August 2009

Album Cover: Abbey Road

"She's killer-diller when she's dressed to the hilt."
The Beatles / Polythene Pam

Month 8 of '09

August 16, 2009 7:20 PM

Well, August has turned out to be quite a month.

Last weekend, my iPhone decided to go all flakey on me at the worst time possible. Apps started freezing up, the general UI became overly sluggish, and worst of all, the phone wasn't ringing or making any sounds to let me know there were people trying to get ahold of me. If it wasn't for Twitter, I wouldn't have had any clue that my sister-in-law was in labor! Once I realized what was going on, I raced into the bedroom to tell my wife. Not long after, she was on her way down to Portland to assist the parents, and not long after that, I was following in a separate car (since I knew I'd have to go back to work the following Monday).

When I finally made it down to Portland and to the hospital, my new nephew, Graham, had already been born. It was fun to meet him, and also to see that his parents were doing so well. It was also cool to think about how my daughter Heidi was no longer the youngest in the family, and to do what I've been doing a lot as a new parent -- thinking about the future.

I ended up staying in Portland until Sunday night, after baby Graham had come home from the hospital. My daughter and Graham's older sister, Adeline, had lots of time together and I can already tell they are going to be quite a pair as they get older. The drive back to Seattle was, as usual, pretty uneventful but tolerable. I got home around midnight, and that pretty much concluded a very noteworthy weekend in my life.

All week long, I've been looking forward to this weekend because I knew my favorite team, the Seattle Seahawks, would play their preseason opener on Saturday, and one of my favorite shows, Mad Men, would premiere in its third season on Sunday. Little did I know that there were bigger things in store as well.

Baby in Seahawks Jersey Going After Football Friday night, when we went to bed, my wife predicted that I would be the one to see my daughter crawl for the first time, since I typically spend a lot of time with her on the weekends while my wife catches up on much-deserved sleep (she watches Heidi all week while I'm at work). Surely enough, Saturday morning came along, and not long after I had gotten her into her Lofa Tatupu jersey (it being game day and all), she crawled for the first time across our living room floor. (That's her off to the right, going after the football much like Lofa Tatupu goes after St. Louis Rams).

Needless to say, our daughter crawling takes us into a new phase of parenting in which just about every object in the house becomes a safety hazard, we must have one eye on our daughter at all times (but preferably two), and we become "bad guys" because we're always taking the "fun toys" away from her. She's already shown a propensity for crawling toward anything through which electricity flows, so yeah -- fun times ahead.

Once our little wannabe electrician had gone to bed for the night, rug burns and all, we took our favorite spots in front of the television and tuned in to watch our Seahawks pull off a win against San Diego to start the preseason. During the game, we got word that my other sister-in-law was going into labor and was on her way to the hospital. My wife told me the following morning that yet another baby boy had joined the family -- Jackson. Nephews (for me) and cousins (for my daughter) abound!

Unfortunately because the latter sister-in-law is down in Arizona, we weren't able to see the new little guy yet, but hopefully we'll see pictures soon, and hopefully an in-person meeting won't follow too long after that.

After such an interesting weekend (and start to the month), it will be good to unwind tonight and get some relaxation in before another work week begins. I plan on doing that by watching the latest episodes of Big Brother, True Blood, Hung and, of course, Mad Men.

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We Can Fix That

August 16, 2009 6:20 PM

This is the kind of thing you just can't not post:

Very Bizarre Ad

(Google ad spotted in my Forever Geek web feed).

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How to Make an Animated GIF from Video

August 16, 2009 11:07 AM

My wife spends a lot of time over at OH NO THEY DIDN'T, a celebrity gossip site. Anyone who knows that site knows that its readers love their animated GIFs. My wife always says things like "I wish I had an animated GIF of that," and I've always wondered what it took to make one from video (yes, we're geeks). Today I decided to find out.

Amazingly enough, there doesn't seem to be a definitive source online for this information. There's this silent tutorial on YouTube that looks to require, at minimum, MediaCoder and GIMP. There's also this somewhat frightening YouTube walkthrough that seems to require a recent version of Photoshop. It wasn't until I stumbled upon Making Animated GIFs With Free Software in Four Steps that I saw something I might be able to work with.

As is typical with such posts, some of the information provided in the comments was actually more useful than the post content itself. Unfortunately, though, no one put the pieces together into one single, coherent walkthrough of how animated GIFs can be made from a video clip. That's where I come in.

The great thing about the information found at that site is that it applies to both Windows and Linux (and therefore likely Mac as well). In the end, all you end up needing to have on the software side of things is MPlayer (which I've covered here before), which can be had by downloading the "MPlayer SVN Windows with SMPlayer GUI" option from here or by typing apt-get install mplayer from the command line on Linux.

As the commenter natonelbronx pointed out in the aforementioned comments, it's possible to make a single command line call to mplayer.exe (Windows users will find mplayer.exe in a subfolder named "mplayer" underneath the root "SMPlayer" installation directory) to generate an animated GIF from a video file. What he didn't know, though, is that his method results in inferior color quality when used. Fortunately for me (and anyone else looking to create an animated GIF from video in one easy step), an anonymous commenter provided a better option, which takes advantage of MPlayer's additional video formatting options to ensure the color quality is much richer.

After combining the tips from both commenters, I ended up with the following command line call, which should look the same on either Windows or Linux, with the exception of the ".exe" part not applying to Linux:

mplayer.exe ghostbusters.mkv -ss 32:35 -endpos 7 -ao null -vo gif89a:fps=10:output=ghostbusters.gif -vf palette,rgb2bgr,scale=240:135

Here's a breakdown of what's going on in that command line call:

  • "ghostbusters.mkv" is the name of the video file I'm using to generate the animated GIF.
  • The -ss argument is used to tell MPlayer to start the GIF at the 32 minute and 35 second mark of the video file.
  • The -endpos argument tells MPlayer to stop the animated GIF 7 seconds after the starting point.
  • The -ao null argument/value pair tells MPlayer not to worry about sound, since that isn't needed for an animated GIF.
  • The -vo argument tells MPlayer how the video output should be formatted (gif89a makes the output a GIF, fps=10 sets the frame rate to 10 frames-per-second, and output=ghostbusters.gif gives the output a file name).
  • The -vf argument is the trick for making sure the colors are richer in the output, with the scale portion providing the dimensions of the resulting animated GIF (you'll want to keep this scale rather small because animated GIFs have a tendency to grow in file size very quickly).

In the example, I converted an MKV file, but I've seen this same call work for AVI and MP4 files as well. I assume any video format MPlayer can play should work just fine. The command only took a few seconds to run, albeit on a beast of a computer, and when it was done, I had generated the following animated GIF:

Animated GIF of a Clip from the Movie Ghostbusters

(You might need to give it some time to load since it's about half a MB in size).

So there you have it -- an easy way to generate an animated GIF from a video file without the hassle of expensive software or multiple steps. Have fun!

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Ready for the Weekend

August 14, 2009 2:10 PM

It looks like my daughter is Ready for the Weekend:

Baby Girl with Fly Eye Spectacles

Are you?

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Digital Intuition

August 02, 2009 11:45 PM

While we're on the subject of adaptive feed readers (though, to be fair, I've been on this subject for a few years now), I just so happened to log in to FriendFeed tonight and stumbled upon this entry from Robert Scoble.

my6sense, which is covered in detail at louisgray.com, refers to what I've been referring to as "adaptive" as "digital intuition." Their website contains the following review:

I have been using [my6sense] to filter hundreds of feeds, thousands of posts! The results are so tailored and specific to my needs, they are as if handpicked by a mighty army of mind reading Oompa Loompas bent on making me the most informed man on earth.

Needless to say, I'm very intrigued and looking forward to seeing what their forthcoming iPhone app has in store. If you're interested too, you can follow them on Twitter.

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Google Reader's New "Liking" Feature

August 02, 2009 6:59 PM

I was a bit surprised to read on TechCrunch that there seems to be quite a lot of people opposed to Google Reader's new liking feature.

First off, I think it's totally reasonable for users to want the option to turn a new feature like that off, but it really isn't that big a deal when it's on, even if you don't use or care about it. I read a whole lot of feeds, and I haven't had any issue with it.

I see the whole "liking" concept in a whole different way, though. Right now, the feature is exposed in such a way that it seems to assume that readers care how many other people liked a particular post. For users who prefer to skim feeds and only read the most interesting articles, I can see how this use of the feature might come in really handy. In the longer term, though, I actually think what you like will become way more important than what others like.

Why? Let's go back to April of 2006 when I said the following:

Let's say [my feed reader] allowed me to give each post I read an optional "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" (similarly to how user comments are now handled over at Digg). That would teach my feed reader my reading habits over time. When these habits are better understood, it wouldn't be unreasonable to automatically hide posts from the feed that probably aren't of interest to me, or at least make them less visible so skimming through a long list of posts would become more manageable.

The optimistic side of me is really hoping that the Google Reader folks are taking this use case into consideration. The realistic side, though, figures this is just an attempt to add more social aspects to Google Reader, just as TechCrunch has surmised.

I'd love to think that someone is finally laying the groundwork for Feed Reading Optimization (FRO - coined it!), but based on past experience, I won't be holding my breath.

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10,000 Photos

August 01, 2009 7:54 PM

Photo of a Pomeranian I can't remember the exact date, but I'm fairly certain I got my Canon EOS Digital Rebel around Christmas in 2004. The photo of our dog Pixie, off to the right, was one of the first pictures I took with my then new camera.

I was offloading some of the photos I took of our daughter Heidi today, when I noticed that they were showing up out of order. I noticed that one of the photos I expected to show up last in the directory was actually the very first photo. It wasn't long until I noticed that the photo's filename was IMG_0001.JPG. My first thought was that something had gone wrong either with my camera's battery or internal filing system. After a closer look at the rest of the photos in the directory, though, I spotted photos with filenames like IMG_9997.JPG, IMG_9998.JPG and, you guessed it, IMG_9999.JPG.

As it turns out, the IMG_0001.JPG file is legitimate. Almost five years after buying my Canon EOS Digital Rebel, I've taken over 10,000 photographs. Quite a milestone! Better still, the camera just keeps on ticking.

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