Critical Section

Archive: April 19, 2015

Sunday,  04/19/15  10:14 PM

mobile worldThe Ole filter makes a pass ... curiously, it's not all happening, very little seems to be going on for some reason...

I have been self-analyzing myself, watching me not preorder an Apple Watch.  I just don't want one.  Maybe I don't think the learning curve on how to use another device is worth it, or maybe ... I just don't want one.  Huh.

New Horizons: PlutoNASA captures first color image of Pluto.  "The New Horizons probe, which is bearing down on Pluto, has captured its first color image of the distant dwarf planet."  Excellent.  It's truly amazing that we can launch satellites so far away and retrieve images from them.  It takes 4.6 hours for a photon to travel from the spacecraft back to Earth!

Star Wars VII - trailer IIA new trailer for the new Star Wars movie is up, and it looks ... great.  Cannot wait to see it, although I guess we all will; it is schedules to be released on December 18.  I love the way the Internet is trying to reverse engineer the plot from the trailer teases.

BB-8 the rolling droidOh, and remember the little round droid BB-8 introduced in the first teaser trailer?  Apparently it really exists!  Wow, what cool technology.  Sort of Segway-ish.  I would have thought actually building it would have been harder slash more expensive than just generating it on a computer screen, but surely it's more fun this way.

the crab camAnd here we have the crab cam.  Of course...


Archive: April 27, 2014

which pet?

Sunday,  04/27/14  09:09 AM

A handy flowchart to determine which pet is best ... for you:



Sunday,  04/27/14  03:14 PM

Spring!Whew!  Nearly two weeks since I last posted, which tells you everything about how busy I've been, whether it is coding or courting investors or meeting with customers or bike riding or sailing or ... hanging out.  Anyway sorry, here's a few interesting things the Ole filter caught along the way...

what the world looks like from a cockpit (dinghies!)What the world looks like from the cockpit.  Excellent!

Solving the important problems... an algorithm for exiting Burning Man.  Yes.  (I've never been to the Playa, but I want to.)

This seems related to that other important problem, the most efficient way for people to board and exit airplanes.  The current algorithm seems to be among the least efficient...

Yay!  NASA laying foundation for Jupiter Moon space mission.  I knew it.  Cannot wait to visit Titan... :)

the revolutionary Sony WalkmanA look back at the Sony Walkman.  So weird to think it was so revolutionary to be able to bring music with you so easily...  I remember having a Sony which was roughly the size of a cassette tape, which ... played cassette tapes.  It was the coolest thing ever.

TinkerBot carIf you like Legos and robots, you'll like TinkerBots.  (And who doesn't like both?)  Okayyy.

Escape from XP!  I love it.  As John Gruber says, another sign that Microsoft have turned the corner.

Abbott and Costello discuss unemployment.  It would be funnier if it wasn't quite so true.  Right now reporting good numbers trumps helping people find work.

Byte April 1981: Wearable ComputersByte Magazine from April 1981: Wearable Computers.  Man, I used to love Byte.  Good times.  How interesting that the world is almost like we thought it was going to be ... but completely different.

airplane departures LAXComposite image of 8 hours of airplane departures at LAX.  Amazing!  (click through to enbiggen)

Niki Terpstra wins Paris-Roubaix.  Congratulations to the first Dutchman to triumph there in 13 years.  A great victory.

Software engineers think they're amazingly great.  Well, yeah.  Actually what's interesting about this survey isn't that 90% of all startup software engineers think they're the most important people in their company, it's that 10% don't...

Maybe employers should be allowed to use IQ tests.  Um, yeah.  Silly isn't it?  You don't like the answer, so you don't let people ask the question.

how Americans dieMost interesting: Bloomberg: How Americans Die.  Great data and cool presentations of it.  My biggest takeaway was the AIDS success story.  And also the prevalence of suicide as an increasingly prominent cause of death.

Antarctic sea ice growing at an alarming rate.  Global Cooling!  (I know, weather is not climate... but still)

code babes - the worst thing you'll find on the Internet this weekAnd finally ... CodeBabes - the worst thing you'll find on the Internet this week.  Just when you think you've seen it all, you realize "it all" is so much more than you thought.


Archive: April 27, 2013


Archive: April 20, 2012

Zeno's paradox

Friday,  04/20/12  10:39 AM


at 53 I feel like this has been going on for a while
so far it hasn't caught me yet :)



Archive: April 27, 2011

cell vs WiFi

Wednesday,  04/27/11  10:00 PM

iPhone hotspotOne of the cool features of my cool new iPhone is that it can serve as a WiFi "hotspot", using its cell connection.  This means my laptop and iPad and anyone else's devices can go online everywhere I have a Verizon signal.  Which is way cool.  And it prompted me to think about the pervasiveness of cell signals and the robustness of those connections vs WiFi, which is faster but which is way harder to use, way flakier, and pretty much inferior in every way except speed.

This doesn't seem to be a technical difference so much as a business difference.  Your cell signal comes from one company which controls the entire experience, including both ends of the connection, and which earns a profit from providing that service.  And it has competition!  Meanwhile your WiFi signal comes from a huge variety of companies which control only part of the experience, including only one side of the connection, and which mostly provide the service free.  Viewed that way it isn't surprising that cell is so much better.

Makes me wonder when someone - like Apple? - will offer a laptop with a built in cell connection, always on 100% of the time much like an iPad or iPhone.  You could do a lot with that...


Archive: April 26, 2010

Monday,  04/26/10  07:34 PM

Coming to you live! from Houston...  after a max busy day in which I drove down to Vista, had a few interesting meetings, and then drove up to LAX to fly out here...  I must tell you all this travel is all very exciting, but it sure isn't very efficient. 

I was able to get some work done on the plane, fortunately; I have experimentally determined that carrying a second laptop battery is well worth it.  It takes me from two solid hours to four solid hours.

From CNN: Economists: the stimulus didn't help.  And of course when you factor in the inflationary pressure of the $787B ARRA, it will hurt considerably.  Nice.

formula of procrastinationI have a rather large backlog of not-quite-important but worthy-of-doing tasks, as usual, and just today stumbled across Clive Thompson's excellent post from three years ago, the formula of procrastination.  Dead on.

Congratulations to Adam Engst, on the 20th anniversary of TidBITS, their 1,024th issue!  That's amazing.  To celebrate they published a special section of reminiscence, including a TidBIT from me :)

To me, the most amazing thing about TidBITS is its consistency and longevity. If I were telling a friend about TidBITS now, I'd probably tell the story about how, to celebrate its 20th anniversary and 1,024th issue, Adam contacted some longtime readers and asked them to talk a little about TidBITS, including relating the most amazing story about TidBITS they could think of...

Dilbert: the iPhone 4G chroniclesDilbert: iPhone 4G chroniclesScott "Dilbert" Adams publishes two Internet-only Dilbert comics on the lost iPhone 4G fiasco.  I love it!

BTW, so many of the people reporting on this situation have missed the point.  The badness was *not* Gizmodo publishing details of the "secret" phone.  All sorts of MSM and blogs do this all the time.  The badness was purchasing stolen property.  And since Gizmodo *knew* the property was stolen, they have no excuse.

From the Onion: Man At Very Top Of Food Chain Chooses Bugles.  "Despite having no natural enemies and belonging to a species that completely dominates its ecosystem, local IT manager Reggie Atkinson opted to consume the processed corn snack Bugles Monday."  Wow, bullseye.  Almost had Bugles myself today, but settled for Chex Mix :)  [ via Kottke ]

Philip Greenspun: Comparing books on happiness.  "Folks are baffled by the fact that GDP per person has risen in the U.S. but reported happiness has not."  Happiness comes from liking yourself, not from your physical circumstances.  This is why relative prosperity is more important than absolute prosperity.  And why programs which level prosperity do not make people happier...

Shanghai pavillion at the 2010 World ExpoInhabitat: Top 6 stunning green pavilions at 2010 Shanghai World Expo.  Beautiful examples of architecture as well as engineering.

And finally, Steve Hawking cautions against alien contact.  "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet...  If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the native Americans."  I am not making this up...


please turn off your books (NY, 4/19/10)

Monday,  04/26/10  07:52 PM


(just landed in Houston on Southwest, and expected them to say this)


Earth from Mars

Monday,  04/26/10  07:57 PM


[ via Xeni Jardin]


Archive: April 27, 2009

NAF concert

Monday,  04/27/09  11:18 PM

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the annual NAF Concert in Santa Monica with my Mom.  Each year several young Dutch musicians are invited to tour the U.S. and play these concerts... the three who performed this year, Lilian Farahani, Soprano, Arthur Rusanovsky, Violin, and Sophiko Simsive, Piano, were each amazing.  Lilian in particular; the emotion which flowed from this little girl into her powerful voice and on to the audience was incredible.

Sorry for the crummy Palm smartphone quality, but here's a short passage by Lilian to give you a flavor:

I'm not a major classical music fan but it sure can be enjoyable, especially at this level.  I find listening to a concert like this to be really conducive to thinking, sort of like meditation.  At first you're enthralled by the performance and paying close attention to the musicians and the music, but after a while you sort of drift off and the music carries you away.  I can't say what I thought about exactly, but I was concious afterward of a whole raft of new ideas.  Very cool.

PS the process here (for me later, as well as for you now): sync phone to computer, open with Quicktime, save as AVI, upload to YouTube, set thumbnail, build HTML.  Pretty clean.


Monday,  04/27/09  11:50 PM

Weird restless mood - got in some serious think time during the NAF concert, which has left me, um, thinking...  not totally happy with several things in my life right now, not totally sure what to do about any of them...  well there's always blogging.

In the New Yorker: Money Talks.  Essentially how President Obama is using the economic "crisis" to achieve many of his social goals, including redistribution of wealth.  The article thinks this is a good thing, I do not...

nuclear power: is it time?ClimateBiz says It's Time for Nuclear Power.  "If climate change is the greatest threat facing mankind, what are the odds of the big environmental groups rethinking their longstanding opposition to nuclear power?"  The odds are long, but this is the solution...  More as an alternative energy source than as a way to reduce emissions, but that's important too of course...

Razib considers The Green Beard of Sex.  He doesn't quite explain why sex exists - and that's the problem he sets for himself at the start - but it is a fascinating discussion.  Clearly sex is selected, but why?

Honda Insight ad - very coolWay cool: Honda: Let it shine...  the content is cool, but so is the way they've blurred the line between the Flash player and the HTML page.  Honda seem to innovate in marketing as in cars.

Pontiac: total confidence? ... see ya...So Pontaic is dead, along with Hummer, Saab, and Saturn.  So be it.  Too many brands, not enough brand differentiation; this totally makes sense.  Also too many dealers, and many of them will be dead too.  IIWII.

You do have to say, it is sad about Saab.  At one time they were a good little compay, with good solid products.  Then they were bought, amalgamated, widened, and absorbed.  Reminds me of F.A.O.Schwartz and Zainy Brainy.  It is hard to find many cases when a small company was bought by a big company where the users benefitted...

Portfolio magazine - see ya...Portfolio Magazine gets liquidated, there goes $100MPortfolio Magazine?  Never heard of it.  Their $100M marketing spend must not have been well spent :)  They should have done a profile on Honda's marketing, I guess, and taken notes.

Did you read Michael Lewis' The Blind Side?  In which a poor giant kid, Michael Oher, is given a new life because he's giant.. and can therefore play football... and can therefore be a soft of entertainer for the rest of us.  Turns out he was drafted 23rd in this year's draft.  And will therefore make more money in a year, as a kid, than I have in fifty.  I should have been born bigger :)

Inside Sprint Now answers Some Palm Pre Questions.  "Despite the fact that all of us that know the actual release date of the device are bound by a NDA and our job titles, we all know that it’s going to be soon… so I figured it might be nice to answer a few FAQ before it arrives."  Thank you, this is great info.  I so want a Pre...


Archive: April 27, 2008

contemplating breathless agony

Sunday,  04/27/08  09:52 PM

This Sunday night finds me contemplating Breathless Agony, a century in which I plan to ride next Saturday.  This appropriately named ride features 12,000 feet of climbing in 114 miles, and reaches 8,443' at the Onyx summit above Big Bear Lake.  Here's what the route profile looks like:

Breathless Agony route profile

Here's the route map as plotted on Google Maps:

Breathless Agony route map

There are four main passes, the Jack Rabbit is 4 miles at 4% (max 8%), the Oak Glen is 5 miles at 6.7% (max 16%), the Damnation Alley is 11 miles at 5.2% (max 10%), and the Onyx Summit is 9 miles at 4.4% (max 10%).  That is two Cat 2s and two Cat 1s.  In fact Damnation Alley could be an HC.  This could be a Tour stage, it is that tough.

Extreme rides require extreme measures, I am considering removing my aero bars for this ride.  I won't need them, and they're just another pound to lug up the hills.  That will require rewiring my computer, but so be it.  Another key decision is whether to use bottles or a camelback; bottles are lighter, but with a camelback it is easier to drink continuously.  There are SAG stops at the top of each climb, so some don't take water at all.  I think I'll stick with my trusty camelback, this is no place to bonk.

Should be fun!


Sunday,  04/27/08  10:27 PM

Had a great weekend; we went wine tasting with friends in the Temecula area, north east of San Diego.  The wine was unremarkable and the area seems more focused on tourism than winemaking, but we had a great time anyway, capped by a wonderful dinner at the South Coast Winery Resort (I will confess, we had Heitz Cabernet with dinner [from Napa]; it put the Temcula reds in their place).

Okay, so back to the real world, let's see what's happening...

More interesting than Microsoft's bid to acquire Yahoo is Microsoft's struggle to figure out what to do about Windows XP.  Of course they had previously announced XP would no longer be sold after June 30, but millions of their customers would rather keep buying XP than switch to Vista.  In fact Dell, HP, and Lenovo have all listened to their customers and are planning to ship machines "downgraded" to XP after June 30, exploiting a loophole in their license agreements with Microsoft.  This situation pits Microsoft against their customers, it will be interesting to see if Microsoft blinks.  I think how they handle this is more important to their future than the Yahoo deal.

[ Update: Eric Sink thinks it might be the most arrogant corporate decision in history. ]

Here's what happens when you don't listen to your customers: Firefox market share climbs higher.  Safari is also doing well.  Perhaps by the time IE 9 comes out, nobody will care.

slide ruleScientific American: When slide rules ruled.  I am old enough to remember this - barely.  I definitely remember getting my first HP electronic calculator when I was in college, must have been 1977 or so...  what a breakthrough!

In the same vein, my friend Craig points out the Curta calculator, a mechanical marvel.

Probably the biggest weakness of the iPhone is the keyboard, and the biggest reason is the lack of tactile feedback.  Now C|Net rumors Apple to add tactile feedback to iPhone.  "An anonymous Apple employee says company executives are in talks with Immersion to license its haptic technology for use in the iPhone, according to a report at"  That would be cool.

Pininfarina dreamTTAC reports on a rumored relationship between Tata, the new owners of Jaguar, and Pininfarina, ace designers for Ferrari and Maserati.  Yes, please!





Archive: April 27, 2007


Archive: April 27, 2006


Archive: April 27, 2005


Archive: April 27, 2004


Tuesday,  04/27/04  01:17 AM


Is this unreal, or what?  This is not an annimated image.  Wow.
And check out these other ones, too...
"there is no spoon"


Tuesday,  04/27/04  11:20 PM

The Economist has a really fascinating article about the possibility that stem cells may cause cancer:

"CANCER cells are distinguished by the fact that they multiply rapidly and in an uncontrolled manner.  Hence, scientists and drug companies have developed drugs that kill cells which divide quickly, while sparing slow-growing - and thus presumably healthy - cells.  The catch is that while such therapies often shrink tumors, they rarely cure the underlying disease.  Patients often relapse years after an apparently successful treatment.  At the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, which took place in Orlando, Florida, in the last few days of March, Michael Clarke, of the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, discussed why such relapses might occur.  Dr Clarke believes that a small population of slow-growing cells in tumors - cancerous stem cells - may be responsible not only for the recurrence of tumors, but for the original cancers as well."

This seems a very promising line of inquiry to me.  The other day I noted the Fortune magazine cover article: "Why we're losing the war on cancer".  The gist of that story was that cancer research is focused more on therapy than prevention.  This insight - if true - may lead directly to courses of treatment which truly "cure" cancer.  Very cool.

Titan's surfaceThe European Southern Observatory has taken some amazing photographs of Titan, Saturn's largest moon.  Early next year the Huygens probe will crash into Titan, relaying telemetry via the Cassini orbiter.  All this unmanned space exploration activity is very encouraging.

Allen Greenspan said today "the likelihood of persistently high energy prices would probably help keep U.S. energy use in check and influence energy-related business investments."  This seems like good news; let's give consumers a reason not to buy SUVs.

Phil Libin makes an interesting point about air-travel safety:  "Someone attempting an exact replay of the 9/11 attacks today would likely be beaten to within an inch of death."  Which means it is unlikely terrorists would try it again.  Which means all the effort to try to prevent it - ultimately very hard and inconvenient - is probably wasted.  [ via Glenn Reynolds ]

Taking Chance Home.  Really excellent.  [ via Citizen Smash, who notes This is Respect ]

Bugatti VeyronEver wonder how the Bugatti Veyron works?  Like, How do you fit 1,000 horsepower into a compact engine?  (No, it isn't 16 liters - it uses four turbochargers to aspirate 16 cylinders in a "W" configuration!)  And how do you keep a passenger car on the road at 250+ MPH?  (It is about as wide as a Hummer, but about 1/3 as high.  Plus, it has a "real" spoiler wing.)  I want one.

Isn't How Stuff Works just a great site?  A real meme repository.

More on Google: BW has a nice interview with Eric Schmidt, Google's "hired gun" CEO:

Q: Are you working hard to find a way to create more lock-in with your users?
A: You're asking a perfectly reasonable question of a normal company.  That's not how Google works.  The way Google works is about innovation.  We are awaiting the discovery of what will achieve your objective.  Do you see the distinction?

Fortune has a nice profile of Michael Moritz, one of the VCs backing Google.  I had some contact with Mike when I was at PayPal.  A real big picture guy.

Yesterday we noted Gigablast, a Google search engine competitor.  Here's a thorough interview with Matt Wells, Gigablast's one-man band, by Steve Kirsch (Infoseek founder and current CEO of Propel).  [ via Michael Heraghty ]

BW also analyzes the Twists in Netflix' Growth Plot.  All is not great there; "While few dispute that Netflix is the leader in the DVD rental biz, competition in this arena is starting to pick up.  And as Netflix' costs continue to rise, profitability could remain elusive, some analysts fear."  They're a transitional technology anyway; video-on-demand will kill Netflix, as surely as it will kill Blockbuster.

Speaking of online media (we were), iTunes is one year old!  Wow.  CNet marks the occasion with a nice review of the state of iTunes and the other online music services.  The key issue a year ago was consumer acceptance.  Now that it's evident that people will pay for online music, the key issue has become compatibility between services and devices.

Steve Jobs announces iTunes music storeFor old times' sake, here's a video of the announcement of iPods and iTunes, by Steve Jobs.  Paradoxically, it is in RealPlayer format :)

Hey buddy, want to buy a portal?  Terra Lycos is shopping  The asking price is $200M, marked down from the $12.5B Terra paid for it in 2000.  Such a deal.

Chris Pratley is a Microsoft blogger who writes Let's talk about Word, and then analyzes the great Word vs. WordPerfect battle.  Chris’ main points are that WordPerfect made the mistake of changing too much on each release, and Word did something smart by understanding what customers actually did.  If these lessons are applied to Windows, it means MS should concentrate on making Windows work better, instead of making Windows into something different.  So far Longhorn is doing the opposite; instead of fixing things like paging and improving performance, MS is inventing new ways to do new things.  This might be “cool” but it will open the door to competitors, and as well it isn't really what customers want.

Eric Sink thinks we should read Coder to Developer, by Mike Gunderloy.  I might.  Any book with a forward by Joel Spolsky can't be horrible :)


Archive: April 27, 2003

My Awesome Sharp DVD Recorder

Sunday,  04/27/03  11:52 PM

Sharp DVD recorder (DV-RW2U)Here's my review of the Sharp DV-RW2U, a home entertainment DVD recorder.  The bottom line: It is awesome!

Why would anyone want one?

So what exactly is a DVD recorder?  Why would anyone want one?

Essentially a DVD recorder is exactly like a VCR, except it uses DVD discs instead of VHS tapes.  You can record any video or audio onto a DVD disc, and play it back later.  Here are the advantages of a DVD recorder over a VCR:

  • Digital image quality.  Like, way better.
  • Digital audio quality.  Like, way better.
  • Random access.  With a DVD you can easily jump around on the disc and access any of the content; pause, back-up, etc.  And no rewinding...
  • Editability.  DVD discs can be edited easily to remove or rearrange content, VHS tapes cannot.
  • Media format.  DVD discs are easier to store and carry, and more durable.
  • Compatibility with computers.  See below for more on this, but essentially a DVD disc recorded by a DVD recorder can be displayed on a computer with a DVD drive.  And vice-versa.
  • Coolness.  Well, you knew that, right?

Here are the disadvantages of a DVD recorder compared to a VCR:

  • Price.  VCRs are around $100, DVD recorders are now around $600.
  • Media cost.  Blank VHS tapes are about $1, and blank DVD-R media is about $4.

So essentially a DVD recorder is better and cooler than a VCR, and also more expensive, as benefits a new technology.  But it fills the same niche.

It is worth mentioning, a DVD recorder is also a player.  The Sharp in particular is a jack of all discs, it can play:

  • prerecorded DVDs (duh)
  • DVD-Rs discs made on any machine
  • DVD-RW discs made according to the DVD-RW 1.1 standard
  • prerecorded audio CDs
  • CD-R/RW discs containing audio tracks
  • CD-R/RW discs containing MP3 music files
  • prerecorded video CDs
  • CD-R/RW discs containing MPEG-2 video files

I want to dwell on the quality factor once more.  Because of the price point and intended audience, DVD recorders are also the best quality DVD players you can find, with progressive scan video capability, component and SVideo output, fiberoptic digital audio, and full support for multichannel audio like Dolby Digital and DTS.  You don't have to spend $600 to get a top-of-the-line DVD player, but if you spend that much to get a DVD recorder, it's nice to know you get a great player as part of the deal.

Before I leave the "why would anyone want one" answer, let me tell you why I wanted one.  Just one reason - to back up video I'd recorded on my Tivo.  I'm a big-time Tivo user, and I record sports events and movies all the time.  I've expanded my Tivo's recording capacity to 130 hours by adding a hard drive (about 40 hours at top quality), but that's still finite.  I wanted a way to back-up video I'd previously recorded without suffering the poor quality of VHS.  Recording to DVD fills the bill perfectly.

Aren't there a bunch of recordable DVD standards "out there"?

Well, no.  There's really only one.  Okay, okay, there are really two.  Here's the story.

There are two goals of recording DVDs: 1) to be able to play them back on the machine you recorded them on, and 2) to be able to play them back on a "garden variety" DVD player, like all your friends have.  There are two DVD standards and they both do (1) and (2).  The only thing they don't do is play on each other's recorders.  The two standards are called DVD-R and DVD+R.  That's right, the difference is that one has a dash between DVD and R, and one has a plus.  { Who thinks of these things, anyway? }

So, to recap, if you have a DVD-R recorder, your discs can be played on any DVD-R recorder and they can be played on "garden variety" DVD players.  If you have a DVD+R recorder, your discs can be played on any DVD+R recorder and on any "garden variety" DVD player.  You cannot play DVD-R discs on a DVD+R recorder, nor DVD+R discs on a DVD-R recorder.  Okay, got that?  Excellent!

I should also mention that both standards support two kinds of discs.  The first kind of disc can only be written once - after that it is read-only.  These discs are called DVD-R or DVD+R.  The second kind of disc can be erased and rewritten as many times as you like.  These discs are called DVD-RW or DVD+RW.  Why use the read-once versions?  Well, the media for DVD-R / DVD+R are slightly less expensive than the media for DVD-RW / DVD+RW, about $4 per disc instead of $5 per disc.  And, sometimes you really don't want something to be erased, so with DVD-R / DVD+R you can be sure that it can't be overwritten.

The Sharp recorder is a DVD-R type device.  They seem to be slightly more popular than the DVD+R devices, but as noted above it really doesn't matter.  Perhaps someday one of the standards will "win", or there will be a new third standard which incorporates both, but that day seems pretty far off at the moment.

Both standards allow you to record 4.7GB of data on a disc.  This is enough for 2 hours of really high-quality video ("DVD quality"), or 4 hours of very good quality video ("SVideo quality"), or 6 hours of okay but not great video ("broadcast quality").

In my experiments the 4-hour mode was good enough for everything, including high-motion stuff like basketball.  The 2-hour mode was terrific for movies which are only about 2 hours long anyway.  The 6-hour mode was a little sketchy with the high-motion stuff; the digital artifacts of the DVD compression began to show.  It would be fine for 6 episodes of Sex in the City, but not good for Lakers vs. Kings.

A cool feature of the Sharp is that it uses a technique called VBR, or Variable Bit Encoding, which lets you specify how much video you want to record, and it adjusts the quality accordingly.  { For example, I set the machine to 2-hour mode and then told it I wanted to record a movie which took 2½ hours.  It adjusted the quality downward slightly and filled the disc with the movie. }

There are basically two ways to record video on a DVD.  First, you can record it the same way as prerecorded DVDs, a format known as "V" (for video).  If you record this way your discs will be 100% compatible with all DVD players.  V-mode discs can have new data appended, but you cannot delete anything already on the disc.  This is the only format supported by DVD-R media.  If you have DVD-RW media you can erase the whole thing and start over.

Second, if you have DVD-RW media you can record video in a format known as "VR".  This format is much like a computer disc, you can add, edit, and delete content at will.  However, VR-mode discs cannot be played back in "garden variety" DVD players, they can only be played back by your recorder (or another DVD-R recorder).  So you trade the flexibility of editing with incompatibility.

Here's a table which summarizes things...

media type






cost per blank disc



can be erased?



video format

V-mode (only)



compatible with DVD players?




can append to disc?




can add, edit, delete from disc?




As mentioned, the main reason I wanted a DVD recorder was to back up shows from my Tivo.  I am going to be backing them up onto DVD-R media in V-mode, so they can be watched on any DVD player anywhere...

Okay I want one.  Tell me about the Sharp.

You got it.  I've been checking out DVD recorders from Philips and Panasonic, and Sony is rumored to be hatching one.  But when Sharp announced their recorder it seemed to combine all the features of all the others with a better price, so I jumped on it.  By the way, this is definitely the leading edge of a new consumer product category, and prices are going to keep falling.  So if $600 seems like too much, just wait.

One thing I didn't know about the Sharp before I bought it but really appreciate now that I did is that it has an excellent manual.  Really.  It does not appear to be written in Japanese with English words, or use funky tables, or have diagrams that don't make sense.  It just takes you right through using the device.  And it starts simple and works up, so if all you want to do is put in a disc and press RECORD, you can.  On the other hand if you want to fully edit your recorded video, you can do that too, and the manual explains how.

Like most consumer electronics, the machine is driven by a remote control.  A front-panel display tells you what's going on, but this is basically fluff; the machine has a great on-TV display which is what you'll find yourself using all the time.  The remote is well organized and reasonably easy to use.  Crucially, the battery door is solidly attached and doesn't seem like it will fall off any time soon.  { If you don't think this is important, you obviously don't have as many remote controls as I do - or as many unattached battery doors. }

Connecting the device is reasonably straightforward.  It works like a VCR; you put it between your broadcast signal source (cable, satellite, etc.) and your TV.  If you have a Dolby Digital receiver, you put the DVD recorder after the source and before the receiver, which in turn drives your TV and your speakers.  The Sharp has a fiberoptic digital link for audio if you have a receiver which support this.  I have to say the sound was excellent; I tried The Matrix (of course, the standard system-test DVD!), and also some audio CDs as well as some CDs with MP3s, and it sounded great.

All the inputs and outputs support SVideo as well as Video.  If you have SVideo sources (satellite or cable) you should use them, it really makes a difference.  I could even see the difference SVideo makes when hooking up my Tivo, even though all the video on the Tivo originally came from my cable box via a standard [non-SVideo] connection.

The Sharp also supports "component output" for TVs which support it.  Basically this is a higher-quality signal than SVideo where the brightness and color information is encoded on separate cables.  I have a Sony TV which supports component output, but I could not see the difference.  Your mileage may vary.

Another nice feature of the Sharp is a front-panel connection for a video camera.  The Sharp accepts standard coaxial video input, but it also supports DV input directly.  if you have a camera with a DV output this is a terrific way to capture the video from the camera and put it on a DVD.  The DVD recorder can even control the camera through the DV link, which makes editing even cooler.  I don't have a camera with DV output (yet!) so I didn't try this, but if you do this might be worth the price of admission all by itself.

I tested the front-panel inputs by hooking up a PlayStation 2.  Yep, I recorded my kids playing SpongeBob SquarePants.  Not a DVD I will save forever, but it is nice to know it can be done :)

Like a VCR, the Sharp DVD recorder can be programmed to record particular channels at particular times.  It supports VCR+ codes if you are a fan of them; I guess it does make recording easier.  { I do all my recording on the Tivo, of course, so I am not going to use the DVD recorder's timer at all, but for many people this will be quite important. }

I mentioned editing video earlier, and this brings me to the most complex feature of the recorder which many people may never use.  The editing feature is only available with DVD-RW media recorded in the VR-mode.  (If you record in V-mode you can append new titles to a disc and do some really limited editing like setting title names, but that's about it.)  If you're in VR-mode you can create "playlists", which are essentially like the menus you see on prerecorded DVDs.   You can edit start and stop points, rearrange and rename titles, pick the still image you want to be displayed for a title, and so on.  All using pretty intuitive commands from the remote.

As a test case for this I transferred You've Got Mail from my Tivo to the recorder.  First I just recorded the whole thing, which was then a single title with a length of 2½ hours.  Then I broke the movie into separate chapters at each commercial break, editing out the commercials, picking a still frame, and naming each chapter.  This took about an hour.  I now have a DVD which can play the movie from beginning to end without interruption (2 hours), or you can bring up a menu with chapters about 5-10 minutes in length and pick the starting point, just like a prerecorded DVD.  Very, very cool.

As a final test, I transferred a basketball game; the Lakers beating the Timberwolves.  { Great game, by the way. }  I simply recorded it as I watched the game using the Tivo.  Since I routinely fast-forward through the commercials, the DVD recording has the fast-forwarding on it.  When I paused the Tivo I paused the recorder as well.  In this mode it is possible to end up with a commercial-less recording without doing any editing; just record as you watch the first time.

So that's the scoop.  I'm pretty happy with the Sharp DVD recorder, so far it is exceeding all my expectations.  Of course, someday someone will build a Tivo with a DVD recorder in the same box...



Sunday,  04/27/03  11:53 PM

The WSJ's Opinion Journal engages in Fehlervorhersagefreude: "They said what?"

Did you see this]  C|Net reports:  "A federal judge in Los Angeles has handed a stunning court victory to file-swapping services Streamcast Networks and Grokster, dismissing much of the record industry and movie studios' lawsuit against the two companies."  Wow.  Kazaa was not part of the suit, but by extension they would be exonerated as well.  I'm sure there will be an appeal, but this is the biggest defeat for record labels in their battle against file sharing so far.

I read a story in Business 2.0 (May issue) suggesting that Apple should buy Tivo.  That just doesn't make sense to me.  There is a loose analogy to the iPod business - a media device which adds value to the computer as the "digital hub" - but I really don't see it.  Apple is announcing their online music service tomorrow, that should be quite interesting.

Want to see something really cool?  Check out one pixel per meter.  Ever wonder how the Eiffel Tower compares to a Klingon Battlecruiser?  Well, now you know.

Yippee.  Dave Winer to the rescue; he explains trackbacks.  Someday in my virtual spare time I'll implement them - maybe - in the meantime it is nice to know how they work...  Essentially what they enable is that as you are reading a post or article online, you can see links to posts and articles on other sites which reference it.

I saw something really lame today, and have to share it.  Lexus is running print ads which look like the cover of a magazine called Über Auto.  The cover has the headline "Wilkommen Zu Der Wunderbar Wagen", and features excerpts from a story by Mätthias Muench: "...the World has been put on notice, again..."  At the bottom of the page in small letters, you find "Über Auto and Mätthias Muench are fictional, but you already knew that, didn't you?"

Well, I didn't already know that.  I hate the smugness of this.  They think it is so cool to pretend to be a German magazine praising a Japanese car, and then they're going to let us in on the joke, but do it in such a way as to imply we should have known anyway.  Look, if you can't find an actual magazine to praise your car, don't make one up.  This is bogus.  And please don't imply that Germans know more about cars than Americans.  Sheesh.

{ I own a Lexus and I love it.  What happened to "the relentless pursuit of perfection?" }

The Webbys are dead!  Well, not dead, but the ceremony has been cancelled.  Between the war in Iraq and SARS and airlines going bankrupt, they decided people would not want to travel to San Francisco, so they're going to do the awards online.  So be it, but I always thought the accounts of the ceremony were better than the awards themselves...

The cover story of the latest issue of Wired is now online; Re-Enter the Matrix.  I can't wait - just three more weeks!  Interestingly, in order to make this movie the filmmakers created a digital replica of "the real world" inside a computer, completely modeling everything including actors Keanu Reaves (Neo) and Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith).  You'll recall the Matrix is a simulation of Earth used to pacify humans being used as batteries.  So in order to film the Matrix, they essentially created a matrix.  Very interesting.  I wonder if I'm just a battery?


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About Me

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Correlation vs. Causality
The Tyranny of Email
Unnatural Selection
Aperio's Mission = Automating Pathology
On Blame
Try, or Try Not
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Moving Mount Fuji The Nest Rock 'n Roll
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Are You a Bright?
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visiting Titan
unintelligent design
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estimating in meatspace
second gear
On the Persistence of Bad Design...
Texas chili cookoff
almost famous design and stochastic debugging
may I take your order?
universal healthcare
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how did I get here (Mt.Whitney)?
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your cat for my car
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introducing eyesFinder
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