Friday, October 5, 2012

iPhone phone spam blocker

The iPhone doesn't have the "block calls from this number" that Android and other smart phones have. If you want to block a number, you have to buy a $5/mo (or more) service from AT&T.  There are apps which can block calls, like iBlacklist, but they're expensive-ish, (for apps) being $12 or more.

What you can do on your own is this:
  1. Download a "silent" ringtone.  Here's one.  Save it in iTunes (Firefox, choose to Open it in iTunes). 
  2. Sync your phone. If this is the first ringtone in your iTunes, you'll see a new tab called "Tones" in your iPhone panels where you choose what to sync. Sync over the new silent tone. It's called "Silent Ringtone".
  3. From your incoming calls, find a spam phone number (or enter it as a new contact if you know the number)
  4. Set the First Name to "9-[Spam Numbers]".  You put the "9" on the front so it sorts down to the bottom when you're browsing contacts. Make it a pirate-eye-patch frowny if you want. 9^{  
  5. Choose for rington your new "Silent" tone.  Your custom tones sort to the top of the list, so it should be above "Marimba" (Apple's default) at the top of the list. 
  6. Set the Vibration to be none. The "None" vibration is at the bottom of the Vibrations list. Do the same for Text tone and vibration, in case the spammer tries to send an SMS. 
  7. You can even assign a spammy picture for it, in case you're looking at your phone when the silent call comes in (or you happen to be on another call and pull it away from your face to check when you get that momentary interrupt for a new call).
  8. You can't do it when you're setting up the initial number, but if a new spam call comes in, add it to Existing contact and keep adding numbers to your "9-[Spam Numbers]" contact.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dark Knight Rises IMAX on a Dome? No!!!

When Is IMAX a buzzkill?

This post generates this post:

I've heard buzz about people who, wanting to get the most immersive movie going experience, are laying down their money for tickets to an IMAX theater to see Batman: Dark Knight Rises. There have even been specific reviews for the IMAX version, such as this New York Times article. Big-screen IMAX is certainly a thrilling experience.  I once saw a NASA Shuttle mission lift-off on IMAX that literally moved me to tears.

But not all IMAX are equal, and not all IMAX films are created for all IMAX theaters.  The distinction is especially acute when you consider the "dome" IMAX theaters.  To the point: Before you buy movie tickets for the San Jose Tech Museum, browse this thread:
Note there are "1-star" and "5-star" reviews. And not just the usual Yelp 'haters' nor trolls. The difference between the experiences can almost always be attributed to the specific film they went to see. Sadly, this correlates inversely to their expecations of said experience.
Few seem to touch on or know the difference about these IMAX theaters, and their expectations are out of sorts and they are frequently disappointed in the movie, but it is usually not the fault of the film (whether you like the story of latest Dark Knight or not withstanding).  The fault lies with the distributor to use an inappropriate projection system used for the film. More cynically, the true root of the problem is distributors trying to draw an audience wanting to get the most out of a special film experience which is the problem.

All IMAX is not IMAX is not OMNIMAX.

It can be confusing when trying to find out if seeing an IMAX movie at the Hackworth Dome is going to be really great or really horrible.  Usually this is because people around the web are talking about something very different, about types of IMAX that don’t even involve a dome. Notice, for example, even in this posting from Chris Nolan fans where they don’t talk about the difference between dome and flat screens, but if you were thinking “True” IMAX was the Domed version, it could be misleading. Here, as in most all of the posts I've read around the web, they’re not talking about dome vs. flat, they’re talking about BIG IMAX and “semi-IMAX”.

It could very well that most people don’t know about domed IMAX theaters, because they’re actually pretty rare.

So what’s the difference and why does it make a difference?

First let me tell you I have some background in this.  I was an associate of the American’s Cinematographers Society (ASC) when I was in film school back in the 1970s and early 80s. Studying film formats and production techniques was part of the curriculum.  And yeah, it goes back that far.  The original was  “OMNIMAX”. It was the dome version; the flat version actually came later. The company (Canadian) branched out to flat screens, called them “IMAX”, then renamed the domed ones for brand identity.  They are NOT the same, and the only reason they’re showing regular release Hollywood movies on the dome is because (I suppose) people mistakenly think it will be a better experience than seeing it on a regular flat screen. It really isn’t, it’s much worse.  It is sad that the dome theaters [nearly always at museums] do this for the money, but that’s another issue.

“...uses films shot with a camera equipped with a fisheye lens on the camera
that squeezes a highly distorted 180° field of view onto the 65 mm IMAX film.”

Now, read this about the IMAX flat screens:   (same page, pgf above).

To see a movie in the Dome (which is what is at the Tech Museum), the movie must be shot (as said above) with special “Dome” or “Fisheye” lenses and can’t be shown on a regular screen.  It would literally appear as a circle on the square screen. The reverse, with the flat IMAX (big) image being shown on the dome happens, because the projection equipment is compatible and the theaters can make some more money, especially on big box office hits. But it is a HORRIBLE experience.   Imagine shooting a video projector picture on the inside of half of a Yoga balance ball.  The edges would be all distorted. if you were sitting close to the middle, you would have to look side to side to see what was happening.  Close-ups would look grossly distorted.  Horizontal lines bend.

Here are some professionals talking about dome vs. flat projections.

I can tell you from personal exposure, that it is an unhappy experience that will give you a headache and literally ruins a good movie. Now, I can also tell you that I saw Avatar and Tron 2 on the (semi-) IMAX at AMC Vallco (both happened to be in 3D) and they were great experiences. I also saw movie of a Space Shuttle launch on a large (“true”) IMAX screen at Cape Canaveral and also at Paramount Great America in Santa Clara. They were great.   I’ve seen dome movies at the Tech, the “Climbing Mount Everest” and “The Great Barrier Reef” and they were AMAZINGLY good.  Like, after seeing the Everest movie I thought, “Okay, cross that off the bucket list, I don’t have to climb Everest now!”

Sincerely,  I want everyone to have a good time.  I’ve seen the Dark Knight Rises, and can well imagine what it will look like on the dome. The outdoor sequences overlooking the  city or flying will be interesting on the dome, but all the sequences with dialog, with a couple of people on the screen, up close, will look only bizarre and cartoonish.

So you don’t think it’s just me, here’s a reddit post. Talking about (though missing the dome/flat IMAX distinction) the same thing.

Almost everything you read on the web is contrasting the "semi-", “fake” or “upgraded” flat-screen IMAX theaters (also called “LieMax”) to real *but also flat*  screen true IMAX screens.   The Dublin Regal Cinemas,  Lowes Metreon in San Francisco Yerba Buena park, and one more in Fresno  are the only true IMAX flat-screens around the Bay Area. 

That said, the “IMAX” (lie-max, whatever) screens at Mercado and Vallco are pretty good, at least as entertaining as the Century 21’s big/wide screen, and a lot better than many of the smaller “shoebox” theaters.  That said, if you sit close, they’re all pretty much the same.  Holding my iPad on my lap with a HiDef movie is about the same as watching it on a 46” screen in Blu-Ray on the other side of the room. 

Of course, in the theater the sound is better (is it?) but that's another post.

And then there's the issue of shooting in IMAX, producing an IMAX print or digital distribution, and what does that mean, really.  Look at the link that opened this blog entry, and see that "over one hour of The Dark Knight Rises was shot with an IMAX camera".  Soooo... when you mix/match IMAX with 35mm...what? You downsample the IMAX? You upsample the 35mm? You can switch scenes and see an immediate change in resolution, depth of color?  Well, perhaps.  It gets complicated, too much so to conflate it all with the dome issue, which is really the point of this.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Porsche 3.8L 997 S X51 Upgrade kit = $538/hp

I was browsing Suncoast Porsche's parts specials the other day and saw this piece of eye-candy.

Eye candy, yes. It is Porsche's 3.8 Liter M97 "Metzger" engine. A jewel of a motor, improved over the M96 which had inital problems with intermediate shaft wear and seal designs. Fixed during evolution, as is Porsche's time-proven method, the standard 3.8L produces 355HP and torque. Which is nearly 93.5 HP/Liter, a very high specific output for a normially aspirated engine. But there's a more to this truffle than meets the eye. For this represents the X51 "kit", an upgrade option to the standard beast of an engine. Usually this is a checkbox option when you order a new Porsche--if you know about these sorts of "X" options, and if your wallet can stand being lightened another ten and a half grand for that tiny little "X". Well, this isn't about the option code you get on your in-trunk sticker. It's what you see and don't see in the picture above that makes the X51 option actually much more like the rocket plane monniker than it sounds. In the picture above, you can see the carbon-fiber air cleaner. This covers larger air intakes, a seven percent increase in cross-section area on the throttle bodies and intake manifolds. Remember that number. There are also two new sport exhausts that flow free-er and with a concordant deeper tone. Connecting those two ends are some pieces in the inside of the engine. Starting with enlarged intake ports in the heads, to match the larger manifolds. The engine has to be able to get the more air which is now available into the head efficiently, so different camshafts are used with a profile matched to the intakes (seeing a theme here?) following that are larger exhaust ports, naturally, and matched larger headers feeding those new mufflers. End-to-end, what Porsche has done with the X51 is to add more air, in and out, and more air=more power. How much more power? The 355 HP goes to 381. That's, let's see, 26 more HP. I can hear you now, "Waitaminnit! Didn't he say above something about $10 grand?" I did, and more on that below. But let's stay focused on all that engineering goodness. You see, that rise is one of 7%. Hmmm. Exactly the size of the increase in the cross-section of the throttle bodies. Big deal? Well, yeah, it kinda is. Because that means that the actual efficieny of the engine--if we're to believe Porsche's published numbers--was increased to the theoretic limits allowed by the change. Which is very cool. To be sure, there's a DME (computer) change that goes along with, which must in order to balance the fuel to that greater airflow. Porsche could have (as many aftermarket "tuners" do) rebalanced that map to offer even a little more power, but guess what? With what they did, they don't have to change the EPA sticker on the car. Yep. It gets the same gas mileage for that extra 26hp. It's more efficient, you see. Free power.
Well, not totally free, of course. Because what the "more air" buys you, really, is the ability to rev the same pistons higher before that air just won't move any faster. The redline moves from the stock 3.8L engine at 7200 rpm to 7400 rpm. And at 7200 rpm is where the "HP Meter" moves from 355 to 381. Peaked at peak RPM, which is good, but makes you go "hmm". Because I know my own 3.8L Porsche Carrera S engine has spent only mere seconds of its long life at 7200 rpm. I bounced it off the rev limiter a couple of times when I first got it, and then have only been "there" a couple of times since, on purpose. Because you know that a candle that burns twice as fast, only burns half as long. With engine internals, the ratio is nowhere near 1:1, it's like putting your finger down on the fast forward button of your engine's longevity when you get above 6500 rpm or so.  However, he additional torques from 3600 to 6300 rpm, which is much more frequented territory, is probably very, very tasty.
And of course it isn't anywhere near free in the actual, pull out your wallet sense either. You see, this is a "kit", as sold by the SunsetCoast Porsche People. The kit is usually $16,073 when you buy it standalone, not attached to a car build sheet order. Gulp. But here, today, you can get it for a mere...$6995.00 Hey! That's a bona-fide discount bargain, right? Wow! Okay, but that's not the whole story, you see. The base kit is $7k. But that doesn't include the sport mufflers, because you could have ordered those separately (for the sound, and maybe 1-2hp more power--not worth Porsche talking about). So if you need those, that's another $2000 But it comes with a cool profiling switch where you can open those cans up with a button on your dash when you roll into the show-n-shine. Or just $1500 more if you can do without that button, but really, how could you resist that?
So $9k in parts and you're still ahead for the upgrade, right? Well, no. Because that's just the parts, and as beautiful as they are, they come in boxes, not already on the engine (not included) as in the picture. No, you have to have a Porsche mechanic install the parts. Okay; technically, you could do this yourself. Maybe there's a You Tube video on how to do it yourself. But you probably don't want to do this as the cost of a newbie mistake could be very, very high. Suncoast & Porsche advise that this is a 50 hour job. With Porsche shop rates at $100 per, that's a cool $5k and you can see why, at $14,000 for this upgrade that had you bought it at the outset you would have paid less, your Certificate of Authenticity would reflect the option, and you could have financed your lust for power over your 36/48/60/72/84 months.
Moreover, at this price, you have to ask yourself, is it really worth it? What's the bang for the buck here? Well, it is precicely $538 for each bang, er, HP achieved. Yes. For $538 HP you get exactly one additional HP out of your engine, and you get that 25 more times, cash on the barrelhead. Or Visa, whatever. That's a lot of scratch. But you have to understand that this was adding to an engine which was already extremely well engineered in the first place--there wasn't a lot on the table. In fact, I would wager that it is pretty much 26hp before you have to crack open the bottom end and start throwing titanium pieces and cubic yards of dollars at the engine. Is that possible? Why, yes, it is, as the magnificent Porsche GT3-RS 3.8L shows us. Same motor, same volume, different internal bits, higher redline sum to more power. And cubic yards of money.
So we don't end on what appears to be a sour note let's think some more about what the upgrade gets you. By the way, the above isn't sour, really. As the man says, "You can have fast, durable and cheap. Pick two." Divide both sides by "cheap" in this instance and you can see the Porsche math in this equation. But I digress. What the upgrade gets you, with your 381hp, is entry into a very rarefied club. This is the 100hp/L club of engines. For street cars there are the aforementioned even more expensive versions of this Metzger engine, other, newer Porsche "M91" post-Metzger engines currently coming out of Stuttgart for the current crop of "R" cars which also have this feature. Casting about the web, I find a very short list:

  • Honda S2000 (F20C engine) = 2.0L, 240hp (very, very impressive)
  • BMW M3 (E36) = 4.0L v8, 404hp
  • Lotus Elise tuned Toyota 1.8L = 190hp
  • Ferrari V8 (Italia) 4.5L = 452hp
There may be a few others, but you can see what kind of list this is. Oh, and of course there are manufacturers that take others' engines (like Lotus with Toyota) and pump them up before putting them in their own cars, but I suspect the EPA cycle isn't the same, to say nothing of longevity.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Two Minutes

Two minutes apart. April 22 of this year.

Friday, March 26, 2010

CoolIris - Very cool

Though there's a lot to like about Adobe's, the king of the online slideshow has to be cooliris.

Here's my slideshow, drawn from my Facebook gallery. Simple, elegant. Speaks for itself.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Your Next Netflix Streamer: "Everyone Says I Love You"

This movie,. "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996) is another Woody Allen love poem to New York--and this time to Paris as well. Allen's films after his early comedies nearly all have some deep homage to some director. In this case, its Vincente Minelli or maybe Stanley Donnen. It is without a doubt an embrace of another American treasure, pianist, composer and arranger Dick Hyman, who worked with all the great bands of the 30s, 40s and fifties. Hyman is the driver for this romp. Indeed the main reason for watching is it is a singing/dancing musical with a delightful selection of 50s standards. Just one by Rogers and Hart, but they're all of that ilk. When characters just burst into song in a store or hospital and everyone around jumps into intricate choreography, what's not to like? There's no one in the film that actually sings well--by movie standards--but in my mind the songs are just all the more accessible.

The primary singers aren't great--just cute and fitting--but the Helen Miles Singers make up a teriffic background chorus. They and the estimable Dick Hyman's arrangements and incidental score lift every performance. Graciela Daniele is the choreographer and has fun with the numbers, even though some of the principals would be better to stand still and let the professionals dance around them. A young Ed Norton looks particularly clumsy but is still endearing.

I somehow only saw parts of it over the last dozen years and watched the whole thing last night with a smile on my face almost the whole time. Aside from Allen's usual driver-of-drama, "The heart wants what the heart wants," and his lamentable attitude that marriage is just a forever temporary convenience (he laughably says at one point, 'I'm not that guy'), the story looks at "love" from a lot of different angles--almost completely as an excuse to get to the next song.

The film features a huge name ensemble cast led by Alan Alda, Goldie Hawn and Woody Allen.
Ensemble parts by Natasha Lyonne, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Tim Roth, Ed Norton, Drew Barrymore. Billy Crudup, Itzhak & Navah Perlman, David Ogden Stiers and many others make cameos. A lot of fun, a lot of great tunes rolling around in your head afterwards.

Amazon Music Sampler
1. Just You, Just Me - Helen Miles Singers, Ed Norton
2. My Baby Just Cares for Me - Natasha Lyonne, Helen Miles Singers, Ed Norton
3. Recurrence/I'm a Dreamer [Instrumental] - Olivia Hayman
4. Makin' Whoopee - Timothy Jerome, Helen Miles Singers
5. Venetian Scenes/I'm Thru With Love - Woody Allen
6. All My Life - Julia Roberts
7. Just You, Just Me [Salsa Version]
8. Cuddle up a Little Closer - Billy Crudup, Sanjeev Ramabhadran
9. Looking at You - Alan Alda
10. Recurrence/If I Had You [Instrumental] - Tim Roth
11. Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think) - Patrick Crenshaw, Helen Miles Singers
12. Chiquita Banana - Christy Carlson Romano
13. Hooray for Captain Spaulding/Vive le Capitaine Spaulding - Helen Miles Singers
14. I'm Thru With Love - Goldie Hawn
15. Everyone Says I Love You - Helen Miles Singers

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Disc or stream? Stream or Disc?

To quote myself (Rick, this is for you): "We are on the cusp of a transition matrix." Meaning, the digital convergence of the Internet, the networked television and widely available and inexpensive streaming content is nearly rivaling what we can purchase and own on optical disc.

So are we still buying movies on disks? I'm tapering off. It seems like most every movie I have (over 400) on my shelf are available on Netflix--many streaming--and Hulu, etc. And I've this pile of disks that are in the "to watch" list, which doesn't seem to get any smaller. How many of these that I have already watched will I watch again (aside from a relatively small handful of true favorites)?

It seems that more and more often I catch myself or the family watching a movie on cable or the computer and say, "We have that on disk" and am met with a shrug (even to myself).

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You can't really dismiss the streaming stuff due to quality any more. Sure, you may still have to suffer the occasional buffer/stutter but that's going to be the first of all issues resolved by the providers and hardware and network (am I leaning away from "net neutrality" here? No, but that's a different topic altogether). Even YouTube is now touting 1080p resolutions and they're providing commerical streams as well as the Niagra of amateur offerings. And it's all legal, too. Movie content owners have seen what happened to the Music industry. They're not fighting it, they're going with the flow--or trying to own the flow. If piracy is in your bent then there's an even bigger hose to drink from.

What that means for our loved Optical Discs is that when it comes to the commitment of purchase, I'm just down to the Really Big movies. Kaboom movies where you want the uncompressed sound and really optimum viewing experience (i.e., without the aforementioned apologies of buffer/stutter/compression), or in cool packaging--like the Star Trek Target disk where the disks are stored in the Saucer Section of the Enterprise!--or rare small ones that won't be available on-demand for a while (i.e., "The Wages of Fear", or early seasons of "Fringe"). A very few disc releases have good extra content disks which may or may not be available from Netflix (usually no).

And. of course, there's always the need to complete a series started long ago, before we got to this "cusp" between "own" and "use". Which brings me to the point of this ramble.

Harry Potter &THBP: buy? Netflix first and then decide? I've got the others in a mish-mash of DVD, HD-DVD (yeah, I'm that guy) and Blu-Ray. So there's the "complete the 'collection'" argument. And potentially it could be like Star Wars, where once a decade you want to pull out all the disks and re-watch them all in order. Or do I wait until juuust before The Deathly Hallows comes out in theaters for a reprise before waiting in line opening night?

As a complete aside, yes, I would like to rip all these 400 movies to my network store, but even letting them run overnight that's a year or more of very organized effort. The Ektachrome slide trays I have stacked in the family room attest to my will on such endeavors. To say nothing of the Terabytes of disk that would in fact pay for years of Netflix subscription. Ah, the trevails of the 21st century.