January 28, 2004

Camino 0.8 News

Work is progressing well on Camino 0.8. We're going to take the Mozilla1.7 branch which is scheduled for April, so we'll release some time after that. We have about 40 targeted bugs for 0.8, many of them are cleanup and website-oriented.

I'm excited.

Posted by pinkerton at 11:46 AM

January 21, 2004

HTE1: How Not To Buy A TV

I thought initially about writing something about how to choose a new TV, but instead I decided on focusing on the biggest mistake people make: judging the quality of a TV by what you see on the show room floor. Normally when I tell people this, they're shocked. What's the deal?

First, some background. The primary fact to keep in mind is that when manufacturers ship TVs, they don't set them up for optimal viewing, they set them up to stand out on the show room floor. Think about it for a second. If all TVs looked the same when you glanced down the glowing wall of sets, why would you have an incentive to buy one over another? Normally the TVs have their contrast cranked way up and their color shifted to either red or blue. It doesn't make for a great picture, but it differentiates one set from another.

That simple fact aside, the TV generally goes through another set of adjustments by the salespeople when they put it on the rack. If they bother to do anything at all to it, they pull up the menu and randomly start adjusting settings until it looks "right". What's "right" you may ask? Who the heck knows. Most people have been "trained" over the last 40 years of color TV to adjust their set until people look normal. What color are people? How many people do you know with exactly the same skin tones?

Once they have the color "right", they also will crank the sharpness all the way up. Who wants a dull TV, right? Isn't higher better? No, absolutely not. The sharpness control specifies the amount of high frequency signals added to the picture so that lines stand out more. In older sets it was more applicable, but today it just causes problems. The main problem is that it's molesting the picture rather than displaying it as it is intended. Too high of a setting and you get "ringing" or "ghosting" as lines are now doubled to "stand out better". In reality, you want this setting as low as possible.

To make matters worse, at most electronics stores the remotes have been hidden, either to prevent theft or to prevent you from messing things up. However, this also prevents you from fixing things.

Finally, you're at the mercy of the signal being pumped into the TV. How long is the cable run between two different sets? Is one using the (low-quality) coax input and the other the (higher quality) component input? Most stores show in-store demo loops, very rarely real programming. Are you familiar with the material they're showing? Can you say how it's supposed to look? What's "good" if you've never seen this before in your life?

All of these factors conspire against you, the shopper, and make it impossible to judge the quality of a set just from looking at it in the show room. I know you're tempted to say "but this looks just as good as the other set and is $1000 less!" It's human nature to believe what you see, but what do you have to compare it to? What's your reference point? A wall of other misconfigured sets? Twenty wrongs don't make a right.

So what do you do? Research. Don't impulse buy. Let people who know what they're talking about rate the TVs. Also when you do go to buy, take along a DVD (or several!) that you've watched before and are familiar with. If the salesperson won't let you view your own material, leave and go to another store.

Posted by pinkerton at 5:30 PM

Upcoming Essays

I wanted to write a few essays on areas of home theater about which people are generally mistaken or just plain uneducated. The few I have planned are:

  • How not to buy a TV
  • Black bars and 16x9
  • Where to do research
  • Recent FCC rulings
  • Home wiring

Posted by pinkerton at 5:01 PM

January 17, 2004

Beautiful music

I am beside myself after spending just 3 hours with GarageBand. Wow. I put together a little 1:30 ditty just to run it through its paces and I'm more than impressed. It has a lot more depth than you would expect and the instruments and loops make it 100 times more useful than a high-end multi-track audio program like Deck which costs 10x as much.

The first thing I love is the looping. You can just take a pre-recorded snippet, or record your own, and loop it with the drag of the mouse. I layed down a 2 measure bass track with my Squire P-Bass and instead of having to play it over and over and over and over, I could expand it out as long as I needed to fit the time. Is it cheating? Sure, but who the fuck cares? It makes the creative process so much easier.

The next thing I love is recording real instruments. You record them dry (w/out effects) and then you have a full software engine of goodies to apply to them. Want to change the amp simulator you used to record that lead guitar track? No problem, just flip the switch. Try that with your normal 8-track recorder -- you'd have to re-record the whole track! Want to add wah or compression or reverb? Just check the box. No need to re-record.

Like I said, it took me about 3 hours to, from scratch, come up with a little ditty on which I used my p-bass and two of my electric guitars (the SG and the Les Paul). Lay that over a pre-recorded drum track (drummers smell bad anyway, right?) and you've got yourself a song.

I noticed a few things that don't affect me, but might affect others. First, I couldn't plug my guitars directly into the line-in of the Mac. I had to use the headphone out of my GT-3 guitar processor (set to as dry as possible). I guess the signal coming out of the guitar itself is too low. The second is that the software and pre-recorded loops are great, but you can't easily lay down, say, a 12-bar blues progression and then jam over it. The loops are short snippets made in a single key and you can't get the same loop in other keys (say IV or V). You can transpose a loop, but transposing it up 7 steps (for V) makes it sound terrible. I can just lay down the bass or rhythm myself, but others may not have that option. Another oddity is that when you close the main window, the app quits, and it's not so zippy to re-launch. What a strange decision on Apple's part.

If you are a musician, you really want this little app. It's incredible.

Here's my ditty, called IME (for Initial Machine Experiments). It's nothing special, I did it just for fun and didn't obsess about every note or bend I missed. You get what you pay for.

Posted by pinkerton at 4:17 PM

January 14, 2004

Having problems with camino nightlies? Try this!

I just noticed that a few things were broken for me, and a few other people, but not most people. I tracked it down to a bad file in the profile.

The two problems i was experiencing were:

  • ftp sites wouldn't display listings
  • https authentication challenges wouldn't display, always just showing "Authorization Failed"

The VERY simple fix is to remove the

~/Library/Application Support/Chimera/Application.regs
from your profile. It will be regenerated automagically.


Posted by pinkerton at 1:50 PM

January 10, 2004

Camino Update

Just wanted to give a quick saturday morning state of the union.

The multi-tiered review system implemented a few months back is working out beautifully. Patches are going through the rounds and I'm no longer a bottleneck except for checkin. We definitely could use a few more reviewers. If you'd like to join the frontlines, join us in #camino or send me some email. We can always use more QA to help file, reproduce, verify, and simplify bugs, especially as we get closer to release.

We've been knocking down a lot of bugs (functionality and performance) as well as landing a new download manager. Mozilla has also landed some new stuff for us like fixing the "unknown-content-type download bug" (the primary reason we waited for Mozilla1.7). In the short term, history will get a rewrite so it should actually be usable by mere mortals and a bit faster to boot. We're also tracking down some of the more serious regressions like not sleeping for 30 seconds no windows open. If you're interested in what we're pushing to fix before 0.8, do a bugzilla query with the "target fix milestone" set to "Camino0.8".

My mantra right now to the small crew of developers helping is "bugs now, polish later". Hopefully we can spend the next two months knocking down the serious bugs and then spend some time pushing pixels around and maybe adding stuff like more (optional) toolbar buttons. Don't fret if a triage a bug of yours into 0.9 (or later). The goal is to get Camino 0.8 released. If we try to do everything, it'll take yet another year. Every bug we try to fix takes time, and we're all doing this in our spare time. The faster we can get 0.8 out the better and then on to 0.9!

Thanks to everyone involved, this project would be nothing without you.

Posted by pinkerton at 9:32 AM

January 9, 2004

Happy day!

Just got this in my inbox:

Anxious fans will be happy to hear that it won't be too long before the Fisher family returns to HBO, according to Six Feet Under Executive Producer Alan Poul, who reports that the show's writers have returned from hiatus and are at the table working on the series' fourth season.

The writing team started working on the new season at the beginning of October, Poul says, and spent several weeks just talking about general directions and storylines for the characters. Now, as details are fleshed out, each episode's outline is completed, "and one writer peels away to go write it." As of mid-December, the writers had scripts for the first four episodes and had worked out stories for the first seven.


Posted by pinkerton at 1:55 PM

January 4, 2004

Takin' Care Of Business

Back to work tomorrow after a 3 week vacation. Almost looking forward to being at a good machine so I can check in more camino patches.

I finished watching Battlestar Galactica last week and I must admit that my original opinion has changed: I like it much, much better now. I guess with some time, it grew on me and the way the story is told makes more sense. I hope it turns into a weekly series on Sci-Fi, but I doubt it.

Really looking forward to the new upcoming reality series in 2004. I'll keep ya posted!

Posted by pinkerton at 6:18 PM

January 1, 2004

Titles are overrated

Happy new year everyone. I wonder how long it's going to take me to start writing "04" on my checks. I don't even remember much of '03. Maybe I have a brain tumor.

I've been watching the extras on the extended DVD of Fellowship of the Ring and they're fascinating. It would have been so much fun to be part of that process, conceptualizing, creating, and editing something so incredible. I wish I felt that kind of passion at work, or even had a project that I felt I should pour that amount of time, effort, and soul into. Every time I try, they just kill the project and stick me on a new one. I'm burned out, but willing to do it all over again for something I believed in. Can that even happen anymore at AOL?

I'm a bit bummed about the lack of bowl games in HD. Neither of the games today (Rose and Orange Bowls) are in HD. Sure, ABC is giving us 2 HD NFL games and the Sugar Bowl in HD this weekend, but that's 3 days off. Surely they could be using the truck for the Sugar bowl in Miami tonight and have the truck in Louisiana by the 4th.

Speaking of bowl games, I'm no USC fan (though I do have a soft-spot for the Pac-10) but I was glad to see them win today. Hopefully it will help put a bullet in the greed-machine sometimes referred to as the BCS. Could it possibly be any worse? It's obvious that everyone involved with the BCS has no motivation to change anything -- they continue getting their money regardless. Why should they change something that makes them dumptrucks of cash? Such a crock.

Now that we're into 2004, the countdown begins on the HD TiVo, now in beta. I've seen March kicked around, but I hear the units are buggy.

Posted by pinkerton at 10:57 PM