Scratch?

A project that I had to work on today for school was to create an animation in Scratch–which is an object-oriented programming tool designed by MIT students in collaboration with UCLA.  It’s geared toward ages 8+ to teach basic programming principles and logical thinking.  It’s very easy to downloand and install and use.  Best of all, it’s a lot of fun.  If you want, you can see my humble contribution here.  Let me know what you think by leaving me a comment.

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Big Ten Network Finally Comes Around

According to an article I read minutes ago, the Big Ten Network has finally figured out they have been ignoring most of their target audience, and has agreed to a deal with Comcast (aka “The Devil”, in some people’s opinions).  Regardless…  Finally, college sports fans can watch their beloved teams without switching over to a dish (not that there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily) or heading out to a local bar that has a dish (not that there’s anything wrong with that, either).  I think it’s a smart business move for both BTN and Comcast.  So why am I still suspicious…?

Video Wall Blues

So…we have a video wall at the Siebel Center for Computer Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  And for some time now, it has been a source of annoyance.  We inherited the processing unit that drives the wall, and the eight DLP panels that make up the display itself were donated–all just in the nick of time before the building’s grand opening where the generous benefactor, Tom Siebel, would be making an appearance.  Because the installation was so last minute, we received very little training, and had to figure out a lot on our own.  We’ve found the software that controls the processing unit is extremely clunky and unwieldy.  And in four years, three of the display panels have already broken down–requiring the same replacement parts–and resulting in repairs running about $10K each.  *shudder*

A technician from Chicago came down on Friday to repair the latest malfunctioning panel, and we discovered–upon restarting the wall–that there is now a problem with the central processing unit.  We can no longer display anything on the wall, and the unit itself no longer responds to any manual input commands.  I spent the better part of Friday afternoon trying to solve the problem, in addition to most of yesterday morning.  The result of my troubleshooting was that something is seriously wrong with the central processing unit.

Now, since the wall is comprised of hand-me down and donated parts, there is no budget line for repairs or upgrades…  So we’ll have to be “creative” with an alternative…  With the assumption that we most likely won’t be able to afford a replacement CPU, we’re exploring other ideas–specifically, one my colleague has been contemplating for some time now as a “back-up” plan.

Today, he and I, with some testing and experimentation, (and after discovering that the cabling from the CPU to the panels is an unusual 9-pin to 15-pin VGA cable–*arrgh*), we discovered that each of the DLP displays will show VGA resolutions ranging from 800×600 to 1280×1024–though the latter looks very grainy, but 800×600 looks quite good.  So the plan now is to devise a way that we can drive the central four cubes with one computer with two dual-output video cards, and have the two left cubes and two right cubes driven by repurposed machines.  With this plan, we will lose some of the functionality allowed by the previous configuration that incorporated the CPU, but we will gain some flexibility by having the panels be controlled independently.

We’ll see what shakes out…

Steve Jobs Does It Again

Apple announced a new iPhone today: the 3G, due out July 11–which I’m sure will almost literally fly off shelves at $199–substantially lower in price that the previous incarnations of the much-discussed iPhone.

Now while I don’t consider myself an Apple fanatic, I do happen to appreciate most of their products–and I wish I could afford more; I own an iPod Classic and a Shuffle, and I also tinker around with an old 667MHz G4 PowerBook that I inherited from a friend of mine.  I also have a newer G4 PowerBook as my main laptop at work (again, another cast-off).  My home PowerBook was made in 2001, and it still runs like a champ–even running Tiger as an OS.  I think their hardware engineering borders on genius in most cases, and the quality is top-notch.  I have mixed feelings about the practicality of the MacBook Air, but I digress…

Steve Jobs managed to bully AT&T into conceding to many of his terms, just so they could be the exclusive carrier associated with iPhone, and I can’t really blame them for caving–I’ve had my hands on an iPhone, and they’re quite cool.  And Apple was able to flaunt their overconfidence and market hold even more when they lowered the iPhone prices the first time several months ago, shortly after many of the more zealous fans waited in line to snatch up the very first units, drawing the ire of those very same loyal fans–who were then pacified by $100 Apple Store credit as a peace offering.

This latest price reduction and improved device makes me wonder how many more Apple fans will feel betrayed.

Will I get a new iPhone?  Probably not. Not just because I just bought a new phone and extended my Verizon contract another two years, but because now I’m a little gun-shy about new product turnaround from them…

New HD1080i Camcorder

My colleague in the Computer Science Department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign sent me a link to a new Sanyo HD camcorder on engadget.com (the site I visit to drool over technology that I will most likely never be able to afford).

I think what stunned me the most about this camcorder was its size–it looks like it literally fits in the palm of your hand. With my background in video production, I can still remember the days of lugging around an enormous Betacam SP deck, connected by an umbilicus cable to the camera, and what a pain it was to get a lot of shots–and that was standard definition video to tape. The Sanyo Xacti HD1010 not only shoots video at a much higher resolution, but it shoots slow-motion as well. Now I know this type of camera will never replace the workhorses in a professional video production environment, but what potential it still offers to independent film-makers–or even proud parents who want to start shooting home movies in HD.

Amazing.

Masters Program Orientation

Today was the on-campus orientation for my online masters degree program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. It was the first time I got to meet faculty, staff, and fellow students enrolled in the CTER (Curriculum, Technology, and Education Reform) Program. It was nice to finally interact face-to-face with many people I got to know online last semester, and see the real faces in person–as opposed to little icon jpegs. Now I feel more like I am really a part of a masters degree program, and not just simply taking a few classes online. If for no other reason, I thought the on-campus orientation did a lot toward making this program seem more tangible–more real. Even though the CTER faculty and staff make great efforts toward building an online community, it’s still easy to lose sight of the fact that fellow students are real people, and not just voices heard through laptop speakers in Elluminate or Gizmo sessions. I’m really glad I was able to attend. Thanks to everyone who participated.