Before 2008

April 19 2008

Playing with the Liquid Resizer image program

Update: This program was eventually bought by Adobe, and it’s now a part of Photoshop, from CS4 onward, as the Content-Aware Scale tool.

Some of you may have seen a few YouTube videos where a guy showed off a really cool new image-resizing program that actually shrunk/enlarged elements of the picture, rather than just the whole picture, thus creating a more or less realistic image without unsightly stretching.

Well, a few days ago, they released this program as a beta to the public (eventually they’ll be selling it as a Photoshop plugin), and you can find it here. I’ve been playing with it a bit, and here are some of the cool things I’ve been able to do with it.

This is the shot I started out with. Dan in the snow taking pictures. I decided to try resizing it so the picture was square. The original dimensions were 800×600, and I changed them to 600×600.

In Liquid Resize, I selected the area of the picture that I DIDN’T want resized (Dan and his tripod), and let the program do the rest. As you can see, it created an almost perfect "scrunch job" of the image. Most of the image loss came from the path on the left, and from the trees. The large tree in the upper-right corner was scrunched a bit too much for my taste the first time, so I protected it too. The rest of the trees are mostly narrower, but you can’t tell unless you’re looking at the original.

In this image, I thought it’d be fun to try to take Dan out of the picture completely and see what happened. In LR, you can either choose to "protect" or "delete" an element of the picture. Protecting an area will cause the program to completely ignore the protected area when it’s looking for elements to scrunch/stretch. Setting an area to "delete" will cause the area to be favored for deletion, so it’ll scrunch into the deletion area as much as possible.

The result is pretty good, though you can definitely see some seams, and the big tree in the foreground has seen better days. Oh well; this isn’t really what it’s supposed to be used for.

Here’s another fun shot. This is Kev, Dan, and Tim (and myself behind the camera) out golfing before Dan’s wedding.

…and here’s the square version. This one turned out really well. LR closed the gap between Kev and the other two, and brought in the left side. Remember that it’s not cropping out ANYTHING; it’s resizing the different elements so they all fit within the specified dimensions. The houses in the back do seem a little narrower, and of course the pond is a bit smaller, but you’d never notice that if you hadn’t seen the original.

There is one minor issue though: Kev seems like he’s a lot taller now, due to the change in perspective.

Hmm…why is Dan in every one of these pictures so far?

Anyway, this is Dan & Jenni after the wedding, when we were driving around on the bus through Stillwater. We stopped by an outdoor biker hangout and somebody let them pose for pictures on their bike.

Again, I had LR change it to be square. This one was tricky. I protected Dan, Jenni, and their motorcycle of course, and also Shelly on the right. I also protected the two motorcycles in the back, because they were too distorted the first time I tried this. I also had it delete the lady on the left. I may have protected the car in the back too; I don’t remember.

As you can see, it brought the two bikes in the back (and Shelly) closer together. Some problems, which I could probably fix if I wasn’t so lazy, are that the house in the back is kinda scrunched, as is the bike on the far left.

Now, let’s play with a vertical picture, at 600×800. Here’s a shot of some ducks on a frozen pond.

This time, rather than having the program scrunch the image down to a 600×600, I had it stretch it to 800×800. I didn’t bother to have it protect any elements, and just decided to see what it would do.

Mostly, it just stretched the less-detailed area on the left. It also separated the ducks a little bit. Good solution.

This one is pretty funny, actually. I went back to the original image, and resized it down to 600×600. LR chose to shrink most of the background lake element, and as a result the ducks look gigantic. I definitely wouldn’t have been chasing them with a stick that day if they were all 5 feet tall.

The horizon on the far right looks a little goofy too. It scrunched the skyline and treeline to make room for the branch.

Overall, I think this program/plugin is going to be a valuable tool in any photo manipulator’s arsenal. Obviously it’s not perfect for every situation, but it’s very easy to use, and usually pulls off some impressive feats.

Here are a few more images I created. The first one is the original in each pair.

April 4 2008

2 hilariously cute animated cat shorts

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Now to put on my “pansy” hat. Yes, I’m a cat person. If you don’t already know, I have a cat named Hunter. He’s a crazy, curious, adorable little fuzzball. You can see some pictures here.

Anyway, here are a couple very clever little cartoon shorts that will probably be hilarious to cat-lovers, and probably won’t appeal to others. Like you dog people. Weirdos.

March 12 2008

Saving money, the Bevans way

I am, by most accounts, the brokest person most people know. But being as broke as I am, I’ve learned a few key ways to save money that many people may just overlook.

1. Use the library.

This is moronically simple, but many people I know just don’t use the library. And why not? It’s free. They have nearly every book you’ll ever want, although you may have to wait a bit if the book you’re looking for is checked out or at another library. But the nice part is, they’ll hold it for you once it’s in, and if it’s at another library, they’ll bring it to the library of your choice for you. And it’s still free.

And it’s not just books. They have magazines, DVDs (new releases must be rented, but they’re far cheaper than Blockbuster), CDs, audiobooks, and shockingly enough: comics. I was very surprised to find out just how wide a selection of comic trade paperbacks the Ramsey County library system has. I quickly grabbed up the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books (far better than the movie) and picked up Watchmen on a whim (which is fucking phenomenal).

I’m one of those people who likes to have my own personal library, so I can lend books and movies and stuff to anyone, whenever I feel like it. And I do still buy books and movies sometimes, if they’re something really special. But there’s just no reason to buy most books if you can just get them at the library. They’ll probably always be there if you want to read them again or have a friend read them.

And the best part about the library is, if you see something you think you might like, it doesn’t cost you anything to just grab it and try it.

The downside? The more popular books can get kinda worn out, and if you’re not careful you can start to wrack up late fees (which are quite reasonable). Fortunately, you can renew your books online (at least in the Ramsey County libraries you can).

2. Get a Netflix subscription

There’s really no reason to buy most movies. You watch them once, maybe twice, and then you don’t think about them for years. And thanks to Netflix, you don’t even have to go to a rental store anymore. What is Blockbuster up to now, $4.00 for a 3-day rental or something? 9 bucks will get you a month of Netflix, where they’ll send you one movie at a time, and send them back to you as fast as you can watch them. If you rent or buy one or more movies each month, it’s worth the cost.

Also, they let you download some movies onto your computer whenever you want, so you don’t even have to wait 2 days for the next movie to come.

I must admit, I miss having a constantly-expanding, ever-current DVD collection. But keeping a collection costs a hell of a lot of money. 9 bucks a month is much more manageable.

3. Play World of Warcraft (or some lesser MMOG)

Sounds crazy, I know. How do you save money by playing a game that costs 15 bucks a month? Well, for starters, you spend less because you’re not buying as many OTHER games. A new game will cost you 50-60 bucks these days, and let’s say you get an average of 25 hours of gameplay out of them before you beat them. Well, WoW never ends. Even if you get a character to 70, you can still hit the battlegrounds and fight other players, duel it out in the arenas, hit the dungeons, join a raiding guild, start a new character, or just sit around and talk with your guildmates.

Also, Blizzard is constantly creating new content for the game. Major patches feature new quests, activities, dungeons, areas, and so on. They also release an expansion pack ever 1.5 years or so, but those only cost $40.

The downside, of course, is that you wind up missing a lot of good games. But if you’re having fun with WoW, who cares? You can’t play everything, and the games that REALLY stand out will be $20 in a year.

4. Buy second-hand

Half-Price Books is my store of choice for buying used media. They’ve got tons of great, cheap books, CDs, DVDs, games, and even some collectibles. If you really want to buy something rather than just use the library as mentioned earlier, just about everything you’ll want can be found second-hand. There’s no reason to buy anything for retail price, unless it’s brand new and you absolutely MUST own it.

5. Buy online

You know what traditional stores are good for? Physically checking something out before you go and buy the item online. You can find EVERYTHING cheaper online. Let me repeat this. You can find EVERYTHING cheaper online.

For example, I and some friends (you know who you are) were looking for a boxed set of 3 large, hardcover books. The store we went to was selling them for about 90 bucks. But I found it online for $41. Brand new. Last week, I decided I needed an HDMI cable. A 15-footer at Best Buy or Target costs about $80-90. I bought one online for nine dollars. NINE. Brand new. Very nice.

Of course, the trick is knowing where to look. Personally, I always check PriceGrabber first. You’ve gotta be a little bit careful though; always choose a seller with at least 4 stars, and over 500 votes. Read the reviews too.

6. Quit your bad habit

I used to go down to the local gas station at least once a day for a big-ass Mountain Dew. It was only $1 each time, but that’s $30/month, or $365/year.

I don’t even want to think about what smokers pay.

It can be hard to quit, of course. I love my delicious Mt. Dew, and I like being caffeinated. But you’ve gotta make sacrifices. And not only are drinks, coffees, and cigarettes expensive, but they’re not exactly good for you either (and cigarettes are, of course, basically poison). So you’ve gotta drop the habit. You’ll probably backslide, but don’t feel bad; just stop again. Maybe try cutting your intake by half at first, then half again and again. Special occasions are ok.

7. Buy from the fountain, not the bottle.

Ok, I know I just told you to stop drinking soft drinks. But if you must, buy from the fountain. A 20oz bottle of Dew will cost about $1.40 these days. You can usually get a 32oz fountain drink for $1.

8. Only buy fast food at Taco Bell or Wendy’s

It’s usually cheaper to cook your own food of course, but if you need to eat out, Taco Bell and Wendy’s are cheapest. Wendy’s has a pretty good dollar menu, and most Taco Bell combo meals will cost less than $5. Mind you, this shit’s not very healthy.

9. Carpool

This sounds like a cliché, doesn’t it? Well, it works. You can’t save money on gas, so you need to find ways to use less of it. It’s nice to be able to come and go as you please, and listen to your own music and all that, but if you can work something out, do.

February 18 2008

Your orders from Bevans

World, lemme make this quick.

It’s ok for you to pronounce “2008” as “two-thousand and eight” or just “two-thousand eight”. You picked up the habit in 2000, when the previous pronunciation convention was temporarily inapplicable.

HOWEVER, by my decree, you must stop in 2010. You may only pronounce it “twenty ten”, not “two-thousand ten”. And you may only pronounce 2011 as “twenty eleven”, and so on.

Yes, it sounds kinda science-fictiony, like we’re all living in the future or something. Well, we are. Get used to it.

Bevans, out.

October 29 2007

300 scene duplicated with type

Here’s a little something I did for another class project. It’s done entirely in InDesign, which is to MS Word as Photoshop is to Paintbrush. I just took a screenshot from the movie 300 and duplicated it using nothing but text. It was pretty fun to throw together.

I’ll probably be posting more projects here in the coming months, providing of course that I have something worth showing.

October 1 2007

Double-Click Geek Ale

Double-Click Geek Ale: The best way to drink yourself unconscious playing video games in your parents’ basement.

Well, here’s the new design I was talking about last week. I made it for one of my classes (assigment: create a product label) and I think it’s definitely some of my best work. I was partially inspired by the Summit logo (my dad has a t-shirt of it), which I’ve always really liked.

I was thinking about how currently-existing beers are always marketed as the perfect companions for watching your favorite sporting event, and since I’m not really interested in most sports, I decided to come up with something that might appeal to me. If I drank.

As always, I’ve slapped it on t-shirts, sweatshirts, mousepads, mugs, bags, and most of the other stuff that’s available at CafePress.

September 4 2007

Water bubble experiments in space

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This video shows 3 different experiments that scientists conducted in zero gravity, presumably on the ISS. They’re really quite amazing, especially the last one.

July 15 2007

Greatest cancelled TV shows ever (Part 1)

I was just watching some old video files I downloaded a while ago, and I came to the realization that some (or dare I say, most) of the best TV shows get cancelled before their time. So I thought I’d mention some of my favorites, in the hope that I’d get people interested in some of these lost gems. As far as I know, they’re all available on DVD.

Carnivàle (2003-2005)

Jeez, it’s hard to explain this show. It takes place during the Great Depression, and on the surface, it’s about a struggling traveling carnival, and a seemingly-unrelated preacher. In the first episode, the carnival picks up a young man (Ben, the main character) who, unbeknownst to them, has the power to heal others. Ben and the preacher also share some sort of bond, and are gradually drawn to each other. Eventually, you realize that it’s not really about a carnival at all, but a battle between good and evil. There’s all sorts of mysticism and prophesy and a very deep mythology. Or there would have been.

Unfortunately, it only lasted for 2 seasons. The first season was very, well, deliberately paced, which could be mistaken for “slow”. The ratings weren’t very good, but HBO was kind enough to give it a second season to tie everything together.

The second season was nowhere near as deliberate as the first, and they abandoned the gradual buildup of the first season to get about 4 seasons of material into one. Things really start happening, and many mysteries are explained, including what the show is really about.

Personally, I can’t decide which season works better. At the end of the first, I felt like “wow, this is a really cool show, but I still have no clue what it’s about”. The second explained too much, and of course there are plenty of plotlines still open, since they were hoping that ratings would improve enough for more seasons, or a movie of some sort.

To be a Carnivàle fan is to know true frustration, but I still recommend checking it out.

Farscape (1999-2003)

Farscape is about modern-day human astronaut John Crichton, who gets lost in space and winds up aboard a ship with several escaping alien prisoners. He accidentally pisses off a military officer, and must stay with the ship and prisoners to keep from being captured. Gradually, he makes friends with the prisoners and acquires lots of enemies. Crichton’s quest for a way home is detoured when it turns out that he posesses something that the great military forces of the galaxy desire.

The show was produced by the Jim Henson Company, which means that the show is filled with weird alien creatures of every variety. Some characters are covered in extensive makeup, some obscured under very clever prosthetics, and some are actually elaborate animatronic puppets. Makes the pointy ears and goofy foreheads on Star Trek look quaint.

The show is full of sci-fi goodness like spaceship battles, laser gunfights, elaborate story arcs, oppressive military forces and all that, but it also has some truly amazing characters. Though there is a core group of characters, there are also often additions and subtractions as Crichton and his shipmates meet up with new people, all with their own agendas. Nobody is who they seem to be on the surface. Trusted allies can wind up betraying their friends, enemies can become friends, and just about everybody is crazy.

Farscape was the show that really helped the Sci-Fi Channel get off the ground, and helped it to become more than a glorified rerun network. The show ran for 4 seasons and was apparently approved for a fifth, but then Sci-Fi axed it. It was their most popular show, and they cancelled it. Of course, it was also their most expensive show.

Fortunately, Sci-Fi let them finish the show with a 3-hour miniseries a couple years after cancellation, but it’s really hard to tie up 4 years of an elaborate story in 3 hours.

I think they still air the show in reruns, but it’s one of those shows that you need to watch from start to finish, so I recommend DVDs.

Star Trek (1966-1969)

I just wanted to briefly mention the grandaddy of them all, because without the original Star Trek, where would Science Fiction be today? Like any good sci-fi, it was far deeper than it seemed. The show tackled numerous social issues, from race to war to religion, you name it. It only lasted 3 seasons before it was cancelled due to poor ratings, but it changed the world. And it looks better than ever on the recently released remastered DVDs.

Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005)

Enterprise never got the respect it deserved. True, it started out a little slow, but so did every other Star Trek show, and most other TV shows too, for that matter. The first season is pretty decent. The second season is good. The third season is great, and the fourth is also great, but for different reasons.

The show takes place many years before the Original Series, and the Enterprise is the first and only human ship capable of long-range space exploration. There’s no Federation yet. Humanity has only had contact with a few alien races (the first being Vulcans, of course) so they’re eager to get out there and see what’s what. In fact, in the first episode, they see their first Klingon (dun dun duuuun!) and have to return him to his homeworld.

For the first 2 seasons, it’s all classic Star Trek fare – seeking out new life and/or civilizations, going boldly and all that. The one hickup is the inclusion of the “Temporal Cold War” storyline. In the first episode, we’re introduced to a new evil alien race called the Suliban, who are these crazy souped-up genetic experiments from the future, or something. Fortunately, there aren’t that many episodes involving the TCW, and they’re mostly absent from Seasons 3 and 4.

In Season 3 and 4, the episodes are way better. Season 3 is basically one long storyline where the Enterprise has to stop a race of aliens bent on destroying Earth. Season 4 takes major strides toward the formation of the Federation, and plays with a lot of established Trek lore. In one 3-parter, you get to see them deal with some of Khan’s leftover genetics experiments, meet Data’s great-grandfather, and find out why the original Kirk-era Klingons looked so much different than they do on the other shows.

The characters are kinda standard, though they get much more interesting as time goes on. Captain Archer is more like Kirk than other captains, though he’s also somewhat less sure of what he’s doing, since what he’s doing has never been done by other humans before. The science officer is an uppity female Vulcan who seems to only be there to tell the puny humans how stupid they are for the first season. The rest of the cast are all humans for obvious reasons. There’s a likable southern engineer who winds up in a lot of embarassing situations (and provides most of the swearing on the show), a quiet British armory officer, a worrisome Asian communications officer, and the token black guy who flies the ship, or something. Oh, and then there’s Phlox, who’s an alien doctor (best character on the show).

After 4 seasons, the show was ended due to low ratings. The final episode (which is generally considered equal to Paramount kicking each of the show’s fans in the balls) is a Holodeck simulation on the Next Generation Enterprise, featuring Riker and Troy looking pretty old and overweight playing the characters they played 15 years ago. Sigh.

I’ve got more shows to cover, but I’m getting tired of writing, so I think I’ll make this a two-parter and continue tomorrow or something. And yes, I’m going to mention Firefly.

June 22 2007

Music from Lightning

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It’s not an understatement for me to say that this is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a long time. This is a Tesla coil (like one of those big metal balls that makes your hair stick up) that is being manipulated to produce crackling lightning at different pitches, resulting in actual music.

This first video is the most impressive light show, and features a few familiar songs. The second is TWO coils, doing an impressive rendition of the 1812 Overture.

May 17 2007

Chatbot A, meet Chatbot B

Ever try out one of those online chatbot things? They’re complex computers programmed to hold a real conversation with you. They’re pretty clever actually, although they frequently change subjects like an overcaffeinated, ADD-riddled teenager. So they’re very lifelike if you’re in highschool.

Anyway, somebody had the brilliant idea to get two of them to chat with each other. Their names are Jabberwocky and Alice. The results are actually very interesting, especially since Jabb seems to be a bit of a jackass. And is it just me, or does Alice hit on Jabb once or twice?

May 6 2007

Spiderman 3 Review – 6.5/10

Apparently, Sony is planning Spiderman 4-6 right now. If they can keep them as interesting as this one was, then I might as well give them my money now. Actually, they’ll have to be satisfied with an IOU, because I’m broke. That’s if they were actually accepting money for the next 3 movies right now. Oh, but I’m rambling.

So yea, I liked it a lot, despite its flaws. I’d say it was better than #1 but not as good as #2. But maybe I’m biased, since Doc Ock is my favorite Spiderman villain and they got him PERFECT in the movie.

It’s really hard to go over what you like about a movie, and really easy to go over what you didn’t. So I guess you can assume that I liked everything that I didn’t like.

So what didn’t I like? For starters, there was just too damn much Mary Jane. Kirsten Dunst isn’t exactly my favorite actress, and she was exactly the same as she was in the previous two movies: boring boring boring. We have characters in this movie who can shoot webs from their hands, turn into sand, and fly. Why did they have to stick so much “struggling actress” into it? I didn’t pay $9.25 for a Hallmark Channel special. Fortunately, the parts that aren’t about MJ are a blast to watch. Supposedly, Dunst doesn’t want to do any more Spiderman movies, and for that I’m glad.

What else didn’t I like? Sandman. The actor was great, the sand effects were great, but they basically turned him into a lumbering Frankenstein monster that kills without thought. His “I just want to help my daughter” story isn’t exactly believable when he’s smashing people by the dozens.

The fact that the movie had three villains to try to juggle when they weren’t advancing the insipid love story meant that they had a lot of story to tell, but not enough time to tell it. You can tell by some noticeable gaps in the story, as well as a couple too-convenient duct tape-style segments that tie things together, that a lot of content got left on the cutting room floor.

I wish they had just focused on Harry, Sandman, and the black suit, and just left Venom as a cameo at the end so they could focus on him in the next one. Why did they feel like they had to jam three unrelated villains into one movie? Hell, even TWO is too much sometimes (I’m thinking of the Batman movies, pre-Bale).

Aside from those problems, it was still a blast to watch. The fights are great (though they use too much CG in them) and Spidey is still a great character. There were even some surprises to ME, and I thought I knew what was going to happen since I know the source material. It had the action, the characters, the humor (oh Bruce Campbell, you’re just too awesome for words), and the suspense that the previous movies had.

Basically, I’m saying that if you liked the other Spidey movies, you’ll like this one. I give it an 6.5/10.