Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Off and On

According to the early reviews, the new Superman is really good. If that's true, the company that made the movie should fire their advertising department—the trailer is a stink bomb.

I saw Cars on opening night, and thought it was excellent. Then I saw A Prairie Home Companion the next day. That's a very different film, so it was hard to gauge. It seemed surprising how they played up the musical performers Robin and Linda Williams, and Jearlyn Steele. But whatever, it worked out alright.

I've continued to play with my camera, though I'm feeling a bit restricted by the graphics tools in Linux. The Gimp only handles 8 bits per color channel (24-bit graphics), which is normally fine, but it can cause images to turn out rather grainy if you start tweaking the brightness or whatever. Supposedly my camera can do something like 12 bits per color channel (36-bit graphics or thereabouts), and it would be really nice to have all of that color range used at least in the background while editing.

I know, I know, Cinepaint is supposed to let you do that, but there are two problems with it—it's a fork of the old 1.x version of The Gimp, and it's one of the buggiest pieces of software I've ever tried to run.

I occasionally try to get into an open source project here or there, but always get stuck because of the complexity. This case will probably be no different, but I'd like to take a shot at working on The Gimp to get it to handle higher bit depths. There's been some backend work already for GEGL, but that project has not yet reached a point where it can be integrated. I seem to recall hearing about that years ago, and it's not done. Well, software development takes time...

I've also tried to get some high dynamic range tools to work, where you combine multiple images into high bit depths using command-line tools, then convert that image into an 8-bit-per-channel image using special algorithms that mimic or trick the human visual system. Done right, you can get images of amazing color and detail. Here are a few examples: one two three. Well, those were actually made with a Windows program called Photomatix, but the same thing is possible on the command line. Unfortunately, one of the programs just doesn't work on my system. I point it at the JPEGs from my camera, and it says "no image found". I suspect that might be happening because my camera puts a bad string in one of the EXIF data fields...

Well, I finally wrote something after a month or so, but I've got to get ready for work.

Posted by mike at 08:42 AM | Movies , Photography , Software | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

With additional dialogue by William Shakespeare

Well, I started watching The Black Adder since I got the first DVD from Netflix a few days ago. I noticed that the guy who plays King Richard IV was also in the movie Flash Gordon. So, I went and searched for "Flash Gordon" on IMDB. I was shocked to see that a new movie is expected in 2007.

By the way, the guy I was looking for was Brian Blessed.

Anyway, I'm not sure what would be the best way to do the remake. Should it be low-budget? Big-budget? As "realistic" as possible? As off-the-wall as possible? Somehow, I think the best thing to do is leave it be.

Well, beyond that, I should mention that I went to the giant car show at the fairgrounds over the weekend. I have a picture set up on Flickr. Kind of makes me wish I had a garage. Kind of.

I also attended a friend's "divorce party", though it wasn't heavily structured toward having any real relation to her divorce (at least not while I was there).

Posted by mike at 10:53 PM | Movies , TV | Comments (0)

Friday, June 30, 2006

Pimp Mein Auto

Well, I've pretty much decided that I'll get a Volkswagen Jetta TDI for a new car. For probably two years now, my list has been short and sweet: Golf or Jetta TDI, Honda Civic Hybrid, or Toyota Prius. Running the numbers on them, the Golf seemed like the best bet. Since then, there have been styling updates to consider, and new diesel regulations to deal with.

I like the new styling of the Volkswagens, and apparently I'm in the minority in liking the new chrome bumper. The Civic turned into a spaceship, which might have appealed to me ten years ago, but today it almost seems old. The Prius is still pretty much the same, I think, but I'm not a huge fan of the design. That mini-window at the bottom of the rear hatch doesn't really appeal to me.

On the technical side, there are a bunch of things to consider. The complexity of the hybrids is a bit of a detractor. Who knows how long I'll try to keep a new car—my family has a habit of holding on to vehicles for 15+ years. With that timeframe, I'd probably have to deal with replacing batteries at some point (though doesn't the Civic use ultracapacitors? I forget. Whatever they are, they prevent the rear seat from folding down...). The reduced complexity of the Volkswagen diesels is appealing.

Unfortunately, current engines are fairly unique too, with a "Pumpe Düse" (translates as "unit injector") design that is only being used for a few years until common-rail injection is worked into engines to improve emissions. But, it's probably better to get a car now rather than later since production will probably be limited in 2007. U.S. lawmakers had the brilliant idea to introduce cleaner diesel fuel in mid-2006, then require automakers to have cleaner-burning engines just six months later. Not quite enough phase-in time, in my opinion. I would have expected a window of ~2 years. Anyway, once common-rail injection comes around, it'll be a very good thing, improving both emissions and fuel economy at the same time. I think it's available on the one other diesel being sold in the U.S. today, a rather spendy Mercedes. VW didn't use it initially because of slight "not invented here" syndrome, but they're working on correcting it. Volkswagen just got stuck in a time window where they could either completely retool their Pumpe Düse engines for stricter emissions requirements, or just hold off on that and start from scratch with a common-rail design.

Then Volkswagen of America had the equally brilliant idea to delay introduction of the fifth-generation Golf for about two years (they wanted the new Jetta to appear first, since that's got broader appeal in the States). The GTI (a sporty version of the Golf) finally appeared early this year, and the new Golf is appearing, well, now. Unfortunately, the decision was made to not offer a diesel version of this new Golf at all until the new engines appear. But, in the end, I suppose it's okay for me since they dropped the chrome from the American Golf.

So, the only new Volkswagen available with a TDI is the Jetta. You can still get a fourth-generation Golf with a TDI, but the styling is very stale on that one in my opinion. The two main reasons I wanted the Golf were because of its relatively small size (I'll take any opportunity to improve my chances of getting a parallel parking space, aside from opting for a two-door), and the fact that the roofline meant slightly more headroom in the backseat (I hate bumping my head in the back, though I suppose most of my friends are shorter than me ;-) Oh, and I suppose the price was a couple thousand cheaper...

Well, since the TDI Golf just ain't gonna happen until probably 2008, I decided to take another look at the Jetta. It'll be more money than I really wanted to spend, but I'll be able to afford it (er, not all at once, but whatever ;-). I was pleased to see that the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, with many folks calling the interior the best in its price range (another reason why I really really really didn't want a fourth-generation Golf—the dashboard felt really cheap to me). I was feeling kind of bad about having to go with only 41 mpg on the highway (one of my big driving forces has been to one-up my mom's purchase of a 40-mpg Saturn SL1 back in 1996), but then I came across this fine article in Autoweek. Well, I guess I don't have to worry ;-)

I'm also pleased to learn of the good crash-test ratings for the car. 4 out of 5 for frontal impact, 5 out of 5 for side impact. I'm a little concerned about the whole turn signal design. I know it's silly, but I like to have very clear indication when someone plans to turn my way. With the fifth-generation makeover of the Golf and Jetta, the little side blinker moved from just behind the front wheel wells up to the rearview mirrors. I'm not sure I like that, but I'll have to give it a shot. The headlamp assembly is also lacking in yellow. As a frequent pedestrian, I hate the crystalline look of many headlamps these days, mostly since too much sunlight can glint off of them for me to see if the turn signal is actually on or not. I figure I've almost gotten run over a half-dozen times because of it. 1980s cars were much better about simply making forward turn signals visible (ignoring the side-mounted ones that have been required in Japan/Europe for some time). Car designers just have a disdain for that amber color these days, I guess. Well, maybe it's something I could improve later...

Agh, and I forgot to mention the biofuel conundrum. The Jetta can run on 100% biodiesel, which would really make me feel hoidy-toidy (at least until winter when that fuel solidifies into wax...). Unfortunately, Volkswagen doesn't trust biodiesel in any concentration greater than 5% yet. (C'mon, car manufacturers haven't worried about Ethanol up to 15% for ages!) Ah well, I either have to use higher concentrations but hope and pray that I don't have any engine trouble that could maybe remotely possibly be related to the fuel I used (since the warranty wouldn't cover repairs), or just stay at 5% or lower until the warranty runs out, which would mean I'd be dropping from the state-mandated 10% biofuel that you get in Minnesota gasoline.

Ah well, I suppose these things are relatively minor. The truth is that I'd probably be equally happy with the Jetta, Civic, or Prius. Simplicity and styling end up tipping the balance decidedly toward the Jetta.

So, I mailed in the paper I needed to get a credit report (I basically don't use credit enough to exist, which is somewhat disconcerting), and hopefully I'll get some info about that pretty soon. I'm two weeks away from having had my job for a full year. My bank account is, well, not quite where I wanted it to be at this point, but I've been compensating for being rather frugal for a few years after college. I'll still be able to put down 1/3rd of the cost comfortably, and I'm leaning toward doing a 36-month loan, though I should be able to pay that off early (I suppose there could be penalties for that, though).

Each of the three main VW dealerships in the Twin Cities has a dozen or so 2006 Jetta TDIs with manual transmissions on their lots (according to their web databases), so I'm planning to visit one tomorrow to see if my actual impression of the car is in line with what I've read. By the end of July, I suspect I'll have a new car.

Posted by mike at 09:42 PM | Car | Comments (0)