Sunday, May 31, 2009

Adventures in movie making

I was trying to fix the aspect ratio of a video that we want to submit to a conference along with a paper for review. Turned out to be a bit of a hassle. I got my mits on iLife '09 and iWork '09 and so have a new version of iMovie with which to do this. I couldn't believe that iMovie refused to import mpeg clips. Incredible! Only AVI or DV. What is up with that? Which developer bozo decided MPG clips weren't worthwhile? As you can imagine this ticked me off to no end. Lucky for me, some kind hearted programmer came up with MPEG Streamclip that transcodes various video formats and gives this away for free. This saved my butt. After that I just had to hunt around iMovie's well concealed options to find the "fit" option instead of the "crop" default. Another braindead decision there to make "crop" the default. I also don't like iMovie's hyper-active scrubbing feature, but eventually I got used to it. I have to say the old iMovie was in many ways easier to use.

No Fun Zone (now under construction)

Vancouver's Skytrain line to Richmond is nearing completion. Construction of this line (as well as others) has caused major traffic headaches around town. It should get better when construction completes. Along with this line to Richmond there's also a line to the airport. I think these may open in September. Richmond, and Vancouver in general, has grown and changed significantly. No.3 Road (where this pic was taken) was just packed. The area around False Creek has also changed dramatically. I happened to luck out with good weather: sunny and warm. Only the third such weekend this year I was told. Lots of people out and about downtown, eating out at sidewalk cafes, rollerblading, biking, suntanning even. It was a little chilly for me at one point, being now used to the sweltering heat of the south.

Vancouver seems to be going bike happy. Here we came across some kind of bike awareness rally that was making its way up Main St. There are bike lane markings on some of the larger streets and the area around False Creek has special bike lanes, similar to the bike lanes I saw in Munich. Except that here the distinction between pedestrian and bike lanes is not as strictly observed. In Germany the bikers really protect their turf and yell at any pedestrians walking in the bike lane. Here it was much more haphazard. Maybe because every other person is probably stoned. Lot of the wisdom weed wafting through the air. They should just legalize it. It's probably already the largest cash crop in BC anyway. Same thing in the states. Prohibition ain't working. And if it went legal, drug-related gang violence would probably drop down to next to nothing.

But it's still the "no fun zone" :) Cops everywhere of course, like on the water here. We took a little water taxi across False Creek to walk around in the sun and lunch time on Saturday. Two nights before when returning from the New York Dolls' show, we went through a road block. Some things haven't changed it seems. There were lots of other nice boats beside the cop boat. Sometimes I think it would be fun to live aboard docked here in False Creek. But then I know someone who had done so and told me that the experience can be singularly described as damp. Seeing Vancouver on a warm and sunny day can really skew one's perception of what it might be like living here again. Particularly on a boat. Still, it's a nice thought.

Suppose we did live aboard a nice yacht here in False Creek. If we were retired, you could probably walk to most things you'd need or take the Skytrain. I don't know about getting to work. We took the train from Main and Terminal up to Burrard. The station there is underground. I was amazed how they managed to fit that in downtown. Construction must have been a horrible mess, but the end result is rather nice. Vancouver has a metro, imagine that! Once it spreads out a bit I think it could be quite useful. Right now there are only a couple of lines. One aspect I found puzzling is that for the longest time when I lived there Vancouverites were against putting up any sort of highway overpasses because it would spoil the view. Yet that's just what the Skytrain is. Does it spoil the view? I think it's ok, but I suppose it could have been just as effective as let's say Munich's S-bahn, or surface trains. I don't think it really needs to be raised. And if they are willing to build underground stations, why not do that throughout? It's strange to me, but at least the city has something now. Vancouver traffic was always a mess. If I were to live in Vancouver I think I'd prefer living downtown and using public transport.

When walking around False Creek we took time out to smell the flowers. Very fragrant although I don't know what it is. In Polish I think my Mom would call this "Bez" but what is it in English? As I say, it was giving off a very nice fragrance. (Update: Mom says it's Lilac.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

New York Dolls

Last night we went out to Richard's on Richards to see the New York Dolls. "Straight up rock-n-roll" was the description and it fit. They rocked out traditional-sounding rock tunes. I guess they were mostly originals although I remember hearing a bit of Spoonful that I recognized as it's one of my favorites that we play as well. We used to play that number as fast as the Dolls but lately we morphed it into a more slower bluesy version. I still put in a bunch of drum and cymbal fills in the chorus which I think fits this particular tune and the Dolls' drummer was doing something similar as well (although better of course :) The opening band was The Clips (if I heard them correctly). It was a three-piece band with I think a girl on bass and a girl drummer. The singer? It was hard to tell. S/he sounded like Holly Golightly but I think it was a guy. Kind of an androgenous character. Anyway, after three days of conference, it was great to see some live rock-n-roll. I love seeing good live performances. Richard's has changed from its 80s glitterati days, but I think for the better actually. It's quite a good live music venue.

Things to do in Kelowna

One of the event-organized outings at GI 2009 was this three-hour boat tour of the lake. The boat itself was a bit of a rip-off in that they were charging fairly high prices for dinner plates. A friend of mine had the right idea in running across the street for a cheap but filling pita before the cruise, thereby omitting the need to pay larger sums for food. I suppose there was potential for more fun than actually experienced (the boat sported a hottub as well as a dance floor) but us computer conference people are a somewhat sedate crowd. Still, some of the lake views were quite nice. There were really rich-looking houses at one end, complete with boat docks and boat floats. Some of the houses had a funny feature: as they were positioned high up on a steep cliff, their way down to their boat dock was via a really, really long staircase, or elevator that some had put up. I thought our hill that we have to transcend to get to our powerboat slip was a hassle, it's peanuts compared to those cliffs. I should have taken a picture... On the other end of the lake we saw a yacht race. Lake winds got pretty high towards the end, I was suprised how windy it could get there.

The next evening there was no organized outing so it was up to conference goers to self-assemble. Two factions split with one group leaving early in search of dinner. I was in that group and we found a Keg with very good steaks and tasty beer. The first group then split again with a few having to leave to catch flights and the rest off in search of the second group. They were found at Memphis Blues, a kind of BBQ place with lots of meaty plates. Some of the menu entrees' descriptions read "more meat", "still more meat", and so on. The group then went off in search of music. I like live music and asked the Memphis server where it could be found. It was to be found at The Blue Gator, with this lone guitarist being the sole entry on the bill. I usually dislike the lone guitarist because they always seem to degenerate to playing sappy ballads, like Sweet Caroline. This guy was better. He had his laptop churning out the drum and bass tracks to which he played along. He started with some Stevie Ray Vaughan and also some Knopfler, playing Dire Straits' Sultans of Swing. He managed to pull off the latter very well although the ending is tough to play (so I hear, I personally don't play guitar). He then degenerated into some kind of metal stuff, but it was still enjoyable. This is where the computer conference people monicker originated. After some heavy metal tune he'd yell out "Computer conference people, yeaaaaaaaa!" and raise the index-pinky rock-n-roll salute. I thought that would make an excellent t-shirt: picture the arm raised in the background with the text "computer conference person" in the foreground. I dunno, I think it's funny.

Monday, May 25, 2009


My flight to Kelowna was supposed to take off at 14:50 yesterday, but as you can see, it got delayed. I took that screenshot partly because it looks like my flight is the only one leaving late and partly to show off YVR's mobile flight schedule. It's just a web page, but I think it's pretty cool in that you can display what you see on the monitors on your mobile device. And for free. All airports should do this. Unfortunately a large number of them charge for wifi and one (DFW from what I recall) even charges for power. Anyway, you get what you pay for so the connection would drop occasionally (I couldn't email via the iPhone for some reason), but at least it was partially there.

That flight to Kelowna was hot! It's like they don't use A/C up here. Maybe those little air vents weren't working. Mercifully it was a short flight. So now I'm in my dorm room (residence) at UBCO (UBC Okanagan). It's pretty tiny with a shared bathroom. I don't think there's anyone next door; from the outside looking in it seems my neighboring dorm is being used for storage, so I might have the bathroom all to myself. They gave me a building that is up several flights of stairs so I feel like I have to climb up here every time I return. Meanwhile, the campus looks like it's just developing—construction everywhere, and it looks like it's closed for the summer, there don't seem to be any students around. Kelowna proper is a $2, 40-minute bus ride away. Hopefully there'll be something to eat around here because I don't think the bus is very practical for something like lunch. I brought some Canadian money we had sitting in one of our drawers at home. Turns out the $2 bill is something of a collectors' piece: none of the bus drivers wanted me to use it ("You still got a two dollar bill, eh? Better hold on to that, probably worth $3 today."), so I got the ride into town for free. Had to get some "toonies" to pay for the ride back. A cab ride I'm told is $40, so it makes sense to ride the bus. The schedule says they're serving breakfast in 20 minutes so I better cash in on that.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Flight to Vancouver/Kelowna

Caught the early (06:10) flight out to DTW, then on to Vancouver. That meant that I had to get up at 03:00 to drive up to GSP. At least the roads were empty. I lucked out and got bumped up to first class on the flight from DTW to YVR. Extra wide seats, lotsa legroom, and a fairly decent, free in-flight meal. Pretty nice views of the mountains just a few minutes before landing. What is that–Baker? Mount St. Helens maybe? The pilot didn't say although he tried pointing out other landmarks. I usually sit in the aisle anyway, so I didn't see too much, but did snap this one pic.

Pretty nice spread for breakfast: an omelet, sausages, taters, OJ, fruit salad, and a croissant. I should've gone for the bagel instead of the croissant, but all in all fairly decent. In YVR I grabbed eggs benny for lunch. Yesterday we cooked up a 3", 3 lb T-bone (bistecca fiorentine) for dinner with my brother. I think the steak turned out quite well and boy that was a huge piece of meat (the guy cutting it for us at Whole Foods said it was an "investment" :) I don't recall if anyone took photos. Maybe we should have cause I don't think we'll have anything like that again for some time.

Now I'm sitting at YVR waiting for the puddle-jumper out to Kelowna. Enjoying free wi-fi. Surprise, surprise! I thought for sure they'd be charging for that here. Maybe it's part of the 2010 Olympics preparations, I dunno. Looks like for the flight to Kelowna it'll be one of these turbo-props. It may even be the same one as in the pic–this one left for Kelowna a couple of hours earlier. I guess I could have made the earlier flight, but I decided for a longer layover so that I wouldn't miss it. I should be getting in to Kelowna around 4pm or so. And then it's on to the UBC dorms.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Road Trip to Orlando

Last weekend I drove down to Orlando, FL for a brief (two-night) reunion with my folks and brother. He had just flown in from Germany, where he currently resides, to attend a conference. My parents flew in for the reunion as well as some relax time in the sun by the pool. We celebrated my brother's 50th as well as a couple of other accomplishments. I decided to take the beamer down for a couple of nights, seeing how it's just a "short", 9-hour drive. I've driven down to Florida before, and 9-10 hours is about as far as I want to go in one stretch. The beamer's seats and cabin appointments (iDrive including satellite radio and iPod connection) make the drive tolerable if not outright enjoyable, but still, 9 hours sitting in one spot is getting to be about all I can take (compared with the odd 22-24 hour jaunts we embarked on out of Texas, e.g., to Chicago or Taos, some 15+ years ago now). On this trip I decided to try the route via Athens, GA. As you can tell from the map it entirely cuts out the Atlanta leg of the trip. I don't know what it is about Atlanta, I neither like to fly nor drive through there. It's just too packed. Hartsfield (the airport) is always a zoo and the roadways are just about as bad. On the way back I managed to get stuck in a major traffic jam, which seems to occur just about every time I drive through there.

The apparent shortcut through Athens actually adds a bit to the duration of the trip. According to Google maps, only about a few minutes, but I think I managed to shave off an hour on the way back by sticking to the interstates and driving through Atlanta. I guess part of the reason for the time savings is the speed permitted by the interstates. Although the limit is 70 mph on most stretches, one can often exceed this to about 90 mph without looking out of place. On the outbound trip, that's harder to do as it's mostly smaller roads, often only two-laners, like what you see in the pic here. The interstates usually provide at least four lanes although in places it feels like two due to the left lane hogs (a major personal pet peeve of mine). Occasionally, though, you can latch on to a skilled driver in another vehicle and then get out of the small clusters of vehicles that accumulate behind these bozos that occupy the left lane. I managed to fall behind a couple of such "rabbits", the first I followed all the way from Orlando out to I-10, just below the FL/GA state line, a nice stretch of road. We were both doing about 90, a speed the beamer has no problem attaining. In fact, accelerating to 100 (for passing purposes) is accomplished quite easily as well. And it doesn't even feel very fast. Gotta love those twin turbos and the sound insulation as well as the sound system. I made the trip back in about 8 hrs, with only one stop for refueling.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Home Theatre 2.0

Our old projector that I had bought circa 2002 was starting to show its age—a green dot would show up in the center of the screen. I read somewhere that when this happens the only way to fix it is to overhaul the projector's innards and that it wouldn't just be a simple matter of replacing the lamp. Since we watch a lot of movies (via Netflix) we decided to replace the projector. I took the opportunity to upgrade the resolution and go with a 1080p High Definition projector from Epson, the PowerLite Home Cinema 6100. I looked online at to get throw measurements and reviews. Our projection wall is only so large and the projector sits at a certain distance from the wall, so we have to get one that can adjust its throw. This Epson model does that and is true 1080p, meaning it's the highest resolution you can get at the moment. It's also 3-LCD and doesn't have a color wheel so we wouldn't get the rainbow effect that some of the 1-DLP projectors would exhibit.

Since we were upgrading the projector to HD, I took the opportunity of upgrading the DVD player to Blu-Ray as well. I got a Samsung BD-P3600 that comes with WiFi connectivity. So above are two shots of the wall when projecting Quantum of Solace and Master and Commander. Can you tell which one is in High-Def? It may be hard to tell because I took these around 9am, so the contrast isn't that great and the scenes are somewhat dark. (Master and Commander was Blu-Ray, Quantum of Solace was not.) I think to really see the difference we would need a test pattern of some sort, e.g., some checkerboard floor extending out to infinity. I think the HD format would show less aliasing than the older format which I think is about half the lines of resolution. I think the resolution is much improved, and we can also now get video-on-demand from Netflix via the internet (and Pandora music as well, but that doesn't work as well since the music doesn't seem to want to stream in 5.1 surround so it makes more sense for us to stream music via iTunes and connect to multiple speakers [also via WiFi] to the living room amp and to speakers in the kitchen, as we currently do—we use the Apple airport stations that just plug in to the wall and connect to a pair of speakers). Both the projector and DVD player were less than the cost of the original projector. And of course no more green dot!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Back in the studio

Last month (Apr 17) The Hoodoo Hounds went back to the studio. We went back to the same studio we went to almost two years ago now (see sound check). I usually don't like identifying people by name in these posts (unless they want me to), so I'll just say it's the studio up towards Central, in this one fellow's basement. He's got it pretty well decked out with good recording equipment, including a variety of mic's and a computer. He knows what he's doing and I'm always impressed by the sound of the playback in my headphones. The only real difficulty for me is that the drum track gets recorded first. Which means that I get minimal band accompaniment. A professional drummer would likely just count out what he's supposed to do. I'm not a professional drummer :) So while I am still learning to count, I sometimes get lost in the song, e.g., which verse we're on, etc. It is much easier to play when you hear the rest of the band playing along. Anyway, we managed to get four tracks down: Got the Blues This Morning, Daisy Mae Blues, Crossroad Blues, and Sheepnose. Sheepnose is a fairly long number with various fills. I almost had it right on the first take, except that I forgot about the extra solo verse in the middle. So as our front man was showing me the measure count on his fingers (which really helps), I thought we were in on our last verse and so I started to do the ending. Meanwhile, he kept on counting, as did the rhythm guitarist who was playing rhythm to help me keep my place. Now by this time I was already pretty wiped—it takes me about an hour to set up, and I had already been playing for about four hours without a break (two takes per song if I remember correctly). So on to take two...on this take I kept track of where I was but somehow managed to botch the ending. Luckily, the sound producer can do some "magic" with the software to fix that in post :) It was a long day, but now I'm done. Later this month the rest of the band is going back in to lay down their tracks. I'm really looking forward to hearing the finished product, I think the new songs should be pretty good.