Microsoft Reborn – Phase Two Commencing

So out of all the swirling rumours about how the Jerry Seinfeld/Bill Gates commercials failed miserably and the subsequent denials (I thought the first two ads were both very funny,  maybe not supremely clever, but interest-generating to be sure), we now see the second wave. This time a rather poignant claim that “I’m a PC and I have been made into a stereotype” starts the ad and then a series of people fill us all in on how pc’s are a variety of things to a variety of real life people.
I like the ad – don’t love it. I suspect I could get tired of it pretty quickly too. Interestingly, still no mention of ‘Vista’ anywhere. That ship sailed long ago I guess. 
But to a guy like me, the various comments to the posts about it made me smile. It sure is nice that Apple created a Mac vs PC ad and not an OSX vs Vista ad. Otherwise we poor Linux people would be completely cut out of the loop.
Among the various comments, here’s a couple that caught my eye:
I’m a PC and I’m running Ubuntu Linux
I’ve been running Ubuntu for 2 years and have even gone through 3 major upgrades without needing to format my hard drive or completely reinstall my entire OS. I come with lots of games (more than just Solitaire and Minefield) and have more available online for free without pesky adware or spyware. I also come with all the instant messaging, email, internet, video, music, and document software you’ll ever need. 
What about us laptops?
Hi I’m a really old laptop that Windows left behind in a dumpster to be tossed into a landfill for all eternity. But one day, someone was nice enough to install a linux based operating system on me – I work better than ever, and now that I’m running on gOS, I look better that pc’s half my age. Even though you can still make out the little sticker that says built for windows 98, I know better.
As an aside, a couple of months ago, my father-in-law inherited a 3 or 4 year old laptop running XP – A Compaq R4000 I believe. He wanted me to clean it off and get it ready for him. I told him I was setting it up with Linux for him. He just gave me a blank look and said ‘Okay’.  His command of computers is almost zilch. He surfs the web, checks email and plays solitaire.  
I installed Hardy on it (completely trouble free except for a dialup modem driver issue – which I solved shortly after) and made sure I had all the regular stuff on there (Solitaire included). I showed him how to connect via dialup, showed him the launch icons for Firefox and Thunderbird (which I set up for him), and briefly showed him the Gnome menu and where the other games were. Compiz worked great on it and easily felt as fast as my P4 desktop.
I haven’t had a call or question from him since. I’ve asked him if he likes it and he says yes. And the fact that he won’t be mucking around with viruses and spyware (for the time being anyway) is just gravy for me (the family IT guy).
Kudos to Stallman, Torvalds, Shuttleworth and the whole of the FOSS community. Good on you!

Putting the Wheels Back on This Wagon

It’s high time I get off my duff and get the focus back. And that not only means blogging more than once a month here, but in a few other areas as well.

I figure the best way to get this thing back on the rails is to plunk down a post that at least lists some of the things I should be finding (making) time to do. Let’s cut to the chase. Here are a few things on my list:

  1. Blog more. Not just pithy two-liners either. I used to enjoy crafting some semblance of a coherent post. Why am I avoiding it?
  2. Get another screencasters episode out the door. I’ve got a couple of decent ideas, just have to sit down and do them.
  3. Re-theme this weblog. Not a do or die thing, but I’ve grown a little bored with this theme and I really like some other design elements I’ve spotted in my travels recently. Plus, it gives me another reason to do some Inkscaping.
  4. Get caught-up with backing up my photos. I desperately want to clear and re-format the card in my Canon Rebel XTi, but I’m hesitant until all the photos on my PC are backed up safely.
  5. Bring my family blog up to snuff. Mostly that means a tremendous heap of RAW processing and image uploading to Flickr. But by picking the best of the best ones, I can cut down on that work. Cull, cull, cull baby.

I think one of the reasons I’ve been posting less and less here, is that I’ve been putting a lot of my cool links, mini-thoughts and various bric-a-brac over on For those not aware, is an open-source microblogging implementation. I push all my Identica posts over to Twitter anyway, but if you want to check it out, head over to my Identica page and hit subscribe.

ps. I’m posting this from ScribeFire which I haven’t used in a dog’s age. Let’s hope it works ok.

Canada Day Fireworks

Back on our May long weekend, we decided to opt for conservative parenting and didn’t take our daughter to see the fireworks (too late and too little sleep we figured), but we made the promise that she’d definitely get to see them on Canada Day. So last night we went.

While Em, along with hundreds of other kids, unleashed their youthful joy in staying up late (she got to bed at 11:15pm), I took a few shots with my DSLR (f/8 aperture, 0.5″ shutter speed and manual focus). They turned out okay considering that I slouched and used my chest as a makeshift tripod. You can see several decent ones in the embedded Flickr slideshow near the end of this post.

[note: for some reason, the embedded Flickr slideshow is not showing up in my post when it comes through an RSS aggregator - not in Google Reader anyway. So if you want to view the pictures you'll have to visit the blog. If anyone else has embedded Flickr slideshows in their blog posts and wants to share some tips, please leave a comment - thanks!]

I also thought I’d try out my Flip Video camera in capturing some of the sights and sounds. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it did. Note that the audio sync delay is a result of the speed of sound, not the video encoding :)

Canada Day Fireworks – Tottenham, Ontario from Richard Querin on Vimeo.

I hope everyone had a great Canada Day. :)

I’ll have a soccer ball in the teeth and a double chocolate iPod

It was the first night of soccer for my daughter last night. Let me give you the 3 minute rundown:

It was cold and damp (about 8C or 46F), moderately gusty and lightly raining. My dad and I were freezing. She was rosy-cheeked but kept warm with all the exercise, activity and good circulation that comes with being a six year old.

Not knowing the first thing about being goalie and being moderately afraid of the ball, of course she immediately volunteered to be goalie. (!!) We almost made it safely to halftime with only 2 or 3 goals against when of course, someone kicked a high one – stopped by my daughter’s teeth. Ouch! Needless to say she won’t be volunteering as soccer goalie for the foreseeable future. No cut lips, no broken teeth, no bruises. Just tears and a daddy who ran out to meet her halfway between the sidelines and the goal net. After 5 minutes of cuddling, kissing and reassurances that she didn’t have to play goalie anymore it was like it never happened. Gawd, kids can be resilient when they need to be.

She had a great time and was treated of course to a relatively late night donut and hot chocolate. One of the funniest things – to me anyway -  was when she held up her half eaten donut (consumed outward to inward of course) and exclaimed “Look daddy, iPod!!”.

ps. Sorry for the crappy photo quality. This was taken with my recently haggled upon LG 8800 Venus phone. It’s two massively-compressed megapixels.

The Flip Video Camera – Thoughts and Some Sample Videos

Shortly before I went to Las Vegas, I decided I’d like to buy the Flip Video Ultra camcorder while I was down there. If you don’t know what it is, here’s a short description:

It’s a handheld, solid state, 2GB capacity video capture device. It captures 640×480 video at 30fps. There is a 1.8″ LCD screen on the back and it runs on 2 AA size batteries. It has a neat flip-out USB connector that allows you to plug it straight into a standard USB port. It also has an output plug and cable for direct TV output. On the bottom there is also a standard sized threaded tripod connector. There is no memory card slot, and the device holds 60 min of video. It retails for about $100.00-150.00. That’s about it.

When you plug the device into a Windows or Mac machine the first time, it will install some nifty software to preview the videos, transfer the videos and allow for some basic editing as well. It also shows up as a generic USB mass storage device. On Linux, this appears to be the only option. It might be possible to run the windows version of the software under Wine, but I haven’t tried it. But being able to easily pull the avi files off onto my drive is the all important functionality I was looking for.

One of the problems I found during my pre-purchase research, was that I couldn’t seem to find any full size avi samples to download and view in order to judge the quality of the video. I purchased it pretty much on blind faith, just hoping the video quality would be good. Since trying it out and viewing the video on my pc, I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised.

So in order to possibly help out others looking at this camera, I’ve decided to post a 23 second clip from the camera for people to download and view. But first a word about video formats…

The camera saves video in a format called 3ivx. It seems to be a specific type of mp4 format. The audio portion of the codec seems to be the main stumbling block for some of the video players I’ve tried.

On my Windows box at work, once I installed the proprietary software that came with the camera, the videos could be played by the proprietary player as well as Windows Media Player (I think the software installs the proper codecs for WMP to use).

On my Linux box (Ubuntu Hardy Heron), I was able to play the video with no problem using Totem, but VLC and Mplayer would only play the video and not the audio. Hmm. This is weird since Totem is usually the weakest of the three.

So for the sake of comparison, I decided to modify a couple of the scripts we use for our screencasts and converted the original 3ivx file to an mpeg4 (h264/mp3) file and also to a flash version to allow people to avoid video codec hell entirely.

So you can download the original file to see the quality the camera provides and also download the h264 version and if you have any trouble playing either, you can also view the flash version. From my relatively untrained eye, the three versions are fairly close in quality. All three are the full 640×480 resolution so you should get a much better idea of the quality than you would from YouTube or similar sites.

Note also the relative filesizes. The original avi and flash versions are 11.5MB and 18.5MB respectively, but the h264 version is a whole lot smaller. You’d expect to see a huge degradation in quality, but it actually looks very similar to me (again with my untrained eyes of course). So you be the judge:

Original AVI from the Flip Video Camera:

(640×480, 23sec, 11.5MB) VID00026.AVI

h264/mp3 file converted using mencoder:

(640×480, 23sec, 3.2MB) VID00026_h264mp3.avi

Flash version:

(640×480, 23sec, 18.5MB) Click Here to View

Have a look and give me your comments. I’d be interested in also hearing from any Mac users (ahem.. Earl Moore?)out there to see how the original and h264 versions play on your shiny Macs as well.

All in all I’m very pleased with the Flip camera. It’s simple, seems fairly rugged and is just about exactly what I was looking for.

Viva Las Vegas… and not connecting flights

We arrived back from our five day sojourn to Vegas last night by way of San Francisco(!). Turns out Air Canada booked the connecting flights with not enough time overlap to satisfy United. So they had to send us back from Vegas via San Fran and then on to Toronto. Originally it was supposed to be Vegas-Denver-Toronto. Needless to say the little one was tired at the end of it all, but a good girl as always.

Having never been to San Francisco, I was hoping to at least see something interesting flying in or out, but it was boring as hell. No Golden Gate, no nothing really. The saving grace was flying over the snowy peaks of the Rockies on our way back eastward. My dad has always talked about how wonderful driving the Rockies was back in the day. I think I’ll have to put it on my Things To Do list. It was pretty spectacular from 30,000 ft, probably even more so from the ground.

Overestimating threats and other parental traps

As someone with 6 years of successful fatherhood under my belt – what… no award? – I’ve often reminisced about my youth, or more precisely my parents’ handling of my youth. I model a lot of my parenting, as do most I assume, on my own parents. I like the way I was brought up and while I do some things differently, I’ve got a great playbook to work from.

One of the wonderful things I remember is walking to school on my own at the age of 7 or 8. We lived in a section of Metro Toronto called Rexdale. Nowadays it has a significantly poorer reputation, much of which I think is still ill-deserved. Anyways, I used to walk a couple of blocks to school every day enjoying the sunshine and inspecting ants on the sidewalk. No muss. No fuss. My mom was an emergency nurse and as just about any offspring of an emerg nurse will tell you, they don’t mince words. My mom had fully explained to me on many occasions prior, that there were bad people in this world. Not in a way that would hamper my enjoyment of life, it was just a matter of fact thing. She trusted that after explaining these things to me, I would know enough about potential dangers to avoid them. Luckily, and thinking more realistically, not surprisingly, I was never beckoned into a van by a stranger and never fell prey to some foaming-at-the mouth psychopath during all those 15 minute walks back and forth from school.

As a parent now, I confess to letting my daughter run (or ride) to visit the boys a couple of doors down for some well-enjoyed playtime before supper. I find it hard to resist a peek out the window to catch her mid-walk, but there have been a couple of times that I’ve been able to hold myself away from that window and given myself a good 2 or even 3 minutes before inevitably heading out into the garage and onto the driveway for some purported “yard work”. I’m sure she knows that in fact the rake is a shoddy front for parental observation, but she’s not of the age to really care whether I’m watching or not. That comes later I assume.

But still I want to build that trust. I know it will never be easy for me to sleep soundly even when she turns 35 and is finally allowed to start dating. ;) Let’s not even discuss turning 16 and asking for the car keys. Baby steps I tell ya.. baby steps.

Anyway, what brings all this on is a post by security guru Bruce Schneier on Overestimating Threats Against Children. It’s thought provoking to say the least. And I’m inclined to rally against a lot of the fear mongering that pervades the media and society. Sure, all this stuff gets to me once in a while too, but then I force myself to step back and realize that having children (or adults) paralyzed by fear and anxiousness is not the way we should be living our lives – at least not my daughter’s, and not mine.

Plugging back in, and winding down.

I recently arrived back from an almost two-week vacation down to Myrtle Beach and Disney World. While not completely “off the grid”, aside from a daily email check and a couple of blog comments, I pretty much unplugged. I gave the camera a decent workout with a few hundred snapshots just downloaded onto the pc tonight. Highlights? Space Mountain, my daughter having fun fun fun, and a visit to Kennedy Space Center.

This is really just a check in post while I unwind (yes, I know a vacation is supposed to unwind me, but it never seems to work out that way) and slip back into ‘normal’ mode once again, a little more refreshed and recharged. There will be a few more photos likely posted, but here are two for now:

I’ve tried moon shots before and have never been satisfied. But one night this past week, looking out onto the Atlantic, the full moon seemed somewhat dimmer than your typical bright shiny full moon, so I thought I’d give it a try. Handholding my 300mm lens fully extended, ISO 100, and F5.6 at 1/125, I braced the lens against the balcony railing and fired off 3 or 4 shots. Suprisingly, a couple of them seemed fairly sharp when I reviewed them. Here’s the full shot and a 1:1 crop of the moon to show you some actual detail instead of the washed out mess that my previous attempts have always produced:


Here’s the 1:1 crop of the moon itself:


And of course, another shot I liked getting was this restaurant’s sign along Hwy 17 which made me laugh. It may not appeal to those of you without a grade school sense of humour like myself ;) – but for me it made for at least 10 minutes of quality bathroom humour.


Forty and disappointed…

Hide your easy-to-chew foods…I woke up today somewhat disappointed.

My back doesn’t hurt, my joints don’t ache, I don’t own a hairpiece and I’m not particularly grumpy about anything.

I’m now 40. Is there some rite of passage before I can experience the pleasures of entering my fifth decade on the planet?

I have started going grey (over the past 3 years) in my sad excuse for a goatee. Maybe I can pick up a box of Grecian Formula and touch it up..

At least if my writing here starts getting crotchety, you’ll know why. ;)

Husband v 1.0

Perhaps this is old, and maybe everyone’s seen this one before, but I thought it was funny. The part about Mother-in-Law 1.0 made me almost snort out my coffee…

Dear Tech Support,

Last year I upgraded from Boyfriend 5.0 to Husband 1.0
and noticed a distinct slow down in overall system
performance — particularly in the flower and jewelry
applications, which operated flawlessly under
Boyfriend 5.0.

In addition, Husband 1.0 uninstalled many other
valuable programs, such as Romance 9.5 and Personal
Attention 6.5 and then installed undesirable programs
such as NFL 5.0, NBA 3.0, and Golf Clubs 4.1.

Conversation 8.0 no longer runs, and Housecleaning 2.6
simply crashes the system. I’ve tried running Nagging
5.3 to fix these problems, but to no avail.

What can I do?

Signed, Desperate


Dear Desperate:

First keep in mind, Boyfriend 5.0 is an Entertainment
Package, while Husband 1.0 is an Operating System.
Please enter the command: ‘I Thought You Loved Me.exe’
and try to download Tears 6.2 and don’t  forget to
install the Guilt 3.0 update.

If that application works as designed, Husband 1.0
should then automatically run the applications Jewelry
2.0 and Flowers 3.5.

But remember, overuse of the above application can
cause Husband 1.0 to default to Grumpy Silence 2.5,
Happy Hour 7.0 or Beer 6.1.   Beer 6.1 is a very bad
program that will download the Snoring Loudly Beta.

Whatever you do, DO NOT install Mother-in-law 1.0 (it
runs a virus in the background that will eventually
seize control of all your system resources).

Also, do not attempt to reinstall the Boyfriend 5.0
program. These are unsupported applications and will
crash Husband 1.0 .

In summary, Husband 1.0 is a great program, but it
does have limited memory and cannot learn new
applications quickly. You might consider buying
additional software to improve memory and performance.
We recommend Food 3.0 and Hot Lingerie 7.7.

Good Luck, Tech

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