They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack.
  -James Earl Jones "Field of Dreams"
and don't go mistaking paradise for that home across the road
  -Bob Dylan "Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Birthday to me

I got a Blu-Ray player for my birthday yesterday. I did a lot of research and picked the Panasonic DMP-BD35K. It is a platform 2.0 player, which means it has BD-Live, picture in picture and a few other things. It got a good review on CNET, which convinced me to pick it over the equivalent Sony. Among other things, the Sony needed a firmware upgrade for platform 2.0, and this one was already there. So far I am very impressed with it.

I had some issues in setting it up, but that is half the fun. Things have progressed a lot since the days when you would hook your antenna or cable up to your VCR, run another cable to your TV, tune your TV to channel 3 or 4 and there was your system.

After hooking it to the TV with an HDMI cable, it worked right out of the box. The audio at this point was coming through the TV. I had also attached a network cable, and when I did the connection test it passed, and showed my the IP address that it had obtained. When I hooked up the optical digital audio cable connected to the receiver I got no sound. I screwed around with this for a half hour or so, trying different settings, etc. The issue with audio is that it can output the latest audio formats (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD) to receivers that can decode them if you are sending data to your receiver with HDMI. My receiver is a couple of years old and lacks both HDMI input and the ability to decode those formats. The manual implied that it would send old style Dolby Digital and DTS along in that situation but I was getting nothing. Finally I checked out the cable and saw no red light emitting from the end that would connect to the receiver. That meant it wasn't passing data. I found another cable and tried it and it worked! I have no idea why the cable went bad, as it had been working in another hookup last week. Ironically the bad cable was a Monster and the replacement was a cheaper Radio Shack cable. The lesson here was that the default setting worked.

On to video. My TV is a two year old 720p Pioneer plasma. It came out just when 1080p started making its appearance. It had the unique offering of accepting both 1080p input and 24p input. Film cameras work at 24 frames per second but most video is 60 images per second. Blu-Ray videos can be 24p which makes for smoother more realistic images. My TV can handle and properly process both 1080p input and 24p input, which is not the norm for a 720p monitor. Anyway I wanted to get the setting such that would allow these things. I was looking at something and pushed the button that made the monitor tell me what it was displaying and it said 1080i. The setting for resolution was set to Auto which means let the player figure out what the monitor can handle. Figuring that this was wrong, I switched it to 1080p. It warned me that that might not be a good idea and that I would have to hold down a couple of buttons for 5 seconds if things did not work out. The screen went black. Holding down those buttons yielded an error message that suggested I had a bad HDMI cable. I had to hook up a composite video cable to again see the screen to get out of the mess. Once again able to see the screen I set it back to Auto. I then messed with settings for a while. At one point it was only outputting 480p. Eventually I set things back to the default. Then I tried to play a movie and checked the monitor and it was in fact 1080p. I turned on 24p on the Blu-Ray player and that worked too. The lesson here is that the player, at least with the Auto setting, puts out either 1080i or 1080p depending upon the content, and that the default settings worked for me.

The remote also provides some issues. I have a Panasonic DVD Recorder/VCR. It has a nearly identical remote. So the remote turns on both players, etc. The solution is to change the "control code" on one of the units, which defaults to "1", to "2" or "3". That works just fine but the Harmony software only seems to understand code 1.

Finally, I am underwhelmed with BD-Live, at least with the one disk that I have looked at, Wall-E. I should start by saying that the internet connectivity works fine and I was able to update the firmware from version 1.1 to version 1.5 fairly effortlessly. It is set to automatically watch for updates. When loading the disk you get a message that says something like Network Connection Started. The first time I started Wall-E, I got another message saying that it needed to update my system (!?) in order to do BD-Live on the disk. I answered OK and it displayed a progress bar for about 10 minutes. The next time I started the disk the same thing happened, but the firmware update was in between and it has not done it again. Still it was painful. Whatever updates it is making must be things stored on the SD card, which is required for BD Live. I got a 4GB card for $9.99 at Fry's. So then after some time spent loading it asks you to log in, directing you to a Disney website to get one. After doing that you learn that there is a verification process via return email AND that your screenname will be approved at a later date. (They rejected "pbenjamin" for some reason, by the way.) Finally armed with an account I logged in. The interface to type in userid and password is cumbersome AND it fails to remember you the next time. After about 30 minutes of work I finally gained entrance. This disk provided 4 options. Two were mail and chat with other people who have managed to register, sounds about as promising as Twitter turned out to be. A third was games, which seemed like a good thing except that the private games had yet to be implemented and the public game that was offered would start in 15 minutes. The final option involved redeeming points (obtained by registering Disney Blu-Rays) for valuable gifts. Wall-E (the movie itself) is highly recommended.

The player itself is wonderful. The picture quality is on par with the best HD that I've gotten from cable, better than most of it given the trend towards broadcast subchannels and compression by the cable companies. So far I own 4 disks: Goodfellas and American Gangster, which I got as birthday presents, and From Russia With Love and Thunderball, which I bought for myself. Wall-E came from Netflix, as will Hancock (which is a BD-Live disk -- second try) tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Whither Twitter

Feeling hopelessly out of it, and never having ventured into myspace or facebook, I set up a Twitter account to find out what it was all about. I think I understand now but it is next to useless as I don't know anybody who uses it. Does anybody who reads this do Twitter? For that matter does anybody read this? Anyway, there is a link down a ways on the right hand side of the blog page that point to my (at least for now) Twitter presence.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Motown Mess

The Detroit automakers need help. As anyone who reads, watches or hears the news is aware, they are on the verge of bankrupcy and asking for help. A poll released today alleges that 55% of Americans support the idea, but to hear some of the media you would get the opposite impression. Not helping them has some appeal. They don't seem to learn, these guys. They lost a ton of customers to Japanese automakers in the 1970s when gas got scarce. They continued to lose customers due to the perception that quality was subpar. They made progress on quality but they never quite got religion about fuel efficiency. In the 90s When Americans went nuts over SUVs and gas was cheap they did everything they could to build bigger and bigger bloated behemoths. Why should we give them more money when they can't seem to figure out what Toyota and Honda did when they concentrated on hybrids?

I look at it a little differently. I grew up in Detroit, my brother worked for Ford all of his life and my cousin Bob did the same trick at Cadillac. Half of the people I knew there either worked for one of the Big Three or worked in a company that was dependent on them. A couple of my friends from high school met me in Fort Lauderdale a couple of years ago for a road trip to Key West. Chris was retired from a GM plant and Itura worked for a company that did drafting for Chrysler. Itura lost his job in May. They say if one of the Big Three goes under the job loss would be between 2 and 3 million.

People are going to buy and drive cars. If they stop making them in the US, we will just buy them from other countries. Automobile manufacturing is one of the few manufacturing industries that remains in this country. We have to produce something, we can't all make a living selling services to each other. We have to figure out how to keep the industry alive.

Are they guilty of making gas guzzlers while they should have been planning for a day when gas stopped being cheap? Absolutely. But who helped them get there? Take a look on the road at your fellow citizens with their big ass pickups, their Hummers, Navigators and Suburbans. Think about the government that stopped increasing CAFE standards in 1990 and kept the standards for light trucks (which includes SUVs) much lower. Detroit might have screwed up be we helped them royally.

Give them money to stay alive but make sure that they retool to make more fuel efficient vehicles and invest in the techology for electric, natural gas and fuel cell. Use the economic mess as an occasion to shake things up and improve the industry. Things will get better, even the Depression ended eventually, and when they do, do we want to be buying our cars made by people in Japan and Korea, or people in Michigan and Ohio? Most Americans would buy the better car and not care so much. Let's insure that the better cars are made here.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

I found this on YouTube. We were watching MSNBC when the announcement came in. I think I switched to NBC for HD coverage after a minute or two but this was how it started.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Jon Talton on the election

From Rogue Columnist:

This moment

And so it comes down to this. A day that will mark the most important election in my lifetime and certainly the most consequential since 1932. The polls show Obama leading and yet... One wonders how wealthy Republican John Sidney McCain III, standard bearer for the Party that Wrecked America, could have even 41 percent support, much less higher, much less be, perhaps, competitive in Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia.

This support for a candidate who wholly represents the ruinous governing philosophy of conservatism -- a set of ideas so discredited, exhausted and out of step with the values of most Americans that McCain's only strategy was a dishonorable campaign of despicable attacks on his opponent and riling up a hateful "base." The man who claims "Country First" picked -- or was forced to pick -- the most unqualified and dangerous vice presidential candidate in American history. Who are these supporters and what are they thinking? Has ignorance, television-induced brain damage and Republican hate finally pushed us past the tipping point? And election fraud, that determinative agent of the 2000 and 2004 elections, is an ever present danger. And the confluence of moneyed interests that fears Obama.

And yet, we have this moment, this last chance. John Adams reflected the realism of the Founders when he said democracies always eventually commit suicide. Decades later Lincoln rightly called this an experiment, not a fixed or secure order in human events. Now the American generations living will be tested at history's fulcrum.

Americans never have the "perfect candidate." I can imagine what today's Republicans would do to Lincoln; his adversaries at the time likened him to an ape or worse. Franklin Roosevelt was seen as a lightweight, a dilettante, despite his testing and suffering in the aftermath of polio. Eisenhower was slimed by the conservative attack machine, just gaining its training wheels in the form of Joe McCarthy. Behind the winning smile, Ike did McCarthy in -- and Tailgunner Joe never saw the lethal round coming. Each of these imperfect men and many more like them led America to a sunlit future that we baby boomers witnessed -- and have seen slipping away, especially through the past eight years.

George W. Bush rightly hides now. He presided over the debasement of the Constitution, the enshrinement of torture as American policy, an unnecessary and dangerously costly war waged on cooked intelligence, the failure to capture or kill bin Laden, the lethal federal incompetence in New Orleans and the worst financial collapse since the Depression -- caused by the deregulation and oligarchy he championed. As bad are the opportunities deliberately lost, especially on global warming and the limited world oil resources that even Bush admits. America has lost its moral compass, squandered precious moral capital in the world, wasted precious time. The Justice Department and federal judiciary have been poisoned, not only for the theocrats, but to give big business and monopoly an unbreakable hold on power. And John McCain would depart from these policies not one bit, except perhaps to open a new war in Iran.

All of this can be reversed. It will take sacrifice and hard work that Obama rightly said little of during the campaign. A nation living off the sacrifices of previous generations has been living in a haze. President Obama will give clarity and vision, courage and strength, the ability to articulate (!) our vast challenges and opportunities. The president can't and shouldn't do it all. But the past eight years have taught us just how much a president can do, and the danger of another George W. Bush.

For now, we have this moment. God help us that it will be enough.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Dick Cavett on John McCain

I heard him say that when the White House phone rings at the dread 3 o'clock in the morning, you don't want someone picking it up who has to take time to "think and analyze the situation, but someone who will act." This, coming from a man with the "thinking and analyzing" traits of a snapping turtle cannot help but bring the Cuban missile crisis to mind — and what the world might be today had the Arizona senior been in charge. If it (the world) would even be at all.