Windows Live Movie Maker Sucks

Posted by nitrogen on March 17th, 2010

Every once in a while I want to do some quick video editing.  Windows Movie Maker usually did a decent enough job, though it was always a bit down on features.  So when Microsoft said they were redoing it for Windows 7, I was happy.  It could use a bit of a facelift and some design improvements.

Except they made it worse.

My biggest complaint is that they now offer only a few output options–not customizable.  So if you happen to need one of the exact width, height, bitrate, and audio quality combinations they’ve preset for you, you’re good to go!  But you won’t.  To try to fix this, you can attempt to edit one of the .prx files buried in Program Files.  But it still won’t work right.

Then, if you do change it in a fashion you think should export the settings you actually want, Movie Maker will override it with some preset aspect ratio settings you didn’t know about, conveniently adding black bars on all four sides if necessary and reducing your video to be nearly indiscernible.

Not to mention random UI issues, like a lack of a usable timeline, and by clicking in many places it will jump back to the beginning of the video…completely losing the spot you wanted to edit.  Too bad.

I like Microsoft and Windows 7, but Windows Live Movie Maker sucks.

Updating Twitter from Facebook (and not the other way around)

Posted by nitrogen on March 15th, 2010

I use Facebook as my primary social networking tool, including status updates.  I know it’s a concept they stole from Twitter, but I like the way Facebook has done it better.  But I also have friends who use Twitter, and for a long time I had a Twitter account but it languished in inactivity.  So I decided I wanted it to receive my Facebook status updates.  That’s easier said than done, I found.

There are many Facebook apps that will grab your Twitter status and mirror them over to Facebook, but not the other direction.  There are also apps or sites that will update both simultaneously–from your PC or your phone–but that’s just not what I wanted either.  For many people, this solutions may be fine, but I wanted to keep the long character limit Facebook allows and still be able to update from the Facebook app on my phone.

So here’s what I did…

  1. You need to get an RSS feed for your status updates.  That’ll be along the lines of http://www.facebook.com/feeds/status.php?id=????????&viewer=????????&key=??????????&format=rss20. (Note that I’ve blanked out my ID#, viewer#, and key;  ID will be the same as viewer (mine’s 8-digit numeric) and key is a 10-character alphanumeric.)
  2. You’ll need to find your own ID=, viewer=, and key= strings.  Head to http://www.facebook.com/notifications.php.  Then find the “Subscribe to Notifications” section on the right, and click the link to go to the RSS.  The address bar should now show you all three strings that you’ll need to fill into the URL in Step 1.  Copy/paste (or simply replace ‘notifications.php’ with ‘status.php’).
  3. Now we need to use a third party site to read the RSS feed and update Twitter with it.  Maybe there are several ways to do this, but I’m using Twitterfeed.  There you’ll set up an account and add that RSS feed to it.  There are several options worth checking out, like the polling time (check for updates every x minutes) and whether or not to include a bit.ly link back to the Facebook post.
  4. Once you’ve provided Twitterfeed the necessary info (feed, options, twitter account info), and activated the feed, any new updates you make on Facebook should also find their way to Twitter (after a small delay).

Note: The caveat to this method is that you can update Facebook with much longer posts than Twitter, so when they’re carried over, they may be truncated.  I’ve enabled the option that includes bit.ly links back to the Facebook post, so people who are actually my friend can read it in its entirety there.

Driving to Colorado

Posted by nitrogen on February 17th, 2010

On January 18, 2010 I set off to drive from Michigan to Colorado.  Along the way, when it was safe to do so, I snapped a few pictures.

Unfortunately, most of what I saw were trees.  I-80 is kind of boring, and I had a lot of fog to contend with the first day.  But the sunset I saw when I was getting into Colorado the second day was amazing.

Colorado

Posted by nitrogen on February 12th, 2010

Scenic pictures of Colorado, because I still think the mountains are awesome.

Holiday Trivia

Posted by nitrogen on December 5th, 2009

Santa Claus’ reindeer first appeared in an 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (a.k.a. The Night Before Christmas or ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas) by Clement Clark Moore. In it, they were named Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, and Dunder and Blixem.

Dunder and Blixem were never part of the poem I learned; they were chosen because they translate to Thunder and Lightning in Dutch. However, the poem was later adopted to use the German usages, Donner and Blitzen.

More Info at Wikipedia

CH-47 Chinook Lands In Mount Pleasant

Posted by nitrogen on October 8th, 2009

I happened to be in Mount Pleasant one Friday afternoon and this dual-rotor military helicopter flew overhead. I watched it start to circle, so I decided to try to find it. They’d landed in an open area near the towers and opened it up to let people walk through and take pictures. I thought it was awesome–especially how so much of the mechanics are exposed.

Thanks to Faulconer for identifying the helicopter for me.

Red Wings Game at Joe Louis Arena

Posted by nitrogen on September 23rd, 2009

First Wings game I’ve been to. Hopefully I’ll make it to more this year. I snapped a few random pictures.

Full-size Panorama

Dear Canon…

Posted by nitrogen on September 21st, 2009

I’ve had great experiences with Canon cameras over the years. I’m on my third consumer point-and-shoot so far (PowerShot A80, SD700IS, SD990IS), and in my immediate family we have four more. But as my experience with photography grows, so does my requirement for advanced features. My SD990 is great–it’s got a lot of modes that allow me a great deal of manual control. And they packed all that functionality into an amazingly small form factor.

But it’s still a compact consumer camera, and thus subject to some limitations. The sensor size amounts to 0.43 cm?. Comparatively, the sensor size of the entry-level DSLR Canon Digital Rebel XS is 3.28 cm?, or 7.6 times larger (source). So the DSLR is much more capable of high-ISO shots with low noise. For lenses, there are a wide array of quality options in the DSLR camp (albeit at exorbitant prices). My compact camera…not so much.

But the market is lacking a good transitional camera between compact and DSLR, in particular for those of us who’ve always been shooting digital. Quite simply, I want a compact-style body with a DSLR sensor and quality (but compact) interchangeable lenses. Olympus and Panasonic have finally recognized this market and released the Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1, utilizing the Micro Four Thirds standard, but the market leaders–Canon and Nikon–have no comparable offerings.

Maybe the big guys are too stuck in their ways. You know, the big-grip SLR form factor…the moving pentamirror…etc. I don’t need all that.

I’m a solid-state guy, though. Moving parts tend to break, so I want as few of them as possible. So just give me enough components to perform the job I need with no unnecessary complication (okay, maybe a little unnecessary complication, if it’s particularly awesome). Basically, have the light come in and have a straight shot at the sensor. The sensor displays a live view on the LCD on the back, and when you take a picture records a full-quality shot on the card. Simple. None of this bending-light-around-corners, crazy-flipping-mirrors, or secondary-sensors.

Here’s an illustration from http://www.dpreview.com/previews/PanasonicGF1/ that shows how complicated the light path is in a traditional DSLR compared to the compact implementation that I’m picturing and Panasonic/Olympus have released.

Light Paths

So here’s my wish list:

  • Body size/style: Compact
  • Sensor Size: 4/3″ or greater
  • Pixels: 10+ Megapixel
  • Autofocus: Fast; approaching traditional DSLR levels. But due to the necessary contrast-based AF, it will probably be a tad slower.
  • Flash: Yes, fixed, but nothing fancy. It’s only for emergency use anyway.
  • Image Stabilization: In-Body preferred (reduces lens cost), but in-lens if necessary.
  • Lens: Good quality lenses available, but also some solid compact options.
  • Video: 720p @ 30fps or better
  • Live View: Primary; viewfinder as an optional accessory
  • LCD: 2.5″ or greater, touch capabilities
  • Storage: SD/SDHC
  • Price: $500-600 (okay, maybe I’m dreaming here)

I’d like to take a second to elaborate further on my LCD choice. One feature no one’s introduced yet are touchscreen capabilities on a camera. When the screen gets to be about 3.0″, you have enough real-estate to be able to implement this. It wouldn’t replace the buttons–most of them, anyway. But it would allow the ability to have context-specific options and a more fluid interface. For instance, some cameras now allow you to select a part of the frame to focus on. But I’m sure the method of doing so is cumbersome at best. With a touchscreen, you simply touch where you want your focus to be. Gesture support could also simplify many tasks. I think this feature will be coming before long; it may already be in the works.

So there’s my take on the current state of DSLR cameras and why I just can’t justify buying one yet. Panasonic’s DMC-GF1 is very close to what I’m looking for. If it were priced lower, had a less complicated flash, and in-body IS it would be arguably perfect. None of these are necessarily deal-breakers, though, either; I’m going to keep an eye on the GF1.

Canon has a big announcement planned for 9/29/2009, according to Canon Rumors, although there’s a good chance it has nothing to do with cameras. But I’m definitely hoping they’ll soon recognize this market and build me another great camera. (But Nikon, if you’re listening, here’s a great opportunity to break my Canon streak if you beat them to it.)

Motorcycle Ride with Dad to the Wind Turbines

Posted by nitrogen on September 15th, 2009

Huron County has installed a system of Vestas V82 1.65MW wind turbines. Since I like this sort of thing, Dad and I took a motorcycle ride up there to see them.

Full-size Panorama