Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The fine art of calligraphy

I've always enjoyed typography. It's been something I've been enamored with since I was a teen. There's something about the order placed on the chaotic curves and strokes of our alphabet that I find attractive.

Recently, I took a beginner's calligraphy course. Although it's admittedly tedious work, I don't know the last time I enjoyed a class this much! Getting to not only learn the strokes, but being able to actually create beautiful letter-forms on my own was truly exciting! My years of looking at typefaces and trying to eke out what pen strokes were needed to create it were finally validated. I got to see first-hand how it all worked together.

The knowledge I've gained has inspired me to work harder on my lettering and learn new scripts and, of course, share this joy with others (get ready for fancy birthday cards, everybody!).

There are few better feelings than the feeling of learning about something you love. I would highly recommend finding a community education course that excites you. You never know what sort of wonderful experiences you might have.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Oh that's what he meant! Stars above!"

Last night Debra and I took a rambling road trip up north to try to see The Perseids. After about 45 minutes of trying to find nowhere, I finally pulled off onto the side roads and found a nice dirt driveway to park in. We only spotted two meteors, but there was just so much more to the evening than flaming bits of rock.

In my effort to find a dark location relatively close to downtown, I started taking a critical look at what is known as "light pollution." Sure, I'd seen abnormally bright patches of night sky near sports fields before, and I understand what light pollution is, but it's never really seemed like problem. However, attempting to really see all that can be seen in the night sky suddenly becomes a problem when every couple of miles there's another town, another overly-bright gas station, more billboards, more and more civilization. Making the trip really gave me a reason to appreciate the stars we did manage to see.

And what seeing we did. Even knowing that there was so much to the sky that we were missing, there's something really magical about all the little points of light hanging up there in the blue-black sky. It's easy to get lost in the stars just taking a peek upwards. Staring off into the depths of space is something most city dwellers, and even most suburb dwellers don't get to do very often.

I encourage everyone to go out and appreciate the vast wonders of our night sky. You might suddenly feel a little connection to the grand stories from eons ago. I know I did.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Striking a busy balance

For a long time, I've wanted to have a schedule that was filled with fun things to do. I always envied people who seemed to know all these exciting people, and had exciting events to go to.

Recently, I've become (to a certain, nerdy degree) one of those people. I've got a great group of friends, and I'm keeping myself involved in the local art community. I love going to gallery openings and trying new restaurants with friends. It's pretty much all it's cracked up to be.

Until, like the mighty bamboo, things start overgrowing the boundaries of my calendar. Suddenly, I've got a friend's birthday, and a trip, and an event, and it's all at the same time. And being able to plan a weekend? I'm booked for months.

I know a balance must be struck, but I enjoy all the individual events. What is a busy boy to do?

I call upon the blagonet! Tell me, what do you do when life gets too exciting to do everything?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I keep forgetting I'm living in the future

I love to keep up with tech news, and one of the most exciting things about it is reading all of the up-coming release dates for fun, new products. However, recently I've been finding that the release dates seem very far off in the future. Years off. And then I realize that the year 2010 is next year. Heck, it's only a few months away.

I think I need a sign at the foot of my bed that tells me I'm living in the future, so every morning I'll remember.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Quiet Riot crossover post

For those who actually read my other blog, this will seem a bit familiar.

I was recently given a wonderful gift. A gift of music. Specifically Quiet Riot's album: Metal Health. I'll be honest here: I wasn't as impressed as I had hoped, upon my first listen. Sure, who can resist the album's two hit singles, "Metal Health" and "Cum On Feel The Noize"? But the rest of the album just felt either a little soft or a little hokey or both.

Well, it's weeks later, and I still can't stop listening. I've entirely fallen in love with the album. I don't have a good explanation for my change in feelings, but it is what it is. If you like classic 80's metal, and you haven't given Quiet Riot a chance yet, I strongly urge you to pick up Metal Health and bang your head.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Skulls and birds and guitars, oh my!

A few months ago, my buddy over at St Awesome came up with a frightfully accurate portrayal of Target men's t-shirts. His theory was that nearly every shirt contained at least a skull, bird, or guitar. For a while, it was a fun game to play when visiting Target; there was a plethora of shirts that fit the description. Now, times are a'changin'.

Taking a look at Target's current line-up, I'd have to say trees are starting to become the new guitar. They both have similar shapes, so it seems a logical step.

I wonder if they have the missing link t-shirt: a tree in the shape of a guitar!

Friday, May 29, 2009

The age of the fleeting standard

Recently, the HDMI Founders group released HDMI 1.4. For those of you who are not familiar with what HDMI is, it's a specification for connecting A/V devices. In fact, that's what makes it special: it's a single cable that can transport both audio and video at the same time. In theory, this is a wonderful new thing, but there's information unsaid so far that might color this rosy picture.

To fully grasp why I have such issues with this new spec, let's travel back in time a bit. Right now, we're in the 1940s. A company called RCA has introduced a fancy new connector call the phono plug. It's a neat way to connect your phonograph to your amplifier. One, simple, sturdy, cable. All it does it transport a single audio channel.

Now, let's hop on over a few years to when stereo records became popular. The little cable that was so elegant in design is now doubled, and we have one for left and one for right. That's it.

A few decades later, we hit the end of the 1970s. Suddenly, there's a reason to upgrade your audio equipment and video equipment. The laserdisc has brought 5.1 surround sound to the home, and composite video has enabled people to connect video devices without all the static and fuss that came from the RF (radio frequency) connector. But not to worry, your collection of phono plug cables still works. That simple cable is used for everything you want to connect. Even when digital audio is introduced in the 1980s, that same cable can be used to transport that too.

It's not until the end of the 1980s that we see a new type of cable: the mini-DIN, or s-video cable. It provides a cleaner picture over the composite video that was being sent over our phono plug. Due to the nature of TV technology at the time, most people didn't bother with the new-fangled connector until the mid to late 1990s, and by then a new video standard was created called component video, that used, you guessed it: the phono plug!

Let's pause here in time. By the mid 1990s a home A/V setup could have 9 phono plugs between A/V devices. 6 for 5.1 surround and 3 for component video. Gosh, it's great that we can reuse that little connector, but it's a rat's nest back there! Let's reduce the clutter by replacing our 5.1 analog with some crisp, clean digital surround sound, using either a single phono plug, or a fancy fiber-optic cable.

Digital is great, but now it seems that some of my components use coax (the phono plug) and some use TosLink (the fiber optical), despite both being the same digital signal. Now I've got to make sure all my components talk with the same standards.

This setup was great for about 10 years. Then a great, new technology came to us: HDTV. High Definition. Thankfully, our good, old phono plug cables are here; we can use them to get nearly pixel perfect HDTV. But digital is perfect, and we only want one cable, not three.

So in 2003 the HDMI specification was born. A standard that could be used to connect your A/V equipment together using just one, thin, little cable. But it was only version 1.0.

One year later, they released version 1.1. This time you could have more types of audio over the cable. We've gone from a new standard every decade or so, to an update every year. Thankfully, we only need to upgrade our TV, receiver, and Blu-Ray player to get the new features, we can keep our old HDMI cable.

Now, in 2009, after 8 revisions on the "standard" (including 1.3b1), they've released version 1.4. Except this time, after we buy a new TV, receiver, and Blu-Ray player, we need to buy a new HDMI cable. But which one?

Wait: multiple cables? But I thought HDMI was supposed to be the end-all-be-all of standards? Where before we had a single cable that could do 1080p/60 (that's 1080 lines of a progressively scanned image at 60 frames per second) and DTS-HD Master Audio (that's 7.1 channel audio that sounds just like your local multiplex), we now have 5 different cables that all support different things.

The HDMI Founders group has now given us:
  • Standard HDMI Cable – supports data rates up to 1080i/60;
  • High Speed HDMI Cable – supports data rates beyond 1080p, including Deep Color and all 3D formats of the new 1.4 specification;
  • Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet – includes Ethernet connectivity;
  • High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet – includes Ethernet connectivity;
  • Automotive HDMI Cable – allows the connection of external HDMI-enabled devices to an in-vehicle HDMI device.
The above is taken from here.

I'll ignore the automotive standard for this discussion, but let's focus on why the other four cables are a problem. The biggest issue here is instead of giving the consumer more, they're effectively hurting the consumer by giving manufactureres the option of only providing support for connecting the "standard" HDMI cable v1.4. If the press is to be believed, they've cut off the maximum video output at 1080i/60 (this means there are 1080 interlaced lines to the image, which is not as good as progressive), where as before we had 1080p/60. To continue to get your 1080p/60 fix, you need to ensure everything supports HDMI 1.4 "High Speed." Which brings me to the next problem, if we need a new cable as it is, just always give us Ethernet too. The cost of manufacturing the highest end cable is negligable. If the consumer chooses to buy a lower-end receiver now, that consumer shouldn't have to worry about replacing anything but the receiver later. But this way they not only buy a new receiver, but new cables too, all in the name of HDMI.

Why have we gone from a new interconnect every 10 or more years, to effectively a new one every year? Part of it has to do with the rapid pace of technology, but part of it - and I feel the driving force behind the HDMI Founders group's decision - is greed. HDMI Founders gets a licensing fee for each cable that is produced. What better way to increase revenue than by multiplying that license 5 times? Consumers may never have the luxury of buying a home theater setup that stays fresh for 10 years ever again, but they don't need anyone making it any more difficult.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My childhood gaming experience

I'm not usually one to post other people's work and call it a day, but this Penny Arcade strip really sums up being on the Sega side of the console wars back in the day. Except I've played Punch Out.

Note: I don't know what Penny Arcade's policies are on image leaching like this, so if you represent them and would like me to kill this, please contact me, I would be happy to comply with your wishes.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Why we should all keep the mix tape alive

If you're a product of the 80's or even most of the 90's you should be familiar with the concept of the mix tape. But for those who are unfamiliar, a quick rundown: a mix tape is an audio cassette filled with music from a variety of artists chosen by the mix tape maker for the mix tape listener.

As we've abandoned the audio cassette for the CD and now the CD for the mp3, we've started to lose the wonderful benefit of the mix tape. It's a way of introducing someone else to new music that you like. I'm sure some of you out there are thinking "this is what Pandora is for," but you'd be wrong.

The mix tape has a unique property. Things like Pandora try to find you new music that you like, but it's based on music you already know you like. The mix tape is hand-picked by someone else with no guarantee that the intent is to bring you music you like. They can often be filled with music you just don't care for, but that's the beauty! Say you give it a listen and you find yourself annoyed by the music, but then you think, "golly, my friend couldn't have that poor taste in music, I'll try it again." Perhaps this time you find yourself nodding your head to a couple of songs. Intrigued, you give it another listen. And another. And eventually you've realized that you like some of the music.

So now you think, "hey, if I like their music, maybe they'll like mine!" Now you get the wonderful chance to do something different with your music. Instead of just putting on any old album, or letting your computer shuffle things for you, you're now an active participant in your music collection. Now you're going over all of your tracks searching, listening, thinking, trying to find the perfect match. When you're done not only have you created a great new mix for your friend, but you've taken the time to appreciate the music you've got.

When all is said and done, two people have not only introduced each other to new music, but they've re-introduced themselves to their own music.

Whether it's on a cassette, CD, or flash drive, give a mix tape to a friend, and keep alive this wonderful experience.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Myth Understood

Here's a great myth: only old people don't understand computers.

Everyone talks about how young people just "get" computers and old people are sooo clueless. Well, guess what: young people have just as much trouble getting around their computers. It's all a matter of self-involvement. I've worked with people younger than I, people who grew up in this fancy computer age, who can't seem to grasp how copy and paste work.

If my 80 year-old aunt can learn the very basics of Windows (yes, we bought her her first computer at 80, what?), it's possible there are 10 year olds waking around not knowing that there's other ways to get places on the internet than through their home page search box.

Don't blindly discriminate. This has been a public service announcement from your local guy-who-keeps-an-online-journal.

Note: this entry was originally written 4/25/08, but sat around in my Drafts for over a year.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Beating the digital music stores

Although I'm a fan of technology, for some reason I've never embraced purchasing digital music downloads. There's something I love about having the CD that is exciting to me. But since nearly everyone I know has started buying music on-line (especially from the iTMS), I've started having a contest with myself: can I beat the iTMS pricing?

If we assume that each song is worth $1 and each full album is worth $10, an album with 2 hit singles on it needs to be $2 or less, or if I buy an album for $10, I should love every song on it. This makes buying new CDs very exciting. Some people like to bargain hunt for shoes, I do it for music.

I've found there are some very good benefits to buying music the way I do.
  1. I'm not spending more money than my friends would on the same music.
  2. I don't buy willy-nilly because most CDs are too expensive under my rules.
  3. There's the chance I'll like more songs than I expected on an album, making my purchase a virtual profit.
  4. Despite the progress made on iTMS, CDs still give you lossless tracks, full album art, and credits.
  5. When my mp3 player runs out of batteries, I can pop in a CD and still enjoy my music.
  6. If a friend wants to borrow an album, I can grab the CD and lend it to them without having to turn on my computer, or transfer files, or anything.
  7. If my digtial copy gets corrupted, I've got a lossless backup.
  8. I never have to worry if my files are in the right format for a certain player, or in any other format at all.
Although I know the RIAA would frown heavily on my purchasing used CDs and then ripping them to mp3s, I'd like them to know I do break my rules sometimes and buy new, full-priced albums. I'm willing to spend full price on a new CD at a concert. Great musicians should be rewarded for their hard work, and I feel that buying a ticket to their show and buying merchandice when you're there is the best thing you can do for them. Even if you go to their show and download the songs on your iPhone as they are played at the concert, at the end of the night, you're still paying a third party for their music, and you still can't have the band sign the cover.

A note: I'm sorry for singling out Apple, but they are currently the dominant venue for digital music downloads and music players. The same thoughts and rules apply to all digital music stores.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Food photography is hard, hand-held food photography is impossible

During a very delicious dinner recently, I decided to try my hand at food photography. I'd heard it is very difficult to do, especially as a professional with hot lights. It seems that once you get a pleasing looking composition, then your food is reflecting light in an unpleasing way. Despite this challenge, I decided to do it anyhow, because practice is always good, right? Well, I didn't have my tripod on me so I had to do the shots hand-held.

Hand-held indoor photography is also a difficult task due to generally poor lighting, and the combination of trying to get the food to look good and to keep my hands from shaking too much, I only ended up with one sorta okay photo out of about 12. Above you can see the final result.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Recipes for the lazy or: Magic Shell is a ripoff

Here's how to make your own Magic Shell chocolate ice cream topper and chocolate fruit shell:
Ingredients: chocolate chips.

Take a small pot, fill half with water.
When water boils, place glass mixing bowl on top.
Drop a few chocolate chips into bowl.
When chips start to melt, start stirring with spatula.
Continue to stir and drop chips in until you've got a nice sized pool o' chocolate.
Use liquid chocolate to cover fruit, ice cream, or whatever.
Never buy Magic Shell again.

It's almost embarrassingly easy to do. The best bit is you can use your favorite chocolate, not just whatever Smucker's wants to give you (no offense to Smuckers, please don't sue me).

So guys: impress your next date by looking like you can cook! Just don't try to cover your date in chocolate, unless she's into 2nd degree burns.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


WTFicide: when something breaks due to unexpected input. My open source word processor committed WTFicide when I tried to load a new Word document.

Coined by "Baeocystin" of Ars Technica.