Friday, September 29, 2006

The CIA's New Personality Quiz

The CIA has a cute online (and very short) personality quiz located here. I took it and it told me that I am a "daring thrill-seeker". hmmmm I've taken some serious personality profile exams by our friendly government in the past, and this is clearly a marketing thing. The final page seems to indicate the possible labels, and none of them is sociopath or homocidal psychopath. But it is cute. Maybe it will get more people to apply to be a spy!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My New DVD Player: OPPO DV-970HD

I am very pleased with my new DVD player. I bought the OPPO DV-970HD from OPPO Digital. They're a small company in Mountain View, CA that primarily makes DVD players. So I figure they want to make good equipment, since that's their main revenue stream.

It will upconvert to 480p/720p/1080i. It'll play NTSC or PAL DVDs. It has an HDMI output (maybe soon I can actually use that). And it meets my primary requirement of playing DivX video files. Best of all *** it has a USB2 port and will play files from an external USB storage device. I've tested that with a USB flash drive and with an external USB hard drive. I've connected a 320 GB USB external drive that is loaded with DivX videos of movies, cartoons, and other stuff that I've recorded, as well as JPEG images and MP3s. The only negative that I have so far is that it won't play MPEG4 video files (although it did play MPEG1 and MPEG2). Recently, I sent an email to their support people on a Sunday, and they responded within a few hours - still on Sunday! They definitely know how to do customer service right.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Book: Small Is The New Big

This week I finally finished the audiobook titled "Small Is The New Big" by Seth Godin. The full title is "Small Is The New Big and Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas." It's a collection of thoughts, ideas, stories and such from a very provocative marketing guru for the Internet age. I'm surprised that Amazon has only 9 reviews, but not surprised that those have scored it 5 (out of 5) stars. I would have never bought this book, if I hadn't stumbled across the video of Seth's presentation at Google. That was intriguing, and so I guess I wanted to hear a little more.

Seth Godin is famous enough to warrant his own Wikipedia page. His web page is here, and his blog is here.

I enjoyed the book, and recommend it to anyone interested in modern marketing (not just Internet or e-commerce). The audiobook is read by Seth, and so it conveys his enthusiasm very well. It was very long though, at 6 CDs running for 7.5 hours.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

This Is A Test

I was visiting a site and noticed that they give you the code you need to embed their content on another site. And so ... I decided to test it.

It's a funny clip. Although, Bob seems to step on the same rakes, over and over. I can't help wondering if it's a result of economical reuse of animation footage. Oh well. It's still funny.

The Mac Wardrobe Dissected

Lifeclever has a really clever post where they dissected the wardrobe of the mac actor in Apple's new ads. It's really clever and kinda funny. I inserted their pic here. I hope they don't mind. But they do deserve your visit to their site (and the page views for their ads). Then you can see the extra stuff that I don't mention here. LifeClever mentions that the actor is Justin Long - who actually has a Wikipedia page. Seeing his filmography, I knew he looked familiar. I actually saw this on Lifehacker. Both Lifehacker and LifeClever seem to have a lot of posts relevant to mac users.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My Neighborhood Skunk

The skunk I saw recently seems to have taken up residence in my neighbor's crawl space. Every morning I can smell the faint traces of skunk in my back yard. The little guy has probably been frightened by some sound coming from the bushes causing him to spray. No big deal. I've seen the little critter a couple times now. I've also found his tracks in my back yard. Skunks have very long front claws so they leave distinctive tracks. For a couple days in a row I've discovered holes that he's been digging in my back yard. Apparently, skunks like to dig. I even found that fact mentioned on the Wikipedia page about skunks. I keep watching for my neighbors. I'd like to tell them about the wildlife living beneath their house. If only to see their reaction.

VisualHub Testing

I've finished my testing of the handy video conversion utility named VisualHub. The trial version only allows conversion of videos that are less than a few minutes. The registered version costs $23.32. That must be part of some new palindrome pricing fad.

I started by converting a QuickTime movie file to the VisualHub formats that they name: iPod (just MPEG4 with a small frame size), AVI (DiVX), MP4 (larger sized MPEG4), DV, WMV, and Flash. Everything worked fine, except for the WMV output. When played in WMP, there was no audio. However it played fine in VLC. Then I started with a WMV file and attempted to convert it into iPod, AVI, MP4, Flash, and DV. Those all worked fine. Then I started with an MPEG4 file and converted it to AVI, WMV, Flash, and DV. Those worked fine, with the same audio problem playing the WMV output in WMP. Then I started with a Flash video (.flv) and converted it to iPod, AVI, MP4, WMV, and DV. Everything worked. The last test I did was to try VisualHub's feature to burn a DVD loaded with a bunch of videos of various formats. Each of those videos then become a different chapter in the DVD. That worked too. And it played fine on my new DVD player (more on that in a future post).

Final word: I like VisualHub. It's easy to use and does what it says it will. I've already paid for it.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I can't let the day go by without mentioning it. Today is the 5th anniversary of a very horrible day. I remember that day. I remember where I was. I remember what I was thinking. It would be a bother to express those memories, given the extreme horror that was faced by so many. I hope that I don't lose my memory of that day. I hope nobody does.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Great Video Tools for Mac Users

I've discovered a few handy video tools. For those of you who don't already know, I have a lot of video tools and so it's rare that I find new ones that have additional or otherwise remarkable features. I was wanting to save Youtube videos to my hard drive in a format that I could then replay locally. I found this clever app called PodTube. It will capture the Youtube video that was just displayed in the front-most Safari window. Most of the time, it will even convert it to something that my mac can play - MPEG4 with AAC audio (intended for iPod users). I've found a few YouTube vids (some South Park ones) that PodTube captures as Flash videos (.flv).

Next, I needed to view the .flv files. I tried the craptacular app called flv_viewer, and it did nothing. Instead, I strongly recommend getting iSquint. This is an easy-to-use video format converter that's free! I've now used it several times, and it works as advertised. While, I'll still use QT Pro for advanced video conversions, this little app is perfect for quick jobs. Plus, it will convert Flash (.flv) to other formats - and QT Pro won't do that.

The best part is ... the guys who developed iSquint have a great sense of humor. Clicking on the "Advanced" button brings up an interstitial dialog that's clever and funny. Also, the "Help" menu is very original. I'm seriously considering buying their other product: VisualHub. I've looked at the manual, and will test the trial version later today (trials are limited to very very short vids). VisualHub's manual shows the same humor and creativity as the iSquint GUI.

Another cool tool from the same people who brought you PodTube, is iGetMovies. This little gem captures Quicktime and Flash videos that you just finished viewing, and which are save-protected. So even my Quicktime Pro is unable to save the video to my hard drive. With this wonderful thing, now I can save them for repeat enjoyment without having to be connected to the Internet. An example: some videos on Atomfilms (most of theirs are RealPlayer or WMP though) and some media sites like CNN or others.

On the sad side: during my testing, I decided to compare iSquint to ffmpegX, which will also convert from Flash to other formats. My old version (0.0.9u) worked fine, and then I succumbed to the temptation to upgrade to the latest version (0.0.9w) and that failed, then the previous version failed, then removing the latest version and reinstalling the older version also resulted in no output. hmmmmm Good thing I found a new video conversion tool!

For you Windows users, the popular blog LifeHacker recommends using iTube for doing what PodTube does - capturing YouTube videos.

UPDATE: I just did a simple test. I tried to convert a 39 second mpeg4 video (AAC audio) at 320x240 into DivX using VisualHub trial download. It's been running for more than 30 minutes and there's no sign of progress. Meanwhile, I just did that same conversion using Quicktime Pro in less than 2 minutes (total time, including setting the options). hmmm I need to test VisualHub more. I may also checkout their user forum for more info.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

My Back Yard is Wild Kingdom

The biggest skunk I've ever seen in the wild just walked right past me. In my back yard. About 10 feet away. Wow!

I've encountered an average sized opossum in my back yard a few times. Even cornered him once when he ran into the tool shed. But I let him get away. He wasn't bothering me.

So today's visitor was a large skunk. He slowly walked along the bottom of the fence and paused when I turned and said "Well, hello there." Then he squeezed between the fence and the house and away from my view. I ran off to get my camera, but he was gone when I returned. hmmmmm

Just to answer those of you whom may wonder: no, there's no food or trash accessible to these critters in my yard. I currently suspect that they are living or visiting my neighbor's crawlspace - which has a large opening right where the skunk disappeared, and where I've seen the opposum go.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Some Photos I Took

I'm pleased to announce that the wizards over at Blogger have fixed the Safari glitch and now I can post pics without having to fire up Firefox. woohoo! Here are a few pics that I've taken. I happen to use these as desktop images. The first one is of Red Mountain, looking south from the X-15 crash site. That hill sits just to the east of the tiny town of Red Mountain, CA which is a neighbor of the small towns Randsburg and Johannesburg. I tend to get bluer skies over the Mojave desert in the early morning hours.

The second photo is of the Panamint Dunes in Death Valley National Park. I took it from a remote viewing point off highway 190, to the west of Panamint Springs. I used the 12x zoom on the camera and was pleased with the image stabilization. Here's a Google Maps link to that area. The dunes are the dime-sized crusty white spot in the upper right of the map satellite image.

The third photo is of the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley. I like that place a lot. It was 10 am and already over 100 deg. Here's a Google Maps link for the playa.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Visiting The Site of an X-15 Crash

Today I visited the site where an X-15 crashed to Earth. On November 15, 1967, an experimental rocket plane dropped from the sky onto this very spot. It was the 191st flight of the X-15. The USAF test pilot, Major Michael Adams, was killed.

This is the second time I tried to visit this site. The first time, several years ago, there was scant information available about the site's location. The only reliable clue was the geologic formation on the hill in the background. Several others had found the site and somebody had reportedly planted a small American flag there. In May 2004, an official memorial was placed there to commemorate the tragedy.

During this flight, Major Adams experienced a spin at 230,000 ft and Mach 5, recovering at 118,000 ft. Due to technical problems and other factors, he was unable to pull out of the resulting dive, and the plane broke apart before hitting the ground. Major Adams graduated from the Univ. of Oklahoma with a degree in aeronautical engineering and then enrolled at MIT for a graduate degree but left early after being selected to join the USAF experimental test pilot school at Edwards AFB. For the non-pilots among you, that's the holy grail for pilots. Later, he was selected to become an astronaut but died before he could fulfill that dream. In 1991, he was posthumously awarded astronaut wings for his ill-fated flight.

It's interesting that something so distant from my life can draw me to a specific place. And while standing there in an otherwise unremarkable spot, cause me to pause and think about all the efforts and work of so many people. While it's fitting for a Labor Day holiday, I surely hope that I continue to take the time for such things. I think they help give meaning to the work we all do every day.