And… genius.

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iTunes 8 was released to the world today, and included in its myriad upgrades and changes — but not even mentioned by Sir Steve in his presentation, sadly — is a new visualizer that looks suspiciously familiar to yours truly.
At any rate, for those of you out there who enjoy staring at swirling globes of light, dancing ribbons and gaseous nebulae all waltzing together in loving harmony to your music of choice, I thought I’d let you know how to get the most out of iTunes Visualizer.
Plus, I’ll let you in on the Super Secret Undocumented option! Whee, you’re special!
When you start it up, it dances and flings and sparkles, but you can also control some of the aspects of it if you want to.
To open the options menu, click ? on your keyboard. In the upper left, a magical menu appears with a few options:
M – Change mode
P – Change palette
I – Display track info
C – Toggle auto-cycle (on by default)
F – Toggle freeze mode
N – Toggle nebula mode
L – Toggle camera lock
Here’s what they mean, though you can discover these yourself with a little experimentation.
The visualizer uses globes of gravity around which smaller sparkles and clouds of gas and ribbons swirl and dance. C is on by default, so the visualizer will Cycle through all the modes continuously as long as that’s on. If you find a specific mode you like (by hitting M) hitting C again turns off auto-cycling.
The different Modes (M) alter the appearance of these pieces. Keep hitting M to get them all.
The palette also follows the auto-cycle mode, but you can change the palette yourself if you don’t like the one you’re looking at by hitting P.
Track info (I) is self-explanatory, I assume.
Freeze mode (F) will stop the action immediately, but the camera (P.O.V.) will continue to circle the frozen tableau unless you also lock the camera in place with L.
Nebula mode is what adds the swirling clouds that emit from the gravity globes. On older computers that may, shall we say, lack modern graphic cards, turning this off may speed everything up and stop any jitters you may be experiencing.
But, if you want to see what your computer can do on its own, hit E. This is the secret Extreme mode that sends the nebulae into overdrive, and the particle effects at full screen on a slower computer will cause it to cough and hack and get a terrible, terrible headache.

Posted in Tech Heaven/Tech Hell | 1 Comment

Death to IE6

I’m in the midst of exploring redesigns to all my personal sites for a number of reasons, chiefly that it’s been quite a while since the last one and that the current design has one or two “show stopper” problems that I simply didn’t consider when creating the design.
What I’m hoping to do is to keep the aspects of the design that I think work, discard the ones that don’t, simplify everything a great deal and… drop support for Internet Explorer 6.
It isn’t an exaggeration to state that I loathe IE6. It is a 7-year-old browser and it shows. Its support of current web technologies and capabilities is, to be kind, lacking, and I find that in my freelance work the one browser I am constantly adjusting for and making exceptions for is that one. IE7 isn’t altogether perfect, and I look forward to IE8 now in public beta, but IE6 is a disaster of enormous proportions and deserves to die.
37Signals began to drop support for IE6 in its many tools starting this month. Salesforce is going to continue to support IE6, but any new interface tools and capabilities won’t work. Looking around the web, I note that usage of IE6 is still at a minimum of 25% and goes all the way up to 50%, the larger numbers mainly at those sites used primarily by large corporations that rely on a centralized tech department to move its users up to IE7, and it just hasn’t happened in the two years since it became available.
I know my site has a very tiny audience and I also know that most of you are using Firefox and Safari rather than any flavor of Internet Explorer, so there’s no need to poke you in the ribs to please remind you that it’s past time to update your browser. But for the rest of you, if you’re still using IE6, I can guaran-damn-tee you that when the redesign hits, you’re going to be slightly unhappy campers.
If you’re using IE6, please update/upgrade/change to something else ASAP. If you’re on windows, I recommend Firefox. Frankly, if you’re on a Mac, I also recommend Firefox. Although Safari does a lot of things right, the whole “Flash makes my browser freeze up,” no matter who is to blame, is a headache that can be easily avoided.

Posted in The Wonderful WWW | 3 Comments

The Film Library Project: Part Three

This past weekend I achieved a minor milestone: all my DVDs — every film from Airplane to Young Frankenstein and every television episode from “Absolutely Fabulous” to “Strangers With Candy” — have been ripped from their silver disc prisons and enshrined on a 1 terabyte hard drive, using up precisely 706,153,332,736 bytes of data storage. I can now use my Logitech Harmony One universal remote to access the Apple tv and scan through every film or tv episode and watch them in Dolby 5.1 surround sound (for those encoded as such) on my 42″ high definition television.
I can also stream any movie or program via iTunes wirelessly over my 802.11n home network to any other computer in my apartment (being just the one MacBook Pro sitting on my work desk) and play “Find the Fish” with Monty Python’s Meaning of Life while coding and design web sites for clients.
I can rent DVDs from my local store and rip the ones I like to my library. I can await receiving one the 145 movies and tv shows I added to my Netflix cue to arrive and add those, too. Every Thin Man film. The complete “Extras.” Curse of the Golden Flower. Every Kurasawa film. “Cowboy Bebop,” the complete sessions in 5.1.
It’s kind of amazing.

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The Film Library Project: Part Two

It’s been a few weeks so I thought I’d let you know how things are progressing and what I’ve learned in this process so far.

  1. Ripping over 300 DVDs consisting of both films and television show episodes takes a 1-for-1 rip-to-program length amount of time on my Mac mini. That means that a 2-hour film takes about 2 hours to get from disc to drive, and then I need to add it to iTunes and annotate the entry so it ends up being sorted correctly (more on that later) so this isn’t at all like ripping your CD collection, which flies by in comparison but also means you’re constantly feeding your disk drive when ripping music, and ripping video is a set it and go about your daily routine and check on it in two hours. I work from home so I have time to do that. Most people, probably not so much. So if you go this route, it will pay you to realize that it may take weeks or months to get a big collection off the silver discs.
  2. Handbrake has some really nice features built-in, particularly support for 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, but you have to make sure you’re ripping the correct version of your material to your iTunes library or you’ll end up wasting a lot of time.
    • I was ripping everything using the normal mode, which is .MP4, but typically of Apple they decided to support .MP4 only sporadically and prefer video with an .M4V on the end. Sometimes you can simply alter the file type in the Info panel and it’ll work, but not always and there have been occasionas when I had to discard a ripped file and re-rip it using .M4V. Simply be aware of what you’re ripping before you rip it.
    • Secondly, always check the video aspect ratio output by clicking on the “Picture Settings…” button. This opens a new window and you can cycle through a few screen captures that show exactly what your finished video will look like. Weirdly, not every film uses the exact same settings for anamorphic (16×9) presentations. Handbrake lets you adjust the edges pixel-by-pixel, or you can select “Strict” and that usually works, but make sure you check this or you could end up with a widescreen movie presented in squishscreen fashion. Handbrake doesn’t always recognize the correct settings automatically.
    • Also check the audio setting every time. There are several audio tracks on DVDs, and on older ones the Dolby 5.1 setting isn’t the default. If the DVD has a Dolby AC3 5.1 setting, you also have to change the codec dropdown in Handbrake from “AVC/H.264 Video / AVC + AC3 Audio” to “AVC/H.264 Video / AC3 Audio” which will pass-through the Dolby 5.1 encoded audio so that’s what you end up with on your file, otherwise you could end up with Dolby Digital 2-channel, which isn’t bad but certainly 5 channels and a dedicated subwoofer are better than stereo.
  3. A commenter asked in the first part of this article about the choice in audio/video receivers. And there are a lot of them. How did I settle on my Denon 3808? Firstly, I have been using Denon equipment as the platform for my audio/video set-up for a very long time (this is my third Denon, and I upgrade about every 6 years, depending on the changing audio climate) so I looked at them as my first choice, holding up their price and features as the tent pole around which any other equipment would need to contend.

    I looked at Sony, Pioneer Elite and Onkyo equipment, mostly because at the time of purchase they were the only ones supporting Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio, the newest 7-channel pure digital standards used in Blu-ray discs. It came down to Onkyo versus Denon. The Onkyo had a distinct price advantage, but commenters in some of the audio forums around the web, particularly the AVS Forum, said that the Onkyo was running very hot (not a good sign) and that it had some clicking issues. The Denon was also suffering some faults, mainly in its support for internet radio. Since I rarely if ever listen to internet radio stations, and the Denon came equipped with an Ethernet port for firmware downloads directly from the manufacturer (plus my positive history with the brand, though it may be considered overpriced by some) I opted to stick with what I knew.

    Since my purchase, Denon has introduced their new line of equipment for 2009 and lots of the high-end features have migrated downward, so you can pick up a very nicely outfitted receiver for half the cost of what I paid. My advice is to look around, read some forums (the AVS forum is very helpful and nearly noise-free) go listen to them in-person and keep an eye looking ahead, because the digital age is inserting many, many new wrinkles in the world of audio and video, and it’ll be important for whatever equipment you buy now to have the ability to be easily updated or upgraded going forward. For example, Denon will be releasing new software for 3808 (and other high-end model) owners that will install Audissey’s new Dynamic Volume feature this October(ish) via the web-enabled firmware distribution method. I’ll pay around $100 and my receiver gets even flashier and more useful, without having to go out and replace the whole thing.

  4. One thing I have replaced is the external drive array. The LaCie mini drives, though they match aesthetically with the mini’s footprint and have been working flawlessly, proved to be just too loud for use as video archives. The fan on the Mini is loud enough, but adding two more to it was too much. They were huffing and puffing away every minute of the day, and watching anything at night, when you need the sound dimmed a bit for the sake of your apartment neighbors and thin walls, proved to be a nuisance.

    I’ve replaced them with a single fanless 1-terabyte “G-Drive” from G-Technology here in California. It’s not without its own shortcomings (why, for example, did they install a 1,000-watt bulb in the LED socket to show that the drive is working? but a little strip of electrical tape resolves that problem) but it’s nearly silent, comes in a very solid aluminum housing, is pre-formatted for Macs and is robust enough to keep grinding away as I simultaneously rip more DVDs and watch my library every night. They’re affordable at $379 for 1 terabyte (and I’ve gone through half of one of those already and I’m only at the M’s), come with Firewire 400 to give a slight edge on transfer rates to the Mini, and they run at a fast 7200RPM.

As mentioned, I’m up to the M’s (Monsters Inc. and the Matrix trilogy) in my library and have been enjoying some old DVDs I frankly forgot I even owned. Getting access through the Apple TV interface makes it all much easier to find and scan, and I can jump in and out of films, moving through the chapters just like a DVD, without switching discs or fumbling with cases.
So far, so good.

Posted in Tech Heaven/Tech Hell | 3 Comments


When I moved from Windows to Mac (and I’m one of those cited in the study that blames Vista for that switch) one of my worries was about finding a good mouse. I know, sounds silly, but having checked around for suitable Apple-friendly input objects, I found that Windows had a lot more choices than Mac did.
After some trial and error, and the purchase of not one, not two, but five different mice, I think I’ve finally found the right combination of ergonomics, button choices, attractiveness, and non-buggy operation. Before I jump to my conclusion, I’ll provide the path that got me to The Perfect Mouse.

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The Film Library Project: Part One

Some time ago, I decided that it was dumb and a waste of space to keep my library of around 300 DVDs in their plastic boxes stacked on shelves inside two rather large cabinets. So I purchased a Sony 400-disc DVD jukebox, transferred all the silver discs into it and discarded all the boxes and booklets, leaving me with a simple way to manage, sort and view my movies and TV shows on DVDs.
Then I went Mac. The Apple platform is more suitable to digital media storage than Windows. It just is. Believe me, I tried it both ways and the whole Windows Media solution sucks. They layered too much crap over it all, and even though it will record and store television broadcasts, I’m too tied to my TiVo to have ever abandoned it, particularly after succumbing to Comcast’s attempt at digital TV recording in Hi-Def which capital-S Sucked.
Initially I tried to copy my DVD library to a Mac mini with 750Gb of attached external drive space, but that mini simply wasn’t up to the task. Using Handbrake to extract a 2-hour film from disc to drive took all night long. Plus, Handbrake previously had some bugs that chopped off the final few seconds of a film (not a big deal when talking about end credits, quite a big deal when talking about the 2-disc Lord of the Rings extended editions) and it wouldn’t support Dolby Digital tracks in 5.1 arrays. And even if it did, the Mac mini didn’t have a Dolby license to be able to interpret it into 5.1 tracks.
The advent of Apple tv 2.0 has altered the landscape considerably.

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Posted in Tech Heaven/Tech Hell | 1 Comment

I Made This

My Apartment in 1 Minute 8 Seconds from glassdog on Vimeo.
Posted in Art for Art's Sake | 3 Comments

Blu-Ray Über Alles!

So, Toshiba has given up the ghost, thrown in the towel, jumped the shark and called it a day. HD DVD is dead, officially. Blu-Ray is the de facto winner in the Hi-Def format stakes. So can you finally buy a Blu-Ray player without regret?
Well, yes and no. Blu-Ray is still an evolving standard. As such, a player you buy today may or may not support discs you buy in the future, which sucks but there it is.
I already own an HDTV LCD from Westinghouse (that, unfortunately, suffers from some HDMI 1080p bugs that produce blue sparkles whenever I send those signals to it) and just upgraded to a new Denon 3808ci that supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio for lossless 7.1 surround, so I’m mostly set to start watching Blu-Ray movies. After some due diligence, I have ordered the Panasonic DMP-BD30K, the first stand-alone player to fully support Blu-Ray 1.1, the “final standard profile,” the main benefit of which is BD-J (Blu-Ray Disc Java) for picture-in-picture video playback, meaning you can do things like compare two different versions of scene, or watch the director give his commentary in addition to listening to it.
For what that’s worth to you.
Why didn’t I buy the PS3, which is pretty much what anyone recommends when considering a Blu-Ray player? Two reasons, mainly. First, it’s really noisy. Not as noisy as an Xbox 360, but noisy enough that watching quiet passages in a movie would be hampered by my knowledge of that annoying fan noise coming from somewhere. Secondly, the PS3 uses Bluetooth to receive remote control commands rather than infrared, so you’re forced to either use the game controller to figure out how to watch a movie, or buy their cheap plastic Bluetooth remote instead of being able to simply program your handy-dandy universal remote, which I find ludicrous.
If you’re thinking of getting a Blu-Ray player, and those two idiosyncrasies don’t seem like a bother, the PS3 is kind of a no-brainer. It has an Ethernet port on it so Sony can send it regular updates to comply with the evolving changes in the Blu-Ray standard, and it has copious internal memory so anything you want to download as part of the upcoming 2.0 standard (mostly involving online toys like “play a video game based on Alien vs. Predator against your friends! (who also own a 2.0 compliant Blu-Ray player)”) will be able to find space.
Or, simply wait until around June when Panasonic issues the DMP-BD50, the upgraded and likely more expensive version of the BD30 that will include 2.0 support natively.
I’ll let you know, once I have the Panny 30 plugged in, whether it’s worth the trouble.

Posted in Daily Doldrums | 1 Comment

A High Definition Choice

I am an early adopter, when I can afford it. As such, I have experienced my own personal disappointments when a format or platform I selected under-performs in the market and is judged a failure by every measurement except quality, because I think I usually judge these things rationally and after a good deal of research about which is the better option.
Those of us with big digital monitors for our home entertainment centers, AKA the living room TV, know that there are two competing platforms to replace DVDs for high-def video on a little silver disk. They both offer similar audio and video quality, and use exactly the same read/write method to pull the copious amounts of data off the platters for delivery to your screen and speakers.
Until recently, the major differentiations have been “We’re bigger!” and “We’re cheaper!”, and historically the “We’re cheaper!” camp usually wins the contest, because the general public can’t be bothered about the details and what it comes down to, in the end, looking at a side-by-side comparison is “If I can get the same picture and the same sound for less, why would I buy the other box?” The good tech-heads at c|net have assembled an excellent table that accurately demonstrates the similarities between the competing standards, and the differences are minor.
The battle between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray has been going on now for more than two years. Attempts to rectify the differences in the two camps and provide a single, undisputed, optimized standard fell apart in 2005 and since then we’ve been faced with making a decision.

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Posted in Tech Heaven/Tech Hell | 2 Comments