Adobe PDFViewer Safari Plugin, No Thanks

Whenever I have to install or update Adobe Acrobat, I always have to go back in afterward and remove the Acrobat plugin from the Library/Internet Plug-ins directory. With the most recent update to Acrobat Reader 9.1, I spotted a new option. I was able to uncheck this plugin. Thank you Adobe for giving me this option. Preview is just fine for me for 99% of my needs.

Adobe Acrobat Pro is even worse. It asks you for the MS Office Toolbar and for the PDF Printer. After you say no, it asks you again about the Safari Plug-in. Then you still have to quit Safari to complete the install even though you are not using the plug-in.

Zeroing in on the Billionth App Sold by Apple on iTMS

On Apple.com there is a small animation estimating the number of apps sold in the iTunes App Store since it first opened last year. The counter is closing in on 1 Billion. That’s a 1,000 million for our longitudinally-challenged friends on the other side of the Atlantic. This small counter is a small JavaScript animation. One of the features of JavaScript is that its source is all in the browser where anyone can see it. If you look at the code, Apple has given you the clues necessary to estimate when the billionth app will be sold.

Data: http://www.apple.com/autopush/us/itunes/includes/countdown.txt
JavaScript: http://images.apple.com/global/scripts/downloadcounter.js

There is a text file. The text file is obviously coming out of the iTunes store. It contains the hourly timestamp, the count of the number of apps sold and the current sales rate.

15-APR-2009 21:00:00|960384867|260839

Based on this information, we are just 39,615,133 apps shy of the billionth app and 260,839 apps are bought in a certain period of time. What is that period of time. If you look at the JavaScript code, you can see they are dividing that number up in to 3,600,000. I take this calculation to be in milliseconds. By extrapolation that means that 72 apps are bough every second. That would seem to jive with the animation.

The burn rate is not constant. If the burn rate were to remain constant then we would be just 546,752 seconds away from the billionth app. The make the event scheduled for just lest than a week from now (6 days, 7 hours, 52 minutes).

Wednesday 4/22, 7:52 am Central Time

The data file is refreshed every hour so this estimate is also subject to revision every hour. With only nine hours of data the target time floated from 4/22 to 5/1 and now has begun to drift back. This sine wave is caused by the daily traffic pattern of the Apple Store. If I continue to monitor the store for another day or two I should be able to average in on the target. The average target is now 4/26/09 2:12 PM4/26/09 11:26 AM4/26/09 9:04 AM4/24/09 12:15 PM4/24/09 5:28 PM4/23/09 10:22 PM4/23/09 3:11 PM4/23/09 3:16 PM

Here’s my Source Data on Google Docs: http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=pydmD4NiOSHYPmIfdh1j4Dw

Nickelback Takes on Dallas and Wins

The fact is that Nickelback was probably the best concert I’ve ever been to. It was definitely in the top five. That would put it in good company along with Van Halen, ZZ Top, and INXS. So what makes a good concert? For me its all about the show. There are some artist who are really good in the studio or on a CD but not so good on stage. I’ve been to concerts where the headliner was outshined by the opening act. A good show includes multimedia, an engaged dialog with the audience and a good performance. Nickelback had all those elements.

The performance was great. I am a new fan of Nickelback but I knew all the songs that they played. They played a couple songs off the new album and then went back to their earlier work. The lead singer sang clearly. He used two microphones. The second mic was used for songs with any reverb or other effect. This allowed him to sing all the vocals live and not rely on any taped content. The performance was flawless. Near the end of the show was a 10-minute drum solo that included the drummer being raise up on a rotating platform.

Chad Kroeger engaged the audience. It’s typical for a band to shout out the city’s name. He was aware of the weather issues. He made fun of the scent of the audience and a bag of “oregano” that some one threw on stage, “yeah, I want to spend the night in jail with you”. He also made fun of a flasher in the front row because she chose to flash him during a serious ballad instead of waiting for a more appropriate song. At one point he introduced some of the crew to come out and fire t-shirt cannon s at the audience. You could tell that everyone was just out there having fun.

The bad definitely had a handle on the multimedia. They used a huge screen in the center of stage to project video, pictures, animations that were relevant and timed to the music. During the song Photograph her show what must have been actual pictures from his high school. They were presented as part of a large mosaic where one picture is made up of many smaller pictures. The animation moved smoothly from picture to picture, sometimes zooming in, sometimes zooming out. At another part of the concert the screen was covered with 70’s era TVs stacked up at odd angles. On each TV was projected parts of the current concert. Some of the screens were sharp while other were snowy. The effect was very interesting.

It wasn’t just video. The stage featured six saucer-like light rigs that could go up and down and rotate. They were constantly moving to the music and changing color. Also on stage were some sort of flame throwers that were able to blast fire into the air. There was a spark-generator from the ceiling that made it look like it was raining light. There were smoke generators for one part of the show. There were fireworks right on stage. In fact the concert started with a bang.

Negatives? The one big negative for me was the foul language. I wasn’t going into this show expecting it to be PG. Frankly I was surprised that my wife wanted to go in the first place — wasn’t my idea. I expected there to be rough language just like their music. Chad Kroeger surpassed my expectations. He managed to use the “F” word at least once per sentence. Sometimes more. A PG version of the concert would be at least a half hour shorter. Nickelback has some really good songs that would be just as good without the profanity.

The opening acts for this concert were Saving Abel and Seether. I’ve barely heard of either group. A search of my iTunes library shows that I own songs from Seether that I like. I wasn’t really impressed by Saving Abel. It looked like they only had about 3 foot of stage. They came on and only played six or seven songs. It wasn’t bad but there wasn’t much to see.

Seether on the other hand could have warranted a concert in their own right except for one critical problem – the weather. Superpages.com Center is an open venue. We had the cheap seats out on the lawn. The weather forecast called for clear skies with rain coming the next day. Just as Seether was taking the stage it began to rain. At this point I was resigned to getting wet. The rain fell in big solitary drops but it was not too bad. Then the lightning started. First it was 5 seconds away. Then 2 seconds away. Then it was instantaneous. Rain is one thing but sitting out in a lightning storm on a hill is suicide. I told my group we were heading for the car until the cell passed. I scooped up the kids and blankets and headed towards the gate. About this time is began to hail. I was not listening to the concert at this point. Over the gate was a big sign “No Re-entry”. We changed direction and headed for the main part of the theater under the roof. A lone usher tried to hold back my group and another 5,000 people who all had the same life-preserving thoughts. We easily walked half way down and found a place to stand under the cover. Seether is still playing during all of this but I have no idea what. I’m checking my iPhone to see a current weather map to see how much more of the storm remained. Two cells passed, mainly to the west of us. It was still raining when I took my party back to the grassy knoll to retain our original now-soaked patch of grass. And so ended Seether’s performance.

The sky cleared and the air grew cooler by the time Nickelback came on stage. Chad Kroeger commented that it had even stopped F-ing raining. Naturally he did not abbreviate. He did invite the lead signer from Seether, Shaun Morgan up on state to sing “Nice Shot”. It was really good and probably some indication of what we had missed.

The concert venue was good although the beer prices were ridiculous: $16 for a margarita, $9 for a beer, $4 for a small coke. The security was a joke. They had kids with metal detectors but I could not tell if they were actually looking. Cameras, Umbrellas, Coolers were all prohibited yet I saw them all. I guess concert venues have given up on the no camera rule as long as you are not there with an SLR and a mega zoom.

So, it was a good concert. it was surely one that my kids will remember, for the good and the bad. The audience was an interesting mix of teenagers to 40-year-olds. I’d see Nickelback again should the opportunity arise.

Fast and Furious

On a lark I took the boys to go see Fast and Furious. I was expecting a loud and fast thrill ride and this movie did not disappoint. For those keeping score, this is the 4th movie in the series. The new movie has the same name as the original minus the definite article the. The movie starts with an action sequence that is just as far fetched as the opening sequence of a James Bond movie. There are two parts to this opening. Each part shows you what our two stars have been doing since the last movie. The trailers that I saw prior to the movie both used clips from these opening scenes rather than parts from later in the movie. This is a good thing so I knew relatively nothing about the movie.

Michelle Rodriguez (Liddy) is killed in the opening sequence and we spend the rest of the movie tracking down the killer. Rather than a Dirty Harry revenge story, our stars go ask the bad guy for a job. The bad guy requires them to drive in a race for the job. Everybody has a muscle car or some other 10-second import. The absurdity is just plain fun. They proceed to dispense with whatever pretense of plot they used to get the movie made and spend the next 90 minutes racing around on the screen.

Having see the first movie helps. Jordana Brewster plays Vin Diesel’s sister is unclear at first if you had not already been introduced. There is a nod to the 3rd movie, Tokyo Drift. I didn’t see any references to the second movie but I wasn’t looking for them. This movie lacks the originality and character depth of the first movie but is superior to the other two sequels. I would have liked to have seen Michelle Rodriguez’s character have more screen time. I wonder if that was the actor’s choice or something else.

The end of the movie goes out at the beginning of an action sequence. You are left to wonder what will happen next. But then again, you know what would happen next. Even Vin’s character is mildly amused. He has the “Here we go again” look. My thought is that the story just does not end. I do not expect a sequel because I think this was Vin Diesel’s way of closing out the franchise.

I recommend this movie as a rental. Get it on Netflix

Flip Throw-in Strobe Effect Using Photoshop

What happens when you combine gymnastics with soccer? I saw this during my kid’s soccer game and thought it was the coolest trick. Kristie apparently does this often. It is a trick also employed by girls college soccer teams. Imaging the scene. The two teams are playing the game. Most of the players are 17 years old. There is one girl on the field who probably weighs only a little over 100lbs. She does not take any crap from the boys. It’s time for her to make a throw-in. The other team sees that the girl is going to throw the ball and they move closer. Our time knows what is about to happen and starts moving out.

Kristie starts with the ball over her head and runs toward the sideline. She plants the ball on the ground and proceeds to do a handstand. The other team is frozen. They have no idea what is going on. Their brains cannot process what they are seeing. Kristie’s whole body goes over her head as the cartwheel continues. Her feet after making the complete rotation are planet firmly on the ground. This is required for it to be a legal throw-in. As her body continues on its rotation the ball, still over her head is taken from the ground and launched from this human trebuchet over the heads of the mesmerized opposing team to the feet of our waiting players. A normal throw-in by an 17 year old boy should be 25-35 yards. Kristie is able to launch the ball over 40 yards. The other team released an audible moan as they realize that the game has gone on without them.

This technique provides a great tactical weapon in the coaches arsenal that can be used at the right time for greatest psychological effect. Catching this moment on film was a lot of fun. I had seen her do this trick in other games and so when she had the ball, I raised my camera for the shot. As she started her run, I just held the button down. The result was a series of pictures taken as fast as the old Canon EOS Rebel XTi could muster with my 20-year-old 100-300mm zoom lens. Yes, the lens is older than the subject. The result was less than perfect. I was shooting handheld. I let the camera automatically focus and adjust the aperture as I tracked the subject so the so the depth of field changes between pictures. I also did not have much control over the background. This took place during a game. I had one shot.

Once I had the three source images, I opened the series up in Photoshop and told the program to Photomerge them together. To my horror, this had the exact opposite effect that I wanted. The computer analyzed the three pictures and helpfully removed the girl from the combined scene. This is very helpful if you ever wanted to take a picture of Grand Central Station with no people. Given enough source pictures the computer could accomplish this.

What the computer had accomplished for me was to get all 5 shots lined up with each other. The resulting canvas was larger than any of the original images. I went to each layer and changed the mask to make Krisie appear on each layer. I moved layers that were later in the timeline to the top of the layer stack so that elements that happened later are on top. I spent some time getting the outlines to look right but I could have spent more time.

The result was a cool strobe effect that is pretty cool to see. Several people asked my how I did it. People in the know easily can see the flaws in the layer edits. I include it here along with the source images in case some amateur photographer can learn from this technique.

Soccer Game Panorama Created in Photoshop

At the beginning of the Texas State UIL 4A High School Soccer Championship SemiFinal game between Mequite Poteet Pirates and the Mansfield Legacy Broncos the two teams paraded out to the center of the field and were introduced by name and number to the audience. I really liked the way Legacy lined up in numeric order so it was easy to spot the player being announced. This kind of subtle discipline is evidence of a good coach who in just 2 season had taken his team to State.

I also saw this as an opportunity to play with my camera. Using my Canon EOS Rebel XTi and 70-300mm lens I fired of 5 quick handheld pictures of the teams panning from right to left. I was careful to make sure that that frames overlapped as I panned. I could have zoomed out and taken one wide shot. I could have switched lenses for an even wider shot. I chose not to do that because I knew I could get more detail with a panorama method.

I got the pictures home and opened them up in Photoshop. I used Photoshop’s “Photomerge…” command located under the File > Automate menu item. This command accepts a series of pictures and automatically decides how they fit together. It proceeds to put each image on a separate layer and mask out the unwanted parts. The resulting picture after cropping was 200 MB.

The next step in the process is to crop the image. Since my pictures were all handheld, you could see that my horizon was not constant as I panned. The computer also takes care of any distortion based on my point of view. I cropped the image to keep the most picture.

After cropping the image I wasn’t done yet. The turn out for the game on the Mansfield side was really good. The stadium was very full due to a liberal policy from our school’s principal and district to support our team at this away game in Georgetown on a school day. The fans on the opposing team’s side appeared to consist mainly of parents of the players. So it looked like our boys were playing for an empty stadium. I again used Photoshop to copy some of the audience and paint in some additional fans. The result is a respectable turnout for the game.

Finally I applied a tilt focus trick to the picture. I started by selecting the entire image except for the center band across the picture where the players stood. This included the fans at the top and the grass in the foreground. I applied a Gaussian Blur of 1 pixel to the selected area. I changed my selection progressing toward the top and bottom of the image away from the player selecting less and less of the picture. I tried to line up with elements on the screen as I changed the selection. With each selection I applied a Gaussian Blur with an ever greater pixel size until I reached 5 pixels. At this point just the top of the stadium and the extreme foreground were affected. The intention is to create a fake Bokeh effect. This draws your eye to the players. It also make them look miniature.

I liked the way it turned out and wanted to share it here with a bit of explanation. I’ve included the source images below so you can see what the stands looked like.

Who Watched the Watchers?

The field of movie releases in March was pretty sparse. One movie that looked interesting was Watchmen. I’m not into comics and I’m not much of a Frank Miller fan. I do enjoy a good superhero movie. I was surprised that this movie was Rated ‘R’. My teenage kids had heard that the movie was ‘gross’. Despite all these strikes I went to see it with a couple of buddies. Just finding a theater where it was still playing was a challenge. Because of its length the showtime was weird too. I managed to find a 6pm showing. The plot was not nearly as complicated as the press had made it out to be. The movie is gratuitously violent. There were several scenes that were very uncomfortable to watch. The movie was full of nudity — the blue Dr. Manhattan walks around nude for most of the move only occasionally donning a codpiece. I’m sure that’s what the teenagers called gross.

The visuals of the movie were good. I liked the 1985 references. The Nixon in office for 5 terms was a bit much but it drove home the alternate universe theme. The Kennedy assassination scene was kind of pointless. The big villain at the climax of the movie did not seem menacing compared to the “good guys”.

In the end the movie had more negatives than positives. I expect it to live on in DVD as a sort of 3-hour long cult film akin Heavy Metal but never will it be a commercial success. There were just too many mistakes in the execution that pushed too far.