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24 fans, if you haven’t watched the movie Flatliners since before you started watching 24, you should watch it again.  Not only because of one particularly hilarious and well-delivered line, but also to see where Jack Bauer got his toughness.

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Inside Man

We watched the movie Inside Man last week, and I thought it was great.  I may be partial to heist movies anyway (The Score; The Italian Job) but this one was pretty original, and I for one didn’t get the con until they spelled it out at the end.  Also, the scene in the middle between the thief and the little kid with the PSP is hilarious.

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King Corn

Netflix now has about 10,000 movies in their "Watch Instantly" system, which allows you to stream the movies over the internet, and which is completely free for Netflix subscribers.  Most of the movies aren’t current hits due to licensing issues with the studios, which Netflix is working on I’m sure, but there’s still a lot of good stuff in there.

A few days ago I watched King Corn, which is a documentary about 2 guys who move to Iowa in order to grow an acre of corn and follow it through its harvest and into the market.  The movie was both interesting and informative.  By the end of it, you get the idea that they’re taking a dim view of the corn industry in America, but overall it does not come across as pretentious or judgmental at all.

Some (rough) quotes from the movie:

Quoting King Corn:

A fast food meal is largely corn: corn-fed beef, french fries of which 50% of the calories come from the corn oil they’re fried in, and soda which is primarily corn syrup.

Corn farms use anhydrous ammonia fertilizer which allows a 4x increase in yield compared to corn crops 2 generations ago.

Corn has been genetically engineered with one goal: increasing yield.  This is done by engineering the plants to be able to tolerate growing very close together.

Fields are sprayed with an herbicide called Liberty to kill weeds; the "Liberty Link" corn has been engineered to be resistant to this herbicide.

One acre of corn produces about 200 bushels or 10,000 pounds of corn.  Of this:

- About 50% is fed to animals to become meat
- 32% is either exported or turned into ethanol
- About 5% becomes sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup

Growing and selling corn would not be profitable without the government subsidies that encourage corn farming.

Prior to the 1970s, the US government paid farmers to not produce crops, to cut back on production.  Earl Butz changed that policy when he was Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon.

We spend less of our income on food than any generation in history.

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Bird Video

Uploaded today:

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Posted by Anthony on 3 replies

Cat Videos Reprise

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When I first posted these videos of my little buddy a few months ago, there was apparently a problem with the way I formatted the videos, because many of you couldn’t view them.  Well I’ve now fixed them, so everyone should be able to see them just fine, even on your iPhones.  Let me know if not!

On a technical note, here’s the command I used to create these files:

ffmpeg -y -threads 2 -i video.avi -s 480x320 -r 29.97 -vcodec mpeg4 -g 300 -b 350k -async 50 -acodec aac -ar 44100 -ac 2 -ab 128k video.mp4

The videos came out of the camera as 640x480 AVI files consuming about 2 MB for each second of video.  The conversion to 480x320 in MP4 format produced files using only 58 KB per second of video.  The first file, for example, started out as a 45 MB AVI and ended up as a 1.4 MB MP4, which is a reduction of about 97%.

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M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening

Here is yet another glowing movie review by me.  Noticing this trend, I’d like to begin by pointing out that we have Netflix, and we watch probably about 6 movies each month; so it’s not that I just love every movie that comes out, it’s that I only post about the great ones.

Now, about The Happening: as predicted, I loved this movie.  Evidently I’m in the minority, though, as it’s gotten a mostly rotten rating on the tomatometer.

I think in order to appreciate The Happening, you have to be able to realize, admit, and/or accept that you’ve been desensitized over the years by scores of movies with gratuitous drama, slapstick comedy, explosions, and special effects.  Those things have their place, but when you’ve been pummeled by film after film of non-stop in-your-face madness, it can be hard to appreciate movies that are more subtle.

In fact, that applies to the other great M. Night movies too: Unbreakable and The Village.  They’re 2 of my favorite movies of all time; I like them better than The Sixth Sense despite the critical acclaim that that movie received.  I didn’t like Signs or Lady in the Water as much, though, so it’s not that I think M. Night is King Midas.

So what’s so great about The Happening?  Mark Wahlberg, for one thing.  But in general, the movie is quiet and subtle, which I think allows it to be intricate and interesting.  It’s also hilarious: there are a few scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny, and the fact that they’re in the midst of a film that’s totally not a comedy only makes them more comical.

Some reviews of the movie say that it portrays small-town Pennsylvanians in an offensive way, but I’m from small-town PA and I love PA and I didn’t get that vibe.  Others say that its message is pretentiously environmentalist; again, that’s a vibe I didn’t get, and though I recognize that aspect of the plot, it’s nothing at all like, say, The Day After Tomorrow.

It would perhaps be fair to describe The Happening as anticlimactic, but I don’t think that detracts from the movie as much as it would in other, more typical action-packed kinds of movies.  And I’m seeing comments that this was a stay-till-after-the-credits movie, which we did not; I suppose it’d be prudent to make that standard policy given the huge post-credit event that apparently happens in Iron Man.  But we virtually never see movies in theaters anymore, which brings me to...

Movie theaters suck.  Each of our tickets cost ten dollars.  The cheapest item at the concession stand was a bottle of water for $3.75.  Of course I brought my own bottle of water, but I had to sneak it in like a tiny criminal.  The smallest popcorn you could get was $4.50.  For that price you can buy an entire box of popcorn -- six whole bags -- and it’ll taste better too.  Then we had to listen to a couple of meatheads yakking through all the previews and the first ten minutes of the movie, until we finally moved across the theater to get away from them.

It’s certainly nice to see a film on the big screen with surround sound, and going out to the movies is a nice experience in a way, but the exorbitant prices and obnoxious people just make me mad.  I guess that’s why Netflix gets $18/month from us, while movie theaters get about one visit every 6 months.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Cinderella Man

Cinderella Man is yet another superb Russell Crowe movie.  I can’t believe that I’d never even heard of this movie until the other day when we saw a preview for it on another DVD.

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Musicbox, Meet iPhone

Here’s what’s left of Musicbox v2.0:

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Behold, Musicbox v3.0:

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More photos and details here.

The old musicbox system served me well, but since I’ve always bought 2 or 3 new albums per month, it got to be a pain having to take the system out of the car every few weeks and bring it in the house to add new music to it.  And nowadays about half of my listening is podcasts, which are updated daily or weekly, which would just be totally impractical to keep updated on the old system.  With the iPhone, though, it’s always automatically up to date with the latest music and shows.

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Kid vs. Dog

Uploaded to the ol’ upload demo:

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The Happening

What’s better than an M. Night Shyamalan movie?  An M. Night Shyamalan movie with Marky Mark in it.

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I liked Cloverfield a lot.  It had the potential to be too hip for its own good, based on the trailer; and it had the potential to just be really terrible because of the whole filmed-via-handycam aspect; but it turned out to be neither.  The character who did most of the filming was great, and the way the two complementary storylines were woven together via the overdubbed tape was downright masterful.  And the complete lack of any recognizable Hollywood pinheads stars was refreshing.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Comcast Slowsky Commercial - Push It

These Slowsky commercials are the best.

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From TiVo to iPhone via Awesome

When Kim bought me a TiVo a few months ago, it didn’t immediately occur to me that it was a great way to build a video archive.  But a month or two later when I discovered that you can point a web browser at the TiVo and download videos from it to your computer, it started to click.

I also started to realize that there’s actually a ton of good stuff on TV, far more than I have time to watch in fact: stuff like How It’s Made, Survivorman, Planet Earth, Most Shocking, Shockwave, etc, not to mention things we’d already been into like 24, Prison Break, The Office, and Heroes.

Those last few shows need to be watched in order, and usually on or near their original airing date, but the rest can be archived and watched any old time.  So for the past month or two I’ve been archiving shows; I’m up to about 250 episodes, taking up 150 gigs of space.

Back when I first got my TiVo, right away I thought about how it’d be great to be able to somehow watch its content on my iPhone.  The iPhone isn’t a home theater, just like it isn’t a full PC, but the thing is that it’s always with me, so having my favorite TV shows on it would be pretty sweet.  Still, it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I started to really think about this, and I discovered that it’s possible and not even that hard.  So I’ve written up a little guide on putting TiVo shows onto your iPod or iPhone, posted on my tech blog.

A 1-hour episode ends up using about a fifth of a gig on the iPhone.  Since my 8 gig iPhone is already full, I’ve had to cut back the amount of music that’s on it a little bit to accommodate a few TV shows, and that new 16 GB iPhone is looking better and better. 

I’m just continually amazed by this device; now in addition to being my phone, calendar, email & web device, music player, and podcast player, it also has my TV shows on it -- all automatically kept up to date by iTunes with minimal fuss required.

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Superbowl Commercials: XLII

Well the game ended up being really exciting, though you wouldn’t have known it from the first 3 quarters.  But this year’s superbowl ads were mostly terrible.  Here are the ones that I liked:

Audi Godfather ad:

Tide To Go interview ad: funny only because the stain sounds like Steve Carell in that hilarious news scene in Bruce Almighty:

Doritos mouse ad: funny, but apparently it’s actually from last year:

Etrade baby ads: these are both hilarious.  The "you don’t know how old I am" line kills me:

Coke politics ad: James Carville & Bill Frist become friends.  I’m embarrassed to admit that this ad is genuinely heartwarming:

Bud Light Semi-Pro Will Farrell Jackie Moon ad.  "and the loins" says it all:

The anti-drug drug dealer ad:

Most Ridiculous

Most ridiculous: the idea that people get excited over Dell hardware:

Most Annoying

Both of these are too annoying to display inline; I can only bear to link to them.  Note also how both commercials defecate on top of classic songs:

Thrillicious: 2008 Sobe Life Water Super Bowl Ad

AMP Energy Jumpstart TV commercial from The Big Game

Posted by Anthony on 3 replies

Hit Me On My iPhone

Hilarious, though probably less so if you don’t recognize the dude as "that guy who does all the iPhone guided tour videos."  The best part is the final 15 seconds.

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3:10 to Yuma

Just saw the movie 3:10 to Yuma.  5 stars, easily.  Russell Crowe is amazing.  Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, and 3:10 to Yuma are among the best movies I’ve ever seen, with Crowe giving amazing performances in all of them.

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Macworld 2008: iPhone Updates and More

For Apple fans, Christmas comes in January, at the Macworld Conference.  Yesterday Steve Jobs took the stage at this annual event to give his keynote on the state of Apple and the new products and services that the company is releasing.  Apple nerd that I am, I maintained radio silence from the time the keynote started (noon eastern) for 3 agonizing hours until the video was posted online, to avoid hearing or reading any of the news before I could watch it firsthand.  (You can watch the video here, here, or here.)

The main impression I got from this particular keynote is that Apple right now is a company firing on all cylinders.  There was no single earth-shaking announcement like the iPhone from last year; instead there were four slightly smaller and relatively disparate announcements that show Apple is quite busy in several different areas.

Macbook Air

The big new product is the Macbook Air: a laptop so impossibly thin -- sixteen-hundreths of an inch at its thinnest -- that it fits in an envelope.  It’s got a full-sized (and LED-backlit) screen and a full-sized (also LED-backlit) keyboard, but no CD/DVD drive and almost no ports.  Probably most impressive is that the Macbook Air has 5 hours of battery life, compared to 2 hours or less for many other tiny notebooks.

Time Capsule

The second new product is the Time Capsule: a wireless router with a built-in 500 GB or 1 TB hard drive, primarily meant to provide simple automated backups of all the Macs in your house via Leopard’s Time Machine backup feature.

Incidentally, the heart of the Time Machine backup system is its dated backups, which allow you to "go back in time" through all your data and access/recover files from one day ago, two days ago, a week ago, a month ago, etc.  This is based on and made possible by the fact that on Unix filesystems, a single file can be accessed through multiple different filenames known as hard links.  So you effectively have a full data backup from each previous day, week, month, etc, but the amount of space used is only that required by one full backup plus the incremental changes between the backup dates.  That’s the magic of hard links: a single file on disk can appear to exist multiple times, once in each backup folder.  All of that to say this: when I was working as a system administrator and programmer in a bio lab at Penn State in 2004, I created a backup system based on exactly this same concept (which neither I nor Apple invented) using just BASH, cp, and rsync.  It was used to back up not only OS X, Windows, and Linux systems but also even Mac OS9 systems.  This was 3 years before Apple introduced the same technology in Mac OS X Leopard.  So, I win.

Apple TV + iTunes

The third keynote item was the rebirth of Apple TV.  Originally released about a year ago and since described by Steve Jobs as just a hobby for Apple, the Apple TV hasn’t been a smash hit: they haven’t released any sales figures for it, and yesterday Jobs admitted that -- along with Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, and others -- Apple had missed the mark in getting internet-based content into the living room.  But Apple TV "Take Two" fixes most of the shortcomings of the original: it doesn’t need a computer, it has a much-improved interface, it supports HD content, you can buy iTunes content on it directly, and you can now rent movies on it.  To top it all off, these new features are all available as a free software update to existing Apple TV owners, and the price of the Apple TV has been cut from $299 to $229.

The fact that iTunes now offers movie rentals is at least as big a deal as the Apple TV update.  Apple is currently receiving a small beating from the record labels, all of which are now offering their music as DRM-free MP3 files through Amazon’s music store, but withholding the DRM-free versions from Apple for their iTunes store.  And while Apple has been offering movies for sale through iTunes for a while now, the selection is slim because Apple has only secured deals with a few movie studios.  But with the new rental feature, Apple has signed up every major movie studio -- no small feat.  Apple is far and away the leader in digital distribution of music and movies, even with the aforementioned handicaps, so having every studio on board with rentals would seem to cement Apple’s position.

As an Apple fan and general geek, I’m fascinated by all of these things.  But most likely I won’t actually buy any of them.  I don’t really have a need for a super-thin notebook because I don’t travel much, and when I do, I’d rather have a more full-featured notebook than one that’s exceptionally thin.  Time Capsule is cool, but I run Linux on most of my systems, and I’m a data freak so I already keep multiple backups of all my files.  The new Apple TV and iTunes stuff is awesome, but I’ve recently discovered TiVo and don’t know how I ever lived without it for TV shows, and I’m extremely happy with Netflix for movies.

I guess that whole issue would come down to price: we currently pay ~$90/mo for cable+TiVo+Netflix, so would we be able to get the same content for the same price or less with Apple TV and iTunes?  We mainly watch 4 shows: 24, Prison Break, The Office, and Heroes.  Each episode is $1.99 on iTunes, so 16 shows per month would be $32 per month.  Then throw in say 6 movies per month -- with Netflix, it’s unlimited, and our usage varies pretty wildly -- which at $4 each comes to $24.  So the total with Apple TV + iTunes would be $56: a fair amount cheaper than our current bill.  However, with the TiVo, I’ve now discovered a few more shows that I would really hate to give up: How It’s Made, Most Shocking, Shockwave, Mega Disasters, and World’s Most Amazing Videos.  Adding all of those in would certainly push us past what we’re currently paying.  And I just checked the iTunes store for The O’Reilly Factor and it doesn’t appear to be available there; that’s certainly a deal-breaker.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I’m excited about all the new stuff Apple is doing, but at the end of the day, none of the aforementioned stuff affects me.  The fourth thing Jobs presented, though, certainly does: iPhone updates.


Apple released iPhone firmware v1.1.3, which contains a few new features.  The most exciting thing to me is the update to the Google Maps application.  This includes a new "Locate Me" feature that uses cell tower triangulation/multilateration to determine your current location and show it on the map; not bad for a phone that lacks GPS.  The Maps update also includes a new "drop pin" feature, which lets you stick a pin anywhere on the map (and drag it around) and then make it a bookmark, get directions to/from it, etc.  Both of these new features make it far easier to map routes, since you don’t have to type anything in for one or both of the route’s endpoints.  The Maps app also now includes the hybrid view, showing satellite imagery with roads and locations overlaid on it.  Frustratingly and ridiculously, though, it STILL lacks a freakin’ scale bar!  I can’t believe there’s actually some meathead at Google or Apple who thinks the scale bar should be left out, and that this glaring omission somehow gets past all the other engineers and execs.

The iPhone update also includes the ability to rearrange the icons on the home screen, and to add bookmarks to the home screen from the browser.  These bookmarks also remember the zoom and pan state of the browser, which is really useful; for example, I visit weather.com for the detailed weather forecast since the iPhone’s built-in Yahoo weather sucks, but since weather.com has about 9 miles of ads and other crap at the top of the page, having the iPhone automatically pan to the forecast within the page is really helpful.

Another small item in the update allows the iPhone to send SMS messages to multiple recipients simultaneously; Jobs made no mention of the much- seldom-requested iPhone MMS support.

And of course, the iPhone can now play video content rented through iTunes.

All of these new features were delivered for free to existing iPhone owners like myself, which may be the best part.  I’m just so happy that this device I purchased is continually getting more useful, as opposed to getting more and more obsolete with each passing day.

Finally, Jobs touted the iPhone’s impressive sales figures: 4 million sold in its first 200 days on the market, or about 20,000 per day.  In its first 90 days the iPhone captured 20% of the entire smartphone market, making it #2, behind only RIM BlackBerry.  The fact that the iPhone surpassed all Windows Mobile smartphones in just 90 days on the market is particularly funny in light of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s comment -- after the iPhone was announced but before it was launched -- that the iPhone would get "no significant market share."

Posted by Anthony on reply

Cat Videos

Probably the best thing about working from home is being able to spend all day every day with your cat.  Here are a few cat videos showing Cheshire doing funny stuff around the house.  The "wind" videos aren’t bad but the "water" ones are great.

I’ve also just finished adding a feature to my photos pages whereby video files such as these can be played right within the page, instead of having to click a "download" link to view the video in a separate application on your system.  But embedding videos in web pages like this is tricky and error-prone so please let me know whether/how it works for you.

Posted by Anthony on 6 replies

Most Shocking; Prison

The CourtTV channel has this show called Most Shocking and it’s one of the best shows on TV.  It’s all actual footage from security cameras, police cruiser cameras, and citizen-recorded videos, and it shows all kinds of (often stupid) crimes being committed, and (usually) the police taking down the criminals.

I’ve never really watched the show Cops, but I guess Most Shocking is similar, except I think that Cops is at least sort of scripted (don’t they have a camera/cameraman intentionally going into various situations with police, as opposed to showing footage of interesting stuff captured by cameras that run 24/7?).  And from the previews for Cops it always looks really slow and boring, whereas Most Shocking is non-stop action, with stuff like shootouts, crashes, hostages, etc.

It’s on Wednesdays at 8 PM, though I usually watch the encore which is at midnight.  It’s also apparently on Fridays at midnight sometimes too.

I sometimes catch bits of other shows on CourtTV, and some of the shows about prison are really interesting.  One thing that I don’t understand about prisons is why they’re designed the way they are, with the convicts able to congregate freely at certain times, such as while eating and while out in the prison yard.  Prisoners are able to pass around drugs and weapons, and they sometimes attack the guards and even cause riots.  They can beat up, molest, and even kill other prisoners.

So why should prisoners ever be allowed to congregate?  Why don’t we keep them in their individual cells at all times?  It would be far simpler and safer not only for the guards, but for the prisoners as well.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Smile like you mean it

Has anyone ever seen, Waking Ned Devine? If you have, God bless you. If you haven’t, a whole world of wonder awaits you and all you have to do is grab it (well, actually, buy it).
What could be better than a nice Irish film, with lots of happy Irish people drinking their whisky and Guiness, nestled on the beautiful Irish landscape? The answer, nothing.
This is sort of a random post, but I wanted to disrupt the flow of continuous computer jargon. But that is besides the point. Go buy Waking Ned Devine at Best Buy for $5.99 and enjoy good, clean, and redeeming laughter flavored with some awesome eye candy.

Posted by Nathan on 3 replies

Baby got ..... Bible?

So a buddy of  mine sends me this link.  I became very scared.  I don’t know what to think.  It seems the guy know’s of moshing but is unable to do it with people half his size.  Anthony, I need you to tell me if this is good or bad.  If I feel slight nausea should I turn it off or go with the flow?

Posted by kaiser on 2 replies

Creep Records

My friend Mike is working on a documentary for Creep Records, and he’s got some videos online.  Creep is the home of Dutchland Diesel, one of my favorite bands, who holy cow have updated their website for the first time in literally 4 years.  (Well, they might have updated it a while ago; I haven’t been checking recently since it had been inertial for so long.)

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply
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