Monday, December 21, 2009

Avatar: Not Just Any Old Movie

I remember going to the midnight showing of Jurassic Park back in 1993. As a fan of sci-fi in general, and sci-fi movies, I had a pretty good idea of what special effects were capable of. There's a scene in Jurassic Park with Sam Neill and the two children winding up in the middle of the stampede of dinosaurs. They take shelter on the near side of a fallen log and the stampede jumping over the log are coming down in the foreground. It was a composite shot unlike any I had ever seen before, and I sat there slack-jawed thinking, "they can't do that." Previously, most sci-fi monster movies resorted to having the actors in the foreground and animated monster in the background. Or split screen effect with the actors on one side, and the monster on the other. We'd finally come far enough with technology that composite shots like the one I saw were possible. I knew then the moviemaking would take a whole new direction.

Tonight, I saw moviemaking reached a new level. I went with my friend John to see Avatar at the eight o'clock show in IMAX 3-D. After the movie, as the crowd was clearing out, neither one of us could say word. We just sat there in astonishment. James Cameron has achieved a masterpiece. And I know that sounds trite, but only because the word "masterpiece" is insufficient to describe it. He has proven that it's now possible to show anything on screen that you can imagine.

James Cameron has created a world, not just some animated 3-D characters, or 3-D backgrounds. You fully believe this is a real world, populated by real people. There are real animals lurking behind every bush, and every thing you see on screen is alive.

Having seen it in IMAX 3-D, I heartily recommend that you don't see it any other way. If you opt for the cheaper tickets you're cheating yourself. Thankfully, Cameron had more sense than to waive the 3-D in our faces with gratuitous scenes of objects coming at you out of the screen. And because he doesn't, you naturally fall in step with the 3-D. It looks so normal, the way you experience ordinary reality. It is this understated use of the technology that makes it believable.

I can't say this strongly enough: Go See Avatar!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

First Impressions: MacSpeech Dictate

I got an early Christmas present this year, a copy of MacSpeech Dictate. I've been using the speech recognition provided by Apple with the Macintosh for years. Since Snow Leopard came out the speech recognition engine in MacOS X has been less than functional. I had wanted a copy of MacSpeech Dictate for quite some time. One of the main reasons that I thought it would be interesting to play with is that besides being able to dictate articles (like this one), I knew that the program was extensible using AppleScript.

I've already ported over two of my scripts to MacSpeech and they seem to be working fine. So far my only disappointment is that MacSpeech doesn't allow interaction verbally --- in other words the program will not query you beyond performing the action that this script allows. Using the built-in speech recognition provided by Apple, I was able to build scripts I could interact with by providing a list of possible phrases that I could give in response to particular question. However the ability to dictate far outweighs that lack of functionality.

Since the quality of speech recognition is entirely dependent on the input source MacSpeech smartly includes a noise canceling microphone with the software. (Star Trek fans will appreciate this -- as I was dictating this I flashed on the picture of Gary Seven dictating to his typewriter!) Personally I'm not a big fan of headset microphones especially those that cover only one ear since they're not any good to listen to music with so your single headphone is basically useless. I tried using the microphone built into my WebCam, but in calibrating the microphone MacSpeech had to wind up upping the gain all way to maximum and even then I still had to talk very loud to be understood. I may search for a desktop microphone of sufficient quality so that I don't have to wear the headset.

Since installing the software my Bluetooth keyboard sits mostly unused. A true testament to how usable MacSpeech is. The amount of training I had to do with the software was very short, in fact it stopped me before I was finished. The quality level of the resulting text is truly amazing. As I get more comfortable with the system, I am producing less and less mistakes that need to be corrected.

So far I'm very impressed. And very happy with the software. I would definitely recommend it to someone who's in the market for dictation software --- especially since I think it's the only one available for the Macintosh!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Beyond the rim of starlight...

The U.S.S. Enterprise sails though the stars once more! Finished the model last night, and I'm happy with the results. Given all the mishaps during the building process, it turned out rather well. See what you think.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Recovering from disaster (again)

After the last mishap, breaking the fuselage, was fixed, I managed to screw up again! Not having applied decals in a while, I managed to rip the ones on the fuselage pretty badly. I thought I would just live with it but decided I couldn't.
So I tried removing them so I could use the stickers in the kit. But the decals were dry and weren't going anywhere. Finally I gave in and painted over them.
Then I realized I had used the wrong set of decals in the first place!

So here is the starboard side with the correct decals gently applied. Oo-rah!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Damage (And Disaster) Avverted!

As you can see, I was able to keep the broken fuselage from ruining the model. Model Master Light Gray was able to hide the seam where I repaired the break.

All that remains is applying the decals, a clear coat, and mounting on the base.

I have the Klingon ship to work on next. Of course it doesn't use any of the same paint colors!!
-- Posted from my iPhone

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Painting And More Painting

Mostly just painting all the pieces the last two evenings. Useful items at this stage include hobby knife, tape (for masking areas off) Q-tips, tweezers, sandpaper (I use an emory board). Cups or dishes to mix paint come in handy. I like to use one for thinner, so I keep my bottle clean.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Day 1 - The Saucer Section

OK, I got started on the model building tonight. First thing, I had to go back to Hobby Lobby, since the paint list was not listed on the box, but on the instructions. Here's the list:
I gathered the paints, and realized that they were pushing $20, and that before I bought a brush. So instead I went with a generic set of paints, realizing I can always mix my own colors if I need to. Also, the $12.99 paint set included a brush and thinner. Beyond that I bought the metallic copper paint and the metallic red.
Here's the two halves of the saucer section. At this point, I've only attached lower clear dome and the upper ridge that leads back to the sublight engines:

Here's a close-up of the lower saucer. For a Snap-Tite model, it's fairly well detailed and accurate. My only quibble is (you can't see this) the lower saucer has the Paramount copyright information in ridged lettering. I'll have to sand it off.

Having done models of the Enterprise before, I know that the worst part of getting the saucer done is getting the halves to sit down flush with one another. To that end, I used a gadget that keeps computer cabling together that clamps onto the edge of a desk to clamp the most difficult part of the saucer together while it dries.

One point to note. The upper dome is clear also, but (stupidly) they opted to make the entire bridge section clear, meaning that you have to paint the lower section (without messing up the clear dome). I hate stupid moves like that, but what can you do? I did the best I could, going back to trim paint from the edges of the dome with my hobby knife until it looked (mostly) circular. Also, I think the bridge gray was a bit dark, but I've decided to live with it. For the running lights, I did the red one with a red marker and the green with green enamel diluted with thinner. This way they're still mostly clear.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Final Frontier

Of late I'm not so into programming. Not sure why this is so, but rather than drive myself crazy trying to code something I'm not into, I've decided to do some other things. For example, I recently bought a small MIDI controller keyboard to play with Garageband. Nothing worth sharing yet, but you never know.
Another thing that I've "resurrected" from my past is model-building. I used to really enjoy that when I was a kid and teenager. Here's an example of a previous endeavor, the Spirit of St. Louis:
So today while at Hobby Lobby for some lights for my pumpkin, I checked out their model section and was surprised to find kits of the U.S.S. Enterprise from the original Star Trek series. On further inspection, I realized that the kit could be used to construct several different versions of the ship, including the ship from the first pilot "The Menangerie," the second pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and the one used for the rest of the series. Parts and decals are included to also create the I.S.S. Enterprise from the mirror universe in "Mirror, Mirror." They also included decals for the U.S.S. Constitution, U.S.S. Exeter, and the U.S.S. Defiant. So with one kit you can actually make seven different versions of the ship!
Here's the box detail:

Here's some detail from the instructions illustrating the different versions of the ship:

And here's all the parts. They included stickers and decals, so little kids who aren't good at decals and use the stickers
I'll try to use my camera to track my progress building the model and post updates here as I go.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Shameful Display

Tonight, while watching the President's address to the joint session of Congress, I heard something I've never ever heard before. The President of the United States was called a liar from the floor of the House of Representatives.

Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted, "You lie!" as the President stressed that his proposed health plan would not cover illegal aliens.

I have never seen anyone interrupt any President while speaking to Congress, much less do so so rudely. While Rep. Wilson apologized soon after, this incident demonstrates how far away this country has gotten from civil discourse.

Unlike Craig Ferguson, I feel it is not a "good day for America."

-- Posted from my iPhone

Monday, August 24, 2009

Trying Out BlogPress

I'm trying out an iPhone app called BlogPress. This is my first post with it. I am getting better at typing with the iPhone keyboard. So far I like being able to post from the iPhone. We will see how often I do so.

-- Post From My iPhone

Saturday, August 22, 2009

iPhone Wins Another Convert

Folks that read this blog (both of you) know that I'm pretty much an Apple fanboy. Though I've been known to criticize them for stupid moves, I love their gadgets. I've owned Apple computers since my Apple //e back in the mid-80's, owned my first Mac in the early 90's and even owned a Newton (the handwriting recognition rocked, I don't care what you've heard). So it shouldn't surprise anyone to know that I've been drooling over the iPhone for the last 3 years.
Monday I finally gave into my geeky gadget lust. The story of that purchase is the stuff of another post. Suffice it to say it wasn't the easiest purchase I've ever made.
So I bought an iPhone 3GS, 16gb model, and after a week of using it, I have to say, I LOVE IT. This thing is everything the Newton was and more. The sheer volume of applications, many of them free, is astounding. The speed of loading web pages seems the same whether it's via 3G or Wi-Fi. The voice control works. It's a great iPod. It's a cool machine.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to Buy an iPhone - The Hard Way

OK, so I get this check from the government (stimulus money) and decide that I'm going to finally get an iPhone. How hard can that be, right? Harder than you might think.
First, I tried to buy one on Apple's site, but at the point where I chose a billing plan, the system said it couldn't process my request. OK, it's 3am, so maybe they're processing billing or something, right?

Next morning, I try again. Now it tells me that I have to pay $150 deposit (no credit history) and could I please come into the store to do that. Now, I live in Independence, MO, about 25 miles outside of Kansas City, and that means I have to drive all the way into town to the Apple Store.

Next, I know that Walmart is carrying the iPhone also, so I head to their website. They ask for my zip code to test for availability and then tell me that I can't use one in my zip code! What?!

Finally, I think, "There's an AT&T store over here across from the mall, I'll just go over there."
Turns out, they've got 4 people waiting before me, oh and by the way they only have the 32GB model ($100 more), "is that ok?" Well, I decide it's NOT ok, I'm on a limited budget. So I go back to the car. I'm sitting there and realize there's a Best Buy and they're carrying the iPhone, too, I've heard. So I go in there.

Best Buy's cell phone dept. has a nice young geek (not being mean, I'm a geek too), no business, so I plunk myself down in a chair and ask him if he's got any 16GB iPhones. He looks, says that he does, but all he has is black. Perfect, I tell him (I wouldn't be caught dead with white). He writes it up, is pleasant, and has me out of there in 20 minutes after activating the phone and making a point of telling me that I get 20% off iPhone stuff if I buy it with the phone, so I buy a slipcover and a new mic/earphone set for my dad's iPod Touch. In all, he spirits 277 bucks out of my wallet plus the $150 deposit. Good salesman. Brian Maupin @ the Independence Best Buy. If you're out that way, do yourself a favor and see him.

I've never been a huge fan of Best Buy (or Circuit City, when it was a real brick & mortar store) because they have a tendency to be high when it comes to hardware (compared to internet stores). But in this case, I needed someone who knew what he was doing and could sell it to me, and Brian was able to do that. Lately, I've wound up @ Best Buy more and more often. I think their people are stressing customer service more than most businesses, and unless that changes, I'll be shopping there.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Snow Leopard Upgrade Pre-Sale for Recent Buyers

Last week's big news was that was already taking pre-orders for Mac OS X 10.6, codenamed "Snow Leopard." In looking through the Apple site, I stumbled on some information I thought others might want to know.
Basically, if you bought/buy a Mac between June 8 2009 and December 26 2009, you're eligible for an upgrade to Snow Leopard for only $9.95. I ordered it for my new Mac mini, and wanted to alert any other new Mac purchasers that you can get Snow Leopard for 1/3 the price it will sell for.
I kind of hoped they had a program in place for new buyers, since they've often done this in the past. So I will get shipped a copy when they start shipping in September! :)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Olbermann Calls Out Folks In Congress Paid By Health Care Industry

Jaw-dropping. Last nite's "Special Comment" from Keith Olbermann, in which he calls out, by name, Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats who have accepted campaign contributions from heath industry interests. Amazing. Must-See TV!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

New Mac Mini!!!

OK, I've posted here as I change (read "upgrade") to newer Macs. This is the icing on the cake, though. New Mac Mini. Say it to yourself 3 times, slowly, sensuously. 2.0 ghz Core 2 Duo. 5 USB ports (I know!). Firewire 800. Superdrive. Mini DVI and Mini Display ports. All in a 2 inch x 6.5 inch x 6.5 inch box of love. Ooooooh.

Hate me yet? That's OK. I have the Mini, and you have your hate. Which of us is better off?

Seriously, this is one fine Mac. It's smaller than the original Mac, smaller than the G4 Cube. Whisper quiet (which I appreciate SO much after the wind tunnel that was the PM G4 MDD). I named this Mac Uniblab, after the robot on the Jetsons. My error sound is Uniblab saying "Back to work, back to work. Everyone work work work."

I really love the new iPhoto, with the face recognition. It's not perfect, but it does a good job of guessing who someone is. Bought iWork too, and an extra GB of memory, so the thing runs like the dickens. I really am happy with it and expect it will last me a good 5-10 years. Then I'll get whatever is hot then!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bing can't defend it's makers!?

Microsoft's new "decision engine," Bing, apparently hasn't drunk the Kool-Aid. If you ask it, "which is better pc or mac?" you'll get mostly responses that say the Mac is better. I tried switching the search terms to see if order was important, and got mostly the same output.
If you want to have some fun, ask it "is steve ballmer an idiot?" You'll be surprised at the responses!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Current Ralink Driver Solves PowerMac G4 Kernel Panics

I have two PowerMac G4's in our house, both dual 1ghz machines that work well.  But finding a decent 802.11g wireless adapter has been challenging.  I've bought two different ones, a Belkin MIMO USB wireless G+ adapter and an Addlogix MA-WL USB adapter.  Both were advertised as Mac compatible, came with their own install disks, and both drivers caused kernel panics in both Macs.  What to do?
Doing some research, I realized that both adapters use the Ralink chipset.  After some trial and error, I found that this driver works for both of the adapters and stopped the kernel panics.  Be sure to uninstall the driver that came with the adapter(s) before installing this new version.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why Apple Might Be Screwed (or Why Psystar May Have A Case)

Anyone who knows me (or this blog) knows I'm a "dyed-in-the-wool" Apple fan.  Yes, I drank the Kool-Aid, it didn't kill me, and I actually LIKE grape Kool-Aid.
That being said, I've been thinking on the Psystar v. Apple case and wonder if they might not have a real case.  Yes, I realize that Apple doesn't sell hardware without an OS, that they sell "systems" of hardware combined with the OS to "make it go."  But they DO sell the OS by itself, without any hardware.
But...does anyone remember back in the 90's when Microsoft released Windows 98?  And they said that they Internet Explorer browser was "part of the OS" and couldn't be removed without damaging the OS?  There were legal challenges both here and in Europe.  Microsoft was forced to open it's API to third party developers.
And recently, in Europe, Microsoft was forced to provide Windows without bundling Windows Media Player.
So, Apple's "bundled system" argument may not fly, the EULA not withstanding.  I've always thought that, as users, we should try to break the EULA stranglehold anyway.  Once I buy an OS or other piece of software, what business is it of the manufacturer what I do with it?  As long as I know that I'm using it in an unapproved way, and don't sue them if it destroys my system or data, who cares?
I'm anxious for the real arguments to begin in the case, and settle this once and for all.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Battlestar Galactica

Just finished watching the series finale of "Battlestar Galactica" and I have to say, "Fantastic!"  No, wait, that should be, "Fan-frakin'-tastic!"  It summed up all the plot points (I didn't think they could), was faithful to the characters, and echoed the best part of the original series.  All in all, it was a very satisfying finish to the best science fiction show ever put on the air.
That being said, here's my favorite parts of the final show:
  • We got to see some original Cylons from the first series mixed in with the new ones.
  • They stayed faithful to the death and resurrection of Starbuck.
  • They tied modern religion into the story, which sci-fi often forgets (often on purpose).
  • It explained the Number Six that Baltar kept seeing.
  • Brother Cavill killed himself (YAY!).
  • Laura died peacefully.
  • Tori finally paid for what she did to Calley.
  • The Opera House dream finally made sense.
And if you pay attention, there's a scene at the very end with Ronald Moore reading a magazine.  Very well done on everyone's part.  "So say we all!"

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Leopard Has Some Sharp Claws!

Though I never posted anything when it happened, I've stepped up to a new (to me) PowerMac G4 with dual 1ghz processors. It's orders of magnitude faster than my old 466mhz PM, and today I brought the new machine into the 21st century with a copy of Mac OS X Leopard.

First impressions are that Leopard is very snazzy and has a lot of features that I have wished for (including Time Machine and Spaces). Only one glitch, which was that Leopard's version of Mail choked on my old Mail settings and it looked like all my emails were gone. I had to remove all the non-folder items from ~/Library/Mail and then re-launch Mail and it suddenly figured things out and rebuilt all the mbox files. Since I had some pretty elaborate mail rules, I saved that file on the desktop and then put it back into the Mail folder. After re-opening Mail my rules were all back, safe and sound!
How cool is Time Machine? Once it does a full backup, it continues to do hourly backups as you work. And the interface for TM is outrageously cool.

I also have to say that the whole system seems more responsive, even with a TM backup running. Windows zip into place when you switch desktops with Spaces, the Dock doesn't seem to lag like it did in Tiger when something was going on in the background. And the design of all the windows is finally consistent!  Hallelujah! 

All around I'd say that what I spent on Leopard was worth it.