Capturing HD video from PVR on a Mac & WPtouch WordPress Plugin

Two quick notes to add in the “Technical Shit That’s Happening Around These Here Virtual Parts” Department (and no, I have no idea why I’d suddenly be speaking like an ironic cowboy).

First, the last two posts to this blog have included a bit of HD video captured to my new MacBook via a piece of hardware I already owned and a terrific little software package that I found courtesy of teh Intarwebs.  The video was captured from my BellTV PVR via a Haupaugge! HD PVR unit, connected via USB 2.0 cable to my MacBook.  I captured the video on my MacBook by way of Steven Toth’s excellent Mac application “HDPVR Capture”.  That setup may have some redundancy built into it – there’s really no reason to have a set top box PVR connected to another device that itself turns a computer into a PVR, really – but I tend to carry my MacBook around with me a lot and it’s not likely to be sitting next to the TV ready to capture whatever television programs I might want to record, so (in my case) it does actually make a little sense from a hardware standpoint.  The hardware configuration is really unimportant, though: the more interesting bit about this is the software package I used to capture the (HD) video to computer.  The Haupagge unit ships (or at least it did when I bought it) with software for Windows-based PCs, but no applications are provided for Mac users. I don’t believe you’ll ever consider selling MacBook. The Windows-based notebook that I had previously been using to capture video barely fit the minimum specs and it frequently choked on the video capture tasks set for out.  Worse still, the capture process was producing an “m2ts” file on the computer, a file set out in a format (as I understand it) designed to be understood by PVRs, but supported by precious little editing/playback software out there.  The end result was that I found myself struggling to make reliable copies of programs I had recorded, and generally unable to thereafter edit or trim the files (even to do something simple like take out commercials), and unable to archive the files on optical media by burning them to DVDs.

Enter Steven Toth.  Let me say that I don’t know the man and I’m not receiving any compensation from him whatsoever; I am just a very satisifed user of the application he has developed, “HDPVR Capture”.  As I understand it, Mr. Toth knows quite a bit about the Haupaugge device because he’s worked on the inside there;  he knew that the manufacturer was choosing not to support Mac Users, so he filled the void himself and wrote such an application.

My review of this software: It Kicks Ass.  Simply stated, it works.  Easy to install, easy to use, I had it up and running in a matter of moments after my licence key was received via email (there is a demo version available for free download with certain features locked out or restricted, paid licence allows the user to access all features, but the licence is restricted to use with one Haupaugge unit only).

The videos I’ve captured convert easily into .mp4 files, which then import easily into iMovie and may be edited exported like any other captured video, no problem whatsoever.

Second: I have installed a plugin on the site called WPtouch.  The plugin automatically creates a version of the site for iPhones and various other smartphones.  If you have WordPress 2.7 or higher installed, you can install this plugin directly from your admin panel by clicking on the Plugins/Add New link, then typing “WPtouch” in the search box, clicking on the appropriate link when it comes up and following the on-screen instructions that follow thereafter.  The whole installation process took me about three minutes from stem to stern, and – again – it worked like a charm, at least I think.

Would anybody who’s accessing the site from smartphone let me know how the site is functioning for you.  Any thoughts, suggestions as to whether the smartphone specific theme works for you?

Pursuing Paul McCartney: My Little Home Studio

b&w studio view
No T-Shirt, No Lonely Kid, No McCartney

Back when music used to come on large circular pieces of vinyl, I had a copy of one of Paul McCartney’s solo efforts entitled McCartney II.  Now isn’t the time to get in to the debate of Paul vs. John as songwriters, or the relative merits of their solo/post-Beatles work.  Suffice to say that I had (and still have) a huge soft spot for Wings Back to the Egg, a fetish that led me to the purchase of the above-described McCartney solo effort.

There are a lot of things I could say about that album, a fact that is probably itself suggestive that the recording has some merit.  For instance, I could tell you that this was one of the first times I ever bought a record by an artist expecting something rather specific but found, after purchase, that the record differed substantially from my expectations (we didn’t have HMV back then, you whippersnappers – you didn’t get a chance to listen first and buy second;  every purchase was a bit of a leap of faith).  I remember being taken aback by the album’s sound, and initially a bit put off by the distance between my sonic expectations and the actual product.   The entire record, you see, was recorded by McCartney at his home studio.  He played all, or substantially all of the instruments himself and recorded the thing to a (in relative terms) small multitrack tape recorder.  The result was – in many places – a spare and very reflective album that challenged my youthful and juvenile musical tastes, but one that that I came to love after spending time getting to know the songs.

I mention this album because it had this awesome photo on the inner sleeve.   In it, McCartney (wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, I think) stood with his back to the camera in front of the cabinet-sized multi-track recorder, looking down at the front panel of the machine and twiddling a knob with one hand.  The image is black and white, and there is a palpable sense of heat and humidity, of long days and hard work accomplished.  In  my mind’s eye, I remember the photograph showing a young child standing to McCartney’s left, next to his leg, reaching up and tugging at father’s shirt in a desperate bid for attention.

I loved that album and I loved that photograph;  among other things, the photograph gave a glimpse into the home life of one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, and it showed – much to my excitement – the studio gear in his home.   I’ve written before about the fact that my DNA is deeply and genetically imprinted with the tech bug.  I got thinking about this again the other day when I listened to my brother Doug’s first attempt at putting together a podcast (Doug talked a bit about how my granddad’s fetish for audio and recording equipment was passed down through my father to my brothers and me, and some of our early recording escapades).   I was thinking about how much I used to hold that inner sleeve and stare at the picture while I listened to Waterfalls, dreaming about having access to the kind of gear that was shown in that picture.

Testing 1,2, 3 - IMG_9521
Testing, testing - can you hear me in the back? (SCREEECH!)

That album was released in 1980.  We’ve come a long way in 29 years, and the truth of the matter is that I now have access to – in some ways, anyway – arguably much more powerful recording equipment than Paul used to put together that record.  The computer I’m typing this entry on has software in it that allows me to make multi-track recordings, to treat the signals I capture with an astonishing array of digital effects, treatments and modifications, and to synthesize entire portions of an audio track – summoning drums or strings where there are none in the house.   It’s difficult for me to imagine how the 14-year old me might have reacted, had someone told me back then that – in time – I would have the very technology depicted in that photograph at my disposal, and contained in a machine the size of a small suitcase rather than occupying the same amount of space as Grandma’s china cabinet.   The pace of technological achievement has been, in relative terms, rapid and consistent but in terms of the human scale of time gradual enough to become almost imperceptible, a phenomenon occurring in one’s peripheral vision but requiring careful attention to otherwise perceive.  Consider that the iPhone you might be carrying in your pocket contains a computer that is many times more capable and powerful than the computers that guided the lunar lander to it’s destination on the moon in 1969.  Consider that the same device is capable of almost instantly accessing a very large portion of the collected wisdom of the human race, or at least that portion of it that has been digitized to date.

All of that advancement and innovation, collected in softly humming piles and wired together in the physical embodiment of an electrical engineer’s psychotic break with reality was put to some use earlier today.  Doug and I hooked up via Skype to test a technical concept: we wanted to see if it would be possible for us to carry on a conversation over the ‘Net, to locally record our own half or end of the conversation, then sync up the two halves to produce a presentable recording suitable for use in one of Doug’s podcasts.  It worked like a charm.  We each used a microphone and Audacity to digitally record our side of the conversation;  when we were finished talking, Doug zipped his audio file and transferred it to me via Skype’s file-sharing capacity.  A few minutes of mucking about later, I was able to not only sync up Doug’s track with my own, but to also clean up my own file by gating the audio to prevent some of the talkback signal that had spilled into my microphone from cluttering the sound.  I also added a quick musical intro and end tag and compressed the whole thing into .mp3 format and shot it back via teh Intarwebs to Doug for his inspection and perusal.

I think that – had he found out about all of this – that 14 year old kid holding the inner sleeve to McCartney II would have been so excited, he would’ve had some trouble sleeping for quite a while.

Update (November 23, 2009): My brother Doug has, courtesy of the all-knowing Intarwebs, found a copy of the photo in question and passed it along to me (see below). My memory of the photo gets a “B”, possibly “B+”, I would say. In my mind’s eye, the photo was taken from directly behind Sir Paul, and he was wearing a sleeveless t-shirt; the photo seems considerably less tropical in mood than I remember it, as well. In fact, it looks kind of cold and clinical, if you get right down to it. Odd how memory plays tricks like that.

mccartney ii photo
The photo that sparked my imagination.

Like “Brewster’s Millions”, But Less Plausible…

This is how I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that print journalism must be anachronistic, irrelevant and doomed:  I have been asked to write a piece on the Leafs for publication in an actual hold-it-in-your-hand, you-could-drop-that-thing-and-bruise-a-toe book.   And get this:  I am told that I will be getting paid to do this thing.  From this latter fact, I conclude that the publishers of this tome are almost certainly lunatic immigrant millionaires with a tenuous-to-non-existent grasp on the English language.  Believing that they are allergic to money,  I suspect they have resolved to rid themselves of the cursed lucre in the most pro-social way possible;  by contributing to the publication of a well-respected and important medical journal filled with scholarly research.  I just pray someone has a camera when these well-meaning but misguided philanthropists are presented with the finished product – I foresee an instant and compelling portrait of blinking uncomprehension and, quite possibly, some feces throwing.

I can’t give out a lot of details at the moment, mostly because I don’t want you to steal this gig from me, but rest assured I will be pimping the book like a madman once it has been brought into existence.   As much as you are now staring at the screen, cursing the rotten luck that leaves you bereft of detail, I can promise you that you will someday remember fondly the happy times before this godforsaken book was mentioned by me in every sentence.

I’ll bet you can’t wait to be that unhappy.  In the meantime, I am busy trying to figure out how the hell I am going to manage to get everything done that I will need to:  for example, not only do I now have to find the time to research and write the piece, if I am going to be a writer I also have to make sure that I spend the correct amount of time bellyaching about how making the deadline is going to be a bitch and so on.  I guess this post is a pretty good start on that.  I must be a quick learner.

All kidding aside, I do have some degree of concern about taking on yet another project:  at present, for those of you keeping track, I am (theoretically) in the middle of:

And those are just the projects I’ve blogged about!  I also have it in my mind to convert some old VHS video to digital (I spent a large part of last Saturday wondering why I haven’t yet converted my copy of Leafs/Kings Game 7 in ’93 to an iPod-friendly format so that I can watch it whenever I feel the urge.   This, as much as it may be a cry for help,  is not a lie.)   There are also three or four crates of old vinyl LPs that are practically begging for my attention, so much of my (formerly?) beloved music desperate to enter the 21st century at last.

Anyway, no doubt some of my time tippy-tapping away at my article will take away somewhat from the time I have available to examine my navel here for your benefit;  you must be devastated, I can tell.  I have to say, though, that over the last week or so, I’ve enjoyed spending a few minutes in front of the blank screen with the cursor blinking and a hundred poopy jokes wanting to be written.  I guess I’m having fun writing, and I’ve pushed back a little bit at the multi-armed time-eating monster that my job has recently become.  I have been forcing myself to make just a little bit of time to sit here and flap my virtual gums at you, and it has made me feel a bit better, so I am going to try (see the list of projects above) to keep it up.

Seriously, stop laughing at me.

————

Note:  The Spitfires lost to Brampton last night 4-2.  I recorded the game via Freecorder, loaded it on to my iPod then carefully avoided hearing about the score;  I listened to the game after I went to bed at around 11:30.  About two hours later, I was bummed out – and sleepy.   Anyway, Dad and I won’t be seeing the Spits claim the Championship Trophy tomorrow night in Brampton;  I just hope I haven’t jinxed them too badly.  We want another W!

The Domino Effect: Blender Revisited

A quick post today;  I was back to work for the first time in three glorious weeks, and I have to admit that it only took about two hours of the chaos inherent in office life to get me pining nostalgically for my morning cup of tea in the living room with the cat purring contentedly on the back of the chair behind me.  I will be calling it an early night tonight and trying not to get too exhausted in my first week back.

You may recall that some time back, I mentioned that I was fooling around with a package of 3d modelling software called Blender.   Part of my last vacation hurrah on Saturday and Sunday was to spend some quality time in front of the monitor fiddling about with this little package of digital wonders.  I was greatly assisted in getting back up to speed by a terrific series of tutorials posted on YouTube by super3boy.

The video below is a brief animation I rendered after completing super3boy’s 19th blender tutorial, on the subject of domino physics.   The animation shows a series of “dominoes” set up on a plane;  the first domino falls over and knocks over the next one in sequence, causing a tower of dominoes to crash to the ground.  It was remarkable how simple this was to create.  All it took was some very basic modelling – creating and scaling a mesh cube, really – then copying the “domino” several times and placing it on the plane.   Blender takes care of the rest;  the physics of the virtual world are already coded in the software and all the (ahem) visual artist need do is designate the appropriate objects as “actors” in the scene to be animated.  A brief key sequence starts the “game engine”, which is the piece of software that calculates the physical outcome of the scene you’ve created (in this case, tumbling dominoes) and – last but not least, a command to render the scene into the desired video format.   It took only about five to ten minutes of my interaction with the computer to do this;  the rest was taken care of by the software.  I am flabbergasted.  Blender is also capable of adding textures, lighting and shading effects to all of the objects (none of which are evident in the scene below, as I didn’t take the time to apply these effects), which is to say it’s capable of making the animation look a hell of a lot more realistic than the sequence below.   Right now, I’m just astounded by the ease with which this sequence was created.

I am looking very much forward to using Blender more extensively in some video projects I have germinating in the recesses of my mind.  I am especially anxious to explore the video compositing capabilities of the package, and to combine 3d effects created and rendered in Blender with actual video footage captured from live action cameras.

Sony DCR-HC26 Video Capture Problem

sony_dcr_hc26_camcorder Once I finished the cabinets up yesterday afternoon, I transitioned from “handyman” to “geek” mode and started working on a little video for the charity event Spouse and I are helping to organize; it’s essentially a commercial for the event that I’m going to put up on YouTube.

I spent the late/afternoon and early evening shooting the footage I needed (it’s not complicated, believe me, and the “actors” are compliant enough types – little plastic figurines from the Homestar Runner series of web-toons).

That part of the “shoot” was easy and fun enough;  I had rigged up the workshop like a little studio, complete with a bristol-board background that I hope will do service as a (very low) budget “green screen” for some fun chroma key effects (superimposing the “actors” on a couple of amusing stock photos, etc.).

After dinner, I headed upstairs and connected my Sony DCR-HC26 to the computer to “capture” the footage I’d shot into my video editing suite of choice.  I have captured video successfully from this exact camera (using this very same cable) many times before without any appreciable difficulty, but on this occasion (probably because I’m working toward a deadline), the technical ghosts and goblins ran rampant over me.

Historically, I have connected the camera to my computer through an IEEE-1394 compliant, “Firewire” type cable.  The cable has the smaller “4 pin” connector at the end that attaches to the camera, and the normal size “6 pin” connector at the end that plugs in to the computer’s IEEE-1394 port.  Video capture has been smooth, fast and reliable, with few (if any) dropped frames.  Typically, with my video capture software package already running (and waiting expectantly for a “capture device” to be connected), I plug the cable in to the camera first, place the camera atop the desktop machine (it’s just a convenient surface to rest the camera on while capturing), then connect the cable to the computer.  Finally, I power up the camera and within a matter of seconds, Windows usually detects the camera, loads the necessary drivers and I’m good to go.

RUNTIME error.

Anger. Frustration. Despair.

These are the emotions experienced by an otherwise rational person trying to decipher the apocryphal meaning concealed deep beneath the outer veneer of something disguised as language and otherwise known as a “simple” introduction to any programming language. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful that my fellow netizens – some of them, anyway – have taken the time to write pages and tutorials detailing their knowledge and understanding of such subjects in an organized way; that is one of the things that makes the open source community such a wonder for me. There is a pervasive ethos that is all about helping the other guy understand how things – code – work, or at least trying to do so. I have benefitted greatly from the knowledge and wisdom of others in this way, and I recognize that when one is presented with an equine gift, one ought not to studiously examine the nag’s teeth.

But dude. If you’re going to take the time to write, in your “PHP 101” materials, the following sentence:

My goal in this series of tutorials is very simple: I’ll be teaching you the basics of using PHP, and showing you why I think it’s the best possible tool for Web application development today. I’ll be making no assumptions about your level of knowledge, other than that you can understand basic HTML and have a sense of humor.

you should probably wait for a little bit longer than, oh, say THE NEXT PARAGRAPH to drop the term “development environment” on me. I need the Fisher-Price beginning.

You know, I like to think that I’m a little more tech savvy than the ordinary guy; I operate and maintain this site, I’ve used open source software to convert .avi files from PAL to NTSC style video (and to re-synch the audio thereafter), I can bluff my way through simple image editing with the GIMP, I can spot (and trace) a simple spoofed email, and I taught myself my first programming language (FORTRAN) when I was ten, from a book that my Dad had brought home from work; I didn’t have a computer to actually run the programs I wrote in response to the “Problems” in the text, but my solutions were identical to those set out in the “Answers” portion of the book and by the time BASIC came along and I managed to somehow get a little face time with a Radio Shack TRS-80, I had an appreciation for the beauty of well-written code that I think was somewhat uncommon among fourteen year olds in 1980. All of that experience tells me that “development environment” likely has something to do with describing the virtual box within which the php code that I want to write will be created. I’m even relatively certain that the virtual box needs to be built “on” the web server that’s going to ultimately execute the php code that I write.

But I wish to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I wasn’t already guessing about shit like this, two paragraphs in to the lesson. I might have a little more confidence that this learning exercise isn’t going to be excruciatingly painful. Is it so hard to simply say, “Look, you’re going to need a place to write this code, and that place can’t be on your local computer, the one you have on your desk or your lap or whatever – it needs to be on something zippy and powerful like a web server, so you’re going to need to download an application and then put it on your server to make sure you’ve got a little php sandbox to play in.”

Sigh.

UPDATE: 10:45 p.m. and I’ve finished the first lesson. I have to give the author his props, the rest of the lesson was generally very comprehensible and not nearly the exercise in Stalinist self-denial I was expecting. It would seem, however, judging by some of the comments at the bottom of the post, that I’m not the only one who had a little trouble getting started:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

 

UH… HUH.
9:54PM PDT · Anonymous User [unregistered]

I say this guide need more ‘explanation’.

 

Being Jackson Pollock

Putting together yesterday’s ruminations on essence, existence and lawn mowery, specifically the section about the alleged lack of any obvious strategy underlying my approach to the task, I came across this Jackson Pollock emulator, a site that allows you to try your hand at applying virtual paint to e-canvas in the fashion that Pollock pioneered in meatspace. The emulator is what I used to create the “Jackson Pollock painting” inserted in the body of the post. Instructions on how to use it are here, but I hadn’t read them when I used it yesterday.  Try it, and save your masterpiece using MWSnap, a free (and extremely useful) utility that allows you to take a screen capture from any window on your screen.

Gizmos and Geegaws

Sometimes I don’t know why I do it. I get excited about the potential of a technological gizmo or geegaw and try to supercharge (a la Tim “The Toolman” Taylor) its capabilities with *ahem*, I believe the term is “budget-conscious” accessories. For example, about a year ago now, I was fooling about with an old Compaq Presario laptop computer (Windows 95 operating system and about as much memory as an absent-minded gnat) and trying to modify it in such a way that I could use a wireless PCMCIA card to connect to the Internet via our wireless router. The point was not to create an awesome computing and gaming machine; what I really wanted was a more or less portable tippy-tappy device that would basically be solely dedicated to blogging. Although I couldn’t justify the substantial expense involved in purchasing a new laptop for that purpose, I could justify spending a few bucks on a wireless card and a little bit of my time trying to bodge together a workable system. I did a bunch of research on the Internet about rescuing dinosaur machines and reclaiming them for limited purposes, I found a supplier for some replacement parts I needed to make the old machine operable (LCD screen, cable connecting motherboard to display) and managed to find a cheap and theoretically compatible wireless card on eBay. I bid on the card and won the auction, I ordered my replacement parts from Singapore, and when everything arrived all in one place, I took the machine apart, carefully re-assembled it and fired the rig up again.

Nothing.

After many hours of booting, re-booting, tweaking, re-tweaking, booting, re-booting and damn near booting the thing out the window, it slowly began to dawn on me that the claims in the wireless card manufacturer’s documentation that the device was “compatible with Windows 95” might not be entirely accurate. A little further research on the Internet suggested very strongly that the card was in fact compatible with Windows 95SE – but not Windows 95. I’ll give you three guesses which version of Windows the little laptop was not capable of running.

Undeterred in my quest, I moved into problem- solving mode: if the project was failing as a result of constraints related to the machine’s operating system, it made sense to try and change the operating system. I boldly delved into the world of Linux – an OS that I previously knew absolutely bugger all about – and determined that I might be able to make the thing work with a version of Linux known as DSL, which stands for “Damn Small Linux”. It was difficult to know for sure whether this would work, because Linux is an open source operating system – designed, built, and supported entirely by a diverse community of coders, not all of whose considerable nerdly skills are fortuitously paired with substantial linguistic abilities. The result is that the documentation available in relation to Linux is of immensely variable quality and – because of the many versions of the thing available – I found it difficult to have any confidence that I was getting the definitive word on any particular issue. Moreover, some of the stuff was just too damn dense for someone without professional IT skills to penetrate and digest without many hours of study.

Many hours of booting, re-booting, tweaking, re-tweaking, booting, re-booting and damn near booting the thing out the window, I came to the conclusion that the thing just wasn’t going to work, and that project was cast aside both literally and figuratively; the component parts were shoved underneath a couch in the computer room at our old house and there they remained, collecting dust, until we emigrated to Juniorvania. The whole pile of stuff is now sitting in my shop, silently reproaching me for my unforgivable hubris. Total cost for this portable computing version of the Tower of Babel: a couple hundred bucks worth of replacement parts, taxes, shipping and brokerage fees, a substantial number of somewhat frustrating hours of my time, and a minor bruise to my confidence in my own rationality. If I had just spent that money (and a little more) on a slightly more powerful, perhaps used, machine, I’d be typing this entry – about something else – on my little blogging device.

My point in reciting all of this (no doubt fascinating) history is really to set it out as a bit of a cautionary parable for myself. Why? You may recall that a few months ago I took the plunge and bought a digital SLR – a Canon Digital Rebel XTi, to be precise. Recently, I’ve been photographing some of the birds in the trees out back, but my Sigma 18-200 lens just wasn’t able to get me close enough to get the kind of pictures I wanted, so I started casting my eyes longingly around teh Intarwebs at things like this. Not having the inclination, skills and weaponry necessary to knock over a bank, and thus being economically ineligible to acquire such a device, I decided that I needed to come up with a Plan B. Behold:
51QFP61MN9L._SL500_AA280_

The thing arrived last Friday, and I fiddled about with it some on the weekend. This morning, I had to scramble to fit it on to the camera because I saw some deer grazing in the field out back, quite a distance away next to the edge of the woods. So far, the biggest challenge for me is focusing on the subject with sufficient sharpness to produce an image of any clarity. My initial review of this morning’s study on the eating habits of the family cervidae indicates that most of the pictures are a tad on the blurry side. I have my severe doubts about the quality of this lens – it just can’t be any good at that, um “price point”, at least not in relation to the glass the pros use. Indeed, in general it seems to me that the images produced by this lens are noticeably “softer” (even the ones that are in focus) when compared to images produced by the Sigma, and the colours seem to be somewhat less vivid.

The question for now is whether it’s good enough – or another intransigent Compaq Presario.

For now, here are a few of the first attempts with this lens that did turn out with some degree of sharpness:

IMG_2211
A hairy woodpecker on the suet feeder.

IMG_2145

Two American Goldfinches on the special feeding sock we got for them (yes, Wal-Mart LOVES us, thank you – $24.95 worth).

IMG_2113
Henry is underwhelmed by the performance of this lens.

Mother Earth Motherboard.

There are a few minutes available to me before Spouse and I jet off to Christmas party The First (Office edition) this evening. The logistical problem I should be trying to solve right now is “how to keep seven pounds of perogies warm prior to transport and consumption at a remote festivity” – the office party is always a pot luck affair. What I am doing instead of that is sitting down to quickly rap out a quick bit about an article by Neal Stephenson entitled Mother Earth Motherboard.

The article was originally published in Wired in 1996; an archived online version may be found here.

Stephenson is the guy who wrote the popular novel Cryptonomicon; I haven’t read that book – yet (please, Santa, please!) – but according to at least one source, the subject matter of that novel was strongly influenced by Stephenson’s work on Mother Earth Motherboard (which he wrote first).

This article is the most fascinating thing I’ve read in any magazine ever. High praise, yes – but all the more astonishing when you consider the subject material: the article is about the history of very long wires. Stephenson turns quite a trick, making the material compelling and astonishingly interesting. The piece is lengthy and involved – the self-described “hacker tourist” author is nothing if not thorough – but this article is unique in my experience in that I can remember it very well more than ten years after I read it for the first time. Just mull that over for a minute or two; can you really remember in detail the subject matter of any magazine article you read eleven years ago?

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Categorized as Computers

Not Exactly Fiat Lux, But For Me…Not Bad

One of the things I’ve been struggling with recently (yes, that was me that you saw wrasslin’ on the floor with the toaster, an artichoke and some precast concrete yesterday) is Blender.  Blender is an the open source 3d modelling, animating and rendering package.  For the Luddites in the virtual room (yo, represent) that means it’s a program that helps a digital artist (or in the alternative, some dude who’s whacking away at the keys with precious little that one might call a plan) create and bring to life a virtual 3d world with virtual 3d objects that can move and change form.   It is an amazingly powerful piece of software, and it’s free – how can you not, as a self-respecting nerd and computer geek, open it up and start poking around to see what you can accomplish?