Monday, December 15, 2008

Review of Flip Video

I'm a gadget freak. I like devices with lots of buttons and settings and flexible enough to do things they weren't even meant to do. If you're like me, then the Flip Video camera by Pure Digital Technologies isn't for you.

However, if you like a device that's simple, automatic and that does just one thing fairly well, the Flip Video may indeed be for you.

The Flip Video is a dedicated video camera that takes 640x480 video at 30 frames per second. That's it, nothing else. Nope, not even stills. Your inner Star Trek Ensign won't appreciate only 3 buttons on the back either.

I found the video to be clear with good color and and smooth video. It was reasonably sensitive, although I was mostly filming in an office environment so I didn't test it's full range of sensitivity. The sound is a bit quiet, but very clear. I was able to boost the sound up quite a bit in Premiere Elements 7 without hearing any noise.

The zoom is completely digital and leaves something to be desired. Some day I would like to see a camera manufacturer use the higher resolution available in most imaging chips to offer a full resolution zoom. It seems a dedicated video camera such as the Flip Video would be the perfect platform to implement this on (but apparently, if I thought this, I would be wrong).

The camera has a built in USB connector that flips out the side at the touch of a button. It was handy to not have to carry extra cables around, but you might have some trouble if your notebook or computer has a USB plug that's oriented in an unfriendly-to-the-Flip Video way (like my T61, which I was forced to place on my lap so the flip could hang over the side). Still, a USB extension cable would solve this problem for a computer with the nerve not to conform to the expectations of the Flip Video, so the convenience of the build in adaptor is probably worth it.

The Flip Video uses two AA batteries. An unusual feature in today's camera market that's dedicated to the employment of battery engineers through offering custom rechargeable batteries for every device being sold. However, battery life was good. I filmed over an hour of video on one set of batteries and they were still going strong. The convenience of having batteries that can be inexpensively purchased anywhere is a plus, in my opinion.

I was somewhat annoyed to find out I had to install a codec (3ivx) to view the videos. But, the codec was included right on the camera, which is handy. Once the codec was installed, the video played fine in any player. However, the sound was always out of sync with the video in the preview window of Adobe Premiere Elements. The video rendered fine, but it was quite annoying to try and edit video with the sound off. Elements was also very unstable while I was editing video from the Flip Video, but I hesitate to pin the blame on the video files or codec since any number of things could have freaked Elements out.

The camera also comes with some viewing software preloaded on the camera. I didn't try the software out since I despise most custom software that comes with devices. For all I know, I'm missing out on the best software since Microsoft Bob. But I doubt it.

Small, automatic, simple and it just works. I would think there's definitely a market for a product like this. Excuse me now, my inner geek insists that I go find something with a satisfactory plethora of buttons and a manual the size of a phone book (which I refuse to read, of course).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gingerbread House Light-up Fun

My wife occasionally makes a gingerbread house to donate for a charity auction. Her houses always look great. (Gingerbread house tip #1: for stained glass windows, crunch up some Jolly Ranchers, put them in the window holes in already baked ginger bread, then heat in the oven. The Jolly Ranchers will melt together into a very nice looking edible stained-glass window!) (Gingerbread house tip #2: wives, allow your husbands to eat the ginger bread. You may think they're crazy, but their mom never let them when they were kids and they always wanted to. Now you have this opportunity to make your husband insanely happy.)

Her last house was a lighthouse. Being the manly husband that I am, I offered to put a light inside the light house tower. Of course, as with most of my projects, hilarity ensued.

Since the mini Christmas lights (usually) stay on when a bulb burns out, I always thought the lights were wired in parallel. Like this:

So, I should be able to just cut off all the other lights, leaving just one to be the ├╝ber cool lighthouse light, right? Wrong. When I tried this braniac experiment of mine, my reward was a spectacular flash and pop.

It turns out mini Christmas lights are wired in series, like this:

Which means I put 120 volts across a light bulb built for about 2.5 volts. Oops.

Of course, this begs the question, how does a string stay lit when a bulb burns out? It turns out to be a clever little wire looped around the base of the filament leads at the bottom of the bulb (see image at right). The wire is oxidized so it's usually insulated and doesn't conduct current. But, if the filament burns out, the oxidization is burned through and current is passed through the loop of wire instead. 

Simple, clever and effective. I hope the person who thought this up is paid .01 cents for every bulb made. (Probably not. It seems patents now days aren't used to reward clever designs, but rather exist just to give patent lawyers a job at patent troll companies.)

At this point I was having way too much fun learning about Christmas lights for my own good, so I stole away to the local hobby store and got a pre-made non-manly (but non-explosive) craft light for the gingerbread lighthouse. I still had to resort to stealing some ginger bread to eat when my wife wasn't looking.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wealth Redistribution

Some really smart people theorize that independent thought is an illusion. The last few weeks have provided some proof to this concept.

Now that Obama has won the election, I've heard and seen the term "wealth redistribution" quite often on the radio and online. The amazing thing was, it wasn't used as a derisive term.

Do we really vacillate that much and that quickly? It wasn't so long ago that "wealth redistribution" was widely recognized as a Very Bad IdeaTM. Now that Democrats will be in power shortly, many of the pundants and other commentators broadcasting present this as the inevitable consequence, and they seem to like it. So much for independent thought.

Obama doesn't seem to be supportive of this idea, so I have some hope that he will be smarter than this and our country can dodge this bullet.

The supporters (or, more effectively, the "opinion leaders" of "wealth redistribution" since the supporters apparently come and go) should go spend some time in Zimbabwe. This country used to be known as the bread basket of Africa. Now they are experiencing horrible poverty and famine thanks to a form of wealth redistribution where land was taken from existing land holders and redistributed to those the government deemed worthy (often friends of officials).

Someone might say, "Well, sure that's wealth redistribution that has gone too far and has been poorly done. WE wouldn't do it that badly!" However, once it's admitted that wealth redistribution can be a bad idea at a certain level, where is the line where it becomes a bad idea? Or does wealth redistribution always become a weight on the economy where the degree of muffling for the economy depends on the amount of redistribution taking place? If so, this needs to be a part of the wealth redistribution conversation every time. Potential recipients of the redistribution need to put the potential loss of their job, or reduction of their income, on the table. If they don't, they are effectively thinking they're playing the lottery where they'll always win, and that's a lie.

Absolutely taxes need to be paid by the rich. Even extra attention should be given to them to make sure they're not dodging taxes, since they have the resources to hire people to do exactly that. But let's not forget that we need these economic leaders to be rewarded with good returns so they'll continue to drive our economy instead of going to other economies, or worse, becoming news pundants.

That's what I independently think about wealth distribution, according to my wife.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Learning Snake Charming

Every once in a while, I feel jealous of those smug people who can speak 7 languages fluently. At least, as a computer geek, I can come back and say, "Well, I can program in 11 languages." (Come on, what computer geek hasn't said this at least once? Admit it, you have.) Unfortunately, all of us in the secret geek club know that computer languages are much easier to pick up than human languages. 

So, this begs the question, what's the ratio of equivalency of envy-worthiness for knowing a human language versus knowing a computer language (if there really is one, but let's leave that question out for now)? Do 4 computer languages equal 1 human? I anticipate Philosophers will debate this question for eons, now that I've raised it.

To hedge my bets against the final number these philosophisers will decide upon, I've decided to increase my computer language count by 1.

The company I work for uses Python quite a bit, so on a recent business trip I used some of my extra time to pick up the language. I would highly recommend the site/online book I used, Python en by Swarrop C H. Although there are quite a few typos, I found the book to be entertaining to read and the examples were quite instructive.

Overall, I like Python's structure. I'll see how much I still like it after I complete my first project using Python. 

+1 envy for the geek! 

Oh crud, my old college roommate just picked up Welsh. I wonder where I can find a good Ruby on Rails site?

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I'm an avid listener of NPR. Even though they have a heavy liberal slant (it's the worst kind, because they don't recognize it in themselves...maybe more on that later). I enjoy how thorough their stories are. I can't stand the 15 second news stories on most radio stations and their caffeine induced jingos.

The funny thing about NPR, is how noncommittal their programs are to actually defining a subject for themselves. Check out these names of their biggest programs:

All Things Considered
Fresh Air
Day to Day
Talk of the Nation

So, now I find it ironic that my blog is called "Avocado Laboratory", which is also somewhat non-committal (though with a hint of a slant towards science and technology, which are my passions). I guess those folks at NPR aren't as crazy as I thought. Either that, or I have a liberal slant and I don't recognize it in myself.