Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010 is knockin' our door...

Last day of the year, today. A 'glorious' decade of the most monumental fuck-up in the history of mankind is about to be gone for good. The Age of Arrogance is almost over! Praise Moses! Let's hope the coming ten years will be a lot better. I just couldn't stand another Dick or George W! Even the Pharaohs knew that fat cows came after the years of plague and misery! Easily done, if you ask me. The first decade of our (Western calendar based) 3rd Millenium sucked so stinkin' bad, that anything else we'll see in the future promises to be an improvement. Unless a meteorite hits us and we all fry to eternity... Not a snowball's chance in hell though. No way. This planet's still got a few billion years to go before it all becomes dust and fire. So, calm down. It's not over yet...

My kids, grown up for sometime now, plan celebrating New Year's Eve (or is it Old Year's... I never been able to figure this out) with their friends and partners in Ghent and Antwerp. My deary spouse (lightly napping in her armchair while 'listening' to an ABBA tune on the radio) and me, still tapping the MBPro keyboard, are about to launch into the traditional eve's passage of the last few hours of 2009 to add another unit to our dull middle-aged lives. We'll probably watch the same good ol' TV shows and eat Japanese and Greek (yep, I'm cooking tonite and when I do that it's always mixed cultures nutrition), and wait for the midnight hour to raise our bubbly "here's to hope for better health" (what else... dough we got enough to get around, inch' Allah)...  and enter another hopeful year in the cycle of life.

Spouse sounds ecstatic as she just found her candles that she's been looking for all around the house... What a joy! Six o'clock radio news reports on a lunatic up in Finland who just shot dead five folks and then shot himself too. A bonehead from Kosovo. Revenged his ex because she started seeing someone else! So what? Dickhead! Rushing to celebrate New Year with Angels and Demons... Some people!

Just drove home from a short visit to the office in Brussels. The place was practically deserted except for some addicted workaholics who were still struggling to get last minute invoices out the door and close another glorious year with record revenues, off the charts, never seen before in the history of the company. Even DHL gave up waiting on them invoices. The pick-up boyz stopped their last round at 2pm today and wouldn't come to pick those darn invoices anymore. What a shame! What did you expect? It's the bleeding December 31st, for crying out loud. Only the Flemish workaholics seem to always forget that! Most other sensible folks are already getting pissed with torrents of bubbly for hours now. That's the spirit my lads! Financial crisis she sez. BS! Yep... crisis only beats the simple minds and the honest. The "sophisticated", the risk takers, and the... corrupt will always manage to surface as the winners one way or another. C'est la vie, like the Bolsheviks used to say!

Radio plays the "Classics Top 1000". They started a few days ago and they count backwards to the top of the list. It's gonna be Bohemian Rhapsody again, I reckon, as it's been like this for as long as I remember! Most tunes are good though. It's playing Pink Floyd right now, as I type this. Supa group, if you ask me. Will never forget the Wall, and Waters performing in Berlin 20 years ago. Radio broadcast just moved to the next one... "Sweet child in time"... All time Number One for years! Deep Purple! Wow! We are getting closer to the top of the list, I reckon. It's Led Zeppelin next with Stairway to Heaven. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Another mega group! Oh, the seventies. Nobody can beat those Rock Star Semi-Gods!!! I was in my twenties and enjoyed discovering life then. And thinking that we, the youth, were on top of everything and ruling the world as we know it! Dream on! Living in Athens, Greece, as a Polytechnic student, under the boots of a bunch of macho mean junta colonels. O tempora O mores! Uriah Heep, Cockney Rebel, Jethro Tull! The Classics!

Happy New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No Comments... speaks for itself!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Every geek's wet dream...

I was window-shopping at MediaMarkt this afternoon and saw the Apple MiniDisplay to DVI convertor. Didn't last long and I had my old 21 inch Cinema Display hooked on the 27 inch i7 quad iMac. With 8G of internal memory and 512 graphics MB, this configuration turned into a dual computer hands down, one running under OSX 10.6 (Snowie) and the second running under Win 7. Now, I don't have much use for my miserable Win install other than one single app that I won't find under Mac ever (that's Microsoft Money). When I need it though, there it is, all driven from the same quad core CPU! If you told me 10 years ago that I'd live the day to see this (performing fast too, mind you) I'd have bet you were nuts. Thanks to Moore's law though, technology moves faster than anyone ever thought possible. In the shot shown here, the main monitor shows Lightroom 3.0 Beta whereas the second monitor shows my Win 7 desktop with its Personalization window. With Lightroom it's also great fun to use a second monitor within the app as well. That gives you a lot more control over your editing work.

If you add to that (to the double monitors, I mean) the "spaces" feature that OSX has generously given us, already there for a few versions now, you get a desktop real estate, just a click away, really huge! More than you will ever need. You can't possibly fill this space for all practical reasons, unless you are one of those sloppy minds who love to have twenty five apps up and running to only use one of them and not even know what the rest are doing lying there on your desktop... I'm rather lucky; I'm the 'empty' desk(top) kinda guy. Know what they say... "sloppy desk... sloppy mind, empty desk... empty mind"!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shooting with the Canon on a Sunday...

Not much else to do on a Sunday like this, when it snows cats and dogs. We might see White Christmas after all, first time since 1986! See? Copenhagen works! Cold is coming to town! Ok, some of the slideshow shots were done yesterday with blue skies, but the rest were from this morning. I did a few déjà vu's as well to use for printing our own holiday cards. The spouse seems to like them this way, as it's hers the flower arrangements shown. What a creative family we are, not? Cards are much better this way. I'm fed up with more of the same themes every year... editors tried anything that moves to create holiday cards; I guess making your own is a far more personalized alternative, innit?

Anyways, enjoy the show...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Snow in Flanders...

There's two things I like about snow in Flanders. First: Landscapes turning white. Ideal for shooting cool pics. Second: Traffic cameras get snowed up and put out of service. Problem is, roads get pretty icy too, and you'd be suicidal if you accelerated at speeds above camera thresholds. Like you coulda... in the last two days we saw more than 600 miles of traffic jams. And we only had 2 to 4 inches of snow... not the feet(s) thick snow beds they are used in northern US and Canada. Chicken-shit snow, to tell the truth, but enough to take the miserable and out of control motorway system of ours down the loo. The entire belt highway around Brussels was closed down for hours today (true story), not because there was any blizzard or snow storm, no sir, it's been sunshine all day, but someone forgot to pass a message to someone else that the de-icing service had to take an extra round on the northern belt as thick ice was forming. Eventually the motorway had to close down and get fixed. Workers struggled to get to their workplace all morning. God bless Nokia and RIM and Apple and all the rest for making mobile comms available even to the poorest of men. At least some drivers could use the time to do some 'mobile office work'!

I was 'fortunate' to taste the first messy day of the last two snow days real good... that was yesterday. I had to teach class in the campus at the center of Antwerp and had to travel about 50 miles of snowed and icy motorways. The entire segment between Gent and Antwerp was packed in all three lanes... by trucks and lorries on the two rightmost, and regular passenger cars on the fast lane. Took me an hour an a half to do 40 miles. Pretty fast, innit? Anyways, most fellow drivers behaved rather disciplined and the asphalt was somewhat de-iced, meaning we got away without any incidents.

Believe it or not, my worst nightmare came later when I entered Antwerp. De-icing is an entry you can't find in a Antwerpian dictionary. My vehicle was slipping and swaying from side to side all the way to the parking... it moved right with my steering wheel turned all the way to the left, it kept going with my brakes all the way down. I kept rather cool but if I stayed much longer in the car I felt I was about to lose my temper BIG TIME! It was a miracle I didn't get any damage to the car itself and haven't run over any pedestrians. After parking the car (finally) at the campus parking I thought seriously for a moment to book a room and spend the night in town. Just couldn't bear the idea to drive back home after my teaching was over. Thank Moses, it eventually stopped snowing and with some faint mood I managed to drive back to the motorway. Good news there, all lanes seemed mostly free and dry and I was able to get home by 8:30 pm. God bless!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Is there anything iPhones can't or won't do?

I think not! How 'bout you? If you wanna be blown away, read this article, and then come to talk to me about how right I am to be an Apple aficionado!

Sunday, fun day!

It all started with an article at Wired Magazine about the most popular iPhone apps of 2009. In that I found out about the Photoshop mobile app that is free and superb, like its desktop big brother. I added an account online at that has an interface animated to the guts and fun to watch. All done in Flash. I used to be against Flash because of the way it's been implemented within Web sites (not at all transparent), but I gotta admit, you can do real interface wonders with the tool. Some of the functions they included are related to image editing, and they offer functionality to make you publish your wonders into plenty of Web 2.0 social sites. You could also embed other photographic sites you might own (Flickr, Picasa...). Finally, you can bring your photoshop libraries within your iGoogle portal and into your Blogger or Wordpress blog (see my sidebar). Adobe claims that you can post your shots in their servers not fearing any loss from compression and such! Really!

Enough with the free stuff on iPhone. Let's buy something serious now. Back to the best selling Apps as published by Apple; curious to see, most were about navigation (Belgian store) and photo shooting. Meaning, most of us in Belgium are so freakin' blind that we can't find our way whatsoever, or shoot any descent photographs at all... which is kinda true!

I bought me two of those apps for €1.59 each. Colorsplash, and Genius. Colorsplash helps you select areas of a photograph  where you keep the color, whereas the rest is converted to B/W. Had nothing else to test, so I shot my cup of coffee on the tablecloth of ours. After editing the shot with Colorsplash I added a vignette effect with Photostudio, another app I like a lot, with more than 100 filters of which about a dozen are remarkable. Rest is a bit of déjà vu, but, anyways... They also recently updated their app by adding more filters and some interesting taxonomy grouping to ease selections... Admire my photographic "wonder" here -->

Finally Genius is a cool tool that improves camera shooting by adding functionality that iPhone's own Camera app originally missed. Anti-shake, zoom, timer, burst shoot, big button (cool!), sound capture, plus raster guides to better position your subjects and improve your framing. Not only the rule of thirds but also diagonal positions and more cool stuff. Pretty impressive!

Now you know how I spend my Sundays nowadays. Testing cool iPhone apps and blogging about them to share my enthusiasm with the rest of you, buggers.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cramer's 25 investment rules revisited!

I fell upon this page earlier today and loved it. I have been watching mad Jim for many years (from CNBC mainly) and got always irritated by his usual arrogance, but I guess that's his own choice to reflect that funny image. He has been singing in a lower tone-ladder though, last year, when he sat as a guest opposite Jon Stewart in the Daily Show.  Jon took the poor bastard to the cleaners. Big time! Poor Jim. I felt sorry for him. Looked like the entire blame for the Wall Street obscenities fell upon his shoulders that night. Jon made a scapegoat of him, for many days that followed. It was all over the blog-sphere! It's hard to be an analyst these days. Anyways, Cramer is a smart cookie and was able to survive the tsunami. Regarding what he usually says in his analysis of the market and its players, you don't really have to believe him, but it sounds pretty smart nonetheless... quite often so. As I read his 25 rules this morning, I often smiled for I remembered my own (re)actions in similar situations where I failed them rules miserably (quite an understatement). See my comments hereunder in each one of them rules to see what I mean. 

Rule 1: Bulls, Bears Make Money, Pigs Get Slaughtered.
First time I heard this was from John, my colleague CFO between 1997 and 2000. How true. I remember him stating that rule and having some heavy laughs the way he only could. Yep, pigs get slaughtered! These are the idiots who jump into the market to make an extra buck without knowing the difference between a balance sheet and a toilet-paper sheet.

Rule 2: It's OK to Pay the Taxes
Says who? Well, ok, in the US you can use your losses to cover your profits from taxation. Here though, what you lose is your problem and capital gains don't get taxed. Rule for the Yanks alone...not here!

Rule 3: Don't Buy All at Once
No Comment. It's pretty obvious, innit? Having said that, I often done this mistake. Took positions right away, instead of spreading. See, you're always afraid you're gonna miss the opportunity and buy more expensive if you wait too long.

Rule 4: Buy Damaged Stocks, Not Damaged Companies
That's a good one! That's why I stuck to AAPL even when they were trading below 100 bucks from a high of 190+ just months earlier. I knew they'd come back. I was an ass though not to sell at their highs... John does better than me on that. Far better!

Rule 5: Diversify to Control Risk
Yep, I tried that and always got screwed. I mean, you need to diversify to avoid going down the drain when all your stocks are heading south, but what with? Bonds and gold? Gimme a break! I'm like stocks and cash. The rest will only make them banks 'commission fee & transaction charges' rich.

Rule 6: Do Your Stock Homework
Provided you understand that shit! Like fundamentals and technicals and MAs and stuff! I often listened to bankers, but these poor bastards quite often know half the story too. Some will even ask you to pass your opinions and info to them instead... I'm that good, you know... (not really). If they knew it all they wouldn't spend their days helping us amateur day-traders! They'd be rich themselves, right? And sunbath their ass down in Saint-Tropez, right? So, don't always buy shit they're telling you. Go by the Big V! Verify. Like one of my ex-IBM bosses used to say. Don't expect... inspect!

Rule 7: No One Made a Dime by Panicking
Correct. My problem was more like, don't panic, it'll come back, don't sell yet... not yet... and by the time I realized I had to move my ass, it was gone too far south for me to sell and so I kept the bears and swallowed big losses.  Eh, well. It's only money... like John the Wise sez! Thank Moses, losses mostly came back, sort of... eventually. Dream on...

Rule 8: Buy Best-of-Breed Companies
I love Techs. The big boys. Like MSFT and IBM and INTC and AAPL. I worked for a semi company in the 90ies, so I still hold TXNs and thank God I got out of freaking MOT almost on time (having lost big before that). I mean, this rule 8 is easier said than done, ok?

Rule 9: Defend Some Stocks, Not All
Jim is right on that one too. I should have dropped TXN and INTC long ago and CSCO too. But I am the loyal type of guy. In marriage and in stocks. What can I say?

Rule 10: Bad Buys Won't Become Takeovers
Always stayed out of those... Some people buy bad names in deepshit trouble hoping some sod out there with deep pockets will show up and buy the losers. Not me though. This is too speculative for my taste. We had a company in this country in the hype times that went down the pissoir big time.  Lernout en Hauspie. Remember those frigtards? Plenty of 'pigs' in West Flanders took a second mortgage on their house to borrow money and give it to those losers. Jo Lernout and his mate Hauspie, founders of the mess, should have been canonized following the miracles some believed in, those days. The age of stupidity! Your beloved cash, you just said? Kissie kissie bye bye! Rule 1 of the Cramer list! What do pigs get?

Rule 11: Don't Own Too Many Names
I don't. I used to and eventually I lost on most of those that I didn't quite know well enough. You just can't be there and watch them screw up all the time, can you? Once I was convinced by the silly banker to buy in that miserable sports company from Germany, of the two brothers who kept hating each other to their grave (Adidas and Puma). Another time I had to take positions (following 'expert' advice again) in Healthcare,  Renewable Energy, and Emerging Markets in SA (Brazil and such). Even got me into "structured products" with Lehman Brothers just months before they collapsed. Yep. My banker was a genius. I hope he reads this blog. Tough shit! Don't ask. I don't even take the dude's calls anymore. I learned to stick to the industries I know and understand. High Tech! Computer stuff! Hard and software. AAPL and iPhones! And semi's. Despite TXN and INTC!

Rule 12: Cash Is for Winners
You betsa. Problem is, it never heads south, fine, but it doesn't go north either. It's no fun. Cash suckz! Buy some property instead. Not on an island though that risks to end up under water in ten years time from ice melting in the poles.

Rule 13: No Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas
Cramer is so right on this. The times I felt like he says... if I had a penny each time I said 'I shoulda' I'd be rich by now. Everyone among us seems to be an expert in predicting the future after the facts (well into the future, I mean). It takes guts to make the right decision in advance of the future though. Wanna know more about it? Trade in Puts and Calls then. You'll see what I mean real quick.

Rule 14: Expect, Don't Fear Corrections
Yeah, right. Problem is, how do you know it's a correction? If it happens to all, same time, ok, maybe. They'll come back eventually. What about a correction that never comes back? Like MOT? Yep, I'm hearing you... that wasn't a correction, you sez, it was simply a sort of management insanity that took the company to garbage status. Like most of the banks last year. Ayways. Corrections? Fine. I don't bother much about them as I am in the game for the long term.

Rule 15: Don't Forget Bonds
Sure do. I don't have that much money to waste on bonds! I mean, why lock your money into something that pays just a couple percent points above cash? So freakin' boring! Too much risk for what it is! When the shit hits the fan they go down like rocks too. Better buy gold, or a trip to Hawaii in a yacht packed with 20 year old blondes!

Rule 16: Never Subsidize Losers With Winners
I did that mistake over and over! Still do it. Don't wanna talk about it! Bleeds my heart. Shoulda woulda coulda!

Rule 17: Check Hope at the Door
I love this one. The market is run by calculated sneaky bastards who play with yours and my money all day long, so that 'hope' and 'lighting candles to Mary and Jozef' 's got nothing to do with it! Heard that, pigs? You better do or you'll end up in a kebab spit.

Rule 18: Be Flexible
I'd like to. But in this miserable continent of ours they charge you a fortune for each transaction, buy or sell. Unless you trade in options, you normally stick to your securities for the long run. One dot something percent charge, no ceiling, per transaction. That's why bankers get so stinkin' rich. They do nothing, take no risk at all and still get money out of your misery, whether you buy or sell... regardless.

Rule 19: When the Chiefs Retreat, So Should You
He may be right on this one... I am not too sure though. Who knows why chiefs abandon ship most of the time? Some even get sacked. Good captains don't go away. If they do, they might have been lousy in their job when in charge. I couldn't say. This is kinda tough call.

Rule 20: Giving Up on Value Is a Sin
Not applicable to me. After burning my underpants multiple times, I ended up trusting myself (and my good pal John, God bless him) far more than I trust them banking experts!

Rule 21: Be a TV Critic
I am. Those freaking Financial analysts (with a few exceptions counted in the fingers of one hand) are all the same. Each day of the week they get the same stupid reasons to explain the market or individual stocks moving either in one or another direction. I'd like to know who starts the wave every single day. Ridiculous. Same reason we hear them say was behind a market crash one day moves the whole lot sky-high the following day. These folks are so full of it! Agree?

Rule 22: Wait 30 Days After Preannouncements
I sort of developed some gut feel for the stocks I know well. I don't listen to preannouncements anyway. That's for short term opportunists and those who're chicken scared they might lose a penny or two. There are some who put their cash in a myriad notes inside banksafes built under lakes. Not my kind of people...

Rule 23: Beware of Wall Street Hype
To think that he's one of them... well done Jim. I salute you! Yep, everybody knows that those fancy Wall Street boys are the scam of the Earth. With some big sharks on top of the pile. Easy money is written in their forehead. Nowadays they do it with HFT tricks and leave their computers do their dirty laundry.

Rule 24: Explain Your Picks
I do... most of the times. Except when I followed the advice of 'wise' bankers as I often did in the past. Not anymore. I do hear what they have to say, but then try to verify the info and get convinced by what I read next in 25 different 'trustworthy' net blogs and other newsreels. Maybe 30.

Rule 25: There's Always a Bull Market
I know. That's why I still stick around with them stocks. I might have put everything I got in a cheap safe instead, right? Above the ground though. Lakes might leak!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lessons in Chinese... a pictograph a day keeps the Mandarin away

I luv 'em Chinese! I mean their pictographs! Look this one shown here left. A double sign of "happiness" meaning "marital bliss". And the happiness pictograph itself is the sign of a drum upon an (open) mouth. Go figure! All you need to find happiness in China is beat a drum and sing along! Cool! Or is it, beat the drum with your mouth? WTF?! LMAO!

There are thousands like this. One I like a lot is the sign of a woman. Looks like a (kneeling) woman (with some imagination) with her legs crossed. Put two of them (woman) pictographs together and you get... quarrel! Put three together and you get adultery! Why three for crying out loud? If you got just one extra, are you telling me, you're still fine? I'll go tell my spouse that! I'm off to China for the rest of me days, folks... Or is it because they definitely wanted two women to mean quarreling? And they therefore needed a minimum of three to tell "messing around"? Who knows? Don't you believe me? Check this source and find out for yourselves.

The other one that proves the centuries long respect of the Chinese for their women is the one shown here right. Means a Slave. The sign on the left is the woman. The one next to it is the sign of a Master's hand! A woman under a master's hand is a slave! Right on!

You still think Chinese pictographs are hard to learn? Start learning and you won't stop rolling on the floor laughing your ass off! I'm telling you, I haven't had such fun in a long time, ever since I started studying them buggers.

My iTunes crashes upon plugging the iPhone...

Spouse (serial) complaining about quality of music I put on her iPhone. I'm like, ok, I'll sync something more your taste honey, gimme a sec. Next thing, I launch iTunes and connect her 2G iPhone to the MacBook. And keep waiting for the hourglass to settle down. In vain! What the heck? 'Force Quit' shows iTunes 'stopped responding'. Say what? First time I seen this. Honest! I force-quit iTunes and unplug the iPhone. Start iTunes again and all seems fine. Connect my iPhone this time... all seems to work fine too. Connect the spouse's phone next, iTunes crashes like a Ferrari at 150mph into a brick wall! Enough to piss you off for the rest of the (Sun)day!

Off to the net looking for more miserable sods like me who got the same issue. The net seems clogged from chat-forum postings complaining about this. Somebody sez "connecting a 500 bucks phone to my three grand super trooper computer, both from the same company and still not working! WTF!" A block suggested to reinstall iTunes! C'm on! Piss off! I wouldn't even know where to start for this. Somebody else suggests to "repair disk permissions". A dude, seemingly from the nerdy Windows crowd is like, "Permissions? Where do I find those?"... Get a life dude! Join the Apple crowd to see the light! Not?

Long story short, many complaints like that all over the 'cloud'. But no solution in sight. Only shitloads of strange theories like those you find in chat forums in the millions. Until I fell upon this dude whose remedy made me LMAO.

He's like: "all you got to do, is to get rid of any stored podcasts you might have in iTunes". On a Sunday morning, you don't need much more to ROFL. Anywayz. I'd give it a try!

Holy donkey who carried Mary and Jesus to Egypt! It just worked! Unbelievable! Incredible! I mean, when I first read about this 'fix', it sounded like having to delete a certain... Stones song from your music collection to fix your iPhone. Right? I fokkin' hate software! Oh, the intricacies of the iTunes object code! What stuff did these Apple folks smoke the day they coded the iPhone syncing functions? Makes you wonder...

Needless to say, the spouse enjoys once more the "Best of" her all time faves Salvatore Adamo and Roy Orbison, like no-one. And I found my peace again...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Flamenco in Oudenaarde

Flamenco is a Spanish music genre, originally created by Andalusian gypsies, that many of us, tens of millions really, like you and I love to our heart. I often enjoyed the music on radio, movies or CDs but never had the opportunity to watch a live performance. Until yesterday. A group of five artists, from Sevilla itself, going with the name of DOS, were here yesterday in our home town of Oudenaarde, East Flanders. By the way, "coming from Flanders" is translated in Spanish as Flamenco, because native Spaniards believed that gypsies arrived in Andalusia from Flanders... In all honesty, I haven't met that many gypsies in Flanders in more than 30 years!

I coudn't resist using my iPhone and live record a tune or two. I loved one song in particular, and had I been much younger, I might have danced on my chair and shout Olé with the rest of the crowd. With the spouse next to me though, who would dare do such a thing... Whatever! Here it is for you to enjoy too. Has got something to do with 'Vida' (life), I think, and I would appreciate if someone recognized the lyrics and post them here as comments. It really sounds so cool that song!

Anyway, there's no way to describe the virtuosity of the guitar players and the group's couple of flamenco dancers. Simply A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! The two guitar players, El Rizos and Diego Rocha were like from another planet. I had the impression these dudes had at least 8 fingers in each of their hands. Each one played one guitar but you had the impression there was a whole orchestra with at least a dozen guitars on stage. The group's female singer, Carmen Fernandez, sang so typical flamenco and the concert hall was literally shaking from the volume of her voice. You could feel it inside your guts. And then, there were those two flamenco dancers... a couple, Irene Alvarez and Federico Ordonez... What could I add here?! I rather shut my mouth, or I risk to spoil it for y'all.

Would you honestly believe a performance like that could ever have a snowball's chance in hell to take place in our little 'hole' in the middle of nowhere, our very own Oudenaarde of all places? I wouldn't...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm a Turk! I'm leavin' this cunt country (sic) for good!

Hilarious and tragic. I wish you understood Dutch to grasp the dialog. In summary, a TV crew accompanies a Dutch Highway Patrol chasing offensive drivers. In this clip, they appear to be chasing an S-Class Merc at 167 km/h in an area of 100 km/h legal limit, that eventually appears to be driven by a Turkish immigrant, resident in the Netherlands since 30 years. The dude initially reacts cool (within limits) and tries to excuse himself that he's been talking to his passengers, whom he picked in Brussels, and that he didn't pay much attention to his dashboard... bla... bla... bla... but, when he hears the officer saying that, at that speed he was gonna lose his driver's license, the dude goes literally bananas. The saddest part of the incident is that he starts blaming the policemen for 'racism' and 'jealousy' because he happens to be a Turk and driving a S-Class Mercedes. Quite a few immigrants in the Low Lands (that includes Belgium too) try singing that song to defend themselves against local authorities. It's so bloody pathetic. And then, he starts cursing the country itself (kutland, kut=cunt) and the police officers. Then, he turns to offend the camera crew (calls them klootzakken=testicles)... Admit it! In 30 years the dude became quite fluent in Dutch slang!

What a monumental ass! I mean, really, if you know a more tolerant place on our planet than the Netherlands, please tell me... I'll move there tomorrow. I wish the dude tried this in Turkey. They'd beat the livin' shit outta him, throw him behind bars and let him rot there... to only let go after he paid them the equivalent of his S-Class in bribes... small notes! Remember Midnight Express? Or, for fun, he should try that behavior in another Western country... kinda like Texas for a change. Patrol officers would first shoot his brains off his skull onto the pavement, and then... cuff him!

Morale of the story: Dutch Patrol Officers are way too cool!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Big Government suckz!

A good friend of mine from the UK, and one of my best regular suppliers of Internet jokes, sent me this one this morning, being both hilarious and tragic at the same time . But so true! Enjoy the reading as much as I did:

A letter from a concerned citizen to a UK Government Service:

"Dear  Sirs,
I'm in the process of renewing my passport, and still cannot believe this. How is it that Sky Television has my address and telephone number and knows that I bought a bleeding satellite dish from them back in 1977, and yet, the Government is still asking me where I was bloody born and on what date.
For Christ sakes, do you guys do this by hand?  My birth date you have on my pension book, and it is on all the income tax forms I've filled for the past 30 years. It is on my National Health card, my driving license, my car insurance, on the last eight damn passports I've had, on all those stupid customs declaration forms I've had to fill out before being allowed off the plane over the last 30 years, and all those insufferable census forms.
Would somebody please take note, once and for all, that my mother's name is Mary Anne, my father's name is Robert and I'd be abso-fucking-lutely astounded if that ever changed between now and when I die!!!!!!
I apologize, I'm really pissed off this morning. Between you an' me, I've had enough of  this bullshit!  You just sent this application to my house, then you ask me for my fucking address !!!!
What is going on?  Do you have a gang of Neanderthal arseholes workin' there?  Look at my damn  picture.  Do I look  like Bin Laden?  I don't want to  dig up Yasser Arafat, for shit sakes.  I just want to go and park my arse on some sandy beach somewhere. And would someone please tell me, why would you give a shit whether I plan on visiting a farm in the  next 15 days?   If I ever got the urge to do something weird to a chicken or a goat, believe you me, you'd be the last fucking people I'd want to tell!
Well, I have to go now, 'cause I have to go to the other end of the poxy city to get another fucking copy of my birth certificate, to the tune of £30.  Would it be so complicated  to have all the services in the same spot to assist in the issuance of a new passport the same day?? Nooooooooooooo, that'd be too damn easy and maybe makes sense. You'd  rather have us running all over the fuckin' place like chickens with our heads cut off, then have to find some arsehole to confirm that it's really me on the damn picture - you know, the one where we're not allowed to smile?! (bureaucratic fuckin' morons) Hey, do you know why we couldn't smile if we wanted to?
Because we're totally pissed off!
An Irate Citizen.
P.S. Remember what I said above about the picture and getting someone to confirm that it's me?  Well, my family has been in this country since 1776 ........ I have served in the military for something over 30 years and have had full security clearances over 25 of those years enabling me to serve my country all over the world. However, I have to get someone 'important' to verify who I am - you know, someone like my doctor WHO WAS BORN AND RAISED IN FUCKING PAKISTAN !
You Sure The Hell Should Know Who."


Sunday, November 8, 2009

ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα

One (ἓν) I know (οἶδα) that (ὅτι) I know (οἶδα) nothing (οὐδὲν)! In other words: I know f@ck all! That's about what Sokrates (to whom the quote is attributed) must have said and thought when he spoke that quote sometime during the 5th century BC. What he didn't say though is how frustrating it must be to realize its deep meaning for oneself. We all learn things during our short lives, and often we are so proud of what we know, at least some of us, and consider ourselves big shot SME's (sounds cool, innit... it stands for Subject Matter Experts - Wow!). And we even walk around with our heads leaning left or right from the weight of our overcharged neurons... true story! Problem is, brain neurons are finite. The more knowledge we accumulate each day the more neurons get connected in our brains to form the new memory of the things we just learned, but, gosh, there's gotta be a limit to those connections. And then, as your brain gets busy connecting more neurons, you must be darn sure there's another bunch of neurons some place else in your skull that goes bananas... if it didn't your brain would just explode and even Greg House wouldn't be able to save your ass. So, you wake up one bright morning having forgotten your login password (that's still ok), and as you follow the procedure to recover it from the system (here's the hard bit), the system's like, (...secret question): What is your mother's maiden name? No shit! And you are like...Euh... Euh... WTF! My God, I got Alzheimers! I forgot my mom's name!

Well, as we age, some of these connections naturally fall apart... they must do! (Gosh, what a lesson in pseudoscience you are getting from me today! Whatever...) I'm a living proof of this! I've been residing in this country since mid seventies, but before then I was born, raised, and resided in Greece, all in Greek... until I came here to Belgium to seek and find my 'fortune' in the rich West.

My parents only spoke Greek and no foreign tongue whatsoever, except for my mom, who during the war did learn a few German words from a tiny little book that Nazi's distributed to the natives for propaganda (they might have thought they'd stay there for ever, filthy morons!). And she used to sing to me "Wie einst Lili Marleen...' into the fifties and sixties... And I also remember my grandpa's few swearing 'English' words Yankee style, that he learned when he tried moving to the US at the turn of the century, and worked for six months in an Illinois slaughterhouse, until he realized "it ain't no better place than that good 'ol Smyrna* home". A strike of luck that was. He came back to his wife and newly born twins indeed and later conceived his last daughter, my mom! I wouldn't be here to write this if it wasn't for that funny thought who sent him back home from Chicago. The Butterfly effect! We are all children of Chaos!

Ten years into this country, that's more than 20 years ago now, I came to realize that, indeed, I wasn't capable of forming one descent sentence in the language I had written my Master's thesis on Marine Engineering back in 1975! Forgot my mother tongue all-fokking-together!!! Jesus-Mary-Josef! I was ashamed to admit it. But it's still like this. Cross me! Shoot me! I'll have to work for days to translate any single of these blogs of my own writing into my mother tongue! Yep... those damn language neurons in my skull gave way to new formations for my learning of Dutch and French. And so, I ended up as someone who can't speak one single language properly! A real shame!

One thing I hadn't forgotten though, never ever. Counting and swearing! I don't know about counting, but swearing only feels good when you do it in your mother tongue, trust me! Don't know why, but that's the way it is. You'll never forget swearing. I still remember hilarious moments of flabbergasted compatriots of mine who met me after all these years to find out that I couldn't even phrase the very basics, but still remained more than fluent in swearing and counting. Even so, I hadn't lost my Alexandroupolis accent of the North East either (με και σε) despite the five years I spent in college, in Athens. How about my non-Greek colleagues laughing their ass off hearing me giving hours long lectures in Dutch or English but still fall back to my mother tongue to do simple arithmetics (προπαίδεια). Curious, innit? I'm sure some real scientists will have an explanation for all this.

Is there hope for us? If you believe Ray Kurzweil and the folks of The Long Now Foundation, there must be. By Ray's beliefs, there's soon to be the singularity point (in say, fifty years something or even less) when computers will become smarter than man, and when, nanobot implants in our brains would connect us subconsciously via some sort of future wireless connectivity to large knowledge bases and instantaneously turn us into Nobel Prize laureates! Or something. I said that once to a friend and she was like, I'm glad I'll be dead by then! How about you? Do admit though, with our human knowledge accumulating at the pace we witness today, unless something like those intelligence enhancing nanobots came up, our great-great-grand children will have to go to school until their mid thirties to even learn how to sell shoes... or they'll have to become Utopia citizens on another planet like those armchair lying fatsos we saw in Wall-e!


*Yep, my family from my mother's side initially lived in a small village not far from Smyrna (modern day Izmir), until they got pushed into the Eastern Aegean sea by the Kemal troops during the last and largest Greek-Turkish conflict almost 100 yrs ago... Was a tough war... both sides forgot their 'human origins' and acted like the filthiest vermin, cutting young pregnant women with their bayonets to massacre unborn babies out of their mother's womb. Yep, both Greek and Turkish 'soldiers' loved that sport!

Saturday, November 7, 2009


As I was relaxing yesterday after a 'hard' day's work (no shit) and minding my own business, I decided to watch this week's Cranky Geeks videocast with Dvorak & Co. At a given moment they started a conversation about this iPhone app, called Looptastic that I never heard before. One of the cranks on the show started demoing a tune while composing the song in real time, based on samples (created earlier) turned into mashup loops. Watch the YT clip to see how it works. The whole thing was taking place on his iPhone that he had connected to a set of amplified loudspeakers. The app has a free version with some free loops as well. Those of you with an iPhone or iPod Touch, go download it and have fun. There are various versions of Looptastic but I went to buy the Gold version (a few dollars worth). They also offer in-app purchases of additional loops. For less than 4 dollars you can buy a loop edition (Hip-Hop, Ambient, Progressive House, Minimal House, ...) Each edition is subdivided in 10 groups of 10 loops each. You can't combine loops from two different groups, mind you.

Once you start 'composing' you let your creativity fly... loads of useless crap comes out for sure. Eventually you are ready to go for a pro recording... you start from scratch again and play your loops  to your heart's desire, just like a pro DJ (like the kid on the clip, with electronic effects and all). Eventually you decide to close down your session; you then save your next 'platinum' track under some cool killer name. Next, you export all your tracks you recorded into your PC or Mac . That works via your home WLAN (in AIF sound format). The app establishes a wifi pipe using HTTP, meaning you just start your browser and link to a resource that Looptastic told you to go look for. You find a nice page with all your 'creative compositions' sitting there one by one. A simple click on any of them and there fly the megabytes from your iPhone into the downloads folder in you laptop storage, or whatever other box you care to use.

After importing,  I normally use Audacity (free and cool) for some minor sound edits and then import the MP3s to iTunes. From there on the route to the National hit-parade is only a matter of days! Go check one of mine here... Why did I call that one 'pirates', you sez??? Don't ask!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Autumn colors in Meise

This is my favorite season of the year. Nature at its best. As I am constantly progressing deeper into the 'seniors' demographic and see my own kids growing to adults and dealing with adult challenges themselves (building a family, paying the mortgage, looking for a well paying job), things that seem to have happened to me only 'yesterday', I am feeling I'm getting closer to the inevitable conclusion of the final act, whenever it might come... More so as I see the season greens turning to yellows and reds before vanishing into the dark browns and blacks, at the end of autumn into the upcoming winter. In the words of Jim Morrison: This is the end, beautiful friend...

I love the view and smell of the colors of the fall, and I must have shot thousands shots of autumn scenes in my life. Especially in this country, with its rich plantation, woods and fertile ground, it is a pleasure to the eye to walk in parks and feel the passage of time reflected in the colors of plant leaves, from spring to winter.

It was my spouse's idea to visit the National Botanic Gardens at Meise, a northern suburb of Brussels, right off the A12 near its junction with the peripheral highway of the city. The both of us, accompanied by a dear friend who knew the place quite well, have since long planned our visit here, yesterday October 28th. I've heard of Meise and certainly seen the name on roadsigns and milestones, often driving past, but never heard of the botanic gardens in more than 30 years I live in this country. What a moron?!

It seemed like the garden of Eden in autumn, much richer than the Royal Gardens in Laeken, and always open to the public for a modest entry fee. A huge park, that we could only walk thru for one third in three hours, thus we are definitely coming back! There was also a castle, a shop and a tropical garden grown in a greenhouse; there were two greenhouses in fact, but we only visited one of them. We even saw fairy looking yellow orchids and flesh eating flowers inside a reincarnation of the Rain Forrest  in one of the conservatories! Spooky! One of the rooms was kept under high temperatures and humidity that I didn't dare enter for fear of ending like a slaughterhouse sweated pig... There was also that chamber with thousands of different sorts of cactii, if you happen to like them.

Check out the pictures I shot there for a better feeling of the experience.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Have they cracked it this time?

After a long-long wait, counting down from the launch of Vista onwards, the Windows crowd could 'breath' again this week. Starting October 22nd they got the chance to throw a few dear beans over the counter and buy the long expected painkiller, also known as Windows 7. Nowadays, it is right after new OS launches by Microsoft that I find myself testing Windows too... each time the Redmond kids launch a new OS version, for kicks and healthy curiosity I get my arms around a Windows box and try to taste the goodies, if any...

I've got a native Wintel box (from HP, I think, single processor, from before the Duo's appeared) and half a dozen Intel Macs (MacBooks, iMacs, mini Macs, the works). Ever since Parallels has brought virtual spaces to the Macworld, I always try to test Windows on both hardware architectures, a Mac box (any one would do) and a native Wintel box (clone or brand). So far my experience has shown that Windows installs perform much snappier on a Mac box (under Parallels) than on any of my other 'horsepower' comparable Wintel boxes.

How about Windows 7 then? Well, if you happen to have no clue what the 'Mac experience' is like, and all you used in your life were Windows or Linux OSes, then prepare for a pleasant surprise. Win 7 installs lightning fast (on my MacBook Pro it did that in less than 15 min, even beating any Mac OSX install I can recall) and it's quite snappy in its use. Definitely better than any of my previous Windows experiences on Mac hardware. Must say though, Parallels just sent a brand new upgrade of their latest version to the world, only 24 hours ago. I have no clue what this was, but I suspect it's got something to do with Win 7. Anyways, it seems to work. I could even imagine a life of doing some useful tasks on Win 7. I mean, it's not bad at all. Except for some ridiculous wallpapers that keep changing by default, that is... All those nasty pop-ups that Vista used to throw to users asking to confirm actions seem to have been reduced to a minimum. Win 7's look and feel is still very much Vista-like but quite snappier. On my HP box though, don't know why, Win7 took ages to install and kept spinning the drive, sounding like a calcium clogged coffee machine!

Nevertheless, Windows will still be Windows. Try to change a keyboard language in Win 7, for instance. And count the panels, tabs and box ticks you need to go thru to get there. Then, do the same on a Mac, to see how simply such things could actually be done... I rest my case.

As I was checking one of the configuration panels, my eyeball stuck on a menu command saying "Restore and install hidden updates". It was a trivial and common panel where I saw that command. Not the kind of obscure techie pop-ups with gibberish commands that only pro's know how to get to and what to do with. I'm like, WTF is this again?!?. I mean, ok, fine, I understand what it sez, but, golly... Why should any double digit IQ moron who'd only use a computer to do a few mails a day, some 3D gaming, maybe some Facebook shit, and also search celeb gossip on tabloids like MSN, would have to be served with menu commands like this? Dear Borg, when are you going to get this in your Homer Simpson sized brain? End users are no techie geeks like your Microsofties! Capice? Who needs shit like that in front of his gob. Gosh! Will they ever learn?!

Interesting things happened to me with IE8 too. Of course IE8 installs by default with Win7, and every time I launched it, it kept asking me whether I wanted it to become my default browser (hell, NO!). Mind you, there was no other browser installed at the time... Anyways, I tried next to test it on a rather sophisticated, in terms of implemented functionality and browser interactivity, homepage. I was honestly shocked to find out that it actually... played ball! Wow! I'm impressed!

Next thing, I tried to post something new on this blog, using, what else, Blogger. But IE8 was no go. Not good! Sucked! Nothing happened! Like Emanuel cried in Faulty Towers: No-Thing! The Blogger editor came out with no tool icons... unbelievable!

I then tried to download and install Google Chrome instead. I knew Chrome could tackle Blogger just fine. I also like Chrome for its simplicity and speed. Fastest browser on the planet. It may also turn out to be the best browser available one day. The way I normally do these things is search Google to look for the download server of the software I am interested in. As IE8 natively forced me into Bing, I wanted to change its default search engine to Google. In earlier versions, the Google engine was one of the proposed options. Not anymore though. I actually had to enter the whole URL address explicitly in the IE8 input field to get to google search. Anyways, once arrived at the Chrome homepage I started the install procedure but within less than 20 secs the process crashed. Tried again, crashed again! Just couldn't do it. Peculiar, as there were no known problems before, at least not in the Win 7 RC version I tested few months ago. Long story short, I then downloaded Firefox to make Blogger work... this time Firefox installed with no glitches. Is Microsoft 'facilitating' the Google experience when you're trying to install Chrome? Or did this just happen to me? Let me know if you haven't experienced the same...

Eventually, I ended up creating this post under Win7 and Firefox. Seems to have worked so far (no crashes or glitches).

Morale of the story. Win 7 will probably turn out a cool Windows... to the Win faithful, at least. Under the assumption of course, if you want the best experience, have it run on Mac hardware. Mark my words!

UPDATE: Jeez, I just found out how to change the default search engine to Google... IE8 offers plenty of search engine choices... two pages in fact. A dozen of them per page. I only found out this morning. Google appears nowhere in the first page. It is the first option in the second page though... kinda sleek! LMFAO!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is this the end of the Borg?

Last weekend the NYT published a tough article about Microsoft and about the Borg that made some real fokkin' ripples... I'd be really worried if I were in their shoes. Especially Ballmer's. Is this a pre-announcement of his ultimate going down the drain? With all his billions and stuff? The sad story is that the article is right in most of its arguments. I hold some MSFT stock myself and I can tell you, ever since the Borg took the company's reign in his hands MSFT sucks! And, want it or not, the market is the best judge of a company's management efficiency. Microsofties will tell you that Gates drove the company in disarray and left it entirely confused. However, trust me dudes, during the Gates days Microsoft dominated the headlines every single day - incl. the weekends -, the stock was flying high just like AAPL and AMZN do nowadays, and the world worshipped his Gateness to death! Microsofties will still tell you that the Borg sorted out the mess Bill left behind... Who knows... they might be right. Problem is, today the company looks as gray, bureaucratic, arrogant and incompetent as IBM was before Lou 'Nabisco' Gestner took control.  Among other excuses, the entire IBM executive Board would give you then all the 'proper' executive reasons why they monumentally fucked up in their dealings with a Mickey Mouse company called Microsoft, while its young 'nerd' CEO, William Gates III, wiped away all the relevant IPRs from under their nose, and eventually developed Windows at IBM's expense, to walk out as the richest nerd on the planet less than ten years later. Sounds familiar?

Well folks, Borg's Microsoft smells very much like IBM then... without the innovation bit. Indeed IBM developped some of the most advanced innovations that changed the face of the earth in technology terms. They even got a Nobel Prize (at least one dude on their payroll did, working in their Labs). Microsoft has stolen most of what it's got. In the words of Daniel Lyons, a.k.a. FSJ:

... look, the Borg has never been out ahead on anything. The difference is, they used to be able to catch up. They've always been copiers. That's been their business model from the start. Let others go out and create a market, then copy what they've done, sell it for less, and crush them. They got into the OS business by stealing DOS from someone else. They created Windows by stealing Apple's ideas. They got into desktop apps by copying Lotus and WordPerfect and then having the bright idea to bundle all the stuff into one cheapo suite. They pulled the trick off again with Internet Explorer versus Netscape, in the late 90s -- that was the last time they were able to let someone get out ahead of them and then pivot and copy and give it away free and take them over. By the end of the 90s they had broken through 50% market share in browsers, and that was it for Netscape.

But what happened after that? This is what we were wondering. Larry says two things happened. One, the Borg got slower. They got big and fat and bureaucratic. Two, everyone else got faster. Look at Google. They got so big so quickly that there was no way for the Borg to claw them back. Same for all these other Web businesses. Amazon, Ebay, Skype, Facebook, Twitter. They came out of nowhere, and what they were doing was free, so the Borg couldn't just do a crappy knockoff and sell it for less. They were up against free -- the Web companies were using their own strategy against them.

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gates Wisdom

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world..

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!
Rule 2: The world doesn't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's all about the glass...

There are many aspects that make a photograph look great. Composition, drama, contrast, color, subject, the scene's content and/or message, the (catching of a) moment. My personal favorite however is sharpness. The level of detail and resolution that is present in a photograph is almost a personal obsession. Especially in portrait photography. I know that most subjects, especially female, don't like their skin texture shown sharply in their portraits; they'd ask the photographer to hide away all little spots and irregularities and definitely avoid showing wrinkles and skin pores. To achieve that in digital photography nowadays is a trivial task indeed, done in a heartbeat, as any Photoshop practitioner can promptly assure you. In addition to any 'corrections' like these, many subjects prefer additional 'soft focus' applied to eliminate skin texture even further.

On the other hand, all great portrait photographers usually go for the sharpest detail their glass can capture. In the days of Kodak and Agfa B/W negatives, they'd boost sharpness and texture detail by using low ISO ratings first, high contrast studio lighting next (usually strobes with honeycombs), and by subsequently underexposing and then pushing development times to achieve sharpest possible texture, and smallest grain possible. Karsh's work is a classic example of this. As most of his work, one of his portraits of George Bernard Shaw was an exceptionally sharp photograph in which you could count one by one all of Shaw's hairs in his beard and mustache... of course the Great Yousuf used large format field cameras with 'huge' surface negative plates that could capture all that detail rather 'easy'. Ten years ago, I saw an original Karsh copy of Shaw's portrait hanging in the... restrooms of the Sterling Software offices at the company's Crescent Court HQ in Dallas, Texas!  I mean, can you just believe this? A Karsh in the restrooms? Self-made Texan billionaire entrepreneur Sam Wyly, owner of Sterling Software, used to decorate the offices with expensive artwork, to the extent a Karsch was only good enough for the restrooms! But this is another story...

Few days ago I came across the shots of someone going under the name Simon_01 on Flickr.  Simon's lucky enough to own an H3DII Hasselblad medium format DSLR. Maybe he won the Euromillions, who knows. These things cost north of 15K euro's the cheapest, incl. a normal focal length objective (80mm) and will certainly produce images of exceptional sharpness quality. Click Simon_01's male portrait above to 'experience' the sharpness we are talking about. Yep, it is an experience!

Think about that: Simon's portraits are shot from a distance of 3 to 5 feet from the subject, minimum. As you check out the sharpness captured by the Carl Zeiss glass on the H3DII-31mpx sensor, you just can't believe the level of detail. You can count this guy's pores and hairs hands down. I mean, to be able to observe most facial details shown on that shot on the live subject, you'd actually need a magnifying glass a few inches above his face, right? These cameras capture almost medical level detail from a distance that certainly qualifies as non trivial! This Zeiss glass is capable of the weirdest sharpness ever seen on a photograph! No wonder pro's like Erwin Olaf use no other than Digital Hasselblad gear with Zeiss glass in their studio work!

Anyways, as I can't afford an H series Swede or I ever will, I went to test the next best outfit I could afford. A Nikon D200 with a 'portrait' ideal lens, the Nikon 60mm 1:2.8D. I used a ten sq. feet Elinchrome softbox as my front lighting, and a secondary strobe with honeycomb on the model's left side. I shot a few pictures at 10mpx resolution, which is one third of Simon's H3DII-31's full pixel range. I used as low an ISO rating as I possibly could. The level of detail achieved this way, without any software sharpening involved (see picture to the right), is still impressive by normal DSLR standards. Click on each of the two shots shown here (Simon's and mine) and compare. You can then see why a Hasselblad will still cost you seven to ten times more. Remarkably far better resolution and sharpness, not to mention dynamic range and skin tones.  Nevertheless, the question still remains. How obsessive should someone be about technical quality in photography to still keep dreaming about owning one of these ultimate boxes? That is the question...

UPDATE: For those of you who are curious about whether one could further improve on a captured image and create the illusion of better sharpness by applying some minimal level software corrections (via On-One and Lightroom tools), take a look at an 'improved' version of my previous image with sharpness and color balance adjusted.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Everything you'd like to know about Telenet but you were afraid to ask...

Well, I'm not gonna be as ambitious as this blog title suggests, but I reckon, some of the things I learned by riding a road full of bumps in my quest to make an Internet of Things working in our house could benefit a few, especially those living in this country and renting Triple Play from Telenet, one of the largest and certainly the fastest local cable broadband provider.

I have reached a moron geek status to such a degree that I use, not one, not even two... but three (!) glorious Digital TV set-top boxes, two of them with recording capabilities and one without, just a channel decoder. The recorders, called Digicorders by Telenet, offer additional interactivity by connecting via Ethernet to Telenet's residential cable modem. Now that I'm thinking about it, the simple decoder, a.k.a. Digibox, might do the same too... I could verify this in a heartbeat, but right now I'm kinda lazy to leave my desk...

In fact, as the Telenet cable comes in thru the wall, it meets a splitter that separates the signal into one group riding the coax cables towards our TV sets, and a second entering a dedicated 'modem' that is used to provide service to the remaining two components of our Triple Play, i.e. Internet and Telephony. The Internet connectivity from that point on relies on just one Ethernet output on the modem itself. Thus, if one wants to connect routers and/or any other Ethernet appliances to that same output, one will have to use a separate 'port multiplier' hub. I've got one of these myself, and use it to connect my two Digicorders, and one Apple Time Capsule router. All three of them  instantaneously receive their unique IP #'s as soon as they get plugged into the hub. This is very much an improvement, as in the past with Telenet, at least for routers, if you happened to change the device that they had recorded in their databases via its unique MAC address, you had to wait three quarters of an hour to get a new IP reallocated. They just didn't want you to serve multiple computers those days (the days before routers, that is) or else you had to buy multiple access subscriptions (horny bastards). A huge hemorrhoids pain, if you ask me. Now this is gone and IPs are generously distributed as soon as you connect your cables.

What I found out the hard way though is that the theory often breaks down on the following detail: Having Digicorders and routers plugged into the same hub, and especially, if your router(s) were the last to connect, IP allocation conflicts may occur and prevent routers from receiving a valid IP address from the Telenet Mothership. You have to connect these devices in the following order sequentially to avoid any problems:  routers first, set-top boxes next, one by one.

Second thing I recently experienced, and I'm not quite sure if this is happening to everybody else in a similar situation, the moment a second set-top box gets plugged-in the hub, the router 'loses' its IP address and disconnects from Internet. I repeated the experiment a few times yesterday with always the same result. Not much of a deal though, as I am not using set-top box interactivity a lot anyway, so one connected box out of three will suffice.

Morale of the story: If you are a tech-geek nuts like me and you're using similar appliances as I described above, beware of too many Ethernet boxes seeking IP # allocations, when connected via the same hub. They might jeopardize your PC/Mac Internet connectivity and you'll think most of the time that the problem in in the router and/or your computers and even your Ethernet cables. It might still be there, but try some experimentation first before you condemn the wrong appliances and boxes, like connecting your computer(s) and router(s) directly to your cable modem (bypassing your hub) to see if they still can get a legitimate IP adress that way.

... Sure! ... You're welcome!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My grapes of wrath are... getting popular!

I recently moved them grapes into a Flickr group where members post their masterpieces painted with iPhone Brushes. All of a sudden, months after their original upload to Flickr, my grapes of wrath, that I first 'painted' last spring, instantly became quite popular among the "experts". I keep getting emails every other day from Flickr about new comments posted to my few digital drawings, 'painted' on my iPhone with Brushes and on my iMac with a Wacom pen and tablet. With a little more than a dozen comments on just a few digital drawings this is by far not such a big deal, if you think that really popular postings, mainly photographs, receive hundreds of comments by viewers. However, this is the first time postings of mine receive any attention whatsoever. One needs to start somewhere, innit?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why computers will eventually screw us!

As I opened my Blogger dashboard to edit a new blog yesterday I was faced with the statement in red (click for sharper view) shown in the screen capture left. Apparently some algorithms invented by geniuses decided that this blog, running here for more than two years, is a spam. Spam blogs generate an immense amount of postings, it seems, with cheap content and a gazillion links to same pages on the net. Maybe. I don't know. I haven't come across any of that for almost 20 years I'm surfing the net. Or maybe I have. I can't tell. Anyways, the blogger bots decided I am a spammer... I'm sure they'll have to rethink their algorithms as they remind me of the antispam engines of my employer stopping systematically legit mails to allow viagra sellers pass thru undisturbed to deliver their ridiculous spam.

In any case, what happened here reminded me of the legendary article Bill Joy wrote years ago in the Wired magazine about computers taking over our lives in the not too distant future and messing them up. In other words, when natural (human) intelligence (or is it stupidity?) teaches computers to 'think' via all sorts of algorithms, then count the 'innocent' to pay the price and the 'guilty' to pass undisturbed. Good ol' Bill Joy. He's increasingly being proven right, is he not?

The most hilarious thing though is that when I requested a so-called 'unlock review', whereby they presumably engage a real person to examine their insane spam-blog verdicts, they presented me with a very friendly message (see screen capture here right) aplogizing on behalf of their 'bots' !!!??!! Can you imagine that? Real humans apologizing on behalf of their robots !!?!? Billie boy, we are already there. Yep. Transformers have taken over our lives already and we don't even know it yet!

UPDATE: As of  this morning I was exonerated from being accused as a spammer! Allahu Akbar!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How to make 720p DVDs from Set-top box recordings

Just wanted to share my experiences from solving this problem:

Set-top boxes used in Cable or Satellite Digital Television Transmission will mostly encode recorded content into proprietary file formats and offer no interface at all for transferring industry standard HD* (say AVCHD) recorded files from their HDD** to attached external Media disks or computers***. They're often equipped with Ethernet or/and USB ports, however, these cannot be typically used for file transfers between their own HDD and attached external appliances. Thus, the problem remains: how do you extract a recorded program from a set-top box for permanent storage in your own multimedia hard disks or own burnt DVDs? Preferably on HD resolutions (min @ 720p, a.k.a. HD-Ready)?

I recently touched upon this subject, but today I'd like to share my success in solving the problem, whereby the Set-top box in my case was a HD Digicorder obtained from Telenet in this country. This set-top has one HDMI, one Component and one SCART Composite video outputs. It also offers one S/PDIF and a second RCA standard Stereo Audio output (typically for audio use in conjunction with the component signal), in addition to the audio outputs embedded in the HDMI and SCART connectors respectively. Other set-top boxes offer almost identical connectivity, I reckon... especially if they happen to support HDTV. Therefore, the process I describe is readily applicable to any other similar set-top boxes out there. An interesting detail about component video is that it bypasses encryption that is often applied to 'author locked' TV programmes when HDMI connectors are used. Component connectivity is analog, unlocked and offers great HD resolutions at the same time, in other words, it's a dream beauty!

  1. Sony Bravia Full-HD television (basically, this is not necessary for the actual process other than watching the programme while recording...)
  2. Telenet HD Digicorder (used to decode the cable signals and also record programmes on its HDD)
  3. Hauppauge HD PVR (to encode Component HD or SD Composite input A/V signals, via USB and into the Mac)
  4. MacBook Pro (Sorry folks, I can't go back to Windows after my Vista experience...)
  5. Connecting Cables (obviously... these being, a component RGB cable, a S/PDIF or an RCA stereo audio connector for A/V, and a USB cable to connect the computer with the PVR)
  6. Empty writable DVDs
  1. EyeTV 3.1.x
  2. Toast Titanium 10.0.x
  3. Mac OSX - Snow(y) Leo(pard) in my case
To do steps:
  1. Programme the Digicorder to record a given HD channel. Currently, plenty of TV content, free or paid, is offered at 720p by Telenet in Belgium.
  2. Turn on the PVR.
  3. Connect the Mac via USB and launch EyeTV. The Component Signal is visible on the EyeTV window, and is identical to what we see on a Flat HD-Ready TV (ie. Bravia connected to the Digicorder via HDMI)
  4. Use the Digicorder controls to locate the recorded programme and hit play.
  5. Hit EyeTV's 'Record' button. Watch, or go have a few drinks until it's over...
  6. When recording reaches end, terminate so-called 'Live Recording' on EyeTV.
  7. Use EyeTV feature to export Recording to Titanium Toast. Select Blu-Ray as 'disk-burning' option.
  8. Place an empty writable DVD in optical drive and hit the Ti-Toast "Burn" button.
  9. With the available input resolution arranged by the PVR AVCHD encoding, Ti-Toast uses content as is... only some multiplexing during a few secs, and it then burns the DVD in just a matter of minutes.
  10. Enjoy the result on a Blu-ray disk-player or PSP3, at an impeccable 720p HD-Ready resolution...

Folks, it works and it rocks! The process described above is ideal when you have all reasons to record something on a Digicorder first before transferring it to the Mac. In case you only have a so-called HD Digibox (a HDTV decoder set-top without a HDD) or you want to store something 'Live' into your Mac, then you can actually use a fit-to-purpose feature offered by EyeTV. By doing so, you can avoid the intermediate recording on the set-top's HDD. I reckon, you might even get a 'better' quality component signal into your PVR, as you will avoid potential quality deterioration from the set-top's encoding/recording step. The only drawback of this solution, is that your living-room space gets 'messy' with the MacBook connected to the PVR in plain daylight as opposed to a clandestine capture in the 'dark' when nobody's sniffin' around... you see, my beloved spouse hates to see inside our living-room landscape anything conspicuous with cables attached; she used to choke each time she leaned behind our TV to dust the furniture and saw the cables on the floor. Nowadays she uses a charwoman instead.

BTW, click for sharper view the screen capture at the top to compare two (identical) frames from the same programme (Canvas Extra-time of Sep 21st, 2009), the top frame captured from an analog SDTV signal (thus no decoder at all, just a plain coax input into EyeTV USB) whereas the bottom frame is from a 720p set-top recording AVCHD encoded by the PVR. Pretty amazing, innit? The graph at the bottom shows the in's and out's of a PVR. Finally, in case you've been wondering what storage size any video capture, like the one described above, occupies on your hard disk, count on about one gigabyte per 25 minutes of component 720p video, compared to half that for an SDTV signal, composite or S-Video.

*High Definition
**Hard Disk Drive
***I'm pretty sure the reasons are not technical... rather related to Authors' Rights applicable legislation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Presentation techniques

A beloved friend, suffering of insomnia, sent me a hyperlink to this article this morning (2:55am !!). I usually enjoy reading articles about presentation techniques as there are always few good hints that we all could use but much too often forget, and occasionally some excellent tips that we never heard before. The interesting thing about this particular article is that it focuses upon technical people, systems architects. Those hacks care about how to structure people organizations and computer systems to make sense to a given company; in other words, all the dough the CEO will spend on (computer) resources necessary to support his/her company, to really have some visible purpose and preferably yield material returns. That's what biz nerds call the 'ROI'. Easier said than done.

Problem is, most ICT frigtards, especially the so-called and often self-proclaimed "architects" (don't even get me started on evangelists), enjoy confusing their audiences. Many among them almost get orgasmic by listening to themselves spitting out a techie slang and a gazillion TLA's (Three Letter Acronyms...) that gets you nauseous. Everybody else in the room feels constipated, but those morons keep singing on! If at the end of the session they feel they haven't confused us as much, they go home and beat their wives; I shit you not! They intermingle concepts like components and CBD, coarse and fine granularity, services mediation, Entreprise Architecture, SOA (not the Dutch version, mind you*), EAI, adapters, wrappers, Enterprise Service Buses and more shit like this, and if you happen to be in their audience you better take some aspirins with you... or smoke a joint before you walk in, and... go to sleep by the time they kick-off their show with the nerdiest** jokes ever invented. To keep their audience awake, that is. OMG!

Anyways, the author of this article makes some good points... I'm not kidding you... all of his points are almost excellent. I dare say his ten point list sounds way better before he decides to jump into the burden of detailing each one of them. He gets a bit messy later, I'd say. Fine, sinner blessed after all. Honest, the arguments he makes are real good, and I'd even dare argue, not just for nerdy architects trying to get their obnoxious messages thru, but also for everybody else pitching in front of one or more anthropomorphic creatures sitting with their mouth shut and their eyes and ears wide open. I'm often teaching classes myself, and I can tell you, there have been times, especially during pm sessions - just after lunch -, when I kinda felt like I was the next best thing to Valium, getting my students to sleep, poor bastards... See? We can all learn from this.

Which reminds me... I participated in a two day conference last week, organized by the supreme ICT department of the European Commission, with the Commission CIO himself, Garcia 'Paco' Moran, present and keynoting, and with short appearances by the responsible Commissioner as well, as by his very own Cabinet chief too. Wow! Big shots, that we common civilians were humbled to see alive and breathing... Wonderful venue (at least we can now sleep happy for our tax euros are being put to a good cause), a splendid organization, the best midday snacks and sweets I had in ages, excellent speakers, extremely interesting agenda items! Great stuff! May they invite me to more of those...

The bad news is that there was this one moron among the speakers who made the terrible mistake to think of himself as the smartest skull living on Earth. He was a Dane... a Viking so to say. I generally like the Vikings, especially Hägar, but this dude was so full of shit that I felt (and I was not the only one, I heard later) like jumping off the window... I'm sure this was his last invite ever to a similar future event by DIGIT. He wanted to talk to us about Enterprise Architecture and he kept bullshitting about the term for most of his presentation treating us like first-graders. He spent about twenty minutes trying to convince us that EA should not have to mean Entreprise Architecture in the first place, but many other things that he was piss proud to have invented himself. I'm sure he was on his way to the European Patent Office in the Hague after his pitch. I thought the one that fitted him the best was the one I myself invented for the occasion, that is Extreme Arrogance. Which brings us to... point eleven of great presentation techniques: Make sure your audience don't think of you as the ultimate jerk. Don't underestimate their intelligence and don't just listen to thyself, but observe their bloody body language as well, for Chrissake! They might look like they're getting ready to spit on you, and this should mean something to you about the "effectiveness of your intentions", innit?


*In ICT, SOA means Services Oriented Architecture... in Dutch however, this stands for Sexueel Overdraagbare Aandoeningen (sexually transmitted deceases)... LMAO!
**One of the speakers kicked-off his pitch with this joke during the DIGIT Conference, because, he said, we all looked like we could use a few jokes: SQL walks into a bar and sees two tables and a row. He turns to the tables and sez, "Can I join you?" (laughs). In all fairness, that speaker, Miko Matsumura, was one of the best and he was definitely no Dane!