Posts filed under ‘Lifestyle’

To The (Open) Movies

It’s now been over 2 weeks since Project Peach’s Big Buck Bunny opened in theaters last May 30, or at least in home theaters. So if you haven’t seen it yet, now would be a good time to head on over to the Big Buck Bunny website and download a copy. If you’re still downloading pirated movies, here’s a breath of fresh air: this short movie is given to you completely free of charge.

Big Buck Bunny is the story of a large, but kind rabbit who is bullied by three naughty rodents. Finally, Big Buck Bunny decides to fight back, and…well you’ll have to see it for yourself. The visuals are breath-taking, from the tall grass blowing in the wind, to the stream reflecting off sunlight, to the cute and cuddly creatures.

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If the concept of open movies is new, or strange, to you, you may find it interesting to know that Big Buck Bunny is already the second open movie in the world, following from the success of the first open movie, Elephants Dream.

Two years ago, the Project Orange released the world’s first open movie, and it was titled Elephants Dream. Elephants Dream and Big Buck Bunny are called open movies because they are made entirely with open source tools, where of course Blender is the star player. Not only that, all the production files, all the 3D assets, everything used in the movie is also available for download, and it’s also included on the DVD.

Computer graphics, or CG, has been used with film since all the way back in the 70’s even before films like Tron came out. Back then, the technology was still at its infancy. As the technology progressed, CG found its way more and more into film, combining live action and animation in films like Batman, Star Trek, The Abyss, etc. and moving on into feature-length movies like Toy Story and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. What most of them have in common is the use of expensive software, such as Maya, for creating the CG (except Pixar; they use in-house technology built on top of Linux).

A lot of you probably don’t know that there is a software out there called Blender proving itself and its abilities to be on par with the big industry giants like 3D Studio Max, Lightwave, Maya, and SoftImage. But unlike its counterparts with 5-digit price tags (in US dollars), Blender is completely free! That’s right. Free to use, free to abuse, free to modify, free as in freedom and free as in beer.

Now there are a lot of people I know who are averse to Linux and the concept of free and open-source software, believing them to be of inferior quality because they’re not backed by large companies with lots of capital. I think that Blender is one of the model FLOSS software that proves this to be simply not the case.

If you haven’t seen the Open Movies yet, now would be a good time to do so. Head on over to the Elephant’s Dream page or the Big Buck Bunny page. You can also see how Plumiferos, another movie in the works, is coming about, as well as a whole lot of movies over at the Blender Movie Gallery. Oh, and of course, tell your friends or give them a copy. Don’t worry, it’s free (and open); Edu Manzano or the MPAA won’t be knockin’ on your door anytime soon.

June 16, 2008 at 9:28 am 1 comment

How Not To Pack Gear

Underwater DSLR CasingFor our 15th year company outing, we were headed off to beautiful Dos Palmas Beach Resort and Spa in Palawan. And my camera gear couldn’t have been more ready. The timing was excellent: the 18-135mm lenses that I bought used from a friend as well as the MB-D200 Battery Grip was hand-delivered from Japan just the day before our outing, as well as a DicaPac WP-S10 DSLR underwater pack I had ordered and delivered to my office.

Here is the official list of gear I brought with me:

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  1. Nikon D200
  2. Nikon MB-D200 battery grip
  3. Nikon SB-600 Flash
  4. 18-135mm lens
  5. 28-85mm lens
  6. 70-300 lens
  7. DicaPac WP-S10 Underwater DSLR pack
  8. Cokin P-series filter holder
  9. Cokin 58mm adapter ring
  10. Cokin 62mm adapter ring
  11. Cokin Circular Polarizer
  12. Cokin 81B filter
  13. Cokin Gradual Grey filter
  14. Slik Able-300EX Tripod
  15. Kohjinsha SH6 laptop
  16. Okion portable optical mouse
  17. Nintendo DS (Ok, maybe this doesn’t count with photography, but it’s still tech)
  18. Chargers

Note: If you’re wondering why I still brought with me my 28-85mm, it’s because I didn’t have an adapter ring for the 67mm diameter 18-135mm lens.

I had so much gear with me, that in fact I think I had more gear than clothes! Yeah! All these in tow, camera gear…check. Batteries fully-charged…check. Clothes…check. All set to go to beautiful Dos Palmas!

Now for all of you out there, here’s Piece of Advice #1: If you’re going out on a trip like this with this much gear, I advise you to make a checklist; things can get pretty hectic when you’re getting your gear ready and rushing to the airport. In my case, I didn’t have one. And I forgot probably the most important thing in my gear…

…my fully-charged D200 battery!

My first realization of this fact was in the boarding area, when my boss asked me to take a picture, and I gladly obliged. Bringing out my camera, I wondered for a second why the LCD didn’t show the available shots left (it displays even when the D200 is turned off). And I just bumped my head into the D200 (don’t worry, the D200 is tougher than my head), and muttered “ass…” All of those camera gear, and no SLR to use them with!

On the plane, I rejoiced in the fact when I remembered that I brought the MS-D200 battery holder that came with the battery grip. What this savior did was to allow me to put 6 AA batteries into the battery grip as an emergency power source. I found a sari-sari store at the dock just before leaving for Dos Palmas island (after the bus ride from the airport at Puerto Princesa) and bought a couple of batteries for P18 a piece. Piece of Advice #2: Eveready General Purpose batteries (color blue) WILL NOT power up your D200! Even with a fresh batch, they will display as battery low. At the Dos Palmas Tabu-An (their souvenir shop), I bought more alkalines, this time Kodak batteries meant to be used for cameras.

Piece of Advice #3: When operating with limited battery supply, turn off auto-focus, flash, and keep the LCD preview to a minimum. I also turned off the grid display, for good measure, but I don’t think it mattered at all. The Kodaks lasted for around 25 shots. At P270 for 6, it wasn’t going cheap…

Much later, desperate for power, I thought, flash is useless without a camera to use them with. So I salvaged the 4 NiMHs in my SB-600 and borrowed 2 more from a friend. Piece of Advice #4: NiMHs can smoke alkalines, any kind, any day. The NiMHs could shoot through 2 2GB CF cards and still keep on going (I’m still draining them right now, trying to figure out continuous flash shooting).

Much, much later, I realized that the “drained” Kodaks could still power my flash! Doh!

Anyway, head over to http://www.jplui.com/photos/DosPalmas for the vacation pictures that I managed to take. Enjoy!

June 3, 2008 at 9:10 am 4 comments

AOC LCD Monitor With PIP TV

I just got a new toy to add to my room! I have been looking out to buy a flat-panel LCD monitor for my desktop. My aging CRT monitor’s plug was already falling apart and the monitor was displaying pink. While I could breath a little bit more life into it by repairing it, I figured it was time to move up.

I’ve been looking around for a flat-panel monitor for 6 months, but since I had a long-term assignment in Japan, it would be gathering dust and cobwebs if I had bought one last year. And thank goodness I didn’t! My initial choice was a 19-inch widescreen Samsung. But when I was already about to get one, the store guy recommended that I get this AOC instead, since the price difference was minimal.

Aside from the 19-inch widescreen goodness, the AOC also had a built-in TV tuner and your standard-fare RCA and S-Video inputs, as well as DVI input for a full HDTV experience (if your hardware has it). Of course, it comes with a remote control.

After trying it out at the store, I was pretty much convinced. After all, I didn’t have a TV in my room (my old TV was brought down to the living room). So now, not only do I have a space-saving flat-panel monitor for my PC, I can also play with my Wii from the comfort of my room! Plus the fact that I could pay for it slowly for 6 months through my credit card.

Another cool thing is the picture-in-picture (PIP) function; it allows me to use it as a monitor AND watch TV at the same time (click picture to enlarge)! Sweet.

Update: Today, less than 2 weeks later, my girlfriend got herself one of her own.:)

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May 2, 2008 at 2:29 pm 3 comments

Say Hello To Koji

Kohjinsha’s Size Compared to An SD CardI saw a Kohjinsha SH6KP10A for only Y40K in Nipponbashi! I have seen the Kohjinsha quite a few times before, but never really paid attention because it was a local brand and was as expensive as a more powerful, albeit larger laptop. So coming home, I decided to do a little forward research on the Kohjinsha, specifically on Linux support. It only had an Intel A100 600Mhz processor (for reasons unknown to me, it’s faster than my 2.4Ghz main laptop), although it did have an Intel 945 GPU, which was perfect for 3D in Linux. If this thing could run a Vista, it would be quite fast when running Ubuntu. I compared the price vs. feature set with other UMPCs. TheSamsung Q1 was another favorite of Ubuntu users, but as it did not have a real keyboard (I need to be able to work on it; the optional keyboard attachment made it not so ultra-mobile, yuck). Searching the Ubuntu Forums yielded few, but very promising and helpful results. Checking them out, I found a few owners of Kohjinshas getting Gutsy on their UMPCs.

It was only 40K yen if you were going to get a Yahoo!BB subscription with it. But at 60K, it was still a bargain, since it was only 6mos used and at half the price of a new one. And I got myself one last weekend.

Kohjinsha and My Old Asus L3Taking it home, what was my first impression? First of all, it was preloaded with Vista, and instead of a recovery disc it had a 4GB recovery partition. I had to test all the hardware first to see if everything was A-Ok. Touch screen worked, webcam worked, the controls beside the screen (a lot of ’em: D-pad, track pointer, launcher, shutter, rotation, enter, brightnes. scroll keys. left and right mouse buttons), webcam, TV tuner, bluetooth and WiFi, all working perfectly. And you had no less than 3 ways to control your pointer: via the touch pad, the thumb pointer, and touch screen. As for text input, well you had the physical keyboard when you really need the typing speed, or you can use the touch screen.

While it still had Vista, I decided to do a quick speed comparison test. Nothing fancy, just a quick test to see which OS would allow me to work more before I had to get off the train at the station. In short, boot times.

Here are the results:

Windows Vista Home Basic Startup time:
1:10.03 – Time to welcome screen
1:49.83 – Time to desktop display
4:06.85 – Time to finish loading everything

Ubuntu Gutsy LiveCD startup time:
0:22.21 – Time to LiveCD menu
3:02.19 – Time to opening tune
4:26.33 – Time to finish loading everything

Vista was able to boot in just a little over 4 minutes (about the time it takes for a train to get to the next station) and 20 seconds faster than Ubuntu. That’s swell, until you consider the fact that IT WAS A LIVECD! For those not in the know, a LiveCD basically allows you to run an OS without installing on your computer. That’s right, that 4 minute Vista on my fast hard drive barely beat Ubuntu running off a CD drive! Hey, I wanted a fair fight, so I had to handicap Ubuntu..<snicker>

Kohjinsha Showing Compiz’s Scale FeatureAlright, so what are the real comparison figures for Ubuntu and Vista when both are installed in the hard disk?
Ubuntu Gutsy LiveCD startup time:
1:01.44 – Time to Login Screen
1:10.41 – Time to opening tune
1:35.58 – Time to desktop display
1:39.49 – Time to finish loading everything

You could argue that the Vista desktop already appears at about 1:50, but you just can’t do anything with it yet for another 30 seconds, where you can *technically* do something e.g. click a button/menu, just don’t expect your computer to respond well.

Kohjinsha Reverse StyleSo Vista was out and Ubuntu was in, and without needing to install any drivers at all, the CF and SD card reader, controls beside the screen, the webcam, 3D card, sound, and most everything worked out-of-the-box and without my intervention. And from the info in the Ubuntu Forums thread I had found earlier, I was able to get Koji up to speed.

Kohjinsha Handwriting Recognition With CellwriterSo right now, I can type away on the train(where I wrote most of this post’s content yesterday on the train to Kyoto). Heck, I could do away with the typing altogether and just scribble away with Cellwriter.

I don’t really need to say this but I’m one very, very proud Ubuntu-powered Kohjinsha owner!

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March 10, 2008 at 12:33 am 5 comments

Techno Tokyo Trip (Part 3)

As I mentioned last post, I bought myself a real goodie from Akihabara. Something I’ve long been working for so it was high time to reward myself with this, ehem, investment.

D200 Body (Front)
D200 Body (Back)

Ta da! Introducing the D200 from Nikon’s prosumer line. This hefty monster feels right in my hands, and the magnesium alloy body really feels solid, sturdy and can take a real beating before giving up the ghost.

I was able to pick one up from Sofmap in Akihabara second-hand for a price almost half off of a tag price on the cheap price range (Hint: brand new body-only price is around Y160K). So why did I pick up a 2nd hand D200 instead of a brand new D40x which I could get for even less, lens included (I think I could have also afforded the D80 kit as well)?

I was not looking for an entry-level camera. I’ve had prior practice on film with my trusty, if not comparitively simplistic, F55D film camera. So, while I knew that a ton of features do not a good picture make, at the very least I needed camera that can keep up with my needs.

The D40 was also much more pickier with lenses, since their lens mounts do not have the built-in focus drive motors, and since I had a few lenses already, I did not want to put them out of use and invest in new AF-S and AF-I lenses. And while I often do manual focus, you will have to love the autofocus speed and control you get with the D200’s 11-area TTL focus.

The D200’s built-in flash can also be used as a commander unit for use with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System. In other words, you can control an SB-600/SB-800 flash remotely without the need for additional equipment, save for the flash unit itself of course. The only other cameras that can do this is the D70, but it was already aging and has a smaller LCD screen.

D200 As Commander

So why buy a 2-year old product second-hand? Simply put, it gets all the technology I need in my hands at the right price. Since the D300 just got introduced, people who have lots of money or people who think they need features that the D200 lacks would be strolling off with their new buys. I on the other hand have done my homework and am confident to say I don’t need those 3 or 4 bells and whistles for more than twice the price. Besides, I’m in Japan so I’m pretty confident when the tag doesn’t indicate any damage that the previous owner took care of this D200. Plus Japanese are known to be prone to upgrade quickly, so that’s good enough for me. 🙂

Edit: I just found out that my D200’s shutter actuations was only less than 28K when I bought it! Yippee!:D

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February 6, 2008 at 10:36 pm 5 comments

Techno Tokyo Trip (Part 2)

Akihabara Adventure Begins!Well, so I was in Tokyo, THE big city of Japan.

First stop, of course, as the owner of this blog, has to be one of the key destinations in Tokyo, Akihabara Electric Town or Akiba for short. Well, actually, we were supposed to go to Tokyo Disneyland first but tickets were sold out so…

Anyway, it was just after Christmas, and right before New Year and me and my girlfriend’s 3rd Anniversary (yup, same day), so for a gift that can cover all three bases,

Canon TX1

the Canon TX1 more than just handles that requirement, topping off even the Sony T70. Both had face recognition and image stabilization. It wasn’t an easy decision, with the ultra-sleek design and touch screen of the T70, and being cheaper by Y10,000 further compounded the difficulty of that decision. But ultimately, it came down to the nitty-gritty specs and practical capabilities of the Canon TX1 that subdued all the glitz and glamor of the T70. While it sounds cool to control your camera via a touch-screen LCD, it’s use was just not practical enough to replace solid physical controls, of which the TX1 has plenty. The TX1 not only had better optical zoom and larger optics, a separate video record button, the capability to record 16:9 videos, a solid body and a form-factor most suited for taking steady photos and videos. And while the LCD screen is smaller, it can however swivel around, useful when you’re shooting above your head, shooting yourself, or if you just need a mirror. Of course, the Y10,000 discount we got was certainly a big bonus and bumped the T70 out the window.:)

Aside from the TX1, I also bought myself my own Christmas/New Year/Anniversary present, but I’ll tell you more about it in my next post. For now, here’s a picture of Akihabara at night, taken from the TX1.

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger picture)Akiba At Night

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January 27, 2008 at 10:34 pm Leave a comment

Techno Tokyo Trip (Part 1)

Three weeks ago, during the New Year break, I had the best vacation ever, which started with the fulfillment of a dream I’ve long had and ended with new gear in tow.

Note: This is going to be a two- or three-part story, I’m not really sure yet.

While I can’t talk in detail about my vacation, I will provide highlights on the cool tech that I’ve encountered and/or brought home. Firstly, as I had mentioned earlier was a lifelong dream fulfilled: to be able to ride the incredibly fast Shinkansen, more famously known as the Bullet Train.

Shinkansen HikariIts popular English name came from the literal translation of Dangan Ressha (弾丸列車), a nickname given to it while the project was still being planned in the ’30s. The train pictured at the left is a 300 series Hikari train on the Tokaido Shinkansen line (東海道新幹線), and it’s capable of running at 270km/h, which got me to Tokyo in a little bit over 3 hours. The 300 series boasts being the first Shinkansen with a 3-phase AC traction motor. It’s super fast and it’s quite quiet, allowing for a comfortable afternoon nap. But it’s also super expensive, costing twice a domestic flight to from Manila to Davao via Cebu Pacific, for an ordinary unreserved seat. Luckily, seats were abundant coming from Shin-Osaka station.

The Tokaido line to Tokyo also carries a bit of a history with it. The Shinkansen project was put on hold during the second World War and the Tokaido line was where the project resumed in 1958 and opened in time for the Tokyo Olympics on October 1, 1964.

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January 24, 2008 at 12:49 am Leave a comment

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