Monday, August 25, 2008

Thunderbolt Raceway HPDE


just finished the HPDE (High Performance Drivers Education) at the NJ Motorsports Park Thunderbolt course, with the BMW Club. It was an eye opener.

Some photos...







Friday, June 27, 2008

A Blockbuster Riesling

I just had a mind-blowing delicious Alsatian Riesling: 2005 Marc Kreydenweiss's Alsace Riesland from Wiebelberg. A "fresh style" riesling had complexity and balance with spice (nutmeg)/butterscoth and plesantly oily viscousness. The spicyness reminded me of the Tiffenbruner Feldmarshall Muller Thurgau from Alto Adige.

It was $95 at The Modern restaurant at the MOMA. A great deal for a phenomenal wine.

Monday, June 16, 2008

First Impressions of the HF10

As usual, I dont' have much time for blogging, but I wanted to give a quick first impression of the HF10
  • Image quality is stunning when compared to a standard camcorder. Requires good light. Low light, like dimly lit restaurants, indoors with only a lamp or two, the quality gets grainy/noisy. Apparently, this is largely true for any camcorder.
  • It only saves to flash memory, and that's OK. It has internal memory and a SD card slot. I like being able to specify the SD card for photos, and using the 16 gig internal memory for videos
  • The internal memory holds 2 hrs of highest quality video. Plenty for me.
  • Transferring from internal memory is a slight pain. It requires the charger to be plugged in for USB mode, so if your charger is somewhere else, then you have to get it. I actually think an SD card would be much easier.
  • Very small for a camcorder. I was surprised and impressed. Its easy to carry around. With such a small form factor, its hard to keep it steady, as with any small camcorder.
  • Battery life isn't great. I haven't tested its limits, but it tells me i has about 75 min max. Since once isn't always shooting during those 75 min, the battery will be the limiting factor, not the internal memory.
  • Accessories: An extra battery pack may be necessary. I may try the external hotshoe mike for close to $200, but not right away.
  • Sharing the HD video will be difficult. Files sizes are massive. Compatiblity will be challenging. Downconverted to standard DVD for DVD players, AVCHD format on DVD to play on computers only. Blu-ray authoring using a good editing suite and buying a blu-ray burner.
  • Included with the camera is Pixela Imagemaster software. I haven't use it much yet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Now, I'm fully 1920 x 1080. Whew!

It took awhile, but I'm finally there. 1920x1080. What does that mean? It means my Computer (incl. monitor), Plasma TV, Blu-ray disc and Video Camcorder are all what they call "Full HD."

How long has this taken? It seems like forever when looking back at the first murmurs of the new TV format called high def in what, the early 1990's? Affordable HD camcorders were the last piece of the puzzle, having come along in the last year-ish. Big, reasonably affordable HD tv's have only been around for the past two. Ditto for HD discs. Computers with the power to edit the new codecs, say 2 yrs also.

If I've got this equipment, you know that we as a culture have passed the point of inflexion. Because I'm not an 'early adopter', nor a 'laggard.' I jump on the bus when the price curve starts to flatten, and the standard appears in the distance, not a moment later.

Attention: We are now living in the HD World, and are never going back. We won't miss the SD world, though, it will probably be increasingly our visual code for nostalgia and history. So be it.

Well, I changed my mind. I bought the HF10 Why?

In an earlier post I proclaimed that I would be buying the HV30, even though the HF10 was, as I said, the one to get. Well, here's why I rethought that conclusion:

1) This baby is much smaller than the HV30. I didn't realize until I saw it in person and held it in my hand. The size difference (convenience) is significant. The smaller it is, the more likely I'll take it with me.

2) Though the "instant" backup inherent in a tape-based unit is convenient, it doesn't solve my backup problems for my digital photos and other random stuff. I accepted that I will have to have a digital backup strategy for those, and if so, I can incorporate the (significantly increased) requirements of digital video, too.

3) The picture quality is very, very close to the HDV format of the HV30 according to several reviewers. (Camcorder Info, Cnet)

4) The convenience of flash memory was getting more and more appealing over time.

5) I'm not worried about the editing issues of AVCHD format. It is truly the wave of the future. Editing programs will support it in the future, some do right now. And I have a Q6700-based PC, so I should (knock on wood) have enough horsepower to handle it. We'll see.

6) Front/Bottom mounted mikes. I'm starting to get a clue that sound quality is important to video. I may buy the $200 Canon directional mike, but I'll have to see if it is truly worth the money and hassle of shelppping it along.

I also made a choice between the HF10 and HF100, the latter offering no internal memory, a silver color, but being $160 cheaper. The internal memory was a nice feature (faster data transfer rate allow up to 1/2000 shutter speed vs 1/500 with the SDHC card). In the end 16GB of memory would cost around $80, so I paid $80 for black and the higher available shutter speed. In the end I really wanted black. Why? I want the camera to be as inconspicuous as possible. I believe this makes for less "self conscious" subjects.

I paid $860 plus $12 shipping and $20 for a modest Lowepro case, and no tax, shipped to my home in NJ, from B&H. This all in price was better than Costco or Amazon.

There! I fessed up!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Value wine of the month!


Each white wine drinking season, I find a wild hit in the value category. It must be cheap and it must be great. Last year it was the Thirsty Lizard Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc.

This year it just might be one of the whites from Indaba in South Africa.


I've only tried the Chard, but its pretty darn good, and not at all like generic Cali Chards.

More later!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Watch My Computer Videos and Photos on my Plasma TV

How?

I use my Playstation 3 as a TV network adapter, if that's what it is called. Its more like a TV linked mini-computer. Anyway, I need two things to achieve this. A network (wireless or wired) and this incredible software called TVersity.

What is TVersity? Software that you run on your main computer that streams media to devices on your home network. I believe it is similar to Windows (Vista) Media Center ("WMC"). But WMC doesn't support the PS3 (Boo!) So TVersity is the way to go if you are a PS3 Blu-ray guy, like me.

Its this similar to an Apple TV? It appears so, though the Apple TV doesn't play games or Blu-ray disks, and TVersity has no on-demand movies. I would bet money that the Apple TV interface is better.

That said, the PS3 is an incredible value, combining a 1) top notch Blu-ray player, 2)'TV network adaptor' functions, 3) current generation game console, and 4) distributed computing node

If only WMC would support the PS3, I wouldn't have to deal with learning TVersity, which, now that we are on the subject, is time consuming to learn.

The Canon HF10: the new standard in AVCHD codec Camcorders, but I'm buying the HV30!



So check out Camcorder Info's review of the Canon HF10. It apparently equals the best-in-class picture of the HV30 and HV20. BUT, I'm going with the HV30 which uses the old fashioned HDV codec/format!!!

Why?

Because my buddy Chris Walsh pointed out that the MiniDV tape using HV30 give you instant backups, in the form of the tape used to record the video. Just throw the tape into a shoebox after transferring the video and there you have it! A backup without doing a backup. Backing up the AVCHD based HF10 will require some hefty backup capability in the form of an external HDD. Man are those files large.

So even though tape seems old-fashioned, it makes backups easy and will save you money and effort when configuring your backup scheme for your already-expensive PC.

Why am I going for the HV30 over the HV20? Primarily the 30fps frame rate (vs the 24 fps of the HV20) It is more compatible with web standards. I believe the distribution method of choice will be the web for most videos. Sharing videos with friends over Facebook or a blog will be the way we do it. The HV30 has some other minor improvements over the 20 but the 30p is the key for me.

Best Explanation of Audio Codecs for Blu-Ray

High-Def Digest has it. Read now and understand later.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Track Day at Lime Rock Park

What am I talking about? The New Jersey Chapter of the BMW Car Club of America's first driving school of the year at historic Lime Rock Park in Litchfield County Connecticut. It was a one-day school. Short but sweet.

Info at Trackpedia.com

Lime Rock was amazing! It did rain all day, which made it sort of miserable, as I wasn't really prepared for all that rain. But the show went on, and I'm very glad I did it.

I learned so much. The limits of traction are so low, that I was on the edge basically at all times. Its quite a feeling when you are fighting the car for grip at every turn, even the fast ones with nothing but an armco barrier to welcome you if make a mistake!

I was pretty timid at first, I must admit. It was my first time at Lime Rock, my first time on a track in this car, and its been several years since I've done a track day.

But over the course of the four 20 minute runs, I built up confidence, and speed. By the end, I think I had rung out maximum speed in at least half of the corners.

I've signed up for the 3 day Thunderbolt school in August, but I definitely need another one before that.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Test Post From Email

This could be very convenient, emailing my blog for posting.  If I can get this to work, I may be on my way to posting frequently. We'll see.
 

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I'm finally getting it!

It being "the point" of a blog.

Though I wished it weren't so, a blog must be current. It must have regularly published material. In this regard I have failed. But I have a good excuse. My former employer imploded. This may not be a big deal in the tech world where fortunes are made and lost on any given Monday, but in the world of hyper-interconnected finance, it is. Anyway, I've been enduring career upheaval. That's my excuse. More stuff will come soon. Very soon.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Photo Hosting Options

It is with considerable regret that I find myself looking, probably, for a new family photo hosting service.  For little more than a year, I've used the Phanfare service, which I absolutely adore.  The problem is that their business model hasn't worked out, and they recently announced they will undergo significant changes.  Much of what was so great will still be there, but other important things will be lost.

What will still be good is their software, which makes creating albums and uploading images easier than anything else I've ever used.  Also, they allow absolute privacy over your albums, so you can post everything knowing that only your friends and relatives will ever see it.  Indeed, in the new version, this will be a default.  You can also post full-size images, which get automatically resized, and they create slideshows and other features automatically.  They even allow video uploads of up to (I think) 10 minutes, which are automatically converted into flash for viewing simplicity.  as a real bonus, it acts as a backup, because you can get a DVD withh all of your images (for a fee) at any time.  It is absolutely a fantastic service and it's a shame it never caught on.  They charge for this wonderful service, and currently have no free version beyond a limited time trial.

The changes are various, and only a couple bother me.  Starting with the ones I don't care about:  It will be hard to create a public website of photos, and all existing links will be broken.  They are also increasing the Phanfare brand presence on your site, and users can no longer control whether viewers can download full-size originals.  The parts that cause me concern involve the experience of my visitors.  Until now, I could give people a password that allowed access to my albums.  That password was specific to my subdomain at Phanfare, and did not require that anybody register with Phanfare.  That is now changing.  Once the new system is implemented, everybody  will have to register with Phanfare to view my photos.  What's more, once I invite them, Phanfre will automatically generate notification emails whenever I update or create a new album, and I will have no control over this.  Individual users will be able to control whether they receive these emails, but why should they have to bother?  I have no interest in spamming my friends and family this way.  

Basically, Phanfare is embracing a photo-based  social networking model.  Everyone who registers will also get 1 gig of free photo storage, and we'll all get notifications of each others new photos.  Obviously they hope that people will upgrade to the paid service.  They are also trying to discourage professional users, who were never their core target customer, and who are almost certainly less profitable for them.  

While they've had some missteps in announcing and explaining the new service, they've really tried hard, and even allowed users to create an "Alternative to Phanfare" topic on the Phanfare user forum.  They also allowed a considerable amount of venting and harsh words on the forum from disappointed customers.  I'm one who posted some harsh items about the new registration process, about which I have considerable concerns, but I also recognize that they can't continue with a business model that won't work.  The new system is currently in beta, and should go public soon.  Meanwhile, they will allow folks like me to stay on the old system until next June.  I'm hoping things will either be better than I fear, or the worst aspects will be modified before then.

If not, I'll be looking for a new service.  The forum thread I linked above is a very good start.  If anybody knows of additional resources or services, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.  
I'm also cross-posting this at my Working File blog.

Wheeeee!


So Jobu got a PS3, and the mg household was brought a Wii by Santa Clause.  All I can do is confirm everything you've probably already read.  It's fun, physical (for a video game), great for families, usable by little children, and basically different from every other video game system you've ever experienced.  The system came with Wii Sports, which most but not all packages include.  Santa also brought Wii Play, which had 8 other fun games and also comes with an extra remote, which helps when you have more than one child.  Santa also brought a Barbie Island Princess game for our 2 girls, and we're all loving it.  Even the 3-year old can participate.  We recommend it highly, if you can get your hands on one.

Alternative Take on Flat Screen HD TV

Reading Jobu's posts on his new Panasonic TV, I'm struck by the difference in our buying experience and preparation.  Reading this blog generally, it's apparent that Jobu and I have developed some significantly different interests and tastes, but one thing we generally share is the research and preparation we put into a major purchase.  For me, my first flat screen HD TV was a significant exception.

I think I'm still of the mindset that televisions are the same simple appliance I grew up with. That's obviously not true, but I was unwilling to spend the time and effort to fully educate myself about everything new.  I ended up getting the Samsung HLT5687S, and ended up very pleased.  

But Jobu discusses things such as "black levels" when discussing his Panasonic, and I don't even know what that is.  After I bought the Samsung, I found some reviews, like this one, with references to hot spots, and the lack of a rainbow effect (which is apparently good, and rare in DLPs).  I don't know what those are, either.  I also never ever contemplated the possibility that one would use a DVD to calibrate a television, until I read Jobu discuss it.  And I'm guessing this is pretty basic stuff.

For me, my research basically meant determining that rear projection come in bigger sizes for less money than flat panel plasma or LCD.  You also apparently lose some level of picture wonderfulness, which I'm OK with.    Since our TV room setup is such that hanging the TV on the wall is not an option, I also didn't much care about the fact that the rear projection is thicker.  It is still much, much thinner and lighter than old-style rear projection TVs.  Also, at 56 inches, we are pushing the edge of size for our viewing distance, with no eye fatigue anybody is aware of.

Once I decided on rear projection, size, and price range, what pushed me to buy the model I did was an article in the business section of the Sunday NY Times.  Now, as an off-topic aside, I'm finding the Times increasingly irrelevant, but in this instance it proved really useful.  The article pointed out a new technology that Samsung is using in its DLP televisions, replacing bulbs as a light source with L.E.D.s.  You can read the article for the advantages this brings, but I'm pretty sure it is responsible for most of the good things you'll ready in any review of this model, especially as compared to other DLP models.

I'm not alone in loving this model, as of the date of this post, the model has a 4.5 star rating at Amazon, and is near to pushing 5.  I also bought it at Amazon,which was a superb buying experience.  Although it wasn't eligible for the Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping, Amazon was offering free delivery when I bought, and the entire process was simple and smooth.

Finally, I'm more than pleased with the result.  The picture is fantastic, in my admittedly uneducated opinion.  The only flaw I've noticed is a bit of fuzziness in people's skin on close-ups, even under Hi-Def.  I think this is not a flaw in the television, however, as I'm pretty sure I've never seen it on a DVD (I haven't even ventured into HD-DVD or Blu-Ray).  We use Direct TV for our television service.  Right now it has about a few dozen more HD channels than any of its competitors, but it is using some compression to do so.  It's not clear how much, it appears that information is nearly impossible to obtain with any certainty, but I'm guessing that it is the cause of the fuzziness I've noticed.