The Invisible

Portland’s next big thing?

My band, transPacific, played a gig with Invisible from Portland, OR last week and I was pretty impressed. They have an excellent self produced set of videos that their songs are synchronized to. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill sync either, this is beat-break-beat kind of sync. They have a cute trick to making that work that I won’t give away, but lets just say that it is very effective. Of course, that wouldn’t be enough to woo me to any band if it wasn’t for the fact that their music is very good as well. They’ll be touring next year and I would highly recommend anyone go check them out who is into the whole post-rock/shoegazer kind of thing.

A not very radical proposal

I’ve got an easy idea to build troop morale in Iraq.

George Bush is going on vacation again. I can understand, since it takes so much energy to mismanage a country and cheat an electorate. Meanwhile, our troops overseas are having their tours of duty extended and being sent back repeatedly with only a few weeks or months break between fighting for their lives without proper equipment. Their leader, Donald Rumsfeld nearly mocked them to their faces as one soldier expressed the honest wish of having enough equipment so that he could make it home safe. The White House continues to pump old Rummy and keep him around since his leadership has obviously been so successful.

So, George, here’s a little tip from someone who has seen leaders try to boost morale many, many times. How about promising not to take a vacation until you’ve actually been working as long as the longest tour of duty of a soldier in Iraq? Better yet, how about not taking a vacation until the war in Iraq is over? It’s not like you work on an oil derrick, you aren’t living a very hard life, maybe you should try actually working for the people who hired you for a change?

Philips GoGear Camcorder Review

I got this device which I mentioned previously on this blog for Chanukah, here is my review

My wife got the many, many hints I dropped about the Philips GoGear Key019 Camcorder and got my one for Chanukah. She rules. Here is my review.

the camcorderThis is a pretty cool device as long as you know exactly why you are getting it. This is not a digital camera replacement, nor is it a video camera replacement. If you have a video or camera equipped cell phone, you may not need it. This is a perfect tweener device. Extremely small and portable it is made to be carried around and take those shapshots or quickie videos (WITH SOUND!) that you always mean to take but never have your camera or video camera around for. It makes it perfect for me (see earlier post). It’s small, it feels well made and solid. It is simple to use.

CAMERA MODE

Here are some sample snapshots I took under various conditions. These are all sampled down to fit decently. The camera claims to take 2 mega-pixel images, I think that it is probably more like 1 mega-pixel interpolated, but I’m not sure. I took some shots on a cloudy day and on a sunny day.

Cloudy day pictures:

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Sunny Day pictures:

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Here was a picture I tried to take in a mirror of the camera this was a moderately lit room, but you can see that the camera doesn’t have a macro setting

pict0017.jpgHere is my wife by lamp light (60 watt)

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As you can see, you need some pretty bright light to take a decent photo. This isn’t too unexpected given that the lens is TINY. The camera works well in well lit situations: sunny days, well-lit rooms, etc… In lower light it gets pretty hard to take a sharp photo of any object. I don’t expect a flash in this form factor and I don’t expect these low light situations to work that great either so that isn’t a major negative in my book.

LITTLE ASIDE

I do have a few specific complaints. One is that the unit doesn’t come with a carrying case. Given that the lens is exposed this is a serious flaw. You don’t want to carry this in your pocket with your keys unless you’ve got something covering the lens. My second complaint is that while it has a microphone and can record audio, there is no audio-only record mode. Given that this is also an MP3 player, that doesn’t make any sense to me. If there is a second generation of this device I would expect that to be rectified.

Now that my complaints are out of the way, there are some things I really like about it. It is small, not as small I thought it would be, but very small, easily carried with you wherever you go. It has a lithium ion battery so that you don’t have to worry about fully discharging it. Additionally, it comes with an extra external battery pack that uses AA batteries, so that if you run out of battery but have some extra memory to use, you can pick up some AAs and keep going before you head back to your computer. The interface is simple and surprisingly featured given its diminutive form factor. There are two modes, recording and playing. When the remote is plugged into the jack, you are in playback mode. Here you can listen to your MP3s and view recorded pictures and videos in its tiny video screen. You can delete individual shots or videos to free up memory if you don’t like them. Without the remote you are in record mode. In record mode if you switch to the MP3 switch you turn the device off, but the other switches are for letting you take a photo or video. Another plus is that while the Camera doesn’t acknowledge OSX as an operating system, I plugged it into my mac and iPhoto recognized the device and grabbed the photos no problem. It’s on the side of my laptop charging as I type. The videos are encoded as Windows-only MPEG4 (Windows Media ASF format) which is a bit of bummer rather than using quicktime which would make the device completely OSX compatible.

MP3 MODE

this keyring line that philips make are mostly MP3 players so it isn’t too surprising that this version has an MP3 player too, but I think it isn’t really that useful given that there is only 128 MB to share between your video, photos and MP3s. I’ve already got two MP3 players so I’m not gonna use this for that. Sorry…

VIDEO MODE

The device writes out its files as MPEG-4 ASF windows files which means that if you want to do anything with your files except play them in Windows Media player, you’ll need to download some shareware converters.

Below is a short clip of two shots I recorded of the same bridge, one on a cloudy day and one on a sunny day. They are short because I decided to have them at the highest resolution I could which meant a big file which meant that I had to keep it short. These were converted from ASF to AVI with a shareware tool and then edited in Premiere Pro 1.5 and exported to a Quicktime MOV with the lowest compression I felt ok with. It won’t give you the exact idea of the quality, but it is pretty close. The titles were obviously added later.

The camcorder works pretty well and I’m actually happy with the video quality given the enormous compression going on. The audio quality isn’t so hot, but the microphone is a tiny dot on the front on the device and I’m sure that they sacrificed the audio quality to get the file sizes down.

CONCLUSIONS

At this price point and feature set this is a device that is not long for this world. From above, high quality digital cameras are getting cheaper and smaller and most of them take some kind of movies now too. From below, cell phones are increasingly incorporating cameras and video recording and they’ve had MP3 playback for a while. But, if you want a tiny device that you can always carry with you to document this weirdness of the world and you don’t want to wait for the technology curve to hit your ideal device this is a pretty awesome little thingy. There are some good user reviews on Amazon now.

George Bush doesn’t care about you

Just heard about yet another website soliciting donations to equip our troops in Iraq. Now how bullshit is it that tax paying citizens need to directly buy equipment for an unjust war to protect our soldiers while Haliburton is taking in record profits?

Cheers to that soldier who stood up to Donald Rumsfeld in public forum, even if he was prompted by a reporter looking for a good story. It took serious guts and I’m betting that he’s paying for it. The US Government is treating the military like crap. It is so obvious that we are ruled by a bunch of chicken hawks who have no idea what being in a war is all about. If they did, we wouldn’t be in Iraq now. Given that we are in Iraq, the fact that a private citizen has raised $200,000 to supply snipers with Binoculars and Body Armor is great, but also insane. Why the fuck are we sending snipers into Iraq without binoculars and body armor in the first place? The reason is that George Bush doesn’t care about our troops. Our troops which are made up large numbers of minorities and urban poor. George Bush doesn’t care about poor people. If George Bush did care about poor people, he’d be spending more money on education instead of cutting it, he’d be spending more on non-religious charitable organizations, and he certainly wouldn’t be cutting taxes on the people who make the most money. All this time, Haliburton and the myriad of other private companies who are doing most of the support work for our troops INCLUDING PROCUREMENT are making tons of money. These are the people George Bush cares about. Hell, most of these CEOs are personal buddies of his who donated large sums to his campaign.

It’s time the remaining Democrats get off their asses and start making this stuff public. Enough appeasement of the right. We’re in a constitutional crisis here.

Milwaukee’s finest!

A leetle bit about Couch Flambeau

So, I was home for thanksgiving talking to my sister and something she said reminded me of this great band I used to listen to called Couch Flambeau. They were a great punk band in the funny punk vein like The Dead Milkmen. She had two of their albums. I spent a long time trying to convince her to loan me the albums so I could make CDs of them since I didn’t have my own copies. She didn’t want to let their rare gems out her mitts and finally I gave up. I knew that if I had to wait for her to make CDs of them, it would be another 15 years before I heard them again. When I got back to the hotel, on a whim, I went to CouchFlambeau.com, fully expecting a dead link. What did I find? Not only are they still together and doing shows, but they just re-mastered their Vinyl for CD! As a bonus, their CDs were available through CDBaby which is my favorite independent music outlet on the net. I immediately ordered the discs and I’m happy to report that even after many, many years they are still awesome. The collection, “I Did a Power Slide in the Taco Stand” is worth the $13 for the song “We’ll go through the windshield together” alone!

Posted: Fri – December 10, 2004 at 06:45 PM

Happy Chanukah!

It’s that time of year, the time for sorting through piles of red and green crap to get to the two blue and white things on the bottom of the pile.

It’s tough to be a Jew in December. It’s got to be a lot tougher if you celebrate Kwanzaa or don’t celebrate during this time of the season at all. There is some American assumption that everyone celebrates Christmas. If you don’t, you are some kind of outcast. Try looking for a Menorah this time of year, if you live in an area with a decent sized Jewish population (ie: a major city), you’ll have a few choices. You’ll have a lot easier time buying poinsettias or other less popular xmas crap. Chanukah is a fairly minor holiday, but it is the only one that non-Jews have ever heard of. It is just messed up.

I have a lot more to say about this, but I gotta get home to light the candles! This time of year I get especially grouchy about this subject, so I’ll probably end up posting about this again.

Happy Chanukah to everyone who celebrates it, an early happy Kwanzaa, Greek Orthodox Christmas and winter solstice to the rest of y’all!

Whatever happened to SGI

Wirednews has a nice article on the decline and once worship of SGI

I just saw this article on SGI on wirednews.com. SGI was my first job after college and so I’ll always have a bit of a soft spot for them. At the time working at SGI was like being a rock star. It was the early days of computer graphics really becoming a big deal in movies and SGI’s marketing was so good that most people thought that we had done Jurassic Park or Terminator 2.

Alaska Airlines sucks

Railing against the modern travel industry where the customer comes last.

If you’ve flown on an airplane in the last few years, nothing I say will come as a shock. Consider it yet another rant from an Andy Rooney wanna-be.

So, I haven’t posted anything to the blog in the last week. This is because I was on vacation to my home town of Chicago. Sure, I had my laptop and an internet connection, but I didn’t really feel like Blogging… until last night when we flew home.

Now, this is maybe my third or fourth plane trip this year, but mostly I’ve been flying for business which means I’m on partly or mostly empty planes. It was on the return trip from Chicago that made me realize how little Alaska Airlines cares for their customers. Now, I’d boycotted them for a while over those stupid new testament prayer cards they were handing out, but then they’d discontinued them and I started flying Alaska again. It turns out that it wasn’t that they’d discontinued them, but I just hadn’t been on a flight with a meal in a very long time. So sitting on my tray with the truly crappiest food I’ve ever had was a little message from the evangelical assholes at Alaska Airlines. Additionally, they are now doing their digi-players instead of an in-flight movie. At first I thought that it was kinda cool, the movies were usually bad anyway and I didn’t like having them going in my peripheral vision as I read or whatever. Then I found out that they are now charging $15 to rent them! I thought that the $4-5 headphone rental of the old days was bullshit. How’d you like to have to rent three of these things for the family?

The seats on Alaska are smaller then they were before and they are more rows than there used to be. On the flight out, I got stuck between two other guys. Neither was very large, pretty much normal sized adult males. Yet the three of us were literally shoulder to shoulder the entire trip. Even if the person in front of me hadn’t lean back, I needed to be yoga master to reach my bag under the seat in front of me. On the way back, I was much luckier in my row-mates, but the person in front of me leaned their seat back the second they were able and left it that way for the entire flight. Now, it is their right to lean their seat back, but it made the flight nearly impossible. I couldn’t see my book if it was on my tray table. I had to rest it on the top of their chair, which I’m sure wasn’t any joy for them. I found myself hating that person’s guts and the person behind me who kept pulling on my chair to get to their stuff. It wasn’t either of their faults that Alaska was trying to wring every dollar they could out of their customers.

I’m really surprised that we aren’t hearing about a lot more fights breaking out on planes. Between the new security rules on the ground and in the air and airlines trying to fit as many people onto a plane as they can everyone around me looked as miserable and pissed off as I was. While I had a great time in Chicago, the plane ride alone made me question how soon I want to fly again, if ever.

Why you should care about H1-B visas

If you’ve heard about them, but haven’t given them much thought, I give a trench level view of why H1-B visas are bad for everyone involved (except corporate management)

Congress is trying to raise the cap on H1-B visas again. This is very bad and shows how the government is losing touch or just doesn’t care about their constituents.

What is an H1-B visa? It’s a mechanism by which a company can bring in a skilled foreign worker to fill a position that they can’t fill using an American worker. It was very popular in the tech industry during the boom of the 90s when almost 200,000 H1-B visas were granted per year. The visa lasts for 6 years. Having worked with many recipients of this visa, I can give some ground-level reasons why this bad for both US workers and foreign workers as well.

For foreign workers, they are essentially tied to a company for 6 years. If the company goes out of business, they are deported. If they are fired, they are deported. This essentially makes them indentured servants for the life of their visas. It is possible for them to switch to another company, but it requires a lot of effort on all parts and is extremely difficult. Additionally, H1-B visa holders are paid a lot less than their US counterparts. If a US citizen is being underpaid for their work, they can try to find a new job. The H1-B visa holder is not nearly so lucky.

For US workers, they have downward pressure on their salaries given that they can be replaced by H1-B visa holders. Additionally, since H1-B visa holders are tied to their companies, a company might choose to fill a position with an H1-B holder, rather than a US citizen who can quit if they are being mistreated. There are thousands upon thousands of skilled US workers who are currently unemployed. Recent years have seen the highest numbers of unemployed technology people in history and yet tech companies are pushing the government to raise the H1-B quotas. It certainly isn’t because they can’t find the workers.

Many H1-B visa holders become US citizens or make the US their home permanently. This is good for the US certainly. However, many return to their home countries with US corporate training making their home countries more competitive with the US which is not good for US companies long term.

Here’s a related article on usatoday.