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December 28, 2004

Movies to Video

After my DVD player died and I was able to bring it to life, I noticed a button on it I had never used before. It was the Progressive Scan button. I bought this DVD player partly because it was progressive scan meaning that instead of showing you every other line of the picture 60 times a second it would show you a fresh frame 60 times a second. But apparently it would only do that if you pressed this button and I had never done that.

So I pressed the button (and nothing happened because I had to enable the button first so eventually it did turn on) and the TV went from showing a full-screen wide image to a letterboxed 4:3 image (itself surrounded by gray bars on each side of the screen). This was confusing but I was able to enlarge the image so a widescreen image filled up the entire screen again. The question then was is this really a progressive scanned image? There's no way to tell by looking at it and the Sony TV doesn't have a way of letting you know.

Well, it does if you go into a secret Service Menu that you can only get to by pressing DISPLAY 5 VOL+ before you hit POWER to turn it on. Apparently you can really mess up the TV by changing settings so I got out quickly but this menu confirmed the resolution of 480 lines in progressive. Regular TV is 480 lines but is interlaced so that even-numbered lines refresh and then one sixtieth of a second later the odd-numbered lines refresh. This is important because if you didn't interlace and just showed a frame every thirtieth of a second (which is essentially what you are seeing) the eye would detect a flicker. But at sixty frames per second the eye sees a continuous image.

Movies are filmed at 24 frames per second and avoid flicker by showing each frame twice for a perceived rate of 48 frames per second.

This brings up a problem: How do you convert a movie at 24 frames per second to a video at 30 or 60 frames per second? You can't just make up frames that aren't there and you don't want to play the movie fast forward either. Well, apparently the easy fix to the problem is that instead of showing each movie frame twice they show even-numbered frames 3 times and odd-numbered frames 2 times. Now 24 frames per second becomes 24x2.5 frames per second which is 60 frames per second.

It gets more complicated than that because the video signal is still being interlaced so that you see odd-numbered lines from a frame then even-numbered lines from the next frame (which is the same frame). Eventually you see an interlaced "frame" of some lines from one frame and the rest of the lines from the other.

Anyway this is called 3:2 pulldown. Progressive scan DVD players are able to do reverse 3:2 pulldown which means they extract the original movie frames and avoid the interlaced mishmash that happens during the transition between two different frames.

I learned all of this from this site but he complicates things by talking about line doublers. Now you would have a hard time finding a DVD player that isn't progressive scan, but it is interesting that unless you have a HDTV (or EDTV) that you can't really see it.

FYI: HDTV comes in essentially two different types. One type shows 720 lines progressive. The other shows 1080 lines but is interlaced. In Atlanta, Channels 2 and 5 are 720p, but the rest are 1080i. My HDTV receiver converts 720p to 1080i because my TV can't deal with 720p and actually would downgrade the picture to 480p.

What I think is interesting about this is that even with the progressive scan DVD player I am not getting a "fresh" frame of content 60 times a second. In fact I'm seeing some frames twice and some frames three times. So more than half of what you see is just re-runs!

December 26, 2004


I joined Epinions today. I've always found their reviews to be kind of obnoxious because people get very wordy and cute with their reviews. But I think there is some value to them as well because they keep reviews of older products on record whereas Amazon has no reason to keep reviews of out-of-date electronics. Anyway, my DVD player died (while watching my Seinfeld DVD Christmas present!) so I decided to review it. You can go there to read the review or read it here:

Nice player but died early
Dec 26 '04

Author's Product Rating
Product Rating: 2.0

Sound: 4
Ease of Use: 3
Picture Quality: 4
Durability: 2

Good picture quality, disk compatibility, 5.1 audio out

Died after only 2 years of light to medium use

Full Review
I bought this to replace a Sony DVD player that died while under extended warranty and had to be replaced. I was looking for a DVD player that had 5.1 Surround Sound out since my receiver was Surround "ready" and couldn't do the decoding on its own. I really didn't have any problems with the picture quality and overall performance of the player. The warranty is not very good: 1 year for parts, but only 90 days for labor. If you've ever taken something in you will realize that that means they can charge you whatever they want for the repair and call it "labor" even if the unit is dead.

The player did well from the time I bought it in September 2002 until today when I got an ERROR H02 and it stopped playing any kind of disk entirely. Apparently H02 means go buy a new DVD player. While the unit is out of warranty and out of extended warranty now, I don't think a little over 2 years is acceptable. After some research on the internet it seems a lot of people have been victims of the same error.


Amount Paid (US$): 200.38

December 19, 2004

The New Centurion

Hurray!!! This is my 100th blog entry! I have been posting since April 2003 when Jeb tricked me into writing my first blog entry by just taking an e-mail I had written to Kelly and putting it on my newly created blog. It was a month before I wrote another entry and again I think it was an e-mail I had sent to Jeb that he said I should turn into a blog entry (and may have done it for me again). Later on it became easier to write blog entries about things related to the dogs, the Estonians (surprisingly popular), and all my gadgets like the iPod (unsurprisingly unpopular). I do find myself going back to some old entries for information that I have stored there. The search tool is great.

Anyway, on this momentous occasion I would like to thank Blog Master Jeb for all his hard work in putting together blogs for everyone and keeping them lively. And it's not like I write everything on my blog. The comments have really been enjoyable and are a major part of the whole thing, especially with the Estonian series. So thanks to everyone who posts comments and reads these things too.

Here's a question: The blog shows all the months I have posted entries, but is there a way to make a page (maybe a separate page) that lists all of the entries and links to them? That way I could use AvantGo to download my whole blog to my Palm.

Lastly, I really like the new Christmas colors!

December 18, 2004

Google Taketh Away

I've had Google AdSense advertisements on two of my web sites' pages for several months now (first post, second post). It started off pretty slow. In August I was getting 54 page views a day and made $2.72. In September 48 views a day but $3.42 in revenue. But in October things really started taking off and I averaged 125 views a day and $9.99 in revenue. By using my Site Meter web page counter I realized that what happened was Google had started referring people to my web site whereas before I was getting most referrals from the less popular Ask Jeeves.

November continued the trend and I made $10.23 on 176 views a day. At this rate the two pages with ads were paying for my monthly internet access ($8.33/month) and then some! But page views dropped off starting in December and Site Meter indicated that I was no longer getting *any* referrals from Google for my Dejumbler page which gets about 75% of the traffic on my web site (most of the rest is for my pages on my iPod battery pack which also has ads). When I did a search for dejumblers on Google my blog entries showed up, but for some reason, the actual dejumbler page was nowhere to be seen. I even tried re-wording some of the page and the title of the page in an effort to get it listed again.

Lately I have started getting referrals from Yahoo and MSN so my traffic is still pretty high, but my advertisement clicks are still down and I probably won't make $4 this month. Maybe because it is Christmas. Also I don't know how many ad clicks come from people I know trying to help me out (hopefully none).

December 12, 2004

Roth IRA

This past week I opened a Roth IRA with Vanguard. One thing that bothers me about my current deferred compensation plan at work is that when I start withdrawing the money I will have to pay taxes on it at the full rate (currently 25%) whereas if the money were not in a retirement account and I used after-tax money the gains, at least, would only be taxed at 15% for long-term capital gains. The Roth allows you to pay *no* taxes on the gains.

As it turns out whether you pay taxes now (Roth IRA's are funded with after-tax money and aren't deductible) or later (conventional IRA's, 401k's or deferred comp treat withdrawals as normal income) if the tax rate is the same the result is the same. For example if you have $10,000 and invested it in a mutual fund that got an average return of 8% a year for 15 years:

1. For a Roth IRA you take $10,000 in salary, pay 25% in taxes for $7,500. Then you multiply that by 8% interest for 15 years to get $23,791.27.

2. Under Deferred Comp you take $10,000, pay no taxes now, and it draws 8% interest for 15 years for $31,721.69, but then you would have to pay taxes on that which I can only assume would still be 25%, bringing me right down to $23,791.27 again.

As long as the tax rate is the same you're just applying it at a different point, but the result is the same. However both plans still beat the alternative which is to put after-tax money in a taxable account and then pay even more taxes on the gains. So I've got this after-tax money sitting around that I probably won't spend for a long time and I figured I would do a Roth IRA.

The real difference in plans is in how you can take the money out. For instance with IRA's and 401k's you can't take the money out until you are at least 59.5 years old. But with the deferred compensation plan I'm in I can take the money out when I quit without penalities (though I would have to pay taxes). I figured it was always a lot more likely I would quit work than retire. So if I went to school full-time or spent a year in Tibet or something I could use my deferred compensation, but a 401k would just sit there waiting for me to get old.

With the Roth IRA the 59.5 year rule only applies to the gain on the investment, not to the principle. So if I contribute $3,000 and it grows to $4,000, I can take out my $3,000 any time and pay no taxes or penalties on it (taxes were already paid on that money when I got it in the first place). You can even take the gain out for a first-time home purchase, but I've already blown that since I have my first house.

So anyway, I can only contribute $3,000 a year, so I thought I would try it and at least I won't have to pay taxes on dividends and gains on that money which I was doing now by just leaving it in a taxable investment account.

I put the money is Vanguard's Small Cap Value Index fund. It invests in companies with a market value between $200 million and $1.5 billion that have a lower than average Price to Earnings ratio. Over time this market segment is supposed to have the highest growth in value of any. Plus I have so much money in the S&P 500 index of large cap companies that this represents pretty good diversification from that. After one day I'm up $15 so it must be working.

December 10, 2004

Trying to Save the Season

One of the headlines I read yesterday said that professional hockey players have agreed to take a 24% reduction in salaries in order to end the current labor dispute in the NHL and save the hockey season after already missing 85 days of the season.

The bigger problem? I didn't know that *any* games had been missed. It never even occurred to me that the hockey season should be underway right now.

Last year I remember reading that the NHL's current TV contract was over and they were taking bids for a broadcaster to buy the rights. The problem was that nobody wanted the rights. The final price they were able to negotiate was $0 (but at least they will be on TV still, or would have been if they had any games). And the league is losing $250 million a year.

December 8, 2004

Fish Oil

Clio has been itching so much that I finally took her to the vet. They said she had fleas, but I thought that was impossible since I hadn't seen any fleas on her and I was giving her monthly applications of flea medicine. They gave her some steroids to relieve the itching which worked but made her drink so much water that she wound up ruining the carpet in the Estonians' room (forcing me to remove that carpet which was a good thing anyway).

She was still itching so I took her back to the vet and they gave her some new anti-itch medicine and some antibiotics for where she had gnawed and licked so much that she had a sore. They thought it could be scabes, but ruled that out because I didn't have a rash. I think that's kind of funny that they can determine what the dog has by what the owner doesn't have. I also switched flea medicines from Frontline Plus to Advantage which I found pretty inexpensive at petshed.com which turns out to be an Australian company that ships their orders from Sydney. Typical, drugs are always less expensive in other countries.

Anyway, they also said she had dry skin and gave me (sold me) some fish oil tablets. They are big yellow gel caps. They said you could throw them in with the food, but if the dog wouldn't eat them you could cut them open and pour the fish oil on the food because they like it anyway (Clio was taking five pills at dinner since two of her medicines required two pills each; she eats them if I put them in peanut butter so she got a lot of peanut butter that week). Even though they don't smell like anything, Katie was very interested when I was taking these particular pills out of the jar for Clio so I gave her one. Katie is very careful about medicine and won't fall for the peanut butter thing like Clio. But she was interested in the fish oil tablet. She held it loosely in her mouth, walking out to the den. She licked on it some and after a few minutes I guess finally got through to the fish oil and finished off the pill. The next night I put one in with her food. She immediately picked it out, went to the den, and started working on it. But before she could get through I took it from her and poked a hole in it and spread it on her food (I didn't like the idea of fish oil leaking onto the carpet). She liked that. The next night I wasn't going to give her a tablet but she kept looking at me then at the bowl of food then back at me. She was reminding me I had forgotten something. I cut a pill open again and poured it on her food. She immediately ate the squeezed out gel pill. Then she would take mouthfuls of food and drop them on the floor next to the bowl. She would only eat the ones that smelled like fish. One night Clio wasn't that hungry but when I checked back, Katie had gone over and picked out the fish oil tablet from Clio's bowl.

People act like dogs don't have very good taste, but as good as their sense of smell is, their sense of taste is probably nearly as sharp since the two are related. I don't think dogs are necessarily picky, but they know good and well what they are eating and probably even subtle differences between different batches of the same brand of food.

December 3, 2004


Even though I already bought a HDTV decoder box, Dish Network is now selling their HDTV Digital Video Recorder Model 921 for $550 whereas last year at this time it was $1000 if you could find it (it had just come out). Because the HDTV signal has 5 times as much information as a regular signal, recording HDTV programs takes much more disk space and processing power. The 921 has a 250 GB hard drive in it and it still only lets you store about 25 hours of HDTV programming (or 180 hours of regular programming; that's more than 5 times, but satellite signals are compressed). Dish itself only broadcasts a limited number of HDTV stations because it takes up a lot of bandwidth on their satellites too. They have HD versions of Discovery, ESPN, and TNT as well as a HD movie channel and HDNet with various HD offerings for $10 a month. Broadcasting hundreds or thousands of local channels in HDTV would take so many satellites that it may never happen. So Dish made sure the 921 could receive HDTV signals through an antenna and record them.

One of the only bad things about my current setup is that it can not record HDTV signals like my Dish 501 DVR can (plus it only has a 40 GB hard drive). So when I watch HDTV broadcasts I am forced to accommodate the broadcaster's schedule and watch their cursed commercials. It was like a giant leap backward into the 90's! But the 921 lets you record that stuff so that you can pause live television, rewind, and skip commercials once you get behind the live feed.

I am still in the window where I can take the US Digital box back to Walmart for a $200 refund, so the 921 started looking tempting. If I wait until I can't take the USD box back, I would just be out that $200. So essentially I can get the 921 for $200 off right now. Only an extra $350.

So I started doing research. I found out that the 921 isn't quite as convenient in recording local broadcasts since the online Guide doesn't show what the local broadcasters are sending out (with satellite channels you can just click on a show in the Guide to record it) so I would have to manually enter dates, times, and channels. But the 921 can record two signals at once: one from the satellite and one from the antenna. In fact, the 921 requires two cables from the satellite dish so it can even record two different satellite shows or let you record one channel while you watch another (previously a serious limitation of satellite TV).

But then I had to wonder if my current satellite dish (the Dish 500) would be compatible with the 921. I am thinking that it is and that my Dish 500 supports two lines out. But then I would have to run another cable from the roof, through the attic, down the wall and into my wall outlet. As long as I don't have to buy a new dish, I figured I was okay.

Currently I'm paying $30 for basic satellite service. But if you get a 921 you have to pay a $5 a month fee for guide (and because they know you'll pay it). I'm still not sure if you have to get the $10 a month HD package, but I'm thinking not. Still I hate monthly fees and $5 is still $60 a year. If I had to get the HD package then I'd be paying 50% more (though they offer the first 6 months for free) for satellite service though perhaps I could drop local channels for a savings of $5 a month (putting me at the mercy of unreliable antenna signals; might have to upgrade the antenna).

Lastly, this discount is pretty steep and the worry is they are coming out with something a lot better and trying to get rid of all their current inventory. Of course they won't let you know what it is, but the upside is that it will be something more expensive than what they are selling now. Since the 921 is essentially a Unix computer, the price could continue to plummet even as features increase, just like with computers.

I'm still kind of torn. Assuming you buy home electronics to last 4 years, I would be paying $138 a year for the 921 anyway, so does $60 ($240 over the life of it) really make it that much more? I decided it does. Plus, if I ever ditch the dish I wouldn't be able to use the 921 anymore since it won't work as a standalone HDTV receiver.

Postscript: Since the $5 monthly fee was offset by being able to stop subscribing to local channels I decided to go ahead and get the 921 DVR. I called Dish to ask some questions like could I connect the 921 to my current rooftop dish (yes) and could I give my current DVR to someone else without some kind of fee (yes). Then I asked if I had to subscribe to the HDTV package for $10 a month and they said yes. So that was a deal breaker. I wasn't about to pay $10 a month for five channels of programming I probably wouldn't even watch that often.

And it's not like it's all over anyway. Computers and these receivers are becoming more similar and I feel like it won't be long before I can get an economical TV tuner card for my computer and store programs on its hard drive and play them back to my TV.