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3D Video Wizard - A Review

Filed under: Reviews and Impressions — Charlie Summers @ 10:45 am

Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time knows I love 3D photos, videos, and television; I even created my own 3D photos with a cheap camera a while back. So in that vein, I bought a small set-top box add-on device called the 3D Video Wizard. While list is around $150, and normal price is around $99, I picked it up for under $40 thinking I got an awesome deal. But I should have done more research first…

The 3D Video Wizard is designed to do two separate things - convert existing 3D video to amber-blue 3D (ColorCode is a trademark, so I probably shouldn’t use it here), so that non-3D televisions can display the 3D (think of the stuff the broadcast networks have run over the years, like that episode of Chuck that was in 3D, or the Super Bowl commercials), and also to “convert” 2D to 3D, attempting to add a layer of depth to existing “flat” television programs. While the latter is kinda cute, I originally bought this device to convert existing 3D files I have from various sources in real-time so I could avoid using AVISynth to convert from SBS/Half-SBS/OU (also referenced as TaB)/Half-OU to amber-blue. Makes sense that anything advertised to handle 3D formats would handle these ubiquitous ones, doesn’t it? I mean, especially since practically every 3D television currently sold handles these formats out-of-the-box…anyone know of any that can’t?

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“You get what you pay for?” Retire that bromide!

Filed under: General, Reviews and Impressions — Charlie Summers @ 4:23 pm

A while back I asked via Twitter for help in converting the format of some “e-books” I have here; since a lifetime ago I used to have a Palm PDA (Personal Digital Assistant…geez, how quaint!) I have a butload of public domain books in various formats that worked on the Handspring, mostly PalmDOC .prc files, and wanted to convert them to the more modern ePub format (basically a ZIP file containing XHTML files and support files like graphics, etc.).

One of the responses I received was from a sales drone trying to sell me on a commercial web-based application for authors; it’s basically an on-line word processor and export application that charges a whopping $19.00 every time you export a book to .epub and .mobi format!

(This same company had started a micropay service in competition with PayPal. Never heard of it? Me, neither.)

Clearly I had and have no intention of paying $20 per book to convert a public domain .prc file to .epub…heck, I doubt this commercial service would even handle the input of .prc, so the response was inappropriate and nothing more than some sleazy salesguy searching Twitter for mentions of e-books. I admit I was annoyed, and called him out on it suggesting his “service” was massively over-priced; if you are an author of nitch books and want to convert to a non-DRMed e-book, there are much cheaper (read, free) ways of getting there, so this “service” depends on authors uneducated in the concept of free software.

The salesdrone responded, “You get what you pay for.” Which got me thinking about this old bromide, one I’ve used myself quite often.

In the world of the Internet, I think it’s time to retire this nonsense.

Hear me out…as a proponent of free (as in beer and as in speech) software, I know something about it, and can usually recommend some open-source or free software to accomplish almost any task. But the argument of the bromide is, the free stuff simply cannot be as good as the software you pay for. So let me throw out a few examples where the freeware alternative is near the equal of the commercial version, at least for the common consumer:

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Book Review: A Voice in the Box, by Bob Edwards

Filed under: Radio Today, Reviews and Impressions — Charlie Summers @ 12:17 pm

Ok, let me start out by admitting I am anything but unbiased. I have spent almost my entire adult life waking up to the voice of Bob Edwards, on Morning Edition and now on The Bob Edwards Show, to the extent where I’m not certain what I’ll do to get moving in the morning if the guy ever retires. He is an intimate friend, just as he is to millions more who start their day with him in their ear. So I’m not going to pretend this is an impartial review…I can’t help but bring the last thirty-plus years along.

Now that that’s out of the way, Mr. Edwards’ new memoir, A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio, begins with what must be the high point of his career, his induction into the Radio Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Edward R. Murrow and the following year Walter Lanier “Red” Barber. This is only a few months after being removed from the role of host on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition in what is certainly NPR’s most idiotically-handled decision ever, and only a few short weeks into his blind leap into the brave new world of satellite radio with his possible listening audience only a pittance of his former program’s weekly rating.

The rest of the book is simply how he started, how he survived, and how he prevailed.

From memories of his childhood in Louisville, KY and his burgeoning desire to be one of the voices in the box he listened to so often, through his first radio job, hired less for his skill at the microphone than you might think, through his work in the American Forces Radio and Television Service (those of us who are familiar with the Armed Forces Radio Service of the 1940’s might have trouble with the frequent name changes of this organization), to his graduate work at American University under the tutelage of his mentor, Ed Bliss, through his hiring at the then wet-behind-the-ears National Public Radio, Mr. Edwards displays a newsman’s respect for the facts while maintaining an irreverence that frequently appears unexpectedly. (When reading about his time in Korea, I swear one line actually made me hear a snare drum rim-shot.) Indeed, the book frequently sparkles when he steps a little away from reportage and allows us not only to see what he sees, but know what he feels.

This is nowhere more achingly apparent than during his removal from National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, the show he took over in a crunch for only a month and owned for over twenty-four years, becoming for many “the” voice of NPR. Those who have been reading this blog a very long time will remember my outrage at this kerfuffle (the rest of you will need to search the archives)…knowing that it seemed to make as little sense on the inside as it did to those of us on the outside is sparse comfort. That Mr. Edwards still can’t answer the simple question, “Why?” makes the whole sordid affair even more puzzling, if such is possible. I do know that, in the reading, I became angry all over again. National Public Radio screwed around with my mornings. No one screws with my mornings.

Oh, alright, it isn’t all doom-and-gloom; in fact, his recollections of this time become an almost medieval saga, complete with dragons, jesters, and even treachery and a Mata Hari…Arthurian legends meet the cold war. Some of the incidents, while serious, can’t help but make the reader laugh. And to completely mangle my metaphors, there’s even a little bit of the Keystone Kops in the stodgy management of National Public Radio, frequently more interested in their own image than in making sensible decisions. The months between NPR’s initial announcement and Mr. Edwards’ decision to leave play out in these pages more convoluted than most feature film plots…it’s almost unbelievable it really happened.

The rest of the book details his, “second career,” that as host of satellite radio’s The Bob Edwards Show. He can finally answer the question, “Who is your favorite interview subject?” (Father Greg Boyle, and I discovered through this book that I was involved in a tiny sideways fashion in the run-up to that interview), and he tells some behind-the-scenes stories about producing seven hours of radio every week (five one-hour morning shows for SiriusXM and the two-hour compilation distributed through PRI to public radio stations, Bob Edwards Weekend).

Throughout the book, Mr. Edwards discusses his personal successes and failures, triumphs and disappointments with honesty and modesty. It is the life of a man who rather inadvertently became a huge part of our national culture while being our surrogate on the national stage; someone who on the worst days reassured us with his calm delivery while asking the questions we wanted answered. The story he tells here is presented in the same manor, by that personal friend of ours who roused us from our sleep and rode beside us on our drive to work.

Since his career is far from over, I look forward to listening to this particular voice in the box, even though that “box” is changing radically from the simple radio he loved as a child, for many years to come. And I expect one day I’ll read the sequel to this memoir detailing the adventures he has yet to experience.

A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio; Bob Edwards. Univ. Press of Kentucky, $21.95. 236p; ISBN 978-0-8131-3450-5.

Bob Edwards is also the author of “Fridays With Red: A Radio Friendship” (1993) based on his Friday morning radio interviews with renowned broadcaster Red Barber, and “Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism,” published in 2004. He is a national vice president of AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the host of “The Bob Edwards Show” every weekday morning on SiriusXM and the compilation show, “Bob Edwards Weekend” distributed to public radio stations by PRI.

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More about the Sansa Fuze MP3 player

Filed under: Reviews and Impressions — Charlie Summers @ 10:53 pm

Just a heads-up that there have been comments and updates to our review of the Sandisk Sansa Fuze MP3 player. I just added there information on how a piece of software I found at a website in Japan dramatically increased the speed of the player’s database “refresh.” While still not quite enough to consider this player as a replacement for the XM Satellite Radio, it’s impressive enough to not only note but to recommend that software to anyone who uses SD/SDHC memory cards of any stripe.

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Review: SanDisk Sansa Fuze

Filed under: Reviews and Impressions — Charlie Summers @ 5:57 pm

As I’ve mentioned before, I am (eventually) canceling my XM Satellite Radio, which means I need something for the car…something that can play music and downloaded podcasts, particularly news and talk shows like The Bob Edwards Show. I’ve already found the V-Touch VL-875 sorely lacking, so I stepped up, or over, to the Sandisk Sansa Fuze to see if that will fit the bill. Short answer…don’t think so, and I think you’ll agree with me in a little while…

First off, this is a great looking little player…I bought the 2G version on-sale to start, figuring I could easily upgrade to the 8G version later. Since the device has a microSDHC slot which will handle up to 16G, the on-board memory didn’t seem to be quite as important (although I was a little wrong there, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). Pulling this thing out of the way-too-much packing material was a challenge, but well worth it, since like I said, it’s really a pretty little machine. It’s about the size of a credit card, and while a bit thicker, not as much as you’d think. The screen is is a bit small for someone of my advanced years, but I think I can live with it. The thumbwheel is comfortable, although it takes a little bit of getting used to, and as I discovered the interface is a little inconsistent, making it more difficult to master than is really necessary.

But the first step is to charge the thing…dig out the proprietary charging cable (you knew that was coming), plug it into the Belkin powered hub and…uh-oh…the settings are such that it requires Windows Media Player 10 or higher, and I avoid putting that on any of my machines. What’s bothersome is that the device won’t charge if it’s connected to a computer and it doesn’t have a solid mount; an unnecessary complication, in my humble opinion. It was easily fixed by using what little battery power was in the device to fumble through the menus until I could find and change the USB setting to connect via MSC (like a flash drive) instead of via MTP (a Microsoft-created system to “manage” devices and make sure someone pays a commission on purchased DRM-laden music). Once that was accomplished, the device began to charge, since the “drives” could mount to the Explorer. Like I said, unnecessarily difficult just for an initial charge…I suppose I should have connected it to a standard USB charging brick, but there isn’t one included, and most folks aren’t like me and have a bunch sitting in their office, so I didn’t.

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First Impressions: Saeco Sirena Espresso Machine

Filed under: Reviews and Impressions — Charlie Summers @ 3:06 pm

As many of you know, I love coffee. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not a snob about it…I don’t spend hours “temperature surfing” or searching for the prefect grind. I just want a good espresso coupled with an equal amount of steamed milk, with some foamed milk on top, and I don’t want to spend all day doing it.

In that search for a good cappuccino, I’ve gone through a lot of low-end pump machines. Some make good coffee but can’t steam milk very well (DeLonghi), others steam well (once removing the silly plastic or rubber steamer aids) but couldn’t produce crema to save their rear-ends (Hamilton Beach), and some can’t do either (Mr. Coffee). The only machine I ever really liked was the first one my wife gave me many many years ago, purchased at a chain that no longer exists, and I honestly cannot remember the brand…but it did everything really well and, more importantly, really fast.

I stumbled over a great deal on a mid-line espresso machine, the Saeco Sirena. Oh, before I go any farther, I need to mention that this machine is “branded” by a certain coffee chain I don’t have a lot of time for (I have frequently referred to it as, “The coffee shop for people who hate coffee”), but I will in this article refer to it by its manufacturer and name, not branding. Even with that name (only on the thermometer, which is easily ignored) I simply couldn’t pass up this machine…it lists at $599, sells at that faux-coffee shop for $399, can be found on Amazon for $350, and was mine new complete with warranty for $200 and $5 shipping. Now that I’ve played with it for a while, I thought I’d describe my experiences.

The main pro: this machine looks good. With a design by BMW, I suppose it should, but it really is one good-looking machine, and that photo up there really doesn’t so it justice. The “Ooh…Shiny!” factor of this puppy sitting on a counter-top or table simply cannot be ignored.

It’s a semi-automatic, which means only that it stops itself. It also has a self-pressurizing portafilter, which coffee snobs hate. I admit it’s a little odd not to be tamping down the portafilter, and odder still not getting a hockey-puck out of it when cleaning, but ok, I can live with this.

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Review: V-Touch Personal MP3/Video Player

Filed under: Reviews and Impressions — Charlie Summers @ 6:13 pm

As most of you know, I am canceling my XM Satellite Radio, which means I need something for the car…something that can play music and downloaded podcasts, particularly news and talk shows like The Bob Edwards Show. But I’m afraid the V-Touch VL-875 isn’t anywhere near it.

Wow, what a deal!

This player, according to the distributor’s web site, has a list price of $249.99, and I only paid $60!!! Um, no, to be serious, if you pay more than $90 for this player, you’ve been severely ripped off regardless of the manufacturer’s list price. I purchased mine when had a sale with free shipping, including a set of “high-end” earphones. (The earphones turned out to be Visual Land’s SSB-10’s, which list for $30 and are commonly available for under $10. And I’m not a fan of in-ear earphones anyway, preferring something that sits outside the canal. But still, it made the $60 a somewhat better deal, although not much, as you’ll see.)

The player has a 2.8″ touch screen which is a whole lot smaller than it sounds, and plays MP3/WMA/WAV/AAC audio files (depending on where on the website you read…some places omit the AAC, and others omit the WAV as well - me, I’ll bet on MP3 and forget the rest), and AVI/3GP/MP4 video files (more on this mess a little later), as well as JPG/GIF/BMP photo files, and plain-text “ebooks.” (Yeah, it has a text reader. Be still, my heart.)

Opening Up…

The box is kinda classy, a book that needs to be opened to expose the player. Mine was sealed in a cellophane bag (you know the kind, with the folded sticky-strip on the end), with the accessories (included earphones not dissimilar to the SSB-10’s, USB cable, USB wall-wart, and sexy little carry-bag) in the larger side. The first disappointment was a small mar on the touch screen…I couldn’t remove it using my favorite screen cleaning method, vinegar-and-water with a micro-fiber cloth. It’s still there, and visible while watching video; I can only assume it occurred either during manufacturing or testing…I’d hate to think the unit I received was remanufactured, even when on sale.

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