September 2008 Archives

Outlook 2007 - Fixing First Letter Navigation

While I really dislike Exchange and the whole Microsoft Outlook package, I encountered a weird problem yesterday in which the first letter hot key navigation for sorting e-mails by the sender was turned off, and google had no free answers for me (the only answer I found was on one of those cheesy tech-support forums that wants you to pay to see the replies, which may or may not have an answer), so I'll post it here to save other people some time and money. The user complained that in Outlook 2003, this feature had been there, but in Outlook 2007 it seemed to have disappeared.

Outlook 2007 has an undocumented (or perhaps that should be poorly documented) feature in which you can skip to the sender by focusing the view on the column you want to sort by (in this case, the "From:" column) and then typing the first couple of letters of the person's name. So if I wanted to find all the e-mails sent by Amazon, I would press A-M-A-Z and so on, and the selection would change to the appropriate message. It makes finding messages a bit faster if you know who sent you the message, and in a large mailbox with a common starting letter, it makes it a lot faster than scrolling.

This particular bug (which may or may not be caused by the upgrade from Outlook 2003 to 2007) disables that feature for the "From:" field, but nothing else -- I can still sort by Subject and use first-letter navigation. The solution? Reset Custom Views. This brings it back to the default view, and allows for first-letter navigation again in the "From:" field.

Vincent LaForet's Reverie

If you haven't seen it yet, Canon has posted video footage taken by Vincent LaForet using the Canon 5D Mark II in one weekend.

The video quality is astounding, and the low light performance seems fantastic.

"I'm a PC" campaign made on a Mac (and CS3)

For the past couple of weeks, we've been subjected to the terrible Bill Gates- Seinfeld ads which made little sense; this week, that campaign is over, and they've moved onto a campaign which features a John Hodgman look-a-like, as well as celebrities and regular people saying "I'm a PC".

Apparently after looking at the file creation data on Microsoft's website, it has been discovered that the ad was created on a Mac, with Adobe's Creative Suite, no less. While Microsoft has largely touted their philosophy of "eating their own dog food", apparently when it comes to trying to beat Apple at their own game, Microsoft must resort to using their competition's tools, and not their own.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

The Canon Japan website has just posted the official specifications of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

Like the earlier 5D, the Mark II retains the full-frame sensor, as well as the 9 auto focus points, but the resolution has increased to 21.1 megapixels, includes a 3 inch Live View LCD screen, DIGIC IV processor, sensor cleaning, and the camera now covers up to 25600 ISO. In addition, the Mark II is capable of 3.9 frames per second, and now includes a movie mode, capable of 1920 x 1080 resolution (full HD). The Mark II also uses a new battery pack (LP-E6) with 30% more power, when compared to the older BP-511As that are used in previous generation DSLRs.

While this is a substantial improvement over the original 5D, this new model will not arrive cheap, at $2699 for the body only; paired with the 24-105 f/4L IS the camera kit will cost $3499. I still haven't yet decided if I want to upgrade my camera to the 5D Mark II -- I'm still curious about the low-light performance, and how bad the impact of cramming that many photodiodes onto the same size sensor is before purchasing the camera; the main draw for me would be the full HD camera, which could then use my DSLR lenses.

One of the new features of the Mark II that hasn't been commented too much on is the "Lens Peripheral Illumination Correction" feature, which takes into accout the light falloff in the corners of the frame and corrects it. I can see this being a potentially useful feature on lenses that tend to have vignetting.

Still Alive, 16-Bit

About 10 years ago, the Super NES had a game called Mario Paint, which had a component on there called Composer, in which the player could arrange notes with a Super NES Mouse to compose musical scores; while I personally never composed anything other than discordant rhythms, this fellow has managed to put together the Mario Paint Composer rendition of "Still Alive" from Portal:

SNL's Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton


October Esquire with E-ink

IMG_4928. Today I picked up the October 2008 issue of Esquire at a local bookstore. Since I live in the technological adept center of Silicon Valley, I was worried that the tech savvy engineers in the area would pick up a few issues to disassemble, and re-assemble as their own DIY e-ink reader, but, as the bookstore had more than enough magazines available, I suspect that either the e-ink display on the cover has been found wanting, or that the overlap between techies interested in such projects and the readership of Esquire isn't very large.

This issue of Esquire is a dollar more than the typical cover price of the magazine for the added costs of the display, and the batteries that powers the display.

In the interest of curiosity, I dismembered my issue to find out exactly what makes the cover work. The cover you'll notice is very thick -- this is because the cover includes 2 e-ink displays, a circuit board with 6 CR2016 3V batteries, a foam insert and a whole lot of glue and tape to seal it up.

The batteries used are soldered onto the circuit board, making replacement of the batteries in order to retain the power going to the displays pretty impossible without tearing apart the cover.

Layered on top of the e-ink displays are a plastic cover which seems to serve the dual purpose of protecting the display, as well as providing colored elements to turn on or off. The e-ink doesn't have very much in the way of color reproduction -- it really feels like it's either on or off. The circuit boards have a manufacture date of 6/04/2008, making me curious how long these batteries will power the screen.

The screens are attached to the circuit board by way of a thin flat ribbon, and are attached to the e-ink displays. rather than returning to what we would consider an "off" state, the e-ink displays retain whatever image was last displayed when disconnected.

The verdict? Not much can be done in terms of DIY hacking unlless you have some way of removing the backing from the e-ink, and even then, the e-ink display is a cell type, not a pixel type, making hacks limited. The patterns may be able to be manipulated, but it is far beyond my technical capacities. The resolution of e-ink screen is difficult to distinguish from print, so that is a success, however, with the circulation of Esquire Magazine, and the propensity for magazines to end up in landfills, the sheer amount of batteries and electronics that may find their resting place there is staggering. IMG_4948IMG_4942

Matt Damon on Palin


"I think there's a good chance Sarah Palin could be president, and that's a really scary thing."

Apple's New iPod Headphones

Yesterday, Apple introduced a new pair of $79 In-Ear Headphones, which boast some pretty awesome features, such as woofer and tweeter in the earphones, resulting in a better bass, silicone ear tips for a more comfortable fit, and most importantly, a mic and volume control switch. My first reaction to this announcement was one of excitement, as the volume control was something lacking on the standard iPhone headphones, and would have been a much appreciated feature. It was if iPhone owners finally had a good alternative to the $29 headphones that come packaged with the iPhone. However, this elation was short-lived as I discovered that these seemingly perfect iPhone headphones don't work with the iPhone, only the 2nd Gen iPod touch, 4th gen iPod nano and the new 120GB iPod Classic!

W-T-F Apple?!? I mean seriously -- is there a reason why the iPhones can't use this accessory? Is it simply that these devices don't have through-the-wire-controls of volume? With the iPhone3G just being released a month and a half ago, you would think that they would have planned for this accessory in mind, but the lack of compatibility suggests that the technical specs of the iPhone 3G were not passed to other groups within Apple.

iTunes 8 - Genius or Dunce?

As soon as Apple announced the new Genius feature in iTunes 8, I knew I had to give it a try on my iTunes library. Apple's new Genius feature analyzes your music library, looks at your iTunes purchases and attempts to generate a playlist based on your tastes, as well as recommend purchases on the iTunes store that you might be interested. In short, the Genius feature is a lot like the internet music service Pandora, except that it uses only music you own, and that it only recommends things that are available in their store.

Now, my library poses certain challenges -- for starters, my tastes are quite eclectic, and the majority of my music comes from Asia in the form of videogame or anime soundtracks, my library includes some more modern music, but the vast majority is not stuff that Apple iTunes is going to carry. I'm curious how it will handle my Podcasts (mostly of This American Life) and my audio language lessons.

I should note that as I type this entry, iTunes is analyzing my 46 gig library, and so far has taken about half an hour, and it's about 75 percent done. I have to wonder if it will be this way every time I use the Genius feature, or if it is only a one time thing.

Update: One hour later, and it's still sending information to Apple to be processed. I wonder if their servers are overloaded simply by the amount of people attempting to use this feature? Update 2: I'm starting to think I should let this thing go overnight -- it's been waiting for Apple to process the information for quite some time now. Update 3: I stopped the process after 3 hours and restarted it -- neither the data collection, nor the transmission/analysis step took as long as previously, and I got my results back within a few minutes. As expected, there was little, if anything that Genius was able to recommend for me, though I was impressed that they had tracks by Utada Hikaru and other J-Pop artists in their catalog.

I Totally Want Some Sulfur Hexafluoride Now...


links for 2008-09-09


I'm Voting Republican

A satirical look at what Republicans stand for:

links for 2008-09-07


Totoro Forest Project

Last night, I attended the Totoro Forest Project Art Auction held at Pixar in Emeryville. Pixar was kind enough to allow access to the upper hallway floors, which serve as an art gallery for previous Pixar films; they have storyboards, concept art, and reference from Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, and Wall-E posted on these walls, along with some sections of script from the drafts of Finding Nemo (the story reel for Finding Nemo was done 6 times!) For auction was nearly 200 art pieces from artists around the world. It was an awesome opportunity to walk away with art pieces from famous artists inspired by Hayao Miyazaki.

Stepping into the reception area, there's a note as well as a Totoro watercolor by Miyazaki thanking people for attending the event, followed by an open bar and several buffet areas. The center area was dominated by the art pieces for the show, which constantly had people browsing them, looking for that special piece to their collection.

The collection of art pieces will be seen at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco with the first display being shown September 20 - December 7th, and the second half being shown from November 6 to February 20th. There's a small overlap in time when both collections can be seen at the same time, and a reception to be held in December.

There will be some truly fabulous pieces up for display at the museum, and they're the sort of pieces that should be experienced in person; the reproductions in the book and the online gallery simply do not do it justice.

Totoro Forest Project

(I apologize for the lack of photos of this event -- no cameras were allowed into Pixar).

Amazon Silently Discontinues Post-Order Guarantee

Effective September 1st, Amazon has discontinued the Post-Order Guarantee -- previously, this allowed a customer to request a price adjustment if the price of the item dropped within 30 days following the purchase of the item. I always enjoyed this bit of customer service from Amazon, as it allowed for me to get the discounted price of the item without much effort -- I just had to be aware of the price drops.

Interestingly, their return period for the item still remains at 30 days, which means that any price adjustments will probably be done in the form of returning items, and then repurchasing the same item at the reduced cost.

There are many reasons for discontinuing the Post-Order Guarantee, I am sure, such as the fact that nearly everyone takes advantage of it, and that online websites have made it easy to automate such requests. By doing this, it also allows Amazon to keep the difference, and make the customer work harder at getting the difference back. Someone who buys a $19.99 DVD probably isn't going to go through the trouble of sending the DVD back if it drops to 18.99, and that's another dollar earned by Amazon. Conversely, someone who purchases a large ticket item -- say an Amazon Kindle ($359) sees that the price of the Kindle has dropped another $30 to $329, they might not be bothered to return the Kindle to get the discounted price, as it would mean:

    1) shipping the item back to Amazon
    2) ordering a new Kindle at the discounted price (adding a large expense to the credit card)
    3) wait for Amazon to process the return.
For $30 bucks -- in this case, Amazon would likely keep the difference, and that's the most obvious benefit to Amazon if enough people aren't willing to return items due to their pricing.
I suspect, however, that this policy change has more to do with Amazon's movement into the digital download domain where they don't want to be caught in a bind when they discount an ebook or a direct download video -- people who purchase physical goods can still get the lower price through returns, but Amazon's digital downloads are more or less "All Sales Final" type goods.

Google's Chrome

Today, Google announced Chrome, their foray into the world of web browsers, and they hired Scott McCloud to illustrate how Chrome is different from other browsers, and their thought process behind their browser -- I can say from my experimentation that the browser is ridiculously fast, and while Chrome is PC only for now, I can't wait until it's out for the Mac as well, as there is a substantial difference in speed from Firefox.

The design is incredibly minimalistic, as it includes only the basics -- a forward and back, refresh, a way to bookmark, and a few pull down tabs for all the other fiddly bits. I can see this replacing Firefox for me as soon as Mac version is available.

Mountain View Public Library's Critical Fail

I like the Mountain View Public Library, but one of the issues I've had since the remodel has been the automated check-in kiosks. There are a total of 3 of these machines -- two located at the front entrance, and one located in the parking garage. The one in the parking garage is seriously flawed as it is near impossible to return the books while still in the car, but the two in the front seem to suffer continuously from being out of order. The outdoor book return I find to be the most hilarious sight of all, as nearly every inch is covered with instructions or warnings on how to use the machine, and in today's case, a big fat "Out of Order" sign:


Since today is a holiday, the book return on the inside and in the garage can't be accessed, and the old book return in the parking lot outside was locked up with a padlock. Today was a holiday, and Sunday, the library was closed. The sign on the book return must have been put up on Saturday, but with the library closed for two days, there were bound to be books that needed to be returned:


And there they are, spilling out from the book return and across the floor. Keep in mind, that is Monday morning -- the library won't open until 10am tomorrow, and whoever has the job of picking all off those books off the floor is one person I don't envy.

How-To: Pull the FMVs from PlayStation 2 Games

Yesterday I spent most of the day trying to extract the FMVs (Full Motion Video) from Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts 2. littlestar has been playing KH2 for a while now, and finished the game last week. However, she didn't complete all the tasks to get the hidden ending at the end of the game, and lamented that she should have played the game at Hard difficulty, as it would have let her unlock the hidden ending without needing to complete a long, and tedious bunch of mini-games. In my typical fashion, I thought, this is ridiculous, and started working on extracting the videos from the PS2 disc -- luckily, there are several different communities which have already done it, so from there it was just a pulling it all together and updating them (where necessary).

Kingdom Hearts 2 is one of the more complicated games to extract the movies out of because Square Enix tends to encode their cinematics in a somewhat odd fashion -- perhaps this is due to localization needs, or some other requirement, but the PSS (PlayStation Stream) file that Square Enix uses for Kingdom Hearts 2 includes a audio stream without the header.

Programs you will need :

    Nova Extractor

Optional programs:
    A Hex Editor (only if the header has been removed from the file - as in the case of KH2)
    VirtualDubMod (if you want to re-encode the movies)
The first thing that needs to be done is to locate the FMVs on the disc. For this, you will use Nova Extractor to scan the disc to find the headers of the PSS files. This will mark all the potential movies. Extract the files after the search is complete.

At this point, you'll have some pss files. Run them through PSS-demux to split them into the video and audio stream. (or if you just want a watchable movie, leave it this way -- unless the game is Kingdom Hearts 2/Square Enix Game, in which case, the movie will be silent).

The output from PSS-demux is an mpg file and (in the case of Kingdom Hearts 2) a dat file. The dat file for KH2 has been stripped of its audio header, so that will need to be re-inserted in. Open up the Hex Editor and insert the Sony ATRAC3 header at the beginning of the file:

    52 49 46 46 2A 2A 2A 2A 57 41 56 45 66 6D 74 20 20 00 00 00 70 02 02 00 80 BB 00 00 50 46 00 00 80 01 00 00 0E 00 01 00 00 10 00 00 00 00 00 00 01 00 00 00 64 61 74 61 2A 2A 2A 2A
You'll want the audio in a more usable format (in my case, since I like to watch things on my Mac, I reformatted the audio into constant bit-rate MPEG-3, but you can use anything you want.

After that, run VirtualDubMod, add the audio stream, and you now have a movie. Here's a short example of one from FFX-2: