Friday, June 28, 2013

An Excellent Video on Film Aspect Ratios

Perusing Blue’s News this morning I ran into a link to a must see video on why movies are shaped like they are. Ever wonder why older movies are almost square shaped and newer ones are elongated rectangles? Wonder no more, The Changing Shape of Cinema explains all.

In my reviews, I always detail what aspect ration the DVD or Blu-ray content is in since the ratios vary greatly. While I was aware of some of the history, this video answers the important questions of when and why different formats were created. It also explains why HDTV’s are a different shape than older television sets.

I have to go on record as loving widescreen and used to watch all my DVD’s in tiny letterbox mode on the old 4:3 27” TV. Getting a 40” HDTV as a gift made me a very happy camper and did justice rendering the glories of cinematography.

Go watch the video!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ohbelog Referral Spam

So I see a Malaysian website on my Blogger stats today and couldn’t resist seeing what the latest spam was. It turned out to be a very interesting place to investigate. An ornate trap is what I would describe ohbelog . com as. At first look it appears to be a social media aggregate site where you can vote up or down on different links.

It’s flashy and oh so modern:


Scrolling down reveals that not a lot of voting is going on and clicking on some of the subsections in the menu nets these results:


Notice anything suspicious yet?

The Yucatan Valley Flood of 2000

Digging through my digital photographs, I did not find anything from the first flood that I photographed here in Yucatan. However, I did find copies of a friend’s pictures from that time. June 1, 2000 was the day I first experienced flooding up close and it all began when my late mother noticed water in the field where it shouldn’t be. I went outside to get a better look and realized that the creek (South Branch of the Root River) had gone over its banks.

YucatanYucatan 2

Before long County 14 was under and later we heard from my father that he couldn’t get through from the south because the bridge was closed. Later that evening after things were open again, we took a drive along 14 and State 76 to see the flooding. It was beautiful and intimidating at the same time to see the valley filled with water. I felt like I’d glimpsed what it was like in Yucatan when the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age.

An Eminent Threat

A strange sound awakened me today and it was somewhat like when raccoons have invaded the basement. Groggy, I stumbled out to find my father doing the dishes so I assumed that’s what I heard. While de-installing Nvidia’s latest and buggy beta drivers, I looked out my window and notices a sizeable branch down on the backyard maple tree.

Then I really looked at it.

Maple Tree 01Maple Tree 03

A full third of the tree had gently fallen on an abandoned old shed.

Maple Tree 02

It looks like rot spread deep and the excessive moisture in the valley helped accelerate the decay. Further splits are developing and that’s very bad news.

Maple Tree 04

With the entire weight of the tree leaning in one direction, it puts the house in jeopardy. Also threatened is the power line so it would be a catastrophe when it falls. We are going to have to have someone come cut it down ASAP. One stiff storm wind could take out my side of the house.

It has been quite a week and it’s only Wednesday.

Monday, June 24, 2013

One Day Later

The flooding has subsided in Yucatan valley leaving mud and debris in the fields. Unfortunately, two waves of storms may hit the area between now and Tuesday morning. So far they have dumped significant amounts of rain in Iowa, but the NWS is warning things could get as bad as 2007 by tomorrow. So I've got the radar on autoupdate and watching the first wave of rain approaching. Thankfully it is fading in intensity for round one.

However it is not like we can afford any more rain. Mudslides worry me even more than flooding in Houston County ever since what happened in Brownsville six years ago. Right now I'm debating getting some more stores in before tonight's storms. If weather and transportation permit, I'll get some photos of the aftermath..

Oh and to the people searching for Lanesboro flood pictures getting routed to my Yucatan posts and the old 2008 photos: Sorry I don't have any from 2013, Google isn't the best for finding what you want these days. Try DuckDuckGo or Bing for better search results.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Videos of the Yucatan Valley Flooding

I took a few videos with my trusty old Canon PowerShot S1 IS to give an idea what it is to see flood waters up close and personal. Unfortunately the wind picked up and you can’t quite get the full audio experience. Rushing waters are loud and something you don’t forget once you’ve experienced them. One thing that can’t be conveyed is the awful smell of flood waters. That too is unique.

This was taken at a flooded over county road and gives a good idea of the strong currents of flood waters. At the end you can hear a tree or trees falling from it.

The second video is from the intersection of County 4 and State Highway 76. When we passed this coming home it was closed. So was Highway 16 out of Houston and 43, leaving 44 the only main route open in the county -- and it is under construction!

More Flood Pictures

My neighbor Randy, my dad, and I went out to get another look at the flooding at Noon. Much to our relief the waters were going down in Yucatan valley from earlier in the day. They had gotten higher when Randy went out mid-morning, so there was cause for worry.

June 23 Flood 16

Going up the road past the local Girl Scouts camp revealed that a lot of water had crossed over that road leaving debris behind. My father moved the smaller chunks out of the road after we stopped.

June 23 Flood 15June 23 Flood 17

The South Branch of the Root River jumped its banks in many places wreaking havoc on fields and roads. The water in the photos above covers a field. Notice the trees, dead and alive, swept into the water to be left behind.

Yucatan Is Flooding

There isn’t going to be a lot of text for this, I took these pictures shortly after 5:00 AM. Large amounts of rain has produced flooding and I need to go check on things again soon. Houston County in Minnesota is not a safe place to travel right now and people need to stay at home or seek higher ground if needed.


I’m copying this from the National Weather Service storm report because links move around when they update. Suffice it to say that things are not good:

407 PM CDT SUN JUN 23 2013

..TIME...   ...EVENT...      ...CITY LOCATION...     ...LAT.LON...
..DATE...   ....MAG....      ..COUNTY LOCATION..ST.. ...SOURCE....

0405 PM     FLASH FLOOD      HOUSTON                 43.76N 91.57W
06/23/2013                   HOUSTON            MN   EMERGENCY MNGR


June 23 Flood 01June 23 Flood 02

Riceford Creek is over its banks, this is Creamery Drive at the intersection with County 4.

June 23 Flood 03June 23 Flood 04

Standing water is merging with the flooding near the intersection. Further North, the junction of Riceford Creek and the South Branch of the Root River is rising rapidly. Both are out of their banks. There is at least one mudslide near there.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Star Trek (2009) Review

Rebooting a franchise with a rabid fandom is always a dangerous thing, but running afoul of Trekkies, err, Trekkers is suicidal. So when J.J. Abrams of Lost fame was chosen to restart Star Trek from the beginning, a lot of fear and consternation filled the Web. A new take on Kirk, Spock, McCoy, the other original characters hit the big screen in 2009 to boldly go where we’ve gone before. High octane action and modern pacing made for a very different experience along with bigger box office. Updated with rewritten text, Blu-ray review, and HD screen captures.

Star Trek Title

It was disappointing to hear that Paramount was rebooting the Star Trek film series with a remake of the original series. I’d hoped for something more original like following the first captain of the Enterprise, Christopher Pike, or the murky early war with the Romulans. Instead, there would be a fresh young cast taking the roles of Kirk and company.  Out the window went any interest I had in the project.

Then a funny thing happened, the clips released to the Internet actually looked… good. Snippets of scenes showed decent acting and writing.  Disturbingly, I began to be interested.  Then came the trailers and I was in trouble. The movie looked like it was worth spending money on seeing in a theater, something uncommon for me.

So I ponied up the money, saw it and liked it. A lot.  But would it hold up after a second viewing?  An incredibly cheap preorder deal for the DVD at Target gave me that chance and so the answer is in the form of this review. Since first writing it, I’ve gotten my hands on the Blu-ray and will comment on the differences later.

Star Trek KelvinStar Trek Phaser Turret

Star Trek begins with moody music from its rather excellent soundtrack (composed by Michael Giacchino) while a starship comes into view, the U.S.S. Kelvin.  The ship is investigating an anomaly near the Klingon border when a gigantic squid-like ship emerges from it and promptly attacks. Right away the frenetic energy of the fight conveys the seriousness of the situation as the Federation ship is utterly overwhelmed by the mysterious attacker. 

The stakes are made to feel high as one short sequence demonstrates when a female crew member is sucked out of a hull breach and her corpse bounces off of a phaser turret in the silent vacuum of space.  This film is playing for keeps and doesn’t shy away from a high body count.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer Has Arrived

Hot and humid weather has at last arrived in southeast Minnesota. Hopefully it will help the late planted crops, but a lot of farmers in area valleys accepted crop insurance payouts rather than plant. At least the corn is visible and we'll see if it can get to "knee high by the 4th of July."

It's been a long week due to my health. Allergies, wet weather aggravating my back, and problems sleeping combined to keep me at low ebb. I probably had a cold or other bug on top of all that to make things annoying. Yesterday was the first day I was up to doing anything real and grocery shopping took that out of me. I swear it wasn't sticker shock -- there were actually some bargains.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Capsule In-Theaters Movie Reviews

Due to a lack of time and motivation, I’m going to give a brief review for each of the last three movies I’ve seen in the local movie theater: Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Man of Steel. One eclipsed the others completely and you’ll have to read on to find out the clear winner.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Another Kamikaze Bambi Strikes

It would be nice if car problems would stop happening, but here we are in 2013 and another deer collision happened last evening.

Subaru Windshield

My father was coming home and hit a doe following her fawn across the road. She darted up from an embankment in front of the car as he slowed to avoid the fawn. It appears her muzzle impacted the windshield from all the chewed grass combined with saliva.

Subaru Fender

The impact could have been a lot worse but the slow down and angle left a dented fender and the badly cracked windshield as the only damage. It could have been far worse as my posts on earlier deer damage show.

Still, this is going to be incredibly expensive to repair if my suspicions are correct. I can feel the center of the spider web fractures on the inside of the glass. A Walmart parking lot temporary repair is probably in order involving reinforced packing tape.

Given the out of control deer population in the area the DNR really should do a massive cull, but that’s not going to happen. Instead the pests will continue to damage vehicles, crops, and gardens. I’m sick of the varmints being cared about more than humans.

Being Prepared to Serve

Any time there is a disaster such as the tornadoes that struck Oklahoma recently or hurricanes like Sandy there follows an outpouring of sympathy and volunteers to help with the clean ups. Churches and volunteer organizations send groups to assist in myriads of ways, which is unquestionably a good thing. But I find myself wishing more people would do the same closer to home at all times, rather than just during a highly publicized catastrophe.

This is a thought that I’ve been pondering for some time. However, recent events big and small have brought it to the fore in a nagging way. I believe we are here on Earth to learn to love one another and that the only real way we can do this is to serve each other. Being a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lessons on serving others are repeatedly taught in sermons and Sunday school. Service is emphasized for every member through our callings (volunteer jobs) in the church or helping out in the community.

Still, we all have our agency that applies to members and nonmembers alike. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he wrote, “For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Gal 5:13. That scripture implies that we are expected to choose whether or not to serve one another and that we should do so out of love. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Real versus CGI Special Effects

Over at BoingBoing I ran into this great post and discussion on old school special effects and what's been lost in changing over to CGI. The starting off point is Ray Harryhausen's wonderful work and things go from there. Rarely are comment threads worth reading on big sites, but this one has a lot of valid points being made.

Personally, I think CGI can be fantastic when used properly and devastating to the suspension of disbelief when poor. Part of that comes from accepting the unreal aspects of older stop motion or miniatures effects for what they are when we visually process them. So when something that is photorealistic doesn't move or behave correctly, the mind freaks out disproportionately. That's the Achilles heel of CGI and I just had that experience watching the trailer to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug:

It looked pretty good until the scene with the elves in the trees chasing the dwarves in the barrels. Right there the fluidity did not match the rest of the image and jarred me out of full immersion. Quick cuts of real stuntmen would have worked much better, but the temptation of CGI leads to directors using it too much. And this is the work of one of the better CGI directors out there, Peter Jackson.

Motion capture is one way to ameliorate the effect, but so far nothing has completely fooled my eye in a movie. So I'm back to learning to forgive the limitations and hope my eyes eventually do too.

Time of EVE Kickstarter Makes Stretch Goal

Having already recommended the anime Time of EVE and how it blew through its initial $18,000 Kickstarter goal in less than 24 hours, I am pleased to report that it has exceeded $126,000 by a good amount. This shows there is a model for import/export that may be emerging even as the world economy is in decline. Transitional time bring opportunity and I've decided to put my money where my mouth is by upping my backing to the $80 tier.

Yes the book is nice goody to have, but my intention has less to do with greed than with wanting to see this economic model flourish. For niche industries such as anime this could encourage more independent projects such has happened with video games. Crowd sourcing is also an interesting way to weed out ideas since demand has to occur up front rather than just being speculated on.

It might be that Time of EVE is an exception and this model won't work for other animes. After all, it is a brilliant work that is not your average animated fair of any kind. Time will tell, but at least this gem succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Some Brief Thoughts on Snowden and Heroism

I do not believe Edward Snowden is a hero like some on the political right and left are hailing him. The timing of the disclosures and his running to Hong Kong are straight out of Cold War espionage operations so I suspect China’s hand in this. From his own statements, I see him as an erratic personality more than likely manipulated by a handler working for Chinese intelligence.

Even if he wasn’t, he’s not the white knight people think he is. A Ron Paul supporter and Obama sympathizer, he did not go public with this information when it mattered most before the 2012 presidential election. Timing is everything in life and doubly so in politics, which is why I believe China’s spies have a hand in this.

This would be a perfect opportunity to weaken President Obama for his meeting with President Xi Jinping on cybersecurity. Given how much attention had been focused on Chinese hacking of defense, government, and business servers in the United States it makes sense to skewer Obama with spying on his own people to deflect attention.

Seeking asylum in China while spouting off about freedom indicates that Snowden is either lying or quite stupid. Yeah, going to a country that censors the Internet, has spied on its citizens for many decades, and suppresses any mention of Tiananmen Square is beyond foolish if you are seeking freedom. It looks like someone has been working on his perception of China, if you get my drift.

Meanwhile, there are purportedly idiots in the intelligence community talking about “disappearing” Snowden in public. Oh and another scandal is hitting involving the State Department covering up drug dealing and use of prostitutes by ambassadors and security contractors.Our government is in the best of hands, isn’t it? There is no way to indicate just how much sarcasm fills that sentence.

There aren’t any heroes, folks. So please don’t rush to put Snowden on a pedestal just yet. Remember that Manning and Assange both proved to have motives that weren’t heroic and even Deep Throat turned out to be someone wanting revenge for being passed over for a promotion.

Isn’t it interesting that all the wrong doings of the current administration are coming to light after Obama was safely re-elected?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Technobabble: Video Card Style

There is nothing quite as infuriating as troubleshooting personal computer issues and it can reach exponential heights when nobody else has successfully solved it. That’s the situation I’ve been in for the past month since getting a Nvidia Geforce 650 TI based video card. Part of the pain was making the mistake of testing the 320.xx beta drivers, which ended up being certified in 320.18 without correcting any of their bugs. Check out this forum for multiple threads on the issues involved.

Some of the bugs are show stoppers. By that, I mean they lock up the computer which truly qualifies as a stopper. The worst symptom is that of Windows Explorer locking up while allowing currently running programs to function. They can be used or shut down, but Ctrl-Alt-Del doesn’t work, launching programs fails, and you can’t shutdown. Other folks have had their video cards actually burned out by the drivers.

So I’ve spent the last week or so uninstalling and installing drivers (use safe mode, folks – you’ll be grateful you did) to find something remotely stable. 310.70 was fantastically unstable, 306.97 was slow in games, and 314.22 showed some of the same lockups. I’ve settled on the latter for now, since they crash the least.

Checking the latency on my PC with LatencyMon reveals large problems with Nvidia’s driver kernel, nvlddmkm.sys. I’ve disabled powering down the video when the PC is idle and that’s helped stability. So far I’ve kept the PC going for its longest stretch by enabling the screen saver to make sure the card doesn’t go dormant.

Digging for solutions exposed another large issue and that was what was causing Mass Effect 2 and 3 to fail to run. It turns out that starting with Windows 7 the power management in the operating systems from Microsoft park the cores in multicore CPUs. This saves power for laptops, but is pointless for desktops. A utility called parkcontrol made all the difference in the world in allowing the games to run.

The big surprise from using that was how much faster and responsive the PC has become at doing everything else. From Internet browsing to graphics editing, everything is much faster now. Why this is an issue with Nvidia and not with AMD Radeon video cards is a mystery to me.

If I had things to do over again I would buy an AMD Radeon 7790 based card. The Gigabyte 650 TI hardware is excellent and never spiked in heat like some with the 320 drivers, which is a testament to its cooling system. But I never had driver issues with Radeons like this.

A Source of Referral Spam

Ever wonder where the strange links in your Blogspot stats come from that don’t really link to your blog? Ever wonder why someone would do such a thing? Wonder no more.

r-e-f-e-r-e-r . com showed up on my stats today and this site blatantly lays out what is going on. For $29.95 you can spam forty million websites with links to your site to artificially drive traffic – or at least that’s what they promise. You may have heard of similar schemes for Facebook likes and Twitter follows to boost apparent status.

Screen capture follows and is safe to click on:

referer spam

The part selling ads pointing out mostly webmasters visit this site is something I find vaguely hilarious. Most won’t be pleased to be visiting, I suspect.

Please don’t help them out by visiting their site.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Beowulf: Director’s Cut (2007) Review

Before underdressed CGI blue cat people fought “the man” in 3D and made a billion dollars, another underdressed CGI hero fought against “the woman” in 3D and barely managed a profit worldwide. Despite its underwhelming box office, this movie inspired by an ancient Anglo-Saxon poem is the more interesting of the two. Gory, boisterous, beautiful, and dark, it was hampered by trying to be both a meditation on human frailty and a popcorn action flick. UPDATED June 2013 with Blu-ray details and HD screen captures.

Beowulf Title

In those forgotten days before television, before movies, before radio, and yes even before comic books, heroic tales still circulated. Traveling bards who could recite great tales were highly valued and the superstars of their day. Committed to memory, countless tales that thrilled audiences of the past have been lost. But a few lasted long enough to be transcribed to paper and Beowulf is the oldest in the English culture.

If you are a dedicated fan and purist about the heroic poem, please stop reading here. It will save you time wailing and gnashing your teeth – besides, Grendel of the movie is much better at doing both of those. This movie is more of an “inspired by” story than an adaptation.

Beowulf Dragon CupBeowulf Wealthow

Set in 6th Century Denmark, the film begins with with chanting driven orchestral music (composed by veteran Alan Silvestri) and the main title flashing on screen. In 3D at the theater, it looked very good I must say. Quickly the title fades and we are presented with an ornate golden horn drinking cup featuring a dragon. It is apparent that we are supposed to pay attention to this object and I recall thinking “It’s a plot device!”

As the camera pans up, we are introduced to our first look at how the all CGI film renders humans. A very pretty and regal looking Nordic lady is holding the cup during its filling, all the while looking none too happy to be doing so. Soon we find out why and her identity.

Monday, June 03, 2013

A Worthy Anime

While I’ve been aware of Kickstarter for some time now and even been interested in a few projects, there has been nothing that I was willing to put my money on until now. Time of EVE is a wonderful webcast science fiction anime about a café where humans and humanoid robots mingle in a homage to Isaac Asimov’s robot stories. After marathoning the episodes the day after the Kickstarter announcement for an international Blu-ray of the movie version, I knew I had to contribute.

At the moment, the funding stands at $99,112 with my contribution in. The goal was $18,000 by June 22 and was blown through in 22 hours. That should give you an idea of what people think of the anime. Because of the overwhelming support, an English dub is going to be included and further stretch goals are being worked on. Personally, I’m hoping for a soundtrack CD for the next goal.

Time of EVE is wonderfully written and animated, so don’t expect crude Flash animation – this is the quality of theatrical release along the lines of Studio Ghibli productions. Heavy on character development, the film features humor and gentle emotion throughout rather than action.

The story begins when a curious high school student tries to account for the movements of the female humanoid housekeeper robot and walks into a mysterious unmarked back alley café. Inside there is one rule: don’t discriminate between humans and robots. As the mystery deepens, the question of what makes an individual a person is raised, tolerance is tested, and outside political intrigue raises the stakes involved. Along the way, everyone’s personal story gets told.

Check out the first episode for free at Crunchyroll and the whole thing if you are a paid subscriber.