Thursday, June 30, 2005

If it's any consolation

Being robbed in your own apartment while you're sleeping is bad, but at least it's not

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Australian Calling Rates

I can no longer depend on free nationwide long distance from my cell phone to call my g/f as she now lives in Australia. One plan is to use Skype with its "Skype Out" feature, the other is to use calling cards. Here are the results of a quick calling card investigation I did to find the best rates to Australia.

First, note that when calling Australia via a calling card the recipients phone line type is factored into the calling rate. Calling an Australian land line tends to be much cheaper than calling an Australian mobile (cellular) phone line. The type of telecom technology used for the originating phone call (e.g. the phone that places the call) has no impact.

Second, if the calling card is not specifically an international calling card it will most likely have a listed number of minutes. These minutes are usually for domestic nationwide long distance and NOT for international calls. You must check with the calling card company (as I did for the three examples below) to get exact rates to the region of the world you want to call. The domestic cards will then tell you the ratio of minutes charged to actual minutes talked. For example, calling Australia with one AT&T domestic phone card is charged at a 6:1 ratio. That is, for every one minute of talk time, six minutes are actually deducted from your bank of minutes.

Third, some calling cards round up to the minute others round to the second. Obviously the latter is preferred but watch out for connection fees, cards that round to the second often charge you a buck or two every time a phone call is successfully connected.

Three phone cards I investigated re: Australian rates
  1. $14.99 - 150 domestic long distance AT&T ($0.09 a minute)
    From: Best Buy
    Rate 1: 6:1 minutes ratio for USA to Australian cell phone ($0.60 a minute)
    Rate 2: 3:1 minutes ratio for USA to Australian land line ($0.30 a minute)
  2. $21.95 - 600 domestic long distance AT&T ($0.04 a minute)
    From: Sam's Club
    Rate 1: 12:1 minutes ratio for USA to Australian cell phone ($0.44 a minute)
    Rate 2: 4:1 minutes ratio for USA to Australian land line ($0.15 a minute)
  3. $19.98 - Sprint International Calling Card
    From: Sam's Club
    Rate 1: $0.11 a minute for USA to Australian cell phone
    Rate 2: I'm not sure what the rate difference is to call an Australian land line.

I have been quite happy with the Sprint calling card. The line quality is good and there is no connection fee. By the way, the Australian country code is 61.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

VS2005 Visual C# Enhancements

Uses change tracking visualization concept similar to what I proposed in the Augur Eclipse plugin.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Towering Pines

Just got back from a week long family vacation in North-Central Minnesota with 23 other family members (four generations).

Sydney, Australia

Clever girlfriend is in Sydney, Australia until August 20th. I can avoid doing complicated arithmetic by checking the current time here. For the record, it looks like Sydney, Austrlia is 15 hours ahead of Minnesota and 17 hours ahead of Washington.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Land O'Lakes

Before I embark on my journey home, I thought it fitting to include a tidbit on my native state, Minnesota. As a Minnesotan I am innately proud of many things my fine state has to offer, ice fishing, Nate On Drums, snow mobiling, cross country skiing, the ice palace, Prince, Kirby Pucket before he got in trouble with the law, the old Minneapolis Lakers, Charles Lindbergh, Garrison Keilor... but most of all, we are proud of our lakes. In fact, our state motto is the "land of 10,000 lakes." Aha, but recently a conniving, malevolent geograhy professor from Ohio has said that Texas, the land of bad mottos (e.g. "Don't mess with Texas"), has 269,976 lakes!

In Minnesota's defense, this same professor showed that humble Minnesota actually has upwards of 100,000 lakes. And, I suppose if you were to break it down density-wise, Minnesota would most definitely have Texas beat. However, there is little defense against coming in 7th out of 50 (yes, there are now 50 states in the union!) particularly because we lost to such winning states as Kansas and Oklahoma.

Of course, one argument is that many states are actually artificially increasing their lake count via reservoirs and other man-made bodies of water. They say this is for aesthetic or water irrigation reasons, I say it's because they want to beat Minnesota. Fat chance of that happening, we have Moose (Meese?).


Thursday, June 16, 2005


About two or three months ago, I scoured the web for freeware/shareware morphing programs. I found three: Morphbuster, Morpheus and SqirlzMorph. I remember each having distinct advantages and disadvantages but Morphbuster and Morpheus are crippled shareware (e.g. they limit the number of morphs, or they place a title over the morph until you register, etc.). SqirlzMorph had a frustrating interface but was free so I went with it (note that this was the third morphing program I had used so some of the interface issues were solved simply by applying things I had learned from past experience).

Steps I used in SqirlzMorph:

1. Resize images in Adobe Photoshop taking careful note to line up the morphable object between all images -- this is essential. You can resize the images in SqirlzMorph too I think but it doesn't give you as much control to crop images so that the objects are in the same place across multiple images.
2. Open SqirlzMorph, drag your first two morph images into the interface. Maximize the SqirlzMorph interface.
3. Click the icon that shows six blue tiles in the toolbox on the left side of the SqirlzMorph interface. This will arrange your images to fill up the SqirlzMorph window.
4. OK, now we're ready to begin setting morph points. Morph points tell the software algorithm where one set of pixels in the first image translates to one set of pixels in the second image. The more morph points you place and the more accurate you place them, the better the morph will look. All morphing software that I found, used this same basic concept. Go back to that toolbox on the left side of the SqirlzMorph window, and select the icon with the black arrow AND the green plus. This will allow you to both lay down a morph point on the first picture and move its corresponding point on the second picture. Note that the red minus sign removes dots.
5. Set your first morph point on the first picture. Note that the corresponding morph point shows up on the second picture, move that second point to where it should be.
6. Do step 5 as many times as you would like -- usually the more, the better -- though this has some exceptions, particularly when your morph points don't follow some simple linear pattern for translation.
7. After your morph points are set. Go to the Morph menu in the File Menu. Select the type of Morph you want. I used One Way morph with the Mix - 1 morph algorithm.
8. Also in the Morph menu, set the Period. I used 500 frames per cycle (the more frames, the more fluid the morph).
9 . Now click on the avi icon in the toolbar on the top of the SqirlzMorph interface. Select a filename for your morph and your avi frame rate (i used 30 fps because that's what speed my video was using).
10. You've done it!

Other morphing software that I used had a much better interaction mechanism for placing, moving, and removing morph points. This is my one major criticism of SqirlzMorph.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Apple Places High Value on My Opinion

I received an e-mail from Apple today requesting that I fill out an iPod survey.

As a valued customer, your opinions are very important to us. That's why we would greatly appreciate your feedback regarding your iPod. Your participation in this survey will help us to better meet the needs of customers like you.Please click the link below to take the survey. This will take you to an external site hosted by Advanis, an independent marketing research firm we have engaged to perform this study. The information gathered will be for research purposes only, is strictly confidential, and will be used only by Apple. Your personal information and responses will not be shared with anyone.

The survey asked, among other things, the one thing I would like changed about my iPod, how many accessories I've purchased for my iPod, what kind of car I drive, what I think about being able to control my iPod through the steering wheel, the number of iPods in my household, if purchasing/using an iPod made me feel better about Apple, if purchasing/using an iPod made me more likely to buy an Apple computer, how I sync my iPod to my computer, how many songs I have on my iPod, how many songs I have on my computer, the number of songs I have purchased from the iTunes music store, the types of accessories I've purchased for my iPod, how I received my iPod, how I learned to use my iPod, the percentage of music that comes from downloading from the internet (not iTunes music store), ripping from CD, purchasing from iTunes music store, or other.

The survey probably took about 15 minutes and I flew through the questions. If you're curious, the only free form response question asked "what one thing would you change about the iPod?" and I said something like "The menu navigation to shuffle/repeat. The number of required menu traversals to toggle shuffle/repeat is quite high. What's most frustrating is when I am playing a song via a playlist and I want to start shuffle, I have to traverse back-up to the top level to set shuffle and then reverse traverse back down to where I was to the currently playing song (and playlist menu)."

Other things I would like to see:
* be able to play my iPod on many different computers without having to switch the iPod into "manually manage songs and playlists" mode. Ideally, I could play my iPod directly through iTunes on my work and school computers all the while keeping the iPod synched to my home computer. Note that the metadata would then stay up to date and consistent.
* when I play songs on my computer and the same songs on my iPod. The synchronizer should be smart enough to do an intelligent merge of the metadata (e.g. playcount, last played, ratings) and not just an overwrite.
* embed my ratings data (and perhaps other metadata) inside my music files themselves (mp3 id3 tags for instance)
* be able to stream my home computer iTunes library to one other computer at a time with login access.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Adobe Premiere Success

After weeks (perhaps months?) of using different encoders in Adobe Premiere, I finally found the most optimal way of producing a fluid, high quality video. As soon as I have a chance, I will post some screens of how to go about doing this. The key is to forgo using the "Export" file menu in favor of the "Adobe Encoder" file menu.

I will say that despite the obvious advantages of using a professional-level movie editing program like Adobe Premiere over, say, freeware like Microsoft Movie Maker, the latter still has its place (at least on Windows boxes). Microsoft Movie Maker, for whatever reason, seems like it supports more formats than Adobe Premiere. I saw this when I was working off of DVD .VOB files converted into AVIs, I saw this when working with Canon S200 .avi movies, etc. All seemed to work flawlessly in Microsoft Movie Maker, but in Adobe Premiere, it took some tinkering.