Apr 302010
 

Sony announced today that as of March, 2011, they will no longer produce 3-1/2 inch floppy disks.  I seriously cannot remember the last time I used a floppy disk.  I seem to recall people here and there trying to give me a document on one a couple of times over the last four or five years, and I always remember looking at them with bewilderment.  I’m not going to miss it, that’s for sure.  I wonder if I even have one in a box in the house anywhere.  Attic?  Garage???  Good riddance.

By the way, is it just me, or does Windows decide on its own when it wants USB devices and slots to be 2.0 or 1.1?  About half the time when I stick my thumb drive in, I get the friendly Windows “suggestion” that my device could perform faster if I plugged it into a 2.0 slot.  **Sigh.**

Apr 302010
 

Do you rip your movies to your hard drive?  I have a five-year-old daughter and we own about half of the Disney collection.  Some old and some new.  Most are on DVD, but we have started getting some on blu-ray.  One thing that I learned a little over a year ago was that it sucked looking for the movie that my daughter said she wanted to watch (what?  You put all of your movies back in the case as soon as you are done watching them and then put the movie back where it belongs? Riiiight…)  Furthermore, those DVDs and Blu-rays can get scratched, and we have ruined a couple of discs by them getting damaged one way or another.  Fortunately about that time, home theater personal computers, or HTPCs were becoming really popular.  Now, I have actually had an HTPC for about six years.  That’s a little longer than my daughter is old.  Yeah, I love HTPCs and the convenience they provide.  I have my music collection on there, many of my photos, and my daughter’s movies.  Using Windows Media Center, I can listen to that music, look at those pictures, and watch all of those movies.  And I don’t have to get out of my couch.  I can display a menu on the TV that shows cover art and posters from all the movies in the collection so my daughter can point to the movie she wants to watch.  I just click on the movie she chooses and it starts to play.  What could be simpler?  But that’s another post, so I will leave that for another day.

In order to be able to watch my movies in this fashion, I have to rip my movies from their physical medium to my HTPC hard drive.  By the way, “rip” means “copy” here.  It’s not like ripping a page out of a book.  No, it’s more like photocopying a page from a book. But we call it ripping.  If you search for “rip dvd” or “rip blu ray”, you will get thousands of software solutions to help you with this.  I personally use a program called DVD Fab 6, but this past week when I went to rip my first blu-ray movie (Ratatouille), I had to look for something new to help me.  DVD Fab says it can rip blu-rays, and it looked like it was ripping the movie correctly, but there was no sound at all from the saved AVI when it was done.  So I looked around for another program to see if it would work better for me, and I came across AVS Video Converter 6.4.  And this is where it gets interesting.  According to their documentation, all you have to do when ripping a blu-ray is select the index.bdmv file on the disc as the source, and that should automatically bring the entire movie along with it.  Well, that didn’t work for me.  Next, i tried selecting the individual m2ts files in the stream folder.  But then the movie was out of order.  It wasn’t looking promising for this program either.  I was actually beginning to think that ripping blu-rays was still not quite ready for prime time, which was disappointing because the only copy of Ratatouille I had was on blu-ray.  Finally, I had an idea.  What if it wasn’t the software, or my processing, but instead, what if it was something unique about the Ratatouille disc?  I did some searching and what do you know?  I happened to pick what is probably the hardest disc in the American movie collection to rip as my first disc.  It turns out that Ratatouille is a “Seemless branching disc” and also has multiple viewing angles.  I found a web page that actually listed the correct order for the Ratatouille m2ts chapters, put them in that order, re-ripped the disc and it worked perfectly!

I don’t know if DVD Fab actually ripped the movie in the right order because since it didn’t have any sound, the rip was useless to me and I only watched a few minutes of the movie just to verify that it did not have any sound.  In any case, neither program worked perfectly, but ultimately AVS Video Converter pulled it off, with some serious finagling from me.  I think ripping blu-rays is still kind of “tip of the spear” stuff, and full automation for the majority of the discs is probably still a ways off.  Or maybe not.

Just in case the web page with the Ratatouille chapters goes away, I am going to post the correct order for the chapters here:
00027.m2ts + 00028.m2ts + 00000.m2ts + 00001.m2ts + 00002.m2ts + 00005.m2ts + 00008.m2ts + 00009.m2ts + 00012.m2ts + 00013.m2ts + 00016.m2ts + 00018.m2ts + 00021.m2ts + 00017.m2ts + 00033.m2ts + 00034.m2ts + 00049.m2ts + 00037.m2ts + 00050.m2ts + 00040.m2ts + 00051.m2ts + 00043.m2ts + 00052.m2ts + 00046.m2ts + 00053.m2ts + 00056.m2ts + 00054.m2ts + 00059.m2ts + 00055.m2ts + 00062.m2ts + 00065.m2ts
Apr 292010
 

In what may be the simplest and most elegant formula of all time, Leonhard Euler discovered the relationship between all of the most elemental and primal constants in our mathematical system.  Sometimes called Euler’s Identity, it isn’t a very useful formula because there aren’t any variables in the equation, but you have to admit, it is amazing.  No other formula can claim to combine and relate so many of the most important numbers is such a simple way.

e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0

Look at it.  Ain’t it beautiful?  It’s got:

The constant e (2.718..)

The constant \pi (3.141..)

The constant i (i is the square root of -1)

The constant 1

The constant 0

And the mathematical operations of addition, multiplication, and exponentiation.

One simple equation that pulls it all together.  Who would have thought?  Euler, that’s who.  Good job.  I’m impressed.

More information on wikipedia.

Apr 292010
 

Have you ever planned out a single photo?  I mean, really planned out single photo?  If you are like most people, you take snapshots of your friends and family and interesting things you see as you travel, but you never really planned a single shot. The most satisfying pictures that I have ever taken are some that I literally took hours, if not days, to research, to get just the perfect picture.  They aren’t my BEST photos that I have ever taken, but they were very satisfying because in the end, I knew my research paid off and I got the shot that I envisioned.
Every day I drive over some railroad tracks near my house.  One night when I was returning home from work, I noticed that the sun was about to set a few degrees to the left of the track.  I wondered if the sun would ever set “right on” the track.  I wondered if I had just missed it, perhaps the week before.  I couldn’t figure out if the sun was moving progressively to the right or to the left each night.  How would I calculate all these things?
WARNING–This paragraph is a little technical with respect to astronomical terms, but I will try to keep it simple.  If you want to skip it, I won’t blame you.  When I got home, the first thing I did was open google earth and find the railroad in my neighborhood. Using the “Measure” tool, I calculated the angle of the railroad track.  It happened to be 260 degrees west, or 80 degrees east.  I was looking to shoot my picture at sunset, so I was interested in the westerly direction.  I then went to timeanddate.com, entered in my location (Chesapeake, Virginia) and found out that the sun would set at the azimuth of 260 degrees on Feb 25th and 26th.  Furthermore, the numbers were increasing each day, so I knew that I did not miss my shot.  Of course, I could always wait until next year (or more accurately, on October 14th when the sun comes back from the other direction, but I was happy that I did not have to wait).
You still with me?  Good.  So, now that I calculated the dates I could take my shot (Feb 25th & 26th), I was ready to go.  If you remember, February 25th was a rainy day.  I was not able to go out and shoot that day.  I did however, get out the next day.  You can see here the shot I got.  And if you look carefully, you will see that the sun is a little to the right of the tracks.  I think February 25th would have been a better day.  Also, another option is to shoot the sun rising on the track.  The reciprocal of 260 degrees is 80 degrees.  It turns out that the sun does rise at that azimuth on April 7th and 8th, and September 2, 3 and 4.
The punchline here is, if you want to be a master of photography, you will have to also be a master of your subject.  If you want to get great horse racing, or food, or portrait pictures that don’t look like the same pictures that every other person with a camera gets, you have to know every in and out, up and down of the subject, and how it correlates to lighting and photography.  Few people in this hobby just have the knack and can just point their camera at something and have it spit out money.  It doesn’t work that way.  It takes time and effort to really get to know your subject and how to best photograph that subject.