Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Milestone

Around Christmas time, the Seattle suburbs work to chase away to early darkness with lots and lots of Christmas lights. Most houses have some lights on them, and a few houses go all out with crazy amounts of lights and displays from the rooftops to the front lawn.

Each year, we like to take a drive in the evening around Christmas to just see all of the lights. This year was no different and last night, on Christmas Eve, we all piled in the car and drove around for about 30 minutes oohing and aahing at the neighbors work. There was one difference this year though - a difference that clearly marks a milestone in our Christmas tours and a big indicator that time is passing.

Kate drove.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Today I Learned... Norad Santa

For that last few years, we've occasionally kept a web page up on as they track the big guy across the sky on Christmas Eve. Today's Seattle Post Intelligencer has the back story on how a huge military site got involved in the annual radar tracking of Santa Claus.

The story is here though my favorite part was about the first phone call they ever received.

"The red phone rang," he says. That never happened, and it meant huge trouble. The red phone was the emergency line: It could only be his commander calling, or the Pentagon. "I picked it up and I said: 'Yes, sir? This is Colonel Shoup.' "

There was no answer for a moment. Then came the hesitant voice of a small boy. "Are you really Santa Claus?"

Shoup was taken aback. "I looked around my staff and I thought, 'Somebody's playing a joke on me. This isn't funny.' I said, 'Would you repeat that, please?' "

The boy asked again if he was Santa Claus. "I knew then that there was some screw-up on the phones."

There certainly was. A local Sears Roebuck store had advertised a Santa line, on which children could talk to the man himself as he prepared for his rounds. But the wrong phone number had been published. Instead of talking to a Sears volunteer, the child unwittingly got through to one of the most important lines in America -- and certainly to one of the most uptight men in the country that Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Today I Learned... Mac Mini Memory Enhancement

I'm going to be using some Mac Minis for running some parts of our shows. Since our animations are pretty busy, and the minis use a pretty low end video chip that uses system memory, I need to make sure there is plenty of memory on the machine, so I bought a Mini at the Apple store and then bought 3 GB of PC2 5300 667 memory and was met with the challenge of sticking said memory into said computer.

When Apple wants to make it easy to change memory, they do a beautiful job of designing their computers so you can put more memory in without using any tools. The Mac Mini is not one of those computers, though, and taking it apart is quite a challenge. Fortunately, there are a couple of good walkthroughs on the web of doing just that. The one at MethodShop is the most specific while the one at has plenty of nice pictures which help a lot when you're trying to figure out where that doo dad came from.

While they both cover the fact that you need to pop out the airport antenna to get at one of the screws, neither of them mention that if you aren't careful, the cable that connects that antenna to the motherboard will also pop off and there are no diagrams that show where it might have come from. Fortunately, I did find a picture that kinda sort hints at where it might go and I was able to re-attach it. A few minutes later and BING, I've got a 3 GB, 1.83GHz Mac Mini up and running.

Woo hoo!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Today I Learned... Artist focus

At DeepRockDrive, we are working on creating a very cool interactive experience between the artists and the fans who are watching on the web. Among other things, we have a feature called "Shout outs" which lets fan type a message to the artist and it shows up in the studio on a big screen with their username, picture, location and the message they typed. It is an amazing opportunity to say something to the artists you love and we've known for some time that between songs they read them and respond, but one thing I've wondered is whether the shout outs register with them during the song.

The answer, apparently, is yes! Last night, the Wylde Bunch played a show at DRD. They were awesome - think Earth, Wind and Fire for the 21st century. Tight and funky! They also did a great job of interacting with the fans through the shout outs.

After the show, I was talking with a couple of the guys in the band and I asked them what they thought and they really loved it. They wanted to keep on playing! When I asked if the shout outs registered while they were in the middle of the song he said "Definitely! I saw them coming up and it was great. It felt like the audience was right there! (points at screen)"

I always figured that these would register for many artists during the song, perhaps not with the same focus as between songs, but it was great to get that data point.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Today I Learned... Bozzio & Wackerman

I had no idea that Terry Bozzio and Chad Wackerman ever played together. This is awesome!

Terry's set is chromatic and diatonic - that is one huge kit!! You can actually get a better sense of it here.

And is Wackerman the best name for drummer or what?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Today I Learned... My dog can eat a whole pizza

Oh sure, back in the day she was known to eat a loaf of bread and we know we need to keep the butter way back on the counter but generally, Tiki does not jump up and grab things from the counter. She's very good that way.

Last night, while Leslie and I were at a neighborhood Christmas party, Tiki seems to have pulled down not one, but two pizza boxes from the stove which each had a bit more than 1/2 of a pizza still in them. Well, I assume she did cuz when we got home, there were two empty pizza boxes on the floor and one guilty lookin' dog.

One guilty lookin', quite full, dog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Today I Learned... How to Take Down a Mac

Actually, I learned a few things today, like that I can subscribe to the DeepRockDrive past shows video collection at in iTunes and presto, awesome new videos on the iPod!  I also learned that Pearl totally rocks!

But the most interesting one came when I was trying to stress test some PHP code I was writing.  I wrote a javascript function that just posts to the server (also running on my machine) a bunch of times in a loop and then does a get to see what I get back.  This works fine, in general, but I started out with 1000 posts in that loop.  Things got totally crazy.  Of course the machine was locked up during the post cuz it takes a lot of CPU to do a fast loop with async callbacks but even after it was done, nearly every application locked up and I had to do a full system reset to get it back.

Running it a hundred times worked fine later on.  Clearly 1,000 is over some limit and I really don't feel like going further to figure out what that limit is.

So, um, don't do that :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Today I Learned... Fullscreen mode made easy

I'm gonna start posting little things I learn each day (yeah - like it will actually happen each day...) Perhaps they will be of use to others. Leslie has already done this a few times and it seems like a great way of sharing little tidbits on the intarwebs.

Today's tidbit:
- (BOOL)enterFullScreenMode:(NSScreen *)screen withOptions:(NSDictionary *)options
- (void)exitFullScreenModeWithOptions:(NSDictionary *)options

These two little nuggets of joy from the Cocoa NSView class are incredibly useful when building an app that you want take over the whole screen when it is running (like a certain application I'm working on...) It's one thing that it goes full screen, but it is even cooler that it is for any NSView, not a full window so my custom view that hosts CALayer stuff can take over the whole screen during shows and hide all of the other config stuff around it.


Thanks to David for pointing this out.

Edit: Oh, and you need to be very careful with this API. Make sure you have a way to call exitFullScreenModeWithOptions, or activity monitor on a second monitor or you will have a perfectly functioning, yet completely unfunctional computer on your hands :) SSH'ing in from another machine and killing your process is a good back door if you get stuck here :)

Kataklysm: “Audience or no audience?”

This video from Bertrand (our video director at DeepRockDrive) is awesome! It also raises a great question...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Aviation Nation 2007

November was a crazy busy month with all of the excitement of more and bigger shows at DeepRockDrive, but I was able to get away for a weekend with Alex to go to Aviation Nation 2007 at Nellis AFB just outside of Vegas. This year is the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Air Force, so it looks like this was a bigger show than usual.

Any regular reader of Duffergeek will know that I go to the Blue Angels show in Seattle each year and take lots and lots of pictures of the planes, trying to get helmet shots - where you can actually see the pilot's helmets and, ideally, what they're looking at. I figured that Aviation Nation was a 2 day opportunity for helmet shots and I was not disappointed :)

In addition to two shows by the Air Force Thunderbirds,we saw some great performances featuring a number of aircraft spanning the history of the Air Force as well as the standard stunt spectaculars we've come to expect from great airshows.

The most amazing thing at the entire show, though, was the F22 Raptor. ZOMG this thing is incredible, performing maneuvers that I was pretty sure were not possible in a fixed wing aircraft, let alone an incredibly powerful jet fighter. Thanks to the vectored thrust on the F22, it can do incredibly tight turns and loops, in one case doing a full 360° loop IN PLACE. While I've seen biplanes do tail slides, where the plane flies vertically to a stall speed, then starts to slide down towards the ground backwards, doing this in a jet usually features one additional step known as "ejection". Not so with the F22 though. He slid backwards, did a flat spin, and then just headed forward into the wild blue yonder. Of course, it is also a supersonic fighter so when it wanted to, it would shake your guts as it flew by. Most air forces can't match our previous generation of fighters and this one is a whole new level. Too bad we don't fight air wars so much any more...

The Thunderbirds were, as usual, fantastic. All of the classic close formation flying, combined with two very nice Las Vegas days. I had never noticed before that Thunderbird 5 has its number painted upside down - funny since it does so many inverted maneuvers where it looks downright normal.

My full set of photos from the show are here and include some really fun shots of their fake bombing runs where a plane would fly by and they would blow stuff up on the ground and sometimes made smoke rings that would hang around for several minutes.

Enjoy :)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

This one goes to 7

I've been playing my guitar a bunch more with all of the music at the new job (and I'm loving it!), but after listening to all of the great heavy metal shows at Deep Rock Drive over the past month, I was itchin' to get a 7 string guitar. 7 strings have an extra low B string which helps in getting a dark, growl sound and play a bit lower than usual. I have a 5 string bass that works the same way and I love it.

Ebay to the rescue! I spent a few weeks checking out different 7 strings and looking for something that looked good, but wasn't too expensive since I'm not even sure if I'll like it. I ended up buying a Galveston 7 string with a Floyd Rose tremolo. Galveston is an inexpensive Korean brand that seems to specialize in nice looking wood and finishes for the bodies but I was curious about the quality of the guitar. At only $250, I figured it was worth the risk. The pictures looked great with a tiger-eye maple top and a nice red finish. The guitar arrived last weekend. It sounds good and looks really nice, but it really needed to be set up by a guitar tech to set the intonation correctly so it is off at American Music getting tweaked right now. It should be ready tomorrow.

This is my first guitar with a Floyd Rose tremolo. For those who aren't familiar, tremolos (or whammy bars) are the things you push to bend the whole set of strings either up or down. Very popular with most electric guitars. The problem is that they often make the guitar go out of tune when the string gets a little stuck on either the bridge or the nut. The Floyd Rose system clamps the string at both ends so there is nothing to get stuck on which should make it stay in tune better. The downside is that you can't use the standard tuners unless you have unlocked the nut with a hex wrench so it takes a but of getting used to...

I'm really looking forward to trying it out some more!

Update - It was definitely worth the $250, but getting used to a neck that wide takes some time!