Legend DVD Disappoints

I wanted to buy the DVD of I Am Legend. I went to Best Buy and found it in two versions. A single disk version for $16 and a two disk version for $22. The two disk version boasted an alternate version and a digital copy. I was excited about the prospect of a digital copy after my very positive experience with Blue Harvest. While standing in line I had some misgivings when I read the sticker.

The sticker read “Includes BONUS DIGITAL COPY”. When I looked inside I read, “Restrictions and limitations apply. Must reside in the U.S. or Canada and have and Internet connection. Windows Media&tm;compatible only. Not compatible with Apple® Macintosh® and iPod&reg devices. Visit http://digitalcopy.warnerbros.com for more information and compatibility. Offer expires 3/18/09.”

So it will not work on my Mac. It uses “PlaysForSure” DRM. And it will expire in one year. Just sounding better all the time. I went ahead and bought the 2-disk version because I am a sucker for alternate versions. We watched the movie. Still a great movie. The alternate version is on the second disk. I do not know what else is different but the last two scenes are changed. I went looking for more additional features on the disk and came up empty. Aside from the comics that were already on the web, the DVD was devoid of special features.

I really like this movie but this is clearly a case were the DVD is not worth the trouble. The Blu-Ray edition includes both version but does not appear to contain any other features.

Cirque du Solei KA

While in Las Vegas for a Conference a co-worker won two tickets to see KÀ at the MGM theater. I quickly stepped up and volunteered to use the second ticket. I have wanted to see Cirque du Solei for several years. Three years ago I actually bought tickets for KÀ but was coerced to trade them in for David Copperfield tickets.

Even before we entered the theater the experience begins. The ticket takers are in costume and in character. The costumes were not specific to any culture or country. They were vaguely asian or mongolian. Once inside there are warnings against photography of any kind. The inside of the theater is very industrial. It could easily be mistaken for something out of Star Trek. There are multiple catwalks all around you. In the center of the stage there is a huge fireball erupting from several spots below the site line. The eruptions occur and seemingly random intervals. You can feel the heat even though we are 20 rows away.

Before the show begins the characters in full body suits appear around the catwalks on various levels. They are working in pairs performing small feats of acrobatics on wires right over our heads. Two characters affixed themselves to each end of a wire run through a pulley. One jumped off the railing and the other flew up as ballast.

As the main show began it immediately reminded me of Japanese Noh Theater. The actors wore elaborate makeup and costumes. Then the similarity ended. The stage began to move. There were actually two stages. Each stage was on it own hydraulic system allowing it to move up and down, rotate, and pitch completely over. The show went on including more costumes reminiscent of even more cultures such as inuits showing the travels of the main characters.

The show was unlike any other show I’ve ever seen. I have included a couple examples of the wonder but I leave the rest off this account so that the reader can enjoy the full experience. I highly recommend going to see this show if you have a chance.

While in Vegas I took about 500 pictures. Be sure to have a look at some of the samples below. I did not upload all the pictures. I just grabbed few from each set.

HDR is Really Cool

I heard Scott Bourne talking on TWIP about HDR. I had heard about Photomatix before on Digg but did not see how it could be relevant form my novice skills. After listening to Scott’s podcast I decided to try it out for myself. I tried with and without a tripod. I set my AEB to 2 F-Stops. Without a tripod I would just hold down the trigger for three frames. With the tripod I would press the remote button once and it would take all three pictures as fast as it could.

The picture above is the result after processing all three pictures and generating the tonal map. The picture is still watermarked by Photomatix until I decide which version to use. I also tried Bracketeer as also suggested in the podcast. I’m still trying to get the whole tonal maps thing to work in the latter.

The pictures below are the original three pictures taken 2 F-Stops apart. Below them is the merged HDR image from Photoshop’s automation script. The magic happens in the last step with the tonal map.

I took about 500 pictures yesterday. About 20 of them are destined to become HDR images. I will probably post several of those to my Flickr account as I go through them.
HDR sample images

Kata Prism U Backpack

I have been looking for a nice day pack for a while. I have been using the same MEI day pack since 1986. I have had to replace the shoulder straps on it once already and they are due to be replaced again. I use my day pack to haul my camera around. The problem is that it has no padding. This is not good for the camera. It also has just one big pocket which mean my lenses are loose with the camera.
I have two different camera bags but neither is practical for carrying with you when you travel. I did some searching online and thought the Lowepro bags looked nice. I went to my local camera store expecting to buy one. They are really nice but they are too much bag for my needs. I am looking for a much lighter day pack that I can also use as carry-on luggage. I was about to give up when my son handed me a bag from Kata.

I immediately liked the Kata styling. I looked at a few of their bags. They have messenger-style and traditional style bags too. The bags are made from a material that feels like a wet suit. The shape of the bags is somewhat rigid. The inside of the bag had holders for my camera and lenses. It has little velcro pouches for memory cards and extra batteries. And the best feature for me is the pocket for a laptop. I plan to put this bag to the test tomorrow.

Move to HostGator Complete (Almost)

After much research and shopping around, I finally took the advice of a friend and checked out HostGator. I really liked what I found. They offer affordable hosting packages with reasonable bandwidth ceilings. I’m still worried about bandwidth but unless I’m lucky enough to get on Digg, I should not have a problem. My last ISP was very good to me but they needed to raise their rates and I needed to find a better deal. What made the transition possible was Gator’s tech support. They responded to all of my inquiries even when those requests seemed out of the ordinary. After a couple of weeks I have completed migration of all my web sites. For each web site I had to migrate the files and the database.

Here were some of the requirements and technical challenges I had and my solution to them with Gator.

Primary Account
I wanted to run a single Drupal installation so I did not have to maintain modules on every domain. I also wanted to migrate over to Drupal 6 or Drupal 7 at some point. I chose one of Gator’s reseller hosting plans with enough bandwidth and diskspace for my needs. I set up the main account as a throw away account. This is my primary user that I use to log into Gator’s control panels. I put up a simple one page web site there. This account cannot be changed once it is created (without paying $5). If you are following along at home my advice would be to set this main account up as a sub-domain and not as a domain. That is if your domain is domain.com then do not set up your Gator site domain as domain.com. Instead set it up as some other host in that domain. For example sleepy.domain.com. You can then still use domain.com as a parked domain later. I have always done this. I name the machine this way. This also require that you set up your own DNS accordingly. I am not using Gator for DNS hosting which is not Gator’s preferred method but it is mine.

Sub Accounts
Now I was able to set up a sub account for my Drupal 5 installation. I considered this like another host so I gave it a name. Let’s call this one dopey. I set up my DNS for dopey.domain.com to point at the ISP address given to me by Gator. You can make it easy on yourself and point *.domain.com at the same IP address. I installed Drupal and it working. Each sub account has its own username and password that only has access to that account. You use that username and password for the CPANEL, MySQL, and for FTP. The master account has access to all sub accounts. I created another sub account for Drupal 6.

I opted to create a separate MySQL database for each web site. A single Drupal web site can have a hundred tables or more. On my old server I ended up with thousands of tables in one Database. This makes the admin tools for MySQL very unhappy. This new approach also makes it easier to drop one site or restore one site. Gator is on MySQL 5 which was an upgrade that I has looming.

In order to get my fir Drupal install working, I had to turn off register_globals and enable clean URLs. In both cases Gator support was able to help me out. The answer to the register_globals was to create a PHP.INI file with the appropriate commands. For the mod_rewrite, I just had to create an .htaccess file with the appropriate commands. Gator is on PHP 5 which is another upgrade that I had been putting off.

Drupal depends on a regularly run cron script for its own maintenance. On my old server I just ran a cron script that ran through a list of domains and processed the cron page for each one. The cron script I wrote uses curl. By default curl is not enabled. A quick ticket to Gator got that enabled on a per account basis. Now I can run my cron script.

Domain Parking
Since I am sharing an IP address with who knows how many other customers, I have to register all of my domains with the server. I do this with a service called Domain Parking. Until registered I see a generic parking page that tells me that the DNS is right but my parking is not. Once I park domain.com, it appears that all sub-domains also work.

Gator wants you to use their DNS. If you use their DNS then any changes you make in the CPANEL automatically change the appropriate DNS entry. I like my DNS hosting company and did not want to change. A quick ticket with Gator Support and they registered my DNS servers as trusted servers. This was necessary before I could park my domains Naturally I am on my own as far as making sure everything is pointed in the right direction.

Domain Forwarding
I am using domain forwarding much more than ever before. If a customer has domain.com and domain.org, I make them choose one as the real domain and forward the other at the real one. This make Google Search happy too because google does not like to see the same content on multiple URLs. I am also using domain forwarding to forward directly to a particular URL if that is appropriate. So domain2.com can forward right to domain.com/number2. This makes for a very pleasant user experience.

Gator expects you to use their email servers. I choose not to. I have no complaints about them. I am happy with my current mail situation and do not want to change. I plan to use Gators mail server in a limited capacity. I am already using Gator’s mail server for sending mail. I have read elsewhere that Gator limits sending email to 200 messages per hour. I have not confirmed that. If true, that might be a problem in the future but for now it is not a problem. Because of this assumption, you have to go into the CPANEL for MX records and change the MX record to match your real configuration or you will not get any mail from your server. The mail server checks its MX record first before going out to get the real MX record. This will have to be maintained any time the real MX record changes.

I have been using Webalizer for years. I liked that it was enabled by default. I was able to use the reports right away. Since the report is for the entire account, I cannot pick out an individual Drupal site’s traffic. I will be able to use Drupal Logs or Google Analytics in order to get site-specify report that I can share with my customers. Right out of the box I found my site being crawled heavily by some Russian site. I was able to immediately block that IP right in the CPANEL instead of having to go to each individual Drupal site.

I am having to figure out new ways for backups. In the past I would rely on a second hard drive in the same server. Every night I script ran to backup the database and every web site’s files. I kept files for each month and the previous day. If there was every a problem, I could just restore the files. Now I have to back everything up over the web. I am still trying to come up with a way to schedule it to be automated. I think I will end up setting up a server in my house that mirrors everything on the server. More on that once I figure it out.

So in summary the migration has been relatively easy. I have to commend Gator support. They were very responsive via online chat, phone and email. The online Ticket system is by far the best mechanism to request a configuration change. The online chat is the best method for getting a quick question answered but those reps generally do not have access to change your site.