guess. Looking around the microsoft.public.windowsxp.moviemaker newsgroup shows that others have have problems with garbled and tinny audio in AVI files, but I seem to be alone in losing the audio entirely. I hope there’s an easy fix for this, but I haven’t found it yet.
This camcorder, like most these days, also accepts a memory card and can take still JPGs. But, like most camcorders, the quality is severely lacking compared to what you can get from a dedicated digital camera. Take a look at these two shots, taken with two different cameras:
The top photo is from my Fuji A210 camera, and the bottom one is from this new camcorder. Quite a difference there in the colors, the graininess, and just the life behind the picture. So I’m obviously not going to be ditching my digital camera, and I’ll probably never use the photo function on the JVC. But that’s not what I bought it for anyway.
So maybe we’ll start seeing some video entries here to go along with the photos. If I can come up with anything interesting, that is. You certainly won’t be seeing my ugly mug in any kind of videoblog. I know better than to subject the world at large to that. But there might be something else one day. In fact, here’s one of my first efforts. Caution: too cute baby movies ahead!
My wife Viola works as a sign language interpreter in the Douglas County School District, pairing up with deaf students so they can attend regular classes with the rest of the students. She’s been with the district a little over a year, and in that time has been bounced between three schools and four different students. This year she is working with a young man at the high school. His name is Jon and he graduated in 2003, but has returned for Life Skills classes. Jon has only been deaf for a short time, but he’s adapting extremly well. A couple of weeks ago he had some pictures taken with his friends and teachers he likes, and he asked if I would publish the one of him and Viola. So here it is.
He also wanted me to pass along his e-mail address, if anyone wants to contact him. It’s y2kempton1 AT yahoo.com.
November 16, 2004
The Amazing Race on CBS has been through some tough times, but things seem to be getting better for it. TAR debuted in the fall of 2001 to critical raves and enormous response from a small group of fans, but overall lackluster ratings. A second edition aired in the spring of 2002, followed by a third again the next fall. But then things started getting dim as CBS postponed the fourth installment, opting to make it a summer series in 2003. They gave it a decent Thursday time slot, but the fact that the Race was being cast off to the summer, along with shows like Big Brother, didn’t speak well to the network’s confidence in the show. The Big Brother connection was further solidified in the summer of 2004, with the casting of former BB houseguest Alison, probably one of the most hated reality contestants ever, in the fifth season of The Amazing Race. Luckily Alison was eliminated in the second show, and things started to turn around as the ratings for TAR rose sharply and stayed high all summer. This prompted them to give the Race another shot at a fall time slot, scheduling the sixth season for Saturday nights in September. Of course, Saturday is the night where shows go to die (see also Hack and The District), so this move didn’t exactly instill confidence in the fans. But after TAR5 brought in strong ratings during its entire run, and after the show won its second Emmy in a row, CBS wised up and started looking for a better time slot for the show. Fortunately the new drama Clubhouse was crap on toast, so they were able to send that show off to the Saturday pasture to die and give The Amazing Race its primo time slot on Tuesday nights.
So the end result of all this long sordid mess is that The Amazing Race season 6 is premiering tonight on CBS at 9pm. This time they’ve given the TAR premiere a full two hours, something that even a Survivor premiere has never gotten. They’ve also been advertising the show relentlessly, creating nearly a dozen different promo spots and peppering them all over primetime for the last month. It looks like TAR is finally getting the respect it deserves fom the network, and hopefully that will lead to more record-breaking ratings for the show this season. The Race is consistently the best reality show in terms of things like production, editing, polish, and pure entertainment value. But a show like this lives and dies by the casting, so we’ll have to wait until tonight to see what this latest group of 22 racers is like.
If you haven’t seem the show before, the premise is pretty simple. Contestants enter the race teamed up with someone they know: friend, family member, lover. Working as a team they have to race against ten other pairs all the way around the world. There are thirteen legs to the race, and on each leg they are given a variety of clues directing them from one location to the next. They have a credit card for airplane tickets, and a small allowance for taxis, buses and trains. At the end of each leg is a “pit stop”, where everyone gets twelve hours of rest. The last team to arrive there is kicked out of the race. By the time they reach the final leg, there are only three teams left, and the first one to cross the finish line wins a million bucks.
But that simple description can’t capture the excitement, the suspense, and the adventure that is The Amazing Race. For all that, you’re just going to have to tune in for yourself!
PS. Anybody who missed the show and didn’t tape it and is looking to download it, you can usually find it the next day on BitTorrent. That’s what I’ve started doing for quite a few TV shows now. A couple of good sites to find torrent files are SuprNova and TVTorrents.net.
November 15, 2004
I’ve put up a few pages of photo galleries from this year’s Nevada Day. I’ve got the parade, and some night shots from the carnival and the fireworks. Go check it out!
Bunch of links that have been cluttering up my desktop. Here they are so I don’t lose or forget about them.
November 13, 2004
If ever there was a kitty that lived up to his name, it was E.Z. He put up with Viola for the last 14 years, and me for the last five, with the same easy-going attitude that he approached everything in life. Even when we brought more cats into his house, he took it in stride. He agreed to only plot their deaths, not actually carry them out. And when we brought home a screaming little baby, again he was very patient. He only tried to rip the baby’s head off a few times.
In the end his body couldn’t keep up with him any longer, and he had to leave. But we know he’ll always be around in some way to watch over us, and one day we’ll all meet again at the Rainbow Bridge.
November 10, 2004
Okay, it’s time for another rant, one that will only reach ten people, none of which are the ones that really need to hear it. But so be it.
What really cheeses me off are people who learned web design back in 1995 and think that everything they know is absolutely right and there’s no reason to bring their skills up to, you know, the 1999 level. Normally it doesn’t bother me too much since a table-based site mostly looks the same as a CSS site, and even tag soup gets rendered into something nice in Firefox. But there’s one relic from the past that Firefox chose (rightly) not to support, but the problems is that all these 1995 types still use it and it really screws me up when they do. And that’s the fact that alt text used to appear as a little popup when you’d hover over an image. That’s not the right use for alt text; alt text is supposed to be for when the image doesn’t show at all. title text is what’s supposed to pop up when you hover. But there apparently are only a couple hundred people in the world that know that, and none of them make the sites I read. So when I go to someplace like James Lileks’ site, or to Al Lutz’ Mice Age, and I know that there are supposed to be tooltips with witty little sayings on each of the images, but I can’t see them because the author learned HTML in 1995, that really gets in my grill. I’ve even written to Al Lutz on this topic, twice, even when other people wrote in to say they couldn’t see the tooltips in Firefox, and he was looking for solutions. And of course I got no response either time.
So now my browsing is crippled because these dunderheads won’t join the rest of the world and realize that web design has advanced in the last ten years. And it’s not like there’s something new coming out every year, and it’s just too much for anybody to keep track of. XHTML came out in 1999. That’s five years now. There is no reason at all for anybody who is making web pages today not to be using XHTML. Or CSS, which has been around for eight years. But that’s another rant for another day.
So, what I finally had to do is break down and install the extension to Firefox that puts alt text into tooltips. I feel like I’m breaking Firefox a little by doing that, but until the rest of the world catches on to the right way to do things, I guess I’m stuck with it. It should only take twenty or thirty years.
November 9, 2004
It’s been a long road and a long wait, but Mozilla Firefox has finally reached Version 1.0. Firefox is the first browser in years that has shown any sign of actually cutting into Internet Explorer’s domination, and it’s been doing it with a beta release! Now that Firefox is actually “finished” and “official”, we should see what it can really do.
Firefox can be downloaded via a link on the main page, or from the FTP directory. But if you want to avoid the crush and give their server a little breathing room, they have also made it available via BitTorrent. Here is the torrent file, archived on my server, so if you have BitTorrent you can grab it and get started.
I’ve only been using 1.0 for a few minutes, but at first glance it seems like they didn’t change much from the Preview Release. The release notes do mention a bunch of bug fixes, and I guess when you’re that close to a major release, all you want to do is fix the bugs. Save the new stuff for 1.1.
Go Team Firefox!
November 8, 2004
Today I had a computer giving me the error, “NTLDR is missing. Press any key to restart.” This was during the boot sequence, before the Windows logo had even come up. NTLDR is the main boot file for the Windows NT family, including XP. IO.SYS and MSDOS.SYS served the same function for the DOS/Win98 crowd. It the files are corrupted, your computer isn’t going to do anything but sit there with its fans spinning. So I looked up the Knowledge Base and found KB318728, “How to troubleshoot the “NTLDR Is Missing” error message.” It describes the process of booting from your Windows CD and going to the Recovery Console, and then copying the files NTLDR and NTDETECT.COM from the CD to your C: drive. After that, Windows should boot fine.
When I did it, the computer wouldn’t even boot from the CD. I went into the BIOS and made sure that the CD was positioned before the hard drive in the boot order, but it still wasn’t happening. “NTLDR is missing.” Why was I getting that error before booting from the CD? So I rearranged the boot order again, putting the CD first. This time I was able to boot from the CD. I logged into the Recovery Console and copied the files, and went to restart. And that’s when I happened to glance over at the computer and I noticed the floppy disk in the drive. D’oh! I popped it out, and everything worked fine from there on.
So this was the teaching point for me. Any time you have boot problems with your computer, check the floppy drive first. I had been so conditioned to think that “Invalid System Disk” was the only error you could get from a floppy being in the drive. Apparently not!