Posts Tagged 'technology'

YouTube

My wife and her friend get loud when they’re talking on the phone together.

They have such a good time with each other that over the course of their conversations the world gets smaller and smaller until they are barely aware of anything outside of a very small bubble. Inside that bubble there is nothing but their friendship and whatever topic they’re laughing about. Their “bubble-space fun” is great enough that they’ve decided they want to try sharing their fun with the world (or at least a few interested friends) through YouTube.

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

It’s not an unreasonable thing to try. Though it’s hard to find exact numbers, there are, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of YouTube channels out there that have a sizable following. As of today, YouTube’s statistics page mentions that they have over a million content creators monetizing on their videos with thousands of channels making six figures a year.

But even if getting rich isn’t your aim, what makes a YouTube channel worth watching? How do you make videos that appeal to people?

I am a shift worker, and every two months I rotate between three shifts. Only one of those shifts has reasonable hours, so on my days off while on the other two shifts I often find myself looking to YouTube to help pass the time (I am not much of a night owl). I currently subscribe to 84 channels, though many of those belong to people I know personally who rarely upload anything.

This blog post is not meant to be the end-all, definitive lesson on how to attain success on YouTube. However, I do want to share what keeps me coming back for more from some of my favorite channels, and a few things I’ve learned over the years about this sort of thing.

Disclaimer: if I were really good at this stuff I’d be making a living doing it. The following consists of a lot of conjecture and heartfelt opinions intermingled with some useful facts that I know. And I’m not claiming to be sharing the secret to viral videos or anything – I’m sharing what I know about content production and audience retention. Also, to get the full benefit from this “lesson” you’re going to have to sit through some videos, and a few of them are rather lengthy and not all of them are kid friendly.

Let’s get started.

Conventional wisdom in the entertainment industry seems to be based around the misapplication of a basic (and true) principle of human communication: know your audience. Rather than just knowing their audience, they are trying to know their audience. Like, in bed. They want to give the audience what the audience wants because that’s what makes the audience grow and shell out money. Appeal to the widest possible audience and you’ve got yourself a profitable YouTube channel in no time.

But what about you? Will you be happy? And what of your audience? Will your audience come back for more because they’re interested in what you’ll post next time, or are you just generating views because your videos show a thumbnail that got someone to click on it out of interest (boobs)?

Cyril Connolly said: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

I believe that all entertainers should do what they love for their own reasons. Going further than that (here comes your first video assignment, and it’s almost twenty minutes long), Simon Sinek teaches leaders how to inspire people to action by centering everything you do around a primary idea that answers the question, “why?” You will need his advice when planning your content and video “format” (what and how you do what you do).

“Why” is a great place to start. And if you do it right, your “why” is something that is based mostly around feelings. But you’ve got to try to describe it in words.

Now, YouTube is an interesting place. There are a lot of problems with the “audience” on YouTube. The next video I want you to watch covers these issues through a satirical and tongue-in-cheek presentation pretending to be excellent advice on how to run your YouTube channel.

The real trick is in clearly defining why you’re starting your channel and figuring out what kinds of people are going to be watching it. Then you figure out whatever you can about that audience and tailor the presentation to them (not your content).

pewdiepie

pewdiepie (Photo credit: pixesophie)

A great example of this is a guy called PewDiePie. He records himself being an idiot playing video games. As of right now, this guy has over thirteen million subscribers (I am not one of them). YouTube channels that focus on gaming are really big right now. A lot of people want to watch people play video games. But what makes PewDiePie number one?

Another channel I watch from time to time is The Game Theorist. He records videos in which he speculates on gaming related issues, carefully researching the topic and assembling an informed theory to explain what might be going on. He has a great video in which he basically proves that Sonic is not very fast. Very fun videos, but not consistently fun enough to get my subscription.

The Game Theorist did a really great video about why PewDiePie is so popular, and in it he outlines a lot of things that any new content publisher should know.

OK, one more long-ish video that you have to watch all the way through, then we’ll get into individual channels.

This next video is by a guy who I honestly did not expect to subscribe to. I remember the first time I saw one of his videos. I thought, “this guy is ugly, strange, and I do not feel like I connect with him.” That, however, was before I started getting into woodworking. When my wife and I started building a major piece of furniture I began looking for woodworking YouTube videos that were helpful for a novice like me.

That’s when this ugly guy’s channel came back up. After watching a few of his videos I subscribed. Then I found out that he had another channel in which he talks about the videos in his main channel. This intrigued me, so I checked out that second channel. Again, I subscribed.

Then I stumbled upon the following video in his auxiliary channel in which he talks about the video equipment he uses to make videos. But that’s not why I’m having you watch it. I’m having you watch it because the guy is awesome at little tips that make videos better for viewers. His video is kind of long, but it is full of outstanding advice for new channel owners.

If you’ve watched all of the videos I’ve prescribed so far, you’ve just watched 50 minutes and 46 seconds of video. Maybe you did it all in one sitting, maybe you broke it up into manageable segments over the course of a day or more. It’s possible that not all of those videos kept your attention for the entire length, but I’m betting that most of them did (if not all of them). Why did you watch those videos? Not just “because I’m trying to learn how to make good videos.” Really ask yourself, “what kept me watching even though those videos were so long?” If you need to, pick one and go back and watch it again, trying to figure out how the presenter kept your attention.

Now, let’s run through a few of my subscriptions and talk about what I love about them.

When I link to a channel, I recommend you familiarize yourself with their top video (or a few of their top videos). To do this, click on the channel link I provide, then look for the “Videos” tab (next to the little house icon, below the channel name). When the Videos tab first loads their uploads are shown in reverse chronological order (newest videos first). Click on the drop down button that says “Date added (newest – oldest)” and select “Most popular” to view their videos from most to least popular. Then watch at least a few of their top few videos to see what they are like.

The great thing about viewing the most popular video on a channel is that you can see the video that resonated the most with their intended audience. It’s usually the video that initially earned them a strong following of subscribers (but not always).

Alright. I’m not going through these in any particular order (well, except alphabetical order because that’s how I’m viewing the list of my subscriptions).

The first channel I’ll introduce you to feels more like a television show, and perhaps that’s why I’m subscribed. As far as I know, these videos do not air on cable. They are just a YouTube thing, but they have exceptional production value and a pretty nice budget behind them, which leads me to believe that they are professionally produced by a crew that also does television shows.

They do a variety of things on the channel, but the videos I like most are part of a series called “Man at Arms” where a professional blacksmith creates video game character weapons. That particular feature got my subscription, but since then I have enjoyed a few of their other videos as well, videos that I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t subscribed. That’s the power of gaining subscribers.

  • Check out this channel: AWE me

This next channel isn’t something that I would have initially thought I’d ever subscribe to (DON’T JUDGE ME). I initially happened upon the channel when I was watching a lot of videos of different accents (I like accents, OK?). The video that got me interested was part of a larger playlist that someone else had put together to showcase accents from around the world. To this day, the video of hers that I saw is still her most popular video (and it’s over two years old).

When watching her video I found that I didn’t just like her accent, I thought she had a lot of fun things to say. So I checked out her more recent videos and found that she was video blogging (vlogging) about a lot of topics in an interesting way (and by interesting I mean that she’s being her own silly self without worrying too much about her audience, though she does ask for suggestions from time to time).

To me, her channel is a great example of what one normal person (and sometimes she has her friends on with her) can do to hold an audience, even without great equipment or professional training. With just over 8,000 subscribers she’s not the biggest channel that I’m covering, but she’s got her audience and she does a good job keeping their attention (though I don’t watch her videos all the way through when they stray too far from my interests — for example sometimes she goes to parties and films it).

Here’s an odd one for you. I subscribed to this guy on a whim when I found a video he posted of a nickel ball that he heated with a blow torch until it was red hot before dropping it in some water. I think Randall Munroe linked to it on his What If blog when referring to the cavitation effect (that’s probably not what it’s called) that occurs when super hot things contact water. Anyhow, the video owner got a sudden surge in traffic for the red hot nickel ball in water video and began doing more videos like it (using the RHNB acronym rather than writing out red hot nickel ball all the time). Now he’s got 45 thousand subscribers that just want to see what he’ll drop his red hot nickel ball onto next. It’s a simple premise, but one that has obviously gained him quite a strong following.

Sometimes the best channels are focused on just one interest. In this next channel’s case, it’s slingshots. In fact, he calls himself “the slingshot channel.” While some of his “slingshot” videos kind of stretch the concept of slingshot (see what I did there?), his razor focus on a single subject secures him a steady viewership that shares his passion. All in all he’s just shy of 300,000 subscribers at the moment, and he really loves making his videos.

I recommend you check out a few of his videos for sure. He is a fun, lovable guy and after watching a couple of his videos you’ll never forget the way he says, “That’s all for today. I hope you liked it. Thanks, and bye bye.” Super great guy.

A while back Google released a product that didn’t make a lot of sense. The Internet was complaining about its price, its unusual technical specifications, and all sorts of other things about it. Then I stumbled upon this guy explaining the features of this product and it totally made sense. This kid is sharp, great at explaining things in a way that is relevant to the average technology user, and really gets into the tech industry to relay the best news to his viewers. And it pays off. He’s got over 500,000 subscribers and through his YouTube income is able to pay for all the neat toys and gadgets he could possibly want. Plus, it seems that some product manufacturers send him their latest gadgets to try out and review on his channel.

In addition to having fantastically well planned content and presentation, he excels at production. His videos are clear and vibrant, and they have outstanding audio quality. When my father moved from newspaper publishing to running a couple dozen news websites for a corporation he had to learn to do web video. In his research he found that the main difference between obviously amateur videos and apparently professional videos was the sound quality. Good sound quality can put your channel in an entirely different category when it comes to perceived quality, and if anyone knows that Marques Brownlee does.

Here’s one of those video game channels. This guy is just plain silly. I found his channel when a coworker showed me a video from a different channel and one of this guy’s videos was a related video. I thought his video was way funnier than the one my coworker shared with me. So I subscribed. His videos are almost all short (2 to 5 minutes) and well edited to contain all of the funniest bits and enough back story to know why they’re funny. Do not show these videos to young children.

This next guy came out of nowhere. As someone who once frequented but now occasionally peruses reddit, I have learned to appreciate the power of certain social media platforms (especially reddit). One day this guy’s first video got posted to reddit when he only had about five videos up (to date he still only has 14 videos posted). The video was an explanation of the book Crime and Punishment and the reddit post title indicated that watching this video would grant me some insight into the book that I previously lacked.

The video delivered on that promise and then some. The production quality leads me to wonder if there isn’t a professional studio behind these videos, but I don’t care if they’re just going to try to sell me something in the end. I subscribed because I want to know as much about literature as this character is going to teach me. These are fantastic videos because they provide a service and do it in a way that is more than just entertaining, it is original. Original ideas (or just ideas that seem original) go a long way so long as they are presented well and given the right exposure.

Back when Lindsey Stirling was on America’s Got Talent and her YouTube channel teamed up with some big shot videographer, I discovered another violin-playing girl with a YouTube channel and I decided that I like her style better. And I’m glad I did, because soon Lindsey’s work began to feel heartless. I think more recently she may be rediscovering her old self, but for a while she lost her way when she lost sight of her “why.”

Anyhow, this other violin player has remained humble, innovative, and relevant to my interests for a couple of years now, and she just released her first original song. She may not have as many fans as Lindsey (only 220,000 subscribers vs. Lindsey’s 3 million), but she is just as talented (if not more) at playing the violin. Just looking at the comments on their videos and channels you can get an idea of how her 220,000 subscribers are just as valuable as Lindsey’s 3 million to someone who is not doing what they do for their audience, but for their self.

OK, just one more. This girl is a member of a game-playing, video-making team called The Yogscast. They actually have a Wikipedia page (yes, they’re that big of a deal and you had no idea they existed). They got their start playing World of Warcraft in a guild called “Ye Olde Goone Squad” (from whence they derive their current name, YOGScast) and eventually gained popularity with their Let’s Play video series about Minecraft.

I don’t really care for most of the Yogscast stuff (though some of it can be pretty fun), but I found Hannah’s channel when I was looking up videos of the recent game The Last of Us. I had heard that the story was good, so I wanted to watch someone play through it. Hannah’s first game play video of the game caught my attention when she cried at the end of the opening sequence. I enjoy her accent, her commentary, and what she adds to the game experience just by being herself. Her videos are pretty long (about 20 minutes on average) but I highly recommend you watch one or two of them. She’s great at holding her audience. She does all of her own video editing, and manages to edit out “boring” parts without making you miss any of the important content of the game.

Alright. That is a good general sampling of channels I subscribe to and why I subscribe. There are quite a few more, of course, but I think these ones are each unique enough that you should be able to figure out what you want to do by watching them do what they love.

I apologize for how freakishly long this is and how clumsy my writing is. I wrote it all out and lost the steam to go back and do a thorough editing.

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Nook vs Kindle: The Story of My Personal Decision

A Picture of a eBook

Image via Wikipedia

Ever since before we pre-ordered my wife’s first generation Barnes and Noble nook two years ago (probably even two years ago today since it first shipped November 30, 2009), I knew that I wanted an ebook reader that did not use a back-lit screen.

Back then I was aware that Sony and a few other companies already had expensive devices on the market that made use of the e-ink screen technologies I had read about a few years prior in Popular Science, and I had followed the release of the Amazon Kindle closely. This was a technology I knew I would use because I love to read, I love using gadgets, and I can’t read from a back-lit screen for too long before my eyes grow tired. As much as I love reading real books, the fact is that I get lazy about carrying around a whole book. I worry about tearing or creasing pages. And oddly enough, I have a sensitivity issue with paper.

Every once in a while, physical contact with paper is somehow registered as pain on my skin. I always loved to write, but my writing didn’t flourish until I could abandon the pain of resting my palm on paper and take up the keyboard. I have tried using gloves, lotion, petroleum jelly… You name it. Paper hurts my skin. Not all the time, but sometimes it’s so bad it becomes unbearable.

So I knew I needed an ebook reader.

I tend to shun products that quickly dominate a market and garner an almost cult following (ehem: iProducts).  I try to promote “the other guys” when it comes to making technology purchases, especially when the difference between the less popular product and the insanely popular product is negligible. And the Kindle had just about become such a product in the months leading up to the release of the nook.

Barnes & Noble nook (ebook reader device)

Image via Wikipedia

And so when Barnes and Noble announced the nook, I poured over the facts and decided that the  nook was a worthy competitor for the Kindle. When my wife expressed an interest in getting a nook or a Kindle, I helped her look at both as objectively as possible. In the end, she liked the openness of the Android platform, the fact that the nook would take the EPUB format, and she even liked that the nook offered competition for the Kindle. She opted for the nook, and we haven’t at any point in time regretted that decision.

So I guess a part of me always assumed I would get a nook. And recently, my desire to read and my desire to avoid touching paper books collided again and I found myself in a Barnes and Noble store holding the newest nook Simple Touch ereader. I loved it. Dark bevel (I heard once that the darker finish helped increase the perceived contrast of the e-ink screen). Slim profile. Compact design. Touch screen. And the price wasn’t bad at $150 (this was a month ago or so, before all the price changes).

I made the decision to get it. I knew that as the holidays got closer prices might go down, and I knew that some of my relatives might send money. I was too poor to just take the thing to the checkout then and there, but I knew I had a nook Simple Touch in my reading future.

It was just a matter of time.

Then Amazon did something crazy. They released an extremely similar product, at a lower price, with an ugly silver bevel. No worries. I still wanted the nook. But the Kindle was cheaper. But the nook had the dark bevel, and I was sure Barnes and Noble would match Amazon’s price soon enough (and I was right). So I stuck with my determination to get the nook.

Then Amazon did something else. They announced the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Essentially, it meant that I, as an Amazon Prime member, would have access to hundreds of bestselling books for free. Sure, it’s only one at a time, once a month. But these are not books that can be read for free on the nook. Most of them won’t even be on the library network where you can borrow books for free. And as a slow reader, I appreciate that the new Amazon service doesn’t have a due date. I can borrow the book indefinitely. This is a big deal for me.

But is it worth reading on a device with an ugly silver bevel?

Maybe.

So at this point my decision to purchase a nook wasn’t quite as solid. I had doubts. Also, somewhere in there I realized that the Kindle no longer held a firm, ridiculously popular grip in the ereader market. I realized that I wouldn’t have to feel like buying a Kindle was really just a pitiful cry for social help.

It was time to do what I do best: crunch some numbers.

I have used spreadsheets to analyze many things, and I knew that a spreadsheet could help me resolve this conflict. So I went to my bookshelves at home and wrote down the titles of almost forty of my favorite books that I already own (shamefully, a few of which remain unread). Then I went to my Amazon wishlist full of hundreds of books that have been recommended to me, or that I had planned on purchasing and reading in the future. All in all, I assembled a list of 103 books that were all relevant to my interests.

I decided that whichever service provided the greatest selection of books that I would be interested in reading would win. I put the list of books into the spreadsheet, then began pulling prices from Amazon and Barnes and Noble for the ebook versions.

Keep in mind that I put the spreadsheet together quickly, without doing a bunch of digging around. I went with the price for the first version that popped up, I didn’t do searches for variations or special editions or anything of the sort. I searched, I clicked, I got the price. That was it.

Oh, and I didn’t include expensive ebooks in my average price calculations. To me, any ebook that costs more than $20 should be ignored. If it’s that expensive but you just have to read it, find the hard copy in a library or check ebay.

Behold: MY SPREADSHEET.

I found out a couple of things right away. First, I have spent so much time on Amazon making music, movie, game, and grocery  purchases that I am way more comfortable with Amazon than I am with Barnes and Noble. I love going to a Barnes and Noble store in person, but I found their website nearly offensive in some cases. I can’t pinpoint exactly what I found so distasteful, but navigating it felt like trying to ride a bike through a rock garden, even after searching for 103 titles.

Second, and this one is important, I realized that Amazon does digital distribution better than Barnes and Noble. Amazon makes the entire process easier for me. Finding the books I wanted was easier and faster on Amazon, and since I already have an intimate relationship with them, the process for purchasing a book from them was easier (I found this out while trying to get free ebooks as a test of the system).

The results of the spreadsheet war? Amazon had 72 of my target titles in their Kindle library (69.9%) at an average price of $9.35 per title. Barnes and Noble had 63 of my target titles in their nook library (61.2%) at an average price of $9.32 per title. I found one book in the nook library that was less expensive than the version I found on Amazon. There were nine books that I found on Amazon that were not available for the nook. Not a single book from my list was only available for the nook.

All this meant that owning a Kindle would mean having access to all of the books I wanted to read in the nook library, plus some that I wanted to read that I couldn’t read on a nook, and it meant that I would have access to a constantly changing list of bestsellers that I could borrow for free indefinitely, in addition to all of the free books nook and Kindle can access equally (Project Gutenberg, the OverDrive library loaning network, and others).

Even with only a difference of 9 books between the services, a clear winner had emerged for me.

And since aesthetics are never a primary factor in my decision-making process, the Kindle Touch won by a landslide based on the Amazon architecture.

Plus, if the silver bevel does become a problem, I can always get a darker skin decal or a rubberized cover.

So last week I placed my pre-order, and today Amazon began shipping the devices, a whole week early.

I am very happy with my decision. I would promise a full review after I get it in the mail, but I’m afraid that I will be doing a lot more reading than writing.

My Future

My attempt at making an X-Wing was cut short...

I made this in High School.

NOTE: Unlike some of my other posts, I’m not linking to Wikipedia on all of these links. I highly encourage you to click on every link here – some of the pages will make you laugh, some of the videos will make you cry, and most of the photos are from my personal albums. Enjoy!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time, so here goes.

First though, I would just like to say that prior to commencing the crafting of this post I was listening to some really excellent music by a very talented friend of mine. If you enjoy music by such awesome composers as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, James Horner and more, you would do well to click here. In fact, the first track sounds like something Edward Shearmur and John Williams might have written together.

OK, so let’s get something straight here. Not to brag, but I am a smart guy. I don’t always do the smartest things, and I don’t have a whole lot of formal education, but I have an extremely capable mind and I excel at various tasks involving mental labor. I love problem solving, have always enjoyed technically creative hobbies, and have a deep obsession with aircraft and spacecraft that has followed me my entire life. Being good at practical mathematics, I decided at an early age that I would enjoy engineering.

Then I began researching what is required for an engineering degree. Nearly immediately the math scared me away.

I love practical math (geometry, trigonometry and some algebra). As I see things, practical math has some sort of immediately accessible application or I can draw a picture to further understand it. When I started learning some pre-calculus, things went south as I discovered that not all math is practical.

I clearly remember my first pre-calculus class – the teacher wrote a very large, complex equation on the board. Then she started hacking away at it, removing entire segments and portions saying they were “insignificant.” I was overwhelmed and appalled. I consider every part of an equation, formula, system or composition to be intricately and inseparably part of the whole. I quickly wrote off calculus as psychotic and moved on with my life, seeking for a future among careers with as little advanced math as possible.

Turns out that’s difficult for someone with my interests. I thought 3D animation might be good, but after attending a year at the Savannah College of Art and Design I decided that my creativity levels just aren’t on par with the animators and modelers that I admire. In fact, I am too technical to allow the imperfections of real life into my artistic endeavors.

Then I considered becoming an author, but again I feel that my writing style is better suited to technical documents than creative fiction. Sure, I can throw a little humanity in there every once in a while, but most of my writing could have been produced by software. The same went for music composition – I was too robotic about it, even when I put all of my feeling into it.

I considered jobs in robotics, software engineering, piloting, information technology, and many other fields, but alas – they all required too much math. And not just any math, scary math. Psychotic math. At one point I even considered working to pay off all of my debt before just going off the grid entirely, becoming completely self-sufficient with my family in the woods, living off the land. I don’t think my wife liked that idea very much.

Being a thinker, I briefly pondered becoming a philosopher, but that didn’t feel like a very good career for supporting a family.

Then, while reading a book on philosophy, I thought, “getting an education is going to be tough no matter what. I suppose I might just need to study some advanced math.”

For English Class

My Sophomore Year in High School

So, I pondered back along my life’s many interests and hobbies and took another look at engineering. Then my realist side kicked in. Engineering might not be all that I hope it is. It could be especially boring and overly technical (even for me).

However, from my earliest years my first love has been engineering. Whether it be designing new aircraft, making a better space-plane, creating a robot, or dreaming about what the future could be, I was always headed toward some sort of engineering.

When I was in grade school I came up with a design for an aircraft that blended the best of two wing configurations. The F-14 Tomcat already proved that swinging wings could be used to reconfigure an aircraft for multiple flight characteristics even while still in the air, but I wanted to incorporate the maneuvering benefits of forward swept wings (such as those of the X-29) and a swept back delta wing configuration for high speed. So at least a few years prior to this patent being filed, I designed a plane that looked almost exactly like the Northrop Switchblade.

Yes, I designed this one before 1999.

My Switchblade (predates 1999 patent)

Even back then I was reading Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. Boy was I surprised one day to see my plane design in their pages when one of them published an article about the new patent for a switchblade design. I guess that’s when I knew that I needed to get into Aerospace Engineering.

However, the psychotic math and possibility of engineering being boring still kept me hesitant until recently.

I have been aware for a couple of years that the space shuttle program is coming to an end this year. But when I recently learned that the second to last shuttle flight (and final flight for Endeavour) was taking place this month, I became inexplicably depressed. I began to obsessively research everything I could about the Space Shuttle. I fantasized about attending the final shuttle launch in July when Atlantis will become the last of the Space Shuttles to launch. I started watching inhumane amounts of NASA TV, even going as far as to adjust my schedule to ensure I got to see certain events. I daydreamed about building a 1:1 replica of the exterior and interior of a shuttle in lieu of a tree-house for my children later in life. I added a bunch of shuttle paraphernalia to my wishlists on Amazon. Some of the products are too expensive.

From Family 2011

If I tell you everything about my shuttle obsession, we’ll end up with a long, sad autobiography about a guy who stalks space planes.

What I recently realized was that I desperately want to be involved with the future of Aerospace technologies. I want to inspire, design, and launch systems for human transportation both inside and outside of Earth’s gravitational pull. I want the vehicles I design to inspire the world and make space exciting again. I want to inspire people the way many of my favorite planes have inspired me. Planes such as the X-29, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-14 Tomcat, the P-61 Black Widdow, the F-4 Phantom, or the OV-101 Enterprise.

For underwater exploration.

An underwater exploration vehicle.

When I was a kid I designed various types of craft. From watercraft to spacecraft I had ideas for anything that moves people fast. When I started experimenting with 3D design I tried recreating some of my designs, but ultimately failed. If I had put a little more effort in I may have succeeded, but all of my best 3D work has been the result of just messing around in the programs. Clearly there is a disconnect (have I ever told you how much I hate using that word as anything but a verb?).

This was my favorite sub design.

Submarines are similar to spacecraft, no?

I will close out this post with a few more of my designs. I had to dig them out of a box. I’m glad I kept them, as I find them inspiring at this time. I am about to begin the rest of my life. I am sitting on the edge of a past that offers little in the way of a future for my family. Before me are endless possibilities, and proceeding without direction is terrifying. These seeds from my childhood are offering and awesome insight into my inner dreams and desires.

Clearly there is still a lot of uncertainty. Even Aerospace Engineering isn’t quite specific enough. There are many fields of specialization within aerospace engineering. Of course, it is nice to know that I am still young and I still have time to deal with this uncertainty.

Wow... I drew this?

An underwater scene from WWIII.

For now I will continue with my current job and take advantage of any education benefits I can to work toward my degree.

Oh, and rather than babble on about nothing while sharing these images, I will tell you about a recent experience that helped me make the decision to get into engineering.

We know a family in the area in which the husband and wife are both engineers. When they saw our bumper sticker, and after getting to know me a little, they both decided that I needed to be an engineer. Or, at least that I would make a good engineer.

Based on something I read about.

I envisioned going to school on this.

So we finally got around to visiting them in their home recently and I grilled them for information about their education, their job, and other nerdy things.

I had a good time getting to know more about the work they do. The wife is currently a stay-at-home mother, but her husband is working as a materials engineer. I think he was surprised to learn that I am familiar with many of the concepts he researches at work. My desire to be on the forefront of technological advances and new ideas takes me all over the Internet in search of the new and magical things people are doing in labs.

So while that wasn’t the deciding factor, it was nice to have a talk with an engineer and learn more about real engineering. Plus he was completely dorky and proud of it. I like that quality.

Alright. Time to stop the blabber. Enjoy the last few photos here. Thank you for reading. This is a big deal for me because I have wondered what I would do with my life for the last twenty years or more. To finally have a solid plan in place (again) feels good.

The End.

New Computer? – Start Here

**EDIT**

If you’re just looking for a list of free software to install on your computer, I’ve created a Springpad notebook full of links to my favorites. If I find anything else to add, I’ll put it there.

I want to start out by saying that I am just a guy. I wasn’t paid to write any of this, I don’t work for any of the companies mentioned, and these are all just my opinions. If any of the mentioned companies wanted to pay me because I wrote all these nice things about them, I’d be willing to talk to them about an arrangement. 😉

Having said that, here are the chronicles of my recent adventure procuring and setting up my new laptop. I’m going to break this down into three separate categories: Hardware, Pre-installed Software you Don’t Need, and Free Software you Might Need. Lucky for you, I’m all about free, open-source and simplicity; so the only part that I spent money on was the hardware.

I’ve designed this as a sort of guide to assist YOU in purchasing and setting up a new computer. People are always looking at my glasses. After they get a good look at my glasses, they say, “Hey, I need a new computer. What kind should I get?” People with new computers are always asking me, “Is it better to just use Internet Explorer, or should I get one of those new browsers?” Also, it has been my own experience that just using all of the default software (that ships with the system) for document editing, virus handling, and many other tasks is a bad idea. So, here are all of my answers and tips in one place. This may not be the definitive guide to getting a new computer, but it is MY definitive guide for those who need it.

So, without further chit-chat, let’s look at your hardware options.

HARDWARE

This one’s easier than you might be inclined to believe. Sure there are a lot of choices, but it all comes down to what you want to use the computer for.

The computer I wanted this time around was a laptop I could actually take places. Last time I got a laptop (over five years ago) it weighed ten pounds, it was more of a desktop replacement and cost me over two thousand dollars. Now I’ve got a desktop, and I wanted an inexpensive computer that could go places with me AND do stuff. I’ve got an Asus eee PC (a netbook), but that thing can’t really do stuff. I mean, it can do some stuff (I use it for NaNoWriMo every year), but it’s a little wimpy when it comes to multitasking and other processor/RAM intensive activities.

The Argument for Desktops

First, if you’ve got the space for it and you don’t need to move it, get a desktop. Laptops have really gone down in price lately, but an equivalent (as far as hardware and capabilities) desktop will always cost less than its laptop counterpart (as of this writing).

Desktops have the greatest range in options as well. You can get a cheap-o system that is really only good for running your web browser and a word processor for under a hundred dollars, or you can pay tens of thousands of dollars for systems that can perform at speeds rivaling supercomputers. No matter what you’ll be using the desktop for, you can always find a system that perfectly meets your needs without spending more than you have to. Always.

The first step in selecting a desktop is to imagine yourself using that computer for the next two years. What will you use it for? Do you play many games? You might need to spend more for a system that will be compatible with future game releases. Will you be hooking it up to your TV to watch shows and movies? There are a lot of media center pc options. If you’re a Mac person (which, I might be if I had more money), you might want an Apple TV rather than a new computer.

Just decide what you’ll need the computer to be able to do, and consider these simple guidelines (which, unless you’re a “power user,” will more than cover the basics). I don’t need to say it, but if you know enough about computers to know that these guidelines aren’t comprehensive, then these guidelines weren’t written for you.

  • RAM – For most users, this is arguably the most important decision. More RAM means faster, smoother, more powerful computing. You want to open and use every program installed on your computer at the same time? You need lots of RAM. Will you only do one thing at a time for the rest of the time you own the computer? You can get by with 2 Gigs or less (depending on that one program you’ll be running!).
  • Operating System Bits – Related to RAM, but separate, is the operating system you’ll be using. Right away I have to mention that a 32 bit operating system cannot handle a full 4 Gigabytes of RAM, and certainly not more. If you will want 4 Gigs or more of RAM, you’ll need a 64 bit OS. Otherwise, 32 vs 64 bits will not have much of an impact on you.
  • Operating System Flavor – Which OS you choose will depend on many factors, but at the risk of bringing on hoards of criticism, I’m going to go ahead and simplify things this way: If you’re lost when it comes to choosing your operating system, just get Windows 7. Sure, Macs are simple, but getting software for them can be a hassle. Windows may have a poor track-record when it comes to stability and ease of use, but I’m putting a lot of faith in Windows 7, and I think it’s a safe choice for YOU. If you know you want a Mac though, please get it!
  • Processor – When it comes to desktops, you’re really only going to concern yourself with how many cores and processors you want. Adding processors and cores means better ability to process multiple instructions at a time (translating to blazing speed and excellent multitasking), while a single core on a single processor will more than meet the needs of most users. Don’t get the fancy processor set-up unless you know you need it. For most modern operating systems and software, though, I recommend at least a single processor with dual cores. More than that and you’d better be doing some serious video editing or 3D graphics (like games).
  • Hard Drive – If you’re doing video editing or if you’re archiving your DVD collection on the hard drive, get something huge. If you’re just surfing the Internet and writing papers in Word, you don’t need much hard drive space. Even the smallest hard drives shipping these days are more than ample for the average user. Note that media center systems should have more hard drive space to store videos or recorded television.

Sure, there are more factors than just these to consider, but if you’re not a power user who already knows about the other factors, then you don’t need to worry about them. What you don’t know can’t hurt you here.

The only other thing I would caution is to avoid brands you’re not familiar with and be wary of prices that are significantly lower than competing systems with similar capabilities. Your desktop shouldn’t be too expensive, but don’t be a cheapskate once you know what you want. Just pay what the trusted manufacturers are charging.

I currently use a first generation HP TouchSmart for my desktop, and it’s held up very well in the two years we’ve owned it. Both of my laptops are Toshibas, and we love them. Namebrand systems are always a good bet.

Where Desktops Fail

The only problem with a desktop is that it is not very portable. Sure, some of the newer CPU box form-factors (especially in the case of media center computers) are very small and lightweight. However, the screen and input devices are not built in, thus to use the system it must be hooked up to these things, and to move it you have to unplug everything. Convenient? No.

So what if you really need something you can take to class with you? You need either a laptop or a netbook. Can’t decide which one? Consider this:

I thought I could get a netbook and do the same things with it as I do with my laptop. I was wrong. Even with a full size keyboard attached and an external mouse, the netbook screens are too small to be practical in a number of applications. For a true, natural computing experience, you’ll still want a larger system. They make laptops that are much closer in size (and price) to netbooks, but they are much more convenient. If you’re not sure about getting a netbook, don’t. Just go for a smaller laptop. I promise you’ll be happy with it.

If you know you want a netbook, get it. If you’re not sure, don’t. You’ve got to be committed to liking your netbook, or you’re going to hate it.

Other than the netbook vs laptop decision, there isn’t a whole lot more to think about. How portable do you want it? There are a range of sizes from 13 inches to over 18 inches for screens. Some are less than an inch thin, and others have huge 12 cell batteries that lift them about three inches off your table top. Some run hot from having their hardware crammed in to a small space, while others have minimal hardware configurations and are quiet and cool. Again, the considerations for desktops will all hold true for laptops, but you might want to consider the following IN ADDITION to the desktop suggestions:

  • Overall Size – You’re getting a laptop because a desktop isn’t portable enough for you, but how portable do you need your laptop to be? If you are still just going to leave it set up in one place for long periods of time, you might consider a larger desktop replacement laptop. These systems offer the same performance as a desktop, at often competitive prices, but at the end of the day the screen folds up and you can pack it away in a bag. Expect these to weigh close to ten pounds though! Then there are the ultra portables that weigh in at under five pounds (mine weighs like three pounds!). Keep in mind that a netbook can weigh close to one pound, but you’ve already decided you want a laptop, right?
  • Battery Size/Usage – Some laptops these days are being designed as marathon machines. They can squeeze almost a full day of usage out of a single charge, but that efficiency comes at a price (both in dollars and performance). Most laptops are designed to fully contain a six cell battery, but by doubling the number of cells to twelve (and subsequently, increasing the size of the battery pack itself, causing it to protrude out the back or bottom of the computer), you can double the life of the battery. Also, Intel and AMD make processors specifically designed to use less power. They usually run at far less than 2 Gigahertz, and they cannot handle too many big tasks like gaming and video editing as well. You could try, but if that’s what you need the system for (primarily) you’ll just have to charge the system more often.
  • USB Ports – If you use a lot of devices at once, you’ll need at least three USB ports. I always recommend using an external keyboard and mouse with a laptop whenever possible simply because they can be replaced much easier than the built-in devices. The less you use them, the less likely they are to break. So, with a keyboard and mouse plugged in, you will want to have at least one more USB port for external hard drives, thumb drives, cameras or whatever else tickles your fancy. A few laptops only have two ports (one on each side), most have three, and a few have up to five USB ports. Get as many as you can without spending too much just for that feature. Also keep in mind that some USB devices have a special “Y” shaped cable that plugs into two USB ports. If you might need one of these devices, you’ll want a laptop with two USB ports that are close together, not one on each side.

In my most recent purchase, I wanted something far more portable than my old laptop but more capable than a netbook. I went with a Toshiba Satellite, ultra thin system. This particular system (like most ultra thin, lightweight systems) does not have an optical drive (no DVD or CD drive). That wasn’t an issue for me because I knew that all of the software I could ever need I was going to download for free once I got it connected to the Internet. If you install a lot of software from disks but still want a system like mine, there are some great external drives that will meet your needs. I may end up getting one too so I can watch movies on my laptop, but for now I’m fine without an optical drive.

Accessories

The final hardware consideration is, what else do you need? Some people need lots of storage but end up choosing a laptop with a smaller hard drive. In that case, just get an external hard drive. Do you transfer a lot of files between systems? Get a thumb drive. Actually, I recommend that people get thumb drives even if they don’t need them for transferring files. They make a great place to keep backups of your most important files.

Keyboard:

The only thing I know you’ll need if you got a laptop is a mouse and keyboard. There’s no getting around it – using the laptop keyboard puts wear on it that could eventually require maintenance. If you use an external keyboard, and it breaks, you can just unplug it and get another one. My favorite typing keyboard ever (that I’ve used anyhow) is the Logitech Classic Keyboard 200. It currently sells for $13.99 on Amazon.com, it is comfortable, and I’ve never had any problems with it. I love it.

Mouse:

I do recommend spending a little more for your external mouse though. Touch pads are great for basic navigation and occasional clicking, but nothing beats a scroll wheel on the Internet, and when doing graphics work or gaming you just can’t live without a mouse. My current favorite is the Microsoft Explorer series. Specifically, my wife and I love our Explorer Mini mice. Amazon.com sells them for about $40, they retail for about $60, and there is currently a vendor on Amazon that is selling them for under $20 (with $4 shipping). The great thing about the Explorer mice is that they will track on literally anything but glass and mirrors (although in some tests these mice have actually tracked on glass and mirrors!). We can use them on shag carpet, glossy surfaces, pitted surfaces, hair, clothing, anything at all, and more. If you want a great mouse, Microsoft actually has a great product.

PRE-INSTALLED SOFTWARE YOU DON’T NEED

All computers come with what is lovingly called “bloat-ware.” This is software that people pay the manufacturer to include pre-installed from the factory. In some ways I guess it’s good because I’d like to think that the money they earn from that endeavor goes toward keeping costs lower for me, but I rather doubt it.

Anyhow, the first program I highly suggest you uninstall (if it’s installed) is Norton Anti-Virus. Many computers come with it pre-installed along with an offer for a whole year or month or day of free updates. It’s not worth it. Microsoft has a free program you can download right away that does the same thing (well, roughly the same thing).

To get rid of Norton (or any program, for that matter), just go to the control panel and look for “Add/Remove Programs” or something like that. Find the offender, click “uninstall,” and follow the directions. Most virus protection software will require that you restart after removing it. That’s OK.

Now, I don’t recommend you leave your computer virus-protection-free for long. It is a dangerous thing. So once you’ve finished uninstalling the crud you don’t need, make sure you immediately download the “essential” software I have listed below, in the order I’ve listed them.

First though, look for any programs that say “offer” or “setup” next to them and get rid of them (still in the Add/Remove Software tool). Also, some systems (most Toshibas and HPs) come with some kind of game portal that you should get rid of.

Many people will tell you to get rid of a lot more than this, but it’s not always necessary. After you’ve been using the computer for a month or so, go back to the Add/Remove Software tool and look over the list. If you recognize the program and you know you use it a lot, don’t get rid of it. If you recognize it and you know you don’t use it a lot, get rid of it (just make sure you know what it does first!). Everything else is probably OK to leave installed.

FREE SOFTWARE YOU MIGHT NEED

Some of these are more essential than others. I’ll categorize them to simplify this. In some cases it won’t matter what program you get as long as you get something that does the job. So, if you’re ready to get started, open Internet Explorer (unless your system came with another browser pre-installed, in which case you should DEFINITELY use the other one!).

Note: This list is designed for Windows users ONLY. Many of these programs are cross platform, but I’m not going to say which ones because I’m not making this list for Mac users. Sorry guys. Maybe another time.

Essential Software

These are programs that you will need to get – almost everyone needs these programs. Right away, before downloading anything, you need virus protection!

  • Virus Protection – Search for “Microsoft Security Essentials,” or go to http://www.microsoft.com/Security_Essentials/. Click on the big “Download Now” button, save the executable and run it. Make sure you have already removed any virus protection that shipped with your computer, then close your web browser while the program installs. Once it installs make sure it runs OK, then let it scan your system. Depending on the size of your hard drive, this can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Since this is the first thing you’re doing on your new system, everything should be clean. After it scans your system, you may proceed with this list.
  • New Browser – DO NOT USE INTERNET EXPLORER. Sure, there are a lot of sites that require it, but I can show you how to get around that later. For now, just download one or both of the following browsers and try them out. You won’t miss Internet Explorer after a few days. I promise. My favorite is Google Chrome, but I was once a die-hard Firefox fan (I even have an embroidered FireFox shirt). They are both worlds better than IE, more secure, faster, and prettier. While I might catch some heat for this, I am going to recommend that you just get Google Chrome. It’s better. Once you’ve downloaded and selected a new browser, close Internet Explorer and never open it again (unless you really have to).
  • Free Office Software – While there are a few options for this, my favorite (and arguably the most user friendly and robust) is OpenOffice.org. Just go to their website in your new, shiny browser, and download. It’s that easy. The installation is easy and the program operates a lot like Microsoft Office. There are some differences, but OpenOffice.org can do just about anything Microsoft Office can do, and in some cases it does it better. If you ever find that OpenOffice.org just isn’t meeting your needs, feel free to go back to the Microsoft version, but I don’t think most people will ever need to.
  • Media Player – Windows Media Player is pretty good, but there are a lot of things it can’t handle. For everything else, there’s VLC. VLC can’t do everything, but I’ve never found a video it couldn’t play.
  • Photo Organizer – Since most people maintain some kind of image collection (from digital cameras, web graphics, etc.), you’ll probably want a good program to organize and lightly edit those photos. Google Picasa is a great product that is completely free and I recommend it to everyone.

Everything Else

Those, to me, represent the bare-bones necessities for a new computer. If you get nothing else, make sure you get those things. The remainder of my list is specific to my needs and wants, based on what I want to use the computer for. If you know of other great free programs that aren’t listed here, please add them in the comments.

  • Dropbox – This is a really cool file program. It creates a special folder that automatically backs itself up online any time you add or change files in the folder. If you install Dropbox on other computers and link them with your account, Dropbox will synchronize all of the folders across all of the computers and devices you have Dropbox installed on. I love it.
  • Notepad ++ – If you do any web development or coding the old fashioned way (in notepad) you might want to try Notepad ++. I found this little gem several years ago and have installed it on all of my computers ever since.
  • Skype – For video calls and VoIP, my favorite is still Skype. We’ve been using it for quite a while now and we love it.
  • Google Talk – Actually, I didn’t download the Talk program, I installed the Video and Voice plug-in. While most of our video chats are handled over Skype, we have more friends with Google accounts than Skype accounts. With this plug-in, I can have a video call with any Google Talk contact who is also using the plug-in or the desktop client. I’ve only done it once, and it was a long time ago, but this is a valuable thing to have on standby.
  • Google Earth – There’s nothing cooler than exploring your planet in 3D with a nearly infinitely scalable, detailed and textured model with Google Maps plastered all over it. This is as fun as it is useful.
  • Google SketchUp – I am a bit of a 3D hobbyist, and SketchUp is a great way to rapidly visualize a model. It’s a wildly different experience from most of the 3D software I’ve used, but once I got the hang of it I realize it was easier and more intuitive than anything else I’ve ever tried. Plus, it’s free!
  • Blender – On the subject of 3D, how does a free 3D program with advanced features sound? SketchUp may be easy and fast, but it’s not anywhere near Blender’s level. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Blender is extremely un-intuitive to learn. However, I’ve seen what it can do, and I’m impressed enough to trudge over the learning curve and figure it out.
  • Paint.NET – If I’m going to make awesome 3D images in Blender, I’ll need software like Photoshop to make textures, composites, do touch-ups, and more. Windows Paint won’t do any of that. In fact, Paint is nearly useless. Luckily, there’s a better Paint. This program can do layers, adjustments, transparency and even some cool effects. Sure, there’s a lot that it can’t do, but it’s free. If it does what you need it to then you’ve lost nothing, right? I even made the cover for my new book entirely in Paint.NET.
  • Inkscape – Paint.NET can handle most of my 2D needs, but it is primarily for raster images (bitmaps). For vector images, I love Inkscape. It’s relatively easy to learn, and it can handle almost anything you can dream up.
  • GIMP – Many people believe GIMP capable of anything Photoshop can do. I don’t agree, but I do think GIMP is better than Paint.NET for more advanced jobs. A lot like Blender, I find GIMP hard to learn, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I want to learn it so I can see how long I can live without Photoshop. Someday I’ll be rich and it won’t matter. Until then, I’ll be struggling with GIMP.
  • WavePad – I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s a free audio editing tool that I hope will allow me to make simple audio tracks for animations or an audio book. We shall see. Once I’ve tried it, I’ll write a review (and link to it from here).
  • VideoPad – Like WavePad, I downloaded this to see if it would be suitable for creating simple promotional or family videos. I just want to be able to cut scenes together, edit things out and add simple effects. If this program is a winner, I’ll write a review.

CONCLUSION

I hope this helped. As I use my system and learn more about what programs are meeting my needs and which ones I don’t have that could help, I may modify this list.

I’m 100% sure of all of the hardware tips though, as well as the “essential software” bit. The important thing to remember is that there are hundreds of thousands of free programs out there that you can find that will do the same things that more expensive software can do. Look to the free stuff first, and if it doesn’t work out, pay for what you need.

Good luck and happy computing!

Me and My Android 2.0

 

Android

Meet Android

So, tomorrow’s the big day. I’ve taken the whole day off work. I’ve identified the Verizon Store I’ll be making my purchase at and I know that they’ll be opening at 7:00 am (three hours earlier than usual). I’ve called and crunched all the numbers with a Verizon Wireless “plan expert.” I’m going to show up at the store early (even before their 7:00 AM opening time). Every detail has been considered, processed and addressed.

 

The next question is, will I even like my new Motorola Droid?

I’ve hunted across the net and found mostly raving, shining reviews. There are a few iPhone fanboys and enthusiasts that are shrugging the Droid off (or worse), but for the most part the reviews are glowing. Many people have tried to call the Droid an “iPhone Killer,” but I agree with those who don’t even bother pitting the Droid against the iPhone. We’re talking about two completely separate demographics in the same market. Think Nintendo Wii versus Playstation 3. While they may technically share the same market, the numbers prove that the demographics are so wildly different that they might as well not even be competing against each other.

I think my favorite review so far isn’t about the Droid specifically, but about its operating system, Android 2.0. I found it on Gizmodo, a site I generally get news from through other sources. In this case, Matt Buchanan writes one of the most objective, comprehensive and even stinging reviews of the Android operating system I’ve ever read. Halfway through the article I questioned my decision to buy the Droid this Friday. If you have been considering buying an Android phone, make sure you don’t miss this review.

His conclusion? Keeping his audience in mind (remember, the site is called “Gizmodo”), he says, “I can’t say Android 2.0 is ready for your mom yet, but it’s definitely ready for anybody reading this.”

For one of my favorite aspects of the Android operating system, read this one about its integration with Google services.

Essentially, for someone like me whose life is already nearly fully integrated with the services Google offers (Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Google Voice, Google Contacts, Google Maps… the list goes on), the Google build of the Android operating system seamlessly synchronizes the online Google services with a device that you carry in your pocket. No more forgotten appointments. No more separate phone/address lists. Everything consolidates nicely into the Google package and I slip it into my pocket. Sure, Android has shortcomings. The Droid may not be the ultimate cellular device, and its hardware may even be lacking in a few areas. But I know that the Google Android branded Motorola Droid is a perfect match for me.

Why? Mostly because I already know I don’t want an iPhone.

Unrealistically Cute

How often do you wish technology would just deliver what it promises?

I have about had it with hardware that doesn’t do its job, broken links and slow system performance.

However, the hard work is done and I am now free to write a fun little tidbit for you all.

If you found this entry searching for anything related to:

Samus Aran

or

Super Smash Brothers Brawl

you can either continue reading (which will probably end up being entertaining and worth your time) or jump to the end for a summary and links to all the important stuff (lame).

That’s right, it’s all about a video game tonight, and special character in the game.

When I was young I loved watching cartoons and playing video games, and such activities always provide plenty of cute little girl characters to attract the straight little boys and make them want to play the game or watch the show. For example, I actually watched the Power Puff Girls because I had a little thing for Blossom.

Any time I tried a new racing game or fighting game, I wanted to be the girl just so I could watch her while I played. Obviously, I liked girls a lot then, and I still do. I married one.

Of course, just because I’m married it doesn’t mean I have to stop thinking these characters are cute.

Not long ago we purchased a new game for our Nintendo Wii. The game (some of you may be familiar with it) is Super Smash Brothers Brawl (or SSBB for short, check it out on Amazon). The game is massive, with tons of characters to play, levels to play in (even a level editor for if you get bored with the ones they made) and trophies and stickers to collect. There is an adventure mode to play that resembles older RPG style games but in the Smash Brothers game play. As with prior versions of the game, you can pause it durring the battles and move the camera around to take pictures (more on that later).

I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with the game for the last week or so, and early in my time getting to know it I found a character that I really loved.

Not only is the character a good player with nice, powerful moves to keep me winning a lot, but she happens to be rediculously and unrealistically cute. Meet Samus Aran:

As far as video game chicks go, she is the cutest one I’ve ever seen, and she’s got a big gun. I’m not usually into blond hair, but in this case it doesn’t matter. She’s got a simple face, pretty hair and a plain body (with the usual virtual enhancements to fill her out, which are not necessary but they make money).

After seeing her in the game, I realized there was probably a lot of fan art and material dedicated to her online, so I poked around just a little bit and found something that opened up a whole new world to me. The world of cosplay.

Basically, the way I understand it, cosplay is a word coming from “costume play” and it represents a whole network and community of individuals who devote a healthy (or, I’m sure sometimes unhealthy) portion of their time and effort into creating costumes and props and attending events dressed as characters from games, shows and movies all over the country and even the world.

What I found was a Samus Aran cosplayer who actually looks a lot like the real deal (only slightly more realistic). As of writing, she hasn’t updated her blog since January of this year, but here’s a link and here is a photo of her as Samus:

Isn’t she cute? Her face matches the video game character’s closer than any of the other “cosplayers” did, she’s got the big gun and her hair is just right.

I looked through some of her other photos (none were of as good a quality as this one) and saw some really sweet photos of her posing with kids at comic book conventions, hugging other video game characters and even posing next to a few real celebrities in the world of comics and anime (or at least, I thought they looked like the real people, I could be wrong).

Of course, I am not the only married man who thinks Samus is a hottie. Plenty of people absolutely worship this character and it was fun looking into their little world.

So, using the photographing feature in the game, I took some cool photos and wanted to share them. I went through the usual process of trying to get the photos off my Wii and onto the computer, but was stumped. I couldn’t just e-mail them to myself, they seemed to be an in-game item only, not viewable outside the SSBB game. There is an option to copy the pictures to an SD card in the Wii, so I tried that, but the files are stored as .bin files, not image files (.bin is used as a general file format for all kinds of random crap and is rarely meant to be opened or read by human eyes, only by the programs that made them).

That’s when I did what any nerd would do – searched the web to see if and how other people were doing it. I came across a whole bunch of people who credited one known as GTCoder as being the super-coder who wrote a simple .BAT for converting a bunch of the .bin files into .jpg files. It came bundled in a .zip along with a couple other files, I’m sure they’re useful too, but I only needed the bin2jpgall.bat program which converts any .bin file in its folder to a JPEG.

If you need it, the download can be found here, and you want to make sure you get the “Windows binaries: bin2jpg tools” rather than the source code (unless you’re hip to that stuff).

Of course, it wasn’t that easy (it never is). No, not for me…

First, in looking for the GTCoder program I found several broken links before stumbling upon the one that worked (found it on YouTube, of all places).

Then I loaded the images onto the SD card and went to put them onto my laptop (where I write from and do all of my Internet stuff). That would have been the most convenient and direct way to do it, especially since the laptop has a built-in SD card reader…

Guess what? The SD card reader doesn’t work anymore (anyone know how to fix that? It recognizes when I stick a card in, but doesn’t recognize that the card is formatted). So, I had to use the family PC to transfer the .bin files from the SD card to my thumb drive (good old trusty thumb drive…) and then take it to the laptop. From there, everything worked fine.

Here are a few of the photos:

If you’ve played the game you might be asking why the pictures look just a little funny. The Wii does a little anti-aliasing but stores the images in their raw, pixelated form. I could have taken these into Photoshop and made them look a little more like they did on the screen, but decided not to waste my time – they look just fine as they are.

Summary

In summary (for the losers who didn’t want to read all of the stuff I wrote:

*** I found a really cute girl who calls herself “a girl from mars” who dresses up like Samus Aran and looks a lot like the real fake character.

*** I found a way to convert the .bin files from your SD card (the way the images from SSBB are stored) to JPEGs using GTCoder’s tools.

*** Finally, I was really amused while reading in the Samus is a Hottie post by “chris” to learn that performing well in the prior Metroid games has always led to images of Samus outside of her power suit (like the images you see above, only less cool). Here’s an example (see his post for more):

With power suit (notice the time):

Without power suit (see the time again):

Notice that “without the power suit” means “without much on at all.”

Aahh, I love video games… 😀

RE: Chrome

Amazon knows almost everything about nearly every major purchase I’ve made in the last four years (or longer, I can’t even remember when I started shopping on Amazon). Google knows all about who I’ve been in touch with, what I’ve been looking at, looking for and reading all over the Internet for at least the last three years, but probably even longer since I was using their search engine shortly after they first appeared online about a decade ago.

And, until recently (just today, actually), Firefox has been quietly and dependably facilitating all of my activities, communications and learning via the World Wide Web since I converted from Internet Explorer near the beginning of the millennium, around 2004 (not that I needed a good reason to leave that tired piece of reject code behind). All the way from 1.0 to version 3+ I’ve been a loyal supporter, fan and avid user of Mozilla’s beautifully designed desktop icon, Firefox. I upgrade every chance I get. I install plug-ins. I even bought a Firefox t-shirt and some stickers.

I still love Firefox, but now I’m feeling a little… confused.

It’s not like I didn’t tell her. Firefox knew all about our little “thing” since it started. Since February of 2005 I’ve been a raving fan of Gmail, Google’s (still beta, three years later) e-mail service, and Firefox was there when I signed up. When Google really started branching out into other services, especially with the iGoogle homepage, Google Docs and Google Reader, I was interested. After all, Google was a strong supporter of Firefox, so using their services wasn’t a disservice to my beloved web browser at all, was it? In fact, I was supporting a supporter of Firefox.

A couple of days ago I heard that Google was on the verge of releasing their new browser, Chrome. I read a nice article about it from a source I enjoy reading (and usually trust) and decided to give it a try. I had already been using Google Desktop on my Linux laptop and Google’s Picasa photo software on my Windows computer, and I love Google Earth, Google Talk and Google’s release of SketchUp, so a Google web browser didn’t sound all that bad.

My first impressions are a mess of mixed feelings, but overall I am both impressed and pleased. I can come up with really only one major gripe (other than that Chrome doesn’t support any good plug-ins yet, like Adblock Plus) having to do with the way it handles RSS and other subscription feeds, but despite how much I do like the newcomer, my beloved Firefox is dormant even now while I use Google Docs to write this from within Chrome, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I’m enjoying the experience, but with a touch of bitterness. Chrome is not Firefox. Mozilla took on a web browser giant and made some major headway and history, significantly impacting Microsoft’s monopoly on the web browser market. Now Google wants to offer Internet goers yet another option, and I’m all for competition, but now I am forced to question my personal definitions of loyalty and support in this grand game of Hungry Hungry Web Browsers.

Would making the complete switch to Chrome be betrayal? I’m not ready for that yet, as I have fallen in love with the features many of Firefox’s plug-ins offer as well as Firefox’s inherent feature-set. I don’t think Chrome is that far behind though, and it will probably catch up soon. What should I do? Obviously I’ve switched before, and it’s not like I’m married to Firefox, but I had never felt loyalty for a product before like I do for Firefox – or so I thought. Perhaps what I felt wasn’t loyalty at all, but satisfaction. If I can find satisfaction somewhere else, and we’re not talking about marriage here (of course) then perhaps I belong somewhere else.

That’s how I handled my switch from a mail service I liked (go.com, before Disney bought them – do you even remember them?) to a mail service I love. That’s how we should do business, that’s why there’s competition. There has to be choice.

But then, I’ve been with Firefox longer than I’ve been with my wife. We go way back (in Internet years, anyhow). Just now I was doing some research to get the dates right for when Firefox was first released, and when Google really got their start. I typed “http://www.wikipedia.org” into the address bar, then hit “TAB” and it displayed this:

Then I could type in my search without ever having to load the main Wikipedia page. Of course, Firefox and other browsers have offered this function in one way or another (separate search bars, toolbars, plug-ins, etc.) but never has the workflow been this natural and easy (from later tests I found that I didn’t even have to hit the tab). That’s just one of many features they’ve included in their browser (the Omnibox).

They also snatched up the fastest JavaScript engine on the market (up to ten times than the system Firefox is running, and WAY faster than the IE JavaScript), and they set up their infrastructure to prevent many of the problems that older browsers are facing today with common viruses, bugs and page crashes that can disable the browser or even the whole computer.  
For more details on the technical aspects of this new browser, check out some of these articles:

  • Wired Magazine – the one I read that got me interested – the history, reasons behind it and some of the new technology in a well-written, easy-to-read, fun presentation
  • Blogoscoped – very good basic rundown of the features
  • Washington Post – good review of some of the features
  • PC World – good article, seven reasons for it and against it
  • USA Today – a nice, brief review

In the end, Chrome has many awesome, powerful features that make it very attractive to me. I may end up switching when they make those last couple of changes to make it just a little more attractive to this (still) loyal Firefox user.

No matter what happens, though, I’m keeping my Firefox t-shirt.


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