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Entries From September 2006

September 30, 2006

Barstool Etiquette

Filed under WTF

I just finished watching my Aggies lose (again) to Tech in the final 30 seconds of the game. Since I'm in a pissy mood, please allow me to bitch.

I arrived at the sports bar 30 minutes early so I could get a table for the game. The only table I could find had a single barstool. I looked around and I was surrounded by three tables, each one had an extra, unused barstool.

I should clarify...as far as I was concerned, the barstools were unused.

The table nearest me had a young woman and an older couple. Three people and 4 barstools. I asked if I could use one of the barstools for my friend. The guy immediately said "sure," but his wife said, "I'm using it to hold my purse."

At that point it looked as if the lady felt she had given a compelling argument for why she needed the barstool.

I just stood there in disbelief. Are you kidding me? We are in a packed sports bar in the middle of college football and women's purses are supposed to be treated like people?

The guy realized how ridiculous his wife sounded so he gestured to me to go ahead and take it. I said "thank-you" and I moved the barstool over to my table. As I moved the barstool, I caught a glimpse of the lady giving me an eye-roll, something she obviously does a lot. 

The husband then quickly found another barstool at another table and put it near his wife so she could again have a place to put her purse.

The other two tables near me with unused barstools...the same situation...they were used to hold purses.


September 25, 2006

More HDTV Pics

Filed under Gadgets, HDTV, Photos

I can't stop! Here are a few more pics from my new HDTV.

 This is from Universal HD in 1080i from DirecTV HD.








This is from Discovery HD in 1080i from DirecTV HD. 








Tonight Show from NBC in 1080i using an antenna.








Late Show from CBS in 1080i using an antenna.


Filed under Gadgets, HDTV, Photos

I took some pictures of my TV showing Monday Night Football in HD. My digital camera takes pictures at 2592x1944. ESPN is broadcasting MNF in 720p (1280x720). As detailed as these pictures are, a 1080 broadcast would show even more. I took the pictures about 4 feet from the TV.

Check out how much you can zoom in before the image gets pixelated and the clarity of the text. Click on the pics below to see the full resolution versions.


September 21, 2006

My Little Bundle Of Joy

Filed under Gadgets, HDTV, Reviews

After a few years of researching, I finally got my HDTV, a 46" Sony XBR3 LCD.

Why did I choose this set? There are a few reasons...

  • 1920x1080 resolution
  • Support for 1080p inputs
  • Looks great from any viewing angle
  • DRC 2.5 (Digital Reality Creation) - Image Enhancement Chip
  • Sony XBR well respected brand for high end TV's
  • Floating-glass Bezel looks cool
  • Not too big for standard definition, not too small for high definition from a viewing distance of 9 feet
  • Automagically brightens when the room gets brighter (lights on, Sunlight)


I used the THX Optimizer from The Incredibles DVD to check the setup. I changed the color mode from "vivid" to "standard." Other than that, all settings were left at the factory defaults. I was surprised that the default settings gave the best results for the THX Optimizer...I didn't have to adjust anything.

I watched some of The Incredibles and I was blown away by how good it looked. I sat about 3 feet away and it looked amazing. I noticed *much* more detail than before. One reason for this is probably because my old set did not support anamorphic DVD's, but this one does. Anamorphic DVD's use the entire frame for video instead of wasting data on the black bars. The DVD player will stretch the frame to fit a wide screen and add the black bars.

If a DVD can look this good, I'm not going to be in a rush to get HD-DVD or Blu-ray. Although, I will be *very* tempted to pickup the new Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on if it is only $170.

I watched a bit of Star Wars Episode III and was again impressed. Granted, I chose these movies because I knew they were filmed at 60 fps for HDTV, unlike most movies that are done at 24 fps.

Next I watched an episode of 24, season 2. It did not look as good as the previous movies, but it still looked great.

DirecTV looked terrible at first. I played with the settings for DRC and then I got a picture that looked almost the same as my old TV, which was really good. Lesson learned: DRC can improve picture quality when done right, and it can make TV look horrible when done wrong. The default is on with some funky settings which make regular television (NTSC) look awful.

I will be getting FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, Discovery, TNT, and MSNBC in HD tomorrow. My apartment complex in the past month has added HD support to the DirecTV they supply us. I can't pick up HD using an antenna because I am surrounded by tall buildings.

I played Xbox 360 last night, which is currently my only true HD source (720p). I sat really close and played Project Gotham Racing 3. I've had this game since I bought my 360 back in February, but I haven't played it much. It feels like a new game...you can see further in the distance, the detail is a amazing. The wide screen fills my field of view...it was a completely different experience than before. I will *definitely* be playing this one more.

My initial impression...I *love* this set.

September 11, 2006


Filed under Reviews, Video

This song reminds me of music from the good old days (the 80's) when you judged a song by how many times you could tolerate watching the video. This is a very clever video (done in one take!) and a catchy song. Check it out, OK Go's "Here It Goes Again"...



September 10, 2006


Filed under Programming, Reviews, Software, Xbox 360

XNA (which stands for "XNA is Not Acronymed") is a new moniker from Microsoft for tools to make video games for Windows and the Xbox 360. The tools are designed to make developing games easier and accessible to more people. This FAQ is helpful to understand what XNA is all about. The home page for XNA is here

About a week ago, Microsoft released a beta of the XNA Game Studio Express (GSE). I downloaded GSE this weekend to find out what it is about.

GSE appears to just be a plug-in to Visual C# Express (VCSE). Since GSE is a plug-in, it requires VCSE in order to install. After you install GSE and restart VCSE, everything looks the same. I had to do some digging to find out where exactly GSE "enhances" VCSE. I found 3 places:

  1. Documentation. The help system has tutorials, a programming guide, and reference for XNA.
  2. New XNA framework. This framework is built on top of the .NET framework. It adds the following libraries:
    • Application Model - game loop, how to pause/exit
    • Graphics - 2D, 3D
    • Math - vectors, matrices, collision detection
    • Input - read the mouse, keyboard, and Xbox 360 controller
    • Audio - associate sounds with events, like a gun shot when a player presses a button on the controller
    • Storage - generalizes where game data is read from and where game save data goes to so the same code will work on a 360 and a PC without modification
  3. Templates. When you start a project in VCSE (File->New Project...), you are given some choices about what type of project you want to create (e.g. Windows Application, Console Application, Empty Project, etc.). GSE adds three more options: Windows Game, Windows Library, and Spacewar Starter Kit. The Spacewar Starter Kit is a rewrite of the classic Spacewar game using XNA. All the code is available so you can see how an actual game is using the XNA framework.

I followed a tutorial in the help called "Your First XNA Game." Basically you just create a project based on the "Windows Game" template, add some code to the update and draw functions, and you have quite possibly the worst video game of all time. To see for yourself, download this and extract it to a folder and run "shadowtest.exe." Granted, the point of the exercise is not to make a game, but to show you how to get started making a game, which it does well. It took me about 10 minutes to go through the tutorial.

Final thoughts...

  • C# has a lot of buzz and is growing in importance in the game industry. I'm going to do my home programming projects in C# from now on.
  • .NET/XNA can/will be used for video games. If you asked me about .NET use for video games 2 years ago, I would have said it is too slow. That appears to be changing.
  • .NET/XNA development is more efficient than STL/OpenGL/OpenAL/etc. Instead of using many isolated libraries, .NET/XNA appears to be a single well organized library with a *ton* of functionality. STL has data types (like a list of strings) that OpenGL does not understand. In order for these libraries to inter-operate, the programmer is required to "massage" data to get it into the proper format. The incompatibilities in data types in .NET/XNA are largely removed since they are built on top of the same data types. Plus, all of the .NET/XNA library is documented in a consistent way, which lowers the learning curve.
  • 360 controller is the only controller supported by XNA. This makes sense since the idea is you use XNA to make games that work on both Windows and Xbox 360. It sucks to make games for a PC and not know what controller to target. Now Microsoft is saying the 360 controller *is* the game controller for the PC. This may be bad news for choice and input device manufacturers, but it is great news for PC game development and ease-of-use. XNA-based PC games will "just work" with a 360 controller.
  • XNA games will work on an Xbox (PowerPC-based) and a PC (x86-based) *without* recompiling. This is a side effect of using .NET. Just like a Java app can be "write once, run anywhere," same goes for .NET. 

There are several forums that discuss XNA. This one is about the XNA framework. This one is about the GSE. This is the parent page that lists forums for different game technologies. I've found a lot of good information browsing through these forums.

Another good place for XNA info is their blog.

XNA is a work in progress and they have a bunch of things coming. This is a technology that I'm going to be watching closely.

September 4, 2006

Back to School (or how I saved almost $9,000)

Filed under Animation, Maya, Software

I am officially a student again! I'm taking a 3D Animation class at El Centro College, which is just 2 blocks from my apartment.

Why am I going back to school? While I was at SIGGRAPH in Boston, I saw a bunch of high end software I'd really like to have...but it is *really* expensive. I talked with a company that had a booth at SIGGRAPH called JourneyEd. They said if I was a student, I could get the full versions of software at academic prices.

Two years ago I bought a 3D animation tool, Maya 6.0 Complete. It cost me $2,000. Maya has a *very* poor upgrade policy. When Maya 7.0 came out last year, it would have cost me around $1,500 to upgrade! No thanks.

So now Maya 8.0 is out. There are two versions: Complete for $2,000 or Unlimited for $8,000. Academic prices are a *bit* lower: Complete for $289 or Unlimited for $399. I decided to "splurge" and go with Unlimited. Being a student saved me $7,600 off Maya!

I've also been looking at moving to Adobe PhotoShop. Corel's Paint Shop Pro has served me well, but it isn't the industry standard like PhotoShop is. I was also interested in moving from Ulead's Media Studio Pro to Adobe's Premier Pro. If you are going to get both software packages, it is much cheaper to get the Adobe Production Studio Premium, which comes with a bunch of interesting Adobe applications:

  • PhotoShop (image editing)
  • Premier Pro (video editing)
  • Illustrator (vector editing)
  • Audition (sound editing)
  • After Effects (video compositing)
  • Encore DVD (DVD authoring)

The regular price for Adobe Production Studio Premium is $1,700, but students can get it at JourneyEd for $649. That is a saving of $1000.

All told, I saved $8,600! The cost to be a student, after my company kicks in some dough, is $25!

I registered and got my student ID in the same visit to El Centro. As soon as I got my ID, I ran home and placed an order for the software. I wanted the software to get here quick so I paid for next day shipping...which turned out to be really stupid since JourneyEd is located in Dallas. Oh well. The software arrived in 5 days (including a weekend).

To prove I was a student, I just sent JourneyEd a picture of my ID. They said I am eligible for student discounts for one year with my ID! I may have to get Microsoft's Visual Studio Pro 2005 next!

Now that I have my software, I could drop out. But I am not going to. I'm going to stick with my 3D animation class. It's fun! I'm self-taught in 3D animation, so it is likely that I will pick up some things in the class. The class is small...just me a girl. The class is using Apple Macs. The last time I used a Mac, they were black and white (and I'm not talking about case colors). So this is good environment for me to learn about how Mac OS X works. We are using Newtek's Lightwave, which I have never used.

MINI Takes The States: Dallas to Memphis

Filed under MINI, Photos, Travel


Today's leg of MTTS traveled from downtown Dallas (2 blocks from my apartment!) to Memphis. We all gathered in a large parking lot at 8am and left around 8:30am.

I picked up a cool MTTS shirt...although it certainly is not $36 cool.

Wired provided a bus with free WiFi access. I'm not sure how accurate their tally (see picture) was, but they did update it frequently.

I got in a convoy with 3 other MINI's. Alas, it was not meant to be. After only 30 minutes of motoring, the cops pulled over our leader. One of the other cars pulled over and waited. That left me and one other MINI. Not much of a convoy...so I drove slow and waited for another group.

The next group had 4 MINI's in it. One of them was Gary from MC2 Magazine. We stopped at a gas station and took some pictures of our cars. 4 of the 5 MINI's were red, so we lined them up for some photos.

Once we got back on the road, we hooked up with another 4 MINI's to get our convoy to 9. The first official stop was just after the Texas/Arkansas border. One of the red MINI owners (Toby) said he was turning around at this point and heading back. I decided to join him. We had our own 2 car convoy back to Dallas.

The pics are here.

MINI Takes The States: Amarillo to Dallas

Filed under MINI, Photos, Travel

MINI Takes The States (MTTS) is a two week trip setup by MINI starting on the West Coast and ending on the East Coast. It would have been a blast to do the whole thing, but I am out of vacation days for the year. I drove to Wichita Falls to meet up with the inbound MINI's and drove to Dallas with them. I met up with my co-worker Steve Baker at a Wendy's in Wichita Falls. We stopped once at a MINI rest stop that provided free ice cream. Once I got to Dallas, I went to get a free car wash, courtesy of MINI. I had dinner at Razoo's with the Metroplex MINI clan. Then I went to the Gypsy Tea Room for a MINI private party featuring free drinks and a couple of comedians and a couple of bands.

If you click on the Amarillo to Dallas leg of MTTS, and then go to "Details & Photos", then click on "Photos", then go to the 14th picture down, you can see a picture of me on the MINI website! I am the only guy with a red shirt sitting up near the front row with comedian Jay Davis on stage. Appearance on MINI website: check!

Here are the pics.

Panoramic Pics of MINI Takes The States

Filed under MINI, Photos

Here are a few panoramic pics I created with Adobe PhotoShop from last weekend's MINI Takes The States (MTTS). The pic above was after we left Dallas for Memphis. I joined a convoy of 9 MINI's that had several red MINI's. The next time we stopped, we lined up for a red MINI photo op. My car is the one with the number 11 on the side.

Saturday night, MTTS took over the Gypsy Tea Room in Deep Ellum. The parking lot was overflowing with MINI's. I tried to take one 360 degree panoramic pic...but the distortion became too great, so I split it into 3 pictures. Doing a 360 degree panoramic photo would be easier if I had the right tool for the job, like this Sony panoramic camera.


About September 2006

This page contains all entries posted to David's Blog in September 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

August 2006 is the previous archive.

October 2006 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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