Category Archives: electronics

Great and not-so-great things about the internet in Japan 2008

As I stated earlier, I am visiting Japan for the first time in 10 years this Thanksgiving break. After a couple of days, there are a few things that have really stood out to me.

Electronics are not as advanced over the rest of the world as they used to be. There are still alot of cool things here, but there is nothing I have seen so far that I am just dying to have. 10 years ago, this was very different…

The prices of things have not changed at the same rate here as in North America (ESPECIALLY Canada). The last time I was here, there were many things I wanted to buy, the the prices where prohibitively expensive. Granted, at the time I was a graduate student working on my Master’s degree and money was a bit harder to come by — but — the prices of things here is definitely cheaper. Eating out is now quite a bit cheaper than in New York City (depends on the restaurant of course).

The internet is the thing that is sticking out the most to me. 10 years ago ISDN was a luxury that most people only dreamed of. 128kbps was jsut amazing speed and you could actually download the newest version of Netscape 4 in under 1 hour. It was just great at the time. Now with fiber, cable, and DSL connections being plentiful here, I can watch TV via sling AND Video chat with friends and family through Skype for no cost at all. I spend more than $200 on phone calls the last time I was here!!

With all this good stuff, there must be some bad. The bad part of the internet experience I am finding so far is related to content filtering. It seems that many companies and providers are IP filtering connections and seem to block any connections not originating from the U.S.A. This is lame. One problem that is really bothering me is that Steam is not allowing me to download Left 4 Dead onto my laptop so I can kill some zombies. I already purchased the game and have been playing it on my desktop as well as my computer at work. I forgot to install the game on my laptop before I left, but didnt think much about it since I knew there would be a fast internet connection waiting for me in Japan. Well, to make a long story short, Steam is not allowing me to download any new content while I am connecting from Japan. I have tested this theory using VNC to my systems at work and at home. No problems there. Anyway, this lameness aside, I have found a way around other filters. SOCKS 5 Proxys are great. I installed WinSocks on my computer at home. I am connecting to the computer via Hamachi using a VPN. This allows me to not open ports on my router for this. Makes it very easy. Anyway, using a program called ProxyCap, I can redirect programs running on mylaptop to mask their IP address to that of my home system. This allows lots of things to work now. In particular, I am thoroughly enjoying watching NFL football via DirecTV’s Superfan program. It refused to connect without the proxy, but when I change the settings, I have live NFL football in all its glory right on my laptop. This is very nice.

Anyway, lots of good, and a few bad things (no killing of zombies is pretty bad…) to mention here. I will post more as the trip goes on.

Video Tutorials on Motion Capture 2

Here is the second in my series of motion capture tutorials. The first focused on setting up a naming template in Nexus. This tutorial will describe the process of cleaning optical data and filling gaps when occlusion of reflective markers occurs. The video below is part one. If you play it to the end, you will see links to the further parts.

Video Tutorials on Motion Capture

My class on motion capture started recently and I decided to post some tutorials for my students and others to watch.  You might find them useful if you are learning to use Vicon Nexus or AutoDesk MotionBuilder.  The first series is on how to set up a dot naming template in Nexus.

Verizon FIOS in Brooklyn

I was out walking around in Park Slope the other day and I noticed a huge group of people loitering on the sidewalk handing out flyers.  Generally, I try to avoid these things as I get annoyed very quickly with people wasting my time.  These people were dressed as the Verizon network people, wearing white coveralls and hard hats.  I went over towards them, and they promptly handed me a flyer explaining the benefits of FIOS over Cable.

I agree with these things.  I would get FIOS right now — IF IT WAS AVAILABLE!!!  Verizon has been advertising for over a year now that FIOS is available in New York City.  From what I can tell, its available in a very very limited amount of areas.

So, why is this group of 100-150 people being paid to advertise a service in a neighborhood that it doesn’t exist?  Wouldn’t it make much more sense to pay the technicians to install the hardware to make FIOS work in Park Slope?

This was a bit annoying to me, and really makes me question the logic of marketing.  I do call once a month and ask when I can get FIOS, and generally I am told the same, “Soon, we are working on it” canned statement.

Annoyances aside, I still will get FIOS the day it is available — but for a different reason than you might think.  Of course I am interested in the fast internet speeds, but it is the TV service that I am more interested in.  For one, I am anxiously awaiting the ability to watch NFL network again.  When I lived in Canada this channel was included in basic cable, and it was watched by my girlfriend and my self MOST of the time in football season.  I caught her watching it all by herself a few times actually — even when I was not home.  Secondly, because the Scientific Atlanta 8300HDC is such a piece of junk (crashes at minimum one per week) I looked into what box Verizon uses.  It seems that it uses the Motorola box, which has proven much more stable in my experiences.

Regardless, I will not be holding my breath for the service to be available any time soon.

EA Sports to Return to PC

I read this article on shacknews this morning.  If you don’t want to read the article — it basically states that Electonic Arts (EA) is going to make sports games for Windows again in 2009 after taking a year off.

I am generally happy to hear this, but I hope they have really rethought their marketing strategy for the PC.  I really like playing games via the interenet on PC because there is so much more you can do than in a locked down environment like XBOX Live or PSN.  The other thing which is far superior on a Windows PC is the freedom to choose your controller.  I can use the great xbox 360 wired or wireless controllers perfectly on XP or Vista OR I can choose to play with a keyboard and mouse.  This is really where it is at for me and its why I spend more money on my PC.

I have to wonder what EA is thinking at this point.  Cancel the series…Bring it back….  I don’t get it.

In the past EA has half-assed their Windows versions of Madden.  They have left out control schemes, they have NEVER implemented force feedback, even though they natively support the XBOX 360 controllers, and they have used copy protection schemes that have rendered some of the games I have paid for unplayable in the past.  I think these reasons are enough to indicate why people may shy away from buying the PC version of Madden.

I hope they do a good job with the game and I hope people buy it, but I dont think people will and here is why.  We dont need to buy a whole new game every year.  It is just too expensive and after a new version every year since 1992, there isnt that much more to add.

I do have some suggestions for EA regarding Madden:

  1. Make a new engine every 5 years for the game instead of every year.  Use the model of First Person Shooters.  Build a really good engine that is tweakable year to year to take advantage of lessons learned.  This will lower some costs.
  2. Since you are now not reprogramming the game from scratch every year, dont sell a game every year.  Instead, make money from microtransactions.  ROSTER UPDATES are clearly something people will pay for.  I think EA could STILL sell up-to-date rosters for Madden 92 and some people would buy them.  I have never understood why this isnt supported and I really question the marketing people at EA for it.  You can sell other things too via live, psn, or even steam — skins for stadiums,  weather packs (fog, snow, hurrricanes, etc), new uniforms and many, many others.
  3. Here is another idea I have been toying with for Madden in particular.  I think it might make sense to not even sell the game (still DO sell microtransactions, of course), but rather give it away for free and support it via advertising.  The game is already riddled with adds.  Why not add internet conenctivity to these adds and deliver personalized or local adds during game play.  For example, say you are playing online and your opponent calls a time-out.  A commerical for Taco Bell could run full screen while players choose their play again.  At first people might find it invasive, but if the game was free, I dont think they would care, I for one would gladly trade some of my attention for a free game.

These are just a few of my ideas.  I certainly hope that EA reads this and thinks my ideas are good.  If not, well, I hope someone else does and uses the ideas first.  Compeition usually helps out the consumer.  If you are reading this, and you represent a game company or marketing company, please feel free to contact me.  I have alot more ideas as to how to make money using networking and video games.  I might jsut do some free lance work for you.

Nvidia VFW driver for Vista?

Does anyone know if there is a working VFW driver for an Nvidia 7800GT with VIVO?  I have 2 of these cards and would like to use one of them as a video in on my HTCP as the video capture is pretty good on it.  I have been unable to find any indication that Nvidia supports VFW at this point.  I am hoping that someone has a hacked driver or something.  I have other video capture solutions that do work, but I would like to use one of these as well.  Please leave a message if you can help 🙂

Windows Vista Revisited

Very early on after its release, I gave Windows Vista a try on one of my secondary computers.  I was primarily interested in the Media Center funcitonalty of the Operating System.  I had and am currently still am using Windows XP MCE 2005 and like it alot.  So Vista MCE was seemed very interesting to me.

I installed it, and initially I liked it quite a bit.  But then the bad Vista came to bite me.  The audio drivers for the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Platinum Pro were clearly not designed for Vista.  The Nvidia drivers for my Geforce 8800 GTS Card were also clearly immature.  But most of all, the Media Center software that was the reason for my testing out Vista COMPLETELY disappeared from the computer.  There was no sign of it at all.  It happened all of a sudden too, I had turned off my computer prior to a thunderstorm and when I turned it back on after the storm, Vista was there, but the Media Center had been erased from existance.  VERY WEIRD.  These things caused me to give up on Vista for around a year.

I recently purchased a new motherboard, processor and ram.  I went with the EVGA 780i SLI motherboard and the Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 CPU with 4 gigs of Corsair Dominator ram.  Everythign else, I kept the same in my system as the other components are all fairly current.  In the older system, I was running Windows XP MCE 205.  With such a major change in componenets, it is necessary to reinstall the Operating System.  So I decided to give Vista a 2nd chance as Service Pack 1 was already available.

The installation was not super smooth.  I only have SATA optical drives in my computer now.  The LG Bluray-HDDVD combo drive is very nice, but is not available in PATA/IDE.  Windows Vista does not seem to like to install from SATA optical drives from waht I can tell.  Luckily, I had an old external USB DVD recorder which allowed me to install Vista Ultimate with ho hitches.

Once installed, the system seemed to function well, after updating all my drivers to Vista approved versions.  All of the software I use seems to be fully functional in Vista when I turn off the User Account Control.  UAC is just an annoyance to me.  I consider myself to be a power user, and UAC is very invasive — that said — I feel the SUDO in Linux is also annoying.  If I am capable, I should be able to run as root.  I realize its a bit of a security risk, but I have a pretty good idea what I am doing.  Therefor, the ability to completely disable UAC is good foresight by Microsoft.  Anyway, all seemed well and I decided to let Vista run for a few months.

Spring forward to today —

At the present I have been running Vista on my main computer for about 3 months and on a Dell XPS m1330 laptop for about 4 months.  At this point, I have to say, I notice very little difference in performance between Vista and XP now.  I think Vista is at least equivalent in both categories and may actually perform better than XP in some things.  I have figured out where all the settings have been moved to on Vista, so tweaking things is about the same as XP.  Gaming performance is on par with XP now too.  In fact on the main computer with an Nvidia Geforce 8800GTS with 768 megs of ram, gaming runs very very smoothly.  I have no complaints really.  I game either at 1270X800 or 1920X1200, depending on the game.  Anything I have tried works well.

Part of my job is running Autodesk Maya and MotionBuilder along with Vicon Nexus.  Thse programs run fine as well.  I notice absolutely zero difference between Vista and XP as far as speed or stability goes.  Infact, Vista may be slightly MORE stable at this point.

The laptop doesnt get used for gaming, so I can not comment there.  I have another m1330 that has a Geforce 8400GS M in it, that does get used for gaming, but I have XP MCE 2005 currently on that machine.  The Vista laptop is very stable and seems runs very quickly.  This laptop was purchased 5 months ago for around $700 USD.

I have no complaints at this point with Windows Vista — aside from the complaints I have with all computers.  It seems to have most of the bugs worked out, and Nvidia seems to have their act together on the drivers at this point.  If you read any review or critique of Vista at this point in time, make sure you check the date of the article.  My feeling is that it is working and can at this point be adopted by the masses as a decent operating system.

Time Warner Cable Complaints


I have some real complaints about Time Warner Cable. I could go on and on, but I think I am going to vent today on one item in particular. The 8300HDC cable box.

Firstly, I should point out that this box is made by Scientific Atlanta (Cisco). I am not sure of the details of the hardware and software relationship, but my guess is that with proper software support the box would work just fine. This, sadly as anyone who has this box knows, is not the case.

This box seemingly is everything you would want in a cable box. It has dual tuners and can record HD and SD video. It also supports the addition of an external hard drive for increased storage. I have not tried this yet, so I am unsure if the external HDD is supported in the sofware provided by Time Warner Cable. At first inspection, it seems to be a perfectly capable cable tuner.

This is where the illusion ends. The 8300HDC crashes all the time. Most often when it is recording HD streams (one of the main advertised functions of the box). Also, the box tends to reboot itself at least once a week. When it reboots, it does not turn itself back on, so my windows media center is unable to record anything. This provides me with alot of long all black avis with no sound. There is nothing I can do about this as I contacted Time Warner and was told that with DIGITAL cable this behavior was perfectly normal. They stressed the digital. This makes zero sense to me, but displays their blatant disrespect for their customers intelligence.

Aside from crashing, another complaint is that the firewire port seems to be disabled. I have no way to test this for sure, but after trying channel changing via FireSTB to no avail, I have given up. Previously, I had FireSTB working on a Motorola DCT-6200 with no problems at all. Again, I have no way to test this for sure but when I asked Time Warner they told me the firewire port is unsupported.

Due to this frustration, I decided to dump the 8300HDC and opt for a HD Tivo instead. The HD tivo gets great reviews and is continuously praised on a number of podcasts including CNET’s Buzz Out Loud. I went to and bought one. When it was delivered to me, I plugged it in and tested it out on analog cable only (more on this later). The box worked very well. I only wish that I could have actually used it.

I called Time Warner Cable and asked the tech if they had cable cards for use in Tivo. She replied that they did and that I could pick one up at the local Time Warner Office. I also asked if they had the dual tuner cards just like the one that is currently in the 8300HDC for rent. I was told yes, and that I could get that at the local office. I proceeded to the local office. I explained my situation with the box and the crashing and that I wanted a cable card for my new Tivo. The clerk had no idea what a cable card was, but offered me a new 8300HDC in exchange. I proceeded to show the clerk the card in the box, and asked if I could just have that one as it was exactly what I wanted. She said she would check. Another guy came back and said that there are no dual tuner cable cards and that I could only have one single tuner card. After some arguing, I was ready to get my 2 single tuner cable cards installed by a tech 30 days later. Then they told me the price differential. It was going to cost me $30 more per month for the cable cards and I was going to have to pay the tech $50 to plug the cards in to my Tivo. I was confused. I already had the 8300HDC WITH a dual tuner cable card inside of it for $30 less than what I would get less equipment for?!?! I questioned this, and it was explained to me that the cable box was part of my package deal, and by not having the box, I was breaking my package. I would thus have to pay more.

This seems like a scam to me. But who am I to complain to the cable company, they obviously do not care what I think. So, I took their offer of an exchange of the 8300HDC and went home. I boxed up my HD Tivo and sent it back to is great by the way. They paid for shipping both ways, and I greatly appreciate this type of customer service. Time Warner Cable could really learn something from regarding customer service.

Now one more thing. Why is it that I am forced to have this box at all. QAM delivers digital cable very nicely with no box at all. My TVs all support QAM as well as the tuners in my computer. QAM works great, supports HD and Dolby Digital and takes much bandwidth than analog signals. Why is Time Warner cable not supporting QAM. I understand they dont want to put premium channels on QAM. I am ok with this. But why not ESPN, Food Network, HGTV and other channels that are included in basic cable? Is it becasue they are scamming us into thinking we have to have a cable box, and that if we want to watch tv in more than one room they can collect a rental fee per television? I think so. Marketing people are so transparent. Again, a scam in my opinion.

I assume that FIOS does not support QAM either, but as soon as it is available in Brooklyn, I am switching to FIOS. When you couple the fast internet speeds with the hassles and the blatant disrespect for my intelligence by Time Warner, I feel it is time to fire Time Warner as my cable privider. Bad Time Warner, Bad.