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Wednesday, December 28th, 2005 - 6:39 PM

"Irfanview 3.98"

Irfanview

A new version of Irfanview (3.98) was released around Christmas. Irfanview is a freeware image viewer and batch processor developed by a well-wishing guy in Bosnia. For freeware, it has an amazing feature set, though it has about as simple an interface and fast load times as can be attained. I have most common image formats associated with Irfanview for fast viewing, instead of opening a super fat photo editor each time I want to take a quick look at something. I always use it to do preliminary formatting on images from my digital camera (especialy lossless JPG rotation), and find other simple uses for it from time to time. It is a very small download: very much worth the time to try it out. And free is a very good price! For what it does (viewing, batch processing and renaming images), it is one of the best. Obviously, don't expect to be able to create complex images or compositions, for that is not its purpose. Click here to visit the Irfanview home page to see the feature list and free download.

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Wednesday, December 28th, 2005 - 11:34 AM

"Wisemen Follow a Star"

Your humble leader

A friend at work presented a very interesting quote to me from the paper. I'll simply present it here and see if anyone has the same reaction we did. (We both burst out in laughter).

"People all over the world recognize me as a spiritual leader." - Steven Seagal
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Wednesday, December 28th, 2005 - 12:57 AM

"End to Jet Li's Martial Arts Film Career?"

Jet Li as Wong

Jet Li is without a doubt my favorite martial arts actor. Hands down. His speed and dedication to perfect form is amazing. He is seemingly a pretty cool guy. Though I obviously don't know him personally, several things about him have impressed me. Obviously the primary area of admiration relates to his amazing ability to demonstrate seemingly any form of Chinese martials arts with perfection. I especially like his depiction of T'ai Chi in a number of his films, including Twin Warriors.

Jet Li also has an uncanny dedication to his religion, a meritable trait, even if I don't share his religion, Buddhism. I learned today that his newest martial arts movie project, "Fearless" is rumored to be his last. It seems he has decided to revert to producing films that are more to his liking and conviction. Among other projects, he may do a documentary on Buddhism and children's or family films. Such decisions obviously stem from his religious beliefs because there can't be a whole lot of money or success in such pursuits.

Though I certainly don't agree or condone Jet Li's religious beliefs in their entirety, I commend him for this recent decision... that is, if it is indeed more than a rumor. Since I first became interested in martial arts movies as a child or adolescent, I was disillusioned by the inevitable corruption of the pure beauty of simply showing martial arts in action. Every single Chinese action star who gets American stardom eventually gets convinced to let money and sensuality to take over. Their movies slowly become more about guns, drugs, sex and other distractions, and less about martial arts and Chinese culture. It seems that perhaps Jet Li has noticed this corruption and perhaps wants to avoid it. Who knows what his motives are, but they seem commendable from this fan's perspective.

Though it would be a shame to see Jet Li's martial arts film career come to a swift end, at least it would seem it is for a good or conscious reason on his part. If I ever become famous or wealthy for any reason (highly dubious), I would hope that I end whatever the source of wealth is if I saw it corrupting me or causing others to stumble... or generally encourage this materialistic, sensual and hollow culture we live in.

Perhaps just out of curiosity I will follow Jet Li's new work if and when he decides to leave the martial arts scene (when it comes to film). I would personally love it if he decided to continue to make martial arts movies, but return to the traditional type, devoid of provocative sensuality and American pollutants. Those that are set in the 18th and 19th century, before British influence is found in China, are my favorite. I love to see those old, rugged market streets and masters in simple attire with martial skill bordering or crossing the line of the mystical. This genre of film is my absolute favorite ever. Jet Li is the crowning jewel of this style, and I seriously doubt another will ever emerge. Unfortunately, with the modernization of the world, even Chinese films will probably follow suite with the American [Hollywood] trend. As long as Chinese films continue to be set apart and unique, I will continue to enjoy them. If they conform, I will probably just savor the old great films and cease to expect anything new to be made. I think there are enough purist fans like me, however, to ensure the survival of this beautiful side of the film industry for at least a few more generations.

As good-natured as Jet Li's possible new pursuits might be, I wouldn't be surprised if he returns to action films at a later time. Unless he is a truly devoted religious man, willing to give up all possessions - and even his very life - as it seems a pure Buddhist might be led to do, it is likely he will return to doing something that provides the comforts of profitable living. After tasting fame and money, I'm sure it would be hard to follow less lucrative ventures, even if they emanate from religious or personal dogma.

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Tuesday, December 27th, 2005 - 12:18 AM

"Textarea HTML Entity Bothers"

Oh bother! In the last week or so I discovered yet another little quirk of HTML and form scripting. I just recently discovered that all mainstream browsers convert HTML entities typed within TEXTAREA elements into the characters they represent before submitting the text and when displaying the text within the TEXTAREA. For example, if I type " and submit, it will be converted to a double-quote character instead of the string of characters that represent the double-quote. In the same manner, < and > HTML entities will be converted to less than and greater than characters before being submitted in a form. Therefore, it seems very difficult or impossible to submit an HTML entity in a TEXTAREA to a PHP script in the manner described above. This is an annoying little tidbit that I was unaware of until recently. I just assumed the text in a TEXTAREA was left unchanged when submitted. I am currently in the process of writing a simple PHP script that regenerates these HTML entities in submitted HTML code based on the context of their use. It's not an easy task for me, but I'm sure I'll get it working in a while. I kinda need to get this working because I can't enter HTML entities in EsoBlog entries until I get it fixed. Annoying! I like these little challenges, furthermore. It's the best way to learn something new! I actually searched on the internet for quite some time on this topic and didn't find much, to my surprise. It seems it is one of those little known quirks of browser technology.

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Friday, December 23rd, 2005 - 2:21 PM

"Karl and Nadya's New Blog"

Meus amigos, Karl and Nadya, have moved their blog from MSN Spaces to Blogger. Wise move :). Please visit their blog to read up on life in Brazil and tidbits from a great newliwed relationship! Click here to visit Karl and Nadya's new blog.

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Friday, December 16th, 2005 - 12:30 PM

"The Best Silent Night Yet"

I mentioned a while ago that the radio station I listen to at work started playing Christmas music 24/7. There is one song in particular song that comes on every once in a while that forces me to turn up the radio. It is "Silent Night" by Mercy Me. It is not the standard mellow, slow, serene version. It has a little kick to it, a nice beat. I especially like the way the lead and Amy Grant cooperate the harmony. Interestingly enough, it has a pretty definite country flavor, and I normally despise country music. Something about this song gets me going, nonetheless.

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Wednesday, December 7th, 2005 - 10:25 PM

"Firefox Releases Noteworthy Fire-Fix"

Version 1.5 of the world's best web browser has been released. And, yes, even though this browser claims only 10% of the web browsing audience of the world, it beats out the quality and features of the leading browser 10 to 1. In case you thought I was speaking in riddles and avoiding using any names, think again. Mozilla Firefox 1.5 was released at the beginning of this month. It is by far the best browser in existence. Microsoft Internet Explorer is a horrible application by comparison. Everyone should switch to Firefox because it is so much better. Click here to visit Mozilla's site. If you are browsing using Internet Explorer, stop using it immediately. Find someone you know that uses Firefox and have them download Firefox on their computer, burn it to a CD and give it to you so you don't have to use IE for one more second! Okay, so I'm exaggerating.

The main reason Firefox is better in my opinion is that they are far quicker than anyone else to accept and implement web design standards. Hands down, Firefox displays CSS better than any mainstream web browser. Oh, did I mention it is absolutely free? It's absolutely free. With this new release, some are wondering if Firefox will remain free. There has been talk that the software will become a more profitable product for Mozilla. Well, per a statement on the Mozilla site, the superior browser will remain free. It would be pretty dumb - like Operadom - to start charging for something that everyone has always expected to be free.

The bane of every web designer is to look at the W3C CSS recommendations and see how no one seems to be able to (or cares enough to) keep up with and implement the recommendations. Microsoft is really bad because they actually create and interpret their own standards, trying to get everyone to fudge and adhere to their shallow way of thinking. I have heard that IE7 will fix some of this arrogance, but that remains to be seen. If Microsoft doesn't fix their browser, I can see Firefox's 10% worldwide audience growing exponentially.

The most exciting change in Firefox 1.5 for me is supposed increased CSS support. It is a thing of silliness (and patheticism) that the CSS 2 recommendation was released on May 18, 1998 - and is still not fully supported by any browser on the market. Here it is, seven years later, and no one gets it right! Seven years is an eternity in the world of technology and computers. Worse yet, CSS Level 1 was recommended December 17, 1996 and is not fully supported by Microsoft! IE6, the latest version to date, still has severe problems with the original CSS box model! Enough about Microsoft... this article is about Firefox. Firefox 1.5 boasts CSS 2 support (it's about time!) and partial CSS 3 support. CSS 3 is apparently still far from being released and will most likely be the biggest change in web design yet. By the time W3C is done with CSS 3, they may as well skip a few numbers and call it CSS10! If there were less than two years between CSS1 and CSS2, I think it's about time CSS3 gets finished! Oh well.

So I installed Firefox 1.5 at home and at work and am excited to see how some more advanced CSS selectors render. I can't wait until the day I can select elements based on context, rather than having to add extraneous classes just to make it possible to select something. CSS2 supports advanced selectors, but no one seems to see the power of such things because no browser supports them. Unfortunately, Firefox's CSS support is somewhat irrelevant. It is too little, too late. If Microsoft doesn't get up to speed, it will not be reasonable to design anything using new CSS rules. It is senseless and foolish to design a page that only five or ten percent of the world will be able to see. What a waste of valuable time in the web design industry... 1998 to 2005! If the browser companies would have gotten their acts together and kept up with the CSS recommendations as they were released or shortly after, we wouldn't still be in the adolescent age of design. Oh well, complaining gets one nowhere.

By the way, I'm not partial to Firefox just because it is hip and new. If Microsoft would get their nose in gear and make some decent updates, I'd easily go back to using it. Of course, now that Firefox has a building audience, I will always use both browsers until one or the other goes out of business. I currently use Firefox as my default browser. I only open IE when testing (with groans) or when viewing something proprietary that only IE can display (proprietary, as in Microsoft doing their own thing and not letting anyone else in on their little secrets).

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Monday, December 5th, 2005 - 10:27 PM

"My First Movie Plus Project"

Pastor purchased a small collection of religious Christmas images online. The advertisement was pretty deceptive, claiming the CD contained over 400 images. Yes, there are over 400 images, but in reality there are only 25 original pieces of artwork. The remaining 375 or so images are simply variations of the original 25. Yep, that makes 16 variations of each image! Oh well.

Pastor asked me to come up with a slideshow for the next few Sunday services using some of the images and quotes or scripture. I made the first slideshow for this Sunday (2 days ago) and played it before service and during breaks. Oh, I guess most people don't know that I do the video ministry at my church. This usually involves preparing lyrics for the songs we are to sing in Powerpoint and sermon notes, if Pastor has any prepared. I also show the occasional ministry DVD or multimedia presentation. I enjoy it. This involvement gives me a sense of value to the service, and a way to apply my talents in a directly positive and edifying manner. I have been working in this ministry position for well over a year now.

I received Serif Movie Plus 4 in the mail several days ago and used it to create the Christmas slideshow for Sunday. The video I composed ended up being under two minutes long, so I burned it to a DVD and played it in a loop. Movie Plus is an awesome program! When I first saw how much control it offers I was ecstatic. Infinite video and sound layers with transparency and keyframing is enough to get me pretty excited. I am no longer limited to working with video segments, joined by transitions and simple text layers. I can do pretty much anything I want by creating bitmaps or video footage with a common background color, and blend it in by using a blue-screen technique (making the background color transparent).

The Christmas video was created using several simple effects:

  1. The background images were taken from the CD the church purchased. By using keyframing, I was able to set their transparency to fade in and out. I was also able to move them around and change the zoom level by setting a start and finish position and size. This functionality was very quick and easy.
  2. The smoke or cloudy effect was achieved by using a volumetric 3D rendering I created some time before using Bryce 4, a fine product for those on a tight budget. I applied a colorize effect to make the smoke an offwhite color - the original rendering is blue. I then applied a chroma-key effect, making the darker regions of the smoke transparent, leaving the wispy white cloud effect.
  3. I created the text layers using Fireworks (any program could be used). Movie Plus doesn't have a native text tool, but there is really no need. Since any layer can have transparency, I simply created an image with white text on a black background. Using keyframes, I was able to move, scale, rotate and skew the text as desired. Simple fading and blurring were applied to transition the text in and out.

Click here to see the final product. Of course, I had to compress the movie to a sensible size for my website. The original rendering is very crisp and runs very smoothly. I was very impressed with Movie Plus' resampling ability. Even when an image or movie is stretched significantly, the pixels are averaged, and the video remains quite smooth. Note: I didn't add any sound to the video because its duration was so short. Instead, I had the sound guy play a Christmas CD along with the video.

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Monday, December 5th, 2005 - 9:56 PM

"Willy the Wonk"

Deep Roy as the Oompa Loompas

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp, directed by Tim Burton. Okay, I'm sorry, but bad movie. Really bad. I suppose it would be quite difficult to live up to the previous genius performance by Gene Wilder, but hey, you could at least try! Johnny Depp simply doesn't have it in him. This wasn't a role for him. He's too tame, too quiet. His antics involved quaint, creepy smiles and ever-so-slight movements. For the most part, he was stiff as a board, and I was bored. His girly voice was all too annoying as well. Ever since I saw Johnny Depp in the 2000 film, The Man Who Cried, I have been crying every time I see his face on the screen. Well, actually, he did a great job in Pirates of the Carribbean, to his credit.

Perhaps the movie's only good point was some of it's color choices and visuals, thanks to Tim Burton's eccentricity, no doubt. Some of the scenes employed good composition and camera angles. The Oompa Loompas were relatively interesting from an effects standpoint. All several hundred of the small identical characters were played by one actor, Deep Roy. He was filmed doing endless the actions from endless angles. Some of the Oompas were robotic - like the ones operating the TV transporter and the boat oarsmen - but the vast majority of them were Deep Roy. For me, however, the attractive visuals were not nearly enough to overcome the horrific performance, weakened plot, and uninteresting psychological undertone of Wonka's past.

I really like the name, Deep Roy, so I made this little animation to show my appreciation.

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Thursday, December 1st, 2005 - 12:26 PM

"Spiral Bound Bee Paper"

Just yesterday a coworker informed me that one of our proprietary products here at C2F will be featured in a movie. How fascinating. I guess someone came into the office asking if they could have some of our Bee Paper pads for use in a movie being filmed here in Portland. The movie is called "Spiral" and a psychological thriller that somehow involves a sketch artist. The artist(s) working on the movie really like Bee Paper, so that is how the whole thing came about. Should be interesting. I always like watching movies filmed in familiar environments. It's fun to point out, "I know that place!" I have no idea what this movie will end up being like, but perhaps I'll watch it some day if I remember. I suppose if I see the title at a theater it should spark my memory. I'm not sure if it will go to the theater though. I think it is a somewhat low-budget film.

I also like Bee Paper in general. It is a quality local alternative to some of the big names in the art business. Click here to visit the Bee Paper website. Eventually this will might end up being another of my design projects. It is in need of some work and general maintenance. It is kind-of up in the air at the moment who will get the assignment. It is mostly an issue of who has time for it, and I have a lot of other projects going at the moment.

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Thursday, December 1st, 2005 - 12:12 PM

"Noriyuki's Acclaim"

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita

Pat Morita passed away last Friday of natural causes at age 73. Without a doubt, Pat is most well known as Mr. Miyagi from the 1984 film, Karate Kid. Though Morita does not practice karate himself, I really enjoyed his portrayal of an eccentric Japanese master. Something about those movies inspired, I think, thousands of kids to want to learn martial arts. Though I have since moved on to interest in Chinese martial arts, there was a time as a kid when I wanted to learn karate. In fact, I took lessons at my school for about a year and a half. I hardly remember a thing I learned, but it was fun at the time.

As I was reading some of the eulogies and articles about Pat's passing, I began to wonder what it must be like to have your life summed up in a few short paragraphs. The news can be so stale and cold in its approach. It sounds like Mr. Morita had to overcome a great deal of hardship in his lifetime. It's really too bad that most of his movie and TV roles were just supporting ones. Perhaps that was his place, and where he performed the best. It just seems that he should have had a chance at some more significant parts. Oh well. Perhaps his life is a lesson that one does not need to be the biggest name or the best at anything. One must simply do the best he can with what is given him. I know that I certainly wouldn't want extreme riches and fame. Such things almost inevitably change a person.

I prefer to lead a simple life out of most spotlights, I guess. If I leave any legacy at all, I hope it will be one that points people to the love that Jesus demonstrated in giving His life for me.

So hats off to Mr. Morita. You have one of those faces that simply cannot be forgotten. Your image and work has brought smiles to many.

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