Thursday, December 14, 2006

Peter Boyle, RIP

Peter Boyle died two nights ago from heart disease and cancer.
The first time I saw him was when my main man Spaghetti and I went to see Young Frankenstein in Rudder Auditorium at Texas A&M. I thought the show was pretty funny until the "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene with Dr. Frankenstein and the monster.


I could not stop laughing...loudly. Apparently my uncontrollable laughter carried over through the next couple of scenes and people were turning in their seats to see what's happening.

The story goes that during filming, Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle didn't know what the monster would say, and Peter came out with the garbled response on the first take. Awesome.

He'll be missed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

VRay for SketchUp

I downloaded the beta for the VRay rendering plugin for SketchUp. Below you will see the result of just loading and a one-click render.

I haven't had a chance to fiddle with materials at all, and the shadows are from SketchUp's shadow configuration. Rendering was pretty quick, but this is a simple scene of one of my printers. The blob on the top left is the beta version watermark.

VRay is a high-end renderer, and this is good news for SketchUp fans. There are definitely some competing renderers that are used heavily by the SketchUp community, but it's a good sign that SketchUp is taken seriously enough for a renderer of this caliber.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Creative Fatal1ty mouse "review"

Here is a write-up I was asked to do for our gaming group about the Fatal1ty gaming mouse from Creative:

Day Zero with Fatal1ty mouse:

Is this just some coked-up competitor to the double-awful Razor mouse, or an actual contender for the Logitech G5 gaming mouse throne (my opinion)? Only time will tell, but here are my initial thoughts…more of an OOBE tonight, with gaming details coming this weekend.

  • Box: I missed the "Open Here" sign and was trying to slide the middle part out to the side leaving the outer ring intact (similar to our printer "Wrap" ID language). Finally I stumbled upon the hinged part and noticed the magnets. I like this a lot, and one of the only other places I've seen hidden magnet closures like this is on Asian DVDs (some mid- to high-end collector's editions). Very nice!
  • Mouse: Okay, Mr. Wendel has definitely made more money than I have playing videogames. I'm okay with that. This mouse is a little poseur-tastic, though. If I eat this mouse, will I gain more of Fatal1ty's powers? I think I'm against the idea of a celebrity mouse, but I wouldn't buy a Jonathan Ive monitor either.
  • Finish: I really like the textured button 1 and button 2 - good feel. I like but don't love the rubberized sides. My thumb slides around on it a little too easily. I hate the glossy black button 3 and wrap-around detail. This will scuff, attract fingerprints and eventually transition to dull black.
  • Buttons: Button 1 and 2 have nice solid clicks. Depression of scroll wheel feels and sounds good. Scrolling of scroll wheel sounds and feels cheap. Button 3 click is lame and dissatisfying. It's a hollow sound unlike all the other buttons. It sounds and feels cheap and suggests that it will be the first point of failure.
  • Weights: Nice design for swapping weights quickly. Easier and faster than the Logitech G5. Lame implementation of retention mechanism - the fit isn't tight so moving the mouse causes the weight column to move, producing a clicking, something-in-my-mouse-is-loose sound.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A brief fling with Vista

We've been working with Vista a lot over the last few weeks for benchmarking and application compatibility, and I've really liked what I've seen. I recently decide to install it on a home test system.

It's a pretty nice system - XPS 700, E6700 2.67GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB 667 DDR2 RAM, two 7800GTX graphics cards in SLI mode, RAID 0 striped 10k rpm drives, XP Media Center Edition, 2007FPW 20" wide aspect ratio flat panel. I was worried about the RAID driver and the graphics driver, as this is also a gaming and 3D content creation machine.

I ran a few benchmarks that I knew I could duplicate in Vista. Well, basically one benchmark - Quake 4 timedemo001. At 1680x1050, graphics maxed, 2X Anti-Aliasing resulted in ~120fps+, 4XAA ~80fps, 8XAA ~50fps (numbers from memory, but close).

The DVD RTM version of Vista Ultimate installed flawlessly and everything was supported out of the, uh, bangs. I did an upgrade to my XP MCE installation as I didn't want to reinstall Quake 4 and SketchUp, and I also wanted to see how that worked. It looked like it had a generic Nvidia graphics driver, but my resolution was supported.

The Windows Experience Index was 5.4 (lowest score was for memory), while graphics got a 5.9. WEI uses the lowest score as the base, not an average of the subsystem scores.

I ran Quake 4 timedemo001 again at 2XAA and got...~17fps. One-seven. Wilco Tango Foxtrot? Ah, the integrated driver on the Vista DVD must be software rendering only! Good thing I downloaded our latest gold driver for the 7800GTX. A few minutes later...looping bluescreen with restarts! Oh, snap!

Okay, maybe upgrading the XP wasn't the best thing to do. I entered Safe Mode and rolled back the driver...back to semi-goodness. I went to and downloaded the latest beta Vista drivers, yadda yadda yadda, ~56fps at 2XAA on Quake 4. Not great. I tried to whip out a quick SketchUp model to see how that performance was...and SketchUp became hung. Very nice.

Reinstalling Vista, I chose to blow away the hard drive and clean-install Vista. Still no problems with the installation, and it didn't need the F6 for the RAID drivers anymore. I didn't look into this, but I'm pretty certain the disc contained them, like a slipstreamed XP CD would. Integrated Nvidia drivers gave me the same awful performance. Loaded our gold drivers...looping bluescreen again.

I almost gave up the ghost, but I reinstalled Vista one more time and downloaded the Nvidia beta drivers. Still limping through Quake 4, and then I realized something! My graphics cards were still in SLI mode (with the bridge still in place), but I never told Vista that I wanted to enable SLI! That's where my performance bottleneck must be, right?

Fifteen minutes of scouring Vista for strangely placed graphics options led to nothing, so I went back to and looked at the driver details. Hmm...these are only good for RC2. I don't think that will make a difference though. A few more minutes of deep diving. Uh oh. SLI mode is not supported yet in any Nvidia driver. Plus, the drivers seem to be mostly proofs of concept, with performance taking a backseat to compatibility in Vista.

So I am faced with some options. Downgrade to a single graphics card and use Vista, but not at its highest levels of performance, or roll back to XP Media Center Edition and use SLI mode at peak performance (for my hardware).

While I really want to play with Vista more, I decided to go back to XP MCE. There are still some games I want to play, plus I want to use SketchUp, and I want to explore the Media Center aspects of the OS.

In a few days I'm getting on the corporate early adopter program for Vista at work, on my main machine, so I'll be able to kick Vista's tires on a daily basis.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Experiments with chocolate are always good

So we're on this diet and it's working, but the dessert choices are fairly limited in the beginning. One of the choices in the second phase is Pistachio Bark, which is roasted pistachios in melted semi-sweet chocolate, and you break off sections. It's really good.

I bought some Mexican chocolate which is infused with cinnamon, and I've been trying to duplicate a Mexican mocha coffee drink from an Austin coffeehouse. I figured why not mix things up a bit and try the Mexican chocolate with the pistachios, right?

Eh, not so much.

We started out melting the chocolate in a double boiler and roasting the pistachios in a cast iron skillet.

The chocolate is pretty grainy, so it didn't melt into liquid, per se, like the baking chocolate bark does.

After pouring some soy milk in it looked a lot better and creamier.

All you do after that is pour the pistachios in the chocolate, mix and spread out on wax paper. It needs to harden in the refrigerator for at least an hour, but then you (and the bark) are set.

When we use regular baking chocolate, or even semi-sweet chocolate chips, it turns out really delicious, but the Mexican chocolate never totally set, so even after a day in the refrigerator it was malleable. It didn't taste like what we expected either...not bad, but not what we were used to eating. We finally abandoned the idea and have gone back to the baking chocolate.

One more Seaworld trip before the holidays

We met some of our friends at Seaworld a few weeks back to get the most out of our season passes before the year is up. Of course, we had to go to the roller coaster I like, the Steel Eel. I sat with one of our friends, and I had to get my nerve up to raise my hands - this was the first time we rode it and I was a little nervous.

Here are some closeups of some of the other riders. Notice the calm kid with his hands up in the air - no problem!

With four kids pitstops are inevitable. I happened to check out the floor-length urinals and in an adjoining one I saw a scorpion! We ran out, got the camera and I ran back in to, uh, take some pictures in the men's restroom. Nice.

It was still alive so we told some park workers about it.

Is it Halloween yet? Oh, snap!

I'm finally getting around to posting some stuff that I've needed to get up here.

For Halloween we had a neighborhood potluck party that went a lot better than we expected. Most of the people came in costume. I was in agony trying to pick a costume - I have a few aces up my sleeve but I need to work on them before I reveal them to the world.

I ended up going as a vegetarian vampire bat.

I got a beer helmet at Spencer's (thanks Chris) and spray-painted it black. My theme necessitated cans of V8 instead of beer. Lacey sewed bat wings to a black turtleneck and attached furry bat ears to the helmet (after having our five-year-old tell us about echolocation).

My family rounded out the costumes with the most beautiful pirate in the seven seas, a pirate in training and the smallest mobile skeleton ever seen.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ags win!

I can't believe it! My Aggies finally beat Texas, with Colt McCoy playing for all but 20 seconds! I stood for most of the game (except for the time playing checkers with my boys). It looked like the Aggies were trying to sabotage themselves with some stupid errors and fouls but we managed to pull it out!

Stat of the game... 244. The Aggies rushed for 244 yards against Texas, which came into the game No. 1 in the nation allowing 42 yards per game.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cilantro pancakes

I really love cilantro. I'd like to put it on everything. My wife doesn't like it so much.

One morning we were making pancakes and we had some cilantro left over from the night before.

The rest, as they say, is history.

We usually make pancakes from a Krusteaz mix for the sake of time, and this was no exception. We also don't use Teflon/non-stick pans, but instead use cast iron (below) or stainless steel.

They smelled great cooking, but what doesn't smell great once cilantro is in the mix, right?

They were great. We use an organic maple syrup, and the sweet syrup/pancake plus the cilantro make for a dominant entry in the New and Exciting Breakfast Foods category.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Model Fight update 009

I've started building the, uh, building. I haven't found a way to map images to planes in SketchUp the way I'm used to doing it in 3D Studio MAX, so I ended up scaling my wall component to match the image on the plane. I didn't want to do it that way, as my initial object was scaled accurately, but I ended up going the easy route.
There are six walls like this, so I should have quite a bit fleshed out fairly soon, and the rest of the geometry isn't that difficult.

Buying movies from Netflix?

We've been on and off with Netflix multiple times. We aren't the biggest TV watchers (some would say we aren't even the biggest movie watchers...), and we like to have movies for us (grownups) as well as some movies for them (kids). Ergo we're back on Netflix as we are generally disappointed with matching movies from cable.

Something that I haven't noticed in the previous Trey + Netflix hookups was that Netflix is selling previously viewed DVDs now. I don't have a problem buying previously viewed DVDs, as long as they are guaranteed defect-free/playable. Now, I wouldn't buy a Criterion DVD from Blockbuster's previously viewed trough, but I would from another movie-phile.

My favorite sub-genre of movies is Vampire movies. I even watched Stakeout hoping it would turn out favorably! I happened to browse the Netflix previously viewed area and found Underworld: Evolution, the sequel that I missed in the theaters and still haven't seen. At $5.99, it's quite a bargain (compared to $12.97 from DVD Price Search). There is only a single disc edition out so far, so even if I double-dip for an eventual Collector's edition, I'm only out $6.48 shipped.

It arrived three days after I ordered it in a slick plastic wrapper, and I could tell it was a standard keep case inside.

I was curious about the cover, as I've seen some DVDs with the Netflix logo inside the artwork, like it was a customized silkscreen for the Netflix DVD. I was worried that my DVD would have Netflix on the cover visible on the spine. How gauche! Amazingly, it is the retail cover, and it is in mint condition. I wasn't sure if these covers were sitting around in some warehouse in case someone decided to buy one, but there were no folds, marks or abrasions from the security sticker. This baby was pristine! But what about the DVD itself?

No insert, but I wasn't really expecting one. The silkscreened side of the DVD was pristine - no scratches or marks, no serial numbers or other Netflix-specific markings. The playable side had very minor scratching, but minor at worst. It definitely looks playable.

Overall I'm very satisfied with my purchase, especially for the price and free shipping. Netflix has probably less than 75 DVDs for sale, but I will definitely check them again before purchasing something. I'm not sure what constitutes a DVD being placed on the previously viewed for sale area though.

Model Fight update 008

Wow! Another blast from the past. I'm planning on slowly resurrecting the Model Fight, before we have to change to Model Fight 2007!

I'm going back to working on the building (Robot Factory) and giving the robots a brief rest. I managed to dodge security and take some photos of the building exterior for some reference shots. Here is one of the side wall with windows. There are 20 of these window "modules" across (each "module" contains the three large and three small windows) and three rows of them.

I had a measuring tape with me and measured everything that I could find, so my model is close to spec. Of course, I picked the day with the most wind and I borrowed a thin measuring tape, so the only thing I couldn't get was the height of the smaller window, which I estimated (with some sloppy Photoshop measurements) to be rougly a third of the large window height, which works for me.

Here is my SketchUp model. I'm just using rough colors for the base.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The STR8 dope on movie reviews

One of my good friends got talked into this whole blogging thing.

You want action? It's in there.
You want great movies you've never encountered? He's got it.
You want to know about some amazing packaging and collector's editions? Big time.

Check him out:

Monday, November 06, 2006

One more thing...

I added a Google Adsense box to see what all the fuss is about.

By the way, the Labels don't show as a drop down box, but I have a "Show/Hide all" link that can show all the Labels and clicking on them updates the contents of the box.

I've switched... the new Blogger beta program. Why? There are a good amount of reasons, but the biggest one for me is now I can label my posts. I'm not sure why Blogger didn't contain labels originally - maybe it was in place and acquired by Google before labels were The Next Big Thing in blogs? Who knows.

As I'm typing this entry, I see a spot for me to enter a Label. Hopefully it will remember all the labels that I make so I won't have to recreate the wheel each time, but I don't see it as a drop down box. Maybe after I make a few Labels will I get to select them? Hopefully.

Another big hope of mine is that I can go back and Label all my old posts. I've been wanting to show people all the posts about my Singapore trip, but without labels I have to point them to the archives and a certain date.

I'm not sure if My Sweet Blog will have many growing pains transitioning to the new beta, but I'll try to break as little as possible at a time.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Worst day evar?

Wow. Yesterday was pretty amazing. I don't have time to make a short entry, so I'll have to make a long entry with all the details.

It started with a bang! Thunder and lightning, that is. We ended up getting roughly four inches of rain with huge storm cells wandering across the hill country. I decided to be smart and wait for the main torrent to go by before driving to work, as I would be in its path for most of the trip. The first five minutes were soggy, but fine.

I get two turns out of my subdivision and my car starts shuddering every few seconds, with very little power. I manage to pull off the road into some company's parking lot and try to start my car. Nothing, but my oil light comes on. Ah! I realize, once again, that I am behind on my oil change schedule. Luckily, I have my handy and I call my wife to come pick me up. Also luckily for me, she was at home today.

Off to The Beast we go to get a few quarts of oil. Back to the car and Little Jerry Seinfeld greedily gulps it down. Amazingly enough, he starts. Now I figure would be a good time to get the oil changed. Off we go to a service place. Things might be looking up!

What's this? The car died? On the road? Not two minutes from when it started? Okay, I'll just push it off the road and repeat the oil trick, because if one quart is good, two quarts must be better, right? Wrong. First of all, the car died on a slight incline, so I can't push it off the road. Mind you, it's still raining. And I'm in a heavy construction zone. A few of the workers see our predicament (I'm pushing in vain, my wife is steering and our two-year-old is being an angel waiting patiently in our other car) and help me push it across the road.

The workers want to see what's up with the car, so I show them the oil trick. Gulp! One more quart, but no starting. They dive in and start fiddling with the engine. I'm a little hesitant, but I'm also not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I don't know much about cars, and these guys (about six were talking while "the foreman" of the group was fiddling) seemed like they knew what they were doing. After a few minutes, they showed me where there was an electrical arc when I tried to start it. His English wasn't that great, but he managed to say something about needing to replace this part, and mentioned something about "coil."

Off we go to the nearest auto parts store and plead my case. The only parts they had in stock were some spark plug cables. As I wasn't sure what the original problem was so I figured that I would just buy them and see if they did the trick. The woman behind the counter noticed something about the cables and talked to the manager. It turns out that someone had returned old cables in the new cables box, and one of the pieces was damaged. They just gave them to me to try, as they couldn't sell them anymore! Awesome!

I take the cables back to the construction site and find Marcus, my contact. I show him the cables, and he shakes his head. It turns out that it isn't the cables that are bad, but the part where one cable connects. I have no idea what it is, and Marcus didn't know what the word was in English to describe it, but it had something to do with "coil." I tell him that I'm not sure about installing it once I get it. He says that if I bring it back, he can install it. "What about tools," I say. He has tools in the truck.

Okay, back to square one. I knew Advance didn't have any other parts, so I try O'Reilly, the next closest. They thought it might be an ignition coil, but they didn't have one in stock. Situation...worsening.

I then go home and get my camera and take a few pictures of the part in question. Back to O'Reilly, and after getting complements on my camera from multiple dudes, they are closer to thinking that it is either ignition coil or voltage regulator, but they still have neither. Ouch! Off to the next next closest place, Autozone. A high-school age-looking girl with a diamond studded French manicure came over to help me - not exactly the grease monkey I was expecting. I told her that I need a part that I don't know the name of, but I have a picture. She raised her eyebrows and started looking up my car details. We checked the voltage regulator - luckily their database has pictures and we realized it wasn't a match. Next we looked up ignition coils. Bingo! $100 later and I'm in business.

Back to the construction site. Uh oh - nobody is there. My handy installation expert is nowhere to be found. Back to O'Reilly, as they mentioned that they could come out and look at the car to see what kind of part it is. They couldn't come out to do the work, either above or below the table, so it looks like I'm it or we tow it somewhere.

I went home to get my tools and picked up my wife and two-year-old, as she had to have a parent-teacher conference with our five-year-old's kindergarten teacher just around the corner. I get all up in Little Jerry's engine and realize that the screws with which the ignition coil is attached aren't phillips, but the angle is so bad that I can't see if it is Torx and how big. I try to push my finger against the screw to get a quick imprint. No dice - the resolution of my pinky isn't high enough. Then I try to push a piece of paper against it. Okay, it looks like Torx, but I can't tell much detail. Why can't Volkswagens just have tombstones in the engine so I can get a decent rubbing? Brainstorm! I have my wife chew some gum (I can't chew gum) and we get a nice imprint of the bit and size I need. Back to Advance Autoparts.

It's still raining.

We compare the piece of gum to the Torx screwdrivers, bits, drivers, etc, and I settle on a folding multi-Torx tool that is small enough for me to access the part. Back to the construction site.

It takes me a while, but I finally get it replaced. Luckily I didn't drop anything in the engine or the mud, and I didn't shock myself - always good news. Little Jerry started like a champ.

It's now almost 3pm. I'm definitely getting my oil changed on Wednesday.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I've Switched to Decaf, and other signs the apocalypse is upon us

I know it sounds bad, but let me explain.

Someone in our family was diagnosed with what may become prediabetes. Note - it's not prediabetes, but symptoms are exhibited that could escalate, at some point in the future. We are trying to act proactively, so we started...wait for it...the South Beach Diet. One of the symptoms the book mentions is localized fat around the midsection (based on our ancestors' feast or famine lifestyle necessitating storage of fat while leaving the extremities leaner for escape or whatever), and that's something with which I've been struggling.

I've thought the South Beach Diet was a fad, or something ridiculous like Atkins. Follow the link above if you want more info, but I've read one of Dr. Agatston's books, and done some research online, so I'm satisfied with the validity.

The basic gist is to reduce bad carbs and bad fats while increasing good carbs and good fats, change eating habits, etc. We are in the first, most strict phase, aptly named Phase 1, which has the most severe reduction of carbs. I'm finding it not too bad, but my wife started out climbing the walls. Of course, this comes from both of us loving to cook, especially bake.

No alcohol of any kind is allowed during Phase 1. Now, I'm not one to get sodded every night, but I enjoy my Guinness. Sometimes I'm even known to enjoy my Schlitz! This wasn't that bad a restriction, but we stopped buying wine for dinner.

The diet recommends reducing caffeine (or eliminating it during Phase 1), since caffeine stimulates the pancrease to produce insulin. It also said that if you are following Phase 1 requirements, one cup (caffeinated) a day probably won't ruin your progress, and if it really makes you feel good, go ahead and do it. My wife and I talked about it, and then I figured if I'm in for a penny I'm in for a pound. Behold: the start of decaf for me.

We started the diet Monday (after a Sunday afternoon at Chuy's! Oh, snap!), and Phase 1 lasts for two weeks, or longer if you want to stay on it. At least for me, the jury is still out on staying on it or entering Phase 2, which is just the gradual, monitored inclusion of some carbs back in to your diet.

What's interesting is that you don't really count calories, or have really restricted portion sizes. You eat until you are full, with three meals and two snacks a day. Of all our meals and snacks, I feel like I'm eating a lot, volume-wise. I don't get that too-full, bloated feeling, and sometimes I feel hungry a little bit after a meal. What I think is happening is that I'm getting the nutrition that I need, but I'm so used to eating carbs and fats that I expect the full feeling, and something must be wrong if I'm hungry after eating a sirloin steak, broccoli and beans.

Don't get me wrong - the temptation is there. I make everyone's lunches, and I am at a point where I could probably destroy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in one bite.

It's only been a little over three days but I think I can already see a slight change. Some clothes seem to be slightly larger, but I'm not sure yet if this is just my imagination. I'll keep posting on any progress I see.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Why House sucks

I watched my first and last episode of House the other night. Forgive me if I don't link to the show.

I got suckered in by the tease of an "extra terrestrial" implant found in a child's neck. In the show, they played the sentence after that, where they rubbished the notion and revealed that it was a titanium bit from a previous operation.

I don't have a problem with that - pretty typical soundbite stuff.

What I do have a problem with is House himself. Okay, he's a brilliant yet unorthodox doctor. Check. He's bitter about his hurt leg and everything - got it. Does EVERY line he delivers have to be a cocky, sharp one-liner?


I even like Hugh Laurie (okay, okay - he WAS in Spice World), and part of me wanted to like this show even though we don't watch TV. The dialog is just plain awful, but, really, what did I expect? Almost every show these days has to have impossibly snappy and witty David Mamet-inspired* conversations by people a la West Wing, as if to prove how smart they are. My eyes were rolling all over the place during that episode of House. I had to fast forward through some dialog just to muddle through the "extra terrestrial" parts. It's almost embarrassing to watch, and my wife and I exchanged many glances through the whole ridiculous thing.

I talk to a lot of really smart people every day, and nobody talks like this. If they did nobody would want to work with them.

*Full disclosure: I love some of Mamet's stuff (Spartan, Ronin), but not all.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Now that's a latch!

We visited my parents' house in East Texas a while back. Late one night we heard some scuffling around the front porch. My mom said it might be their returning visitor, so we ran out there.

This opossum comes up there at night and eats the cat food off of a planting bench. This time she showed up with all her babies in tow - take a look below her stomach. It's an udder miracle that the babies can stay on during travel.

I was able to get pretty close with the camera, but I could tell it was bothering her. She just froze while I walked up. They can't see very well, so I'm not sure what she thought of me getting that close. I also didn't want to provoke an attack of opportunity, since that day was not a fine day to get rabies.

One thing I immediately noticed - those tails are disgusting! It was a stiff, hairless fleshy stick that went off at odd angles. Was it broken or normally like this? It didn't look like it was as articulated as a rat tail. It looked like some sort of slim jim from Videodrome or Naked Lunch to break into semi-organic cars.

Remember me?

Dear Blog,

Hi! Remember me? It's been a long time since I've talked to you. How have you been?

A lot of stuff has happened since I've been away. Don't worry - I've been accumulating data and keeping it. I'll send it to you when I get some time.

Do you want to know something interesting? I've missed you! When I see something interesting or funny, or something happens to me, I want to tell you about it. I've missed our semi-confessional relationship. Am I showing symptoms of blogging withdrawal? Has information sharing become so pervasive that once I've started it, I need to keep it up? Maybe.

I'll try to do better - I promise. You'll be hearing more from me soon.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ridiculous movie sequels

A friend and I were talking about the bad Hollywood sequel-itis, and ruining two good movies with 28 Weeks Later and Dog Soldiers 2, so we started coming up with some bad sequels.

A good one of his:

City of Found Children.

Some of mine:

The Abyss 2: Dry Land
The Leander Job
Googli (plot centers around online searches for mobsters and bad actors)

Any others?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I don't normally post stuff like this...

Let's see...almost midnight, I need to get up early tomorrow, what am I doing? Cruising IMDb message boards about movies I haven't seen.

In the forum for World Trade Center, a lively discussion is going on about people rating the movie with a 1 (on a 1 to 10 scale) as a kneejerk reaction (to politics, Oliver Stone, whatever). Why am I reading this? Because it is what I do. I came upon an entry that just cracked me up:

Re: To the 140 people who gave this movie a '1'
by - Werewolf5 2 days ago (Sun Aug 13 2006 17:04:05 )

I loved it. To all those who gave it a one, please bend down and wait for the assistance of Michael Jackson.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Model fight update 007

A little more progress on the spybot. I've settled on this one instead of the one with wings. I wasn't liking the bridge across the top but I didn't know what I didn't like about it. I just realized while I was looking at it that what I didn't like was that both ends (the sharp parts) were going to the same points on the inner ring where the fan is. Now I know that I want the top of the bridge to go to the outer point of the body.

This is the underside of the robot. It features a camera lens along with other robotronic stuff. I file that stuff under TBD. The half-dome on the other side contains a laser that can paint targets much like the Ion Painter in UT2004. This robot can watch you from the skies and call in a rain of firepower if you get out of hand.

I'm going in to detail about the components because I'd like to make a little commercial or brochure about the robot's features.

The fan assembly was made by modelling a rectangle, rounding the edges, extruding it (Push/Pull), then rotating a copy around the center point. SketchUp has a cool feature where you can type in multiplying commands into a VCB (Virtual Command Buffer?), so after I rotated the copy a few degrees (so now there were two blades), I typed x11 and it automagically made the duplicates, all rotated correctly and spaced evenly.

Everything else on the model was drawing basic shapes, Push/Pulling, etc.

I'm probably going to go between robots and modelling the 01Robotics complex just to mix it up a little.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Nature preserve and an experiment

Here are some pictures from a nature preserve place outside of San Marcos. I can't remember the name, but we passed by a walkway over a swampish area and there were these cool...things. There weren't descriptions around them, so I don't know if they are supposed to collect water or what.

Also, I'm blogging these photos directly from Picasa 2. This may be a way to post photo collections, but if it comes out like I think it will, there won't be a link to the photos but all the photos will be there. This may not work if you want to have a link to a published photo collection elsewhere than on your front page.

 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tracfone vs cell phone?

I've been without a handy for almost five years. Usually I'm the only one in my group to be without one.

We recently bought a Tracfone - basically a prepaid cell phone - to use when we need it. We've been on the fence about buying a regular phone, or a second Tracfone so both of us can have one.

Here's what I think about the situation:

Cell phone:
Pro: feature laden
Pro: a lot of minutes
Con: one or two year contract
Con: feature laden

Pro: cheaper
Pro: no contract
Con: minutes can expire

We don't want a cell phone to replace our home phone - we have a great deal on long distance. I don't want a phone that does everything. A camera? Please! With the 1.3MP cameras on phones today I can barely tell the difference between Troy Aikman and Troy McClure. Korea has six and seven MP cameras in their cell phones. When we get there, I'm in!

I don't want a cell phone because it has a lot of minutes - I want one to find out where my family is or call someone when I need them. With this situation, a Tracfone makes perfect sense.

Any dissenters? Tracfone haters?

Model fight update 006

Spaghettis were talking about Ambient Occlusion in the renders, and I wanted to see what modo's results were. Rendering with AO is simplicity itself - change the Color Output in Render Properties from Shadertree to AO - that's it!

I rendered with AO one of the spy bots as well as a printer I modeled to see what they look like. Mind you, these are all default settings - I was interested in the default results before I started messing things up.

I think they look pretty alright, but now I want to tweak the settings. I like how the detail (albeit grainy) in the printer looks good, but with the default settings you lose some of the lines/separations between parts.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Model fight update 005

Here are some rough concepts on the first robot I'll be modelling. Both of these are some sort of recon/spy robot.

The first one has wings with some sort of thruster pods on them. The wings pivot at the body to provide directional/rotational thrust. It's basically a flying camera. The wings fold back against the body to minimize profile and it can be launched like an RPG and at some point in its flight path the wings unfold and it seeks the target.
The second concept is like a contained helicopter blade/fan array with sensor equipment mounted on one/many sides. It has skis to let it land and still have clearance for the fan to provide lift. The fan can cause liftoff and rotation, but I'm not sure about directional travel yet - maybe other thrusters, or just tilting. Deployment method may be within a sabot in a missile, or just dumped from planes.

What if they aren't Talking Heads fans?

We were driving back to Austin from Houston and somewhere south of Brenham we saw a flickering light to the side of the road. As we got closer, we noticed that it was a house on fire! There were some police and an ambulance, but during the five or so minutes we were there no firetruck appeared.

We took a few pics from the car, and then the police came out to the side of the road (there were about five or six cars parked watching the house go up) and they told us to move as there was a gas tank that could blow at any time. They were going around to the other buildings on the property banging on doors and windows to try to wake any one up that might be inside.

Sacred or Secular?

So we’re at church this weekend and the band…hold on – let me back up.

I’m from a pretty casual yet traditional church background – choir, pastor, church suppers, trying to stifle your voice when you and your friends accidentally start a laughing kick. Why is it that laughing is so much louder in church when you are supposed to be quiet?

Anyway, I’ve been to a few places where they have the more modern musical ensemble with instruments other than an organ or piano and it just wasn’t for me. For some reason it doesn’t bother me now. Maybe because I’m trying to learn guitar? Maybe because one of the guitarists has a Stratocaster just like mine? I’m not sure.

For a special music the band started playing, “The Reason.” Yes, the song by Hoobastank. My wife and I looked at each other quizzically, but went with the flow. The words were displayed, and if you had never heard the song before, the lyrics could be taken appropriately for a churchly song.

But that got me thinking. Was the band still playing a secular song? Did it become a sacred song within that context? If the lyrics are applicable, depending on the setting, does the song change? When I was in Houston I went to a weekly youth meeting thing where they had a really good band with a great female singer. They would usually do a song while the service was just about to start, and often it was a secular song. The only one I can remember was Sweet Surrender, by Sarah McLachlan.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Model fight update 004

Here is the latest of my building 5 models. I made the first story a component so I wouldn't mess it up with edits (you have to enter something like Edit Component mode (my description) before you can, uh, edit a component) and snapped copies of it to itself. The detail in the Y section is a security checkpoint, so it is only on the first floor.

You may notice a black line between the floors. I modeled a small detail around the building, but I'm not sure about how it looks from a distance. Here is a close-up of it.

What I'd like to do with the buildings is use the facilities maps to have correct and to scale outlines of the other buildings. While drawing on the map is nice for a quick look, I prefer the precision of using the blueprint, and it's less frustrating having to try to snap points that aren't aligned due to the rotation in the graphic.

That said, I'll probably table the building models for a while. I'm itching to work on some robot models.

I'll use the breaktime from the buildings to take pictures of the actual architectural details from the buildings so when I go back, I'll have a starting point.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Linux on my laptop

So I finally broke down and installed Linux on something. Why? Well, because it is there, and I've been wanting to see what all the fuss is about.

I downloaded the Kubuntu 6.06 distro (in .iso format), burned a CD and booted. It has a Live CD option, which will basically run Linux from the disc instead of your hard drive. That way, you can experience Linux without destroying your current OS.

I went ahead and formatted the drive and installed it. From what I can see, if you are familiar with Windows you can at least function, as the interface is very similar to the Windows interface, plus a browser, office suite, etc, are installed, so I'm guessing that if someone just checked email, browsed the internet and wrote an occasional document, they would be set.

I'm looking at this laptop and I'm thinking, "Sweet! I've installed Linux.... Now what?"

My 3D content creation options are limited; games are limited. I guess I'll throw some C on here and explore coding.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Model fight update 003

I didn't like the lack of granularity of modeling the buildings on top of the low-res satellite image as in my previous posts, so I imported the building map into Photoshop (erasing all the good bits) and made an image to texture a plane in SketchUp.

Here is the image on the surface. I used the square tool and the line tool to make the outline.

I Push/Pulled the outline into roughly one, maybe two stories. Here is the model with some transparency options so you can see the blueprint beneath it.

Here is the opaque model with SketchUp's built-in Shadow settings activated. You can set seasonal and time settings extremely easily - a slider.

I really liked using the blueprint image, and since it was oriented correctly I didn't have to adjust the axes in SketchUp, which admittedly would be trivial, but I just didn't feel like it.

It took me about five minutes, maybe, to make the building like this, and it is much closer to the actual dimensions/scale than the other way. Sometimes you don't have the luxury of having the blueprints, so I'll probably switch back and forth between methods.

New job == posts approach zero

My previous line of business has transitioned out of this region, which left all of us looking for new positions. Thankfully, all of us found something, and it looks like at least most of us found something we wanted to do.

I'm in my third week of my new position, which is under the umbrella of The Office of the CTO, and deals with basically looking at new technology, comparing to current technology and making sure new is better/faster/cheaper. The "stuff" that I look at is unreleased, so I can't get into any details, sufficed to say that I'm much busier now than I was, ergo no recent Model Fight posts.

So far I've jumped into the frying pan with the workload, and hopefully I can stay out of the fire.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

File under Celebrity Sightings!

We were in Harbor Freight today picking up a dolly, tie-down strap and a screw extraction set. I love going to Harbor Freight. Unfortunately, there is one pretty close to work. Anyway, I'm standing in the checkout line when guess who comes in and picks something up? Joe McDermott!

Or at least I thought it was him - I've only seen his CD and pics on the website, so I wasn't sure. Plus he was in civilian clothes, and what's he doing in Harbor Freight? That's where regular people go?!!

We're in different lines, and I can't screw my courage up enough to say something; I mean, what if it's not him? Oh, the humanity! I'm rushing to get checked out (by a checker that had to ask a nearby manager what $20 minus $3.27 was) and it's about four minutes before the store closes. I run out to get the family, who have seen Joe in concert and can verify his identity. They run in but I'm stuck trying to get the dolly in the van and have the door closed enough over it and an antique table we picked up from a local Craigslister earlier that day.

Dudes, I'm like, "I'm going to miss my window of opportunity!"

Finally I get back in the store and get the high-sign ("Tippy-toe!") that it is him, so after a few excruciating minutes waiting for him to finish, I talk to him for a few seconds and thank him for signing my guitar at the concert. He seems like a very nice guy, and if they weren't kicking people out of the store (I still wasn't finished picking up my stuff) I would have talked with him more.

Of course, I fail at my blogging duties and don't have a camera.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Model fight update 002

Here is the map within SketchUp and what I will be using as a template. What I don't like, so far, is that there isn't a way (that I have found) to map an image to a viewport and model from that the way 3D Studio MAX does. With SketchUp, I had to map the image to a stretched cube. Then, I deleted the rest of the sides and back to make a plane.

I converted the textured plane to a component so I could model on top of it and not affect it.

Here is the plane with a few buildings in process. The buildings aren't to scale yet, as I didn't do my research there. It was trivial to trace the buildings and Push/Pull them up. Once I do my first round, I'll probably go back and refine the drawings, and then texture them.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Model fight update 001

My project is 01 Robotics, or [01r]. Below is the map of their campus that I will model. The main buildings (lower section) is Sales, Marketing, and development for most of their line - Entertainment, Medical, Assistance, etc. The Y-Wing-shaped building to the upper left is the building for Military contracts - security dictates separate buildings, etc.