Twin Turkey Vultures

Twin Turkey Vul­tures
Orig­i­nal­ly uploaded bysuper_structure.

A cou­ple of turkey vul­tures land­ed out­side my office win­dow today dur­ing my lunch break. Appar­ent­ly, they come around every once in a while to prey on the dead geese and ducks around the small lakes in the imme­di­ate area. While quite pos­si­bly one of the ugli­est birds you can imag­ine, they’re actu­al­ly quite inter­est­ing to watch.

Any­way, I’m try­ing hard to ignore the sym­bol­ism of hav­ing a cou­ple of vul­tures hov­er­ing around just out­side my win­dow. I have a cou­ple of project dead­lines ear­ly next week and am strug­gling to stay on top of things. For­tu­nate­ly, I’m not alone in the office and on one’s going to leave my car­cass out for the birdies. Still, I think I’ll make sure they are no big birds of prey fly­ing around when I leave work today.


Coming Up For Air

My rea­son for not post­ing for the last week is that I’ve been very sick. Some sort of res­pi­ra­to­ry infec­tion. Noth­ing that would con­sti­tute an emer­gency, though.

I know I haven’t been post­ing any­thing for over a week now. Of course, if you’re not a per­son inter­est­ed in TiVo, then you prob­a­bly haven’t been read­ing my posts for longer than that. Sor­ry about that. What can I say, I got a new toy and I’ve been play­ing with it. Actu­al­ly, the rea­son for not post­ing for the last week is that I’ve been very sick. Some sort of res­pi­ra­to­ry infec­tion. Well, 3 OTC’s, 4 pre­scrip­tions, and 2 trips to the doc­tor’s office lat­er, and I’m begin­ning to feel a lit­tle bet­ter. I promise nev­er to make fun of Rich­mond’s Doc-In-A-Box again. I’m so glad there here and can help me on a Sun­day after­noon! Okay, I’m not going to make them into some­thing they’re not. How­ev­er, I’m not going to bust their chops either. They do good work over there. Not to men­tion, they keep a lot of peo­ple out of the emer­gency room. We can all be thank­ful for that.

Well, oth­er than a less-than-rous­ing State of the Union address, there’s not been too much goings on to write about. I won’t go into here, oth­er than to say that the “own­er­ship soci­ety” rhetoric is get­ting a lit­tle old for me. Have we all for­got­ten Enron & World­com? Who the hell wants this to be the future of Social Secu­ri­ty? For all the talk of social secu­ri­ty being bro­ken and in need of imme­di­ate repair, what we real­ly need is to under­stand that it’s not pro­ject­ed to run out of mon­ey until 2042, even by con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mates. That’s if it’s left alone right now. There is no emer­gency and we don’t need to go blow­ing tril­lions (yep, that’s a T) by pri­va­tiz­ing any of this. Not yet at least. Let the gov­ern­ment take some time and use some lever­age to get pri­vate com­pa­nies and invest­ment firms to go along with­out that mas­sive cost. That’s some­thing of an over-sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, but not unrea­son­able. I under­stand some impor­tant peo­ple won’t make as much mon­ey in the short term, but this is Social Secu­ri­ty and was nev­er about mak­ing any­body mon­ey. It was about ensu­ing we’ll all have some help after retire­ment… to ensure that Amer­i­cans could even con­sid­er retire­ment. I’m not Social Secu­ri­ty expert, and I’m cer­tain­ly not invest­ing Guru. How­ev­er, I can spot a bleed­ing emer­gency when I see one, and this folks, isn’t such a thing. Hav­ing the com­mon sense not to rush into fix­ing this pro­gram that is cur­rent­ly work­ing rea­son­ably well (I have fam­i­ly mem­bers that get their checks) is the same com­mon sense that kept me out of the emer­gency room for a bad cough.

TiVo ToGo TooSlow — Redux

So, in the last day I’ve been play­ing catch-up to some folks who have already deter­mined that using Son­ic MyD­VD transcod­ing for .tivo files was not for them either. They’ve detailed they’re steps, so I’ll just take a bit to gloss over mine.

Using the Moonlight-Elecard filters to convert a .tivo file to an .mpg file

So, in the last day I’ve been play­ing catch-up to some folks who have already deter­mined that using Son­ic MyD­VD transcod­ing for .tivo files was way too slownot for them either. I want to use my own DVD author­ing soft­ware using the video from TiVo. PVR­Blog had post­ed an arti­cle near­ly two weeks ago and I’ve found sev­er­al oth­er blog­gers who have all come up with vari­a­tions for the same process. They’ve detailed they’re steps, so I’ll just take a bit to gloss over mine.

  1. Down­load GraphEd­it, a handy lit­tle pro­gram from Microsoft, which is part of Direc­tX 9.0 SDK. You can even find some help for GraphEd­it on Microsoft­’s MSDN site.
  2. Down­load X Mux­er Pro from Moon­light. It’s a pre-release 1.0 ver­sion, but it’s cur­rent­ly free. This includes what will be your “fil­ters” for GraphEd­it. Once installed, GraphEd­it will find them in you reg­istry.
  3. Final­ly, grab the dump fil­ter and Reg­Drop (unless you already know a bet­ter way for the next part of this step). Sim­ply drag the dump.ax file onto Reg­Drop to add the fil­ter to your list.
  4. Drag a .tivo file into the GraphEd­it field and enter your pass­word (TiVo’s not dumb). You’ll get some default fil­ters con­nect­ed to it, so just high­light them all and delete. Click Graph→Insert Fil­ters…→ and find Direct­Show Fil­ters. You want Moon­light-Ele­card MPEG2 Demul­ti­plex­er & Moon­light MPEG2 Mul­ti­plEX & Dump. For the dump fil­ter, you’ll sup­ply a file name (include the .mpg file type). You might want to check those all as favorite fil­ters and save your .grf file, if this seems like some­thing you’ll be doing a lot of.
  5. Con­nect them all up like you were wiring your enter­tain­ment sys­tem and press the green play but­ton. It’s anti­cli­mac­tic, but in about 5 min­utes (for a 1 hour show) you’ve got your­self a .mpg file from your .tivo file.

That’s about 12x faster than the transcoder in MyD­VD. Futher, now Now you can eas­i­ly use the DVD author­ing soft­ware of your choice. I’ll be using Nero 6 Ultra. This will still have to go through the process of transcod­ing the video, but I’m in con­trol of what pro­gram I use. I like TiVo for record­ing tele­vi­sion, but I don’t need them to decide what soft­ware I’ll use for mak­ing DVDs. They’re secu­ri­ty fea­tures are still in tact.

You’re mpeg2 file will have a lit­tle logo in the top right-hand cor­ner, but it’s noth­ing dis­tract­ing. I appar­ent­ly had an old­er Ele­card codec that TiVo was using in Win­dows Media Play­er any­way, so if noth­ing else, this was a good way to update to a free (at least while it’s pre-release) codec. I would still rec­om­mend the down­load in my post yes­ter­day, just so you can have some con­trol over what codec Win­dows Media Play­er defaults to. It will tell you if TiVo has any prob­lems with the one you’re choos­ing. All of the ones I tried seemed to work fine.

Final­ly, and I’m not just say­ing this to cov­er my ass: this is for per­son­al use only. DO NOT redis­trib­ute these mpeg2 streams out­side of your house­hold. We have our fair use rights, but they do not allow us to vio­late copy­right law. These mpeg2’s have the same license restric­tions that the .tivo files have. Until we can change the law for the bet­ter, we have to live with it.

TiVo ToGo TooSlow

After three weeks, I final­ly got my ser­vice update for v7.1 of the TiVo ker­nal yes­ter­day evening. By the next after­noon I had a DVD of record­ed shows. Instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion it’s not.

After three weeks, I final­ly got my ser­vice update for v7.1 of the TiVo source code yes­ter­day evening. I imme­di­ate­ly installed v2.0 of TiVo Desk­top, which is does­n’t have many more bells-and-whis­tles than the pre­vi­ous ver­sion. Odd­ly enough, my Linksys USB Wireless‑B net­work adapter was­n’t work­ing after reboot­ing the TiVo. Sim­ply pulling out the USB con­nec­tor and re-plug­ging it cor­rect­ed the prob­lem. What I would have liked to be doing is plug­ging in a Wireless‑G adapter, but that was­n’t part of this update. This leads me to speed issue num­ber one. Even though I have an “excel­lent” con­nec­tion at my TiVo on the WiFi net­work, it takes approx­i­mate­ly 1 hour to trans­fer 30 min­utes of medi­um qual­i­ty video. That’s not just slow, it’s damn near unten­able. Why was the NFL wor­ried in it’s case try­ing to block TiVo from hav­ing the ToGo ser­vice that peo­ple on the East Coast would be send­ing video to blocked out view­ers on the West Coast? At this time, that is com­plete­ly not pos­si­ble using the out-of-the box hard­ware and soft­ware for TiVo. Can you mod­i­fy it to do that? I’ve no doubt that can be done, but the NFL was­n’t going after those peo­ple.

With my TiVo once again on the net­work, I pro­ceed­ed to down­load some of my record­ed shows to my Win­dows machine (still no Desk­top 2.0 for Mac? Will there ever be any­thing TiVo for Lin­ux? Does any­one else find that iron­ic?). I want­ed to check the show, so I opened one up in Win­dows Media Play­er, only to find this annoy­ing mes­sage scrolling over my show stat­ing that my Ele­card MPEG2 Decoder had expired, and to go to some site to update. My Ass. Just down­load Win­dows XP Video Decoder Check­up Util­i­ty and switch your default decoder. I hap­pened to have two oth­er ver­sions of Cyber­link’s decoder installed. You prob­a­bly have one, and if not, Pow­er DVD from Cyber­link is rel­a­tive­ly cheap and works nice­ly.

I installed the tri­al ver­sion of Son­ic’s MyD­VD 6.1. The soft­ware’s no more impres­sive than I remem­ber the ver­sion pre­loaded on my Dell to be, but you can at least import cus­tom made DVD menu themes from Pho­to­shop. That’s a nice bonus that I don’t think Nero yet has. I just used a stock theme for my project, as cus­tom themes are for peo­ple who don’t have new toys to play with. The video edit­ing kept crash­ing the pro­gram, so I can’t tell you what its capa­bil­i­ties are. The chap­ter selec­tion works well, which is the eas­i­est way I’ve found around com­mer­cials for record­ed tele­vi­sion (I also have a Win­dows MCE PC, so it’s come up before). So now it was time to test the DVD burn­ing.

Now, I had fears that it would cause a mem­o­ry dump with my Plex­tor burn­er, as did the old­er ver­sion that I had scrapped after a Plex­tor tech sup­port agent had explained the con­flict. By the way, Plex­tor tech sup­port is the best I’ve ever delt with, just in case that fac­tors into your hard­ware deci­sions. Any­way, that con­flict is why I was so dis­ap­point­ed TiVo was going with Son­ic in the first place. Well, that at least was no prob­lem. I was able to burn a DVD with Plex­tor as adver­tised on Son­ic’s hard­ware list. How­ev­er, if I thought trans­fer­ring the data was the only slow thing I’d have to deal with, I was mis­tak­en. Speed issue num­ber two involves the fact that the TiVo video must be tran­sod­ed to mpeg 2 for DVD. This is done at rough­ly a 1:1 speed. That is, for ever minute of record­ing, it takes about the same amount of time (or more) to transcode the video and audio. It’s like we’re down­load­ing this stuff on a 28k modem all over again. It’s not that I don’t have a rea­son­ably fast PC: a 3.0Ghz P4 with 512MB RAM and a Seri­alA­TA hard dri­ve. It’s not the fastest I under­stand, but com­bined with the pokey 802.11B trans­fer, we’re talk­ing near­ly 6 hours to put togeth­er a DVD. Why did I even both­er buy­ing the real­ly fast Plex­tor? Four times write, 8x write, what dif­fer­ence does it make at that point?

So TiVo ToGo has­n’t exact­ly let me down. I still plan to add on a cou­ple of cav­ernous hard dri­ves onto my home net­work to store some tele­vi­sion series and a few movies. Some of these will, in time, even make their way to DVD. How­ev­er, I don’t think I’ll be pass­ing out copies of foot­ball games or movies any­time real­ly soon. My time’s too valu­able to spend it just try­ing to piss off the NFL and the MPAA.

iPod Shuffle And The Bigger Question

I think that we should con­sid­er how we real­ly lis­ten to our music, and not just what we think we’ll be miss­ing. It’s role in the iPod fam­i­ly is not to be your entire music library on the go, it is just a ran­dom snap­shot of it.

Photo by pt courtesy of Flickr

So it would seem that Apple’s lat­est hot prod­uct, the iPod Shuf­fle, might as well be called the iPod Ruf­fle, as in feath­ers. Just to men­tion a cou­ple of posts I came across today from poe­ple whose opin­ions I val­ue. Chris Ander­son of The Long Tail fame writes that it suf­fers from the same prob­lem as com­mer­cial radio in that the user gives up the abil­i­ty to hear the songs they real­ly like, or in his words, “the sig­nal-to-noise ratio in your own col­lec­tion can be near­ly as vari­able as that in any com­mer­cial music ser­vice.” Ander­son ends his arti­cle by stat­ing that he does­n’t think the Shuf­fle will have the same impact on the mar­ket that the now near­ly ubiq­ui­tous iPod had. Irman Ali seems to like the Shuf­fle okay, but finds inter­est in the fact that Apple mar­kets what he writes is the prod­ucts great­est weak­ness, the ran­dom­ness, as it’s strength.

First, I know that I can’t speak for every­one who lis­tens to music (that’d be about every­one with hear­ing, right?). I have some purist friends that pre­fer to lis­ten to only entire albums from start to fin­ish. They’re not big fans of the shuf­fle (or ran­dom, if you don’t use Apple prod­ucts). How­ev­er, I almost exclu­sive­ly lis­ten to iTunes or my iPod using that fea­ture. I am my own radio sta­tion, so to speak. Sure I like some songs more than oth­ers, but I am con­stant­ly com­ing back across songs I had­n’t heard in quite a while and had near­ly for­got­ten about. I see this as the oppo­site of Ander­son, in that I am look­ing down into the long tail of my own col­lec­tion. Rather than using the rec­om­men­da­tion mechan­ics of Ama­zon or iTunes Store, I am using “chance,” to quote Apple’s Ad. Hon­est­ly, I find this an eco­nom­i­cal way of keep­ing myself enter­tained, as it keeps me from buy­ing new music as much. Instead, I’m redis­cov­er­ing music I already had.

Sure, I’ve got some duds (name­ly, that Best of James album I bought for the song Laid), but I could just as well take those songs out of my col­lec­tion. I’d nev­er miss them. But so what if I did­n’t and occa­sion­al­ly they got loaded onto the Shuf­fle. There’s a skip but­ton for just such emer­gen­cies, which I sup­pose works in shuf­fle mode. Also, aut­ofill has the option to choose high­er rat­ed songs more often. This is about as ide­al as shuf­fle gets, and although I don’t much use the rat­ings fea­ture of iTunes or my iPod, I imag­ine that’d become of your rou­tine with the Shuf­fle. My only com­plaint there not hav­ing the abil­i­ty to export that infor­ma­tion (maybe as xml like one of Ander­son­’s com­men­tors sug­gests).

I don’t think any­one could have pre­dict­ed the iPod would have the dra­mat­ic mar­ket explo­sion that we’ve wit­nessed. It was­n’t the first portable dig­i­tal music play­er (remem­ber when we just called them all mp3 play­ers?) and it has nev­er been the cheap­est. How­ev­er, it had a great design, both in style and inter­face so it sold mil­lions. Fur­ther, iTunes is real­ly a great piece of soft­ware. If for no oth­er rea­son, it’s a nice and free rip­per. It’s also got great library man­age­ment fea­tures. Is Apple’s moti­va­tion to have an online music store to sell iPods or is it to sell iPods just to make a killing off of song down­loads? I don’t know. I’m sure they’ve got some pret­ty good mar­gins on both fronts. I do think, though, that hav­ing an entry lev­el, USB dri­ve based mp3 play­er labled as an iPod is only going to help the brand. I fall on the oth­er side of the fence from Ander­son on this one as well. I say the iPod Shuf­fle is going to solid­i­fy the mar­ket as Apple’s.

One oth­er point that a lot of peo­ple seem to rip­ping the Shuf­fle on is it’s lack of screen. Seri­ous­ly, stop with the jokes about putting a sticky note over the iPod screen. It’s stale now. So what if it does­n’t have a screen? Do peo­ple hon­est­ly look at the screen dur­ing every song? I bought all most of those songs, and I know pret­ty much what I’m lis­ten­ing to.

Final­ly, what I’m say­ing here is that it’s not fair to com­pare the Shuf­fle to the good old iPod. One costs $99 and the oth­er costs $249 (the Mini). No one thinks it’s fair to com­pare a Toy­ota Cor­rol­la to a Lexus ES330, so why is this apples:apples? So that’s the big­ger ques­tion, here. My answer is to give the Shuf­fle a chance. It’s role in the iPod fam­i­ly is not to be your entire music library on the go, it is just a ran­dom snap­shot of it and that’s also got some inter­est. I think that we should con­sid­er how we real­ly lis­ten to our music, and not just what we think we’ll be miss­ing.

Video Searching Using Google

The pow­er behind this is the use of closed cap­tion to cre­ate search­able text from tele­vi­sion. The nice thing here is that you can search video based on total spo­ken con­tent.

The lat­est post over at PVR Blog by Matt Haugh­ey is about Google’s Beta site test­ing their new video search tool (also at Wired). Unfor­tu­nate­ly, right now, there’s not a whole lot of video out there to be watch­ing. So if you look­ing to down­load some free porn, you might want to use anoth­er site. Every search I tried came back with “Video is cur­rent­ly not avail­able.” Of course, I was search­ing for only fam­i­ly-friend­ly con­tent.

The pow­er behind this is the use of closed cap­tion to cre­ate search­able text from tele­vi­sion. The nice thing here is that you can search video based on total spo­ken con­tent. Some­day, we’ll be able to search on scene tags (like Flickr). Until then, we’re stuck with real­ly bad closed cap­tion auto-trans­la­tions, like this:

David duh cub any stays next X Files movie will Like­ly shoot late they are year and it will be a stand-alone hor­ror film.

from my search for x files. Now, I sup­pose the small amount of pages that turn up are because this things only been col­lect data for a very short peri­od of time (like 2 weeks), so it will get bet­ter. Maybe the com­put­er trans­la­tions will get bet­ter, as well.

TiVo users, such as myself, would love to see easy to use links in the search results for upcom­ing shows. This could be very eas­i­ly imple­ment­ed by Google using the “Link to This” fea­ture of TiVo, which I first read about at George Hotelling’s site (he cur­rent­ly writes for PVR­Blog). Sad­ly, the links TiVo uses there aren’t eas­i­ly deci­phered by humans to write into code (hint, hint: use time­stamps and Eng­lish words, like nor­mal search­es). Any­way, maybe even if Google does­n’t decide to do it, a Fire­Fox plug-in might accom­plish the same thing by rec­og­niz­ing video search results and giv­ing some handy dandy record­ing options, sort of like what Chris Ander­son was wish­ing for at The Long Tail.

So it appears that with some of the recent moves by Google (i.e. — scan­ning library doc­u­ments, video search­ing, and pret­ty much every­thing except g‑mail), they are set­ting them­selves up to be the world archivers of infor­ma­tion. They also give us a num­ber of ways to use and manip­u­late that infor­ma­tion with their very sim­ple and effi­cient search­es. I’m not sure that what the video search gives us as yet pro­vides any­thing we can’t already do even more effi­cient­ly else­where, but being able to search ver­bal con­tent of tele­vi­sion and film is obvi­ous­ly a huge leap in the usabil­i­ty of that form of data. How long until life is just one big data­base held on Google’s noto­ri­ous­ly fru­gal servers?

Is Wired Getting Tired?

I’m loath to admit it, but I’m afraid that this mon­th’s Wired mag­a­zine that came sneak­ing through my mail slot this after­noon is not their best work.

Wired Magazine, Feburary 2005

I’m loath to admit it, but I’m afraid that this mon­th’s Wired mag­a­zine that came sneak­ing through my mail slot this after­noon is not their best work. The cov­er arti­cle is on Fire­fox, and it’s ear­ly begin­nings with Blake Ross & Ben Goodger. I enjoyed get­ting to read about the two of them and the his­to­ry on my favorite open source soft­ware. How­ev­er, 1.0 came out in the Fall of last year. No one was stay­ing up late to get this sto­ry done for print. To point, the arti­cle clos­es with the “where are they now” bit on Ross and Goodger, explain­ing that Goodger plans to stay at the Mozil­la Foun­da­tion. Of course, this evening Slash­dot reports that Goodger plans to go work for Google, effec­tive two weeks ago.

In anoth­er arti­cle, the pro­lif­ic Lawrence Lessig writes how Wilco is the new mod­el for a rock band of the future. You should read his arti­cle (and pret­ty much any­thing else he writes), but again we’re not talk­ing about any recent hap­pen­ings here. Wilco broke record com­pa­ny hearts with Yan­kee Fox­trot Hotel way back in April of 2002. I was a new­ly-wed back then! And even then, they were about as big as bands get in the alt-coun­try scene. Just ask my broth­er, Dave. I enjoyed the piece none-the-less, but Jeff Tweedy must be just as oblique in per­son as he is as a song­writer.

Last­ly, one of the lit­tle tid­bits in Wired I always look for­ward to, oth­er than their FOUND: Arti­facts From the Future clos­er each month, is the Jar­gon Watch. This month, they gave me:

But­tnum­bat­hon — A painful­ly long and bor­ing movie. See: Oliv­er Stone’s Alexan­der. (Bet­ter yet, don’t.) Also the name of review­er Har­ry Knowles’ annu­al film marathon and birth­day bash.

Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News has been throw­ing these things togeth­er for the last six years run­ning! This is not the lat­est in jar­gon my friends.

I’m look­ing for­ward to next mon­th’s Wired. They’ve got two months now to find some new stuff. Since Mac­Ex­po S.F. and CES L.V., maybe they’ll have at least plen­ty of gad­gets to write about.

Beauty Is Skin Deep

To any­one who isn’t read­ing this site by Braille, you can tell that the look is chang­ing. Of course, that’s all that’s chang­ing since I’m spend­ing this evening play­ing with the style sheet. To facil­i­tate an on-going dis­cus­sion between myself and the Jedi Mas­ter design­er, Jason John­son, I thought I’d cre­ate a new post to which com­ments on such things seem rel­e­vant.

I’m mak­ing no promis­es to what final form this site will take, oth­er than the fact it will have lots of infor­ma­tion cre­ate by me about things I find inter­est­ing. Short of that, any­thing goes. It’s all about the jour­ney here. I’m dis­cov­er­ing new things about CSS, Word­Press, and Flickr all the time and this is my lit­tle sand­box with which to play them. Also, I’m hop­ing to learn a few hacks in PHP when time allows. When will the fun stop?

Fast-Paced First Week

I can hard­ly believe that five whole days have gone by since I start­ed my new job. I have to say that I’m feel­ing a great deal more opti­mistic since my last post, too.

My Office View

Look­ing out the win­dow at my new office onto the snow from the last two days in Rich­mond.

I can hard­ly believe that five whole days have gone by since I start­ed my new job. I think that even after psych­ing my self up for a month, I was­n’t pre­pared for the quick pace of work here. I got on a project first thing on Mon­day morn­ing, and I’ve been busy with it pret­ty much the entire time since (well, at work any­way). I have to say that I’m feel­ing a great deal more opti­mistic since my last post, too. It’s not that I thought I’d made a mis­take, it was just that sink­ing feel­ing of real­iz­ing just how much I was step­ping back­ward, in a career sense.

My boss and I did get to make a site vis­it down­town Rich­mond on Tues­day, though. It was about 20º F, in the sun with 15–20 mph winds. I have a whole new lev­el of respect for those con­struc­tion guys out grout­ing lin­tel seats and hang­ing struc­tur­al steel. Insane. We’ve had snow the last cou­ple of days here in Rich­mond, so I doubt they’ve had much of a chance to con­tin­ue. This pho­to is look­ing out my new office win­dow. I took it around lunch on Fri­day. I real­ize it’s not a spec­tac­u­lar view, but since I could­n’t see any day­light from the desk at my old job, I feel as though I’ve moved up in the world.

I’ve spent the week learn­ing all about RAM Inter­na­tion­al’s Struc­tur­al Sys­tem design soft­ware pack­age. I have to say, I’m pret­ty impressed thus far. I’ve used a num­ber of soft­ware solu­tions for struc­tur­al analy­sis and design, and RAM has lived up to its billing as a one of the best. It is very much geared to the build­ing indus­try, and there­fore can tai­lor its solu­tions accord­ing­ly. I miss some of the open end­ed-ness of some of the oth­er pack­ages I’ve used (STAAD, GTSTRUDL) or even the more straight for­ward frame input of oth­er build­ing design soft­ware (RISA 3D). How­ev­er, you trade all that for the speed and com­plete-ness that RAM offers. Sure, I can’t cus­tom edit ele­ments to cre­ate out-of-plan beams, for exam­ple. What I can do, though, is enter in and design an entire two-sto­ry school build­ing in a man­ner of hours. Pret­ty slick.

The oth­er task this week was learn­ing a lit­tle more about build­ing con­struc­tion. For­tu­nate­ly, the edu­ca­tion sys­tem for the struc­tures por­tion of civ­il engi­neer­ing is catered to the build­ing indus­try. I got to spend the last 3 years learn­ing a good bit about bridge design (albeit, only steel bridges). Now, I get to actu­al­ly use some of the things I learned in school towards design. Now, if only I could start using LRFD steel design.

Just as an aside, I’m using a new util­i­ty for Word­Press called Flick­It. It sim­ply adds a quick­tag to your edi­tor allow­ing to eas­i­ly insert a hyper­linked Flickr image. It’s not per­fect, but works does exact­ly what it claims to and is free (after they got into a lit­tle trou­ble with the com­pa­ny that owns Flickr for charg­ing). Any­way, I men­tion it because I know a lot of my friends use both Word­Press and Flickr and might want an eas­i­er way of get­ting them to play togeth­er.

The Village

From all the pre­views last sum­mer, we were both expect­ing a horror/suspense film. Some day, I’ll learn to not trust those adver­tise­ments.

M. Night Shyamalan's The Village

It snowed on Wednes­day night, so Angela unex­pect­ed­ly got to come home from work ear­ly. We stayed in and watched M. Night Shya­malan’s The Vil­lage. From all the pre­views last sum­mer, we were both expect­ing a horror/suspense film. Some day, I’ll learn to not trust those adver­tise­ments. Angela, who isn’t the fan of hor­ror films that I am, want­ed to watch the film with me around, lights on, and sur­round sound turned off. Well, that’s not the best way to watch a DVD at home, but oh well.

The film is Shya­malan’s take on a peri­od piece. The actors fol­low through with the idea superbly. His method of long, sta­t­ic shots real­ly lends itself to the peri­od, as well. This film shot with flashy, MTV-style edit­ing would have been hor­ri­ble. Now, about the peri­od: I got the impres­sion of a late 19th cen­tu­ry, Tran­scen­den­tal­ist style utopia. I could­n’t think that some (if not all) of the peo­ple involved with this had recent­ly read Thore­au. I cer­tain­ly got the impres­sion that the char­ac­ter of Edward Walk­er, played by William Hurt, had at some point.

The Vil­lage does­n’t have the same lin­ear­i­ty of Signs, which was basi­cal­ly your straight-for­ward alien invasion/suspense film. Its gift was in its abil­i­ty to come full cir­cle with sto­ry ele­ments. The Vil­lage is more like The Sixth Sense in that it con­tains the kind of twist that alter the very way you per­ceive what it is that you’re watch­ing. A hor­ror film becomes a love film. It’s almost like Pol­ter­geist being mashed with Ghost, but with much bet­ter direc­tion.

How­ev­er, if The Sixth Sense had a hard right turn at the half-way point, then this film cer­tain­ly has two. One in the final meet­ing of Lucius and Noah and anoth­er in the oppo­site direc­tion at the for­bid­den shed. Even if you expect the dra­mat­ic twists (and you do with Shya­malan at this point) and even if you can guess what’s com­ing next, Shya­malan does­n’t fail to impress. He has a gift for film mak­ing, and even more so for sto­ry telling. I have noticed that, after watch­ing the scenes he delet­ed from his film, I can tell that they fell out in the edit­ing room and not when he had a chance to re-shoot some scenes. Sev­er­al of his films will make men­tion of an inci­dent that we only lat­er see in a delet­ed sequence. Giv­en how much I enjoy his movies, I’ll for­give him this.

I think, on the whole, this film was over-hyped yet high­ly under-rat­ed. Sure, the media blitz was huge and very mis­di­rect­ing. I imag­ine the word-of-mouth stopped after the first week­end just because every­body told their friends ‘It’s not scary at all!’ Most of my favorite films are ones that weren’t any­thing at all like I was expect­ing, instead they were much bet­ter. I can’t tell you if, in a year or two, I’ll be dying to watch The Vil­lage all over again, but I can say that I did real­ly enjoy the movie.